A New and Delicate Balance Ch. 10byangiquesophie©
I was in hell. They usually call it Los Angeles.
I know I have to apologize to the good people of that city. It is not their fault that I got stuck in their damn traffic while my wife was having a baby in one of their damn hospitals. Though it wasn't my fault either that she was doing it in their city and not in mine.
Neither was it my fault that maybe I shouldn't call her my wife any more. Or the baby my child, for that matter.
She had phoned me yesterday. The baby had dropped, as they seem to call it. Her waters could break any moment. It all sounded very scary. To her too — I could hear it in her voice.
I was in the air that same evening. I got off in L.A. later the same night (time change, you know). I had a text message telling me she was in the hospital. The contractions had started. There was not much dilatation yet, though. Well, all right.
I called her. No answer. She must be in labor by then. I hailed a cab. It took me a few tries to get one. It raced me to the first traffic jam.
That's where the real stress set in.
Why had I come to L.A? Was it love? Was it responsibility? Or just plain curiosity? I can't tell you, really. But I can tell you one thing: I could not stay away.
Irene had left two weeks before Christmas, half a year ago. They were the worst holidays ever. Kindly enough, it rained most of the time.
I stayed at home.
The lights, the throngs and everything that makes New York such a wonderful place during the Christmas season seemed to conspire against me. A conspiracy to hurt me. To kick me in the guts and laugh at me.
I often relived the horrible goodbye we had at the airport. What on earth had made me fuck that up so gloriously? Why did I have to return all the time to the subject of the child and who the father might be? Well, the answer was easy, I guess. It just hurt too much.
Nevertheless, I went there to tell her I loved her.
It had taken me a sleepless night to crawl around my ego and admit it. Her short, cold message about leaving town had shocked me into a new and clear realization. I still loved her! Sincerely and truly loved her. It would always be easier for me to be with her than without her.
She may have betrayed me. She may have succumbed to the biggest asshole I know and torn the heart out of her best friend. She may even be pregnant with his child.
But my love for her didn't seem to care. It had dug into me and had grown so many tentacles that tearing it out would have torn out my heart as well.
Who can live without a heart?
So I hurried to the airport to tell her that and ended up whining about the damn child.
The child was beside the point. It was an accident. If she would not have gotten pregnant, I might eventually have forgiven her.
'Cause I did not believe that she'd been fucking the asshole for months. She had not done it to spite me, or humiliate me. I did not believe what the bastard wrote in his crazy letter. And I did not believe that she had had a longtime sexual relationship with Mary.
I believed, though, that she had fucked Phil gladly.
She had allowed herself to be swept away by her desire. She had enjoyed it, maybe more than she had ever enjoyed it with me. Certainly more than she'd ever tell me. Oh yes. She had done it all and I am certain her body has often prompted her to do it again.
But she hasn't. I believe that.
Then again, she betrayed me twice. She did it again with her decision to keep me in the dark. She guarded her true self against me in order not to betray herself. She robbed me of her intimate self. I felt no love in her sex after what happened at that poolside. There was a lot of very intense sex, but the love seemed to have slipped through my groping fingers.
I am no fool — I knew it. I just hadn't been able to believe it.
When Mary at last told me, I already knew that Irene was pregnant. The shock and pain of discovering her infidelity linked those two facts forever. The one added to the pain of the other. Until they could not be separated anymore.
I was trapped. We were trapped. And damn, yes, I could not destroy my love for her.
Elaine. Of course there was Elaine's ghost hovering over all of this. It gloated on the ruins of my love. I could almost hear her chuckle, "Run, little guy, run again. You ran away from me straight into the greedy arms of a new slut. We are all sluts, Eric. Didn't you know, stupid boy? All of us."
Maybe. But Irene is no Elaine.
Irene never planned her tryst. And Irene went into panic mode afterwards. She had to find a way to keep it from me. Maybe to keep me from hurting. Mostly to protect herself, no doubt. (As I said, I am no fool, not anymore.) When she found out she was pregnant, she was as trapped as I was.
Elaine never saw a need for consequences. Irene accepted them all. She left all that was dear to her. She invited punishment. L.A. was her penitence. So was the decision to keep the baby.
My love for her made me feverishly search for reasons to keep us together. In the end I leaned on the scales and made them balance in favor of my love.
But at our goodbyes, I could not hold on to that. I just couldn't seem to stop nursing my big, stupid ego.
A week after Irene left, Mary called me. She told me Phil had died. She was very cool about it. I gave her my condolences. She laughed out loud.
"Come on, Eric! Let's not embarrass the bastard posthumously with a flood of crocodile tears."
I was stunned. I asked her what had happened. She said she wanted to see me. I thought it would have been rude to refuse. So I invited her to a small restaurant.
Her new look shocked me.
I am sure all eyes in the restaurant turned in her direction when she entered. At first I did not even recognize her. The stark white face, the dark straight hair. The pitch-black, painted eyes, the blood red mouth. Her sinewy body was wrapped in tight black shining vinyl and stretched lycra. She seemed almost tall in her high-heeled boots. She was Count Dracula's wet dream.
And she grinned.
"Eric darling! How are you now?"
Her voice sounded hushed, she almost crooned. I stood and she kissed me on the mouth. I turned away. She chuckled.
"No need for that, honey! Aren't we both free people now?"
We sat and she wrapped her clawlike fingers over my hand. Her eyes were wide, her smile too.
"How are you, Eric?"
"I'd better ask you, Mary. What happened? An accident?"
"His heart," she said and smiled at the young waiter.
"His heart? He was as strong as a bull."
"Appearances can fool us, honey. They so often do."
She nibbled on a piece of bread, looking around the place.
"You seem very, eh...composed, Mary, considering," I said rather lamely. Her attitude puzzled me.
"Don't bullshit me, Eric. You hated the bastard. So did I."
I tasted the red wine the waiter brought. When her glass was filled, she took a huge gulp. A tiny drop ran from the corner of her mouth.
"We had our reasons to hate him, Mary. But he was your husband."
"At last, he is," she crowed. "He'll never betray me again."
Her voice sent icy spider feet down my spine. What had happened to the Mary I knew? The petite cute girl, the sweet and patient friend?
"The asshole died in my arms, you know," she continued. "I guess I wore him out, but I won't brag."
The same gruesome giggle again.
"But!" she cried and sat straight. "This really should be about you, Eric. My problems are solved, what about yours?"
I just stared at her. A thought crawled into my skull. It made me shudder.
"Did you kill him, Mary?"
She never blinked.
"He died, Eric. He is dead and gone. What is it to you?"
I took a sip, just to do something. Here I sat with a crazy murderess. I felt her cool hand tap mine.
"How about the slut, Eric? What are you going to do about her?"
Her voice was almost a whisper. Her eyes bored into mine from their deep dark niches. I took away my hand.
"You scare me, Mary. You really do. It hurt me to see what he and Irene did to you. The cruel way he treated you, but..."
My voice drowned in her laughter.
"Oh yes, Eric, darling! I remember how you were there with me. A shoulder to cry on. All the time consoling me. Helping me through it. Bravely struggling with me against the awful fate that had struck us."
She was crazy. But she was right. I had been so very busy feeling sorry for myself that I had not even thought about her. Not ever.
I reached out, resting a hand on her wrist.
"I am so sorry, Mary. I should have, you are right. But I was drowned in my own pain. I could not see yours. Please forgive me."
"Never worry, honey. Aren't we all human? Well, some maybe more than others, but what the hell. Cheers, Eric! To all the sorry wimps of the earth!"
And she emptied her glass.
"I am not a wimp!" I started.
She shhhhh-ed me with a sweet little smile.
"Of course not, darling Eric. You are just a lovable man. The most lovable man I know who laid himself down twice in front of a steam roller and let himself get run all over. Twice!"
She giggled, enjoying her joke.
"But who am I to condemn you, Eric? I never stopped loving Phil, whatever he did to me. And he did it all, believe me. But he is my own sweet baby now..."
She ran her red nailed fingers over her black shining belly.
"My own sweet baby," she murmured, eyes closed.
Cold sweat burst from my pores. I wanted to run, but could not move.
"M-Mary," I tried. Her eyes flew open. "I have no intention of hurting Irene."
The eyes flared. Her mouth turned into a blood red line.
"But I do!" she hissed.
That triggered me into action.
I grabbed both her hands. I almost screamed.
"You won't!! Stay away from her, you crazy bitch! Don't even think about it. I'll kill you first!"
I was amazed by the vehemence of my threat. So was she and half the restaurant. A blush tried to struggle its way through her chalky make up. Her mouth trembled.
"Then kill me," she whispered. "The whore won't have his child. The child that should have been mine — my child."
We just glared at each other. Our stares seemed glued together with deep emotion. The world had vanished, there were only eyes. Hateful eyes.
My voice came from afar. It might not even have been mine at all.
"Listen to me carefully, Mary. If you ever get near Irene, I'll know. And I'll come after you. You may think I am a weak wimp. But I warn you, don't try to find out..."
I let go of her wrists. My fingers had left fiery prints on her skin. Her eyes never blinked.
I rose and threw down some money.
Her insane snicker followed me to the door.
It was the second week of January that I got a text message from Irene. It consisted only of a phone number. It took me a day to muster the courage to phone. I was almost relieved when she did not pick it up.
I left a message that I had called.
Her voice shocked me. A voice cuts deeper than a picture, even deeper than a moving image. I can't explain why, but her voice penetrated all the walls of grief and anger that I had erected. It went straight for my heart.
"Hi...how...how are you?" was all I could say.
"I am fine. So is the baby."
The baby. The child. The silence grew.
"Good," I said at last. "Really good to hear."
"You wanted to talk to me?"
"Eh, yes. Are things going well, job and things?"
I felt quite the moron by now.
A tinny chuckle crept through the little cell phone.
"That why you called me, Eric?"
How could I tell her about Mary and not scare her? I should have given it more thought before calling her.
"Is all, ehm...safe and well? No problems? Could I do something to, ehm, help, maybe?"
There was a silence.
"Eric..." Her voice was soft. "I am so sorry I made life so miserable for you. You seem not yourself at all."
My ears caught fire. Goddammit, it was she who cheated on me and I was the one shattered. Stop this, Eric!
I cleared my throat.
"I worry about your safety, Irene. Maybe I shouldn't. Why should I, indeed? But I do."
"I am quite safe, Eric. Please don't worry."
Her voice was soft.
"Phil is dead, Irene. Did you know?"
I heard a gasp. So she didn't.
"Mary told me his heart failed."
"But he is...he was quite young yet. And strong."
"Yes." She should know.
"He died in Mary's arms."
"Irene? I think she killed him."
"Oh God, Eric. Because of what I did?"
"The child, Irene. I think it is because he gave you the child she could not have."
There was sobbing at the other end. I waited.
"Irene? I am afraid she might come for you."
A sharp intake of breath.
"For me? Here? Why?"
"Because of the child. She said she'd kill you before you'd have it. She told me, Irene."
I hated myself for telling her. Or did I?
"What can I do, Eric? Oh God, I am so sorry for this mess. And now I am scared. Eric?"
I did not know what to say.
"I can't protect you, Irene. Not as long as you are in Los Angeles and I am here."
"I love you, Eric."
Bile was rising up my throat. I had to cough.
"Why tell me now, Irene?"
The silence was deafening.
"I...I am so afraid, Eric."
"Don't be, Irene. She is in town. I keep an eye on her. Last week I saw her leaving her offices."
"I am so alone, Eric. No one to help me. No one here to talk to. No one!"
"I am sorry for that, Irene." Was I? I guess so.
"What can I do, Eric?"
"Stay there. Stay low. Maybe move from where you're living now. I'll see to Mary."
"I love you, Eric. I am so scared."
I ended the call.
The PI found where she lived in no time. It was a brownstone in Harlem. I went to see it. The street had been recently renovated. It looked pretty.
I waited in my car, but after two hours the futility of it became clear to me. I drove off, then returned with a little package. I rang the bell of her apartment. It was on the first floor. No one answered, so I went to the second floor. An elderly woman told me that her neighbor wasn't home often. I asked her if she could give her the package. She agreed and I let her sign a fake paper.
I had to wait for a day. Then she called me.
"What the fuck was that for?" she asked.
"We need to talk some more, Mary, and you made yourself pretty unreachable. You were right about Irene. But she is mine, you hear? Mine!"
"Yeah right, wimp." Her voice was sarcastic. "What are you going to do? Whine her to death?"
I kept my voice steady.
"She's mine. You keep your talons out of this. You hear me?"
"Whine, whine, whine, I hear you, honey," she said and chuckled.
I let it pass.
"I know where you live, Mary. I know where you work. I have you under surveillance."
"Bluffing, darling?" she said.
I was. But did she know?
"Try me," I bluffed.
"Don't worry, Eric. I won't touch the cunt. Yet. But don't make me wait too long, honey."
She cut the connection.
When I called Irene, she was all over me.
"Did you get to her? Did you tell her? Will she back off?"
"Yes, Irene, I did. And she promised to back off."
There was a sigh at the other end.
"But you know, Irene. I don't think her word can be trusted much. She is obsessed, you know. You and sweet Phil turned her into a madwoman."
"Oh God, Eric, what have I done?"
What indeed, I thought. Feeding the snakes, I'd say. Taunting the devil.
"Let's say you fucked up, Irene."
There was silence. Maybe she cried with her hand over the mouth-piece. I waited.
"You still there?" I inquired after a few minutes.
There were hiccups in her voice.
"Please, Eric. Come to L.A. Please come and help me feel safe."
"I can't do that, Irene."
"Why not, Eric? Please. I love you. Please come."
Her fear was real. But why should I ever again believe the rest was too?
"Honey," I said. "It really is a bit late to ask me to climb that white stallion and come to the rescue, isn't it?"
"Please believe me. I am so sorry. It was just a fling and I threw everything away. I know! I am a stupid bitch, Eric. And I know I should suffer for it. I do suffer, Eric. Please, believe me. But don't sentence me to death."
Yes, the fear was real. And she did not even throw in the child. She knew better, I guess.
"You are safe, Irene. Don't worry. You'll live and have the baby. I'll take care of Mary."
Another silence. I don't think she believed me. But did she have a choice?
"I found a new apartment here," she said. "I'll get an unlisted number. She won't find me."
"Good girl," I said, hating it at once.
"I am sorry for turning a good man into a cruel one, Eric. Please forgive me."
That was when my eyes started burning.
In the following months Mary called me at least once every two weeks. She wanted to know how my plan to 'punish the bitch' was progressing. I think she also just wanted to ridicule me. I told her to go to hell. She asked if she should make reservations for me too.
After the fourth call she said she could not wait any longer. She'd take matters into her own hands. I threatened her, but she just laughed and called me a wimp.
"I hope you won't mind if I borrow your balls, honey," she said. "You seem to have stopped needing them."
And she hung up.
It was April by now. The child was due in the second half of May. Irene said she felt good, but tired easily. Her belly became a burden. She had stopped calling me as often as at first. Maybe her fear was allayed a bit. Anyway, her love seemed less of a driving force to keep in touch with me than her fear had been.
My God, what made me think that?
Maybe she had found another protector, I mused and savored the pain. Then again, who would fall for a pregnant single woman in her eighth month?
I hated my thoughts. I had pretty much started hating myself.
I took off a week and told Irene I'd fly to Los Angeles. We needed to talk. She seemed surprised. I guess I would have been too, in her position.
Did I expect that she would wait for me at the airport? I'd say I would have hoped, but of course I expected her to. And she was there. She looked awesome. Her body had ballooned, but the balloon was nicely placed on her frame, sticking out proudly and supporting two wonderfully swollen tits. She looked so healthy. Her hair was a thick cloud of color, her skin a blushing cream.
I never hesitated to take her in my arms and kiss her. She cried.
"Oh God," she sobbed. "I thought I'd lost you. You grew so distant. I was so alone."
"Shhhhhh," I said, closing her mouth with mine. "Shhhhh."
She had a nice apartment, not far away from Venice Beach. It was tiny, so I offered to take a hotel. She insisted I stay. There was a bed-couch in her living room. I guess she wanted me around for safety.
After a very nice dinner she asked me to sit and hear her out.
She kept stirring her coffee. Nervously.
"Why is indeed the question," she said. "There was no why." There was just instant lust and loss of conscience. You see..."
Her fingers strangled her cup.
"As long as I know...eh....knew Phil, I had always had to make a conscious effort to throw up a barrier against his advances. And he never let off. I was attracted to him, physically and mentally, too. That started long before we met, Eric, but it never went away. He can...could be very sweet and persuasive. I had to really work to fence him off."
One single tear lost its grip on her lashes.
"These last years I have grown into a very sensual woman, Eric. You know that. You are even partly responsible for that."