I don’t know how I managed to keep sane in the few minutes it took to drive to Prisca’s apartment and watch her get out. She didn’t utter a word. I didn’t even breathe or look in her direction. I had never known that lethal mix of anger and frustration before.
The rain let up in minutes, settling to a drizzle by the time I drove into my garage. The house was quiet, different from the turbulence raging within me. After killing the engine, I took two minutes in the car to breathe and refused to think. When that didn’t quite work, I stormed out and let myself into the apartment with my key. Jemima had a copy.
There was no sign of Jemima in the apartment, no sign of her regular weekend shopping. I didn’t even check the kitchen. It was almost eleven, hardly time to investigate shopping.
More desperate things weighed on my mind as I moseyed into the bathroom. My clothes were off and in the sink before I shut the bathroom door. After hours in the rain with Prisca, I was supposed to be cold, but the encounter had heated me up and left me aflame. The cold shower was ineffectual.
With the steady spray of the shower, the reason for the heat inside me came flooding back like a vortex. I felt everything at once—the rapid skittering of my heart as my chest expanded to contain it, the tingle in my hands and feet as heated blood pounded through me, the rhythmic pulsing sensation that built in my middle before spreading like a scorching heat wave. What was happening to me?
Prisca was happening to me. I was alone in the shower but she was there in my head. Images of her in a shower ran through my mind like ghosts and materialized in disembodied voices and guttural renderings of ecstasy that begged to be explored, sounds I prayed to forget.
My prayer failed, for the images came in full force. Prisca, Jonathan, shower. I almost tasted it.
I vigorously rubbed myself down with soap, lustily inhaling the musky fragrance of lather to clear my head. It remained clouded and my body knotted into painful rigidity, hungering for release.
Prisca. Shower. Me.
My suds-covered hand glided easily down my slick body and formed a fist, a receptacle waiting to be filled.
The realisation hit like a lightning bolt, stopping my aching need for release in its track. I stood still in the spray, shocked at my thoughts.
I heard my name the same moment a pair of hands glided onto my body. I hadn’t heard Jemima come in, didn’t even think she was in the apartment.
“I’ve been in waiting in bed since seven. Didn’t even know when I fell asleep until the shower woke me up.” Her voice was sleepy in a seductive way. “Good thing you got wet in the rain. We can share the shower … amongst other things.”
The burden of betrayal made me silent. That Jemima wasn’t the reason for my state was infidelity enough. The cause of my agitation was far away, and I doubted I’d have ably broken free of Prisca’s spell until the moment she mentioned Jemima. The name had brought me back to my senses by the lake, stopped me from pissing all over my career and ethics. She deserved more than being the rebound girl of the moment. It was unfair. I felt rotten.
Warm, soft body pressed against my back, followed by feather-light kisses. Her hands glided across my skin, made slicker by the suds and water, to my front. My chest pounded as they took a detour south. Just a fraction lower and I was a goner.
“Is that just me?” she asked coquettishly.
If you only knew, I thought with the part of my brain still working.
Her touch took indescribable liberties with my body, sending blood thundering in my ears. My throat tightened painfully.
“Come on, turn around, Stan,” she said.
I couldn’t take this anymore. I begged for mercy.
“I want to see you.”
The moment I turned around, I was lost.
* * *
The last thing I expected was to hear Jemima call my name in full right after sex. “Darling”, “love” or “baby” was common. Even “Stan” for short wouldn’t have been out of place. Never had she called me by both names. I lay spent, spread-eagled on the bed like a beached whale. She sat beside me on the bed. My body reeled from the enormity of the act. I thought she was simply reacting to the frenzy of our coupling. I turned toward her and the thought was replaced by unease when I saw the tears in her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” My heart sank.
Normally, I never lost control with Jemima. Our coupling was always a long drawn-out marathon through weekend nights. By contrast, the past minutes—or was it hours?—were a series of frenetic sprints stretched into a sequence of heart-stopping, gut-wrenching mad dash for fulfilment. They came back to me in flashes: in the shower, against the tiled wall of the bathroom, stopping against the wall as I carried her into the bedroom, the bedside table, the foot of the bed, the middle of the bed proper.
What’s gotten into you? would have been better. With a sinking feeling, I realised I might have done something horrible.
“Why the tears? Did I hurt you?” I reached for her hand.
“Don’t touch me,” she cried, snatching her hand away and looking at me like someone gazing at a monster. “You’re asking whether you hurt me?”
“What is the matter?”
“How long have you been sleeping with Prisca?”
“What?!” I was sure I hadn’t heard right.
“Don’t pretend you didn’t hear me,” she snapped.
“What in the world are you talking about?”
“Don’t you make me look like a fool by even thinking of denying it,” she screamed, pointing a shaky finger at me. Her body shook as she sobbed her words out. “I know it’s been between you two. I just want to know how long it’s been going on.”
“I haven’t been doing anything of the sort,” I said. Despair and guilt knotted into a fist in my stomach, forcing me to move toward her, but she cringed away. “Jem, it’s not what you are thinking.”
“You cheating bastard!” she swore at me furiously. “What more is there to think when you’ve made it quite plain?” Her head moved from side to side in slow, sad denial.
“Jem, let me explain.”
“Start by explaining why you called me Prisca.”
I stared at her, lost for words. I didn’t remember the name, but I couldn’t deny it either.
The accusation in her voice froze my movement to reach for her again. My legs turned to boiled spaghetti and I sank to the edge of the bed in defeat. The greatest evil I could do Jemima stared me in the face.
“You are making love to me and calling another woman’s name in the same breath. There’s something for you to explain.” Holding onto her righteous anger, she rose off the bed, jerking the bedclothes with her. Even though I was naked, I felt suddenly exposed and vulnerable.
“Is that too difficult to explain?” she taunted.
“I swear, Jem, I’ve had nothing to do with her. I never will.” It was the most stupid thing I could manage but I had to say something even though she went for my jugular. Anything was better than silent defeat. Jemima was the strength I drew on to fight off Prisca’s seduction, and I was paying her with betrayal.
Nice going, Stanley Mala, you rotten piece of shit.
I bounced off the bed and caught her arms while she fought me off.
“Don’t touch me!” she yelled.
“Jemima, please listen to me! I can explain.” I held on.
“Let me go!” She fought harder to break my grip.
I let her go, lifting my hands in surrender, unsure where to start explaining. “Jem, it was a mistake,” I began to say.
Her crying intensified, but she spoke through her tears. “Mistake? Which part of it? Do you even know what you are talking about?”
I tried again. “I’m sorry.”
She gave a mirthless laugh. “No, you are not sorry, Stanley Mala. But you will be.”
Jemima swirled around and stalked out of the bedroom. She was right to be resentful. I expected her to be mortified. But it was the loss and betrayal I saw in her eyes that made me feel filthy. Never have I philandered or cheated on a woman. Double dating, lipstick stains on shirts, strange perfume clinging to clothes—those were not my scene. Yet in a matter of minutes, I had spectacularly surpassed my imagination, moaning the name of the third party in my little love triangle right into Jemima’s ear.
How could I explain in any manner that made sense? Why wouldn’t she even let me try? I vacillated between despair and self indignation, which made anything I had to say senseless.
I got out of bed and pulled on my clothes. Silence stood like a wall between us the rest of the night. It couldn’t last the entire weekend. It was broken only by the furious fumbling of clothes, which stopped only when Jemima reappeared by the first light of day, clutching a fashionable little patent leather bag. Her eyes were puffy and red from crying but she didn’t want comfort from me. She held her head high and marched determinedly to the door, which she opened with amazing calm. When it closed behind her, it would echo in my head throughout the weekend.
“I’m leaving,” Jemima Otti said.
She didn’t mean the apartment.