She could tell as soon as she looked at him; one glance at her and he knew she could tell. Maybe it was because he couldn’t hold her gaze like before. Or maybe it was just that powerful intuition he knew she had; the kind that left no room for doubt. Standing there outside the door in the rain with his head down, he wanted the anger back, the fury that had spurred him on; that righteous feeling of being the slighted one. But that place in his heart where the flames of his anger had once raged now held cold ashes.
“Come inside now. It’s cold…and you’re wet.”
Her voice was hoarse, and he could tell she’d been crying. He raised his head to look in her eyes for a moment – it was all he could bear. There was neither anger nor accusation, just a sad acceptance. It took all the strength he had to walk across the threshold. He stood aside, his hands hanging limp while she shut the door, then he fell behind as she turned and walked up the stairs. They seemed like another lifetime to him, those days when she would have her hand around his waist as he walked up those same stairs, hanging on to his every word like he was the best thing since indoor plumbing.
“Are you hungry? I made spaghetti for dinner.”
He shook his head, but she hadn’t turned to look at him.
“I’m not hungry…. Thanks.”
As usual she said nothing. He hadn’t eaten at home in at least four weeks, but she’d never stopped asking.
He got home late from work that night to find her sitting cross legged on their bed. She looked up as he entered the room, and he knew immediately that she had something on her mind. Well, he thought, she’s picked the wrong night because all I want is a shower and a good night’s sleep. The last couple of months had been bordering on nightmarish; what with him working virtually all day every day to please his new investors. It occurred briefly to him that he hadn’t seen much of his wife lately. But it would all be worth it in the end, he knew.
He gave a brief greeting and began undoing his tie. She got out of bed and came to stand in front of him. She said they needed to talk; there was something she had to tell him. It was then he noticed how swollen her eyes looked. He felt an odd blend of concern and exasperation as she led him to the edge of the bed and made him sit. Then she got on her knees before him. He could see her inner struggle as she gathered her thoughts. She said she’d left her job today; she’d resigned without notice. He gave a sigh of relief. Did women always have to be so dramatic? She’d only left her job, and here he was thinking someone had died! Of course, it was nice to have the extra income they got from her job, but his company was doing well enough now and he could comfortably provide for the family. She’d never really liked her job anyway so he figured she could take her time now and get to do something she loved, maybe even start that catering school she’d been talking about for years. He told her this in his most soothing voice, but she looked away, biting her lips like his words had caused her physical pain. She buried her face in his thighs and squeezed them hard. He felt her tears soak through his trousers. Only then did he think to ask what was wrong.
She raised her head slowly to look at him, and through the tears he could see the guilt in her eyes. He was starting to feel uneasy. She said she was sorry. She didn’t know what made her do it, but she’d realized it was the biggest mistake she could ever have made. She said she knew there was no excuse, but she had been so lonely. His heart froze with dread, but he kept his face impassive. He asked what she was talking about. She looked away again, staring at a spot on the wall for what seemed an eternity; and then she said it. She’d slept with someone. His mind went blank for an instant. Then it hit him hard, the volley of emotions; shock, jealousy, hurt, shame, and then the rage. He shoved her off and stalked to the window, ignoring the sharp cry she let out as she hit the floor. He stood staring out into the night, his fists balled up in his trouser pockets, his chest heaving. He could have killed her. He wanted to call her all the vile, hurtful names he could think of, but as he’d long discovered and come to accept about himself, words failed him every time he got emotional. She lay there on the floor where he’d left her, her muffled sobs breaking the silence in the room. Her breath came in quick, shallow gasps like her heart was breaking. He didn’t care.
She said it was Steve from work. It had happened just once – the week before, on Tuesday night. She had realized her mistake as soon as it was over and she’d hated herself ever since. She couldn’t stand seeing him at work anymore, reminding her every day of the wrong she’d done; worsening her guilt. She’d decided then that she had to leave her job, and that she had to tell him, so she could get the weight off her chest. She knew he was mad, he had every right to be, but she hoped he could somehow forgive her, and maybe then she could forgive herself.
He saw a flash of lightening make a jagged path through the blackness outside the window. It would be raining soon.
He looked up as he heard her open the door to the room. She paused inside the doorway and said a detached goodnight. She was still for a moment, waiting for his response. But the words were stuck somewhere in his throat and he couldn’t get them out – also he didn’t want to say goodnight, not like this. So he stood there with his mouth open, staring at her back and willing her to hear what was in his heart; the thoughts that he could not say. She was wearing that old pink nightdress he hated, but tonight he wanted to bury his face in the faded cotton. It always held her scent. He could have reached for her, they were that close; but at the same time they were ages apart. She walked into the guest room and shut the door behind her. The click of the lock was thunder in his ears. It had a disturbing note of finality to it.
Frustration tore at him. He’d never thought he would feel this way after what he’d done. He wanted to bang on that door and make her come out. He wanted to see angry fire light up in her eyes. He wanted to shake her and make her hurl accusations so he could remind her – and himself – that it was she who had started it, she who was to blame. He unclenched his fists. Their daughter was asleep in the other room. He didn’t want to wake her.
He turned and walked into what had until weeks ago been their bedroom. He took off his shoes, socks and tie and went into the adjoining bathroom. There, he stood before the mirror above the sink and he stared at his reflection. After work today he’d taken some members of staff out for drinks. They’d just bagged some big new clients and were still reeling from the success. A celebration was in order, they’d all agreed. As the night wore on they’d left one after the other, until he was left alone with his very young, very female assistant. She’d moved to sit closer to him. They’d talked and laughed for a while about things he could not now remember. When she’d asked if he’d like some more drinks at her place – with that suggestive gleam in her eyes – he’d hesitated. And then he’d remembered.
It had only lasted a few minutes, and as soon as it was over he could no longer stand to look at her. He’d hurried out of her bed and into his clothes, all the while ignoring the longing look she’d been giving him. She’d teased him about running home to his little missus and had said they should do it again sometime. He’d said nothing. He’d hoped she would accept the huge check he would give her as a no-hard-feelings gesture when he fired her tomorrow. He’d found his car keys and dashed out of the flat. The plan had been to let his wife know of his payback in the most hurtful way possible, but as he’d made his way home he’d known it wouldn’t turn out quite that way. He’d felt the guilt and shame long before he stood in front of her in that doorway. The anger was gone now, leaving him feeling like a deflated balloon. She’d stood there, somehow knowing what he’d done, but saying nothing. She might never know it, but her silence had killed him a thousand times. Plus the pain he’d felt since that night four weeks ago hadn’t gone away.
He started to shed his clothes like they had suddenly caught on fire. Then he fled into the shower stall and turned on the shower. Closing his eyes, he turned up his face to the spray of hot water. That way, he could pretend not to feel the tears fall from his eyes.