The table was set, dinner placed before her husband promptly at seven p.m. Routine undisturbed, though for once the atmosphere was one both would deem uncomfortable.
He thought a bit of music would set the mood, ease the tension building. So, she placed Marlena Shaw on the Victrola he’d given as one of many ‘sorry again’ presents. Go Away Little Boy filtered from the living room into the dining room.
“Heh, not quite the voice or style I had in mind, but it’ll do.”
She returned, silent with the years of pain dancing across her face. Rather than sitting beside her husband, she sat across from him at the opposite end of the table. It was unusual, but he didn’t seem bothered or worried by the sight.
In fact, he carried on with his meal as if all were fine.
“You normally have a full novel to spill. The instant I hit the door to the time we lie down, you’re chatting away. What’s wrong, Sadie?”
“Oh, nothing John. Just have a lot on my mind, I suppose.”
“You suppose?” He watched her for a few brief moments before raising his fork to his mouth. Silence filled the space between them once more before he spoke again. “Alright, I’ll take the bait. Tell me what’s going on. What’s happened in your little world that’s gotten you so quiet.”
She contemplated to herself for a long while, wondering if it would truly be worth speaking up. If it would make any difference at all. Would she walk away once it was all said and done.
A gentle smile played along the corners of her mouth, her voice soft and timid as she recounted the afternoon that rendered her silent.
“I guess since you’ve picked up more hours at the office, it’s become a bit more lonely lately.”
“You’ve got Helen and the girls, you could have called them over if you’d wanted to. No sense in being alone in this big old house.”
“These days John, alone has many meanings. Sometimes I’m in a room full of others, and yet the surroundings seem and feel as empty as our bedroom.” He nodded, failing to understand. However, he encouraged his wife to continue. “Well, A few weeks back I decided to start venturing out on my own. See what I could get into, maybe even find a job of my own.”
“A job. Whatever for? You’re very well taken care of, aren’t you?”
“Of course. Still, I’d like to feel useful. Anyhow, no luck with finding a job or small hobby. But getting out has exposed me to quite a few things.”
John nodded, taking long sips of his water. “Such as?”
“You can’t imagine all of the old friends I’ve bumped into. People I haven’t seen in years because I’m so cooped up and busy being a wife.” She paused for a long while, continuing with a short chuckle. “Well, there’s one familiar face I’ve been seeing more and more frequently. Kind of crazy considering how that person and I went our separate ways.”
She nodded. “Oh, the worse. I’m certain you remember graduation night. My very best friend then, Karen.” Her husband sat up straight, only nodding briefly. “Well, after discovering how terrible of a friend she was then, you’d think fate would remember to keep us from crossing paths.”
“Well, Sadie, I told you from day one how bad of an influence she was. Loose, no morals about herself. And the thought of going around poising the minds of young guys and gals that only wished to live in domestic bliss. It was good riddance when you kicked Karen to the curb.”
So she’d thought. “You keep interrupting me, John. Don’t you want to hear what happened?”
Her smile was polite, yet as sharp as a knife cutting deep into tension that was beginning to stifle him. “I’ve been seeing Karen about town quite a lot these past few weeks. I found it odd at first that she’d be back around little old Palmer, but then I remembered her parents still live in town. I figured maybe she’s back since her mother has taken ill.”
“Well, to avoid any odd interactions, I stopped her on one instance and we spoke briefly. I told her about our quaint little life, and to my surprise she didn’t laugh it off the way she would have years ago. She spoke about how she wished she’d followed the rest of us Church-mouses to the altar with one of the boys that loved her then. I admitted that I both admired and envied the jet-setting life she spoke of so excitedly. We shared a nice little hug and went our separate ways. She stated she was going to be leaving soon and was glad to have put the past behind us, in case she never returned or we never spoke again.”
“That’s nice, Sadie. I guess what you say is true; people can change, even for the better.”
“Yes, and others for the worse. But John, that’s not the most interesting part of the story.”
“Oh? Well please, continue.” On the inside, he wished he hadn’t told her to do so. Something nagged, something told him he would regret it. But the chatterbox was running, and there was no point in stopping her now.
“Imagine me being out on the town today, still looking for something to occupy my free time. I went all the way to the West Side!”
“Sadie, you know that side is filled with nothing but uppity, rich folk that look down on us. Your feelings get hurt so easily at the slightest word shot your way.”
“I was fine, John. Though, I did get the shock of my life. Anyway, I was just walking around. No one was bothering me, I wasn’t bothering anyone. And something, my intiution perhaps, tells me to look up and look across Tenth Avenue.”
He sighed, pushing his plate away as she continued. “Yeah, what’d you see?”
“Not just a what, but a who as well. Here’s me thinking that little blast from the past was only a brief one, and I see Karen again. Oh, John, she had on the most stunning dress I’ve ever seen in my life. It was one of those peek-a-boo numbers I always fancy myself wearing, but the Church girl in me won’t allow it. Her hair was flowing, these long and bouncy, jet black curls falling at her waist. And there was a man with her. Dressed to the nines, all designer! Looked like he could have been a big movie star. Certainly threads you and I would never wear.”
“I guess I found myself a bit caught up, staring. Being a total creep, if I’m being honest. You see, it was more than what they were wearing. It was how they interacted. As if they adored one another, as if they’d been in love for years. But, but…”
She lowered her voice, leaning across the table for a short moment. “A hidden love. When their eyes weren’t glued on one another, they were peeping and peering over their shoulders. Perhaps her career path is far greater than she let on and they just had to be careful, but that wasn’t the look of fear their eyes held when they were checking and double and triple checking to make sure they were in the clear.”
“So what type of fear do you think you saw?”
“The kind most folk have when they’re being deceitful, hurting others in the process of making themselves happy.” He began to loosen the boring brown tie around his neck, clearing his throat. “They’re just carrying on once they see they’re safe and no one they’re worried about has seen them. They go into this nice little cafe, a place I know I could never afford on my own. A place I know I’d never be treated to.”
“Never know Dear, all you have to do is ask.”
She smiled. “Well, I wouldn’t think for a moment that it’s your type of scene. Anyway, I’m entranced by the site. I don’t know why, because it brings up a bit of pain for me, but I stand there and watch them the whole while. They have a great lunch, dance to the smooth jazz and bosa nova being played by a live band. And then they take their exit.”
“And you lost sight of them.”
“Oh, the opposite Honey. See, they didn’t go very far. Fancy threads, still dancing on the clouds of forbidden love… just a few short steps down to the priciest hotel in Palmer. I could only imagine the luxury, so I decided to follow my imagination. Oh, the hotel is just GRAND. Fit for any royal, all of Hollywood, and secret trysts. I spot them at the concierge’s desk. Checking in, under false names. Though curiosity tried to get the best of me, I stayed with my foot planted at the entrance. Fresh and cold tears streaming down my face.”
“Wh-why were you crying? Darling, you don’t have to live vicariously through others. We can do these things.”
She exhaled; the smile she wasn’t aware her face held fading. “I was crying because I found myself wishing we could, and wondering why we haven’t… ever. And I cried even harder on my way back to the car.”
“Because the realization of why we never will hit me. The realization of who I saw with Karen. Can you take a guess at who I saw?” He remained silent longer than she felt he should have. “GUESS!”
Startled, he jumped at the bass that found its way into his wife’s meek and tender voice. “I-I don’t know.”
“It was you, John. I saw you, giving the love and life you promised me to another woman.”
Without another word, Sadie stood and walked away.