How did I know he was unfaithful? I knew it because I was his second wife. He’d been unfaithful to his first wife—with me. I remember the excuses he gave her: working late, “business trips” we took together, absurdly frequent engine trouble or flat tires.
“She didn’t fall for that?” I asked him. He assured me that she believed every word.
I now know that she didn’t. I don’t. I am just too amazed at his audacity to argue. Now I also know what I didn’t know when he and I were making love for hours, pretzeling into impossible, playful, passionate positions and then sleeping, twisted into each other’s arms in a borrowed apartment of a friend who was out of town for the weekend while Stephen was supposedly on one of those “business trips.” I know that Stephen had sex with his wife, though he told me he didn’t. I know it because he is still having sex with me. Tender, guilty, exhausted sex.
Now, six years after our illicit affair has been legalized, sanitized into a state of respectability, I am twice wounded. My husband is cheating on me with another woman. And all those years ago my lover, the same man, was cheating on me with his wife. I don’t know which betrayal I resent more. I should be angry. I should resist the seductions and cut flowers, as short-lived as his excuses. But I don’t, because Stephen’s a really great lover. I don’t know where he finds the energy. Does it excite him to crawl into my bed with the scent of another woman still clinging to him? To kiss me hungrily…?
Yes, Jennifer. He does still kiss me hungrily.
The other woman’s name is Jennifer. Stephen crawls into my bed as little as fifteen minutes after leaving hers. She lives only a few miles away from us. I’ve never met her. But I know where she lives. Does it excite him to rush in to me after making love to her? To twine his tongue around mine so that I can almost taste her? So that the smell of her cunt, still wet on his chin, overwhelms me. It excites me. It doesn’t lessen my jealousy, but it excites me. When his kisses have inflamed me enough, I push his head down. His rough tongue patiently tickles the inside of my thighs.
“Quickly,” I hurry him. I want some of her juice still on his tongue while he’s licking me. Is it me he’s thinking of while his tongue wriggles into the muscled cave of my cunt? Is her cunt lightly downed as mine, the hair thinned with age, or is she young and rebelliously shaved smooth? I read his diary but he leaves out details like these. “Jennifer,” I heard him say into the phone as he hung up very quickly. (J in his diary.) There were only two Jennifer’s in his address book. One of them I recognized as an eighty-year-old great-aunt. I wrote down the other’s address and phone number. Sloppy, Stephen. Very sloppy. Which is how his first wife caught us. I wasn’t surprised his habits hadn’t much changed.
I didn’t call her. What would I have said? I’ve driven by her house, hoping to catch sight of her. My jealous curiosity drew me there. One day when I knew him to be on a real business trip, I stopped. (Let this be a warning to you, Husbands of the World. It is not that difficult to check.) I got out of the car. I rang her doorbell. She could just as easily have been on the trip with him. She wasn’t.
Twenty-something with red braided hair answered the door.
“Hello,” I said, cold and defiant.
“Hello,” she said sweetly.
“Do you know who I am?” I demanded.
She looked puzzled. She shook her head apologetically. “I haven’t lived here very long.”
I didn’t know what to say. This interview wasn’t going at all as I had imagined it.
“I’m Karyn,” I said. “Karyn Feinberg.”
Her red braid bobbed amiably.
“Stephen Feinberg’s wife.”
She didn’t bat an eyelash. Not a flicker of recognition.
“Are you Jennifer?” Maybe I was at the wrong address.
“Jennifer Reidenbach.” She shook my hand politely.
I felt a little foolish. I kept waiting for Rod Serling to step out from behind a well-manicured bush. Should I ask her, “Are you having an affair with my husband?” Should I demand to smell her pubic hair? Would it be the same salty-sweet I licked off his cheek some nights?
Jennifer Reidenbach was looking at me kindly. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“I’ve lost my…” (Mind. I’ve definitely lost my mind.) “…My puppy. Have you seen him?”
“What does he look like?”
Like every other imaginary pet. “Brown, furry. About this high. Comes to the name of Romeo.”
“That’s a funny name for a dog.”
Jennifer Reidenbach shook her red braid. “No. I haven’t seen him.”
“Maybe your husband has seen him.”
“I’m not married.”
“Can I use your phone?” I asked.
“Sure,” the fly said to the spider.
She led me to a kitchen phone. I stared at her pointedly. She left to give me privacy. I hit each of the auto-dial numbers programmed into her phone. One of them was certain to be Stephen’s office number or my home. I hung up whenever anyone answered. I didn’t hear a voice or message machine that I recognized. That doesn’t prove anything, I told myself.
The walls of the kitchen and hallways were covered with snapshots. I looked for pictures of him, of them together. They were all of people I didn’t know. I took in as much as I could of her apartment. “Are you a photographer?”
“I wish,” she said wistfully. “I mean, yes, I am. I’m trying to be.”
In spite of myself, I liked her. I went from room to room, looking at the photographs; looking around for some evidence, some telltale sign of Stephen.
“Maybe Romeo will come home on his own,” Jennifer suggested.
“Your dog. I hope you find him.”
“Oh, him. He’s the wandering type, seems like he forgets where home is.”
“You should have him neutered,” Jennifer said.
“That’s a good idea,” I agreed. Then I saw it—a picture of Stephen, a Polaroid of the two of them at the County Fair. Last year’s fair!