September 15, 2015 by The Citron Review
by Joanna Kadish
I walked in on them unaware. If I had known, I might have taken greater care to be quiet, or perhaps I might have simply peeked in and driven away without letting on that I saw them together in flagrante delicto as my literature professor would have delicately put it. But no, as luck would have it, I burst through the door, eager to tell David the happy news. What I saw made me stop, my lips quivering from shock. David’s big frame was stretched out on the couch over the prone body of Phyllis, her shocking pink hair splayed against the bright roseate fabric like a peacock’s tail. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I stood rooted like a plant, unable to move. Phyllis scrambled as if a gun had been fired, launching into a sitting position, her trembling hands busily picking up her shirt where it lay in a jumble on one arm of the couch, her witch’s eyes of burnt umber opened wide, stricken, boring into mine. David jumped up, and turned to face me.
As soon as I heard the word “pregnant” spill from my mouth like a bloated insect, I wanted to take my words back, soften their meaning, uncertain that I wanted to admit to my changed circumstance, not after what I saw. We faced each other, him not speaking. I couldn’t help myself, I had to say more. “I’m going to have a baby,” I said, spilling my news as casually as water into glass. I felt like I had broken something. Oh, and by the way, without meaning to and without much effort, two people sleep together and in the process make a baby. Quel Beaucoup!
His face was stony, the Rock of Gibraltar. Then he broke into a tight-lipped grin. “Good timing.”
I half expected him to get angry and refuse to believe it could be his, or insist I have an abortion, plastering my hand with blood money. I shrank inside myself, wishing I could curl up like a bug, thinking that any discussion would be absurd. I still looked slender and felt no disturbance—why worry about it now, a baby seemed infinitesimal, nearly a year away. But I still didn’t feel right; I watched their hasty departure in a haze, a heavy trepidation settling over me. Thoughts of impending doom dampened my spirits, fears not only for my own future, but for my unborn child.
The next day he called. He said he wanted to stay married. He asked if he could come back home.
“What about Phyllis?” I asked. “You two looked cozy together. You sure you want to drop her? I don’t see how if we stay married, you could still see her.”
“She’s married,” he said. “She doesn’t want a divorce either.”
“How do you see this working?”
“Phyllis and I’ve been friends forever, since college, as you know. And you’ve heard me say that she’s the best investment advisor I’ve ever known. But we’d kill each other if we lived together. Both of us feel that way. I don’t see her taking your place.”
I told him crisply that we’d have a few dates to see if we should stay together, but until then, I wanted him to sleep elsewhere. In the weeks to come he couldn’t have been more attentive, holding my door, offering to pay for things, letting me use his phone when mine died. He said repeatedly that he wanted to stay with me, baby or no baby. I could have an abortion for all he cared, it made no difference. He said he had made up his mind. I decided there was one last thing we had to do before making that final decision. I waited for the right moment to say this, and it came one night as we sat at a waterfront bar listening to seagulls and watching the pale tangerine and ochre cast by the setting sun defuse across the sky. He said he loved me more than he had ever loved anyone, but occasionally he needed to fuck someone else for variety, someone with a totally different body, even their personality type had to be different. I told him we could discuss that later. Right now we had another problem. We needed to spend time together with Phyllis and Mitchell. He paled when I said this, but I told him I’d play nice. Mitchell wouldn’t be the wiser.
“I’m not looking to make a scene,” I said.
“Tell me again why we should do this?” he asked.
”I need to satisfy my curiosity,” I said. “I want to see if you can do it.”
His face blanched, his skin looked stripped of all blood, white as bleached sand. “Oh,” he said weakly, his voice questioning, the frown between his eyes deepening, and a faint motion, davening slightly like a religious person seeking divine intervention, facing west. He stopped his swaying and raised his hands, looking at me with such a face of despair that I quailed, and then he let them drop as if he had given up all hope, as if his energy had completely deserted him. And then in a weak voice he said, yes, he would be happy to have dinner the four of us, and he nodded in the affirmative, as if for extra emphasis.
The following Saturday having decided on a restaurant, we drove by their house to pick them up so we could drive there together. Early evening and the sun still shone bright with no lessening of the humidity, sweaty and hot. Phyllis lived with Mitchell in a small clapboard cottage that wasn’t visible from the road, hidden behind two large trees. At the door the smell of stale cigarettes and bitter coffee overpowered her perfume and left me reeling. Phyllis was only thirty-five, but from the way she held her body, one would have guessed she was much older. David was the same age as Phyllis. I was a decade younger.
“You okay,” she asked, her voice barely there, sounding hesitant.
“Yes,” I said as strongly as I could muster.
“Good,” she said, turning to David for a hug.
We went in. Mitchell was waiting. He was a small thin man with a goatee wearing round John Lennon glasses, a wrinkly button-down denim shirt and tan chinos. His manner was subdued, quiet. I guessed that he wasn’t much of a conversationalist.
At dinner everyone was cordial. Mitchell had no idea that anything was afoot. As the evening wore on, I noted the way David and Phyllis looked at each other, and the way their voices changed when addressing the other, a purring quality that appeared in David’s tone and in Phyllis’s, too, announced by the soft opening of lips, making me feel that Mitchell and I were the outsiders. My blood boiled.
“Mitchell and Phyllis,” I said, looking around the table, a glass of wine in my hand. “I want to toast your marriage in the hopes that it lasts forever.”
“And I toast yours, too,” Phyllis said, sounding equally heartfelt.
I looked at her, thinking it was not the kind of marriage I wanted. There was a line I would not cross. I couldn’t live with being second best, the one he turned to when the other one was busy, or to whom he turned only for procreation, the baby maker. No. I was not one of those women who stayed with a man for his money. And yes, there was a prenup. I got nothing in the case of divorce until we had been married at least ten years, but our child would be taken care of. We’d been married half that long.
“No,” I decided to end it there that night. “We’ll toast the ending of mine.”
“What?” David cried.
“That’s it,” I said. “Don’t bother walking me out. I’m hailing a taxi. Thanks for dinner.”
And I got out of there.
Joanna Kadish has written for The New York Times, and regional newspapers and magazines, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Asbury Park Press, Seattle Magazine and Seattle Business Magazine. Her most recent creative nonfiction work appears in Nerve.com and she has a piece in Logophilemagazine-weebly.com. “Betrayal” will be her first published flash fiction. She has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for op-ed and feature writing. Earlier this year she received an MFA in Creative Writing from Bennington College. Her undergraduate degree in English Literature is from UC Berkeley.