I opened the door and you walked in, a changed person.
"What is it? What’s the matter?"
"I know all about it," you said.
"You what?" I stammered.
"I know about her."
The room suddenly got ten degrees hotter. I tried to will the blood from rushing to my face. "Wh... what do you mean?"
"I know about you and Maxine."
My stomach twisted into a knot. I had that panicky nightmare weakness in my legs, a swirl of vertigo. I clutched the back of a chair, hoping I looked casual, but my knuckles were white.
"M… Maxine? Who’s Maxine?"
"The girl from work. The one you’re having the affair with."
I forced out a wheezing laugh. "Oh, her? Don’t be absurd. What makes…"
"Let’s just say a little bird told me."
"Honey, you’re just being hormonal. You know how you get when…"
"You were seen together."
I tried to force my hands to stop trembling. I could feel my palms wet on the polished wood. My heart was pounding.
"Whoever said that must have been mistaken. Who told you that?"
"Never mind. Someone who would not have been mistaken."
"They must have seen somebody else. I’m not all that unusual looking. People often mistake me for someone else." I chuckled. "I remember one time a perfect stranger came up and…"
"They saw you get out of your car. They recognized your car, too."
My ribs tightened around my lungs. I could feel a lopsided smile on my face, but I couldn’t stop it.
"Do you know how many gray BMW’s there are in this town?"
"They described the girl to me and I recognized her from the Christmas party. You were with Maxine."
I gulped, tried to think. "Wait, wait, when was this?"
"Last week. My friend had to get up her nerve to tell me."
"Oh, last week," I said. "That’s it. That was Secretary’s Day. Each manager took one secretary out to lunch. You know, to show our appreciation. Boy, those gals work so hard. Well, I drew Maxine’s name out of the hat and so I…"
"You were holding hands," you said.
"We were?" Iron bands closed around my chest, crushing the air out of my lungs. I couldn’t catch a breath, couldn’t think clearly. "Oh, I remember," I said. "Maxine – is that her name, Maxine? – her boyfriend had just broken up with her and she was pretty upset about it. I guess the wine must have gone to her head – she’s just a kid, you know, really – and she suddenly wanted to tell me all about it. So naturally I had to look all symp…"
"You kissed her."
"No! No, I certainly didn’t kiss her. I mean, it wouldn’t look right. I was trying to console her, of course, she really just needed a male shoulder to cry on, but it wouldn’t be proper for a manager to kiss one of his girls, no matter how innocent. What with all this sexual harassment nonsense nowadays, a man can’t be too careful, you know. Some of those girls are positively predatory."
"Are you denying it?"
"Of course I’m denying it. I swear to you, honey, there is nothing, absolutely nothing between that girl and me."
"You care nothing for her?"
"Nothing at all. She’s a child, a foolish child. She’s nothing to me."
"That’s not what she thinks. She thinks you’re planning to leave me for her."
"You talked to… she said that?" I was sweating so hard now I could smell myself, a humid reek of cringing fear, like a cornered animal. "I swear, where do kids get these ideas? You know how young girls can be, they think every man who glances at them is in love with them."
"She said you spent a weekend together. That weekend you told me you had a conference, you spent it in a B and B on the coast, with her."
My legs turned to water. I sagged, barely able to stand. I felt as if stones were being piled on me.
"I… I had no idea she had such fantasies about me. My God, I must be old enough to be her father."
The room grew dark around the edges. I felt pains shooting down my left arm. I could barely hear what you were saying. I fumbled in my jacket pocket for the nitroglycerin tablets, but I couldn’t seem to find them. I dropped to my knees, looked up at you standing over me.
"Help me," I gasped. "You’re my wife, for God’s sake."
"No," you said. "I’m your widow."
copyright 1996 by Brian K. Crawford