Copyright is held by the author.
SHARON BLEW a kiss to her husband, Josh Moran, as she ran out the front door on an April Thursday morning. Thursday was her double yoga class day when she left for her health club at 11 a.m. and did not get home until 5:30.
“I’m running late,” she said.
Josh blew her a kiss back. He decided years ago that his childless marriage to Sharon was just OK. He had also made his peace with just OK being all that he needed. He sipped coffee on their screen porch overlooking an acre of land bordered by wooded conservation land. The birds chirped, trilled and squabbled nonstop. He watched for a deer, fox, rabbit, or coyote, the creatures that frequented the Morans’ backyard, before he had to go back inside to resume his work. Josh worked mostly from home consulting to wealthy investors. He made his own time, earned a lot of money, and enjoyed his work as much as his leisure.
Josh considered his life with Sharon. After 20 years of marriage, she was youthful in spirit and good-looking, aided by her exercise obsession. She went religiously to her health club six days a week. They ate dinner together every night, went to theatre or movies on occasion, had a small congenial circle of friends, and enjoyed each other’s company. Their bi-monthly sex was familiar and pleasurable to Josh, and Sharon told him, to her. When Josh and Sharon married, she was a cop for the small town where they both lived. After 25 years on the job, she retired with Josh’s blessings. If he and Sharon had lost the passion of their early married years — he doubted sometime whether they ever had true passion — they were comfortable companions. Their days glided by with little friction. To want more out of life would be greedy, and Josh was not a greedy man.
A double-buzz startled him. He could not place the sound until he went into the living room and saw Sharon’s cell phone on the coffee table, its screen still lit. Sharon was never without her phone. It had become an appendage. Josh didn’t know what made him pick it up. He opened a text, which was an ad from a company peddling miracle age-reversing skin cream. He flushed with guilt and was about to put the phone back on the table when his eye caught the end of a saved text at the top of the screen, to a nameless phone number he did not recognize. The text was from Sharon.
See you tomorrow usual time.
She ended the text with a smiley face. Sharon was not a smiley face kind of person. She once told him that the emojis were insipid, for high school girls with a crush on a college freshman.
He considered putting the phone back without reading further. Sharon may have been texting to one of her woman friends who worked out at the club with her. But, why the smiley face? He scrolled the screen down and saw that the text was the most recent in a long chain. He scrolled to the first text. It had been sent to Sharon exactly one year ago.
Why don’t we stop fantasizing, and make this real? My place.
I’m ready! [Smiley Face]
John closed his eyes at the realization that his wife must have been having an affair for a year, as if the text might be gone when he opened them. He checked the date of the first text and tried to remember if he and Sharon had been struggling in their marriage in the months before last April. Nothing came to mind, no fight, no peculiar emotional distance, no change in their intimate life. If Sharon had become dissatisfied with him or their life together, she never gave him a clue. He sat down to read every text. Sharon and her lover, whose name he learned was William, settled on a tryst every Thursday.
Thursday has been my long health club day for the last couple of years. I can be at your house 11:30 and stay until 5:00. Nothing will seem off about my behaviour.
Thursdays it is. Verrrry exciting!
Sharon did not use Josh’s name or even refer to “my husband” when she decided the details of her weekly affair. She had disappeared him. For the first month of the affair, the two exchanged a text each Friday. They were brief and expressed longing for their next meeting.
The time goes too quickly when we’re together.
Yes, and the days between seem long.
His wife and her paramour reaffirmed his belief that texting made everyone sound stupid.
The pair were conscientious about scheduling. Every Wednesday, they confirmed their Thursday assignation. On the rare occasion when they could not meet, they communicated their mutual regret. At two months into the affair, his wife and William exchanged overtly sexual texts that read like a bad porn novel. The florid passion texts continued for a few weeks. Josh tried to reconcile his daily life with Sharon, with this woman who gave herself to a stranger.
By July, four months into the affair, the texts became more substantive, more intimate. His name was mentioned for the first time. Josh wondered if Sharon and William discussed him while in bed together, parsing his foibles and inadequacies. Maybe talk of the clueless husband was an aphrodisiac.
Josh is a decent guy. When I met him, I think I just wanted to get married and settle down. He loves me. He’s dependable, maybe predictable is a better word. His passivity bothers me, but that’s Josh.
What about sex?
It’s OK, not too frequent. It keeps the peace.
Josh cursed his wife at this exchange. He had tried during his twenty years with Sharon to be more assertive in their daily life and in bed. She always tamped him down. Sharon may have been a small town cop, but she had a city cop’s street toughness. That had been part of her attraction for him when they met. Josh understood early on that Sharon needed to be the alpha dog in their marriage. He didn’t mind. He could hold his own with her when necessary. Sex to keep the peace was as old as marriage, but Josh refused to believe that was why Sharon had sex with him. He guessed she wrote that answer to her lover’s question to let him know that in matters of physical intimacy, he, not her husband, was number one. For long minutes, Josh set his face hard with rage. Some nights, Sharon read on her phone while Josh lay next to her in bed reading a book. Had she brought her lover into the marital bed? Were her smiles at the memory of an amorous afternoon?
The texts began to read like talks between old friends at crossroads in their lives. They would ask each other what each wanted out of life. They mused on the nature of happiness and the tension between the need for comfort and a craving for excitement, and whether one had to suffer for the other. Josh imagined two college students talking youthful philosophy deep into the night during the first year of a new romance. For him and Sharon, philosophy had long since been replaced by the mundanity of daily life. He tried to imagine William’s physical appearance. The texts gave no hint of his age or body type, whether he was bearded or bald. The mystery was a small mercy as it made it more difficult for Josh to picture his wife naked with a naked William. The affair seemed to have settled into a familiar rhythm, until September, when Sharon made a suggestion.
Why don’t we buy an illustrated Kama Sutra, and work our way through it?
Now that’s a foreign book I can get behind.
William had a sense of humour. Sharon always liked a good laugh. Josh’s anger flared again. Five years into their marriage, a time when he and Sharon hit a tense patch in their sex life, Josh made the same suggestion to Sharon that she had made to William. She had laughed his idea away. “Sounds like too much work,” she said.
As the new year started, the affair into its 10th month, William told Sharon she should become single again.
You should divorce your husband. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.
I’m happy enough, and I think I give Josh all he wants.
Don’t you think he would want afternoons with you like I have?
You know nothing about our marriage. Don’t go there again.
Josh felt a surge of appreciation. Sharon was loyal to him in her way. She had his back. There were lines she would not let William cross. How wretched it was that he would grasp at such a thin reed, yet he calmed with a momentary sense of relief. He worked his way through the rest of the texts until he reached the most recent exchange, from two weeks ago.
Come live with me. Even if it doesn’t work out between us, it will have gotten you out of your stale marriage. I still believe that is best for you.
You really don’t understand, William. This is my perfect life. I have women friends I adore, a great house that gives me pleasure, my health club. Retirement gives me time to explore new hobbies and places. Josh loves me. He treats me well. He’s a good dinner and TV companion. And on Thursdays, I get you! Plus, we still have most of the Kama Sutra to go!!
Sharon ended this text with five smiley faces.
Josh’s mind went into overdrive. Sharon would be home in less than an hour, and he would plot the next chapter of his life. He ran to his computer and found that the new condo development in town still had an end unit facing the conservation land, that had not yet been purchased. Josh would put a deposit down tomorrow. He went through the house and catalogued the accumulated detritus he would need to dispose of before the marital home could be sold. He would post himself on dating apps and websites. When he tried to imagine his profile, what he conjured up struck him as ridiculous. He’d hire the consultant he’d read about who met with a person and wrote for them a web profile calculated to attract attention from the type of person the client specified. Honesty and loyalty, complete and utter loyalty to a mate would be essential. No alpha females need apply. He would go on an epic campaign of running and strength training. He would tell Sharon that divorce papers must be filed, and the house sold, without delay.
Sharon’s car pulled into the driveway. Josh considered a different scenario, to confront her with her treachery and tell her he wanted to stay married if she did, her tearful confession and promise to never see her paramour again, months of couples therapy, maybe a period of passion sparked by the intensity of their emotional angst, then a return to their familiar life. Or maybe not. Maybe Sharon would turn things around and force him to defend himself for reading her texts, as if the only thing she did wrong in defiling their marriage was to get caught. No, he would not turn back. He had imagined a way forward and had now only to live it.
Sharon walked through the front door and set her gym bag down as Josh watched her from the hallway. He did not greet her with his usual, “hey, babe.”
“Are you OK?” she asked.
She moved toward him for a hug.
“Did you hear me?” she said. “Is everything OK?”
What Josh would always remember, even years and a new wife later, was the expression on Sharon’s face as she returned from her afternoon with her lover; her warm and affectionate smile. She was happy to see him, to be home. Josh stepped back and gestured toward the living room coffee table.
“You forgot your phone.”