There it was – proof of his sinning with another woman. A slut who allowed her breasts to be fondled and caressed, a whore corrupting the planet with fornication! A wrecking ball unleashed on the holy institution of matrimony, a meadow where desperate men find comfort.
But she was pretty – Laura granted – and young – younger than she’d suspected. Did Laura not always know Burt had a thing for bruising virgin teats? Were his not the idle, roving eye, the truant disposition? Did girls not grovel to him and seduce him with sideways glances, empty words, and fresh wine? Did he not succumb to their fleshly desires and debauchery? Had she not caught him red-handed, with his pants down, his manliness exposed? Was his not the hand in the cookie jar, the hand caught with the taking? Were not his, the boyish grin and sexy swagger of the buck, the manly heart that beat and cried and yearned?
Burt, the hunter in forbidden forests, who knocked women on the head and brought them to his cave. Mothers: lock up your daughters. Lock up your maids. Lock up your sisters. Then lock yourselves away. For, Lord Burt is on the prowl!
Alas, Laura realized, she was only the spring of his life, not the full four seasons.
Last night she’d lurked behind Burt and watched his keystrokes as he logged into his mail. It had been so strangely careless of him. And when he’d left for work, she’d ripped open his secrets. The mails to H.O. asking for a transfer to Cockburn Island. She’d thought the name was a joke till she found it on the map. A place of sunshine and white beaches and surf breaking on the shore. A little blue boat rocking in the sea and endless rounds of tequilas and guacamole. More sex, more alcohol and more fun, and all this without her, or the kids. Or the mortgage on the house. Or on the car.
The love notes to her – Laura could not bring herself to name the bitchachi: ‘The-She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.’ The rendezvouses recorded in the diaries in his meticulous way: the liaisons, the flirting, the toying, the teasing, the trifling, the intrigues, the fripperies, the gaiety… It was all too much.
And the plan to elope? No teary goodbyes, no swansongs; no notes of regret…guilt…Christian apologies? Alas, Laura realized, she was merely an apple in his life and not the fullness of the fruit orchard.
She felt he had more to hide so she launched on a journey of discovery through his private things. On second thought, she took a pair of scissors along and went snip-snip on his favorite striped blue suits that he wore to meetings and no doubt, after them to the dalliances with the said…unnameable…whatchamacallit in their pleasure dome. She put holes in their seats, ripped their sleeves, cut the pockets, and nipped off the buttons.
She checked their stock of condoms and found a depletion — at the rate of four per week – that would have meant twice on both days of weekends that he was supposed to be out golfing. These, she punctured. When did they have sex last…? She wasn’t giving him any – she’d been so upset and suspicious all the time. So that’s how he got back at her – with the excuse of golf?
The Ping set came next. She tried to smash the woods against the garage walls but they wouldn’t give. So she put the club heads in the vice on his workbench where he did carpentry as a hobby and twisted them so that he would be seen everywhere on the greens except on the fairways, which would elude him like the capricious goddesses of that inscrutable game.
As she sauntered out of the garage with a mean eye and a righteous sense of purpose, she caught sight of another object of her comeuppance – the symbol of his manly pride, the epitome of his professional success; shrouded in gleaming black canvas with silver letters printed boldly on the side: ‘F-E-R-R-A-R-I.’ The thought of swinging the 9-Iron at the outlines of its air scoops, which looked ready to swallow small rabbits, lingered lovingly in her mind, but Laura was a practical woman – she wasn’t going to burn down her own house. So she called the financiers and asked them to repossess the car as Mr. & Mrs. Burt, co-applicants to the loan, couldn’t bear the burden of installments any more: times were hard. And no, they were politely declining their kind gesture of waiver of a month’s delay in payment.
As she put down the receiver it occurred to her there must be more she could do. A further rummaging through Mr. Burt-Don-Juan’s briefcase brought to this Judgment Day’s account-book two air tickets and a visa for the unmentionable Island where adulterers presumably set afire their private parts in immoral sexual congress. The tickets she chewed and spat out; the passport she hid in her bosom, to wave in his face later. His credit cards she blocked by calling the banks and reporting them stolen.
As the sound of spitting and hissing grew ever louder, she rushed to the kitchen where the deep aroma of diced onions, carrots and celery heating in olive oil singed her nostrils. Dinner was burned! The unclean odors of a slaughterhouse were tinted with the smell of sin. She got there just in time to save the mirepoix from turning into ash and soot. A seething temptation crept into her mind to poison the food, as her eyes burned and tears flowed down hot cheeks. “It’s the onions, silly,” she kept repeating to herself, “it’s the onions,” while beating the ingredients to a pulp with the ladle.
When you’re hurt; you can behave as badly as you like. Alas, Laura realized, she was only a lawn to be sown, not the greener pasture.
When Laura calmed herself with a stiff mint julep she sat down to pen a letter to Burt’s slut:
“My Dearest Oholah, Oholibah, Bambi:
Gone is the keeper, gone the breadwinner, the sentry at the post, gone. The shelter blown away, the temple desecrated, the ship run aground, the trenches overrun, gone. Gone in the raging winds of our lust, in the dying embers of love cooled in the swirling waters of our headlong thirst. Gone, lost!
For long, you have ravished me with a power I could not resist – stricken as I was with your darts of seduction. The space in my heart is overcrowded, and in yours, empty. The cup of desire is large and deep, for it holds so much. I have drunk it, drained it empty and chewed on its pieces: I am filled with drunkenness and sorrow now. Long I have roved in the lasting wilderness without the blossoming rose, in this gaping hole without the silver flooding, in these lampless dungeons without hope. All that remains is abandoned waifs and strays.
Remorse is incurable, for it indeed is God’s own handiwork.
So excuse me, bitch, if I’m in a foul mood!
Couldn’t we, under the circs cool off a bit, let the days glide by, as I feel I’m being a little harsh on my loving wife and caring family…”
Laura paused here. Loving…caring…? There was little time to dwell on technicalities – the enemy was knocking at the gates.
“…As I was saying…the loving wife and caring family…so let’s put off this pleasure, sin-trip for a bit.
Don’t call up here again, ever!
I hope you’ll get the fuckin’ message through that thick skin and understand: I hate you.
Lord Butt Burt
In the warm glow of several daiquiris later, Laura felt comforted enough to pick up the threads of her crusade against injustice and speak her mind to those that perpetrated it with silence. Bambi’s letterheads said she worked in US OGE, the office of government ethics dealing in training products. What could she possibly train girls in – how to slip sharp fingers in pockets, when honest people weren’t looking? She placed a call to the number on her letterhead.
“Maxim Manners, Department Head,” announced a cold, sterile, efficient voice, obviously conscious of the power it had over others.
“Do you have a snake-charmer on your rolls?” Laura asked. “Are you well stocked with venom antidotes, Mr. Mores, or should I send some over to you?”
“This…err…” The voice answered a little shakily, the woman possibly jerking her legs up on the seat and peeping under the desk. “This is the US Office of Govt…”
“Ethics, sadly – I know. Do you ever practice what you preach, Mr. Demeanor? To what wicked end do you rear coiling serpents in your courtyards: serpents that glide into men’s pants and seduce with their craft? And all this with the taxpayer’s money?”
“I…I assure you, madam, if you wish to make a report on any employee, or…or on a conflict of interest…or on disclosure…I shall be glad…”
“Then, look sharp! Look deep within your navel. There be fresh petticoats with tongues as sharp as a gliding serpent’s; with poison of vipers on red lips; right under your nose, in your care.”
“Who exactly are you referring to, Miss –?”
“Does a certain Bambi Virtuous work there?”
“Um…it’ll take time to check,” Manners replied, after a few clicks on the database.
“Protect each other, eh? Tell me, when you land a good catch who’s a kind man, a believing Christian, is married and has kids; does that make you a good lay or a good person?”
“A good l– obviously – but where are you going with this – what did you say your name was – Mrs.–?”
“I’m Mrs. Cesspool, for I’m sullied by betrayal. The bloodstains of a stranger’s hymen defile my bed. I ask, on their wedding night, will the bed become pure red, or remain a dirty white? Fucking the woman you don’t love and not the one you do, is fidelity. They called it monogamy, last I knew, and heard. But the chicken always comes home to roost, doesn’t he, Mr. Morals? The day of reckoning will come, and you will watch, and you will pay for being a silent observer. You will see, by His breath the skies becoming fairer and by His hand this gliding serpent pierced.”
“It’s not but, or butt, but Burt!” Laura slammed the receiver down before the other could say anymore.
Alas, Laura realized, she was just a spouse, not the neighbor’s wife to covet.
Am I the villain, or the hero of my own piece? Revenge is a flame that licks inward and never dies, feeding off itself.
Laura lay quietly in the dark and waited for Burt to arrive. Her face was parched with the tears and mascara that had dried on it. I must look hideous. He deserves it.
Laura drifted into a restless, twitchy sleep till she heard the Lexus purr softly on the sidewalk before Burt killed the engine. She heard him tiptoe toward the kitchen, his happy hum changing into a yelp as he tripped over Matt’s skateboard. He banged some pans and plates around on finding the dinner burnt, and the fridge empty.
After fixing the kids sandwiches, she’d emptied the food into the trash bag. He’s going to have to make do with water and air for tonight, and maybe many nights from now on, if he doesn’t mend his ways. She smiled wryly but her face felt set in stone with the congealed makeup.
She sighed and headed for the bathroom to freshen up. She heard him change and get into bed as the soft white sheets unfurled like a flag.
Instead of crawling into bed with him, Laura went to the dressing room and took out the underwear he’d thrown in the laundry basket. She held it up and breathed deeply several times before turning up her nose and flinging it back. She got into her side of the bed, smoothed down the sheets and waited, but he said nothing about dinner.
“Sorry, the dinner got burnt,” she whispered as he lay quietly on his side, his palms joined under his head as if in prayer. “I don’t know…. When my brain shut down — I just napped.”
“Hmm,” he mumbled. “I got some beef jerky at the gas station.”
“Alone?” She paused. “I’m hungry,” she complained after his silence.
“Order some Chinese,” he slurred.
“How was your day…did you meet someone…interesting?”
She lay awake for a long while after he fell asleep, snuggling closer till she could feel their hearts beat as one.
The heartbeat was gone in the morning. In its place was a dull throb in her head like that of an army marching along a dusty plain. Burt had managed to send the kids to school after fixing them a breakfast of Honey Nut Cheerios – crumbs of the little circular guys and drops of milk remained on the floor where he’d missed mopping them. No one had bothered to wake her and lay claim to her motherly calling. She got down on her knees and scrubbed at the telltale signs of her redundancy till her furious face shone in the wooden boards.
Alas, Laura realized, she was just a bed of straw, not the warm nest.
She went back to Burt’s desktop to set right his transfer request. She thought of resigning in his name, but she only wanted him back, not down and out.
“Dear Mr. Vices President,” She wrote:
Do you recall, when we last spoke, not met, but broke bread over a firewall?
Please refer trail mail about my request for transfer to cock and bull out of Newark. Such a poor choice, this Cockburn Island: a rash decision, on bad advice.
My entreaty, the folded hands: please forget. The prayers, the beads circling my fingers, remember not. The words I said, the arrows that pierced the wind, fix not in thy mind.
Kindly allow me to withdraw my request.
Fickle the robin that hops from bud to buttercup, from blossom to hyssop, its feathers powdering with sweet pollen, never tiring, on nectar always gorging.
Restless the roving eye, perching on this twig, that tree, fluttering its eyelashes at all lasses low and high, drinking, but not thirsty, eating, not to stay alive, sleeping, not to dream, awake, when not asleep, searching endlessly, to hoard, never to seek.
A well-oiled machine that will peak till it doesn’t squeak. It was a choice arising from mislaid priorities under excruciating personal circumstances, which have fortunately corrected themselves.
Ever a loyal servant with a roving eye: keep thine harem under care,
After the mail had been sent and received at the other end, she deleted all trails of her work.
Sunbeams crept into the house, scattered gold dust in her palms; she stared at the long, empty day that stretched before her; and the longer, emptier night in a bed too vast to fill the space in her marriage.
Is there any more damage I could do? Any more sweet torture I could invent – cut loose his limbs with a saw or pry them open with a scimitar? String him up, across a breaking wheel, a splitting rack – hold his soul up to the light or press my ear against his hive? Why does it pain me more than it does him?
“I am tired,” she announced to the empty house, her voice echoing off its lonely walls. She decided to dress and visit the priest.
The smiling Father met her at the narthex of the neighborhood Church.
Dressed in a cool collar and nemesis skullcap, he looked every inch a dude with the power to forgive sins, a level-50 priest. She considered asking him for manna pools and fort buffs.
He grasped her shaking hand, lead her to the nave and sat her on a bench.
“What is it this time, Laura; Facebook,” he asked in a kind voice, “or internet porneia?”
“Tis the end, the end of the end.”
“What’s Burt done this time, dear?”
“Why must a man require ch-chastity from a woman when he himself does not practice it? Destitute of virtue, must I worship him as a God?”
“Have you tried talking to him?”
“I cannot bear to speak on the subject with him – what if it is t-true?”
“There – so you’re not even sure it’s true.”
“What does it matter – when I believe it to be true? Tell me, Father, are a couple n-not partners in Christ’s plan for their sanctification? Is it n-not an in-ineffable and lasting union of the heavenly bridegroom… and his un-unspotted bride?”
The priest shifted uncomfortably and grasped the Good Book close to his chest. He felt uneasy whenever she preached to him. “Of course.”
“Is a spouse not the property of her husband – is it not theft then, to steal his affections?”
“True: yet, it would spoilate a property more highly appraised than other chattels.”
“No wound is worse than a wound of the heart.”
“He’s a good man.”
“I fail to see his goodness.”
“Think of the children.”
“Then why do men say: ‘we keep mistresses for pleasures, concubines for attention, and wives to bear legitimate children and be our housekeepers?’”
“That’s for savages to say.”
“Shouldn’t the good King then have such savages d-d-devoured by d-dogs in places frequented by many?”
“Come, come, you must not talk like this. I’m sure all is not lost. Bring him to me and you shall have the sacrament of reconciliation.”
As the priest crossed her, her knees quaked, and he helped her rise. “Try to dwell on joyful things, Dear…and drive carefully.”
He waved and smiled as she turned to look at him while climbing down the Church steps.
Alas, Laura realized, she was just domesticated fowl, not the vast flock of variegated fur to shepherd and guide home.
To Be continued next week
Nidhi attended American International School, Kabul, before moving to Delhi University for BA English Honors. Currently, she lives with her husband near McLeodganj (abode of the Holy Dalai Lama) in the Dhauladhar mountain ranges.
More than 40 of her short stories have appeared internationally in magazines and anthologies like Rigorous, TQR, SPR, Fantasia Divinity, Fiction on the Web, Storyteller, TWJ Magazine, Indie Authors Press, Flyleaf Journal, Liquid Imagination, Digital Fiction Publishing Co, LA Review of LA, Flame Tree Publishing, Four Ties Lit Review, The Insignia Series, Inwood Indiana Press, Bards and Sages Publishing, Scarlet Leaf Review, Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt, Mulberry Fork Review, tNY.Press, Fabula Argentea, Aerogram, Fiction Magazines, Flash Fiction Press, The Dirty Pool, Asvamegha, etc.
Her translations of Sikh Holy Scriptures, essays on Bollywood and several novels are available in print and online.
EC 227 Maya Enclave, Hari Nagar
New Delhi, INDIA – 110064
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