The coming Sunday evening, Burt and Laura lay side by side on their large mahogany bed with the carved bedposts, the one they’d bought on their trip to Turkey the year before. Burt had a laptop balanced against his folded knees – the white light from its screen illuminating his face and reflecting from his glasses. Laura sat propped against the bed-rest at the far corner, staring into the dark.
Burt finally remarked, “Funny, the company has acknowledged my mails – and I haven’t sent any – or at least I can’t seem to find them.”
Laura grunted. “Technology. A computer virus in our spitting image.”
Burt glanced at her and folded the screen. The moon’s cold glow shivered and danced on the walls. His fingers lightly brushing her bare shoulder. Laura shuddered and shrank from his touch. Goose pimples played across her long neck, pale in the radiance of moonbeams, like a live wire that had touched her skin.
“Are you okay, darling,” he asked, leaning away.
Laura remained silent, determined to fight back her tears; the corners of her lips curled down and began to twitch. Skin tightened across her face, like ripples in a pool where pebbles have been thrown.
He pressed on, “I had a bad day today.”
Laura shrugged and shook her head.
“My golf game was off – shot everywhere except the greens. Gave up after the third hole. I couldn’t have held up the four-ball all day long.” He knew she hated golf and hoped the news would please her.
Despite herself, Laura couldn’t help smiling. “What do you call a woman’s four-ball?”
“Still a four-ball.”
“Is that all – the bad day?”
“No. I nearly got collared by the police.”
“For bad play?”
“No – at the clubhouse, later – when I used my card. Funny, they said it’d been blocked – reported stolen!”
“So funny – ha, ha, ha.” She tossed her hair and looked away. He paused and stared at her.
“And the priest…after mass. He drew me aside and gave me a sermon.”
“And…did you say anything to him, Dear?” He leaned forward again and tried to cup her bare shoulder in his palm – but she leaned so far out he was afraid she would topple out of the bed.
The straight line of her spine jutted out of her white satin gown like prayer beads strung on her slim back. Burt felt aroused. He caressed her back, and she put a foot to the ground – ready to spring out of bed.
“Aw – c’mon, honey – come back to bed…where are you going?”
“Where are you going!” she turned toward him – her green eyes flashing in the dark, her face set in wild rage, hair flaring in a fan of silver.
“What do you mean?” he asked, taken aback by her retort.
“There’s a suitcase packed with your things – suits with holes in them.”
“Holes? I…I like to be ready for a trip – you know that. I’ve always kept my travel things ready – you know that…?”
“And the condoms – our condoms – my condoms – the punctured ones – meant to sheath my dry well – where are they gone?”
“Punctured…? What’re you talkin’ about, Babe? What condoms? I dunno! Maybe the boys – they’re grown up…?”
“The boys – shame! What excuses will you sink to next? And what about this – “ She pulled his passport from under her pillow and waved it in his face. “Do you keep this ready too – with the visas and all – and the plane tickets – for two –? Don’t tell me it was for us! And you were going to tell me — when? … about some surprise beach paradise?”
Burt looked around helplessly. “Yeah – yeah, you so got it – why not?”
“And Bambi – she coming along as part of the package too, Mr. Burt? Who else will complete your four-ball game– Mr. Tiger-bloody-Woods – another fuckin’ whore?” She climbed on her knees and began to slap him across the face with the passport till it flew in shreds of white and red over the bed and floor. She mounted him and thumped his chest with her fists. “Don’t steal from me – don’t take away what’s mine!” she screamed.
“Hey – hey …” Burt shielded his face with his arms, parrying her feeble blows. “You’ll wake up the neighbors!”
“I’ll be at your wake, Sinner! Awake McGuire,” she raised her arms aloft and screamed towards the street, “Awake O’ Gallagher, awake harp and lyre, and break out in song! Awake, arm of the Lord. Rise up in your ire; rise against my foes with power and decree Your justice!”
“What’s with the pack of expired condoms, Honey, I’ll get you fresh ones – straight off the shelf – don’t raise a shindig, please!”
“The mails! The love letters! I’ve seen them all – fool! You are the only one who doesn’t see the horns on my head – see –” She put two fingers on the sides of her temples and swayed her head like an oxen.
“Shush – shush – I beg you, please!”
“Beg the Lord! Confess! Repent! Lay your contrite heart before Him! Matt, Rory, come here, and see what your Papa has done!”
Burt reached forward and cupped her mouth. She chewed his fingers but he overturned her and put his full weight against her, gently. “Please,” he begged, his eyes teary. He snuggled in the hollow of her neck and whispered. “Please, I’m sorry – I confess.”
“Do you – “ she panted.
He nodded, his tears flowing to her cheeks and mingling with hers.
“Forgive me, please – for the sake of the children.”
“Were you planning to leave us,” she asked quietly, lying still, under him.
“Nooo – nothing happened – I just met her in a conclave…and you know – you stay away from home all the time – I swear, we’ve engaged in nothing more than harmless chatting…”
“That’s not quite the truth,” he recanted. “It was so stupid of me – it’ll never happen again – I promise.”
“Will you go to confession – will you talk to Father with me?”
“What – him – no – not him! It’s between us,” he begged.
“There’s no hope, then.” She turned her face away from him.
“I’m telling you there was nothing – okay, all right – I’ll do it – for you. Fling me from the high wall to a deep pit – punish me – anything you ask of me, I’ll do.”
“Yes. It will never happen again!”
“Why did it happen?”
“No good reason – I drifted – you’ve been so aloof – you rejected me. I was a little lost sheep – let your shepherd love guide me,” he said, placing his ear on her chest and listening to her rapidly beating heart.”
“On one condition….”
“I’ll set the password on your things.”
“Cool – I can live with that,” Burt sighed with relief.
“And you’ll teach me golf.”
“Wha – I could do…that.”
A Few Days Later
Burt pored over The Star-Ledger while his coffee grew cold on the red and black melamine tabletop in Fuk Mi Sushi Bar. A tall, leggy waitress in high heels bent down, thrusting her hips out, and poked into his paper. Burt folded the paper and grinned.
“Hello, Mr. Burt,” the waitress said. “What brings you in so early?”
Burt looked out the tall window; the sun still shone above the rooftops.
“I came in to thank you,” he replied, liftint from his side an elegantly arranged rose and lily bouquet and offering it to her, half rising from the black-buttoned, leatherette sofa.
“Oh, thanks – are these for me –” she squealed. Looking around the hallway, which was empty at this early hour, she carefully patted down her short skirt and slid into the narrow space across from him – her pointy knees brushing the side of his thighs. “I guess I can give you company for a while – before the slave driver comes out slobbering.”
“I’m sure he’ll disregard the minor breach considering you’re only being a gracious host to a…well, valuable customer. I hope.”
“Well, you do look relaxed,” She remarked, as he drummed his fingers on the table and hummed softly. It seemed hard for him to resist breaking out into a song. “Sunny almost…quite different from the scowling cloud that blew in a few weeks ago.”
“Yes, things are looking up, I must confess – confess – is what I seem to be doing a lot these days,” he laughed, fighting the urge to whistle in the empty bar.
“How’s…Mrs. Burt,” Bambi asked guardedly.
“She’s fine – happier. She feels safer in the belief that I’m miserable in my sin. The guilty party caught with his hand in the cookie jar, full with the taking. The contrite heart, the bowed head, the shamed culprit. She likes the role of being the large-hearted forgiver…the suffering woman who saved the marriage. She’s victorious.”
“The mails – I hope no permanent damage is done?”
“A little – nothing time can’t heal in a believing Christian’s injured spirit. Thanks for playing along.”
“I hope she doesn’t find out who I am – I could get sacked for this.”
“Naah – I used the letterhead of some woman I met in an ethics conclave – it’ll never be traced to you.”
“Naah – I changed your web browser to use a proxy I.P. address. And she’s not going to go that far – the matter is over. I let her sneak up behind me and find my password – and that was it. She even junked all the mails – left no proof. I didn’t have to do anything.”
“What happens next?”
“Nothing – once she finds the quarry, she lays off the chase.”
“But why did you do it?”
“She was so suspicious of me all the time – if I as much as swung my neck – I was, of course, ogling some girl. It was too much. It was getting on my nerves! It was beginning to hurt my rep in the office – she was calling up all the time after me – checking on me. I figured the only way I could get around her suspicion was to prove it correct – I had to rise to the occasion, you see – be worthy of her inquisition, admit to the crime she thought I’d committed, be nimble fingered to the pocket she wanted me to nip. In my respect for her, I had to prove myself unworthy and unfaithful. And get it over with.”
“Has it worked?”
“Well, she’s cozy in her revenge – she called in the mortgage on my car, cut up my Italian suits…ruined my Ping set, blocked my cards – I ate burnt steak for quite a while and I had to listen to the priest’s sermon – I’m a sinner in his eyes now. I had to steal my own condoms. But it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind. Now that she’s caught me, she’s at rest. She’s convinced that nothing much really happened – that it was going to culminate on Cockburn Island – that she’s nipped it in the bud well before we consummated our sin.” Burt laughed. “Yeah, and she can be…pretty…preachy…and cold…and austere…and severe when it comes to moral transgressions. But at last, she’s at peace now – pampering me – keeping the wayward boy home. I’m on a tight leash – and I make sure I give her no further cause to question.”
“Well, I’m happy for you,” Bambi said, wriggling out of the sofa, as the Chinese wind chimes sang in the hallway and footfalls approached.
“Can I offer some – “ Burt leaned to one side and withdrew a packet from his hip.
“Never,” she bent and pecked him on the cheek. “You kept my boy off the streets – you got him a job – that’s enough for me. Go back to your nice wife now.”
“This will remain between us – we’ll not meet again,” Burt said, easing himself out.
“Shush – “ Bambi put a finger to her lips. “Keep secrets like thieves – we’re partners in crime.”
Burt smiled. “Thanks, Partner.”
A Month later he went back.
“Is everything all right with Laura,” Bambi asked, stopping at the corner table in the shadows where Burt sat smoking and drinking. A waitress passed them, lingering briefly with a scowl before clicking her heels on the marble floor.
“She’s fine, yeah – nothing could be better – peace prevails. The armies have returned to the barracks.”
“Then – don’t tell me you’re here to eat our uneatable sushi! Or that you just happened to be passing by.”
“You hear that a lot, don’t you – pretty siren that you are.”
“Ahem,” she simpered, looking at her reflection in the window and nervously sticking a brown tortoiseshell pin in and out of her bun. “And what else…?” She swung shyly about her waist, tapping her pencil on her order book.
“I was wondering…if you aren’t doing anything afterward… I could walk you down to this Indian curry place I know in Bloomfield – they serve up some real fiery stuff.”
“So, you want us to get together, Burt? After what you’ve just been through? Are you suggesting…?”
“Er, I’m not suggesting anything,” Burt said hastily, “– it’s just that…it’s a shame to let such a beautiful thing go.”
“Which beautiful thing?”
“The one… between us…” Burt shifted in his chair, looking around the dim café; the tables were beginning to fill up. He wondered if anyone there knew him.
“You do surprise me, Mr. Burt – but you surprise Laura not,” she said curtly. “She did follow up the lead here – guess from Facebook – in your manly pride you didn’t take care to change my picture – you did want her envious, did you not? And she said that before long you, you with your smoke and mirrors would lose your way back here. I’m not your goods fallen off the back of a lorry, mister – yeah, she said that too. Now, are you ordering, or are you leaving?”
She stepped aside, making way for him to go, head bowed.
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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