Who Is She?

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It was 12:30 a.m.

Bart was working late. Being a lawyer in a high-pressure firm and having just become a managing partner was taking its toll. His nights were not his own. Many weekends he had to take the L.I.R.R. back to the city because his workload was so heavy. These demanding clients kept him always on call. Financially, he was doing quite well for the first time in his twenty-year career. She understood; it wasn’t that she wasn’t busy or preoccupied herself. Their kids were quite grown – twenty, twenty-two, and twenty-six – and out of the house. She loved her job as a librarian at the local Jericho library. On this particular sultry summer night, she was engrossed in a book being read by her book club. She hadn’t read Anna Karenina since college and so she was quite engaged, as if reading it for the first time.

His car pulled up in the driveway.

Bart stopped at the fridge, grabbed some iced tea, and tiptoed up to the bedroom. He said, surprised, “You’re up?”

She smiled, “I’m deeply involved with Anna. How’s it going, Bart? Tough case?”

“The clients are impossible,” he answered.

“You must be tired?” she said.

“Exhausted,” Bart said.

She couldn’t explain it, but somehow something was different. Bart seemed off-tempo. What was it? His hair. It was neatly combed. “Get a haircut?” she said. “It looks great.”

“No. Why, do I need one?” Bart asked.

“Just wondered,” she said. “And, by the way, Lila got a raise. She asked for it and they gave it.”

“How much?” he asked.

“Five percent,” she said. “And I’m so glad. They were taking advantage of her.”

“She’s one great kid,” Bart replied. “We struck a home run with this one.”

They both smiled. Lila was a prize.

Bart took off his jacket and opened his pajama drawer. His tie was carefully knotted. Odd, she thought. On these hot summer nights he almost always came home without a tie. She imagined that he probably took his tie off as soon as he left his air-conditioned Manhattan office. She noted this careful knot.

Bart then took off his pants and flung them over the chair. She lifted her eyes from her book. She felt him avoiding her gaze; well, not avoiding it, but not catching her eyes – if you know what I mean. Then she saw that his jockey shorts were on backwards. The fly part faced her as he bent over to untie his shoes. Had he spent this sticky day in arrears? Her heart raced. There was no lipstick on his collar, no perfume in the air like in the movies. As a matter of fact, it was the absence of aroma that she noticed – no sweat. After twenty-eight years of marriage, late August work nights meant damp shirts. She knew this because she had put them in the laundry for all those years. She knew the circle of perspiration around the armpits, the badge of honest late work. Her cheeks flushed, her heart pounded. Had he showered before coming home? She knew he had not been working.

“Good book?” Bart said.

“Yes, yes,” she said. “Read it at Mount Holyoke years, years ago. It’s all new to me. Tolstoy is so now.”

“How was the book club?” he asked casually.

“Fascinating,” she said. Her fingers felt numb. “Bart … ” she started.

“Yes?” He was pulling the covers over his head.

“Bart … you are working so hard.”

“Yes, sweetie,” he said. He rolled over and kissed her. She felt the kiss’s compulsory quality, the repetitive wet peck.

“Bart,” she said, taking a deep breath and pausing. “Bart, I got them to fix the den’s air conditioner and honor the warranty two days after it expired.” He was sinking under the covers.

“That’s my girl,” he said. His voice was getting drowsy.

She felt scared. Alone. She whispered to herself, knowing he wouldn’t hear, “Who was she?” – the tears running down her face. She whispered again more quietly, “Who was she, Bart?” But when she looked over at Bart, he was fast asleep.

She turned out the light, first looking at their wedding picture near the telephone on her side of the bed. She turned the picture face down, wiped her tears away, listened to his breathing, and wondered what she would do in the morning.

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