by Okla Elliott

Her husband was working at the kitchen table. She could smell his coffee as she watched him flip through a case history book. He was studying for the Ohio Bar Exam. His thin arms and fingers moved about like the legs of an insect. His intelligence had always frightened her, made him seem alien, though she also admired him and enjoyed his cutting—and true—remarks about friends and family. Something about the way he saw the world faster and sharper than others had made her fall in love with him. He turned and saw her. She gave him a little wave and blew him a kiss, like she used to during math class in high school, more than a decade earlier, a lifetime ago.

She walked into their bedroom and looked at the bed. The comforter and pillows lay neatly in place. His mother had given him this bed when he went to college, and even though he was set to make a six-figure salary, he still refused to replace it. They had argued about this bed several times in the past month. How strange to argue over a bed. She pulled off her shirt and dropped it on the floor. He hated it when she didn’t put her clothes in the hamper. She kicked off her shoes and unzipped her jeans and left them on the floor as well. She took off her dull cotton bra and panties and stood naked.

She lifted her left breast experimentally and let it drop, then inspected the small wine-colored birthmark on her stomach. She rubbed her pubic hair and thought how some women shave themselves entirely, which seemed sick to her, for a man to like that, as if he wanted a prepubescent girl. Sick.

She liked her body. She had kept in shape as her friends had gotten fat. How can people let themselves get fat? It’s disgusting. Lazy. She felt bad thinking of her friends that way, but that’s how she thought of them. She opened the chest of drawers and pulled out matching midnight-blue bra and panties and put them on. She examined herself again. She looked out the door and down the hallway, to see if he had moved from his place at the table. He hadn’t. Then she found a sleek black skirt and a gray sweater that fit her in a way that accentuated her figure, as the women’s magazines she hated would have phrased it. And black high-heels, to make her taller.

In the bathroom she rinsed her mouth and made herself up. All this time, he sat at his table studying. He could have stopped her. If he had asked what she was doing, she would have lied and said she was trying on an outfit for the departmental party next week; she would have sat down to read Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which she was teaching that semester in her world literature course. It would have been pleasant to spread out on the couch and read about changes in people, so she lingered, looking at herself in the mirror, hoping her husband would stop her.

She walked down the hallway and said, “I’m going out.”

He looked at her, then at the digital clock on the microwave which read 11:38 p.m.

“I’ll be home in a few hours,” she said.

“Where are you going at this hour?”

“There’s a late party I was invited to.”

“I’d hoped we might watch a movie later,” he said. She loved watching movies, curled up under a blanket with him, but he hated it. Movies were a waste of time to him.

“That’s sweet,” she said. “Maybe tomorrow night.”

“Okay,” he said but didn’t turn back to his book.

She shut the door behind her and quickened her step. Driving to the house of a man she barely knew, she felt exhilarated. She had met him because he was one of the counselors assigned to help student athletes succeed academically, and one of her failing students was on the gymnastics team. They talked briefly about the student’s performance, and though it was unnecessary—against the rules, in fact—they met personally several times to discuss how best to help the student, what kind of tutoring would be best, and so on. When the semester ended, he asked her out for coffee. They discovered they lived in the same suburb, and he said she should come over sometime.

“How about next Friday,” she had said, “around midnight.” He was as surprised as she was at what she had said, but a date was set and smiles were shared.

She pulled into his driveway. The lights were on in nearly every room, and she wondered where he was, what preparations he was making for her. She thought about going back home.

He met her at the door. Over his shoulder she saw sports paraphernalia on the walls. He had played football for the university a few years ago and had taken the counseling job to stay involved with sports.’

“Come in,” he said. “You look beautiful.”

He led her to the kitchen and poured wine. Before she finished her glass, he pulled her to him and kissed her heavily. He ran his hand up her thigh. He pushed her against the counter, and her arm knocked a silver caddy filled with silverware to the floor. The shiny metal scattered everywhere.

“Let’s go to your bed.”

He led her impatiently upstairs. After he put a condom on, he pinned her arms playfully above her head. He was much larger than her husband, and it took a few minutes for her to get used to him inside her. She wanted to tell him to fuck her harder, to give herself over to this fully, which would have made this her fantasy, not his, but she didn’t. When they were done and the condom lay in the trash like the discarded skin of some alien creature, she wondered if she was going to cry.

“I should go,” she said and picked up her dark blue panties.

“When can we see each other again?”

“We’re not going to see each other again,” she said.

She hadn’t told him she was married. He smiled as she told him now.

She rolled down the window on the drive home. She knew she wouldn’t confess to her husband. The winter air burned against her face. She turned on the radio, set to the classical station as usual, and listened and steered the car with care. It was a nocturne by Chopin, but she couldn’t remember whether it was from Opus 9 or 32. Her husband would know. When she got home, she would walk upstairs and shower and lie down and sleep beside him. And in the morning—over their usual breakfast of egg whites and fruit with black tea—she would ask him what music she had heard.