This past month has been agony. I have been afraid even to post here for fear that Charlie will read it. But now, considering what’s happened, I guess it doesn’t matter if he does.
The night I smelled her, Charlie’s lover, in my bed I ripped the covers from my body and swung to my feet. So clumsy. So like a man not to think of changing the sheets. Didn’t he know I could smell her? Didn’t he know I could feel the impression she had left in my bed, my emotions, my life? I reached a hand to Charlie’s blind offending face, then stopped before it touched his cheek. I wouldn’t wake him, yet. No. If I’d been less certain, I would have wanted to sample his excuses, explanations, prevarications. As it was, I needed evidence, not to convince myself, but so that we could get past the denials. So we could deal with whatever lay beyond.
And so over the next six days, I searched. It’s a strange demeaning business to spy on your own husband, to ferret in his underwear drawer; to wake at midnight and take his wallet into the bathroom; to sift files in his briefcase; to pore over the phone bill; to scan a hard drive for the words “2dance” “big bear” and “love.” It’s horrible and corrupting to read code into your husband’s half of a telephone conversation. Once, when he said he was going to the driving range at Chelsea Pier, I took a taxi down just to see if I could catch him not being there. Another time, on my way home from work, I staked out the entrance of his office, hoping to follow him to his lover. I only gave up when I remembered that Lucia had to leave by seven that night. Working moms make poor shadows.
Through all this, Charlie must surely have known something was wrong. In the good old days of our marriage, I only had to answer a question too slowly or to gaze too long out a window, for him to ask me what I was thinking about. Now I stared at him, rolled from his touch in bed, shrugged when he asked me how my day had gone — and he didn’t remark on the change. Chatterbox Charlie, whose probing used to wear me out, didn’t want to talk about Us. Instead he filled the silence with comments about the weather or the odd habits of a client. It seemed almost like a way of telling me he knew that I knew.
Finally, when I found myself scanning the yellow pages under “Investigators,” I stopped. Whatever I had to go through in hashing out my grievances with him, couldn’t be worse than continuing down that slide. I got home first that night, but so late that Lucia had already put the kids to bed. I thanked her, and walked her to the door. Before she stepped out she touched my arm, her wheaten face worrying. “What’s wrong?”
Her hand on my forearm squeezed.
“Don’t work so hard!”
I shut the door behind her and headed for Dante’s room where I picked Backster the stuffed pig off the floor and set him back in bed. Chloe needed to be turned 180 degrees and tucked in altogether, but her eyes didn’t flutter through the whole procedure. I took off my shoes and stockings, and went into the living room to wait.
A dog on the internet
Charlie didn’t come home until after eleven. His russet tie was loose, his blazer slung over one arm. He stopped short when he saw me at the dining room table. “Hello!”
Even after two hours mental rehearsal, I didn’t know where to begin. “Lots of work?”
“It’s incredible, some of these new regulations. I feel like I don’t know any more than the clients.”
“You waiting up for some reason?” He came to the table and leaned over me. Faintly I whiffed baked apples and smoky leather. “Louis of the FBI,” he read. “That would be Freeh. F-R-E-E-H.”
I didn’t fill in the squares. “Charlie?”
I twisted to look up at him. “Are you seeing someone?”
Whatever I wanted to observe – the pinch of guilt, the wrench of anxiety – didn’t register. His head jerked as if in surprise. “Seeing someone? What are you talking about?”
“You want to sit down?”
He turned a chair around and sat with his arms folded on its back. “What’s happened?”
“A few months ago I turned on the computer. It was in standby mode and you must have thought you turned it off. I read what was on the screen.”
His eyes didn’t focus.
“Charlie. There were letters from a woman.”
“Oh, that!” Charlie gave me one of the fat grins he uses on prospective clients. “Zulya! That was just some stupid Internet thing. You know how it is when you’re online, you go into all these chat rooms and say all kinds of things. It never means anything.”
“What was that New Yorker cartoon?” His eyes wandered. “‘On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.’” He chuckled, as if we were at some kind of East Side cocktail party.
“Charlie, I’m torn up about this.”
His face shifted back to me, softer.
“Sometimes lately when you say you’re working late, I call your office. No one answers.”
“I turn the ringer off. It’s easier to concentrate.”
“You should leave it on; it could be me.”
“From now on.”
I felt like I was watching us on TV. This couldn’t be Charlie, couldn’t be me sitting there, my life, my disaster. “And one time you went to a restaurant. In Harlem.”
The dramatic eyebrows came together. “What have you been doing, studying my credit card receipts?”
“Why would you buy dinner in Harlem? You don’t even have any clients there.”
“I do indeed. A prospective client. You know how chic Harlem is becoming.”
“A hundred and thirty-seven dollars.”
“It’s an important client. Anyway, I have to say I’m a little irritated that you’ve been rifling through my stuff.”
This was it; I was watching my life fall apart as surely as if I’d left a flame going on the stove and burned down my building, forgot my baby in a taxi, overdosed a patient. For half an hour Charlie swerved and ducked and I, on the insecure footing of this unknown land, couldn’t lay hands on him. I knew because of the smell that had filled my nostrils in the middle of the night — the smell on his shirt right now — that Zulya had been in my bed, and yet this most visceral evidence seemed laughable when I thought of putting it in words. How can you document a scent?
“Look,” he said finally. “It’s late. We’re both tired. We’ve been working hard. It’s easy to make mistakes at this time of night. Say things we don’t mean. Let’s give it a rest. In the morning, if you’re still not satisfied you can spend the day following me around, or plant a listening device on me. Whatever you want.”
I slumped in my chair and he got up to commence his bedtime routine. After he turned his light out, we lay like corpses on our opposite sides of the bed. Then he reached across to touch my arm. “Hey, Adrienne. I love you. Whatever you think, whatever you’re feeling right now, I want you to know that.”
I believed he was sincere when he said that. But holding that belief in my head along with the other horribly opposite conviction shorted some circuits. Over the next two days I found myself trying to put a broom in the refrigerator, or getting onto the wrong subway line. I bought buttermilk for the kids’ breakfast cereal. If it weren’t for Dante and Chloe keeping me tethered, I might have wandered out of the apartment and into the path of a bus. If it weren’t for my training as a resident – when I had to save lives while in a total stupor – I could never have functioned at work. Charlie watched with compassionate concern, as if I’d contracted cancer. Both days he brought dinner home for us. He spent extra time tucking the kids in.
Was he trying to confuse me or win me back? The only way to answer the question was to finish my investigation, and, finally I was zeroing in.
Sorry I have to go now. I’m at someone else’s computer right now. More later. I hope.