He says I’ll have to lean on my faith. But I’m standing near the coffee machine trying to get a solid grip on the scent of burnt plastic. My head hurts, my name is Eloise Latham, and I’m a Survivor Of Adultery. At church, they call us SOAs since there’s more to adultery than adultery implies.
Our pastor says we’re too strong to be victims. You are survivors, he says, because shame is counterproductive and blame is limp-wristed and this summer is the hottest one we’ve had in a decade. My husband, Wallace, manages IRAs for half the retirees at the church. We have twins. One boy plus one girl equals one big old blessing.
After spending all day with the blessing, I’ll take any curse that gives me ten minutes alone in the toilet. Behind a locked door, I acknowledge we’ve reached an impasse. Wallace doesn’t understand my ingratitude. I don’t understand why he whistles.
“I don’t understand why I have to homeschool the blessing,” I say of Sam and Jill who are playing Minecraft in the kitchen with the dying coffee machine and crippled green tiles.
Wallace’s voice lowers into the
long, trombone tone. He picks the lock with a bobby-pin. He discovers me trying
to get a well-lit glimpse at my robust rear parts. He says “Honey our
culture is filled with too much sex and kids are starting earlier. Don’t you
want the best for Sam and Jill?”
When he puts it that way, my job sounds important. I am the moral foundation, firm repository of chastity and virtue. I am a gift from heaven, another tiresome blessing, a spiritual Rolls Royce.
Two years ago, Wallace entertained a six-month relationship with a series of online chat-room humans of uncommunicated gender whom he paid to follow his sexual orders via video cam. Our pastor says Jesus has forgiven Wallace for his sin, and we are working through it, but I can’t tell the difference between working through it and more of the same.
“Things are changing,” the pastor assured me. And yes, Jill’s breasts are growing, Jack is obsessed with video games, the drought massacred my begonias, and Wallace has thickened round the neck. But Wallace’s spirit is still the same cool cucumber it’s been for years.
I’ve been tired and lonely since I stopped painting. I can handle being a full-time mom but the last two years have been like wisdom teeth. Before, I was tired and lonely but safe in the assumption that my sacrifice made us a better family. Now I am tired and lonely and insecure because Wallace acts the same when is faithful and unfaithful.
“Honey,” he chides. “You know how much I love you, how hard I
work to support our family. That time meant nothing. It’s not like I wanted to marry those girls.”
“So what if you did?” I say. “What’s the difference between time and times?”
Also: “Why didn’t you?”
Also: “Why don’t you?”
Before business trips. Wallace gets nervous as a televangelist threatened with cancellation. He wants to make sure we’ll be okay. He wants to make sure I’m not going to spend time alone with other men.
“If I do screw other men, I promise the kids will be with me.”
“That is very sick and twisted,” he says.
What’s sick in a so-called fallen world? And whose spouse gets the Sickest Prize when you run the numbers? I’m still diddling with the coffee machine and patiently seeking reliable statistics.
“Wallace, you are the sicko. I don’t
have the freedom to cheat on you. You’re the one with hotel rooms and streaming
Wallace withdraws into his hollow conch shell and calls me a woman of little faith. He wishes he’d known that before we married. Maybe things would be different. Maybe he wouldn’t have been tempted.
At the restaurant, Wallace tells me how to talk about fear with the children. He stands above me looking down and explaining in that fatherly voice. The woman at the next table is watching Wallace–anyone who didn’t know him well would think he was angry, but it’s just his temperament. He’s the leadership type.
I say okay.
Wallace continues to explain how I should do things. My eyes meet the woman’s long enough to bump against her sympathy, that sharp shake of the head. A gaze I know from times with female friends from church–the I’m sorry look which cements into I’m-glad-it’s-not-my-cup look.
Though marriage is bad, I don’t know how women manage without it. Those poor single women alone in their satin sheets at night. No one to cook lentils for.
When Wallace goes on business trips, I miss him. I remember what he used to mean when he said he loved me before the wedding. When he couldn’t stop saying and reaching and touching. When he was tempted. And everyone said. That Wallace sure does love you.
I’m lucky to have a husband who cooks dinner and does the dishes. I find succor in fine cliches. Like: love isn’t what you say, it’s what you do. Wallace expresses his love for me in how he treats the household. He is good with dishes. He is cordial to unmatched socks. He baby-talks the riding lawn mower despite the fact that he looks like a miserable guinea pig.
But Wallace makes me feel like the biggest mistake ever made, every single minute, I know he loves me and really, really loves me the way a man loves a roomy shoe-box he re-uses to store sappy letters. Go ahead–pray for us.
Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Birmingham, Alabama. A finalist for the 2019 Kurt Brown AWP Prize, the 2019 Greg Grummer Poetry Prize, the 2019 Frank McCourt Prize, and the 2019 Streetlight Magazine Poetry Contest, Alina won the 2019 River Heron Poetry Prize. Her first poetry chapbook, Objects in Vases (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016) won the 2016 Award for Poetry Book of the Year from ASPS. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Prize and was published in May 2018. Her writing can be found in diverse journals, including Prairie Schooner, North American Review, FLOCK, Southern Humanities Review, Crab Creek Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Virga, Whale Road Review, and others. She serves as Poetry Editor for Pidgeonholes, President of Alabama State Poetry Society, Board Member for the Alabama Writer’s Conclave, Co-Founder of 100,000 Poets for Change Birmingham, and proud board member of Magic City Poetry Festival. Her poetry collection, Defect/or, was a finalist for 2015 Robert Dana Poetry Award. More online at www.alinastefanescuwriter.com or @aliner.