"Do you enjoy this?" he asks. "It's sort of strange, you asking about—"
"I enjoy you." I smile. "Knowing your world, what you feel and experience when you aren't with me." It's true, isn't it? I love my husband, but I'm not the only one. There are others. My only power is my knowledge. I can thwart, one-up, fuck his brains out and feign an aloof detached interest, all with a few well-timed questions.
Seth sighs, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.
"Let's go to bed," he says.
I study his face. For tonight, he's done talking about them. He holds out a hand to help me up and I take it, letting him pull me to my feet.
We make love this time, kissing deeply as I wrap my legs around him. I shouldn't wonder, but I do. How does a man love so many women? A different woman almost every other day. And where do I fall in the category of favor?
He falls asleep quickly, but I do not. Thursday is the day I don't sleep.
On Friday morning, Seth leaves before I wake up. I tossed and turned until four and then must have fallen into a deep sleep, because I didn't hear him when he left. Sometimes I feel like a girl who wakes up alone in bed after a one-night stand, him sneaking out before she can ask his name. I always lie in bed longer on Fridays and stare at the dent in his pillow until the sun shines right through the window and into my eyes. But the sun has yet to curl her fingers over the horizon, and I stare at that dent like it's giving me life.
Mornings are hard. In a normal marriage, you wake up beside a person, validate your life with their sleep-soaked body. There are routines and schedules, and they get boring, but they are a comfort, as well. I do not have the comfort of normalcy: a snoring husband whom I kick during the night, or toothpaste glued to the sink that I scrub away in frustration. Seth can't be felt in the fibers of this home, and most days that makes my heart heavy. He's barely here and then he's gone, off to another woman's bed while mine grows cold.
I glance at my phone, apprehension making curlicues in my belly. I don't like to text him. I imagine he is flooded with texts every day from the others, but this morning I have the urge to reach for my phone and text him: I MISS YOU. He knows, surely he knows. When you don't see your husband for five days out of the week he must know that you miss him.
But I don't reach for my phone, and I don't text him.
Resolutely, I throw my legs over the side of the bed and slide my feet into my slippers instead, my toes curling into the soft fleece inside. The slippers are part of my routine, my reach for normalcy. I walk to the kitchen, glancing out of the window at the city below. There is a snake of red brake lights down 99 as commuters wait their turn at the light. Wipers swish back and forth, clearing windshields of the mist-like rain. I wonder if Seth is among them, but no, he takes 5 away from here. Away from me.
I open the fridge and pull out a glass bottle of Coke, setting it on the counter. I dig around the silverware drawer for the bottle opener, cursing when a toothpick slides underneath my fingernail. I stick the finger in my mouth as I loosen the cap off the bottle with my free hand. I only keep one bottle of Coke in the fridge, and I hide the rest underneath the sink behind the watering can. Each time I drink the bottle, I replace it. That way, it looks like the same bottle of Coke has been sitting there forever. There is no one to fool but myself. And perhaps I don't want Seth to know that I drink Coke for breakfast. He would tease me and I don't mind his teasing, but soda for breakfast is not something you want people to know. When I was a little girl, I was the only one of my friends who liked to play with Barbie. At ten, they'd already moved on to makeup kits and MTV, asking their parents for clothes for Christmas instead of the new Barbie camper van. I was terribly ashamed of my love of Barbie dolls—especially after they made such a big deal out of it, calling me a baby. In one of the saddest moments of my young life, I packed away my Barbie dolls, retiring them to a box in my closet. I cried myself to sleep that night, not wanting to part with something I loved so much but knowing the teasing I'd take for it if I didn't. When my mother found the box a few weeks later while packing laundry away, she'd questioned me about it. I tearfully told her the truth. I was too old for Barbie and it was time to move on.
You can play with them in secret. No one has to know. You don't have to give up something you love just because other people disapprove, she said.
Secrets: I'm good at having them and keeping them.
This excerpt is from the paperback edition.
Monday, February 24, we begin the book THE SWALLOWS by Lisa Lutz.