Trying to ignore forbidden feelings is as fruitless as trying to stop water gushing out of a drainpipe during a downpour.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is entirely coincidental.
After peering out their master bedroom window, Alison is assured they are on their way. Bruce and their four-year old twins stand on the sidewalk below, heading to the park to fill in the space before suppertime. Rachel clutches the threadbare stuffed Bunny she takes everywhere; Sally stamps her new sneakers on the pavement, pulling Daddy’s hand to get going.
It’s been a long, discombobulating late spring day. The family is moving from Halifax to Montreal, so movers have been here all day loading their belongings onto an enormous truck. Her duties of packing items needed-until-the-last-minute like bedsheets, directing the movers, keeping the kids occupied, and preparing to leave their first-ever house are exhausting. Bruce is busy, too, though his chores often
involve being elsewhere. Thank goodness he’s giving Rachel and Sally a chance to burn off energy on their favourite play structures.
Ali had expected to live in this house for decades and feels increasingly melancholy as their departure looms. Tonight, they will sleep at Grandma’s, and the pleasure of eventually collapsing into a clean-sheeted bed keeps her motivated.
Still in her oldest jeans with a dark green turtleneck, Ali plans to change before heading out for supper. Now she savours finally being alone in an empty house. She carries her cellphone into their clothes closet for privacy before dialing. If Bruce happens to pop back inside for some reason, she doesn’t want to be overheard.
She’s been in love with Bruce for more than eight years and has never been tempted to stray. Nevertheless, there’s been a sea change in her opinion of extramarital affairs because Ali is now a fallen woman herself. How easy it’s become to plan ahead, be wary of risks, and prepare little white lies to explain a peculiarity in her behaviour or appearance. For example, she never leaves her cell phone beyond her reach.
Until a mere four months ago, the whole concept of fooling around on one’s spouse felt sordid to
her. It’s natural that long-married couples fall into regular patterns of lovemaking (“This method works, I’m tired, so let’s get on with it”) and variety is the spice of life. But how on earth can a happily married person break their wedding vow to forsake all others?
Is adultery permissible if you the two of you genuinely love each other? she wonders. If you sleep with a stranger you meet in a bar, that would just be pure lust…stimulated by the alcohol you’ve consumed. That’s inexcusable. But what about falling in love with someone other than your spouse? Does that happen to someone like me?
The weight of guilt would be overwhelming,she thinks. Surely couples who cheat start out excited about the illicitness of it all, but then one of them would gradually lose interest. Tabloids are full of married celebrities’ misbehaviour – actors Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck come to mind.
Ali and Bruce are both 35 and no one in their circle has divorced – yet. She’s never witnessed the sadness and turmoil involved in dividing one family’s household into two, to say nothing of the effect on innocent little kids.
Why on earth did happily married Ali suddenly fall for happily married Rick? He has four kids with the lovely Rita and is a terrific dad. As is Bruce. The two families have hung out together many times on outings and vacations. Why did their long-term platonic friendship veer sharp left into infidelity?
Lately, when trying to fall asleep beside her softly snoring husband, Ali analyzes what happened. All she comes up with are factors like these: Rick is a highly respected OBGYN who oozes self-confidence and good humour; she is being forced to move to another province; he is a remarkable listener who makes her feel valued; she’s experiencing the infamous seven-year-itch that plagues some marriages.
Since the twins were born, she’s been a stay-at-home mum, trying desperately to get back to her pre-pregnancy weight. (It’s so tempting to gobble up the remains of the girls’ peanut butter sandwiches when you are bored.) Because she’s spent her days always being somebody else’s wife, mother, or daughter, her self-esteem is significantly damaged. Or was, until Rick made a pass at her at a neighbourhood party before Christmas.
Rick and Ali had just finished a slow dance, for the umpteenth time in their lives, but this time he’d kept his arm around her waist and gently kissed her lips for the briefest of moments. The shock of this off-limits move made her feel 19 again. A bolt of physical excitement spread through her body with incredible intensity. Who else noticed that kiss?
Their road to sexual intimacy happened in stages. The first stolen kiss was followed by meaningful eye contact and furtive touching when the two couples got together socially. Phone calls from pay phones and landlines occurred to avoid incriminating cell phone records. (Rick suggested that precaution.) Texts multiplied, whose evidence Ali conscientiously deleted on all her devices the minute they’d been absorbed.
Meeting for “just a coffee” in a distant neighbourhood, then lunch in another, morphed into spending a long afternoon at an airport hotel. The complex advance planning involved to prevent detection added huge erotic thrill. She loved every chance she found to savour this surprising, illicit relationship. Thank goodness the kids are so little, she thought. They won’t pick up on anything.
Rick made love to her only once, while planes took off and landed overhead. They would soon be living over 1200 kilometres apart. On her way home, she pictured the two of them as a lovelorn couple during World War II. There must have been plenty of forbidden couplings when nobody knew how much longer they’d be alive. Life is short, she told herself.
The closet light goes on automatically when Ali opens the door. She leaves it ajar, to keep it lit as she dials. Holding the cell phone to her ear, she concentrates on the rings and notices a pile of dust she missed when vacuuming today.
The minute Rick reads her name on the display, he picks up and says, “Well, hello again!” with a smile in his voice. “Fourth time today. Always happy to hear from you. What’s happening?”
Her tummy gives a little flip as she pictures this delicious man sitting at his desk doing medical
paperwork. “Sorry to bother you again, but I found a chance to call. It feels a bit like watching a dripping tap, doesn’t it? We keep repeating our Final Goodbye Call, without knowing when the final drop will land! At some point the water will be shut off completely.”
He lowers his voice and says, “Ali, just keep reaching out every chance you get. Our feelings are not about to evaporate anytime soon.”
Four weeks later in Montreal, the girls are enjoying day camp, Bruce is settling into his exciting new job, and Ali is left with the minutia of unpacking and organizing nearly everything the family owns. To lift her spirits, she sometimes recalls Rick’s final statement about their mutual feelings. The two have ceased all contact so she has no fresh guilt to try to ignore.
Tonight settled in their new family room, Bruce and Ali are sitting in their usual TV-watching pose – she’s nestled against him, his arm extended along the back of the couch. They watch a movie, "The Bridges of Madison County." A farm wife, played by Meryl Streep, has a four-day affair with Clint Eastwood, a photographer visiting during her family’s absence. Its intensity, as portrayed by these two fine actors, nearly bowls Ali over, understandably.
As the movie’s lovers part for the last time, Eastwood’s pickup truck drives away in a downpour. Streep’s voiceover says, “I realized love won’t obey our expectations. Its mystery is pure and absolute.”
Ali makes a point of sitting still until the credits roll, to avoid drawing attention to her emotional state. Then, with eyes brimming with tears, she heads upstairs to check on the sleeping twins.