It happens this way in dreams: Once in a while in the midst of the dense fog, there is a brief moment of clarity. A parting of the mist where for an instant the terrain of the road ahead is visible and navigable. With confidence, you forge ahead until once again the clouds descend and the view is obscured. And not only is the way now hidden but the lay of the land forgotten, rendering you immobile and impotent to act.
This was the state of my mind now and really, it had been for the past few weeks, months —maybe even a year. The obstacles between Gen and me seemed insurmountable. How do two married people on opposite sides of the issue of starting a family manage to come to terms? How do you possibly compromise on that? It’s not like I could do this without her… Even if I offered to be a stay-at-home-dad, it would still be her body carrying our child, she —the vessel bringing another being into the horror that was this world we lived in.
And now, with the added variable of Elaine in the mix, I was no longer certain I wanted to fix the issues between my wife and myself. I felt like throwing everything into the fire and starting over. And yet, and yet… Without knowing for sure if Elaine shared my feelings —which to be honest were intensely strong but vague in scope— I didn’t dare make a move that could destroy not one, but two marriages, and a best friendship that had lasted decades.
Ironically, Genevieve had seemed happy on the way home from the restaurant. She actually talked animatedly about her conversation with James. Apparently, James had decided to read his way through some classic literature and she had been delighted to give him advice.
I should be jealous, I thought to myself. I was positive Elaine wouldn’t be babbling away about the things we had talked about tonight. James would have been jealous. Wouldn’t he? Or was he really that oblivious to his wife’s beauty and my attention to her? Of course the devilish solution to the whole problem whirled around in my head: James with Gen, me with Elaine. I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time such a thing happened. It just seemed so … unsavory didn’t quite cover it. Could new love be founded on the bones of betrayal? Because if nothing else, I was sure of my love for Elaine. If she loved me too, was it fair to deny it? This where the fog descended and I became most disoriented. Somewhere ahead was a cliff or a gradual slope, the step I chose could be disastrous or easy to transverse. I couldn’t act rashly.
Later that evening, as I brushed my teeth, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. Which man stared back at me from the glass? The husband or the adulterer? A man bound for happiness or misery, love or loathing, and which of those men was which?
I set my toothbrush into the ceramic mug beside Gen’s and flipped the light off on my way out. The bedroom was dark, save for the reading light on my bedside table. Gen was already sleeping when I came into the bedroom. She looked so beautiful, so delicate with her porcelain skin and long, slender limbs curled beneath the heavy duvet. Her blonde mane fanned out over her pillow like a tawny silk shawl in the wind. She was facing away from me, so I touched one soft strand, wound it around my finger then let it drop, as I climbed in beside her. In the dark, after the lamp was extinguished, I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling. Only then did I become aware that her rhythmic breathing sounded forced and I wondered if her sleep was feigned. I wondered if we would both lay awake tonight thinking about the future.
Tomorrow, my fate would be decided.
Header illustration: Man In the Mirror ~ Meg Sorick, 2018