EXIT AFFAIR / RUINATION
She moved through her life like an empty ship, cavernous, listing and swaying as she did mundane things: pulling her pants up after a piss, climbing up and down stairs, pouring coffee from the press and cleaning out the grounds, staring at glowing screens.
The man in her house hated her but he would not leave. Sometimes he would climb on her and push himself inside her. She cried but kept her wet cheeks away from his face so as to not be rude. She wasn’t sure he would have noticed anyway. She told herself these transactions were useful because they fulfilled her own need for human contact and because they got him off her case for a little while.
There was a child and he could know none of this, none of it.
The man in her house watched documentaries and smoked reefer while she was at work. He told her that, despite how it looked, he was smarter than she was. He said, You snore so loud I can’t sleep in the bed with you anymore. He said, You smell like an old lady. He said, Someone has to tell you these things.
She thought about poisoning him. She thought about teleportation, tunnels, and impossible escapes throughout history. Some kid in a passing car threw a drink in the man’s face while he was walking on the side of the road, and her first impulse was to laugh. She thought about karma. She thought about wilted, thirsty flowers. She thought about dying. She thought she was dying.
Sometimes she stayed up late and drank seven dollar sparkling wine out of a plastic sippy cup and passed out. Other times she got just tipsy enough to take selfies while brushing her teeth and put them online because fuck it. She got up early every day to get the child out of his crib and feed him breakfast and let him snuggle close to her. She was soft. She hated every inch of her body.
The man in her house hated it too. She could tell because he would not look at it.
She mostly stopped eating and started dressing up for work, really trying, even though things fit weirdly for a few months. She thought, Dress for the job you want. She wanted the man in her house to tell her she looked nice. He didn’t. He tended to leave the room when she entered. She got promoted.
A group from corporate came to town. She knew all of their names from newsletters and conference calls and smiled as they slapped backs and joked during meetings. She already knew one of the men, had talked to him on the phone. His face fit his voice. He had kind eyes, a sharp jaw, and he made her laugh. She drove him to and from boozy dinners with the team that week. On the third night, once they’d both had enough beer, she realized he was flirting with her. She thought, He’s married, pump the brakes.
She got a text from the man in her house. It said, You know, most people are courteous enough to let their significant others know when they’ll be out partying all night. She thought, Fair enough, motherfucker.
The married man flew home. He told her through her glowing screen that she was beautiful. He said, I should have kissed you when I had the chance. She read his words and felt drunk. She thought
about rust and copper polish and brooms thrust into dusty corners and shriveled flower petals plumping in flickered time-lapse. She told him it wouldn’t have stopped at a kiss.
The married man lived eight hours away, near the beach, with a pregnant woman who happened to be his wife. He said, She doesn’t have anything to do with me anymore. He said, I don’t even know how we’re pregnant, honestly. He said, Nevermind her. I need to taste you.
She thought, Oh my. She said, You will.
She thought about how the man in her house had told her he didn’t like how she tasted.
She was hungry. She texted the married man all day and night. He texted back all day and night. She told the married man about the man in her house who hated her. He asked her for pictures of her pretty face. She took them and retook them from more flattering angles.
The married man called and said he had to have her. His drawl was like a lick in her ear. She thought about the smell of his skin, the friction of his legs against hers. When the man in her house climbed on top of her, as he did once a week, she thought about the married man. She felt guilty, like she was cheating on him.
When the man in her house had fallen asleep on the couch, the married man placed a video call to her. She said, I like you.
He said, I like you too. You’re fun to look at.
She said, So are you. They were quiet. They smiled.
He said, I am going to ruin you.
They made plans. She told the man in her house that she had a work trip and gave the child a big kiss goodbye. She drove four hours to a hotel where the married man was with the same corporate group as before. She put on sunglasses and felt like a spy. Her hair was up in a clip and she hadn’t worn underwear. She went inside the lobby and stepped onto the elevator, sure someone was going to stop her. She got off on the married man’s floor and knocked on the door. She thought, This is how good things start. She thought, This is how bad things start.
He opened the door and she was shaking. She put her bag down and he pulled her into the bedroom and kissed her. He was taller than she remembered. And wider. He was wearing pleated khakis. She thought, No one should ever wear pleated khakis. She heard the hushed commentary and muted clapping of golf on TV. She had to crane her neck up to get her tongue in his mouth. It happened quickly then. He pulled down the top of her sundress. She unzipped his pleated khakis and he nudged her down to her knees. She took him in her mouth and thought about how predictable men were. How easily they all folded for this, a tongue on their cocks.
They made love then, her dress hiked up around her hips. He was heavy on her, groaning, grunting, his sweat dripping onto her face. He didn’t finish so much as give up. He rolled over onto his back, out of breath. She laughed politely and used her right hand to trace the contours of her own skin. It was smooth. She had shaved everything.
He snored, facing the wall. She slept fitfully. Her nose was stuffy and she was getting a sore throat. She tried to spoon him but couldn’t get her arm around him. She ran her hand along the prickle of his buzzed head and the barrel of his back. She got up when it was still dark out and went to the kitchenette. There was one packet of single-serve coffee left in the tray. She waited until 7, brewed it, and took it in to the bedroom where he was beginning to stir. She handed it to him. She searched his face but he was looking at his phone.
He went to a meeting and she laid in the bed’s soft white sheets, wiping her nose with tissues from the nightstand. The married man texted her. He said, We have a dinner at 7. I’ll be back after that. She replied, Your concubine awaits. She texted the man in her house and asked about the child. She took a shower and looked through the glass door at herself in the mirror. Her eyes fixed on the bulge below her belly button, the stretch marks, the dimples that covered her from her waist to her knees. The married man had told her weeks ago that he wanted to have her in the shower, and she had said, Yes, please. Standing there, she decided she couldn’t, not here, in such unforgiving light.
Let me in, he texted. They made love again. She said, I love that you smile while you’re fucking me. He said, You’d smile too if you were fucking you. She held his hands and felt his wedding ring against her fingers.
She slept badly again, and woke with her throat nearly swollen shut. The married man was in the bathroom when his phone lit up. She looked at the screen and saw that his background photo was a pretty redhead, smiling. He went to his meeting and she snuck out to her car to find a drug store. She bought cold medicine and went back to the hotel and the soft white sheets. She made a cocoon and napped.
He returned to the room that evening. Her body ached and her nose dripped. She thought, This is our last night together. She thought, You need to rally. She stretched out on the bed and felt him kiss his way down her body. The married man was good with his tongue, better than most, but she couldn’t come. She could never come for a man. She cried out and quivered so that he would feel accomplished. She thought about the time the man in her house announced he was going to stop trying to make her come, since she obviously couldn’t. The married man brought his face to hers and she smelled herself and kissed him, put her tongue deep in his mouth.
The next morning he said he would come back during a break to see her off. She packed and waited. She looked at the piles of his clothes and wondered if his wife picked up after him. Her head throbbed. The married man came into the room and they hugged. She left. The drive back felt strange, like she was carrying some kind of secret package in her pocket. Her sinuses hummed with infection.
He texted her: That was amazing. I needed that. Thank you. She said, Me too. He said he was getting a sore throat. She felt bad, but also a little powerful, like she had snuck across enemy lines and plunged a flag into the soil.
The baby came. The married man seemed pleased. He took time off work and was assigned the night shift for feedings. He began to alternate sending pictures of his cock with sending pictures of a sleeping newborn, cheeks chubbed up against his neck.
He said, I’ll try harder to make sure we see each other. She said, Focus on your baby. I’m here for you whenever you are ready for me.
He said, I’m so glad I found you. He said, I’ve settled on my pet name for you: Baby.
She thought, One can be sustained by secrets. She thought, This is how love starts sometimes.
She went out with her co-workers. They were drunks and gossips. She overheard them talking about the married man. They said he had slept with one of her employees, one of the young ones, when he had been in town a few months ago. They said, Can you believe that? He’s married! What a creep! She said, I can’t believe it. She said, He seems so nice.
She sat on her humiliation like an egg, quiet and warm and uncomfortable.
She waited until she got into her car to really give herself the what-for. She said, How could you be so fucking goddamn stupid. It was not a question.
She thought about tall bridges. She thought about long nights and suns that never come up. She thought about laughter coming from the dark corners in her mind.
She texted him, You are the worst friend I have ever had.
He replied, For your sake I hope that’s true.
The man in her house was asleep in her bed when she got home.