word count: 1959
My Wife is Having an Affair
By Malanna Henderson
"My wife is having an affair!"
When Birney Jones blurted out those shocking words, I froze. I could hear him pouring his heart out to my father while I quietly crept back to the kitchen to prepare dinner.
Mr. Jones was one of my father’s patients and a good friend. Dad and mom used to double date with Birney and Carlotta. They were all jazz enthusiasts and often met at the Minor Key, a popular jazz night club. I hadn't paid much attention, but they don't see each other socially anymore. Come to think of it, I only see Mr. Jones at my dad's office. On the other hand, his wife brings the children to the office nearly every week for some ailment or another.
A few moments ago, he rang the doorbell at the appointed time. When I opened the door, I was taken aback. I didn’t recognize the man I saw standing before me.
Mr. Jones was always neatly dressed; he was well-mannered and usually had a kind word.
Now, it was as if he had turned into Dr Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde. His clothes were rumpled as if he had slept in them. Whatever he wanted to discuss with my dad, he needed the privacy of our home in which to do so.
I wondered if this had anything to do with his health or with his wife’s or children’s health?
My dad was lounging in the den. A glass of Scotch whiskey sat on a nearby table. Dr. Samuel Roy let his considerable girth sink into the plush sofa with a book on his lap while smoking one of his many pipes.
The tobacco smoke curled upward and disappeared before a three-dimensional bronzed work of art that hung from the wall. It depicted a handsome matador; his cape flew in mid-air as the bull was about to charge. Above him, two swords were displayed in a crisscross pattern, their silver hilts glistened in the afternoon sun through the curtains.
The doctor sat like a king in his castle, surrounded by his comforts. A bar tray on wheels contained a variety of glasses and decanters holding whiskey, gin, Scotch, and brandies. The built-in shelves were lined with books of all sorts from world-class Smithsonian tomes to adventures authored by historical explorers.
Mr. Jones crossed the threshold. Like a gale of wind, he blew passed me so close that he nearly knocks me down. I stepped back quickly to regain my balance.
“Hello, Mr. Jones,” I said, flustered.
“Er- hello.” He turned towards me. His eyes widened as he stared. Directing his words to my father, he said, “I didn’t know any of your children would be here.”
“Oh, don’t mind me, Mr. Jones. I’m busy making dinner."
My dad rose to shake the man’s hand before he offered him a chair. Mr. Jones sat down, heavily.
“Would you care to join me?” My father indicated the drink on the table.
“Please,” the man said. It sounded as if he were begging for a drink than merely accepting an offer.
Not waiting around to be dismissed, I slowly walked back down the hall toward the kitchen. My curiosity had peaked by now and I dearly wished to know what has caused Mr. Jones such distress. Before I stepped over the threshold of the kitchen,
I heard his aggrieved declaration.
"My wife is having an affair!"
"What?" I could hear the surprise in my dad's voice.
No stranger to marital discord himself, my parents had divorced when I was fourteen years old, about three years ago. It happened during my freshman year in high school. I remembered being called out of the classroom by the teacher. I saw my dad's worried face through the window of the classroom door.
My heart raced. What could be the matter? Was mom ill? Did something happen to my brother, sisters or grandparents?
The nun left and he told me mom had filed for a divorce. He produced the paper to show me. It trembled like a leaf in his hands. I had never seen him so vulnerable.
My mom could do this. Reduce this pillar of the earth, this paragon of strength and superiority to a bundle of nerves. I saw my mother as powerful for the first time.
I felt helpless to comfort a man whose anger had sometimes turned my legs to jelly, whether it was directed at me or not. I made it my business to get along so as to dodge his ferocious temper.
I put my hand on his shoulder, then hugged him. "I'm sorry, Dad." My voice sounded sad.
“She can’t do this. She can’t break up the family,” he muttered.
I looked down at my feet. When I raised my head, I saw his broad back moving towards the exit. I felt numb.
I opened the classroom door as if in a trance. I should have been sad, but I wasn’t. All I felt now was relief. No more loud and sudden arguments that struck me like a lightning rod, the fear burning a flame in my chest that settled in my bowels. Now finally, I could look forward to a house of peace and quiet.
Mom had a multitude of reasons.
Not long ago, while in her bedroom casually talking about my day, we heard a woman’s high heels clicking on the pavement. The noise stopped when she got to our house. Then, the creaking sound of the little mail slot lid being pushed open through the door was heard.
I dashed down the stairs, my mother was seconds behind me. I grabbed the paper that had fallen to the floor. All I could read was the top portion that identified its origins. It was from a major department store. I could just make out the word lingerie when the bill was snatched out of my hand. My mother’s face turned red in an instant.
It wasn’t my mother who broke up our family, it was my dad’s infidelity. He was a grown man when Playboy was at its height of popularity, but he was young enough to be influenced by the objectification of women it promoted.
The divorce wasn’t easy, but after a series of wrong turns and starts, we had settled into a comfortable routine. My parents would never be friends, but they were civil and able to parent their children without using them as pawns.
I felt sorry for Dad, even though, I felt he was more at fault. His temper and infidelity were freedoms he felt were his entitlements. He put food on the table, paid for all of our expenses and as a doctor earned more than most men. We lived in a fine house in an upscale neighborhood and vacationed out-of-state every year.
To spend more time with him I had started to work at his office a few hours after school and all day on Saturday. I made thirty-five dollars a week. Most likely my salary topped all the kids in my school in 1966. It was grueling work because my dad kept long hours. The office opened at 10:00 A.M. and oftentimes closed at 10:00 P.M.
It could be dangerous too. A few times we had come in on a Saturday morning to find we had been robbed. On one occasion, a patient told my father she overhead three people in the waiting area planning to rob him. He called the police, and they were arrested. After that, he carried a gun to work, holstered under his white coat. When at home, he kept one in the bedroom, and the other was in the coat closet.
Besides paying me a salary, he had bought me a car and was paying for my college education. Not long ago, he mentioned that he was planning on giving me a graduation party next year.
I could tell at times when he came by the house to pick us up to go to a movie or some outing, being a playboy wasn’t all it cracked up to be. There were traces of sadness in his face and voice when he told us he missed us. I know he missed the family times we used to share, especially the Christmas mornings. He was flawed but he was my dad and I loved him.
This dinner would be special. I was planning a menu of eggplant parmesan for me and veal parmesan for him. I’d serve it with spaghetti, a tossed salad and baked garlic bread.
I had everything under control. The eggplant and veal were in the oven. The salad had been tossed and put in the refrigerator. The only part I was worried about was the spaghetti. I didn’t want it soggy so, I let the water boil gently. I would add the spaghetti after Mr. Jones left.
I tipped toed down the hall not to be nosy but to gauge when he’d be leaving.
"I know she's seeing someone." He said, angrily.
The edge in his voice grated my ears like sandpaper. I felt so sorry for him. I could tell he loved his wife.
“Why do you think Carlotta is having an affair?” My father’s voice was steady and calm.
“She whispers into the phone when I come into the room.”
“Do you have any proof?”
“Her behavior is proof. She’s grown distant. It’s been quite a while since we’ve… you know what I mean. There’s always an excuse. Doc, she goes to the office so much with the kids, practically every week. Has she confided in you?”
Patients confiding in their doctors was nothing new. Dad told me people have asked him to find their children jobs or mates.
“I’m sorry, Birney, but I don’t know what to tell you. She hasn’t said anything to me.”
“I know something about him. He's got money. When she took the kids to your office, I searched through her dresser and found a pair of expensive earrings. Jewelry I have never seen. I can’t buy her anything like that, doc, on a mailman’s salary.
“But a professional man can. Can’t he doc?”
That’s when the pit of my stomach fell.
Did he know? Could he sense it? Or did he actually have proof that my father was having an affair with his wife?
I stood there in the hall trembling. The coat closet was steps away. If this guy pulled a gun on my father, I would be ready for him.
I eased over and opened the closet. I could hear him talking and then, he said it, he accused my dad of cheating with his wife.
I reached for the gun on the shelf. Opened the box and took out the gun. I kept it by my side. I slowly looked around the corner. There was Mr. Jones sitting in the chair pointing a gun at my father.
“I figured it was you, Doc. She goes to your office several times a week, even when the kids are not sick. She makes it up. It has to be you. I’m the messenger who’s bringing you bad news.”
At that moment, I rounded the corner, gun in hand and pointed it straight at Mr. Jones.
“Don’t make me shoot the messenger,” I said.
Mr. Jones was so shocked at my sudden appearance that he dropped the gun. I quickly advanced toward him and kicked the weapon across the room.
Mr. Jones put his face in his hands and cried.
“Birney, I’ve been trying to end it with her. But she just won’t take no for an answer. What do you want me to do?”