Kern’s shoes were caked in mud. He removed them and dropped them by the door and fumbled his key into the lock. He stepped inside. The house was silent. All the lights were out. He tiptoed to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water. The kitchen clock said two am. Swaying, he stripped down to his underwear and crept upstairs. The door to the bedroom was left ajar. Something his wife did when she knew he’d be home late. He slipped into the room and slid between the covers while his wife lay sleeping in the fetal position. She stirred. He moved closer, spooning her lithe frame. She mumbled something in her sleep. He kissed her shoulder. He sank into the bed as a great tiredness came over him. An hour earlier he’d been in the bed of another woman. They had fucked. He had told his wife he was working late. He was a lawyer, she believed him. Now he was home, in the marital bed, everything was fine.
Daylight slanted in between the curtains and roused him from slumber. He stretched out and yawned and looked around. The side of the bed his wife slept was vacant, creased. He heard the shower. His head pounded and the previous night’s frivolities played in his mind. He remembered the tequila shots and the new office secretary, a young blonde who had replaced the last one he’d had an affair with.
His wife, Sara, emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a towel. She fixed him a look.
“Morning stranger. You look like shit.”
He gave a rye smile and turned on his side and closed his eyes, in an effort to shake off the hangover.
She went over to the window and pulled open the curtains. Sunlight filled the room. Kern squinted.
“Super nice day”, she said looking out the window. “Where’s your car?”
“At the office, I’ll get it later.” He said in a gruff voice.
“You need to take Josh to football practice.”
“He starts this morning at ten. You knew that, right?”
“What time is it now?”
“Nine fifteen and I’m taking Chloe to her dance lesson.”
Coming to his senses, he rolled out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. The effort of standing engendered a powerful nausea and he threw up into the basin.
They all jumped in Sara’s car, a small hatchback. Kern, Josh, Chloe. Kern sat in the passenger seat, awkward, ashamed and biblically hung-over. The kids sat in the back, playing Nintendos. In the confined space of the car Kern could smell the vapours of the previous nights booze. Sara looked straight ahead, driving fast, her knuckles white on the steering wheel. No words were exchanged. The twenty-minute journey to his office felt like an eternity.
With Josh in the back, Kern drove slowly to football practice, paranoid he was probably still over the limit. They arrived ten minutes late. Josh jumped out the car and sprinted across the field to where his team were training. Kern stayed in the car, reclined the seat and tried to get some shut-eye. After a few moments there was a knock on the window. It was one of the dad’s who was passing. Kern gave a wave and realised it was a guy he knew to be more of lying cheat than him. Except this guy was incapable of remorse, Kern thought of him as a narcissist and a sociopath. Kern wondered if he himself had become that.
Later at the dinner table, Kern was seized by a pang of guilt. It had been gradually increasing throughout the day. This always happened to him the day after an infidelity, usually worsened by the presence of his children. After struggling through the meal, he grabbed his car keys and on the pretext of a trip to the off licence, went out in search of flowers.
An hour later Kern walked through the door holding a bunch of roses bought from the garage. Sara was clearing up in the kitchen. The kids were in the living room, sat in front of the telly.
With an outstretched arm and a forced grin on his face, he proffered the flowers. Sara looked at him with pursed lips.
“What have you been up to?” she said taking the flowers while leaning in to kiss Kern on his reddening cheek.
“Well, you know how I like to get you flowers once in a while…” he said.
A pathetic line he thought, as once in a while was commensurate with his infidelities.
“So who is Steph? Said Sara who had walked away and was leaning against the kitchen worktop, frowning.
Kern felt his heart beating in his chest. He baulked, his mouth drying.
“Yeah Steph. You left your mobile phone here when you popped out. She sent a message.”
“It’s er..just work.”
Sara had his cell phone in her hand and read what was on the screen.
“Thank you for last night, it says and there’s a kiss at the end after her name.”
“Ah… well…she means work, I helped her at work,” said Kern shaking his head.
Kern racked his brain. In a drunken stupor he must have given her his phone number. Furious with himself for being so careless, he clenched his teeth. Sara slammed his cell phone onto the counter and marched over to the waste bin and threw in the flowers.
“Sleep in the spare room tonight.” She said.
Sara looked crushed. Tears had formed in her eyes and she stormed into the living room and sat with the kids.
Kern hung back in the kitchen, and exhaled, puffing his cheeks. He went into the hallway and slid the chain across the front door and made his way upstairs to the spare room. The spare room contained a single bed, meant for guests or in his case an adulterous husband.
Kern lay there in the dark, hands behind his head, staring into nothingness, past infidelities rampant in his mind.