The Process of Discovery
Priya had to insist, regardless, on being the one to leave him.
That was how she defined herself, he guessed, though maybe also, in her logic, he’d taken the initiative by having the affair— he had, as she said, or screamed, one night, called the whole thing off.
But he hadn’t, not at all. He was not going to lose his marriage over some Cuban secretary, was not willing to, not considering it, wasn’t even going to really date that woman, though they were something of an office couple and, yes, they fucked, in hotels and public places, parking spots, in ways that were hot and new and flirted with danger, that had whatever element Priya had stopped being able to provide, and that he, surely, had stopped being able to provide for her.
So why couldn’t they both just be honest about that and work on from there? Was he less of a husband in any way? Did he beat her, steal from her, kick her out on the street?
There had been lies, sure, but Ben felt strongly that lies came in different categories, valences. Not to defend lying, but, really, a miniature deception or untruth, the sort of quote-unquote lie one tells to imply that, no, he didn’t have his hand in someone in the storeroom or, for that matter, in the Keefer’s ladies’ room, which felt doubly taboo, wild, euphoric, that sort of quote-unquote lie is entirely unlike, say, lying to her about whether he had a job or not, or his savings account, or whether he had a secret wife and family somewhere else, whether he loved her.
He did love her, deeply, truly. Why couldn’t she realize that, why couldn’t she call off that bitch of a lawyer and just let the divorce get done, let them return to being friends, in new places, maybe sleeping over from time to time?
He was back on the party line, fighting to stay even semi-erect, and saying this, how that now she wasn’t there he missed her, the smallest things, her companionship, he said, or watching TV together, or the smell of her yoga mats, which was the biggest hit there in the chat rooms, eliciting a series of comparative questions about the smell, and the inquiry, illogical as it was, as to whether after all this time he still had any of her dirty panties on hand.
He listened to a man talk about his stepdaughter, her cheerleading routine, and he thought, unerotically but somehow still stroking through it, about how the day before there had been a miracle parking spot right smack in front of the building, at the gate, perfect, and extra long, easy, and Ben was tempted, as he had done in winters, winter after winter, to stand there in it, to block it off, to claim it, as he had for her, Priya, his wife, back even before she became his wife. He thought about sending her a text: Babe, you’ll never believe the parking space that’s free—right in front! He decided against it. He sent her this one instead: Let’s finish this quick. I miss dinners with you at Keefer’s.
Finish this quick indeed. He hung up on the freak with the stepdaughter, who sounded fake anyway, too many bottled phrases about hairlessness, tight pink. He didn’t need any more professionals or perverts, and anyway, he needed to piss.
It was the sort that kept restarting or ending falsely, a piss on the installment plan, all making him feel even older, and turning his mind to disease, to contemplation of the shape of his prostate and how Michael had urged a checkup that included a finger test as well a camera inserted up his urethra. He was not a young man anymore, hadn’t been young for a while, was nearly divorced.
No use thinking that it wouldn’t happen, and anyway, as he had told Michael, he was coming to terms with it, really, with being single again, and enjoying it, except for the overwhelming feeling of loss.
Back in the recliner, Ben caught a fragment of a show about surgery, facial reconstruction. There was a reenactment of a dog attack, a mauling.
When had they stopped liking the same TV shows? That seemed a more productive question.
When had they ceased to be comfortable in the same room, on the same couch? Their marriage, their relationship, wasn’t just sex, wasn’t only about sex. Why couldn’t they just be?
He dialed another number, keyed in his credit card, its expiration date, the three-digit code from the back. Ben felt that migraine intensity of boredom, a wall of it, an ache. He wasn’t ready to go again, wasn’t even mildly aroused, just wanted some—
No, no special requests, he told the operator, instantly regretting it.
Hey, honey, the voice said. Too old, a smoker, rust in her throat.
How can you stand yourself? he asked. How can you handle it, your life?
She started talking as he put the phone down, talking back, but he didn’t care, or he did, but it was part of the point.
Too pathetic, he kept thinking, about all of it, about everything.