Wednesday

My Cheating Wife

“Wear something subdued,” I say. Stella and I are lathering our arms and legs with sunscreen, each in our own wing of a bathroom that is considerably larger than the bedroom I grew up in. And we were not a poor family.
“I will wear any fucking thing I want.”
I glance over at her. My habit is to lather with my Bermudas and golf shirt on. Stella lathers completely naked, then walks around choosing her outfit with great care, letting the lotion dry before putting on her clothes.
If only she could see herself, a forty-four year old woman whose ass and thighs could be the Before picture in one of those cellulite ads. The real miracle is I still want to have sex with her.
“They don’t have nearly as much money as we do,” I say.
“You love your Gentiles.”
“Right. And you only want to hang around with Jews.”
“No, I want to socialize with people I’m comfortable with, people I don’t have to dress down for, people I don’t have to eat lousy food in cheap restaurants with because I’m worried they’re watching their pennies.”
“Great. There’s no better way to turn Desert Vistas into a fucking shtetl.” Knowing that my wife will immediately begin playing an imaginary fiddle, the corniness of which will drive me to the precipice of psychosis, I squelch an impulse to launch into my heartfelt and mind-opening Jews especially need to make an effort to mix speech.
“Listen, if they don’t like Jews, they’re not going to like subdued Jews.”
“I’ve known Hanratty since we’re sixteen. He hangs around with nothing but Jews.”
“That’s because he’s in publishing,” Stella says dismissively, as if publishing were a trade right up there along side termite exterminator. “And what about that little wife of his? You think she’s so crazy about Jews?”
I certainly hope so. At fifty, Emily has the figure she had when she was twenty-five, trim, toned, with the most spectacular, curvy little ass. She’s one of the few women in our crowd that I’m still able to fantasize about. To be perfectly honest, just about every time I fuck Stella, I evoke the image of Emily to enhance my orgasm.

“How about we play a little match,” I say.
“Sure,” says Hanratty. “The guys against the girls?”
“Uh uh,” I say. “You I’ve known since high school. Stella I sleep with.” I walk over and throw my arm over Emily’s shoulder. “How about Em and me against you and Stella. The mediocre balls strikers against the good. The short people versus the tall.”
The stakes are agreed upon, five bucks the front nine, five bucks the back nine, five bucks the overall.
I see Emily is having trouble not staring at Stella’s shoes, red and white patent leather Italian imports that I was aghast to see listed on last month’s Desert Vistas bill at $650. “I love your shoes,” she says. “Did you get them here?”
“No,” Stella has the good grace to lie, “I found ‘em somewhere down in Phoenix, on sale for next to nothing.”
“You’ll have to take me there.”
“Absolutely. We’ll go shopping. I’ll show you my places, you’ll show me yours.”
“I’d love that.”
“You know,” I say, “women want to be taken seriously but the second you leave two of them alone they start talking about where to get their nails done. Tim, lead the way.”
Hanratty hits first, a long high draw that lands some 265 yards down the fairway. I make my choppy little swing that I know will start the ball well to the left, out over the desert, before bringing it back toward the grass. It lands with a skid, skipping all the way to the far right of the fairway and stopping some fifty yards shy of Hanratty’s ball. “Even without a prostate, he out hits me by a mile,” I crack. Emily laughs, but Hanratty turns and silences her with his glare.
Our foursome moves up to the women’s tees. Unlike me, Stella has a long, fluid swing. Her drive travels twenty yards longer than mine. And since she hits from the women’s tee which, on this the first hole of Anastazie is a good forty yards in front of the men’s, her drive comes to rest right next to her partner’s. Emily, a relative newcomer to the game, hits her ball wildly to the right where it disappears into a clump of cacti.
“Hit another,” I say.
“I didn’t hear anybody say anything about a breakfast ball,” says Hanratty.
“Tim, lighten up. We’re talking about fifteen bucks here.” I take a new Titleist out of my pocket and put it on Emily’s tee. This time she hits a short drive straight down the middle.
Emily lines up her second shot, but before she swings I grab her arm. “Hold up,” I say. I take the club out of her hands and lay it on the ground, parallel to the tips of her toes. “Look, you’re lined up thirty yards to the right of the target.”
“Oh, my God, that’s terrible.” Emily adjusts her stance and once again hits a short but straight shot down the middle. We high five each other.
I hit next, a low slicing seven wood that lands well in front and to the left of the green, then veers right and scoots miraculously up the narrow strip of fairway between two cavernous greenside bunkers. It comes to rest some six feet short of the pin.
Stella hits a five iron high into the air where it is caught in a gust of wind and driven into a sand trap on the far side of the green.
Hanratty duffs a seven iron, the ball traveling barely twenty yards. Since he is still furthest from the green, he hits next, sculling the ball into one of the greenside bunkers. It takes him two shots to get out, and Emily and I win the first hole handily, I with a birdie.
On the second tee, as Emily takes her stance, shuffling her feet, jutting out her behind, Stella and I have, as so often happens with couples who have been married nearly a quarter century, exactly the same thought: one of Stella’s cheeks is about the same size as both of Emily’s. I am certain of this because as I glance over at Stella and grin, she widens her eyes, scowling at me threateningly.
Once again Emily drives the ball onto the fairway, not far from my drive. Stella hits hers well to the left, about the same distance Hanratty has hit his to the right.
The match proceeds in similar fashion. Emily, a reluctant golfer at best, seems to be blossoming under my tutelage, playing well above her usual level. I welcome the opportunity to have so much close physical contact with her, putting my hands on her hips to encourage a bigger turn, on her trim, muscular upper arms to take a longer, more relaxed swing.
Years ago, when our gang first started playing couples golf, I noticed how avidly most women responded to instruction from any man other than their husbands. And how quickly this made the husband uptight and jealous. Putting such observations to use is all part of the one-upsmanship of golf, especially with a hard scrabble little game like mine.
Hanratty, despite his easy, rhythmic swing, begins spraying the ball into the desert; Stella, with her captain finding trouble on most of his shots, follows suit. By the tenth hole she and Hanratty have fallen four holes behind.
At the eleventh tee, a par three, just as I am about to hit my five iron, Hanratty says, “Hold on, we want to press.” He turns to Stella. “Is that okay with you?”
“What’s a press?” asks Emily.
“It’s a brand new match in addition to the one we’re playing now – puts another five bucks on the line,” I say.
“Sure,” says Stella. “We’re pressing you, Alex.”
“I like that. She’s pressing me with my money.” I swing and put my tee shot no more than twelve feet from the pin. Hanratty pulls his seven iron into the bunker on the left side of the green.
We move up to the red tees. Emily bloops her shot straight but well short of the green. Stella hits next, a towering eight iron that once again gets caught in the wind, which sends it sailing over the green into the desert.
As I coach Emily with her chip shot, Hanratty blasts out of the trap up onto the green. Stella wanders among the cacti in back of the green, searching for her ball.
“You need a hand?” Hanratty calls out to her.
“That’s okay,” she says. “I’ll find it. I saw exactly where it landed.”
Emily punches her ball to within eight feet of the pin, and I wander toward the back of the green. “Stella, did you find it?” I ask. I see her raking the desert flora with her golf club.
“I got it!” she suddenly hollers triumphantly. She looks up toward the green, and instinctively (later I wonder how I could have possibly sensed something) I back behind a giant saguaro, out of her line of vision. I watch dumbstruck as Stella takes a ball out of her pocket and places it ever so carefully on a plush little mound of desert grass. There is nothing, not a cholla, not a prickly pear, not a palla verde, in the path to the pin. Using her lob wedge, she lofts a high soft shot that plops gently onto the fringe at the edge of the green and then trickles straight toward the pin.
Sensing she has hit a wonderful shot, Stella sprints up the little hill at the back of the green just in time to see the ball fall into the cup. “Yes!” shouts Hanratty joyously. He and Stella sweep toward each other like professional athletes, touching fists, high fiving. “I knew it was time to press!” exults Hanratty.
I am the only one with a chance to match Stella’s birdie. My putt is really rather simple, uphill with a slight bend to the right. I go through my pre-putt routine feeling fairly confident, putting being my strong suit, a part of the game in which my lack of size is not a detriment. I stand over the ball and take a long deep breath, normally the final act of my routine. But as I am about to putt, the vision of Stella’s slipping the ball out of her pocket wavers before my eyes, as if it were taking place under water.
I take a second deep breath and a third, but the image won’t let go. Sensing the impatience of the others, knowing there is no possible way I will make the putt, I jab at it woodenly. It stops a full five feet short of the hole, a woeful attempt. The rest of the match passes in a whir, my brain unable to come to terms with the irrefutable knowledge that my wife cheats at golf. Suddenly, a whole raft of her miraculous finds comes flooding back to mind, and I top one shot after another. As I fall apart, so does my playing partner.
Of course, as so often happens in golf, as we lose momentum, our opponents gain it. Drawing strength from Stella’s extraordinary birdie, Hanratty begins pouring in putts from the furthest reaches of the green. He and Stella win the next five holes in a row, tie the seventeenth, and win the eighteenth, this time with Hanratty making a birdie. Stella leaps into his arms and presses her great bosom against his chest.
“Alright,” I say, “we won the front, you won the back, the overall, and one press.” I hand Hanratty a ten dollar bill. I turn to Stella. “You I’ll pay later.”
Emily protests. “I’ll pay Stella, Alex.”
“Uh uh. I let us down, I’ll do the paying,” I say. “ Come on, we’ll go back to our place and have a few drinks.”

I am piloting our red Toyota pickup with the expanded cab along Desert Turnpike. “Why didn’t you want to have drinks in the grill?” asks Stella.
“They haven’t seen the new house since we’ve moved in.”
“I thought you didn’t want to show off,” she says. “They’ve only got one of those little Pawnee cottages, you know. They’re only two bedrooms.”
A moment later the Hanratty Honda pulls up behind us. “Oh, my God, it’s beautiful,” coos Emily as she climbs out of the car. “Palla Verde is our favorite village.”
“It’s doing little to assuage my existential despair,” I say. I put my hand on the small of Emily’s back and usher her toward our new 7,000 square foot house.
I sit with the Hanrattys on the back deck while Stella assembles a plate of appetizers in the kitchen. Emily wanders about the patio, admiring the landscaping, Stella’s vast collection of specimen cacti, the hot tub, the vanishing-edge pool.
“The Posnicks have just bought an apartment in River House,” says Hanratty.
“River House in New York City?” Emily asks.
I nod. “Yep, overlooking the East River.”
“Oh, my God, the president of our hospital lives in River House. Graham Harrison.”
“Graham Harrison! Tall thin guy with wavy blond hair like Harpo Marx?”
“Exactly.”
“Unbelievable. Twenty-five years ago, back when he was with Bear, Stearns, Stella was his assistant.”
Stella arrives at the sliding glass door and knocks on it with her toe. Hanratty springs to his feet and pulls it open. Stella steps onto the patio with a tray of Wheat Thins and Triscuits and water biscuits, grapes, sliced apples, stilton, and brie.
“Stella, wait till you get a load of this,” I say. “Emily sits on the board of Nyack Hospital. Graham Harrison is their president.”
“Small world,” says Stella, her eyes glued on the task of laying out the appetizers.
“Isn’t that amazing?” I say. “How many years has it been since you worked for the guy?”
“Oops,” says Stella. “I forgot the apricots.”
“Wait till I tell Graham I know Stella Posnick,” says Emily. “He’ll freak.”
Stella smiles. “I’ll be right back,” she says and heads back into the house.

“That was some shot you hit on eleven,” I say. “Turned the whole match.” I am sitting up in bed with Golf Digest on my lap.
“Thank you,” says Stella. She is setting her alarm clock.
“I wasn’t even sure you’d find your ball. I mean, when you hit it over the green on eleven, usually you’re fucked.”
“I got lucky.” Stella turns off the light and slides down under the covers. “Now turn off your lamp. I’ve got an eight fifteen golf game.”
I do as I am told but remain sitting up against the pillows, eyes open, looking about in the dark. “That was some coincidence,” I say.
Stella doesn’t respond.
“My God, Graham Harrison. I don’t think I’ve thought of him in over twenty years. Have you?”
“Alex, for Christ sake, I was asleep.”
I slide down under the covers, curling up onto my side, facing the back of Stella’s head. I move my nose closer to her hair, inhaling deeply, trying to catch a whiff of her aroma, loving always the many scents of the shampoos, lotions, perfumes that emanate from my wife. “You know what I thought was very creative,” I whisper.
“Alex, stop talking.”
“Serving apricots with the cheese. It was great.”
“Thank you.”
“You’ve never done that before.”
“Yes, I have.”
“Uh uh. I remember. We were talking about Graham Harrison, and you said, ‘I forgot the apricots,’ and I thought, Apricots and stilton, what a great idea. I remember distinctly.”
“Can I go to sleep, please.”
I sidle closer. Suddenly, my wife of twenty some odd years seems vastly more dark and mysterious than I had ever imagined, and it is giving me a hard on. Ever so gently I push my erection between the large, soft, warm globes of her behind. The funny thing is, I hate the way her ass looks in daylight yet love its lush plentitude under the covers. Instantly, there is a thrashing of elbows and bedding, knees and hands, and Stella is standing up in the corridor of moonlight shining down through the skylight. “Alex, leave me alone!” she bellows. “I want to go to sleep.”
“Jesus Christ, calm down.”
“Now get over to your side of the bed.”
“What are you so fucking touchy about.”
“I told you, I’ve got a big match tomorrow.”
“Hey, look at how you handled the pressure today.”
Stella waits for me to retreat, then wrapped in the duvet lies back down on the very edge of the bed. “If you touch me again, I will sleep in the den. Is that clear?”
“What the hell’s got into you?”
“Do not touch me, Alex. I do not want to be touched.”

Hanratty, Phayer, and Lerner watch as my drive on eighteen sails fifteen yards further than anyone else’s. “What’s got into you?” says Hanratty. “Yesterday I was outdriving you by fifty yards.”
I shrug. “Just one of those days.”
“Alex, I’ve never seen you swing with such abandon,” says Phayer. “Such ferocity.”
The four of us hoist our bags onto our shoulders and set out across the desert. I am tempted to reveal my new technique, pretending the ball is Graham Harrison’s left testicle but, of course, the explanation would be cumbersome. More importantly, as I have discovered in the past, the revelation of a golf tip renders it instantly ineffective.
I arrive at my ball, just one hundred and eighty-five yards from the green, totally alien territory for me on this par five hole. I take out my nine wood. Steadying myself behind the ball, I plumb my imagination, which a moment later serves up the head of Harrison’s penis. Swinging mightily, as if to lop it off, I unleash a towering, drawing shot that bounces softly on the front of the green and rolls directly toward the pin. It stops two inches shy of the cup.
Phayer, my partner in the match, leaps in the air, cheeringly lustily. “Eagle! Fucking Posnick is the emperor of Desert Vistas,” he declares.
This time it is my team that wins ten dollars. “You were in a zone today, kid,” declares Lerner, handing me two five dollars bills. “The stratosphere.”

I am following Stella around the deck as she mists her precious cacti.
“A seventy-six,” she is saying, “that’s amazing, honey. Is that your best score ever?”
“I know your best score ever. An eighty-three. How come you don’t mine?”
She looks up from her watering. “I’m sorry. I just don’t have your memory for numbers.”
“Yes, it’s my best score – by eight fucking strokes. I had a breakthrough.”
“I’ll say.” Stella has been hauling a little step stool behind her. She climbs up on it and begins watering several tiny bullet cacti. “So tell me all about it.”
“Actually, it’s built around a new technique.” My intonation suggests I am going to go on, but I don’t.
“What kind of technique?” Stella asks dutifully.
“I pretend the ball is somebody’s head. Or their schlong. Or their knee.”
“That’s nice. I hope not me.”
“I said somebody with a schlong.”
“Somebody you know, or just sort of a generic person?”
“Somebody I know. In fact, you know him, too.” Oh, this is too good.
“Who, my father?”
“No. It’s true I dislike your father, but this fellow is actually far, far more despicable. Guess again.”
“I give up.”
“Oh, come on, Stella, this is fun. Who?”
“George Bush.”
“Someone we know personally.”
“I give up.”
“You’re no fun. I’ll give you a hint. Someone you haven’t seen in a long, long time, but whose name actually came up in conversation recently – with the Hanrattys.”
Stella climbs down from the stepladder and starts to head back into the house. “I’ve got to jump in the shower,” she says.
I scurry after her. “Oh, come on, Stella, don’t you want to know who it is? Aren’t you the tiniest bit curious.”
“Actually, I think it’s sick, Alex, pretending to smash someone with a golf club.”
She has crossed the living room and made a sharp right turn into our bedroom, but I am at her heels. “Now let me get ready or we’re going to be late for the Phayers.”
She scampers into the bathroom, but she cannot shake me. “Get out of here, Alex, I want to get undressed.”
“Alright, I’ll tell you.”
“Frankly, I couldn’t care less.”
“Graham Harrison.”
“Who?”
“Graham Harrison, the guy you used to work for, way back in the day. I pretend the ball is Graham Harrison’s head, or his testicle, or his nose, or his temple, and then I just the bash the hell out of it.”
“I’m getting in the shower.”
“You’re getting in the shower fully dressed.”
“Alex, get out.”
“I know why you’re not taking your clothes off in front of me. You’re ashamed. Your body has been soiled by old Graham, and you don’t want me to see it. You’re embarrassed by what you’ve done, Stella.”
“You’re deranged.” Stella walks into the large shower enclosure fully clothed and begins disrobing in there.
“You fucked Graham Harrison way back when we lived on 74th Street. If I had your date book, I could probably figure out the exact day.”
“I did not fuck Graham Harrison, Alex.”
“Come out here and look me in the eye and say that.”
“I did not make love with Graham Harrison. I swear to you.”
Stella turns on the shower and I have to shout over the sound of the water. “Yes, you did. You fucked him right around the time of the fish incident. Sometime in June. I remember it like it was yesterday. I’d just gotten home from work, you were potchkying around in the kitchen, and I was in our bedroom looking for an emery board. I had this chip in my nail that was driving me crazy. So I opened the drawer of your night table, and there was your diaphragm case. And it was empty. And I thought, Oh, yeah, that’s right. We’d had sex around four in the morning. It hadn’t been in long enough when you left for work in the morning. But then I thought, Wait a second, when that happens, you always take it out as soon as you get home from work. Always. You used to say it made you feel yucky having it in all day.”
“That’s absurd. I probably hadn’t gotten around to it yet.” Now it was Stella shouting over the sound of the shower.
“Well, that was your excuse. I stood in the doorway of the kitchen, and said, ‘Aren’t you going to take out your ‘phragm,’ and you said, ‘Nah, I’ll do it when we get back from dinner.’
“At the time I thought, Well, that’s a little weird. She never leaves it in if she doesn’t have to. Never. But then I thought, and here was my big mistake, Oh, well, guess this time is different. But things are never different, Stella, unless…” Here, like Chan, like Spade, like Mason, I pause for a touch more drama, “Unless there’s a reason. Then, and only then, do people change. You didn’t take our your diaphragm that night, like you had every other time before, because you had fucked Graham Harrison at lunch, somewhere I suspect around one thirty. So when you got home from work at your usual five thirty, it hadn’t been in a full eight hours yet. And though you had already begun dropping hints about wanting to have a baby, you most certainly didn’t want to take a chance of getting pregnant with another man’s kid. I’m fucking Dick Tracy, Stella. A little slow sometimes, witness my taking over twenty years to solve this case, but brilliant nonetheless. “
Stella steps out of the shower, already wrapped in a towel. “If you don’t stop this instant, I’m going to….” Unable to come up with a proper ultimatum, Stella strides briskly past me and into her walk in closet, shutting the door hard behind her.
I stand close and project through the slats in the door. “Just like serving apricots with the cheese. You’ve never served apricots with cheese, not once in the twenty-six years I’ve known you. I notice these things. But this time it was different. We were talking with the Hanrattys about Graham Harrison, and you wanted to get the hell out of there because you were as uncomfortable as hell. You were afraid you were going to do something that’d give you away. So you changed your routine. You served fucking organic apricots with cheese. And you did give yourself away. Oh, I’m fucking good, Stella. The CIA could use me.”
“Alex,” Stella suddenly bellows through her closet door, “Leave me alone. You are driving me insane.”
“Don’t be so upset,” I respond. “Look at the upside. I shot a seventy-six today.”

I am inflamed. I can’t keep my hands off my faithless wife. I think maybe I should leave her, but right now I have no place else to go. This is like money in the bank, I think. When I’m ready, I can use this betrayal like a sledge. Besides, in our twenty-five years of marriage, I have slept with a dozen other women, including three of my secretaries and Stella’s best friend Anna. Sperm under the bridge. People do these things, amazingly not far more often.
Updike writes another man’s cock in your wife gives her greater value. In an odd way, I am proud. I think of my friend Glickman, the dentist, whose quiet, mousey wife slept with the photographer who came to take her wedding portrait. “This one,” he told me and Stella at dinner one night, beaming, “Can you imagine, she lays with the guy six weeks before the wedding.”
When I asked her why, Glickman answered for her: “He asked her.” The quiet wife nodded in enthusiastic agreement. “There’s a lesson there,” said Glickman. “For all of us.” Although what it was, I was never quite sure.
There are times when I think of letting Stella off the hook. She has not come out and admitted her guilt, but she has begun treating me with tenderness bordering on contrition. Look, I imagine myself saying, Relax. These things happen. It’s no big deal. I’ve had my dalliances as well. But then I decide, why cede this wonderful new power over her?
Then, of course, there is the matter of Stella’s cheating at golf. I will let this ride for the time being. Bring it up now and it’ll somehow be lumped in with the Harrison affair – two serious infractions metamorphosed into one. Besides, I conclude, thinking of all the couples we know, how many other of my friends have a wife of deeply flawed character? I am infatuated with the phrase. Deeply flawed character. I am sure it goes hand and hand with Stella’s capacity for multiple and unusually intense orgasms.

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