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I wanted to watch.
This was by far the most bizarre feeling that I have ever experienced in my entire life—all forty-eight years of it. I wanted to watch. What I should have wanted was to kill, to mutilate, to hack with a sharp butcher knife, to maim and claw and slice over and over again until I saw blood and the screaming ended and there were sirens outside the bedroom window. I should have wanted to pull a hidden revolver, one of those slick babies that fits into the palm of your hand and startles unsuspecting victims, from inside of my white Bali bra. I should have wanted to move quietly around the room with a powerful look of raw hatred flashing from my gray eyes and with a multitude of weapons spilling out onto the floor. But no. There would be no flashy pistols or loud cries. This would be not be a simple scenario that involved a sad moment of passion-induced violence, because what I wanted was . . . to watch.
My heart was pounding so rapidly, I could see my blue shirt jumping up and down. Jesus. I could feel it in my throat. It touched the edges of my skin and moved like a snake into my veins until it was in charge of everything I did, who I was, where I was going. It was a red mass of vessels and tissue as soft as a baby's arm, it was a tiger prowling just under the edge of my skin everywhere, creating music—a beating drum, rising smoke, naked dancing women, sweat at midnight, and I wondered for a moment as brief as a winter sunset if they could hear it. It didn't matter if they heard it or if the entire population of the free world heard it, because I could not stop. I edged closer to the door until I could see—them. Them. I know it was a them and not simply a he. It was a couple. A them. A her and a him.
It was the sound that had propelled me up from the basement, where I had been struggling to understand why in God's name or the Goddess's name, or whomever it was controlling my divine destiny, I had never thrown away all those yellowed papers that stuck out in the lines of boxes that had been propped against the side of the wall for the past twelve years. The sound was a kind of tapping, a foreign echo that seduced me like a fine lover. It was not loose change dropping onto the bathroom floor or books falling off a shelf or an alarm clock being pushed off the edge of the dresser on purpose. It was a thump against the wall. Constant. Regular. What the hell? I put down the papers and quietly moved up the basement stairs and stopped just before I could see the edge of the kitchen counter.
I was not supposed to be home. This is why I stood frozen with one hand on the basement wall and the other hanging at my side. Someone was probably trying to break into the house. Why not? Suburban neighborhood. Everyone working. Regular patterns of coming and going. There had to be some good stuff sitting on top of dressers, that's what a savvy intruder might think about this fine neighborhood where some rich slobs drove Saabs and there were hot tubs in many backyards and the kids did not ride a bus to school. If it were a robber he would be sorely disappointed when he found sweat socks, two jogging bras and a wad of Kleenex on top of my dresser. No diamonds or gold bands. No tennis bracelets. One antique chest that came from my great-grandmother and represented my entire inherited fortune, a fortune they would never be able to lift without the help of a small crane. Pretty much what he would find would be twenty-three years of accumulated junk, one new car with a bumper sticker that said Thelma & Louise Live, some silver spoons under the sink that I would never finish cleaning, a row of tattered books probably worth thousands of dollars, but it's been my experience that most robbers are not that literate, my daughter's Barbie Doll collection stuck away in plastic boxes from the local drugstore, a pitiful selection of moderately prized booze and a doorknob from my old college that I considered one of the finest objects that I owned. "Shit," I told myself as I took a step into the kitchen, "it can't be a robber. They'd have better luck stealing from the Goodwill store."
In the kitchen, I could tell the noise was coming from upstairs. This is the moment when I also remembered that my car was parked one block from my house because I had been working with a co-worker on a special project and that because I almost never work on special projects out of the office, no one in the entire world would expect me to be at home on a Thursday morning in June at 10:38 a.m. rummaging through boxes in the basement and listening at the edge of the steps for the sounds of ax murderers sharpening their blades.
When I got to the top part of the house, I expected one of the alarm clocks to be going off or a television set to be turned on or a leaky faucet dripping stones the size of golf balls instead of water onto the tiled bathroom floor. Maybe the flag had fallen off the roof or a hunk of siding was banging against the side of the house, begging to be released. I certainly did not expect to see a woman's naked foot moving up and down on top of my bed.
It was a slender, beautiful foot. I imagined it was as soft as my own and warm and that the man—undoubtedly my husband—whose fingers I had seen slide down to touch the top of the toes, was thinking how sexy the foot was and how he wanted to inhale it and place her beautiful feet against the sides of his thighs.
This is when my heart stopped thumping explosively and I knew that I wanted to watch. Whatever was happening, whatever they were doing, whatever they had on or didn't have on or were holding or touching or eating—it didn't matter because I wanted to watch. I had to watch. Sex. Someone was having sex in my bedroom and it sure as hell wasn't me and I had to watch it.
A kind of calm settled over me. Perhaps there was a name for this pre-I-Gotta-Watch version of sexual voyeurism that had captured my very being. Maybe I was treading some new water that I could share with my colleagues at the university. My mind raced as wildly now as my heart had just a breath ago. I wanted to watch and I was going to watch. This yearning propelled me forward with a rush of power and sureness unlike anything I had ever known in my life. I was brave and strong and I was going to watch no matter what happened. Nothing could stop me. Nothing.
Her foot was more than lovely. I noticed this again as I slithered to the edge of the shelf, where I had a terrific view directly into the mirror above the dresser on the far wall that I had once begged Bob to move. Hello, lovers. There was a fine view of the bed where I had slept not more than four hours before. They were not on my side of the bed. "How nice," I wanted to mutter out loud. "Maybe I should go get a cold drink and an energy bar," I thought to myself like someone who is about to go into a movie and does not want to be disturbed during the best scenes. This is where my body began separating itself from my mind. This might be what the Green Berets and Navy SEALs do. Snap of the fingers. I am invisible. My feet are a cat's paws. Swift and sure. They will never see me if I can maintain this level of high mental control. That's what I thought. Suddenly, I was invincible.
My husband was on the bottom. This was also a startling fact. The last time we had sex—Could I remember when?—I am certain he was on the top and I am also certain that the sex lasted a good three minutes before he fell off, rolled over, patted my ass and fell asleep. Enough of him: back to that delicious foot.
Nails painted the color of a frosty pink geranium; a slender ankle that looked as if it could give way to a calf that had been shaped by years of exercise. I had to see this. I had to see the rest of her leg and I edged myself flat, belly to the carpet, slithering like a snake across floor covering that had seen trails of baby poop and vomit from the high school dances and the last half-decent lovemaking session that I ever expect to have in my life. I must have looked like a fool and I could have cared less.
The damn mirror was not low enough. I would have to slink around to the other side of the door, where I could get a full-on view of my husband making love to the geranium woman. Should I risk it? I had to think about this, which, I was about to discover, was the reason for every screwed-up mess that touched the edges of my life. I had to stop and think if I wanted to risk getting caught so I could watch my husband making love at ten-something in the morning to a woman who was definitely not me.
The fact that I decided to go for it should count for something. Really. It was a ballsy move so unlike me that it came fast once I talked myself into it. I simply walked past the door. One huge step and there I was. I could stand at the far side of the door just at the end of the hall where the wall turned a corner before Katie's room and watch. I could watch. Of course, they might see me. But I wanted to watch so damn bad, it didn't matter. Breathing, work, my kids, food, wine, my latest research project, world peace—nothing mattered but watching.
My need to watch was an ache that moved across the small of my back and down into the tops of my legs. Sweat was running down the insides of my arms and my stomach was on fire with such a desire that a brigade of hungry near-death wild dogs could not have pulled me away.
So I started to watch. Jesus. Just Jesus. I would wonder later why the hell they didn't get a hotel room or if they had planned it and how long I had been so goddamned stupid or why he picked someone who looked so much like me or how many others there had been or when the moments of my life and marriage and world had started fraying at the edges until they met in the middle in a tangled mess of nothing, but for those moments, one and then two and then ten or fifteen, I simply stood there with my hands hanging against the seams of the denim skirt I had worn every Thursday for ten years and I watched.
The geranium woman was naked except for her blouse. It was red and looked like it was made of fine silk. Unbuttoned, it hung against the sides of my husband like a bright tent protecting him from sun and wind and the sand I would one day want to grind into his eyeballs. Her hair was long and dark blond, kind of what mine might look like at that length. I did not have the pleasure of seeing her eyes but I imaged they were also dark and that she had high cheekbones and flawless skin. I did not hate her. I would never hate her. I would hate him for a very long time but never her, although I might never understand some things about her and what she did and how she did them. I might. I could. I would try.
She had a fine ass. It was the ass of someone who has not had babies and who works out five days a week and could go to the spa without having to worry about picking someone up from play practice or sorting through the damn dry cleaning on the way to the grocery store for the third time in one day. She was not very tall and once when she rose up off of my husband I could see that her breasts were simply average—small rounded mounds of flesh—and not like mine. My rather glorious forty-something breasts are large and firm even though I have nursed two babies and did not wear a bra for eleven years during a very crucial period of breast growth. The geranium was riding my husband like a seasoned jockey and he was wild with sexual happiness, bucking against the red tent, with his hands pulling at the brown, terribly frayed bedspread that I had been meaning to replace for the past five years.
My friends think Bob is handsome. Some of them have warned me for years that he is ripe for an affair. Some of them have told me that they have seen him having lunch with beautiful women and getting into cars that appear to be going nowhere and that he often seemed way too happy for a man pushing fifty who has a so-so job in a community where hope of advancement means moving to a real city in a real state where there are real jobs and buildings taller than the four-story giant in our downtown. Bob was just ordinary Bob to me, which is part of the problem I realize now, but then, that day, he was the pumping machine and I was the woman in the hall who wanted to watch.
"Oh," they both took turns moaning, and I suddenly wanted to moan with them. It would hit me later when I was woozy with vodka how absolutely insane and risky and not-like-me wanting to watch had been but I do have to admit that I was a little turned on. What a delightful feeling that was after all those months of celibacy when sex was something I might have seen after eleven p.m. on the old television or a vague memory from the past or a flicker of heat that passed quickly from my mind to my hips and then was gone just as fast. Sex? Making love? The mere thought, the simple word and now this real live sex act was throwing me into near ecstasy and there I stood watching this glorious woman rock the socks off of the man I had been married to for twenty-seven years.
From the Trade Paperback edition.