I am not an evil person, but I do evil things.
My fingers tremble for the first time after our hundredth time. I am sitting on the edge of a bed that isn’t mine, idly grazing my hands over the coolness of sheets that I myself would never choose.
He never says anything about me smoking in his bedroom.
In their bedroom.
I buy the cigarettes for this. I buy a new package once per month. I smoke two cigarettes and I throw them away. Recently I have thrown them away in his trash can, the one just outside his garage door. It is between an apple tree and a basketball goal, its backboard lowered for his children.
I don’t like smoking, but I do it for the aesthetic. It gives my hands something to do, and it gives me a reason to linger. I have recited, absurdly, the same poem in my mind all day. Now I let pieces pass my lips.
“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves. . .” This fills the silence briefly.
I spent a great deal of time psychoanalyzing myself. Why did I stay? Why didn’t he ask me to leave? He never looks at me after, nor I him. When we face each other he looks just past my eyes. I stare at his lips, which I have never kissed. I imagine that they might be soft, but his tongue would likely be too forceful and wet. He would be an insistent kisser and I would sigh, exasperated, into his mouth. I wonder if this is why he does not kiss me. His lips would be permanently smudged with my favorite red. I bought it on a whim after we began, but it is not for him. I wear it even when he does not call.
I hesitate before leaving and he clears his throat.
“I don’t love you,” he offers gently, as though this revelation will offend me. He says it apologetically and I feel a flash of anger.
“I’m glad to hear it,” I respond honestly through the smoke.
He pauses. I’m not certain what he was expecting, and this makes me uncomfortable. This thing works because he is predictable, if not a bit boring.
As a husband he is this way, and as a lover he is this way, though he is thoughtful in a way that could almost be too much.
I should clarify this. He is not my husband. I do have a husband.
He is perfect.
R. is my husband of fifteen years. We have two children: J, who is 14, and L, who is 7. R. is currently the primary breadwinner, housekeeper, and caretaker. He attends every sporting event, remembers every birthday and anniversary, and kisses all of the boo boos. Or he did, when the kids still called them that. They go to him for everything.
Now I take care of doctor’s appointments, vacations, bills, spring cleaning, and all of the small forgotten (some might say unimportant) things. I sound bitter. I am not bitter, but since I was placed on leave (paid) this is the role I fulfill.
Some might call this thing an act of desperation. I wish I had thought more about it. I’d like to say that it is a cry for help, but it isn’t. It is something to do. An annotation that will be marked in my life somewhere between picking up the dry cleaning, killing someone, and meeting the girls for hot yoga.
We stand in silence in the dark for a few moments more, not knowing what to say. I’m not sure if this is ending. I would be alright if it ended, I think.
I grab the cigarettes and head for the door. He follows slowly, and I wonder if he’s trying to think of the right words for this finale.
I want that moment.
I turn to tell him that I’ve had enough, but I don’t get the chance. He presses his lips to mine and turns on his heel.
Shocked, I drop the cigarettes. I don’t bother to pick them up. I wonder if he will find them. I hope she might.
R. greets me at the door with his eyes. “Hey hon, how was your workout?” He asks. He is staring at his phone as he does. I’d like to say this with scorn, but him looking at his phone doesn’t have the impact that my secret does.
“It was fine,” I sigh. I sit on the couch beside him. I wonder if R. can smell him on me. His cologne is soft and nothing that R. would wear. If he notices he doesn’t say anything.
“Well I’m going to make dinner,” R. says.
We don’t eat dinner together. When I was working my shifts were sporadic and I would end up eating slumped over the sink or in the car. They ate together. They sit at the table and I take my dinner to the bedroom. R. comes and retrieves my plate and I brush my teeth.
He comes to the bathroom and puts his hands on my hips, pressing himself into me. I moan playfully.
“You like that,” he teases. I nod and moan.
This will lead to nothing, so I don’t mind the play.
“Are you ready for tomorrow?” I hate this question. It isn’t always tomorrow, of course. It has been, are you ready for next month. Next week. Now the day has come and of course I am not ready.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!”
“Yep,” I lie.
As the team speaks—and I have been given a team, which worries me—I hear nonsense. Perhaps they said, “open and shut” and they likely said, “mistake” and “measurable harm.” What I heard was, “One, two! One, two! And through and through. . .”
My hands are idle and I begin drawing our names in large bubble letters. I place my name next to R’s. He can’t sit next to me during the proceedings, but he will be there in the gallery.
The short story is that I had two brain surgeries. One was successful. One was not.
No, I was not under the influence. No, I was not tired.
I was distracted. It was not intentional. In spite of what the family claimed it was not intentional. Yes, I had an unpleasant exchange with the patient prior, but she was difficult.
Yes, I was angry about the exchange. My credentials are—were—unmatched. She had no right.
But no, it wasn’t intentional. She went fast and they said she didn’t suffer. I don’t know. I was shocked and people freeze. It happens all the time.
Right after I stood trembling in the theater. It had not yet been cleaned but it was painfully sterile. It wasn’t silent—I’m certain it is never silent—but I couldn’t hear a thing. He came in from obstetrics. We were only friends then—not even friends. We saw each other occasionally in the halls and rarely our patients were the same. But we were nothing.
He was there and then we were something. He wrapped his arms around me and I was falling. I had never been a damsel before and suddenly I was.
He is in the gallery now, too. Behind me and to my left. R and the kids are to my right.
The team doesn’t think I should speak on my behalf, but I have to.
It isn’t a memorable statement and the words that I need haven’t been invented yet.
“I’m so sorry,” is all I remember. I am looking at R. when I say this. His eyes fall to his lap.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?” I hear, right before my sentence is handed to me.
I am exonerated, but this does not mean I am not guilty. R. used to say this. I was found not guilty, but I am not innocent. The judge says this, I think.
There are sobs from the gallery. The family is there, pale faced and grieving. I’m not certain if I should look at them, but it doesn’t seem right to look away. He pushes through the crowd and holds out his hand. I catch the pack of cigarettes before they fall. His eyes are fire.
“Why did you leave those,” he asks. He doesn’t bother to lower his voice. My throat is dry.
It seems such a small thing now. All of this seems like the culmination of small things.
He balls his fist and I wonder if he considers hitting me. I wonder where she is. R. catches my eye and I hold his. He whirls around and I think he is going to tell him. I want him to tell him.
R. and I sit in the car after the kids have gone inside. We won, but it isn’t a victory. I will be able to work again in a few months, but I will be on probation. My reputation is ruined and her life is gone. I force myself to think of other things. R. is waiting for me to speak.
“I had an affair,” I state boldly. I own it in this way. It is the only thing I own.
R. takes my hand in his. Immediately. There are tears in his eyes.
“I know,” he says. My hand goes limp.
“We make mistakes. You were hurting and I wasn’t there.” I want to slap him. He was there. Of course he was there. He is perfect and I want to slap him.
“We’ll get through this,” he offers. I don’t tell him that I don’t want to “get through” this. I don’t know what I want and I don’t know why I’m angry.
I pull the cigarettes from my pocket and toy with them in my hands. R. tugs them from my fingers gently.
“Since when do you smoke?” He demands with authority.
“It’s something to do,” I state. He rolls his eyes pityingly.
“We have work to do, but we’ll get through this. We always do.”
R. leaves me in the car to stew in my guilt. My phone vibrates in my pocket.
I’m sorry. Does R. know?
So this is over?
It should be. I still have my marriage. I still have my career.
I bite my nails, forming a new habit.
It doesn’t have to be.