Bethany Ball

The Housewife


I found my husband in the kitchen making an espresso and I held up thecondoms, a strip of three, and I said, “Give me three thousand dollars.”“What?” He held the tiny cup between two fingers and leaned up againstthe countertop. “But you said you didn’t want to get pregnant again. . . .They’re not for me, they’re for us.” I watched my husband pull a bankenvelope out of his bag and count out the bills. “Now, I’ll have to makeanother stop at the bank,” he said. “Hundreds? Or twenties?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. I walked to the stove and fished threehard-boiled eggs from the pot of boiling water.

After the taxi had come, I sat in the living room with my children andhalf listened to the din of cartoons. I was a good wife. Every night I madedinner. The laundry was always folded. The babysitters paid. The lunchespacked. The hearth swept.

My mother arrived a couple hours later. She’d come to help with thechildren but really she just wanted to bitch about my father. “He’s such anasshole,” my mother said.

“Did Dad ever cheat on you?”

“I don’t know,” she said. She stared up to ceiling. “It might even havebeen a relief if he had.”

I said, “I’m going to the city for the night. Will you watch the kids inthe morning? Give them cereal and pack their lunches?”

My mother turned to me offended. “I just came from across the countryand you’re taking off?”

“Look,” I said, “If you watch the kids tonight I’ll give you fivehundred dollars.”

“Done.”

I bathed the kids and laid them in their beds. I read, Blueberries for Sal and loaded thetoothbrush. I pinned the littlest one to the bed. “Say, eeeeeeeeee,” I said swiping at his glittering row of spotless teeth.Then to the oldest boy’s bed where I crawled in beside him, and kissed hissilky hair. I rubbed that spot on his chest that tightens up with anxietybefore birthday parties and T-ball games.

“I’ll take the train into the city,” I told my mother, who glared at thetelevision. “I’ll be back tomorrow before they get home from school.”

“Doesn’t matter. When they get off the bus I’ll just turn on thecartoons. They love their old Grandma,” my mother said. She poured herself aglass of wine from the box she’d set up on the coffee table. “You go on. Get abreak. Wish I could have gotten away a night or two when you were small.”

I drove over to the train station and parked my car, then boarded thetrain for Manhattan. Once in my seat, I texted an old boyfriend who’d recentlyfound me on the social media:

Meet me for a drink for old time’s sake, I wrote.

Now?

Yes?

Let’s get a room.

All right, I texted. Where?

The Standard.

The Standard Hotel overlooked the High Line, near the Chelsea cafe whereNick and I had had met the year before to catch up. Since then, we occasionallysent flirtatious texts, a flurry of them and then silence, a flurry of textsand then more silence. But we’d never said what we might have said which isthat we meet again.

When we dated, years ago, I used to tell people he was so big he neededan extra hinge just to fold it back into his pants. He was nearly six and ahalf feet tall. His hands were as big as dinner plates. When we were young, hewould spin me around on it like a top. He could be cruel and heartless, but hewas exactly what I’d wanted.

A familiar grouping of numbers needled at the screen of my phone.Politely I declined. It was my husband calling from the airport businesslounge. I held the phone in my hand and watched out the scratched glass of thetrain window. The landscape passed backwards in a blur of green trees and urbancement. I felt the tiny ping of a text message.

Let’s go to the room first, Nick wrote.

No, let’s get a drink.

Let’s go to the room first.

What do you think I am, a slut? My fingers, unused to tiny keyboards,began to cramp.

Yes, he wrote. As a matter of fact I do.

I took a cab from Grand Central to Chelsea. It was fashion week andfragile alien bodies tottered all around me on the cobblestones. The sun settledacross the river. Mini studios had been set up in white tents up and downGreenwich Avenue. Everywhere there were cameras and flashes and gawkers andsuits. People shouted into headsets, or held their phones in front of theirmouths as they jostled one another on the sidewalks. Large black SUVs idledloudly in the street. I spotted him first in his clean white button-down shirt,opened at the neck. He was looking up at the windows of the hotel and suckinghard on a cigarette. Beads of sweat glistened along his hairline. He greeted mewith a cloud of smoke and a kiss on the cheek, his hand casually rested on myhip. I asked him what he was looking at. “Article in the Times said the hotel got in trouble for encouraging guests to havesex in the windows.” I looked up at the blank dark glass windows. Theyreflected the clouds. The hotel was a hulking box that squatted inelegantlyover the High Line. “Do you remember?” he asked. “When this area was completelydesolate?”

I nodded, yes, I remembered. I remembered how we used to walk acrosstown to the Lamp Light, through the old Nabisco factory, and the bakery in theback where workers dressed in white passed out fresh bread at four in themorning. The transsexuals who taunted us from the street corners. We’d carry aflask of vodka and get drunk and then stumble over to the meat warehouses whereheavy carcasses hung from chains. Some nights we’d disappear down 7thAvenue basement stairs into Small’s for jazz, graham crackers and vodka-spikedapple juice in plastic cups. Or Nuyorican to hear the combative sputteringpoets. I would go anywhere with him. To all stretches of Manhattan and all endsof the boroughs. He told me about his father’s affairs and his mother’spassivity. There were boarding schools and nannies. His first few years in NewYork and the Indian girl he’d been in love with, who back then still lived withher parents and how they used to meet in the Bowery flophouse hotels and havesex and he’d wrap his fingers around her neck, squeezing, and it would send herinto the stratosphere
.

When we’d met the year before, in a café, summer heat outside wasoppressive and the air conditioning had chilled the room to sub-frigid. He hadstood at the front door of the café and shaded his eyes, looking for me. He slidinto the seat beside me and said, “You don’t look any different. You haven’tchanged at all.”

I looked down at his wrists and thought, no, I haven’t. After ten yearsof marriage and two children I haven’t changed. About you I feel exactly theway I always have. Like you could push everything off this cafe table and layme down right here. Like only the breadth and length of you could find thebottom of me. Your wrists are so terrible that even in the cold airconditioning of the café I’m sweating again. I would do anything right now towrap my fingers around them, to measure them.

“You look like you’ve lost weight,” I said.

“Yeah, well. I guess I have.”

He was no longer an underpaid publishing flack. He was a corporatelawyer now, dressed in good slacks, and a pressed button-down shirt. I wastrying to play it very cool. But we couldn’t be friends. Not really. And thenthe check came and three little birds flew into the window and flopped downonto the sidewalk outside. Two got up and flew away, but the third lay on itsback while a small crowd gathered around it.

“Jesus,” he laughed. “That was awful.”

I had reached for the cash in my purse and watched his hands rootthrough his back pocket and then the portfolio he carried. His face flushed andI noticed he had hair on his chest just below the hollow of his throat. It wasnew hair. When I’d known him his chest had been as bald as a boy’s.

“I forgot my wallet,” he said. He handed me a business card and pointedto his cell phone number. “Next time’s on me.”

Now, one year later, we entered the lobby of the Standard throughrotating glass doors and I said, “Next time’s on you, remember?” making anervous joke, fingering the wad of cash in my jacket pocket. He stopped walkingand turned to me.

“This hotel is, like, four hundred dollars a night.”

“And?”

“I have law school loans to pay! Jesus. You’re the horny housewife with the rich husband.”

“Wow,” I said. I put my hands up and backed away a few steps.

We stood staring at one another among the plastic furniture. Hesoftened. He reached for my hand and pulled me close to him. A man in highshort shorts minced over, “Checking in?”

“No,” I said. “Yes.”

“Maybe,” he said.

“Okie doke then,” the man said. “You all just let me know when you makeup your mind then.”

Nick stared at me. His cold eyes were two black pits I could vanish in.

“Let’s go,” he said, his voice husky.

“I’ve never strayed,” I said. “In ten years of marriage.”

He winced. “What a bland thing to say.”

I reached for the phone in my purse, phone checking messages and emails.I stared intently at a junk email from Pottery Barn.

He bent down his head and whispered close to my ear, “It’s not that bigof a deal.” He bent down nearer still and kissed me on the forehead. He said,“I’ve been waiting for this since we last met.” My body was filled withsweetness.

Nick grabbed my arm and pulled me to the counter where the man behindthe desk waited, fiddling with a tiny silver laptop. Nick pulled out a creditcard and slapped it into the man’s open hand.

“Visiting from out of town?” the man asked.

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” Nick said.

The man smiled and handed us a small black envelope with two cards. Slip it in, the envelope read.

We got into the dark elevator. The walls inside were painted black. Nickpressed me into the corner. I watched an art video installation on the wallclosest to me. I watched King Kong and showgirls, Michael Jackson moonwalkingto mid last century horror film music. We were descending into Hades, thecaption on the video read, as the elevator began to rise.

He pushed his hand down into my pants, his finger in dryness likedigging in sand. He growled. “What’s happened to you? Frigid now? Where is mylittle housecat?”

“I’m just not relaxed. I need a drink.”

“From the mini bar?”

“I’ll pay.”

“Don’t be silly.”

He began nuzzling me, kissing my neck, feeling me up with his hands. Iwaited to feel something like lust. I tried to remember how I felt when I’dseen him the last time in the café. We entered the cold austere room, white andmodern. I turned down the A/C. The letters underneath the knob read, Blow me.

Nick was tender, groping for me while the door shut behind us. I pushedhim away and opened the mini bar fridge. “What I really need is a joint,” Isaid. I grabbed a Heineken and sat down on the white bed. It was a small bed.It was not large enough for the years between us.

“That’s not what you need.”

“Do you remember the first time?”

“Sure.”

“You don’t remember. We came back from that Christmas party, at thePlaza. I had another date waiting for me but I blew him off to hang out withyou.”

“Did you.”

“You came back to my apartment. I wonder how we got there? Did wesplurge on a cab? Or did we take the subway?”

“Subway, probably.” He sat down beside me and unscrewed the top of anairplane sized bottle of whiskey.

“I was wearing a brown wrap dress that my mother had sent in the mail.It was a little big on me but I could cinch the waist—I was really skinnythen—”

“And still.” He drowned the whiskey and reached across the tiny whitefuturistic room to the fridge for a second.

“I was starving actually. All of us girls were. That night I worenothing under the dress but a pair of stockings. I pulled off my stockings. Youwere lying back on my bed.”

“The only piece of furniture in your room.”

“There was a table. You put your watch on it first.”

Nick nodded. “I was afraid you would steal the watch.”

“Yes. You bastard. You laughed at the size of my nipples. I asked ifthey were bad. You said no. You said you were one of those men who appreciatedwomen, no matter their flaws.”

“Flaws. You mean like ‘being married’?”

“I climbed right on top of you. You pulled apart your belt andunbuttoned your pants. You slipped right inside me. I was so wet you gasped. Iwas never so turned on in all my life. I have never since been so turned on inall my life. That feeling. It’s never come back, but I can’t forget it.”

“And yet you don’t feel that way now.”

“What are you doing here anyway? I’m washed up and uptight. My secondbaby was a C-section. Do you want to see the scar?”

“Yes.”

“You do?”

“That woman stuff has never bothered me.”

“You’ve never had sex with a woman that’s been pregnant.”

“My Swedish girlfriend had two abortions.”

“But that’s different.”

“Come on. Let me see it.”

I unbuttoned my jeans and pushed down my panties. “It’s here.”

“I don’t see it.”

“It blends with the color of my skin.”

“Here?”

He pushed his hand down into my jeans and his mouth covered mine.

You used to like this, I heard him say, but he didn’t say it. He had hishands pinning my wrists down to the bed and his knee pried my legs apart. Pullyour pants down, he said, but he didn’t say it. The blood rushed through myhead and I could hear nothing but the dim Manhattan sounds below. He releasedmy hands and I wriggled out of my jeans.

Then it was done. He was inside, and I felt him lean all his weight intome. Liquid filled my arms and softened them, arousal spread through me. Heflipped me over, nailing me to the bed with his heavy limbs. The energy of thatmotion animated me. What had ebbed now flowed. In a frenzy I rubbed up againstthe sheets. He whispered in my ear, poised over me. Give me all your money, isn’t this how you like it, how much do youcharge an hour. You like it now but will you like it when I do this….

Then he tried to push himself into my ass and I screamed.

He pulled away from me and knelt beside me on the bed, naked. I pantedfor a moment and then caught my breath. He covered himself with a sheet and laydown beside me and I wiped my eyes. Sometimesa pain comes to clarify everything. The thought made me smile. I sat up andbegan to feel around for my underwear.

“Okay then,” I said. “I’m leaving now.”

“Now?”

I smiled again. This time it felt ragged and crooked on my face.

“Yes, now. My mom’s at home with my kids,” I said. I took a long inhale,exhaled and everything slowed down again. “She’s old, senile, probably drunk.”

“But I didn’t even come!”

I reached for my purse and pulled out four hundred dollar bills. “Here’stwo hundred for the room. And two for a girl. Go find a date. Maybe that Indiangirl is still waiting for you at the Bowery.”

The week passed and my husband returned. I watched him pull his luggageout of the town car, and his face flooded with relief when I opened the frontdoor. My mother watched us warily from the couch, as she had since we’d firstmarried. The children were thrilled to see him. They jumped up and down andsang, Daddy, Daddy, and he scoopedthem up and devoured them. The kettle I’d put on went off and whistled andwhistled and everyone stopped and turned to stare at me until I moved into thekitchen to settle it down.

My husband came to our bedroom at night and climbed in beside me. Hetook the magazine I was reading out of my hands and placed it on the other sideof him.

“My birthday is next week,” I said to him. “What are you going to getme?”

“What do you want?”

“Money.

“How much?”

“Ten grand.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Yes,” I said. “Tell me. How long does it take for you to make that? Acouple hours?”

“I reinvest everything back into the business. You know that.” We laybeside one another. He pulled himself up and leaned on his elbow, his faceswayed over me, “Tell you what. We do it ten times before your birthday andI’ll give you the cash.”

“Yeah?”

“Sure. I mean, but you’re very expensive…” He raised his eyebrows.

“You know,” I said. “You could make a punch card. Like you get in cafes.If you get ten punches you get ten percent off your next purchase.”

“Like Starbucks. You buy five cappuccinos and the next one is free.” Hewas moving on top of me and I felt myself relaxing. I took him in my hand.

“Oh,” I said to it. “You poor thing. You poor lonely thing. You’ve seennothing but strangers lately. Strange hands, and strange mouths. . . .”

When we were nearly finished he said, “You swallow every drop and I’llpunch that card two times.

Bethany Ball was born and raised in Detroit and lives in New York with her family. She has just completed her first novel, Yossi Tavili Stands in the Fields, which was published by Grove Atlantic in January 2015. An excerpt was published in Bomb magazine in May 2014.



























































By |2018-12-13T20:02:52+00:00December 5th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments
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