Sarah contemplated his tranquil expression before saying, “I always thought you had,” in a soft voice. Bill pulled the damp condom off his flaccid erection, “that isn’t true.” The pounding in his chest had begun to subside. Sarah possessed a glowing intensity that radiated between them, “A lot of girls in school,” her cheeks were a rosy pink, “said they slept with you,” and her eyes were wide open. Sperm collected in the tip of the condom he held between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. She pressed her thighs together and sighed. He weighed the fluid with an absentminded pride, “That certainly doesn’t mean I did.” A television could be heard through the wall behind the bed. She reached behind her back with both hands and undid the tangled clasp of her bra. He leaned over and placed the condom in the ashtray. She pulled the black bra away from her breasts and cast it onto the edge of the bed. To the right of the ashtray there was a beige touch-tone phone. “How could you believe something like that was true?” To the right of the phone, a red and white brochure instructed the occupants on how to exit the building in the event of a fire. A metal lamp with a beige lampshade was mounted to the wall above the nightstand; a sixty-watt bulb illuminated a portion of the room. She waited for him to adjust the thin foam pillow beneath his head before claiming, “Because you never took me seriously.” Long brown watermarks ran across the ceiling above the bed. He closed his eyes, “That isn’t true,” clasped his hands and rested them on his stomach.
Bill had saved a batch of color photographs of Sarah from the spring of ’76 and would remove them from the cardboard box marked poetry that was buried in the bottom of the closet in his study at least twice every five years. Mary would be spending the weekend at her sister’s in Bridgeport, and he would be home alone and very drunk. Bill and Sarah had driven up to Sylvan Beach on a sunny weekday during the Easter break of her junior year. The image of Sarah standing on the beach with her jeans rolled up to her knees as small waves broke before her pale ankles. The image of Sarah feeding a seagull (with outstretched wings) French fries while sitting at a dark red picnic bench. The portrait of her looking directly into the fifty-millimeter lens—her blue eyes almost mirrored the cloudless sky. Sarah sitting on the back of a green bench overlooking Oneida Lake. Sarah holding a melting chocolate ice cream cone with a sardonic grin. Bill would spend hours pouring over the images until he was seeing double.
The springs in the mattress creaked, “Like you were just testing the bath water with the tip of your foot,” as she placed her right arm on his chest. He opened his eyes, “What does that mean?” The television situated on the dresser parallel to the bed reflected their faint silhouettes in its darkened screen. She noticed the crow’s feet, “that you were just interested in having sex with me,” etched around the corners of his eyes, “and that you just saw me as some dumb, needy girl—” “How can you—” he tried to interject. “Who really couldn’t give you anything else.” “You were sixteen years old,” Bill shook his head while adding, “and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have found someone who was as . . . as passionately interested in me as you were then,” then lowered his voice, “it was like a dream come true,” as the realization that it had taken two decades to tell her this descended upon him. “You never made me feel like you were committed to our relationship.” “I certainly tried,” he nodded with conviction, “the sex was very important, the sex was incredible, as it should be in every relationship, although it never is…but we shared a lot of the same interests as well.” Her eyes narrowed, “You never made me feel appreciated.” That she would berate him about the way their relationship ended didn’t come as a surprise, “I think that had a lot more to do with your upbringing and besides—” “I always felt like you were taking me for granted,” she pursed her lips, “like that letter you gave me.” “Twenty years ago,” he shrugged his shoulders, “you can’t change the past, so why live in it?” Wasn’t renewing their relationship a way of reliving the past? Televised laughter could be heard through the wall as she thought about his question. How could she have harbored his betrayal for twenty years?
The rain had finally let up by the time she reached their gravel driveway. A silver Buick was parked next to Mary’s dark green Plymouth. The wind had pasted dozens of young leaves onto the sides of the cars. Water ran along the gutters and down the spouts. Her shoulder brushed the corner of the house as she walked into the backyard.
Sarah took her arm off his chest and sat up, “You know I kept it.” Bill looked puzzled, “Kept what?” “That letter you gave me on the last day of school,” Sarah rested her shoulders against the headboard. “Oh that,” he contemplated their reflection in the television screen. “Oh that,” she placed the tip of her index finger on her chin, “I should have brought it tonight,” while watching his expression turn sullen, “Do you remember that day?” He nodded, “I don’t remember what I wrote in it though.” “You don’t?” “No of course not…Jesus Christ… not word for word.” She saw herself sprinting through the teacher’s parking lot, “I guess you’ve done it before,” and reached his car just as he was turning the key in the ignition. She was about to ask him what was wrong, “it was in the parking lot,” as he rolled down the window, “on the last day of school,” and shoved the envelope into her hands. He noticed the burgundy lipstick, “Yes,” smudged around the corners of her mouth, “I do remember that.” “I’ll have to show it to you sometime, maybe that will refresh your memory.” Bill recalled how idiotic it felt waking up with a hangover on the daybed in his study, to discover those photographs scattered across his desk. “What good would that do?” Ignoring his question, “I walked over to your house that night in the rain and you were sitting on the couch getting drunk with Mary and some other couple,” while looking closely at his eyes, “I stood outside on your patio by the window and all of you seemed so old and decrepit then, so, adult . . .the way anyone over thirty looks to a teenager . . . all of you belonged in a mausoleum.” He added, “And the girls in school are getting younger every year,” with wistful irony.
“And how did we get on this subject anyway,” a male voice interjected. Two rectangles of bright yellow light covered the patio. “We were toasting Brezhnev.” Bill’s voice washed over Sarah as she quickly moved to the wall next to the windows. “When you were in the bathroom!” A peal of drunken laughter erupted in the living room. Sarah pressed her back to the damp bricks. “Yeah, honey,” a woman’s shrill pitch, “we had to wait for you to leave the room.” The objects surrounding Sarah gradually became visible. “To the new Soviet president!” She winced at the sound of Mary’s voice. “And head of the Communist Party,” Bill chimed in. The terra cotta planters by her feet were splattered with mud and filled with shallow puddles. “Who happens to be a few months away from certain death.” A large brass ashtray filled with partially submerged cigarette butts. The sound of ice cubes in the bottom of a glass. “Can someone please explain the logic of that decision?” The other male voice asked. A metal watering can with a long spout. Bill said, “I’m sure that when he kicks off you’ll get the call up from the Kremlin.” Sarah took a deep breath and looked in the window. Mary raised her glass in a toast, “To comrade Dan,” the balding man with a thick moustache sitting in the rocking chair with his legs crossed, “the next head of the Soviet State and the first Republican member of the Communist Party.” Mary was lying on the couch with her stockinged feet in Bill’s lap. “Well,” Bill took a sip of his drink before saying, “if the Mets don’t trade him to Cincinnati first.” Dan looked into his empty glass and frowned, “I am not a Republican.” Mary squealed with laughter, “And you’re not a very good pitcher either!” Dan was rocking back and forth in his chair like an excited chimp, “I am not a Republican, nor a card carrying member of the Communist Party, nor the John Birch Society for that matter,” he straightened out his legs and stood on unsteady feet, “and if the politburo approves we can drive down there tonight,” before crossing to the liter of Cutty Sark and ice bucket on top of the counter, “and embrace our revolutionary brothers and soul sisters,” beneath the mirror parallel to the window. He examined himself in the mirror, “who are just trying to eat their raw,” twisting the metal cap off the bottle, “homegrown vegetables in peace,” and pouring three fingers into his glass, “down there in the big bad city of brotherly love,” before discovering Sarah’s reflection in the mirror and spilling scotch all over the counter. “We were talking about adultery,” Bill exclaimed. “No,” the overweight woman interjected, “we were talking about books about adultery.” Dan turned toward them while wiping the liquor off his hands with a green and red napkin, “How about the open one about people looking in your window?” They turned to Dan as he pointed, “I mean the book about that one in the window.” Sarah ducked away and bolted across the deck. Bill stood up and stumbled toward the window. She ran through the backyard and disappeared into the shadows surrounding their property.
“For years I thought it could have been, that it should have been me, sitting in there with you. The happy young housewife with her husband, the brilliant teacher.” Bill shrugged, “I’m sure that you can find a lot of faults with anyone in retrospect.” “And I would get so angry with myself for wanting that life with you,” she brushed his right hand off of her thigh, “you had convinced me that you didn’t love her and I gave myself to you . . . unconditionally. . . and there you were—” “I think you were being delusional,” Bill unclenched his fists, “I was never going to leave Mary,” before changing the subject, “What happened with your parents?” Sarah swallowed hard, “My mother is in a nursing home and I haven’t spoken to my father in thirteen years.” A door down the hall slammed. “Really?” She leveled her eyes at him, “If anyone hurt Kate the way he hurt me I would kill them.” “And no jury would ever convict you,” he cleared his throat before adding, “what if you got pregnant in high school.” “I wanted that life with you so badly,” she hadn’t taken her eyes off his chest, “and I . . . ” “What then Sarah,” he pressed his hands in hers, “what sort of life would we be living now?” “And I . . . ” she blinked twice while looking intently at his face, “and I’ve never loved anyone the way I loved you. Not even my husband,” she squeezed his hands, “even when things were really good between us. I’ve compared every man I’ve been involved with to you and none of them have even come close.” He leaned forward, “I’m right here,” and kissed her on the forehead. “I had an affair,” she turned her head away, “with my boss.” “The dentist?” She nodded, “At one point he wanted to leave his wife and kids for me and I told him I would quit and end our relationship if he even suggested it again.” “How long did this go on for?” “The other night I realized I was never really able to love any of them . . . it was more like a role I was playing,” she cleared her throat, “after we ran into each other last month I ended it with him.” Bill managed to mask his skepticism, “Just like that,” but how many hours had she spent with her boss in a room like this, “you didn’t know,” he swallowed dryly, “you didn’t know that we would be intimate again?” “That didn’t matter,” she leaned forward, “knowing that you still cared about me was enough,” and kissed him on the mouth.