"I have something of yours," she whispers. She clears her throat. "I found it in my husband's car."
I'm walking through my kitchen to grab shoes and head out the door to my bikram class. As the floorboards rrrt beneath my feet, I see a shadow of what looks like a woman's bare arm through the frosted glass of my front door. It hesitates. It knocks with purpose.
This is Austin, so I'm thinking clean water petition, or, animal rights activist. But I'll feel like a real asshole if I don't answer. So, sigh, I turn the knob.
She's attractive, slender and fit, with luxurious blond hair that makes me jealous. Elin Nordegren, I think. The resemblance is clear. Thank you, Tiger Woods, for fucking around on your wife; now I know what Elin Nordegren looks like. She has clear skin and cheek bones. Her cerulean eyes are looking at me. Looking into me, really.
She is silent and seems at once driven and afraid to find out what comes next.
The atmosphere on my porch is charged. My feelings are distinct and inseparable: terror and thrill. My insides are wild. Either this determined yet fragile woman—just released from a local hospital?—and I are sisters separated at birth and, here at long last, are finally reuniting, or this woman has come to find out how long I've been fucking her husband.
Turns out, it's the latter.
"I have something of yours," she whispers. She clears a small frog in her throat. "I found it in my husband's car."
She looks ready to crumple. My ears ring a little. And though I barely hear her words, they hang in the air like strange music. I cannot fathom what I have left in her husband’s car.
“Would you like a glass of water?” I say. “And maybe to sit down?”
It’s never this emergency feeling of fear and thrill that surprises me. It’s the preternatural calm. I imagine it’s the bikram that puts me in this space, the 105 degrees, all that practice of remaining calm under concentrated stress.
Anyway, my husband is not home again. He’s away for a couple days. Work.
She hasn’t answered, so I repeat my question and add, “You really look like you could use some support.”
The sun continues to beat on us. It’s Texas. It’s summer. She is tan, glowing honey, while my skin—psh.
“I think inside is better,” I say. Eventually she nods and I turn the knob and press a shoulder into my front door.
I go right for the cabinet of glasses and offer her water. She whispers thanks, clears her throat again, and says, “This is your home. It’s beautiful.” She holds the glass with both hands. Her hands are small, her nails tidy. Probably naturally buff. She’s pristine, from her tiny feet to her chic yet practical eyeglasses.
“I’m not sure where to begin,” she says.
“How about with a seat?” I say. We walk toward a couch and chair in a sunnier part of the house.
“Is this your son?” she says on the way. She’s checking out the photo mobile I slapped together for my son’s first birthday many months ago.
“Yes,” I say.
I realize she is not admiring so much as investigating. I move her along.
“Is your son sleeping?” she says.
I don’t like the sound of the question. “He is with good friends right now,” I say. “Couch or chair?”
She takes the chair, a short-back turquoise thing on wheels. She sits up very straight. Excellent posture; it figures. She is looking at the painting above the couch.
“So,” I say. I keep everything very calm. There’s still time to make the bikram class if we hurry.
“That painting,” she says, looking at it. “It looks like my husband.”
I look at it now, too. I look and look. The full green lips, the fence-row teeth edged in blue, the thicket of black hair. The thing is at once scary and welcoming.
“A friend painted that,” I say. “It’s a self-portrait.”
We continue looking at the painting.
“Would you like something stronger than water?” I ask. “I’ve got brown liquor.”
“Thanks,” she says, “but I’ve already taken a Xanax.” She digs in her purse while I think about the benefits of mixing Xanax with Templeton Rye.
She stops digging. “So.” She has something in her hand. “Would you like to see what I have of yours, what I found in my husband’s car?”
The thrilled part of me, the story teller, is Oh hell yeah! That part of me wants to know what this woman has snaked like a thief from her husband’s car. As if we are characters in a TV drama, inching toward the credits. The terrified part of me, though, the empathic human part, wants to protect both of us from pain and what is born in its aftermath. I split the difference between my feelings with one evasive question and a direct question.
“Do you have a photo of your husband?” I say. “Does he have a name?”
The woman, let’s call her Alex, says, “Do you mean one of his aliases?”
Goodbye bikram yoga.
Alex admits her Xanax has kicked in and that she just found out that her husband—via aliases—has been trolling online (“chatting” was her word) and who knows what all else.
“This is my husband,” she says, flipping through her old-fashioned pocketbook full of photos—two children’s faces. Her hands are shaking a little.
“You are worried about your kids,” I say.
“Yes,” she nods her whole body. “They are my life.” She keeps her thumb on a photo of the two of them together and keeps flipping.
“His aliases,” she says. She rattles a few of his last names. Jackson is one. Each sounds like a professional baseball player—or a country singer, which seems cockeyed for the guy she finally finds a picture of. Dark hair, dark skin. Mexican by heritage, she tells me.
He’s good-looking. And he does resemble my painting. I tell her so. And “I’m not sleeping with him. Not that I know of.”
“Yes, uh-huh,” she says, shaking her head. “I’m confused.” She puts those bluer than blue eyes on me again. “Is this yours? I know it is.”
She hands me a very small piece of paper she’s been holding onto—my name typed across the top, with numbers written in my own hand. It’s my weekly diaper order card. And it’s nothing I’ve given to another person except my diaper service guy, Jorge.
“Yes,” I say. “It’s mine.”
“How old is your son?” she says.
“Sixteen months,” I hear myself say it, then realize something so slowly and clearly it’s as if I’m surfacing from a deep lake.
“You think my son is your husband’s.”
She isn’t sitting in the blue chair anymore. She is standing on the striped rug in our living room where my husband lies down to stretch every morning, where my son crawls.
I laugh. I punch-fluff a couch pillow.
“If he were your husband’s…surely he’d have some of that gorgeous melanin.”
She takes a sip of water. “Hm,” she says, her eyes not quite focusing.
Mine dart toward my son’s room as questions pile up, each one alternately ending in WTF and FML.
Question 1: “How exactly did you find me again?” I say. WTF.
“On the internet. It was quite easy, actually.” FML.
Question 2: How did this dude get my diaper card, and when? WTF.
Now we are in my son’s bedroom. I compare the numbers on the current week’s card with those on the creepy card Alex and her husband both swiped. Same numbers. The stolen card is recent, within two months. Double WTF.
We go to the dining room, where I want to pour myself a drink. Because why the hell not, I’m not going to get to any yoga today.
Question 4: Where the hell does this guy know me from?
Alex and I cover all the ground rationally, methodically, cross-sectioning our lives, putting down stakes and overturning possible shared landmarks, in this order:
Kids’ schools, no match. Workplaces, no match. Gyms, I don’t go. Yoga studios, he doesn’t go. Grocery stores, no. Doctors’ offices, nada. Walking and running routes, bingo.
“He’s a runner,” she says. “He runs your neighborhood sometimes.”
The thrilled, terrified feeling is back, stronger—electric fucking eels in my solar plexus. Because I know. “Does he wear black and red?”
“Yes,” she says. “That’s what he runs in.”
Our meeting comes back to me. Just two days before. Barely before noon. I pulled into my driveway after yoga. I reached back in to drag out my sopping wet towels and yoga mat, and there he was. In the street, approaching my driveway. The face from the photo, the thicket of black hair and the full lips from my painting, albeit not green. Something in that face made me think swarthy. Made me go ooh. Made me remember my husband was out of town and made me make eye contact. Something in that face made me shiver, too, either from what was in my mind—or his. I got to the house, and in, fast.
“Are you afraid?” Alex asks.
I take a long time to drain my glass, pop another grape in my mouth and look at her. “Should I be?”
“My husband’s a good man,” she says, “though complicated and difficult and looking for…”
Whatever he was looking for, he somehow found my diaper order tag. Maybe he walked right past the stop sign, right past my ash and oak trees, right up to my porch, right next to my front door, and took that tag out from its plastic sleeve as it sat atop a navy blue bag of soiled diapers. Or maybe Jorge had, oops, dropped the tag at the curb before this man walked by and scooped up that little slip because I don’t know why. I decide to not be afraid.
It’s my turn to ask: “Are you afraid?”
She is quiet and her head falls forward and all her lovely hair makes a veil so I can’t see her face. I find myself next to her, saying, “Would you like a hug?”
Her head moves her hair in a way that indicates yes. So, we hug. She feels so small, barely there at all.
She breaks down a little, says she hasn’t told anybody else about her current state of affairs—“can’t,” she says—aside from her doctor, this morning, so she could get that Xanax script. She is afraid for her kids. “My parents are Norwegian,” she offers. It doesn’t mean anything to me, except to make her resemblance to Tiger Woods’ Swedish ex more prevalent. She goes on. “My father cheated on my mother the whole way. She never actually left him. I spent my entire teenage life thinking she was the stupidest, weakest woman alive.”
We are apart again, and to save us from post-affection embarrassment, I move to the stove and debate what else I can eat, what else I can learn, how mysteriously and ironically life moves. I settle for almonds. “And now?” I ask.
“I think she must be the strongest woman I’ve ever known.”
I snack and snack, and we discuss—how much her husband must untangle, what she might do next. We exchange telephone numbers.
“Consider me your friend,” I tell her. “And keep this number away from your husband.”
I wink. She sort of smiles back and calls me generous. Really what I am is relieved to not have been caught in something I’d have had to lie my way out of.
I walk her to her crimson Volvo station wagon. The sun is wicked. The air is filled, as ever, with the clangs and bangs of Austin’s ever-increasing nouveau riche state.
Fast forward to today: I haven’t seen or heard from Alex or her husband. One affair I can safely say I’m glad I am not having. The other, I’m not so sure.
Follow Stacy on Twitter: @stacymus.