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High Infidelity

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She knows it’s ridiculous on some level that she’s turned into a cliché, the woman who loves her shrink and hopes he loves her back. She spends one afternoon trailing Alex, and when she sees him with a woman, she goes to his office and demands to know who the other woman is. “You know that’s not your business,” he tells her, and then he says, “Her name is Nita and she’s a nurse and that’s all you need to know.” That night, Emma sprays the sheets with perfume. She lights candles and puts on her prettiest nightgown and takes Dan to bed. He can’t perform. The meds suppress desire and make sex impossible, but still there’s cuddling, there’s closeness. He sits up, knocking one of the candles to the floor so it catches the edge of the curtain. “Oh!” Emma cries and stamps the flames out, and the room smells like smoke and defeat. “It’s all right,” she says, and though she curls up beside him in bed, he doesn’t answer. He stares at the wall and rolls away from her.

One day, the first thing Emma says when she walks into Alex’s office is “I love you.” She’s wearing jeans and a silk shirt, and she can’t look at him without feeling nearly hysterical with desire. Alex stands up and comes toward her, and she shuts her eyes. “Don’t give me a fucking Kleenex,” she says.

He licks her eyelids. He kisses her hair, her mouth, her neck. He pulls her on the floor, and every time he touches her, she feels a jolt of heat. She stops crying. He pulls her panties down and opens his pants, and then he’s inside of her, one hand gently over her mouth so she won’t call out and disturb the patient just outside the door.

It’s over in ten minutes, and he helps her up. He buttons her blouse tenderly. And he kisses her mouth. Neither of them speak. When she leaves his office, her panties are damp and her mouth is swollen, and she thinks the sex was terrible, but she feels this beam of joy inside of her, flashing like a go signal.

She calls me and tells me, and I hold my breath in wonder. “I did everything for Dan for years,” she tells me. “He can’t sleep with me anymore. He won’t ever get better. I haven’t left him. Don’t I deserve happiness?” “Of course you do,” I tell her. I want to come over, I want to hear more of the details, but she tells me she wants to paint. She’s fired with creativity. “I’m going to do his portrait,” she says.

I’m alone in my house. I don’t want to write my novel, though my deadline is looming. I don’t want to do anything, and then I go outside and there is Tom, standing on our porch, and his face is terrible. “I want a divorce,” he says. I shove him, so that he stumbles. “Are you seeing someone?” I scream.

“That was animal consciousness,” he says coolly, and then he leaves me there, weeping.

“He’s seeing someone, I know it,” I tell Emma when I call her crying, and as soon as I tell her I’m calling a lawyer and I’m moving to New York, she cries, too. “Don’t go,” she pleads. “This is your home. Stay here. He’s a jerk, but I know he loves you. He’d tell me if he was seeing someone—I’m his sister, for God’s sake.” It changes. All of it. I go to the lawyer’s and pack and call my friends in Manhattan, who tell me to come stay with them until I find a place. I call my agent, who tells me I can work in the office until I find something better. “Was there someone else? Do you know?” I ask my friends in Pittsburgh. I even call all of Tom’s friends. No one knows anything.

Emma is wonderful through it. She stays with me, she takes me to lunches I can only pick at, and she tells me how she and Alex are always together now. “Things have a way of working out,” she says, and what she means is that Dan just got out of the hospital and told her he wants to try living on his own, that it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love her, he’s just not sure he can handle the relationship. He has no idea that Emma and Alex are a couple, and in fact, he still goes to Alex for therapy. “Alex says as soon as Dan is stable and working again, I should think about divorce. I should marry him.” I grab her hands. “God, I’m so glad something is working out for one of us!”


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