Sheila finds his movies while he’s away on a business trip.
The VHS cassettes are stacked like black bricks in the bottom drawer of his desk in a study he keeps locked, in a desk he also locks.
To get in, she’d taken an imprint of his keys while he slept one night, the next day making a set for herself at a hardware store.
Now, before pushing the first tape into the VCR, Sheila holds her breath and says a prayer, because she’d been expecting his affair for some time. She’d gotten fat, watching the OJ trials months on end, snacking endlessly. But the case was addicting, the food, too, and well, her husband never seemed to mind in the least.
Thirty seconds into the first tape, she screams.
She slams the Off button, trembling.
She bites the back of her hand.
She shakes her head violently.
She fans her sweaty face.
Frantically, she whispers, “No…No…No. Can’t be…No…”
Sheila selects another tape, this one labeled with a pink Post-It and some kind of code.
It takes her just twenty seconds before she turns off the television and screams again.
Hours afterward, Sheila hasn’t moved from the sofa. Her neck is sore from staring at the ceiling. She’s afraid to look at the carpet where the tapes lay scattered, scared to see the TV, although it’s nothing more than gray glass.
She’s already thought of every scenario where there might be a flimsy explanation for this. None of them make sense. But then, neither does what she’s seen, what her husband enjoys.
Enjoys. The word curdles inside her like a demon fetus as she turns and vomits on the armrest.
Sick, she thinks. Sick.
He was handsome and ambitious when she met him. At twenty-three, he’d already moved far up the ladder of a high brow consulting firm. He bought her flowers, perfume, his favorite historical memoirs, then later - when they’d become engaged - lingerie.
She tries to recall each piece he’d bought her and what transpired when she wore it for him. No, nothing kinky had happened. It hadn’t.
She challenges her memory, searching for any hint or clue. She feels like the mother who never sees it coming when her son inexplicably guns down part of his schoolroom.
Should she have known? Of course, she should’ve. Somehow, she should have.
Years later, after thousands of hours of therapy, Sheila’s psychiatrist has her write a letter to herself, expunging self-guilt and exclaiming personal freedom from what transpired. It takes weeks to complete a draft. In the end, Sheila writes the words she knows her therapist wants to read.
Her husband sends his own letters from prison. She’d read the first few, but has burned every one since.
Their daughter is grown now, eighteen. Each time they meet, just like each time they say goodbye, mother will say to daughter, “When you have your kids, never let them out of your sight. Do you hear me?” she says. “Not for a minute.”
published 21 June 2013