Cheryl liked to think she had no illusions about the way Marco felt about her. When sex is that pure and simple, it’s hard, even despite cultural assumptions, to feel that craving for emotional attachment. Even if it was occasionally soft, tender, slow and intense, there were plenty of other times when it was too rough, too hard, awkward, and awful. They would share a cigarette afterwards, forgetting for a moment that Cheryl didn’t smoke and Marco was happily married. For a moment, it was bliss; the empty kind that holds no expectations or connotations of greatness.
She didn’t care to remember how the affair had begun, and didn’t think too much about it, except on those tired nights when she had to stay late at the office, filing or copying memos. Alone, surrounded by the hibernating whirr of the computers and fax machines, Cheryl let her mind wander, and sometimes it would wander to Marco’s office. Or Marco’s backseat. Or, and only twice, Marco’s living room with the multitude of children’s toys strewn over the floor. Those were the only times they hadn’t smoked, because his wife would have smelled it and Cheryl had no desire to be responsible for the health of a child. Sometimes, though, it would wander to the beach, that one time she drove her mother’s car up north to Trout Lake, by herself, without asking. How she trespassed onto the property of an ex-friend’s family, just so she could run down to the lakefront, kick off her shoes, and splash around in the near freezing water like a madwoman. It freaked her mother out. It freaked her out, too, but it felt incredible, like her heart was so full it had to expand out in all directions. A strange sensation for someone who was once known to chronically colour inside the lines.
Cheryl was fairly sure she had no illusions about Marco, but started feeling a twang of desperation when there was a lull in the frequency of their get-togethers. She had resigned to believe she was falling in love with him, for lack of a better explanation, having never been in love before. She felt a kind of tugging, not in her heart, but in her gut. It was uncomfortable. It made her sweat even when the AC in the office was cranked up high. She figured out exactly what it was the night Marco had called her when she was staying late at the office again. He was frantic and blubbering in a way no man ever should.
It was nearing eleven o’clock when her cell phone rang. Cheryl was tired, famished, irritable, and the ringing phone didn’t do much to help her mood. Seeing Marco’s name flash on the screen, though, left her with a strange sensation. On the one hand, it had an odd anticipatory calming effect. On the other, it made her eyes roll. Marco never called that late.
It was only a half hour later that Cheryl found herself standing outside the hospital. Marco’s wife was being treated after an allergic reaction to strawberries. Cheryl loved strawberries. She watched Marco bawl, his eyes puffed and red, streams of shimmering, salted tears mingling with liquefied mucus that pooled beneath his nose. He spoke, and she listened, but she couldn’t stop her mind from wandering back to that day at Trout Lake. How the water had felt, freezing her toes solid, how she had screamed like a banshee into the empty air, how her mother had yelled upon her return home. How she had done something unexpected, presumably wrong, potentially dangerous, and absolutely relished it.
As Marco wiped his quivering mouth with the back of his hand, Cheryl told him that they would have to stop what they’d been doing. Cheryl had no illusions about Marco, but apparently Marco had had some about her.
Already on her fifth cigarette, it occurred to Cheryl that she was, in fact, a smoker.
L. A. Stein is completing her B.A. in Creative Writing at Concordia University in Montreal, but has fingers in many other pies including dance, theatre, and strawberry-rhubarb.