Pursuing a Greater Happiness

By Tammye Huf

The first time I accused him of having an affair, he laughed at me. The kind of deep, throaty rumbling you could only make if you meant it. A sincere laugh.

“No,” he said. “But why on earth would you ask me that?”

I frowned. He should have broken down in tears and begged my forgiveness, but instead he smiled. Mirthful.

“I found a receipt for a hotel in your pocket when I was doing the laundry.”

He arched his eyebrows and shook his head. It was disconcerting how silly he thought this whole thing was.

“Honey, you know I go on business trips all the time. I stay in loads of hotels. It doesn’t mean I’m having an affair. I’m working. For us.”

“It was a hotel on Long Island.” That was the point, really. If you live in Manhattan, you don’t need a hotel on Long Island for a business trip.

“Oh, the Long Island hotel. Yeah. I remember that one. There was a conference, and it got pretty late, and you hate it when I come home and wake you up. You always complain that you can never fall back to sleep, so I thought I might as well stay the night and let you rest.”

I squinted at him, trying to process this, trying to see the lie in his eyes or hear it laced through his voice. “Why didn’t you mention it to me?”

He shrugged. “It was no big deal. I only mention things worth mentioning.”

I let it go then. I had to in the face of his ostensible generosity, having no further incriminating evidence. He leaned forward and kissed me. He held my hand and was exceedingly sweet to me for the rest of the evening. Surprisingly sweet. Suspiciously sweet. Like a man with a guilty conscience.

We carried on as we always had for the next few months, which meant we saw each other very little. He usually came in too late for dinner. In the beginning I had tried to wait for him to eat, but ten, eleven, twelve o’clock became normal, and eating so late made me fat and grumpy.

Instead, I tried waiting up for him, but the nights got later. One o’clock. Two o’clock. I would fall asleep with a book on my nose or the TV playing to no one.

“Why can’t you come home at normal times?”

He sighed the long-suffering sigh exasperated parents adopt. “Clients have to be entertained. If we want their account, we have to pull out all the stops. That’s what sets us apart. It’s all about personal attention these days.”

“Relationships need personal attention too,” I countered.

He shook his head and smiled. “I’m flattered that you missed me.”

Grabbing me around the waist, he kissed me and nuzzled my ear, my neck. He was in a good mood. Later he would want to make love. It was his pattern. In many ways he was still so predictable.

He slept on his left side, his phone and watch and wallet next to him on his bedside table. I would curl up behind him, folding my body to his back, feeling the rise and fall of his breath under my splayed fingers.

When his phone vibrated early in the morning he didn’t hear it. His succession of late nights had wiped him out. I grabbed it and answered, thinking only that an early morning call is probably important.

“Who is this?” A gruff female responded to my groggy “hello.”

“This is Richard’s wife. Who is this?”

The silence dragged until it almost became amusing. Almost. Eventually, she hung up on me.

I grabbed my husband’s wallet and phone and snuck into our bathroom, trolling through old texts and emails and receipts.

He wasn’t having an affair. He was having affairs. Plural. Actively courting at least six women. Bastard, bastard, bastard. Times six.

For the first time, I understood how you could love and hate someone at the same time, and also the appeal of thumbscrews.

One email in particular told me more about my husband than seven years of marriage had done. His colleague felt guilty about being unfaithful, and Richard reassured him, telling him that he deserved to be happy. Some men like to golf, he explained, some like to ski, but some men prefer having a little fun outside their marriages. According to Richard, these men owe it to themselves to pursue a greater happiness.

I made copies of everything. Emails. Texts. I took pictures of receipts.

By the time he woke up I’d replaced his things, had showered and changed, and had already drunk three cups of coffee. I threw a splash of whiskey in the third cup because my nerves were shot and it was almost St. Patrick’s Day and I was feeling Irish by association.

“Are you happy, Richard?” I asked as he dragged himself into the bathroom. I watched his footing to see if he would falter. He did not.

“Of course I am. Aren’t you?”

“Do you think you’d like to be happier?”

He frowned at me. “I like my life just fine. I have everything I want.” He kissed my cheek. A playful peck.

“But don’t you think a person can have too much to really enjoy anything? Wouldn’t it be more fulfilling to focus your attention on fewer things? Maybe even just one thing?”

“Is this about having kids?”

I downed the rest of my enhanced coffee. “Are you having an affair?”

“Whoa. Where did that come from?” He grabbed my hand and kissed my palm, staring into my eyes. I hated that my body reacted to him. “I can’t keep up with you, roadrunner. You’re all over the place.”

He pulled me to him. I resisted, but he dragged me anyway and tucked me into my spot on his chest where I fit perfectly because he was still Richard and I was still Jane.

“I don’t think I’m ready for kids yet.” He kissed my forehead. “And I’m not having an affair.” He kissed my earlobe and squeezed me tight. “I have to get out of here or I’ll be late.” A peck on the top of my head, and he was gone.

I spent the morning rereading his messages and communing with the spirit of the Irish.

The next day I tried following him, but as soon as he disappeared into his office, he was lost to me.

He came home early for three days in a row, but on day four he called at ten in the evening to say that a colleague’s apartment had been broken into and he’d offered to sleep on her couch so that she wouldn’t be there alone.

“Can’t she stay at a hotel?”

“Have a heart, Jane; she’s really shaken. And she’s worried they’ll come back for the rest of her stuff. Besides, I’ve already told her I would.”

I know you’re lying, I wanted to say, but all I said was, “I see.”

Two Sundays later he said he had to go into the office for a few hours. When he hailed a taxi, I was right behind him. It always works in the movies, but in reality, there is never a free cab in New York when you want one. By the time a taxi pulled up, Richard’s cab had disappeared in a sea of cars.

My deskwork investigations proved more useful. I found his secret email account, and after a few days I figured out his password. At first I wanted to know the extent of the problem. Then I wanted to understand him, so that I could understand how to fix it. After a week of reading two years of back emails, I began having castration fantasies.

Our anniversary came and went with barely a blip on the radar, and the day after, his mother called. Richard was out, so she was forced to speak with me instead, something we both generally avoided.

“So, what did you two do for your anniversary? Or are you celebrating it this weekend?”

Richard had given me a generic card professing undying love, with his signature scrawled at he bottom.  “We went for a meal, and he bought me flowers and perfume,” I lied.

This is the power of deficient men. Their wives lie for them, too embarrassed to admit they’ve married an asshole, making it easy for the husbands to perpetuate their assholitry without reproach from the world at large.

“Anyway, I thought Richard was driving down to see you this weekend,” I said.

He’d told me that he would be visiting his mother in Pennsylvania. By mutual agreement, he’d been undertaking these visits alone for years.

“No, no. It’s next month that he’s visiting. I have it in my diary.”

I was still awake when he came home just before midnight, smelling of alcohol and cigarettes.

“Good night with your clients?”

“Oh, you know. Same as always. They want to feel like they’re the center of your world, even when they know they’re not.”

“Are you still visiting your mom this weekend?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“I need to shampoo the carpets,” I lied. “I thought I’d do it while you’re away.”

“Good idea.” He kissed me good-night and started snoring almost immediately.

I crept downstairs to where his briefcase sat by the front door, tipping the contents onto the floor and reading through everything.

In a small front pocket, I found an invitation for you and your partner to attend a charity gala at the Ritz, sponsored, in part, by his company. The envelope included a hotel voucher and two tickets, one with Richard’s name printed in party-formal script; the other merely proclaimed, partner.

I stared at the partner ticket for at least five minutes in the cold, dark entranceway. Then I pocketed it, replaced his papers and climbed into bed.

I had four days until the gala, and every moment I expected him to notice the missing ticket and my erratic behavior and put it together, but his confidence made him blind.

I saw a lawyer, I visited our bank, I met with the lawyer again. He advised me against a stunt, but I wouldn’t listen.

On the day of the gala I bought a new dress and headed for the Ritz, where a throng of beautiful people loitered in their finery. Hiding behind a cluster of partygoers, I watched him arrive with a popsicle stick of a woman wearing a translucent dress and surgically enhanced boobs. His hand rested on her hip, her arm snaked around his waist, reptilelike.

Knowing is not the same as seeing. Knowing gave me a pure, focused rage and a plan. Seeing made my throat close up and my eyes sting. I blinked away the tears. I refused to cry for him, but I couldn’t do anything about my heart rate or my ragged breath or the nausea writhing in my gut.

He only had the one ticket, obviously, and was trying to talk his way into getting Boob Woman let in as his partner, explaining the second ticket had gone missing, producing the letter promising admittance for two. Eventually the usher relented and let them in.

I entered ten minutes later with my official partner ticket, walking twice in front of Richard’s line of sight to make sure he saw me. When I glanced back, his mouth hung open, eyes wide. I smirked at him as I strolled up to his boss, air-kissing both cheeks. The man glanced at Richard, at me, back at Richard. Then over to his wife.

“Let me get you a top-up, my dear.” Richard’s boss lifted the half full glass from his wife’s hand. “And I’ll bring you another too, shall I?” He nodded at my untouched champagne and fled. Men.

“I didn’t know how to tell you,” his wife said, and then embraced me like a sister, though I barely knew her.

I nodded understanding. I wouldn’t have known how to tell me either.

Downing my champagne, I made my way to my husband, who stood rooted, tracking my approach.

“I hope I’m not interrupting quality time with your mother,” I said by way of greeting.

“What are you doing here?” I could hear the fear in his voice. Good.

“I’m Jane,” I said to Boob Woman. “Richard’s wife. Soon to be ex-wife.” She gaped at me and glared at Richard.

“Honey, you’re overreacting. I can explain everything to you at home.”

“I also know about Gloria and Andrea and Sandy and Agnes and Katrina. They were surprised to find out about each other, but once they did, they became very cooperative.”

“Cooperative?”

“I brought video footage. A little too explicit for this group, I think, but you use what you’ve got.”

“You’re not serious.”

“I have some papers I want you to sign.”

“You want a divorce?”

I held his gaze without blinking, letting him feel the weight of my words. “I want everything,” I said. “And yes, also a divorce.”

“I’m not going to sign anything, Jane. We’ll talk about his when I get home.”

“A nice young man named Luigi has put a little show together and is ready to project it onto the far wall of this very room, so that you can revel in your past escapades with all your friends here tonight.” I indicated the projector fastened to the ceiling.

He pointed at me, his finger inches away from my chest, his voice climbing until it peaked. “You’re crossing a line here, Jane. You need to just calm the hell down.” A few people turned to see what was going on.

“The signal is when I raise my right hand and wave.”

“You’re bluffing,” he spat. No honeys now or I can explains.

I looked him in the eye, raised my right hand, and waved. The projector above sprang to life as white light shot across the room, silhouetting the human figures in its path against the wall. Some of the partygoers stepped out of the light beam and turned to watch in anticipation.

“Stop! Make it stop! Holy fuck! Are you crazy?”

I waved my arms and the light cut out.

“Now that I have your attention…” I handed him the pen and unfolded the paper, turning to the final page. He glared at me with scathing hate, but he signed.

“Happy now?” It came out as a growl.

“You know, Richard, I was happy before. But I’ve decided to take your advice and pursue a greater happiness. Like you say, I owe it to myself.”

Pocketing the papers, I strode toward the exit with a false calm, breathing away the knots in my stomach, steadying my hands at my sides. At the door I turned back to see him glaring venomously and mouthing curses at me. I raised my right hand and waved.

 

——————–

Tammye Huf’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Necessary Fiction, Ginosko Literary Journal, and The Storyteller.  She has worked as a teacher and as an educational consultant.  Having grown-up in California and Connecticut, she currently lives in England with her husband and three children where she is seeking publication for her first novel, Butterfly Man.


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