Nothing about it felt right, not the room, not the bed, not the air. The sheets were pilled and gritty, like sand on her naked back. They smelled like cigarettes. Instead of the night songs of crickets, there were car horns, helicopters, a faraway train. And instead of her husband’s strong, calloused hands, there were his, tentative and fumbling, unfamiliar.
Seven weeks had passed since she’d discovered the infidelity. First the email messages, then the bank statements. Eventually, she found the photographs, the woman tattooed and sun-freckled, her breasts pendulous. His admission came slowly, but it came, an abrupt end to an 11-year promise.
On this night, there would be no promises. No phone numbers exchanged, no dinner plans made. He seemed to understand this as much as she did. Perhaps that’s why she had chosen him, why she had plucked him from the barstool and lured him into a cab. Everything about him, from his Old Navy t-shirt to his Ikea furniture, shouted impermanence. Everything but a royal-blue fish swimming in a small plastic bowl on his nightstand.
Through the darkness she could see him on bended knee, jeans sliding down his thighs, moonlight across his bare chest. It reminded her of the day her husband had proposed, right there on the beach in Provincetown, no one but the seagulls to bear witness. That had been the happiest day of her life, but what did it matter now? She pushed her heels into the grainy sheets and lifted her hips.
His rhythm was off. Outside, a police siren wailed. She pressed her hands against his thighs to slow him down, but his face went slack and his mouth hung open. She didn’t want to look at him like that. She wanted him to take her over to the other side, across the bridge that needed crossing, but she didn’t want to see. She pulled away and rolled onto her hands and knees, her back arching.
She focused on the peeling wallpaper, the fishbowl, the tiny betta swimming around inside, anything to keep the tears away. She was done with all that. Now she wanted whatever was going to come next. Resolution. Clarity. Or maybe just sex. She wondered what her husband would think. How wrong she had been. How foolish.
With one hand, she reached between her legs to feel the spot where the past met the present. With the other hand, she grabbed a fistful of sheet to brace herself. She spread her knees wider, felt him grow harder, stronger, heard him whisper something. She groped for the headboard to steady herself, but her hand landed on the nightstand. The fishbowl tumbled to the floor.
She knew she was almost there. If she could just get there…. The fish lay just beyond her reach, its small mouth opening and closing, opening and closing. It was pitiful, but it was already gone. Lost forever.
He bucked harder. Her breath quickened; she was panting like an animal. She closed her eyes and let the tears fall. When she opened them again, the betta was still.
Wendy Fontaine is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose work has appeared in Hippocampus, Passages North, Readers Digest, Literary Mama and elsewhere. In 2015, she won the Tiferet Prize for Creative Nonfiction. She teaches journalism, lives in Los Angeles and is currently seeking representation for her memoir, Leaves in the Fall.