A Wanton Wife
By Elizabeth Lin Johnson
It was long ago, but for me, not so long ago. On a warm late September, 1975 evening, I crossed a threshold. I was young, not yet a woman, although married and with children.
That night I backed out of our home's driveway, glanced from the rear view mirror to the kitchen window and saw him. My husband watched, just like Mom did when Dad drove off. At the curb I looked away, entered our cul-de-sac and drove off, uncertain but determined not to turn back.
I'm like Dad? No, it's only dinner.
I assured myself. A lie, I was no longer a faithful wife. I was meeting a man not my husband and the father of my children, my premediated betrayal evident in my purse.
Turning onto the El Camino Real from my Mountain View, California home I mused about my life.
I was a poor Asian girl, raised Catholic by nuns, going to be one!
Only 16,he stopped me on the sidewalk as I walked home from the bus stop.
He was white, 5 years older, the only man I ever kissed. Engaged to him at 17 with parent’s acquiescence, at 18, married.
I gave my underage consent for security, to escape a dysfunctional family before I knew another. He assumed control of my life, even ensured my virginity on the altar.
Now, 25, I'm on a date, my first real date, a date where I meet a man I’ve chosen to see. For the first time, I'm being me.
Conversing with myself I rewrote a personal history justification for my dinner date. Approaching Michael's restaurant, however, my rationalizations dissipated, replaced with timid reality. I was risking my marriage, my family, my safe world. I knew I should go home but knew I wouldn’t.
While familiar with the restaurant from driving past, I’d never eaten there, too upscale for our family budget. Now I was entering an unfamiliar economic, social and moral world. I was scared but fear was part of the enticement. Scanning the parking lot from across the street I wondered if he even came with a false hope he didn’t. ]
There it was, his black Porsche, parked in front of the entrance. Knowing I shouldn’t but no longer in control, I drove in the parking lot.
Parked, I calmed, checked my hair and makeup in the mirror then clambered out and hastened to the entrance, my heels clicking on the pavement; my small gold sequined purse strung on my left shoulder, my knees visible in the silken mini dress. My quick pace was not confidence. I was afraid to be seen by someone, someone who knew me. They would want to know why I was there, dressed up, alone, seeing a man not my husband. Yet haste was also fed by desire, desire to see him again. I glanced down into his Porsche as I passed it and imagined him in its seat driving to meet me, his hands on the steering wheel.
Did he zoom here to meet me?
The maître d’ standing in the foyer swung one of the heavy doors with beveled glass panes open as I approached. He whispered in the foyer.
"Are you meeting Dr. Evans?"
Nodding, he replied.
The crowded tables blurred past as I followed, pleased he had the maître d’ look for my arrival. Then I saw him, sitting behind a secluded table. Edward, his jet black hair combed straight back, clean shaven. His clear, inquisitive blue eyes looked up, our eyes met; his full lips broke into a smile, white teeth flashed as he rose to his full six foot plus height.
Unease swept me, afraid he would want to hug at my table arrival as others turned to watch. Instead as my chair was pulled back by the maître d' he simply said.
"Eleanor, I’m so happy you came. You look beautiful!"
His expensive blazer and proper deportment matched the establishment’s upscale decor and silverware as did his confident resonant timbered voice. Not outright handsome, he was nice looking, a pleasant face to view. It was his mannerisms, urbanity and voice which pushed him into handsome.
Seated, I was glad I came, his presence dissipated my anxiety, his voice mesmerized my attention. Looking across the table, my heart knew I was his. Wearing his shoes, dress and earrings told him it was true.
He ordered a rose' wine by its French name and flush with wine, his voice and charm we ate. We talked but I did most of it. For desert we had sherry and shared a flan brulee, all new to as I stared transfixed as the little blue flame flickered and flamed out.
Tipsy by wine we walked from the restaurant to the adjacent Century 21 Theater to see the movie Chinatown, the innocent pretense for our date.
In the safety of the dark theater I put my hand on his knee and then his thigh. At "The End" I let him hold my hand for the first time as we walked up the aisle to the lobby. There he turned me to him.
"Stop for a glass wine. I’ll show you my place."
"I need to use the phone."
In the security of the wooden phone booth I closed the folding door, called home to assure all was okay and reported.
"I'm going to be a little late."
Avoiding an argument, I hung up agreeing to be home by midnight. Edward walked with me to my Dodge Dart. I thought.
At least it's not my station wagon.
Following his Porsche I became nervous again as dinner's wine confidence ebbed and told myself.
Just miss a light, turn, go home, say I got lost.
Instead I followed closely while he ensured we made the lights together.
Near Stanford University we parked, on a sycamore tree lined street in front of a new two story townhouse apartment complex. He opened my car door and we stepped on a meandering concrete walk. A few yellow and brown autumn leaves already lay on it and crunched under our feet. We walked in silence past a pool and clubhouse to the scent of chlorine and the splashing and laughing of swimmers. It was a still warm California evening with full moon above.
Past the pool, the landscaped smell of hibiscus mingled with redwood and eucalyptus trees greeted us. I kept thinking;
one glass, then I’ll leave.
In front of his apartment my heart pounded as he unlocked the front door and swung it open for my entry. Hesitant, peeking inside, I stepped forward and crossed the threshold, my cheeks flushed. Once across the threshold I thought.
I’m in his apartment. What difference does it make now?
I scanned the room and saw a large lighted aquarium which dominated the room. I clutched my gold sequined purse in front, my pretense shield and approached it. There I watched fish dart about, a temporary neutral sanctuary. He went to the kitchen and opened a bottle of red wine giving me time to compose.
Turning from the fish tank I again scanned the room as he poured two glasses and handed me one. Reaching to take the glass I let go of the purse with my right hand, partially disarming myself. I took a long sip, then another, until it was gone.
He smiled when I handed him the empty glass.
"It's pinot. Which fish do you like?"
"The little blue and red one fluttering its tail".
I timidly stared back at the tank, away for my hungry glance at his full lips.
"It's a male guppy. He flutters his tail to attract females.
Look, see the female notice him?"
"Yes, yes. I see her now. Wow!"
"Look at the far corner, up near the top. That’s me hiding there."
I saw a little frog hiding in the corner on a lily pad.
More relaxed with wine, he showed his apartment, excused the medical texts splayed on the coffee table and turned on his 8 track stereo tape recorder. The speakers released a subdued Midnight at the Oasis by Maria Muldaur as the kitchen and living room floated briefly before my gaze with refilled wine glass. I only noticed everything was clean and orderly including the nape of his neck where the barber had trimmed his hair line. Only his medical texts lay skewed about suggesting recent study. His bedroom was on the second level. I knew I shouldn’t go up the stairs.
Instead he took my wrist of the hand clutching the purse and led me up, relaxed and calm, as if it was just part of the apartment. The ending lyrics Midnight at the Oasis played as we ascended.
Midnight at the oasis
Send your camel to bed
Got shadows painting our faces
And traces of romance in our heads
I concentrated on balancing the wine glass in my other hand and negotiating the steps in my heels.
At the landing I peered into his bedroom as the speakers switched to Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up by Barry White. There was a large water bed, a dresser, night stand and more medical textbooks in a book case wall. He led me in as I stared at the water bed. I had never been on one.
He dimmed the light, took my purse and set it on the night stand then guided the rim of my wine glass to my lips. I took a long sip while he tilted the glass back then another until it was empty.
He kissed my wine moistened lips, our first kiss and turned me around. His after shave smelled good. I stared out the open door down the stairwell at the lighted glow of the fish tank, the reels of the stereo player slowly turning. I only had to grab my purse, step forward, walk down and through the front door to leave. I knew if I remained standing he was going to undress me.
Immobilized, my back to him, I changed my gaze from the aquarium to the red polish on my toe nails sticking out front of my shoes as he kissed the nape of my neck. The pearls on the dangling earrings he purchased when we first met caressed where he kissed when he pulled back. I closed my eyes and arched my head back.
He pulled the zipper down the silken dress he selected for me on our second meeting and slid it past my shoulders. It dropped into a silken wrap around the shoes he bought to match what I had selected for him. Turning me around, I stood before him, faint in anticipation. He stepped me out of the dress and led me to the bed. I obeyed.
He sat me on the padded bed edge, keeled down and took off my shoes, unstrapped one, slid it off, looked intently at it as he held it by the heel and set it under the night stand then the other and set them close together. He kissed a toe, arose and reached around to unhook my bra.
I turned my head and raised a hand to resist. He retreated, turned my face to him, kissed me, his tongue flickered into my parted lips, pressed me close, reached back again and unhooked the bra. Loosened, he slid the shoulder straps down to my elbows, pulled the strap past one arm, then the other. He draped the bra over my purse as I waited; naked except for my panty, staring down again at red toe nails.
He put his arms on my shoulders, tilted me down onto the bed, rose, picked up my feet and swung my legs on. I felt the warmth of the heated water and undulated to the waves, adrift. As he unhurriedly undressed I watched, naked except for my panty knowing he was about to take me.
After removing his pants and shorts he was an aroused guppy with attracted female. Unlike my husband he wore boxer trunks.
He climbed on the base of the bed and knelt before me, undulating up and down with the water's movement. Straddling my legs with his, sliding forward until his face was to mine, he kissed me.
Rising up he lifted my arms protecting my breasts, admired my red finger nails, slid back down, knelt before my feet and slowly pulled off the panty. My mind saying no but I arched up to assist. He pulled it over my feet and brought it to his face then dropped it next to my shoes, grabbed my ankles and spread my legs while I protested meekly.
Open before him, he took me..
Spent, we laid cheek to cheek as the water undulations receded from our spastic movements. The 8 track tape’s reel had reached its end, the speakers silent. We lay next to one another, holding hands, as when we walked up the movie aisle. Once the wave motions subsided again he rose and announced.
"Let's have tea. I’ll make a pot."
The bed again undulated as the water adjusted to his absence. He went to the chair and slid on his trousers but took a fresh shirt out of the closet, left to go downstairs and closed the door behind him, leaving me alone to arise in private. Unfamiliar with getting out of a water bed I put my legs over the edge and after a few wave bounces sat on the padded railing.
I reached over and quietly slid open the nightstand drawer and peeked at the open condom box, pleased to see a box of three with two left.
Secure with the closed bedroom door, I buoyantly arose, naked. The bedroom had its own bathroom. I gathered my purse; bra, panty and dress, tippy toed to the bathroom and locked the door. Placing my things on the hamper I opened the medicine cabinet to check for female traces but there were none. It was bare except for tooth brush, tooth paste and shaving stuff. I smiled and thought.
The doctor's" medicine cabinet holds no medicine.
Closing the cabinet I saw my reflection in its cover mirror, the face of an adulterer. If eyes are mirrors of the soul they should reflect condemnation. They didn't.
I showered using the new soap bar in the tray, dried with the fresh towel next to the hamper, dressed, straightened my tousled hair, put on a dab of perfume and reapplied lipstick. Unlocking the door I got my shoes and while putting them on realized he anticipated the evening with the wine, music, condom, soap bar and towel evidence of assumed planed outcome, his foresight pleased me.
Feeling safe dressed I opened the bedroom door quietly, peeked down at him by the stove, stepped on the landing and then down the stairs. With the tea ready he handed me a cup as if we were again in the tea shop when we first met, not just out of his bedroom.
Sipping tea, we small talked about the movie neither of us had paid much attention to. There was nothing to add to the experience. While uncertain what it meant I was coming back. With the tea gone I whispered.
"I need to go."
The words, “by midnight” came back. It was already half past. He walked me to my car, kissed and kissed me again, held me tight. Breaking free, thinking of the time, I got in and watched him in the mirror standing where we kissed as I drove off.
Back on the El Camino Real, images of crossing his threshold, the fish tank, music melodies and the blur which occurred on the water bed came back at each of its frequent stops. It was surreal but it happened.
Approaching my Mountain View turnoff and then my driveway, I became anxious of coming home. It was past 1 AM when I pulled into the garage, dreading the coming confrontation.
I told myself.
I’ll never take Edward’s call again.
I did, however, again and again.
I did, however, again and again.
Author Notes: Despite a happy marriage a woman betrays her family by crossing a threshold.