A Wanton Wife
By Elizabeth Lin Johnson
It was long ago but for me, not so long ago. On an October 1975, evening, I crossed a forbidden threshold. Although twenty-five-years old, married and mother of two, I was young, a girl, not yet a woman.
That evening, I backed out of our home’s driveway, glanced from the rear-view mirror to the kitchen window and saw him, my husband. He watched me leave, just like Mom did when Dad drove off. At the curb, I looked away and drove off too, uncertain but determined not to turn back.
As I sped off, I asked myself.
Am I like Dad?
No, it’s only dinner and a movie.
A lie, I was no longer a faithful wife. I was meeting a man, not my husband and the father of my children, evidence of premeditated betrayal in my purse.
Leaving my Mountain View, California neighborhood, I turned onto the El Camino Real, the commercial thoroughfare connecting the peninsula cities from San Francisco to San Jose. As I drove among the congestion, I mused about life, my life.
I was a poor girl, educated by Catholic nuns, was going to be one! It was on my way home from Notre Dame High School when he stopped me. He blocked the sidewalk as I walked home from my bus stop. I was, only 16, Asian, he five years older, white.
He’s the first man I kissed.
Engaged with parent’s acquiescence on my seventeenth birthday, I gave my underage marriage consent, for security, to escape a dysfunctional family, because I didn't know how to say no. Engaged, he assumed control, ensured my virginity on the altar. A year later, we married, I just turned eighteen, he twenty-three.
I’ve never known another man. Now 25, I’m meeting my first real date. I’m being me, at last.
Conversing with myself between stoplights, I rewrote my personal history to justify meeting a man not my husband.
Approaching Michael’s restaurant in Sunnyvale, our meeting place, however, my rationalized confidence dissipated, replaced with timid reality.
I’m risking my marriage, family, my world. I should go home.
I knew I wouldn't. I was adrift, on remote, led by a yearning set loose, something long-repressed, now free. I didn't know where or how it would end. What was I thinking? I wasn’t. I just went heart forward.
Familiar with the restaurant from driving past, I’d never eaten there. Its outside decor proclaimed it too upscale for our family budget. Going in was entering unfamiliar terrain, economic, social and moral.
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 near the front entrance. Knowing I shouldn’t but no longer in control, I turned in.
Parked, I calmed myself and checked my lipstick in the mirror.
Assured, no pleased with my reflection, I recommitted myself, smiled confidence, clambered out and hastened to the entrance. I strode forward, my small gold sequin purse strung on a shoulder, my knees visible in the red mini dress. My heels clicked on the pavement with each step declaring determination.
I glanced down into his Porsche as I passed it and imagined him in its leather seat, driving to see me, his left hand holding and turning the steering wheel, his right gripping and shifting the gear shift knob.
Did he rush here to see me with anticipation? What’s it like to ride in a Porsche?
My quick pace wasn’t determination confidence. I was afraid to be seen by someone known. 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. Fear and desire swirled together with each step.
The maître d’ standing in the foyer swung open one of the heavy entry doors with beveled glass panes as I approached. He bent down and whispered as I entered 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 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.
A pang of unease swept me; afraid he’d hug on my arrival as others turned to watch. Instead, as my chair was pulled back by the maître d’, he simply said.
“Elizabeth, I’m so happy you came. You look beautiful!”
His expensive blazer and assured 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.
Beautiful, my husband never says it.
Seated, I was glad I came. His presence dissipated the last anxiety. His voice mesmerized my attention. Looking across the table, my heart knew I was his. Wearing the shoes, dress and earrings he’d bought told him it was true.
He ordered a rose’ wine by its French name. At his suggestion, I ordered their specialty, Shrobster, a New England stuffed lobster. Flush with wine, his voice, and charm we ate. We talked but I did most of it. For dessert, we had sherry and shared a flan Brulee, all new to me. I stared transfixed as the little blue fire 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 meeting.
In the safety of the dark theater, I put my hand on his knee, then his thigh. At “The End” I finally let him hold my hand as we walked up the aisle to the lobby. There he turned me to face 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, composed my mind what to say and called home to assure all was okay.
Hubby answered on the second ring. I answered simply.
“Honey, I’m going to be a little late.”
Avoiding an argument, I hung up, agreeing to be home by midnight. Edward walked me to my Dodge Dart. Embarrassed, I thought.
At least it’s not my station wagon.
Following his Porsche, nervous anxiety returned as dinner’s wine confidence waned
Just miss a light, turn, go home, say I got lost.
I told myself but followed him. He ensured we made the lights together. Soon he drifted over and parked on a sycamore tree-lined street near Stanford University with me behind him. It was in front of a new, two-story, upscale, townhouse, apartment complex. Parked next to the curb behind him, hesitant, transfixed with indecision, I sat with my hands on the steering wheel, the car still running.
He walked back, opened my car door and reached down to assist my exit. Startled back to reality, I released my steering wheel grip, turned the engine off, grabbed my purse, took his hand, and placed myself into his leadership. His hand led me over the curb and onto the concrete sidewalk strewn with yellowed fall sycamore leaves. They crunched when stepped on. His hand guided me from the sidewalk onto a meandering walkway which traversed the grounds of the townhouse complex.
The sounds of splashing and laughing swimmers replaced the crunch of leaves. As we passed the pool emitting the smell of chlorine, I worried my palm was sweaty. Past the pool, the scent of hibiscus flowers mingled with the that of redwood and eucalyptus trees while I kept thinking.
One glass, then I’ll leave.
In front of his apartment, he let my hand free. My, heart leaped about as he unlocked the door. He swung it open for my entry. Hesitant, heart fluttering, I peeked inside, stepped forward and crossed the threshold. Past the door, standing in his foyer, my cheeks flush, I thought.
I’m in his apartment. What difference does it make now?
A large, lighted aquarium dominated my view. Clutching my purse with both hands, it held in front as a pretense shield, I approached the aquarium, a temporary sanctuary. I watched fish dart about and gained composure while he went to the kitchen and opened a bottle of red.
Turning from the fish tank, I scanned the room and watched as he filled two glasses, my heart calmed and my mind cleared.
He came and handed me one. My right hand let go of my purse and took the glass. Partially disarmed, I took a long sip, then another, until it was gone. He smiled when handed the empty glass.
“It’s pinot. Which fish do you like?”
I glanced back at the tank, away from my hungry glance at his full lips.
“The little blue and red one fluttering its tail.”
“It’s a male guppy. He flutters his tail to attract females.
Look, see the female notice him?”
"Yes, yes. I see her!"
"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.
“You like to hide in corners?”
“It’s a good place to observe life.”
As I relaxed with a second glass of wine and conversation, he excused the medical texts splayed on the coffee table, turned on his 8-track, stereo, tape recorder and pretended to show me the apartment.
The speakers released a subdued song, Midnight at the Oasis, by Maria Muldaur as the kitchen, living room and laundry floated briefly before my gaze. With refilled wine glass, I noticed everything was and orderly including the nape of his neck where the barber had trimmed his hairline. Only his medical texts skewed about suggested disarray but more probably recent study. His bedroom was on the second level. I knew I shouldn’t go up the stairs but waited for his lead.
I thought he might be seeking to dance when after he handed me a refilled wine glass and reached for my left hand clutching my purse. Instead, he took hold of the wrist and led me up the stairs, relaxed and calm, as if it was just another part of the apartment to inspect. 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 and negotiating the steps in my heels. My heart raced faster with each step ascended. I thought.
Let him lead.
At the landing, I peered into his bedroom. The speakers below switched to Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up by Barry White. There was a large water bed, a dresser, nightstand and more medical textbooks in a wall bookcase. I followed his lead into the bedroom as I stared at the water bed. I’d never been on one.
He dimmed the light, took my purse, set it on the nightstand, guided the rim of my wine glass to my lips. He tilted the glass, I took a long sip, then another, until it was empty.
He kissed my wine moistened lips, our first kiss, turned me around, is aftershave smelled good. I stared out the open door, down the stairwell, at the lighted glow of the fish tank. The reels of the stereo turned out romantic music. I only had to grab my purse and step through the door to remain the faithful wife. I knew, if I stayed, he was going to undress me.
I’m ready, pull the zipper down!
Immobile, my back to him, waiting, I changed my gaze from the aquarium to the red polish on my toenails sticking out front of my shoes. He kissed the nape of my neck. The pearls on the dangling earrings caressed where he kissed when he pulled back. I closed my eyes and arched my head back.
He pulled the zipper down, the dress slid past my shoulders and collapsed into a silken wrap around my shoes. He turned me to face him. Faint in anticipation, ready to be taken, he stepped me out of the dress and led me to the bed. I obeyed.
Sitting me on the bed’s padded edge, he keeled down and took off my shoes, unhurriedly, unstrapped one, slid it off, held it by the heel, set it under the nightstand, then the other. The shoes off, he rose, put his forehead to mine and reached around to unhook my bra.
I turned my head and raised a hand as if to resist. I wanted to be seduced, not rushed. He 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 and draped the bra over my purse. Nipples flush, naked except for my panty, legs crossed, I looked down and again stared at my red toenails, ready to be laid on the bed.
He put his arms on my shoulders, tilted me back onto the bed, picked up my crossed feet and swung my legs on. The warmth of the heated water greeted me as my torso undulated adrift to the waves. I watched him undress at the base of the bed in the half-light, my breasts covered by crossed palms.
He disrobed from the top down. First, he removed his blazer, hung it on the back of a chair, then his starched shirt which he aligned atop the blazer. His bare chest revealed a taut muscular profile accented with a few black hairs. He sat on the chair and removed his shoes, the ones I selected when we first met. He tucked his socks in the empty shoes and set them together under the chair. He stood up, unbuckled his belt, slid his pants off, one leg at a time, folded it with the belt still in its loops and set it on the chair seat.
Unlike my husband, he wore boxer trunks. He bent over and dropped his shorts. As he stood up naked, his penis free, pointed straight out and swayed to and fro as he moved, an aroused guppy with the attracted female. He was about to take me. I waited, ready to be taken.
He climbed on the base of the bed and knelt before me, straddled my legs and slid forward until his face was to mine. We kissed. He rose above me, lifted my arms protecting my breasts, admired my red fingernails, kissed each breast, slid back down to the base of the bed, uncrossed my legs, and slowly pulled off the panty. I murmured no as I arched up to assist. He pulled it over my feet and brought it to his face then plopped it next to my shoes. He gripped my ankles and spread my legs. I protested coy encouragement, nos.
Open before him, as the music continued to float up from speakers below., my hands held his head; my knees spread high. I was open. The doctor knew his anatomy.
I experienced an intense climax while shouting denials as my head swayed side to side on the pillow, earrings caressing cheeks and neck.
With my last pleasured quiver, he moved up, lay next to me and let me relax while holding my hand. We said nothing. Once serene again he rolled above me, kissed me, kissed my breasts until I was ready for his entry.
The condom, evidenced by my premeditated betrayal, was out of reach in my purse. I’d left it there to avoid revelation of my evening’s wanton intention. Now I needed to interrupt and rummage for it, to expose my lascivious character. Instead, he reached over, opened his nightstand drawer, pulled one out and rolled it on. I needn’t reveal my adultery supposition, a coy relief, my innocence façade preserved.
I arched my hips up, legs spread, vagina wet for his entry, no longer hesitant or coquettish. I wanted him inside. He entered in slow motion, to the hilt. I dropped my buttocks back on the bed. I shuddered with pleasure and moaned, “Yes, yes, please, please me”.
He began with slow strokes, moved down deep and rose almost completely out as he steadily increased the tempo. As he attended a crescendo, his back arched up, he stared down at me. The trough of each of his downstrokes trust me deeper into the bed, the wave of each of his up takes crested higher.
It was my most intense sexual experience. The first time I uttered more than muffled, um, um’s or a few louder, oh, oh’s during sex.
Spent, we laid cheek to cheek as the water undulations receded from our convulsive movements. The 8-track tape’s reel had reached its end, the speakers silent. He withdrew his withered penis and rolled off. We lay next to one another, holding hands, as when we walked up the movie aisle. Once the wave motions again subsided, he 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, slid on his trousers but took a fresh shirt out of the closet, left to go downstairs and closed the door behind him. I was left alone, pleased to arise in private. Unfamiliar with getting out of a water bed, I put my legs over the edge and after a few wave ripples, sat up on the padded railing.
I reached over and quietly slid open the nightstand drawer and peeked at the open condom box, gratified to see a box of three with two left.
Secure with the closed bedroom door, I buoyantly arose naked. The bedroom had a 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 toothbrush, toothpaste and shaving stuff. I smiled and thought.
Ha, 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, my lips in a smile. 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 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, drove off in a rush but watched him in the mirror standing where we kissed.
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 my driveway, however, I became anxious about coming home. It was well past 1 AM when I pulled into the garage, dreading the coming confrontation.
I told myself.
I’ll never take Edward’s call again.
But I did, over and over.
I was in love, in love with a man, not my husband, a man I could never marry.
It was love that could destroy what I valued most, my family.
I'd crossed a forbidden threshold and didn't know how to get back home.
Author Notes: Despite a happy marriage and a loving husband a woman betrays her family by crossing a threshold.