A Wanton Wife
By Elizabeth Lin Johnson
It was long ago but for me, not so long ago. On an early 1975, October evening, I crossed a forbidden threshold. Although twenty-five-years old, married and mother of two children, 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.
I’m 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 a girl, taught by Catholic nuns, was going to be one! I was on my way home from Notre Dame high school when hubby stopped me. He blocked the sidewalk as I walked home from my bus stop. I was, only 16, an Asian, he five years older, a white.
He’s the first man I’d kissed.
Engaged with parent’s acquiescence on my seventeenth birthday, I’d given my underage 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, me just turned eighteen, he twenty-three.
I’ve never known another. Now 25, I’m meeting my first real date. I’m being me, at last.
Conversing with myself between stop lights, I rewrote my personal history to justify meeting a man, a man not my husband.
Approaching Michael’s restaurant in Sunnyvale, however, my rationalized confidence dissipated, replaced with timid reality and worry.
I’m risking my marriage, family, my safe 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 black purse strung on a shoulder, my knees visible in the red sequined 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 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 here to meet 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 would 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 desert, 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 in my mind what to say and called home to assure all was okay.
“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, 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. He ensured we made the lights together. He led to a sycamore tree lined street near Stanford University. He parked in It front a new, two-story, upscale, townhouse, apartment complex. I pulled over to the curb behind his Porsche. Hesitant, transfixed with indecision, I sat with my hands on the steering wheel. He walked back, opened my car door and reached down to assist my exit. Startled back to reality, I released my grip, grabbed my purse, took his hand, stepped out and followed him. He guided me over the curb and onto the concrete walk.
A few yellow and brown, autumn sycamore leaves, already had fallen on it. They crunched when we stepped on them. He turned onto a meandering walkway which traversed the grounds of the complex. I worried my held palm was sweaty as we passed a pool emitting the scent of chlorine. The sound of splashing and laughing swimmers replaced the crunch of leaves. Past the pool, the landscaped smell of hibiscus flowers mingled with the scent of redwood and eucalyptus trees greeted us. I kept thinking.
One glass, then I’ll leave.
In front of his apartment my heart leaped about as he let my hand free, unlocked the door and swung it open for my entry. Hesitant, heart fluttering, I peeked inside, stepped forward and crossed the threshold. Past the door, standing in his entry, 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 little purse with both hands, I held it in front, a pretense shield. I approached and stood in front of the aquarium, a temporary sanctuary for composure and watched fish dart about. He went to the kitchen and opened a bottle of red wine while my heart calmed and my mind cleared.
I’m ready, let him take me.
Turning from the fish tank, I scanned the room and watched as he filled two glasses. He came over and handed me one. My right hand let go of my purse strap and took the glass. Partially disarmed, 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?”
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.
“Do you like to hide in the corner?”
“It’s a good place to observe life.”
As I relaxed with 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 clean and orderly including the nape of his neck where the barber had trimmed his hair line. 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 he reached to my hand clutching the purse strap. 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. 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.
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, night stand and more medical textbooks in a wall book case. 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 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, then 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 turned out romantic music. I only had to grab my purse, step forward, walk down to and through the front door to leave and remain a faithful wife. I knew if I remained standing 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 toe nails 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, arms, waist and legs. It collapsed into a silken wrap around my shoes. He turned me around again. I stood before him, faint in anticipation, ready, ready to be taken. He stepped me out of the dress and led me to the bed. I obeyed.
Sitting me on the padded bed edge, he keeled down and took off my shoes, unhurriedly. He unstrapped one, slid it off, held it by the heel and then the other and set them under the night stand. He arose, 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. He arose and draped the bra over my purse as I looked down, naked except for my panty, legs crossed staring again at red toe nails, 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 to the waves, adrift. I watched him in the half light, my breasts covered by crossed palms, naked except for my panty, as he undressed at the base of the bed.
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 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 finger nails, 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.
With my last pleasured quiver, he raised his head, his approving smile visible in the half light. 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, until I was ready for his entry.
The condom, evidenced of my premeditated betrayal, was out of reach in my purse. I’d left it there to avoid revelation of my evening’s wanton intention, another lie. Now I needed to interrupt and rummage for it, to expose my lascivious character. Instead, he reached over, opened his night stand drawer, pulled one out and rolled it on. I needn’t reveal my adultery supposition, a coy relief.
I I closed my eyes. The trough of each of his down strokes 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 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.
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 then my driveway, however, I became anxious of 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.
I did, however, again and again. I was in love, in love with a man not my husband, a man I could never marry. It was love which could destroy what I loved, my family.
Author Notes: Despite a happy marriage a woman betrays her family by crossing a threshold.