by Anne Leigh Parrish
Do you remember the first time? How the light from that candle seemed to brighten even as the rain fell harder against the pane? It was our first night away together, and the thrill of the cheat was offset by our guilt. Your wife. My husband. The lies. But love cannot be denied, even in the face of our expected loyalty and steadfastness.
Or so you told me.
After the sex—the first not in a motel, or your friend’s apartment, or the back of my brother’s van—we lay wrapped up like a newly formed creature, one who had never stood up straight, or held anything in its aching hands but flesh.
I had gone to see my ailing sister. You, your alcoholic uncle. My sister despised my husband, and would cover any story I told. Your uncle couldn’t remember the day of the week. No worries from him, either.
So how did it begin, that small spark of fury? I was talking about waking up the next day, and how maybe the rain would stop, and be replaced by sunshine and a soft, warming breeze.
Hadn’t I read the forecast? Hadn’t we chosen this spot on the coast because the weather was always foul? Hadn’t that been the agreement, that if we went somewhere barren and remote, we could feel less rotten about our sin?
I got up. I didn’t like being naked then. I didn’t want you looking at me, but it was only my eyes you saw, nothing else.
—We’ll pay for this, you said. It’s only a matter of time.
I was stunned. Not that we might one day regret our liaison, but that you regretted it now.
—Go, then, I said. If it troubles you so much.
You moved so fast, I was sure you meant to embrace me, reassure me, say you were sorry, oh so sorry, that you didn’t want this to end, that it must never end.
I heard the sound of your blow before I felt it, so sudden and hard, like the way you make love. Even the pain was so intense there was an erotic quality to it.
You went to shower, and I sat there on the bed. What story would I tell about this bruise you’d left me with? The stumble into the doorjamb in my sister’s darkened hall. Yes, I’d had one too many glasses of wine. She gave me a bag of frozen peas, and we laughed about that, remembering how our mother always demanded that we mind our p’s and q’s.
You emerged, washed clean, absolved. You’d have no story to tell, because this was all there was, this love turned to rage, then back into love as you wrapped the blanket around my bare shoulders.
I saw myself shaking free, dressing, and leaving. I would refuse your calls, and be good to my husband, whom I’d once loved almost as much as I loved you then.
But I stayed, because of the heat of you to bring to everything, even though it burned.
We’d never talk about it again, this first time. We might have, if it had been the last.
(Anne Leigh Parrish’s most recent previous story for us was “Shelter.” For information on her writing and books go here. Her latest novel, Women Within, is available here.)