CHRISTINE NANFRA - LOVING THY NEIGHBOR
Loving Thy Neighbor
“I feel a strong connection to you too Ken, you know that, but we’re both married,” Jane stammered a bit. “Hell, we know each other’s spouses.” She breathed deeply to keep herself from falling, falling into arms that held a life force all their own. Arms that were intoxicatingly strong and could probably endure many years of her neurotic tendencies. If only.
“Jane, I know it’s complicated,” he shuffled uncomfortably standing at the bottom of the long concrete driveway that led to her house, before slipping his hands into his pockets for safe keeping. “I’m just so tired of being unhappy and I know you’re not happy either. We could be great together,” he looked around to make sure no one was in earshot. “When I think about Kirk’s party… damn!” his eyes widened. “Let’s face it; we gravitate toward each other whenever we are in the same company, even when our spouses are around.”
Sweat beaded on her upper lip. It was either from her nerves, for which she was always a bundle of, or the high humidity mid-summer tolerated in New Jersey. A jittery energy seemed to crawl into her belly. She rested her hand on her stomach as if to quiet a fussy baby while she eyed the street for passersby. “Ken I really do wish things could be different for us, but look around us. How many married people do you know that are happy? We aren’t the only ones living in misery,” she paused to swallow. Her throat felt dry and closed just like her life.
His hand brushed his dark hair and for a moment she felt a shiver, remembering the feel of his hand caressing her breasts when they kissed at Kirk’s barbeque standing away from the crowd, hidden behind the evergreens. They were acting on impulse like two teenagers who drank too much gin and tonic. Then when Sally, Kirk’s wife, declared they were out of liquor, Ken announced he would run home and get some. Everyone was toasted and barely noticed they both slipped away. Once inside the empty house their mouths tunneled each other with a pent up longing as they clutched, embraced, and seized every body part they could grab or touch as though they had minutes before a bomb needed to be detonated. They both wanted each other desperately, but in a moment of clarity, with her skirt lifted and panties down to her knees, Jane had pulled away. It was a moment she regretted whenever she replayed it in her head.
“I admit I find it difficult to stay away from you, but Ken we have to. I have two boys and you have a daughter. Where would this lead? We have to think of our children,” she was on the verge of tears.
“I know you’re right Jane, but…” A horn beeped, startling them both. Reflexive smiles crossed their faces as they waved to Nancy from down the street, hoping the smiles wiped the guilt off their faces.
“Look, this isn’t the time or place,” Jane said.
“Okay, then when? Let’s meet for lunch tomorrow.”
“No, Ken, you don’t get it. No matter how much I would love to be with you,” she blushed, “it’s wrong. I married John for better or worse and you married Linda.”
“Yes, we did marry them, but how much more can either of us stand?” his voice was pleading. “Linda takes so many prescription drugs she’s barely coherent and John’s an angry asshole.”
Her eyes averted to the ground. She knew he spoke the truth, but even so that didn’t make it right. She distracted herself by kicking a pebble with her foot. She noticed her feet looked worse for wear in her sandals and was in desperate need of a pedicure. She scrunched her toes in hopes he wouldn’t notice.
He was pacing at the end of the driveway with his forefinger on his lips, his very hot, kissable lips. “So let’s say we do stay in our loveless marriages for our children’s sake,” his head was cocked to the side, “shouldn’t we be able to be happy at least sometimes? Why wouldn’t we be able to see each other occasionally until our kids go off to college?’
“That’s 10 years Ken! My baby is eight and your baby is nine.”
He nodded then took a deep breath as though he was gathering all his courage before he spoke and whispered in her ear. “I can’t remember the last time I felt this kind of passion for someone,” his pointer finger touched her shoulder for a moment and their eyes locked. The heat was palpable between them.
“Jane, this feeling doesn’t happen every day, in fact it almost never does.” He moved away when he heard a car barreling down the street, though it wasn’t anyone they knew. “Besides ten years isn’t that long, in fact it might make it go quicker having someone like you in my life.” His eyes held hers and she felt herself weakening. He was right. This doesn’t happen often; in fact it never had before. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt this kind of arousal stir in her. After twelve years of marriage to John, she rarely felt anything, except contempt. But she couldn’t throw herself into an affair, could she? It wouldn’t be enough, not with him. She would want it all. In fact, it would probably make her home life that much more difficult knowing she had to go home to John and he went home to Linda.
As if reading her mind, “Please think about it Jane. I want you and not just for your smoking hot body,” his eyebrows raised looking for some kind of acknowledgement. “I know it will make our lives more complicated, but definitely better.”
She smiled at him, but it was a sad smile. Knowing how badly he wanted her made her heart soar, but the very fact that she couldn’t do anything about it made her feel sick.
“Think about how fun it would be discovering each other,” his hands were gesturing with excitement. “I really want to know all of you. I know you’re funny and smart. I see how you ferociously love your kids with your whole heart and you have a husband that doesn’t appreciate the beautiful gift he has.”
His words stung her. Not because they hurt her, but because she didn’t think anyone ever described her as a beautiful gift, certainly not her own husband. It touched her and it took every ounce of strength not to tell him so. She needed time. Time to herself. Time to think.
“Jane,” he said, and she turned to him. She loved how he said her name. “I’m not sure how this will all work out. I’ve never done anything like this before. But the one thing I do know is that I’m willing to take that risk. Living in misery isn’t the answer,” he said turning to leave, and then he turned back as though he forgot something. “My Uncle Dan started a new life after 30 years of marriage and he said it was the best thing he did to save himself.”
“I don’t know if I have what it takes to save myself anymore Ken,” she blurted. He nodded with a sad knowing look. Jane felt her heart sink for a moment and in that moment, she wanted to run into his strong arms and tell him he’s right. They should try, or at least have massive amounts of sex for a while. She hated seeing him look so defeated. The words almost tumbled out, but then the camp bus pulled up in front of her house and the screaming coming from the bus reverberated in her head and heart. As her two sons stumbled out of the bus laughing, she realized Ken was gone. The man, the moment and the opportunity walked away. Though she was certain the offer was still on the table, she felt bad that her parting words were so finite. She willed herself to smile and hugged her boys with a hunger that only people who have lost can understand. His words of affection stung her like a mosquito, leaving her with a swelling that needed to subside.
Later that night after she put her boys to bed she sat watching television. She was grateful for the quiet. John had been working late and she hoped he’d stay away. Staying away for good would be even better. She wondered what happened to her. Once upon a time she was carefree and could never be tied down to anyone or anything. Her old self would have jumped on the chance to screw her hot neighbor. She used to liken herself to the wind, being awed by its’ elusiveness to anyone or anything. As a child, she was ruled by an inconsistent father and a cold mother. Her father was a gambler, while her mother was the great denier. Some nights when her father had come home without a paycheck the screaming would go well into the night. Jane would be in her bed dreaming of being like her paper dolls, only of paper and paste, able to be scooped up by a windy day. She would dream of soaring through the air being carried by the wind from their fourth floor apartment, searching for a new home where love was easily given and received. Instead she would have to tiptoe around her mother, who was often volcanic in temperament after a scene-filled night. Mother would prepare her lava-ful eggs wrapped in bacon ash for breakfast with hollow eyes, devout of anything remotely similar to love, while pretending that everything was fine.
Jane shut the television and went to bed. She wanted to at least pretend to be sleeping when John came home. She laid in their king size bed, as she did most nights, waiting for slumber to take over. She would count the squares on the ceiling by straight rows from left to right, then diagonally, then starting from the center counting outward. Sleep was once natural to her, but like nearly everything else in her life, it required work.
When sleep eventually triumphed she dreamt of fading into the blackness of an evening with Ken holding her hands. His eyes reminded her of a sea of golden daffodils beneath green splendor. His baritone voice vibrated through her ears with repose as her heart danced on the edge of insanity, wanting, needing, touching, and forgetting all about the loveless marriage she succumbed to years before. His tangerine kisses melted her inhibitions, as her hands stroked his burley chest beneath Egyptian cotton.
“Jane,” he whispered. “Jane,” he said louder. “Jane,” her eyes opened and to her surprise it was John inches away from her face. “You’re groaning. I’m trying to sleep.”
She looked into his downcast eyes that were dying a slow Dewar’s death, and she realized her guilt surged like the third rail. Good Catholic guilt is what has kept her at bay, placid, and controlled. She rolled over away from him. “You had to wake me up? You know how hard it is for me to fall asleep.” Her anger was rising along with her tone.
“Keep your voice down,” he slurred.
She grabbed her pillow and the blanket that was flung over the rocking chair near the window.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going downstairs to the couch. I’m wide awake now and you reek of alcohol.” He mumbled something incoherent and she fled the room and shut the door. She needed to be away from him. Since the afternoon all her thoughts kept leading to Ken, apparently even when she had fallen asleep. She knew she shouldn’t be obsessing and replaying every word, every gesture, but it had taken control of her. She knew it was wrong to desire someone else while she was married. Wasn’t it? She made herself a comfy bed on the couch. She lay down and hoped sleep would come again.
Naturally she tossed and turned. She wished she could reach out to Ken. Thankfully she never gave him her cell number or they would probably be texting, or most likely sexting. She walked over to the window where she could see part of his house from her family room. A dim light shone from his den. It was 1:00 am. She guessed he couldn’t sleep either. God she really wanted him, which made her feel both hot and guilty simultaneously. Should she feel guilty for desiring someone else or was she justified? Her husband never cared about her wants and needs, it was always about him. No matter the time of night his hands would be groping her, trying to possess her body, unaware and uncaring of her lack of interest, just as long as his desires were met. This was the barter she accepted for the deceptive allure of the band of gold.
She sort of loved him once in a flurry and they had married too hastily to get out from under one dysfunction just to find another. Dysfunction she thought was something every family shared to some degree, even the animal kingdom. A healthy lioness protects her cubs, even from her mate; the dysfunctional lioness allows them to be eaten. No surprise where her family of origin had fit.
They had met at a party, being in their early twenties, both fresh out of college and a hankering for somewhere to go, looking to explore the countryside before settling down with jobs and life. They had decided on a road trip. The starting point was Brooklyn and they would get on the New York Thruway and take it from there. They basically drove nowhere in particular, but Jane wanted to see small towns to get ideas for new paintings. She had taken a few art classes in college and realized she had some talent, talent she thought she should explore. So, with her drawing tablet and pencil she sketched as John drove.
Three days in they found themselves on the Ohio Turnpike. Not much to look at except brown grass, choking beneath chunks of hay and thatch. Lonely pines stretched out dripping sappy tears. Bended trees nearly dead, surrounded by sprigs of green, a depressive place they both had thought. There was flat land as far as the eyes could see with red barns, white houses and grazing farm animals. Jane wondered why there wasn’t any originality. What about fuchsia, orange, or yellow? No personal markings of life.
The best part of the journey was driving in John’s chartreuse mustang convertible his father had bought for him as a graduation present. They rode with the radio blasting, singing Journey, Springsteen, and the Stones. She had noticed that the air in Ohio was as stifled as the grass that trails along for hundreds of miles. Youngstown, Akron, endless bleached homes with no sign of the wind. She had remembered reading Ohio had many tornadoes and thought it was ironic that only brief, destructive, angry visits of the wind passed through Ohio.
Out of Ohio and into Michigan they had stopped for food. John had been extremely horny and wouldn’t take no for an answer. They did it in the back seat. At least he had agreed to put the top up after several people kept walking by. Not that John minded since it was an ego lay for him. He didn’t mind that Jane was uncomfortable and didn’t want to be screwed in the back seat like a God-damn whore. It had been all about him, the selfish prick. Maybe that’s why she never liked Michigan.
After their two week long road trip, they parted ways for a short while. John kept calling her, but she had lost interest and was ignoring his calls. She thought he was too full of himself and not that remarkable. Then he began showing up at her parents’ house unannounced, and she would often get the feeling when she was out somewhere that she was being watched or stalked. Not long after, she found out she was pregnant. She contemplated an abortion or possibly adoption, which still makes her shudder, but she knew she could never have gone through with either. Her mother, a devout Catholic, found out. She had been eavesdropping while Jane was talking to her girlfriend. Her mother made her call John. Her mother didn’t care that her daughter didn’t love him; she only cared how it would look to the outside world and to God. The rest, as they say, was history.
She sprung up from the couch in the morning and made coffee. She tiptoed upstairs and peeked in the master bedroom. She heard the shower running and knew John would be leaving soon. Thank God! She woke up the boys, and then went back downstairs to make breakfast. John appeared in the kitchen and his intense eyes and angry demeanor startled her. “What was going on last night?” he asked with his hands on his hips.
“What are you talking about?” she said setting the table.
“In bed last night you were groaning, very loudly. I woke you to quiet you. What were you dreaming about?” he said with suspicion looming in the air.
She thought for a moment of telling him. The look on his face alone would have been worth it. How would he react when she said she was dreaming about their neighbor Ken? A man he despised because he knew he couldn’t shine his shoes. A man that she found wildly attractive. Or, if she told him how she longed to be with him and have his biceps wrap around her every day after they made love? How she instinctually knew that his kisses would melt away every horrible memory she ever had from her childhood through today?
“I don’t remember,” she lied. She knew that telling him anything would only make her life that much more difficult and she knew it was time to make her life worth living again.
“Okay,” he said biting his inside cheek, a habit of his that appears whenever he’s contemplating something he wants to say. “I don’t like the fact that you left the bed. That’s our marital bed and that’s where you belong at night. Am I being clear?”
She wondered if he was trying to take a manly stand or if he surmised something was going on behind his back. Either way it didn’t matter. During the early hours of daybreak she had decided that she would play the dutiful wife, while loving thy neighbor. She had already lost so much of her life to John, she wouldn’t lose another day. It was time for her to save herself.
“Yes dear,” she responded with a grin. He smiled wryly as though he won a victory and for the first time in a long while she couldn’t have cared less. For in that moment there were only two things on her mind: calling the salon to make an emergency pedicure appointment, and what slinky dress she was going to wear for her hot lunch date. Perhaps, she thought, she would surprise John and arrive sans panties.
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