Nina Schuyler - Fiction

The Affair

by Nina Schuyler

I was in my twenties, he, in his forties--married, but that word was an abstraction, an accessory, like a neck tie that was easily slipped off and tossed aside.

He was my boss, though that, too, seemed a concept only, the way he laughed with everyone, sat in a cubicle like us—he was in my line of sight, his curly brown hair tinged with gray--his friendly open manner, he gave credit where credit was due.

We ended up, as you do when there is nowhere to go, in the basement of his gym. Down three flights of steps, in a dusty storage room, among cardboard boxes, sweat-infested blue mats, and jump ropes. Upstairs, above our heads, a basketball court. We were serenaded by pounding feet.  

Always mid-day, sun sneaking shafts of light. He’d wink, I’d wink, and we’d slip away, finding the gaps between meetings and documents, phone calls and rows and rows of numbers. We were investment bankers, an associate, me; he, a manager and on his way up. Acquisitions, mergers, hostile takeovers. Tall and lanky, he swam every morning in the ice cold bay the color of silver. His companions were seagulls, the Golden Gate Bridge rainbowing him.

We went away to a conference in New York. My hotel room was right above his. I only had to do a tap dance, and he’d be standing at my door, extending a gift of wrapped miniature soap or a shower cap. “Madame,” he’d say, smiling. “For you.” We walked block after block, holding hands, his arm around me, he kissed me on the corner of West 85th and Central Park, a long passionate kiss, and the world sighed.

We made plans, extravagant plans. Lying in fresh white hotel sheets, we imagined Shanghai, Paris, Tokyo, Athens to see the Parthenon. Imagined a house in Sausalito, with a view of steel blue water, little sailboats, the glittering city. We changed jobs, became what we dreamed—me, writing novels, he, opening a school, where most of the time, the classroom was outside. The things you can learn from a bee, he said. What wasn’t there to love about him?

It could have been two months later, or maybe five. We were living feverishly, and time--along with everything else--was left out. I remember I was at home, eating ramen. I remember picking up the newspaper, putting it down again, not wanting to read anything bad, not wanting anything to spoil my good mood. When the phone rang, I jumped. “Say something,” he said. He never called me at home, a tiny studio, the bed and oven nearly on top of each other. He couldn’t stand it, he said, he had to hear my voice.

I heard a woman’s voice in the background, then the long wail of a baby.

It was never against them. The truth, a sorry truth it is, was that in my mind they never existed, his wife, his family. In the beginning, maybe she was hazy, but that swiftly blurred and vanished, she was smoke that blew out with the first lusty gust. I’d always been good at math, especially subtraction. He told me later he had a three-year-old, too.

I saw them years later, after I’d left that job, left that profession. They were having a picnic in Golden Gate Park, a red and white plaid cloth on the grass, a wicker basket, a bottle of wine, red grapes, a baguette. He looked happy, and so did his wife, their little girl with long brown braids, was jumping rope, the baby now toddling. I was near enough to hear his laugh, that full bodied laugh. The hairs on my arm stood up. He had on a pair of gray wool socks, she, a yellow print dress and black strapped sandals. They were so vivid, so real, everything else paled, turned vague. When the wind picked up, I was like a dried up leaf, blowing away, but not before I saw her toenails were painted bright pink.