I watch the excruciating pain open up her face like a raw, heaving wound. Tears were already running down her blotched cheeks, but this shape-shifting turns a woman I have known for almost twenty years into a repulsive beast that I barely recognize. She weaves her fingers through her hair, uncombed and damp, and yanks on it so hard I expect clumps to pull free.
â€œIâ€™ve known for about six months he was having an affair,â€ she says, her voice ragged, her pale blue eyes locking mine. â€œI thought I could deal with it, that it would just run its course, go away and leave us alone.â€
I remain silent, waiting on her.
Her eyes slide sideways, and she says, â€œI didnâ€™t even care who it was, that doesnâ€™t matter. Whoever she is, she was just someone for him to stick his dick in. Thatâ€™s what I knew, and thatâ€™s what I knew he would say when I finally couldnâ€™t stand it any longer.â€
â€œIs that what he said?â€ I ask, noticing the sweat staining her shirt.
She chokes a half-laugh, half-sob. â€œThatâ€™s exactly what the bastard did, not even capable of a good lie.â€
â€œSo you did confront him.â€.
The return of her eyes, now suddenly dry and hard, makes me uncomfortable, a little afraid.
â€œYes, finally, early this morning, before dawn, I slapped his face while he was asleep, scared the shit out of him. Jumped on top of him, grabbed handfuls of his precious hair and told him I would yank it out by the roots if he didnâ€™t tell me the truth. And, of course, he couldnâ€™t get it out fast enough, all about what a mistake it was, how he didnâ€™t know how he let it happen, how this woman had come after him, chased him, and heâ€™d liked it. How once it started, he didnâ€™t really like it or her, but she wouldnâ€™t let him stop, threatened to make an anonymous call, let me in on the fun. He was scared of her, he says, thought she was crazy.â€
Sheâ€™s panting harshly when she stops, her skin even redder. My cell phone dances around again on the counter, but I ignore it. Iâ€™m not sure what to say, what she wants or needs me to say.
Then she laughs. â€œHe says itâ€™s over, that the jokeâ€™s on her or is gonna be on her, that heâ€™s getting away from her. That he wants me to give him another chance.â€
She becomes very still. Then she laughs again, louder and harder. â€œYou know, I had thought about it, but just now I realized that I donâ€™t want him any more, canâ€™t trust him, donâ€™t need him. Fuck him. Let the other bitch have him.â€
She rocks up quickly, knocking her chair over in the process. â€œYeah, fuck him,â€ she says. â€œIâ€™ve got better things to do.â€
Before I can say anything else or stop her, she lurches through the back door, leaving me sitting at the kitchen table wondering what just happened. I stub out my cigarette, swirl my now-cold coffee. Reaching over, I pick up my phone and check the calls missed. One is from my husband; the other is from him. And a text that says: Jokeâ€™s on you.
And then my own raw, heaving wound festers and bleeds.