Some evenings, they sit together, the television set’s glow casting shadows over their faces. The dim light hiding the emptiness in their marriage. Peter sips his second rum and Coke of the night, appreciating the warmth that spreads through him, taking the icy edge from Gwen’s constant criticism. Slowly, his muscles relax into his favorite recliner, and the petty vexations of his work fade away. He glances at his newest wife and winces at the realization that he can’t remember why he married her. Third time’s a winner? He downs the last half of his drink and studies the empty glass, pondering the wisdom of another drink.
In his youth, his lust caught him up and landed him in an unexpected marriage to a girl far inferior to him or his needs. His sense of duty toward Patty and their children lasted only as long as she idolized him. Once Patty pulled him from the pedestal, once she demanded that he treat her as an equal, once she began nagging him and expecting to have a say in his decisions, he stopped pretending he cared. He managed to have several affairs without his young wife suspecting a thing. He even propositioned her sister on several occasions, certain that his in-law would never tell his wife. After all, Patty had no choice but to tolerate him. She had no education and no skills. She was nothing without him.
Eventually, pretending that he cared became too much work. When Peter fell to his lowest point, his second wife entered the picture. Leslie’s desperation to capture and hold onto him became addictive. She praised his every word and deed; she oozed adoration from every pore. She loved the excitement of an affair: secret meetings, weekends secluded in hotels, private dinners in out of the way restaurants. Unlike his stay-at-home wife, his mistress earned a living and showered him with expensive gifts. He’d slip off the Rolex every evening, tucking it safely into his car’s glove compartment, and replace it with the cheap Seiko from his fifth anniversary. His cockiness made him suggest to Patty a wonderful plan. He’d come home few times a week to see the kids, spend all holidays with both their families, and pay all of the bills. In exchange, she would look the other way on his absences the other nights. His wife should understand that his happiness outweighed her own needs.
Peter began cheating on his Leslie, his second wife, within the first year. The thrill of their affair, he realized too late, summarized his attraction to her. Since he’d allowed others to pressure him into this second marriage, he began searching for a way out. Leslie accommodated him much better than his first wife. She ignored his affairs as long as he paid off her charge cards each month. Her face lift added a temporary spice to their life, and her liposuction made her seem younger for a while. Their drinking increased as the years flowed by, and the lavish praise and fawning of his second wife ceased altogether. Her complaints and unhappiness aged her, made her ugly.
Peter rationalized his affairs by believing that he deserved someone better. He desired a woman who complimented his looks and personality, not a vampire who sucked away his youth. The dance of flirtation drew Peter into and out of liaisons with careless abandon. He enjoyed the fact that he escaped these relationships before the women demanded more from him than he was capable of giving. He disdained Leslie’s cloying nature, but stayed with her. Divorce cost too much, and he had no reason to disrupt his life for his casual affairs.
Then Gwen entered his life, all glitz and glamor. The lifestyle she lived, because of her wealth, enticed him to break from Leslie. He knew he could absorb the cost of a second divorce, even losing his home, by moving in with Gwen. Although Gwen appeared confident to others, he sensed her fear of growing older alone. His razor sharp intuition culled out her insecurities. He played the role of adoring lover expertly and charmed Gwen and her tight circle of friends. Always a player, he instinctively knew just what to say and do to secure a spot in Gwen’s life. An expert at manipulation, he’d played the long suffering husband and father role. He painted himself into a financial corner, knowing Gwen’s generosity would guarantee him a place in her home. Their wedding, a private affair without the showmanship he craved, began his dissatisfaction with his third wife.
Now, less than a year later, Peter craves escape again. The pretenses he used to gain Gwen’s love and trust are too difficult for him to maintain. Unlike his other wives, Gwen’s acid tongue and spitefulness worries him. Knowing his past, she keeps tight control over his movements and his money. He senses that she’s no longer charmed by his humor, no longer deceived by his blatant flattery, no longer fooled by his ploys or lies.
Suddenly, the desire for his third drink of the evening overrides his need to avoid Gwen’s caustic comments. He abandons the comfort of his chair, fills his tumbler with rum, topping the drink off with a dab of Coke. He feels her disapproving eyes spear his back, so he raises his drink in salute to her irritation.
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman