She’s not sure when it all started.
Maybe it had started when she finally admitted to herself that she’s not happy, that she’s slowly suffocating behind the suburban charades, that she wakes up in the mornings and thinks another day, just one more day. And then another one and another one and an endless, hopeless string of them.
Maybe it had started when it no longer helped to think about her life that way, like just another day that would soon be over.
Ada, the only person who knows at least a little of it all, claims Clara is depressed but she doesn’t feel depressed. She’s just sick of it, of the way her life has turned out. Bored out of her skull and tired, so very tired. There’s no adventure left, no thrill.
Maybe she just misses the city. Misses the pulse and the beat, the illusion that anything’s always possible.
Maybe it had started when she tried to talk to Kent about her feelings, tried reaching out to him and got some kind of neutral wall as a response, a kind of non-reaction. He’s so damn happy with their life, can’t even begin to see it from other perspectives or analyse it in a semi-detached way and Clara could scream when she thinks about it. How can you improve something if you refuse to look at it in a sober way? How can you endure life if you just go with the flow?
Or maybe this is what others can do. Maybe this is what her brother Thom does, why he’s so damn happy, too. His life certainly isn’t full of rushes and thrills and he doesn’t even seem to notice.
Maybe this sullen little stitch inside her is her tragic flaw, that one thing that will always prevent her from being a cheeky, cheery person who throws dinner parties and talks about the joys of motherhood.
She’s not conceited enough to think the rest of the world has got it wrong; she knows the fault is with her, is inside her somehow. It doesn’t bring her much peace, however, doesn’t give her anything decent to work with as far as self-analysis and problem-solving go.
At least the descent into adultery hell has a clear starting point, a fixed moment in time she can go back to and look at whenever she wants to go over the events of the past few months in her head. Which she does, over and over and over. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t help at all.
It was only meant to be an ordinary Christmas party with her colleagues at the newspaper. She barely meets them outside of these dull events and she hadn’t planned on going, had made up her excuse already when she suddenly decided to attend on a whim. Kent had been suffering from a cold and stayed home with the kids. Everything would have ended differently if he had gone to this stupid thing instead of her, Clara thinks, if she had just phoned the party-planning editor and told her the well-fabricated lie. I’ve got a bad headache, can’t come, so sorry, have fun.
Instead she had been there, surrounded by people she doesn’t care about or even like and then he had appeared out of nowhere and wrecked everything apart. Just like that.
Simon. Journalist and webmaster and, like the rest of them, far too talented to be stuck writing horoscopes for Barchester Times or editing crap written by idiots.
Clara can’t even remember what they had talked about that night. Only that they had talked. That she had felt like a foolish character in a romance novel whenever he had laughed at her jokes or made a remark that sounded a vague bit like flirting – in retrospect she doesn’t even know if he ever did flirt with her or if she’s just so starved that she’s willing to interpret everything that way.
She’s a rational being, living a large portion of her life in her own head. She believes in logic and determination, in self-control and moderation. She does most definitely not believe in earth-shattering passion, especially not when it’s directed to strangers.
Attraction, sure, but that’s a fickle thing, easy come, easy go and she has always despised people who fall for it and let themselves be slaves under their hormones and instincts. That’s what separates us from animals, she thinks even as she wonders how Simon kisses, what he tastes like and what noises he makes, how his body forms under her hands, how it fits and how it doesn’t, all those million little ways they differ and melt.
Maybe she just wants adventure. Maybe he is her adventure.
She really doesn’t know.
All she knows now about that night is that when Simon leaves the party, he leaves a part of him with her and it doesn’t matter that she downs three large drinks before she leaves, too, a little later than she told Kent she’d be home but not late enough for anything to have happened. Not according to the way people measure these things, at least.
She feels guilty when she walks up the stairs to their bedroom back home in Suburbia. Guilty and dirty and caugh, somehow, as though Kent can sense her thoughts that night when she tosses and turns and he sleeps like a baby beside her.
She feels guilty the following afternoon when Simon sends her a text and she actually reads it though she tells herself at first to just delete it and forget about everything beyond this small life: her marriage, her children, her hopeless career that goes nowhere. That’s the life she gave herself, it’s what she must make the best of.
Of course she can’t bring herself not to read the text, can’t refrain from replying to it.
And his words crash into her like fire. Tell me to forget you.
Maybe it had been different if she had managed to stop there, come to a halt around her own feelings and actions, freeze them in time. She barely knew Simon after that one night. Someone you don’t know can’t wreck your life into tiny pieces; they don’t hold that power.
But as the weeks rush by and the holiday season slows everything else down, she finds herself writing to him, a stream of words that seems unstoppable because it comes from some dark place inside her where she can’t reach. He writes back, too. They write and write and write.
She tells Kent she’s up all night working through some drafts for her new novel and spends the next five hours chatting to Simon about the best play she’s ever been to or how her father used to draw with her when she was a kid. In all her life she can’t remember it ever being this easy to talk to someone, like it’s more of an instinct than a desire.
What follows is the usual cliché, even she can see that.
It’s not a great story; it’s a story all the same.
The way he opens the door that first time she visits him in his flat in Barchester City – a safe distance, she thinks on her way there, hands trembling.
The way she doesn’t say anything at all at first, merely stands there and wonders why she left her coat in the car and if he’s going to ask her about it. He does, of course.
She tells him she’s just going to pop in for five minutes, that she’s left her car right outside and will get a parking ticket, that she was just in the neighbourhood and wanted to see him.
He knows she’s lying, she can tell by the way the corners of his eyes wrinkle as he smiles at her. Not a triumphant smile – she knows he isn’t taking pleasure in doing whatever it is they’ve been doing online for the past weeks with a married woman.
“I shouldn’t be here,” she says because everything about this is something that has happened before, that will happen again; her words don’t have to be unique.
“I’m glad you are,” he says and as his arms find their way around her waist, Clara closes her eyes.
* This was another ROS of mine this round: have an affair (and get caught). Didn’t get around to the get caught bit, but I’ll do in part 2 of this little story. 🙂