Four Wives

Wendy Walker

St. Martin's Press

Chapter 1

Her heart was pounding as she sat in the car. Before her was the house, a giant white colonial with black shutters, a quaint portico, and the three-car garage set off to the side where she now found herself, wondering. What have I done?

She took a breath to stave off the panic that was beginning to seep inside her. She needed to be careful. She reached for the garage remote, then thought better of it. The chain runner would cut through the still night air like a buzz saw. She killed the headlights, then the ignition. Her hand slipped inside the door latch, pulling it slowly until it clicked. She pushed open the door and swung her feet outside the car. She removed her shoes, her favorite strapped heels, and hung them on her fingers. She draped her purse around her shoulder, then, as softly as she’d opened it, closed the door with her hip. The soft silk of her skirt was deliciously sensuous as it brushed against her bare leg, testing her will to stay focused. To forget.

The sound of the neighbors’ sprinkler coming to life startled her as she began to make her way around the back of the house. Her feet stepped like a cat’s paws on the asphalt, and for a moment she was frozen in place, listening to the initial burst of water followed by a rhythmic pulsating—the pinging of water drops as they hit a small section of a flagstone terrace on their way around. Placing the sounds, she pictured the neighbors’ yard, the two acres of flat green grass, the free-form pool, the stone wall that divided their property from her own. Then her yard and back door, up the stairs to the children in their rooms, the husband in her bed. The reasons she was creeping about under the midnight sky.

Taking another breath, she carried on, around the outside of the garage to the patio—through the maze of wrought-iron furniture, kick balls, plastic toys, and gas grill, and finally to the sliding glass door that opened into the kitchen. It was unlocked, and she pushed it slowly, then looked inside, making out the shapes of things in the dark room—the oval table that was still piled with remnants from the dinner, a bottle of ketchup, The New York Times, a plastic sippy cup. It was the heart of their lives, this kitchen. She could see the babies, four of them in eight years, sitting in the high chair that now resided in the basement with the rest of the childhood monuments. She could see them running around the island as she chased behind them, their shrieks of laughter filling the room as they avoided capture. She could feel in her bones the toll from the daily struggles—getting them to eat, umpiring fights, and saving them from spilling over as they climbed upon their chairs like unruly savages at dinnertime. This was the place where they played, talked, cried, and fought with each other. And though she felt drawn to it like a time traveler returning home from a long journey, she remained frozen at its threshold, not yet able to enter.

It was not a terrible life. Janie Kirk was a suburban housewife, the steadfast bottom of an inverse pyramid upon which the demands of her family balanced. It was a life founded at its core in her love for the children who lay sleeping inside. From there it grew heavy with the weight of their needs, and those of her husband, which she had carried on her shoulders for so many years. School, soccer, ballet, swimming. Doctors, dentists, speech therapists. Food on the table every day. Laundry, yard work, pets. Birthday parties. Dieting. Sex. It was an odd existence when she stopped to consider it, but so completely common that she rarely did, and it occurred to her that it would be close to perfect if she hadn’t contracted the unfortunate disease of discontentment.

She was standing now between two worlds, her eyes taking in her life, her mind reliving the feel of his hands on her body not an hour before—his face replete with desire as he approached her. In that desire, she had seen the teenager in the back of his father’s Cadillac, the young man whose heart she’d so foolishly broken in high school, then the college lover who’d broken hers. He had been, in that moment, every first kiss, every curious glance from across a room. All the things she’d left behind so many years ago.

She recalled the firm hand gripping the back of her head and pulling her to him, the other hand reaching for her back. The hold was strong, powerful, and she’d given into it without the slightest hesitation, without a second thought. Then came the kiss, and with it a warm burning under her skin. She’d opened her eyes and pressed her mouth harder against his, no longer someone’s wife, someone’s mother. Just a woman. And he was nothing to her but a man she desired. He had tried to speak, You’re so beautiful . . .  But she’d pressed her mouth harder against his and waited for the sound of his voice to disappear from her mind, along with everything else she knew about him. The shape of his face, the color of his eyes, his house and family. All of it had vanished. There had been no place for talk, no need for reassurances or stating one’s intentions. The confines of their social structure that kept the wheels turning in this privileged existence had been suspended, and for the first time in her life she had not cared what her lover thought—if he was comparing her to past lovers, assessing her performance, her body—whether he would call her, see her again, marry her and buy a house, have children and live happily ever after until they were both dead in the ground.

She closed her eyes now, wanting to remember for one moment more the feel of his weight over her, her legs wrapped around him, pulling him closer—her mouth on his, nearly consuming him in a frantic embrace. And yet her life was waiting, pulling her back in.

She opened her eyes and took a breath. How could she have imagined that this would be possible, that she could walk through that door and up the stairs, kiss her children, then crawl beside her sleeping husband? She had wanted this night for a long time, and the thought of this night had somehow managed to coexist with her inside those walls. Now that she had given life to her thoughts, now that she had given in to what was, at best, a purely selfish act of weakness and depravity, she felt alive. Her body, her senses, her mind. Everything was awake again. It was a feeling of intoxication, and though she was nearly sick from it, she knew she would have to have more. There would be war between what awaited her and this narcotic flowing through her blood, and there would be no chance of reconciling the opposing needs that would now demand attention within this house.

What have I done? she thought again, knowing she had cast them all on a different course—an uncertain course. With a quiet resolve, she stepped inside.

Copyright © 2008 by Wendy Walker. All rights reserved.