Donna and I swing our arms purposefully and tell ourselves we aren't getting older but healthier. We wave to the other, younger wives who jog at a faster clip, the cheeks of their aerobicized size-six butts barely jiggling. These women all carry or strap to their arms and legs reflective devices that each weigh five pounds or more, and when they trot past us, graceful as butterflies, pores freshly scrubbed and cucumber-soothed and without the slightest hint of perspiration, one has the distinct impression that they might, at any moment, take flight if they were not weighted down so carefully. We keep walking, dreaming of the day when we can look just like them, when we can prance into Rich's Department Store and buy identical pairs of red silk running shorts in a size six, completed, of course, by red silk cutoff T-shirts that show off our tanned and liposuctioned midriffs. We tell ourselves we're happy with our own less-than-flawless bodies in case our plan doesn't work, and I'm guessing it probably won't, so until then we resent the presence of these other wives for making us want it so badly.
It is during today's walk, on the return trip down a particularly steep hill, that Donna tells me she's having an affair with a salesman in the department store where she works part time, that it's been going on for two months, and that she needs me to tell her husband David we're going shopping next Tuesday after work. David will never even ask me about it, she points out a little too enthusiastically, so it isn't like I'll actually have to lie for her, but she wants to warn me just in case a lie is necessary. She also hints that it wouldn't be wise for me to be seen in my yard between the hours of 5 and 8 P.M. on Tuesday since, quite obviously, I can't be at the Glenville Meadows Mall with her and trying to resuscitate my ailing geraniums at the same time.
"I'm sleeping with that young guy in menswear."
That's actually how she breaks the news. She says it matter-of-factly, as if she's just told me, "I'm painting my kitchen blue."
I remember that Donna made a point of introducing me to him a week or so earlier when I stopped by the mall to pick her up for lunch. When I arrived, I found him leaning over her jewelry counter, two fingers looped through a display of freshwater pearl bracelets.
His name is Perry Ferguson, and on the day we met he wore stylish burgundy suspenders over a cream-colored button-down broad-cloth shirt and a pair of neatly pressed black gabardine trousers, and he had a lock of blond hair that, despite his efforts to slick it into place, kept falling over one of his eyes. He did, I noticed, wear a wedding ring. And he's young. At least ten years younger than Donna is my guess, which means he's maybe fifteen years younger than me. His leaning over her counter, touching those bracelets the way he did, was hardly the innocent gesture it had seemed.
I can't think of a thing to say. This is news I do not want to hear.
As we walk, we pass 1980s-style Victorians and country ranches, houses we've visited with our husbands for impromptu dinner parties and Neighborhood Watch-sponsored backyard barbecues, houses where the owners spend weeks searching antique stores for the perfect armoire and wouldn't dare refinish it. A lawn mower cranks somewhere nearby, a clear violation of the 10-4 rules. The people on this street must mow their own lawns. The Lawn Doctor knows the rules.
"You don't have to look so surprised," she says finally. "You could show a little enthusiasm. C'mon. A little, well, a little something. I mean, we're both married so it's safe, right?"
I'm surprised I don't blurt out, "How could you?" or "What about your children?" Her logic on the other issue leaves me more than a little stunned. Safe how? Safe when?
Copyright 2001 Jeanne Braselton; all rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Ballantine Publishing Group.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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