"You're using condoms? I mean, that's what people do these days, don't they?" I can't believe I'm even asking the question, that the question even needs to be asked. Sheltered suburbanite that I am, safely married in an era when safe-sex commercials no longer shock, my fear of any wayward step outside monogamy is all wrapped up in latex.
"Most of the time."
"Well okay, so we did the first time. But I told you. He's married. It's not like we have to worry about that."
"That's the best part. Like I said, safe." And with that, she turns and does a little backward jog away from me, loose brown curls bobbing around her sweatband, a tight Cheshire Cat smile spreading across her face.
By the time we reach the light of Shadowwood Lane and make a sweaty path to the kitchen in my own cookie-cutter Georgian, where we pour out two large glasses of bottled water with a twist of lemon, Donna tells me all the details, a few of which I'm not comfortable knowing. Like the fact that Perry Ferguson has a fondness not only for suspenders but also for silk ties that, in the heat of passion, he winds around Donna's thin tennis player's wrists. I picture her preparing for this as her last act of undressing--sitting on the hotel bed, carefully unhooking the safety chains and heavy engraved clasps of her collection of gold bracelets, placing them in a shimmering stack on the nightstand alongside his wristwatch, then holding her hands up to him, penitent and willing.
"C'mon, Jessie. Haven't you ever thought about what it'd be like to be with another man after all these years?" she asks, grinning at me because she already knows the answer to her own question and is lost in some private memory of a recent rendezvous. "And don't lie to me. I know you have."
Just two months earlier, Donna and her husband David celebrated their tenth anniversary by taking a weeklong cruise to what the glossy brochure described as "exotic, picture-postcard ports of call in the Caribbean." She'd seemed happy then. I couldn't imagine what had happened to make things go so wrong.
"Hell, I'd forgotten what great sex feels like. But this man? This man is just so yummy." She actually licks her lips.
She has me on that one. I feel like a twelve-year-old at a slumber party, eager to ask her best friend's older sister what it's like to French-kiss a boy. I want her to tell me exactly what it feels like to be held in an unfamiliar way, to be touched by unfamiliar hands, but in the end, I lose my nerve. I'm beginning to be embarrassed by this whole conversation, as if Donna has removed her sweatshirt and paraded topless down the middle of Shadowwood Lane.
Donna, on the other hand, seems to take a certain pride in savoring the moment, as if she's just been named Infidelity's Woman of the Year and is glad that I, friend and confidante, am there to witness it. She sits in my kitchen and drinks her water in big, noisy gulps, then slams the glass on the table. She stares dreamily at my ceiling while sucking her lemon slice.
I study the view from my kitchen window. The dogwoods the Lawn Doctor planted last year are just beginning to bloom. Beyond them, with the first rays of cloud-filtered sunlight, the shiny brass heads of the automatic sprinkler system pop up like so many ground-hogs, spraying a rainbow-tinted mist across the row of thin trunks with every rotation.
"I've been dreaming that Turner will be killed in some kind of accident. That he'll, well, that he'll die," I say, all too conscious that my husband, even on a Saturday, stays true to his daily routine and must be standing in front of our bathroom mirror upstairs, razor in hand. "What do you think that means?"
Funny thing is, she acts like she doesn't even hear me. She's tying her shoe, the shrunken lemon slice still stuck between her teeth.
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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