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  • Without Windows
  • Margaret Hermes (bio)

Lydia had developed a sixth sense for adultery. Or her other senses, like a blind man's, became heightened in its presence. She could see it in the way an illicit couple stood side by side yet straining toward each other. She could feel it rise off of them, like steam. She could smell it, musky and pungent, like winter spices simmering on the back of a stove. She could hear it in the cadence behind carefully chosen words. She could taste it in her own mouth; acrid and sweet, the flavor of rust.

She was finding it everywhere. Last week she had gone to lunch with a friend and discovered it right there in the restaurant—a couple so exposed that Lydia would not have been surprised if the other diners had set down their forks to stare. Christine had said, "What's with you today? You haven't heard a word I've said."

Lydia leaned forward. "Christine, do you see those two over there? In the corner. She's wearing a green dress."

Christine turned and craned her neck. "Nooo. Yes. Should I know them?"

"No. I mean, I don't know them. I was just wondering if you notice anything unusual about them."

"I can't say that—yes, they both have widows' peaks, is that it?"

"Lord. No, forget it. I'm sorry."

Two days ago, Lydia had spotted it at the Art Institute. She shared the Beckmann exhibit with a young woman who was standing in front of the Columbine, transfixed by the contradiction of the massive, forbidding figure with its splayed, welcoming thighs. Lydia moved past as the young woman sighed, her padded shoulders rising and falling. Then a man in a banker's suit and gleaming black wing-tips came into the exhibition hall, and Lydia saw that the sighs were not for Beckmann.

The man had stolen away from a desk somewhere, from his wife and secretary, unless this was his secretary. The two traveled around the room, speaking in low voices, eyes examining each other, barely sparing a glance toward the walls. Lydia pretended to study a self-portrait of the artist until they passed her, and then she trailed behind them, watching. [End Page 29]

She touched his cheek and he grabbed her fingers and pressed them to his mouth. Lydia felt flushed and dizzy as she made her way out of the museum, into fresh air.

Now this afternoon, as she was leaving the supermarket, she saw a man pull into a space in the parking lot and check his appearance in his rearview mirror. Lydia's eyes scanned the lot until she found the car with a woman sitting in it. The woman's car was parked at the far end so that there would be no public display of proximity, no guilt by association of automobiles. The woman got out of her car—she was wearing a white tennis dress—and pulled a green sun visor down to shield her face. As Lydia watched them drive off, she found herself sifting through the change in the pocket of her skirt, searching for a quarter. There was a pay phone right there by the store exit. Lydia, who could never remember her own social security number or her license plate number, could not rid her memory of either Jack's office phone number or his home number, which she had dialed only one time.

Why can't we just go on? she would say to Jack. Everyone else does. It's all around us. You must see it everywhere, too.

Her fingers closed around the large coin in her pocket and then released it.

* * *

It wasn't so much that she and Craig had drifted apart but that they were just drifting. Unlike many husbands and wives who stray, their interests had grown more, rather than less, alike over time. He had learned to enjoy her museums and she had learned to play his golf and so on. Their life together was placid and incidental. Their life apart was equally traditional: Craig achieved success in his law practice; Lydia tended to the...


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pp. 29-43
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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