"Fiction is reality made interesting" says Stephen Faulkner whose story about trust and love we bring you today.
Stephen is a native New Yorker, transplanted with his wife, Joyce, to Atlanta, Georgia. He is now semi-retired from his most recent job and is back to his true first love – writing. He has recently had the good fortune to get stories published in such publications as Aphelion Webzine, Unhinged, Hellfire Crossroads, Temptation Magazine, Hobo Pancakes, The Erotic Review, Liquid Imagination, Sanitarium Magazine, The Satirist, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Tuck Magazine, New Concepts, Fictive Dream, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Literary Hatchet and Midnight Street Anthology #3. He and Joyce and an ever-changing number of cats have a busy life working, volunteering at different non-profit organizations, and going to the theater as often as they can find the time. His novel Aliana in Paradise has recently been published by World Castle Publishing and is available through Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
In the Name of Trust
My loving and lovely Maura lay beside me in bed with her head propped up against the wooden headboard, the sheets and blankets tucked snugly under her perfectly proportioned and pert breasts, an ashtray rising and sinking on her stomach with each inhale-exhale as she dragged her health to its limit from the filtered cigarette. I had told her many times, warned her so often of the dangers to her health that smoking can cause and, too, of the severe fire hazard of smoking in bed, conjuring up visions for her of home sweet 1708 Burling Street going up like a brittle matchstick funeral pyre for us both but, as usual, my words were cast like seeds onto infertile soil. She has been and always will be her own judge of the needs and dangers inherent in all and every cause and effect in her life and all my love for her and hers for me could not change one iota of that stubbornly independent aspect of Maura’s personality.
My worries for my loved one’s health and well-being were working to close my eyes and beginning to plummet me slowly into a caustic, fitful slumber when her cool hand touched my shoulder. “Jason,” she whispered, blowing a faint stream of smoke past my face as she breathed my name. “You asleep?”
“Trying to be,” I muttered into the pillow.
“Please don’t,” she said, nudging me. “Not just yet. I have to talk to you.”
“Can’t it wait ‘til tomorrow?” I tried to roll over onto my side facing away from her but she held me on my back with a pressure that was insistent in its strength. I kept my eyes closed and thought; it can wait until tomorrow, or the day after….
“No, it really can’t,” she said.
“Hunh?” I murmured without thinking. Did I say that out loud?
“It really shouldn’t wait, Jason. I mean it; it’s important.”
I said “Oh,” and rolled onto my side, facing her breasts, her pink nipples like eyes studying me and I stretched my neck up and kissed her mouth as tenderly as tenderness was but her lips were sealed shut, not allowing any warmth to pass between us. I raised myself up to her eye level, watching her act like an obstinate virgin, determined to remain lily white and pure for life. She doodled with her index finger on the sheet as her sad face pondered words to tell me what she had to say to me. Her wide eyes were made even wider by that three finger-width of cream colored skin surrounding them and I, staring down the length of my trunk on the bed, asked, so unkindly though softly caressing in tone: “What?”
And still she diddled the sheet with her finger and her eyes did not catch my glance for several moments and I thought that she was going to cry, heard her voice crack uncontrollably as she began, “Jason, I have to tell you this. I don’t want to. It would be easier for both of us if I didn’t but it wouldn’t be fair to you and it would make a liar out of me if I didn’t.”
And again I spoke unnecessarily harshly: “What is it?”
She stubbed out the cigarette with a dash and put the ashtray on the night table, all the while sliding down under the covers, turning her body towards me until she was on her side, her pretty head propped up by her hand, leaning heavily on her left elbow, her mouth shut into a tight, thin line, her eyes dull and lively at the same time.
She looked at me, now so much further away and tried to form her words into something intelligible, meaningful. “Jason, I….”
There was something hidden here and wrong, I could tell; something pounding in her, wanting to free itself. I had an idea, gross and horrible as it was and I slid down on my right side, matching her posture in mirror form, facing her, trying to read something in the dying fire in her eyes but her voice, skipping swiftly over what I had only just guessed at, killed the sparkle of brown eye flame in a single sentence.
“Jason,” she said. “You’re not the only one.”
“Of course not,” I said stupidly. “I know that you’ve been with other men before me. So what?”
She seemed angered by my feigned ignorance of the true meaning of her words and she shook her head. “Since then, though,” she said. “When you were gone.”
My mind balked. No, it couldn’t happen, couldn’t be. It was inconceivable, the idea that I had quickly shoved aside, that Maura could possibly sleep with another, love another, but it was there as plain as the acrid smoke in the air and the daylight waning in her eyes, taking away what was rightfully mine, my earned and deserved love. But no, it was too wrong to be true though I had to believe it. Had to believe it for why would she lie about something like this?
“Who was it?” I asked.
“A guy,” she said. “No one you know.”
“You love him?”
Her eyes flashed, livid and annoyed. “Oh don’t be so naïve, Jason. Of course not.”
She raised her hand as if to touch my face, as if to soothe and reassure me but she slowed the gesture almost as soon as it had begun, thought better of it and dropped her arm back to her side as my mind screamed WHY?! so many times and at the same time knowing the rigors of being faithful so long and not knowing when the lover’s return shall be. Yes, understandable and still understanding but the stomach pit falling away as if filled with lead weights dropping WHY? down from the sky, filling the boulder in my throat with bile and could I ask, knowing how three lonely months pass by empty, tired and alone but answer why, only why and tell me so that I will fully see the hard reason of it and know you better….
Again, the Marlboros came off the night table.
“Jason, I’d have thought you’d understand,” she said feverishly, dropping a lit match on the sheets but caught it before any damage was done.
“I told you about that!” I raged, angered and serious so much more so than I had ever been before about the dangers of any open flame in the house and her eyes seemed ready to flow forth tears as with a cracked voice she professed her sorrow so much more than words could tell.
“Where’d you meet him?” I asked a few moments later, unkind and deep, wanting to hurt.
“A bar in town.” Her voice fluttered nervously. “He was nice and joked a lot and you were gone and I didn’t know when you were coming back and….”
She started to cry but through the sobs and tears was able to go on: “I didn’t love him. It was just that, well, you were away so long and I was so lonely and….”
“When did this happen?”
“’Bout a month ago.”
“Have you seen him since then?”
“No. Just that once.” She sobbed like a little girl who had just scraped her knee and then, she asked the clincher but I was ready for it. “Jason, can you ever forgive me?”
I nodded feigning deep thought for a moment to give her time to sweat a bit and I wanted her to suffer with me but her imploring eyes worked their magic so that I couldn’t keep it up for too long.
“Yes, of course I forgive you,” I said, sounding as soberly serious as I could. “No reason not to, really. You didn’t love him and, besides which, I suppose that if I were put in your position, the circumstances reversed, I’d probably have done pretty much the same thing.”
Turn the tables, that was what I had just done. Bite your tongue, Jason old boy, I thought, before you say anything more and I watched as Maura’s face cleared itself of all pity-seeking supplication and became darker than a spring thunderstorm.
“What do you mean the same thing?” she spit, raising her voice to a nervous pitch, acid and solemn.
“Oh, you know,” I said. “I mean if it happened that you were away and I were left alone for, say, three months or more, I guess that I might have done somewhat the same thing that you had done: killed the loneliness of a night or two like you did. Pick up a stranger somewhere for companionship and all….”
“A night or two?!” she exploded, choosing to harp on the one ill-chosen word on my part. “You mean that you’d have done it more than once?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Maur. Anything that I say now would only be conjecture.”
But she wouldn’t be swayed. Her anger was on the rise and growing irrationally strong. “You mean that you’d take a strange woman here, make the same mistakes that I did, knowing how much I love you and…and….”
Her rage was quickly deteriorating into another rush of tears. Good, I thought. At least when she cries she becomes a bit more reasonable, quiescent.
“Now, Maur,” I soothed. “Don’t take it so….”
“Get out!” she yelled, pushing me in the stomach with the soles of her hot feet. “Get out of this bed, you bastard! Go sleep on the couch or in the back yard for all I care but just get the hell out of my sight!”
Her feet landed me heavily on the floor near the window, amongst a heap of tangled, flapping sheets and blankets, I scrambled up as quickly as I could and headed for the door, grabbing my goose-down pillow with me as I ran for the half opened exit, closing it with a slam behind me. Maura’s badly timed throw landed the pillow against the bedroom side of the door. All I heard from the closed room was a muffled, “Shit!” and a pillow-padded THUMP that rattled the door on its hinges in the frame.
That night I did sleep on the couch in the living room. I thought when Maura woke up in the morning that a good night’s sleep would give her a new perspective on our little set-to. When she came into the living room on her way to the kitchen she paused only a moment to look over my jerry rigged sleeping arrangement and then trudged the rest of the way to her way to her morning coffee. Nothing was said between us while we each had our individual breakfasts – she her coffee and muffin, me my oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins – which was so much of a departure from our usual regimen. We would pre-prepare a shared meal for both of us, planned and set up the night before and ready for us in the morning. The only morning preparation left would be microwaving what needed to be hot and pouring the coffee from the Black and Decker which had been measured and watered with the timer set from the night before.
Now it was each for his/her own and not a hand given by one to the other and without a word being spoken by either of us. I certainly wouldn’t have known what to say to even begin a conversation that wouldn’t get my head handed to me on a platter or bring my temper to a boil and have me rant away and say something inane and insensitive that would only start the argument off onto a new and equally dangerous course.
And so I finished my breakfast, washed my cereal bowl, coffee cup and spoons in the sink, went to the bedroom to get dressed and, still without a word being offered by either of us, I headed out to work without even a “See you later.”
I considered the situation as I drove the five miles to my office. Here I was, coming home from a celibate three month whirlwind business trip to Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan to set up international offices for our company in those countries and now I come home to what I assumed would be the loving arms of my fiancé and what do I get? A raging reaction to a poorly worded commiseration of her crying admission to infidelity. Suddenly I had become the injuring party in this little scenario.
Wow! So what do I do to make this right? And why has it become my responsibility to do that?
Coming back to a busy office after a long trip doesn’t leave much time – if any – to make any plans or arrangements that might make the situation on the homefront more palatable and easy to live with. The key word here was compromise and with such a busy day to contend with, that was all I had, the word compromise and very little else. On the way back home I used the slow crawl of rush hour traffic to try and decide what compromises I could make that would ease the tensions between Maura and me. I was already pulling into the driveway without having come up with any viable ideas.
Happily she hadn’t changed the locks on the door or done something equally extreme; my key fit the lock and I opened the door. I immediately went back to the bedroom and knocked on the closed door.
“Maura,” I said softly to the flat wood panel before me. “What can I do?”
“What can I say to make this right?” I asked.
Still silence from the room.
Then, a thought came to me to turn things around. “I have a better question, Baby,” I said, using the pet name that I knew she hated. “And that is what can you do? What can you say to make things better? You think simply saying ‘I’m sorry’ cuts it? Well, think again. You’ve betrayed my trust, Maura; how can I trust you now after what you have done? It’s not about what I’ve done and I might do, you know? This is your guilt, not mine. You’ve already confessed to it. You did do this, not me. So…. Now what?”
I heard a rustling in the room, then footsteps toward the door. “I still love you, Maura, but I don’t trust you. So I want to know…. How can you prove to me that you deserve my trust?”
Still there was silence, though I heard the sound of her breathing coming through the door. “I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re ready to talk.”
I went to the kitchen and fixed myself a cup of coffee. As I was just lowering my behind into one of the chairs at the kitchen table with my steaming cup in preparation for her to come, she was already there in the doorway, crying.
“I don’t know,” she said as though fearful. Her hiccoughing sobs made it hard for me to understand what she said. She had to repeat herself three times before I parsed out the words she meant to say. And what she said was enough for me to get out of my chair and hug her as tightly as I could as my way of telling her that everything was fine between us.
“Please tell me” is what she had said.