Lyudmelia blew smoke rings at the kitchen table. As she exhaled, she squinted at the mismatched aluminum chairs. They had been meant for company. Mom had given her and Maceo money for them when they were first married.
With Maceo, she had driven dutifully to Sears, to the store’s August clearance sale. They had bought two yellow, two gray, and two brown seats. The yellow and grey ones lived in the kitchen. The brown ones sat folded in the hall closet.
There had been other chairs, wooden ones, which came as part of a hand-me-down set from Maceo’s parents. Those chairs had fallen apart within months of their marriage.
The young couple had subsequently bought two cars, a refrigerator, a washer, a dryer, a microwave, a week at Tahiti, and a week at Cape Cod. They bought new wardrobes. They never, though, replaced their kitchen set.
Next to Lyudmelia’s ashtray was a stack of pistachio shells. She had eaten half of a twelve ounce bag. Worse, she felt no ill effects. The young woman stared expressionless into her smoke.
She ought not to be surprised. She had slept with Rainier. She had slept with Garian. Rainier had been a joke. Garian had been an accident. Even when bedding them, she had kept Maceo in her heart. Ori, Maceo’s graduate school buddy, though, had been different; love is a complicated matter.
At first, she thought it was lust. Ori had chest hair, a habit of opening doors for her, and an accent she couldn’t place. So, she tried to empty her mind of him.
Years before, she had noticed and ignored Maceo in a similar way. At the time, her husband had been merely: a philosophy major with sideburns, a discreet source for nitrous oxide, and a disco king.
She and Maceo had met in a mutual class, “Minds, Brains and Programs.” They had been friends of friends. Nothing more than cheese pizza ought to have happened between them.
To the contrary, before Lyudmelia began her postdoc, she relost her chastity, gained new “love handles,” and got her already curly hair permed. She had thought little, initially, of the cream-colored notes Maceo had regularly affixed to her door, but a pack of Virginia Slims and half of a bottle of light rum mixed with pineapple juice later, those missives had become impressive. Hence, the changes.
Lyudmelia sighed, remembering the first time she had fingered her husband’s facial hair. Fortunately, he used a minimum of product. After her stint in New Jersey, she had returned to Connecticut to be a fellow in oceanography at the University of Connecticut and to be closer to Maceo.
Ori studied at Yale. Maceo, who was also plowing through a doctorate (his specialty was Substantive Theories of Epistemic Justification), had brought Ori home after a PhilPapers Council. The two of them had sat on the stoop all night, flicking ashes onto neighborhood cats.
Even after pulling her pillow over her head, Lyudmelia could hear Maceo jest to Ori. He crowed that his professional focus would allow him to find a means to show that sometimes crime ought to pay. Ori said the same thing with his eyes when Lyudmelia served the twosome coffee and eggs. While Maceo was in the bathroom, Ori gardened kisses on both of Lyudmelia’s wrists. She didn’t stop him.
Ori became a Visiting Lecturer at Henry Cogswell University. Although his new school was a technical one, he was hired as part of its growing liberal arts faculty. He urged Lyudmelia to join him there to teach bioengineering.
Instead, Lyudmelia stayed with UConn and with Maceo. Once, though, she flew out to Washington. The American Society of Limnology and Oceanography was meeting in Seattle and Lyudmelia had cultivated an intellectual itch, almost a fetish, for data on drainage basin studies.
Ori invited her to sleep over. Lyudmelia agreed and then cancelled. A few years later, in New Orleans, when the society was having a section meeting on wetlands and reservoirs, and when Ori had long since relocated to a tenured position at Loyola did she consider spending the night with him.
Initially, Lyudmelia had taken refuge in the company of a colleague from the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department at the University of Houston, rationalizing that it would be okay to meet as a threesome to enjoy some red beans and rice, a side of okra and a few Sazeraks.
Lyudmelia spent the evening staring at Ori’s profile as she dared not to look directly at him. He had lost no hair and had gained musculature in all of the right places. Sipping at her drink, she wished she had also ordered bitters.
After dinner, while Ori belched up spicy chicken every few minutes, the three walked around the city. The Sazeraks had muted the gal from Houston. She had difficulty staying on the sidewalk. Ori put her arm in his, but every few paces looked back at Lyudmelia. In the French Quarter, Lyudmelia refused to get up from a bench. She hailed a cab and left her cohort with her cohort’s would-be lover.
Ten months later, Lyudmelia and Maceo received a wedding invitation to the wedding of that oceanographer and Ori. Maceo insisted that they go.
During the reception, Ori hovered near their table, the one filled with his work associates. Lyudmelia chastised him for not dancing with Baily, his bride.
Ori shrugged. Baily had already downed two Whiskey Smashes and one Cable Car. Her sister was making sure the path to the ladies’ room was clear. Ori just hoped his new wife would be careful when she shoved wedding cake into his mouth. He wanted to look nice in the pictures.
A fourth and fifth time, Ori returned to Maceo and Lyudmelia’s table, taking breaks between visits to dance with his new mother-in-law and to joke with his father. When he finally danced with Lyudmelia, he traced his fingers along her wrists.
Ori called Lyudmelia on the eve of his and Baily’s first anniversary.
Shortly thereafter, he and Baily chose to vacation in New England. Maceo insisted that they bunk with him and Lyudmelia.
Two nights before Ori and Baily were to leave, when the foursome went out for dinner, Ori positioned himself opposite Lyudmelia. When he bent to tie his shoe, he also caressed her ankle. Maceo, who was holding Lyudmelia’s hand under the table, didn’t notice.
Baily, who was on her fourth Bartender’s Bingo, though, did realize that her husband and her colleague had submerged and reemerged several times. Her protest, however, was slurred.
Lyudmelia, appreciating Baily’s perception, made a moue with her mouth as if to apologize.
Baily shrugged and smiled sadly. Ori had smelled of other women long before she and he had gotten to the altar. It would be decades and hard won sobriety later that would bring Baily to destroy all of the handwritten letters from Lyudmelia to Ori.
Lyudmelia blew more smoke rings and grimaced. A wave of nausea rose from her gut. The night of that dinner, when Baily had caught her and Ori making bug eyes at each other, a robbery had taken place in the restaurant. Maceo had been horrified and had called the police. Baily had finished her drink and then had finished Ori’s. Neither Lyudmelia nor Ori had noticed the commotion.
After their meal, the four had walked to a hand scoop ice cream stand. Lyudmelia had watched Baily gently wipe chocolate-chip from Ori’s lip.
Lyudmelia had cried herself to sleep. Maceo had said nothing, except for intermittent exclamations about the sorry state of the police force.
The next day, before their New Orleans guests left, Lyudmelia stepped into the living room in her robe. Maceo, and later, Baily, too, filed in. Baily wore pajamas. Maceo wore sweats. After the breakfast dishes were drying, Ori appeared. He was fully dressed.
Lyudmelia thought about the barrier that his shirt and kakis created. If she were to hug him goodbye, she would feel little of his chest or of his other bits.
Maceo and Lyudmelia returned to their bedroom to dress. In between undergarments and jeans, they had hasty intimacy.
The rest of the day, the foursome visited museums and galleries. Baily meant to return to Louisiana with a Red Sox cap.
A few years later, the couples reunited in Ocean City. Baily was svelte and drunk. She liked alternating saltwater taffy and Tiki cocktails. Ori had begun to bald.
Maceo, who had gained a habit of morning jogs, went to bed early each night. Baily drank herself to sleep. Lyudmelia and Ori took furtive starlit boardwalk walks.
One night, a few blocks from the hotel where the four were staying, Lyudmelia stopped, turned around and reached for one of Ori’s hands. He neither grazed her wrist with his fingers nor looked into her eyes. It was over.
Lyudmelia had slept with Rainier. She had slept with Garian. With them, she had only shared her body.
She blew additional smoke rings and intentionally knocked over her pile of pistachio shells. Recently, she had joined a support group. Although Ori had filed for divorce and Baily had given him no contest, Lyudmelia would not further dupe Maceo.