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What’s There to Talk About?
I always meet her, when I meet her, at 1:00 pm outside the 24 hour photo place. I park my Explorer in the second-to-last parking spot, next to the handicap space, and she shows up about ten minutes later in her husband’s Jag wearing something that he’d bought for her, unknowingly, on his Mastercard. Then she gets in and says something sexy like Damn, I forgot my panties again. Then we go somewhere – not just anywhere, somewhere classy, like the Ramada or the Hyatt, or once in a while her lake house two hours away at Lake Cumberland. Then we commit adultery. Consciously. Sometimes twice.
There are rules. No talking about spouses. No forgetting we have spouses. And No love. Can’t even breathe the word.
“Hey babe,” she says getting in the SUV. A little white skirt clings to her thighs like an outer layer of skin. Her hair curls around her ears, auburn, playful. She leans across the middle arm rest, bites my earlobe.
“You’re frisky today,” I say, turning in to her, giving her the kind of deep-throat kiss reserved for teenage love and midlife affairs. Her name is Kayla. I think Kayla sounds like a teenager’s name. Maybe that’s why I like her.
“It’s gotta be quick today,” she says. She needs to get back early because the babysitter’s sick.
Fine by me. It just means it’ll be a quick fuck, no time for the awkward after-sex conversation. Maybe the sitter should get sick more often.
“So, you know what would be fun?” she asks. “If we did it some place new.”
“Yeah, like, I don’t know, someplace exciting.”“Exciting, huh? So you’re bored with me already. I see how it is.” I smile. But inside, my stomach drops. Your marriage is supposed to be boring. Not your affair.
“Come on, I just think it’ll be fun. Don’t you?” She puts her left hand on my thigh. What I think would be fun is if we just stick to the plan, get to the hotel, do our thing, and then make tracks. We can roll around in the back to the Explorer for all I care. Let’s just make it happen.
“What do you have in mind?” I say, just so I can see where this goes. She smiles, a big, toothy grin, a little mischievous. “Well?” I say.
“You’ll think I’m crazy.” She blushes, just a little, pink cheeks.“Oh? Try me.”
“Well, I was watching this movie, like this made-for-TV crap on Lifetime.”
“This doesn’t sound good.”
“No, just let me finish. Never mind. You’ll think it’s stupid.”
“Well, you’ve already started now.”
“Okay, well anyways, so I was watching this movie and it was about this preacher or priest or whatever. I don’t know, I get them all mixed up. He had the little white thing on his collar, so I guess he was a priest.”
“Some preachers have that. Like Methodists, I think.”
“Well, anyways, this priest or preacher was really a bad guy and he was having an affair with this girl.”
“Episcopalians. That’s what I meant. Not Methodists.”
“Can I finish?”
“Okay, so anyway, it started out real innocent and all, like they would just kiss and stuff, and then he would feel guilty and stop the whole thing.”
“That’s what I don’t like about preachers,” I say.
“Well, they’re just regular people. I mean, they cuss and swear and stuff just like the rest of us. I knew this one who used to mow my neighbor’s lawn. He owned a lawn care service, kind of like his real job cause the church didn’t pay shit. Pastor Dan’s Lawn Care or something like that. Anyway, so I used to see him mowing my neighbor’s lawn, and he’d get hung up in the grass or something and I could see him mumbling under his breath. Curse words.”
“So what? You cuss all the time.”
“Well, that’s my point. So preachers are just like us, except they have to hide it. Their sins or whatever. And then they have to feel guilty about it. So then they lie about it to cover it up.”
“Okay, forget what I was saying.”
“So they’re liars, too. That’s all I’m saying. Sorry, go ahead.”
“Well, anyway, long story short, the priest-preacher guy ends up screwing this girl right there in the church.”
“In the church?”
“Right on the altar.”
“That’s sick,” I say.
“Why is that sick? Sounds hot to me,” she says, lips curling. A part of me agrees with her. But somehow it strikes too close to home, something about it. Becky and I were married in a church, the one she grew up in. It was the last time I was in a church, eleven years ago next month. The thought of sex in a church somehow makes the affair dirtier.
“It just sounds kind of … I don’t know.”
“Sacrilegious?” she says.
“Yeah. I guess.”
“Since when do you care about religion?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care, I guess. So you want to fuck in a church?” The words stick in my mouth like phlegm.
“Well, you don’t have to make it sound so negative.”
“Sorry. So you want to make love in a church?” But we’re not making love. You can only make love with someone you love. I’m pretty sure that’s the definition. We’re just having sex.
“I don’t know. It’s just an idea,” she says.
“Well, all right.”
“All right, what?”
“Church-sex it is.”
I pull out of the parking lot, her hand resting on my crotch.
We’ve been driving around for twenty minutes, wasting time, trying to find a suitable venue. The Catholic church on 5th Street looked too formal, First Baptist too little, the community church too dirty.
“How about that one,” I say. “Beautiful windows. What’s the sign say?”
“Shut up. You think this is stupid don’t you?” She blushes.
I pull around the church to a small lot to the back of the building. From the rear it looks like an old apartment complex, straight lines of dirty windows, a couple of old stair cases leading up to doors. On the left is a modern addition, large stained glass windows, steeple protruding from the top, a holy phallic symbol. God has a sense of humor, too. Maybe this won’t be as bad as I think.
“Nice little church,” I say.
“Yep.” she says, “You got the rubber?”
I laugh out loud.
Entering the church is surprisingly easy, the back door left unlocked. For a brief instant I hesitate, trying to count the layers of sin we’re getting ourselves in to. But nobody will know. And nobody will get hurt. The way I see it, if God’s already pissed about what we’ve been doing so far, screwing in his place isn’t going to make much of a difference.
The building is only lit from the sunlight shining through the windows: a good sign. It’s Monday, lunch time. The little church Becky and I used to go to was rarely staffed throughout the week. I suspect this one’s the same.
“God, I haven’t been in a church in years,” I say, half whispering. It smells of old ladies, talcum and powder. Or is it flowers? I guide her down a little hallway to the right, an arrow pointing us in the direction of the Auditorium.
“I thought they called it a sanctuary,” she whispers.
“I guess that’s old fashioned. Churches have to keep up with the times too, I suppose.” The hallway forks: to the left, another hallway leading to the Church office, to the right, double doors.
“This must be it,” I say, my pulse throbbing in my temples.
“Do you think anybody’s here?” She whispers.
“It doesn’t matter,” I say, “Just as long as they don’t know we’re here.”
I edge the doors open, a slight cry coming from the hinges. It’s all been too easy, I think. If it were wrong, it wouldn’t be this easy. God could keep us out if he wanted to, right? I take a deep breath, the scent of Kayla’s hair engulfing my nostrils. I’m ready.
“God,” she says. “It’s beautiful.” She’s right. The room is circular, with pews inclined upward toward the back like a miniature stadium. The stage protrudes out from the front, adorned with flowers, unlit candles filling the gaps between them. Multi-colored sunlight streams through stained glass, resting in broken patterns throughout the room. My God. How beautiful.
She moves up the aisle, turning slowly, taking in the room. I follow her.
“I’ve never been in a church like this,” she says, her eyes enormous, big and delicate like rose petals.
“So, you ready?” I unbutton my collar.
“Oh. Yeah,” she says, eyes snapping back toward me. “I guess we need to hurry, don’t we?” There’s something in her voice.
“You don’t sound all that enthusiastic,” I say, “This isn’t what you had in mind?”
“No. I mean yeah, it is. Sort of.”
“Sort of? Look at this place … it’s wonderful. We found the perfect church. Nobody’s here but us. I mean, this is starting to sound fun even to me.” I unfasten my belt.
“I know. This place is great. It’s just different than I thought. I mean, I feel different. You know?”
No. I don’t know. All I know is that we have like ten minutes to get busy and then get the hell out of here. I’ve played her game. I just want to get this little experiment over with. The truth is the whole thing is a little creepy. Suddenly I’m aware of the itch of my collar resting on my neck.
She turns from me, pacing near the front row, her hands tugging slightly at her skirt.
“Do you ever … I don’t know. Feel guilty?” she asks. She doesn’t look at me.
“Yeah, like we’re doing something wrong?”
“Shit. I knew this was a bad idea.”
“I’m just asking.”
“No,” I say, “you’re just confused. Everything was fine, and then we come to this goddamn church and you get all moral on me.”
“So you do think it’s wrong. What we’ve been doing I mean.”
“Jesus, Kayla. I don’t know. We don’t have time for this.”
“Don’t get mad at me. I’m just thinking about things.”
“What kind of things?”
“I don’t know. About God, I guess.”
“Yeah. Amongst other things.”
“Okay, so, not to be rude, but my lunch break is almost over, and you said it had to be quick today anyway.”
“All right.” She sighs. She untucks her blouse.
“Oh, come on. Don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what? I’m just getting ready to do what we came here to do.”
“But you don’t want to. I can tell.” And If I were honest, I don’t want to either. Her face is flushed. She looks like she did the first time we slept together, curled up in bed at the Ramada. We talked that day, about guilt, about Becky, about Chris. We talked about keeping things simple, about leaving our emotions at home. We would never mention their names, never think about how they would feel. We would still have sex with them at home, even if we had to think about each other. And we did. And we have. But somehow, it feels like all of that is about to change.
“I don’t know. Can’t we just talk?” she asks.
I smile, refasten my belt, sit down on the front pew.
“So what’s there to talk about? You want to talk about God? Let’s talk about God.” I just want to get it all out in the open. You want us out of here, God? Prove it. No more secrets.
“Just forget it. You don’t have to be so sarcastic about everything.”
She sits down on a step leading up to the stage and hugs her knees.
“Sorry. I’m not trying to sound mean. It’s just … I don’t know. Aren’t you having fun? I thought we were just having a good time,” I say, only half-way believing myself.
“I know. It’s just starting to feel wrong. Don’t you ever feel that?”
I do. Of course I do.
“I don’t know,” I say. “We aren’t hurting anybody are we? They’ll never know.”
“They? You won’t even say their names,” she says, her eyes sharp, hard, like diamonds.
“Because we agreed not to.”
“But doesn’t that let you know that something isn’t right?”
“Damn it, Kayla. Everybody’s immoral. Don’t you get that? I mean, maybe me sleeping around on Becky isn’t the right thing to do. So what? Nobody gets hurt by it. I might even be doing her a favor.”
“Well, I mean, I come and meet up with you once or twice a week, and I’m satisfied. It takes stress off of her. You know?”
“Well, what if she’s taking stress off of you, too?”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I know exactly what that’s supposed to mean. She’s right, too. I think about it every day.
“Nothing. I just mean that you wouldn’t think that Becky was helping you out if she was screwing the mailman or something.”
“We shouldn’t be talking like this. We agreed not to talk like this.”
“Talk like how? Openly? Honestly?” she asks, staring at her feet.
“What are you trying to prove? I don’t know if you’re trying to make me feel bad, but it sure as hell isn’t working. Besides, you’re just as guilty as I am.”
“I know. Sorry. I’m just talking. I’m not accusing. I just want to know that we both really understand what we’re doing.”
“What’s there to understand?”She sits silently, head tilted backward, eyes toward the ceiling. Sunlight streaks across her bare legs, her skirt hiked midway up her thigh.
“I guess,” she says, “I guess I just want to know that we both understand that we’re wrong here. That what we’re doing is wrong.”
“And what good would that do? Admitting we’re wrong I mean.” Of course we’re wrong.
We’ve both known it all along. The fact is, sometimes pleasure trumps morality. I don’t make the rules, I just play by them.
“Well. I don’t know.” She looks at me, her eyes searching my face. “I guess if we really understand that it’s wrong, and we decide to keep doing it anyway … well, then there must be .… There has to be a good reason to do it. It would have to mean something, you know?”
“I’m not sure I’m following you,” I say.
She stands, the sunlight silhouetting her body. God, she’s beautiful.
“Do you love me?” she asks.
“What? You can’t be serious.”
“I want to know.”
“We agreed, Kayla. We promised we wouldn’t talk like this. We’re just supposed to be having fun. That’s it.”
“But that’s the problem,” she says, her voice cracking like I haven’t heard before. “Don’t you get it? It’s not fun anymore. And so there has to be something else. Something more.”I look away. I want to argue with her, tell her it is still fun, tell her she’s just thinking too much. But I can’t.
“I don’t know what I am supposed to say,” I tell her. And I really don’t.
“Tell me if you love me. Or not.”
“What does it matter?”
“I don’t know. Maybe love makes it okay. You know? Like, even though we know it’s wrong, it could still be worth it.”
I sit still, engulfed in the quiet, hating that damn church. Hating morality. Hating Love. Loving Kayla. Not really Kayla. The idea of Kayla. The girl that’s out of my reach, beyond me. I look at her, a single strand of hair curling over her eyes, and I know I’ll never really have her. I know I never really did.
“You really believe that shit?” I ask. “That love makes it all okay?”
“Well …” She says. “Well, if not love … then what?”
I want to go to her. I want to hold her. But all I can do is sit still, watching the speckled sunlight dance over her body.
Nathan Gower lives in Charlestown, IN with his wife and daughter, both brilliant. An MFA graduate from Spalding University, he currently teaches composition and creative writing at Ivy Tech Community College. A writer of short fiction, critical essays, several failed-but-attempted screenplays, and an occasional poem, his work has recently appeared in the literary journals Connections and Paradigm.