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About the author:
Eve Saint writes about what she knows: sex. She paid her way through college working as call girl and performed (briefly) in adult movies but quit because of the monotony. Eve reports on all things sexual for a prominent online magazine.
What inspired you to write your book?
Experiences I had as an elite call girl.
Here is a short sample from the book:
“Every harlot was a virgin once.”
― William Blake
The call from the policeman dragged me from the clutches of a powerfully erotic dream and if my husband, Edward, hadn’t been barely a third of the way into the nearly twenty-four-hour flight from Sydney, Australia—he flew regularly and without qualms, I was the nervous one, left skittish in the empty vastness of our Midwestern bed—I would have ignored the telephone.
But, fearful of aging fuselages reduced to crumpled foil by metal fatigue and terrorist bombs cunningly assembled to evade sniffer dogs and airport X-ray machines, I fought myself from the dream, clicking on the lamp—2:20 a.m.—as I fumbled for the telephone.
Later I would ponder the significance of this life-changing call coupled with the intoxicatingly vivid—and frankly adulterous—dream.
I need to make it clear that I am not much of a dreamer.
I am not one of those who have almost total recall of their night fancies.
The best I can do is to snatch at a blurred fragment while surfacing in the morning, a fragment that always seems to burn away like gossamer in the light of day.
A trait that had pleased my husband.
Edward’s first wife, Beatrice, had been a self-indulgent dreamer and had numbed him over endless breakfasts as she regurgitated in painful and Proustian detail the narratives of her—he assured me—entirely trivial and murderously dull nocturnal episodes.
So, this dream was unusual both in its vividness and in its content.
I was presented, in claustrophobic close-up, with the crotch of a man dressed in a pair of black vicuña suit pants—how I knew the type of fabric I cannot say, but it would be relevant later. The man was aroused and from the way his engorged penis stretched the wool of his pants it was clear he had not troubled with underwear.
Two hands entered, their painted nails bringing a splash of color to the previously monochrome frame. I knew they were my hands despite the plasma-colored nail varnish—I never painted my nails, just as I seldom used make-up—from the wedding band and engagement ring on the fourth finger of my left hand.
Modest, understated rings.
When Edward had presented them to me I’d feigned pleasure but I’d felt a momentary, guilt-filled pang of disappointment.
I would have loved something gaudier, heavier, bigger.
These dream hands of mine were busy unbuckling a tooled leather belt, brushing against the swell of the penis, feeling its pulse through the wool fabric. The belt released with a soft clink and when I freed the single button from its eye I was presented with the cold gleam of the zipper. Fingering the pull-tab, an icy little teardrop, my hand brushed that fleshy swelling, feeling the throb beneath the wool.
Even before it was revealed to me I knew this was not my husband’s penis.
This was not Edward’s oh-so-familiar member: a cheerful, cuddly, unthreatening thing that inspired pet names that Edward, despite his stolidness, seemed to find endearing: Mr. Happy, Little Ed and (somewhat satirically) Stretch.
No, this hugely swollen tube grew from the impressively flat lower belly of a stranger, and its sheer, menacing bulk prompted no terms of endearment.
This—I have no other words—was a fucking machine.
My hands shook as they opened the zipper, its teeth making a little purr of pleasure as they gaped.
Freed, the violently tumescent penis surged toward me: long and thick with a filigree of veins twisting up to its swollen tip, a pearly ooze of fluid dripping from the slit.
This cock released a scent, something earthy and peaty: fresh, loamy earth turned after a thunderstorm.
I felt strong hands seize my hair and my mouth was drawn ever closer to the shaft of hot meat when the phone rang.
I tried to ignore it, my fingers at play on my swollen clitoris, my juices soaking my pajama bottoms, making my inner thighs sticky as treacle.
But the telephone won and the dream—and with it the masterful penis—receded, replaced by the comfortable dullness of my marital bedroom as (feeling the burn of hot shame on my cheeks) I fumbled for the receiver, seeing my pale, unpainted fingers glistening with my own fluids in the slightly dingy lamp light.
As I got the phone to my ear and croaked a greeting, a male voice, cool, detached (the voice of authority) identified itself as belonging to sergeant somebody and asked, “Is this Mrs. Ann Burr?”
“This is she,” I said, my heart already filled with the dread of what was to come.
Steeling myself for the details of a passenger jet reduced to confetti, strewn across the black infinity of the Pacific.
But the policeman surprised me when he asked, “Are you the sister of Ms. Zoë Temple?”
I was tempted to say I had no sister, as I’d said to my twin the last time I saw her, grabbing my purse and quitting that pretentious coffee shop in the city, Zoë’s eyes never leaving her make-up mirror as she fixed her perfect lipstick, the dismissive click of her compact robbing my grand exit of any power.
But, of course, I said, “Yes. Yes, I am.”
I had never been in a peep show booth, but I felt a powerfully voyeuristic sensation as I stood at the glass window and watched the morgue attendant hover over the sheet-covered corpse on the gurney.
The uniformed female police officer at my side asked me if I were ready and when I said I was—in a voice that was admirably level—she nodded and the attendant peeled the sheet away from the face of my identical twin.
Seeing that dead face prompted a rush of emotion so profound that my knees buckled and I had to send out a hand to the wall to steady myself.
The woman took my arm.
“Are you okay, Mrs. Burr?”
“Yes,” I said, filling my lungs with air thick with formalin and something more sinister that I didn’t care to name.
But of course I wasn’t okay.
For the dead features I had seen—covered again by the attendant who read my shocked reaction as a formal identification of the corpse—had not been those of Zoë.
They had been my own.
Zoë and I are—were—monozygotic twins but from puberty onward the almost uncanny physical resemblance had waned, largely due to my sister’s determination to take what nature had given us and accentuate it with make-up, fashionable haircuts and revealing outfits.
I, on the other hand, had become a bluestocking, hiding my body beneath shapeless clothes, leaving my hair unstyled and lank.
In our high school corridor one day I overheard two thuggish boys discussing us, wondering how Zoë could be so hot and I could be so, well, not. They had used more graphic terms; words that—despite being spoken by a pair of troglodytes—had stung me.
Words that had driven me deeper into plainness, ignoring—erasing, in fact—the comeliness that Zoë worked so assiduously at accentuating.
No sexual smolder rose from me like heat from blacktop.
There was no promise in my dark eyes.
I made it a badge of pride to disguise my leggy height with a slouch, hiding my disconcertingly plump breasts beneath bulky, masculine shirts, spending time improving my mind while Zoë did the opposite: drawn to boys, alcohol and recreational drugs.
None of these dimmed her beauty; if anything they heightened her allure.
Zoë was besieged by suitors eager to take her to the prom. She’d laughed them off, spending the night with college sophomores at a frat party.
I was not invited to the prom and retreated to my bedroom, reading Emily Dickenson, pretending not to hear the whispers of my parents or see the looks on their faces: equal parts sympathy and mortification.
When my mother ventured into my room with a tub of ice cream—the comfort food cliché in its full suburban glory—and a series of platitudes about how I was late to bloom but would flower yet and how the late rose is the most fragrant, I had taken a metaphorical pair of secateurs to her stumbling blandishments and sent her on her way, chastened and hurt.
I was not the popular daughter.
Even though Zoë caused my parents anxiety and anguish, they—and the world—could not but be charmed by her.
I, alone, was not.
I had never loved my sister and her death left me, frankly, cold.
But the sight of that face, scrubbed clean of make-up, damp hair swept back during the preparations for this viewing, affected me profoundly.
It was like looking at myself in death’s mirror.
And the grief and sadness I felt was not for my dead twin, it was for me; as if I had a sudden reckoning of all the years I had spent avoiding life, making myself small.
Making myself invisible.
I turned away from the glass and walked down the corridor, the cop in her chunky uniform dogging my heels, droning on about me having to brief an undertaker to remove Zoë’s body.
I nodded, secure in the knowledge that I could leave those details to my efficient husband, who, on his return in a few hours, would be, as he always was, the barrier between me and the bruising world.
At a desk near the door of the morgue I was asked to sign for a plastic bag containing Zoë’s effects. The bag was discreetly opaque and I had no impulse to peer inside.
Just as I’d had no desire to see the rest of Zoë’s body beneath the sheet.
I’d been told that she’d been killed instantly in a single-vehicle accident on the parkway near the college. Her snarling little German convertible had skidded on the rain-slick asphalt and rolled three times before tying itself like a bow around a tree.
Despite the seatbelt and the airbag Zoë had died of undisclosed internal injuries.
I signed for my dead twin’s things and left the morgue, sitting for a moment behind the wheel of my Volvo listening to the light tap of rain on the roof, drops like tears trickling down the windshield, mocking my dry ducts.
There would be no tears for Zoë.
In the ten years since we had both left home—Zoë to trawl the glittering canyons of the city for the endless sensations she craved, me to spend years pursuing (but never quite snagging) a PhD at a minor East Coast college—we had seen each other only three times.
At our parents’ funeral—the two of them left dead in their bed when a leaking gas heater asphyxiated them—Zoë had arrived in a black Chanel outfit and huge sunglasses reminiscent of Camelot-era Jackie Kennedy, and stood smoking at the graveside during the eulogy before grinding the butt dead under an absurdly high heel, turning and flouncing off, all male eyes (even the toad-like reverend’s) glued to the undulations of her haunches.
I hadn’t invited her to my wedding despite the curiosity of my husband-to-be, but she’d got wind of it somehow and sailed into the reception at Edward’s country club, lit up by more than alcohol, a faint chemical induced sheen on her forehead.
She sneered at me and tongue kissed my new husband during a dance so salacious that it had the staid guests as scandalized (and titillated, no doubt) as if they’d been treated to a live sex show.
Zoë abandoned the groom in mid-song, the usually imperturbable Edward left standing on the dance floor mouth agape and bowtie unraveled, as she—again—made one of her grand exits, the satyr-like drummer in the wedding band smashing his cymbals orgasmically in time to her louche prowl.
The last time we’d met had been by coincidence.
I had been forced into the city to interview a visiting Dickenson scholar at her hotel, to interrogate her for the monograph that I had been writing for more years than I care to say; the doctorate that had once seemed all important looking more and more like a chimera.
I’d left the hotel after an arid half hour. The woman had been grudging in her insights, storing her pearls—no doubt—for some book of her own.
As I took to the sidewalk I felt a presence beside me, close enough to be a purse snatcher.
But it was Zoë, sneering down at me from her heeled height, calling me “big sister”—I was the firstborn by two minutes—and suggesting a cocktail.
Some vague curiosity stopped me from fleeing. I refused the drink, pointing instead to a cloying little coffee shop.
The meeting was not a success.
Zoë’s beauty was untarnished but the years had hardened her like temperature and pressure harden a diamond and her conversation amounted to nothing more than sarcasm and slights directed at me and “hubby” and our comfortably bourgeoisie suburban life.
Finally a snipe at my husband’s age—Edward is twenty-three years my senior—and presumed sexual inadequacy had driven me to my feet declaring that she was no sister of mine as I prepared to make, for once, the grand exit.
Zoë’s business with the make-up compact, her mouth gaping wetly as she applied red lipstick in what can only be described as a grotesque parody of oral sex, before she closed the compact with that dismissive little click, left me blushing and flustered, barging my way out onto the busy sidewalk, swearing to never again be in the company of my vile twin.
And, until that night at the morgue, I never was.
Sitting in my car outside the grim building, in the rain, I felt suddenly exhausted.
It was after 4 a.m. and the forty minute trip back to our leafy, almost rural suburb seemed beyond me.
Then I remembered seeing Zoë’s address on the paperwork I’d signed: an apartment block not five minutes from the morgue.
I clicked on the Volvo’s dome light and opened the plastic bag, delving beneath Zoë’s clothes and underwear—my fingers curling in revulsion at the caress of a flimsy silk G-string, my mind banishing thoughts of dank secretions—and found a chain with car and door keys.
I was too tired to drive on the slick roads, I told myself.
I would go to Zoë’s apartment and sleep. Then I would return home in time for Edward’s arrival from the airport.
I started the Volvo and drove through the city, the wipers mewling on the window glass, the tires hissing on the wet road, echoing the whispery voice that was hot at my ear, a voice urging me to visit the lair of my dead twin, urging me to see what her life had come to in these last years.
How very, very little I knew . . .
Zoë’s apartment was in a new block in the recently refurbished downtown area of the city. A plastic disc on her keychain sent a boom rearing skyward, allowing me access to the underground parking lot. I sought out Zoë’s bay—her German convertible would by now be lying like a twist of discarded tinsel in a wrecker’s yard—and left the Volvo in the company of sleek sedans and towering SUVs, taking the elevator up to the eleventh floor, the building almost post-apocalyptically empty of noise or visible human presence.
I walked down a corridor paved in cold stone and let myself into her apartment.
After a moment’s fumbling I found a switch that ignited a bank of ceiling lights.
If I had expected an adult version of Zoë’s teenage bedroom—a stew of soiled sheets, tangled clothes and uncapped cosmetics—I was disappointed.
The open plan apartment was as clean, neat—and anonymous—as a recently serviced hotel room.
Standing at the front door I had a view through to the kitchen (just one wine glass upended in a drying rack) and the living room where characterless modern chairs and a couch bowed before a huge, wall-mounted TV.
The bedroom and its en suite bathroom were as tidy and soulless as the other rooms, the double bed neatly made, the bathroom sink and mirror scrubbed and gleaming. An inspection of the cabinet behind the mirror revealed nothing more exotic than over-the-counter headache medication.
I returned to the bedroom and opened the built in closet, the door releasing with a little kiss. The rails were crammed with the expensive clothes that Zoë had favored. There were dozens of pairs of shoes standing in neat formation, all, it seemed, with vertiginous heels.
Suddenly overwhelmed by fatigue I slumped down on the bed, still wearing my hoodie and sneakers, and was asleep by the time my head touched the comforter.
For the second time in a few hours, a telephone woke me.
This time it was a cellphone—not mine I realized as I surfaced from sleep, taking a moment to remember where I was.
This was a jazzy ringtone coming from the bag of Zoë’s things that I had dumped on the floor before I slept.
The phone fell silent and I sat up on the bed and looked at my watch. It was nearly 8 a.m.
If I didn’t hurry I would be late for Edward.
My phone, wedged into my coat pocket, bonged as it received a text message.
I retrieved the phone and saw that it was from my husband.
He’d landed but had been called immediately into an urgent meeting to “debriefed” by his “principles”.
This wasn’t uncommon.
Edward had never bored me with the exact nature of his business—Insurance? Assurance? Was there a difference?—but I knew that he was the trusted point man in setting up national and international deals that kept him away much of the time.
He concluded his text by saying said he would see me in the afternoon.
As I stood, my body tight from the cramped position I’d fallen asleep in, I wandered across to the window and opened the curtains, letting in the gray winter light, looking down at the dance of traffic on the muffled streets of this drab little city, a grid of unimposing buildings seemingly sprouting at random from the endless prairie.
Why had Zoë, with her beauty and her insatiable appetites, stayed here?
Why hadn’t she fled to New York or Los Angeles?
Perhaps some shrewd insight had allowed her to understand that here in this backwater she would shine as she never could in a more sophisticated metropolis, where the competition would be fiercer and grow younger every year.
The phone in the bag rang again. A spike of curiously had me reaching for it.
Perhaps it would give me more of a clue to my dead twin’s life than this faceless apartment was able to.
I felt a spark of amusement when I saw the name Edward on caller ID.
So, my twin had had an Edward in her life, too . . .
“Yes?” I said.
“Yes,” I said again, not quite allowing myself to acknowledge that this man’s voice was terrifyingly familiar to me.
“I want to see you,” Edward—my Edward—said.
My voice froze in my throat.
“Zoë? Are you there?” Edward asked.
“Yes,” I said in barely more than a whisper, “I’m here.”
It wasn’t him, of course.
It couldn’t be.
It was just some bizarre coincidence, a little cosmic joke.
This man, this faux Edward, would say something that would make me realize how silly I had been and I would end the call and retrieve my matronly Volvo from the parking lot and drive out to our house in time greet my thick waisted, balding husband, who could never in a million years be an adulterer.
But Edward said, “Look, I’ve told Ann that I’m in a meeting until after lunch, so why don’t I meet you at The Grand at nine? I’ll text you the room number when I’ve made the reservation.”
“Okay,” I heard myself say, and then Edward—my husband, my protector, my rock—was gone and I was sitting on the bed trying to reel in the spiraling tatters of my life.
When I stepped into the unoccupied elevator heady with the scent of cinnamon rolls and coffee, I almost surrendered to tears for the first time. The spicy fragrance triggered the powerful memory of a ritual that had been mine and my husband’s: on a Sunday morning—if he were home and free of work—Edward would drive to a nearby Starbucks and return with rolls, coffee and The New York Times and we would lie in bed and drink and eat and cuddle as we gossiped our way through the news of the day.
I forced back tears and inspected myself in the elevator mirror as I descended.
Unable to face my unfaithful husband in the shapeless hoodie and sweatpants—no, some armor was needed—I’d showered, trying to keep my hair clear of the power nozzle, and raided Zoë’s closet for clothes that wouldn’t be too alien to me.
I’d found a charcoal cashmere sweater, a pair of understated black designer jeans and—miraculously—a pair of flat-soled leather calf boots.
Lingerie proved to be more of a challenge.
My taste in underwear ran to virginal bras and panties, Zoë’s was all about lace and satin—brassiere’s gashed low to allow acres of cleavage, thongs and G-strings so skimpy that she must’ve submitted regularly to the ordeal of pube topiary.
My garden, shall we say, was left to run wild, so I needed something less revealing.
At last I found a black bra that wasn’t too uplifting and a pair of pants that covered more than they flaunted.
I dressed, brushed my hair—after first removing a few dark twists so like my own from the bristles of the brush—and cleaned my teeth with toothpaste on a fingertip, the thought of using Zoë’s toothbrush far too intimate.
The bathroom mirror showed me a fine-featured woman in her late twenties, her pale skin free of make-up. On impulse I reached for a tube of lipstick—something coral—and smudged just a little on the lips that nature had designed in a full pout: something that Zoë had worked to her advantage, and I, as a teenager, had tried to hide by chewing my nails and gnawing at a strand of my lank hair.
But, as Edward had so often told me—the memory of his voice on Zoë’s cellphone had me clutching the sink until the weakness in my knees subsided—they were beautiful lips, and the little smear of color enhanced them and seemed to hide the tremor of threatening tears that made me feel childlike and weak.
I considered a little blush for my cheeks but a sudden flash of anger had me dropping the rouge palette into the porcelain sink.
This was not about seduction.
I bundled my soiled clothes and sneakers into a shopping bag I found in the kitchen, locked Zoë’s apartment and journeyed down to the parking lot in the fragrant elevator.
The Grand Hotel was only three blocks away and I parked the Volvo at a discreet distance and watched the hand of my wristwatch creep toward 9 a.m.
As it touched the IX numeral my courage failed me and I started the car, ready to rush home and pretend that none of this had happened.
But my shaking hands found the key again and I stilled the engine.
I had to do this.
I stood up out of the Volvo, waited for a wheezing and shuddering bus to rumble past, and crossed one of the wide roads that are a feature of this city—creating blustery tunnels for the freezing winds that blast down from the frozen north—checking the sidewalk outside The Grand Hotel for a sign of Edward.
There was none.
Glass doors retreated from me and as I stepped into the overheated lobby I hesitated, unsure of the procedure to follow.
As promised Edward had texted the room number—804—to Zoë’s phone but as I edged toward the desk I had no idea how to announce myself.
The desk clerk—the pixie-faced spawn of transplanted Scandinavians—looked up and favored me with a small nod of recognition.
“Good to see you again, madam,” he said as he slid a keycard across to me.
How many times, I wondered, had my husband and my sister come to this hotel?
How many times had I been deceived?
I took the card, walking with it across to the bank of elevators where a tour group of low-slung Orientals chattered as they waited to be levitated to their rooms.
Even though my height made me conspicuous I was pleased to be among them, pleased to let this little gush of humanity wash me into the elevator.
I stepped out into the carpeted hush of the eighth floor corridor and followed the signs to 804.
At the door I paused and had to overcome the desire to turn tail and bolt.
Was Edward already inside?
In case he was, I steeled myself before I slipped the keycard into its slot and heard the mechanism click almost salaciously.
I pushed open the door.
Cold light muted by lace curtains fell on a room that was empty and silent.
Taking a chair wedged between the bed and TV set, away from the window, my face in shadow, I sat and waited for my husband.
I met Edward Burr in a bookstore.
Shortly after my twenty-second birthday the double death of my parents had brought me home from the East and when Zoë, in a curt telephone call, made it clear that she was dodging all responsibilities, I was tasked with the painful business of burying my mother and father, settling their will and disposing of my childhood home.
For the first few days I was back I’d stayed at the house but it had proved too traumatizing so, after the funeral, I moved to a B&B a few blocks away.
Each afternoon I would retreat to a nearby bookstore to browse and read, soothed by the warmth trapped between the rows of neatly stacked shelves.
I was sitting in the coffee shop of the bookstore—was I nibbling at a cinnamon roll?—reading a newly-purchased copy of The Bostonians (a book I had scandalously neglected) when a wave of grief and panic caused a sudden fall of tears.
I lay the Henry James on the table, hunting in my purse for tissues, when I heard a voice say, “May I offer you this?”
I looked up into the broad—homely, I suppose—face of a much older man, who was holding out a dazzlingly clean, perfectly pressed handkerchief.
My father had been the only man I’d known who still used handkerchiefs and this made me decide that the gesture of this stranger was to be trusted.
Honking like a Canada Goose I buried my nose in the linen, inhaling the pleasantly antiseptic smell of starch. Edward waved a soft, pink hand when I tried to return his hankie.
He is no lounge lizard, so how he managed to so gracefully persuade me to join him at his table still amazes me.
He plied me with coffee and his reassuring presence got me opening up about my grief and the (to me) overwhelming responsibilities I faced.
Edward regarded me over steepled fingers and said, “I think you’re in need of a guardian angel.”
I managed a laugh. “Do you know of any fluttering about?”
He pointed at his chest. “Me.”
And he was.
Edward was superbly connected in the city and he guided me effortlessly though the painful business I had to complete. He introduced me to lawyers and realtors of the “utmost probity” and the unpleasant process went more smoothly than I could ever have dreamed.
And in those weeks Edward became indispensable.
His own story surfaced in portions as discreet as those served in the hushed restaurants he took to escorting me to after guiding me through grinding days of the probate process or advising me on death taxes.
He was recently divorced.
He was childless and a singleton orphan.
On the subject of his career all he allowed was that he was in “risk management”. The most voluble he became on the subject was when, one night after a few glasses of wine, he hinted that his success had come from having the stomach to underwrite risks others found too dangerous.
He smiled at me over his glass and in that moment I glimpsed the steel in Edward that his business opponents—perhaps those he absorbed in hostile takeovers—would have recognized all too late.
That night, at his apartment in the city, we became lovers.
Did I mention that I was a virgin when I met Edward?
Well, I was.
In high school, while my twin had spread her legs wide, I’d kept my knees together and my nose to the grindstone. At college there were no keg parties and campus high-jinks for me and I found the few spotty boys who sniffed at me repulsive.
So, that night when he took me into his bed, Edward was my first.
And he was gentle, sweet and attentive.
Everything I wanted in a man.
Or so I persuaded myself.
Less than a year later I married my portly risk manager and let him take me to live in the house that had been in his family for generations, that had once stood on acres of farmland before his canny grandfather had parceled it off for development, making himself and his descendents very wealthy.
Did I love Edward?
In my way, I think I did.
But the emotion I had felt most strongly for him was the one I prized above all others.
I had trusted him.
I had trusted him completely.
The lock sucked, clicked and whirred and Edward stepped into the hotel room.
Part of me was still in denial, still hoping that this was all some bizarre mistake, but seeing him there, in the flesh, hammered the nail of reality deep into my heart.
I felt a jolt low in my innards and my bladder released a few drops of urine into my—or rather Zoë’s—panties.
I tightened the muscles of my pelvic floor, sitting upright and crossing my legs, hearing the whisper of the denim.
Edward stared at me as he closed the door and I waited for shock and mortification to reach his meaty face.
Instead he smiled, or rather sneered, and said, “My God, Zoë, you get better and better. You could almost be her.”
He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and withdrew an envelope which he slung onto the bed beside my chair.
“The formalities,” he said, walking into the bathroom.
Without closing the door he clanged up the lid of the toilet and proceeded to drill a noisy stream into the bowl. How could this be my husband, a man almost neurotically private when it came to his bodily functions? A man who never used our en suite, repairing instead to his own bathroom down the hall where sound and smell was hidden from me?
As he emptied his bladder I reached for the envelope.
It was unsealed and gaped on a wad of hundred dollar bills.
So, not only had my husband been cheating on me with my twin, he had been keeping her, too.
Rage tore through the hurt and humiliation that shrouded me and I had to stop myself from running into the bathroom and striking Edward.
I calmed myself with a few deep breaths as he rinsed his hands at the sink, observing, at least, that civility.
Edward walked back into the room, tossing his suit jacket on the bed as he crossed to the minibar.
Grunting, he bent to the refrigerator and selected a tiny bottle of vodka. There was a sharp crack as he uncapped it and I watched in astonishment as he lifted the bottle to his lips and emptied it in one long draft.
Edward, who in all the years I had known him had drunk nothing stronger than wine . . .
Setting down the empty bottle Edward tore the tie from his neck as is if it were a snake throttling him and threw it onto the floor. It was the one I had bought him on our last anniversary: a peau de soie with slanted white stripes against a charcoal background.
“Jesus, that was a fucking bitch of a flight,” he said, freeing the top button of his shirt.
I stared up at the stranger who had somehow invaded my husband’s body—Edward, who when confronted by a road hog or rude service personnel was occasionally heard to matter a “damn” or a “hell.”
He loomed over me and I knew it had to come, the recognition.
But it didn’t.
He stood with his hands on his wide hips, gazing down at me, his jowls blue with beard and his breath dyspeptic.
What he did next astonished me most of all.
In a grotesque travesty of the dream I’d had the night before he unzipped his pants, delved inside and freed his penis, which pointed at me like an accusing finger.
He shoved it toward my mouth and when I turned my face in disgust he laughed.
“Playing hard to get, are we?”
He reached down and grabbed my arms above the elbows, hauling me from the chair and flinging me on my back on the bed. Before I could stop him he pulled off my boots and dragged the jeans down my legs.
Surely, now, he must see my deception.
That I was his wife.
But he didn’t.
He was panting with arousal and I watched, stunned, as he conjured a condom from his pants pocket and rolled it onto his penis with shocking deftness.
Then he approached me and spun me onto my belly, tearing off my panties. He pulled my haunches to him and thrust himself inside me, his sawing breath hot and rank on my neck.
I felt pain.
Physical pain and something deeper, more profound.
When I could take no more and pushed him away, twisting onto my back, I saw that my maneuver had excited him and he ripped the condom free of his penis and straddled me, pumping his hand wildly, the mauve tip of his glans brushing my lips.
It was when I reached up to shove that throbbing thing away that Edward saw the scar on my right pulse—a bicycle accident as a child had left a pale fissure suggestive of the letter E. “See, darling, life branded you as mine long before we met,” my husband had liked to whisper as he kissed the keloid tissue—and blurted “Jesus Christ!” both in astonishment and to mark the act of his ejaculation: spraying a few clotted squirts across my face in a timid parody of what I would later learn (yes, dear reader, there are many steamy pits still to be trawled) is called the “money shot” in pornographic films.
Edward reared back, almost tumbling from the bed, his wilting thing retreating into his pants like a salted slug.
He stared at me in shock and confusion, slack jawed, his breath coming in shallow sips.
I wondered if he may be having a heart attack.
But that was impossible, I told myself.
He had no heart.
Somehow this little bon mot cheered me and gave me the strength to wipe Edward’s slime from my face with his tie and stand and retrieve my borrowed jeans and boots.
My husband’s eyes, blinking as wildly if he were experiencing an epileptic episode, never left my face.
When I had dressed, I sat in the chair and spoke for the first time.
“I think you owe me an explanation, Edward.”
He nodded, gasped, and ran a hand through his thinning hair. “Where’s Zoë?”
He gaped at me. “Dear God, Ann, you didn’t—?”
I had to laugh. “No, Edward, I didn’t kill her. She took care of that herself, speeding herself into a tree in that silly little convertible that I assume you bought her.”
Edward, suddenly an old man, his voice tremulous, said, “My God. My God.”
He closed his eyes and massaged the bridge of his nose.
His eyes opened as slowly as those of a subject being released from hypnosis and he fixed me with an unfocused gaze.
“The authorities notified you?”
“Yes. I was listed as her next of kin.”
“So her cell phone was amongst her . . . her effects?”
“What a sorry fiasco.”
I inclined my head. “How long has it been going on, Edward?”
“This affair of yours?”
Edward looked as if I had slapped him, then some of his old poise returned.
“Don’t be absurd, Ann. Zoë and I weren’t having an affair.”
I waved a hand around the room. “Well, you weren’t meeting here to play Monopoly.”
He smiled sourly and stood, adjusting his flies, reaching for his tie and palming the limp condom that lay in the shape of a question mark on the comforter.
“You’re not leaving are you?” I asked.
He shook his head, lifting his jacket from where it had fallen to the carpet in a heap.
“No, I’ll tell you everything. Please allow me a moment.”
He walked heavy footed to the bathroom and this time he closed the door. I heard the toilet flush and the sound of running water.
After a few minutes the Edward who returned was more the man I had known for nearly a decade.
His hair was combed.
His necktie was in place.
He wore his jacket.
Taking the chair across from me he crossed his hands in his lap.
“Zoë was a call girl. A prostitute.”
A dismissive grunt escaped from deep in my throat. “Is that the best you can do?”
He shrugged his narrow shoulders. “I’m telling you the truth, Ann. I understand your outrage—”
“—but please allow me to speak.”
I waved a hand and he continued.
“Around two years ago I was entertaining associates at a restaurant here in the city. When business was concluded and they departed I thought I’d allow myself a drink at the bar. As I approached the counter I was shocked to see you sitting there.” He held up a hand. “Of course it wasn’t you, but for just a second I believed it was. Needless to say, it was Zoë.”
“And she recognized you?”
“Oh, yes. Instantly. When I decided to withdraw she stood and blocked my path and told me that if I ever wanted to see what I’d been missing—her exact words—I should call her. She slipped a card into my breast pocket.” Edward retrieved his wallet from his jacket, opened it and removed a small white cardboard rectangle which he held out to me. “This card.”
When I looked at it I couldn’t prevent a bitter laugh.
All that was printed on the face, in a neutral font, was the name Ann and a telephone number.
“She worked under my name?”
He nodded. “Yes, she did. Is there any need to probe the psychology of that?”
“No,” I said, “there is not.”
“I’m ashamed to admit that the encounter left me somewhat disturbed.”
“Disturbed or aroused?”
His mouth twitched. “Both.”
“So you contacted her?”
“I did. Of course, I made it clear from the start that I could never call her Ann.”
“How very loyal of you, dear Edward.”
He sighed. “What happened, happened. A series of sordid transactions in this very hotel.”
“You’re not going to insult me by telling me that those transactions meant nothing?”
He shook his head and to his credit he looked me straight in the eye.
“No, I won’t do that. I will admit that those encounters with Zoë were powerfully erotic. As you know my sexual experience was very limited when we met.”
“Oh, but do I know that, Edward? In the light of all this?”
“Believe me, Ann, it’s true. When I was with Zoë I could become someone else for a few hours. Someone other than quiet, conservative, inhibited Edward Burr.”
“And you encouraged Zoë to present herself as a more earthy, sexually rapacious version of me?”
He shrugged. “There was an element of role play, yes.”
My equilibrium slipped and when I felt a tear well in the corner of my right eye I swiped at it with a finger.
I would not cry.
I would not.
“Wasn’t I enough for you?”
“Ann, of course you were. Are.”
“I think we should stick to the past tense, Edward.”
When he tried to take my hand I rose, standing with my back to the flocked wall paper, my arms folded.
“You do understand that this is a risk you should never have taken?”
“Of course and I beg your forgiveness.”
I shook my head. “Don’t bother. Perhaps in time I’ll forgive you your weakness and your deceit, but I will never, ever, be able to trust you again.”
“Annie, please, I’m truly sorry,” he said, standing.
“I’ll move out of your house and make no claim on it during the divorce proceedings.”
“But I will count on your generosity.”
Deflated, he sank back into his chair. “Of course.”
Reaching past him I grabbed the envelope filled with money.
“And I’m taking this. I earned it.”
I walked out of the hotel room and out of the safe and cautious life I had so carefully assembled for all those years.