And Where is Georgia Now?
The nondescript houses huddling together in the early winter dusk reminded me, even in my anger, of overweight old ladies whose corsets had lost some of their stiffening.
I found the address. Unbelievable. That tired house? I couldn't picture John going into it. Our warm, red brick, shuttered and landscaped, superimposed itself over the building in front of me.
I tripped on an uneven piece of cement in the sidewalk and climbed the outside steps that were dished from years of wear and warp. I didn't knock. There must be an inside stair.
The outdoor dusk was reduced to a thick gloom by the film of soot on the porch windows. I had to wait until I penetrated the gloom to see the stairs leading up.
Well. I was shaky, and I took a deep breath to steady myself.
Eight years she'd been nibbling crumbs from the edges of my disintegrating marriage; eight years I'd been aware of it. I'd been, by turns, outraged, then pleading. Threatening, then begging. ("John, make a choice, for God's sake." "I don't have a choice. She knows I love you." "Then give her up. I can't live like this.") But I had. I should have gone to see her long ago.
("Don't you see, I need her, too.?" "What for?" "I can't answer that.")
I hadn't known until twenty minutes ago that she was living here, in my town.
("If I ever see her, I'll kill her." "You don't mean that." "Try me. Just keep her away from here." "Don't worry. She's two hundred miles away and that's where she'll stay.") But she hadn't.
The bitterness I'd built up during all the years I'd known about her was a living pulse that took me by the hand. It put me in my car, shifted into reverse and backed out of the drive, steered out of our comfortable suburb, stopped for the lights on the main street that funneled toward the old, downtown section, and unerringly pulled me up in front of this...this dump.
And up that stairs, was Georgia. The woman he'd picked up in a bar somewhere upstate five days after our youngest son was born; the woman he'd lied about and cheated for, the one who'd traveled the state with him as his wife while I kept house and answered his business telephone and took care of his children. The woman he'd admitted was 'terrific in bed.'
("You'd say that to your wife?" "It's the truth.")
The stairs were arthritic; she had to hear me coming. I heard the bolt click shut on her door at the top of the stairs before I'd gone five steps. Damn the creaks!
("What is she? A parasite?" "What do you mean by that?" "Is she nothing on her own? There's no future with you. Or is there?" "No, I suppose not."
"Then why?") Why creaked up the stairs with me.
I knocked. No response. Not so much as a rustle. ("She's had an operation, you know. She's in a cast up to one knee." "Tough." "You could show a little sympathy." "I hope she suffers every minute of every day.")
I knocked again, louder. No response from inside, but I felt the downstairs apartment fall into a listening silence.
("You'd like her if you knew her. You have some things in common." "What, besides you?")
Infuriated, I spoke clearly, slowly, and very loudly: "If you don't open this door, I'll bring the police."
Rustle, clump; rustle, clump. Scritch of bolt. A sliver of light widened from her door.
("She's not as pretty as you." "But she's all woman." "Yes, she is that. And she needs me.")
The voice shook. "Come in."
I did. She clumped to the couch and sagged onto it, watching me warily.
"Relax. I won't hurt you," I said. "I came to give you these." I flung into her lap the pictures I'd found in John's suit coat pocket: three nude Polaroid shots with her address and telephone number on the back of one. The pictures were probably John's idea of nude art; I thought them really extremely poor taste. Her in front of a Christmas tree. (Here? I looked around. It didn't seem likely.) lifting a glass of wine, a look on her face that I considered stupid (I suppose she thought it was sexy); same smirk, different background, outdoors (God knew where) and one more, a real charmer, same look, same tilt of the head, on a motel bed somewhere. Yuk.
"I didn't want my fifteen-year-old to find these, too. He saw the last batch." ("Davie found these, John." "I'm sorry about that." "Sorry! Damn it! Keep that stuff OUT OF THIS HOUSE! DO YOU HEAR ME? DO YOU?" "I hear you." "If I ever find any more of this-this garbage!-I'll personally deliver it to her if it takes me a year to find her. Do you hear me? Personally!")
And here I was.
She flapped an arm, a little vacantly, knocking one of the pictures off her lap. She didn't retrieve it. "Sit down, please."
I did. What else was there to do? I looked around. A stereo, couch, coffee table, chair, lamp, all obviously new and very inexpensive. The room looked like an advertisement for the hodgepodge special from a discount store. No rug covered the chipped floor boards. The thought crossed my mind that her feet must be full of slivers.
The two window shades were pulled down to dusty stills, no curtains. The ceiling slanted off into a dark room with no door; no doubt the bedroom. I would have liked to see it if I could have done it without being obvious, which I couldn't.
And then I looked at her, really looked, at this woman I'd been prepared to hate for so long that the hate had grown into a great lump the size of me, even perhaps a little larger.
Frizzy hair, no color at the roots, reddish, otherwise. Bright, bright blue slacks pulled up not quite straight. One foot in a dingy cast, the protruding toes looking not particularly fresh, the other foot in a matted bedroom slipper that had once been fuzzy and now was in worse condition than my floor mop. Her glasses tilted ever so little, enough so one thin, black penciled eyebrow showed, and her eyes--I blinked. One eye shimmied and was out of plumb, somehow; it didn't track with the other. Whichever one I looked at, it seemed to be the other one that was watching me.
I'd gleaned a considerable amount of information about her from people who had seen her, but nobody had prepared me for this. ("If it's any help, Kathy, she doesn't compare." "Oh, I wouldn't say she was dumb, understand, but--well, she's not really sharp, either.")
And she looked old. I mean, for only thirty-eight, she looked closer to fifty. She'd been in an accident awhile back, I knew, but still I found it hard to believe that John (who always had to look good, even his underwear had to be spotless, who so delighted in our home's appearance, and in mine) could find her attractive.
I blurted, "For God's sake, Woman. Why are you here?"
Pause. Then, and I could hardly hear her, "John wanted me closer." That's all. "John wanted me closer."
"I'm going to end our marriage now; you know that. I told him. Many times." ("Just don't ever let me look her in the face, John. Just don't." "Don't worry." "I mean it." "I said, don't worry.")
Silence. Clearly the woman wasn't a conversationalist.
"What's in this for you?"
"All I have. He's all I have."
"Are you serious?"
"Yes." She didn't look at me.
This was what I'd spent hours -- days, years -- hating? I could almost laugh. Almost.
("If I ever see her, I'll laugh in her face." "Please don't say that.")
I stood up then. "I'll let myself out," I said, and left her sitting there.
I hadn't gone two steps down the stairs before the pain I'd carried for so long began to ease. I'd given that marriage all I had, as long as I could.
First, of course, I'd demanded fidelity. You can demand fidelity of a stereo set; you can even buy it. Not from a husband.
Then I'd demanded he see a psychiatrist. Which he had: Seven hundred dollars later, the psychiatrist had taken a mistress.
Then I'd cried, "You can't do this to me!" Obviously, he could.
And finally I'd said, "All right. Just keep it -- her -- away from our friends, away from me. Just don't let me know." And there they were this morning, in my house, three nude photographs. And there she was, just waiting in that squalid apartment.
It's been a little over two years now since the divorce was final. I cried a lot at first.
I see John often; he always was a good father, and the kids still love him. They don't respect him, but they love him.
Today I saw him downtown, lunching with a dumpy-looking brunette. He came over and said hello as I was putting on my coat.
I nodded toward this table. "Wife number three?"
"Oh. She's home with the baby."
"Yes," I said. "Yes, I expect she is."
© Nancy Sweetland
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