The adulterer and his wife sat together in silence, in seasoned, overstuffed armchairs before a meagre fire. Wind howled through the naked branches outside, shook the geriatric window frames and rattled shutters in distant, long forgotten corners of the house. Snow built up in drifts, like sand dunes, ever changing with the swirling chaotic efforts of the storm that had blighted the countryside for days.
There they sat, with more than half a century of shared habitation behind them, each lost in the minute flicker of a single flame as it gnawed away at the last log. Soon the flame would die, starved of fuel, its warmth forgotten, its glow a whisper, a distant memory. Not a word had been spoken since breakfast time and that was, ‘cuppa?’ She said it out of habit, cursed herself the moment the word had left her mouth. He accepted with a wary nod of his head, knowing full well that she might just throw it at him instead; wouldn’t be the first time either.
Both had been lost in their own thoughts, toying with the truth, running justifications and excuses and the justification of excuses through various scenarios; actors rehearsing a play. Blame too, blame was important as was humble accountability, and reasoning. Flying straight into an argument on the heat of the moment almost never happened, not when you had fifty years of ammunition to draw on, no, you needed to dwell a bit, to wallow in the murky waters of the past.
They were like this, always had been after a falling out, neither said a thing, sometimes for days, they just mulled over the details, preparing for battle. An element of competition and belligerence existed in both their natures which added to the silence. No one wanted to break first, when one or the other did break they would, more often than not, play the ‘bigger person’ card or the ‘this is childish’ approach; that always got things off to a good start.
She broke first and said ‘we’re going to freeze to death unless you can find more wood’.
‘Oh so I’m good for something am I?’ He barked back sarcastically and then felt a bit stupid. So he continued, not allowing her to retort, which is what she would do, retorting was her thing, always had been. ‘I can call Peter, he’s got a four by four, maybe he’d bring some wood over for us?’
‘Yes your son, Peter!’
‘Not your son then?’
‘How should I know, apparently you were sleeping with half the office back then.’ And so it began. Years of suspicion, doubts and recriminations puked up onto the threadbare carpet between them, the tangled mess sat up and regarded them both with distaste, like a one eyed, malevolent, feral cat.
Adultery is a bit of a chin scratcher when you stop long enough to think about it, not that I am thinking about doing it, let’s get that straight, besides I’d hardly tell you if I was; no offence. No the whole subject is not as clean cut as it first appears. First and this is not an excuse, or should it be used as one by owners of a wondering eye, first we have to consider the biological differences between the sexes. Only three percent of mammals practice monogamy, we are now part of that three percent. Not so popular is it? I say we are now part of that three percent because 50% of Americans play away from home, which hardly supports the argument, but also because it hasn’t always been that way.
When men were men and pansies were still flowers
When the world’s human population was so much smaller, when disease, famine and infant deaths were commonplace, it sort of made sense for a man to dip his wick whenever an opportunity presented itself. A man will produce millions of sperm in his life and can reload the barrel relatively quickly. Hello! There’s a world out there needs populating! A woman on the other hand is born with a certain number of eggs and once burdened with pregnancy is out of the game for nine months; unless her husband is firing blanks, that is! Two percent of all children are the product of an affair and are often brought up by a man who is none the wiser. So nature, whom we are all slaves to, overrides everything.
These days there is no need to populate so much and marriage is the accepted standard model, but how did we get here? Well we are all products of philanderers; we have a philandering gene; have we not? If nature decreed at some point in our history that man should be armed and ready to impregnate any female that crossed his path whether he was married or not, it’s hardly his fault is it? Naturally nature is now seen as a dirty word and we want nothing to do with it, but can we deny our heritage?
A chemical romance
Genetics to one side, why do people have affairs? Well I think there are many reasons why someone would cheat on their partner, sex is always up there as ‘raison d’être’ but I don’t believe that to be the only motivation.
If we strip away the barriers of trust, monogamy and those bloody self imposed morals of ours what’s stopping us? Nothing, nothing at all, why? Because we are all programmed to go forth and multiply and the business of multiplying is rather enjoyable. This is what happens, man and woman meet, pheromones are secreted giving the go ahead for the chemical endorphin to be released in the brain; this makes us feel good. At the same time part of the frontal cortex shuts down, the bit that controls judgement, this makes reproduction more likely. If you suspend judgement, you have effectively ‘taken leave of your senses’ is that not what people do when they have an affair?
Most of us will meet people that illicit such a response once married, we override the will to cheat on our partners because we believe we are the masters of our own destiny. I don’t think this is the whole story though, not by a country mile. Circumstance provides more answers and circumstance is a tangled subjective force. There are those people, more likely men, who just can’t keep their dick in their pants, no matter their circumstances, happily married men, who have no reason or desire to find a new partner still commit adultery. They do it, they say, to live in the moment, to feel alive, for the thrill of the chase and the conquest. They love their wives, their children and their home and would argue that their secret cheating ways somehow contributes to that collective happiness.
Many men are slaves to their egos and only need them massaged a bit by a cunning vixen and their trousers drop with a thud to the floor. Leaving these spineless wimps to one side there are a multitude of other reasons why a person may seek the sanctuary of another’s bed. A failing or loveless marriage, compatibility, comfort or an ability to love more than one person at a time are all viable reasons.
Imagine girl meets boy, frontal cortex shuts down long enough to reproduce, baby is born and couple marry because it’s the right thing to do. The years roll by and she realises that the boy she married has turned into a man she doesn’t know. He’s gone one way, she another, talking only makes things worse, but he’s a good father and she doesn’t want to jeopardise their child’s happiness.
Meanwhile she studies and passes her exams; she enters the workplace and meets Mr Right by the copy machine; frontal cortex shuts down. Rather than override her need for affection she decides to try out Mr Right, he’s very convincing and an affair is born. They fall in love, they talk about a future together but ultimately it will never happen. His wife ‘Mrs Right’ suffers from bouts of depression and spends weeks in an asylum, her only anchor in life is Mr Right, he can’t leave her. The pain of knowing that they can never be together is unbearable; eventually they return to their old lives, putting the affair in a box marked ‘do not open’ and shoving it to the back of their minds. I genuinely feel for anyone in a similar situation, give or take a sanctioned wife or two.
End of Authors note
The row unravels
‘It was one man, one night and it happened two years before Peter was even born. I only told you because I’ve been keeping it from you for all these years and you have a right to know. Besides I don’t like secrets.’ She said edging closer to the fire.
‘Don’t like secrets? For someone who doesn’t like secrets you have been rather fond of that one. Tell me who it was.’
‘Why not, do you still have feelings for him, is that it?’
‘I never had feelings for him, not like I have for you; it was just a bit of meaningless sex, is all. I felt terribly guilty afterwards’
He stared at his past and said nothing for a long while, she allowed him to, what else was there to say? Thirty years ago, while driving home from work, he stopped to help a woman who had fallen prey to a puncture. They chatted, flirted a bit and went for a coffee together. They agreed to meet again, just for coffee, same place, same time. Thirty years later and they still meet up, only not always for coffee. She, now widowed, lived ten minutes down the road and he loved her, had always loved her in a way he had never really loved the mother of his children. Guilt, he knew a thing or two about guilt, and remorse, he knew something of remorse too now. If he had known about his wife’s cheating it would have made it so much easier to leave, had he wanted to, thirty years ago!
‘Why didn’t you tell me, why live a lie for so long?’ He asked.
‘Isn’t it obvious, I didn’t want to lose you, that’s all, it’s you I love, always have done.’
‘You didn’t want to lose me or didn’t want to let me go?’ he demanded.
‘What, so you could be with that whore of yours?’ she retorted bitterly.
‘What do you take me for, a fool?’
The silence enveloped them as the flame died and the embers amber glow slowly faded to dust.