Monday sucked. Kyle was late with the files I'd ordered which put me late for my meeting with Henderson which made me miss lunch which upset my stomach which caused me to spew all over Kolbinskie's shoes as he passed by my cube which made him order me to go home early. "Big meeting with Holpatrick and Ferguson tomorrow. Get some rest, Julia," and when I went outside to my car it was gone. Stolen.
I waited forty-five minutes in the coffee shop for an officer to fill out a report. My cell was in the car and my husband ignored the forty calls I made to his cell from the payphone at the coffee shop--he never answered unknown numbers--so I had to catch a cab home. Twenty-one dollars and fifty-cents plus tip. It was dark when I finally walked up the driveway. In the garage sat Dan's BMW--he was always forgetting to close the garage door--and my Volvo wagon sat in the drive. Had the police already recovered it? Weird.
As I walked toward the front steps I fished the house keys out of my purse. Something caught my eye as I passed by the window. I took two steps back and stared. There was a woman in my kitchen and she was washing the dishes. What the hell?
I walked closer to the window for a better look. Not only was she washing dishes she was wearing one of my sweaters. The ugly brown and gray one my mother-in-law gave me before she died. I hated that thing, never wore it. My husband walked in from the den, marched right up to this stranger and wrapped his arms around her, hugging her from behind, hands on her tummy, his lips caressing her neck. I was floored. Stunned. At a loss. My husband was having an affair. Right in our house. No wonder he hadn't answered his cell.
I watched, helpless as they held each other for what seemed like forever. I couldn't move. I was taken aback. And then this woman turned around and kissed my husband square on the mouth, suds dripping from her yellow vinyl gloves and running down his back as they embraced. "Daniel, no--" I gasped. "Please--" My husband of fifteen years with another woman. A woman who was washing his dishes? Is that what turned him on?
They pulled apart and immediately I recognized her. Shoulder length strawberry blonde hair, pointed nose, soft blue eyes, tiny scar on her chin from when she fell off a swing in kindergarten. This was no other woman. This was some other me. An exact duplicate. Right down to the touch of gray at my temples that hair color never seems to cover up completely. But how? Had a doppelgänger taken my place, caused my husband to forget I was at work, that I hated ugly brown and gray sweaters? I never wore gloves when I washed the dishes. Hell, I never even washed the dishes.
"Dinner'll be right up, Danny Boy," she told him as they pulled apart. "Okay, Jules, I'm just gonna finish that bill for the Parker's." He patted my--I mean her--rear before he left the room.
Danny Boy? Jules? Daniel hadn't called me Jules since our second date and never again once I informed him how much I disliked it. This was all a bad dream. Had to be. I must have slipped in the vomit I'd spewed all over Kolbinskie's shoes earlier, hit my head on a file cabinet and was probably in a coma right this very moment, Dan in a sobbing heap in the chair beside my bed, weeping like a hung-over cheerleader the day after prom.
"Jules" snapped off the gloves, pulled something out of the oven--a soufflé?--and carried it out into the dining room. A homemade pie lay cooling on a rack on the counter, its top neatly criss-crossed with strips of dough; two Cornish hens sat patiently next to it. Her apron was nauseatingly embroidered with yellow sunflowers. Who the hell did she think I was, Rachel Ray?
Okay, something was definitely not right. This other me may have had my haircut, my nose, my build, but she definitely didn't have my sense of style. Wearing my husband's dead mother's sweater, washing dishes, fixing extravagant meals, submissively allowing my husband to smack her on the ass--didn't she know how to use the phone to call a pizza or what paper plates were for or how to command her own personal space? This hussy was getting to be too much. She walked back in and pulled a bottle of wine from the fridge. My mind was made up. I was going to barge in there, smack her with the cast iron skillet hanging above the stove--hey, I finally found a good use for the thing!--and shove her into the trash compactor. Stealing my husband was one thing, but to spoil him at the same time? Oh, no no no. This would not do. I'd put too much time into this relationship to let this Suzy Homemaker replicant take over now.
I could do this--sneak in, whack her on the head, dispose of the body. How hard could it be? This other me had nothing on the real me. Three mornings a week at the gym for spinning class had kept me lean, strong and firm even into my forties. I was ready, pumped up, I still had the front door key in my hand, I was all set to charge--when a bawling, screaming rug rat, barely able to walk, came into the kitchen and latched onto "Danny Boy's" new wife's leg.
"Mama!" it gleefully hollered through a face full of snot.
That bitch. Not only had she done the Stepford wife thing, she'd done me one better and given him a kid.
Okay, now it was war.
I spent the next few days in a Holiday Inn breakfasting at Starbucks and watching reruns of Law and Order trying to make sense out of what had happened. But I couldn't make sense out of any of it no matter how hard I tried. This was too weird, too scary, too strange. I drove to work in the Volvo--I had the keys, it was sitting right there n the driveway, it was in my name after all--spent even more time at the gym and ate dinner alone. It was killing my Visa but what choice did I have?
My cell wasn't to be found in the car, Jules must've had it with her. After a week I gathered up the courage and called it. "She" answered.
"You bitch. What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"What?" I said, taken by surprise. That was going to be my line.
"Keep the car, I don't care. Just stay the hell away from my family." I didn’t recognize my own voice. Is that what I really sounded like--all nasally and high-pitched?
"It was my family first. You're the one who needs to get lost. I want my husband back."
"Well, he doesn't want you anymore. He appreciates all I do for him. Cooking, cleaning the house--"
"We have a maid."
"I fired her. I do it all now--cooking, cleaning, running errands, filling out paperwork for his business and I make sure that I'm never too tired to screw his brains out four times a week."
"Hey! That's not fair! I work a lot of hours and there's--"
"There's always the gym, isn't there? You spend more time with the stair machine than you do at home with your own husband. You're sad and pathetically self-centered." She was so right I was about to cry. "I keep Danny happy now. Get over it." She was about to hang up on me but I stopped her.
"How did this happen to us?"
"What do you mean?"
"What happened to make us two now instead of one?" She was quiet now, mulling this over.
"I--I don't know. I've thought about it but can't come up with a reason. Sometimes things happen beyond our control or understanding. Some things happen for the best."
"How can this be for the best?"
"Well, you can live your life the way you always wanted now. Work at the office as much you want, take that vacation in Italy that Dan would never do. And me, well, I can stay at home and raise Marianna, maybe have more kids. Danny always wanted a boy as well as a girl."
"What about the house? I can't live at a hotel the rest of my life!”
"Get an apartment or--I know! A condo on the beach! You always wanted that."
"You have an answer for everything, don't you?"
"Just trying to be helpful."
"You can help by giving me my life back!" I was in tears now. How could she be so callous, so calm? "I want my life back, dammit! I want my husband, my house. How could you do this to me?"
There was no answer except for the click on the other end.
I could've taken her advice. I could've left well enough alone. But I just couldn’t bring myself to give up just yet. I wanted my old life back. I wanted my house, my bed, my pajamas, my maid, my Daniel. But mostly I wanted that bitch, Jules, to suffer as I had. Here's a fun fact you should know about me: I was the first person in my family to be diagnosed with mental illness. Manic depression. Extreme feelings of guilt. Could that have evolved over into the years into a split-personality which had actually split me physically as well? Had another and separate persona gone off in search of a better life and usurped mine? Here's another fact: One year into our marriage I had an affair with a co-worker that my husband had never found about. Now he would.
I looked up the number for the florist, punching in the numbers with quick stabbing motions.
#"Are you trying to wreck our marriage?"
"My marriage. Remember? I was there first. And I'm the one trying to salvage it."
"Well the flowers from Robert didn't work. I'd already told Danny about your little indiscretion. He took it very well. Did you know he confessed to sleeping with Marcy while you were in Denver last year?"
"What! That son of a--wait a minute, who's Marcy?"
"Waitress at Hooters. Not anyone we know."
"You kicked him to the curb I hope!"
"I forgave him like any good wife would. Then I took full blame for it all. 'It was all my fault,' I told him. 'And I'll never give you reason to stray again, honey.'"
"You're lying. You're making this up to make me hate Daniel so I won't fight for him anymore."
"Believe whatever you want. But remember, I'm here and you're not."
I hate her I hate her I hate her I hate her I hate her I hate her I hate her I hate her...
"I love your hair"
"Well if you love it so much why don't you marry it?"
"I'd marry you any day, baby. What's your name?"
"Go screw yourself."
"Is that Ms. or Mrs?"
"Look. I only came in here for a drink. So get the hell away from me."
"C'mon, baby. Don't talk that way. Let me buy you a drink."
"The lady said for you to get the hell away from her. You should take that advice."
"Who the hell are you?"
"I'm the guy who's gonna punch your lights out in about three seconds."
"Okay, okay. Jeez..."
"Uh, thanks, but I really don't need your help."
"You don't remember me do you?"
"Mark. Mark Kearney. From high school."
"Ohmigod! I'm sorry, I didn't recognize you."
"Hey, that's okay. I was over in that booth over there and was trying to get up the nerve to talk to you when I saw Mr. Suave bugging you and took that as a sign."
"Well, I'm glad you did. Really."
"So what have you been up to since high school?"
"Um, you know. This and that. Working."
"Someone told me you got married."
"Yeah. Still am. A ring and everything."
"Oh, okay. Well, would it be out of line for me to ask for your number?"
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Forget it. I didn't mean to put you on the spot. It was great seeing you. Really. I'll see you around."
The run in with Mark left me dazed, confused. Horny. Yeah, I could've taken him back to my room at the Holiday Inn and screwed him senseless but it just wouldn't have felt right. I wanted Daniel. And I wanted him bad. It'd been over a week and if Jules could have sex with my husband then why couldn't I? All it would take on my part was a little bit of planning and a little bit of seduction.
And the secret to seduction is surprise.
"Jules! What are you doing here?"
I grimaced at the "Jules" but somehow managed to give him my best come hither look. He stood behind his desk, there were little stacks of papers all over it, leaning precariously.
"I wanted to surprise you. Look, I bought a new outfit." I dropped my coat. Underneath I was wearing nothing but a hundred and twenty dollars of black shear and lace (on sale.) "Cancel your appointments; you're having lunch on me this afternoon." I placed a can of pear slices on his desk and began to open them with the can opener I had tucked into my garter. Dammit! It wasn't working, I could never work them damn things, so I gave up halfway, tossed my hair back and sashayed towards him around the desk.
"But the Harbor account is pending! I don't have the time!"
"Then we'll just have to make time, won't we?" I shoved a stack of papers out of the way, scooted my ass onto his desk, grabbed him by the tie and pulled him in close, wrapping one leg around him while doing so. Yeah, I felt slutty but what the hell.
"What about the baby?"
"Mary Anne? I got a sitter."
"No," he patted my stomach tenderly even--gross--fatherly. "The new one."
Stunned, I stared at him as if I was a slack jawed Venus de Milo in a hundred and twenty dollars of black shear and lace (on sale, thank god.) My ass was suddenly very wet and cold on his desk--I must have knocked over that half-opened can of pears. Before I could say or do anything the door opened.
"Hey, Danny! Ready for lu--" I could feel his co-workers eyes on my nearly naked, embarrassed and goosebump covered self. My ass was sticking to the desk blotter from all the pear juice.
And so I learned that the secret to seduction wasn't surprise. It was timing.
I spent the next week in my hotel room, alone. I called in sick to work. Kolbinskie was torqued but I didn't care. The curtains stayed drawn, the light stayed off, my head stayed under the covers. Even the television didn't come on.
What did I care? My life was going on without me, unconcerned to my wants and needs. The phone rang. I pulled the cord out of the wall and tried to cry myself to sleep but failed at even that.
The next Monday morning there was a knock upon my door.
"Hey, it's me. Jules. Open up."
"I've been calling you at work but they said you haven't been there."
"I took some time off to clear my head. How'd you find me?"
"I checked my credit card online."
"I changed the password."
"Yeah, 'jewel4dan,' real cute."
"I just wanted to call you and tell you we were moving to Colorado next week. Dan got a promotion."
"Why didn't you tell me you were pregnant?"
"Would it have mattered?"
"Boy or girl?"
"Boy, I think. Danny hopes so. I'll find out for sure when it pops out in about five few months."
"Five months? But Dan and I have only been apart for a few weeks!"
"You don't have to explain biology to me."
"That should have been me. I should be having Dan's baby."
"You know that would never work. Besides, you were on birth control. Can you really see yourself raising a child while trying to have the career you've worked so hard for all these years?"
"So is this how it happened? The decision of whether or not to raise a child or not is what caused all this? Made another me? Is this what ruined my life? Did I bring all this down on myself?"
"It only ruins your life if you let it. And you know there is another possibility."
"Maybe I'm not the other you--perhaps you're the other me."
Kolbinkskie didn't fire me; I caught up on the Ferguson account; I went shopping for a place to live. An apartment near the museum--not a condo on the beach.
No one at work ever asked about my husband, I never had to say a word. The spinning classes and stair machine at the gym turned into long walks through the historic district with a German Shepherd I rescued from the Humane Society. I made new friends and went dancing with them on the weekends.
One night, at a bar watching a local band play, I saw Mark talking with a friend. He saw me and begun walking my way. Instinctively, I glanced down at the ring on my finger.
It wasn't there. Perhaps it never had been.
Copyright 2015 Roy Peak
Roy Peak has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he can remember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist." His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville.