Fogbound (part two)
“Of course I’m sorry about Susana, man.” He looks out the window, into the haze. “I mean, I never wanted to hurt her.”
Four years of marriage, between two actual adult people, and all he has to offer are clichés and libido. I remember their wedding, Susana radiant in a slender, strapless gown that was like all the light in the universe concentrated and wrapped around her. Neil, serviceably handsome in his tuxedo, and absolutely drunk on his good fortune. He loved Susana—must love her now, under all this. Or maybe not. She’s told me that things had gotten a little strained, a little lackluster, which I could only pin on his own lack of imagination or initiative, but it’s not like I saw them on a daily basis. Maybe he lost his grip on that love, and that’s the only reason he could fall for this cheap hocus-pocus.
Angry, I pace away from them, my shoes making hollow thuds on the sun-faded carpet. I walk into the hallway just inside the front door. I glance into the bedroom and see a decadent tangle of black satin sheets. When I look back at the sofa, Everett has his hands on her breasts, like a teenager under the bleachers. I walk into the kitchen.
In her pantry, I’ve found a shelf of unusual spices—handwritten labels: mandrake, St. John’s wort, yarrow, bloodroot—and a rainbow of candles, along with little vials of essential oils, from jojoba to sandalwood, in the pantry. Kristy’s heels click in behind me. She leans in close and purrs.
“Change your mind about the tea?”
“I don’t think Neil could stand the competition,” I say. I try to sound as hard as I can. I’ve seen a little of this kind of stuff before, but it still weirds me out. I don’t think I’m especially cut out for this kind of strange. Just being in this building throws me off balance. My head feels foggy.
She’s smiling suggestively at me, red hair tumbling at her shoulders, prettier than I initially gave her credit for. God, why does an attractive woman even has to resort to this kind of crap? She sighs, bites her lower lip and looks up at me with big, soft eyes.
“Listen … Sean. Did I seduce another woman’s man? Bottom line, I did.” She folds her arms under her breasts, shoulders thrown back in a pose of defiance. “I am 48 years old, and alone. There’s no reason for that, there’s nothing fair about that. You strike me as someone who’s alone, too. Am I right about that?”
Of course she’s right. I don’t say anything.
“I try to be attractive, using the means available to me, and if a man prefers me to his wife?” She shrugs. “It happens all the time.”
“If he made a choice to quit his marriage, maybe, yeah.” My head is swimming, my heart rate up. This conversation is becoming something else, a contest. Agitating me. “Your little magic tea takes away his free will.”
She snorts. “You think when some hardbodied 20-year-old is coming out of her Pilates class in her little short-shorts and your head turns clean off your neck, you have free will?” She leans in so close our lips could touch. She smells like animal sex in a rain-damp meadow. “It’s the power of seduction, Sean. So how am I, and only I, the bad guy?”
I could take her right here, on the aged formica countertops, on the sun-warped linoleum floor. One way to get Neil home: Take his new lover away from him, send him back to Susana. Kristy is worked up, too, her chest heaving, her cheeks flushed. She puts her hand on my chest. I feel its heat through my shirt. “And if, despite my love for Neil, I find myself wanting you, right now? Is that sorcery, too?”
I brush roughly past her and open the kitchen window. The unnatural fog flows in, invisible but weighting the cold, damp air that billows the curtains. I lean out and take three deep breaths.
“The perfume’s part of it,” I say, to let her know that I’m on to the trick, and to remind myself that it is a trick. When it’s safe, I look back at her. She’s standing beside the small kitchen table, her heels discarded a few inches away. It’s surprising that something as simple as that makes her look so vulnerable, all of a sudden. I lean out the window and take a few more breaths. I think about the Tarot reader, whose name I no longer speak. I think about Susana, crying on my shoulder. When I look at Kristy Zeigler again, garishly coquettish, I feel nothing.
I find Neil still sitting on the sofa, like a toy abandoned until its owner is ready to resume playing. He looks up from his magazine, again, with a little concern in his eyes. Jealousy, maybe? “Hey, Sean.”
“You know damn well she put the trick moves on you, you vacant asshole, but that’s just an excuse.” I stand over him so close that he can’t stand up without bumping into me, in which case I’d punch his lights out. “Real life is work, and you took an easy way out, and say you got all swept up, that you had no choice.”
He narrows his eyes at me, squinty, and opens his mouth to argue. Nothing comes out.
“It’s not just this building and this desperate fraud that are to blame. You decide which promises to keep, and who to betray.” I’m on a roll. It’s good not to be interrupted when you have a speech to make. “You’re exactly where you deserve to be.”
I leave him there, in dishwater daylight, on a sofa the color of candle flame. From the kitchen, Kristy watches me like a cat, wary of my every move. I walk out the door, eager to get out of the building, out of the fog. Eager to explain all this to Susana, and then to start working on what I deserve.
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