I didn’t set out to lie to my husband. At first I just thought it was funny when Mark suspected I was having an affair. Maybe I also thought it served him right. For snooping. For the affair he’d had years ago. His affair, just a fling really, was long since over. I thought I was long since over it, but apparently I wasn’t, since I took such satisfaction in my ruse of turning the tables.
It started with an innocuous note I’d made in my weekly planner. “Raymond@5?” Raymond is my girlfriend Felicity’s poodle, who was at the pet salon getting a shampoo and cut, and Felicity wasn’t sure she’d get off work in time to pick him up. Mark doesn’t know Felicity, who’s a friend from my last job, or Raymond, her large chocolate-brown poodle. I don’t know why Mark was looking at my weekly planner. Maybe he’d been sneaking looks at my schedule all along. But that night he asked a lot of sharp questions about where I’d been. “Didn’t you say you were meeting someone?” He stopped just short of asking who Raymond was, because of course he wasn’t supposed to know. Just to be sure he’d been poking around in my planner, a few days later I wrote “Raymond lunch?” in the Thursday slot and sure enough, that night he asked what I’d done for lunch. Not casually. Insistently. He seemed pretty dissatisfied when I said I’d eaten at my desk.
After that I just penciled in R once in a while and watched Mark smolder. Our sex life improved. Not that it was bad before, but after twelve years, we knew each other pretty well, what buttons to push for what responses. Now things became a little less predictable in bed. He brought home flowers for no reason. Noticed when I got my hair cut. Complimented me more often. Things like that.
A pretty passive aggressive game, I know, penciling in those Rs, but I was annoyed that he was prying into my life, and that he was suspicious at all. I’ve always described myself as suicidally monogamous. It’s supposed to be a joke. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe it shows that I think fidelity is self-destructive when your partner has affairs. Or one affair, with a law student who was interning at his firm. Which he apologized for copiously, and we did the marriage counselor thing, but maybe underneath it still pisses me off. So I’ve been faithful, but I’m not sure it’s a good thing. And I didn’t mind letting him see how it felt. The not knowing. The never being one hundred percent sure.
Things went on this way for a few months, until we got a new coworker at the office. My supervisor walked in with this tall, hefty guy in khakis and a navy blue sport coat and said, “Marcy, I’d like you to meet Raymond. He’ll be joining us in Accounting.” I almost fell out of my chair.
“Raymond?” I said. Or squeaked, since I could hardly believe it. Later he told me that he couldn’t figure out why I said his name that way. Had we met before? Had we gone out together way back in college or something?
Mark knew we were hiring, and when he asked about it I told him yeah, we had a new guy. We were sitting at the kitchen table, me wolfing down cereal, him eating toast. It was a sunny morning. I like to do the crossword puzzle—I love words—but I was in a rush that day and was going to leave it half finished. Which I hate. Sometimes the crossword puzzle is the most creative thing I do all day.
“So what’s his name,” Mark asked.
“Uh.” I wasn’t thinking. It was a reflex. I just felt like I had to lie. “Ted.”
I should have said, “Raymond, which funnily enough is the name of my friend Felicity’s dog.” I’ve always thought of myself as an honest person. But I didn’t say that. I gulped down the rest of my coffee.
“What’s he like?” Mark asked, shoving the Times with the half-finished crossword puzzle into his briefcase. He gets the newspaper, even though he drives to work and I take the bus and the subway. He’d probably give it to me if I objected, but I never have.
“Older guy. A wife and a couple of kids in the ‘burbs,” I said. “You know the type. Pictures all over his desk already. His teenage son plays sports.” Raymond in fact had one picture of his wife and kids on his desk. He wasn’t old, younger than me in fact, and he didn’t live in the suburbs. I’ve never had any pictures on my desk. Mark and I have been married for nine years, together for twelve, no kids, no plans for kids. We tend to think of people with kids as leading less interesting lives than we do. Though really, I don’t know what’s so interesting about our life. We’ve got a pretty nice condo in a high rise with a view of the Manhattan skyline. It’s in Fort Lee, just across the bridge. We moved out of the city and bought at a good time for real estate prices. We make pretty good money. We go to plays and concerts and the opera, only once a month or so these days. We used to go more often. We watch foreign-language movies with subtitles on Netflix, and read The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. We give money to NYU, where we both did MFAs, and Columbia, where Mark did his law degree. We tend to congratulate ourselves that we couldn’t maintain all this with kids, but I don’t even know if that’s true. We’d need a bigger condo.
Raymond’s life with two kids, second grade and fourth grade, didn’t sound so bad to me. We had lunch together in the park across from our offices one day, and started talking. He told me he lived in Hoboken and his wife stayed at home, but she’d been a loan officer at a bank and would probably go back to that when the kids were older. He showed me pictures and talked about how great his kids were. His son’s t-ball practices, his daughter’s violin lessons.
It got to be a habit, eating together. He brought lunch from home, and I picked up takeout. I told him my stories. He told me his. I liked learning about a life so different from mine. I’d forgotten what it was like to meet someone new, hardly even remembered that I had a story. I was becoming interesting to myself again.
“Really, you were a writer? So how’d you get into publishing?” he asked. “Do you like it? Do you still write?” Not really, to liking the job. “It’s okay, but selling subsidiary rights for books I don’t like that much isn’t what I thought I’d be doing.” Well, no, to the writing. “I haven’t written in a long time.” Even that started to seem interesting instead of just depressing.
I’d been studying Raymond for a while before the lunches started. This was Raymond? There had to be some karmic principle at work, but this Raymond who’d dropped out of the heavens wasn’t how I’d pictured the fictitious Raymond, who was lean and loose-limbed and had a French accent. Which doesn’t really go with the name Raymond, but this was my fantasy lover, okay, and he had a French accent and even spoke a little French once in a while. “Je t’adore, Marcy,” that kind of stuff. He had dark hair that flopped in his eyes and a wicked grin.
Raymond, Raymond at the office that is, was blond and a little beefy. Not my type at all. When I say beefy I don’t mean fat, but solid. Muscular, with very white skin. You could see the blue veins in his neck. A very preppy dresser, which my husband Mark is not. I love the way Mark dresses. Even though he’s a lawyer, he wears cool shiny suits with skinny lapels and black shirts and maroon silk ties. Raymond’s all red, white, and blue, and looks like a former frat boy from the Midwest, which he is. Born and bred in Ohio, an accounting major at Ohio State. I didn’t find him attractive at first, though some of the secretaries did. The receptionist with the cleavage was always leaning over his desk, asking if she could help him get settled. He’d fiddle with the picture of his wife and kids, adjusting the angle, and say no thanks.
Raymond’s a good guy. He tries to do the right thing. He’s definitely not a philanderer. So when we ended up in a hotel room at lunchtime, you might say we were both surprised. It was all so innocent in the beginning. Two adults talking about their lives. He was curious about me. He said he could be more honest with me than with his wife. Adultery kind of snuck up on us. It was a lot easier than I’d imagined, even after twelve years of suicidal monogamy.
We’d gotten to the point where we were confiding that our lives hadn’t turned out exactly as we’d expected them to. We hadn’t expressed any dissatisfaction with our marriages, but there was a sort of charged intimacy in our conversation, a kind of electrified attention. He put his hand on mine, or I put my hand on his, or we each reached for each other’s hands. I can’t remember. What I remember is him saying, “Maybe we should talk somewhere more private.”
The hotel was not posh by anyone’s standards. The bathroom reeked of disinfectant, and I didn’t want to sit on the orange bedspread, though it looked clean enough. We were awkward the first time. He almost tripped getting out of his pants, and I didn’t come when we made love, though I always do with Mark. But it didn’t seem to matter. I grew so attached to the softness and whiteness of his skin, the blond hair around his nipples and navel, the sturdiness of his cock and how it shrank and curled up afterwards. He was gentler than Mark, different. Maybe that’s what it was. He was different.
I stopped penciling R into my weekly schedule when the actual trysts with R started, but Mark still asked questions. Especially when I began working late to make up for the long lunches. Mark would call me on my work phone and not my cell, probably just to see if I was there. “Oh, hey. I didn’t think you’d be checking your cell. You must be beat. Can I bring something home for dinner?”
At home, I grew animated. I regaled Mark with stories about characters at work over our late dinners. My supervisor, who was rumored to be looking for another job. The receptionist with the cleavage, who people said was banging the boss. And Ted, the made-up guy who was Raymond-but-not-Raymond, older, with teenage kids and a boring life in the suburbs. It was fun, keeping track of the details of Ted’s life and my embellishments. Ted’s kid was elected captain of the soccer team. Ted’s wife was on the Paleo Diet. They were considering a summer vacation at Disney World in Florida.
I felt self-conscious when Mark and I laughed at that one, newly aware of the unspoken accord between us that had governed so many of our responses for so long: “We’re New Yorkers. We’re too sophisticated for that.” So we’d been to Paris and Bangkok and Rio de Janeiro. We’d backpacked in Nepal. Mark and I hadn’t managed any real vacations at all for a few years, what with our work schedules and long-distance visits to family. And Disney World, well, I wouldn’t mind seeing Disney World. Okay, it’s dumb, but it might be fun. Raymond told me that his daughter, the fourth grader, had been asking for a trip to Disney World, and I googled it, just out of curiosity. They’ve got a luxury hotel and spa. It’s not just for kids.
Disney World turned out to be part of why we broke up. Raymond and I, not Mark and I. Mark still doesn’t know anything, despite all his doubts. I still love Mark, despite my doubts. We’ve got history, but it’s more than that. Really, I don’t know why I had an affair. I have a new appreciation for the lame “it just happened” defense that Mark used about his.
I wanted to go away for the weekend with Raymond. I couldn’t let it go. We’d lie together, in what should have been post coital bliss, and I couldn’t help myself. I’d start up. “We never have any time, together,” I’d say, turning away. “What’s the point in cuddling when we have to go back to the office in fifteen minutes?” I didn’t really mean it. Or maybe I did. Six months of stolen lunches wasn’t enough. I wanted more.
But so did his family, especially his daughter. She wanted her dad at her violin recitals, she wanted to go to Radio City Music Hall, she wanted to go to Disney World. Maybe it was his divided loyalties, or my complaints, or his sense of obligation to his wife, but the two of them were talking about Disney World one night and he was dragging his feet about getting time off at a new job and his wife asked him straight out if he was having an affair and he said yes. He confessed. Which he confessed to me, after we’d made love for the last time. He cried and said it was over. I would have paid more attention if I’d known it was the last time, but that’s the way with everything, isn’t it? You never know how a story will develop or when things will start or end.
We didn’t have much in common really. I don’t know what we would have talked about if we’d spent a weekend together, I mean besides his family and Mark and the situation, which is not the same as the kinds of things Mark and I talk about. Raymond has never watched a foreign film or read The New York Review of Books. He works for a publisher but he’s not interested in literature. He doesn’t know where to find the best Vietnamese pho noodles in Paris, or in Manhattan for that matter. I certainly didn’t want him to leave his wife and marry me. But there was a sweetness to what we had. A privacy.
I can’t explain what it was, but my body knew what it craved and shut down completely. I could barely get up in the morning. The office was big enough so I didn’t have to run into Raymond all the time, but just knowing he was there was too much for me. I couldn’t make love to Mark any more, which I’d been doing all along, though I lied about it to Raymond when he asked. I told everyone I was having a mid-life crisis, which I guess I was, clichéd as it sounds. I took a leave from my job, even though I would have gotten my supervisor’s position if I’d stayed. Because, then what? The thing about telling your story to someone else is you start to think about the narrative and how it all fits together. I mean how does the main character’s past connect to her present, and where is she headed? What does she want, and what’s preventing her from achieving it?
“I’ve become boring,” I told Mark. “I’m not where I imagined I’d be.”
He surprised me. “Take all the time you need,” he said, “as long as you come back.”
So now I’m living out in the middle of nowhere deciding what I want in life. It’s not exactly a romantic cabin in the woods and it’s temporary—a winter rental of a rundown cabin in a row of rundown cabins in the Adirondacks. Cheap for the time being because it’s meant for summer tourists. There are electric baseboard heaters but it’s pretty cold, and the décor is nothing to write home about. A print of an autumn landscape on the wall, and a faded mint green chenille bedspread on the lumpy double bed. I didn’t bring much besides my laptop and some books. Yes, I’m writing again. Not writing so I’ll get published in The New Yorker, which I won’t. Or so I’ll get rich and famous, my big dream as an MFA. Just writing to figure things out. I’ve written a few letters to Raymond that I won’t send, and a few letters to Mark that I probably will. I’ve written some letters to myself and a sketch of the story I’m sharing here. And I’ve started a novel about a guy named Ted, who’s turning out to be a lot more interesting than the Ted I made up for Mark. Ted’s got his own life out there in New Jersey, and it’s not uncomplicated. I think I’d lost sight of that in the narrow world I inhabited before my lunchtime forays into the unfamiliar. Everybody’s life is complicated.
Raymond has come to stay, for now at least. Felicity thought he might like country living. He chases squirrels up tree trunks and makes me laugh. You could say he’s my muse. After all, he was the one that started my new adventures in lying, and you can’t write fiction until you can sustain a good lie. We walk a lot in the woods, learning the names of trees and birds from Peterson’s field guides. “Purple finch,” I say, and Raymond cocks his head. “Haemorhous purpureus.” Did you know there are 220 species of birds in the Adirondacks, 41 in the winter? I’ve decided that Ted will be a birder, and very attached to the family dog.
Jacqueline Doyle’s fiction has appeared in Confrontation, Front Porch, PANK, Bluestem, Monkeybicycle, Tampa Review Online, and elsewhere. Her work has earned two Pushcart nominations, a Best of the Net nomination, and Notable Essay citations in Best American Essays 2013 and Best American Essays 2015. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.