I parked and slowly exited the car. Dropping my briefcase near the front door, I entered the dining room. My wife sat at the table behind a full wine glass, the bottle nearby, only half-full. This morning, the bottle was unopened.
Other than the bottle, several papers were on the table. I could not see what they were yet.
Here we go, I thought, turning on the voice recorder app on my ever-present phone, thankful that we lived in a one-party-consent state.
"How long have you known?" she asked.
She did not look up at me.
"Long enough," I said.
I should stop to explain. When I came home, I had not anticipated this conversation. But I deal in clichés every day, so it was very easy to see where this was going. I'm a freelance writer. I do travel articles, humor, opinion, and advertising copy—whatever, really. I also ghost-write stuff and edit the work of others. On the side though, and just for fun, I write erotic fiction for a leading web site. I've written several hundred stories under different pen names to keep the fetish branding clear. I've read even more stories than I have written. So, I am up on all the tropes. I've written dozens myself, often involving a cheating spouse and a surprise revelation.
The thing about clichés though is that they are often true. People are all the same, I suppose. It comes down to DNA to tell them apart.
But like I said, when a guy gets home to find his wife of ten years sitting alone in a blacked-out house, illuminated only by the faint light of the kitchen stove, halfway into a bottle of wine, there are only a few ways that the conversation is going to go.
For instance, she was not going to tell me that we had won the Powerball lottery. Sure, the heat pump might have exploded, or the basement might have flooded—both had happened a few years ago—but that kind of news never caused somber drinking.
No, this was a marriage-ending scenario, come to life. I knew that with certainty within two seconds of having seen the murky tableau of the scene. She had no medical appointments lined up either, so I ruled out a health problem. An accident involving a relative would have led to a phone call. This was something else, and that something else had to be infidelity. Q.E.D.
It was still disappointing. And surprising.
"I never meant to hurt you," she said.
I sat down opposite her.
"You know from church that forgiveness is not possible without a full confession first," I said, using her Catholicism—admittedly lax normally and now much more obviously so—as a weapon.
"If I am going to have to fight you for the truth, you can just fuck off," I told her, far more rudely than I normally would. "You've been fucking enough as it is."
She flinched, and her shoulders sagged.
"I've only slept with him twice."
"Who? Say the name, dammit! Full confession, remember?"
"I've only slept with Jack twice, when we travelled for work a couple of months ago."
She refused to look at me, but her admission narrowed it down. We knew a lot of Jacks. She worked with several. They were all married, so I took a chance.
"I talked to his wife."
"You talked to Miriam?" she said in fear.
Bingo. I now knew which Jack.
"No. I lied."
Her face was a picture of confusion.
"I lied. Like it? Like how it feels?"
"I don't understand."
"Simple. Until this moment, I had no clue you had cheated. Now I do. And I know who with. And I'm going to tell the asshole's wife."
"But this . . .," she said, pointing to the papers on the table, starting to cry.
I saw them now. She had found them on my desk. They explained how to file for divorce in our state. They were background for a slutwife story about annulling a fraudulent marriage. My previous stuff had focused on violent revenge on the asshole, not the divorce technicalities. My wife's guilt made her jump some inferential steps.
"Those?" I asked, as I got up and headed for the door, ready to walk out forever.
"Just a sad coincidence."
She cried harder.