The time for the affair was now. Carol reaffirmed the fact in her mind as she drove to New York on an August weekend so hot and sticky that to breathe or concentrate became a chore. She wanted it before she turned forty and before she and Greg had kids, which, given that she was thirty-seven, would be soon. The affair, Carol hoped as she sat in midtown traffic congested by steam and bodies drizzled in sweat, would be like the ones she read about in books, with the women perching themselves in place to be approached. The seductions in paperback were quick, the affairs torrid and brief, the men discarded like old dolls, grins intact. Having gotten away with it — or not — the women returned to their sedate lives thrilled with the act. The rare regret had an existence as deep and long as a hangover.
Carol’s affair, were it to happen, would have to be fit in around the convention schedule, a busy one packed with seminars and lectures, beginning with the opening reception and four-course dinner. Twenty tables filled an ornate ballroom occupied by librarians, who, like the books and periodicals they file, were organized by commonality and last name. Carol was seated with seven others from the state’s capital region and, as she expected, the women outnumbered the men. The two males at the table, like most of the others in the room, looked plain and bookish, clearly embedded in mid-career goals for money and respect. Their lack of attractiveness, though disappointing in a basic aesthetic sense, didn’t bother Carol; she was almost certain the affair wouldn’t be with another librarian.
For one thing, she might see him again, at one of these conventions, or worse, one of her colleagues might run across him. He, this would-be lover, would say, “Oh, do you know Carol? Second to the chief librarian in Albany?” and they would make chit-chat and discuss how he knew her and if he were a gentleman he would lie. Librarians were good at spotting lies, though; novels are filled with them.
And when this conversation ended the man would give it away with a sentence like, “Please tell Carol I said hi and I’m thinking of her.” Gossip would follow, words and whispers surrounding her and her mystery.
So, no librarians. The convention was for proper business only, she reminded herself as people went around making introductions. The chatter at the table mostly included comments on the fortune of being put up in a hotel in Times Square for three nights, and as the woman next to Carol said, without their husbands. “Who knows? I might even get lucky.” The woman gripped Carol’s arm and laughed. The table quickly learned that the woman, whose name was Deborah, had a habit of revealing intimate details of her life as if it was knowledge meant to be passed down. So, before the salad was served, Carol and her tablemates knew Deborah was fifty-six, had three children, worked for the main branch of the Kingston Public Library, and had been to New York countless times before, but never overnight, because her husband of twenty-three years was too cheap.
Carol politely smiled when Deborah looked around the table for any questions or comments. The older of the two men coughed and ate quietly, while the younger one seized the pleasant moment of silence to change the subject.
“How about you?” he asked Carol. “What’s your story?” He accompanied the question with a smile that could have been friendly or suggestive. She couldn’t tell, as if flirting was a language and she was too out of practice to understand it.
Carol told the man this was her first convention of any sort and she’d heard from her boss it could be very boring and, despite that, she was hoping for surprises. A woman chimed in that she’d been to six of these things and they were, indeed, snores. Two others concurred and the man who’d spoken to Carol settled his elbows on the table and raised his arms in front of his face. He wore spectacles and had gray hair near his temples and a long nose, and his fingers twirled his wedding ring as he gazed at Carol. When the chatter quelled, he asked, “So do you have big plans for the weekend?”
“No.” She smiled shyly. “Just playing it by ear.”
“You’ll see, the schedule at these things becomes pretty light. There’ll be plenty of time for activities.”
She looked him in his blue eyes and her stomach rose as if she was driving down a steep hill, her foot only slightly off the brake.
“Your family along for the trip?” He stopped twirling his ring and folded his arms in front of his plate.
“It’s just my husband and me. He couldn’t make it.” She sipped wine with one hand and with the other she squeezed the table napkin in her lap. “And yours?” she asked, in a near whisper.
“That’s amazing!” he said, without hearing her question. He surveyed the table, his eyebrows raised as he looked at Deborah and Carol. His mind was obviously passing judgment. “Am I the only one whose spouse came with me?”
Carol unclenched the napkin and rattled the tableware when her hand returned to pick up her fork.
The man said his wife absolutely wouldn’t miss a free weekend in New York. They were from Glens Falls, how often would they have the chance? Carol’s face turned red and she crunched her salad with the tines then took another drink of wine.
She ate quietly and after the reception, in the comfort of her hotel room, she reconsidered her stance on the affair. She would end up making a fool of herself, as she nearly did at dinner, and for what? An orgasm? Brought on by whom? A man who looked much like her husband? And a librarian like her, which she specifically said was off limits?
Carol had analyzed her situation and knew exactly what she would get in her lover-to-be, and now that she thought about it even more carefully the whole notion seemed doomed to be empty and unrewarding, a stupid thing people do for the thrill only to be left feeling jilted and pathetic. She considered herself good looking enough, but she was in her late thirties, don’t forget, and wasn’t the type of woman who was able to turn men on simply by exaggerating the pronunciation of her “R”s. That all meant she could expect a middle-aged, brazen man, one experienced enough to spot the woman in the crowd most ripe for his advances. He would be attentive, but dispassionate, feeling peccant himself perhaps. The pleasure she craved would have a leash on it, one made of guilty feelings and misgivings. Was that worth it, the lying, the guilt, the potential disaster?
Of course not . . . at least probably not.
[To read what Carol does during her weekend in New York, send an email requesting the remainder of “Sticky in August”.]