Carolyn Steele Agosta
Until Truth Does Us Part
In the end, her head exploded, which pretty much solved everything.
Lisa should have expected it. In fact, that was her first thought, that her head was going to explode after she learned the truth about her husband’s lie. Lies. Hundreds and thousands and millions of lies. But really, if she wanted to get technical about it, just one big lie. One big, fat lollapalooza of a lie. Ray had a second family.
Yep, there they were, just over the state line in Rock Hill, a lovely family with a wife and three kids, living in a brick ranch-style house with a two-car garage and a backyard swimming pool and even a damned Chevy Equinox, just like hers, with the same exact premier package trim and extras, right down to the under-seat lockbox and Sirius radio. The kids looked just like her kids, two boys and a girl, each about six months younger than hers, each with those big brown eyes like Ray’s, looking so ridiculously just like him, just like her kids, they could be siblings. Hell, they were siblings, half-siblings, sisters and brothers of a different mother. And the mother! Well, anyone could see Ray had a type. Long dark hair, just like Lisa. Blue eyes, just like Lisa. Five years younger, maybe ten pounds lighter, but otherwise just like Lisa. It was unbelievable. A family 2.0. She never realized Ray had such a serious lack of imagination. And that was when she thought her head would explode.
The information from the private detective was irrefutable. Everything was laid out. Hi-resolution jpgs, enlargeable, of Ray’s car pulling into that garage, of Ray tossing a softball with the boys in the yard, Ray and the wifey and kiddos at the freaking Walmart, for crying out loud. Which she did, spurting tears and snot and a long string of nasty words. The detective showed her a link in financing, an income stream Lisa had never known about, bonuses Ray had received at work that were not listed on the income tax forms she’d co-signed every year. “Oh yeah,” the detective said. “He could be in some really big trouble, if that’s what you want.” She took the thumb drive of photos and documents and drove home. The kids were in school, Ray was at work, this was his week to be out of town. His every-other-week when he was always out of town, working. Well, no wonder. He needed to make some big money to afford two families. And of course, he was a hell of a salesman, wasn’t he? He’d sure sold her the Brooklyn Bridge. She’d always blamed his job for creating distance between them, for his physical absence, his need for privacy, his seemingly-constant preoccupation. Now she knew these weren’t just business or personal flukes. He was simply trying to keep his stories straight. The poor man.
She prowled the house, trying to figure out just what she wanted. Well, to kill him, of course. That went without saying. To smash his face in. To surgically remove his private parts and feed them to the dog. But she had to avoid upsetting the children, so first of all she went upstairs and used the cheese grater to roughen the inside of all his boxer shorts. She added salt to the box of breakfast cereal that only Ray used. She took his cherished collection of indie CDs and meticulously put one tiny scratch on each one. She added lemon juice to his eye drops and Windex to his scotch.
As the week continued, she was thankful he was out of town, even though it meant he was with Them, the Other Family, the Spares. Her head felt constantly as though it were about to explode, every time she had a new realization. Each of his Bizarro children were conceived when she was pregnant with one of hers. That meant he was out sowing his seed while she was bent over the toilet, miserable with all-day, nine-month morning sickness. That meant that each of those milestones they’d reached with their babies – the first smile, the first step, the first wobbly bicycle ride – he’d also experienced with his Beta kids. It meant that every vacation, even the one to Cancun when they’d left the kids behind with her parents, and she and Ray had such a wonderful time, just the two of them, and she’d felt so close to him, at the end of the week he’d gone out of town again, back to Her, That Bitch, and back to his other life. Lisa wondered if he’d ever taken Thing Number Two to Cancun.
Every memory of their life together was tainted. Ruined. Twelve years of marriage – had any of it been what she thought it was? He’d obviously been involved with this woman for at least ten years, just judging by the age of the kids. Did it go further back? And were there others? Was this simply the only family the detective had managed to find? Was there a whole string of them spread out across the fifty states? Lisa had visions of hundreds of little bobble-head brown-eyed babies waving their tiny fists and crying out “Da-da!” while Ray did the victory dance, glorying in his prowess, his manhood, his life as a magnificent stud, scattering his sperm where he may.
She couldn’t sleep. Spent hours wide awake each night, feverishly thinking of what to do. Maybe she should pull the kids out of school and go live in Mom and Dad’s RV, travel the country, always staying one step ahead of Ray. She could picture him, trying desperately to catch up, begging her to come back, falling to pieces and breaking down in tears, admitting what a no-good bastard he was, but couldn’t she give him one more try? And herself, grinning down at him from that high driver’s seat in the RV, gunning the engine, running over his feet and breaking each individual metatarsal and phalange as she drove away. It was a satisfying image but no, she couldn’t really do that. Couldn’t uproot the kids, take them away from everything they knew. Besides, the home-schooling would kill her.
She searched through Ray’s desk and computer, looking for any hidden bank accounts or investments. What she found was a spreadsheet, innocuous-looking at first until she realized the headings were initials – a column for each wife and kid – and each row a log of hours spent. A timesheet was what it was, a meticulous diary of activities, his way of being fair. Two hours of bowling with Lisa, two hours of tennis with Not-Lisa. Building LEGOs with this kid, going fishing with that one, watching a Star Wars marathon with the kids from one family, and then watching the marathon all over again with the kids from the other family. Yes, a serious, serious lack of imagination, but oh man, what a model father. A real prince of a guy.
Lisa considered telling her parents. Mom just loved Ray. She thought he was the bee’s knees. Dad, not so much. He’d be on her side. He’d always thought Ray was too slick. Lisa considered telling Ray’s parents. That’d do some justice – his folks thought he walked on water – but right now they were dealing with his father’s recent stroke and she didn’t want to finish the old guy off. She considered telling her kids. On the one hand, she knew the best way to hurt Ray was through his children, but no, she couldn’t put the kids through that. Their oldest was only ten. And besides, she was pretty sure her daughter Emily’s first response would be a demand to see the other daughter’s bedroom, in case the other girl had prettier clothes or the new Barbie dream house. No, every way she looked at it, Lisa would end up the loser. She’d be a single mom, struggling for every dollar, going down in the world, and alone because how could she ever trust another man? Meanwhile, Ray would simply go on home to his other family. Even if he ended up in jail, which would probably be just a wrist slap, he’d be able to brag about how he’d pulled off this charade for ten long years, kept two women satisfied, had his cake and eaten it too. What a crap-hat. And she’d be exposed as the clueless idiot she was.
Meanwhile, the weekend loomed. Ray would be home on Sunday afternoon as usual, the beginning of his week with Family A. At least, Lisa assumed she and her kids were Family A. She’d met Ray when they were both in college. She hated to think he’d been a rat bastard even back then. In any case, she had to figure out what to do. Keep silent for now, until she had her plans made? No, she couldn’t play the loving wife, get in bed with him, pretend she wasn’t planning to remove all his teeth one by one with dental floss and a winch. She wasn’t a good-enough actress. Whereas he, apparently, had been doing Oscar-worthy performances all these years. Ironic, considering she’d been the one in the Drama Club.
Should she confront him? This would require that the children be lodged somewhere offsite, and all breakables she wanted to keep would have to be relocated, because she was pretty sure any confrontation would involve fists and teeth and nails and feet, possibly the Roto-tiller and blender, definitely a lot of Bad Words and hopefully, some real zingers that she’d been perfecting in her mind all week. She just prayed she’d be able to recall them when the moment was right. Truth was, though, she didn’t want to do it. She didn’t want to look in his eyes and realize she wouldn’t be able to trust one single word he said. She didn’t want to hear his excuses. She didn’t want to tell him how much this felt like a jagged knife through her heart, only to see in his face that he just didn’t get it. He would never understand the enormity of his betrayal, he would never feel her depth of pain. He was, after all, the lying scum who come up with this idea in the first place.
She spent the next few days crying, sunbathing, crying, binging and purging, crying, getting a pedicure, and crying. She put some highlighter on her hair and thrilled a saleswoman with a big order from the Clinique counter at Belks. She went online and ordered the big, big LEGO Disney castle for Emily, and a highly-complicated motorized race track and car set for the boys, and had them shipped next-day air to the house. If Ray needed something to do with his evenings, she’d keep him busy, by golly.
And she did actually see a lawyer and got some advice, mostly about how to protect her share of their joint assets, and where to get counseling for the kids, and what her own liability might be in view of those income tax returns. “You can’t change the past,” the lawyer said. “You can only go forward, and he owes you assistance with that.” The lawyer, a woman with beautiful blonde hair and Manolo Blahnik four-inch heels, smiled reassuringly. “You’re a survivor, I’m sure.” Yeah, right, Lisa thought. What do you know about heartbreak? What do you know about pure frozen fear? I’ve been a housewife for the past ten years. Just how the hell am I supposed to survive? Two-for-one coupons?
She finally went home at lunch time on Tuesday. The kids were still with her folks, bless them. Ray had called her cell phone a thousand times in the past 48 hours and she refused to listen to any of his messages but sent him one of her own. “Noon at our house. Be there or be square.” She walked in, with her best beach tan, a tight pair of short-shorts, that little striped halter top he liked so much, and freshly shaved armpits. Let him regret what he’d lost, dammit. She laid it on the line – divorce as soon as possible, child support, the house, the car, alimony enough for her to go back to college and learn to support herself, family counselling, three-quarters of all their assets, and his liver. “I’m just kidding about the liver,” she said. “No, I’m not. Yes, I am. Oh, you can keep it. But I do get three-quarters of the assets, because I know you have some salted away with Them. The Others. Your little gang of Doppelgangers. There’s just one thing I want to know. Does she know about me?”
He looked her right in the eye, the bum. Finally, he said, “Yes. I never lied to her about that.”
Lisa looked him right back. “Well, isn’t she the lucky one? Now get out.”
He reached toward her and she backed away. “Lisa,” he said, “I’m sorry. I know I’ve hurt you, but we can fix this. What difference does it really make? We were happy, weren’t we? There’s no reason to tear the family up, we can make it work. I still love you. Can’t we just go on as we were?”
And that’s when her brain exploded, which pretty much solved everything for Lisa. Her problems were over. Ray’s, however, had just begun.
By Carolyn Steele Agosta
This story was written as part of an exercise in Writers' Group. Came across it recently in my files and thought I'd share it. I'd heard about a fellow who did this and wondered what it was like from the wife's point of view. Yikes.