When I get home that night, Ray’s kisses still on my lips, I take my clothes off and go to bed, not bothering to shower, not bothering to remove my makeup, or brush my teeth. I want to wallow in my organs. I want to review the kisses over and over, the vodka-mouth, the sucking lips, tongue touching. Musk of Ray Poe.

I keep the lamp on and stare at his portrait. I read the titles on the spines of his books. I wonder for the umpteenth time what it would be like to be married to a man so gifted and handsome, so intelligent and obviously wise, obviously kind. Everything dull and drab would vanish, would be transformed into something new and vibrant with Ray in my life. It doesn’t matter that he is eighteen years older. Norman was twenty-five years older and that hadn’t mattered. Also thinking age: only a number.

But before anything more can happen, Ray will have to get rid of that wife, that Bobbi. And I will have to get rid of Buddy Carr, my current boyfriend and employee. I wonder if I will miss his beautiful body. Possibly, but not his narcissistic prancing in front of the mirror, his lying back on the bed and wanting me to suck him. At first it had been wild and exciting, like making love to a movie star. But now it’s boring and I can hardly work myself into a passion when he wants me. Ho-hum, I’d rather sleep. Everything about him: too familiar. His conversation running the gauntlet from me to me. Look at my trophies. Look at my six-pack belly, how narrow my waist is, I’m a perfect V from waist to shoulders, have you ever had a man last as long as I do? I have to admit I haven’t. But more often than not as he pounds away at me, I will be thinking of my first love sweet sybaritic Hamlin. Oh, to be that young again, everything fresh, everything new and full of fire. Also thinking: Jesus, get it over with, Buddy! Also thinking with Ray Poe it will be different. It’s his mind not just his body I want. But I do look forward to that insatiable honeymoon period I’ve had with all my other lovers. I wonder how long on average couples sustain those initial desires?

Danny was fun and inventive. He had satisfied me for the first ten years of our marriage. Until he started accusing me of sleeping with next-door Jerry. And all the while Dan is sleeping with April! What a time that had been! The experience cracking something in me, that innocence about men lost forever. Losing it? Like losing your virginity, no more virgo beata. Men are not to be totally trusted. Always keep something in reserve in case the relationship sours. Learn to shut down quickly, stifle emotion, cast a cold eye on what had once been fiery-thrillingly so. Also thinking thrillingly nasty.

The marriage became a grinding agony. Near the end I couldn’t even stand to look at Dan’s face. A face I had once thought handsome. How could I have ever sucked those sarcastic lips, his arrogant prick? The sound of his voice abused my eardrums. His eyes mocked me, belittled me. So why did I stay as long as I did? Who remembers? Who knows the why of anything? For the kids. For the sake of the kids. How many women spend their lives living a lie for the sake of their children? How many men? What a muddle we make of it.

And yet, here I am preparing to make even more of a muddle. A married man is not to be trifled with. Breaking up a family is dishonorable, in some cases criminal. Maybe evil. But whatever it is, I am determined to have Ray Poe. Also thinking wife Bobbi be damned.
My thoughts stay on Bobbi and the time we met after Norman Ten Boom’s poetry reading. I had felt incredulous that such a tub could be Ray’s longtime wife. She was pretty enough, but what a lugubrious body! A body not good enough to please him was my opinion. Not good enough to hold his attention for five seconds. Bobbi didn’t deserve him! A woman who won’t take care of herself any better than that is just asking for it. I don’t buy the excuses. Arthritis. Acute anxiety. Slow metabolism. Etcetera. Bobbi might be sick, but she shouldn’t have let herself go so utterly. Also thinking frankly she’s repulsive.

“I love eating, but I refuse to get fat,” I tell Ray’s portrait, his smile the smile of a kind man, a mellow man. A man with a good heart. I can see it in the radiance of his eyes, in the brilliance of his entire countenance. The soul of an artist. Which is what I have also. Leaving my husband’s control taught me that there is more to Annette Annaba Walker than just a pretty face and a nubile body. (Is thirty-eight still young enough be nubile?) My love of reading has filled up a spiritual well that is overflowing into brilliant verses. I write at least one poem a week. I don’t show them to anyone. I will show them to Ray when he becomes my lover. Also thinking he will edit them and tell me where to get published.

Norman the Dutchman had told me there was no doubt about my talent. All I needed was “time in the saddle.” His time in the saddle with me had been unexpectedly fulfilling. For a man of sixty he had been surprisingly vigorous. I remember him pumping away for all he was worth, trying to make me climax, which I did occasionally, though I also faked it when I was ready to stop. I might have been able to love him if he hadn’t talked so much. He would never stop talking! Drove me crazy! I had wanted to tell him to let some silence into the room once in a while! The barrage of words had driven every nascent thought straight out of my head. I hadn’t been able to write a single poem when I was having my affair with him. Everything he read of mine had been a product of the early years with Danny: Dan you are the man holding my hand/The only love of my life/ As we walk along the sand/ And absorb the roar of the ocean/ And the waves pounding the land like a potion.

He never liked anything I wrote. I know now that Norman had faked his admiration, telling me what I wanted to hear. Also thinking how those years with Dan had given me a tin ear.

Part of my lack of invention during the affair with Norman had been the by-product of guilt, the sneaking around, the painful lying. The stress on my nerves had given me heart palpitations and high blood pressure. My doctor couldn’t understand what was happening. “You’ve always been so healthy,” he had told me. “This isn’t natural. What’s going on in your life, Annette?” “I wish I knew,” was what I had answered.

After I broke off with Norman and stayed with Irene for a while, the poetic impulse came back little by little. The palpitations, the blood pressure problems faded. But they returned when I went back to my husband and children. The writing stopped. I started drinking and taking Xanax in order to sleep at night.

My leaving home had been a wakeup call for Dan. He had never believed I would actually leave him. I returned to a subdued husband. I felt as if I had broken his spirit, and, truth be told, I didn’t give a damn, didn’t care that he was inordinately kind, didn’t yell anymore or try to make me feel inadequate, hopelessly defective. He no longer accused me of having affairs. He bought little gifts, gave me candy and flowers. Even wrote me some clumsy poems. He tried very hard to become a new man, a man who could win my love back. But by then none of it mattered. Repulsive kisses. When he made love to me the feel of him inside, the smell rising between us was nauseating. The marriage was irrevocably shattered, but I hung on for another year before leaving and filing for divorce.

Living with Irene again, I explored a side of myself I had vaguely known existed whenever I watched women making love in the porns. Irene was a good listener and undemanding. Many nights we went to sleep in each other’s arms. When we made love, I was the aggressor. Irene lying back passively receiving. Poems poured out of me, all of them sub-textually Lesbo:

My tongue swims
Out to taste
The wick of your soul
Your scent lingering
On my lips
Becomes the bouquet
Of dawn
Every blessed morning
Lying here hand in hand
The aroma of light
Growing in my heart
An intimate reverence
Savored forever.

I was writing stories as well, even planning a memoir based on my life with Dan Walker-how naïve I had been, how immature, how easily fooled. A simpleton for nearly sixteen years, fawning on a husband unfaithful to me, while also nurturing and spoiling two little vipers who ultimately broke my heart. Children, who needs them? Not Annette Annaba Walker.

Dan had phoned my mother and played the aggrieved husband. She took his side, as did everyone, agreeing that I had lost my wits, was mentally unbalanced, needed professional help. “Go home to your family,” Mommy kept telling me. “You’re going to lose those children, Annette!” And all I could think at the time was so what? The little monsters had been against me for years. They were tools of their father who had used them to make my life miserable. I was sure they were happier without me. And if not? Tough-titty.

“You won’t have Annette Walker to kick around anymore,” I hear myself murmuring, thinking of a quote I had read in a Richard M. Nixon biography, Nixon saying he was getting out of politics. And then he went on years later to become President, one of the most reviled in memory, second only to that son of a Bush the country is dealing with, the war monger warrior wannabe.

The divorce settlement had given me every other weekend with Keats and Emily. It would have been more the judge told me if I hadn’t so obviously abandoned them. He called me selfish and unnatural. Two adjectives that stuck to my continuing story. Whenever I talk to my mother on the phone or go over to her house for dinner or meet her at a restaurant, the judge’s words will find their way into the conversation. Selfish and unnatural. Only a selfish, unnatural mother wouldn’t be torn to pieces inside over the loss of her children. “You’ve always been willful, Annette. You’ve always made sure you got your way, no matter who pays for it.”

Mommy still thinks Dan is a prince. “What a devoted father. What a loss to any woman, but especially to my daughter. If he was as mean-spirited and unkind as you say, Annette, I know you, and my guess is you drove him to it. I’ve never seen him be anything other than a perfect gentleman.”

“And you wonder why I hardly ever call or come over,” I told her, she who is always there in my mind, a dominate force whose raison d’être seems always to find fault with her only daughter. I believe my father’s death at 59 was at least partially self-willed. Death being the only way of getting away from his wife forever.

What is right? What is good? Who is wrong? No one is wrong. Feelings cannot recognize wrong when it comes to loving or hating. The feelings tell you that you’re alive and need to make the most of every opportunity that might enhance your life. You might die in your sleep tonight. Yes, maybe a sudden sleep-death is already programmed into you. The Damocles Sword of genetics hanging over you every second. Maybe you are doomed to die early. Also thinking no time to waste!

I climb out of bed. Put my clothes on. Grab a pen and a yellow sticky and write a short note to Ray: His kiss, his kiss – impossible! I get in my car and drive to his house. I stick the note to his windshield.

Staring at the house a long while, I wonder in what room he is sleeping. Is he still awake, maybe lying in the dark thinking of me, thinking of the kiss in the bar tonight? I tiptoe up to one of the bedroom windows. I remember the dinner to celebrate the launch of Norman’s book, the conversation that he dominated, the growing coldness towards him I had felt that night. The egomaniac! The growing interest I had felt for Ray Poe, the distaste for bloated Bobbi. I recall that both Ray and Bobbi have offices in their home. Do they sleep together? I can’t imagine them sleeping together. Having sex? Not impossible, but definitely improbable. How can a man rise to the occasion lying next to such a whale? Touching the cool glass, I tap it with my fingernail. I am breathing hard (actually panting), my heart hammering. Mouth so cottony I can’t swallow. What if he comes to the window? What if he opens it and I crawl in, crawl into his bed into his arms? What if?

What are you doing, Annette? What are you doing, girl? This is beyond crazy. This is cockeyed, this is sick. This is what some love-struck teenager would do. Get away before someone spots you and calls the police!

I scurry to the idling car. Put it in gear, drive away. A plan forming in my mind, a way to attract his attention, a way to get what I want. I know I can do it. I know he wants me. His kiss told me he wants me. Also thinking this is my rendezvous with destiny and anyone in my way doesn’t have a chance. Whatever I have to wreck I’ll wreck. Come what may that man is mine! Also thinking fait accompli!