"Mr. Faulkner," the man said. "My name is Michael Bennett, and I was your wife's lover."
Tom stood there, stock still, wondering if he had heard correctly. Michael Bennett looked at Tom oddly, questioning whether he had heard at all. He cleared his throat again to speak, but Tom interrupted him.
"Mr. Bennett, you have ten seconds to get off my property before I inflict some serious damage."
Michael nodded in understanding and left, accepting that the man was upset for good reason and that he was probably very angry at this point in time, after all, he had just told him that he was the lover of his now dead wife. He would have to wait a few days before returning and trying to speak to Mr. Faulkner again. He had lots to tell him. Years worth in fact.
"What was that all about?" Doug asked as Tom entered the house. Linda and Paulette were sitting at the kitchen counter drinking coffee, both of them staring at Tom expectantly as he entered.
"Nothing," mumbled Tom in response.
"It had to be something, the man sounded pretty urgent to me if he wanted to speak in private with you," replied Doug.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Linda chirped in.
I am so close to being a convicted murderer, Tom thought angrily. He was so irritated with all of them; he wanted everyone out of his house and to be left alone. That was all he wanted. To be alone.
"I don't want to talk about it," he said. "I don't want to talk to any of you, leave me alone." He turned and headed for the safety of his bedroom, leaving his family members downstairs in shock. He slammed the bedroom door behind him and sank down, tears spilling from his eyes. He brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around himself, feeling safer when he was curled up tightly. When he was like this nothing could get him, nobody could touch him. He was safe. That was the main thing. When he was curled up tight like this, he was safe and alone.
After the tears and the mourning, the rage and anger set it. He stood up and paced back and forth angrily, cursing under his breath, questioning everything. Who the hell was that Mr. Bennett to show up at his house on the day of the burial and tell him that his wife had a lover? What the fuck? How dare he do that? More importantly, why would he say that? Why would he make that accusation? What the fuck was wrong with him? What kind of a person crashed someone's wake and accused the late lamented of adultery? WHAT. THE. FUCK!
He went over to the bedroom window, threw it open and lit a cigarette, leaning out the window, so the smell of smoke didn't infect the bedroom or the house. Linda had the nose of a sniffer dog and she hated smoking, describing it as an appalling and disgusting habit. It occurred to him at that moment that it should be odd that Linda wore as much perfume as she did when other strong smells she found repulsive.
You're more and more like your old man every day, hiding your dirty habits from the family, being overly critical of everyone else and judging.
What was he going to do? Cheryl was gone, buried this very afternoon, and some jackass had come in off the street and revealed that his wife was having an affair.
He's lying. Of course, he is. He has some vendetta against my family, and he's trying to even the scoreboard by defaming the good name of my wife and family.
After his cigarette, he closed the windows and flopped down on the bed, where he did some more weeping and mourning. He fell asleep, but it wasn't proper sleep. He was in that trance-like state of being in between consciousness and deep sleep. He was still vaguely aware of his surroundings and noises, but everything seemed far away. Someone knocked on the door; he knew that. He didn't know how long they persisted, who it was or what they wanted, but they left after however long and no one bothered him again. It wasn't until the early morning light streamed in and hit his face, that he was once more aware of his surroundings and what was going on.
He sat up in bed and stretched, groaning with the exertion. His shirt and suit pants were crumpled from the awkward position he had been laying in all night, his bones also aching for the same reason. He stood up slowly and heard the audible click and creak of his fifty-one-year-old joints. He had noticed it more over the last decade, slowly getting worse and slowly getting louder. He remembered the nickname that Cheryl had lovingly bestowed on him.
"Here's my old guy," she would smile when he got home. She would kiss him on the cheek and then return to her domestic duties. He couldn't even remember the first time Cheryl had called him that, it had just sort of happened, it had become a part of their married existence, like them staying in on Saturday nights, or having less sex. He hadn't noticed it at first, it had just happened. Those things had just been there. Now that they were gone, he noticed it. Now that Cheryl was gone he noticed the absence of her voice, the absence of her little quirks and the absence of her loving presence.
As he undressed, he paid particular attention to each article of clothing. The shirt that Cheryl had brought for him five years earlier, when his old 'good shirt' had no longer been acceptable to wear on special occasions. The black pants, again purchased by Cheryl when he had worn through his other black suit pants. The watch was a gift from Cheryl for his 35th birthday, all those years ago. Even the socks were another Cheryl purchase. He hadn't had to do clothes shopping for himself in more than a decade when Cheryl had all of a sudden taken over that duty.
He realized that everything around the house, nearly everything to do with their lives, had been organised and undertaken by Cheryl. The weekly shopping, the bill payments, everything to do with Sue and Jason's schooling, the chores around the house, cooking and cleaning. Everything had been done by her.
It takes the death of my wife to realize how lazy I was around the house. I was taking her for granted and I never realized until now. I didn't even consider everything she did for us. My God.
He also realized that there was a lot he didn't know about his wife. So much he hadn't asked her. He couldn't remember the last time they had talked properly. Not just idle chit chat about their days, but a proper talk. All those time he had asked Cheryl how her day was, he didn't fully mean it. His questions were half-hearted and borne out of marital necessity rather than interest.
I didn't even take proper notice of her, after everything she did for us and my interest wasn't even fully vested.
His wife was a stranger to him, and it had taken her death for him to realize that. It had taken her death for him to realize everything he should have said and done. He should have thanked her more often, and he should have appreciated her more, and he should have said I love you, more often than he did. The more he thought about it, and though it hurt, he realized the window of opportunity for her to have an affair was there. The reasons were there also. Maybe that jackass wasn't as much of a fantasist as he first thought. Tom still hated him, but maybe, just maybe, he was starting to make sense, though he would never admit that.
As he dressed and then went downstairs to an empty kitchen and dining room, he realized that there were many missing pieces in his marriage. There was so much he hadn't known about his wife or the life she led when they were apart from each other. He had thought, and wrongly so that her life revolved around him and the kids. It had got to the stage where he couldn't imagine her as separate from a housewife. Cheryl the person and Cheryl the homemaker were the same being. He knew she had friends, but for the life of him, he couldn't imagine her socializing with them. He couldn't imagine these much talked about coffee mornings or lunch dates.
Fuck I was an ass to her. I didn't even allow her to have a life.
The stillness and the quietness of the house, at six thirty, am gave him the time to think about things and ponder their marriage. There was so much that Cheryl could have done, yet he hadn't allowed her to.She hadn't asked for much, while he had asked for everything. The sad realization that he was a bad husband dawned on him, and it was a label that he didn't want, nor had he asked for, yet it was bestowed on him. He was more like his father than he wanted to be. More like his father than he cared to admit.
If only I could have her back. I would cherish her every day, and tell her how much I love her. How much she meant to me. Oh, Cheryl.
His peace was broken by Paulette, who smiled at him weakly. "Hey you," she said to him.
"Hi," replied Tom.
"How are you holding up?"
"I'll survive," he answered.
"But that doesn't mean you're doing okay. You know you can talk to me. You can talk to any of us. We're all here for you Tom."
"I am so sick of hearing those words. I am so sick of people telling me that I should talk to them, telling me how I should feel. I just want to be left alone so I can mourn on my own time, not anyone else's."
"But Tom," she said as she watched him stand up and walk away.
"But nothing," he said, leaving the room and returning to the safety of his bedroom, the only place where no one would bother him. The only place where he could be left in peace. He knew Paulette was right, which just served to make him angrier. He didn't want to talk to anyone, but he knew he should. He didn't want to share his feelings, but he knew he should. Heck, he didn't even want to feel right now. He just wanted to be numb. The thought of being numb was very appealing to him at that moment.
Numb. No feeling at all. No awareness. Numb.
He looked at his reflection in the mirror, and he realized that he hated the way he looked. He hated himself. How could he have done that to Cheryl? Was he not aware of his wife? He hated these people being in his house. He hated these people telling him how he should feel. He hated Michael Bennett and part of him, a very small part, even hated Cheryl for dying, for leaving him like this and for unleashing these feelings on him. And, more importantly, for unleashing this Mr. Bennett on him.
His feelings all boiled up within him, coming to the surface and exploding. His breathing increased until his was panting. He was still giving his reflection eye contact; the hatred was there and in one swift movement he threw a punch at the glass and watched the pieces shatter and smash. He had cut his hand; there was blood dripping from his cut onto the floor below, but he didn't care. He hardly felt it. He collapsed in a heap, near the broken shards of the mirror, which were now reflecting a sad and lonely man. He wept. He wept for everything that once was and everything that was there now. He wept for the missing pieces and the loss of his wife.