Columnists > Voices

The affair

A quiet seed develops -- and the unthinkable becomes thinkable

Issue: "Kerry picks Edwards as VP," July 17, 2004

She checks the car for telltale traces, then checks it again: a hotel napkin, a book of matches, an odor. Not that her husband is observant, but as the saying goes: "For want of a nail, a kingdom is lost." Most of all, the children must not know.

It is Tuesday afternoon, the usual, pulling in just ahead of the yellow school bus, sporting the trinkets they wait for. She prides herself on this -- her ability to manage it all, to not let her mothering slip. She will shift gears now, give herself entirely to them. Till Tuesday next, at 1 o'clock. And never the twain shall meet.

There are times, to be sure, moments only, when one world veers too close to the other, when the whole fragile edifice almost comes undone. At Women's Bible Study (that's Wednesdays) they're doing "Proverbs," and by chapter 7 she feels a hot shudder and wonders if it's noticed. A right unpleasant book, that, full of aphorisms that snap shut, boomeranging laws, inflexible as steel and unforgiving as gravity.

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Nobody ever wakes up one morning and decides to become an adulteress. You must imagine, rather, Elijah's fist-sized cloud over Mt. Carmel that swells into Ahab's mighty rainstorm. Or the quiet seed gestating in a woman weeks before she even knows she's pregnant. Or, perhaps, a serpent's egg. There appears one day a thought that wasn't there before, a whisper in the heart -- of disappointment, discontentment; a vacuum where once abode gratitude. Add the chemistry of idleness and afternoon soaps; the unrelenting barrage of unthinkable suggestions that become, suddenly, thinkable; and your best friend's well-meant counsel: "You deserve better than him."

There is this man at the gym. They talk. His marriage has been failing for some time. He says, "I can really talk to you." She says, "If we had only met when I was free." He says, "I had a dream of you last night." She says, "I am attracted to you too, but it's not right."

Not exactly a slammed door, this. The question is left dangling, the tension is titillating, every weak protest drawing the inevitable closer. Two-tiered messages fly back and forth, careful crafted verbal maneuvers that preserve a moral rectitude but are no defense against the surging undertow. The Rubicon is crossed before flesh ever touches flesh. "For who can carry fire in his lap and not be burned?"

The non-initiate's misunderstanding is that the unfaithful wife has coolly cast off all righteousness. Do not believe it for a second. She has developed her own complicated righteousness, and within it laws and logic that are as punctilious as a nun: Faithful to her husband in her own fashion, she rises while it is dark, prepares food for her family, "seeks wool and flax and works with willing hands."

Who is perfect? she thinks. Will not the Blood cover even this? And look, it's been a year and still no sign of divine disapprobation. Surely the Almighty Himself understands her! He knows her needs, that they weren't being met. "For God has called us to peace" -- says so right in 1 Corinthians 7:15!

Her pastor is a Johnny-one-note preacher. "Flee from sexual immorality!" (1 Corinthians 6:18). "Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it" (Genesis 4:7). "Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 7:24-25).

She cannot pray, she has tried. ("It is hopeless, for I have loved foreign gods, and after them I will go" [Jeremiah 2:25].) If the truth be told, there are days when she is tired. ("You were wearied with the length of your way" [Isaiah 57:10].) "The wicked flee when no one pursues" (Proverbs 28:1) -- a Woman's Bible Study verse intrudes from out of the blue as she paints her lips, on a Tuesday at noon. She chuckles (but only barely). "The paranoia of the guilty," she had blurted out on a Wednesday at class, and they all were impressed with her grasp of the Word: "Must be a gift," they cried.

Turning the key in the ignition, she drives away now, thickly scented, to the place she's been a dozen times before. See, nothing evil has befallen me and nothing will, she tells herself, rehearsing all the reasons that she's justified. But all the same she casts a glance behind and to the side, wondering, distractedly, irrationally, if today might be the judgment day.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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