When Lance opened the door of his own home that night, he was greeted with the sounds of opera. He winced. Diane again. Her ludicrous fascinations. Her pretensions to culture. No matter. She’d probably lost track of the time, and dinner would be on the table within minutes. But as he trod through the kitchen, there was no evidence that anything had been prepared. He walked into the living room and was terrified by what he saw. A mass of magazines, mangled and scattered, coating the floor.
It looked like a burglary.
Lance’s world spun for a moment before his head snapped up.
Lance launched up the stairs and looked into all the rooms lining the hallway, calling out his wife’s name. The bathroom, the office, the bedroom…
And there was Diane. Naked. Standing in the center of the room, several magazines at her feet. The secret magazines. She was holding one of them in her hand. Lance tried to speak but nothing happened. His mouth felt dry, impossible. Diane saw this and decided to kick-start the conversation herself.
“I read them,” Diane said. “I read all of them.”
“It was a mess downstairs…are you okay?” Lance finally got out, his voice higher and quieter than usual, and his consonants softer.
“I’m fine. Why didn’t you tell me about these?” She tilted her head.
“You’re…I…you looked in my personal things?”
Diane nodded. “I did.”
“Who told you that you could do that?”
“No one did. I wanted to.” Diane saw Lance struggling. “I wanted to look and I did. I know this is hard for you. Seeing this.”
Lance’s face was a bright red, and it carried a look of childish anger. Again, Diane felt somewhat sorry for him. But she began to feel anger, too. Her voice rose just a little.
“Why didn’t you ever talk to me about the things in these magazines?” she asked. “How did you think I’d react?”
Lance shook his head and muttered, “Put some clothes on.”
“I’m fine. What did you think was so wrong that you hid these in a box?”
“Just put some clothes on and come downstairs and we’ll talk.”
Lance looked at her with a pained confusion. It was a look of confusion that she remembered very, very well. But instead of placating him, Diane decided to press forward. She walked towards him, still clutching the copy of SMACK.
“I’m not putting on clothes,” she said. “We can talk like this or we can not talk at all.”
Lance held his ground as she closed in on him. “Then we won’t talk. It’s late and I want dinner and then, if you’re feeling a little closer to normal, we can talk. But in the meantime just put on some GODDAMN CLOTHES.”
“NO!” she shouted, increasing her pace and coming right up to Lance’s face.
To her surprise, and to his, he backed away. His face registered a moment of deep humiliation and Diane pressed on, walking him out the door of the bedroom and up to the wall on the other side of the hallway.
“You hide things from me. And you don’t even know why you’re ashamed of them. You do things to me and you don’t care if I enjoy them. I’m showing you ME right now, and you don’t know what to say to it. I mean Jesus Christ, Lance, is there any part of our life that’s CLEAR to you? Because I’m learning that whatever I thought this was, whatever I thought my life was, it wasn’t ANYTHING.” Diane’s voice remained steady. “It’s not even that my life is horrible, I just don’t know what it IS. When you make love to me, I think of anything. ANYTHING but you. And I only realized it yesterday. And if you’re making love to me when I’m not there, what does that mean? Who are you making love to? If I’m not there, you’re making love to NOTHING. And you don’t even know it.”
After a moment, and with obvious difficulty, Lance finally spoke. “What’s wrong with you?”
Diane lowered her voice. “Do you want me to be like those women in the magazine?”
“No. I don’t. That’s just for…”
“For what?” she asked.
“It’s different,” he said.
“What’s different about it?”
“Those women are…they’re not like you,” he said. “You’re my wife.”
“I know. You wouldn’t want to be married to a woman like the ones you look at in secret?”
“No,” Lance said, his voice going cold. “I’d like to be married to a woman capable of giving me a child. But I can’t even have that, can I? I had to marry the first woman I fell in love with, and she turned out to be barren.”
Silence fell. Diane felt her face burn, her eyes welling up. She nodded. “I’m getting dressed now.”
Diane left the house that night with only her dress, a jacket in case the evening got cold (with an apple in one of its pockets), some money she’d squirreled away, and the magazine, which had become an object of serious fascination.
It only occurred to Diane 10 minutes after leaving the house that she was not terribly sure where she was going. She looked around. The sky had begun to fade. Houses were lit from within. Cars were parked in their driveways, retired for the night. Muted sounds of music and laughter drifted in and out of earshot.
She examined her options. She could go back home. This was not an option she was prepared to entertain. She could go to her mother’s house and face the inevitable judgment that she had failed in some way. She could go beg, like a fool, on the doorstep of one of the neighborhood women she detested so much. Any of these options ended with her going home in shame and accepting as her fate the life she had finally begun to examine and to hate.
Crossing into the park, Diane found a massive old tree, sat at the base of the trunk and began to weep. Big, loud, shuddering sobs that wracked her body. And she realized that she was not sobbing because of what Lance had said, nor because she had nowhere she could happily go. She had no idea why she was sobbing at all, actually. So she laughed.
It was not lost on Diane that she might have looked like a mad woman, sitting beneath a tree and cackling while her eyes streamed with tears. So she wiped her eyes and, feeling suddenly quite famished, plucked the apple out of her pocket.
It was still light enough to read, just barely. Diane placed the magazine on her lap and opened it up to a random page. What surprised her about the magazine’s barrage of unfamiliar imagery was that she was in no way offended by it. The acts being portrayed were obviously intended to be, well, dirty, but Diane’s inexperience with them and the general good cheer of the women involved combined to make her reaction one of fascinated delight. Here was a girl being spanked over the lap of another. Here was a woman made to dress like a pony in an elaborate lattice of leather straps, gagged with a bit, led around on reins by a classically attired equestrienne. The “victims” were playing up their distress fetchingly, all wide, pleading eyes, and the aggressors were oddly glamorous.
She took a bite of the apple. It was so ripe that juice spilled from the sides of her lips and onto the magazine’s thick paper. She giggled a little, suckling at the bite mark to avoid more mess, and wiped the juice off of the page. Right below the stain left behind, surrounded by images of a fresh-faced young woman gagged with a large, shiny ball, Diane saw something that gave her pause. A boldfaced bit of print, surrounded by a cartoon explosion.
“ALWAYS SEEKING NEW MODELS! THINK YOU’RE A SMACK GIRL? CONTACT US HERE!”
An address was provided. No PO box, an actual place of residence.
It was in New York City.
Which was half an hour away by train.
Which was a very inexpensive trip.
Which was ridiculous, of course.
Because what sort of woman just shows up unannounced at a…what would one call such a place, anyway?
It wasn’t the sort of thing one did, certainly not a married woman. These women were all, obviously, untethered to the real world, where doing things like this would result in total ignominy. These weren’t women with reputations. With something to lose.
Not like Diane.
And besides, the last train left just after 8. Which was in a half an hour.
Diane took another bite of the apple and made a decision.
She stood up and walked in the direction of the train station, the night finally beginning to fall properly and the katydids chorusing in the dark.