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In Love

If you could persuade them to discuss it- separately, of course- both Roger and Merrilee would probably say that they discovered themselves to be in love at his fortieth birthday outing at their local bowling club. No doubt that is how they perceive it, but it would be more accurate to say that it was there they yielded to infatuation and became its prisoners under the influence of the warm, summer night, the music, a drink or two more than usual, and an accumulation of small dissatisfactions with their marriages.

 

The party was a small one- Roger and his wife, his parents and parents-in-law, and four or five other couples, including the Bensons, Merrilee and Warren. They had been seated at a window table near the door opening onto the balcony which overlooked the greens, and it was Roger who surrendered first as he observed Merrilee animatedly recounting an incident to those near her. When the couple next to her left their seats to dance, he moved into the one nearest her, yet did not engage her in conversation but rather listened in on what she was saying, and noted her attractions. Her voice was youthful and enthusiastic, her hands were very beautiful and moved gracefully in emphasis, her blouse becomingly emphasized her décolletage, all of which rendered what she had to say so interesting.

 

As the talk petered out, she suggested to Warren that they join the dancers and, when he expressed reluctance, Roger offered himself as a substitute. Up till then I suspect she was scarcely aware of him. I don’t know how it works, but there is some kind of telepathy by which a woman knows when a man finds her desirable, and by the end of that small sequence of dancing Merrilee knew it of Roger, and found herself responding to it.

 

Somehow they managed to place themselves and their partners in the same circle, with only just one other couple- my wife and me-, and by that means talk almost exclusively to each other, tantalizing one another with their eyes. Remarkably, neither Warren nor Rosalie, Roger’s wife, noticed- and neither did I. But my wife did, and commented on it when we arrived home. Since she has something of a weakness for gossip and conspiracies, I put it down to an over-active imagination, but later learnt of what happened as we were preparing to leave.

 

Roger and Merrilee bumped into each other in the narrow, l-shaped corridor leading to the toilets near the door- almost literally, for it is so confined that people normally feel the need to turn sidewards when passing. Their eyes met, he smiled and suddenly she kissed him directly on the lips, murmuring, “Happy birthday.” Instead of releasing her, he placed his hands on her hips and kissed her again, firmly and for several seconds, after which they once more stared into each others eyes for some little time before she announced, “I had better go.”

 

I must emphasize how out of character this was for both of them. Roger and I have been friendly since our late teens and he had been anything but promiscuous, going out with Rosalie from some time in his third year at university and never so much looking, so far as I can recall, at another girl. And Merrilee had been a proper daughter of the manse, acquiescing to the pattern of her parents’ faith in almost every detail.

 

It was natural, I suppose, that she should confide in Karen, my wife, but it was most surprising that he should confide in me. We were friendly, as I have said, but not really close, and there were others whom I believe should have been far more likely to be selected by him as a confidante. I suspect it was the knowledge that Karen is Merrilee’s cousin that set him in my direction, and I fear his intention was to somehow use Karen and me as a conduit between them. If this was his purpose, he was utterly disappointed, for although Karen and I shared their confidences between ourselves, we were very scrupulous in not passing anything learnt from one to the other.

 

I understand that those kisses at the bowling club were as far as the relationship went, so far as physical sex was concerned- they are both highly moral people- but inside of their heads it has continued passionately for ten years now.

 

At first it seemed as if they might take matters further. He spoke to me of the possibility of clearly stating his feelings to her, though I am uncertain as to whether he was contemplating a permanent liaison or merely an affair. She, on the other hand, definitely intimated to Karen that she was prepared to at least consider leaving Warren if Roger wanted her to. However, within a year, they had developed other arrangements which enabled them to see each other on a reasonably frequent and intimate basis without taking such a drastic step.

 

Their children were involved in similar out of school activities, so they saw each other almost every weekend at some sporting or kids’ social venue, and through this contrived to compose themselves into a foursome, and thus occasionally have coffee or dine together. In addition, they became members of some sort of community committee which met monthly in a hall not that far from where she lived, enabling her to walk to the meetings and then be driven home by Roger, who went to them directly from work.

 

Each of them gave us an account of what would happen after the meeting. They would drive to some discreet spot- a different one each month- and sit and talk for an hour or more, on general topics with never more than hinting at their feeling for each other. Apart from an occasional brushing of hands they would not touch, though Roger confessed to me that he ached to reach out and place his hand at the back of her neck. Neither Warren nor Rosalie suspected, so far as I can gather, that their partners’ late arrivals home were the consequence of anything other than rather long meetings.

 

About two years into the relationship Roger ceased to discuss it with me, whether because it had settled into a routine or he had abandoned any hope of reaching Merrilee through us I cannot say. However, she still confides in Karen, and we find these confidences both strange and worrying.

 

They continue to snatch time together and share an unspoken agreement that they are truly in love. Roger continues to be a caring husband to Rosalie and a conscientious parent, and likewise she to Warren and her children, but in her mind she lives a secret life with him. She constructs imaginary conversations with him, to which she gives greater significance than her actual communication with her husband, and imaginary incidents which are more real to her than things that truly happen in the life of her family. Karen has commented to me on the way in which the distinction between her fantasies and reality increasingly are coming to blur: about a year ago she told her how she just managed to stop herself from calling out Roger’s name while she and Warren were making love.

 

Some people seem to need to always be in love but a state of feverish romantic excitement is not something that can be maintained through the life of a marriage, so they seek it elsewhere. Roger and Merrilee have found a means of being in love without being technically unfaithful- and no doubt see themselves as being like the chaste, thwarted lovers of mediaeval romances. However, despite my strong disapproval of adultery, I cannot help thinking that this prolonged tease has possibly been more destructive to, both, them and their marriages than if they had a brief squalid affair, become thoroughly disillusioned with each other (as I am sure they would have), and returned chastened and wiser to the arms of the persons with whom their lot in life has been cast.

 

Gary Ireland

August 2010.

 

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