Sybil, which was published in a literary magazine in 1996, was triggered by living on Wigglesworth Street in Boston and seeing the photo of the grave stone with the name Sybil Wigglesworth on it. One of the things I was trying to do when I wrote this was to capture as many details as I could about Boston, a city that will always occupy a major part of my heart.
Sybil stares at the photograph. Someone moved it from where it had hung for the last three years to the head of the marble staircase. She forces herself to look away just as she tries not to look at animals killed on the highway. Instead she concentrates on placing the pot of red poinsettias between pine boughs along the stairs.
As a member of the Fine Arts Museum Ladies Flower Committee, she puts new flowers in designated places throughout the Museum every two weeks. She is the third generation of Wigglesworth women serving on the committee.
"Look, Sybil," Mrs. Andrew (Elsbeth) Worthington says, "that photo of the gravestone. It has your name. Funny, I've never seen it before."
Sybil looks near the photograph, not at it. "It used to hang outside the Egyptian gallery."
"That explains it." Elsbeth shudders. "I hate the Egyptian rooms. All those bodies should have been left buried. And the statues. Too . . . too much bare chest."
"I first saw that photo when I was in college," Sybil says. She loses her fight not to look. The gravestone in the black and white photo had been carved with skull and crossbones typical of early puritans. The stone couldn't have been more than an inch thick. Probably it had been sheltered from the wind because the name Sybil Wigglesworth wasn't faded.
Shivering, Sybil says "I'd hate seeing my name on a gravestone even if the poor woman has been dead three centuries." She picks a dead leaf from a white poinsettia. "I mean, I know it's not me, but . . ."
Every time Sybil looked at the photograph something bad happened shortly after. The day after the first time she'd flunked an exam. The second time she'd sprained her ankle during a tennis game. The third time she'd caught a cold. After that she'd avoided the Egyptian gallery, laughing at her superstition while refusing to test it.
"I don't blame you," Elsbeth says collapsing a box with "Brookline Village Flower Shoppe" stamped on the side. She puts a card next to an imitation Ming vase provided by the museum's gift shop then arranges a pine bough near it. The card reports that copies of the pots are on sale at the store. "Was she your ancestor?"
"Probably. There's been at least one Sybil in each Wigglesworth generation since forever." As Sybil talks she thinks a gravestone photograph shouldn't be hung over Christmas flowers. Maybe, when she sees the director at the flower committee's annual Christmas tea, she'll ask if it can be moved. Then maybe she won't.
Elsbeth pats Sybil's hand. "Well, that's not your name now. And how is dear, dear Jonathan? We haven't seen him for at least an age and a half."
Sybil twists a pot holding a white poinsettia to match the position of the red one on the stair below. She wants to say, "distracted, grouchy, overworked".
"Fine." She hopes her husband is in a better mood tonight than he was this morning when she reminded him about The Nutcracker.
He'd told her to start without him. "I'll catch up later." He'd mumbled about clients and dinner engagements.
She'd searched for his ticket in the top drawer of her desk, an heirloom handed down from her great, great, great-grandmother. The tickets were in the cubbyhold with their other season tickets to the Boston Symphony and the American Rep Theater.
The two women step back to survey their work. Elsbeth glances at Sybil who nods. "Looking good," Elsbeth says kissing the air near Sybil's cheek before leaving.
As Sybil runs upstairs her eyes are drawn to the tombstone photograph. She bumps into a young man. His box, easel, and canvas, a copy of Van Gogh sunflowers, skitter down the stairs. He grabs at the palette but misses. It lands on the floor.
"I'm so sorry." She picks up the palette. Globs of white, yellow and blue oil paint mark the marble floor.
The artist rushes down the stairs, picks up the canvas. Nothing smudged. The paint box didn't open. He carries everything back to where she holds his palette. "Did I get paint on you?" he asks.
"I don't think so. Did anything break?" she asks.
He opens the box. "Nothing's shattered." Taking a rag and turpentine he pours liquid on the cloth. The smell stings her nose. Taking another rag, she helps clean the floor. "Thanks," he says.
They leave in different directions. "At least I got whatever bad was going to happen over with quickly," she says to the photo.
Sybil sits in the fifth row seat of the Wang Center watching a Christmas tree grow. It's almost her favourite part of the ballet, competing with the dancing mice that run out from under a dancer's over-sized skirt. Jonathan's seat is empty, but she is too caught up in the ballet to notice. Christmas isn't Christmas without The Nutcracker, she thinks.
Her hair is pulled into a bun because someone told her that the style accentuated her cheekbones about the same time she'd been casting around for the hairstyle to wear the rest of her life. All the women in her family found hairstyles in their early twenties and never changed them. From time to time she pushes an imaginary hair back in the bun.
Her brown dress and brown hair might appear drab on others. She knows from long experience that The Boston Globe's society writers will mention that she was at the ballet and looked classic. Before they dubbed her classic she thought herself plain. Because her name is usually mentioned in connection with charity work, Jonathan approves. Successful Boston attorneys need the right wife.
Sybil Wigglesworth Holliston is a classic wife but not a classic mother.
Not having children has been as huge a disappointment as discovering she was classic-looking gave her pleasure. To have children it's necessary to make love regularly. Jonathan's long hours and obligations leave him too tired more nights than not.
Sybil isn't sure if it has been six or seven months since they pleasured one another, but she would never dream of asking him to make love to her. Besides classic another word describing her is passive. Because she is outgoing and warm with a good sense of humour, few people realise how very passive she really is. Thus when her mother said, "You'll have fun in college," she did.
Her father had said, "You should get a job," after she graduated from Brown University. She worked three years as a secretary at Wheelock College.
When Elsbeth had said, "I've a man, you have to meet," Sybil dutifully went to dinner. Jonathan was that man.
When he proposed Sybil registered her china and silver patterns at Shreve, Crump & Lowe as all Wigglesworth women did. She let her mother plan a tasteful wedding at King's Chapel. The equally tasteful reception at the Parker House was complete with white frosting roses replacing the bride and groom on top of the wedding cake.
The only active thing Sybil ever did in her entire life was to suggest that her wedding party ride the swan boats. The entire group traipsed from the chapel to the Boston Public Gardens. Her mother had clucked about dirty trains but the flower girl and the maid of honor alternated in holding it safe. The boats, newly painted and ready for summer tourists, were whiter than Sybil's antique lace gown. A swan boat ride became a family wedding ritual.
As the sugar plum fairy dances off the stage, Jonathan slips into his seat. The reflection from the orchestra lamps light the grey streaks mixed into his dark hair. Sybil helps him off with his Chesterfield coat.
"Want to go for a drink?" Jonathan asks as they melt into the crowd outside the Wang Center.
Snow falls lightly. The Nutcracker and snow -- what could be more Christmassy, she thinks. "Yes! We haven't been out, just the two of us, since Valentine's?" Glancing at him she is struck how his face is a hard line. He slows to help her across the slush in her high heels. Some gets under the arch of her foot. It hadn't been snowing nor had it been predicted when she'd left the house.
"Spinnaker Room," he says, "unless you've another idea?"
"I thought you didn't care for it?"
"We'll have a good view of the city," he says. He never answers her questions directly, just like he seldom voices positive or negative opinions. She can't remember him saying, "I really like this" or "I don't want that". She reads his moods by his frown, a wrinkling of his nose and more rarely, especially lately, his smile. It was a nose wrinkle when she had suggested Sunday brunch at the Spinnaker three weeks ago that made her think he disliked it.
A young woman, her long hair a mass of ringlets from the crown of her head to mid-back, stands behind a table. Her name tag reads Juliet. She leads them through the near empty restaurant of the circular room. Half the entire wall is glass. They can see the river, Boston University and the Citgo sign muted by falling snow.
The only other customer sits alone in front of a squat glass filled with beige liquid. His suit jacket is on the seat. He has loosened his tie. Spread around him are papers. He uses a calculator then makes notes.
The first time Sybil went to the Spinnaker she'd hung her pocketbook on a rail. The motion was gradual and she'd been so busy talking that she hadn't noticed the movement of the room until she reached for her agenda in her handbag only to discover it three feet behind her. It takes an hour for the room to make a complete revolution.
The waitress brings Jonathan scotch and Sybil Russian tea. He plays with his glass. The flakes are fat cotton balls, falling fast and at an angle. "We've got to talk," he says.
Sybil pauses, her glass halfway to her mouth. "What about?"
"I want a divorce."
"That's a bad joke."
"It isn't a joke."
She remembers the photograph of her tombstone at the Museum -- no not hers -- the other Sybil. She feels herself die a little. "You want a divorce?"
His eyes don't meet hers. "I can't stand it anymore."
She doesn't know what "it" is and doesn't want to find out. She doesn't know what to say. No one in her family has ever divorced -- not since the first Wigglesworths landed, not on the Mayflower, but three ships later. She doesn't want to be the first. She doesn't want to lose Jonathan.
Two other couples come in along with a piano player. He climbs onto the platform in the middle of the room where there's a baby grand. He plays jazz versions of Silent Night then Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer.
Sybil is afraid to look at Jonathan. When he puts his hand over hers, she pulls away. If she lets him touch her she'll cry. "One doesn't cry in public," her mother always told her. By overwhelming willpower she damns the tears against her eyes.
"I've tried to tell you for several months."
Still she says nothing. Scattered flashes about his distance fights with the idea that if he had trouble telling her maybe, just maybe, he isn't sure. It's a phase like the terrible twos.
"God damn it, Sybil. Say something. Don't just sit there like the world ended."
She thinks of all the etiquette books she has read. Nothing taught her how to be polite when your husband tries to divorce you.
More silence. The other two couples lean on the baby grand and sing Jingle Bell Rock. One of the guys has his hand on the taller girl's ass.
"You have to give us a chance. Go to a counsellor," her voice whispers.
Jonathan gulps his scotch. "I have."
"Without telling me? We should go together. If I'm doing something wrong we..."
"It's me, not you." He takes another sip, except his glass is empty. He pushes it away. Plucking holly from the vase on the table, he systematically breaks off each of the leaves. Sybil feels she is like that sprig being ripped apart. "There's someone else. I left that person after Elsbeth introduced us. My ex-lover went to San Francisco, but during the past year we've gotten back in touch," he says. "By accident. It's important you know that."
"Do I know her?" she asks. Elsbeth had said Jonathan had never been involved with anyone. Maybe Elsbeth hadn't known. He was the son of a friend of a distant cousin who'd given him Elsbeth's name when he moved from Baltimore to Boston. Sybil thinks how little she knows about him even after ten years of marriage. His family is dead. They entertain his clients and her childhood friends.
"We can tell people anything you want," he says. "It's best for both of us. Living a lie is no good." He delivers his lines like a bad actor reading a worst script.
"The lie you loved me?"
"I love you, but not enough to make our marriage work."
That he loves her has planted a seed of hope. "What's wrong? If you didn't work so much we could do more things together." She sinks back exhausted from defending herself. She never has had to.
"Sybil!" His tone matches a father talking to a child. "I work late to avoid our problems. You're a good wife, but you're wrong for me."
"And the other woman is right for you?"
"I should have stayed with that person."
"Is she pretty?"
"I won't compare the two of you."
"You already have. You didn't give me a chance. It isn't fair."
Jonathan signals for the check. As he runs his fingers under his shirt collar, she thinks how controlled he looks. Although she realises that this must be hard for him, if she allows herself sympathy, she'll crack. She wishes she were having a nightmare so she could wake up.
"I'm taking you home, but I'm not staying. I've already packed, mostly personal stuff. I'll give you whatever you want, although my lawyer says I'm nuts." Jonathan catches his breath then continues.
All she thinks of as he helps her on with her coat, he's already talked to a lawyer.
Sybil opens her eyes. It's Valentine's Day. Like all mornings when she wakes for one second, no more than one second, everything is normal -- Jonathan is at work. He'll be home for dinner. She looks forward to hearing his voice sharing the details of his day. Then a waterfall of pain drowns her in its foam.
The dog has curled up on Jonathan's side of the bed. He never allowed Saki to sleep with them and made him sleep on the chair. Sybil wants a warm body in her bed and if it can't be her husband, she'll accept a black and white furry substitute. A Japanese chin is better than nothing.
Saki stretches. He bounces to the floor and wags his tail. Sybil stretches unkinking her muscles with zombie-style movements. She hasn't gone to gym since the day before The Nutcracker. She hasn't gone anyplace except to the grocery or her parents for Sunday dinner when all excuses failed.
The portable phone next to the bed rings. She pulls up the antenna. "Hello Mummy." She thought about telling her mother not to call daily, but knows it will do no good.
Her father tried teasing her with, "How's my hermit?" Last week that gave way to, "Shape up."
"Hi sweetie," Martha Wigglesworth gushes good cheer while the rest of the world crawls toward their first cups of coffee. "I can tell, you're still in bed. Call me later." The phone goes dead.
Sybil lowers the antenna. Unable to get back to sleep and intimidated by Saki's I-want-to-go-out-NOW!!! stare, she throws back the eiderdown she and Jonathan bought when they skied in Austria. Several glasses, some empty some half-filled are on the night table. The dregs aren't alcohol. Drinking doesn't give her a refuge, only a hangover. She tried.
She finds clean undies in unfolded laundry, seeing no reason to put it away. There's a bigger pile of dirty laundry in the corner. She smells her navy blue jogging suit. It's clean enough to wear a third day.
She'd fired the housekeeper three weeks after Jonathan moved. The women had spent too much time trying to cheer her. Sometimes, Sybil regrets it as work piles up. However, she lacks energy to hire another, and she would be too embarrassed to ask the old one to forgive her.
The night Jonathan left her at the door, her thoughts zigzagged between reality and imagination. Although she knew Santa Claus wouldn't bring a repentant husband an irrational part of her believed Jonathan would be under her tree. She pretended through Christmas Eve that everything was fine. Her parents pretended with her, but when she showed up Christmas day with only Saki, they told her their worst suspicions were confirmed.
She spent Christmas crying face down on her childhood bed where she couldn't see either the lace canopy or the mementoes of her youth. New Year's Day her father drove her home with Saki on her lap. Sybil preferred to be alone rather than watch her parents exchange looks over everything she said.
She has talked to Jonathan three times since Christmas. He urged her to call an attorney. "You can reach me at the office," he said when she asked for his home phone.
Sybil dreads Saturdays, especially those on Valentine days in years her husband wants a divorce. Saki, tired of waiting, lies on the floor and whimpers occasionally.
Picking up the phone, she calls information. A Jonathan D. Holliston is listed in Cambridge. She dials. An answering machine plays Bolero then fades. "Hello, you've reach David and Jonathan. At the beep please leave your name." It must be David's voice because it doesn't sound like her husband's. She hangs up before the beep.
Maybe Jonathan hasn't moved in with his girlfriend. Maybe it's over. Maybe it's another Jonathan. She considers calling back and leaving a message, but does nothing.
Saki whines louder, insisting he can't wait longer.
"Good boy." The dog ran down the spiral staircase the couple had hand built. When they'd renovated their brownstone they'd visited Europe buying art and antiques. There is no such thing as a memory-less curtain, painting or tea cup. The house is an unwanted memorial to her marriage.
The dog runs across the street and slips under the iron fence surrounding the park. He lifts his leg on the largest of the six oaks. As Sybil stands watching from the door, an icicle from the house next door crashes to the sidewalk. She sees a kid painting in the park. The canvas has a very stylised version of the street. Saki hops on the palette resting on the ground next to the easel. He rolls on the palette offering his stomach to his new friend.
"Saki! Stop it! Sybil runs into the park. Her slippers are drenched by melting snow. "Did he mess up your palette?"
"It's OK. I was about to quit. Isn't as warm as I thought." He looks at her. "You look awfully familiar."
She looks closely at him. He's in his mid-twenties with a red beard and short wavy red hair. She can't place him.
"Wait a minute," he says. "You bumped into me at the museum. Before Christmas."
"Above the marble staircase in front of the photo. I'm sorry. Both my dog and I seem to have a magnetic attraction to your paints."
"I'll forgive you for a cup of coffee." He blows on his hands.
She pauses. Although he doesn't look like a homicidal maniac, neither did Ted Bundy.
He smiles as if reading her mind. His nose is red. "You can introduce me to a neighbour or something. I'll show identification." He hands her card after card including one for a discount at Charette's Art Store and his student ID.
She smiles at the idea of knocking at the Walkers' saying, "Remember this face in case I'm murdered." Instead she says, "Come in."
He follows her to the kitchen where she rummages around a closet to pull out instant coffee. The beans are gone. So is the pre-ground coffee. As he drops his jacket over a kitchen chair, she washes two cups and fills them with water before putting them in the microwave. "Would you like some toast or corn flakes? She opens the refrigerator. "Whoops. I'm out of milk."
"Good thing I like my coffee black. Toast, please. My name is Tom, Tom Reilly."
"I'm Sybil Wigglesworth Holliston."
Tom tips back in his chair. "Will a jealous husband shoot me?"
"I wish." She blushes. "What I meant was, I'm separated. I didn't mean I wish he'd shoot you, just that he'd care enough to be jealous."
Tom rocks on the back legs of his chair. "It's hard getting ya act together after a downer like that." He looks around the kitchen. "I grew up with a big kitchen like this. In Maine. Except you've got every appliance possible. We only had a stove and icebox."
Her eyes drift to the ceiling where copper pans hand from beams. Tom's eyes follow hers.
"One of those pans would pay my rent for a month." He reaches for the sugar bowl filled with brown sugar crystals the size of pebbles. "Neat," he says. The crystals tinkle against one another as they hit the bottom of the mug. He pushes the bowl to Sybil, who shakes her head no. The only reason she still has sugar is that she hasn't used any since her husband left.
"Got any plans for the rest of the day?" Tom asks.
Holding a mug to her lips without taking any she says, "I don't make plans anymore."
"Wow! Really good self-pitying tone."
She puts her cup on the table after moving stacks of unopened mail. Jonathan had his mail forwarded from the day he left. When it's addressed to both of them and she needs to see it he mails it back in his law firm's envelope without a note.
"That's cruel," she says.
"Not at all. Sure, it's too bad your husband dumped you, but if you're starving it's only cause you don't shop. You're not supporting kids or anything. You'd be pretty if you'd smile." He adds more crystals to his coffee. "Never saw sugar like this. Anyway you've got your whole life ahead of you."
"That's a cliché I can do without, thank you very much. I had my life like I wanted it. And it was stolen from me," she says.
"Let's change the subject. Let's go to Harvard Square. Too nice a day to mope even if it is cold."
She wants to say no. "I'll change and do my hair."
"I'll wait but don't put it in that stuffy bun. Braid it from the crown."
They pop up from the subway by the Out of Town Bookstore. Harvard sweatshirts blow in the wind. Students, professors, tourists and workers mingle buying two-day old papers from London, Paris, San Francisco and D.C. A South American band play pan flutes on the sidewalk.
"Let's do a museum. Do you feel impressionistic, historical, Germanic or glass flowerish?" Tom asks.
"You're the artist, so the Fogg..."
"If I wanted to go to the Fogg, I'd have said so. What do YOU want?"
"Whatever you decide."
"I want you to decide," Tom says.
"I don't care," she says.
He grabs her by the shoulders and pushes her against the doorway of a shoe shop. "Care, God damn it," he says.
She shrinks into the doorway. "Glass flowers," she hollers. She glances to see if anyone is looking. People walk by like nothing happened. She hasn't screamed since she was teenager and that had only been an obligatory rebellion.
"I like women who know their own minds." Tom pulls her braid. Then taking her elbow he propels her to the Peabody Museum and the glass flowers.
Sybil thinks wandering around the Square with an artist young enough to be her brother is better than sitting at home remembering candy and flowers from bygone Valentine days. As they look at the long cases with the flowers, she forgets her misery. When she spots her favourite rose with the glass bee, she shows Tom who has draped his arm over her shoulder.
"They need dusting," he says, "like your kitchen." Because his voice is kind, she knows he's teasing. He takes her hand and leads her outside. The sky's blue contrasts with the red brick buildings. Last week's snow piled around the parking meters is dirty grey.
Standing by the subway entrance, Tom says, "We've got a choice. I've $5.00. We can each grab a sandwich and walk back or we can split a meal and take the subway."
"Next date you can pay."
"Is this a date?" she asks.
"I think so." When he kisses her cheek she freezes. "I guess you're not use to dating. Consider me practice."
He chooses La Pinata. They order guacamole and a Coke with two straws leaving $1.50 for after they tip the waiter. Tom gives her a financial accounting then says, "I gotta get to work."
"I thought you were a student."
"Which is why I work. I'm also a waiter at the Brookline Steak House."
As they walk out she spies Jonathan sitting under a donkey pinata. He is with a man about the same age. They're dressed in turtle neck sweaters and jeans. A pile of books rests on the table. The man opens one and points out something to Jonathan, who takes the book and glances up but goes on talking. Then he realises he has just seen his wife.
"Hello, Jonathan." Sybil says as Tom reaches for her hand. His hand is more like a life line than simple flesh and fingers.
"You're looking well, Sybil. I'd like you to meet David. David this is my...my wife."
The man shakes her hand.
Sybil introduces Tom. Once outside she slumps on the stairs leading into the building. "I didn't know it would hurt that much."
Tom leads her into the park in front of Grendel's Den. The last time she'd been there was she and Jonathan had watched Morris dancers. "You don't want him to see you falling apart in case he comes out," Tom says. "Now you know he didn't leave you for another woman."
"She stops sniffling. "What are you talking about?"
"They were lovers."
"Jonathan? No, no...No! I don't believe it."
"They were sitting behind you. Trust me. They were lovers."
"Jonathan's not gay," she says.
"Have it your own way," he says.
Sybil tosses all night. Saki gets so discouraged that he deserts the bed for the rug. The next morning she calls the number she thinks is Jonathan's. This time she leaves a message. "Hello, Jonathan, we have to talk." She doesn't leave her name.
An hour later the phone rings. "Hello," she says through her constricted throat.
"Hi. It's me. Tom. Just checking to see if you're OK."
"That's sweet, I'm OK."
"I'm painting today, but I took a break to call you. Want to go to a student exhibition at the college next weekend?"
"I don't know," she says.
He clucks. "Don't start getting indefinite with me. I want to hear, 'I'd love to' or 'No way' but none of this 'I don't know' shit." he mimics her whine.
"I don't sound like that."
"Yup. You do."
"I'd love to go."
"Better. Not so hard was it?"
She wants to say yes. "Not really."
He laughs. "I'll call later in the week."
"Why are your bothering with me?"
"Cause you're pretty. 'Cause I've always adopted strays. 'Cause I'm a crusader and believe life is wonderful," Tom says.
"I don't agree," she says.
"Give me time to work my magic. I'm a Down East Leprechaun."
After Sybil hangs up, she picks up her clothes. "I feel dumb being flattered by kid ten years younger than me," she says to the dog who chews on a raw hide bone. She puts the dishes in the dishwasher. She needs to keep busy and not think about the telephone. It rings.
She thinks of all the conversations that have started like that, but have been followed by normal husband and wife phrases like, "I'm on my way home. Need anything at the store?" or "Meet me at Copley for a movie."
"You said you wanted to talk. May I come by?"
An hour later the doorbell rings. She lets him in trying not to think how handsome he is. "I haven't changed the locks," she says as he slips off his ski jacket.
"I left my key."
"I didn't find it."
She makes tea in the pot with two feet and smiling face. The house is neat only because Sybil has shoved the clutter in drawers or under furniture. Her choice of the tea pot was deliberate. They'd often discussed plans over tea brewed in that pot. When they'd found it at Quincy Market, they decided it was so stupid looking they wouldn't buy it. After leaving the store, they'd looked at each other and without a word, had gone back. It had become a favourite even more than the rose porcelain purchased in Windsor after touring the castle.
Having him across the table from her seems surreal to Sybil. He adds sugar just like he'd done thousands of Sundays as they'd drunk tea and read The Boston Globe and New York Times. Nothing and everything has changed. She touches the table to feel something real.
"Milk, please?" he asks.
"Fresh out. I've bottled lemon juice," she says.
His eyes narrow slightly. Their kitchen had always been well stocked with everything including four different kinds of pepper, five kinds of sugar, fresh lemon and tons of fresh herbs.
"You use to drink it black," she says.
"Lately black tea makes my stomach too acid." He massages his cup. She waits for him to talk. Finally he says, "How do you feel about all this now?"
"I want thing like they use to be. I want to understand."
He plays with his spoon, hitting the bowl against his palm. He stares at the tea. When he looks at her, his expression is kind. "I don't want to hurt you. I have to."
"You still want a divorce."
"I need one."
Memories of good meals, Scrabble and card games, maps for plotting holidays float in the air between them, spirits searching for a final resting place.
"You need to rebuild your life. I love you, but...but...I love David more."
Sybil walks to the window. She stares at their fenced-in courtyard. The barbecue is covered with snow. She needs time to wrap herself with control
"Tom was right. He's your lover. You lied. You said it was a woman."
"Whoa." Jonathan puts up both hands forming a barrier. "You assumed it.”
She thinks about their conversation at the Spinnaker. He's right. "Tell me about it. I've a right to know." She whispered her next question. "Don't I?"
He takes his time, spacing his phrases. "I never wanted to deceive you...I'd enough problems admitting it to myself . . . David and I were lovers for four years after college. I told myself I was straight. I'd just fallen for this one man." He looks at his wife. She has sat down, her hand folded in front of her on the table, frozen in place. "When Elsbeth introduced us, I felt it was the time to get back to being straight . . . David went to San Fran. I married you."
Anger infuses Sybil. "Did you have affairs with men while we were married? Pick them up in bars?" Fear hits her. She hisses, "Did you use condoms?"
"You make it sound so sordid." I was faithful to you. I was faithful to David until met you. No matter what you think I'm not promiscuous. And I'm HIV negative."
"How did David come back into the picture?" She wishes he'd fallen off Fisherman's Pier. She's relieved Jonathan hasn't AIDS -- for her, for him in that order.
"Nineteen months ago I thought I saw him on Park Street. I ran and caught him. At first we kept it platonic, old friends meeting for a drink -- until it became too strong."
Jonathan look at his nails, well manicured as ever. "That's when you and I stopped sleeping together. I went to a counsellor to sort it out." He stops. The silence screams. "I don't know what to say." He looks at her directly for the first time since he arrived.
She doesn't know what to say either. When her best friend's husband left her they'd discussed strategy for getting him back. She knows strategy can't help. Even a sex change operation wouldn't work for it's David that Jonathan wants.
"You don't look gay." She wishes she could pull those words out of his ear, bury them, but they fell through her teeth too fast.
"A lot of gays don't. Think of Rock Hudson. But I am. Not bisexual. Gay. Would it help if I told you that if I were straight you'd be the only woman for me?" He takes her hand.
"Not much," she says. She puts pressure on his hand then withdraws her own. "I guess the only thing to do is to end our marriage with as much dignity as possible for both of us. Being kind in an unkind situation is our last gift to each other."
"It's more than I hoped. I'd have understood if you were a complete bitch."
"I couldn't be."
"You're a nice woman."
She throws up her hands. Those words hurt too, but she is not thinking of the pain. The question, "how am I going to lead my own life" shoots through her head.
"I did love you," he adds.
She doesn't want to hear that either. There's nothing he can say that she wants to hear. She feels herself hanging between an unreal place and an unknown destination.
They talk about property. She promises to call her attorney. He reaches for his ski jacket. She stays seated. He comes to her chair and bends to hug her.
"You can't hug away my pain," Sybil says. He drops his hand to her pat her head, his hand running down her long braid.
"I know it's trite, but I'd really like us to be friends," he says.
"Maybe eventually. I need time." She motions with her hand in a way that says go. After he leaves, she wonders if she will ever feel alive again.