The White Dress
He recognized her.
In the heat of the afternoon as he walked back to his office building from Susan’s apartment, he noticed the dip of his wife’s chin as she nodded to a hotel’s doorman and strolled out onto the sidewalk. She blended in on the sidewalk with the other women and their handbags and thick necklaces, which were probably ordered from the same mail-order catalogues stacked under the ashtray on the coffee table in front of his and his wife’s own couch at home. Thomas could picture Cynthia leaning back on the couch, her feet resting on the table, her ankles crossed, thumbing through those catalogues, looking for the next portrait or watercolor to hang in the bathroom next to the painting of the big-headed child with blond curls sitting naked on a toilet, holding a roll of toilet paper. Stenciled red lettering stretched across the top of the painting proclaiming no job is finished until the paperwork is done.
Cynthia hung that painting one day while Thomas was in Susan’s apartment downtown, watching Susan undress. Lying on his side across Susan’s bed, his head propped up by his hand, he watched Susan’s performance of stunted hip thrusts and misplaced gestures with her hands as she brought them up her body. He thought she looked like a topless dancer with Tourette’s.
When he came home from Susan’s apartment that day, he found Cynthia had scribbled a note for Thomas. Cynthia was out – out with the girls. He went to take a shower and saw the painting of the big-headed child. He thought the painting stared at him.
Cynthia was under a large white sunhat and behind a pair of owlish sunglasses. Her hair hung loosely down across her bare shoulders. It needed brushed. The top of the white strapless sundress pressed into her skin. The dress swished forward, encircling her legs, as she stopped on the edge of the curb, her arm raised for a taxi. White gloves were in her hand, the ones Thomas bought her in order for her to be like a lady.
As she left the house that morning, Thomas watched her from the windows in the front room of their suburban townhouse. Cynthia told Thomas she was going to the salon.
Out on the sidewalk, Thomas saw her as she stood on the curb, a taxi pulling up, and his voice spoke before his mind registered what he was saying and he saw her shoulders tense like his voice had bitten down on the flesh of the back of her neck.
Cynthia turned toward Thomas, her dress clinging to her thighs in the growing heat. Cynthia looked at his face, her eyes peering over him, his open shirt, and Thomas looked at her body, seeing the dress, the gloves. He had never seen her leaving the hotel as he walked passed it after leaving Susan’s apartment. But today he saw Cynthia’s white dress sway. He saw the puckers of flesh and muscle over her knees. He smelled the hint of a fragrant perfume, of peaches, dissipate around him. His eyes traveled over her familiar body, her calves, her thighs, her waist, her breasts, her smile, her eyes.
Cynthia broke the gaze, turning her head to the bluster of the city, to the men passing them in their suits and shirts, to the teenagers running and hollering back and forth to one another.
Stepping toward her, Thomas rubbed the back of his neck with the palm of his hand. “I thought you were going to get your hair cut?”
As she tilted her head to the side, her sun hat blocked a portion of the sun from his face. Cynthia raised her hand and wiped at a bead of sweat moving down Thomas’s cheek. “She’s closed Mondays. Remember?”
Thomas didn’t remember. He felt an urge to change the subject as he thought about the work waiting for him back at the office. He did not want to drag the conversation out longer than needed, but he also did not want to leave, having to have the conversation later on. Thomas knew the day would come for Cynthia to have a friend with benefits, or even just something as physical as casual sex. He expected it early on in their marriage since he had begun seeing other women. But as the years passed and he continued seeing his women, he grew comforted by the fact Cynthia was there for him, and only him. Seeing her come out of the hotel, a hotel he had once frequented, gave him a sudden feeling of impotency. How long had she been lying, he thought.
“But that’s what you said,” Thomas said, moving his head to the side, away from her hand.
“I know.” She took her hand away from his face and wiped it on her dress.
Thomas felt betrayed. Cynthia was going to stand there like nothing happened, like there was not an understanding between them. These are the things you tell people, he thought. “Who is he?” Thomas looked at his watch as if he had somewhere to go.
“Would you care to meet him?” It was not a question. Cynthia stood in front of Thomas, shifting her weight to one side. It was a familiar movement to him. He had seen it before when he told her to take the big-headed child painting out of the bathroom. I want that thing moved, he had said. I don’t think so, she had said, standing to face him, her weight shifting. She had made up her mind. I do the laundry here and sometimes the paperwork is not as thorough as it needs to be, she had said.
Thomas began putting the few remaining pieces together about the salon, the hotel, the morning walks around the park. A flurry of images maneuvered for space in his mind. And, for the first time in their lives together, he began to realize who Cynthia could be.
It did not matter what boundaries were agreed upon in their marriage, he always assumed she was content with just him and hearing about his conquests, his sexual endeavors, his new positions. Their own sexual conduct was heightened when he met someone new as they would act out the seduction and Cynthia would smirk at the lines the women fell for and applaud when Thomas made a fool of himself by saying, Hey, beautiful.
It was unfathomable to him that his trysts could parallel hers. She never shared with him and he felt slighted.
“Thomas, I feel you two should meet. I mean, nothing was more fun than when I sat down for coffee with Susan.”
“You wanted to meet her.” He had had Susan for the past eighteen months, and since she was becoming more and more the only one he met up with, Cynthia asked to meet her. He remembered the coffee shop. The polite greetings as Susan’s eyes bounced back and forth between Thomas and Cynthia. Thomas told Susan later on she had looked like she was expecting someone to pull a gun and blow her head off or for Cynthia to pull a knife from her purse and plunge it into his crotch like in all those movies with the taglines hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Thomas focused on Cynthia, a small flash of anger overtaking him. “He’s like Susan?”
“Well, he’s new.” Cynthia scratched the inside of her elbow.
“New?” New meant there was old, he thought. A dull-colored metallic car drove up the street. A couple feet to the curb, he thought, a hard shove and she could be in front of that car as it hurtled toward her, mixing her whites with its metal. And then he would not have to come to terms with Cynthia’s behavior being so much like his own. He would not have to think about Cynthia’s man, or men. But it was a fleeting thought.
It had been six years of a routine. Breakfast, work, lunch, work, home, relax, sleep with the occasional times for vacation, sex, and extracurricular sex, which was never dwelled upon with the exception of the acted-out seductions and a few inquiries about condoms and sexually transmitted diseases, but at least she knew. They had to be honest with each other. That was what they agreed upon.
But now, Cynthia was not being honest and Thomas wanted to hurt him, whoever he was upstairs in the room, and that split-second realization was odd to Thomas because he had never intentionally hurt anyone in his life. His body slowly pulsed with the growing shock of Cynthia with another man, the man’s hips thrusting against her. It was all he could picture, the act of fucking, another man inside her. He did not picture her face or his, just the contact of their bodies. He struggled to swallow. Thomas wanted to meet him.
“Let’s go,” Thomas said, “and see what kind of tastes you have.”
Cynthia strolled past him, her dress flaring, and his eyes wandered over the back of her legs. Cynthia walked back into the hotel and Thomas followed her. Walking up to the front desk, she feigned forgetfulness. She said she left something in her room. With a quick nod the clerk gave her the key, room 761.
“He might not even be there,” Cynthia said as they stepped into the elevator. “I don’t think he’s ever stayed long after I’ve left.”
“How do you know?” Thomas leaned backed against the wall of the elevator, his arms crossed for the ascent. “Susan always milked it when I paid.” He thought of some man lying naked on the bed watching television, the mini-bar open.
Cynthia snorted. “I remember those bills. God, I was never so happy than when she finally got a job.”
“I know. I can’t believe she was living all that time off of her settlement.”
“They were pretty lopsided. Do you still have to hold one up so it doesn’t freak you out?”
“She fixed them. Her breasts are fine.” Thomas heard Cynthia chuckle next to him, her hand covering her mouth to stifle a harder laugh.
“How did you describe it?”
“Cynthia.” Thomas turned his body toward her. He felt a pounding in his forehead, a surge of blood. He didn’t want lighthearted conversation.
She leaned against the side of the elevator, her hat bending against the wall. “It was like her left breast had a stroke.” She put her hand against his chest as she laughed as if she needed him to balance herself, her voice echoing off of the elevator doors. He soon found himself unable to stop from joining in as he pictured Susan’s breasts, her left one swinging low like a plastic sack with one heavy apple. His chest heaved as they laughed, their voices drowning out the beeping of the elevator as it passed each floor.
Turning to walk down the hallway to her room, she described her new lover to Thomas. He was twenty-three and still a college student. A little on the young side, she said, but lately she had been thinking about when they were younger and how energetic it was to feel each other and, you know, just fuck.
“But let me tell you,” she said, “I don’t think we were as forward with each other as people are now. When we were ready to do it for the first time, he asked if he could come in me.”
Stopping in front of the hotel room, Cynthia knocked on the door before she opened it, calling out to the college boy in the darkness of the room, but he was gone. Thomas would remember his name.
Thomas followed her into the hotel room. The air was still fragrant with her peach perfume. Cynthia removed her sunhat, tossing it onto a nearby chair, and proceeded to draw open the curtains to the large bay windows. Rooms need natural light, she had said once.
Thomas saw the door to the bathroom open, the white towel draped over the side of the tub, brushing the floor. With the new sunlight, Thomas saw one of the white-and-black chairs where he figured Cynthia had laid her white dress, her gloves, and her hat only a few hours before. He saw the bed. The windows looked in upon the white pillows, the impressions on the mattress. Thomas saw the room, the layout of the chairs, and how the carpet felt pressing up against his shoes.
“I hoped he would’ve been here,” Cynthia said. “You would’ve liked him. He’s funny.”
“Funny?” Thomas walked over and turned a chair toward the bed and sat down, putting his feet up on the mattress. “Does he do magic? Is he going to disappear inside you?”
She turned, her back to the windows, her shadow covering him. “So vulgar,” she said.
Thomas leaned back in the chair, clasping his hands behind his head. He would follow her wherever she said she was going. He would find a way to follow her until he saw him, until he could get the college boy alone.
Cynthia moved away from the windows and she smoothed the back of her dress with her hands. “Do you want me to dance for you?”
“Why?” Thomas sat up.
“I danced for him.” Cynthia sat down on the white-and-black chair on the other side of the bed to remove her heels.
Thomas nodded. She never danced for him before. This new man was getting to see things Thomas never thought of.
Cynthia stepped up onto the bed, raising her arms above her head, running them along the plastered ceiling, feeling the points and dips, the stops and the flows. With every step her feet sank into the bed and she gradually began to turn, shifting her weight from side to side, moving her arms, her hips, tilting back her head, until he could not turn away from her body and the movement of the dress as she turned and spun, rocked and swayed. She dipped down onto the bed, her knees folded underneath her, the dress bunched up by her thighs, and she stared back at Thomas, her hair falling forward over her eyes, her breasts pushed forward by her intake of a breath.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” They were supposed to be honest. They were supposed to be open.
“I wanted it to hurt,” she said, looking over her shoulder at a passing shadow across the window.
About the author:
Lance Turner is a fiction writer living in Kansas. He has had work appear in Indiana Voice Journal, The Pierian, and Touchstone. He currently works as a lecturer at the University of Kansas.