An Excerpt of Pam of Babylon

Chapter 1

Jack Smith was thinking, I am the luckiest man alive. Sitting at a white-linen-covered table on the sidewalk outside of his favorite restaurant, he gazed at the perfect face of his mistress of nine months. This place was their place. They’d spent a rare night together, and in the early morning they were having a leisurely breakfast, enjoying the perfect weather of late May in New York.

“What do you have to do this weekend?” Jack asked, knowing this could be a dangerous topic. Sandra was sipping her coffee, head bowed but eyes on him. She slowly put her cup down and straightened up. He really wanted to know, interested in her life outside of where it meshed with his.

“After you leave, I’ll start getting ready for the week, and then I can relax tonight and tomorrow. Monday I’m having lunch at my sister’s in New Jersey. My schedule next week is fairly packed, so the more I can get done now, the easier it will be.” She thought of her messy apartment, the empty refrigerator, the pile of laundry, but didn’t mention it. Jack’s solution would be to say, pay someone to do those things for you so you can do what you want. Your time is worth more than what it would cost.

“One thing I would really like to do is get back to that gallery on Houston and see if there isn’t a deal I can work out for the piece we saw last night.” She smiled at Jack, and they nodded their heads, remembering the vibrant painting of the Riverside Gardens. It was so colorful, the yellows and reds and blues exaggerated, the flowers oversized. They loved it.

“You should have said something while we were there!” he said, smiling at her.

He would have bought it then and there for her, but she really wanted to buy it for herself, knowing it was wise to keep things like community property out of their relationship.

They ate the rest of breakfast in silence. Soon, Jack would start fidgeting, pushing his chair back slightly, looking around and fighting the urge to look at his watch. Their time together would be over for now. Sandra would try to beat him to the punch; it was easier for her to be in control of this aspect of their life. His schedule would dictate when they could see each other, but she could be in charge of when it would end. Hating those last minutes while they waited for the check to come, she felt like she was sitting in a vacuum. Today was a little different, maybe because of the night before. It was so special having the evening together and then spending the night with him. The hotel was the same one they always used. It was clean and comfortable and—impersonal. But she didn’t allow herself to think of it.

He’d suggested early on that they go to her apartment, but she didn’t know how long they would be together and didn’t want those associations in her home. It would be difficult to end the relationship without memories of him permeating where she lived. No, thank you, seeing him at work every day would be bad enough. Besides, he was wealthy and could afford a nice hotel, and she was worth it.

He would not have argued if he knew what she was thinking. On one hand, he was wondering what was taking so long for the check to come as he had a lot to do at home, but on the other, he would miss her terribly. It took all the strength he had not to pout like a child when he was away from her. Thinking of his home close to the sea, the smell of salt air, he imagined the two of them sitting on the veranda overlooking the dunes and beach grass. But the face of his wife kept popping up on Sandra’s body, not allowing anyone to take her place, even in his thoughts.

She walked him to the subway, refusing to have him walk her home first. Rather than taking a cab, he often preferred the subway. She would shop on the way home, and he had a long commute, over an hour to his home on Long Island. They walked arm in arm, a striking couple to look at, he mature, greying at the temples and in good shape for his age; she young, model thin and beautiful, heads turned to look. Were they famous? The attention they got when they were out in public together pleased them, and they became even more animated, laughing, standing up straighter, happiness radiating from them both.

On Broadway, another observer took note of the radiant couple. Jack’s sister-in-law, Marie waited in the Saturday-morning bagel line at H&H. Uptown after going to the theatre the night before with her friend Arthur, she’d stayed the night at his apartment after having too much to drink. Standing with her mouth open, heat spread through her body as she grew shocked and furious. The man behind her tapped her on the shoulder; it was her turn already.

“Never mind, go ahead,” she said as she moved out of line. Turning toward her brother-in-law as his back and that of his companion continued down the street toward the subway, she inched along the pavement, staying close to the storefronts, not wanting to be seen but dying to see. When they reached the subway, the woman, a girl really, didn’t go down the stairs with him. Marie found it incredible that Jack was going to take the subway. What the hell was that all about? The couple stood at the entrance to the stairs talking, his arm around her shoulder protectively. It was clear that they were a couple, not just work associates, not just friends.

Standing out of sight in a doorway, Marie could barely tolerate the physical sensations she was experiencing as her entire body was vibrating in a combination of disgust, shock, and excitement. Loving Jack as her brother, she was certain her sister, Pam had no idea her husband was cheating. Pam would have said something. Marie didn’t yet think of the implications this would have on her relationship with her sister. If she didn’t know, it would remain that way because Marie wasn’t going to tell her. Confronting Jack, she would insist he tell Pam. That was the only way. Let him do the dirty work.

Patience paid off; Jack took the girl into his arms without looking around first to see if anyone observed them, although it was a neighborhood in which his relatives lived. They kissed passionately; he was obviously enthralled and with her arms around him, she kissed him in return. They parted, reluctance palpable to all who looked upon them, intimacy flourishing in a public place. Jack turned to go down the subway stairs, looking behind him and smiling. The young woman stood there, smiling down at him, waiting to move away until he was out of sight.

Marie watched as the young woman, beautiful in a white sundress, turned her back to the stairs and started walking up Broadway. Marie didn’t have all day to play detective, but she knew that for her sister’s sake, she would need to find out as much as she could about this person. So she followed her, supposing she was headed for home but having no way of knowing, keeping about half a block behind her. Watching her from the back, she made mental notes: tall; slender (of course); long, dark hair. Marie thought the woman should be blonde, but that didn’t make any sense, telling herself to just keep walking.

When they got to 80th Street, the woman crossed Broadway and went into Zabar’s. Marie wasn’t going in after her, but would wait outside for a few minutes. She didn’t have all day. If it turned out the woman was doing a big shopping trip, Marie would leave. Standing across Broadway, watching, not wanting to miss it when she left the store, Marie looked up at the sky and could see blue between the buildings, sunlight peeking down from the east. It was going to be a beautiful weekend. Memorial Day was Monday and Marie was going to her sister’s house on Long Island for a picnic, looking forward to it all month. Now this.

Finally, the young woman stepped out of Zabar’s with two bags of groceries and started walking up Broadway again with Marie following closely behind. When she got to 82nd, she turned left toward West End. It figures, Marie thought, thinking of her own apartment in no-man’s land. About midway down the block, she made another left and walked up to a lovely beige-brick mid-century apartment building. Turning the key in the lock, she opened the door, and disappeared from sight. Marie stood in the center of the sidewalk, disappointed. Well, she had an address, just in case.

She walked back to Broadway, what she’d seen blasting her brain. She wanted to call Jack’s cell and tell him off. Suddenly, overcome with nausea, she moved to the curb and threw up in the gutter.

 

Chapter 2

Pam Smith puttered around her light-filled kitchen early on Saturday morning. Jack had spent a rare Friday night in the city. He usually loved getting home after being gone all week. Occasionally, he would come home midweek in spite of the lengthy commute. It was irrelevant that all the husbands in the neighborhood commuted into Manhattan daily. The week stretched out before her to prepare for Jack’s homecoming. She went to the gym every day, had her hair and nails done, and stocked the fridge with his favorite foods. The house was in good order, rarely anything needed his attention; she tried to make it an oasis for him. They could rest, go for walks on the beach, he’d play tennis or golf, and have a mini vacation.

This weekend they’d prepare for their annual Memorial Day picnic. Friends and family would come from all over the tri-state area. Pam had the housekeeper air out the guest quarters above the garage. Older nieces and nephews could bunk in the children’s rooms; Lisa was in L.A. for the summer, doing some kind of internship, and Brent was staying at school until July, doing extra work to make next year a little easier. She and Jack would miss their children on Monday.

Marie would stay over, as would the grandmothers, Nelda and Bernice. Pam arranged for the bed-and-breakfast down the beach to take the overflow from the house. Everyone would come the next afternoon and stay through Monday night. Marie and Nelda might even stay until Tuesday.

Pam lovingly planned what everyone would eat down to the last crumb. She did her food shopping on Friday morning and would pick up fresh vegetables and fish on Sunday. Anxiously waiting for Marie to come; they would run all over town, shopping together for last-minute party items.

Marie was Pam’s baby sister; there for her while Jack was in graduate school, during the lean times, through two pregnancies, the mother’s helper when the children were little. Never turning down an opportunity to stay with Pam and Jack on the Upper West Side when school was out for the summer, she eventually got her own apartment in Midtown. When they left the city for the island, she wept. Marie knew she would be welcome to visit every weekend and holiday, but there was something so nice about being able to drop in for coffee in the morning.

Pam rarely came into the city after the move. Although acquaintances said she would probably be in every weekend for shows during the fall and winter, the truth was that she never really enjoyed the nightlife, and once they moved, the apartment became Jack’s private domain while he worked during the week. He left Babylon for work Monday morning and stayed in town unless he got homesick for the beach house and his wife.

He never asked Pam to visit him in the city. Their relationship had lost that urgency of needing each other. When separated during the week, she occasionally awoke in the night crying, reaching out to his side of the bed. If it had happened in their youth, she would have picked up the phone for reassurance and connection. When had that stopped being necessary?

Lately, Pam had been a little worried about Jack. There was a tiny, itsy bit of doubt, a niggling worry, an insecurity in the back of her mind. Disconnected from her, he still seemed eager to get home and reluctant to return to the city, but that stemmed more from his love of the house she’d made for him, the peace and quiet of the beach. Never reaching out for her anymore, he no longer held her in bed at night, and hadn’t initiated sex in months.

She didn’t notice it right away, making love to him when she needed to, leaving him alone when she didn’t. Where the worry came in; unless she reached out for him, they didn’t do it. At first, she thought it might be his age, nearing fifty-five. She didn’t dare complain to him. What man’s ego could take that from a middle-aged wife?

Those worries were buried in the busyness and anticipation of his return home every Friday night. She made mental lists of plusses and minuses; it was enough that he came home to her. Another change, he started being very fussy about what he ate when he was home. In the past, a big steak, a baked potato and a salad with blue cheese dressing would make him happy and he loved her home-baked bread and pies. Now, he was counting calories, not coming right out to say he wouldn’t eat something she had prepared. Careful about the size of the proportions, he ate more salad, and used less dressing, skipped dessert.

Jack started working out at her gym, too, showing up while she was there. It should’ve been enough of a warning sign, but when she said something to him about it, teasing him because of all the years she’d invited him to come, he told her that the doctor recommended he lose some weight, that he was a walking heart attack. She was frightened, watching him eat a veggie burger was a contradiction.

Friday he’d called her after lunch and said he was staying in town that night for a late meeting. In the past, he’d stayed if the weather was nasty or the train wasn’t running for whatever reason, but rarely for business. Not suspecting anything at first, she tried calling the apartment at eleven right before the news came on and there was no answer. It was so strange for him not to answer she thought she might have dialed the wrong number and ended the call to dial again. But the second time, letting it ring and ring, she wondered if perhaps he was in the shower or, worse, if he had fallen. Not knowing his cell phone number by heart, she dug through her purse to find her own and hit his number, letting his cell ring until voice mail picked up. Ending the call without leaving a message, she didn’t have anything to say to him other than that she was thinking of him and suddenly missed him. There was that seed of doubt.

So as she puttered around in the morning, expecting him any minute, she debated saying something to him about the unanswered phone call but decided to let it go. If there was anything to learn, she supposed she would find out soon enough and was more than willing to let things remain as they had always been—peaceful, content, and happy.

 

Chapter 3

Jack stopped by his downtown office first and then took the subway to Penn Station, hopping on the train home. Once he was in his seat, he pulled out his cell phone to call Sandra to make sure she got home safely after her shopping expedition. When he opened his phone, he saw he had a missed call. Thinking it was from her; he pressed the button and saw it had been from Pam the night before. A sick feeling washed over him. He needed to think of what to say to her, to call her right away and apologize.

“Oh my God, I just saw you had called. My phone was off, and I went right to sleep. I’m so sorry.”

“Okay. That’s okay, Jack. I didn’t really have anything to say anyway.” Was she buying it? He could never tell with Pam. She was so patient, but she was cool, too.

“When will you be home?” she asked, her voice neutral.

“I’m on the train now so by noon. See you then.” They said goodbye, and he put his head back on the headrest. Remembering he wanted to call Sandra, he keyed in her number, but there was no answer. Putting the phone away, he waited for the train to leave the station. It would be good to be home.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Sandra let herself into her apartment. It smelled musty, closed in. She put her bags of groceries down and went around opening windows. On the ground floor of the building, the apartment had a door that led out to a concrete slab, which she used as a patio. The only drawback was that it faced the back of a commercial building on 81st Street. There wasn’t much privacy during the day. But after five when the building was empty, Sandra would make herself a cup of tea and go out to sit. It was as relaxing a place as you could get in the city. There would be no relaxing now, however; she had to clean her apartment and get ready for next week so she could play the rest of the weekend.

She loved her apartment. It had a galley kitchen on the first floor with a big window facing a brick wall, a small sitting room, a full bath, and a nice sized bedroom. On the lower floor, there was a huge room used as a combination den/guest room and another full bath. This level had the door that led out to the patio. She realized how lucky she was to have a two-bedroom, two-bath place with outdoor space in New York City and would hold on to it as long as she could. The rent went up every year and was now hovering at $3,000 a month—a steal in the city. But that was half her salary. Soon, she would either have to leave and move to Brooklyn or worse, New Jersey. She didn’t mention her dilemma to Jack; he’d surely offer to pay the rent and she’d have to allow him admittance and she wasn’t ready to be kept.

Changed out of her white sundress, she slipped on black spandex shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt—her outfit of choice for cleaning sprees. Puttering from room to room homemaking, at three she stopped for a bite to eat, just a piece of fruit and a cup of tea. By five, finished, she showered, debating whether to put her pajamas on or get dressed and go out.

An unexpected phone call from a nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital made the decision for her. A man had had a heart attack on the train at Penn Station. And if that wasn’t bad enough, thugs had taken his wallet. The only thing left on him was his phone, and she was the last person he had called. The nurse asked Sandra if she knew who he was, hoping she could verify his identity.

Once she caught her breath, she said she would be right there. Not thinking of the consequences, not caring about discovery, she dressed again, pulled her wet hair into a ponytail, grabbed her purse, and ran out of the apartment.

 

Chapter 4

By the time she got to the hospital, Jack had regained consciousness long enough to give them the name and phone number of Pam. Then he died. Sandra was not a drama queen, maintaining composure in the worst of circumstances; her father’s death was just such an example.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, her mother had suffered for years, the first six or seven years spent taking rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and experimental drugs. Finally, she couldn’t take the punishment of the drugs and succumbed to the vileness of the disease. It spread to her bones first, causing agonizing pain and debilitation, and then it went to her brain. She was a dynamic, aggressive woman in her day, but the brain tumor reduced her to a meek and passive mouse.

Wasting away, growing thinner, the days passed until she was skeletal. And then her body began to die as her strong heart continued to beat, her brain stem working to maintain her breathing and heart rate, while gradually her circulation shut down. First, the tips of her toes turned black. Slowly, death worked its way up, her legs turning purple, then blue. Finally, mercifully, she died in her sleep.

Sandra thought it would be a huge relief when she finally died. How wrong she was! The family was devastated. Sandra’s father couldn’t control his sadness, crying uncontrollably the first day and was unable to get out of bed or get dressed, refusing to eat. She missed feeding her mother, tempting her with her favorite foods, plying her with sweets, anything to get her to eat. At the time it was the most frustrating experience she’d had, often thinking, God, please take her. And now all she wanted was one more chance to feed her, to serve her in some way. Her mother. Gone.

Preparing for the funeral was hell. Sandra knew her mother hated pomp and circumstance, but her sister, Sylvia, was hell-bent on throwing the biggest party they could afford for their friends and family. Sylvia interviewed the priest; her mother would have hated a religious ceremony, being a passionate atheist. She rented a banquet room at the Bentley in Bergen, an over decorated monstrosity of a place that reminded their mother of the Palace of Versailles. Now the final indignity was having the wake luncheon there. Sandra did what she could do to try to dissuade her sister from her plans, but it was hopeless as she prayed in vain that something would happen to change Sylvia’s mind.

The evening of the viewing was cold and windy. Sandra struggled to get her father up and dressed, still despondent, begging her to allow him to stay home.

“Just tell everyone I am ill,” he said. “Mother would have hated all this fuss.”

“I know, Dad, but it will help us to go, to see it through. I miss her too. I don’t know how I am going to look at her.” In addition to the expensive funeral, Sylvia had also insisted on an open casket. Sandra thought of those black toes, that almost dead body. Maybe she should have insisted that Sylvia help with the caregiving. She may have had a different perspective if she had.

Sandra, not used to being the driver, nervously pulled the car out of the garage and drove to the front of their building to pick up her father. Standing under the awning waiting for her, he was frail, bent over and shaking. Only sixty-one years old, he looked like he was ninety. She wondered if they should bypass the funeral, do as her father said, and just stay home and pretend they were sick. Sylvia would never have allowed it; she would come and drag them out.

The rain made the air in the tunnel stagnant and toxic. Of course, traffic backed up, they had to breathe exhaust fumes and who knew what else. Coming out the other side, they pulled onto the turnpike and started heading north toward Bergen. Sandra would ask Sylvia if Dad could stay with her tonight, the trip back into the city would be too much for him.

They got to the funeral home on time. The parking lot was crowded with cars displaying New York State license plates. Sandra thought how ridiculous it was to have to come here for the viewing tonight, come back during rush hour the next morning for the funeral, drive upstate for the burial, and then back down for lunch, tired just thinking about it. Dropping her dad off at the door to park the car, she had to run to avoid getting wet, stepping in a puddle of icy-cold water, ruining her shoes and splashing dirty water up her legs. Could this get any worse? Sandra wondered.

When she reached her dad, sympathizers surrounded him as he cried again. With someone on either side of him, assisting him as he walked reluctantly into the building, he looked so old. Sandra choked back tears. Excusing herself to the helpful friend, she took hold of her father’s arm, wanting to be with him when they approached the casket. Sylvia was there already, glaring at them for being late, greeting guests as they lined up to view the body. Sandra wished there was a way they could avoid this public viewing, thinking it would be too emotional and too private a thing to share with all these people. But having seen the casket, her father was propelling himself along, wanting to see his wife one last time.

People stepped aside when they saw her husband of forty years led by his daughter toward the casket. Sylvia came up to take his other arm so the three of them could see her together. Sandra gasped when she saw her mother. Sylvia had done well; her mother looked much like she did before she got so sick, with chubby cheeks, perfect makeup, and her favorite suit. Sandra and her father were relieved.

Visibly relaxing, her father talked with their guests. Many people told him stories of what she meant to them or anecdotes of their experiences with her. It had a great effect on him. For the first time in five days, he smiled. Sandra took her sister’s arm and said, “Thank you, Sylvia, this is perfect.”

Sylvia smiled back at her and said, “Told you so.”

Sandra remembered the favor she wanted to ask Sylvia. “Would you take Dad home with you tonight?” she said. “I don’t think he can handle a trip back home and then here in the morning.”

“That’s fine,” Sylvia said. “I’ll go get his coat.” Sandra turned to yet another friend, someone who had known the family since before the girls were born, while Sylvia retrieved her father’s coat and helped him into it, the two of them saying good-bye to the lingerers. Sandra looked up in time to see her father, his eyes seeking her out, give a feeble wave and smile. He mouthed, “So long,” and dropped to the floor. By the time she reached him, he was dead.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Now, seeing death again, another man she loved, she was numb, frozen in place. Told she could view the body if she wanted and remembering the peace seeing his wife’s body had brought her father, she said yes. Her dad was so peaceful that he died on the spot. Perhaps that would happen for her, too, because she truly did not know how she was going to go on. Let me die, too. The nurse took the young, distraught woman by the arm and led her into the room. If there had been any heroics to save his life, all evidence of it was gone now except for a thin, shiny, pink snail trail of dried mucous in the corner of his mouth.

“Oh, Jack,” she said. She took his cold hand in hers and bent down, putting it to her cheek. She felt the familiar texture of his skin with its wiry hairs on the back of his hand tickling the side of her face. But that was all. He was gone. Not able to control it, she couldn’t prevent the tears from coming. The nurse, compassionate and concerned, led her out of the room and toward a private office where she could be alone for a moment before returning home.

As she was being led, head down and weeping, another woman—attractive, middle-aged, worried—was being led into the room by a nurse, but not before noticing the beautiful young woman who had just exited the same room crying. Jack’s wife had made good time.

Seeing his body lying there with the sheet pulled up to his shoulders, looking so normal, his hair neat and combed, his face shaven, Pam burst out, “Oh my God! He’s dead!” without thinking, not remembering that someone had told her on the phone that he was dead. Or had they? Didn’t they just say he had a heart attack? “He’s dead!” she repeated.

The nurse said, “Yes, he’s dead. Right before he died, he awoke and gave us your phone number. You see, his wallet had been stolen on the train.”

“Who was that woman who just came out of the room?” Pam asked, aggravated. “Did he tell you her number, too?” She knew she sounded like a tired child, querulous, whiny.

The nurse, with years of experience in matters of death, made the snap decision that taking Mrs. Smith to the same room where the other woman was recovering would not be wise. “Come in here with me, Mrs. Smith.” The nurse led her by the hand. Pam wasn’t pulling away, but she reluctantly followed; there might be a problem.

Marie came running down the hall, having received the message when she came in from spying that Pam was on her way to the hospital.

“Pam, Pam, for God’s sake, what happened?” She grabbed her sister, and they held each other, sobbing until Pam could get words out. “Jack’s dead. He had a heart attack on the train, and someone took his wallet. Another woman came to see Jack, too. No one will tell me how she knew to come to the hospital.”

The nurse returned with a social worker. The woman, a Miss White, gently led the two crying women into a small anteroom just off the nurses’ station. Cluttered with papers and stacked cardboard boxes, there was a desk and a chair. The nurse grabbed a chair from the nurses’ station and wheeled it in, directing the women to have a seat.

“Who’s the other woman here?” Pam repeated. She understood how inappropriate this must seem. For God’s sake, my husband is lying dead in the next room, and all I seem to care about is this woman. But she had to know. She had to.

Marie, stony silent, thought she knew but would sooner die herself than be the bearer of this tiding.

“Mrs. Smith, when your husband was brought in, the only personal item he had was his cell phone, so we called the last person he called. I’m sorry, but we aren’t allowed to divulge any more information than that,” she lied, not sure what the rules were concerning mistresses.

Pam stood up, fuming. “That’s ridiculous! What if the last person he called was the trash collector? Would you have let them come into his hospital room?”

Both the nurse and the social worker tried to calm her down while they waited for the director of nursing to call them back. Marie left the room to find the woman herself and confront her; anything to help Pam, who was acting so out of character that Marie was frightened. She spotted the young woman walking quickly down the hall toward the exit.

“Miss, wait! Wait, please!” Marie called after her.

Sandra walked faster at first and then decided it was fruitless—she might as well get it over with. She stopped and turned, not replying, just waiting as asked.

Marie quickly walked up and looked at her face. It was the same girl she’d seen earlier on the street, only now without makeup, and her eyes were swollen and red from crying, clearly brokenhearted.

“Please,” Marie said, “I am sorry to disturb you, but we have to know who you are. Jack was my sister’s husband. Who are you?”

The young woman hung her head down and began to weep again. Marie led her by the arm to the side of the hall, out of the way. “I saw you with him, with Jack, this morning,” she hissed. “I was at the bagel place on Broadway, and I saw you walking hand in hand to the subway. I saw you kiss each other. I was going to confront him tomorrow. They’re having a Memorial Day picnic—were having a picnic. I would never say anything to hurt my sister, but she needs to know the truth now, or it will kill her.”

Sandra heard what the woman said to her, but she couldn’t respond right away. She didn’t know what to say. If she’d discovered them, so be it. There was nothing else to tell. She and Jack had nothing tangible. It was fleeting, an illicit affair. A momentary encounter that brought two people who were attracted to each other together for just a few months, not even a year.

“What do you want me to say? I’m sorry? Will that do it? Okay then, I am sorry. I am sorry I had an affair with your brother-in-law. I’m sorry he died tonight. I am sorry they called me to come to the hospital; that my number was in his phone.” No, she thought, I take that back. I’m not sorry they called me. If they hadn’t, how would I have found out he was gone?

What had just taken place was a tragedy— the mistress was called before the wife. No wonder she was angry! The mistress should only find out about a death by reading the paper, the final indignity, the obituary. New York Times, page thirty-two. Jack Edward Smith. Born 1955. Died 2010. Husband of Pamela, father of Lisa and Brent, son of Bernice. Lover of Sandra. Yes, thank God for the cell phone. Without her number in it, she would have waited to hear from him for three days. Then the final horror—going into the office on Tuesday and being surrounded by their coworkers and having to hear it from one of them.

Her revelry was disturbed by Pam, her voice echoing down the corridor.

“Marie, what’s going on? Who’s that?”

Sandra watched her as she scurried over, remembering Jack using a similar term when describing his wife; everywhere she went, she scampered, he’d said. She was always in motion, always doing something, unable to go to a movie or the theater without taking something like knitting along or it would drive her nuts having to sit still.

Pam was as gorgeous as a middle-aged woman could be, Sandra noticed with interest. Although hardly at her best, you could tell she took good care of herself. In addition to good genes, she worked out daily, stayed out of the sun, spent a small fortune on her hair and skin and it showed.

They stood face to face. Marie needn’t have said a word. Pam was no slouch. She knew who this young, attractive woman was and could see immediately why Jack was attracted to her, why he would betray his wife for her. It must have been uncontrollable. Examining Sandra, Pam put out her hand, not to shake, but to grasp Sandra’s.

“I’m Pam Smith,” she said. “Please, who are you?”

Sandra started to weep again unattractively, snorting. She could barely get the words out. “Sandra. Sandra Benson. I am so sorry.” The tears cruised down her face, dripping off the end of her nose.

Pam took a step toward her, and Sandra stepped back startled, fully expecting her to haul off and slap her across the face. Instead, she placed her hands on the young woman’s shoulders and pulled her to her bosom. She had to stand on her toes to hug Sandra. Pam started to weep as she embraced Jack’s lover.

“I’m sorry, too. Poor Jack. I’m sorry, too.”