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But It's Better If You Do
Another dish goes cold on the kitchen table. The sun has already begun its decent, leaving the room a glowing pink. The radio on the table in the other room plays a jazzy melody, intended to set a mood that will not be created in this cold atmosphere.
Clearing the table, she sighs before dumping its contents into the garbage disposal. This is yet another failure along with her previous attempts of cooking a meal. Not because of a lack of skill in the dish, but because there’s not two people to share the meal with.
Hours later, after she has drained her second glass of wine and has started her first cigarette with a foot on the chair next to the radio, her husband walks through the door and a piece of her heart chips. He is as dashingly handsome as he was the day of their marriage, but his demeanor has turned cold. Brown eyes, that used to gaze at her so lovingly, are empty of emotion. His lips do not twitch into that goofy smile she’s always loved.
He doesn’t smell of perfume. But she knows his clothes will later reek with the stench of it.
The combination of wine and anger causes her mouth to burst open.
“You don’t love me anymore!” she spits at him. Her words are so heated they are molten, yet he merely walks past her, ignoring the silk robe she dons and the cigarette in her hand. She still wears the locket he bought for her on their first anniversary.
“Stop with that babe, you’re paranoid.” His words, so dismissive, cause her to bristle as he strolls to the mirror and straightens his tie. The thought of who he does that for makes a sour taste enter her mouth.
“Well, what am I supposed to think?” she snaps. “Every night you go out with your friends to those…” she has to close her eyes at the mere thought of where he ventures before finishing. “Illegal strip clubs!”
He throws his hands up in exasperation before facing her. Anger has crept into his features, twisting his lips into a scowl.
“I told you before babe, I ain’t goin’ to no illegal clubs. I gotta go to work to pay for this dumpy apartment!” he exclaims, pointing at the oval rug that covers their living room floor. “Now stop your complaining ‘cause I gotta go.”
“No!” In just three steps she is right in front of him, straightening his jacket. At the contact he leans back as if disgusted. “Don’t go.” His eyes roll upwards as if she’s exhausted all his patience.
“I gotta go.” He pecks her on the corner of her mouth, the most affection he’ll show her as of late, before striding to the door. She expects those to be his parting words, but he turns around at the last moment. “And don’t wait up for me!”
The door slams as he storms off, leaving her standing alone where his body was seconds before. Ashes fall into the carpet as she gazes at the door, hollowly hoping that he will come back with words of apology and a smile.
She feels bitter towards the man she swore her love to and how he shoved her aside. Glancing around the home, she feels no sentiment, instead loathing its emptiness. There should be children by now, lighting the hallways with their life. But instead there is a shadow.
No longer able to remain in this dwelling, she stalks outside. He fellow tenants stare at her and she realizes that not only is she still in her silk robe, but still holding a dead cigarette. She glowers at all of them, fury stomping down any self-consciousness she feels, and she escapes outside.
The hot June air is muggy as she walks down the street. Anger comes in waves; just when she’s about to accept her treatment another pulse of wrath seizes control. Just when she’s on the verge of shouting into the sky, her eyes land on a vibrant splotch of red.
Displayed in the window shop is a black leather dress. Its skirt would barely reach the middle of her thighs. The crossing pattern of black string tying the upper half and the lower half is designed to reveal slits of the wearer’s stomach. The chest area reminds her of the bikini she bought for summer, even though she never went swimming. A layer of white lace shows from underneath the leather as if the slip is longer than the actual dress itself. The red on the outfit is a fluffy boa so eye-catching it almost acts as a beacon in the dreary street.
Everything about the outfit is scandalous.
And all her being longs for it.
She leaves the store wearing the dress, boa, fishnet stockings that stop just below the strip of white and black leather gloves that go to her elbows. In her hand she clutches a cane. Her hair is covered by a black hat with a veil in the back and a large feather, the same shade of red as the boa, and her face hides behind a red sequined mask.
The club is only a block away. Her feet guide her there. Her confidence wavers for a moment as she does not know how to get in, so she knocks. A small rectangular window opens and a man in a bird mask stares at her for a moment before the window closes and the door swings open.
All around her there are women even more scantily clad, crawling into men’s laps and purring in their ears. Music, so beautifully indecent, travels to her body and she turns towards the source.
Standing there is a man that is so magnetic she can’t help but stare. Dressed in black pants and a white shirt covered by black vest, he should not stand out as much as he does. But the sparkle in his eyes, light and shining, pulls her in. As she sits, his eyes land on her. A dizzying rush of excitement almost makes her blush when he does not look away, but instead a slow smile spreads across his face. She crosses her legs and watches him perform. His charisma is contagious. Women are sliding their hands over his body, yet he only gazes at her.
Underneath her bravado she is so bitterly broken. But maybe, if she can learn to love her husband like the way these women love perfect strangers, however briefly, she can be someone deserving of such love.
So when he sits down a few seats away from her and orders a drink, her feet don’t move on their own accord as she slinks past him. She brushes her hand on his shoulder and he turns.
A few exchanged words. A coy smile. Clutching his hand. These are all it takes for her to convince him to follow.
A room appears and the two rush inside. Feeling a rush of confidence she pushes him away so that he falls backwards and onto the lone chair that rests in the middle of the space. He gasps in surprise but his mouth quickly forms a smile as she places one leg next to his and leans in.
Every conflicting emotion she feels stops when their lips touch. It’s as if someone has silenced her mind so that she can only focus on the dryness of his lips, the warmth in his hands as he steadies her sides, the small sound of his mask scraping against hers.
When she pulls back she is breathless. In her ears she can hear her heart beating so rapidly she’s afraid it will simply stop.
She needs to know who this man is. He is no longer just some stranger; instead she feels underlying warmth. After being in the cold and dark for so long she needs to feel the sun.
Her pulse spikes again as his hands go behind his head to untie the ribbons that secure his mask.
In a flash his identity is no longer a secret. Now she is staring at a face that has broken her so many times.
The same face that gave her the locket that currently burns in her pocket.
All sound is muted as she yanks her own mask off. His face morphs into an expression of utter shock. Anger, so chaotic and so uncontrolled, lashes out in the form of a slap, her leather-covered fingers marking his face. She storms away, ignoring his calls to her back and throwing her hat on the ground.
As soon as she sets her foot back into the man lobby she realizes that leaving the secrecy of the room was a mistake. Everyone, from the women in scraps of clothes to the patrons with their wallets hollow, is running in a mad panic. When her eyes land on men wearing uniforms does she understand.
An officer makes eye contact with her. Now without a mask to hide behind, she flees into the moving crowd. The man closes the distance between them easily, him and another officer wrapping their arms around her and dragging her away. She hears her husband yell over the noise but cannot turn towards his direction.
Her body is shoved into a police car harshly, the door slamming shut. The chaos of the events that have just unfolded wreaks havoc on her brain, causing her to go numb.
In the corner of her eye she sees a flash of brown. Snapping out of her state she sees her husband fighting with an officer, his hands cuffed behind his back. Something doesn’t make sense about this; he is a man capable of getting away. He could always make sure that no matter what the situation, he had an out.
So maybe it wasn't his getting captured he was concerned about.
An explosion of warmth warms her heart, rushing through her bloody and leaving icy cold traces as it passes. Her husband is shoved into the seat next to hers.
For a second there is only heavy breathing and the chatter of the policemen’s radio. Then, her husband slowly turns to her. The light in his eyes when he stares at her, not through her like he has done so many times, is nearly blinding. On his face he has the most devilish smirk.
And though she doesn't realize it, she wears the exact same expression.