The TV was loud enough that I hadn’t heard the back door open. I looked up at a creaking sound from the stairs. Valerie was slowly rising with each step, the top of her head the first thing to come into view, then her face, her face. Her face had a look that I understood before I fully realized I was understanding it.
She was clearly still drunk, maybe stoned, her eyes even glassier than they usually were after a night out, her smile sliding from side to side. “Hey,” she said softly. It was a lovely sound, that “Hey,” a sweet sound, and I believed it, though I wasn’t sure what, exactly, I was believing. “I’ll take care of Zach,” she said. “You go back to bed.”
I followed her as she stumbled into our bedroom and pulled off her heels, then set her phone in the bottom drawer of the dresser next to her bed, where she always put it. I watched her catch herself when she leaned over; she nearly fell into the drawer.
She walked back into the library, tripping a bit over a pile of laundry and laughing lightly, the sort of laugh a person makes in private, an embarrassed laugh, though I was watching. I think she’d forgotten I was there.
She pulled another beanbag chair next to the one Zach was sitting in and dragged an afghan from the ottoman. She covered herself and Zach and leaned in close to him. As I watched from the doorway, she fell asleep.
I felt something thick in my throat. I watched her sleep, watched Zach put his hand on her cheek absently, without knowing it, his eyes still glued to the TV. I stared at his hand there, on her cheek, her face, and I knew.
I lay down in bed to try to go back to sleep, but I knew there wasn’t much chance of that. It was her face. We had a name for it in college, the “just fucked face,” the look of sex an hour after the fact, a face framed by disheveled hair, a face recovering from the physics of pleasure, a face still a little baffled by the effects of booze, a face before regret, before the random snapshots of memory begin to cohere into a picture of a long night of drinking, a night of gradually loosening resolve, the slow lubricants of beer and bourbon and pot.
The Cuckold by James Harms - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics