Helen is wearing an apron, an anachronism, but one that you find fetching. She is wearing the pearls, the long ones you admired next to her untanned skin when you unfastened the last button, brushed the smooth grey blouse off her perfumed shoulders, and let the silk tumble to the ground.
The kitchen now is steaming, fragrant with the dense stock that has reduced in the short ribs she left braising in the copper pan while she dressed. Helen started chopping as soon as she came home, sipping the wine as she stood at the counter watching the trees beyond the window but diverting her attention then back to the minute. She minced the small carrots and onions and celery, melted butter to sauté, went to the yard to fetch a sprig of thyme and added the rest of the wine, and the time she waits wandering the quiet house, the rooms all still dark now in the early evening except the kitchen, and the dining room, where she has laid out the candles and the Limoges, the Waterford, your grandmother’s silver and linens because Helen always goes too far. She is incapable of being casual.
It is the Bach again, this time with four harpsichords, and you hear her scurry down the stairs to wait by the door as the piece begins: ta… ta TA ta ta ta TA ta ta ta, TA ta ta ta… It is perfect, and between the curtains on the door, you see her pause in that perfection, as she looks down and begins to untie the apron, but then looks up as you open the door. Her faced is flushed, her hopeful smile like a light, the same grey silk blouse she wore when you met her in the hotel that memorable day, now she is in heels, and you hand her the flowers–thankful that you thought it best that she forgive you tonight, thankful that you wore the cologne. You knew she had planned this, each fuck an event. No, this is not casual.
Each bite, each bite is a testament of the thinking behind it, the dreams she seems to wrap around herself like a cloak. You dream, perhaps, too, in each mile you drive back each night to her. You dream in each shower that you step out of before you climb into her bed, in each moment in time that belongs to this lust–her lust–to the memory of yours, too. So, you kiss her, your erection granted to you in moments of desperation, in the pinup fantasy she has so artfully crafted for you as she leans up against the doorway, her silhouette reminding you of everything you told her you ever wanted. She spreads her legs, and a scent of powdery flowers overcomes you, Je Reviens, something ancient, something disturbingly comforting in it, too. You kiss her neck, suffocating as her moans call out to you like a siren about to take you deeper than you want to go anymore. You drown in it, need the release, but dread this incessant expectation of love, or even of your presence. You fall asleep from the effort, and the world slips away to a place where you can think of how it feels to escape, to fly down the open road through the prairies far away.
But morning comes, and the heaviness of life all comes back. A sip of coffee in matching mugs, and the day is all one inch more familiar, one more bill to pay, one more mouth to feed, one more thing to do, one more fucking obligation, one inch farther from the joy you intended years ago. Everything is wrong. She is wrong, stupid, and you can never forget that, never let go of the contempt you guard just for her, if only because she still believes you.
Helen knows. Yes, you know deep down that she knows in every loaf kneaded and left to rise, in every sock whose mate is discovered, in every moment she remembers to stop and buy the cream for your coffee on the way home from work. She knows you left her long ago, but you know, too, that it is in these efforts that she tries, tries once more to reach you, leaving you only more guilty for the days you intentionally disappoint her. You take the long way home. You awaken before dawn and slip out undetected as you ease your motorbike down the driveway before she hears the growl of the muffler, growing fainter as you ride away. On days that you stay, you remember how pretty she used to be, try to help her find that again–if but for her lack of will, she would still be exactly the same.
You watch her face age in seconds.
You hope that she will stop hoping someday, that she will just give up so you don’t have to.
But you know she will never disappoint you. You know, because she promised to love and honor, to cherish, yes, and by tradition though she never outright said it, to obey. She is alone. She needs you after all these years. She will never leave.
She would never dare.