In addition to the rabbit hunt and the death of his father, Ray had once tried to tell me about an affair he had had, I recalled looking down on the clouds. He had tried to tell me about the affair but he had been unsuccessful. At the time, I hadn’t the faintest idea of what he was talking about. I only figured out that that was what he was trying to tell me years later after I had heard about it from a third party and even then I wasn’t sure. I remembered his words exactly. He said, I had an affair. But at the time the words meant nothing to me. We were in a dark restaurant in the basement of the building where he worked. It was a Japanese steakhouse—the kind where they chop up your meal right in front of the table. He had invited me to dinner. He had invited me, I know now, with the intention of telling me about the affair. If he hadn’t had the affair, he wouldn’t have invited me to dinner. The woman with whom he had had the affair was also in the dark restaurant in the basement of the building. She was sitting at a table on the other side of the room. Ray even pointed to her, discretely, and indicated that that very woman was the one with whom he had had an affair. He said, there she is, the woman with whom I had an affair. It meant nothing to me.
Ray’s erotic life, within or outside of the confines of his marriage, was completely beyond the bounds of my remotest concerns. In fact, since I was a small child, I have always found the ideas of sex and Ray as utterly incompatible. When it came time for him to tell me the facts of life, as they say, I didn’t want to hear anything about it. Or rather I didn’t want to hear anything about it from him. Lillian tried to help but not much. When I was very small, I must have asked her something. Maybe I’d found a tampon. Or maybe it came right out of the blue. In any case, I remember her words exactly: Every month men and women give different gifts to God, Lillian said. Women give blood, and men give urine. I hardly knew what to make of that. When I was bit older (and had ideas of my own), Ray sat me down in their bedroom and asked, do you have any questions? I had none.
The woman with whom Ray had an affair was completely unremarkable as far as I could discern. The information that he had had an affair with her took on the abstruse character of the most remote abstraction. We left the steak house without my having the slightest inkling of what had in fact taken place. But it must have been a comfort to Ray. It must have been a relief to him. At least, he thought, he knows. He knows I had an affair. He would never have to worry about me finding out. For years afterwards, in fact up to and including the present moment, Ray has thought, he knows I had an affair. In fact, I knew nothing of the kind. Even when I did find out, from a third party, and recalled that evening in all its particulars, and it finally occurred to me that when Ray said he had an affair he had indeed meant that he had had an affair, I still wasn’t sure. I thought, Oh maybe Ray had an affair after all. In fact to this day—to this very moment, I thought, looking down on the clouds—the entire matter has never assumed sufficient importance for me to conclude in my own mind whether Ray had had an affair or not.
The stewardess brought me some food. I left it on the tray. Then I unpeeled all the foil tops and looked at it. I was allergic to everything. I drank the water. The big guy sitting next to me woke up immediately. He ate his meal very quickly. After he was finished, he looked over at my tray. You can have it, I said. I can’t eat it. The man nodded, and we exchanged trays so that his empty tray was in front of me and my full tray was in front of him. Then he ate everything on my tray. So now we both had empty trays in front of us. After a while, the stewardess came by and took them. I looked out the window.
I think it was Lillian, I thought, looking down at the clouds. I think Lillian convinced Ray to invite me out to dinner to explain about the affair. I think Lillian convinced Ray that I knew and further convinced him of the need to explain himself to me. I think she did it to punish him. She was the injured party after all. She was a small woman but she threw a lot of weight—especially as the injured party, especially with Ray. In fact if you were the injured party, it had been my experience, Ray was putty in your hands. You can bet Lillian knew this and took full advantage. And in this instance, she was the injured party par excellence. In fact, in this instance, she didn’t even need to convince Ray that I knew about the affair or convince him that I needed an explanation. She only had to say it. She only had to say, you have to tell him about your affair. You have to explain to him about your affair. In the face of this request, Ray, I am sure, was dumbstruck. It never occurred to him—as it has occurred to me, just now, sitting in this plane, looking down at the clouds—that she was punishing him. As far as Lillian’s motives went, he was singularly obtuse. He might even have said to me, Lillian thought you should know I had an affair. In fact, that’s exactly what he did say. We were sitting in the dark restaurant in the basement of the office building, and Ray said without any preamble, Lillian thought you should know I had an affair. And shortly afterward, as if the woman in question had walked in as a kind of visual aid, he said, there she is. That’s the woman with whom I had an affair. And that was that.
He was not punished. As for me, I hadn’t the faintest idea of what he was talking about. If Ray had any anxiety about telling me that he had an affair, surely that anxiety was instantly dissipated the very moment he did so. We finished our meal and spoke of other things. As it turned out, nothing could have been less punishing, for Ray, than telling me that he had an affair. Lillian, I am certain, was at home in their bedroom at that very moment, reveling in the hurt of her vindication. Lillian was sitting on the side of the bed in their bedroom at that very moment, thinking, now he’s telling him. Now he’s telling him that he had an affair. What’s more, Lillian, sitting on the edge of their bed in their bedroom at that very moment, was thinking, now he’s paying. He had an affair, and now he’s paying for it by having to say that he had an affair. The hurt of the affair and the hurt she attributed to Ray making, what she thought would be, such a difficult admission twisted together in Lillian’s guts like a knot being pulled tight, I thought, looking down on the clouds.
My knee was bleeding. I’m allergic to milk, among other things. Four days before the flight, I had eaten something with milk in it. As a result, the day before the flight, a patch of eczema had bloomed just to the left of my kneecap. In my sleep, the night before the flight, I had inadvertently scratched the patch of eczema causing it to bleed and then scab. My jeans had chaffed the scab on the flight and now it was bleeding again. It was bleeding a lot. The blood was soaking into my jeans and drying there. There was a dark stiff patch of blood soaked denim just above my knee. The more I bled the stiffer my jeans got and the more they chaffed. You can’t put a bandage on that kind of sore. It just makes things worse. There was nothing to be done. I didn’t think anyone else noticed. The guy sitting beside me had fallen asleep again. I looked out the window.
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