It was too hot to be outside. Although, it was too hot to be indoors as well. The summer heat had yet to diminish and the ground was hard packed and bone dry. I glanced up and squinted. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. No way to shield myself—besides my straw hat—from the sun. My dress, with the high neck and long sleeves, was stifling. Sweat soaked the back of my corset and I longed to strip off the excess layers of clothing for just my shift.
It had been a long day. John’s office hours were in the mornings on Tuesdays and he’d had several patients waiting when we arrived at eight. My husband wasn’t the only doctor in town, but people came long distances if ailing enough and there was enough business for all three of them. Today’s ailments had included an impacted tooth, a colicky infant, a case of pneumonia and a broken finger. When he left for lunch, I was left behind to clean up and send those who arrived after the noon hour—when John went to the hotel’s restaurant to eat his meal—in the direction of the other two doctors. He was very precise, very strict in his routine and did not vary from it.
While he spent his afternoon at his home office—always with the door closed so as not to be disturbed—I often went to the houses of those who had been seen, checking on them, tending to them. Specifically the women patients. None of the men, for it would not be appropriate. I wasn’t even supposed to visit the ladies, but who else would? Not John, for if they did not appear in his office, injury apparent, or have money to pay for a house call, he was not interested.
And so I spent my afternoon tending to the sick, rocking babies, even washing a few dishes. John laughed at my pedestrian afternoon activity, always telling me I was lowering myself to such tedium. But was I supposed to sit home and read and needlepoint? I could not support such a stagnant life.
And so that was why I stood in Mrs. Borden’s kitchen, scrubbing a pot. I blew a wayward curl off my face, but it clung to the sweat on my brow. Just delivering her third child, she was in bed recovering with two young ones climbing over her and the newborn while her husband went to work in the cotton fields.
As I moved on to clean the previous night’s dinner dishes, she called from the bedroom. “It will be your turn soon and I will come and help you.”
I paused in my scrubbing and looked down at my flat stomach. No, there would be no turn for me. No children; John was a very independent sort, and expected me to be as well. I knew when I married him that he wanted a helpmeet, not a coddler. I’d been well and fine with that, for I’d been raised by stern parents who did not dote. I knew no other way. I would have been unaccustomed to a man who hugged and lavished me with affection.
But in the past five years, I’d grown to change my mind. Watching other couples who were blatantly in love—like the Bordens—proved that I had missed something, and would never see it in my own union . Without children to tend, my life was empty. I was empty. To John, I was officially barren. Officially not a true wife, for I could not fulfill the one duty that he could not accomplish on his own.
And so, forlorn and overheated, I returned home, forgoing any other afternoon visits. Closing the front door behind me, I noticed that John’s office door was open. Odd, for he never appeared before five. As I removed my hat and placed it on the table beside the door, I heard voices from upstairs. Murmuring, then a sigh. A woman’s cry.
I glanced up as if I could see through the ceiling. I knew what it was. Who it was. At least I knew it was John and a woman. A rhythmic thumping followed. They were fucking. In my bed. John barely touched me, so I knew he took his needs to someone else. A brothel or a widow, someone who he felt worthy of his desires. But he’d never slaked these needs in our own home. While I doubted he loved me, he respected me enough to keep his women separate from me. Until now.
“Yes! Right there. Harder.”
My eyes widened at the carnality of the woman’s words, the desperate tone. While angry he would flaunt his behavior in such a way, I was also curious. Curious as to what John did to make her so satisfied. I’d never cried out like that before. Ever.
I tiptoed up the stairs, careful to avoid the creaky fourth step. The bedroom door was closed, so I slipped into the other bedroom that had an adjoining door. Meant for a nursery, it sat unused. But I knew the door was open about a foot to allow for air to circulate and could easily watch. And that was where I stood, behind the connecting door, and observed my husband in bed with a woman. I did not recognize her, for her pale hair was unbound and covered her face. She was also naked, on her hands and knees with her wrists restrained and tied to the metal scrollwork of the headboard with my dressing gown tie. The garment itself lay forgotten on the floor beside the heap of their discarded clothing.