Jocelyne knew her husband Roland quite well, she thought, at least in most respects. That is to say, she knew his habits, his movements, his routines. She knew the foods he preferred, what he liked to drink, and how much and what he chose never to see on his plate. She knew he took no risks with their finances and that he was at the very least an adequate provider. She knew he possessed no harmful habits. And she knew that, when motivated, he was a more than adequate lover.
What’s more, motivating him was an easy matter for her, and always had been. When she wanted him, as she often did, she needed only to become slightly flirtatious, to smile, and appear before him in anything that showed her slender figure to advantage. Whether a short dress or a negligee, it didn’t matter to Roland. Soon enough he would guide her to the nearest privacy, not always their bedroom, and begin to embrace and kiss her. Now that both their children were away at college, this behavior had become more frequent—her signals, his responses.
Their romance began in college. She was just a freshman and he a junior when they met, seated beside each other, purely by chance, at a Bach piano recital. He came to the recital that Sunday afternoon in a dark grey suit with a bold blue and white tie; she, in a pale blue gauzy dress graced along the neckline with a white scarf cinched below her throat by a gold fleur-de-lis. His manners were very reserved and most respectful, though she noticed he glanced repeatedly at her legs, especially when she crossed them. During the brief intermission he inquired without prelude, “You must like classical music?”
“Yes, I do and always have,” she remembers replying and then, wanting for other words, said, “Especially Bizet and Berlioz. And you?”
“I like Bach very much,” he told her, “particularly the Goldberg Variations, their precision when played well.”
As they exited the auditorium he asked her name and then asked if he could call her. She was flattered and gave him her dorm number but wondered why he hadn’t a girlfriend already, for he was a handsome boy. He had intelligent blue eyes, but his thin face was placid when he spoke, even when he complimented her.
After three dates he asked her to date only him. She agreed. The next year he asked her to sleep with him. She declined, then, with precautions, agreed. The year after that, he asked her to marry him. She said yes. By then his asking was only a formality.
Along the way he managed to tell her how pretty she was, how he liked her warm brown eyes and her long chestnut hair with its spiraling curls touching her cheeks and its bangs flirting along her forehead.
All of this was important to her, for Roland rarely offered opinions about anything else.
Their courtship progressed with very little drama from their chance meeting at the recital to a May marriage three years later. She had learned that Roland preferred neither to encounter nor create drama. In the first three years of marriage, they had two children, a boy and then a girl. Both their families were very pleased with them. They both worked hard and saved their money—he as an accounting manager, she as a librarian.
Yet after nearly twenty years of marriage, two children, countless meals together, and many hours of satisfying intimacies—Jocelyne did not feel that she truly knew Roland in anything but superficialities. Mostly he was quiet. His initial reserve did not disappear after marriage as she had hoped. Instead it deepened into the passivity of a stone Buddha seated at the center of a courtyard with life flickering around it, observing everything but saying nothing. It’s his work, she thought at first. Then, No, it’s just his way. And perhaps it was just his way, but his silences disturbed her nonetheless. She feared they indicated some concealed problem that would erupt without further warning to ruin their marriage, though none ever had. Still she tried always to beat the silence down with her own words.
When the children were still at home, their chatter filled the air. But now she felt a deep cistern of silence separated her from Roland. Almost compulsively she poured into it her own words—a torrent of them, anything that came to her mind—people she’d seen at the library, a child’s tantrum that had disturbed the reading room, a utility bill that hadn’t been paid, a checking account statement that she couldn’t balance. Anything, no matter how trivial. She even repeated herself; she knew she did. And he would only say: yes dear, no darling, really, perhaps, who’s that you’re speaking of? And the day would end.
In talking with other wives she knew, at least those with whom she could share intimacies, Jocelyne gradually acquired a context in which to judge her relationship with Roland and found it, in most respects, to be better than those of her friends with their husbands. These men were without exception marred by at least one serious flaw, sometimes more, flaws far more definite and consequential than Roland’s silences. Many of them drank too much, some demanded too much from their wives or expected too much from their children. A few treated their wives and children harshly, even abusively. And one or two were unfaithful, or so their wives suspected. Several women in Jocelyne’s circle were divorced by age forty. And though she cautioned herself not to be—for one can never be certain what life will bring—Jocelyne began to feel superior to her friends even while still being uncertain of Roland’s love for her. Without exception, they told her how lucky she was. Roland’s the perfect husband, they’d say. Good looking, steady, never gets upset. Are we wrong, Jocelyne? Please tell us if we’re wrong. Their opinions of Roland made her feel more fortunate and helped make the silences more tolerable. For even if she had done nothing special to deserve Roland, wasn’t their chance meeting arranged by Divine Providence, which takes charge of such matters as we ourselves cannot know to do? Surely, it was so in their case. Still, she doubted.
Men noticed Jocelyne’s beauty and frequently responded to it. When they did, she enjoyed their adulation even as she rejected their advances, for even lascivious praise is praise nevertheless. There was, for example, Gavin Gaines, the husband of her friend Edith. He was the manager of the local country club, Pine Grove. An athletic man in the past, always darkly tanned, with a trim light brown moustache that nearly disappeared at a distance—he had grown portly over time but was no less self-assured. Most of the time he dressed in a brass-buttoned, deep green sports coat with the Pine Grove emblem on its breast pocket—golf clubs crisscrossed below a small pine tree. The wives regarded him as a roué and with good reason. Some of them could base their judgments on personal encounters, though they never confided these to Edith. Jocelyne was one of those wives.
At a Christmas party five years ago, Gavin had asked Jocelyne to dance. He had been staring in her direction since her arrival on Roland’s arm at the Gaines’s home. She had chosen for the party a close-fitting red dress with white ruffles at the sleeves and neckline. While the hem of the dress nearly touched her black pumps, its slit exposed her right leg to just above the