Affairs of the heart

Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France, circa 1750.
Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV of France, circa 1750.

Chapter Twenty hits at the heart. What choices do you have when it comes to infidelity in a marriage? For a full copy of A Slightly Tainted Hero, check out Smashwords:

From Chapter Twenty:

When her daughter once again settled down, Meg set her tea to one side and said, “Well, it seems to me you have three choices, sweetheart. You can leave him and get a divorce. You can go back to him and make his life miserable. Or you can go back to him, try and forget what has happened, and do your damnedest to make the best of it.” She shrugged, as if the choices were obvious. “We can talk for hours, even days about it, if that’s going to help you come to terms with what to do, and I don’t mind at all. But at the end of the day, that’s where you’re going to end up. It’s really your choice.”

Louise stared at her mother, shocked at what she thought was an absolutely callous response. “That sounds pretty harsh.”

“Then see if you can find a fourth choice.” Meg appeared to ponder for a moment, then suggested a further option. “I suppose you could move out and do nothing but mope for a year or two, and I’m sure David will agree to some form of financial arrangement in the meantime. I imagine he’s feeling more than guilty at the moment. Trouble with that is it fosters guilt while resolving nothing. In the long run it might end up with him suing you for divorce just to put an end to it. Or—” Again she paused, as if thinking through further options. “I suppose you could force him out of the house and live there and do your moping at home, all by yourself. There’s certainly enough room for it. In the end, though, the result will be the same.”

Louise decided her mother wasn’t giving her much help at all and tried another tack, the more direct approach, even though she hated to ask. “What would you do?”

“That’s irrelevant. David is your husband, not mine.”

Louise reluctantly acknowledged the comment with a dip of her head, and slumped back against the sofa. What she needed was a stiff drink, though it wasn’t yet nine in the morning. “That was a dumb question, Mum. Sorry. You were lucky in your marriage. You had dad. It’s just that—dammit!” Louise shouted, fighting the impulse to fling her coffee cup across the room. “You just can’t imagine!”

“Your dad wasn’t a saint either, my dear,” Meg murmured softly.

Louise stared at her mother in astonishment. “Are you telling me I’ve got some half-brothers and half-sisters out there somewhere? I don’t believe it.”

“And I don’t believe it either, nor did I say there were. I just said that Frank wasn’t a saint. Darn it, Louise, that’s probably a good part of why I married him. He was half rogue and quite outrageous when we met, and I loved him for it. You know, I don’t think children truly realize that their parents were ever young.” Meg’s eyes moved to the artificial fireplace and the wooden mantelpiece that surrounded it. A framed black and white wedding photograph sat off to one side, a close-up of a rather stiff but happy couple in front of a clapboard church, set in a landscape still streaked with the final traces of a spring snow. A smile crossed Meg’s face as she stared at it. “Believe it or not, he was a raunchy young buck. That’s partly why you have four brothers and sisters. But I can’t say I ever one hundred percent trusted the old bugger.”

“You mean he . . . ?”

“No, no, of course not. Not that I know of, anyway. On the other hand, I’m not sure he ever one hundred percent trusted me, either. That’s a lot to ask, you know, to trust someone without question, every day, every week, every month, for fifty-five and a half years. Oh, it’s expected, certainly, and in fact it’s more than that, it’s owed and due. And yes, you do trust your mate and should, but maybe only ninety-nine point nine percent. It’s just as foolish to be totally complacent.”

“So what’s your point, Mum?” Louise asked.

“My point? I suppose it’s no more than from time to time, I did wonder what I would do if I ever caught him in flagrant whatever-it-is.” Meg smiled, almost as if relishing the notion.

“Don’t look so damned smug,” Louise said, for a brief moment wishing her dad had been caught doing exactly that so she could get a straight answer from an aggrieved wife, even if it was her mother. “Did you ever figure out what you would do?”

“Oh yes, in my mind I did. It was like a black fantasy, and believe me it wasn’t erotic. It was more a state of mind that was probably created by needless worry. That was later in life, of course, when you kids were a bit older, and we both had more time on our hands. Earlier on, I don’t think Frank or I had the time or even the conception, if you’ll pardon the word, of straying. We were just too busy. Besides, it was different then.” Meg smiled, as if the whole idea was funny. “Later, if he had strayed, I’d have left him just like you did, and told him I was getting a divorce. Worry the hell out of him for a spell. I’m sure it would have, too, because divorce was the last thing he’d have wanted. Then, when he begged me to come back, I’d have played him like a fish. I’d have finally returned, I’m pretty sure, but only when I was good and ready. I would have made sure the poor beggar’s life was miserable in the meantime, though.” Her mother seemed to think on her words for a moment before finishing with a wicked grin, “And probably for quite a while after, too.”

“For God’s sake, Mother, why would you do that?”

“Because your father would have deserved to be made miserable!” Meg seemed at first surprised by her daughter even asking, but then she nodded thoughtfully, as if reconsidering her answer. “But you know what? You’re making me think! If you do make a man miserable, he probably figures he’s just paying his penance. And when a man pays for a crime, he figures he’s forgiven. It’s a real dilemma, isn’t it?”

“Maybe, but that wasn’t what I meant. I was asking why would you have ever gone back in the first place?”

Meg fell silent as she pondered the answer, and when she replied it was as if she were reminiscing. “Three reasons, I suppose, my dear. Not in any particular order. I knew your dad, and at best it would have only been half his fault. After all, it takes two to tango. But I’d also have guessed he’d never have dared do it again, once I got through with him. And while that may sound like fancy, there’s good cause to think it would be true. You see, all in all, your dad was a good man, a truly good man at heart. I’d have been hard put to find a better one anywhere else.”

Louise sat staring at her mother, surprised at what she was saying, and wondering whether or not there was something hidden behind the words. It was so unlike her. Was there a buried past? She suddenly realized that if there was, then it was darned-well better off left there. She didn’t want to know. Her mother had stopped short on her list, though, and Louise asked, “So what’s the third?”

“Well, that’s a given, isn’t it?” Meg’s eyes opened wide, as if she were surprised at even being asked the question. “Frank loved me. From the day we met. With all the drunkenness, violence, and consistent womanizing that goes on, you’ve got to put one, single marital failing in perspective. Love doesn’t grow on trees, you know. It’s the greatest gift you can receive—from anyone. You don’t toss it away lightly, particularly when it’s still got a bloom to it.”

Louise didn’t know what to say. Was she being reproached? Then it struck her that her mother hadn’t once mentioned that she loved her father Frank, which should have been far more important, surely? Yet when she thought on it, perhaps that, too, was nothing more than a given. And which one was more important in the long run? What was obviously most important to her mother was that her father had loved her. And love given, as she said, was a gift. In fact, Louise mused, for her mother, her dad’s love seemed far more important than her own. Put that way, it sounded so unselfish—or was it just the opposite?

It didn’t matter, Louise told herself. She wasn’t her frigging mother!

“I’m not going to pry, dear, or tell you what to do,” Meg went on. “It’s your decision, but you did ask.”