a novella by
Suzanne Baldwin Leitner
120 pages, cover price $12
($10 if ordered from the MSR Online Bookstore)
a novella by
120 pages, cover price $12
($10 if ordered from the MSR Online Bookstore)
Suzanne Baldwin Leitner is a native North Carolinian, born and reared in Lincoln County. She currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina with her husband, daughter and Australian shepherd. Leitner is the author of one chapbook of poetry, String Quilt (Main Street Rag, 2005). In addition to writing poetry, she writes essays and fiction, and maintains a “secret identity” as a political blogger. She has conducted poetry workshops for students in elementary, middle and high schools in Mecklenburg, Iredell and Cabarrus Counties, has a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and a J.D. from the Wake Forest University School of Law. Her publishing credits include Main Street Rag, Crucible, The Lyricist, Wellspring, Cairn, Lonzie’s Fried Chicken, and Bay Leaves. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies Kakalak 2006: An Anthology of Carolina Poets; Home for the Holidays (Old Mountain Press, 2006); and, Southern Mist (Old Mountain Press, 2008). She was First Prize winner in the 2000 Lonzie’s Fried Chicken poetry contest, First Prize winner in the 2000 contest sponsored by the Poetry Council of North Carolina in the Charles Shull Category for Traditional Poetry, and Third Prize winner in the Writer’s Workshop 1997 International Poetry Competition, among others. Leitner has also conducted interviews for Main Street Rag Literary Magazine. She sings in the choir at her church, dances in the dark in her kitchen and, mostly, tries to stay out of trouble.
Sassy, Sexy, Smart, Fast and Funny, Suzanne Baldwin Leitner novella,
Sessions With a Cheater’s Wife, is a look into ordinary days in an
extraordinary way. Wow! Can this gal write! All I can say is I ate
every minute of every word and wanted more.
–Ruth Moose, Creative Writing Faculty at UNC-CH,
author of Rules and Secrets and Other Short Stories,
Making the Bed and other poetry collections.
Jessie Stanley, the narrator of Suzanne Baldwin Leitner’s Sessions with a Cheater’s Wife, is one of the most colorful, entertaining, and maddening characters I’ve encountered in a long time. She’s maddening because we can never tell if her first-person narrative is true. We don’t even know if the title is true, which is wonderful, because it keeps us reading, keeps us guessing, and keeps us thinking. And at the end, it’s up to us to figure out the truth, if there is one.
—Anthony S. Abbott, author of The Three Great Secret Things
I know my husband is cheating on me. The same way you know your Uncle Joe is drinking again. Everything looks normal. Everyone around you is trying hard to act like nothing is wrong, but the signs are there. In the way he walks, in the way he can’t quite focus on you when he’s trying to look at you. In the way other people turn away from him, people who used to embrace him when he was on the straight and narrow. I haven’t smelled another woman on my “Uncle Joe’s” breath yet, so to speak. Still, I know she’s there.
I don’t know when it started. I only know when I think it started. I think it started last year, after Christmas. My husband seemed to be invigorated by the new year in a way he hadn‘t been before. I couldn’t figure out why. Everything was still the same. His job. His house. His car. His wife. Suddenly, out of the blue, he’s hugging me in the kitchen before dinner. He’s playfully punching Gary, our son, in the arm each time he passes. He’s winking at our daughter, Rhonda, from across the dinner table.
Nothing else is changed. There’s no reason for this new exuberance. Hugs before dinner for me, but not after dinner, because after dinner he’s always running back to the office or going to play cards at James‘ house. And what am I supposed to say? What reason can I give him to declare he has to stay home? The kids are here, there and everywhere now that Gary has his license and Rhonda has a boyfriend. There’s no Little League or basketball or dance recitals anymore to stop him from leaving the premises. There’s only me. And the continuation of last week’s storyline from “Frasier.”
We never used to miss Dr. Crane, even going back as far as “Cheers.” We used to sing the theme song for Cheers together. Sometimes you wanna go / Where everybody knows your na-a-ame. / And they’re always glad you ca-a-ame…. That’s back when we were newlyweds, though. I don’t think we’ve sung so much as happy birthday together in the past 6 months. Of course, we wouldn’t, would we. Neither Gary nor Rhonda stayed here at the house on their birthdays. There weren’t any other birthdays to sing about.
My husband comes home some nights earlier than I expect him, but we don’t talk then. It’s as though we can’t because a conversation wasn’t scheduled. It’s like we think since he isn’t even supposed to be home until 7:15 or so, it’s all right if we pretend he’s not even there yet and we just ignore each other. He usually reads the paper and I just knock around the house taking care of everything, making sure everything is where it’s supposed to be. I’ve been having trouble sleeping. So I’m also aware of my husband’s activities in the middle of the night. I know if he’s dreaming, if he mumbles, if he gets up to pee. I would know if he rose on one elbow to look at me or brush my hair off my face.
One night in his sleep he said, “Alan.” That’s his name.
“Yes,” I whispered. “You’re Alan.”
“Alan,” he said, only more emphatically, as if he were trying to introduce himself to a person who couldn’t hear him or was irritated that the person he was talking to had forgotten who he was.
“Yes,” I said. “That’s right.”
Then he began to snore lightly. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I got up and had some wine. Half a bottle, I think. I don’t really know. I don’t keep track of things like that. What sort of things do I keep track of? I couldn’t tell you. Not anymore. The odd thing is, I drank it in our room, in the dark. I wanted to listen to him sleep in case he said something else. Let me ask you something. If a woman should feel guilty for going through her husband’s pockets or his wallet, how should she feel for trying to comb through his dreams? I was repulsed by myself, by the fact that I sat in the dark with a glass of wine in one hand and the bottle in the other. Sat there in an old wicker chair like the one Morticia sits in, wearing faded flannel pajamas. The pajamas with a button missing from the top. How long have I had those pajamas? Alan gave them to me you know. When I was in the hospital and had so much trouble delivering Rhonda and had to stay so long, he brought me those pajamas. That was fifteen years ago last month. I love those pajamas.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking he’s cheating because I’ve let myself go. Not true. I can make a button missing on flannel pajamas look very sexy. If I were so inclined, I could. I work out about twice a week, sometimes more. I’ve always been small, with bony wrists and ankles, and I guess I always will be. I mean, I don‘t have to work at being small. I’m just that way. My legs are still firm and I still shave them every other day. My skin is still really soft. I still paint my toenails. Red. See? My husband always used to ask me if I was descended from Indians because of my straight black hair and copper skin. I don’t know if I am or not seeing as how my family tree branches off in more directions than I’ve ever been interested in climbing, despite my mother‘s fantastic claims of nobility or whatever—she may put on airs about her ancestors, but my father has never pretended about his side of the family. Mutts R Us, he says. Even if I am descended from some Cherokee princess, what difference does that make? If I do have native American ancestry, I’ve gotten no benefit from it except certain physical attributes. I can’t talk to spirits and they don’t talk to me. I don’t have any sort of wisdom or access to knowledge that‘s been handed down for generations and stood time‘s tests. Yes, I do have black hair and, yes, it is beautiful. My hair might be my favorite thing about myself. Physically, I mean. I used to wear it long. Now it’s short, of course, but it’s still beautiful. At least, that’s what my husband says.
Sure, my breasts aren’t as firm as they used to be, not at age 43 and after two kids, but they’re bigger. Not disproportional like Barbie’s, of course. Hey, something just occurred to me. What if he’s dating a Barbie? I bet he is. I bet she’s blonde and pink and full of silicone or saline or whatever it is they’re stuffing bras with nowadays. Anyway, my ass is still firm, my back muscular. I’m stronger than I was ten years ago. I have no complaints about my body. It’s served me well. And him. It’s served him well. So it’s not like that. You know, like I’ve let myself go or I don’t have anything to offer in the bedroom. I don’t think everybody that strays is unsatisfied at home. I don’t even think they’re insatiable. Is that what you think?
Let’s see. You probably need more family background. Well, I don’t know if I’m descended from native Americans, whether I really come from nobility or just from “good people,” how deep the gene pool was or whether there’s some great-great-great grandmother in my past whose advice I could benefit from right now, but I do know I’m directly descended from lunatics. At least one. On my mother’s side. Actually, it is my mother. My mother scares me. She’s a little hard to explain. I think it’s safe to say she is either crazy or evil. Not like Jeffrey Dahmer crazy or evil. Not so overtly crazy or evil that I could ever hope to have her committed or arrested. Just crazy or evil—can we make that crazy and/or evil—enough to make dealing with her hell for me. She’s 66 years old. It’s only been in the last couple of years she’s actually started to show some age. She still doesn’t look anywhere near 66 years old. Good genes, which gives me hope. Her youthful appearance also contributes to her vanity. Which is off the scale. I‘m being kind now, okay? She thinks she’s the queen. I don’t want to give specific examples. I didn’t come here to talk about her.
All right, one example. No matter what the occasion, no matter where the location, she sweeps into any room anywhere as if she owns the place and the whole event, whatever it may be, has been on hold pending her arrival. She expects accolades, garlands, and manna to fall from the ceiling. If she could have it arranged, she would make sure her arrival at every social gathering was announced, with cornets: Dr. and Mrs. John Clark—duhn-duhn-duhn-da!. So my brother, John Clark, Jr., and his wife were planning for their first child to be baptized in the Methodist church, which put my mother over the edge anyway because she claims we’re Presbyterian. Of course, she would claim that because she thinks everybody who’s anybody around here is Presbyterian. We did belong to a Presbyterian church, I think, when I was a child, but my father’s family were Baptists and the only church I remember attending when I was little is my paternal grandmother’s church. Alan is Catholic and, therefore, so are the kids. It doesn’t bother my mother, though, that Alan isn’t Presbyterian because he’s an attorney. I’m telling you, she’s crazy.
So, anyway, my nephew’s baptism was scheduled to take place at the 8:30 a.m. worship service at the Methodist church one Sunday morning in March. My mother showed up at the church at 9:00 a.m., did not get to sit with us because she got there so late, missed the part of the service during which her grandson was actually baptized, and then spent the rest of the afternoon acting like she was insulted that the minister had started church on time even though she wasn’t there yet.
Oh, Lord, that’s been years ago now. My nephew is almost nine. That’s just one of my favorite examples of her attitude. There have been many more such incidents since that one. My mother. She’s nuts. If I were to tell her about Alan, she’d disown me (again). She’d never entertain the idea that he could do something that might jeopardize our marriage or her ability to move in her social circles, such as they are, without embarrassment. Oh, yes, people still get embarrassed about divorce. Especially people like my mother who has stuck it out through thin and thin and still hasn’t given in. Now that the suspense is over about my parents—you know, who will throw in the towel first—they’ve raised the stakes: the true test of their respective mettles is now to see which one will die first. What I mean is, they’re both so stubborn that neither one of them is going to say “Uncle,” so now it’s got to be a contest to see who lives the longest. I’m not sure how a winner will be determined in that match.
Anyway, any time I’ve ever tried to talk to my mother about Alan, she’s only interested in one-upping me with stories of how horribly my father has treated her. She’s almost pathological that way. I’ll guarantee you that if I ever did leave Alan, her first question to me would be, “How could you do this to me?” It’s better than “How could you do this to the kingdom/country/Republic?” I suppose, but it would feel about the same. It would feel the same to me. I’m not saying my mother doesn’t have a tender side. I’m just saying I haven’t seen it. Or, at least, I haven’t been its object.
My father? I love my father. I don’t know him that well, but he seems like a nice man. I hope he has a girlfriend on the side. I bet he doesn’t. If he does, she isn’t likely to be a Barbie. She’s some mousy church lady who bakes for him and strokes his beautiful white hair, pushing it off his forehead, so she can see his brown eyes twinkle. He probably tells her he is a widower and that, out of respect for his late wife, he can’t remarry, can’t move out of his house. Maybe someday he will be able to manage it, he tells her. Could my father be having an affair? Anything‘s possible. Nah. Probably not.
My kids like my father. Alan likes my father and doesn’t seem a bit bothered by the fact that my father doesn’t particularly like him. I mean, he cares for Alan as a member of the family, respects him as the father of two of his grandchildren, but my dad is wary of Alan. He has never seemed easy around Alan. I think that’s always been true. And, of course, my father never tells me anything, so I don’t know why he’s like that with Alan. Of my two parents, my father would be the one I would talk to about Alan’s infidelity. But I’m not sure I would even talk to him about that for a couple reasons. Number one, I wouldn’t want to hear him say “I told you so.” I mean, he hasn’t told me so. He never has. Can a person say “I hinted you so”? Can a person who’s married to my mother say anything? Number two, I wouldn’t want to distress a nice man like my father. He’s got enough problems.