“BYE DEAR, DRIVE CAREFULLY,” Bernice whispered as he slipped out the door. It had been a pleasant session and she felt good. After changing the bedding she plugged in the kettle to make a cup of tea. The note pad caught her eye and she glanced at the clock. Good, the next hour was free. She tuned in classical music on the CBC and relaxed. It was nice to sit alone in the apartment and contemplate. Should she go to meditation class later or just veg out here? The kettle was soon boiling and she made a large mug of tea. Who was coming this afternoon she wondered and looked at the note pad? Oh yes, Michael, the professor. She went to the bookcase and got her book on comparative religion. It opened at a familiar chapter describing ancient practices that evolved into modern theology. A quick perusal of the text reminded her of the argument they had during his last visit.
Bernice, or Bernie to her friends, lived above a furniture store on a busy street in a less than opulent part of the city. It was the kind of place that didn’t attract attention, downscale enough that people were not nosey, an address acceptable to her clients. They would not want to be seen by people they knew professionally or socially when they parked and climbed the stairs to her door. It was perfect and discreet.
It was much nicer than the place she had shared with her husband before he left. The prick had taken all their savings along with the car and whatever valuables they had accumulated. She had come home from work to an empty apartment and a note.
“Hey, Bernie,” it had said, “it isn’t working any more. I’m out of here. Sorry about taking our money and stuff but I need it.” That’s all it said. He took all the furniture except the bed and the fridge which belonged to the landlord. A chill settled into her heart and it took a long time for her to comprehend the changes that were taking place in her life. Sure, her family and friends rallied around and supported her. A few men approached her for dates but they were married, in fact married to her friends. She had been brought up to believe in the sanctity of marriage even though she wasn’t blind to the reality of life and relationships. She rejected such men but something happened to make her think differently about relationships.
She was having coffee one day with Marie, a woman from work. Marie was upset on the verge of tears. “Okay Marie,” she said, “what’s up, you don’t usually look like that?”
“Frank is seeing a woman,” Marie said, tears forming in her eyes.
“Anyone I know?” asked Bernie.
“I don’t think so. It’s not normal, I think he’s paying her,” Marie sobbed.
“What do you mean paying her?”
“I don’t know. It’s weird. He goes out on Saturday afternoon without saying where he’s going and comes back a couple of hours later with a guilty look on his face. He always has an explanation but I don’t believe him. I wanted to go with him last week but he got flustered and stayed home. I heard him making a cell call saying he couldn’t come today, maybe tomorrow. He looked pretty dejected after that.”
“Why do you think he’s paying her?”
“There have been withdrawals from the bank account, the same amount every week. What do you think is going on, Bernie?”
“How’s your sex life, Marie?”
“It’s pretty tame. We haven’t done it much since he wanted oral sex. I couldn’t do that. Uh, the idea makes me sick. That was a year ago; I think we’ve made love twice since then.”
“Maybe he’s getting what he needs outside.”
“Oh, Bernie, he wouldn’t. What can I do?”
They didn’t come to a conclusion. Marie and her husband continued their pattern of unhappiness but Bernie began to think about things. One day, not long after, she noticed a classified ad for men interested in discreet affairs. Her life was not going well and she knew a change was urgent so she answered the ad. Much to her surprise she received a call from a woman. The woman asked for the name Bernie with a weird excuse for calling but she explained that she was Bernie and was interested in a discreet affair. The woman hesitated, Bernie persisted, and they agreed to meet.
Bernie’s heart was racing as she entered the coffee shop looking for a woman in a brown jacket. What was she doing here? This is a really stupid idea. Would she actually be here? There, the third table by the window. Bernie approached. “Hi, I’m Bernie.”
“Hi, I’m Louise,” said a very attractive woman with a broad smile. Her eyes were blue and her complexion clear and fair. She rose to shake Bernie’s hand displaying a slim figure under a tight wool sweater. “Please, sit. Would you like coffee?”
Bernie sat and said no to the coffee. “Maybe later.”
The women sized each other quietly. Bernie was the first to speak. “This is new to me. I don’t know what to say.”
“That’s okay,” said Louise. “I don’t often meet women this way.”
“What way?” said Bernie.
“I mean I usually meet men who have answered my ad this way. I like to get to know them before we go any further.”
“Do you meet many men like this?”
“I don’t think I want to talk about that. Let’s talk about you. Why are you interested in a discreet affair? There are lots of women who you could get together with.”
“I don’t go in those circles and I’m interested in what you do,” Bernie replied.
She ordered coffee and they danced around the reason for being there without really saying anything. As they talked Bernie felt a strange and growing attraction for Louise. She was disappointed when Louise ended the meeting abruptly.
“Look, I’ve got to run,” Louise said. “If you want to come over call me at this number. We can have a drink and see what happens. I’ll be away till Friday.”
Bernie watched her walk, slim hips pressing against a tailored skirt, high heels clicking on the tile. Her nipples felt alive rubbing against the soft silky fabric of her bra. What was happening to her? Was she in love with a woman?