Pandora's Box ©
She discovered the affair because of her insomnia.
On that night, unable to sleep--- again---Jen rose quietly from their bed in the dim light of the bedroom.
Glancing at her sleeping husband, she tiptoed to the window and peeked between the slats of the venetian blinds.
That’s when she saw Josef Demetrios, who lived in the condo across the street with his wife and teenage son, look furtively around him in the moonlight as he carefully stepped down his porch, still glancing this way and that.
Hidden from view behind the blinds, Jen watched him, fascinated. Josef was one of those charming, good-looking Greek immigrants with a continental style and easy going manner. She admitted to herself she could easily picture him between the sheets of her bed. Smiling to herself, she glanced at Ted who slept like an angel now but who had been guilty of adultery many years ago. She saw Josef moving swiftly now. To Jen’s surprise, he turned into the condo next to him. She watched as the door opened and he slipped inside quickly. Her neighbour, Cecilia, a single mom of two primary school children, had obviously been waiting for him. She watched to see if a light went on in Cecilia’s home. There was none.
Jen moved away from the window, silently descended the carpeted staircase with the one squeaky step and slid into the kitchen. Maybe a Black Russian, her favourite comfort drink of vodka and Kahlua, would help her sleep. Gliding into the living room with her glass and sinking into Ted’s swivel chair, she pulled out a Benson and Hedges, lit it, and savoured the first inhale. Then she took her first sip. Alone in Ted’s favourite chair, her hands cupped around her drink, and fresh from the discovery of deceit she had just witnessed, memories flooded back to her over her husband’s affair. How had she discovered it? She frowned while she was thinking and looked around the familiar room furnished in Scandinavian furniture accented with dashes of burgundy and blue cushions set off by a circular, multi-coloured area carpet. She was not an interior decorator but knew she had an eye for design. Facing her was the Greek mythological tapestry she and Ted had purchased together at least 30 years ago in Athens. It showed the beautiful Pandora, who, on an order from Zeus, was fashioned from clay and water and designed to drive men crazy. Pandora was blithely opening her jar that was filled with the terrible afflictions of mankind: ills, toils, and sickness. These awful maladies immediately escaped and spread over the world. Only Hope did not fly away. And so, according to legend, Misery made its first appearance on earth with the arrival of Pandora, the first woman.
Jen stubbed out her cigarette and pensively stared at the tapestry again, as if for the first time. She could recall the little shopkeeper on the side street in Plaka watching as she and Ted, holding hands and very much in love, perused the artifacts of his store. They couldn’t decide between the tapestry or a terra cotta vase adorned with the Amazons but finally chose the tapestry because it was easier to pack.
Jen sipped her Black Russian, lifting it to the ambient light long enough to appreciate the shade of the drink’s seductive chocolate. She had met Ted in a continuing education class of Greek mythology at Sheridan College in Toronto. They shared a passion for all things Greek. Their first date was at the Mykonos Grill in the Danforth area where they shared a bottle of red kouros and he told her he thought she had the most beautiful blue eyes, the colour of the Aegean Sea. Her golden hair, he said, was the colour of waving wheat fields in the Canadian prairies.
And what did she say to him on that faraway night? Jen knit her brows together, slowly sipping her drink and lighting another cigarette. She was awestruck and flattered this young and handsome financial wizard with the dark eyes and black wavy hair was sitting across the table holding her hand over the white linen tablecloth. Stretching back in time, Jen couldn’t remember what they had to eat except for the flaming saganaki with the obligatory Opa! but she did remember the waiters hanging around hoping they would leave as the minutes flew into hours and the hours stretched into a night of wild love-making and then watching the sunrise together over Toronto’s Harbourfront.
What had happened since then between them? When did it turn sour? Was she too busy? Was he? Two children, a precious boy and a flaxen haired girl within three years, hadn’t helped their romance. She was far too tired all the time. When the children were old enough, she went back to selling pharmaceuticals while Ted steadily rose in the corporate ranks of an international company. Her job brought business travel opportunities. Over the years in lonely hotel rooms, she certainly had plenty of chances to cheat. But she didn’t. She couldn’t face their children if she betrayed their father. But Ted? There had been Alta, his exotic personal assistant originally from Lebanon. “Oh, please, Mr. Ted, show me the ways of Canada!” she purred. One day Jen received an anonymous telephone call telling her it might be in her best interests to hire a private detective to follow her husband. She was sick to her stomach after that call. She knew there were other dalliances, too, and couldn’t understand why Ted stayed with her. For the children who were now adults and living their own lives? Jen scoffed. Who knew the inner thoughts of a philandering husband? For her own part, why did she stay with Ted? Was it familiarity? Too much trouble to divorce? Not getting any younger?
She shrugged. She and Ted seemed to have fallen into a pattern of living together without really living together---except when the children came home to visit.
Her thoughts turned back to her neighbours, Cecilia and Josef. She hoped they knew what they were risking. Brushing a blonde curl from her now drowsy eyes, she tiptoed back into her bedroom. Before she slid between the sheets, she peeked out between the slats. Nothing. All was dark. She had just happened to see something she shouldn’t have.
Her last thought before settling down again was that Cecilia was single so had every right to engage in a relationship, however illicit, with whomever she pleased. It was the dark-haired handsome Greek who stood the most to lose. Cecilia thought briefly about Josef’s quiet and dutiful wife, Maria, who seemed to adore her wanderlust husband.
In the rush of getting ready for work the next morning, as she gulped her instant Maxwell House coffee and munched a tasteless store-bought carrot muffin, Jen’s mind jumped back to last night and the forbidden scene across the street. And then she was lost in the day’s events.
After dinner, because she was out of cigarettes, she strode to the corner 7-11. Pretending to walk for exercise, she knew she wasn’t fooling herself. She needed her Benson and Hedges fix. On the other side of the store, looking over the movie titles, she was sure she recognized Maria. “Maria?” she said tentatively.
Josef’s diminutive wife whirled around.
“Hello, Jen,” she said, in a warm European accent. “So nice to see you. I never really see you since you work all day.”
Jen nodded. “It’s true.” Then looking at the shelf she asked, “Looking for a good movie?”
Maria nodded. “Hmmmm. Josef and I love to watch them late into the night. Trouble is I usually fall asleep while it’s still running. You’d think I worked all day like you.”
Jen paused, wondering what to say next.
“Um, Maria, how is Josef able to watch late movies and then get up so early for work the next day? He mustn’t need much sleep.”
Maria smiled demurely. “He is amazing that man of mine. Sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night and he’s not there, I know he’s downstairs working in the den.”
“Really?” said Jen curiously. She paused, bit her lip. “By the way, how’s Damien?”
“Oh, you know teenagers, especially boys. Sometimes he’s in early and sometimes he’s in late. I can’t keep track of him.”
Jen changed her tack. “How is Cecilia….you know…your neighbour? I was wondering how she was making out being a single mom and all. Do you know? I think she’s absolutely amazing.”
Maria beamed. “Both Josef and Damien help her out with household chores…you know, a leaky tap, a squeaky door. She really appreciates it. And your husband is good with her, too. I don’t know what Cecilia would do without our men!” Smiling, she turned back to the movie selections.
Jen stood there in shock. Did Maria just say that Ted was with Cecilia? When could he possibly have time? Certainly he was in bed beside her every night. In one split second Jen’s mind began jumping in a million directions. Ted? How could he? After the humiliation and heartache and trying to forgive his other indiscretions he was at it again? But how? And when? She looked at the seemingly serene Maria perusing the movie titles and opened her mouth to speak. She wanted to ask Maria all sorts of questions. But she also didn’t want to appear as if she didn’t know what her own husband was doing.
Instead, Jen snapped her mouth shut, turned around and walked out the store, dimly aware she was doing all this but not concentrating on the moment at all.
As soon as she got home, she slumped into the rattan chair on the back patio and lit a cigarette. Watching the smoke spiral upwards she felt that old pang of panic, of betrayal, once more. That sick in the pit of my stomach feeling. She glanced at her watch: 7:00 p.m. They had finished dinner an hour ago. Ted said he was going for a walk while she slipped down to the 7-11 for cigarettes. Where the hell was he? Why didn’t she go with him on that walk? Old fears, insecurities, abandonment issues welled up inside her.
Suddenly the haunting memories of her troubled marriage rushed back to her. The therapist took a long time to get to the real issue. Or maybe he deliberately took a long time just so he could make more money. Jen shut her eyes for a minute. She was so suspicious of everyone. So critical. So jaded with life. Maybe that was her real problem and not that she hated sex.
Sex to Jen was always distasteful. And ridiculous, really. She snorted through her smoky nose. Imagine Ted’s feet in the air as he contorted his body, trying to penetrate her from different directions. What ridiculous postures, she thought. She tried to enjoy sex. Really, she thought. She tried to thaw out. She drank to relax during sex. Didn’t work. All she got was tired. She tried to imagine a hot hunk pumping into her. Didn’t work. She could have cared less. She tried therapy. Didn’t work. Whatever the problem was in their love-making, it was hers. She was grateful when she was pregnant. A perfect excuse for no sex for a long time. And then she landed her demanding job. A perfect cover: always tired.
She stubbed out her cigarette as she heard the front door slam.
“Ted?” she demanded.
“Where were you?” She tried to sound casual, nonchalant, totally uncaring.
A long pause.
“I was over helping Cecilia fix her bicycle seat.” Another pause. “She couldn’t loosen the bolt so she asked for some help.” Ted was beside her now.
“I see you’re smoking as usual.” His tone was not pleasant.
“Of course,” she said. “Do you see Cecilia often when I’m not around?” Damn. Damn. Damn. She didn’t mean to ask that. She didn’t want the old fears to spill out so quickly.
He frowned. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Sorry. Sorry,” Jen apologized. “Don’t know why I said that.” Although she knew very well why she did. Suddenly she stood up and looked into his dark eyes. “I’m going in to do some work now.” She deliberately stepped around him on her way inside.
That night, the same old problem. Unable to sleep, Jen tossed and turned before deciding to get up again. She glanced at the digital dial on the clock radio: 2 a.m. She had been a fool to get so uptight about Cecilia. But what the devil did Maria mean by her casual comment, “And your husband is good with her, too.” What is the matter with me, she pondered. Why am I so paranoid? Why am I so jealous when I don’t want to have anything physical to do with Ted anyway? What’s my problem?
Out of habit, she peeked again through the blind slats onto the darkened street. Nothing. No activity tonight. Just as she was about to turn away, she saw a dark shadow flip down the steps of the condo across the way. She focused closer, wondering how Josef could keep up these nightly visits to his mistress and remain alert the next day at his insurance firm. Maybe she should sit Maria down and tell her the facts of life regarding her handsome husband.
Still watching, Jen saw Josef quickly cross to the next door condo and disappear quickly into the open door, obviously into the arms of Cecilia. Damn husband, thought Jen. What a mess husbands and wives can make of their lives.
Now her mind was working overtime. Surely Maria must know what Josef is up to. Jen certainly knew. Maybe she doesn’t care, thought Jen. Maybe she’s like me and is quite happy to have Josef as her husband but not as her lover.
Jen shook her blonde tousled head of hair and sighed. She was amazed at what was going on after hours in this quiet suburban neighbourhood. Twisting her mouth, she thought about the TV series Desperate Housewives. But who was desperate? How did Cecilia find the energy? Was she as sexually starved as Jen imagined or was she really interested in baiting and trapping a mate, no matter whose husband it was? Men are such fools, she thought. They think with their cocks and not their heads. Not an original thought she reminded herself but nevertheless, a true one. The Black Russian and a Benson and Hedges soothed her soul and once again she felt the peace of sleep slowly begin to sweep over her.
Over the next weeks, Jen watched the drama unfold across the darkened street. She almost looked forward to her night owl awakenings as if it was time for her soap opera.
Occasionally she thought about Maria. Perhaps, like the anonymous phone tip she once received, she should alert Maria to what was happening. If she accidentally bumped into her sometime, then she would hint at something. She didn’t want to get involved but neither did she want Maria to continue blithely in darkness concerning the shapely Cecilia who was obviously comforting her husband.
And what about her own? She glanced at Ted, asleep as usual in their bed, and shook her head. When could he possibly be with Cecilia? Still, the germ of the idea had been planted and she couldn’t shake it.
Back she went again to her past. Now she was a preteen, must have been twelve years old, she thought. A happy, content girl, she remembers. Until that dark day she entered the town’s general store. Old Mr. Sutherland, his girth as round as a seven month pregnant woman, was in the store that day. In her hot hand, Jen held a dime that was burning a hole in her pocket. She knew Sutherland’s had a lot of penny candy.
The bell announcing customers jingled like a friend as she pushed open the decayed swinging door on this bright, hot July day. It took awhile for her eyes to get accustomed to the darkness of the interior. Finally she made out Mr. Sutherland who was always kind to her.
“Hi Jen,” he beamed as she approached the counter. “What can I do for you?”
She glanced up and stared into his brilliantly blue eyes. Funny, she had never noticed how bright blue they were before. “Candy,” she said simply.
“Come with me,” he crooned. And he led her behind the counter---where no other child was allowed---and stood right behind her. “Choose whatever you want,” he said. It took her a minute before she realized what he was doing. His big meaty hands were roving over her small budding breasts. She stopped moving. She hated to admit it but she sort of liked the feeling she got as he slowly rotated his hands over and around her small breasts. She felt a stirring down in the depths of her body between her legs.
“Do you like that?” he murmured softly. Jen didn’t dare answer. She liked it but she didn’t. It felt exciting but dirty and wrong. She just held her breath.
Now he led her back farther into the store, into the storage area, and turned around to face her.
“Look,” he said. And to Jen’s disgust mixed with a strange lust, he took her hand and placed it around the huge erection of flesh that was pointing straight at her. “Do touch it, Jen,” purred Mr. Sutherland. “And you shall have all the candy you want. For free.”
Suddenly the door bell jingled, Mr. Sutherland pulled up his zipper, and a shaken Jen was pulled back to reality.
It was a week night again when she peered, like a bad habit, between the blind slats and saw the familiar figure of Josef slipping silently down his condo stairs.
Josef was making his way across the lawn to Cecilia’s when suddenly a blurred figure leaped from the bushes between the condos. Her eyes shot from one figure to the other and she gasped. Even in the dark she saw the silver glint of a knife blade. She saw the assailant’s arm jerk up and down, up and down, over and over again.
Horrified, Jen slapped her hand across her mouth to silence her scream. She almost shook Ted awake to see what she was seeing.
But Jen didn’t do any of these things. Instead, she quickly closed the blind slats. She stood behind the safety of the closed venetians and held her breath. She thought she heard moaning, a distant call for help, then silence. Dare she look, she thought?
No, she decided. She would not look. Her own life was complicated enough and she didn’t want to get involved. Instead she took herself down to the kitchen, poured herself a large Black Russian, lit one of the Benson and Hedges and leaned back in Ted’s swivel chair. The warmth of the Kahlua coated her throat and she sighed heavily, took a deep breath. When she looked up, she saw the familiar Greek tapestry with the dazzlingly beautiful Pandora lifting the lid of her vase.
As the siren wailing in the distance grew louder she mused how the arrival of Pandora, the first woman, had unleashed Misery over the earth.