In the bathroom of a Quik-Trip at three in the morning, watching the dull gray water that you rang out of your cotton panties swirl around the sink, your mind feels mushy but it's humming, like ants crawling over a child's toy left in the backyard too long, and for a fleeting moment you think that what you just thought had a certain literary ring to it, and that you want to write it down later, because God knows that at this point in your life you need to remember something beautiful instead of wishing that you'd have gone to the Shell station instead, because they have those hot air dryers in the bathrooms that would have made quick work of your sodden panties.
Truth is, you won't remember that little poetic gem after a few minutes. In fact, the only thing that will stay with you about this moment is the smell of the cheap pink hand soap, and how it might have been better to have skipped this hasty wash altogether because while your husband might not detect the faint musty odor of sex on your skin, everyone knows what the soap in a public bathroom smells like, and there would certainly not be a good enough explanation for why your pussy suddenly reeked of it. Until the day you die, every time you wash your hands at a restaurant, you will be haunted by the image of yourself with your heel perched on the lip of a dirty sink, trying to wipe off your sticky thighs with a wad of scratchy paper towels.
The fluorescent lights in the bathroom are particularly harsh on your face this night, and the layers of mascara that you had so carefully applied earlier have turned into sticky black silt deposits under your eyes. You look dead. You look scared. You look like you are completely lost and for a second you wonder just how in holy hell you got where you are now, going home to your husband after spending most of the evening with your lover.
You prefer to think of him as your lover for that word still conjures magic for you and colors over the more applicable terms that really apply. The night clerk at this gas station must know the look of a woman who spent the last three hours being fucked by someone she wasn't married to, and he surely knows that you fit the description of an adulterer and slut right now as you hastily try to put yourself back together so you can drive home.
The smeared makeup isn't coming off easily, and you're hesitant to rub your already raw skin any more. You wish that you would have been wilder in your college days, so you could have picked up a few tricks on how to remove stubborn raccoon rings of eye liner or how you can cover what you are now pretty sure is beard burn on your neck and left shoulder.
As you smooth back the dark tendrils of hair with your damp fingertips, you remember what you were really like back in your days at Tech, and how the soft, shy boy who was your Chem-1 lab partner shattered your heart and stripped that last bit of sweetness from you, so that years later you have absolutely no sense of guilt meeting up with him again to have an affair and betray the man who married only your detached shell. You’ve always been grateful to your husband that he asked so little of you, that the brittle façade you put forth every day is enough to satisfy him, because opening yourself up again to that possibility of annihilation makes you want to swallow every pretty, shiny pill in the medicine cabinet. So you got married for a stupid reason, and while you do care for your husband, your love for him is also tinged with something like pity, for you know he will never get all of you, the best parts you once had to offer. And how can anyone expect you stay true to someone you feel sorry for?
So here you are now.
And maybe you want to be caught, because there’s only so much you can do in a gas station bathroom to make yourself appear sweet and matronly again and you know this. Maybe you want to be caught, because you hope it’ll illicit some deeper response from you, that you’ll care for something other than all those pills you have, the blue-gray sheen of kitchen knives, the oncoming highway traffic that could be disrupted with one sharp turn of the wheel. Of course you want to be caught, why else put yourself through this? Why else pair up with the last person who didn’t make you feel as though you were buried alive?
As you slip your panties back over your hips, a pretty, punky young thing enters the bathroom and marches into the handicapped stall, not even bothering to cast a glance at you. It is time to go. The candy aisle beckons you, that very slight smell of the bottom of a bag of Halloween candy. You lift your chin and slide a bag of Twizzlers across the counter, meeting the clerk’s stare. You part your lips to tell him, to satisfy his curiosity: I just spent 20 minutes trying to wash my lover’s spit and cum and sweat off of me.
But of course you don’t say that, you buy your candy and get in your car.
The Twizzlers taste like wax and you relish how the sticky red chunks stick to your teeth. You put on some Beth Orton to direct your mind from its usual beaten paths, to the uncomplicated physical pleasures of this night:
“Runnin’ down a central reservation in last night’s red dress
And I can still smell you on my fingers and taste you on my breath.”
But it can’t be this way for much longer, because it was never about sex anyway. You know that eventually there will be a choice, a line drawn in the sand, hearts broken.
As you speed home, as you finish the final transition from lover to wife on the road, you start to feel a little calm, because there is another time in the Quik-Trip bathroom to look forward to next week, and maybe next time you will come home and your husband will be waiting for you and something will finally happen to melt the ice chip where your heart used to be. Or maybe next time you will simply get in the passenger seat and ride with the purple-haired teenager who walked into the ladies room.
The driveway is dark. Your panties are still slightly damp. You are home.