When Arthur came home to find his wife in bed with another man, he felt surprised, but not much else. They seemed as stunned as he was when they saw him standing there, looking in on his own bedroom like an intruder. He’d left work early with a migraine, and hadn’t expected to see Patricia. Like him, she was supposed to be working, and for a few minutes he just stood there, trying to make sense of it all. Watching as they scrambled around looking for clothes, foolish and undignified with their stunned faces and bare asses. The other man looked like he expected Arthur to pounce. He kept shooting furtive glances at Arthur as he stumbled into his clothes. But Arthur hadn’t felt like pouncing anywhere. Immobilized, he just stood there, until his legs finally found their own motivation and walked him into the kitchen. He made coffee while they finished getting dressed, and when Patricia joined him in the kitchen he heard her lover leaving through the front door.
She nodded at his offer of coffee, and despite the migraine, he made it just the way she liked--with just a little milk and no sugar. She watched him carefully, like she was waiting for something.
“Arthur--” she began, but he cut her off.
“I’ve got a migraine. Can we talk about this later?” He walked out of the kitchen then, leaving her standing there while he took his coffee into the guest bedroom. It wasn’t much of a bedroom really, but then they didn’t get many guests. Mostly they used it as a study. But it had a bed, and Arthur settled himself on it. He hadn’t wanted to look at her, and he was unwilling to lie on the bed they’d been f**king in. Where he might have to lie in another guy’s wet spot. Although he probably already had--who knew how long it had been going on. But he comforted himself with the thought that, if nothing else, Patricia was the type of woman who could be relied upon to change the sheets.
All that had happened four months ago, but Arthur didn’t know where the time had gone. It seemed like time had been frozen in the aftermath of that scene. Or like Arthur himself had been frozen, remembering the scene like it had happened yesterday. He remembered lying in the cool darkness of the cramped guest room, trying to adjust his image of Patricia to include this new information. The sense of disorientation, of surprise, hadn’t really diminished over the four months.
It surprised him that the sensible woman he married had indulged in something so secretive and abandoned. Getting herself all worked up and sweaty in the middle of the day when she was supposed to be working. Supposed to be writing about lifestyle and fashion trends. It must have been hard for her--devising stories for him, covering her infidelity with lies about what she’d been doing with her days. It seemed so out of character, but there you go--you never really knew anyone. She must have been lying to him about it, or he would have known. He had carefully examined his memories of the preceding months, searching for any signs she might have given. But there was nothing. Some investigative reporter he was. It had never even occurred to him that there might be a story. He remembered wondering if he’d feel devastated when the surprise wore off. Would he feel angry? Betrayed? But the surprise hadn’t worn off, not really, and if those other feelings were there, they were staying buried. There’d been some signs of the anger, but he’d pushed them back.
And that had something to do with his own culpability in things, and his unwillingness to address it. He’d always considered himself and Patricia a ‘good couple’, but in retrospect he realized that he wasn’t really open to any other view of them. And that maybe the transition from ‘college sweethearts’ to ‘young professional couple’ had only seemed easy to him because he’d wanted it to be. Maybe, in actual fact, something was missing--something she’d found in bed with Mr. Muscles. And maybe the muscles had something to do with it, although there must have been more to it than that. Still, the body might have played its role in tempting her from the marital bed. Despite his surprise, it hadn’t escaped Arthur’s notice that she’d chosen someone tauter than him. His initial reaction was to wonder if she’d met him at the gym--if he was one of those guys who worked out every day and liked to look at himself in the mirror. And he was clean shaven, just like Arthur had been in college, when he’d met her. Lately Arthur hadn’t bothered much with shaving, although he had trimmed his beard when Patricia started to complain. He now sported a goatee that, in his opinion, quite suited him. Not that he worried too much about his looks. While he’d always been fastidiously neat, he certainly didn’t work out. And he only ate well when Patricia cooked¯which was hardly ever.
Patricia, on the other hand, had to take care, and maybe it wasn’t just a professional thing. Maybe looks were more important to her than he’d realized. He suspected that she’d worry about her appearance even if she didn’t work for a fashion magazine. She’d taken care of herself ever since he’d known her, and she certainly looked as good today as she had in college. Maybe even better--the K-Mart clothes had upgraded to designer labels, the glasses traded in for contact lenses, and the dark hair cut into a shorter, more fashionable style. Whereas his clothes hadn’t been upgraded at all--he still preferred the jeans and casual button-down shirts that had been his uniform in college. And the only change to his unremarkable body was the development of a slight paunch.
Arthur wondered about the influence of these things even though he knew Patricia’s infidelity couldn’t be explained by appearances. Not just that, anyway. There were clearly some things he didn’t know about his wife, but he knew enough to guess that there was more at stake than looks. Patricia wasn’t the type of woman to be driven purely by lust.
Their own relationship had certainly never been driven by it. Arthur had asked her out for coffee after noticing that she took the same classes as he did. From that first date they’d settled into a relationship that was comfortable rather than passionate. They’d had similar values, similar interests, similar ambitions. Although he’d exaggerated his ambitions a bit at the time, sensing she wasn’t a woman to be impressed by a man without drive. After college he’d proposed because he thought that’s what she expected of him, and the marriage was pretty much more of the same. Sometimes three years felt like decades. And while he’d just assumed that’s how marriage felt, Arthur now realized it might have been a problem.
He couldn’t deny that there’d been signs of discontent. He’d denied them at the time, of course, but looking back he realized the signs had been there. In the six months or so leading up to that day she’d been talking about having a baby. Sometimes he got the feeling that the baby was more about filling a gap then something she really wanted. He’d opposed the idea, insisting that the timing was wrong. It had taken them two years to scrape together the deposit for their apartment, and now they were struggling to meet the monthly mortgage payments. Not that they really had to struggle--Arthur had a trust account set up by his parents, but he tended to ignore that. Tended to forget it even existed. So he didn’t think of that when he insisted they were already paying more than they could afford for their current apartment, which was way too small for a baby. They couldn’t raise a baby in a tiny, third floor apartment, and they couldn’t really afford anything else. Certainly not in Manhattan--they’d have to move further out. Brooklyn or Queens. Which would mean a longer commute to work, for both of them. Not to mention the sleepless nights and ****ty nappies. It had all seemed like too much hard work. Then there was the problem of child care--unless Patricia was going to stay home. And that hadn’t seemed likely, despite her blossoming maternal instincts. There was an element of ambiguity to her feelings, evident in her reluctance to discuss childcare arrangements. Work was a big deal for Patricia. She’d always been more ambitious than him. While she was keen to make editor at image!, Arthur was happy to plod away as he was. A fairly mediocre journalist.
He’d only gone into journalism in the first place because some family friend that he couldn’t even remember had once suggested it, and he’d never been able to think of anything better. He guessed the forgotten family friend had suggested it because Arthur spent so much of his childhood reading. And he’d always liked writing. But journalism wasn’t really about writing, and he’d only stuck with it because he couldn’t think of anything else he’d rather do. He didn’t really have any passion for it. According to Patricia, he didn’t really have any passion for anything. He supposed she was right about that.
The day he’d caught Patricia in bed with another man Arthur had lay in the darkness, letting his coffee go cold. He’d known Patricia wouldn’t be able to resist coming in. He’d known she’d have to talk about it. There was an element of spite in his choice of rooms--it wasn’t all about avoiding the wet spot. She was always accusing him of walking away from things. Of avoiding conflict. She was right about that--he hated conflict. But that day he was ready for it, and when she came and sat beside him he was expecting more than he got.
“Arthur, I don’t think I want to be married any more.” That had surprised him, and his response sounded dispassionate even to him.
“Are you in love with--what’s his name?”
“Toby Dobson. I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Where’d you meet him?”
“He works at image!”
“Well, if that’s what you want.”
“What do you want Arthur?” He’d heard the frustration in her voice and was glad. “I guess it’s probably for the best, considering you’re f***ing another man and all.” When she responded he’d been gratified to hear the controlled anger in her voice.
“We’re living separate lives anyway. We don’t talk about anything, and I never know what you’re thinking. I can’t get through to you any more.”
“And is this other guy’s cock helping you resolve your communication issues?” Cold sarcasm wasn’t what he’d wanted to convey. He was surprised by the anger beneath his words--an anger he hadn’t even realized he felt. “I don’t really think we have much left to talk about, do you?”
"You can be such a prick, Arthur?"
They’d spent the following days avoiding each other, and by the end of the week she’d moved out. In the days before she left the silence between them had grown into an unfriendly third presence in the too-small apartment, crowding in on them. He still didn’t know why she’d stayed those extra few days. Maybe she thought they’d talk about things. A couple of times she’d started a conversation, but it never went anywhere. They really didn’t have anything left to say to each other. When she finally left she moved into a place with Toby. Arthur assumed that was why she’d agreed to let him stay in the apartment. She had somewhere else to go.
When Martin Wise rang him, Arthur practically had to beg Lou to let him do the story. Lou wanted Arthur to do a ‘Distraught Father Wants His Daughter Home’ piece, but Arthur had already written that one. Just over a year ago Eleanor Watson had contacted the paper about her sister, who’d left home for a life on the streets. Although Mom hadn’t seemed overly concerned, and Dad was out of the picture, Eleanor had cared enough to track her sister down to a community called the Children of the Future. But the community was careful not to take in minors, and according to the police they weren’t breaking any laws. And because no-one seemed to leave it was almost impossible to get anything on them.
From what Arthur was able to find out, the only person who’d ever left the community was Hank Jones--a crackpot who’d made the news fourteen years ago. Hank had gone on a killing spree that ended with his suicide. The community has disavowed any involvement, citing their belief in a peaceful, harmonious existence. While Hank gave the police their one and only chance to get inside, they’d come away with nothing. Even so, the cult had gone underground for a few years, desisting from all recruitment activities. Now they were back, and Arthur couldn’t help wondering if Hank Jones really was the only one who’d ever left.
When Eleanor contacted him Arthur had spent weeks trying to track down anyone with knowledge of the cult, but all attempts proved futile. In the end it hadn’t been much of a story, although Martin Wise had remembered it. He’d rung Arthur about the brochure he’d found in his daughter’s bedroom, a brochure almost identical to the one Eleanor Watson had found. Eleanor had found hers at the Abortion Clinic where her sister was last sighted. Martin found his at a drug treatment facility. They both said the same thing:
Do you feel that modern society has nothing to offer you? Have you found that traditional religions fail to speak to you? If you’re looking for a community that offers genuine fulfillment and meaning, call us on--they gave a number.
Martin had already been to the police. But Julia Wise was eighteen years old, and had only been living with her father for the past three weeks. A recovering heroin addict, Julia was raised by a woman who bitterly resented being left a single parent. Consequently, Julia had never gotten to know her father. She’d only sought him out when her mother’s latest boyfriend kicked her out of the family home. The police had their own theories about Julia’s disappearance, and as far as they were concerned it wasn’t anything to do with them. But Martin felt guilty about all the years he’d neglected his daughter, and he couldn’t let it go. Besides, she was all he had left, and the thought of growing old alone didn’t appeal to him. Not now that she’d suddenly come back into his life.
Arthur’s plan was simple. He’d call the number on the brochure, and get inside. Lou wasn’t particularly impressed. He wanted to know how long Arthur thought he’d be in there, and what his exit plan was.
“What if they try to stop you leaving?” he’d asked. But Arthur figured he’d work something out when the time came. Not that it was a spur of the moment decision. The story had been bugging him long before Martin Wise came into his life. Even before the Watson story. The story was personal.