The quizmaster just ensured we’d be there for at least another hour and that would mean at least another pint none of us needed. Someone Else’s Husband is sitting across from me, and Our Friend is next to me. I’m looking across the table and I am taking his shirt off. Mentally. As soon as I realize what I am doing I try to imagine the body underneath the fabric to be as disgusting as it can be. Pale flappy, unclear skin, ugly nipples. Anything that makes me not want to touch him. My mind is stubborn, though, and it switches back to what I actually think is underneath, what I hope he looks like. No. This is wrong. His body must be revolting, must be.
I joggle between the two versions of his body. I need to get a grip. I focus on the quiz. I look around the pub, trying to check if anybody is on to me. Someone’s Else’s Husband looks me in the eye with a smirk.
No. This is wrong.
I’m making this up, he looks at everybody this way, this is just the way he looks.
I’m turning my attention back to the quiz. The experience of being in a pub quiz is a lot less frightening than I thought it would be. I knew I had to enter one eventually – living in London – but I had been technically avoiding it due to my imposter syndrome. Entering a pub quiz would show the world that I am highly under-educated and that I know next-to-nothing about next-to-anything. Luckily, though, it turned out that this pub quiz requires little knowledge about anything but current TV, music or film. The names of members of a boy band. The jingle of a TV-show. The actor who played Scarface. These questions wouldn’t harm me. What I was dreading most would be a question about literature, which would disclose that I am nor the literary-scholar nor the writer some people think I am. Britons don’t seem to read enough to ask questions about that in quizzes, though, so I could safely keep pretending.
When the quiz ends I decide that I have had too many as it is, and that I’d better get going. Someone Else’s Husband asks me if I want another. I say no. He locks my eye and pleads rather than asks: “one more for the road?” In hindsight, that should have been my cue. He didn’t ask me if I wanted another, he asked me something else. I hadn’t realized yet, but looking back, I think I agreed to the “one for the road” because I was curious to see what would happen next.
My pretending none of that is true ends abruptly when our friend gets up to get the next round. Someone Else’s Husband opens his arms and invites me in for a hug. I automatically, naively, give him the hug that was completely uncalled for, and inappropriate. He buries his nose in my hair. And then he kisses my neck. I freeze. He moves to my cheeks in slow motion. This is the second I chose. Back away or stay there, knowing where his lips are travelling. I can still back away now.
It’s good. It’s good but guilty. I back away before our friend returns. I look at Someone Else’s Husband and I say “uh-oh”. He looks at me and he says: “I know I know I know”. I say: “but—“, and he says: “yes, I know. I know.” It’s absurd, so I laugh. My eyes are big and I cup my mouth with my hand, as if to hide what those immoral lips had just done. Our Friend returns. He doesn’t know what happened. I can’t look at Someone Else’s Husband but I can’t look anywhere else either.
We’re on a little mission now, he and I, knowing it’s wrong. A mission to get rid of Our Friend and steal another moment. Eventually, we persuade Our Friend to get another round, and we jump at the opportunity to sneak outside “for a cigarette”.
Someone Else’s Husband hasn’t smoked in six years, but had puffed away at least four cigarettes in the last hour or so. He brought up feeling like having one, although he doesn’t smoke anymore. It’s bad for him. It’s a thing of his past. He brought up his craving, though, and I offered him one. And then another, and then some. He said: “somehow I knew you’d have cigarettes”. He knew I would: something he craves for when he’s had too much to drink, something he enjoys but is bad for him, something that makes him wake up the next day with a bad taste in his mouth.
I wonder if we are just animals. Going after our instincts when our judgment is blurred by intoxication. What sets us apart? The ability to choose for marriage and monogamy? To choose one person and forsake all others? That is, until you find yourself six years on in a gritty beer garden with your lips on a brand new pair of lips.
What sets us apart? The shame in the morning? The guilt? The sense of right and wrong? Of knowing what’s better or worse? When an animalistic desire to kiss someone you shouldn’t kiss kills your promise and desire to do good to the person you married, what does it all come down to? What sets him apart?
Later that week, I find myself on my way out of London to celebrate some lady I have never met calling some man I never met her husband. On a side note, the only reason I am attending this wedding reception is because my friend broke up with her boyfriend after RSVP’ing for two and she didn’t want to go by herself. Perfect: broken love and the immoral other-woman have arrived to celebrate this marriage.
I am usually hesitant about meeting big groups of strange people when there is alcohol involved, as I have a record of taking things too far and leaving a first impression I am not particularly proud of the next day. So, before attending this party I spend too much money in a frantic shopping spree to assure I look the part. I buy an appropriate, festive outfit. Ladylike, so that I may look like a lady to these people I have never met. The imposter in me is once again going all the way to hide her true colors behind the bright blue of the skirt I wear.
I don’t know either bride or groom, but I do know they look very happy together. I flip through their wedding pictures and like any girl whose own wedding is nowhere in sight I secretly envy them. I can’t picture my own wedding album. Not in the least because I can’t picture the groom. I picture Someone Else’s Husband’s wedding album. The picture of the first kiss as husband and wife. After promising never to kiss someone else again. He must have believed his promise at the time that picture was taken.
I go out for a cigarette — still the girl who carries cigarettes. My friend and I sit down and talk. A guy walks up to my friend and starts a conversation. After he’s gone she tells me he told her that if he had been single he would have liked to be her boyfriend. She laughs it off with a: “do I have a say in the manner?” but I think: he’s one of them. One of the men who wake up next to their women, men who are in a serious relationship, men who chat up strangers. He is not single. He should not tell her he wanted to be her boyfriend. Just like Someone Else’s Husband shouldn’t have told me he had been wanting to kiss me ever since I walked in the room about eight months ago. And he certainly shouldn’t have actually kissed me. I take another drag from my cigarette but then I stub it out. It’s toxic. It all is.