She woke up thinking of him. She hadn’t thought of him for years. Why now? she thought. She lay in bed in the early Saturday morning gloom listening to the body next to her breathe his noisy breath. Their marriage was normal, two happy-ish children, one of each, and four mobile phones. But early in their army days when duty forced them apart, she went with another boy. She wasn’t completely inexperienced, but she wasn’t self-assured either. His name was … was; what was his name? What she did remember were his eyes, they were gray, with one a little darker than the other, but she also remembered the way they looked at her. They seemed to be looking into her; past her into something else. She remembers wondering at the time if that was love; was it love that made them look at her like that? When he looked at her nakedness she watched his body react; like his eyes were drinking her in. She had read that line in a novel once and thought it was silly; but then she understood: seeking sustenance. Such attention made her tingle. Thinking now of then, him, his eyes, that look, gave her goose-bumps down her right arm, and a little something else.
Sandra stretched her arm and ran her hand down over her husband’s chest and stomach – getting a little porky these days, Ken - and down a bit more. She waited, moving her fingers gently, suggestively. Nothing.
She got out of bed and shuffled into the ensuite, closed the door and personally tended to herself, which included eventually, showering, shaving her legs, shampooing and conditioning her hair, and plucking her eyebrows. She then went down to the kitchen to get breakfast and start their day.
Saturday mornings had their own routine: Ken took the kids to morning footy practice and then came home and tinkered around the house and garden, much like every other husband in the street. She tended to her own domesticity in the house. The kids were getting older and their lives were growing busier. Ken and Sandra’s own free time was pretty much for themselves but they were tending to do things separately, she thought. Domestic shores beget domestic role-calls. What did she think of this?
One recent Saturday as she was turning over the cushions on the lounge suite in the front room she looked out the big broad window and saw Ken dead-heading the roses. She didn’t know he was back; he usually comes in first. She heard dogs barking. Those blasted dogs, again, she thought. Ken seemed not to hear them. He doesn’t care. She went to the kitchen and put the kettle on. She felt they were drifting in the usual, but perspective-less direction.
She had called him in and they sat sipping their tea. Her thoughts drifted to a few recent social situations when he had expressed humorous annoyance at her; like any spouse seeking peer support in the weave and tumble of domestic life, laughing along with his mates at the expense of their smirking, rolling-eyed wives, but undeniably making a point directed at her.
She said now, “We’re spending more and more time without the kids but not doing much together.” She felt immediately her voice hit the air that she was unfairly questioning him: how was he to know what she had been thinking all morning?
He said, “Whadaya mean?”
She felt caught out so said, “I don’t you. You know, just that the older we get, the more time we have, that we should be nicer to each other.” And immediately felt that it wasn’t exactly what she meant, or was it?
He said, “Oh, OK,” finished his tea, got up from the table, but then stopped, turned, and took this empty cup and saucer to the sink. Except for her unfinished tea, he removed everything else from the table: milk, sugar, untouched biscuits, and put them all away. He then left the kitchen.
As she washed and dried the tea things she thought that, yes, she had spoken too harshly, felt she had jumped the gun, caught him off-guard and that she should’ve chosen her time better and prepared the air. It had become important to her. He wasn’t in the garden or the study, but she found him in the garage restocking the drink’s fridge with beer.
She said, “Erm … Ken, sorry about what I said before. I just thought, you know, as couples get older they tend to drift into something that isn’t, well, planned, you know?”
He half turned and said, “Oh, was I supposed to think about that, was I?”
She stared at the back of his head and returned to the kitchen. Nothing like this was ever mentioned again.
There was a knock at the door. She was peeling potatoes. She thought Ken was in the garden, so why didn’t he tend to whoever it was? She wiped her hands and went to the front door. It would be a salesman or some charity or religious person so she was prepared.
She opened the door and said, “Yes?” in that disinterested kind of way.
There stood a man, thin, and well-dressed but with an army haircut; he didn’t seem to know what to do with his empty hands.
His face was open and smiling uncertainly, but with a look of eager expectation.
She said, “Can I help you?”
He said, “Hi! My name is Victor, Vic, Vic Casey. Are you Mrs Khourey?” He stared at her. His eyes were greenish and she suddenly knew exactly who this not-so-young man was. This was him! She must’ve mis-remembered his eyes. The boy of my dreams, she thought, and immediately felt her face heat up.
She quickly turned away and looked behind her to see Ken approaching – he must have been in the study. He said gruffly, “Hi there! What’s all this, then?”
The man said, “Mr Khourey? Mr Ken Khourey?”
Ken said, “Yeah. Whadaya want?”
“I would like to talk to you, please. Mr Khourey. Mrs Khourey. If you don’t mind. It won’t take long.”
Ken said, “Oh, OK.”
Sandra couldn’t speak.
They sat at the kitchen table: the altar to family life. Ken, not knowing quite what to do, asked him if he wanted something. He said he would like a glass of water. Sandra hurried to get it, not sure why but she needed to do something; but what would she say if he said anything about them? Her heart was pounding.
They sat. Victor wrapped his hands, prayer like, around the glass of water. He was glad to have something to hold.
He said softly, “Wow! Now that I’m here it all seems so strange.” He smiled sadly.
Ken looked at Sandra who was just staring at the man, seemingly not going to say anything. He said, “So what is it that you wanna talk about?”
The man said, “There’s really no way of easing myself into … well… OK.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve just been released from the army. I spent three deployments in Iraq but my … health isn’t good. In fact, well, I don’t have much time. But something happened to me many years ago in training camp that I need to talk about.”
Sandra Khourey could feel her stomach turn over. She didn’t know how Ken would react to what she knew this man was about to say. She decided to deny everything. She didn’t know him. She didn’t remember him. But he seemed such a nice man. But she did remember that time. Only that morning. She did remember him. Maybe her friend Andrea’s silly assertion about the fore-telling of dreams was true. She really didn’t know what she should do. She found it hard to breath. The air in the kitchen had got suddenly very close. She wanted a glass of water too.
Victor Casey continued. “This may sound…” He stopped and started again. “I experienced, all those years go …” and as he paused his eyes grew wet, “… love. So profound. So unexpected. But so deep. I have never forgotten it. And I have never experienced it again. Not like that. And now that … that time is short, I need to know more about it.” He looked away. “No no no, that’s not right. I just want to talk about it. Not to regain it; I know that’s impossible, but to understand it. To know if it was … if it was shared.” Sandra could feel tears threatening her eyes. She swallowed, and swallowed again, and tried to control herself. She had to control herself. She was aware of Ken turning to look at her several times as the man spoke. Just deny it. He’s got the wrong house, the wrong person. Sorry. You’ve got the wrong person. But she had a flash of telling the wives, how eager they would be to hear, how central she would be to their attention, their admiration, their envy. No! It was just a normal Saturday morning. What was happening here?
And then with a tear falling down his cheek – he quickly wiped it off – Victor Casey said, “Do you remember me, Ken?”
Somewhere outside those dogs barked and a girl yelled. Sandra looked at her husband, her mouth agape.
Ken Khourey said calmly, “Yeah, I remember.” He now wouldn’t look at her.
Sandra got up quickly and went to the cupboard, got out a glass, and poured herself water from the sink tap. The sound of the falling water was deafening.
Victor Casey said, “Mrs Khourey, I would like just to talk to your husband for a moment. It won’t take long.”
Sandra said automatically, “Yes, you’ve already said that.” She stood at the sink, her sink, with her back to the two men; these two men, who were they? She couldn’t face them.
Victor said, “I just want to talk, Mrs Khourey.”
She almost yelled, “Yes! Yes!” She drank some water to cool her voice. “You can use the … study.” But she would still not turn around. The last thing she would do is show them her face. It was clear, she thought, what was written all over it: deep, breaking, disappointment.
She heard the chairs scrape on the tiles; she heard paired footsteps growing fainter; and then the study door closed gently.
Sandra refilled her glass and sat back down at the table. She concentrated on her breathing and blinked her eyes dry. So, she said to herself, what now? What did this mean? Her husband had a homosexual experience in the army. Was that dangerous? Dangerous to them? Now? Did she want it to be dangerous? She didn’t know. Did it happen more than once? She would ask him. Oh, yes, she would ask him a lot of questions. Was she angry? How did she feel now? She searched their life for any hint of it happening again. She found none. She ranged over the husbands in their circle; had she had any, any, doubts about any of them? No? Had any of the wives hinted at anything? No. She only knew one homosexual man, the Greengrocer’s son, Damian. The rumours said he was promiscuous. She believed them. Isn’t that what homosexuals were? Her mind was a slippery floor. She couldn’t settle on a line of thought that would lead to anything useful. Her thoughts scattered, regrouped, and scattered again. She refilled her glass of water three times.
Eventually she heard the study door open. She didn’t know how long it had been. She straightened herself in her chair. She concentrated on her breathing and keeping her shoulders down. She was determined to look at the men as they walked into the kitchen but she wasn’t prepared for what she saw.
Victor Casey’s face was pale, different, his eyes were dry but dead. He seemed physically older, smaller and when he spoke his voice had lost its sheen.
He said, “Thank you Mrs Kourey,” as he put his empty water glass back on the kitchen table. He hardly altered his stride but he glanced at Sandra Kourey and she was surprised, and a little annoyed, that all she saw was a sad little down-turned smile as if he felt sorry for her. As he passed towards the front door she heard him say, “I won’t be bothering you again.”
By the time she heard the front door close, Ken Kourey had pulled out his chair from the table and sat down. She looked at him.
He said, “Jeez, San, what a lot of hullabaloo. It was such a long time ago. We were such pups! It was the army, for krysts sake. Yes, we got mighty drunk. It happened. I don’t remember much about it, actually. He’s so full of questions! Questions! Questions!”
And suddenly her demeanour changed to … sorry; she saw her husband in a different light, a dull light. She said, “And did you answer his questions?”
He said, “Yeah, ‘course! Some of them I didn’t even know what he was gettin’ at. He seemed to want some’m. I dunno. Some’m. It was a relief, I can tell ya, when he stopped crying.”
She said, “Ken, he’s dying.”
“He said he didn’t have much time.”
“He’s got another appointment or some’m.”
“Yeah, a doctor’s appointment, I reckon.”
She sighed. “What else did he say?”
“I think he wanted to know what you felt about it.”
“I dunno. It was after a bloody good booze-up, I remember that much.”
“Was it when I was seconded up north?”
“Mustav been, I spose.”
“So, Ken; what are you thinking, now?”
Ken said with a raised finger in the air, “I’m thinkin’ that I’d better get going to the shops. And then I have to pick up the kids. Did I tell ya? They’re bringin’ home two of their mates tonight for dinner and a movie. I’d better get crackin’.” And he stood up, slid his chair back under the table, grabbed Victor Casey’s empty water glass and put it on the sink, smiled at his wife, flicked his eyebrows high, and left the house.
For years after Sandra Khourey thought a lot, but told no one, about that one normal Saturday and the young boy, Victor Casey, who experienced – what did he say? - ‘a deep and profound’ love … with a man who since had fathered her children and still shares her bed. She’s got him, Victor Casey hasn’t. She thought a lot about that sad little smile on his face as he left the house and it didn’t take her long to understand that he was right.