by Sati Benes Chock
She kept the T.V.
At first Jane thought that it wouldn’t be right, even though, if pressed, she didn’t feel that it was exactly wrong, either. But still. He had a wife. This hadn’t stopped her from having dinner with him, after she’d tutored his children for ten dollars an hour at his immaculate 1950s-style ranch house. The only thing out of place was a crumpled handmade quilt on the leather couch in the den. “That’s where Daddy sleeps,” whispered his son, Nate, a shy eleven-year old with spiky red hair and thick black glasses. A thrill shot through Jane, even as she pretended nonchalance. His older sister, Amanda, peered around the corner and frowned. “What are you doing in there?” she asked. It was as if she knew Jane was snooping.
His wife had met her at the door.
“Please come in,” she said, smiling, but didn’t look Jane in the eyes. She seemed tired: a stereotypical housewife with two kids, a soccer mom twenty pounds overweight. She offered Jane cheap cookies—Oreos. And that was when Jane decided to have dinner with her husband. Did the wife think she was a child, too? Jane wasn’t precisely sure where the insult lay in that simple gesture, but she knew that one was present. Or maybe by infantilizing Jane his wife could deny that her husband was a philanderer. Whatever.
Jane plastered a smile across her face and politely declined. Later, though, as she worked through the English homework with Nate, her stomach growled. “You should have taken the cookies,” he said, glasses perched on the smooth white oval of his face, the reflection of the lights hiding his expression.
That night, after a long meal at an exclusive Japanese restaurant, Jane was still hungry. “You use chopsticks so well,” he said. He gave her a present—a Japanese novel in English, called The Pillow Book. “Is it an erotic novel?” she asked, embarrassing them both, but also igniting something. They avoided each other’s eyes, but their legs bumped under the small table. She sipped her green tea demurely and scalded her tongue.
Later, they walked along the rocky shore in the moonlight, dodging the frothy surf. When Jane slipped on a rock he was there, holding her arm, and then, her hand. When he kissed her, she let him, lost in the pounding of the surf and sensations spiraling throughout her body, but broke it off before he could run his fingers up her thigh. Not because she didn’t want him to, but because she thought suddenly of his children, with their freckles and suspicious eyes.
Jane called his wife the next day and told her that she couldn’t be their tutor any more. “What a pity,” the wife said, but Jane heard satisfaction mixed with relief in her tone. The following week, the T.V. arrived. Funny, she’d been telling him that without a T.V. she’d been delving more into the classics, and he had seemed to admire this. “My wife thinks People magazine is a classic,” he snorted. And then, because she felt badly for his wife, not even able to defend herself, she confessed that she did miss T.V. at times.
When the T.V. arrived she did not leave her studio apartment for a week, drinking icy cans of Classic Coke and eating Doritos, wiping greasy day-glow orange fingers on her acid-washed jeans. She had to wash them anyway. Eventually. Jane felt dirty all over, though, in a way that simply couldn’t be cleaned. She stopped taking his calls. At first her phone rang every day, then once a week. It made her uncomfortable that he knew where she lived. She started circling rental ads in the newspaper.
And then, just like that, he stopped calling, and Jane relaxed. She let the T.V. stay on continuously in a low hum, for she’d grown uncomfortable with the silence that she used to crave. She remembered the scent of his skin, his elegant fingers tangled in her curls, the crash of the ivory surf against glistening black rocks. Suddenly she couldn’t breathe, her heart raced. She felt blindly around the room until her fingers found the jumbo-sized package of Oreos, savoring the crinkly sound of the wrapper in her fingers, and began eating methodically, splitting them in half and using her tongue to shovel the creamy white center into her mouth. She let the sweet greasy lumps dissolve on her tongue, over and over, until the package was completely empty, and she was full to bursting.
Sati Benes Chock was born in Kathmandu and grew up in New England, where she attended Wheaton College. She taught English in Japan before getting her MA in Japanese Language and Literature from the University of Hawai`i. She currently works in the Asian Art Department of a major Honolulu museum. She has been published in a number of print and electronic publications, including Hiss Quarterly, Amsterdam Scriptum, Thereby Hangs a Tale, and Mouth Full of Bullets.