It was 3:00 AM. Sidney was stirring at last. Vera had been waiting eagerly for this moment since midnight when he had drifted into sleep. Now he would get the shock of his life, she gloated, savoring in advance the sadistic pleasure of humiliating him.
“Why are all the lights on? Why are all the lights on?” he muttered half-asleep.
Vera’s voice blared out like the trumpet sounding the Day of Judgment. “Get out of my apartment you dirty whoremonger! Do you think I want your venereal disease?” she shrieked angrily, standing over his bed like an angel of vengeance.
Sidney sat up, blinking his eyes in disbelief, practically dumbstruck by the spectacle of Vera raging at him. She was every bit the crazed virago. He was almost convinced he was still asleep.
“Look at this, look at this,” she yelled triumphantly, rattling a pearl necklace in front of his bewildered face. “Who did you buy this for? WHO did you buy this for?”
“It’s . . . It’s . . . a p . . . present for Sheila,” he stammered, looking as guilty as a dog caught in the act of doing something naughty.
“Goddammit you liar! This isn’t for MY daughter Sheila. This is for your whore!”
Vera reveled in her triumph. At last, reality and fiction were coming together. She was playing to the hilt the role of the outraged, virtuous wife based on all the melodramatic love stories she devoured like a dope addict. And the revenge, oh the sweet revenge! Vera could finally heap unlimited contempt on the man who had never known how to make her happy. In the past, Vera could only accuse Sidney of being a stingy, egocentric bastard by day and a vulgar slob by night. Now, she could accuse him of cheating on her. She clearly had the upper hand and she knew it. Best of all, he was going to know it, too.
“So you thought I was an idiot, didn’t you? You thought I didn’t have the slightest clue as to what was going on?”
“You ARE an idiot and you DON’T know what’s going on,” Sidney hollered back, springing out of bed. Whenever he was cornered, Sidney always resorted to using the same strategy: he denied everything. Vehemently.
“Don’t you dare open up your mouth to me, you rotten son of a bitch.” Vera’s second burst of anger hit Sidney with the impact of a canon ball. “I’ve been watching you for the past few months. Many times, I’ve seen you sneak up to the phone when you thought my back was turned. I’ve heard you speak to her in that phony, honey-tinged voice of yours. I’ve caught you smiling at her in the lobby with that stupid schoolboy smile on your face.”
“You’ve read too many of your trashy novels! You’re making this all up,” Sidney shouted in a desperate effort to salvage his dignity.
“Shut up and let me finish. You’re in no position to accuse me of making things up. You’re such a goddamn liar that you don’t even know the difference between truth and fiction. I know why you were getting those phone calls during supper. You’d tell me that a customer was calling and you had to see him at his hotel. Well, one night I took another elevator down to the garage and saw you as you were getting into your car. You weren’t alone. Just as I thought, that dirty whore was with you. You were going to the hotel all right. But not for business. You were going with her to get laid. I’ll bet you didn’t make any money on those transactions. How much did she charge you? Five hundred dollars a lay?” Vera burst into scornful laughter, proud of her last cruel jab.
“You don’t understand anything. You don’t know anything about love,” Sidney whined piteously.
“You call love making out with a whore?” she snickered. “But wait. But wait. I’m not done yet. When we were in the airport in London yesterday morning, waiting for our plane back to Toronto, you stuck a wad of British pound notes in my hand. You urged me to go buy myself some of those expensive scarves I had been looking at. I knew you weren’t acting normal. You were being unusually generous. I couldn’t quite figure it out. But several hours later, in the plane, I put two and two together. You wanted me out of the way to buy that piece of jewelry for your whore.”
“You’re sick, you’re paranoid,” Sidney screamed, determined to deny his guilt.
“How dare you,” Vera shot back. “How dare you!” Her voice seemed to reach a frenzied pitch faster than the speed of sound. “You’re a despicable loser. Whenever you’re cornered, you start fighting dirty. I’m always out in the open. I’m honest. Now shut up and let me finish. I figured you had hidden the present in one of your pockets, so as soon as you went to the bathroom, I checked them all. I found it wedged in between your passport and your traveler’s checks. I must say that I’m a marvelous actress. You never suspected anything. I even pretended to be especially sweet to you. Oh, you gullible fool,” Vera gloated. “You thought you had me over a barrel, and all the while I had you by the balls. I let you fall asleep with your illusions, and as soon as you were asleep, I turned on all the lights. I wanted you to have a brutal wakeup. So wake up, kid, the party’s over, and the mystery is solved. I’ve found the missing link.” Vera dangled the necklace in front of him, practically pushing it in his face, as proud of her discovery as any scientist who had just made an earth-shattering breakthrough.
Sidney knew he was caught. But he couldn’t bear the thought of admitting it. Be it vanity or self-preservation, a force stronger than his moral conscience made him persist in his lie. Panic-stricken, he cried out adamantly: “That necklace is for Sheila and for no one else. She told me she wanted one to go with her black evening gown.”
“Oh, you poor fool,” Vera sighed in a tone of mock pity. “You don’t even know how to lie. Brian gave Sheila a pearl necklace a few weeks ago. She showed it to us before we went to Europe. Remember?” A vindictive smile played on Vera’s lips.
Sidney was too stunned by the evidence to think of a response. From the forlorn expression on his face, Vera knew she had him backed up against the wall. She could afford to tone down now the virago bit, while still playing the part of the outraged wife.
“Tell me something. What was an old goat in his sixties doing with a chick in her thirties? Did you really think you overwhelmed her with your virile charm? You can hardly get your thing to stand up these days. Take a good look at yourself in the mirror. She didn’t fall for you. She fell for your money. Were you actually stupid enough to believe I’d let you give her all that money?”
Stung in his masculine pride, on the verge of tears, Sidney yelped pathetically, “Okay, so I’ve been seeing another woman. But it’s not what you think. She understands me. She goes out with me because she likes me. She doesn’t want my money. Besides, you pushed me towards her. You’re a frigid bitch. You’ve been frigid since the day we got married twenty-six years ago. I’d rather make love to a block of ice.”
Sidney’s insult hit Vera with full force. All her self-control went by the wayside. She shot up from anger to black rage as quickly as a racecar moves from 0 to 60 miles an hour. Seething once again with self-righteousness, she roared, “You goddamn prick! All you’ve ever wanted was sex. All you see in a woman is ass and tits. You’ve never known how to make love. You’ve always been like a pig wallowing in its trough. And at your age, you’re still obsessed? Can’t you accept old age with dignity? Can’t you be content to read the newspaper or watch television? Don’t you know that people at your age get heart attacks doing it?”
“You’re wrong! You’re absolutely wrong,” he screamed out desperately. “You’ve been using that argument for years as a pretext to turn me away. I’ve tried everything to make you happy. But nothing works. Whenever we have sex, you act as though you were going to endure something horrible. How do you think I feel?”
“And you feel better with that whore?” she laughed contemptuously.
“Yes, at least I can let myself go and have a good time. And I have no trouble getting an erection either!”
“Did you ever ask her if she was having a good time?”
“She told me she really likes me.”
“A whore like her will spread herself on any hotel mattress and say anything provided she gets hard cash. You’re a self-deluding fool! She’s out for your money. But she’s not going to get another cent out of you. Now you listen to me.” Vera’s voice took on a raspy, threatening tone. “Don’t think that all your money belongs to you. Half of everything you own belongs to me. Remember, it was stipulated that way in the marriage contract. And the other half belongs to my children. Don’t try to screw me, Sidney Rose. When it comes to defending my children’s interests, I’m like a tigress, and I go for blood. Did you think I’d let you give anything to that rotten schcrumpe*? Everything goes to me and my children. You and your schcrumpe will be left with shit!” Vera ended her tirade with such visceral force and gusto that it seemed as though a stream of bullets had whizzed out of her mouth.
Intoxicated by her own outraged indignation, Vera just couldn’t stop. “I hold all the trump cards. Don’t forget that for one minute. Your schcrumpe has a boyfriend. If I tell him what’s been going on between the two of you, you’ll be one head shorter. And if you continue seeing her, I’ll hire a private detective to follow you. I’ll also contact the manager of the company where she works. I have lots of shares in that company, you know. I can make life hell for both of you. I’ll let the whole world know what you’ve been up to. I’ll make your name mud!”
Sidney had never been a man of steely will. He could be stubborn, even tenacious in defending his business interests. But he was the furthest thing from a fighter and the idea of a public scandal terrified him. He knew Vera was single-minded enough to make good on her threat. Throughout his life, Sidney had survived by bending in times of crisis, by rolling with the punches. This had often been his strength. However, depending on the circumstances, it could also be a great weakness. In the face of Vera’s self-righteous fury, Sidney began to weep. He even sank to his knees, begging, “Please show me some pity, please . . . please. I’m so unhappy. All I want is a little affection and understanding. I’m not asking for much. You can keep the jewelry, but try to understand me and show some interest in me. I’ll be good. I promise.”
Vera could be very bitchy, but she was not sadistic by nature. Sidney’s quick capitulation made her relent somewhat. She now felt a mixture of pity and scorn for him. He was obviously humiliated, she had obviously triumphed, but deep down she resented him for being so weak and caving in so fast.
“All right, I won’t take any action if you behave. I’ll keep you for the time being. But don’t think I’m keeping you because I’m crazy about you. You get used to a dog, too. I still don’t know what I’m going to do in the long run. We can’t go on living like this. I need time to think. And I want to sleep alone from now on. You can sleep on the pullout couch in your office. I’ll make it up for you.”
Sidney looked at her imploringly. “Vera . . . ” he began.
Vera raised her hand in a weary, negative gesture. “No more talk, Sidney. I’m sick and tired of it all. Just leave me alone for a few days. Just stay out of my way, and there won’t be any problems. I’ll make your bed up, right now.”