So began their affair. This was not something Grace had ever imagined herself capable of: the lying, the deception, the fabricated alibis that slithered off her tongue with startling ease. Yes, there was the big, foundational lie, but that was different. Her new lies required a constant inventiveness, a creativity and dexterity Grace almost admired in herself. At home, she invented a weekly after-work social, to which David encouraged her to go. Of course she felt guilty. Of course she hated the lies that slipped ever more effortlessly from her tongue. But not once did she hesitate when David asked questions about who was attending or what these evenings had been like. Her mind became a wellspring of lies. She found herself able to concoct the most elaborate stories. It seemed she had a penchant for fabrication hitherto unknown. It was such an easy thing to lie to David: she had, in fact, been doing it their entire life together.
It was wrong, she knew, but after a few weeks she stopped caring. Grace needed Johnny like she needed cigarettes. Seeing him once a week made her brighter, happier, more vibrant in other areas of her life. Having him back, knowing him intimately, having him listen with his attentive gaze to her stories and feelings; possessing him in that way had made her come back to life. The years without him she’d been asleep, she realised now, a somnambulist. Johnny had awakened her to happiness, to life itself. Feeling like a child again, Grace even caught herself skipping down the street one day. At home she was more attentive to David, more patient with Sindi. The baby didn’t tire her as much. Grace felt more energetic than she had in years. She could even be heard humming as she made dinner orwashed dishes. David noticed, relieved, andremarkedathow well she was settling into motherhood. A false peace descended on their home. David was happy.
In these moments Grace felt terrible about her deception. The funny thing was that she didn’t love David less after Johnny returned. Instead, Johnny had pried her guarded heart wide open, making it bigger and more capable of loving everyone in her life. In her worst moments, Grace rationalised it as good for her family. It was making her happy, and therefore David and Sindi were happier. Where before, she had struggled to relax and enjoy them, now she could fully embrace them with a healed heart, overflowing with joy. Johnny had fixed something in her. Something in that first embrace had gone “click”, and the old stuff, the muck of suffering, flew out of her, leaving her light as a bird. She could dance around the kitchen table with David now, in the midst of the evening chaos, where before she would have brushed off his little gestures of affection.
Others noticed the change too. Mr de Vries complimented her on looking beautiful one morning. No one had ever told her that before, not even David. It astonished Grace. She started taking more care with her appearance, choosing a new lipstick colour and some fresh blush. She had never bothered before.
Now she found herself before a fancy make-up counter at a department store in the heart of the city at lunchtime, where a consultant helped her find the best shades for her skin tone. Peering into the mirror, Grace saw Mary looking back through her eyes. So this was what it must have been like to be in Mary’s skin; the admiring glances, the turned heads, the compliments and affirmations. Grace realised with a start that with her new look, she resembled her mother. Yes, she looked beautiful. For the first time, the memory of Mary made her smile. Mary would have loved this, taking her dull daughter to a make-up counter to try out a new look. Oh, Mama, why did you have to leave so soon?
Her hours with Johnny were never enough. They would meet close to Cape Town station after work on the designated night. Sometimes he brought his car, and they drove to the furthest beaches from the city. They couldn’t go to the closer, more popular ones, for fear of being seen. Other times, they walked from one bar to the next down the spine of Cape Town, Long Street, which livened up in direct proportion to the day workers leaving the city. No one Grace knew frequented these parts, and there were enough little hole-in-the-wall places where they could sit, tucked away, drinking and talking. Sometimes they didn’t even talk that much.
It was enough for both of them to just be together, Grace leaning her head against Johnny’s shoulder, or feeling his hand resting casually on her thigh in a gesture of possession. Sex happened in Johnny’s car – always a furtive and desperate coupling that left neither of them satisfied, but holding just enough promise that the next time would be better. Grace disliked the empty parking lots and deserted beachside roads, but she couldn’t stop. It made her feel closer to him, sealing the precious bond she thought she had lost forever.
They spoke little about their home lives. Obviously, Johnny knew about David and Sindi and in the beginning he would ask after Sindi, but Grace always cut him short. She didn’t want her child’s name to cross his lips, and after a while he stopped asking about her. Grace wondered where he lived and with whom – they had never been to his home – and she remembered the woman who had answered the phone that first time she’d called. She had suggested that they go to his place once but his reaction discouraged her from doing so again. Unreasonably, she was jealous of his life, jealous of the people with whom he shared it in daylight, with whom he could be and be seen freely. For all she knew, Johnny was married. He had said once that he wasn’t, but she didn’t quite believe this. And what if he was married? Would she have the right to be upset and demand an explanation? She, who was lying to and cheating on her husband – what recourse to morality did she have with Johnny? Grace decided that she didn’t want to know about a wife, kids, girlfriends.
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