Despite her resolve to end the affair, it continued. As their three-month “anniversary” came up they looked forward to spending the stolen night together. Johnny had picked her up from work – a risky move – and they were on their way to Grace’s favourite restaurant in Muizenberg, on the other coast, when the inevitable happened.
Grace was laughing, happily chirping away at Johnny as they drove through the city, when they stopped at a red light. They’d become careless, daring the world to look at them, to find out.
As Johnny turned to her, Grace leaned in and brushed his cheek with her fingers. It was a simple gesture, not overly demonstrative, but the kind of touch that signalled the sort of intimacy a married woman should have with no one but her husband. A playful, tender gesture at the end of a tiring week and the beginning of an exciting night.
Her hand lingered on his face, and Grace turned to find herself looking into the eyes of Gwen, her mother-in-law, who had pulled up at the light beside them. The two women’s faces froze as they recognised each other. No smiles, waves or acknowledgments were necessary. The weight of Gwen’s silent grasping of the situation filled the car. Both cars moved off as the light changed.
Nausea rose from the pit of Grace’s stomach. She demanded to be taken home – Johnny, puzzled, wanted to know why.
“His mother, David’s mother, she was in that car next to us. She just saw us.”
Johnny grimaced, then tried to reassure her. They hadn’t been doing anything right at that moment, had they? Nothing obviously wrong. Grace had told David she’d be out with friends. Could it not be explained in this way, that Johnny was one of those friends?
“Don’t be stupid!” Grace screamed, tears streaming down her face. “Of course she could see what was going on.”
Johnny’s mood shifted from concern to anger.
“Stop it, just stop it, Grace! Stop crying this instant. You were happy enough to get into this in the beginning, remember? What did you think – that we’d be able to go on like this forever? This was going to happen sooner or later. And what kind of man is your husband anyway to let you go about like this, so freely, every week? Maybe he already knows. Maybe he’s not man enough, or maybe he can’t deal with this. Maybe he’s relieved. Looks to me like he’s turning a blind eye.”
The words felt like a physical blow to the stomach. With anger rising in her throat, Grace cast a fresh eye on Johnny, this Johnny she had never seen before, who had never spoken to her in this sneering tone.
“I’m sorry, Grace, to be so direct,” he said, and now his voice was devoid of malice, “but come on now, surely by now he must be wondering.”
He had no business, no business at all to be talking about David like that, to even have David’s name on his tongue. David, her good and solid David, didn’t need to have his name besmirched like this.
“Don’t you dare!” Grace hissed. “Leave David out of this.”
Johnny laughed a shrill, thin laugh, throwing his head back in exaggeration. The venom was back in his voice as he attacked. “I have to leave him out of it? Me, who has never even met this wonderful man of yours? Who is the one running around on him? If he’s so wonderful, why aren’t you home with him?”
Grace had no answer, except her usual demand to be taken home. They drove together in silence as darkness pressed down on the car. Traffic in the opposite lane whizzed past them, throwing erratic strobes of light onto Johnny’s face, cloaking him alternately in darkness, then light. Now you see him, now you don’t – a new game of hide and seek invented itself between them. Johnny lit a cigarette, passed it to Grace, and lit another for himself.
Grace inhaled, picturing her carefully constructed life about to come crashing down. At this very moment, David would probably be opening the front door to his mother, happy as always to see her. He would have Sindi on his arm. Right now, he would be leaning forward to kiss his mother on the cheek as he always did; she would enter the house through the hallway, and in the living room she would proceed to destroy Grace’s life. What a fool she had been. She wanted to get away from Johnny immediately, wished she had never set eyes on him that day on the train.
Johnny pulled into an emergency lane at the side of the road, snapped off the car’s headlights, and with an impatient swoop, lit another cigarette.
“I told you, I want to go home,” Grace protested weakly. “I will take you home, but first, you listen to me.”
His voice bore an authority unfamiliar to Grace. She blinked the tears out of her eyes and sat up, on guard. She was not used to this.
“Here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll take you home tonight, but this will be the last time I leave you on the street. Tonight I come up with you, we tell David everything, you pack your bags and we’re gone. You’re leaving him – tonight.”
“Are you mad?”
Grace was starting to feel afraid of this new, assertive Johnny, the one no longer whispering declarations of love but making firm plans. She had no idea who he was, or what he was capable of.
“Where’s the madness in that? We can’t go on like this. Let’s make a clean break.”
“What about my child? Have you thought about her? Where is she in your plan?”
His silence swelled like a fresh bruise, filling the car.
“I’m not just running off with you,” Grace said. “I hardly know you.”
“Oh, you knew me well enough to fuck me.” “Don’t talk to me like that.”
“Like what, the common whore that you are?”
The slap landed on his face before Grace knew what she was doing. She wanted to say something to defend herself, but the words piled up against the inside of her throat and her tongue became a dead weight. She struggled with the door handle in the dark, desperate to get away from this man. Johnny grabbed the fumbling hand, reining her in.
“I’m sorry, so sorry. Grace. No.” He snatched both of her hands and kissed them.
“I didn’t mean that. It was just the heat of the moment. I love you, Grace. I want you to come with me.
Leave him. We’ll work out the baby somehow. Just come with me.”
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