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The Hallway
´╗┐We stole the afternoons. I would sacrifice a vacation day just to be with him, beside his brown-skinned body on my living room carpet. Aristotle believed the wise man should seek not pleasure but freedom from care and pain. Clearly, the great philosopher neglected to calculate into the equation the wiles of women. I was the culprit. I never set out to destroy my love for him. My love simply moved to another. It's really a sinful, diabolical thing, the heart. One day you marry the man of your dreams and years speed by your nose and then your forbidden lover crosses the street.

My brother, Michael, unexpectedly came to the door. Mom worries about me. If she doesn't speak to me every day she naturally assumes I'm face down in a ditch with rats gnawing on my flesh. We were admiring our naked bodies. I had covered the floor with a comforter. We heard the knock. I threw on my kimono and answered the door. I remembered to close the chain, peering through the crack.

"You scared the bejeebers out of me... what are you doing here?"

Michael shrugged his shoulders. He expected to be let in but I had no intention of doing so. "Mom's worried sick about you. She called your work. They said you took the day off. You didn't answer your phone." He spoke politely, squinting.

I saw the wheels turning in his head. "She won't leave me alone, that woman!"

Kumar ran into the bedroom. He was terrified of being found out. I was too, come to think of it.

My brother and my husband were close friends. They both shared a love of hockey, beer and cigarettes; smoking until the blinds took on a pale-yellow tint from the curling smoke. I never objected. Everyone needs a vice. Trouble was he neglected me. That's why I got up to no good.

"Well, I'm just fine," I said with a snarl. Michael looked down. Why, I have no idea. He looked down at my feet. I wore no shoes or stockings. He saw the leather shoe, Kumar's brown leather shoe. I was anxious to get at him. I made him disrobe in the hallway. He was candy to me. I couldn't tear my tongue away from devouring his honey-suckle body. Kumar was at least five inches taller than me. We brushed up against one another at the annual Christmas party. I gulped three Rye and Cokes before I spoke.

"I think the happiest of people are those who are ignorant." I tried to impress him with my flatulent opinion.

"How so?" he asked, moving in closer. My blouse was stretched across my bosom; a taut mast guiding the sailboat through choppy waters, one large gust and everything would have toppled. I thrust out my chest. I expected his eyes to lower. The girls were accustomed to attention.

"Well," I said, taking a long pause for dramatic effect. "You can't get through the day without tripping over ignorance. It's all around us. There's nothing happier than a fool, right?" I had no idea what I went on about. I didn't let that stop me.

"Take me for example, I'm having too many drinks at this party, definitely a no-no, and I'm flirting with you and rather enjoying it... if that's not the epitome of ignoramus behavior." My eyes settled into his gaze. He smiled. He must have thought the same thought as I did. I wanted to ravage him, to tear off his clothes.

"You can hardly claim ignorance if you are knowingly cultivating an office romance." He was no slouch. The Rye and Cokes worked. I never would have spoken to him in such a flagrant manner were it not for liquid courage. Kumar laughed. He touched my hand as he spoke.

"You're telegraphing your desire in large letters across the sky," he said. He knew I wanted him. I sensed this, even in my alcohol-muddled mind. I figured a man wanted my body with the same equal measure I desired his. I had fantasies about making love to an exotic man - how erotic.

"Tell Mom I'll call her later." I slammed the door in Michael's face. I ran to the bedroom and laughed, finding Kumar in the closet.

"You're too funny... you picked the closet to hide in, of all places." He started laughing, looking so darn sexy standing nude. I wanted him again.

"Who was that at the door?" he asked. I saw the look of worry on his face as though our secret rendezvous on my living room carpet could no longer be, becoming a lost cousin to the past. I read it all on his face in a split-second.

"Only my brother," I re-assured him. "My mom is behind this, pressuring him to check on me that everything's OK. I'm a married woman!"

Kumar gathered his clothes. I wasn't ready for him to leave. I walked ahead of him toward the hallway. I hid his shoes, dropping each into a deep pocket of my husband's overcoat hanging in the closet. He wouldn't think to look for them there and, he couldn't leave without them. He was fully clothed, socks, pants, shirt and all. My word, he looked ravishing, those opaque, black pearl eyes and tight buns. Kumar was married. I met his wife at the same party when our hearts collided. She was a beautiful woman, rotund and serene, at least two inches shorter than me. And I'm not tall. She had a sadness about her, the melancholy evident in her eyes. I dropped to my knees. I was ready to do my thing to him, anything to entice him to remain. Kumar was unaffected.

"I have to leave," he said, searching for his shoes. "I thought I dropped them in the hallway. Where'd you put the bloody things?" He was perturbed. It was the first time I had seen this side of his personality, almost borderline rude and becoming enraged.

"Baby, stay a little longer. We won't be able to be together for a while... I'm traveling next week." I hated my job. I hated traveling across country. It tore me away from my lover. I was bored to death with being married, bored out of every pore in my skin with work. Feeling like the dirty girl of a married man gave me goose bumps.

The phone rang. I picked it up, angry at being disturbed.

"I'm really sorry about interrupting you," said Michael. His apology was sincere. I wanted to bring up the subject why I was at home. I knew there was no rational excuse. He had figured it out. My husband had smaller feet. He was two inches shorter, wearing size 9, whereas Kumar was tall, wearing size 11. Kumar was erudite, reading like a demon until his eyes turned bloodshot. Michael went out on a limb.

"That shoe doesn't belong in your hallway." He spared me a direct inquiry.

"Just leave it be!" I shouted. Kumar was frantic, tearing apart the house.

"I have to get off the line. We'll discuss this later. Do me a favor and butt out of my life, PLEASE!" I hung up the receiver. I threw my arms around Kumar and spoke about the lurid things he could to do me. He was non-pulsed.

"Now woman! I want my shoes!"

I was shocked when he addressed me in such a derogatory tone.

"You want your shoes?" I said, running to the hallway. I pulled them out of the pockets and hurled one at his face. Kumar ducked in time. The wild throw nicked the edge of my limited edition print, landing with a thud to the floor. I took better aim for the second. I held up the weapon, threatening with a wild gesture. He stepped back, bracing himself for the onslaught. I began crying, holding his shoe, pulling it into my body.

"You'll have to pry it from my cold, dead body," I declared.

Mom always said I was a drama queen. Sometimes it worked and other times I died on stage. Kumar walked toward me. He softened the tone of his voice.

"My shoe, please."

I wanted to believe he felt something deep and meaningful for me.

There can never be peace in every moment. The phone rang again - Michael.

"I've been standing outside your house for the last fifteen minutes. Guess whose car just pulled into the driveway?" I wanted to pummel his face. He was lying. Maybe he wasn't. I held onto Kumar's shoe. I knew it was over. Never again would I feel his tongue against my tongue, the touch of his lips against my skin. When we were together, he would kiss every part of my body, exploring me like a planetary globe.

"Be my friend, Michael, stall him. Give me five minutes." I hung up the receiver and looked at Kumar. He stood in front of me wearing one shoe. He looked ridiculous. I wanted to laugh. Tears fell instead - they're so much more powerful when feeling powerless. I let his shoe drop to the floor. I couldn't move. Kumar bent over. He stayed at my feet as he laced up. I lowered my head, looking at the top of his head, the crown of his dark hair, swirling into a counterclockwise curl. My arm reached below, touching him lightly. He had no idea how I felt. I had never told him. I never told him that I had fallen in love with him. I couldn't fathom giving up my lover to another woman, least of all a wife. Those who are ignorant are not the happiest of people. There are no walls high enough to lock out the truth. He didn't love me. I deserved this dramatic end. He never said goodbye. He never kissed my lips or touched my arm. He opened the door and left without a word. I fell on the couch sobbing, huge, globules of raindrop tears.

Michael watched. Kumar passed both him and my husband on the street. He came from behind the back of the house. Michael greeted my husband who had walked to the end of the driveway to retrieve the garbage cans. The sanitation engineers had a habit of throwing the cans down the street as the dump truck sped off. Michael was the actor in our family. He shook my husband's hand like he had just arrived. I saw it all from the second floor window. I felt my heart cave in, become a lesser thing. Kumar parked two streets down. I watched him cross the street, his head lowered, as he walked away. Michael and my husband were sharing a joke. I stood in my bare feet and wiped the tears from my face. My mind was deluged with every known cliché.

If you love someone set them free, if they come back they are yours...It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all...We always hurt the ones we love...You don't know what you have until it is gone...Love is blind.

I stood up, wiped the smudged mascara under my eyes, straightened my top, checked my lipstick, and went down stairs to greet my husband. I had to know why he returned home early. If cornered, I was prepared to confess. I was even prepared to take my licks and face the music.

The smartest of women are those who cultivate truth.