The Adulterer's Handbook: A Novel
I raise my hands to her shoulders and give her a hard shove. She stumbles away from me until her heel catches on a tree root and she falls backwards, arms windmilling, towards the setting sun. “Lee…” she shouts before there’s a spectacular splash and she disappears beneath the green, frothing water. My first thought is, she won’t be happy about me ruining her new dress. My second is, I hope she doesn’t swallow any of that slimy, foul-smelling canal water.
In a moment of panic, one thought comes to the fore: she can’t swim! Am I going to have to jump in and rescue her? I don’t mind my jeans getting wet, but I’m wearing my favourite shirt. Have I got time to strip off? Then, to my great relief, she comes coughing and spluttering to the surface. I expect to receive an earful of fully justified abuse, but, to my surprise, after some ineffectual splashing, she disappears beneath the surface again. The water quickly stills above her. She genuinely can’t swim. I’m about to jump into the canal and pull her to safety when I stop at the edge of the towpath.
What if I do nothing…?
Chapter 1 “No, no, no, no, NO!” I realise my mistake milliseconds after pressing the little arrow icon. I’ve just sent the text message “That was incredible! God, you’re so hot! xxx” to my wife, instead of my lover. The traffic lights turn green and I drive away, searching for somewhere to park so I can figure out if I can remedy the situation. I turn into a side street and pull over. How did this happen? I’m always so careful. That will teach me not to send messages while I’m driving. I pick up my phone, type in the six-digit passcode and study the screen. Two grey ticks. My wife’s phone has received it, but she hasn’t read it yet. Sometimes she doesn’t look at my messages for hours. Perhaps there’s a way I can delete it from her phone before she even notices it. I feel sick and I’m sweating. What am I going to say if she reads it?
For the last seven weeks, I’ve been having an affair with Sophia from my office. Over the course of a couple of years we’d gradually made the transition from colleagues to friends and we increasingly used to spend our downtime together. She made me laugh, made me think and took an interest in me. I came to really enjoy her company. It didn't hurt that she was also very easy on the eye. We flirted a bit, initially by email and then in person. One evening, at the tail-end of summer, after working late to finish an important project, as we and a colleague made our way to the staff car park, along a particularly dark section of the footpath, I reached out and surreptitiously squeezed Sophia's bottom. I still don't understand the strange compulsion that made me do it. What a stupid thing to do! I had no idea how she’d react. A slap in the face would have been justified or she could have made a scene in front of our colleague and humiliated me. She did neither. Without breaking stride, Sophia maintained her conversation with Claire from the IT department. It was as if it had never happened. I started to believe she hadn’t even noticed.
It’s my own stupid fault. I’ve completely ignored rule three: Always begin text exchanges with “Hi.” It’s a security feature of our carefully regulated affair, to make sure it’s safe to communicate and hence to prevent situations like this one from occurring. I’m an idiot!
Two blue ticks. Tamsin has seen it! My heart sinks. What must she be thinking now? I picture her in floods of tears, staring at her phone as her world crashes down around her. There’s no reply yet. Is she already throwing my clothes onto the front lawn and lighting a match? I couldn’t blame her if she is. A response at last. Just a single symbol.
The following day at work Sophia was still behaving as if nothing had happened. Fine by me. I’d regretted grabbing her bottom the moment I did it and I was happy to forget all about the whole incident. However, she approached me midmorning, after being out of the office for a while, an expression of suppressed anger on her face. “I’ve just been with HR,” she said. “I’ve reported you for sexual harassment and they want to see you in their office now.” I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. “I’m so sorry, Soph. I don’t know why I did it.” “Well I do!” she replied, her eyes steely. “I have an irresistible arse. It’s always been a problem.”
She burst out laughing. I’d never seen her so joyful. “Your face is priceless!” she gasped, trying to catch her breath as she sashayed back to her office.