It happened. She crossed the line. Norah was now one of those women. She wore the fact like a secret scarlet A on her chest. She contemplated this idea like she was floating above it and it was written on a piece of paper below her. “I slept with a married man,” the paper said.
Norah believed this to be something wrong. It was morally and ethically bad. And she had done it anyway. There was shame. She didn’t tell anyone, not even Carol. Yet, she didn’t feel remorse or regret. She had done a bad thing and it was a fact as innocuous to her as going 85 in a 70 or parking in a no-parking zone. It would hit her later, she imagined. After he was gone and it was over, she would remember and think, “What the hell was I thinking? How could I let that happen?” Norah never imagined herself a woman who would break that moral barrier. Not that one.
But she had.
Was it any worse to have sex with him then it had been to raise her chin up to his when he had put his forehead on hers? Had he begun his unfaithfulness the first night he entered her apartment, hugging her and asking, “You’re not going to kiss me?” before she kicked him out. The past few months they had yo-yo’ed between, We really can’t do this and stolen kisses and hands in places only lovers should touch. They had been fooling themselves. He, with his This is wrong and I don’t want to be that kind of man and she with her, I’ve put my foot down and I won’t be alone with him again.
As the days and weeks passed and they played out their dance of intense attraction and the fallacy of a shared morality, his impending departure and the uncertainty of his future provided a growing, if flimsy rationalization for why they should break the tension, indulge in the impulse and be together while they could.
It was like the encounter Newland and Ellen were denied in Age of Innocence, Norah thought.
It was not impulsive, it was not after a night of wine. It was a decision and he came to her in the daylight of a Sunday afternoon. They were both nervous and he asked her one more time, “Are you sure?” And she said yes and they let their passion and affection for each other loose in the confines of her little apartment with the world safely outside the bubble of secrecy and delusion they created for a few hours.
And now she was that kind of woman. A woman who had sex with a man she knew was married.
Her inner thoughts occasionally attempted the justifications that follow such a decision, such an act. He isn’t happy. His wife cheated on him. She doesn’t love him. He doesn’t love her. It was already over. They were only married on paper. It’s just a social construct. He left her. He hasn’t seen her in eight months. It’s only wrong if you accept society’s blaa bla blaa bla blaa.
The thoughts couldn’t form in her head without her inner being, that soul inside all of us that keeps the truth alive interrupting with chastisements. Who the fuck do you think you’re fooling? Do you really think every other woman who’s done this hasn’t said the same thing, you idiot? What is wrong with you? You slept with a married man. Deal with it.
She had done a bad thing.
Norah knew that she would be with him as often as time and conscious allowed until he was gone in just a couple of weeks. How she fit this chapter of her narrative into her own sense of self remained a puzzle that only she could solve.