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Today's Story by Mary Magagna

Do not carry a concealed weapon

7 Things Not To Do in Albuquerque When Having an Affair

Number One: Do Not Carry a Concealed Weapon    

I could hear their voices in the outer room. His was a deep basso and hers tinkly and girly, all up and down the register. “She’s trying hard to engage him, trying to make him feel at ease. How nice of her,” I thought. And he was trying hard, too. Both of them were nervous and trying hard and I was alone in the bedroom, thinking I just might go out the bedroom window and escape.

Don’t get me wrong. I keep my bargains.

I got down my black wool coat, vintage 1940, pulled up my socks, put on my shoes, grabbed my knit green muffler with the appliquéd pink flowers and wrapped it around my neck, jammed on my grey fleece cap and walked out into the room where they stood. The room in which they stood housed the piano and was between the entry and the kitchen. They stopped speaking when I joined them. “Look at you,” he said, “look at you.” They both were grinning ear to ear.

“Can you tell I’m a tourist?” I asked. “No, no, not at all,” she said, thinking she was reassuring me.

I didn’t care in the least if I looked like a tourist and I couldn’t, even if I tried, look at myself. Even if there had been a mirror, and there wasn’t, I couldn’t look at myself. It’s impossible to look at yourself, all of yourself, all at once. You’d have to solve Zeno’s paradox: to look at yourself you have to find a way to stand outside yourself. I wasn’t about to stand outside myself right there and then.

He was shorter than I remembered. That’s about it. Shorter and much, much more handsome. Blond handsome. Blue-eyed handsome. Neatly trimmed and attractive chin hair handsome. That surprised me. Most chin hair, neatly trimmed or not, is not attractive. He smelled like incense.

“You smell like incense,” I said, leaning in close. Did I imagine he pulled away? “Oh, good,” he said. She laughed and walked into the kitchen, leaving us alone.

Silence. I love awkward silences, don’t you? I never rush to fill them, largely because they are uncomfortable and I think you get the true measure of a person by what he or she does when uncomfortable. He did nothing.

After awhile I said, “Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”

After our meal he said, “You are so beautiful.”

I said, because I’m snotty if nothing else, “It’s taken you a whole bottle of wine to say that.”

We walked to his motel room and entered the door. But wait. First we talked to the dog and let her? him? it? sniff our hands. After the dog steadily ignored our friendly overtures and barely acknowledged our good will, then we walked to his motel room and entered the door.

The room was very large and oddly partitioned. We discussed the layout of the room. He kissed me. I liked it. I kissed him back. We invented a game on the spot. No, I invented the game. I’d take off an article of clothing, then he’d take off an article of clothing. I took off my hat, muffler, coat. He took off his cap, overcoat, gloves. When he took off his sport coat I saw that he had a gun strapped to his chest, under his right arm. A big, heavy gun.

“Is that loaded?” I asked.

He looked at me with amusement. “Of course it is, silly. What would you have me do, throw it at someone out to get us?”

“Yes,” I said, “yes, that’s exactly what I would have you do.” In my limited experience with guns I’ve surmised that their only reason for existence is to kill or seriously maim or maybe just slightly wound. Or maybe just scare. In other words, guns are made to kill, maim, graze, or just scare. “Who,” I wondered, “does he think he’ll have to kill, maim, graze, or just scare today?”

He unholstered his gun and laid it on the bedside table. It lay there like a flat stone–heavy, obdurate, gun colored, lethally still. A gun. I couldn’t believe it. I was in a motel room with a man who drank a bottle of wine then told me I was beautiful, tried to coddle an unfriendly dog, kissed really good, smelled like incense, played my undressing game, and wore a concealed gun under his right arm. This was going to be some kind of day. It was in the cards.

Number Two: Do Not Piss Off Your Wife Before Leaving Home

A generally agreed upon truism is that cheating spouses shouldn’t. But they do and nothing good ever comes of it.    

The question is: why do they do it? I have no answer. I just take advantage of the situation. Women of a certain age get so few opportunities.

The cheater, on the other hand, has more options. He, or she, can cheat multiple times with the same person, or once with the same person, or multiple times with multiple people, or once with multiple people, or, should it come to that, return to the domestic domicile with no one the wiser. At least that’s the theory. But for that theory to work the cheater must take care not to piss off his wife (or if the cheater is a woman, piss off her husband) or in any way alert the spouse that something is going on, like tell your spouse you’re going to Albuquerque to meet a friend you haven’t seen for over 40 years because 40 years ago her (or his) naked body became indelibly etched in your imagination.

Actually he didn’t say any of that out loud. He merely said he was going to Albuquerque to meet an old friend after 40 years and would spend the night in a motel and his spouse said, “Good.”

What cheaters don’t realize is that their spouses rarely think going to Albuquerque to meet an old friend after 40 years and spending the night in a motel is a good idea. No matter how neutral his voice tone or how deliberately empty his mind, the spouse of the cheater will feel her skin prickle or her hair stand on end or her saliva dry up and she will know beyond a doubt that something is up, something is ominous, and somebody is up to no good. And she will reasonably want to know what and who that is.

Number Three: Do Not Rent a Room in the Same Motel You & Your Wife Use When You Come to Visit Your Daughter Who You Come to Visit Frequently.

Motel rooms are strange places. They have to be welcoming enough so that you forget about the dander mites left in the bed by former occupants yet not so welcoming that you steal the art off the walls.  

I think motel rooms are universal poems and, if read correctly, are catalysts for the human drama. In them a single everyman meets up with his loneliness and fatigue. Under the florescent lighting in the bathroom a lone everywoman encounters her sagging skin and her grief.

I know that the whole trajectory of a love affair from beginning to end can be told in a one-act play set in a motel room.

In one version of the play a man and woman spend the afternoon in sybaritic bliss. She is wet and receptive. He is rampant and enduring. Their explicit mouths find one another’s most wanton appendages. They suckle blatantly, they lave, they turn back one another’s creases. She eases the hood of his velvety foreskin over the head of his penis and tenderly laps seminal fluid; he parts the dewy pink petals of her labia and, with his tongue, rolls her clit into a tight bud. He penetrates her; she rises to meet his thrusts. They come in gasps and groans and sink together in post-coital glory again and again till the sun goes down.

In an alternative version she is wet and receptive but he has difficulty maintaining an erection. He is embarrassed. She understands. They are naked and lay together, close and warm, flesh to flesh, and she urges him to tell her about his life and his wife. The afternoon, she feels, is a boat in a deep pool. His cadences are the undercurrents; his words are the oars propelling them around and around. From her vantage point, listening in the afternoon boat while he rows, she comes to understand that he is smitten with his wife, that he is a man in love with his wife.

In yet another version they are strangers whose lack of anything better to do brings them together. They are kind and caring. They are naked together but not exposed to one another. In bed neither gives yet each receives. The afternoon arcs into evening. They rise from the bed and dress to go out to dinner. She is elegant; he is suave. He is behind her and watches her fasten her pearls in front of the mirror. She does it expertly and requires no assistance from him. She catches his eyes on her in the mirror and smiles in the mirror as if she is smiling at him. He says he finds her beauty warm. He says she is not comfortable to be with but he is comforted by her.

Number Four: Do Not Have an Anxiety Attack Just Before Bed Because You Believe Your Wife is on Her Way to the Motel

The dog slept most of the afternoon outside but was gone when we stepped out. All that was left to remind us of its former presence was a thick nylon rug awkwardly folded and draped over the curb, an indefinable chew toy, and a small bowl with about a quarter inch of water. I tried to fold the rug exactly in half. I like things to be exact. But the crease had become permanent and the rug wouldn’t fold the way I wanted it to.

The dog’s absence seemed ominous to me. Why that should be I cannot say. I didn’t much care for that dog. It wasn’t friendly. But it’s absence left me with a sense of foreboding.

We stepped from the magic motel room into a darkening day. Friday at 5p.m. in a university town on the main drag of the university meant that the pub was filled to the brim, the noise on the street was deafening, and restaurants were teeming with wall to wall post-pubescent bodies in groups or on dates, unaware and uninterested in anybody but themselves and their nearest companions. I wasn’t much interested in them, either. All the young people looked alike, indistinguishable between fresh and boring.

We ate in a restaurant attached to the motel. It served sushi and pizza, maybe even sushi pizza. He knew all about the owner, even down to her yearly financial gains. She owned the motel and the restaurant. “She’s made good investments,” he said.

After dinner I reached across the table for his hands. He allowed me to touch them but I thought he drew his body back.

There were signs. I chose to ignore them.

We agreed to spend the night together and so we walked to where I was staying to collect my toothbrush and other items I would need. We walked along a street that rapidly grew darker the further we got from the main drag. In the receding light I reached for his hand but he said he needed his hands free in case he had to get out his gun. At that moment, at the moment he said that, a black figure emerged suddenly and began walking quickly up the other side of the street. My heart leapt and I stopped breathing.

But the figure moved on.

He said, “See why I carry a gun?”

I wondered if he thought the figure had meant to do us harm but somehow figured out a gun was in the mix among all the potential configurations that were possible between the three of us. Did he think bad guys could smell guns?

He told me about an elderly couple he knew who got beaten severely in a motel room burglary. The elderly man was beaten to death. We were still walking down the dark street. I found the story a little suspicious.

“How did the burglar get in?” I asked.

“The elderly woman opened the door to him,” he said.

After he told me that the elderly woman opened the door to the burglar I wasn’t as sympathetic for the couple although I certainly didn’t think assault and death were justified. I just thought maybe the woman should have been smarter and had she been smarter the whole catastrophe could’ve been avoided. Maybe I was thinking about myself, then, only I didn’t realize it. Maybe I was just beginning to realize I hadn’t been very smart; maybe I was beginning to realize I’d let something violent into the room, figuratively speaking.

But I wasn’t ready yet. Instead I wondered how a gun would have changed that scenario and realized I was thinking that a gun would have made the whole thing worse even though it’s hard to imagine anything worse than being elderly and being assaulted and killed by a burglar let into the room by the female occupant.

We got to my friends’ home and I collected by nighttime belongings. My friends were polite and kind and welcoming. He was polite and kind and graceful.

We left the home of my friends and walked back up to the main drag and down the street toward the motel. I was loaded down, carrying all my stuff because he needed to be able to reach his gun in case anything bad happened.

It’s like we’re in a western movie, I thought, but I started to sing some old standard that popped into my head.

“You like old pop songs, don’t you?” he said.

“I like jazz versions of standards,” I corrected him.

I didn’t much like him anymore, I realized. I was irritated by what he had said. I thought he was insinuating something about my taste in music, my ability to sing, the integrity of my person.

Instead of being enchanted by him and loving everything about him I realized my nerves were on edge. He was remote. I couldn’t reach him. That’s what made me dislike him. Somehow after we stepped from the magic motel room and entered the street a glass shell had grown up around him and he was inside, like a snowman in a globe, and all I could do was tip the ball and make it snow.

Number Five: Do Not Be Right About Number Four  

The minute we entered the room the dog attacked.

It was huge and growing huger every moment. Its yellow face filled the space; its blood red maw was open, foul smelling saliva frothed and drooled over its jaws. It would withdraw then lunge forward again; each time it lunged it grew more lurid and threatening. Its red eyes blazed. Its fetid teeth were sharp and pointed. It snarled and growled, snapped and bit.

I was calm. I told it that it had two choices. It could get in the car and drive me back to my friends’ home or we could begin to get ready for bed.

It chose the former.

I repacked my belongings and headed for the door. It wanted to know what book I was reading, would I be embarrassed to go back to my friends’ home, was I upset?

I didn’t answer the question about the book because I figured it could read the title for itself, I reminded it that I was with friends and so I couldn’t be embarrassed being back among them, then I said I was upset but I’d get over it.

It said it hoped I could get over it. It was scared, terrified, petrified. Anybody could see that.

At the end of the driveway it put on the blinkers of its car to signal a right hand turn. The car in front of it hadn’t put on blinkers to signal the turn. It expressed annoyance. I pointed out, reasonably, I thought, that since the car in front of it could only turn right it didn’t need to signal the turn.

Number Six: Do Not Carry a Concealed Weapon

I, too, carry a concealed weapon.

I have a sharp tongue, a steel-plated mind, and an Italian’s worth of vengeance in every pore holstered on my body. But those are not the weapons I conceal. Anybody who looks can see those weapons.

What I conceal is my ability to find hilarity in almost every situation: hilarity and beauty.

“Beauty?” you ask, perhaps believing that I’ve already drawn and fired the hilarity.

Yes, there was beauty in this if you’ll allow that there is beauty in a man realizing the tremendous need he has for his marriage. If you’ll allow that there is beauty in the dignity of a woman quitting the company of a man who cannot be loyal to her.

If you can find it in your heart to join with them, if you can suspend your sense of superiority, if you can relate to the desire to recapture the scent of a time when there was no fear, when the horizon was close enough to see over to the promise of love, then I think you’ll have to admit there was beauty. Why not try for beauty, I ask you? It’s the trying that’s beautiful. Why not allow that what happened had as its intention to be beautiful? So what if it failed? So what if there was pain? So what if it turned ugly?

In the end it was real. Reality is beautiful.

Number Seven: Do Not Piss off Your Lover

“Shall we ever attempt a liaison again?” he wonders.

“I think not, fair friend,” she replies. “I have the same tolerance for being the Other Woman that you have for being flaccid.”

Being the Other Woman wounds her ego. She figures she’s usually a far better choice than the wife and any lover who can’t see his way clear to that should have his head examined.

She says, “Since I truly don’t think you need your head examined and since it is clearer to me today than it was before Albuquerque that you are smitten and bound to your wife, I would be dooming myself to a world of hurt feelings and miffed pride were I to take up the Other Woman role. But I did so enjoy your body. Never forget that. You have a body built to give pleasure and the skill to provide it. Those are good things to know about one’s self, one’s elf.” She says this last shyly, slyly, with a hint of a wink and a smile.


Mary Magagna lives in California but is from Wyoming. 

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