Madeline’s heart raced. Her palms sweated. Edward would be here soon. She could see his large gray eyes, feel the magic of his hands, taste his burning lips. In his presence, she was helpless as a wounded animal. How could he still aFfect her this way? Yet, she felt a twinge of anxiety.
She dimmed the lights in the small study and made final adjustments to the crisp white linens on the table set for two. She glanced into the gilded mirror, turned right, and left like a nervous girl admiring a party frock. The dark green silk dress caressed her body as the skirt swirled. Edward liked her in green. It set off her eyes he said. He was so handsome and powerful. He could pin his opponents to the courtroom wall--and her to anything he wanted. Also reflected in the mirror was a life-sized painting--Edward in his prime, confident in a three-piece suit, hand relaxed on the back of a burgundy wing chair, floor lamp casting a glow across his face. She wanted him, now. This minute. But first . . .
Madeline sank into the selfsame burgundy chair, worn but comforting. From a side table, her trembling hands retrieved a simple, finely crafted wooden box. She lifted the top. Her heart pounded in her ears. The scent of sandalwood curled from the box. Only one candle left. She would have to find another source; Madame DuBois’ mystical shop had closed. It was so difficult to find reliable sources. She lit the candle, placed it on the side table, watched its flickering slow to a steady pulse. She closed her eyes. She had to control herself. She had to relax. But the earthy scent of the candle brought back sweaty nights of flesh on flesh. God, I love him. I’ve got to have him.
She took a deep breath. Time passed. By dint will, she gradually drifted away. Through closed eyes she watched, as through a veil, the orange flame dancing against her closed lids. “Come, Edward. Come back to me." Down she slid into some secret place to search for calm. “Come back, Edward." The plea reverberated in the hollow recesses of her soul. “I need you." Soon she slipped into heavy darkness. Not even the flame’s glow reached her.
How long was she thus entranced? She wasn’t sure. She was never sure, but she felt his presence unfolding. The smell of his cologne melded with sandalwood. Her eyes snapped open. She struggled to her feet. “Edward! You’re here! Oh, I’ve missed you."
A pause--then, with a faint rumpling, the figure in the painting lifted his hand from the chair, pulled out a gold pocket watch, checked it, smiled at Madeline, ripped from the painting and stepped onto the cold marble floor. “Hello, darling," he said.
He kissed her lips and sent a shiver from the top of her spine all the way down to her toes. She pulled him close to her breast and felt his warmth. Tonight would be ecstatic. It had been so long.
“Oh, Edward, I so miss you."
He hugged her and said, “Yes, it has been too long." Then he kissed her forehead.
He looked at the table. “Lovely, my dear. What have we here?" He lifted the plate cover. “Shrimp scampi. My favorite."
“I have a bottle of Sancerre," she said. “Sit down." With heart pounding, she poured the wine. “I think of you all the time, Edward. You’re always with me."
He smiled. “It’s been sixteen years, Madeline. I should’ve thought you’d be over it by now."
“What a thing to say! I have no wish to be 'over it.’ You’re all I want." She reached across the table, squeezed his hand and looked into his steely eyes. How she wanted him! His hot body crushing hers, and yet . . . a shiver of fear passed through her.
He smiled again, raised his glass. “To a long and beautiful relationship."
“To a long and beautiful marriage," she countered, raising her glass.
“Ah, but marriage lasts 'til death do us part.’ I believe death spoke ages ago."
“Don’t be silly, Edward. Our marriage has never ended"
"And it never will."
“Dear Madeline, you’re such a dreamer. I’ve always loved that in you."
They began eating, silent for a while. Madeline felt confused, uncomfortable. She began chatting about friends, neighbors, and their grown children, Cecily and John. Edward seemed attentive. He laughed in all the right places, asked all the right questions, but, as on his last visit, something in his demeanor, maybe in his eyes, seemed distant. Apprehension swelled in Madeline, threatened to engulf her. As he finished his scampi, she had to ask.
“The last couple of visits you haven’t seemed quite yourself," she said. “Is everything . . . is everything alright?"
“Of course, darling. Everything is fine"
"but I’ ve been thinking . . . " Edward stood up.
So did she, and she instinctively reached out to embrace him.
He stepped back and raised his hand. “Madeline, we can’t go on like this," he said. “It simply isn’t working."
She the words struck her like an arrow. “What on earth do you mean?" she asked, struggling more with the reality than the words.
“We can’t go on pretending."
“Edward, we’re not pretending. This is real, more real than anything else in life. This is my life." She heard her voice coming from a dark tunnel.
“Yes, yes, of course. But things have changed over the years, slowly, true, but changed."
“Nothing has changed. My love for you is stronger than ever. You’re all I’ve ever wanted."
He took her hand and led her to the gilded mirror. “Look at you. How old are you now? Sixty-five? Seventy?"
She gazed at the couple in the mirror, a handsome young man, perhaps -- no, exactly--thirty-five, and a woman -- blond, taut skin, sunken cheeks where the bloom of youth had been. Wrinkles radiated from her lips like cracks in shattered glass. Over her ample midriff, a pushup bra fixed her breasts in place. Skin drooped from her arms. Tears welled.
“Don’t get me wrong, darling. You’re the same wonderful person. And you look good. Your plastic surgeon and hair dresser have done wonders, but they can do only so much."
“I can work on it, Edward. I can lose weight, go to the spa more often. It’s time for Dr. Masterson to do a touch up -- maybe add a tummy tuck this time. I’ve dreaded that, but I can do it."
“No, darling," he said, turning to her. “It’s time for me to leave. I’m still young. I’m forever young. For me the possibilities are limitless." He looked at his pocket watch. “And you have a full life--the children, friends.-- He snapped the watch shut. “I need to go now. I want to get a drink at the Hatworth Club."
He kissed her cheek and walked out the door. Just like that.
The room grew icy, the tunnel darker. Madeline shivered and recoiled from the woman in the green dress staring at her. She turned her gaze to the painting-- burgundy chair and floor lamp, oddly out of balance.