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Authors: Michael Hemmingson

Wild Turkey

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for Christine Doyle
From then on, strange things happened to me.
—Paul Auster,
Moon Palace
recall this particular married woman I’d had a short fling with when I was in my mid-twenties. I’d met her at the opening of an art exhibit in downtown San Diego in the Gaslamp Quarter; she was thirty-four and her name was Barbara. She was one of the would-be dancer-painter types that always seemed to be friends with my ex-girlfriend, Elaine. I’d actually gone to the exhibit at the Rita Dear Gallery hoping to spark something up with Elaine again, as we occasionally did, being off-and-on for the past several years. I was immediately drawn to Barbara—her pale skin and dark hair, her lithe body. She wasn’t wearing a ring and I didn’t know she was married until Elaine said, “We have to meet Barbara’s husband and some friends at this restaurant at eight, you should come.” As with all gallery openings, there was plenty of wine, and someone brought out spiked punch, and vodka Jell-O. Barbara quickly got drunk; as we talked, she kept leaning into me and touching my arm, and then my chest. Someone put on loud music. As I tried to have a conversation with Barbara, she leaned over and said into my ear, her tongue touching my flesh, “The music is too loud, let’s talk outside.” We went outside. She pointed to a Toyota Camry and said, “That’s my car,” and the next thing I knew, we were in the back of her car and necking. It was pretty intense. She stopped, a hand on my chest. “I can’t do this,” she said, “I’m married.”
“And Elaine and I are late. My husband’s going to worry.”
“You’re all right.”
“Not to drive.”
“The restaurant isn’t far. Walk.”
“Come with us,” she said.
“I don’t think so.”
“Please,” she said.
I said, “All right.”
I walked Elaine and Barbara to the restaurant. It was eight-thirty but her husband—a thick man in a suit-didn’t seem worried, didn’t seem to notice the time. He was deep in conversation with several other men and women in suits, talking about bonds and securities and real estate.
I felt uncomfortable, observing Barbara kiss her husband lightly on the lips, hanging onto his thick arm.
They ordered dinner.
After one drink, I left—abruptly. I said there was something I forgot to attend to. Barbara gave me a look I didn’t understand. I didn’t want to understand it.
I lived in a downtown studio a few blocks away: I, the starving law student. I went home, turned on the TV. I was sad.
An hour later: a knock on my door.
Barbara, still drunk, came right in. She smelled nice.
“I have twenty, maybe thirty minutes,” she said. Her eyes were glassy. “My husband and I took separate cars, I’m sure you know. But if I don’t get home in time, he’ll worry.”
I was flabbergasted. “How did you know where I lived?”
“Elaine told me—”
“Doesn’t have a clue,” Barbara said. The woman didn’t waste any time; she pulled me to her and kissed me. We quickly undressed and went to my futon.
“Look,” she said. “I want you to know I’ve never done anything like this,
. I’ve never had an affair.”
“Ten years of marriage, never.”
“Your husband?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You love him?”
“Very much.”
“So why—”
“Don′t ask why,” Barbara said, “just screw me, okay?”
She wasn’t my first married woman, and not my last. I’d heard all the excuses for infidelity since I was nineteen and had discovered the sad and sexual world of married women.
Barbara and I fucked twice in an hour and a half of loss, bliss, and body parts—clearly well over her time limit.
“It’s late,” she said, her head on my chest.
“Will he be waiting?”
“He probably went straight to bed, like he always does. He won’t notice.”
“He trusts you.”
“He just doesn’t notice. I should go,” but she didn’t move.
I said, “Stay.”
She sat up, looking for her clothes. “That I can’t do.”
I watched her slip her panties and bra on, then her black jeans and gray vest. I felt hollow.
I saw her to the door.
“Bye,” she said.
I grabbed her arm. She smiled. I said, “Hey.” I kissed her. It was a ten-minute kiss.
“Hey, boy,” she said.
“Back to bed?” I said.
“I’m scared,” she said, “I’m married,” and she pushed me away, and she ran.
I think I understood what she was going through.
Well, if I didn’t then, I do now.
felt the same way, more than ten years later, when I was unfaithful to my wife, Tina—when I embarked on my disastrous affair with Cassandra Payne.
I was thirty-eight and had been married to Tina for five years. We were doing the American Suburban routine—tract house in San Diego, two children (a boy and a girl), two cars, good jobs … until I lost mine.
After graduating law school, I did a year as a public defender, then got hired at a fairly decent law firm as a junior litigator. For three years, I never went to trial, hardly walked into a court except for motion hearings. Most civil lawsuits wind up in a settlement at some point, or remain in limbo. But when I finally did go to trial, on a pretty large medical malpractice suit, I lost the case, and my employer was out half a million dollars, having taken the case on contingency. The partners let me go.
I got a job at another, less prestigious firm. A lot of ambulance chasing was going on there; I was expected to do just that. It was the last thing I wanted in my life. I didn’t go to law school for this, and it hurt, it deeply pained me, and I dreaded getting up each morning, trying to force settlements out of insurance companies and various institutions. One day, something inside me snapped. I was at a motion-to-strike hearing; the opposing counsel had put together an effective line of bullshit. The next thing I knew, I had this attorney on the floor of the courtroom, right in front of the judge’s bench, and I was choking the poor unsuspecting bastard.
The bailiff pulled me away and cuffed me; I was arrested and sent through the system. At this point I could better understand the situation of some of my clients. Tina had to bail me out; the firm I worked at wouldn’t spend a dime. I was charged with assault and battery, I was fired, and the other lawyer sued me. I pleaded no contest, and because I had no record, was given a hundred hours of community service, probation, and a fine. The lawsuit was still waiting to go to trial; I refused to settle and I didn’t think the lawyer was going to pursue it any further. In the meantime, the State Bar was investigating the matter.
I briefly went into private practice, operating out of my home, but I screwed things up, not paying attention to details, and a client of mine sued me for legal malpractice and complained to the bar. I settled with my ex-client for $3,000, and then, based on all of the above, was disbarred for a period of five years.
All wasn’t lost, however. While I was doing well, I had made some smart investments with decent returns, and Tina had a good job working for Social Security, evaluating SSI eligibility. She’d been working part time, then went to full time.
We came to this agreement: since the returns on the investments would keep us in the same lifestyle for a few years, her job would supplement, add extra security. While I figured out what I was going to do, I would become a house husband. Our son, Matthew, was starting kindergarten. Our daughter, Jessica, was just getting out of diapers. I would do the laundry, keep the house clean, mow the lawn, and have dinner ready when she came home.
This wasn’t so bad. I needed the sabbatical. I don’t know what went wrong. I had always wanted to be a lawyer, ever since I was a kid and watched reruns of
Perry Mason.
I’d worked hard to get through law school and pass the bar exam. I worked very hard to rise in the profession. I guess the pressure was too much.
Maybe I would return to practice when I could get my license back, maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I would write novels about lawyers like John Grisham. Maybe I’d become a lumberjack or a fireman. I figured my options were wide open and I had plenty of time to figure things out.
I had a beautiful wife. I had two wonderful children. I had a fine, comfortable home, with an increasing market value. I had a nice car. My days were without stress: in the morning, I made Tina and the children breakfast. I kissed Tina good-bye. I helped Matthew get ready for school. I drove Matthew to school, Jessica with me. Jessica and I returned home. She watched cartoons and I opened a beer. I read, or watched cartoons. I did the laundry. I mowed the lawn. I picked up Matthew from school and brought him home, and he watched afternoon cartoons with his little sister. I had a beer. Sometimes, I’d have beers with other men in the neighborhood, men who soon became my friends.
There were two such men who figure in this story. One was Bryan Vaughn, a fifty-seven-year-old police veteran. He used to be a detective. The other was David Larson, part-time college professor. David was a baseball fanatic, and so was Bryan. In fact, they were both members of an amateur local team, a team I wound up joining.
My friendship with both of these men would help change my life forever.
When you have time on your hands, and you’re outside, you start noticing a lot about the block you live on. It becomes an entity all its own. There are the intricate nuances, the upset balance if someone (like the mailman, or the trash collector) doesn’t maintain a previous routine.
Before, I’d never really noticed the neighborhood or my neighbors, always absorbed with my work and hardly home. I don’t know why I hadn’t taken prior heed of Cassandra Payne. I’d seen her, briefly, but hadn’t
her. Being career-minded and married, I’d forgotten what it was like simply to look upon another woman’s beauty with admiration and desire.
There was much to admire and desire about Cassandra Payne. She was tall and slender, almost six feet, with fine pale skin and shoulder-length, straight, jet-black hair. She had very long and agile legs, which I started to closely scrutinize as she came to and from her house. She often wore miniskirts; usually black or white, sometimes leather, sometimes cotton. Once, she wore a yellow cotton mini, and as she got into her car (a Ford Taurus) I caught a glimpse—at least I think I did, from my vantage point across the street—of matching yellow underwear. This isn’t to say that she always wore miniskirts—sometimes she wore long skirts, or skorts, or slacks or jeans.
It started to become a game for me, catching her leaving the house and getting into her car, hearing her car (which had a distinctive sound, like it would need a new muffler soon) coming down the street. I’d watch her from the porch, or the window, or with Bryan and David as we sat around and had beers.
This story appropriately
begins the day I caught my son Matthew setting the trash can on fire.
I smelled something burning through the window. I went outside. The smell was coming from the side of the house. I went to inspect. There my son was, gazing with rapt attention at the flames dancing out of the metal trash can.
“Matthew!” I yelled, and grabbed him, lifting him in my arms, saving him from harm’s way.
I put him the middle of the yard, quickly grabbed the garden hose and turned the water on—rushed to the can, and put out the burning newspapers and milk cartons and junk mail.
My son stood at my side, witnessing his precious fire vanish. He looked disappointed.
“How did this happen?” I asked no one, and to Matthew: “How did that fire happen?”
He shrugged.
I saw the matches in his hand.
“Did you start that fire?” I said.
He just looked at me.
I leaned down and grabbed him by the shoulders. “Matthew, why? Why would you do such a thing?” I was shaking him, probably a little too hard.
He looked like he was going to cry. “I wanted to see!”
“Where did you get such an idea?”
“Paulie. Who’s Paulie?”
“At school.”
“Look,” I started to say, and that’s when I noticed the woman in the house across the street from me walk out the door. She was in a black leather mini and fishnet stockings. The mini barely covered what was beyond her hips. She stopped to adjust her shoe, just before getting into the Taurus, and I thought—oh my—I saw something I shouldn’t have. She was wearing a white blouse, the fabric so thin I could make out her black bra. She got into her car, put on a pair of sunglasses, and drove off.
“Daddy?” my son said.
I took the matches away. “Don’t ever, ever do that again,” I told him. “Come on,” and I put my hand on his head, gently; we went back into our home.

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