There is such malice in men as to rejoice in misfortunes and from another's woes to draw delight.
- Terence, Roman Writer of Comedies (B.C. 185-159)
He awoke from a dreamless sleep, but instead of moving, instead of stretching and yawning, there was only the light sensation of floating.
As he floated higher, slowly higher, he saw himself below, still sleeping without a sound. This was one hell of a dream, he thought, but in that very same moment, a calm, lucid sense of reality spread through his being and he knew that somehow, he was indeed floating above his body, watching himself sleep breathlessly below.
He thought of the latest contortion he’d managed to twist his life into, but where there had been months mixed with desire and aching, days on end with his stomach in knots, his heart soaring and then sinking, now all of this was replaced with a strange sense of detached perspective over his reflections. Memories flowed through of the woman who had made a pass at his wife, the wife who had sweetly rebuffed this woman’s repeated attempts to kiss her mouth, the way the woman had then resorted to begging to watch while he and his wife had sex.
He thought of her burning intensity as she sat and watched him abide in her request and how that was the moment he began to swoon so deliriously for her.
A mild sense of amusement rippled through as he thought of how things had got only got more complicated from there. The weekend had continued with him and the woman, two fellow alcoholics and partners in crime, boozing it up while his Muslim wife remained sober as always. What a bizarre trio they made, a random collection of strange fruits, the result of a life lived chasing chaos and spurning structure.
For years, his wife and he had invoked the story of Abraham and his barren wife Sarah and reflected on how both the Bible and the Quran had seemingly given license for a man in such circumstances to plant his seed in a woman other than his wife. He thought of how beautiful, strong and selfless his wife had been to give him the okay to take his new found friend into the bedroom that very next night.
He thought of how he knew even as they headed for the bedroom, it would only be a matter of time before his wife would begin having second thoughts. It had turned out to be only a matter of three hours to be exact.
In the days that followed, he began thinking of this Hagar sent from Heaven most hours of the day. He had been under no illusions and was well aware that this woman’s desire for his wife had been far stronger than her’s for him and her acquiescence to his lust hadn’t served to change that.
The more she seemed distant and unreachable, the more his heart yearned to draw her closer. He knew in a situation like this, the only way you had a chance to turn things around was to try to put things on an equal level by wearing a mask of ambivalence to equal her own, but where once he had been quite adept at playing that game, now he was controlled by the gnawing pit of desire that seemed to grow by the day, sometimes with every hour.
Thus began a roller coaster of days, when she was drunk, she’d ask him to take her in the bathroom and fuck her, on the mornings when she was sober, she was ashamed of her behavior, wishing only to reunite with her estranged husband.
What a wicked web we’d woven, he thought.
He remembered how he had relished the sweet agony of yearning for a woman who felt that desire just as deeply as he did when she was buzzed, only to be repulsed by her behavior when she sobered. He cursed himself for always wanting that drunk version of her when he also knew that the drink was slowly killing her.
He thought of how shallow a life he had lived, like a Roman born into the wrong place and time who only wanted to drink himself from one orgy to the next. Then the realization swept over him that even if he had managed to find himself toga-clad in that world of drunken debauchery, he still would have felt the endless void, the emptiness that could never be filled.
He thought of how meaningless it had all been, a life lived in a never ending pursuit of pleasure and he imagined how his life might have been had he applied himself completely to building a family or accomplishing great things. As if in reply, he thought of how transitory those other lives were too, how even a great family man was only a few generations from being forgotten or just a name on the family tree. He thought of how even those men who were the titans of their times would inevitably be obscured with the passage of time, senators and governors whose lives had loomed so large, only remembered by a handful of students of history. He thought of how so many great heads of churches and businesses were doomed to become little more than a face in a succession of framed faces of the bygone leaders on the wall.
He thought of how, should the human race still exist in two or three centuries, even someone as great as Abraham Lincoln would end up known to most students as nothing more than the answer to a test question on who freed the slaves in the former United States of America.
He thought again of the woman, the troubled mother of two in whom he saw so much of himself, the woman who, at least for the short time he’d known her, had chosen her wine over life itself. He wished he could watch over her and guide her away from that miserable life of isolation and self-imposed slavery.
It was then that his thoughts began to fade, the out-of-body experience began to slip quietly away from him and he realized that there would be no watching over anyone.
His last wisps of consciousness slowly expanded like a cloud of smoke into nothingness.