It took Dolores six months to get free of her feelings for Steve, her sense that abandoning a marriage was an admission of failure. It took three before Steve raised voice or hand to her, and she stopped him with a threat to call the police. When she came back with her broken nose, he had been solicitous, repentant, randy as a mink, and they had made love on the carpet, both of them weeping, Dolores hugging him in her legs, Steve plowing her to her solar plexus.

It didn't make them like each other.

For a week, they had made wild love every night, struggling to glue their broken contract back into one piece. After that week, it became a duty, then a task, then a reason, once again, to avoid the bedroom. When Dolores got back from night shift, at eleven, the lights would be out; Steve would be asleep. She dawdled getting ready for bed; she read the evening paper in the bathroom; she washed his dishes. When he woke up in the morning, it woke her and she lay very still, breathing evenly, waiting for him to get up and leave the bedroom. Generally he did. When she heard the toilet flush, she would get up and make coffee.

One day, her night off, he threw a plate of her homemade spaghetti at the wall. The tomato sauce splattered like trimmings for a Sam Peckinpah movie. Bits of it stuck to the wall, texturing it in brown and red tones. Steve stormed out of the house and drove away, peeling rubber in the drive. He was gone till long after she was asleep. When he got into the bed, stinking of whiskey, she got out, gathering her quilted bathrobe and moving to the couch. She was there in the morning when he got up. The wall was still decorated; she left it for five days; then she couldn't stand it any more, and she scrubbed the mess with Lysol and Comet, stripping off the paint but leaving, nonetheless, some of the vermilion stain behind. The wall would have to be painted.

ms., Diseases of the Heart

When I got home, I had the good sense to realize I was in no condition for driving I-70. I went to bed. At three a.m., the phone rang. Barely coherent, I put the receiver to my ear.

"Thomas Phelan?" a male voice inquired. I muttered agreement.

"You the English professor been humping my girl?"

It sounded, I thought for a lunatic moment, like Peter Lindheim, a reedy tenor voice. But no; it was older, harsher, a smoker's voice, and he had said "girl," not "wife." Girl. Girlfriend? Daughter? Daughter.

"Who is this?" I said, my voice a little querulous with sleep and confusion.

"You don't know? You don't know which of the girls you been screwing got somebody to look out for them? Who do you think it is, you fucking bastard?"

"Well, I'm not humping anyone's girlfriend, wife, mother, or daughter right now, so I can't guess."

There was silence on the line, then the voice responded chillingly. "Don't you give me smart-ass shit, you professor asshole. I know what you've been doing, and my friends and I are going to pay you a little visit, make you sing real high, maybe. You fucking son of a bitch."

"Christ, who is this?" I said again, a little frightened. It did not sound like a drunk or a prankster. The voice was deadly serious. For a moment, I thought of the front door; I was always careful to lock it, and Sam would let me know if anything was up.

"You just remember. You just remember, the next time you look at some little girl's tushy shaking while she sashays out of your office, that the girls out here got fathers and brothers who take care of them. You just make real sure you remember that."

I couldn't think of anything to say. I took a breath to speak, and before I could use it, the phone clicked. I thought of calling the police. To tell them what? That I'd had a crank call? What could they do? I didn't have a clue who it was. Had I come on to one of my students, even unconsciously? Not that I could think of. Was it Peter, after all, with a Kleenex aging his voice? I didn't think so; the redneck impersonation was too good, too sincere. I didn't think he had it in him. And the caller had talked, I decided, like an outraged father. The only "girl" I had on my mind was Ruth Stroh; when that fact suggested it was Ruth Stroh's father, I objected to the symmetry of the conclusion. Ruth's father.

It was a good time, I thought ruefully, to be leaving town. I did take the precaution of telling the Police Department I would be out of town and that I had reason to believe there might be a problem. "Anonymous threat from a student," I explained. "About grades, I think." After I talked to the police, I drove to Salt Lake. Friday night I was in Winnemucca. It's a long way to go for a conversation. I checked the phone book. A couple of Ardecheas, but no Ellen or E. I went to Apple Annie's. Dina was gone.

"She moved to Tahoe," Ellen explained. "To be a keno runner. Run off with a craps player. C'est la vie."

I made the same deal as last time. I chose a statuesque Chicana with a tower of black hair; her name was Felice. She wanted to go 'round the world for three hundred dollars; we stayed home for eighty.

"Annie said you ain't no high roller, honey. But nice." I tipped her ten dollars; when I kissed her collarbone by way of goodbye, she turned my politeness into a wet wrestling match that left me breathless.

Later, I nursed coffee, waiting for Ellen. Millie remembered me and talked me into a slice of peach pie and ice cream. I smoked a cigar in the empty restaurant and thought about where I was, what I was doing.

I'd heard of sexual addiction. So what? I was taking big chances. Even if the girls were licensed and given health checkups weekly, what happened in the intervening days could be, literally, deadly. Maybe a condom was all it took to avoid AIDS; maybe it wasn't enough. I was being foolish, but not for sex. Each time was a little easier than the last. Maybe that's what addiction is, the slippery slope. Annie's girls were the only sex in my life. There had been no one, before that first stop in October, for nearly a year. There was something comfortable, uncomplicated, about buying sex. It only cost me money and the diminishing worry over the danger, which seemed less with each repetition, and the irrational sense that I was doing something sinful, prompted by my upbringing, derided by my intellect.

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