Fiction · 03/17/2010

The Etiquette of Adultery

I. On Hotel Rooms

It is considered improper to answer the hotel phone when you are staying with him during his out-of-town work conferences. He may remind you of this, bleary-eyed at 6 a.m. on his way to a meeting, and you should nod, hold your tongue and try not to start a fight right then because it is not the time for it.

After he leaves, get up and fish your panties from under the nightstand, pull on a tank top and partially open the blackout curtains. That will give you some light, and some perspective. Smoke a cigarette or two, and put the butts out in his coffee from last night. Turn up the heat a little, because it’s cold in here and the Ramada is paying for it.

If the phone does ring, and if it is an annoying blaring sound that hurts your ears, then consider answering for a moment. Picture her face, the one photo you saw of her in his wallet a few months ago with her wavy dirty blond hair and smart little Tina Fey glasses. (Who still keeps pictures in their wallet anyway? See entry on iPhones.) Feel the thump thump in your chest, the heat that rises whenever you’re about to do something naughty, and then answer it, your voice rising in a question. Don’t be disappointed when it’s just the front desk inquiring about a credit card charge, and don’t be depressed when they call you “Mrs.”


From Glossary of Terms

Pinkerson: A violent, disruptive act, usually the result of a fight, that goes beyond the normal reaction of anger. Origin — Peg and Marty Pinkerson, circa 1985, the neighbors across the street whose fights were so entertaining to you and your brother that you would’ve sold tickets if you could, fights that usually climaxed with one or the other Pinkerson opening a window and throwing out drawers full of nighties or dress shirts, or plowing a front tire through the tulips, or, just once, cocking a hunting rifle and threatening to blow down the basement door if it didn’t open by the count of ten. Colloquial use, native to you and your brother, e.g.: “Dad pulled a Pinkerson last night when he threatened mom with her sewing scissors.”


IV. On Comparisons

Never say, “Am I better in bed than your wife?” Instead, try, “God, you are so hot I could have sex with you three or four times a day.”

Don’t say, “Do I cook better than she does?” Try, “Once I had this boyfriend in college who loved French cooking so much I took a class in it just to be able to make him special meals all the time.” Even though you actually only bought a French cookbook and got frustrated when you wanted to make cassoulet and couldn’t figure out where to buy duck fat. And even though said boyfriend really enjoyed going out more than staying in, which later you suspected was because he hated your cat.

Always imagine the wife as the “other woman,” and always imagine her wearing pleated pants and white nurse sneakers, snoring, and unable to throw a baseball properly.


Index — Songs for the Mourning After

Evans, Sara, “When You Were Cheating”
Limp Bizkit, “Break Stuff”
Reddy, Helen, “I Am Woman”
Sugarland, “Stay”
Traditional Polish Polka, “In Heaven There Is No Beer”
Alesana, “Congratulations, I Hate You”


IX. On Holidays

It is considered desperate to drive past his house on Christmas Eve, and even more so to park a few houses down the street and watch his kids build a snowman in the backyard.

When children are in the picture (and even when they aren’t), it is generally accepted practice that he will not spend any holidays with you. If you are lucky enough to not be born on a holiday or in the general vicinity of a holiday, then he might be with you on your birthday (see Appendix B: Lavish Gifts and Sexy Lingerie), but you will never be able to spend his with him unless he travels a lot for his job.

This doesn’t matter much for Memorial Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and hell, even Christmas. But on New Year’s Eve, when everyone else at the party your friend dragged you to is pairing off to smooch at midnight, closely examine an imaginary stain on your designer jeans and drink your champagne quickly. Toss back your hair and tell yourself next year will be different.


Properly Setting the Table

Men and women should always be seated alternately around the table, unless you are having dinner with your parents, in which case it would be best to sit him next to your father, not your mother, who would start staring at the mole on the side of his neck and asking leading questions.

Prep him beforehand with easy conversation topics such as the weather, the N.Y. Giants, late-night television, how often one should get a car wash, why your father should’ve taken that job in Toledo when he had the chance, why your mother is glad he didn’t because it meant they had you, and the shame the mayor should have on himself for the condition of the roads these days. Avoid talking about religion, the Pinkersons, and the way that your father flinches when his back twists a certain way.

Use the outside knife and fork for the appetizer, and then simply work inwards for each subsequent course. The golden rule is Always Work from the Outside In. Remember this when your mother compliments you on your sweater, because when he gets up to use the bathroom she will tell you it looks like you are getting wrinkles around your eyes and what face cream are you using these days and for crying out loud are you really still biting your nails like that.

The only proper way to cut and eat one’s food is to hold the knife and fork in a relaxed, natural manner — never with clenched fists spearing food like a hunter!

Wait until all the plates and glasses have been cleared before attempting to make a getaway. Press your hand in his under the table and feel the cool smoothness of his skin, the slight indentation in his fourth finger where the ring usually sits so tightly. Hear the whish of wind threatening the thin walls, and think about Weekend In Bermuda. As he makes a sweeping comment about what a nice house they have here, see only the scarred, peeling walls marked from years of nails and thumb tacks, the unreliable generator downstairs, the worn fabric in the middle of the recliner where your father parks it every night. It’s just what happens when something stays somewhere too long.


Tara Laskowski was the 2009 Kathy Fish Fellow and writer-in-residence at SmokeLong Quarterly. She has stories in Barrelhouse, The Northville Review, Wigleaf, Pindeldyboz and others. She can be found online at