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​Cuckold

Cuckold

Gregory Fraser

 

I know of a man a thousand miles away in Arizona
whose wife has been unfaithful for at least five years. 
I say I know of the man, I don’t know him, only the man 
his wife has taken as her lover, a man I still consider, 
despite his flaws, a friend. I have only met the woman 
between these men two times, and both nights 
we were drunk. With this friend of mine I am almost 
always drunk, so when I say friend I mean a man 
who’s mostly blurry to me, and I to him. This woman 
stands taller than my friend, in a pageant-ready way, 
wears coy perfume with lavender notes, and speaks 
in lavish sentences whenever she commends a passage 
or motif in one of our books (we’re all writers 
at these affairs), and whenever she talks about her son, 
who is twelve, in my recollection, and superb at spelling. 
I suspect this kid is not his father’s but his mother’s son, 
and thus no dupe, so I bet he cannot only spell and define 
cuckold, but also knows its roots. I had to look them up: 
mid-13c., Old French coucou (cuckoo) + pejorative 
suffix -ault, stemming from the female bird’s alleged 
habit of swapping mates. Sometimes I get so bored
trying to find fresh ways to talk about rotten things: 
infidelity, debauchery, boozing. Yet I never tire 
of searching for beauty inside spoilage: a mother 
brimming with love for the boy she keeps betraying; 
my friend enraptured by the husky lilt in his lover’s voice. 
I love the folly of scrounging for cheap airfares; 
the wet light of passing cars on walls of motel rooms 
outside Sedona; the furtive couple mooning 
across a table, giddily indifferent to the dead-end 
roads on the palms of their held hands. And I love 
the way they quarrel, ferociously, once or twice 
a year, as if everything were at stake. They stay apart 
for weeks, refusing to phone, but finally consent 
to meet in West Virginia or Tennessee, some neutral 
state in between, to set aside their differences in piles
of silk and cotton by a bed. But most of all, I love 
the man in a suburb north of Phoenix, alone with his son 
on minor holidays, long weekends, quizzing the kid
on would-be stumpers: isthmus, iniquitous, inveigle
I love the takeout pizza and ice-cream cones 
they share, and the simple, honest warmth that fills 
the kitchen when one of them says, “I wish mom 
were here,” and the other says, “Me, too.”

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