The hours before dawn—the predawn darkness when the remainder of the world sleeps while I enjoy my solitude—offers a time to reflect in the absence of urgency. Nothing requires my attention at just after four in the morning. Nothing is in desperate need of my time and energy at this hour. So, as I sit here this morning, I have the uncommon luxury of reflection. And so I reflect. I reflect on what went through my mind yesterday that so soured the start of a Labor Day weekend. There’s nothing there; no triggering event, no unhappy memory, no intentional build-up of pressure that could find no release. I conclude, therefore, that the sourness arose by mistake; as if I spilled yeast on a wet sack of flour that would have been perfectly content to bathe in sunlight but, instead, awakens in an angry carbon-dioxide-induced snit.

But that was yesterday. Today began as, and will remain, a different beast. I know more today than I knew yesterday. And I will channel that knowledge into something interesting, if not particularly useful. Just now, before four-thirty, I saw the lights of a car as it crept past my house. Yesterday, I did not know about that car’s early morning behavior. But now I do. And I have the capacity to hatch explanations to explain why, in a quiet village in central Arkansas, someone might be driving down my street at this hour.

The reason for the early morning automotive romp, I have decided, is this. A woman, who I’ll call Martha Lee, slipped out of her house in the wee hours to meet her paramour—a guy I’ll call Jason Segovia—for a tryst. Martha’s husband, Damian Lee, is sound asleep. He fell asleep in front of the television last night, watching a rerun of an agonizingly slow fishing tournament. This morning, he remains asleep, the television now dispensing late-night advice on how to overcome the horrors of thinning hair, oblivious to Martha’s departure. Martha left him a note, though. It read as follows: “Have gone out for a drive to clear my head. Back before noon.”

As Martha’s car slides by my house in the early hours of this chilly Sunday morning, her excitement builds in anticipation of meeting Jason. She knows her affair with Jason will not lead to anything other than short-term excitement, but it’s the short-term excitement that thrills her. It’s the newness, the danger of doing something so edgy as to kiss a married man, that makes her pulse race. But it’s not just that. She is genuinely attracted to Jason. And she knows he is genuinely attracted to her. Yet both of them know, or think they know, that their little love affair will lead to no more than a temporary flush in their cheeks. But I have an inkling it will become a treasured secret they will continue to share and cherish for the rest of their lives.

What makes me think this? Nothing in particular, aside from the fact that I’m making this story up as I go and I just think there could be something to their relationship. Perhaps Martha is satisfied with her life and loves her husband. And Jason is content to live the life he’s always lived. But both of them miss the fire in their marriages that they know can’t be rekindled. The embers have gone cold; the source of oxygen that kept the flames alit has long faded and dissipated into the mist. A new source of oxygen in a new and exciting environment, though, might breathe new fire and new life into what once were their combustible romantic spirits.

Actually, this story makes me think of rumors I’ve heard, courtesy of a group of local gossips, about a couple who live down the street. The stories say the man was having an affair with a widow who lived next door (or a few doors down) and his wife discovered it. Confronted with the evidence, the man agreed to end it. But when his wife went into the hospital, the flames erupted again. On her return home, she learned that the relationship hadn’t ended. The story says the husband moved out and his paramour was then hospitalized. I haven’t heard more about the story since then (and it’s been several months). On the one hand, it’s unfortunate that a marriage might have ended but it’s intriguing that the potential exists, even in old age, for passion.

Back to my story. As Martha’s car crept past my house, she looked forward with high anticipation to meeting Jason at the Village Inn, where he had reserved a room the night before. Jason’s wife, Carolina, left late yesterday afternoon for a week-long church retreat; the two of them could have met at Jason’s house, but both of them thought that unwise. So, instead, Jason took a room at the motel.  The decision to take a room will prove unwise, though, when Carolina comes back next week and discovers the room charge on their MasterCard bill. But that’s a story for another time; I mean, it hasn’t even happened yet. In the meantime, Jason and Martha are, by now, enjoying a passionate interlude on an otherwise unremarkable Sunday morning.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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