"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, October 22, 2017

In Flagrante Delicto–Caught In The Act, But Maybe It Didn’t Really Happen

Bill Talley got caught in the act, in bed with another woman, found by his wife when she came home early from the office. 

She never liked scenes, so waited until the woman got dressed and left before angrily confronting her husband.  “How could you?”, she yelled.

Bill had no answer, caught as he had been in flagrante delicto, so he hung his head in shame and contrition while figuring out a way out.  He knew that there would in fact be one because this was not the first time he had been unfaithful, tripped up, but later reconciled.  Yet it was indeed the first time that plausible deniability was not an option.

Image result for in delicto flagrante

The Talleys had been married for twenty-five years, long enough to get used to each others foibles and misdemeanors, to accept them as part of the marriage contract, and to forgive and forget wherever possible.

Nothing like this had ever happened before, that is being caught in an infidelity rather than only being suspected of one; and his wife was sure to read the fine print, call him out for gross dereliction of duty and irresponsibility.

While his indiscretions were only possibilities, his wife dismissed them; and when she did, although obliquely, refer to them, Bill always had a plausible and quite defensible answer.  His defenses were pitiable – he loved her too much to ever stray; how could she even think that he would betray her; he would never shake the foundations of their marriage, etc. – but somehow she chose to accept if not believe them. 

As time wore on and the marriage entered its third decade, there didn’t seem to be too much point to be a stickler on responsibility.  Her husband always came home at night, treated her well, if at times indifferently, loved the children, and contributed his fair share of the treasury and did more than his fair share of the housework.

Thanks to her easy and practical accommodation, each infidelity faded quickly if not forgotten, and became part of the background to their partnership rather than a crack in it.

Bill like most men never gave any of his affairs a second thought once he knew that his wife chose to overlook them.  It wasn’t exactly a life of duplicity.  More a life of complicity with his wife a willing but silent partner in his deception.

He had had a number of close calls – an email from a lover left open while he was fixing coffee somehow missed by his wife so fixated was she on the balky printer; text buzzes at hours that could only be suspicious; a birthday card peeking out of a ripped envelope – but never anything definitive.

This, however, was very different.  It could not be so easily ignored by his wife.  After all he and Beverly were naked, exposed, and in the act; she made no attempt to hide her face as she walked past the livid Jeannette; and both images had to be, Bill assumed, indelibly forged in his wife’s memory.

“How could you?”, shouted Jeannette. “What made you think….” and other strangled attempts to cohere and make sense as well as show her rage were never completed, and she simply stormed out of the house.

“This will never be forgotten”, Bill assumed. “Never”.  Yet he did not give up hope completely.  With time, patience, and a pound of flesh, she might not get over it, but it would recede far enough back to be inconsequential.

Image result for image shylock a pound of flesh

So Bill took her remonstrance quietly and contritely.  The toilet seat, the hairs in the sink, the dirty coffee cups on the highboy, tracking in dirt, clattering the dishes in the early morning, and much more were all part of his penance for a collection of venial sins which together equaled, at least in his wife’s mind, one big mortal one.

The fact that they were each so petty was his salvation.  Eventually his wife would come to grips with the fact that she was not going to leave him or exact some more serious retribution, and realize that her grievances were trivial, stock, predictable, and absurd.

Progressively the bedroom scene retreated farther and farther back into the past, shaded and eventually cloaked by Bill’s consistently favorable behavior.  The idea of a good husband – the man she had married – had to be preserved and protected if for no other reason than face-saving.  If she was to live with an adulterer, there better damn well be some good reason.

After ten years it had been forgotten.  Bill had returned to his old ways, but far more carefully.  There would be no more in flagrante delicto and as far as possible no incriminating evidence of his affairs.  Life went on, not perfectly by any means, but happily enough; at least as happily as that of any other couple married for so long.

Feminists claimed that Jeannette Talley had been a victim of the worst kind of patriarchal abuse.  Her husband was nothing more than a misogynistic liar, cheat, and immoral lout whom she should have left the moment she saw his angry dick poised above Beverly Hopkins.  Their complicity – his contrition and her acceptance of it and his penance – was unconscionable in this day and age.

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Politicians are old masters of deceit, apology, contrition, and reelection.  They know that the public is more willing to forget than to remember.  A tearful explanation, generous contributions to women’s causes and votes in favor of them on the Senate floor, a re-connection with community, church, neighborhood, and family would all seal the file, never to be reopened.

Preachers are no different, for they know that the Christian God is a forgiving God, and public contrition and penance always assures redemption.  How could a beneficent, loving, and caring God turn his back on a sinner who repents? And once the preacher has made a complete breast of his sins, and asked forgiveness from the Divine, forgiveness by his congregation was surely not far behind.
Whatever sins Pastor Henry committed, not only were they forgiven and forgotten and ceased to exist; but they never existed.

The story of Bill Talley is neither a cautionary one nor a cynical one but just a tale to illustrate our willing suspension of disbelief, a term coined in 1817 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.

Everyone is willing to forget distracting or painful events for the sake of larger meaning, and Jeannette Talley was no different.

Quebec’s official motto is ‘Je me souviens’ - We do not forget, and will never forget, our ancient lineage, traditions and memories of all the past (now perpetually threatened by English hegemony). A vain hope, however, as the origins of the battle cry and its relevance fade.  Most people have little interest in remembering, only forgetting and moving on.  Citizens are no different than husbands and wives.

Image result for quebec motto license plate je me souviens

At last count Bill and Jeannette Talley were still married after forty-plus years, still more or less respectful of the marriage contract, still tolerant of minor breaches, still forgiving of misdemeanors, and still apt and able with the eraser.  “It never happened”.

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