That Monday morning Ed Chalmers casually mentioned that he’d gotten married over the weekend. This caused amazement in the State office where he’d worked the past five years, as he’d expected. Chalmers wasn’t a young man. He was 35 and, with his thinning hair and black-rimmed glasses, looked older. Everyone in his office, if they thought about him at all, considered him to be a confirmed bachelor; or maybe, since this was San Francisco, he was gay. His office mates clustered around him and peppered him with questions, especially the women. Who was she? What did she look like? Where had he met her? Did she work? Where were they living? Were they going on a honeymoon?
Chalmers was prepared for this. He’d taken of picture of himself and Lois and now he showed it around. “She’s pretty,” everyone said. Lois was. She was ten years younger than he was, had an oval face with nice features, large gray eyes and lustrous brown hair. She was a secretary in an office downtown. Chalmers had met her through a dating service. This was in the days before online dating and Miss Elliot’s service promised discreet introductions to suitable people whose names and short descriptions were provided, not on iPads or iPhones, but on little slips of papers in the mail. Chalmers said he’d met Lois through friends.
While all this was going on Miss Sanders, the Assistant Division Chief, came into the office and asked what all the excitement was. Miss Sanders, unlike most women who worked for the State, was a beauty, tall and blonde, with a perfect face and an athletic figure. All of the men who worked in the Division, Chalmers included, had secret dreams and also thoughts about her. She’d never paid the slightest attention to him. Now, when informed that he’d been married over the weekend, she looked at him with some interest, as if there might have been something in him she’d overlooked before. Then, with an abrupt “Get back to work,” she turned and went out.
* * *
The first few weeks of their marriage, Chalmers thought, had been great. San Francisco apartments had not back then become outrageously expensive and they’d found a one-bedroom on Hyde Street. He could walk to his State office at the Civic Center and Lois could take a bus to her job downtown. On weekends they stayed in bed late and made love. Sometimes someone would call them and they’d laugh until the phone stopped ringing. Once a week they went shopping together at the neighborhood markets and then to lunch at a nice coffee shop they’d found. At his office, Chalmers seemed to have gained self-confidence and he proposed several ideas, one or two of which were actually considered.
However, after a while, Chalmers became restless. Lois was a pretty girl. She was nice and caring but the truth was that he found her a bit boring. She hadn’t gone past high school, didn’t know or care much about world affairs, liked romance novels and gushy TV programs. After he’d been married six months, Chalmers was selected by Miss Sanders to go with her to a meeting in Sacramento. The meeting was tedious but afterward they had dinner at their hotel, consumed quite a bit of wine and when they were done Miss Sanders invited Chalmers into her room for, she said, a nightcap. Chalmers considered saying that he was too tired but then he went in.
* * *
With his new status and Miss Sanders blessing Chalmers applied for a promotion to the agency’s headquarters in Sacramento and obtained it. He and Lois moved to the state capital, found a nice house in the suburbs and had two children, a boy and a girl. Chalmers continued to do well in his job and eventually received another promotion. Often, he told Lois, he had to work late at the office. It was the penalty of being a manager.
* * *
It was a weekend and Chalmers and Lois were at another barbecue at one of their neighbors. Barbeques were very popular in the Sacramento suburbs. Half a dozen couples circulated around the neighbor’s pool. After a while, as often happened at these affairs, the wives and the husbands formed into separate groups. The men talked about their cars and the local sports teams. The wives gossiped about the men and about other couples who weren’t at the barbeque. Most of the gossip was about husbands who were, or might be, having affairs. This too seemed to be a popular occupation in the suburbs.
“Did you hear about the Johnson?”
“Bob Johnson has left Linda. He wants to marry his secretary, who’s twenty years younger.”
“What’s Linda going to do?”
“She’s kicked him out of their house. A divorce is coming up.”
“What about the Anderson?”
“Kevin swore that his last affair was his last but she’s caught him out again. This time he says he’s in love.”
“Looks like it.”
Lois listened to all of his with a little smile on her face. She knew that those nights that Chalmers worked late at the office were not all about work. But she also knew that they meant nothing. Chalmers would always come back to her. He was a married man.”