She's cheating on him, and the only reason Seth knows this is because she's giving him a blowjob. In the years they've spent together, he has come to recognise this as one of the myriad, more exotic ways in which Mallory's guilt manifests. He wonders if it's to spite him after the thing with the dancer. He wonders if she even knows about the thing with the dancer.
There are cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling. Seth can't seem to look away, and it breaks his... well, concentration isn't quite the word. Mallory looks up at him questioningly. He pulls her up level to him, kisses her on the cheek, and hops off the bed. Before Mallory can figure out what happened, the bathroom door is closed and he's in the shower.
He considers masturbating while in there, but can't muster up the will. Instead he stands under the stream until the water runs cold. By the time he steps out, he has decided to start following Mallory.
She's sleeping when he comes out of the bathroom. As quietly as he can, Seth locates the bottle of vodka, and pours what little remains into a dirty glass, necking it. It barely touches the sides. He knows what would hit the spot – what always does the trick when vodka won't quite take the edge off. Seth could really do with someone to drink. But a glance at his sleeping wife stops him putting his shoes on and going out.
He's stopped going to meetings, because a weekly circle wank was never going be enough to curb these cravings. Many try to sublimate the urge with something else, but he's already an old acquaintance of just about every vice going. Seth is beginning to think a cure is impossible. And he's surprised by how little he minds. Mallory, he knows it bothers Mallory. The killing. And when you get down to it, it bothers Seth too - conceptually. But when it's happening, when it actually matters, he's usually too lost in his own bliss to care.
Two nights later, Seth follows Mallory to a building he recognises. It takes him a moment to place it; it is the home of the young man they met, what, two weeks ago? Seth had called him Billy, as a joke, because he had white blonde hair and a pretty punk mouth. Mallory disappears into the apartment building, but Seth follows her no further. Instead he walks to a bar he knows just a few streets away, and does his best to get wasted.
Odd, how much Seth can see while trying so hard not to. The once familiar look of arousal on Mallory's face, and the twin swallows that adorn Billy's young, muscular chest. The smooth, unspoiled flesh of his buttocks as he flips her over, making her squeal with giddy pleasure beneath him.
Seth knows his wife is sleeping with somebody else. And now he knows who that somebody is. All that he doesn't know is what he plans to do with this information.
Kill him? The ease with which this thought comes into his mind should worry him. As if it were the most natural thing in the world. Which Seth realises it has become, for him. He doesn't know whether it's the alcohol or the rage, but his stomach feels like it is on fire.
Mallory is still gone when he gets back to the hotel. He paces the room, palms itchy, chest tight. He thinks he's going to be sick. Withdrawal. And for what? Seth has long known he's a bad man. He has tried to be better for Mallory, to be the kind of husband she deserved. And where is Saint Mallory now?
He goes through all of his pockets, through the handbag Mallory left on the floor, through every drawer in the night stand until he finds something sharp enough. A small pair of scissors. He presses his thumb against the blade, wincing when the pressure gives way to hot, searing pain. So that's what it feels like, Seth thinks, as he brings the thumb to his lips, hungrily sucking on the small cut. The tightness in his chest loosens slightly. He feels his panicked breathing slow.
He kicks off his shoes and climbs into bed, still sucking his thumb like an insecure child. Only now does everything he had to drink earlier come rushing to his head. The room begins to sway like a cabin on a boat, and Seth finds it helps rock him to sleep.
When he wakes up, Mallory is in the bed next to him. He rises without waking her and changes into some clean clothes – or, at the very least, cleaner than the ones he slept in. He deliberately avoids looking at Mallory as he walks around the bed and leaves the room.
It's sunny out – oppressively so. Seth wishes he had a pair of sunglasses to protect his sensitive, hungover eyes. After just a few minutes of walking he can feel the white shirt clinging damply to his back, and his legs sweltering in the black trousers.
He doesn't realise until he is standing outside the door that he hadn't even been sure which flat number he was seeking. Seth doesn't knock, just lets himself in. The blinds in the living room are almost completely closed; smoke floats in the thin shafts of light that remain. Billy is lying on sofa, a joint in one hand and an open paperback in the other. He jumps a little when Seth enters, although he regains his composure far too quickly for Seth's liking.
"Tropic of Cancer?" Seth asks, gesturing to the book.
"It's my aim to get through every book that's ever been banned for lewd content," Billy replies.
"How's that going so far?"
"Not well," Billy sighs and drops the book onto the floorboards. "I'm shocked by how little it takes to shock some people."
Seth ponders asking him his opinion on Lady Chatterley's Lover, but dismisses the idea as too crasse. Instead, he says casually:
"You're fucking my wife."
Billy doesn't speak for a moment. When he does, he surprises Seth.
"I think it would be more accurate to say that she's fucking me."
"The first night we met," Billy says, "You remember? I brought you back here. I let you do this," he tilts his head to one side, exposing the healing marks on his neck, "and then later, she came back and we had sex."
He gets up off the sofa, walks over to Seth and offers him the joint. He takes it.
"I let you take what you wanted," Billy says. "Both of you."
"But you have feelings for her." Seth does not like the way Billy keeps looking at him - straight in the eye.
"I don't know.” Billy shrugs. “I think so. She's..."
"She has feelings for you," Seth tells him. "Did you know that?"
Billy doesn't say anything.
"She's my wife."
Billy ignores that comment too, simply saying:
"You're no open book either, are you Seth?"
Seth exhales heavily. He doesn't know why he came here. He passes the joint back to Billy, fully intending to turn and go. But when their fingers brush together, and Billy's touch lingers for just a second on his lacerated thumb, he knows he won't be leaving this room for quite some time.
“Would you like something to drink?” Billy asks.