Can-Can – Intermediate Level

“I’m going to go for a drive,” he said to his wife. “I’ll be back in an hour or two.”

He didn’t often leave the house for more than the few minutes it took him to go to the post office or to a store. His wife called him “Mr. Fix-it”. He spent his time at home doing little jobs around the house and also painting, which he made his living from, though not nearly enough of it.

“All right,” his wife said brightly, as though he were doing her a favor. As a matter of fact, she didn’t really like him to leave. She felt safer with him at home, and he helped look after the children, especially the baby.

“You’re glad to be rid of me, aren’t you?” he said.

“That’s right,” she said with a smile that suddenly made her look very pretty… someone to be missed.

She didn’t ask him where he was going for his drive. She wasn’t the least bit curious, though jealous she was in silent, subtle ways.

As he put his coat on, he watched her. She was in the living room with their oldest daughter. “Do the can-can, mother,” the child said, at which she held up her skirt and did the can-can, kicking her legs up high in his direction.

He wasn’t simply going out for a drive, as he had said. He was going to a café to meet Sarah whom his wife knew, but did not suspect. Then he was going to go with her go to a house on a lake that his wife knew nothing about, but to which he had the key.

“Well, goodbye,” he said.

“Bye,” she called back, still dancing.

This wasn’t the way a husband expected his wife, whom he was about to leave at home to go to another woman, to behave at all, he thought. He expected her to be sewing or washing, not doing the can-can, for God’s sake. Yes, doing something uninteresting and unattractive, like fixing holes in children’s clothes. She had no stockings on and no shoes. Her legs looked very white and smooth, secret, as though he had never touched them or come near them. Her feet, swinging up and down high in the air, seemed to be nodding to him. She held her skirt pulled up, attractively. Why was she doing that of all times now? He watched her for a while. Her eyes looked like they were making fun of him, and she laughed. The child laughed with her as she danced. She was still dancing as he left the house.

He thought of the difficulties he had had arranging this meeting with Sarah. He remembered going out to a call box and phoning her at her office (she was married, too), but she was out. The next time he called he got a busy signal. When he called later the coin fell out of sight and he had to open the door of the phone box in order to pick it up. At last he got her on the line, but she asked him to call again next week. Finally they set a date.

Waiting for her at the café, he surprised himself hoping that she wouldn’t come. The appointment was at three. It was now ten past. Well, she was often late. He looked at the clock, and at the picture window for her car. A car like hers, and yet not hers. There were small differences, which gave him a peculiar pleasure. Why? It was 3:15 now. Perhaps she wouldn’t come. No, if she was going to come at all, this was the most likely time for her to arrive. Twenty past. Ah, now there was some hope. Hope? How strange he should be hoping for her to stay at home. Why had he made the appointment if he was hoping she would miss it? He didn’t know why, but simpler, simpler if she didn’t come. Because all he wanted now was to smoke that cigarette, drink that cup of coffee for the sake of them, and not to give himself something to do. And he wished he could go for a drive, free and easy, as he had said he would. But he waited, and at 3:30 she arrived. “I had almost given up hope,” he said.

They drove to the house on the lake. As he held her in his arms he couldn’t think of her; for the life of him he couldn’t.

“What are you thinking about?” she said afterwards, sensing that his mind was somewhere else.

For a moment he didn’t answer, then he said, “You really want to know what I was thinking of?”

“Yes,” she said, sounding a little worried.

He held back a laugh, as though what he was going to tell her was too unbelievable or silly. “I was thinking of someone doing the can-can.”

“Oh,” she said, feeling better. “For a moment I was afraid you were thinking of your wife.”