The Reason Why
James P. Hanley
Jim Hanley had had several careers: Naval officer, Human Resources director, adjunct professor, mediator and writer. He had had over 90 short stories in various genres published in print and online magazines. The Reason Why is his fifth novel published by an independent press
Curious about the lovely profile of a woman sitting on a concrete bench in lower Manhattan, Ed Blake approaches the vaguely familiar woman; that benign interest eventually leads to a consuming affair that sends his life into a tailspin, damaging his marriage, family and career. The novel, told by the male character, deals with the clandestine relationship, the manner in which the lovers spend time together, the reluctance to end despite attempts, and the attendant guilt, all without being detected and disrupting the lives of his unaware wife and daughter—at first. While pondering alternatives, tragedy makes the decision for him.
Haunted by memories, Ed attempts normalcy in his family life but through unforeseen events and his own errors, the affair comes to light. The principal obstacle to repairing his marriage revolves around the simple question with complicated implications: why. Pressed to explain the reason for the affair, Ed’s failure to offer justification and fixable causes leads to strife, incrimination and separation. Attempts at reconciliation and the involvement of a marriage counselor fail, exhausting solutions. Throughout the novel, all the character involved experience an array of emotions in their altered lives.
Devastated by the loss of a lover, the likely dissolution of his marriage and reduced contact with his young daughter, Ed turns to alcohol as consolation. An awkward and rejected attempt at the seduction of a young woman working at a dry cleaner and the decline in his work performance are consequences of drinking, and the only remaining link to identity—his job—is lost. Frozen in paralyzing grief and self-pity, Ed sinks into a constant stupor. Only through the beginning of his family’s forgiveness does he climb out of the self-created abyss. The struggle for all the characters centers on the single interrogative—why: why begin and why continue a relationship tainted by betrayal. What sets this novel apart is the fundamental premise of the story—the lack of reason for the infidelity. Affairs can’t always be explained or justified, aren’t necessarily based on deficiencies or weakness, and, in my view, can be more complex and dramatic as demonstrated in The Reason Why.
Chapter Four: Time Away
On the morning of the annual meeting, Cynthia took the train to Huntington, Long Island and I picked her up there. It felt odd: a twenty-minute drive from my house and I was waiting for someone I cared about but never associated with the setting. I would be with her in places that were a part of the life I would have to give up for her, if that were to happen. But when she got off the train, she kissed me with such natural, comfortable affection, I lost all perspective.
When we arrived at the beachfront hotel, the sun was chugging uphill. We were early; the kickoff event wouldn’t be until the evening. The waves were soft, sapped of strength by the bordering landmasses of Long Island and Connecticut. The tide did little more than ripple and kick up the stones on the edge of the coarse sand. The weather was hotter than usual for the last week in June. My room in the hotel was on the third floor and hers was fortuitously on the same floor. We were careful to avoid each other while signing in and retreated to our separate spaces, but only a handful of the other participants had arrived. Shortly after settling, I heard a soft knock on the door and let her in.
“I like your room better,” she said looking around.
“You’ll stay with me, won’t you?” I asked her.
That afternoon, after stopping at the front desk to see if anyone we knew had checked in, we were on the beach, lying on a blanket we’d borrowed from the front desk. I was drowsy and periodically reached out to touch her arm as if to stay awake by the gesture. Eventually, a storm stained the tranquil, pastel sky and we went back to my room.
Darkening by late afternoon, the overburdened clouds released hard rain that penetrated the wide puddles around the hotel like small-caliber bullets, forming half-globes of bubbles that were burst by the following harsh drops. The wind pushed the relieved cumulus formation, stretching the clouds so that the outer edges lightened and shreds of cloud like chimney smoke blew across the horizon. In corners of the menacing storm, sunlight speared through and hints of clearing gleamed from the wet windows and polished surfaces.
We were making love on the wide bed, inspired by the anger of the weather. Now, without concerns for time, we reveled in each other, exploring, reacting without awkwardness until exhausted and we fell into a pleasurable sleep.
When I awoke, she was no longer in bed. The sun, now back in control, was shining through the high windows. Salt seasoned the air. I hear a sound and walked toward the balcony. Soaked in sunlight, the extension of concrete and railing looked out over the water. Staring at the ocean and humming, Cynthia was sitting on the sole chair, a short robe her only garment. She turned her head around to look at me, still humming, until I asked her, “Happy?”
She nodded, smiling, her teeth seeming whiter against her slightly tanned skin.
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