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The Inner Circle, T.C. Boyle

Viking Press, September 9, 2004

Every magazine and newspaper in the county exploded with sensational headlines—”50% OF MARRIED MEN UNFAITHFUL!” “PREMARITAL INTERCOURSE RAMPANT!” “KINSEY SAYS MEN REACH PEAK TEN YEARS AHEAD OF WOMEN!”—and that sort of thing, always in caps and tailed by the flogging exclamation point.

Newspaper clippings. THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY! Villains of lust face prosecution for giving in to irresistible urges. A CRIME OF PASSION! It is human nature that is on trial in any number of watering holes, hotels, brothels, strip clubs, book stores, bathhouses, even the supermarkets and sidewalks—any venue pairing pursuers with pursued. SUBPOENA. In a cocktail lounge, stolen glances from across the room reveal an intriguing proposition that billows in thick, creamy white-clouded swirls of smoke, hanging over the proceedings in a suspended, alluring mixture that is equal parts attraction and danger. As the air expands with tantalizing anticipation, a blue cheese olive soaks serenely in a clear bath of Stoli. CHAMBERS. Thoughts, already warming in coats of liquid courage, shift to mental notes made earlier of nearby motels with hourly rates and their promise of anonymity, even if the road to secrecy will undoubtedly be paved (littered) with a trail of evidence. Haste makes for an untrustworthy bedfellow. EXHIBITS A AND B. Traces of perfume clings to suspicions and sport coats alike. Receipts and credit card statements end up in all the wrong hands. PLEA BARGAINS. For some, the suggestion of an open relationship is bandied about despite the reality that such a treaty offers no real shelter from the storm. VERDICT. The world of love and lust remains forever a crazy, complex, and most dangerous game.

There was a long pause, everything in freefall, the whole project—files, the interview sheets, dog-eared proofs and thick bound volumes—poised to drop down out of the sky as if dumped from the hold of an airliner, and I could picture it, clumps of papers thick on the hedges and lawn and rooftops of America and the housewives and their harried husbands plucking at the strings on one anonymous heartbreaking secret after another till they collapsed in on another’s arms and wept for us all, us poor suffering human animals with our lusts and our hurts and our needs.

More clippings, different trials. TODAY’S TESTIMONY. Talk of open relationships continues to dominate. Interpretations of commitment’s statutes stretch age old boundaries of morality, but no matter the alterations to the formula, the stakes have a way of remaining suspiciously unchanged. Any rule, strict or less than, carries with it the inherent possibility (probability) of being broken. INDICTMENT. Love’s house of cards is no match for unchecked desire and the hurricane winds of human folly. DAMAGES. Jealousy consumes no matter the provisos, no matter the evidence. SENTENCING. Lives shatter in the blink of teardrop confessions. Trust dissolves like vaporous gas in the wake of shocking revelations, maiming, suffocating, destroying. HUNG JURY. With individuals falling on so many different ratings along the Kinsey scale, hetero-sliding-to-homosexual, all the while subscribing to so many different beliefs, religions, and even ideas surrounding sexual practices, a unanimous decision remains ever elusive. But as it turns out, that isn’t such a bad thing, not in a world all too frequently hell bent on snuffing out differences in favor of streamlining the core. JUDGEMENT. “For better or for worse” is certainly a loaded contract, one that is far easier to sign off on prior to any unexpected turn of the screw. Ultimately, whether embracing monogamy or attempting to rewrite rules to grant leeway to human nature and/or human error, the only jury of any real consequence is comprised solely of the willing and, of course, legal participants in the relationship. The testimony of others outside this inner circle is hearsay. That being said, it may certainly be a good rule of thumb to have a healthy appreciation for the age old edict: be careful what you wish for.