Catherine loves Martin, but is no longer in love. Two days after celebrating their thirty-seventh anniversary, she's fascinated by the man sitting across from her in the park. He's writing intensely in his notebook, and when their eyes meet, he stops writing. After a short conversation, he offers to walk her back to her office across the street, then invites her to have coffee after work. Captivated, she reluctantly agrees to go to his apartment where, much to her surprise, a secret year-long affair begins.
Though horrified that she has broken her marriage vows, is living a lie, and suffocating, she finds the courage to tell Martin she's in love with another man. Breaking his heart is the hardest thing she has ever done but must take a chance and follow her own. When Martin dies, she feels responsible but painfully learns a person is responsible for one's own happiness.
Catherine and Martin always sat at the same table in the corner and enjoyed the darkness, the candles, the red and white checkered tablecloth, the paintings of scenes from European towns, and the soft classical music (often opera) that added to the romantic, old world atmosphere that made the evening special for them. Though neither had ever been to Europe, the Avalon Bistro made them feel like they were on their honeymoon, and not in Atlantic City, where they actually had gone after their wedding.
They had a good marriage, and though it had its hills and valleys, mostly it was a plateau that often left Catherine with a feeling of restlessness she couldn’t name. Many evenings Catherine looked at Martin when he read the newspaper or did his crossword puzzles, while she sat across from him reading one of her romance novels, and wished he would say or do something like the men in the books she read.
Before they married, and for several years after, he was more demonstrative, more passionate; however, as the years passed, even though he was thoughtful and affectionate, Catherine’s yearning for something more intense swelled in her, and the romantic books she read made her more aware of what she was missing.
Martin always kissed her goodbye in the morning before leaving for work, a light kiss on the forehead, or on the top of her graying head when he came home for dinner. He was a good father to their daughter, Melissa. He taught her to ride a bicycle, read to her at bedtime, and spoiled her with little gifts. He was dependable and conscientious about mowing the grass in their small backyard, taking the trash to the curb on Tuesdays, buying flowers for Valentine’s and Mother’s Days, but it was Catherine who spontaneously bought flowers for the dining room table or, for no reason, lit candles at dinner, or initiated going on a picnic, to a movie, or to the zoo, and Martin would say, “Fine, anything you want, dear, is fine with me.”
Catherine wished Martin suggested an idea, or initiated activities, but that never happened, and so she ended up accepting that this was just the way it is. She resented his dependence on her but swallowed her disappointment and longing.