She responded to his love-making with a bored kind of awe, an honest and spontaneous emotion secretly calculated, he knew, to satisfy and enrage him. It was only at that moment when he felt her completely beyond his reach, when the emptiness of her face reached doll-like authenticity, as her gasps and Gods and Oh, daddies transcended their ordinary rote quality to attain a flat, mechanical passion, when he knew she felt he brought her great pleasure, not for any reason having to do with her, but simply to prove that he could, that his member was able to return, via its brief hidden moment of triumph, to its regular inert state.
He began to dress quickly. “No,” she protested, holding her arms out to him: “cuddle.”
“You know I only have twenty minutes before I fall asleep,” he told her. “I have to drive home.”
“Yes, before your wife gets home,” she muttered. “No, don’t show me her picture again — why do you always want to show me her picture afterwards?”
“Do I?” he asked, putting his wallet back into his pants pocket and snatching up his keys.
“Turn the light out,” she called — but either she spoke too late, or he pretended not to hear her as he walked out the door.
He rolled his window down on the highway, to let the hot dry air battle with the car’s AC. He laughed. This, to him, was the reward — the sense that he had gotten away with something, that he had put something over on whoever it had been he’d just finished with. His house would be dark and empty, as it always was.
The picture in his wallet, his wedding band, the stories he collected and told — they all were fakes, carefully constructed to project the image of adultery to the girls in his life. It was only when they thought he was married that, spurred on by the thought of taking something from another woman, they would sleep with him. But the joke was on them: he was single.
He thought again of his empty, dark house. “Cuddle,” he said, and snickered.
She lay in bed in the semidarkness (she had turned off the light), smoking and brooding. She was irritated, because this was her last cigarette, and she didn’t want to go out to get another pack. She wanted to lay in bed and brood, but she could only brood properly while she was smoking, and she had more brooding to do than one cigarette allowed for.
“Why do I only date guys I know from church?” she asked. “Why can’t I date guys from work, or who I meet at the bar. I don’t even believe in religion — I can’t remember the last time I gave to the collection plate.”
She fell silent, smoking in thought. “When I was nine–” she said, and trailed off. “When I was thirteen I gave ten dollars because my parakeet had died and I wanted to make sure it got in. I don’t think that counts. But when I was nine– why did I–”
She fell silent, staring again at her cigarette. It had been smoked down. She wanted another. “Dammit,” she said. She stubbed it out and rolled over, forgetting about the time she was nine, and waited for sleep to come.
-May 9, 2009