The Zipless F___

Fiction
Karen Karlitz


For Lease
Photo Credit: Kingstonist.com

Millie Bartoli, the forward-thinking leader of our weekly women’s consciousness-raising group, stood in the center of Janet’s impeccably decorated, wood-paneled den expounding on the principles of Erica Jong’s book, Fear of Flying. “Men have been doing it for years. Now it’s our turn. This may not fit some of your lives or personalities, but for the rest of us,” she smiled slyly, “I suggest you seriously contemplate having at least one zipless fuck.”

Everyone in the neighborhood knew all about Freddie Bartoli’s cheating. He carried his infidelities around with him like they were his birthright, a badge of honor. But this wasn’t about payback, this was a sea change in lifestyle, a sign of the times. This was the seventies. I assessed my fellow group members. My next-door neighbor Jill sat near me on the sofa. A conservative type, who lived in a home with large white pillars reminiscent of the White House and who rarely attended our boozy, pot-fueled parties, Jill stared intently down at Janet’s turquoise shag rug. The other women looked intrigued.

“Does it only count if you don’t know the person at all?” Janet asked.

“That’s a matter of interpretation. Certainly a man you don’t know makes the best choice. But it wouldn’t hurt to choose someone you know as well, albeit, it would not be zipless.” Millie giggled like a teenager.

Claudia let out with a snort.

“I see,” Janet said gravely, as though she might have a particular someone under consideration.

Zipless fuck! I couldn’t get it out of my mind. That cute butcher at Waldbaum’s? The pharmacist? My son’s pediatrician? The man who recently moved into the brick colonial down the street? Any interesting male shopper in Bloomingdale’s men’s department? The handsome carpenter who hung my living room shutters? A stranger on the subway? The new reporter at work? My marriage might be falling apart, but the world was suddenly awash with possibilities.

*

The man in the carpet store? One morning that same week of Millie’s latest suggestions for our personal growth, I stopped in at Anthony Carpet and Tile. I’d been looking all over for a new kitchen floor. Someone tapped me on the shoulder as I was poring over samples. I turned around.

“Hi,” said a young man of no more than twenty. “Can I help you?”

Oh, my God. This rug salesman looked like my old boyfriend Greg when he was about twenty, a mere boy to my almost thirty years. He couldn’t possibly be a zipless fuck contender. Or could he?

*

In a week my mother’s boyfriend’s divorce would become final. She’d been counting down the days with me and anyone else who would listen for a month. Rose had grown used to living high on the hog after suffering through years of financial struggle with my father. She spent her mornings with Ted, a top Manhattan real estate agent, searching for suitable properties on the Upper East Side. Her boyfriend Sheldon left the choice of a condo to her, and she gloried in the fact that finally she could afford such opulence. She took her time, waiting for the perfect residence to come on the market.

After a busy afternoon spent shopping at Saks or Bendel’s, my mother ordered in dinner from an assortment of expensive eateries, unless they had plans to dine out. Sheldon had always enjoyed a rich diet, indulging in meats, gravies, cheeses, cakes and pies, heedless of cholesterol counts or doctors’ reproaches. My mother pretended not to notice his expanding midsection, lack of hair, and striking resemblance to the Pillsbury Doughboy.

That night in their fourteenth-floor luxury rental, after an especially flirtatious round of condo touring with Ted and a satisfying trip to Saks, Rose ordered up some of Sheldon’s favorites: duck pâté, brisket smothered in gravy, potatoes au gratin, corn on the cob, fresh spring greens suffocating under a mountain of bleu cheese dressing, and for dessert, chocolate custard éclairs and a bottle of Moet. While he forged his way through the meal, my mother picked at a green salad sprinkled with one teaspoon of light Italian and a side of fresh strawberries. After the repast Sheldon could barely move, but managed a labored, brief sexual encounter with his bride-to-be.

*

The morning sun filtered through the curtains and crept over the bed where my mother and Sheldon slept. She woke with a satisfied smile, sat up on her side of the bed, slipped her feet into white fur-trimmed satin mules, and went into the bathroom. After finishing her morning ablutions, she glanced over at Sheldon and saw that he was still asleep. She walked into the kitchen to brew some imported coffee purchased at Zabar’s, then watched the world go by from her spacious terrace as she sipped from an antique china cup. In only two weeks they would marry. At last, my mother had the life she thought she always had coming to her.

She went back inside and looked at the clock. It was half past eight, and Ted expected her at ten; she entered the bedroom to get Sheldon going. She patted him gently on the back. He didn’t move. Too fat, she thought to herself, shaking him more vigorously. Still no movement. She walked to the other side of the bed so she could see his face. It was deadly pale, and she knew instantly. Sheldon’s overtaxed heart called it quits shortly after last night’s final avalanche of fat.

Because the divorce had yet to be finalized, his wife Annette got the entire estate. This included the fourteenth-floor apartment, which had been leased in Sheldon’s name.

*

I became more nervous than usual; on a scale of ten, I went from a seven to a nine. After all, life could be snatched from you at any moment, even without a steady intake of brisket and éclairs. My mother moved in with my sister until she could figure out what to do next. I finally broke down and asked my husband if he was cheating on me, an obsessive thought I’d been harboring for quite a while. Beforehand, I promised myself to remain under control. I wrote out several pages of dialogue that I practiced in front of a mirror, but when the curtain went up couldn’t stick to the script.

“Brian.”

“Yeah, Frannie.”

“Just tell me already. Who is she?”

He lay in our bed, eyes half-closed, watching the late news.

“Who?”

“I know all about it.”

“What?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about and don’t tell me you don’t. Your girlfriend, Brian. I have to know who she is. Is it someone I know? I bet it’s Sandy Schwartz. She has such huge breasts.” The thought of her chest sent me into a tailspin.

“Whoa, Frannie, stop. You’re hyperventilating.”

“I am not.”

“You are.”

My breathing, I had to admit, was impaired and I felt thoroughly unhinged.

“C’mon Frannie, I love you. I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“You’re never home anymore.”

“I’m swamped at the store. You know that.”

I couldn’t tell if he was telling the truth or had one foot out the door.

“I gotta get some sleep. You should too.” He lay back down and closed his eyes. In less than a minute, he was fast asleep.

I got up to change the channel. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was on. For weeks Mary had been thinking about having an affair with a cute policeman she met, but now she knew him too well for it to be considered zipless. Her husband was mean and everyone tuned in night after night hoping she’d finally have sex with the policeman. That night she was getting close.

One day not long after my mother’s boyfriend’s demise I had nothing to do. I decided to swing by the carpet store. After all, I still needed a kitchen floor.

Flipping through floor samples, I pretended to debate the merits of tile and linoleum. I snuck a glance over my shoulder; the handsome salesman sat at his desk doing paperwork. It was late afternoon, no one else was in the store. Unsettled duskiness filled the skies as this part of the world changed uneasily from day to evening. It was the time of day babies cry, seeking comfort they often can’t find until the sky grows dark, the time when people who believe they’ve taken too many hits reach for a drink or a drug, sometimes both.

I turned and walked towards him; my heart raced. I wore my tightest dungarees and, adhering to the current “burn your bra” philosophy, nothing under a striped gauzy shirt. He looked up and smiled.

“Ready for some help?”

I sat down in a chair across from his desk. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I want to have sex with you.” I looked directly into his big brown eyes.

Shock registered on his face for a brief second. I figured he must have had women customers flinging themselves at him throughout the day.

“Cool. When?”

“Now.” Did I really say that?

“Okay.”

He got up, walked to the front of the store, switched the “Open” sign to “Closed” and locked the door. I followed him to a back room where the carpet remnants were stored. He threw some samples aside, and lay down on a piece of yellow shag. He patted the spot next to him. I joined him on the rug.

I never found out his name. No question, this was zipless. I never went back to the store, and instead purchased my flooring from a short, stout, gray-haired woman at Macy’s. Months later, I drove by and the Anthony Carpet and Tile store was empty, a “For Lease” sign pasted on the front window. It was like it never really happened at all.

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After three cross country moves and working as an editor/writer for publications in New York and California, Karen Karlitz now lives and writes short stories in Marina del Rey. Her short fiction has appeared in Broad River Review, Loch Raven Review, Ranfurly Review (Scotland), American Diversity Report, Scribblers on the Roof, Long Story Short, and Miranda Literary Journal, among others. One of her stories won the Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction award, one was included in The Best of The Foliate Oak, and another read theatrically in Syracuse, NY. Email: kkwrite[at]hotmail.com

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