Photo Credit: Mary Streepy
“Tell me about her,” I ask, pretending to be more amused than hurt.
“She is so much like me,” he sighs, a slight laugh escaping his lips.
“That’s a bit Freudian,” I say as I watch a family of pigeons gather on my window’s ledge.
“Flying rats,” my lover grumbles. He suggests that he shoot them with his pellet gun.
I ignore him and continue to study them. They sit alongside each other as they coo and cluck to the sounds of the city traffic below. They strut and pose with such purpose.
Lately, I’ve become immune to the honks and squeals of the morning traffic, but I can’t help but see the paint cracks on my windowsill, and think that I need to sandpaper the ledge and repaint it. I am so engrossed with the idea of buying sandpaper that I don’t hear my lover get up until he is blocking my view of the windowsill with the back of his navy blue suit and his long blond ponytail. It’s funny how the insurance company he works for still allows him to wear his hair in a ponytail. I’d love to snip it off right at this moment and fling it out my kitchen window.
I feel my heart pound in my chest. I reassure myself again that I am not jealous, regardless of the fact that he has found another. He has done this to me before. There is something in his displaced nature that makes him seek out others. I have accepted this, allowed it, and forgiven him for it through the years. But I sense something might be different this time, something with me.
He moves to kiss me on the forehead as he says, “I have plans tonight.” He leaves, shutting the front door quietly, not bothering to ask me what I will do with my day or my evening. I look around at the bright vibrant reds and purples that adorn my living room walls, shades of passion that once resembled my feelings for him. But now I feel as if the whole apartment needs a makeover, a good once-over with a new shade of color.
It is my apartment. We have always lived separately. He prefers it that way. However, if I had it my way, I wouldn’t have separated us by blocks but by miles. I still have my little cottage upstate where my red Ford pick-up truck sits in my gravel driveway surrounded by sugar maple and white cedar trees, awaiting my return, awaiting my resolution.
I let him keep her as a secret. I don’t prod or prattle at him again about her. I lay in my king-size bed surrounded by my over-stuffed designer pillows and wonder if he is with her. I imagine them making love, his head between her spread legs, his tongue flicking at her core like a rattlesnake sensing his prey. Is she a blonde or a brunette? Is she short, but lean? Maybe she is fat? Does she resemble me in any way? I sense she is younger and fairer than me, like Cinderella. I believe my lover is in his own fairy tale. He is the hero, and I am the audience to watch and see how it will all be played out.
I believe he seeks a nymph of youth that I can no longer be for him. The years have stolen what I was once to him and replaced it with useless wisdom that he no longer seeks. He wants a firm body to touch, he wants a virginal mind to explore, not a worn-out vessel which he has had many times before. I touch myself as I imagine him kissing her tender lips while she is grinding on top of him. I run my hands up and down my thighs. I am still supple and strong. I pinch at my hardened nipples, wondering if at this moment he is doing the same to her.
My bedroom door opens. I feel him standing at the doorway waiting for something, maybe my beckoning, maybe my whispers. I give neither. But still he moves to my side of the bed and leans down and kisses me full on the lips. “She wasn’t home,” he says as he starts to undress. I say nothing.
I watch him in the dark move to his side of the bed. He is a shadow of a man as I feel him slide into bed scattering my over-stuffed pillows to the floor. Again with the sighs; they remind me of air slowly being let out of car tires or the sound a balloon makes when air is quickly released from its mouth causing it to shrivel up. I wonder if my lover feels all shriveled up, if his life has been one wasted breath.
He moves on top of me, spreading my legs with his knee. I give into his need, wondering if he is thinking of her as he is pressing into me and I cry out, knowing I will always be waiting for him, knowing I have no choice but to let it all play out.
Later he tells me that he met his other while playing his guitar on a street corner downtown with one of his old bandmates. He does this for fun some nights when he can’t sleep. He likes to howl at the moon as people throw coins and dollar bills in his guitar case. He likes to pretend that he is that same rock star of his youth and not a guy that now wears a suit and tie. She was in the crowd watching him, bemused by his songs, enraptured by his tones.
Afterwards she invited him and his bandmate up for a drink. My lover was the only one who stayed. She asked him if he was into sport-fucking. He was game. And then after a bit of sport, he tells me that he felt so at ease in her arms—as if he was drifting on a homemade raft on the lake behind his childhood home back in Kentucky. He felt as if he was fifteen again.
He confesses all this to me while we drive to the coast in the black Mercedes he bought me upon my arrival in town. I didn’t want it. I hate driving in the city traffic, but he insisted. I hate the car. I miss my old beat-up pick-up truck that I left sitting in my front yard. I imagine weeds growing around the tires and feral cats making it their home.
The car is thick with his confession. I drive faster and faster, and he tells me to slow down. We are on our way to spend Labor Day weekend with his old bandmates who are all married with children and live in the suburbs. They ask us why we never have married. His curt reply is always the same: “It is better this way.” The wives later ask me “why I put up with it” while we are all gathered in the kitchen placing bite-size sandwiches on silver platters. And I, too, have the same reply: “It seems to work for us.” I say this flippantly as I drain my wine glass and move away from their disapproving stares.
The weekend at the beach is full of forgotten memories which are tossed around like a Frisbee from one to another in hopes that something is remembered that was once of importance. I drink too much and cry out to the waves, letting the cool sound of them breaking at my feet comfort my ill feelings of what I think I might be losing if he really does fall in love with this other woman.
I taste salt upon my lips from the ocean mist as I remember the first time he kissed me. We were nineteen, and I was the one in the crowd admiring his slender build on stage. I followed him after his gig to a party on High Street where he kissed me in the corner of some dirty flophouse kitchen, telling me that it was the sweetest kiss he had ever experienced. I wonder if he says that to her. I wonder how many other women he kissed after me and said the same thing to.
Years ago, he told me that I gave him something no other gave him. I gave him an anchor to come home to. I gave him the familiarity that only comes when two people have a history together. It made me feel old, like his worn-out pair of slippers that he keeps tucked under his bed and only slips on to warm his feet when he makes his way in the middle of the night to the bathroom.
I feel the cool spray from the waves upon my breasts. I feel the warmth between my thighs. He has followed me out to the beach and continues his confession, revealing how he feels so real when he is with her. He feels so calm and young, as if he is being given a second chance.
“And who is the real you when you are sport-fucking her?” I ask.
Again with the sighs. “I can’t explain, it’s a feeling, I don’t have to talk, and I don’t have to think. I am there only in feeling.”
“And what is the second chance you seem to have been granted?”
He sighs again. “You make it sound as if she is my fairy godmother, granting me three wishes.”
“Well, is she? Is she a youthful spirit coming to rescue you?”
He walks away into the darkness. I watch as he disappears into the night air. I throw a seashell at him. I miss. I have long lost my powers of seduction on him; now I have become a quiet solitude for him, a safe place for him to repent. I wonder what he needs rescuing from. I wonder if I, too, need to be rescued. I think of my cottage in the woods surrounded by sugar maple trees, their green leaves starting to change colors to bright oranges and yellows bleeding together to become one. I think how I, too, have my own escape awaiting me.
As we lie in bed listening to the waves break against the shoreline, I let him talk. I let him feel as if I care that he has found true love on a street corner while he strums tunes of his past on his guitar. I let him think that he has found that missing part of his youth when he was so invincible to the crowd that shouted out his name and I was the young unknowing muse in the crowd chanting his name, hoping to be the one he showered with praises and kisses later that night.
Like his music he glides in and out of my life for the next three months. Days go by and I don’t see him, and then he appears like a phantom. No words are spoken as he slides beside me, and I feel his hot breath on my neck as he pushes his way inside me and tears me apart, taking what he needs. He leaves me again for his other in the morning, but I know it is only a matter of time before I grow tired. I let him have his secret, never asking about his days with her, but he can’t help telling me about her.
We are having dinner at a local diner. I am picking at my food as I listen to him tell me that he is thinking of taking a trip with her. They are planning on a two-week journey out west. “A road trip of sorts,” he says, as he takes a bite out of his well-done hamburger.
“Jack Kerouac-style,” I say between bites of my garden salad.
“Something like that, but we are going to film it; we are going to document our love.”
My fork is in mid-air, inches from my lips. The same lips he kissed hard only hours before. The same lips which suckled and tasted his essence only hours before.
He gets up, slapping down a ten-dollar bill, and pauses for a second, looking me up and down, and tells me before he leaves that I look years younger in my tight jeans and black T-shirt. “Did you do something different with your hair?” he asks.
My mousy brown hair is pulled back in a sloppy ponytail. I haven’t bothered to wash it in two days. I smile up at him, taking in his wispy golden locks, his deeply-lined face, and say nothing.
I am left speechless as I feel my core grow hot for his touch, knowing he will take her tonight as I lie alone in my bed remembering what it was like when we first met and I was everything to him, and he was to me. I think of my lonely truck parked in my driveway with weeds growing at its tires and feral cats making it their home. I imagine it rusting away.
He tells me when he returns from his trip that she is his muse. She inspires him. He is working on some new songs, and he no longer begrudges having an ordinary job. He has found his center, his balance with himself. He whispers this to me while we are making love. I wonder, does he do this to spark my anger? Does he want me to strike out at him, to curse and cry at his feet? And then I wonder if there is really another. Maybe he is making it all up, a game to spice up our years together.
Instead, I say, “You used to be my muse; you used to inspire me.”
“And now?” he asks as he nibbles at my neck and I feel the tip of his cock nudging its way into me.
“Now I have found another.”
He stops his nibbling and looks down at me. “Another?”
I say nothing. Let him think what he will. Let him think that I have found the other half of me in a crowded street. Let him think I found this new muse on the bus or on the train, or maybe on the internet. I hear him sigh, a long drawn-out sigh. “You have never taken on another,” he says as he withdraws his cock from me, not finishing the act. I smile to myself in the dark, and turn to look at his profile. He is a shadow of a man to me now.
“Now we are so much alike,” I say as I take his hand under the bedcovers. He laughs this time instead of the usual sigh, and I hope his laugh will dispel the need for his other.
He leaves me a note the next morning next to the coffeepot, which is full of fresh coffee. He has never left me a note or made me coffee in the morning. His handwriting is so neat and legible. I’ve often remarked to him that his handwriting does not fit his personality. It is so organized, so simple in structure, as if written by an English teacher who is writing a quick note of correction on one of his pupil’s essays, not a fumbling middle-aged man who pines for his rock-star youth. I sniff at the note before reading it. Traces of his aftershave linger on the paper. My eyes drift to his words: “Still love me?”
He does not sign it. I am left to wonder if the note is even for me. I take a long shower, letting the hot water massage my sore neck. I put on my tight jeans and my black T-shirt. I style my graying hair in a manicured ponytail. My makeup is light and natural enough to put a glow to my cheeks. I do not bother to make my bed. I let the sheets stay rumpled, leave the bedspread crumpled at the foot of the bed. The room smells gamey—the aftermath of our lovemaking. I open my bedroom window, letting the polluted city air sweep away our combined scent.
Today I am in search of my little white lie. I want someone a couple years younger, intelligent, witty, but not too witty. I want him to be learned and self-assured, but not self-centered. He must adorn me with pleasantries, flirting with a hidden agenda that will never take place. I want to imagine what his kiss will feel upon my lips, his touch, his caress, his body on top of mine. It will be a game we play inside our heads never to be fulfilled, only to be imagined.
My chase begins at the local coffeehouse down the street from my brownstone. I have not researched my role; I only go by my instincts. I have purposely dressed causally, hoping my mature look will speak volumes to this phantom lover I quest for.
Behind the counter, dressed in a black T-shirt and faded blue jeans with white tennis shoes, is the perfect candidate for the mind fuck I intend to play on myself. I smile, thinking as if I am the Mona Lisa, wanting him to think: was that really a smile or a pout? I order a vanilla latte and as he turns, he winks at me. I watch as he makes me my drink. He has a nice ass in his jeans and I like how he stands with his shoulders square. His brown hair is cut short, revealing a birthmark on the side of his head. I wait by the counter for my drink, not sure where to sit. The small coffee shop is full of young college students, typing at their laptops, listening to iPods.
Our fingertips touch briefly as he hands me my drink. I meet his eyes with an open smile and thank him. “No problem sweetheart,” he says with another wink, as he turns to take another order. I feel a fluttering of arousal as I sip at my latte, imagining myself grinding away on top of his lean youthful body. I turn to feel him staring at me, a curious expression on his face, as if he has read my prurient thoughts, as if he, too, feels the sudden connection between us.
When I return home my lover is sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. I take him in. His long blond hair falls at his shoulders, a style he has kept since he was nineteen. He is wearing faded blue jeans and a loose-fitting T-shirt. He hears the door shut and looks up at me as I walk across the foyer to him. I am surprised to see him out of his tailored business suit. He seems much more relaxed.
“Where have you been?” he asks, taking me in his arms as I sit on his lap, my legs wrapped around him.
“I was with my other?” I say as I move closer to him.
“Hmm, you smell of vanilla,” he whispers as he presses a kiss on my lips.
I feel him fumbling with my pant buttons and then his own. He slides me down onto the kitchen floor. “Have you seen your other today?” I ask as I feel him nudge at me.
“No, she wasn’t home.” He sighs as he slips inside of me.
My lover visits me every night for a week. He brings me flowers and wine, and we snuggle on my leather couch as we watch rented movies. But I can’t stop thinking of my other. Does he have a girlfriend? What does he do with his days? In the morning, as I sip at my coffee, my lover mentions that I am a bit removed, a bit preoccupied with my own thoughts.
“What happened to your other?” I ask. “Why are you not spending your nights with her?”
“It’s complicated,” he says, getting up and dumping his coffee in the sink.
“And, how’s that?”
“Well, she says that I am too needy.”
“That’s funny. I thought she’d say you were too old.”
He moves toward me. A new glow in his cheeks, he takes my hands and leads me to the leather couch. As he takes what he wants from me, I realize that I no longer like the reds and purples of my living room. I want to redecorate. I want to strip my walls of their color and toss out the gold pillows and replace everything with shades of yellow.
I venture forth with my little game. I bring my laptop with me to the café. I have never tried to write in a crowd of people. I find it too distracting. I prefer the solitude of my apartment. I do not like distractions while I write, but I find a corner table next to the big glass window. I sip at my mocha. I get something different every time I come to the café. I like to taste all sorts of different flavors upon my tongue. I take a quick glance at my other behind the café counter. Two young female college students chat with him. I hear one giggle, a sort of schoolgirl giggle, and then I hear his own baritone laughter fill the café. I smile over to him; he catches my eye and winks again, as if we have an unspoken language and our own fantasies going on about the other inside our heads.
He takes a seat in front of me. We have never had a proper conversation. The café is empty. His friends have gone. He says nothing as he lights a cigarette and then offers me one. I nod my head no. He takes a big drag and flicks his ash on the floor. I take him in. He has deep-set brown eyes and a small mouth. He smiles as if he knows that I am interested, and then he says, “I need your advice.”
I watch only his mouth move as he talks. I wonder how his kiss will feel upon my own lips. I move in closer, taking in his spicy scent, a mixture of coffee and cigarettes, and something else, something very subtle in nature.
“So, I have this problem,” he continues.
I look up again meeting his eyes. Long brown lashes blink out at me. I want to take his face in my hands and kiss him. Kiss him right there, and be done with it. I want to take in his scent and wrap my arms around his taut body and feel his masculinity. But I stop myself and let him seek my advice.
“Go on,” I say, moving back in my chair and closing my laptop.
He gives me a little wicked smile, as if I know what he is thinking, as if I know what he is going to ask. He looks me up and down, and I feel his eyes fall on my lips, and then my eyes, and then down my neck. His gaze stops right there at the base of my throat where I imagine the first series of our kisses will start. I close my eyes, taking it all in. I feel a warmth brush over me as I picture his tongue drawing circles around my core. When I open my eyes again, he is still staring at me.
“You have a question for me?” I whisper, knowing that my cheeks are flushed.
“I think you answered it for me,” he says with a wink. He moves to get up.
I grab at his wrist and notice that he has another birthmark on the inside of his underarm. As I stare past him toward the quiet city street, I see my lover with a young woman, laughing and holding hands, his long blond hair caught up in the afternoon breeze. That was us ten years ago, and now all I can think about is how my red truck is parked in my abandoned driveway, and the sugar maple leaves are fading to yellow, and this young other is standing over me.
Several of Jennifer Houston’s pieces have appeared in Battered Suitcase, ABCtales, Word Catalyze, Gloom Cupboard, and recently South Jersey Underground. Email: scrappsalot[at]aol.com