by Mary Kelly
You get back to the States without letting me know. You are in your car, parked across from my house. You have been there all night. When you wake up it's early morning. You watch a man leave my house. You walk in, as if you're entitled to, and see that I'm on my way to the shower. "Who was that?" I will be goddamned if, at this point, I will answer. I walk away. You grab me by the hair on top of my head. "What did you tell him? You fucking loveless cunt. Did you tell him the same things you told me? That you loved having him touch your hair? That you liked being vulnerable to him?" You punctuate your questions by yanking my head. I don't tell you that you are breaking me, that you are hurting me with uncanny precision in all the ways I trusted you not to, as well as several others I didn't think of. To the degree that I can speak, I say, "Isn't this what you wanted, sex without attachment? Isn't that why you picked me, you thought it would be amusing, the quiet girl?" You say, "Did you get what you wanted? Someone you couldn't trust? Isn't that why you picked me, isn't that why you didn't care about the others?" You lean your head down close to my neck— maybe you are smelling my skin, for what will be the last time— and you say, "I need all of you." My knees buckle, which you can't fail to note. "What, you don't have a story for this?" Actually, I do. "I do," I say, trying to breathe. "I am naked. I am surrounded by a multitude of men. You are not among them."
I'm sorry I've taken so long. I've been trying to get some household things taken care of, contractors everywhere, not much peace and quiet. When will you be getting back? I've been trying to think of how to respond to your last letter. "Don't kick anyone's ass, your legs belong on my shoulders. . ." God, I can't tell you how much I miss that. And I appreciate your apology about Karen. I know that you want to make things right, but the truth is, I am at a loss. We are not getting better at making each other happy. I need to let this go.
Because I am tired of constantly having to defend myself. After our last letters, I thought. . .I don't know what I thought. Whoever told you Harrold and I had become fast friends did both of us a nasty turn. "Harrold" is Karen Harrold, one of the new people I told you about. As it happens, she and I have not had sex, though I suspect you wouldn't mind if we were to fall into a tub and accidentally get each other all soapy. I wish you had simply asked me— now you have hurt me with god-awful things you can't unsay. Jesus Christ, what is all this? It's becoming exhausting. I could smack you. I already know you are getting laid regularly; I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do here— do you want me to demand that you stop with the Euro-trash blowjobs? Do you want me to tell Heidi the Swedish contortionist to hit the road or I'll kick her ass? You're a free agent. Am I supposed to tear my hair out? Or is this fucked up Irish guilt and I'm supposed to absolve you? If that's the case, you should know that I have neither the tools nor the inclination to ease your conscience, if that is, in fact, what's troubling you.
For some reason, you saying, "I need you," caught me completely off guard. I still feel off balance.
You wake me saying soft things, tracing my collar bone. We make love very slowly and seriously. It's the scar under your thumb and the sound of your breathing and your forehead against mine. . . .
If you had said, "I love you," I would have forgotten by lunch.
I was initially incredulous that you would make an issue out of me NOT asking you about the other women. If I am understanding you correctly, though, you are equating my lack of prying with lack of interest. Perhaps next time you could merely say so. Why is it that whenever we try to communicate outside of sex, things go terribly awry? If that's the case I vote for less talk and a lot more sex... Okay, listen, I hate that I hurt you. It makes me crazy.
We are in the bathroom; I am running the tub, planning, inexplicably, to give you a bath. I undress myself, slowly, in front of you. I raise my hands above my head ostensibly to pin my hair up, but really so that you can better admire my breasts. I undress you, running my hands over your arms, your neck, your chest. You hate baths, but you like the thought of me giving you one, fully attending to you. You let me run a washcloth over you for about three seconds before helping me climb in on top of you. I am feeling contrite and eager to please. You are happy to help me do so.
Oh good. The "fixing me" stage. No, I do not "make a habit" of married men. What an interesting way to phrase it. To my knowledge, you are not married. I have, in the past, been involved with married men, yes. I thought they would be very tidy, very manageable affairs, that if trust was off the table, so was risk. I thought I could preside over them with German efficiency. Of course I could not. Will that do? So, how's your womanizing working out for you? (Which, until now, I have never so much as mentioned.) Do you think I don't know what's driving your jealousy? You ask me where this is coming from, you make me feel like I should apologize— I don't know; it's something you do to me. HOW is this a problem? Yes, I am as shy as I "seemed" and I like making love with you— why are these things incompatible? I feel stung and baffled— I am quite certain it works out in everybody's favor if I love sex with you, but it seems to have made you suspicious and squirrelly. And I blame you for this weird voodoo thing you do to me, where I want to have sex even when I'm mad at you. It really pisses me off. Also, I don't like you reading me at all, never mind correctly.
I am curled up in bed. You slide in close behind me, kissing my shoulder, pressing yourself into me. "I'm upset with you," I say. "I know," you say, continuing to kiss me, my neck, my shoulder blades. "Part your legs," you say, sliding a hand between my thighs. "No," I say. "No?" you say. "That's right," I say, warming to it, turning toward you, "No. If you want me you'll have to force me." "Oh I don't think so," you say. And you stretch out casually against me, running a hand over your chest, all the time in the world. You start to say things to me, you begin diabolically and mercilessly to remind me how much I like using my body to please you. I try to sneak a hand down to touch myself, but you take my hand and you take my other hand and you put them both above my head. Otherwise you do not touch me, but you continue your detailed descriptions of how and— crucially— how much I've pleased you in the past. I try to ignore you, looking away, humming; I try thinking about where the cat might be; I try pleading with you to stop saying these things until I become aware that I am pleading with you to continue, pleading with you, ultimately, to make love to me, which you agree to do as soon as I turn over and raise myself up to you, as if you have not already sorely abused your advantage. I comply immediately. After, you fully expect me to sulk, to make demands for food and drink. But I betray you by promptly falling into a deep and tranquil sleep and snoring like a drunken sailor.
If they are coming on to me, I'm sure I haven't noticed. Why do you ask me this? And I don't understand— if you trust me, as you say, what does it matter what they do? And don't say, "I know how men think," like that explains it.
You are feeling possessive. You take me by my arms and ask me again: "Are they trying to get you into bed?" I say, "I'm sure I haven't noticed." You do not find this to be a satisfactory answer. You remove my blouse and my skirt, proprietarily somehow, like this body belongs to you and these clothes have no business here. You slide the straps of my bra down, slide my panties down mid-thigh, restricting my movement by tangling me up in my own lingerie, and I realize you ask me about other men in order to make your feelings on the subject known to me. You tell me you want to watch me undo your pants, which I am happy to do. You tell me you want to watch me use my mouth, which I am happy to do. "Wait," you say, and you spin me around, one arm beneath my breasts, your other hand sliding down over my hip, up the back of my thighs now, until your fingers are inside me. You turn me back so that I can see you rub your fingers, wet with me, on yourself and you lean your head down to my ear and say, "Now use your mouth."
I spent most of Saturday trying to find window boxes. I finally found some that I loved and put them up— crookedly. They look fantastic. I love my bouquets of cut flowers, but I want so much to grow some, to feel the soil with my own hands. And a few small modifications were quite enough for one day. I ate a chicken with my hands and fell asleep. When I woke up at midnight I discovered there were flecks of poultry in my hair and a stray cat had gotten in the house. I fell back to sleep imagining you here.
You knock on my door. I answer, having prepared for this by putting on the sheer cotton robe you gave me. You untie it, push me onto the stairs and are inside me before I can say hello, like I care about saying hello.
For the record, I have no problem with you thinking about me all the time. You speak female better than most women. You are feeling dangerous to me, it's as if I am hypnotized, not in control of myself. It's awful except for how much I like it. Yes, I miss and want you ferociously, which is terrifying.
I am at the head of the bed, my knees drawn up close to my body. You can see plainly that I am alarmed; I can see plainly that you don't care. You are not interested in helping me enjoy sex with you less or helping me feel more in control of myself. You move up the bed until you are in front of me. You take my knees and part them, staring frankly. Watching you stare at me makes my breathing change. I can't help touching myself. You put your hands beneath me and slide me down. I maneuver toward you by degrees. I want so much to feel your hips, your waist, your torso against my inner thighs. By the time you put your mouth on me, I am lost.
Only a week since you've been gone now. I'm finding it impossible to concentrate, so in that way at least, you may as well still be here.
When you put me on the stool, we're both naked, facing each other this time. You put your hands on my thighs and push them as far apart as they'll go, looking in my eyes, almost as if you're making a point. You lean your head down and put your mouth on each of my breasts, in turn, then at the curves where my shoulders meet my neck. And then I think you're finally going to kiss me, but instead, you slide a hand into my hair and gently pull my head back and you kiss my throat, and I see that every part of me is completely vulnerable to you, that I am exposed, at your mercy, really, and this should be terrifying, but it's not because I know you're not going to hurt me, and instead of being scared, I feel tended and incredibly. . .feminine, and I want you so badly that I feel almost near tears, and finally, with your hands back on my thighs, you enter me, and I think it's going to be okay now, that I'll be released, but then you start making love to me with this terrible slowness. And you continue this maddening, glacial pace until I think I'm going to go crazy, it's exquisite, excruciating, I want to cry or scream, and all my senses are completely overwhelmed, too full for what feels like too long— the way your skin feels, everything I'm seeing, the smell of sex all over us, and finally you kiss me, and thinking about you having this incredible feeling inside me, just the thought of it, drives me over the edge. But it's terrible somehow, because I'm undone. It feels like being devastated by something beautiful. It feels like heartbreak. The first time you kissed me, you asked what I meant when I said I like it too much ("I don't speak female," were your words). That's what I mean. Men don't worry about liking it too much because they don't realize they're undone until it's too late. Women realize it, but do what they always do and mistake it for connection.
They have hired some new people in my department, which should lessen both my workload and my isolation. I bought dark velvet drapes to hang around the bed posts to deal with that one window where the morning sun comes in like a supernova. Everything is the color of chocolate, wine, and blood, and I am shamelessly indulged and encased in velvet. It feels like being held by you.
Mary Kelly has published short fiction in Linnaean Street, Literary Potpourri, Pidjin, The God Particle, Blue Moon Review, and The Story Garden, and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She resides in New England.