We fall onto the unmade bed, hands clutching and mouths exploring. Our skin is burnished by the light of a bare red bulb screwed into the overhead fixture. We don’t talk. We couldn’t talk even if we wanted to, because music blasts forth from somewhere in the Stygian depths of the room. It’s AC/DC. I listen to the fierce beats and shattering chords, trying to decipher its meaning. Somewhere within it has to be the declaration I long for. She was the best damn woman I had ever seen. Could that be it? Or, maybe, She was one of a kind, she’s just mine all mine ?
As his tongue traces the length of my neck, I study the dim posters on the wall, a host of centerfolds. There’s a blond stepping out of a shower, her voluminous hair somehow dry, while her white negligee is sodden and transparent. There’s a brunette straddling a bar stool, her buttocks gleaming and her lips pouting. A redhead lounges on a leather couch, tugging at her panties, revealing that upstairs and downstairs do indeed match. He notices my distraction. “You could be that hot too, if you exercised more.” He thinks he’s complimenting me. But, I wonder, am I just a sorry substitute until one of those women on his walls, a “fast machine,”comes along to “shake him all night long?”
After the kids have been fed and the dishes cleaned up, I retreat to the couch with my laptop. There’s work to do and bills to pay, but Facebook lures me into its depths. Serena has recorded a video of her baby eating her first bites of mashed peas. Jennifer craves donuts but is supposed to be on a diet. Lydia shows how she applies winged eyeliner, a skill I know I’ll never master.
And then, my attention is caught by a video of a presidential candidate in a bus. I push play. All at once, someone flushes a toilet, the heater wheezes, and Fatty, my attention-deprived cat, leaps into my lap. The beginning is lost to me, but I tune in when the candidate says, “I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.’” I wrinkle my brow. This is news?
On President’s Day, I visit my garden. I look at the rectangular bed and remember it last fall when the tomatoes were plump on the vine, the abundant zucchini crowded out the moth-eaten broccoli and frilly greens suggested where sweet carrots might be hidden beneath the soil. Now the plot is covered in mulch, a thick layer of leaves from my oak tree and a few burlap bags. The plantings must be rotated this year, to keep my garden healthy and fruitful, but it’s hard to imagine how it could be better than it was. Deciding to plant snap peas on the northern end, I kneel down, close to the cement rubble border, and begin pushing away the leaves with my gloved hands. The denuded soil is damp and black. I pick up a handful and squeeze. When I open my fingers, the clod crumbles. Not too wet then. It’s ready for tilling.
My bra is unfastened and his saliva coats my areolae. His hands sweep down my torso and land on the fly of my jeans. Alarmed, excited, I realize his intent. What should I do? We’ve kissed. He’s touched me in intimate places. He’s seen my bare breasts. Is it too late? My throat is clogged with words and my hands go limp. He says, “I need you now,” and tugs off my pants. His knee parts my legs. And then those words of mine are useless. Pain flares through my core and I squeeze my eyes shut, tears leaking through the creases. He collapses with a groan. It’s over for him, but it’s the beginning for me.
The candidate goes on, “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” I’m so entranced by the flickering images and grotesque sound bites streaming from my laptop that I don’t notice the subtle change in the air and dimming of the light behind me. The candidate says, “Grab ’em by the pussy.” My twelve-year-old daughter, with blushing cheeks and budding breasts, asks, “What’s he talking about?” I slam the laptop shut, but it’s too late.
As I till the soil, loosening clumps and removing hairy root systems, I think about the old saying that women start gardening when they give up on sex. It makes sense. Gardening is a sensual activity. In this moment, I smell a hint of manure, feel the chill of the soil, hear bird song and taste the imminent rain. The physicality of this work makes it seem more intimate than the mental work of balancing ledgers and composing emails. If it were a substitute for sex, it wouldn’t be a bad one. But that’s as much as I’ll concede. I haven’t given up on sex, have I? What about romance? In four to six weeks, these snap peas will mature. They will be crisp and sweet. Too good not to share.