She set before me a glass of water and an apple, as though I was a little child. I was her lover, but she associated me in some ways with her teenage daughter. A younger woman might have acted in ways that were sensuous, but maternal became the default for an older one. Some men enjoy being mothered, but I was always too proud to cry out for a nursemaid.
I wasn't the first. One intrepid soul five or so years before me showed up at her front porch with a shotgun. Her long-suffering husband managed to talk his way out of getting a couple good blasts with buckshot. I liked to think of myself as somewhat classier, not behaving like a typical redneck in Clayton County. I had no intention of stealing her away or wrecking her home. Adultery was fun for its own sake. Far from remorseful or feelings of guilt, I enjoyed the secrecy and the sneaking around behind her husband’s back. But mostly I enjoyed the pursuit and the way that dares and impulsive behavior built steadily upon each other.
After the earlier incident, it had been a while since she’d sought a partner, especially one as young as me. Other women her age had found themselves unable to reconcile the years that separated our date of birth. Some had grown sons my age or a little younger, and that fact alone was enough to make them choose total abstinence. I severely doubt a man would draw the same sharp distinctions. Having daughters the same age wouldn't be a similar impediment.
I was raised by women, in a household without a father. The youngest of five, I learned how to behave and analyze the world around me from my mother and my four older sisters. Dad got a rare form of brain cancer shortly after I was born. It took him two and a half years to die, but when he finally passed I was sadly too young to remember him.
Often our present reflects our past. The husband of my latest girlfriend had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which was slowly robbing him of life. She had barely grieved. She didn’t hate him, but she held him responsible for keeping her hostage. She’d had to live for decades on end in an unfamiliar city, when she’d never wanted to leave her native New York City. In the process, she’d learned to have a healthy respect for Southern culture and Southerners, but knew she would forever be a Yankee.
Where the two had settled was his city, never hers. Mostly she’d resented him in a half-hearted, going-through-the-motions sort of way. Once, she had been very bitter, but time has a way of smoothing out rough edges even if they never go away. They’d stayed married for twenty-five years and over the years she'd devised a thousand rationalizations to justify staying with him. Beyond the one incident of which I was aware, I knew she’d taken other lovers besides me, but I never inquired in detail about them. Everyone finds a way to compensate for a difficult circumstance, some more successful than others.
To her husband and daughter I had materialized out of thin air. But then again, she’d always had her own secret, private life that she never shared with either of them. In reality, I’d been around for a while on the periphery, on the sly. We’d been sneaking around for months. Well before I arrived on the scene, she’d demanded her own space, even partitioning off the house to separate what was hers from what was his. By the time I arrived, he was too impaired to notice or to care. The plan she’d hatched was for me to move in with the family to assist with her husband’s care. Then, when he passed away, I would take his place, kind of like the changing of the guard.
It wasn’t a bad arrangement, all told. He was so ill that we could get away with being a little incautious every now and again. The diagnosis had been terminal from the beginning, so we waited patiently for him to expire. I helped with washing sheets, cleaning bathrooms, and keeping things neat and orderly. He never suspected a thing. He was a quiet sort by nature, like his daughter, and appeared to like me.
Once, I asked her if perhaps we should tell her husband what we were doing. He’d never believe me, she said. I accepted this as truth and assumed that ignorance was bliss. The euphoria of getting away with something was enough that I wanted to preserve the mystery.
She had only one rule. While he was still living, we could never use the bedroom she and her husband shared. Instead, she’d completely remodeled the upstairs attic, installing a reasonably comfortable bed in one corner. The only drawback is that it was unheated in winter and boiling hot in summer. The mattress was a little too small for me so my shins sometimes scraped against the rough, itchy pine boards.
When her husband left this life, I made my way at last into the inner sanctum, a place I’d never been allowed to enter until that very moment. Because of simple curiosity, I was very interested to know what it looked like. We returned from the funeral, energetically casting off our black mourning clothes, having played appropriately pious and grieving until that moment. The transfer was conducted like a coronation, with grave seriousness. She’d gone to the trouble to put clean, smooth sheets on the bed. Now I formally took my place next to her, seated on my throne.
Finally she was ready. The ceremony commenced. The only thing I didn’t like about our lovemaking is that she was a very poor kisser. She had thin, pursing lips, and mine were much more generous in size. Kissing her always felt a little like kissing a Muppet. I’ve always found the act of lip-locking very sensuous, and it disappointed me that we couldn’t seem to strike a balance. By now I knew my efforts in that department were mostly useless, so I decided to explore elsewhere.
I went straight to the source. The labia and all outwards parts of the vagina had completely lost all elasticity with time. They drooped downward so precipitously that it was difficult to know where the opening began. It was as though they had surrendered completely to gravity. Her breasts, lamentably, had taken the same path. They had no remaining definition and elasticity. They sagged. I’d been a touch rough on them the first time we’d had sex, and she quickly corrected me.
You’re going to have to be gentle. She smiled.
I was gentle from then on, but, honestly, she was not gentle with me. She told a story of a sadistic male gynecologist who’d taken pleasure in performing an unnecessary surgery. The procedure had greatly cut down on her sexual sensitivity. Because of this, and at her strict direction, I hunched and twisted my shoulders in a thousand different ways to produce her climax. It was uncomfortable, and her arms always wrapped tightly around my back, pushing hard from below me, side to side against both shoulder blades. It reminded me somewhat of cross-country skiing.
But when it was finished, the result was always the same. I accomplished my intended purpose once again. I was pleased for that. I stared down at her as her eyes rolled back in her head, letting out a heavy sigh. A few second later she regained full consciousness and her glassy eyes re-focused. It was as though she had slowly returned to earth from somewhere else, very far away.
Her paranoia and obsessive behavior knew no limits. I never understood what she was afraid of, really. I thought that if I was the most important person to her, then surely I would be entrusted with a few personal details here and there. But this was not to be. She adopted her moniker as a second skin, as though all vestiges and traces of her given name had been heretofore purged.
None of that mattered at first. For my part, I was strongly attracted to her and always had been. In the beginning, I could barely believe my good luck.
One day, as we were lying together once again, side by side, she spoke her mind. It was the first time she ever talked about us as a unit, as though we were something resembling a couple. She hoped I’d support her in her old age. I said nothing, but the idea did not sit well with me. I was living a fantasy on my own terms, and she had very practical dreams. When in middle age, I would still be reasonably young. She, however, would be a senior citizen. I’d just taken a lengthy part in a caretaker role, albeit not by myself. When it came her time, I might be able to count on her daughter for assistance, but most of the burden of care would fall upon me.
She’d made her sacrifices to keep us together and so had I. For the duration, I'd had to cut ties entirely with my family, who disapproved strongly of my living arrangements. They made their displeasure known loudly, enough that I might well be an orphan. Even with the pain of estrangement, I stayed with her for four long years, because at least there I had some degree of general stability and validation. I had a place to stay, food to eat, and a woman who I assumed loved me. Everything else I was sure I could handle given half a chance.
But after a while, I couldn’t handle the daily third degree when I received came home from work. Where were you? What did you do? Who did you see? She was secretive about every last one of her personal dealings, but mine had to be publicly aired. I couldn’t even pick up items in a grocery store for her. She had to do them herself. Routine errands were out of bounds for me if they involved her in some way. The pursuit and the fantasy were no more. After a year, the novelty was gone and I began to question whether this was really worth it.
All I felt now was hassle. She nixed many plan that I viewed as sensible. I could never learn her real name, real date of birth, and other information she considered private and sensitive. I simply couldn’t understand her fears and she rarely explained them to me in much detail. I chalked everything up to a kind of untreated neurosis and gritted my teeth. She called herself an odd duck, but I am sure I could understand an odd duck. She was something else, something I could never grasp.
After a while, I’d had enough. It wasn’t the looks I got from the faces of her friends and my friends. Those I had long since blocked out entirely. I hadn’t gotten bored with her. It was her daily scrutiny and the lack of transparency on her part that prevented us from having a functional relationship. I’d never gone into this expecting that we would marry, nor had she.
We were more friends with benefits than anything else. Neither of us wanted to be tied down. I’d thought I could handle it, but after a time it began to drive me crazy. She pleaded with me to stay, but I couldn’t do it any longer. I missed my family and I wanted my life back. Negating all her insecurities had worn me out.