by Riccardo Berra 2010 (c) all rights reserved
We live in such instructive times. There are manuals and guides for everything. For your first period—"The Period Book: Everything You Don't Want to Ask (But Need to Know)." For your first sexual experience—the books of Suzi Landolphi. For more advancing sexuality—"Our Bodies, Ourselves" and any issue of Cosmo. An expectant mother reads "What to Expect While You're Expecting," then the endless tomes on parenting in all its interminable stages, but what, pray tell, gives comfort to the 50-something gal who is vanishing?
Perhaps I already have. Invisibility doesn't happen all at once. It's more of a slow motion tumble down a cliff.
My darling Missy. It breaks Mommy's heart, tween Missy staring so deep and sincere in my eye, promising, cross her precious little heart, that she'd always share her most intimate secrets with me. Teen Missy won't even make eye contact and divulges nothing. When I enter the room or catch her eye in the hallway at school, her nose crinkles as if I'm a passing bad odor. Do I smell bad?
My darling Curt. Never, I've concluded after 17 years of marriage, was a man more aptly named, for he passes by and through me like air. Before Missy was born, he was a sex fiend. We both were, God, so shamelessly young and hot for each other, hands grasping crotches, tunneling under skirts and through panties, fingers pinching nipples, tongues in throats. Everything everywhere. Parked cars, hiking paths, broom closets, kitchen tables, once in a museum bathroom, in other people's bedrooms, our own occasionally, leaving love's evidence trails on Mother's Persian and best chaise longue, me bent over, rump up, screaming as he pounded into me—whenever, wherever we felt like it. We weren't exhibitionists—at least blatant ones. We were just uninhibited, in love and saw only each other. Nobody else mattered. But life has gotten its revenge and now it's me that doesn't matter.
For about five more years after Missy was born, we were intimate, but it was never again anything, anywhere near what we had. One of us would lie in bed, pretending to be absorbed in grading papers or watching the Tonight Show while the other would make "overtures" which were increasingly declined. Eventually there were no more overtures. I'm not sure which of us is more to blame for the sex which became like a body function or a household chore one endures out of obligation more than anything else.
Curt has Saturday golf dates and after-hours Executive Magnet Committee meetings. Missy has cheerleading, guitar and soccer and I'm so busy with schoolwork that I sometimes need to look twice in the mirror to hold my own reflection.
I fix my attention on the center cleft in my lower lip that Curt once called my pouty lip. He'd graze it with his index finger right before kissing me. It has a couple-three tiny crinkles neither fingers and lips have touched since the turn of the century. My complexion, always so unblemished, milkglass creamy, is now speckled like mushrooms after a summer rain. The pale, untroubled porcelain of girlhood has long since become the freckled tissue of middle age. The package torn open, the gift pulled from its box, loved briefly, then tossed aside. Smooth and smooth, exfoliate, cream, bleach, hydrate, rinse, repeat. A gal may scrub from now till doomsday, but there's no erasing what the years have added or replacing what they've taken away.
My breasts were my glory at eighteen. I got a lot of attention from boys and envy from girls. Today's young women get surgery for the raspberry-topped creampuff mounds God gave me, all-natural, tipped skyward, proud and eager to greet the dawn of each new day.
Even if I pull my shoulders back so far it hurts, I'm lucky if the berries meet the horizon. Adding insult to injury, they turned brown with my pregnancy—café au lait, like some over-baked tart. Last month, an article in "Cosmo" said that the best-selling cosmetic in Japan is a nipple bleaching cream called "Virgin Pink." Its popularity is due to Japanese men's belief that pink is more pure and virginal than brown. The only pure thing about that is the precious Darwinism of Japanese men. Who am I kidding? They're all the same.
So if I'm no longer a girlish beauty—more what writers of a certain era called "handsome"—I'm still not the self-pitying sort. Nobody should ever get that impression. I despise women who only measure themselves by their looks. I've earned what few and I do emphasize few sags, wrinkles and spots I've acquired.
In some ways I look and feel far better than I'd expected to. After Luz Ramirez shared a "Woman's Day" article in the faculty lunchroom about post-menopausal osteoporosis, I started lifting weights. I eat moderately, walk for exercise, juggle a home and a career and regularly enough, I get the "distant once-over" from men—some young enough to have come from the place they want to get into. You can spot "the look" from 50 paces. You see it in the way they pick up their pace and square their shoulders, the way their eyes rake you up and down. Then when they're close enough to read your true age, their eyes glaze in embarrassment and flustered recalculation as they quickly retreat from you.
Under, over, under, over, loop, loop, knot, cross.
Knitting saves me. Knitting is discipline. Knitting is its own justification. When I find birth control pills, a strip of dayglow cherry-berry condoms and a dime bag of pot in Missy's undie draw, I do not freak. I scoop the contents of the bag into an available pill bottle and tuck the empty baggie beside the rubbers and the pill clamshell. I do not confront her. She is upstairs now, swearing and slamming things. Her music is cranked to an earsplitting level. I put my earbuds in and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's Carmen is a suitable replacement for upstairs' unladylike drama. Missy is not a happy camper.
Under, over, under, over, loop, loop, knot, cross.
Under, over, under, over, loop, loop, knot, cross.
Knitting is order—something that holds loose threads together when the rest of the world flies apart. When I find receipts in Curt's pants for restaurants I don't recognize, when I go online and see a string of motel charges on the Visa account, I do not freak. I do not wave the slips under his needle nose with shrill accusations about fucking bimbos on our joint credit account. For a few days it is terribly hard to restrain myself, but I'm so glad I did. Anger fades with the delicious realization that I am now "the one in the know" and he is the clueless one. We are both happy campers.
Curt, my darling, we share intimacies and secrets again. Just not with each other. Mine is the newest addition to the social studies department, a cherub-cheeked 27 year old who stares boldly and doesn't look away when we pass each other. I'm the flustered one. But I am also patient. I bide my time. I learn his schedule and when he takes his lunch. Weeks go by before we're alone long enough in the staff lounge for me to signal my receptivity. The look in his eye, the urgency in his voice asking me to coffee after school, says all he needs to. The way my hand lingers when we inadvertently touch in parting, the way I sway into him, says all I need to.
There is a brief, dangerous exchange in the parking lot. I, at my car, fumbling for keys, all senses preternaturally heightened, feel him bearing down on me. I don't look up. I will not meet his eye though his urgency presses all around me. We could easily be spied from an office window or a passing car. I hiss at him to go to his car and say I'll follow. He protests, worrying, I suppose, that his little fantasy fuck will turn tail and run like the buttoned-up suburban rabbit he suspects me to be.
I don't turn tail. I ride his bumper to the expressway; as he takes the hairpin exit too fast, even as he runs a yellow light and I almost rear-end him when he brakes and points frantically at an open parking spot. As soon as he sees me parking, he burns rubber up a half-block to the next available space. Incredibly pleased with himself, he saunters back and takes my arm as I exit my car. I'm his quarry, lured into his territory—and he's not letting me escape.
His house is at the end of a quiet block in a gentrifying part of town. I like coming into the city. I always have. I like the charming 19th Century bricks and brownstones in this neighborhood. I like his little trinity with its wrought iron stairs winding up to the small but serviceable bathroom where a capacious, adorable clawfoot bathtub dominates the room.
He chatters out a nervous tour like a realtor desperate to close a sale. Copper plumbing this and lead joints that and God knows what else until I shake the medicine vial of pot under his nose and ask if he knows what to do with it. This preempts the tour. His eyes register a mocking half-smile and he quickly produces a small stone pipe. He asks what I have in mind. What I truly have in mind is a soak in his big tub. He tries to kiss me but I back off. I say I'm shy and ask to use his bedroom to undress while he draws the bath.
It's a sparse, monastic affair at the back of the house. There's an unmade twin bed, a small chest, a reading lamp and a small desk for his laptop. There is no mirror, a tender mercy for which I'm immediately grateful. I remove my clothes and fold them neatly on the desk next to the laptop. It produces the only light in the room. Heart racing, I listen under cover of darkness to the sound of running water. I shiver, having never done this before. I have no idea if I ever will again.
When I hear the faucet turn off, I cover my nakedness with my arms and scamper past him to the inviting camouflage of the suds, their unbroken billowy foam atop at least 15 generous inches of steaming water. I'm skittish, but the hot suds melt me the instant I settle in. He acknowledges my long, low sigh of pleasure with his half-smile. Little smoke tendrils wreath his sweet, young face and lips as he asks if the lady desires her privacy.
I laugh too loudly for this bathroom; it's the last thing I desire. I tell him he can go and play with himself if he desires, or stays and help me with my bath. I puff casually at the pipe while he tears off his own clothes, flinging them helter-skelter into the hallway. Men, all so predictable in their bad habits.
He is either too scared or too much the gentleman to insinuate himself into the tub. It easily accommodates two adults and I'd have made room for him if he'd insisted. But my breasts are buoyant; they sway freely in the scented water as I stretch my legs. My pubic bush does a lazy sort of coral dance. I wonder if he sees it beneath the breaks in the foam. I am delighting in the capaciousness of this tub at this moment and I'm glad he respects that.
The pipe teeters precariously on the tub's curled ceramic lip. He takes another long draw on it and kneels on the floor. Loofa in one hand, a tube of expensive rosemary scented body wash in the other, he begins to wash me. He scrubs my back till my skin tingles with the friction of wet sponge and scented soap. A rich herbal sweetness lifts off my reddened skin and fills the small tiled space.
He's gentler in front, reverently lifting each heavy breast as he washes up and down my ribcage. His sponge hand pauses at my bellybutton and waits, in his eyes, a question, a cue, to stand, so he can continue to wash down there. He lingers at the hair-framed petals of my sex, very gently opening folds no man has parted in a decade, pressing round, teasing the other hole with one sly finger, the soap aroma, the delirious arousal, both his hands stirring everywhere, the prickle extending down the leg I lift, my dripping foot poised on the tub's lip, my orchid sex open at eye-level for his inspection. He acts as if he doesn't see it, instead focusing on the raised leg, meticulously ministering to each toe, rinsing and caressing my foot like a woman holds a prize shoe. I shiver so hard I almost lose my balance. I had no idea that toes could be so … I raise the other trembling leg. The process is repeated.
I can't help but notice his penis mashed against the cast iron base of the tub, poor, shuddering neglected thing. I lower myself, a slow, deliberate curtsy back into the water, allowing one wet, well-soaped hand to dangle and latch on to whatever my fingertips find. His quick gasps, musical in their surprise, the pulsing squirming thing between my clamped fingers, hot to the touch. His first kisses cover my neck where stray tendrils of hair curl damply at its base. He pays reverence to one, then the other oil-soaked breast, rolling its slippery rosemary scented nipple between his little fingers. My body quivers again and my soap-slicked fist accelerates to communicate my pleasure. Gasps deepen into moans.
Red-faced, red-eyed and panting, he rises and pulls me urgently from the tub. I grab the towel which he takes from me in the bedroom, enfolding my dripping skin. I am still wet as I sit shivering in the dark. Underneath me the sheets are becoming soaked, but I don't think it's entirely from bathwater. My legs, ashiver with goosebumps, spread open, hungry for what is to happen next. He kneels and hoists my ankles over his shoulders, tumbling me back on the unmade sheets with their cumin smell of man and I scramble up on my elbows eager to watch. Framed between the splay of my legs, his broad tongue, moon face and doe eyes, descend into the narrow valley no face (save the gynecologist's) has been in sixteen years.
Oh. My. God.
One of the few virtues of age, the sole one, really, is that you finally figure out how things fit together and how to get what you want. For about thirty seconds, the boy's efforts produce bliss only a Mozart aria can rival, but invariably, sadly, he can't sustain the note. Even Curt, when so inclined in the old days, thought all he needed to do was put tongue-A to lips-B and nature would somehow take its course. I pray for time to instruct this eager youngster how to better hold my interest. He seems teachable. I make note to check my files for a suitable instructive text.
He is slight for a man, with elfish limbs and delicate features. We are more than evenly matched in weight and height and I'm not a big woman. Perversely, I imagine him being teased as a child and it produces an unnatural itch in my loins. I pull him on top of me, then flip on top of him. Taking his penis in firm hand, I sit just so and lower myself with precision born of endless years of power walking, yoga and kagels, years well-spent after all, slowing down as I take him up, so deliciously slow, until, with two huge, dramatic gasps, I am finally and fully impaled. I move slightly. He moves slightly. I stop. He stops. Crotch to crotch, we grind out slow, mind-robbing rhythm until like a woman possessed by tremens, I cry sweet Jesus, clasp his baby boy bald head to my moist breasts I ride for dear life calling my baby, sweet boy, sweet boy, baby over and over until the last, most powerful spasm tears through us.
A decade's celibacy makes me a poor judge of lovemaking virtuosity. Still, I came and went and came again—this easily as good as the best of Curt. And what this one lacks in talent, technique or even anatomy, he promises to make up for in other ways. Wordless compliance to wordless instructions. Lingering devotion to all my parts. This in itself is so pleasing to a once vain woman—to feel that each of her parts is as desired as the whole.
Just like that, I am not just visible, pardon me, I am striking. I draw suspicious, accusing eyes from women around me who frame questions as statements such as 'you've lost weight' or 'you've colored your hair.' Just like that, the raw days of early spring relax and open their tight little buds to herald the approaching summer. Warmer days to come; sultry days for sultry deeds. I smile for no reason and hum snatches of pretty songs I hear on the radio; my perfectly charming singing voice, little heard, even by myself, for such a long time. Now with reason to sing, Mondays and Wednesdays, I walk around dripping with anticipation of Tuesdays and Thursdays. Weekends are still reserved for family, whether they appreciate it or not. It's Thursday and my afterschool appointment is already soaking, waiting for me in the tub. I'm soaking too.
His front door is unlocked. He calls me his laughing, gorgeous woman. Run on up here, my laughing gorgeous woman, he hollers down from the bathroom. He sounds stoned. I take the stairs two at a time. Where are you going? He giggles as I dart past.
Eyes red and heavy-lidded. He is stoned. I'm jealous.
I always undress in the bedroom, one of my few rules darling, I call over my shoulder. There is no air-conditioning. Outside hot and humid, inside, I truly can't endure clothes a moment longer. I peel away my sweat-soaked jeans and top, bra and panties—all dripping, ripe with overheated me. Scrambling to remove my half socks, hop, hopping on one foot, silly, unbalanced bunny, I jostle the computer. Its screen springs to life on an unsent email.
I do not make it my business to read other people's emails and I detest people who do. But we have been lovers for two whole months and every precious moment we share brings fewer and fewer secrets between us.
The "To line" reads email@example.com.
Forget spelling. The grammar alone is atrocious and unbecoming of an educator.
Baggers' Forum Submission
After School Special
By Red Rider
Once again, my fists air pumping with the bagger's victory chant. For many months wez entertained by Atlanta Ham and his soccer mom sandwich and by Wisconsin Farmer and his hunka hunka cheese woman and respect always to Milt the Manhattan Milfmaker. This month, Red Rider roars agin.
Every bagger worth his sack knows schools are the perfect stalking grounds. Nine out of ten classrooms, there sits a twat so dried up from years of ignoring men that you need a crowbar to pry it open. Walking shows which ones be begging for it. The way they act when they catch you staring. Then they look away, all embarrassed by the filthy thoughts they're thinking.
So one cat, this schoolmammy cunt never pays me no mind. Then one day she's all flashing looks. I thought she'd jump me right there in the faculty lounge, check it, yo. Oversexed she-cat even gave me a quick handjob, rubbing her juicy bubble butt up against me until I say whoa babe, let's tear to my lair. She practically cremes her panties at my command. I smell her for the she beast she is.
I say follow me bitch. She does. I pull her in my door, closing in, but she's suddenly acting she doesn't want it. But I tell her bitch, strip and when she does, some killer weed drops out of her pocket. Sly bitch. I take it from her and fire up. I ask where she got it and all scared like, she says her teenage daughter. I play cool. We smoke and mellow out and I whip up a bubble bath. I can't stand a smelly puss, who can. I lathered that shit good while she handjobs me.
Cock throbbing, I dragged her ass out of the tub into my bedroom and go right down on that withered puss. I need to delay my raging 10 inch tubular manhood from rocket spunking her face right then and there. The Red Rider always cums inside his coug. I flip her like an egg, over easy, and plow that shit to the hilt yo, forcing more meat and splooge into that old purse than she's ever seen.
Some of you prefer cougars exclusively, but let's face it; cougar sex is so great because they are so grate-ful. We all know that the more sexually demanding they get, the lower their standards fall.
Right before I kicked her to the curb, I said she could have it again, every Tuesday and Thursday. She left knowing that now, her only purpose in life is to be my biweekly cum sponge.
Brother Baggers, you gotta know I already got little Missy cougarette (the daughter) in my sights. That nasty kitten is slingin'. Sashaying all around school lil miss thang and when I bust her holding, I'm all on making a double-cat sandwich with Red Rider meat.
Can you say DOUBLEBAGGER!!!
Snag 'em and shag 'em. Feel me on this my bros? So wet, so wild, so what if you have to bag 'em before you shag 'em? This package ain't so hard on the eyes, it's just, what can I say? The wrapping's seen better days. Tonight a big surprise. I'll catch the old cat by its whiskers, tie her to the bedposts and get all Siegfried and Roy on her ass.
Camera loaded for cougar, yo.
Anyone wanna see pictures? Of course you do, you filthy fucks. Before this night is out you'll get some fresh pink trophies of my latest bag.
My lower lip quivers uncontrollably as the link I click takes me to sites where rough-looking tattooed men with horse cocks perform unspeakable acts in the stretched and degraded bottoms of naked women. The women, all middle-aged or older, have bags or sacks of some sort covering their heads. On the desk, a cheap digital camera sits atop a recycled grocery sack. I sweep them both to the floor as hot spikes pierce my heart and sickness pours into my stomach. I click over to the cougarbaggers.net story section and there are hundreds of them. I want to vomit or scream, but I do neither. With everything I have left in me, I step off the edge, naked and terrible, with the hot taste of blood in my mouth.
There's no forgetting his stupid shocked eyes as I connect my fist to his chin. He is rising from the tub and reaching when I strike, not so terribly hard I think, though this smirking moon face is clearly not used to being hit. Staggered, he loses footing on the oil-slicked bottom, accelerating backwards. I see this as clearly now as I did then, fist connecting, bearded chin twisting, feet failing, water flying, arms flailing, the crown of his head bouncing off the towel rack which I always thought was mounted in such an awkward place, the splash displacing more bathwater, his head ringing off the lip of the iron tub, the unmusical snapping sound, the surprise in his eyes fading to dullness as water rises above them as underneath a bright red rose brews like hibiscus tea.
When the last bubbles surface, I stand and leave.
What could I do?
I could have pulled him out and spread him on the water soaked floor and administered CPR, which I am certified to do, thanks to last month's district in-service. But what kind of life would that be anyway, sprawled unconscious, neck broken, perhaps pulmonary arrest from the spinal injury, my panicked 911 call, justifying being with a naked 27 year old coworker, the EMTs' smirks, the even more uncomfortable questions and trip to a police station in a rough section of town? Then the scandal at a school where I'd been teaching longer than he'd been alive. Honestly, there is little in the way of help I can offer or amends I care to make, for am I not the wronged party in all this?
And who is to say that the cause of death wasn't concussion, bad conscience, aneurysm, broken neck, blood loss, drowning or instantaneous karma. God surely knows not a single tap on the chin that even his scruffy, pathetic little beard will cover any sign of?
I force myself back to the bedroom to sit at the laptop. I delete the filthy email. On the website I thoroughly scour stories with titles like "Fucking Breasts!!!—All Natural or Enhanced," "Catching Granny in the Fanny," Lost in the Wrinkles of Time," "Double-bagger in a Hangar," "Lauderdale Freeway Threeway," "Las Vegas Turnovers," and Fisting Frieda." Though it's slow and horrid going, I press on, naïve never more to the depths of men's depravity. I only care about and look for "Red Rider" posts that implicate me. It takes time to assure myself that there are none, only oleaginous commentary on other scumbag authors' debased tales without ever offering his own. Even in his own pathetic loser universe, he was a runt.
Before I close his browser, I delete the bookmarks for www.cougarbaggers.net and all his porn sites. It's a small favor, not for him, but for anybody, a loving mother or concerned relative who might want to think the better of him. Though they are innocuous enough, I find and erase the other thing I'm looking for, the dozen or so terse, coded exchanges between our secret email aliases. I erase all cookies and history. I empty his recycle bin and briefly consider reformatting the entire hard drive, but stop myself in time. That would just arouse suspicion.
I dress and nursing my tender knuckles, I wait patiently at the livingroom window for nightfall. In what is easily a half hour, the sun goes low and I assure myself that there is no foot traffic outside. My tummy lurches as I enter the street, but I close the door behind me and step free of the house and with each step, I blend further into the empty street and I never, ever look back. My car waits beside a sycamore on a side street that opens on a square where anonymous people walk their anonymous dogs under the trees. By the time I start the engine, my nausea has faded entirely.
The expected announcement comes quietly, two days later. With two more weeks before school lets out, each day I steel myself, saying this will be the day, but when the PA crackles to life and inevitably summons, 'Mrs. Burke to the principal's office … Mrs. Burke to the principal's office,' I collapse into my terror, banging my knee forcefully under my desk as a hot spurt of urine soaks my panties. I flee to the bathroom, lock myself in the stall, sobbing. I tear off the ruined panties that have begun to dampen my skirt. They reek of concentrated fear. I compel myself to stop crying, to breathe deeply and allow my bladder to empty without straining.
The panties I toss deep into the trash. I have no a replacement for them. I splash a bit of water down there, spritz with cologne and dab myself roughly with a large wad of paper towels. I blot the dark skirt under which my wet, naked sex is barely concealed.
Upstairs in the office of Principal Jones, my worst fears are confirmed as she opens the door and behind her two seated men with bulldog features turn in unison to face me.
Damita Jones introduces them, her face trembling as she explains that these homicide detectives have horrible news that they need to discuss with me. The older of the two men rises and takes my hand, holding it with decorum, but much longer than necessary to merely make my acquaintance. His are the gloomiest, deepest-set, basset hound eyes I've ever seen. Looking at you and through you from a sad place, far, far away.
I think briefly of my ruined panties in the bottom of the second-floor girls' lavatory trashcan. I think of my trembling sex, naked beneath my thin skirt. I wonder if he smells me from traces on my hand which he still claws in his overly familiar grip. Mrs. Burke, he repeats, there is some terrible news …
He drops this statement and seems to let dangle for my reaction. It's cruel and I instantly dislike him for it. I have no idea how to react or if my face betrays a reaction. He clears his throat loudly, and proceeds to ask if fourteen-year-old Neeshaan Martin from 125 Drury Lane is currently in my classroom. I don't understand what Neeshaan has to do with a dead social studies teacher and the detective's face offers no clue. After a point, all I can do is nod mutely.
Finally releasing my hand, Mrs. Burke, there's no way to make this easy, his eyes raking me up and down, he continues to take what I feel are undue liberties. Anwar and Shamiqua Martin, Neeshaan's parents, were gunned down in a drive-by shooting in town not two hours ago. There's strong evidence that it's drug related. The younger detective interjects that 125 Drury Lane was a sort of front house for the Martin's and that their primary residence was actually in town.
As the detective continues, I realize I'm here because the guidance counselor is absent today and Principal Jones expects me to calmly and quietly pack Neeshaan up for transport. I know the way her mind works. If the Martin's used their in-district domicile as a false address, then Neeshaan was ineligible to attend. Two to three times a year, the school district has to weed out residency violators and Principal Jones is cowardly calculating that this is the last time we'll have to see Neeshaan Martin, a child who will pass without further notice from our tidy, little suburban paradise.
Neeshaan is far and away, my best student. She hasn't gotten anything lower than a 95% all year. Unlike the rest of the smug, self-affected suburban monsters, she is hard-working and cheerful, an excellent writer with perfect diction and manners. Anwar and Shamiqua, who I first thought a little "hip-hop" for this conservative district, showed up at all parent partners conferences, asked intelligent questions and seemed genuinely concerned for their daughter's welfare. Things are seldom what they seem on the surface.
I mumble that I don't know what to say and of course I'll assist in any way I can. The younger of the two detectives thanks me and Damita Jones thanks me with no small relief in her eyes. She's in my debt and knows it.
The young detective is inappropriately flirty as he escorts me back to my class. He's handsome, but is developing the same canine set of face as his partner. I expect it's an occupational hazard. I tell him his partner has an unsettling way of talking and looking at people. I say if he stays on the job that he'll end up just like the older man. He hangs his still boyish head, says you're a funny one Ms. Burke, but that I, that we, are lucky 'out here,' as this sort of tragedy is all too commonplace in the city where he works. I say I imagine it must take a terrible toll. He asks, too casually, if I'm married. I show him the wedding ring I never took off. Then, I think he winked at me. The light outside my classroom flickers; the corridor is cast in shadows, so I can't be sure.
Poor Neeshaan, my little sweet pea, comes right out when I call her. I escort her to her locker, walk her downstairs and we hug goodbye in the front lobby. As the cruiser door closes on her, I hate myself for the relief I feel that it isn't me who will have to tell her she is now and evermore an orphan.
You might feel a little prick.
I smile foolishly at the DA hovering over me. She winks and smiles back as if we're sharing a joke, the same joke, which of course we are not. The doctor bends into my field of vision with the first needle which he jabs in relentlessly. I howl as he violates my inflamed gums. Tingling, numbing warmth spreads rapidly from the needle's epicenter. The second needle slides in, easy as sex. The dentist asks if my fingers tingle. They do not. I get a third needle. I pop in my earbuds as they strap on the gas, Joan Sutherland, "La Sonnambula," a private concert in my skull, the music all the brighter and punchier for the detachment provided by the nitrous.
I can't tolerate people putting things in my mouth. I barely manage a toothbrush. Nitrous takes the edge off my overactive gag reflex, but I swear they're being miserly with the gas. Maybe they even mix some sort of bitterant in it so you inhale less, but that won't deter me. My nostrils draw greedily past the cloying spearmint scented mask, sucking in the sting of the gas, losing myself in that anesthetic golden fog.
Above me is the music. Light, buoyant and serene. Below me, drilling and scraping, the muffled sounds and sensations of excavation; the subterranean whine of the drill, the insistent burr of my conscience. If this is the worst, I know I can take it. If this is the worst of it … Time passes gently now and when at last the assistant swings the light out of my eyes, I swallow a little cupric gulp of blood and spittle.
Rinse and spit the hygienist commands, handing me a tiny paper cup of diluted blue mouthwash.
That night, I wake up at 3:00 a.m. and can't get back to sleep. The next day is the service, his service, which I can't very well attend, for as far as anybody is concerned, I barely knew the man. I've always assumed I'd missed something; that any day those dog-eyed detectives would return to the school or turn up at my home for me. It was too much to expect, escaping the judgment of God, of the city, of this small community where my own family and everyone I know will finally and irrevocably see me illuminated by the horror of my crimes. None of which has occurred yet. Each new day incrementally decreases the likelihood that it will.
Could it be the distracted, anonymous world we live in or pure dumb luck that he and I stirred so few ripples beyond the odd Tuesdays and Thursdays we met for sex? And who knows, being denied the catharsis of public confession, the burden of secret guilt might consume me, until, like Raskolnikov, I go mad and am compelled to turn myself in.
Yet as days turn reliably into weeks and the academic year ends with nobody saying anything more than the typical exchange of sympathies between strangers for strangers, as the last day's dismissal bell clangs and teenagers pour out into the clear blue, it's almost as if he'd never existed. By midsummer, I see an ad for a trinity going for firesale prices on a charming little street downtown and with my generous divorce proceeds, I put in the winning bid.
For the first time since college, I am an independent urban woman and I like it. I park on the street and shop on the way home. I take long, unhurried soaks in that big clawfoot tub and sometimes I dress and go out into the night, to movies, chamber concerts and bars, just a face, a nobody, indistinguishable from all the other nobodies. Missy's court-ordered visits occur on the appointed dates, but otherwise I am alone. Sometimes I even meet somebody, like the young detective, and I bring him back, but mostly I am content to return to this quiet, tiny bedroom in the back of the house and work until sleep overtakes me, knowing full well the valuable lesson I've learned and that I should never have cause to complain again.
copyright © 2011, Riccardo Berra/Love on the Edge
Ricc Berra is a New York-based filmmaker and screenwriter who finds himself drawn mothlike to the erotic entanglements of complex and troubled relationships. He is most influenced by the writings of John Updike, Lorrie Moore and Milan Kundera, whose mastery of this subject he admires from afar. The title, Ligne Claire, is a reference to the "clear line" graphic novel drawing style pioneered by Georges Rémi, most beloved of our European friends as the creator of Tintin. The style has gone in and out of favor, resurrected more recently with ironic intent, as perhaps this title is. Read more stories from Ricc's anthology "Love on the Edge" and excerpts from his novel Apostrophe—Tales of Longing and Possession here on www.inside-apostrophe.blogspot.com