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“I’ve asked you here tonight to tell you I’ve told my wife everything. She’s fine with it, she really is, and I want to really emphasize that. She only asks that we’re not intimate in our bed. Hers and mine, that is.”

The sun ran cold and purple through the brown-chipped white wood blinds behind him, low enough to shade his eyes. Intimate.

“So we’re not going to dinner.”

“In a minute. I just want to affirm that you did nothing wrong—”

Somehow this felt quietly offensive.

“—and I can promise you this. I will always, always be completely honest with both of you. You and my wife.”

I wish you wouldn’t, she thought.

“Now, she’ll be back from the Proust conference soon—”

Her right eye flinched.

“—so our relationship will be a little different. Yours and mine, that is. But I’m sure, I hope, that we can work together to figure out an arrangement. Honesty is key.”

His face dim shadow. She looked at the part where she assumed his eyes were. She was glad she couldn’t see his eyes.

“Do you have any questions?”

Can we have an affair without having an HR meeting about it?

“What time were the reservations?”



They went to dinner.

It was a stilted but blithe 20-minute drive across town, really 15 because it was only Tuesday, and after they ordered the Chianti things were less stilted and more blithe even though it went down like red ink, and they made airy (if forced) conversation about how his semester was going, and student poems, sheaves of student poems about small clear things like second girlfriends ending things and uncles dying of cardiac arrest, and big blank nouns like love and grief.

In a mild resentful flash she went to the bathroom when the check arrived, though he would have paid anyway. She avoided herself in the mirror, did whatever possible in the space of a minute to make herself as attractive to him as possible in (she hoped) an understated way, avoided herself in the mirror again, and met him outside grinning.

It was a considerably friendlier drive back to his apartment, where they then had not bad sex in the living room on a narrow shallow futon, angled (the sex, that is) just so, she noticed, so as not to add to the small faint white gray stains of likely alcoholic cause spangling the black cotton (she guessed, or maybe it was a microfiber blend) where, nine hours later, the sun ran pale warm blue as they were stirring.

He left her to make coffee-making noises and the room smelled of thick sweet coffee.

She half-heartedly considered her preferred method of suicide in the event that her hypothetical husband request that she sully their sacred vows in a wine-addled two-week carnal marathon of toe-curling hanky-panky somewhere elsewhere than their bed. Reverse cowgirl would probably warrant hara-kiri.

He entered with two white hot mugs of coffee and they drank it on the couch naked upright and smiling and rubbed each other soft and slow and nothing was strange.

When done and clothed he followed her to the door and they made plans to meet at six for the reading.

“That’s what it’s really all about,” he said. “It’s your writing that really turns me on, and I think I can really help you. That story of yours about the, oh, the woman who’s a writer and the man who’s also a writer, oh they’ll love it. I think it would be really good for you, too, to make good connections. References. If you’re still serious about an MFA, that is. In a year or two, of course. When you’re fresh out of undergrad you’re so.”

He paused. Leaned against the threshold.

“Academic. You can’t be really good at this stuff without.”

He paused again.

“Life experience.”

She wondered if a younger man, neurotic enough to avoid a phrase like “It’s your writing that really turns me on,” would be too self-involved to pay spontaneous and prolonged attention to her. She decided yes, and beamed sincerely at his words.

“Connections,” she said.




She came twenty minutes early. The address he gave was a cafe. Unlit. Door locked. She walked up and down the block behind it four times and walked in ten minutes late.

In the room sat (she guessed) thirty understated professorial types, mid-thirties to late forties, with the women more and slightly older, either in long skirts or somehow clashing shades of black, with the men all in ill-fitting blazers and loose jeans, in iron chairs around small vaguely Moorish tables, oversaturated curlicues lacquered under precariously bunched paper cups of clear red wine and black espresso. Their backs all to her.

“—and next we have a poet—”

His voice. There in front. Waving. Wave back and smile. Her there my God he didn't say. Why would he. Her eyes. Unsmiling. Not unfriendly.

She'd already released the door behind her. The door behind her shut loud and dull. A woman was reading a poem about how she liked it better teaching ecopoetics in Yemen because the English department at Hadhramout University never had a line to the women’s bathroom.

Inch along the wall, walk by, walk by quick, and now to the counter. Wine.

“We have Pinotage—”

“Do you have Pinot.”

“—good Franschhoek, a table Mulderbosch. All South African. My wife's South African.”

She could not think of an encouraging or appropriate reply to this.


He poured it in a plastic cup. Shallow pour. She took it and gave him ten dollars and inched back along the wall, walked by quick, quick and then inched back to the door and stopped and stood and smiled at the end of a poem about the complexities of childbirth in the context of our geopolitical situation with Russia. Everyone snapped vigorously. She was clapping. He stood. Don’t look.

“Two weeks. 14 days. 336 hours. 1,209,600 seconds—”

Oh God, she thought.

“—of grand and happy bliss, languorously writhing in her arms—”

Oh God, she thought.

“—her young smooth arms—”

She studied her arms instinctively. Shave soon.

“While my woman is away. Light of my life gone AWOL. Fire of my loins in absentia.”

But this is too much, she thought.

“Again, and again and then again—”

She recalled he’d only really lasted, on average, maybe one and a half times, but overlooked the self-aggrandization. Considering.

“—until, in this panting, hot and puddled mass of flesh, I don’t know where she—my lover, that is—ends and I begin.”

But this is just too much.

“Two weeks. 14 days. 336 hours. 1,209,600 seconds and it was over. A painful clean break.”


“And in that pain I felt the pain of all women, the pain of patriarchy, self-policing, of being incessantly, endlessly preyed upon and watched.”

Three men mmed in encouragement and she felt bad for feeling a slight twinge of disgust. Honesty is key.

The door behind her. Four feet. Two steps. Featherfooted. The wood floor creaked twice. She smiled and did not look around her. He sat and the fire of his loins in absentia stood and read something in that italicized slam poet’s diction about turning 45 on the eve of the 45th presidency.

“The contradictions inside of me—”

Creak the wood door gingerly.

“—impossible to describe—”


“—love is fruit plucked from the field of me—”

The hinges squeal dry. Walk out through cold night air.

Now that’s over. What can you do, she was already thinking. To be young is to sometimes make mistakes. But God. Oh God. What will they talk about when I’m gone. Do they.

“How do you feel?”

A man in a worn tweed blazer. It hung too long but suited him. Full brown hair. Stubbing a cigarette underheel. An unwrinkled 40. Dark eyes swimming amber in a beam of lamplight from the door.

“Embarrassed. I was supposed to read.”

“It wears off. The first few readings I was supposed to do back east, God you’d hate it back east…”

She marveled that this didn’t annoy her.  Quick thin snaps and scattered clapping from inside.

“Don’t feel guilty.”

“I didn’t say I felt guilty. Just embarrassed.”

“Maybe I could help you.”

Dark light eyes. Honest grey. They held. A good twinge. The wine. Thin and sour and gamy. Rotten the whole thing. Almost gone. She wanted another. She downed it and touched his elbow.

Did she want to talk more about writing. His place, as he had it to himself for the night. Yes. You lose either way with people.