Bob Dylan was playing on the stereo when I came to. I wasn’t quite sure how long I’d been out for, but my coat was still on and radiated a vague chill, so we had most probably just arrived. As I struggled to establish a timeline of events in my mind, I could hear her in the kitchen rummaging around in the refrigerator like a clumsy raccoon. I leaned forward, feeling altogether unwell, my old chair, creaking and straining under my weight.
“You had a bottle of rum in there, do you mind if I open it?” she asked, as she entered the room.
“Go right ahead.” I blinked a few times, trying to get my eyes to focus. “I hate rum. I got it last year as a Christmas gift.”
“Well, I’m no big fan either, but I couldn’t find anything else.”
We’d gotten on the train, that much I knew, the rest was a mishmash of underexposed snapshots.
“How you doing over there?” she inquired with some concern. “You were rather touch and go there for a while.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t remember! That’s no bueno, you know they say that black-outs are the first sign of alcoholism.” Pouring herself a large glass of rum, she took a seat on the bed. “You’re not an alcoholic, are you?”
“Not so you’d notice. How did we get here?”
“We walked, love, or rather I walked – you stumbled.” She laughed. “I suppose you’re going to say you don’t recall getting all frisky on the train.”
With some effort, I got up and moved towards her on unsteady legs.
“It’s all so fuzzy…but maybe you can help jog my memory,” I said, pulling her up into my arms.
The floor wobbled beneath my feet, but I still managed to kiss her with adequate finesse, minding my saliva to tongue ratio. I didn’t want her to think I was an inconsiderate buffoon, after all. She was wearing a tartan skirt of medium-length, which felt scratchy to the touch, so I lifted it up in the back and slid my hands underneath her leggings – she was sans panties. As I massaged the warm, peachy flesh of her hips and ass, my Johnson rose to attention quicker than a buck private receiving a surprise visit from a four-star general. Somewhat unartfully, I jammed a leg between hers and rubbed myself against her thigh, encouraging her to address Private Johnson’s salute; she moaned in acknowledgment. Grabbing the back of her neck, we snogged and wrestled around the room with such athletic vigor that by the time we broke away for an intermission, about half her drink wound up splashed on the floor.
“You really are a spitfire, aren’t you?”
“I have my moments,” I replied, adjusting myself to the right.
She refilled her glass, then hitched down and smoothed the creases from her skirt.
“I don’t know how you can drink that stuff,” I said.
Taking a sizable gulp, she shuddered. “It’s not too bad…maybe a little sweet.”
I was starting to get my bearings back, but it felt odd to be receiving a stranger in my apartment; I hadn’t had any company over in a long stretch – let alone some 23 year old coquette – and my nerves were starting to get the better of me.
“You like Dylan?” I asked.
“Not so much. It was already on the turntable, I just switched it on.”
I went over to the stereo and flipped the record, cueing it up to “I Threw It All Away.”
“I’ll bet you’ll enjoy this one, it’s one of my favorites of his.”
I guided her back to the mattress, where we both sat listening to the track in silence as I slid my hand over her right knee in a languorous caress. When the last chord of the song had faded, she took my hand and brought it to her cheek.
“That was quite something, I can see why you like it. Is that how you feel?”
“How do you mean?”
“That you threw it all away.”
I don’t know if it was fatigue, the alcohol or the sound of her voice, but the question caught me off guard and for a terrifying second I thought I might explode into tears.
“Yes,” I replied, taking a short breath.
Planting a gossamer kiss underneath my left ear, her body leaned into mine. Laying her down on the bed, I started kissing her everywhere but her mouth: forehead, eyelids, earlobes, temples, neck, and chin. She unbuckled my belt and before I knew it, my pants were down.
“It’s been awhile.”
“It’s just like riding a bicycle, isn’t that what they say?”
“Hold on,” I said. “Don’t move a muscle.”
Trying my best not to appear too obvious, I stole out of bed to get a condom out of my dresser. A few seconds later, I was back on top of her, lifting her sweater up over her head, then unclasping her bra in a single deft maneuver. Her breasts were larger than I’d expected, and as I held them in my hands, I noticed they were slightly uneven. It was a welcome discovery – she wasn’t quite so perfect after all. As I continued to explore her body, my heart pounded so fast its beats became indistinct, merging into an anxious, constricted flat-line that welled heavy in my chest. I scanned her face for any hint of apprehension – there was none. Her dark eyes glittered like black diamonds as they took in my every motion. I slipped on the condom and then at once I was inside her. As she bucked beneath me, it was less like riding a bicycle than surfing a wave; buffeted by the rolling breakers, I grabbed on to her supple flesh until my knuckles whitened. The air was thick and redolent with the unmistakable pungency of sex mixed with boozy sweat, decrepitude, blooming promise, cigarette smoke, spilled rum, abject defeat, naïve hope, muted drive, and resounding ambivalence. She really appeared to be enjoying it though, vocalizing her pleasure with a steady stream of passionate grunts and sighs. I’d had some trouble maintaining in recent years, and the fear that I’d lose it was not far from my mind. Still, I kept thrusting as hard as I could, pounding her into the mattress, determined to make a good showing for myself.
“I’m done, you can finish,” she whispered about 20 minutes in.
I pressed on, trying to keep my head in the game. As the seconds ticked away, my right hamstring began to stiffen up. I did my best to ignore the pain but it was hopeless, and soon my worst fear was realized – I was getting soft. In mad desperation, I ran through the rolodex of old porn stars in my brain, all in various states of in flagrante delicto but they failed me one and all. The irony that I was resorting to such a motley assemblage of bygone skanks for inspiration, while I held in my arms this ultimate example of the feminine ideal, was not lost on me. Still, I just knew it wasn’t going to happen; I had to withdraw and try to regroup.
“Is everything okay?” she asked with patient eyes.
“Yes, everything’s amazing. I guess I’m a little bit overexcited.”
Removing the condom with a wet snap, I shifted off the mattress and padded across the room to sneak a cigarette out of the pack I’d left on the speaker.
“I’ll be fine, don’t worry. Just taking a quick breather.”
“You know we don’t have to continue if you’re not up for it.”
Stamping my cigarette out in a nearby ashtray, I walked over to her and brushed the hair from her face. “I want to go on.”
“Well, can I do anything to help?” she asked, her hand gliding up between my legs.
“Keep doing what you’re doing.”
She stroked with calm persistence as I struggled to get there, and then, a distant memory began to emerge from the shadows. My parent’s house…laundry room…a sweltering August afternoon…my old girlfriend Jacqueline with the hairy armpits and enormous can. We were doing it doggy-style up against the washing machine. Thump…bump…thump…bump. We’d only been dating for a couple of months, and were still in that frenzied stage of romance when fucking reigns supreme. As her grip tightened, I began to get hard. Sharpening my focus, I remembered the tight yellow shorts Jacqueline had been wearing, and how I’d snatched them down with a ravenous, unquenchable hunger. That did it; tearing open another condom, I wasted a few precious seconds fitting it over my tenuous erection. At that point I wasn’t remotely concerned with my own pleasure, I just needed to get to the finish line.
“Yes, darling, come on…come on,” she urged. “You can do it!”
I pumped away like a rusty piston, clinging to that image of Jacqueline in my head. Battling the ache in my leg the whole way, I somehow willed myself to orgasm, regaling in that old familiar sensation of rush and release. Fighting for just one solid breath, I lay on top of her for several minutes; it wasn’t my best performance, but at least it was in the books.
“How you feeling?” she cooed.
When we came apart, my contentment quickly turned to horror when I looked down to discover that the rubber had fallen off. My mind raced. Had I been inside her without it? If so, how long? Instant thoughts of pregnancy and disease bounced around my cranium as I scoured the sheets and blanket. It was nowhere to be found. Right before I’d gone into a full blown panic, a sliver of moonlight spilled through the window, revealing my quarry. There it was, dangling out of her, innocuous, almost comical, like something a snake had left behind in its nest before slithering away to face the dawning of a new day.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, noticing my concern.
“Nothing, it’s all under control,” I said, giving it a gentle tug.
“Oh no!” She let out an embarrassed laugh.
“It’s fine, see? It’s all contained.”
“Don’t worry, I’m on the pill.”
“I’m not worried. Everything’s under control.”
“That was lovely. Just lovely.”
“I thought so too…Jesus, you’re so fucking beautiful it hurts just to look at you.”
I got up and headed to the bathroom, I was dizzy and out of sorts.
“I’ll be right back,” I called to her. There was no response.
Closing the door behind me with a delicate click, I scrubbed my penis and balls in the sink with hot water and soap, making sure to work up a good lather. After I rinsed off, I just stood there…swaying for a woozy moment as the heavy droplets splattered onto the cold tile in a syncopated paradiddle.
When I returned, I was relieved to find her sprawled out on the bed, unconscious. I sat down at her feet taking great pains not to disturb her slumber, watching the lids of her eyes flutter with dreams. Outside, I could hear the cold siren of an ambulance wailing off in the distance – someone’s night had not gone according to plan. Perhaps earlier in the evening they’d been to a movie with a friend or lover, something they’d both been looking forward to seeing for weeks; maybe they’d left the theater disappointed. I hoped to hell that wasn’t the case. Now, they were taking a lonely ride, accompanied by total strangers in uniforms, not quite sure what the next moment might bring. I laid a hand on her hip, stirring her from sleep.
“It’s way past late,” she mumbled.
She was right, it was 4:06am according to the clock on the bedside table. The sun would be up soon to burn away all the soft edges, leaving only the truth in its wake. The lines in my face, the grey in my hair, the stoop in my step…the impossibility of our union – it would all be revealed.