User’s Manual

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User's Manual  
by Margot Berwin  

I told him I was a writer, he said he had always been attracted to writers, and that he thought I was beautiful, and smart too. From that sentence, I knew he was married. Only married men

speaking from their invulnerable position ever say what’s on their mind when they meet a woman. They always forget to tell you they are married, but they never forget to tell you that you are the most beautiful woman they have ever met. There are times when this feels like a fair trade.


Roland was glamorous. Not handsome, but definitely glamorous. He was tall and his silvery brown hair with its perfect wave came down to his shoulders. He looked like a record industry executive who needs to look as close as he can get to twenty without making a fool of himself. He took my hand and put a little bag of coke in it. Yes. This night would not be so bad after all. I went into the bathroom with the big hole kicked into the door and using the nail on my pinky did as much coke as I thought I could get away with without seeming greedy. I looked into the mirror and tried to see my face through the black-lettered graffiti.


“Fuck you,” it said.


“Fuck you too,” I said back.


I rubbed some coke on my gums, dipped my lipstick into the bag and rubbed some more on my lips.

“Would you like a job?” Roland asked, staring at my tits.


Between the coke and the job talk, I was really beginning to like this guy.


“What kind of job?”


“At my gallery. I need a writer to write brochures and invitations — things like that.”


“Sure,” I said. “I’d love the job.”


He never asked to see my work. I never volunteered it. He hired me anyway. For money. A lot of it. And for sex. Definitely for sex.


We had an affair. It went like this:


He pushed me against a doorway with two cupids cemented into its archway. He kissed me with the hole in his face and I felt nothing on my mouth or between my legs, although I did feel an unusual power in my mind.


After that attack disguised as a kiss his crush came full bore. He did all the things I’d always wanted someone to do. He wrote to me. Poems. Letters. Postcards. Intimate descriptions of such promise. He was charming in a pathetic, romantically spoiled sort of way.


Because he was married, and because he was my boss, we met in cheap bars where no one would see us. Because he was middle-aged and needed to feel edgy, we met in every dive bar in the city. Bars where we had to buzz in and be searched before we could order a beer. Because he was sheltered, the danger felt thrilling. Because I was not, the danger felt dangerous.


In the bars he kept his fingers inside my shorts for hours. We never did anything more. We waited and waited. For months I waited for a hand on my ass, a stroke of my breasts. He was in love.


I knew his wife loved expensive dinners. She loved beautiful clothes. Jewelry. So I paid for half of everything we did, every drink we had. I wanted him to feel the power of equality where before he had only known the power of power. I wanted to give him the pain of loss when before he only felt the pride of ownership. I wanted to give him humility, to make him taste it into being.


We finally slept together in a narrow, seedy, five-room hotel in Times Square. It was a bright and sunny day. I had insisted on the place. Every place we had been together had been disgusting and I saw no reason for that to change, just because we were about to fuck. He thought the sex could be paid for with a nice hotel room. I wanted him to get it for free. That would confuse him. He could never understand something for nothing.


He met me outside on the corner. We went into the hotel and got a key from a man in a filthy undershirt and boxer shorts laying on a pink beach chair in the hallway, listening to a transistor radio. We went up to a room. I brushed a Q-Tip off of the bed while he opened up a gym bag filled with beer. I watched him down two bottles. I wanted this to begin so that it would end. I kissed

the beer in his mouth with as much feeling as I could muster. I faked it good. I took off my clothes, took off his. I tried hard to find things. Ways to be excited. But he was repulsive with age spots on his ass and beer in his mouth, on my breasts. He made my breasts smell like beer. He tried to be gentle because he thought I was fragile. Maybe I was. Maybe I am. Maybe sometimes. But the way he was gentle was so clichéd that it couldn’t reach me. The soft kisses. The oh-so-careful parting of the legs. The entering. The books say to make sure you have eye contact, so he made eye contact. I wanted to scream at him to be a man, for lack of a better word. Or something. All this nothingness was frustrating. I wondered why he didn’t scream at me the way he screamed at his secretary all day at work. Or why he didn’t leer at me the way he leered at waitresses in restaurants. I privately wondered why he tried to be so nice in bed when he was so mean the rest of the day. I wanted to say: “It’s a beautiful sunny summer afternoon. For God’s sake, fuck me or let’s go outside.”


But I stayed. My own power excited me. I got up and grabbed his wallet lying next to the pillow. I ran its smooth leather surface between my legs. I masturbated on his money. I bent down and sucked his cock and watched his sperm fly all over. He cried when he came and he told me that he loved me. I yawned, bent over and kissed his forehead as though he were a child, and then got up to wash him off of me.


He got up quickly, drank a beer, and grabbed his gym bag, tennis racquet and briefcase. He was flustered. He understood. Finally. He could not make me want him. He could never drive me crazy. He could not even do a simple thing like make me come. All he could give me was a paycheck. He left.


I would fantasize about that day for many nights after. I had never been that intimate with someone I didn’t care about. I felt like a man. What glorious power. What freedom. I had never imagined it, and I was never going back. Never again, I thought, would I confuse sex with anything. Not love, affection, companionship. Not even lust. Nothing.

Margot Berwin and