In Crystal City there were five Marriotts: The Gateway Marriott, The Crystal City Marriott, The River Marriott, The Marriott Key and The Key Marriott Gateway at Crystal City. Ours was The River. The lilies lay on the table, a basket of star fruit nearby and several bottles of Perrier. Ben was good, technically perfect. He was attentive. He lifted my hair aside to kiss my neck and said, “You’re so beautiful, Wendy.” But I got the idea he was more interested in his legacy than me. I couldn’t get excited. I like miscues and misfires, the potential for lethal mistakes. And why should he be the only one around here with a legacy? Why couldn’t I be the best he’d ever had? I turned it around. It didn’t work, it couldn’t, the two of us chasing the same title. We tossed on the bed and floor fighting for legacy control. But in our sparring came a wonderful clumsiness that had been lacking before. His tongue went inside my nostril. I kneed him in the balls repeatedly. His rhythm thrown off, he rolled away. We lay with our backs to each other.
“I’m willing to lay down the record books if you will,” he said. I turned to face his back. Below his left shoulder blade he had a mole with hair sprouting. If he dumps me, I can remember this mole. I can imagine that he’s nothing but an extension of it, that his arms and legs and head grow out from this black spot. The image could get me through any breakup, I was sure.
He turned over, but I saw he’d gone limp. I too was deflated and dry. He touched one of my breasts. It didn’t feel good. He dropped his hand.
“I think I’m impotent,” I said.
“I think I’m impotent,” he said. He opened his arms. I moved onto his chest.
“We could watch hotel porn,” I suggested.
“The olestra of the sex industry. It makes it worse for me, in fact.”
“A rousing game of Senator/Intern?”
“Too close to home,” he said.
“Explore our fantasies?”
“I can handle it.”
“I have a desire to cook for you,” I said. “And I don’t cook. If it doesn’t come from a jar it doesn’t get made.
But in this fantasy, I’m basting and braising, patting tuna filets with cracked pepper, serving them alongside roasted potato moutarde . I’m poaching pears in brandy, using a melon baller in rum raisin ice cream, homemade, decanting cabernet.”
“I’ve never said the word moutarde in my life.”
“Maybe you should give into to it. Make me dinner. Though you might want to serve a chilled grappa alongside the poached pear or even a calvados. And I wouldn’t do the cabernet with the fish. A woody chardonnay. But for the most part, the menu is celestial though the moutarde and cracked pepper may clash. Act on it. It would remove the taboo and you’d probably never want to do it again. It might improve things … here.” He looked down at our useless sex organs.
“Now I feel ashamed.”
“You shouldn’t. That sort of musing is natural. I’m sure.”
“And what about you, Mr. Sotterburg? What’s yours?” He became erect. “Must be something good.” He handed me a bottle of water. “You want me to drink? Ah, the water cycle you spoke of when we were cutting meat.” He looked shy. “Oh. That. You want me to … complete the cycle. On you.” He rolled on top of me. I urinated on a boy in college once but we were drunk and it was an accident. There were certainly stranger activities. I knew about a man who could only ejaculate if a woman bent over on a bathroom scale watching the numbers spin by saying, “I’ve got to lose five,” as he entered her from behind. Seeing Ben so aroused, the record books set aside as he thrust about, holding my hips too tightly, contorting his face, excited me, too.
“All right, then.” I sat up and drank the Perrier. He watched. We waited. “Shall I turn on hotel porn while we wait for this to kick in?”
He shook his head.
“Maybe there’s a cooking show.”
He tossed me the remote and brought me a can of Cranapple. Just the act of bringing me water and juice, walking back and forth to the minibar, watching me drink, was causing his eyelids to tick. I flipped around the channels and found a cooking show. Two women cooked squab in a sizzling pot of garlic and ginger. They held meat forks. They were overly made up, breasts spilling out the top of jewel-tone spandex. Giggling, they ignored the squab, pretending to pop each other’s breasts with the forks. Then they put their tongues together. The camera panned down to the squab, their little legs dancing in broth. I’d inadvertently clicked the porn channel.
“I apologize,” I said. “It will show up on the bill.”
“If it makes you happy, it makes me happy.” He handed me a Diet Coke. “Still you don’t need to go?” He nodded toward the bathroom.
“I’m afraid I can drive across Ohio without looking for a gas station.”
An hour went by. I depleted the minibar.
“Still nothing?” He brought tap water. We watched the news. The screen was so cut up with stock quotes, weather maps, movie previews and video from a traffic helicopter that I couldn’t find the anchor. Ben zeroed in and located him amid a cluster of regional crop reports.
“Does it just build up ’til the dam breaks?” He handed me another glass of water.
“Thinking about it makes it worse,” I said.
Another hour passed. He tried distracting me with stories of his life as I drank and drank and drank.
“… If President Carter had accepted our plan the hostages would have been home that night… I carved the canoe from a single downed poplar, those being the tallest and straightest of the trees … The tricky part was getting the rice to the Ethiopian people …”
“I think it’s time.”
“Are you … what? Oh. That.”
I led him into the bathroom. I pulled back the curtain. He knelt in the shower. I placed one foot on the side of the tub and stood over him. He looked up at me in the dearest worship. I put my fingers in his hair. “Here goes.”
But alas, I couldn’t. I adjusted my stance. He rearranged himself to take the pressure off his ankles. Go. Go, go, go, go. But still, I couldn’t. I pictured the first runoff from a mountain, a melting ice cap, water escaping, a pool in a hollowed rock, rings and ripples, rain dripping from roof tiles, spattering the wet, wet ground.
“Do it, Wendy. Please.”
“Yes, I want to.” The storm was coming. I lowered my hips over him. He rose to meet me. “Could you wait here for one moment?”
I got out and turned on the sink. Just a trickle, rain bouncing on a leaf. That always helped when I was at a party and there were people just outside the door. I stepped back into the shower. Nothing happened.
“I’m so excited, Wendy.” Water running off soil, soil so dry it can’t accept the gift of rain.
“Me too, Ben.” Runoff. Water. Irrigation. Get water to the desert and anything will grow. But you’ve got to have water. The crop report. Calling for rain. Birds fluttering their wings in grandma’s birdbath, don’t bring Grandma into this, worms unearthed, washed out from the ground and into the streets.
“Wendy, darling.” Again, he rose up on his knees. Brimming wine glasses. A champagne fountain. New Year’s Eve, 1989. A party with all our friends. My husband stacked the glasses into a pyramid. Then he poured Moet & Chandon into the top glass which overflowed to the three glasses beneath which overflowed to the five beneath that, which overflowed to the seven, to the nine, to the eleven. I wore a black cashmere shift with specks of silver in the wool. I never put on shoes. Matt kept his hand on my lower back. I remember the smell of his Tenex. What happened to those friends?
I looked down at my stomach, puffed out from my engorged bladder.
“It’s not working, is it?” Ben leaned back on his heels. “You’re grimacing.”
“I have to go so badly,” I said.
“Do it. On me.”
He stood next to me in the shower, stroking my hair.
“This is good for you, Wendy. Dominating me like this. Feeling your power.”
I’d lose him if I couldn’t give him what he wanted.
“Maybe if I tried something other than water or juice,” I said.
“I’ll call room service immediately.” I leaned against the doorframe of the bathroom, my hand on my stomach, panting. Ben placed the order. “… And it’s a bit of an emergency. I’m happy to pay extra to have it here right away. Yes, Sotterburg … No, no, Mossad did that, we just got the hostages off the plane. Thank you so much and what was your name?”
He handled everything so well. That was the type of phone call I had to work out in my mind for twenty minutes then write the script on hotel stationery before I could pick up the receiver.
“Good God, Wendy.” Ben saw me bent over by the door. “We can call this off.” He put his hands under my arms and straightened me up.
“Oh no. I can do this. Anything left in the minibar?”
“Just salted nuts.”
“I think I’m ready.” We resumed our positions in the shower, though now I was stooped from a stabbing sensation in my gut. One drop came from my urethra.
“There we go,” I said proudly. But it was merely condensation.
“Look,” he said finally. “I think you should, you know, go the conventional way and I’ll get the hell out of the bathroom.”
I nodded. What a failure I was. Ben left the room. I switched on the fan, limped to the toilet and sat. Nothing. Now I was in trouble. The pain was excruciating. He tapped on the door. I slid off the seat to the floor. I crawled to the door and opened it. “You’re not all right.” He bent and tried to lift me. There was a knock. “One moment,” he called. He grabbed two terry robes, wrapping one around me and one around him as he went to greet room service. I looked down at the rose tile that appeared to spin. I felt my forehead. I was sweating. The wheels of the service cart screamed into the room, the presence of another person filling all the spaces like a poison vapor, turning Ben and me back into strangers. The waiter and I made eye contact. I must have been a sight covered in sweat, mascara down to my jaw, mouth open in pain. Ben signed the bill. The waiter thanked him for his generosity and left.
“Coffee?” Ben offered.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
Julia Slavin is the author of The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club and Other Stories and the novel Carnivore Diet.