I. No More Renaissance Picnics
My friend Bennie told me about a scene in a porn film in which a handful of executives in business
suits sit drinking from tall glasses on lounge chairs beside a swimming pool. A young woman in a
bikini is called over, and one of the men says, “Show us your asshole.”
At my party they won’t even have to ask.
II. My Party
It will be a time of judicious revelry, a time of cakes and ices, with other novelties thrown in for
those friends who need to learn a particular lesson. My boss, Marlena, hypochondriac and
Francophile, will have to listen to a loop of slow jams while trussed and wearing a ball gag. Nan,
one of my dearest friends, will have her lipstick removed . . . directly from her lips. For years
she has presented herself to men mouth-first, hungry and agreeable. That same mouth, denuded of
hubris the next morning or afternoon, will moisten the telephone receiver for over an hour, pouring
into my sweaty ear everything he said, what he might have meant, what he did, inquiring what I think
might happen next. Also on the short list is Jerome, who I have nothing against personally except
that he treated Nan badly during the two weeks they were lovers. I kept telling her how easy he’d
be to punish, his vanity a fragile mushroom. Truth was, I’d wanted him for myself, but he hadn’t
noticed. Fortunately, neither had Nan. You, Jerome, will have to be ugly all night: your carefully
torqued hair, flattened; your sexy vintage shirt slashed from your Apollonian torso and replaced
with a Blimpie uniform.
Once, just as we were about to go at it, a guy asked me, the way a waiter inquires how you’d like
your meat cooked,
“What do you want me to do to you?”
“Anything an airplane can do to a cloud,” I told him.
My new lover, The Painter, in the moist calm of an afterfuck, asks gently, “What are your
fantasies?” Which drops a certain pall on my afterglow. I cannot bring myself to tell about that
scene from the long movie about the life of Christ, in which Mary Magdalene, wearing only jewelry
and tattoos, gets fucked on a pallet in an open room while a line of guys with hard-ons stand
waiting a turn; the party where everyone gets Mary. Instead I say something about a phone booth,
and something else about a ladder.
In the midst of party planning, Bennie launches into a discourse on panties, remarking on how
charmingly ill-fitting they are. “You know,” he says, “they’re so compromising, women have to pluck
at the elastic all the time. Guys love that.”
“They make them better now,” I assure him. “They hug right where they’re supposed to.”
“Oh no,” he says. “Even on the little girls?”
Then he wants to know what The Painter is going to get at the party. I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll tell
him my most relentless fantasy, which begins with my ex-boyfriend Ford appearing at the screen door
one evening, lit by the porch light. He has on a yellow t-shirt and red shorts. The kitchen is
dark, and as I move through it I can see him but he can’t see me. All I have to do is see him and
my erogenous zones, in the short time it takes to cross the kitchen, form a kind of Bermuda
Triangle. I’ll already be lost, that is, by the time I reach the door.
Should Ford ever truly reappear, there’ll be no pretending I don’t want it. I’ll want it. Whatever
makes sex hallucinogenic and time-altering, like a drug, was always in the mix. We seemed as likely
to fuck ourselves to death as save each other’s lives. The problem is, I remember everything: the
living room that winter in the old farmhouse, how the propane heater cooked the air, the green couch
we drubbed across the floor, not watching Scott of the Antarctic. The elevator in the public
library. Fingerbangs and thumbfucks. The sweet round note of a choirboy he sometimes sang when he
The problem is, you can’t live on any of that, but living without it seems like waiting.
V. The Open Boat
After Ford departed for Alaska there was the mechanic, a hale swimmer, against whose stomach and
through the layers of my underwear and shorts I ground my pelvic bone and came three times, his
mouth all over my tits. Once I was riding him and his knees were up and he did some butterfly motion
with his legs that popped me off, but at the time, for some reason, I was thinking of the Kennedys.
Next I took up with a cardiologist whom everyone endorsed because he had a good job and did not look
like a doctor; he looked like a man with a motorcycle and a rap sheet. But he fucked like a doctor,
if that’s not impolitic to say. He always wanted my legs straight, tightly together, sometimes
locked at the heels. I always wanted my legs apart, my ass tilted up so every stroke he’d hit the
sweet spot. When, after some weeks of this disjunctive choreography, I intimated a need for
follow-up care so that I too could have an orgasm, he was surprised. For a woman, he asserted,
coming was rather like dessert — sometimes it was part of the meal, and sometimes not. Who cared
if he had a good job?
Now, as we approach the date of my party, there is The Painter, a dark and brooding man who rarely
leaves his house. I go over there and drink the syrupy coffee he makes and smoke his hand-rolled
cigarettes and can’t keep my hands still because I want them on his face. I want to put my mouth on
his face. Everything I like I want to put in or against my mouth, including the flat part of my dog
Pippa’s head. Bennie says I’m wearing the fur off, kissing her too much. He says The Painter is
depressed, and that the kind of light I’ve got under my bushel should not be wasted on a sad
renderer of old fruit and fierce self-portraits inspired by Rembrandt.
“But what if I love him?” I say.
“You don’t,” Bennie replies. “I’d be able to tell.” Ten years of observing my sexual behavior have
given him an edge. I appreciate his candor, and the aspersion he casts lightly on my ability to
know my own heart.
My heart is an inveterate liar, though it means well. And everyone invited to my party is sick of
hearing me wax on about these flash infatuations, inflated, as they tend to be, within an inch of
exploding. When everyone gets theirs, I guess I’ll get mine too. It will be time to tell the truth:
I have always wanted sex. I have pretended, to myself mostly, that I might love whoever-he-is in
order to fool my body. A pox on me then, because those men are ambushed by the glazed look in my
eye, the gyrations of my hips, the lube job, the open mouth; by the letters I send in the early
days, addicted as I am to words and their power to persuade: “Dear X, I can’t do anything but think
of you. And it makes me wet. I prop my feet on the kitchen table on either side of the typewriter
and make myself come. It isn’t enough. I go to the couch and assume a four-point stance and press
what Walt Whitman called the chuff of the hand hard against my clit, employ my middle finger for the
in-and-out, cup my ass around the sensation and come, whimpering like a baby coyote. Get over here
and put your mouth on me,” etcetera.
“Stop writing those letters,” Bennie tells me. “Or don’t send them.”
“I have to send them,” I explain. “It gives them incentive to move me.”
“How moved do you need to be?”
It’s a limpid afternoon in August, the day of my party, when The Painter tells me that he
can’t. He says it like that, exactly: “I can’t.” Given how we’ve spent the last hour, a pair of
dummies crash-testing sex, his meaning is obscure.
“Oh, can’t,” I repeat, glaring at him. The prospect of an argument puts me in a good mood. The
timbre of my voice changes. I practically sing out, “Can’t what? Come to my party? Live without
“We can’t do this anymore,” he says, waving a hand over our corporeal forms and the rumpled bed
whereon they finally fell. “I need to find someone with a similar temperament. Someone like me.”
“Ah,” I say. Bear in mind, he’s going through his blue period. “You mean a woman who rarely leaves
“No.” He flashes his dark eyes, amused but unwilling to cede. “Someone who approaches these things,
relationships, cautiously. Slowly. You go at things hard. Maybe it empties them out.”
“But I like that about myself, that I go at things headlong.” Heretofore, it’s been part of my
“I can’t keep up with you.” Here he shrugs, gives a half smile, which makes a sexy dimple near its
quirk. He’s lazy about shaving, and today he’s rough. His sweat smells like lavender and fresh
tobacco. Maybe I do love him, partly because he’s getting ready to deny me. Nothing compels a cliff
diver like a long drop.
I know the frantic, exhaustive, panting shapes of love. Maybe I choose those, because I do want to
empty things out, to pass through them and extricate myself. But love that is studied, careful,
slow-growing as a rhododendron is not something I’ve ever had the patience for. Nor do I now.
Where is someone who wants what I want, who, similarly driven by the laws of thermodynamics, can
move forward, toward the other person, me, with an equal and opposite momentum?
“I appreciate your candor,” I tell him. “It makes me want to shave my pussy.” I bought the clippers
to trim the dog, but what the hell. It is my party.
“Really?” he says, and I get a glimpse of the lover he might be, if he would reach for me, if he
would stop hiding behind the posture of a Platonist, waiting for some idealized woman to materialize
proximate to his hard-on. He could keep up with me, if he wanted to. It is this suspicion of mine,
that he has chosen to isolate himself behind the curtain of an idea and simply does not want me
enough to push it aside, to choose real flesh, that drives me crazy.
“You make me peevish!” I yell, and with the fingers of one hand I tap his chest, his hairy chest, a
feature I do not ordinarily find appealing on a man, but it’s on him and I like him, so I like it,
and isn’t that the point, really, that the real is, finally, what most compels us? We live with a
composite of what we want, and as we move in and out of bed and in and out of relationships we
refine it. When we come upon something else, and it exerts an unfamiliar pull, we don’t know how to
act, or what to do. We shave our pussies and rant, perhaps. But I can rant all I want and it will
make me no less willful, less greedy about sex, less hell-bent on intimacy. I want it now, The
Painter wants it later, or he may not want it at all, ever, with anyone. “You won’t let anyone in
there,” I say, and press his chest.
“You are not a good guest,” he points out, laying his hand over mine. “You’d wreck the place.”
And I probably would.