by Scott Archer Jones
Eight p.m. in bed. She’s curled against him, her earbuds in—her phone plays Mary Beard’s SPQR book. Since it’s Saturday he hasn’t shaved and she runs her finger along his modest stubble. The room smells like sex, they smell like sex even after an hour, and she asks, “Should we crack a window?”
“Why? Are you hot? I can turn on the fan.” He squints at an Orvis catalogue, wonders how he could justify one of those watches that displays two time zones.
She catches a tiny flicker–his heartbeat shows in the hollow of his throat. She traces the pulse with her finger, tamps it down. Like the weak ebb and flow through their bank account. The book drones in her ears, but she thinks about the house payment, and about waiting another month to fix the air conditioning in her car. His gig as a freelancer with the magazine didn’t pay pennies last month. Maybe his aspiration is to become a stay-at-home dad?
He watches her with downward glances, eyes peeping out past his hand as it runs the catalogue pages past. The trench between her eyebrows wrinkles. Her bangs have fallen aside and for once he can glimpse her forehead. The trench of what? Thwarted plans–a child? He suspects at thirty-one she’s begun the countdown–she was already ticking when they met at twenty-five. Hinting about clearing the office out of the second bedroom. He rolls his eyes up to the dark cornice that rings the bedroom like an iron band. “I’m dying to get away. It’s been the same slog for months.” Dear God, don’t let her bring up children.
One of her earbuds has fallen out–it whispers on her cheek. Months? You were offshore fishing with your buddies two weeks ago. She says, “Maybe a staycation, hang around the house, rent a half-dozen movies.” Just like the early years, the brilliant years.
He reaches across his glossy pages and ruffles her dark hair. Her beautiful three-foot braid long gone. He doesn’t fancy the current style, that wedge cut, but her thick mop carries it off. The naked, shaved neck, a definite turn-on. The sheet has collapsed off her narrow shoulders and shows her breast cupped in her folded arm. He says, “Maybe pick a beach, fly to Mexico for the weekend. You need some sun.” Ease into it, don’t tell her right away.
She’s aware of his hard thigh under her knee, where she’s thrown her leg across his. Right, and who pays for the tickets? Me and the Houston Independent School District, that’s who. “Lazing around. That’s what I need. The kids were a plague of locusts this term.” But she can’t see his chest, under the silk Tee he wears. That’s okay. His legs are his best asset. The second bedroom could be her gym–her legs could be ripped like his. Or at least her ass smaller.
He drops the catalogue on his chest and kisses the top of her head. He reaches under the sheet with his near hand, traces the bumps of her spine. Her narrow back, before the flare of her hips. She said once, these hips are shaped for babies. More like for grabbing when we hump. “Picked up a big job. I’m profiling a couple of tech firms. You know, innovation on the Gulf Coast, economy about to boom because of savvy CEOs in black polo shirts.”
Her face lies on the slick of his Tee, and that’s nice. About time. Pay down the Visa card. But she can’t suss out why he sleeps naked from the waist down and wears this man lingerie. “Sweet. Maybe we should buy you something from your check, maybe a belt sander.” Her hand rubs over his chest, a nipple.
He leans away from her, withdraws his arm, his teasing hand. She wants me to work on the damn bungalow porch. Screw that. “No hurry. I need a pair of Dockers–old ones are worn out at the cuff.” He drops the catalogue on the floor with the others and fishes up a sailing magazine.
As he twists his body towards the floor, the sheet drags off them both, reveals his tight buttocks to her, deep-tanned by the salon in the nearby strip mall. Her eyes flick. Not bad. But maybe he’d be one of those dads who disappear into fat. Ugh. She tugs the sheet back. With her light on, the sheer drapes could show both of them off to the neighbors. She says, “The first weeks of summer are so great. Lie in the hammock. Catch up on reading.”
He’s cached the sailing magazine rolled by his side. He waits. Nesting. You’re such a nester. I know where this is going. “I might get up, run through the shower. Want to join me?”
She rolls over on her back and stares at the ivory ceiling, the fake tiffany glass that covers the overhead light. She installed that shade six years ago. “Sure. But, let’s lie here for a while longer.” I may have to dig up a job this summer, knit the raveled sleeve of care with some cash.
He flips over, leans on one elbow, faces her. “Did I wear you out?” He flashes back to the sex, her smell across his face, the grunting and moaning. Pretty terrific. She wouldn’t go off the pill, would she? She’d be one of those moms who disappear into fat.
She reaches for his free hand. Giving his fingers a squeeze, she employs her biggest smile. “You were magnificent, you stud.” Faked the big O again.
He holds out the sailing magazine, open to one of the barefoot cruises. Now’s the time. She’s full of love and sperm. “I wrote a check today, put half down on a two-week sail. The West Indies, the Turks and Caicos Islands.” A check because the card max’d out.
“A cruise?” Her breath caught in her throat, her chest bound tight. He resembles one of her third-graders with a hand-full of Oreos. Is this marriage overdrawn?
“You need the break. I can work on my article on the boat, do the interviews on the phone when we’re in port.” He interprets her flaring eyes as joyful surprise. “Days of sun and sea, nights of wine and love.”
She’s paid off last summer only last month. Staring at him she recognizes what she knows already, a man-child in search of the next thrill. If you want a family, why are you squandering everything? But if I did have a child, maybe that would knit us back together. Her hand lies on her chest, her fingertips in the hollow of her throat.
© 2022 Scott Archer Jones All rights reserved.
Click or tap here to see Scott Archer Jones’s profile.
Use the “Leave a Comment” form below to submit comments on this piece.