Sex Descending a Staircase

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Lo sauntered down stairs looking like sex descending a staircase. She greeted everyone good morning. The kids had already scampered away from the table to make mischief elsewhere. Lo proceeded to load up her plate with a pancake and a mound of strawberries. She picked up one of the strawberries with her hands — hands that I knew had been up to no good just moments ago — and she took a slow, seductive bite of it as she locked eyes, first with me and then with Carl. It was a slightly uncomfortable moment until Lo said, “Mmmmmm, these are so good. Do you have any cream to go with them?” Then it was a very uncomfortable moment.

Lo paid nobody no mind. She felt that Hollis had already pegged her as a Jezebel, and so she would play the part to the hilt.

After breakfast was over, Lo and I hopped in the car and went food shopping because, being guests, we wanted to be considerate and we had promised to make a special New Year’s Eve chili and other fixins for the little party that Carl and Hollis were planning for that night.

“What the hell was that?!” I demanded of Lo once we were alone in the privacy of our sedan.

“What, ole man?”

“Don’t ‘what ole man’ me. You know very well what.”

“Well, which part — the masturbating, the noisy orgasm, or my love of strawberries?”

“All of the parts.”

“Oh, come on,” she said flirtatiously, rubbing my arm up and down, “don’t be mad. I was just having some fun. Their life is stiflingly boring. Give ʼem something to think about, to talk about; something other than that God-forsaken stove!”

I had to laugh because with the amount of praise, veneration, description, and care Carl paid to that stove, one would have thought he married it and not his wife!

“Maybe you’re right,” I said as I drove away from their house, “their entire existence is an eternal recurrence of the same.”

Lo and I picked up groceries and then we returned to the quaint little cottage. After unloading the groceries, Carl said to me that we had better get going because the movie theater was a forty-five minute drive from their house.

Suddenly the anachronistic absurdity of it all dawned on me. Here I was with Carl, speeding around the winding road, off for some entertainment, whilst the children scampered about with their friends, leaving Lo and Hollis to their “women’s work” in the kitchen, preparing for a soirée that evening. What the hell?! Had we traveled into another era when we crossed the border? I thought this was a progressive state.

As Carl and I drove, he and I had a chance to talk. As Lo and Hollis were alone, they did too. Here’s a bit of each of our conversations:

Carl: I can’t tell you the last time I went to the movies. Thanks for the suggestion and giving me a chance to slip out.

H.H.: Really? What the hell do you do for fun around here?
Carl: HH, we’re really just scraping to get by. Hollis doesn’t even know this yet, but I’ve started to get my stuff together for taxes and it’s looking like this year is going to be worse, financially, than last. And last year was worse than the one before that. We’re completely strapped.

H.H.: Oh, I didn’t realize it was that bad. Why don’t you get out of here? — This rural area is still in a recession. Pick up and move down toward us.

Carl: I’ve thought of that. I think of it every fucking day. But our house is worth less than it was when we bought it.

H.H.: Are you underwater?

Carl: I don’t know. Probably. But the point is, if we sold, we wouldn’t ever be able to afford something down by you — especially not with our credit score.

Lola: So who is coming over tonight for New Year’s?

Hollis: Some neighbors, mostly parents of the kids’ friends.

Lola: How many should we expect?

Hollis: It’ll be four adults and six kids.

Lola: That makes nine kids total and eight adults!

Hollis: Do you think you can handle cooking for that many?

(At this point, Lo had to bite down hard on her lower lip because the snarky jibe at her culinary abilities set her off.)

Lola: Oh, no problem. I just hope HH and I bought enough food. It’s such a trek to go shopping around here, or to do anything. Don’t get me wrong, it is so quaint being here surrounded by nothing but nature and rolling hills covered in snow. Such a needed break from our busy social life in the city.

Hollis: (Nasty scowl.)

Lola: You and Carl must be so content out here.

Hollis: (Putting down the pan she was holding and looking directly at Lo.) Look, you don’t like me and I don’t like you. There’s no disguising it, so we can stop pretending.

Lola: That’s fine by me. I knew you never liked me. I just didn’t know why. I have tried to be nothing but nice to you — I brought your kids gifts, we have invited you and Carl to our house, I’m even making dinner for your entire family and house full of guests tonight!

Hollis: Why should I like you?

Lola: What does that mean?

Hollis: Isn’t it obvious?

Lola: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Hollis: HH is in his fifties, like Carl. You’re what, twenty-two?

Lola: Twenty-five, thank you.

Hollis: Twenty-five. So what? You were twenty-two — at least that young, who knows? — when you came into his life.

Lola: What of it?

Hollis: Are you really that blind?

Lola: Are you really that judgmental? You have this image in your head: older married man with kids goes through midlife crisis, finds young floosy, drops his wife and kids, runs off into the sunset with a young trophy wife.

Hollis: Well, isn’t that the story?

Lola: Shows you how little you know of us. And do you know why you know so little? Because you can’t see past the simple, pat narrative our society has provided you with and it’s easier to believe the simple story than actually learn the complex reality.

Hollis: What’s the ‘complex reality’?

Lola: The reality is that HH was already on his way to filing for divorce a year before I even came into the picture. The reality is that his ex was so cold-hearted, materialistic, and absent from the role of parent so often that HH might as well have been a single parent. The reality is that HH, far from dropping his responsibilities, took on even more responsibility for the kids, for his life, for us after he got divorced. He gave her everything during the marriage and way more than half of everything when they split up — way more than she deserved or would have been awarded in court.

Hollis: I am surprised to hear you say that.

Lola: Why?

Hollis: Because of your self-professed ‘feminism.’

Lola: What’s that have to do with anything?

Hollis: I’m just surprised that you’re so blind to a wife’s point of view.

Lola: Just because I’m a feminist doesn’t mean that in every dispute between a man and woman I blindly take the woman’s side.

Hollis: (Under her breath.) No, you just take her husband.

Lola: I heard that and that’s bullshit.

Hollis: Don’t you see? — What happened with you and HH is every middle-aged married woman’s greatest fear. I can’t even imagine anything worse happening to me.

Lola: Is that because you suspect, deep down, that your marriage is vulnerable?

Hollis: Fuck you!

Lola: Look, I’m not after your husband. I’m not out to wreck your marriage. I’m not telling you how to live your life, but it seems to me that your hatred of me, your false conclusions about who I am and what I’ve done, your totally unsubstantiated beliefs about HH all stem from your own insecurities, rather than anything about who he and I are and how we live.

Hollis: Maybe you’re right. But you don’t know what it’s like to be in your forties, to be stressing every single day about money, to have to raise three kids, to look in the mirror and know that you’re not sexy, not thin, not beautiful. . . anymore. To be too tired to have sex. . . or even think about it. (She sat down and almost began crying.) Do you think I asked for this life? Do you think that when I met Carl, when we got engaged, when we got married that this is the life that I envisioned? Do you think that I saw this coming? — The cuts in salary, the cuts in benefits, the overwhelming feeling that this pay check Carl’s bringing home might be his last because more layoffs are right around the corner; the feeling of helplessness that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change my circumstances or our situation. You don’t understand. You can’t possibly.

Lola: (Sitting next to her.) I’m not trying to say I know what that’s like, but we all have insecurities about how we look, about money, about aging. And I do know what it’s like to have kids in my life. They might not be mine and you might not see them when we visit (because this is a vacation), but I’m twenty-five, single, and basically suddenly a mom to HH’s kids — yet without the full status as “mom” and without the unconditional love that comes with being their actual mom. No, I have to work for their love. I have to earn it — every fucking day. I have to walk that fine line between discipline and being the hated step-mother. You’re not the only one with problems. And you shouldn’t go judging others just cause you don’t know their problems.

After the movie on the way back:

Carl: Wow! That was a great movie.

H.H.: Yeah, it was. I mean, there’s definitely a running theme in Scorsese’s films — power and the abuses of it.

Carl: And like a lot of his movies, it was about an hour too long. I mean, I didn’t need to see all of that — and in slow motion too! But it did give me a lot of masturbation material.

H.H.: Did you really mean what you said — about being basically roommates with Hollis?

Carl: Unfortunately. If I want to get off, it’s my right hand and either my imagination or porn.

H.H.: Even in the worst days of my marriage, it wasn’t that bad.

Carl: I’ve said it before, you’re very lucky, HH.

H.H.: I am lucky. I don’t deny that. But it’s more than just luck. It’s the ability to know when things are bad and change them. You still can do that, you know.

Carl: Can I? I mean, the kids, my job, the house and mortgage. I think I’m better off married and miserable than divorced and destitute.

H.H.: That’s bleak.

Carl: Don’t get me wrong. I love Hollis. I really do.

H.H.: ‘Married and miserable’? Yeah, that sounds like love to me.

Carl: It’s more complicated than that.

H.H.: I’ll take your word for it.

Carl: I don’t want to get you down. It’s New Year’s Eve. I was looking forward to you coming up here to pick me up. So, tell me about that minx of yours. What was she up to this morning?

H.H.: Carl, I’ll just say that with Lo and me, she’s the one looking for the masturbation material.

Carl: What?!

H.H.: She has a higher libido than any man I’ve ever met. I tried to tell you this the other morning. I just can’t keep up with her.

Carl: I love hearing about this. I live vicariously through you.

H.H.: Oh, I could tell you stories.

[Excerpt from the story, “Atonement,” from the blog:]

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Just your average nymphomaniac next door. I love fan mail:

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