We are lying on his roommate’s bed, facing one another, momentarily tired. He sighs, groans helplessly. His eyes are heavy with arousal. I feel the same languor, the weight of muscle-skin-heat building up in me. I think of the past half hour. Its savage playfulness.
I’m not sure what I feel, except that it is thunderous. I’ve been waiting for this a long time.
We have known each other for seven years. I have adored him for three years. He has lusted after me for one year. We spent a night together two months ago. It hadn’t gone well.
‘Are you going to fuck me this time?’ I whisper this in his ear. My beloved’s sudden discomfort becomes evident. He stares at me, smiles apologetically. ‘I don’t know’, he says. I am surprised. Then, he says firmly, ‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘That’s the wrong answer’, I hiss. I roll away from him, sit up. My smile is brittle as chalk.
I want to remind him of the months of messages flapping across our separate cities, messages weighed down by their heat and lustfulness. I want to recall the dark joy of planning secret meetings, the building-up. The not being able to stay away. “We have to meet.” “I have to see you.” “God. I want you so badly.”
I want to say, “Imagine that moment, half-beast half-soul”.
Instead I wear my pants. The rest of the conversation is tedious, full of jagged fragments. Poky fragments that shouldn’t be kept. Or recalled or retold. But here one is. Going over them again and again.
‘Look. One of us has to be responsible.’
‘You know I want to, really I do. But I’m not ready for that sort of intimacy.’
‘Everything else we’ve done, it’s just… fooling around. It’s not the same as sex sex.’
What is sexsex I want to scream? Is what we’ve been having un-sex sex? Is one superior to the other? Is this one inferior to that one? Why? Does that make me inferior or superior? What?
‘I’m 34’, he says this in a tone of finality, a voice of stone. A fact like a rock knocked hard against the forehead. ‘I’m 34 and the next time I get into a relationship, I’m going to be giving it some thought. Because I’m going to want it to be a long term thing.’
What do I feel right now? I don’t know. Feverish? Scared. Before the onset of something inevitable and unfair and opaque.
I ask, ‘So was I some part of your experimental phase?’
‘You can say that.’
It’s that easy. And I am struck dumb hereafter. Gone is the heat, the lover, the power to please. I want to scream, say, but what about me?
“You want this: to end up with a fine woman, a knowing, canny practical woman with sharp, straight hair. She works a 9-7 job, and motivates you to go to the gym every evening. You will have one child. You will send this child for tuitions. You will take it in turns to cook dal-rice. You will never quite be happy, but enviably content. The sex will keep you going for a while, though she will be uneasy about your quirks, your heaviness, the way you hold your hands down across her throat and stomach. You will dream of her often. She will make you as weak as you said you wanted to feel. You will watch the fine network of lines that eventually creep out around her eyes and down her cheeks and say to yourself, I was right to wait so long for her. I was right. You will watch your child grow older together and leave you behind. You will watch television for her sake. Put her favourite shows on record. She will love you, but not helplessly. This will make you ache and yearn and ache. There will be some fleeting affairs, never important, slightly painful. Passing through your existence much like pins and needles.
Whatever else happens, you never allow yourself to detest her. ”
I say none of this aloud. It’s too much, it’s not true, it’s too true. Saying it might bring it to life, but the vividness scares me. A future in whose totality, I do not exist. A window which I’m on the outside of, feeling constantly not quite right enough to be let in.
In the outside room stand part-time lovers, castoff for long-term love. It’s funny, what you become when you’re convinced you’re in love. It’s funny what you un-become when you feel you are not loved.
It’s funny there are so many meanings of sex no one talks about.
To clarify, I say nothing, of importance. Nothing happens. The phase passes. I never see him again.
He insists I take a taxi home. He tries to pay for it, I refuse. He leaves me with a kiss- quick, fraternal, sickeningly sympathetic- on my cheek. It echoes in my ear for days to come, it says, “That was That”.
Alia works at a library by the sea.