There she was again, his new friend whom he barely ever saw,
disheveled but enchanting in shoulder-length gray-golden hair.
She wore that Saturday a crushed-velour green blouse atop a
wrinkled brown-suede mini-skirt she'd owned a bit too long.
On her right shoulder reposed a wide-winged dragonfly-brooch
with Griffin's claws and lovely human female face and breasts—
“A cheap and vulgar replica of an Art Nouveau Lalique!”
she'd laughed lightly earlier that day. He'd shrugged and smiled.
He knew his English Lit; he did not know Lalique.
They'd both been taking far too long to drink a cup of coffee each
in that dim-lit roach-infested faculty lounge downstairs.
Was it the coffee-colored stains and bugs
or the buzz and flicker of fluorescent lights
or his own loud knocking knees and nerves
that finally drove them back to work?
Half-hidden but upright behind her old oak desk that night,
she sat at ease, her bare and bouncy fanning feet
dancing to some happy unheard jazzy beat,
so trim, so leggy, so proud of it, and seeming very pleased!
Was she waiting just for him like that? No, she always sat that way.
She was dawdling in her office in the History Department,
looking pleased as any well-fed gray catbird might look
who'd found a round and rapt canary all aflutter
right there amid her usual shifting clutter—
all her red-inked scattered papers and splayed laid-open books
and bite-marked apple cores. He glanced aside
and took a breath because he felt her mocking eyes
had landed right on him. He sucked his stomach in.
He made a show of spotting something odd or out of place,
then stopped outside her door and, standing on one leg, leaned in.
“You need to clean that cobwebbed cow skull out
with a high-pressure hose!” he grinned, pointing to her
newly-acquired but musty relic of the old wild desert west.
He'd recognized it instantly as the perfect conversation piece.
“Why, do you have one I can use?” she laughed.
“This college campus is full of them,” he told her,
meaning it pragmatically—but hearing how
uproariously she laughed, he saw the joke.
“I need a high-pressure hose, huh?” she smirked.
“I used to have one myself,” he said,
“but I've gotten a little too old for it now.”
(Now why, he winced, did he say that?)
“That's too bad, I guess. But how does one do that?
How does it feel, I mean? Oh, God, I can't believe I asked you that!”
“It's all right,” he shrugged. “All right for you to ask, I mean.
IT hasn't felt quite right for about two years, I guess.”
“Does it hurt?” she asked. Her question sounded serious,
but her face still looked amused.
“Well, it just feels less!” he squirmed. “It takes
a great deal of real and imaginary stimulation,
not to get its attention precisely, but just to feel
some sensation that is precise instead of general!”
“What can you do about it?”
“Suffer. Or go to doctors and let them make me suffer.
“I've been waiting for a woman again, really,
to see if she would also make me suffer.”
He stared at the sightless cow skull and nodded.
“Women always make you suffer,” she kidded gently.
“Yeah, I know. You're doing it now.”
“I don't mean to.”
“Women never do.”
“Men always mean to make women suffer,”
he volunteered. “As far as I've been able to tell.”
“Is that true?” He was surprised to hear her ask.
“They're getting back at their mothers, perhaps.
And, of course, I guess you know men think that it's more
difficult for them to make women suffer than—”
“Really?” she interrupted. He'd never heard her sound so cold.
Her face, he thought, had clouded up as if she now had doubts
concerning not only his moral legitimacy,
but his entire liberal-arts education!
“But only in that purest sense!” he hastily added.
“What sense is that?” she stared. “You've got me losing track.”
He was losing more than that. He wiped his palm across his brow
and wondered why with every passing year every square inch
of his skin except for his high forehead got drier and drier.
“After they're married a while,” he persevered, “men hardly
seem to suffer about women at all; they tune them out, I think.
I meant it in the sense of love-in-bloom, of lovers
who are still new to love and to one another's ways.
I think I mean that men, just barely, but do,
know how stupid they are at this kind of game.
You know, while everyone's still doing all
that nervous parrying and lame ballet?
“Like we do?” she laughed, the light returning to her face.
“Are you trying to make me suffer more?” he beamed back.
“Not at all!” she grinned. That was when he licked his lips.
“I think you'd best be careful, though,” she said,
“about too much fencing and ballet!”
“Like too much horseplay, you think?” he grinned.
“All in good spirits until one day
the balance isn't right
and the play becomes a fight?”
Quietly her leather-covered chair rolled back and swiveled left—
was she showing off her underwire-uplifted breasts
or giving him the softer view of her slightly crooked nose
or was she staring into space or at that damn dead steer again?
Just then, her short brown skirt rode up her legs
and showed their come-here length and shape!
Thus, when her eyes found his again, she fixed and pinned him.
“In this sense,” she said, “the party game that we've begun
now becomes—a what? A love affair? A sex appeal?
A system of rewards and punishments that's fair? Who cares?!”
He looked at her with some distress as if he'd hoped she would.
“I like to think I care,” he sighed.
“You can have a spanking now,” she teased,
“or you can wait and fidget until you're tense enough to ask!”
“I thought—” he'd just begun when, vaguely like a spider, on long
slim legs she rose, went round, and then on silent feet moved in.
“Why don't I close the door?” she rasped.
“There. Now you can turn and face it.
Just close your eyes; don't think about your feelings or that lost
high-pressure hose and we'll just let that unwashed cow skull watch!”
“Let me think about it first!” he stalled.
“Oh, please, don't think!” she cried impatiently
and kicked his heels apart.
“I so often don't know what to do at first,”
he panted with his eyes completely closed,
“but I think you'll find that, given time,
I'm good at making things up!”
“I've noticed that!” she grinned and nibbled at his ear,
“but now you're here, don't talk so much!”
She shrewdly brushed the front of her skirt
against the back of his pants.
She reached around in front of him
while he stood still and stiff
and thought about how the door
was probably still unlocked.
12th draft: 08/27/04
©2001 Ronald C. Southern