Bedding Ritual

She went to see the man. She went to the hotel. He regarded her dress with delight. “You look poppish!” he said. Their first languages were not the same; in her mind she cycled through meanings: “puffy”, “like a puppy”, “like a doll”. He said, “Like a 60s pop singer!”

After a while they lay side by side and they spoke. He had a way of rising up from inside his talk with clear honesty, a bewildering habit because it came at strange times in a sentence and because his honesty was so naked, considered but without self-pity. In this respect he spoke like a man who had been in AA, but as far as she knew he had never been an addict. Maybe this was a French characteristic and maybe it was normal there.

Today she told him that she didn’t trust him. She said it wasn’t that she thought he was deceitful. She said that she didn’t trust his opinion of her. They were talking in the dim gray of the room with the blinds drawn. It was on the first floor. He had that toothpaste smell of male sex. With care because their first languages were not the same he told her some things. She was surprised. She was surprised to be surprised, because she leaned idly on her natural empathy. She had an outsized ability to predict others’ lines of thought. She was not right as ubiquitously as she had come to expect.

The man filled a glass of water and she drank it; he filled the glass again and he drank it. When she was fifteen she went to Jamba Juice with the other students in the play. She was not well-liked in the little drama club. She was very afraid when she was with them. She was in a daze of fear. Among the students there was a boy for whom she had a big desire. He was tall. He had wide lips on top of the flat line of his mouth: this gave him a look of self-contained irony, like a Victorian woman. He noticed things. The boy was cruel to her—as far as she could tell beyond the haze of her fear. He was cruel probably because he was long and old and about to go to college, and because he thought her abstraction was funny. At some point he had seen something of her body, which was exceptionally slender and good back then. She understood in a sort of mythological way that he was interested in her sexually. She understood also that he found her repulsive.

In Jamba Juice the boy looked at her and they spoke. Pointedly he asked if he could try her drink and she said all right and he took her cup. He sucked on her orange straw. There was a moment of silence amongst the drama students: then one lifted her lip in disgust and said “Sick.”

In the hotel the woman and the man were happy together. She said to him to come on her breasts. The warmth of come, its sort of warmth, was very strange. It was most like breath from the nose in winter. Maybe like a horse’s breath. They washed up.

When she opened the door she saw rain: water bouncing from the ground like the balls and stems of crocusses. Light in the water. For an instant, slower than time, she was astonished and didn’t know what she was looking at.

She said goodbye at the door. There was a man noticing her in the parkinglot. As she moved toward the tree across the street the man from the parking lot came to her: he said, “If I gave you my business card, would you be interested?”

“No, no, no,” she said, and she was not offended or suprised. “That’s my boyfriend.” She meant that the man she had left in the hotel room was not a john.

She stood beneath the little green tree getting rain on her head, which she liked. She was waiting for a taxi. She was confused. She was confused the way you are confused when you discover that your destination is on a different street than the one you’d pictured. You are not lost and not afraid of becoming lost, but your human mind which desires custom hesitates to put aside the idea it had built and decided on. She had told a lie: he was not her boyfriend. She had told the truth: she was not a prostitute. She was surprised at the lie and at the truth.

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