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T h e S k u n k s o f M a t r im o n y
Marty and Jane arrived at the end of their tenth year of marriage quite successfully. They had weathered the restless first few years of doubt and counseling. And, they had not cheated. At least Marty hadn't, and he was pretty sure Jane hadn't. As for Jane, she hadn't either, and was certain Marty hadn't. Talking about cheating certainly helped them stay honest. Didn't every married couple know that by now? They never went so far as to fantasize together about a third person, though they knew some couples who did. Who knows? Maybe one (or both) of them were having sex right now in some other couple's nuptial fantasy.
They were having their usual Mexican meal in their usual Mexican restaurant around the corner from their newly renovated co-op on East Fifteenth Street in late summer when things went a little further than usual. Jane, feeling her usual post-Marguerita mischievousness, pointed out that the waitress was Marty's “type.”
“Big smile, big boobs,” Marty had said once, a very long time ago, when she had asked what kind of women he found attractive. Jane questioned the sincerity of the woman's smile, considering she was a waitress.
“Well, the smile doesn't have to be genuine, as long as the boobs are.”
Jane laughed. She was a tall, small-breasted blonde with delicate features who tended to scowl without realizing it. Marty had warned her throughout her twenties that she would regret this in her forties. Lines would etch themselves around her eyes and she would look as if she were scowling even when she wasn't. Now that Jane was thirty-five, Marty was beginning to be right. Only, there were also little lines around her mouth.
Marty, at thirty-nine, was just starting to go gray “in all the right places,” Jane had reassured him. They had joked about the definition of “really old” being when their crotch hairs started to go gray, and so far neither of them were really old. But Marty, more than Jane, fretted over it. He had been a very handsome teen-ager and young man, but once his hair started to fall out (and he gained ten pounds), he took on a more average appearance. Both of these things were, according to Jane, “manageable,” and nothing to complain about considering Marty would never had to face menopause.
Jane watched the tall, skinny waiter serve the other table. Used to be she didn't have a “type” of man at all. Her first boyfriend was a small, olive-skinned Italian. She had refused sex with small, dark, hairy men until she fell in love with Tony. When that ended, she refused sex with men who weren't small, dark and hairy. Then she fell in love with a tall, blonde blue-eyed man. After John she refused anyone who wasn't tall, blonde and blue-eyed. Now, she conjectured, eyeing the waiter, she was probably capable of appreciating any male body if the man himself turned her on and she wondered why the physical plant used to be so important to her.
Marty ate. Jane, taking a final slurp of her drink, ordered another.
“You'll regret it later,” Marty said.
“Worst case is I'll fall asleep.”
“No. First you'll get a headache, then depressed, then fall asleep,” he chided. Then he paused, tilted his head towards the male waiter, and said, “So you like his tiny hiney, huh?”
“Oops, caught looking.”
“What do you think would happen if we decided to do more than look?”
“Somebody's feelings would probably get hurt.”
“Not if there were clear-cut rules and limits.”
Jane was only a little surprised by Marty's suggestion. They had toyed with this idea before but never could quite go ahead with it. She wasn't sure what had held Marty back in the past, or why it had changed, but her reason was simple; she knew in her heart that she could handle a more open relationship with Marty, but she feared he couldn't handle it.
“What would the rules be?” she asked.
“Oh you know, things like safe sex, and not staying out all night.” He paused. “Oh, and hands off each other's best friends. That I could not handle.”
“So you've got it all figured out already.”
“It could actually work.”
Jane was in the middle of her third drink by this time. She probably should have laughed off Marty's suggestion, or simply refused with a flip shrug and Marty would have dropped it quickly. He knew he was on shaky ground here and she knew she could play the hurt wife, asking him why she wasn't “enough” for him. But, the truth was, she didn’t feel that way and Marty knew it.
“Well, think about it,” Marty said. “It would be a big step for us.”
“What's to think about? Let's just do it already.”
To Jane, somewhat drunk by now, Marty became a cartoon character. His lower jaw seemed to become unhinged and hit his knee.
“Are you serious or just drunk?”
“I'm a little drunk and a lot serious. As long as we stick to the rules it should work.”
“You have someone in mind, don't you?” he asked, slyly.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Maybe not. As long as I'm number one you can have all the fun you want.”
The truth was that Jane didn't have anyone in mind. And when she awoke the next morning, her head achy from the drinks, the whole thing struck her as ridiculous. She had no idea how to make anything happen anyway. She had been married so long she had gotten used to either ignoring or quickly forgetting the men she found attractive. In fact, she realized she had become so expert at putting off these feelings that she questioned why she had agreed so readily last night. What was in it for her?
The first thing Marty did when he got to work the next day was call a business acquaintance who had mentioned to him months ago that he and his wife were swingers. At the time Marty found it strange that the guy would manage to mention something like that at all. But, once he did, Marty obsessed on it for weeks and concluded that the guy was trying to find out if he and Jane were swingers also. Although he had been interested in open marriage for awhile, it was this incident that prompted Marty to actually approach Jane with the idea.
The idea of “swinging” struck Jane as ridiculous. Too many people, most of whom look better with their clothes on. Over stimulation. No privacy. People afraid of feeling too much who just want some fresh meat once in awhile. But Marty insisted that she at least meet the couple.
They met Betsy and Tom at an espresso shop in the Village. Jane, sitting at the window, saw a couple approach half a block away and prayed it wasn't them. They were both hippie types, the guy complete with a tie-dyed shirt, baggy pants and sandals. Betsy had long dark hair, no make-up, and wore a long granny skirt. Worst of all, she wore a white peasant blouse with no bra and her large breasts swung in what seemed like enormous arcs if she even breathed. She also didn't shave her legs, which, Jane knew, meant she didn't shave her pits either. Tom had bad teeth and a bad habit of twisting his ears when he spoke. Both of their voices were nasal and high-pitched and after only fifteen minutes Jane got a headache.
They were geneticists and Deadheads, neither of which Jane had any interest in, so she tried other topics: art, literature, current events, children, politics, movies. But they would only speak about fruit flies and The Grateful Dead, and the fact that they were openly attracted to Marty and Jane.
Jane told Marty, in no uncertain terms, that she would never touch either of them or allow them to touch her. As far as she was concerned, he was on his own, not that she thought he would be interested.
He was interested.
Betsy was the first woman he had had sex with in ten years and he floundered like an inexperienced swimmer, though no one seemed to notice. He would have enjoyed it if her husband hadn't also wanted his attention. Tom was thin, but very strong, with a huge cock and an insatiable desire for anal sex. Betsy brought out an enema bag. Holding it aloft, she said nasally, “We can probably get a quart or two in him, but it'll pretty much immobilize him.”
After three encounters with Betsy and Tom, Marty gave up. The routine enemas bothered him though he thought of himself as open-minded, and, he really wasn't into men. He tried to get Betsy alone but she refused to have sex with him if her husband wasn't there. Their rules stated that threesomes and foursomes were fine, but twosomes were taboo. This struck Marty as patently ridiculous, and he tried to argue them out of it, but they wouldn't budge.
“Hey man, you know what they say about farts, right?” Tom explained. “Everyone thinks everyone else's stink. But hey, it's been fun. Stay in touch,” and he gave Marty a bear-hug that nearly cracked a rib.
So Marty finally did what his best friend Stan told him to do all along, he ran a personal ad in a large weekly newspaper. At first he described his dream woman in detail, then, noticing the dozens of other married men looking for women, he tore it up and wrote: “Open to anything.” He got six responses. Two were from prostitutes. One was a survey he was to fill out and return to a P.O. box in the Midwest, but it had nobody's name or phone number. Marty threw it away, but Jane fished it out. She, at least, wanted to read the questions:
1) Do you live near a major highway?
2) Do you have sex more than once a week with your spouse?
3) Does the sight of a woman wearing torn pantyhose arouse you?
Jane saved the survey and shared it with her best friend, Eileen. They both laughed until they cried.
That left only three legitimate responses for Marty to follow up.
Jane was feeling timid about their new arrangement even though Eileen encouraged her to “go play a little.” It still felt immoral. Even with Marty's okay she felt self-conscious. A married woman looking for sex would be considered a nymph, insatiable, wanton. Just letting on that she was in any way sexually available seemed impossible to her. How did one go about it? Besides, there wasn't anyone around anyway. So she went about her life, her work, as usual, except, she removed her wedding band. It was a small gesture, but to Jane it felt like wearing a sandwich board that said “Desperate.”
Of course, no one noticed anyway, but it allowed her the freedom to wonder what it would be like to touch a different man after ten long years. The only problem was whenever she noticed an attractive man she found herself worrying more than fantasizing. What if he tickled her? What if he was too rough or hung-up or wanted her body to look different? The prospect of any of these was enough to make her cringe.
As it happened, Eileen had told her brother Jake about Marty and Jane, and Jake mentioned it, merely as interesting conversation, to his friend, Terry. Terry, a model for International Male, had met Jane only once at a barbecue. When he phoned her, Jane knew exactly who he was but had difficulty believing it. At that barbecue last year Terry was with a woman who was so gorgeous it was almost painful to stand beside her. She too was a model, for some upscale lingerie company, and the two of them looked like a photo shoot in any position they struck. Jane had spoken exactly enough words to be polite and studiously avoided them the rest of that day. So why would Terry be interested in her?
“I enjoyed our conversation,” he explained.
“You mean at that barbecue?”
“We haven't seen each other since, have we? I think I would have remembered if we had.”
“What did we talk about?” Jane asked, only partially teasing.
“You were talking about your work and how much you loved it. You were so full of vitality. I love that in a woman. A woman who is passionate about her life is usually passionate about everything.”
This was the closest thing to a direct come-on Jane had experienced in nearly fifteen years and she was shocked.
“What ever happened to the woman you were with that day? What was her name again?”
“Gee, I can't recall. What did she look like?”
Jane had to laugh. “Well I guess it's moot. Nice of you to call though, Terry. I've got to go now.”
But Terry wasn't put off. “Have you ever had sex with a model? I bet you haven't.”
Jane gasped but regained her composure quickly.
“What kind of question is that?”
“Most women want it on their resume. How about you?”
“I don't have a resume, Terry. I've been married for ten years.”
“So maybe it's time to update it.”
“Don't tell me you're currently without a super-model girlfriend.”
“Actually, beautiful women make the worst lovers. I've moved beyond that stage.”
There was definitely an insult in there somewhere, maybe several.
“You obviously think I haven't moved beyond that stage though, right?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because the only reason you gave me for having sex with you is that you're beautiful.”
There was a pause, a pause she would later describe to Eileen as being so loud and so long she could almost hear Terry struggling for a comeback. But he didn't manage it. They hung up, and he never called back, which was both a relief and a disappointment. Had he pursued her, who knows, maybe she would have given in. But every time she imagined undressing in front of him, she found herself comparing her body, her face, to that woman at the barbecue, and, she was sure he would do the same. She couldn't remember whether men were as ridiculous and insulting when she was single.
Among Marty's other three responses was Alice. She wrote him and enclosed three photos. She was forty. In the first picture Alice wore only a bra and garter belt with fish nets and high heels, smiling coyly with her hip jutting out. In the second picture Alice was fully clothed with only the top button of her silk blouse open enough to see a little cleavage, smiling coyly. In the third picture Alice was stark naked, lying on her tummy, with one leg bent at the knee, like a baby on a blanket with a coy smile.
“What a lovely triptych,” Jane exclaimed, laying them out on the dining room table.
Alice's letter explained she was a bored and miserable housewife in suburbia and her husband didn't know she was alive. She wanted Marty to write back (a long letter, if possible) and send pictures.
Jane found Alice's situation (and the pictures) too sad to be sexy, but Marty responded. After all, Alice had nice breasts (not as large as he would have liked, but nice) and she seemed like a good candidate. He wrote her a sensual letter and enclosed his best picture of himself in a swimsuit. It was only a five year old picture and he hadn't changed that much. He sent along his work number and told her to call him there between nine and five.
Then there was Vicki, a forty-eight year old professional woman who didn't have much time for talk. She was eager to meet so they had lunch the very next day. Marty got the distinct feeling he was going to an interview. There was a “let's get this over with,” tone in Vicki's voice which bothered him, but, as it turned out, Marty found her attractive anyway.
After the antipasto, Vicki let him know, in all honesty, that she had just had liposuction of the thighs and was still black and blue and quite sore. Even worse, her thighs were hard as rocks and would be for several more months. So, full-body contact was out for awhile. Well, that was a let-down. But Marty liked so many things. He wanted to get around to talking about oral sex when Vicki told him she was having breast reduction surgery the next month. His eyes flashed to her chest. She had large breasts but they certainly weren't over-sized or freakish. Actually, they were just the way he liked them. He considered questioning her, then changed his mind. He imagined all kinds of reasons she might have, and none of them was much of a turn on.
“What's your favorite sexual thing to do?” he asked. He had hesitated to ask this, thinking it too forward and too personal to ask the first time he met a woman. But hell, talking about sex was probably the only thrill he'd get from this woman.
“Well, I absolutely detest oral sex, if that's what you're getting at. And, I mean getting as well as giving.”
Marty wished Vicki luck with her past and future surgeries and never called her again. Instead, he decided to follow-up on the last remaining woman, Louise. He wasn't that eager to pursue her because her letter was long and rambling and her fantasies were so pedestrian as to be silly. A combination of Harlequin romance and Seventeen magazine, complete with feeding grapes to each other in front of a fireplace and walking on a beach in the summer rain. Still, she did seem interested, and one of her fantasies was just kinky enough to give Marty some hope. She wanted him to go down on her while she phoned her girlfriend and described what he was doing. It didn't turn him on but he could appreciate that it turned her on. And, it was a sign that she liked oral sex.
A few days after Marty mailed his letter to Alice he got a phone call.
“Is this Marty?” a man asked.
“Who is this?”
“I'm Dominick, Alice's husband. She sent you some pictures?”
“Listen I just-“ Marty panicked.
“Hey, don't sweat it. She showed me the letter you sent her. She wrote to you to prove to me she could still get a man. Jeez, I had no idea she felt so bad. I guess I been ignoring her. Really, I gotta thank you. You improved my marriage.”
Marty was stunned, then relieved, then he felt downright silly picturing Alice's husband looking at that picture of him, reading the silly note he wrote. Two days later Dom called again, asking if Marty wanted to continue to write to his wife. And, she'd keep sending him pictures too.
“It's changed our sex life,” Dom explained. “I can't thank you enough.”
Jane told Eileen what happened with Alice and Dom, and again they laughed until they cried.
When Louise's second letter arrived, again without a picture, Marty was annoyed. He had specifically requested one and for her to ignore his request indicated that nothing was going to happen between them. In his second letter, (this one much briefer) he made it clear that he was still interested, but would have to have either a photo or a phone number.
“Her writing is incredibly stilted, don't you think?” Jane asked Marty.
“What do you mean?”
“Like someone who's never really experienced sex or romance and is relying on what she's read, which is obviously trash.”
“Well, I don't care much about her literary style. But if she won't make with a picture there's something wrong here.”
In Louise's third letter she came clean. She was really Louis, a pre-op transsexual who was lonely and wanted male attention. What she had to offer, she explained, at least for the next year or so before the surgery, was “a chick with a dick,” and she was sure Marty would love it once he tried it.
Jane hadn't lingered long on the Terry phone call. A month later the whole thing struck her as absurd and she was more convinced than ever that there was no way to actualize a real affair since she traveled in the same circles all the time and everyone knew her, and knew she was married. Plus, she was completely lost about what she wanted. Marty had accused her more than once of being “plain vanilla,” about sex and she supposed he was right. She had no interest in S&M, B&D, apparatus, apparel or enemas.
It was when she was visiting a new client to give an estimate on re-doing their apartment that it finally happened. As she was leaving, the husband rode the elevator with her. She assumed his offer to take her to lunch was professional, and quickly agreed, trying to remember to tactfully ask him for his contacts before the end of the meal. He took her The University Club and as soon as they sat down he stated his case.
“I'm interested in having sex with you,” he said calmly.
Jane was shocked. “Are you always this blunt?”
“Only with people of your persuasion,” he said.
“My persuasion? You mean female?”
He nodded. He was quiet, thin-lipped, blue-eyed. She guessed he was about fifty, maybe a bit less. He was quite trim and obviously took good care of himself. He was also meticulously dressed in an Italian wool suit with Perry Ellis suspenders and a crisp white shirt with pearl cuff-links. She tried not to be impressed by him or the Club, after all most of her clients had money and lived well. But somehow she had never been to any university club and so all these suited men, and women in their tailored Chanels, impressed her in spite of herself. She was wearing a short skirt with a bolero jacket in a deep purple rayon. As a designer she could get away with dressing like this, and she usually loved the attention it brought her, but now she felt distinctly out of place.
“So, tell me the abridged story of your life,” he said, without smiling.
“Abridged? What's the matter, short attention span?”
“Short lunch break.”
“Then why waste it on my past? How long have you been married?”
“Two. Both grown.”
“How long have you been in banking?”
“Have you had many affairs?”
Jane blushed. This wasn't the answer she wanted, and surely not an appropriate answer from a man who wanted to sleep with her.
“I'm a world-class adulterer. I've done everything, seen everything for eighteen years now. What else do you care to know?”
She considered getting up and leaving. She didn't like him, she wasn't attracted to him and he was rude. She didn't care if she lost the job anyway. And if he was serious about having sex with her why was he saying these things? Did he think it would turn her on? He was probably full of shit. A ‘world-class’ adulterer would know women well enough to know that this kind of braggadocio would turn her off.
They finished their meal.
“Do you have a little more time? I know too many people here to speak openly.”
“Then why did you bring me here?” she challenged.
“To show you off.”
Jane was speechless again as she let him lead her out into the noise and heat of midtown.
“Who would have thought it would be so warm in March. Now I have to lug this coat all over.”
He led her to a small park where people were eating lunch. There were no tables available so he sat on a bench and motioned for her to join him.
“What's the kinkiest thing you've ever done?" he fired at her as soon as they sat down.
Jane balked. “Why should I tell you?”
“Well, I'll tell you then,” he answered, not put off. “My girlfriend jerked off on the hood ornament of my Jaguar in the parking lot of a movie theatre.”
“So is that what you do? Collect kinky experiences?”
“It's all the same to me. Whatever turns a woman on is what I like. And, if we weren't in public I'd have my face under that flippy little skirt of yours in two seconds.”
Now she was angry as well as uncomfortable. But she couldn't ignore the tingling in her crotch that his suggestion brought on.
“Sounds like you're a real pro.”
“Do you like to be tied up?”
“Ever tried it?”
“No,” she insisted.
“Then how do you know?”
“Oh please. I'm thirty-five years old. Don't you think if I was turned on to bondage I'd know that about myself by now?”
“Every woman I have ever had sex with wanted to be tied up. Every one without exception.”
“Not until you try it. I had one girlfriend who got so crazy she actually fainted when she came. But only when she was tied up. Ever have sex with two men at once?”
“Sounds over-stimulating, really.”
“No such thing.”
“Maybe not for you. I'm finicky.”
“Oh? In what way?”
“In how I'm touched.”
“Mmmm, tell me more specifics.”
“Why should I?”
“I bet you'd like me to make you crazy in the back seat of my Jaguar.”
Jane's breath caught. That old image of making out in the back seat of a car still turned her on; the slow burn, the passion, the stealth. “I'll pass for now,” she said quickly and stood up. He stood up with her.
“I'm going to Aspen tomorrow. I'll be back in a few days and then I want to have lunch with you again.”
She was silent.
He turned to her, his light eyes staring right at her. “But first I need a sign from you, something to tell me what you think of me.”
“You're a nice enough guy,” she mumbled. “I'll think about it.” And she turned to leave.
“Walk me to my office,” he ordered and grabbed her arm. “You see all these women?” he whispered as he steered her through the midday lunch crowds. “I could make any one of them completely crazy in three minutes. I'll take you on my boat. We'll do it in the sunlight. It's always better when there's a possibility of being seen.”
At his office building Jane stood motionless as he walked off. She was flushed and confused. Was she losing her mind? She had stood up to leave, intending not to see him again, and somehow wound up calling him a “nice enough guy.” And now he was expecting her to have lunch with him when he got back. This man was a total stranger and he spoke to her like she was a whore and she told him he was probably a nice enough guy! She noticed the stares as she walked along the crowded streets and deliberately crossed Fiftieth Street to avoid the construction workers on their lunch break. Maybe the skirt was too short after all.
She was supposed to go visit a prospective client, but she was too distracted. So she walked back to the little park on Fifty-third and sat down. Her hands were shaking. Her face was still warm. He wasn't a nice guy at all. He was a pig. He was insulting, arrogant and flip with her. He didn't even know if she was married or single, and certainly didn't know about her arrangement with her husband, yet he behaved as if he knew she was available. And his approach! Totally counter-productive. Why would he think she would be turned on by a man who brags about how many women he's screwed? A man who describes his many affairs as “just recreation?” He was probably just some crazy pervert. Some pervert who was used to getting women by flaunting his wealth and connections.
She phoned Eileen from the street and told her the whole story.
“So where are you?”
“At Fifth and Fifty-third, why?”
“You don't sound great. Are you sure you're okay? If you'd have called an hour ago I could've met you.”
“I'm just a little shaken that's all. I mean he's got to be truly crazy to say those things, don't you think?”
“Or else just horny. And God knows there are plenty of women who fall for guys like this.”
“I guess. But it's just that, oh I don't know. I mean he was out of line and everything, but it was so compelling and -.”
“And don't tell me, you want him to make you crazy in the back seat of his Jaguar?”
Jane paused. Pressing the handset close to her ear so she could hear over the traffic, staring out onto Fifth Avenue, on this inexplicably hot day at winter's uncertain end, she whispered, “I want him to make me crazy in the back seat of his Jaguar.”