They both were glad to walk out of the bar. The beer-fueled din, the clangorous eruptions from assorted hubbubs of revelers, the blast of forgettable pop music and the whoops and rumpus of excitable under-forties were all just too inimical to the business of man-to-woman conversation. But where is one to go on a Friday night? Especially as on such nights all the bars on Upper Street spill over, like muffin tops, with punters. She had never liked bars, full of drinking yobbos, preferring instead cosy haunts where girlfriends “catch up” on the latest gossip and news; so the fresh air and relative quiet were rather welcome. He needed a fag. She had started smoking again since they met, feeling rather religiously that couples who smoked together stuck (or more likely, stank) together. They both reached for their packs and matches. He: Marlboro. She: very much Benson and Hedges.
She was the first to speak: “So, come again, why won’t you commit?” The smoke left her mouth as she drew first blood. The ghostly weft of nicotine rose hesitantly above their heads and then upwards to the sky; an imploring sacrificial fragrance to the goddess of love.
He was silent for a moment, pausing deliberately; but not for effect but in deliberation of the best way to proceed. If you were a parent questioning a child you would be convinced that child was about to spin a magnificent and implausible yarn. But he was scheming no lie. Yet for a few moments more his right foot nervously played noughts and crosses with a disinterested pebble. He breathed deeply and began: “Well, I’m worried about the sex,” but then he caught her quizzical eye and the beginning upturn in her lips and quickly added,”But wait, don’t laugh. It is important. I used to be married.”
“Uh-oh”. This was news. They had been seeing each other for about six weeks.
“I was married. Her name’s Phoebe and she was from Durham.” He stopped and then corrected himself: “is from Durham.” After convincing himself that indeed his ex-wife was still alive and he hadn’t murdered her in a haze of amnesia he continued. “We were together for five years and at first we had sex all the time”. He pulled contentedly on his fag, emitting a satisfactory ahh. “All the time we fucked, I mean made love, oh fuck it, we fucked and the sex was exhilarating. Fresh and pickled. All over the place we did it and it didn’t matter what time of day or season. We even did it in church at her sister’s wedding pretending to check on the registry room down in the crypt … and can you believe it (she couldn’t, not really wanting to know why her lover was working to make her mad) – while hymns were being sung upstairs we were doing it down below? Oh boy, that was fun.”
He suddenly stopped, ostensibly to let the deafening police siren go by, but in reality he had started to sense that she didn’t like him telling her that he had liked fucking other women. So he resumed more solemnly.
“Slowly however the fire waned. Imperceptibly at first, you know, like when you’re putting on weight, I don’t mean you I mean like anyone, right, you don’t know it because you have a cake here and a Snickers there and you think it doesn’t matter because you’re playing football on Saturday or going to aerobics class on Tuesday and kaboom you’re thirteen stone and you think how did I get here? Well that’s how it was with our sex. it went from millennium fireworks and podium corkers to heart surgery routine precision. “Nurse, will you pass me the bone cutter?” “Here you are Dr Seuss” “How much time do I have Nurse before I cover him up?” “Exactly ten minutes Doctor”. He laughed showing pretty teeth. ‘You could time our sex: ten minutes and it was all over.”
He stopped to look at her. He couldn’t always tell if she was really listening to him or had drifted off into a far off world of nereids and unicorns.
But she was listening. “And?”
“Then she got pregnant. At first we still did it, you know, we called it “humping the hump” or at least I did ‘cause I thought it might bring back the excitement but then she got bigger and tired out and was definitely not in the mood for humping – either from the front or the back. But I was like cool, OK, you’re carrying our baby.”
A glass collector came round looking for empty bottles and they waited for him to go. As he opened the door Kate Perry was bruiting about kissing a girl. Two big black boys also went in chattering about the football derby the next day. ‘But I gotta get laid tonight” one of them emphatically maintained as they closed the door behind them.
“We had a boy and our time was spent getting used to this stranger and cleaning all his shit. I would, like, masturbate, obviously not with Phoebe or the baby around, but in private I watched porn and jerked off. It was like being fourteen again; furtive actions wondering if you’ll get caught. But then blink! and it was like two months and I had had no sex. Not good. Not good at all”. He’d almost finished his cigarette. She was only halfway through hers. “It became unbearable. I wanted a woman: her scent, her warmth, the softness of her skin; moaning my name and all the blah blah that goes with it and then … then we talked about it and for a few months she’d put out for all of ten minutes but I could tell that she wasn’t really there and that is no fun. I need to know that I’m giving pleasure not just receiving it. You know, I can gush as indiscriminately as the next man but if my woman is not putting in hundred percent then I’m not gushing a hundred percent. I’ve never been the wham bam kind of guy.”
“But even that stopped. She was too tired; you know there’s a a young baby and she had a full time job and house chores and it was just too much and she had no energy or inclination for sex.”
Silence; puff; silence; the dull glow of a cigarette being sucked of its last goodness was one of the lesser lights on Upper Street that night. Around the silent two, the young razzle-dazzlers of Islington were just getting started. Her upright silhouette against the brick wall showed off smooth round curves of a woman in her prime. And she was smart too. He’d better not fuck this up.
“I can tell you this one thing, though, a man is not a stone. If he isn’t getting it from you he’s getting it elsewhere. There’s no point saying “but if he loves me” blah blah. I don’t understand women who think if they don’t give sex for like, forever, the man is supposed to do nothing and remain faithful. That’s like ridiculous you know. A man is not a stone. He’s gotta cum or else he goes crazy. C-r-a-z-y. It’s the way we’re made. If a woman wants to keep her man she’s going to have to put out.” He tossed the stub on the pavement.
She put hers in the stub receptacle. “So does that mean we’re doing ok, at least for now?”
He smiled and then laughed. She loved it when he laughed and showed even teeth, stained brown by coffee but still very pretty. “Yeah, we’re doing very ok. And I’m hoping we stay that way.” He took her hand and they walked back into the bar, to the howls of Miley Cyrus and loud forgettable pop music. She couldn’t figure out whether he was telling her not to have a baby. How’s that going to work?