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Authors: Jesse Kornbluth

Married Sex

BOOK: Married Sex
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MARRIED SEX

A Love Story

Jesse Kornbluth

To HH

When, like Disraeli, I murmur

That you are more like a mistress than a wife,

More like an angel than a mistress; when, like Satan,

I hiss in your ear some vile suggestion,

Some delectable abomination,

You smile at me indulgently: “Men, men!”

—“Woman,” Randall Jarrell

Chapter 1

“The most beautiful woman in the world is a woman reading a book.”

I didn't mean to say that. Or anything, really. It just came out—an awkward, schoolboy admission, sincerity gone wrong.

Blair was the woman with the book. She sat on the couch, looking like tens of thousands of New York women who know they're attractive and don't want to have to deal with it every minute of the day. But she was a corporate nun only from a distance. Her straight navy skirt stopped above the knee, emphasizing long, bare runner's legs. And her white silk blouse was unbuttoned just far enough to reveal fairly significant curves.

People who knew her back in Iowa would be stunned to see Blair now. As she stepped into middle age, she had her breasts done. She didn't go too far—just the suggestion of far, the suburbs of appropriateness.

To say I'm interested in those curves is to understate—when it comes to breasts, I'm a first responder.

Blair was ignoring the skirt inching up her thighs and the glass of white wine on the table by her side.

Whatever she was reading, it was serious enough to merit a pencil in her hand.

She finished making a note, looked up, saw me studying her, and had no trouble reading my mind. Her laugh was instant. Also eloquently dismissive. She didn't really need to say “Be a nice boy and let me read.” But she did. And then she waved in the direction of the kitchen.

“Dinner in five,” I said.

“Ten,” she countered, and tapped her pencil on the book. “Pages.”

Salad dressed with lemon juice and a chicken breast beaten paper-thin—there are women in New York who consider that a meal. It's not my idea of dinner, and it's nothing I'd cook for anyone I care about. For Blair, I'd made real food: sautéed zucchini to start, served lukewarm with chopped mint and a drizzle of olive oil, then roast chicken with fresh herbs tucked under the skin, and boiled small red potatoes and French beans, both glistening in melted butter.

Calories don't count, especially when you know you're going to burn them off.

Blair read more than ten pages, but I didn't care. While she read, I made unnecessary trips to the living room—“More olives, Blair? Let me refresh that wine”
—
just to look at her. Not for the outfit, though I find classic and corporate to be oddly hot. I went for the visual of a woman reading a book.

Over the years, I've come to think that the best way to learn about a woman—the best way short of spending a night with her—is to watch her read. When she's deep in a book, you can easily imagine what she was like as a kid, curled up on the porch or in her room, ignoring her mother's call as she races to finish one more chapter, one more page. She's all essence. And what you see there—that's valuable information.

The information here: intensity. Total absorption. This is a woman who can focus on a project long after everyone else has gone home. Or wrap her legs around a lover and, eyes closed, thrust as if her life depended on it.

During the last serious real estate crash, when anyone with a job and some savings could live high above his means, I bought an apartment on the tenth floor at 94th Street and Central Park West. Its special attraction: In late summer and early fall, as the sun sets, the great limestone fortresses across the park begin to transform. From my living room, the heat of the day leaving the park makes the Fifth Avenue buildings look like they're on the far side of a misty valley in Tuscany; the windows in those buildings could be the lights of a distant hill town.

At that hour, in that light, the apartment also glows. And with candles lit in the dining room, time seems to slow. I started the sensual music of Cesária Évora and filled wineglasses with second-growth Bordeaux.

Unoriginal? Worse—corny. But the scene was set.

The aroma of the herbed pan gravy was restaurant-worthy. The wine was so smooth we drank it like water. As we ate, I felt the edges of anticipation moving in.

“What are you reading?”

“Lesley Blanch.
The Wilder Shores of Love
. You've never heard of it. She wrote it in the fifties.”

“What's it about?”

“Four Victorian women who went off to live in the Middle East.”

“How did you hear about it?”

“It was summer reading for the new First-Year Class.”

“And if they don't read it?”

“They'll be embarrassed at my lecture … maybe.”

This was so like Blair. Conscientious to a fault. Always hoping for the best. There are Barnard deans who attract the cool kids—Blair specializes in the afflicted. She attracts the never-been-away-from-home-befores, the evangelical Christians on their first tour of Gomorrah, the closeted gays. And, behind them, the usual crop of wounded eighteen-year-olds, with their predictable troubles: parents stricken by cancer just weeks after dropping their daughters off, parents who waited until the nest was empty to split up, parents hurt because they're no longer writing every paper.

Blair is also a lecturer in Women's Studies. I'm sure that the first time any number of new Barnard students knock on her door they're expecting a West Side feminist from a time capsule: frizzy-haired, cosmetics-challenged, badly dressed and proud of it. But Blair is more like Gloria Steinem than Betty Friedan. Her hair is professionally streaked, she gets treatments for her skin, and she dresses for her office as if she were going to a C-suite. “Role model” applies here.

“Why this book?”

I sensed a preview of Blair's lecture ahead and poured more wine.

“In an un-liberated era, these women broke the narrow restrictions of their class.”

“Forged their own identities,” I suggested.

“Went on their own journeys,” she said, and we laughed, because Blair knows how that word grates on me. It's stupid to be annoyed by such a little thing, but I seriously think
journey
belongs only in the mouths of Best Supporting Actresses and only when they're accepting their Oscars.

“What's this book say about love?”

“I think I can quote her. ‘There are two sorts of romantics: those who love and those who love the adventure of loving.'”

“Which are you?”

Blair didn't hesitate. “Both.”

On the far side of dinner a thin joint awaited. Never before, never during—that's just an invitation to gorge. After, it makes apples and cheese seem like a real dessert and coffee like exotic nectar. And it gives definition to an evening; one segment is over, another begins.

It was almost nine o'clock; everyone who was going somewhere tonight was there now. We were going nowhere. Dinner finished and plates pushed aside, we sat at the table, making progress on a second bottle of wine as Otis Redding sang about women who please and tease you, love and wrong you, hope for a little tenderness.

Comfort surrounded us.

I lit the joint and handed it over. Blair inhaled with a ruthless efficiency.

“Somewhere out there,” she said when she could hold the smoke no longer, “is a client who would be very disturbed to know you muddy your mind like this.”

“Somewhere out there is a client who would love for me to muddy my mind with her.”

“Ah yes, the always available divorce lawyer,” Blair said, and took another puff.

“I'm far down the list of desirables.”

“Not possible.”

“Gynecologists. Tennis pros. They're … kings.”

“True,” Blair said. “Here's some consolation: You're above gardeners.”

Blair surrendered the joint. Then she looked blank; she'd gone interior. I watched as she tried to follow her thought to its end. But she got lost in the middle—she wasn't getting there anytime soon.

“Blair?”

She blinked and returned to Friday night on Central Park West.

“Sorry,” she said. “Where were we?”

“You were in the ozone. I was here, looking at you and thinking about a picture.”

“What of?”

“It was after dinner. They've finished the meal, but they're happy to stay at the table and chat. She's smoking a cigarette. He asks her to open her blouse. She does. She's not wearing a bra. She inhales. And just then, he takes … one picture. One very memorable picture.”

“Helmut Newton,” she said. “It's a picture of his wife.”

Without prompting, Blair opened more buttons and unhooked a clasp at the front of her bra. Her breasts took center stage: round, almost heavy, the nipples pink and hardening.

“Like this?” she asked.

In a flash, I was up and moving around the table. Blair pushed her chair back. I slipped a finger into her mouth. She licked and sucked it. I removed my finger, circled her lips with it, set it on a nipple, and, slowly, started to make gentle circles. I varied the speed: faster on the way up, a slow graze across the top, a swoop down, a light pinch at the bottom. And again. And again.

My mouth was pressed to her left ear; I tongued it lightly. I could feel Blair arch her back, hear her breathing change. I reached under her skirt, my right hand stroking the inside of her thighs.

My fingertips rested between her legs. Slowly, slowly, I stroked her, up and down, side to side. Her eyes were closed, her arms were limp.

If I had my way, we'd never have made it to the bedroom—I would have pushed plates off the table, undressed Blair right there, and had her standing up. When it was over, I'd have dropped to the floor, panting, head spinning. And I would have been thrilled, because we'd taken all the complexity of a relationship and dialed it down to animal heat.

Blair had more self-control.

“Oh my God, oh my God.” Blair gently pushed me away. “Let's go to bed.”

In the bedroom, I undressed quickly, carelessly, and lit a candle. The CD player clicked, and we were joined by rum-and-reggae dreamscapes, music that made me picture camels gliding across sand in the moonlight, a woman lowering herself onto a man on a chaise on a Caribbean beach at midnight. Movie music, the soundtrack of lush sex.

I turned to Blair. She was already in bed, face down, arms at her side. This is a woman who thinks she's carrying five impossible-to-lose extra pounds—all of it in her ass—and who never runs around the reservoir without a sweater tied around her waist as a butt cover. Which is madness; those five pounds are her glory. But face down on the bed—here was a different Blair, free and loose.

Kneeling beside her, I stroked her ass, my hand drifting across the line where buttock met thigh. Blair shivered.

“So hot,” she whispered.

But although Blair tensed, although a series of small external orgasms had her moaning, that large, final, internal spasm eluded her.

There are nights when nothing gets your lover there, when you're drenched with sweat and she says, “Come … you come.” And because you've done your best and it's not in any way a defeat, you lock your hands on her wrists and let go.

And then there are nights when you're so committed to her orgasm that you'll run through the catalogue of positions and techniques.

This was one of those nights.

Blair's breath was ragged. She was digging her nails into my back. Attention and technique had become just … activity.

“Get off,” she ordered, and when I wasn't fast enough, she pushed my chest. I pulled out, and we reached for the water glasses we keep on our night tables. Like boxers between rounds.

“Now what?” I asked, panting.

“I take care of you,” Blair said.

Blair circled her hand around me, tugging gently, her tongue barely touching me. If I had died just then, it would have been from excessive joy.

This is what it's like to be a woman, I thought, and surrendered to being unmanned. Blair glowed with power, and I glowed with powerlessness, and then the wine and the smoke and the woman converged. I saw colors—gold and royal purple—and then my head emptied of everything.

A violent thrust. I grabbed her head. But I've never liked finishing that way—it's too much like a ritual in a porn movie, too disrespectful, too raw—and, somehow, I unhooked from Blair, threw her on her back, called her
darling
,
dearest
,
only
.

With that, bliss flooded through me, and I reared back one final time and drained myself into my beloved wife of twenty years.

BOOK: Married Sex
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