That’s the title of a short piece I wrote this weekend — not an entire story, mind you, but half, up to the point where something new must happen between the two characters. It’d be nice if you could put a story in your gleaming stainless steel pressure cooker and have it come out all seasoned and mellow and finished. I haven’t tried it, but think this is unlikely to work.
So, while I’m waiting for inspiration about how to go on, I’m posting a little bit of it. And all I have to say about it, really, is that it’s awfully hard to write about sex very well. Here is the first part of my effort. The story begins with a letter. It is sent to a woman who has been widowed recently. She lives with her three teenage boys. The letter is from a man she had an affair with a long time ago. It is an erotic letter, although we don’t know much about its contents. This is what happens after that letter, and another like it, arrive:
It is not hard to find out where to reach him. He is, by this time, a law professor at a university in the southern part of the state. He writes books and gives lectures on things she could not remember him ever caring about. He might still be married. He might not. They don’t talk about that on his school’s website. She writes his email address on top of one of the envelopes, puts his letters into the box with the wedding picture and her passport and tries to forget all about it.
Maybe it is all the sex in the fraught teenage air of her house, or maybe it is all the sex out in the world, or maybe it is all the sex contained in his letters, but she discovers that she cannot forget him or the things he has described.
In fact, the more the days go by, the more she sees that he has colonized most of the words she hears or uses during the day. “Pull,” and “hold,” now belong to him exclusively, as do “your,” “my” and “I.” But these are the least of her problems. More concerning is that he has used the words “take” and “put” at least four times in one paragraph and she finds herself growing warm and distracted every time her boss tells her to take a paragraph out of a report or put something on his desk before he leaves, things he says with alarming frequency. But most difficult is a string of words with no commas — “you me that room” — which makes it almost impossible for her to concentrate on her work as an auditor for the state government, a job in which these words are used on a regular basis, although obviously not with the same intention of arousing her interest.
One afternoon, when her boys are outside practicing tricks on their skateboards, she pulls the computer toward her, trying not to think about the way he has said he will pull her toward him, and begins to type. She decides on “dear” and “surprising.” She decides not to use “amusing” but does work in the phrase “give it some thought” which she has never used in quite this context, not that she recalls anyway. Without giving herself time to reconsider, she uses “love” and “hard” but in separate sentences and then, thinking it might be best to keep some things in reserve, she sends it all to him, to tell him what she thinks of that.
In his office at the law school, he hears the email beep that signals he has one more thing to do. When he sees her name, he gets up and locks his door. He has not wanted to think about whether she will answer but now that she has all he can see is that she still punctuates beautifully and never spells anything wrong. This does not frighten him the way it used to because his wife, now his ex-wife, once told him in a friendly way that as long as you use the right words at the right time, people will look the other way at how you spell them. She never lied to him, not even when she told him that she did not love him anymore, and so he believes her about the spelling.
Her email is more funny than heated, but he is glad she has decided to start that way. He has not wanted things to go too quickly from words to the room he has already told her about. He is pretty sure she will have more to say. That’s what “give it some thought” generally means. He writes one sentence, enough to keep her mind off the wrongdoing in the Department of Transportation for an entire week, and waits for her to come a little closer and tell him what she is thinking about.
It takes her three days to do so, but when she does, he discovers he cannot breathe and think about her at the same time. He tells her this and other, more specific things besides. And so it goes, for a month or two, until there are no more words in circulation in the everyday world that they have not already used to describe the many things they have done and would like to do with and to each other. The atmosphere between them, the entire corridor from the southern part of the state to the northern, buzzes with words.
One sunny afternoon, when he is in his office, absent-mindedly thinking about what she means by the word “effective,” she calls him.
There is more, but I’ll leave off here.