After sex, he pulls her onto his chest. She drapes one arm across him and he rests his hand on her lower back. She has soft skin. How is her skin so soft? Sometimes they fall asleep this way, with her jaw in his armpit. He is bony, angular, and sometimes her temples hurt. Mostly, though, she is comfortable and she drools on his chest, wakes up, laughs, wipes off the drool, apologizes.
After sex, she plays computer games in the next room while he reads. “Just ten minutes” turns into twenty, turns into an hour, turns into two. She’s asked him to remind her of the time: she gets up early for work.
“Babe,” he calls, “it’s been an hour.”
“Shit,” she says.
She’s in a match.
He reads another chapter of the book he’s reviewing about the life of an obscure British theologian from the 13th century. He feels himself getting hard again. Should he save it for her? Nah. He touches himself, pulls himself off, falls asleep eventually to the furious clicks of the mouse in the other room.
After sex she says, “You hurt me again,” and he says, “Why didn’t you say something?” And she says, “You know it hurts when you do that.” And he says, “Sorry,” and he is sorry—he is—but he couldn’t stop himself. In the shower, alone, watching soap swirl down the drain, he admits it: he didn’t want to stop. Is he a bad man?
After sex he jumps into the shower, out of the shower, frantically throws on trousers, a shirt, a sweater vest. He’ll have to take a cab to the university: he’ll be late otherwise. He has photocopying to do before class. He’s forgotten his office keys. He hasn’t made breakfast or lunch. He’ll overspend his budget today because he’ll have to buy food.
Lately, he’s too exhausted in the evenings, and too rushed in the mornings. She complains they don’t have enough sex.
He gets into the cab and drives ten minutes to the university. He watches the meter climb: eight dollars, ten dollars, twelve seventy-five.
After sex he says, “I was reading this new theory about the fourth dimension: that parallel universes are interacting with our universe. They’re theorizing that the atoms …”
And she sighs and says, “You’re chatty after sex,” and he’s angry then because of the word chatty: a woman’s word, a word used to describe his mother and he hates his mother, and suddenly he has the urge to hurt her: to twist her wrist, or put both hands on her neck and squeeze—but he doesn’t, he doesn’t, he never does. He won’t.
After sex, he tells her the bad news: enrollment is down. After five years of teaching, he will not get full time. He calls other universities to ask about openings, “tenure track,” he asks, and he goes red, embarrassed. Tenure track? They laugh—they laugh.
Their landlord raises the rent and he has a panic attack where he hyperventilates in the kitchen and has to sit down until she brings him a glass of water.
“We’ll be fine,” she says. “I’ll pay the rent until you get back on your feet.”
Back on his feet? He has a PhD!
She sees the look on his face and apologizes; she has said the wrong thing again.
Her salary: $65,000
His salary: $25,000
His father taught him: the man provides that for his family...
For months after sex they roll away from each other. She plays video games in the office while he surfs the internet in the bedroom. When she comes to bed, he gets up, wanders through the apartment alone. His insomnia has worsened now that he only teaches one class. He does not go to campus every day, like he once did. He does not have an office. He does not attend conferences, or publish papers, or sit through faculty meetings. His schedule becomes reversed: he sleeps during the day, and is up all night and she catches herself saying to her mother, “like ships passing in the night,” that old cliché, except they are barely thirty five.
“I thought this might happen to us, when we’re fifty.”
“I wish you’d find someone else,” her mother says and she remembers why she doesn’t complain to her mother, why she keeps her lips sealed.
After sex she meets with some friends to get away for a few days. When she returns, she finds him drunk: a happy drunk. It’s good to make plans when he’s in this mood, but she can’t talk because he takes her ballroom dancing through the kitchen, and onto the balcony where the neighbors can see, and then to the bedroom.
After sex she tries to discuss the next move: what about going back to school: getting his B.Ed? He could teach at high school, she suggests. She can pay the tuition so he doesn’t have to take out another student loan. What does he think?
She kisses his neck, below his jaw, but he doesn’t touch her, doesn’t respond and she feels like she’s ruined the whole evening.
“I don’t like teenagers.”
But how can he make it clear? On the bus two girls laughed so obnoxiously with their big donkey laughs he pulled the cord, and got off the bus early to prevent an outburst, to prevent himself from yelling CAN’T YOU SEE HOW ANNOYING YOU ARE? How did these teenagers exist? How had this laugh not died out through natural selection? Somebody slept with that laugh?
“My grade eight teacher threw a desk at us once,” he says. “He was better suited for grade eleven or twelve. He expected us to know things we couldn’t know at that age. He was frustrated all the time.”
He pictures himself at the front of a grade eight classroom and shudders. She reaches out and squeezes his hand.
“Everything will be ok,” she says, and then, because she can’t help it, “you just have to try.”
After sex she gets dressed, and spends forty minutes applying make up, straightening her hair.
She says, “Do you want to leave now, or in half an hour?”
“Doesn’t matter,” he says. “I’ll probably just get an appetizer. Cheaper anyway.”
He sits with his arms folded, on the couch. She is hurt by this comment, but they’ve had this conversation: she is happy to buy dinner. She wants to go out, enjoy life. It would be good for him. But now he scowls at the floor and refuses to meet her eye.
“Maybe we shouldn’t go,” she says.
She stands for a minute and waits for him to make a move, for him to say: No, no, we should go, you’ve been waiting for this all week, you deserve it.
“I’m not hungry,” he says.
She takes off her dress, and wipes off the makeup, and closes the bedroom door.
After he can’t perform again, she goes to the bathroom and doesn’t come out for a long time. She knows it’s not her, but she can’t help looking at herself in the mirror. Maybe it’s because her breasts are smaller now that she’s hitting the gym, and counting calories, even though she is already strong, slim, healthy.
She escapes to the gym to get away from him.
The other day she said, “Oh, stop being such a sad bastard.”
She said: “You’re really bringing me down.”
She said: “I’m tired of proposing solutions to you. You refuse every single idea.”
He said: “Your ideas are stupid.”
When she gathers her things and leaves, he doesn’t argue. Doesn’t fight for the relationship, doesn’t try to convince her to stay. He’s finished convincing her, and himself, that he’s not a bad man.