MICHELE SUZANN / THE FAILURE OF IMAGINATION
—I will make it Love. Not able to imagine working for him, having slept with him, and not continuing to sleep with him, at least not with any sort of guarantee-able regularity, yet still working for him, nope, could not imagine this, even disappointed—she’d had better lovers. She could tell that Marty was not fucking her, Holly; she could tell that Marty was fucking, and that she Holly had merely provided him with the opportunity to fuck. He paid her little attention, beyond some hoarse “Do you like that”s (the physical thats being most times unclear, at best, what, that corkscrew thing he’s doing? He’s doing that on purpose? (And Holly can only imagine asking like what?)) that sound to Holly so faked, well, not faked exactly, put on, maybe, the audible equivalent of too much cologne on a junior-high-school first date, not concerned so much with fragrance, or date’s reaction to fragrance, but careful to do that thing, that thing done because it is the thing, alleged by others, to do. So she closed her eyes, and writhed, and pressed closer, purring mm-mmm and wishing he would try something different, not about to assert. He blew in her ear, and it was a hot roar, and she wanted him to stop but did not want to hurt his feelings, she knew if she asked him not to do that, or worse, asked him to do it differently, that his eyes would shutter, deaden, his face would close up and he might be hurt, but he would get mean. It had happened on the sidewalk when she had said you know you’re walking in front of me, don’t you? When the two of them were walking to Thai Noodle, their first meal together that wasn’t a lunch after the Saturday route. She had thought, for several strides, that he was perhaps dodging approaching pedestrians she could not see, even though no body obscured her view of the sidewalk in front of them, no body but Marty’s, that is; or perhaps he was about to turn to her and say something, but it was unnerving, she could keep pace with him fine but every time she stepped a bit to the left to draw abreast of him, he moved left, his shoulder crowding in front of hers, and getting pushed toward a wall by and also made to walk behind the person she had been wanting to be walking together with for a couple months now, it made her skin feel too tight and it made her want to punch, to push him out into the street, and she said you know, you’re totally walking in front of me, right, and she half expected him to say so? and maybe she was hearing him think it but she looked up at his face and watched it go blank, and his voice did that flat thing like when he had just heard something he didn’t want to hear from Kenny or Stu or Dottie or Spike, not even flat it was empty, like the only way he could be in the situation was drain whatever words he spoke of himself. Oh rilly. But they were at the restaurant and he was pulling open the door—he that rare creature who was careful and precise and ceremonious with his door-openings of cars and buildings, with the entrances and exits into and from, in the company of woman, he was the first guy she’d ever been with who did this ladies first thing seriously, not as an ironic joke—and when she started to walk in first only found herself cut in front of by his jean-jacketed back (I’ll show her walking in front of, she imagined him saying, to himself), and so she said nothing more about it, during dinner, but on the walk back to her place he did the same thing, and Holly said, seriously, dude, you’ve got to stop that. And he did, but every time they walked somewhere he had to be told, he never learned. So she did not want to tell him he was blowing in her ear too loudly, her choices narrowed to endure it until you get to know him better, or pretend you don’t like it at all, pretend that you hate having your ears blown into, which is a lie, she likes it if it’s subtle and unexpected and actually sends shivers up the back of her head and down some inside, snakey core, but wouldn’t a lie be kinder than telling him he was not doing the thing correctly, even if she didn’t use the words right and wrong, even if she was as neutral as I like it like this, still, how could he miss that this was a revision, all he would be able to absorb was that he’d done something wrong, she knows, she knows exactly how he will take it, and it’s only their first fuck, and Holly thought I don’t need to be picky now, do I? She had been wanting this fuck for weeks now and shouldn’t she just be happy that here he was, in the flesh, instead of consigned to fantasies of screwing right there on the warehouse floor, or the empty back of the truck? And if she was dismayed, as she twisted herself into positions that seemed cribbed from some adults-only channel, at how he seemed determined to fuck her from behind, or standing on his knees and bouncing her on the bed, holding her shins, or sideways, their legs scissoring, hips grinding, with her on top with him on top, with her pulled to the edge of the bed and him standing up, if Holly was dismayed that Marty seemed to have some kind of agenda he was expressing, well, she was even more dismayed at how very little of it coincided with her own, and in fact, how very much of it she found herself oohing and yeahing through that she might rather have not, had she been more focused on the actual fleshly sensations she was feeling, and less on maintaining some ideal of Holly and Marty together fucking that she did not want spoiled by the least bit of awkwardness, or uncertainty, or hurt feelings, so focused on this maintenance of fantasy was Holly that her desire waned, and her cunt dried up, but Marty was wearing a rubber and couldn’t tell at first, and when words could no longer be avoided and he, not breaking rhythm, asked was she okay, Holly tried to pretend she was not stinging sore, tried to pretend with a watery smile and half-closed eyes, and she said maybe you should just finish up soon. And raising her hips to his to show him how good it still was for her, trying not to wince and hoping each thrust would be the last, still moaning and mm-mming to let him know she was happy, she didn’t want him to think he wasn’t great, she didn’t want him to think she didn’t want him, she didn’t want him to think she wasn’t just as much of a marathon lover as he was, and she would have faked an orgasm if he hadn’t noticed how rough she had become, all that anticipatory slickness worn away as she found her desire encroached upon by displeasure, no not like that, she wanted to say, like this, here, but she couldn’t say it, and she couldn’t show him, she didn’t want that shut-down look, she didn’t consider that he might be tractable, naked. She was naked too, and she was sure he couldn’t withstand the news of his own unfamiliarity with the terrain, like learning a new route, nobody likes to be a rookie, and Holly was sure, if she asked him to slow down, to stay there, to work it, yeah, like that, no no stay there, that he might make some half-hearted attempt, this attempt half-hearted by virtue of the very request just made having revealed his inability to have divined it right the first time, which translates to stupidity, Holly knows, and nobody wants to feel stupid, especially not stupid and naked at the same time, and so Holly tried to work around him, tried to wring pleasure where she might, but then even her body grew dismayed, and Marty finally came, and as he came, she thought she’d never seen him look so fragile. Some want, childlike in its insistence, pouring itself into her, some four-year-old’s face, flooring her, wow, this guy? Really? She told herself it will get better. His hairline sweat-wet and he sank half on and then rolled off her, she wanted him to ask about her but she didn’t want to lie; she wanted an excuse for her failure to perform; she liked his muscles and his tan skin, she liked his wrinkles and his heaving sighs. She shrugged and wanted to go wash, put cool water on her swollen cunt, swollen and unreleased, but she didn’t want to leave him, she’s sure she owed him an explanation, what sign is the moon in, I can say I never last very long when it’s in…what, Aries? A dry sign, one would think. Libra? Or I could say I like it slower, usually, and then if he says why didn’t you say something I can say well because it felt so good. But Marty was lighting a cigarette and saying nothing, and Holly loved the way he smoked, with the cigarette way in the crotch of his first and second fingers, god that’s hot, and she wondered if she should reach over for his hand and say let me have a drag, and them she wondered if that would disturb him, maybe he just wants this cigarette, and besides, that’s so cliché, I’m not that kind of girl anyway, I’ve got my own pack (and a better brand) right here anyway, I’ll get up and pee, light my own when I come back. But as she rose up on elbows and then to sit, he said wait, where’re you going, sounding like some small son not wanting to lose his mother, and she was pleased, that he would sound this way, talking to her, and she leaned back and kissed him on the cheek, too hard, miscalculating the rate of her mouth’s descent through the air, unfamiliar with the territory, and angry at herself for being clumsy, she pushed an even harder kiss at him, trying to make a joke…of a kiss? Hoping he would think she’d meant to be so harsh, and he blinked in surprise, and Holly hated her nervousness, and Holly hated her nervousness especially because if she had gotten off she would most likely not now be stinging and impatient and Holly hated her nervousness because it was that same nervousness that had silenced her during the fucking, well not silenced her but silenced her preferences, she should be all languorous and cigarette and drowse now, not mis-leaning and graceless and annoyed and annoyed with him, true just a little bit, not much, but he could say something, couldn’t he? He could show some kind of concern for her, couldn’t he?
And the cool balm of a wad of wetted toilet paper and God look how swollen I am and her unwillingness to meet her own eyes in the mirror just look at the hair check for green between the teeth did his stubble really make my chin that red? And something subterranean, roiling, flowering, but unacknowledged, deep, maybe near her kidneys, in the back of her, below her ribs; or perhaps only recognizable as magnetic repulsion, breathe in and feel the ache dull, and plan strategy, I must not cling, I must not cling, or perhaps only recognizable by the shape it swam through, a void, that phrase that’s all over the radio and television, these days, some failure of imagination, unable to picture herself walking into Empire at midnight and him having been anywhere but recently next to and inside of her, unable to picture a simple declination on her part, or, if imagination could at least summon this, not able to imagine the declination met with anything other than spat epithets, the kind she’d heard him rain over Dottie for being a fucking fat cunt can’t even pay Stanley on time fucking piece of shit friend of the family Don fired her only reason Les hired her he’s too fucking plowed twenty-four-seven to hire a real bookkeeper, how could she work with someone who talked about her like that, she couldn’t bear it, wanting to stay forever on his good side, wanting never to hear that disgust directed at her, and what if I had to quit, what if I couldn’t be around that, where would I go work, who else would hire the girl, at the very least I’ve got to stay there until I’ve got real skills, maybe another year and I won’t have to worry, but I must not cling, I must not cling, and she emerged from peeing and flushing tissues still stinging and certain that she and Marty would reach an understanding, that things—sex, walking, speech—would get better. She lit a cigarette and hollowed her cheeks, standing over the bed looking at Marty smoking and turning first his eyes and then his head to look at her, unreadable, and hoping her french inhale looked hot—she thought—
Michele Suzann has work up at Web Conjunctions and The Collagist. She lives in California.