I just got word that my story, “Talking Dirty”, has been accepted for Rachel Kramer Bussel’s new collection of hotel sex, Do Not Disturb (Cleis Press, due out in March 2009). Considering how often my stories lean toward break-your-heart erotica, you won’t be surprised to hear that this one runs along the same lines. A tale of a husband and wife, some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and how this particular couple finds a way to try and keep their sex life intact despite that.
Here’s a snippet. For the really yummy, juicy parts, you’ll just have to wait until the book comes out.
In the bathroom, I straighten the edges of the bath mat and make sure the toilet paper is still covered in its protective sleeve. I put both bars of mini-soap, safe inside their paper wrapping, on the sill of the tub. The shower is almost all glass, clear and perfect. I turn it on full blast, making sure that the water is just warmer than body temperature. The spray turns the skin of my wrist bright pink.
I dry my hands on the very back of the towel, where she won’t be able to see and make sure the terry cloth hangs perfectly straight. Then I slip back out to where she stands in the hall, shifting from foot to foot, elbows in her palms.
“It’s perfect,” I say. Even if it wasn’t, I would say this. She’s willing to believe for me, to try, as long as I believe. If I show doubts, if I ask if it’s okay, if she’s okay, it starts the mechanism in her head. I think of it as a bomb—once it starts, you can’t stop it until it explodes—but Cate says it’s more like a clock, winding its unstoppable way up until she can’t hear anything but the alarm, the way it screams “cuckoo, cuckoo!” I wish it was a clock, that easy. I’d hire someone to go in there and rework the wires, give that cuckoo bird a little shut-up surgery. But, of course, it doesn’t work like that. The brain, as Cate’s therapist says, is not a simple machine.
Cate smiles, but it’s her nervous smile, the one where she pinches her bottom lip between her teeth. “Okay then,” she says. “Let’s do this. Boom-boom-boom.”
I want to kiss her for trying to make a joke, but it’s too early. I haven’t even washed yet. “Come in to my room,” I say as I pick her up and push the door open with my elbow. She closes her eyes as I carry her through the main room into the bathroom.
“It’s up,” she says. “Come up to my room.” Eyelids squeezed shut, her hands still holding her elbows. This is a tic in the ritual. I hold her there in the bathroom, her balled-up weight against my chest, waiting to see if this will throw us off course. My breath stays tight in my chest; it’s been three weeks since we’ve made love. Last week, one of the mini soaps wasn’t wrapped. Before that, it was something she couldn’t explain, the feeling that something was off. Once, we never even made it to the room—a man touched Cate’s elbow in the elevator on the way up—and I just pushed the L button and we rode back down to the lobby without a word.
Cate inhales—a big sound that pushes her belly out. She pops her cheeks out like a chipmunk and wiggles her lips over her teeth. Holding her breath and counting down from ten. This is something her therapist’s taught her, I think. A way to stop the wind-up. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it just makes her dizzy.
She opens those pale eyes.
“Okay, I’m good,” she says. “Let’s do this.” Oh God. Have I heard more beautiful words? No.
“You’re fucking beautiful,” I say.
“Okay, okay,” she says. “Just get my beautiful ass in the fucking shower.”
I want to laugh, to kiss her again. The therapist says she’d never heard of swearing as a way to cope, but that we are free to use it if it works. Sometimes it works. This time, Cate only shakes a little as I lift her, still clothed, into the shower.