Monday, December 21, 2020

From the Deep by Jon Fain

Two lovers married to other people pillow-talk about their dreams and delusions; by Jon Fain.

"Last night? I dreamt of something called Competitive Nut. You go into a store with an exotic nut, bring a few in a little box," I explained. "They clean them off for you... to your specifications, of course... and you eat it."

"What do you mean by exotic?" She gave me a smile. "Maybe because I was there?"

"No," I said. "You weren't there."

I remembered another dream from since I had last seen her. It was at work, in her office, but she wasn't in that one either. Instead, a kid I'd grown up with and who I hadn't thought about in a long time was in the dream, working where she worked, her office, at her white board.

"OK, my turn," she said. "We're at a country club, playing golf. Then we go back inside where people are lining up to dive into a pool. Pete and Kathy are there."

"Really," I said.

"There was no water in the pool," she went on, "just the big deep empty thing. The deal was you had to land perfect, right on your feet? This big fat guy jumps. He's naked, all his fat, it's shaking on the way down, it's so gross and you say something about him having 'parlor fat.'"

"Parlor fat! What's that?"

She was on the bed, and she rolled over to face me. "I have no idea," she said. "You said it."

"What happened when he landed?"

"I don't know," she said, "I woke up. So what does that mean? It's me right? I've got an eating disorder you're going to say? Fear of fat? That's me on the way down?"

"Fear of parlor fat," I pointed out.

"Hey, don't let me fall asleep," she said.

The AC was running, making noise but not much else. Its weak breeze quivered the drapes drawn across the window. The TV murmured, and you could hear people moving in the hall. I thought I had her with the nuts, but she had topped me with the parlor fat. I thought about pointing out the obvious, that she had dreamed about Pete and Kathy, the couple at work who had been secret lovers, and had recently come out with it.

One way to keep her from falling asleep was to get into it for a while. We were quieter this second time; me anyway. Her face in the pillow kept it down on her end.

For whatever reason she had cut her brown hair short, but I liked the blonde highlights. Earlier, when I held onto her head it seemed smaller in my hands. This time I had her by the hips. It was hot and I was sweaty, dripping on her. If she felt it on her ass she was either too polite or too preoccupied to mention it.

We had this thing we called Whale-Eye. One time after, one of the first times, we were holding each other under the covers. I brought my face closer, so that one of my eyes was right on top of hers.

"What's this!" she said, her sparkling brown eye up against my own, her breath warming my chin. At that moment, if I could have melted and merged inside her, I would have.

"Whale-Eye!" I sang out.

"Whale-Eye!" she sang back, and we held each other, laughing. Then I asked her if she'd had any good dreams lately and when she told me one that was pretty dull, something with her kids, I made up some bullshit analysis that she took seriously. That got us into the dream thing.

But this was the first we'd done in a while. Now the TV came on before too long, as if it was a special treat. She'd watch news of any type; she enjoyed The News Hour on PBS - if not that, CNN, or local, or network. If I got to the clicker first I'd try to sneak in Sports Center. Otherwise I'd look in the mini-bar for treats.

"We should probably go," I said and started to pick up my clothes.

"Who watches this?" she asked. "Look, they're showing dead bodies! Don't you think there's something wrong with that? If I came in the room and the kids were watching this... I'd shut it off!"

I looked at the TV and not feeling anything much - certainly not as much as I should have I guess - I watched as it went from a news report on mass murder to a commercial for antacid.

"I wouldn't want the kids to see that."

She flashed me a look: I didn't have kids, so what did I know? She hadn't moved from where she had ended up, on her stomach, her head at the foot of the bed, the pillow now under her chin. She wore the white sheet like a twisted sash over her lower back, casually covering nothing.

She had dreamed about us as a couple. If it had happened before she'd never mentioned it.

When she first brought up it wasn't going good with her husband, it was the old communication thing, another woman and man who'd lost touch with one another across the Great Divide. Exhausted after work, after making dinner, cleaning up, and putting the two kids to bed, she didn't have the energy to keep them from retreating to their separate worlds. He always had work he brought home that he took down to his office in the basement. Left alone, she would play music on the stereo in the living room, softer than she wanted so as not to disturb him or wake the kids, or go up and read in bed with the TV on, or sometimes of course have work of her own.

That was all OK up to a point; she appreciated a relationship where there was room for private time. But it got so it was worse when they decided to finally pay attention to one another. When they tried to talk, it turned into a fight about something, and while she was willing to take part of the blame she didn't want to. As we sat side-by-side in the plane, traveling back from our first on-site consulting job together, she said they might as well not be sleeping in the same bed.

She was good looking, broad-shouldered, energetic, athletic. She had been a single-sculler in college she said. She was a couple of years younger than me. Thick brown hair to her shoulders before she cut it, and those brown eyes. We worked well together on that project, my first with the new company, and when each day on the road ended, we talked about other things: at first the work itself, the client, but soon who we were and who we'd been and how and where we'd sculled from, to end up where we were.

The white crinkly paper on the plane seats noisily bunched up behind us, as our heads drew close.

After two weeks of working together, I sat in her office as she brainstormed on her white board, talking out how we would present our findings. She was the boss and I was the hoss, so as her hand flew across the board I nodded along and took good notes. Then a disconnected thought came to me, solid, heavy, and as perfectly formed as a brick: I love this woman.

It was oddly without any emotion, the words even more like place-holders than usual. I tried to pay attention to what she was saying. I took a few more notes. How could I be in love? It felt like I was reaching. Infatuation maybe. Based on what she'd told me and how I'd taken it, a fantasy of the possible. But love? That had bubbled up from the deep.

We returned to the bank, hot June in Chicago, to tell the client what to do next. Although it was close enough to fly there and back in a day, we didn't. As project manager, it was her call.

The meeting went fine, there would be more work, a next project, and everyone was happy, and when we came back from the expense account dinner, walking back to the hotel along the lake, after we walked down the hall to our client-paid-for rooms, I leaned in and kissed her when that moment came. No going back to my own room and lying there and thinking about it, heavy with my own role of husband, behind my own closed doors. This time I helped her with the plastic entry card when she couldn't get the light green and stepped aside so she could go in first.

At the end of that Chicago trip, the hotel we went to right from the airport, her following me in our separate cars, was convenient, off the highway, on the way home for both of us. It was set back, surrounded by acres of wetlands, full of marsh, trees, and according to the woman at the front desk, smiling at us, deer. That time and each other time there was always what seemed to be the same bunch in the bar, consultants probably from somewhere else after their day, and like a Greek chorus, their laughter and jukebox music followed us out.

She flicked around with the channel changer. The pictures flashed past, jumbled in the box like jigsaw pieces. Noise from a commercial hung displaced in the air, jettisoned as she blew through the stations.

I wondered whether this was how it had begun with her husband, innocently enough, respecting each other's privacy, circling back to the familiarity of their own thoughts. For whatever reason, since it had started, I had found myself becoming more talkative. With her, with my wife (even when I didn't need to lie to her), with bank tellers even.

"My father had a lover," I said, thinking of my dream. Not the competitive nut one, the other one.

She turned from the TV. Until then I wasn't sure she had heard me.

"Did you ever meet her?"

I love this woman, I thought, but I was forcing it. I was ready for it, but nothing came.

"Not exactly," I said.

"How long did it last?"

Except for the fact she wasn't wearing any clothes she was giving me the same look she gave someone she was interviewing on the job, asking intently how, and did they know why, they did what they did.

"It lasted quite a while," I said, not wanting to go on. But she had that effect on people. "From the time I was in Little League, up to when I went to college I guess."

"Little League?" she said. She looked away. "And you knew all that time?"

"I didn't know. I never knew. Until I saw... this kid I grew up with. At a high school reunion a few years ago. He told me..."

She waited for me to go on but I didn't. I doubt she knew where I was headed because I didn't know myself. Against the silence that we fell into, the TV sounded way too loud.

Like me, my father had probably been in a room like this one; like me, with a woman married to someone else. The mother of that kid who had been in the other dream, talking and writing on a white board as I took notes.

"Let's not talk about them," I said.

She started finally to get dressed.

For once, on the way out of the hotel the bar was empty. The out-of-towners were somewhere else, out of town perhaps. From inside the darkened lounge, yet another TV loudly played. The bartender in his white shirt glanced over as we passed, his clicker in the air. He went through the channels, rejecting laughter, reports on hot weather, a familiar commercial's jingle, and no doubt dead bodies, as he went around and around again.

10 comments:

  1. I’m struck with the sense that this affair is headed in the direction of the marriages. I SUPPOSE affairs, like marriages, take some work. Well done.

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  2. An excellent treatise on relationships. Well written. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  3. I'd have to say that both this guy's marriage and his career are over, though there's still some flavor left. The ending says it all: "...as he went around and around again." Glad the author kept it real.

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  4. Reveals a lot about the MC in a few words and provides a realistic snapshot of the relationship. Things could go in various directions, but I have the sense it won’t be for the best.

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  5. A thoughtful examination of the psychological similarities amongst relationships, whether they be legit or illicit. Eventually the novelty wears off...sigh.

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  6. What goes around, comes around, I think. Claustrophobic. Enigmatic.

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  7. This story has an impressive richness of certain subtleties of venturing through life as various entities that we form and partake in with relationships juxtaposed with the inner self. I love the way this is done with the dreams.

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  8. Liked the theme of cycles here. Good hook with the post coital talk. Thanks.

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  9. South American and southern European men of means frequently enjoy the relationship of a long term mistress, and many wives have learned to wisely turn a blind eye to this. It's natural and can be beneficial to all parties. But no so with hypocritical and puritanical Americans and western Europeans. This nicely crafted little story quietly alludes to this.

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  10. the first paragraph hooked me in, excellent. An the rest kept me properly engaged. A really nice story

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