Twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty…

The wife counted her husband’s thrusts. Silently, of course. To herself, in her head. She’d lost all interest in sex twenty years ago and didn’t think her husband should suffer for that.

Thirty-nine, forty, forty-one, forty-two…

She’d done the cliché things at first – picking colours, making grocery lists, thinking of things that needed doing. Er… other than the husband.

That’s what she called him: The husband.

Not my husband. The husband. As though he were infinite, ultimate, abstract.

Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four…

Counting was better. Continuous. Rhythmic. Keeping time to the bedspring squeals, her head gently knock knock knocking on the headboard.

Plus, it reduced the risk of zoning out, forgetting where she was – and what she was doing.

Once, in the old days, she’d been busy during sex with the husband, planning a party. A big party, a surprise party, for one of her closest friends. She got so caught up in planning that, without even thinking, she rolled over. Rolled right out from under the husband, who had been on his knees behind her… dislodging him, shocking him, leaving him panting.

“What the fuck?” he asked.

“I…” said the wife, trying to think of some way of justifying what she’d done.

“I had a cramp,” she said weakly.

“Sorry. Here. Let’s try it like this instead.”

Once he was back inside her, he forgot. But she felt terrible about it for weeks. And that’s when she switched from thinking to counting.

Counting hadn’t let her down. Sometimes, she lost her place. Like, sometimes she couldn’t remember if she was at 121 or 221 or 321. But it really didn’t matter. She just dropped the hundreds and kept on from 21. After all, it wasn’t like she was keeping score. Just keeping busy, getting by, getting through it.

Seventy-eight, seventy-nine, eighty, eighty-one…

Her loss of interest, way back when, hadn’t gone unnoticed. Once, he accused her of having an affair. It was the only reason he could think of (after a lot of thinking, over a lot of months, during which the temperature of their sex was definitely cooling)… an affair was the only reason he could think of for her apparent loss of interest.

When he accused her, she had to fight from busting out in hysterical laughter.

“I hate sex!” she wanted to finally admit. “I only do it to keep you happy, keep you satisfied – whichever one is easier. Why on Earth would I want to do it with someone else, too?”

Really, it was funny. But of course she couldn’t share that joke with the husband.

Ninety-three, ninety-four, ninety-five, ninety-six…

It wasn’t that she didn’t find him attractive. She did. And he was a very good husband. They had raised four children together. And back in the day… yeah, sure. They frisked around like kids. Hell, back then, they were kids.

Now they were grown up, and decidedly so… soft, achy, full of complaints and baggy in their skins. After the last baby, she had wanted to say to him, “I’ve birthed four babies. It was hard hard work. Hard, hard HARD work, okay? You get it? I think my vagina has served its time; has done its duty for this family. Don’t you? I hitherto request the right to… so-to-speak… hang it up. Pack it in. Pack it away. Put it in dry storage. Forever.”

Of course she didn’t. Couldn’t say that to the husband. No sirree.

So she kept having sex with him, and kept not liking it, and figured they were coming out somewhere in the middle.

Bad sex, unresponsive sex, sex with someone who was counting, fer crissakes… well, she knew men. She knew the husband. She knew that men weren’t choosy when it came to sex. Having it was what really mattered. Having their partner enjoy it was gravy.

One twenty-one, one twenty-two…

She liked it when it was fast. When it was over with, quickly. Then she could get on to doing other things. Like embroidery. She liked to embroider. Had been tarting up tablecloths and pillowcases and runners and whatnot since she was a girl. She loved the pretty shiny coloured soft skeins of thread… pinks and blues and greens and yellows, reds and blacks and browns and whites.

She liked to run her hand across a row of them… lying there, neatly aligned by colour in her sewing basket, row after row, so nice and tidy. She loved to feel their silkiness, to stroke them, like silent pets. She loved, too, the tiny sure certain pressure of the needle, breaking through the fabric, again and again, leading the thread in loops and lines and x’s that became faces, flowers, kittens, ribbons, monograms.

She had embroidered the pillowcases that were on their bed right now. She reached behind her head and touched a corner of the stitched white cotton, reading the familiar floral pattern like a message to herself in Braille.

One forty-two, one forty-three…

She embroidered that pillowcase when she was eighteen. Fresh from the farm. Right out of high school. Anxious to finish up her hope chest before the wedding that fall.

They married in a Catholic church. The bishop told her father they would need proof that she was a virgin. He demanded signed statements from three different witnesses, attesting to the pristine quality of her character.

Her father was offended. Who in hell could prove that his daughter was a virgin – and how? And why was his word (hers didn’t really matter) not enough?

He told the bishop: “You get me signatures from three legitimate witnesses attesting to the existence of God, and we’ll talk. Okay?”

And the bishop backed down. And they had a lovely, big, loud, multi-day drunken Catholic wedding. And then the babies started coming. And then, for her, it was all about mothering.

One ninety-eight, one ninety-nine…

All in all, she was happy with her life. The kids had turned out well… each successful in his or her way. The mortgage was paid. The husband was almost ready to retire. And she, the wife, was looking forward to traveling… taking it easy… doing some of the things they’d put off when the kids were young.

Really, when she thought about it, this whole sex thing was pretty much the only unpleasant thing she had to do.

Silently she willed the husband to hurry, get it over with. And of course she kept counting. And sure enough, in a minute or so, he started thrusting harder and faster.

But it didn’t end. It kept getting harder. Ouch, dammit! She almost screamed.

“Relax,” she told herself. “This will all be over soon. Just keep counting and forget about the pain.”

But when she thought it couldn’t get more painful, it did. And finally… still counting… she screamed.

Not some random sex sound. No. She screamed out, “Two forty-three!!”

And was horrified.

But he was finally finished. And he gave no indication he’d heard anything but nondescript screaming. In fact, he seemed extra satisfied as they settled down to sleep in the darkness.

She was on her side with her back to him, drifting off and counting again – this time, counting backwards, ticking off the weeks till the husband retired and they could start traveling.

Arizona. She wanted to go to Arizona, see the desert, maybe in spring. She’d always wanted to see those pretty wild flowers blooming.

Coloured petals floated in her mind. She was almost asleep when the husband said her name. With a question mark. As in… she was meant to answer.

“Hmm?” she murmured. “What is it, dear?”

He leaned over and whispered in her ear:

“It was three forty-three.”

Posted by McNeney on 2006-07-13 14:52:46

Tagged: , dog , puppy , German shepherd , GSD , tongue , panting , goofy , sex , fiction

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