Part I: Ache
She is a long woman, lean and pale. Long legs pull your eyes up to where they meet. Her long neck carries them further, to her face, that sweetly weak chin, her mouth. Only her lips are full bodied.
She has never liked her body, thinking that she is much too tall, that her hips are too wide, that her butt sticks out, that her chest is too flat; but men, and some women, enjoy watching her walk past and turn to look when she can't see them, to imagine her naked, imagine crawling between those never-ending legs, imagine her eyes swollen and half closed with desire. Many a man or woman has sighed with a private disappointment after she has passed, the strength of the sigh depending only on the strength of imagination.
She is right, though, at least about her absent breasts. Her chest is flat: two peas on an ironing board, as some men used to joke. No one will move his (or her) hand from chest to breast and delight in the smooth curve, because there is no curve. No one will feel the rubbery texture when her breasts are pushed up from below.
She could fix this, she supposes, by having a doctor insert gelatinous bags beneath her nipples, but it wouldn't any longer be her. It might even -- one might think -- take attention away from her neck or her mouth. Perhaps her breasts would grow larger if she had a child, though she is unlikely ever to know. People come as complex packages. This is what comes in hers.
What else comes is fascination. She watches the breasts of other women in her dance classes surge forward with centrifugal force during their steps, then bob around; furtive looks so well camouflaged that no one has ever suspected her, mixed with chatty commentary on technique but full of longing, enough longing to make her ashamed. She sometimes gossips about how men talk about tits and bazooms, but that's an excuse. She has seen her own reflection in the studio mirror often enough, and found nothing noteworthy there.
She is certain she couldn't attract a real lover and hasn't a clue as to how her husband came to want her. She thinks it couldn't have been her looks. Now that several years have passed since they married, and his interest has diminished, she understands that he must be tired of having to work himself up for someone who lacks a true woman's body. Along with that understanding, she has almost convinced herself that she is reconciled to a life of little passion.
That reconciliation is an illusion: while standing before the mirror after bathing a few weeks back, she suddenly made a despairing cry and began smacking her chest with her hands. It took almost an hour to regain composure, to fix her face, before she could meet people with her usual gracious smile, backed by an inner light.
In any event, while a life of little passion defies longings it doesn't banish them. Hers is as deep a well of desire as anyone's, producing forbidden fantasies that entrance like visions of water on the desert, but being a good Christian woman she isn't going to act on them. It shames her a little that she even has them. Hers may be a liberal church, full of good, open-minded people, but she struggles to be morally straight. Judge not. Only judge yourself.
Her fantasies slip into her mind at night when she is most vulnerable, forming from the swirls of almost- sleep thoughts, little universes of lust growing out of nothing, brushing her belly, awakening her body. She doesn't feel she deliberately calls them out, but there they are, and they are insistent, full-color images of sex with this man or that from her job, movies, even her church. Sometimes he is anonymous. It really doesn't matter. They didn't used to include full naked bodies on display.
Ever more during one of these fantasies her hand will slip from her side to her waist to her pubic mound, over the almost hairless mound to a spot where she can stroke herself with stealthy fingers. On occasion she resists. When she does touch herself she moves the fingers slowly between her labia, circling her clitoris, getting high, afraid of waking her husband while surrendering yet again. There are times that she can't keep herself still or quiet, when she'll finally go into the living room or bathroom to finish.
The acts she conjures once came mainly from R-rated films or the explicit romance novels she has taken to reading, but that ended when she stayed alone at a hotel that had a pay-per-view adult movie channel. On a whim she picked a movie almost at random and was devastated. Which was stronger, disgust or desire? She probably doesn't know to this day, but her repertoire of fantasies began growing that night.
After masturbating, once her breathing has slowed and she considers the visions that have driven her pleasure, she feels vile. Shame is her other secret burden; so much of it for such a good person. She certainly wouldn't ever cheat with any of those men. Once or twice a man from work came on to her, just a little, and she cut him down right away.
For awhile there was one man in her fantasies more than any other, a dance partner in their little community ballet. They've teamed on and off in "The Nutcracker," practicing once a week, then meeting daily during performance week. She is a principal dancer. He is a volunteer from the community who replaces a non-existent male dancer, there being no senior men in the company.
They've enjoyed playing dress-up, dancing, pantomiming. They've held hands. He has kissed her hand, often, often. He is actually the only man besides her husband whom she has touched regularly in any way for years, and one evening last Fall the hand kiss suddenly made her wonder what it would be like if he kissed her mouth. What if he pulled her to him and... did what? That. All of that.
She had been expressing amazement at the dances of Herr Drosselmeyer's toys, paying attention to the actions and positioning of the party goers, but at the thought her vision was obscured by quick flashes of fucking. She wouldn't use that word, but it's what she saw. It was followed that night by a detailed fantasy of degenerate sex that wouldn't make her feel guilty: what if he kidnapped me and forced me to submit? What would he make me do?
Please don't hurt me. You don't have to hurt me. I'll do anything you want.
The intensity and the pleasure frightened her, enough that she decided to avoid him, to talk only when on the floor, but the thoughts recurred throughout the season, finally fading only after the performances ended, when she wouldn't see him for eight months because their lives are completely separate and he too has a spouse.
How many little ballet troupes are there, hundreds? All performing "The Nutcracker"? How many fantasies are generated by them? How many come to nothing?
One shouldn't think that hers is a life of quiet desperation. She keeps telling herself it is a good life, economically, religiously, intellectually, and much of the time it is exactly that. Every life has some issues, she argues persuasively. She keeps herself busy.
She has growing periods when can't stand to be around other people. She withdraws to her room to think and be alone, to trace the passing of the years, to fantasize and to wonder what happened to her life, how at one time everything had seemed possible.
Along with her romance novels she has started reading poetry from her old college textbooks. One Sunday afternoon she read "To His Coy Mistress." When she came to the line "time's wing'd chariot hurrying near," she threw the book across the room.
That was her life until this evening, when something happened.
What was it? As winter passed, her fantasies had shifted around to focus on some stranger she saw at the grocery, when she unexpectedly saw him -- the him. It is out of season for him, late spring, but there is a party thrown by a couple who turn out to be friends of friends of each. It's how a small world works. It's also how her God shows His sense of humor by -- just for the fun of it -- setting the stage for her seduction. Or perhaps He has another wager with Satan.
The earth is enjoying one of its magic times, the air rich with unimaginable varieties of blooms. The flowering began weeks ago and will continue another month, first early bloomers like forsythia, fruit trees, and daffodils, then the later blossoms to carry springtime along. The azaleas and their kin are colorful; the dogwoods, though, are achingly white and this is dogwood country.
It rained earlier today. The air is still sweet with it, the walk damp underfoot, and isolated drops still fall from the oaks, but the sky is almost clear and there is the slimmest crescent of a moon. Lone baby clouds scoot low in the sky, hurrying to a place people never see. Down below, the trees and shrubs have been waving to the sky all afternoon, a physical hosanna to whatever deities of Spring they worship.
She first saw him when she looked up from the walk, her mind filled with patterns of mud and raindrops, smelling the rain-cleansed air, aware of the clouds. He arrived in a sudden gust, without his wife, and when she saw him she felt the earth lurch, or the time, or something. Her husband was with her, but he groused about these boring parties and finally asked if she could find a ride home later, so that he could leave. Then he gallantly offered a ride.
.... There is more of this story ...