"Have I made love for the last time?"
That was the question Dave was asking himself as he sat in his armchair gazing into the crackling fire. The glass of whisky sat untouched beside him as his mind hunted back and forth through the memories of the last 25 years. The silver wedding cards were still lined up on the mantelpiece, their messages of congratulation picked out in silver ink, reflecting the firelight.
Dave didn't need to look inside them; he had read the messages yesterday, read them out aloud at the anniversary party. The assembled family and friends had laughed at the funny ones, smiled at the sincere ones and he thought he had seen a tear or two at some of the more heartfelt messages.
Twenty-five years was a milestone, one few of their contemporaries had reached. A bitter half smile flickered across his lips. Two hundred, even one hundred years ago, it would have been a milestone because so many people died at such a comparatively young age. Nowadays the scourge of death had been replaced by easy divorce, not so final but the effect was the same in terms of making a silver wedding a rare event, something to celebrate.
He didn't feel very celebratory tonight though. The initial cause of his thoughts lay on his lap, another card, one that had arrived today. He picked it up and read it again, the jokey calculation on the front,
"25 years = 1300 weeks"
"1300 weeks = 9100 days"
"9100 days = 9100 nights"
He flipped the card open to reveal the joke, a series of cartoons of two stick people in a variety of sexual positions and the punch line,
"That's time to have tried them all."
The bitter smile was back again as he ran his eyes along the lines of stick figures,
"Yes, yes, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, yes, no..."
His mind reran the little calculation that had been his first response on opening the card and came up with the same depressing answer, something like eight and a half thousand nights without sex.
Things had started out so differently, when they first started going out with each other opportunities had been limited and too precious to waste. They had made love outdoors, in the car, upstairs at parties if a bedroom was free, sometimes in the bathroom if the bedrooms were all occupied. Every opportunity had been taken however risky. He remembered one memorable night when Lynn had given him a blowjob while they were parked on the driveway of her parent's house.
When they moved in together things had picked up for a while, not as much as he would have liked though. Where they had taken every opportunity before, now the opportunity was always there the sense of urgency had gone. He had tried, complimented her, done his best to be a modern supportive husband, encouraged her career, and done his share of the housework, all the things that women always said they wanted in their men. Most of all he had never pressed her for sex, the idea was repugnant to him. His view was that making love was a partnership, a mingling of joint desire, mutual pleasure. Not something that should be seen as a chore, a duty, something that one partner did FOR the other. Not that he was above trying to ensure that Lynn was in the mood, he had learnt the things that relaxed her put her in a receptive frame of mind. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't.
About this point in their relationship they had decided to take the big step and get married. Announcing it to the families and planning dates and stuff went ok, then his parents threw a spanner in the works by suddenly getting a divorce. The extra stress meant they postponed the wedding for a year while the dust settled.
Gradually over the first few months they had settled into a routine of sorts, nothing quite as rigid as "its Saturday night lets fuck," but not all that far short of it in reality. Of course, the usual ups and downs of relationships and Lynn's female cycle conspired to make it perhaps two Saturdays out of five or thereabouts.
As the wedding approached Lynn seemed under more and more pressure and the sex slipped to once a month or so. Dave still found it difficult to initiate things, he was a big man, well aware that he was physically intimidating and like many big men over compensated by being as non assertive as he could.
A log slipped in the fire sending a shower of sparks crackling up the chimney, Dave's thoughts were derailed for a moment as he stood up to and wielded the poker, rearranging the logs. Sitting back down he took a drink from the long forgotten whisky and picked up his train of thought again.
Their sex life received a brief fillip from the honeymoon but swiftly returned to what had become the norm. Dave had tried all the tricks he could think of, tried to show Lynn that he still though of her as an attractive, desirable woman.
He had bought her sexy underwear; she asked if he thought that she was not sexy enough without it. There was no way to win that one and Dave knew it.
He bought magazines and suggested they read them together in bed, she just laughed at the stories claiming they were all made up.
He got hold of a blue movie, she cracked up laughing and made comments about the girl's nail polish.
He tried getting her drunk and spent half the night holding her hair back while she was being sick.
The once a month had imperceptibly become once every other month. The first time Dave realised it had been ten weeks since they last made love he had tried to discuss it with her. Lynn had been defensive and they had been unable to resolve anything. After that he began to notice that she tensed up any time he put his arms around her. The kiss he got when he dropped her off to work became a peck on the cheek. Her wardrobe filled up with trouser suits for work and slacks for home. Dave hated them; he was a leg man and greatly preferred women to wear skirts. Of course being a "new" man he could never say that to Lynn.
The years slipped by, both of them busy building careers, paying the mortgage, doing the house up. They had been celebrating their sixth wedding anniversary with a nice dinner out when Lynn dropped her bombshell,
"It's time we thought about having kids."
They discussed it over the next month or so, working out finances, planning for childcare and Lynn's return to work before taking the big step and ceremonially flushing Lynn's last pack of pills down the toilet.
All the books said it could take months for Lynn's cycle to get back to normal, they had rather planned on two to three months but Lynn missed her very first period. Dave had endured a little bit of light-hearted ribbing about being a crack shot, for a while Lynn had referred to him as "dead eye Dick."
Hormones are strange and wonderful things, the first six months of Lynn's pregnancy saw them making love two, three, sometimes five or six times a week. They started taking Sunday afternoon drives in the country together as her belly swelled. More often than not they would end up making love on a blanket in the woods, a field, on the beach.
The last three months were not so good, Lynn had a series of problems with high blood pressure, several times she was hospitalised for a few days. The birth itself was a nightmare; Lynn was overdue so the doctors decided to induce her. She went into labour at eight in the morning, by eleven she was hooked up to monitors and machines. At five in the afternoon the delivery suite that they had expected to be occupied by just the two of them and a midwife contained three doctors, an anaesthetist, two midwives and an impressive array of medical equipment. Dave found himself being led away as they prepared for an emergency caesarean.
When he had been called back in, he found Lynn unconscious from the anaesthetic and their son sleeping in a small cot. The doctor told him not to expect Lynn to wake up until the following day and advised him to go home and get some sleep. He had followed that advice and it had turned out to be the worst mistake of his life.
On his return to the hospital the following day he had found Lynn's room, she was still connected to a couple of IV tubes and there was no sign of the baby. He had asked what was going on and discovered that Lynn had awakened earlier than expected, found herself alone, no baby and no husband. She had leapt to the conclusion that the baby had died and that he had left her. Her reaction had been so bad that they had had to sedate her again.
That had led to severe postnatal depression; Lynn had therapy for years in the course of which some long buried memories of being sexually abused as a child had surfaced. Fortunately Lynn had never revealed the identity of her abuser to Dave, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that if she had the man would have died, painfully and slowly within hours.
Lynn was on anti-depressants for the next ten years; Dave had found himself having to do more of the caring for their son, more stuff around the house but had willingly shouldered the extra responsibilities.
One of the anti depressant drugs had had a number of side effects, one was that Lynn became extremely horny, for a few months their sex life had been as good as during the early months of Lynn's pregnancy. Unfortunately the other side effects led to her medication being changed and soon the once every couple of months routine returned.
The complications following Lynn's caesarean and the onset of her depression had thrown all their plans for her return to work into disarray. Not only that but their childcare costs ended up being far higher than anticipated. The financial stress had been intense for a couple of years but they had made it through in the end. Unfortunately the extra stress had also impacted their sex life, Dave found himself reminded of an old joke,
There was a lecture at the town hall from a renowned sex therapist. He began by asking the audience,
"Hands up everyone who has sex once a week."
A few hands went up.
"Once a month?"
A lot more hands went up.
"Once a year?"
A man at the back jumped up and down shouting,
"Me, me, me."
"Why are you so happy about it?" asked the lecturer.
"TONIGHTS THE NIGHT!"
It had not quite been only once a year, birthdays and anniversaries usually meant it was three times.
That brought him to the real reason for tonight's solitary introspective fireside vigil. He had been away on business for his birthday three months ago, and last night, the night of their anniversary Lynn had said she was exhausted from the party, taken a sleeping pill and gone to bed early.
He sighed as he returned to his question,
"Have I made love for the last time?"
He thought about their friends, some of them had been at the party yesterday, men he was at school with, fifty year olds like him, some on their third marriage. He had thought how ridiculous some of them looked, trying to appear hip and trendy for their new younger (always younger!) wives. Was that going to be him in another year or two? Desperately hurling himself around a dance floor trying to keep up? He shuddered at the thought.
He did not want another woman, did not want meaningless sex with a stranger, he wanted meaningful sex with his Lynn, his best friend, his life partner. Sex without a relationship was not his style, the only difference between that and masturbating was having someone to talk to! On the other hand, a relationship without sex was not what he wanted either. He still had the urge, still masturbated a couple of times a week, still got a hard on if he saw Lynn naked or partially clothed. She was still the central character in his fantasies, still the woman he desired.
The door opened behind him, the bright light from the hallway penetrating the firelit gloom of the study. He twisted in the chair squinting towards the light from the doorway,
"Are you staying down here all night?" Lynn asked.
"Sorry, I got thinking, didn't realise the time."
She still looked so gorgeous, silhouetted against the light, her nightdress clinging to the curves of her body.
"So what were you thinking about so hard you didn't realise it's nearly midnight?"
He hadn't meant to but the answer just slipped out.
The room darkened again as the door closed and she moved slowly through the dark to sit in the other chair.
"Sex in general or was it something specific?"
He did not want to do this now, in fact if he was honest with himself he would have continued to avoid it forever but now the subject was out in the open.
"I was wondering if I would ever make love again."
"Why? There isn't something wrong is there? You aren't ill or anything?"
"No. Nothing like that, it's just that..."
His words trailed off, he could not just come out and say that he had expected sex the previous night, that would be too much like begging for it, he had not sunk to that yet.
"Just that what?" her tone was calm.
"Do you know how long it is since we made love?"
"Well, it's been a while I know."
He was amazed that she couldn't even remember, was it really that unimportant to her?
"Don't you even remember?"
"Well if you are so bothered about it why haven't you said anything?"
His temper snapped and he replied a little more vehemently than he had intended,
"Because I didn't want to look like I was begging for it, and I didn't want a mercy fuck!"
"There's no need to be crude."
"Sorry, I'm just tired and frustrated."
"I suppose that's why you had your eyes all over Christine last night."
"God no, I was thinking I was glad it wasn't me having to try and keep up with a brainless blonde on the dance floor, I don't know what Alan sees in her, apart from the obvious of course."
"They were a bit obvious I suppose, at least mine are real."
"You think she has had a boob job?"
"Oh yes, Alan paid for it."
"Christ, what's his game? Design your own girlfriend?"
"Something like that."
"Well sooner him than me, I just cant see the attraction in plastic tits. He might as well buy a blow up doll."
They both fell silent for a few minutes.
"So I take it you aren't intending to trade me in for a younger model then?" Lynn asked.
"No. I just wish sometimes..."
"I wish you still wanted to make love with me."
"If you came to bed at the same time as me occasionally instead of hiding away down here it might help."
Dave nodded guiltily, he had got in the habit of staying up two or three nights a week, waiting until Lynn was asleep before slipping into the bathroom and masturbating before going to bed.
"You sit down here until all hours, tapping away on the computer."
Dave felt guilty again then a surge of resentment washed over him, the internet had become a rich sourcebook for his masturbatory fantasies,
'Pity it wasn't around when I was a teenager, ' he thought.
"What on earth do you find to do on the computer half the night anyway?"
"I read, amateur fiction, sometimes I even write some."
"You? Write? What sort of thing?"
He mumbled softly,
"I suppose you could call it erotica."
"Erotica! Pornography more like, just like those stupid magazines with their made up letters."
Dave was stung by that,
"Yes. Well not getting any real sex makes fantasy sex that much more attractive!"
"Show you what?"
"Show me this "erotica" of yours."
Dave stood up and went over to the desk, powered up the pc and clicked the mouse a few times,
"There you go, read that," he snapped. "I'm going to bed."
He went upstairs, undressed in the bathroom, cleaned his teeth, had a pee and slid into bed.
"That wasn't the cleverest thing I've ever done," he thought, "I'll have to apologise in the morning, maybe buy her some flowers or something."
He yawned and rolled over to click the bedside light off as the whisky caught up with him and he nodded off.
Downstairs Lynn sat thinking quietly, she had known Dave was unhappy with their sex life for some time but had chosen to ignore it. She could hear him upstairs, stamping around, heard the creak of the bed as he lay down. She knew she would have to apologise in the morning, like any long married couple there were topics of discussion they already knew they were never going to agree on. Usually, by a sort of unspoken mutual agreement, they avoided them each pretending the problems didn't exist rather than risk the arguments and hurt that might result. Tonight she had opened up one of those forbidden areas and for once Dave had not co-operated and changed the subject. Unusually for him he had pushed a confrontation of sorts, challenging her, his almost casual comment "not getting any real sex makes fantasy sex that much more attractive," had stung her. He must have known it would hurt, in a way that made it worse, Dave was always very protective of her, he had stood by her through some of the darkest days of her life. Supported her through her counselling, accepted that there were things she could never tell him, issues from her childhood that he could never share, never help her with, private demons she had to battle with alone. That was what had shocked her and silenced her tonight, for Dave to say something so sharp and wounding suggested that his self control had snapped and she had caught a rare glimpse of his usually well guarded feelings.
The fire was dying down, the warm red glow fading, darkening the room. As the firelight faded the illuminated computer screen seemed brighter, drawing her eyes towards it. She was unfamiliar with the computer, it was Dave's hobby, despite the stated reason for buying it,
"You will be able to keep in touch with Mark when he goes to university," Dave had said, "e-mail or maybe even video conferencing, it will be just like having him here but without the mess."
Dave had taught her the basics, how to send and receive e-mail, even how to use the messenger program and the camera to chat to Mark. She chuckled briefly to herself, Dave had been wrong about the mess though, the view of Mark's student flat in the background had been even messier than his bedroom used to be when he was at home. Dave had taken to the computer like a duck to water, in what seemed like no time he had begun spending a couple of hours on it most evenings. He had used some website to get in touch with several people he hadn't seen since he was at school, one or two of them had been at the party yesterday.
Lynn had accused him of looking for all his old girlfriends, she felt insecure, for years she had watched as their friends marriages succumbed to divorce. Watched Dave's contemporaries re-launching their lives with younger prettier women. A part of her had worried that Dave might do the same, especially once Mark left home. In some way that had seemed like a conclusion to her life, her only son making his own way in the world, finally living his own life without her. How much longer? she had worried, would it be before Dave did the same.
Without consciously realising it Lynn had crossed the room and sat at he desk, looking at the screen she could see that Dave had left the pointer on a folder entitled 'stories'. Lynn fumbled for the mouse, moving it awkwardly with her left hand she realigned the pointer and clicked. A window opened on the screen, Lynn peered at it then her hand slid a draw open and she took out her reading glasses. That was another reason she hadn't taken to the computer, it was the only thing she needed glasses for and she resented that sign of advancing years. Putting the glasses on she looked at the screen again.
In the window were two more folders, one named 'downloaded stories' and one named 'my stories'. Lynn thought for a moment then her hand moved slightly,
"Let's see what sort of thing he's been reading then," she whispered to herself.