Mark reached across me to grab his watch off the nightstand. "Sorry, babe," he said. "I got a ten o'clock tee time."
This was not going to be a day for cuddling, the only one of my subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions that he ever seemed to remember. He pulled his spent cock out of me and gave me a slap on the rear.
"You're still a damn good piece of ass, Kath." I could feel the mattress, freed of his weight, regain its shape underneath me. "Don't let anyone tell you you ain't still got it."
And don't let anyone tell you you ever had it, I thought to myself.
The sex had been okay, nothing special. I preferred it at night, after we put Elaine to bed; we usually did it in the morning, before she woke up. I liked a long, slow arousal; he liked a blow job.
I stretched out on my stomach on the bed. I had purchased these sheets a few months ago, and I was particularly conscious of 450-thread count when I was lying this way.
"So you pickin' up Elaine this afternoon?" Mark asked. "Mom had her all last evening, and she's not getting any younger."
I responded with a sleepy "mm-hmm." I could tell from the sounds that he was almost finished dressing. I smiled as I heard his footsteps reach the doorway.
"So what are you up to all morning, Kath?" he asked. "Even more of a day off than usual?"
Asshole. As if raising a child were easy. It wasn't the time to have that argument again; he was almost out the door. So I just answered with a lazy hum that suggested I had no idea.
But I did. As soon as he went downstairs, before he had even gone into the garage, I turned over onto my back. Keeping my eyes closed, I drew a long, deep inhalation of breath, and picked out the sounds I wanted to hear from among the birds that still hadn't left for the winter, and those that wouldn't leave at all.
It wasn't the smell of sex; that hadn't taken long enough. It was the smell of bread, coming in through the bedroom window on the intermittent western breeze. It was the sound of Mozart, an aria this time. He always made bread to Mozart. Lying there, my eyes closed, my senses engaged, I let my hands slide down my body. This could be the last time I would experience this delicious combination for many months, and I meant to give it a proper greeting.
Tim had moved into the house next door at the beginning of the year. He was single, a little older than Mark and I, and a businessman of some sort whose work required constant travel during the week but that returned him home every Friday evening in time for the next morning's baking. Summer arrived, and the redolent yeast and wheat and caraway seeds and rye and cardamom hung in the barely moving air for just that much longer. They were "our" Saturdays then, as much a ritual for me as Mark's golf was for him. I had indulged in a special coffee, one I would save for Saturday morning. As soon as Mark left, I would carefully measure and grind the beans, and once the coffee began dripping into the pot, I would go upstairs. Elaine would be outside, playing with one of her friends on the swing set that Mark had built when she was first born. I would sit in my daughter's room, in that undersized rocking chair next to the window. And I would look down, through his kitchen window, and watch him knead the first batch of dough.
From that vantage all I could see was his hands, strong hands with a sensitive touch that had sent chills up my arm the first time we had met. His fingers would lift the edges of the dough, folding it over once and then again, and then the heels of his palms would push it into the floured wooden board. It was never hot enough for long enough to indulge in air-conditioning in this part of upstate New York, but there were Saturday mornings when it warmed quickly. He would knead for fifteen minutes, far longer than I had thought necessary, and at times he would have to stop and lift an arm, probably to wipe the sweat off of his brow. And then the hand would return.
By the time he was finished kneading the first batch of dough — by the time I finished watching him — the coffee would be ready. I would pour myself a cup, add some cream and some sugar, and walk out to the deck. Elaine would hear the screen door slam behind her and look up and wave. I would smile and wave back, and Elaine would return to her play. I would sit at the table, at one of the plastic chairs, and just open my senses.
We had listened to the piano concertos together, me on my porch with my coffee, Tim in his kitchen with his rosemary foccaccia. We had enjoyed a sampling of the symphonies — the 33rd with its clever little ending that had matched so perfectly the sound of Tim closing the oven door as he brought out the last of his three loaves of bread that day; the 41st and last with its magnificent, spine-tingling chords.
I could vividly remember that day. I had pulled on a halter top and a pair of tight denim shorts, much too tight as it turned out. When the symphony had neared its end, I had unthinkingly crossed my legs and the pressure between my legs built so quickly that I barely had time to put the cup back on the table and grip the metal rim that circled the glass tabletop.
But the best day had been that Saturday in early September, when I had sat at the table with his cardamom bread in my hand, savoring the last slice. I had found the bread among all the others on the folding table at the church's bake sale the previous weekend. I hadn't known whose it was when I picked it up; I'd simply been attracted by the penmanship on the label. It was a braided loaf with a sugared top, and the label claimed that it was an old family recipe, a bread best served warm and buttered. And at the end it simply said, "Enjoy!"
"Ooh, that's a keeper there, dear," Mrs. Martin had said as I started to return the bread to the table. "That's Mr. Hansen's bread."
"Tim Hansen?" asked the woman standing directly behind me. She looked down at the bread, still in my hand.
"He's a newcomer at the early service," Mrs. Martin said, a twinkle in her eye.
It had been wonderful, and the only problem had been having to share it with Elaine, who had come back into the house one morning unexpectedly and demanded a portion. Hiding the last piece had been a selfish act. But a week later, listening to one of the horn concertos, tasting the sugar on the brown crust and the butter slowly melting into the bread, I found it easy to forgive myself.
Today, the last day before autumn, would require us to once again close our windows. I didn't want to watch Tim knead. I had watched him all summer long. I knew exactly what it looked like. Today I wanted to know what it felt like.