I'm a 22-year-old woman, college educated and intelligent. I'm reasonably attractive, outgoing, and well regarded. I've known my husband since I was in high school and he is ten years older than I am, but that hasn't mattered to me in the least. Nor to him, I would hope. He's an academic and well respected in his field. We both come from good middle-upper class families and we were never abused as children, or suffered physical or emotional trauma. We're very normal people. We've been married since June and had decided to wait until I've settled into my career before starting a family, but plans change.
We've always enjoyed a healthy sexual relationship, but it is what you would term 'vanilla' I believe. A few times when we dated my husband and I would try very mild bondage games, being tied to the bed with silk scarves or being spanked rather gently, but for the most part we enjoyed oral foreplay and straight intercourse. It wasn't great every time, but I thought it wasn't bad. Once we were married though, something changed.
These changes began with my husband telling me not to move so much while we were making love. This was soon after our wedding; in fact it was just about the last night or maybe second to last night of our honeymoon. I'm very active in bed. I like to move and talk and let him know when I like something or, much more rarely, when I don't. He never complained about it before and it surprised me a little. You have to picture it I suppose, me on top of my husband, bouncing around rather enjoyably, and then his strong fingers digging into my hips.
"Shhh ... Don't move so much, okay?" he whispered, annoyed like I was ruining a good movie or something. I didn't say anything, but it did bother me if only because I didn't understand it.
Perhaps a week later we were making love again and he'd positioned himself so that I was on my back and he was next to me on his left side. His right leg was between mine while his left leg was underneath us, so that we were scissored with his penis inside me. It was very comfortable and I felt very good, but when I began moving, just rocking my hips a little and moaning, he again asked me to stop.
"What?" I asked a little breathlessly.
He put his hand on my stomach, pushing down slightly, not very hard at all. "Please, just ... Just don't move, okay?"
"Ummm ... okay," I said, but I was confused again. What was I supposed to do if I wasn't moving? My body goes all by itself and even though I tried, my hips were still rocking and my thighs wanted to press together.
My husband was very still, just sliding his penis in and out of me and all I could hear was his breathing. He had his eyes closed and for some reason this angered me a little. But I didn't say anything and whatever I felt that was good physically was lost. I just wasn't into it anymore. So that made it much easier to lie there and be quiet like he'd asked.
He ejaculated a few minutes later, pulling me hard onto him as he emptied himself into me. When he came it was one of the best orgasms he'd had in a long time, he was actually groaning and really driving into my sex that time. Usually he stops moving and pulls out rather quickly, but not this time. He kept thrusting as though he hadn't cum at all and despite my resentment it did start arousing me again. As soon as I started moving though, that was it, he stopped and finally pulled out, leaving me feeling very neglected.
I rolled over and pretended I was asleep when he tried to talk to me.
A few days later I'd cooled down enough so that I could actually bear to bring the subject up. We were in bed and I knew he was horny because he was rubbing my thigh as I lay with my back to him. He'd slide his hand down to where my panties covered my sex and ass and almost but not quite touch me there.
"Are you going to tell me to shut up again?" I asked him without turning over.
"I never told you to shut up," he replied defensively, taking his hand off my leg with a sigh.
"What did you say then?"
"I just asked if you could not move so much, if you could be a little more quiet, that's all."
"And why is that?" I turned around finally, looking at him in the dim light that came from our bathroom. "You just want me to lie there, like ... I'm asleep or something?"
I sounded angry because I was; unfortunately this usually gets him a little mad also. "Or something, yeah," he sat up and stared down at me. "I just ... I wish you'd try it once. It's not like I'm asking to fuck you in the ass or something."
"Oh yeah, right. So it's either I 'shut up and lie still' or I get buttfucked?" I sat up too. "Fuck you!"
"I didn't say that!"
"But that's what you meant," I shook my head. "Okay fine, I'll be quiet. In fact, I'll be so quiet that you won't even know I'm here." I grabbed my pillow and left, going to the spare bedroom to sleep on the daybed. "Happy?" I slammed the door behind me.
He brought me flowers the next afternoon, but it was another three days before we traded apologies. I'd thought about it and maybe I was just misunderstanding what he wanted. We went out to a nice dinner and everything seemed to be getting back to normal. We had sex the usual way, real dirty hard make-up sex, and it was great. I made a lot of noise and everything.
For three weeks everything was peaches and cream. I'd pretty much forgotten our argument and when I remembered it, I felt a little embarrassed because it really had been nothing worth fighting over. We had to go to a funeral though, for one of my husband's students. She was from the area and had died in a boating accident on the sound. We probably didn't have to go, in fact I would have preferred not to, but my husband felt that he should. I'd only been to one funeral previously, for my grandmother when I was very young.
The student in question was a girl of 20 years and I didn't know her at all except for what my husband had told me. She was pretty and healthy and just entering the prime of life, and now it had been stolen. That hardly seemed fair, but my reflections aren't really important here. It's enough to say that I was saddened and sympathetic with the family. I thought about my own family and tried to imagine what it will be like when someone like my father dies, because it will happen someday. That thought filled me more than any other; the sheer certainty of it was like a great weight around my neck.
After the funeral, I was ready to leave as I'd been somewhat uncomfortable with both my thoughts and my surroundings. The cemetery was nice enough, like a park with well manicured grounds and a great many large and ancient trees, and you could almost imagine having a picnic there until the countless headstones and monuments forced themselves into focus. Then you realized that hundreds, even thousands of people were interred just a few feet down. It was not a very comfortable sensation. I didn't like it and I wanted to go. But my husband would not leave, he started walking away from the car and I had to hurry to catch up.
"What's wrong? I want to go ... Let's go," I said, but he shook his head.
"Let's walk a little, okay?" He seemed alright, not depressed or anything and I was trying to understand.
"Okay, a little," I reluctantly agreed.
So he took my hand and we walked down a road that soon changed from asphalt to cobblestone towards the oldest part of the big cemetery. It was a very nice day in late August. Still warm, but not oppressive the way it had been recently, and birds sang and squirrels ran from tree to tree. There was nobody else in sight and it actually became quite enjoyable, just holding my husband's hand and walking like that.
We started looking at the gravestones as we walked, noting the dates as they regressed through time, past the turn of the last century. We smiled at some of the names and shook our heads at the children. My earlier discomfort had faded, perhaps because we were so far removed now from the immediacy of that girl my husband had known. Far from her gleaming dark coffin and the smell of uprooted earth, the sounds of her family quietly weeping. These were people long since gone, forgotten by their children's grandchildren, and tended by anonymous men who were paid to care.
We stopped by a beautiful moss covered angel, peering towards heaven with palms pressed to her breast. The marker beneath it was old and chipped.
Claire Marie Hessel
October 7 1872 – December 19 1891
Beloved Wife and Daughter
"Claire Marie," I said. "That's a pretty name."
"Yeah," my husband's hand squeezed mine. "Let's sit down."
We sat next to the angel, in the shade on that cool lawn. "She was just nineteen," I sighed and traced the lettering, getting the tip of my finger smudged dark with dust.
"Barely even that old."
"What do you think she looked like?"
"She was pretty, with auburn hair like yours," he smiled at me and touched my hair. "But Claire's hair was longer, and curled just a little as it lay across her shoulders. She had green eyes that were bright and quick and never still, as though she were afraid that she might miss something."
"She knew her time was short," I whispered.
My husband looked into my soft brown eyes. "Her skin was pale, like milk, and her breasts small with rosy nipples that made her flush with embarrassment the first time her husband-to-be had seen them." Then he was kissing me. "But on her wedding night she felt no shame, for she loved him passionately and offered herself without regret to his sweet gaze."
He does that to me, my husband, he tells me stories as foreplay. I was already growing wet and the dress I wore bunched easily around my hips. I let my husband make love to me while Claire Marie slept below us. I dug my heels into that soft grass and pulled him inside me, pretending I was this girl, although I didn't know why.
"Call me Claire ... Say it ... Say it for me..." I breathed urgently as his warmth speared deeply into my womb. And he did, repeating that name over and over, staring at her gravestone and joining my orgasm with his.
I felt guilty after that, after my lust had been assuaged and we were walking back to our car. My husband's seed burned inside me, and some I imagined spilled onto the ground, seeping into the earth to find Claire Marie. It was a sacrilege, I thought afterwards, doing that there, in that place. I wouldn't speak with my husband, though I could tell he was in a fine mood and willing to entertain me. I just wanted to go home and take a bath.
That my feelings weren't clear to my husband became manifest a few days later when he proposed we should go back to the cemetery sometime, perhaps to bring some flowers for the girl. He'd left it unclear if the girl in question was his former student or our Claire Marie, and I didn't ask further. I understood him to mean he would like us to make love again in that place and the thought of it repulsed me thoroughly. Guilt rose like bile in my throat and I shook my head, telling him that I couldn't, not again. He was disappointed and I tried to explain, but my words were inadequate and we found ourselves separate once again.
Soon thereafter came an episode that was to be repeated at odd intervals over the next several months. It had been our custom to drink wine with our weekend suppers, both of us enjoying the exploration and growing passion of the amateur connoisseur. One night in mid September I'd apparently had a little too much. Soon after we'd finished our dinner I felt dizzy and weak. My body was languid and my mind unclear, as though a great weariness had possessed me. My husband carried me to bed and undressed me, but beyond that I could remember nothing at all.
The next morning I'd awoken to find myself somewhat tender and still damp from what had obviously been a long night of lovemaking. I felt very anxious about this, not because I felt my husband had abused me in some way, he was very emphatic about my willingness to couple with him and I had no reason to disbelieve him, but because I simply couldn't remember it. I wondered if this 'blacking out' was a symptom of alcoholism, or some physical problem I was unaware of. It made me nervous and I considered seeing a doctor, but my husband dissuaded me, saying it was probably just my body chemistry that night.
I abstained from alcohol for several weeks, and thereafter limited myself to a single glass with my meal. I'd almost forgotten it entirely when the experience was repeated. Again I felt disoriented and tired and my husband had to help me to bed. I woke up the next morning very early and found myself still dressed, although it was obvious that we'd made love again. Several times, judging from the condition of my vagina and the copious amount of semen and other fluids both inside and outside my body. I'd also awoken with a headache, which was very unusual for me, and while I was in my bath I decided I would see a doctor.
I told my husband this and he again tried to talk me out of it, telling me that it was probably just the wine. He'd also woken up with a headache, as though he'd drunk an entire bottle, rather than just two glasses. He retrieved the bottle from the refrigerator and examined the label before pouring what remained of the wine down the sink.
"We won't be drinking from this vineyard again," he said, putting the bottle in the recycling can. "But I don't think we need to see any doctors either, okay?"
I nodded and let him make my decision for me, hoping that it was just tainted wine and not me at all. But I was thinking about blackouts and now denial. I told myself if I started hiding airline bottles of cheap chardonnay around the house I was going to check into a clinic.
One day shortly after that, this would have been early October, my husband and I were walking downtown, through the old University District. We were visiting a small gallery where a friend of mine was having a show and I was looking forward to it. My husband was somewhat less enthusiastic, but not terribly. We were both enjoying the day and being together. Even so I had made a vague promise a few days before about making it up to him. We walked down the street close together with his arm around me, the other holding an umbrella above us to ward off the autumn rain. It was fun and I was surprised when he stopped suddenly, turning us to look through a store window.
"I know how you can make it up to me," he said.
"Oh ... How?" I smiled, wondering what he was thinking.
"That," my husband pointed at a mannequin. "Let me buy you that dress."
I looked at it through the window. The store was a vintage clothier and the dress in question had to be from the thirties, or maybe even the twenties. It looked like a wedding dress, formed of satin and lace and richly layered. The gown was wonderfully intricate and woven through with small dark beads, like tiny black pearls. In fact, the whole dress was black as night. On the mannequin's head sat a black velvet hat with a narrow brim and a black veil finely netted to cover the face. It was beautiful, but...
"It's black," I said. Shaking my head and laughing. "Who would wear that? It's too Goth, even for this town."
"It's perfect," my husband breathed. He looked at me. "Please? Just try it on, okay?"
I thought we were just playing a game; really it was kind of funny. So in we went and found the girl who was clerking. She seemed surprised to find that we were interested in that dress. It's very expensive, she warned us, but my husband shrugged that off despite my sideways glance. I was still worried about my student loans and the dress had a tag with 4 numbers on it, all on the wrong side of the decimal point.
My husband asked about the dress' history, but the girl didn't know anything really. It had been bought at auction when an old woman had died. Her estate was to be divided amongst her children and they apparently decided to cash in. My husband shook his head at that. He's a social anthropologist and cashing in, as the girl so eloquently put it, is almost criminal to him. The dress had been in a chest, along with a number of other, lesser garments, and had been purchased quite by accident. It is doubtful any of the children had even known of its existence.
I needed the clerk to help me with it, which she did only after my husband had assured the girl of our immediate and genuine interest. I'm a size 4 and the dress actually fit me very well, it was perhaps just a little long and a little tight around my tummy. It was supposed to be worn with a corset, the clerk told me, but I could get away without wearing one she thought. I was almost certainly a size or two smaller than the woman for whom the dress had originally been made. But our breasts were about right I supposed, though a corset would probably help to fill the bodice more properly.
It had herringbone hooks hidden along the spine and a wide satin sash with a fixed bow that wrapped around my waist and then pinned to the small of my back. There were actually three layers to the dress itself, with a slip-like interior of crinoline that had lost much of it's original stiffness, surrounded by the fine satin material of the dress proper, and a layer of lace over that, stitched at the waist and neck, and diaphanous in effect; like wearing a shadow. It was beautiful and I stepped out of the dressing room, letting my husband see me while I turned for the mirrors.
My husband bought the hat for me as well and I felt both spoiled and a little nervous as our purchase was carefully wrapped and boxed. It seemed like an awful lot of money to spend on a dress I would never wear in public. It was an extravagance; a decadent luxury and I worried over it all afternoon. My husband, however, was quite the opposite, animated and charming with my friends at the gallery. He lavished attention on me so that I was quite pleased when someone commented on it, paying us the compliment of being truly lovers amongst so many who had the mere appearance.
In a somewhat secluded corner, beneath a pleasant watercolor of potted flowers in an old and cracked windowsill, my husband pulled me close and kissed me deeply. He surprised me with his urgency, clutching me to him as his hands moved down my back to my hips and further to my ass, pulling me to feel his erection pressing between us.
"What's gotten into you?" I whispered, smiling and licking my lips.
"I want you," he replied simply and I looked around wondering if his voice hadn't carried away from our little hiding place.
"What? Here?" I giggled and then he was kissing me again, exploring my mouth with his tongue and making me moan as my breasts were crushed to his chest.
"Turn around," he whispered, moving me with his hands so that I faced the painting. He was lifting my skirt and I had to lean forward, pressing my palms against the cool red brick of the wall.
"Please, no! Someone will ... Oh!"
My husband had freed his penis and he pulled my panty to the side, actually ripping the fabric with his fingers. He rubbed the crown of his erection across my sex and I felt the excitement rushing through me. This unexpected encounter with so many friends and strangers nearby was intoxicating suddenly. Any moment one of them could come around the corner and...
"Ahhh ... Yessss..." I hissed when his hardness penetrated me, stretching easily the humid folds of my sex. I pushed back as desire coursed through my veins and the anxiety I felt was only making it better somehow.
We made love quickly, with my husband's arms wrapped around my breasts and his chin over my shoulder. His breath was hot in my ear as he thrust into my womb with short quick strokes. I was panting and biting my lips, telling myself to remain quiet despite the almost primal need to release the energy that overwhelmed my senses. I had one orgasm after another until I could barely stand and my husband was forced to hold me up.
It was our best sex in a long time, since our afternoon with Claire Marie, and I was grinding myself back against him until finally even that desperate motion gave way to stuporous ecstasy. I was limp and powerless in my husband's strong arms and soon after my complete surrender he too began to orgasm, loosing his seed deeply inside my womb. He kissed my neck and cheek, holding himself within my quivering flesh until the moment slowly passed and we were able to arouse our sensibilities.
My husband straightened himself and fixed his appearance, smiling happily at me while I tried to do the same. I giggled and felt myself blushing furiously. I looked around with the realization, or at least the hope, that I would never know if anyone had witnessed our immodest passion. I had to remove my panties, they were ruined and I used them to clean the wetness spilling down my thighs. It was barely adequate and I felt him still inside me, a warmth that would betray itself the rest of the day as it sought escape. I looked around, holding my damp panties, which now smelled strongly of our union. I did not really want to put them in my small purse. My husband took them from me with a chuckle and laid them unceremoniously on a piece of rather mundane statuary.
"You're so bad!" I laughed at him, and he merely smiled and took me by the hand.
We left the area slowly, but deliberately, and I avoided looking at the other people as they circulated for fear of seeing recognition in their eyes. I held my husband's arm tightly and questioned him again.
"What was that all about?" I whispered, looking quickly away as a waiter approached to offer us champagne.
My husband took two glasses, thanking the young man, and handed one to me. I drank half of it quickly. "Didn't you like it?" He sipped his own drink and we wandered into another section of the gallery.
"I ... Yeah, I loved it ... But..." I shook my head. "It's that dress, isn't it?" I felt like something important had suddenly become clear.
My husband nodded, tilting his head as we walked so that his mouth was close to my ear. "I've been wanting you ever since I saw you wearing it," he gave me a small hug with his arm around my waist. "I kept seeing you in it and I couldn't wait."
I felt his sperm still inside me and the wetness cooling on my thighs as we walked. I lifted my face and looked around brazenly, suddenly hoping that someone would give me a knowing smile. I was flushing hot all over and I felt a little confused at being so ... horny. I wanted him again, right then, but not right there. I asked him to take me home. I wanted to wear my new dress. I did not have to ask twice and if our apologetic goodbyes were clumsy and hastily given, neither of us cared. We retrieved our coats and our packages and our umbrella from the cloakroom and waited breathlessly in the rain for a taxi.
That night I wore the dress for my husband and I felt somewhat self-conscious at first. This was someone's wedding dress, I reminded myself. It was a dream come true as only a woman would understand it. My own wedding dress was wrapped in plastic. Once in awhile I would look at it and smile, even open the bag and take a small breath of it on occasion. I wondered if the owner of this dress had ever done that, and what would she think of our little scene?
My husband made love to me, the both of us fully clothed. I might have protested that the dress could get stained, but he'd allowed us no other choice. He wanted me in that black dress, lying on my back with my legs together and my hands clasped over my breast. He positioned me like I was modeling for a painting and it was clear that this pose was exactly as one would expect from someone dead. I did as he asked but I wanted to question him. What was the purpose of this? What did it satisfy in his nature to see me that way? I thought I was finally gaining some understanding of why he'd asked me previously to lie still and be quiet. It was frightening to me, despite my love and trust for him, to be treated in this manner.
"Do you think about me being ... Dead?" I asked him finally. He was sitting on the bed, touching me, touching the dress and looking at me.
"Wha ... What?"
"The dress, the way you want me to lie here, not moving, not talking ... I'm dead, right?"
"No ... No, you're not. I ... I ... just want to look at you first," he replied haltingly, looking for the words.
"Making love in the cemetery."
"That was ... Different."
"I am dead." I closed my eyes and said nothing more.
I could not tell you why I did it then, though I have my suspicions now. My husband couldn't hide his secrets from me, they poured out of his eyes, begging to be known. He wanted a dead woman to love; I would be that woman for him. Perhaps only that once, or perhaps as many times as he wished, I didn't know.
He shook me gently, calling my name and I ignored him. He tried talking to me, explaining that I'd misunderstood his intentions. He paced the room slowly and sat back down. I ignored that too. He told me that he loved me, but he was speaking to a dead woman.
My husband made love to me then, as I said before. He was slow and deliberate and his kisses through the fine lace of my veil nearly beguiled away my resolve to be lifeless. His touches were sensitive and only with difficulty did I make no sound of pleasure or protest; allow no movement to betray my intentions. I let him mold me to the shape he desired, spreading my legs and lifting my dress, exposing my bare sex to his kisses first and later his turgid penis. He made love to me for hours it seemed, holding himself back when he came close and shifting his attentions to prolong our adventure.
I was not immune, though I found perverse pleasure in denying my emotions the release I craved. I would tremble with impending orgasm, and wrestle great battles to control it. I was at war with myself while my husband flooded me with sweet pangs of pleasure. His attention was my enemy and I was rigid with the effort to resist him. The wetness between my legs, the hardness of my nipples, and my breathing, the speeding and slowing of my lungs lifting my breasts, all gave me away. But those were all as nothing compared to the wonders of being dead.
I imagined the walls closing in around me, changing to virgin white satin, plush and perfumed. I was in a room just big enough for my body to lie eternal. I felt the pillow under my head, and the roses wrapped in baby's breath clutched to my breast. My eyes were closed and my skin was pale and wax-like, and soft as the petals of a lily. I could no longer feel my husband on top of me. My nipples stopped burning and my clitoris ached no more. My lungs held their last breath jealously and my heart slowed and finally stopped. Everything was quiet now, finally and forever. I was alone.
My orgasm exploded and I let out the breath I was holding, coughing and panting. I wrapped my arms and legs around my husband, pulling him to me as I wept. I was cumming so hard I thought I should never be sane again. All reason deserted me. Clarity was gone and a riot of the senses stole through me. I was alive again, and wanting and needing more than I ever had before. I'd died for my love and he'd brought me back, waking me from the eternal dream. My husband responded immediately, not asking me to be still or quiet, but tearing the veil from my face and kissing my lips, my cheeks, and my eyes. We twisted and rolled and made savage love to celebrate our life. I understood.
"I thought you were dead," my husband breathed, smiling and cuddling me the way I like.
"I was," I whispered, "and then you brought me back."
"I don't know why I like..." he searched for a word, " ... that. I just do."
"I know," I hugged him. "I felt so lonely for a moment. I was trying to convince myself that I was dead and for just a second it felt like I was." I didn't know if I could explain this, but I was so excited that I had to try. "I felt nothing at all and my heart ... It stopped, I think."
My husband looked at me.
"What?" I asked, giggling and feeling foolish.
"I don't want you to die."
"I know that, we're just ... Pretending, right?" I kissed him.
Whatever epiphany I'd experienced that night hadn't totally convinced me of what we were doing however. I'd found excitement first in the discipline of 'dying' and then again when I was able to abandon that effort and be 'saved' in a manner of speaking. It was tempting to use the word resurrected, but I feared such language. My husband's experience was different, I thought. I wasn't sure his idea was so dissimilar, but for him there could be no salvation for his lover. I suspected that he would love death itself, if he could; that he had loved me during our role-play seemed incidental.
My husband and I performed this role-play several times over the long month, adding little things like candles and flowers in a seeming effort to turn our bedroom into a funeral parlor. Our scenes became ritualized and at times I found the effort tedious or humorous or even uncomfortable, like soaking in a bathtub full of ice water for twenty minutes so that my husband could experience the lifeless chill of my form. Or painting my body and face with a thinned solution of some theatrical skin whitener, only to find it did not wash away as easily as promised.
By this time it was nearly the end of October and I joked with my husband that I at least had my costume already. We were going to attend two Halloween parties; my husband's department head was hosting the earlier and for me, less attractive one. My old sorority was giving the second. I was still close to many of the girls, since I'd only gotten my degree the previous June, and very much looking forward to seeing them. But it would be at the first affair that I met someone far more interesting.
She was older, a humanities professor from Bonn, with a rich German accent. She'd introduced herself to me with a remembrance of the girl's funeral several months prior. She'd seen me there, but I was somewhat embarrassed to confess that I did not recall very many of the faces in attendance that day. My husband had taken the opportunity to play university politics and I found myself alone with her on an antique settee, sipping my drink as we spoke.
"I was there today, at that cemetery," she told me. "No, not to visit anyone. I was doing rubbings of some of the markers there."
I had to ask her what rubbings were, being unfamiliar with the term.
"It's using charcoal to capture the marker, like using a pencil to copy a penny into your notebook when you were a child," she smiled at me as if I were still a child. "I use onionskin instead of a notebook, of course."
I nodded. Of course, I thought. "Why would you do that?"
"Because they are beautiful. Would you care to see some?"
"I ... I don't know." I wasn't sure what she was asking me.
"Of course you do," she touched my knee lightly with a wrinkled hand. "I have them here, the ones I did today. I'll be right back."
I sat there watching the people around me, waiting and wishing my husband would come rescue me. I had no opinion then on the substance of this woman's enthusiasm, although it struck me as slightly odd. I understood a little of what she was saying; there had indeed been several markers that I'd found pleasing both aesthetically and emotionally, but I didn't think I wanted to take them home with me.
The professor returned with an artist's portfolio, an old worn leather case of generous proportion. She sat beside me and opened it slowly. She'd put her rubbings in plastic sleeves, after treating them with an aerosol of some sort that artists use to prevent smudging. She explained the process briefly as the first of her rubbings was removed. She handed it to me and I was surprised by my own reaction. The slanting shades of gray, lighter here and darker there, rendering with perfect imperfection the headstone of a man some 42 years old and dead a hundred years. The cracks and bumps, the very texture of passing time was revealed to me.
"There is a serenity there, captured in the art, wouldn't you say?" she was looking at me as I studied her rubbing. "Not the calm of a still life painting, which is artificial and boring, but the very essence of the thing itself. Do you see it?"
I nodded, "Yes, I do see it."
There was motion in that art; the rapid movement of the charcoal across the paper was plainly captured as clearly as anything else. But the eye was drawn beyond that, to the object, and then beyond that as well to something more. There was something else moving, underneath, and I tried to fix it with my eyes.
"Melville wrote, 'It is the thing behind the thing, I chiefly hate.' And so Ahab was damned."
I looked up to see the woman staring into my eyes.
"But we do not hate, you and I, we embrace it and so we are saved," she continued patiently, playing the teacher for me.
"I ... I don't understand. Saved from ... What?" I tried to remember that story. Ahab hated God, didn't he?
"Saved from our fears."
"I do not embrace ... Death," I challenged her. "If that's what you mean."
She smiled at me. "You saw something a moment ago, in here," she patted the rubbing I held in my lap. "Did you see death?"
"No. I saw ... I don't know ... Life," I decided.
"Exactly," she was quietly triumphant. "I have a gift for you then, to celebrate embracing life." She thumbed through the dozen rubbings in her satchel and removed one, laying it on top of the one I already held. It was Claire Marie's marker.
I looked at her. "You saw us?"
"Quite by accident, I assure you," she was smiling again.
"You have the wrong impression of me, madam," I pushed the rubbings back at her.
The old woman ignored them. "You did not think so a moment ago." Then more softly she said, "I envy you so many things, do not wait until you are my age before you find the courage to accept who you are."
"And who am I?" my voice was a whisper.
"A very special person," she tapped the rubbings with a crooked bony finger. I looked down and saw a key sliding across the plastic into my lap.
I opened my mouth to ask her what it was for, but my husband appeared just then, smiling and looking curiously at the rubbings I held.
"Professor, how nice to see you again," he offered, watching as she closed her portfolio and I tried to give her the rubbings once more, but she assured me that they were both mine now.
"And you professor," she finally acknowledged my husband. "Your wife is truly a marvel; take care of her, ja?" She did not wait for an answer, but walked away leaving my husband shaking his head.
"She was on my doctoral review board," he made a face. "Merciless."
I handed him the rubbing of Claire Marie without a word, but kept the key for myself.
"She gave you this?" he asked and I nodded "Uhhh-huh..." he looked at it closely. "I like it."
I smiled, "So do I."
In the weeks that followed I replayed my conversation with the old woman many times over in my head. I did not have a fascination with death. I was not a fetishist of some sort. There were no secrets to which I was privy, no hidden world or serene divination to which I could aspire. The professor's words seemed contrived and angered me, although I did not understand why this should be so. And at the same time I had taken the rubbings to have them matted and framed. My intention was to hang them in our bedroom, but instead I prominently displayed them in our living room. I felt like a criminal who leaves clues at the scene of her crime, begging to be stopped before she can act again.
I had declined my husband's earnest desires to reprise our sexual games. I took my dress to a cleaner who specialized in such garments, caring for each individually by hand. It was a slow process and required several weeks, and even after it was ready I continually made excuses not to claim it. When my husband would ask me about it I would grow angry, asking him in turn if it were the dress or myself with which he was enamored.
We engaged in sex the normal way, when we did it all, and I was vexed by inability to achieve orgasm. I would practically force my husband to go down on me before I would allow him penetration, but I was frustrated despite his best efforts to bring me release. Even masturbation, which I engaged in regularly during my bath, was unsatisfactory. I could conjure no thought process or fantasy, or emotional connection with anything internal. I felt alone and isolated and my mood suffered terribly from it.
This all happened very quickly and my husband and I were not happy. When it became time to renew my prescription for my birth control pills, I put it off and used the excuse to avoid having sex with him. I was seeking something, but I didn't know what and I sought every rationale I could imagine. This was selfish, I knew, and I chided myself for not discussing it with him, but I was certain that my problems were personal and I'd become reclusive with guilt.
My husband and I shared Thanksgiving alone, declining invitations and resisting the wishes of our respective families. I did not feel festive and my husband was restless as well, both from the spiritual malaise I suffered and his own frustrations. He seemed convinced that my depression had not come from my suspected interest in death, but from my denial of it. His arguments were passionate, but they did not persuade, and I would not listen.
Thanksgiving evening I blacked out for the third time in as many months, although it had been very nearly two months since the previous episode. I remember sitting down to read a manuscript after our dinner, sipping my second glass of sherry, and finding myself unable to focus with my mind as well as my eyes. The words swam in front of me and my thoughts drifted. I had peculiar dreams, vulgar dreams in which I was ravished by strange men in animalistic fashion. I awoke very early the next morning, my back to my husband's chest. We were both naked and he had an erection pressing between my thighs. I felt damp and I reached between my legs to feel my labia distended and puffy. It had apparently been another good night of coitus for us, though once again I had no memory of it.