The good-looking one, the one in need, the one that almost was
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When Joe left me sitting under the apple tree and started to walk across the meadow toward my trailer, he looked back and waved, and then walked on, and then he did a complete circle with his arms out, like he was embracing the world. That made me laugh, because he was so happy and willing to show it. I was leaning back against the tree with most of my clothes back on, and I blew him kisses as he went on his spinning, cheerful way. Then he reached my dirt driveway, where he’d left his truck, and he climbed in, honked his horn, and left.
We’d just made love, and we’d both come twice, and my body was feeling full and tired. The contrails from the flying sparks of orgasm were just starting to fade as I picked twigs out of my hair and wiped a smudge of dirt from my forearm and let my mind think thoughts like The only thing grand enough for a human life is to love and This is where wild and gentle get sewn together — the sort of thoughts that make perfect sense at a time like that, and only at a time like that. I considered the fallen red apples and the yellowed leaves, and I guessed that I was in love — that, in fact, I was more in love than I’d ever been. And I simply took notice of that feeling and concentrated on the sharp, rotting smell of the apples and the slant of sunlight on my bare feet and the ache in my thighs.
After some time, I walked to my trailer, spinning around myself, and went inside and fell on my bed and closed my eyes and replayed the whole thing: our lovemaking, and my orgasms, and his, and our mumblings, and his eyes. And then my mind wandered on to less romantic thoughts, such as: perhaps my rear end is not attractive from behind, because it’s dimpled with fat, which is too bad, because I like that position; and perhaps I had said a stupid thing or two, which was also too bad, but entirely predictable. I brushed away the bits of earth still smashed against my spine and rubbed my head where it had hit the apple tree, and I considered the violence of love.
Joe and I have the exact same hair color — a brown so dark that it’s almost black — only his is curly and mine hangs straight to my waist. Also, both of us have gray in our hair: Joe’s near his temples and mine throughout. I love it when he takes my hair and starts to braid it, which he knows how to do from braiding harnesses. And I love pushing my hands up through his hair and feeling his soft scalp. Thinking of our hands in each other’s hair, I made myself come again, because I was curious to know whether I could accomplish three, which I’d never done before.
When my body stopped pulsing, I decided that orgasm is the greatest physical pleasure in life, and I wondered if Joe felt the same way. I wondered how he saw the world, through what lens. I imagined I was Joe. I tried to be in his tall body, looking at himself in the mirror, touching his own stubbled jaw, seeing his graying hair and brown eyes. I imagined how he might stare down his fears and hopes and hurts. I tried to feel his breath move in and out. I tried to imagine how he might close his eyes and become aware of his body and perhaps be aroused, feel alert and alive. Doing this made my heart hurt a little. Joe was a good man, and for some reason his goodness made me feel raw. I found myself thinking, Don’t trust him. He will hurt you. But I turned those thoughts off and kept them off. Instead of tempering my feelings for Joe with those judgments the brain continually makes, instead of balancing love with Joe-lacks-such-and-such-a-quality thoughts — all those strategies the mind uses so that it loves less and therefore feels less — instead of doing those things, I stared at the ceiling of the room, with my hand still between my legs, and I felt Joe and knew Joe and experienced Joe as much as I could at that moment in time, despite the very real danger.
I live too hard, and I know it. I drink too much, I smoke too much pot, and I’ve continued to date men after they’ve hit me. Every once in a while I get into trouble because of this, but over the course of my life I have come to believe that it’s worth it. My body and heart are getting worn out faster than they should, but I won’t regret this life as much as some people want me to, because at least I feel alive.
One thing to know about me is that I severely dislike stingy people. By this I mean not only penny pinchers, but people who aren’t generous with their thank-yous and I’m-sorrys; people who spend too little time thinking about others, too little energy loving; people who get through life by giving as little as they can. I do not like miserly hearts.
Which is probably why I like Joe so much, because he is, at heart, generous. For example, he’s willing to walk away from his new lover and tell her goodbye in the most charitable way he can, by spinning and holding his arms out to the world, announcing: Life is good. That was good. I love you. That is something. Really, that is something.
I am a housecleaner, and I sell pot on the side. My goal is to make a living while working as few hours as possible, so I can spend the rest of my day drinking, or reading, or getting high, or now, increasingly, with Joe and his body, or with my thoughts about Joe and his body. The only other interesting thing I can say about myself is that I’ve always been fascinated by sex — which is not to say that I’ve engaged in a huge amount of sexual activity, but rather that I have paid attention to sex as a topic. I know about The Hite Report and Deep Throat and Candida Royalle porn. I know what Freud and Foucault have to say, and I know the most basic truth about enjoying sex, which is that it’s part instinct, but it’s mostly a learned activity. It can’t be learned with just anybody, though, and I’m beginning to think that’s what’s going on with Joe: I am learning from him. That is why the thought of losing him scares me. He’s going to open me up, make me understand and feel, and then he will get in his truck and drive out of my life, back to his horseshoeing and hunting and woodworking and all his other activities that do not include me.
So I’m hoping we can both be generous with each other for at least a while, long enough for my body to understand this new feeling. I want to have the body knowledge of what it is like to be this happy.
Winnie is my one friend, and my only neighbor way up here on this mountain. She has short hair, which she dyes blond, and she’s married with two kids who are always coming over to my property to pick apples. Winnie exercises and eats right. In many ways, she is the opposite of me. That’s part of why we’re friends: so we can each see the road not taken, and we can enjoy the scenery along that road without having to walk it ourselves.
The apple tree stands midway between our two houses, with about an acre of land on each side. My lot is bigger than Winnie’s and more overgrown with raspberry bushes and milkweed and mountain mahogany and grasses. I tell Winnie’s kids to watch out when they come to pick apples, because there’s a bear around. Its scat is all over the place: big, apple-seed-laden piles. In fact, Joe and I had to search to find a place under the tree that was free of the stuff. I haven’t actually seen the bear, but I can smell the vinegar scent of its urine, the rank odor of its body, and I imagine it’s pretty fat by now and ready for winter. Winnie keeps an eye on the kids, but sometimes they escape out of the house when she’s trying to put bread in the oven, for instance. These kids were meant for the outdoors, and I think that’s great, but I worry about the bear.
Winnie’s marriage is a typical one, which means that sometimes it gets rough, but then it gets better. As far as I can tell, there’s not a lot of passion, but there is that blend of patience and knowledge and affection that marks long marriages. Except for the boredom part, it seems pretty appealing. The boredom would kill me, though. Winnie’s house is very organized. She lines up cans in one cupboard and plastic containers in another. She makes lists. Sometimes I envy the clean edges of her life, how marriage and motherhood seem to be enough to hold her together, although I don’t completely understand her for this very reason.
Winnie thinks I’m amusingly wild, and I like regaling her with stories. So when she came over that day for our usual five o’clock margaritas, I told her about Joe and me under the apple tree. Winnie’s kids, five and six, were playing in the grass, and Winnie and I sat wrapped up in blankets and drank our strong drinks and watched the sun set over the mountains. I told her about how Joe’s kisses had a certain pull to them, how his hands had a certain knowledge, how his fingers listened. I told her that it was startling, at this age, suddenly to be experiencing such orgasms: orgasms that came so easily, the muscle contractions spreading through my body with unexpected force; but orgasms that, despite their force, were grounded in tenderness. I had never believed that being with a man could seem so safe and gentle.
Winnie rubbed her fingers over her lips in a thoughtful sort of way and said, “Jeez, Gretchen, I wish I was having sex like that.”
She meant it too. I could hear it in her voice. So I said, “Well, a lot of days I wish I had kids.”
We like to lust after each other’s lives. Come right down to it, neither of us would trade what she has, but still, there’s that occasional yearning.
“I haven’t kissed someone new in thirteen years,” she said.
“I don’t have anyone to sleep with me at night,” I said. “Not most nights.”
“Well,” she said, “we could all use more than one life.”
We sat for a while and ate some of her homemade bread with havarti cheese and the last of this year’s raspberries, the sweet kind that grow over by the property line between my land and hers.
“Can I ask you something?” I finally said. “When you have an orgasm, during sex, you’re telling yourself a story in your head, right? You’re imagining another scene, other than the one that is occurring, right?”
“I think that’s probably true,” she said.
“Can you have an orgasm without it?”
Her eyes moved across the pasture, as if the pasture were the landscape of her brain and she were examining the horizon for memories. “I don’t think I can. I think I need the story. I’ll have to pay attention next time, to be sure.” She stuffed some bread in her mouth and looked up at the sky.
“Because I couldn’t. Come. Without a story,” I said. “But then, with Joe, I suddenly can. I mean, it’s ridiculous!” I told her I knew it sounded like I was doing a disservice to womankind by granting the man too much credit, by having too much pleasure, by exaggerating the possibilities. It was also just the beginning of an affair, not the part that tests and tries you. I knew that too. “But I just want to be happy right now,” I said. “I want to store these moments up for later.”
“That sounds smart,” she said. “Have another margarita.”
“I’ve had bad sex before,” I said. “Plenty of it. Bad sex, mediocre sex, OK sex. But suddenly this. It has to do with how there we are. It’s a whole different way of being, really. And it’s confusing my body. I just didn’t expect it.” I stabbed the knife into the havarti and looked at her.
She said, “Maybe you should figure out a way to make this work. And just so you know, married sex can be good too. It can be great.”
“I believe it.” I said this like I meant it, which maybe isn’t true, but I’d like it to be.
Winnie looked at me and bit her lip, and I could tell she was reminding herself of all the things she didn’t like about my life, so that she could confirm her choices. As part of righting herself, her eyes veered off to her kids, as if to say, There. That’s what you have. There they are.
“Can I ask you one more thing?” I said. “These stories in your head, they have some violence in them, don’t they? At least sometimes?”
Winnie raised her eyebrows and said, “Gretchen,” in that tone of voice you use with a child who’s gone too far. But then she backed away from it and sighed. She’s very patient. That’s another thing I like about Winnie: her great capacity for finding fondness for people, even after they’ve irritated her. Now she found her fondness for me and said, “Probably. Well, yes.”
I said, “I think most women link violence and arousal. Some buried evolutionary remnant or cultural leftover. It’s true for me. Or it was, before Joe. But here’s what I’m getting at; I was thinking about this while I was cleaning today: Humans are going to evolve. Someday, when you and me are long gone, humans will change for the better. This violence, it’s going to disappear; it’s just not going to be inside us anymore.”
Winnie gave me an endearing look and said, “Gretchen, that’s very optimistic of you.”
“I know,” I said.
“You seem very young today,” she said. “It’s lovely. Your cheeks are flushed.”
“It’s ridiculous, I know,” I said. “I’m thawing. I’m evolving. And I’m sorry I sound this way, but I can’t help it. I don’t know what to do, because he’s a good man, and I’m in love.”
Joe has one strange quirk, I’ve come to find out: he will make love only outdoors.
“I can’t breathe inside,” he told me.
“It’s more comfortable inside,” I said. “There are things like beds and blankets and heat. Winter is coming.”
He shrugged. “I can do it. I’m capable of it. But I don’t like it, not as much.”
So I immediately started thinking of ways to meet his request: Blankets I could pull from the shed and wash. Sleeping bags. Perhaps a little tent.
Now we were under the tree again, mostly naked, but Joe’s green flannel shirt was thrown over my back for warmth. I was on top of Joe, and he was inside me. We had stopped to catch our breath and let our heartbeats calm, and he noticed, while he was flat on his back, that the bear had recently clawed the tree. The bark had been shredded away, leaving long, pale streaks of tender wood. What had happened, he surmised, was that the bear had gotten all the apples within reach, then had climbed to get the ones at the top.
“See, if we weren’t outside right now,” Joe said, “I wouldn’t have seen the bear’s claw marks. These leaves wouldn’t be falling through the sky. And I couldn’t watch the way the light hits your body. And they’re all very beautiful.”
That made me shy, so I laughed and said, “Schoolkids, that’s what we sound like.”
He said, “I know. It’s great.”
He leaned up to kiss me, and his hands went to my breasts, and his lips moved to my throat, which made my back arch, and then the nerve pathways traveling between my mouth and breasts and pelvis were all activated, and then his hands were on my hips, rocking me harder now, and there was a long period of me feeling good, so good that I had to hit the ground with my fist and could not help but moan and thrust my body into Joe’s with a violence that would have scared me had it not been matched by an equal tenderness. I was telling my body to come, come, and I was afraid I was going to go numb, but then the inside of my body broke out in a sweat — that’s what it felt like — and I heard myself making noises that seemed a little out of hand, and then an image flooded my mind, of Joe walking with his arms out, embracing the world, and I thought, Oh, yes, just let yourself do this, and he made his own animal noise as he came, and we both sounded like the wild creatures that humans can sometimes be.
For a long time Joe ran his hands over my back and front and thighs, and he told me about bears. This time of year, he said, a bear will spend almost twenty hours a day foraging. Now that they’ve switched from summer flowers and grasses to berries and apples, they have to work harder to get the calories they’re going to need for winter. Bears mate in the spring, but they have delayed implantation, which means the fertilized egg floats freely in the uterus all summer and implants in autumn. Joe said, “Black bears are solitary and intelligent and curious, just like you,” and he kissed me. “One of these days,” he told me, “we’re going to see this bear.”
When he was done talking about the bear, I talked about women and sex, since that’s what was on my mind. I told him that the reason women can come more than once is that after orgasm, a woman doesn’t return to an unaroused state, but rather to a preorgasmic level of arousal. Though I’d been aware of the female orgasmic capacity before I’d known him, I had been unable to have more than one. I said this was probably good for his male ego, but that wasn’t why I was telling him. I had my own selfish interest in the topic. I told him that these orgasms made me feel strong, and also that they smoothed over all the hurt in my life. I told him that I had recently decided that good orgasms took some concentration, some imagination, and a little spark of craziness. They also relied heavily on a feeling of safety and generosity.
Joe sat there, head propped on one hand, the other touching my body.
I said, “Do you have to be somewhere? Do you need to go?”
“No,” he said.
“I don’t believe you,” I said. Then I added, “The more orgasms a woman has, the stronger they become. The more she has, the more she can have.”
He seemed curious in the best way, willing to listen without expectation or judgment.
I said, “I just think you should know all this.”
He said, “I think I should too.” Then he leaned over to kiss my nose, and we made love again, and the only time I spoke was to whisper that I wanted him to feel good, too, and that he needed only to tell me what to do. Then I listened as hard as I could with my body. He was on top of me this time, and when he crumpled down on me and buried his head into my shoulder, I wrapped my arms around him and traced his back with my fingers.
While we were resting this way, a gunshot sounded from somewhere in the valley: hunting season. A flock of geese took off honking into the sky. I moved Joe aside so I could sit up. The world — the songbirds and mice and deer — seemed to stop, braced for danger, alert and waiting. I hugged my knees close to my body and breathed out and stared at the sky.
“You startle easily,” he said.
Joe sat up beside me, and we stayed that way for a long time in silence. Winnie would be bringing her kids home from school soon. Since the apple tree is in full view of her house, we had to take her schedule into consideration. We waited until the last minute, then gathered up our things. After Joe climbed into his truck, he jumped right back out again to kiss me one last time, mumbling something about “Good God, I’m forty-two,” his eyes sparkling, and then he drove away.
Joe shoes horses; that’s his main job. He drives a truck with a propane forge and an anvil stand and a bunch of tongs and hammers inside, and all of this is so heavy that the back of his truck tilts down. HAPPY HOOFER FARRIER SERVICE, his truck says. There are a lot of horse people around here, so he keeps busy enough. He stops at my house between calls. At first it was just random, him stopping by to see if I was home, but now we plan ahead.
Joe doesn’t talk about his past much, but I somehow get the idea that he’s always been pretty shy, which is why he prefers to work with horses and not people. I’m fairly certain that Joe’s experience with women has not been that extensive, because of this shyness, which is surprising given how much he knows intuitively about a woman’s body — or my body, at least.
Joe spends a lot of time looking at my body, with his hands and with his eyes, and it pleases me to be with a man who really pays attention to me. We’ve only been seeing each other for a month, but there’s the potential for a long-term relationship here. Neither of us has ever had one, and the idea makes us uncomfortable, so we haven’t talked about it, but I can feel us both wondering where this is going. Should we make an agreement to hang on? No, maybe this relationship should remain suspended in the present. Talk of the future could wreck it. The truest thing I can say about me is that I’ve got this reckless need to live free and alone. And Joe, in his own way, does too.
When I came home from cleaning houses the other day, the kids were out by the apple tree, winging fallen apples around. I watched them as I unloaded my cleaning supplies: the bucket of rags, the bottles full of chemicals, the vacuum. I’d cleaned three houses in record speed. It’s amazing the sort of energy that love can give you. I went inside and wrote myself a note to buy a new can of WD-40, because it’s the best for taking off sticky residue. I flopped on the couch and tamped some pot into my beautiful green pipe but didn’t light it.
Though I’d been happy all day, now I was sad: extremely sad, even tearful. Perhaps I’d been feeling too happy lately, and the pendulum in my body was swinging back. Or maybe I was getting my period; it’s hard to tell because they’re irregular these days. Or maybe it was because Joe was in Denver at a horseshoeing convention, and even though we had put no restrictions on each other, I was afraid he might be attracted to someone else — a smart, beautiful veterinarian perhaps. Or maybe it was simply that I knew I wouldn’t see his truck winding up the drive anytime soon. On top of that, the sound of Winnie’s kids yelling outside reminded me that it was too late for me now — I was never going to have any children — and the fact that I didn’t really want any didn’t alleviate my sorrow much.
Being lonely is not necessarily bad. In fact, sometimes I think the good feeling I get from being with Joe is possible only because of the basic human condition of being lonely. Plus, learning to live alone is an excellent way of staying grounded and safe and avoiding the jerks of the world. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at being alone. And loneliness is good because it gives you time to consider other people’s lives. I can, for example, consider Winnie and her particular brand of loneliness and wonder if marriage doesn’t create more loneliness than it wards off. I wonder if the institution of marriage will evolve as humans evolve, and I wish I could be around to see it.
I was thinking now about the future for Joe and me. I tried to stop myself, but I couldn’t resist going over the possibilities. Of course our relationship would end at some point in time, the way most relationships end, which is to say one or both persons drift off. It takes too much energy — too much bravery, really — to say goodbye, so usually there’s just a silent withdrawal, hardly perceptible until it becomes obvious. You quit being so generous with yourself. Joe will quit going out of his way to stop by, and I won’t go out of my way to rearrange my cleaning schedule. And strangely enough, this lack of giving will make us feel trapped, and we will want our freedom again. Then we’ll offer each other a tired, sad smile, because somewhere inside we’ll know it’s over — or at least that the most alive part is over.
Because I read a lot — I wonder, rather egotistically, whether I read more than anyone else on this mountain — I know who the Roman poet Ovid is, and one beautiful thing he wrote is “If you seek a way out of love, be busy; you’ll be safe then.” So I sat on the couch and lectured myself: Do not do that. Do not get busy. Instead, I decided, when Joe and I were through, I would sit around and smoke pot and let the great wilderness of the inner life take over, as it should.
© Gina Kelly
Because it was a gloomy day, I knew Winnie would be making brownies — chocolate helps her get through the gloom — and I knew she’d bring me some, because she’s not stingy, and something about that made me want to go and play with her kids. I stashed the pipe for later and went outside and found them under the apple tree. They were wearing puffy coats but no hats and gloves, and Zoe had a clear line of snot running from her nose to her lip. They were crouched down, staring at two grasshoppers, who were — no joke — having sex.
“Look, Gretchen!” Zoe smiled up at me. “These grasshoppers are wrestling!”
“Indeed they are,” I said.
“Just like we wrestle!” said the boy, whose name is Michael.
“Sort of,” I said.
“There’s a lot of bear poop under your apple tree,” Zoe said disapprovingly, as if I were responsible for it. “We poked at it with a stick. We think the bear ate ten million apples to have so much seed in its poop.”
“That seems about right,” I said. Then I said, “Are you two happy?”
They looked up at me, faces flushed, as if wondering whether I was stupid. Michael didn’t say anything, but Zoe said, “Yes.”
And that’s when we heard it. A huff, huff and then another huff, huff and then the smell hit me — a terrible smell, really — and I said, “Oh, kids,” about the same time that the bear appeared out of the raspberry bushes. I thought, Damn, this bear was supposed to come when Joe was here, but I said, very calmly, “Don’t worry, kids. It will go away,” and then I addressed the bear: “Bear, go away. Go away, bear.”
But it did not go away. It was walking on all fours toward the apple tree as if it had not seen us, although surely it had. It seemed very calm. Its fur was dark brown, darker in the head region, and its ears were round, and its nose curved upward just a bit. It took four more steps and then sat back on its butt, and I saw the row of nipples that ran down her belly.
Zoe let out a small noise of fear, and Michael was frozen in place, but I could tell he was about to scream or run, so I said, “Kids, don’t move. Do not move. Stay right next to me.” And then I shuffled them behind me. “Bear,” I said, “we are not going to hurt you, and you can have the apples. If you hurt us, I will hurt you back.”
The kids were starting to cry, and so was I, actually, although I think it had more to do with my previous sadness than with fear of this bear. The bear was making me miss Joe, and I kept telling myself, Jesus, Gretchen, don’t think about Joe now. Now is not the time. I said, more firmly and loudly, “Kids, I want you to know one thing. This bear will have to fight me before she gets to you. And let me tell you, I can put up a big fight.” Then I started talking to the kids about some cockamamie plan my brain was developing, something about us all backing up slow, and if she charged, they should turn and run. No, I would put them up in the tree and guard them. But no, that wasn’t a good idea, either. So I told Zoe and Michael that I could tell, with my grown-up knowledge, that the bear wasn’t going to attack, that she was a big sweetie. It was just ridiculous, the things I heard coming out of my mouth. While I was talking, the bear got bored and started walking in our direction, but a little to the right. All she wanted was the apple tree.
I looked around for sticks, but there weren’t any, only a few bruised and wormy apples scattered about, so I bent over slowly and picked up three at my feet. I guessed that I could throw pretty hard and had good aim, and no creature really wants to be pelted with apples, so I knew that the apples were going to save us, and then I felt calm and safe, which gave me enough time to pause and consider the bear. She was sitting and huffing again, as if trying to decide whether the apples were worth it. Her need for those apples was strong, though. I decided that I liked her, because she was stubborn and perhaps lived too hard. If I hadn’t had two kids behind me, grabbing so hard at my shirt that they were strangling me, I might have stood there and considered the bear for quite a while.
“All righty,” I whispered. “We’re going to back up now. Are you ready? If she comes, I’ll throw apples at her and punch her in the nose, and you two keep backing up, no matter what. OK?”
As we backed away, the bear lowered her head, and her nose twitched, and then she moved forward rapidly, right at us, and I heard myself say, “Oh God oh God oh God,” and my right arm cocked back with the apple, ready to pitch it at her face, and my other arm went back and low, to shield the kids, and then I said, very loud, “Bear, your egg is implanting and you’re going to have a baby and you will not hurt us!” Suddenly I was angry with her, and my face flushed, and I thought of the time an old boyfriend had struck me across the cheek, and my head had flown into the corner of an open car door, and the blood had run down through my hair and down my cheek, and then I thought of Joe and his hands running across my back and how when I had an orgasm with him my body began to shake, all wildness, and there was no story in my mind. My mouth opened on its own, and I made a wild noise, a noise that basically meant Get the hell away from me and these kids, and the bear stopped short.
As I told Joe a couple of days later, the bear held her ground and watched us go inside. The kids and I stood at my kitchen window and saw her climb up the apple tree, where she stayed for some time. “That’s one of the few times I’ve backed away from danger,” I told Joe. “I prefer, generally, to move forward. It’s safer that way.”
We were lying side by side, partly naked, under the apple tree, and it was starting to snow — tiny flakes that reminded me of campfire ash, perhaps because they reflected the gray of the sky. They were blowing sideways, and it was very cold out, and I kept pausing during my story and saying, “This is ridiculous,” and Joe kept saying, “It sure is,” but we didn’t move.
Joe had piled our coats and clothes on one side of us to make a wind barrier, and he used his body as another, but still I was freezing. I was also filled with nervous energy, maybe because I was thinking about the bear, or maybe because I had come to the point where I felt the need to unleash my words upon Joe. In any case, I talked for a long time. I told Joe that Winnie had hugged the kids and promised me a lifetime supply of brownies. I told Joe that Winnie’s marriage had gotten to that place where imagination and willpower fail, and that she and her husband were both feeling like they were each other’s prisoner. But probably at some point they’d stop feeling that way, and then it would get better. I told him we’d probably ramble through the same cycle ourselves, if we stuck it out. I told him that our lives seemed to be getting caught up together, and that from time to time I considered the beauty in that. I told him that I loved him, and that when we broke up, I would look back on this period as the “time of Joe,” and that I believed that a few good memories could sustain a person. I told him that I nearly cried with love for him every time I had an orgasm, because when the body loses its limitations, the heart does too. I told him he was the best lover I’d ever had, and that new things were happening to my body, that the violence was getting worked out. I told him that no matter what happened with us, he should know he had created a new and better version of me.
He held me to him and listened and hugged me tighter now and then. Sometimes he said a word or two to show agreement, or simply to acknowledge that he was listening, and then, when I had wound down, he told me that he saw no point in forecasting the end of us, although he understood the impulse, and that he too had recently wondered what there was to live for besides love. Our conversation went around and stopped and started and circled back, and I felt as if our bodies and our words were grapevines, and then I felt the foolishness of that, and then I let go of feeling foolish.
It was during a lapse into silence that we heard the fall of feet in new, wet snow. Joe and I raised our eyebrows at each other as if delighted to be caught, and then turned toward the noise. It was Winnie. She had a big brown blanket under one arm, and a silver thermos under the other, and in her hands she held a tinfoil-covered plate.
Joe pulled a shirt over his hip, so that he was covered, but I stayed were I was. When Winnie stood above us, she did not blush or look to the side, but smiled as if pleased with us and for us. She handed the thermos and covered dish to Joe, and then she flung out the blanket in the air, where it hovered for a moment before she guided it down on top of us.
“Joe,” she said, “it’s nice to meet you.”
He reached up to shake her hand. “Winnie, the pleasure is mine.”
“Have a brownie,” she said. Then, to me, “Gretchen, I’ll be over at five.” And she turned on her heel and started back across the snow.
“Joe,” I said, as I watched her go, “I want you to stay. Maybe that’s selfish. But I want to be with you. Once, I looked at you and thought, Here’s where gentle and wild get sewn together, and now I want to believe that most of life can be that way, if we let it.”
Joe scratched the gray curls at his temple and said, “I’m scared too.” He shrugged and smiled, as if that was all he could say, and that said everything.
I breathed out a long gust of air, and my teeth began to chatter. We pressed our bodies together under the blanket and drank Winnie’s coffee and ate her brownies and watched as the snow blew sideways. When we were done, I looked over at Joe. His eyelashes had melting flakes in them, and I stared at the drops and said, “This is ridiculous, Joe. It’s cold out here. This is the craziest kind of love story, I’ll tell you that.”
We got dressed then, and we ran for my trailer, our hands thrown out to the world.