Who I am: A city mouse turned country mouse.
My city friends often tell me that I’m living in paradise, but this country mouse just heard that a “catamount” is on the prowl in my neighborhood. (That’s what the locals call a mountain lion.) As if it weren’t bad enough to live in the middle of nowhere in rural Vermont, surrounded by secret pot farms and up a dirt road that is currently impassable due to several feet of snow. As if it weren’t hard enough to be a single woman in an area where the men all have gun racks on their trucks and rubber testicles hanging from their rear bumpers. As if it weren’t tough enough to take care of two small iconoclasts, high on maple candy and addicted to Minecraft. Now I have to worry that a wild predator will stalk us as we make snow angels or will pounce on my back while I’m dragging out the recycling bin.
Some say it’s a bobcat, but whatever it is, it has sharp teeth and is hangry. I used to live in a metropolis where you could order take-out sushi during a blizzard; now I’m stuck in this backwater village with a feline killer on the loose, and I’m the only one on my street without a rifle.
Who am I kidding? It’s not even a village; it’s a hamlet. A lonesome hamlet of loneliness.
Until we moved here from the city last summer, I had been accustomed to living in a small, one-bedroom apartment pressed up against millions of others. I dwelled in coffee shops and subways and saw great art and breathed in particulate matter and loved it. I had so many casual mom friends with offspring named Twombly and Echinacea; we would meet at a faux French cafe down the block, drink chai lattes, and pretend not to stare at the celebrity breastfeeding her twins while her nanny from Bhutan hovered nearby.
I also had a husband back then.
Here I have just one friend, Cass, whom I call the Shepherdess, because she runs a sheep farm. She has taken me under her wing to tutor me in the ways of rural life. She left her art career in the city sixteen years ago and settled here with her three daughters on her grandparents’ farm.
After my ex and I split — amicably, as they say, though not without arguments and tears — it felt right to find a new home for the girls and me. He moved across country for his job and his girlfriend, and we packed up and came here. With half of the money from the sale of our apartment in my account and a one-year teaching contract at a small college, I found myself the astonished inhabitant of a stone house on twenty acres with a pond.
The first time I saw our place, I thought of the scene in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth Bennet first sees Mr. Darcy’s grand estate: “To be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” Our rental sits atop a hill overlooking farms and woods that climb in the distance to meet the Green Mountains. The couple who own the property left us snowshoes and flower beds. It can be wonderful to be the temporary Mistress of All This, even without a mister — until around midnight, when coyotes brawl outside my bedroom window, squabbling over a scrawny rabbit that squeals for help, which never seems to arrive.
When my city friends would come to visit (they no longer do), their jaws would drop at the mountain view. They’d stretch their stiff limbs and delight in the cool, clear air and the lack of billboards. They would pause their endless talk of studio apartments going for half a million and consider a country house. The perfect time to visit is in October, when the mountains brighten with red, yellow, and orange, and even the air is fragrant with beauty. The kids and I would escort our guests through covered bridges to share the bounty of pumpkins and maple creemees and apple pies and sun-dappled hikes, and then they would return to civilization, leaving us stranded with more gourds than any one state should ever produce. Somehow the gravity of the city kept them from coming back, and I found myself no longer interested in their complaints about preschool tuition and accounts of Patrick Stewart selecting cheese at the co-op.
What’s happening in my life now: The girls and I have been trapped at home for three snow days in a row. From my bedroom window I look down at the garden with longing while I fold another load of little underpants and socks. The vegetable beds wait patiently under the ice. So far I’ve learned the difference between straw and hay; that mint is rapacious; that you can kill woodchucks with smoke bombs (but I won’t); that red squirrels think they own your garage (and you); and that bunnies are assholes. I’ve also been warned: if you don’t lock your Subaru in August, your neighbors will shove a box of zucchini in the back seat.
And now the Shepherdess has insisted that I start dating. Just because she found true love online, I’m supposed to find my own prince shining amongst the locals. But the profile pictures of all the men within a fifty-mile radius show them cradling fish or, in at least one case, hoisting a deer’s severed head.
Around here Carhartts are worn for a purpose and accessorized with crossbows. There are few curated mustaches but many authentic beards that keep one’s face warm during the six months of winter and “mud season,” which is what the locals call spring. As deer — those tick-carrying jerks — are starting to scare me, I might consider dating someone who would arrive at my door with a plate of raw venison; someone who knows what to do when my neighbor tells me that a “beef” got loose from his farm.
What I know how to do: I teach literature at a liberal-arts college. One-year contract, endless anxiety. I’m covering all the dead white males nobody else wants to teach, hoping that if I’m a team player, they might hire me permanently. The dean says we will discuss it at the end of the semester.
What people often say about me: My friend Cass the Shepherdess says I have a cute butt, but I think she’s just trying to cheer me up.
What I like (books, TV shows, movies, music, food, etc.): Don’t tell anyone, but I love the dead white males — or most of them, at least. Milton did everything long before blockbuster movies: a huge cast, special effects, exotic locales, token roles for women, sexy antiheroes, gods and monsters, villains monologuing, and massive battles to save the world. Also, I like all sorts of TV shows, movies, music, food, etc.
Oh my God, this profile is so boring that I am now a dead white woman.
What I can’t live without: My two wild kids, who at this moment are making their dolls burp and fart. One has Rage against the Machine roaring in her soul; the other has been obsessed with Obama since her dad left. She says things like “Does Obama get to take a day off? Because he must get tired.” When we see sparkly Christmas lights still up on someone’s house, she says, “Obama’s gotta see this.”
What’s on my mind lately: How to survive the winter alone with a roaming catamount who needs a snack.
I asked advice from the guy who plows our driveway. “What should I do if I see it?”
He stuck his head out of the truck window: “Don’t act like food.”
What I’m usually doing on a weekend night: Not much. Once, I hired a sitter so I could go to a fiction reading on campus. The crowd was mostly students from the college. The only seat left was next to a visiting professor in astrophysics, who had a Motörhead button on his blazer next to a spot of tartar sauce. He nodded politely to me. I ignored him.
The hot young writer held up her nationally acclaimed book like a prize rabbit. Then she read a story set in the sixties about a woman who degrades herself to meet the needs of her demanding husband. The poor woman goes to absurd lengths to be a perfect wife, when it is clear that she wants to screw the town librarian and obvious that her baby is a devil in swaddling clothes. The ending, tragic and surreal, involved mutilation and reminded the students to upgrade their birth control.
During the Q&A a student asked the author what had inspired her to write this story. The author leaned into the podium: “I wanted to write about the horrors of heteronormativity.”
The students all nodded. I was thinking, Wouldn’t it be nice to experience some heteronormativity? Just a little bit of it? Not the horrors, of course, but maybe some mediocre hetero-activity? Or, possibly, even pretty good? I heard myself let loose a deep sigh.
The astrophysicist turned to me and said, “Are you OK?”
“Yeah. Of course. I’m completely fine,” I replied.
What is wrong with men?
Who I am: A lost tourist.
What’s happening in my life now: The Shepherdess dragged me on a guided tour of dating sites because she said my first profile was hostile. She urged me to “be more open” to my new life. I am grateful for her help; after all, Cass has lived a wild, accomplished life, and I’m an amateur at everything. But shouldn’t a radical-feminist artist be more skeptical of these dating sites?
She made me update my details: my gender identity (depressed), sexual orientation (rejected), race/ethnicity (middle-aged white lady), smoking (yuck), drugs (half a Xanax on bad nights), hobbies (worrying), needs (intimacy), and secrets (vibrators, debts). She forced me onto the sex-positive corner of the Internet, where I was encouraged to “take up space” and be “down to fuck.”
“Make the system work for you,” she would say. “You have to work within oppressive structures. There is no outside!” Be radical and practical. Be up and down.
Couldn’t I just lie down until spring comes?
What I know how to do: Make a dating profile. Despite what the Shepherdess thinks about my initial attempt, it got many responses from men who were down for anything at all, it appeared.
First I had a long back-and-forth with a man preoccupied with his woodpile. He told me all about different kinds of wood (he preferred logs dried in his own kiln, which he’d built using Mesoamerican principles) and the many strategies for stacking one’s wood (although the Danes had some good ideas, he thought he had the best). He offered to come over and restack my pile. While it would be useful to have a lumberjack boyfriend, I couldn’t figure out whether “stacking wood” was, in the end, a figure of speech.
One guy told me his ideas about poetry and why nobody reads it anymore. (No, thank you.) Another was a professional pickler; he had a Kickstarter for his company. Would I consider contributing? Did I like big pickles?
An old hippie invited me to his yurt to see his paraphernalia from the seventies; he was writing a five-hundred-page novel about those mind-blowing times. Could I edit it for him?
I also heard from a guy who asked if he could break into my house and attack me. For fun.
The Shepherdess added that men my age like to date younger women, so I should look for men fifty and above. But they were either worrying over investments, espousing conspiracies, or on some soul journey wearing a helmet and pants of many pockets. I didn’t want to ride in their sidecars.
What people often say about me: That I’m sarcastic. I’m also fried. And flabby. And too old for this crap. I don’t want to worry that I won’t match someone’s fantasy list of expectations. I don’t want to watch a date swiping on his phone for other women while we sit across from one another. I have two cesarean scars on my belly; I have two kids to put through college; I have to save for retirement, damn it.
“These sites,” I told Cass, “are hard evidence that I’m a minor pawn in the clutches of one of capitalism’s most powerful generals: the marriage institute.”
“Fuck that!” she said, smoothing her silver braids. “Go out for a drink. You need to have some fun. You don’t need to get married.”
I don’t want a casual fling. I just want to date someone I have something in common with, who doesn’t hoard yogurt cups, watch violent porn, sleep with his pet sugar glider, or, worse, call his mom every day. Someone who has been through some serious shit, like I have, yet still has some hope in this ugly world.
What I like (books, TV shows, movies, music, food, etc.): It would be easier to tell you what I don’t like. I don’t like men who read Ayn Rand. I don’t like guys who man-splain The Lord of the Rings. I will dump beer on the head of anyone who tells me about Pink Floyd. I won’t date anyone who says he’s a “good Christian man with family values” or a “lifelong NRA member” or “doesn’t want to pay taxes.” Or a guy who is “living his best life” and wants to get “outside his comfort zone.” What does that mean? They want to try bondage? Isn’t all life after the womb outside the comfort zone?
What I can’t live without: You know what I can live without? Dick pics.
Men, why? Why do we need to see your odd-looking appendage hanging around like a rotten vegetable? Or the erection, so earnest and mindlessly desperate to poke something, anything. And the balls: silly, purple, puckered, hairy, and foolishly in the way. Can’t you contain yourselves? Why would we want this flopping farcicality when we can keep the most vulnerable people on earth alive with our boobs alone? I don’t understand how you think. I wish I didn’t want to sleep with one of you so badly.
What I’m usually doing on a weekend night: One windblown man wrote to me with a curious proposition: He was a Land Listener. He said our first date could be a free session: He would come to my home and walk my land. And listen.
“What will the land say?” I messaged him late one night.
“What it needs from you,” he replied.
“How can you be sure what it needs?” I asked.
“I listen to everything. To the trees, grasses, water, ground, birds, the wind. It will all become abundantly clear.”
I wondered what my land might say to me. Perhaps: Why not try snowshoeing?
Too cold, I would answer my land.
What’s your problem? the trees would whisper.
I’m from Brooklyn. That’s my problem.
Get over yourself, the frozen pond would crack.
What I’m willing to admit: For a refreshing change, a woman offered to introduce me to her world of bisexual kink, but only if I had a heart open like a peony and had read Women Who Run with the Wolves recently. I said no thank you. My heart had closed up after my neighbor shot a doe. On my land. I’d watched her limp into the woods.
Another woman wrote me to commiserate about the men in our area. It turned out that all the same men who were writing to me had been writing to her and sending her the same gross pics. We had some fantastic chats ripping them to shreds. After a while I was too tired to exchange angry emojis with her. The only reasonable response to all this was to give up on men. And women. And land. Everything.
You should write to me if: That offer to “plow my driveway” was not a euphemism, because our plow guy has the flu, and the kids are running low on Fruit Roll-Ups, and I’m out of red wine.
Who I am: Another human with a vagina.
What’s happening in my life now: Outside my classroom the other day, my colleague, a historian of the early Americas, stood in the hallway explaining how the devil uses his bits and bobs.
“His semen is cold, ice-cold,” she said to a circle of rapt students. “So cold that he has to put it in a vessel, an incubus, to deliver it into a human vagina.”
I was pondering her calm illumination of Satan’s love juice when it struck me that my life lately was pretty much all about phalluses — because we’re starting Moby-Dick this week, not because I’ve gone on any dates.
After my class I tried to sit at the faculty table, but the tenured professors had taken all the seats. I pouted by myself in a corner. Screw everybody.
To my surprise, the visiting astrophysicist, whose name I have learned is Ewan, came over to my table and asked if he could join me. He wore no tartar sauce today, so I said he could.
“I saw your class reading lists,” he said. “Moby-Dick, Paradise Lost. I still haven’t read those. I hear Shakespeare’s sonnets are pretty good.”
“They’re not bad. So what’s your area of astrophysics?” I had no idea what else to ask him, except some questions about logical gaps in Battlestar Galactica.
“Planet formation.” He deftly assembled his chicken sandwich.
“Ah. So you’re not very bright.” Why was I being so rude? Why did I keep saying “so”?
He grimaced. I’d blown it — already. I don’t know how to talk to men.
“I tell myself that every time I sit down to work on the fraking paper that’s making my life hell right now.”
He said “fraking”! Oh dear. He went on for some time about complicated science matters while I pretended to understand.
“What are you working on now?” he asked.
I dodged: “Oh, I haven’t had time to write in a while. I have two kids.”
Ewan looked at me with curiosity. “Doesn’t your partner give you time to work?”
“I don’t have one.” I had once squirreled away time to write during the kids’ naps, but I’d stopped after my ex left. I didn’t even know what to write about anymore.
His face grew sad. He was rather cute. A beard, kind eyes, freckles. “What would you work on if you had time?”
All my drafts of poems and truncated stories and failed novels flipped their pages across my mind. “I don’t know. Something real. Something lived. Lived words.”
He smiled and put down his sandwich. “I like that. Sounds rather biblical. What words — excuse me, which words — have you lived?” A teasing spark lit up his eyes. He had nice hands. And he wore a T-shirt with a cat astronaut on it underneath his blazer.
All of the powerful words I had been living surged to the tip of my tongue, elicited by this visitor from outer space and his kitty sidekick. I felt a terrible urge to take him somewhere private and tell him all of those words that described how I had found myself here in the woods and in search of a friend or a lover or both.
Instead we had a polite conversation about how he didn’t like his department in Austin, and it was hard to find a job in the same area as his partner, and they both had tenure, so they had to cling to their positions — a typical academic dilemma.
I was outwardly sympathetic, but the relationship and job problems of other people didn’t interest me much. Also I felt hurt that I didn’t have a full-time position. Or a partner to miss. I’d never even had a layover in Texas. While he chatted, I remembered reading online that if you stare at a total stranger for four minutes straight, you can fall in love.
“How did you get into baby planets?” I asked, opening my eyes wider.
“I fell in love with space when I was a kid.”
“Star Wars?” I guessed.
I lifted a brow. He explained them to me without condescension.
“That’s cool,” I admitted.
“Yeah. Quasars are pretty cool, and very large, and very far away.”
We ate in silence at the fiery wonder of the edges of the known universe. I imagined nuzzling his sideburns. Would they be prickly or soft?
He was staring at me, confused.
“What?” I asked.
“I asked what you’re teaching right now,” he said.
“I taught my students about phallocentrism today. It comes up a lot — in my field. Once I point it out, they start seeing it everywhere.” I made a sweeping gesture around the lunchroom at the hidden phallic symbols to be revealed.
“That so? You writers get to teach the interesting stuff.”
I put on an intellectual expression. “We do.”
I glanced at the clock on the wall to mark the beginning of four minutes, then stared intently into his sweet eyes. He gamely stared back. We continued to eat, maintaining eye contact. I wiggled my nose. He lifted both brows. I smiled. He smiled. I made a confused face. He made a sad face. I ate my quinoa bowl delicately. He stuffed his face with sweet-potato fries. I drank my coffee like it was the water of life. He drank his tea like a robot.
I estimated that two minutes had passed. Two more to go!
He laughed. I laughed. I sighed. He sighed. He was about to speak at three and a half minutes — no, don’t say anything, please! — when our falling in love was interrupted by two of our colleagues plunking their trays down at our table.
“Why does semen smell like chlorine?” the marine biologist asked.
“I don’t know,” the chemist snapped. “You should know by now that I don’t study semen.”
“It stains my sheets,” she complained.
“Then your man is doing it wrong,” said the chemist.
Ewan widened his eyes at me, half aghast, half delighted.
“I told you,” I said. And I touched his arm.
A zap of ardent pleasure zipped through my fingertips to my lady parts. We stared at each other, in a bit of shock. I knew he’d felt it, too.
He sipped his tea, eyes still on mine. I kept my hand on his arm, afraid that if I let go, I might, I don’t know, vaporize.
Abruptly he stood up. He apologized because he had to run to a meeting.
“What meeting?” his colleagues asked.
I felt— what was it? Crestfallen. That’s the right word.
Then he turned to me and said, “Let’s do this again. I’m a bachelor for four months, so I have a lot of free time.”
Alit, I turned to my colleagues: “Oh my God, was that flirting?”
The marine biologist and chemist could not agree, but they were in total agreement that he was married.
Who I am: A lady from the land of big feelings.
What’s happening in my life now: “Mom?” Someone whispered near my bed. “I feel full.”
Throwing off the covers, I yelled, “Bathroom!”
Alas, it was too late. A splash of vomit landed on the lambskin rug.
I cleaned Poppy up and, when she was empty of puke, tucked her back into bed. Then I mopped the floor and started replanning the day to come. I’d have to cancel my class, call Poppy’s school, and figure out a way to keep her older sister, Blue, occupied somehow. Time to pull out the addictive book series about dragons I was saving for an emergency.
Later that day I brought a plate of cheese sticks and sliced apples with caramel dip to Poppy’s bedroom: a chaotic lair of plushies, pens, stickers, and costumes.
“Are you feeling any better, Popsicle?”
“I’m in a club,” she said at her small desk. “Don’t move my stuff.” She gestured at a pile of clothes smothering an oversized stuffed whale.
“What’s the club about?”
She didn’t look up from her notebook. “It’s called Big Feelings. You can be in it if you have big feelings.”
“What do you do in your club?” I surreptitiously removed clothes she didn’t wear anymore and placed them in a pile.
“We talk about everything.”
“Like who we love. I think I love Milo.”
Once I’d seen Milo licking the Himalayan-pink-salt lamp in their classroom. “He is very nice indeed.”
“He said I smell like freckles.”
She was sketching evil eyes on a pumpkin. “I’m the leader of the group,” she said.
“Can I be in your club?” I asked. “I have big feelings.”
What I’m willing to admit: Right before sleep, Poppy asked, “Who is richer, Obama or Bruce Springsteen?”
“Bruce,” I supposed.
After an hour of false starts she fell asleep, and I snuck into Blue’s room.
“OK, no more dragons, Bluebell. Time to sleep.” I tucked her in like I used to when she was little.
“Whatever,” she grumped and let go of her book, her eyes already closing.
“Good night, I love you so much,” I sang.
Without opening her eyes, she said, “You are a good role model. Most of the time.”
Back in my bedroom, without thinking too hard or long, I texted Ewan a list of the things I wanted to do to him — and with him — if we went on a date. It was bold. Sexy. Flirty. Graphic. The words were real and alive and unconcerned with workplace sexual-harassment rules.
He didn’t make me wait too long before the Delphic gray dots began pulsing on my phone.
“Wow. Thank you. I’m not sure what to say. I’m surprised by this offer.”
“It’s a sincere one.” If he were here in my bed, would he be a good kisser? I thought he would be.
“I think you are wildly attractive. And charming.”
“Thanks!” This was looking good. Maybe I could get a sitter, and we could meet this weekend? The smell of barf would be gone by then, probably.
“I’d love to say yes.”
“Then say yes.” I added that winking emoji.
He sent some of those emojis that stand for cursing and frustration.
I replied with question marks and confused faces.
“Thank you for this miraculous proposition,” he finally answered after a painful pause.
“You’re very welcome. Friday?” Why was he stalling? This was a tempting offer. I waited five endless minutes for his reply.
“I’m afraid I have to say no. My wife and I are definitely going through a rough patch. Saying yes to you would be delicious. Probably more than I can imagine. I have been thinking about you. And I have a strong imagination.”
I did my best to put off what was coming. “I’ve been thinking about you, too. I have more ideas for us.”
The dots blinked, three blank eyes determining my fate. The next ten minutes felt, as they say, like an eternity.
“I think I have to say no thank you. I’m sorry. I’m sure I will regret it,” he wrote.
Who I am: A woman with a big date.
What’s happening in my life now: I ate lunch in my office this week and avoided Ewan’s eyes if I saw him at the library or the faculty lounge. I still had some dignity left.
My candid profiles won me several offers from repellent men, and a few nonrepellent ones, within driving distance. I selected a good-looking, hopefully harmless farmer. (Cass had met him at the county fair and swore that he was “hot” and “not a dick.”) He had been married to a woman from Baltimore, so he understood the transition from urban to rural. He raised heritage breeds of pigs, and in his photos he wore cozy shirts over farm-hard muscles. He didn’t send me any pics of his privates. We made arrangements.
Because of my fierce feminine upbringing, I gave myself a makeover. I dyed my gray. I paid for a pedicure. I bought vivid red lipstick called Tart of the Town and patent-leather pumps. I strutted around my kitchen in them like I had a right to sex or something. Poppy took her own wobbly turn around the island in them.
She raised a fist and shouted, “Obey me!”
Arms folded, Blue said, “Nope.”
My professor outfits were too chaste, and my date outfits were from prebaby times, so I called in the Shepherdess again. To Poppy’s delight, Cass brought over wonders from her glam years, when she’d been in an art band named Sex Muse. All her song lyrics were based on testimonials from groupies. I was glad that she didn’t bring the dress covered with dildos.
Poppy, a worshipper of beauty, tried everything on. The Shepherdess painted her round face and gently stuck fake eyelashes on her. She tottered around my bedroom in heels and a sequined tank top cinched with a gold belt, like a mini flapper.
Blue looked on in annoyance from the doorway, sensing something illicit was going on, which was correct. I’d told the girls that I was going out with some colleagues.
Cass and Poppy insisted I try on each outfit while they debated shoes and earrings.
“Obama would like this one.” Poppy held up a lamé slip dress.
“I’m going to a brewery, not a wedding,” I protested.
We settled on a clingy wrap dress, even though it was shockingly cold outside. Cass pulled up a chair to work on my face. Poppy roughly brushed my hair. They spun me in front of the mirror.
“Pretty!” Poppy clapped at the results.
“You’re ready for some work-related fun,” Cass said.
Blue looked me up and down: “You look stupid. Really, really stupid.”
What I’m usually doing on a weekend night: I knew I had overdressed when I saw him: fresh Carhartts (the after-work twill), work boots (wiped clean), and checkered flannel (tuft of chest hair poking out). The farmer had a quiet smile, soft, crinkly eyes, a weathered forehead, and a predictably strong handshake. I liked him. He took in my outfit with what looked like a squint of approval (or a What the hell?).
We ordered beer at the bar and, sitting on our stools, tried to have a conversation about the books, TV shows, movies, music, food, etc. on our profiles. He kept looking at me anxiously but warmly, so I set aside my enthusiasm for Susan Sontag and used the old female standby: I asked him many, many questions about himself. I learned more about heritage pig breeds than I ever thought there was to learn.
He vacuumed down his burger and fries in five seconds while I nibbled my roasted-vegetable salad like a woman in a sitcom. Being a lightweight in all the categories, I had promised myself that I would stick to one drink. But he had silver stubble on his chin, and his hand brushed my thigh when I got up to go to the bathroom, so I let him buy me another beer. Cass told me to have fun, right?
At the end of my second IPA the farmer suggested he give me a tour of his farm. What the hell. We pulled on our parkas, but not before he checked out my cute butt.
His truck was muddy and bigger than my old apartment in Brooklyn. We drove in awkward silence until we pulled up to acres and acres of snow-encrusted forest surrounding fields of frosted mud. Scattered floodlights illuminated metal huts, pigs, troughs, and more mud.
In the well-used mudroom of his farmhouse Manly offered to let me borrow his daughter’s boots, but I declined. In all his talking at the brewery, he hadn’t mentioned he had a daughter. He hurriedly told me about his ex, who had run back to the city, and about Kennedy, who was fifteen, struggling to focus on school, and sleeping over at a friend’s that night. I made sympathetic sounds, then took his arm and, hand resting on his rock-hard bicep, asked for the tour.
Gallantly he swept me outside and onto his ATV. I pressed my face hard to his hay-smelling jacket to keep my teeth from chattering while he drove and told me about humane methods of slaughter. I wanted to share my theories about why people named their daughters after American presidents, but my face was too frigid to move.
As the headlights of the ATV illuminated the pig menagerie, I distracted myself with fantasies of being an efficient and plump farmwife, of having a built-in handyman, of cozy evenings in front of a woodstove while supping on pork-and-potato stew.
Cut to: Hurried disrobing upstairs in his bedroom. A quick leap beneath the flannel sheets. Clumsy, spitty, yet tender kissing. Grizzled nuzzling of my breasts. The grunty moans he made when I touched his body — still warm — and his high yelp when my frozen toes brushed him. Then I had the first sex I’d had since my breakup.
He rolled on top of me. “Is this good?”
“Yes,” I squeaked.
My chest crunched beneath him. I was definitely ready, and he just stuck it right up in there in one long stroke. I was so happy to be naked in bed with a man that I let him smush and poke away without comment. I was also amazed to have a different man inside me. After twenty years, a new penis! Wider and shorter than I was used to. In a rush, too, but OK, I’d take it.
What kind of penis did Ewan have? I guessed I would never know. Manly went at it like an exciting chore. He let out a muffled gargle as he came and crashed hard, pinning me beneath him. He immediately went to sleep. I had to wiggle out from underneath, gasping for breath beside his contented snoring. As I staggered to the bathroom, I wondered if I had a broken rib. I could get an X-ray later, I decided, after the doctor had amputated my blue toes. I didn’t forget to text my sitter to be sure the girls were still alive while I was away planning our farm future. Thankfully they were fast asleep.
Before long I heard the rooster. Manly rolled out of bed, gave me an ass pat, and lumbered out of the room. A door banged downstairs. The need to pee growing stronger than the desire to sleep, I pulled on one of his shirts and ventured to the bathroom, then downstairs.
The kitchen was warmed by a woodstove and my cheerful plans of being his new farmwife. My kids would obediently do chores and homework. I would learn to knit. My younger daughter would braid her hair, and my older daughter, always the toughie, would chop wood — expertly.
Sex would get less pokey. Sex would last longer than five minutes. Our sex life would be farm strong and farm fantastic. I was just getting started.
Inside the fridge, behind more Red Bull than anyone needed to consume, I found more bacon than anyone needed to consume, which is just the right amount. I hopped around the kitchen, barefoot and bare-bottomed, frying eggs and bacon in an iron skillet. My search for coffee that wasn’t instant or flavored — why would Manly drink so much pumpkin spice? — was interrupted by the door slamming.
A green-haired girl scanned me with laser eyes. She dropped her backpack on the floor like a carcass.
Teen with pierced septum: “Who the fuck are you?”
Me: “Um. A friend of your dad’s?”
Teen [stomping across kitchen in cowboy boots]: “Usually his friends wear pants.”
Me: “Would you like some bacon?”
Teen [taking kitchen knife from counter]: “I’m a vegetarian, bitch.”
Farmer [bursting into the kitchen]: “Kennedy! What’re you doing here?”
Teen [waving knife]: “I fucking live here. Who the fuck is this?”
Farmer: “Watch your language, missy!”
Teen: “Like you don’t swear all damn day, cocksucker.”
Farmer: “That’s it. I’ve had it with your shitty attitude! I’m taking your phone.”
Teen [dropping knife to protect phone]: “Don’t you fucking touch it!”
While they fought, I snuck upstairs, got dressed, crept back down, let myself out, and started to walk back to my car, which was parked at the brewery. It was only like ten miles away, and it was only like ten degrees outside.
I debated whether to call the sitter and ask for a ride. What would my girls think, seeing their mom hobbling down the just-plowed roads at 6 AM, blowing her nose and wiping tears with a used tissue from her coat pocket? I couldn’t let them see how I’d failed not only them but all women by planning a wedding on a first date. Pathetic.
Edged with slushy ice, the country road passed another farm fringed with woods. Something moving in the trees caught my eye.
Tawny fur, pricked ears, silent paws.
The catamount looked at me. I gazed back into its yellow eyes.
This was it. I was food.
My life, beginning to end, came in a flash: I blew out birthday candles, got good grades, graduated with honors, got married, kept up with the news, recycled, and was mostly nice to everyone. I tried to be a good mother and a good person. I made mistakes, some banal and some miserable. But nothing was up to me anymore.
The creature growled menacingly. I thought of my parents, whom I hadn’t called in a long time, and of my girls growing older without me.
It jumped on top of a rock, and I heard someone scream. A truck engine rumbled nearby.
A crow took off into the sky, and the big cat bounded into the woods, loping majestically between the trees.
Tires crunched on the ice, and Cass poked her head out of the pickup window: “What the hell was that?” she said.
I was shaking as I slid onto the front seat, too terrified to cry. She leaned over to hug me.
“Oh, girl,” she said, looking at my frozen pumps. She turned the heat to the highest setting.
“It was the catamount,” I gasped.
We both peered out my window but saw only the limbs of the trees outlined in ice, everything shining, silent.
Cass frowned. “Probably just a bobcat.” She squeezed my chilled hands and gave me a thermos of hot coffee. “Bad date, sweetie?”
“I didn’t feel a zap with him,” I said about the farmer.
She sighed and adjusted her grip on the steering wheel. “Do I smell bacon?”
I’d snatched it from the plate beside the stove on my way out of the farmhouse. We ate it all as she drove me home. It was fucking delicious.