Libido: Fiction: The Conversation
The Conversation

By Frieda Madland

"I used to say that if I were ever truly bored I’d take a pen and connect the stretch marks on my thighs." She thoughtfully swizzled her Glenfiddich with a finger and stared at him. This was only a test.

"Really?" He tried to imagine it but wasn’t sure what stretch marks looked like. He imagined concentric rings on her thighs like rubber bands. Then he remembered his wife’s faint network of silvery lines and tried to think of what they’d look like outlined with a felt tip pen. But maybe all stretch marks weren’t created equal.

"What color? I mean, you’d do it in red or black or what?"

"You really think I’m serious, don’t you?"

"I don’t know. It’s sort of a minimalist’s approach to fishnet stockings."

Olivia rubbed the lipstick off her glass and smiled to herself. She tilted her face toward the sun, thinking that maybe he was trying too hard.

"Tell me," she began without opening her eyes, "tell me something I should remember when we meet -- years from now when we’ll suddenly recognize each other as we sit feeding pigeons on a park bench?"

"Despite our cataracts, you mean?"


"We’ll recognize each other despite our cataracts?"

She slid her sunglasses from her head to her nose and looked at him. "You’re vile."
"Unimaginative, perhaps. Still, for a pivotal reunion scene like that there has to be more conflict in search of resolution preceded by some sort of climax."

"Really?" She had to admit that in bullshit artistry, he was right up there with the best of them. He’d even merit a 9.8 from an Eastern European Olympic judge.

"You should know all about climaxes and conflicts. You’re writing a play, aren’t you?"

"Yes, and I teach a graduate workshop in play writing. It’s all about the power of diffused desire."

"The workshop?"

"No, the play is about diffused desire."

"I’m not sure I understand what you mean."

"Haven’t you ever felt desire for someone who--"

"Why do you ask?" She stretched out her arms and let them drop. He should go away, she thought, this black-haired man with cerulean eyes. She felt dangerous. She leaned closer because she wanted to smell him.

"Research," he shrugged.

She rubbed the rim of her glass slowly and smiled. "Sure. I can tell you something about deferred desire--"

"I said diffused desire--"

"Deferred, diffused whatever you want to call it. Once in a restaurant -- one of those little French places with white tablecloths and smug waiters, I -- We were trying to say good-bye or something and all the while wanting to tear each other’s clothes off and feed on one another. We were trying to do the good thing, the civilized thing but you know, all we really wanted was a little fuck-fest, something to remember the other person by."

"Go on."

"Anyway, I think he left the table because he needed to compose himself. When he went off to the john, I sat there and licked his empty wine glass."

"Out of sadness or desire?"

"Mostly out of desire." He’s the one I should have married. He wouldn’t have minded having all his underwear tie-dyed fuchsia."

"What’s that?"

"My first husband."

"You tie-dyed him fuchsia?"

"Something like that. In one sentence or less, he ended up in a hospital after having been run down by one of those delivery maniacs on a bicycle. He was wearing the one pair of underpants I’d tie-dyed with the radiating bulls-eye over the crotch. Later on, he left me for the nurse who was majoring in psychopharmacology. Sometimes I think it all had to do with what I’d done to his underwear."

"Sounds like it. But that’s what you get for marrying a biped."

"A what?"

"A wanderer."

"Well, you do what you can for the gene pool." She liked that he was a smart-ass. Too bad he was married. At the very least, she wanted to drop to her knees and bury her head between his legs.

"You want to hear more about the play?"

She didn’t, really. She wanted to be fucked, standing up against a wall, her skirt shoved up to her waist, her thighs trembling and wet. "I read somewhere that it’s about two agoraphobics living in the same high-rise whose grocery orders get mixed up. Is there more to it?"

"About the plot? Sure. What do you want to know?"

She wanted to know what they’d both look like with her straddling him, her cunt leaving a wet patch on his belly. Was there a black furry path leading from his nipples to the Elysian Fields? Could she make a path of matted hair with her tongue on her way there?

"What makes you think I don’t already know enough?"

"The way your breasts heave when you ask me?"

"Nice line. Do you try that one often on your budding playwrights?"

"Why do you women always insist that --" He rubbed his chin and looked at her in a way that made her think he’d used this tack before. "Just to illustrate my point --"

"What point?"

"That I’m not particularly interested in pumping nubile, post-adolescents."

"I don’t know, it sounds pretty good to me." She began nudging the toe of her shoe up his trouser leg.

He ignored her. "The play has a lot to do with that notion of desire. Of dealing with desire in a tangential sense or in a way that can be as satisfying as the nesting variety.

"I have a friend," he began. "A woman I know -- have known -- for some time. She’s an artist and works in one of those drafty, god-awful lofts near the docks in an area where I always remove my radio when I park. She has a lover I think, maybe two -- I haven’t been able to tell if one of them actually lives with her. Sometimes she’ll be painting when I come to see her, sometimes not. If she’s busy, she just watches and if she’s into it, she joins me."

"I take it we’re not talking about play reading here?" She found herself squinting trying to understand.

"We have never made love. But we do a lot of everything else. For example, she has two chairs that face each other, cheesy wing chairs, the kind you find at estate sales. Often, we sit across from each other. We talk about everything and nothing. Her agent, my students, her lovers, my wife, politics, recipes, plays, books, root canals, white sales, kids, feline distemper. While we talk, one or both of us begins to take our clothes off. Sometimes she starts, sometimes I’m the only one who does."

He stopped. She thought he looked as if he’d changed his mind about going on.

"God, don’t you get frustrated? I mean it’s weird don’t you think?" She felt she was suddenly engaging in bimbo-speak.

"Have you ever loved someone too much?"

"There are a lot of trashy books out on that very subject."

"Yes, I know, and written by female authors with psychology degrees and big hair. But I’m talking about the fear of being with the person you love. It’s mainly the fear of mutual destruction not to mention the fear of other more complicating factors--"

"Like wives, lovers and enough kiddies to ensure the survival of the human race in perpetuity?" She watched him finger-comb his hair on that one.

"Something like that?"

"So what do you do?"

"Mainly I like to watch her. She sits across from me with those scimitar eyes that remind me of those women in Gustav Klimt paintings. Sometimes, she’ll just slide off what she’s wearing underneath, place one thigh over each arm rest, and begin to stroke herself with one of her paint brushes. The chairs are close enough that I can see her lips begin to darken and swell and a vertical sliver of wetness form between them. I fixate on the brush, its spiral motions gently sweeping against those puffy walls of rosewater and naturally -- I find myself pushing out of my pants. Sometimes it is enough just to watch her. But mostly I sit across from her and make myself come, just watching those eyes of hers. Sometimes she’ll read out loud. Once, as a joke, she covered her body in white flour and read me bread recipes from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking.

"Now that sounds perverted. I think there’s a joke somewhere in there about looking for the wet spot."

"Maybe, but it made me rise like a french-braided onion loaf."

"And your wife? I’m sure you’ve shared all your recipes."

"This is simply an adjunct, another part of my life, another niche."

"Well, go on. What do you do?"

"About what?"

"About your artist friend. Surely, you have to provide some portion of the entertainment!"

"She likes to have me come against her thighs while she paints. She says she likes the energy it gives her painting. That, and listening to Maria Callas and k.d. lang."

"All at the same time? What’s the matter, don’t you like to fuck?" She imagined him endlessly jerking off in the direction of pastel landscapes.

"I like the empowerment of desire better. With her anyway. I would never want to know that things got tired between us. I value her too much to share mediocrity."

"So your play is really about the two of you -- the two agoraphobics who love but don’t fuck. Love between two dysfunctional human beings."

"No, love and desire in all its breathless anticipation, pure and frightening. A marriage of lightning bugs."

She smirked and kept herself angled at the sun. "As for me, I like to fuck more than I like to glow. I’m just your run-of-the-mill Noah’s Ark type."

"Any particular phylum? Or aren’t you picky?" Clearly, the toe up the trousers had gotten her nowhere.

"Actually, I used to have a penchant for Cambrian trilobites. It was those complex, schizochroal eyes that did it -- and the fact that you could always count on them being hard as a rock. But these days, it’s your basic homo erectus with a good jaw line that I’m after. My taste has improved as I’ve grown older."

Later, she wondered when they were soaking in the bathtub and she’d rubbed Vitamin E oil on their floor burns, how often her grandmother’s Oriental rug had exacted these same passionate wounds from others. How many knees and elbows had been buffed, scraped and rubbed raw, how many grinding wet bodies had collapsed exhausted and spent, as the Victorians were wont to say, dribbling their juices into the dark patterns of grandma’s carpet?

Quite a few that she’d remembered.

While they lay soaking and sweating at opposite ends of the tub, small candles perched on the ledge, he stared at her breasts. In the dim light, he said they reminded him of perfect floating meringues. No doubt, he’d been thinking of Irma Rombauer again but she was damned if she was going to read him any recipes.