Jake and Leona had been married for forty-six years. As they prepared for bed, Jake wondered if he still loved her.
They once discussed everything; now their conversation involved little more than, “What do you want for dinner?” “Anything on television tonight?” and “Have you heard from the kids?”
Instead of sharing his thoughts, he went for a joke. “Were we ever young?”
Leona, applying lotion to the heels of her feet, answered without looking up. “I don’t remember.”
He looked at Leona in her faded flannel nightgown and tried recalling the body of the teenager he had married. Her pink-nippled breasts, once so firm, now lay flat, drooping to her belly. And her nipples, as big as fried eggs, had darkened decades ago. Two children will do that, he understood. He thought of the thick triangle of pubic hair that had looked so sexy against her pale white flesh, now reduced to a few errant strands hidden by her stomach.
It’s not that he was such an Adonis. His head mostly bald, his gut round, and his ass, a feature Leona once praised with a poem, had flattened and wrinkled.
“Remember that poem you wrote about my tush?” Jake asked, as he took off his clothes.
Leona laughed. “I compared it to a sonnet, perfect in form. I remember.”
Jake stood naked, and continued staring at his wife before stepping into his pajamas. Leona concentrated on her nighttime ritual.
“When did we stop even looking at each other when we undressed?” His voice sounded louder than he had expected. “Lusting would be beyond hope, but a quick peek wouldn’t hurt, would it?”
“What are you talking about?” Now she turned to face her husband.
“Just now. Before I put on my pj’s. You knew I was naked, but you weren’t interested enough to look.” He understood how foolish he sounded. “I’m just as bad. I don’t even remember when you changed into your nightgown.”
“You didn’t miss much, believe me.”
He thought about how much he missed caressing her young naked body, how she had delighted in causing him to go hard at awkward moments, like on the beach or at his parents’ home. A quick touch or a downward glance was all it took. Now he had to pop a pill and wait an hour.
“What’s gotten into to you, Jake? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just miss who we once were.”
“I miss that, too. But don’t we have much more? Comfort. Security.”
He knew she was right. Still, shouldn’t there be more?
“I love you,” she said.
“I do, too,” he repeated mechanically.
They slipped into bed, she on her side and he on his. Determined not to disappear into his space, he rolled toward her and reached out to caress her hip, slipping his hand under her gown.
“Ooh, you’re hands are cold.” She pushed him away. “Honey, I’m tired and it’s late.”
“So we’ll sleep in tomorrow. What else do we have to do?”
“That’s not the point.” Jake could hear her voice drift. “Maybe in the morning….”
He sighed. “In the morning, you’ll wake up before me, shower and make coffee. You’ll say you don’t want to get all sweaty.”
“So,” she turned to kiss him. “You think you can still get me all sweaty?”
“I can try.”
“It’s just…” She sniffled. “I love you, you know that. But sex, it’s gotten so hard for me.”
He rolled on his back and she rested her head on his shoulder. She once fit like they were one entity. Now her head felt heavy and he blew her hair away from his mouth. “I wish it was still hard for me.”
“I envy you can still joke.”
A few moments later, Leona began to snore, a soft purr, at first, followed by snorts. He nudged her and she rolled over to her side of the bed.
Jake tried to sleep, but her snoring grew louder. He patted her behind. She mumbled something incoherent and resumed snoring. He tried recalling if she snored when they were young, when on dates they’d sneak off to his apartment near the college, make love, nap and return to her parents’ home before her curfew. The illicitness made it all the more exciting. Now, sex had become too much effort.
He wondered why, if her body had grown so unattractive to him, he still wanted her. Was it a mere biological urge, a longing for the passion they once had, or did he still love her? Were his doubts just the foolish ramblings of an old man?
The question kept him awake. He tried thinking of other things, like the 1953 Brooklyn Dodger lineup, but Leona’s snoring brought him back to the present. He couldn’t find a comfortable spot on his pillow, his back began to ache and his leg cramp. Finally, he slipped out of bed as quietly as possible. Part of him wanted Leona to reach out to him, but another part wanted to get as far away from her as possible.
He prepared a cup of chamomile tea and headed to his favorite chair, an oak rocker they had bought when Leona was pregnant with Jason. It had barely fit in the living room of their small apartment, now it sat snugly in a corner of his office. He recalled how he’d held Leona’s hand as she rocked, nursing the baby. Jason now had teen-aged children of his own.
He loved her so much back then. Why did he feel so angry now, so annoyed with what they had become? They raised two children, had successful careers. By the time Susan was born, they had moved to the house on Bentley Avenue, and soon after that to the bigger one in the suburbs. They had achieved the American Dream. He had no right to be unhappy.
He sipped his tea and tried recalling when things had changed. They had weathered bad times in their marriage. He had long ago forgiven Leona for her involvement with Steve, his old college friend. All that seemed so trivial. He had expanded his business beyond his imagination and, when Jason made it clear he had no interest in it, sold it for more than enough to be comfortable for the rest of their lives.
He envied how easily Leona adapted to her career as a nurse and how Susan had followed her example and become a doctor. Was he jealous that his son rejected the accounting business and had gone into software design, when he could barely figure out how to use the computerized spreadsheets Jason designed for him?
Or was it just age? Did he feel trapped in a failing body, having experienced two heart attacks since his retirement? He had no desire to climb the Himalayas or swim the English Channel, so how was he trapped? He could still do most of what he wanted, and there was a little blue pill for the rest.
Was that it? Did it all come down to sex? As he turned seventy, why was sex still so important to him?
He thought of Leona. How sexy she had looked in her white nurse’s uniform when she began her career and how her cute behind jiggled in blue scrubs when she assisted in the OR. He felt so proud to be married to her, as if he were a better man because she loved him.
Then he found out about Steve, and for a while his world collapsed. But that was a lifetime ago. Why was he dredging up those thoughts now?
He needed to feel again. Lately, especially after his heart trouble, all he had felt was fear. Fear of dying, fear of not seeing his children and grandchildren, fear of leaving Leona alone, fear of her leaving him.
His tea had turned cold. Pushing himself off the rocking chair, he felt his knees balk at his weight and heard his joints crack. He placed the cup in the sink and walked purposefully to the bedroom.
Moonlight slipped through the curtains and drenched Leona in a soft light. She lay on her back, looking vulnerable and beautiful, her breathing rhythmical and sensual. A fleeting vision of her teenaged face washed over Jake like a wave of intimacy. He kissed her cheek, and she opened her eyes and smiled.
“I’m glad you’ve come back,” she whispered.
Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published stories, poems and essays, in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories, published by Thumbscrews Press, (http://issuu.com/pearnoir/docs/revealing_moments.) Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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