canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

A Moment of Crisis

by Margaret Clark

She had dreamed her last, best orgasm.

By the time she realized it had never been real not even a trace of sympathetic response glistening on her inner thighs or in the folds of her labia whole hours had passed since her emergence from sleep. She had already spent the morning buoyed by an unspoken satisfaction and pride with the event, and it was only while washing dishes, her thoughts straying to the dynamics of the scene she recalled the puzzle of them, since she was alone in the house, and could not recall any visitor leaving that the impossibility of the orgasm occurred to her.

For in the dream she had not been alone, though the face and body of her partner remained a welcome mystery. All that she recalled, truly, was her left leg bent, parted, and propped against a dark, sturdy surface. Her dream had been black and white, her skin the palest she had ever seen it, with small beads of sweat prickling the surface and sliding to pool in the taut, upraised hollow of a hip. She had been breathing hard moaning. The rest of her loomed out of the picture, though the strong clenching of her belly could be felt even in the dream state, as could the way her body arched and her sex pulsed at the dark, shapeless heat pressed against her. She had cried out gloriously, unexpectedly, the ragged, imagined pitch unlike hers and yet immediately kindred: a voice she would not mind claiming as her own.

But now it was just a dream the leg, the sound, all of it and this thought saddened her. While soaping the cutlery, she tensed her body, tightened her stomach, and tested the trembling in the crook of her jeans, just to remind herself she still could that her desire had not vanished. And it hadn't. Yet where the dream orgasm had rested, content and uncompromising, just under her ribs, she was left suddenly restless and unsure. It was not enough that she could still feel the hard stirrings in her abdomen, so she wiped her hands off on the dish towel and headed for the washroom. She had to see herself; she had to know what was wrong, why this was only a dream, why she had to endure such disappointments at all.

In the washroom she was arrested by the sight of her own face and upper body. This had been happening more frequently in the last few weeks; her belly learning to need less food, she had grown quite pleased with the new, sharper lines forming her jaw, her shoulders, her sides. Experimentally she raised her hands and clasped them behind her head, posing with her lips in full pout. She liked what she saw breasts rising, nipples semi-hard against the bra, just a lip of skin peeking out from under the dress shirt. It was a waste, she considered, that she should be left so alone when she finally believed she was worth human contact that a man might have just cause to be excited by the very sight of her, both in and out of tight clothes.

She thought then of the men she knew and liked. There were so few of them, and most she knew were completely out of her league or else there were mitigating factors, as with the exes of a mutual friend. She reminded herself, too, that she was not content to give up being single for the hell of it; in her friends she had already seen the painful results of running a gamut of relationships without real interest, and she prided herself now on seeming detached, or even above, these amateur mistakes. (Of her own, similar old history, she likewise prided herself on forgetting as best she could.)

More importantly, she could do better if she wanted, she told herself; she could circumvent their continued failures and cut right to the part where she found someone she loved and who loved her in turn. It was just a matter of not wanting to, of needing to prove that it was all right to be "free." If she settled for anything in the middle the desperate scrambling through a series of pseudo-intimacies she would make herself out as having always been desperate, and of having been both desperate and in denial when she was alone. So if she couldn't be in that kind of a relationship if there was really no one worth settling down with well, she would just take the random, emotionally-detached fucking instead.

Wouldn't she?

She faltered, frowning at her image in the mirror. She had never even managed a one-time hookup; always there had been some excuse her legs hadn't been shaved that night, or her teeth hadn't been brushed, or she'd promised to take her friend home and so couldn't possibly stay on any longer. But the desire had been there, surely, and the bravery. Only would she want her friends to know? How would her reputation suffer? Would she lose the respect of someone she could truly see herself with, if they ever found out? And what of the risks the STDs, the pregnancy?

It had been her strategy, however unspoken, not to partake in the pill, to keep herself from doing anything reckless and on the fly. It had been a year now since her last pill much, much longer since her last lay. Looking back, the cowardice of this plan angered her. She let her hands fall to her sides and retreated to the living room, where she grew angrier still at the messiness of it, how unprepared it was for guests. What if I brought someone home tonight? she asked herself. What would they think of this place?

It had been so long since the last proposition for a one-night-stand she couldn't even imagine where one would begin looking. Bars? Clubs? She wouldn't want to go with any of the girls she knew wouldn't want them to think she was desperate, or a slut. Yet how could she bring herself to go alone, and worse, to face the possibility of finding no one, of having to return home all on her own?

Retreating from the washroom with a feeling of profound dissatisfaction at the lingering lip of fat along her waist, she remembered she had bills to pay and drew up to the desktop computer, purse in hand. Before visiting the online bank she checked the day's news, her inbox, a recent blog or three. Finally she signed into her banking account and made her transactions, only to hesitate before closing the browser window. A friend's email had linked to an outrageous want ad on an online service catering to all kinds of classifieds. She had never been on such a site had never wanted to. Now, propelled by curiosity, she clicked past the warning screens, even opened an account so she could access all the sections.

Bypassing "Transportation," "Housing," and "Miscellaneous," she clicked on "Relationships," which brought her to a selection screen with three options: "Male/Female," "Male/Male," and "Female/Female." With a reckless smile, she clicked on the last, mentally checking and deciding that even kissing another woman held no interest for her. Still, the content the repetition of it took her by surprise: for page after page, "17-24, first time lesbian, looking for someone to show me the ropes" proved par for the course. There were more genuine-sounding entries, to be sure, but for now these passed her notice, the others shining all too pointed a light on the frivolity of her own, voyeuristic trespass here.

The male/female ads were more varied no strings attached; one-night stands; the words "hot" and "sexy" thrown about as if they were givens, as if everyone could in fact be one or the other. Male posters asked sometimes for sporty girls, intelligent girls, girls who would share eclectic interests with them. Others, straight-up, just wanted their future girlfriend to be cute. Female posters asked sometimes for honesty, for kindness, for men who would share in their likewise very specific hobbies. Hookup requests abounded. Her pointer hovered on a few descriptions, but none of the male blurbs jumped out at her. At the upper left corner of the screen a button read: "Post New Ad." Could it really be that easy? She hesitated. Tested, again, her clenched abdomen, and found the catch of her underwear had gone damp at the thought affirmation enough. She clicked the button, fingers poised over the keyboard as a new, white text box appeared. But how to begin?

Her first draft was rough, long-winded, weighted with personal baggage. As she read back the litany of background details she'd thought merited retelling for a simple one-night-stand she bit her lip and reached for "delete." There was a diction to these advertisements she did not yet quite grasp a teetering point between the kind of remark that said, look, this whole setup is hokey, so if you think so too, drop me a line, and too much blunt-force honesty to appeal at all to potential readers. She could not bear to use the words "hot" or "sexy," yet to undersell herself would not do not for this forum, not when confidence abounded in all the other posts. Now it occurred to her that the greatest mortification might not be from being discovered though there, too, she feared the phrasing and allusions of her ad might out her but from the empty mailbox, the denial even of her anonymous sexual self. A denial she alone would recall.

She began writing anew concisely, with painstaking self-restraint. Gone were such phrases as "trust issues" and "seeking someone who's not just looking for his own gratification." Both statements reeked of bitterness, and no one looking for a quickie would want such a load. Better to say "NSA" and "Can you show me a good time?", then add "Let's make it a night to remember," just for kicks, and hit send.

Except she couldn't. She sat back in the seat, let go of the mouse, and folded both hands in her lap. The message, now a scant three lines long, was almost indecipherable from the rest she had read on the site save for her request that all respondents be rock fans, a detail she was sure would stand out, flatter, and appeal to the mindset she wanted. In high school she'd broken up with a boy who was fixated on sex and he'd been into Def Leppard, Sex Pistols, The Ramones. Even the last man who'd turned her head on the street, by the bus stop on her way home from the supermarket, wore a faded Nirvana t-shirt his stomach hard, his movements sinewy and lithe. Her inner thighs had grown clammy, and damp, as he nodded to the music blaring from his headphones; at the mere recollection, they did again.

Still, she stared at the screen, frowning reread the message twice, rose to get a drink, halted, sat down again. Even if someone she knew trawled this site, no one would know this ad was hers the username alone was too radical, too crude, to be attributed to her known persona and in no way was she obligated to follow up on any response she received. She could let the messages pile up in her inbox, marvel at and denounce the simple, vulgar come-ons replete with spelling errors and statements insulting to her intelligence, and no one would know about any of them, or any of this. No one, that is, except her. If anything, this thought only made her uncertainty grow worse.

In the far closet, gathering dust in its plastic case, lay her vibrator bought on a whim, with a group; never used. And why not? Three friends had been with her for the purchase; unasked, it was assumed she used hers, as they did their own. And at night, under the sheets, or during her hot morning shower, she had considered it, but always the effort seemed too much. She'd need scissors, of course, for the packaging, and potentially lubricant but the right kind, water-based, which she always meant to pick up at the drug mart but never did. And time, lots of time but at the cusp of her greatest arousal she was already tired (that exhaustion sometimes giving her the freedom she needed to let go), and her morning showers were always just before work, just as she was running late. Maybe later, she'd tell herself. Tomorrow, or sometimes, next week.

She repeated those words now, just under her breath, tomorrow, or maybe next week, and stood from the desk heard the sound of a truck pull up outside her window and watched two children spill out from the passenger-side door, followed by a large man balancing a cardboard box full of groceries on the heavy, sagging tire of his belly. The children raced through the gate next to her own; their father headed straight for the front door. Her mouth dry, she turned to the computer, the stark layout and jarring colours of the website, the strangeness of her username and the words in the waiting text box. She studied it a moment longer waited until the sound of children fell entirely out of range and in a sudden decisive fit leaned in, closed the whole browser, and propelled herself away from the desk.

She felt a different kind of rawness in her stomach as she left her bedroom not quite butterflies, not quite illness. Slowing her breath, she approached the washroom again, smoothing back her hair and adjusting her shirt. Visiting that website now seemed a hundred years ago, a childish, silly whim that she could never possibly have taken seriously. That was close, she thought to herself, and finding relief in the phrase wet her lips and squared her face to the washroom mirror, which now seemed less kind to the angles of her cheekbones, the mannish jut of her chin, the oatmeal pallour of her skin.

"That was close," she said again, watching as her lips formed the words in the mirror. As she had said nothing else all day, the words faltered in her vocal cords; clearing her throat, she tried them again her tongue hovering longer than it needed to on the first word, her bottom lip pouting up, and out, as she managed the last. Her brows were knit as she spoke, her hands resting heavily on the edge of the sink, yet she relaxed as the final word was spoken her breath alone held tight, tight enough that she could feel it way down in her abdomen, but no further.

Margaret Clark is finishing a degree in Political Science and English Literature at the University of Waterloo. She is an active proponent in her campus newspaper, and intends to pursue journalism and creative writing hand-in-hand. While her poetry will appear in an upcoming issue of Rattle, this is her first publication for prose.






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