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In The Prick of Time
By Susan Dooley
We admire some stories for the dazzle of their artifice; others, however, may win our hearts with their naturalness. Susan Dooley's "In the Prick of Time" embodies, I think, everything that is splendid about being a Grown-Up Woman, yet it reminds us also that we are the sum of our experiences, that
our sensuality can grow and flourish only if we accept and nurture it.
The mirror was an old one, its oak frame holding glass that was wavy and dappled with dark spots. It could distort image, she thought, just as earlier she had muttered about how her jeans had shrunk in the wash.
"Too fat," this time she sighed and accepted it.
"Just right." He had come up behind her in the bathroom where she stood, her body still wet from the shower. He put his arms around her and nuzzled his face into her neck. She watched in the mirror as he slid one hand up her body and cupped her breast. He played with her nipple, running a finger back and forth until the flesh hardened beneath his hand. Then he moved until he was between her and the mirror. She watched as the back of his head ducked forward and felt
the slight pressure as his mouth began a soft sucking at her breast.
The man in the mirror curved his hand over her hip. His fingers pressed in for a minute and then continued on until he had shoved his hand between her legs. She could feel his tongue teasing the inside of her mouth, and she felt a warmth and an urgency even as she watched, detached, the two strangers who slid awkwardly to the floor and began to press themselves together in the shifting light.
She could nolonger see the mirror. There was only the pressure of him, hip to hip, tongue to tongue, as he pushed himself inside of her.
The telephone rang.
She tried to ignore it, but both of them had gone still, waiting for it to stop. The noise had broken their connection, and though they rocked together for a minute more, she felt him ebbing away.
Mary raised herself on an elbow. In the wavy glass she saw two people who had passed their moment of passion. The woman had wet hair. The man had on his shoes.
"What are you writing?"
"An erotic memoir," she said, turning around and placing the flat of her hand on the front of his jeans. She felt him move at her touch, and she smiled up at him. "I'm going to call it In the Prick of Time."
She was sitting at the long pine table, having cleared a small space between a stack of books and a large gray cat, and was writing out the grocery list. He put one hand on her shoulder and leaned forward to read what she had written.
"Oatmeal?" he asked. "I thought this was supposed to be erotic."
"Well, it's not the most erotic thing I could think of," she conceded, wiggling her eyebrows in what she hoped was a Groucho Marx leer. "But once a long time ago I stood and watched a pot of oatmeal boil for ten minutes. It was a very sensual experience. Voluptuous. It sort of ..." She was remembering that time when she had eaten oatmeal six days a week, saving all her money to have one glorious meal on the seventh, and of how she had often gotten mesmerized by the sight of the bubbling oatmeal. "It sort of erupts at you. Oatmeal has orgasms."
"You must have been a very cheap date," he said, going to the refrigerator to see what other erotic treats were on offer.
"Do you remember oleo orgies?" he asked, having found a piece of lemon pound cake.
"Did you ever go to one?" She put her pen down and turned expectantly--the magician about to pull a rabbit out of his past.
"Once in Ohio when I was in graduate school. It wasn't oleo. It was some vegetable oil in a bottle, and we all got a little drunk and then smoked pot for courage. Then we took off our clothes. Except Nancy. We were still married then, and she insisted on keeping her underpants on. Everyone else looked innocent. Nancy in her underpants looked like a very dirty girl.
"We sat in a circle, willy nilly, except you couldn't sit next to the person you came with.
"The man giving the party went around the circle, pouring out handsful of oil. He made it a priestly act. We began rubbing the oil on each other. I was sitting next to a woman with incredible breasts and a beautiful tan. I put my head in her lap so I could look up and watch the light gleam on her skin. She leaned over to rub oil on my chest and I caught her breast in my mouth to suck it. It tasted strange--almonds, vanilla--I can't remember except that made it even more erotic.
"She didn't seem to mind, but she didn't seem aroused either. She kept rubbing me with oil in a very efficient fashion, and all around us everyone was doing the same thing. Suddenly I started to laugh. I felt like a leg of lamb.
"Everyone else began to laugh too, and the girl whose lap I was on would give these great hee-haws and my head would bounce up and down. It was silly, but at the same time it was very erotic."
"What ever happened to her?" Mary asked. Her voice had gone cool.
"To who?" asked Paul.
"The woman you were bouncing about on."
He looked at her curiously. "I have no idea. I never even knew her name."
He got up. "I'm going into town. Do you want anything? Oatmeal?" He bent over and rubbed his chin against the top of her head and was gone.
She heard the rough cough of the car's motor and watched Paul back the old station wagon out of the driveway. When she was sure he was gone, she pulled a fresh piece of paper off the pad and wrote his name.
She tried to think what it was exactly that made her want him. Rationally, there were only so many spots the hand could touch, so many places the tongue could lick, and that made fucking finite in its possibilities.
Why was it that somehow lovers were not?
She folded the paper with Paul's name and set it aside. Then she began again:
An erotic memoir should begin at the beginning. In the prick of time, when that first tentative tickle had come from the unlikely Herbert, a leering red-haired boy of eleven who had pushed his way through the children on the school bus to sit beside her. He had squeezed himself over onto her side of the cracked leather seat as the bus made its familiar and halting way down the highway, extruding children at each stop like some demon machine that had had its fill and now was belching out the leftovers.
Herbert had never actually put his hands on her. But he had leaned on her, and he had looked at her. It was frightening. It was exciting. Not like Jimmy Mason who had chased her through the orchard and knocked her to the ground to deliver a hasty kiss, his lips slamming to a halt on her cheek. The way Herbert had shoved and bumped her had made warmth start between her legs and roll up her body until she could feel the heat turning her face red. It was uncomfortable. She hoped he wouldn't stop.
Carole had been her best friend in grade school. When the weather was too wet for the nuns to scatter the schoolchildren onto the playground, they would gather them together, march them into the auditorium, and show them a religious film. The ones that weren't about the Virgin Mary hovering over some foreign meadow starred pretty nuns and handsome priests--none of them had warty cheeks like Sister Octavia or the smooth hairless skin of Sister Joyce, whose eyes had been popped naked into a face that lacked both lashes and brows. Mostly the movie priests were Irish and adorable. Not like Father O'Toole, the arrogant pastor who strode each week into every classroom to bellow damnation at any child who had been seen talking to a Protestant.
She and Carole sat next to each other in the dark, while a wavy shaft of light cast pictures on the screen. The big, bare room smelled of chalk and wet socks, and above the faint hum of the projector you could hear the constant rustle of children forced to sit still. The darkness, the muffled noise, the shadows of people you no longer knew turned the barren room into a private place.
For the first half of the film, Mary would trace a delicate line up and down the soft skin on Carole's arm. When they changed to the second reel, it would be Mary's turn. She would stare entranced at the screen while Carole's fingertips returned the delicate, feathery stroking.
That wasn't really erotic, Mary admitted. Not like Herbert. But Mary decided that sensual also had a place on her list. She left Carole's name on it.
Mr. Maxwell was an older man in his twenties. When Mary was sixteen, he had hired her older sister, Helen, as a file clerk. Whenever she went to pick up Helen, Mr. Maxwell would call Mary into his office and flirt with her. One day he had leaned over and run his finger up her leg. Slow Hand. Copyright © by Michelle Slung. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
|In the Prick of Time||1|
|Ninety-Three Million Miles Away||51|
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|The Footpath of Pink Roses||81|
|The Story of No||99|
|Reasons Not to Go to Fort Lauderdale||115|
|Blessed Immortal Self: How the Jewels Shone on Your Skin!||131|
|The American Woman in the Chinese Hat||149|
|The Mango Tree||163|
|Eros in Overtime||177|
|Too Tall for Grace||201|
|About the Authors||223|