A pack of lavender Trojans was stacked precariously in an upwards pile next to Boggle on the white nightstand. Barnaby had taught Jaynie how to play the word game in the study of the Red Rabbit Inn, an oblong room bordered in fake wood, aligned with book titles along the lines of When God Surrounds You and A Summer of Love. A few lesser known detective novels were stuffed in bookcase corners. A somewhat younger couple, closer to their early twenties, had glanced in the direction of the loudly shaking Boggle pieces during their quiet game of checkers. Realizing their faux pas, Barnaby and Jaynie gathered the game and walked upstairs to their large suite with a quiet understanding that the Boggle diversion would most likely not be repeated. But the idea of playing a game together was nice, and it was pleasant to have it in the suite in full view as a possibility for later. It was the kind of distraction that couples enjoyed on a weekend getaway. Jaynie sighed, peeled off her clothes, and sat on the small couch. Naked, she felt her butt cheeks push against the cloth of the couch, and reached for her laptop.
“Hey, you don’t like me to sit on your chairs naked,” said Barnaby.
“Yes, that’s because they’re my chairs,” she said.
She began typing in front of the artificial fire, staring into a lightly dusted cornfield out a window outlined by pastel butterfly curtains. There was a hint of winter blowing through the distant fields, but since it wasn’t quite December, you could still remember what summer felt like and long for it.
Barnaby sat steadily reading Clockwork Orange, perched intently on a light green rocker, with his wet tousled golden hair thrown wildly to the side, rectangular spectacles fixed upon his thin nose. Sometimes he was suddenly so concentrated that she wondered if he remembered she was in the room. He was sitting in WASP position, legs demurely crossed, only in the way an attractive and sophisticated man could get away with and not seem too effeminate. Or was it that seeming overtly effeminate was all the rage these days, crossing the border from heteronormative and almost into gay, but on a queer continuum without being nameable? This is the type of convoluted thought that makes perfect logic for Jaynie, who was more on the continuum of hetero ugly, she thought, sitting with the hotel’s light-yellow checkered robe as a mass on her lap to cover her crotch and help hoist her computer upwards so she could write. Not elegant. But potentially graceful. Elegance was the sort of thing one needed to strive for. Instead she suffered from overt breasts, round eyes, and a slightly protruding stomach amidst her skinny stick legs like an odd turnip ironically placed in the middle of a field. She often hunched over to crunch her mid section or worse, wore slightly padded bras – an absurdity considering her breast size – to avoid focusing attention on her belly. Barnaby was built like a pogo-stick, lean and straight. No matter how much ice cream he inhaled, his metabolism produced an overwhelming heat, which formed a toasted sweaty substance on his skin. For these reasons, she didn’t like for him to hold her during sleep. Too filmy and sweaty for comfort.
She watched his quiet.
On the three-hour car ride to Starved Rock, she had yelled to fill the resonance of the car and the deadening silence that she feared was growing between them. Her boyfriend of a year laughed. Or did he feign laughter to quiet her?
“Your laugh sounds like an opera,” he proclaimed. “Very loud.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” she said.
He had a way of announcing realities without affect. Or tone. Or anything of notable substance.
But this time he observed and noted the piercing echo of her tone and because of his noticing, she held the exasperated wail a bit longer in a diatribe against their historical destination.
“Poooor rock. It’s starving! No one will feed it. Why should we visit such a hungry rock?”
He often sat smiling as she acted in all sorts of ways he was unaccustomed to.
Should she fuck him? It was their last few moments at the Rabbit Run Inn, and they had rarely traveled together. She wanted to show appreciation. As a rule, he was cheap, and this time, he had actually paid for a night’s stay somewhere. He stood up to look at his phone and glanced in her direction.
“We have forty-five minutes left,” she said, trying not to sound like the time was of significance. She did not want to come off irritable, especially since he had done nothing wrong.
They had been given an extra hour for the suite because of an earlier debacle. Barnaby had forgotten to ascertain the time of check in, (to check to check to check…why did he never goddamnit check on anything) and they had arrived two hours early. Jaynie had suffered an allergy attack in the car and not being able to enter their room upon arrival had created a snaffoo at the start of the trip. She desperately wanted to wash off the allergen making her sick, but they were not allowed in the room, and so on.
“What happened, Barn?” Jaynie had asked as she smeared her nose into a used piece of Kleenex while they meandered back to her allergen-ridden 2003 Toyota Corolla to find a local lunch of fried pickles and fried chicken in Nowheresville, Wisconsin.
“I really could have used a shower to wash off whatever crap I accumulated from the car ride. My allergies are on the attack.”
But she already knew that he hadn’t bothered to check about check-in.
“I guess there wasn’t a check-in time on the web site.”
Barnaby looked down at his black sneakers with red laces. Jaynie felt he didn’t take responsibility for his mistakes.
He glanced down at his cell phone again.
“Texting?” she asked.
He had a plethora of female friends as leftovers from his almost all-female college. They often checked in to make brunch plans or to share a hipsterly ironic night of fish tacos and dancing at a dingy dance bar. Jaynie was always invited, of course, but they had set routines and old jokes together.
“Just checking the time,” he said, and stopped to peck her on the cheek, as a dutiful and simultaneously distracted boyfriend should. He returned to his reading. She had the impulse to cover her computer as he swooped back to his rocker, but she knew he wouldn’t look over her shoulder. He was not that type of person. She glanced out the window again. The breeze halted. Time stalled the corn husks and deleted the moving world.
What would she write? What would this story become? Dead air.
A frozen idea again.
A frozen idea again?
Sandwich that with a period. A frozen idea again.
“Why are there so many flowers in this goddamn place?” she wondered aloud, as the boyfriend’s nose ticked into his book like a second hand. No, she probably didn’t say that. She may have thought about complaining about the flowers, but she wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings. So she probably said something like wowww, lotsa flowers in here. Uh, painted ones, ya know, to which he would simply raise a brow. No, she most likely would fail to say anything and just stare at the flowers. Flower talk is dead air.
If she did have sex with him, it probably wouldn’t work. They would do it, but it might become unsuccessful sex. (One of her ex-boyfriends had once referred to a sexual encounter as “unsuccessful.” The phrasing stuck.) The way she liked it demanded certain acrobatics that made it hard for him to maintain a consistent erection. He would keep it up for most of the time, but she would worry that he would worry, and then it would become a worry sex fest. “Everything okay?” she might ask, and then byooomp, it would slide downward turning into a grimy inefficient snake unworthy of mention. Remembering a man who found Jaynie forgettable should be forgotten…Why should a flaccid penis be problematic in fiction? This is the year of the queer, the liberated day where an erection does not necessarily mean attraction, where post-post-modernism could be placed on multiple post-its with so many meanings that even the physical flaccid penis itself is not necessarily a failure. It’s a winner through replication of flaccidity! No reason to become disheartened and disenfranchised about a shrinking…small and unfortunate – circumstance, a mysteriously and only slightly irritating amoeba that could easily slide ever so vaguely into Janie’s hands?
In this scenario, both Jaynie and Barnaby would smile at each other, fabricating warmth, but regardless of all the niceties, sex needs fire, not warmth. And certainly not an electrically generated fire.
Even if it did occur, was there enough time? And this was supposed to be a goddamned vacation. Thirty-five minutes left. If she didn’t fuck him twice, he would find her ungrateful or, worse, unattracted to him. And he would think that there was something wrong with the relationship. And there was nothing wrong with the relationship. No, she would most definitely do it. Just as her friend Sally had vowed to take one for the team by agreeing to pose for her own wedding pictures on the beach in winter, she should also take one for the relationship. It was illogical, but what could be done?
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she said, surprised how much she sounded like a squirrel.
“I’m just going to put the puff back on the bed,” he said.
He was always doing things that needed doing.
In the middle of the night, in an unexplainable fit, she had complained about the puffy thing at the head of the bed, which was forcing her upper torso uncomfortably upwards, an awkward position for sleep.
“What are these things called again? she had asked him.
“Pillow tops. Or maybe it’s called a feather bed,” he said. “That’s what all the sophisticated people like these days,” he said.
A statement without affect.
“Kind of white trash sophisticated. Or new money? It seems strange to want to be propped upwards while sleeping. Unless you’re having a bout of acid reflux,” she said, referring to her own belching problem.
“I never thought about it that way. Haven’t you seen these before in other hotels? I think my grandmother has one,” he said.
Of course she hadn’t. She was not from New England. Her mother did not attend finishing school for two years. Her grandfather was not a famous endocrinologist. And it was times like these that she realized how important it would be to keep him around. She was only half a female Philip Roth just trying to glimpse at a privileged class, always further othering herself by attempting to be part of it. Barnaby knew the names of things like pillow tops and other potential cultural necessities, like how to illustrate to the server that you had finished a meal. Parallel forks and knives placed delicately on a plate. Not crossed. He wouldn’t ask overt personal questions to virtual strangers. These cultural nuances not only turned her on, but no matter how many times he explained it, remained an enticing mystery.
“Oh. I never heard of that name. Pillow top. Sounds like a prosti. How do you know this stuff?”
“A prosti?” he inquired.
“Tute. Prostitute. My grandmother told me about the hot pillows that used to stay in the Motels on Ridge Street. The pillows would stay warm from the going ons,” she said.
“Never heard of that. I was talking about pillow tops,” he responded.
Jaynie wondered if Barnaby ever wondered anything about who she really was, or anything, for that matter. She seemed to be the closest concrete moment, the more tangible storyline of the two of them, and was tiring of the terrible pressure. It wasn’t a conscious thought on her part. It was a feeling.
In the middle of the night, she had told him she hated the pillow top thingy and asked him to take it off from the bed. She had tried to rip it off herself, but the thingymabobabob was sucked into a river in layers of duvets and sheets and satin polyester.
“I hate it. Do you mind it?” she had asked.
“What?” he asked.
“The topper flopter thinger?”
“Ha, no, not really,” he had said.
“But do you like it?” she insisted.
“You’re so damned Derridean.”
“What does that mean?”
“Slip of the tongue. You’re slippery with your words.”
She fucks him. They leave. The end.
Here’s how it is. The fucking part is not included. You are not missing anything. You might be thinking that the writer is running from the conflict. Here’s a tidbit: She kind of lets him force himself inside her and it hurts a bit going in but then she gets used to it. That’s enough. But the point is, they do it. Reading this over, I realize the word force suggests rape and that is wrong. Even the idea of coercion is wrong. He is smiling at her or eyes closed or something nice when he enters her. She smiles back. They are both nice to each other during the entire act. And she agrees to it – with both body and mind. It ends in about ten minutes when she quickens the pace to hurry things along a bit. (They have to check out.) So why write about what seems to be the most important part of the story when, in actuality, it doesn’t matter? I’m not saying that sex never matters, but here, it doesn’t. It was that she thought it mattered. And the omniscient narrator is completely allowed to tell the character, Guess what? It doesn’t matter! Yes, maybe I wasn’t here before, but I’m here now. Enter omniscient narrator. Stage left. I have the authority and in this case, fucking doesn’t matter. Omniscience can walk in any time it wants. And stay as long as it cares to. That’s the beauty of its power. That’s why it’s omniscient. Did you know omniscient narrators can have irritating personalities? Here I am! I realize I may seem defensive… He likes it, yes, he likes to fuck, but it’s not so important as everyone thinks…
A week later Jaynie mentions the trip to the B&B.
“Putting all those condoms out made me feel pressured,” she says, sipping a cup of tea under Barnaby’s beige comforter in his dusty bedroom as he sucks on a spoonful of chocolate ice cream.
“Huh,” he says looking out the window. She wonders if he is looking into the church next door, or that perhaps she’s staring into the vacant shape of his own reflection leaping from the window, resembling the outline of a man.
“I didn’t expect to have sex that day,” he says. “Hmmm,” he finishes.
Lyndee Yamshon obtained her PhD in creative writing from UIC’s Program for Writers in 2015. Publications include Wreckage of Reason II: Anthology of XXperimental Women Writers, Eckleburg Review, China Grove Literary Journal, Packingtown Review, The Chicago Tribune, Bookslut, finalist status from Glimmer Train, and upcoming in the anthology, Just A Little More Time. In her spare time, she enjoys chasing her cat Shmick and writing music.