Two Womenby Stephen Dixon
A woman calls to him from his bedroom. He's reading in an armchair in the living room and drinking some wine. "Come on," she says, "what are you waiting for? Get your penis in here." The voice sounds like his wife's. It also sounds like the woman he met three months ago at a Christmas party and whom he's very attracted to and he would like to start a serious relationship with and even thinks he'd eventually like to marry. His wife died a little more than a year ago. Today is the thirty-first anniversary of the day they met. It was at a book party for a woman they both knew. She'd come from her parents' apartment uptown. She'd stopped off there to spend a short time with them and give them a present for their wedding anniversary that day. He'd never slept with this other woman. They hadn't even kissed on the lips. Or once, but mistakenly on her part, she said. They were saying goodbye by her car after one of their weekly lunches and she put out her lips when she meant to offer him her cheek to kiss. "That was unintentional," she said. "It was nice, though," he said. "But it was an accident, caused by my momentary absentmindedness, which I admit I'm prone to, so it meant nothing, means nothing, and we should continue our friendship as if it didn't happen. In other words, don't make anything more of it than it was." They've been meeting for lunch almost every Wednesday since they met. All but once at the same restaurant. "Why go to another?" she said. "We're more interested in the conversation than the food, although the food's more than adequate there, and they leave you alone once you get it. And if you want more coffee, which we always do, you just go up to the counter and help yourself from one of the Thermoses. I like sticking with the same thing, if it's good, how about you?" and he said "The same." Two weeks ago she came to his house at night when he wasn't expecting her. Rang his doorbell. He turned on the outside lights and looked through the kitchen door and saw it was her and let her in. "I was in the neighborhood," she said. "I've been dying to see what your writing space looks like and thought now would be as good an opportunity as any." "That the only reason you came?" "That's the only reason, and maybe to have a glass of wine with you after. I'm fascinated with writers' work spaces and what the whole room looks like. I'm planning to put together a photography book on the subject, even if a couple of excellent ones have been done. But mine won't have the writers in the photographs. Just where he writes and what he writes on, and if there's a cat sitting on the keyboard, that's okay too." "Except that I work in my bedroom and I still write on a manual typewriter. So there's that, and when I'm not writing, the typewriter's always covered so no dirt or dust or cat hair gets in. And lots of paper around it, of course, and I write on a long formica work table. I'll show you." He led her into his bedroom. "This is perfect," she said. She pulled out a camera from her shoulder bag, adjusted the lens and took lots of photographs of his work table and manuscripts on it and the typewriter with the dust cover off and then with two sheets of paper in it. Then they had a glass of wine, she said she had to go, he walked her to her car and she offered her cheek to be kissed. "See you Wednesday," she said. "Same time and place." "Where was that again?" "You're so funny," she said. "I like that." Now, either she or his wife is in his bedroom. If it's his wife, then "their" bedroom. "Hey," one of them says, "what the heck's keeping you? Get in here, will you? Or just bring your penis in, leave it here, and the rest of you can go back to the living room to read and drink." He gets up from the armchair and goes into the bedroom. The curtains are closed and the room is dark. "Where are you?" he says. "Under the covers," she says. "Right side or left?" and she says "Come here and find out." There's a sound of covers moving. "Now I'm not under the covers any more, but I'm on the same side of the bed." "Are you naked?" and she says "Not a stitch." "You know, I don't know which one you are. You sound like my dead wife, but you also sound like the woman I met at a Christmas party three months ago." "Well, if you get in bed, you'll learn which one I am. Either way, I'd say you can't lose." "You're right," he says. "If you're my wife, then it's a dream come true. There's nothing I wanted more than to hold her again, in or out of bed. And if you're this other woman, the one I think I've been falling in love with and whom I also think I'd eventually like to marry, which I shouldn't say because she told me she doesn't want me to fall in love with her and I'm sure marriage to me is the last thing on her mind and she just wants us to remain good friends, then it's also a dream come true." " 'Dream come true,' " she says. "Pardon me for saying this, but what a hack phrase for a professional writer of fifty years' standing to make. But as I've said, and I don't want to say again, come to bed and find out." "Your attitude and the way you express yourself are also like my wife's: frank, succinct, and a way with words. And your voice: sweet and soft. I really couldn't tell them apart." "What of it?" she says. "For the last time . . . are you coming to bed? I'm getting cold with no covers over me or clothes on. But take off all your clothes first." He undresses, gets in bed, and pulls the covers over them. He touches her and she touches him. "Your hands are warm like my wife's always were, except right after she washed dishes, and you touch me like she did too. Delicately and in the right places, as if you knew from experience with me where I like to be touched." "I touch you the way a woman touches a man in bed; nothing more." "Your breasts feel like my wife's too; full. And your nipples: large and hard. But that doesn't mean you're my wife. Same with the shape of your buttocks: so round. And your legs: long, a bit heavy at the thighs, but strong like hers. Also your nose and hair. Even your pubic hair. I suppose most pubic hair feels the same, but it's the amount I'm talking about. A lot of it, which you may not want to hear, but which I like." "So, two for the price of one," she says. "My wife also used to say that, but about other things." "Did she?" she says. "Why do I think I knew that? Anyway, after we're done here in bed—and take your time. Whether you think this is a reunion or our first time, don't rush it. We have all night." "That's what my wife used to say too and in the same way. But can we stop for a few minutes and just kiss? I want to see if your lips and the way you kiss passionately—that one quick time when I sort of stole a kiss from you wasn't enough to tell—are also like hers, and of course for the pleasure that goes with it." "I think that does it," she says. "Let's say I'll take a raincheck, but now I'm going to sleep." "I'm afraid to say it, because you might bite my head off, besides saying the last thing I said is also a hack phrase, but that part about the raincheck is something she said plenty of times when she couldn't make love or wasn't interested, for one reason or another." "Good," she says, "but now you'll just have to wait till daybreak to find out which one I am." "I could always turn on the light." "Don't ruin it," she says.