It’s five a.m. and I’m sitting naked in a warm circle of light, focusing intently on the images moving across the screen of my iMac. My libido is howling like an abandoned dog, yet, for once, the slide show that holds my attention contains no porn.
I pause the slideshow on the second run through, trapping on the screen an image that I cannot look away from. It is of a young woman, perched on a desk, leaning forward, both hands gripping the edge of the desk a little too tightly. Her pale skin is smooth and perfect. The sight of it summons up from my hindbrain the smell of fresh cotton sheets and sun warmed-forearms. I run my tongue over my lips, wanting the salt taste of her flesh.
The woman’s lips are just starting to form a smile that has not yet reached her eyes. She has wonderful blue eyes – not the washed-out blue of Scandinavia but the warm blue of a summer sky – with pupils so dark that they seem to glow. Her eyes speak of passion held in check but fretting at its bonds.
The clothes she is wearing place the picture firmly in the 1970’s: a ballet-wrap top, laced at the waist, caresses her small round breasts; sleeves, split at the shoulder and tied halfway down the biceps, reveal the skin they pretend to hide; a bias cut skirt that reaches the knee on one side but only makes it only part way down the thigh on the other, continues the theme of hide-so-they’ll-seek. This is an outfit chosen with care, designed to send only one message: “unwrap me, but do it slowly”.
The woman’s name is Kathy Doyle; she is nineteen years old and still a virgin. I took the picture twenty-seven years ago, the first time she slept in my bed, two years before we had sex, five years before she married me.
Now her name is Kathy O’Connor. She is the mother of my children, my best friend, my wife. For my fortysixth birthday she digitized the pictures that map our life together and gave them to me on CD. “Something for you to look at when you can’t sleep,” she said, and for the first time I wondered if she knew that when I leave her side in the mornings to “work” on my computer, I litter my screen with porn like a man searching his desk for something he has lost and needs desperately to find.
I remember taking this picture. I sat on the single bed in my campus room and asked her to smile. I was looking up at her, trying to pretend that everything was normal; that this was not the day before the first night she would spend in my arms.
I was also nineteen but not a virgin, at least, not quite. Kathy’s best friend, Eilleen, had taken that particular trophy. Kathy never asked me about what we did or didn’t do but I’m certain that Eilleen will have told her about my insatiable appetite for her mouth and my willingness to take risks when sexual favours were on offer.
Not an inaccurate description but one that somehow didn’t apply to Kathy and me. With Eilleen, everything had been about sex. With Kathy, everything was about the nervous excitement of finding somebody who makes you more than you can be alone. There was a strong sexual potential but it was folded into a strong sense of having discovered someone unique.
After I took the picture, there was a pause. Neither of us knew what to say. So for once I didn’t say anything, I just held out my hand and pulled her to me. Then I kissed her.
Kissing Kathy was always an intense experience back then. She would give herself completely to the kiss: her eyes closed, her mouth welcoming but not demanding, her body molded against mine but immobile, subsidiary to the contact between our mouths.
My fingers would tingle, my nose would fill with her scent, my body would register her soft heat, but my mouth, my mouth became everything: sensitive, greedy, and insatiable. We would kiss and kiss and never have enough of it.
Many times, after an evening being left discretely alone together in her parents’ parlour, I walked home through the cold darkness glowing with the remembered contact. Her scent would cover me like a promise. My mouth would smile, not in triumph, just at the surprising, irrepressible joy of it all.
We were both good Catholics. Sex outside marriage was sin enough. Pregnancy outside marriage would have been a personal disaster. Kathy didn’t trust the condoms and had moral objections to the pill and so we agreed upon restraint. Or at least our minds agreed. Our bodies constantly rebelled.
Recently, behind every kiss, there was the knowledge that we could do more; that we could go further. That I had been further already and so could show her the way.
That knowledge stretched taut between us as I led her to my bed. She looked excited and afraid. We both knew that this time a kiss would not be enough.
I entered a kind of trance state, undressing her in silent wonderment.
I wanted… everything.
But I held back. I explored her with my mouth and my fingers. I pressed her thighs together and pushed between them, mimicking the action we both wanted but had chosen to deny ourselves.
Back then I thought I knew what Kathy wanted: tenderness, respect, passion, restraint. I did my best to give them to her.
It took me years to understand that Kathy really wanted was to be lead. To be taken. To be absolved of responsibility.
If I could go back to my nineteen-year-old self, I would whisper in his ear, “Take her. Take her slowly. Take her with love. But take her. She will love you for it.”
Kathy still loves me. But we don’t kiss the same way anymore. We kiss for comfort or for greeting or for happiness but never with the astonishment of unlooked for passion.
Now of course we can have sex whenever we want and yet there are still things I won’t do, or daren’t ask for. These things are part of the reason I haunt the porn sites like a ghost unable to touch what it most desires.
I allow myself one last look at the image of Kathy perched on the edge of my desk, poised to be lead into her future, and sigh at how much I see now that was hidden from me then.
Finally, I scroll forward to the last picture on the disc: Kathy as she is now. She is still a handsome woman. Her face is lined more from laughter than from worry. Her hair is cut short into a style that is pragmatic, timeless and yet still hints at sexual intent. Her eyes have a depth to them that makes it hard to look away. It is a face that would be fearsome in anger and radiant in happiness. Looking at Kathy, you want to make her smile.
I study this image of hers, the last sentence in the coded message she placed on this CD and I wonder: have I harmed her with my too careful loving? Is it too late for me to take her in my arms and take her to places where we have never been? Perhaps I should go back into her bed now, part her legs, stroke her awake, hold her hands up above her head and drill her into exhaustion?
But she dislikes sex in the morning. She is too stiff she says. And the kids will be awake soon. It may even be her period.
Instead I will switch off the computer and head for the shower. Standing beneath its forceful indifference I will deal with my erection. Then I will bring my wife breakfast in bed.
Sure, you’re a fine husband, Kieran O’Connor.
© Mike Kimera 2000 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without written permission from firstname.lastname@example.org
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