The Process of Discovery
One day he woke up in the ladies’ room of Keefer’s Steak House with this ample, wide-boned pair of hips in his hands, gripping them hard from behind, just as one day some time before that he had found himself unable to breathe in his own marriage, found himself telling a secretary down the hall at work this fact, in those words, via e-mail, a message that went on to say how she shouldn’t wear panties to work, that it should be in her job description, along with somehow maintaining that miraculously perfect ass. He had described it like that, as a miracle, and she had written back instantly, telling him that her panties were things of beauty on their own terms, the colors of juice and wine and candy, to which he requested that she get wet and send them to him via interoffice mail in a padded manila envelope, which she did, all of which seemed, in hindsight, in the moments and months after his separation from Priya, of Priya’s separation from him, like a cause, or something resembling a precursor, a clue to the course of subsequent events.
He started again. He called one of the remaining 1-800 teaser lines, listened to the recording, two girls giggling, freshly shaved, begging for you to stick it in . . . your credit card, that is. He hung up.
For a while he half-stroked to the Spanish video channel, but it wasn’t consistent enough. If he were a TV executive there would be blocks devoted solely to erotic imagery, with no cuts to the guitarist and his lizard pants or breaks for ads about car insurance, rib tips. Not that, to be honest, he didn’t love late-night advertisements. Maybe this was an aesthetic in itself, divorced, so to speak, from any larger uniqueness of his personality, just an innocent quirk, that he loved men in eagle costumes flying through the air to deliver re-mortgages to poor families in the form of giant eggs; home appliances capable of slicing, cooking, and serving hundreds of tasty and nutritious meals; personal injury lawyers implying that you, too, had likely suffered a personal injury as the result of employer negligence, were unable to work but able to receive compensation for your loss.
Sometimes in the months before their separation, Priya would wake him up to tell him that she was going to bed, to point out to him that he was already sleeping, that it made good sense for him to just turn off the TV and join her, though sometimes, of course, she didn’t, and perhaps she stopped doing it in proportion to how long it went on, giving up or, privately, coming to take a kind of pleasure in it, relief at the new width of the bed, the new silence of the bedroom.
How exactly they stopped fucking, or when, or at least around what time the frequency cut off, so that they no longer did it in the morning before she left for the studio, nor in the evenings before dinner nor after dinner nor in the middle of the night nor on weekends when she came back from classes, salty and limber, all remained, to him, a mystery.
He could remember one failed time on the rug, and another attempt in the shower, at his initiation, halfhearted, that left them both just angry at the way things were, but he couldn’t remember when he went from standard, aimless flirting to actual, intentional pursuit of the secretary at work, or precisely when it was that he first realized—watching a show where B-list celebrities competed against each other by jumping into an ice-cube-filled pool and then jogging, in white T-shirts, down a steep road—that he was no longer sexually attracted to his wife, that the thought of it, doing it, her, bored him, frustrated him even, by being so boring, so awkward and routine.
She was still attractive physically, and he recognized this, appreciated it, both her body and, like, her face—pretty, cute—but he didn’t want to shuffle through the farce of fucking her.
And he still wanted to fuck.
He told the girl as much, on the next line, and she made a shocked sound, a gasp, and said something about wanting to get to know him first, asked what he looked like.
When he said he didn’t know, didn’t care, she gave a nervous laugh and asked where he lived, was he calling from home, was he single, married, with a girlfriend, and he, who had already paid twelve to twenty dollars for the privilege of being stalled out this far, hung up, flaccid again, with a dry mouth, shivering.
To describe yourself over the phone sex lines, Ben felt, was a particular form of humiliation. The customer should simply be spared such things, but who writes letters in complaint to such companies? I should contact my senator, he thought, but he’d reached the point where even his own jokes failed to amuse him.