Coming Apart

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‘Seven, eight, nine,’ he mouthed silently. From the first time he laid his hand to it, he had been counting himself off. ‘Forty-one. Forty-two.’ It wasn’t a race. It wasn’t a competition. It wasn’t even obsessive compulsive; it was just what he did – like having a storyline that accompanied the act.

They were never pretty women – too large, too small, too old. Greasy hair and unfashionably dressed. Broken. Passed over. Always they sought him out, the unspoken request. Tonight it was a middle-aged woman he’d seen on the bus, her greying hair escaping the discipline of her headmistress bun. The back of her hand pressed hard up against his outer thigh, wordless, but imploring. ‘Eighty-eight, ah. Eighty-nine, ah.’ Counting the last few off, he bunched some paper, closed the seat and flushed it all away.

When she heard the toilet, she pushed the hem of her nightie down and rolled back onto her side. He climbed in beside, and she rested her cheek against the hair and pink skin of his underarm and chest. Although they spent the whole evening at home, they always had much to say when the lights were off. Trivial things. Things from the day that they hadn’t remembered while making dinner, watching TV or washing up. Too much, she thought, not now; not concentrating on what he said, or what she said in return.

Eventually, the sound and the movement gave it away; the deepening breath, the slower rise and fall until, finally, he snored himself to sleep. She rolled away and found the place that she had been, closing her eyes tightly, even against the darkness, easing into her storyline. Always it was violent. Forced. Coercive. Never imagining the faces, only focussing on the bits that were hard, the bits that were tight. In this solitary struggle, she was the hardness and the force, she was the resistance and the giving way; no longer sure which part she played in this story.

When the end came, she fought against it, unwilling to disturb her husband, unwilling to let go. Rolling into the embrace of sleep, they came together, warm and close, spine against spine.