Just like that he’s looking at the slope of her hips, her neck, the dark flow of hair covering her face like a curtain of thin beads.
They were watching television—a quiet, dull Friday night, their son on some summer adventure with his grandparents, and they had promised each other lovemaking, but she fell asleep.
She’s tired, he knows, from a long week at work, but he gets angry anyhow, thinking that a promise is still a promise, and there remains the slope of her hips, her neck, the dark flow of hair, and add to these her helplessness right now, the vulnerability of slumber, which he finds secretly seductive.
At least it’s a secret he keeps: he, an educated, liberal-minded man, turned on by the prostrate female, wife or no wife, unable to protect herself, pliant, demure, unquestioning. How can this be? he wonders, as he traces his claw across the outline of her sleeping form, an inch from flesh, but she feels it, perhaps in her aura, and stirs.
She wants to know: “What? What is it?”
A good question.
Hollowly, full of wan hunger, he stares down at her, and she is suddenly so many things: the purse he once wanted to steal as a kid, his old lover’s private diary he found one evening, countless other impossible moments of temptation. All his life it has been like this, and even marriage has not saved him from the duty to ask, the chore of thinking of the other person first.
“Nothing,” he says. “Go back to sleep.”
She looks up at him with washed-out eyes.
He covers his thoughts by lifting her blanket, tells her again to go back to sleep.
She grins then, absently, dreamily. He’s no longer excited, just disappointed. He’s disappointed in her, for being oblivious. And in them, yes, for not being more than they are, not having the kind of love that could sustain its passion. But most of all in himself, for so many reasons. Like not being man enough to be the saint he should be or the creep he longs to be.
Soon she’s snoring again.
He turns, snaps off the light, and plods off to bed. Again the hollow feeling rises in him, but there is no accompanying hunger this time. He just feels barren. Like a wounded thief fleeing the scene of a robbery where he came away with only an empty paper bag.