When they were driving home that night, he told her about the
excerpt he’d seen of the old Playboy Penthouse Party television
show—it was called something like that—that had Lenny
Bruce making an appearance. She was too young to remember the
program, most likely, but it was just an awful thing. Each week
was a mock-up party with famous singers singing and celebrities
showing up and Hugh Hefner slinking about in a cardigan.
God,” she laughed, that soft harmonious little cushion of
sound that he loved so much. “That does sound awful.”
wait until I tell you about Lenny Bruce on the show.”
Amy’s breasts under the low-cut black dress smelled of talcum
even through the light raincoat she was wearing. It was a comforting
marriage smell that made him want to crawl under the sheets and
cuddle and make love. He’d achieved a casual delight in
her presence, and that was also a wonderful part of a marriage
that seemed to be working, even though it was, at least for now,
a little unconventional.
He knew about Leif from the beginning. She was always honest about
it. It was hard to break with him, she had confessed, and, yes,
they could be married, but this old lover was somebody that she
just couldn’t let go of right away. There might even be
nights she’d come home late because of some mutual felt
need for intimacy. And he agreed to it, first because he wanted
her so much, and, second, because he had faith it was, finally,
toward him that she was most deeply headed with all her heart
It was something that, in the early days, he acceded to with almost
a kind of euphoria. To be giving her so much! To be doing so much
for the wife the sight and scent of whom delighted him so! The
soft and pale and fleshy flesh of her! The kindly way she laughed!
The delight she took in life, and in people. Even boring old men
and women, her aunts and uncles, or his, she took trouble to accommodate.
Yet, the most fascinating part of her was those round blue eyes,
paradoxically almost challenging. Paradoxical, because her manner
was altogether so comfortable, yet just a slight glint of the
big eyes looked hungry.
didn’t know he was ever on television,” she laughed,
her face enlivened in anticipation of a good story.
interesting thing was that Hefner and his friends were very uncomfortable
with Bruce, which you could see when he told them this story about
his experience doing the Steve Allen show.”
he was on TV a lot,” she said.
a lot. But Allen was incredibly hip for his time. He still is.
He had Kerouac on his show in the fifties, he had Bruce. But the
censor wouldn’t let Bruce tell this cute story about a conversation
with his aunt in Queens. They were washing dishes after dinner
and she saw a tattoo on his arm that he had gotten in the service.
She was horrified because they were Jews and Jews don’t
allow tattoos. ‘You can’t disfigure your body,’
she screamed. ‘They won’t bury you in sacred ground.’
So Bruce told her, ‘I’ll cut off my arm and they can
bury the rest of me in sacred ground.’”
Yet three years had come and gone, and Leif was still part of
their lives. By then, there were days the whole arrangement left
him with a hollow, numbing anxiety, and he just didn’t know
what to do about it. There were days he thought a girlfriend might
make him feel better, but he didn’t want a girlfriend. Besides,
they were both respectful toward him, and he only saw Leif once
or twice a month anyway. Yet the most unsettling part of it all
was his own lust at the thought of his wife sleeping with another
man. It wasn’t a lust he was comfortable feeling, or that
had ever been a characteristic part of him, although he did realize
this lust was one form of his love, hungry love. It was that he
needed to get deeper and deeper into that creamy flesh and fuck
as if to save his life, to, in essence, fuck all thoughts of the
other man out of her.
mild joke,” she said.
but this was the 1950s, and the censor said no. ‘Why not?’
asked Bruce. ‘Because it might offend Jewish people,’
said the censor. ‘That’s ridiculous,’ said Bruce.
‘I’ve known Jewish people all my life, and I can promise
you they won’t be offended.’ ‘I’ll take
it under advisement,’ says the censor, and he comes back
in an hour, and says, ‘Mr. Bruce, we definitely cannot let
you tell that joke.’ ‘Why not?’ asks Bruce again.
‘Because it will offend gentile people,’ said the
censor. ‘Offend gentile people?’ says Bruce. ‘How
the hell will it possibly offend gentile people?’
‘Because,’ said the censor, ‘it implies that
gentile people will bury anything!’ “
One night he was full of desire after Leif had eaten dinner at
their house. He sucked at Amy’s thighs and pussy and belly
as if to engorge her, and the more he tried to not think of the
other man, the more hungrily he sucked. And, as he sucked, the
thought that Leif had been inside her the day before, maybe, or
the day before that, drove him onward. Yet, after he finished,
all he could think of was the fairly interesting conversation
with Leif that evening.
They were always having thoughtful discussions. In this one, Leif
had talked about the odd but highly significant tie-in between
Karl Marx and his own uncle, a rich real estate broker. Uncle
bludgeoned the people he conversed with, especially when they
were college students, as Leif had been at the time when they
had first come into conflict. Uncle despised any smell of idealism.
He’d hammer at it with his own distinctive rendition of
life’s meaning, which was that all human motive and aspiration
is ruled by money. Anybody can be bought, so forget all the bullshit
about religion and political philosophy; it’s the profit
motive that drives the great events of history.
So, advised Leif, keep that in mind in the oppressive presence
of on-campus Marxists. Remember that Marx was only right in the
basest sense that Uncle was right. At some level, they are indeed
right, but Marxism is no less a cliché than Uncle’s
debased little axioms on human history.
As the remnants of the dinner conversation faded, Les was vaguely
perturbed by a look in Amy’s eyes that had become rather
nagging in its familiarity. She looked fond of him, honestly fond,
but even his most urgent probing and heartfelt sexual attention
did not erase this look, which suggested palpable distance. Maybe
it was just her. Maybe the look was an indelible part of her way
of reacting in intimate situations. Maybe Leif saw it too, although
it was painful to dwell at any length on what Leif saw or did
point is, Hefner and his friends looked completely uncomfortable
while Bruce was telling the story,” said Les. “They
were frauds, these people, or, if they weren’t frauds, they
were drearily conventional for all their sexual freedom and hedonistic
life style crap. They couldn’t handle a real iconoclast
like Bruce. They liked freedom up to a point, but not what real
revolutionaries think or dream about.”
totally understand,” said Amy.
One night, panic made him truly ferocious. It wasn’t from
fear he’d lose her. But there was a sense of loss, loss
of something he’d never had, that was crystallized in that
look of hers in bed, and in the awful word “condescending”
that seemed, finally, to describe it. He loved her so much, the
neat small bush, the lovely moons of red paint on her toenails.
If Leif was seeing something else as well, why couldn’t
he? He’d fuck it out of her. He’d fuck it out of her
and keep it for his own. He’d recapture his wife, all of
her, and then who knows…There was nothing wrong with him.
His body was strong. His cock was big enough, if Amy really cared
about that. It was something she never mentioned. She hardly used
words with him at all, except “I love you” or “that
was nice” after making love. Again, he’d remind himself
she wasn’t blameworthy, she’d been honest from the
That night he took her by the shoulders and brought her face close
by his. It was a fascination, Amy’s face, pallid in a way
almost pre-Raphaelite, yet fleshy and full of life, slightly freckled.
For years, he’d doted on the face until familiarity made
it a part of him. Amy started a little, not resistant, but not
acquiescent either. He pressed harder and harder, not begging,
but deeply needing, until she finally smiled.
Without anger or vengefulness, he knew then the most feral desire
of his life. Purely instinctive, an involuntary muscular exertion
of the whole man, he corralled the butt cheeks. He even heard
himself growl. His penis groped just inside her cheeks, pale like
her face, fleshy and robust like her face. That was her beauty,
the very essence of it, that she could be ethereal or that she
could sparkle almost like a child, yet she was ample, and imperfect.
Naked in bed, or out and about in the world, it was a physical
presence that neatly paralleled her personality.
How lovely the soft woman’s little butt hole looked as he
made for it! It was like to dance beneath his gaze. This sex act
was one they’d never done before or talked about. But the
urge pointed that way; in his gut, he needed to be in hers. So
forceful was the desire at that moment, it didn’t occur
to him that it might hurt her, or that it would be, from her standpoint,
a shocking occurrence.
She wriggled out from under and drew back sharply against the
headboard. Slapped back to his senses, he could feel his whole
body draw in on itself, in a kind of rudely remorseful awakening.
Had he insulted her, shocked her? Please, he could have said,
pretend it never happened! Nothing, least of all a sex act, was
worth any breach between them. He worried, yet she didn’t
look angry. There was even an apologetic shadow in her gaze.
thought that was something we might try,” he said, sheepishly.
“I’m sorry, I guess I got carried away.”
Amy lay back down and stared out toward the windows. When he nestled
in her arms, she welcomed him. But she was silent. She didn’t
look at him either.
guess I never did that before, and thought…” he was
starting to say, but now she averted her head altogether, leaving
him to study the faint freckles on her neck. He nibbled gently
at her earlobe.
Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears. “What’s the
matter?” he asked, but Amy shook her head, not wanting to
answer. Instead, her body opened, abstractly; her legs were spread,
and she stretched her arms above her head. He dared not touch
her, and she was faintly weeping. The only time he saw her cry
before, really, was when her mother died.
He ached to lay her, to douse himself in the talc-like smell.
Yet when she looked away again, toward the window, longing, it
seemed, for something out there, it naturally occurred to him
that Leif, and all that Leif was for her, had obtruded as never
before. And, as never before, he knew clammy jealousy, not just
envy for more of her than he had thus far had, but a focused and
clearly defined suspicion: that Amy’s lover truly had a
great sexual hold on her, that his wife was simply another man’s.
Worst of all—at first only a vague formulation, then in
a sudden dismal next moment an insistent apprehension—what
he had wanted to do to her was somehow darkly mixed up in all
of it. He didn’t probe his own imagination for more detail,
though he did feel supremely ridiculous for having so long minimized
the physical bond between his wife and her lover, as if Leif were
somehow just one old flame that hadn’t quite gone out in
He blurted it out, not quite the exact question he wanted to ask,
but a less specific version. “Have you ever done that with
The crying stopped, and she winced, like someone wrestling with
something unsaid, that was huge to say, and struggling of its
own weight to get out. The condescension, that “you are
a sweet man” look, was there but mingled now with a more
powerful force that had nothing to do with him. He was in the
presence of something awesomely secret and he was afraid, sensing
that her own kindness could not suppress what was coming. The
next moment only brought it closer to the edge, because, when
she leaned away from him, she exposed part of her rear in the
He touched her there again. His need to do so was irresistible.
And, once again, as he did so, he regretted what he feared to
have been an insensitive gesture. But the voice that came from
the other person preempted regret. Ambiguity itself was thrashed
to smithereens with her one statement as the tips of his fingers
were still touching her slightly at the crack. The voice, for
the first time since they were married, was a stranger’s.
don’t. It’s Leif’s.”
The sound of it at first was utterly absurd, especially from her,
who would never say anything to hurt anyone. Utterly absurd, yet
enormous withal. “What do you mean?”
hard to talk about,” she said, nervously now, as if concerned
that she’d been flushed out. But there was an eagerness
to disclose that he had never heard before, and that terrified
my wife,” he said matter-of-factly, as if the fact itself
would negate whatever it was she had said.
Leif and I have shared a lot too.”
can’t I even touch you there?” he asked, for the first
time that evening with something akin to anger. But he couldn’t
rage. Rage died with the vision of bright blue eyes sparkling
in a smooth white face. “Do you love him more than me?”
just in a different way,” she answered, tense now, a little
different?” he asked, fighting off a sad tone he certainly
didn’t want her to hear.
different,” she said, almost sternly. Impatience took her
over now even though, oddly, that soft smile of hers he’d
loved these years had reappeared. In all, she looked like a woman
who loved him, but could stand the thought of losing him.
guess I understand,” he stammered.
she said at last, the smile gone now. “Ask it outright.”
do you mean?”
it outright,” she said, so fiercely this time that he jumped,
almost, as he asked, “Leif has done it with you there?”
she demanded with the voice of a human being now given over to
primal love, unmitigated, uncharacteristic, astoundingly real.
he has,” she said, her voice quickly kinder, almost earnest
as well. “And I believe you need to ask something else as
can’t I do it too?” he asked, dutifully, the very
question she had in mind.
not because I wouldn’t want you to,” she said. She
turned toward him, closer than she’d been since he had first
tried to take her. Her ruby red nipples were hard; she was aroused.
“It’s because I promised him I would never do it with
any other man.”
I’m your husband,” he said, despising himself for
saying it even as he said it.
made a promise.”
would you make such a promise?” he asked, the incipient
anger resurfacing. Yet she seemed to respond to the anger in kind,
respectfully, but as if it were a cue to let go more of what she
was capable of saying.
I love him and because it’s an incredible thing to give
to somebody you love. Because when he first fucked me like that,
I made noises I never made before, ever. Because I was grateful,
because his thing was so hard, because he probed me and shocked
me and delighted me. And so I made my promise, I gave him my ass,
and it was a solemn promise, that it would be his and his alone,
and you have to respect it.”
do,” he whispered, ravished as only a man can be ravished.
She was still his wife. “I do respect it.”
remember, there are things you’ve got that he wishes he
I at least look at it?”
Amy laughed at that, not cruelly, a warm laugh meant to reassure
him, but a second later her eyes went distant again, as if another,
prepossessing spirit were in the room. “Ok,” she said
to him, and crouched on the bed on all fours, bending her head
as she elevated the creamy spheres. “Look,” she said,
“but don’t touch.”
won’t,” he muttered.
is how I squat when I’m alone dreaming of him.”
see,” he said.
Her face was mostly hidden, but he could see from the side Amy’s
jaw tighten as if she were preparing to withstand an assault,
yet ready to lose control at the very same time. “He owns
me here,” she said. “He fucks it. He has my ass. I
love it. I love him.”
can respect that.”
calls me sweet things. He calls my ass sweet things,” she
said, abrasively, yet distant enough not to sound hostile. In
fact, it was simultaneously almost dreamy, the feminine drone
of her. “He’s inside me. He’s way inside. No
human being except him ever goes there.” And then, in a
scorching, plaintiff way, she repeated, “Ever! Ever!”
his altar. He pig-fucks it.”
God,” he said, shocked now, the last vestige of his inner
reserve broken even though he resolved to accept, to be as accepting
as ever. Her knees slid wider on the bed, and he could see up
into it, into the forbidden part.
said it feels like heaven,” she said.
sure,” he said.
is heaven, he says.”
can respect that,” he said.
story “Through Alice Glass Darkly” was published by
Sliptongue in November 2008. Recently, his story “Tight
Like That” appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern
(print edition), #27. “The Shield of Paris” is in
Issue Three of Low Rent and is currently nominated for a Pushcart
Prize. His stories “Kid’s Friend” and “New
Jersey and Me” are both published in Exquisite Corpse. Recent
fiction has also appeared in Knock and (forthcoming) PANK. His
other fiction has appeared in Hambone and spork; his poetry in
Descant (Canada), Konglomerati, Hierophant, and others and his
articles and essays in Modern Fiction Studies, Social Text, The
Boston Phoenix, and others.
2009 by Larry Smith