He stands there, his knees trembling, his hand gripping onto the sink. He lets out soft moans, the occasional gasp. A vein begins to push out from his neck. His body tenses. His belt buckle rattles around his ankles and he looks up at the mirror to see himself – a thirty-two year old man, masturbating. He does it and barely hears his wife call him.
My grandfather collected Japanese prints. Not just any Japanese prints but rare and valuable ones, including the erotic and what some might regard as the downright pornographic. The risqué items were locked away. When I learned of their existence, I was led to believe that one day I would be allowed to see them. I was to exercise patience, which, my grandfather told me, was a virtue. As if to conceal further the items that would eventually be revealed, he made a great show of familiarising me with the more chaste items in his collection. Even at a young age, I could see that there was something admirable about them.
He says something about how he’s been meditating a lot lately – meditation was an activity we shared, separately – and that we need to talk. “Break,” he says at some point, and something breaks all right. It probably started a while ago, but now it feels like I’m free falling and loosing my breath. He moves out. “The breath is your anchor,” says an annoying, American voice on my mindfulness app. “And a safe harbour you can always return to.” Fuck, I think to myself, I also need somebody, another’s body as harbour. An anchor. A harbour. To be held. A ship. A body. Like all good metaphors it is true bodily and physically, first and last. I start creating a profile on Grindr, but delete it again. I call good friends and family instead. And they hold me, either physically or otherwise through their presence, often both.
We’re playing I-spy in the dark. You and me, naked, in bed, huddled on a single futon, under deadweight of blankets and quilts, fearful of exposing an inch of skin to the sub-zero pitch-black mid-winter Japanese mountain air, we play I-spy. In the dark. Me first. Eye spy with my little I something in Robbie’s deep psyche … … an ocean. “What kind of an ocean?” An opaque, grey, choppy North Sea kind of ocean, cloudy and uninviting, an ocean of destitute black seaweed and rusting hulks of wrecked tankers, their oily slickness long-forgot under the waves. “What else do you see?” A boat, a wooden raft, no, some floating debris, a man clinging, you clinging, struggling to climb out of the turgid water, no helping hand to pull you up…
It was July. They sat on the raised platform of one of the sculptures and watched the sea. The sky was a crisp blue with a light scattering of clouds, the air so thin that Silja was sure she could see Sweden gleam under the sun some 14 kilometres away on the other side of the waterway. Akari thought this was ludicrous. “It’s your imagination, silly,” she said. “How can anybody see that far?” Silja had promised Akari this visit to Copenhagen’s Louisiana, for a few years and when they found out about a special Yoko Ono exhibition, they both agreed that the time was right for a day out. But when they got there they were hungry, they wanted coffee, and then they were distracted by the sunshine that is rarely ever found that high up in the north. They settled beside the sculpture and caught up over the stories that they owed each other. Since graduating they had busied themselves with work and all the rest of that grown up stuff and didn’t get the chance to meet up as often as they used to.
Dermot and I broke up over football. That is what I like to tell people. I can even pinpoint the match that set everything off. Norwich City vs. Man U. The argument took off when Dermot checked the score on his phone in the middle of sex. With me. I always switch my phone off during sex but I’m seven years older than Dermot, who is twenty-nine. I remember unplugging the landline in my first rented flat before closing my bedroom door and facing a boy. I still find phone jacks a bit sexual. Maybe Dermot’s dismay about Norwich losing contributed to his dwindling of erection. Maybe not. It’s too late to ask now.
Someone is rubbing your arm. The moment comes to you in patches: you’re not in your bedroom, you’re in the living room; it’s not morning yet, but it’s close to it; someone is rubbing your arm. It’s your husband. He bends into your neck and kisses it. He pulls at your nipple. You’d rather sleep, but you arch against him anyway. When he speaks, his voice is low and sure. He tells you to go to the bedroom and to leave the door open.
One nice thing about Josh having more money than God these days, even if the rest of it is colossally weird: whenever they hang out now, the food is always amazing. "Remember in high school when we used to cut seventh and go to Taco Bell all the time?" Natalie asks, knifing a slice of cheese off a block that probably cost about as much as this semester’s grad stipend. They're sitting on the back porch of Josh's cabin, sun just starting to sink and Lake Michigan glittering through a cluster of pine trees, a long pathway snaking down to a dock.
As she inspects each of the roundish shapes, she plays with her toes, as if they are buried in sand. The smell of the sea plays with her nostrils and at that very moment she feels the breeze beginning to go round her legs. She turns around in a pleasant shock to investigate which window has been opened and who the source is to that immense act of kindness. The windows are still shut. A woman has walked past her, in a pace too brisk for the context. She follows her steps with her eyes and moves her head up slowly, from the tan, ankle-length boots to tight black jeans, the narrow camel belt, the white, white, white shirt. The mystery woman stops across from her and watches out the window. She likes her cropped, blond hair and the simple elegance that she carries.
I yawned and opened my eyes. Early morning sunlight was streaming in through the blinds. A cool breeze ruffled pleasantly through my exposed pubic hair. It tickled. I felt myself becoming aroused. I glanced down at my body, dappled with the warming rays of the sun. My breasts were bare. My belly was bare. My thighs were bare. In fact, the only part of me that wasn’t bare was my right foot, to which still clung to the more stubborn half of a cotton ankle sock.