3PSTMDRN MURDER MYSTERY NOVELLAS: AN EXCERPT from NOVELLA ONE

3pstmdrn murder mystery novellas-excerpt

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23.

Lola wasn’t the first woman I was ever in love with, of course. She wasn’t even the first German. Sunshine von Schönhauser was my first German and my first and last Hippy, too. A few years back. First trip to Europe. A few weeks before meeting my destiny in London I met Sunshine in Berlin.

My God: even the name. Sunshine? But I really liked her. I thought I loved her. I was going through a phase and my first trip to Europe was a conservative gesture toward a journey of self-discovery, the kind of thing that young people, long before,  in the 1960s, did by flying to Morocco or trekking across India or chasing pharmacological unicorns that were nestled in toothless-shamans’ groin-level pouches in rickety tree houses along the Amazon. Only I didn’t want any intestinal parasites or spider bites or colorful machete wounds as souvenirs. Europe was as far off the map as I was willing to travel in those days, right after quitting college, with disgusted parents and no safety net to catch me. In fact, it was love I was secretly after, love I was always after, to replace the uncomprehendingly chilly looks I’d been getting from my randomly-assembled family since I was able to talk and ask why?

I took the money I would have spent on my second semester of college and left the USA. I flew over to Stockholm, nothing happened in Stockholm, took the Baltic ferry from Stockholm to Berlin, stayed in Berlin for two weeks before ending my journey in London. I was listening to The Doors and The Jefferson Airplane and Dylan and Mitchell and all that on a brand new Walkman I’d bought for the trip. The late night/early morning train from the ferry brought me into Berlin. I was picked up at the station by people who knew people I’d known in college, Germans who were Deadheads, and they drove me right from the Zoo station  to a nearby club on the Ku’Damm called Far Out. Far Out was famous for its stellar ventilation and crystal-clear sound system and its circular dance floor. And also because it was run by the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh sex cult.

I stood on the periphery of the well-lit dance floor with my backpack and a duffel bag at my feet and watched the bobbing dance of the Barefoot Hippy, but many of these Hippies were blond and statuesque and unusually angular in their movements. Then I became aware of an olive-skinned woman, very pretty, medium height, black hair in two long braids and a head-band, like Pocahontas, beside me.

“Coming or going?” she shouted.

“Excuse me?”

She pointed at my backpack and duffel bag and I laughed. I put a hand on her shoulder and leaned down to her shiny, patchouli-fragrant ear and said,

“Coming!”

Her mother was a beautiful German slut and her father was a bisexual Cuban university professor. They made her on a beach in the ’70s. The ineffable allure of the floppy hat and the soiled poncho and the evocative stink of patchouli. The poetry of healing crystals and energized water and brown-skinned saints with big warm eyes and bigger Swiss bank accounts. I didn’t even mind that she was a single mother. I wasn’t necessarily dismayed by the fact, over coffee the next day,  that she shrugged when I inquired about the father-of-her-child’s  national origin and then blew me as soon as I walked her home after our first date. The door to her flat wasn’t quite closed when she got on one knee and smiled up at me beatifically with perfect teeth and a freckled nose and said,

“Well?”

She lived in Kreuzberg in a high rise building with Turkish neighbors above and below and on both sides of her. Graffiti all over the elevator. The faintest reek of piss (who would piss in an elevator?). You could hear kids laughing and screaming with exotic accents and running back and forth in the hallway with a deflated soccer ball as she sucked my cock. She sucked it cosmically. It was sort of as if I’d gone to Morocco after all. Sunshine’s flat was, of course, full of brown things. I came in her mouth and we sat on the carpet cross-legged and talked about, among other subjects, Germany’s new role as a center of spiritual learning. Whatever you say. What beautiful brown eyes she had. We listened to pious instrumental music that never seemed to change or get interesting.

I hadn’t yet met her poor daughter.  Her daughter was in daycare all day while Sunshine travelled around the Tiergarten with her Geomantik society doing the crucial work of forming human rings around “desperate” trees and rescued them with very intense chanting. The scruffy magic circles they formed by clasping hands and surrounding the suffering trees (perhaps wounded inadvertently by toxic spiritual ricochets from the Nazi era)  became lenses for focusing ambient chi, is how my Sunshine explained it to me. She explained this in front of one of the trees they’d rescued that very week and it was a beautifully misted morning. The grass was lush as a pelt and I stared intently at this listing, bulbously gnarled tree in an attempt to take what Sunshine was telling me seriously.

“It looks happy,” I decided. Did it? Sunshine took my hand and guided me to a favorite spot in the bushes and hiked up her long batik dress as I pulled my jeans down to my knees and she straddled me and cried out as loud as I’d ever imagine anyone could cry out in public (there was actually an echo) when she pretended to come as I was coming. That was on my fourth day in Berlin.

I didn’t bother to visit any museums or any spots of historical significance in Berlin at all. Sunshine’s pussy was my Brandenburg Gate. I slept in a youth hostel in a better part of town at night (exhausted) and slept with Sunshine von Schönhauser during the day: that was what I had crossed the Atlantic to do, I realized, after having wasted some time in Stockholm. While Penumbra was in day care I fucked her Hippy mother and gasped ornate inanities and saw rainbow mandalas every time I came. We fucked in gardens and fields and the unisex toilets of organic restaurants. We discussed utter nonsense without cracking a smile. We felt superior to meat eaters (even though I was, secretly, a meat eater, a detail that Sunshine, who claimed to be able to both smell a carnivore and see it in his aura, never picked up on). Ten days went by like an afternoon. I considered becoming a Hippy. Could I grow a convincing beard? Could I learn to love New Age music and play step-father to a child named Penumbra who had never worn shoes in her life? But the sex was like nothing I’d ever imagined was possible. We even fucked in an enchanted cabbage patch.

I began to fret: it was almost time to fly on to London (on the rigid terms of my discount travel packet). Sunny called me at the hostel the first morning I hadn’t spent with her and told me she believed it was time to meet her daughter Penumbra. Were things getting serious? For a boy who has no family and is always looking for someone to attach himself to in a binding way, someone with breasts and nice hair, things are always serious. I spent a day to myself in careful contemplation and wrote in detail about Sunshine (re-writing it all later after I came to me senses with a cathartic barf) in my journal and masturbated countless times in the hostel shower just thinking about her, her tawny legs and her extravagantly bushy vagina and her enchanting ability to make over-long eye contact without blinking.

Finally, the day came, the before I was scheduled to leave (but maybe you and Penumbra can join me in the States…?). Finally it was dinner time in Sunshine’s low-rent high rise in Turkish Kreuzberg. Sunshine hadn’t washed the spinach well enough and the colorful dish was full of sand. “Oh well,” she said. “It’s more natural that way.” I tried to eat it, cross-legged in the candle-lit living room with New Age music droning and Penumbra at Sunshine’s caramel-tipped breast. The grit was punishing. I was surprised to see that Penumbra was only 18 months old. She hadn’t started walking yet and already she’d been in daycare for six months? Sunshine offered to tell me what she promised was going to be a beautiful story. I accepted the offer and chewed the gritty spinach and let myself lose myself in her liquid brown eyes.

“Right after I’d given birth to Penumbra,” she started, with a beatific look on her face, ‘I was living in an Ashram up north.’ Wispy-blond Penumbra kept one wary eye on me, at all times, while she sucked. I felt guilty: those fabulous medium-sized tits I’d been playing with for almost two weeks, after all, belonged to her. Why should she have to share them? “It was a really beautiful place.”

“We were all in a circle in the sweat lodge… a dozen of us… six men and six women… feeling the gorgeous vitality of the Om. I had just started breast-feeding Penumbra at the time. I guess she was a few weeks old.”

“The room was full of a loving energy. Dozens of specially-energized candles were burning. We were listening to a beautiful tape of holy chants from Goa. Penumbra was in tune with my body and feeding blissfully and all of the hearts in the room were beating as one as we contemplated the cosmic love that was flowing so abundantly from the crystal heart of the universal mind. We were dressed in the pure white robes of the Ashram.”

“While Penumbra was feeding, a woman… her Ashram name was Starlight… raised her hand. She was seated across from me in the circle. Her aura was pink and gold. She said, Sister, I don’t quite know how to put this, but my mother never breast fed me as a child, and I feel that I’ve been missing that beautiful experience for all of my life… and I was just wondering… if you don’t mind…

“I thought that was such a beautiful and loving idea! I was sure that Penumbra wouldn’t mind. So Starlight tasted my milk and while she was gently tasting it, another member of the circle… a bearded man whose Ashram name was ‘Apogee’… he raised his hand and he said, Sister…I, too, have never had the beautiful experience of nourishing myself with my mother’s  own milk… and so I asked Penumbra, in my mind, if it was okay to breast-feed Apogee, also. And do you know what Penumbra told me, with her Spirit Voice?”

Penumbra started crying at precisely that part in Sunshine’s telling of the story. She just started wailing. As if the poor thing was experiencing a flashback of that horrible fucking day and damn well wanted to make the point that she had not in fact said “yes” to the sick idea of sharing her mother’s milk with a whole stinking commune. Far fucking from it. Sunshine had to shout over Penumbra’s inconsolable screams, in fact, to try to finish the tale, not that it needed finishing. I could see the punchline a mile off. A vision of nine more middle aged hippies with hairy, o-shaped mouths, each raising a hand…

Sunshine ended up hauling poor Penumbra, kicking and screaming, to her organic crib and shutting the door on her muffled screams, only to find me long gone when she returned to the kitchen.

I was vomiting environmentally-friendly green vomit in her pissed-up elevator as it took me away.

 

24.

Every nothing day in Berlin, on this second trip, escaping the woman I couldn’t live without,   felt like a criticism, a rebuke, a sneer of disgust. Every week added to a mounting debt that I’d never be able to repay. Repay to whom? My own sense of self? A vacation is one thing, because it starts with a known limit, a terminus, the end-point gives it a shape, the shape makes it a pleasure. But here I was, in a foreign country, open-ended, floating. What was the point, the plan, the method? Did I have any goals in mind? What was my story? All I had was the pain in my chest over Lola. I wanted her back, but had I ever had her? And my wanting her, I saw, was like any dirt poor American living in a rent-it-by-the-week hotel near a bus station and dreaming of hitting the big time one day. A flop.

I once sat on a bus in Minneapolis behind a grizzled scratchy couple who spent the whole ride describing what they’d spend the fortune on if they won the lottery, and the conversation ended in a nasty fight when the guy finally announced, with his nose up, that with his last million he’d buy a yacht that no one else, not even she, was allowed on and she punched him. And now I felt like one of them, a pathetic dreamer, fretting over unavailable options.

I woke every day around six pm, thrummed like iron myself by the evening church bells, and went to bed again at ten the next morning, and rarely spoke to anyone but Doktor Effenkuhl, who was not always talkative after a day of administering his Psychotherapy. I did nothing but eat, walk, sleep, excrete, and wash the dishes.

Something seemed broken. Something was wrong with Time; it felt as though existence could only be discussed in the past tense, and that the world was a difficult memory exercise, or a jumble of old stories in the care of a halting, stuttering narrator.

What had once seemed like just one of an almost infinite variety of emotions or activities to choose from now struck me as being the only option: Nostalgia.

Memories were no longer being manufactured freshly, but only recycled. Nostalgia was a musty veil over everything. I couldn’t breathe. The permanent twilight and musty air and airless gasps of Nostalgia. Had this awful feeling been triggered entirely by my break-up with Lola? Was this an idiosyncratic misery, or a Cardinal Glitch?

I was on this particular dismal train of thought while washing the dishes one night. Doktor Effenkuhl was sitting at the kitchen table, reading a very old newspaper (his policy was never to read any newspaper that was less than ‘cured’ of the news, that is: at least six months old), when we both heard a terrible noise. It seemed to be coming from the upstairs neighbor’s apartment. Doktor Effenkuhl put down his paper and scowled at the ceiling, as though reading particularly offensive graffiti on it, until the noise repeated itself.

“Frau Schivelbeiner,” said Doktor Effenkuhl, disgusted. “Have you ever known a woman with more than one cat… who didn’t have a sexual problem?”

“Was that sound Frau Schivelbeiner, or one of her cats?”

We both waited for the awful sound to repeat itself, and when it did, Doktor Effenkuhl nodded, but I was the one who spoke.

“New boyfriend?”

“Ah, but it’s always the same one, you see,” he said, resuming with his paper. “And that’s why it’s so monotonous, although his name, height, color and age may vary. He does what he wants with her for two weeks and then leaves. Then he comes back, after a polite interval, with a new face, a new voice, a new joke, and starts all over again. And she doesn’t even have the imagination, or the decency, to invent a new name for him! She always calls him Schnecke!”

He said: “There’s an old joke. Women are shallow and cruel when they’re young, and clinging and bitter when old… and men are just the reverse.”

I picked up the dish towel. “Well, I hope she’s in love, at least…”

Doktor Effenkuhl stared at me over the hedge of his paper for a good long time before saying “That’s exactly like hoping she’s insane.”

He continued, “Using sex to express ‘love’ is like using a Porsche for a nutcracker.”

He said “Why do you suppose it is that the average woman has three times more reason to fear physical harm at the hands of her lover, in her own home, than from a complete stranger? A lover thinks: I want to own and control what you are, and what you do. A passionate lover thinks: as long as you are useful to me, I’ll let you live.”

I had my back to him, scrubbing an expensive pot. “Do you really see it that way, Doktor Effenkuhl?”

The Doktor ignored this question and continued, “Love is just a secular replacement for God. First, it was Secular Humanist Love, and then it was Romantic Love, and, now, Total Freedom is already gradually replacing both of those. Do you believe for one moment that human emotions are immutable? There were emotions available twenty generations ago that we no longer even have words for. A reptile climbs on a rock and looks at the sun: what ‘emotion’ is it experiencing?”

He put his year-old newspaper away, folding and replacing it in a stack on the cabinet under the kitchen window behind him. “That is the kind of purity I am interested in, ja?”

He glanced at his watch impatiently, and, within seconds, as though prompted, the phone rang, and he left the room to answer it.

 

25.

Coincidentally, when I let myself out of the flat for my nightly walk (my nightly attempt to phone Lola), clutching a sack of garbage, I met Frau Schivelbeiner in the stairwell. She was a tiny handsome gray-haired German woman with a wide, high-cheek-boned face, in black silk Pyjamas and stiletto heels. A rhinestone crucifix sparkled coolingly on the brown-to-pink papyrus of her breastbone. The freckles on her over-tanned skin looked like pepper. It looked like it would burn my tongue if I licked her.

I was twisting the key in Doktor Effenkuhl’s front door lock (he was out for the night) when she surprised me by speaking, clomping towards me down the stairs. German neighbors rarely speak to each other in the stairwell, is what I had gathered. But here she was, speaking! Unfortunately, her overture was in German, and I had to pantomime my perfect ignorance with a frown and a shrug. So she repeated herself in English.

“Oh, excuse me. I did not realize that we had an American in the building! I only wanted to apologize just now for my cat. She is making an awful racket these days…”

Before thinking, I said, “That noise was your cat?”

She frowned. “Yes.” She purred, fingering her crucifix. “Schnecke.”

 

26.

Frau Schivelbeiner’s daughter was home for awhile from college, back from an exchange program in The States and Schnecke, a fourteen year old thirty-five pound Siamese with a bald spot on her shoulders (from squeezing under a low cabinet in the master bathroom for all those years), was jealous.

I said, because it was a safe thing to say: Yes: cats are like people.

Frau Schivelbeiner asked after Doktor Effenkuhl: was he okay? He’d lost so much weight, she said.

“Really?”

“Oh yes, he used to be quite heavy. Well, not fat, of course. But large. Larger than you.” She looked at me closely. “Are you the brother in America?”

“No. He has a brother in America?”

“He said so once, yes. A brother, and a sister, in America. The brother is a writer, I think.”

Frau Schivelbeiner was standing beside me in front of the big blue dumpster in the back courtyard, her arms folded over her sparrow-like, elegant chest. She was a very fast talker.

“But he’s lost quite a bit of weight. I was afraid that he was very sick. Not that we are friends, so much….” She lowered her voice. “The people in this building are not so friendly. It is quite okay, of course, because everyone here is respectful. But I have lived in Philadelphia, with my ex-husband, Jenny’s father. He was American. And I became accustomed to the American way. One’s neighbors knew a certain amount of one’s business, and one knew a certain amount of theirs. It was friendlier, but sometimes awkward.”

“For example, our upstairs neighbor, a Puerto Rican woman named Glenda Velasquez, knocked on our door at ten one night and asked to use the telephone. Hers had been shut off because of a big long distance bill from calling her father in Puerto Rico all the time that she hadn’t paid for in over three months. She said, very casually, that she just needed to make a quick call to a Recovered Memory Hotline because she had just remembered that her father had sexually abused her as a child, and then she offered me a quarter for the call! The memory had been triggered by a special report on the six o’clock news! What could I say? I must admit, at this moment I began to admire the German policy of respectful distances.”

Frau Schivelbeiner raised her eyebrows at me. She put a hand on my arm. “She told me that her elderly father had put things in her! A pickle! A Barbie Doll! Can you imagine confessing that to a stranger?”

“I knew more about my American neighbors in Philadelphia after a few months living there than my own mother ever knew about my father the forty years they were married together! But that didn’t slow them down. On the contrary, it probably helped. I’m here, aren’t I? And I’m the youngest of ten children.” She winked at me. She had conjured, in one innocent sentence, a montage of ten simultaneous tight-lipped fuckings. “Ten!”

I must have looked at her without blinking for ten seconds too long, because she looked right back at me.

I said, “Is your daughter upstairs?”

“No.”  She kissed the crucifix. “She is staying with friends tonight.”

 

27.

Is self-awareness a form of insanity? Is culture an altar to madness? Animals are proto-rational, in that what they do always makes sense, unless they are badly damaged, mentally… and I wonder if animals who exhibit strong signs of neurosis are therefore, like man, self-aware?

Schnecke was growling and popping and hissing, from her vantage point at the top of a very tall chest of drawers, the whole time I was having intercourse with her friend Frau Schivelbeiner, who was sitting as straight-spined as a Yogi on me, gasping. We were balanced on the edge of her giant red bed.

Consequently, Frau Schivelbeiner frequently shouted ‘Schnecke!’ during the act, to admonish the cat, but her complaints sounded like cries of amorous abandon instead, punctuated with her gasps. I could see the top edge of the electrified black outline of the beast in the shadow just under the ceiling, but Frau Shivelbeiner’s back was to her, so her face was turned half away from me as she bounced on my lap, calling out ‘Schnecke!’ until it felt not a little like a menage-a-trois. And the raking red scratches in neat diagonal stripes down my back I finally walked out of her flat in the middle of the night with only added to this impression.

Despite her claws, she was a tiny, fragile, lovely thing in my lap. Her skin was smooth; she was fifty! Strangely, and grotesque in a sexy way, all of her wrinkles had furled to her groin, as though smoothed down from the top of her forehead with an iron, until her groin was as brown and hairless and wrinkled as a dune. Her breasts were just welts, and I bit them, and she bit mine and she tipped me back and rode me with her hair on my face like a veil, and I stuck my thumb in her mouth and she monkey-see, monkey-do’d this hospitable gesture wherever she could until I cried out for her to stop. Or not to. Until I.

“I’m sorry you couldn’t come,” I whispered, while she ground my squashed penis into my belly with her sopping pelvis. I cupped her narrow waist between my hands, and her muscles shifted under her skin, under my fingertips, as though I was holding a snake.

“But I was coming the entire time!” she whispered back, biting my ear, and I loved this poetic lie.

“May I spend the night?” I asked gallantly.

“No, my husband will be back in a while!”

“Your husband! I thought you were divorced!”

“I am… from my first two husbands. My third is still around. He won’t like this.”

I thought: Doktor Effenkuhl doesn’t know a thing about this woman!

 

28.

One night as I lay in Frau Schivelbeiner’s arms I could hear, under us, muffled shouting.

“Almost every night,” she whispered. “He is for hours on the phone… shouting, laughing… sometimes he weeps!” She was talking about Doktor Effenkuhl. “And Always in English. This is what puzzles me.”

All we could hear of Effenkuhl’s shouting was the carrier-wave of anger…the words were smooth hot blurs that rose to his ceiling and squeezed, dissipating, through Frau Schivelbeiner’s floor. I couldn’t have said what language he was raving in.

“How can you tell it’s in English?” I asked, before lowering my mouth to a breast. She slid from under me and slinked across the moon-blue bedroom like a naked show girl, her silver bob seeming to float, a magician’s corny trick, and then she kneeled in a corner, pushing a chair, from which Schnecke had been glowering, to the side. Scnhecke pulsed out of the room as though yanked by a string. Schivelbeiner (she asked me to call her that… I still don’t know her first name) fussed with something that sounded like Velcro for a moment and then told me to join her on the floor. I followed in a crouch, dragging my snoozing penis.

In the baseboard was an opening, a rough-hewn rectangle the size of a post card, that had been covered with cardboard and duct tape. Schivelbeiner pressed her lips to my ear, holding my head with gentle hands, and explained.

“A very long time ago, in another century, this building was all one house…a one-family dwelling for the rich. Downstairs, where your Doktor Effenkuhl has his flat, were the servant quarters… in Dokotor Effenkuhl’s bedroom especially it is very dark. In the old days, to channel sunlight to the lower floors…”

‘I know,’ I whispered back. ‘Camera obscura.’

‘Precisely. And the tunnels in this building which once carried sunlight, they now carry sound.’

‘And so you kneel some nights by this hole in the hall and listen?’ I said with a chuckle.

I could feel her turn red in the darkness… the spreading heat of it near my cheek. ‘One is curious,’ she smiled back. Then she put a finger across my lips.

‘Who is he?’ we could hear Effenkuhl shouting. ‘Tell me who he is so I can kill him!’

‘Don’t give me that bullshit!’

‘Oh, really?’

‘Yes, of course! Certainly!’

Then, after a long interval, ‘SPARE ME YOUR FAIRYTALES! DO YOU TAKE ME FOR ONE OF YOUR FOOLS?’

It was a turn-on, his rage… my penis stirred and stiffened to it. Having just finished fucking Schivelbeiner, I undertook to commence a second helping of her. I slipped behind her like a college wrestler, a hand on her shoulder, the other clutching her waist, and found new moisture under what at first seemed dry as an old river bed. Warm silt gradually gave way to the river Styx. The side of Schivelbeiner’s face was pressed to the cold wall, and the profile I could see looked almost alien with pleasure. But still I wondered, as I churned my steady beat in her, my slow blues, mining endorphins, if sex wasn’t really just something that women generously provided to the addicted gender, as opposed to a craving men wanted to believe we all shared.

Fucking her was like swimming upstream against all the years that were packed in her body… packed so dense that plugging and unplugging her the way I was doing… my cock in her pussy; my thumb in her ass; caused them to explode out over us. In the dark room I hallucinated a swirling stream of heat and color hissing out of her. In the dark her profile against the wall… with her eyes shut, her mouth open… looked so much softer, younger… more valuable. Any man who doesn’t feel at least a little love for a woman who does this for him, at least while she’s doing it, I was thinking…

Her ass was a fat fist at my groin, a fist with one knuckle, a fist with two holes in it. I pulled out of the lower hole and held her firm while adjusting, and then I tucked myself into the other hole, forcing my head with the flat of my thumb. Met with a sandy resistance initially. Deep in, I didn’t last five seconds before the shocking heat and her involuntary writhing slammed me with a stabbing orgasm that made us both howl, Schivelbeiner’s mouth just inches from the hole in her baseboard, a blended howl that sounded like a radical political slogan with all of the consonants sucked out, until Doktor Effenkuhl banged his ceiling with a broom handle.

Afterwards, back in bed (after I took a discreet trip to her WC to rinse two streaks of her shit off of my still-hard penis), we were talking, in chastened tones, about this and that.

Of course, I wanted to talk about Lola, who had become my great subject, but I couldn’t think of an easy way of broaching it. I couldn’t think of a polite or at least a smooth way to introduce another female into the conversation I was having with this naked woman with whom I’d just done so much. Where would I find the nerve to begin? But I was dying to.

I must have been leaving clues as we chatted, significant sighs and pauses, because, at some point, in the middle of an abstract philosophical conversation about ‘relationships,’ Frau Schivelbeiner suddenly said, in a didactic tone, “The day I crossed the line of becoming an ‘older woman,’ it became clear to me that a big part of my sex life would involve lying post-coitally in the arms of younger men, discussing younger women.”

She got up on one elbow.

“It’s okay if one sees it as a natural law, I suppose. If one doesn’t take it any more personally than one would take the fact that exposure to air inevitably turns a sliced apple brown.”

“An older woman is invariably a second choice, like a handsome man is the second choice for a woman who would have preferred a rich one, or a kind man is the second choice for a woman who would have preferred a handsome one.”

She thought awhile.

“Or, honestly put, a kind man is always the third choice. My current husband, for example, is a kind man! My third husband is my third choice: this is very neat, and logical, because my first husband was rich, and when that didn’t work out, I tried my second husband, who was handsome. But I don’t feel cursed, because most women never do any better than to begin and end with the fourth choice, which is a man who is at least a man, and not a woman! So we all know what the fifth choice is…”

Here she laughed.

“But I’m getting off the point. My point is, if you feel like talking about some young woman in your life for whom sex with me is the best substitute at the moment, feel free to. I have only one restriction, one demand.”

“You can talk about her all you want, but you can’t say a damn thing about her looks, or anything physical about her. Only her personality. Nothing about her face or her body or even the smell of her hair in the morning! Nothing about the eyes or the voice, which men, feeling crafty, believe counts as somehow more spiritual features of the female to get horny about!”

‘Talk about your absentee goddess all you want, but restrict herself to what counts, which is her soul, her dreams, her special personality features, and I’ll be happy to listen.’

She lay back, flat on her back beside me, and said, ‘I’m all ears.’

After the extremely long silence that intervened, I got dressed, we hugged, and I tip-toed out of her apartment.

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