“An Emperor in Sheep’s Clothing” from Crystals of the Unforeseen

Excerpt from “An Emperor in Sheep’s Clothing” Published in Crystals of the Unforeseen published by Plain View Press (1999). 


GRAVEYARD FLOWERS

I
My Location

            By the time Milo came home that evening, I was located somewhere between second and third base in the erotic ballpark. When I told him that his wife had been to see me, my little boat of eroticism foundered in the turgid wash of his male determination not to understand or be understood.

He asked me if I was angry with him.

I said I didn’t see why I should be.

Then he began a long and tortured speech, half confession, half accusation, about how humiliating it must have been to discover that my “longtime and almost live-in lover” was not only unfaithful but married, how “betrayed” I must have felt to have his wife show up on my doorstep, “reeking of her origins.”

I felt myself getting really furious.

“Ah ha!” His satisfaction was, as always, transparent. “You are angry,” he said. “All the angrier because you’re pretending not to be.” He was trying to confuse me, which so enraged me I couldn’t figure out why he was trying to confuse me, which enraged me even more. Luckily, Milo was too intent on himself to notice much of me.

“What am I going to do?” he groaned at one point, throwing himself backward onto our water bed

“What do you mean?” I asked, seeing the question as a big red thumb in a bouquet of graveyard flowers.

“What do you mean, what do I mean? I can’t just keep on going as I was before!”

“I don’t see why not,” I objected. I stood by the night stand while Milo thrashed about on the bed, working himself up.

“I have to choose,” he said, hand over his eyes. “I have to act! To seize the bull by its horn!”

I began to be nervous.

II
William the Conqueror

There was silence for a moment, broken only by the moribund gurgling of the bed. “It took a great deal for her coming here today,” he said finally. There was unmistakable admiration in his voice.

“Gee,” I said, trying to balance on the barbed wire fence between sarcasm and sincerity. “You never talk that nice about me.”

He snorted. A pure thick barnyard sound that reminded me of his comment about her, that she smelled of her origins. There was something in all this very foreign to me. My Nantucket, white bread, mentioned-in-Moby-Dick family goes back to William the Conqueror. We’ve always smelled like conquerors of something.

“You’ve had it easy with me,” he said. “you didn’t even have to move. You just had to lie here on this heated waterbed of yours and wait for me to come.” Usually he laughs at his own jokes, but not this time. Even he knew it was too late for jokes. “Be honest,” he said finally. “You’ve had other lovers since me, right?” We both knew I didn’t have to answer. My fidelity was not the issue. But I wanted to answer for that very reason. I wanted something of me to be the issue. Better guilty than unimportant.

“Yes,” I said, moving past the foot of the bed to stand at the long mirror, smooth my hair, and look back at his watercolory reflection. He was pulling off his shirt, struggling out of his pants. “But they all have a lot more sense than to show up here and cause a scene.” My words astonished me. I had liked her, hadn’t I? I had admired her. And now I was using her to get him off the hook. (Whose hook it was, or how it had gotten there, I had no idea.)

III

Of Sperm and Bitter Grapes

            I turned back to him. Lying naked on his back now on the still-heaving waterbed, he wasn’t all that much to look at. Still, he did know how to use what he had to terrible advantage.

“That’s the thing of it,” he said, avoiding my eyes. “She loves me as you can’t—Love is something you and I have the great good sense to steer clear of.”

The remark was so typical of him, I got confused and angry all over again. He was so PushMePullYouish, first criticizing me for my failure to love him, then allying himself to me in that failure, making it part of the bond between us.

“You’re wrong,” I told him. “I could love you perfectly well if you were different.”

I thought of something I should have thought of from the beginning. “I don’t suppose you have children stashed somewhere?”

“No,” he said. ‘She wanted them, of course. I didn’t.”

“Because of the stillborn baby?”

“There was no stillborn baby,” Milo said. “Despite what the critics say, I occasionally manage to break out of my autobiographical confines.” He shrugged. “We went to a doctor a long time ago. I didn’t see the report but Zdena said there was something wrong with my sperm. Could have been bitter grapes”—he smiled his press conference smile— “but I don’t think so.”

“Well,” I said. “If it wasn’t bitter grapes, I guess it’s safe for me to go off the pill, then.”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, of course, as far as I’m concerned.”

 

IV
He Calls Me a Pervert

            We still managed to get ourselves into another argument. But it was one of our old, familiar arguments. When I saw he was getting the better of me, I shed my clothes and slid into bed.

“You don’t play fair,” he said.

“No,” I agreed. “I’m built like that.”

He put his hands on my breasts.

“Your hands are cold,” I said, as always.

“It’s my warm heart,” he answered on cue. “Do you mind?”

He slid his hands between my thighs. “How would you like it tonight, my gutter flutterby?”

“I want it to be quick,” I whispered. “As though it were nothing special. As though it were always the same.”

“What a little pervert you are,” he said.

I had to agree he was right.

 

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