Wednesday, April 27, 2011

FICTION: A Pleasure Thing by David Meuel

The woman and the man sat at a small table in the restaurant bar in the San Jose hotel where nearly everyone at the conference was staying. The room’s dim lighting had a tired, dull, partially drunken look about it. The piped-in music was slow and soft and easy to ignore. The four people who had gone to dinner with them earlier had all said good night and gone to their rooms.

She was in her late forties, blond, with a trim figure, and feeling the strain of a long day of selling enterprise software. She would have gone to bed too, but she liked the way he was looking at her.

“Another?” he asked.

“Why not?” she smiled.

He motioned to the waitress for two more drinks.

He was about fifty with a muscular build and gray hair on the temples. They had met the day before on the conference floor, exchanged business cards, and flirted. When they ran into each other again that morning, she invited him to join her group for dinner. Within moments of first meeting, each had noticed the other’s wedding ring, but in their three conversations neither had said a word about marriages or spouses.

“So what are we doing here?” she said.

“Having a drink.”

“Let’s not play that game.”

“All right. I’m interested. I’d like to go up to your room—or my room—together.”

She blushed. “You’re pretty blunt.”

“You didn’t want me to play games.”

The waitress came with their drinks, and he closed the account, paying her in cash.

“So have you done this before?” She sipped her new drink.

“Twice.” He blushed now. “Believe me, I’m not the most experienced at this myself.”

“And it doesn’t bother you?”

“Once in a while. I don’t like being dishonest. But my wife and I—we’ve lived in different worlds for years. Her life is the kids. I spend so much time traveling.” Abruptly, he changed tone,

“Listen, if I’m making you uncomfortable, we can drop the whole idea.”

“No,” she said quickly. “We don’t have to do that.”

She took another sip of her drink, this one much longer than the last. “I’ve never done this before. In twenty-two years, never. I’m flattered. Men don’t flirt with me much anymore. I’m tempted too. You’re a very attractive man.”

“Thanks,” he smiled. “I’m flattered too. But there’s a ‘but’ in there somewhere, isn’t there?”

“Would it just be for tonight?”

“Probably. I mean—we live two-thousand miles apart.”

“Just a pleasure thing?”

“Probably. Yea.” He sipped his drink. “Listen, this has made you uncomfortable. I’m sorry. You seem nice. I don’t want to complicate—. Let’s just forget what I said.”

“Okay,” she said, breathing a small sigh of relief. “Maybe that’s what we should do.”

The two finished their drinks, filling in the silences with talk of flight times and airport shuttle services. Then they took the elevator to their rooms. He got out first, apologizing again. She told him not to worry, smiled, and pressed the button to close the elevator door.

Alone in her room, she thought about his offer—the exact words, the calm authority in his voice, the thrilling directness of his message. And the more she thought about it, the more she wondered what it would be like to kiss this strange man, to thoroughly enjoy him for one night and then never see him again.

She was sorry about his marriage. And she felt guilty that she had so little to complain about. Her Mike was a good, sweet, decent man who worked hard, took care of the boys when she traveled, put up with her trying mother, listened patiently to her complaints about work, and—as far as she knew—had never been dishonest about anything in twenty-two years. Yes, he talked too much about basketball. And yes, the sex wasn’t as frequent or as good as it used to be. But why would any woman in her right mind want to cheat on a husband like Mike?

Although it was late, she phoned home. As expected, the call went to voicemail. She told Mike and the boys she loved them and couldn’t wait to see them.

Somehow, that wasn’t enough. She went to the bar in the room and fixed another drink. She opened her purse and sorted through the pile of business cards she had collected at the conference. She had not realized this before, but on the back of his card, he had written: Room 428. He’s done this more than twice, she thought.

She gulped her drink down, went into the bathroom to comb her hair and refresh her makeup, grabbed her purse, left, and took the elevator down to the fourth floor.

He seemed surprised but pleased when he opened the door. Then he made another round of drinks and dimmed the lights.

She was surprised by how smooth and businesslike everything went after that. Neither was hesitant or awkward. Their bodies worked well together, each moving at about the right pace for the other, each doing what it was supposed to do. After a couple of hours it was over and they were asleep.

Sometime around 4:00, she woke, gathered her clothes, dressed, and returned to her room. He slept the whole time. She felt like she had felt the night she’d lost her virginity thirty years before with a young man she barely knew: not good but not bad either. She wondered why she didn’t feel worse.

But that came two nights later after she made old familiar love with Mike. No, he didn’t suspect anything. And being the trusting type he never would. But it wasn’t the same anymore. And it never would be.

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