Maria breathes deeply. A slight smacking of her lips as if she were licking an ice cream, a little snore, a long hum, and she breathes out slowly. He often studies her nocturnal behaviour, since his operation, when he lies awake, afraid of having another nightmare. Ever since the surgery, during which, as the cardiologist put it, he almost slipped away, he frequently dreams he is falling off a cliff.
In the past, when sleep did not come, he would wake Maria with a gentle kiss on the lips, by stroking her neck, or kissing her toes. She never responded immediately, but eventually she joined in, becoming more active than he was. One time she stayed asleep, even as he sucked her big toe more and more intensely. As he did so, he jerked himself off in a rhythm he could have kept up forever if Maria had not suddenly started screaming out in utter pleasure. He came too, but not for as long as she did.
Afterwards she said, ‘I dreamed you were inside me and at the same time my ex was pushing his tongue deep into my anus… and suddenly it just happened.’ She gave a deep sigh before adding, ‘I’ve never had such an intense orgasm before.’
He didn’t let his jealousy show – but he’s never sucked her toes since then.
Normally she works like a horse to reach her climax. Red face, panting, and whether she was on the top or bottom, whether he was fingering her or taking her like a bull from behind, she pushed onwards to orgasm as if she, too, had a penis with which she was penetrating an invisible lover.
The very first time, when she got over her shyness and finally let herself go in bed, he found it amusing, the passion and zeal with which she moved. She laughed along with him and said he wasn’t the first to think she was funny.
‘Maybe other women are passive and silent?,’ she had asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he had replied. ‘You’re my first real woman. Everyone before you was a mistake.’
Maria knew his heart had been broken four times and that he often dreamed of one of those four women at night – because he calls out her name, even though he says he never thinks about her and hasn’t seen her in more than twenty years.
He has often asked her to move in with him, but she doesn’t want to give up her place in the city. Even now that she’s lost her job because of the corona crisis, she still spends three or four nights a week at her own apartment – her neutered tomcat has moved in with him, though.
From the very beginning, she’d allowed him to crawl under her skirt in the middle of the day and push his face between her legs. Once, in the garden, while she was weeding, he had pulled down her pants and, as she tried to keep her balance by leaning on the rake and the big heavy shovel, he had entered her.
But in the fourteen years Maria has been with him, she has never taken the initiative in bed. Active as she is once they get down to it, she remains passive when he doesn’t start first.
Her right arm is over his chest, which bothers him now. It always felt good before, the way they fell asleep entwined after he detached himself from her, exhausted, and she lay there, still panting. Time did not exist, just skin against skin.
After the operation – strangely – all desire was gone. The thought of touching her nipple when her silk vest slipped to one side did not occur to him. Before, he couldn’t even see her leaning slightly over the sink without pouncing on her. After the operation, when he returned home with a shopping bag full of medication, he had completely forgotten there was such a thing as sex. He didn’t even miss it. The word had become like homework, school, geography, something from another era. He was more likely to think about tobacco, about nicotine, about his roll-ups – the doctor had told him he had to quit – than about getting a hard-on, because it never arose, the thing just dangled there lifelessly. It didn’t even bother him that nothing between his legs ever moved by itself anymore.
He tried to get better, going for little walks, using the stairs, longer and longer distances on the running machine in his shed, healthy eating, less alcohol… At first, Maria spent more time with him than before. She did the shopping, she did his laundry, his vacuuming – since his return from the hospital, she did everything he was used to doing himself.
When spring arrived and the schoolgirls came cycling past his house, he wanted to cut down on the pills. At the sight of their bare long legs pedalling away under colourful miniskirts, their naked arms and their smiling faces, their hair streaming out behind them, their small breasts in tight T-shirts, something started to tingle for the first time. But only in his head – everything below the belt remained still.
The doctor wouldn’t let him throw away all the pills. After dumping more than half of them in the container at the pharmacy yesterday, his cock hung there as sadly as ever when a topless Maria planted sunflower seeds in his small front garden this afternoon.
He fiddled with it, as he often used to do before climbing on top of her when they couldn’t sleep. It was no good, and he gave up, closed his eyes, turned away from Maria, craving jenever, a cigarette, a joint, or simply the feeling that his equipment was working again, and thinking, ‘With a young girl, it would work.’ And with that wish, he fell asleep.
He dreamed that he was awakened by something warm, something wet against the sole of his right foot, something stroking his ankle and crawling up to his big toe. Someone sucking and sucking and sucking…