The insurance man was good-looking, Mrs. Charlotte Plyner had to admit, kind of an appealing type, tall, smiling in that open, even-toothed way. And from the way he was looking at her, he had more than insurance on his mind.
Normally, she would have just acted polite and impersonal and he would have finished his business and been on his way. Today, she was feeling all mixed up—on top of feeling sex-frustrated and scared.
Married two and a half years and still sex-frustrated, Charlotte thought. That wasn't right; That wasn't what marriage was supposed to be about. In all that time, she'd not had one climax. Not one lousy orgasm.
At first, she'd blamed Arthur. He wasn't a good enough lover, she'd thought. He didn't know how to stir her. For that matter, he didn't seem to get stirred enough himself, and he should; She knew what she had. She knew that she had an exciting body; Her mirror proved that she had a provoking team of high-pointed breasts riding above a slim waist and deep hips; a face in tune with the rest and long, dark hair.
But Arthur made love without fire, without madness. He went through the routine all right until he finished—he finished, not she, leaving her tense and incomplete—and that was it. Maybe if sometimes he were violent and abandoned, crazy with desire for her—but that was not Arthur's way.
Lately, though, she'd begun to think it might be her fault, at least partly, because...
"Nice home you have here, Mrs. Plyner," the insurance man said, closing the book in which he'd recorded the information he’d needed about the policy. "Did a decorator do this?"
"No, I did it myself."
"You did? Beautiful taste. But I guess that's not surprising. You're a beautiful lady." He smiled at her with a spark of challenge and adventure in his eyes. Beneath, she sensed the desire.
"Why, thank you." She knew she should have said it coldly, or at least formally, but it came out encouragingly. As did her smile. But she was tired after her long day's work in the house, and full of a fear of failure, and frustrated, and longing for-something. "Do you really think so, Mr. Atkins?
"Honey, you're gorgeous," he said more boldly. "I envy your husband."
She smiled again, not answering, thinking, despite herself, that Arthur wouldn't be home for another two hours. Why wasn't she showing this man to the door, right now!?
"I'd like to be in his place just once," Atkins went on, more boldly still. He looked directly into her eyes. "I wonder if that could be arranged?"
It was that magazine article that had made her start thinking that it might be partly her fault that their love life was flat. The article was about what a wife should bring to a marriage. She'd had to admit, her score was low.
A wife should try to develop an uninhibited attitude. Well, she had plenty of inhibitions. She could see where that might in turn inhibit Arthur, keep him from letting go. If she only had less restraint, he might have less. But then, wasn't it part of a husband's job to release a woman from her inhibitions? It was confusing.
A good wife should not let other interests or her social life become more important to her than her husband. There, she had to admit, she was probably at fault, though she hadn't realized how it had all built up. Neighbors and friends and groups took up so much of her time and energy, she saw now, maybe there hadn't been enough left for Arthur. Sadie Armento or Amy Holbrook or Hazel Morrisey or somebody else was always dropping in or phoning and frittering the day away with trivial chatter when she might have been doing things for Arthur; preparing the kind of meals he liked but seldom got, or darning his socks or sewing on his buttons or typing up some of his office reports that kept him working away at night... There were all those shopping trips for clothes she made with other wives, clothes she mostly didn't need that added to Arthur's financial burden; the Garden Club, the Dramatic Society, the charity drives, the bingo nights and card game nights with the ladies, all stealing part of herself away from Arthur...
She didn't answer Atkins directly. She gave him an obscure smile and said, "Would you like to see the rest of the house, Mr. Atkins?"
He gave her a quick look. "Don," he said. “The name’s Don. I sure would like to see the rest of the house."
The other rooms first, she decided. The big bedroom last. Let him wait and wonder. As she was wondering herself.
A wife should keep a neat, comfortable home for her husband. Pick up after him if she had to. Sometimes men were sloppy, but they really disliked a sloppy home. Well, she was at fault there too. She'd been so busy with her other affairs that her home had been in a perpetual state of neglect. A woman coming in to clean once in a while wasn't enough...
She had moved quickly, evasively in the other rooms. Now, in the big bedroom, she let herself stand closer. She saw the flare in his eyes. Here it comes.
His arms went around her and his lips found hers. Exciting, she thought during the kiss. Hot, demanding. Not like Arthur's kisses, somehow respectful and diffident even after the years of marriage. If Arthur could only let go, maybe she could...
Their lips were clinging, moving. She felt the tip of Don's tongue, an electric tingle that sent tremors through her. His hands were moving on her buttocks and hips, following the long lines of her thighs, taking possession of her breasts so that they seemed to flow out to him.
"Help me get this dress off you," he was whispering.
She finally knew just what she was going to do and so she began helping him...
This morning, she had decided that she was going to change. She was going to be a better wife to Arthur. Today she would let nothing, nobody, interfere. She would put the house in perfect order for him. She would prepare his favorite meal, a meal such as he hadn't had in a long time, no more quickie frozen meals. She would cater to him when he came home in the evening, tired; have warm kisses and a Martini ready, see that he was comfortable and cozy, tempt and please him with her body when they went to bed; and perhaps if she kept this up the magic might return.
She'd started this morning by dragging a basket load of soiled laundry to the washing machine nook in the kitchen. Going to do all the accumulated laundry today, get rid of the mess around the hamper, even do his shirts, ironing them herself the way he liked, not the overstretched way the laundry sent them back, and save money too.
When the washing machine was churning with the first load, she'd hauled out the vacuum cleaner. She hated the squealing monster, but today she was going to vacuum the whole house, stem to stern, get it sweet and clean and fresh.
While Charlotte was vacuuming, the phone rang. Hazel Morrisey. How about coming along with her to Meriden Boulevard for sun-glasses? Some stunning new frames in the optometrist's window. Maybe Charlotte would find a pair too.
It was tempting, to idle away the sunwashed morning with Hazel. Firmly, Charlotte resisted. She clicked the phone back.
The washing machine muttered to a stop. First load finished. Charlotte lugged out the heavy, damp wash, dumped it into the tall, yellow bin. Back to the hamper for a second load of soiled laundry, distribute it in the washing machine tub, washing machine on, back to vacuuming, vacuum cleaner screaming at her heels again, the phone again.
She kicked the vacuum cleaner into silence; Flora Wasserman on the phone, having a lot to say about her beautician. Maybe Flora didn't like the way she cut her short, but today she was going to be a good wife and nobody was going to interfere...
Don had her dress off; His eyes were on the bulge of her breasts carried in sheer slings, the skimpy panties, transparent, textured with an opulent, mounded badge. The slings came off and she felt the soft heat of his lips sensing her breasts, journeying within the vale, making circuits, rounding the summits, sending fluid tremors through her as they nibbled at the apexes and opened to allow the after caresses of the tongue. She felt his hands slide her panties down. She stepped out of them, vulnerable, undefended, waiting as though in a dream for the warm movement of his hands, and they came to her and on her, with eager, worshipping fondling, weaving spells within her spreading thighs and luxuriance, questing, sinking, giving deep delights.
Rapidly, he removed his own clothes and she saw that he was well-made and strong. She let her eyes inquire over his body, and she was not disappointed. Maleness aloft, lordly sceptre of desire. For her. For her.
She went down on the bed under his hands, and their bodies were lying together, mouth to mouth, breast to breast, belly to belly, thigh to thigh, hard and soft, legs embracing, twisting, sliding, fingers straining on buttocks, and she knew that soon she would be turning onto her back, under him, while he, on his knees began fiercely to worship her...
When she had done vacuuming, it was time to put the second load of clean wash in the yellow bin, to haul the third load of soiled laundry from the ham per in the bathroom to the washing machine. While that was going, she mopped the kitchen floor, clean, scrub, polish, until every bit of it was spotless and shining. By that time, the third load of wash was ready. In the yellow bin, and back for a fourth load.
Then start the meal, Arthur's perfect meal. Peel potatoes, onions to clean and dice, peas to shell, dumplings—flour to knead and roll—the roast to wash, trim, arrange in the pan, the salad, with the lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, scallions to slice and tumble, the special salad dressing that Arthur liked to mix, the homemade soup to put together and start simmering, the dessert of rhubarb laced with strawberries to concoct. There was the silverware and table linen to arrange, the cake to bake, the coffee.
The phone rang several times. More of the bunch of females who usually helped her fritter away the day. She cut each conversation short. Another load in the yellow bin, another load in the washing machine.
While the meal was cooking, she went back to cleaning and straightening the house, polishing furniture, doing the bathroom floor, washing windows.
Amy Holbrook sauntered in, without knocking, as was her habit. Amy stared. "What's with you? You look like you've been slaving."
"I have," Charlotte said shortly. "Lot of work to do.''
"Oh, take a break. Come along with me. There's a sale at Pinworth's."
Again, temptation, Charlotte thought. She'd like to chuck it all, get out. Yes, wouldn't she like to dodge her responsibilities, she told herself, as she had always done. But not this time.
"Afraid not, Amy," she said. "I'm busy."
"With housework? The hell with it, I say. Come on."
"I said I'm busy, Amy," Charlotte said sharply. "Why don't you just run along?"
After Amy's huffy exit, Charlotte kept doggedly at her work. It seemed as though she would never finish, but at last she did. The house was cleaned and polished, the laundry all washed and in the yellow bin, the entire meal on the stove and in the refrigerator.
She took a fast shower. She put on provocative underthings and a neat but clinging dress that showed her form. She was ready for Arthur.
Then the insurance man had come. And also the reaction.
The work had tired her out. She found herself feeling depressed instead of satisfied. And apprehensive. Arthur was a matter-of-fact kind of a guy. Probably he wouldn't notice a thing, except maybe the window-pane she'd broken while cleaning and which had given her a sense of failure. Probably he'd eat the meal without a word. She'd been rude to her friends. Probably tonight would be like any other night.
But now, in Don Atkins' eyes, she'd seen appreciation, the appreciation she'd wanted. The excitement and desire she wanted; and somehow, here she was...
His hand was stroking her thigh, outward urging, and she let herself part under it, thigh and knee, outward turning, wheels slipping upwards. His lithe body moved around and to her and his face was over her, eyes dilated, hard breathing. She slid her hands around his neck. Now, she thought. A man would do it to her. A different man, and so maybe it would be different. Maybe this time it would happen. Maybe this time she'd reach the ultimate delight and then, at last, satisfaction.
Pressing. Pressing in. Her eyes closed and her lips parted. Waiting. Waiting for filling firmness, the clasp of solidity, the joint possession, the long complete descent, receiving all, all...
But... tightness. Tight. Barred. No good. Trying. He's trying. Again. Again. She, helping, but ineffective. No further, no connection.
"What's the matter?" he said.
"I—I don't know. My muscles..."
"Relax," he said. "Just relax..."
"I'll try. Wait. Wait... All right, now."
But, not now. Still, no good. Muscles tense, rigid. Impossible. Bodies contorting, seeking position. Futile. He, growing desperate. Lunging.
"You're hurting me." Painful, use less thrusts...
"It's no use. That's enough. Let me go."
"What are you, frigid or something?"
"I don't know."
"You can't leave me like this."
"I'll make you."
"No, no, you can't force me. I'll scream."
Fear in his eyes. Fear of a rape charge. He left her, began dressing.
She threw on a robe and sat on the edge of the bed. What was the matter with her? Another failure. That's all loving was for her, failure. Couldn't even try another man; another inhibition. She was a mass of inhibitions.
"Can't you do...?" he asked.
"I'm in no mood. Just leave." He finished dressing.
"Bitch," he muttered.
"Get out," she said. "Go through the kitchen; that's fastest."
In the kitchen, he turned to face her. "You're some kind of sadistic whore," he said.
"Look," she said evenly. "Why don't you just go home and jerk off?"
He slapped her. The dam broke. All her impounded rage and frustration broke through. The room wavered. She gasped, looking around wildly. On the stove were the pots; the roaster, which she'd lifted from the oven before to admire the perfection of the roast in its deep gravy, the golden dumplings, the browned, succulent potatoes.
The roaster was nearest. She went for it while he retreated. She hauled it up and heaved it at him. It missed him, spattering. It hit the wall and bounded off.
He looked numbly at his spattered clothes. "Damn you."
Her eyes found the knife on the counter. She snatched it. He ran. He slammed the door behind him and she flung the knife at the door, from where it fell, clattering.
She hurried out of the kitchen. She didn't want to look, she didn't want to think.
Automatically, she took care of little tasks. She straightened the bed. She washed, using a lot of cold water, fixed her hair. She dressed. Finally, she went back to the kitchen and looked.
The wall slippery and greasy with gravy. The floor, which had been so clean and shining, was running with gravy, splashed with trails of potatoes and dumplings. The roaster had bounded off the wall and into the yellow bin of clean laundry. It was upside down on the sheets, potatoes and dumplings scattered on the laundry, the rich, beautiful gravy, now ugly, drenching the laundry, still spreading and seeping downwards, ruining the white sheets, the pillowcases, Arthur's shirts.
The roast itself had flown out and now lay in a welter of broken glass, swept along with it from the kitchen table to the floor. Her cut-glass pieces, her crystal goblets.
Charlotte sank down on a chair. Everything ended in failure. She began to sob...
It was so that Arthur found her. He looked about, appalled. "What happened?"
"I'm no good, Arthur," she sobbed. "No good for you or anybody. I wanted today to be perfect for us. I tried so hard, did the whole house, your laundry and all, and made the best meal I could and then... then I was carrying the roaster and I slipped on the waxed floor and it flew out of my hands and... this."
He was looking at her. What would he do now, clumsily try to comfort her? Help her clean up the mess? Finish what was left of the meal, then later go to bed with her in another futile night while her conscience kept nagging?
Something was happening in Arthur's eyes. Like laughter.
"This is ridiculous," Arthur said. "Too ridiculous to cry about. Forget it, honey."
"But I've ruined..."
"I don't care what you've ruined," Arthur said. "It's not worth your tears. I only care about you."
"You don’t mean it. Your mea—"
"The hell with my meal," Arthur said. A recklessness she had never noted began to glow on his steady face.
"Wreck it all, what do I care, as long as I have you?" He strode to the stove, picked up the pot of soup, turned it over and dropped it on the floor. "Okay?"
"Arthur!" she gasped, feeling an answering wildness leaping in her. "Okay," she said, and knocked the rest of the glassware off the table.
Arthur swept the rest of the stove clean; vegetables, pots, and percolator went tumbling to the floor. Charlotte flung open the refrigerator door and threw out the rhubarb dessert, the salad, the cake, the milk, and everything she could find, skidding things all over the kitchen. Arthur overturned the chairs and the table. He picked up a crockery bowl. "Here's luck, to us!" he yelled, and the bowl went smashing on a wall.
Charlotte found herself laughing freely. These things didn't matter, of course they didn't. When you passed a certain point, nothing mattered except what was truly important. She felt as though she had just crossed a boundary and that there was no going back. "The hell with everything and luck to us!" she yelled and smashed a plate against the wall.
Arthur pulled out the drawers of silverware and threw them, laughing, and she saw that somehow he had passed that boundary too, they had passed it together.
They kept throwing and smashing dishes. They stormed into the livingroom, overturning the furniture, pulling down drapes. They ended in the bedroom, tearing at each other's clothes.
When their bare bodies were clutched together, she felt herself flowering open, deeply, sweetly, richly, and she had let go all the way and so had Arthur and there was no diffidence and no holding back but a deep, rich, complete joining and nothing else mattered and they were riding together, together, sweetly and strongly, within an eternity, and then violently, in a fury of love in a rising, pounding fury as she gasped and felt herself moaning and trembling upwards towards the apex, and her last thought before the ecstasy took her and wrung her and coursed through her was that, at last, she and Arthur had made it together.