Beneath the masks of ourselves

by Antheros

To H. Jekyll, in payment of a bet;
but more than that, to all my writer friends,
for the hours of pleasant stories and delightful emails.

And, to any writer reading this, may you find some joy and some wisdom;
not mine, for I not aspire so much,
but yours, for a book gives only answers you already had in yourself.

Nobody is one block of harmony. We are all afraid of something, or feel limited in something. We all need somebody to talk to. It would be good if we talked to each other-not just pitter-patter, but real talk. We shouldn't be so afraid, because most people really like this contact; that you show you are vulnerable makes them free to be vulnerable too. It's so much easier to be together when we drop our masks.” Liv Ullman

Chapter 1

Photography, like nothing else, teaches how fleeting time is. The picture we want to take is gone before we can point our camera at it: everything moved, the rare bird fled away, the lovely grin on your lover's face gone. Photography also teaches something else, something one thinks writing should teach too.


Everything is in the details. Details make life. God is in the details. Whether it is a blink too hard or a leg swinging, hands making involuntary movements or a gaze away when a lie is told. Noticing details will make you walk out of a poker table with more money than you started with, and life is a very big poker table.

Because, with Athena, all it took to start it was a single word.

I got her first email one day, out of the blue—obviously, since I did not know her. She said she had liked my stories, and made a few comments about them. I replied. Soon we were writing to each other daily; she was a writer herself, and I started to read her stories. Telling about those early days is confusing; memories are discontinuous and fragmentary, changing over time, and the emails jump from subject to subject and do not follow the increasing feeling of intimacy and comfort that we began to share.

From the beginning I assumed it was “her” and not “him;” not only from the stories she wrote and from her style, but also because her nick was Athena, and it didn't seem to me that somebody who would pick Athena as an alias would be male. Either way, soon the emails made it obvious that Athena was a woman.

Again, details.

Her stories were delicacies exhaling class and style, a pleasure to read among the usual garbage that is found online. Soon our emails outgrew our literary production. We talked about everything—except about who we were in real life—but mostly about writing.

One day I picked that word out.

I like slang. It may be the most interesting aspect of language, after the concept of language itself. It's a remarkable way to affirm your identity, to pretend to be (and perhaps become) somebody, to say what you want in a way that will be understood by those (and only those) who you want to understand it. It shows who you are, where you came from. The accent, the words you pick.

I think nobody would have noticed it, unless they lived in the same city we lived; it was a local slang. I liked to use it too, and once a friend that lived far away made a comment about it. “You sometimes use funny expressions,” he said, referring to the inhabitants of my city in general. People have a remarkable ability to change completely how they are talking, to new dialects, almost. You're talking with your friends, using all the four-letter words you know and your phone rings, it's your girlfriend. You immediately change to another dialect. If it was your mother, it would be another one. Your boss, another one. You change the tone of your voice, the kind of adjectives you use, the speed you talk, the way you address the person you are speaking to, everything; I've seen people that had ticks when talking in certain environments and lost them in others. Maybe Athena had grown used to me, maybe she just assumed I'd understand it, maybe she was distracted. Either way, she didn't even notice it.

Little things. Details.

I told her about it. We liked to pick on each other. She had a passion for History, and often set her stories in the past. She wrote carefully, she researched, she got even the expressions used at the period right. I loved to find anachronisms in their stories and tease her, but it was hard to find a mistake. She did the same with my stories, finding inconsistencies, typos, my lousy syntax. It was a little game we played. It was challenging, it was fun.

She replied, “You told me where you live, yet you just guessed where I live.” I searched through the old emails, finding all the comments I could gather that could help my case: weather, traffic, anything. It took me hours, but I got four phrases, which I sent with comments and the date she wrote them. No, I didn't have anything better to do that day.

“Do you think you are Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot? It doesn't matter, both are cocky, boring and never get a girl.” The playful argument continued and died, we both knowing we lived no more than an hour away, who knows, maybe a couple blocks from each other. I now started my emails with something like “I hope the weather there is as pretty as it's here” and other gists like it.

We started to chat online. We had began to do so sometime after we discovered we lived in the same town. One of those conversations stand to my mind. It was two in the morning, I was trying to gather my will to finish some late work, and I saw she was online.

“So don't you sleep? Of course, it must be the time zone,” I began.

“What about you?”

“I'm working.”

“I don't buy that.”

“I am working. I did not say I was being productive.”

“Are you writing?” I asked.

“No. Are you?”

“A little.”

“What are you writing?”

“It's unpublishable.”

“Hm, must be interesting.”

We chatted for more than two hours about nothing, then she said she was going to bed. Looking back, that harmless conversation was a turning point. I told her about a big sale at a book shop the following week, in an email I sent some days after the chat. “Don't miss it,” I said. Her next question surprised me. “Do you work there?” I said I didn't, which is the truth, but it was the first time one of us had asked such a direct question. “Do you want to meet me there?”

“I don't think it's wise,” she said.

But the box was open. I asked her something that from time to time popped into my mind. “Did it occur to you that we may know each other?” We shared a lot of interests. No matter how big a city is, people that share interests are likely to go to the same places.

“Yes. Wouldn't it be disappointing if we do? We meet and talk to each other, probably bored to death, while wondering if we have new emails from the very person we're talking to.”

“Maybe we like each other. But, to tell you the truth, I don't think we've met,” I wrote her.

“Why?” she asked.

“We'd know.”


“Knowing,” I said. “Just like I knew you lived here.”

To live is to be constantly pushed around by the unexpected. I saw she was online one day, it was close to lunch time. I rarely log in while working, but I was bored and wanted a refreshing conversation. “I was thinking about Chinese today, what do you say?” I started.

“I hate Chinese,” she said, thinking I was joking.

“I bet you love Italian food.”

“I do.”

“I know a great restaurant. What do you say?”

The long pause was much more important than the “no”. I almost wrote the name of the restaurant and that I'd be there, but I'd be giving her a big advantage. She could go there and see me, find me in the crowd, and not show herself. I waited a little longer.

Then I decided it was worth the risk. If she did that, tough luck.

“I'll be at Antonio's. Ask for my nickname,” I said, giving her the address. Antonio's was a small Italian restaurant that pretended to be pretentious, but was not. I chose it because there were some tables that couldn't be seen from most of the restaurant. “I'll wait for you. Can you be there in fifteen minutes?”

“I won't go.”

“Fine. I'll be there in fifteen minutes. I'll have a drink, then lunch. I hope you show up.”

This is how it all began. I could have written a story about it, how we fell in love and lived happily ever after. Only it didn't happen that way.

I got the corner table, one that was practically hidden from everywhere else. I told the hostess that someone might come looking for me. I asked if someone was waiting for me already, but she said no. I looked around, trying to find Athena, not knowing what she looked like.

I asked for a Bloody Mary, and was prepared to take my time. I didn't want to go back to the office, whether Athena showed up or not. I was sure she wouldn't show up.

But she did. I was reading the menu, deciding what to get. She was ten or fifteen minutes late. I saw movement, and there was the hostess with a woman, right in front of my table. “Can't be her,” I thought. “She is too young.” But she came to me. “Hi,” she said, looking down.

“Hi.” The hostess was smart enough to go away quickly. “Nice to meet you.”

“You are... aren't you?”

“I am. Is it you too?”


I smiled. “Nice to meet you,” I said again.

“You too.”

“Do you want something to drink?”

She was uncomfortable, nervous, ready to leave.

“I don't know. Maybe I should leave.” But she looked at me, asking for a reason to stay.

“You are here already. It'll be fun. I bet in a couple minutes you'll be saying stingy phrases like you are used to.”

I called the waiter, who miraculously came that same second. “The lady wants... What do you want to drink?”

“White wine.” After the waiter had gone, she continued. “So, I was right after all.”

“About what?”

“About us.”

“What do you mean?”

“We don't know each other. I told you. I'd know.”

“Yes, I guess you are right.”

“Do I look like you imagined?” She asked me, point-blank. I hate when women do that.

“Yes,” I said. She saw through me, though.

“No, I don't. I saw your look when you first saw me. I almost ran away. I should have known.”

“Why do you say that?”

“How did you imagine me?” Her tone of voice grew more demanding. “Come on, you describe your characters well. And don't bullshit me, I'll know if you lie.”

So I drank a gulp of my Mary, and closed my eyes, picturing her—as I had imagined her before.

“I thought you'd be shorter. You know, petite, five foot and something. You'd have darker hair, dark brown hair. I don't know what it would look like, maybe shoulder long. Not very short, boyish, no, never. It had to look feminine. You'd be dressed in something expensive—all your clothes were expensive—but picked at random. I don't know why I thought you were small, because you have such a presence in your emails, but I thought you'd be one of those small, bossy girls that, if they are not unbearable, they are incredibly cute. You'd be the cute type. But talk, be aggressive. I thought you'd come here and be yourself—Athena, I mean. And you'd have a soft face, pretty, with dark eyes.”

I opened my eyes. She was quiet. “I guess the only thing I got right was that you are pretty. With a soft face. And your voice, I thought it would be... less delicate. More aggressive.” She had a very light brown hair, almost blond, which was long, but not enough to fall beneath her shoulders. She was neither tall or short—shorter than me, however—, but she was pretty; she had a certain “it” which some women have, for which I could never find a proper adjective; the look of someone too mature for their body, and who isn't aware of her attractiveness. It's something about the way they move, the way they look at you. A touch of girl-next-door, I guess.

She was still quiet. “So you were a good surprise. I mean it.” I saw she needed something else. “Do you know why I stared at you like that? I thought you were older. Ten years older. You should not be taken back by that, I won't treat you differently because of it. You should consider it a compliment. It's easy to seem ten years younger in a conversation. The other way around, however, is impossible to pretend if you are not mature enough. And I doubt I am the first to tell you that, that you are too mature for your age. Am I?”


“And you hate hearing that.” She didn't nod, but I knew she did.

“I know it's an awful question, but how old are you? Of course, if you don't want to answer...”

“How old do I look?”

“Twenty. You could pass by eighteen or nineteen. But I think you are a bit older. Twenty-three.”

“Almost. Twenty-two.”

“Close enough.”

“How old are you?”



“Add three.”

The waiter arrived with her white wine. “What do you want to eat? I'll have a Napolitan salad and the saltimbocca.”

“I don't know, I haven't chosen yet.”

“Would you come back later then?” The waiter left.

She opened her menu.

“Are you sorry you came?”

“No... It's not that.”


“You'll treat me like a child now.”

“I won't. I don't treat even five year olds like children.”

She just glanced down to her menu again. The waiter came back—his solicitude, to me, became obvious to be plain curiosity. “Ready to order?”

She nodded.

“I'll have a Capresi salad.”

“Nothing else?”

“They have good fish here,” I said, wondering if she was on a diet. Of course, women are always on diets.

“I suggest the sea bass,” the waiter said. She agreed, probably more out of politeness than anything else. The waiter asked if we didn't want something more, but we refused. Once he was out of reach I talked again.

“He's curious.”


“He's curious about us.”

“What did you tell them?”

“That if someone asked for me, I'd be here.”

“Did you say your name?”

“I said Marquis.”

“`If someone asks for the Marquis, that's me?' You said that?”

“Pretty much. I said that somebody might be looking for the Marquis de Poiuy, and to please show her to my table.”



“They think we're on a blind date.”

“Poor fellows. How innocent they are. If only they read us.” She grinned at this comment. It was the first time I saw her smile.

“Dirty mind.” She said that whenever I suggested something malicious in our emails. I grinned back. “I wonder if they thought you are a real Marquis.”

“There are no more real Marquises.”

“And yet everybody would like to be one.”

“Do you think so?” I asked. “Well. I read your email from this morning. I did not reply yet, but I liked that idea for a story.”

“The professor seducing the student?”

“Well, put like that it sounds like a cliche beaten to death,” I replied. I noticed how she twitched her head to the right when she nodded. “But you twisted it in an interesting way, making the professor a good-looking young woman, and the student a guy that is not interested. Are you going to write the rest of it?”

“Maybe. But if I did, it would be set in the past.”

“As you usually do. But how could it be set before the sixties or seventies?” She did the odd nodding again. She raised her eyebrows lightly when she did it. I used to find her fondness of the past odd, but now I found it quite amusing. I thought then that her tender age explained it, but I was mistaken.

“Why is the period when a story happens so important to you? I already told you that I try to set my stories in such a way that they are timeless.”

“Because you would like to live for ever? Or do you mind getting old?”

“Oh, now I start to recognize you, by the stings.”

“Sorry. I didn't mean to be hostile.”

“It's all right, you are just being yourself.”

“I'm not.”

“Yes you are.”

“No, I'm not.”

I got it.

“You are being Athena.”

“Athena is not who I am. It's odd even to hear the name out loud.”

“It is who you are. Maybe only when you write. It doesn't matter. Here, you can be her. Just like you always were with me.” She didn't seem moved. “The difference is probably that Athena talks what comes to your mind, and you usually don't.”

She looked at me, a bit hurt.

“You love to make these guesses, don't you? To pretend to read minds.” I laughed at her remark, but she was serious. “You do.” I was afraid, for a moment, that she'd leap away.

“I'm sorry. But you are so clever that I enjoy trying to understand you.” She was surprised by my compliment. I decided to change the subject. “Did my invitation surprise you?”


“I was bored to death. And I thought, why not?”

She was quiet again, restless as she was when she arrived.

“You said you were not coming.”

“I did.”

“Were you bored too?”

“A little.”

“Do you save your words for the emails?” She looked at me and I grinned as widely as I could.


“I wish I was the lucky bastard getting them.” She smiled again, and we both relaxed.

The waiter came with the food. I asked for a bottle of mineral water. She started to eat as if she was not hungry. I once again wondered if she was on a diet. The questions that popped into my mind were more personal than I wanted, and we ate in silence for a moment.

“Do you meet online friends often?” She asked me.

“No. Rarely. I used to, but now I don't anymore.”

“Why not?”

“I don't have much time to do that.”

“For someone short on time, you write a lot.”

“Writing is a good way of pretending to work. It's impressive. People see you typing like a maniac for two hours and they think that you are working your ass off.”

“Don't they notice it?”

“That I'm writing? No.”

“That you're not working.”

“Oh, that. No, I work for a big company, it's kind of hard to notice who is working and who is not. Too many people.”

“Do they know you write?”


“Aren't you afraid they might find out?”


“Why not?”

“They won't.”

“How do you know? Maybe they see what you are writing, behind your shoulders, maybe they'll find your files.”

“No, that's not possible. I don't keep files in the company's computer. I don't read my emails there.”

“You chatted with me today.”

“Once in a blue moon, and even so.”

“You don't believe in the big brother.”

“On the contrary. I know him well enough. If he wants to read my diary, it doesn't matter how many precautions I take. Are you afraid that people may discover that you write?”

The waiter was back again. Waiters apparently have perfect bad timing. We waited until he went away, but she didn't answer my question, and I didn't push it any further.

We then started to talk about our works, and the conversation flowed easily, with no new interruptions. We left the restaurant as good old friends. At the street, we stopped, uncomfortable again.

“Well,” I said, “better get back to work.”


“It was great to finally meet you.”

“You too.”

“Can we do this again?”

She hesitated for a moment. “Maybe.”

“I'll email you then. Bye, then.”

“Bye,” she said. I walked back to work feeling a lot lighter. But my mind was restless, reviewing the lunch in my head.

I didn't think of asking her out on a date. I had noticed the mark of the ring on her left annular, and decided I didn't want that sort of trouble. Details. But I continued to email her. Our emails were a little awkward for a few days, in which we measured our words and barely said a word about the lunch. It all went on as before, except we knew what we looked like now. I still met her online from time to time.

But some three weeks later, I was so pissed off with my job that I looked for her again. She was online.

“Antonio's today?”

“I don't know if I can make it...”

“I'll be there by noon,” I said. This time I knew she would go.

She arrived shortly after I did. We said hello and went to the same table, which was vacant.

“Bad day at work?”

“How do you know?”

“Your face. Your invitation.”

“Sorry. I didn't want to do it like that... But...”

“It's all right.”

“I'll make it up to you with a calm dinner.”

She looked worried, but tried to disguise. “We'll see about that,” she said, pretending to play the difficult.

There are many things I remember well about us, but exactly what happened in that lunch is not one of them. All I know is that we somehow got into an argument. What about? I can't say. I know we accused each other of things that we could accuse ourselves, and thus things that we knew would hurt. It is useless to repeat the insults, the accusations. At the end of the lunch, she just stood up and left. I let her go.

But I changed my mind just as she walked out of the restaurant, in one of those instants in which a decision shapes the rest of our lives. I briskly walked out of the restaurant, trying to catch her. She was standing at the corner and few people were walking by.

I was suddenly hypnotized by her. She was leaning against the wall, but barely touching it, as if she could somehow float. It didn't matter, because I was looking only at her hazel eyes, noticing they almost looked green if you paid close attention. And I was closer than I should have been, because I did not want to be standing on the middle of the sidewalk—and because I wanted to be closer to her to talk to her. Then, against all my judgment, against what I had made me promise to myself, against the memory of the shadow of her ring, I came closer and closer to her. She did not move, watching me; it was like time had stopped all of the sudden; or one of those dreams in which walking takes all your strength. Then she closed her eyes, or I closed mine, but I felt her lips, the warmth of her mouth, the faint taste of the remains of her lipstick, and I knew that everything was doomed, but that I was finally getting her, that the argument had been a denial from both of us. I don't know for how long we kissed; later, I could only think that it was not long enough. I wanted to feel the tip of her tongue brushing against mine again, the taste of the tiramisu she had eaten at Antonio's, her soft lips that were so pleasant to kiss.

When I opened my eyes again, she still had hers closed. Then she opened them as widely as possible, like reindeer seeing the headlights of a car.

“I have to go,” she mumbled, moving away.

“Shit,” I said, watching her go, but no sound came out of my throat.

I spent the following days in an odd mixture of emotions. Anguish, lust, guilt, emptiness, happiness; the memory of the kiss turned my brain inside out trying to cope with all I felt. While I knew that continuing with it was stupid, I enjoyed her presence so much... Our relation had been, up to then, based only on what we thought, our ideas and opinions; nothing else—beauty, money, status, position—had influenced us. In a certain way, we had the purest relationship two people could have.

But she was a woman, and she had the sort of look that I was always attracted to. And yet... It was strange to say that I loved her; I didn't. I felt... I didn't know how I felt.

As the days passed by, I thought I could understand my feelings for her better. I had not mentioned the kiss in my emails, waiting for her to say something first. She didn't. Either our heritage of hiding emotions, or the brightness of our screens made us not talk about it. I finally decided that I didn't love her, that I didn't even like her in any way other than friendship; that she was the sort of friend that we meet only two or three times in a lifetime, that the kiss had been a mistake.

I wrote to her. I could have written pages and pages, but I kept myself to three paragraphs, saying that no matter what had happened between us, we should not lose our friendship. She said we should not meet again, at least for a while.

Everything settled down. I took some other woman that had been flirting with me out, hoping it would help me to empty my balls. It did. But as I lay in bed, seeing her profile and the blond hair reflecting the pale blue light of the room, I felt lonely, and missed Athena. I knew I could not talk to her about this, and yet I longed for such a talk.

I left a note to the girl. “Great evening. Call you tomorrow.” It was terse and unoriginal, even more for a writer. But the Marquis wanted to leave the room.

I walked for a few blocks. It was late, the streets empty. No cars were passing by, and the windows of the buildings were all dark. I wondered if Athena was in one of them; perhaps she was up, looking out, or maybe writing.

I found a cab and went home.

Later I wrote the story of someone who takes a girl to a hotel room and fucks her, in the most classic casual sex possible, and leaves the room feeling empty and guilty. He arrives at his apartment feeling sad, takes a shower and decides to turn the TV on. By chance he finds a movie with one of the most classic hot sex scenes ever (mainstream, not porn) and ends up jacking off and drifting to a good, satisfying sleep.

Psychoanalysts would have rejoiced.

I sent it to Athena during a sleepless night. It had been a while since I had written anything, and the catharsis made me feel better. That night I decided that I should worry less about what I felt for her, and what I should feel for her, and just let it go. Perhaps it was a bad excuse for the knowledge that she was married and that I wouldn't have her. Things were almost normal between us—until I wrote that other story.

It was about us. It was obviously about us. Of course, in that story they ended together; it was a little involved, they had problems, she had a fiancé. I sent it to her. I don't know why. Stupidity, vanity, loneliness, blindness, denial. The very next day we arranged to meet again. I wanted it. Like a dumb man, I thought sending her the story would... what, make her mine? Impress her? Dominate her? Pick one, pick them all, it doesn't matter. It was stupid.

She arrived wearing a pair of big black glasses, and sat without saying a word. I am surprised that she went at all; she could very well have ignored me completely. She sat but didn't take her glasses off, and I knew that she wouldn't, that she had probably cried and her eyes were swollen. I hated myself for making her cry.

“Do you want to talk?”

“Sure,” she said, pretending to be fine.

“I mean... do you want to talk about something in particular?”

She gazed at me, though I couldn't see her eyes. Her shoulders fell, and she was apparently forcing herself not to cry.

“You are a fucking bastard.”

It caught me by surprise. I knew she would be affected by the story, but her reaction was not what I expected.


“Don't play this with me. It may work with blond bimbos, but not with me. What do you want, Marquis?”

That was a good question. I had been working on it my entire life, and I hadn't gone far.

“I don't know.”

“You don't know?”


“You're pathetic,” she said, her upper lip twitching in disgust. “You are in your thirties, wearing a three-thousand-dollar suit and three-hundred-dollar shoes, writing erotic stories using a pseudonym. And you say you don't know what you want. I know what you want. You want to take me to bed, fuck me thinking you are as good as you make your characters, and then write a story about me. How you fucked me senseless, making me come so many times that I lost count.”

“That's not true.”

“Oh, really? Are you going to say you never write from your real experiences?”

“Sometimes, but-”

“No buts. You are pathetic. You use your skills to confuse people. I don't know what you do for a living, but I bet you are a lawyer. A damn good one, that screw people so well that they beg you to be merciful and let them keep what is rightfully theirs.”

She stood up at that and left. I was dizzy for a moment with the sudden change of events, but I went after her. I found her at the street, walking away as fast as she could. I ran after her, and grabbed her arm.

“Fuck off, Marquis!”

It was surreal. Being told to fuck off by someone I liked more than anybody else and whose name I didn't know, right in the middle of the street. I couldn't help but laugh as I thought of the absurd of the situation.

She slapped me.

I looked at her, not laughing anymore, the slap stinging on my cheek. She was pale, as someone can be. I thought she was going to faint. I still held her other arm.

“Do you hate me because you see yourself in me?” I asked.

“Let me go.”

It was all wasted. I had nothing to lose. I might as well steal another kiss, the last one.

Only she kissed me back the moment my lips touched hers. We kissed together passionately. She didn't go away this time. Her tongue invaded my mouth, searching mine, her mouth sucking me. I took her glasses off; her eyes were a little swollen. Where was the nearest hotel? There was one some two blocks away. I wanted to take her into my arms and run to it.

“I want you,” I said. “I want you now. You, not only your body. I want you more than I ever wanted anybody else.”

She nodded very slightly. I started to walk, holding her waist.

The check-in lasted for ever. I handled the guy a large bill and told him that I was in a great hurry, and that I could take care of any paperwork later. It was not quite the sort of hotel I was looking for. Athena looked the other way, wearing the glasses again. He nodded.

“If you could give me a key, now.”

“I have to...”

“There's no need. I will be back.”

He hesitated, while I wondered what the world would be like without bribes and considered pulling another bill from my wallet.

“I need your name, Mr...”

I had an idea.

“Marquis. Marquis de Poiuy.”

The word Marquis made all the difference. “I'm sorry, uh, Mr. Marquis. Here's a key, just a moment, sir,” he said in what he thought was the best way to address me.

As I went to the elevator, I wondered if he was calling paparazzi for a shot of the Marquis' mistress. Or if just the word 'Marquis' was enough to get a better treatment. But she kissed me before I could decide. She pulled me hard against her body, and I kissed her back. We barely made to the room.

I took her dark glasses off, while she practically ripped my clothes. My jacket fell first, the tie was pulled off, I was surprised the buttons of my shirt didn't pop all over the room. She pushed me over the bed, taking my belt and pants off, pulling my socks, my underpants. She pulled her blouse over her head and took off her skirt. I looked at her body, a young body that begged to be made love to. She was wearing black bra and panties. She reached back and unsnapped her bra, which fell to the floor after a quick motion of her arms. Her breasts were lovely, able to fit in your mouth, perky, shaped like pears, with long hard nipples like the ones so usual in men magazines from the 1960s. It felt odd, everything was unreal. I remember asking myself too many questions, I remember the desire to give up to lust and to ignore my doubts.

I remember little of what happened. Not that it feels like a blank; no, the memory is fuzzy, blurred, things happening all at the same time. I remember how strongly I could smell her perfume, the scent of her shampoo in her hair, always so pleasant. Hands, hands everywhere. Our kisses, sometimes hesitating, self-conscious, sometimes wild, a desire to get as much as we could. I remember my worry. “I won't last...” That was the only time I remember she grinned, and she did it so very naughtily.

“Then I guess you'll have to do it twice.” She pulled me closer, kissing me while she took me inside her.

I did it three times.

To write an imaginary sex story is one thing: you can picture the details in your head, you can plan it, you can rewrite the part where you play with her breasts. Telling something that happened is quite different. I was overwhelmed by the situation, by the unexpected events—meeting Athena, hearing what she said, being slapped, being with a married woman, seeing her naked and lustful for the first time. How can I remember how many times I licked her, if I teased her left nipple or the right one first? No, sex for stories is different, it is planned, sketched, invented for the reader—or for the writer. There's too much detail, too much time to think, it's linear; your brain isn't half shut down, your body isn't being touched by hands, legs, breasts; the moans and terse breathing and the sounds of flesh against flesh, the sudden movements and bodies rolling over, the words that have no meaning, interjections spoken because you're out of control, because you're seeking the end but enjoying the path... All that is lost in words, even in images.

If it can be described, if it can be retold... it wasn't good enough.

“You fuck as you write,” she said, afterwards. I remember it clearly, because it surprised me. I was thinking that I was late for work, but I had no desire to leave that woman alone to come back to a desk and watch a computer screen for the rest of the day. I could afford to be late.

“Is that a good thing?” I asked.

“Well, I like your writing.”

“I'll take that as an yes, then.”

I couldn't see her eyes; she was resting her head over my chest.

“By your silence, it seems I don't,” she said.

No, she didn't. Her writing was soft, light, of romantic passion, slow movements, tender desire. People never fucked in her stories, they only made love in ethereal ways; soul mates who had found each other after searching their entires lives, for whom sex was melting into each other in a way that achieved the nirvana. There is no sex like that.

“Would you rather write better than you fuck or fuck better than you write?” I asked.

“I don't know. Which one is it?”

No way out for me.

“You know that you don't fuck like you write. You are wilder in bed; no adjectives, lots of verbs.”

She nodded, and I wished I could have said something more... anything. To make her feel better.

“You have to go, don't you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Go. I'll stay here to take a shower.”

“I'll take one too.”

“Then go. I'll wait.”

I took the quickest shower of my life, in and out in less than a minute. She was still there, under the sheets, but the moment was lost. I dressed as she watched silently. I almost asked her if we'd see each other again, but it seemed impossible not to. And I was afraid she might say no.

“See you,” I said. She gave me her sad smile, the one that was so much hers.

“See you,” she uttered. I stared at her for another moment before I finally turned around and left the room.


Copyright Antheros (c) 2008. All rights to this story are reserved.