The Hick and His Wife
Maybe it needed a coat of paint. Steve thought it was fine the way it was, a bit tattered, but it didn’t bother him like it did me. I told him I liked that it was dark, charming, and romantic, with ivy growing over the walls and a trellis in front, but the smell was something else, musty and damp.
They were waiting inside near the entrance. The male half of our date was fit like an Olympic champion, muscles popping like he was on steroids, which at first intimidated me, and then I noticed how soft and kind his eyes were, and how sweet his smile. He had a big jaw that waggled at every opportunity, and he was quite forward, standing right in Steve’s face when he introduced himself, and clapping him on the back like they were old friends when they had just met. Steve went right along with him, not put out at all, laughing and talking as if they had known each other forever.
His name was Clive, and he had a smile so broad it nearly sliced his face in two. He wore a badly cut polyester sports jacket and plaid tie, and looked uncomfortable in what was probably his Sunday best.
In greeting, he jammed his face so close to mine I could smell his sour breath, and he pumped my hand, yelling, “Howdy!” into my ear in a voice that sounded like a car without a muffler, loud enough for everyone in a three-block radius to hear. His cheeks operated like bellows, growing into big, rosy apples and deflating again with a rush of air as he spoke. He looked and sounded like someone who spent his days and nights swilling beer and watching sports, which is what he and Steve immediately began exchanging comments about, something to do with the LA Lakers. His lack of class grated on my nerves like a bleeping car horn that wouldn’t go silent. Some people might laugh about my attention to such behavior; after all, we were simply meeting to see whether we might enjoy a few minutes in the sack together, nothing more. But he was not the kind of person I would gravitate towards outside the swingers’ circuit. Whatever spin Steve might put on it, getting cozy with someone I didn’t like was not going to happen.
“You got an incredible ass,” he barked as if he’d paid me the highest compliment, and I should keel over right into his lap.
When he saw my consternation, he slapped his hands together like a farmer at a barnyard auction, raising a wind. He seemed to think he was funny, doing that. Yet he spoke with genuine friendliness, like he was trying to make good, and I should loosen up already. Taking one look at his tough guy exterior, I thought he was a bit too caught up in himself to be good in bed, the way he held his back, as rigid as a fence post, but then again maybe I wasn’t being so open and welcoming myself. I tried to relax.
I told him he had an incredible ass, too, which made him laugh. And then Clive said something complimentary — he said I was so pretty he forgot to look at my tits — and my irritation evaporated. I laughed in a friendly way to show I enjoyed his little joke. I could see Steve was cottoning to the guy, the way he smiled at the man, so I made a big point of looking appreciative, and making my thank-you sound hospitable, but I was afraid I sounded like a squeaking mouse. Probably he saw me as the introvert I was, someone not used to being spoken to in a familiar way by strangers. In any case, it didn’t seem to matter what I said. Nothing could dampen his spirits.
“I didn’t expect you to be this sexy,” he said, licking his lips like he couldn’t wait. He spoke loudly again, as if speaking to someone at the other end of the parking lot. “We’re going to get along just fine.” He pinched my ass. I gasped and instinctively moved a few steps away.
Steve turned and stared at me, his eyes narrowed, calculating. There was an undecipherable twitch at the corners of his mouth.
I smiled my most winning smile at Steve. “We lucked out with these guys, huh, Steve?”
“You sure did,” Clive said.
Steve seemed amused, the muscles around his mouth straining like he was holding back a chuckle.
The woman looked just like her pictures, very pretty, with a perfectly rendered oval face out of which shone big baby blues framed by the longest, thickest lashes I had ever seen on a human being. She had a tiny blonde head composed of perfectly straight hair, a painted beauty with nipples that poked the thin fabric of her tight little top like tootsie rolls. It was no surprise to see that her hug-my-bottom sailor pants had Steve gaping. Demurely, she stood behind Clive, not saying anything, just nodding meekly and smiling until Steve began asking her about herself, slowly prying her open.
Batting her mile-long lashes, she said her name was Angel.
“Where’s the accent from?” he asked.
“I grew up in New Mexico.” She suffered from the pin-pen merger, with her i and e indistinguishable when followed by a consonant — a lighter version of California-speak, which contains even fewer distinct vowels.
“I was in Santa Fe once, for work. It was hot.”
“Yeah, it’s hot there.”
“You’re from Santa Fe?”
“I lived in a horrible little town you never heard of,” Angel said quietly, her voice sounding like the murmur of a creek. The or in horrible she pronounced like ore, much as a Canadian might, although when Steve quizzed her about it, she claimed she had never lived close to the northern border.
“How do you like New Jersey?” Steve had a gentle look on his face. He seemed touched by the girl.
“Much better. The milk in the store isn’t sour when you buy it.”
The four of us went inside and sat down where the hostess put us far away from other diners, which suited me just fine. Maybe the hostess had sized him up like I had and understood my plight.
Our dates had been right about one thing -- this particular bar offered privacy in spades. We could have been gangsters planning a major heist, and no one would have had a clue. The dark wood of the place leaned into our little group, enveloping us, creating a bubble where we could talk, and making other tables seem far away, like planets from a distant galaxy. The lamp on the table flickered, adding to the sense of seclusion, of being invisible to everyone else. I felt the anticipation of the evening weighing on us. Steve’s questions to Angel echoed in my head, and his conversational agility was a salve to Clive’s less-than-subtle greeting. Steve always had that facility, to turn the most awkward situations into something that flowed more easily. He was good at smoothing out the bumps and turning a potential disaster into a slow, sensuous romp.
Clive ordered a beer. Steve asked what I was planning to order. I told him my usual, a kamikaze — basically vodka with sweetened lime. He vacillated, beer or a mixed drink?
Finally, he decided. “I’m getting the same thing,” Steve told the waiter.
“You let her order for you?” Clive said to Steve, the twin globes of his cleaved jaw shaking. “A woman does that, and soon she’s got you drinking cosmos and eating quiche.”
Steve shot a nervous glance at Clive, but he said nothing. When the drinks arrived, Steve downed his in one gulp and asked the waitress to bring him a beer, an IPA.
Clive leaned back in his chair, drank deeply of his beer, and looked at Steve. “What’re the small bumps around a woman’s nipples for?”
“Her pleasure nodes,” Steve said.
“That’s braille for suck here,” Clive roared.
“Okay, I’ve got one for you,” Steve said. “What’s six inches long and two inches wide and drives women wild?”
“Wait a minute.” Clive raised his beer. “I know this.”
“You think about it,” Steve said, and patted Clive’s arm before turning back to Angel. He asked in a syrupy sweet voice, “What brought you to the east coast?”
I heard Angel say, “Divorce,” which had my attention, but I couldn’t stand not hearing the punch line, so I spoke up.
“Steve,” I said. “Finish the joke.”
“No, I have it,” Clive interjected. “Wait.”
“A one hundred dollar bill,” Steve said.
“I thought you were going to say your junk,” I said.
“That would’ve been too easy,” Clive said.
“Nor would it have been funny,” Steve said, “Or true. You know I’m bigger than that.”
“What’s the difference between your paycheck and your uhmm?” Clive asked.
“You don’t have to beg a woman to blow your paycheck,” Steve said.
“Pretty good,” Clive said. “You know your jokes.”
“That’s an old one,” Steve said.
“And so unfunny,” I said. “Men like to spend money just as much as women do. They just spend it on different things.”
“Don’t start,” Steve said.
“I don’t like ball-cutting women who drag their wimpy husbands around on a leash.” Clive spat out the words like wads of gum and sat back in his chair, clenching his grapefruit-sized fists. “There’s them fat ladies with the fake pearls and diamond Rolex watches trying to push their husbands to buy these honkin’ luxury vehicles. It’s a fuckin’ shame when the guy can barely afford his house and boat. The guy’s got his eye on a man vehicle, and she’s egging him to get her the one that’s bogged down with the electric dishwasher and the spa bath. Not that I mind the extra commission.”
“Is that what you do for a living?” Steve asked.
“Do you mean how do I pay the rent? I sell RVs.”
“You won’t be seeing us looking for RVs, not for a long while,” I interjected with a snort, “If ever.”
Steve gave me a withering look. Apparently he wanted me to make nice. So I did.
“How can you tell which ones are ball-cutters?” I asked in a voice dripping with syrup.
“She’d be the one pulling out the checkbook while he’s behind her, meek on his leash, his shoulders squashed in.”
“Your wife doesn’t handle money?” I asked.
“Of course the fuck not,” he said. “Angel here doesn’t know how to count. She’s always paying too much for things.”
I stared at my drink and reflected on how pictures can mislead, and e-mail too, because somehow we forgot to ask the kinds of questions that might have revealed the man’s redneck ways and misogynistic outlook. He might be friendlier than a defanged rattlesnake, but he struck me as the kind of guy who wouldn’t go out of his way for a woman. I tapped Steve on the shoulder, hoping to enlist his help.
“Steve.” The truth of it was I didn’t want to tangle with a man who carried that kind of baggage.
“Honey, relax,” Steve shot back. “Have another drink.” His interest in the woman was visible in the upward crook of his mouth and the metallic flash of his eye.
“Oh, goody,” I said, trying to be sarcastic. Failing to get any sympathy from Steve, I turned back to Clive.
“Oh...um…interesting,” I murmured. “So…ball-cutters are buying, huh? How are sales otherwise?”
I offered him a chance to redeem himself, even though the glaring absence of intelligence in his eyes unnerved me. I squeezed my arms to my ribcage, increasing the depth of my cleavage, and leaned forward.
His eyes flickered. What I saw reflected there was a little warmth amid the cold hardness of aluminum and steel, the gray outline of big vehicles, exhaust filling the air. I knew immediately what I was up against. I recognized him as belonging to the tribe of people I grew up surrounded by, the John Bircher segment of cowboys and truck drivers of the old west.
“Terrible…it’s bad…I may have to look for another job.” He looked at me with those metallic eyes and licked his lips. “You’re looking mighty sweet today. You know why a woman has tits, don’t you?”
Steve said something to Angel I couldn’t hear. It was with great self-control that I forced myself to focus on the knucklehead in front of me. I pulled down the hem of my shirt so more of my cleavage showed.
“So, you like your job, huh?” I questioned Clive in what I hoped didn’t sound like total tedium, thinking that I couldn’t care less about the RV industry.
“The adrenaline rush of making a sale…it’s like injecting fifteen cups of coffee — nothing like it.” His eyes roamed my chest.
I leaned in closer.
“Why do women have breasts?” I asked, thinking to stick with the joke theme.
“So men will talk to them,” Clive said.
“You look like you know your way around a woman.”
“Women love me.”
“You know how to give it to a woman.”
“I like to make them squeal.”
Just when the talk was getting interesting, Steve said he had a growling tummy and asked if anyone wanted to order food. With a quick look at Clive, Angel shook her head, saying they had already eaten. That’s when Clive decided he wanted a pizza. He ordered one, loudly and provocatively, with a sweeping gesture of the hand, waxing expansive, master of his small universe. I ordered chicken wings and potato skins, saying I hated pizza. The pinched face of the waitress grew more convoluted with the urgency of my request, or maybe she simply wanted to get away from us. In either case, she bolted for the kitchen.
A few of the people seated at nearby tables were watching the hubbub around Clive with amused expressions. I thought Clive would have been more entertaining if I had been seated elsewhere, too.
Clive wolfed down his food, talking all the while, the cheese and grease dripping down his chin. Steve also was eating with gusto, as if he liked nothing better. They were discussing basketball again so I delayed saying anything, wishing they had kept to the jokes. I managed to get just enough chicken and potato down to quiet my rumbling stomach. All the while I was sweating bullets trying to be social so I wouldn’t hear any snide comments from Steve later. Steve tended to be critical of my social skills.
I asked Angel what sort of work she did, and learned that she answered phones. Her eyes glazed as she said this. I asked her what town they lived in. She remained cryptic, an enigma, saying little. But even with all the conversational dead ends, I could see that Clive was warming up to me, the way he looked over at me and held his beer, telling me that their town was a throwback to an earlier time when people didn’t have to lock their doors. Talk of real estate in this context was even duller than hearing about their jobs, but I tried to look interested. I was hoping we could go back to the earlier line of talk, with its undercurrent of sex. To get things back on track, I told him that we had been hoping to meet people as good looking and with-it as they were. The way I was repeating myself, as if I had nothing in my head, had Steve raising his eyebrows, likely wondering what was happening to me.
I overheard Angel repeating something Steve had said and laughing. Apparently he had joked that a good business opportunity lay in importing prairie dogs to take over New York’s garbage cleanup problem. Only Steve could find a joke in the dirty streets of Manhattan with its garbage cans full to overflowing, litter on the sidewalk smelling like offal. Looking at her shining eyes, I realized that this beautiful woman was probably wondering what Steve would be like in bed. I wondered if she realized I was wondering the same thing about her husband. I looked at Clive’s hands, fantasizing how they would feel on my body. I felt a prickle of heat.
Thinking I would be better served if I could get Clive to talk openly about himself, between bites, I asked questions to induce him to reveal what lay beneath the jokester exterior. At best maybe I could learn something about rednecks I hadn’t encountered before. To that end, I asked him how long he’d been in the lifestyle and he said five years.
“Yeah,” Angel broke in. “He started with his previous wife and liked it so much, he made it a condition of our marriage.”
“Ah, so, you’re veterans,” Steve said. “You can show us how this, ah, works.”
“What are you looking for?” I asked Clive point blank.
“A submissive,” he said, looking defiant. “Sorry, but that’s how I fuckin’ like it. Don’t care what you fems think. And she had better like rimming.”
“What’s a submissive?” I asked. “A slave?” I tried to remember what he had said in his profile but couldn’t recall anything beyond the fact that they worked out like nine times a week.
“You don’t know?” He fired back.
“We just started this swinging thing. You’re the first couple we’ve met.”
“Shit.” He reared back in his chair and growled, “If had known you were this raw before setting up the meeting, I’d never have gone through with it. Newbies are fuckin’ no-shows.” He plowed his faint eyebrows together and smashed his thin lips into a grinding motion.
“Really? We’re here,” I said. “We showed up.”
“I’m talking about when it comes time to do the deed.” His deep voice shot up several octaves. “Let me give you an example. Couple of newbies agreed to come to our house for dinner. We had already met, like now, at a restaurant much like this one, and we all liked how we looked. They promised to be at our house at a certain time, and Angel here slaved over the stove for hours making a special meal. They never came, didn’t call, nothing. We tried calling them, but no answer. And this, after my wife scrubbed the house down, set out candles, music, the works — the friggin’ works. She bought those candles special. The next day, we get a message saying one of them fell sick. Why didn’t they call? Now I just delete e-mails from them. They made me so mad. I thought I was going to burst a blood vessel.”
“We’d never do that to people.”
“That’s good to hear.” He said this more quietly but he didn’t sound convinced.
“If we say we’ll be there, you can count on it.”
“We’ll see,” Clive said. “Come with us right this minute. You’ll ride with me in my car. Angel here can go with him.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “I’m not prepared to do anything tonight. Steve and I need to discuss things first.”
“See, I’m right. Fuckin’ no shows,” he said, muttering something about not having faith in newbies.
“I can’t be pressured like this,” I said, and turning to Steve I added, “I don’t want him to force me into anything. I want to sleep on it.”
“Why do you have to make a big deal about everything,” Steve said. “You’re spoiling our good time.”
“She’s quite the cock teaser,” Clive said.
Feeling as if they were goading me, their words as sharp as knives, I stood up and looked at Steve.
“What?” Steve’s frown was mutinous, as obdurate as the blackness outside.
“I’m leaving. Hand me the keys.”
Steve stood up also, shooting me a disappointed look. We paid the bill and walked out to the parking lot, our feet crunching on the gravel. Clive caught up with us next and shook my hand. I kept a stiff upper lip. He snickered at Steve, who hovered over Angel, his eyes on her tee as it rounded the curve of her breasts, puckering along the ever-erect nipples, the neck cut to reveal a slash of white skin. Steve looked sadder than I had ever seen him look as he leaned down to kiss her wet, shining lips, a painted valentine against the smooth alabaster of her face.
Clive motioned to her to leave. Steve held her hand even while Clive announced for the sixth time that the evening was over. Steve looked like his best friend had died.
She tried to walk away, but Steve pulled at her. “Angel,” Steve said in a low, tremulous, drawn-out voice.
At Clive’s thundering frown, she yanked her hand away.
Reluctantly Steve dropped his hand to his side. He looked more dejected than I had ever seen him.
On the drive home, I asked Steve what he thought rimming meant.
“Finger up the ass,” he said.
“Really?” I asked, and I looked it up on my phone’s browser. “Nope. It means oral-anal contact. Yuck.”
“Thanks. I needed to know that.”
“Sorry about what happened with Clive and Angel. I don’t want anyone forcing me to do anything. I want to take my time deciding.”
“They don’t matter. The only people that matter are me and you.” He paused. “Wasn’t it funny, what he said about ball-cutters?”
“A riot,” I said. “I wonder why such a sweet girl married that.”
“Listen. Not everyone had it as good as you, with a dad who paid for college.” Steve spoke in his best schoolmaster tone, his forehead grooved in shallow trenches like a freshly plowed field.
“Lucky you, there was a free college nearby. What does that have to do with Angel?”
“Her parents not only didn’t pay for college, but as soon as they could, they threw her out. She married the first guy who came along. Her husband turned out to be a violent drunk, so she divorced him. With no skills, no job, and a baby to feed she tossed a dart at the map and moved to Old Bridge, New Jersey, and attended a technical school there. She found a job, but single motherhood proved difficult on minimum wage. But I don’t expect you to understand. Hardship is something you wouldn’t know about.”
“Poor thing. She was sweet.”
“I thought so too.”
I couldn’t understand why he sounded so hostile when I asked him about the girl, but I realized that he grew up poor and perhaps that accounted for his attitude. I knew it bothered him that he grew up poor. Often in conversation he’d point out that I had a privileged childhood. There was no getting around that my father was prominent in the community and made millions as a top neurosurgeon heading a research lab connected to a prestigious university. It wasn’t something I wanted to dwell on, mainly because my husband wasn’t the type of person who could talk easily about the things that really bothered him: anti-Semitism being one of those things, and poverty another. And I wasn’t sure I could keep up a conversation about this. I had no experience in discussing painful issues; no one in my family ever talked about things that really mattered, my father was too busy, he was never home, and besides he had a lover whom my mother bitched about constantly. On the rare occasion he was home, she nagged him without letup. They never actually had a normal discussion, so I had little practice conducting one. I hesitated to go where I had scant understanding. My way of dealing with difficult subjects was to avoid them. In that way, my father and I were very much alike.
But I didn’t want to follow completely in my father’s footsteps. It brought me no joy. So I resolved to smooth things over, thinking that giving pleasure was the answer. I couldn’t change Steve’s childhood, nor could I pretend mine wasn’t paved with gold. It seemed like the only good way out was to show Steve I loved him, regardless of his background or mine. All else was a waste of breath. With that in mind, I decided to try something I thought he would likely respond positively to. I put my hand in his pants.
The RV salesman must have felt the same way, because he never got in touch with us again.