Up the Neck
After getting married the big debate was whether or not to have a television in the bedroom. She'd read a magazine article that claimed a television in the bedroom was the main cause for sexual decline in a marriage. "Don't let The Tonight Show, SportsCenter and re-runs of Friends become the theme song of your bedroom: Write your own music." Excited like a newlywed, she took whatever advice fit, and this seemed to make particular good sense. Everyone had warned her how difficult the first year of marriage was and she was determined to prove everyone wrong.
When they got back from their honeymoon in Hawaii she decorated their loft with a couple of palm trees and a blanket of mosquito netting, giving everything a white, gauzy haze. It was supposed to help the transition back to reality (another magazine article), but it ended up looking like a movie set destroyed by a tropical storm. The oversized, leafy, palms made the room feel small, and the mosquito netting, thicker than it looked on the package, was suffocating. It was difficult to see through the foggy haze it created and they took turns stubbing their toes on the corners of the bed frame.
He was more practical. He liked being able to watch the late news in bed. No big deal. Besides, it was a small condo and all the rooms would have to pull double duty. Kitchen/dining room. Living room/family room/TV room. They didn't have the luxury of space to be particular about where they put things.
So the television made it in somehow. The palm trees stayed too, but the netting came down and they could see each other again, this time without a filter. However, nearly six months into their marriage sex became infrequent, unsuccessful, and awkward, and it wasn't because of the TV. They tried to convince each other that there was no reason to panic, but secretly didn't believe it. It was too soon to fall into a rut, too early in the marriage to become complacent and familiar. Their schedules were grueling; returning students, she went to school by day and worked at night; he did just the opposite. It made life difficult.
But they had been busier than this before and made time for one another. Now, it felt as though something was between them. The only thing different was that they were married. The frustration of the start/stop/start/stop of bad sex hung over them like the netting she had just thrown away. The previous night they had failed again. "Sex shouldn't be this hard," she said, rolling over and blowing out the candles on her nightstand. "I mean, how did it get to be so goddamn difficult?"
The next evening she was late getting home again. Her promotion to bar manager had lengthened her work shifts and each night he waited for her to come home it was more difficult for him to stay awake. It was after three when she fought her way up the stairs, yawning, and out of breath at the same time.
"I was beginning to wonder," he said.
"My drawer was twenty-five dollars short."
"Couldn't that wait?"
"No, it couldn't. I'm manager now, remember?"
"Why couldn't you just go back in the morning?"
She pointed outside. "It is morning."
Whenever she came home from work she immediately started taking off clothes. She left a trail behind her as she went: to the kitchen for something to drink, the bathroom to wash up and finally, the bedroom. It started with shoes and socks and ended with underwear, dropped upstairs at the foot of the bed. In the morning the scattered clothes looked like the product of some wild evening, the kind newlyweds are supposed to have, but he collected the discarded garments like it was part of his household chores. One more thing that needed to get done.
She was down to her shirt, tie, and underwear.
"That's new." He pointed to the tie she was loosening from around her crumpled white collar.
She looked down and laughed. "A customer gave it to me. He spent all of his money and felt bad about not being able to tip me."
"So he just gave you his tie?"
"Yeah." She pulled her underwear to her ankles with her thumbs then kicked them off with her right foot.
"The one he was wearing?"
"Of course. What'd you think he was, a traveling tie salesman?" She paused for a moment. "There aren't traveling salesmen for anything anymore, are there?"
He ignored this. "Do you think that's appropriate?"
"I work at a bar," she added, noticing that her shift had left her smelling of smoke. "Stuff like this happens."
"What did Bill say?" He was asking about her boss.
"Nothing." She looked odd with a shirt and tie and no pants. He was uncomfortable with the conversation, the way she stood over him and spoke. Either put something on or take something off, he thought.
"That's like an eighty-dollar tie."
She flipped it over and looked at the label. "I doubt it. Never heard of him."
"No, trust me."
Trust was an issue she had grappled with before. She secretly smoked when they first met, had since she was a teenager, but after dating him and learning of his desperate asthmatic condition, she just as secretly quit. He suspected but didn't pursue it. She often smelled of smoke, but she did work at a bar, after all. He trusted her to make the right decisions or correct the wrong ones, but they never spoke about issues like this. Things just got done.
"Besides, I was going to give it to you." She pointed the end of the tie at him like it was something sharp.
"I don't want it."
"I just find it odd."
"Well you shouldn't."
"So how did he give it to you?"
"Huh?" She began to unbutton her shirt.
"The tie. How did he give it to you? Did he give it to you tied or undone?"
She wrinkled her nose and paused a moment. "Undone."
"Then who tied it?"
"I did! What the hell is this?"
"You never tie your ties. I always do. You keep them tied and just slip them on when you have to work." He hated accusing her like this but couldn't help himself.
She took her shirt off, leaving just the tie around her bare neck. Then she pulled the tie loose, converting it back to its original form. Now he would ask her to tie it for him. Not in a slipknot that she might be able to fake her way through, but in the double windsor it was so expertly in before she unfurled it down her chest like a small flag. The kind of tie that keeps the knot even after the skinny arm hiding beneath it has been pulled out.
"I can do lotsa stuff," she whispered. "You just haven't been looking in the right places."
"Can you tie it back the way it was?"
"No problem," she said after a hollow moment of silence. "Why? You wanna bet?"
"What'll you give me?" She dropped her bra to the floor. All that remained between them now was the tie.
"What do you want?"
"Oh, I think you know what I want." She turned down the stairs, shimmying the tie against her neck like a stripper. She looked good, he thought. And she was trying, always trying, much more than he did. This was something he was keenly aware of. "I got mad skills," she called back up to him. "You just wait and see."
Her confidence troubled him. How did she get the tie on? With the commotion of the bar and her inability to tie a tie, let alone one so perfect, there was little chance she did it herself. So was it him? Did he tie it while it was on her, slipping knots and pulling the silk tight over her chest, or did he guide it through her collar, up the neck and down the other side like a piece of rope? Did he teach her how to do it, step by slow step? Maybe it wasn't so much work and he just placed the loop over her, head bent slightly forward, as if she had just won a medal or was accepting a noose.
He shut the television off and listened closely for the usual nighttime activity; teeth brushing and face washing. Then came the sound of the silk tie slapping against her body as she negotiated its shape. He started to light a candle but decided against it, blowing the match out just as quickly as he had struck it. He could hear her hesitate at the foot of the stairs, still working with the tie, pulling it into knots, reversing it out and then starting all over again.
She peered up to the loft. It was dark; the light of the television not there to lead the way. The television. He was right; it wasn't the reason things had slowed down, but it hadn't helped, either. She considered yelling up to him for some help, some light, but instead untangled the knotty mess she had made of the tie and hung it lazily on the banister. She padded up the stairs slowly at first, then, drawn by the unfamiliar silence, quickened her pace. She could feel him waiting for her. Not in the cranky, half-asleep way he usually greeted her after a late night at the bar, but wide, wide awake. She navigated past a bookcase and chest of drawers until she came upon the bed, the comforter on her side folded down in a large triangle. No candles, no television, no props. This is the way it should be, she thought as she slid in. We should be able to find each other in the dark.
© Jaycee Melodia
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