"I'm not very good in bed. I used to be, years ago, when it was
important to both my partner and me. I could go outside of myself,
practice positions, don exotic undergarments, fling my hair
provocatively, carve wicked, lipstick-mouthed smiles and looked at you
with a promise of naughtiness.
"But I'm not like that anymore. It's not that I don't like sex, I do;
I've just settled down. I don't run; I walk. I no longer race out to the
opening night of an exciting movie; I wait for the video or catch a
matinee. Eventually, when I sleep with a man, one I know well, he's not
easy to impress, yet he's a cheerful guy who laughs easily.
"A gentleman of leisure is what I desire, not a stud looking to break
records. One who enjoys a slower pace, who'll cook with me while
enjoying an excellent Cabernet, listening to opera - or perhaps rock.
Even the Tijuana Brass if we're having Margaritas - whatever seems fun.
A man who can spend a cold, rainy Sunday in bed - not performing, but
reading the paper, trading off sections with me while discussing plays,
exhibits, and live music we probably won't catch.
"In my fifties, I'm proud, happy and have few regrets. Looking for a
similar man who's my age. Looking for a man who's already cruised the
Riviera - if that's something he's always wanted to do. Want to exchange
funny stories, laugh out loud about how immature we used to be? Want an
attractive, worldly woman who longs for a terrific friend and gentle
lover? If so, answer this ad.
"No longer rail-thin, Helen."
Helen smiles self-consciously. Her girlfriends stare, open-mouthed.
Jenny's look is hard for her to read, but Barb and Tonya are frowning.
"Are you crazy?" Tonya swats Helen's suspended hand, hitting her
document. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard! No decent guy's
going to answer that ad!"
"It's different," Helen starts defensively.
"And long," Barb points out. "It'll cost a lot to print."
"Without saying so," Helen explains. "I'm letting my prospects know I'm
a woman who's substantial, not financially needy. A woman willing to
take the time to really pin down her needs. Not a desperate,
clinging-gal in need of a bank roll, but a lady."
"Look," Tonya wags a finger. Forty and fabulous, Tonya is the strong
black-coffee chick that soaks up the rest of the white-bread girls when
she wants to. The other three couldn't believe their luck when Tonya, so
much younger and sassier than the rest of them, agreed to join their
group. Now she's ground her frown into permanent lines around her mouth
"You make it sound like you don't care what's going on intimately!
You'll end up with a guy who chooses to snore rather than score. Know
what I'm saying? Girl, you're gonna hear from guys women break up with
cause they're not passionate! That what you want? Mr. Limp Dick?"
"Smart men will see right through this," Helen argues. "A man can be
passionate without being a sex maniac. I want one who snuggles and holds
my hand, not one that shoves me into the back seat after buying me
dinner at a hot-dog stand. I don't want someone pretending he's Don Juan
only to find out he's using Viagra. I don't want someone who cheats
between the sheets. And let's face it, Tonya, sex is a lot more
important to you than it is to me."
"I see." Tonya sets a fist on her wide hip. "So you're ready for the
convent? Then why the hell you gonna submit that damn thing?"
"We're companions," Jenny says in a small voice. Quiet, Jenny is more
withdrawn than the others. When Jenny looks at strangers, it's with
polite Asian humility. Frequently the others startle her; their
conversations often sound X-rated. But she always comes back; she must
like it. The four ladies meet on Wednesday nights, taking turns hosting
their get-togethers, rotating houses. "A companion I can wake up next
to," Helen clarifies.
Barb shakes her coifed platinum hair; her new dye color matches the soft
flesh of her under arms that shake now as she waves her hands. Barb is
even-tempered, reasonable, the undeclared leader. Her husband was
Ambassador to Paraguay; his skills of diplomacy have rubbed off on her.
She travels the globe judging equestrian riding competitions. No longer
an active rider, Barb pampers herself with manicures and beauty-salon
do's every Tuesday.
"Remember, we're here for support. Helen wants to try a personal ad. We
promised to help. Let's go over what she's written line by line."
"Yeah," Tonya says. She leans forward, snatching up the page, flaring
her nostrils. "I cannot believe this," she says. It's something she does
whenever she finds something irritating or funny. She lets out a hearty
"hah," then reads aloud. "I'm-not-very-good-in-bed," she mimics. "Come
on!" Slapping the paper down, she implores the others. "So who's gonna
answer this?" It's a rhetorical question. "Eunuchs and Buddhist Monks!"
Barb gives her a motherly look, as if they can still spare Helen's
feelings. "Jenny, what do you think?" Barb drops her chin along with her
voice. "How do you feel about that first line? 'I'm not very good in
"It's shocking," Jenny answers.
"Jenny," Helen pleads. "Men answering these ads! The first thing on
their minds is sex. Barb?" She turns toward the group's leader for
sympathy. "You're the only one I haven't heard from. How does it strike
Her question tells Barb what she doesn't want to hear. "Frankly," Helen
says boldly, sitting erect to help ward off stinging words. "I think
it's infantile. It sounds whiny."
"Then it's followed by pure porn." Lifting the page this time, Barb
reads aloud. "I could go outside of myself, practice positions, don
exotic undergarments, fling my hair provocatively, carve wicked,
lipstick-mouthed smiles and look at you with a promise of naughtiness."
Her deep hazel-green eyes penetrate Helen's. "It sounds like you're
bragging. Like you used to be a stripper - or a call girl. You'll
attract men who only want to spend one night with you. I think you'll
appeal to the opposite of what Tonya thinks."
"That would be a good thing," Tonya says. "That's the only part I like,
except she should write 'I can' instead of 'I could.' "
"Let's agree that there's a conflicting message," Barb says. Tonya
shrugs. Helen's voice cracks. "I thought you guys would laugh. I
thought you would think it was clever."
Barb puts her hand on Helen's. "It isn't clear, Hun. If it doesn't
convey what you want to us, your friends who love you, you'll never get
through to strangers with only a few lines of black and white print."
"Yeah," Tonya says. "Especially male strangers!"
Barb nods. "Let's examine this 'I'm not very good in bed' part."
"Sounds like someone who needs therapy." Tonya isn't saying it to be
funny. "What would make you write that?"
"It's a tactic," Helen says. "To go for a punch, an attention-getter, so
they'll read on."
"Ain't no punch behind those words honey," Tonya's hands fly back and
forth like windshield wipers. "It's like you're apologizing! Makin'
excuses for what will surely be one big disappointment for them. Oh,
sorry, nobody never taught me right!"
"Sexy was a four-letter word in my house, Tonya. My mother believed we
should marry as virgins and pretend we liked it until, thankfully, it
was all over, and then get up and shower."
"Jesus, I'm glad I didn't grow up white."
"It doesn't have anything to do with being white," Jenny scowls, glaring
"You want to tell us something about yourself, Jenny?" Tonya laughs.
"Let's hear those Far-East secrets," she teases, tugging Jenny's lacy
"I'm not a showoff," Jenny pulls her arm away. "And I grew up here,
remember? Not overseas. I'm as American as you are!"
"Ohhh, I guess you told me."
"Enough, ladies," Barb says. "Jenny, besides being shocking, don't you
agree that the first line sends the wrong message?"
Jenny glances down at her hands, folded neatly in her lap. Her thumbs
begin circling. "I think Helen's afraid she's going to find a great guy
who isn't very talented in, you know, that department. If you know what
I mean." "We know what you mean," Tonya says, crossing her arms. "I
think you're right."
"Quiet," Barb keeps her eyes on Jenny, holding her breath. Jenny has
never spoken so openly about sex before.
"So to avoid a terrible let down when she finds that out about him,"
Jenny practically whispers. "She's giving him a pass - before it
happens." Jenny returns her gaze to her lap, watching her hands settle
over her triangle, as if needing to cover up after such an unladylike
"I'm wondering why you felt it necessary to write "no longer rail-thin,"
Helen," Barb asks. "For crying out loud - you're very thin!"
"Most of the personal ads men submit have things like: 'Looking for a
slim, attractive SWF' or 'Seeking woman proportional to her height,
slender or healthy and fit' written in them. They all want skinny women!
I don't appreciate their trivializing. I don't want someone to answer my
ad just because I am thin. What if I gain weight? I don't want to ..."
"Be a disappointment," Tonya says. "It's not you you're protecting -
"I agree," Barb says. "Dishonest words there. Dishonest message, we need
to start at the beginning Helen. Let's make a list together."
For the next two hours, they comprise a list, check it, cross things
out, add things on, review, until they are exhausted. Helen's friends
retire to her kitchen where iced tea and coffee are waiting. She is
hosting their get-together this week. If they want wine, they know where
she keeps her stash, the corkscrew, and the glasses. Helen remains alone
in her porch room slaving over her ad. She's been assigned to do a
rewrite. She's to articulate - in half the words she used before -
exactly what she's looking for, exactly what she has to offer, without
apologies, confusing contradictions, or lies.
"Are you ready?" Helen hears Barb's voice. She looks up. Barb is leading
Jenny and Tonya back onto the porch, holding out a glass of wine for
Helen. Barb rarely drinks, but this is one night when she'll pretend
she's dying for a good California red.
"I think I am," Helen says.
"Good." Winking, Barb sets the chilled glasses down on coasters she's
retrieved from a lamp table nearby. "We're waiting."
"I'm very good in bed," Helen begins.
© Susan Fisher
Susan Fisher works part-time as a correspondent for Press Publications -
Chicago Suburban Newspapers. Born and raised oversees, her childhood
abroad has greatly influenced much of her writing. A memoir piece
recently appeared in 'Rivulets 14' a Naperville, Illinois literary
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