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1983-2015
tearing the rag off the bush again
Three Stories PDF E-mail
THE EPIPHENOMENON

    The average man is not what he used to be.  At first, he thinks this is normal.  The average is a function of time and one can reasonably expect to remain average only for so long.  In history’s current predicament the average man is slightly past his prime.  He is fully aware of is.  There is age and decay to consider.  Yet when the average man wakes on a spring morning in a wet season his thought is this: I am not what I used to be.
    The average man looks in the mirror more often than he cares to admit.  Doing so this morning, he spots nothing that can account for the vaguely run down feeling, not quite disease, not quite exhaustion, something more spectral and unaccountable.  The average man consults his wife at such moments of doubt, as, though he is loath to admit it, her instincts in these matters tend to be better than his own.
    “You’re paranoid,” she says.  “That’s so like you.  That’s your forte, your favorite thing.  The only time I’m surprised is when you feel fine, which you should, obviously, more often.  I imagine it’s common for men of your age and disposition to think they are less than what they once were.  Which does not mean there’s nothing wrong with you.  I’ve held that opinion for quite some time, actually.  Rather, I expect that whatever phenomenon you are experiencing afflicts millions of men like yourself and perhaps even more.”
    The average man does not agree with his wife’s diagnosis, but he remains quiet.  He has been married long enough to know that she is not finished speaking.  The meat is still to come.  In recent years, the average man’s wife has taken to wearing her bathrobe all day long.  As well, she tends to favor expensive medications whose effect is supposed to be a pleasant mood but which actually leave her irritable.  This does not strike the average man as particularly funny, only sad and untimely.  His wife slowly lights a cigarette, nearly igniting one of the sleeves of her robe.  She shrugs.  “Go to the doctor.”
    “We’re pleased,” the GP says, two weeks later, two weeks in which the average man’s malaise has not so much worsened as settled in, a growth slaloming the course of his spine.  The GP leafs through page after page of test results.  “You did quite well.  You held up like a trooper.  It didn’t look like you were going to be able to sit still through some of those procedures, but you managed nicely.  The results show it.  Nothing exceptional, but that’s what we hope for.  We don’t see that too often, actually.  This is not that kind of facility.  Everything is in the range we have come to expect.”
    “For a man my age?”
    “For a man any age.  We’re really quite happy.  We’re still somewhat confused, of course.  After all, you’re here.  But we’re quite impressed.”
    “We,” the average man says.
    “Well,” the GP smiles, “you and me.”
    The average man stares at the doctor’s stethoscope, its heavy hypnotic nugget dangling over his own heart.
    “May I ask a personal question?” the GP says.  “Granted, I am a doctor, so all of my questions are personal, but may I elevate the level of personalcy?  How hard is it for you to achieve erection?”
    “Not that hard.”
    “And how hard is it?”
    “Well, you know, when...oh, I get it.”
    “Our little joke to break the ice.  People don’t often stop to consider the humor available through the medical industry.  People focus on the negative.  A-, Dys-, Hypo-, Hyper-.  It’s a depressing vocabulary.  Plus, you expect your doctor to talk over your head.  You expect him to pulverize you with obscure theory and phlegmmy Latin.  It wouldn’t be therapy without a complete language disconnect.”  
    The average man glimpses graphs and minuscule analysis in his test results.  The GP makes a note somewhere deep in the output.
    “Well,” he says, offering his hand, “we’ll be hoping you feel better soon.”
    As a rule, the average man does not trust the GP because he lacks specialty.  It’s now altogether common for the average man to be aware of the lag in the dissemination of medical know-how, and the average man is certain that whatever ails him will require exhaustive study in a novel field.  Effective treatment may take decades to trickle down to him.  The average man resolves to confront his malaise by ignoring it--all evidence aside, the average man is still a believer in the healing power of self will – and he reasons that in all likelihood it is the divergence from strict routine that accounts for his dysfunction.  As it happens, it is just his morning habit of coffee and newspaper that brings to him the advertisement that he is at once certain lead to remedy.  He burns his tongue taking in the words.

Feeling rundown?
Otherwise apathological?
Conventional life sciences at a loss?
Call United Statisticians for a free evaluation.

        “Ouch,” the average man says.
    “Are you all right?” his wife says, refilling his cup.
    Generally, the average man considers the double entendre of such questions only fleetingly, perhaps unconsciously.  “Do you have to make it so hot?”
    “Classic,” she says, shaking her head.  “Run-of-the-mill.  It’s coffee,” she explains.
    But there is no phone number attached to the advertisement.  The average man pinches the oniony pages of the phone book, but oddly finds only an address, deep in the city.  He calls in sick from work, which may very well be the case.  The average man kisses his wife as he leaves, confident for some reason that whatever he has isn’t catching.

*

    The building had been erected by a powerhouse corporate entity long since extinct, the structure since invaded by a variety of unlikely enterprises.  A woman trained exotic reptiles on the first floor, secret psychological research was conducted on the second.  Civilian attaches for military intelligence held quiet think tanks on the third, a flying saucer cult lived year round on the fourth.  And so on up through the heart of the building, only the window washers witness to it all, ascending bimonthly like lazy souls past a succession of bizarre industry.
    The average man double checks the fly of his slacks in the elevator, as he is wont.  He exits on the eighth floor, finds the door of United Statisticians, pushes it aside quietly.  A small waiting room can accommodate half a dozen.  The average man tends to approach receptionists cautiously in a polite attempt to defuse the nearly imperceptible sexual charge in these encounters, and as he does so now the young woman, hair coifed and mouth neatly painted and planted in her chair as though the slightest curvature of spine would give her pain, does not notice him and continues a pencil drawing that appears to have been occupying her for some time.  The receptionist is left-handed.  The average man is charmed by this.  Her drawing is that of an eye as large as a palm.  The eye is blurry but correct, and nearly complete as she adds a lash or two with quick turns of her crimped hand.
    “It’s very nice,” he says, the only reply the average man uses in responding to others’ attempts at art.
    “Oh.”  The receptionist jumps and slides the eye into a desk drawer.  “You frightened me.”
    “I’m sorry.”
    She is quite lovely, really.  It is not something he is keen to admit, but the soft charge of social routine conducted with strangers is the most rewarding form of intimacy the average man knows.  Although it’s been several decades since the average man wore a hat with regularity, he finds that as he stands before the receptionist his fingers fondle the brim of an imaginary bowler suspended in front of his groin.
    The receptionist gathers herself, dabs at her coif and threads her slender fingers.  “What are you looking for?  Cosmetic irradiation is one floor up, sex catering is one floor down.  Stairs are around the corner, facilities are at the end of the hall.”     “I think I’m in the right place.”
    She looks at him more closely now, eyes pinching so that for a moment they resemble the eye in her drawing.  Contemplative, searching.  “Oh, I’m sorry,” she says.  “I didn’t realize.  So many people get lost.  It’s an odd building, you see, and--”  Now she seems to recognize something in him, something that takes her quite by surprise.  She adopts a more delicate tone.  “You’re not feeling--yourself, are you?”
    His simple presence there has tilted his hand.  The average man is embarrassed as when someone he does not know calls him by name.
    “Not really.”
    The receptionist reaches for a phone and presses a heavy button that lights at her touch.  “Alert the Maestro,” she says to the receiver.  She cradles the handset again and turns back to him.  “I’m so sorry.  I’ve botched things.  I was given several weeks of training, and I really did have it down quite expertly.  A number of other girls stumbled over the script, or just didn’t have the exact look they were looking for, they said, and they remarked on my progress and speaking skills, but now it’s not at all clear that I was the right candidate for--”  She sees a pleading look in the average man’s eyes, sees that he is admiring her, and the smile she produces when she cuts herself off is not quite flirtation but, the average man concludes, an acknowledgment of romantic potential.  It quickly passes, and the receptionist puts on the air of an actor before delivering a speech she was presumably supposed to deliver initially.
    “We need a life not correlated with death,” she says.  “Health not liable to illness.  Good that will not perish, good that flies beyond the good of nature.”  She smiles, pleased with her performance.  “You may have a seat.  Someone will be with you shortly.”
    
*

    The Statistician appears in a doctor’s white coat, holding a filing folder over his chest as though to block a bullet.  He is a smallish man with glasses.  He extends a palm to invite the average man back into the office.  “Welcome,” he says.  “Please.”  The Statistician is quite excited, as though the average man is of status and fame, which of course he is not.  The Statistician introduces himself, but the average man has never been particularly good at remembering names.
    The Statistician leads them to an examination room.  White cupboards stand against white walls, chrome devices with crooked elbows lurk about a curling dentist’s chair.
    “You saw the ad, didn’t you?” the Statistician says.
    “Yes, just this morning.”
    The Statistician claps his hands together before him, where they stick as though to trap a fly.  He shakes his head in happy disbelief.  As with the receptionist, the average man senses that the Statistician’s outburst is a digression from protocol.  Somewhat overwhelmed, the average man fits himself into the reclined socket of the dentist’s chair.
    “Please forgive me,” the Statistician says.  “But, you see, the advertisement was my idea, perhaps my largest contribution to the project.  There was a great deal of doubt about this idea, even within our small circle of confederates.  I was the subject of hushed insults, of which some believed I was unaware.  But of course I knew there would be talk.  Still, I proceeded, and the advertisement brought you here, so it’s validation for me, don’t you see?”
    “Congratulations,” the average man says.
    The Statistician initiates another vigorous handshake.  “Thank you.  My, I can’t tell you.  Our circle has been subject to a number of attacks from outside, in some cases from quite well-placed sources.  These attacks had begun to have a certain effect, and, to be honest, it had gotten to the point where some members of our little conglomerate had begun to question whether you did, in fact, exist.”
    Charmingly, the average man’s response to confusion is to repeat established information.  “I saw the ad when I was drinking my coffee,” he says.
    The Statistician smiles.  “Perfect.  Top of the curve.  Now, I’m sure you’re quite curious as to what we’re up to here, yes?  My.  How to begin.  You think you’ve prepared for a thing, and when the thing arrives you realize you’re entirely ready but for the easiest of first steps.”  He taps his lower lip.  “You’re not feeling yourself, correct?  You feel unwell, off, and that’s what’s brought you here.  Let’s start with this.  The Greeks were the first to offer a model of disease that went beyond the ontological.  Health is harmony.  Disturbance of equilibrium is disease.  Agreed?”
    “That’s what I have, I think,” the average man says.  He is pleased the conversation has turned to his ailment.  The plastic cushion of the chair begins to mold to his form.
    “Gosh, if only those old theories applied, eh?” the Statistician says.  “Wouldn’t that be nice.  Now it seems inevitable to us that disease would be understood first as either exaggeration or deficiency.  How quaint!  But I ask you.  What about the anomaly that does not produce deformity?  It’s just that easy to confuse variety with dysfunction.”
    “I feel sick,” the average man says.
    “Of course you do.  What other word would you have for it?”
    “I want to get better.”
    “Quite right.  The normal state of the body is the state one wishes to reestablish.  This is text book.  But press just a little and it stops seeming so simple.  Answer honestly now.  Do you want to get better because therapeutics has determined it is a good goal, or because you think it’s normal that therapeutics aim at getting better?  Or think of it this way.  What are your symptoms?”
    The average man stares.
    “You see?  The standard diagnostic procedure.  In medicine it is the sick man who decides when he is sick, and it is the sick man who decides when he is well again.  But where is the evidence of your disease?”
    “I don’t feel normal.”
    The Statistician rears back and throws a hand into the air.  “Ha!  That’s a whole other can of worms.  Normal in what way exactly?  Are human traits normal because they occur frequently?  Or do they occur frequently because they are normal?  If everyone gets sick then illness is quite normal, isn’t it?”
    “You’re not a doctor, are you?” the average man says.
    “Sure I am.  This is a hospital.  Nurse!  Bring the mind-cures!  Bring the leeches!  Bring the chemotherapy!”  The Statistician spasms with laughter.  He nibbles a knuckle to stifle it, but it is persistent as a cough.  “I’m sorry.  Consider a blocked artery.  Is it still an artery?  Or is it an obstruction?  Is a necrotic cell still a cell?  A man who dies is no longer a man, is he?  He’s a corpse.  In medicine, opinions are formed on palpation, interpretation.  We are outside of science.  Whether a tumor is malign or benign is a question for philosophy.”
    “So this is a lab?”
    The Statistician squints at the ceiling.  “I might have predicted you’d say that.  What else could this be?  Call it a clinic.”
    “A clinic.”
    “Now do you see the problem of the quantitative model of disease?  Any range of intensity is labeled sick.  The average is synonymous with mediocrity.  Well, I think it must be apparent to you by now that once we rejected this as fallacy you were bound to sense a change.”  The Statistician scans the average man’s eyes.  “I see you don’t understand.  Think of this.  An animal is normal within its habitat.  But what happens when its habitat changes?  In the new habitat, it’s no longer normal.  Quote.  Pathological phenomena are expressions of change in the relationship between organism and environment.  Unquote.  Now what of man?  Man creates his environment.  And this environment includes that which he understands of himself.  Thus, the average man will continue to feel well only as long as no one successfully challenges that which defines average.  Once the old theories have been struck down, he will begin to feel less than average.  He will feel below average.”
    “That’s it,” the average man says.  “That’s what I feel.”
    “Now do you see why we are excited?  Your illness is evidence of progress.  You have been ontologically jolted, my friend!  The Maestro is better at explaining, but one way of thinking of it is this: you were sicker before.”
    “I felt fine.”
    “That doesn’t matter, of course.  And now that you feel off?  Someone else has woken this morning feeling shiny and chipper.  Of course, you want us to cure you.  Even the average man has an understanding of health.  You want to be well again.  You want to be yourself.  You want us to do it.  But I ask you, good sir--my God--how?”
    Honestly, the Statistician’s words, to the extent he can follow them, are not wholly unrewarding for the average man.  The average man secretly suspects his entire life that he is the subject of some distant experiment, that civilization itself is a ruse constructed so that truth can be deduced from his decisions.  The average man is a secret solipsist, and now through his terror he feels excitement.
    “Who is the Maestro?”
    “The Maestro is preparing.  We--well, I, I suppose I should say--are quite proud of him.  He’s a revolutionary.  We--you and I--we’re both honored by our association with him.”  The Statistician steps toward the door.  “I should help him with his preparations.  He’ll be coming to speak with you before the performance.”
    “The performance?”
    The Statistician smiles.  “It will be just a minute,” he says.

*

    The average man sits the room drolly for a time.  He pushes aside the curtain over a window only to find that it is not a window but a compartment with a fluorescent bulb masquerading as one.  The Statistician has left behind the file folder that is presumably the record United Statisticians has compiled on the average man, but when he opens it all that flutters to the floor is a lunch receipt from a nearby deli.  The average man jerks upright when the door opens again and the Maestro enters the room.
    There is no mistaking him.  The Maestro tugs the cuff-linked sleeves of a tuxedo shirt to their proper length as he crosses the room’s threshold.  He has long white clean hair, and a perfect white beard.  The tails of his jacket follow him into the room, lay against his calves.  Once he has properly arrived, he shudders once head to toe to allow the tuxedo to settle about his entire frame.  The Statistician follows him into the room.
    “Have they begun to assemble?” the Maestro says, speaking through his entrance.  “Someone has contacted Forchet, yes?  He’s a twit, but I want him here.  Did you read what he delivered in Vienna last week?  Bah!  What about Lautier?  Not the Canadian one, the French one.  I’ll show him numerical models.  What about the Old Man?  Have we sent for the Old Man?  It’s nothing without the Old Man.”
    The Statistician smoothes the shoulder of the Maestro’s jacket in an intimate touch.  They are both quite absorbed in the Maestro’s speech.
    “The limousine is on its way, Maestro,” the Statistician says.
    “Good.”  The Maestro exhales and finally cannot think of anything more to do.  It is boredom that brings him to look about the room and lay his eyes on the average man.  He freezes.  He squints as though to induce a trance.  The Maestro flows forward a step, offering his hand, and the Statistician scurries along behind.
    “Ah.  It’s odd to see him in the flesh, isn’t it?” the Maestro says, and even though their hands are clasped his words are not meant for the average man.  “My, the feeling.  To confront your epiphenomenon.  Is it more like the pride of a father whose son has grown, or the artist whose vision has realized?”  The Maestro smiles and laughs out loud.  He grabs the average man by both shoulders and squares him.  “Before modern medicine, the average man was understood as an expression of God’s will.  You might as well cast bones.  But now, the average man is an expression of our will.”
    The average man is naturally curious and uncomfortable when people discuss him as though he is not present.  But at the same time he is quite susceptible to the awe of men with stature, to social hierarchy in general, and thus he can neither adequately express his discomfort nor convey the authority or self will of which he is occasionally capable.
    “What’s going on here?” he says.
    “It’s funny,” the Maestro says with a grin.  “If he was an automaton I would say he was remarkably lifelike.”  Behind him, the Statistician can’t help a fiendish smirk.   The Maestro’s expression now changes, like a parent putting on a pleasant face to address a child.  “Medicine is linked to the whole of culture, wouldn’t you agree?” he says to the average man.
    In situations in which it is not clear that one need reply, the average man’s policy is to remain silent.  The Maestro only waits, and the Statistician leans between them.
    “Maestro, if I may, we spoke at some length earlier--quite the little exchange, really--and although it’s certainly a premature assessment, I’m not quite sure that he is capable of--”
    “Hogwash!”  The Maestro releases the average man and points emphatically at the ceiling.  “The man who feels sick is obviously mistaken in thinking that he knows why he feels this way.  But it does not follow that his theory, too, is in error.  The average man is perfectly capable of understanding.”
    The Maestro paces the room a bit, rubbing a meaty palm over his hairy mouth.  He turns back to the average man.
    “Therapeutics was at first a religious, magical activity.  You know--witch doctors, shamans?  Disease is evil, health is good.   Health and disease fought over man the way Good and Evil battled for the world.  Truth be told, we’re all witch doctors in retrospect: Paracelsus believed he had found the elixir of life, Van Helmont identified health with salvation, and Stahl himself believed in original sin.  But here’s the thing.  When we denied the ontological conception of disease, we denied the possibility of evil.”
    The average man climbs back into the dentist’s chair.
    The Maestro follows, frustrated.  “Surely you must acknowledge that the average man knows he is average only in a world where all are average.  Otherwise, he feels special, singled out.  Perhaps he even feels unreasonably oppressed or used.  He begins to suspect that he is not average at all.  He becomes a tragic fool.  Ignorant and brow beaten.  But can one innocently know that one is innocent?  No one who is good is aware of being good, and no one who is healthy knows that they are healthy.”
    The Maestro pauses to see if his words have found purchase.  The average man can only nod weakly.
    “Bah!  You’re like the rest of them!  Don’t you see?  The abnormal is not what is not normal.  It constitutes another normal.  To be sick is to live another life.  Health is organic innocence.  Innocence must be lost for the sake of knowledge.  The sick man advances knowledge of the average man.  To be ill is to be wise.”
    “You did this to me,” the average man says.
    “Notice his verb choice,” the Maestro says.  “Quote.  The sick man is not abnormal because of the absence of a norm but because of an incapacity to be average.  Unquote.”  The Statistician nods and jots a note.
    “Do you know Everyman?” the Maestro asks the average man.  “Of course you don’t.  How extremely unlikely that you would.  Morality play.  John Skot.  Early sixteenth century.  Perhaps oversimplified for its uneducated audience, but quite popular in its day.  Everyman is the embodiment of mankind.  At the beginning of the play, Everyman has become so enamored of his wealth that he has forgotten the father in heaven and his own mortality.  God sends Death to guide Everyman on a tour of his vanity.  Everyman tries to bribe Death, then agrees to a journey to confront various virtues: Knowledge, Beauty, Goodness, and whatnot.  A clunky tool to be sure.  But the message is more interesting than the method.  Everyman comes to think of his odyssey as a disease that needs remedying.  He is advised to go to the priesthood to receive a sacramental ‘ointment.’  There he is told:

            For the blessed sacraments pure and benign
            He beareth the keys and thereof have the cure
            For man’s redemption it is ever sure
            Which God for our soul’s medicine
            Gave us out of his heart with great pain.


You see?  God becomes the metaphysician to cure Everyman’s sin!  And at the end, it’s not an angel who appears to advise the audience as to the play’s moral reckoning.  It’s a doctor.  A doctor!”
    The Maestro lays a hand on the average man’s shoulder, kneading it like a lover.  “It is every scientist’s hope that his hypothesis can change the world.  My friend, you are my evidence, my truth, my epiphenomenon.  I have waited for you.  Our own audience is gathering.  Are you ready?”

*

    The average man is left alone to prepare.  In the chair he experiences an odd sensation of vertigo, and he lifts himself upright in its cup.  He feels sicker than when he arrived, yet at the same time he senses that he may be on the cusp of that which will assuage him.  He is anxious.  It is the receptionist who retrieves him, knocking first and peeking at him from behind the jamb.
    “Hello,” the average man says.
    She enters the room carefully, schoolgirlish and shy.  She puts her feet together and shrugs.  “I suppose this is awfully obvious, isn’t it?  Sending me in here to fetch you along.  Rather transparent.  If I had my say I’d say even the average man can see through such a ridiculous ploy.  I would!  I’d say, the average man isn’t nearly the dupe you think he is.  I’ve seen one or two in my time, so I should know.  Besides, being average only means that the average man makes average mistakes, and if the world’s got any real problems it’s that exceptional men make exceptional mistakes.  And it’s just those jokers who turn into monsters behind closed doors!  Hm!”
    The receptionist nods once, and the average man can barely contain the swoon of his heart.  The receptionist holds his stare.
    “I hate to do this.  But there are some things I’m supposed to tell you before we go.”
    “What things?”
    She looks to the ceiling for her recital.  “Quote.  Even a sick man can carry on the moral warfare.  He can will his attention away from his own future.  He can train himself in indifference to his own suffering.  He can cultivate cheerful manners and be silent about his misery.  Does not such a man inhabit the loftiest of planes?  Is he not a high-hearted freeman and no pining slave?  Unquote.”  She lowers her head and breathes.  “And now I’m just supposed to take you to the auditorium.  But--well--how do you feel?”
    “Queasy.”
    “They said you’d say that.  They said it’s normal.”
    “They said a lot,” the average man says.
    “Oh, dear!” the receptionist says.  She steps forward to embrace him, and he stands to enter her arms.  “I’m not supposed to do this at all.”
    One hand the receptionist lays into the small of the average man’s back, the other cups his skull as though he is an infant.  The average man pulls her forward, a palm for each distinct shoulder blade, and he feels himself become aroused, as will tend to happen.  They remain pressed for several seconds, then the receptionist pulls away.  Her eyes have begun to water, and she flaps a stiff palm by her face to stem the tears.
    “Oh my, look at me.  Not very professional, and this only my second formal position!”  She steps back a pace to assume a new pose of formality.  “Without the sacrifice of the average man, is it not surprising that health exists at all?  Please follow me.”
    She leads him further into the building, out from the hallways of the clinic decorated with prints of barns and flowers, into tile-walled passages that twist and curve, and finally through a pair of swinging doors splotched with square windows.  Beyond is a half flight of stairs; the dismal corridor continues at the bottom.  The Maestro’s voice is clear in the passage before it arrives at its terminus, a door marked “Stage.”  They stop and lean close to listen.
“Disease!” the Maestro bellows.  “Has there ever been a means of investigation so rich in result?  Illness, my gracious colleagues, is an experiment of the most subtle order!  What is a symptom without context or background?  What is complication apart from what it complicates?  Have we not come to learn, my dear friends, that to define disease we must dehumanize it?  Is it not obvious now that man is the least important element of sickness?  
    “Medicine needs objective pathology.  But research that destroys its subject is hardly objective!  The laboratory itself is a pathological environment.  From this, researchers--some of you here today--claim to draw conclusions bearing the weight of norms.  But I ask you.  When a drosophila with wings gives birth to a drosophila without wings, are we confronted with pathological fact?  Does the latter feel it is less than its ancestor?  Does it feel sick?  At every moment the possibilities within us are endless.  It takes disease to reveal them.  Today, we see the results of an experiment conducted in the purest of laboratories--life itself!  Our subject came to us.  The very fact that he calls himself sick is our failure to disprove.”
    There follows a great murmuring as the hidden audience comes alive.  The average man and the receptionist share the surprise.  Judging from the vibration, the audience may well number a thousand.  The receptionist squints consolingly.  From this the average man deduces that he will be introduced soon.  She places a hand on his shoulder, and tilts her head as though to see deeper into his eyes.  A kiss at this moment is the instinct of the average man.  But though she is close enough that he can feel her breath on his lips, the average man does not move toward her.  Generally speaking, he thinks, the Maestro may be right that he does not know that he is average.  That the average man secretly believes he is more than average may be the prototype of prayer.  It is a sad thought, but a universal one.  And was there not comfort there?  The average man is simple, but not a prisoner.  He may tend toward stoicism and timidity, he may lack significant foresight and wherewithal, but was there not at least one great moment in the lives of all men, when even an average man could transcend expectation and cry his name aloud?
    “Friends!  Friends!” the Maestro calls beyond the door, silencing the room.  “If you do not believe, you will meet him in but a moment.  But a question first.  Do we not know that the healthy organism does more than simply maintain itself?  Does it not attempt to realize its nature?  We have the obligation to interfere with ourselves, to vulgarize our genius.”
    A voice from the audience interrupts.  “You’re quoting Canguilhem!”
    “And he’s quoting Quetelet!” the Maestro calls.  “And Comte!  And Broussais!  This is what we do.  We borrow, we build, we tear down.  Life gambles against growing entropy!”
    A number of voices call out.  “What of Commonplace Man....Ideal Man...Prevalent Man...Regular Man...Representative Man.”
    “Enough!  It is time for him to appear.”
    There is a pause beyond the door, and the average man sees the receptionist wet her lips, preparing to deliver some element of her script.  Her hand moves toward the knob of the stage door.  The average man reaches for her wrist before she can betray him.
    “My colleagues,” the Maestro says, “my collaborators and competitors alike.  I give you proof!”
    “Help me,” the average man whispers.
    His breath moves her hair.  Even the skin of her wrist is feverish.
    “Come,” she says.  “Hurry!”
    They rush back up the passage, holding hands.  They pass again through the swinging doors and along new corridors.  Their heartbeats accelerate with their footsteps, and she leads him to an exit behind a thick velvet curtain.  Beyond is an abyss of stairs.
    “Come with me,” the average man says.  “I love you.”
    “My dearest,” the receptionist says, “we only think that we love.  What we love are ideas.”  She takes both his hands.  “Our troubles lie too deep for that cure.  The fact that we can be ill at all is what perplexes us.  But do not fear.  It is the patient who decides when he has returned to normalcy.  The essential thing is to have been raised from near death.  To have had a narrow escape.  You are fine.  You will feel yourself soon enough.  Now go!”
    She nods him toward the stairs and disappears behind the curtain.  The average man stands still a moment.  He is sad, but he must admit that he has begun to feel better.  He breathes in the dank air of the stairwell and feels it process inside of him, begin its industrious distribution.  The average man these days is well aware of how his organs work; he understands his own normal functioning.  And now he descends through the building, past a school for mimes and sad circus clowns, past a cryogenics storage warehouse, past a bottling center for a pink elixir that cures all ails, and emerges at last to a new world caught in spring downpour, fat droplets falling hard and shattering, an inconvenience to be sure but quite normal for that time of year.



DALRYMPLE

    We gave ourselves a warning sign about Dalrymple--we refused to call him doctor--but we didn’t heed it, so it’s fair to say we brought this on ourselves.  He wasn’t the kind of guy that put you on the lookout for red flags.  Beederman remembers—or says he remembers--Dalrymple’s mobile laboratory pulling into town that first day, a converted ice cream truck with the speaker still on the roof, the whole thing painted lab coat white, the sides festooned with letters:

Dr. Dalrymple’s Amazing“Sleep” Machine

Thing was, Dalrymple didn’t strike anyone as the authoritative type, let alone a medical doctor.  He was a messy-haired guy with a mustache to hold back an ocean with and a sweat gland problem.  A momma’s boy type.  Sort of guy you’d offer loose change if he’d looked just a bit more down on his luck.
    He set up shop at the mall.  Scenic had just the one, a great big structure, 467 stores, though most of them are empty now.  Dalrymple found space in one of the piazzas--level two, near the playground--and he brought in, all by himself, a pair of the compartments, as he called them, big space-age looking things, crossed between a diving bell and an astronaut suit.  Later, we would see more advanced versions of the compartments, but that first pair were like patched-together prototypes, his and hers whatevers, and Tiptoft wonders why no one ever asked to see a permit for the things, which, even as they looked as though Dalrymple had put them together in the back of his ice cream truck, did look like a complicated bit of machinery.  Others say Dalrymple’s goofball manner prevented questions.  He just didn’t look like a guy who knew the answers.
    We ignored him at first; we ignored him for a long time.  The children, not surprisingly, were the first to pay him mind, raising a stubby finger to Dalrymple’s free-standing sandwich board and demanding a translation.

½  hour -- $10
2 hours -- $25
1 day -- $200
??? -- please inquire

Which of course their parents could not provide, except to say that it seemed some kind of service was being exchanged for money.  Dalrymple didn’t exactly come on with a hard sell.  He sat there reading our local newspaper--the Scenic Whig-Herald, owned and operated by the Lions Club--ignoring those who stopped to puzzle over the sign.  He came and went every day, loading and unloading the compartments, driving the ice cream truck to and from who knows where.  Dalrymple appeared to have nowhere else to go and an unflappable patience.  The patience, Hasselbeck now says, of a hungry fisherman.
    Which eventually paid off.  The first to bite was Pitzl-Waters, who later admitted that the idea to give Dalrymple a try came after he and a few friends finished watching a football game.  They were liquored up, their team had won, the night was young, and Scenic was not exactly brimming with resources for celebration.  Pitzl-Waters himself suggested Dalrymple, who by that time was a town fixture.  Dalrymple, Pitzl-Waters said, was the only adventure they had, and the mall was still open.
    Dalrymple met the four men not like a vendor greeting his first customers in months, but with the annoyance of a shopkeeper staying open five minutes extra after a long day.  Pitzl-Waters didn’t care.  He giggled the whole time Dalrymple fixed him up with sensor pads.  Pitzl-Waters opted for just the half hour plan, so his pals were still drunk when Dalrymple cracked open the compartment again on that first occasion.  There was no hiss, no escape of pressurized gas to hint at how the machine worked, just a lifting of the lid and a peculiar smell--wet cardboard--that we never have been able to figure out.
    Pitzl-Waters had sobered on the inside.  Which is not to say that he came out refreshed--it’s not like that--but certainly he’d gone through some kind of shift.  It wasn’t like time passing, he told his pals, but it wasn’t like no time had passed, either.  Rather, it was as though he’d stepped from one era directly into another--another, he said, he was surprisingly ready for.
    Now Pitzl-Waters was not a man to come out lightly with words like era.  Neither age nor epoch were regular tenants in the storehouse of his vocabulary.  Like most of us, he thought about last week and next week, and that was already a lot to handle, and so the others were taken aback by Pitzl-Waters’s talk of an era-making machine.  Yes, they said, but what was it like?  Should they try it themselves?  Was it dangerous?  How many brain cells had he lost?
    “It was like,” Pitzl-Waters said, “being off.”
    “Off?”
    “Turned off.  Like a light.”
    “Did you dream?  Were you just asleep?”
    Pitzl-Waters was certain about this.  “No.”
    Most of those who came immediately after Pitzl-Waters chose the one-hour plan.  The results were predictable: Pitzl-Waters’s experience was heightened, though no one, not even Pitzl-Waters, who went back for a second dose, was willing to characterize the hour sleep as twice as good as the half hour sleep.  “Good” didn’t quite describe it, and others disagreed with Pitzl-Waters’s time talk.  The compartments weren’t relaxing, particularly.  It wasn’t like taking a sauna.  (The best description would come from Ullyat, who some time later stood up during the public comment portion of a special meeting of city council.  “It’s like the same thing you’re inside of is inside of you,” Ullyat said.)
    Regardless, Dalrymple began doing a tidy business.  He upgraded to the more modern looking compartments--opaque face plates, flush bolts--added six units, and moved into the alcove of the mall’s first failed business, a cookie bakery.  People started taking doses on lunch hours, or cut out of work early and hit the mall before dinner.  There was generally a line.  Dalrymple arranged to stay open as long as the multiplex.  A few people tried the day-long plan to get through weekends or lonely holidays--they came out neither hungry nor rested.  Dalrymple started taking reservations and gift cards.  He moved into a second failed shop, a shoe store.  He couldn’t keep up with demand, but at least he didn’t have to lug the compartments in and out of the mall anymore.  The ice cream truck disappeared.
    Edna Skym was the first to inquire about the final stage of Dalrymple’s treatment sequence--mentioned on his old sandwich board.  We all knew about Edna’s difficulties--with Fred, her husband, and their neighbor, Devon Sheach--and Obrissel, who worked as a mall guard, claims that he saw Edna sit down with Dalrymple in the back of the shoe store one day with a stack of papers.  She looked a little shaggy, slumped, and resigned.  They were still there when Obrissel returned for his second round two hours later.  Obrissel didn’t see her sign anything, but it was the last any of us saw of her.  Sort of.
    The next morning Dalrymple had opened another new store, a gutted lingerie outlet up on level four.  There was just one compartment in it--Edna Skym’s.  She was locked inside, or so Dalrymple said, and there was no indication of when she was coming out.  Now Sheriff Kjar got interested.  He gathered together a couple deputies and lawyers, and wandered over.  Dalrymple greeted them warmly, opened his books.  Sheriff Kjar pulled him aside while the lawyers sifted through Edna’s contract.
    “No bullshit--how long’s she in there for?” Kjar said.
    “She’s got a permanent deal, sheriff.”
    “How much that go for?”
    “You’ll need a court order for that.”
    Kjar nodded his frustration--the level-headedness that got him elected.  He nodded again when the lawyers admitted that all the paperwork seemed to be in order.  They took their leave.  The next day two more compartments appeared in the lingerie store--Fred Skym and Devon Sheach, of course.  People were uneasy about that, at first.  It felt like a murder-suicide, except we never knew who’d been murdered, and who was the suicide.
    Dalrymple took on his first employee--Sarah Hornback, nice girl, still with us, out of a job because Fred Skym had owned the cutlery kiosk on level one where she worked.  Dalrymple trained her for two days.  Basically, she kept records on the gauges that looked out from the compartments’ rear ends, so to speak.  She was supposed to report to Dalrymple if any of the needles showed anything out of the ordinary, which they never did.
    For a while, businesses up around the ex-lingerie outlet saw an increase in incidental traffic because people went out of their way to peek in at the three compartments lined up against the back wall--not that you could see anything.  Dalrymple’s regular business took a bit of a hit.  Then the floodgates shuddered.  Professor Vandersteen, who taught English at SCC, published “My Last Class” on the opinion page of the Whig-Herald.  In it, he ranted.  Our offspring were “uncurious,” he wrote.   As a “culture,” we had “written reams on materialism,” but were “illiterate in spirit.”  The only real view in Scenic, he complained, was of the artificial lake.  Near the end it became clear that this was more than just a lecture:

What we have learned, my friends, is that the evil queen
was not evil, she was pragmatic; the poison apple was not
poisoned, it was medicinal; and the prince’s kiss was not
affection, it was rape and a rude awakening indeed.

Professor Vandersteen was secure in the lingerie outlet before his words hit our driveways.  An op-ed alone--even a moving one--wasn’t going to trigger an avalanche, but it was the shout that cracked the snowcap.  Pettygrove recalls Sheriff Kjar talking up the Vandersteen piece at Piskhaver’s barber shop.
    “In ancient times,” Kjar quoted by heart, “the only exodus to a better life was the migration of the dead to the paradise of a suburban cemetery.”
The professor was quoting too, but the sheriff didn’t seem to know it or at least he didn’t let on that he knew it.  Kjar signed his own permanent sleep contract that night.
    The next morning there was a line outside the mall, people in tents pitched on the asphalt.  Dalrymple couldn’t keep up.  For a while he tried alternating between installations and closings, but within a week he was forced to take on managers to handle contracts, oversee maintenance and security, and so on.  He rented new spaces, and there were plenty: the arcade, three gift shops, the theme park gift store, the eyeglass hut.  Shipments of compartments came in at night, men in gray overalls dollying them in through the cargo bays.
    The financial services industry spiked as people liquidated assets and bought in.  Church attendance skyrocketed, then crashed, and before long you could get a Scenic home for a song.  Dalrymple hired more staff, and eventually he was spotted only at brief training sessions for upper-tier execs.
    The frenzy lasted a month, and didn’t stall so much as run out of feed.  The mall management was sleeping by then, and those of us who were left--Dalrymple’s army--had to figure out the various systems, heating for now, but we’re thinking ahead.  No one quite remembers the last time we saw Dalrymple.  We’ve gone on without him.  A few more were able to fall asleep--we drew straws--when we figured out the minimum workforce necessary to keep everything monitored.  Video surveillance has proved invaluable in this regard.  Those of us who remain take turns with shorter rests.  Sometimes, we go out for a drive, head up to Scenic Overlook, where our kids used to park and make out.  We know now that the city of the dead is foretold by easily diagnosed symptoms.  When those signs appear, Necropolis is near.  There’s regret, surely.  Each of us could have been on the inside.  It leaves one with a hollow feeling.  But, nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say--and we were not the adventurous types.



DOUBLE ENTENDRE

I don’t mean to say that any great passion can exist without
a desire for consummation.  That seems to me to be a
commonplace and to be therefore a matter needing no
comment at all.  It is a thing, with all its accidents, that
must be taken for granted, as, in a novel, or a biography,
you take it for granted that the characters have their meals
with some regularity.


Ford Madox Ford, 1915

    
    We begin on the sofa.  I touch your leg through your clothes.  I touch your lower leg, just above the bone that pushes the skin from beneath like a tree root pushing earth.  I use my index finger.  My skin seizes and my jaw trembles.  I move to your calf, cup its heft.  I squeeze and my fingers jog across the skin.  Sexual encounters may be frequent, but they should never be gratuitous.  Emphasize shared feeling.  This is romance.  Modern attitudes toward sex should be reflected while reinforcing values of caring and commitment.  Characters need not be in love.  Sex is a wonderful experience.  If the erotic story brings a little of that into the lives of readers then it hasn’t done any harm at all.
    I open my hand and pass it over your body.  Your spine churns like the silly locomotion of a caterpillar.  I pass my hand across your face, nudge the sharp ridge of your jaw as though smearing clear the rim of a buried box.  The crease of your mouth turns up, and when the lip pulls back I see the gleam of a shiny tooth.  I creep around to your nape and the crown of your skull, palming it like a ball.  We have begun.
    Intimate detail can be employed if it is tastefully done.  Clinical phrases are not a good idea.  The beginning of an erotic story is in many ways even more important than the beginning of other stories.  Get to the crisis as quickly as possible.  Sexual tension is to erotica what blood is to sexual organs.  Sexual tension is “Geez, he kisses great.  Too bad he’s wanted for tax evasion in Delaware.”  Perhaps not all can write erotic fiction well, but every one of us is a sensual being.  Good erotic fiction often has theme beyond the simple mechanics of sex.  Get to the crisis as quickly as possible.  If characters can’t get to the crisis, they should at least get started on the trip that will lead them to it.  These destinations are not acceptable: the Middle East, India, Africa, anywhere in the Orient, South or Central America.

*

    We leave at nightfall, a decision made just at dusk, exciting for its suddenness, and twenty minutes later we are on the road, a state highway heading south.  The road is nearly empty, lined with farms and country bars whose neon defies the idea of night, fooling insects who orbit them drunkenly in swarms.  The curtains of the van flop wildly behind us.  You are wearing a long, light dress, but it is pulled up past your knees to let the air in.  Men use erotic stories as an aid to masturbation.  Women find that racy material increases their interest in sex.  On a more basic level, women’s erotica tends to be about atmosphere and sensual pleasure that leads to making love, and men’s erotica is about fucking and coming.   
    Erotic fiction is the chance to eroticize anything at all.

*

    We have no destination but the journey itself, its visceral sense of speed and progress as we recede from the familiarity of home.  I reach forward and wind the clock on the dash, screw it up.  Time doesn’t matter.  It’s June, the third week in June, hot enough to leave the windows open at night, and the humid air streams over our arms, pushing the hairs backward and leaving them bent.  The white lines of the road accelerate toward us and fire beneath the body of the van.
    How long is this love scene?  What are they doing to avoid commitment?  Are you writing with all your senses?  Conjure the hero.  What’s it like to have this marvelous man making love to you?  Feel his arms, the pressure of his muscled thighs against your quivering thigh.  Are your breasts taut with desire?  Most human beings have fantasies, and writers are no exception.  Most erotica is simply an extension of a writer’s own imagination.  That said, sexual tension can’t last forever -- sooner or later, something has to give.
    Suddenly, you reach for my hand, pry it from the wheel and pull it toward you.  I shuffle to the edge of the vinyl seat.  You place my hand on your inner thigh, the muscles there relaxed and terribly soft.  You grab my elbow and shove me closer.  I keep my eyes on the road, hovering one-handed through the wide play of the steering wheel.  I turn my wrist and brush your hair and the skin beneath with my ring finger first.  I prod the loose flesh--you are already damp.  I concentrate to move that difficult finger, like a painful exercise for piano, and it’s not long before the muscle in the back of my hand threatens to spasm.  Channels of warmth flood the tiny spirals of my fingerprint, and I adjust to press into your flesh.
    You play with my elbow in a way that is confusing at first.  Outstretched and hyperextended, the back of my elbow is loose and wrinkled.  You tickle me there.  The pinches come in pulses, and I realize it’s communication, the dots and dashes of a kind of code.  I understand it all at once, the way a scholar suddenly understands the all of a lost language.  I am to play with you as you play with me.  It’s because I can’t see you--my eyes glued to the moving landscape of the road--that I can translate the touches, submit to your imagination.  I don’t know if you are moaning or breathing, or holding your breath, so I listen to the warm wind rushing through the fat cab of the van and think of this as your breath, your hot air pressing into my mouth and ears.  I move over you.  We travel like this for twenty miles, between a town called Barker and a town called Williamsport, until at last you accelerate and dig into the grooves of my elbow so that my whole arm rings for an electric moment, and without thinking I send the charge back to you, eyes locked to the road ahead.
    Such scenes are meant to be provocative, but they should be logical too.  Most editors don’t care if scenes are true, only that they could be true.  It’s essential to keep track of body parts, and not have vaginas suddenly sprouting from armpits.  It is quite astounding how many men are confused about the position of female genitalia.  The clitoris is not situated inside or adjacent to the vagina.  If the penis has penetrated the cervix, something very unusual is going on.

*

    Never before in erotica have authors been freer to express tastes.  The genre has come a long way.  The change began in historical romances.  Before, sex was limited to the heated touch, a lingering glance, a kiss on the last page.  But then came writers like Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss.  The relationship between authors and readers is like an affair, beginning with a seduction and experimenting as methods staled.  Now, anything goes.
    You want to take a bath.  You light two candles and murmur as you run the hot water.  I wait until there is silence before I enter.
    In erotic fiction, omniscience is an especially weak device as there can be no withheld information, hence no sexual tension.  Additionally, the second person is only rarely used in stories intended for the mass market.
    The little room glows yellow.  The shower curtain is pulled aside.  Her hair is up now, all but for a mesh of downy threads pasted to her neck, and she is immersed in a bath that steams in the low light.  Parts of her pierce the white head of the bubble bath, mound islands of buoyant breasts, a sandbar of her belly with the dent of her navel like a hole dug by a child.  He steps toward her.  For a moment he stares at foam clinging to the wedge of hair between her legs.  One thigh is raised and gleams.  His first touch is to her breast, spreading the little bubbles so it is like the touch of a million smaller hands.  He slides down to her stomach to press her navel, push his finger into its wrinkle where there is the deeper warmth of her body.  Her mouth opens and bites itself, teething on her lower lip.
    He touches her until the steam fades.  She looses her hair, and he feels himself sink and sink.  He holds it wet, shiny and heavy, a silky chunk woven with moisture, and he pinches through its pleats, mesmerized by its fabric.  The water is cold now, and when she stands she shivers.  He pads her down with towels and when she is dry they arrange them to a nest on the floor of the room.  He straddles her for a moment, then moves down her body, pausing at each breast to make her nipples rise.  He crawls back until his knees touch the cold tiles.  He licks at the loose lip of her and he is amazed at how easily she moves.  No part of him moves like this.  He touches her hard rim, then pushes inside to where she is a delicious singe.  He cranes his neck and pries his jaw open.  He wishes his tongue were more prehensile.  He holds his breath and pushes as deep inside her as he can go, and for some reason, perhaps he believes he can breathe through them, he opens his eyes and scans across the broad expanse of the rest of her, and she is tilted back, propped on her shoulders, and her fingers scrape over his forearms, and her belly stutters her pleasure, and she is lovely in the yellow light.
    Are you convinced that the lovers are in love when they tumble into bed?  Are you sure you have not been gratuitous?  How does he know that she loves him?  Can obstacles be dropped momentarily for passion?  Have we arrived at the crisis?  What has happened to our journey?  Be wary of lengthy exposition or description of particular acts.  Too much, and your story will stop dead in its tracks.

*

    Much in the same way orgasms can have different levels of intensity, so too can erotic writing.  But unlike orgasms, it’s not the intensity of the climax that changes.  What changes is the circumstance by which climax is reached.  Revel in this, but bear in mind that the average erotic story has two to three sex scenes, each slightly different from the last.
    They make the beach before sunrise.  The sky is streaked with cumulus.  For a while they play in the dunes, dancing, wrestling, waiting for the sun to appear.  They hug away the chill of wind and mist blowing off the breakers.  The dunegrass wriggles a lewd dance, and loose sand blows across the water’s hard-packed apron like wispy snakes, drifting snow.
    They splash each other to find that the water is warmer than the air, and they strip to march through it naked, treading a carpet of broken shellfish.  Low waves strike at their knees, and they dive into them, lips reddening as they fill with blood.  She approaches him and puts her hand between his legs.  They are waist-high in the water now and he is hopelessly limp.  She is amazed at how tiny he has become, and she fingers him like a delicate anemone detached and somersaulting in the waves.  She moves her hand to his testicles, cinched as tight as a date, and he feels one of her fingers claw at the tender opening below.
    She bares her teeth, clicks them in a flirt.  She drops to her knees, splashing his chest to keep him warm.  Then she ducks beneath the surface of the water to take him into her mouth, the deflated shaft, the packed testicles, all of it--and it is this thought, that all of him can be in her mouth, that finally arouses him.
    Heroines, femmes fatale, and ingenues are not always low-class whores.  Very often they are high-born whores.  But how many stories about bored housewives can you write?  Sooner or later you’re going to have to push the envelope to rich heiresses, powerful executives, and young people enjoying new found freedom.  Remember: non-virgins are never seduced.  Also, beware of throwing in sex scenes just for titillation.
    She comes up for air, using one hand to complete his erection.  The finger of her other hand enters him below the water, worming into him.  It’s only the balance afforded by the waves that keeps him upright.  He feels her knuckle, and then movement as from something hungry and alive.
    He looks up when she goes back under.  The sensation is determined less by friction and rhythm than by pressure and motion.  He feels the soft pillow of her tongue, hot and working as a guide to her throat.  Her finger digs further inside him, and her other hand molds the clay of his thigh.  The water moves at both her churning and its own.
    He looks at the last of the stars, fading, and when he lowers his head again it appears that some of them have sunk below the water.  But these are jellyfish, palm-sized disks glowing with internal phosphorescence.  Four or five colors drift below the surface, blues and reds and greens like lanterns decorating the break of morning.  He feels no fear at them.  They are simply alternate beings, fellow creatures, adrift in a cauldron of eggs and seed.  And when he comes, he thinks that they are like the jellyfish, but luckier for this moment of brushing union.
    Is this a good time for them to admit their love to each other?  Have your characters been making love in character?  Is she the only one for him?  You’re more than halfway to the end, but neither is certain of the actual commitment.  Ideas are like foreplay, but actually completing a story is like orgasm.  If the story is plausible, the climax will be all the more satisfying.
   
*

    Note that there has always been a dark undercurrent to passion.  We humans tend to prefer our sex a tad scary.  Shrewd writers capitalize on this.  Hot fiction is real people reacting to a situation that frightens them, pushes their boundaries.
    They sleep most of the day on the beach under a blanket from the van, until the sun is descending again.  A hundred miles down the road they stop at a diner where the cups don’t match the saucers, the forks don’t match the knives.  Back on the road they see a sign warning against hitchhikers and another that reads Livestock Roam Free.  Soon they see the roaming cows, fat and ugly and chewing through the dusk.  The roads now have letters instead of numbers or names, and there are no longer divided lanes, just the pavement, and sometimes not even that.  They are off the map.  The road does not exist.  Possibly this is best, he thinks, looking across at her, her hair scrunched at the top of her head in a fist.  To map something is to make it smaller, to understand it, and if one can grasp the largeness of the world, its opaque hugeness, then one cannot achieve this sense of being lost, but not lost at all, because lost from what? from home? the world is home, the sky a brilliant ceiling of a vast kitchen, they are surrounded by beauty and bounty and are part of it.  He thinks for a time of the hole within him--not like the lingering sensation of her finger, but similar--that he feels when she is not with him.  It’s a hole he fills with thoughts of her.  It’s not a hole that hurts, it’s not a puncturing, it’s a feeling of being lost and found at once, of tolerance and anger and lust and happiness, and of all the most vivid emotions, vivid like colors, discreet in shades, a subtle passage through a spectrum like a sunset, like the sunset into which they now drive.
    Unhappiness, discontent and divorce are the sad endings we all experience, but in erotic fiction we want a happy ending to remove us from all this.  Most erotic fiction tends to be sex-positive, so the message is that good sex is something worth having often.  Love can be beautiful, awesome in its majesty.  To capture a fraction of that emotion is to dance among the stars.

*

    Are we approaching the resolution of the crisis?  Are you bearing in mind gratuitousness?  The final coming together of hero and heroine should not be mere conjugation.  It is consummation--something yearned for by both the heroine and the reader.  Erotic stories are about people having sex that is not only satisfying, but endless.  Just as horror stories end with a hint that evil will return, so do erotic stories hint that the sex will go on.
    They stop at a farmhouse to ask directions to a motel, but the fat crinkly gent squints and tells them there ain’t none.  He suggests instead the parking lot of an abandoned Methodist church a mile down the road.  He chews some remnant of his dinner and warns of a local species of spider--eight hairy legs and a blue dot on its belly.
    The church tilts like a bad tooth, and its lot is bordered on two sides by a flat graveyard overflowing with gothic monuments, itself walled around with corn still green in the stalk.  Broad and gnarly oaks stand secure among the stones.  He lights a propane lantern and they walk out among the graves.  Many of the monuments are tipped from weather or the decomposition of the coffin below.  The dates are ancient.  B. 1822 - D. 1889.  One grave, fallen flat on its back, says only 1658.  They hold hands as they wind through the monuments, and the lantern hisses an answer to the crickets.  The corn is the black wall of a mausoleum.
    Back in the van, they climb onto its bed and she wrestles on top of him and reaches down to guide him inside of her.  She has a few ways of this business.  One is to execute an aerobic he can watch, he can see his apparatus--he thinks of it this way--sinking into her, and another is to ride horizontally forward and back, grinding their woolly meshes of hair and secretions.  He reaches up to hold her body in his hands, grab either side of her at the ribs, and she is like a piece of sandstone, hard, but surprisingly light.  She balances on his chest and squeezes him there, and he wipes at the strands of hair that cling to her shoulder’s skin, and he molds the skin, the muscle beneath, the bone at the center of her.
    She comes down hard on his scrotum.  He gasps at what is not quite the pain of it.  As they make love now in a graveyard he imagines all the other places where they might make love--cars; racquetball courts; piers; museums; a meadow where they once chased falling leaves and laughed; sometime after Chinese food; the beach, reclined against dunes; a bathroom stall; the mountains, under a misted sky; pressed against a textured wall; in front of a fire; on fur; on carpeting; on concrete; in freezing weather, against a tree.  He runs his hand down her flank and up to her leg to work the hinge of her hip.  He is close to coming now, the potential of it fading in and out.  For a time he entertains boyish thoughts of her, walking together, holding hands, playing games together, the lower case tendernesses he would cherish with her.  He thinks briefly of the spider they have been warned of.  He’s on his palms, and she’s on her elbows, and their legs are crimped together at the knee, eight tangled limbs, and he thinks We are the spider.  We are all that is dangerous and beguiling.
    Now she is kissing him, and they are about as much inside each other as is possible, and this thought is as exciting as the data transmitted from his extremities.  He accelerates now, and he looks at her closed eyelids to imagine what she imagines, her parted lips pushing air that shows in the chill for a fraction of a second, and her fingernails are in his chest, they feel embedded in his chest, and he senses tears in muscles all over his body, and bruises forming, and now he is making noise, he has been making noise for some time without knowing it, not screams but hard breaths, and he reaches that point when he knows he will come, that focal lock in the head of his penis, and now really he need only wait for it, for its sizzle to spread fast across his body in a shot, an explosion followed at once by implosion, and the tension again centers in the head of his cock, and then spurts come flush, like a vein opened by a sudden wound, bursting in concert with his heart, and his warmth begins its swim through her identical warmth, a transfer of life from environment to environment, and as his coming fades and his breathing slows, and she holds him, he knows that he will miss sleeping with her, holding her through the aftermath.
    The end of erotic stories may be even more important than the end of other stories.  The biggest problem with blending genres is to make the story work in both worlds.  The story itself becomes a double entendre.  Never forget the six-step story: Boy wants Girl; Girl not interested; Boy makes his move; they have sex; a truth is revealed; the sex goes on.

*

    Has the crisis been resolved?  Have you double-checked for gratuitousness?  Have you created a convincing Other Man/Other Woman?  Have you executed your third love scene?
    They sleep for a time, but not long.  They wake to a noise outside the van, open their eyes to see the other staring back at them.  The sound repeats, just an animal, and he thinks of the way sounds creep into dreams and asks her, “What were you dreaming?  Just now.”
    She looks out the window, into the graveyard.  “I think I still am,” she says.
    A light fog has descended on the church and graves.  Its gentle movement gives the world a sense of spin, and a breeze whispers through the corn.  There is no sky, and the ground is shrouded as well, and all they have is a flat plane of empty space.  They pull closer together for fear, then find it ridiculous.  They sit up and stare out the windows.  He doesn’t know if she’s scared, but for a moment he becomes convinced that something will rush from the darkness, from the corn.
    “Let’s get out of here,” she says.
    They rush into the front of the van and the headlights flash long shadows that shift and move as the van turns away.  She grabs his thigh in fear and they speed off.  Three or four miles away it all seems funny.  They laugh and when the laughter fades, he tries the radio.  He can find only static.  They are too far out from civilization yet.  There are few lights, and he checks the gas.  He looks at her, smiling out the windshield.  He sees, just in front of them, a bright star, the polestar.  He looks at her, smiling still, content at the thought that they are heading deeper, that they are heading south, that the journey continues.  But it’s not.  It’s north, and they are going home.
    Is the sex novel field a good place for a beginner?  I’m afraid not.  The equivalent today is the mechanical, plotless, hard-core porn novel, composed of one overblown sex scene after another.  Any dolt with a typewriter and a dirty mind can write them.  But hopefully this turn is only temporary.  History will come around again to believable characters.  Authors will once again write stirring romances.  And the reader, whoever she is, will turn the last page, sigh dreamily, and think That’s the way love really is.
 
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