He comes out of the shower and thinks “Oh, darn, what day is today? Did I miss it?” Quickly dries himself and runs through the living room to the kitchen and looks at the newspaper there. February 6th, he sees, thank goodness, and his wife says “What are you doing with no clothes on? Aren’t you cold?” “No. Or only a little. Doesn’t matter.” “And you’re wet—your legs and back.” “Am I? Thought I dried myself completely. Today’s the third anniversary of my mother’s death.” “Today? February 5th?” “It’s the sixth.” “I thought she died on the fifth. I remember thinking then, and other times two-five. Twenty-five. Not twenty-six.” “It was the sixth, believe me, and today’s the sixth.” “Three years,” she says. “Doesn’t seem that long ago, though that’s what people always say. Are you going to light a memorial candle for her?” and he says “I only have one left. They’re so tough to get. I have to go to Pikesville for them, so I’ll save it for her birthday next month. That way, I’ll light it soon as I get up and have it the whole day. Here, half the day’s gone already.” “I can understand. And finish drying. You’ll catch a cold.” “You don’t get one that way.”
He goes back to the bedroom, gets the towel off the bed and dries his legs and back. When he first got into the shower and was waiting for the water to warm up, he thought maybe he could lure his wife to the bedroom after he dried himself. Yell out, or go into the living room to yell it, because sounds don’t carry well from this room to the front of the house, “Sandra, care to take a break?” Now he doesn’t feel like it. How could he? Three years. He was sitting up in bed reading a book when the call came. His wife was in the bathroom and said through the door “Can you get it? It’s not that I don’t have my portable, but I don’t like to answer the phone when I’m on the potty.” It was his sister with what she said was very bad news: “Mom’s been taken to the hospital and they don’t think she’s going to survive the night. You better get on a train, though there’s no guarantee she’ll be alive when you get here.”
Maybe he will light the candle. No, save it for her birthday. And get dressed. Gets dressed and goes into the living room and sits down to read a book he left on the chair’s side table last night. Phone rings in the bedroom and his wife’s study. He can hear his wife running the faucet in the kitchen. Phone rings again. “Could you get it before the answering machine picks it up?” he yells to her. “I don’t feel like talking to anyone.” “Oh, you’re in there? I thought you were in back,” she yells to him. “Your sister.” “I told you, I don’t want to speak to anyone.” He goes into the bedroom and picks up the phone. “Meyer’s on,” his wife says. “Nice talking to you, Naomi,” and hangs up. “Hi,” he says. “Why didn’t you want to come to the phone?” Naomi says. “You don’t know?” “How would I? I don’t live in your house, eavesdrop on your conversations or know your thoughts.” “Today’s the third anniversary of Mom’s death.” “I thought March 6th.” “February.” “I’m almost sure it was March.” “February.” “If you say so,” she says. “You sound very positive, and you’d remember.” “I have it written down in my datebook for that year, the day she died.” “You still have that book from three years ago? What, for tax purposes, in case you get audited and have to show it to them like a diary for certain things?” “No,” he says. “Because it has phone numbers and addresses in it I haven’t transferred to this year’s datebook.” “Why don’t you transfer them, or just get a regular address book?” “I have one but it’s for the most part filled up. As for transferring them to later datebooks: not enough space; I’m also too lazy to; and I know where these numbers are in the ’02 book: all in the front. But other things are in it too. PIN numbers, for instance.” “You keep your PIN numbers out like that? They could be stolen, the important ones. Where do you keep these datebooks, for I suppose you also have your ’03 and ’04 books for the same purpose?” “I do. From ’01, which is when most of the popular letters of the address book filled up, to ’05. They’re wrapped together, along with my checkbook—this way I don’t have to look in different places for them—in a single rubberband, and they’re all about the same size. And I always know where they are when I want them: in the canvas shopping bag I carry my students’ papers and other stuff to school.” “Your checkbook too? You’re really asking for trouble. Anyway, it’d seem the effort of transferring these numbers and the still current old-address-book entries into a new address book would be worth it, since you’ll be carrying around a growing pile of these books the rest of your life. As for the PIN numbers and other important IDs like that, I know what I’d do, but do as you wish. As Mom used to say: ‘I already interfered enough.’ By the way, what do you do on her anniversary? Much as I loved her, I don’t do anything. Besides, I thought it was on March 6th, so if I had done anything, it would have been on the wrong day.” “For the last two years, I lit a memorial candle. I only have one left, though. And since I only just realized—maybe fifteen minutes ago—it’s her anniversary, I feel it’s too late in the day for it. I’ll light it on her birthday.” “That one I know is in March, but I always forget which day.” “The eleventh.” “I’ll remember it. I’m in fact writing it down now on a piece of paper stuck to the refrigerator door, and will do something that day for her. Maybe light a candle like you.” “You have a place in the city where to get them? If you do, could you pick up a few for me?” “You’re talking about the Yahrzeit kind, right?” she says. “The ones in the glass that last a whole day?” “Yeah. Like Mom used to light for her parents and then Dad and Rosalie.” “There’s a store near me on First Avenue that sells them and other Jewish things.” “I live in a Gentile neighborhood,” he says, “and the nearest store that carries them is a twenty-minute ride away.” “I’ll get you a few. When you next coming to New York?” He says he doesn’t know and then “Look, I don’t mean to cut you off, but I was in the midst of doing something and have to get back to it,” and she says “Wait, I haven’t told you why I called. Charlotte’s getting married.” “To the guy you don’t like?” “I never said I didn’t like him. I just said his family is very strange and I only hoped it didn’t rub off on him. Father who hasn’t left the house in ten years? Sister who has several illegitimate kids, each by a different man and none more than a year apart? Brother who served time for selling cocaine and carrying a gun? Mother seemed relatively sane, by what Billy’s said, but she died when he was twelve. He’s a sweet boy, has always treated me nice, so I expect I’ll come to appreciate him as a son-in-law. Just thought you’d want to know of the engagement and offer your congratulations. Your only niece, and she’s thirty-seven, so it’s long overdue.” “Congratulations. Will there be a big wedding? Sorry, but you know how I hate large social functions.” “All depends on how much her father’s willing to cough up; I know I can’t afford it. Besides, who said you’d be invited?” “Good, it’s better I’m not. These days, they usually go on for an entire weekend, and I can’t give up that much time.” “You know, next time I’m only going to speak to Sandra about something like this. Because I’m sure she’d like to come to it no matter how large it is and wouldn’t like you refusing for you both. Anyway, it’s probably a year off. Good-bye, my dear brother. I love you, even if you can be annoying.” “Same here,” he says, “about the first part.”
He now understands where that dream of his mother came from two nights ago. In it, someone sat down next to him in a symphony hall. His wife wasn’t with him. He took his left arm off the armrest to make room for the arm of the person who just sat down and saw it was his mother. “How strange, you being here,” he said, and she said “Why so?” “Quickly, Mom, and I’m happy as a lark to see you, but tell me what it was like.” “What was what like?” she said, and he said “Death, of course.” “How should I know?” Dream ended with that. First time since she died that she spoke to him in one. But it’ll be dark soon, he thinks, and puts on his sneakers and sweatshirt, says to his wife in the kitchen “Charlotte got engaged to that Billy guy we met at Naomi’s Christmas party. There’s going to be a wedding in a year I won’t want to go to,” and heads outside for a short run. “When there’s ice and snow on the ground?” she says before the door closes. “Don’t be crazy.”
He showers. Dries himself and before he starts dressing in the bedroom, his wife comes in and says “Like to take a break?” “You bet,” he says, or “Why not?” She takes off her clothes and they get on the bed. “Are you dry,” she says, “because your back and legs still look wet?” He stands up, dries the parts she said, and gets back on the bed. Or he’s already on it, completely dry, and watches her take off her clothes. Or he helps her take them off. Or he showers and goes into the bedroom to dress and thinks he’d like his wife to come in right now and say “Like to take a break?” He’d say “I was about to dress and try to get some work in, but all right.” Or “I was about to go for a short run.” “In these conditions, when there’s so much ice and snow on the ground. You could slip and break a bone. But if you don’t want to make love,” she could say, “that’s all right.” But she comes in and says “Like to take a break? If you don’t, or have something else you want to do, like get some more work in or go for a run, even if conditions outside aren’t the best for it, don’t let me stop you. There’s always another time.” “No, I don’t ever want to refuse you,” and she says “You can refuse. I have. Not ‘refuse,’ so much, but just said I didn’t feel like it now or it wasn’t the right time.” “You never said it that much.” “Oh, no? Well, I guess that’s good.” He gets on the bed. “I’m dry, by the way,” he says, “so don’t worry.” She starts to undress. Or he thinks, after he comes out of the shower and is drying himself, how can he get his wife to make love? It’s been a week. Maybe longer. After she showered and shampooed, which she does once a week—shampoos—usually on Mondays, it seems, so he’ll say six days ago. Does he want to make love? He’s sure he will. Just thinking about it is making him excited, so he’ll obviously get more excited once they start doing it. Yes, he wants to. “Sandra,” he could yell from the hallway outside their bedroom, “do you think you’d like to take a break?” Because it’d look ridiculous, going out naked to wherever she is—probably in her study—and asking if she wants to take a break or “make love.” Or he could yell from the hallway “Sandra, could you come back here, please?” If she says “What for?” he’ll say “I want to show you something.” If she says “You can’t show it to me out here?” he’ll say “I’ve just showered and have no clothes on and am still a bit wet and the house feels cold,” or better: “No, it can only be shown back here.” If she comes into the bedroom and says “What is it you want to show me?” he’ll say “Obviously, or maybe not that obviously, it was an excuse to get you back here without my first getting dressed. And it isn’t, which you might be thinking, anything referring to my penis, when I said ‘to show you.’ I’m not that adolescent. I just wanted to ask if you’d like to take a break.” If she says “Why did you think you needed an excuse? If you wanted to make love, you should have just said so. All I could say is yes, no, or later,” he’ll say “I didn’t think it right, yelling that to the front of the house. Anyway, since you’ve given me license to, maybe next time I will. So, do you want to?” He goes into the hallway and yells “Sandra, could you come back here, please? I want to show you something.” “What?” she yells from the kitchen, it seems, but it could also be from her study. “I said, ‘could you come back here?’” “I still can’t hear you. Why don’t you tell me in the kitchen?” “I can hear you but you can’t hear me?” “What?” “Forget it,” he yells. “Forget what?” “Nothing. It’s not important.” He’ll wait till tonight. But he might have drunk too much by then—he usually does, starting around six—and not get much of an erection. That’s what’s happened the last few months at night when they’ve made love. It’s always better in the morning or afternoon, which is why he’d like to do it now. It’s his age, he supposes—that it’s finally caught up on him in this area—but also that he’s tired at night, even if he’s taken a nap that day, and the drink. As for prescribed drugs to help it, he’s wary of what harm they might do to other parts of him. Last month when his wife was going through the vitamin catalog she gets—he’d gotten the mail from the mailbox and looked through the catalog when he was back in the house—he said “I see there’s something in the men’s products’ section called horny goat weed. Silly name, but could you order me a bottle when you next phone in your order? It’s not very expensive.” She looked it up in the catalog and read the description and said “Why do you want it? You think you have a problem?” “No, or nothing I can’t resolve myself. But I thought if it makes the sex better, why not try it? I wouldn’t take it every time. Maybe once a month or so, and I might find out the first time that it doesn’t work.” She said “It has herbs in it I never heard of. Mucana pruriens. Polypodium vulgare. From Peru or someplace. If I were you I’d stay away from it. Sometimes these medicinal herbs can be more dangerous than their synthetic equivalents. If you think you have a problem now and then, but more so than normal, not to worry, my darling—I’m sure it’ll go away. Don’t drink so much at night or take such long naps an hour or two before you go to sleep.”
He comes out of the shower and for some reason thinks of the time he went to a brothel in Paris. Not “for some reason.” He was drying his crotch and got a slight erection from it and played with himself to see if it’d get harder. It didn’t and it felt good doing it, but he stopped because he wanted to save it for making love later. Then he thought about when he was much younger and there was no problem. Time he was in a Paris brothel, for instance, and the woman took off her skirt and panties and lay on the bed and opened her legs and patted her thighs and said in French “Come in, come in, you’re ready.” He was undressed and said in French—it was his first trip to Europe; he’d boned up on his college French before he left and attended conversation classes twice a day on the student ship— “Could you take off your top too?” She said in French “You want the shirt off? Strange boy.” She took it off. “And the brassiere?” “The brassiere?” she said in French? “No. For that you must pay more.” “I can’t pay more. I’m a poor student and I have little money and I think I paid more than I can afford. I want to feel your breasts when we make love.” “You want to feel my breasts? You want to make love with your hands?” “Not if you don’t want me to,” he said, “though it’s true I’d like it. But if not that, then just with my chest against yours when I’m on top.” “You want to be on top? Go on top. But go on top now, because you’re wasting my time.” “Please take off your brassiere.” “For more money,” she said, “I will. Did I wash you?” “You washed me.” “Perhaps I should wash you again or you wash yourself. You’re strange and I think strange men need to be washed two times.” “I’m not strange. What man wouldn’t want the whole naked body rather than only half of one?” “Many men,” she said. “Besides, I don’t have pretty breasts, so why would you want my brassiere off?” “Your breasts look very pretty. But okay, if you don’t want to take off your brassiere, do as you like.” “You want the brassiere off that much, all right. No more arguments.” She took it off. They made love. This was in the afternoon. He came back to the same street that night and made love with a different prostitute. She was much younger than the first one and he was very excited when he followed her upstairs to her room. She played with him a little. He said “No more. I’m ready to go and I don’t want to spoil it,” and got on top of her and did it in about twenty seconds. Same thing in Amsterdam the next summer when he was co-leader of a student bicycle and bus tour of Europe. To get the job, he told the tour company he was twenty-five, when he was twenty-one, a Ph.D student in history at Columbia and spoke fluent French and could get along in German and Italian. It was evening. Someone at the youth hostel his group was staying at gave directions to the red-light district. He stopped beneath a second-story window, where a woman in a two-piece bathing suit motioned for him to come up. Several other prostitutes in other buildings had motioned to him from their windows, but she was the most attractive and looked the youngest. No problem with her taking off the top of her bathing suit. She’d come to the door in a bathrobe, took it off and was naked. Then he walked around Amsterdam, had a few of those little fruit-flavored gin drinks that cost about a dime each in Dutch money, got sexually excited again and went back to the red-light district. The same woman was at the window and waved to him hello—she didn’t speak English or French and he didn’t know any Dutch—and he gestured with his hand he wanted to come up. She looked surprised. This time she came to the door in her bathing suit, he gave her the same amount of guilders he had before, and she took her suit off and got on the bed. So: twice in about an hour. But nothing unusual for him then. The woman he was in love with when he was twenty-two—she was his age, an actress, and had her own apartment—they’d do it two, three, once four times in a night, but at least once every night for months except for the first day or two of her period or when one of them was ill. He remembers when they did it four times because he said after “I’ve never done it so many times in a night. Even in an entire day.” He doesn’t remember when they did it three times in one night or an entire day, but he thinks they must have if they once did it four. After his remark, she said she was beginning to hurt down there, “so that’s definitely it for today and probably tomorrow as well.” He said “Don’t worry. I’ve done it enough, too, and my penis is also sore and was barely able to stay up the last time.” With his wife, their first ten years or so together, they did it twice a night a number of times. He doubts they ever did it three times in one night or an entire day, but they only started going together when he was forty-two. For the next ten years of their marriage, it was around every other night, instead of almost every night, and rarely twice a night, and sometimes they did it two or three nights straight and then nothing for a couple of days. Now it’s once, at the most, twice a week, and he’s never fully erect. Enough to stuff it in almost all the time, but if he can’t he rubs the tip against her vagina or a little inside it till he gets off that way. He’s never said anything to her about it and she’s never brought it up, so he wonders if she’s even aware of it. In fact, last week when they made love, she said “Look at us, still going at it after twenty-five years.” She was on her back, smiling at him after he got off her, obviously very pleased, even proud. “Yeah, it’s great,” he said. “I hope it goes on forever. I can’t imagine what it’d be like, not being able to do it.” “You won’t have to worry,” she said.
He puts on his boxer shorts, is about to put on his socks, but goes into the bathroom and takes his penis out of the fly and pulls on it. Much as he pulls and strokes it, nothing much happens. Years ago there was never that problem; he could masturbate a few times a day if he wanted to. Right up to the time he met Sandra, when he didn’t see the need for it anymore and has maybe done it ten times in the last twenty-five years. He puts on his clothes and goes into her study. “Hi,” he says. “Hi,” she says. “Work going well?” he says. “Very well, thanks.” “Good. I’m going to make myself coffee. Long as I’m boiling water, like a decaf?” “No, thanks.” “Tea?” “I’m really too busy to drink anything now, and I’d be afraid of spilling it on my keyboard.” “I get the message,” he says. “What message?” “Oh, just the message. I’m glad your work’s going so well. I won’t disturb you,” and he shuts the door and lights the burner under the tea kettle.