Once a Month
About the Writer
Jessica Barksdale is the author of twelve novels, which include Her Daughter’s Eyes and When You Believe. Her latest novel How to Bake a Man is forthcoming October 2014 from Ghostwoods Books. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in several journals including Compose, Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review, Carve Magazine, Mason’s Road, and So to Speak. She is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension. You can find out more about Jessica online by clicking HERE.
BECAUSE OF HIM, she bought her first pair of thong underwear. She paints her sad, short fingernails. She looks at the mirror as he fucks her from behind, wondering about her ass. Cellulite? Ingrown hair? She takes action, exfoliating, sweating in the sauna, hours of exercise. Her breasts? She leaves them in her bra, worn and haggard, old girls who nursed too many babies for too long. The tight pushup bras leverage things back to normal.
Each time, she has a month to prepare. Twenty-nine days to anticipate. Then one four-hour block of time in bed, in a hotel, the rooms of which have become familiar. But that’s their purpose, these rooms. To be familiar. The appeal is the nothingness, the lack of the personal. You can do whatever you want and leave true mark. No one will recognize her scent, the stringy thong underwear she leaves behind, her long dark strand of hair floating round and round the shower pan.
She found and answered a personal ad. Craigslist. She knows she could be dead, killed by the policeman whose wife just had a baby. Or another man, one looking as hard for a mistress as he did for a wife—she didn’t make the cut. He wrote to her to tell her so. Or the man who said, “One day I will find the right woman to sleep with, but it’s not you.” One man’s wife had breast cancer. Another liked large breasts. He didn’t want anything but a woman large and bouncy. “And,” he said. “Well.” Another liked to talk on the phone, always having to say, “Can you slip a finger in?” Of course she could slip a finger in, but why on the phone? Another pretended to lose his cell phone, scared she would call him as he sat around the dinner table. One lied about his age. One wore a toupee. She didn’t want to know what happened in bed with a toupee. Where would it land? Would it crawl and hide under a pillow?
Finally, she met him at the coffee shop on Fourth Street. He had his own hair and looked clean and cared for. His pants were ironed, his shoes black but not dorky. He had freckles, brown eyes, and dark eyebrows. They arranged to meet the following week at the Berkeley Marina. There, they made out. For hours. Made out like teenagers unable to find a place to lie down and screw, having to make do with the vertical, arms around each other, fingers grabbing ribs, backs, butts, shoulders. The wind blew her hair, slapped her forehead, cheeks. People stared at them. People she might have known stared at them. When she opened her eyes, she saw Marin, Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge.
She now knows he will kiss her, undress her, hold her. They will have sex missionary position. He will come, and she will pretend to. They will talk, eat, laugh. Then he will fuck her from behind. They will shower, laugh, talk, dress. They will leave. Separately.
She will go home her body aglow with her secret. It’s not the sex. Or him, really. It’s about the idea of him, the preparation for him. The waiting, the holding tight of something that is hers. It’s about the infrequent emails. The perhaps phone calls. It’s about the bridge she’s building, the one that will hold her weight, reach out across her long marriage to a piece of land she’d forgotten existed. Her guilt stings and pricks, tastes like metal. But she swallows it down. She begins her count to 29. She sits around the dining room table and smiles.