THE READER

As a baby she didn’t talk early. But she watched as soon as her eyes would focus. No passing of judgment, just a serene observation of everything. If anyone had thought about it, they might have guessed that it was because she was delivered by c-section, meaning that there was no stress, no squeezing, no forcing of the world in on her to make her leave for another place. Just a pulling back of the flesh-blanket around her to reveal bright lights and a lot of faces.
When she got to the time for sex, she was pretty much the same. That is, she had little awareness of her own body, which her lovers smoothed and clutched and licked with enthusiasm. It was, after all, a very nice body. But she was fascinated by the body of her lover. She settled easily into an exclusive relationship because there was so much to learn about this specific body.
Just looking, she soon learned his silhouette and began to absorb the way he moved, the small habitual gestures he made, the way his head turned on his neck and the way his wrists controlled his hands, turning them over and moving them from side to side. Each finger on each hand had its own role, thumb and index finger as pincers, of course, But there were ways his middle finger got involved while the next one over did not, and he had a habit of tasting things by touching them with his littlest finger — what he called his “pinky” — and then touching that finger to his mouth, as though it were the court taster for a prince and could discern what might be dangerous to eat. If what he touched were very hot, then he only risked a blister on his pinky.
That was the right hand. The left hand was quite different. He was right handed, so his right hand reached out, caught things in mid-air, pushed things down, pulled doors shut. The left hand held on and smoothed. It was his right hand that tried to give her pleasure but his left hand that succeeded.
Not that she got much pleasure except through her incessant curiosity which was soon far more than observation through the eyes. Smell was very strong and she liked it best when he was unwashed, uncologned, unconscious of what he smelled like, because then she could smell his emotions. Far more subtle than smelling fear (adrenaline is a blunt instrument) but the small shadings of intention and appreciation as he moved his hands and mouth over her, the bulk of his body resting upon her, the part inside of her which always made him smell of pride. “Tell me I’m hard and big and strong!” he would beg. And she did. But by that time he was usually lost in ecstasy and didn’t hear anyway.
Afterwards he would ask, “Did you come?‘ “Sure,” she said, generously. He smelled of puzzlement but not much because he went to sleep.
She liked that, especially if he would stay on top of her, arms and legs out to the sides, so that they were belly-to-belly with enough pressure for her to feel his insides. She loved running her hands over him, feeling the hairs and letting her palms change shape as they slid over his muscles and cupped his joints or up into the backs of the joints like behind his knees or front of elbows or the opened hinges of his hips. His heart would beat evenly, his lungs inflate evenly, and his intestines rumble evenly. He was a calm man. He was even more calm and comforted after sex, and she liked that. It felt as though she mattered, though she knew she didn’t.
What she really wanted was to get into the machinery of his dreams. She was pretty sure it was “machinery” since that’s what he most liked: small motors, tools both powered and not, and the fuels of them with their stinging reeks and snaking cords. What happened in there? Were gears and sprockets and power-transfer belts and chains just running in loops or did they go somewhere? Was there a deeper purpose behind all the elementary physics of lever, screw, hoist, and expansion? It was cheating to just ask him. The pleasure was in figuring it out.
Was she to him just another exercise in internal combustion? Or did he know something about her that she ought to realize? How did she smell to him? What did he think she thought? There was no clue.
She sometimes had a theory that men don’t see women but rather their context: the rooms they arrange, the food they prepare, the beds they make. Her bed was comfortable with bright sheets and blankets. Her bathroom was not crowded with bottles and pots, but neither were candles balanced on every sill and ledge. It was just a sensible, easy-to-clean bathroom. She was a plain cook, but loved fine china and silver. She provided cloth napkins. She wasn’t entirely sure he noticed all this and she was probably right.
What he noticed was she was warm and tight and stroked him the way he liked and said the praise-words he asked for. But when he woke up on top of her, he always had the feeling something had happened that he couldn’t quite figure out. Not that it was a bad thing. He wasn’t curious enough to ask her about it. He thought he was doing fine — in fact, GREAT!
She knew the clinical name for him was “grandiose narcissism” but she did not know what the name for herself was. Self-contained? Cold? Adapted? It’s not that she wasn’t capable of ecstasy, just that the only way she could have gotten it from him would have been through mental and emotional sharing and it just wasn’t there to be shared.
Then one day in a book store she picked up an emerald-colored old book, it fell open, and on the page and the ones following was everything she ever yearned for.  No one understood when she said reading was even better than sex.

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