Not enough sex is a problem, too much sex is a curse. That was Annie Karney's
predicament in a nutshell. Bobby Karney loved his wife, he adored her.
He adored her body down to the very tone of her skin, to the body odor
she was so ashamed of, to her big melancholy brown eyes and to the basic
insecurity with which she let him approach and have his way with her.
It appeared that theirs was a marriage made in heaven.
Every night in bed Bobby sidled up to Annie
and made love to her until way past midnight when he would fall sound
asleep. Annie then lay stretched out, smoking a cigarette and watching
it glow in the dark. It soothed her and she felt at peace. After the cigarette
Annie usually got out of bed, had a glass of wine in the kitchen and read
a few pages of some novel or other until her eyelids weighed down by the
prose, prompted her to yawn. Then it was back to bed where she joined
her husband in sleep. Bobby had no knowledge whatsoever of his wife's
nightly routine, which easily ran into an hour or more. In the morning
he assumed her to be as fresh, rested and full of energy, as he was. They
ate their breakfast in a hurry, showered and occasionally Bobby would
insist on a quickie, which Annie tried to resist with mixed success.
Bobby saw marriage as a sensual arrangement
based on his intense desire for his wife. There was no question in his
mind but that this desire was reciprocal. He was noisy in his pleasure
and his wife sounded off as well, so that to judge by one's ears, sex
for this couple was a shared blessing. Yet, this assessment of the Karney
couple's happiness misses the mark. As nature would have it, man cannot
but be upright in matters of desire, woman can deceive. It is very easy
for her to join her mate in the sounds of ecstasy and create an aura of
happiness to envelop the conjugal relationship. If she supports the sounds
with a few well-chosen gestures, the illusion can be total.
Yet, such deception comes at great cost,
if sustained night after night. For one thing, a great amount of concentration
is needed to do everything at the right moment, yet make it seem spontaneous.
Then, the rewards the woman reaps are minimal, while she cannot fail to
perceive the immense satisfaction she dispenses to her partner. This in
turn breeds envy and ultimately anger in her, and this anger will out
sooner or later, whether directed at her perceived tormentor or as in
the case of Annie at herself.
Their daytime jobs couldn't have been more
different. Bobby took, Annie gave. From this New England town Bobby managed
billions. Assistants, secretaries, partners took in his every word and
his every smile or frown had serious consequences, as far away as Wall
Street. Annie was assistant curator at the town's small art museum, in
charge of indexing its quite modest permanent collection. Every now and
then an out of town visitor would drop in to see an out of the way Picasso
or Giacometti sketch donated by one of the locals at an inflated estimate
for tax purposes. On such occasions, in her unassuming way, Annie would
make sure the visitor found everything of interest to him. These often
quite handsome men would treat Annie to lunch and she wondered whether
they would be as intense in matters sexual as her husband. She fantasized
that they would be gentler, less demanding, let her be for weeks, maybe
even months at a time. More often than not she concluded that this would
be indeed the case, and she was probably right, but for the wrong reason,
most of these art connoisseurs were simply not interested in her.
Bobby was an outgoing man, and this entailed
hosting parties, dinners, dances. Annie was more the introverted type
and went to these events ex officio as it were. While Bobby would be the
center of everyone's attention, Annie would sit on the sidelines, participating
only when called upon to admiringly corroborate some point of Bobby's.
The only person she enjoyed at these events was Clay Warner, the town's
leading attorney, an older man accompanied by a movie star of a wife,
Penny, some twenty years his junior. This woman was always in the whirl
of the party, though she contributed precious little to it, excepting
her perfect body and the thick golden hair covering her narrow forehead.
Beyond that this spectacular female specimen had little to offer. But
this did not deter the young males from flocking to her, like bees to
honey. Clay Warner did not seem at all disturbed by his young wife's flirtatiousness.
He was quite philosophical about it all.
Their town had two better restaurants, at
the two ends of what everyone referred to as the "main drag." One of these,
the Cabochon attracted the artsy crowd, the other, Nick's Steak House,
the business people. For Saturday dinner everybody who was anybody was
to be seen at one or at the other of these two establishments. The Karneys
were habitués of Nick's. Yet during the week, Annie much preferred the
Cabochon, where she often ran into Clay Warren and a kind of friendship
developed between them. No, it wasn't in any way erotic. Oscar Wilde not
withstanding, friendship between a woman like Annie and a man like Clay
is possible without turning to "passion, hatred or love". Their friendship
gave them both much-needed emotional sustenance.
Once in the spring Annie took the initiative
and organized an outing to some regional cave. They first drove out of
town along the road parallel to the railway tracks, Then they had to wait
for the 12:05 to pass, before the gates lifted and they could cross the
tracks into the parking lot. It was a nuisance, but trains have their
schedules and their region was forever criss-crossed by powerful steel
engines pulling wagons full of wealthy commuters to their manifold destinations.
After parking the cars they still had a two-mile hike to the cave with
its stalactites and stalagmites. The Karneys, the Warrens, another couple
and two young men filled two cars, Clay's black BMW and Bobby's Mercedes
SUV. Annie had taken great care in preparing an elaborate lunch packed
in two quite heavy wicker baskets, carried by the two young men. This
lunch involved three courses and she had planned for a stop on the way
to the cave. When they were just about halfway, Annie suggested "let's
have a period of comfort and readjustment", by which she meant "let's
eat the first course now". She had prepared this wording and this allowed
her to overcome her natural shyness. Much to her displeasure though, this
wording elicited ridicule from all. They stopped of course, ate the caviar
canapés she had carefully decorated with egg yolk, parsley and lemon peel
and took a sip of well-chilled Dom Ruinart. They had nothing but highest
praises for the food, but somehow that "period of comfort and readjustment"
became the running gag. Even Penny caught on and, all the planning notwithstanding,
the rest of the outing was ruined for Annie. In the cave, after the main
course, she almost broke down in tears and Clay came to "comfort" her
though without using the, by now taboo, word. By then Bobby was lying
in the sun in front of the cave after noting "you have seen one stalactite,
you have seen them all; this way at least I'll get a tan." The other couple
had joined him and they soon were sound asleep under the warm rays of
the mid-May sun. Penny and the two young men had gone to explore the cave,
which put them out of sight.
"I have noticed for some time now,
you seem to be very sad. Is something bothering you?" Clay started.
"Oh no, what makes you say that?" Annie
"Well, I am a lawyer and I make a living
second-guessing my opponents. This has developed into a habit and not
even my closest friends are exempt." "Sure,
I was taken aback by everyone's reaction to my comment, after all it was
just my invitation to the first course. Maybe it was funny, but that hurt."
"Don't let it bother you, you prepared a
splendid meal and you wanted to present it with class, maybe too much
class, but class nonetheless."
"That is the main problem in life, what
is too much, what is not enough and what is just right, wouldn't you say?"
"We all have to find the right amount by
ourselves and then be perfectly aware that what is right for us may not
be so for others, but then so what, who cares? Take my wife. Do I give
her enough? I doubt it, in fact I know I don't, but you see it doesn't
bother me if she wanders off to 'explore the cave' with two studs. It
is up to her to determine what is just right for her. Does it bother you
if I talk about this?"
"Not really." Annie replied visibly disturbed
and started picking up the china, the silverware and the cut crystal wine
glasses, thereby cutting off the conversation. Clay understood that this
overly sensitive woman could not deal with this issue and he rose to help
When Penny and the two young men returned
somewhat disheveled, it was decided to eat the dessert and call it a day.
"Let this be our last period of adjustment and recomfortable" a laughing
Penny repeated what she was sure she remembered or understood Annie as
having said. The two young men found this very funny, but it appeared
that they just were in a mood in which they would have found the bombshell's
any utterance equally funny.
That night for the first time Annie allowed
herself to openly appear totally disinterested in sex. When her husband
approached she just lay there inertly until he was done. He must have
noticed something, for he asked Annie "Is something bothering you?" She
answered in the negative as she had in the cave when Clay had asked her
the same question. Bobby went on "You don't look like yourself, so preoccupied"
"Yes, preoccupied" she replied after a brief hesitation, but by then the
man was sound asleep and Annie lit her cigarette. Her hand was trembling
and she could actually see this from the trajectory of the burning tip.
Her heart was pounding and a general malaise overcame her. She had a deep
urge to cry and presently she was sobbing. Bobby was sleeping deeply enough
that he could be counted on not to notice his wife's torment. Anyway had
he noticed, he would have made love to her, his way of cheering her up,
and this would have only further enraged Annie. She for the first time
saw the full hopelessness of her situation. There was no light at the
end of her tunnel, for that matter it wasn't even obvious to her that
it was a tunnel, it felt more like a hole, a precipice. She smoked more
than usual, maybe five cigarettes in a row and she did not get up, she
remained in the same rigid position and let the darkest thoughts invade
What was her life about, she asked herself.
She had a make-busy job. It had a certain value for a compulsive pedantic
type of person. Lists, lists and more lists. Annie had not gone to graduate
school, but even her college degree was wasted on these endless lists
of objects without any real value or interest whether to the public at
large or to the occasional scholar. Those visiting gentlemen invariably
left disappointed, having wasted their time chasing junk. She tried to
be helpful, but that was not possible at this town museum. All they stored
was rubbish and a few second-rate works by first-rate artists. All her
job did, was to set a schedule for an aimless woman. Without it she might
have hit the bottle, as quite a few of her neighbors did, or have irrevocably
given up, and it was this thought that terrorized her. A meaningless job
was all that kept her from doing something foolish.
There was the other side of the coin. When
done with work, she ran a beautiful house. Bobby gave her all the money
she needed. But again, to what avail? Where was there any happiness to
be had? They had no children, one of them could not procreate, they hadn't
bothered to find out which one. Bobby was not interested in children,
he wanted the sex and he wanted Annie's body in its "natural state."
Annie pretended that this was her position as well. Once one starts pretending
.... and then there were the nightly bouts of make-believe, the fear of
being exposed in the face of her mate's ecstasy. Annie jumped up and headed
for the bar. She filled a large glass with Chivas and drank it to the
bottom, as fast as she could. She then poured a second glass, drank it
as well, and returned to the conjugal bed. By the time she lay there,
a soft warmth penetrated her body, she became woozy and fell asleep.
The next few nights Annie produced the ecstatic
sounds expected of her, but her inner turmoil increased, as did her intake
of hard liquor. She was a soft woman not prone to drinking, and this ever-larger
nightly dosage impaired her daytime functioning. Her lists started becoming
inaccurate, scrambled, redundant. But then no one ever read these lists,
so this went unnoticed. But Annie herself knew and this caused her nocturnal
unrest to spread into her work hours as well and she started having a
permanent pain affixed to her face and at the same time very active butterflies
in her stomach. She started approaching despair and there was no one to
share it with. Bobby couldn't understand, and if he did, he'd insist on
even more sex, as a cure. She once tried to open up to Clay at the Cabochon.
He understood what Annie was trying to do, and welcomed her intimacy,
but at the crucial moment she just couldn't go through with it and backed
off by changing the subject. Clay gave her a look that clearly indicated
his awareness of what she was doing, but instead of appreciating this
man's willingness to hear her out and maybe even help her in some way
or other, she just looked down at her plate and started talking like an
automaton about the new subject, a bizarre murder case in a nearby town.
She was relating what she had read in the local newspaper and Clay agreed
by nodding disappointedly. He asked for the bill and they both went back
Clay would have liked very much to have
a confidante in Annie. He had his own need to open up to someone. Living
with a trophy, and that is what Penny really meant to him, led to its
own very difficult problems. Sure, they had had a modicum of a sex life
in the beginning, but as time went by, Penny's feelings of revulsion for
her much older husband were so clearly articulated that Clay avoided any
contact with his spouse. They hadn't had any intimate relations for nearly
a year now. Clay knew that the bombshell would find willing takers and
to be frank, he did not mind. His work took up most of his time and his
sexual needs had turned very modest with age and with the kind of insecurity
that living with such a demanding and desirable woman necessarily bred.
Clay was in a limbo, a holding pattern of his own, and realized that Annie,
for whatever reasons, was in a predicament not very different from his.
Maybe by addressing her woes, he could gain some insight into his own.
But it was not to be. His situation was headed for the boiling point.
It was a Friday. Clay was in court at a
divorce case hearing when he was handed the note "Penny arrested. Your
presence essential. He immediately requested a postponement for personal
reasons, which the judge granted without any further ado. His agitation
at reading the note was so marked that both the judge and the other attorney
understood that they had no choice but to agree to his request.
Clay quickly packed his things and headed
for the black BMW, which he literally raced to the police station. He
had been there many times before to post bail for some VIP client or other
and was on a first name basis with most of the staff. This time around,
total silence and the awkwardness of consternation greeted his arrival.
Right away the chief asked Clay to his office and brought him up-to-date
about the charges, which were very embarrassing indeed, Penny was accused
of belonging to a call-girl ring. Clay put up the bail and was led to
the cell, which Penny shared with three other elegant women and two equally
elegant androgynous young men. Awkwardly, in pantomime as it were, Penny
was released from the cell and on his arm her husband walked her out of
By now the Warren marriage had been reduced
to a purely formal arrangement, a sham, a legal loophole, a smokescreen.
But, with Penny's arrest a window had been pulled wide open and its two
contractors had to cope as best they could. Clay drove his young wife
home and once the privacy offered by its four walls was theirs, he started
holding forth as if in court. He knew that this was not appropriate, but
it was what came naturally. Admittedly there was no judge setting any
rules and no jury to sway, but this was the only way he knew how to make
sense of the situation for himself and unless the situation made sense
to him, it could not be dealt with.
"First of all you had nothing to do with
that ... whole thing." he addressed Penny, "It is essential that you forcefully
deny everything, is that clear?" Penny nonchalantly nodded as she continued
combing her rich blond hair, as if nothing had happened and they were
just deciding what to eat for dinner. "I'll fix the rest. They didn't
catch you doing anything and the rest can be argued away on technicalities."
Penny started getting restless and got up. She went to the refrigerator,
took out a bottle of Chardonnay and poured herself a glass. She overfilled
it and made quite a mess. She wiped the wine off the table with her hand
and started licking her fingers. When she finished doing that, she lifted
the glass and dripping wine on the floor went to the living room couch,
lay down and turned on the TV. It was a stupid game show and a fat woman
was orgasmically celebrating a stove she had just won. "Have you seen
the TV program somewhere?" Penny asked her husband. Clay knew that the
conversation was over, he had overtaxed his young wife's power of concentration.
He left the room agitated by the shock visited on him earlier in the day,
but also subdued, sad. His wife couldn't even comprehend the seriousness
of her own situation, let alone the effect all this was having on him.
For a moment he thought of Annie and then he smiled. It was a bitter smile,
he remembered that patrician woman trying to open up to him at the Cabochon
and not being able to go through with it. At some level he understood
that whatever it was that ailed her was much more serious than the admittedly
embarrassing situation confronting him now. Curiously enough he drew relief
from this realization and managed to summon up the needed concentration
to reach a decision: he would handle the legal mess with his considerable
lawyerly skill and beyond that he would stand fully behind the woman who
had so egregiously disgraced him and who could be counted on to spring
further unwelcome surprises on him in the future. He started undressing,
he felt he needed a rest. His thoughts returned to Annie. What has she
done to make whoever it was --- probably her husband --- do onto her what
made her so unhappy? What was it that he had done himself to make his
own wife disgrace him so abjectly? As he was stepping in his striped silk
pajamas, he had something akin to a revelation. A chain of thoughts made
it all clear to him. Yes, he had married Penny for her trophy value and
she lived up to his expectations in that respect. Beyond that he was not
very interested in her, even sexually. He did not polish the trophy and
now it tarnished. He realized that if the sexual act is performed as a
maintenance job, as was clearly the case with him, then it becomes a chore
and looses the excitement which is so essential for its enjoyment. He
was forfeiting one of life's greatest pleasures for the appearance created
by the possession of the trophy. But by now there was little he could
do and at the very least, he had to salvage appearances. If only he could
openly discuss all this with someone, Annie? But how? Would she listen?
He had tried in the cave and she wouldn't. Here is a sensitive creature,
intelligent, beautiful, unable to listen or for that matter to talk. What
a pity. He could confront her and force her, as it were to have an honest
talk with him. Would that be possible? He lay down and soon he was asleep.
Next day, Saturday, Clay Warren and his
wife stayed in till early evening, when they headed for the main drag.
Clay personally supervised Penny's attire. He had her wear an Italian
silk dress with a clear though not outrageous décolletage, white patent-leather
high-heel sandals, and an elegant gold bracelet and matching earrings,
instead of the gaudy custom-jewelry she usually wore. They first put in
an appearance at the Cabochon. There was marked consternation, as could
be expected, the call-girl ring story had made the rounds of the town
after all. Clay in linen pants and a blazer entered the establishment
with a resolute step, his stunning young wife on his arm. Taken aback,
the locals couldn't but politely greet the couple, but no one vied for
their company. They had champagne kirs at the bar with the Jamesons, who
were waiting for a table by the window. It was strictly pleasantries and
formal talk. When the Maitre d' came to announce that the table was ready,
Hoppie Jameson felt cornered to invite the Warrens to join them. Penny
looked at Clay, who thanked Hoppie, but begged her to excuse them, for
they had only stopped for drinks on their way to Nick's, where they had
a reservation. They took their leave and the Warrens literally paraded
down the main drag. It did not escape Clay's attention, that even on the
other side of the wide road, people would huddle at the sight of the elegant
couple making its way to Nick's. Here and there someone would gesticulate
a greeting across the thoroughfare, which Clay would smilingly return.
He would also poke his wife, who then, somewhat disoriented, would follow
The Warrens got virtually the same reception
at Nick's, but there they had a table which they occupied with great authority.
Tendentious whispering was going on at many a table and Clay was fully
aware of that, but he had decided to stand by his wife and wanted to convey
this decision to one and all. In some sense he was right, for most of
the whisperers were admiring his decency and the nobility of his gesture.
Bobby and Annie Karney were also dining at Nick's and after greeting the
Warrens effusively, did not invite them to their table. But then no one
expected such an invitation, under the circumstances the Warrens would
probably prefer to eat alone with whatever privacy that gave them. To
the casual observer it looked as if Penny and Clay were having an animated
conversation and a real good time. It was however all an illusion, for
Clay kept asking Penny one trivial question after another. He was asking
these questions in an emotion-laden tone, often accompanying them by a
happy-looking smile or even by audible bursts of laughter. The questions
were so constructed as to insure Penny's attention and her ability to
answer them and thereby make it look as if the couple was having a routine
good time out. The only one to catch on to what was going on at the Warren
table was Annie, who managed to exchange a few meaningful glances with
Clay. Annie's glances were deliberately admiring and intended to give
whatever encouragement the situation permitted. Clay's glances at Annie
were the only moments during which he let his guard down and let his immense
pain and shame shine beacon-like at the sole woman who could possibly
share his grief.
After Bobby had settled the check, Annie
made a point of passing by the Warren table on the way out and the two
women exchanged kisses with each other and with the two men, who cordially
shook hands. Bobby was visibly uncomfortable at having to kiss Penny in
front of many of his staring acquaintances. He blushed, causing another
round of, now laughter-accompanied, whispers at many tables.
The following Monday Clay Warner showed
up at the town museum just before lunch break. He appeared uncharacteristically
emotional as he invited Annie to join him at the Cabochon. She had an
appointment to take her Volvo for a tune-up at the dealer some fifteen
minutes out of town. Clay didn't mind "that's alright, you drop your car,
then we continue a bit in my car, buy sandwiches at the Inn at the Mill,
go down to the brook and eat them alfresco. After lunch I'll drive you
back to the Volvo man." This sounded fine and just about half an hour
later the two were comfortably sitting on Clay's plaid blanket under a
weeping willow by the brook. It was a quite isolated spot. As they were
eating delicious sandwiches on freshly baked bread, Clay made the first
"I know I may sound very pushy, but I absolutely
had to speak to you. I am in a very tough spot"
"I know, I know, I have heard. In any case,
I was very impressed with the way you handled it. Your appearance with
Penny at Nick's was a very noble gesture, very dignified too. I admire
you for it."
"You read more into it than is warranted.
It was a deliberate gesture, that's all. Penny is not a bad person, she
is just very dumb. I know that what I am going to say may make you uneasy,
I tried to bring the subject up in the cave, as you may remember, but
at the risk of imposing, I truly wish to share my thoughts with you now.
For some reason I see you as the only one who might understand and that
means a lot to me. As is, I mull things over by myself, like with a legal
case. The difference is that I myself am deeply involved in all this and
that I am not sure that I am acting wisely." Clay looked at Annie and
though she appeared uneasy, it was clear that this time she was willing
to hear him out.
Clay started on a quite detailed history
of his marriage. Tears were welling up in Annie's eyes. Clay offered her
a tissue, but in the last moment he took control of the situation and
wiped Annie's brown eyes himself. In the interest of efficiency, he brought
his own face very close to Annie's, and when he thought he heard her panting,
he very suddenly, though not without gentleness, kissed her. She put her
arm around his neck and he slowly eased her on her back. A while later
Clay started making love to Annie. It was an easygoing, unpressured act
and when it was over, the male smiled the smile of total satisfaction,
and the woman appeared to reciprocate this smile. His own need sated,
Clay did not carefully examine his partner's reaction to what had just
passed between them. That was a big mistake, for this was the smile of
a woman who knew how to feign. At least this time around she did not have
to fake the very details of the act, a major improvement over what was
expected of her at home. Yet, her expectations again remained unmet and
even in this relaxed atmosphere she did not derive any pleasure. By the
time she could have raised the issue, the gent was no longer receptive.
They drove back in total silence and Clay
dropped Annie off at the Volvo dealership. She had to still wait a quarter
of an hour, during which the butterflies in her stomach came to life and
an overwhelming sadness settled on Annie. When the Volvo man came to announce
that her car was ready, Annie was crying bitterly. She blamed the tears
on an intense allergic reaction, though she did not say to what. The Volvo
man didn't care anyway. She paid, got in her car, and started driving
back to the museum. She knew she was late. At the railroad crossing leading
to the main drag the gate was just coming down. Annie thought she could
still squeeze through, but she got trapped.