Dirty Sheets

In winter, in a small room, a man and a woman have been making love for hours. Exhausted from wringing out each other’s bodies, they collapse onto the mattress on the floor. The blankets beneath them are soaked through with sweat and cling to their bodies, giving little comfort. The woman will have to wash them before bed tonight. She can’t stand the thought of sleeping on dirty sheets. She looks around the cluttered room, embarrassed she didn’t clean up before his arrival. Clothes are strewn around the floor and her dresser draw is open, exhibiting her collection of bras. He’s seen them all. Her desk covered in papers and granola bar wrappers, her laptop open from this morning when she’d attempted to work on her thesis, a study on polyamory in an ancient tribal culture. She is embarrassed that she’d let him arrive at all. The man, breathing deeply, reaches for the woman. He needs her close. Now that their passion has abated, an uncomfortable mixture of shame and judgment envelopes her as the man’s arms embrace her. She ignores this as she nuzzles his chest, the fine hairs tickling her nose making her smile softly. They lie there, content for a while. They don’t speak. To do so would break the spell and mean the end of them because she’s a Liberal and he’s a Conservative, she’s an atheist and he’s Catholic, she prefers tea while he requires coffee, she’s begrudgingly single and he is married, mostly happily.

She smells like sweat, vanilla and spring flowers. He tries to memorize the heady combination. He does not know when he will be able to breathe her essence in again. His rough hands caress her stomach, her thighs, her arms and her breasts. Her squirms and the little noises that come from her mouth amuse him. He is still finding new places that make her giggle and sigh in pleasure. Today there was one above her left kidney. He already yearns for their next visit so he can feel the softness of her pale skin and the suppleness of her lips.

He sighs and she knows it is time for them to return to the world where they are strangers and don’t mean a thing to each other. She pulls herself from him, as she does every time, and quickly puts on her navy blue bath robe, withdrawing first so it’ll hurt less. A defensive move, right? She opens the small bedroom’s window; a cold breeze refreshes her and clears the stale, musty air from the room. She stares out the window at the blank landscape. The world is blanketed by snow. Its softness silences the city, isolating the inhabitants, making them yearn for companionship. Have you ever felt at once connected and detached from the world through your loneliness? This is what the young woman feels settling inside her. Her loneliness was what brought her back to him every time for months now.

New to the city, back when the flowers were just blossoming, she’d let herself be ensnared by his charm and kindness. They’d met the way many single people met: at a bar. She played the role of the quiet girl sipping red wine, he the charismatic older man who knew all the right things to say. It was because he’d played this role before with another leading lady, she hadn’t realized it at the time, of course. The time after that she had and ignored it. Their whole relationship is based on her ignoring things; facts, emotions, his gold ring that she really wants to fling into the snow drift. She ignores the days she does not hear from him and cherishes the days she does. She doesn’t bring up her contempt for the situation. She’d done that before and it was weeks before he texted back. Sadly, she’d welcomed him in her bed again; she had needed to feel intimate with someone in this city of blank faces. He never promised her anything but he is her person. Her anchor. Nothing feels as sharp or as real than he does in her life. When he is gone, she feels adrift.

She is his solace. His time machine. His getaway from the bills and the unending home renovations. He thinks he loves her, but in actuality he loves what she represents and what she allows him to be. He can be the man he sees himself as. Not the man he actually is, mind you. To thine own self be true, indeed.

She turns away from the window and the man is dressed. He places his ring back on his finger. Not for the first time, she wishes she had the strength to make him throw it away. She ignores this wish. She pushes it down into her gut with the others where it will fester and irritate her insides before it all comes out in a rushing rage. But that’s a story for another time. He glides over to her, happy and unaware; the corners of his lips turned up in a sad smile. He surrounds her in his arms. At the door, he kisses her, his fingers gripping her chin, forcing her to confront his presence, demanding her attention.

After he leaves, she peels the sheets from her bed to wash them, needing to wash away all traces of him till he returns. Their entangled scents hang on the sheets and in her hair. She showers, remembering all of the places he touched her. She wonders, as she does every time, if this will be the last time, if she will meet a nice man who makes her smile unconditionally. She notes her bottle of vanilla body wash is almost empty. She wipes off the steamed mirror and notices a small bruise on her neck, the only reminder of their passionate afternoon. She feels her stomach twist as she covers the purple mark with her hand, cherishing and hating it.

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