Genesis

A Novel

Jim Crace

Picador

1

Lix left it late. Till November 1979. He was almost twenty-one and it was nearly midnight when he first had sex with anyone. Full docking sex, that is. Full snug-'n'-comfy. Like almost everybody else his age, of course, he'd had hand jobs, not only with himself since he was twelve but twice with helpful boys at school and once (a birthday treat when he was seventeen) with an unsuspicious girl, one of nature's volunteers. Her first time with a boy. She'd seemed surprised at what she'd done, at what she'd made him do, and with such little exertion. She jumped back just in time, so that only her sandal and her wrist were soiled by Lix's sudden gratitude.
On that night of his induction-if it were not for the birthmark on his cheek-you would not recognize the celebrated Lix. Less heavy for a start, less grand. And much more volatile, as you'd expect of someone in his first semester free of parents and the family home. He was training for the stage at the academy. This was a time when Theater, newly unleashed from the censors, was argumentative and powerful. Lix truly wanted to improve the world, believed that Art was Revolution's smarter twin, that Acting and Action were equal partners. Collaborators, in fact. He'd signed up with the Mime/Scream Community Drama Collective in his first month as a student and was active, too, in Street Beat Renegades, Provocations & Co., and the Next Stage (as in Paul Roesenthaler's "The next stage is the elimination of captains, chaplains, and kings"). He didn't have a repertoire, Lix said (adapting Roesenthaler yet again, our city's feted radical), he had "an onstage manifesto." Actors seemed to be the partisans of change back in those simpler times when appointees and the army controlled our lives even more completely than they do now, now that-to chant the cynics' chorus-theater is unfettered and trifling, all our leaders have been democratically imposed, and Freedom has destroyed our impulse to be free.
Lix had a democratically modest fourth-floor room amongst the tenements down on the wharf, with not only skylight views across the newly named City of Kisses toward the river but also a narrow glimpsing view from his box kitchen into Cargo Street, where now there are boutiques and restaurants instead of groceries and bars and "working folk."
The woman who had set her heart that night on Lix stood with his binoculars (where he had stood and spied on her so many times), her back against the little stove, her face veiled by the curtains, the rubber eyecups pressed against her lids and focused on the late night customers, the waitress, and the owner in the sidewalk cafe below, across the street. His stolen daily view of her. She was surprised how large the people seemed-they filled the lens-and how unsuspecting, uninhibited, they were, free to mutter to themselves, or stare, or rearrange their belts and straps, or swing their legs, with no idea that they were being scrutinized. "So!" she said. So this was where the owl had his nest. "I've often wondered what the view would be like if I were looking down on me!"
Lix was embarrassed, obviously. Caught out. He was also frightened and aroused. For all his noisy confidence, he'd never had an unrelated woman in his room before. What might it mean? He watched her from the kitchen door, his arms stretched up to grip the lintel, his printed T-shirt riding high above his belt to inadvertently display an adolescent abdomen and the apex of his pubic hair.
She, too, seemed large and detailed, in a way she'd never been through his binoculars. Her outfit was familiar, of course, her general shape. He recognized the fashionable "Sandinista" tunic suit with its half sleeves and "rough-look" calf-length skirt. He recognized the matching spangled rebel scarf. But mostly she was unfamiliar. The angle, for a start, was different. He'd mostly seen her from above, the shoulders and the head. Binoculars had shortened her. Binoculars diminish the world, reduce the senses to one. Precision optical instruments, no matter how finely ground, fogproof, waterproof, and vision-adjusted, could not hope to convey true proximity, the candid softness of the flesh, the spiciness of scent, the rustling, independent simpering of clothes, the clink of her bracelets, the perfect imperfections and the blemishes of someone close to thirty years of age. Until that night, he'd only seen this woman from afar.
Lix, actually, like many young men, was practiced in the art of watching women from afar, not always through binoculars, of course, but women he could only dream of touching, women he could only scheme about: his voice tutor at the Arts Academy, the swan-necked student called Freda from one of the science faculties, the daughter of the concierge at his apartment house, the overscented cashier in the campus cafeteria, the tiny half-Greek actress in his course, the bursar's haughty wife in her white suits, the many tough and visionary women in
cf0his "groups," and-let's admit the universal truth-any female under fifty simply chancing into view. All worshipped from afar. They'd all be judged and sifted, feeding his mind's eye, as casually and unself-consciously as a sea anemone might sift the random flotsam in its reach.
When you're that young and inexperienced you take in fantasies with every breath. You mean no harm. But then you don't expect a distant fantasy to walk up to your room. You don't imagine that the woman waiting for her boyfriend every evening after work in the sidewalk cafe below your kitchen window will ever be so close and intimate except through your binoculars. You cannot know, might never know, that she will be the mother of your eldest child.

She'd noticed him standing there with his binoculars many times in the preceding weeks, behind the twitching curtains in the rented rooms. The shifting lenses caught the light and signaled to the street. As did the pale and transfixed face beyond, with its dark birthmark on the upper cheek. She hadn't minded that he was spying on her. Being watched and waiting for your lover was much less tedious than simply waiting unobserved. She did not display herself, exactly. She stayed demure; crossed legs, with a newspaper or magazine to read, perhaps, or a letter to write to her sister in Canada. Sometimes a book. Occasionally a cigarette. She always seemed so self-contained and concentrated, this little information clerk in her expressive outfits. Always looking down. She had learned to watch the upper window in the building opposite without lifting her head. Men weren't as undetectable as they imagined. And she did seek out the best-lit tables in the sidewalk cafe, the ones most favored by the evening sun, the ones directly opposite the snooper's room. She liked this silent and seductive rendezvous.
It had occurred to her, of course, that any man so patient and persistent with binoculars, and fixated enough to waste his time staring through his lenses at her, might not be honorable or sane or attractive even. She'd seen the remake of the classic Peeping Tom. She'd read the trial reports of dangerous voyeurs. There was something animal about his spying, too: faces at windows, figures in caves. She should have been more fearful and more wary. Yet she felt safe. She had spotted her admirer once, out on the street. There'd been no mistaking that birthmark, or how unmenacing he seemed. The young man was striking. The blemish on the face was beautiful, an unexpected touch of innocence for one so secretive and scheming. She was surprised, as well, how adolescent he was. That made his voyeurism charming almost, more forgivable, appropriate. How satisfying to have magnetized a fellow scarcely out of his teens
fs20when she-a mere month off her thirtieth birthday, not married yet herself but desperately dependent on a married man-had almost dismissed herself as being attractive to no one single.
It can be no surprise, then (given how her sense of worth had been diminishing), that the daily half an hour between her ending work and her part-time lover getting to the cafe became for a month or so the best part of her day. She sat with a perc of coffee, out on the street, her body trim, and was desired. Desired sexually. Desired simply for the way she looked by the young man now swinging from the door frame only a meter behind her, with his sweet, appealing midriff and the kiss-me birthmark on his face. She did not want him for a lover. She didn't even want him for a friend. She wanted him just once, just for the hour, and just to reassure herself. A "little interlude" to salve her wounds.
Her "little interlude" had not been planned. She'd never cheated on a man before. Never needed to. But when the call had come through to the cafe that evening to tell her that her lover had been delayed and that he'd phone the next day at her office "when he got the chance," then she'd been troubled and offended beyond words. The small offenses irritated most-the effort she had expended after work, before arriving at the cafe, touching up her makeup, fixing her hair, changing into clothes he liked, the time she'd squandered during the day imagining their meeting, rehearsing their embrace-although the larger implications were unignorable and frightening. The pattern was familiar. This was the third time in ten days that he had let her down in one way or another. This was the third cheating husband in the last two years who had disillusioned her. She took the hint. She felt the chill. Another cooling, flagging man was scuttling from her life.
She'd started out the day as a woman with some status, not bloated with self-regard like some people she could name but confident enough to know that she was valued somewhere. Whenever she was waiting in the cafe-an almost daily routine for the past three months-she had a purpose and a role. She was the early half of a couple, waiting to be validated by her man-and that was satisfying. The owner and the little waitress understood that she would arrive before the boyfriend, that she would order a coffee and-occasionally-a glass of mineral water. They were used to her eager nervousness-the frequent checking in the little vanity mirror she carried in her purse, her habit of shaking her watch as if to hasten time, the way she stared into her book, her writing pad, her newspaper, but never seemed to turn a page. And then, when he arrived, the lover always just a little bit too late but standing over her at last to stoop a kiss onto her cheek, they'd be familiar with his embrace, her hand bunched up across his back.
Some days they'd only stay at the table for a few moments and then depart separately. The briefest meeting, just to hug. Once in a while, they'd share a beer, though clearly the man was not comfortable in such a public place. On other days, they'd go off hand in hand to possibly a restaurant or the hotels on the wharf. Then their passion would be almost palpable. It made her beautiful, the waitress thought.
Where was the beauty, though, in being so publicly stood up? Her borrowed husband could at least have called her to the cafe owner's telephone, to whisper in her ear from his safe distance with his excuses and apologies. Why would he be so cowardly as to trust his betrayals to a messenger if he were not ashamed? Or lying? She'd had to smile and nod and seem wholly unperturbed when the cafe owner-the co-conspirator, it seemed to her-had come to pass on the shaming news: "Your friend said to tell you that he'll phone tomorrow, when he gets the chance." She felt exposed. Demeaned. A woman with no purpose in that cafe. She could drink a thousand coffees there and still not count as half a couple waiting for completion. She was a laughingstock-a woman revealed as exactly what she was-unmarried, only half successful in her work, the tenant of a less than homely apartment shared with two women just as unfulfilled as she was, reliant on the rationed attentions of a married lying man with children and a home he'd never abandon. She could hardly hold her coffee cup without shaking, she was so angry and upset. The evening had been so promising. They had planned to spend some time together in a restaurant, the famous-and expensive-Habit Bar where all the singers and the actors went. There'd be no grubby hour in a hotel room before he hurried home on this occasion. There'd just be food and wine and romance. She'd always liked that better than the sex. Love must be fed or it grows thin.
What occurred, then, to turn this calamity on its head and rescue the evening? What took her up the stairs to Lix's unappealing room? An almost-stranger's room? It must have been the romance that she had already planned for that evening which made the difference. The bottle was uncorked. Sitting on her own (before her lover's phone call came) in her familiar place in the sidewalk cafe had-as nowadays it often did-made her not sexually but emotionally aroused. Romantic expectation was her mood-the expectation of the stooping kiss, her lover's guaranteed tumescence, the watchful, surely jealous eyes of the cafe owner, the passing glances of the many husbands going home to their dull families, the certainty that she was being spied on through far binoculars, that kissing one in this bright street was making love to two or more. Was this a mad indulgence for a woman of her age, that she was being wanted from many angles by several men at once? Perhaps this was the worst of vanities. But surely anyone could see how poised and heaven-sent she was for men.
Now what? No boyfriend suddenly. No prospect of a kiss. Not even any twitching curtains on that night. She'd checked. Just the complicit sympathy of the cafe owner and his waitress and the added insult of the stiffening liqueur they had offered her "on the house." To go home was impossible. How could she bear the chatter of her roommates, the television programs, the surrender of her hopes to all the domestic chores that needed attending to? A woman who had expected to be dining out with celebrities in the Habit Bar would be at home instead, ironing blouses, defeated by the telephone.
Still, she had to eat. So rather than order anything from the sidewalk cafe-an unflattering choice of cold snacks-she went to the little fixed-menu cafeteria, the ABC, behind the railway station where single men and women stranded by their lifestyles and their trains could eat without expense-and without embarrassment. She ordered menu C, the soup, the fish, the crème brûlée, and-recklessly-another glass of the Boulevard liqueur she'd been given at the cafe. She'd pay for one at least that night, to save face.
She didn't have anything to read. Not even a pen to doodle with. So she could be excused for looking around the restaurant and studying the gallery of faces, the exhibition of clothes and postures. Staring was polite compared to some behavior there, the table manners and the arguments, the lack of modesty. The ABC was the sort of place where you could stare. Nobody considered it rude. You stared and they stared back. No need to be genteel with such a cast of students, bachelors, artists, unemployed, third-class travelers.
She spent ten minutes gazing around, not really looking for her dishonest lover with another woman possibly, or with his work colleagues, or with his children and his wife, not really practicing what she would say to him, in front of everyone. She studied almost every visible face, the back of almost every other head. So she couldn't miss that half-familiar blemished man three rows of tables down from her and walking in between the diners and their bags and cases, looking for a place to sit. The pattern on the cheekbone was unmistakable. It was her clandestine admirer. She knew at once he'd recognized her, too.
l How could she be so reckless? That was not her style, not normally. She was the sort who only spoke when spoken to, in matters of the heart at any rate. A woman of that age even in those newly unshackled days did not initiate encounters of this kind. But now her fury and her disappointment seemed to shift and occupy a different space. Instead of standing boldly at the family table, the wife amazed, the children cowering, the lying husband silent, pizza-faced, as she'd imagined, she was instead half standing at her chair, pulling back the table, making room for Lix. For once she'd made a move on her own behalf. It had been easy, actually. She simply pointed at the place opposite her and said, "It's free." He had no choice. To walk on past, without a ready lie, would be unnecessarily rude. So he sat. He was blushing uncontrollably. The spy exposed.
The blushing, though, was irresistible. Not only was it evidence of innocence, embarrassment, and shame, but also of desire, arousal, fear. She'd never seen such fear on anyone's face. It made her feel unusually powerful, to be able to bring on such involuntary discomfort in a man. The shoe should be on the other foot. Had always been before. So this was what it felt like to be male, a hunter, predatory, to have a blushing quarry within reach, the color in his face the flag of his arousal.
She made Lix look her in the eye by simply chatting at him like a cousin. It helped that he was so much younger than she was. Perhaps ten years, she judged. It helped, as well, that she had already drunk two shots of alcohol. It let her talk. Why not? It's not unnatural-especially in the ABC-to talk when you are sharing a table with a stranger. She bullied him till he submitted to her questions. And as he spoke-about his theater studies and his agitprop, his many opinions on almost everything, including-on that day-the good news, bad news from Iran, the coming plebiscite, the confrontation planned for Nation Day, the famine in Cambodia for which he'd organized a street performance called, he said, PolPottery-she started once again to feel contented with herself, to feel attractive, passionate, even to like the woman sharing a tablecloth with him, the unmasked Peeping Tom. She wasn't listening, of course. The theater and PolPottery? Iran?
She liked it best when he was being playful, playing someone else, that is, and not himself. His speaking voice was beautiful. And he could sing. He could do accents well. Though his repertoire of American actors was amusing, his imitation of their waiter with his odd head and his strange, strangulated voice was clever enough to make her laugh out loud.
To tell the truth, though, this snooper, for all his cleverness and youth, for all his physical difference from her older, paunchy lover, wasn't her type of man. Not broad enough. Too loud and sensitive and too much of the student in his dress, his voice, his hair, too keen to change the world with his slogan T-shirt and his campaign buttons. And far too inexperienced with women. She could tell at once. He couldn't flirt if he were paid for it with gems. He didn't have the nature or the skill-unlike her own pitiless and impatient lover, who used the world-and her-so roughly and so carelessly.
This inexperience was tantalizing in a way. It put her in command. She needed more than anything, on this of all nights, to imagine she was at the steering wheel. His inexperience also made her strong enough, once they had finished eating and there was nothing on the table but their coffee cups, the bills, and their two pairs of hands, to touch his fingertips, the fingertips that had held the spyglasses in which she was desired, and then to grip his wrists, and then to say-quite shockingly-"Where do you live?" And then, before he had the chance to reply, "I know exactly where you live. The fourth floor above the cafe along the street." How wonderful to see him blush again and squirm.
She could not stop herself. The night was beckoning and she was dressed for it. But if there was any hero in her sights, the young man (now hurrying with her out of the ABC and into Cargo Street, four flights of stairs ahead of them) was not the one. She herself was the only person she observed in her mind's eye. The clock reversed. Again she was the woman, half a couple, waiting at the street cafe. But magnified. Enlarged. Desired. The blur of men passed by and liked her hair, her dress, her face, her legs. How better she must be than any wife, they thought. Half of the city wanted to sleep with her. She was the woman on the poster for Life magazine, the lipstick and the glass of wine, kissing everyone. Her mouth. Her tongue. She only had to lift her face and look around and smile for them, for all the men. The telephone could ring and be ignored. She'd not be caught. Four stories up the winking lenses could only catch the light.

"So," she said again. "It's quite a view you've got up here." She meant it as an undemanding invitation for the man, the boy, to step across and wrap his arms around her waist. Somebody had to close the gap between the sidewalk table and the room. Surely that was partly his responsibility. She soon knew, as seconds passed like struck bells, the binoculars still heavy in her hand, that this young man would never take the single step across the kitchen to press against her at the windowsill, his lips against her neck, his cock lengthening against her leg. He was too scared and innocent. She'd have to make the move herself.
The act was simple. She reached across and touched the bare torso above his belt, the boyish plume of hair. "So!" she said again. The word seemed unavoidable, as did the pouting moue that delivered it. Then, "You're quite the little spy." She wanted him to talk before she kissed, before they made their way to his untidy bed in his unruly room. She wanted to discover what she looked like in the lens. "Tell me...why you look at me." She nodded at the street below, the almost empty cafe, as if she were still sitting there.
Lix did not consider himself to be a spy or a snooper, of course. His frequent reconnaissances from behind the kitchen curtains were just routine for him, something for the wasting moments of the day, which at least allowed him to imagine that he had a part to play in all the kissing that was taking place that year. What else was there to do when he was home-an empty home-except put on the radio or choose an album for the record player, then browse the street with his binoculars. This was the closest he could get to contributing anything to Life's portrayal of the city.
The woman from the cafe standing with her fingers wrapped around his belt was wrong if she imagined she was special. He did not only have eyes for her (though it was hard, for the moment, to think of anybody else while she was pushing up his T shirt). He was indiscriminating in his interests, so long as his attention could be held by someone female and attractive. His eyes were robbing women from the street as nonjudgmentally as a mugger.
And his excuse, should he be caught? And his excuse, now that he had been caught and challenged by the woman breathing in his face, so close that he could smell her perfume and her scalp? It was his duty to observe, of course. Watch people in the street, his drama teachers had instructed his group. Watch how they behave. Follow them even, to see and learn what people do when they are innocently on their own. He was only studying, through his binoculars.
"It's just part of my course," he said. "You're always there. I always watch, that's all."
"It's something more," she said. "I know about you men."
She wanted him to tell her that he'd always wanted her, that he had thought about this moment many times before. She wanted him to say, "I was excited when I caught you in my lens."

cf0Instead he said, "I'm finding this embarrassing."
He meant that the impulse that had taken him to seek arousal at the kitchen window was hardly targeted. He was not seeking consummation with a woman with a name but only giving vent to haphazard randiness, that wild anarchic master of the unattached. He only meant to satisfy himself. Now he faced the fear and the embarrassment of achieving the impossible, of doing something he had never had to try before. He must transfer his universal and unfocused longing for any woman safely chancing by at a distance to this particular and all too present woman.
She slipped her shoes off, kicked them across the kitchen floor, becoming short and vulnerable without her heels. "Kiss, kiss. Are you allowed to study kissing, too? Come on." She shocked herself, on tiptoes, in bare feet, her tongue surprising his, her hands pushed up inside his shirt as if he were the woman. She was in the mood for shocks. She'd had a shocking and unhappy day and she was hoping for some pleasurable revenge.
She should not, though, have kissed his birthmark quite so readily. She should not have held its short soft hairs between her lips. He gasped and tried to pull away. "I'm sorry," he said.
"For what?"
"For this...the blotch."
His birthmark would unman him all his life, he'd always thought. This red and hairy nevus would repulse the girls. It would be the obstacle denying him a wife. He'd never met a single female who had not stared at it for a moment when they first laid eyes on him or who otherwise had battled with themselves to fix their attention elsewhere. He felt that people's eyes were darting constantly, mockingly, to his cheekbone, that it fascinated and repulsed them like a harelip or a walleye, like some unsightly boil. He felt as if his body had no other purpose than to haul his flaming cheek around. His burning cheek, his everlasting blush. His boyhood friends had teased him about it, called him Smudge, indeed, a pitiless nickname which he had foolishly adopted and still allowed when he went home, just to show that the blemish did not really bother him these days. But, oh, it did. It shaped the way he was.
Lix had developed the habit while still a young boy of holding a hesitant hand up to his eye when he spoke to strangers as if shielding it from sunlight. It drew attention to the birthmark, of course, rather than hiding it, and gave the boys something more to tease him about at school. He had tried to keep that hesitant hand in his trouser pockets, to be-or seem-relaxed about himself. Too frequently he also felt obliged when making new acquaintances to introduce himself as Smudge and then point out the cherry-colored birthmark as if it had not already been noted and ignored. He made jokes about it at his own expense. He was overinsistent, in fact, and made some old acquaintances so uncomfortable that they started calling him Felix and looking fixedly at their feet when they conversed rather than give offense by flickering a glance at his face.
What Lix could not accept, would never realize, but which the woman from the sidewalk cafe had recognized at once, was that the nevus was attractive rather than ugly. How tender it had been to kiss him there. It was like kissing someone better on a bruise, or kissing someone's eyes to stop the tears. Here was an invitation to be tender. The birthmark was the sweetest part of him. It lent to an otherwise inexpressive face a sardonic and whimsical note, a touch of innocence and beauty. What small romantic successes Lix had enjoyed in his teens had been encouraged rather than hindered by what the mark did for his face. Lix did not understand. All his personal and public failures he blamed upon the stain.
Perhaps that's why Lix grew to love the cinema so much. It was a refuge where his birthmark was not seen, where everybody faced the front and no one stared at him. It does not explain, however, the oddly self-exposing decision he had made that he would be an actor, someone stared at for a living. Or, possibly, as his best friend cleverly observed when Lix announced that he had won a place at theater school, "He's looking for a job where he can cake himself in makeup."
If only his best friends could see him now, a woman on her tiptoes kissing him, again, again, on his birthmark as if the cherry stain were fruit. Here was proof for them at last that love-or passion, anyway-was blind, that it could overcome, ignore, forgive the blotches and the blemishes.
She kissed him there again, prevented him from pulling back. He was a timid soul, birthmark or not. Another man, most other men, would not conceal themselves behind the curtains of an upper room. They'd be out on the streets themselves, consummating their desires. Another man would not require cajoling and encouragement. But here, still at the kitchen door, still with her lips pressed to his cheek, she realized quite soon, was someone who, if he (just like the city) had hardly kissed before-and that seemed possible, to judge by his hesitation-almost certainly had not made love before either. He was more than inexperienced. A virgin, then? She felt more purposeful.
ard Thank goodness someone there was purposeful. Lix was all at sea. His only physical contact with women-other than that one startled volunteer-was onstage or in his acting classes when there was a drama coach or stage directions to guide him: Take her arm or Seize her roughly or Embrace. And he obeyed the script. And she-whichever student actress it might be that day, instructed to be his Blanche, his Juliet, his Beatrice, his Salome-responded by the book.
These were the licensed touches of the theater, unconsummated congresses, studied passion, love technique that's only there to dupe the audience.
Of course, the flesh he handled was not fake. Those onstage partners in his embrace were genuine women, ready with the action and the words. These were real lips. Those hands he took to kiss or shake, those costumed shoulders he enveloped in his arms, were not from props. The peasant's dress that dashed against his ankles when they danced was fraudulent, just dressing up, a play. Yet when his hand supported her-the girl in his stage group, whoever she might be that week, his partner-for her cartwheel, then those glimpsed legs were alarmingly real, as was the heady smell of bottled perfume from Chanel, as was the bra strap, textured and insinuating against his palm.
None of them were quite as real as she'd become, the little shoeless woman from the sidewalk cafe who now was backing him out of the kitchen, across the wooden boards of his small room, until his legs were pressed against the endboard of his bed and he was toppling.
She knew enough about young men to please if not utterly satisfy herself before she let him ejaculate, although their lovemaking had been so urgent and frantic that neither of them had removed a single item of clothing. Not one, except her pair of shoes, abandoned in the kitchen. His underpants and trousers were around his thighs. Her underclothes had just been pulled aside. Her brassiere, still fastened at the back, was riding underneath her chin. Thank goodness for the Sandinista rough-look skirt. She could go home by streetcar and look respectable, and not appear unbecomingly disheveled. Despite her tears. For there'd be tears as soon as she descended from his room.

The woman hadn't yet revealed her name to Lix. She was feeling guilty actually and would have lied if he'd inquired what she was called or solicited her phone number or suggested that they make the ABC their occasional rendezvous. But he had not inquired, solicited, or requested. Having sex had doubled his embarrassment, not eradicated it. His tongue, so active
af0 just a few minutes before, was now entirely tied. No matter. She didn't think they'd meet again anyway. She didn't even think she'd go back to the sidewalk cafe anymore. Her future, clearly, was elsewhere. Her catch would have to find another friend for his binoculars.
They lay in bed, his narrow bed, for far too long, looking at the posters on the ceiling-rock groups she'd never heard of, demonstrations and campaigns she'd never join, experimental plays she'd hate, and on the facing wall an illustrated slogan by Roesenthaler which declared that "the Artist is the Armourer."
"What must you think of me?" she said.
"I don't think anything. Well, nothing bad."
"Am I your first?"
"First what?"
"First one in bed."
"First what in bed?"
She shrugged. Men always disappointed her. "Where can I wash?"
"They've got a shower down the corridor. I use the kitchen usually..."
Lix followed her into the unlit kitchen and waited at the door (a host at last) while, finally, she began to take off her clothes, a silhouette against the darkened window, and drape them over his radiator. She tied the towel he gave her around her waist.
"I've got some coffee if you want."
"I do need coffee, yes."
Lix leaned across her at the sink to fill the saucepan with water. Her breasts were hard and cold against his arm. "I'll have to boil some water for you too, if you need to wash," he said. "There isn't any hot. Not from the tap." The gas flame dramatized the room. "I have a question."
"Go on."
He wanted to ask, "Am I okay in bed? Can I be confident with girls? What should I know that I don't know?" She was an older woman after all. It was her job to put his mind at rest. Instead, he said only, "What's up?"
"'What's up?'" Already she could see how irritating he could be.
"You know, I mean, what's going on?"
She leaned against the window frame and looked down on the street below without the aid of his binoculars. Nothing moved. It was past midnight. The sidewalk cafe had been packed away, its shutters drawn, its chairs and tables folded and padlocked. "I came with you," she said, "because the guy that I am always waiting for, down there, did not show up. That's why."
"Let's go to bed again."
She was astonished, not that the object of her "little interlude" didn't seem to care about her lover dumping her-why would he care? Nobody cared-but that this innocent had been transformed so quickly into something more familiar to her, the predatory man forever wanting to make love, demanding it, cajoling it. She'd been a fool to take her clothes off while he watched and then to stand half naked in the semidark, her body silhouetted in the streetlit window frame. It had been a provocation, obviously. He was provoked. Quite clearly so. His body, his erection, flattered her. She almost welcomed it, this second visitation. How could she not? She was, she believed, its single cause. His body was awakening again to her close presence in the room. It validated her and no one else. Lix, though, was not intent on flattery.
This time it was not left to her to close the gap between the sidewalk table and the room, to take the single step across the kitchen. He was no longer scared and inexperienced, it seemed. He pressed himself against her at the tiny sink next to the window. He pushed his trousers down.
She was a little nervous suddenly. She'd lost control. This was, when all was said and done, a stranger's room, a dangerous place.
"We've done it once," she said.
"You're beautiful." Already he had one hand on her breasts and the other was pushing up the towel. "Let's lie down in the other room." He shouldered her toward the door. The sycophant became the psychopath in seven seconds flat.
Where was the tenderness in this? It was, of course, too much to ask for love in these odd circumstances. But tenderness? How kind was Lix with her? Perhaps it was too soon and he too young for tenderness. The heart and brain are slow to play their parts when men discover sex. We can allow him some excuse: he meant no harm; he'd seen too many films and thought that making love was an aggressive act; he wanted to redeem himself in his own eyes. And we should recognize this tender and forgiving truth, in later years Lix proved to be a man who was not cruel or casual in his consummated passions but, with one costly exception, only copulated with the woman whom-for the moment at least-he adored.
Cupid is by nature mischievous, irrational, and irresponsible. By now, even without the kindness and the tenderness, she was aroused herself to tell the truth. The words "You're beautiful" will always do the trick. There was something else that had alerted her and quickened her: the window frame, the windowsill, the curtains still not drawn against the prying night, the empty street below, and his binoculars still hanging from their peg.
"Let's do it here," she said. "Be quick." She turned her back on him and braced her arms against the window frame. She stuck her bottom out, a silent fat-lipped purse of soft flesh, and reached behind her legs for him, to guide him in. "Come on, come on." Her senses were all genital. She hardly felt his fingers on her back, she hardly heard his breathlessness, the kettle boiling on his stove, the rattling woodwork of the window frame, the division and adhesion of their skin. She pressed her forehead up against the glass but noticed no one passing in the street below, no cars, no revelers, no cheating husbands too late to meet their patient mistresses, not even any cats to catch her eye. Lix might be lost in her. But she had half forgotten him. She'd not delude herself. She was not passionate for this probationer. She was the subject and the object of her own desires. She lost herself, four stories up, in only what was happening to her, a woman in so many places all at once, it seemed, the cafe, the bed, the ABC, the gloomy streetlit room, the city's dark, conspiring boulevards, a woman who had only meant to reassure herself.
So now, at last, we've reached the early moments of Lix's oldest child. A girl, in fact. A girl called Bel. She'd have a vestige of her father's nevus on her cheek, the slightest smudge. By now she'd be, what? in her mid-twenties and still waiting for the moment when she'd want to, dare to, make the phone call to her unsuspecting "dad." She'd phone one day. She'd write. She'd send a photograph. The ball was bouncing in her court. For the moment, though, on that midnight of induction in 1979, in that year when we began to kiss, Lix had no idea how this encounter would prolong itself...so physically. He felt the kettle's hot steam massage on his back. But he could not remove himself from her just yet. His legs were suddenly as weak and boneless as the towel that had unraveled from her waist. He had to gasp for oxygen. Otherwise he'd never felt so free and ready for the world. Courageous, too.