This story is by Joao Serro and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Two-hundred years ago, no one knew how fire worked, what property brought it to life. They thought it was some mysterious element. Jennifer and I continue to flirt with each other after all these years because some mysterious element keeps that fire burning. It’s true that we flirt considerably with others as well, but we’re certainly not swingers. The jealousy that resides with most couples is a stranger in our home. Our loyalty toward each other isn’t dependent on fear or on social strictures. Our commitment is based on the luxury of requited desires.
Once, Jennifer had a huge office crush on some guy named Ralph.
“Would you want to have a three-way?” She asked me, innocently.
I sipped my morning coffee in quiet contemplation. “Well, sweetie, I’ve had my share of sexual experimentation like everyone else, especially during my Bowie years, but ‘guys’ aren’t my cup of Java. I’m boring I suppose, since I only get it up for women.”
“So, would mind if I have a little fling with Ralphy all by myself?”
“No, I wouldn’t mind.”
This surprised and delighted her. “Really? Wow. You’re amazing. Can I ask you, out of curiosity, why you can be so generous?”
“Because I love you. And want to see you happy.”
I spoke from the heart. Now, I may have had more cause for concern if the guy resembled Brad Pitt; but he looked like Jack Black. Generosity is often effortless. Besides, this might fling open the door for my own ‘little fling’ should the opportunity arise. I’m a smart guy. Generosity is seldom motive-free.
Jenny-Ralphy did a lot of heavy petting, but when it came down to the nitty-gritty, Jennifer backed down. I asked her why.
“I got cold feet. Ralph isn’t in a relationship himself. So I began to feel his encroaching neediness.”
Once the taboos lift–permission to unbutton the prohibited–unrequited desires are as attractive as a used condom.
One elucidating fall, I attended a seminar at UCLA on James Joyce’s Ulysses. Noticing a young woman sitting across from me, I studied her in pleasant surprise. Calypso responded with welcoming smile. She was Black Irish–porcelain skin, framed by hair as dark as the Middle Ages. But what struck me immediately was the intensity of her eyes. They blazed a life-affirming blue, so wide you could sail a ship through them. Once she infected my consciousness, Calypso remained a permanent infatuation. I fell in love with her bubbling girlish enthusiasm.
We’d go for coffee after class. Calypso discoursed on women’s rights or the latest book she was reading–Nora–about Joyce’s patient, long-suffering wife. Distracted, I dunked my donut-soul in an Irish coffee and bobbed my heart in her buoyant, blue-eyed sea.
Once the seminar ended, we continued to hang through the cool mornings and hot afternoons of that endless season. My wife, Jennifer, punched a 17-hour clock as a migrant film worker handcuffed to post-production, FX sweat-houses. While I worked the occasional evenings massaging wealthy clients, whose largess in tips afforded me lots of free time during the day.
I visited Calypso one morning, where she took a weekend job as park ranger with the County Zoo. Waiting pleasantly at the entrance for some time before her arrival, I met her playful eyes when she finally approached me, yawning, and slightly late for her morning shift.
“What were you up to, last night?” I asked.
Her disheveled hair suggested a night of fun in the haystack–or the Hollywood Hills. Wearing bluejeans and tight-fitting orange T-shirt, she smiled and the DNA in her irises hummed a cerulean song to the dominant brown in mine. Eyes as blue and clear as a summer sky on the African plain.
We trundled across the zoo’s concrete plain to the cramped, employee changing room, where I sat in a fake zebra-skin chair as she put on her ranger uniform behind the half-open curtain. Khaki shorts and shirt streamlined her sleek shape, stretching and shifting whenever she moved, like the spots on a cheetah.
Out of respect, I looked away as she undressed. Only to have my eyes land on the stainless steel water dispenser perked in the opposite corner, where I could see reflected on its surface, every detail of her baby-smooth skin. She never needed to shave her legs because the peach fuzz that grew there was as barely perceptible as Horton hearing a Who. The hot sun had generated a few beads of perspiration, here and there, on her long neck and arms and thighs. These tiny droplets danced happily on the tips of her peachy hair like so many angels on the head of a pin. My sudden wild craving to collect those elemental beads into a shot-glass and chase down my thirst, needed to be tamed and caged.
We strolled toward her favorite animal hangout–the Orangutans. Smitten entirely by Calypso’s beauty and charm, all the alpha males ran over as soon as they saw her approaching their cement enclave – a treeless home away from home, about as dry and inviting as the L.A. River. Between us lay an abyss of stone. Across this desolate moat, which separated captive audience from captive creature, they extended their long orange arms through the retaining bars, hoping to touch her magical physicality. They stared dreamily into the wild blue heaven of her eyes. Some irresponsible zoo visitor had provided these apes with wads of chewing gum, so they stretched and twirled the sticky gobs, like spaghetti, around their nimble fingers as they listened to Calypso’s university lecture.
She opened a massive tome, annotated and highlighted, from which she recited for them in her lovely Irish voice. Over the course of that autumn, Calypso had read to her Orangutan acolytes the entire Molly Bloom chapter from Joyce’s Ulysses. By the end of that smart, delicious fall, her educated monkeys could have passed the SAT test with a score that would have rivaled any over-achieving Asian kids and given them a good run for their (parents) money.
The great apes and I listened attentively to the last few pages of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy as Calypso slid down that single sentence, phrase by sensual phrase, to reach the final, famous, affirmative word–Yes.
Intoxicated by the sound of her voice and by her parted lips as she uttered the last precious syllable, yes, I thought, yes, I would never leave that concrete island-paradise. But Calypso had other animals to attend and I had a beautiful wife waiting at home for me to attend. Yes.
So there you have it. That fall, Calypso and I did the monkey business. But only up to a point–sensual, full-bodied hugs accompanied by sweet whisperings; laying around on her couch, or mine, with our clothes on of course; talking, occasionally rubbing my cheek across her facial skin; grazing her delicate ear with my lips; and burrowing deep into her Black Irish hair, whose scent drove my leprechaun over a shamrock.
But when it came down to the moment of truth, Calypso’s Irish moral fiber reigned victorious. She and Jennifer were fond of each other. As Jenny has been fond of all my women friends. So Calypso retreated, refusing to take it any further.
In a way, it’s a bit cowardly, on my part, to always pick women stronger than me. Women of solid character. Being a typical guy, the dirty dog, I avail myself by always choosing a strong woman to flirt with. This advantage gives me more wiggle room to push the boundaries–imposing the burden of restraint on them.
Consequently, in the final days of this tangled autumn, we had a fall. She was angry. A complex transfer of feelings left us both confused. She wasn’t in a relationship herself, placing her emotions at a vulnerable disadvantage. For my part, I became too assertive, crowding her independence. I realized things had gotten out of hand one night, when Jennifer and I were waiting in line to see Monster Rising at McFolly’s. Jennifer was speaking sweetly and lovingly, but I wasn’t hearing a word she said because I was wondering what Calypso was up to that evening. All I wanted at that moment was to be near her; while my adoring wife stood before me, under the dim lamplight–pale in comparison. Awakened by this startling epiphany, I knew I needed to regain my old equilibrium.
We distanced ourselves for several painful months. But her friendship was vital. I missed her terribly; laboring to patch the gaps in our broken fence; continuing to write the occasional letter; pacing myself to avoid any further conflict or to appear overbearing. Eventually Calypso came around and we’ve been fast friends ever since. She is now married with kids, and leprechaun be damned, she is still as fine an Irish woman as there ever was one.