The mist-mantled moon anchored itself in the midst of the maudlin sky as I made my way up the sodden trail, and began composing a letter to you in my mind. I might even write it out and send it you.
As you know, for two years I shared a house with the Scandinavian woman who juggled three men at the same time. I suppose some might have termed her a slattern, but she had formerly been married to a jazz-musician, and hence viewed herself as a sexual philosopher of sorts.
To say she juggled three men is an odd choice of metaphor, as she and all her lovers were in fact all circus performers, although none were actually jugglers.
She herself was a trapeze artist, and her three men were a lion-tamer, an acrobat, and a clown.
Mondays and Thursdays were reserved for the lion-tamer; Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the clown, and Saturdays for the acrobat. Sundays were reserved for me. We never slept together, but we would pass Sunday evenings at the kitchen table drinking ouzo and playing canasta into the small hours.
On the nights she came home with her men I would lie in bed and listen to the sounds of sex through the walls. I didn’t want to listen, but I was an insomniac and had no choice on the matter.
On maybe the second or third occasion I went outside and slept in my car, but it only made matters worse.
I myself was in a hiatus between relationships. I would occasionally come home with you. As you know, on the best nights we would lie on my bed, fully-clothed, talk softly, and listen to the night music of the trapeze-artist roomie.
On the most passionate of these nights you and me would tug at each others clothes and have some kind of redundant almost-sex.
But most nights I would have to listen to the lovemaking through my walls on my won.
It soon came to be that I could tell more-or-less what was happening from the pitch and tone of the trapeze artist’s moans of delight.
I desperately tried to count sheep, but the sheep turned into a menagerie of other animals: the panting of a pursued doe; the longing howls of a vixen; the roars of an angry lioness indicated cunnilingus (I think that’s the correct word).
Then abrupt and glorious silence, followed by a soft mumble of voices, alternating between baritone and contralto.
A few moments later her door would creak open and closed, then the shuffle of footsteps down the path, and the cough of a starting car in the night.
At this point I would often fall asleep.
None of the men ever stayed the entire night, not even the ringmaster, who always met with her on consecutive Wednesdays and Thursdays.
You asked me why I didn’t move out, which I always thought was a reasonable question. To be fair, I liked my trapeze-artist (not that she was ever mine). I always looked forward to Sunday nights with her. The lion-tamer always brought marijuana with him, and the trapeze-artist would share it with me.
Our Sunday conversations would begin with me bemoaning my luck, the way people who have all the luck always bemoan when they’ve blown all their chances. When I was done bemoaning the trapeze-artist would talk about her own life, especially her lovers.
They were all remarkably similar. All of them were in long-term relationships, all of them had been with dozens of women in the course of their lives, and they all knew how to delight a woman in bed. All of them knew things that can only be learned from having numerous partners. As for the trapeze-artist herself, she once told me she had slept with over two hundred men.
She would give me plenty of advice for my own relationships, although it usually rang a little hollow. Her nuggets of advice were like Hallmark sentiments—-if Hallmark made cards about sex.
Be bold. Sex is like ripe fruit ready to be plucked.
If you want to sleep with a hundred women then do it while you’re young.
Sexual skill; Use it or loose it.
I liked her, and I loved listening to her voice, especially while she smoked.
She knew sex, and she knew men, but she didn’t really know me. She knew the kind of men who have dozens of sex-partners.
She didn’t know much about men who struggled socially, seldom became intimate in any way with very few people, and who needed a deep emotional connection before they could even consider sex.
Was I a sexual coward?
I was brilliant. I was a genius. I was a major talent in my field, but my field wasn’t sex. Ironically, my field had the reputation for paying very little money, but in compensation it had the reputation for enabling a man to have a lot of sex-partners.
Just my luck, I suppose, that I would be unlikely to have more than a dozen partners in the course of my lifetime. The problem was that there were other things I wanted to do.
One Sunday night I asked the trapeze-artist to guess at the combined total of all the women her three current partners had slept with. This was during the early days of the Aids crisis. She gave me a regretful look and took a long drag of her joint. “A thousand maybe,” came the reply through a coughing fit. When the coughing fit ended, she said, “We’re in a small field, and it’s probable that every woman you have slept with, has slept with one of my three men.”
As I was pondering this fact, she continued, “Probably every woman you know has slept with one of my three men. Maybe every woman you have ever known.”
I must have had some kind of judgmental look on my face because she said, “The woman you have sex with is in a long-term relationship, isn’t she?”
I was actually surprised she had even noticed you. She didn’t pay a lot of attention to women.
The trapeze artist gave me a searching look.
“You know her boyfriend,” I said, “Don’t you?”
“He’s the lion-tamer.”
You always told me your boyfriend worked with animals, but I just assumed he was a vet, and didn’t put two-and-two together.
We were silent for a while. I had first met the trapeze-artist at a party. She had actually come home with me afterwards. We’d had a deep conversation, and I thought we were going to have sex, so I didn’t drink (I don’t why this makes sense to me, but it does). When we got back to my apartment we talked until sunrise, but she never gave whatever signals you’re supposed to look for, so at about six in the morning I made up the pull-out couch for her, and went to sleep alone in my bed.
“Why didn’t you sleep with me?” I said. I wanted the question to sound off-hand, but it sounded so whiny that it probably answered itself.
“I liked you too much,” said the trapeze-artist.
“That sounds a little trite,” I said. “Are you telling me you don’t like your lion-tamer, clown, and acrobat?”
“Yes, I like them very much,” she said, “but in a different way.” She handed me the joint. “I like them, but I don’t love them, and they don’t love me. If I’d had sex with you then you’d have fallen in love with me, and you’d have been hurt. I’d just left my husband, and I wanted to experience life in as many aspects as I could. I wasn’t ready for a relationship. I’m still not. Next week if I tell any of them that it’s over, then they’ll just leave as cheerfully as always. By the following week they’ll be shagging someone else, and so will I.”
I had to admit it was a fair answer to my question, even if I didn’t completely believe it.
The following Sunday I had a big row with the trapeze-artist. She hadn’t payed me any rent in three months. She told me she’d shared her pot with me, and as far as she was concerned that was her rent. The next day she moved to the neighbor’s apartment downstairs.
Then just to continue the trend I had the big breakup row with you.
“You don’t get it, do you?” you said.
“I never get it,” I said. “Everyone tells me that.”
You rolled your eyes. “You really are the worst human being I have ever met. I have never come across some I think is actually evil, aside from you.”
I was often told I was evil, and I should have been used to it, but it actually hurt even though I tried not to let it bother me. “What in particular makes you say that?” I said.
“Don’t be such a fool,” you said. “Do I need to spell it out to you?”
You said, “You think you’re better then everyone else. You think you’re better than your trapeze artist. You think you’re better than my husband, and you think you’re better than the other two guys.”
“That doesn’t seem a very high bar,” I said. “And that’s hardly ‘everyone.'”
“No. You think you’re better than everyone because you abstain from sex, like you’re some kind of self-ordained priest. You think sex is wicked and dirty, but you know what the truth is? Celibacy is the thing that’s wicked and dirty.”
“That’s not true at all,” I said. “I like sex as much as the next man. I’m just not good at finding anyone to have it with.”
“What about your trapeze-artist?”
“That’s ridiculous. “She’s not interested in me, and besides, she’s pretty booked up.”
“All those loud orgasms?” you said. “They weren’t fake orgasms, but they were louder than they needed to be. They were for you. She knew you could hear. She imagining that it was yo she was doing it with. She loves you. She wants you, but you’re such a prude that that nearest she can get to sex with you is have sex with someone else while you listen. And as for you, if you hated it so much why didn’t you move out?”
That was the last time I saw you, and I didn’t see the trapeze artist for a couple of years. The next time I saw her was after I’d had my mid-life crisis and changed careers. She was outside a pub in Covent garden. She had a baby in a stroller, and was drinking a coke, or perhaps it was a whisky and coke. I couldn’t tell.
I told her about our last conversation.
She laughed. “A load of nonsense,” she said.
I asked her about the baby’s father.
“The ring-master,” she said. She put her hand on my chest as if she was fending me off. “I didn’t really want him. I just wanted the baby.”
A tall, dark-haired boy emerged from the pub carrying what looked like two glasses of coke. I stood up and made my apologies.
“You never change,” she said.
“Neither do you,” I said. “By the way, I have new job.”
For the first time in our entire relationship she looked uncertain. “Oh yes?”
“Yeah. I joined your old circus. I’m a human cannonball now.”
She sat there frozen with her coke half-raised and a baffled look on her face.
That was the last time I saw her.