Shinui / Change (Part 2 of 2)

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A180 kincks

After lunch, my sister stands up and thanks us for the meal, and we thank her for the company, and then I offer to walk her home. It’s only a few blocks, so it’s not an unusual offer, but I feel like any second, my nefarious intentions are going to be exposed.

That doesn’t happen. Instead, my sister accepts the offer, and my wife goes to lie down.

One block in, she says, “So, nu? Aren’t you going to tell me what this is all about?”

Yeah. “I need your advice.”

She looks at me with sharp, concerned eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, precisely. It’s just… not exactly right.” I explain the situation, trying to avoid specifics while still giving her a complete picture.

She’s a good listener, nodding at the right times and asking for clarification when something I say doesn’t make sense. When I finish, she throws her arm over my shoulder. It’s awkward, since she’s shorter than me, but I appreciate the thought. “I think you’ll be alright. Just the fact that you’re working so hard to get there –”

“I’m working hard,” I interrupt, “but I don’t think I’m getting anywhere.”

She shrugs. “You’re going in the right direction, though. Marriage is hard, but it’s not complicated. Assuming that there’s mutual love and respect, the more you put out there, the more you get back.”

“I’ve been trying,” I say. “I just don’t know what else I can do.”

“I’m trying to say, it’s not a magic pill. It takes time, even if you’re doing everything right. You might just have to keep on doing it until one day, you both wake up and realize that you’ve done it, that you’re damn good parents and partners.”

“That’s pretty profound, you know? Where do you get all these insights from?”

“That’s the thing. It’s obvious, in theory. The only reason you’re having such a hard time with it is because you’re sleep-deprived.”

“It’s obvious?” I repeat, incredulous.” So explain it to me, Dr. Holmes.”

She scoffs. “Well, first of all, Watson was the doctor, Holmes was a detective.”

I guess I really am sleep-deprived. “True. My mistake.”

“Yes.” Then she continues, not missing a beat. “Now, second of all, she’s just as sleep-deprived as you are, or even more, because of the night feedings. I hear, although only a married person who takes sex for granted would ever say such a thing, but I hear that when you reach a certain level of tiredness, your physical need for sleep is stronger than your physical need for sex. That’s just how it is, and it doesn’t mean anything is wrong with your relationship.”

“What, tiredness, that’s all there is to it? And one day we just won’t be as tired anymore?”

“Hate to tell you, but it’s more likely that you’ll get used to being tired all the time. But there are a lot of factors at play here. There’s the hormones, too – it’s possible that the birth control is a factor, but I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. It might just be regular postpartum hormones. Plus, with all the holding and rocking the baby, and breastfeeding around the clock, a lot of women get touched out; a husband touching them might just feel like a larger version of the needy baby.”
I guess that explains Thursday.

“And then there’s, of course, the psychological aspect,” she continues.

“What psychological aspect?”

“Well, this is just an educated guess. Her body’s changed, right? No longer pregnant, but certainly not the way it was before. She may feel like her body doesn’t look like the way a woman’s body is ‘supposed’ to look, and maybe you don’t really want her. And if she doesn’t feel wanted, it’s hard for her to… want back.”

“There’s no question about my ‘want,’ ” I clarify. “I mean, I’m not having any problems – I mean….” She knows what I mean, so I allow myself to avoid finishing the thought. There are some subjects I will never talk about with my sister, and the state of my erections is one of them.

“That’s just plumbing, it doesn’t prove much. Even I know that,” she responds matter-of-factly. Not even having the decency to blush.

“Okay, so if she’s scared I’m not attracted to her, why doesn’t she just tell me, and I can reassure her?”

“Because she’s terrified that your answer will be, ‘That’s true, sweetie, your looks are kind of slipping, but sex with a cow is better than no sex at all.'”

“What?!” I stop short. “Are you serious? I would never say something like that!”

“True, but that might be even worse. That you would say that she’s still beautiful and not mean it, that deep down that’s still what you’d be thinking.”

“Wait. Are you trying to say that you think my wife looks like a cow?”

“No, I’m saying that she’s afraid that you think she looks like a cow.”

“Are you sure about this?”

“Am I – this is like Postpartum 101. How do you not know this?”

“But it’s so ridiculous.”

“In fact, it’s the furthest thing from ridiculous. In fact, it’s perfectly straightforward. We’re inundated with messages –”

“Inawhat?”

“In-un-day-ted. It’s a word; look it up, you Philistine. We’re inundated with messages from everywhere, these impossible standards. Women are supposed to look like this, feel like this, be thin but not too thin, curvy but not too curvy, breasts large but don’t they dare sag, no body hair anywhere, et cetera. It’s all over: movies, commercials, the internet. Even from within the Jewish community, with the shadchaniot recommending plastic surgery in order to find a guy.”

“I’m pretty sure that was a Purim joke.”

“I don’t think it was, and you see my point. ‘Men are visual creatures.’ How many times have you heard that sentence? How many times have you heard it said by a Jewish authority, talking about how to keep a marriage alive? Like the key to Shalom Bayis is keeping trim?”
We’ve reached her place, so we stop walking and sit down on the bench in front of the building.

“But I love her,” I say, rubbing the sides of my head in frustration. “Doesn’t that cancel out all that other crap?”

“You tell me.” She pauses. “No, better yet, you tell her.”

When I get home, she’s dozing on the couch. I kiss the top of her head and bring her a quilt. Then I whisper that I love her, and I leave her to sleep.

We don’t try that night, either, but it’s all right. Instead, we watch a movie in bed, my arm draped around her and her head resting on my shoulder. We fall asleep about halfway in. I guess the heroes win and the main two characters end up together, but we’ll never know for sure. I’m pretty sure there’s a happy ending, though.




11. SUNDAY

My wife and my sister have lunch together on Sunday. When she comes home, I have the baby on the play mat, with some toys that she’s too young to reach, and I’m taking advantage and getting in some learning.

Not sure whether I’m about to be thanked for my initiative or kicked out of the house for the foreseeable future, I go for the neutral, “How was lunch?”

“‘How was lunch,’ he asks,” she says, and laughs. Chuckles. Is that a happy chuckle or an angry chuckle?

I bite the bullet. “Are you upset?”

She sighs and sits down on the couch next to me. I set my mishna down on the coffee table and stretch an arm out behind her. She leans back. “I wish you hadn’t gone behind my back. But I appreciate your good intentions. So, no, I’m not upset.”

“What did she say?”

She shakes her head. “Oh, no. You keep your secrets, and I’ll keep mine.” Her smile is somehow both serene and mischievous.

I glance over at the playing baby. “How long do you think she can stay happy like this?” I ask.

“Why do you ask?”

I raise my eyebrows.

“Oh.” She looks at the baby, then back to me. “Better not risk it.”

“Tonight, then?”

“We might not get back from dinner at my parents’ until late, and I don’t want to have a lot of pressure for this.” I must look disappointed, because she kisses my cheek and says, “We’re going to be okay. Trust me? And tomorrow is going to be awesome. Mind-blowing. The best sex you’ve ever had.”

“The best sex recent enough for me to remember, anyway,” I grumble, but I’m just teasing and she can tell.

I have a standing basketball appointment with some friends in the park at three, and we lose by a hair. After I finish accepting defeat gracefully, I notice my wife standing on the sidelines, baby in one of those carriers. The baby is awake and alert, and the guys all fawn.

I start to brag, I can’t help it, telling them all about how she can lift up her head and how she makes eye contact and how any second she’ll start smiling.

“But how does she sleep?” they ask.

My wife and I exchange glances.

“She sleeps,” she says. “She’d have to, what with all the waking up she does.”

“Crying in the middle of the night, eh?”

“Oh no, she never cries,” I say. “She just writes out a bullet list of her needs.”

Everyone laughs politely – they’re not quite sure whether or not it was funny, but they’re pretty sure I meant it to be. I guess you had to be there.

When we get home, I shower quickly and change for dinner at the in-laws’ house. It hits me, as I’m buttoning up the nice shirt I’m dressing up in for her parents, and I realize how I can tell her. I have an idea. And I have a full day to perfect it.




12. MONDAY

I get home at 5:30 on Monday evening, and in a move reminiscent of that fateful night a week and a half ago, she’s waiting for me right by the door, and she grabs my shirt as I walk in.

We kiss hungrily. Starvingly.

“She’s asleep?” I ask.

“Even better. She’s out for a walk.”

I tilt my head at her. “She’s seven weeks old.”

“A ha,” she says, smiling, “But your sister, your wonderful, blessed sister who should have a long and happy life ad me’ah vi’esrim, is taking her for a walk. A long, long walk.”

“That is… excellent news.” I draw her back to me and breathe her in, holding still for a second.

She pulls back with a mischievous grin. “The house is empty. Name your room.”

“Sorry to be so conventional, but it’ll have to be the bedroom,” I say, thinking of my plan. “I need to show you something.”

I lead her to the bedroom and stop in front of the mirror, then turn her around so that she’s facing her reflection, with me behind her. Our eyes meet.

“What is this?” she asks.

I circle her waist with my arms. “Don’t kill me if I’m way off-base,” I say, “but is it possible that you’ve become self-conscious about your body since giving birth, and it’s affecting the way you feel about sex?”

She doesn’t say anything, doesn’t break eye contact, but I can see her closing up, contracting into herself, slipping inside a shell where she can’t be hurt.

“Stay with me,” I whisper. I start to undress her, and she lets me, but her body is stiff, and her breathing is controlled. Two beats in, two beats out.

The last to go is her bra, which falls to the floor onto the undignified pile with all the rest. I see her glance quickly at her stomach and then back up.

I place my hands on her hips, then let them wander, my fingertips stroking circles all over her front. She follows the trail with her eyes, and her breathing starts to relax.

“Do you know why I love your body?” I say, as I move one hand between her legs and the other to her breast.

Our eyes find each others’ again, and for a few minutes, I focus my efforts, silently, on the way my hands are working.

“I love your body because it’s the physical manifestation of your soul,” I say. “I respect your body because your legs let you walk and your arms let you carry and your spine –” here I run the pad of my left thumb up her spine and she shivers –”holds it all together… and your mouth lets you laugh and your womb gave me – gave us – a child. I desire your body because I know exactly what happens inside you when I touch you like this –” she gasps my name –” but the reason I love your body is quite simply because I love you.”

She comes as if on command, silently, in a series of violent shudders. Eyes still locked on mine, cheeks flushed bright red. And then she collapses into my arms.

Gradually, she recovers, and I’ve never seen her smile quite this bright, which makes it completely worth the hours I spent memorizing that speech. Which I will tell her all about in the morning, but right now nothing is going to ruin the mood.

She turns around and wraps her arms around my neck. “What did I ever do to deserve you,” she mumbles, and then our mouths crush together, both of us pulling the other one closer, trying to get closer than we’ve ever been before.

She gets my clothing off with haste, and then it’s just skin to skin and pelvis to pelvis, and blood rushing through my temples, pounding in my heart, pulsing at my groin.

All of a sudden, I feel something wet against my chest.

“What the–” I begin, but she cuts me off.

“Ignore it, ignore it,” with her fingers in a death grip against my shoulder blades and her mouth against my neck, “for the love of God, please ignore it.”

It’s ignored.

Instead, we fall onto the bed, and I position myself above her and then inside her, and we start making up for lost time. Faster, faster, faster. More.

There is a time for taking it slowly and making it last.

That time is tomorrow.

Afterwards, I roll over the way they do in the movies, all suave and proud. We’re still holding hands as we grin goofy smiles at each other, and she gives mine a little squeeze.

I’m the man.

All of a sudden, something occurs to me. I look over at her. “Was that… milk?”

She covers her hands with her face.

“Is that something we’re going to have to get used to?”

She groans and peeks out from behind her hands. “It’s possible, yes. Maybe. I don’t know!”

I laugh. And she laughs.

“There is one tiny problem,” she says.

“Oh?”

“I promised you mind-blowing.”

“I think your exact words were, ‘The best sex you’ve ever had.’ And I distinctly remember, a few months ago, a certain interlude involving a shower…”

“I’ll race you.”

I end up winning. But then again, so does she. And then again, we both do.

And then again.

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Noa believes in romance, friendship and justice. She doesn't, however, believe in the Oxford comma.
  • Ayo Oppenheimer

    Mm, that sister had good advice. And I love the ending:

    “I end up winning. But then again, so does she. And then again, we both do. And then again.”

    Both the content and the literary style are great. Looking forward to publishing your next piece, Noa!