So It’s Not About a Man?
The doctor asks her this question, and she laughs at her. That’s your question? Shouldn’t you ask about my goals and stressors and ambitions and fears first? Make one of those values to actions charts, maybe? Hell, I haven’t bothered with a man in almost a year. Do you know what a man is, she asks her. I’ll tell you what a man is. I knew a man who fell for this girl once. They spend one long naked night together, and then his phone rings, and he gets shipped off to Iraq. So now he’s over there doing this absurd, unforgiving job, marching through the three hells with eighty pounds on his back, but he can’t stop thinking about this girl. It isn’t a love thing, though. No. He isn’t holding a picture of her smiling with his arms around her. He’s holding a picture of her bending over in nothing but a pair of thigh highs, and he’s passing it around to every soldier he meets, tracking the stretch of their smiles.
They only slept together once, you see, and it didn’t go very well. It was inhibited, uncomfortable. He doesn’t even think she finished. He can’t shake this thought. It eats away at him for months and hours. He’s off in the desert, cloaked in death, surrounded by encroaching enemies who want nothing but to slice his head off and make a real show of it, but all he can think about is surviving long enough to get back home so he can fuck this girl the right way, show her what he really is. He can’t die now, out here, not while she’s out there thinking that of him, talking to her friends as they size up other men in comparison. And so that’s what it’s all about. The whole damn war. Everything. That’s all there is. That’s what keeps him through the cold nights and the firefights and the friends dropping around him one by one. It isn’t patriotism or courage or some noble confronting of evil or injustice. It isn’t love. No, he sees through all that. He sees people dying every day in a sand that has no use for their blood—nothing grows from it—and no respect for their love—the bodies all drop the same. But this girl, that look on her face, those sounds, this is how he survives the war. It’s sex, not love, that brings him home.
And now he is home. Not quite sixteen months later, he’s back in town, and he sets about wooing her once more. It takes some time. She’s been with a few other guys now, and he can’t help but cringe at all they did together in the dark. But eventually he gets what he’s after. She falls for him, lets him back in her bed, and it’s all as he envisioned it back in the sand, back in the pitch. He explores every inch of her body, traces every curve—with his hands, with his mouth—every motion mapped to the touch. The woman is exhausted, overwhelmed with a feeling she can’t comprehend. She feels a connection she’s never felt before. A unique oneness, of bodies spilling into bodies, of warmth and ecstasy, of being unstuck in time like some erotic billy pilgrimage. He has her say his name each time she finishes.
And that was it. That was all he wanted. He left her the next day and hasn’t seen her since. You want to know a man? That right there is a man. Some mad fool who’d walk through a nightmare, through the Inferno itself, just to prove to the world that his dick can work wonders, shredding whole bodies with his bullets, with his fire, orphaning villages, widowing them, then burning them black, all to hear a woman scream his name in bed as he squeezes her shoulders and ass from behind.
The doctor shifts in her seat, writing something and circling it. She turns to probe further. What is it that you value, then? What is it that you want to get from life? The woman laughs again and tells her it doesn’t matter what I get from life. All that matters is what life gets from me. It matters what I give. What I do. What am I doing to shape a gentler future? Who am I helping? That’s all there is. Not men. Not sex. Not love. It’s just the work. I’m drinking so I can do the work.
Can you tell me about the work? Why does it matter so much?
Why does it matter? Seriously? It matters because our leaders are smiling for cameras and shaking brown hands and then retreating to back rooms to see if the brown rubbed off. They’re locking sick people in cages and calling it rehabilitation, creating monsters and then saying it’s illegal to be monstrous. Every single moment I spend doing anything other than confronting this institutional malice is a moment wasted, a moment lost to the other side of history. To be responsibly alive is to fight the irresponsible. Didn’t someone say that once? Someone should have. I think someone did.
They both sit there silent, the doctor scribbling some notes, underlining a few words. She looks up after a few moments, wearing a smile of practiced compassion, and says in her most professional tone: I honestly think you just need to fuck someone. The work can wait. It’s okay to get yours sometimes. Find a man, have some fun. Good sex cures just about everything. I’m not wrong. But I can prescribe you some Klonopin if you’d like.
The woman writes a check for the session and never comes back.
Vinay Krishnan lives in Brooklyn, where he works as a social justice lawyer. He holds a J.D. from the Duke University School of Law. Vinay’s fiction has appeared in decomP magazinE. You can find Vinay on twitter here: @vinayrkrishnan.