Carl Stoner probably would not have thought about her if the topic of sex had not been brought up for discussion in the group therapy session he attended every Tuesday at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital where all but two were octogenarians. The two who weren’t in their eighties were in their seventies. The group consisted of eight men, a leader and his assistant, a graduate student on his or her way to a PH.D in Clinical Psychology. They sat in ragged circular arrangement with the group leader, Dr. Spitz, anchoring it with his desk close to the door.
All of the men had been professionally involved in the arts. Carl and Paul, still were but in a desultory way. The others were, as they claimed to be, retired though now and then one or another of them announced that he was working on a project.
None of the men were without medical issues, some serious. Carl’s medical problems were not life threatening, but those he had were neurological or related to the crushed discs in his back and neck and were a source of intense pain that medications he took only lessened it for a short time.
Daniel, who brought up the topic of sex, though a member of the group wasn’t physically present, at least for the past year or so. He was visible on a computer screen and had verbal exchanges with men via a telephone hookup. Carl and other members with hearing problems had difficulty hearing him; and Dr Spitz provided a summarization for them.
The questions that Daniel asked was whether or not any of the men experience erotic feelings and were they capable of acting on them. He admitted to having them, but was unable to do anything to relive his sexual longings because of his multiple medical conditions one of which was his gross over weight.
It was not an easy question to answer. It was like the one that came a few weeks before about the fear of dying. The men dropped into a well of silence, each no doubt trying to find the words to express himself without revealing what his actual feelings were.
“It’s not your sex-life that Daniel is asking about, it’s your feelings about sex,” Dr. Spitz prodded. He was the youngest man in the room, probably in his late forties. The different between him and his patients was not only a matter of age, but of experience. Age certainly adds experience, but all of the men in the room were veterans and had lived through terrors completely unknown Dr. Spitz. But the loss of sexual powers was almost tantamount to losing one’s manhood. It was a difficult admission to make.
Paul, one of the octogenarians in the group, a former director of horror and pornographic films and whose present day sexual encounters were a source of amazement to the group because Paul, more than of us looked like a broken down street person said, “You don’t have to get it up to satisfy a woman, and as far as satisfying me at this stage of the game something like a blow job would do it even if I didn’t come.”
That triggered the discussion.
But Carl didn’t enter into it. Though he listened, he was more in his own world than with the group. Daniel’s question started something churning in his brain. Perhaps it was there before he sat in his usual place near the door within the circle? He hadn’t had sexual relations of any kind for years even before his wife, Laura, became an invalid after she fell, they weren’t sexually active.
And then it happened; he realized he was thinking about the Indian woman who lived in the same building that he did, but on a different floor. His apartment was on the fifth floor, and she lived on the fourth floor with her daughter, grand-children, two girls, and son-in-law five days a week and on the weekend returned to New Jersey where she said she had a house. The girls were probably ten and eight. Each was as dark skinned as their grandmother and parents were. And they were “skittish” whenever he and the grandmother met.
There was something about the woman that he liked, her smile. She was matronly looking in a way that he found attractive. He guessed that when he was younger she had been as beautiful as her daughter was. But he could tell from the way he clothes fitted her that she still had lovely breasts and legs.
Their initial meeting took place while waiting for the elevator, and consisted of nothing more than a smile of recognition and nod by each one of them. She was with her grandchildren, who looked at him, as children sometimes do with strangers, apprehensively. What they saw was a gray bearded, slightly bent old man holding a cane with growths under both eyes and wearing a tired looking black cap with the word KOREA VETERAN stitched on it and the numbers 1950-1953. He may have appeared to be menacing to them. He was sure that neither the older one nor the younger one was able to read what they saw.
After his initial encounter with her, their meetings were sporadic, not for days and often not for weeks. But whenever they did meet, there was always a little more warmth in their exchange of greeting. At one of them, they shook hands and that became a ritual. Then they gave each other a quick hug. They did not exchange names. But that formality did not seem to be necessary for whatever emotional reactions were taking place between them.
Now and then, when he didn’t see her for a while, he thought about her. He wondered if she did the same. The strange part of their budding “relationship” was that they had absolutely nothing in common. When she spoke, her use of English was slow and tentative; and Carl had no idea what her native language was though she told him that she originally came from Southern India where Indie, Urdu and many other languages and dialects are spoken.
Despite the huge difference between them, he could not deny that he was attracted by her and had feelings or, at least hints, of feeling that he hadn’t felt for years especially after Laura wound up in a wheelchair. Yes, he was aware of beautiful women. He had eyes and a vivid imagination. But his sex drive was much like the diminution of his strength: only a hint of what it once had been remained.
But for reasons he didn’t care to analyze why he was attracted to the Indian woman and sometimes let his imagination roam naked they enjoyed one another. Though he knew he was impotent, it would have been their closeness that mattered, her softness. And if she didn’t object, he would have been delighted to bring her to climax either digitally or orally.
These were forbidden thoughts, though he allowed himself to think them. He was married to the same woman for almost seventy years. But he was lonely, emotionally dry. He never blamed Laura. Accidents happen and when they do they frequently change the lives, not only of the individual who had the accident but also alter the lives of the nearest of kin. In Laura’s case it was him because both their sons lived out of the country and had families of their own to care about.
He became a “caretaker” and in doing so lost or had to give up parts of his life, especially the time he’d spent writing. Coupled to this was Laura’s anger at being denied the life the she’d previously lived. This caused her to become peevish, and him to draw more and more into himself, where his imagination relieved the tedium of his life and allowed the Indian Woman to loom large in it.
Their greetings moved from nods of recognition, to handshakes and the exchange of a few words and then to brief hugs, nothing more than two friends would exchange. Then the morning came when he not only hugged her, he also kissed the left side of her face. It wasn’t a lingering kiss but it was long enough for him to realize that she hadn’t pulled away and her hands were on his arms. When they separated, each nodded to the other and that was the end of it whatever the “it” was because he stopped seeing her, her grandchildren, and her daughter and son-in-law.
Weeks later when he asked the concierge about them, he was told that they had precipitously moved out of the building, “breaking their lease and forfeiting a lot of money”
Carl accepted the explanation without comment and walked slowly to the elevator. But instead of going up to his floor, he turned around, rode the elevator to the street level, walked to the river and sat on one of the benches. What else could he have done?
Irving Greenfield‘s work has been published in Amarillo Bay, Runaway Parade, Writing Tomorrow, eFictionMag, Contrapositions and the Stone Hobo. He lives with his wife in Manhattan. He has been a sailor, soldier and college professor, playwright and novelist.