When finally they separated to lean against their pillows, he said, “For a minute there, I thought I was about to have a heart attack. My old ticker still hasn’t settled down!”
“Why, sweetheart, we should have stopped!” She put on her glasses, caught his gaze, and held it: “I’ve said before you work too hard to please me.”
“Nah, I’ll be fine. It’s just a bit unsettling, feeling your own heart beat like that. Can you imagine, dying right in the middle of things? It can happen.”
She gently rubbed his balding head. “Here, I’ll calm you down. Think peaceful thoughts in there.”
“Well, death is about as peaceful as it gets.”
“Richard, don’t you go morbid on me!”
He leaned over, kissing her on the forehead. “Don’t worry. It’s just that I’ve been thinking about Jed Franken, that guy from the office who bought my golf clubs. Two evenings ago he dropped dead on the 8th hole!”
“Sad, but hardly what a woman wants to talk about after passionate sex!”
She reached over to her nightstand, slipped a cigarette from her purse and lit it, inhaling deeply.
“I still wish you’d quit.”
“Just my couple of puffs.” The ash flared once more before she dropped the cigarette into a canister at her elbow. “There. Sex and a smoke—tough habit to break. Once, you didn’t mind.”
“Well, I’d still be having one if it weren’t for gloom and doom Dr. Crawford.”
“We should find a younger doctor, someone more up to date. You’re only 63.”
“Jed Franken was 59.”
She sighed, studying him a while. “Some women are the aggressor in bed,” she finally said. “Maybe I’ll start doing you silly, and you can just lay there and take it!” She gave his paunch a jab.
“Say, I like the sound of that!” he laughed, tossing back his arms and head. “I’m yours!” He sat grinning a moment, then straightened abruptly. “Oops, in my haste to get you in bed, I forgot to carry up the wine!”
“I bought it special for afterwards. Wait here!” He slid off the bed and hurried, naked, from the room.
She heard heavy thumping down the stairs and called out: “Richard! Some night owl is going to get an eyeful down there!”
He didn’t respond. “Richard?” She waited a bit, stepped lightly from bed, threw on her robe, and hurried toward the stairs.
He was already halfway up. His left hand held two long-stem glasses. His right, the wine. A bag of peanuts dangled from his lips.
“There you are! Why didn’t you answer?”
He muttered something through the bag of nuts, which she grabbed. “My mouth was full.”
“Funny man!” She took the wine glasses and returned with him to their bed. “You had me worried!”
“Afraid I’d keeled over? Not with a stunning redhead lying naked on my bed—” he paused, frowning at the robe she’d put on, “—and a bottle of California’s best to try!” He poured liberally into their glasses.
She removed her robe with a flourish and nestled again beside him. “All your talk about people dying spooked me!”
“Sorry. Here’s to us.”
“To us.” She tasted the wine, nodding appreciatively before opening the bag of peanuts with her teeth. “So…sex and wine, and it’s not even our anniversary. What are we celebrating? Surely not just another nighttime hop in the sack at Richard and Margaret’s house.”
“That sounds awfully pedestrian. You don’t really think that, do you?”
“Hey, you know I can never get enough of you! Grrrrr!” She made like a wildcat, grabbing his thigh.
He spilled wine down his chest. She leaned over and licked him.
“Maybe I should shave it,” he said. “My chest.”
“Don’t you dare! I like being laid by a big, hairy man!”
“Big, huh? I’ll take that as a compliment—” he motioned down his body.
She jabbed him again. “No complaints there!”
“—though presently spent,” he added.
“There’s always another day—if you’re up for it…”
He stuck out his tongue at her, then refocused on the wine. They sipped reflectively for a couple of minutes, their toes playing together at the bottom of the bed. Finally, he looked hard at her, arching his eyebrows.
“What?” She popped a peanut into her mouth.
“Do you want to know why?”
“Why the wine.”
“Ah, the wine!” Her lighthearted tone changed. “Yes, please. I’m all ears.”
“Simply because I want you to know how remarkable you are. I’ve taken you for granted far too often.”
She checked his expression, set her glass aside, and kissed his cheek. “Thank you. I want you to take me for granted. I take you for granted every day. I’m yours. You’re mine. Wasn’t that the agreement?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“No buts…except yours.” She now patted his thigh, catching him squelching a yawn. “The wine is wonderful, but maybe we should sleep—just in case I decide to jump these bones tomorrow!” She ran a hand over his belly and twirled her finger in his pubic hair. “Mister!”
“Hear, hear!” He drained his glass to that, drew his phone from his pants on the floor, and tapped briefly at the screen. Once finished, he tugged the sheet to their waists and placed his cheek beside hers on her pillow.
“You’re a treasure, Margie.”
“Hush! Dream something sweet…”
He grunted. Before long, his cheek slid away from hers. She looked at his chest slowly rising and falling and placed her hand over his heart. After a time, she pulled the sheet to his chin and switched off the bed lamp.
Finding her cigarettes in the darkness, she eased from their bed, located her robe, and quietly descended the stairs. Moonlight guided her to an old rocking chair on the back porch. There she smoked, a tissue rising now and then to dab just fleetingly at her cheeks.
Darrell Petska’s writing has appeared in The Tule Review, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Red Paint Hill, Blast Furnace, Right Hand Pointing, and numerous other publications. Senior editor for many years with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, College of Engineering, Darrell left academia to be the arbiter of his own words. He lives near Madison, Wisconsin.