The literary possibilities of their own ambivalence are what beguile this new generation, rather than anything that takes place in the bedroom. In Michael Chabon’s “Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” a woman in a green leather miniskirt and no underwear reads aloud from “The Story of O,” and the protagonist says primly, “I refuse to flog you.”
“Are you in full possession of your faculties?”
“I can’t be certain; no.”
“Well, it’s about time,” he said. He pinched my earlobe. ”Let’s go exhaust all the possibilities.”
“Could we please do it slowly?”
“No, he said, and he was right. We did it very rapidly, in the Weatherwoman’s bed, passing from toothed kisses through each backward and alien, but familiar, station on the old road to intercourse, which loomed there always before me, black and brutal and smiling, more alien, more backward, and more familiar than anything else. Then, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes after my arrival at the house, with a hard, spongy fistful of him in my right hand, and my left had flat against his stomach, I was overcome with a feeling that made our black destination cease to seem looming. My heart was simultaneously broken and filled with lust.
“Ow!” Sammy said, dropping his lighter. ”Ouch!”
Bacon let his own flame go out. ”You have to kind of pad it with your necktie, dopey,” he said. He grabbed Sammy’s hand. ”This is the one?”
“Yeah,” Sammy said. ”The first two fingers. Oh. Okay?”
They lay there for a few seconds, in the dark, in the future, with Sammy’s sore fingertips in Tracy Bacon’s mouth, listening to the fabulous clockwork of their hearts and lungs, and loving each other.
From the summer of 1986 to the spring of 1988, when they defied the wishes of Bina’s parents and moved in together, Landsman sneaked in and out of the Gelbfish home to make love with her. Every night unless they were quarreling, and sometimes in the thick of a quarrel, Landsman climbed the drainpipe and tumbled in through Bina’s bedroom window to share her narrow bed. Just before dawn she would send him back down again.
Tonight it took him longer and cost him more effort than his vanity would care to admit. As he passed the halfway mark, just above Mr. Oysher’s dining room window, Landsman’s left loafer slipped, and he dangled free and thrilling over the black void of the Gelbfish backyard. The stars overhead, the Bear, the Snake, exchanged places with the rhododendron and the wreckage of the neighbors’ sukkoh. In regaining a purchase, Landsman tore the leg of his trousers on the aluminum bracket, his old enemy in the struggle for control of the drainpipe. Foreplay between the lovers commenced with Bina balling up a tissue to blot the cut on Landsman’s shin. His shin with its blotches and freckles, with its strange midlife bloom of black hair.
They lie there on their sides, a couple of aging yids stuck together like pages of an album. Her shoulderblades dig into his chest. The knobs of his patellas are notched against the soft moist backs of her knees. His lips can blow softly across the teacup of her ear. And a part of Landsman that has been the symbol and the site of his loneliness for a very long time has found shelter inside of his commanding officer, to whom he was once married for twelve years. Although, it’s true, his tenure inside her has grown precarious. One good sneeze could pop him loose.
“The whole time,” Bina says. ”Two years.”
“The whole time.”
“Not even once.”
“Weren’t you lonely?”
“Black. But never black or lonely enough to kid myself that having sex with a random Jewess was going to make me feel any less.”
“Actually, random sex only makes it worse,” she says.
“You speak from experience.”
“I fucked a couple of men in Yakovy. If that’s what you want to know.”