with astonishment that the older I get and
the more my body disobeys me, the younger I
feel. I’m even becoming more romantic, more
anarchical than before, open to every sort
of folly.”—Henry Miller
is always hungry. I think he is happiest sitting
at a table with his friends, food and wine, and
good conversation. He could sit there and eat
all day; moderation isn’t in his nature. It’s
the same when we make love. I’ll use his word:
when Henry and I fuck, it’s never once before
sleep with the curtains safely drawn. We do it
on the kitchen counter, on the bathroom floor,
in the back seats of friends’ cars. We do it
without caution. Still, he is never too rough.
He is tender, persistent, and insatiable.
we are in a German restaurant, me drinking one
thick-headed beer after another while Henry eats
schnitzel, sauerkraut, and thick doughy dumplings
with brown gravy. I wipe a dollop of it off his
chin with the white cloth napkin. Outside the
window the city buzzes around us.
problem,” Henry says, “is that you worry too
much. He’s not your husband anymore.”
not, but you haven’t shared the same bed or even
lived under the same roof for more than a year.
It ought to be all the same to you, who he fucks
or doesn’t. Besides, you have other fish to fry
now.” He gives me a sly look out of the corner
of his eye, and says, “Tell me I’m wrong.”
don’t argue with him but he knows I don’t agree;
he’s starting to lose patience with the conversation.
He isn’t here to talk about another man. I try
to change the subject, but my fourth tall beer
has left my tongue feeling thick and clumsy.
pretty tight, aren’t you Rachel?” I laugh at
that old fashioned word, laugh at him, but he
doesn’t care. He likes me this way. “Come on,”
he says, laying his napkin on the table and pushing
back his chair. “Let’s get out of here.” Henry’s
impatient; he likes to really live in this state,
not just talk. He settles the check from a thin
stack of bills in his wallet; as we walk toward
the door his hand slides down my back and he
slowly squeezes my ass. He can’t keep his hands
we squint in the late afternoon sun. The city
towers around us, cold and shining. “Where to,
baby?” he asks. “To the beach,” I reply. “I want
to get wet.” We stop at a liquor store for a
bottle of wine, then hop in a cab and reemerge
at the beach next to the zoo on Lake Shore Drive.
The sun is setting behind us, a burning, dusty
haze sinking behind the skyscrapers. I feel sexy;
I can smell the musky, sweaty scent coming from
my own body and it’s turning me on. My black
hair whips around my head in the strong wind
coming off the lake; I'm glad the sun is going
down so my skin won't burn a crisp pink. Henry
keeps stopping to empty the sand from his scuffed
wander across the beach, drinking from the mouth
of the wine bottle. When it’s empty, I toss it
aside and run whooping into the waves. “Henry,”
I call. “Come on!” Waves slide under my skirt
and through my underwear, shooshing against my
skin. I don’t want to think, or feel; I just
want to be. He’s supposed to be so wild, but
he doesn’t really show it with me; I want to
push him, to make him prove himself as the wild
hedonist I’ve always read about. “Henry!”
what, are you crazy?” he calls from the shore.
“The lake is barely warm in August, let alone
June. It’s not really summer yet.”
pissing me off, Henry,” I call back. “I want
you in here now.” I turn my back to him, and
in a moment of inspiration, pull my T-shirt over
my head, baring my small breasts. I feel wild,
free to be young and stupid, and also cold to
up and down the shore. Twilight is quickly falling,
and the beach will soon be empty, but for now
there are still people playing volleyball and
joggers on the sidewalk at the edge of the sand.
Henry’s broad forehead crinkles; he stands up
and calls to me, “Baby, come in now before you
get us in trouble. If you do, I’ll share one
of my cigarettes with you, OK? Yours are all
crash through the water onto the shore, then
crawl over the sand towards Henry. He runs down
the beach to meet me and throws his jacket around
my naked torso. We sit on the sand, my dripping
head in his lap. “One of these days,” he says,
“you’ll get yourself into something and I won’t
be around to get you out of it.” I look up at
his lined, worried face and I feel foolish. Right
now he looks like an old man—too old to be my
not usually like this, you know.”
know,” he says. “You’re upset.” He looks away
from my face, his eyes squinting into the glow
of the fading sunset. “You don’t have to stay
here, you know. We could go away somewhere together,
start fresh. Would you like that?”
promised me a cigarette, remember?” I avoid his
question, fumbling through his pockets for a
is always asking me to run away with him. He
knows it’s safe to ask because I always say no.
He’s in no danger of having to keep any promises.
I knew who Henry was from the beginning; I knew
not to take him too seriously. He said the same
thing countless times to the women he wrote about,
and none of them are still around.
gives me a cigarette from the pack in his shirt
pocket. As I fumble with the lighter, I feel
his thick strong hands sliding under the jacket
and over my breasts. My body tenses and rises
to his touch. There is sand stuck to my skin,
falling lightly away under his fingers. “Come
on,” he says. “Let’s go to your place.”
catch a bus going in the direction of my apartment,
then get off and walk the last fifteen minutes
or so. My hair is dry now, tangled and fishy-smelling
and sandy. The beer and wine have worn off, and
there is a tight, pointed ache behind my eyes.
Suddenly I am going to cry. I don’t want Henry
to see. It is dark now, and people are out in
their Saturday night clothes. I feel naked with
only Henry’s beat-up jacket between their eyes
and my skin. I pull it tighter around me.
you cold, baby?” he asks, and I wonder what he
plans to do about it if I say yes. He looks into
my face and sees my red eyes. “Thinking about
him again?” he asks. I nod. He puts his arm around
me and squeezes tight, but there is something
about the set of his jaw that makes me feel a
stops in the corner grocery across the street
from my building while I wait outside, leaning
against the bricks and smoking a cigarette. Night
air moves against my skin under the jacket, raising
goose bumps on my arms and breasts. I hope no
one I know will walk by. Henry returns with more
cigarettes, another bottle of wine, some eggs
and bread for tomorrow’s breakfast, and a bar
of chocolate “to soothe you,” he says. I put
a square of it to my lips and smile as the richness
spreads over my tongue, and Henry crushes me
up against the building, his lips pressing into
my neck. His stubbly cheeks rasp against me.
“I’m going to make you happy tonight, Rachel,”
he says, his voice hot and insistent against
my skin. “I won’t let you say no.”
at the apartment he undresses me gently, then
lays me on the bed. We drink the wine in gasping
gulps between kisses and caresses. His hands
and the drink make me dizzy; the smell of my
body and his is everywhere. He takes off his
clothes and drapes them over the back of a chair.
Then he is on top of me, inside me, and it’s
true, I am happy; happy to be lost in the smell
and the heat and power of him for this one moment.
I know this is why I like him. He pays attention
to what moves me.
I pull the blankets over myself and lay my head
on his chest. He lights a cigarette and strokes
my hair. I am drifting in and out of dreams.
are you awake?” he asks.
hmm,” I mumble.
you thought anymore about what I asked you? We’d
have a lot of fun together. We could go to Paris,
or New York. I’d show you the places I used to
write about, where I used to live....”
tease me, Henry,” I say. “I’m too tired to kid
around.” Then I am asleep.
the morning I wake to see him watching the pink
blur of a city sunrise spreading over the tops
of the buildings. It is Sunday morning. My head
throbs and my throat is dry. Henry is smoking.
He is naked. No one could say Henry is handsome;
he is bald and he has a jiggly little potbelly.
I don’t care.
is alive, more so than anyone I’ve ever known.
His soul is younger than men half his age; he
is sexier than men twice as handsome. He is awake
to every moment. I didn’t want to feel after
my husband left, but Henry won’t let me live
that way. He forces me to feel things, even things
that hurt. Henry consumes life, and I want that,
picks up the picture of my husband that sits
on the windowsill as he exhales a cloud of smoke.
His back is turned to me, and I can’t see his
expression. I don’t know what he’s feeling as
he looks at that handsome, empty face. I know
now that I still want the man in the picture
back, despite the lying and running around. Henry
has brought to the surface all the things I had
buried and denied; I know now that I’d rather
be miserable than not feel anything.
shift and yawn under the covers. Henry turns
to me, comes back into bed and kisses me. His
mouth is warm and so sweet against mine.
you like some coffee, baby?” he asks. I nod,
and he stands up again and pulls his trousers
up over his hips. Something falls out of his
pocket onto the bed; he doesn’t notice as he
walks off into the kitchen.
is a ring box, the burgundy velvet soft and rich
in my hand. Inside, there is a gold band, and
a note reading, “Come away with me, Rachel. I
like the way you live; I want to watch you do
it. Your Henry.” I drop it as if scalded and
realize with a start that it’s not Henry who
won’t make promises that he might have to keep.