Elizabeth was in bed. The dog had its front paws between her breasts, and, its tongue out, it stared at her as she spoke to it.
Charles, the husband, undressed and hung his clothes askew on the silent butler. When he took off his underpants, he held them in his hands a moment, expecting his wife to look towards him naked. She didn’t. About to throw his underpants on the floor, where his socks were, he noted, on the inside of the crotch, a yellow stain.
He thought: Oh, Christ.
He reached down for his socks and bunched them up with his underpants, then walked across the bedroom to the bathroom. He seemed to walk a long distance, and was just about to step into the bathroom when Elizabeth asked: ‘Where are you going?’
‘Where does it look like I’m going?’
‘I thought you’d already done everything you had to do.’
He raised his bunched-up underpants and socks. ‘I thought I’d throw these into the hamper.’
‘You always throw them on the floor.’
‘I’ve decided to be more neat. Every night before going to bed, from now on, I’ll throw my dirty things into the hamper. Why’re you frowning?’ he asked. ‘I’m doing it for you, so you won’t have to do it in the morning. I thought you’d be pleased.’
‘I’m wondering why you should all at once be doing something to please me.’
‘Because it just occurred to me, all at once.’
She made a face at the dog, stuck out her tongue like it and panted.
What he wanted to do was to shut the bathroom door and carefully examine the stain, but if he stayed in there longer than it took to throw the things into the hamper she would ask him what was taking him so long. Quickly, in the dim light above the wash-basin, he turned his underpants inside out, so his socks dropped to the floor, and saw, in the soft indentation made by his sensitive genitals, the stain. In the middle of the yellow was a pubic hair.
Maybe it was nothing but a pee stain. Maybe something he’d eaten or drunk had caused the pee, when dry, to go stiff.
Elizabeth said, ‘Charles.’
He placed the pants on the top of the hamper and went to the door, half hiding his naked body behind it. He said, ‘I think I’m suffering something I ate.’
He shut the door and lit the strong overhead light to again examine the stain. After he dropped the underpants, he thrust out his hips to examine the tip of his penis. He pulled the foreskin back, then, with his thumbs, opened the orifice, opened it and shut it, again and again, like a little talking mouth between whose lips saliva expanded and contracted. The mouth said to him: maybe it’s not your fault, maybe Elizabeth made love with someone while you were away and got a disease and gave it to you.
I’d forgive her, he thought. I really would forgive her.
Supposing the stain were the discharge of an infectious disease, if he put his underpants in the hamper, they could infect all the other clothes, including Elizabeth’s. But leaving his underpants on the floor would make her wonder, in the morning, why he’d made such a statement about putting them in the hamper. If she opened the medicine cabinet and his pants fell out, how would he be able to explain that? He sat on the toilet, and, after yanking the paper so she would hear the roller clank, wiped the tip of his cock, squeezing it. He studied the paper, but he couldn’t make out anything, and he threw the paper into the toilet, then slammed the toilet seat down and flushed. Wincing, he lifted the thick ceramic cover off the cistern behind the bowl and shoved his underpants inside. The cover jarred a little when he replaced it. He washed his hands carefully, and went into the bedroom.
The dog asleep at her feet, Elizabeth, still propped up by her pillow, stared at her husband.
‘Are you all right?’ she asked.
‘Fine,’ he said.
As he approached the bed, she smiled. He imagined she was smiling as she looked at his cock and balls swing from one side to the other with each step he took. Maybe she thought they looked funny. He glanced down, and thought: they are funny.
By the side of the bed, he turned partly away from her and stretched. His pretended yawn became a real yawn, and a small relief passed through him. He didn’t have to fake the yawn. He stretched more.
She said, ‘You’re delaying getting into bed.’
He lowered his arms. ‘No, I’m not.’
Sitting on the edge of the bed, he said, ‘Worry about what?’
‘You know very well what I mean.’
The great pleasure of his going away was, for both of them, his returning. For days after, they were often inspired to make love as soon as he got home from work. This excitement had lasted three weeks.
He faked a yawn. He shook his head like a dog shaking water from his hair. ‘I guess I am tired.’ After shaking his head again, he let it hang heavily.
If he wore pyjamas, they would act as a kind of prophylactic to protect her. He didn’t want to get into bed with her, as much from his worry of contaminating her, if he hadn’t already, as from the worry of her contaminating him, which he still suspected she might have done.
He wondered whom she might have made love with while he was away.
In Rome, he hadn’t made love with a whore, but an American woman, married and with children, who took their love-making to be as momentary as it was to him. No, that wasn’t honest. He’d remembered her while he was making love with Elizabeth the first time after he got back, remembered her as a woman he’d been in bed with hardly twenty-four hours before. He’d remembered her face as Elizabeth and he made love, and maybe it was the memory of her that kept him making love with Elizabeth day after day.
His diseased cock jolted a little. He pressed it between his legs.
He should have told Elizabeth when he got back, when telling her would have been in a way innocent: that is, it would have been an honest admission, whereas now it would be an admission forced on him, revealing his dishonesty.
He wasn’t at all tired.
She said, ‘Get into bed and we’ll sleep.’
‘Well?’ she asked.
He didn’t move, except to press his legs together more, which he hoped she didn’t notice. She noticed a lot.
Maybe the disease made him want to make love with her.
He couldn’t do it.
‘I’m thinking,’ he said.
Her voice changed, went up in pitch. ‘About what?’
Swinging his body more towards her, he said. ‘About you.’
Her voice went higher. ‘Me?’
He opened his legs and his released erection jumped up. ‘Look,’ he said.
She laughed. ‘Thinking about me made that happen?’
Shaking his legs so his erection wobbled, he laughed too. ‘About you and others,’ he said. Whenever they started this kind of talk, he thought, both their voices rose in pitch like children’s voices. At moments of greatest sexual self-consciousness they would find themselves using baby talk: ‘You want to play?’ she said.
He said, ‘Sometimes, I still think of you having sex with that man the day before we got married.’
‘I wonder why I still do, and why it gets me –’ Running a finger down his cock, he contemplated it.
‘That was a long time ago,’ she said.
He put his thumb and forefinger about his cock and squeezed it, his little finger held out. ‘You haven’t made love with anyone since?’
Blankly, she said, ‘I’d have told you if I had.’
He could feel the erection in his hand go a little soft. But there was no way out of it now, he had to make love with her or she would think he’d really become kinky for only getting excited at the idea of her having once been unfaithful, if, technically, she’d been unfaithful, as it’d happened before their marriage. He didn’t want her to think he was kinky. He wasn’t kinky. Moving his hand up and down, he kept his erection. But he couldn’t make love with her, not when the very drop that swelled out from the orifice, clear, was swarming with invisible germs. If he had sex with her, it would be like impregnating her with a deformed being.
‘And you?’ she asked. ‘Have you been up to anything while you’ve been away?’
‘No,’ he answered.
He was not sure he believed her about not having made love with anyone else since that first and last time.
As if to expose herself, Elizabeth threw the sheet off her; it fell over the dog, who woke up and, yapping, jumped, so the sheet bounced. Elizabeth reached down, uncovered the dog, named Charlie after her husband, and brought it in her arms to her bosom. Pressing her nose against its, she said, ‘Give me a kiss, give me a kiss, and another, and another, and another.’
Most likely, he thought, he had already impregnated her with a monstrous being, and she didn’t know.
He wondered if he could make himself touch her diseased body, which repelled him enough that he didn’t want to sleep with it in the same bed.
And if he hadn’t already infected it, if it were pure, he couldn’t touch it, not as he was.
Her nose was wet from the saliva of the dog, who, as she held it away from her face, tried to continue to lick her.
She said to Charles, ‘So what’s up?’ She was English. He was American.
Supporting his slack member with one finger, he said, ‘Not much any more.’
‘You stopped thinking about me?’
He thought, suddenly: I can use Charlie.
‘It’s not that I stopped thinking about you. You stopped thinking about me.’
‘You’re jealous of Charlie?’
‘Of course I am.’
‘What’s so poor about him?’
‘He’s got to love me, he doesn’t have a choice. Don’t you pity him for that?’
‘I hate the slavishness of dogs.’
She held the little terrier close.
‘I never had a dog when I was growing up in Boston,’ he said. ‘My parents thought the city was no place for a dog.’
They talked a little about the effect on him of having been brought up without a dog. While they talked, he got into bed and pulled the sheet over them. Charlie fell asleep, and Elizabeth deposited him at her feet. Charles pretended to fall asleep suddenly. Elizabeth shut off the light.
He couldn’t sleep, kept awake by the worry that he had infected his wife.
When he felt her hand on his shoulder, he, sighing deeply, turned away from her. She fitted herself against him, her breasts pressing against his back, an arm about his waist. He knew by her breath on his neck when she fell asleep. All night, he kept his body turned away from her body.
He heard Charlie, in low growls, and Elizabeth, in sibilants, talking to one another in the early morning. They did this every morning. He never understood what they were saying. Perhaps they were discussing what they were going to do together during the day, while he was at work. Always, they left the bed together, having agreed that the first thing they would do was go to the kitchen to eat something. Most often, she would return, alone, to the bed for another hour, until her husband had to get up. What Charlie did during this time Charles never knew, but no doubt Charlie, after discussing it with Elizabeth, agreed to go off on his own for a while, wagging his stiff tail, and leave his mistress and her husband to themselves. Sometimes in the morning they made love. This morning, Charles got out of bed before Elizabeth could return alone.
Bending low over the bed, his spectacles on, he studied the sheet on which he’d lain. There were a number of little spots, but they seemed to him too high, around the level of his chest. If he had had breasts and was nursing, he would have taken the spots as drops of milk exuded through his nipples. That would have been a fine explanation for the spots, which were, he thought, too high up for any other explanation, until he lay down on his side briefly, and found the spots occurred just where his glans touched the sheet. Hearing Elizabeth in the passage outside the room, he quickly rose, pulled the top sheet high, so it filled the air as he pulled it down to cover the bed. Elizabeth came in.
‘You’re up?’ she asked.