Mark was an architect or something. He talked vaguely of it sometimes. He managed a few people. He sent lots of emails, which he hated. He had a lot of meetings and he didn’t like that either. Outside of that, Georgie did not understand what he did. It wasn’t that she didn’t care. It’s that she had failed to pay attention at some crucial moment--she was probably distracted by a tuft of hair poking from the neckline of his shirt on the night they met. Now a year and some odd months later, she didn’t want to ask. She would have been embarrassed to ask a question like that after getting in bed with him so many times. Also, she didn’t care. Whatever he did, exactly--it did not change their connection. It did not change his humanity, the look he would get on his face when he listened to her talk. It didn’t change the animal of who he was, his body, his voice, his eyes. It didn’t change the smell of his skin, the way he felt, the low growl he would make when he came. It didn’t change him, Mark. He lived downtown in a condo by the river. He was a bit of a snob sometimes, Georgie thought, the way he voiced obscure tastes in music and strong opinions about food. Although this made her feel a little intimidated, afraid he’d smirk at her for eating frozen grocery store lasagna and listening to the Bee Gees, she really didn’t mind his snobbishness much. He had another side too, a kind of out-in-the-woods, hippy side. He owned property up north, and he planned to build a cabin there, but for the time being, he had a camper. He would go up there and stomp around. He referred to himself as a timber hick. He had invited her there once shortly after they met, and she went. She had enjoyed it, being in the woods with a lover, so when he invited her again that next fall, she agreed to go. She was almost surprised to find herself driving up to meet him there again. That first visit had seemed like an unexpected bonus check. Mark himself had seemed like a bonus, a once or twice kind of man, one who would become a memory quickly. He had a newly minted second divorce in his pocket when she met him—like it had been final for an entire day when they went on a date. He had been separated for a while, had dated--was dating—but their date had been his first post-divorce one. They had joked about it. That he was a free man. Clearly, he was not looking for a serious love affair, and that is what she liked about him. He stated up front that he was not looking for monogamy, that he intended to remain solo, autonomous. She had seen him as a bonus lover, a transient. She hoped they would hang out for a month or two. She hoped she could help see him through his post-divorce moment. He claimed he was done with long-term monogamous relationships, but a lot of people said that. He would, Georgie had thought, in a matter of months, maybe six, maybe ten, grow tired of meeting new people, find the grind of dating apps to be tedious, and then stumble into something soft and comfortable, with someone soft and comfortable. Georgie knew that woman would not be her. Because unlike what she thought Mark would do, Georgie knew herself to be permanently un-coupled. Or maybe self partnered as some people said. Solo and autonomous. She had been this way for years, before celebrities and kids started naming it. She had known other men like Mark, and they had proved her right. They had been transient, had made new homes with new women. She was still friends with a couple of these men. She still talked on the phone with some of them sometimes. She knew their wives. Their wives liked her. But Mark had surprised her by sticking to his bachelorhood. By the time she drove to meet him in the woods that fall, she was starting to trust in his non-committal status. Others might find it odd that this made her feel that maybe she could count on him. To consider, even, that she could always have him. Because if Georgie could not couple, and if Mark truly would not couple again, they could stay like this. She started to believe him by that fall—that what he wanted was freedom to navigate through the world as a twice-failed husband, to listen to esoteric music and eat in secret best places around the city, to drink wine by a fire and smoke a little weed and sleep in a camper once in a while. And of course, to enjoy the company of women, Georgie being one of them. Georgie sometimes used herself as a punchline. “Some people are hopeless romantics,” she would say. “I myself am a helpful erotic.” It was a way to poke fun at herself, and it was in a way, true. But, in her own way, Georgie was a romantic. Most people seemed to view relationships as a binary, an all or nothing. On one side was the goal of life-long monogamy, and on the other there was—what? A callous disregard for those you bed, seeing them as disposable. A player mentality. Georgie found it laughable to imagine anyone would think of her, absent minded, 50 years old, as a player—but some people did. Some of her friends did; they thought it was funny. Either that or they psychoanalyzed her, searched her for some underlying brokenness, some unhappiness. “What are you searching for?” she had been asked more than once. But she wasn’t searching. She almost always had just what she wanted. She didn’t feel dishonored by ephemeral connections; she valued them. Even the most temporary lovers told her things about themselves, sometimes details so personal and poignant that she remembered them years later. Always, there was laughter, and often tenderness, and sweetness. Were her feelings ever hurt? Fuck yes. Of course they were. But there was no other way for her to be. As planned, she met him in Grand Rapids. They went into the local grocery store and shopped for dinner ingredients. She was then to follow him out to his land. She had a hard time keeping her hands off him while they shopped. She brushed her fingers from the small of his back to his shoulder, she moved her hand up and down his arm. She leaned into him, momentarily pressing her breast into him. He acknowledged this only by making quiet considering noises as he looked at the shelves, as if he was thinking deeply about the selection of hot sauce. And when he talked about the ingredients he would need for the dish he was going to cook later, he spoke from a lower place in his throat than normal, his voice taking on a syrupy quality. Everything felt kind of syrupy right then. She resisted the urge to come up behind him, to loop her arms under his, to hug him from behind and press her face into his back. Georgie was always resisting the urge to touch more than she should. Mark was beautiful. Well, she thought, he was probably just an above average looking 50-year-old man. But was in great shape, as he said, “for an old guy.” He was taller than Georgie, but not that tall. Georgie liked men with all kinds of shapes. She had put her arms around men who had surprised her with their slender build. She had put her arms around men who made her feel she was sinking into a jostling waterbed. She had put her arms around men who made her feel she could have knocked on their chest like a door. All of this was good to Georgie. She was not put off by any of it, although some men inspired more passion in her than others. And Mark did. Mark had a substantial feel. And a pleasantness of feature, a kindness in his face. He had a way of listening that Georgie found agreeable, smiling vaguely, his eyes looking off to some distant point as if whatever she was saying was both entertaining and fascinating. Often, he would say simply, “huh,” when she paused, and if he didn’t say more, she would continue to talk. She was always saying philosophical shit, dredging up scraps of ideas from books she had read, then telling a story that she connected it all, then adding more ideas. She could have been an essayist if she had the patience and talent, but she didn’t. Sometimes she didn’t ever get to her point, would lose her way traveling down some trail in which she should have turned back sooner, unable to find the way back, forgetting her original intent. They left the store and she followed him to the land, as she had before. Although the sky looked a bit iffy, and there was talk of rain on the weather apps when they checked, Mark split wood to make a fire later. He had opened a bottle of wine and then poured her some. Georgie sat at a picnic table watching him use the hand ax. In the city he would have served the wine in one of the little Italian table glasses he had a snooty pride about. But here they were drinking from mismatched tumblers. They got a little stoned. Just a little. And then they went for a walk in the woods. A walk in the woods with a lover when you are a little high. Georgie felt lucky. These were Mark’s woods, and he talked about them as if he were pointing out landmarks in a city. This tree and that tree, and where another path went. It was midday and overcast, but bright. So bright. The path was yellow with the fallen leaves, yet the branches were still full. Georgie had never seen so much yellow. She told him that she had the best kind of buzz going, that the glass of wine and the tiny bit of weed made the brightness of woods feel mystical. And although she kept getting lost in the story she was trying to tell, and although she kept forgetting her original point as they walked on, she felt sharp, like her mind had a beautiful edge and that her entire consciousness was perched on it. Her normal need to touch was doubled. Tripled maybe. She could not keep her hands off him. At some point they stopped by a trickling creek. She did put her arms through his, and she did hug him from behind now. He stood telling her a story about beavers wrecking some of the trees. “I really hated beavers for a while,” he said. “But I’ve reconciled myself with them. “Oh yeah?” she said laughing. She pressed her laugh between his shoulder blades. “Yeah, I hated them, but they are my brothers now,” he said. She laughed harder and he turned around to her and put his mouth on hers. They stood kissing. It was a gut-melting kiss, one that made everything but his mouth seem far away. That was not unusual for Georgie to feel this way when Mark kissed her. He was a damn good kisser. When she responded by pressing into him, she felt him respond, and then she responded more. It kept escalating. Then they pulled back from each other laughing because they were in the woods. But they were still eye to eye, their arms still around each other. “I almost feel like we are real people,” he said. “You do?” she asked in mock surprise. And then she turned her face away, and laughed again, and talked again about how beautiful the woods were. This would come back to her, the way she turned her eyes away right at that moment. She had, maybe, missed some moment of possibility. What if she had not looked away and laughed? What if she had said something that opened a door to him. If she had said, “Maybe we should try it? To be real people?” But she didn’t say that. That would have been unsettling to Georgie. To turn a moment of pleasure and beauty into one of vulnerability. What if that was not what he meant at all, if he had laughed uncomfortably and then turned away. But more unsettling, what if she had said it, and he had said yes, that they should try to be real people. What if he had told her that he wanted to couple with her. To create a membrane around their connection, one that kept some things in and other things out. Georgie did not know how to do that. And there in the woods, when Mark looked into her face like he did, she looked away and laughed. She would remember this later, during the beautiful and hard things that were to come. She thought about the way she had let some secret future slip away. But maybe she was just kind of high. And maybe he was too, and what did he really mean anyway? That they were almost like real people? They left the woods and returned to camp and Mark started to build a fire, but before it could fully start, the rain came. They changed plans and went into the camper. It was close quarters, a stove, a little table, a fold out bed. Tight. But Georgie did not mind this. They started kissing again, and this time didn’t stop. She looked at the little bed skeptically, but not because of its size. He saw her looking. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “I put that blanket down. It’s thick.” They lay on it. She took off her shirt and her bra and tossed them. She took delight in watching him lift his own T-shirt over his head. She always took delight in watching this, she loved the sight of him. Up the shirt came, exposing the pelt of black hair on his chest and belly. When his shirt came off the tiny room filled with his outdoorsy scent and that did her in--the solid floor of her body melted. She was a puddle now, a warm puddle where a woman used to be. And yet she still somehow had hands that could reach up and touch him. She still had fingers that went into that black hair on his chest and then tugged at this belt. He helped her undo it. And then he was all there in front of her. All of him. Georgie loved the bodies of men. Cocks were kind of silly looking, sure, but she also found them to be beautiful, and Mark’s certainly was. The springy way popped it out of his trousers as he tugged them off. The promise of it. Twitchy and thick and long and rose pink. Beautiful. She reached for it and he let her, but only for a moment. He grabbed her wrists and pinned her hands down over her head. He began to torture her by licking her nipples. Momentarily she was writhing and swearing, but that was because she loved it. He let go of her wrists and tugged off her jeans and then fingered her. She responded by immediately gushing. It was like he’d pulled the trigger of a squirt gun when he pressed his thumb to her. It didn’t always happen that fast, but this time it did. Earlier she had worried about the camper bed, but fuck that. She didn’t care at all now. When this happened , he could no longer resist and started fucking her. And that went on and on. Mark was that kind of man, he could go on and on. Georgie admired this about him. On and on. Eventually he destroyed her completely. Like, turned her into a tiny speck of consciousness flying through a universe of pleasure. Nothing of Georgie remained, she was just orgasm. She crested and dipped but never really stopped. Why was she like this? She had no idea. But she could come like nobody's business. This was one of her favorite things about herself, actually, yes it was. Finally, she could feel him tensing. His tempo changed. He became purposeful and serious. He growled along with the rhythm. This made her crest again, hard, and once again she was a squirt gun, all over him this time, all up into that chest hair, up into her own face, and then he swore in an alarmed sounding bark and shuddered and collapsed onto her. For one moment they were quiet, but then she yelled out, her voice all warbly and destroyed, “Jesus fucking Christ man!” And then they both burst out laughing. There is nothing better than that, Georgie thought. Not one damn thing. Except he also cooked for her. Fifteen minutes later, he stood at the stove making a spicy rice and sausage dish while she lay back on the bed in her pajamas watching him. The wet blanket had been removed. He was playing some swampy sounding blues on the speakers he had in the camper. They sipped more wine. They talked about the walk in the woods. They talked about the rain. It was earnestly storming outside. Georgie remembered a story and started to tell it, about almost getting caught in a thunderstorm when she was on a bike trail once. This was a bike trail that ran through rural areas, linking a series of small towns. She told him that one day when she was on that trail, a few miles out of one of those small towns, an unexpected storm started to build on the horizon. Georgie was apprehensive seeing this, she said, as she was on a flat plain of nothing. Just for miles, nothing but Georgie on her bike. Mark listened and cooked. But the fear was not the most intense emotion, she told him. It was excitement. “Yeah,” he said in agreement without looking up from the stove. His shoulders moved almost imperceivable along with the undercurrent of the music. She told him that even though the thought of being caught in the storm excited her, she still wanted to try to beat it, because that was part of it, the race to the town. And she didn’t actually want to get struck by lightning, not really. So she rode like hell, the distance between herself and the town not disappearing as fast as the distance between herself and the storm. And the rain came as she was still a half mile out. At first just a few big drops. But then a downpour. And the thunder cracked right over her head, which was terrifying and brilliant and made the hair stand up on her arms. By the time she got to the town she was drenched and exhilarated. The town was not much more than a square, and it was the weekend, so nothing was open, and not a soul was in sight. She looked around in desperate terror and joy and saw a church. She took a chance and raced to it, leaving her bike propped against the steps and tried the door. The door opened and she went in. At this point in the story, Mark, for the first time, looked up from his cooking and turned his head toward her. “Fucking fantastic,” he said. “Yeah it was.” She grew quiet. She remembered the moment she entered the church. It was not some big cathedral, just a humble old country church—wooden pews, at the front a pulpit, stained glass windows. It smelled vaguely of perfumed old women and ancient hymnals. She had burst in, wet and joyous and wild. But in an instant, the empty church had shifted her into quiet awe. Outside, the rain roared, a low constant roll of thunder rumbled. She stood catching her breath. She grew solemn and stepped forward into the sanctuary. She felt her flesh rise into bumps. Sometimes a thing would happen to Georgie. Something she didn’t tell people about. It happened then, in the church. She became open to her source. She became open to the energy that pulsated in the background of all things. No, she never talked about this. This was beyond her words. She put her hands up, as if in prayer. She remembered that. There right in the aisle, she knelt. She let it fill her. This nameless thing. Gratitude washed over her. Gratitude for this moment, for the rain, the church. For her life. For a life like this one. Why she was allowed to have something this good, she did not know. Gratitude for every human she had ever been allowed to touch. She told the moment thank you. She told the rain thank you. She told the church thank you. She sat back onto her feet, put her forehead against her knees. She told the nameless thing thank you. She stayed like that for a moment. Then she sat up again. Blinked. The moment was passing. The source drew back from her. The sound of the rain had softened. She didn’t tell Mark about this moment in the church. She did not tell him about the nameless thing. She just looked at him there at the stove in the little cabin. “You are fucking beautiful,” she said. Her voice had caught in her throat when she said it, rough with emotion. He turned and looked at her, curious. “So are you Georgie,” he said after a moment. “So are you.”
Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram
Susan Montag is a writer living in Saint Paul Minnesota. In addition to magazine publications, she is the author of two books, a collection of short fiction, Nude Ascending the Staircase, and a book inspired by the Tao Te Ching called Finding the Way: a Tao for Down-to-Earth People. She is working on a novel tentatively titled Gratitude & Goodwill. She has an MFA from Hamline University.