She derived an unexpected pleasure from changing his diapers. The antiseptic freshness of each one folded in the package. The stack of thick rags—bleached achingly white. Flannel, someone had advised her, would be best.
When they met she had been nineteen. He, forty-five. He was her Latin professor. They had sex in her campus apartment every other weekend, when her housemate went down south to see her high school sweetheart. The first time he spread her legs he cried out, “Actum est de republica!” And pretended to faint from the sight.
Once, when he was still her professor he had missed a class. A cold he had caught from her. There had been a substitute. One of his teaching assistants. She remembers being thrown off by this other man on the podium.
He was not her first lover but he was her first affair, and, as it turned out, she rather liked being a mistress. “Clearly, you’ve never seen Casablanca,” he protested one night when she expelled him from bed to ensure that he arrive on time to his wife’s father’s birthday party. “Id es vita,” she said.
“Est,” he corrected. “Id est vita.”
He was the only Latin professor at the college when she was enrolled. They both agreed it would be best if she was not his student again, so she gave up Latin. She blamed him for her rudimentary conjugation. He blamed her for his herniated disk—she made him go ice-skating! At forty-nine! They both blamed his first wife for the cancer eating away at his spine. After all, neither one of them had any family history of the disease. Not even a cat, a gerbil. And first wife, her family was just chock full of it. “I mean, where else do you pick up a thing like that?” they had said to the doctor. He, in disbelief, had said nothing.
She was making breakfast when she heard him call over the baby monitor, a hand-me-down from her sister. The babies her sister had listened for were now eleven and fourteen. She could hear him fussing around. Then periods of stillness when, presumably, he was catching his breath. And then more fussing. Finally he called for her.
“Just pretend like I’m the baby we never had.”
“I didn’t want a baby.”
“That’s right. You didn’t.” He was quiet for a minute. “Ok, then you lie down instead.”
But it wasn’t like with a baby, and for this she was grateful. His limbs stayed quietly where she placed them and she was not gentle. She had to use her own strength and also what was left of his to get the job done. He was heavy. She had no choice.
In the beginning, before their bodies had learned the motions, it had been awkward. But like anything—setting up the coffee maker the night before, listening to opera, biting gently on the underside of his jaw during sex—it had been learned.
Still, she sweat from the effort, her skin prickling and flushing, but she knew where to place her hands for the most leverage. How to best take his weight onto her. She knew what would make his breath catch in his throat and what would make him gasp, outright. She was careful not to rush him, and, at times, she found herself drawing it out longer, and longer. Sometimes he closed his eyes, said nothing, and simply let her work him over. Other times, when he was feeling more energetic he talked to her, met her eyes, pushed back against her.
She thinks, still, about being his student. About his body pacing back and forth across the lectern. About the one class he missed and how it unsettled her to watch a stranger take the place of her lover. Unsettling hearing her lover’s phrases, admonishments, and lessons issuing from the mouth of another. It made her feel as though, from his vantage point behind the lectern, he too could picture the mole on the inside of her thigh. Understood just how to make her wet. Could hear her cries of pleasure.
She knew, of course, that this was ridiculous. But now, years later, after the shape of his face has long been lost to her, she wishes that she could summon him to her. That he could do, what of course is impossible, what he had never, not for a moment, done. That he could, against all odds, stand in.