U H R t h
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2334 words                                                                   By Tim Uhr




           Arlein, once, in the aftermath of a particularly short bout of lovemaking, asked James if he had ever wished her to be someone else. For they had been mere children when they met. The classic case of childhood sweethearts who went on to marry and live long, happy, lives together. But neither of them had ever been with anybody else. So sometimes Arlein wondered what it would be like to have another man on top of her. Inside her. Another man's scent, and all the little quirks that differed from person to person. It was only natural to wonder. Arlein didn't feel ashamed for thinking about it. It wasn't an obsession, only one of those late-night wonderings.

It was just one of those intimate questions that two people who know and love each other sometimes ask. Not meant to do harm, or embarrass. Just an innocent, honest, question. The type of question that James was so good at either perverting, avoiding, or laughing at.

Arlein had once even prayed that James would ask her a question like, "What is the one thing about me that bothers you the most?" in an after lovemaking mood. She would know just what to answer; "The way you answer questions like these!"

       He never did ask questions afterward. He didn't even answer them -- not really. He didn't really seem to care.

In the afterglow, when all is still, and souls are their most calm, it is easy to relate to each other. The differences of man and woman somehow have their gap momentarily bridged.

       Arlein asked the question as bluntly as possible, hoping to force a straight answer, "Do you ever wish me to be someone else?"

The delay in his answering was a telling sign of trouble. Then, with an irritating lack of emotion he replied, "Only when you ask questions like that."

From confusion, to frustration -- to anger. Arlein's afterglow was more of an afterburn.

Men! Were they all the same? Or was James an exception?

Surely there were some that were sensitive, somewhere. . . But how could Arlein be sure? James was her only.

Surely this wasn't sufficient data to form an opinion on "men" in general.

       Arlein wondered what it meant to be a "man." Did it merely mean to have excess baggage between the legs? Was there a difference in love and perception from the male viewpoint? And - what significance did the sexual difference play in every other part of life? Did being a man only mean to be usually on top? Was the male orgasm like going to the bathroom?

Arlein had heard that the vocal/audio part of the brain of a male wasn't as developed as that of the females. Did this mean that men couldn't express their feelings as well as women, but they still had the same feelings? Or had men actually lost the ability to feel certain emotions over the eons? Were men now, in reality, just walking dildos?

Was James one of those average men? Or was he a big dildo?

How was she to know?

     Still, she loved James and she knew that she could never collect more data. She was a one "walking dildo" girl. And who knows, but maybe sensitive men had gay tendencies. . . But that was silly. . .

Arlein tended to get silly in the wee hours. It had been hours since they had made love, and James was long in dreamland. But Arlein was unable to sleep. Only to think. Lying awake, thinking silly, thoughts -- and some maybe not so silly. But silly thoughts and significant thoughts formed a circle and met at the top. Where had she heard that before?

Pulling the covers gently down to her knees, Arlein wondered what her penis would look like if she were a man. Would it be like James'? No, size and shape differed from man to man. But not as much as some men and -- to be honest -- some women, liked to think.

She grabbed one of her tits, suppressing a giggle. Penis size was like breast size, sure they varied, but some people got a little too hung up on them.

"It ain't the meat it's the motion," she giggled.

James stirred. He turned over, switching sides before settling down.

Arlein took a deep breath, trying to suppress these crazy thoughts.

She could still feel the stickiness between her legs from the nights' earlier passion. She was acutely aware of James heavy, yet steady, breathing next to her.

Softly placing a hand upon his chest, she snuggled up closer to him. And like that she lay, for what seemed to be an eternity, counting his breaths.

After she worked herself into a trance, that was as close, to sleep as she'd come all night, she suddenly felt James chest rise, causing her hand to slip off. She looked into his half-opened blue eyes as he rose up on one elbow asking, "What time is it?"

       She shrugged her shoulders. Then, after waiting a minute for him to say something, she realized he might not have seen her response in the dark. She tried to suppress a laugh, and what came out was more of a cough.

       She watched as he sank back down off his elbow and his eyes slowly closed. Placing her hand back on his chest she reached over and kissed him on the forehead. Arlein's hand slowly rubbed his chest, feeling the hairs in-between her fingers. Slowly her hand made it's way down. When it reached his abdomen she could feel his body quiver.

She let her hand come to a rest. Soon his hand was resting in hers. She grasped his hand, fingers interlocking.

She heard him say something that sounded like, "Oh god."

Pushing her naked body even closer to his, she whispered "If you don't want to . . ." But his kisses muffled it.


        Afterward she tried, once again, to talk to James. But after five minutes of noncommittal, one-word answers, she gave up and allowed herself to drift off to sleep.

        The sex was still almost as good as when they had first been together. "That's not the problem," Arlein told the counselor.

The counselor said nothing. She waited patently, pad and pencil on the desk in front of her, hands folded on top on the desk. 

"The sex is great. It's the relationship that stinks!" a frustrated Arlein blurted out.

"Well, it doesn't stink." She ran a hand through her hair. "It's just. . . slowly. . . crumbling. Bit by bit. Day by day. We move a little farther apart. I understand a little less of what he says from one day to the next. He doesn't seem to listen any more. Or rather, he is getting more adept at listening, while paying less and less attention to the actual words."

        "Important things. Like our feelings. And our. . . relationship. He doesn't want to talk about them anymore."

A short sob leapt from Arlein's throat. "He would rather sleep than talk to me."

This was probably, at least in Arlein's opinion, the most ~ significant part of her talk with the marriage counselor. Here she tried to convey the frustration of James’s habit of paying little attention to her and his inability to share feelings.

One of the only actual questions that the counselor asked came toward the end of the "session."

Laying down her pencil, the one that spent very little time actually writing anyway, the counselor's face grew serious. She said, "Quality time. We have heard so much about quality time. Especially with children. But the concept works for all loved ones. What would you consider quality time?"

Arlein thought for a moment, then answered, "Quality time is when you and your spouse are in tune. Focused on one another."

"O.k." The counselor nodded her head slowly, as if that wasn’t the answer she was looking for.

Watching her making a few scratches in the pad, Arlein, felt apprehensive.

The counselor continued to write and asked, "As a concept,  yes, but in actuality, is there a certain period, a time of day perhaps, best suited for quality time?"

When Arlein hesitated before answering, the counselor prodded, "I’m not necessarily talking about your relationship, it might help to think what the ideal relationship would be like."

        "I don't know. . ." Arlein then quickly went on, "Maybe at the diner table. Sitting at the dinner table together after a hard days work, with a well prepared meal before us."

With an encouraging nod from the counselor, Arlein braved on, "Or maybe in bed. Not just any night. A nice night. A passionate night. After the passion. Just laying there, talking. After sharing bodies, sharing minds. Open and free. Honest conversations lasting 'til morning."

In the silence that followed, Arlein muttered, "Afterglow," unsure whether the counselor had heard.


Outside the office Arlein then waited while James was inside, doing the talking.

"Did you object to coming into counseling when you found out that I was a woman?" the counselor asked James.

"Not any more than at her original suggestion of counseling. Maybe less. . ."

"Could you explain?"

"You're a woman. Maybe you can figure her out." James pointed toward the door.

"Have you tried?"

"I think I have."

        James goes on to tell of the lack of communication, and the frustration of a stagnant relationship. He tells the counselor how Arlein thinks he's crazy every time he tries to talk seriously.

       He talked on, speaking of faded hopes and distant fears. He spoke of warmth and of dying embers, trying to give a glimpse of the fire that still burned deep within. He talked in illusions, using romantic symmetry. His voice cascaded as spring water over ancient words and phrases, requenching the brittle and dry thoughts scattered about.

       The counselor scribbled quickly, in one place on her pad, a quotation from James; "Fool am I, modern man, to think my discontent, not like all the other's around me. I am only surprised at my surprise."

       She did little to interrupt, but at one point he turned on her, "Quality time!" he wailed. "You ask what quality time is? It sounds like a modern cliche' to me, a present day "buzz" word."

       Pausing, either for effect or to think, he finally said, "Quality time. Time is time. One second differs not at all from any other. There are only quality people, quality situations, and quality relationships."

       "But!" He raised a hand to stop her imagined interruption. "I understand what you're getting at . . ."

       "Quality time is spent after a few drinks, simply talking. Sharing dreams. Exposing inhibitions, uncovering each other's self-concepts."

 "Quality time is Saturday afternoons. When we are both working in the yard. Very little verbal communication between us, just a shared smile every now-and-then. I love to watch her, hands dirty, working in the earth. Her natural innocence comes out most at these times -- something she is losing. She is like a running stream that as I watch slows to a crawl with the coming winter. Soon I fear her to be frozen solid with no hope of a spring thaw. The girl that I fell in love with is drifting down stream away from me, ever-so-slowly, yet, inevitably."

"I used to be able to talk to her. She used to listen. . . She used to respond. When I try to talk she is either too busy -- hurrying here and there, or her thoughts are distant.

His silence, an invitation for the counselor to interject, "How about finding times when you are forced to focus in on one another?"

"Forced?" James shook his head.

"Like at the dinner table, for example."

"I eat at the dinner table. How can you expect to concentrate on a conversation when your attention is geared around the food? Besides," he smiled, "It is impolite to talk with your mouth full."

"That's one example. There are others. . ." 

When he makes no response, she continued, "Like in bed."

"In my sleep?" He couldn't help laughing.

"How about after sex," she bluntly asked.

"After sex? Sure, she's always talking after sex. Arlein carries on these one-way conversations after sex."

He waited, but when he saw the counselor looking at him accusingly he barked, "But I'm tired! The only thing I feel like doing after sex is sleeping."

        "Quality time. Quality time can be time doing nothing. I guess I feel that quality time should be all the time, not bunched in the one minute orgasm physically, and then again mentally in a half hour conversation afterward."

       "If quality time is only a couple hours a week, then what is the rest of our marriage? How can it possibly survive? The good times need to be spread out enough to make the bad times seem "special." Non-quality time should be the exception. Let's save that half-hour at the end of our day for arguments and misunderstanding, then maybe the rest of our day, in the real heart of our lives, we can have quality time.

"I guess what I'm saying is that quality time should be quantity time. Otherwise, how can we continue to fool ourselves that this is all worth it?"


As James got up to leave he joked, "Aren't you going to ask me about my dreams?"

"Only if there is an abundance of bananas and pipe wrenches in them. . ."



*                *                *



       As James and Arlein leave together, Arlein hurries along, trying to keep up with James pace. She wonders if this counseling is going to bring about any change in James. She doubts he can change, but she vows to pray for it every night anyway.





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