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Ever the stickler, he was the sort of man who bristled at the misuse of the word dilemma. Insistent upon correct usage, he never tired of pointing out to his students that technically, it should be used only when one was faced with two options, both of which were unfavourable. His thoughts turned to this as he lay naked, prostrate on the floor, waiting in vain for the pain to stop.
Through good intentions and perverse execution, he had found himself in his present predicament. It had started as an effort to extend his bedroom repertoire, to inject an element of surprise into the act of lovemaking. Of late, he and his wife had flagged, sexually. Adamant that he would not let explicit thrills slip so readily from his grasp, and with their anniversary as a deadline, he worked towards reinvigorating their moribund relationship.
[private]To this end, he had purchased a copy of the Kama Sutra. Alone he had flicked distractedly, absorbed plethoric permutations he had never considered. Opting, of necessity, for an illustrated edition, he nevertheless eschewed lavishly photographed offerings; lithe youngsters would not be his guides. There would be no intimations of mortality, of his advancing years; cartoons would be his illustrious instructors, delicate pencil renderings outlining the mechanics. These sketchy fornicators lent the exercise a sense of deja-vu. Upon publication, he and his wife had dallied briefly with the Joy of Sex, its sinful lineations. Summoning images from the time, he saw a bearded man perpetually locked in the wheelbarrow. He supposed there were worse ways to spend eternity. But it was some time since they had experimented with new positions, and by some time he meant since the seventies.
Rather than negotiate the book’s exotic offerings with his wife he had decided to take a more academic approach. In her absence, his approach was one of geometry, not so much impassioned as diagrammatic amassment. In the manner of martial art forms, routines would be drilled until second nature. Whilst he accepted that his methodology was not best suited to the task, it was, he felt, the only way to offset his wife’s objections. With a rigorous meticulousness, he set about committing the book to memory.
Through the book’s numerous positions he would seduce his wife once more, would impress her with his flexibility. He reasoned that she would be more receptive to suggestions with an erotic heritage. They would not be re-enacting pornography, tentative mimicry beneath a flat screen, but by candlelight he hoped to usher in similar results under the umbrella of Eastern mysticism; lascivious intentions cloaked in a cloud of patchouli. Prior to his mishap, he had envisaged the ways in which he would take her, engage her with his suddenly broadened palette, leaving her breathless, astonished, by his dynamic gymnastics. That seemed unlikely now.
This had not been his first attempt to rekindle the flame. Knowing that his missionary administrations were barely enough to keep her awake for the duration, he had falsified a spirit of adventure. For this he had not strayed far beyond their comfort zones. There had been no custom-made leather outfits, no arsenal of intimidating toys and rehearsed safety words. He had surprised in predictable fashion: a mirrored ceiling, a waterbed, some costumes bought in anticipation of role-play. The latter, a long shot, had been greeted by his wife’s supercilious refusal: I will not stoop to the dressing up box. Was he trying to re-animate a corpse? He refused to give up hope.
In the day, whilst his wife was at work, he would apply himself to the carnal arts. This at least had been his plan. However it soon became apparent that unpartnered he would struggle to memorise the motions, in essence like learning to dance alone. Outsiders, he suspected, would suggest that the point was to explore this new world together, but outsiders, as far as he was aware, were not on naked terms with his wife. In the bedroom, as elsewhere in her life, she refused to suffer fools; no longer would she tolerate his erotic incompetence. If he was to sway her, he needed to do so with conviction. Conceding that the Kama Sutra was not a manual for one, he considered a more practical approach. Alone in their bedroom he had tried to forge an effigy from what lay around him. A pillow, her nominative stand-in, had not been the least of her, a sack of feathers, plumped, awaiting his advance. Limbless, it had proved an insubstantial substitute, a dislocated torso with which he would fail to get the measure of positions. He would require something more corporeal.
Men he had known, less theoretically inclined, had visited prostitutes with the intention of repertoire expansion, had endeavoured to commit new positions to memory through hands on tutelage. Wives and girlfriends were doubtless unaware of their excursions. How would these women react upon discovering that their partners had solicited outside help in order to revitalise their sex lives? Their seedy deeds seemed unlikely to be interpreted as selfless acts.
Fearful of condescension, he nevertheless pitied these poor women. It was doubtful that, finding themselves in hostile servility they had much time for their client’s diversions. Must they embrace all roles: depositary, counsellor, teacher? What did they care for their client’s marriage? The continuation of its imperilled state was undeniably to their financial advantage. He pictured their nonplussed looks when asked advice on different positions. Surely it went against their best interest to elongate the process, to delay climax? Speed was of the essence. He sensed premature ejaculators would be greeted warmly, hasty transactions preferable, assuming punters were taxed climactically, that they did not pay for a timed slot. There would be no opportunity to reconvene, to muster gusto for an encore.
She arrived discreetly, by post. Unwrapping his parcel, he regarded his new partner, shrink-wrapped in a box. Through plastic sheeting, their eyes met. Upon unfolding her, preparing to breathe life into her, he contemplated her deflated form. Previously he had scorned men who resorted to such desperate ends to satisfy themselves, their flat-packed mistresses only one step up from having sex with balloons. How many married men harboured collapsible concubines? Guilty husbands secretly engaged in airtight adultery? He had entered into his own rubbery negotiations with a higher goal, he reassured himself. That said, he had no intention of revealing to his wife the intricacies of his rehearsals. With his lips he had breathed if not life then at least form into her. Upon curved air he would perfect his manoeuvres.
Claims of a lifelike nature, it seemed, had been optimistic exaggeration. Post-inflation it hardly beckoned him, its eyes, painted, agog, not of the come-to-bed variety. He had bought the doll after the failure of a pillow to replicate his wife. In truth, it was not much of an improvement, possessed as it was of a passivity even his wife would struggle to emulate. At best it could be described as anatomically vague. With unbending limbs, he struggled to get her into the requisite positions. Her, he thought. He had fallen immediately into mentally addressing the doll in the feminine form, even though, despite rudimentary mouldings, it was entirely sexless. This was to salve his own misgivings, investing it with female properties although she was no more a woman than a dinghy. Dissatisfied, he would nonetheless get his money’s worth, would not be sending her back to her maker. At the thought, he shuddered, summoned bleak images of the returns department of a sex toy retailer.
On his bed, atop this woman, he arrived at his plight. The specifics of the incident would be lost. Negotiating a particularly outlandish position, stretching himself astride his blow-up bride, he had lost his footing. Clambering, his frantic flapping had done little to save him, the waterbed’s undulations proving a hindrance to balance. His squeaking partner offered little help as he failed to gain purchase on her slippery skin, akin to reasserting himself on a lilo in a swimming pool. Falling from grace, he found himself dispensed beside the bed, a jumble of contorted, painful limbs. The exact nature of the damage inflicted was not clear beyond the fact that any movement caused absolute agony. Upon stumbling, his erection reconsidered itself and wilted sympathetically, his afternoon’s arousals brought to an abrupt conclusion. Something had given way, a crick. He felt pains pulse in parts of his body he couldn’t even name, whose existence he had complacently ignored during less painful times. He tried to move but agonies pierced him. He would remain stationary.
Shivering, he chastised himself for his absentmindedness, for failing to place his clothes within easy reach, although he could not have foreseen the tumble of events. Diligently, and with the spontaneity to which his wife was accustomed, he had removed and folded his clothes. With his shirt, he enshrouded a chair. It was a liaison with no call for hasty disrobement. He doubted that the enticements of this sexless receptacle had led any man to undress frantically.
His phone, previously considered out of harm’s way was now out of help’s way. What though would he do if he had access to it? Summon the emergency services? The cavalry heralded, his front door kicked down, before they thundered upstairs to his aid. He imagined their rush to his rescue scuppered by hysterics upon stumbling upon his singular situation as he lay prostrate, the victim of domestic abuse, a fall out with his speechless spouse. How did they remain straight-faced in such circumstances? They must encounter all sorts. Of dignified necessity, his rescue would need to be mediated through his wife.
Eventually he ceased his desperate attempts to right himself, remained, through pain, an upturned turtle, a shrivelled newborn floundering, unfortunate. The torturous sensations made any movement unwise. He couldn’t die like this, could he? This would remain, through circumstance, a rhetorical inquiry. He hoped his wife, out of consideration for herself if nothing else, would disguise the manner of his departure from this world. Prone, alone, a slapstick fatality: death by misadventure.
As he stumbled from the bed, he had heard a loud shriek. Had it been his? It was an irrational inquiry. Unless as an act of ventriloquism he would have to concede, the scream had been his own. It seemed unlikely to have slipped from the glossed lips, which circled invitingly upon the face of his accomplice. It was a mouth designed not for communication but acceptance, lips poised not for conversation but admittance, ingress, the third of a trio of penetrable apertures. The scream, from wherever it came, was immediately replaced by a litany of curses, the full spectrum of profanity explored, a vulgar workout as he became sorely accustomed to his body’s reconfiguration.
His fall had been broken by the scatter cushions he had swept from the bed, his wife a soft-furnishing Sisyphus removing them every night only to replace them every morning. He would never understand. Before removal, he had photographed them in order that they may be replaced without arousing ire or suspicion.
His thoughts turned to his air-filled assistant. Briefly, they had shared a moment, and the earth had moved. Reflected in the mirror above, looking down upon him, she seemed to taunt him, aglow in her undiminished buoyancy. The latest technologies, her manufacturers assured him, meant the doll’s breasts would be seam free, as though, finger fumbled, this alone would shatter any illusions. He envied credulous men their suspension of disbelief. Her breasts seemed no less artificial than the silicon augmentations he saw about town, swollen and disproportionate. Everyone now seemed engaged in some manner of enhancement. Were the dolls moving towards womanhood or vice versa?
Reflected, they resembled a mismatched couple at a nudist beach. She had been one of many options. It was odd to think that there was an entire industry based around these plastic partners, loneliness conquered by aide of receptive synthetics. Whilst these mute, rubbery receptacles may accommodate some manner of release, they hardly seemed ideal mates. Like all the women in their owner’s lives, he imagined, they would be let down afterwards, sex followed by a sense of deflation. Post-coitally, the air would be drained from their bodies, folded neatly away following the routine rinsing of holes. They were far from marriage material, friends making wedding gifts of puncture repair kits.
In her lifeless likeness, she competed with a bestiary of balloon animals. He presumed they were the sole domain of stag nights, future grooms saddling synthetic sheep. Had this moulded menagerie ever proved a stepping-stone to more visceral thrills? Were they gateway inflatables? An amusing gift awakening previously unknown desires, from stag jag to tiptoeing in pastures new as they crept upon unsuspecting cattle? Afterwards, remorseful, regarding the off-kilter wilt of their members, ruminating whether to consult a doctor or a vet. Were they ever ordered in earnest, he wondered, apprehensive zoophiles keen to test the waters, a legal trial run before braving the elements? Could trapped air replicate such delights?
Where did their deviant lines end? Did they offer other forbidden hollows, darker attractions, blow-up children sold under the counter? Preferable, surely, that those so inclined relieve their murky urges into some squeaking simulacrum rather than the real thing. Would that be a legally dubious production? After all, it was just a matter of scale. Discovered in cupboards, they would prove difficult to explain away. Finding himself exploring the moral implications of having sex with inflatable minors, he suspected he was entering the early stages of delirium.
Earlier in the day, as he unwrapped his partner, his primary concern had been the aroma, that whilst inside this synthetic other he would be tainted by a factory fresh smell, that he would need to shower to get the smell of plastic from his body. He had greater concerns now.
Perhaps it would have been kinder all round if he had taken a mistress, separate sex and his marriage for good. Taken, he thought. How quaint, as though selecting a mate from an orderly queue, regimented courtesans awaiting his attention. But an affair would not have been a guilt free endeavour. He was not predisposed to complications. Such entanglements required a cloak and dagger existence that was beyond him. The lying, he imagined, would prove more exhausting than the sex.
Beyond the embarrassment, how would he fare physically? Moaning, prone, as pains juddered through him, he became concerned he may have inflicted lasting damage. Was this it now? Would he no longer be conjugally functional without the aide of medical apparatus? Was he doomed to a life as half man, half machine? An assisted shift into his wife would not be overly romantic, a Heath Robinson contraption of harness and gurneys allowing congress. He had not contemplated chiropractic intervention, saw nothing arousing in that possibility. Doubled over, he considered a new position: he supine in a hospital bed, his wife straddling his shiftless bones.
In slow motion, he tried to replay his awkward tumble. He feared that his reduced agility signalled the onset of decrepitude. He didn’t need medical reports to tell him that he was past his sexual prime, the post-coital ache in his bones told him all he needed to know. Even so, he had anticipated a few more decades of healthy activity. He had noticed, of late, his body’s recalcitrance to his will. He felt the decline in all of its inevitability. His arthritic advances would prove all the easier to fend off.
Would he be doomed to a life with inflatable Katy now? She at least would not spurn his advances. With the minimum of luggage, he could whisk her away for dirty weekends. She could even, if he had the audacity to face probing customs officials, travel as hand luggage. He didn’t relish such a grim future, bleak romantic breaks, a foot pump giving shape to his lover.
As day turned to night, darkness at least obscured his predicament; in the dimming light he was unable to see his situation reflected from above. More than anything, he felt foolish. As an effort towards proving his virility, it had fallen somewhat flat. He cringed at the thought of his wife’s face, her shock and disappointment as she stumbled upon the scene. He hoped that after engaging the emergency services she would be able to see the funny side of his misadventures. Over the years, she had come to expect certain eccentricities on his behalf, but this perhaps was a peculiarity too far. Could his wife shift this indelible tryst from her memory? He wouldn’t blame her if she left him for someone less sexually fragile. Stricken, huddled double, he provided an unwelcome foreshadow of stooped futures. He had hoped not to advertise his deficiencies. Haunting the horizon, a rigorous loose-limbed youth, reliably pliable, his erstwhile replacement. Through trying to enliven his sex life he would likely wind up without one.
This then was his dilemma: to be discovered or not. Drifting in and out of consciousness, he knew he required medical attention, that without his wife’s reappearance he may die. That at least was his own fatalistic prognosis. If she returned, however, he would have to deal with her disgust and dismay, would have to, in his weakened state, forge arguments for his defence. In his mind the words, I can explain, rolled relentlessly, his opening gambit lest his wife got the wrong idea. Could he explain? Muttered gruffly, I was doing it for you, would prove an unconvincing valediction. He remained uncertain which option was the least desirable. Even if he should slip into death before her return, his wife would still be confronted by the aftermath, a final image potent enough to obscure all other memories, a mockery made of the marital bed. Mercifully, their children all lived elsewhere; they would not have their memories darkened by this episode. For that, he was grateful.
Naked, foetal, locked in his abnormal contortion he winced. Engulfed by a sense of dread and relief, he heard, downstairs, a key turn in the lock.[/private]