Susanna checked the water temperature with her pinkie—it was scolding hot. She waited for it to cool off, poured it into a small bucket, and started her evening ablutions, in their usual, almost ritualistic order.

“The same Maeterlink you cite, she was arguing with someone in her head, that very same Maeterlink once said that nature was sad when you get to know it up close. It’s sad and cosmically cruel, for the insect as well as for everyone else. Suffering is the condition and meaning of existence. That’s what we’re dealing with here. So then, Mr. D., it seems naïve to say that the world should have remained reserved for deer, that the mankind shouldn’t have been created at all. As if it is the mankind that has defiled the earth and otherwise everything would have been great. In reality, many of the vices that we ascribe to humans, such as cruelty, cunning, betrayal, exploitation, etc., are all found in the animal kingdom, including the pathological coupling tendencies widely observed in other species, including dogs and apes. This has been common knowledge for some years now, Mr…., Mr. D. Of course, it’s very tempting to explain this away as perversion, but then, what difference does it make how you choose to explain it?”

She used a pink towel with chrysanthemums painted on it to dry her armpits and her neck, and a different, tattered towel, for her feet. She took her time. She was stalling, waiting for her husband to fall asleep. He always went to bed early because he had to get up early for work. Today, like all other days, he kept summoning her to come to bed, and then he finally stopped. He’s probably fallen asleep, she thought, this is like that joke, when one man asks the other, you say your wife asks you for a hundred bucks a day, what does she do with all that money, and the other man says how should I know, I’ve never given it to her? In their case, too, is it that her husband is passionate or…? One thing is certain, every time he is intimate with her, he seems equally eager, as if it were his first or last time. Kima says, “That’s your husband style of making love, no matter who he goes to bed with, he’s always going to make love like that, he knows no other way.” Sure, like it has nothing to do with her….

Susanna inspected the faucets and the gas valve one last time, chained the door, let’s see, what else is there….. Of course, she couldn’t always get away with shirking her spousal duties; often, she was forced to give in, but the very thought that her husband welcomed her show of resistance and unwillingness, that he took genuine pleasure in these “games,” in her rejections and the brusqueness with his he had his way with her, humiliated and embittered the woman. Another thing that she found humiliating was her husband’s willingness to only satisfy his own needs: “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to do anything, who’s forcing you?”

The woman pushed open the bedroom door. The full moon’s pale shadow was falling on the bed, outlining the contours of the window on the floor. Her husband’s feet were sticking out from under the bed covers, the room was filled with the air he’d exhaled. He’d fallen asleep with his hand resting on his groin, smack in the middle of the full-sized bed; the slightest touch would wake him up, and he’d be all over her, like a spider. She slid under the blanket and carefully as possible, but still, the bed’s metal frame moved, and made a squeak, as if sighing under her body’s sinking weight. Susanna held her breath, stole a glance at her husband—he was still asleep. But his eyebrows slowly folded into a frown, and then his lips suddenly parted in a wide grin. So he was only pretending to be asleep, he’d waited her out. He stretched his arm towards her in a familiar gesture, you’re so yummy, he whispered in a raspy, barely audible voice. Whatever he said in those moments were never words of longing and love directed specifically at his wife, but rather some phrases muttered into the empty air, without a specific addressee or a meaning. He climbed on top of the woman, his hairy arms scooped up her body, latched on to her shoulders, his foul-smelling body weighed heavily on her, as if expanding. There he goes again.

“It used to come so easily before,” thought Susanna, “naturally and easily.” Before… Or was it that she back then she had more desire and that made up for everything else? Something inside her had broken, gone terribly wrong. Through the years, the disappointments kept adding up, perhaps irreversibly. Maybe this is how women became frigid? The woman, despite the fact that she wasn’t in the mood, tried to force herself to participate, to at least get her share of satisfaction out of it. Even if without love, even if without desire, finishing was still better than just letting him have his way. Definitely more preferable. But in order to accomplish that she needed some additional stimulation, like mental images or pleasant memories that awakened her lust. This recourse dated all the way back to her puberty. First, the woman imagined Mr. D in her husband’s place, his lean body pressed against hers, his bony fingers sliding up her inner thighs. She pretended that it was his demanding flesh caressing her inside. Even her husband noticed how her body began to reciprocate by thrusting itself forward, so his movements became more abrupt and aggressive, but that only got in her way. If he at least turned away or stopped panting in that annoying way! No, that didn’t work, Mr. D. didn’t fit this profile or this tempo. His movements would have been different, gentle, tender, slow…. Next, the woman visualized the red-bearded, short, stalky geologist, his honey-colored eyes and delicate mouth…. There was a time when she found his odd behavior exciting, even attractive, but…. She has a vague feeling of being angry with him, so she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him, even in her imagination…. Then she conjured up another image, this one right on the dot, her former love, her infatuation that almost ended in disaster. But that failed to get the job done as well. Not even a trace of that ardor. Ok, so she could succeed in imagining two intertwined bodies, but then what? The arms, the legs, some other body part, but these pictures just flickered by like an irrelevant, unexciting story. Only a short while ago, any of these stories would have brought the encounter to a fruitful conclusion, directed her towards a successful climax. It seemed like achieving it, desiring it, was completely controlled by her mind, and the body was just its prisoner, agile, complacent. Now that was no longer the case. It didn’t help that her husband egged her on, “are you close? hurry up.” He was on the verge already, and he didn’t like to dilly-dally. He wanted to get his satisfaction quickly, unwind through it, and fall asleep.

Desperate, she summoned up all her mental energy and pictured an anonymous, faceless stranger, just a purely physical male body. No, why, a man with some likeable qualities. He. HE. She feels no anger, guilt, or sense of responsibility towards him. With him, she’s pure, free of inhibitions and memories. That man, who knows how and when to touch her perfectly, possessing her tenderly, is about to possess her…., but her husband could no longer hold it. The end. The bitter, lukewarm wave of disappointment rose to her throat. I shouldn’t have picked all those wrong images, I dragged it for too long. And all for nothing. I should’ve just let him finish quickly and be done with it. But maybe it’s better this way, he should know that I’ve lost my interested and desire, and that it’s his fault, that he no longer satisfies me. This is the result of long years of bickering and mutual estrangement. How can anything good ever come of something thoroughly bad? I should make it known to him…. But the husband had already flipped to his other side and fallen asleep, a real, calm, peaceful sleep. At first he breathed lightly; then came the snoring. “This happens in nature as well,” thought Susanna, “it’s called ‘tied water.” It’s when a plant dries up, unable to extract from the soil the water that abounds there in form of various chemical compounds.

Resentful, she got up and went to the bathroom. She washed up, then walked over to the window and stared at the full moon. The surface of the moon looked distorted, as if it consisted of a few disks placed over each other. Recently, her vision went blurry once in a while. God forbid she ever goes…. What would become of her then?

Through the welling tears of self-pity the woman managed to notice a man leaning against a lamppost in the empty street. He was wearing a top hat and a coat with a raised collar. It seemed like he was looking back at her. He wasn’t going away. A thought crossed the woman’s mind that perhaps this ominous stranger was the one, her faceless anonymous man whom she’d conjured up only a few minutes earlier, it was him, with his hidden virtues, the one who know exactly how to caress her….

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