The first time it happened, she thought it was funny. She let out a little laugh along with the customary stifled gasp, the clenching and then loosening of her fingers and toes against the sheets.
Her boyfriend was away for the weekend. She’d been thinking about him during the slow morning alone, and her mind had wandered to the two of them together in that little cottage in Prince Edward County. Initially it was the stuff of her customary fantasies: the feeling of his chest against her back in the kitchen, some deep fingering next to the toast, or The New York Times’ Sunday crossword if she wanted to feel erudite. She let her hand slip below the sheets and tried to conjure a more specific image: a bit of light BDSM, inspired by a dirty, arty book she’d been reading (not the tacky famous one, a cooler one that did basically the same thing). He’d gotten really into it, tying her up more roughly than she’d expected. The hair pulling hurt but felt good, as the damaged female narrator in the book had described. “That feels so good,” she’d said in a breathy voice she immediately regretted using. “Call me Sir,” he’d said. The fantasy progressed quickly from there. She could almost feel his hands holding her down, hear his breath in her ear, the voice saying “Call me Sir… Sir Jeremy.”
She climaxed abruptly, simultaneously recalling the face he’d made when she looked up from her restraints and asked carefully, “Sir Jeremy? Like… a knight?” He’d been so embarrassed they’d had to stop. It had been a few days before he felt ready for sex again.
When Jeremy returned late Sunday night, Kathleen considered telling him about her masturbatory snafu. Before she could, he mentioned getting caught freestyle rapping in his car at a stoplight on the way home. She pulled off his shirt and they made love against the midcentury credenza they’d spent months looking for on Kijiji. Jeremy was pleased by her spontaneity. Kathleen had never come so hard in her life.
Later that week, on bi-weekly date night, he told her about an email-based kerfuffle at work. A classic “Reply All” mishap. His job was not in danger, but he had been skittish around his coworkers all day. He felt like a dog caught mid-piss on the rug, he said, his tail between his legs during lunch. When she found out he’d accidentally emailed an image of himself on vacation with the caption “Who’s the boss” to the entire company listserv, she went into the bathroom of the craft brewery they were in and got herself off more than once.
After that the images came to her unbidden and constantly: Jeremy asking a woman if she was pregnant (she was not); Jeremy unable to squeeze between two chairs at a restaurant even after asking the person behind him to move; Jeremy trying and failing to use his Metrocard during rush hour, sweating as a line forms behind him, taunted by the flashing impatience of “PLEASE SWIPE YOUR CARD AGAIN.”
Kathleen didn’t know why this was happening and she didn’t care. She’d sit in her open concept co-working pod and imagine sweet, dumb Jeremy in a cafe, bringing a cup of tea to his lips and missing his mouth, lukewarm earl grey dripping onto his T-shirt. He’d look around to see if anyone noticed, convinced he’d gotten away with it before panning over to the barista, smirking, her shaved head and interesting piercing communicating a preexisting disdain made valid by the spill.
Weeks passed and Kathleen did not tire of reliving these incidents in her mind. To the contrary, she’d started inventing hypothetically embarrassing scenarios and imagining Jeremy in those too. She returned often to a memory of him mispronouncing the word “tapas” at a restaurant, though she could not say for sure whether the event had actually transpired.
One day, at the grocery store, she tripped him. Or she thought she might have tripped him. He tripped, certainly, and her foot was within plausible tripping range. He fell into a seasonal Ferrero Rocher display, scattering shards of plastic and little brown and gold bundles across the aisle. He broke four gift boxes. A nearby child made a joke about the situation to his parents, and instead of scolding the child, they laughed. Kathleen watched Jeremy clumsily collect the things he’d dropped (papayas, gluten-free granola, a box of heavy-flow tampons), and gather the broken candy boxes. He paid for them in cash, Kathleen beside him, leaning ever so slightly too hard against the cart. When he bent down to pick up their bags, he winced.
In the Prius on the way home, Kathleen resolved to get her little problem under control. There would be no more asking him to recount the time—times!—he’d called his various teachers “Mom,” no asking him what he liked about System of a Down just to hear his ludicrous answer. She couldn’t carry on feverishly hoping his bag and leather jacket would rub together just so in the elevator, creating a farting sound he’d deny then unintentionally recreate. Kathleen was going to head home that night and have calm, normal sex that was not built around an understanding that Jeremy was the kind of guy who said “to the tune of” when describing sets of numbers. Someone was going to get hurt. It had to end.
As they headed towards their apartment, Jeremy and Kathleen ran into Emily, the sweet woman who lived next door and worked at Whole Foods. “What’s new, you two?” she asked. Jeremy smiled. “Fine thanks.”
Kathleen moved out the next day, while Jeremy was at work.