By Emily Grosvenor
I’m not sure when I started telling my husband bedtime stories to get us in the mood, but the why is clear: We had begun looking at each other at the end of the day with the erotic gaze of two poached animals. After checking off our entire list items for the day, we had become just one last to-do.
Fact: The last thing on your list never gets done.
“Should we?” I asked Adam.
“I don’t know—do you want to?” he said.
The truth is, I didn’t. Adam might tell me he is game nearly a hundred percent of the time, but there was something weighing on us. The feeling was: not yet, or maybe, not here. The room. This room! It was infected with everything left from the day. It was like someone had stuffed the last twenty-four hours in a canister and had set it off like a bug bomb in our bedroom.
“It’s this place,” I said. “It’s haunted by the specters of our godforsaken lives!”
We stared at the ceiling for a while.
“What if we weren’t here,” I suggested. “What if we pretended we were… somewhere else?”
“Are you going to go all Fifty Shades on me?” he asked.
I hadn’t actually read the book, though I got what he was implying. “That reminds me… I have never even asked you what your fantasy is.”
We both looked around the room. We looked at each other.
“I’m kind of happy with how we do things,” Adam said.
“I don’t have any problem with how we do things, either, you know.”
“Maybe if we had better furniture?”
“What if we just pretended we were someplace else?”
And that’s when the solution became clear to me: I was in search of a Calgon Moment. I’m a travel writer by trade. You know the girl—itchy feet, heart on fire. But I’ve got the whole shebang—kids, husband, house. Sometimes it’s just not possible to wander, so in that moment, in the space between checking off lists and connecting with my husband, I decided we that we would wander through stories.
Adam was game. And so on one of these days, these one-day-in-a-million-same-days, I started in on the spot with what would be the first in a long line of stories created to whisk us away to somewhere else.
“Okay, we’re in Munich,” I started in. “We’re at Café Rischart, that little place on Marienplatz that makes the tiramisu so thick and high it looks like a building. I’m the new apprentice baker. I’m whipping the zabaglione for the tiramisu on my first day alone in the bakery. But oh, look, there you are. You’re a busboy. You are sweeping the front of the store before it opens. It’s wintertime so there is a light flurry of snowflakes falling outside. The smell of coffee and cream is in the air. You’re watching me whip the fluffy cream layer as you sweep, back-and-forth. But then, I drop an egg! It falls to the floor and cracks. You walk towards me to help me clean it up and you flip the switch by the door, setting off the animatronic elves in the front window.”
At that point, he laughed.
We were there. Or rather, we weren’t there—at least, not in that room haunted with the ghosts of the day.
But would it work again?
Over the next couple of months, Adam and I met at tea ceremonies in Japan, at a terrarium bar where we reached into the same glass globe of air plants. We become those people who have stood in the electricity of proximity while waiting for an hour outside a trendy brunch spot. We both wax on about the just-melted cheese atop the huevos rancheros and the silken avocados until yes, there we are stepping out of line and heading somewhere, and fast. We’ve been solo travelers on a cruise ship, a rain-soaked logger and a soup chef, two lost people at a meditation retreat, a wedding dress designer and the girl who’s just about to marry the wrong guy, a mover with one last box to carry me over the threshold, two people who at a shelter trying to adopt the same cat.
Any writer worth her ilk will tell you there is fun to be had in placing characters in a new setting and watching them do the unexpected — that if Flaubert had set Madame Bovary loose in Marseille, she might not have ended up drinking that bottle of arsenic. But while the settings always change, some elements are always the same: The two of us meet cute somewhere far, far away and interact until that point where we look at each other and it’s become the inevitable.
We are going to have sex.
There is no stopping it because this story can’t end any other way.
“We are in the grocery store, and we’re both carrying those shopping baskets because we live alone. We’re looking at cereal. I can’t find the Rice Krispies. You look at me, and I’m just about to cry because I had a bad day at work where I’m sure the guy I share my office with is trying to destroy me. You’ve got pine nuts and fresh fronds of basil in your basket and were headed to the pasta aisle when you saw me there in my shirt, slightly askew because the buttons were off by one. You say, ‘General Mills, I think that’s over there, on the bottom row,’ and you bend down and pull it off the shelf for me. Kneeling, you hand it to me and say, ‘I love Rice Krispies, too.’ We put our groceries in one of our carts and ditch the other one.”
Isn’t this what we really have to overcome in the long-term relationships: to meet again and experience the thrill of what it felt like to be the only high line-item priority to another person, the only truly necessary thing on the list?
I’m getting better in the telling as I concoct more stories for us. The stories get easier to relate, the situations more specific, our jobs and pasts more complex. I always throw something in there to make Adam laugh—I give him some creative manscaping, or I’m wearing platform shoes with aquariums in the heels a la I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and my heel fish is depressed and, surprise! Adam’s the only fish expert in the city who can help. I pick places I know would make him happy: two solo hikers in an old-growth forest, a man and a woman who showed up at the same show on the wrong night. Two people lost without a map who have to rely on their more animal instincts to find their way out of the city.
But most of the time I am picking settings just for me. I am a harried office worker joining the laptop brigade over a latte, he’s a sailor just in from his ship, tying knots to make a handle for the cold brew station at my favorite coffee shop.
“I can sense you there beside me. What are you doing? You’ve got the black rope in one hand and are affixing it to the top of a ten-inch-long cylinder of wood with a line of thin duct tape. It’s long and about one-inch wide, smoothed by hand. I type away, and you are weaving the rope in and out in a braid around the long, thick handle of wood. I’m watching you but trying not to seem as if I am. You’re about a third of a way down the wood now. Occasionally you whip a thread of paracord to the left and it lands on the soft skin of my right inner thigh. You don’t even notice, and I don’t tell you, but it keeps happening. Thwap. I’m typing, typing away as the barista steams milk for my latte and there’s this guttural swirling sound moving from a low grumble to a high-pitched scream. My fingers are typing faster now, though a few minutes later I can’t even say what I’ve written since all that I can sense is the light flick of paracord hitting my thigh. Thwap. You’re close to the bottom of the handle, now. Thwap. You’re almost finished with it. Thwap. You tie off a knot at the end and then look up at me.”
EMILY GROSVENOR is an independent journalist and essayist based in McMinnville, OR. She blogs at www.pioneerperfume.com, and you can follower on Twitter @emilygrosvenor.