A short story originally published in Sonora Review, issue #52, summer 2007. The story was a finalist for Sonora’s first annual Short-Short Story Contest. Reproduced here with permission.
The first time Marissa Delmonico and I had sex it was too quick, but it was vigorous while it lasted, vigorous enough that it seriously exacerbated the slow leak my inflatable mattress had recently sprung. It was a sweltering August night in Brooklyn. Her body and mine were slowly folding up into each other. I couldn’t hear a hiss, but she and I were undeniably sagging, gravity tugging us together, the edges of the mattress rising up on either side of us like bread loaves. The fitted sheet, sprung loose, now knotted and tangled, barely kept our bodies from sticking to the knobby plastic surface of the bed.
I kissed Marissa on the chin, then regretted it, the kiss feeling too intimate for my having just met her. “We are sinking,” I said, “in case you were wondering.”
Marissa pushed her hair out of her face, tucked a blond strand behind her ear. “I was more wondering why the inflatable mattress in the first place,” she said.
I said it was because my regular mattress was in the garage for repairs; this was a loaner from the shop in the meantime. She snorted.
“Speaking of cars,” she said, “no offense, but I’m overheating.”
“Even naked?” I asked. “Naked with no top sheet on top?”
She nodded. I groped around the floor in the light from the street lamp. I found the remote control, willed myself to forget the electric bill, and cranked the air conditioner up from the energy-saving setting to full blast. The cool air gusted over our bare bodies like old jeans. Marissa sighed loudly, and I remembered my grandmother, my father’s mother, back when I was a boy; she’d visit us in New Hampshire every Easter, up from her retirement community on Hilton Head. I adored my grandmother. She sat at our kitchen table every night with a shot glass of mineral oil. “I do love your mother,” she’d confide, staring down the filmy glass, “but my body does not love her cooking.” Then she’d take a sip, swallow it down, and let out a sigh loud enough for the whole house to hear.
Earlier that same sticky August night, barely one hour after meeting her, I’d somehow managed to woo Marissa from a mutual friend’s birthday party at a karaoke bar, a local place called Delilah’s Travesty up on Bedford Avenue. I had just clambered on top of her, down on my bedroom floor—us fumbling and sweating, the mattress squeaking—when she thrust the palm of her hand up to my chest. “Hold on,” she said, her eyes concerned and sober. “Have you been tested recently?”
So I told Marissa the Reggie Kopalski’s Pizzeria breakup story. I described the perfect view of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from the old wooden bench in the restaurant’s front window booth, the one next to the miniature Test Your Strength game Reggie had salvaged from his carny barker days on Coney Island. This was when Denise Webster and I lived together out in Sunset Park. Reggie’s was our standby, the place we went when we were too tired to cook. Growing up back in Portsmouth, a place called Sergeant Pizza used to fulfill the same function for my mother on her off nights. My mother had off nights at least weekly. Denise and I always gave the carnival game a shot while we waited for our pie—a few quarters, a few hits of the rubber mallet—but neither of us ever managed to ring the bell. Denise suspected the game was rigged. I thought we’d get married someday, and imagined she felt the same; but deep into our third year together, her mind changed abruptly, and about everything. It was a perfunctory dump—more appropriate for a three-month breakup—before our pizza even arrived. I could keep the apartment and the furniture. She was moving home to San Francisco to be closer to her family, to start culinary school, and to follow Declan, her yoga instructor. For the first time in her life, Denise said, a man made her feel fulfilled.
Reggie, a kind man, didn’t charge me for the pie.
After those three years of monogamy, I told Marissa, came the three years of celibacy since then. In other words: I was squeaky clean. It was a long time to go without, I knew; but for Marissa, it was practically criminal.
“Wow,” she said. “I don’t think I could survive so long without a good solid lay.”
“I’m a guy,” I said. “It’s not like I can walk into a bar and snap my fingers.”
“It’s like you’re a monk,” said Marissa, rubbing the top of my head.
“Well,” I said, “it wasn’t exactly my game plan.”
“No, I like it, I like it,” she said. “It’s hot.” She climbed on top of me, straddling my hips. I could feel air squeezing out beneath our combined weight. She kissed me on the neck, hard. “I get to take your virginity all over again.”
Marissa Delmonico lived in Manhattan, worked in Manhattan, loved Manhattan. She loved prosecco, prosciutto, bespoke suits, Mark Rothko, and the distressed debt bond desk at Goldman Sachs. The outer boroughs, for her, were good for parties with back yards, or for getting married and giving up—which, for Marissa, were one and the same. I’d like to think she believed, that night, that she was saving me. Which she was, although I didn’t understand it until later. “When’s the bed coming back from the shop?” she’d tease, punching my arm. “We need to take that thing for a test ride.” But the joke wore thin. Our fling was over by September. She was a classy girl, and smart. Not that it would’ve been difficult for anyone to figure out that I’d ditched the bed Denise Webster left behind, left it out on the sidewalk for Brooklyn’s scavengers to harvest; that the sad and leaky inflatable thing was the only bed I owned.