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Fiction

“After David”

Logging on to the site is like stepping into a candy store. Or walking into a party and waiting for someone to talk to you, some swaggering dude with a joint in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. 

All you have to do is leave your chat window open and the hot pink band will light up, and they’ll rush in. One of the many amazing surprises of dating online in your sixties is to discover all the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who flock to you as the latest taboo to transgress. 

Ethanb, 20 – You’re really attractive. It’s my fantasy to be with an older woman.

BMW1976, 37 – I love French women.

Desire4Mature, 42 – The dynamic is unmatchable when it’s the right older woman and a younger man.

Eljefe86, 27 – I know I am a bit young but I think you should give me a chance…

 

*

 

The first time we met was in Tompkins Square Park, around noon, before he went to his day job at a nearby recording studio. He had contacted me a couple of weeks earlier – Hi, I am Jonah, you seem quite lovely. I liked that word lovely. Almost old school, anachronistic even. So much more respectful than the raunchy pick-up lines tossed around the site like so much hastily knotted bait in the dating river. A touch of old-fashioned gallantry that contrasted with his pictures — sexy as hell, with a scruffy beard, dark curly hair, beat-up Converse, and an electric guitar on his knees. 

Still, when I saw how young he was — 37 — I hesitated. I was 62. A full generation. He gently insisted. I gave him my phone number and he called. His voice was smooth, just a little nasal, relaxed. Social ease. Not pushy. When you meet someone online, you make your decision to go ahead or not on tiny clues. He worked two blocks from my place. Why not get together for coffee? It was mid-September, a few days after my birthday. (Another birthday to ignore, forget, tread lightly over — because what else is there to do with the years that pass?) The weather was warm with a trace of cool, elm trees still glorious, their green just a bit dusty after the hot summer. I waited for him by the dog run and watched a pair of pitbulls frolic. 

I had an envelope under my arm, with the bank statements proving I could cover Louise’s rent in Brooklyn in case she came up short. I had to have everything photocopied so Louise could sign the lease. I was nervous about whether I had enough money in my relatively small investment account to qualify as guarantor. New York landlords require solid cash in the bank. I was still getting royalties from the book I had written about the end of my marriage with David, but they were dwindling, so I was mainly living off my paychecks as a freelance commercial translator and my teaching. Louise and Juliet were at home, Juliet visiting from Jacksonville with Vivian, her baby, who was exactly one year old. 

I didn’t tell the girls what I was doing. I just said I was going to the copy place. I wasn’t dressed for a “date.” Skinny jeans, t-shirt, denim jacket, booties, casual. My usual look. He was a jazz guitarist. No point dressing up. He strolled up to me in his sneakers and bomber jacket, looking straight out of Brooklyn. Laid back. Good-looking in a kind of nerdy way. Jewish, I realized later, when I looked him up online. (He had told me the name of his quartet.) Dark hair curling down his neck and tumbling forward, dark stubble of a beard, sensual mouth, soulful look in his hazel eyes, strong — but not too strong — nose, tallish, but slight. Elegant. Sexy smile. Where had I seen that smile before? These warm, smoldering eyes? 

Shall we have coffee? he asked. 

As we walked side by side across the park, falling into step with each other, he felt familiar, as though we had been lovers in a previous life. I forgot the envelope under my arm, the financial responsibilities. There was a quality of silence that I found relaxing, a mute complicity, as if his presence released in me a long-forgotten insouciance. He was immensely appealing.

We headed to the little coffee shop along the park. He asked if I had told my daughters I had a date. I said I hadn’t. Then he asked if they were his age. I said, no, younger. And we laughed with relief. At least, that was that. And then his smile, head a little to the side, almost shy — as he offered to pay, because I was taking out my own wallet, not sure. Was this even a date? 

I told him I had to photocopy some paperwork and he offered to go with me to the copy place. (I’ll be a little late for work, but that’s okay.) Later I thought he had arranged our date close to the time he had to start work so that if it turned out we had no chemistry, he would have a good excuse to cut things short. We walked, coffees in hand, and I spilled some on my feet and he squatted to clean up the stain with a napkin and said he liked my boots. I handed him my cup while I went in. 

It was while I waited for the paperwork to be copied that I thought of David and our move to the neighborhood more than twenty-five years before — when everyone lived in the Lower East Side instead of Brooklyn. Finishing the first short stories, sending them out, applying for grants, writing all day long, giving readings and going to readings every night, scrambling for money, the excitement of belonging to a group of young, edgy, emerging writers. I could sense — or guess — that he was holding out for the same dreams. Did he see that in me, too? Or did he only see an older French woman, with whom he wanted to experience the thrill of the forbidden?

I was surprised that he was dating online. He was in a band. He must have had girls fawning all over him. 

He laughed. 

Actually, the kind of music I play, it’s all guys. It’s not like pop music. I don’t get to meet girls that much. And people are so guarded in New York. If you talk to a girl in the street, they think you’re a creep.

Why did you contact me? I am so much older than you.

I thought you were cute.

I hope it’s not because you’re into older women. I wouldn’t want to be a fetish.

His face didn’t give anything away. He would be a good poker player, I thought.

He had dated a German woman for three years, he said, going back and forth between Berlin and New York when she finally moved back for good a few months ago. 

I asked him the name of his band. He was playing that night, but way out in Bushwick. (I’m not going to ask you to go that far.) Then he pointed to a metal door covered with graffiti in a still grimy block that gentrification had yet to reach. 

I work here. It’s a recording studio.

I double-kissed him, French style, and on the way home I sipped my cappuccino with the kind of lightness and excitement one has after the promise of a new love — or a promising encounter — such an unexpected surprise, tendrils of desire rising in a limpid sky, not a cumulus in sight, thinking no further than the moment, no further than that immediate mutual attraction, that ease we both felt, then joyfully tossing the cup in the trash can at the corner before walking up to my apartment. 

He sent me a message two days later. I was in a taxi headed to JFK with Juliet and Vivian. Juliet lived in Jacksonville with her husband who was a jet pilot in the Navy, and I was going to spend a few days with them, while Scott was deployed in the Gulf.

I am on my way to Florida, I texted back. I glanced at the baby who was wailing while Juliet precipitously unbuttoned her top and pulled out a breast dripping with milk. The driver, who looked Afghan or Uzbek, stole a quick, possibly disapproving, look in his rearview mirror but said nothing. 

I only mentioned that I was traveling with my daughter. I didn’t mention the baby. Her existence was off-limits, of course. Unmentionable. Unthinkable. 

Let’s get together when you come back, he replied.

 

*

 

It wasn’t my first experience with virtual encounters. One day, a couple of lonely years after my breakup with David, Irishactor sent me a direct message on Facebook. On the thumbnail photo, a sexy guy in his thirties, with pale blue eyes, cropped hair, and a light beard. He looked thoughtful. His page was filled with dreamy photos of a farmhouse by the ocean and shots of a white mare peacefully grazing in the fields, the rocky Irish coast in the background, and a stone fireplace in front of which a Persian cat slept, its paws folded under its bosom, next to an open laptop. 

We started to message every evening — which, for him, five hours ahead on the West Coast of Ireland — often meant 3 or 4 a.m. I imagined him in the rugged farmhouse, within hearing distance of the tide, waves crashing menacingly on stormy nights. I imagined flying to Dublin and showing up soaked from the diluvian rains while he greeted me, bathtub full of steamy water, fragrant Irish stew (he had given me the recipe) on the stove. The affair lasted two months. I was stunned to feel how powerful the letdown was afterwards, as if we’d literally spent all our nights together. I knew that imagination was the most vivid organ of desire, but here was the proof of its power. 

After Irishactor, signing up on the dating app was an easy step, like shifting from smoking weed to shooting hard drugs. I had no expectation, really, just a bit of excitement: choosing the photos, writing the profile, and the trepidation of exposing myself publicly, as though I was about to stand half dressed in a skimpy outfit on a street corner, waiting for the first clients to show up. 

 

*

 

A month later, Hey11211, 37, Brooklyn, jazz guitarist — Jonah — appeared in the flesh between the elm trees of Tompkins Square Park, having magically slipped off the small window of the dating app, like the genie floating out of Aladdin’s lamp. 

Almost instantly, it felt like love. 

I couldn’t say why, exactly. Of course, all the red flags shot up simultaneously, wide age difference, casual online contact, musician, laid back attitude, non-date coffee date creating a perfect storm of arousing danger, making my heart beat. At the same time, this uncanny feeling of complicity, as though we had already slept together, and we could just seamlessly slip into bed without missing a beat or embark on a trip tonight — last-minute tickets to the Maldives, for instance. 

 

I couldn’t remember when I had the dream, whether it was after the first or second time he came to see me. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in Jacksonville at Juliet’s, although when I was there I did wake up several nights in a row in a sweat, wondering whether I should pursue or not because he was so much younger than I was. Still, when had I ever put the brakes on anything in my life, especially where men were concerned? All the men I had been with since David were younger, so what’s an extra few years? 

Thinking back, I must have had the dream after the first time we had sex, or maybe after he’d asked me about anal sex, online. The word anal blinking dangerously on the little window, coiffed by a band of hot pink. In the dream, I was being pursued by two black wolves, up the stairs of a house I shared with my mother. The wolves had cornered me against the wall. I woke up, drenched in sweat. 

 

He texted me again the afternoon I flew back from Jacksonville. I was doing some errands in the neighborhood when my phone buzzed. I thought it was Louise, fumbled to pull the phone out of my bag, and when I saw his name, my breathing accelerated. 

Hey, Eve. So when are you going to invite me to your place? 

Me: Why don’t we have a drink tomorrow and talk about it?

He: I think you’ve already made up your mind.

I thought of that line from a song that had been a hit that summer: I know you want it, I know you want it. My heart jumped. He was right. We had both made up our minds within a few seconds of seeing each other. 

He continued: Considering our age difference, it would play out like an affair rather than a romance. 

I was walking through the park, phone in hand, close to where we had first met, coming back from depositing a check at the bank. (Later he would show me how to deposit checks directly on my phone.) It was a bright day, but the light seemed to darken, as though a cloud was passing in front of the sun. I sat on a bench. So that was his opening gambit. All risk and benefits calculated beforehand. I just want to fuck you. Let’s not waste our time on niceties like dates and candlelight. That’s the deal, take it or leave it. No room for negotiation. I swallowed hard.

Fine, I thought. He only wants sex? I can handle that. 

I played it coy to hide my agitation: What about seduction? 

He: Yes, seduction, of course. Always seduction.

My legs felt weak when I got up and started to walk back home, as if he had already backed me into a corner and taken control. I didn’t know whether I was disappointed or aroused — the two sensations blending together in an explosive mix.

 

After the breakup with David, I couldn’t wait to shed the role of wife, like a snake sloughing its skin. The truth was I was shell-shocked. I couldn’t imagine embarking on a new relationship. With whom? How do you start again to mesh your life so intimately with someone after a 22-year marriage? My body was running way ahead of my emotions. The sudden freedom was intoxicating. All I wanted was lovers. Hot sex. Right away there were a few, in quick succession, fleeting, passing by. 

Then there was Vadik, who was living in Europe and traveled all the time for his job at the UN. The long distance didn’t scare me. On the contrary, it allowed me to be a mom for Louise without confusing her by bringing a man into our home. In fact, when he asked me later to live with him in Geneva, I panicked. I couldn’t see myself moving with Louise, to that apartment complex in the outskirts of Geneva, which resembled the Soviet-era apartment buildings in Moscow where he had grown up. I couldn’t see myself anymore as a wife. 

And now, just as Louise was about to leave home, I felt a new burst of sexual energy. It was unexpected, that in my sixties I should feel more self-confident than I had at fifty, when David had left, or even at thirty, when he and I had met. I knew I looked younger than my age — like my mother did, slender, toned body and a halo of blond hair, lucky genes, I guess — and also that I had in me that fire she had. That fire I hated, that I was jealous of, when I was a girl, when she lit up a room with her energy, her seduction, sucking up all the attention to herself. My own fire had been smoldering all these years in the safety of the couple. 

 

In La Maman et la Putain (The Mother and the Whore), the Jean Eustache movie, Alexandre (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud) has a live-in girlfriend, Marie, but starts an affair with a hot Polish nurse, which threatens his relationship. 

I had grown up with that story, the constant swing between pure wife and naughty lover, the oldest story of romance told by men in the Western world — and perhaps in the whole history of humanity. In my grandparents’ home, where I grew up, my grandmother played the role of wife and mother, while my mother, defiant, pregnant by accident, was the bad girl with the platinum blond hair and the stiletto heels, cigarette dangling between her fingers, whose mysterious life played out offstage. I navigated between them, the straight-A, straight-laced, good girl, secretly yearning to let my wild side loose as soon as I could.

 

*

 

He texted me the following Monday, mid-morning. I was getting out of the shower, thinking about him.

When will you invite me over?

An hour later, he was running up the stairs, guitar case slung over his shoulder. It was noon. The sun was pouring in. I made him espresso in my stovetop Italian moka pot. Dark, lanky, he watched me with a look of expectation and ironic detachment, perhaps not sure what I was expecting of him. I watched him watching me. While the coffee was brewing, he strolled to the baby grand piano and opened the lid. 

Better not, I said. It needs to be tuned. The wood got cracked when it was shipped from France. It was my grandparents’ piano, from the 30s. I played on it for ten years.

Afterwards, I regretted not having heard him play. 

He leaned against the kitchen counter, sipping his coffee, smiling at me with that dazzling smile, all dark skin and dark beard, like a Middle Eastern movie star, waiting for me to make the first move. Maybe he was intimidated. David, too, would lean against walls, against door jambs, against bedposts, and look at me with a half-smile, offering himself. Do with me what you wish. Take me. I am yours. I had never wanted a man so much since David. It was that open invitation that was devastating.

I came to him. He put the cup down.

Shall we rip each other’s clothes off? he asked ironically, or rhetorically.

I pressed my body against his. I could feel how big he was through the canvas of his cargo shorts.

I’m hard.

I know. 

I took his hand and we went to my bedroom. There was a bookcase outside the door, with all my novels, in English and in translation, stacked on the shelves. He picked up the memoir I had written about the end of my marriage with David, twelve years earlier. It had a big, glamorous photo of me on the cover, black and white. 

It’s me, I said, although it was obvious. He studied the photo for a moment and read the blurbs, then put the book back, his face blank. For a second, I wondered if he was comparing my book cover photo — the one my agent had qualified as “glamour-puss” — to me now, but I let that fleeting thought go. In my bedroom, he looked around, taking it all in, the mirrors, the antique dresser, the windows. With an air of calm detachment. 

The light was too bright for a first time.

In full daylight, the first kiss. Without the help of darkness, soft lighting, conversation to soften the edges. Like a shot of vodka, neat. His lips, deliciously pulpy. He was skinny, with a slightly hairy chest, narrow shoulders, a soft stomach, not a gym body — but that body felt like fire between my arms. 

I collapsed on the bed under him, and he helped me out of my jeans. I was wearing black socks. He put his hand on mine as I was about to peel them off.

No. Keep them.

There was no foreplay, just him inside of me, filling me up so much I wasn’t sure I could take him all, afraid he would chafe the tender skin inside. And then, as he moved ever so slightly, as his eyes searched mine, something gave way in me, and I dissolved around him.

You’re so wet, he whispered, and his face went soft, his breath came faster.

We were not ripping each other’s clothes off. There was a slow deliberateness to his moves. A shyness, even, as though he was waiting for a signal from me to let loose. There was something elusive about him, withholding, as if he had been detached from his body — mind floating above us, watching ironically. And the chemistry was so intense I could barely abandon myself, my body was trembling, holding back from fear of being consumed. 

One time, many years ago, I had smoked sinsemilla with David during a trip to the Keys in Florida, and as we drove on one of the bridges headed to Key West, I had hallucinated a higher power, a God watching me from the sky. This felt like a high, too, but a high that was more emotional than purely sexual. I came in long, almost silent sighs, just before him. I leaned against his chest and touched him gently where his penis was resting on top of his thighs.

I am not a good rebound guy, he apologized. Not like when I was twenty-five. 

You aren’t so young anymore, I teased. Thirty-seven is practically middle-aged. 

I had forgotten my own age, by then. I was just the right age. Or no age at all. Age was but a number. 

I ran my fingers through the hair that curled on his chest. 

Hmmm. So soft.

I put lotion on it, he joked. L’Occitane.

L’Occitane? That’s a French brand. How come you know about it?

Men who live in New York can’t help being metrosexual, he said. 

It was funny to be so attracted to a guy who labeled himself metrosexual. Also a jazz guitarist. When I was a teenager, my crushes had been musicians: Liszt, Chopin, Schubert, Beethoven. I played their music on the piano, the same one that was now in my living room, and I listened to their albums on my little orange turntable. But they were all dead. 

 

Afterwards, I watched him cross the landing, guitar case on his back, in shorts and flip-flops. (It was a warm day.). In a flash, I remembered David in his flannel shirts and ripped jeans — the very incarnation of the eternal American sexy boy. And then that other flash: David, just back from the red-eye, walking up these same stairs with the bag he had taken to Los Angeles to meet his lover. All night I had prepared myself to ask him to leave. All night I had repeated the words: It’s over. You need to leave. You need to leave now. NOW. 

Furious to have been caught red-handed, he had mashed his hat back on his head, the fedora he had taken to wearing lately, and bolted for the door, didn’t even put the bag down. He only turned back on the landing for a final goodbye with these cryptic words — you and I are still us. The us of the past, presumably. Because the present us was dissolving at that very moment. 

 

Jonah waved at me from the stairs with a smile that was a bit lopsided, tender, with a dash of smirk, a dollop of irony, erasing the last image of David.

To be continued, he said.

Catherine Texier Catherine Texier was born and raised in France and writes both in French and in English. She lives in New York. She is the author of five novels, "Chloé l’Atlantique" (written in French and published in Paris), "Love Me Tender," "Panic Blood," "Victorine," and "Russian Lessons." Her memoir "Breakup" was an international bestseller. "Victorine" won Elle Magazine’s 2004 Readers’ Best Novel of the Year Prize. "Love Me Tender" was a Village Voice bestseller. Her work has been translated into 10 languages. "After David" is the opening chapter of her new novel of the same name.

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