"Have you noticed how wives snap at their husbands? When
guests are present?" Sara, my friend of these past thirty years
or so, addressed me as soon as Clara, her maid, had served the
main course and left the room. I was admiring the piece of
steamed salmon on my plate, inhaling its delicate aroma and
itching to reach for my fork, when Sara spoke. Even though she
intoned it as a question, it was really a statement; Sara,
normally, solicits a response as mere echo or corroboration of
her own proclamations.
"Yes," I said, trying to appear casual as I picked up fork
and knife. "I've had occasion to -"
"But," Sara continued. "Is it the guests who make the
wives more irritable than usual, or are the wives just irritable?
"Maybe," I ventured, "it's the old, you know, familiarity
breeds contempt?" I quickly cut a piece of the salmon and put
it in my mouth - pure delight!
"No, dear." Sara finally reached for her fork and knife.
"The wives are not getting it, pure and simple. Some things
are, you know, simple." Sara paused to put a small cube of
grilled asparagus in her mouth. "Their husbands don't excite
them anymore, and that's where the famed headaches come in.
If the wives had the guts and opportunity they would take on a
lover, but, for the most part, they're passive, they don't do it."
Sara dabbed at her mouth, then placed her white, now lipstick-
stained linen napkin back in her lap. "It's sad, very sad."
I nodded, chewing circumspectly. For a time, she
remained quiet, cutting into her salmon and chewing, so I was
able to eat in peace. Every time Sara went on like this, about
husbands and sex, I thought of that old lady on TV who gave
advice to late-night callers, while fondling dildos and vibrators
in her age-spotted hands. Sara and the lady were more or less
the same age - I don't know this for sure, Sara and I don't
discuss our age, politics, or religion - but didn't look anything
alike, Sara was large, whereas the woman on TV was small and
skinny and looked a little withered. I've tried many times, in
my mind at least, to describe Sara, her face, that is, since the
body, aside from being wide and stocky, is ordinary enough,
solid, strong, not fat. She has small dark eyes, like buttons, I
guess, but there's a spark to them, I would even say a lively
spark. They're sharp, too, those eyes, and when she gives you a
certain look you have to hold her gaze as proof that you are
hiding nothing, that you are guile-free. Her nose is kind of
prominent, and her skin, well, her skin is not her best feature,
it's thick and her pores show. But, she dresses well - even for
our little, get-together lunch, she put on a fresh, pinkish-
orangey dress, with large yellow buttons going down the front;
she takes good care of herself, and the results, subtle as they
may be, are palpable. A man, I imagine, may still find her
sexually appealing, since, on the whole, she does present quite
an attractive package. All a potential suitor need do is consider
the milk baths, the perfumed massages, the silky
undergarments, to get his mind inflamed. Had I been a man,
she would have gotten my attention, I think.
Sara was watching me, and I realized I hadn't responded
to her comment about the wives not daring to take on a lover.
"Well, yes, that's true, but I've heard stories about wives
in the suburbs sleeping with the lawn boy, the window washer,
the postman, you name it," I put in my two cents, fulfilling my
duty as the sole guest.
"Don't tell me you believe these stories." Sara resumed
eating. I forgot to mention that not only was she large, she had
large appetites and seemed to revel in them as her given right;
this, too, was a point in her favor. She ate slowly, daintily,
savoring every bite. I had already finished my small portion
(smaller than hers, I believe) and was now sipping my second
"Well," I said, conceding that maybe I didn't believe
those stories, either. "But -" I suddenly remembered. "I have a
friend, right here in the city, who took the supermarket delivery
boy to bed. I know this for a fact as she told me so herself."
Sara gave me a look with her sharp little eyes, and for a
moment I thought that she thought it was I who had taken the
boy to my bed.
"Pathetic, though, isn't it?" Sara said, putting a morsel
of steamed salmon in her mouth.
"Yes, but she needed it, and so she did it. He was
handsome, she said, and had very smooth skin. I don't see
anything wrong with a woman taking a boy to bed."
"Neither do I. I just think it's pathetic, that's all."
I shrugged, fiddling with the heavy, silver fork on the
white tablecloth. "I just read a story about a few men in a
slaughterhouse carving holes in the side of a cow and raping
her, so to speak, in the holes. Not one of them, incidentally,
used the one, or two actually, real holes, which I found
Sara nearly gagged. "Is that what you find strange? The
whole thing is sick, horridly and morally sick. Where did you
hear such a story?"
"That was my point, precisely. Women may do pathetic
things once in a while, but men..."
"I see." Sara heaved her bosom. She had finished eating
and pushed her plate aside. As if on cue, Clara arrived and
cleared the table in her customary efficient and quiet manner. I
normally feel ill at ease when I'm being served, even in
restaurants, but with Clara, I don't know, it doesn't bother me
one bit. I have to say, I love coming here, to Sara's, for lunch or
dinner. The food is always superb, and the fact that, thanks to
Clara, neither of us has to lift a guilty finger, is a comfort, a
kind of luxury I don't enjoy at home.
As we sat and waited for the dessert - my favorite course
- I let my mind wander, trying to imagine what kind of dessert
Clara would bring to the table. Last time I was here, two
months or so ago, Clara served the most delicate flourless
chocolate cake, with a small mound of whipped cream and
crushed nuts on a side plate.
"As gruesome as your story is," Sara spoke up, "men
have a long, you know" -she smiled mysteriously as I held my
breath - "history, doing it with animals, usually sheep.
Fitting." Sara smacked her lips, and a sudden laugh burst out
"You're funny," I said, knowing she liked to be told she
"They like to do things together, like in a team, you
know? Especially when they rape something or someone.
These are the normal ones among them, those who also like to
masturbate together. Then, of course, you have the real
psychos, the killers and the serial killers. They don't only rape
you, they kill you, too, and sometimes dine on preferred body
parts. God knows what goes on in the heads of such, well, what
should I call them, they don't belong in the human race,
obviously, they're animals, worse than animals, uncivilized,
I nodded, thinking I might point out that animals,
actually, were gentle, and vegetarian, animals like cows and
horses, but then, I knew what she meant, so I just said, "I know
what you mean."
"Maybe they didn't go for the real holes because those
would have been harder to reach? You'd need to climb a stool
I glanced toward the kitchen, motioning to Sara, so as to
say, Is Clara listening to our vile conversation? Sara had a
strong, authoritative voice, she wasn't one to whisper.
Sara dismissed my concern with a wave of her hand.
"Nothing she hasn't heard before, don't forget where she
"Of course." Clara came from Honduras, and, according
to the stories she had told Sara over the years, had seen every
type of brutality imaginable, toward man and beast alike. We
were very fortunate, Sara had said more than once, to have had
the privilege to grow up and live in a country like the U.S.
Clara entered, pushing a little cart, and we both straightened up
in our chairs. We smiled, our hands in our laps. Clara poured
our coffee into small china cups, and then placed the most
delectable-looking banana cream pie on our dessert plates.
"My favorite," Sara exclaimed, and I nodded excitedly,
it was my favorite, too. "Isn't she wonderful?" Sara said to me,
briefly placing her ringed hand on Clara's arm. "She always
surprises me. What would I have done without her?"
Clara smiled, then retreated discreetly to the kitchen. I
wondered, not for the first time, if she was allowed to partake
of the same food as her mistress and her guests.
We picked up our spoons and dipped into the pies.
"Scrumptious," I said, filled with gratitude to Sara, to
Clara, to my good fortune. Then, strangely, inexplicably, an
emptiness filled me, a kind of anxiety I guess, and I
remembered my mother, nearly ninety, in a nursing home up in
Yonkers. I go to see her once a month, and during my last visit
the whole place was under extreme scrutiny as it was alleged,
by a visiting family member, a lawyer no less, that a nurse, a
female, had made sexual use of his father, an old man who was
half comatose. He had caught her in the act, the lawyer said. I
was trying to decide if this was a story I wanted to share with
Sara, when Sara suddenly put down her spoon and said, "Any
mention of the cow's tits?"
"The cow's tits?" I repeated, looking at her as if she'd
flipped; it took a couple of seconds before I understood what
she was referring to. "No, no mention of the tits."
"I find that curious." Sara picked up her spoon.
"Yeah, me too."
We ate our banana cream pies, and sipped our coffees.
"You'd think, you know, that men would go after the
tits," Sara said. "If only as foreplay."
"With a cow?"
"Well, yes. If a cow, as sexual object, strikes your
This was quite funny, I thought, but I had just put a
spoonful of banana cream in my mouth and couldn't laugh, so I
pressed one hand to my lips and sent the other aflutter,
indicating that I thought her remark was very funny.
"Maybe they did go after the tits, but the man who told
the story forgot to mention it?" I said once I'd swallowed.
"Strange. People are strange," Sara said dreamily,
grazing the oval of her left nostril with the nail of her pinky.
"We live in a strange world, strange times. Life is not what it
used to be."
Sara paused, and I opened my mouth, prepared to
announce that truer words were never said, but she continued.
"Even a small thing as a sponge, so Clara informs me, is not
what it used to be. It used to be that you paid, I don't know, a
buck for a dozen of good sponges that would last you a
lifetime, but these days you buy two for $1.99, and they
crumble in your hands in no time at all. Ah, well, life
"Sponges, yes, I know," I said. I was beginning to feel
drowsy, which usually happens after dessert. That's one of the
peculiar drawbacks to a rich lunch. I looked forward to getting
into a cab, then riding home through the park, arriving at my
building where Tony, the doorman, would pull the door and
greet me as if he were truly happy to see me, and I'd go up the
elevator and into my hushed, dim apartment, and, after a short
stop in the bathroom, would get into my bed and take a little