Just at first, in the dark hallway, it had given Dottie rather a funny feeling to be tiptoeing up the stairs only two nights after Kay’s wedding to a room right across from Harald’s old room, where the same thing had happened to Kay. An awesome feeling, really, like when the group all got the curse at the same time; it filled you with strange ideas about being a woman, with the moon compelling you like the tides. All sorts of weird, irrelevant ideas floated through Dottie’s head as the key turned in the lock and she found herself, for the first time, alone with a man in his flat. Tonight was midsummer’s night, the summer solstice, when maids had given up their treasure to fructify the crops; she had that in background reading for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her Shakespeare teacher had been awfully keen on anthropology and had had them study in Frazer about the ancient fertility rites and how the peasants in Europe, till quite recent times, had lit big bonfires in honor of the Corn Maiden and then lain together in the fields. College, reflected Dottie as the lamp clicked on, had been almost too rich an experience. She felt stuffed with interesting thoughts that she could only confide in Mother, not in a man, certainly, who would probably suppose you were barmy if you started telling him about the Corn Maiden when you were just about to lose your virginity. Even the group would laugh if Dottie confessed that she was exactly in the mood for a long, comfy discussion with Dick, who was so frightfully attractive and unhappy and had so much to give. But the group would never believe, never in a million years, that Dottie Renfrew would come here, to this attic room that smelled of cooking fat, with a man she hardly knew, who made no secret of his intentions, who had been drinking heavily, and who was evidently not in love with her. When she put it that way, crudely, she could scarcely believe it herself, and the side of her that wanted to talk was still hoping, probably, to gain a little time, the way, she had noticed, she always started a discussion of current events with the dentist to keep him from turning on the drill. Dottie’s dimple twinkled. What an odd comparison! If the group could hear that! And yet when It happened, it was not at all what the group or even Mother would have imagined, not a bit sordid or messy, in spite of Dick’s being tight. He had been most considerate, undressing her slowly, in a matter-of-fact way, as if he were helping her off with her outdoor things. He took her hat and furs and put them in the closet and then unfastened her dress, bending over the snaps with a funny, concentrated scowl, rather like Daddy’s when he was hooking Mother up for a party. Lifting the dress carefully off her, he had glanced at the label and then back at Dottie, as though to match the two, before he carried it, walking very steadily, to the closet and arranged it on a wooden hanger. After that, he folded each garment as he removed it and set it ceremoniously on the armchair, looking each time at the label with a frown between his brows. When her dress was gone, she felt rather faint for a minute, but he left her in her slip, just as they did in the doctor’s office, while he took off her shoes and stockings and undid her brassière and girdle and step-ins, so that finally, when he drew her slip over her head, with great pains so as not to muss her hairdo, she was hardly trembling when she stood there in front of him with nothing on but her pearls. Perhaps it was going to the doctor so much or perhaps it was Dick himself, so detached and impersonal, the way they were supposed to be in art class with the model, that made Dottie brave. He had not touched her once, all the time he was undressing her, except by accident, grazing her skin. Then he pinched each of her full breasts lightly and told her to relax, in just the tone Dr Perry used when he was going to give her a treatment for her sciatica. He handed her a book of drawings to look at, while he went into the closet, and Dottie sat there in the armchair, trying not to listen. With the book on her lap, she studied the room conscientiously, in order to know Dick better. Rooms told a lot about a person. It had a skylight and a big north window and was surprisingly neat for a man; there was a drawing board with some work on it which she longed to peek at, a long plain table, like an ironing table, monk’s-cloth curtains, and a monk’s-cloth spread on the single bed. On the chest of drawers was a framed photograph of a blonde woman, very striking, with a short, severe haircut; that must be ‘Betty,’ the wife. Tacked up on the wall, there was a snapshot that looked like her in a bathing suit and a number of sketches from the nude, and Dottie had the sinking feeling that they might be of Betty too. She had been doing her very best not to let herself think about love or let her emotions get entangled, for she knew that Dick would not like it. It was just a physical attraction, she had been telling herself over and over, while trying to remain cool and collected despite the pounding of her blood, but now, suddenly, when it was too late to retreat, she had lost her sang-froid and was jealous. Worse than that, even, the idea came to her that Dick was, well, peculiar. She opened the book of drawings on her lap and found more nudes, signed by some modern artist she had never heard of! She did not know, a second later, just what she had been expecting, but Dick’s return was, by contrast, less bad.
He came in wearing a pair of white shorts and carrying a towel, with a hotel’s name on it, which he stretched out on the bed, having turned back the covers. He took the book away from her and put it on a table. Then he made Dottie lie down on the towel, telling her to relax again, in a friendly, instructive voice; while he stood for a minute, looking down at her and smiling, with his hands on his hips, she tried to breathe naturally, reminding herself that she had a good figure, and forced a wan, answering smile to her lips. ‘Nothing will happen unless you want it, baby.’ The words, lightly stressed, told her how scared and mistrustful she must be looking. ‘I know, Dick,’ she answered, in a small, weak, grateful voice, making herself use his name aloud for the first time. ‘Would you like a cigarette?’ Dottie shook her head and let it drop back on the pillow. ‘All right, then?’ ‘All right.’ As he moved to turn out the light, she felt a sudden harsh thump of excitement, right in there, like what had happened to her in the Italian restaurant when he said ‘Do you want to come home with me?’ and fastened his deep, shadowed eyes on her. Now he turned and looked at her steadily again, his hand on the bridge lamp; her own eyes, widening with amazement at the funny feeling she noticed, as if she were on fire, in the place her thighs were shielding, stared at him, seeking confirmation; she swallowed. In reply, he switched off the lamp and came toward her in the dark, unbuttoning his shorts. This shift gave her an instant in which to be afraid. She had never seen that part of a man, except in statuary and once, at the age of six, when she had interrupted Daddy in his bath, but she had a suspicion that it would be something ugly and darkly inflamed, surrounded by coarse hair. Hence, she had been very grateful for being spared the sight of it, which she did not think she could have borne, and she held her breath as the strange body climbed on hers, shrinking. ‘Open your legs,’ he commanded, and her legs obediently fell apart. His hand squeezed her down there, rubbing and stroking; her legs fell farther apart, and she started to make weak, moaning noises, almost as if she wanted him to stop. He took his hand away, thank Heaven, and fumbled for a second; then she felt it, the thing she feared, being guided into her as she braced herself and stiffened. ‘Relax,’ he whispered. ‘You’re ready.’ It was surprisingly warm and smooth, but it hurt terribly, pushing and stabbing. ‘Damn it,’ he said. ‘Relax. You’re making it harder.’ Just then, Dottie screamed faintly; it had gone all the way in. He put his hand over her mouth and then settled her legs around him and commenced to move it back and forth inside her. At first, it hurt so that she flinched at each stroke and tried to pull back, but this only seemed to make him more determined. Then, while she was still praying for it to be over, surprise of surprises, she started to like it a little. She got the idea, and her body began to move too in answer, as he pressed that home in her slowly, over and over, and slowly drew it back, as if repeating a question. Her breath came quicker. Each lingering stroke, like a violin bow, made her palpitate for the next. Then, all of a sudden, she seemed to explode in a series of long, uncontrollable contractions that embarrassed her, like the hiccups, the moment they were over, for it was as if she had forgotten Dick as a person; and he, as if he sensed this, pulled quickly away from her and thrust that part of himself onto her stomach, where it pushed and pounded at her flesh. Then he too jerked and moaned, and Dottie felt something damp and sticky running down the hill of her belly. Minutes passed; the room was absolutely still; through the skylight Dottie could see the moon. She lay there, with Dick’s weight still on her, suspecting that something had gone wrong – probably her fault. His face was turned sideward so that she could not look into it, and his chest was squashing her breasts so that she could hardly breathe. Both their bodies were wet, and the cold perspiration from him ran down her face and matted her side hair and made a little rivulet between her breasts; on her lips it had a salty sting that reminded her forlornly of tears. She was ashamed of the happiness she had felt. Evidently, he had not found her satisfactory as a partner or else he would say something. Perhaps the woman was not supposed to move? ‘Damn it,’ he had said to her, when he was hurting her, in such a testy voice, like a man saying ‘Damn it, why can’t we have dinner on time?’ or something unromantic like that. Was it her screaming out that had spoiled everything? Or had she made a faux pas at the end, somehow? She wished that books were a little more explicit; Krafft-Ebing, which Kay and Helena had found at a secondhand bookstore and kept reading aloud from, as if it were very funny, mostly described nasty things like men making love to hens, and even then did not explain how it was done. The thought of the blonde on the bureau filled her with hopeless envy; probably Dick at this moment was making bitter comparisons. She could feel his breathing and smell the stale alcohol that came from him in gusts. In the bed, there was a peculiar pungent odor, and she feared that it might come from her. The horrible idea occurred to her that he had fallen asleep, and she made a few gentle movements to try to extricate herself from under him. Their damp skins, stuck together, made a little sucking noise when she pulled away, but she could not roll his weight off her. Then she knew that he was asleep. Probably he was tired, she said to herself forgivingly; he had those dark rings under his eyes. But down in her heart she knew that he ought not to have gone to sleep like a ton of bricks on top of her; it was the final proof, if she still needed one, that she meant nothing to him. When he woke up tomorrow morning and found her gone, he would probably be glad. Or perhaps he would not even remember who had been there with him; she could not guess how much he had had to drink before he met her for dinner. What had happened, she feared, was that he had simply passed out. She saw that her only hope of saving her own dignity was to dress in the dark and steal away. But she would have to find the bathroom somewhere outside in that unlit hall. Dick began to snore. The sticky liquid had dried and was crusting on her stomach; she felt she could not go back to the Vassar Club without washing it off. Then the worst thought, almost, of all struck her. Supposing he had started to have an emission while he was still inside her? Or if he had used one of the rubber things and it had broken when she had jerked like that and that was why he had pulled so sharply away? She had heard of the rubber things breaking or leaking and how a woman could get pregnant from just a single drop. Full of determination, Dottie heaved and squirmed to free herself, until Dick raised his head in the moonlight and stared at her, without recognition. It was all true then, Dottie thought miserably; he had just gone to sleep and forgotten her. She tried to slide out of the bed.
Dick sat up and rubbed his eyes. ‘Oh, it’s you, Boston,’ he muttered, putting an arm around her waist. ‘Forgive me for dropping off.’ He got up and turned on the bridge lamp. Dottie hurriedly covered herself with the sheet and averted her face; she was still timorous of seeing him in the altogether. ‘I must go home, Dick,’ she said soberly, stealing a sideward look at her clothes folded on the armchair. ‘Must you?’ he inquired in a mocking tone; she could imagine his reddish eyebrows shooting up. ‘You needn’t trouble to dress and see me downstairs,’ she went on quickly and firmly, her eyes fixed on the rug where his bare handsome feet were planted. He stooped and picked up his shorts; she watched his feet clamber into them. Then her eyes slowly rose and met his searching gaze. ‘What’s the matter, Boston?’ he said kindly. ‘Girls don’t run home, you know, on their first night. Did it hurt you much?’ Dottie shook her head. ‘Are you bleeding?’ he demanded. ‘Come on, let me look.’ He lifted her up and moved her down on the bed, the sheet trailing along with her; there was a small bloodstain on the towel. ‘The very bluest,’ he said, ‘but only a minute quantity. Betty bled like a pig.’ Dottie said nothing. ‘Out with it, Boston,’ he said brusquely, jerking a thumb toward the framed photograph. ‘Does she put your nose out of joint?’ Dottie made a brave negative sign. There was one thing she had to say. ‘Dick,’ and she shut her eyes in shame, ‘do you think I should take a douche?’ ‘A douche?’ he repeated in a mystified tone. ‘Why? What for?’ ‘Well, in case… you know… birth control,’ murmured Dottie. Dick stared at her and suddenly burst out laughing; he dropped onto a straight chair and threw his handsome head back. ‘My dear girl,’ he said, ‘we just employed the most ancient form of birth control. Coitus interruptus, the old Romans called it, and a horrid nuisance it is.’ ‘I thought perhaps… ?’ said Dottie. ‘Don’t think. What did you think? I promise you, there isn’t a single sperm swimming up to fertilize your irreproachable ovum. Like the man in the Bible, I spilled my seed on the ground, or, rather, on your very fine belly.’ With a swift motion, he pulled the sheet back before she could stop him. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘lay bare your thoughts.’ Dottie shook her head and blushed. Wild horses could not make her, for the words embarrassed her frightfully; she had nearly choked on ‘douche’ and ‘birth control,’ as it was. ‘We must get you cleaned up,’ he decreed after a moment’s silence. He put on a robe and slippers and disappeared to the bathroom. It seemed a long time before he came back bringing a dampened towel, with which he swabbed off her stomach. Then he dried her, rubbing hard with the dry end of it, sitting down beside her on the bed. He himself appeared much fresher, as though he had washed, and he smelled of mouthwash and tooth powder. He lit two cigarettes and gave her one and settled an ashtray between them. ‘You came, Boston,’ he remarked, with the air of a satisfied instructor. Dottie glanced uncertainly at him; could he mean that thing she had done that she did not like to think about? ‘I beg your pardon,’ she murmured. ‘I mean you had an orgasm.’ Dottie made a vague, still-inquiring noise in her throat; she was pretty sure, now, she understood, but the new word discombobulated her. ‘A climax,’ he added, more sharply. ‘Do they teach that word at Vassar?’ ‘Oh,’ said Dottie, almost disappointed that that was all there was to it. ‘Was that… ?’ She could not finish the question. ‘That was it,’ he nodded. ‘That is, if I am a judge.’ ‘It’s normal then?’ she wanted to know, beginning to feel better. Dick shrugged. ‘Not for girls of your upbringing. Not the first time, usually. Appearances to the contrary, you’re probably highly sexed.’ Dottie turned even redder. According to Kay, a climax was something very unusual, something the husband brought about by carefully studying his wife’s desires and by patient manual stimulation. The terms made Dottie shudder, even in memory; there was a horrid bit, all in Latin, in Krafft-Ebing, about the Empress Maria Theresa and what the court doctor told her consort to do that Dottie had glanced at quickly and then tried to forget. Yet even Mother hinted that satisfaction was something that came after a good deal of time and experience and that love made a big difference. But when Mother talked about satisfaction, it was not clear exactly what she meant, and Kay was not clear either, except when she quoted from books. Polly Andrews once asked her whether it was the same as feeling passionate when you were necking (that was when Polly was engaged), and Kay said yes, pretty much, but Dottie now thought that Kay had been mistaken or else trying to hide the truth from Polly for some reason. Dottie had felt passionate, quite a few times, when she was dancing with someone terribly attractive,but that was quite different from the thing Dick meant. You would almost think that Kay did not know what she was talking about. Or else that Kay and Mother meant something else altogether and this thing with Dick was abnormal. And yet he seemed so pleased, sitting there, blowing out smoke rings; probably, having lived abroad, he knew more than Mother and Kay.
‘What are you frowning over now, Boston?’ Dottie gave a start. ‘To be highly sexed,’ he said gently, ‘is an excellent thing in a woman. You mustn’t be ashamed.’ He took her cigarette and put it out and laid his hands on her shoulders. ‘Buck up,’ he said. ‘What you’re feeling is natural. “Post coitum, omne animal triste est,” as the Roman poet said.’ He slipped his hand down the slope of her shoulder and lightly touched her nipple. ‘Your body surprised you tonight. You must learn to know it.’ Dottie nodded. ‘Soft,’ he murmured, pressing the nipple between his thumb and forefinger. ‘Detumescence, that’s what you’re experiencing.’ Dottie drew a quick breath, fascinated; her doubts slid away. As he continued to squeeze it, her nipple stood up. ‘Erectile tissue,’ he said informatively and touched the other breast. ‘See,’ he said, and they both looked downward. The two nipples were hard and full, with a pink aureole of goose pimples around them; on her breasts were a few dark hairs. Dottie waited tensely. A great relief had surged through her; these were the very terms Kay cited from the marriage handbooks. Down there, she felt a quick new tremor. Her lips parted. Dick smiled. ‘You feel something?’ he said. Dottie nodded. ‘You’d like it again?’ he said, assaying her with his hand. Dottie stiffened; she pressed her thighs together. She was ashamed of the violent sensation his exploring fingers had discovered. But he held his hand there, between her clasped thighs, and grasped her right hand in his other, guiding it downward to the opening of his robe and pressed it over that part of himself, which was soft and limp, rather sweet, really, all curled up on itself like a fat worm. Sitting beside her, he looked into her face as he stroked her down there and tightened her hand on him. ‘There’s a little ridge there,’ he whispered. ‘Run your fingers up and down it.’ Dottie obeyed, wonderingly; she felt his organ stiffen a little, which gave her a strange sense of power. She struggled against the excitement his tickling thumb was producing in her own external part; but as she felt him watching her, her eyes closed and her thighs spread open. He disengaged her hand, and she fell back on the bed, gasping. His thumb continued its play and she let herself yield to what it was doing, her whole attention concentrated on a tense pinpoint of sensation, which suddenly discharged itself in a nervous, fluttering spasm; her body arched and heaved and then lay still. When his hand returned to touch her, she struck it feebly away. ‘Don’t,’ she moaned, rolling over on her stomach. This second climax, which she now recognized from the first one, though it was different, left her jumpy and disconcerted; it was something less thrilling and more like being tickled relentlessly or having to go to the bathroom. ‘Didn’t you like that?’ he demanded, turning her head over on the pillow, so that she could not hide herself from him. She hated to think of his having watched her while he brought that about. Slowly, Dottie opened her eyes and resolved to tell the truth. ‘Not quite so much as the other, Dick.’ Dick laughed. ‘A nice normal girl. Some of your sex prefer that.’ Dottie shivered; she could not deny that it had been exciting but it seemed to her almost perverted. He appeared to read her thoughts. ‘Have you ever done it with a girl, Boston?’ He tilted her face so that he could scan it. Dottie reddened. ‘Heavens, no.’ ‘You come like a house afire. How do you account for that?’ Dottie said nothing. ‘Have you ever done it with yourself?’ Dottie shook her head violently; the suggestion wounded her. ‘In your dreams?’ Dottie reluctantly nodded. ‘A little. Not the whole thing.’ ‘Rich erotic fantasies of a Chestnut Street virgin,’ remarked Dick, stretching. He got up and went to the chest of drawers and took out two pairs of pajamas and tossed one of them to Dottie. ‘Put them on now and go to the bathroom. Tonight’s lesson is concluded.’
The Group McCarthy, Mary, 1963