Sweat—slicked, slipping in rivulets, reducing the friction between covered flesh—facilitated the avid, unexpected removal of clothing.
Like a church chorus or a Mexican wave, a singular act had a causal effect. The reality of this mimicry, aside from fervid relief, was the jostling of humans, flesh gently crashing into each other. Arms in faces, elbows in crotches as humans sought freedom from humidity with indignant but unrelenting urgency. It was simultaneously erotic and invasive, the brief clash of glance on glance, the slender curve of him on her.
For Sansa, whose body was being gently assaulted by a sequence of non-consensual collisions, the irony failed to elude her. After a night of promise crumpled like a fallen soufflé, that she would be so sensually stirred on her post-coital commute brought amusement along with surprise. Such tension preceded the event that Sansa found herself masturbating with a violent ferocity, fingering her fevered excitement.
Sweat—her poised form was not visibly marred by it. She sat poker straight in her seat, out of jostling’s reach, watching with distaste as moist unkempt sacks of flesh with curling clothes and horny faces bumbled about, twisting eagerly out of overcoats like plump middle-aged couples struggling to dance.
He struggled to dance, he had once warned her, and clearly sex was a kind of dance for him for he struggled with that as well. He had been trying to make her smile that night as she stood, ignored and embarrassed, a housewife at a corporate party thrown by her husband. His own wife had been sensitive, if eager, diligently making promises with her eyes and fingertips as she too sought to make Desdemona smile. Last night his wife, as she lowered herself inexpertly onto Desdemona’s waiting body, was enthusiastic enough but not especially proficient. Desdemona had lain prone, more than a little insulted, as the continued fumbles of man and wife inevitably formed a rhythm of their own.
The next morning, her lip was still sore from being earnestly tugged in all directions. Her collarbone, though thoroughly doused of the splayed fingers and viscid tongues by a cashmere scarf and Chanel No. 5, still felt tingles of burgeoning rage. Despite being more sexually confident than either of them, she felt underpinnings of shame.
“Liberation” had been the uplifting promise of her assertive single friends as they marched her through the torrential downpour of her divorce. The banality of packing up one’s belongings, the inexplicable surprise at the reality of homelessness: a necessary sacrifice in order to ensure that what followed would in fact follow. Just as one had to pass through death to reach the afterlife and the glories that the Christian one promised, so one had to be kicked out of one’s comfortable mansion by one’s husband, lose one’s boudoir, finances and the precious dogs, all so that the invaluable fruits of agency would be made manifest.
This, a threesome with her ex-husband’s colleague and his wife, was meant to be a symbol of reckoning. “Sexual exploration by means of simultaneous partners built on the bedrock of vengeance.” She had whispered the notion to excite herself and quench her anxiety. She had not had sex with anybody else besides her husband for fifteen years. Incidentally, her husband, whilst manipulative and patronising in other areas, had been a thoroughly satisfying partner. This had always been his way of luring her back, the sex and the purse strings. As her only lover, he was thus the benchmark by which she measured all future sexual encounters and because he was her husband, a man whose plethora of faults commanded, at this late stage, little besides melancholy, she had expected each following sexual experience would satisfy her as he had, at the very least.
As the cumbersome bag of an young earnest girl swayed dangerously close to her face, she found herself brought back to the staid numbness of her train seat. The dank dull walls proved no visual respite from the slithery discomfort that watching glutinous bodies struggle to slither from their clothing brought. Irate, she almost grabbed the girl by her dirty writhing bag but the thought of joining this provincial Dionysian exercise filled her with an inhibiting horror. Still, the girl turned to look. A frosty glare of resignation met a gleaming flush of excited youth as Desdemona and Sansa found themselves face to face. There was a pause where both expressions wavered, then the train jerked. A moment later, a barrel chested man tumbled into Sansa, knocking her, feculent bag first, into Desdemona’s lap.
Sweat—she gently wiped it from her cheekbones and slipped the handkerchief up her sleeve. Wincing slightly, she returned her clammy palm to her face as if to confirm her instincts. Last night’s bruises were beginning to rise; a slight swelling had dawned on her skin. By now she knew that he would hit her when she refused, yet something within compelled her to continue making her stand. She first left him, on a brittle sunless morning, as he lay half on the couch where he had drunkenly crumpled to sleep. Alicia had only begun limping as she reached the front door. Pinned, as she had been, beneath the velvet menace of his legs, she dared not use her feet. Instead, stinging her knees as she went, she crawled across the desiccant carpet until she knew she was out. Clutching the scant remnants of the purse he had emptied and thrown at her the night before, she left without risking a search for her shoes.
She watched a slight girl’s hefty bag crumple heavily onto an austere woman’s skirt, recalling with a shudder that her husband, drunk and unconscious still wearing her neon skirt, was the last thing she saw before she left. Alicia had not been at the threshold when she looked back; she had simply closed her eyes as she continued to crawl.
Now, her eyes were alert. She watched, hoping only for a distraction as the rhythmic jerks of the train commanded the corpus of bodies to become better acquainted. Through the translucency of sweat-soaked clothing, she followed the continuing interaction between the girl with the inordinately large bag and the seated woman with the pinched expression. By this point, the woman’s expression had relaxed into transitory surprise. She couldn’t hear what was undoubtedly a fumbling apology from the girl, to whom the woman swiftly directed her former hauteur. Alicia, watching with increasing awkwardness, pitied the young girl as the rapid movements of her hands nervously underlined her apology and the woman continually demurred, her face a frozen mask, attempting neutrality.
Unexpectedly, the woman caught sight of Alicia. Her expression thawed and Alicia, stunned at the surprise crumbling of this fourth wall, missed what transpired between the woman and the girl but, suddenly, the girl was staring at her too. For a moment, before the train gave an abrupt thrust, they shared a glance of hesitation. Then, yielding themselves up to the relentless pressure of the train, all three averted their eyes, resigned.
Victoria (@meditationxvii) is a recovering cynic, concupiscent absurdist, closet Romantic. She lives by Tertullian’s phrase, “memento mori,” and seeks equipoise in Nietzschean affirmation. Amor Fati.