Sheridan Merrill glanced at the thinning hair on the top of Dr. Harry Nelson's head as he performed her annual pap smear. Nelson, a nerdy-looking small-boned man in his forties, was hidden behind a white sheet while he probed deeper. His female assistant stood close by arranging instruments on a table. Though the assistant was there to protect the doctor from any charges of sexual impropriety, the notion that Nelson would take advantage of a woman in stirrups was completely absurd. Nelson was harmless and bland, a bird of man given to quick and precise movements with one eye on his watch.
Sheridan cleared her throat. "Did you happen to notice that I checked the sexually active box today?"
In his deadpan voice, he said, "I didn't."
Not sure that her comment registered, Sheridan raised her head and repeated what she had said. "I put a check in that box." Once again he said nothing, acting as if he didn't hear her. In a louder voice, she said, "I checked it. You know-the box for sexually active."
With a barely visible nod of his head, he muttered, "Hmmmm."
Sheridan lifted up slightly from a reclining position on the examining table. His intake form presented the question, "Are you sexually active?" Considering his reaction, she might just as well have answered it by saying, "No, I just lie there." Now she was wondering why pose the question at all.
For a fleeting moment, Sheridan caught a sly smile flash across the assistant's face as if she was enjoying Sheridan's frustration. After she handed the doctor his latex gloves, she tugged at her white uniform, a polyester two-piece outfit that barely made it around her chubby body, the buttons about to pop.
As he explored, probing and expanding, Sheridan marveled that her vagina didn't seem as impenetrable as it did during her recent but failed singular attempt at sex.
Finally Dr. Nelson glanced up from behind the paper sheet. "You were saying...."
Irked with Nelson and discouraged with her plight, she pressed the matter. "I assume there's a reason you have that question on your form: the one about being sexually active."
"Yes, of course," Nelson answered, his tone now changed from bored to interested. "Hubby finally take some Viagra?"
"No. That's not it," she said, surprised that he even remembered that her marital sex life had come to a grinding halt years before when Henry could no longer perform.
Nelson put the instrument on the table beside him. "Did you get a divorce?"
Sheridan shook her head. "No."
Nelson fixed his gaze on her and with hesitancy said, "Your husband...did he die?"
"In a manner of speaking, he died ten years ago, but his funeral was six months ago." In that moment she recalled what her friend Patti had suggested she put on Henry's headstone: Here lies my husband cold as ever.
Sex with Henry had once been great, but it became nonexistent when he was diagnosed with advanced heart problems a decade ago. Because Sheridan loved Henry she allowed for the huge age difference, accepted the situation and remained faithful to him. Depressed with his inability, Henry avoided any intimate contact with Sheridan. There was a glimmer of hope when Viagra came on the market, but Henry's doctor said the drug was too risky with his condition. In time Sheridan resigned herself to the situation, that you can't stuff a floppy noodle in a tight space.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Nelson said as he glanced anxiously toward his assistant. It was obvious he wasn't used to having conversations with his patients.
"Thanks," Sheridan said, ignoring the doctor's discomfort. "He was much older than me."
"Yes, I remember," Nelson said. He paused a moment, then resumed his examination by palpating her pelvic area. He finished and handed a lab sample to his assistant. "Test for STDs," he said, his only acknowledgment that he'd heard her when she mentioned that she'd been sexually active. Sheridan had to restrain the impulse to bop Nelson on his balding head. He must have assumed there had been an exchange of fluids, though he didn't ask if there had been. After the assistant quietly exited the room, Dr. Nelson said, "The results should be back in about a week."
Still in stirrups, and hesitant at first, Sheridan decided to go for it--get her money's worth for this visit. "Doctor, could you tell me, do I look normal," she paused, "down there?"
"Yes, of course you do. Perfectly normal for a woman," he stopped and grabbed his chart, "of forty-two. Why?"
Sheridan felt herself blushing. "I recently met someone and tried to have intercourse for the first time in ten years. It didn't happen. I was so damn tight, I felt like I had been re-virginated. Do you think it could be a tumor blocking the way?"
"Sheridan, I just examined you, and there's no tumor." He smiled. "It sounds like a case of use it or lose it."
"Are you saying I lost it?"
"No, and then with a straight face, he said, "Let's just say you need a tune-up."
Sheridan laughed. "A tune-up?"
Nelson removed his latex gloves and stood up. "A lube job."
When he looked at her, did it remind him of a car? Feeling like an echo chamber, nervously, she laughed again. "A lube job. And what does that entail? No pun intended."
Whether or not he got the pun, he gave no sign of it even with a reminder that there was one. Deadpan as usual. Instead he reached for his pad and quickly scribbled on it.
"Here's a prescription for some cream. Use it every night for two weeks and then three times a week. It's restorative. But you'll have to do more. You'll have to stretch it open--dilate it."
She shifted her body, and swung her legs to the side of the examining table. With eyebrows raised, Sheridan was about to repeat the words, "dilate it," but she caught herself. "I'm afraid to ask."
For a moment Nelson was silent, a thoughtful expression on his shiny face. Sheepishly, he said, "You can use a dildo. You have one, don't you?"
"No, I don't."
He raised his eyebrows as if to say she the only woman in Atlanta who didn't own a dildo?
"I guess I can find one of those things somewhere."
"I'm sure you'll figure it out," he said, as he was about to open the door to leave the examining room. "Best to avoid anything too big for the present. You can check back with the office in a week and get your lab results.
After he was gone, Sheridan took some tissues and wiped off the lubricant, dressed quickly in her jeans, slipped her feet in her black leather boots and hurried down the corridor toward the check-out desk. A passing doctor smiled and nodded.
She paid her bill and was about to leave the office when she realized she had left her jacket in the examining room. Hurriedly, she trotted down the hallway. The jacket was where she left it, hanging on the back of the door. She was about to leave the room when she heard a man's voice.
"Saw your last patient, passed her in the hall. Very pretty."
Sheridan peeked through the cracked door and saw Nelson and the good-looking doctor who had passed her in the hallway.
"You won't believe it," Nelson said, lowering his voice. "She's a forty-two-year-old widow who hadn't had sex in ten years or so. She's almost closed up, tight as a drum. She tried having sex with some guy and couldn't do it. And then, get this. She asks me how she looks down there. He laughed. "I almost said it looks good to me!"
The other doctor bent over laughing, his arms folded over his stomach.
"Hey, I'm single," he said. Why the hell don't I find women like that? Be nice to find a tight one."
Nelson cleared his throat. "The way she was talking, I doubt it's gonna stay that way for long."
"She very pretty. Looks a lot younger than her age."
"A bit old for you, I'd say."
"I like women in their forties. They have something to say."
"Forget it. Don't be crazy. She's a patient."
"She's not my patient." He paused. "Don't worry. Just kidding."
"Let's grab a bite to eat," said Nelson. "I've got one that just went into labor. Her first. I might be here all night."
Once they were gone, Sheridan stole her way out of the room, and dashed for the exit door.
Settled in her car, uplifted by the young doctor's remarks, she smiled before heading out of the parking garage in the direction of Cheshire Bridge Road, a street widely known for strip joints and shops that specialized in sex toys and videos.
As Sheridan pulled on to Peachtree Road, she flipped on the radio to a Beatles song - "All my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday...." Sheridan swayed to the beat.
Surely her troubles weren't here to stay. After so many years of playing caretaker, serving Henry's dinner and eating in silence or with news blaring, followed by an evening of sitting beside him while he dozed in the chair in front of the TV, she had a confusion of feelings, love, deep concern, pity and a bit of resentment even though she knew it wasn't Henry's fault.
Now, that she'd sold their house and moved to her new place, it had the effect of wiping away those prior years. Could that really happen? Could someone you love as much as she had loved Henry, disappear from your life, even your memory? She tried to think of her grandparents but nothing much came to mind, two elderly people who sat a lot and had little to say. Sadly, she thought how quickly the past fades away.
Her recent past though was vivid in her mind--that quick afternoon encounter with the young man who picked her up at the library or did she pick him up? It was mutual. He was tall with the pared slenderness of youth. Lightly bronzed (where had he been?) with hair the color of sable, he looked clever, interesting, sure of himself. His good-natured laugh was rich and deep. He did it like a young man who knew how to laugh, how to enjoy life, a man who had a long association with carefree living and laughing, a man without a care in the world.
His gaze slid over his newspaper to look at her. When he put the paper down, she was instantly taken with him. Repeatedly, he'd steal glances, and she did the same. He raised an eyebrow, as if to say, "You may scrutinize me as much as you like. In turn, I'll look at you. With the precision of a cat, he watched her. He was a flirt who was sending an unmistakable signal that he found her attractive.
Oh my God, she thought. He likes me. He really likes me. But he was polite, too: he waited for her to initiate conversation. Or maybe he was making up his mind about what he saw, but ultimately they exchanged smiles. Who spoke first? She didn't recall, but the next thing she knew they were having coffee at a nearby Starbucks. After an hour of conversation, shockingly, recklessly, she agreed to go to his place to recapture whatever was left of her femininity, her human needs that had gone unmet for too long. Before that day, she had often looked for a cure for loneliness, and finally had to admit there could be no cure except by finding another man to fill the void. And yet, the very thought of someone else still seemed insulting to Henry's memory. But her pent up needs were strong and demanding.
She couldn't remember the last time she'd had desire for a particular man. It was merely biological desire in general. All at once, his overture was welcome and unnerving. Unsettled about her future, remorseful about her past, she tried to stay in neutral but a yearning moved upstage center, right in her groin like it had been percolating inside her waiting to be released at the first opportunity. She could feel the flush beginning in her cheeks. She was getting there, moment by moment. It started in her thighs and moved along her nerves, rounding through her. She had missed the way it came over her with its own perfect glove of passion, settling snugly and beautifully in her body. She only wanted to think and feel the simple act of coupling with the gorgeous young man she barely knew, tall and lean and smooth to the touch, a GQ model of a man. Being near this happy stranger was like a powerful transfusion of her womanhood. She was his for the taking, except that it didn't quite take. Her body couldn't fully respond: too tight and too uptight, and without lubricant, too uncomfortable. Would she ever see him again? She wondered.
Moving traffic jolted her out of her reverie. To block the blinding sun, Sheridan lowered the visor as the song changed. "One way ticket, yeah. It took me so long to find out ... and I found out...." She had a fleeting picture of her daughter Jennifer and how they would dance to Beatles music in the living room. But that too was gone. That too was "yesterday." Somehow, the fact of Henry's absence from her life made her almost as afraid of living as of dying. She wanted to live and to love again. She wanted to trust the rhythm of every day
Buying a dildo was an odd first step into the world of singles and dating, but it was her first step. She weaved her way through the traffic and headed north on Peachtree Road, turning on Lindbergh. It had been years since she'd been on Cheshire Bridge Road, a seedy street lined with streetwalkers, strip joints, adult bookstores, and ethnic restaurants. If it weren't for the good Greek restaurant, she would have had no reason to ever be there.
Her sunglasses had slipped down her nose, and she pushed them up, feeling extravagant in new Ray Bans. Another traffic light, obviously none of them calibrated. As she sat waiting for the light to change she drummed her left hand on the steering wheel, her ring finger now naked without her wedding band. Her fingers were long and slender-creamy white, the tan of summer gone. GQ, the name she'd dubbed him, had said her hands were beautiful. A warm sensation ran through her. Despite his phone call to invite her to have dinner with him, she declined, not wanting to go through that humiliation again, hoping to fix her problem first and find someone more suitable. GQ was too young, too casual. And it still bothered her that he would never tell her what he did, where he worked or why he had moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles. Over coffee, all they talked about was her life and Atlanta.
The whole encounter was high risk. She felt foolishly out of character, but he was a charmer, patient and kind, and she was so damn horny. He told her to relax and next time would be better. A fear of next time lingered. Lost in her thoughts, she didn't hear the car beep until whoever was behind her leaned on his horn. She proceeded through the intersection and on to her mission.
The view down Cheshire Bridge Road was of uninterrupted ugly little buildings with neon signs. The first shop she came to that was likely to have what she wanted had a big sign on the front window advertising all their paraphernalia summed up in two words, Sex Toys. There were two other shops down the street. Not a one had a rear parking lot. She stopped at the one that looked the cleanest. Getting out of her car, she was visible to anyone driving past. Sheridan drew back, wondering if she had the presence to deal with the whole subject and the chance of being seen going into the shop. She looked around to be sure there was no one watching her
It was unusually windy for mid-October. A spiral of leaves flew by. With her dark glasses and a scarf pulled up to cover half her face, like a sky dive into the abyss, she made a wild dash toward the store. She hovered at the door, chin lifted, her feet balanced on her toes as she peered through the glass door. A bell rang as she opened the door. Clutter was everywhere, a mish mash of sex magazines and videos, chains and masks, but not what she was looking for.
"What the hell am I doing?" she muttered under her breath.
A middle-aged man who needed a shave and a good weight loss diet said, "Can I help you?"
She froze at the sight of a couple nearby appraising some of the merchandise. She had no idea how to respond to the man's question without embarrassing herself. Should she turn around and flee? A little inner voice said Grow Up. But the voice wasn't as powerful as her sense of impropriety. This was a moment when she wondered if what she was doing made any sense. Was it worth the humiliation?
"Uh...I think I made a mistake."
He gave her a once over, leering over his glasses. He obviously recognized her reticence. "Hold on a minute," he said and then in a louder voice called out, "Molly, Molly. You have a customer."
A plain looking woman appeared wearing glasses and a friendly smile.
"How can I help you, honey?"
Aware that the couple was within earshot, Sheridan whispered, "I'm looking for a dildo."
At the top of her high-pitched voice, Molly said, "Oh, come right this way honey! We have a whole room full of dildos."
With flushed cheeks, Sheridan followed Molly into a back room. The walls were lined with dildos of every size, color and variety, everything different except for the shape. In that respect, they were all pretty much the same.
Sheridan blinked. Pink ones, brown ones, even a giant jelly-bean green one, some boxed with cellophane windows, some just hanging there naked, with prices from single digit to three digit numbers. She was reminded of the warm throbbing real one that belonged to GQ and bemoaned the fact that his size was pretty close to the ones she was seeing right before her eyes. If he didn't fit, how would they?
Sheridan laughed to break the tension, and said, "Oh my God! What do we need men for?"
Molly grinned. "To mow the grass."
Molly led her to the wall. "Here's one that's very popular," she said pointing to an enormous pink-veined creation. With a smile and crinkly lines appearing around her mouth, Molly said, "You like?"
Sheridan's eyes grew large. "That's way too big."
Molly moved on to another one. "How about this one? It has a vibrator too."
"Oh no. Too big. No vibrator."
With a mixture of surprise and puzzlement, Molly put her hands on her hips and said, "Well, Little Miss Goldilocks, what exact size are you looking for?"
Sheridan leaned and whispered, "I haven't had any sex in a long, long time. My doctor says I need to dilate it."
"My God! You poor thing. Where the helluva you been? In a convent?"
Doubting that nuns used dildos, Sheridan shook her head. "No, nothing like that."
"Here's one. It's even on sale. It's pretty small though. You sure that's what you want?"
It was $6.99, a miniature dildo made of some jelled colorless substance. Sheridan pulled the package off the wall and looked for the country of origin, thinking it could just be one of those toxic substances, China had exported to penetrate our nation. It had an address, some company in California, but no country of origin was mentioned.
"Do you have one this size but made of that pink looking rubbery stuff?"
"Nope, nothing that small."
The more she studied it, the more she thought it had to have come from somewhere in Asia, China or Japan where the size would be more in keeping with their population. The word toxic lived in her head.
Biting her lip nervously, Sheridan said, "Maybe you have something organic?"
"Organic? Afraid not," said Molly with a puzzled look on her face.
"Too small, too big. I think I'll take that slightly larger one, that pink one but no vibrator."
While she waited at the front counter to pay for it, she saw the woman customer playfully dangling a set of handcuffs while the man she was with snapped a whip in the air. Sheridan pulled cash from her wallet, threw it on the counter and fled through the front door to her car, not waiting for her receipt or change.
Late in the day, Sheridan took a break from the article she was writing for the next issue of the magazine. She rolled her chair over to the big picture window and peered down at Peachtree Street where people were moving about their daily lives.
Suddenly she understood why she was reluctant to go to the Single Again group with Patti. She would have to deal with her problem in a more constructive way rather than bemoaning her plight and doing nothing about it. Inertia had set in except for those moments when she remembered GQ and how much she wished it had worked out better for her because if it had, maybe she'd still be seeing him. When he called to see her again, it was not because he was looking for a friend. Maybe after a few weeks of the Nelson regimen, she'd be ready if not for him, then for somebody else.
Twice in the past, Sheridan changed her mind about going to the Single Again group at the church. Her best friend Patti kept telling her how good it would be for her to realize she wasn't alone, that it was not uncommon to feel at loose ends after the loss of a husband. Sheridan's job had become her comfort zone until the evenings when she felt so completely alone. The phone rang. It was her best friend, Patti reminding her of the Single Again meeting that night.
"No more backing out," said Patti, who had been pressing her to go for the last few months. In her cheerful voice she said, "I promise not to bring it up again if you go once and don't like it."
"I don't see myself in a support group. I'm just not into psychobabble. It's not me."
"It's not psychobabble. It's women helping women regain the confidence they need to start dating again," said Patti for the umpteenth time. "If that doesn't apply to you, I don't know what does."
"Come on. You promised you'd go."
Sheridan let out a long audible sigh. "Okay."
"I'll pick you up."
"You don't have to pick me up," said Sheridan, leaving room to change her mind. "It's out of your way. I'll see you there."
Sheridan had time to change clothes. One after another, she pulled out different outfits. The Max Mara pants suit was too dressy. She threw it on the bed. The Tori Burch was too festive. She tossed it. To herself, she muttered. "This is ridiculous. Who the hell cares what I wear." She hadn't been wearing any of her good clothes for a long time, even to work. The office atmosphere had become casual, slacks and tops, low heeled shoes, nothing fancy. She finally settled on a pair of jeans and a cherry red turtleneck sweater.
There was only so much she could do with herself, bones too big and a hint of laugh lines that outlived her laugh. She meant to try Botox or one of those cosmetic enhancements but as with so many other things, she let it slide.
From force of habit, she pulled her hair back and clasped it with a barrette at the nape of her neck. With a twirl in front of the mirror, a shrug of her shoulders and a sigh, she looked up as she often did when she mumbled to Henry. "I'm a lost cause without you. Henry, I miss you."
Every time GQ crossed her mind she'd close her eyes and savor the picture of his perfect body, the silken touch of his skin, the masculine scent of him and his spontaneity, but still the mystery of him stayed with her. He had been evasive about his line of work?
"Crooks, lottery winners, politicians, and gigolos are not exactly forthcoming," Patti had said. Who knows? Maybe he works in the porn industry. They say it's a huge business here in Atlanta."
Typical Patti, to come up with some outlandish notion but her comment lingered. Could it be? Was that the reason he evaded her question? He was the body beautiful. Great abs. Great ass. And great where she didn't need him to be so great. Despite the foolish risk she had taken, her lab tests were normal.
As a real estate agent, Patti had a wealth of information about Atlanta's demographics. With any large influx of people moving to the city, Patti would zero in on why they were coming. Relocation folks were her best buyers. And Patti would always second guess why someone was transferred to Atlanta, what their background was, the true nature of their assets and what made them tick. She had her own ideas for why someone might want to hide their background based on her long years in the residential real estate business.
* * *
Sheridan pulled into the church parking lot the same time Patti did.
"On a scale of one to ten, how much do you want to get back in the game?" Patti asked her. "Ten is you're chomping at the bit. One is that you have no interest in ever dating again."
Laughingly, Sheridan said, "I don't know what I want. Someone to chauffeur me to a nice restaurant, a movie or a play, but with a case of ED."
"You don't mean that. Come on, answer the question."
"I'll say five."
"Your usual split-the-difference," said Patti. "That was the way I felt too when I first came here. Truth? After what Clarke did to me, I was a one on that scale. It took me a good while to realize there's life after a bad divorce. And you're doing better than I did. The death of a husband is awful, but it doesn't scar like a rotten, cheating husband that you've been supporting for years."
Sheridan hugged Patti. "I know. That was awful for you."
Sheridan's gaze traveled over the basement room of the All Saints Church. It was dimly lit and beige. From the walls to the vinyl seats on the metal chairs to the carpet. Beige, beige, beige. Boring. There were four folding tables arranged in a square with seven women already assembled. Sheridan panned the faces: shiny, pretty, smiling faces of women, ages mostly in their thirties, one or two a little older. All at once she felt more comfortable about her decision to attend the group.
Along the back wall on a table were coffee urns, a stack of Styrofoam cups, a plate of donuts, and a cooler with bottles of water. The women had drinks in front of them, but no one had taken a donut. Much as Sheridan wanted to sink her teeth into one of those Krispy Kremes, she restrained herself, and poured a cup of coffee instead. If she was going to get back into the dating scene, she wanted to drop ten pounds.
Though the whole atmosphere smacked of a group therapy session, the sort of meeting Sheridan would normally steer clear of, she was finally facing up to her shortcoming. After so many years of being married, she really didn't know much about meeting men and dating, and certainly knew nothing about developing a relationship with someone if that someone ever arrived.
Even one of her crazy cousins, who probably hadn't had a serious boyfriend in years, was pushing her to get back in circulation. Her advice: "If you think the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, you're aiming too high."
Patti had told her many of the women were weighted down with fears or grievances, and battling their own insecurities, but their group leader was deft at handling them and helping them over the obstacles. In deference to Patti, Sheridan made a conscious decision to keep an open mind.
Patti led Sheridan to a couple of empty chairs and introduced her to the one woman in the room who stood out. She was beautiful. Her ice blue cashmere sweater set off her blonde hair and blue eyes. "You remember my friend Meg. You may have met once."
"No," said Sheridan. "I don't think so."
"She's the one I'm always talking about," said Patti with a giggle. "But all good things."
"And I'm always hearing about you too," Meg said to Sheridan. "At last we meet."
"And this is our group leader, Phyllis Granger," said Patti gesturing to an older woman with a friendly face. Her smile was a salve.
"Welcome," Phyllis said. "We're glad you're here. I have to warn you. Sometimes the girls get a little raunchy, but I think you can handle it."
Quickly, Sheridan summed her up as a classic social worker type with a frown line between her eyes assumedly from years of looking deeply concerned about what she was hearing.
Phyllis glanced at her watch. "Time to get started."
Several women offered a welcoming gesture by a wave or a nod.
"Since we have a new person with us tonight," said Phyllis, "let's introduce ourselves before we speak and tell a little something about yourself. First names will do. Let's start here." She pointed to a plump woman with short dark hair, a round face and dimples in both cheeks.
"I'm Dee." Twinkling eyes peered at Sheridan. "We're all in a similar situation but still, it's not always easy for us to face ourselves after a loss. We all have our stories. As for me, I had a rotten marriage. And yet, I still wonder if I did the right thing getting divorced."
"Like the rest of us," said a woman across the way.
Phyllis jumped in. "Sheridan, the common denominator here is the sense of loss. Some people deal with it by facing it head-on. Some can burst through it and emerge on the other side completely over it, an easy transformation, but that is not the usual. Most of us cope more quietly, trying not to think about the past. A period of sadness and loneliness is normal whether or not it was a welcome divorce, or one that wasn't welcome. Or death of a spouse, it's all about loss. It's healthy to search for a way to fill the void."
Dee continued. "I hope I can find someone to fill my void."
"Is that what they call it now?" asked a woman seated next to Dee. The group laughed.
"Very funny," said Dee in a mocking tone.
"Go on, Dee," said Phyllis.
"Sometimes I even talk to myself just to hear the voice of another person. I don't even care if I never remarry, but I would like to find some man to date, go to a movie or a restaurant. I guess I feel disconnected."
"Dee, you wanna connection. Call AT&T," said the same woman with sex written all over her from her tiger print silk blouse to her high-heeled boots.
The women laughed; everyone but Dee.
"Marcia," said Phyllis. "You forgot to introduce yourself."
"Sorry about that," Marcia said with a quick shrug.
Dee crunched up her face with annoyance and wrapped her arms around herself as if to provide a protective shield. "You think it's all funny. Marcia, you're always making jokes about it. I don't think it's a joke. Why are we here? Most of us feel as I do. We didn't come here to be laughed at."
Marcia jumped right back at her. "Oh lighten up. I'm not laughing at you. I'm just trying to be less sappy. What's the matter? You got PMS?"
Dee shook her head. "PMS? Hell, that's on one of my better days." Her words belied her obvious sadness.
In another moment, Dee smiled and the tension lifted. For all the barbs traded back and forth, it soon became obvious that the women were friends and used humor to prop each other up.
Phyllis turned to Sheridan. "Since you're the new gal on the block, why don't you tell us a little about yourself?"
Sheridan drew back. "I'd like to just listen for a while. I hope that's okay."
"You don't have to feel embarrassed to say anything," said Marcia. "My advice, if you manage to find a man, overlook his limitations and hang on to him. Loneliness is a killer. We've got money problems, stretch marks, trouble with our kids, and no time to even meet an eligible guy. Does that cover it?"
One woman who shook her head said, "I'm Julie. I think we need to define limitations. If you were married to my ex, you'd welcome loneliness. Every day for the year before we finally got divorced, we fought like mad. Whatever I said, he'd have his usual response: all my guy friends wonder how I've put up with the likes of you for so many years. And I said some pretty mean things too. For me, loneliness is a small price to pay for my sanity."
"Amen," said Meg.
"So come on, Sheridan," Dee said. "Tell us about you."
With some reluctance, Sheridan made a few brief comments about her loss and fear of life without her husband. "I'm not sure I'm ready to cope with the dating scene. It seems like another world."
"It is a crazy world out there," said Marcia. "You wouldn't believe the extent of it. Now we're supposed to be hairless?"
"Hairless?" said Sheridan.
"Oh yeah," said Marcia. "The trend. Pubic haircuts. Now that these guys are watching porn all the time, they want to re-create the scenarios with their girlfriends. You have to look like prepubescent girls."
"My advice," said Allison, "Unless you enjoy pain, I'd skip the waxing. If you haven't tried it, don't. It's a nightmare."
"And look at what I'm dealing with," said Dee. "I have to lose thirty pounds at least before any guy will even notice me. It seems the bigger I am, the more invisible I am."
"You're doing great on your diet," said Phyllis, "just keep it up."
"I'm lucky to take off a half pound a week. You can't imagine what it's like to be fat. Wanna know the latest? I met this guy on a dating site. We were supposed to meet for a cup of coffee. He knew what I looked like from the headshot on my profile. And yes, I admit it, I did crop the rest of me from the picture. So I went to this coffee shop on West Paces Ferry Road. He came in, didn't realize I saw him. He took a quick glance in my direction and turned right around and left. Guys don't like fat girls."
The group was quiet. "Hey, not to worry. Oh yeah. I'm Allison. And by the way, Dee, all is not lost. Some guys love a big ass. My husband divorced me when I lost weight. I think he's still unattached. Maybe I should introduce you two."
Dee smiled, looked at Sheridan and said, "See what I mean." She turned to the body perfect and said, "No thanks."
Phyllis said, "Allison is our exercise expert."
Allison beamed. "And I'm open for business. Just started working at an aerobics studio, if anybody's interested."
Meg spoke. "To men, women are either nubile prey or they're invisible."
"The unvarnished truth," said Julie. "I have to wait fifteen minutes to get the guy's attention at the drugstore because he's busy conversing with the young blonde with big tits. You get the feeling the guy doesn't even see you standing there."
"This all started with Marilyn Monroe," said Phyllis. "She did women no favor. You know why? Because she was the icon for women as sex objects. "
"But she picked some great men-JFK, Arthur Miller, Jim DiMaggio," said Meg. "Doesn't sound like such a bad deal to me."
"I doubt they had much respect for her. She wanted love and didn't believe she deserved it, so she took the next best thing-lust. That's why women are subjecting themselves to this horrible pubic waxing." Dee turned to Meg. "Right? You know I'm right."
Meg didn't respond.
"Meg, you've been quiet tonight," said Phyllis.
"Me," Meg said. "Okay. You want to know about me? I'm so screwed up. I get all excited about nothing, and then I marry him. And I'm not going to do that again. Not ever. Three divorces, and I've just turned forty. My mother says I'm flypaper for losers. She's right. Add to that; I am damn tired of sick old perverts looking to get laid by some hot young babe. I've decided to go younger. These men never mature anyway. What the hell! Marriage causes tension. Sex alleviates it. I'm going young. I want some fun in my life." She stood up and clapped her hands. "And no more of the Viagra crowd!"
Marcia laughed out loud. "Leave it to Meg to get it right."
"Are you saying you just want sex?" Phyllis searched the faces around the tables looking for other reactions. "And what will you talk about with much younger men?"
Meg gave a kind of half laugh. "You don't have to talk with a younger guy. Talk is foreplay. They don't need foreplay."
Sheridan could not control a giggle. Patti had never quite hit the mark in describing Meg. It was hard to imagine Patti and Meg as close friends, but they were. Their children had gone to the same high school.
Phyllis shook her head. "Come on, Meg. You don't really mean that. Sex without love is an empty experience."
"I don't know about that. Have you tried it?"
Silence. A small, pretty brunette, wearing a luscious lavender jogging suit leaned forward, her face lit with urgency as she spoke for the first time.
She turned toward Sheridan. "Hi Sheridan. I'm Sarah. I hope we're not going to run you off with the way some of us go on. Personally, I couldn't do that-just have a relationship based on sex. That sounds like a guy. Meg would screw a cabinet if it moved."
Meg's nostrils flared and a wash of red rose from her neck to her raised eyebrow. "I put up with a lot of crap at work and with a rebellious daughter. A good fuck is better than Xanax. You might try it, Sarah."
Sarah winced. "The way you talk! Maybe if you went to church on Sunday morning instead of just to group, you'd find the peace you're looking for."
Meg rolled her eyes. "That's not the kind of peace I'm looking for."
"I certainly improved my life by making a commitment to God," said Sarah, who either ignored or missed Meg's point.
"Oh yeah," said Patti. "I know. It's easy to suck up to God when your marriage fails and your life is falling apart."
"Why not?" asked Sarah. "Anytime is good. If you want salvation...if you want to get to Heaven...."
Meg laughed. "Get with it, Sarah. Nobody gets denied anything. It's entitlement time, girl, an Equal Opportunity Entry."
Phyllis gestured to tone down the rhetoric.
Patti glanced around the room and said, "I can go for months without even meeting anyone eligible. Strike that. Make it years. We keep talking about getting back into the swing of things, but how are we supposed to do it when we never meet anyone. So where are we supposed to find all these guys? That's the question I've been asking and still not getting much of an answer."
"We've already talked about Internet dating sites," said Phyllis.
"They're dangerous," said Sarah. "You never know who you're meeting."
"No more so than meeting a guy anywhere else," said Meg. "Your nice next door neighbor could be a registered sex offender for all you know. There are a lot of them around."
"Have you actually ever met someone from a dating site?" Sarah asked.
"No," said Meg. "Not really. Trouble is-they're usually married and pretending not to be. But if you don't want anything more than a roll in the hay, what the heck! Then they'd be perfect. You're the one in charge. And believe me, with my history, there's nothing I'd like better than to be the one in charge. That would certainly be new for me."
"Sometimes you sound so bitter," Sarah said. "Like you want revenge? Where will that get you?"
Meg ignored her. Phyllis waved a finger at Sarah.
"Who wouldn't be bitter?" said Patti. "It's easy to get that way with some of the stuff we have to put up with."
Complaints about husbands who never talked didn't surprise Sheridan. For so many years, she had attributed it to Henry's age, only to find out that it was a man thing, an ageless problem so many other women faced. Despite the criticism of husbands or ex-lovers, it was evident that the women were still keen to find a man.
Marcia said she only got attention from her husband when some other man showed an interest in her, or when she threatened divorce, and, of course, whenever he wanted sex.
Whether it was a joke or for real, Allison threw a real fastball that no one wanted to catch. "Maybe we should get it on with a woman. At least they'll know what it takes to make a relationship work."
For what seemed a very long minute, the women stared at her in shock. No one spoke. Allison laughed. "I'm kidding," she said, but in an odd way, a doubt seemed to hang there like the faded white of writing in the sky. "Or you can just settle for masturbation. No complications. And it's one of the few things of pleasure that isn't taxed yet."
Despite the atmosphere so suddenly electrified, the women laughed. Phyllis glanced at her watch and said, "Time to call it a night. Week after next, same place, same time. Okay girls, let's all have a good two weeks."
Marcia raised her hand. "I have a date this weekend."
"Good for you," said Meg as she put on her coat. "Just remember, the only two words a guy doesn't want to hear is don't and stop. Unless you say don't stop."
"You're bad," said Sarah.
Meg laughed it off. "Sarah is our saint. Pray for me. Pray that I get the chance to be bad."
Sarah gave a mock shake of the head as she followed Marcia out the door.
Meg turned to Patti and Sheridan and softly said, "Sarah's the one person in this group that I can't stand."
"She's harmless," said Patti. "She's the self-appointed group conscience. I don't pay any attention to her."
"Tonight gives me an idea," Sheridan said. "I'll tell you what it is when we're outside."
.. continued ...