Stanley’s real name wasn’t Jake. It was Stanley. He had told her Jake to protect his privacy. If she knew his real name, he reasoned, she would be able to look him up. Creep him on social media. Drive by his house at slow speeds. Stanley had told himself a thousand times that there was no shame in the transaction. That there was nothing illegal. Two consenting adults. All that. But he still preferred the security of a pseudonym. And besides, Jake just sounded better. Cooler. Jake was a mighty oak. Stanley, a weeping willow.
“Hi, Jake,” she said.
“Hi, Audrey,” said Stanley.
They were sitting at an outdoor café. Her choice. “The tables have cloths,” her final email had said. “Perfect for our purposes.” Stanley wasn’t thrilled with how public it would all be. Exposed. But he also figured that, for her, that was part of the thrill, and he wanted to make sure that she got something out of it too. Besides the money, of course. Still, he had prepared an alibi in the off chance that he ran into someone he knew: This is my niece, he would say. In town for the afternoon. He assumed that she had played somebody’s niece before and trusted that she would know what to do. Nice to meet you, she would say, shaking hands firmly and looking the stranger in the eyes.
There was no shortage of women who were willing to provide the goods that Stanley sought. Twentysomethings with soft-focus Websites that offered a whole suite of customizations: cut, fabric, pattern. Newly washed or game worn. They all provided photographic evidence of authenticity for an additional fee, but Audrey was among the select few who offered in-person delivery. “The Full Experience” was how she had billed it, though there were actually a handful of women who offered comparable services in the greater Metro area, which surprised him, since, despite the name, it wasn’t really that great.
Not that he should have been surprised. A couple of years ago when that adultery-enabling website was hacked the local paper had published the number of members by zip code. Stanley and Caroline had cross checked the data with a mental list of their friends and passed the afternoon speculating about who was into what. On more than one occasion his wife had made Stanley blush.
“Oh no!” he had exclaimed, when she had told him about one of their dear friend’s predilections, a confession that she had heard over mid-day margaritas some years back. “She seems so nice.”
“Sometimes the nice ones are the ones you have to watch out for,” she had replied. “You, of all people, should know that.”
That was one of the times he had blushed.
“Jake? Jake?” Stanley looked at Audrey. “There’s no reason to be nervous.”
“I’m not nervous.”
“Sure you are.
He had plucked all of the thorns from the fresh roses that decorated their table. They looked like a mound of cat claws piled next to a gift bag that Audrey had brought with her. The gift bag was the kind of bag that looked like it was the gift.
“I’m sorry,” Stanley said. “I just—. Can we just? Can we just talk? First.”
Stanley’s wife had died a year before. A year to the day, as a matter of fact. She had been perfectly healthy up until the day that she wasn’t and then six months after that she was gone. He had given himself a year. To get back out there, as it were. It didn’t make any sense, he knew. He knew that it didn’t make any sense. Affixing an arbitrary timeline for when he would restart his life. But he feared if he didn’t set a date that he never would. This, with Audrey. It could hardly be considered a first date—he wasn’t ready for that, yet—but it was a start.
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Well, for starters, how did you get into…this?”
“You mean what’s a nice girl like me doing in a place like this?”
So she told him about a college boyfriend. About that first dare. They were at a bar, had been drinking, of course, when he whispered in her ear. At first she demurred—no!—but later that night, after a few more drinks and a trip to the ladies room, she leaned into a beer-y kiss and tucked her newly removed panties into the pocket of the boyfriend’s fake leather jacket. From that night on it became their thing. Their secret. Movies. Parties. The first time he met her parents. He once bought them tickets to the ballet just so he could spend Act II caressing his favorite pair of black lace. The boyfriend didn’t last—it was college, after all—but her desire to continue what they had started did.
“I don’t have to do this,” she said. “I have a job. I have a 401K. I do it because I want to. I do it because I like it. Now,” she wriggled in her chair, “is that enough talk?”
“What?” She didn’t say “now,” but her tone implied it. He was losing her. He could tell. But it didn’t feel right, not without telling her the truth about why he was here. Which is why, unexpectedly, he found himself opening up about Caroline. About how she made him laugh and about how she died, cruelly and without decency. About long car rides and new apartments. About stupid holiday traditions and how they had consoled each other when the cat died.
“But mostly,” he said, “I just miss her. I just miss her stuff around the house. A woman’s stuff. So much daintier and more ornamental and fragrant than a man’s. When she passed, I purged myself. Got it out of my sight. Boxed it all up and gave it to her mother. But now I miss it. Now I miss all of her stuff. The shoes lining the bottom of the closet. The six different bottles of shampoo. The sponge she’d wash with instead of the rag. Her robe. I tried to buy the same things that she bought—that baby-blue deodorant, the powder she’d splash on before she got dressed. I’d scatter them around the house to make them look accidental. Oh, she must have been in a hurry this morning. Or Oh, her sister must have called. But it was no good. It was too forced, too sterile. How to Be Spontaneous in Ten Easy Steps. Then I saw your website and I knew what I wanted. I wanted something alive, something lived in. I wanted something with a life behind it.”
“You requested the white cotton with the red hearts, correct?”
“Do you want to confirm?”
“How would I—?”
“Take a peek.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean lean back and take a peek.”
She angled herself across from him. He looked left, then right, then left. A boy crossing a busy street. Then he leaned back in his chair. She wore a loose black skirt that she now pulled up to her mid-thigh. She parted her legs. He leaned back farther. He glimpsed a taut triangle amidst the flesh. He took a deep breath and nodded.
“Now are you ready, Jake?”
“My name is Stanley.”
“Now are you ready, Stanley?”
He nodded again.
“Look at me,” she said. “Look me in the eyes.”
She straightened her back as her hands disappeared under the table. Her weight shifted, subtly, from side to side. There were people all around but it was as if they were alone. Stanley pictured her thumb and index finger around the band of her panties, the cotton rolling into itself as she pulled it underneath. At her thighs the sides were lower than the middle. She arched her hips and it caught up with itself. She continued tugging them down, pausing at her knees and pulling the cotton tight. Then over her calves; one high-heeled ankle followed by the other. She smiled, set the garment in her lap. She folded them neatly and placed them into the gift bag for everyone to see, if anyone had bothered to look. She creased the top of the bag over twice, sealing its contents. She slid the bag across the table.
“Special,” she said. “Just for you.”
Stanley removed an envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket.
“No,” she said. “My treat.”
Audrey smiled at Stanley. Sincerely, he thought, but with more pity than he would have liked. Then she excused herself and disappeared into a crowd that was somehow much more present than it was not even a minute before. She hadn’t even sipped her tea.
Stanley held the bag to his chest and replayed the scene in his mind. It was almost more alive in his memory than it was in the moment.
My god. The audacity. It felt good to blush.
Kirby Fields has an MFA in Playwriting from Carnegie Mellon University. His plays have been produced or developed in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Kansas City. His fiction appears on episode 65 of “The Other Stories” podcast and has been honored by Arch Street Press. He is the Artistic Director of UP Theater in Upper Manhattan. He is from Joplin, Missouri, and currently lives in New York City with his wife and two sons.