The Fiction of Owen Thomas

Signs of Passing

Shoreline Drive   —an excerpt

She sat and pivoted, swinging her legs from beneath the sheets like a mermaid slipping her tail from beneath the sea.

Except in the dead of winter, when the wind came howling out of the North over the frozen valley and found its way up along the ridge and into the house, Diane usually slept in the buff.  It was a predilection Peter had initially found brazen and tantalizingly exotic given the Lutheran restraint in his DNA. His father’s oft-repeated motto had been, simply, when in doubt, don’t.  This from the man who, as a retired mill worker and widower, was arrested at age 72 and fined $5,000 for “operating or materially aiding a gambling enterprise.”  DNA aside, if Peter had learned anything from his father’s life, it was, when in doubt do it quietly and don’t invite the neighbors.

So Peter had conducted a very discrete (but, ultimately, an insufficiently discrete) and passionate affair with a married woman. When Peter and Diane were first married he, too, albeit quietly and without fanfare or invitations or minimum bids, had followed her lead and taken to sleeping in the nude.  And he had felt every bit the secret rebel lothario psychiatrist for having so easily and casually thrown his caution and his nightshirt to the wind whenever he climbed into the bed of this lean, long-legged pediatrician that he had stolen and made his own.

But all of the extra nudity, over time, had only served to keep him awake at nights. Try as he may, Peter could not sufficiently tame the feelings of proximity and sexual opportunity, which were wholly anathema to all notions of sleep.  Dark circles began to form under his eyes.  His friends and even some of his patients began to express concern over his increasingly somnolent manner.  Eventually, after nodding off one afternoon in the middle of young Jessica Laurie’s recitation of all the ways in which her biology teacher was not actually Jesus Christ, Peter reverted back to a more sensible way of sleeping that was more in keeping with his upbringing. If the world was to continue to function properly, some urges simply needed to be contained.

Diane double-pumped lotion from the jar on the nightstand and began the nightly moisturizing. This, it seemed to Peter, was a ritual that always happened after Diane had gone to bed, as though this singularly critical process slipped her mind, night after night, requiring that she extract herself from the covers, turn on the bedside lamp if necessary, and lubricate her legs and her buttocks and her breasts. Somehow, no matter how late Peter came to bed, he always seemed to catch the last show.