Bedtime Stories by Lane Ashfeldt
Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘Bedtime Stories’ by Lane Ashfeldt. Lane Ashfeldt is the author of the short fiction collection, SaltWater, and has contributed to many lit-journals and anthologies. You can visit her website to learn more.
by Lane Ashfeldt
THIS IS WHAT I MISS MOST ABOUT CHANGING LOVERS: a new face up close to mine, eyes to watch, telling stories.
Sex? I don’t mind it, or when it’s good it’s all I can think about for days, a feeling that can’t be switched off. But what I really miss are those moments when you refashion yourself for the next person in your life. When time stands still and you have endless curiosity about each other and want to fill in the blanks.
My friend Jude tells me this is called Romance. I thought Romance was going somewhere cheesy and expensive for dinner, with folded pink napkins and too shiny cutlery. I thought Romance was dead and buried. Beyond resurrection. Jude says maybe it’s so dead it’s about to make a comeback.
SO NOW THAT I’VE PACKED ALL THAT IN, that boygirl or girlgirl or whatever stuff, I have plenty of time to decide which were the greatest of my unromantic encounters. My personal Best Of.
Some of the best were the one nighters, when it didn’t even get as far as a bed. The guy I met when I was seventeen, in that town I only stopped in for a night. It was after midnight and I was on my way back to the cruise ship where I worked, when I spotted him. He looked good, and he smiled from behind a window at me and came outside.
We didn’t speak the same language, and it was embarrassing because his friends followed him outside. But we just kissed like crazy until we made them go, and then we found a park where we lay on a roundabout while the dark sky went round and round and the buildings fell in on top of us, and I fell totally, dizzily in love with him. He asked me back to his, but I had to go.
The pleasure boat was making ready to pull out when I finally reached it, and I almost got fired. By morning I was so tired I couldn’t make the beds properly; I just sat there on the perfect white linen eating chocolates that were meant to be tucked under turned-back sheet corners for the guests. Thinking of him.
I bet he forgot about me, but I remembered him all summer.
WHO ELSE, WHAT ELSE? I’m not going to titillate with detail here. This keyboard is way too real and I must email this to a stranger tonight just so you can read it whenever, but isn’t it true? The ones you barely get to know are always the most gorgeous. Even better, they stay that way because you’re never around long enough to see them change.
But have you ever really wanted to delete a fuck? I’m sure I’ve deleted a few: name, place, the lot. All the same I can only remember a single time when I told the guy straight afterwards: that it really didn’t happen for me.
He was a bit of a slapper really, a richkid playboy with overdeveloped muscles and an MP dad. No, that sounds awful, he wasn’t as bad as all that. And to be fair he never mentioned his dad, someone else told me that later. No, he was just this fake skinhead with ironed jeans, an even white smile, nice eyes, the obligatory facial piercings. He was a regular at the bar where I worked, and every time he came in we’d chat a little. He was amusing but not my type, and besides I was living with my big-ego photographer boyfriend. But I was getting a bit bored, so one day when the boyfriend was on a photo shoot I said okay.
Incredibly, when we went back to his it turned out the skinhead still lived with his folks, at age 24. I guess the shock to his bank balance would have been too much if he moved out. We tiptoed to the upper layers of their deluxe city-centre apartment. He mixed himself some gruesome protein drink with a raw egg, then showed me his weightlifting routine. This was funny, but not as funny as the sex. He was good on weird positions, and he wanted to work through them all. He was really trying, and I felt bad for not being more appreciative, but the sound effects were too much: I just could not get into it because he kept making these little Mmf Mmf noises, like earlier when he’d been doing his press-ups. So afterwards I said, "You know, that didn’t really count because I didn’t feel it. For me it’s like we never did it."
I hadn’t thought he’d mind, but he seemed really dishonoured. Didn’t want to achieve less than the top score, much less be disqualified at the starting line. Kept saying, "But we did it, of course we did it."
THEN THERE’S CONTROL Z. Control Z is what you need for the times you wish you had let happen. The times that feel so weirdly good right from the start. Feeling that good is like hurtling into a tunnel blind, never knowing when you will crash into a rock face or tumble into a black hole. I guess somebody has to jump into a void if you’re to remember each other at all.
Like the boy who tried so hard to live on the edge that he fell off of it. The poor boy from Brixton who was really a rich boy from Surrey, and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s where I got into smack, everybody’s on it out there in the “burbs”.’ Like it was new. Well, it was new to him.
I met him my first night at the pub with the crowd from my swanky new office job. Would have been out of there in five minutes if he wasn’t looking my way. And he was so beautiful. That drug eaten beauty when your face is disappearing, your bones melting behind over-pale skin because you never sleep and you never eat. And when we climbed out over the railings of Soho Square at two in the morning he was going south and me east, but he kept walking with me till I gave in, and we took a taxi from Smithfield out somewhere past Brixton to a cold, cavernous house that he shared with a couple who were already fast asleep.
We went straight to his room. Black painted walls and mattress on the floor, books on the shelf that could have been ordered identikit from Rebel Superstore.com — the Kerouac, the Burroughs, all that. Like walking into the past. The only futuristic thing was the tongue movement. I remember thinking: boys are finally getting good at this stuff — maybe I was born in the wrong generation.
And guess what, maybe Jude was right, because this boy believed in Romance bigtime. I mean, next day he walked to the Tube with me and I kept having to peel his arm off my shoulder.
If I was in that dark room with him again I would spend all night listening to his stories, and I would tell him gently that he deserved Romance but mine was all used up, so he should fall somewhere else, with someone else.
© Lane Ashfeldt