Afternoons of a Woman of Leisure (9781101623565) (8 page)

Chapter Seventeen

Dr. Simon's office is off the marbled lobby of an apartment building on the east side of the park, not far from the restaurant where Joanna first observed then later met with Pauline. It is mid-afternoon, an overcast Wednesday. Joanna's heels click sharply over the marble as she crosses it to the heavy marble door marked with a plaque: OB-GYN. She rings the bell and waits, automatically reaching up to check the knotted hair at her nape.

He comes to let her in, a short, thickset man with thin ash-colored hair, in his fifties, Joanna guesses. He wears a white medical jacket over his trousers and shirt, a stethoscope protruding from the breast pocket, all very official. “Please come in,” he says, his voice careful with the smooth intonation of doctors. Joanna steps inside. The reception area and waiting room are dark. “This way,” Dr. Simon beckons, stepping in front of her. She follows him to the end of the hall into an office, where they take seats on the opposite sides of the heavy desk.

“I'm so grateful you could see me, Doctor,” Joanna says, clutching her purse on her lap.

“Not at all,” he nods, his face grim. “That's what I'm here for.” Behind him, a door opens and a younger man in a white coat enters. He leans awkwardly against the wall, next to Dr. Simon's chair, and crosses his arms.

“This is Dr. Stein,” Dr. Simon is saying. “He is a medical student. I've asked him to observe our consultation, and later, the examination. You have no objection?”

“Oh, of course not,” Joanna exclaims.

The two men watch her silently for a moment. Joanna glances around the room, shelves of books, framed prints on the walls. Several silver picture frames on the desk have, she notices, been turned face down. She suppresses a smile.

“Let's begin with some general questions,” Dr. Simon says, interrupting her thoughts. His hands are folded on the desk in front of him, an expression of slight concern on his face. “Your age?”

“Twenty eight,” Joanna says.

“And how long have you been sexually active?”

Sexually active? Joanna thinks. “Oh,” she blushes, “not very long. I've had a boyfriend for about a year now.”

“And how often do you have sex,” he asks.

She looks up, considering. “All the time.” Joanna sighs. “At least once every month.”

He nods, serious. “Please describe it for me. The basic pattern of it.” He pauses, taking in Joanna's confused expression. “I'll need to know this, in order to help you,” he says kindly.

“Well,” she says carefully. “First he takes me to dinner, then usually to a movie. Then we go back to his apartment. He sits on the couch and I stand in front of him and he watches me take off my clothes.”

“All of your clothes?”

“Yes.” Joanna nods, blushing. “Then I turn around so that I'm facing away from him, and get down on my hands and knees. I can hear him behind me, unzipping his pants and taking out his . . . you know.”

“Cock,” Dr. Simon says shortly. He shifts uncomfortably on his leather chair.

“Yes, that. Then he gets behind me and, you know, puts it in and sort of pushes it in and out. And then a minute later he sort of hisses, like somebody punched him or something. Then that's it.”

The medical student unfolds his arms and puts his hands in his pockets. “Excuse me for interrupting,” he says, glancing at Dr. Simon, “but does your boyfriend touch your breasts.”

“No.” Joanna shakes her head, looking confused. “Is he supposed to?”

“Not necessarily,” Dr. Simon says authoritatively. “But some women find it pleasurable.”

“Really?” Joanna frowns.

“Yes,” he says dismissively. “But tell me, exactly what is the nature of your problem?”

Joanna blushes. “It's so embarrassing.”

“That's all right,” says Dr. Simon. “We're both doctors. We're here to help you.”

“Oh I know!” Joanna cries. “I'm so grateful. It's just . . . it's just so hard to talk about.”

“Take your time,” says Dr. Stein, the medical student.

“Well,” she begins, her head down. “I was wondering, you know, if there might be something wrong with me. Some medical reason why . . . why I can't, you know . . .”

“Come,” says Dr. Simon. “You would like me to examine you, in order to see if there is a physiological obstacle.”

“Yes,” Joanna nods enthusiastically. “Oh would you? Please examine me thoroughly. My boyfriend is so upset about this, and of course, so am I.”

“You would like to come, in other words.”

“Oh yes, yes I would,” Joanna says. “But there must be something wrong. I mean, he's doing everything right, isn't he?”

The two doctors exchange glances. “We'll have a look,” Dr. Simon says, rising. “We'll see what we can find.”

He leads Joanna into an adjoining examining room and points to a screen. “Please take off all of your clothes,” he says.

“You mean my bra too?” she asks. “And my panties?”

“Yes,” he nods, impassive. “I'm afraid so. There is a gown over the chair. Please put it on so that it ties in front. I will be back in a minute and we will begin the examination.”

He turns, shutting the door behind him. Through it she hears muffled voices, a laugh. Joanna wonders briefly if either of them is really a doctor. Not that it matters, she smiles to herself.

She goes behind the screen and removes her clothes, unhooking her bra and peeling off her underpants. Then she slips on the gown, made of some kind of soft paper, white. It crinkles as she fumbles with the ties down her front. She goes to the leather examining table and sits sideways on it, waiting. Before her, a steel table is covered with examining tools, white cotton swabs, syringes, lubricant and rubber surgical tubing. The door opens.

“All set?” Dr. Simon asks brightly. “Please lie back on the table. Just relax.”

Joanna lies back, her legs together, her hands demurely crossed over her stomach. On her forearm, the black metal bracelet glitters dark against the pale of her skin. Dr. Simon goes to the foot of the table. The medical student stands at Joanna's head, watching.

“Just scoot down a bit, that's right,” Dr. Simon croons as Joanna moves down the table towards him. Her ass rests at its edge. He gently lifts her legs and moves them apart, settling her heels in the cold steel stirrups. Then, to her surprise, she feels something move across her ankles and tighten, locking her in place. “This is for your own protection,” he tells her. “It's important that you not move. Please try to relax. I know this is difficult for you.”

“Oh, it is,” Joanna says fearfully. “Will it hurt?”

“I hope not,” Dr. Simon says, sympathetically. “I'll try to make you as comfortable as possible. Dr. Stein? Will you help me with the screen please?”

Together they take a long piece of green surgical draping and place it across Joanna's stomach, then, lifting two of its corners, they hook it overhead to tall steel poles. When they are finished, there is a wall of green between Joanna's upper and lower half. Her spread legs, her heels cold in the stirrups, her rapidly dampening cunt are all out of sight behind it. She sighs, closing her eyes. Joanna's wrists are lifted and stretched above her head. She feels the supple rubber of surgical tubing being wrapped around her wrists, not too tight. Then they are fastened to something unseen at the end of the examining table. The two men stand over her for a moment, their eyes on Joanna's face and the soft bulges of her breasts beneath the white paper. “Let's begin,” says Dr. Simon.

Slowly, he begins to unfasten the paper gown, untying each knot then moving to the next, his fingers lightly tracing the visible inch of skin down her body. When the last tie is undone, he carefully spreads the gown apart, bunching it against her sides, then stands solemnly, examining her breasts. “Please watch carefully, Dr. Stein,” he says. He leans over her slightly. Joanna, looking at the ceiling, feels his palm softly press the underside of one of her breasts, gently pushing it up. With his other hand he lightly brushes the upper part of the breast, softly, with his fingertips, avoiding the nipple. Over and over in slightly decreasing arcs, bringing his fingers closer to the hard and throbbing point. Joanna, forgetting herself, moans quietly. “Try to relax,” he mutters.

Finally, the fingers reach her nipple and glide over it, teasing it, then pressing it. He rolls it firmly but clinically between two fingers, his face only inches away from it now. Then, straightening up, he asks for something from the steel table across the room. Joanna hears the squelch of a tube, then something cool at the edge of her breast. “This shouldn't hurt,” he tells her calmly, beginning to rub lubrication over her skin, everywhere but against the nipple. Warm palms massage her breast, smooth and firm, unhurried. Then, the flesh is squeezed between them, pushing it straight up. Joanna, glancing down, can see the dark tip rising above his fingers. Dr. Simon bends down and tentatively begins to lick it. Joanna groans loudly, loving the rasp of his tongue, the warm and sticky palms holding her steady beneath his mouth. At her head, the medical student places a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Just relax,” he tells her, trying to sound professional. Joanna, nonetheless, hears a wisp of urgency in his voice. She moans again, aware of intense heat between her legs.

Dr. Simon sucks her nipple, rhythmically, his tongue gliding over it inside his mouth. She hears his sounds and gasps, her eyes shut, rolling her head back and forth. The medical student's hand is cold on her shoulder. She wants to cry out. The mouth sucks and sucks. She feels the blunt edge of teeth lightly bite down and groans, almost in pain. He straightens up.

“Dr. Stein,” he says calmly, “would you like to examine the other breast?”

The cold hand leaves her shoulder and moves down, fumbling through the same process on Joanna's other side. The breast is touched and felt, lubricant is massaged over it, then her nipple is firmly sucked and licked and nearly bitten. When he has finished, he looks up expectantly at the older man, who briefly nods, then turns to Joanna. He looks carefully at her, taking in the flushed cheeks and quickened breath, but says nothing. Then, finally, he tells her that she will now be examined internally, that they will try not to hurt her, that, again, she should relax, try to relax and remember: they are doctors.

“Yes,” Joanna says. “Oh yes, I will.”

They move down the table and disappear behind the green curtain. She hears the roll of steel balls, a chair being wheeled between her spread legs. Then breath, warm and quick over her crotch as a body settles itself on the chair. Professional fingers spread her, and she can almost feel the eyes, looking and looking. She imagines hands, folding back the outer lips, a head between them, drawing close, almost touching. Joanna holds her breath.

Then, a warm mouth swallows her, lightly pushing the ridges aside and back again. The sound of suction. The mouth makes small movements to left and right. Joanna presses against it, spreading her legs even farther, as far as she can. “Oh please,” she whispers. A damp hand pats her inner thigh, comforting. The mouth continues to suck. Joanna thinks of whirling, falling. Slowly she climbs to the edge of coming but holds herself back.

Abruptly, a shift of weight. The mouth recedes and, a minute later, she is penetrated by something thick and pulsing. Hips push between her legs, pull back, then push again. A hand tangles in her pubic hair, massaging the flesh beneath it. He fucks her quickly, then, thrusting hard. She wonders which one it is, then hears a moan, and knows. He comes a few seconds later, crying out, “Yes . . . Yes . . .” and slowly pulls away. Immediately, another body takes his place and Joanna feels the dull slide of a longer cock, smoothly entering her, beginning to pound.

Dr. Simon steps from behind the curtain and comes to the head of the table, touching her forehead, taking in the rapt contortion of her face. Leaning down, he kisses her deeply, offering her his tongue to suck and Joanna sucks it, frantically, tasting herself. She feels his hand drift to her breast, twisting the nipple, then the other breast, back and forth between them. Between her legs, the urgency of heat and rhythm, a high-pitched wail growing louder. She arches into the hands at her breasts, tries to thrust with her hips letting it enter her deeply. When his climax begins she lets her own devour her, shooting down to the steel-encased heels and up again, flooding her cunt. Her scream rushes over the tongue in her mouth, down his throat. Dimly, a soothing hand pats her breast. The unseen cock pulls slowly out.

Dr. Simon releases her mouth and straightens up, his hand still cool on her forehead. “There, there,” he croons. “It wasn't too painful, my dear, and now it's over. I think,” he says, “we may have found your problem.”

Joanna gushes with gratitude until she is drenched.

Chapter Eighteen

Joanna is dressing for a party, this time in one of her own conservative silk dresses. It falls smoothly over her breasts, baring only the upper part of her chest, and gathers at her waist in dark green folds before falling to well below her knees. She clasps pearls, a gift from Curtis, behind her neck, just below the knotted coil of her hair.

Passing her open door, he leans in and watches approvingly. “You look lovely,” Curtis says. “Just beautiful. I won't be a minute.” She hears him pad down the hall to his own room and begin to change out of his business suit into something more appropriate.

Joanna dislikes these evenings. The civilized chatter of Curtis' friends, the pretentious splendor of the large suburban houses where they gather to drink and eat. The women are groomed and preserved, their hair tastefully dyed to minimize the grey without denying its existence. They wear good jewelry, family things with small but impressive stones. Always, they condescend to Joanna, calling her “such a sweet girl,” and “Curtis' young wife.” It is not, she knows, that she is being singled out for special attention. Curtis is only one of several among his friends who have married young, sometimes extremely young girls, and it is this very phenomenon, this trend, which so irritates and threatens the hostesses.

Tonight's party promises to be especially odious. Martha and Trevor are celebrating an anniversary, their thirty-fifth, and will be expecting both approbation and envy from their guests. Trevor, Joanna knows, has something to do with Curtis' bank, and “goes way back” with her husband, to college, to prep school, perhaps even farther. Martha is a maddeningly tireless raiser of funds for various, tasteful causes, a joiner, a member, a sitter on boards. More than once, she has pointedly asked Joanna if she might spare some free time for this or that. Joanna has always said she would try, then never returned Martha's calls. Martha, Joanna suspects, has little regard for women of leisure.

In the car, Curtis fiddles with the radio, looking for classical. The ride is brief, along the coast and then up into the hills on the far edge of their suburb. Joanna sits with her hands calmly folded in her lap. “Thoughtful,” she hears him say.

“What?”

“You're thoughtful tonight,” he says, his voice kind.

“Oh, not really.” She smiles, touching his knee. “It's just that I was thinking about Martha, and all that work she does. Maybe I should volunteer for something.”

“If you like,” he comments. “Only if you feel the need for it. Don't do it on my account.” She turns to look at his face, a dark silhouette. “I love the idea of you at home, really,” he muses. “Reading, sitting out on the porch. Waiting for me. Just being beautiful. But,” he goes on, “I wouldn't stand in your way, of course, if you did want to do some volunteer work.”

“Of course,” Joanna says. “I know. Well, I'll think about it.”

They pass through the tall stone gate and head up the driveway. Martha and Trevor live in what they themselves refer to as “a pile,” old and huge and somber. A mansion, Joanna thinks, pulling up in front of it. A valet unlocks her door and she climbs out.

Inside, she hands the maid their anniversary gift, a crystal vase clearly marked with the name of the store so that Martha can easily return it, as Joanna knows she will. Trevor is visible in the crowded living room off the entryway, booming with laughter, holding a bottle of champagne. Curtis' arm creeps around Joanna's shoulders. Somewhere a band plays swing tunes.

“There you are,” a voice cries. Martha descends the stairs, her expression a flawless approximation of pleasure. She wears black silk, and major jewelry, Joanna thinks. Diamonds at her throat, sapphires in her ears, more diamonds at her wrists.

“You look sensational,” Curtis is saying. He cups her chin familiarly in his hand and turns to Joanna. “Is this the face of a woman who's been married for thirty-five years?” he asks, grinning.

“This is the face,” Joanna says carefully, smiling, “of a woman who's been happily married for thirty-five years.”

Curtis smiles approvingly. Martha leans forward. “Joanna,” she says, kissing her cheek, “how sweet of you to come. That green is very becoming on you.”

“Thank you,” Joanna says. “And many congratulations on your anniversary.” She coils her arm through Curtis'.

“Oh, go on in,” Martha cries as the front door bell rings behind them. “Have some champagne. Trevor is in there somewhere, at least, I assume he is. Go and find him for me and tell him to make sure everyone has a drink. Darling!” she shouts, turning to the new arrival. Joanna and Curtis, dismissed, enter the living room.

Everyone's here, Joanna thinks, glumly surveying the crowd. The cared-for grey heads of the women, the shining bald heads of the men. Every now and then the abrupt interruption of a young woman: brunette or blonde or redhead, on someone's arm. Curtis takes two glasses from a waiter and hands one to Joanna. He lifts his own in a whispered toast. “To the face of a woman who's been happily married for two years,” he says, clinking. Joanna smiles and sips.

Almost immediately, the wave of acquaintances begins, coming in twos and threes to greet them. Colleagues from the bank, friends, like Trevor, from “way back,” people whose faces are familiar from other parties in other homes. Joanna smiles and nods until her face feels stiff, frozen with the effort of looking interested. She kisses Trevor on his flushed and fleshy cheeks, congratulates him, permits his own exuberant and lengthy hug, his large hands at her lower back.

Martha, hushing the swing band, announces dinner and slowly the wave of guests begins to move towards the door, onto a patio strung with lanterns. Curtis finds their table almost immediately, not far from the door, and holds Joanna's chair for her. She sits, examining the beauty of the setting: flowers and silver and china. The table is set for six.

Behind her, Curtis' voice rises in pleasure, greeting a friend. “You're sitting here?” he says. “Good, you're finally going to meet my wife. Joanna,” Curtis says, “here's someone I'd like you to meet.”

Sighing, Joanna rises and turns, then feels herself go white. “Barton,” Curtis is saying, “my wife Joanna. Joanna this is Barton Stephens, my old friend, and, incidentally, my lawyer.”

“Oh,” Joanna whispers, staring. He leans slightly forward.

“Joanna,” Mr. Stephens says quietly, pressing her hand. “I can't tell you what a delight it is to meet you, at last. Now, Curtis has always told me how lovely you were, but I never imagined.”

“Thank you,” says Joanna, trembling. She can't tear her eyes from his. Curtis pulls back her chair again.

“Sweetheart?” he says. Joanna lowers herself, steadying herself against the table.

The others take their seats, Curtis beside Joanna, Mr. Stephens on his far side. Joanna is grateful for that, at least. The two men begin to discuss Trevor and Martha, then quickly move on to politics, commerce, real estate. The woman on Joanna's other side is young and vibrant, an advertising executive responsible, she tells Joanna, for a major series of well-known television commercials. “What do you do?” she asks politely.

“Nothing much,” Joanna says. “I don't really have a career.”

“Oh,” the woman says uncomfortably, changing the subject.

When the main course has been finished and their plates cleared away, there are a series of toasts extolling the virtues of marriage, longevity, security. Joanna automatically raises her glass and drinks, each time, numbly feeling the cool champagne slide down her throat. The band begins to play.

“Well, Curtis,” a familiar voice says, “I would like permission to dance with your wife.”

“Fine with me,” Curtis says, raising his hands.

Mr. Stephens gets to his feet and looks down at her expectantly. “I'd be honored,” he says simply.

“Watch him,” she hears her husband laugh. “He's a devil!”

Joanna gets up and lets him lead her to the dance floor. He is a good dancer, his hand firm around her waist. Joanna is awkward in his arms, shaking and stumbling.

“Well, well,” he says, his voice intimate at her ear.

“Please don't tell him,” Joanna cries, gripping his shoulder with her hand. “Please, please don't tell him.”

“My dear,” he laughs, “I have no intention of telling him. You have a secret. I like secrets; secrets are powerful. I enjoy power.”

“I know,” she moans. “I know.”

He is silent for a moment, bending her to the music. Briefly, she feels his cheek press her own. “I've known Curtis for a long time, you know,” Mr. Stephens says. “He has secrets of his own.”

Joanna pushes herself back and looks at him carefully. “I don't give a damn about his secrets.” Her voice is fierce. “Just don't tell him mine. Promise me.

“I give you my word,” he smiles. The song ends and there is polite clapping. Joanna looks around for Curtis. “Another?” Mr. Stephens asks politely as the music starts again. Sighing, Joanna takes his hand and they begin to move. “And you, dear Joanna,” he whispers. “How are you getting on?”

“I'm fine,” she hisses. Then, a little cruelly, “I met your friend Clarissa.”

“Ah.” He smiles down at her. “Such a sweet girl. I find her very stimulating.”

“I'm sure you do,” Joanna says, letting him pull her close. A hand lands on her shoulder.

“Enough already,” Curtis laughs. “How long can a man be expected to calmly sit by and watch somebody else dance with his wife?”

“Of course,” says Mr. Stephens, bowing gallantly. “Joanna, it's been a pleasure. I certainly hope we'll meet again.”

“Yes, I hope so,” Joanna says, trying to smile. Curtis takes her hand and she leans against him, moving to the music.

“This is so nice,” he is saying, his voice soft at her ear. “Would you like to have a party for our next anniversary?”

“That would be lovely.” Joanna sighs, hating the very notion. “But three years hardly carries the weight of thirty-five, you know.”

“It does with me,” he smiles, patting her back.

When the song ends she turns to him and asks, hesitantly, if they can go. “I don't actually feel very well,” Joanna says. “I think, that venison for dinner . . . Would you mind?”

“Of course,” he says. “Of course, my dear. I'll go and say goodb-ye, then, shall I?”

“Yes,” Joanna says, grateful. She returns to the table for her bag. Mr. Stephens isn't there, she is relieved to see. She moves quickly, hoping to escape without seeing him again, but as she is leaving the patio, her arm folded into her husband's, he catches her eye from the edge of the crowd and holds it, intent, his mouth folded in an expression of pleasure and control—an expression, as it happens, that Joanna remembers very well.

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