The New Normal

“Do you want me to keep going?” he asked. Without her glasses, his face between her legs could have belonged to anybody. “It’s just that my mouth is kind of tired.”

She looked up at the ceiling, the brownish water stain she could pick out of a lineup. An orgasm sounded like a nice thing that happened to other people, like winning the lottery: technically feasible but unrealistic. It wasn’t that he was doing anything wrong. Lately, her clitoris had become disinterested as a cat, lifting its head at sudden movements before returning to drowsing. “It’s okay,” she said, and shifted out of the middle of the bed. Her thighs were slick and hot with stubble burn. “That was nice,” she added too late.

He made a half-asleep hum of acknowledgement that could have hidden any number of disappointments.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said after another few minutes, but his breathing had already slowed and deepened. The apartment was cold and quiet. A mental timer ticked up the odds of her developing a UTI, and for the first time she considered ignoring it and going to sleep. With a UTI, at least she’d be spared the humiliation of this nighttime ritual for the duration of the antibiotics.

She slipped out of bed, huddling on the toilet under a couch throw she’d grabbed instead of her bathrobe. Once, when she was reviewing for a college final, she’d rewarded herself with an orgasm for every completed chapter. She’d gotten off in restaurant bathrooms, hidden under jackets during long train rides, even once in a forgotten corner of the NYPL basement. She used to pride herself on quickness and efficiency.

The toilet paper came away greased with lube, and she reached down and gave a few experimental strokes. It was pleasant but unremarkable, like dragging a brush through her hair. She tried to remember what she used to fantasize about, but it was like watching an old movie. Something about meeting a stranger at a bar, or maybe it was sex on the bar-top with a packed audience. She conjured up a roomful of hungry eyes and the smell of beer, moving her hand faster, but the toilet seat kept hitting the back of her hand and her butt was getting sore.

She flushed and washed her hands, keeping her head ducked to avoid the mirror. Some things changed, it was nothing to get upset about. Maybe this was just the new normal.

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