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HIS WIFE LEAVES HIM by Stephen Dixon (excerpt)

This is one of his favorite memories of her. He’d just got off the elevator on her floor, was going to ring her doorbell. He had a key to her apartment, which she’d given him a few weeks before—two months after they’d started seeing each other—but it still didn’t feel right using it if he knew she was home. She was playing the piano. Later, when he asked, she said it was the second Intermezzo for piano by Brahms. She was taking lessons at the time from a French piano teacher who’d also become a good friend of hers. The teacher, Rochelle, played at their wedding in this apartment: the opening Preludes and Fugues of The Well-Tempered Clavier, before the ceremony began, and a late Haydn sonata during the reception. The Intermezzo was one of the pieces Rochelle had given Gwen to learn. Standing behind the door, he thought it’s a beautiful piece and she’s playing it beautifully. Lying in bed now, he hums the most memorable and tender part of it. He thought he’d hold off ringing the bell till she was finished. He didn’t want to interrupt her and his listening to it. He’d wait a minute after she stopped playing before he’d ring the bell, to make sure she was done. If she started it again or another piece, he’d either ring the bell or quietly let himself in with the key. Probably the key. About a minute after she stopped playing, he rang the bell. She came to the door and said “ Hiya, sweetie,” and he said “Hi, my wonderful pianist,” and they kissed. “Have you been lurking behind my door listening to me play?” and he said “Just the last five minutes. I was entranced. I’ve never heard a piano piece played so exquisitely.” “Nonsense,” she said. “I’m only just learning it.” “What can I tell you? I was very much moved by it,” and she said “Maybe that comes from something that has nothing to do with my playing or the music. Which is not to say I don’t very much appreciate what you said.” “Do you think you could play it again for me? I’d love an interior hearing of it,” and she said “Wish I could, but I’ve played it three times already this afternoon and I’m a little tired of it and also of playing. Can we just have tea?”

Another memory, also music. They’re sitting in one of the front rows in the orchestra of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, but all the way to the left. He tried to get center seats but they were sold out. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is playing Respighi’s Pines of Rome. “There’s no other orchestral music I know of—maybe Firebird,” he said when they were choosing which six concerts to go in their subscription series, “that has as great a buildup and a more powerful ending, and I’ve always wanted to hear it performed live.” “Anything you want,” she said, “except Bruckner. I’m not familiar with it, either on record or the radio, though I have liked his Fountains of Rome.” During the last few minutes of the piece, when the music is building to the climax, he moves his right hand as if he’s conducting, and continues to, his motions getting increasingly more vigorous, till the end. Later, when it seems the entire audience around them is standing and applauding, he stays seated, grinning at her and crying a little, and says “Don’t mind me. And stand if you want. But what do you think? Did you like it?” and she says “No, no, I’ll sit with you, and I liked it a lot. I can see why one could get overcome by it.” “I didn’t embarrass you with my hand-waving?” and she says “Not whatsoever. You did a brilliant job of conducting. They never played better. Not a weak moment from any section in the orchestra. What I’d like to know, though, is how, in what I assume were the exact times they were supposed to come in, you got the birds to tweet.”

Sibelius. He drives a poet and her husband to the train station after she gave a reading for his department. On the way home he turns on the Baltimore classical music station. It’s playing a piece he’s never heard before but which sounds like Sibelius. He parks, sits in the car in his carport till the piece is over so he can get the name of it. Nightride and Sunrise. Few days later he buys a CD of five Sibelius tone poems, listens to the whole CD that night and then just that one piece every night for around a week. He wants her to listen to it with him—not at dinner but in the living room where the CD player and speakers are—but she’s always busy in her study researching and writing a paper for an academic conference in a month and also things to do with her teaching. Finally, he knocks on her study door and says “May I come in?” He tells her “Really, I want you to listen to that new CD I got. Just one piece on it; it’s only fifteen minutes long. It’s so moving and evocative of the sea and sky—you’ll love it. And like the Firebird Suite and Pines of Rome, it has an incredible powerful ending.” She says “I’ve heard it, I’ve heard it; you’ve played nothing else the past week.” “But you heard it with your door shut. You’re not getting the full impact of it. Come on; you’re resisting too much. I’m going to have to insist,” and he takes her hand. “You don’t like it the first time, I’ll never ask you to listen to it again.” “All right,” she says; “looks like I can’t stop you,” and they go into the living room. He says “Sit in the Morris chair; you’ll hear it best from there. Some wine?” and she says “Too early and I still have work to do, even after dinner.” “Fire?” and she says “Too warm and too much of a bother.” “Maybe I should shut off the lights. I know I listened to it twice that way, totally in the dark, and you really see the imagery Sibelius is trying to create,” and she says “Sweetheart, just play it.” The CD’s already in the player from last night. He turns the system on, gets out the third track, turns off all the lights in the room and sits at the end of the couch near her chair. After it’s over, Finlandia comes on. He turns on the floor lamp between them, turns off the CD player and says “So?” “It was lovely,” she says. “Sea, sky, sun rising, waves breaking…well, I don’t know if I’ll go that far, but I got, as you said, a full picture. Thanks for the experience of hearing it the way it should be heard. I love it when you get enthusiastic about something other than what you’re writing. Now, work calls,” and she gets up and kisses him. “One thing, though. Please don’t play it again right away, or when I’m home for the next few days. It could lead to my hating such a beautiful piece of music,” and she goes into her study and shuts the door.

She says “We know we’re both very fertile—my abortions and your inseminating several girlfriends—so there’s no doubt we’re going to conceive. But the ‘how’ of it is something I’ve been looking into. This article by a gynecologist I read says the best way is for me to get into the doggy position and for you to enter me from behind, penetrating as far as you can without hurting me when you’re about to come. And after you come, for you to stay in me like that for as long as you can till you fall out. But to try not to fall out. Even if you feel your penis has become soft, keep it in till there’s nothing you can do to stop it from leaving. That’s what the article said, and that our chances are increased in all this by about triple. Tonight is as good a time to start as any. But to assure conception, we’ll do it every night—and we’re not supposed to do it more than once a day, to keep your sperm count high, and ideally at twenty-four hour intervals.” “Let’s do it now, then,” he says. “It’s been more than twenty-four hours,” and she says “Fine with me.” They go into the bedroom, undress and she gets on the bed. “Shouldn’t you take off your bra?” and she says “I didn’t think it necessary, but okay.” She takes off her bra and gets in the doggy position, rests her forehead on two pillows, and he gets on the bed. “Shouldn’t we play around with each other a little first?”  and she says “If I know you, you’re already erect. Let’s not let any of your precious sperm dribble out.” He gets behind her and sticks his penis in. “Just remember, when you feel you’re about to come—“ and he says “I know.” He comes and she says “Now stay in, as deep as you can get—you’re not hurting me.” He stays in for another minute, says I think it’s had it and is about to flop out,” and she says “Let it do it on its own,” and a few seconds later it does. “Now I’m supposed to stay in this position for another five minutes,” and he says “Are you comfortable? I don’t know how your head could be,” and she says “I’m all right.” He’s sitting on the bed now and rubs her buttocks, then kisses them. “You have a sweet tush,” he says. “Sweet like ‘taste’?” And he says “Like ‘lovely, pleasing, adorable.’” “No, I don’t. Be honest. I have a large tush,” and he says “Sweet, too. I love your tush. I love everything about you. All this talk and my touching you is making me hot again. Can I try to stick it back in? There’s only a fifty-fifty chance I’ll be successful,” and she says “No, that might mess things up.” They get off the bed a few minutes later and dress. This was in New York. Their Riverside Drive apartment. When they were still using the bedroom for themselves. They were both on winter break. They were getting married in the apartment in a month. So it was around mid-December. They thought September or October would be a good time to have their first baby. Later in bed, after she turns off her light and they kiss goodnight, he says “So I guess we make love again tomorrow around seven,” and she says “That’s what the article said. As long as it’s twenty-four hours after the last time. It couldn’t have been very much fun for you, so technical and mechanical. At least you didn’t have to wait for me to put in my diaphragm and you could come anytime you wanted to.” “Not true,” he says; “I enjoyed it. I’ve always liked that position. It’s maybe the most exciting for me, although I wouldn’t have minded a little more warming up. It’s you whom it couldn’t have been much fun for,” and she says “The objective was more important than the pleasure. Once we know I’m pregnant, we’ll go back to doing it any way we want.” “And if you have your period?” and she says “If I do, and I tend to doubt that, we’ll still do it any way we want for about a week and then go back to doggy.”

It’s three years later. Again, mid-December. Riverside Drive apartment, both on winter break. No, she’s on break; he’s on leave for a year because of a writing fellowship he got. She’ll be on leave the following fall, when they plan to have their second child: not too soon after the first one, they think, and where the two kids will still be close in age. The hollywood bed’s now in the bedroom for Rosalind; the double bed in the living room for them. They wait till they normally go to bed, around eleven-thirty. She says “I’ll get in the same position I did to conceive Rosalind. I think it worked with her the first time we did it. You remember the article I told you about then,” and he says “Vaguely.”

3QR Author Note

3QR Author Bios

One comment on “HIS WIFE LEAVES HIM by Stephen Dixon (excerpt)

  1. […] novelist Stephen Dixon, who contributed to this journal, has died. I can’t tell you how much he will be missed. He’s why we are […]

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