“Don’t have an affair! It will shatter you!”

A deathbed warning from my best friend was incredibly painful and oddly comforting. Surely it meant that my previous, protracted, unconsummated, emotional cyber-interlude was not a serious matter. Forays via keyboard were not the equivalent of plastic keys sliding through hotel room locks. It was only “the real thing” that counted. If I didn’t sleep with someone else, married or not, what harm would be done? A few taps on a computer, some erotically charged dialogue, the stroking of egos and other tender parts. What, me worry? Ultimately, when it came to acts of immorality and madness, I would blame the hairy stewardesses of Erbil. Why hadn’t they paid more attention to my swashbuckling “Male Writer Friend?”

It was late night on Facebook, EST, when the line in the sand was crossed. Away at a literary conference, I was momentarily reckless, knowing that a “Male Writer Friend” was also far from home. He was researching his latest book, another effort to convey the complexities of Middle East politics that would include justice for the perpetually betrayed Kurds. I flirted because a highly competitive childhood acquaintance had wished “Male Writer Friend” well on his precarious journey, commenting on his Google Maps post from the depths of Iraq and encouraging him to be safe. She had recently begun to comment on his posts, probably because she’d noticed my friendship with him. Rising irritation generated by her behavior led me to dispatch a private message. My “frenemy” had no business inserting herself into the world of “Male Writer Friend,” as she was supposedly happily married, always sharing the details of her prosperous Laurel Hollow life with “Lawyer Hubby” and their three highly successful grown children (neurologist, dermatologist, and urologist). She also didn’t know him in high school the way I did.

His post from the fringes of forbidden desert was a provocation. So I quoted from the movie “Witness” (Thriller, Amish, Forbidden Love, Harrison Ford, and a stunning Kelly McGillis), which includes a tantalizing scene during which “Amish Mother” and “Urban Detective” dance to the song “Don’t Know Much About History.” In my unconscious mind, that doubly retro pop tune and the romantic cinematic interlude attached to it served as a link between a shared high school past and a man who reveled in his knowledge of Female Biology. It was the warning about entering an alien, dangerous world…

My message: “Be careful out there, among them English.”

His prompt reply: “No English here, lots of bad guys.”

Clearly, “Male Writer Friend” wanted his dangerous situation to turn me on. It did. His disappointment that hairy Iraqi stewardesses reclining poolside seemed to be ignoring him also struck a responsive chord. Surely I won’t ignore him. I aim to please. But I’m also vain, skeptical, and bear the scars of a master online seducer. Indeed, I’m quietly amused that he’s also chatting with other folks on Facebook. Clearly I’m not the only female source at hand capable of granting him release. For men, it is all about the chase, which means abandonment remains in the offing. There’s a reason why my previous emotional entanglement remained virtual. I’m not a terrorist, but have come very close to inflicting a reign of terror upon those I love best. I’m perfectly capable of doing so once again.

“Male Writer Friend” compliments me. He does it incredibly well, melding his lust with a sincere desire for transformation that resonates with a vulnerable “Woman Writer” in mid-life. However, “Male Writer Friend” isn’t the finest at the game. I’ve been broken by the finest, an influential man with mastery of emotional intelligence, who still has my soul in his keeping. When it comes to seduction, “Male Writer Friend” is an Olympic contender, but not a world record setter, only a Silver or Bronze Medalist on his very best day. Having had a philandering father probably makes it come easier. Pun intended. Long ago, there had been shadowy neighborhood rumors about my father. I told my mother, as they had unsettled me. The rumors stopped and the issue never came up again. It was a relief to set them aside. Reflection upon my own unethical conduct has brought back these and other memories. There was more darkness within my family of origin than I prefer to recall.

While I’m grateful that “Male Writer Friend” finds hairy women attractive (an affair could generate cost-savings with fewer esthetician visits!), he hasn’t mentioned whether or not he’s comfortable with stretch marks. I’m surgically unaltered post-childbirth, while his much younger wife has been updated both above and below. I can only imagine myself as a disappointment and source of discontent. My once fertile imagination has been shutting down. I’d even forgotten an entire passage in my previous novel depicting an intense liaison. It was only due to repeated prompting by “Male Writer Friend” that the possibility of crafting flashbacks in my novel emerged. All I kept thinking was that my days of desirability were running out. Surely the only person who would want to sleep with a fiftysomething married woman would be an unhappily married man over seventy. The logistics of that would depend upon Viagra and the setting aside of ethical concerns. A widower would be preferable. But I’d been there, done that…and such a good man deserved a woman who could quickly shed her marriage and become his honorable companion. That courtly yet kinky generation of potential lovers was swiftly passing from the Earth, and I considered myself close behind. One by one, my women friends were dying of cancer, and I expected to join them. Honestly, why should I be spared?

It was the specter of death and desperation generated by a hormonally induced expanding waistline that pushed me over the edge. Compliments…I needed those intoxicating compliments! So I turned my “Male Writer Friend’s” obsession with hairy Iraqi stewardesses into the tale of a soft knock upon his hotel room door and a midnight visitation. This was executed while alluding to marital loneliness and celibacy. My delicate scenario met with “Male Writer Friend’s” approval and the implied suggestion of future erotically charged conversations and assignations. However, the shame of having done this led to a complex series of nightmares about surviving a multi-location mass shooting, wandering to the brink of having been blown up, and blowing up worlds. And blowing…because in male fantasies, I’m supposed to be down on my knees early and often…but I don’t know the true content of “Male Writer Friend’s” fantasy life. I’m happy that he seeks naked women of all proclivities everywhere, as I also have that side of myself. It turns out that he has a working title for a lesbian spy novel, Two Lips on Long Island. Via Facebook, I cheekily retorted that it needed to be four lips at minimum.

That’s how the story began, our boundary breaking lesbian spy novel set on Long Island (Lynbrook? Long Beach? Lindenhurst? Locust Valley?), a “he wrote, she wrote” collaboration by old, impoverished writer friends who probably should have hooked up in high school but didn’t. The book was intended as a “tell and conceal all,” a burning commentary on love, passion, adultery, deception, American politics, and terrorism in the age of Trump. It would also provide an explanation of why one should not write a lesbian spy novel from a white male cisgender point of view, but find a virtual lover to aid in addressing necessary matters of political correctness. The protagonists would be a “Male Journalist” specializing in surviving war and a “Female Poet” retaining her youthful idealism. Given respective forms of PTSD and battles with depression, it was difficult to say which of the two was more dangerous to their families and the wider world. Probably the “Female Poet,” but only because she had a driver’s license…his focus was foreign terrorism. Hers was every facet of the domestic. Their common ground: emotional espionage.

The next morning, I awoke with the need to take a break from my novel and engage with a new project. I needed to mitigate the pain of unrequited love by distracting myself. It was time to stalk the boundaries between reality and fantasy, to shape consciousness differently, in conversation with a fellow writer who could help me shift creative form. Maybe by collaborating on this project, we could honorably support our families in the style to which they could become accustomed? “Male Writer Friend” could pay off his considerable debts and cease flying commercial. Perhaps I could reside in both metropolis and countryside, with my husband generously agreeing to look the other way. By sharing pleasurable disasters and disastrous pleasures, could we craft a thriller that was also “Something Else” and, thus, become something more to one another? But that might also involve writing about our marriages and that would be ethically problematic. In a way, writing about the lesbian spies would just be simpler. Like the song by the Doors, I’ve “been a spy in the House of Love.” But I still don’t know what “Male Writer Friend” is truly dreaming of…

He coaxed me over the line, addressing my fears of physical and literary inadequacy:

“Stretch marks and cellulite are nonsense concerns. Sexiness is an alluring scent and a soft moan…and you could easily write erotica for a living.”

My follow up message: “This needs to be in the book!”

So I’ll anoint myself with jasmine and seek to remember what it feels like to be thrilled by touch…imagining a strange, new hand, unknown fingertips, stroking bare skin, a heart unlocking…that soft moan; it’s far from simple for those of us who do not fake, will not fake, who prize an honest response to tactile stimulation. Perhaps I can open for you and myself? Or shall I drift away…to protect and preserve both of us?


HIM: “The logistics of an affair with her would be complicated. Is she worth the trouble? Yes and no. She probably feels the same way about me. We’re both too calculating to be swept away. Like the adulterous middle class lovers (and minor characters) in Bonfire of the Vanities, we do not have the interest upon the interest to properly feather a suitable love nest. Unethical acts pose a danger to my professional integrity. A man who betrays his wife does not gain respect and, like Vernon Jordan’s puzzlement about Bill Clinton’s seduction of Monica Lewinsky, my potential choice of middle-aged married mistress might arouse confusion or pity rather than admiration. If she becomes famous, then it shall rebound to my credit. If she fails or immolates, the matter is to my detriment and, at minimum, I’ll be summoned, despite my atheism, for a reckoning come Kol Nidre. My old poet friend strikes me as low maintenance. She does not ask for exclusivity or vows. She has not strayed the way I have. Yet I think she will, because she hears a fuckability clock ticking. I’m curious, so I’ll wait her out. But the logistics are formidable. Now, if I were a “Master of the Universe,” it would be so much simpler! A short drive to my Manhattan townhouse or gracious summer home…for now, I’ll savor the game and keep it in cyberspace.”

HER: “In these times of Trump, adultery is even more unseemly, all Kew Motor Inn pre-renovation. Who wants to make love in a mirrored ceiling motel room overlooking the Grand Central Parkway, just blocks from a high school where a grander, happier future was imagined? Could I really sleep with a married, financially insecure man with three children whose honorable wife survived the disease that killed my best friend? I was raised not to take what didn’t belong to me. It’s the loneliness that makes me careless with morality. I could be so willful, so self-indulgent, but must refrain. Those Ten Commandments, that Hippocratic Oath, and I cannot purloin a willing married man even for an afternoon. You’d think my mother had allowed me to join the Girl Scouts! Ah, but I can imagine doing so…I could do substantial harm in the name of what might feel good…what I might convince myself is Good.


He asked: “How do you manage?”

“Male Writer Friend” wonders about marital celibacy, but doesn’t seek ontological explanations. He wants an accurate assessment about my level of desperation. What his inquiring mind really wants to know: how are you able to survive? How long must I wait before you are begging me to be your lover?

I replied: “Hester Prynne is ‘Able.’ I am ‘Adept,’ letting my fingers do the walking as in the old Yellow Pages television commercial. Updated Pink Pussycat Boutique technology also remains at my disposal.”

Such cyber-disclosures unnerved me, but I trust this will be among our secrets. Sharing of secrets shall bind us, even if we never touch.


HIS LITERARY AGENT: “Do we? Did we? Will we?”

HER: “It’s like Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper at the Oscars, singing “Shallow” from the A Star is Born remake. What is the truth? What is the deception?”

HIM: “Does it matter? Isn’t it the appearance of our relationship that counts?”

HIS LITERARY AGENT: “Can I speak with you privately?”

HER: “That’s fine. I’ll just fetch some hazelnut coffee from the cart outside. We can catch up later.”

HIS LITERARY AGENT: “Why are you suddenly writing fiction and collaborating with her? Are you taking her to bed?”

HIM: “She’s fun to work with. She amuses me. I entertain her. We’ve been friends for decades.”

HIS LITERARY AGENT: “Friends with benefits?”

HIM: “There are benefits to our friendship. What do you think of her writing? Does it turn you on? Does it really matter that she isn’t famous?”

HIS LITERARY AGENT: “You could have found someone else, a prettier, younger female writer with a stronger platform.”

HIM: “This experiment, the shifting of literary form, was her idea. Nonfiction, fiction, and fantasy unfolding…”

HIS LITERARY AGENT: “The lesbian spies; that was your contribution?”

HIM: “Among other things, including my commentary and analysis on issues involving geopolitics. I think my views compliment hers, in these particularly barbarous times.”

HIS LITERARY AGENT: “She inspires you, and you inspire her?”

HIM: “As best I can.”


Tortured by hot flashes, I awakened in the middle of the night wondering what the hell to do about the lesbian spies. If they were gratuitous, or a trope serving a cisgender sexual agenda, our book would fail conceptually, politically, and commercially. How could the lesbian spies emerge organically, as intrinsic to the story? Did they matter because we said so? Maybe part of the problem was my own skepticism about the spies—their literary viability—akin to the fetal viability of Roe vs. Wade, science grafted onto law to support a political outcome instead of choice being robustly grounded within the Fourth Amendment “right to privacy” penumbras, constitutional lineage traced backwards to Griswold vs. Connecticut. Weren’t the lesbian spies an awkward plot device being deployed to seduce “Male Writer Friend” into writing this novel and taking me to bed?

To have any literary merit, the lesbian spies would have to be truly engaging. So, what are these spies all about? Do they represent dreams of revolution? They can’t just be about what makes a straight man grow hard and a bisexual woman peek out of her suburban closet. Why haven’t Daniel Silva or John le Carre created them? Who did they work for? Did they have to be as beautiful as Charlie’s Angels? They’d need to be funny, brilliant, and lyrical: a fusion of Hannah Gadsby, Audre Lorde, and Adrienne Rich. Who do they spy upon? What data do they collect? Where do they train and what do they specialize in? Do they, like glamorous James Bond, have a license to kill? Are they world-weary bureaucrats like George Smiley or motorcycle riding avengers like Gabriel Allon, who becomes a parent of twins late in life?

I was also anxious about the impact of this collaboration on my relationship with “Male Writer Friend.” Would writing this book sever our ties or bind us together in a fashion akin to the Marquis de Sade? Would the lesbian spies excite him but leave me cold? Or, was all of this off the mark? Instead of us being turned on by the lesbian spies, maybe we needed to turn them on? To somehow pass political muster even though “Male Writer Friend” was straight and I was floating along an erotic spectrum from celibacy to pansexuality as I only did anything and everything in my dreams.


HER: “You can’t have them the way you initially wanted, and neither can I. It feels like taking Pussy Galore and sending her into the 21st Century as a barrister turned MI6, turned multilingual consultant for Chatham House.”

HIM: “But I want to name one of the spies ‘Velvet Minx!’”

HER: “Love it. I’d do her in a heartbeat. But would she want me?”

HIM: “I’m not sure…maybe we need the spies to pick their own names?”

HER: “Will I be shaken and stirred?”

HIM: “Let’s see what they decide.”


LESBIAN SPY ONE: “These writers are impossible, egocentric, and presumptive, dragging us into their pathetic story.”

LESBIAN SPY TWO: “But they love us! They really love us! Could we forgive them and properly center their politics? Maybe we can help them write a better novel? Even a New York Times bestseller?”

LESBIAN SPY ONE: “They’re not going to win any Lambda Awards, that’s for sure. Don’t we have more important things to do? Like spy on Trump?”

LESBIAN SPY TWO: “We can use their novel as our cover.”

LESBIAN SPY ONE: “So, ‘Operation Velvet Minx’ means we are going to spring honey traps for members of the Trump Administration?”

LESBIAN SPY TWO: “We’ll compromise key personnel to prevent American adventurism and domestic fascism.”

LESBIAN SPY ONE: “Who are we working for these days? It’s so hard to keep track!”

LESBIAN SPY TWO: “Oh, we’re double, even triple agents. Our handlers keep disappearing in various purges. But the money keeps being deposited in our Swiss, Cypriot, Jersey, and Cayman Islands accounts.”

LESBIAN SPY ONE: “So we must be delivering the goods.”

LESBIAN SPY TWO: “I’d say we are a stabilizing geopolitical force.”

LESBIAN SPY ONE: “So, we’re more blackmailers than spies?”

LESBIAN SPY TWO: “For now. Things might change after the next round of American presidential debates.”


HIM: “So you’re flipping the P.O.V.?”

HER: “Totally. If we are going to write about the lesbian spies, then they get to write about us and the world as they understand and explain it.  Otherwise, it’s a sexist, misogynist, marginalizing, and exoticizing trope.”

HIM: “Our characters have agency?”

HER: “They have agency and can run ‘The Agency.’”

HIM: “But they are not CIA?”

HER: “They’ve gone rogue. Given Trump, what else could they do? They can’t just be Pussy Galore…”

HIM: “I forgot that you read all the Ian Fleming novels before seeing the films.”

HER: “I had a very strict upbringing. Maybe one of the spies will be named ‘Cartier Boudoir?’”

HIM: “Your homage to ‘Tiffany Case?’ But I still think the spies need to name themselves. Let’s wait and let them tell us how they became who they are.”


HIS LITERARY AGENT: “What’s going on with your lesbian spies?”

HIM: “They are opinionated, passionate, and able to impress my counterterrorism colleagues. They will be trained in surveillance and Krav Maga. Our spies can fly helicopters, defuse bombs, defeat human tracking and slavery, liberate abused maids from cruel employers, use technology secrets to help oppressed female cell phone factory workers, expose pedophile rings…they will demonstrate savoir faire, endearing habits, and personality quirks in their covert operations.”

HER: “Our spies will possess the rapier wit and fervent idealism. They will grant faerie godmother wishes, weave upon looms and, like the Fates, precisely cut the threads of those who undermine justice. They are marvelous in all ways, but not creations of Stan Marvel.”

HIS LITERARY AGENT: “Do your spies have a fatal flaw? Do they have vices? Are they allowed to have vices?”

HER: “They are nocturnal, vegan, drink too much hazelnut coffee, and wear feather boas.”

HIM: “They are tormented with guilt about no longer practicing civil disobedience.”

HIS LITERARY AGENT: “I’m concerned about your lesbian spies being too magical and heroic. There could be a backlash. Do you have an authenticity reader?”

HER: “There’s a secret literary resistance group. If they say the story is wrong, then it’s all wrong…”


HIM: “Why are you writing this crazy story? You don’t need to work so hard to get me into bed. If you’re clean and willing, I’m ready to dive in…”

HER: “You’re married! I’m married! But I still think we should try to change the world. Or encourage the lesbian spies to transform it. Isn’t our liberation bound up with theirs?”

HIM: “The lesbian spies are beautiful. I love them. They are going to change the world.”


As the clock struck midnight, a fragile hand slid gently between damp legs.

“Be careful out there, among them English. Don’t get blown up!”