She comes into my apartment from the heat of the desert day.

“Hi Mary,” I say.

“Hi, Matt,” she says.

She stands in the middle of the room and fans herself with her small hand.

“Whew,” she says. “That cab was hot. I don’t think the driver had bathed in a week!”

Her face is flushed and she smiles. Then she starts taking off her clothes. It’s a small apartment that is one big room. I am sitting at my kitchen table next to the fan.

“How is everything?” I say.

“My love life’s gone to hell,” she says. She looks at the ceiling while she takes off a sock standing on one foot.

“Problems with Ernesto?” I say. I stand up from the kitchen table and sit down on the bed. I have on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.

“He’s so closed off,” she says. She folds her clothes and places them on a chair. “He never lets anyone inside.” She points to her heart. “He told me that he has never been in love in his entire life. 50 years old and he’s never been in love.”

She comes over and stands there naked. She’s 49 years old. Her belly and legs are like melting candles. Her breasts are small and still nice and her face is youthful and pretty.

She sits down next to me and starts absentmindedly stroking my penis through my shorts. I take off my shirt.

“It’s not easy to find someone you like,” I say. “And then it never lasts.”

“You’re telling me,” she says. “What are you? 41? 42?”

I nod.

“Just wait,” she says. “You’ll find out how hard it is. Every man my age looks like a grandpa. And I don’t care what they say: sex appeal is important.”

“I’ve seen a few 50-year-old men who look pretty good,” I say.

“Sure,” she says, “and do you know what? They are so arrogant.”

“Did you ever have sex with Ernesto?” I ask.

“No,” she says. “But I wanted to.” She lets out a gasp. “He has the biggest thighs I’ve ever seen.”

She squeezes one of my skinny thighs while she says this.

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Well,” she says, “Ernesto is old fashioned. I knew he wouldn’t respect me if I slept with him right away.”

“How long have you dated?”

“Six months.”

“You’re a tease.”

“Well,” she says, “I know he has women he sleeps with, you know, just casual sex.”

“Then why’s he dating you?”

Because he’s looking for something better, something real, something emotional. There is a difference, you know, between sex that is emotional and sex that is just casual sex.”

“I know.”

“It’s sad,” Mary says. “He’s such a smart man. I don’t want to sound vain, but it’s rare I meet a man who is smarter than me.”

“Does he know about your, uh, side hobby?”

“Oh no, I wouldn’t tell him.”

“So you’d just quit doing this if you get serious with him?” I say.


“You’d just quit cold turkey?”

She pats my stomach. “Don’t worry,” she says, “I’d give my regulars plenty of warning. Besides, it’s not going to happen.” She reaches down into her purse and gets out a condom. “The other day I told Ernesto we should just be friends.”

“Thank God.”

“I gave him plenty of time,” she says, “and my mother liked him. She liked him a lot, and he liked my mother too, which is important.”


“I mean,” Mary says, “I trust my mother. I really trust her. Almost everybody knows their mother loves them, but not everybody feels it.”

“I think you’re right,” I say.

“I feel it,” she says, “I really feel it. My mother has always loved me. She’s always shown me and told me how much she loves me.”

“I haven’t seen my mother in a while.”

“You should call your mother.”

“I should.”

“But,” she says, “me and my mother agree that there is something about Ernesto that won’t let him get close to anybody. I’m not a young woman anymore. I want someone to settle down with, someone who can love me, and let himself be loved. It’s very hard for some men to let themselves be loved.”

She pushes me back and takes off my shorts and puts a condom on me and puts me in her mouth. She straddles my left leg and her small breasts brush against the hair on my thighs. I look down at her shoulders, which are a little rounded and coarsened with a few freckles, but still nice. I run my fingers through her hair. Her hair is rough and dyed brown. I reach down and stroke her ass. My fingers get a little too close to her asshole and she gives me an “oh no, you don’t” sound like a mother catching a child trying to dip his fingers into the icing bowl. I go back to her hair.

She stops sucking and looks up at me. “You know what really did it?” she says. “He invited me and Mother to his house for dinner. It was the first time I’d ever been in his house. Anyway, his house was very…very, tidy.”

“Too tidy?”

“It was like it wasn’t lived in, like no one really lived there. Mother felt it too and we talked about it all the way home. There was just something wrong with the whole scene.”

“I’m sorry, Mary.”

Afterwards, she gets dressed. I lay back on the pillow still naked.

“How about you?” she asks, “Dating anybody yet?”

“No. No time.”

“Well,” she says, “us girls do need a little time.”

“Among other things.”

“The thing people don’t understand,” she says, “is men and women are different, very fundamentally different. It’s amazing to me we can get along at all.”

She walks over to my desk and picks up the five twenty dollar bills I had placed there. Then her pager goes off. She looks at it and then looks at me and smiles.

“Bye, Mary,” I say.

“Bye, sweetie.”

Her cab pulls up outside. She had told the driver to come back in an hour. She walks out into the sun, leaving the door open like she always does. I stand up and walk over and reach out for the doorknob. I stand there for a few seconds, squinting into the glare.