Climax by Traci Skuce

Marilyn is in her office, on the floor, yoga mat spread beneath her, engaging her psoas. The ceiling squeaks. Or, to be exact, the bed above the ceiling. Her son’s bed, her son and his girlfriend in it. There’s the initial creak, back and forth, a pause or two, then faster, faster, pause. Marilyn tries to focus on her breath, on now describing a smile across her sacrum; her spine cracks and upstairs bed-spring squeaks intensify.

When her son was fifteen, she’d read a book called Buddha in Your Backpack, a guide, really, for teens. Ways the Buddha would’ve negotiated drugs and sex and other adolescent rites. It said, Your body will want to have sex. And one night, with a little too much wine in her, she’d said it to her son, Your body will want to have sex. And he’d let out such an exuberant I know! that she coughed up her wine, little maroon droplets landing across her chicken dinner. After that she kept reminding herself he was a sexual being, that we’re all sexual beings, and hoped he didn’t check out porn, actively watch, but of course he did, admitting it years later, when she finally mustered the courage to ask.

And now the bed-springs are really going, maybe the bed is shifting, tectonic style, across the floor. Marilyn moves into child’s pose and worries her son is rushing through, hopes he isn’t, but he’s prone to it. Like the time he ate his birthday burrito in two bites. They’d ordered a second and she’d said, This time en-joy it, hissy demand in her voice. But she can’t say that now, can she? Knock on the door and throw her two cents in about slowing down.

She’d read a story in which an older brother gave a younger one half a peach and told him a woman was like that; told him to practice with the fruit, to linger, to actually taste her. It sounded the best advice to Marilyn and she put peaches on her grocery list the next week. But they were out of season.

The creaking continues and she’s stretching her hamstrings the new way, hands behind her thigh, pressing back. Should she let them know she can hear? They’re young adults, after all, twenty and twenty-one. And sex at that age, as she remembers, at least for her, was fairly mechanical. Masturbation was not. And that’s where the disconnect was, when the penis got involved the pleasure was, well, hardly there. And the climax? Sometimes she’d had to—not fake it exactly—but feign, as though close. Because the initial desire was always there and she wanted it back, but something always went sideways with the thrusting business.

She’s sure that’s why she got pregnant too young with her son: his dad the first to make her come. Later, after he’d left and she went through those years (years!) of postpartum depression, she thought how small a victory that had been. Orgasms in exchange for an infant. What a fool. Still, the orgasms help. Some kind of reward for all that effort. And she hopes her son is aware of that, or that he and his girlfriend are working toward it—in a protected, savvy way.

Now the creaking has stopped and it’s all denouement with doors opening, footsteps overhead and the shower running. Marilyn can settle back into her yoga—downward dog, triangle, warrior two—without thinking about whether her son rushed through it or not. Though she does, and she will, for many more days.

Traci Skuce lives on Vancouver Island. Her work has appeared in New Ohio Review, Grain, The New Quarterly, Varnish, and other journals. She won the 2016 Sheldon Currie Prize for fiction, and was a finalist in the 2015 CBC Creative Nonfiction awards.

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