There are two ways of going about promiscuity: either you belly flop into a haphazard, frantic fuckfest in which pleasure acquires a dull patina, or you relish the artful improvisation of a long seduction. I had ended up in a call center, so it was difficult to avoid the temptations of the former. An excess of mostly young people jumbled together in a drab office is setting the scene for a variety of couplings. And any playful temper will have its plumes. Boredom, wherever it chances to unfold, offers an unspeakable gift—the sudden cult of action. We didn’t have to worry too much about one another’s inner lives, because that meant a slowing down dangerously close to our workplace’s stasis. We went for drinks, laughed about the idiocy of management, laughed about our own little idiocies, lapsed into the textbook kiss, and fucked. You would think the workaday quality of these encounters shattered the illusion of revelry, but it speaks to the wonders of sex that a degree of satisfaction always dawned.
Few refrained. There was Ricardo, a sixty-year-old professor who had lost a prestigious bureaucratic position in a private university; Canela, a forty-year-old single mother who had to take care of her recently deceased sister’s children; Samantha, a fifty-year-old nursing student who had to pause her studies indefinitely given her husband’s unemployment; and Regina, a twenty-two-year-old accounting student who had to provide for her brother and ailing parents. They were close to one another in a manner unknown to us—clannish. And they all protected Regina from the continuous approaches of our ilk. She was naturally enticing. Among the jaded and overly cynical, there shone a spirited and plain youth. The protection was redundant and symbolic. Regina was not naïve. She knew the rituals and had no qualms about getting physical if someone tried to go beyond a shared laugh.
Uzberto and Katherine had always been at odds regarding transparency. He saw it as a Puritanical stratagem that suffocated the frolicsome nature of sex. Moreover, it was unsustainable, since it presupposed an authentic self. She, on the other hand, had no patience for playacting; it marred our impulses with readymade roles and cut short any long-term pleasure. Owing to the turmoil I felt within, to certain familiarity (and to the relative ease, why not admit that much), I inclined heavily to Uzberto’s side. Regina would open to the straightforward man, who has no patience for conventions yet inspires trust through sheer presence. That meant dropping my habitual dependence on language. No ambiguity, no suggestiveness, no irony. Our bodies would have to make do with the basics.
We had a sweet beginning. All wordplay would’ve been misspent with her. She delighted in storytelling for its own sake, indulged in the most outsized anecdotes, devoured horoscopes and tarot readings. To take everything at face value had embellished the store of her consolations. Likewise, her body was pliable and set engaging responses to the mannerisms of whoever neared it. There was a brio to her that I’ve never found again in its precise intensity.
By then, I had been single for a year or so, and the prospect of a relationship was not as trivial as I normally considered it. With Elena and with Verónica I deluded myself through reducing the naming to a labeling act. Our interactions sooner or later adjusted to a tacitly understood code of conduct. I now lived at the margins, where you stood shoulder to shoulder with tricksters, hucksters, opportunists, mavericks, immoralists—a community of stubborn, zealous, broken Quixotes. Involving myself in a relationship was caving in to the demands of the stiff-necked crowd, one I had tried to renounce ever since Palmira, to no avail.
Regina, however, remained silent on the subject—even when we got more intimate. It was curious to see an abrupt opacity in such a candid person. And it surely was opacity, since our days together didn’t meaningfully change. Though closer to Uzberto in deeds, I talked about this only with Katherine.
“She may be as uninterested in a relationship as you.”
“I find that hard to believe given her reluctance with everyone else.”
“It always gets to me how daft you can be when someone’s a bit more interesting to you. She didn’t find those other men attractive. That’s it.”
“Fine. But then there’s her family. She talks about them with a tinge of despair, and seems determined to avoid their mistakes.”
“You’re failing to tell me all that’s on your mind.”
“She’s immersed in her parents’ world of traditional values. I guess that’s my point. Why wouldn’t she be waiting for a serious relationship? You know how rough it is to escape the expectations set in childhood. If she wants a change, it will take place inside that world.”
“Maybe. Maybe she’s just having fun. I get it. You don’t want to tip this delicate balance. But what else besides waiting?”
I did, all the while discussing my flings with the rest.
Katherine and I frequented each other more through accidental circumstances. She had been absent from the reunions for some time, so I had to meet her at scattered hours in order to catch up. Her sister had moved into her room after a torturous separation. Most knew that much. The reasons were unclear. Katherine was absolutely hermetic and didn’t let anyone see her. I later had a glimpse, which caused a fury. Reasonably so. Her sister seemed disfigured by bruises. Katherine eventually calmed down, but kept silent. I could notice the hardship in the mellowing of her temper.
Regina and I finally reached a tipping point. We were at one of her friend’s parties— more physical than usual. By the time the atmosphere was whittling, we were against a corner, unaware of anything but the slow careening of our bodies. A certain desperate staccato in our groping suggested we were too eager. I unbuttoned her jeans and before my hand slid enough, she hugged me.
“I’m a virgin.”
She was not apologetic or reproachful. She simply buttoned back her jeans and asked for us to leave. On the way home, she said all had been a welcome surprise. Three or four other opportunities brought us to a similar point. She then candidly asked why beds were proving so elusive.
We traversed most of the city’s motels. Never had I explored with such minuteness another body. Never had mine been. Hours upon hours unveiled the separate. Her flesh was flabby in the manner of typically imagined naiads. Her moans were raucous. And her hair was harmoniously feral. We were stalling, however. Through its being stubbornly unmentioned, the act itself carried an increasing significance. Each time we neared it, her eyes pleaded for deferral. Somehow one of the most outspoken persons I had ever met managed to shade that most pristine of realities.
If she persisted in her silence, why was I not forthright? It is easy to deceive myself. I’ve essayed a number of explanations over the years: I didn’t want an explicit rejection of the possibility, I didn’t want to push her away, I didn’t want an uncomfortable truth to surface—be it related to appearance or to psychology, I didn’t feel an overriding need. All seem too incomplete, yet they could hardly be taken together. Lately I’ve played with a new one: I was before an alternative form of satisfaction, one that had at its core the indefinite delay of climax. And I must emphasize the “I.” She reached hers, dizzying and capricious in their scattering. If I speak of satisfaction, it is only because she teased me with a spirit I’ve not found again—aggressively charged and unpredictable, as if entranced. Much remained mystifying: her fitful smiles, her quivering lower lip, her roving glance, her recusant tongue.
In one of the now rare instances in which we were all reunited, Isaac again lambasted my work-related decisions.
“I know you have a more important reason to stay at this point. But you’re clearly miserable.”
“It’s amazing how minutely your spirit is crushed when day in day out you’re at the receiving end of people’s petty rages.”
“I said it before. You don’t have the mettle. And it’s not like you should develop it. Find something else, something that is at least closer to your bookish affinities.”
“I’m not looking for sympathy. I made the decision. But it’s obviously harder without a degree.”
Katherine then proposed an escape.
“A friend of my sister’s recently talked to me about a librarian vacancy at PU. The pay is terrible. My current job at the museum, mediocre at best, almost doubles it. That’s why I declined. It definitely beats the call center, though.”
“Something of the sort was what I had in mind.”
“I’ll have to look into it.”
“Regina shouldn’t make you hesitate. She’ll probably be happy for you.”
She was. I quit. Though we did not see each other as before, we still managed to retain the warmth we had achieved. And no labels lingered nearby.
I wonder whether that warmth would’ve momentarily turned into the far-off passion that always lurked in the back of my mind. There were some signs, such as Regina’s ravenous care and attachment, which fused with a thorough self-reliance. I wonder. But on this occasion, it was not memory that undid me.
Israel A. Bonilla lives in Guadalajara, Jalisco. His work has appeared in
Able Muse, Exacting Clam, Berfrois, New World Writing, King Ludd’s Rag, Maximus, Firmament, and elsewhere. ‘Regina’ is an excerpt from his novel-in-progress, Our Saturnalias. Twitter: @iab9208