Mona Houghton



An Excerpt from Frottage . . .


Dear Paul,
     I had my first dream about you. For that matter it is the first dream I've had since I started to see you.
     We are on a couch, a couch very much like the one in my very own living room. You are on your back and I am on top of you and we are joined (having sex, making love, doing it, doing each other)—the exotic element (the dream-quality) being that your penis is of unlimited length. No deviance associates itself with this extraordinary feature, no sense of pain and/or pleasure, shame and/or glory. The feelings rest more in the wondrous realm.


Dear Paul,
     I thought my letter might get a rise out of you.
     I guess you want me to say it out loud, to wrap my lips around the words, to take my tongue and enunciate. And if I had enunciated, this is all you would have heard: “I dreamed about fucking you.” I could never have ventured into the detail, into the sensational aspect of the dream.


Dear Paul,
     I like it that your office is close to the freeway. Bruce is gone. Gay Michael is better. Better name. He must spend an hour or two at the gym every day. Pumping something.
     p.s. Is he a good bookkeeper?


Dear Paul,
     You know the space between the two doors—the door from the waiting room and then the two or three feet of empty space and then the door into your actual room—is that symbolic? The illusion of privacy. They could simply install a single solid core door, no?
     Or do those doors imply that the builder actually insulated the whole room with two or three feet of dead space, that when I sit across from you in the black leather chair, there is this void, this absence, this very real blanket of nothing all around us, maybe even creating a kind of vacuum, a force that works to hold all the pieces together, keeping me, the patient, whole? At two hundred and fifty dollars a square foot to build, though, somehow I doubt it. Your room is what, 200 square feet, which means you pay rent on 240 extra square feet of space—that the builder spent, what, something like 60,000 dollars to insure me that I can come in there and spill my guts and no one but you will hear me, no Bruce or Gay Michael or anybody else. Are my secrets really that safe?


Dear Paul,
     Your suggestion that I have tea with my mother is beyond absurd. I can only deduce that you are a parent, that you hope your kids will want to have tea with you when they are thirty-nine. But that has nothing to do with me having tea with my mother.
     I come to you because I fuck people other than my husband. Don't be telling me to have tea with my mother.


Dear Paul,
      Anger. You talk about it all the time.
Up yours and your 60,000 dollars worth of privacy. I'll be angry wherever I want to be angry.
     P.S. He said he wanted to eat me like an eClaire.


Dear Paul,
     This afternoon after I left your office I got stuck in a traffic jam right outside your building.
     The street maintenance guys were working on the freeway off-ramp. So I was sitting there (a) patient(ly) lost in the post-therapeutic wrung-out state-of-mind and the whiffs of cigar smoke coming from the car in front of me, when this shrill, high pitched kid-scream interrupted my reflections. I looked across the on-coming traffic and saw a boy in a white tee shirt and blue warm-ups stumbling out of the lane of traffic and up onto the sidewalk. He turned back to face the street. He couldn’t have been more than eleven or twelve, but his tear streaked face glowed bright red with a far older sense of rage. He shouted, angry and spitting, “Fuck you, Mom. Fuck you.” He flipped the bird in the direction of the traffic, then flung himself down on a grassy knoll in front of a branch of Bank of America. I tried to see which car had “fuck you, Mom,” in it. Everyone around me appeared to be relatively reasonable, calm in their Hondas and Toyotas and Escorts. Then I saw a couple in a brand new pick-up truck—didn’t even have plates yet. The man, who had his hair pulled back into a pony tail, was beating on the steering wheel and yelling at the woman in the passenger seat. She was screaming back at him. The man twisted in his seat so as to look at the boy who by then sat with his head hanging down between his knees. The woman continued to scream. The boy spat. He looked up, raised his finger into the air and shouted out another “fuck you.” The pick-up inched forward, and then as the light turned yellow, the truck jumped ahead and into the other north-bound lane and sped through the intersection. The boy let out another red-faced bellow.
     I found all this particularly interesting since we had been discussing, in such detail during our last few meetings, the hostilities experienced in any childhood.
     As I crawled slowly toward the freeway on-ramp, I kept my eye on the boy the whole while. I could see his little shoulders heaving and when it came to be my turn to make a right, instead I went straight and continued around the block. By the time I got back to where the boy sat on the lawn, he seemed to have regained some self control. I pulled up beside him and yelled through my opened passenger window. He looked up. I asked him how he was doing. He said, “What do you want, lady?” I asked him if I could help. He asked me if I was a “fuckin’ pervert.” I told him not to get smart with me and tears popped back into his eyes. The kid was nobody’s fool. Wisely, he would not get in my car, but he did agree to meet me at the Denny’s on the other side of the freeway.
     I parked and waited for him at the restaurant’s double glass doors. He seemed to pay no attention to the traffic lights when it came to crossing the street. He had his goal in sight and he marched toward it, his thin shoulders boxed and tight, fisted hands hanging at his sides. He had ‘don’t mess with me’ all over him.
     He gave me a curt nod as he approached. I told him my name. He didn’t tell me his. I opened the door for him and he walked into the air conditioned space, and I could see the chill ripple through his body. I let him choose our booth. He didn’t care.
     Slowly his expression, his body, his whole being loosened. His cold eyes passed over me, lashless like he’d pulled the hairs out one by one, and green.
     The waitress came over, asked us what we would like. Those eyes darted between me and the woman and I said, “You first,” and he said, “You’re payin’, right?” and I said that indeed I was and he ordered a platter (hamburger, French fries, cole-slaw), a large Coke, some apple pie, and yes to the scoop of vanilla ice cream. I asked for a cup of coffee.
While we waited for his food to arrive he stared out the window and I tried all my teacherly tricks to try to bring him out. Nothing worked, not cool, sympathetic, authoritative, naïve. All he could muster were single syllable responses. And once the food arrived he didn’t say another word. He ate (his table manners weren’t half bad), got up, said a very insincere thanks, and walked out of the restaurant.
     Perhaps he got exactly what he wanted/needed.
     I wanted to taste that anger. What I got to see, instead, to watch, was how he folded it in, a secret message, an origami, a bird that will one day fly out of him and explode red blood all over his life.
     What did you do this afternoon, once I walked out of there?


Dear Paul,
     I’m imagining you there now, in your womby room, the double doors closed, you alone, between patients, always between patients except when I am there, safe, with your two hundred and forty square feet of dark buffer. Clean space. Clean.
     The possibility of redemption astounds me.
     Today you are a religious man. It is calming to embrace you in this role.


Dear Paul,
     It is Friday. I gave a test today and now I have to check 63 drawings of the Triclad flatworm. Some of the boys and girls are quite good—they even bring colored pencils and Marks-A-Lots. Some of them are not artists. And some of them do not give a damn, and if they have a Marks-A-Lot all they want to do is sniff it.


Dear Paul,
     Have you noticed the absence of my missives? Or is your not mentioning it some trick, a doctorly device?
     If you really want to know, my husband is perfect. He has a beautiful body. Good shoulders, a nice chest with nipples that are flat and just the right color against his skin that one might call olive. But it isn’t olive skin. The color is more complex. His stomach is flat—he has a nice ass, and yes, since I am describing him and you have 60,000 dollars worth of privacy surrounding you, I’ll tell you his penis is above average on all counts: good sized, nicely shaped, sensitive, well proportioned and well placed in its environ (pubic hair, testicles, etc.). His thighs, a tiny bit on the thin side. The rest of his legs are good and his feet—narrow, high-arched, and toes, each a beautiful bite.
     I tried to show you his picture once. I pretended that it had come out of my purse as I got your check and in the pretense I shared it with you. “Oh, this is John.” I have wondered since then if you were already on to the next patient and so you only glanced at it cursorily or if you really did not want to know what he looked like, that knowing this would interfere with your process—or should I say our process—or, the third possibility, if you simply couldn’t give a rat’s ass what my husband looked like.
     I forgot to mention John’s arms and his head. His arms are good, long enough to go around me and not too hairy. And he has big hands, the palms perhaps disproportionately small in relation to the length of his fingers, which are quite long, and inquisitive. His face, angular—he’s handsome to me.
     As body types go you two couldn’t be more different.
     So, you said, “You keep John in the fog.” Now, that is a direct, factual quote. Is he standing in sunshine now? Is he there for you?


Dear Paul:
     I’m not stupid. I know you don’t care what his dick looks like.


Dear Paul,
     It’s Albert Einstein’s birthday. One hundred and thirty-two years old. I always like to celebrate relativity.
     I had dinner tonight with a friend who is an architect. You don’t have 60,000 dollars of privacy. No two hundred forty square feet of silent darkness embraces you. The double door merely forces an illusion. Humoring me, is that it? No vacuum, no blanket.
     And so you have, at the double door, three feet by three feet—nine square feet of unusable space, at two hundred and fifty dollars a square foot comes to two thousand, two hundred and fifty dollars of privacy—and then the room probably has two layers of drywall on it—one layer a half an inch thick and one layer three eighths of an inch thick. The half inch of drywall is normal, as far as cost goes. But you have, I have estimated, approximately four hundred and eighty square feet of wall space. That extra layer of three eighths inch drywall, installed, costs four dollars a square foot, which, by my math, comes to one thousand, nine hundred and twenty dollars. Total cost: four thousand one hundred seventy dollars. Seven eighths of an inch of buffer. Not even an inch of anything.
     I need more, Paul. I need more.
     Oh sure. I understand about the two layers of drywall and the differential in thickness between the layers has to do with how sound travels. My architect friend explained that to me. I understand that my voice, as I scream and cry and yell, hits the wall and travels through the first layer of drywall at X angle and then when it hits the next layer of drywall, because of the difference in thickness, the angle of my anguish changes. I understand that that activity, the motion the sound must make as it shifts angle, in theory, further muffles, kills, the sound. And so, in theory, the Bruces or gay Michaels, and now what’s her name, Bettys of the world would have to have stethoscopes glued to the wall in order to enjoy my blitherings.
     But you see, I don’t care about understanding. I liked them—my two feet of wonderful darkness.


Dear Paul—
     I made a mistake in my calculations earlier. The door. No drywall at the double door. That is twenty one square feet because the door there is three foot by seven foot. So, the total is eighty-eight dollars off. Four thousand ninety-two dollars for seven eighths of an inch between us and the rest of the world.


MAY 14

Dear Paul,
     So it looks like you practically cut your hand off and all you’ll say is “I hurt myself.” That, Dear Doctor, is evident. What, how, why? Or shall I speculate? Daydream.
     I’m with you in Topanga, in the Canyon, and we have a weekend project, some task to complete.
     After picking up the materials at the lumber yard we stop for some lunch meat at the General Store where we run into Luke, a friend of ours from way back when. For old time’s sake, he gives us some reefer which I quickly roll into a huge doobie and which we share as we make our way up Canyon Boulevard toward home. In other words, by the time we get back to the house, our house, we are wrecked, wiped out, high as kites, loaded—but that doesn’t stop us. We still go around back to the tool shed, giggling at the cat perched in the tree, laughing ourselves silly at the deflated happy birthday balloon hanging on the garage eave, find the circular saw, the extension cord, the tape measure and we start to build the god-damn deck. No. We find the blow torch, the solder, the flux paste and sweat those pipes, retrofit the whole damn house. Wrong again. I’ve got it now. We get out the putty, the putty knife, those funny two pronged glazing nails, and we glaze the new glass into those windows, the ones little Jenny (our pretend well-adjusted daughter [well-adjusted because she has a shrink dad]) broke last week when she accidentally shot off the rifle that you left loaded by accident. She was standing in the living room when the gun exploded. You and I were in the back arguing but the kaaboom shut down our yelling. We ran out into the living room. Jenny cried. You screamed at her for touching the gun. That happened Wednesday night. On Saturday (Jenny’s on a play-date) we went to get the panes of glass et cetera. You cut yourself (we were stoned) as we tried to remove the broken glass from the frames.
     Yes, that’s it. You wouldn’t have worked today if you’d sawed off a finger, and a burn, I don’t know, it doesn’t capture my imagination. Flaky, dead skin. But a good solid cut on a jagged piece of glass, you know, you’re stoned, you’re careless. I like the visual and it sounds real to me.
So, doctor, there you go. Choice three. I mean, how does that scenario tell you a thing about me in relationship to what we’re supposedly doing there?
     p.s. You could have simply told me what happened.

May 16

Dear Paul,
     You failed to interpret my fantasy. Shall I do it for you? Shall I tell you that the “huge doobie” might represent one of Freud’s infamous cigars, that the loaded gun continues the phallic imagery, that the blow torch choice has obvious implications, that the kaaboom carries a potential climax in it somewhere, and yes, the broken window, the bloody gash—come on, Paul, the reverie holds a plethora of potential insight into my psyche, my imaginary relationship to you.           
     p.s. I have a good friend who smokes cigars. Whenever anyone makes the Freud/penis comment around him he always says, “If I was going to suck a dick it’d be a lot bigger than this.”



Dear Paul,
     I guess I write to you for two reasons.
I miss you. I walk out of your office on Monday and the thought of not seeing you for seventy-four hours overwhelms me. The jagged arrow makes its way into my heart, flesh ripping.
     And so I miss you and so I write to you, something, something casual, something easy and fun, and then other times, it’s different, instead I’m practicing, for some tellings must be practiced, verbalized in different ways so that they become palatable, like saying to someone “XYZ happened to a friend of mine,” when it really happened to you. So, yes, I admit there is distancing. But doesn’t there have to be something between me and them, some scrim, doesn’t it make sense that I have to get used to the idea of putting words on these buried things? One cannot simply rip anaerobes out into the air and expect them to survive. It’s gradual, Paul. They need space to mutate, to adapt, to find their way into utterances, spoken things. Their process—a vague sensation, then maybe a fleeting whisper, illusive and without sound. A few days pass, a week, a year and in the back of the head one hears a crying out, some guttural noise, and if one has the stamina to keep listening, maybe, just maybe, the cry-out turns into a word, a phase. Maybe later a sentence comes and one writes it down and maybe it turns into a paragraph. And on the page—we’re used to reading all sorts of things—on the page suddenly whatever this is takes on angles, shadows and light, and slowly one can get used to it, can find some comfort in its form. Only then can whatever-this-is be spoken.
     The writing, it’s just a step in a long, scientific process.

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