Thirteen Channels

by Karl Krausbart

Henry and Alice, each reading. Every few seconds Henry looks up, as if a conversation is about to begin. Alice is flipping pages in a novel, looking for the plot. The wall-clock hums. Every :59:59 one hand twitches, leaps toward :00, :00.

Henry and Marie. They are on a bed in neutral territory, a friend's bed. Henry does not look at his ring. The window is open. They are careful not to make too much noise. Each one hears distant freeway sounds, not the same freeway sounds each hears at home. There is a clock on the dresser, an antique, stopped at an exact second, an exact minute, some indeterminate day.

A large party. Is he the one she's been seeing? Am I looking at Marie too often? Alice imagines she has never heard laughter and hears how grotesque it is, like twenty animals each choking on a bone. Outside, four noble horses are slowly becoming mice.

Alice and Marie. They are having a heart-to-heart and telling all. They are lying through their teeth. They are revealing very deep feelings. They are concealing their "little" indiscretions. Neither says she might enjoy intimacy with the other. Both go home and watch the six o'clock news.

Henry and Arnold. They are trying something new for both of them, though Arnold came close to doing it once before with another man, a long time ago. Everything is prepared, liquor gulped down, hard rock. Henry wants to continue to the end, but Arnold is getting twitchy about the whole thing. Overhead, the 10:18 to Boston has reached 8000 feet. Engine number two is making a faint new sound, a kind of breathing.

Marie, at the mall. She is here to be alone, to think, to think about showing up, glancing around, knocking quietly on the strange door, slipping in, slipping out of her things and then, then what will her life be? Watching words, remembering not to know a suburb she's never been in. In the shop window, dozens of clocks lie about the time, each in its own way.

Alice on her bed naked, fingers inside her slowly in and out. Fantasy of one man after another, one finished and out, next one ready and in, each differently thick, differently hard, each stretching her a different way. They come like clockwork.

Marie and Harold, standing up, braced against each other, ramming rhythmically face to face, far out as they can not slipping out, far in pressing together until breathless again, then faster all over again. He to she: "I've wanted you since I first saw you;" and she to he, "I've wanted you in me forever;" and he to she, "You drew me into you with your arms, your beautiful smooth skin;" and she to he, "I wanted my mouth on yours, our speech making breathsong together." And then he to she, "You're no better than most;" and she to he, "Just another sweating man, don't know why I bother;" and he to she, "I'm going to pretend to come. Then I'll put on my pants and leave;" and she to he, "I wish you'd just get it over with so I can sleep." Without intending to, they stroke exactly once each second.

Alice, to herself, daydreaming, keeping her hands to herself. "I shall be so happy, with the day's heat wrapped around me like a lover, and a wave of my arm brings trays of parti-colored fruits, bright green and red and yellow. And I shall have 'Yes ma'am' and 'Very well ma'am' and 'As you say, ma'am' at all times; and when I coax a lover to my bed he will say 'Yes, ma'am, I shall please you greatly, ma'am;' and he will please me oh so very much--." The ceiling fan circles slowly, rhythmic sounds of air.

Henry, alone. Behind the half-opened louvers of Alice's bedroom he moves slowly. He is carefully and thoroughly looking for something. He opens and closes drawers. Occasionally he holds up a blue sheet of note paper, a notebook, or an envelope to the single room light, scans it quickly, and carefully replaces it. He paws through clothes, looking for something, gaining some odor of sensuality. He finds a diary and tries to decode the cryptic marks. Now he is frantically looking, making no attempt to be silent or neat. He thinks he has figured out the code, each mark can mean, has meant, an infinite number of things, strokes on paper, rhythm in time to desire.

Henry, by himself, imagining many others, one -- two -- many at a time. Waiting as long as he can before losing the power to imagine. His rising pulse counts off the seconds.

Marie and Alice, each making some feeble comment as each removes another piece of clothing, "It's getting hot in here", then blushing at the words, "I meant..." too late, a little laugh, tight throat. Neither Marie nor Alice has done anything like this before, each says, except for the time that Alice is about to mention -- but it's not worth mentioning, she thinks. Each is trying to believe it's the other's idea, just going along out of curiosity, friendship. Finally nothing left to take off, they slip under the covers together, kiss tentatively, touch nipples gently, intertwine their thighs, begin to move more urgently. Their hearts beat now more quickly, together.

Henry and Alice. Alice closes her book with a sigh of impatience. Henry is now sure a conversation will begin. Alice goes away and has a headache. Henry sets the alarm and turns out the light.

©2001 by Karl Krausbart

Under his real name, Karl Krausbart publishes fiction, poetry, humor, and literary and technical essays in mainstream periodicals, "little" literary magazines, and computing and scientific journals. He has read at the Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art, the International Monetary Fund Visitors' Center, GRACE (Greater Reston Virginia Arts Center), The MAC (McKinney Avenue Contemporary) Theatre in Dallas, and elsewhere, and has survived interviews by the New York Times and USA Today. He has held too many responsible positions, and has been awarded too many academic degrees.

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