Sex, lurid or otherwise, wasn’t covered in Grub Street’s Incubator 2011- 12, the first year-long workshop. Or maybe it was, and I repressed it, or perhaps felt I didn’t need to pay attention since my novel followed an Amish family battling for survival on the Overland Trail of the late 1860s. Not that people didn’t have sex back then. I did hint: five children in the family might have suggested something went on behind closed doors. But my characters, Old Order by religion and disposition, kept their black clothes tightly secured. They never showed more than ankles covered in thick black stockings. Black, the color of their clothes, the color of their days and nights. Who knew I needed shades of gray to make a reader’s heart race.
When this became clear, I signed up for a Grub class, two in fact, since I was used the benefits of dual (if not dueling) teachers. Leave your inhibitions at the door, the class description recommended. I recorded the dates and the recommendation in my calendar and left it open on my desk for any to see including my husband. Why wouldn’t I?
The night of class came. “Helen, don’t go,” Harold pleaded as I finished changing my clothes, donning little heels, straightening my skirt, tucking in my blouse. I was stunned, Harold never objected to my going out.
“I have to,” I said. “I’ve paid for it.”
A flush crawled the wattles of his neck. He wrenched the knot of his tie. “Paid for it!” His eyes bulged.
I stepped back. “What’s your problem?”
He stabbed a finger at the calendar. “This… this…” and swept the book from desk to the floor. “6:30 PM,” he shouted. “Sex with Steve Almond. And you paid for it?”
He held his head, elbows high, and ground his eyes with the heels of both hands. “I can’t stand it.” The crease in his slacks trembled.
“Harold, Steve is…”
“Don’t tell me, some nut you picked off the street.” His voice quavered. “Oohhh, another man’s hands on your breasts.” And coming close to tears he said, “My wife in some grubby hotel.”
“Grub is not a hotel, it’s…”
“A motel? Oh Helen.”
“It’s a respectable…”
“Respectable, my ass? No inhibitions, what is that? It sounds like…” His cheek muscles flexed, veins throbbed on his forehead, the pouchy skin of his mottled neck drew tight as he thrust his red and swollen face at mine. “Is that what you want, the rough stuff?” he said. He yanked his tie and threw it across the room, tore open his shirt, and breathing hard, he pounced.
“So be it.” He snatched my Peter Pan collar in both fists. Buttons flew in all directions exposing my red bra, and he buried his face in the cleft of my fulsome… —Let’s skip ahead—
He gasped. “I’ll make you wish you’d never heard of Steve Almond.” So saying, Harold rammed his manicured hand under my skirt, running his fingers over the firm flesh of my thigh, up, up, invading the lace at the leg of my panties…
“NO! NO!” I implored. “I have to get to class.”
Oh lordy, is this really necessary? Now Sue Williams might say, you have to keep going, make it real, details. You have to get past the discomfort, go for it, spell it out.
Spelling, not easy for an old dyslectic like myself. No euphemisms, raw and clinical, get to the facts.
OK, Ok, so here are the facts: I don’t have lace on my panties. Fact 2— I haven’t worn a skirt and/or heels in twenty-six years. Fact 3— I haven’t had firm thighs since forty years before that. Fact 4— there is no husband, no Harold ( Remember my original class was Novel Incubator, not memoir).
To continue with factual disclosure, I did take a class with Sue Williams and I’m anticipating, oh bated breath, sex with Steve Almond. Yet under all this expert tutelage, I doubt the lives of my Amish characters will accumulate five shades of gray, much less fifty.
This post originally appeared on GrubStreet Daily on November 8, 2012.