She slept with men who only wanted to play Settlers of Catan. She slept with law students who had framed copies of the Constitution on their bedroom walls. She slept with sound architects, sound engineers, and the second baseman from her softball league. She hardly ever slept. Sometimes she took a pill, but often she lay awake next to a sleeping man, trying to read the Bill of Rights in the dark, then called a taxi and went home. She liked riding in the back of a taxi at night. It felt private, even with the driver up front. She liked recognizing the streets closer to her building, and she liked the deli where she sometimes went to get money to pay the driver. She’d grab a can of condensed milk, a hairnet. She wasn’t sure what for.
The men never called. They sent her smiley-face permutations and pictures of their cocks, but not one had called her since the year 2004. That man had met her at a flash mob in a department store, then looked her up in the last phone book the phone company ever printed. She had lived in a different building then, had withdrawn cash at a different deli, and needed a landline to communicate with parents who didn’t trust cell phones yet. She and the man dated for five months, but things never got as good as figuring out that he had found her in the phone book.
She slept with men who were sober for no reason. She found this more alarming than if they had once been alcoholics. She slept with recovering alcoholics, suffering workaholics, and a heroin addict who wanted them to have the same spirit animal. The heroin addict was writing a memoir about overcoming heroin addiction. Having a deadline for his memoir had stressed him out so much that he had started using heroin again.
Some of the men carried condoms in their wallets, like it was the fifties. It was not the fifties. One day, it would be the 2050s, and she would have to do this all over again in a retirement community. In between, she’d get married, get widowed. She’d miss him, but would be grateful for all the years they’d had together. Where was she going to meet her future late husband? At work? At work, she’d met an anthropology professor by the copy machines who called her “little girl” in bed. She was thirty-two. But he was even older. He didn’t like what she had been photocopying, a text by a continental theorist whose opinion of history most straight men considered misinformed. Her students handed in papers about the theorist’s work that began, “This story confused me at first.” She didn’t sleep with her students. They were too confused.
She slept with a man who didn’t keep any food in his house. He was a used-book dealer, and there were piles of signed first editions in his oven. Another used-book dealer had hair on the shaft of his penis and a panic attack in her bedroom. Used-book dealers, she decided, were the worst. She liked books, but she didn’t care about the edition. New things were okay with her. Everything got old soon enough anyway.
She slept with younger men. She didn’t really have a choice. Men her own age were busy going bald, acquiring bald offspring. Men her own age had jobs like “head of school,” “program facilitator,” and “lawyer.” She tried to be excited that the men she slept with were younger, but she was just as excited if they were older, or the same age. Her body acted the same no matter who touched her. It had been that way since college, when she’d slept with a man who didn’t take his sweater off during the act. She’d found it a nice break from skin. He had later transferred. Some of the men she slept with had studied abroad, some had taken time off, but all of them had gone. Her body valued education.
Her body valued her body. She took long showers, ate avocados, stretched while chanting in Sanskrit, and slept her way through the phone book. There was no more phone book, but she had names in her phone, first names only: Davids and Adams, Lukes, Sams. She’d get a message at night—What are you doing right now?—and go. What was she doing? Sometimes she didn’t know exactly who was messaging her and it would be a surprise when she got there: which David, which Sam. Some of the buildings had elevators and she enjoyed the anticipation on the ride up, the soreness on the ride down. What happened in between almost didn’t happen. She’d wind up back where she started, walk into the street, and hail a cab.
REBECCA SCHIFF graduated from Columbia University’s MFA program, where she received a Henfield Prize. Her stories have appeared in n+1, Electric Literature, The American Reader, Fence, and Guernica. She lives in Brooklyn.