On his way to bed, the widower scans his dresser top. Artifacts of a life no longer his. Brush bristles caressing the last of his hair. A carved wooden Japanese toy roulette wheel, the pea still rolling beneath its cap. The black leather bolo tie with a silver roadrunner slide, the only roadrunner he has ever seen.
The tie lies next to Lorna’s urn. He set them both there, after the service.
He has been sleeping better, since he ceased his nightly visit. Before, when he spoke to her before bed, he would then swirl in sleepless eddies of loss. She would appear, silent, spectral. She was always clothed, gorgeous. Always out of reach.
Two years on, he still wakes to tears. He swings his leg toward her side in hopes of meeting hers, but nothing. Quite often, he feels himself growing erect. He lies there until it goes away.
Today, he rises and takes the unused orgasm into his den, where he slips it into a manila envelope and a storage box.
Boxes are stacked to the ceiling against walls without windows. Boxes stack lowly beneath the sills, and up to the hanging rod in the closet, and on the shelf above it. They stairstep down from the ceiling toward an empty patch of carpet in the middle of the floor, where he stands, crushed by the accumulated longing.
The voice of his wife arrives at his side. “Why are you saving them? It won’t bring me back.”
Every orgasm they ever shared and never shared. All filed by date and time, address, special characteristics, volume of howling, levels of perspiration and other liquidity, whether after-naps ensued, or not.
He lifts a zip bag from one box, reads the label. June 18, 1996, in a small motel beneath a brilliant blue sky. They didn’t want outside, he recalled. They wanted everything inside.
That was a good one. Lorna had said that, more than once. They got so wrapped in lust, they forgot they had dinner reservations.
Until she passed, he hadn’t known the weight of unexpressed desire. All the additions to the files since then, all unused, they skittered around in their sleeves, like blind mice.
He is surprised at how his days now pass. He could spend hours at his screen, touching people he knew only from their profile photos and avatars. He sprinkles sympathy and celebration across the social world.
He is sorry for loss. Sorry for illness. Sorry for sin.
He is happy for praise. Happy for birth. Happy for bigger paychecks and corner offices and opportunity. Happy, because they are happy.
He shares none of his amputated shape. Why should he? What difference would it make?
Weird, he thinks, to have so many followers, so many friends he has never met, so much he knows of them but nothing of his own to share.
It strikes him special weird this day to read on Twitter the plaint of a comely thing in the council flats of Dibbleshire. Wherever that is.
She quotes a guy who wants a woman who can give him laughter.
She says she wants a guy who can give her orgasms.
Poor thing. No orgasms. Or maybe not enough. Or maybe plenty plenty, just sayin’ how she stokes the happy.
He thinks this is pathetic, putting it out there for anyone and everyone, anywhere and everywhere.
He goes to his storage room, his wife at his ear. “What say, sweetie?” he thinks. “Do we have any spare orgasms we can send this poor thing? She’s a Brit, I think. Three kids. Maybe single. Hard to tell, but she’s horny for sure.”
He shoots her a generous offer of unused O. He realizes it sounds like a joke. He is surprised she writes back. He could be a psycho, for all she knows. She sends a fake name and an address for a mail drop, something called Poste Restante, what his parents called General Delivery, before he had an address of his own.
He grabs a box of unused O, tapes the seams, calls the package shop.
Days pass. Social silence. All he can do is hope she finds it of value.
He and his dog are watching squirrels when the dog starts barking. The widower hears the delivery truck stop out front. The driver struggles to tilt a large box from the truck bed onto a dolly, then wheels it to the porch.
After the truck leaves, the widower goes outside. He struggles to think what he might have ordered of such size. No clue. He gently severs the tape securing the box, and folds back the flaps.
Curled tightly inside, calm and sleepy in a floral-print sundress, a middlish woman stirs. Her left eye opens. She looks up at the widower and smiles.
“Hiya, Luv,” she says.
“How’d you find me?”
“Return address on every file. Sweet of you to send me all that O, but I couldn’t use it.”
She pauses, then flashes her dimples.
Stuart Watson worked in newspapers before returning to fiction. He loves writing that feels new and whack. George Saunders. Barry Hannah. Aimee Bender. Watson’s own work is in more than two dozen publications, including Yolk, Barzakh, Bending Genres, Revolution John, Montana Mouthful and Pulp Modern Flash. He lives in Oregon.