Sometimes people think it must be all about the sex. It annoys me a bit but I suppose I can understand why. They look at me sideways like I’m some sort of pervert. “What does he get out of it?” they are asking themselves and each other.
It’s ironic that if they could answer that question they would know that it’s not all about the sex and that I’m not a pervert. After all, what do I get out of it? If Agda is in the mood then it can take a whole day to satisfy her, a day I could more profitably have spent filling out tax returns or getting on top of the garden. This is not to mention all the various tools involved, the clean-up afterwards and the sheer exhaustion of working for hours at a time in an uncomfortable harness. In addition, there is always a danger that she will go berserk and then I’m lucky if I get away with a few cuts and bruises. I’ve been hospitalised three times from what I call ‘marital injuries’ and it’s a real strain thinking of excuses. Our little bungalow, already modified to accommodate her, bears even worse scars. On one occasion, she ripped the front door from its frame and smashed it to kindling in the bathtub. So no, it’s not all about the sex.
Having said that, there are often moments just after the sex which I treasure. Moments when she is laid out on the great iron bed, her scent and heat filling the space like a thickening aura, the ancient tidal rhythm of her breath tugging at the edges of the room. I look over the white expanse of her flesh, marbled with bluish seams, etched with antique scars and runic tattoos, out towards the smoothly sleeping dome of her head, and I am filled with a sense of wonder.
But isn’t it like this, or similar to this, with all husbands and wives? I wouldn’t know. Agda was my first wife and she will be my last. I sometimes ask her about her other husbands but she isn’t forthcoming. “They were not like you,” she invariably says. If her mood is bad then there will be a weight of accusation and disappointment behind those words; if good then they will be frilled with tenderness. She may even reach out a playful finger and roll me around on the sofa until I beg her to stop.
It does irk me, therefore, when people think it’s just a matter of sex. Maybe they don’t see the fascination a wife like Agda can otherwise hold. Maybe they are too caught up in their own lives, in the here and now. They aren’t interested in history, in the solid foundations of things. Nowadays people just want instant pleasure. They think human beings can do without limits. Their idea of a good evening is doing it doggy style while sucking alcopops through a straw, their eyes glued to a widescreen blockbuster, one hand dipped into a bucket of fried chicken, the other tweeting frantically. They don’t appreciate the raw materials of life. But they are missing out. There is no app for marital joy.
Sometimes when Agda is sated she will pull me drowsily into the crook of her arm and let me ask about things she wouldn’t otherwise discuss. Usually I pounce on the chance to sort out some of our finances but if there’s time then I’ll ask her about her tattoos. When she’s in a good mood she will allow me to trace them across her surface with my hands.
“What’s this one?” I might ask, smoothing out a fold beneath her breast to reveal a faded blue battlefield covered in prickly warriors.
She will squint at the cryptic text which swirls through the scene like smoke. “It says I killed three men with my hands when I belonged to such-and-such a king,” she will say. “I don’t remember. It says I broke their helmets like eggs. Their names are not written.”
It is true she remembers very little. She may be centuries older than me but she can hardly recall even the eighties. It irritates me that when she looks at old pictures of us she often chuckles at my hairstyle or some ill-advised bit of kit I’m wearing.
“They’re moon boots,” I tell her. “Everybody wore them.”
But she doesn’t remember. She hardly remembers anything before the last thirty years. Her husbands, a little—there is the graveyard of names on her inner thigh—but everything else recedes into the mist.
One day I will die. One day I will get up in the morning and I will go out and I will never return to our bed. When I die Agda will drive the mourners from my graveside and sit over the damp earth and the dead bones for three days and three nights. Then she will find a new husband and forget me. She may not want to but she will.
Still, these are morbid thoughts and anyone can have them. Morbid thoughts are two a penny in this town, just like thoughts about sex.
(Sometimes Agda will bend me over the window sill and brutalize me with the precision of a watchmaker and I will gulp in lungfuls of cold air from outside and the neighbours will see my gurning face contorted with unknowable pains and pleasures and feel confirmed in their opinions. We try not to keep vodka in the house any more.)
Sex and death. Death and sex. When you look at history, or at least watch the History Channel on a regular basis like I do, you can see that for a long time the aim of civilization seemed to be to complicate itself, to throw up a labyrinth of little streets where people could live so they were not caught out in the open with those two big monsters looming over them. And then suddenly, when it reached a certain point, it stopped and drew a breath and started to come back in on itself, stripping away all the veils, tearing at the fastenings, panting for the crunch, imagining that behind the last veil there will still be something left.
In the garden, in the mornings, she sits under the yew tree and listens to the birds. I watch her from the kitchen window while I do the dishes, gazing at the smooth dome of her head, the solid slope of her shoulders and back. Amongst the foliage she looks new-grown, white and soft like a giant mushroom sprung from the smoking earth. It is hard to imagine how many mornings my wife has spent like this, watching the sun rise, rolling thoughts and memories together behind her hooded eyes.