Story — From the November 2016 issue

In This One

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In this one, each of them spends a few minutes in the bathroom. In this one, while he’s in the bedroom, she shuts all the lights off in the rest of the apartment and brings their glasses into the kitchen and puts them in the sink. In this one she comes into the bedroom after she leaves the bathroom and says, “I left a night-light on in the bathroom in case you have to go there later on.” In this one she says, “The cat hasn’t made an appearance yet, but give him time. Don’t be alarmed if he tries to get in bed with us when we’re sleeping.” “If he does,” he says in this one, “can I push him off the bed?” “I’d prefer,” she says in this one, “you pick him up gently and set him down on the floor.”

In this one she starts undressing first. Each takes off their own clothes, in this one, and then gets in bed, she by the side farthest from the door. In this one they kiss for the first time while lying in bed. In this one the sex isn’t as good as he last remembered it with his wife and he was hoping for with her. He does okay, though, in this one, mostly because she is so helpful. In this one, it’s a relief when he finally completes it and more of a relief in a different way when a few seconds later she starts it, too, and he can still help her. In this one, after they make love they lie on their sides facing away from each other and he doesn’t hold her from behind as he falls asleep. In this one he gets up three times in the night to pee. After he comes back to bed the third time, she says, “Is anything wrong?” and he says, “No. I don’t know what it is. It’s just pee, though, no discoloration, and probably from all I drank tonight. Good thing you had a night-light to leave on.”

In this one, in the morning while she’s still sleeping, he lies in bed and thinks he doesn’t ever want to make love with her or even see her again. In this one he doesn’t have a prostate problem. In this one he isn’t taking medication for high blood pressure. In this one no one has MS or Parkinson’s disease. In this one he doesn’t have precancerous scalp lesions that have to be burned off by a dermatologist every six months. In this one he isn’t bent over a little from an arthritic lower back and is the same height he was when he was twenty and hasn’t shrunk three to four inches the past five years. In this one he has blue eyes instead of a nondescript brown and has no acne scars and he’s lost only a little hair at the temples and none in the back and is just slightly gray. In this one he works out every other day at a health club in New York and swims a mile in its pool twice a week, instead of working out at the Towson Y in Maryland every day and not once getting into its pool. In this one he’s a soon-to-retire professor in New York rather than a retired one from a university in Baltimore. In this one he reads two to three books a week of various lengths rather than a single average-size book that usually takes him a month to read. In this one he speaks decent Yiddish he learned from his grandparents on his father’s side when he was a boy and is fluent in German and French. In this one all his grandparents were alive when he was born instead of all of them being dead for several years. In this one he has no sisters and his only brother is three years younger than he and in excellent health. In this one his father was a doctor instead of a dentist or pharmacist or textile salesman in the Garment District and his mother was a stage actress for many years and not, in her early twenties, a dancer in Broadway musical revues and a former beauty queen. In this one he doesn’t meet a woman at a cocktail or dinner party, or did he already say that? If he did, then that’ll be the only time he forgets something in this one, if he didn’t already say that too.

In this one he tells his daughter on the phone how lonely he sometimes gets since her mother left him but not to worry about it and he’s sorry he brought it up. In this one, without first telling him what she was going to do, she registers him with an online dating service and writes his résumé and sends it and a recent photo of him to the service. In this one he doesn’t respond to any of the women the service tries to match him up with or the ones his daughter thinks might be right for him and asks her to unregister him — deregister him — just get him out of the system, which he’d do himself if he knew how. In this one he tells his daughter that probably the only way he’ll get to meet a woman he’ll be interested in is by accident — in a movie-theater lobby, for instance, when both are waiting in line to be let inside, or at a bookstore in the fiction or literary-criticism or poetry section, and more likely the first two.

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’s most recent works of fiction are the novella Beatrice; Letters to Kevin, a novel; and the collection Late Stories. His story “Two Parts” appeared in the January 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

More from Stephen Dixon:

Story From the January 2015 issue

Two Parts

Fiction From the May 1996 issue

Shortcut

Fiction From the January 1995 issue

Sleep

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