Dearest Reader by Charles Holdefer

So there I was, having sex with Joyce Carol Oates, everything going quite nicely, lights low and spirits high—it’s hard to find the words but I felt taken toward another place, a good place, the best, and then an awareness came upon me. No doubt because of the way Joyce was twisting, the angle of her arm, a shift in my gaze and a glimpse of a pencil. She was writing.

“What?” she asked. “Why did you stop?”

“You want me to go on?”

“Why ever not?”

Now, I don’t mean to brag or sound full of myself but I’m not unattractive, okay? And I also strive to be appreciated. Still, in a blink, something slipped in my self-esteem. My mind flooded with doubts.

“What are you writing about?”

“It’s complicated.”

She resumed an agreeable movement that carried me along with her, which I accepted (frankly, it would’ve been difficult not to respond), but at the same time the pencil kept moving. So I didn’t consider our conversation finished.

“Are you…are you writing about me?” Needy, I know. But I had to ask.

“Well, not now.”

For an instant, I was relieved…but a moment later I kept wondering about the impression I was making. Or not making. Oh, this was complicated!

Joyce seemed to read my thoughts. “Stay with me, honey. Sometimes people jump to the wrong conclusion. Don’t do that.”

“But surely you can’t be surprised that I’m surprised?”

“I suppose not. I had a dentist once who went into a tizzy whenever I brought out my pad, though I was very careful not to interfere with his instruments. Somehow it seemed to offend his sense of control.”

“I didn’t think of it that way.”

“There you go. But you catch my drift? In the end I had to change dentists. I got a new one now, she’s great, she can do a root canal with no small talk while I get on with my work.”

Was this some kind of hint? Still, in the present circumstances, weren’t we beyond small talk? And truly, I wanted to understand.

“Don’t you sometimes feel distracted? Sidetracked? Or even that you’re missing out?”

She arched her back, and it was delectable. “Actually, no.” She flipped a page of her pad. “I’m fine. When a laptop gets in the way there’s always longhand. And if people are jealous, well, too bad for them. You know? I mean that sincerely, no snark intended. It is too bad for them. But in the end it’s a problem in their own minds and they’ll have to sort it out for themselves.”

Everything was so nice that it was getting hard to concentrate.

“Maybe they’re jealous because you make it look easy,” I panted.

Easy? My goodness, that’s just projection. You might not realize that I wrote Blonde in the shower. Most of On Boxing, too. Talk about tough! The logistics of water are crazy. Easy? You make me laugh.”

And Joyce went: heehee.

Then with a wriggle she followed up with a delightful and instructive sequence that can only be compared to a well-placed seamless flashback with alternating points of view.

“Oh, Joyce!”

The room began to disappear.


“Tell it, baby.”

She crossed out a line, but she wasn’t finished.

“Oh, Joyce!”

It felt like a glimpse of something fine from a too-distant part of myself.

“That’s it, honey. You can’t be afraid of what you’re grappling with. You’ll be good if you remember: get on with it.”

“Oh, yes, Joyce. Yes!

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