When my best friend Eileen told me about her financial problems that day at the Senior Center I barely gave it a second thought before offering her a room. After all, Don, my late husband, had left me very comfortably fixed. I was the solitary dried up old bean rattling around in that three thousand square foot house so why not make it two old beans?
“Oh Grace,” Eileen said, “that’s very kind of you but I’m not looking for charity.”
“Who’s talking about charity?” I said. “I feel guilty as hell about having all the things I do when I know that others have been hit so hard by this economy. So you’d be helping me.”
“I have to pay something, Grace,” she said, “I just wouldn’t feel right otherwise.”
“Okay,” I said. “One hundred dollars. I expect one hundred dollars to be in my hot little liver spotted hand before five o’clock on the first of each month. How’s that for a truculent landlady speech?”
The thing is that in my neighborhood no one rents a room out. No one rents houses. If they did, one hundred dollars would barely cover a full day. Eileen knew this as well as I did.
“That’s very good, Grace,” Eileen said, “Very tough, it made me almost forget what a marshmallow heart you have.”
“Good,” I said.
“And I’ll take you up on it,” Eileen said, “But only until I can get back on my feet. It’ll take me about two weeks to get my things packed and be ready for the move.”
“Deal,” I said.
“Deal,” Eileen said.
It was only later, after I got back home and began to rattle around, that I started to see the potential downside. The truth is I’m a bit set in my ways. And the thought crossed my mind that two beans rattling around might lead to cacophony.
Don died twelve years ago. I was fifty eight then. We’d had an active social life and that continued, for awhile. But slowly, for a variety of reasons, mostly due to my indifference to nurturing them because they reminded me too much of the man I’d lost, those social connections began to wither.
Donny and I were made for each other. We’d become acquainted in grade school, began spending time together just before high school, became sweethearts in high school, and got married after Donny’s first year of college. As long as he lived he was the only man I ever knew intimately, or wanted to know.
We were comfortable together. It wasn’t great passion that held us together; I don’t think either of us would have described what we felt for each other as passion. It was, rather, a profound wordless knowing that we shared a wound we couldn’t talk about but which we somehow knew we could trust the other not to tear open.
When Donny died it was like having the skin torn off my body. An essential part of my life was gone. The sense of safety I’d had for so long slipped away. For awhile I went through the motions, then I tried to clutter up my mind with distractions, and finally I fell into depression.
I don’t remember trying to get out of that shadowed hole. It just happened. One day I talked with one of the delivery people I was using to bring me the provisions I didn’t have the strength to get myself. A week later I sat out by the pool for an hour. A month later I was getting my own groceries and it progressed from there.
There came a day when my need for a social life reasserted itself. As part of my search for companionship I found the Senior Center. That’s where I met Eileen. At first I just went for lunch and then, as my circle of acquaintances grew, I stayed longer and longer into the afternoon. But I never invited anyone back to my home. It just didn’t feel right somehow.
I enjoyed chatting with the ladies at the Senor Center but the part of me that had delighted in having Donny to fuss over and care for was starved down to the bone. I prefer not to think of how many nights I cried into my pillow. I was so angry at Donny for leaving me.
So, not feeling entirely satisfied by my social life at the Senior Center, I began to look around for other things to fill my daylight hours. Reading the local paper one day I came across an ad for volunteer kitchen help needed for an apartment complex for seniors. Since cooking for others was a deep source of comfort for me I applied and got the job. That’s where I met Henry.
Henry. What do I say about Henry? In some ways he’s a pompous ass and he’s not especially empathetic or aware, sometimes, of the ways in which he imposes on others. But at his core he’s a good person and, perhaps what’s most important to me, appreciative. He’s grateful for the good things that come into his life.
Our courtship, if you can call it that, was a long one. He was very interested in me but I kept fending him off. There were too many things that bothered me about him. I didn’t feel comfortable letting him into the sacred space I’d inhabited with Donny. And then there was sex.
Neither Donny nor I cared for sex that much. Some things happened in my youth, things I’ve never shared with anyone, not even Donny, made sex too much of a mixed up mess for me to feel inclined to do it very often. Donny had his own problems, ones he never revealed to me. We both liked to cuddle though. Every once in a while cuddling led to sex but although I know Donny climaxed at least a couple of times I don’t think I ever did. With a sex life like this it probably won’t surprise you that we never had children.
I love Henry but I don’t like him. He’s what I’ve heard people refer to as a horn dog. I love doing things for him, fussing over him, feeding him but the sex is almost too much. I wish I could do things for him every day of the week but I know that he’d want sex and I can’t do that. When you’re as old as I am there aren’t all that many choices. That’s what finally broke through the walls of my resistance. I decided that if I could limit our interaction enough we could both get a part of what we wanted.
Henry is willing to come over every Sunday, but only on Sunday, so I can fuss over him. The price I have to pay is sex once a week and after sex he holds me. It almost works.
The point I’m trying to make is that after my solitude I carefully constructed a life with clear boundaries that worked for me. The thought of opening my life up to include Eileen, as well as Henry, was making me more than a little nervous. But it was at this point in my ruminations that some of my conversations with Eileen began to bubble up in my mind and kept bubbling, and bubbled some more.
“Grace, old girl,” I said to myself, “I think this could work.”
“I thought of a potential problem with your moving in,” I said to Eileen the next time we met at the Senior Center.
“Oh, Grace, what’s that?” she said. “I’ve done a lot of my packing.”
“I’m concerned about something that I think might bother you,” I said.
“Grace, what are you talking about?” she said.
“Well, I have, how should I say this, a gentleman caller every Sunday.” I said.
“Why would that bother me?” she said.
“Well, Eileen, he and I have sex,” I said. “And I know how frustrated you’ve been about your sex life lately. I’d hate for you to feel uncomfortable having him there on Sundays, knowing what we’re doing.”
Eileen frowned down at her hands which were clasped in her lap. “Mmm,” she said. She gave a deep sigh. “I could go out while he’s there,” she said.
“I’d hate to put you out like that,” I said. “That’s why I’m not sure your moving in is a good idea. I knew it would bother you.”
“I think I could manage okay, I really do,” Eileen said. “But you’re right about me being frustrated lately. Would it be okay if I had a gentleman caller from time to time?”
“Of course,” I said. “That’s no problem for me at all.”
We drank our tea in silence.
“How old is he?” Eileen said.
“Who?” I said.
“Your gentleman caller,” she said.
“Oh,” I said, “he’s sixty-eight.”
“I’m surprised he can even get it up anymore,” Eileen said with a smothered laugh.
“Oh,” I said, “that’s never a problem.”
“Oh,” Eileen said.
That Sunday I fixed Henry an especially sumptuous lunch.
“Good Lord, Grace, this looks wonderful,” Henry said. He pressed himself against my back and grabbed my breasts; I could feel his radish digging into my bottom.
“I love making you happy, Henry,” I said.
“Ah my little chickadee,” Henry said in his rather bad W.C. Fields voice, “Every Sunday you fill the cockles of my heart with a purple flame.”
“Oh Henry,” I said, prying his fingers from my breasts and maneuvering my bottom away from the tent in his pants. “You’re such a poet.”
“It’s all because of you,” Henry said.
“You sit down, dear Henry,” I said. “I’ll fix your plate.
“Someone’s moving in,” I told him as we began to eat.
“What?” Henry said, putting his forearms on the table, still holding his knife and fork. “You found another man?”
“No, you silly,” I said. “A woman. She’s younger than you, I think. She’s having a hard time of it financially.”
“Oh,” Henry said and went back to eating.
“But I’ve been worried about having her move in,” I said.
“Why’s that?” Henry said.
“Well,” I said. “You know what you and I do in the afternoon. Our little nap time?”
“Ah, Grace,” he said, “I look forward to those times all week long.”
“I know you do,” I said.
“But what does our nap time have to do with this woman?” Henry said.
“Eileen,” I said.
“Eileen,” he said, rolling her name around in his mouth.
“She’s, I don’t know how else to say this, frustrated,” I said, “Sexually.”
Henry went very still. He looked at me. He licked his lips and swallowed.
“And I don’t want her to feel bad about our nap time,” I said.
“Ah,” Henry said.
We barely spoke for the rest of the meal. Once it was done we went into my bedroom. I undressed in my bathroom, as usual, and put K-Y jelly inside my petunia. When I came out I saw that Henry’s radish was already stiff, stiffer than I’d ever seen him before. I got on the bed, turned my bottom towards him, and Henry entered me. Almost as soon as he did he climaxed.
“I’m sorry, Grace,” Henry said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me this afternoon.”
“It’s okay, Henry,” I said.
“I imagine this woman has let herself go,” Henry said.
“Who?” I said.
“I think you said her name was Eileen,” Henry said.
“Oh, no,” I said, “she has a very nice figure. Large breasts.”
For the first time ever Henry did me twice.
“I talked to Henry,” I said to Eileen the next afternoon at the Senior Center, “He said he’s looking forward to meeting you.”
“Oh,” Eileen said, “I thought you preferred that I keep a low profile.”
“This is Henry’s idea,” I said.
“What did you tell him about me?” Eileen said.
“Not much,” I said. “A little about your financial problems, I hope that’s all right.”
“It’s fine,” Eileen said. “He wants to meet me because of my problems?”
“No, no,” I said. “I told him you are a dear friend and that you have a large, ah, heart.”
“Oh, that’s sweet of you,” Eileen said. “You can tell Henry that I’m looking forward to meeting him too. Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Now, are we all set on Tuesday as your moving day?”
“Yes,” Eileen said.
She moved in, as planned, on Tuesday. A couple of her husky nephews made short work of hauling in and arranging her belongings. Fussing over another woman wasn’t the same as fussing over a man but it was pleasing to me to make a nice dinner. To my surprise I found I liked having her there.
She confessed that she wasn’t a very domestic person and hated to cook. I said that I loved cooking enough to cover both of us. I added that I had a cleaning woman come in twice a week so neither of us would have to worry about those mundane chores.
The days passed and instead of rattling we began to glide. There was someone to talk with over breakfast and then we went our separate ways. We met at the Senior Center for lunch, visited awhile, did our afternoon things, and then joined up again for dinner. It was a pleasant routine.
And then came Sunday.
I was very nervous as I prepared lunch. If my plan went awry I believed it could very well fatally damage my relationships with both Eileen and Henry.
Eileen was in a bit of a tizzy herself. With studied nonchalance she’d asked me questions about Henry over breakfast. Then she’d spent a long time in the bathroom. I knew because I’d tiptoed past a number of times. Once she’d finished in the bathroom I saw her try on at least four different dresses. Then there was the scent of perfume, something she didn’t normally use.
I pretended to be unaware of any of this.
And then Henry arrived. Eileen waited until I’d ushered him in and seated him on the sofa before making her appearance. I saw Henry’s eyes widen with appreciation. I introduced them and maneuvered her so that she was also sitting on the sofa.
“You two get acquainted,” I said. “I have some things to finish up in the kitchen.” This was a lie.
I retreated to the kitchen and then peeked in on them using the mirror I’d strategically placed earlier in the week. For a long time they just talked. I was beginning to lose hope when it happened. Henry leaned in and Eileen met him halfway. By the time I walked into the room they were kissing passionately.
“Ahem,” I said.
They jumped apart, as much as two old people jump.
“Oh my God,” Henry said.
“I’m so sorry, Grace,” Eileen said.
I sat down in the armchair next to the sofa. “I set you both up,” I said. “I wanted this to happen.”
“What are you talking about, Grace?” Eileen said.
“Henry,” I said. “You know I don’t care for sex. We’ve never talked about it but I know you’ve been with enough women to know when one really wants you.”
“No, Grace,” Henry said. “I never.”
I didn’t let him finish. “No, Henry, let’s stop pretending. I don’t like sex. I don’t. But I love having you here and fussing over you. And Eileen, I know that you’ve been needing a man for a long time now. Wanting a man in a sexual way.”
“Grace,” Eileen said.
“Hear me out,” I said. “We’re all adults here. We’re old adults. We all know that life is built out of compromises and partially realized dreams. And now I know that you’re attracted to each other, attracted enough to risk offending me.”
“We never meant,” Eileen said.
“No,” I said, interrupting her. “I know that. I want to propose an arrangement. I want the two of you to have sex so I don’t have to. For my part I want to be able to fuss over both of you. What do you think?”
They both looked at me. And then they looked at each other. Then they looked at me again.
“I don’t know, Grace,” Henry said.
“You’re sure about this?” Eileen said.
“Positive,” I said.
Eileen turned to Henry and put her hand on his knee. “We’ve just met,” she said, “So I don’t really know you but I do find you attractive.”
“It’s mutual,” Henry said.
“So I say we seize the moment before this crazy woman changes her mind,” she said.
I laughed. “There’s one more thing,” I said.
They looked at me.
“I want to be able to watch,” I said. “Maybe not all the time but I want us to be open about what’s going on. And I want to be cuddled from time to time. I love the cuddling.”
“Would that bother you?” Eileen said, addressing Henry.
“Wouldn’t it bother you?” Henry said.
“No,” Eileen said. “I’ve done group sex before. Being watched is kind of a turn on.”
This was news to both Henry and me.
“Really?” We said almost simultaneously.
“We can talk about that later,” Eileen said. “Right now I’m fucking horny as shit and I want to get laid.”
More news, hot off the presses. I could see that Henry’s libido had just been jolted, as if by a cattle prod.
Eileen stood up and pulled her dress over her head. Her slip followed. Her bra popped off. And then her pantyhose slid down her legs. Henry was goggle-eyed.
“Come on, mister,” Eileen said. “Get with the program.”
“Let’s go in Grace’s bedroom,” Henry said, fumbling with his shirt buttons. “I’m not the spry young buck I used to be. Using this sofa would probably put my back out of whack.”
Eileen strode away, her bottom jiggling, and Henry stumbled after her. I ambled along, a distant third. By the time I got there they were struggling to find the position that best suited their combined physical drawbacks.
“We’re getting too old for this shit,” Henry said.
“No, we aren’t,” Eileen said.
“You certainly aren’t,” Henry said, “God you’re wet.”
“I’m wet because you’re so hard,” Eileen said.
“And I’m hard ’cause you’re so eager,” Henry said.
“And I wish you’d shut up and put your cock in me,” Eileen said. “Oh. Yes.”
I’d never seen people have sex before except in movies and the movies I’d gone to never showed petunias and radishes. I knew that that were movies that did but I’d never seen any. I was amazed to learn that Eileen didn’t have any hair on her petunia. I’d never seen that either. I found I enjoyed watching Henry’s radish going in and out of her.
“Oh God, I’m coming,” Eileen said. “It’s been too fucking long.”
“I am too,” Henry grunted in his old familiar way.
They lay still for a long time, talking quietly; Eileen would catch my eye from time to time and smile. Then she got on her hands and knees and started sucking Henry’s radish. I was astounded. He guided her around so that he could start licking her petunia. That astounded me even more. Donny and I had never done anything like this.
Several minutes later Henry’s radish was hard again. Eileen got on top of him and began sliding back and forth. Awhile later she announced that she was coming again. I don’t think Henry did. Eileen got off and lay down beside him.
“We’re done, Grace,” Eileen said. “Would you like to join us?”
“Yes,” I said, “I think I would.” For the first time since Donny had died I felt relaxed about taking my clothes off in front of another person. In this case, two people. Eileen sat up so I could get between them. I had my bottom against Henry and Eileen pressed her bottom against me. I felt as if I was being sweetly embraced in a warm bubble.
Henry put his hand on my shoulder. “I love you, Grace,” he said softly. He’d never said that before.
I started crying.
Eileen reached back and patted my thigh.
I cried for a long time and they held me. None of us spoke.
Once it was clear that Eileen was meeting Henry’s needs for sex to the point that he was no longer interested in me I invited him to live with us. He insisted on paying and I offered him the same deal I’d made with Eileen. He accepted. I had another one hundred dollars to put in the cookie jar. And there were now three old beans gliding around.
Except that two of the beans didn’t glide so much as bump. They bumped each other. I was amazed to see how many times two old beans were able, and wanted, to bump.
Once they realized I really didn’t mind seeing them bump they did it wherever and whenever the mood struck them. Henry seemed to have recovered some of his young buckishness. Watching them didn’t excite me. If it did I wasn’t aware of any titillation. I simply enjoyed watching them enjoy each other.
And I fussed over them.
And they made sure that I had my cuddling time.
One afternoon, cuddled between them, I said to myself, ‘I thought this could work’.