I spent the night before my first day of teaching in an excited loop of hushed masturbation on my side of the mattress, never falling asleep. To bed I’d worn, in secret, a silk chemise and sheer panties, beneath my robe of course, so that my husband, Ford, wouldn’t pillage me. He always wants to ruin the landscape. I find it hilarious that people think Ford and I are the perfect couple based solely on our looks. During his best man’s speech at our wedding reception, Ford’s brother said, “You two are like the his-and-hers winners of the genetic lottery.” His voice slurring with noticeable envy, he then added that our faces looked Photoshopped. Rather than concluding with any sort of toast, he simply laid the microphone back down on the table after this last line and returned to his seat. His date had a lazy eye we all politely pretended not to notice.
Since I’m twenty-six myself, it’s true that Ford and I are close peers. But thirty-one is roughly seventeen years past my window of sexual interest.”
I should find Ford needlessly attractive; everyone else does. “He’s too good-looking,” one of my sorority sisters groaned the night after our first double date back in college. “I can’t even look at him without feeling like I’m being punched between my legs.” My real problem with Ford is actually his age. Ford, like the husbands of most women who marry for money, is far too old. Since I’m twenty-six myself, it’s true that he and I are close peers. But thirty-one is roughly seventeen years past my window of sexual interest.
I suppose in some ways marrying Ford was worth it for the ring alone – it slowed the frenetic pace at which idiot men would hit on me during daily errands. And of course it was a very nice ring. Ford himself is a cop, though his family has a great deal of money. I hoped his wealth might provide me with a distraction, but this backfired – it left me with no unfulfilled urges except the sexual. Just weeks after our wedding, I could feel my screaming libido clawing at the ornately papered walls of our gated suburban home. At dinner I began to sit with my legs clenched painfully together for fear that if I opened them even the slightest bit, it might unleash a shrill wail that would shatter the crystal wineglasses. This didn’t strike me as an irrational belief. The thrum of desire had indeed grown so loud inside me – its electric network toured a constant circuit between my temples, breasts, and thighs – that a moment when lust might be able to operate my labia as a ventriloquist’s dummy and speak aloud seemed inevitable.
All I could think about were the boys I’d soon be teaching. Whether or not it’s the cause, I blame my very first time at fourteen years old in Evan Keller’s basement for imprinting me with a fixed map of arousal – my memory of the event still flows through my mind in animated Technicolor. I was slightly taller than Evan in a way that made me feel half-god to his mortal: every time we made out I had to bend down to reach his lips. Since he was smaller, he was on top, performing with the determined athleticism of a triple-crown jockey until his body was covered in sweat. Afterward I’d gone to the bathroom and then called him in; with an expression of melancholy curiosity, as though transfixed at an aquarium, he’d watched the ruins of my hymen drifting in the blue toilet bowl water like it was the last remaining survivor of a once-plentiful species. I’d felt only an elevating aliveness: it seemed like I’d just given birth to the first day of my actual life.
When Evan had a growth spurt a few months later our sexual dynamic changed – I broke up with him and embarked on a string of repulsive dates with older boys throughout high school before realizing my true attractions lagged several years behind. At university I began throwing myself into classics studies, finding brief solace from my sexual frustrations in texts depicting ancient battles of fervent bloodshed. But my junior year after meeting Ford, I switched my major to education, and now I was finally set with a job that would allow me to go back to eighth grade permanently.
Extracted from Tampa. Published by kind permission of Faber and Faber
Alissa Nutting is an assistant professor of creative writing at John Carroll University in Ohio and the author of the award-winning collection of stories Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls (2010). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Oprah, Tin House, Fence and Bomb. Tampa, her debut novel, has been described by Matt Haig as “a dirty, funny, shocking, provocative, Nabokovian scandal-in-waiting that will be read and mis-read and fiercely debated” and by Cosmopolitan as “The sickest, most controversial book of the summer.” It is published by Faber and Faber in trade paperback and eBook. Read more.