You always remember the first time; that was Ben's opinion. The first time with a woman you came to care about. Even if it wasn't the best, and it wasn't likely to be, you always remember it. He remembered the first time with his wife, the two of them fumbling with a blanket in the trees at a campground near Cedar Crest. It had been Rabelaisean comedy, fitting things together, while sticks and rocks poked her back and his knees. After he came, he thought suddenly of how bad it would be if a scorpion stung you. Right there, for God's sake. She had laughed when he told her about that.

He remembered the first time with Marianna, not so long ago. It had been tentative and graceful, for all the edge that celibacy had given him. She was a practiced lover, and they enjoyed each other. She was not, mercifully, even half as drunk as she had seemed, once she was on his couch and in his arms. They made love twice in the second hour, and then she went down on him with a kind of rigorous efficiency, seemingly more interested in demonstrating her control of her gag reflex than in stimulating him.

He would never forget the first time with Dolores. He had not asked Marianna to go with him to Vancouver. She would have had to miss a week's classes, so it didn't come up. He asked Dolores.

"I've never been to Vancouver," she said, after examining his face for an uncomfortable interval.

"Me neither."

"What about Marianna?" she said bluntly.

"What about her?" he replied.

She was relentless. "What will she think?"

"I doubt if she'll ever hear about it. She can't go," he added, as if that were somehow related to the question at hand. "I mean, she isn't surprised that I haven't asked her," he said lamely.

"I'd like to see Vancouver."

He drove all day, her contributing conversation and once, for a half hour or so, sleeping. They arrived in Vancouver the night before the first day of the conference. He felt watched, judged, as he checked them in. They had dinner, they danced, and at midnight they were a tangle of arms and legs in the kingsize bed. They made love all night, falling asleep to be wakened each by the renewed interest of the other, working each other's bodies like dancers, dozing and coupling, murmuring endearments and obscenities, offers and requests. Once, deep in the night, she took him in her mouth and in a few minutes he came dry, sure his prostate would implode.

"Bas' andera," he said in the dark, her body nestled against him and both of them half dozing.



"What did you say?" she insisted.

"Now I understand the bas' andera. She's the Basque lamia. Like a vampire, I guess. A succubus," he said finally, relishing the double entendre. "She waits on the sheep trails, where trees and water are, and she makes love to the men who come by. The orgasm is so intense that it kills them. Or if it doesn't, they are ruined forever for making love with mortal women; they spend the rest of their lives looking for her."

"I suppose that's where we get the phrase, 'Blew his brains out'," she whispered drily.

"She's covered with this fine golden hair, like baby hair."


He turned on her again then; he tasted her with a thoroughness that kept her most intimate odors just at the edge of awareness all the next day. He spent the day thinking of her, her presence in the background of the day like music.

Months later he asked her one night, in bed where they had their best conversations, about remembering the first time. She laughed; harder, he thought, than the question warranted. She kissed him quickly when she saw he was offended.

"Oh yes," she said. "People talk about remembering the first time ever, because it's so special. For me, that was this boy just getting inside, which didn't hurt at all, and then creaming my leg when he slipped out. Then he just lay there embarrassed for a few minutes, and then he rolled over. We were in his dad's station wagon. I kind of wiped myself, carefully, like I didn't want him to be offended again. We made out for a little while, then he got hard again and put it in where it belonged."

"Was that Steve?"

"No. Nosy. Just a boy. It was a long time before Steve. I remember the first time with Steve."

"And with your second husband."

"Yes. I remember the first time with Danny. The first time is special," she said softly. She was smiling a private smile in the dark.

–ms., Diseases of the Heart

When we got back I called the office, and Sarah, the secretary, told me I had some personal mail waiting. The building was nearly deserted, but I bumped into Ann Edmundson while I was sorting through my mail. We walked down the hall together.

"You've heard about Aaron?" she said.

"No. What?"

"He's in the hospital. Somebody beat him up pretty terribly."


"While you were gone. Just before New Year's. They caught the man. Tina knows someone in the DA's office. Apparently the man claimed Aaron came on to him in the men's room at the Nugget. I don't believe it. I mean, Aaron Corso prowling the men's rooms in a casino? Even if he did do that sort of thing, a casino? With thousands of people around?"

"Corso's not gay."

"He's many other things, but gay isn't one of them. I don't believe it."

Her attitude I thought generous. Corso was tedious in his vocal contempt for "dykes"–"with their plastic electric 'wee-wees'," he had sneered one day at lunch with me and a couple of other men. Ann's office was on the way to mine. We went inside and continued our conversation over coffee.

"I visited him," she said. "I don't know anything about this sort of thing. I think the man was a professional. Like a hit man? I mean, he must have done some professional fighting, because Aaron can take care of himself, and this man–he could've killed him, but he just broke lots of bones, as if he were playing with him. Aaron's whole head is in bandages. He's going to need surgery for his teeth. I'm–." She shook her head. Then she looked up sad-eyed. "I never liked him, and he treated me and Tina pretty badly, but this..." She shook her head again. "It must have been a gambling debt, something like that. Aaron says the man just walked in, tapped him on the shoulder, and started in on him. He didn't even get to zip his pants. Then when somebody came in, the man said something like, 'Fucking faggot!' and kicked him in the face before they could pull him off. He's in jail."

"At least they caught him."

"That's one reason I think it was a professional. The man must've known he'd get caught, but he doesn't care about going to jail for a few months for assault. I think he wanted to get caught. So he could accuse Aaron. Aaron doesn't have a reputation for heavy gambling, though. I wonder. Maybe he made one of his vulgar passes at the wrong woman, and this fellow is her boyfriend. Or her boyfriend's his boss. I don't know."

"But he's going to be all right?"

"Oh, yes. He's just in a great deal of pain."

"I'm glad he's OK."

"The man is sticking by his story. He's filed charges too. Aaron will have to be investigated. I can't imagine anyone coming forward to corroborate the idea that Aaron is a homosexual. But then, I can't imagine any of his young female victims being willing to come forward as character witnesses. Well, Leah, of course." Leah Maguire was Aaron's current squeeze, a frightened-looking graduate student. After what Teresa had told me, I wondered what she would testify, if she felt obligated to tell the truth. It might not help.

"Well, both charges have to be proved," I said. "There's no question about the assault, at least."

"Yes. The man doesn't deny it. But he insists that he was provoked."

Walking to my office, I thought about the random wheels of justice. I lacked Ann's compassion. Knowing what I knew and thinking of the incident at the party, I confess I didn't care why it happened.

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