Most of the time now, it doesn’t even work when Natalie masturbates. She used to be very orgasmic, but for the last several years it feels like her nerve endings have retreated. She’s still in there, but too deep to reach easily.
Or maybe it’s just that she doesn’t take enough time. Perhaps she’s as deficient in respecting the rhythm of her autoeroticism as most couples are respecting their mutualities. Lately she’s so busy she rushes her own sleep.
It’s 5:45 on a Sunday morning, and it appears that she’s awake for the day. The newspaper hasn’t yet even hit the walkway. Like everyone else, Natalie slept through most of her infancy, woke for longer and napped less as she rolled through childhood, became nocturnal as a teenager, and has been steadily retreating from that arrangement back to diurnal and toward napping as she wanders the expanse of middle age. She’s exactly fifty now, and she hasn’t slept past 9 a.m. in two years.
She notices bird chatter. In fact there’s an actual ruckus in the tree outside her window. A raucous ruckus. She almost giggles. It must have just started, she tells herself. She would have noticed it before if it was going on, loud as it is. But would she have? The bird chatter is like one of the cracks that so often appear in the paint on the walls of her old house; she never knows if she’s noticing them as they occur or if they’re there, in front of her habitual unseeing eyes for weeks or months, before some random moment makes her attend.
She stretches. It’s a luxurious diagonal movement in her queensize bed, alone before the sun or the Sunday paper. She detects a dull ache in her right hip and the chronic crampiness in her left knee but she thinks, all in all, that’s not bad. Natalie has friends with daily headaches and nightly heartburn. A bit of joint pain doesn’t seem too unlucky to her.
There’s a loud caw from the tree. The chatter has sounded like starlings or finches but now Natalie hears the authority of a shiny black bird. She can imagine the crow like a negative seagull, an American raven in the almost-dawn light. She hears the coin-sound of tags on a collar as her dog raises and shakes his head on the floor beside her bed.
She opens her eyes. Her room is a graysome dark, a little gloaming from the streetlight poking into her corner bookshelf, but mostly a murk of night and her nearsightedness. She pulls her bedside clock to her face, reads ten or so to 6, and sets it back on her nightstand. She got into the habit of a battery-operated alarm when she first moved in and had too few outlets, but she’s come to appreciate the other advantages. Her clock works when there’s a power outage. Because it’s cordless it’s easy to pull it to herself, like now, and see its clean analog face.
She closes her eyes. She strokes herself. She can’t concentrate. Neither Eros nor Morpheus attend her this morning. She forms a wish and hears it granted: the thunk/slide/swish of the plastic-bagged newspaper hitting her front walk. She rolls to her side and sits up on the edge of her bed, mentally checks her lumbar region, pets the dog, and rises to her morning height of five foot six. By bedtime she will have compressed half an inch. That’s all she knows about today.
Natalie has short curly hair, colored multi-brown over graying dark. She has a fit body which carries thirty extra pounds. She has a synthetic mind. That’s her term for it. But she’s alone, awake early, and exercising her power of self-description, so her term is what she uses. Synthetic. As in what comes after thesis and antithesis.