Today we begin a full-length novel, one of my lighter confections: The Libertine Belles. It’s a tale of mystery, comedy, romance, and sexual politics, both inside and outside the bedroom. I hope you enjoy it.
The Libertine Belles
Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof Lev. XXVX By Order of the ASSEMBLY of the Province of PENSYLVANIA [sic] for the State House in Philadelphia. Pass and Stow Philadelphia MDCCLIII. –Inscription on the Liberty Bell
- Brave New World
“Mom, don’t take this the wrong way, but you need to get laid.”
“Amber…!” Ellen wished her daughter wouldn’t speak quite so freely, especially as they were in public, having brunch at a crowded restaurant on the outskirts of the Italian Market. “Why do you say that, honey?”
“Because you and Dad have been apart for almost a year now, and you seem restless. Like, frustrated or something.”
Sexually frustrated, she means, thought Ellen. What Amber didn’t realize was that Ellen had been sexually frustrated for quite a bit longer than that. She and Derek hadn’t made love for at least two years before their divorce, but then, neither of them had particularly wanted to. They had married in their twenties, when she was fresh out of college. Ellen stayed home with Amber, taking the occasional graduate course in History while Derek became a successful orthodontist. Eventually, Ellen returned to school full time and earned her Ph.D., an experience which she found intellectually transformative. She was grateful to Derek for supporting her when she got a teaching job at Parnell, a state university in Pennsylvania. But after the move, their relationship withered. They had nothing in common except Amber, and Amber was now a sophomore at Parnell.
Ellen was a reader, and Derek wasn’t. He had no interest in her academic field, the history of science. In the early years of their marriage, he used to take Ellen birding, but now he had given up birds in favor of golf, which she found colossally boring. They didn’t even like the same food. Ellen had a passion for Asian cooking, but Derek was a picky eater, highly suspicious of ingredients like tofu or shitake mushrooms. More than once he fled the dinner table for KFC, leaving her to savor her udon noodles or hot-and-sour soup in solitude, not entirely sorry that he was absent. One warm summer night, Derek had turned to her in bed and said, “You’re more like my sister than my wife. Shouldn’t we call it off?”
Much to her own surprise, Ellen had agreed. She knew she ought to put in the effort to get counseling, and try to make the marriage work. But she didn’t feel much for Derek any more, except insofar as he was Amber’s father. They had grown too far apart. Her main concern was the impact of a divorce on their daughter, but Amber had simply shrugged when the issue was raised. “It’s OK, Mom. Neither of you is happy. I’d rather see you both enjoying your lives.” The financial aspects were not contentious. Neither spouse was attached to their house in Haddonfield NJ, so they sold it, just as the market was picking up, and Ellen bought a condo in Philly, a half-hour’s drive from Parnell.
Now she looked at Amber over their plates of French toast. “I don’t have the first notion of how to go about meeting a man, much less” —she lowered her voice— “getting laid. And in my day, women didn’t have that as a goal. They wanted to get to know someone before climbing into bed.”
“I know. You used to go on dates and do that whole exclusive thing,” said Amber, rolling her eyes. “Look, Mom, times have changed. You can enjoy your sexuality without being judged. You don’t have to make a serious commitment just to have an orgasm once in a while. It’s not that big a deal. I don’t want to invest a lot of time and effort into getting to know a man, before I have any idea of whether we’re sexually compatible.”
You have a point there, thought Ellen. Although college had liberalized her views on sexual morality, she had been raised by strict parents, and hadn’t slept with Derek until they were engaged. He was her only sexual partner, and she’d always wondered whether there might have been more of a spark with a different man. Of course, every relationship cooled off with time…didn’t it?
She voiced another worry. “Maybe I’m too old now. I’m not sure if men will find me attractive.”
Amber shook her head. “No, you’re in pretty good shape for forty-four. You’re thin, you don’t have any grey hair yet, and you could almost be in your thirties.”
“Thank you, dear.” That didn’t sound quite as complimentary as Amber had intended, but it would do.
“You should buy some sexier clothes, though,” said Amber. “And if you’re still wearing that awful underwear, you’d better ditch it. I’ll take you to La Perla.”
Copyright 2015 by Linnet Moss
Notes: I got the idea for this story while reading about the “hookup culture” among college students in the US. I was bemused to learn that dating is out of style. Instead, young people meet in groups and pair off at the end of the evening with whomever takes their fancy. I began to wonder how anyone falls in love or finds a permanent partner under such conditions.
This is the story of Ellen and her daughter Amber navigating the stormy seas of unwedded sexual adventure. Along the way, they meet a monster or two…