Pen Swan is fading gently into her forties when a kiss from a pixie mechanic alerts her to certain needs. Peck Grene is already taken, so Pen wishes for someone to love her and to share her bed. The someone that appears is a cat.
Or is it two cats, three or even four? Has there been some mistake, or are the fairies sending a message? Something like this, perhaps. "Dear Mrs Swan, no fairy finds it convenient to share your bed in the carnal sense. However, here is a consolation prize; the first step in your future as a crazy cat lady. Look after it well."
Grumpily, Pen gives up on the whole affair, but the fairies haven't finished with her yet.
Pen reached over the dip between Ben’s hip and the swell of his ribs and curled her fingers around a warm and familiar shape.
“Mmm,” she murmured and gave it a bit of a fondle. They were old friends, after all.
Such an overture used to result in a pleasant interlude that culminated, on the best nights, in Ben telling her to pipe down before she scared the neighbours.
“Good practice for when we have a howling baby,” she said when she first went off the Pill. She said it less often as time went by with no sign of a baby on the way.
Ben wasn’t interested in tests or treatment, so she pretended to be philosophical too. It wasn’t so easy when she noticed he was less than interested in sex. They’d lie in bed relaxed, with Pen stroking him gently, and sometimes he’d respond, but he never made the first move anymore.
“Are you okay?” she asked one night when he caught her wrist and gently but firmly removed her hand from its familiar fondling spot.
“Have I done something to annoy you?”
She tried for a touch of humour. “Is that your way of telling me I’ve let myself go, and I have to give up slopping about in slippers and curlers with a fag on my lower lip? Are you going to throw me over for a younger woman?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
She was silent, hurt.
“It’s not always about you, Pen.”
“But you said you were okay.”
He rolled over and put an arm around her. “I’m always tired. Maybe I’d better go to the doctor and get looked over.”
“Good idea.” She felt a jolt of fear. Ben almost never went to the doctor.
Tests showed Ben had a low-grade virus, which just had to burn itself out. It took a few weeks, but eventually, he was his old self. The only difference Pen detected was in the state of their sex life. After the virus, things improved, but it never did get back to its former frequency. Ben had a clean bill of health, so Pen put the lack of amorous activity down to middle-aged slump. They were well into their thirties and had been together since meeting at art school when Ben was seventeen and Pen, nineteen.
There was no falling out, no fights, and absolutely no estrangement. Since they lived together and worked together from home, and shared most of their non-work interests, Pen thought maybe the togetherness she loved was stifling Ben. She started making the occasional excuse not to go to the Oval when he went to football events and encouraged him to go out with his mates for an after-match beer.
All the while she puzzled over how to recover their former level of intimacy. If she never mentioned it or made overtures, it would decline even further. If she tried to initiate sex or simply caressed him, he might feel pressured or think she was being needy. Could it be that he really disliked the idea of having a family? Would it help if she offered to go back on the Pill or get an implant?
“If we’re ever going to have a baby, it’ll have to be fairly soon,” she said.
“I’m not getting tested.”
“I don’t expect you to. I just thought we could try the rhythm method.”
“Um, isn’t that to stop you having a baby?”
“Usually, but we can use it in reverse.”
“Reverse rhythm. Does that mean you come and I go, or I go and you come?”
Pen grinned at him. “How about we both come together.”
“Sounds good to me. You’ll have to make me a roster. Sex by appointment for Ben and Pen. Coming together. Sounds kinky.”
She made up the roster and hung it in the bedroom. Initially, Ben thought that was fun, and made a point of presenting himself, naked, shaved and showered, whenever the x of a kiss appeared on the calendar.
They made a game of it, but Pen realised after a while not much had changed; their infrequent encounters had simply been rearranged into rostered clumps.
When these also tailed off, she was worried.
The next month, she indicated the roster, although she too was losing momentum, and Ben stared at it for a few seconds as if he was unsure what it meant.
“Ben, are you okay?”
He blinked and turned to frown at her. “Stop fussing.”
It was nothing more than that but just for a moment he wasn’t Ben anymore. Then he got into bed and lay down as if nothing had happened. Pen spooned behind him and draped her arm over his hip. He reached up, murmured something drowsy, and pulled her hand to its familiar fondling position. For the first time holding the warm, heavy sac failed to give her comfort or pleasure.
In the night, he rolled over and nuzzled her neck, moved down to her breasts and on down over her belly. Pen let her body take over, and when she’d calmed, she pulled him up to lie breast to breast. “Your go now,” she said, parting her legs to receive him, but he just patted her thigh.
“In the morning, I’ll be up for a wham-bam before you can say good morning or cock-a-doodle-do.” With that odd comment, he turned and went to sleep.
Pen, physically satisfied but emotionally chilled, lay awake and worried.
Ben got up early next day and went off to the Oval. Pen got down to some sketching. Her concentration was shot, and she was quite pleased to be interrupted by a bang on the door.