Brad sits on the couch and sucks his thumb. His eyes are glazed over, the program on the television set muted, the only sound in the room the quiet clicking of his tongue. The psychic implications of his current position are many: a bashful mother with unusually sensitive nipples, a father who had had enough of trying to coax his inept son into reading the goddamn instructions already, a classmate’s over-excited condemnations of a particularly ridiculous haircut. But tonight the reason behind it is Meredith, and Meredith’s reaction to the sex they had only minutes ago.
Brad has been a closet thumbsucker for a quarter century, cupping the pruney digit in his hand all through high school, sneaking suckles in movie theaters and between classes, in the breakroom at work, and behind the dark windshield of his car.
Meredith thinks it is disgusting. And she wonders what it means. She thought it meant he was gay for a while, then she realized how simple and pseudo-Freudian of her it was to think something like that, and then she laughed at herself. But it bothers her. It bothers her when she sits on a couch in the next town over and thinks of him sitting on his couch in his town with his thumb in his mouth. She is beginning to think that there is something more between them than the distance.
Brad’s parents would spread turpentine on his three-year-old thumbs, but he learned to endure the taste until it was gone. He even learned to enjoy it. He developed a slight overbite and a subtle lisp. He accumulated many preventative gloves in a secret place on top of his bookshelf. A child psychologist suggested pricking his thumbs with safety pins, but the sting only added dimension to his obsession. His parents gave up their futile campaign when he entered junior high school with his thumb in his mouth.
Meredith sits on the end of the couch, glaring at her competition. He had humored her one day when she reached over and stuck her thumb in his mouth, but his eyes told her that it was a hole she could never fill. She has begun doing cruel things to him ever since. Throwing heavy objects his way when he’s suckling on the couch. Mentioning his habit in front of people he barely knows, not to mention friends and relatives. When he’s winning an argument with her, “Go suck your thumb,” she counters.
They had fallen in love underwater. She was from the next town over, visiting a cousin for the weekend. The girls directed an aimless Saturday night toward swimming with a group of boys in the river on the edge of town. Faces were barely distinguishable in the dashboard lights and were even less so under the moonless sky in the water. Her cousin introduced her to Brad, then disappeared downstream with a tall boy who smelled like rubbing alcohol. They sank beneath the surface and saw each other for the first time with wrinkled hands and open mouths.
She thought it was cute, how he spooned her with
his thumb in his mouth. It wasn’t that weird. He was comfortable with her.
She had one boyfriend who wouldn’t even get undressed. But keeping sex
interesting had become a problem. The distance helped; they stored up their
desire over time, then released it. They exhausted all the possibilities:
every position, circumstance, speed, length, emotion, body part, before
tonight, deciding to explore the possibilities of her asshole. He slid
his thumb in, she buried her face in the pillow, then he pulled it out.
Afterwards, he stuck his thumb in his mouth without thinking. He ran to
the bathroom and washed his hand and mouth. Outside, Meredith rumbled and
then erupted in laughter. Brad was too humiliated to puke. Now, here they
are on the couch. Brad stands and tells Meredith he doesn’t love her and
lobs insults at her until she cries, his ears still burning from the way
her laughter shook like a fist.
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