Married Life, by Quim Monzó
In order to sign some documents, Zgdt and Bst (married for eight years) have to travel to a distant city. They arrive in the late afternoon. Since they won’t be able to settle the business until tomorrow, they look for a hotel. They get a room with two single beds, two bedside tables, a writing desk (there are envelopes and letter paper with the hotel’s letterhead, in a folder), a chair and a minibar with a television on top. They have dinner, stroll by the riverside and, when they return to the hotel, each one gets into their bed and takes out a book.
A few minutes later they hear people fucking in the next room. They clearly hear the bed creaking, the woman moaning and, more faintly, the man grunting. Zgdt and Bst look at each other, smile, make a joking comment, say goodnight and turn out the light. Zdgt, horny from the fucking that he can still hear through the wall, thinks about saying something to Bst. Maybe she’s as horny as he is. He could get closer, sit down on the bed, joke about the neighbors and, as if it were nothing, stroke her hair and face first, and then, her breasts. Very probably, Bst would go with it right away. But what if she didn’t go with it? What if she moves his hand away and clucks her tongue, or even worse, she says “I’m not in the mood”? Years ago, he wouldn’t have doubted. He would have known, just before turning out the light, if Bst was in the mood, if the moans from the next room over had made her horny or not. But now, with so many years of cobwebs behind them, nothing is clear. Zgdt turns on his side and masturbates, trying not to make any noise.
Ten minutes after finishing, Bst asks him if he is sleeping. Zgdt says that not yet. In the next room over they’ve finished moaning; now there is a whispered conversation and stifled laughter. Bst gets up and comes over to Zgdt’s bed. She gets between the sheets, stretches out and starts to caress his back. Her hand descends down his back to his buttocks. Without the courage to tell her that he just masturbated, Zgdt tells her he’s not in the mood. Bst stops caressing him, there is a short, extremely long silence, and she goes back to her bed. He hears how she lifts up her sheet, gets between them and turns over. Every time she stirs, Zgdt’s remorse at having masturbated without having first trying to find out if Bst wanted to fuck multiplies. What’s more, he feels guilty at not having told the truth. Is there that little trust, are they already such strangers to one another, that he can’t even tell her that? Just to prove that they’re not total strangers, that there is still a spark of trust, that maybe they could rekindle the flame, he works up his courage, turns towards her and confesses that a few minutes ago, he masturbated because he thought she didn’t want to fuck. Bst doesn’t say anything.
Minutes later, Zgdt gathers, from the concealed noises that reach him, that Bst is masturbating. Zgdt feels an immense sadness, thinks that life is grotesque and injust, and bursts into tears. He cries against the pillow, burying his head into it as much as he can. The tears are abundant and hot. And when he hears Bst suffocate the final gasp against the back of her hand, he moans the moan that she is biting back.