I have to disagree with you. Race is not a real problem these days. Nothing compared to what it was years ago, certainly. And it was a lot worse than that before my time, from what I have read and heard from people -- black or white -- who are older than I am.
There are people who make their living by stirring others up, so there is still conflict, but most of us get along pretty well. The races often lead separate lives, but what do you want? And there are a lot of exceptions there.
There are a lot of marriages these days that produce as much integration as you could imagine; I mean, the next generation. Even when I was younger, well, if things had been maybe just a little different or if I had more nerve, my own life might have been quite other than it has.
It's a thing I still think about once in a while, with a kind of half-regret. Hmm, yes, I do mean I came close to marrying a black woman. You're surprised? Well.
My wife's upstairs, so I can tell you about it. She always gets nervous if I talk about my old girlfriends, though I've never given her any cause for concern there. It's just the way she is, I suppose. Some women are like that.
You know that I am interested in herps, which is to say snakes and reptiles. You can tell that just from looking at the bookshelves. I used to be more active about it, and spend several weekends a year tramping around looking for them with others. There was and is a formal local organization for us, but the people in it knew each other outside the meetings, and the younger single ones got together off and on. Probably still do, neither snakes nor people change much.
For whatever reason, black people are usually not very interested in herps, and the ones we got usually didn't stay around long. The ones who do stay are often women. It's anyone's guess what that means. The proportion of women in the social circle (not so much the formal group) is higher than you might think, and people like to point out that Freud might have made something out of women who like snakes. The joke about the men is to say that they all suffer from penis envy. After all, who's got one two or three feet long?
There was a party where Linda Payes, one of the few black women in the group and one of two at the party, was repeating that whole business to me and she said in a low tone: "I should find out what your snake is like!"
I was startled. I didn't know if she was serious or not. If I took it the wrong way, she would probably be offended, and I liked Linda and didn't want to cause a scene in the middle of the party. But it wouldn't seem right to ignore her either.
I decided that the best thing to do was to be half-serious. I bowed my head to her and said: "I beg forgiveness, Don Vito Corleone. I did not recognize you."
"Why, Don Vito, you have made me an offer which I cannot refuse!"
Linda burst out laughing, which drew the attention of the other people at the party. When we were off to the side alone a few minutes later, I said to her: "But I am not sure I shouldn't turn down your offer anyway."
"And just what do you mean by that?"
"Well, Linda, I may be taking myself too seriously, but it's like this. I have nothing against, uh, ground-floor acrobatics, but I wouldn't feel right about going to bed with a woman whom I couldn't consider marrying. Now, hold on and hear me out!
"I think a marriage is a difficult thing to work out, and with society as it is, an inter-racial one has an extra handicap. Enough of one that I'd really hesitate to consider it. I realize you didn't have marriage in mind, but it's in my nature to always have it in the back of my thoughts, so I had better say no."
"Wow!" Linda said. "That is the first time I have ever been discriminated against racially for my own good! And I have to kind of approve, to make it worse... You may be too considerate for your own good --"
"I sometimes think that myself," I told her.
She laughed again, but kept going. "But I'm not sure I don't want even more to change your mind because of it," she said. "Not about the long term, which I don't want now if ever, but the short term." She was talking around the subject, since her laugh had attracted attention again.
"I have to admit that my better judgement on the subject is eroding minute by minute," I told her. (I was talking around the subject too.)
And that was the truth, too. When she last laughed, she touched my hand, and I looked into those large brown eyes, and all of a sudden I wanted her very much.
The two of us talked, mostly with each other, for another hour. I found that when I was not talking to Linda my mind was working over the idea of going to bed with her, and at the end of that hour I barely had to say a word to her to reach an agreement and a plan. Through indirect comments (there was no really private place there) we agreed to leave a couple of minutes apart to avoid gossip. It probably worked, or at least it didn't make the talk any worse than it would have been.
I will not say that either of us had actually decided at that point to try for mad passionate sex, but we both plainly thought that we wanted to be somewhere private, where we could back off or go on without anyone else ever having to know what happened -- or didn't happen.
I waited for her in the parking lot of her apartment building. When she arrived, we walked to her apartment together through the February snow, and once the door had closed and we were holding each other, Linda said, "You know, I was joking, back there, just trying to shake you up."
"It worked!" I told her.
"But the way you answered made me think that any man who would say no for those reasons would be civilized in bed. A girl needs to encourage that, sometimes. This one sure does, I'll tell you. And that woke up the part of me that wasn't joking."
"My, my. Not just honest lust but compliments on top," I told her, shaking his head.
Linda laughed that infectious laugh again, and I beat my conscience into submission.
Before she had stopped laughing I had put my hands on the smooth brown skin of her back, under her thin sweater, and I was kneading the muscles there. Linda settled her hips against mine and we started to kiss.
It was not so much the kissing as the sight and the feel of her beautiful skin and the way her supple body moved under my hands that made my desire for her grow and begin to press against her.
After a little she shifted to one side enough to put her left hand to the front of my pants and rub the length of my erection on her hand and wrist. Linda knew what she wanted, and she made it clear to me all over again.
We broke apart and went into her bedroom, holding hands and looking into each other's eyes a lot on the way. Linda kept a smile on her face that was halfway to a laugh, and her big brown eyes shone at me.
We stopped by her bed and I lifted her tan sweater up and over her head. Linda stood with her bright white bra in pleasant contrast to her skin and unbuttoned my shirt. When we kissed again, I undid the hooks on the back of her bra and we let it slowly slide between us. After it fell to the floor, I bent to pick it up and I kissed one nipple on the way back up. Linda held my head there. When I looked up at her, her face was partly tense and partly relaxed, but totally in ecstacy.
When she released me, I opened the button on the little strap at her waist that covered the zipper of her skirt. The gray speckled skirt fell to the floor in a matter of moments. Linda worked on my belt and then went on to remove my pants.
I lifted her up and I stood between her legs, which wrapped around me. I kissed her that way, with my erection against her crotch. With our pelvises still pressed together, I lay her on the bed, dropping her head back first and then releasing her hips. When I stepped back to discard my shorts, she stared at that area and moved to the center of the bed. "Boida," she whispered, which is the genus of the python. I leaned forward and kissed her belly-button, then I moved my hands down until I met the lacy white panties -- another contrast -- and peeled them off.
I knelt on the bed and raised her hips to gain better access to her cave of dark wonders. Linda put her legs over my shoulders and rested them there, which meant that I had less weight to support with my hands. It also meant it was easier to stay on target, because as I used my lips and tongue she began jumping like a frog. Her cries urged me on, and her hands held to me until she had built toward a brief climax.
Later I moved up right between her legs and I looked into her big brown eyes. Linda gasped when I spread her open with my fingers and the head of my penis touched her inside. I entered her a half-inch and paused, then I slid in all the way while I watched her face. Linda's mouth drew into a big round silent exclamation; she liked my snake. Her legs spread very wide to take all of me in and they wrapped around to keep me there. My long slow strokes were matched nicely by her hip-bumps, and when I speeded up so did she. The ending was very satisfactory to both of us, both physically and emotionally. She called my name as I spurted into her.
I was glad at the time that I had decided to compromise my principles, but the odd thing is that I really didn't. The affair went on for a while, and Linda and I did start talking about marriage. I found it all much too agreeable to want anything less. Unexpectedly (though maybe it wasn't so surprising), we ran into a lot of opposition from her family. Her mother came close to attacking me the one time we met. (I wondered at the time whether it would have been better or worse if we weren't talking about marrying.)
Maybe I should have tried harder with Linda. Maybe my first guess at the odds was right. We broke up close to a year later, and I really don't know where she is now. I know she got married not long before I did, though I can't remember the husband's last name. It's too far in the past to do more than wonder how things might have been.
* * * * *
Note: If this seems half-familiar, that's because it is over in the poetry section as "Miss Payes" where the story is told in 14 lines. The prose version came first.
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