48. An Unenviable Domestic Situation

Soundtrack and Video: Adam Ant, “It Doesn’t Matter,” Live 2011

They resume tattooing the following day, Inglorion insisting that he’s fine. It’s painful, but he’s eager to finish.

Alecto injects him, then inspects the previous day’s work: a swallow in flight on one shoulder, and a nightingale on the other. She begins to fill in here and there, pressing and stretching the already raw and oozing skin. Just as Inglorion thinks he might object — the sensation is uncomfortable, pain upon pain — his mind slides sideways. He’s speechless, sightless. The vision begins.

Tereus wakes with a hard-on. The sun is just below the horizon; he hasn’t yet shaken his military habits. He pushes aside the draperies, opens the window, takes in the scent of orange blossoms and dew. He considers jerking off quickly and getting on with his day, but thinks, No, I have a perfectly good wife in the next room.  

He puts on his robe, passes through his dressing room, then hers. She’s asleep in her own bed, curled up among tangled, slick silk sheets. Her legs and face are lovely, and she’s got a tidy rack for her size. She looks naughty even in repose — something about the shape of her eyes and mouth combined with a thick mane of red curls. Her ass is fantastic, contriving to be lavish, tight and trim all at the same time.  A few years into his forced retirement and professional exile, he still hopes that she’ll find him as dashing as she once did — that she’ll flutter her eyelashes, look down and away, bite her lip, give a sly little smile, then kiss him. 

That’s not how it happens. He slides into bed with her, kisses her neck and shoulders. She makes a little vague murmur, half-turns towards him. He takes this for a good sign. He finds her hand, kisses her palm, then places it on his hard cock. She wakes up, sighs, furrows her brow. She doesn’t withdraw, but she makes it clear that he’s asked for something vulgar in the wrong way, and at a bad time. She paws his cock unenthusiastically for a few moments; he’s hot enough that it might actually work. Perhaps she senses this, because her efforts become more desultory and discouraging. She yawns.

Tereus faces a choice now. A wise man would retreat, obeying his wife’s clear wishes. He’d seek consolation elsewhere, or trust that with gentle persuasion he’ll win her over on another occasion. Tereus has many fine qualities, but wisdom and patience aren’t among them. He’s made his fortune through bold action, and has not yet unlearned that lesson. 

He doubles down, slipping his free hand between her thighs. Nothing he finds there suggests that she welcomes his attentions. He seeks out her clit, strokes it. She sighs again. Her hand falls still. Her expression, if he were to look down, is one of long-suffering. He stops, and she rewards him by fiddling with his cock, skimming the tips of her fingers over the shaft. Feeling that they’ve reached a bargain, he grasps her hand, wraps it around the base, and guides it up and down until he’s done. Absurdly, in the aftermath of climax, gratitude gets the best of him. He kisses her squarely on the lips, calls her his love.

He retreats, murmuring some fiction about letting her sleep. In truth, he’s uncomfortable, ashamed. He thinks she dislikes him, but doesn’t understand why.

They meet again at the breakfast table, in the presence of their son, Marcus. Tereus has dismissed whatever need and sentiment he felt at daybreak. He eyes Lavinia coldly, as he would a difficult enemy. She avoids his gaze.

Now that he lives at home full-time, Tereus has discovered that he chose his wife poorly. He courted and won her because she was a fashionable beauty, and he took pleasure in thwarting his rivals and exciting their envy and jealousy. He competed for Lavinia’s hand like he would enter a horse race or a drinking contest, with little thought about the reward or consequences of victory.

Here she is at the breakfast table, indisputably beautiful. He’d happily trade her for a girl with dirty tastes and big tits.

She’s stupid, or at least profoundly mentally lazy. She stares out the window while he and Marcus discuss estate matters and local politics. He learned years ago that she’s never read a book cover to cover, and that she has no independent judgment about sculpture or painting. He discovered recently that she’s tone-deaf, and thought, Good God, how did that get by me? Tereus can often be found in low company, boxing, cocking or drinking to excess, but he’s well-read and has excellent taste. Like any Shelawn, he assumes a certain level of cultivation and discernment in anyone who isn’t a servant or a shopkeeper. He was dismayed to discover that his own wife knows less than a clever parlormaid. 

She has no idea how to run a large household, either. If you strip away sex, companionship and child-rearing, it’s Lavinia’s job to ensure that the house is clean and furnished, edible meals appear at proper intervals, and that Tereus and his dependents remain elegantly clothed and shod. He expects periodic balls and dinner parties  — lavish, tasteful affairs. Tereus appreciates the niceties of logistics and supply, and knows all too well how difficult it is to manage a large staff. Nonetheless, he assumed that the day after her wedding, any well-bred girl would set aside her fancy dresses and step into a complex executive role. 

He noticed problems even during his military service, but chose to overlook or forgive them. Now he can’t ignore it: Meals are cold or poorly cooked, the housemaids have no idea how to clean a hearth or polish furniture, and the footmen are loutish and untidy. The Shelawn townhouse — a mansion built by a famous architect and filled with priceless artwork — has become as uncomfortable and unpredictable as a hedge tavern. At any time, his boots could be ruined. His bath water is cold more often than not. He fears that his clothing and person may fall prey to moths and bedbugs, respectively.

Tereus is mortified that Lavinia doesn’t recognize her own deficiencies. Like many stupid people, she finds erudition and intelligence startling, almost rude. Since she has no taste, she’s naturally in no position to appreciate her predicament there. She believes she can substitute beauty for sexuality. By maintaining her face and figure and permitting Tereus to rut on her occasionally, she thinks she’s done her wifely duty. Before, Tereus spent little time at home, and conducted himself as a bachelor when he was away. He needed little from Lavinia and got little, and didn’t question his bargain. 

The rivals and companions of his youth married bluestockings, homely but sensible girls, clever beauties, pragmatic shrews, and, in one case, an eccentric and mannish Duke’s daughter known for her sexual depravity. They all seem pleased with their various lots, or at least disinclined to struggle. Tereus won the reigning beauty of the age, but somehow landed in a domestic situation that is unenviable, even pitiable. 

This morning, as he faces a poorly cooked meal at the tail-end of a month of near-celibacy, Tereus takes no pleasure in his wife’s dazzling beauty. He’s tempted to drop a word in his son’s ear on the subject of marriage and what qualities wear well in a wife.

It’s unnecessary. Judging from Marcus’ expression of well-bred indifference as he eats burned toast and an old egg, he’s drawn his own conclusions, and is quietly planning a life very different from the one before him. 

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