The Book of Longing 2.


These stories can be read consecutively in the page, The Book of Longing, at the top of the site.


Him to Her

I can’t imagine my life without you

Nor mine without you

But what if something goes wrong? 

I don’t ask him, what kind of something.

Our second meeting is in a cafe in a shopping centre. Our conversation is more personal, yet still I do not notice from him a word or gesture that signals any interest in me, other than that of a fellow-sufferer and geographically distant friend. I’m not looking and I’m not giving off any signals I’m aware of. The coup de foudre remains unacknowledged.

So when he puts his hand across the table, palm upward, inviting mine, and I without a second’s hesitation place mine, palm downward, in his, it is as if there has been an entire other conversation in progress of which I have been completely unaware, and during which it has been agreed that he will put out his hand for mine and I will respond to his offer as if it is the most natural thing for us to do. Which it isn’t, on  the level on which we’ve been conversing, on that level it could be read as predatory, or presumptuous, or harassing, or just plain mistaken.

From that moment on we communicate almost entirely on the previously unacknowledged level, and when either of us deviates the other is distressed at the betrayal. He has never known this type of communication with a woman before, he tells me frequently, but for me it’s a language I’ve spoken most of my life. It’s the other one, the superficial, that is a foreign tongue to me, that I struggle to speak like a second language I never properly learned.

I want our thoughts to touch.

You are my last thought before I sleep, and my first thought when I wake. 

And you mine. I fall asleep imaging the weight of your breast in the palm of my hand. In the night when I wake, you are there, and I am holding you, your back to me, my cock nestled between your thighs.

Our most banal communications come unmediated from this mysterious place, and when he writes or says, Listen, today I will be and you will be and the time will be so I will let you know and then you can… his tone, and mine, are so infused with the inexplicable power of a language that has no words, that even ordinary exchanges make his cock stir, and cause me without thought to spread my thighs as if to receive him.

This “psychic” sex is so real, today when we were interrupted my balls ached as if we had been physically together, and prevented from fucking. I want to be with you so badly it hurts. It hurts. 

When first I see him he is naked everywhere, chemotherapy having robbed him of all adult concealment. I am astonished at his beauty, naked as a little boy yet grown, his vulnerability more stark than any I have ever seen. There is no other way to put it: I adore his nakedness. I kneel before his nakedness and take him gently in hands that love, without my interference, fills with tender strength. It is not too much to say I worship him.

I love how you look at my cock. I love how gently you touch him. Kiss him. Do you know how much I love how you do these things? 

The loss of this form of communication when it comes, feels like death.


I write tentatively about my adoration of my lover’s body. I don’t know if it is acceptable (to whom?) for me to confess to worshipping him. What I felt was not unlike the awe that overtook me when I gave birth to my babies and first saw their perfect bodies, but of another order: we came together as man and woman, not mother and child.

Although, and nothing is unambiguous nothing is straightforward in these matters, my lover asked to suckle from my breasts, asked if they were full for him, if I would feed him, nourish him, and when he asked this of me I felt them swell, and tingle with sensations I recall from when I heard my babies cry.

And he writes to me

I want to feed you also. I want you to take from me all the nourishment you need, from my cock. If I could I would feed you from my nipples, sometimes I imagine that I can. Remember, take everything you need. I will feed you.


Throughout our affair I imagine myself in his situation. I imagine myself living with my husband while simultaneously being in thrall to somebody else. I imagine loving this other person and loving them loving me, all the while knowing I will leave them the moment I am caught in my duplicity.

I could not create with another what my lover creates with me, knowing I would leave him with what could only be anguish, to save the life I already have in place. We all have things for which we would not forgive ourselves. Mine, or one of them, would be to awaken such love in another, to beg for such love from another, all the while knowing I would leave at any moment, to save myself.

Even though I recognise in some dark corner of myself that I am horrified at my lover doing this at all, and worse, doing this to me, I stay.

What would you do if you were me?

I would never do what you have done. I would rather be alone forever than live as you are living. 

So why do you love me then?

I don’t know.

And then I remember it was my husband I loved like this, adored, worshipped, longed for, reached for in the night, nourished from my breasts. There was no room for another lover in my mind and heart and body. And if illness and death had not robbed me of him, in my heart I would be there still.

I visited my husband. He reached for my breasts. I unbuttoned my shirt and leaned over him so he could touch them with his good hand. Then I lowered my nipple into his mouth and he suckled and wept and spoke to me in his incomprehensible language and then I laid down beside him and held him in my arms, his head against my naked breasts, until he fell asleep.

If you’d met me when your husband was well would you still have loved me?

No. I would have liked you. Been interested in you. But loved you like this? No.  

Quint Buccholz. Dancing on a River
Quint Buccholz. Dancing on a River

The Book of Longing 1.

Edvard Munch. The Kiss
Edvard Munch. The Kiss

I return to the Practice of Goodness as one returns to the arms of a long-desired lover. With relief, and a sense that I have always belonged here, and the separation has been harder than I could ever let myself know until it was over.

I have written on my blog No Place for Sheep in the pages Infidelity and the category Adultery of my affair with a married man.

This affair disturbed me so deeply I decided to seek help to deal with its aftermath. The Book of Longing, a title I’ve borrowed from Leonard Cohen, is my record of discovery.

I am tired of the superficial. We love, we hurt, we ache, we desire, we rage, we suffer and yet we speak to each other mostly of the banalities of life on earth, enduring the rest in silence.

The deeps are what draw me. The mysteries. The things concealed and unspoken. These are what I will give voice to as best I can.

There’s no chronological order to be found here. The flow of eternity does not adapt itself to the demands of time, and what happens in the places we call our hearts and spirits has little to do with time, and everything to do with eternity.

I met him, my lover, only because he was ill, suffering from the same cancer  I suffer, though I was in remission and he was at the end of a gruelling cycle of chemotherapy. We’d known each other for a couple of years in cyberspace, sharing the same politically-minded community and interests, admiring one another’s writing. When I was visiting his area I suggested we meet for coffee, as I wanted to give encouragement and companionship to someone I liked, who was enduring one of life’s worst experiences.

We agreed to meet in the Nolan room at the National Gallery. The painting that impressed itself upon me most that morning was the horse falling upside down off a cliff. I didn’t know why at the time. But later it came to signify my own state of mind.



My husband, about whom I’ve also written on No Place for Sheep, had some time earlier suffered a massive stroke that left him paralysed on the right side of his body, without coherent speech, completely dependent and in a nursing home. Not long before I met the man who was to become my lover, I’d spent several months by my husband’s bedside.

During this time of witnessing, I had a most extraordinary experience. Each time I visited and settled myself beside his bed I felt a strange sensation that was  physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, though I am not quite sure of the meaning of that last term as I have no religious belief. Perhaps metaphysical would serve better.

The sensation as I can best describe it was one of intense love and compassion, unlike anything I have ever felt before, and requiring no response from him, which was just as well as he could give none. This sensation was self-renewing: the more I allowed myself to experience it, the more it flooded into me, and through me to him.

On its path the strange energy nurtured and strengthened me, and I was able to daily spend hours with him for what turned out to be months, without ever feeling exhausted. Other circumstances surrounding the situation exhausted me, but not being with him. I was able to give myself over completely to this extended experience, which was remarkable  as my personality is not at all suited to the long periods of holistic stillness it demanded.

I was in an altered state. Even away from him, the altered state remained.

It was in this altered state that I suggested  to the man who became my lover that we have coffee. Open, vulnerable, grief-stricken at the loss of my husband as I’d known him, yet in strong denial of all my sorrow and anger about what had been lost, I found another man fighting for his life, one who unlike my husband could respond and who, unlike my husband, could ask and give and love me back. He, I have no doubt, sensed in me the loving compassion that hadn’t left me, and his need of it was great.

And so we fell in love, at first sight, in the Nolan room in front of the painting of the falling horse. It was a coup de foudre. And neither of us knew the first thing to do about it.

White Flowers Georgia O'Keeffe

We are eating lunch at an outdoor cafe in a southern city.  It’s winter. I’m used to warmer climates and am wrapped in layers of clothing, up to my chin. He leans across the table, and strokes my face with his forefinger. I make a joke, and he taps me lightly on the side of my nose. Then he says, I love you. And then we look at one another and the look is fierce. He says, softly, you’re mine, and I say, softly, I know.

This is not something I could have imagined myself saying to a man, had I ever given the matter any thought. But I am overwhelmed by a rush of hot feeling that causes me to temporarily relinquish ownership of myself. He holds my gaze, he doesn’t flinch or blink, he holds me there in that unexpected and foreign desire. Remember, he says. We have done so many things today and every one of them is for us to remember. Yes? 

Yes, I say. 

The eroticism of surrender. It is new to me, at least to this extent.

He feels it also. He writes of how he wants me to fall on him while he lies helpless, and take whatever I want for as long as I want and I find it reassuring, the knowledge that this desire to yield is not confined to me. When he writes of his wish I feel in myself the thrill of domination, though it is tempered by discomfort: I am not used to taking what I want without considering the other. I wonder if I might feel silly, embarrassed, feasting on him while he lies still and unresponsive. I tell him this. Absolute honesty, he’s promised, and I’ve promised in return. No pretending. This is one of the things I love about you, he tells me. I know you will never pretend to feel something you don’t. Everything with you is real. 

Ah, he writes, when I tell him of my fears. I will respond. But I won’t touch you. You’ll have to tie my hands so I can’t touch your breasts, otherwise I won’t be able to resist. And then you can lean over me and lower a nipple into my mouth and I will tongue and suck and feed. You will decide when to take your breast away from me, and when to give it back. I will beg. I know that. But you will decide. 


I’m weeping in the office of the man I’ve come to for help with myself. For the last ten days the right side of my body from my head to my foot, has been painfully seized up. It feels like structural damage.

I’ve been to this office four times now, and the moment I sit down I start to cry and then I continue to cry, pretty much for the next hour.  Strange, apparently disconnected thoughts erupt through the weeping. I tell him about my right side, how it hurts.

Which side of your husband’s body was paralysed? he asks me.

The right side, I say, and then double over with anguish so bad I can barely breathe.

Yes, he says, kindly. Yes.




Aching, he swings out of bed.

As always, the uncertainties of the coming day crowd in on him and his troubled heart.

He shaves, anxiety nibbling the ends of his fingers. Tell me, he entreats the face in the mirror. Tell me what to do.

He regards himself, unimpressed and with frightened eyes.

Outside the birds start up their morning racket. The air is still and thick with humidity.

Somewhere in another country his beloved, pale, blonde, with ragged red-lacquered fingernails, will be preparing herself for sleep.

When she looks out her window she sees snowflakes in the streetlights

She sees cold white clouds drift down, and with a weightless grace decorate the Old City.

When she looks at the river she sees islands of ice, jagged and adrift in the dark water.

When turns on the TV she hears a foreign language, a language that resembles the accents of a cold war a language she knows

A language with which he is entirely unfamiliar.

She recently sent him a picture of herself knee-deep in fallen leaves in a Swedish forest where men shoot deer.

She has sent him a picture of herself in a black wool coat and a lilac scarf in a stand of silver birch

A picture taken by an individual unknown to him. In a stand of silver birch.

He does not recognise her in this costume. She is a stranger to him in this costume. His head aches with the strangeness

Does she go to bed alone?

Briskly, he pulls on his shoes and socks, thinking that he prefers her in lighter garments.

Outside his apartment in the busy street the air chokes him with its density. Wet and reeking, he could be in Bangkok, not Bondi.

Last night he tried to get it on with someone else, but all it felt like was hard work. All he knew was that she wasn’t her.

It’s left him feeling gritty. Stuck in a life without meaning.

The Pacific Ocean, blue and glittering at his feet. She’s on the grayer edges of the Baltic Sea.

He thinks perhaps he’ll live like there’s no tomorrow. He thinks he’ll spend all his money, fly to the States, fuck a lot of women.

But what he can’t figure out (and it seems to be the crux of the whole matter)

What he can’t figure out (snowdrifts in Gamla Stan: they’re skating on the ponds)

What he can’t figure out (and it seems as if his life might depend upon it)

Is how to get control of his erratic, thumping heart.

In his new shirt (‘Absolut Svensk’) he strides along the beachfront, his gait lopsided from an irregularity in the length of a hamstring.

As he walks, his walk his attention is caught by a woman leading a ferret on a red leather leash. Around its neck, nestled in the fur, it sports a diamante collar.

Its eyes glitter at him, full, he thinks, of bad intention. Its belly scrapes the concrete. Its full tail sweeps aside cigarette butts, globules of phlegm, hamburger cartons, ice cream droppings, syringes and all the other detritus encountered each morning by walkers on the promenade.

The sight distracts him momentarily from his misery, his obsessive speculation as to the whereabouts and doings of his beloved in another country.

As he watches the woman gathers up the ferret and drapes the animal round her neck where it lolls like a mouldy fox fur his grandmother once owned.

Beadily, it eyes him. He has an urge to throttle it brought on, he thinks, by the animal’s smug expression and its air of belonging to someone. As if it knows his loneliness and is flaunting its own good fortune.

He tries to work up an interest in the owner of the ferret. Long, dark hair, a severe fringe and purple lips the antithesis of her

But it comes to nothing.

He doesn’t know if her will ever see his beloved again. He doesn’t know if he will hold her. Kiss her breasts, lose himself between her thighs.

He doesn’t know if he will ever hear her laugh. Hold her feet in the palms of his hands.

(Slim feet, with evenly spaced toes, well-bred feet; Why is it that the recollection of those feet has the power to bring him utterly undone?)

Sometimes, when he goes home from the café, his mind full of jokes and witticisms picked up that morning from his no-account friends, he looks for her in the rooms of the apartment, longing to tell her what he has heard.

But she is in another country

(Does she take another lover inside her? Does she let him suckle at her breast? Do her feet rest in the palms of another’s hands?)

The stories he has for her remain untold.

His head hurts.His eyes fill. If she ever comes home he’ll change everything. He’ll reinvent himself. He’ll become the man she deserves.

He feels strangely breathless.His vision blurs.Traffic noise explodes inside his head.He understands that he is falling onto the filthy promenade where the ferret took its morning stroll.

His arm aches. Something powerful has taken hold of his chest.

He tries to call out her name but nothing happens. Then everything is dark.


In Stockholm it is the middle of the night. She wakes sweating, and gripped by fear. I must go home, she thinks. Now. In the morning.

 She looks out of her window onto the white courtyard. Snowflakes drift through the streetlights. Snow transforms all stains and blemishes, leaving everything innocent, like original beauty.

Yesterday, in the grey afternoon light, she’d walked through the Old City. Ice on cobblestones. The wind, freezing off the river, searing the membranes of her nose.

She’d wrapped the lilac scarf securely around her mouth and pulled her black fur hat hard over her ears.

Even under the same roof, she’d reflected, they were in another country. Only in their bed, only through their bodies were their borders dissolved in the most temporary manner.

Is this men and women? she’d wondered.Or is it just him and me?

Alone in snowy Stockholm she begs him, Love me.

Alone on the glittering edges of the blue Pacific, alone on the glittering edges of life he begs her, Love me.

©Jennifer Wilson

For babies and big kids I love

Archie & Ted

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young

Bob Dylan

On the back step


When I woke she was already up, sitting in the sunlight on the back step. I looked around the one large room we called home. There were three kerosene lamps on op shop tables, and three armchairs with flattened cushions in sun-faded blue. There was a Turkish rug that had once been valuable. There was a bowl for washing up, and a Primus stove. A rusting bar fridge. Our clothes hung on wooden pegs on the wall beside our bed.

I felt hot and inadequate. I should be able to give her more than this, I thought. Especially now.

I looked back at her. She was twirling a strand of hair around her fingers, and staring across the clearing into the rainforest. She wore her old pink dressing gown, loosely tied, and her feet were bare.

I lay in our bed, naked and thinking. Mostly I thought that I was not good enough for her, or the child we’d made. Then I kicked off the covers. I got up quickly and walked over to her. She smiled, but not at me. Her gaze stayed on the clearing, dotted at this time of the year with pink and yellow orchids, and rings of mushrooms like a fairy glade in a child’s picture book. Her face had grown plump with the pregnancy. Her breasts were softly full. I sat down beside her and she rested her head on my shoulder. Her fingers curled round the belt of her robe. I kissed her hair. I thought that later I would walk alone in the rainforest, and there I would find the answers to the questions I did not yet know how to ask.

I heard many birds calling, the sharp clarity of the whip bird, and others I couldn’t name, though she could. She knew them all. After a while, she raised her mouth to me. Lately she smelled of lemons, the fruit from which she carved chunks that she ate at odd times of the day. I kissed her. I smelled her lemony breath, her cleansed tongue, the sharp tang of her. She kissed me back, generously, as she always did when we made love.

No one had ever touched me so sweetly.

I sank to my knees between her legs, pushing aside the worn cloth of her gown. I saw the veins running like blue rivers on a map, towards her swollen nipple. I put my mouth to her breast. She held my head while I sucked. She stroked my hair as I nursed like an infant, like the child I could feel turning slowly in her belly. I stopped my nursing and looked up at her. Her eyes were closed, but when she felt my gaze she opened them and smiled.

The bush smelled so sweet after the night’s rains.

She rested her back against the doorpost.

I put my head between her legs and kissed her. She smelled different there since the pregnancy. A strong, pungent scent announced her situation long before we sought any formal confirmation.

I stroked her belly. The infant heaved under my palms. I wanted to see inside her. I wanted her skin to be transparent so I could see our child in its unborn state. I kissed the infant through its mother’s skin. I wanted to lick away the thickness I wanted it to melt under my tongue like the coating on a sugared sweet.

I helped her up and led her to our bed. She was wet and I easily found my way inside. The child moved. I wanted to go more deeply into this mystery that had changed her eyes and the way she looked at me. That took her away from me and into a secret self I’d never suspected. She looked at me with love it’s true, as always. But now there was something else. She had removed herself. A distance in her gaze warned me she had other beings on her mind.


The night before I’d dreamed that she’d come to me in my sleep from far away, and kissed my forehead. Then she lay down with me, and her lips made light whisperings against my cheek. We breathed our love into each other’s open mouths.

‘Are you afraid?’ she’d whispered.

‘Not with you here,’ I replied.

‘I can’t stay you know.’ She licked at my cheek with the tip of her tongue.

‘I know. I know you can’t stay.’

‘But it’s all right for a little while, for just a little while, and then you’ll have to do without me, you know?’

‘I know.’

She stroked me, in my dream, my cock and my balls, and she lapped up my tears.

I woke to the sounds of a midnight storm, the alarmed creak of trees thrashed by a high wind, hard rain on our cabin roof. I woke in fear, and sorrow. I looked at her sleeping on her side, her hand on her belly. I knew that I would not care to live in this world if I lost her.

Towards morning as the storm settled, I fell back into jagged sleep.


 I liked to watch her when she bathed. Her ritual had lately changed. There was a new self-absorption in the slow circles she made with the washcloth across her belly and breasts. She smoothed oil into her skin as if in homage, to her shining body, to her unborn child.

There were times, usually in the early mornings, when she asked me to wash and oil her and I did this as she lay back in the bath, that absent smile on her face, with me and gone from me.


I rested in her now, and listened to the forest. She moved around me, tightening then relaxing her silk and velvet place. This pretty place, I thought as I lay in there, the silk and velvet stroking me, and all the while she caressed my tongue with her fingertips. My mouth opened to her, this is where you are like me, she whispered as she stroked inside my lips. My sudden swell against her textured walls, not yet, she said, my love, as she rose up to meet me. Her fingers left my tongue slowly, as if with regret, and roamed instead through my hair. I held myself above her on my hands. And looked into her face.

‘Do you love me?’ I asked, and she whispered that she did.

‘Let me in then,’ I begged.

Even as I asked I knew what I wanted was impossible. She moved against me, murmuring. She was close to her moment. Suddenly I felt fierce. I moved hard into her. I thought perhaps I would never have her back with me.  I thought she’d gone forever into her absorption.

‘Please,’ I whispered. ‘Please.’

I didn’t know about my tears, until she wiped them from my cheeks with her finger.

The whip birds called. I got up from her and crossed to the basin. I looked at myself in the cracked mirror on the shelf above the bench.

‘Help me,’ I said, but under my breath, in the privacy of my mind so she wouldn’t hear me. ‘Please help me.’


The child is fair, like her, with blue eyes that seem to cut through all my defences. She sleeps in her bassinet beside my bed. I often wake in the night, just to make sure she is breathing. I see her mother in every part of her. In her fingers, and in her long, curled toes. In her lips, rose red and glistening. In her small, transparent ears.

I am doing the best I can to stay in this world, though I have not yet convinced myself that this is where I should be. Then I look at her, my daughter, my life now. And I know the truth is that I cannot leave her. That daily, I must find the ways to live and breathe and carry on.

I sit on the back step, our child in my arms. I hear the sharp, clear calls of the whip bird, and others I can’t identify.

‘Your mother,’ I tell our daughter while she stares at me, and her small hands make irregular, drunken lurches at my untidy beard, ‘your mother knew the name of every bird in our forest.

Your mother knew all their calls. Your mother would teach you everything, if only she were here with us.’

My child smiles, toothless and trusting me.

‘Everything,’ I tell her, and I bend my head to kiss her brow.

©Jennifer Wilson 2011