Book: The Lesson

Debra Boxer

The Lesson

The Lesson

Everything is fine until the oysters come. The waitress sets the silver pail in the middle of the table and leaves us alone. I look at you and squint slightly. You laugh back at me in reply. "I'll teach you how to eat oysters.

I think to myself, so stealthy in form with those granitelike shells, they look like they'd rather be uneaten, undiscovered- undisturbed. They seem rather content in their inchoate state.

The waitress brings us tools: a flat, dull-tipped knife, a small fork, thick cutting board, a plethora of cloth napkins, melted butter, and four wedges of lemon. You eye my confusion and warn me how juicy these oysters are. You assure me I'll need these napkins.

You move the pail to the floor. You pick up an oyster and hold it high to demonstrate. You tell me to find the dark sliver of space waiting to be wedged open. (I notice you have no trouble finding that clandestine slit.)

You ram the dull blade into the crack and twist with vigor. You pull apart the halves and out pours a small rush of clear broth.

"See, I told you," you say.

I see the fleshy nub that fused the two sides together. You throw away the empty half and focus your attention on the one still holding fast to its slick, fleshy mound-the color of city smog. You quickly wrench it free with the tiny fork and toss the shell into the pail. It lands with a loud clunk.

All that shell, I think, for that little piece of meat. Is it so special, so sensitive, it needs all that rough armor?

You douse the nub with lemon then drench it in butter and finally offer it to me fully dressed. With all the juices dripping it glistens like a jewel. I take it and slip it whole inside my mouth. It mixes with the juices that have already mysteriously appeared there. Its texture is something impossible-a soft marble. It makes me smile.

You tell me to try opening my own now. I try but I feel like if I force it too hard I'll hurt it, so I end up holding back. You guide me through.

"Try holding the knife sideways. Grab it like a tool. Like a hammer. Don't be afraid. Ram and twist. You'll know when you've opened it. You'll feel it give." And I do. Give.

"Now, pull apart."

Even though I know it's coming, the juice pouring out startles me as it soaks my hands-my fingers now slick with evidence of this oyster's thalassic birth.

You take the treasured half from me, poke your fork into it and then hold it up for inspection. I think to myself, impaled little oyster flesh rescued from the maw. What now?

"Look," you say separating the miniature folds with your finger. They flutter like blinds like eyelids. "A woman's genitalia," you say smiling proudly like a child who knows he has the right answer.

I am amazed. It is an exact replica shrunk down and enshelled. What sly god did that?

You say it reminds you of a conversation you had recently with a girl about the clitoris. I love how you say the word so articulately and without hesitation. Your eyes are the color of wet bark.

I'm no longer looking at you. I'm struggling with my own oyster. I feel the warm broth soak through inches of cloth napkin to the skin of my wrists.

I shiver like a compass needle.

"She says guys have no clue about the clitoris. No clue at all. They don't know what they're doing." "Is that true?" I ask.

"Some guys," you answer.

I'm afraid to ask where you fit in. I'm afraid you have a clue. I'm suddenly nervous thinking of you with that oyster in your mouth so soft and newly sprung. I eat mine delicately as if it's a tiny bird egg that I don't want to crack.

"This feels like cannibalism," I say.

I feel tender between my legs. My clitoris descends.

Opening another, you ask, "Remind you of the gynecologist? Spread 'em." You laugh.

"I've never been," I say tossing you a clue. I've never been. I've never been spread opened rammed discovered. You're too engrossed in oyster meat to notice. I want to leave, but there's nowhere that I'd rather be. I look longingly out at the river. Could I drown my passions for you there, or would I have to drown my whole self with them because I can no longer differentiate between the two?

You ask, "Have you ever had female genitalia in your mouth?"


"Well, I've never had a guy's."

"Then we have something in common."

"Yes." But do you really understand what you're saying yes to? Do you really mean "Yes, I know, I know that you, too, have never had a man inside your mouth."

You tell me oysters are an aphrodisiac. I'm squirming long before you tell me this from the juice and the slickness and the folds and your hands-one on the oyster, one on the knife-ramming it into the black crack and twisting. How do I ask you to stop doing that? Or if you could take me home and do that to me?

Something begins pulsing steadily between my legs like an expired clock suddenly rewound. Crossing my legs only intensifies the beat. It'll go like this for hours now.

Everything we say is drenched in innuendo. I, too, am drenched. Aqueous. I want to shut up but can't. I fear I'll start to caterwaul. God help me.

You can't pry one oyster open so you toss it.

"Is that what you do when they're tight?" I ask.

You cast a furtive glance my way.

"Be gentle," I advise.

You smile too slowly and without looking at me.

I force open another. I close my mouth, so my tongue doesn't leap out-my tongue that wants to lick the two dozen vertebrae of your spine. I rub it instead against the roof of my mouth wishing it were the roof of yours.

You ask me if I'm ready for other new things since these are my very first oysters.

"This could be the start of something."

"Yes. New things." I say. And I smile too slowly and without looking at you.

I've had nothing to drink but water. I've inhaled nothing except the smell of you, oysters, and the river. Still, I sway. Drunk on the droplets of lemon butter and oyster juice glistening at the corners of your mouth.

When the rest of the food comes, and the oysters are taken away, I try to return to myself. (Or am I already too much with me?)

You order each of us a beer. You tear me a piece of French bread and tell me to dip it into the warm blanket of fishy soup set before me. I love how you don't hesitate to tell me how to do these things. And I do them because I know you're trying to show me pleasure. And I want pleasure. I wonder if you're like this in bed. I hope you are. And I would follow your instructions there as I do here so I could walk that heady path of pleasure. You have a gentle, yet confident way of instruction. If I were a nation, I'd follow you.

You dip your bread into my soup and proceed to finish it for me at my insistence. You drink my beer as well. I close my eyes a moment no longer able to watch you put food into your mouth. I am dizzy with the satiety of shellfish, soup, your body. I try not to look at you (as if it would help to forget what you look like). I am afraid to speak my desire to you even as my clitoris bangs against its shell like a fist against a wall.

You say, "That was the best meal I've had in ages." You lean back to stretch your long body out even further. It is a world without end. You pull your shirt up and pat your stomach to show me how full it is. But I'm more interested in that dark line of hair there that matches your eyebrows-so much darker than the hair on your head.

I lower my eyes as if I've just touched you where I shouldn't have and writhe beneath the table. You make a casual comment about me lifting up my shirt to see my stomach. I refuse. (There's too much skin around this table already.)

"I don't have a pot belly, if that's what you're thinking. You'll have to trust me on that."

"I wouldn't guess that anyway by looking at you." The way you're looking at me now is as if you're looking without the intrusion of clothes. My clitoris seethes. I inhale sharply.

I'm spinning in a heightened state of restive awareness. I suddenly see and feel everything at once. Drunk on my own precision. I am wholly tuned into you. Plugged into a socket of purely carnal thought. Prickly, pleasurable, yet painful, sensations caress my skin like a cat kneading my thighs with its claws.

My legs are squeezed together so tightly, I think they'll meld into one. The clock ticks. So loud I'm afraid you can hear it. What if the alarm was inadvertently set and it goes off in public? Everyone will turn to stare. And here I'll be with oyster juice running down my legs.

Debra Boxer is a writer from New Jersey currently living in Seattle. Her work has appeared in The Best American Erotica 2000, Nerve, Clean Sheets, Moxie, Publishers Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Daily Record of New Jersey.

"The Lesson," by Debra Boxer, © 2000 by Debra Boxer, first appeared in Clean Sheets (Clean Sheets, 2000), Reprinted by permission of the author.

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