(Note: this is going under some grammar and style revisions.)
“I am not an immense being”, said Epistemon.
Eudoxia had delicately rolled off bed, hoping that the sudden release of compressive energy wouldn’t wake him up. The sound stopped her mid-stride from where she was going, from moving on to whatever women do after sex. When she turned back, he was sitting up, feeling his throat and face for where the nasality of “immense” came from.
What she did next is what every woman like Eudoxia does to mollify a man like Epistemon. Keep connected to the warm glow of sexual intimacy, and praise him.
“That was good. That was a good time. I enjoyed–“
“I’m not saying I’m not ‘good in bed’. That’s not what-” interrupted Epistemon, stopping mid-sentence expecting to be interrupted too. “I’m not saying I’m good either”, he continued, replying to himself and to the silence.
“I felt good. I’m still feeling good”, offered Eudoxia while it was still true, half-feeling and half-conceptualizing the incoming oxytocin peak and crash.
“So you say I didn’t do you wrong–“
“You didn’t. I wanted it. I felt good.”, she insisted, disappearing past the bathroom wall.
“Which is great because for women the emotions are so different”. This no longer sounded like insecurity, but rather like a philosophical argument; and so he waited for a possible challenge to the blanket nature of a proposition like “for all women”. Out of courtesy, of course; she knew Eudoxia to know him better. Standing up and gradually moving her, he offered a corollary: “Which is of course is the same as saying that it’s different for men.”
Eudoxia was sitting on the closed toilet lid, legs held together by her arms, messing with her toenails. She purred, avoiding his gaze; he took it as a sign to go on with his monolog.
“For men there’s always an element of conquest and possession; even the physical act is a savage gesture”, continued Epistemon, first agitated, then softer: “Even if it follows from love.”
Again this. “But I didn’t expect you to love me. You told me in so many–” interspersed Eudoxia before he resumed talking.
This derailed Epistemon’s line of thought. He had to defend himself — “But I do love you. For your wisdom, and also for your physical form. There are so few–“. Epistemon had to stop mid-sentence to think of how to return to his difficult point. He rubbed his face out of frustration. She buried her head between her knees. Enough silence passed that a garbage truck could be heard in the distance.
Finally: “You love me like you love mankind.”
“I hate mankind. I love men. Some men. In the universal sense of the word ‘Man’, which you know I refuse to abandon. And–“
“I know you see wisdom in me”, interrupted Eudoxia, determined to hold him to the thread.
“And physical beauty”. Epistemon hadn’t offered this as a compliment, but it made Eudoxia blush. Her looks were, of course, what people and men in particular (not in the “universal sense”) first knew of her — but together with Epistemon they had analyzed and reduced her primal attractiveness to its elementary components. There was her romantic beauty, the cloudy fascination with the fineness of her; there was her reproductive fitness, measured in ratios and correlations; there was her grace, which was a performative virtue in disguise — the way she exerted those raw elements and made them whole. Epistemon’s deconstructive gaze amused her: it transformed the essential fragility of beautiful women into a gaggle of superpowers.
Yet this sudden wholesale appreciation was unexpectedly, maybe unthinkably flattering. She let her guard down and took her shot at cutting through Epistemon’s winding, self-loathing, well, speech. Rather than just do Simplicia for his Salviatti, she spoke from the heart.
“But you don’t love me in the way couples do.”
“I’ll have you know that I haven’t slept with anyone else for years.” Now, this was a low punch. Eudoxia did have a handful of lovers, powerful men — but not like him. Not like Epistemon.
“Well I have. I’m too pretty and too normal! But every time or almost every time I wished it could have been you. Why can’t we just–” Eudoxia stopped herself just short from crying. He knew about her needs. The bitterness of this postcoital philosophizing was so familiar. But she was also invested. She couldn’t just tell him to cut the crap and drive him out of her apartment.
“But I can’t. With that kind of love comes illusion. Lies. The universe lies to you. Epistemon cannot be compromised. Having haracteristiscally caught himself being grandiose, he stopped also his rhetorically grand body motions. His eyes implored it’s-not-you-it’s-me to her eyes. “I cannot be compromised. There is too much at stake.”
Eudoxia tried to rationalize — “Even if you are compromised, even if you die. The world will go on, Epistemon. That sacrificial–” Now this made Epistemon uncharacteristically angry and jealous, although he tried to hide it by avoiding her gaze. If there was anything true, it was that Epistemon is important. Maybe not an immense being. Maybe a bad lover.
She tried a course correction: “Epistemon, if you die I literally, literally die too. Some monstrous other may try to use my beauty for horrifically stupid purposes, but it won’t be me. It won’t have my, my–”
“Your grace”, completed Epistemon. “The performative virtue that enacts your attractiveness”.
“I can’t help it if I’m sexy”, she cooed. “Sexy is something you do, not something you are”, he replied, warmly, this time intending it as a compliment.
Eudoxia was tired. Epistemon was also tired, but Eudoxia had for long managed a heart always about to break. “So what are we fighting about?”
Epistemon relented. “For men, sex is a conquest. I need to own you.”
“I want you to own me. But you need to settle down.”, she argued, standing up as if to say “I want to move with this already, I’m ready”.
“If I settle down I’ll be like those others you seduce. It will never be the happy marriage of Epistemon and Eudoxia. We’ll be transformed”, he explained, feeling pulled to the ground as if gravity came in waves.
“All couples transform”. This is the structure of our fights, she thought, — Epistemon the concept fog, Eudoxia the beacon of clarity. Clearly they had been put together for each other.
“But there’s only one Epistemon and one Eudoxia”.
Eudoxia flew into a rage at hearing this. So many years of frustration and heartache to support this tragic self-importance, so much pretend-powerlesness — like there was anything Eudoxia and Epistemon couldn’t do. She wanted to shriek; she wanted to rip her own skin out. But instead she grabbed Epistemon by the hair and bashed his head against the kitchen sink, again and again and again until she heard bones cracking.
When Eudoxia came to herself, her hands were so bloody that she couldn’t operate a touchscreen phone. She was reduced to screaming for help. And help came: Epiphron, one of Eudoxia’s occasional lovers, had heard the screams and was just arrived to see if she was ok.
Despite having felt his spine curl up a little with jealousy at seeing Eudoxia with Epistemon, Epiphron was quick to the action: he quickly instructed Eudoxia and both carried him to his car, dragging his feet. Eudoxia sat on the back with Epistemon, filled with regret and sadness.
Flashing briefly into consciousness, Epistemon whispered to Eudoxia — “Blame Epiphron”, quickly passing out again. In another brief flash, “Marry me”. Eudoxia was horrified by Epistemon’s deformed appearance, much of the right side of his skull having been bashed in. Did she finally change him? Was he proposing they lie and frame the innocent man who was saving him?
Eudoxia suddenly didn’t love Epistemon anymore. But she married him, out of a sense of fate. Thereafter everytime they had sex Epistemon announced — “I’m good”.