Once upon a time, there was a peculiar girl, who explored each lover’s body as if it was a distant land. Some bodies reminded her of a vast, golden desert and herself a hot, blistering wind blowing over its sandiness. No matter how much she leaned and seared herself over him, she knew ultimately that the vast landscape remained unchanged. There were merely slight shifts in his surface, no tell-tale signs the day after. Other men reminded her of damp, humid swamps, hot and musky, and she felt their bodies to be hard works of clay.Her fingers kneaded into the flesh, feeling the sweat, the wet hairs, the minute texture of skin, scar tissue and moles. She put her nose to their skin, trying to inhale their scent.

In the past, there were partners with whom she had adventurous sex, exploring a bit of kinkiness at times. She enjoyed the initial breathlessness, of being fondled, husky words, and her legs winding up in different positions. She took the tender and she took the hard; she tried sex with love, and sex without it. But when the jungle adventure ended and the act of coitus was complete, she found herself stuck in that quicksand of “Should I stay? When can he leave? What will he think if I ask for my space? How am I going to tactfully boot him out?” The zing of sex faded into feeling captive on a sinking raft. She just wasn’t good at defining the boundary between reality and fantasy. Unlike her other friends who firmly told the man that he could not stay, her curiosity got the best of her with each lover and she wondered if he would fit. She didn’t mean fit sexually. Sex to her was a brief and finite affair, and operated on its own time zone. The burning question her heart held was: would he fit her sleep-wise? Somehow, sharing her bed and not her body proved more of an intimate terrain than she could ever express.

Her friends likened her sensitivity to sleep with the princess and the pea fairytale. Her body was attuned to levels of pleasure and discomfort ordinary humans were not. Consequently, her list of questions proved long. Would he snore (she was a light sleeper)? Did he smell (she blamed her highly developed olfactory sense)? How was his breath? Did he sleep splayed out or would he cuddle her in a cloying manner? How much heat did he generate from his body? Did he steal the duvet? Was he fidgety? Did he talk in his sleep? Did he awaken in the middle of the night? Was he clean? Would she need to fight for her own space? Where did those awkward limbs go? Sleep is a selfish act, and a necessary one. The men’s bodies were all so heavy, and she didn’t find it attractive to have to move their dead weight. Sharing the physical body was an indifferent exchange. But the problem of finding someone who was not the archetypal pea proved much more of a challenge. She’d even gotten fooled into thinking love would smooth over her sleep-anxious questions, but this was not the case and in the rare times she cohabitated with a partner, she found herself dreading the sleep incompatibility.

Then she met M. He fascinated and confounded her from the beginning, being nothing like her or anyone else she’d dated. Due to this, she ridiculed him relentlessly in order to assuage her discomfort. He proved to be the King of Idiosyncrasy, and she pocketed the small jewels of his personality that she dug out. Keeping things light, she casually teased him in order to feel better but the more she did this, the more she was winding herself up. He did not react and as a consequence, her attraction defied her usual capacity to section off her sexual needs. It rampaged over her mental speed bumps, and coursed up and down the length of her body. A daydream version of M walked boldly into her thoughts, sat down, and lit up a cigar. Worse of all, his image invaded her sleep at night, causing her to awaken at two o’clock in the morning, her crotch pulsing and hot, skin flushed, her brain throbbing. Her whole body was having a fit, and even though she reached with her hands and vibrator, the rebellion did not subside, lasting until six o’clock. This four hour chunk of sex fever started occurring month after month. She could not control her body and its desire to escape from her. Though sleep deprived, her body continued to grow wilder. Daydreams turned into torrid fantasies. Haunted by her night visions, the actual sight of him got her wet, and a permanent circus moved into her panties. She began to empathise with pubescent boys, herself a ticking time bomb. While her body raged and cried out, his seemed all the more mute and contained.

With M, she was neither blistering wind, nor was she a jungle creature. She washed over him like a cool foamy tide, running loose over pebbles, and, in spite of her feelings, found herself rolling back. In a valiant attempt, she surged over him repeatedly, trying to uncover more clues. He was dense and smooth, and disappointingly, she found she had no place with which to cling. Finally, from exhaustion, she fell unconscious. At this, he moved. He came alive, and deftly slipped one snake-like arm, encircling her body, drawing her close. His leg swiftly wound about hers, and she was caught, limp and light as flotsam. There, she slept, hard. She gave no resistance, unlike with the others. Usually she fidgeted, but with M, her body fell slack, and he settled back, his movements spare and efficient. Had it not been for his chest rising and falling, one would never guess he was alive.

But he was. Unbeknownst to her, he watched her as she slept. While she was deep under, he darted around on the surface, dipping in and out of sleep, watching for any signs of discomfort. At one point, she started whimpering, snagged in a nightmare. He pulled her closer to his chest, stating simply, “It’s alright,” and she quieted instantly. In her mind’s eye, she peered up at him from dark ocean depths, watching his face distort over the surface ripple, before sinking back into slumber. When she awoke, she felt dazed: he was still there. Confounded and comforted, she nonetheless tested him, rolling about in different combinations of limbs, bending and arching her torso. Like two jigsaw pieces, they intersected all over the bed. Each thrusted combination of hers was met with a matter-of-fact hold. Never letting her go too far away, when she drifted, he rocked her back. He smelled and tasted of nothing, and he did not react to her moods.

And so she and M developed a routine, with the pretense being sex. He was unflinching to her requests, placidly observant. She felt light and transparent to him, and in return, his small but specific movements thrilled her. Full of wonder, she came at him, the sex like bookends of their bedtime. They grappled in the small space, until they coiled around one another and pleasured in the secret and silent joy of deepest slumber.

[Author’s Note: This post is dedicated to MK. Happy Birthday.]

Erica, 34, London UK