Ian also found himself fleeing from women who were a shade too self-reliant, too persistently capable. He had never, in his Kansas meanderings, met a woman with a wood shop in her garage; he had never met women who owned roto-tillers, chainsaws, and hydraulic wood-splitters that they towed behind a pickup truck. (A truck with a bumper sticker that said: SILLY BOYS: TRUCKS ARE FOR GIRLS!) Santa Fe was positively crawling with these kinds of women: Women who owned kayaks, and shotguns, and ice-climbing equipment; women who rode motorcycles (dirt bikes, even); women who walked huge snarling Rottweilers on thick choke chains. The dogs, the bikes, the guns were all a manifestations of a deeply disturbing revelation—that men were superfluous, that their skills and their toys and all of their bravado could be so easily co-opted. Men were the proverbial fish on a bicycle. Men were merely the people who sold theses intrepid women’s toys.
Ian could never admit that sexuality was the root of this threat. But then he met a force of nature named Ingrid at a Canyon Road gallery opening for Dennis Hopper. Ingrid was a Norwegian émigré with a master’s degree in exercise physiology. She worked the requisite two jobs: In spring and early summer Ingrid was a whitewater rafting guide, shooting the Taos Box with boatloads of terrified tourists. In winter she was a ski instructor—not just any instructor, mind you, but one who specialized in disabilities; amputees, autistic children, and people with “mobility issues.” Of course, Ingrid drove a pickup truck; a tricked-out monster with a CB radio, a gun rack, and a winch mounted on the front bumper (“for the boats”).
Ingrid was so radically different from anyone Ian had ever dated; she was like a third gender. For instance, she never discussed previous boyfriends or lovers. She never complained about a lack of money. She loved children, but didn’t seem to want any of her own. She did not read Toni Morrison, and had never heard of Maya Angelou. (She did read anthologies of letters; erotic letters by Anäis Nin.) Ingrid would drink one glass of wine with a meal, and then chase it with a couple of mojitos. She favored rare, bloody steaks that were all but twitching on the plate. Clearly, Ingrid loved to party, but she never told How-drunk-was-I stories about herself. She had women friends who lived like she did; Gina, the bartender who was also in the Ski Patrol; Irene, who did personal training and was dating a tribal policeman from Pojoaque Pueblo. Ingrid certainly exceeded Ian’s travel standards; she had lived all over Europe, she had plenty of vagabond stories. She was neither cuddly nor Reubenesque; Ingrid’s lithe and lanky frame was part gymnast, part triathlete. Ingrid was the most complete package that Ian could imagine. Her fabulousness begged the question of what could she possibly see in him?
Ian mulled this discrepancy one evening while they shared a patio table at Gabriel’s and watched their waiter mix fresh guacamole. He and Ingrid had not yet slept together; the relationship was in that third date netherplace, and Ian decided that candor was the best policy.
“I can’t help but think that maybe I’m not like other men you’ve dated,” he said.
Ingrid sipped her mojito and said: “Well, you are my first author.”
So that’s it, Ian thought, as they tucked into the dip and blue corn chips. She had tired of the calloused cowboys, the sensitive New Age guys, or the Santa Fe arts cadre. Ian presumed that Ingrid had dated artists, just not his kind of artist. The one personal dating revelation that Ingrid did share was during a discussion about her juvenile ski clients, the autistic ones who were “a handful.”
“Single men in this town all seem to hate children,” she said. “I talk about my students and their eyes glaze over.”
How ironic, Ian thought, for at that moment he was waging his own fight to keep from looking stone bored. Children were a complete abstraction to him; certainly nothing to be coveted or adored. They were fine for people like Ingrid who had the capacity to give a shit. But honestly: The little buggers were so persistently ill-behaved, careening about the market aisles like rogue gypsies; yowling in movie theaters, sneezing in every direction. And it seemed to Ian that most of their parents were insensitive, oblivious, or both. It was as if the very act of parenthood emasculated men—hardy, rugged men became mewling man-moms. Ian had just encountered a man-mom in that very restaurant; some guy returning from the restroom with baby in his arms. He had a bottle of formula stowed in the back pocket of his jeans, and had draped a frilly little spittle cloth over his shoulder—a grown man with a spittle cloth! Why don’t you just clip your nads and hand them over to your wife? Ian thought. Clearly, you won’t be needing them anymore.
“Hello? Hello, anybody home?” Ingrid snapped her fingers in Ian’s face. “Where did you just go?” she demanded.
“Oh, it’s just the work,” he said, with a shrug. “I’m past deadline on this Rex Cabot book…”
Ingrid issued a wry smile, then said, “I’ll bet I can think of something that would distract you.” She took his hand in hers and licked a swatch of guacamole from Ian’s thumb.
They finished dinner in a kind of pre-coital haze, then quickly departed in Ingrid’s truck. As they drove south, Ingrid suggested that Ian sit closer. He obliged, straddling the transmission hump and placing one hand on the inside of her knee. She winked at him and reciprocated. The arrangement was almost erotic, except that Ingrid’s truck had a manual transmission; her hand constantly jumped from Ian’ thigh to snatch the shift knob and grind the gearbox. Sitting that close, Ian could feel the leverage—the brute force of her. She was a formidable woman, unlike anything Ian had ever seduced. As if to underscore this, Ingrid launched into a description of the rescue procedure for man-overboard on the river boats. There is an especially gnarly stretch of rapids just above Embuto Station, she explained, where the boat reverses and the bow pops up. Tourists tend to pop up too, sailing into the raging water like popcorn out of a hot kettle. The guide, Ingrid explained (grind-grind; shift-shift), has just a few precious moments to snag the front panels of the person’s life vest.
“Sometimes they fight you, get to flailing and screaming,” Ingrid said. “The only way to calm them down is to give them a good slap.”
“You slap your clients?”
“When I have to,” she replied. “They usually thank me later (grind-grind; shift-shift). Anyway, you can’t lift an adult—especially a man—back into the boat by brute force. They’ll pull you in with them. So you’ve got to dunk them—”
“You dunk your drowning clients?”
“It’s not punishment, it’s technique,” she explained. “You bob them under; the vest will bring them back up, and you use that momentum to pull them in.”
“That works; bobbing them underwater?”
“Haven’t lost one yet!”
And in that moment, with that image, Ian felt his own gonads recoil; actually start to retract into his pelvic floor. Ian felt flushed; not from carnal anticipation, but from a visceral sense of dread. Ingrid’s story had conjured forth am image of what sex with her could be like—dunking, slapping, flailing about at her mercy! A woman like this—this gear-grinding Nordic Amazon—would pulverize him in bed. There would be no nibbling of napes, no eyelash kisses, no fluttery fingertip explorations of Ingrid’s fleshy portal. This steak-loving carnivore would treat Ian like her personal shift knob. He would be but a tiny man-mogul on her downhill race to orgasm. And what consequences awaited the man who displeased her? What if Ian failed to satisfy? Ian did not want to be that man, did not want to be Ingrid’s first author, did not want to have to make love like a gladiator. Ever kill anyone in the throes of passion, Ingrid? Haven’t lost one yet!
“I wonder if you could just drop me at my car?” Ian heard himself saying.
Ingrid did not respond, did not glance at him, and she let the truck’s engine tach up to a high whine before downshifting.
“Was it the dinner?” she finally said.
“No, no it’s just that I’m kind of preoccupied with this deadline.”
“I’m sure you are,” Ingrid said—issued—through her large, white teeth.
And that was how it ended; an ignominious back-track to a restaurant parking lot; silent, sullen, and caustic. After Ian climbed down from the truck, he tried to utter a farewell but Ingrid slammed the vehicle back into gear and squealed away, the passenger door flapping as she careened into the night.
© 2009 Monty Mickelson