Agnes was forty-one when the heart palpitations started, leaving her so breathless she’d difficulty speaking. Then wildfire heartburns, irregular menstruation, and joint and muscle pain. Her fears were confirmed with the onset of hot flashes.
Agnes’ younger sister consoled her. “Weren’t you done with those parts?"
Agnes wished early menopause on her too.
Her sister continued. “I wonder why some women get it so young?"
Agnes bristled, hearing judgment.
Agnes’ friend, Trisha, said. “I read in a romance book that sex helps."
She caught herself, laughing. “You’re fecked."
At nineteen, Agnes had married Charlie, twenty-six years her senior. She’d married for love, but realized in recent years, childless and sexless, that she should have held out, if not for someone younger and more virulent, then at least for someone with money.
Trisha convinced Agnes that God would forgive her any necessary transgressions. The menopause was making her miserable; she deserved some relief. In time, Agnes agreed that she was miserable, and deserving.
But who to have sex with? Their single men escaped the village the first chance they got.
A short time later, the ideal candidate presented himself. One sunny morning, inside the village shop, Mark Burns grinned out at Agnes from behind the cash register. He’d returned home to help out his ailing mother, and run the shop for the summer while she recovered from a stroke.
Agnes flashed her bright smile and pushed out her large breasts, drumming-up her flirting ways. Mark came alive under her attentions, blushing and stammering. She decided he was the man: ugly and awkward enough not to refuse her advances, but not so unappealing that she couldn’t follow through with “the cure."
She returned to the shop several times that week, her and Mark’s exchanges growing saucier. The following Thursday, prodded by Trisha, Agnes made her move. Thursdays, Charlie attended the cards in the Hall, his routine for some forty-plus years. He left the house at nine and didn’t return until well after midnight. Agnes mentioned to Mark that she’d be alone up in the house later. He winked back at her, red as the tomatoes she’d just purchased.
As soon as Charlie left for the cards that evening, Agnes rushed into the shower, and used for the first time the Yardley lavender body products’ gift set. She shaved her arms, legs, and bikini line; so much hair it blocked the drain.
She styled her bob into a Marilyn Monroe pouf, forced herself into an impossible corset, and donned a form-fitting red dress that she’d believed she’d never wear again. “Hello, doll." She looked sexy and curvy and for the first time thought that maybe early menopause wasn’t such an affliction.
At three minutes after ten, Mark appeared at her front door. Agnes greeted him with Mae West brashness. Mark’s jaw dropped. He fell straight into her arms, and they made love right there on the hall carpet. After, he carried her upstairs to the little-used guest bedroom, wrestled her out of her corset, and they made love twice more, pleasure rippling through Agnes. Mark slipped away before midnight, promising to return the following Thursday.
The next morning, when Trisha heard Agnes’s report, she prayed for early menopause.
The glorious affair continued throughout the summer, Agnes’s perimenopausal symptoms subsiding, and her youth, joy, and radiance restored. On their final Thursday night together, Mark to return to Dublin, college resumed and his mother back at the shop’s helm, Agnes held onto him at midnight. He freed himself from her clasp, promising to return every other weekend and holiday. What use was that? she cried, knowing that back in Dublin he’d get distracted by his studies, peers, and young women, and forget her. She’d be left to return to the deadening existence she’d known before him. He hurried out of the house, claiming to be afraid that Charlie would return, but really she knew it was her grief that had scared him off.
Agnes got through the next few days well enough, but the following Thursday passed painfully. She couldn’t bear to go to the shop; to again see Mark everywhere that he wasn’t. Every moment, she wondered what he was doing up in Dublin, remembered his soft smile and savory smell, his hard, lean body. Shivering, she relived his thrusts. She moaned aloud, startling herself and drawing looks from Charlie.
“Are you sick?"
“Dying," she snipped.
“That’d be a shame; you’ve never looked better."
That evening, when Charlie went to the cards, she went straight to bed, and cried herself to sleep.
She awoke in darkness to Charlie whistling “The Gypsy Rover." He undressed, and dropped onto the bed beside her.
She shot up, unnerved by his high mood. “Are you all right?"
“Did you win big or what?"
“I lost actually."
Her eyes adjusted, and she realized he was naked, erect.
“What’s got into you?" she asked.
He raised himself on his elbow, smirking. “What’s got into you, you mean?"
She flinched, sure he knew about Mark.
He lifted her hair from her cheek and tucked it behind her hair, his fingers lingering at the side of her neck, sending tingles through her.
“I feel like I’ve won you back."
He moved his hand around her neck and drew her to him, kissing her with a passion she didn’t remember him ever possessing. She returned his kisses, mirroring his ardency, picturing Trisha’s face when she told her.