© 2011 Mike Finn
Even at the best of times, I don’t speak to people on planes. When I’m in flight, I curl in upon myself, pretending that I’m alone, waiting for the process to be over. Tonight, after all that has happened, after all that I have let happen, I’m more “in flight” than I have ever been and I want nothing but silence.
Mercifully, business class on the night flight from Newark to London is half empty and I have a single seat by a window where I can hide away from the world. I press the button that extends the alleged “bed seats”, lie down, cover myself with a blanket and add one of those “Do Not Wake Me” stickers that always make me feel like I’m luggage. The seat is hard and narrow. Tim, my husband, says that this is as close as most frequent flyers will ever get to sleeping on a park-bench.
My heart stutters guiltily at the thought of him. I’m heading for hearth and home after a week away. I should be eager to see him. Normally I look forward to that moment when he first sees me and his face lights up and he sweeps me into his arms with boyish enthusiasm, claiming me as his and letting the whole world see that I am loved. Now all I can think about is whether he’ll know.
How the fuck did I let this happen?
I pull the sleep-mask over my eyes, push the little yellow earplugs in and try to be nowhere at all, but my mind will not cooperate and soon my memory is playing the movie of my week-long fall from grace with the great Temple Hunt.
It flashes past the audition where he’d snared me and the party where I’d offered myself to him on a plate, dragging me back to the limo ride through Manhattan, during which he’d made me give him my panties, as if such a thing was entirely his right
It seems madness to me now, in the isolation of this pressurised cabin but in the limo with the world-famous Temple Hunt beside me, I felt exhilarated, no, honoured to have the same fingers that had produced some of the finest music in the world sliding my panties down my legs.
The memory of how I mewed, and squirmed and spread my legs as wide as I could for him floods me with a shameful excitement. Could I really have wanted him so badly that I’d pushed my hips upwards, silently begging him to enter me?
Now I understand what enchantment really means. Temple Hunt had me under his spell. There was room for nothing in my mind other than the physical need to be taken by him.
When he still didn’t enter me, I’d reached for him but he grabbed my wrists, forced my arms up above my head and ordered me to keep hold of the headrest. And I let him. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t tell him to go fuck himself. I let him arrange me like a blow-up doll.
When he lifted my hips, I sighed at his touch, certain that I would soon feel him moving inside me but Temple was just putting the finishing touches to his limo tableau; moving my skirt so that it was no longer between my naked arse and the leather car seat.
Temple took a moment to review the outcome of his efforts. I half expected him to use his iPhone to take a picture. Hell, I’d probably have preened for him if he had.
Finally, he slid the tip of one long slim finger along the edge of my now wet sex. When I arched my back he rebuked me, telling me not move. It seemed I was the instrument and he was the player.
Turning away from me for a moment he pressed a button and played Yo-Yo Ma performing the first of Bach’s cello suites to provide the music he would move me to.
Sternly, he told me to look at him and to concentrate only on where his skin touched mine.
We travelled in silence, my eyes locked on his, his fingers slipping across my sex in time to the music.
Just before the end of the Suite, just before I was ready to melt beneath his touch and the steady pressure of his scrutiny, he broke eye contact and took his hand away.
I crashed out of the music, almost slipping off the now lightly lubricated leather car seat.
I gave him a “what the fuck?” look. It seems almost sinister to me now that it didn’t occur to me to speak.
He placed his moist finger on my lips and said, “Patience.” and I pouted like a fucking school girl asking daddy for an indulgence.
Where the hell had my head gone?
I’d been so lost in giving myself up to the music and the sex and to Temple, who was the embodiment of both, that I only realised that we had stopped when the limo door opened and the cold night air hit my naked thighs.
My hands were still gripping the headrest and my legs were spread wide when Madam Cho, Temple’s personal assistant leant into the limo. Her impassive gaze slipped over me, cataloguing every apparently unsurprising detail and then moved on to Temple.
“Will you be accompanying Ms. Carter to her room?” she asked.
“No. We’ll go back to the loft. I think the playroom will provide a better setting for us. Help her pack her things, will you, Cho? She won’t be coming back here.”
“As you wish,” Madam Cho said.
I still said nothing. Temple seemed to have stolen my voice when he’d taken my panties.
When Cho held out her hand to help me from the limo, I looked at Temple as if I needed his permission to move. He had already turned away from me and taken out his phone.
Without Temple’s attention on me, I felt lost, helpless, worthless.
Madam Cho, perhaps seeing my desolation or perhaps just wanting to ensure that no passer-by snapped a shot of Temple Hunt and his whore, leaned forward, pushed my thighs together, grabbed my wrist and helped me out of the car as I if I was high. Which, in a way, I was.
I stood motionless, shivering in the night air, until Cho led me into my hotel.
It was as if I had temporarily suspended my will. I was floating along, refusing to let myself acknowledge what I was doing and what it told me about myself
Madam Cho led me by the hand across the lobby to the elevators. We rode up in silence, not looking at each other.
Absurdly, I began to wonder where Temple had put my panties. In his jacket pocket probably. Then I wondered if they were the only pair in his pocket and found myself becoming angry, not at Temple, but at what I had allowed him to do to me.
I looked at Cho, wondering if she was used to Temple bringing women to his loft who were twenty years younger than him. Then I realized my own naivety and wondered if she was surprised that Temple was accompanied by a woman who was only twenty years younger than him; after all, he’d been the mercurial ‘ rock star’ of the classical music world for decades, willing young women must be just another taken for granted element of his I’m-talented-and-charismatic lifestyle.
Temple had already been world-famous for years when I was still at Julliard. I had a poster of him above my bed: arms raised dramatically, his famous antique silver-tipped ivory baton pointed like a weapon, his hair, still black then. swept back like huge wings around his formidable head. He looked as if he was engaged in a martial art rather than conducting an orchestra. I thought he was the most impressive man I’d even seen.
His image glaring down at me was the most constant aspect of my sex-life at Julliard. I was trying on boys for size back then, hoping to find one that would fit. I wasn’t sure what I wanted but I knew I wasn’t getting it. Eventually, I realised that waiting for the boys to figure out how to play me was fruitless, so I learned to use them to play myself. I discovered that sex got better for me if I was on top, earphones on, swaying in time to Temple’s music and offering up my orgasms to him like a prayer. The boys came and went, quite literally, but Temple’s poster moved with me when I graduated.
Ten years later, when my I won a Juno for my album of Philip Glass solo cello pieces, his poster was hanging in my music room, watching me practice. By then Tim was the only man in my bed and I no longer cared if I was on top as long as I was in his arms afterwards.
Temple was still my idol and occasional sexual fantasy figure. From time to time, I would get a special kind of itch, one I knew Tim would not be the right person to scratch. I’d learned that ignoring the itch only made me restless and deprived me of sleep, so, I’d figured out a way to scratch it. When Tim was asleep, I would go down to my sound-proof music room, strip naked, spread my legs around my cello and perform in front of Temple’s picture.
I would work until I was covered in sweat and my arms ached, then I would set the cello aside, leave my legs wide open and masturbate fiercely. Afterwards, I would always tell myself that I would never do this again. Then I would return to bed and cling on to Tim as if he was the only thing anchoring me to the world.
Sometimes, alone in my music room, with no itch to distract me, I would look at Temple’s picture and try to figure why his image was the one I needed to focus on to summon a degree of self-abandonment that I had never achieved with any of the men or boys I’d had sex with. I came to understand that I was attracted not to Temple but to his music. Actually, I think I was attracted by the way Temple created his music. He had a reputation for being almost sadistic in his pursuit of perfection. His music was driven as much by will as by art. It seemed to me that every performance was a struggle in which he pulled and pushed and twisted the orchestra until they gave him everything they had and he shaped it all in his own image. I dreamed of being part of his struggle.
When my agent called me to tell me that Temple Hunt wanted me to audition for a concert celebrating William Bolcom’s works for the cello, I hopped on the next plane to New York.
I’d expected the audition to be at the Lincoln Center but I got a message telling me to go to Temple’s Manhattan loft. I was greeted by Madam Cho. She was so elegant and self-possessed that I felt suddenly shabby and clumsy in my T-shirt and jeans with my cello slung on my back.
Madam Cho lead me into a small, tastefully decorated office off the main hallway, slid into the leather chair behind her desk and indicated that I should sit.
I unslung my cello and moved to lean it against the wall. As I bent over my T-shirt rode up, flashing flesh above my low-cut jeans and displaying the whale-tail of my thong to Madam Cho. I turned around, ready to laugh at my unintended exhibitionism but the stern look on Madam Cho’s face silenced me. I took the seat in front of her desk and sat with my hands folded demurely in my lap, pretending that nothing had happened.
“Before you meet, Mr. Hunt, Ms. Carter, you are required to sign this non-disclosure agreement,” Madam Cho said, pushing a document across her desk. “It covers your interactions with Mr. Hunt from today until a week after the last performance.”
“A non-disclosure agreement?” I said. The question came more from surprise than concern; I’d have signed any contract document to get to work with Temple.
“Signing this document confirms your agreement that you will not disclose the details of your contact with Mr. Hunt to anyone without Mr. Hunt’s written permission.”
Madam Cho held out a pen. I signed the document without reading it and without asking myself why it extended beyond the last performance.
Once the document was signed, Madam Cho smiled for the first time and I felt as if I had passed some kind of test.
Madam Cho picked up my cello and led me into a soundproof music room, much like the one I had at home. It even had a framed copy of the same poster on the wall. I found this quite disquieting.
“Good luck, Ms. Carter,” Madam Cho said.
I turned and found her standing very close to me. She did not step back. Instead, she studied my face for a moment and it seemed to me that she would soon read something there that would betray the times I had spent with my legs spread in a room just like this.
“Thank you,” I said. “Actually, I may need the luck. I’m feeling very nervous.”
“Nerves are to be expected, Ms. Carter but I’m sure that you will live up to Mr. Hunt’s requirements. I will leave you now.”
I was left alone long enough for my nervousness to gnaw at me, then, suddenly, Temple was in the room. Up close, he was even more charismatic than in his pictures. I’d been prepared for the leonine mane of white hair sweeping back from his high forehead and the broad shoulders and barrel-chest that gave him a pugilistic aspect. What caught me off-guard were his eyes. They are the colour of a gathering storm. I found them hard to look away from.
“It’s an honour to meet you,” I said, holding out my hand.
Temple ignored my hand and waved towards a chair behind a music stand.
“Play Boscom’s ‘Dark Music’” he said and then he waited.
‘Dark Music’ is a grim piece, a little less than ten minutes long. Even without the drum accompaniment, it makes melancholy seem an optimistic frame of mind.
I wanted to impress, so I put everything I had into it and got as close to perfection as I’d ever managed.
At the end, Temple simply said “Again.” and waited for me to continue.
He made me repeat it and repeat it for almost two hours without a pause.
With repetition, my playing lost some of its technical edge as the music filled me up, like black ink in my veins.
He waited until I was exhausted and at the edge of tears, then he told me to stop.
I was convinced he would send me home because my playing had lost its discipline.
He told me to look at him. He held my gaze silently long enough for me to become aware of my own rapid heartbeat, then he said, “I think you have begun to understand the darkness.”
I knew he was going to let me stay and I cried silently from sheer relief.
Temple took the bow from my hands, left the cello between my legs and, with tears still rolling down my cheeks, he kissed me.
I should have been angry, or at least surprised. I should have slapped his face and told him to go fuck himself. But I didn’t. I let him kiss me. I was grateful for him kissing me.
I’ve thought about that kiss dozens of times over the past week and how it felt and what it says about me.
I’d never been unfaithful to Tim, never even been tempted to be unfaithful. And yet I let this man push his tongue inside me as if he had the right. It was still days away from the Limo trip where he put my panties in his pocket, but that kiss marked the moment when I betrayed my husband in my heart.
Lying in the womb-like darkness of this night flight, oddly comforted by the muffled roar of the jet’s engines, I summon up memories of kisses from Tim: the one at the altar after we exchanged vows and he kissed me as if we were the only two people in the world and made all my anxieties about the day lose their grip on me; the one at the top of the Eiffel Tower when he asked me if I wanted to have children; the tear-soaked one after my miscarriage. They all had one thing in common: they pulled me out of the darkness and into the light.
Temple’s kiss was nothing like that. He reached out to my darkness and my tears and made me open myself to them. His kiss fed my darkness and told me that it was good and that I was special because I had the strength to know that. It whispered to me that I belonged in the dark and that was why I could hear its song. His kiss pushed past who I want to be, for Tim and for myself, and sought out the person I can most easily become.
After the kiss, Temple told me to turn up for rehearsal the next day and then he had his service drive me home. I was back in my hotel room before I realized that part of me had expected to spend the night in Temple’s bed and had been excited at the thought.
It was too early to call Tim, it was only four in the morning, there, so I lay on my bed and relived the kiss and tried not to think about what it meant. Two hours later I gave in and called Tim. I needed to hear his voice in order to get back to normal.
“Hello you,” he said. “Did you get it? Did the great man like you? Did he fall in love with your playing?”
I wanted to tell him then; to say that the great man liked me too much and that I needed to come home right away and be in my husband’s arms.
“I start rehearsals tomorrow,” I said, “So I’ll be staying here a little longer.”
“That’s fantastic,” Tim said, stifling a yawn. “Not that I won’t miss you. I miss you already and it’s only been one night. You must be so excited that Hunt chose you. Not that you don’t deserve it, you do. But being that close to the greatest conductor in the world has to make your pulse race.”
Tim was being so nice, he was making me hate myself.
“I have to go. It’s a big day tomorrow and I need my sleep.”
Afterwards, I lay awake feeling guilty, not for what I had done, but for what I knew I wanted to happen next.
Temple didn’t touch me once on the rehearsal days. Our relationship looked completely professional, perhaps even a little cold. But I could feel his eyes on me when I played and I felt naked before him and just the thought of that sent a small tremor of guilty anticipation through me.
It had been years since I’d wanted a man other than Tim to touch me; really wanted it, anticipating the touch, hoping for it. Temple had woken that need and by staying distant he increased my hunger.
Every day I phoned Tim and listened to his stories of delays on the Tube and problems with the builders who were supposed to be fixing the phantom leak in our basement. Every night I lay in bed thinking of Temple and the taste of his tongue and fantasizing about how his fingers would feel on my skin.
The concert was a great success. Temple had expected nothing less. The after-concert party was in a private dining room in Mid-town. Temple was surrounded by adoring men and women. I sat in a corner and watched him and wondered why I hadn’t gone home yet. I hate parties: too much noise and too many people and nothing of interest to say or do.
I drank and as I drank, I realized that I was waiting for Temple to notice me. I wanted him to tell me how magnificent I’d been. I also wanted him to pin me against the wall and fuck me until I begged him to stop. No one had touched me for days. And the last person to touch me had not been my husband.
I made my way to the lobby and went to pick up my coat. The coat-check girl wasn’t there. I could see my coat, so I stepped around the counter and moved towards it. A hand grabbed my elbow and propelled me forward on to the back wall. I turned my head to shout but Temple’s hand covered my mouth. He pressed himself against my back, pinning me to the wall.
“I sent the girl away for a coffee,” he said, voice low but calm, “So we have a few minutes alone.”
As he spoke, he slipped his hand from my mouth, down over my jaw and then gripped my neck firmly.
“Let go of me,” I said.
His other hand reached around me and cupped my breast.
“If that’s what you really want,” he said, “Say so and I’ll never touch you again.”
He squeezed my breast harder and said, “Do you want me to go?”
I hesitated and he pushed hard with his hips. I could feel his erection against my arse.
“No,” I said, quietly.
He stepped back from me, allowing me room to turn around.
His eyes shone with excitement. I could almost taste how much he wanted me.
“Show me,” he said.
I waited for him to say more, not sure what he wanted me to do.
“Show me your thighs.”
I looked away from him. I couldn’t do it and look him in the eyes. I leant my back against the walls, spread my legs, jutted my hips like a whore and started to furl my dress to expose my thighs. I kept going until my panties were visible.
He stared at me intently. I wanted to reach down and touch myself. I wanted to have him watch me while I did it. I wanted him to rip the dress off me and fuck me from behind. I wanted him to take me.
I looked into his eyes and I knew that he saw exactly what I wanted.
With his gaze locked on my sex, he reached inside his jacket, pulled out the silver-tipped ivory wand he’d conducted the concert with, and tapped the inside of my thighs with it.
“Wider,” he said.
I pressed my shoulders against the wall and spread myself as wide as I could until my thighs were tense and my panties were tight across my sex.
He stepped forward, took my sex in the palm of his hand, ran his thumb across my panties and pushed his tongue into my mouth. I tried to fuck his hand. He waited while I tried again. Then he let go of me, leaving me gasping, open-mouthed, legs spread, panties damp.
Temple spent a moment scrutinizing me, as if he could film me with his eyes. I made no effort to cover myself or recover my dignity. I just waited.
“You were everything I hoped for tonight,” he said, bringing his hand up to stroke my face. “Tomorrow I will take you away for a couple of days. Wait for me in the lobby, I’ll have my car take you back to your hotel so you can pack a bag.”
Then he went back to the party.
Temple was rude, and arrogant, and not my husband. I should have left the party and taken the next plane home. Except that, leaning against the wall, being told what to do, being used like a whore, I felt more alive, more real, than at any time in my life.
I stood up, straightened my clothing and went down to the lobby to wait. An hour later, Madam Cho was leading me by the hand into the elevator in my hotel.
Madam Cho watched dispassionately as I packed. I paid little attention to what I was doing. I was trying not to think at all. Yet small things tugged at me, trying to get my attention: the feel of Temple’s baton tapping my thighs, the smile on his face when he deprived me of his hand in the cloakroom, the way he referred to a playroom, as if all of this was just a game.
I packed my books and papers last. As I slid them into my suitcase, I caught sight of the non-disclosure agreement. I stopped packing and stared at the document.
“Why does the non-disclosure agreement extend to a week after the performance, Madam Cho?”
“I would have thought that was now obvious,” she said.
And it was. Terribly, horribly, tritely obvious. The non-disclosure agreement had been written in anticipation of the idea that Temple would spend a few days “playing” with me after the performance. A few days I would always have to remain silent about.
When I first met Madam Cho, she had said she was sure that I would “meet Mr. Hunt’s requirements.” Standing in front of my open suitcase, preparing to spend a few days betraying my husband, I finally understood what Temple Hunt’s requirements were.
I asked Madam Cho to get Temple on the phone for me. She pressed one on her speed dial and then handed the phone to me.
Temple’s voice sounded calm, almost bored. He did not sound like he was awaiting my return with bated breath.
“It’s not Cho, it’s me.” I said, rather redundantly. “I have a question. Did you pick me because you wanted to have sex with me?”
“I selected you because I could see your desire to submit and your need to be made to give in to that desire.”
He spoke with the calm assurance of someone pointing out the self-evident. The strength of his belief that the world was as he saw it, was hard to resist. I think perhaps that, if we had been face to face, subjected to all the force of Temple’s charisma, I might have fallen back under his spell then.
The phone gave me enough breathing space to force a thin laugh and ask him why, if it was that obvious, no-one else had ever seen it, not even my husband, who had known me and loved me for so many years.
Temple let my laugh fade into a silence that lasted long enough to let my own question bite into my spirit and suck away my happiness. Then he said, “Most men don’t see women. Not individual women. They see wives and mothers and daughters. It’s easier that way: comfortable, predictable, risk-free. Do you think your nice supportive husband could cope with knowing what you really want, who you really are?”
I sat down on the bed, feeling as if I had been punched in the stomach.
“Besides,” Temple continued, his voice still calm and matter of fact, “it’s in your playing. You wait for the music to fill you up. You are an instrument, not a player. Now finish packing your bag and I will show you exactly how you should be played.”
He hung up.
I wanted to slap him. I wanted to tell him he was full of shit. I wanted to dismiss his alleged knowledge of me as wishful thinking.
Yet part of me wondered if he was right. Did Tim fail to see the real me? Is that why I left his bed to scratch an itch he didn’t know I had? Did I want Temple to force me to what I most desired? Wasn’t that what I had already let him start to do? Or was it perhaps that Tim’s love enabled him to see who I could be when I was at my best?
After a few moments, I decided on what I needed to do. I handed the cell phone to Cho and completed my packing. We rode down in the elevator together in silence.
When we reached the lobby, I said, “Good-bye, Madam Cho. I’m going to take a cab to the airport now. Temple will have to play by himself this evening.”
For the second time since I had met her, Madam Cho smiled.
“Good-bye, Ms. Carter and good luck.”
So now I’m in the belly of this plane, too restless to sleep and too tired to think clearly.
I recognize that I am literally “in flight”. I’m not sure if it’s away from Temple or towards Tim. Perhaps I’m just in flight from myself.
In a few hours I will land and Tim will greet me. I would like to think that my flight will end then; that I will discover that Tim will be my final destination. I am certain that Temple Hunt’s picture will no longer hang in my music room. I am less certain of what I will do when I next feel the need to leave Tim’s bed in the middle of the night.
3 thoughts on ““In Flight” by Mike Finn: is infidelity an action or an intent?”
I think you’ve captured the essence of infidelity. It’s based on an act of mind, not of the body.
Looking forward to reading more of your work.
your comment goes to the heart of this story. Our heads are where we live and they are where all our betrayals start.
It’s good to hear from you. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
I agree with Lisabet, perhaps if intentions are where we ‘live’ then the actions (acting out the intentions) are when our intentions become where we are “A+live” – Been there! Done that! Been that!
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