the sound of breaking glass followed by gales of laughter filled my ear when I picked up the phone. Then, the faint hum of the overseas connection. "Who is this?" I shouted with mock severity. I had a fair idea it was either Mary or Sallie, my extremely loquacious British girlfriends, but it seemed a little late even for them. I looked at my watch: 6 in the evening here, 2 in the morning in Shepherd's Bush.
"Remember that chat about what women don't talk about?" Sallie said, not bothering with a preamble. "Mary has another dirty little secret that we'd like our Yank journalist friend to out for us."
"Hello to you too," I said. So much for British manners. "Been drinking, have we?"
"Hello, love." Now it was Mary purring down the phone. "We've been meaning and meaning to ring for ages. We do miss you. When are you coming over?"
"I don't know," I said. "Are you having a party right now or something?" I imagined Mary in her strapless black dress and big combat boots, cell phone pressed to her ear. I heard some voices shouting jovially in the background and then a door close.
"Now I have Sallie here, sitting alongside me on the settee," continued Mary. "I had the most dreadful experience which I'd like to share. And I'm certain this has only happened to me. I'm mortified, I really am."
"That's rubbish," Sallie said in the background. "Ask her."
Mary cleared her throat as if she were to begin a prepared speech. "Tonight I had a man actually fake an orgasm on me," she said primly. "And I have to know: Do all men do this? Has this happened many times before and I just didn't realize? And most importantly, has this happened to you?"
Sallie grabbed the phone. "I keep telling her he was a wanker anyway and not to worry about it. She got off, which is the only thing that's important anyway."
"How do you know he was faking?" I asked.
"How does she know?" Sallie cupped her hand over the phone as I heard her say to Mary, "She's asking the physical evidence question too."
Mary grabbed the phone back, and hissed "Well, Miss Weaver, there's this little biological phenomena known as ejaculation -- perhaps you've heard of it."
"So he wasn't using a condom is what you're telling me," I said. "Because, yes, I have heard of men faking it in condoms. It's pretty easy to do, especially if they're getting soft or sore anyway, toward the end. My friend Andrew used to do it with surprising regularity. Or so he said."
"Now why on earth would he do that?"
"He'd get tired," I said. "Same reason why girls do it. Performance anxiety and all the rest of it. But what happened to you?"
Mary sighed. "I'm on the pill, you know. And I was making love to -- well, let's just keep the names out of it. We'd just returned from seeing the Verve, and I was really quite amorous. And I came -- after quite a while, because we'd been drinking all night. Usually I come right away."
"Always bragging about that, she is," Sallie put in.
"Shush, you old bag. And I was trying to get him to come, because I was a little sore, employing all my little tricks, and then he came. Or I thought he came. He groaned, arched his back, got softer, rolled off of me immediately. So, fine, I thought. Maybe not the most interesting or creative lovemaking I'd had but you can't always be at the Albert Hall, right? Sometimes you have to settle with the Mean Fiddler."
"She doesn't live in London, love," I heard Sallie whisper. "Those metaphors aren't useful."
"I get your drift," I said irritably. "Then what?"
"Well, I got up to go to the toilet, like I always do because I can't risk cystitis, now can I?" Mary worked at a woman's health magazine and often peppered her speeches with preventive tips. "And before I sit down on the loo, I stand there for a moment. And I feel the oddest sensation, like something's missing. You know that funny little internal dripping you get after sex when you stand up, and you know you have maybe two seconds to get to the toilet before his spunk starts running down the inside of your leg? Well, this time -- nothing. Not a thing. So I sit down and think, well, I'll just push it all out, it's probably caught in some crevice. Still, nothing. I stand up after having a pee and look down, expecting to see that little frothy, cloudy bit. But no."
"Now the poor dear is reassessing every lovemaking experience she's ever had," said Sallie, in the background.
"Yes, I am," said Mary. "I'm terribly worried. When did men start doing this? Is it a trend that I don't know about?"
"Maybe he just doesn't come very much," I offered. "Sometimes men don't, particularly if they masturbate a lot." I lay down on the sofa, suddenly tired. "Did you ask him about it?"
"As a matter of fact, I did." Mary sounded indignant. "Sallie thinks I ought not to have bothered, but I wanted to know. And when I asked him, as tactfully as I could, he got so wound up and vicious that if I'd had any doubt before, it was immediately obliterated. I sensed he was highly embarrassed, which I find odd."
Sallie chimed in, "It's hardly a badge of honor for a bloke, Mary."
"That's true," I said, considering. "I guess guys are expected to come every single time, to always be ready, or there's something wrong or ... or ... effeminate with them." Mary shifted the phone and I heard their heavy-booted steps return to a noisier part of the flat. "I'm pretty sure it's happened to most women," I said.
Sallie came back on the line. "She's now downing another gin and tonic, poor thing. Isn't it just like her to blame herself. And you're probably right, it's happened to us lots of times before and we just didn't realize." We started to say goodbye, as Sallie called to Mary, "Ignorance is bliss, love. Remember that next time."
"I was thinking more along the lines of what those Yanks say on their bottles," Mary responded loudly. "No Deposit, No Return."