The Doctor Stopped Smiling and Looked Profound. "I Must Advise
You Any Sexual Activity May Prove Fatal to Ralph"
"The Act of Love"
by Walt Cannon
Vol. 15, No. 9, January, 1959
Lucille Abernathy watched
her husband, looking like a fat, pathetically ludicrous clown in the white
hospital gown, shuffle timidly out of the room. When the door closed she
turned back to Dr. Jenkins.
"Now we haven't a thing to worry about, Mrs.
Abernathy," the doctor was saying, sounding like a teacher talking to a
small child, "just so long as we practice common sense, eh?"
"I know, doctor." She began to search in her
purse for a pack of cigarettes. The doctor's stiff little smile and the
thought of Ralph being back in the house with her was beginning to make
"Your husband is still a very sick man," Dr.
Jenkins said almost cheerfully, " and his heart attack was quite serious.
But as long as we're careful there's no reason why the two of you shouldn't
have a long full life ahead of you."
She looked sharply at the doctor and felt
almost like laughing. A long full life. With that fat little bore? A long
"Now it will be largely up to you to protect
Mr. Abernathy against any emotional upset or strain," the doctor went on.
"We can't emphasize that enough."
Lucille looked toward the room where Ralph
was dressing. Do you always have to be so slow, she thought. Can't you
hurry so we can get out of here?
"And there is one more thing, Mrs. Abernathy."
The doctor had stopped smiling and looked as if he were trying to appear
profound. "I would advise you and your husband not to engage in any sexual
activity--oh, for the next two months or so, anyway."
She stared at the doctor. Did he really think
she would let Ralph even touch her with those fumbling, pawing hands of
his? Just the thought of it sent a shiver of disgust through her.
"Now I know that may be upsetting," Dr. Jerkins
said quickly, "but I'm afraid that right now the strain might be too much
for him. And we do want Mr. Abernathy to get well, don't we."
"Of course, doctor."
Dr. Jenkins watched her closely. You could
never tell how a woman was going to react when you tried to discuss her
sex life. But he could detect no embarrassment in this woman. Her cold
gray eyes looked directly into his.
"and after a while, of course, there's no
reason why your relationship shouldn't be absolutely normal. But right
now we just have to be patient, eh?"
Lucille said nothing, but twisted her features
into a broad smile. You don't have to worry about your patient, doctor,
she thought. You don't know the patience it's already taken just to live
in the same house with that flabby little mama's boy all these years.
"It seems ironic, doesn't it?" the doctor
interrupted her thoughts.
"Oh," Dr. Jenkins smiled sheepishly, "the
fact that the act of love could, at a time like this, bring suffering,
perhaps even fatal suffering, to the one you love."
"Yes. Yes, I suppose it is ironic."
"Well, I'm not worried," the doctor said jovially.
"I know you'll take good care of him. A good wife can do wonders."
Ralph came out of the inner office then, still
looking gray-faced and frightened and slightly out of place in his street
clothes. The doctor got up and put his arm around Ralph's shoulder.
"Well, now," he chuckled, "you look fine.
We're not going to have a bit of trouble, I can see." He stood in the door,
smiling after them as they walked down the hall.
They were silent in the taxi, as they were
most of the time when they were alone. Lucille had long since lost all
interest in her husband and she had made her feelings quite clear to him.
She saw no point in adding to her boredom and loathing by talking to him.
At home the evening passes as all their evenings
had for the last twelve years. Lucille thumbed restlessly through some
magazines, brushed her hair, and half-listened to the music which Ralph
loved so much and which irritated her just as much. Occasionally Ralph
looked at her almost pleadingly and tried to talk to her, and she recalled
how peaceful and comfortable she had felt while he was in the hospital.
She remembered again what the doctor has said
and smiled. No sexual activity. It was funny. How could any woman want
such a fat, clumsy thing as Ralph to make love to her? She had made that
plain to him years before, after their marriage had begun to whither. She
had wanted a divorce but she knew that was impossible. Ralph still wanted
her; even thought he loved her, as if he could know what love was. And
he provided for her well financially. As vice-president in his father's
firm he made a very good salary and he'd never denied her anything she'd
Still smiling at the doctor's joke, Lucille
got up abruptly and wen tot her room. She wasn't sleepy but she'd learned
it was better to pretend sleep and lie staring at the darkness for hours
than to sit with him, listening to his records or his weak attempts to
talk to her.
She stood naked for a moment in front of her
mirror, admiring herself. At 36 her body was still firm and full and she
prided herself on her attractiveness.
As she reached for her gown she heard a stir
behind her and saw Ralph standing in the doorway. She stared at him in
the mirror for a moment, watching his eyes sweep over her almost hungrily.
That was so like him, to sneak up behind her and watch her undress. The
fool still wanted her!
She put the gown over her head and let it
slide down. She watched Ralph in the mirror for a long, breathless moment
and then she smiled.
She turned quickly and walked toward him,
smiling, fighting back the wave of disgust which chilled her. When she
reached him she looked at him for a moment, then slowly put her arms around
him and kissed him. She saw his look of surprise and heard him sigh and
felt his soft, fat body, which she hated, press against her.
"Let's go to bed," she whispered. "Come to
my bed tonight."
She lay on her bed, her back arched so that
her bosom swelled against the gown, and watched him begin to unbutton his
shirt, his flabby gray face becoming a soft, warm pink.
Then she relaxed and closed her eyes and,