Erotic Notion #44: The Woman who Tapped Her Shoe
By Hapax Legomenon

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Absinthe Drinker, Viktor Oliva, 1901
Viktor Oliva , Absinthe Drinker, 1901

The woman of your dreams finally appeared in the most unexpected place – at church, sitting at the pew beside you.   

What do you do? Flirt? Ignore her? Pray with her?

That Sunday morning – a time for spiritual renewal and contemplation – brought you eight feet away from an impeccably-dressed girl. She was young – almost your age – and had such a beautiful face and delicate figure that that you remembered every lusty feeling you'd ever had. She followed the service in the mass book, while you looked ahead, pretending not to notice.

You have always felt invisible around beautiful women. But now the two of you sat so close that the woman couldn't ignore you. It was early; the service was sparsely attended. You were the only two people at that pew. She even smiled at you – not flirtatiously, but with a isn't-it-nice-to-be-in-the-Lord's-presence way. When time came for parishioners to shake hands, she leaned over, offered her hand and whispered "Peace be with you." You smiled, trying to hide your excitement.

She was only being polite. She was not trying to make your acquaintance (not at church anyway). She came to bask in the Lord's presence and be alone with her thoughts. You shouldn't disturb her. Similarly, when you trudged to church this morning, you had expected to spend a hour quietly pondering academic projects, shopping lists and your pathetic social life. Instead, this woman had awakened desire and insinuated herself into your solitary world. You were just an ordinary guy and probably meant nothing to her. Nothing. Yet when she smiled in your direction, you felt pleasure; her mere presence was enough to inspire all kinds of dreams (both carnal and spiritual). You wanted her, but the intimacy of the pew was as close as you two would come.

For most people (and certainly most women), there were contexts for meeting sexually available new people and contexts devoid of erotic possibilities – like church, for instance. But such distinctions were meaningless to you, every moment was laden with erotic possibility … and impossibility. Desire seemed inconvenient and unsuited for a particular time and place. Perhaps if you went out and met more people … you wouldn't be salivating over women at church. That certainly was true. But at this moment there was still the woman in the pew – calm, alluring, inviting.

You play a game: what was she like in real life? Could sitting next to her for an hour teach you anything? Her eyes were friendly but brooding – was she a loner? She wasn't a conversationalist but was adept at conveying warmth when she talked. She avoided emotional outbursts or uncomfortable topics but was rarely stressed out. She kept her life simple – her one indulgence was dressing stylishly.

The next Sunday she was there again. Same time, same place, dressed in a blue summer dress. You were happy and relieved to see her. During the service an usher came over and said a few words to her; minutes later, she went to the back and returned with a collection basket which she passed down the pews. When the basket finally came to you, you threw in a dollar and handed it back. She accepted it with a smile, and as she leaned over you realized a part of her bra was showing.

She returned to her seat as you updated her imaginary biography. A loner, a volunteering type who preferred staying out of the limelight (even if her striking appearance pushed her into it). That was when the woman began tapping her shoe against the wooden pew. At first, it was nothing unusual; but as mass continued, so did the tapping. It was only a nervous tic, but she didn't stop, even after communion. Tap-tap-tap! Her tapping seemed involuntary … how it annoyed you! Perhaps she enjoyed the sharp noise of the ballet shoes making contact with the wooden pew; perhaps it was a lifelong habit she never overcame.

The next week you attended a later church service, but the following week you saw her at 9:30 once again – no more oversleeping this time! You sat at the pew directly behind her. Exchanging glances, you knew she remembered you. While the priest gave the sermon, you took note of every breath, every shift of weight, every movement or noise which took her glance away from the altar. Then the tapping resumed. At first, it was barely perceptible, but soon the taps were loud enough for others to notice. The tapping was slow and intermittent, but it prevented you from absorbing the sermon; it stopped only when the congregation rose to say a prayer (and resumed when they sat down).

On the way out of church, she talked to an older couple and even shook hands with the priest – she was well-known here. Walking by, you tried unsuccessfully to eavesdrop. When you came to the street corner, you turned around to look, but the woman was already walking down a side street and waiting for a bus. Eventually, one came and took her away.

Her figure stuck with you for the rest of the week. You conjured sexual scenarios, how easily she would be taken, the dropping of a bra, the feel of smooth feminine skin against your own. You imagined positions and sounds, bodily pleasures finally agreed to after persistent caresses. You imagined bringing her home and taking her body completely within a single hour. You imagined nocturnal marathons of sex – marital sex – on honeymoon or in your house – with her giving in not so much out of love but pious duty. You imagined strolling with her at a park or a restaurant, kissing her lightly, touching her neck in a way that reminded her of the night's previous caresses. You imagined everyday interactions: long conversations, arms around her at the movies, buying her a small gift, spending a holiday weekend with the family, driving with her in the car, savoring the silent togetherness. Perhaps with more confidence, you might have dared to strike up a conversation after mass. But how do you ask out a woman at church? It was impossible. The church was a place for spirituality … but your thoughts were entirely carnal. Some went to church for dates, but no one could admit that; all you could do was say your prayers, take a few surreptitious glances and wait for her to appear at a church function.

That did not keep you from dreaming. On Sunday she would be the mysterious churchgoing blonde who never spoke, but every other evening, she was the adventurous lover who made pleasing vocalizations to every physical advance.

There was one problem. The fantasy was absurd, ridiculous, delicious, but it lacked one thing – the infernal tapping. As soon as you conjured visions and sensations, the involuntary tapping returned: the leg against your own, the leg against the bed rail, the shoe against the kitchen table. Humorous, yes, but also distracting; it interrupted every erotic dream. Behind every obscene embrace was that tapping, pulling her away, interrupting that dream moment. Lying beside you, drifting into sleep, letting your arms slide over her shoulders, the woman sighed, tapping, still tapping. You held her leg still. Finally, peace. Minutes later, after your hand had dropped away, it returned. Once more, you held her leg still once again. Minutes later, tapping. You turned her over, brushed her cheeks and moved your lips down her shoulder. "Please," you say, "No – more – tapping!"

A decade later, you are in a park when you hear the same noise. This time, it's an eight year old boy banging his foot against a park bench. He is nervous, restless, unconcerned. When he notices you, he stops. Minutes later, he starts again. He's just an eight year old boy, but your mind returns to the church, the beautiful woman. The boy was playing a video game, tap – tap – tap! You ignore him, but you can't help hearing it – tap tap tap – You remember: the smiling woman with the scripture book in hand, the Sundays, the frustrating glorious nights. What was once a distracting annoyance – tap, tap, tap – now is the only thing keeping this memory alive.

Written Winter, 1993

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" How do you ask out a woman at church? It was impossible. The church was a place for spirituality … but your thoughts were entirely carnal.
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