The other night, I had a date with Zora.
At the appointed hour, I poured a bourbon and sat at my computer.
Jefferson: Systems are go.
Zora: Ah, there you are. Let me invite you to my cam.
Zora popped up, wearing glasses and a dark pajama top. It looked like a silk robe, tied with a sash. I smiled, dressed in a dark t-shirt, the ancient souvenir of a visit to an art center.
She sipped wine. I raised my glass of bourbon.
Zora: Cheers! The usuals, I see.
Jefferson: Funny, just like our first date. Wine for you, bourbon for me. We are nothing if not consistent.
Zora: Consistency is a good thing, I hear.
Jefferson: It has its benefits.
Zora: No question. I was really glad to read your account of that first time with the cameras. Do you realize that was a year ago now?
Jefferson: Yes. Happy anniversary, Zora.
Zora: But I’m wondering: why are you writing about us now? It’s been a long time.
Jefferson: Maybe the “why” will make sense as you read the upcoming posts on the blog. Our relationship revisits a leitmotif of longing—well, longing and distance—in what I want to write.
Jefferson: When I say that to you, it feels a little like an author telling a character what will happen next in the narrative. We may wake up in a Pirandello play.
Zora: I don’t mind. I like seeing myself written into your story.
Jefferson: I like writing us. And thanks for letting me use the photos of you as a secretary. I’m sure you are now inspiring others to masturbate, as you have inspired me.
Zora: I hadn’t quite thought of that. I’ve never been a sex symbol before.
Jefferson: It happens to the best of us. Just think of the torrential wanking if I posted your lagniappe.
Zora: Just think! But I’m not sure I can let you do that. That picture is too loaded with associations. I originally made it for the boy.
Right. The boy.
When Zora and I had our first online date last summer, she was about a year into her separation. In that year, she had pulled her life together in many ways, with new work, a new apartment, and the reclamation of her maiden name. But she had gone without dating, and subsequently without sex, since the demise of her marriage.
Our date was the first of her single life.
She subsequently met a man who wasn’t reduced to a pixelated fleshy image on her laptop.
Pretty soon, Zora got laid.
I heard all about it.
I was very happy she was feeling confident about herself again. She liked her new beau, and the sex really hit the spot.
She kept him coming back for more.
Zora gave me some credit for this, saying that our online dates had sparked her confidence. I demurred, saying that a beautiful brainiac doesn’t need my help to attract suitable suitors.
But I knew what she meant.
My separation had floored me too. When the exalted vow “until death do us part” proves as enduring to your spouse as that morning’s bowel movement, even someone like Zora was susceptible to feeling disposable.
Having me as her online lover had helped to remind Zora that she was, in fact, a desirable woman. My longing for her was a reminder that sex, love and romance were hardly null and void at age thirty-one.
But I knew when I had served my role. When she began to date her new fellow, it was time for me to let go a bit.
We spent less time in instant messages, less time naked on cameras. Still, we stayed in touch, of course, because only a fool lets go of good people.
One day, she sent me a new photograph. It showed her nude, an arm draped over her torso. Attached was a note:
“A little lagniappe for you. Zora.”
She knew how to get to me. A nude photograph that offered an excuse to whip out my dictionary.
la·gniappe (noun) 'lan-"yap, lan-' Etymology: American French, from American Spanish la ñapa the lagniappe, from la + ñapa, yapa, from Quechua yapa, something added: a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase; broadly: something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure.
The photograph was a gift. A taste. An act of faith.
She wanted me to have the photograph as a promise of what might come, a memento of what had been.
Still, she had made the photograph for another man, the man who now shared her life and her bed. He was going away for a brief trip, and she wanted him to have a part of her in his wallet, a lagniappe for his lonely moments.
Sharing the lagniappe with me was her private gift.
I pulled up Zora’s photographs as I began to write and reflect on our year as long-distance friends and—is there yet a word for this?—lovers who have never touched.
I asked about images I might include in telling this story to you.
She agreed to share any image I wanted, withholding only her lagniappe.
Jefferson: I’m glad these posts of our early dates-not-dates appeal to you.
Zora: They do. I can remember every moment you describe.
Jefferson: I have to say, I get hot writing about us.
Zora: I get hot reading about us.
I pulled off my shirt.
Zora unfastened her pajama top.
The cameras were rolling.