This is the first few hundred words of Tsarina, my current project. As I said, it’s not part of The Book Of Lost Doors, it’s a stand alone novel. I’n not exactly sure where it’s going yet, but I’m enjoying the ride so far. I’m also unclear of the genre. It’s drifting towards a kind of magical realism, and I’m going to let it take its course. It’s not clear yet, though, how far in that direction it’s going to go.
Tsarina was a gift to Carl from his wife.
Ellen had ambushed him after dinner, after the dishes were in the sink. Before he could escape into a movie or a game on his laptop she had sat down close beside him on the couch and said that they needed to talk. Carl made himself smile. When she said that they needed to talk, what she meant was they needed to talk about “it”.
“It” was “what was wrong with Ellen”. That’s how she always put it.
“On Wednesday I have to the doctor about what is wrong with me,” she’d say, or “I was reading some more articles on-line trying to figure out what is wrong with me.”
What was wrong with Ellen is that she didn’t want sex. She wanted to want it. She was twenty-nine, in very good health, with no physical abnormalities that any doctor could find. She used to want sex, when she and Carl were married, five years ago, she had a healthy libido for a woman her age.
Somehow that had changed, and no one knew why. She loved Carl—there was no doubt that she loved him very much, and he loved her.
They had met through friends of friends and ended up playing pool in the same bar league. Neither of them were either the best or the worst player, and they liked the same kinds of movies, laughed at the same kinds of jokes. Over time their careers more or less grew in tandem, he installed servers for a telecommunications company and became a site supervisor at about the same time that she was moved into management at the medical billing firm.
At their wedding he said in front of everyone that he was marrying his best friend, and he meant it.
They spent their honeymoon driving cross country and made love in six states.
That was then.
The change was slow, and even felt natural at first. They weren’t newlyweds anymore, after all. They just… weren’t as active.
It was his birthday, three years after they were married, and he was drunk. They had gone out with a group of their old friends, drinking and playing pool. That was something else that they didn’t do very often.
When they got home and went to bed he was all over her. Being out with the old gang reminded him how he’d felt about her in the beginning—how he still felt about her, really.
He was kissing her neck, lost in the feel and the scent and the taste of her, when she hissed at him, “Just get it over with.”
Hurt, angry, shocked, he rolled away from her, and she burst into tears, sobbing beside him in their bed.
That’s when “what’s wrong with Ellen” entered their lives.
They tried couple’s counseling. After two months the counselor said that they were the healthiest marriage that she had ever seen, and whatever was wrong with Ellen’s sex drive wasn’t some unresolved conflict between them.
Ellen saw a therapist who was convinced that she was secretly a lesbian—which she wasn’t. Women excited her just as much as men, which was to say not at all. She tried a hypnotherapist, who tried and failed to unearth hidden memories of abuse in her childhood. She saw a neurologist, who admitted with refreshing honesty that no one had any real clue how the human brain worked. She tried herbal remedies, mineral supplements, and vitamins A through E inclusive, singly and in combination.
She tried watching, reading, and listening to erotica, but all she ever got was bored. Carl learned tantric massage, which she admitted felt good and helped her relax, but didn’t get her in the mood to do anything except nap.
They still slept together—slept in the same bed. It was warm and comfortable, and neither of them wanted to suggest getting a second bed. That would have felt like admitting defeat.
Carl started sleeping in pajamas, though, and he became very careful when he touched her.
Carl joined another pool league. A men’s league. Sometimes Ellen came to see him play, mostly she didn’t.
Once, and once only Ellen insisted that Carl “go ahead and do it.” It was horrible.
Time passed, and life settled down into a new routine. It wasn’t the married life that Carl had expected, but he had promised in sickness and in health. It was easier to just not think about it.
They were still friends, maybe not best friends anymore, but still very good friends. They watched movies together, and discovered new restaurants, and stayed busy. Ellen started seeing another therapist. She didn’t talk about her sessions, and Carl didn’t ask.
Carl started spending time on his computer when Ellen wasn’t home, or he was sure that she was sleeping soundly. He was careful to stay away from sites that offered live chat or personals. He didn’t want another woman. Not a real one.
Then one night Ellen showed him the picture of Tsarina.
“I want you to be happy,” she said, very seriously.
I am happy, Carl thought. I am happy with you. You’re the one I want to be with. He didn’t say that. Instead he listened seriously while Ellen outlined Tsarina’s features in a clinical, detached voice that suggested that she had practiced this speech.
Tsarina was a full sized sex doll. It was made out of a synthetic material designed for prosthetics, supposedly indistinguishable from the texture of human flesh. The company that made them offered complete customization and Ellen had chosen a doll based on what she knew of Carl’s preferences. She knew him well and Carl had to admit that result was sexy.
The pictures showed Tsarina in several lifelike poses, seated on a chair, lying coyly across a bed. Short and curvy, with pale skin and short black hair with a lifelike sheen. A round face, smiling in invitation, with clear blue shining eyes. It was the eyes that bothered Carl the most. They were almost human, but not quite. Clear, beautiful, blue and deep, but with no soul behind them. Nothing at all.
Ellen was tanned and blonde, and her eyes were light brown. She’d made Tsarina about as far from her own appearance as possible. Carl had to assume that was deliberate.
Ellen’s eyes were looking at him now, very seriously. Nervously.
“I don’t know what to say,” Carl began, then broke off as her nervousness turned to fear.
He reached to take her hand. “I’m just kind of overwhelmed.”
He was. In the first place the damned thing had to cost as much as a good used car.
More than that, though, is what it must have meant to her. “Listen, Ellen, I love you. You don’t need to do this.”
She looked down at their clasped hands. “I know that. I know you do,” she said slowly. “But you have needs, and I’m not able to fulfill them.”
“That’s not important,” he began.
“It is important,” she cut him off. “Most men would have found someone else by now. Either left me or started sleeping around.”
“I wouldn’t,” Carl said.
“I know that,” Ellen said, “And that’s why I want to do this. If you’re willing to… take care of yourself, I want to do what I can.”
Carl reddened. He had been taking care of himself, but he didn’t like Ellen talking about it. He’d rather just let the subject drop.
“No,” Ellen said softly. “I’m the one who should be ashamed.”
Carl looked up at her sharply. “Don’t ever say that. It’s not your fault.”
Her eyes were shining and Carl saw that she was on the verge of tears. “Hey,” he said softly, “I’m not going anywhere, kid. I love you, and I’m going to grow old with you, remember? We’re going to move down to Florida and yell at the kids to stay off our lawn together. No matter what.”
And he held her eyes until at last she smiled.