‘A Romantic Weekend’ by Mary Gaitskill

There’s something so human about the brutality in Gaitskill’s short fiction. It’s never cruel for cruelty’s sake, but rather manages to touch at something vulnerable, easily bruised. ‘A Romantic Weekend’ tends to get the short shrift when compared to the collection’s other BDSM-themed story, ‘Secretary’ which was made into a so-so movie with Maggie Gyllenhaal, but it’s ‘Weekend’ that gets to the heart of how we try to please one another, without really knowing why we want them in the first place.

I remember this bit of dialogue so vividly, when the pair are still on the plane, yet to commence the weekend that will be everything but romantic:

“Some old people are beautiful in an unearthly way,” she continued. “I saw this old lady in the drugstore the other day who must’ve been in her nineties. She was so fragile and pretty, she was like a little elf.”

He looked at her and said, “Are you going to start being fun to be around or are you going to be a big drag?”

She didn’t answer right away. She didn’t see how this followed her comment about the old lady. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t think you’re very sexual,” he said. “You’re not the way I thought you were when I first met you.”

She was so hurt by this that she had difficulty answering. Finally, she said, “I can be very sexual or unsexual depending on who I’m with an in what situation. It has to be the right kind of thing. I’m sort of a cerebral person. I think I respond to things in a cerebral way, mostly.”

“That’s what I mean.”

Collected in Bad Behavior, Simon & Schuster, 1998

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