Pam likes to keep the light on and read for a while after sex, but tonight her book sits unopened on the bedside table. I'm facing the wall, half asleep. The sound of Pam chewing her fingernails gnaws at my eardrums until I can't stand it any longer, so I turn over to face her. She doesn't wait for me to speak.
"I want to have an affair," she says, looking straight ahead.
"What the hell are you on about, woman?"
"You heard me, Ray. I want to have an affair." She turns and looks right at me. "With a younger man." Her lips are tight, like she's getting ready for a fight.
"Christ, Pam. Whatever for?"
"Because you don't satisfy me, sexually."
After so many years of banging away none the wiser, that hits me in the face like a sneeze. I figure she must be talking about recently. Women can turn a little funny at Pam's age - maybe that's it.
"What? You've never complained before," I say.
"I'm not complaining now. I'm just saying. Jesus, Ray, I'm entitled to say, aren't I?"
"Pam! You're fifty-two."
"But why an affair, for goodness sake?"
"Because I've never had an orgasm, that's why."
Holy shit, so that's what this is all about. She must've been reading one of those women's magazines, or maybe the Sunday paper. They fill people's minds full of nonsense and give them ideas. Come to think of it, I seem to remember there was something in the News of the World a couple of weeks ago. I sit up and puff my pillows, and pull the quilt up over my middle-age podge, which seems somehow bigger than it was a few minutes ago. Pam waits for me to say something.
"Well, some women never have orgasms. They're just not made that way."
"Well this woman wants an orgasm," says Pam. I wish she'd keep her voice down; the walls are thin and the neighbours might hear. She continues, "Jesus, is that too much to ask? There was a woman on TV today and she has an orgasm every time she has sex. Every single time! I've never even had one."
So that's it. She heard about it on TV. One of those women's programmes they have on in the morning, I bet. Christ, what kind of world do we live in? Take a perfectly happy woman, tell her she should have been having orgasms for the last thirty years, and watch her turn her life upside down and inside out. You pay all that money for a TV licence and this is what you get.
"What about that time, you know, after my mother died?"
Pam returns to gazing at the foot of the bed and hesitates before answering. "I was faking it," she says.
"Faking it! Lydia Johnson fakes it all the time with her husband, has done for years."
Christ almighty. I might have guessed. Lydia Johnson: she's behind this. Well Lydia Johnson would have to fake it. So would her husband, come to that.
"For Christ's sake, Pam. Think about it! What about all the dreadful diseases floating around? You could catch something really awful."
"He'd have to wear a condom, obviously," says Pam.
She sounds like she's already thought it through. I wonder how long this has been rattling around inside her head. I've just screwed her for the hundred thousandth time; I should get a long service and good conduct medal, and all the time she's thinking about having it off with some young guy wearing a fancy condom. Like an orgasm is going to make her a real woman or something.
"Even with a condom you can't be a hundred percent certain, you know."
"We'd only have to do it once. As long as I have an orgasm." She looks at me again. "Don't suppose it would take long anyway, with a younger man."
"Once is enough. Christ, you could catch anything. You'd be better off with a vibrator."
Pam stares at me and watches me age. I don't know where to look. I pull the quilt further up over my podge. Maybe she needs to see a doctor or something and talk about it. Maybe that's what she really needs.
"All right," she says, finally. "I'll try a vibrator."
I don't know which is worse, the thought of some young guy bouncing around on top of her, or the thought of watching her get off with some kind of battery operated plastic penis. Christ, whichever one she tries, what if she likes it?
"What about me and my feelings? Did you think about that?"
"Oh, don't be so selfish, Ray. Jesus, you've had more orgasms than I've had hot dinners." She turns over, reaches out and switches off the bedside lamp. Discussion over.
Pam is asleep in minutes and snores lightly. I lie awake half the night thinking about her using a vibrator. I've never seen one close up but I can imagine. I've never heard one either but guess it must make a kind of buzzing noise. Perhaps the neighbours would hear it. Perhaps they'd hear her orgasm too and know she was doing it with a vibrator. Then what would they think? Maybe they'd tell people. Maybe the whole street would know. Maybe Pam would tell Lydia bloody Johnson.
I get home from the office the next evening and Pam tells me she's ordered a vibrator from the Ann Summers web site. I didn't even get to help her choose it and she won't show me. It arrives the following Saturday. We haven't had sex since she ordered it. The label on the box says it's a Rampant Rabbit Platinum and calls it a girl's best friend. Pam pulls the thing - this monstrous thing - out of the box in front of me and stares at it, holding it in both hands. It's bigger than I imagined. I don't even like looking at it. Pam's practically having an orgasm just holding it.
"Well?" I say. "You want to try it now?"
"You'll have to go out," says Pam. "I'm not doing it in front of you."
"Christ, Pam. What's your problem?"
"Jesus, Ray, it's my orgasm."
"You've seen all of mine."
"This is different. Go on. Take the dog out or something."
I'm out walking with man's best friend. Pam is at home with a girl's best friend. All I can think of is the stupid grin she had when she was holding the bloody thing. After twenty minutes we're back at the front door and I realise I don't know how long it should take, so off we go again and return an hour later.
Pam is scraping some potatoes in the kitchen.
"Well?" I say.
"All done," she says, eyes on the potatoes. "I've thrown it away."
"I wasn't that keen on it, anyway."
"But you had an orgasm?"
"Of course," she says, still avoiding eye contact.
"Pam, you did have an orgasm, didn't you?"
"Jesus, Ray, I said so, didn't I?" There is a long pause. The potato she's scraping is naked as a baby. "Well actually, I faked it."
"Christ, Pam," I say. I put my arms around her. She carries on scraping. "I do love you, you know."
That night I make a real effort. I try not to think about my podge. Before I'm finished, Pam starts panting and moaning. I open one eye slightly. She has both eyes closed. They're closed tight so the wrinkles show at the side.
Afterwards, Pam keeps the light on and reads for a while. I've got my back to her. I can't sleep, so I breathe real slow and pretend.