It Wasn’t My Fault

He was an awkwardly beautiful man.   I couldn’t call him shy, there may have been some hesitation in him but not shyness. 

Advertisements

It wasn’t my fault.  I know that it is petty, but it’s true–it wasn’t my fault.

He was an awkwardly splendid man.   I couldn’t call him shy, there may have been hesitation in him but not shyness.  He was tall and broad-shouldered.  He looked very proud of his Harley Davidson motorcycle.  I for one dislike motorcycles and I was not tempted to ask for “a ride.”  However, I admired how he straddled the machine and I had wild ideas regarding him so I did my best to suppress those thoughts from my mind.

That’s why the dark conclusion to this small story isn’t my fault.  Yes, I looked at him.  Yes, I stopped to look at him.  No, I didn’t tell him to go away and yes, he knew how to shake hands with a woman in a way that was open and honest.  Did he work at being open and honest?  Well with me, I hope he had to work at it.  I hope he wanted to take my hand, pull me forward and wrap those big, fine, strong arms around me and kiss me until my knees went weak.  In my opinion, he was open and honest by natural disposition yet shy around me.

It still wasn’t my fault.  I did not play coy, I looked him in the eye and did my best to just keep walking whenever he happened past me.

I think men demand too much, I understand their need, and I understand the chase but enough is enough.  A pity I didn’t walk away.

Heaven above help me, those narrow hips, those soft denim shirts and in the summer those tight t-shirts.  Now, the tight t-shirts were a turnoff after the initial view.  Total vanity.  Total.  When I saw the tight t-shirt, I could turn off the heart palpitations, and he didn’t get it.  He could sense it too–and I could sense his confusion.  The “what,” expression on a man is similar to a salient mark on a treasure map.

“Turn right at Mount Everest, you can’t miss it.”  That’s the “what,” expression on a man.  What?  Don’t you like it?  Do you know how I’ve worked for these arms, this chest, and hey I’m not a young man?  On and on the “what,” expressions go.

So you can see, it wasn’t my fault.  I wasn’t out to distract him.  I wasn’t out to gain his attention.  I found him attractive, sure but I didn’t flash my eyes at him and beg him to chase me down.  I’m just not that kind of… person.

Do you know a spider won’t eat its prey unless said prey is alive?

That’s how spider webs work you know.  Invisibility and then trapped.  Spider webs work because so much of life doesn’t believe in death; especially their own.

He was strong, he still twitches now and then but it won’t be long until I must ignore another one and build yet another web.

Accidents

he sat stony-eyed not acknowledging Carlos at all.  “Darla will have a glass of the house wine,” I said hastily fearing she would do something unconventional. 

“I have one question.” She looked at me with something between dread and vexation which merged and culminated in a purely “Darla-like” expression.

“I know, I know but really just one question,” I pleaded.  Darla leaned back and gave me a slight nod.  Taking that as permission I blurted it out, “What happened to men?”

Her pale skin blanched to a sudden milky gray and her beautiful sculptured lips turned a leaden color her smile conveyed a sort of evil satisfaction.  “Nothing, they’ve always been that way, you’ve just noticed.  That’s what I hate about optimists.”

Darla’s voice sounded as if she were down a deep echoing well.

Carlos, our usual waiter, was walking up to our table.  I could tell he was having a bad day because his usually pristine and pressed black trousers were splattered with something shiny from the knee down.  His small white apron had a washed out yellow looking blob almost dead center.  I felt myself turn red because the stain was dead center so I hoped whatever hit him hadn’t been painful.

“Stop blushing you idiot,” Darla whispered, “and stop looking at his crotch.”

Darla was never very nice.  I looked away and tried to compose myself.

Carlos came up to me and didn’t smile.  “How are you today?” he asked and I knew he didn’t care to know.

“I’ll just have a cup of coffee and whatever pie you have today,” I said squinting up at him.  He had managed to stand just where the sun was painful when looking up.  I though perhaps he should have been an international spy or an assassin rather than a waiter.  I looked over at Darla, blinking heavily.  She sat stony-eyed not acknowledging Carlos at all.  “Darla will have a glass of the house wine,” I said hastily fearing she would do something unconventional.

Carlos walked away not letting me know what sort of pie to expect.

“You see?” said Darla.  He’s a man and a typical one.  He has had a bad day, splattering grease on his pants…

“Trousers…”

“His pants when emptying the garbage at home before he came to work.  While at work some clumsy American tourist like you…

“Expatriate, I live here,”

“Tourist spills their orange juice in a projectile fashion because they saw a spider on the table so naturally, he’s a total shit to you.”

“Oh I know men are moody and take out all their frustrations on women, I was just wondering what happened to them physically.”

Darla lifted her eyebrows to me in question.

I looked about at the street, narrow hipped men with billowing shirts and long hair.  “They are all different colors and heights but all look the same.”

“Perhaps you are simply become cured of obsessing over them,” Darla said.

Carlos reappeared, his face looking like it was carved in oak.  He placed my coffee and blueberry pie in front of me and Darla’s wine in the center of the table. “Will that be all?” I could tell Carlos didn’t want to be standing next to the table. Darla stretched out her long gray hand and pulled the wine to her side of the table.  Carols blanched visibly.

“She is here today?” asked Carlos.

“She sees you, Carlos.  I’m sorry for that, truly.  I’m sorry too about the clumsy American tourist.”

I was sorry too, Darla was relentless and very good in causing accidents.

Caves

The cave was deep and little was known about it.  That’s the thing with quiet little states like Indiana, nobody realizes the secrets it holds.  I knew simply because I was, for the most part, alone.  What else did I have to do than read books and listen in on conversations? 

The cave was deep and little was known about it.  That’s the thing with quiet little states like Indiana, nobody realizes the secrets it holds.  I knew simply because I was, for the most part, alone.  What else did I have to do than read books and listen in on conversations?

I hate the summer heat and to this day I lay low when summer is at its zenith.  I suspected that the small cave near the river was not just a small cave.  John Wilkie would take foolish girls there and so it began to have a reputation.  I suspect that John Wilkie, tall and good-looking as he was, really didn’t know what to do with a girl, so he took the doe-eyed ones to the small cave by the river just to get the girl to sit close to him and shudder.  There were a few fathers and elder brothers that didn’t weep at his memorial service but still, he has his name in bronze over at the courthouse square on the World War I memorial.

I digress.

John Wilkie, Salem Schultz, and Nathanial Barrow were the river rats of the town and on hot summer afternoons, they would take a raft up and down the river and spear carp and catfish.  Every once in awhile they would put a line in and pull up bluegill.  Salem’s father was a whiz at smoking fish and I even had the honor once or twice to try the delicacy as my father and Salem’s father were fairly good friends.  One such night, my hands greasy from smoked fish, my senses were deadened by the drowsy conversation between my father and his friend.  They spoke of their own fathers and their memories of the civil war, which to me, in 1914 seemed eons ago.  I was fourteen, wore wire-rimmed glasses and had grown at least two inches that year.  I stuck close to home, the library and anyplace relatively cool.

“Let’s go to the cave.”

“No, I don’t want to go to that stupid cave.”

“Why not?  It will be great at night.”

I spoke up, amongst the whispered conversation of the boys who never took any interest in a bookworm like me.  “You know, I think that cave is probably connected to a much larger cavern or cave system.”

There was a dead silence and I felt myself grow red.  The heat along my neck and face positively burned.  What had made me open my mouth?

“Who asked you worm?”  I couldn’t tell which one whispered that in my ear but all three chuckled as if the words were unique in the annals of slights and rudeness.  Perhaps that was what prompted my boldness, they were such dullards.

“Actually, I’m sure that cave is part of a larger cave.   There is even a possibility that an underground river is involved.”

I was practically drug to that cave with the words, “prove it, know-it-all, and smarty pants,” filling the air as we walked down the dirt road, and down the narrow path to the river.  The darkness was complete as the town’s lights disappeared behind the steep bank of the river.  We felt our way along the bank with the swift water just at our feet and the gleam of fast running river expanding out before us.  I was relieved when we all managed to crowd into the narrow cave opening.  To actually get into the cave we had to belly crawl.  I didn’t like it as I wasn’t fond of small places but the natural stone walls quickly gave way to a fairly large cavern.  Nathanial lit the lantern and the cave walls lit up with the spark of tiny quartz and dripping wet stone.

I had been in the cavern before and seen the impressive glitter.  There had even been some geologist down from Chicago to examine the cave.  It was from over hearing those men talk in my father’s store that they suspected the cave was part of a larger cave system.  The bought supplies from my father intent on exploring the cave in greater detail but were at the last minute called back to Chicago.

They never came back.

“It’s cold in here.”

“Hush, did you hear that?”

“Stop it, Salem, nobody wants to hear your ghost stories.”

“No, Nate, really, I think we should go.”

The cave did seem unusually cold.  I was delighted.  Perhaps this was where I could escape to occasionally from the heat.

“Hey, I think I heard it too.”

“What?”

“Like voices.”

I moved to the outer line of the light.  Nate had held up the lantern but his hand was shaking and the light shook with him.  Suddenly we were in complete darkness and what shattered me was that I heard nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  There was no sound from the boys, no teasing or angry words and I heard nothing hit the stony ground.

I am pretty good at keeping my bearings and I felt that if I followed my left hand straight ahead I could reach the small opening that led to the river.  I knew that I had been duped but still it was terrifying to be left alone in that cave.  I moved ahead swiftly and bumped into something soft and warm.  It bounced off of me and then seemed to swing back and forth a darker shadow than the blackness about me.

I fell to the ground.  The ground was wet and smelled of urine.  I scrambled forward and bumped into a soft lump that shuddered and cried softly.

“John?”

“Worm?”

I crawled over him and he grasped my foot following me forward.  I heard a soft scratching and some whispering overhead.  I moved faster and John Wilkie nearly crawled over me.  I felt the fresh air and so did John because he pushed me aside and pulled himself out.  As I crawled out I felt a stabbing pain in my right foot and I shouted out in agony.  I made it to the small cave at the river and found John standing at the edge weeping.

My foot and leg were never the same.  I wasn’t fit for active duty when the war came.  My parents spoke in whispers near my sick bed and to me, they were always a little distant from that time on.  I was ill for a very long time.  I even had to complete my first few weeks of school at home.

I was never a popular boy so I can’t say I was bothered by the solitude.  The whispers were what bothered me the most.

“He’s poisoned.  What got Salem and Nate got a piece of him too.  He can see in the dark and his eyes flash red.”

You see, it’s important now that I stay incognito, I’m not so changed I need a cave to hunt in.

Love’s Trouble For Me

She’s beautiful too.  Clean.  Her hair is always glossy and she doesn’t fan out on the makeup; a little liner, when I’m in town she puts on a little mascara, a little lip gloss.  I can still see a few freckles across her nose.  So sweet, so dedicated. 

I, of course, worried after I fell in love that I would lose my edge.  Edge is everything in my business.  Love blunts every edge; I don’t care who you are.  It’s cruel if I don’t stay sharp, razor sharp.  If I take a swipe at someone and my edge has been blunted, well let’s face it they suffer.  If I’m not hampered by the preoccupations of love, that swipe is painless, goes without a hitch, you’re dead before your mind can reach even the idea of pain.

Yes, I’m a professional.

I was in love once before, years ago when I was young.  I mean, you know love.  I can’t help what I am, I can’t.  She didn’t understand and she moved to Milwaukee.  I was devastated.  I think that disappointment was what gave me my edge.  I wanted to hate her, I really did but I couldn’t.  Years later I had a job in that area and I looked her up.  She was still fine and she seemed happy.  I said hello and she seemed edgy, a little scared but okay.  Next thing I know she’s in Green Bay, then she’s in St Paul and divorced.  I called her a year later, you know just to check on her, make sure she was okay.  She was in Seattle.  I point blank asked her if she wanted me to look up her ex-husband and she said no.  She was emphatic about it, so I didn’t and I won’t.  She’s in Tokyo now, seems to be doing alright.

I met my new lease on life during an emergency room visit in Chicago.  One of those big hospitals.  I had run into a little bit of a problem in New Albany, thought I was okay but started running a fever while vacationing in Chicago.  I love that city; Chicago.  Anyway, I met Alice there.

Alice is tough as nails and hates her name so I call her Honey and Babe and things like that.  She’s an ER nurse and man, some of the stories she tells makes my skin crawl.  I mean she’s seen shotgun wounds, and people beaten to a pulp.  Then there are the car accidents and the scum of the earth who hurt their kids.  I was in tears one night; I don’t know how she stays sane.

She’s beautiful too.  Clean.  Her hair is always glossy and she doesn’t fan out on the makeup; a little liner, when I’m in town she puts on a little mascara, a little lip gloss.  I can still see a few freckles across her nose.  So sweet, so dedicated.

I, of course, tell her I have no family.  I’m not an idiot, I keep her well protected.  I am human; some may doubt that but I am very human.  She loves to read old novels and I’m starting to understand why.  I like The Portrait of Dorian Gray and The Invisible Man – man can you imagine how I can relate?

 

 

Her Perfect Green Eyes

“You seem timeless, too old for the nonsense of high school and all its silliness.”

“You know, I used to date a boy in high-school just like him.”

Cara had perfect green eyes.  I suppose those eyes were the physical feature to which I was drawn. When we first met, and just now, with her comment regarding a high-school sweetheart, her eyes narrowed and when narrowed they glowed.  The atmosphere around us didn’t matter.  We could be sitting at our favorite sidewalk café on a quiet street or in the gloom of a club dancing our hearts out; when she narrowed her eyes, her eyes shimmered in a jeweled tone green.

“I thought you too old for high-school remembrances, ” I said not really focused on her comment but on her emerald features.

“What sort of remark is that?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”  I shrugged and looked away.  I was always nervous around Cara but not like most people.  She chose me, you see, so when her narrowed eyes and lowered voice were directed at me I just looked away and focused on some other salient point of interest and confronted her with my voice or line of logic.  “You seem timeless, too old for the nonsense of high school and all its silliness.”

“I endured like all the rest.”

I glanced back at her and she was looking toward the bar where most men leaned, gazing out at the dance floor; their faces dimly reflecting the flashing lights that glared from the ceiling, floor and walls of the club.  Her pristine skin and darkly painted lips now seemed to be the only thing that existed, her eyes now in deep shadow.

“Of course, no one really survives,” I said.

She faced me again, a wicked smile on her face, “Oh I survived.”  She seemed about to say something more but laughed instead, as if realizing she was about to say too much.  Whenever she laughed I felt that I was only her sounding board, the sidekick that made her extraordinary beauty and perfect look a little more normal in a less than perfect world.

“So what was this boy in high school like?”  I asked.

“Oh, you know.  After we kissed for the first time and I found him wanting he went about with any girl who would have him.  He didn’t want any of them except me but he was determined to show me how happy he was; how very much happier he was than say…me.”

It was my turn to laugh and I looked again at the man I had just danced with and who was now walking another girl out to the dance floor.  “I suppose we don’t really grow up.”

“Did he hurt you?” she asked me, “that man, did he hurt you just now?”

I had known her long enough not to lie.  I watched as he gyrated and swirled the new girl around and looked oh so handsome on the crowded floor and in the flashing lights.  I examined myself and searched for that pang of regret.  Was I sorry I had not been asked a second time?

“No, honestly no.  Which makes me wonder if I’ve not grown too old for clubs, dancing and searching for…I don’t know what.”

“I was hoping you were not going to say ‘meaningful relationships,’” And we both laughed at her tone of voice.

I listened to the music for a time and felt my companion shift and fidget next to me.  She got up without a word and began to dance without a partner.  She often did – she was rarely asked to dance and I noticed she was only asked by men who seemed to be as beautiful as she.  She danced close to the man that had asked me to dance earlier.  I knew what was coming and sure enough, he did abandon his partner on the dance floor.

I felt suddenly tired.  Suddenly weary of the noise and sway of humanity.  I found myself suddenly hungry.

She was like that, my green eyed beauty.  She knew when I was hungry and she knew the type of men who would follow her to her car.  She knew too I’d be waiting.  I suppose I had learned just a little more about her tonight, this slighted beauty with a low self-esteem.

“You won’t ever feed on me will you?”  She asked after a rather tedious fight I had with one of her stronger, more determined dance partners.

“Not until you are ready,” I promised.

Read It Twice

Yes, he was going to reread a novel, that was a start.

He woke up one morning with the idea that premarital sex was indeed wrong.  What would his life have been if getting a woman into his bed also included signing an oath in front of clergy and family that he was committed to just one woman?

The idea was outrageous, but he did feel guilt, on this particular morning, when he realized that premarital sex was the only type of sex he had ever had.  So, the startling conclusion awoke with him that morning which prompted obvious questions.  If premarital sex had not been so easy if condemns and birth control had not been so readily available what would committed sex have been like?

He wasn’t a moralist but if a sane man couldn’t think of another reality what was the world coming to?

So, he stretched deep and felt his muscles tense and then release.  He concentrated on the thick, cool sheet that draped neatly about him and encased his king-sized bed then thought of the different lovers he had known.  There was one who would want to curl up next to him and talk until they both fell asleep.  Another who insisted on watching him fall asleep and yet another who curled up by herself and didn’t want to be touched which made his heart hurt even to think of it all these years after.  There were those who were loud and those who even cried and one or two who had the sexiest moan he had ever heard.  Each had their own diabolic quality.

Each had their own diabolical fault as well.   A clinging lover was simply too much.  By the very nature of the act, you had to put some distance between yourself and your lover for at least a few minutes.  Wanting to fall asleep in a quasi-pool of love wasn’t something he was willing to face night after night.  He also didn’t want someone watching him sleep.  He felt that she was gloating over him, that she somehow felt smug after another strong climax.  It was creepy.  Then there was the one who curled up by herself.  She looked so small and helpless over there on the other side of his large bed.  He couldn’t remember falling asleep that night, and with a pang, he remembered that she wasn’t there the next morning.  His one and only one-night stand.

All the rest hung around for a month or two.  There was one who lasted a year.  They had met at a New Year’s Eve party and parted at the very next New Year’s Eve party.

He sat up suddenly with an idea.  Committed sex would be like reading the same good book over and over.  He had read a few novels but had never read one over and over.    It would be like reading one of the great novels of Sir Walter Scott.  Think of the discoveries; the lines he’d read over, the nuance of sound and cadence that escaped him with the first reading.  It would be like knowing what to expect and discovering he had read over or misread something for years.

Yes, he was going to reread a novel, that was a start.

“What are you thinking about?”

She walked in with nothing but his shirt on and a copy of East of Eden in her hand.  He realized that his idea had come from his latest partner in “this is getting too easy.”  She was a lit student and had the strongest thighs he could remember on a woman.

“Is that novel any good, would you read it twice?”

“I never do anything twice.”  Her smile was diabolical.

Hollow

She knew that going wasn’t necessarily allowed.

She could not stand another moment in her small apartment – not with the carnival going on.  The carnival had been in town for three days – tonight would be its last.  She thought, with regret, of the workers waking up on a Sunday as she walked to church, silently unhinging their mechanical rides and sweeping up the small pieces of litter that escaped the trash receptacles.  She did not want to hear the squeak and rub of peopleless rides before she had a chance to enjoy a Saturday night at the carnival.

The town welcomed the carnival every year but she could never attend – the carnival was too worldly for her family – still was, but her family need not know she found the lights, the noise, the smells so fascinating. Besides she was on her own – she needed to make decisions on her own. She would be up early in the morning and get to church early, but tonight she had to know what the carnival was all about

She hesitated at the gate, five dollars was a lot of money to walk around a carnival.

“Half price, half price now until we close down.”

A sign she felt and so put her money down.

She would simply be careful with her milk and eggs – they could last the entire week.

She ducked her head shyly as a gust of wind pulled and fluttered the canopy at the entrance and the ticket taker gave her, what she thought was a wicked grin.

She hurried along the carnival grounds and listened to the sounds of young children shouting with delight as the mechanical rides twirled black against the red-orange sunset sky.  A small family of four walked ahead of her laughing and sharing pink cotton candy. She smiled at their compact and secret ways of knowing each other; the dip and sway of the candy making its way to sticky fingers all, in turn, the smiles upon each face.

She was careful to stay away from the rides but watched the Ferris-Wheel glided several times around against the then darkened sky.  The last of the summer warmth curled about her in a soft breeze that lifted her hair in a gently swaying lift that seemed to keep rhythm with the music being played.

“Do you want to ride?”

His voice was deep and directly behind her. She jumped and turned, then stepped back.  He was tall and slender and she was sure he had some sort of makeup on his face. His eyes were startling brown, golden flecked and when he smiled at her and tilted his head she thought for a moment that they turned red.

“You’ve been watching that wheel for some time. I own this little place – I’ll make sure you have a ride.”

“No thank-you.”

“Why not? This is our last night.  We’ve done very well – I don’t think we will miss the price of one Ferris-Wheel ticket.”

He glided her past smiling and paying customers and walked her up the back stairs, where weary workers, not much older than she, dressed in black and white shirts, stepped aside as they walked by. “She’s next,” and she went inside a small cage seat that swung precariously back and forth and she was lifted up into the summer night sky.

She came back down and he was still there and laughing at her frightened face. “Look straight out, not down, child.”

So she did and gasped at the sight.  Her small town was all alight. She saw the church steeple, the town square and felt she was level with the flag on the courthouse tundra. She twisted around carefully not wanting the seat on which she sat to swing too precariously – yes, just there but barely, the small farm where she was sure her family sat upon the screened in porch.

She swung down and felt her heart lift, she was sure that she could fly forward to whatever direction she chose.

He was standing there again, now smiling and she was lifted away gazing at his countenance.  This time she stopped at the very top.  She tried not to think of the small summer breeze slowly pushing the wheel backward and forward.  She closed her eyes the rest of the ride until she felt herself arrive within the well-lit exit.  A tired young man opened the gate and allowed her to step away unaided.

He was at the bottom of the steps. “Are you glad you went?”

“Yes,” she gasped and felt herself turn red to the tips of her ears and down her neck.

“Come I’ll buy you some cotton candy, looks like you could use some.”

“No, no please, I don’t really care for it. We had a cotton candy machine at church and I thought the stuff too sweet.”

He laughed aloud and she jumped, then smiled not comfortable but liking his laugh all the while.

“What’s your name,” he asked.

“Laurel,” she whispered feeling ashamed – this was no proper introduction.

“Well, Laurel, would you like to see the two-headed chickens or the trapeze act in the big top?”

She looked down and whispered no thank you and hoped he would believe her.

“Well then,” he said soft and low, “why don’t you let me make sure no one follows you home.”

She looked up into his face, somehow kind, somehow not.  He seemed without age and her heart pounded in her ears and her hands clenched around her waist.  She liked his stare and was very afraid.

“But you would be following me home.”

His face softened in the green, then yellow, then red glowing lights.  Touching his fingertip to her soft cheek, she felt a shiver deep down. He had found a hollow place within her brief existence.  She knew he would take and keep it.