Separation

It doesn’t take many words to end a thing. Sometimes one. One measly word. Maybe two or four if they’re the right ones or many times, none at all. He sat on the edge of the bed thinking about putting on pants. There was plenty of time for that. The morning sun-somehow different here in the city-sliced through the rheumy window spotlighting his feet which he always hated-short and square and now with bright purple starfish bursting spidery on his ankles. She has them too! Don’t for a moment think he was the only one getting old. Had she ever seen the backs of her own knees? She’s not special-time marches on for everyone regardless of what anyone thinks. Standing, he gazed at the rooftops around him. He’d done business in this part of town back when. Just couldn’t remember with who. And it wasn’t because he was old! People forget things, that’s all. They had to-there was too much new stuff every minute of every hour of every day. Things had to be jettisoned to make room, that’s all. Were the water towers on the buildings new? Couldn’t be, they looked older than fuck, he just had never seen them that he could remember. He wished he had a cigarette. He’d given them up years ago but they would at least give him something to do with his hands. His old man wielded a cigarette as a maestro did a baton-directing, punctuating, prompting: allegro, lento-the smoke leaving whirling white trails drifting to the ceiling. He wondered if he could smoke in here. These rooms weren’t bad by the week, considering. He’d have to think about it. For now though, checkout was at ten. It would be no problem. He could leave earlier if he had anywhere to go.

Another Stray Day

Claude Monet, The Gare Saint Lazare: Arrival of a Train

Continuing with the characters from The Stray

Robin slipped her shades on just as she turned the corner, knowing she’d be walking right into the early afternoon sun. A beautiful day to be off-at least as off as she ever was. She needed to check in at The Stray for a few to put together a liquor order then it was off to the museum for the traveling Impressionists show that was only here through the weekend. 

“Toddler! What’s up little man?” Todd shifted on his stool behind the bar where he was reading the paper. “Don’t get up on my account.” Todd was “little” like black was white, like square was round. Six five or so, three hundred if an ounce, he was the late night closer filling in for the afternoon. 

“Aw man”, he moaned. “I thought you were off today.”

She grinned at the big man’s gibe. “Ten minutes, that’s it. Then I’ll let you get back to…” she gestured to the nothing he was doing. “…your what have you.”

“Seriously”, he said, folding the paper and laying it on the bar, “A beautiful day like this…why you here?”

“Forgot the liquor order yesterday…”

“Done.”

“What?”

“Saw it in the register…called it in.”

“Did you add the tequila? I had it on a note…”

“I can read. Even your scratches…”

“Well”, she smiled, “Our little boy is growing up…”

She was about ready to turn on her heel and head back out the door when Todd mentioned that he hadn’t seen Olive yet today. Which was unusual. She was an early riser and a restless little shit who was sometimes found sitting at the bar having a coffee when they opened the place. They exchanged a glance. Todd was concerned or he wouldn’t have brought it up but he wasn’t yet concerned enough to go check on her. Tag, you’re it, thought Robin. 

Robin made no effort to be quiet climbing the steps and walking the short hallway but hesitated when she got to the door. She had been in there before, usually just to drop off mail or something Olive had left at the bar. She knocked softly. “Olive?” she called. Nothing. Then louder, “Olive?” She tried the knob-of course it was unlocked-and stuck her head in cautiously. “Olive?” The door opened into a small living room furnished with cast-offs and discards, an old stained couch, a sun-bleached table with a chunk of wood under one leg, and an overstuffed chair that definitely looked like it had been picked off the curb. The table was as far into the place as Robin had ever been. She listened hard, trying to will a sound that would preclude her having to venture any farther. Nothing. Dead still. 

A growing sense of dread dragged at her feet as she crossed the room through the open archway into the spartan bedroom. Alley light filtered in through a dirty window that faced the gray block wall of the building next door. The bed headed opposite her and Robin could see Olive on her side, bare feet glowing white like bones out of the legs of her black jeans. As she got closer Robin realized that she was creeping almost on her toes, being as silent as she could. The girl’s dark shirt was riding up in the back revealing her backbone’s sharp knuckles. 

Most of Olive’s face was hidden, shrouded by her long, lank hair. Holding her breath, Robin leaned over, then closer looking, looking…then sighed with relief as she saw the girl’s hair where it covered her mouth, moving back and forth gently in tandem with her shallow breaths. “Thank god”, she whispered, straightening up. Then, once relieved, she slipped into a previous life, scanning the floor around the bed for foil, a pipe, a belt, lighters…anything that might tell a story of a fix, a shot, a smoke. Nothing. She opened the single drawer on the bed stand and under a towel there was…well… Robin smiled even as she felt the heat rise in her face.  What a woman did in her own bed was her business, she thought, covering it back with the towel.  But nothing else. 

She turned back to the bed and called the girl’s name quietly while poking her gently in the shoulder. “Hey, Olive…you OK?” Poke again. The girl’s blue eyes fluttered open behind under her hair, sleepy but clear. It took a second for her to focus and actually see what she was seeing. 

“Robin…” she said. “What’s up…?” She lay on her back blinking slowly as Robin told her that Todd was concerned, well, that they both were, having not seen her all day, and she’d just come up to check on her. 

“Did you have a rough night?” Robin asked, allowing a smile remembering what was in the drawer.

“No. I don’t think so…slept hard though. Wow. What time is it?”

“Almost one, girl…”

“Shit…” Olive brought her hands up to push her hair off her face and rub her eyes. “I was dead!” 

“Yep”, thought Robin, that was the concern. She reached down and, in the manner of a mother to her child, ran the backs of her fingers across her cheek.

“You are warm, Olive.”

“I…just woke up I guess.”

“No”, said Robin. “You’re running a fever…”

“Naw. I run hot…”

“Still…”

“There’s a thermometer in the bathroom. In the cabinet if you want to check.”

Robin straightened, patting Olive’s cheek. “Just a quick look…”

In the bathroom Robin opened the medicine cabinet and sure enough, there were two glass thermometers on the bottom shelf. She grabbed the one in the green plastic sheath and pulled it out. The thermometer had a little silver ball at the end. “Oops,” she thought. “Not this one…” She picked the other and opened it seeing the same little ball at the end of the tube. She grinned. “I guess not…” she thought.

She was still holding the thermometer when she went to the bathroom door.  “Hey Olive, all you have are rect…” she froze when she saw the girl lying on her stomach with her jeans and panties around her knees. 

Olive flipped her head toward Robin. “Yes, that’s it. Bring them both-I don’t think one works. Don’t forget the Vaseline.” Then, when Robin didn’t move, “You OK?”

Robin snapped out of it. “Oh sure…yeah. Right. Vaseline…” She went back to the medicine cabinet and retrieved the other thermometer and the small jar that was beside them on the shelf. She caught her reflection in the mirror and watched the blush sliding over her cheeks. “Oh, yeah”, she said to her reflection. “Totally normal.” 

She came out of the bathroom and approached the bed carefully, again dragging her feet but not out of dread this time. It was something else. The girl had to know that most people, adults anyway, didn’t take their temperatures this way. Didn’t she? Had to. Robin was about to say something-really, this felt so freaking…but she stopped herself. She wouldn’t say “weird”. Having been called that herself so many times as a young human trying to find her way through the cliquish private schools her mother overspent to send her to, she had vowed never to use it in relation to another person. Even when it really freaking applied. 

Olive scooched to one side giving Robin room to sit which she did, gingerly. The truth was, Robin’s deep dark secret, was that she wasn’t as sexual as she appeared. Not frigid by any means and years beyond virginal, she was just…uncomfortable. She was a late bloomer-maybe still a bud-who was constantly plagued by desires that in turn were shadowed by deeper doubts and fears. But she put up a great front. Life had taught her that.

Sitting on the bed she marveled at Olive’s comfort and ease in laying herself bare like this, for this. Never would she have thought to envy Olive anything, besides her obvious looks, but she certainly wouldn’t mind a little of her self assurance.

“Hey”, said Olive into her arm, having crossed them under her head, “You still here?”

“Oh, yeah…” said Robin embarrassed to have been caught..what? Staring? She cleared her throat and popped the cap from the Vaseline. “So”, she asked, making an effort to carry on as normal a conversation as possible, “How do you come to have only rectal thermometers?” 

“I had a friend once who gave me them. He liked to play doctor and brought these. I found out I didn’t hate it…”

Robin dipped the glass tube into the jar and swirled getting a full dollop of the jelly on the tip. 

“So, what happened with the guy”, she asked while gently using her left hand to pull Olive’s cheeks apart to expose her small pink button. She paused waiting for the answer before realizing that Olive wasn’t going to say anything until Robin completed her move. 

Squeezing the thermometer tightly to keep her hand from shaking she placed it on the puckered opening then pushed it in slowly as Olive hissed through her teeth. Nope, thought Robin, doesn’t hate it at all. She released Olive’s cheeks so they closed around the glass tube. “So? The guy?”

“Well, yeah. Like I said, I didn’t hate it. Don’t hate it. But how many times does a girl need her temperature taken? Fifteen? Twenty?”

Robin barely suppressed a giggle. “Seriously?”

“In one evening! I mean, that was his only move!  You do ANYTHING too much it gets boring…”

Robin regarded the girl’s small white bottom beside her on the bed and wondered about the truth of that statement. “You think this is done yet?” she asked, touching the thermometer. 

“I on’t know. Maybe. It’s not that long. Pull it out and see what it says.” She exhaled lightly as Robin withdrew the tube and held it up to the light.

“You’re reading normal”, she said.

“Huh. Maybe that’s the broke one. Try the other…”

Robin looked up toward Olive’s head now. She was up on her elbows, looking back over her shoulder, hair again crossing her face.

“Are you playing with me now?” Robin asked.  

“This was your idea…”

“But I thought…”

“What?”

“…Never mind”, she said wishing she could see the girl’s face more clearly.

She shook down the other thermometer, added the dollop of lube and saw Olive push upward opening herself a bit. She repeated her last steps, spreading then inserting. This time the girl’s hiss was more of a little moan. After releasing Olive’s cheeks she kept her hand on the side of her hip. “That feels nice”, Olive said. 

“Which?” asked Robin, moving her hand then, on impulse, dragging her nails lightly across Olive’s backside as she might a friend’s back. 

“That, definitely.” Without giving it much thought, Robin kept stroking with her nails drawing light pink stripes up and down both of Olive’s bottom cheeks. 

“Have you ever had your temperature taken this way?” Olive asked, her head back on the bed.

“No!” said Robin definitively, making the word sound like “Noah!”

“But you have had things in your butt, right?”

Without breaking rhythm, Robin lightly pinched the soft slack flesh at the very bottom of her bottom. “Don’t be fresh”, she said smiling.

Olive whispered an “ouch” and settled. Robin simply decided to not think for a moment and to continue running her fingers lightly up and down Olive’s backside, sometimes slipping down the back of her legs. She imagined how it must feel, being stroked like this and immediately again felt a twinge of envy along with another deeper twinge that she hadn’t felt in a long time. The girl had gone still, if not asleep then close enough her breathing soft and regular. It occurred to Robin that she was doing something here. Something she’d never done before. She was actually pleasing someone in a most unexpected way and that idea warmed her, just before it frightened her. 

She stopped her hand and tried to speak, squeaking instead. She coughed and waited for a bit of moisture to settle on her tongue. “OK Sweet Martini Olive”, she said using the nickname that she had never shared with her. “Let’s see how you’re doing.”

Again, a tiny gasp punctuated the withdrawal of the little glass tube. Robin held it up and read it. “All good”, she said. Then, feeling a little more open than she had earlier, she patted her bottom. “You can pull up your pants now.”

Instead, Olive sat up and flopped her legs over the side of the bed beside her. Robin made no move to rise nor move even as Olive’s leg rubbed against her. Olive took Robin’s hand and entwined their fingers then settled the back of the woman’s hand on her bare thigh as if they were sitting together on a park bench. Again, Robin was surprised that she felt as comfortable as she did. At least until she looked down and saw that Olive’s lap was as clean and hairless as ivory and her heart flipped. 

“Thank you for doing that”, Olive said.

“You were playing with me.”

“Did you hate it?”

Robin smiled. “Didn’t hate it.”

“I’d like to play with you more.” 

“What?”

“You take care of me. I know you do…everyone here does. I like to show I appreciate it, you know?” When Robin didn’t answer… “And I know I could make you feel good”, she said laying her head against her shoulder. 

Robin accepted the weight of the girl’s head and savored the warmth radiating from her body. “I have someplace to be…” she said not really believing she was saying it. 

“That’s OK”, Olive said, releasing her hand and standing slowly making sure that Robin got a good long look at anything she wanted before turning to face her then pushing herself between her knees. “I need to take a shower anyway…” She pulled her shirt up over her head and tossed it aside. Her small round breasts seemingly defied gravity pushing themselves forward serving, if nothing else, to pry Robin’s eyes from her hairless cleft. 

“Give me a kiss”, Olive breathed leaning closer.

“No. Come on…You’re naked.”

“I’m getting ready to take a shower!” she protested but there was a glint in her eye that Robin saw and Olive knew that she saw.

“You’re still playing with me.”

“You hating it?”

“Not hating it.”

“Then give me a kiss.”

Afterward, Robin descended the stairs carefully like a much older person, leaning on the railing for support. Todd looked up when she entered the bar. There were a couple of customers that hadn’t been there when she went up.

“Finally! I was going to send for help. You OK?”

“I’m fine.”

“Olive?”

“Fine”, she said heading toward the door. “You?”

“Fuck, I’m good”, he answered. “Another Stray day. Hey! What’s so funny?”

She took her laughter with her into the sun washed afternoon.

The Springhouse

It was an old springhouse on a farm long forgotten, set into the center of what had been a foundation wall, now a roost for lichen, ferns and whatever slippery plant could gain purchase along the cool damp stone where the sun rarely touched. But she did, running her hands along the rough face as she slipped through the opening into the musky dim, rusted nubs of hinges the only hint of the thick doors which once hung there. 

Inside, the cistern was empty as it had been the first time she’d visited save for the skittering daddy long-legs that enjoyed whatever moisture she couldn’t see. She remembered the feel of the low stone shelf which, with no cheese, cream or jugs to store, could serve as a crude bench. As it had.

They were young then and spry. It had taken no more than a single shared glance to melt the clothes from her body which glowed like a pearl in the stoney dusk. A momentary gentle man, he took the rough seat and had her mount facing him which she did easily being constantly dewy in her memory. She was first, mewling, keening and scraping her toes against the stone feeling gooseflesh wash across her back as mouth over mouth he stole her breath.  

Then, sated and spent, but still feeling his pulsing strength inside her she allowed him to bend her over the cistern where he took her hard, pushing into the place she dreaded. But she took it, knowing it would take but a few minutes then be over and their lives would continue. But for that lesson, learned by every woman since the dawn of time, the species would have mercifully flickered out eons ago. 

What kind of idiot was he?

He was the kind of idiot who bought the “European Berets for $20” advertised in the glossy magazine because “one size fits all”, never accepting that nothing fit his oversized dome. He’d stubbornly wear it for days, laying atop his head like a cow pie. “See”, he’d say, “It fits fine.”

She’d smile and put up with it for as long as it took to find it sitting alone on the bench in the mudroom like a discarded black flapjack. Over the course of an hour, she cut it into small pieces, some of which she flushed, some of which she buried out beyond the fence, marking the spot with a mossy flat stone, and some she burned in the fire pit. 

“No, hon”, she would answer when asked. “I haven’t seen it.”  And he’d believe her.

Sometimes talking gives me a headache.

“We’re livin’ in some nasty times”, James said at the end of what had become a long conversation. I had run into him back in the woods where he had come up the draw to my right. Made sense, he lived out that way. We both thought we were squirrel hunting but turns out we were just walking in the woods. And it was a good day for that, even encumbered by the shotgun that got heavier every step of the way. Times being what they were, we hadn’t seen each other for quite awhile (Fact I hadn’t recognized him till I was on top of him), so I didn’t mind too much when he fell into step after a short greeting and said that he might as well walk along with me. It wasn’t a bad conversation as long as we steered clear from the obvious topics, religion, politics and his ex-wife. And his current wife who my brother had dated years ago. And drinking, since he’d stopped, and his boy who’d got hooked on pills after a boating accident and was living “across the tracks” as they said, but his girl was an ok subject. Truthfully, it  was such a stressor just trying to remember what I could talk to old James about that I was relieved when he chose to double back about twenty minutes later to hunt the crest. “Nasty times…” he said he said in parting. Weren’t they all….

Shitbird

“Yummy!” was the first thing that came to mind. He didn’t say it except maybe under his breath, but it was there, frontmost in his head. Then he was embarrassed. 

She was younger than he was-as was everyone it seemed-but way younger. Not as young as his daughter gratefully, but young. And well put together. A girl in a woman’s body.

She had come to him after the reading and asked about the mystical reverence that the Appalachian peoples, predominantly Cherokee she thought, had for turtles. He was a turtle guy and could happily spend an evening in that conversation, plus she was wearing a washed out university v-neck that put up a valiant struggle but was ultimately no match for her cleavage. 

Others came and went, he signed some books, stood for pictures and as the lights dimmed, she remained. It wasn’t until she was helping him gather his stuff that he allowed that she was interested in more than turtles and Cherokees. They went to a bar she knew and sat in the back. He bummed a smoke and wished he could draw to capture the way her lips pursed as she inhaled then popped perfect smoke rings into the air between them. Ultimately it was to his hotel room since she had roommates. 

Not until morning, when the rising sun washed through the gauzy curtains and ignited a bright blaze of reflection across the downy blonde fur on her bottom, presented to him as she faced away snoring lightly, top leg slightly bent, offering herself in a dream, and he thought, “Yummy!” did he feel the least bit embarrassed. 

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas”, he thought, looking away from her bum, but Eliot had beaten him to it. Instead he remembered his Grammy Nubs calling him a “shitbird” when he did something she considered off in any way. 

He slipped out of bed and pulled a sheet up covering her, grabbed her cigarettes and headed for the balcony.