Complicated

Continued from “Hit me!”

Now, two weeks later she was in his kitchen-and it was his when he was here alone who else’s would it be-turning her back to him and asking again for something that shouldn’t have been his to give.

“Really? Work this out with your husband.”

She turned back to face him fully. “No. There are some things I’ll never work out with Ben. Ever!” She seemed to choke and made a sound-a tsk or tiff-it was hard to tell with the mask, but was clear when she said, “This I need to work out with you.” 

Well, you made your choice, is what he said in his head. It was a phrase that was quite popular between them for awhile back then. He’d say it, he’d yell it, she’d cry about making a mistake, then he’d cry about…and that was how it had gone on, and on before they settled into this uneasy truce that gave each of them something which actually turned out to be nothing. He bit his tongue not wanting to revisit and rehash things that had been said before. This was different and he felt it. Like he was standing in a river and the current was too strong. He stepped forward into the circle of heat that radiated from her. 

“I’ve known you a long time…I know what you went through at home. With your mother…”

“Don’t!”, she said. “This is different. This is my choice. My…want…” The words were failing her and, thinking to clarify, she tore her mask off. But he knew. The mask wasn’t covering her eyes and they told the story of her need. 

He also doffed his mask and tossed it onto the counter. “Shit”, he thought, “I might not survive the morning anyway…” He stepped closer and spoke slowly and quietly. 

“Do you know how hard it is for me to work here and keep my hands off of you?” She looked away. “Look at what you’re wearing! And don’t stop on my account. But Jesus, Dar.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I work through it. But you are asking for a helluva lot right now.” 

“I know. I’m sorry”, she repeated robotically. “But do you know how hard it is to really, really need something that you can’t get your hands on, that’s just out of reach. And the one person, the one single person…” he braced himself thinking from her voice that she was going to hit him, “…that maybe knew what you needed-could give you what you needed-was too thick to…”

He pressed his finger against her lips hard enough to silence her. “Not thick, Darla. I know what you’re doing. I know what you want. I. Know. You. You do not stop. This is not a one-off. And this will complicate things…”

“Things are already complicated”, she pouted. “They’ve always been complicated for me…” She sounded deflated, defeated, forlornly clutching the spoon like a kid not willing to give up a toy. She had put it out there and it had fallen flat to the floor. She was breathlessly wondering how she was going to get through the day when she felt his fingers against her belly. She gasped as they slid down her pants and grabbed her belt. He pulled firmly as she allowed herself to be inexorably drawn into his shadow then melted into him everywhere their bodies touched. 

She felt his breath on her shoulder as he loomed, then gasped again when his hands opened her belt and unsnapped her shorts. “I’ve already swatted your jeans”, he growled sliding his hands inside her pants and pushing them down as he slid his palms over her hips and panty-clad bottom. He gently nibbled the bottom of her neck as he slipped his thumbs into the waistband of her panties and pushed them down as well, cupping her bottom cheeks as they fluttered to the floor. 

Suddenly, not content with fondling, he slipped all eight fingers into her crease and pulled, opening her roughly in a way that he didn’t think he could. Then he kneaded her backside until she choked out a small whimper. All pretense of being able to hold back-to deny what he had been feeling-to curb the welling lust within him was gone. His “rule” that he’d used before to fend her off, that he didn’t get involved with married women, had apparently been revoked. 

He raised one hand to her chin and lifted her face to peek once into her full and glowing eyes looking for something, anything, to give him pause. There was nothing. One kiss-soft and gentle-then, with both hands, he turned her and pushed on her shoulders, bending her over the stainless steel table. He kept pressing until she flattened pushing her bare bottom back into his hips. He leaned into her reaching for the spoon which she still held then he stood back to admire the view he’d only seen a few times and not for almost a decade. 

The way she dressed left few secrets but seeing her full bottom, bare and thus offered caused his breath to catch and, not surprisingly, his cock to stir. He put the spoon on the counter and pressed the small of her back with his left and cupped her backside, one cheek, then the other.  

When he pulled his hand away Darla flinched in anticipation and jumped when he touched her. When he finally delivered a tentative smack, she gasped then froze. Waiting. She didn’t have to wait long. Again and again he slapped her bottom as she mewled and undulated like a cobra to the charmer’s pipe. He spanked thoroughly, leaving no spot on her bottom untouched until he could feel the warmth of her skin when his hand lingered. 

She heard the small “snick” when he picked the wooden spoon off the counter and tightened her grip on the sides of the table. She hadn’t been hit with anything in years and her mind whirled as she tried to imagine what it was going to feel like. She wanted it, she wasn’t afraid of it, she trusted Jimmy…but she still-!*!

“YOW!” she yelped as the first swat landed on her right cheek short circuiting all attempts at thought. Then another landed on the opposite cheek. “OWW!” Jimmy rubbed the spoon along her bottom before delivering a third whack which bloomed into a third red egg dappling her all over pink bottom. She gasped and involuntarily kicked back when another blow stung her deeply where her left cheek met her leg. “GAHHH!”

“Too hard?” he asked.

“No!” she said, fairly panting, wishing for a moment that she had said yes and not knowing why she hadn’t. Then no, again. Not too hard. Then she felt his hand, Jimmy’s hand, on her bottom rubbing and kneading the aching flesh. Darla scooped her back and wantonly leaned her ass into his touch wanting more. More of the touch, more of the pain, more…Just freaking more! “Come on Jimmy”, she said. “More…”

He stepped closer and let fly again and again, standing out of the way as she kicked and bucked with every blow. After fifteen or sixteen swats she had passed through the place where she needed to wriggle, to dance, or to jump and kick in answer to her punishment. She released her grip on the table and stood upright, fingers tightly entwined behind her neck. Her whimpers offered a constant song of release as her tightly clenched red bottom ricocheted every swat backward. 

He would have long stopped had he not clearly seen how much she wanted this. How much she needed this. As he bent to deliver blow after blow, he wondered if he needed it too? As she continued to offer her bottom it occurred that he was giving her what she wanted, but she was giving him herself, in a way she hadn’t given herself to anyone before. 

As with many things in his life, the decision to stop her paddling was made by his cock, so engorged he feared for its, and his, safety. He tossed the spoon to the counter with a clatter. “Look at me”, he said huskily, turning her by the shoulders. Her tear streaked face-a kaleidoscope of pain, lust, and a sparkle of joy-pushed him over the edge. 

He tore at his own jeans as she attacked his mouth with her own. Her hands fumbled atop his in the struggle to get his pants down. Once unleashed, his cock jabbed forward like a lance punching Darla in the belly. Jimmy dropped his arms around her hot bottom and lifted her onto the steel table.

“Ooooh! Shit!”, Darla cried slipping up on one cheek then the other, her tortured skin sticking to the cold metal. “Hurts-hurts-hurts-hurts…” He reached for a dish towel as she hugged his neck lifting herself. He slipped the towel under her. “Man…”, she breathed, wincing. 

He pulled her roughly to the edge. His entry was quick and complete, buried to the hilt in a single, sopping thrust. Darla moaned loudly and lifted herself on his neck again, tearing at his face with her mouth in wild abandon, freeing every pent up desire and emotion from the last ten years. Jimmy pushed her back down and locked his arms around her holding on as best he could while they each matched the other’s pounding and thrusting until the slapping of their middles and the painful banging of her butt on the table filled the room.

“I’m…coming…”, she gasped. “I’m…going to…”

“Do it!” Jimmy bit. He was holding off as best he could but his resolve, unlike his staff, was wilting. He slipped his hands under her and lifted as she locked her legs around him. “Come!” he said. “Come for me…”

Her legs gripped him tightly as she hissed through clenched teeth until, unable to hold back, exploded with a coughing bark then “AAAHHHHH!” as she futilly tried to pull him deeper inside. He held her tighter than he’d held anyone as, in a final thrust, he released what felt to be a flood deep into his first and only love. “Oh my fucking…god…” was all he could say. 

They held as they were, him standing, arms squeezing and her sitting, legs wrapped tightly around his middle holding his pulsing cock inside for as long as she could. Then, resuming regular breathing, she released her legs and he allowed her to collapse backward onto the table, her outstretched arms knocking a stack of metal serving trays to the floor with a loud crash. He laughed lightly and withdrew in full, painting a little drizzle along the inside of her thighs and onto the towel below her. 

He bent and smiled into her face. “We are noisy fuckers…”

She grinned, squeezing more tears out of her eyes-not of pain this time, not even of release, but of relief. Of happiness.

“That’s it you know”, he said.

“Mmmm…?”

“I’m never giving you up again.” To make sure he wasn’t misunderstood, he repeated, “I’m never giving you up again.”

“I know.”

He lowered his face closer to hers but neither went for the kiss. Instead he looked deeply into her eyes.

“I love you”,  she said. He let his hand slide down her hip where he could still feel the heat radiating there.

“And your butt?”

Her wicked smile slashed her face like a watermelon slice. “My butt really loves you…”

He kissed her softly but quickly. “Come on”, he said, pulling away. “We have to clean up before your husband gets here.”

“He’s not coming…”

“What do you mean?”

“I might have told a teeny tiny lie. I told him more than I said…”

“So he’s not coming.”

“It’s you and me, babe”. She said. “Are you ready for me full time?”

He squinted down at her. “I think I just got played.”

“Not the first time, won’t be the last.”

He pulled up his pants feeling lighter, maybe even a little taller. He tossed her another towel which she caught still laying on her back. 

“Well, you gotta move. If it’s just the two of us, we have our hands full. Wipe down that table first…”

“I’ll clean the fuck off of it”, she laughed looking at the ceiling.

Jimmy, smiling to himself, turned up the heat under the pots. He was suddenly happy to try “complicated” for a while.

The Sweet Spot

People who know about fishing but have never actually fished, except for maybe dipping a worm into a pay lake as a kid, think all fishing is the same. It is not. This fishing, that he was doing now, for trout in the mountains, is different from the kind of fishing he’d learned as a boy. Then, he and his father fished down-country rivers and lakes for bass mostly. Sometimes pike. The waters were wide and deep, unreadable to those who did not spend time out there as they had. The man and his son. Both of them named Frank, so he was Junior, which he hated.

They would rise before light and settle into the boat, he in the front, the old man in the back manning the outboard. The ride could be long or it might just be up to the bend in the river to what Big Frank had judged to be the best weed bed, gravel bar or drop off for that morning. As fishermen they were always looking for the best spot. He was right more often than not and big fish would rise to poppers as the sun broke the horizon then, later, dive for rubber worms as it burned overhead. As a boy he had learned from his old man how to lose himself in fishing. How to let it consume him so that there was nothing else for the time he was on the water.

Here, on the streams in the mountains, where Frank had fished since his war, it did no good to get there before the sun. The stream, deep in the cut valley, needed sunshine, especially in April, to awaken the mayflies and begin the hatches which in turn awakened the trout. He’d  seen them in this pool yesterday when he and Bill had scouted the stream. That’s what made the stream different from the rivers or lakes. Here he was stalking fish that he could see, not intuiting where they might be. 

And he saw them. The fish hadn’t been actively feeding when they saw them, just twitching in the current, moving a length this way or that, nosing upstream into the current but rising to nothing.  Apart from the big brown that rolled flashing his speckled side, he couldn’t name them all. But that was fine. This was a sweet spot. An uncommon sweet spot.“You fish this one, Kid”, Bill had said, ceding it to him. 

He appreciated the courtesy but knew that Bill had a bad knee from a fall out west over the winter and one walk up this mountain would be enough for him this weekend. He’d fish the flat water within easy reach of the truck.

Bill could fish where he wanted. Bill could do what he wanted. And if he wanted to call a grown man “Kid” he could do that too. Bill owned the mountain, or the thousand and some odd acres worth owning. A spot beyond compare. Mostly standing pine and hardwoods, nestling two excellent trout streams. One was fed by a small lake over the top of the mountain that Bill owned and a smaller bouncier stream that was fed by springs that he probably owned too. 

Bill got the land and all else through his father and uncle who had left this world suddenly, rich from rapaciously logging and mining anything they could lay claim to. Which was, as they said around here, a shit ton. Truth was, had they lived, this mountain would not have. Bill often said that at night he could hear them raging at him from hell, damning him for turning such a rich resource acquired for ruination and enrichment into a personal playground. He usually ended that part of the tale by raising whatever glass he was drinking from at the time and saying, “Fugg ‘em.”

Bill’s a good guy. Has his quirks, sure. Who doesn’t? Over the last few years, Frank had convinced himself that even if the forebears, that’s how Bill referred to them,  had lived they wouldn’t have been able to pull Bill into their life where money meant everything. That class of people always overreached, thinking that money could buy wisdom, insight or youth. Power though, was something different. Everyone had power, the secret is convincing someone to relinquish theirs. Everything came with a price. A tariff, Bill had called it. 

Frank had come out of a thick stand of mountain laurel to approach the stream across the thin gravel strip. Sunlight was crawling down the opposite ridge as he tied on a Blue Wing Olive and tried to cast to a riffle downstream from a rock where he knew a fish would be holding. As was typical of his first casts, he missed badly coming up short, but the fly no sooner hit the water than it was engulfed by a small splash and the line snapped straight.

“Damn!” he said, setting the hook which the fish had already done a good job of. It wasn’t a big fish, but it was a frantic one. A pink flash on the jump showed it to be a rainbow. He brought it in quickly, not wanting to tire it too badly, and pinned it against his leg with his free hand. Then, keeping it safely in the water, he grabbed the shank of the hook and twisted it out of the fish’s jaw. The trout hung there suspended in the current for a moment flaring its gills. Then, with a flick of its tail, it was off into the current and gone. Frank smiled that he botched his first cast and still landed a trout. Would be one of those days.

He worked upstream slowly, moving to keep his legs warm inside his waders. Most casts seemed to raise fish-if not to be caught, to be missed. That was fine. He was only going to keep a few for dinner so there was no pressure to catch every fish. That was never the point. As the sun crested, and the hatch changed, he switched flies. Then when he reached a shady hole where he knew some big fish would be stacked along the bottom he went with the beaded woolly bugger-something that would go deep. His actions were rhythmic and thoughtless until they weren’t. 

His mind wandered, it always did when the fishing was good, to the mornings with his old man. They were not all good, he knew. Sometimes they went out and his father was still drunk from the night before. Sometimes he carried a bottle. Sometimes the boat would arc in a long circle before he turned to see the old man sleeping against the tiller, cigarette hanging from his limp lips. He knew there were those mornings. But on days like this, when the trout were rising and the creel was filling, he remembered every morning as spectacular with great leaping fish and his father young and strong before whiskey, cigarettes and the world ground him. 

He had met Bill in a stateside airport bar, awaiting the flight for his last leg on his final home trip from Kandahar. He had signed with the Army less than two weeks after putting the old man in the ground and signing everything over to the banks who had been dogging his father during his last, failing years. 

The man in the bar had a rod case leaning against his seat and Frank asked about it. He had ditched his uniform, his boots and everything that connected him with the previous four years. At that moment, in the bar, he wanted nothing more than to talk fishing. And talk was something that the big man knew how to do. Frank took most of it as bullshit, of course. Who in their thirties owns a mountain and was building a paradise for himself?

When he left to catch his flight, Bill called Frank’s phone so he’d have his number and told him to feel free to visit him on his mountain. What a character, Frank thought as he called for another beer. Then his phone buzzed with a text from the big guy with the coordinates to his place. “Come up if you want to learn trout fishing”, read the text. 

Three weeks later, with nothing to do and nowhere to be, he stepped out of his truck in front of Bill’s private lodge on his very own mountain. When he got there that first time, the place still smelled of sawdust and he parked next to the carpenter’s trucks. They were putting the finishing touches on the back of the house and his first tour of the property wound around ladders and chop saws. It was magnificent, he had to agree. “This will be your room”, he motioned into a room larger than his whole apartment. At least he thought it was big, until Bill showed him his own. 

That night, long after the workers had packed up, Bill grilled steaks and they sat beside a snapping fire in the pit and watched a darkness as deep and any he’d seen overseas settle over the mountain. It was then, over bourbons, that Bill laid out the tariff that he would impose for complete access to the mountain and all that was on it.  Frank paused of course. Who wouldn’t? It was a perfect spot though,  and if the fishing were anything near what Bill said it was, it could be worth it. It would be worth it.  Again, having nothing to do and nowhere to be, he agreed. Even with all of everything, Frank never regretted running into the man in that bar.

The shower was better than fine. The water was cold and prickly and he let it spatter the back of his neck until it hurt. The smell of the soap made him want to eat it, and the towels were thick and soft enough to pass as blankets. He’d never felt towels like these off of this mountain. 

He stepped out of the bathroom and into his room. They were all like this: seven bedrooms, seven adjoining bathrooms. He crossed to the sliding glass door and slipped out onto the deck overlooking the valley. The stored heat of the sun radiated from the thick pine boards. He closed his eyes to the falling sun and savored the afternoon breeze caressing his body as he leaned forward, liking the railing’s warm wood against his bare skin. 

The first time he’d stood on this spot he’d flashed back to the firebase in Afghanistan. Like this, it was on a mountain with a view of the valley below but over there, the view was a narrow one with cliffs on both sides funneling vision down to the crossroad and the town beside it. It was brown, it was gray, it was dusty. Then it was gone. That was it. That one thought. A blip. That one memory. It wasn’t a particularly bad one-not ominous in any way and it never happened again. Being up here had cleansed him of those years, he was sure of it. That one obligatory memory had to pop out like some kind of boogeyman to let him know it wasn’t far away if he let his guard down. But he wouldn’t. He was in a good spot. 

He flopped on the bed without dressing. What would be the point? The books on the bedside table were all about fishing and he picked up one he remembered, opening it at random. He read easily, skimming the words one at a time but failing to find any coherent structure. It was as if the words were children’s blocks cast carelessly onto the floor. He tried again from the top. It wasn’t working and the more he tried to concentrate the more his mind scattered. He recognized the feeling even if he wouldn’t name it. He should have taken the drink when offered, but there will be time for that later. 

Facing as he was, he could see the door swing open even with his nose in the book. The man stepped in wearing only one of those plush towels wrapped around his waist. He was carrying a thick rocks glass of bourbon with a single large cube. The way he was holding it, the brown of the liquor contrasted with his white middle. 

“And there you are”, the man said.

“And here I am.”

The man set the drink on the bedside table and Frank rolled onto his stomach facing away. He didn’t have to see it. The first time the man had dropped the towel, on his first visit, he’d seen it. The first time he made the mistake of looking. Didn’t have to again. It would prod him, poke him, spread him and fill him. He didn’t have to see it. He heard the drawer open, where the lotions and rubbers were. He hadn’t looked in there either.  He knew what was in there. 

“You OK?” the man asked.

“Oh sure. I’m fine.”

“Good, good…”

The bed moved as the man maneuvered himself between Frank’s legs. “Those fish are perfect,” he said. “Stuffed  them with thyme and lemons. They’ll grill beautifully.”

“They are perfect”, Frank agreed as he heard the packet tear.

The man’s hands were on him then, pulling and positioning, touching as he liked to. His skin felt cauterized. He could feel the hands rubbing and moving, but not the touch. Even when the fingers moved lower and inside, the feeling was dulled. Then he felt the cool of the oil right there and hissed a breath. 

Then there was the stillness. Then the roll of the bed as the man loomed and covered him. Then the pressure at his bottom. Slow and burning at first but inexorable. He winced as the weight of the man settled on him and squeezed fistfuls of blankets. His mouth opened silently as he was penetrated. 

It had occurred to him before, that this is something, for comfort’s sake, that one should do more often or not at all. But it was such a sweet spot up here he didn’t want to bring it up.  

Of Dogs and Bones

A winking bit of flash under the dead leaves that still littered the walking path through the old cemetery caught Aleson’s eye. She stepped off the trail, kicked at the leaves, her toe daintily avoiding a small pile of deer pellets, and bent over to pick up the gum wrapper. “People”, she huffed, slipping it into her pocket. 

Straightening, she noticed a new deep pink headstone standing out from all the dull weathered gray ones just before the hillock. She didn’t remember ever seeing it before. She ventured further from the path and carefully made her way closer to read the inscription. It was for Larry Jollie, apparently a local man, who back in the 50’s spent four years in the Air Force and enjoyed it so much that, according to the stone, he was interred at Jefferson Barracks Military Cemetery in St. Louis.

Huh, she thought. That seemed somehow inappropriate; taking up two plots in two separate cemeteries for what was probably by now a box of bones. Unless he’d been cremated which would have made it worse. Probably not though-back then they wouldn’t have. Not as readily as now anyway. Seems she can’t hardly go into someone’s apartment for a visit or a cup of coffee these days without being joined by an urn or a box on a shelf or some other place of prominence. She paced off the space of the plot feeling less queasy about marching around on top of a hole that wasn’t and held nothing. It was the same size of the others, which bothered her even more. 

She remembered her Granny Akers saying that when she went, they should “shove a bone up my ass and let the dogs drag me away.” Aleson had been six or seven when she first heard that and wondered how such a thing might work. Her neighbor at the time, Dottie was her name, had a dog. A big romping mutt named Randy that would run into the woods after balls that they threw. They could never throw them far enough for the dog to lose. She wondered if he could drag her Granny away by the ass bone. But then, would he drag her back like a game? The things kids thought!

It didn’t work out that way for Granny though. She was over in Hayes Memorial Park with a handsome if flat plaque-no upright stones in Hayes-laying next to her husband, Pap Akers. His plaque mentions that they had been together for 59 years which was true if you didn’t count the seven years they weren’t and he lived with Phyluria over in Mon City. 

After her dalliance with Pap, Phyluria took up with Old Man Watson who lived on the edge of town and kept a pack of beagles that had fascinated her as a child. All kept in cages along with cages of rabbits! He had a fenced area in the back of his property that looked like an old field with bushes and such. He would release the rabbits into that fake field then train the dogs in the art of finding them rabbits. Which, looking back, Aleson thought was pretty simple. Didn’t beagles do that naturally? He must have been good at it though because the one time she’d been in their trailer she took note of all the ribbons and trophies lining the shelves he had probably built there just to hold them. 

Phy beat them all into the dirt having gotten real sick with cancer and dementia, to the point that her husband took pity and shot her with his hunting rifle, which he then turned on himself. Which would have been fine but somewhere in there he’d shot his dog too. Which everybody damned him for. Phyluria, sure, bless her. Himself, definitely. But not the dog! “People”, she huffed. 

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 grimy 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.

The Stray

Olive didn’t wear a mask which was fine with Clay because she was uncommonly pretty for a woman in The Stray. Woman, hell, she was more a girl, and decidedly misnamed, pale to the point of luminescence, with only one chipped tooth in a bright smile that held up freckles, a button nose with only the hint of a bump and eyes the color of a summer sky. Her alabaster skin glowed brighter, accented by the dark T-shirts she always wore-even on the coldest of days which this one certainly was. “I run hot”, she’d say. 

The short sleeves did nothing to hide the scars on her wrists and the wispy gossamer of old track marks up and down her arms that probably explained, at least in large part, what she was doing astride a stool at Strays, which everyone called the place, on a snowy Saturday evening. No longer a death wish and clean, if not dry, she felt comfortable among “her people” whatever the fuck that meant. 

She pushed her empty glass just enough so Robin would see it and refill. Again, playing against type, she drank thick stouts and porters exclusively which everyone figured was a good thing since she barely ate. “Gotta pee”, she chirped and hopped off the stool and headed toward the back. She left her cigarettes so she would be back. Olive lived in a couple of rooms above the bar and was known to slip away from time to time.

Robin pulled a beer from the tap and placed it in front of the empty stool, glancing at Clay’s Manhattan. It was his third and now that he was settled with a soft glow in his cheeks and the glint in his eye dulled, they would go down slower. She was thick and rangy wearing seasonal flannel over a dark camisole. Not a beauty, she had an androgynous look that some women would call handsome and kept her thick brown hair in a ducktail that would have shamed Elvis. She followed his gaze out the window where a snow squall had wrapped the world in a dirty gray blanket. “Hey”, she patted his hand to draw his attention from outside. “You going back to work next week?”

He was. She prodded for more. Sometimes, when they were alone or it was slow, she’d get him talking about work. She didn’t understand most of what he did, but it stopped him from thinking. Tonight his mind was clearly elsewhere so all she knew was he’d have a day in the office, then downstate for a day or two tops, on the new install. “Book my reservation for right here next Friday happy hour,” he said, tipping his glass. 

“Done”, she said. “Anything else I can do for you?”

“You mean liking bending me over a chair and having your way with me?”

She gave him the tight smile reserved for friends who keep repeating a joke that had long ceased being funny. “Well”, she said, “Seeing I don’t get off till ten and I don’t think Sweet Martini Olive”, she nodded toward the girl coming back from the bathroom, “will wait that long,” she pinched the back of his hand before sliding away. “I’ll make a note of it though.”

From her spot leaning against the back bar, she could see that the squall had subsided and fretted that Olive wasn’t distracting him. She knew he could see now, not only the bridge but the exact spot at the railing where his wife Merin, was last alive. Thing was, she was a decent swimmer and the bridge isn’t all that high. His fantasy was that she would have survived the jump, the water would have revived her-snapped her out of what he couldn’t-and she would have swum over to the marina and come home to him, wet but renewed. 

But she hadn’t seen the line of empty coal barges coming upstream from behind her. You’d think she would have heard the tow boat, but their sound is more of a powerful low thrum than the whine of an outboard. The lead barge poked out from under the bridge just as she leapt. He imagined her hitting with a loud metallic clang like the cartoon sound effect when the mouse hit the cat over the head with a skillet. Sad truth was, nobody had seen or heard a thing and her body wasn’t discovered until the barges settled into dock in Weirton days later. 

“You wanna go upstairs?” Olive asked quietly not looking at him but at her half empty glass. Wouldn’t be his first trip, counting her ribs or tracing the outlines of her hip joints on her tumescent skin. Or maybe she’d stay dressed and just take care of him. Whichever. He left two twenties on the bar-twice what he owed-and they headed for the back steps. 

Robin did not turn around but watched them leave in the mirror behind the bar. 

Kinda continued in Another Stray Day