Even in the dimness, her outline was easy to discern crawling out from under the bed. The long cut of the luminescent dress created an ungovernable bundle, while the bodice was left unzipped. She straddled him with a brush of sooty thighs, letting the folds of tulle and satin unfurl in a puff; a pungent sweetness wafted off her body. He did not delay but reached under the liner to rub the cinders deeper into her skin, like vine charcoal into vellum.
Her hip crests worked were like latches, releasing her upper body as a swinging hinge. The melding lines of her dark face fanned in all directions, even as they converged on his eye in a fountain of thick, gummy lashes. Dewy kisses dabbled his chest. “Do you think I’m pretty?” she inquired with unanticipated girlishness.
Her eyelids were sewn shut in a swoon—in a mask; yet he felt design coursing through her dawdling head. “Yes,” he answered.
More words trickled over his side, following the path of either a scalpel or plucked petals. “As pretty as her?”
“Prettier,” he droned, shoving down the bodice.
The soapy scent on his lover’s skin was at first alkaline on his tongue, and then milky like lactose sugar. It was the attraction of a minute, a minute’s work, and then a minute to separate the corselette.
Erica let him nibble on her jawbone. An engorged vein in her neck throbbed against his bottom lip, ready to pour its heart’s blood into his throat. “Will you paint me?” she cooed.
His serrated breaths plumbed to find her sternum—some hard place for incisors to meet resistance.
Reacting, her arms stiffened as levers, allowing her to tilt into his abandon. “Will you?” she pleaded.
The girl surely felt his heart thundering up through her palms and wrists, and then into those pudgy, double-jointed arms. He glimpsed her content face atop his ladder of flesh, yet did not mind her seeing his desire.
“But will you paint me, my sweet boy?”
The faint grotesqueness perceived earlier in her body was absent in the clutch. Under his fingertips and teeth, under the distorted lens of his hungry eye, she was too teased-out to be the same object. Somewhere amid her disinclined bones and overly yielding edges, the particular gave way to the universal, leaving him to grapple with a cruel puzzle. She might have been any woman in the dark; and for him, seduced by his own mask of anonymity, she was every woman he ever wanted.
“Well…?” she insisted.
“Yes,” he moaned. “I will paint you.”
Erica rudely broke away and slid down to his knocking knees. Slathered like a teething ring, she asked calmly, “Condom…? I didn’t see any in the medicine cabinet.”
He floundered for air. “I must have you!”
“This is love, then?” she inquired through sultrier veils.
Every muscle and sinew in his body was torqued to crack bone; the silky parchment of last minute paperwork funneled into his ears without complaint. He was emphatic. “I love you!”
“Say the words,” she implored in a cooler tone. “Tell me what’s in your heart.”
Aloysius felt himself falling through a hangman’s door, and into an altogether darker reason. He catapulted off the bed to arrest his descent, clasping Erica by her elbows and spinning her onto her back in a seamless move of binding wills.
“Say it!” she whimpered.
Pushing her down into her crackling finery, his lover’s head was abruptly under the hoisted gown and banging erratically against the headboard. Aloysius felt the deception already unraveling as he galloped after it. He endeavored to concentrate the girl like acid under him—endeavored to dissolve his body into hers and, with it, irretrievably, his omnipresent mind.
Erica groaned and croaked under the crimped tent, but her cloaked pantomime was quickly out of step with the words.
“I— kn-w— y-u- l—ve- m— tho-gh it -s –n-t— e—sy - f—r - y—u - t- s—y…” said the blinking answer machine.
A flashlight beam intruded, splintering around the doorjamb and throwing marbleized swirls of tulle, like wisps of smoke, to the four corners of the room. The knock to the door sympathetically resonated with the slamming headboard. “Hello…?” cried another voice—a man’s voice.
“B—t - y—u h-ve – g-ven — m— th- - ch-ld — - wh-ch— n- one c—n — t—ke aw—y…” answered the machine.
“Hello in there...?” came the cry again.
The modulated voice was last to trail off over stretched tape inside the analog recorder. “Aaaallllllooooooooooooooooo!”
Erica’s bellow overmatched it, and in dissolving every wall and barrier, also dissolved the summoner at the door.
What remained intact of Aloysius’ body was extricated from the pouf liner; he sat up with a wobble. His brain still connected to the end of his spine, but like so much dead weight that refused to be shaken off in the pitch of battle. The battered organ rapidly retraced neural pathways and reabsorbed its script, albeit with a touch of surreality.
The answering machine’s playback was swtiched off, as whatever sentiment was magnetized and straitened in the billet-doux was that much closer to reverting to an elemental state of iron oxide and polymer.
“Shit!” his lover exclaimed, pushing the dress over her bare legs. “I need a cigarette.”
The soft edge of his pleasure turned brittle.
Erica stroked his perspiring back, feeling his skin clinch under the unctuous caress. A sticky wad of chewing gum was pulled from the headboard and plopped back into her mouth. “I wish I had a cigarette,” she again lamented.
His words were cropped close. “Someone was pounding on the door.”
“Didn’t you hear him?”
“No!” Erica yelped. “I hope it wasn’t my boss!” Her moist fingers scampered down his forearm to point. “The suitcase! On the bureau!”
Aloysius was rubbery on his legs. He opened the lid of the case to pull out Erica’s jumble of under-things.
Wasting little time, the girl dropped to her feet with a slap and wiggled out of the gown; the iridescence fell away with a shimmy. “Quickly!” she barked, moving around to his side of the bed with more directions. “No time for panties.”
Aloysius directed the lacy straps of her bra over her extended arms. They skittered easily over stiffened follicles, though negotiations were required to latch her into her double D-cups.The snap of the fastener punctuated her imperative. “Hurry!”
Pantyhose were unfurled. A knot of nylon was rustled up one sweaty leg and then the other. The crotch was wrong side out, but such details mattered more to him than to her. Another white frock was opened at her feet; the curvaceous girl raised a toe to squeeze into it. Gum smacked in his ear with the last arduous inch of zipper. “Shoes,” she demanded.
The nude man sank to the cold floor to aid in the finishing touches, listening to her briskly brush her hair. He looked up disapprovingly on seeing sparks fly off the damaged ends. “You need a better conditioner,” he complained.
Her bemused expression most resembled a frown. She reached over to unplug the phone machine.
“By the plug!” he snapped at her. “Don’t yank it by the cord!” The curator stepped between the oafish girl and the relic, taking care to wind the cord around the machine before gently packing it away in the suitcase.
“Who is she?” she plumbed. “The woman in the message?”
Aloysius set about poking the dark floor for his socks. “You know the story.”
“You met this ‘therapist,’ who was the illegitimate daughter of some unobtainable girl you knew in grade school. She looked just like her mother.”
A nod was spared to confirm these bare facts.
“But she was not your child?”
“Then who is your child?”
He paused in his search, but gave no reply.
Erica snatched the wedding dress off the floor with greater care, venturing sarcastically, “It should be a Lifetime movie of the week.” She was about to shove the dress into the case, but instead lifted the antiquated contraption out of it. Its bottom was tilted toward her lover; and if there was not enough light to read the attached label, she already knew what it said. “Two dollars,” she proclaimed mutedly. “All of two dollars… The story of a man who spends all his time in thrift stores. He buys a crappy old answering machine and—low and behold—it works. And more than that—it has a message left on the tape from the previous owner. Bewitched by a woman’s voice, he builds a story around her, even buys one or two old dresses from the same thrift store to flesh out her story.”
He interrupted, “I had the tape. I had to shop around to find a machine in which it would fit and play.”
The item was packed away with another dig. “She’s like one of those smiling photographs you find in a new wallet. She came with the machine.”
He sighed, inaudibly.
Her smile was complicated. “I don’t care, Aloysius. I just wish you would ask me my dress size before you purchase someone else’s clothes.”
His tone was plaintive—despairing. “I think about you all the time.”
“You think about me when the lights are out.”
The whirling girl at last moved to unblock the door; no one stood on the rainy landing. Less anxious, she turned back to see him still nude on the bed; his expression was one of a rebounding libido. The sight of her shapely bottom in the skirt reestablished a little distance.
She came back to the bedside, with three-quarters of the smile she gave him before. Her nose scuffed his in a prelude to a salacious kiss, leaving his mouth stinging with red-hot Dentyne gum. He pawed at her in his judicious passive/aggressive way, and unhooked a button at her neck; a morsel of encouragement was plucked out. She studied his study, as she was always a third person in the room, but was soon tucking herself back into the brassiere. The tightrope over their stolen bed was short. Fingers smoothed his mussed hair, and she purred to remind him, “Get dressed.”
His emotions ran in all directions in the motel room, but all overshot her by degrees. When his lips moved at hers with an aim to entice her back onto the bed, Erica was the one to be levelheaded. She glared at him with mock scolding, and fetched his briefs off the floor. Flicking them over his lap, she giggled, “Horseshoes…”
Her skin was still flushed from their exertion, but she wore the scarlet proudly when she twirled around, as if to dance. The squeaky cleaning cart was liberated from the narrow bathroom and pushed to the doorway with a grind and a glint. “The suitcase, sweetie!” she told him. “Don’t forget the suitcase!”
With her still humming on his skin, Aloysius scurried into his twisted-around pants and grabbed the luggage off the bureau. Erica was already outside, but pulled up in the doorway to remind him. “The pillow case, too…”
The man doubled back to pull the cover from the mounted camera. By the time he returned to the landing, his lover had pushed her cart down to a utility closet to stash it away.
The black sky crashed down, first clattering loudly on the tin terrace, and then, mutedly, on the deployed nylon panels of the maid’s umbrella; the lanky man stayed close with the suitcase until they reached her car.
Climbing in, wistful Erica drew a valentine heart in the condensation covering the windshield; a trickle of water zigzagged to the dashboard. Aloysius stayed disconnected from her symbology, and looked past the window at the motel’s neon sign, which had blown free of the cloud cover. His motoring companion maneuvered her way onto the highway, where rain crunched like glass under the tires. She squeezed his hand to pull his thoughts away from the bleak landscape; the tender gesture caught him off guard.
“This is love, then?” she asked one last time.
It was a reasonable question. He was forever backing into these things like a forest unseen for its trees. The lover would be fully immersed in it, in a million sundry ways, before its indispensable fact should impress his mind as a categorical imperative. Aloysius lifted her knuckles to his nose and drew off the scent of antibacterial soap she was required to use for work, and in turning over her fingers, saw the ring.
She leaned over the console with a different kiss, leaving him to glance up from her lips, over the glove compartment, as something dark slammed into the front of the car.
Chapter Thirty-one/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.