We open our columns to talented new voices, who can send in (short) stories.
This one is a short story by Eduardo Riccardo. It was some 30 pages he said, but now he tells us 'it would be more something like 50, even 60'. Hm. Okay. Only because we pity guys living on goat's milk and mountain herbs.
We publish it the old fashioned 19th century way: episodically.
Autumn rains, coming from overseas, suddenly invading the country. Dull, grey mornings, bumping upon a half package of Kellogg’s Choco Pops, an expired pot of Greek Farg yoghurt Amber has hidden in the back of the fridge, behind a pile of Jonagold. Just when he’s starting to feel abandoned the doorbell rings. He runs. It’s Marjorie. She’s dripping wet. She’s wearing that same red dress. It’s soaked, it clings to her body. Behind her it’s pouring.
“Marjorie…” he stammers, overwhelmed. He looks at her, she’s breathing heavily. She’s pushing him aside, muttering he’s blocking the entrance, she’s invading the house like German troops a fallen city.
“Why, Marjorie- couldn’t you…”
“I can do everything, Ben. As far as you are concerned I can do everything. You know that. Don’t get any illusions. Please, do me at least that favour.”
“You’re totally wet, Marjorie. I’ll get you a towel. There must be a dry dress too, upstairs…”
“I bet there are plenty of dry dresses in this house, Ben. You can spare yourself the trouble. Guess those dresses won’t fit me anyway, will they?” Big, asking eyes, confusing him. Is she joking? Her right nipple is poking against the red linen. Almost the same dress she had been wearing when they’d first met, eighteen years ago. Same colour, same cut, minus two or three sizes. When he arrived, in Strasbourg, after a 300 miles drive it had been night, and snowing. She was enrolled in an extra after graduate year. She shared a small apartment with two Korean girls, Kim and Anya, in a big, ugly, cold series of blocks three kilometer from the city center. She was still in a relationship, more or less coming to an end, though not formally ended, with a lawyer’s son whom she’d met at a party where he was DJ-ing. They had been together for two years.
That first night in Strasbourg he had been offered a mattress on the floor of an empty lumber-room, where he had laid coughing all night.
When he woke up she had been baking apple pie and Kim, pushing up her black-rimmed, heavy glasses, suddenly had asked “Why are you here, Ben?”, and they all had started laughing. The apple cake was very tasty. Then he had taken her for a walk in the Vosges mountains, he was the only one with a car, an old Toyota Corolla Liftback, the engine had to be cooled down every twenty miles.
When they drove off, at noon, it had been cloudy and mild, but up in the hills fresh snow had fallen, and it was freezing. She had only taken a light pullover with her, so when they reached the top and stood looking out over the ridges and le Lac Blanc below, he had draped his leather jacket over her shoulders. She had looked at him in that special way, and the silence had been full of pleasant expectation, the only sound that of their breathing, and the East wind making their cheeks almost crispy.
Later they had canard à l’orange in a small family run hotel at the outskirts of a small village, and then Beaujolais nouveau until the waiter came to tell them they were closing. Outside they watched the sky, she stood so near he could smell her hair. Apple shampoo.
“Look,” she said, grabbing his arm, pointing to the sky, “Castor and Pollux.” Behind them, in the hotel, the last lights were dimmed.
“We can stay, if you want,” she said, her eyes sinking, when he was about to start the engine. But when they ran back to the hotel it was closed. He banged the door. Nothing happened. “For God’s sake, open this door!” he yelled. She was giggling. After ten minutes lights had been turned on. The next morning, at breakfast, they had been lovers.
“What are you staring at? Are you out of your mind, or what?” Marjorie, now. Covering her cleavage with her left hand. It’s still pouring outside. He hears thunder. He hears waves breaking at the shore. He looks at her fingers. After they’d left the hotel they’d visited Riquewihr. They couldn't stop kissing. She had done that trick, with her fingers… Very girlish. Covering his mouth with her hand (the one with the black stoned ring she’d got from her DJ-lover), then opening her fingers, letting her tongue slip in. It drove him crazy.
“Stop that, Ben. I’m getting scared. What’s the matter?”
“I was thinking about the way we used to kiss. Riquewihr, remember?” Covering his lips with his hand. Opening fingers. Barking dog. He doesn’t stick his tongue through his fingers though.
“Sorry, but I don’t think I drove thirty miles through this pouring rain to listen to this nonsense. I’m here to collect my things.”
She starts collecting things. While he’s watching from a chair near the window she's running about in her own Marjorie chaotic way, without using any cardboard box or bin or anything, he bets she didn’t even think about bringing one. He hears her rattling in the bathroom, appearing with handsful of soaps, perfumes, medication, towels too, she pours everything in the open trunk of the Volvo. She’d always dreamt about a Volvo, preferably a stationcar, with a net spread between back seat and trunk, for the dog. He hated Volvos as much as he hated dogs. He was a cat person. He’s wondering where she’d gotten that Volvo that quickly, the model is quite new. The colour is dull grey. A lawyer’s colour. Her hair hangs in wet locks over her face now.
When she’s rushing in for the tenth time she comes and stands in front of him, soaking wet she is, she says, panting, shivering, her voice exultant: “Now I’ll collect your vinyl, Ben.” He can’t take his eyes off her nipples, both standing, he feels tears welling up. Marjorie’s breasts… She took ice cold showers to preserve them. It wasn’t one of his fantasies, she told him so herself. In the very beginning he had been slightly repulsed by her mouth and her chin, which both seemed slightly off center; when she smiled it often was as if she was excusing herself for this. A shy smile it was, as if some kind of embarrassment was oozing through. But her breasts-
His right arm moving forward.
“Don’t you dear, you… ape.” The sound of her voice hissing. A snake.
“Marjorie…” He feels himself scrambling on his feet, both arms stretched, putting his arms around her.
A knee raised, a kick in his balls. He’s stooped forwards. Then a sharp blow against the back of his head, her elbow. Footsteps clicking on the parquetry, receding. He lies panting on the carpet, looking at the ceiling, rubbing his neck. When she steps over him she’s carrying handsful of records.
The engine roaring, the Volvo disappearing over the driveway. The rain has stopped. He’s nibbling nuts.
Two hours later she returns. He’s sitting up, in the back of the car he sees a head moving. Small, blonde. A pony-tail. Lily. He hears a key turning. Marjorie steps inside, this time she’s wearing a light green dress, short, too short, it doesn’t fit her legs. She’s frisking up the stairs. He hears her rummaging upstairs. Then she’s hurrying down again.
“Can’t find Stairway to heaven,” she says, akimbo.
“Not Stairway to heaven,” he says, almost pleadingly. It was her wedding present, a first US release, on the inner sleeve she’d written To Ben, forever my love. It had been their opening dance, too. At the beginning of the fast part, when Robert Plant sings “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow…” all their friends swarming up the dance floor and behaving in a rollicking way, as if bubbling over with merriment - it was all new, they were the first couple in the group to get married. A witches’ sabbath, that was what it looked like. Everybody swirling around them, cock-a-hoop. And Marjorie and he only aware of each other, kissing.
“Not Stairway to heaven.”
(to be continued in couple of days)
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