The Longing (5)

Inside she takes off her shoes. Runs around, looking at the family pictures on the sideboard (“Cute.”), peeking into the kitchen-
     “There’s an Aga in here,” she shouts, as if he didn’t already know. Alice in Wonderland, he thinks. Last year Amber had to write a dissertation on Lewis Caroll, he’d helped her with it.
     “I like it. I’d never cook on one though. But they’re fine to look at. Blue, good taste. Marjorie’s choice, honey? Give her my compliments.” Putting away Lily’s grammar book, she sits down on the couch. He pours two double Taliskers, and sits down too. They drink.
     Then she jumps up and bounds up the stairs. He follows her, but at the base of the staircase, pondering the 6th Commandment and all its consequences, he grows numb. At the top, her calves disappear into the darkness.
     Silence. He goes up the stairs. He sees her standing in front of him, her naked back stunning.
     She turns around, takes off her earrings; slowly putting them in front of the small Pan statue on the sideboard. He follows her into the bedroom.

“It was the shortest day of the year when it happened,” she tells him hours later, as the dawn is simmering through the curtains. It’s five o’clock. His body feels like it’s run a marathon. He did, once. That was twenty years ago, twenty-five maybe.
     “As if he couldn’t stand the days growing longer,” she says. It had been foggy from morning till evening. A day to forget. The day before they had been watching television, all evening long. Stupid things, just to avoid being forced into useless conversation. She’d had enough; she was through with him. Had told him so. She didn’t remember what they had been watching. Almost certainly some romantic B-movie, based upon a paper-thin story poured out of the brain of some chick-lit paperback writer. She’d had to turn off the News because it was making him even more depressed. Lots of commercials.
     They’d had a row because he started acting weird, claiming her. She didn’t want to be claimed. It was just a fling.
     “Believe me, Ben, honey, - just a fling.” A couple of weeks of decent kissing, with a good conversation in between, what could one more hope for? It was okay as it was. They had been sitting at opposite ends of the sofa, which was very much okay with her, that way she could stretch out her legs. There had been a ladder in her tights that she’d been trying to cover by pulling down her skirt, which kept pulling up, until she cursed, “Oh fuck fuck FUCK”, beating her clenched fist in a cushion as if it was a punch bag. He started up in fright, jumping out of the chair, looking genuinely terrified; he’d thought the cursing was at him.
     “How he stood there, - you have no idea.” Defenseless. If she’d stood up and given him a shove he would have fluttered down like an autumn leaf.
     But then, as the movie went on, without her noticing he crawled nearer, and by the time the credits were rolling he was sleeping, softly snoring, his forehead on her elbow, one hand on her knee, the other holding her ankle. She’d cautiously manoeuvred herself out, lowering his head, letting it sink down in the pillow. She was wondering, after she’d done it, why she’d kissed his forehead. He looked so vulnerable. She felt he needed her somehow. Without her, he would be lost. It was like he appealed to her maternal instincts. Yes, that was how she felt: like the Holy Virgin Mary with the baby Christ in her lap.
     His face was a rather deadpan one, she says; it looked smoothed out, as if butter would melt in his mouth. Not a face you would call pretty when you threw a first glance at him, but, nevertheless, one you wouldn’t easily forget. A striking face, with hollow eyes, almost devoid of passion, even interest. Sometimes she felt as if she was looking into a dead man’s gaze.
     Holy Virgin or not, suddenly she loathed what she was holding. It was simply too vulnerable. Even eyes closed it was grinning at her. This baby Christ did not have the right to grin at her! It had been a hard day at work, she was exhausted. She’d found out she’d been submitting papers to the wrong department for weeks. And they hadn’t even answered! They had received the papers, must have seen the mistake immediately, - what did they do: put them on the big pile of papers never to be touched again. Now she’d have to start all over again, with almost no time left.
     “Are you still listening to me?” First light falling between the curtains. He nods.
     “You had almost no time left,” he says.
     “Good. So where was I?”
     “In the chair, the baby Jesus in your lap.”
     “Right. And i remember exactly what I was thinking: “Don’t you dare grin at me, you…”, but he kept painting that devilish grin on his lips. He did it on purpose, I swear. Even while sleeping he was trying to annoy me. But it wasn’t him, he wasn’t like that, not at all. It was Satan, speaking through him. I clearly felt that. Do you believe in Satan?”
     “He’s everywhere. It’s not a question of belief.” He's thinking about Purgatory again. He knows he won’t go straight to heaven, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in a shorter stay in Purgatory. This night wouldn’t do his cause much good. This had been more than just thinking about things. He would have to do lots of good deeds. By doing good deeds a sinner was able to abbreviate years in Purgatory, Sister Alicia had said. Cancelling the stay was out of the question – but abbreviating it, yes. It depended on the mercy of the Lord, of course. A pilgrimage or two might help. He would start being very gentle to Marjorie, from tomorrow on. He would buy her a bouquet of flowers to begin with. A huge one. At least a hundred euros, with peonies, pink peonies. She loved pink peonies.
     Rebecca shoves nearer. Pale early sunlight falling diffusely upon her shoulder. He kisses her shoulder blade. He was lying there, with her, an absolute stunner, in this bed. He could hardly believe this was happening. In a moment a door would open, the director would shout ‘Cut!’, and the set would be broken up.
     Their legs intertwine.
     “… and you know what i was thinking?” she says. “Did you ever see that movie… I forget the title… A western if i’m not mistaken. Three Indians and two cowboys sitting around a campfire. I know, i know, it sounds like i’m about to tell you a joke, but it’s no joke, sweetheart. No joke at all. One of the cowboys is asleep, his head in the lap of the Indian woman, the squaw. The two Indian guys are discussing seemingly important matters with the only cowboy still awake. The squaw is listening very carefully. It’s clear though she doesn’t agree with whatever the cowboy is talking about. The Indian guys don’t agree either, and voices are raised. The squaw is stroking the head of the sleeping cowboy, very tenderly. I remember her fingers, they were very young and slender, caramel brown, the tips slightly turned upwards. They were very elegant. Fingers that could make you go crazy in a second.”
     He reaches for her hand. It feels slightly moist. She could bend her thumb until it turned about a hundred and eighty degrees. He had seen her do it. She let her fingers run over his back, hence and forth. It drives him crazy.
     “Mine aren’t caramel,” she says.
     “No, but you’re flexible too.”
     “My body, maybe. You’re diverting my attention, Ben. Don’t,” she says. She slaps his cheek, softly, raising a warning finger. Then kisses him. “Anyway, these hands… The way they stroked the cowboy’s hair, you could call it ominous. They were moving tenderly, but in fact, they were foreshadowing disaster. Evil.”

(to be continued in couple of days)

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