Tag Archives: tropical

Fluidity, a poem

illustration fluidity

Fluidity, a poem

Her dress–the color of pool water, printed with bright tropical flowers,

her earrings, falling beads like particles of sunlight on water, her hair, silvery-blonde, cascading down one side of her face like water, or frozen water… she is cool, refreshing, drinkable.

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Filed under health, love, poetry

Our Villain, a short story

illustration our villain

Our Villain

Back when these events transpired, we consisted of three lawyers representing two plaintiffs against one defendant.  We were, then as now, made up of two males and a female, the female of medium height, one male taller than average, one male shorter.  Both the male lawyers were older than the female lawyer by in one case, seven, and in the other case, ten years.  Only one of us, however, had blue eyes.  And only one of us was in love with the other two simultaneously, to her great consternation and guilt, as all three of us were married, but none to the other.  Hence, once possible source of difficulty for her.

The case was ponderous and slow-moving though not terribly complicated, legally speaking.  The theory of liability was straightforward; even a child could comprehend it, and in actuality two children already had.  No, in our case it was not the law that was causing our increasingly troubling reliance on several rounds of stiff drinks in the early evening and several rounds of antacids later on.  It was rather, the facts.  In the end, had any one of us been asked if we felt we had done the right thing, the answer would have been not yes, but a glare of outrage that the question had even been asked, and perhaps a violent cuff or two to the side of the questioner’s head.  On our way this morning to the small, cold and windowless room we now sat in, we had driven together, singing long-memorized childhood standards to relieve the tension we all felt.  We had, by way of example, upon arrival at the designated meeting place, arm in arm, skipped across the underground parking lot while whistling “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”

Thus fortified by silly notions of camaraderie and invincibility, we sat across from the villain, whom we only in public termed “the defendant.”  We were there on that heartbreakingly beautiful late spring morning — the kind of morning when even had we been working on a less distasteful set of facts, we would rather have been anywhere else — to ask him questions about what he’d done to two little girls, our clients, aged 9 and 12 when he started, aged 11 and 14 now.  The natural beauty outside — redbuds and Japanese magnolias, falling camellias — was to us that morning like a knife in the chest.  We had just the night before come back from a visit to the girls’ current home, a grim apartment in Little Havana, furnished with a couch and chairs upholstered in bright gold plastic, molded to resemble brocade and velvet.  The girls’ mother sat out in the kitchen while we talked to them, then the girls went to the bedroom they shared with their mother while we talked to her.  Our talk was intended to help them feel that what they were going through now, the legal system, was not as bad as what the villain had taken them through.  But the villain’s lawyers, also three in number, were trying to convince both girls and their mother that what the villain had taken them through was, in fact, the best of all possible worlds, and that the uncertain future they now faced was simply a result of their own stupidity and greed.

After the psychic shoring-up session at our clients’ sad, ill-lit lodgings, we had departed hastily for the bar at our hotel.  One of us, as it turned out, was unable to handle her drink as well as the other two — though all three of us drank more than the AMA preaches, though not, perhaps, more than the AMA actually practices when faced with the sort of evening we had just experienced and were trying to bury in the way a dog buries a nasty, rotting piece of meat that said dog knows will be needed the following day for its very sustenance.  Indeed, one of us was so incompetent at the art of self-medication by drinking she made inappropriate remarks to the other two of us, remarks involving her shameful, growing adulterous sentiments toward the other two, and though the eyes of the second two softened and grew misty and mutually receptive to the first’s silly, childish emotional exuberance — and one laid a tender hand on her wrist while the other stroked her cheek — they nonetheless raised to her as gently as they could the issue of how negatively our spouses might react to such sentiments, fully realized in all their permutations.  Besides, the possible effects on our case loomed, immeasurable and frightening.

From the beginning we’d agreed that if we’d been casting directors for a Hollywood movie, we couldn’t have found a better physical type to play our villain.  He was tall, well over 6 feet, and hulking, with a belly that strained the buttons on his shirt and spilled over the waist of his trousers.  His skin was pale and so were his eyes, a faint blue behind thick lenses.  Even his hair helped us — thinning, the color of burnt toast, combed greasily back off his forehead and swirled neatly behind his ears, but curled up in the back as if it couldn’t bear to be a part of him and would have jumped off at the first chance.

He’d met the girls’ mother when she was on the verge of becoming homeless.  He discovered later, to his satisfaction, that she was always perched on that edge, that he could forever hold her in his hand as long as that hand was gentle and lined with cash.  He moved them into his fine house, a low-slung, four-bedroom ranch in the suburbs of Miami.  His family home was far, far north, and he’d long ago fled the harsh winters for our near-tropical climate.  The brief, almost nonexistent winters we enjoyed led to the closets of young girls such as he favored being full of short-shorts and tank tops, and in, say, February, when his mother and his brother and sister (his father was dead) shivered inside their wools and furs, and drove haltingly along just-plowed, still-icy roads, he could climb into his Corvette convertible, top down, his thin, lank hair fluttering gaily as he drove, usually humming, to find his favorite sights at any city park.  For free.  He could look as long as he liked, newspaper over his lap, and no one had any idea what he was really thinking.

As lawyers, we thought we were familiar with how most people, even people not as far off the beaten path of normal human desire as our villain, are nonetheless filled with bizarre, inappropriate, even disgusting impulses.  We believed we understood how everyone is, underneath the legally complex bounds of civilized adulthood, in many respects still the naked, screaming, bloody baby ejected suddenly and not altogether politely from mama’s throbbing womb.  As lawyers, we possessed staid, naïve notions that because we had already experienced myriad cool, appraising looks in boardrooms and courtrooms, (in combination with startling internal questions of our own, seemingly unrelated, sudden pulsing engorgement), nothing could truly touch us, make us feel, by mere legal contact, soiled.  How wrong we were.

The day he met our girls and their mother, he’d spent the afternoon pursuing one of his favorite hobbies.  Top down, cruising in his car, trolling for the bright yellow buses that never failed to stir his loins.  He’d follow behind one, fly unzipped, smiling at the young faces gesturing frantically to him behind the glass windows marked “Emergency Exit.”  The kids loved his car.  He loved the kids, and that was what nobody else seemed to understand.  He loved them more than anything.  Their clear eyes and bright, uncomplicated peals of laughter were what drew him to wake up each morning, were what made life not a chore but a gift from God.

The day we sat across from the villain, what appeared to offend him most was the nervous gaze of the court reporter.  Maybe dressing the way he always did, in an open-throated shirt, his neck, wrists and fingers hung with heavy, 18-carat gold ornaments, had been a mistake in judgment.  He met our eyes shyly — trying to use his best manners.  Had he used that shy, hesitant gaze the first time he approached our girls?  Had he, by reason of blushes and stutters, brought out their still-developing maternal instincts?  Had they seen him as nothing more than a big, rubbery doll of a man?  Had he clasped his wrists the way he hung on to himself now?  For dear life?  What part of his life was dearest at this moment?

We, in our turn, met his eyes with blankness, hiding our feelings, our ultimate goal — we wanted to inspire in him only trust.  We were, for the next few hours, dedicated to convincing him we had no malice toward him, no, simply the same heartfelt weight of concern for his girls — our girls now — that he’d always maintained.  We differed only in how we wished him to express his deepest feelings toward his beloveds.  We simply wanted to redirect his fingers from the clasp of his own member to the clasp of an ink pen.  All he had to do, to satisfy us, was sign a check representing a sum equivalent to all he now possessed.  It was no more or less than the great love he’d always felt for them, for all of them, all the dear children who’d brought such golden light into his otherwise empty days.  He was worth millions.

Our girls had been shocked when he first made his desires known to them.  Shocked not in the sense one is shocked by a car accident, but shocked in the way one is shocked the first time it is made plain that one will be required to someday provide food, clothing and shelter for oneself.  His desires for them quickly brought material comfort to their mother and to them.  At first, the knowledge of their importance to him brought them a sort of heady pride, a child’s pride at having found in the soil a shiny gold coin.  For a while, there was no great weariness at his requests.  For a while, our girls still felt it was worthwhile to each day shower, brush their teeth, and comb their hair.  It was, at its best, a game, a stage play, a dream.  They would feel something click over in their heads, and suddenly the hands on their bodies would be outside the real.  What happened against the skin of their bodies in the villain’s king-sized bed atop his black sheets happened in another country; a parallel universe.

We knew their seduction had been a gradual procession from blushes, hesitations and startlement to coy fumblings undertaken first under cover of a cheerily false, overgrown childish abandon, then beneath a camouflage of compliments and toys, shopping expeditions to the nearest air-conditioned mall wherein nothing was refused, nothing.  If our villain refused them nothing, how weakened became their own ability to refuse!  He had become quite skilled at fulfilling the ache that seemed to start in his toes and rise up to his scalp.  His entire body loved those girls — his kisses covered them like a fine mist of semi-tropical rain.

When the teachers at school sent home notes advising the girls’ mother to assist in ensuring their personal hygiene, how delighted he was to purchase fine soaps and bathing salts, sponges and silken wash mitts.  Neither he nor their mother, busy in front of her TV, saw the circles under the girls’ eyes, the listlessness which every day crept deeper into their skins, as symptomatic of anything other than transient sleep deprivation or chronic growing pains.  The girls were, despite the recent flimsiness of their appetites, growing like kudzu vines after a good hard rain.  All was well in the quiet house.

The villain and our girls’ mother were, as a result, quite alarmed when the child welfare worker showed up one afternoon unannounced. Our villain was napping in his dark, cool cave of a bedroom, covered only from the knees down by the sheet which yet retained a certain pleasant odor and stiffness from the previous night’s adventure.  Mother was engrossed in a particularly compelling news broadcast of the Pope’s South American tour when the doorbell rang.  She was stout and somewhat put out at having to leave her seat as she huffed her way to the door.  Those Jehovah’s Witnesses could be such an annoyance.

The social worker stood on the doorstep in the bright afternoon sunlight, mopping her forehead with her bare hand, and then drying her hand on the side of her slacks.  As soon as the girls’ mother answered the door, the social worker felt something hard to describe, something which she would, with great reluctance when pressed later by the district attorney, label nausea.  She felt nausea as she stood looking at the girls’ overweight, unkempt mother, but she could not be sure if it was due to the heat, the greasy chicken sandwich she’d wolfed on her way to this visit, or the physical presence of the mother herself, a short, stocky, large-breasted, flat-footed creature with no discernible joie de vivre.

Now, in our tiny deposition room, our villain began to perspire as we questioned him.  He remained of good cheer, evidenced by an easy, toothy smile and an absence of muscle tremors.  We asked many things which in ordinary onlookers might have produced discomfort.  We asked hundreds of detailed questions involving the breasts, buttocks, mouths, hands and genitals of both the villain and our girls.  Every possible mathematical combination of the body parts mentioned had to be imagined, catalogued, and inquired into.

But our villain’s lawyers, though he had already been criminally prosecuted and sentenced under a plea-bargain, instructed him after the very first question to invoke his rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment, using those simple, nearly poetic words we had studied in school and grown to love — but would never love again — hiding behind those words as behind a hideous, absolute shield.  His lawyers stared at the table, unable to meet our eyes.  Surely their job was worse than ours, at that moment.  Because the villain wanted so badly to tell us, he wanted to explain that he had never, ever done anything to harm those beautiful children.  He only wanted to tell us how much he had, and would always, love them.  His body trembled as his lawyers touched his arms to keep him in his seat.  Our bodies trembled as we continued our litany of questions, preserving for the record his only defense.

We couldn’t, as we had imagined, pierce the villain upon our lance of questions like knights on chargers, and thus protect our girls from exposure to cross-examinations by his white-glove law firm’s most skillful roster of evil, carrion-eating dragons.  We could not keep him — by virtue of the Constitution — from further harming the children we sought only to recompense for the harm he’d already inflicted.  We might now be forced, if he would not voluntarily settle the case, to put his victims upon the witness stand only to be reminded in excruciating detail once more of the very things we wanted them most to forget.  What we didn’t know, at that moment, was he would the following week agree to settle the case, not, unfortunately, for every cent he possessed, but for enough of his funds to cut short his career as lethal sugar-daddy.  What we heard, we heard only from our girls.  In private.

Please, he had said, the first time, when he made “love” to them both within a half-hour.  Please.  His words flayed the girls open like a rawhide bullwhip across their chests.  I need to, he had said, curled up on the bed next to them like a baby.  His hands reached, grasped, fumbled, and then grasped again.  He unbuttoned their shirts, unzipped their pants.  The sensation was at once terrifying, sickening and pleasurable.  Our girls turned their eyes away, looking out the windows, down the hall.  Their dread and revulsion butted up against his sickness, his addiction.  He left the door open, the curtains flung wide.  It was a beautiful spring day outdoors that day — full-blown white camellias fell off their perches with heavy, helpless plops at short intervals just on the other side of the window-screen next to the bed.  The flowers had to bloom, had to engorge each formerly folded petal, to force themselves open toward the light, the slow-moving caressing wind.  The girls tried to see him as a bee forcing its way into a closed flower, a male bee burdened by his own desire, his own weakness, and his own ignorance.

After the villain’s deposition was over that day, he somehow made it to the door before any of us did.  He stood in the doorway waiting, his hand out, as if a greeter in a department store.  His palm was soft-looking, glistening with perspiration and as we glanced at it we saw not a hand, but a weapon carrying the stain of everything we already knew he’d done with it.  Ladies first, the villain said with a smile.  Then, while that unfortunate member of our trio shook hands with the villain, the other two slipped by him with relief and gratitude toward the first.  His flesh turned out to be hotly moist, unpleasantly springy, and what we found out later, as the three of us walked arm in arm to the bar on the corner — the two who hadn’t shaken the villain’s hand supporting the weight of the one in the middle who had — it seemed his touch (no matter how much scrubbing with soap and water so hot it seared the flesh had taken place immediately afterward in the washroom of the courthouse) his touch had made all of us feel irrevocably soiled.  Like we’d shaken hands with the Devil.

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Filed under legal writing, short stories

down in florida, a short story

illustration down in florida snapping ass

Down in Florida

            From the age of nine months, Ella grew up in Fort Lauderdale.  Her mother divorced her father up in Michigan and quickly ran south and east, to get far away from the gossipy and condemning former in-laws, and almost as quickly remarried an old college sweetheart, a Coast Guard man.  Ella was tall and fair with red hair and freckles.  She was a daydreamer and a romantic who was dying to take bold action to change her life completely, but kept her true self a tight secret:  everyone else thought she was practical and down-to-earth and would never have the guts to do anything to shock anybody.  She lived on the water and went to high school, and for fun on weekends, even though she was underage, she and her friends usually went out to discos, mostly to one called Mr. Pip’s which was just down the highway from her house.

The city of Fort Lauderdale was full of transients and drunks and drug dealers and well-off retired people from up north.  Bars and discos and private social clubs lined every main drag.  People drove expensive sports cars imported from Germany, Italy and England.  The good houses were on the water and the bad houses weren’t.  The deep-water port was always busy with cargo and passenger ships, and the marina alongside was always full of long, sleek private yachts stopping on their way either back up north or down farther south, to the islands of the Caribbean.

A main road called A-1-A ran along the public beachfront, between the strand and the big hotels.  From Ella’s back door you could see one of the hundreds of canals woven through the city that led into the Intracoastal Waterway and from there to the harbor and the jumbled rock jetties where the tide rushed by and the Atlantic.  The ocean was always beautiful, warm and flat, with a gradual change of color from green to blue to deep indigo along the horizon.  The breezes always blew, the air like a caress on the bare skin, and the tropical flowers always bloomed big and moist like open throbbing hearts.  From her back door Ella could see across the canal to U.S. 1, the oldest main highway lined with gourmet groceries and liquor stores and scuba diving shops and the endless procession of traffic to the beach.  Sometimes all the tourists on the beach looked the same — white and puffy and greedy for the sun’s warmth.

One typical Friday night, Ella and her best friend Tami first went downtown to Lester’s Bar, where the mugs were heavy and frosted, the beer was icy-cold, and the hors d’oeuvres were free.  Then they went over to Yesterday’s, on the Intracoastal.  Tami and a guy named Peanut hung around together the whole time, and Ella felt weird sitting at the bar all by herself.  Finally, Ella met someone named Jerry, who turned out to be a captain at Yesterday’s and she talked to him for a while.  At Jerry’s invitation, all four of them went to the Brickyard, a private club just west of U.S. 1.  Not once the entire evening had the underage girls been asked for I.D.s.  Over margaritas at the Brickyard, Ella told Jerry how old she really was — seventeen — and he flipped.

He went off by himself but when Ella and Tami were getting ready to leave he came over to say goodbye.  He asked Ella to please come home with him.  She said she wasn’t ready for that.  Then he walked Ella out to the parking lot, and they stood there and he gave her a tiny little kiss.  Your lipstick tastes good, he said, too good.  And he asked Ella, again, to please come home with him, but she said she was too scared.  She asked him, would he still be friends with her, and he said sure.  Then Ella said goodbye and got into Tami’s car, only she forgot she still had Jerry’s cigarettes.  She got out to give them back, and asked him again, would he still be friends with her.  He said, why are you so worried about that, and she said she didn’t know.  Ella wondered if he really liked her or just wanted a piece of ass.

Then, on another Friday night, she and Tami went to a place called My Second Home to play pool.  They ordered pitchers of beer and Ella teetered on her high heels and fussed over her lipstick between shots and got a little bit drunk.  A youngish man named Jeff, with the deep tan and scruffy sun-bleached hair of a true beach bum, invited them over to swim at his apartment complex nearby.  Tami said no, she’d rather play pool, but Ella went along with him — Tami just shook her head in amusement.  Once they got to Jeff’s house, Ella didn’t feel much like swimming anymore.  Jeff gave her a pair of cutoff shorts to wear and she went into the bathroom to change.  When she came out, Jeff was waiting for her and he kissed her slowly and gently and his lips were soft, but his hands were hard and rough and insistent.

Somehow, they ended up in Jeff’s bedroom on his bed, and over a period of time he got most of his own and then Ella’s clothes off, and he climbed on top of her again and again, but each time she kicked him off with her legs.  I don’t want to get pregnant, she said, which was true, but the real reason she didn’t want to have sex with him is she could feel he wasn’t the right person for her.  You won’t get pregnant, he said.  You’ll get your period at the end of the month just like you always do, he said.  She kept her legs together and put her feet against his chest and pushed him away from her over and over.  It happened so many times she lost count but the word rape never even entered her mind until the next day.  He never did get it in.  Finally he gave up and drove her back to the bar and in the parking lot sitting in his car with the engine running he leaned over and said to Ella, at least let me teach you how to kiss.  Then he showed her how to leave off kissing a man delicately, with some transition, not to pull her lips away from his like one would somewhat abruptly pull the petals off a daisy while chanting, he loves me, he loves me not.

Then Charlie was at Mr. Pip’s one Saturday night.  He had been done with college for a few years but still lived with his parents because he was more comfortable in his old room than he’d be in some affordable apartment.  His mother and father were elegant, wealthy people and believed Charlie was the smartest boy they’d ever seen.  Charlie had curly black hair styled in a small Afro and prominent brown eyes, and Ella noticed the way he had of staring right at the other girls and then her like his glasses were secret X-ray goggles from the back of a comic book.  She liked his eyes because they were so very curious besides seeming a little bit dangerous but she never imagined she’d end up dancing with him or going out on dates with him.

Even though his eyes cut into her in a way that made her feel attractive and desirable, Ella didn’t like Charlie very much at first.  She didn’t like the way he asked all those other girls to dance before he asked her.  She didn’t like how he laughed at her when she initially refused to dance with him, though she liked how he didn’t take no for an answer.  She hated herself for how she knocked his glasses off on the dance floor with her elbow while he twirled her around like a doll.  She hated how his parents acted like she wasn’t good enough when he brought her home to meet them.  But she liked how he stared at her, hungry and curious and patient.  Staring back at him for any length of time made her feel funny, dizzy and small, like she imagined being hypnotized would feel.

All the time after she met him Ella wondered if Charlie would fall in love with her.  He seemed too jaded for that.  He talked about his college days and the hundreds of lovers he’d already had and Ella’s non-Jewishness and how his mother disliked Ella but his father liked her a lot.  On their dates, he took her to good restaurants and gave her too much wine to drink, and stared at her with his hungry eyes, but he didn’t seem to be in love with her.  He eventually got a job selling stereos, which his father said was a waste of his talents.  Ella would go out with him every weekend, and stay out too late, and then her mother and her stepfather would make snippy remarks about her the next day as if she wasn’t even in the room.  Ella decided she wanted to sleep with Charlie even if he hadn’t fallen in love with her.

She wondered if Charlie would ask her to get married after they slept together.  If he didn’t ask her to get married, she decided that would mean he probably had never loved her.  One week Charlie’s parents went to Italy on vacation, so Charlie invited her over for dinner at his house.  He cooked heavily spiced Indian dishes, and served French white wine.  The kitchen was full of gleaming copper pots and the countertops were polished slabs of green stone.  They sat at a long, low oak table that Charlie said came from a nunnery in Spain.  He unbuttoned her blouse while she sat eating some ground lamb and rice.  She was starving but she didn’t take more than what he served her because she didn’t want to eat like a pig in front of him.  She sat and spooned the food into her mouth like she was dreaming.  He held her left hand and never stopped rubbing the back of it with his thumb.  He had a blurry, bloodshot look like he’d been drinking before she got there.

After a while he led her by the hand into his parents’ bedroom, through their bathroom and into their sauna.  His parents’ bedroom furniture was carved and gilded French, and the carpet was a primarily pale beige Aubusson and the bedspread was pale beige silk with a woven floral design, and all Ella kept thinking was how any little spot at all was going to stick right out and be totally noticeable.  He undressed her in a room full of mirrors then took his own clothes off.  She wasn’t relaxed in the sauna at all.  When she saw him naked she felt afraid but also excited.  His muscles were large and well-defined from lifting weights and he had a patch of fine curly black hair in the middle of his chest and a thicker, coarser patch of hair below.  They sat in the sauna for a while then took a cool shower together, and he did most of the touching.

He led her up the stairs to his bedroom, both of them naked, and from the stairwell across his parents’ wide living room, through the huge glass doors leading out to the terrace and the Intracoastal beyond, she could see the lights of boats like glimmering fairy jewels — red and green and white, doubled by their reflection off the water, every ripple of water caused by the outgoing tide sparkling, too.  The carpet of the stairs was soft underfoot and so thick her toes sank into the pile and caused her to wade up the stairs, struggling against the nap of the rug like gooey caramel.  His room had dark green walls and dark green sheets and there was a huge cabinet filled with stereo equipment against one wall.  He stopped to put on a record, some soothing instrumental jazz — slithery clarinet and round fat saxophone punctuated by the rasp of a brush across a drumhead.  She stood in the light from the hallway and let him take her to the bed.

They rolled together in the bed, the smooth fine sheets and the cool pillows.  His hair brushed her all over as he worked and she lay there thinking of nothing except what it was going to feel like.  She could hardly concentrate on what he was doing and she had no clear idea of what it was she was supposed to be doing.  He placed her hands on himself in various locations and told her to imagine she was touching herself.  He padded to his bathroom and came out with a box of Trojans.  He put one on and knelt over her, resting his weight on his knees and his elbows and with his glasses off his eyes were huge and dark and poring over her face like searchlights.  She felt part of herself tear loose and dematerialize and go up and into his eyes as though they were portals to outer space and though she hadn’t planned on it and certainly had no intention of saying it out loud she thought to herself with a bit of a shock, this is the right time and the right place and the right man.

There was a warm feeling all over her body and in her thighs and her belly there were occasional jabs of what was almost but not quite like pain, delicate lightning bolts along the nerves that felt like silent music.  She willed herself open to him, mind, body and soul but her body remained uncooperative.  He moved confidently and gracefully between her legs but all that happened for what seemed to her like hours was a dull ache centered around a point of resistance as if she were being prodded with a dry stick.  She blamed herself for being dry and closed up and she was ashamed of it and thought she probably looked ugly to him.  He didn’t seem to lose any of his enthusiasm for the task but kept right on fiddling around trying to get it in.  Finally it slipped past some sort of barrier and it still hurt but now there was a liquid feel, a dark slow movement inside her, a curious hungry swallowing up of something.  It still hurt but it seemed to be going the way it was designed to go.

Afterward she felt lassitude in all her limbs, a leaden weight that could not be defeated and she lay on Charlie’s bed looking out the window toward the water and every now and then she heard the horn of a boat waiting for the bridge to rise, waiting to get into the open passage to the sea.  The bed was soft and warm and sweet, and Charlie slept beside her breathing shallowly like a child and his arm rested against her hip and her throat was full and the room seemed to pulse in and out, in and out like when she had a fever but she knew she had no fever now.  She lay there for a time listening to Charlie breathe and when she turned to get out of bed his arm reached for her and he sighed and his eyes fluttered open.  Where are you going? he said.  I have to go home, she said, my parentsYou’re kidding, he said.  No, I have to go, she said, and she got out of his bed and went down the stairs alone through his parents’ room and put on her clothes.

Between her legs was a soreness impossible to ignore and through her panties the seam of her slacks rubbed against her and instead of fabric felt like the bark of a tree.  Charlie was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, barefoot and shirtless but wearing a pair of trousers.  He had his glasses on and he was looking at her face with his usual patient hunger but his eyes were at the same time distant, trying to look past her, as if he too was feeling something he had not been expecting to feel.  He put his arm around her shoulder and they walked to her car.  Please stay, he said after she got in the car and closed the door and rolled down the window.

I can’t, she said.

Call me when you get home, he said.

Okay, she said.

She drove off and in the rearview mirror she watched him standing in the driveway until she rounded a corner and could no longer see his house.  There was a slight chill and the vinyl upholstery of the car felt cold and damp.  It was late and there were few cars on the road and as she drove along the streets which were nearly deserted but still lit up and gaudy with neon, she was astonished by the strange new rawness inside her.  She had not expected to feel so much; she had not expected to love him.  She had not really known what she was giving up nor what she was receiving:  that place within her which always before seemed complete, that place which she now thought of as wonderfully empty, waiting for the next time it would be filled by her lover.

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