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Arthur - short story---under revision


Darla Jones leans over the sink, washing the dinner dishes. She's still wearing the short black skirt she wore to work. Her husband, Bill, whom she despises because of his belly and stanky breath, sits at the kitchen table, watching her, just sitting there, saying nothing. He’s been doing this lately, ogling.
Bill sells vacuum cleaners door to door. Otherwise, he works on his car. His fingers are perpetually grimed with grease; his clothes smell of motor oil. It bothers Bill that he's not attractive to his wife, to anyone, but he's not doing anything about it. Doesn’t much care anymore. Dirty nails are bad for sales. Bill knows this. Shows in his income. He’s all but given up going door to door. He goes out after breakfast to a city park and sits in his car, watches a certain mother and child who are always there at that hour. He doesn't care much about the child, but the mother wears spandex lycra, has runner's legs. 
When he's certain Darla has left for work, Bill returns home, where he broods, watches wrestling and drinks beer. He fantasizes about the spandex mother.
When Bill was a kid, he’d wanted to be a wrestler. He’d gone out for the team. Got cut the first day. “Too fat,” the coach had told him. “This isn’t Sumo wrestling.”
What bothers Bill most, is Darla. He suspects she fools around; that she'll leave him for someone better, someone fit, someone with better prospects. Darla’s a looker, and her sexy, slender attractiveness pisses him off. He's anxious about her all the time--where she is, what she's up to, why she wears short skirts, dresses so sexy. There's no children holding her in the marriage. He'd wanted children. It hurts him when, going door to door, a father returns from work and a kid runs to him with open arms.
                                                                      *  *  *
Men flirt with Darla. She likes it. She’s joined a gym, lost a few pounds, bought some trendy skirts. She think herself sexy. Uses Bills word in her head--a looker.
In the file room one day, she overhears Freddie Martin say she he likes the way 'her ass sits in her skirt'. Kyle Porter, the other guy in there, says, “Hell yeah, Darla’s a fox, has legs past the countertop.” She isn't quite sure what he means. She takes it as a compliment.
Darla's no money for fake breasts. Although she's smallish, her nipples protrude like the top third of your little finger, get hard like the eraser on a number two pencil when aroused. So Darla wears tight blouses, thin bras. She finds some excuse to walk through the cubicles, saunter around as if to borrow something from one of her coworkers, getting murmurs from men, glares from women. The more the men stare, the slower Darla walks, the more she shows. 
She renews her membership at the gym. Does some tanning. Such things happen when a woman, like Darla, lives with a man like Bill, a vacuum cleaner salesman with dirty fingers and no prospects. Her skirts get shorter, her hair better tended, her blouses open at the collar. One less button buttoned.
Bill's become quiet around his wife. He ogles her from the time she gets home until, properly drunk, he goes to the garage and works on his car. Sometimes, he just sits behind the wheel sipping bourbon and listening to the St. Louis Cardinal's broadcast. He gets a paper towel and sits in the car with his computer for hours. Darla's opened the door a couple of times, but never comes out or says anything.
Neither Darla nor Bill would ever use the word ogled. Bill and Darla aren’t avid readers, don't have big vocabularies. More the television types. Magazines on the toilet are about it, Vogue or Popular Mechanics. Lately, Guns and Ammo and Penthouse Forum.
Darla senses when Bill stares, even when he isn’t. It’s disquieting. These days, Darla rarely looks at Bill. They don’t talk. They have sex about once a month. Their bedroom antics--the slapping she demands when almost there; other requests that seem urgent in the moment, but which later repulse her.
Bill's become mean. When he drinks, he gets meaner. When Darla doesn't come right home after work, his hand shakes as he sips his drink. He switches from beer to bourbon. In the garage he throws wrenches, picks them up, throws them again. Darla claims she's been to the gym. He's doubtful, despite she appears a bit sweaty.

It’s a Saturday, supper time, and Bill is tight even before they sit. Potted roast with carrots and potatoes and brown gravy. The way Bill eats disgusts Darla, his head bent forward, his face almost in his food, working his spoon like a scoop.
When Bill finishes gorging he gets up, fixes another bourbon and coke, sits back at the table, and begins his vigil, his watch.
Vigil would not be Darla’ s word for this, any more than ogle or disquieting would be. She’d say Bill got weird and that this upset her.
“Quit staring at me, Bill. Go off somewhere. Watch the news or something. Read the paper. Quit farting. You make me nervous when you stare like that.”
“I like them skirts you keep wearing to work. You look good with no hose. How’d your legs get so tan?”
“It’s the style these days.”
After a minute, with only the sound of water and dishes and Bill’s gas between them, Bill says, “I want some.”
“Not now. It’s not even dark yet.”
“I ain’t had any, and I want some. Right now. I want some.”
Bill gets up and comes around the table and nuzzles Darla from behind, grabs her tit and jams his dirty hand up her skirt.
At times, in secret, Darla will take off her panties, at work, even at the grocery store, sometimes in church. She gets these electric pulses in her loins when she's in her short skirts without panties. 
During a morning break at work, she enters a bathroom stall and slips out of her panties, puts them in her purse, and walks around the rest of the day without them. Being that way, airy, excites Darla. She likes to walk around all naked beneath and sit at her desk with her legs crossed. It takes her mind off work. She gets aroused. Darla wouldn’t say aroused; she’d say, going without underwear makes her horny. At five, when she gets off, she drives home with one hand on the steering wheel. She puts her panties back on in the garage.
Darla isn't that kind of girl. She's been raised better. Then again, she married Bill, a loser who fondles car parts and dreams of becoming a wrestler.
Now, Bill has his hands all up in there, prying at her with his his fingers like grease monkey after a carburetor.
                                                                 *  *  *
That’s it, I decide. I’ve had enough of Bill’s shit.
I call a halt to these proceedings. Instead of Bill, it’s me at the table. I’m Arthur. I freeze the action.
Suddenly, a big wind blows in from the open front door and Bill vanishes in a whoosh.
Now, I’m in charge. Everything moving again.
“Well, who are you?” says Darla, looking startled.
Her hair is down, displayed along her shoulders. She flicks it with her hand now and then as she looks me over, pushes a cabinet drawer closed with her hip, a blue dish towel draped over one shoulder. She grins, and fiddles with a button.
There's things that Darla doesn’t know, things she should know, but only I know. For instance, the panties she's wearing pink, the kind that are reminiscent of doilies. She thinks they're powder blue. 
Let’s say her blouse is completely unbuttoned and that her bra shows. No... let’s say that she isn’t wearing a bra.
“Where’s Bill? Did you see Bill?” she asks.
“Bill is gone,” I say. “I got rid of Bill. You’ll never see Bill again. Ever.”
“What? What are you saying? Who are you anyway?”
“Call me Arthur.”
“I’ve never heard of you or seen you in my life. How’d you get in here?”
She looks around, hurries past the kitchen table toward the open front door. She twirls the dish towel. She sticks her head out the door, looks around and shrugs, closes the door with a shove from her hip and spins toward me. Her skirt shifts with these motions, and exposes enough leg to stop a funeral.
“As far as you're concerned, I can come and go as I please, Darla. But that's none of your concern."
“What’s your last name?”
“I don’t have a last name. Not yet, anyway.”
“Well why don’t you tell me your last name, Darla? Tell me that,” I say, playing head games.
She gets this blank look, shakes her head. “I guess... it’s... I forgot. You’ve got me so flustered, I don’t even know my last name.”
“You want anything new for your house, Darla? I’m feeling generous.”
“Sure, Arthur,” she says, smirking, rolling her eyes, “what I need is a new car. How about a new car, Arthur?”
“As you wish. What model?"
"How about a brand new Buick Electra."
"How about a brand new Mercedes convertible?"
"Yea, right."
"You’re going to have to be friendly, though, if you know what I mean.” I leer at her and lick my lips, raise my eyebrows, nod toward her chest.
“Stand up and let me get a look at you, then,” she says. “Hey, how'd my blouse get unbuttoned? Where's my bra? What in hell's going on here, Arthur?”
I decide to shed a few pounds, add a few inches here and there, subtract a couple of decades, just for this, Darla. I stand up and walk around the table, parade around a little: thirty years old, six foot tall, white teeth, thick black hair, and not an ounce of fat. Kinda the way I used to look, only taller.
“Wow,” says Darla. Her lips are parted and the tip of her tongue is protruding. Though she'd say, 'it's sticking out'. “I'll never see Bill again? You sure?”
“Depends on what you do for me, Darla. I can bring Bill back with little more than a keystroke.” I make typing motions with my fingers--midair.
A shiny black Mercedes sits in her driveway, a two-door convertible. It’s used, but still a fine ride. I decide to wait before telling her to look out the window. See how things develop. I can always take it back, or make it a beat up Ford.
“Take your blouse off for me, Darla.”
“What, why should I do that?”
“Because I’m Arthur. If you don’t, I’ll bring Bill back.” I make the typing gestures again.
From somewhere in the background, I hear disembodied voices. Male voices yelling lurid suggestions.
“Come on Arthur,” says a gruff voice, “take her blouse off for us. Let's see her tits. Make her nipples hard. You said her nipples jutted. We didn’t get to see that part. You just told us about it. You need to work on that. Show, don’t tell.”
Another voice chimes in, older and sounding familiar. “Fucking forget about the god damn blouse Arthur; fuck her, spread her wide on that table so we can see. She wants it. Ask her."
I ignore these voices. Men, left alone, become crude.
“So, Darla,” I say, “why aren’t you wearing a bra? Hmmm?”
“ I... I don’t know really. I think I put one on this morning. Maybe I forgot.”
All my life I’ve been curious how women think about sex. Here's my chance. Men, as far as I'm concerned, think about sex constantly. Our thoughts often turn to lascivious, lurid, rampant sex. Uncalled for kinds of things. I doubt women think this way. 
I stop a moment for the voices, and wonder what they might have to say about this.
“Right on Arthur,” one of them says, “Find out how women think. None of us has a clue.”
Another one says, “Have Darla grab your package.”
When I look back at Darla to see if she hears the voices. She’s holding her shirt open a little, rubbing herself. “Darla,” I say, “keep your shirt on. I want to ask you something. Do you hear voices?"
"Like a crazy person?"
"No. Just now. Did you hear voices? Loud male voices?"
"Of course not. We're alone. Was it Bill."
"Forget it. Just my imagination. Let me ask you. How often do you think about sex? And when you do think about sex, what is it exactly, that you think about?
She’s got her blouse pulled clear open now, her nipples pronged like toggle switches. She licks her fingers, then fondles her left tit.
The voices cheer. Some want popcorn. A few need napkins.
“Well,” says Darla, staring at her hand on her breast as if she's not in control. “I do think about sex, although not every moment like Bill does. When I think about sex, I want to be held and cuddled and treated with compliments and candlelight. I like to take my time, you know. Not rush things. Let the feelings build a little. Then later, rub around with some oil. Sometimes I get a little crazy when I think about it."
"You mean, like taking your panties off in church?"
"How'd you know that?"
I don't say anything. Just make typing motions in the air.
She smiles wickedly and lifts the hem of her skirt with her middle finger. She has this cute mole about a foot above her knee. Picture that, the muscle there.
“I think you're getting turned on, aren’t you, Darla?”
“Well, now that you mention it. You got any oil? What are you, some kind of hypnotist or something? Next thing I know you’re going to be putting words in my mouth.”
She messes her hair with her hand, rips off her blouse and gives it a toss. It lands on the coffee maker. “Come here, Arthur,” she says, “and do me up good, right up against the sink till my legs wobble. Hurt me, Arthur. Degrade me. Treat me like an animal.”
“Wait,” I say. “What about those other things you mentioned, the candles, the cuddles, the oil?”
“Don’t need ‘em. Don’t want ‘em. Don’t care. I need jackhammered.”
Cheers from the crowd. One says, “Not up against the sink, damn it. We won’t be able to see.”
Then a female voice intrudes, loudly.
“Bill,” screams the voice, “get your fat ass out of that chair and mow the god damned lawn like I told you an hour ago. I am tired of doing all the work. Are you looking at porn again, Bill?” She grabs my computer.
This is precisely the attitude that makes me so lonely. I think it’s why my hand shakes, why I’m fat.
The crowd disperses. Someone throws a wrench. The Mercedes still sits in the drive. Darla, in freeze frame, her mouth caught in a smile, waits beside the sink. Her panties are on the floor and her arm is outstretched like a lifeline.

                                                              * * *

As I mow the lawn, I watch Ethel, my wife, as she waters her pitiful flowers with the garden hose. The fat of her arms flutters and flaps as she hoses, her ass wider than the seat of that riding lawn mower at Home Depot I want to buy. I watch our neighbor, Dana, slide into her car with a bible in her hand, her short skirt showing far too much leg for church. As I push the mower over the yard, lost in my visions, an urge of anticipation runs through me.
I can change things, anything. It’s a matter of choice, of imagination. 
Just words. I press a keyboard.


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