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Stern Agony---excerpt



They were finishing the hazelnut macaroons. Little bites with strong coffee. The maid clearing the table, those silver dish-covers you see in hotels. Riley, with her quiet hair and loud perfume, sipped latte from a demitasse. She looked at Shaw, not smiling, no expression at all, and said, “You’re quite dark.”
“In appearance or personality?”
“Both. I like it dark.”
She sighed. “I need a fucking vacation.” Using the word. 
“Oh, yeah? If I lived in a place this fancy I’d never leave.”
“You want something other than the Merlot? Something that bites?” 
“Whatever you’re having,”
“Stirred or shaken?” The wry smile.
“However you like it.”

She held up two fingers to the maid. “Shaken,” she said. Shaw was about to have his frst martini. 
“Thank you, Inez. See you in the morning. Not until ten. Make sure I’m up.” 

After dinner, as the glow of sunset drained from her sitting-room, they watched the embers of a dying fire and talked politics. Fireplace as big as a horse trailer. Something classical played in the background. Maybe, Vivaldi. A bottle of twenty-year-old Merlot from her wine cellar aired uncorked on the coffee table. A box of Belgian chocolates.
Shaw slouched on the couch while Riley sat, legs crossed, in her Moroccan reading chair. It was time he should go. She got up and poured refills, tossed in the anchovy olives. They drank. Her eyes, the way she nailed you with them. 

All her furniture was Henridon, she told him, but he had no idea what that meant. Dark wood and leather. He imagined each piece cost more than all the furniture in his apartment combined. She uncrossed her legs, a fleshy move that urged him. She got up and walked to the fireplace, bent over and found a flame with the blowpoke. It surged hotly. She laid a fresh log, then stepped to the Bang & Olufsen and replaced Vivaldi with some Petty. She sat on a love seat across from him.

From the couch, Shaw watched the flex of her thighs just below her Ellesse Italia tennis attire. Earlier she’d shown him the courts just off her veranda, and had commented on her ensemble, but she’d not mentioned playing the game.

Turning toward him, she moved her hand through her hair, then walked to the other side of the room, reached to the rheostat, and dialed the lights low, her delicate fingers caressing controls. 

Martini shaker empty, she poured each a snifter of red. Her hand on the fragile glass, the way she swirled it. He’d never had a taste for wine but drank to keep up, to be polite.

By now the sun was down, and the room danced to fire-glow. He must get home. She leaded on the armrest of the love seat, spoke of loneliness and wondered aloud about his. The little white skirt. Tongue-tied with lust, he didn’t respond. He thought of her husband. The drinks had made her different—cheap, almost common, available.

In flickering light, they sat on on opposite sides of the fireplace, her words floating toward him, from shadow past flame to shadow. But, he wasn’t paying attention to words. The drowse of mellowed tipsy dulled his throbbing libido. She sipped her drink. Tinge of firelight in wineglass of Merlot.

After moments of silence, she came from her couch to his, sat beside him and flashed a whimsical grin. Perhaps she wanted to show him something. She placed her wineglass on the coffee table, selected a piece of chocolate from the box and leaned toward him, leaned in. Her hand found his thigh. Firelight through her blouse. He tried to think of something else. What was her state of mind? Had their thoughts commingled? Was she willing? Not old at all, despite her having a dozen years on him, or more. Maybe she was fifty, sitting there like the very diva of fuck. She wore her age like a pearl.

A diamond bracelet hung loosely over the veins of her wrist. She slid the chocolate piece into his mouth, her finger lingering over his tongue. She slid it out and sucked it. Her finger glistened. Holding him with her eyes, she licked her chocolate lips.

Flame licked wood. The heat of it. Who was this woman? Why him? Why now? Frozen within her need and his own, he thought of her naked. What was this game? 

Petty sang, and the only sound between song tracks was crackling pinion. 

“Mary Jane’s Last Dance” was just ending when Riley got up and left the room. When she returned, she held a leather-bound volume of the Collected Works of T. S. Eliot. She’d muted the Petty. She handed Shaw the book and sat next to him. Shaw listened to the fireplace, the cracks and snaps. She turned toward him. She loosened her hair, and it fell along her shoulders. The night, the firelight, the two of them glowing. 

She reached to the floor lamp and pulled its chain. “Find Ash Wednesday,” she said. She nestled into him. He glanced at her thigh, then opened the book.

“You want me to read to you?” he asked as he leafed through the well-thumbed pages.

“Aloud. I want to hear that jury trial voice, your voice, in his.” 

She put both of her hands loosely over his bicep and rested her head against his shoulder. He began to read the Eliot:
“Because I know that time is always time and place is always and only place. And what is actual is actual only for one time and only for one place…”

He paused and reached for his wineglass. She was looking up at him with seeming desperation. A forlorn vulnerability. The parted lips. With the tip of her tongue showing, she began to unbutton his shirt. One button. Another button. A third.

 He needed to slow things. He quoted from memory: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” He thought the moment begged tenderness, but when he dropped the book to kiss her, she unleashed.

“You probably thought I was a lady.”

She pawed at him on the couch. She cupped his balls and squeezed. “I’d been wondering if you were awake down there. You are--very much.” 

Shaw continued to hold her, moving his hands from her face to her shoulders to her back, feeling the delicate bones, the butter-skin, smelling her. They kissed, swallowing each other. Sweat beaded her upper lip.

She moved lower on the sofa, her legs apart in the skirt. As if remembering something, she sat up.
“You want a taste of something?” 
“Whatever you’re offering.”
“I’ve got Frank’s bottle of $500 pinot noire in the library.” 
Frank Suffolk, her husband, big-time corporate lawyer of “Suffolk and Easton.” Sounded like a railroad. 
Before she could stand to retrieve the wine, Shaw touched her arm. “You know,” he said, “my lawyer’s ethics prohibit me from going to bed with clients, especially married ones.”
“Well,” she replied--the flinty way she used words. “We’ll just stay out here on the couch then, fool around and stay awake.”
“That’d be my suggestion.”
“Frank has his own thing. And, well, you’re here.”
He was about to say something to that, be offended, but found himself on the floor with her writhing on top of him. The lamp, still lit, fell. She reached while on her back and pulled its chain, and left it for dead on the carpet. Heavy breathing in the dark. Wet tongues. She slid out of her blouse and unhooked her bra. He slid his hands beneath her skirt as she groped his hair. She boosted her ass off the carpet, shimmied out of her panties and tossed them. They landed on the lamp shade. She lifted and bent her legs. He bowed my head and went to work.

“Yes. Do it. Do it,” her voice like a goddess above him.

After a minute, she pushed on the top of his head, wriggled free and stood. As he ogled her in the up-skirt, a log shifted. She looked down and stepped away and pulled off her skirt. Naked in the flickering light, her nipples jutted knobby like they’d been iced. Flame-shadows danced her skin and dappled the fluff of lower abs. Rich and fine, you wouldn’t need a condom. 

Overcome in the drunkenness of sex and midnight.

Reaching for his hand, she urged him to his feet. He struggled not to trip, waddling bare-assed toward the hallway, his boxers wrapped at his ankles.

“I’m sorry. I can’t do this,” he said, trying to sound like he meant it, regretting words that tumbled of their own accord.

He tugged at his impossibly twisted shorts. Riley stood motionless, looking at him in what appeared as abject sorrow, perhaps humiliation. As he put on his shirt, she turned to face the fire, making no move to cover herself. He wanted to hold her. 

He thanked her for the fabulous meal. He picked up her blouse. Standing over her panties in the darkness in the middle of the room, he considered kissing the back of her neck, starting over.

“Riley,” he whispered. “Riley?” She turned to the side. She was crying. Leaving was the only thing he could think of that wouldn’t make things worse.
He closed the door and stood on the landing, wanting to go back inside. What was wrong in just wanting to fuck?

He could apologize. A kiss without any sex in it. That it meant enough just to hold her. 

But then he left, walking into the cold clear night, hearing his footsteps too loud as he crossed the driveway, stopping and listening to nothing but breath, the car door breaking the hush. 

Mortified by what had happened, embarrassed for her and for himself, an old loneliness filled the car as he drove without music over empty streets.

To hold someone again. To be touched. It was right there. 

He thought back. Firelight on his face like sunshine. Aroma of ashes and chocolate. Moments that may never come again. Sadly, oddly, he drove home remembering old Decembers with holiday lights glowing red and blue, and the grey-chilled Christmas mornings when everyone was still alive. Further back were blue-sky days when Gramp would take him fishing. Even Zella got mixed in with all of this somehow, and he could taste the bittersweetness lingering sticky on his lips. 

By the time he pulled into the parking garage, he'd resolved to get a dog. Dogs, he understood. It had taken sixteen years to get over the loss of Cassie. Another fine girl he’d rejected and left alone to wonder just what the hell he was up to. If he only knew.

At two in the morning, he changed clothes and walked it off along the river. He ended up at his office. He made coffee, sat at his desk and checked the calendar for the upcoming week. Four days filled with motion hearings, jailhouse interviews, first appearances, docket calls, arraignments and preliminary hearings, all followed by the start of another rape trial with the voir dire on Friday. He opened the Thompson file and worked through the night.



1 comment:

  1. Oh my - so emotionally powerful, and leaves the reader with so much to think about. I am anxious to read the full story and see how much you fill in, and how much you leave to my imagination.
    There are a few typos (repetitions really) that need fixed, but you have certainly made me care about Shaw Pence and interested in his story.

    ReplyDelete