Into the Woods: Chapters 1 -4
- I already posted chapters 1-3. I deleted them and have added Chapter 4. This method seems to make more sense. I’ve been reading Hemingway and Steinbeck. There’s a paragraph in Chapter 4 that will look familiar to anyone who’s read Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday. At any rate, I’ve been trying to up my game — trying to write an erotic novelette that’s also literature and having fun with it. As the story progresses, the disparate threads will start to come together.
She pauses, hand softly on the glass edge of the car door. There’s been a passing shower. But for the café, the shops have closed and their remaining lights blur on the street’s black mirror. The remaining cars will stay until midnight or longer, but seldom through the night. There are some lighted windows above the storefronts, curtains pulled slant-ways. Eveline quietly closes the door, walks between a blue pick-up and a red sedan, under the windows and down the gleaming sidewalk, and into the warm, coffee-scented café.
There’s a corner table she likes. She can sit with the orange wall behind her and the toothy bookshelf above. She doesn’t carry a purse, but a small leather backpack. She hasn’t used it since her early twenties, after marriage and before children. Now the backpack carries more than she’s put in it. It carries her too. She’s middle aged. Her hair’s turned darker and her eyes are lined by both sorrow and laughter. Her eyes are a soft brown, and clear and as luminous as when she was twenty-one. She draws her raincoat self-consciously over her shoulders. A much younger woman brings her coffee, smiles and leaves.
“I’ve heard that someday, when you’re an old woman, the wolf will come for you and consume you,” says red riding hood.
Eveline sighs and gazes at the raven-haired beauty across from her, the raven-haired girl she used to be. Her nose is lean, her skin smooth, and her eyebrows sharp. “And then what?”
“I don’t know,” she answers, “but it depends on who tells the story.”
“But he’s not really after grandma,” says Eveline, “he’s after red riding hood.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Because you’re young and beautiful.”
“Maybe he’s after both?”
“Or maybe grandma and red riding hood are really the same?”
Eveline smiles and sips. “I want to be you again.”
“You will be,” answers Red Riding Hood, “but you will have to forget and begin a new fairy tale.”
“How do you know?”
“I still walk in the woods.”
“The wolf is coming.”
“I know. But the wolf is unpredictable. He doesn’t love you. He’ll use you.”
“Yes, that’s why I’m here.”
“I’d marry the woodsman.”
“I know” Eveline answers. “You will.”
“He’s a good man.”
“But the wolf is good too.”
“But you remember what he did to you,” says Eveline. “And you’ll think about it when you don’t expect to. Sometimes, when the woodsman makes love to you, and especially when he begins to forget you, when he lives in the same house but not with you. Then you’ll remember the wolf. What he did to you. How he made you feel—wild, careless, free.”
Little Red Riding hood leans back in her chair. She draws on her lip and presses her legs together “I killed him. For what he did, I killed him.”
“You only think you did.”
“The woodsman killed him.”
“He’s not dead.”
The metallic scrape of the entry door interrupted. A medium-height man with dark hair, skin and brown eyes locked eyes with her. “Evi?” he asked. His black wool coat glittered with beads of water.
“Wow.” He smiled. “You haven’t changed.”
Eveline stood a little nervously and hugged him.
“Now see, you’re wet.” Then seeing her astonished smile, he added, “No! I meant the coat. I should have taken off the coat. It’s raining. See?” He pointed out the door. “Rain.”
“I wasn’t thinking that.” She lied.
“I’ll just get something to drink. Can I get you—” But he stops himself seeing her coffee.
“He’s still kind of cute,” says Red Riding Hood, watching him go to the counter.
“See? You didn’t kill him.”
“Like I said, he’s unpredictable. He’ll turn.”
“So I should run?”
“Don’t dilly dally.”
“Like hell. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
“So,” says her ex-lover, “you look great. Have I mentioned that?” Red slips out of the chair giving Eveline a critical backward glance. Daniel sits down.
“Looks like you haven’t suffered for wear,” she says.
Later in the night Eveline’s home. She’s in the bathroom, undressed, daubing her lips and eyes with a washcloth. Her husband asks from the bedroom:
“How was Lydia?”
“She’s moved on to another life-plan,” she lies.
“What do you see in that woman?”
“She just wants her life to have meaning.”
“She’s a little old.”
“So am I.”
“What’s she been doing for the last twenty years?”
“It’s not the last twenty years.” But then again, she thinks to herself, maybe it is. She has second thoughts. She draws the chemise tight over her breasts, then lets it go again, unbuttoned. “What’s wrong with wanting to do something with your life?” Eveline switched off the bathroom light and steps slowly to the bed, one knee on the edge.
“Or happy with what you’ve got?”
She feels like she’s suffocating. Her face is flush. She lowers herself to her hands, on hands and knees, and crosses the mattress. “Hey,” she says, “there’s still a little light. It’s warm. Don’t you have some unfinished business?”
He sighs. One hand rises, elbow still on the mattress, fingers brushing her wrist and elbow. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe if you’d said something earlier.”
“We can try.”
She reaches for his cock.
He grimaces, and says: “Can’t we just spoon?”
She bites her lip, lies down, facing away from him. He drapes and arm over her, his hand at her belly. He says he loves her. He falls asleep. He doesn’t see her crying.
Three weeks later he sits at the kitchen table and looks like a helpless little boy.
“Why?” he asks, voice cracking.
“How can you even ask that?” she answers.
“What did I do?” his voice rises. “You’ve got a house. You’ve got—you’ve got money. Do you want a vacation. Where do you want to go? Is it the kids? Do you want to be closer to the kids. I’ve done nothing bu —”
“No! I didn’t marry a house!” And now she’s crying too. “I didn’t marry your money. I married ‘you’. And no I don’t want to go on vacation. I want to be with—” She almost said ‘you‘, but she couldn’t say it anymore. The word didn’t come. “I don’t want to be alone.”
“You aren’t alone!”
“Who am I living with?”
“I’m here!” he shouts.
“How would I know? Why don’t you make love to me? Why am ‘I‘ telling you, for Christ’s sake, when I want to be fucked? Am I the only one who wants sex?. Take the god-damn pill ‘yourself’. Why am I always telling you to take it? This has been the story on since the kids were in pre-school. You didn’t need a pill ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. And what? What stopped you then? When did you decide to be a virgin again?”
“I’ve given you everything!” His knuckles rapped the table. “I’ve given you my life.”
“Every day,” he sputters, “I worked for you. I provided for your children. I paid for your house! How isn’t this ‘respect‘?”
“’My’ children? ‘My’ house?”
“I didn’t mean it that way, Eveline. You know what I meant.”
“That’s not respect.” Her voice quivered. “Listening is respect. Talking is respect.”
“Oh hell,” he half turned away, “listening. What have you been reading?—another one of those god-damn self-help books? Who was it this time, some talk-show quack? This is just—just senseless. This—This will pass. This too will pass, Eveline. Whatever’s got you worked up—Do you want a therapist? Go see a therapist. Take however long—It doesn’t matter.”
“I’m divorcing you.”
“No!” His hands open and close, helpless. “What the hell am I going to do? What—what will Greg say? And Barbara? How am I supposed to go—”
“What about me!” she shouts back.
“Well—” He mouths abortive sentences. “What about you? You’re divorcing me! After twenty years of marriage! Me!”
The engine runs Eveline sobs at the side of the road. Red Riding Hood’s bare feet are propped against the windshield, above the glove box. She stares between them at the sky, absentmindedly chewing on a strand of her dark brown hair. “I don’t know.”
“Oh God, what have I done?”
“You stood up for yourself.”
“How could I have been so stupid?”
“I don’t call that stupid.”
“No. No that. Not divorcing him. Oh God, no. That’s the one smart thing I’m doing right. No. How could I have been so stupid for so many years?”
“Bluebeard, right? You know, people think that story’s about a real man who lived in a real castle and murdered real women but you know what it’s really about?”
Eveline collects herself, leans back, takes a deep breath.
“Bluebeard is everyman,” says Red Riding Hood, “his wealth is his soul, his castle is his body and the room you’re not allowed to look in is his heart.”
“Yeah.” Eveline stares out the windshield.
“Women say that’s what they want, but they don’t really. And a man doesn’t want to show her what’s in his heart. And so men and women make a deal, kind of like Bluebeard, but a man’s heart always calls to a woman the way bluebeard’s room, his heart, called to his wives. You opened Bluebeard’s room. You looked in your husband’s heart.”
“So many years.”
“So what are you going to do. Are you just going to stay there? Are you going to blame yourself? See. It’s not Bluebeard who hangs the women. The women hang ‘themselves’. When they see what’s in the room, and they each see something different, their own hearts are broken.”
“It’s just a story.”
“Yeah,” answers Red Riding Hood. “It’s just a story.”
“Let’s go for a walk.”
Eveline steps out of the car. The gravel road is straight through the hayed field. There’s not another car, only hers. A wind lifts the hay dust, the withered petals, gorse, loose strife and milkweed. A collective hush shimmers in the further trees. She can feel the hay’s cut edge under the soft soles of her sandals as she climbs to the top of a rolling rise. A cloud’s shadow brings a sprinkling exhalation.
“You know you can’t go back,” says Red Riding Hood.
“I’m going to walk in the woods.”
“You’ve seen his heart.”
“I don’t want any of it. He can have the house. He can have every fucking last thing.”
“You can’t let him.”
“Oh God, I just want to start over.”
“And what about tonight? You were going to wait until next week. Lindsey’s relatives are staying in the guest house this week. Monica and Jim are in therapy. Like they need your drama. Hanna’s remodeling and Jenn’s daughter and new baby just moved back in.”
“I’m going to Daniel’s.”
“Its too soon. You don’t know what he’ll do.”
Eveline lifted her arms, spread them wide and exhaled loudly. “That’s what I want. I have no idea what he’ll do. For twenty years, jesus-fucking-Christ, the same thing! I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. Surprise me. Be what I won’t expect.”
“It’s kinda’ fun to think about,” Red Riding smiled.
“But he’ll turn on you.”
Eveline turned, lowering her arms. “Yeah, but before he does, what’ll he do to me?”
“You’d better call. You can’t just go over.”
To the north or south of Middlebury is the place to live, if you like a view. The sunsets bronze the steep bluffs of the green mountains, running north to south. And on a good day, broken clouds will blacken underneath and whitely billow above. The westward Adirondacks grow in stature as the sun falls behind them—a layered, rugged, saw-toothed range. The sheen of Champlain lies under them like beaten pewter, appearing and disappearing. To stand at the level of the lake is to fool oneself into seeing the ocean. To north and south the horizon is water.
Vermont may be divided by haves-and-haves-not or by elevation. In either case, the same results will be produced. To the north of Middlebury, the best views are taken by early to mid-eighteenth century farmhouses. New owners, having the wherewithal to retire the old farmers, lovingly restore the houses to their platonic ideal: straightened ridges, poured basements, leveled clapboards, paint as white as paper and tall, wide windows.
The house bought by Tobin Marsh around 1918 is generally considered among the most spacious of the stately farm houses.
Marsh was a short and stout man with a broad nose and bushy hair. He wasn’t the kind to draw a woman’s eyes. But what draws a woman to a man is more often what can’t be seen—least of all by other men. Kathy Topsham’s increasing visits to the Marsh farm, and for lengths deemed less than sensible, was duly noted and remarked by the general community.
Marsh’s unprepossessing homeliness and poverty of character hardly seemed a match for Kathy’s acknowledged beauty. She was as tall and whispy as he was short and stocky. She was as graceful in word and character as he in brusque unneighborliness. Kathy had already left in her wake an unprecedented number of suitors.
She sat with them on the porch of her father’s house, seated on the opposite end of a swinging bench. Every suitor brought a gift—flowers, chocolates, fruits, candies and more. There was always the understanding that she would be amply provided for. She would never lack. Yet one after the other her suitors parted piqued by her beauty and puzzled by her dreamy indifference. Surely, the men thought, there ought to have been one among them.
They talked among themselves and women, who blamed her for their own neglect seized on the change in weather. They contrived their own explanations and in a short time a little competition had begun.
The first interaction between Kathy and Marsh was the day she went by herself to the Marsh farm for milk—a muddy place aside the dirt road and beaten down my hooves. Marsh paid her no more mind than if she’d been a school girl with a runny nose. This was the first time she had met Marsh, and she immediately took to his indifference. Within the day, she had spilled her first purchase of milk and returned for more.
Marsh scolded her on the spot. The bottle was broken. Eliza Callahan, next in line, and the youngest daughter of the baker Robert Callahan, noted it all. Something changed in Kathy’s demeanor, she said. The young woman’s face and lips were flushed by the time she turned around with another bottle of milk. A sweep of dark hair had somehow slipped from the bun as if it had been knocked loose. The curling wisp hung over her lips and eyes and though Eliza politely addressed her, Kathy hurried by, eyes lowered, her basket of milk tightly against her pelvis.
Kathy’s clumsiness dramatically increased and so much so that her Aunt Sal wondered if she hadn’t fallen in love, but her clumsiness pertained strictly lto Marsh milk bottles. When Eliza happened to be in line a week or two later—Eliza’s milk consumption had also curiously increased—she reported the strangest imaginable behavior.
Kathy once again returned with a broken bottle for which she brought no compensation.
Marsh flew into a rage and assaulted the beautiful young woman with the kind of unsavory invective one would expect from an ignorant youth. “That’s the fourth bottle you’ve broken in two weeks!” he spit.
Kathy lowered her eyes, turning the tip of her laced boot into the dirt. “I shan’t happen again.”
“And what of it?” demanded Marsh. “Who’s to pay for what you’ve already broken?”
“Now it’s just a bottle,” interjected Eliza from behind Kathy. “How many bottles do you have in circulation, Marsh, and how many are these? You’ve got no business treating a young woman this way.”
“What’s it matter to you?” Marsh scratched the stubble at corner of his mouth. He turned right round with two bottles of milk and told Eliza Callahan she’d best be on her way but Eliza, being the only other woman, decided this was her chance to get to the bottom of the gossip.
And that was until Marsh took Kathy by the arm and led her straight to the barn. Just when Eliza’s imagination ran short of murder, Kathy stepped from the barn carrying four bottles of milk in a basket. Marsh’s face was red and so was Kathy’s. There was something not quite right about her clothes. Her lips were as flush as Eliza had ever seen them and strangely moist, and her hair was disheveled—the way a woman’s hair is dismantled by stooping. Why Marsh would force Kathy Topsham to stoop in a barn for her own milk was flatly scandalous. Ms. Topsham bit her lip when she saw that Eliza hadn’t gone.
“Well,” said Eliza coldly, “I don’t expect you’ll be seeing Ms Topsham again.”
Kathy had walked but Eliza had come in a jaunting car, one of the few brought from Ireland. Eliza patted the horse, gave Tobin Marsh a withering look, and helped Ms . Topsham to sit on the black and red-trimmed buggy. The young woman grimaced and once again bit her lip as though pins and needles had pierced her bottom.
Kathy said nothing for the return ride. Eliza reeled from one indignity to another. “That’s no way for a man to treat a woman,” she noisily concluded before Kathy’s house.
But it wasn’t more than two days later that Kathy Topsham returned to the Marsh homestead having broken all four of her milk-bottles. Now even Tobin Marsh realized this couldn’t go on. The truth was that he was turning into a ruined and distracted man—and that was nothing like himself.. He could hardly finish a chore before he paced along the roadside, stubby ungraceful fingers conspiring behind his back.
No sign of her.
With quick, impatient steps, he would disappear to do another chore and even leave it unfinished to return to the roadside. Anyone who was not Ms. Kathy Topsham felt themselves treated with an unusual degree of disappointment. When Kathy finally appeared over the rise of the dirt road, she was alone.
Marsh headed straight down the road and met her in the middle; and that was something he’d done for no one, not even the doctor or banker. “Where are they?”
Kathy held up the basket of broken bottles.
“That’s four! All four of them? That’s—” But then Marsh straightaway took her by the upper arm and led her to the barn. Her steps skittered next to his own purposeful stride. Her printed muslin dress tore on a nail as he led her through. There was nobody there to hear her, or the noises and cries as she had never made before.
Eliza, delayed by the willfulness of her horse, only appeared in time to see Kathy step from the barn, Marsh behind her. Kathy was flush and sweating, her hair undone, and Eliza didn’t miss the tear in her skirt. Affairs were out of hand, but both Marsh and Kathy were strangely and inexplicably calm and equitable. Ms. Topsham held four new bottles in one hand, and with the other she straightened her dress. Tobin Marsh also adjusted the broad leather belt of his pants and cocked his hat. An opaque drop slipped unseen down Kathy’s ankle.
Eliza would put a stop to it.
But a week later Tobin Marsh and Kathy Marsh were married, much to the mystification of all those who’d invested in this or that rumor. Mrs. Marsh was meant to be a spinster. There had been rumors of another woman.
Mrs. Marsh was always inexplicably clumsy around her husband, and these bouts of clumsiness always seemed to precede the birth of another child. In all, the Marsh’s produced a dozen children, all of whom lived into adulthood.
That Mrs. Marsh should be so happy living in the squalor of a barnyard mystified the Middlebury’s townswomen until some years had passed, and then on a single day, as if one among the gossipers had arrived for their milk too early in the morning, all speculation ceased. When the grapes of gossip and speculation whither it means that somewhere the truth has gotten out.
Unsurprisingly, the many men who had been her suitors never seemed to have shared in the discovery. They remained stubbornly mystified that such a beautiful women would be attracted to the brusque Tobin Marsh. But it was never what Marsh offered that piqued her heart, but what he demanded.
This was the house that Barbara Puller, Eveline’s stepsister, saw at the top of the field, some way off and above. Her own house was a ranch squeezed between the road and the property’s start. It was already bathed by the light of the sun. She could see the house but not the sunset, and that always took the pleasure straight out of the evening. She stared out the window. Food was served. Tilly and Brian had joined them. She finally spoke:
“Did Eveline call?”
“Not since I’ve been here,” said Tilly.
Barbara’s husband placed a serving bowl and sat. Brian was his daughter and Tilly was his girlfriend. Bill was a bald man, powerfully built with a broad chest and thick fingers. “Let’s hope it’s nothing like your brother’s hysteria.”
“Where’s the soup bowl?” Barbara interrupted.
“What’s wrong with this one?”
“It’s not the soup bowl.”
“Well then now we’ve got two soup bowls.”
Barbara grimaced. She was a narrow women with tightly drawn, bleached hair. Bracelets shivered on her long, thin arms. “Roy’s got reasons to be hysterical.”
“She should have left him years ago..”
“He’s my brother.”
“He’s not mine.”
“He’s family, Bill.”
“The guy hasn’t laid—“ Bill glances at Tilly. “How old are you now? Twenty-four? You and Brian seen it all by now, right?”
“The guy hasn’t laid a hand on her since the children.”
“That’s not true,” said Barbara cooly.
“It’s true enough.”
“To break up a marriage?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“There’s more to a marriage than sex, Bill.””
“Yeah, you’ll say that until I have an affair.”
“That’s different! That’s not at all the same! And what are you suggesting? That Roy had an affair?”
“I’m sayin’ it’s the same as an affair. Marry somebody and then decide, no sex? Hey, I just want somebody to read in bed with—then, yeah, that’s cheating. In my book that’s infidelity.”
Barbara’s plate was still empty, her knuckles white. “Reading a book is not the same as having an affair. Jesus, Bill. Marriage is a relationship. You commit to a—relationship, not whether—whether you fuck on Tuesday or fuck on Thursday.”
“So sex and a relationship are different? That’s what you’re sayin’. Yeah, maybe you’re right. I sure as hell don’t need a relationship to have sex. Do you, Brian?”
The younger man lifted his hands, palms up, and smiled warily.
“He’s scared be alone,” said Barbara, her eyes tearing.
“Know what?” Bill took bread and ladled soup into his own bowl. “So was she.”
“He knows you’re here,” Red Riding Hood volunteered.
“Just give me a minute.”
Eveline and Red Riding Hood stood outside Daniel’s front door. His house was a red salt-box, chocolate in the thickening dark, backed against a hill and embraced by trees. There was a small, ragtag garden to the left and a partially renovated studio to the right. His pick-up reflected a dusty moon.
“Now you’re having second thoughts.”
“A minute!” Eveline’s heart raced.
“Kind of exciting though, isn’t it.”
“It’s all one big mistake. I should have gone to Boston.”
“And stay with Jack?”
“Am I a monster?”
“Of course you are.”
Eveline raised her hand, then smiled sheepishly when the door opened. “I was going to knock!”
“You’re five minutes early.” He smiled—a beautiful smile against his dark skin and the darker evening. He took the bag slung over her shoulder. “But the studio’s ready. I vacuumed. The plumber’s coming on Friday to fix the water.”
“So where do I—”
“In my house. The downstairs has a shower.”
Their shoes clipped gravel. An old bulb draped with sider webs and dead moths lit up the studio entryway. “Sorry.” But inside, there was a new wood floor, small sink and cabinets, and then a queen size mattress on the floor. The sheetrock was plastered but unpainted.
“I like it.”
He dropped her bags next to the bed. “What something to eat?”
“What have you got?”
“Pizza and Chinese Food.” He opened the refrigerator. “Ordered it just in case.”
Eveline jumped like a little girl and cleared the little island separating the kitchenette from the living space. She took a slice of pizza. He took some of the Chinese food.
“So,” he speared a piece of broccoli, “still writing?”
Eveline shook her head. “I had kids.”
“What do you want to do now?”
“Got it. Eat as much as you want. Stay as long as you want. Rent is garden help. I started some broccoli and carrots. Carrots are little Prima donnas. If you can do anything with them, I’ll pay you to stay.”
“What about you?” she smiled.
“I’m beyond hope. Help the carrots and that will be enough.”
“No, God, you haven’t changed. Where are all the bicycles? Do you still compete?”
Daniel shook his head. “No. I had an accident.” He paused thoughtfully. “It was bad. Nothing left of my helmet. I can’t—almost turned me into an old man. Every now and then I forget what I’m doing. I don’t let on. It hurts to walk. I loose my balance I don’t—I write about the sport. I’m a writer.”
“You couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag.”
“So, what about Maryl?”
“Aren’t you full of questions.”
“Just give me somebody to talk to.”
“Okay.” He leaned back, then went to the refrigerator for a beer. “Want one?”
“Here’s what happened. So, I woke up in a hospital bed. The nurses and doctors are telling me I’m lucky to be alive. You know, I had a reputation. It wasn’t the first time they’d seen me in the ER. I was the daredevil. I was the perpetual teenager. But one of the Docs is new and doesn’t know me. He sits next to me, checks my blood pressure and says to me: ‘Another knock like this and you’re good as dead. You want that? At your age? You got dependents? Whose gonna’ take care of ’em? You’re not a teenager anymore.’
“Now the funny thing is: I don’t have any dependents. So what he says shouldn’t bother me?” Daniel leans forward. “But it’s all I can think about. I’m lying there, middle-aged, wounded, almost dead, and the problem’s not that I could have broken somebody’s heart, but that there’s not a heart to break. Who’s going to miss me? Maryl?” He smiled. “Death’s just one more thing Type A’s power through.”
“You guys divorced?”
“Never married. Lived together for years; and when I stopped biking—she moved on.”
“Where is she now?”
“Married with kids.”
“You didn’t want kids?”
“Not with her, I guess; or maybe the other way round.”
“So what now?”
“Yeah. How about some of that pizza?”
The same evening that Eveline ate pizza with Daniel, Tilly and Brian were driving home from their dinner with Brian’s parents. Evening was settling in, midsummer when the nights begin in the woods. The leaves brood over the welling dark while daylight lingers in the fields or on the sides of a house. The odd light begins to show inside and a porch flickers on. Passing cars shorten, then splay the shadows behind them. Brian and Tilly’s car turned a corner at Crone’s field just as a white moth flittered out of the knee high corn.
“They argued the whole dinner,” said Tilly.
“Do they always argue like that?”
“Eveline’s leaving got under Mom’s skin.”
“She thinks she should stay?”
“I think she’s jealous.”
Tilly slouched in her seat and spread her toes out the car window. “Jealous? Jealous how? Of your Aunt divorcing?”
“She’s not my Aunt.”
“Something like that.”
Tilly rested her elbow between the two sits and lowered her fingertips to Brian’s crotch. She pressed lightly at the soft, knotted heat beneath the zipper. She pressed again, and each time the heat became more resistant, thicker, heavier. She drank in his groan as he drove. “Don’t ever keep secrets, you know what I mean?”
“Like what?” he asked.
“Like, being angry and not telling me. Like not telling me your feelings. Like keeping resentments inside.” She traced the knot of his arousal with her finger’s tip until she found the spongy tip under the jeans’ fabric. She circled it with a fingernail. “Talk to me. Don’t ever be afraid, you know, to tell me—exactly—what you’re feeling.”
“Open my fly. Put your lips around it. Lick it. Suck it.” The words came in a tumble, a gravelly cascade.
She balanced over the console between the seats, her nipples under the thin fabric of the dress grazed the fabric or loosely hung. She didn’t wear a bra. She tugged at his cock with two fingers, half prying it out. He widened legs. She freed it, then softly, slowly, enclosed the tip with her lips.
Another few miles further along, where the dark brooded thickly between the trunk and limbs of Hemlock, White Pine and Maple, Brian nosed the car up a dirt road that sided the woods. The high ridge of the Greens lost the last of the sun’s glow and turned a bluish haze already darker than the sky. Brian switched off the headlights. There’d been nobody behind them or ahead. Tilly sat up and peered out the window, then at Brian.
“Take off your panties.”
Tilly smiled and caught her lip. She shimmied out of her panties as Brian stepped out of the car. She followed, her dress gracefully returning to her calves.
“Into the woods,” he said.
She skipped ahead, barefooted and let out a squeal, a little ouch before she giggled. The carpet of pine needles pricked her feet. She glanced behind, basking in his smile.
“The woods are so dark,” she said.
“Especially for a girl without panties.”
“Why? What could happen, Sir?”
His hand traveled smoothly back and forth over his cock as he followed her. “Terrible, little girl!” he snarled. “Terrible things!”
She screamed. He chased her. Her narrow bar feet moved gracefully over the matted leaves and broken limbs. He followed powerfully, purposefully, and caught her pivoting hips. She laughed, spun around, stumbled and fell to her knees. “Don’t hurt me!” she breathed, then coughed.
He filled her mouth with his familiar warm length. His knuckles twisted in her hair. She spread her knees, digging into the leaf and twig spiked loam. The smell of dirt and her own moisture rose from the fierce vulnerability responding between her thighs.
Pretense discarded, without the civility of bedsheets, curtains or walls, he told her what to do. The mat of needles and pines were her sheets, and a forest her canopy. She was entered and dug in the soil as she howled; and he howled and dug into her from behind. When he had scoured her moisture, and her hips were open and lifted to receive, submissive after so many thrusts, he held and emptied himself in her womb.
And afterward there was a lilt to their walk, his gait swinging and hers lush and fluid. They returned from the woods, as lovers do, secretive and happy.
About the time that Brian took Tilly into the woods, Ned Arbor pulled up next to Jay Maille when he saw Jay out front of his driveway raking stones out of the grass. Ned still drove his ’72 Ford pickup—by now, the envy of every hipster south of Middlebury. He had one elbow out the window, crossed the road and popped over the gravel till he was just a foot or so from Jay. He didn’t say anything at first, just looked up and further long the road as was his want. He chewed on a toothpick and neither man gave the other the time of day.
Jay wore his blue work wear, top and bottom. The hems were worn, just short of threadbare. He was a shaggy little man with a halo of gray hair and stubbled whereas Ned was bald with a broad flat nose and brilliant blue eyes. “Eveline’s left Roy, says she wants a divorce.”
“Always a good-lookin’ gal, that one,” answered Jay.
“Never lost her figure, did she.”
“Fine lookin’ daughters too, those girls.”
“Roy hasn’t called you, has he?”
“No,” said Jay, “no reason, not bein’ a particular friend.”
“By Jesus, such a carryin’ on. You’d think she’d shot the dog and burned the house down.”
“Well, I s’pose it was comin’ sooner or later.”
Jay smiled to himself as he raked. “Hell, well, you know, you should listen to CJ carryin’ on about women these days.”
“That old golddigger.”
“Men are just sperm donors, says CJ. Once a woman gets her brood, that’s all the use she has for a man. Every time he comes near, why she’ll find this or that to do with a child. That’s all she’s time for. Then out goes the man, works himself to gristle and bone, and if that don’t do him in, then it’s divorce.”
“A gal’s right to steer clear of CJ.”
“Well now, says CJ, just take a look who lives in the best houses. Why it’s all widows or ex-wives and god-damned if there’s a man among’em. What all they do is buy curtains and couches; and not a thing out of place if you catch my meaning. Then off winters to ski and resort. Such a life! That’s how women make their way in the world. Don’t you know? The bright ones marry rich and widow richer. Why—and women wonder why we chase after the young ones.”
“Now you can’t go by what CJ says.”
“No, but ask yourself if t’aint some truth to what he says.”
“I don’t see you out chasin’ the girls.”
“Well, you know the sayin’ Ned: An old man marryin’ a young gal, might as well a book for the next man’s reading.”
“Never understood what Eveline saw in Roy.”
“She done well, didn’t she?”
“Roy doesn’t think so.”
“Then I’d say she was right on schedule.”
“I did some work for Roy. You know some customers make you feel good you’re doing work for’em. Roy’d always make you feel you weren’t doin’ enough or doin’ it for the time he was payin’; but Eveline could sugar toads from a ditch.”
“Ten dollar hat on a ten cent head.”
“Well, that’ll be a five dollar hat by the time it’s done with.”
The phrase ‘into the woods’ doesn’t have to mean woods.
The least suspecting refuge can be full of thickets and shadow, as for instance between the covers of a book. Burning a book is no different then setting the woods alight. Be rid of the wolves; but they’ll find a way. Red riding hood is their specialty, and the wolves are hers.
And possibly the darkest woods are in the library.
But that didn’t occur to Millard Winthrop, profoundly smitten by the new and young librarian Eliza Burwood. She was a willowy young woman with long blond hair and small but pronounced breasts. Millard was a shortish young man with curly brown hair and brown eyes who took to wearing black coats even in the dead of summer. His first conversation with Millard was an unforgettable confirmation of the book’s due date.
And anyone could see as he walked out of the library with the book under an arm, that he was not the man who walked in. He descended the broad stone stairs the way a hermit descends a mountain having decided after years of inward seeking that perhaps the truth doesn’t lie entirely in himself.
He was dazzled. There was a village in the valley and he had just seen it. There was dancing, carousing and indecencies in unlit corners. It was the indecencies that drew him down. Eliza Burwood, in her shape and gestures, was a maze of indecency. And he burned to carry a light into the dark mystery.
When does the descent start?. The boy is the unmitigated self. ‘I am the great adventure,’ says the boy. “There will be heroes and villains. I’ll be the hero. And whatever I find will be mine.” His fumbling and immature efforts will be reappraised. He will master what other men tried and failed. He is a devotee of manhood, which he simply understands as self-sufficient. But one day he’ll see the dancing in the valley and descend. He’ll hear the indiscretions in the shuttered rooms, behind closed doors and sequestered alleyways. The noises will call to him, will be the song that shoals his boyhood. Some men try to escape the calamity. They go to religion. There they can expound without a woman’s contradiction but the final authority over women, which most men crave, is only won through contradiction and comprehension. Others seek out indiscretion as if by theft, trade or purchase; taking a woman as theirs. Never satisfied. Never whole. Never sure of what they have. They become violent and jealous. But Millard Winthrop descended with a mind newly wakened. He saw in the red of the abstractionist’s painting a woman’s lips. He saw in buildings the sway and guidance of a woman’s architecture. Music was full of her voice and persuasion. Her lilt and gait moved through poetry. How had he missed so much before? And then he asks for the first time: Who is she? Love beckoned. The ache was cruel, tender, and promised to heal in wounding. But he already knew there was nothing more desirable than to love and be loved in return.
Millard’s first night was a long night of absences.
He could barely tolerate a table. The two empty chairs waited morosely. He picked up his chair in one hand, carried the dish and bottle in the other, and sat on the porch. The evening was busy with crickets and the shrill red-winged blackbird. That, at least, was some kind of company. Three or four cars threw up dust as they passed by. A girl’s bare feet, crossed at the ankles, stuck out the passenger side of an old Volvo.
Millard lost his appetite.
He finished his beer and got another. Finishing that, he took a shower, and before finishing that his orgasm spilled with the water. The symbolism of its being washed down the drain nearly ruined him. He decided to go to bed, but after sleeplessly gazing at the ceiling, he understood that the bed was too large for one person and carried his pillow and blanket out to the hammock he had slung between a birch and a cigar tree. Here, at least, he had the company of stars.
He woke early the next morning, before the sun was up. There was a fine mist, copper and purple at the same time, that drifted over the low mountains. Millard gazed at the dawning light and then, abruptly, took back to the house and read the book he’d borrowed from first to last in one sitting.
He returned to the library soon afterward, determined to consult with Miss Burwood on the next book. Extensively. But something terrible had happened. The beautiful Eliza Burwood had returned to the library wearing an engagement ring.
Many another man might have been broken, but Millard had had a vision.
Millard knew what he wanted.
He had forgotten to wear his black coat, and it hardly mattered to him.