Chapter 22: James 1:14
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
There was something in her religious upbringing to suggest that it was a sign from God. There was something in what had transpired to suggest that it was the work of the devil. A bleaching, a scrubbing, and a coat of primer waged war with good and evil, and rubber-gloved Mary Kowalski stepped back, wiping her brow with her forearm, holding the paint roller in the other hand, feeling a tear trickle down her left cheek and stop to mingle with a speck of paint. The bunk bed that she had moved away from the wall loomed in her peripheral vision, mattress stripped of its bedding, and a tear now joined its counterpart, dropping swiftly to catch up. Fine strands of hair peeked from under the headscarf and began to mat to her forehead, and the cheap smock did its best to keep the paint off of her as she worked frantically, feeling the trickles of sweat run down her back and into her jeans as her body cried in pain. It was 4:00 a.m., Monday morning, when she finally finished. The newspaper rustled as she gathered it and examined the final product. The paint sufficed to take the image out of sight, keeping one more secret, letting it die for someone else’s sins.
John had taken her to get the supplies on Sunday evening after she had taken him to church to pray for Donna, to pray she would change her mind, to just pray. She had given him the details along the way, and she noticed a contemplative expression painting over his face. He had offered to do the job for her, but she refused to let him see the room, a compromise to Donna’s request.
As she waited for the paint to dry, Mary took stock of the carpeting, its trickles and trails of bodily fluid forming a primitive Etch-a-Sketch pattern with no discernible beginning or end. She reached into her plastic bag from A&G Hardware, took out a can, held it upside down, shook it, and began spraying and scrubbing, the rug burning her knees as she made the journey. Behind her, a white envelope appeared from under the door.
When John and Andy awakened early Monday morning, they took the long way around, the paint smell seeping under the room’s door and 629 wearing the innocuous guise of its intended purpose. John was first to speak as they listened to rumbling of the approaching elevator.
“Y. A., I guess they don’t sell paint thick enough for me.” They entered as the elevator doors opened. “I feel really shitty about Saturday night.” John looked at the floor, and when the elevator arrived, he added, “It just seemed like an okay and fun thing to do at the time.”
Both ate in silence for several minutes and watched the other early birds moving about. The clinking of silverware and the blended hum of too many conversations providing the white noise.
The fourth floor of the Hillview library was quiet at 7:00 a.m., but Mike had the company of a cigarette, a cup of coffee, and microfiche. The words were indeed Latin, osculum infame, the kiss of shame, the humbling that involved placing a kiss on the Devil’s anus or on that of a witch. The words were steeped in ritual, recalled as myth, chronicled as a means to obtain sexual dominance. Thus the words existed, but perhaps Carol knew of them, perhaps she was a practitioner, a witch of some kind, but what about the voices he was hearing, the force that kept him on his knees? Maybe that had been part of the hallucinations. His mind worked to find order amidst the chaos, to find reasonable explanations, to find something to restore his ego, and it did so admirably until it found the loss of Donna.
Absent the nerve to go to his classes, he walked for a long time, taking in the scenery from a different perspective. The blinding glare of sun on snow continued its torture, and he fancied that nature was trying to extract a confession from him. Along the sidewalk leading up to the bridge, he noticed dog crap nestled in the yellow snow around it, and he further fancied that the snow had been a Tabula Rasa until his existence. His self-flagellation continued when on his way back up on the elevator, the door opened to Mary.
“Hey, Mary,” Mike mumbled, feeling the irrational fear that she might harm him physically, not knowing what to expect but believing that silence would be a poorer choice of action.
“Mike, I hope you understand that I cannot talk with you,” Mary answered coarsely. “Excuse me, please.” She entered the elevator as he exited.
Well, I guess she could have done me worse, Mike thought as he lay in his bed staring at the ceiling. He picked up the phone on the nightstand and dialed, and this time someone answered.
“Hello. May I speak with Donna, please?”
“With whom am I speaking?”
“This is Mike.”
“Mike, this is Donna’s mother, and she’s asked me to tell you to not call. She doesn’t wish to speak with you.”
“I’m sorry to have bothered you. Goodbye.” Mike concluded the call and thought, Why would she want to talk with me? I still had to try.
Mary, trusting, spiritual Mary couldn’t make the image disappear no matter how much her hand shook. Her chest heaved to support the sobs and catch the tears. Mary, proper, Catholic Mary, buried her face in the pillow and pulled it around her ears to see no evil and hear no evil.
John’s one-half hour and 200 dollars became time and money he would have liked to take back, but somehow this moment and expense became memorialized in the form of a four-by-six black and white photograph, the image of a giant man accepting the invitation of a diminutive lady’s raised bottom.
Thursday night was the last night before the winter holiday break. There was a light snow falling, nothing like the blizzard that blanketed the campus less than a week earlier, but its freshness provided refurbishment of the winter scene that had since grayed with age, worn with footprints, and hardened. The two-inch dusting restored the Christmas card scene like a cheap paint job and made two of the men in Suite 619 wish it didn’t happen.
“What’s a holiday without someone special to share it with?” Mike asked the group. Then looking at John, he said, “I thought the Monster was only making cameos for special occasions.” He watched halfheartedly as John fired it up and took a long drag.
“Word, Mary and I went to church that Sunday evening for mass. She wanted to pray for you and Donna. I felt like the world’s biggest hypocrite, but I don’t think I ever listened more closely to what the priest was saying.”
“He was talking about the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. He was using them as a metaphor for wanting more than you need and giving in to temptation.”
Andy contemplated John’s words. “You know the one thing we all have in common is that we set foot in that room. Maybe if we had stayed clear of it, none of this would’ve happened.”
The trio did not have any background music going. The occasion really didn’t merit it. They simply sat for several minutes contemplating and passing the pipe, inhaling and igniting its embers, resuscitating memories that burned like the smoke in their lungs.
During the winter, there was a desolate feel to the red cottage. From the picture window of the den area at the back of the house, Donna watched through the empty branches of the two maple trees as wind gusts skimmed snow off the icy river, sending it airborne. Her eyes followed the disturbed flakes, trying to see where they would settle, but it was as if they simply disappeared. Another gust arrived, and she could hear the cracking of branches, threatening to break off of sturdier limbs, but they somehow managed to survive.
Using a poker, Mary moved around the burning wood in the fireplace, setting sparks aloft and strengthening the fire. With her arms folded across her chest, she returned to the couch and rested her head on Donna’s shoulder. To their left, adjacent to the fireplace, a large Christmas tree wore the formal attire of blinking bulbs, decorative orbs, and shiny tinsel, all dressed up with no place to go. The mood lighting did little to brighten the moment; instead it settled upon each of their faces and gave a sheen to dried streaks of tears.
“Mary, losing your virginity and believing no one will want you, is the kind of thinking that will cripple you for life. Saying sex is the wife’s duty, or sex out-of-wedlock is a sin, all that crap comes from grandmothers and, I’m sorry, Catholic priests who need to look at their reflections in the Holy water. What world are you living in?” Donna raised her voice and sat upright on the couch. “Look at you. You’re tall, thin, beautiful, and smart, with an emphasis on smart. What century are you living in?” Donna dabbed at her watery eyes, got up, and tended to the fire, rolling a small log into the mix and giving new energy to the flames.
With her head bowed between her knees and hands clasped prayerfully, Mary sobbed quietly. Between sniffs, she spoke. “You know, he told me that he loved me. How am I supposed to go back, see him every day, and act like nothing happened? I couldn’t stop looking at that picture. It made me feel so inferior. I just needed time. Everything was so new to me.”
Donna rested a hand on Mary’s shoulder. “Think about it, Mary. Why is it that a woman losing her virginity is scarred, and a man losing his is sowing his wild oats. You know I took off Mike’s training wheels.”
“He’s a boy, Mary, a scared awkward boy. I took his virginity, but I didn’t take his pride. I showed him how to touch me, made him feel special as he fumbled with my body, kept in mind that the moment was special for him. Why is the moment special for the man and a curse on the woman? Every man who ever lived should be thanking God for all the scarred women in the world!” Donna burst into tears, and they hugged each other as the fire’s glow again waned, and the wind lightly rattled the window. “I cried for a year over a man. How long will it take to get over the boy?”
“Dons, I need you now. Please don’t go. Please come back to our school.” They hugged each other tightly.
A light sleep came to both of them as new snowflakes rose like soft drink bubbles in the porch light. Donna’s thoughts rested on the boy, the deep secret he had shared with her, and their scars, mental and physical, that rutted the landscape of their young lives. And then it drifted to her deepest secret, more than a year ago, already more than a year. If only Mary had been there that day.
The impossibly long fingers had lightly combed through her hair. “Donna. Wake up.” She shook her shoulder, “Wake up,” more emphatically. “Someone’s had a little too much.” She grasped her hands and pulled her into a seated position.
The coffee mug was comfort clutched in her hands, its radiance crawling up her arms and stopping at her heart. She looked up at her, perched adjacent to her on the bed. “I’m so sorry; it’s just….” her words trailed her into the bathroom, an arm righting her wobbly journey, hands holding back her hair, gathering its strands, nimbly working to ferret through the indignity.
Donna saw the sweat on her brow and her matted hair as she brushed her teeth. The water was running, steam opening her pores, some clarity returning, opening the door to desperation and the need for someone to care. She steadied herself on the sink and watched as the elegant long fingers moved, floating over the buttons, opening, slipping off the shoulders, shimmying down the legs, casting to the bathroom floor in a little pile of her modesty that was completed with an unsnapping and a gentle pulling down.
She turned away, only to see her naked body in the mirror and the eyes behind her, taking her in. She covered her breasts as the hands caressed her shoulders and turned her toward the shower, keeping her steady.
“Donna, hold onto the handrail. Wait for me.”
The make-up flowed off her face like an unveiling. Underneath, peering between the strands of wet hair, were glowing eyes, a pouting mouth. Her breasts were at eye-level to Donna who let her hands reach toward touching, stopping just short, failing to grasp the moment, instead briefly clasping together as if in prayer for guidance, then falling helplessly at her side.
They traded places so that soapy hands could glide along the back of Donna’s body, a massage of the shoulders, a passage of the underarms, a slip along the shoulder blades, a yielding at the dimples, a purposeful ignorance, then a trip to one knee to traverse thighs and bathe feet.
Donna could feel the warm breath along her ears as long arms reached to commence with the front of her body. She watched the soapy hands tend to her midriff, stopping just short, resuming at her collar bone, impossibly long fingers gently wrapping around her neck, massaging behind the ears. The hands gently turned her around and presented the bar of soap.
The glow of her skin illuminated the water as it followed her body downward; the steam from the shower rose along the same path as she appeared to emerge from a cloud. As Donna thought of her own body, she felt blood rushing to her cheeks in a red wave.
“No, please, please.” The bar of soap became a ticket to be cleansed from the strange feelings, to make them natural, acceptable.
The fingers seemed endless as they slowly entered her, reaching upward, a beckoning motion, a female’s touch. The water, like rain, washed away the guilt, made it okay to suck on the sweet tasting tongue in her mouth, okay to have her body supported as it succumbed to the spasms.
The drapery of a bath towel, the fingers combing back her hair, their lips meeting again. It seemed beautiful, beyond the judgment of the uninitiated. She was clean. Without the hiss of the shower, there was the sound of the fingers as they again entered her and pulled back out, the thumb as it kept company, circling. The yell, was it really hers? Strong contractions consumed her, another yell, the hand that had delivered her gently covered her mouth, the scent of her arousal flavoring her rapid breaths before evaporating.
An aftermath of glistening silver stretched down Donna’s inner thighs, reaching her knees, one of them being lifted to drape over a shoulder. The fleshiness of sex enveloped hers, absorbing the fluid, hips gyrating forward and back, picking up speed, the sound like crackling flames. Her hands felt the firm bottom, muscles flexing and relaxing. She watched the breasts gently sway over her, maintain their shape and position, even as the body rhythmically rubbed against her. She glanced at her own as they frantically spun in opposite directions. This time, Donna covered her own mouth to stifle the scream. She watched as the pelvis undulated, watched the perfect body as it pleasured them both. Donna felt the shame of little farts percolating as they surfed the waves of her orgasms, but her body was no longer hers to control, shaking, bucking, heaving. She removed her hand from her mouth.
“Oh, God, Oh, Oh! Oh, my God!” She choked on her words as the sobs came, breathed deeply to regain composure, watched as her beautiful body floated upward, watched as she placed herself above her mouth, saw the swollen flesh, saw the fingers parting it before placing it on her mouth and begin moving over her face. She looked up to see her looking down at her. Her beautiful eyes always looking down.
An angel had arrived to soothe Donna to sleep, and nature awakened her to a beautiful day. The humbling of being casually dismissed after three years left her with a dull pain, a sadness draping over her like a heavy fog. She rose from bed, following the sliver of sunlight, and raised the blinds to illuminate the room. Dust fluttered like snowflakes looking for somewhere to settle. Below, voices, some deep, some shrill, clearly with some purpose, imprinted that life continues amidst the refuse. The church bells summoned an audience for the 9:00 o’clock service. She lay back on the bed and cried into her pillow, searching for the lessons of her past and wondering about the future, about where she fit.
An aroma that boldly advertised that night clung to her body as though it had been painted with a brush. There was a residue, like powdered sugar, along her face, between her legs, down her thighs. A musty sweetness gave substance to her musings and explained the ache of lovemaking and the ache of want. Beauty had transcended orientation and allowed for transgression. She thought of her vulnerability to the touch, the taste, the scent of a woman so that it consumed her like a drug, a drug that awakened the potential in her body to experience a pleasure so profound that God and Heaven would understand.
The sound of the shower had summoned glimpses, being stripping naked with feathery touches, the intimate bathing, the powerful seduction. As the soap rinsed off her body, she felt the frailty of uncertainty. She wiped the steam off the mirror and examined herself, touching her breasts, running her hands down her sides, squeezing her bottom. Lying back on her bed, she masturbated, her fingers unable to reach where hers had, touching areas unexplored. She closed her eyes and imagined that she was watching her, looking at her with those eyes.
“What does that mean?” she had asked, her heart fluttering, hearing the words spoken with a laissez faire, desperation awaiting its opportunity.
“Carpe diem means living in the moment, Donna. That’s what I was doing, and I hope you were doing last night. It was fun. Didn’t you think it was fun?”
She wanted to ask about whether she had feelings for her, wanted to let her know that she had feelings for her beyond carpe diem. “I want to be with you again, whenever you want. Just let me know.” Her voice a model of timidity, the helpless plea of a little girl.
She rose from her desk chair, towering over Donna, looking down at her. “I don’t see that happening again, Donna. Last night was a special circumstance.”
“Is there something I did wrong? Is there something you don’t like about me? Please tell me. I’ll change.” Her voice cracked, and her eyes began to mist over.
“Donna, there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing you need to change. I’m not interested in a relationship with any female. I’ve been seeing someone.” There was a growing impatience in the timbre of her voice. “I’ll get crude here. He’s got a nine-inch dick that I can’t even get my hand around. I like big dicks.”
Tears streamed down Donna’s face. “Why did you do this to me?” Her legs grew wobbly, and she went to her knees.
“Donna, don’t do this. Get up!” Lifting her by the arm was pointless; she had become dead weight. “You need to go.”
“I won’t be in your way. I just want to be with you whenever you say I can. Please don’t do this to me. Please, I’ll do anything!” She grabbed the legs tightly and pressed her head against her, sobbing. “Please, God! Don’t do this to me! Please, Carol! ”
Mary came home that night to find Donna in the dark, lying on her bed and crying. There was a half drunk bottle of Jack Daniels on her nightstand, and a razor kept it company. Mary was the keeper of secrets.
The view of Wells Avenue was spruced up a little bit. The streetlights had garlands and candy canes hanging from them, and as the centerpiece of its storefront window, Cunningham’s had a table-top fake Christmas tree reduced to $9.99. The streets were wet with the 35-degree thaw of snow, and the frozen banks left over from the blizzard had shrunk in size and turned a deep car-exhaust gray. The Jewel removed its amateur night marquee message and replaced it with a simple Happy Holidays! Mike had made use of the family car to get there, and he watched as the bus that normally took him, pulled away. On the Monday morning of December 23rd, Sylvan tucked away its homeless in shelters and put on its best face, pretending to be happy during the holiday.
Taking in the view with his first cup of coffee and a cigarette, he briefly thought about the view from his dorm room. He began pecking away at the Underwood, finding distraction. He was the only person in the office and enjoyed the tranquility it afforded.
I’ve decided to be a writer when I grow up. They really like me here at the paper, and the high school coaches got together and gave me a plaque to thank me for my coverage of girls’ basketball. I have a job offer here after I graduate. Don’t know how much I want to end up like Phil, but it would be a start in the right direction.
I’m still writing my novel in creative writing. The first half will be due during finals week when school re-opens. As you know, I kind of was writing a fiction-based-on-fact account of college dorm life, but I realized I was documenting meaningless moments, so I’m putting more in the way of my protagonist. He fucks up and betrays the girl who gave herself to him in the most beautiful of ways and loved him unconditionally. He struggles to find ways to win back her heart, all the while knowing it’s too late but continues fighting simply to feel the stabbing blows of lost love.
I’m looking out the window of our town, Sylvan, and remembering how walking it with you made the concrete softer, the air fresher, and the cold warmer. There’s nothing here now but gray snowdrifts that reflect the sky.
I hope that family time with the ones who have earned your love will bring you peace.
He pulled the letter out and signed it. Then he folded it, placed it with a holiday post card of Brew Pond that he bought at the Hillview Center, and addressed an envelope for Cross Island. He only stayed a few hours in the newsroom before deciding on going home. As he pulled out of the parking lot, he saw a familiar figure carrying a box out of the Jewel’s side entrance. Little John apparently had some business there. Phil said the shit is going to hit the fan. I hope it hits Little John full-force, Mike thought as he headed down M-59 and pushed in his cigarette lighter.
After a quiet Christmas with his mother and father, Mike was the first to arrive to the paper on Friday morning. He was looking forward to sitting down with Phil but had some business to attend to first. He perched himself at the desk next to Phil’s, took a quick peek at Wells Avenue, and began typing on the Underwood as though it was a piano and he was a composer. It was a sad refrain, and a couple drops of rain hit the keys.
I trust you had a nice Christmas with your family. I hope you got to see your big sister and gave her one of your bear hugs that lets people know how much you value them. With my small family and relatives far away, there isn’t the feel of a holiday. I still did some Christmas shopping which made me feel both happy and sad.
I can’t believe how fast the year is spinning by. With the New Year approaching, I’ve already decided upon my resolution. This newsroom is the perfect place for reflection, kind of like a prison, and in taking stock of my circumstances, I’ve decided to stop getting high and to see the world as it is, not through a haze. My world right now has an unsustainable atmosphere, kind of like it was before we met. Back then, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I intend to be sober to experience loss to its fullest extent by appreciating my memories.
Before my unconscionable actions, my vision of Christmas captured the two of us in one of those little crystal balls that you shake to make snow. We’re posing by a snowman that we’ve just made, and across the street from us is a house with a chimney that is smoking. I often wish that crystal balls were real because they capture a moment for eternity, and they foretell the future. I have shattered the crystal balls of our past through my actions and do not have the courage to look forward in those that are left. Those crystal balls, like your Christmas presents, will remain undisturbed on a shelf.
In my dreams, I have the audacity to be with you once more. It is there where I have been living my life.
“So a young fucker like you who’s got the world by the balls, how the fuck was your Christmas?” Phil Snider greeted Mike while he was pouring himself a cup of coffee.
“Let me give you the abridged version, Phil, to spare you the nauseating details. Let’s just say that it was the worst Christmas of my life.”
Phil raised his accordion forehead. “Okay, so what happened?”
“Right prior to the break, I got fucked up at the holiday floor party and had sex with my R.A.”
“Wait a minute. I thought you had a girlfriend?”
“I did, and she was out-of-town at a nursing convention.”
“Your R.A., isn’t she one and the same with Carter Flynn?”
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, how’s that fucking up at your age?”
“My girlfriend found out, and I’ve lost her, and I miss her, and I can’t believe I was that stupid. There was something in the shit that Carol and I smoked. We were both hallucinating, and when we woke up the next day, we realized that we fucked up.”
“Go ahead. Go ahead.”
“She tore me up, Phil. I mean she raked my back so hard that she dug trenches that became infected. She bit me in places I’m embarrassed to tell you about. She pounded me so hard that I had trouble walking for two days afterward. I had to go to the doctor on campus, went through a humiliating physical exam, and had to get antibiotics and a tetanus shot.”
“So that’s what I call incredible sex, you spoiled punk! Why didn’t that shit happen to me at some point in my life?”
“I couldn’t hide the scars from my girlfriend when she got back. Phil, it was bad. I don’t want to joke about it.” Mike felt tears beginning to well in the corners of his eyes.
Phil Snider, ever the reporter, summoned his heart from one of the gray clouds perpetually hovering over the Bank of America. “I’m sorry, Mike. I’m an old smart ass. I didn’t mean to make light of your situation, but we do need to talk about Carter Flynn. Things are still complicated.”
“How do you mean?”
“Mike, the connection to Hillview runs deeper than I originally believed. I told you I would let you know what I know at the right time. Right now, I need to know how you would feel about sharing a by-line with me.”
“You’re kidding me right? I thought that this was your baby, and you were going to put it to bed.”
“Mike, the hard news is going to come out pretty much right after the New Year. There will be warrants, indictments, possibly some additional arrests, and the whole world, at least the Sylvan and Northwood areas, will know what has been happening.”
“And you’ve got the handle on that. That’s your by-line and your hard work over the last year.”
“You’re absolutely right, but that story ain’t shit!” Phil emphasized the word ‘shit’.”
“What do you mean?”
“The real story isn’t who or what or where or when; the real story is why and how. I want to write a big follow-up feature; maybe a week’s worth of continued reading in the paper, detailing why this piece of shit Flynn came into our consciousness and how it was possible for him to fuck up so many lives in the process.”
“Where do I come in?”
“You know more than you think you know, and the blanks that you have, I will fill in. I’ve got some pretty heavy shit to lay on you very soon, and you’ve got the shovel to dig even deeper into that shit.”
“So, you’re breaking out the shit metaphor,” Mike laughed.
“Mike, between the two of us, we will put the human interest spin on this story and blow it out of the Brew Pond water.”
“Why can’t you share this with me now?”
“Because it involves too many other people with whom I have to talk before I put it on your plate. I’m asking you to be patient and enjoy the rest of your break. Just be prepared to go beyond being my do-boy around here.”
“When the fuck have I been your do-boy, Phil?” Mike laughed.
“Hey, you big fuck,” Phil grinned. “Let me think what I want to think.”
As he hung up some shirts and put away some socks and underwear, Mike felt detached from the college experience during this quiet early afternoon Sunday, the day before finals week, the day everyone would return from the break, and the day where he would be reminded of how everything had changed. Finished unpacking, he lit up a Merit and perched himself on the windowsill, looking at a desolate world below. There had been no snow over the break, but the bitter cold temperatures preserved and provided sheen for the dune-like remnants. Mike saw three people walking with purpose to get back inside. He took a long drag and blew some smoke rings out of boredom. It was 3:00 o’clock, and he was the only one in the suite. Three quick little knocks at the door startled him. Must be Kurt with a shitload of clothes he thought.
She burst in and immediately seated herself on Kurt’s bed. In a ski jacket, white wool sweater, and a pink scarf, she was prepared for the cold outside and the coldness within. She looked different without her smile, somehow a little older.