At the Ephermal City
San Francisco, July, 1915
This was an early Indian summer, heat from the interior pushing back the damp ocean cold that normally dominated the City’s summer weather. Instead of thick avalanches of fog rolling through the Golden Gate, spilling over Twin Peaks and, to the north, shrouding the tall hills of Marin, the Bay Area was baking under a brilliantly clear sky.
The heat reached far and wide, all the way to San Jose and the southland beyond, baking the Salinas Valley and, to the West of that, the Monterey coastline, Carmel, and the Big Sur. North of San Rafael the heat climbed past the one hundred degrees and the distant fields and orchards of Napa and Sonoma burned in the summer sun, the still air magnifying the warming’s effect.
Old timers sniffed the air, smelling the trace scent of fires from the Sierras to the distant east, declaring this would be a long spell of heat, and so it was turning out to be. Each day the crowds roaming the avenues of the post-Victorian wonderland that was the Pan-American Pacific International Exposition looked forward with increased excitement to the late nights, not only for the blazing illuminations that would fill the sky and light the surrounding hills, but the hoped for cooling breezes dropping temperatures into the more bearable 80s and 70s, making pleasant the night time at the P.P.I.E., the great celebration of the completion of the building of the canal in Panama.
The first day of heat took fairgoers by surprise, resulting in an inordinate number of heat emergencies, women and men succumbing to the heat overtaxing the Fair’s first aid infrastructure. But as the days passed the crowds adapted, dressing down, in some cases scandalously so, even to the libertine sensibilities the more bohemian citizens of San Francisco.
Also on that first day of Indian Summer the tall white ship slipped through the Golden Gate, light canvas sails set full to catch the soft air off the Pacific as she cruised with the inflowing tide. She’d come in near sunset, air to her stern, her lazily rippling white sails glowing gold in the light of the descending sun as she cruised past the flotilla of gray warships that stood station off the Fair’s shoreline, a reminder of a different, lost time in the history of this port.
The tall ship’s visit was an unheralded one, and so her arrival was observed with no small commotion by fairgoers, who gathered in growing numbers along the marina as rumors of the majestic vessel spread through the fair, watching as the towering ship tacked north, soon to drop anchor at the mouth of Richardson Bay, off Sausalito. That night, miles distant, light illuminated the tall ship’s silhouette, bathing her in warm ambers easily seen from the marina and the surrounding hills above the fair grounds.
As the passing days warmed so, too, did rumors that made their way across the water, tales of the ship’s complement and events associated with their stay in Sausalito, stories that served to feed the human animal’s need for a taste of the sensational. It was learned the vessel was called the Nile, a name evoking allusions of the mystic and the strange for fairgoers versed with the current fascination with ancient Egypt, and reports soon spread of large dinners and parties running into the early mornings, of exotic women and odd, even unsettling happenings that grew all the more fantastic with each telling.
No mistake: the ladies know how to make an entrance.
Sipping tea at his cafe table situated on the corner of a small terrace overlooking the Fair and the bay waters beyond, the quiet man took in the vision of the graceful white ship, rolling gently in the lazy bay swells, a distant part of him undecided as to whether or not what he felt was anticipation or anxiety.
Do I know these people any more?
Did I ever?
“Did they know you?”
He looked up, and she was there, tall, unmoving, subtle rainbows of color flowing over her dark skin, colors and skin unseen by all except one such as he.
“And here you are.”
He stood to offer her a seat.
Taller than he, she leaned in and down, moist lips caressing his cheek as she whispered her greeting.
“Indeed, sweet prince.” She smiled against his cheek, whispering in his ear. “Here I am.”
She settled and he returned to his seat as a waiter stepped over to their table, that worthy eying the dark skinned woman with an expression conveying both interest and disapproval.
She smiled, then ordered tea and cookies.
The quiet man chuckled as the waiter turned away to fetch her order.
“You know, the Victorians haven’t quite loosed their hold over this era’s moral sensibilities. Even in these modern times, and in this great Bohemian city, well-dressed, respectable women are escorted in public, particularly when visiting entertainments such as our Exposition.”
She eyed him, curious and amused.
“So I’m a trollop, am I?”
“It would appear.”
“Oh, dear. That would explain some of the looks I’ve been receiving.”
“Yes. Our young waiter seems particularly scandalized you should arrive here, without escort, and take a seat at an apparent stranger’s table.”
“Not the first time this has happened in the past day, I must confess.” She laughed and reached across the small table to briefly squeeze his hand. “But I am not yet at the Fair, and I have found my escort.”
He smiled with affection. “In truth, were you not who you are, I would be surprised you were let in here at all.”
“Ah, the skin color silliness.”
She sighed, releasing his hand as she eased back in her chair. “Not to worry. Where I go, that particular prejudice tends to fade from the consciousness of the people around me. While you may see me as I really am, the people about us see me as something else, an unusually tall, pale skinned woman of means. But that is all: they remain blind to pigmentation. The thought never comes to them.”
“Not really a solution.”
“No.” She turned away. “And that’s not my concern.” She looked down from their vantage, west and north, taking in the fairgrounds. “These people are as ephermal as this wonderful amusement they’ve constructed. If they fix this illness in the time left them, it won’t be by my agency.”
The quiet man nodded thoughtfully, sipped his tea as he looked out across the wide waters to where the Nile was moored. Up until now visits from the ship to the Fair had been made across the bay by ferry or by means of the Nile’s pinnace, carrying crew members and passengers taking turns visiting the fair.
Not today. The white ship had lifted anchor, and was slowly moving south from the mouth of Richardson Bay, making sail, the main and fore lower topsails run out to prove propulsion, with jib and brig sheets catching wind to aid in steering. Once out on the bay, the course sails for all three masts would be added for additional speed and better handling, but that would be all. The hot wind out of the northeast was light, and the navigator was going to take her time crossing the expanse, in part out of care for the anchored fleet of warships and the traffic on the bay, but also for the opportunity to put on a show: the Nile was flying all her flags, brilliant rainbows of color outlining the spiderwebs of rigging as she made to deftly wind her way through the small vessels and large ships of war that filled the the bay.
He nodded in the ship’s direction. “How was the passage?”
“Passage? Oh, no. I arrived separately, last night, by train from the south. At the station, I encountered a beautiful young man who graciously bought me dinner, took me dancing, and shared his room with me. We parted but an hour ago. I will be meeting him again, later.” She smiled to herself. “Such a beautiful young boy, so tender, so full of life. I think I will remember him.” Her voice drifted off and she turned to the young prince, expression vaguely amused.
“They’re only now beginning to realize I am here.”
She was quiet once more, head slowly turning, taking in the view from their hilltop vantage, looking first to her right to the rebuilt downtown of the City, and then over and across the bay at the shores and golden hills to the east. She scanned left, looking north, taking in the islands spotting the bay.
“This land, the islands of the bay, all part of a violent geography.”
To the right of Richardson Bay rose the green hills of Angel Island, and those of the Tiburon peninsula behind.
“Yes.” He sipped his tea, thoughtful. “nearly two minutes it went on, tearing the world apart.” He lowered his cup to its saucer, the movement, like his words, slow and deliberate. “But it was the fire that followed that did the old girl in, just as it had in the years following the Gold Rush.”
Eyes still moving, she lifted her gaze to take in the high hills of the coastal range, the ridge elevating up to the forested heights of Mt. Tamalpias. Lastly, she turned to the mouth of the bay, the world famous Golden Gate, eyes finally resting once more upon the Fairgrounds below and to the west, stretching three miles along the northern shore of the San Francisco peninsula.
The Pan-American Pacific International Exhibition.
The Ephermal City, the World’s Metropolis of Dreams.
“This is a good place for you, I think.”
“Yes.” He grinned, nodding. “I live on the fault line at the edge of the world, at the furthermost reaches of everything geographical, in a region of unheralded possibility.”
“Of course.” He eyed her. “But true, nonetheless. This is the newest, smartest place in the New World. There is an energy to this frontier metropolis, and to the sprawling region that surrounds it, a wildness that lives in the roots of the resurrected city, young and vital, literally rebuilt from the ashes. Those who live here in this time understand from vivid experience how everything can end in seconds, as it did nine years ago. That understanding informs them, dictates who they are.” His arm swept out, the gesture lazy, obvious, taking in the surrounding city and bay. “People here, like no other place, live in the moment; they are hungry, some so fiercely they near glow with the fire that drives them. At the same time, they seem blessed with a rough innocence, a raw chivalry birthed in romance, in a tragic pessimism from which they find constant renewal.”
He laughed, an amused chuckle.
“Listen to me. Romance. I sound like George Sterling.”
He grinned. “An acquaintance. Wonderful, tragic man. A Romantic poet born a hundred years too late, I sometimes think, but regarded highly in this retrograde region of the world and, I must add, a wonderful person with whom to spend a day on a beach or in the country, or a night on the town.”
“Yes. Not a Homer, of course. But quite good.”
He was quiet a time.
“There is something unique here, a creative vigor that strengthens the spirit. I miss these things when I travel to the older, more worn parts of the world, especially now.” He sipped his tea, thoughtful. “This sphere is entering a new era, my Lady. I have seen signs during my trip to Europe. The inevitable has begun. This brief time of promise is going to give way to suffering and strife, and for all the great things they will accomplish, it will all come to naught.”
She turned to regard him.
“Ah, finally. There you are. I have missed you, my pessimistic young Prince.”
“Young, eh?” The quiet man smiled ruefully, ignoring the barb, and lifted his cup. “As I have missed you, my Lady.”
“That, too.” He sipped, eyeing her sideways. “There are too few secrets between us, after all.”
The waiter returned, setting tea before her. The man paid him.
The woman prepared her drink, taking in the surrounding people as she added honey. She nodded to the near corner, at a table of young Japanese men.
“Those men over there.”
He followed her gaze.
“The one to the right, in the white cotton jacket?” He nodded. “Does he not remind you of the Ronin?”
The young man eyed her askance before returning his attention to the table. “From a distance, perhaps.”
“Perhaps.” She smiled, touching his hand. “You loved him.”
“I have loved many.”
“Few, if any, as you did the Ronin.”
The young man closed his eyes, breathing softly. “Is there a point to this?”
“No.” Her expression was distant, thoughtful. “Yes. He does look like him.”
The woman sipped the tea, staring at her companion over the rim.
“Your father is here.”
“I know. He visited me yesterday while you were playing with your young man, and we roamed the grounds together, leaving only when they shut the Fair for the night.” He grimaced. “And then we hit the docks and availed ourselves of a drinking establishment.”
He nodded, frowning at the memory. “We did.”
“Was anyone harmed?”
“That does not sound like your father.”
He eyed her ruefully.
“You are being uncharitable.”
He sighed, sipping tea.
“Truth be told, his heart wasn’t in it.”
“Oh. That is unusual.”
“Yes. I fear the Fair has rendered him melancholy. The evanescent quality, I think, at least, in part. It all reminds him of the inevitable. And I think the Beaux Arts troubles him.”
The Elder looked down at the sprawling fairgrounds. “Yes. I’ve seen the brochures. The artistic thought that went into the Fair’s architectural design is remarkable. This Beaux Arts form, in particular, conjures thought of the Mount.” She smiled sadly, gazing absently at the palaces of the Fair. “This is all very grand. The humans dream great things and bring them to pass. They have done well during their run.”
“Indeed.” The young prince of a forgotten land gestured at the white ship as it tacked east, passing Angel Island. As he watched, she shifted course, sails moving and adjusting as her Captain turned the vessel into the light breeze, taking advantage of the outrushing tide to cut sharp into the bay, wind filling her sails, leaning and accelerating as she headed for the mouth of the Golden Gate.
“Consider our beautiful Nile, her current incarnation’s graceful lines informed by the great human shipbuilders of the past century: it is their art infused in her every form and function. You see her and you envision the majestic Clipper ships that brought new populations to this destination from the harbors of New York and Boston, making their runs around Cape Horn in 90 days or better.” He turned to her, sharing. “For long years after, even unto this day, their journeys were legend, and their names are remembered as one remembers heroic creatures of myth: The Glory of the Sea, Thermopylae, Sea Witch … the Flying Cloud …”
He smiled and shrugged, taking a long breath, his expression distant. “Or so it was, once upon a time.” He blinked, rousing from a dream, remembering his companion. “Yes.” There was a resignation in his voice. “Yes. They … we … have done well in our run.”
The woman smiled. “Ships. A new preoccupation, then? Shipbuilding? Sailing?”
“I am, you’ll remember, the heir of an island kingdom.” She smiled again and he laughed. “An interest, is all; at least, in the here and now. One of many explored during our long parting, my lady.” He grinned at her expression. “You need not feign surprise. This is why you enjoy these separations, as they allow me opportunity to accumulate experience. You hunger for what I give you, the personal perspective the Book cannot offer.” He paused, but the smile did not fade, instead becoming familiar, loving. “I am the only one you cannot see, hidden from the eye of time.” He reached out across the table, hand folding over and squeezing hers. “I am honored you regard me with such trust as to allow me to hide these things until such time I choose to share them.” He squeezed her hand once more and released her.
“And speaking of time.” The quiet man removed his watch from its pocket, thumbing the lid open. The smile grew wider.
“I’ve a fresh surprise for you. His name is John Phillip Sousa, and he conducts the most amazing music.” He stood and moved around the table to stand by her, placing his hand on her chair. “We are off to the Festival Hall to hear a wonderful concert and, after, we will stroll the Gardens of the Palaces, until we come to see my discovery, a place where you will behold Beaux Arts at its most compelling and,
with it, a revelation.”
She eyed him, suggesting a heightening of curiosity.
“Something has occurred.”
There was no question or doubt in her words. She looked out over the waters at the Nile.
“Concert first, and no discussion beforehand. After, in appropriate time. There are things to see at this World’s Fair, things to experience. As we make our way through the Exposition and take in the sights, we shall talk and you shall … see.”
“Of course. We always talk.” Her expression was a cypher, but he sensed her suppressed frustration.
He chuckled and stood, coming round the table to offer his hand.
She tilted her head, regarding him, curiosity evident.
“A surprise, you say?”
“Yes. A good one, too.”
1.5 – Little Earthquakes
I’m on auto-pilot.
I’m being overwhelmed and lack the ability to do anything more than follow Sienna’s lead. The alcohol is still kicking my ass and the heat is smothering and I’m doing things more by instinct than with any sense of intent. Sienna is devouring me, kissing me, biting at me with her teeth, her tongue thrusting into my mouth, her rough caresses finding me where I am most vulnerable, the sensation like electricity flowing through my body, stealing my breath.
I’m trying to give back in kind, moving my hands over her body, seeking out her sensitive places while I kiss her hungry mouth, responding to her lips and tongue as they set a tempo for the blood rushing through my temples. But it’s a windstorm facing off against a hurricane. I try to pull my head away and she fights me with surprising, near-unnatural strength, pulling me back down to her demanding lips. Sienna dominates; I accept that lead the moment her mouth first meets mine, and she reminds me with every touch, kiss and nip. I learn what it is to be a deer in the headlights, mesmerized, staring without comprehension as the engine of my destruction bears down on me … except I am aware: I simply lack the will or energy to resist, even if I had it in me to do so.
I give in to her power and she accepts my surrender without mercy.
We do that strange dance of passion first-time lovers do as pent-up lust boils over into mindless action. We move crazily across the room, me so caught up in Sienna’s passion I’m barely aware of motion or direction. I fall over backwards, onto the bed. She’s rough, insistent, pushing me up onto the mattress, directing me with touch, gentle and rough, until I’m centered, underneath her, she rubbing her body against mine, caressing my skin with her hands and lips. I feel her mouth over my right nipple, flicking her tongue rapidly against the sensitive skin, sucking, finally biting so hard I cry out in pain … and all the while she strokes and fondles my sex. She repeats the action on my left nipple, driving me nuts and eliciting yet another small cry.
I can’t catch my breath. The music is back, loud in my ears, in the space between them, filling my senses, spurring my need, the unknown language of the song causing my blood to surge. Sienna rears up, pulling off her top in one fluid motion, then drops down to give my nipples more attention. I’m naked, the towel having disappeared somewhere between the bathroom door and the mattress. I feel her hard, sandpapery nipples on my stomach, felt them scrape against my skin as she moves back up to my lips, pushing my arms high until they’re pinned over my head, hands almost touching the brass head rail. She lingers on my mouth, not slacking in intensity as her lips crush and bruise mine. After a small time, she pulls back, breathing hard, whispering hoarsely over the song pounding in my temples, “My breasts. Nipples. Lick them. Chew. Suck them.”
Sienna pulls herself even higher, arching her back to lower a nipple to my mouth. I go after her, determined to awaken a reaction that echoes mine to hers. She groans, starts dry humping my gut, hands on my elbows and wrists, still pinning my arms as she rides me and I make love to first one nipple, than another. One of her feet is resting on my sex, and she manipulates me with a stroking movement that further floods my amped-out senses.
I am transported, utterly lost in her and all the while waves of music roil my blood.
Without warning she rises and spins her body. Her swollen sex is in my face. She is still wearing the thong; I can smell the rich scent of her, can see the inverted “V” of the muscles that had so excited me in the gym and am excited again by how she seems to strain against the fabric. I see all of this in an instant, and I resolve to help her free, but before I can give action to thought, she moves again.
She scrambles to the foot of the bed, doing something to my ankle. The music is receding and I try to sit up, only to discover my arms won’t move. Dazed and overloaded from the sex and alcohol, it takes a moment to register what is happening to me, and by that time she has deftly finished with my right ankle and is now fastening a manacle on the left. I try to fight, but I’m too late. She has me locked down, arms and legs secured to the bed.
Right about there I shift gears and get scared. Real scared.
She sees my fear as she sits next to me on the bed, breathing hard and smiling as she runs her hands over my body, giving my sex a light squeeze. In spite of my freaked out state the damn thing is still hard. Unlike the rest of me, it is too stupid to realize how fucked up things have become. “What-?” I start to say but her hand comes up to my mouth, covering firmly while she once again makes that “Shush” sign with her free hand.
She waits, making sure before removing her hand, rolling back on top of me as she does, teasing me with her mouth and hands until she works her way up to my face. In spite of my fear, I find myself responding to her touch. Out of nowhere I feel ashamed … I am ashamed, ashamed of my helplessness, of giving in to her. It comes on me sudden: I can’t think straight for the fear that takes hold of me; I feel weak, ineffectual. Humiliated. She kisses me again, hard now, forcing her tongue deep into my mouth. I make one last feeble attempt to resist, then gave up, succumbing. The fear subsides, replaced by need. After a time, she pulls up and slides to lounge at my side, one leg draped casually over mine, head propped up on one arm, looking me in the eyes, staring, her expression a cipher. She runs her hands over my body; fingertips thrilling my skin, then pinching and pulling at my nipples, now stroking my sex where it rests, hot and swollen against my gut. In the distance I hear the music again; soft, relaxed, a muted rhythm that stokes subconscious longing.
“You. Are. Uncomfortable.” The words are deliberate, thoughtful. Amused.“But no longer afraid. The fear has left you, replaced with …” Her voice drifts away as she searches my eyes. “Fascinating.” She smiles, her expression mischievous, her eyes weirdly luminescent in the fading gloom of the day. “No worries. Everything will be fine, Sam.” She runs her hand through my hair as she speaks, her touch gentle, a mild look of surprise shaping her features. “Fascinating, indeed. I did not think this would happen, but I truly believe I am starting to like you. I know the situation is such that it does not lend itself this conclusion, or you might think I’m having fun at your expense – and I am, though not in this – but I sincerely mean what I say. You are surprisingly easy to like, Sam Kitchen.”
Her hands trace the long scars that crisscross my torso, breath quickening, the change subtle, a counterpoint to the studied intent coloring her words. “These are quite beautiful, the marks of a man, of a warrior. You should be proud of them.” I stare up at her, not sure what to say. Sienna tilts her head, her voice now distant, speculative. “You must have suffered terribly.” She smiles. Leaning down, she brings her lips close, her breath warm on my skin. “You realize there are women in that gym that find you … hot … sexy? Several think these…” She pulls back, fingers running over the mended tears and slices. “…are an absolute turn-on.” She holds my eyes. “I can’t deny I agree. Touching these … these …” Her voice drifts, and she shakes her head, takes a deep breath. “The scars on your legs and arms were what caught my attention the first time I saw you.” Her head bends and I feel her tongue slide along the length of one of the healed wounds. She chuckles softly, the sound faintly derisive. “I listen as these women talk about the different men who exercise in the gym. When your name comes up, this is the first thing they talk about, these beautiful scars.” Her head comes up, her face again close to mine, our noses nearly touching. “I think that would make you feel good about yourself, eh?”
She waits. I keep my mouth shut. She shrugs.
“Unfortunately, they also seem to think you are a complete jerk.” She pauses, expression bemused. “An interesting term, that. ‘Jerk.’ I think I like it.” She smiles, absently pulling back a stray lock of her hair. “I understand this conclusion – that you are a ‘jerk’ – ties in with what they sense is your attitude toward women, described as very chauvinistic, perhaps even misogynist. Now, for my part, I believe this may be an act. A facade. And how do I know that?” She leans in conspiratorially. “I’ve been … aware of you … for some time, Sam. Studied you. Gotten to know you. I know who you really are underneath that manly facade.”
I feel the small hairs rise on the back of my neck. This is scary talk. Crazy talk. And I’m chained to a bed, listening, and it’s about me. All about me. Holy fuck!
“No one gets too close to you. Not really. You keep the world at a distance.” She grins. “I wish you could see the expression on your face. You are scared shitless and doing everything you can to act like you’re not. Really, relax. After all, we could have done this differently. Less … politely.”
She leans back, words soft, tone meant to be reassuring “You have every right to be concerned, Sam. This, what happens here today, tonight, was always your fate. Always. There is no escape for you. There never can be. It is writ.”
I don’t know what to say to that, what to think.
“If it helps you as events … transpire … I give you my word that I sincerely have no intent of causing you lasting harm.” I remain silent, rolling my eyes up in the direction of my bound wrists. “At least, beyond what is necessary.” She scratches my chest and abdomen with her nails, abrading the skin. “I said no lasting harm. Temporary discomfiture is another thing altogether, particularly the intense variety. As I said, you are going to have to trust me. Think of this as a leap of faith. I’ve made mine; now it is your turn to make yours.”
I close my eyes, not wanting to show the fear I know is evident there. ‘Leap of faith?’ What the fuck? Not that anything I do matters. She has me: I’m helpless. I feel her lips, first on one eyelid, than the next, then nothing.
I finally look.
Sienna stares at me, waiting.
“Ask,” she finally prompts, half-request, half-demand.
“Why?” I whisper. There really wasn’t any other question.
“Why?” She repeats softly, not mocking, manner sympathetic. “Have you ever considered how often the simplest questions require the most difficult answers?” She smiles ruefully and shakes her head. “Sam, there is not enough time for us this night, not for a long answer, so instead we will concentrate on addressing immediate concerns.” She goes silent, expression distant. “Full disclosure: there is danger here, danger as you’ve never imagined. One of many Destinies.Destiny. Yes, a Destiny. You and I have a Destiny. Together.” She’s drifting. “This Destiny begins here, tonight, with this ritual which I – we – will enact between us.” The words are whispered, distant. She strokes my skin. “Until then, pleasure must suffice.”
“This is ‘pleasure’?”
She laughs at my anger, back in the moment as if she never left, amused.
“Yes. My pleasure, Sam Kitchen, the only pleasure that matters. Best you resign yourself to this dynamic. And to paraphrase the Bard whose words you trade in so lightly, m’thinks thou dost protest too much.” Her hand trails down my abdomen to lightly caress my rock-hard sex. “My pleasure will result in your pleasure – you can’t help yourself and we both know this. You’re male, after all. Being bound has done nothing to curtail your desire. You are excited, helpless before me, at my mercy. You want this, you find you need this, you long for me to get on, to take you. Do not attempt to deny; your body betrays. And I must confess I find myself pleased and excited to see you like this, to sense the ache that radiates from you like a palpable thing. I am … inspired.” She leans down, kisses me, lips’ touch tender as her tongue slips out to caress mine.
Satisfied, Sienna pulls back and up, hair flowing over her right shoulder, ends lightly trailing along my skin as she moves. “I am to take much from you this night, but you will be no worse for the loss … no … you shall be greater for it.”
I stare at her, uncomprehending. She laughs, then whispers again.
“Too much information. I give you my word: when I have finished with you, I will – eventually – unlock those manacles and allow you all the freedom you desire, including that to have me, unbound, but now, in this moment, it pleases me to have you like this, helpless.” Her hands continue to caress my wet, naked skin. I growl. She grins. Her hand rests on my sex again, stroking softly with those maddening nails. I moan in spite of myself.
“That is one reason ‘why’.” Sienna leans forward to nibble at my ear. “But I do not think this the answer you seek.” She rises to stand above me, straddling my torso. The thong is gone. “With many destinies, many possibilities, come many answers.” She looks down at me, and I can hear the song once more, clear and distinct, unknowable words of longing washing over me. “You remember our agreement, Sam?” I nod, entranced, the rising music stealing my will. “You will do whatever I tell you. As long as I tell you. Until I say you are finished, and no sooner.”
Her words are deliberate, measured. Sienna steps forward on the mattress until her palms rest lightly against the wall. She works first one foot, then the other between my bound arms and my neck, her naked heels resting lightly on my shoulders as she stands tip-toe, knees slightly bent. The object of desire that brought me to this impossible situation is now in clear view: an inverted triangle of neatly trimmed hair … all else smooth, naked … soft, glistening flesh … nether lips pursed, a narrow shadow between two long, faintly swollen mounds.
All the while the song becomes more intense, more frenetic.
“Right now, beautiful man, I intend for you to make love to me …” She smiles down from on high, eyes glowing – glowing!?! – soft sapphire. “… make love with lips, with tongue … just as you desired on that day I ensnared you.”
By now I’m overcome. I barely know who I am, and care less. Sienna stands above me, skin glistening with perspiration. She lowers her torso, sex descending to my face, to the longed-for kiss. The thin line parts, lips spread, folding back, revealing her …open … naked. Minute beads of meads of moisture kiss my flesh, faint but perceptible, leaving my face rich with the scent of her. The core of her pleasure, swollen, tantalizing, peaks out from the hood, erect, eager.
The music flows over me as her aroma fills my breath.
A full, heavy bead slips free of her, striking me, the bubble of moisture exploding outward. Another. More. The thick drops burn my skin with her heat. And the song amplifies everything, I can barely breathe for my excitement. Bonds that hold me are forgotten. I am transfixed: all I want is to taste of her, run my tongue over vulnerable skin, slip inside her, wrap my lips around her, please her.
She stops short, sensing me, suspended just outside the reach of my extended tongue. Lines of muscles reveal themselves as she strains, unmoving. I crane my neck, arch and contort my back in a vain attempt to somehow levitate myself up and into the waiting embrace of those dripping lips. But Sienna anticipates, raising and lowering herself in response to my every effort. Drop after drop of her moisture is striking my skin, rich scent of her sex mingled with some unrecognizable perfume, burning me, intoxicating me, driving me to a frenzy of need.
Now she moves with deliberation, not lowering herself, instead gyrating her pelvis ever-so-slightly, a back and forth motion that is torture to watch. The muscles of her bronzed legs ripple as she circles, balanced on the balls of her feet, skin glowing from perspiration. There is no sense of her tiring: she is locked in a pattern, an undulating dance. Sienna is lost in herself, barely aware of me as anything more than … what? The thought brings me up short, and for a fleeting moment I am aware of myself and I start to struggle.
The song floods my senses, a character of abandon inhabiting the unknown lyrics that sing to me, overwhelming me with a near-physical embrace and all thought deserts me.
I am hers.
Sienna stops. The song dies and the world goes quiet, the universe absent of everything but the oppressive heat. Slowly, ever so slowly, she descends, the song returning, now a soft murmur of melody in the distance.
The tip of my straining tongue makes contact.
She freezes. There is a gasp and the song loses structure, becoming confused, discordant, but that only hides what comes next and Sienna breathes, deep and long, and the song explodes, filling the world with sound. She remains motionless, the tip of her sex barely touching the rough edge of my tongue, savoring the sensation of tenuous contact. Ever so slowly she begins to move again, gyrating hips in tight, minute circles, her pleasure centered on my tongue’s tip. She rounds one way, stops, reverses direction, rounding back. My tongue burns from holding in place, but I remain motionless while Sienna takes her pleasure of me.
The song rolls on, and Sienna runs her sex up and down against my tongue. Unable to maintain my extension, I relax, retract, but she follows, keeping contact. I look up. Eyes tightly shut, she is biting her lower lip, features screwed up in intense concentration. Her hands wrap around the top bar of the brass head rail, arms rigid, muscles and tendons stand out like steel cables. Her motion is now quicker, more insistent as she approaches climax. I move my tongue, keeping rhythm with her. The tempo accelerates, now jagged, jerky. Breath comes in rapid gulps and gasps, a soft moaning lives deep in her throat, a telltale herald of release approaching. A quiet half-groan, deep, gurgling, and I feel her wash over my face, her movement becoming spasmodic.
She’s only started. My hair is grabbed, my head held close as she grind her pelvis into my face, riding me as she fights to sustain the intensity of orgasm. I run my tongue in and out of her, working her drenched sex with lips and teeth, and all the while she wildly rocks back and forth.
She stops, expression desperate, frozen, a gasp slipping from her, and I wrap my lips around her core, sucking gently while rubbing and flicking my tongue against the tip of her. Now she really screams, grabbing my hair even tighter as she struggles to somehow shove my face deep into her sex, to swallow me.
She looks down, eyes open, glowing amber-red, flecks of gold seen in spinning orbit of her pupils. Her lips move, but there is no meaning to be found from the sounds she makes. And all the while the unearthly music that enthralls me plays on, stoking my desire, spurring my efforts to satisfy this woman.
Sienna releases my hair and leans forward against the head rail, forehead on her hands where they grip the brass frame, breathing ragged sobs. She raises herself just a bit above me and slowly, almost drunkenly, readjusts, moving one leg, than the other, now easing herself down until she lay atop me again. She kisses me, tenderly, thoroughly, licking at her spent juices as she presses her mouth to mine.
I respond in spite of my exhaustion, feeling a compulsion to give myself to her. I don’t know the origins of this need. I don’t care. I am oblivious to time, to my helplessness. All I can feel, all I can respond to is the insatiable need to please her.
She pulls back, looks at me, her eyes glowing even brighter than before. Am I really seeing this? She just stares, the weird light, now blue, pulsing softly. This is Sienna … but it is not Sienna … I sense her seeing me with a stranger’s eyes, for the first time – wondering at me. Her hand moves to rest on my breast. I gasp, thrilled by the contact. I feel … something … a quickening, an adrenaline-fed excitement surging though me.
Something important is occurring.
I realize she is changing me, altering me. I know this. I can sense this.
I don’t care.
I hear her whisper.
“So be it.”
Eyes dim and she lowers herself, kissing me again. She starts softly, gradually becoming more energetic, forcing herself on me, rubbing her body against mine as she works my lips, the action purposeful, intent. She arches her stomach, contracting her abdominal muscles, rotating and tucking her pelvis, allowing her moist sex to rest on mine. Pulling back from my mouth, she begins rocking, sliding back and forth against my hardness. The motion accelerates and I feel those incredible inner muscles kneading my flesh. The sensation of her humping me there is second only to the mental image of those lips sliding against my tender skin. My breath is ragged and I try with what little freedom I have to push and move with her. Things are happening quickly, too quickly. The explosion is coming and I’m about release when, abruptly, she stops, cold.
She holds her body away from me, nose inches from mine, staring at me, eyes ablaze with sapphire radiance. I didn’t care. I’m going nuts. I want to release. I need to come! I arch my back, thrash my body, but to no avail. I beg, plead; nothing moves her. She won’t touch me, won’t give me what I desperately crave. Instead, she stares, expressionless, her eyes glowing blue embers, watching as I struggle within the confines of my restraints.
Time passes. I calm, but only outwardly. Inside I seethe. Anger burns with frustrated longing, nestling in the core of me. Not that what I feel matters. The truth is simple, obvious: she is showing me exactly who has power here.
The music quiets, the singer’s voice fading until no trace remains.
Sienna lowers herself, beautiful mouth to my ear. “Shall I free you?” She whispers, teasing, a casual contempt informing her words as lips graze the edge of my ear, thrilling me, stealing my breath, .
“Yes!” I somehow growl through clenched teeth, failing to keep the distress out of my voice. “Let me go!”
“And if I let you go, will you leave? Or will you try to have me, to take me? Punish me? After all, you are a man, Sam.” There is a distaste to her words, particularly when she says ‘man’. “A large and powerful man.” The words are distant, hypnotic. “You are much larger than I. And I, I am only a woman.” There, again, taunting, dismissive. “You could easily overpower and have your way with me; if such were your desire. And when desire rules a man …” once more, that same disparaging inflection “… what is to stop him from answering his truer, baser instincts?” I feel fingertips scraping my sex.
She pulls back and stares, gauging, taking my measure. I know I fail, fall far short of whatever standard she sets. I don’t know how I know this; like so many things here, now, I simply do. And all the while the glow remains, dimly radiating from her eyes, only now like something reflected off ice.
I am floundering: something dark and forbidden is waking within me. I want her, desperately, want to have her, want to pay her back for this denial. To take her, throw her down, punish her for playing with me, show her just how big and strong I can be. I will tie her down and fuck her hard, make her beg. That’s exactly what she deserves, and exactly what I will give her.
Yeah. Sure I will.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, releasing slow and long. The real me – the real Sam Kitchen – regains control; control I’m just realizing was lost. And as I master myself, disgust kicks in, disgust at the raging, angry lust that possesses me. I am ashamed. I know I can never do such a thing; deep, very deep down … where things count … this isn’t who I am. Never could be. I want to believe this.
I’m deluding myself.
There is no mercy in such a fantasy. Sienna sees to that. She makes me see my lie. The darkness remains, goading me, challenging my grip on who I am, attempting to assert dominance … I am feeding something, I realize, something else, wholly separate from me – something alive, newly awakened, lurking at the edges of my consciousness … Distant … Malicious.
Sienna intends this, intends for me to lose control. She is now connected to me in a manner that has no analogue in my experience, using that connection to manipulate me, my emotions, to wake this alien thing inside me. I know this as fact, with absolute surety. My knowing amuses her. I see the reaction on her face, in her body language. I am naked, exposed. There is nothing about me she doesn’t know.
She revels in my misery.
I hate her.
“You have my word.” I am deflated, beaten. “I will do nothing, and I will leave.” I look to her as I speak, seeing disappointment shape her expression. It is hard for me to hold her gaze, and I look away, feeling small. My erection, like my anger, fades. I am become impotent and meaningless.
I want to get the hell out of this place.
“Hmm,” she muses under her breath, manner preoccupied. There is a hint of sadness from earlier, at lunch. “I think I believe you.” The disappointment that fills me is obvious. I’ve done something wrong. She climbs off of me and stands at the head of the bed. “I think I can let you go and that would be the end of things.” Her hand reaches for my wrists. My heart sinks. She is going to release me; I will be free of this impossible situation. I can go home.
I’m a liar.
I don’t want to go. Don’t want to lose her. I am amazed and dismayed at how complete that feeling is, at how fully I have given over. She’s snared me, mastered me, and I have no idea how. I am hers. I feel excited, exhilarated … and frightened. Physical restraints are window dressing in this new reality, an unexpected reality, far beyond some weird dominance game. I don’t know where this is headed, have no idea where Sienna is taking us. I only know it is the two of us: wherever we be headed, we go together. That is the only truth, the only reality, and if I walk out her door, all will be lost to me.
Sienna will be lost to me.
Despair is all I know.
She stops, her fingers resting lightly on my wrists and the manacles that secure me. The odd, preoccupied expression flickers once more across her features. She looks hesitant, uneasy. She speaks, softly, voice taking on a quiet resolve.
“Sam, would you like to make love to me?” The sound of her words are a bright song of light. Before I can think to stop myself I smile, the action eager, involuntary. She sees and laughs, but the laughter is distant, unsettled in quality. “You do.” She speaks with grim finality. In the silence that follows I again sense the unsaid occurring here, some undercurrent that parallels our interaction, but by now I am too caught up to consider anything might be amiss. “Good.” She smiles, and her hands came away from my restraints. “But I want to hear those words from you, Sam.
“Do you want to make love to me?”
“You know I do.” I snap angrily, all the while feeling exposed and vulnerable as never before. I’m forfeiting something, something primal and important. I know this.
“Then you must give over. You must surrender yourself to me. You must tell me you are mine. Say it, Sam.” Her expression is a cipher, her voice uncompromising.
I cannot escape this.
I pause, licking my lips. I’m on a precipice now, about to leap into … into what? This whole exchange is a game, only her manner makes certain the stakes are much higher than having her or sating my pleasure. I really am about to give up something – I know it! – something huge.
I don’t care.
“Yes.” The word is underscored by a subvocal growl. “I am yours.”
“I am yours who?”
Why am I giving in to this?
“I am yours, Sienna.”
“Then, it is done. I shall give as you desire.” She starts to climb on the bed. I shake my chains, wanting out. I’ve done as she asked, spoken my truth. “Uh, uh, Sam.” She smiles, voice teasing. “My house, my rules. You said you wanted to make love to me. Just as I want to make love to you. Yes. But I’m not ready to let you loose; in time, but not just yet.”
And right there I finally do lose it.
I start yelling and cursing, straining and jerking at the chains as I do. She puts her hand over my mouth: her grip is strong and sure; I cannot get free of her no matter how I try to twist and turn. Eventually I settle down. She frees my lips. “Let me go.” I’m pleading again, my voice disgusting to my ears. “I’ve … I didn’t mean it.” I’m freaked. I have no say over the situation. Worse, something has happened to me – is happening to me. I can’t be sure of myself any longer. Tears well in my eyes. This isn’t play anymore, we aren’t speculating; I am going somewhere I don’t want to go. I’m scared shitless.
The song returns.
She looks at me an endless moment, head tilted to one side, expression taking on that predatory aspect.
“No. Sam. I don’t think so. It’s too late to go back.”
“You have given yourself over to me. I have accepted the gift of your surrender. The agreement is finished, final.
“There is no going back. Ever.”
Her hand strays to my freshly swollen shaft, fingernails running from base to tip. I moan. “You want to make love to me, Sam. You said so with your voice. You continue to say so with your body, with your sex.” The song builds in tempo and strength. Control eludes me. “You know it in your mind, in your soul. I want you to make love to me. I want y-…,” she pauses, her expression searching, “no … no, I intend to make love with you. This is our inevitable destiny, my beautiful man, our inescapable destiny.”
Okay. There is no longer any doubt: the woman is certifiable.
Of course, given what’s passing between us, so am I.
And the song rolls on …
Sienna kisses me. I resist, but fail … I have nothing left in me to fight the desire to have …no, to be had … by her. In spite of fear, my anger, I want this woman as I have wanted no other woman. Hunger wakens … I give in, I respond, surrender myself to her strength.
I lose myself in her lips.
She breaks contact and slides down my sweat-soaked body, first teasing, then biting at my nipples until I howl. She continues, pinching a nipple while tonguing my belly button. With her free hand she plays with my sex.
I crane my neck, chin on chest, stare down the length of my body. Sienna stares back. Eyes glow cold sapphire: the space between us is bathed with luminance. What the hell is she? The thought is detached, random. She hovers over my fresh erection, and the color shifts, now amber. She grins, expression wicked, and lowers her head, long – long! – tongue snakes out her mouth. She touches the base of my sex. Slowly, deliberately, she runs the tip up my length, stopping at the head to flick around the sensitive glans, then eases back to repeat the movement precisely, softly, slowly pulsing eyes never leaving mine.
More of the tongue makes contact, flattening as she laps my erection. She quickens the pace. Every nerve in my body is alive, the sensation breathtaking. She accelerates the rhythm; the tempo of the ever-present song carries me along.
She stops, mouth poised over the tip, lips slightly parted, eyes glowing red slits that bath the world in blood. She smiles, runs her tongue around the head before slowly lowering her lips, applying light suction, moving up-and-down, taking a little more in her mouth each time she descends. Neck straining, I keep my head up, watching, hypnotized. The sensations overwhelm, carrying me along. Sienna works at my sex, her actions focused, deliberate, one hand wrapped around the base, lightly stroking in sync with her mouth, her free hand roaming, first to the soft, sensitive area between my legs, then up over my abdomen to my nipples where she lingers a moment, fingernails pinching before moving back down to my groin. Her head moves steadily up and down while the hand wrapped around my lower half squeezes and strokes in time with the movement of her lips. My head falls back. I’m coming – I feel it, closing in, closer and closer and I’m almost there…
And she stops.
My head pops up, my eyes wide and wild. She grins at me, eyes glowing bright. “Oh, no, Sam, you are not going to get this all at once, beautiful man. We are going to take our time, patiently work for this, you and I.” Sienna smiles again, and that tongue comes out, and she starts licking the full length of me like some demented schoolgirl going after an all-day sucker. She tries to shove her tongue into the hole in its head, getting hardly anywhere, but creating an instant, overwhelming spasm, near-orgasmic, blasting through me into my spine and up to my brain, making my small hairs stand tall. And then she was at me again, sucking and stroking and licking. And I was almost going to come. And she stops. Waits. And starts again.
I’m going berserk.
The music is right there with me, urging insanity.
She stops for the fifth or sixth time, looks up. “Let’s try something else.” She clambers up to me, kissing me full, lingering on my lips. Rising up, she grabs a pillow, and for an instant I know fear as she holds it over my head, but only for an instant, because she lifts my shoulders and doubles it up under me, so that I now have a semi-comfortable, supported view of my body. Sienna then clambered back down to my sex, reversing her position, beautiful bottom and damp lips in my face.
She rears up, turning to look over her shoulder and down at me. The view is spectacular. “I thought you might enjoy this. I’m sure you can think of something to do while I’m busy.” She settles her lips over my mouth and I began to make love to her again. She remained suspended there, using my sex as a handle to brace herself while I work her with my tongue. She stiffens. For an eternal moment she barely moves, inner thighs trembling.
She leans forward, head dips down and I gasp.
Sienna swallows me to the base.
Once more the music explodes and my torso arcs upward, the sudden movement involuntarily, helpless.
This is a whole new world of sensation. The feeling of my thickness squeezed tight down Sienna’s throat is indescribable. The combination of her hands, tongue and mouth working me is already shutting down whole regions of my consciousness; when she adds the intermittent thrust down her throat it’s enough to make me levitate. The music crescendos; I lose all motor control, going limp, surrendering … and she knows, in that connection that now lives between us, knows and accepts my submission … and she rides my face with her sex, movement more deliberate, working me, and the feeling grows somewhere in my groin, becoming larger, more urgent, centering at the base of my manhood …
… and she stops.
I’m startled, maybe in shock, and then, so help me, I start to cry again. This is too much. I need to come – I have to come! I exist in a place where release is now physical need, and that need is cruelly, sadistically being denied.
I want to die.
I start bucking and yelling and she climbs off me and down to the foot of the bed, but only for a moment and she turns and sits on my legs, patient, waiting. I quiet. She climbs back up to me, holds my face, and murmurs softly in my ear, comforting, quiet, words barely intelligible, communicated more in tone than meaning. The song continues, underscoring her words, the singer now calming.
Sienna pulls back, face now inches from mine, looks at me, hand reaching behind me, grabbing my hair, holding me in place, eyes locked on hers.
“You are mine. Say it.”
“I am yours.”
“Unto the end.”
“I am yours to the end.”
“Of course you are.” She smiles, expression smug and loving all at once. “You have my word.”
And then I feel the sensation, and it is better … greater … than any possible expectation. Slowly, steadily, Sienna slides down, engulfing my engorged sex with the impossible fire of her.
Sienna whispers the word, though whether to reassure me or remind herself, I cannot tell, so overwhelmed am I by the shocking heat of her, wrapped so snugly around me, holding me in place. She finally moves, rocking softly, slow and easy, the most minimal of movement between us. The heat of her burns at me, energy pulsing, radiating outward, sending fresh surges of electricity through my nerve endings. She accelerates movement and I instinctively bring my legs up to brace us. It takes a moment to realize my ankles are no longer locked down and the thought fades as the song flows over me, making me blind to anything but the incredible creature I’ve given myself to.
Sienna’s sex tightens on me, squeezing and releasing, kneading my flesh with every thrust. The movement builds, stronger, larger, and she pulls herself up, hands planted on either side of my chest as her pelvis pushes down on me in rhythmic motion. And then she comes, sudden, from nowhere, crying out softly, triumphant, half-collapsing but catching herself, choosing to ride me upright as she comes again, and then again, her muscles clamping down and releasing all the while as she slides along my engorged sex. Her hands are on my chest now, her fingers claws digging into my skin as she crouches low over me, stiff nipples rubbing my skin while her beautiful tush rages up and down on me like a crazed pile-driver. She comes once more, hard, her forehead dropping down into the nape of my neck and the world explodes … I transcend consciousness, blowing up amid a paroxysm of sensation. She catches it, feels it as it happens. Her head came up, and she goes for my mouth as I release. I can feel the liquid heat wash through us as I release into her. She milks the shaft with her muscles, working every drop from me. Soon it flows from her as a warm, thick wetness spilling out and between my legs, dripping off me onto the sheets, mingling with her wet.
We don’t stop, instead settling down, our movement steady, constant, our lips still touching, gently melding for the eternity to come.
The afternoon progressed and the piles of leaves grew. The back yard was huge. The air was thick, the soft wind hot. Even standing in the shade of the trees felt like being in a slow bake oven, sweat evaporating off my skin. My soaked clothes clung and chaffed my skin. The rake kept getting caught on dead vines and ancient trash, slowing everything down. I was tired, cranky and thirsty.
But I made steady progress.
Sienna would appear periodically, bronzed and radiant in the sunlight, drink in hand, admonishing me to stop for a time and cool off. At first she brought lemonade, which tasted like cold, tart nectar in the searing heat. Then she switched up, bringing me another frosted beer while apologizing that the lemonade was gone and there was no ice to chill any water.
Of course, from my impaired perspective, it was all good: the beer was cold, and being served up by a near-naked goddess. From my baked perspective these were the only important considerations.
Before long I’d drank three or four brews.
Maybe. Maybe more. I lost count.
All the while, Sienna moved around the yard in that wispy micro-bikini thingy. Bad enough she would walk toward me, breasts lightly jiggling and threatening to fall out of the near-translucent material straining to hold them in place, worse when she turned to go back to the house, impressive tush gently swinging a perfect figure eight, the bikini bottom, just this side of a thong, leaving nothing to the imagination as far as the firm globes that were her pneumatically muscular nether cheeks were concerned.
There came a time when I found myself standing in the middle of the yard, focus fuzzy from heat, work and alcohol, and the realization slowly dawned I was done.
I was also drunk.
And something else.
Someone was calling my name.
I turned toward the house, staring stupidly. I shouldn’t be this far gone, even in this heat. But there I was.
It’s her, whashername, Ms. Scissors Lifts.
Sienna was walking toward me, her tone questioning.
“Sam, are you alright?”
“M’fine,” I articulated muddily. She moved to stand before me, reaching up to put the back of her hand to my sweat-drenched forehead and cheeks. There came a sudden vision of her as Maureen O’Sullivan and me as John Wayne after he’d shot up the town and beat up the bad guys and was coming home to Maureen for some good old-fashioned mendin’, cookin’ and lovin’.
I laughed happily at the thought.
“Of course you are.” The observation was made sweetly, in a tone suggesting she didn’t believe whatever it was I thought I said. “You’ve done a very nice job here. Why don’t you go upstairs and take a cool shower and I’ll make you some dinner before you go.”
“M’fine,” I mumbled once more, demonstrating the expanse of my impaired vocabulary. “Just gimme m’clothes and I’ll go.”
She smiled. “Can’t do that, Sam.”
This stopped me for a moment as I tried to connect one brain cell to another in a failed attempt to puzzle out whether it was she or me who couldn’t do ‘that’.
Whatever ‘that’ was.
As I’ve alluded, my skull was a charnel house, filled with dead and besotted brain cells.
“Why not?” I asked stupidly.
True, at this point, anything I said was going to be stupid.
“Because, Sam, you’re drunk, and it would be irresponsible of me to let you drive like this.”
“Yes. You keep saying that.” Her voice changed. “Sam …” She was laughing now, pushing and slapping playfully at my chest and arms, even tickling me, causing me to stumble backwards “… you are about as far from fine as fine can get. You are not going anywhere, not only because you’re drunk, but because you’re drunk and you can’t start your truck.”
Sienna stepped back, and I saw she was holding my truck’s keys in her right hand.
I went for my pockets and sure enough, I didn’t have the keys.
Quick on the uptake, that’s me.
“How’d you do that?”
I stared at her with dull eyes, swaying a little side to side. She reached out to steady me, her expression amused.
“I was sidetracked earlier, so I forgot to start the dryer until a few minutes ago. You can’t leave without your clothes, right? So you might as well take advantage of my hospitality.”
“I don’t think so.”
She looked me directly in the eye.
“You are not going anywhere.”
A passing notion of wrestling her for the keys seemed the order of the day. But that’s all it was: a passing notion. With all that beer in me I had the reaction time of a slug; I’d end up tripping over my feet.
And something about her stance was telling me I’d better not.
Exhausted, I gave in, letting her lead me in the house. Once inside she walked alongside, one hand at my elbow, keeping me steady.
There came music.
From somewhere, someplace, there came music.
A woman was singing. The song was familiar, something vaguely remembered. I stopped, resumed walking, then stopped again, transfixed.
The music seemed to be nowhere and everywhere.
All the while Sienna stood at my side, saying nothing, waiting, her beautiful, impassive countenance seeming cast in stone. Had I been a little less drunk, maybe I’d have picked up a cue. Maybe. Truth was, with all that booze altering my internal chemistry I was too numb to catch on to much of anything.
I stopped for the third time at the top of the stairs.
“Don’t you hear it?” I finally asked after straining unsuccessfully to figure out where the music was coming from.
“What do you mean?”
“The music? Can’t you hear the music? Someone’s singing, a woman. It … the music … it’s beautiful.” I paused, remembering. “I think I heard it before. Here. Today. And at the gym that day you …”
My words trailed off, my mind drifting. A new thought came to me, and I fixed her with a vacant stare.
That got her attention, but by the time my muddled thought processes caught on she masked her reaction. I blinked, sure I’d seen something, not sure what. Disappointment? Anger?
“Meadow?” Her expression was confused. “I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I.” I looked at her again, eyes narrowing. Even in my impaired state I could sense she did understand. I thought push things, just to see what she would say, but the singer’s voice rose, deep, guttural, then rising in whispered urgency.
I was entranced, transported.
Sienna gripped my arm above my elbow, squeezing lightly.
The name was whispered soft, from far away, and for a moment I did not understand this was my name.
“Sam? You need to take a shower, remember?”
The music faded to a murmur, soft sounds I could barely hear, still there, but only just.
I nodded slowly.
“Sam.” I touched my chest, looking down, confused. “Me?”
Sienna was silent.
I stared at her a moment, then nodded.
We were moving again. Sienna led me through a doorway set in one of the few standing inner walls in the house. We entered into a huge bedroom that was furnished haphazardly, the most notable feature a large brass-framed bed up against one wall.
Exhaustion was finally setting in. I was barely aware of the music now. She led me through another door into a large bathroom, opened the shower and started running water, testing for temperature.
She turned to regard me. Thick as the fog enveloping my consciousness was, I started having pleasant thoughts about the two of us in the shower.
“Anything you need?”
Her voice was soft, sweet. Expectant. I looked at those lips, wondering at how they would taste.
Oh, yeah, I can think of a thing or two.
Toasted though I may have been, I was still smart enough not to be stupid.
What was it with her? With me around her?
“I think I can get it from here.”
Was that disappointment just then?
What the fuck is wrong with me?
“If you need something, give a yell.”
She left, pulling the door closed behind her.
Shrugging my way out of the sweat-soaked, filthy clothes, I step over to the toilet to relieve my overloaded bladder. Felt good, real good. I thought of Jim Tidwell, my platoon sergeant during my abbreviated tour of duty as a Marine, who once remarked: “Take away everything else and there are still the five great pleasures of life, Marine: fucking, eating, drinking, pissing and shitting, not necessarily in that order.”
As I’ve aged, I’ve come to appreciate Jim’s wisdom, if not his way of putting things.
The bathroom was tiled on the floors and halfway up the walls, promoting the illusion, if not the reality, of a cool atmosphere that went a long way toward clearing my head. When I stepped into the shower I found Sienna adjusted the temperature so the water was chilly and refreshing on my skin. I must have stayed in there a half hour, thoroughly washing and shampooing myself part of the time; enjoying the respite from the oppressive heat for the rest.
There came a time I reluctantly turned off the water. stepped out of the shower to discover a razor and can of shaving cream on the sink. I noted my borrowed clothes were gone. I opened the door to the bedroom.
No one there.
Wrapping the towel about my waist, I padded to the top of the stairs and called out.
Sienna appeared quickly, looking up at me. I was still feeling somewhat dull and exhausted, but not so I didn’t noticed that damned bikini. I positioned the banister post between the two of us to hide my little friend’s extreme happiness as I leaned over the rail.
“My clothes are gone.”
“I took them. Your pants and shirt are done; I’ll bring them up in a minute. You see the razor?”
“Why don’t you use it? If I’m going to feed you dinner, the least you can do is to try to look your best, don’t you think?”
At this point, I didn’t even try to argue. Best to humor the woman, eat dinner, and get the hell out of here.
What a frickin’ day this one turned out to be.
I returned to the bathroom and scraped my beard. I hadn’t shaved for a couple of days now, prepping for the weekend. Chicks loved guys with shadow, particularly guys who bounced for clubs.
figuring I going out tonight with my roommate to catch a flick and an iced cappuccino after. Who knew what would happen after that.
So much for that idea.
I heard the floorboards creaking in the next room, then nothing.
No answer. I shrugged; thinking she’d probably left the clothes and returned to the kitchen. I wondered what we’d be eating. I didn’t smell anything so I figured she must be fixing something along the lines of lunch. Whatever she was planning on serving up, I hoped there was going to be a lot of it.
I was hungry.
I opened the door to grab my clothes and stopped. Sienna stood there, blocking my path. I opened my mouth, but before I could speak she stepped forward, lifting her left hand, bringing two fingers to rest lightly over my lips while raising her right index finger in the universal signal to ‘Shush.’
I was vaguely aware the music was back, the tempo up, the singer anticipatory in mood.
In one fluid movement Sienna moved closer still, right hand slipping behind my waist and up, then running down my back, fingers scratching, her pelvis grinding into mine as she reached up behind me with her free hand, grabbing a clump of hair to pull me down to her waiting lips.
“You’re kidding, right?”
She considered, shook her head.
She regarded me.
“I don’t think I ever ‘kid’.”
1.3 – Digging in the Dirt
Within an hour of finishing lunch I’d removed the debris piled in random spots on the front lawn. I walked over the yard one last time, inspecting the leaf-covered ground for any missed wood or metal. Satisfied, I secured the doors of the dumpster, collected wheelbarrow and shovel and headed to the garage to put everything away, visions of home and a long cool shower in the forefront of my thoughts.
Ms. Scissors Lifts had other ideas.
“Nice work!” Sienna called out cheerily from the back porch. “You did an excellent job out front.”
I stopped at the entrance to the garage, turning my head to look at her.
“I only now realized you might not have understood my instructions.”
There was something in her voice … and that goddamned smile …
“You’re kidding, right?”
She considered, shook her head.
She regarded me.
“I don’t think I ever ‘kid’.”
She remained like that, thoughtful, finally nodding in the direction I’d come. “You can start on the leaves next; there’s easily a year’s worth out front, maybe more, and I need them gone before we uproot and replace the old sprinkler system and lay down a new lawn.
“You will find the rake inside, to the right of the garage door. There are some plastic garbage bags on the shelf next to it. But before you do-”
The words hung as she walked toward me, smiling, a small bundle crooked in her arm. “Your clothes are caked with filth; I noticed during lunch. Given all this heat, you must be suffering terribly. The heavy work is done, I think. Why don’t you change into these? I think they’re your size and you’ll feel more comfortable in the heat.”
I tilted my head, staring sideways at her. Something wasn’t right, though I’d be damned if I could figure out what. I remove my cap and ran the back of my free hand over my forehead, feeling the sweat. The temperature was near the century mark and I was hot, sticky and tired. I looked down at my clothes and then at the bundle she offered.
What the hell…
I took the bundle.
“Go ahead and change in there.” She nodded her head toward the garage. “Toss out your dirty stuff and I’ll load them in the washer.” I hesitated a moment. “Well, go ahead. Don’t worry, I promise not to look.”
That was sarcasm.
I entered the garage, grousing wordlessly under my breath. Stepping out of my shoes, I peeled off pants and shirt, emptied the pockets of my keys and wallet, and threw my dirty clothes out on the wheelbarrow, where she scooped them up and disappeared.
I pulled the T-shirt over my head. It was loose, soft and comfortable. The shorts, though they fit well enough, were a touch on the snug side. I thought about asking Sienna for my pants back. But when I looked out, she’d already disappeared into the house. For a moment, the paranoid little voice was going off in my head again. I didn’t listen.
I slipped into the work boots, not tying the laces. I had a pair of gym shoes in the truck that would be a much more comfortable in this killer heat. I grabbed the rake and some plastic bags and walked down the driveway toward the street. On the way out I looked to my left, scanning the backyard, realizing the ground was covered with leaves and fallen branches.
Lots of leaves and branches.
Everything ends eventually.
I had no idea.
An hour later I was finished with the front and needing to hit the head again. I knocked on the front door. No answer. Once more, with feeling. Still nothing. I tried the knob. Locked.
Great. And here I thought we were making progress.
Grumbling under my breath, I gathered my gear and pushed the wheelbarrow along the side of the house, turned the back corner and nearly tripped over my rake.
In front of me, just a little to the right, centered in a large patch of sunlight between the trees’ shadows, Sienna Rosetti was reclining in a lawn chair, soaking up the sun. And the thing about this particular tableau that was causing a problem for my suddenly impaired motor skills was the fact that she was wearing a bikini sporting just enough fabric to cover the most personal parts of her anatomy. But only just.
There was a part of me – that observational portion of my consciousness informed by all that acting training I threw wads of money at years ago – absorbing this tableau from a dispassionate perspective, even going so far as to marvel at the unexpected vision laid out before me like a banquet for a starving man.
I mean, I knew the woman was fine, but … whoa!
The perfection of shape and form that so riveted my attention whenever I saw her at the gym was all the more evident now. Each part of her body flowed into the next in what seemed an unconsciously proper melding of proportion. She even had a perfect tan: there were with no lines to be seen – none – and I could see a lot. The only marring to this perfection – and it wasn’t, not really – was a small, straight, up-and-down scar centered on the upper part of her abdomen, right where her ribs met below her breasts, set so perfectly it appeared natural, an emerald beauty mark on skin of burnished gold.
And then there were Sienna’s breasts. Did I mention Sienna’s breasts? Firm, not flattening too much even while reclining, gently rising and falling with her breathing in such a way that each and every inhalation brought with it renewed hope the thin string holding the two triangular pieces of fabric in place would snap, revealing what could only be described as small twin patches of heaven until now only hinted at.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, everything was going haywire. Alarms. Big alarms! All going off in a helpless part of my consciousness. Part of me was confused, wondering what the hell she was doing. Wasn’t I not supposed to be staring at her? What was she doing? Sienna was going to see me standing and staring and everything was going to go to hell in record time. All that work, everything I’d put myself through, all the effort to smooth things out shot to shit because I couldn’t avert my eyes. I didn’t know what to do.
Something was very, very wrong. I kept telling myself I needed to do something, but the notion would die aborning. I vaguely understood this should be telling me something. A moment later I had forgot the question and was again telling myself I needed to do something. I was caught in a cycling loop. I realize – again – this should be telling me something important.
And then I forget everything again.
Feeling helpless, I walked forward, drawn to where Sienna lay, not looking directly at her, just in her general direction, finally stopping at the foot of the recliner, a little to her right. There was no reaction. I couldn’t tell through the bright reflection off the lenses of her sunglasses if she were asleep, or watching me.
I cleared my throat.
“Ah, excuse me? Sienna?”
The dark-skinned beauty turned her head toward me and raised her sunglasses, squinting out from beneath the lenses. “Yes?” Her voice was distant, as if nothing were amiss.
I thought I heard someone singing.
“Yes.” I echoed stupidly, having gotten this far and realized I’d forgotten what I intended to say. Yeah. Something was wrong. Something was keeping me from understanding what.
A short silence ensued wherein she arched her eyebrows in what seemed to be concern.
“I … uh … wanted to use the bathroom, if that’s okay?”
Dumb … stupid dumb. ‘If that’s okay?’ Really?
She shifted just a bit, and her right breast slipped out from its flimsy covering to reveal a dark and very erect nipple. Without looking, she absently returned the offending mammary to its home.
As for me, no biggie: by this time I’d pretty much checked out.
Someone was singing. I was sure of it.
“Go right ahead, Sam.” She spoke as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. “You don’t need to ask. Really.”
Thoughts of the bathroom were now secondary: a new, potentially ugly situation had arisen, pun notwithstanding. My shorts, already adhering to me like a second skin, were feeling exceptionally snug. Too snug. Not good. Uh, uh. Not even close.
I need to get the hell in the house right now!
I turned to leave, but her voice stopped me.
“Oh, and Sam?”
I looked awkwardly over my shoulder. “It is very hot.” She raised the sunglasses to her forehead, turning her face to the sky, eyes closed, her voice distantly concerned.
Lady, you don’t know the half of it.
“Why don’t you grab yourself something cold to drink on the way back out? There’s iced water and juice. I also have beer, if you’d like, though you should hydrate first, don’t you think?”
She lowered her head to look at me, one hand lowering the sunglasses over her eyes, masking her eyes. “Refresh yourself. After all, you still have to rake the back yard, and I wouldn’t want you to get heat stroke.”
“Sure.” I said. “Thanks.”
Way, way too creepy.
I turned and tried to keep from running as I made for the sanctuary of the bathroom. All the way across the yard I imagined her eyes on me, and I knew that if I turned to look back she’d be smiling that damned smile.
I got in the john and dug my now painfully constricted member from my shorts, watching as the sucker engorged.
Now I had to wait for the thing to soften up so I could angle it at the bowl. Sienna’s words drifted back to me: ‘Refresh yourself,’ she’d said. I felt the thing throb in the palm of my hand, becoming even stiffer.
I was by myself, traumatized and really needed a little pick-me-up. Urgently. So there and then I decided to give me the joy I so obviously craved. Wired up as I was, a few gentle strokes and everything would be right with my world.
Of course, in keeping with my luck so far this day, there came a knock on the door.
“Yes?” I asked too loudly while hurriedly trying to stuff the damned sausage back into my shorts.
“Will you be very long, Sam? I really need to go.”
“Ah … no,” I replied, again too loudly, flushing the toilet. “Just finishing up.” Fumbling with the latch, I opened the door, shirt hanging out to little purpose, as the hem wasn’t low enough to cover the fact that the thing that distinguishes me as a male was pushing hard against the cutoff’s buttons in an effort to burst free.
Meanwhile, Sienna was standing there in front of me, that wispy micro-bikini still impossibly holding things in place in spite of the fact she was now upright. The sunglasses were resting on top of her head, and her eyes never strayed from my face, yet somehow I knew she was aware of the unhappy bulge in my shorts. “Thanks. I really needed to pee. Oh, and this is for you.” She handed me an open beer bottle. “You do drink, don’t you?”
“Good. Now if you’ll excuse me.” She smiled softly in whispered apology. “I really need to get in there.”
As this pleasant exchange was occurring, a small voice in the back of my head was all but screaming at me: ‘Pretty obvious, dude. Do it.’ And I was listening: I was physically aching to touch her, to stop her with my hand, draw her to me, see her raise her lips to mine as our bodies slid up one another … and then we kiss and she pulls at me and I lower her down, soft and easy, and we’re making love on the hardwood floor.
Not that I was going to act on this sudden impulse. Uh-uh.
There was something seriously wrong about all of this.
I was being played. Had to be. Maybe she was testing just how far I could be prodded …
… or maybe she was one of those weird chicks who liked to play dangerous games …
… Or maybe I was blowing it.
No way to know.
Given our very short, very negative history, no way was I going to try and find out, either.
Which is why, in an act thoroughly out of character, I decided to trust my instincts and got out of her way.
Sienna brushed past me, her hip grazing the bulge in my shorts as she passed. If she noticed she didn’t let on. Instead she turned, smiled sweetly as she closed the door, leaving me frustrated and stupid in the hallway. I stared after her for a long while, not believing this was happening to me, finally taking a resigned swig of beer and headed outside to rake the backyard. I was at the bottom of the porch stairs when I remembered I still needed to take a leak.
I found a spot behind the garage.
“Enough about me; what’s your story, Sam?”
“Not much to tell, actually.”
“Really? I’d beg to differ. For example: those scars you wear are unusual.” She nodded at my exposed arms. “I’ve seen the ones on your legs and shoulders, as well.” She tilted her head, expression curious. “I understand they cover your entire body. Is that true?”
1.2 – Strangeness and Charm
Bladder drained, hands and face washed, I exited the bathroom, feeling refreshed. Well, kind of refreshed. Sorta kinda. It’s debatable just how refreshed one can be when it’s over 90 in the shade, you’re sweating like a pig on a spit and your grimy clothes are plastered to your body, rubbing up against your epidermis like rough sandpaper. Still, inside the house, where some of the morning air yet lingered, the atmosphere was perceptibly cooler than the outdoors.
‘This is wrong.’
Random thought. Out of nowhere.
No. Not wrong. Not right. I had no sense of where the feeling came from. One moment I was set to join Sienna on the back porch and next … everything slewed and the house interior shifted in my sight. I froze, catching my breath, scanning my surroundings, searching the shadows for movement. The small hairs on the back of my neck were getting spiky: something was going on, something just outside the range of my vision. I turned quickly, looking about, not sure what had me spooked. The sensation – and that’s what it was, a sensation – was vaguely familiar, a shade of forgotten memory, lingering just outside resolution … and I couldn’t place it, couldn’t connect, even though I knew, I really knew.
The problem was I didn’t know what it was I knew.
I looked down the hall, feeling dizzy. The kitchen seemed further away than the last time I’d been here. A lot further. Sure, the property was huge; like I said, it took up a couple of normal lots. But now the building seemed even bigger on the inside than on the outside, like there was two or three times as much space stuffed into what should be there. The hall looked endless. I closed my eyes a moment, trying to shrug off the sensation.
Probably some trick of perspective or something.
I took a step toward the kitchen.
Someone whispered my name!
I stopped, pivoting, eyes wide, panicked.
What the hell?
There was no one there. I eased out of a fighter’s crouch, straightening. Slowing my breathing, I closed my eyes and listened. The inner air washed over me, oddly clear, even cool, the smell of freshly-worked wood and other, construction related odors mingling with the scent of cut grass. After a time I sensed what I thought to be a soft humming, distant, faint. I could barely detect the sound. I concentrated and gradually the humming grew in volume, changing, becoming an identifiable voice, at least in the sense I could recognize the rhythm and meter of verse. The words were lost to me, though, spoke – no, sung! – in an oddly musical language I could not recognize, feminine in quality, bright and alive. In spite of myself, a smile lifted the corners of my mouth, relaxing me, leaving feeling more at ease as any time I could remember.
The suspended moment of perception ended, the rhythm and music seeming to fade, but not quite go away.
And then it … she … spoke to me, the sound of the voice sad and warm.
“Welcome home, sweet Meadow.”
My eyes popped open, darting about, seeking out the speaker.
There was no one there.
“Who…?” The word was whispered. I looked to the shadows, half-expecting someone to emerge.
I was beginning to think I’d imagined things.
“Hello, Kitchen.” The soft voice was right before me, its source invisible to my eyes. “I’ve missed you.”
I stepped back, tripping over a pile of wood and falling. I landed heavily, the clattering wood making a lot of noise.
Sienna called out. “Are you alright?”
“Fine!” I yelled back too loudly, scrambling to my feet. “Be right there!”
I spun about, trying to locate the source of the voice. What just happened? I hesitated, thinking to try and listen for the music again, but I knew I couldn’t stay here forever. Sienna was waiting for me and I didn’t need her thinking I was snooping around. I turned, conscious the hallway seemed shorter again.
Passing through the kitchen I saw my original assessment was correct: this area was in better shape than the rest of the house, refurbished to near-completion; everything looked new and functional. Made sense. If you were going to live in a place while fixing it up – at least, that’s what I assumed Sienna was doing – the two most important rooms to get up and running were the bathroom and kitchen.
Uneasily looking back over my shoulder at the now-dim interior, I brushed past the huge butcher’s block and stepped into the bright hot that was the outside. Sienna was sitting at a table to my left, under an ancient-looking awning. For the briefest instant I thought to mention the voice I’d heard, but quickly let go of that idea, thinking how crazy I’d sound.
“What happened? Did you hurt yourself?”
“No.” I blinked, still preoccupied with what happened only moments before. “No. I got clumsy and tripped, is all. Nothing bruised or broken.”
Sienna nodded and gestured to the seat across from her.
I settled in to the welcome vision of a bowl of tossed green salad and a pitcher of what looked to be lemonade. On the plate in front of me was an open sandwich of roast beef and Jack cheese, with lettuce and tomatoes on the side and condiments in easy reach.
My hostess served up the salad, loaded with hot weather veggies: cucumbers, grape tomatoes, lettuce and a sprinkling of scallions. “The dressing’s bottled Italian.” Sienna sounded apologetic. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Um, no, um, that’s okay. Uh … I really like … bottled … Italian.”
Yup … real cultured, witty repartee, but she seemed pleased.
Small talk exhausted, we went silent except for the sounds of plastic utensils scraping plates and the refreshing crunch of fresh vegetables as we chewed. I avoided opportunities to look directly at her, remembering how I got here in the first place, spending an inordinate amount of time staring out over the yard.
Behind and to the left of Sienna, at the end of a tall, ivy-covered fence, was a two-story structure I assumed served as the garage and tool shed. I figured the upper story was a servant’s quarters or in-law apartment at some time in the past. The building looked deserted, the upstairs windows boarded up. Scanning right, I took in the wide lawn, with a massive oak in the center, providing shade. Along the rear fence stood a row of pine trees, providing more shade, as were the Japanese maples standing in the opposite corner, above a still pond half-filled with brackish water. There was lawn furniture, and the broken frame of a two-seater swing stood beneath the oak. The yard was covered in places with old leaves, broken branches and the inevitable detritus of neglect.
I turned, reaching for the lemonade and froze. Sienna was staring at me. No. Not at me. She was staring through me, checked out, mind elsewhere, features sad, lonely even. She blinked, caught my eye and the expression disappeared, replaced by that cool facade she wore so well. She took a bite of her sandwich, chewing and then washing things down with lemonade, eyes wandering the back yard. I looked away, occupying myself with finishing off my own sandwich. It tasted good: tangy sourdough, cold cuts and vegetables.
I couldn’t stand the silence.
I reached out to tap the side of the house. “If you don’t mind my asking, is this one of your jobs?” I got a puzzled expression in response. “I noticed on the card you gave me. You describe yourself as a restoration architect. I figured this is one of your jobs or contracts or whatever you call it, which got me curious ‘cause I didn’t think architects worked the construction end of things.”
She smiled a real smile. Whoa. So that’s what that’s like. “Oh, I see.” She took a sip of lemonade, her expression thoughtful. “Yes, architects work construction while they learn their craft and even later in their careers have some hands on involvement on their jobs, though perhaps not to the extent I have here. I guess it would be up to the individual, really. As for you question, no, this is not one of my clients’ jobs. This is my home. I grew up here. I inherited the house from my – my grandparents – a long time ago. It’s been deserted since their deaths.” She sighed. “I decided I wanted to live here again.” Her voice was different: the hard edge I’d grown accustomed to gone.
“Grew up here?” I was genuinely interested, looking around and imagining what the yard once looked like. “Must have been some childhood.”
“No.” She went chill. “Not much of a childhood at all.” She turned her attention back to her sandwich, took a bite and chewed, looking off into the yard, her expression sphinx-like.
Wanting to get out of there before I did anything more to sour the mood, I focused on my sandwich, finishing the last bit in a couple of bites. I was set to excuse myself and return to the front when she spoke again.
“Please don’t misunderstand.” Her voice was hushed, thoughtful. “My grandparents loved me, spoiled me even. This was a romantic place to grow up, with all the different rooms, and the large yard filled with all manner of trees and flowers …” She sighed. “… and the library.” She gestured at the run-down vegetation and remains of lawn furniture. “The parties during the summer … the neighborhood children would come to play croquet and lawn tag and all manner of games.” She sighed again, lost in another place. “They were the best times, my childhood here. Thanksgiving, the Christmas holidays … Halloween … this house was always the best place to be.” Her voice drifted off.
She blinked a couple of times and looked at me, expression direct. “Not to worry. It was a long time ago. Another era. Like all things: long gone. Nothing of importance to anyone, anymore.” She paused, expression focused. “Once I made up my mind to return I got to work ripping out the interior, getting rid of the rotted wood and plaster while modernizing the electric, gas, and plumbing. The place was in bad shape. The `89 quake accelerated the aging of the structure.” She reached out, touching the outside wall with her fingertips, the expression familiar, intimate. “With winter approaching I’m concentrating on the interior and the roof. Come spring I’ll finish the renovation of the façade. By next summer the place will look as it did a hundred years ago.”
She paused, sipping again from her glass, tilting up as she finished the lemonade to get at the ice. She looked at me, absently crunching the small cubes between her teeth. “Enough about me; what’s your story, Sam?”
“Not much to tell, actually.”
“Really? I’d beg to differ. For example: those scars you wear are unusual.” She nodded at my exposed arms. “I’ve seen the ones on your legs and shoulders, as well.” She tilted her head, expression curious. “I understand they cover your entire body. Is that true?”
I nodded, chewing, eyes unfocused.
The scars were a reminder of a very bad day in my life; I’d never thought of them as being ‘worn’ so much as being left with them.
“So what happened?”
“I don’t know.”
She leaned back, studying me. “You don’t know?” Her expression was curious. “How is that possible? I’ve been told you look like someone who took a stroll through a knife factory during a hurricane. I think I’d remember something like that.”
I smiled unhappily. This was not a place I liked to visit.
“I don’t remember.” Her eyes narrowed. “No, really.” My tone was resigned; she wasn’t going to let up until I explained myself. “Amnesia. Doctors say trauma erased my memory.”
“Cross my heart. When I woke at Walter Reed, six months were gone and I didn’t have a clue where. The last thing I remember was the ambush.”
“Walter Reed? That’s a military hospital.” I nodded. “You were in the Army.”
I grinned, but there was no humor in the expression. “Naw. Marines, ma’am. Semper Fi.”
“Oh.” Her expression was vague, not catching – or ignoring – the distaste in my voice. “So you say an ambush? Where were you? Iraq? What were you doing?”
I sipped from my glass. “It was a small operation: one of our embassies got overrun…”
“You were in Iran? You couldn’t have been old enough.”
“This was somewhere else, two decades after Tehran, in Africa, a terrorist thing from what we were told going in. The troop carrier I was assigned to was the closest asset, so they ordered us in. Without backup.”
I nodded. “There was a full Task Force with another troop carrier one day further out, but the brass wouldn’t wait.” I sipped from my lemonade. “You mentioned Tehran. You know that thing they talk about preparing for the last battle? That’s what we were doing, remembering Tehran and planning for another scenario just like it.
“That made for a huge mistake because it turned out the other guys prepared for us to come in expecting Tehran.”
“Yeah. Given the Embassy was being overrun within our strike range, the thought was to get in quick, not giving the captors time to either fortify their position or disappear into the countryside with our people. We were off within an hour, three platoons in choppers, escorted by jump jets. We inserted smooth, on target, freeing the captives within minutes of landing. Textbook. It was when we tried to evac everything went to hell. Lost half our guys, all our choppers and most of the air support before we even knew we were in a firefight. Total ambush: CO and most of the officers were dead in seconds. Somehow we fought our way out and marched for the coast and rescue. What was left of my platoon – fifteen guys – got put on the rear guard. We split in two groups, leapfrogging, engaging in staged retreats: quick ambushes, slowing them down while we bugged out past the next fortified position, setting up another ambush further up the road to the coast.
“The tactic worked for a while. One time, though, it was their turn, and we got caught in an ambush and, well, things got pretty ugly. That’s where my memory stops.”
“I never saw this in the news. All of this really happened?”
“Yeah. At least, that’s what I’m told happened. Like I said, I have no memory. I remember going in. Remember the initial attack. There’s no doubt in my mind it happened. Things get sketchy after – I only know bits and pieces. Then my memories disappear altogether. Amnesia.”
I looked out over the yard, not wanting to share what was going on behind my eyes.
“In the end, only five of us made it out, and me so cut up it was a miracle there weren’t only four.”
I looked back at her and forced a smile. “It’s okay. Fifteen years is a long time, anyway; people forget lots of things. Just sucks I can’t remember: all those people dead … seems like something you shouldn’t forget.”
“It’s odd, though.” She spoke the words offhandedly, an afterthought. I looked at her, confused. “The scars. You have no scars on your face or neck, yet they seem to cover the rest of your body. Why do you think that is?”
I shrugged. “Dunno. Never really gave it much thought, actually.”
Which was a lie. The scarring was something I’d always wondered about. Like the rest of my body, my face was pretty cut up, but no trace remained after a few months, unlike the rest of me. No one could figure out why.
Sienna looked at me skeptically, finally speaking. “Alright.” Her tone suggesting she wasn’t buying what I was selling, “Let’s move on to something else, then. What is it do you do with yourself for a living?” She smiled, and added quickly, “I mean, besides you predilection for perversion?”
For the briefest instant I paused to appreciate her ability to keep me off balance. She was very good. I covered my discomfort, draining the glass and pouring a quick refill. Smiling, Sienna held her glass out and I refreshed her, as well.
“Well, for a living wage, I do odd jobs, work part-time as a bouncer, wait tables downtown. I-”
She cut me off. “Tables? Where? Which restaurant?”
“The Raging Rhino.” I wasn’t doing a good job of hiding my irritation at being interrupted.
She nodded, not seeming to care. “I’ve heard of it. Good food, fun atmosphere.”
“Yeah. My housemate head waiter there. He got me the job.” I shrugged. “Dues you pay to do the things you love.”
“Oh, now that sounds vaguely pretentious, like you are getting ready to sneak in a pick up line. Are you always so transparent?” Her voice was teasing, near mocking, and I grunted. “Or so self absorbed?” She laughed. “Exactly what is it you’re so cryptically trying to tell me, sir?”
I felt filleted.
“Okay.” The sound of the word was a resigned sigh; you could hear the mea culpa in my voice. “What I mean is all that stuff I do pays the bills and keeps food on the plate and a roof over my head. What I really do is … theatre … act. And direct, sometimes.”
“Oh.” Her expression shifted a shade, showing interest. “So you’re an actor. An artist?”
“Yeah.” I caught the question in her voice. “Yeah, if you want to call it that. At the risk of sounding truly pretentious, I can’t say if I’m an artist. I’m more comfortable with the actor label.”
“So what’s this now? False humility?” Her expression was curious. “There’s a difference?”
What the hell, she asked.
“Okay … let’s go for a different perspective: art versus craft. I try to – for lack of a better word – create art in the same sense that, say, a craftsman would fashion a fine piece of furniture or pottery.”
“Did you rehearse that?”
I eyed her.
“Do you really want hear this? Maybe I should just go finish up the yard.”
“No.” Something in her expression shifted. “No. I’m sorry. Go on. Please.”
I stared back at her a moment, then sipped from my drink. “Okay. A woodworker builds an ornate chest of drawers or cabinet. As he works the oak or redwood he can see results evolve and take shape. At the end of the day he stops and steps back and sees the art, really looks at it, thinking on what he’s done and making plans for what comes next. That doesn’t work for me: as a performer, everything moves too fast for that. One moment leads to another and another as the performance unfolds. Whatever you created in the moment dies in the next as you move with the action and dialogue.
“It’s not only the ephermal quality of the work. There’s no way to know if I’m creating art because everything is in transition. I can’t step back, get some distance and take a good look at what I’m doing like the craftsman does.” I chuckled. “Maybe Schrodener’s Cat might have pulled it off.” She grinned and laughed. “So, having eliminated me from a potentially objective view of the work I’m doing, there is left only leaves the audience, the people watching me, the only people in a position to judge whether or not I’m creating art.”
Silence. I looked at her expectantly.
“Are you always this self absorbed?” Her voice was deadpan but there was a sense of amusement in her eyes.
She is teasing me!
“Occupational hazard.” I drained my glass. “Look at it this way: the best I can do is attempt to craft art using words, movement and timing. Sometimes it’s all unconscious: you walk away from a good performance with no clue what you did. Other times you stink up the joint, unable to connect with the work or the other actors, you’re completely out of sync and everything feels like a line reading. Then there are times a performance comes together and you know you nailed it, like … like hitting a walk-off grand slam.” I smiled sheepishly. “It’s there I come as close as I ever come to knowing I’ve created art.”
“Alright, I’ll buy that.” She switched up. “So what have you done? Any movies, TV I’ve seen?”
“No. No movies or TV you’d ever notice me in.” I sipped my drink, flirting with the idea of telling her about the Halloween commercial, deciding I didn’t want to give her any fresh ammo.
“I worked stock theatre this summer.” She raised a questioning eyebrow. “Summer stock. Down south, LA, at the Beachfront Rep in Huntington Beach.”
Both eyebrows were up as she looked sideways and up at me.
“Plays? Who were you?”
Like feeding me quarters. “Torvald …”
“A Dolls House.”
I smiled. “Yes. Ibsen.” She knows a little theatre. I felt my guard relax.
“Tell me about it.”
“The acting. You did other roles?”
“What was your favorite?”
The smile was automatic.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream?”
“I wish you could see your smile. I swear, you could be naming a lover.”
“You seem taken with it. With the role. The character.”
I looked at her, puzzled, then not.
“Oh.” I smiled, then chuckled. “It was a good show.” The smile faded.
“And then it ended.”
I eyed her. “What we do doesn’t last long. Most of the time three to six weeks rehearsal – if you are lucky – then a run of two to six weeks and you move on. And you’re auditioning and learning lines in your spare time on days you perform and your days off. And a lot of times it’s just a job, just work. You do your thing, work your craft, and a lot of times that’s enough, you get in some great performances, work well with everyone, maybe learn some new things, new tricks. It’s all good.” I looked down, then sideways at her. “Every once in a lucky while, though, you get to work with a group of people who, by some odd quirk or dint of fate somehow bond and decide to have some fun.
“The magic of the ‘having of fun’ is the spontaneity of it. It’s an unspoken thing: it just happens, and you roll with it. And nothing can touch it, and for years long after, that particular experience remains in your memories, a special, maybe even cherished moment of fun and family and creativity in what can be a life spent alone and apart.”
I blink and looked at her, suddenly sheepish.
“I’m sorry. I’m running off at the mouth.”
“Oh, no.” She smiled with sudden brightness. “It’s quite all right. You have a beautiful voice; you communicate emotion so well, a sense of shared secrets. Not just that. Listening to you, I almost feel I see these things as you do. For example, I am listening to you and hearing how much you love what you do. I do not just ‘hear’ it as an idea, but feel your memory, a longing for something lost forever. A difficult thing, I think.” She stopped, taking a moment to stare at me, expression soft and friendly, understanding. “Listening to you, I sense if it were possible, you could see yourself doing that one show alone forever.”
“Whoa.” I stared at her. “Wow. Don’t tell me: you’re a poet or something? That is one off the wall analysis.” She smiled, but remained silent. I shrugged. “Okay, yeah. I could. Maybe.” I paused, thoughtful. “No. No, I couldn’t. Wouldn’t. I know better: forever is transitory.” She looked at me oddly, eyes narrowing. She seemed unhappy. “What I mean to say is when you do a lot of theatre, you live a gypsy life. Your world is about movement and about change. You embrace all of it, because that, more than anything, is what you learn from. From the things that change.
“You also know the occasion is rare in life when something comes together like Midsummer did. When it does you embrace the experience, immerse yourself in the world of the play, and all the while try to remember every detail, every spoken word, every moment, because this experience reminds you why you live this life, and you want to carry that feeling long past the play’s ending.” I smiled, embarrassed. I took a breath and let it ease out of me, thinking. “It’s like this: the experience is akin to meeting the love of your dreams and, as with all true romances, when the show ends, that loves disappears and the loss can almost break your heart.”
Sienna’s was smiling again. I grinned sheepishly.
“Yeah. I know. I really do come off a little self-absorbed.”
“A little?” She laughed at my hurt expression, the sound soft, warm. “No, I think I understand. It – the life in the theatre – is life to you.” She smiled, her expression now thoughtful as she regarded me. “You speak as someone in love. I’ve wondered what drove people to pursue a life like yours, and perhaps I understand why, a little.” She paused, another smile shaping her features. “Your Midsummer Night’s Dream sounds so wonderful. I wish I could been there to see it.”
“I wish you could have…” I said, too quickly and stopped, feeling instantly awkward, remembering where I was, and with whom. We sat a moment, staring at each other.
This is nice, I realized, being here with her on this hot, lazy afternoon.
“Anyway, that’s what I do.” I looked up at the sky, then back down, expression resigned. “The day isn’t getting any younger and I figure I have a lot left to do.” Yeah, that’s right: I was thinking that after all this pleasant conversation maybe she saw I was a regular, stand-up kind of guy, like they say in all the best noir, and would take pity on me and let me cut out.
The predatory smile lifted the corners of Sienna’s mouth, exposing the edges of her teeth.
“Yes.” Her voice took on a peculiar tone as she stood to collect the dishes. “Yes, you have chores to complete before you’re finally done.”
She met my eyes and I felt a sensation, a soft ache that reached out, caressing the edges of perception, a mournful song echoing in the distance.
She blinked, as if remembering herself, straightening. “Best get on with things, don’t you think?” She whispered the words, almost to herself, brushing past me into the kitchen, acting like I wasn’t even there. I stood and looked after her, sensing I’d missed something.
Shaking my head, I stepped off the porch and got to it.
The message couldn’t be clearer:
‘Fuck with me and I’ll kill you.’
I got it.
1.1 – In The Beginning…
Two Years Ago…
Early Saturday morning – seven o’clock AM early Saturday morning – and I was driving my truck north along the gently winding curves of the Almaden Expressway. The hour was early, way too early and that made me cranky, almost as much as the hangover from the dinner party the night before. Now I sipped sipped my 24 hour gas station coffee, working the sludge out of my brain, grousing I was getting too old for this crap.
I cruised through the early morning gray, enjoying the smooth ride of my truck in spite of my foul mood. I’d recently bought the thing courtesy of residuals from a commercial for a local brewery. If you watched televised football in the few years before the Shift, you may have seen it. Me, a vampire – a very dim and clumsy vampire – ogling and chasing the local team’s cheerleaders around nighttime San Francisco. Goofy. Sloppy, even; shot with handhelds. Lowest common denominator stuff. I wrote off the exercise as a learning experience, thinking the spot wouldn’t last past the Halloween showing.
Sucker went viral. Halloween came and went and they kept running the spot. That led to a Christmas sequel, another for the playoffs, capping the run with a grand final for the big game. Eight days work and four commercials over four months and come Spring I had myself a new truck and a revitalized bank account. And the cash flow was going to pick up: the agency planned a revival of the commercial for the new season. This meant fewer odd jobs, less waiting on tables and more opportunities for stage work. Hell, I could even run up to San Francisco or down to LA for a few auditions. Maybe even Southern Oregon.
And, yeah, you read right. Commercials, stage work, auditions: I’m an actor. Everybody’s got skeletons. This one’s mine and, at the time, happily so. I was recently returned from summer stock performances in SoCal. I’d had a good run, but more important, my work there got me noticed by a company in San Jose, among other things landing me an invite to audition for The Tempest in the spring.
And that is the reason I was working out in the gym the day I got myself introduced to Ms. Scissors Lifts: I was in physical training for an audition, weird as that might sound. There was a monster in The Tempest, name of Caliban, and with my thoroughly scarred body buffed up to premium shape I figured I had a good shot at being the bastard.
Kinda ironic. After all, here I was at an age where I possessed the right combination of maturity and physicality to take on some great roles. I was being considered for serious parts by directors I admired. Even better, I was in a position where I’d have a shot at performing in some of the best theater companies on the West Coast, something I’d been working at for a long time. Yet with all these possibilities before me, there I was, more interested in bulking up and contorting my body in an extremely painful muscle spasm in order to earn the opportunity to lope around a stage like a maniac man-beast.
Of course, none of this mattered that early Saturday morning in late September. My only objective was I arrive on time at an address given me by the object of my wandering eyes and screwy libido. If I didn’t, Ms. Scissors Lifts was going to fuck me good.
And not in a happy way.
I still had no idea how I got myself in this mess. I couldn’t recall much of anything past sitting on the butterfly apparatus at the start of my workout. The minutes that followed were a jumble of vague recollections. My memories were scrambled with images of beaches and stars and a weird picnic with a beautiful woman, but I couldn’t even bring that into focus. The only things I did understand: one moment I was working out; the next I was caught leering at this woman with no idea what happened in the moments between to get me to do something like that. There was no denying I’d been staring at her. More to the point, staring at her crotch. I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment. I couldn’t imagine myself doing that, ever, particularly not in a gym. Yet it was the one memory that stood out for from the stew of confusion, the one etched indelibly in my memory. I’d done it. I had a clear mental image of her soft, rounded nether lips pressed firmly against the sweat-soaked fabric of her shorts.
Did I ever.
After she made it clear I was busted, Ms. Scissors Lifts told me – not asked me, mind you – told me to head down to the other end of the strip-mall the gym called home and wait for her at the coffee shop. For the briefest of instants I thought of blowing her off. No one else had seen what happened. Why they hadn’t was beyond me, but they hadn’t.
‘Go ahead.’ I could have said. ‘Complain. Your word against mine.’
Never happened; the idea died aborning. Something to do with the way she oozed self-confidence, perhaps. Maybe those cold blue eyes. Or the fear of being outed as a pervert. Take your pick. Whatever the reason, I backed down before I even realized I was backing down.
And when do I ever back down to a woman?
If I’d had my wits about me, I would have realized there and then something entirely wrong was going on. None of this was normal. Women don’t tell me what to do.
Everything about this was wrong.
I got the urge to skedaddle. I wasn’t listening. Thing was, I didn’t even know I wasn’t listening. I was following instructions and perfectly content to do so.
Ms. Scissors Lifts arrived at the coffee shop twenty minutes later, showered and dressed, taking her time, ordering a drink before joining me at a solitary outside table where I nursed my iced coffee in the late afternoon sun. She sat, face shadowed by a wide brimmed hat, sipped her tea and stared at me. I kept my mouth shut, concentrating on my coffee. Every once in a while I’d look up and she’d still be staring. Just staring. Freakin’ unnerving. I tried a sheepish smile. Nothing. The whole tableau had that ‘you-are-so-fucked’ quality: she’d bypassed playing with her food and gone directly to debating how she would administer the kill.
Brief thoughts of running tickled my consciousness and faded away.
She cleared her throat.
“Some days, you know?” She sipped, staring back at my confused expression like I should know what she means. “I mean, like this, now, the two of us?”
I had no idea what to say.
“Hopeless.” She sipped again, eyeing me. “It appears we have a problem.” She lowered the cup, setting it down, smiling sideways with that unnerving, bared-teeth smile. “I’m kidding. You have a problem. On my way out I decided to complain to the gym manager.”
I stared, momentarily speechless, complacency fading.
“Marvelous.” I shook my head, sensing whatever it was holding me in place losing its grip. “Okay, then. Excuse me while I go clear out my locker.”
Time to find a new gym.
I started to get up.
“Where do you think you are going?”
I stopped halfway, then straightened.
“You just got me kicked out of my gym. What’s left to discuss?”
“I said I complained; I did say about what.”
“Sit down. I am not finished with you.”
“Would you sit down?”
She was obviously annoyed.
I sat, feeling even more confused.
What the hell was wrong with me?
“I told the manager – Sharon, I believe that’s her name – I told her there was an … incident. I did not identify with whom, nor did I offer up particulars of what occurred. I only mentioned there might be a problem that needed addressing, and I wanted to handle the situation privately.” Her eyes narrowed, and her voice took on a tone of menace. “I added that if things weren’t then resolved, I would revisit the matter with her.”
I stared at her, not comprehending.
“What that means is you are safe.”
She smiled ever-so-slightly, veiled menace informing the expression.
Ms. Scissors Lifts once more paused to sip her tea, never taking her eyes off me.
“I do not like men staring at me, particularly the dim sorts who feel compelled to hide while they get their … their …” She seemed to be searching. She gave up. “Well, whatever it is you do get out of it. This is rather perverted behavior, don’t you think? I mean, a grown adult leering at a woman like she’s putting on a show.” She tilted her head, looking at me sideways. “Is this something that started in your childhood? Perhaps you were one of those troubled little boys who would slink around your neighborhood at night, looking for bedroom windows with open curtains?
“No.” She cut me off before I could protest. “Don’t tell me. That is more information than I want or need.”
The bitch was merciless. But there it was: I’d acted like a goon and she was extracting her proverbial pound of flesh. There was no excuse … and I had no explanation. I’d gone off the rails with no idea why. So how could I begin to explain, to a perfect stranger, what happened was innocent, a momentary, unthinking and compulsive lapse of judgment.
And while you’re busy being me, try explaining why you kept coming back for more, or even more special: tell her what it was you were looking at. ‘Well, ma’am, I’m innocent. Really! The fault lies in that moist, sculptured area between your legs; an absolute work of art that left me so deeply in awe that I simply forgot my manners.’
Yeah. That would take the conversation to whole new levels of the bizarre.
Not even trying to look her in the eyes, I mumbled something about not knowing what came over me and I was really, really sorry and embarrassed and it would never happen again and …
I started, surprised, looking around.
“Did you just-?”
She cut me off before I could finish. “Save the excuses. I’m not interested.”
I got the sense I was one of the most disgusting things she’d ever seen. Shaking her head, she opened her mini-pack, producing a pen and business card.
“Here is how we will work this out. I assume you wish to keep your gym membership?”
I nodded slowly, curious and vaguely apprehensive.
“Good. I have some things I need done; yard work, some heavy lifting. The men I have working for me were called out of town, and I need to get this project done now. You look healthy enough. You finish the clean-up they started and we’ll pretend this little episode never happened. Quid pro quo.”
The tension went out of me and without another thought I nodded my head and sighed in surrender. “Fine.” I needed to get this over with.
She never bothered to look up from writing. “I’m giving you an address. This Saturday morning. Be there. Early. 8:00 early. I’ll be waiting for you. I’ll explain what I want you to do when you get there.”
By now I was smiling, thinking a little hard work couldn’t be too bad. She looked up and caught my expression, smiling without humor.
“There are conditions.”
My smile went away like it was never there.
“You will do whatever I tell you, and there will be a lot to do. This will take a while, perhaps more than one day. If you are not done at the end of the first day you will come back and continue until I am satisfied you are finished. Understood?”
I nodded slowly, feeling that special feeling you get when you realize you might be screwed.
She rose, placing the card next to my drink as she did.
“I will see you Saturday. Do not be late.”
She walked off without a backward glance, hips moving in smooth, hypnotic motion.
So there I was, Saturday morning, tired, more than a little hung over, taking a left turn off Lincoln onto Minnesota. My window was rolled down and the morning air washed over me as I’m Only Sleeping crooned on the stereo, John in fine form. Right now the air was cool, refreshing even, but that wasn’t going to last. Thanks to weeks long off-shore breeze, we were in the middle of a late September Indian Summer, and it was one raging mother of a heat wave. The day was going to be brutal.
Three intersections and I made a right, followed by a couple more quick turns, ending up on a tree-lined street with a lot of old houses with big front yards, most of them Victorian mansions dating back to the late 1800s. The homes were all in pretty decent shape, not that the condition of the neighborhood would be surprising. This was a “moneyed” section of the Willow Glen, one of the older districts of San Jose.
I pulled up to the address and killed the engine. The lot was huge, easily two acres, maybe even three or four, with Japanese maple trees planted in the front, lining the house, standing sentinel between windows. There were a pair of tall palm trees standing thick and tall in the middle of the front lawn. Anchored by a oak tree, a row of tall pines lines driveway side of the house, supplying morning shade. Odds were there were trees in the back, as well, though I couldn’t tell as the house was big, a massive three story Queen Anne. Hedges lined the property’s borders, obscuring tall fences, and there was a thick lawn that covered everything between.
The Victorian had a run-down, fixer-upper look to it. Given the large piles of debris planted on the lawn in front of the entrance, it was likely someone figured that out and decided to do something about it. In the parking space in front of me was a trash dumpster, and its twin sat at the foot of the long driveway. It was pretty obvious what was in store this hot, soon to be muggy day in September.
I looked at the card Ms. Scissors Lifts gave me, checking the address one more time. 659. Yep, this was the place. I turned the card over and read her name again: Sienna Rosetti. Beneath, in italics: Professional Architect – Aesthetic Restorations & Renovations, Domestic & Commercial.
“Well, Ms. Sienna Scissors Lifts Rosetti.” I sighed, already regretting the day before me. “I’m here.”
I got out of the truck, finished the coffee, crumpling and tossing the empty cup in the closest dumpster. Tugging on my baseball cap I made my way up to the front door and knocked. Less than a minute later the door opened and she stood there, dressed in dirty overalls, heavy boots and a snug, dirt streaked white T-shirt. Like at the gym, her hair was tied back and she wore no make-up. There was a tool-belt slung from her hip, and a hammer hung in the little loop in the overalls.
“You’re early.” She sounded annoyed.
I nodded. Behind her, from what I could see through the deep gloom of early morning light, the interior of the house looked a mess. The walls were ripped out, though the structural supports appeared new and intact. Electricians had run conduit through the skeletal framework. Shiny new brass plumbing was also in evidence. A lot of work had gone into this place, with plenty more to come.
“Alright, first thing: I need those piles of trash removed from the front of the house to the dumpsters. They’ve been there for two weeks and the neighbors are not happy. You’ll find a wheelbarrow in the garage out back, as well as some work-gloves.”
With that she shut the door and I was alone on the porch. That was abrupt. I turned and was at the bottom of the stairs when I heard the door open again.
“What do I call you?”
I looked at her sideways.
“I go by Sam, ma’am.”
She was staring at me, her expression odd, almost disbelieving.
“No. No, nothing is wrong.”
This is going well. Not.
“Oh. Okay. Well, that’s my name. Sam.” I smiled my winningest. “While we’re on the subject, what do I call you?”
She looked at me, expression suddenly subdued, even upset, then seemed to shake off whatever was bothering her. That weird, predatory smile lifted the corners of her mouth. Only this time, at least, she didn’t show the teeth.
“Ms. Rosetti will do fine, thank you.”
She shut the door, even more abruptly than before. I waited a moment to make sure there might not be a third coming. Finally, satisfied that there wouldn’t, I made my way to the garage.
My granddad used to tell me there was something to be said for good, hard work. Much as I missed the old guy, were he there with me that morning I would’ve had plenty of thoughts to share on the subject, none of them nice. This was one nasty job. I was handling old and rotten wood, plaster, metal and nails, with all kinds of sharp edges to puncture and cut myself on. And don’t get me started on the dust and dead termites that were coating my sweat-soaked body. Adding to my general state of misery: I was slowly suffocating. I’d grabbed a scarf from the truck to cover my mouth and nose, and while it served to keep the dust and deceased insects out of my breathing passages, the combination of sweat, dirt and tiny dead things lodged in the thin fabric were blocking the air I was trying to suck into my lungs.
On the bright side, Ms. Scissors Lifts did give me work gloves, sparing my hands.
I’d been at it steady four hours now and I was hurting. At least the dumpsters were equipped with doors so I could wheelbarrow the debris up a makeshift ramp and unload, instead of having to throw trash up and over the shoulder-high sides. I stopped after my latest load to consider the current state of my bladder. I’d used the facilities once now, an event marked by the uncomfortable sensation of Ms. Scissors Lifts’ standing sentry over the operation. She let me in the house, hammer held lightly where I could see it.
The message couldn’t be clearer: ‘Fuck with me and I’ll kill you.’
I got it.
There was a working bathroom on the first floor. Beyond it, toward the back of the house, an open doorway led to the kitchen. That room looked more ‘finished’ than the rest of the house, at least from my limited view. I refrained from taking a close look, of course, as the boss was standing at the other end of the hall, arms crossed with that hammer suggestively resting on her shoulder. Instead, I entered the bathroom, answered Nature’s call with dispatch, washed my hands and exited.
I walked by her and out the door, which she shut on my heels, without comment.
Damn. Downright frosty.
Minutes later she reappeared with a pitcher of iced water and a glass, setting both down on the front entryway without a word. The temperature was rising with the sun and I was already sweating like a pig, so it wasn’t like I needed an invitation. I filled the glass and drank thirstily. Again I offered my thanks, and again she acted like I hadn’t said anything, turning and closing the door in fluid movement behind her. Whatever. I drank some more and got back to work.
Now, four hours in, I was exhausted, shirt sticking, jeans chafing from all the particulate matter lodged between the cotton fabric and my skin … and stomach grumbling because I skipped breakfast. Hangover broiled out of me, my now-hydrated body wanted more solid replenishments. And speaking of liquid, I still needed to take that damned leak. I figured I’d use the bathroom, then run down to the deli on Lincoln to pick up a sandwich and a beer. No problem.
Except … I was worrying about how best to ask her to let me use the bathroom. If that isn’t intimidated, I’m not sure what is. And it was me being intimidated! This is stupid! There was no reason for me to act this way, psyching myself out for no good reason … but there I was, hemming and hawing.
The hell with that.
I’d just tell her I was going to get something at the deli – after I told her I was going to use the bathroom, of course – and that would be the end of it.
I turned and there she was, standing outside the dumpster. The resolve died in my belly.
What the fuck is this?
“I’ve made some lunch.” Her voice was cool, neutral. “You are welcome to stop and join me on the back porch. Come. I’ve set a table there.” Without waiting for an answer, she pivoted and walked up the drive that led to the back of the house. She stopped after a few strides when she realized I wasn’t following.
The reason? I was staring after her like the clueless dog that I am.
She turned, looked over her shoulder like she was trying to understand what just happened, then came back to stand before me once more. “You are working hard. You are doing a good job. In return, I am offering to share my table. It is customary to treat our … our…”
Her voice drifted off and she looked away, her manner suggesting she was searching for the right word, and I wasn’t going to like it. Don’t ask me how I knew this; I just did. Weirder still: the understanding didn’t bother me.
She shrugged. “Never mind; you don’t have to if you don’t wish to. I could bring the food out here and you could eat alone. Or there are places over on Lincoln.”
I’ve made some bad choices in my life, choices I’ve truly regretted. Not this time.
At least, that was my thinking going in.
“No. No … I’m really okay with your table, ma’am.” I managed to get the words out, stumbling over debris as I stepped forward. “Ah, if you don’t mind, I’d like to clean up first …”
That elicited a nod.
“Go on inside.” She nodded toward the front door. “It’s unlocked. When you’re finished, walk through to the rear, through the kitchen and out to the porch.”
I started across the yard.
I stopped and looked back at her.
“You can lose the Henry Fonda act.”
I stared at her, puzzled. She was almost smiling. Almost.
“Stop being so damned polite and please don’t call me ‘Ma’am’ … My name is Sienna.”
Sienna turned and walked down the path, not waiting for an answer. I stood there for a moment, watching her disappear around the side of the house before finally entering the front door, walking about half-an-inch off the ground as I did. When last I entered the house she stood sentry, holding her hammer and acting like she’d use it on me for even a sideways glance; now she was treating me like we were the same species. Sure, the paranoid in me wondered at this, but for the most part I felt rewarded, like I was in the first grade and teacher just gave me a gold star.
The feeling was good, and I saw no reason to question the mood.
So did Ms. Sienna Scissors Lifts Rosetti.
You just gotta love the suckers.
“Being the linear creatures we are, it would no doubt help if I begin at a beginning. The problem being there are several beginnings, each having its own quirks and oddities, so I‘m never quite sure which start to start from.
“So I’m going to start at my favorite part, the story I know best, the one with a lot of me in it…”
1.0 Shapes of Things
I can close my eyes and we’re still standing on the same tropical beach, under an alien sky, warm white sand filling the spaces between my toes. The Amazon princess is standing to one side, the Goddess who loved her, at the other, the two of us barely conscious of either as the woman I love leans into me. I feel her forehead nestled at the base of my neck, the coolness of her palms flat against the skin of my chest. My chin rests upon her smooth, black hair … the maddening scent of her fills my senses … and in my mind the soft caress of her song echoes in the background, counterpoint to the faint roar of the distant surf. Her head comes up, revealing the amber skin and asymmetrical beauty which long ago took possession of my soul. I watch her step back, cobalt eyes staring into mine, the trace of her fingertips soft on my bloodied cheek, the sensation of her touch slipping away.
“Damn, Sam.” The words are whispered, achingly sincere, a single tear trailing the soft curve of her cheek. “Why couldn’t you have been a woman?”
And she walks away, just like that …
Hell of a thing to say to a guy, but there it is. Or was. At the time I was too numb, not to mention way too banged up, to get myself worked up over the not so subtle slam.
Of course, she was right. She usually was, even when she was wrong. I could have avoided a whole mess of pain, pounded on the bad guys with style, still gotten the girl, and lived sap happily ever after if I’d only been a woman.
In my dreams. Fact is the gender switch would’ve caused more problems than it solved. And the Powers That Be would never have allowed it. The bitch liked things complicated.
Okay, I know. I’m getting ahead of myself. Way, way ahead of myself. Being the linear creatures we are or, at least, used to be, and given how we experience temporal progression from our decidedly one dimensional perspective, while also taking into consideration the relative stability of the localized reality most of us depend upon for our sanity, it would no doubt help if I begin at a beginning. The problem being there are several beginnings, each having its own quirks and oddities, so I‘m never quite sure which start to start from.
So I’m going to start at my favorite part, the story I know best, the one with a lot of me in it.
The setup is simple. The moment responsible for screwing up my life forever occurred on a late and noisy afternoon at my local gym. Think noise and movement: bodies in motion, at rest, in motion, the dank smell of sweat, the sound of metal clanging in rhythm, the floor vibrating from the aerobics class in the next room, the steady bass thump of the music as it kept time for all those wannabe hardbodies. Add to this mix the migraine level pain taking up residence between my ears and Dante’s got an additional circle for his medieval theme park.
There I was, in the middle of all this joy, hating life more than usual and no one to blame but myself. After all, I didn’t exactly have to stay after to shut down the bar the night before. My shift had been over hours before. But Jodi, my bartender, has such an enticing way of getting me to hang around: a little mild flirting mixed with a bottomless mug of beer. Before I know it, I’m helping clean the bar. Then we’re at Jodi’s place. Free beer. A free, home-cooked meal. Even more free beer.
Lots and lots of free and easy Jodi.
For a guy who liked getting things on the cheap, how could I go wrong?
I’m drifting again.
I do this a lot these days. Old age, I’m sure.
I was getting set to tell you how this mess got started.
No, getting started wasn’t the problem. Things had been underway for a long time.
What I’m actually going to tell you is how I got sucked into this mess. Truth be told, the ‘mess’, as some of us tend to refer to the Great Cluster Fuck, has been around a long time. A long, long time. The kind of ‘long time’ I get headaches thinking about, worse than the one currently pounding in my skull as I worked the weights. But at the time, and for quite a while after, I didn’t know about the back story, so don’t get too ticked off if I don’t come right out and tell all from the get go. After all, punch lines aren’t funny if you haven’t first listened to the setup.
And do I ever have a setup.
In your mind’s eye, picture me seated on an incline butterfly lift. For any of you amateur early-21st century historians out there, I’m describing an exercise machine having nothing to do with the angular elevation of small, flutteringly beautiful winged insects.
Trust me on this.
I’m facing a wall, leaning back at a 45-degree angle, working my shoulders, chest and upper back muscles. There’s a wall of mirrors to my left and, to my right, rows of other exercise machines, each one dedicated to the focused torture of a specific muscle group. Beyond, a long wall of windows, allowing bright, late-afternoon sun to stream into the gym, casting long shadows, tinging the atmosphere with an amber haze.
Now, with all this in mind, picture to my immediate right a blue mat, upon which reclines a startlingly beautiful and immodestly clad hottie, lying on her side, her back to me, working her legs, abs and hips. I’m peripherally aware of her while I do my reps: after all, it’s hard not to miss the up-and-down motion of her long, shapely legs as she scissors-lifts.
Lately I’d been seeing a lot of this particular woman as our exercise schedules tended to coincide. We’d even reached the point where we exchanged a polite greeting now and then while navigating the sometimes-packed environs of the gym.
Well, okay, I’m stretching truth here. There were no polite exchanges of greetings to speak of. I sort of mumbled an ‘excuse me’ before stepping aside whenever I found myself blocking her path, whereupon she walked through the space I’d vacated, all the while never showing any indication she saw me, let alone heard me.
Now if you’re one of those happy individuals who know nothing about me, for the sake of context, this would be a good time to point out I enjoy being in the presence of beautiful women. Call it a quirk, an acquired taste, or a fetish, femininity made existence so much more bearable; women made the sun rise, the moon glow, peppers hot and peaches sweet.
And in case you were wondering, yes, as objects of affection, men mostly bored the crap out of me. Still do, rumors notwithstanding.
Anyway, given how much I liked looking at pretty girls, understand then how finding myself averting my eyes and feeling stupid and inept whenever I got within a dozen feet of this beauty was a true mystery to me. Particularly given I rarely lacked for something to say to a femme.
In fact, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should just go ahead and say women were/are the aesthetic center of my universe; I observe and enjoy them in any and all situations. Conversation, working, playing; being with women added color to an otherwise gray and often boring existence. To me, while most men were invariably monotonous, women, by contrast, revealed a never-ceasing, often surprising array of variety and perspective … and distraction, lots and lots of joyful distraction.
And there was always distraction to spare at my gym, make no mistake, coming in all shapes and sizes, hair and skin color, and I derived great pleasure thereof, and always made the most of the occasional opportunity to get close and personal.
But not this particular. Oh, no. And I couldn’t figure out why. As you might guess, this was doing wonders for what passes as my self-esteem.
The beauty on the mat was attractive – very much so – but in a weird, out-of-the-ordinary sort of way. Kind of cold, even icy, radiating a smooth sophistication completely out of place in a gym catering to lower-middle-class types and seedy low-lifes like yours truly. It’s not like anyone minded her being there, especially anyone male. But nobody was kidding themselves: to someone like her, the rest of us were part of the unpleasant reality of everyday existence. We were just there, like worn, used-up furniture, usually getting in the way and managing to be unfailingly annoying while doing so.
Of course, this understanding did nothing to suppress the odd excitement I’d feel whenever Ms. Scissors Lifts showed up for her workout, and with it an even odder sensation: the vague ache of missing something when she didn’t.
The mystery girl looked to be in her twenties, though the self-assured way she carried herself gave the impression she was older. She was shorter than a few, taller than most, skin a darkened tone suggesting more than hours spent reclining by the pool. If I were to guess, I’d say her ancestors came from somewhere along the Mediterranean coast, maybe Italy, or Spain. Her facial features were symmetrical: a straight nose set evenly between coral blue eyes. Her lips seemed thin, but only because her mouth was wide, framed by sharp and angular cheekbones. Her high forehead was bordered by a curving line of long, dark hair, pulled back severely in a ponytail. Her body was like her face, a hard but shapely thinness just this side of average size, her muscles defined by pronounced cuts born of dedicated weight training.
I first noticed this particular vision of loveliness a short time after returning from L.A. Being the curious type, I looked up the gym’s manager and made all the usual inquiries. Sharon wouldn’t say too much. No surprise, confidentiality clauses being what they are. She did let drop the dark-haired beauty’s gym membership was long term. Rumor had it Ms. Scissors Lifts purchased a house in nearby. This news was both exciting and depressing: exciting because it looked like this hot little number was becoming a fixture in my life; depressing because affording a house around here meant she was too high end for a slob like me to even dream of getting close.
So this is the setup, the lay of the land the moment before the moment when the song was sung, the spell was cast and the world – mine and everyone else’s – changed forever.
I finished my set on the butterfly lift, standing to stretch. As I did, she completed a set of leg lifts, shifted on the mat from her right side to her left, and began a fresh series. Now her right leg was moving up and down in the perpetual scissors movement intended to strengthen the inner thighs and other, more intimate muscle groups.
Picture what happens next:
The movement draws my attention. I follow motion with my eyes. And I stop cold. My breathing gets uneven, my heart starts pounding, the blood’s surging, my headache’s a forgotten memory and I’m suddenly thankful my tank top is long and baggy because the particularly tubular thing defining me as a male has a taken on a mind of its own and is all but yelling at everyone to take a look at how big and proud of itself it is. Meanwhile, my mind slows to a crawl and in the distance I swear I can hear someone singing.
Somewhere in the dull fog enveloping my brain the realization dawns I am staring, so I forcefully look away, eyes darting about guiltily to see if anyone noticed my breach of gym etiquette. Lucky me. I’m safe; time for another quick set of reps.
I resume my workout, confused, in a brief instant of clarity wondering what the hell was it I was thinking, staring at her like that, here, in the middle of the gym. The moment passes, and a new feeling comes on me, disappearing my concern. I know something very wrong is happening to me, something scary. And just like that, I forget everything, I check out.
I finish the set of reps and I stand once more. I stare. Really stare. I can’t help myself. I’m breaking rules and likely going to get my ass kicked out of the gym, but I stare all the same. Everything about this woman is firm and healthy and desirable. I have an unobstructed view to confirm this simple truth, starting with those bright, white shoes and socks, moving to and along the smooth, dark skin of her shapely legs up to the gray, skin-tight cotton shorts, climbing even further past the trim waist and rigid abs to the blue, cut-off tank top with the white halter-top showing underneath.
Happily, the view above the shoulders is blocked by the mass of the butterfly machine so she can’t see me as my captive gaze lingers on her body. Like I said, she is doing those damned scissors lifts and she must have done a lot by now and I don’t care because she is raising and lowering her right leg in a perfect and hypnotic rhythm to the unheard music of her headphones. I shouldn’t look but I can’t stop myself. I keep telling myself this is nothing new, I’ve seen this before. But I’ve never seen anything so damned beautiful in my life and I am struggling mightily to force myself to look away but God in Heaven I have to look and I turn back and I look again and I think I am in love and I know I am in lust and I really, really know I better do something quick so I sit down and start another set of reps on the butterfly apparatus.
And as I strain at the weights, the long, jagged scars on my arms and legs a dull white against my exertion-reddened flesh, it suddenly occurs to me I want to have her. The thought comes to me with the same sense of normalcy as “I think I’ll have a piece of this pie.” And the crazy thing – the truly freaky, out of my mind thing – is I am I actually giving the idea serious consideration. I’m losing all sense of self-control and have no clue why. Even nuttier: I don’t care. Something’s taken my governor and ripped it right out. I am thoroughly into the concept of jumping her bones, right now, right there, on the blue exercise mat.
In front of everybody.
Oh. Yeah. This is so not good.
I wake up.
Seriously: I wake up, like I’ve been asleep and suddenly find myself fully awake, perched on the exercise saddle and not knowing how I got there. I’m working my shoulders and doing a ragged job of it. My mind is racing, my lungs are gasping for air, my manhood is trying oh so hard to burst my shorts and I am wondering what the fuck just happened to me. And in the middle of all this lunacy, I hear someone whisper my name.
And I check out again.
I blink. I’m somewhere else, under a canopy of midnight stars, and she is there, the girl on the blue mat, sitting with me on a blanket, smiling sweetly as she sips from her wine. She is also naked. She is stunning, her skin almost glowing in the darkness.
And did I mention she is naked?
I look down. I’m naked, too.
I am holding a glass of wine in my hands. I note it is full and quickly drink to hide my shock. My eyes dart about as I gulp and I see we’re sitting on blanket, on a deserted beach. About us are the remains of a picnic meal.
“How do … how do you know my name?”
“You told me.”
“I did? I don’t remem-.” She’s perched on her knees before me, close. Too close. Noble urges are kicking in.
I drink from my glass, confused, even a little bit panicked. This shouldn’t be a problem. I’m all about noble urges. So why was I feeling embarrassed?
A sly smile lifting the corners of her mouth.
“What was it caused you to … to fall … for me?”
I almost spit up the wine.
Like I’d tell her.
My eyes widen. To my horror, I realize I am going to tell her. Everything.
“Well, you are an extremely beautiful woman.” I hear myself stammer the words, and I pause, thinking, trying to buy time. But it’s no good. I can’t seem to keep myself from confessing. “I’d love to tell you it was your thick, dark hair, or beautiful smile, or the soft, athletic curves of your magnificent body which did me in.” I stop, suddenly uncomfortable, and I understand I am talking about something I shouldn’t be.
“I’m sorry.” My voice is a frightened whisper. “I can’t do this.”
For the briefest instant irritation shapes her features and as quickly as it appeared the expression is gone and she smiles again, and as she does I hear something, a voice, soft and distant, but I don’t know what it is I’m hearing and I become even more confused.
She leans forward and refills my glass. I swirl it around, sniff and drink, the aroma of the wine filling my nostrils as it slips down my throat.
She pours more.
“It’s alright, Kitchen.” Her voice is a gentle purr, and I feel myself relax. “Drink.” I do, gulping down the sweet wine. I shouldn’t drink like this; it’s not the right way to drink wine. The alcohol floods my senses, making me dizzy. “You can tell me. It is safe to do so.”
“But this is stupid. Embarrassing, even.”
“I know.” She takes my empty glass and setting it to the side. “All the same, you must tell me. This sin must be mine. Once it is, so shall you.”
I look at her and for a moment I sense something about this is not right, but the strange sound, a constant pressure between my ears, rises in power and I forget my misgivings as I listen to the singer’s voice.
“Okay.” I feel ashamed. A little boy caught out. “You have to promise you won’t get mad.”
“Oh, I promise.” She smiles, once more sipping from her glass and for an instant her eyes glow with a weird blue light.
I know I’m blushing now, and am thankful for the darkness, but I quickly remember she can see in the dark. And I wonder how I can know this, but the thought fades away. I take a breath and continue. “The thing, the one thing which left me destroyed was the lovely shape of your lips straining against the fabric of your shorts as you exercised on the mat.”
She places her glass next to mine and rises, coming closer, straddling me, sinking and impaling herself in one smooth motion. I am unable to move as she arcs down, losing herself to the penetration.
She breathes the words, preoccupied.
I nod, overwhelmed.
A gently urging whisper, no sign of anger or offense; instead, she’s leaning in close, eyes lidded, near shut, her lips almost touching mine as her pelvis undulates slowly on my lap. “Say the rest.” She groans. “You have to to say the rest.”
“You’re not mad at me?”
“Of course not. How could I be? Continue. Tell the truth of things.”
“Okay. The truth.” I murmur the words dreamily as I breathe her, feeling myself grow even harder as she slides and rocks along the length of me. “The truth is, your thick, firm lips as they moved against the thin, sweat-soaked fabric of your tight, gray workout shorts was hypnotic.” She is kissing me now, lightly, every few words. “As they opened … and closed … in time to the movement of your leg … lifting … and … descending … all I could imagine … were the shorts … disappeared … and there … you were … naked, damp … glistening.”
She kisses me, deeply, thorough, tongue thrusting, her passion stealing my will.
She pulls back, her lips again barely grazing mine.
I am hungry for her.
“In that instant…”
I pause, suddenly afraid.
“Say it, Kitchen. It will be alright.”
I barely nod, lost in the scent of her.
“… I was yours.
“Yes, Kitchen.” She smiles, pulling back. “Forever. Unto the end of time.”
She kisses me, and I feel her pushing me backward and down to the blanket and I see her above me, framed by the stars, and her eyes pulse crimson.
She lowers her lips to mine and we kiss.
I am lost.
And I found myself back in the gym. I blinked, wondering, but unable to remember, what just happened. The worry evaporated, giving way to something else I was only now becoming aware of: I was turned on like I could never, ever remember in my life. Thinking about her sweat-soaked treasure and rerunning in my mind’s eye the little movie of her beautifully muscular nether lips straining against those tight shorts stripped away all reason, all restraint. I resolved to have her. Right here, right now, and I didn’t care who tried to stop me.
I’d kill them.
Kill them all.
Somewhere, in the recessed corners of my mind, I sensed her satisfied smile, and I checked out one last time.
I get up, turn eagerly. Ms. Scissors Lifts stands before me, expression a cipher. I try to move, to get to her, to have her. She gestures and the passion drains from me.
I become aware, consciously aware, of the music. It was always there, from the first time I saw her … I know this … but I’m only now hearing the sound. Someone is singing, in the distance, soft, but clear, the echo of the singer’s voice reaching my ears in spite of the din of the crashing weights and the bass thump from the boom box in the aerobics room … the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I’ve been hearing this music for some time, ever since I walked into the gym, but it is only now I’m aware of the sound. The voice I hear is female, of this there is no doubt, and I know, without seeing, the singer is the most beautiful creature ever to grace existence. She’s singing to me, only to me, and she’s voicing her song in a language familiar and alien all at once, words laced with longing and sadness, hope and joy, combined, intertwined … leaving me transfixed. My heart pounds at her voice, the rush of blood leaving me faint, weak … whoever she is, her song compels me … to what? I am held in place as the haunting melody reaches into the depths of me, seeking out the dark and hidden corners, caressing half-forgotten memories and lost dreams while wending its way into my being.
I absently wonder if I am losing my mind and realize I could care less.
For an eternal instant everything comes to a dead stop. But only for a moment; the music disappears as if it never were, leaving me feeling empty and alone. I close my eyes, trying to remember the feelings the song stirred, but they’re gone, and as the loss begins to communicate to me I realize something else is happening, something important. It takes me a moment, but I finally remember. My eyes pop open and she’s still standing there, Ms. Scissors Lifts, pristinely beautiful, frozen like a statue, and I wonder how long we’ve stood like this and if what I think happened to me actually happened. I shake off my surprise, quickly and guiltily looking around once again to see if anyone is paying attention to this little tableau and I’m just a touch relieved no one seems to have noticed anything wrong. I turn back to look at the beauty from the mat. She’s still unreadable, not smiling or frowning – just looking at me. She slowly raises her right arm and points behind me, like I missed something. I turn, expecting a boyfriend or something equally life-threatening, but there’s no one there, only exercise equipment and the wall mirrors. I turn back to look at her again when realization dawns and she sees the sudden awareness in my expression and she finally smiles, but the smile is not a nice smile. More like the pleased expression of something feral upon cornering its dinner, and there’s no doubt in my mind I’m the main course.
The real world kicked back into focus.
I was standing to the side of the butterfly apparatus, she on the other side, no expression, facing and pointing past me, just like in the dream.
I closed my eyes, not bothering to look.
“The mirrors.” My voice was empty, a soft, drawn out sigh. “The fucking mirrors.”
I opened my eyes.
She was smiling now. The expression was predatory.
We stared at each other for a few heartbeats. When she finally spoke, her voice was calm, her tone laced with the promise of trouble.
“I think we should talk.”
Different things hit us different ways. Today has been a biggie. I’ve been reading sci-fi for … well … probably longer than most of you have been alive. I watched the space race from its inception, watched primitive probes live on TV as they were intentionally crashed into the moon, paid attention as we flew by the inner planets and out to Mars, was listening and watching as we first orbited the earth, performed the space walks, and then orbited the moon. And then we landed people on the moon – and brought them back! I gathered with friends to watch the Jupiter flybys in color, and then the swings past Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, followed the Viking landing on Mars … all the while reading sci-fi and dreaming galactic empires and interstellar adventures.
We’re so jaded, I think, spoiled by technologies that are universally beholden to the science that made the moon landings and robot explorers possible. It seems quaint, old school … a by-our-standards hopelessly obsolete spacecraft that is doing things no one dreamed.
I dunno if we’ll ever get a second act, given the way we are treating our planet and environment, but it remains amazing that we went from a time when chiseling an axe-head with stone was considered high-tech, to reaching the realm of deep space, leaving there an artifact that will wander the ink black night between stars far past even the memory of our species.
As long as Voyager survives, something of us will, too.
6.3 decades, in your face.
Another orbit done and here we are again, a little older, not much wiser, but still chugging’ along and taking it as it comes …
.. so … once again …
… This one goes out to the ones I love … random, oft incoherent thoughts and memories of music, people, events, movies, places and whatever else … with a dash of air-headed cerebrations … and a cookie or three … with an understanding a life is meant to be savored, occasionally pondered … and never, ever taken too seriously …
… but first, Have You Been Experienced? …
… walking in a thick, damp San Francisco fog, the dripping sound of water, thick splats of noise as you move through an invisible city that is more rumor than reality, hidden by the obscuring mist … a city … dream of a city … muted … lost in another time …
… Linda … Florita … Leslie …
… sailing with the 40th Avenue gang on Greg’s ketch, coming out off Sausalito heading across the mouth of the Golden Gate toward the Presidio … none of us ever having sailed before … Greg deciding to head back until a oil tanker passed, but when we execute the maneuver, yanking lines, swinging booms, ducking and tying down, in classic Keystone Kops tradition, somehow we turn a full 360 degrees, ending up still headed for San Francisco … Greg, muttering something likely unrepeatable under his breath, shaking his head … “Okay, I guess we run for it, then – and hopefully we’ll figure out how to do this right before we run ashore” … we made it, of course, and it was a Wonderful Day … tacking against the wind to actually go under the bridge (what a hell of a lot of work that was) … then running with the wind … the ketch tacking at 45 degrees as Jimmy held her on a steady course while Greg ran up and down the mast …
… touch …
… Peter Gabriel, 1987, Oakland Colisium …
… Stuff I really miss: … 6 … San Francisco State U. … a new Beatles album … being an outside person … motorcycles … Carl Sagan … running … being a kid in the Academy of Sciences … Tom … seven years old and getting together with the whole neighborhood and marching to Golden Gate Park to play war all day …39th Avenue … John Lennon … paper routes and all the stuff we should have gotten into trouble for with our Sunday morning antics … being innocent … barking at Playland at the Beach when I was in high school (sadly, as a Carny, I had something like Michael Valentine Smith’s problem ) … Michael OB … Herb Caen, who somehow meshed the old San Francisco with the new … the 40th Avenue Gang … Frank Frazetta … my knees … Granddad …
… Maggie … Marian …
… Worst year of my life – tie: 1983 & 1993 …
… All Along the Watchtower … Norwegian Wood … Going to a Go-Go … Barbara Ann … Gloria … Brown-Eyed Girl … The Boxer … Dandelion … Ball ‘n’ Chain … Quicksilver Girl … Somebody to Love … Puff the Magic Dragon …
… Most important year of my life – tie: 1983 & 1993 …
… Sitting in my car, looking through the open windows of the dojo, watching my daughter (her unaware), as she works with her master, a 2’ sword in each hand, dancing through her movement with grace and power, a look of utter seriousness on her face … and on the radio that warm late-winter day March Madness is underway, and I’m watching her and thinking hardwood and jump-shots and bookmarking this moment in my small stretch of existence …
Alien – I still remember sitting in the Northpoint Theater, suddenly looking around to see literally everyone – long rows of people – sitting on the edge of their seats … and then the Alien jumps out and everyone slams back …
… The Tree – Sunset Blvd, SF – Jimmy and me climbing the sucker, sitting at the top, watching the sun set over the Pacific … sitting and jawing for hours …
… stimulation …
… I wonder if the idea of looking at one’s life as almost fated to happen as it does is an illusion (and delusion) of perspective, and nothing more, built into our DNA …
… Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Mongo Santamaria – ’68 or 9 at Winterland …
… floating in a raft with my lover on a hot summer day on Lake Tahoe, staring down through the crystal blue depths, whiling away the hours, making love as the sun disappears beyond the horizon, under a canopy of twilight stars …
… Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band … Dark Side of the Moon … Blue … Surrealistic Pillow … So … Pirates … Days of Future Past … December … Aliens Ate My Buick … Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere … I, Robot … Crown of Creation …
A time it was
It was a time
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
… Favorite things about where I live, both in the here and now, and in my memories: walks through Golden Gate Park … late 60s and free Sunday concerts in the Speedway Meadows, just a quarter-mile or so from where I lived … renting a boat and rowing around Stow Lake; Japanese Tea Gardens; Fisherman’s Wharf; Ghirardelli Square; North Beach and China Town; Downtown … Vesuvio’s, City Lights Bookstore … driving around the city endlessly, seeing things, being seen … San Francisco International Airport, when you could still wander loose down every terminal wing … Sausalito …motorcycling Mt. Tam … Stinson Beach, Pt. Reyes … all the small bookshops and record stores that no longer exist, especially that wonderful bookstore on Geary with the best selection of SciFi in the city; the Cliff House (the old one); the Veteran of Foreign Wars Bar at the foot of Golden Gate Park, facing the Pacific (now Beach Chalet – much, much different; VFW was a seedy joint, lots of fun, exuding a character missing for most modern drinking & eating establishments with that kind of view …) … Moss Beach … Santa Cruz … Big Basin … Pfeiffer Big Sur … the Russian River … Rogue Valley, Oregon …
… Jason and the Argonauts … The Seven Voyages of Sinbad … Forbidden Planet …
… I worry for my child, for her future; for the future for today’s children in general … I think they shall grow to hate us, the generations that came of age in the last half of the 20th century, for what we are leaving them …
... You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling … Twist and Shout … Good Lovin’ … Feelin’ Groovy … Casey Jones … Close Your Eyes … Last Train to Clarksville … I’m Free … I’m Losing You … Mona/Maiden of the Cancer Moon … Imagine … Nights in White Satin … White Rabbit … Dance to the Music …
… humanity’s legacy, that one bothers me, too … a lot … the idea of its survival, I mean … funny how our poetry – Homer, the Classic dramatists; the poets: Cervantes; Virgil; Ovid; Dante; Chaucer … Shakespeare … and I’m only speaking the Western influences – there is so much more in other cultures …
… but funny how that poetry speaks more to the soul of who we are, how we define ourselves … read the exchange between Hector and Andromache in the Illiad, and witness the intimacy of family … and abiding love …
… Raiders of the Lost Ark … Back to the Future … The Hunt for Red October … Shakespeare in Love … Platoon … Betty Blue … the Hunger … Schindler’s List … Reds … Nowhere in Africa …
… living in the house where the lights never went out … shining on like crazy diamonds …
… Space Patrol … King of the Rocket Men … Commando Cody … the late Dave Steven’s Rocketeer …
… Paul McCartney & Wings, ’75 or ’76, Cow Palace …
… I sometimes wonder what would have happened to my life … had I a normal childhood (whatever that is) … if I hadn’t wasted my years in Europe … if I’d not been creative … I’d not gotten to raise my daughter … or if she’d had two parents … coulda, woulda shoulda … didn’t …
… The Fantastic Four … The Justice League of America … Captain America … The Sub-Mariner … Iron Man … Supergirl … Thor … the Hulk …The Amazing Spiderman … The Avengers … Challengers of the Unknown …. The Ultimates … The X-Men …
… was it just yesterday that elements of the 40th Ave. Gang took this or that trip to Cynbad’s or Michael’s cabin for a weekend on on the Russian River, went on road trips to nowhere, threw parties and closed bars … the Halloween costume party at Liz’s in `75 … midnight movies on Ocean Avenue with the gang, hooting and hollering as Janet Leigh got slashed in chocolate syrup or the living dead were on a zombified rampage … Sunsets watched from the dirt parking lot (now paved like a drive-in) above the ruins of Sutro Baths …
… Get Together … Suite: Judy Blue Eyes … A Day in the Life … Rattlesnake Shake … White Room … Gold and Silver … Suzi Q … Days of Future Past … Want to Take You Higher … Daydream … Cowgirl in the Sand … Roundabout … Lay Lady Lay … Band on the Run … 40,000 Headmen … Darkness, Darkness …
… Stan and Jack … the Merry Marvel Marching Society … Not Brand Ecch!!! … True Believers … the Bullpen …
… a No-Prize …
… the now-defunct One Act Theatre Company on Mason Street, S.F., where I met my daughter’s mother …
… San Jose State U., where I met one of my best – and I hope life-long friends … Semper Fi …
… I really never wanted to be a teacher … the times I did teach, I was passable, little more … I always worked better – and was more comfortable – in the role of a coach … that’s sort of how I looked at directing stage shows: as coaching actors …
… Elektra Dione …
… in truth, I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up … still don’t …
… impassioned loves and lovers …
… Sunsets … Full Moon nights … Indian Summer in San Francisco … Autumn … walks on the beach … stopping in the everyday flow to take in something beautifully unexpected … friends … lovers … teachers …
… walking through the farmlands of Germany on a warm Autumn day, a bottle of wine, some fresh bread, cheese and salami and good friends to share it and a whole day of nothing before us … a lifetime beyond that …
… Garth and Donna, who examined my science and pronounced it good …
… I wonder now and then, after the audition I didn’t realize was an audition, if I should have taken her up on the offer to work for her service as a male escort … could have been interesting, no doubt …
… Sam … Sienna … Melanie … Charmayne … Thomas … Meadow … Bethany … Madeline … the Wanderer … and all the other characters taking up residence in the theatre of my imagination …
… guilty pleasures … Underworld movies … Bianca Beauchamp … Resident Evil movies … cheesy SciFi disaster flicks like Deep Impact and The Core … … Suicide Girls … Keanu Reeves movies … whipped cream … Dita Von Teese … whipped cream & Dita Von Teese …
… arousal …
… one moment I’d like to have back: I mentioned elsewhere I went to Space Con 3 and attended a talk given by Robert A. Heinlein. What I didn’t mention was what followed. The Heinleins were promoting a blood drive at SciFi conventions – a novel idea in 1977 – and to get an autograph from Heinlein, you had to give up a pint. Now, as I also mentioned, I worked the midnight shift at Mission Emergency. I’d also been up most of the previous day, so I was pretty exhausted and in need of sleep.Instead, I gave a pint of blood … but, wait, it gets better … I never thought to bring a pen or paper or, like most of the people there, one of Heinlein’s books to have autographed …
… so there I was …
… anyway, the pint was given and me, thinking I was done, and being young and healthy (outward appearances notwithstanding) went to sit up, which freaked out the nurse, thereby setting off something of a commotion and – embarrassment of embarrassments – Heinlein, sitting at his table, in plain view, looked up and saw this semi-out-of-it longhair – and something about the expression on his face had a deflating quality, sort of “Oh, am I going to have to sign his book?” … so I laid back down until the nurse let me go … and I slunk away …
… *sigh* …
… Boz Scaggs & Quicksilver Messenger Service – the Family Dog, 1970 – we listened to Scaggs through the backstage door, then helped carry the equipment to the trucks and they let us in for Quicksilver‘s set … got to stand on the stage next to the amps and rock out while our ears bled … Steve Miller Blues Band, same venue, that time from the side balcony … great show from the Space Cowboy/Your Saving Grace days …
… Alice’s Restaurant on KFOG every Thanksgiving …
… Contact … Blue (movie) … Spirited Away … The Wizard of Oz … The Matrix … Starship Troopers … The Lord of the Rings Trilogy … Stardust … Jurassic Park … Schindler’s List … Pulse … Thin Red Line … Sirens …
… I regret all the many times I was small, the accumulated sins of being less human to my fellows than I could have been, less responsive of their needs, of not listening to Lincoln’s ‘better angels of our nature’ …
… I don’t regret walking away from the Theatre … It wasn’t necessarily voluntary, but once it happened, I realized I was happier. Don’t get me wrong: I loved the time I spent in my muse’s embrace, I think I did some decent and sometimes wonderful things with that harsh mistress … and nothing says “home” to me like memory of the years spent in the SFSU Theatre Arts department, but ultimately this wasn’t what I wanted to do … regardless, it was a gift , a wonderful time that continues to inform my creativity in wonderful ways … and, yes, there remains a faint longing for the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd … though the longing is faint, and grows fainter as time goes by … … though it will never fully go away, I think … and that’s okay … I’ve made my peace …
… The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds … A Midsummer Nights’ Dream … The Trojan Women … Moby Tick … When You Comin Back, Red Ryder? … Uncommon Women and Others … Fool for Love …
… The Forum … it’s website, Erotique … and a couple of marvelous years and a real friend, in the bargain …
… Words. Words. Words. … “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” … “That’s one small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind” … “I have a dream…”
… I don’t miss religion, at least, not the theological/philosophical part of things … I think I pretty much got that whole concept early on, why it didn’t work … the social thing … yeah … and it was fun to sing in the church choir … but I never suffered through that second loss thing … when people go, they go … I’m not going to see them again … and you won’t, me … in the meantime, though …
… I think the Beatles are the most amazing creative phenomena I witnessed in my life … these very hardscrabble boys who, with some luck, a lot of hard work, and bright people around them resonated with the youth of the Western world. They influenced so many that followed, and that is a big reason for the regard. But more important … but most important, they were really talented, lightning-in-a-bottle kind of talented … and we got to watch that talent develop, deeper, more sophisticated, but never losing the understanding of the simplicity of what they did – and they left us with a wonderful library of music that continues to please, long past their time …
… similar feelings about Joni Mitchell’s long and varied body of work, and her talent that evolved across decades …
… A Case of You …
… Bob … Could give Beelzebub lessons in subtle motivation, and Yahweh lessons in patience …
… Mikey … who read it all … .
… the wonderful actors and actresses I was privileged enough to get a chance to work with over the years …
… catch and release … 27 … three months sequestered in a downtown apartment in San Francisco … schooled by a beautiful, self-assured femme who taught me things I needed to know … and who then tossed me back, never to let me back in … all good …
Randomly & varyingly influenced: E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith … Bill Bryson … Phillip Jose Farmer … 60s music … Verne & Wells … Carl Sagan … Neil Gaiman … Robert E. Howard … Stephen Jay Gould … Andre Norton … Karen Armstrong … Robert Fagles … J.R.R. Tolkien … Robert A. Heinlein … Terri Gross … comics… Eric Frank Russell … Susie Bright … Granddad …
… 1975 … a gorilla suit, shoulder pads and a Halloween party … rare form at Liz’s …
… I do miss new Peanuts strips in the daily comics … new Far Side, too … And Calvin and Hobbes, of course … Bloom County or Outland or Opus …
… and am thankful for Non-Sequitur, Doonesbury and 9 Chickweed Lane for their smiles, thought and sometimes bittersweet sadness …
… coaching basketball …
… Tiff … Nancy and the Critters …
... Red Rain … Tea in the Sahara … Vogue … Route 66/Behind the Wheel … Born in the USA … Under Pressure … Who Can It Be Now … Tear in Your Hand … Dreams … A Girl In Trouble … Walking on the Moon … Burning Down the House … Rapture … In Your Eyes …
… sitting on the side of dunes at Ocean Beach, watching thin ribbons of clouds stretching north and south across the Pacific move onshore, passing overhead, moments of cold shadow on a bright, windy day …
… there are a lot of wonderful things in life, but amongst the most wonderful are women in all their infinite variety … just sayin’ …
… 1971, so many years ago just yesterday … fresh out of high school … an endless summer, where I said to Rossi before he left for Hilo that I wanted it to never change, that I wanted that summer to go on forever …
… and it ended all the same and I left for the Army and Tom the Navy and then the past became more and more something you cherished and less and less something to be lived …
… the sad part of Rock ‘n’ Roll is during its run in the 50s and 60s the recording quality of the music was generally crappy (this is true for Motown, as well) … the Beatles had George Martin … but most of the recorded music from that time was made on the cheap – the record labels, for the most part, relegated rock to the worst of their studio equipment (classical music got the good stuff) … so much of the catalogue, particularly what we heard on AM radio, barely has an bass line you could feel, and the bass guitar is everything in rock … to understand that unvarnished truth, just listen to the live studio recording of Voodoo Chile (Electric Ladyland) where Hendrix jams with Steve Winwood on the organ (yes, Virginia, there was a time before electric pianos and synthesizers … and auto-tune) and Jack Casady of the Jefferson Airplane … Casady’s bass soars right along with Hendrix’s guitar – and then dives to the deepest reaches of the audible spectrum to counterpoint …
… but there are gems … Crown of Creation is probably one of the best stereo albums ever mixed – if you have access to a good stereo, it’s worth a serious listen – you hear two-channel at its warmest and most inventive … I miss that in music, an effort to shape the listening experience, to replicate sound to that it was somehow warm and human … not an overarching wall of sound that was often cold and detached … and to which modern sound seems to have gravitated to …
… not that I have anything against large walls of sound … hel-loooo Pink Floyd, Yes …
… cuddling …
… I worry no one will like my book, even though I hear very positive things from folks who donated the time to read and comment (and to whom I am extremely grateful to for that favor) … and I know it is good. It’s a pervasive haunting that lives with me as part of the process, an insecure monkey on my back …
… Doug & Bruce …
…I like women … other things, too, of course. But women are definitely in the top ten … like, items one through nine … maybe one through ten … I like being alive, knowing they are there, women, I mean. In part, what I write is a homage … mortal goddesses …
… but I do like being alive … not necessarily a frivolous idea, this, when you consider how many people seem unhappy with their existence …
… Chinese … def like Chinese food, even if it’s bad for me … a little bit of beef, too (sorry all you veggies out there) …
… Close Your Eyes …
… clear days, rainy days … hazy days when the sun would set into the Pacific against a blood-red sky …
… The music, the movies, the concerts … all history … good history … except 1975, maybe, the Snack Sunday concert that ended with Neil Young and Bob Dylan doing a set together, while I, at the other end of Kezar Stadium, had my head in my lady’s lap, enduring an eight-on-the-Richter scale migraine, so lost in the pain I was zombified – and not in a good way … all I remember is the pain … and the unintelligible sound of Neil Young’s voice … and longing for a soft place with no sound or light …
… 12-14 years old … lying awake in my room, in the darkness, my small radio barely turned up to a whisper so my dad can’t hear … listening to all of it, all the energy, the wildness of it … and the poetry … Van Morrison … the Beatles … the Stones … Motown … top 40 at its best, cycling through the playlist … hearing Nowhere Man or Happy Together or Respect … and it all sounded so good …
… also, lying awake, listening to television sound tracks, movies I couldn’t see, only imagine in fleeting snatches of dialogue …
… DJOB …
… Bonnie … Laura … Rae …
… California Dreaming … Dock of the Bay … The Rain, the Park and Other Things … Hold On, I’m Comin’! … I Fought The Law … Standing in the Shadow of Love … Magic Bus … Expecting to Fly … Good Vibrations …
…trips to the zoo and the wharf, riding tugboats and fireboats, all thanks to Granddad … visiting Steinhart Aquarium and the Academy of Sciences with him, my favorite place in the whole world at the age of 6 to forever …
… daydreams …
… Loreena McKinnett at the Paramount, Oakland, 2008 …
… photographs of my extended family before I was born … sort of a private Ken Burns documentary … now lost to me through the vagaries of time and family dynamics …
… the Schlock Shop … Odyssey Records on Geary… the Family Dog and its neighbor, Playland at the Beach … Winterland …Magnolia Thunderpussy’s … the Filmore West …all gone …
… Granddad & Grandmom …
… Rome … Band of Brothers … Firefly … Battlestar Galactica …
… almost any nature documentary with Richard Attenborough’s name associated with it …
… I can be painfully shy, even now …
… I was alive when man landed on the Moon. I was. Many of you were, too. Something that can never be taken from me, from you, that memory …
… I imagine a time – should the American Experiment last that long – a time when the last citizen who was alive when we landed on the moon passes, leaving us a nation with no living memory of that great moment, arguably the greatest in our history …
… good beer …
… Let’s Dance … The Ability to Swing … Silent All These Years … Ice …
… my biggest regret: for eight years I was a single, full-time parent, the last thing anyone I knew growing up would have guessed to be a fate for me … I don’t know how I did it, but I wish I could have done better than I did … every child deserves the best …
… Music …
… Why I love San Francisco: think of yourself as an R. Crumb character (if you don’t know who R. Crumb is, I’m sorry) … you’re in a truck, all nuts ‘n’ bolts ‘n’ squeaks ‘n’ groans, bouncing over the hills and through the dales that are the neighborhoods of this fair city, and every time you crest another hill you seem to enter a new culture and place, divorced-yet-still-connected to the larger metropolis … different people, different cultures, worlds … delight beyond delight …
… loving …
… Christmas Season, when you believe in magic as only a child can believe in magic …
… Danger Grrls … (you know who you are) …
… of all the sad things about the human condition, I think, with rare exceptions, being lonely is the saddest …
… J …
… smiles, grins & laughter …
… Things I still want to do … I used to camp, got distracted; want to do it again – and I still have most of the equipment … learn to slow down, maybe even just a little, relax, let things go a bit … a telescope, maybe to take camping … publish … finish my books, my fictional ‘history’ of eternity …
… in those moments we most understand why art is a nourishment to our souls…
… absent friends …
… waking up to her smiling eyes …
… my fondest wish beyond good for friends & family … that the human race could populate the solar system and then reach the stars and continue … dunno … guess it’s a weird conceit … I want us – our species – or whatever it would evolve to be – the descendants of our DNA – to survive … to witness … to stand there, deep in the corridors of time, and bear witness, finally, as the last star winks out …
… Susan …
… The War for Evermore …
Broken Artemis …
… and in my mind’s eye, in a San Francisco lost somewhere down the corridors of time past and imperfect memory, as the warmth of an Indian summer night gives way to the chill appearance of enveloping fog, I look about me, turning carefully left and right, then slowly face the direction of home. In the distance, a foghorn moans, the sound muffled. I walk slowly, quietly, listing to the night, mind roiling with unceasing energy as the thick mist closes around me until I fade into the gray shadows, wishing and dreaming things that will … and will never … be…