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Chapter One: The Drawing
Beverly adjusted the jalousie on the living room window in order to view Carl.
Among his blond strands stood some conspicuous grays. The gray hairs were
coarser, sturdier than the blond wisps that had carried him through his fifty years.
He swept his callused hand through his locks and settled into his wicker chair.
"Carl, do you want something to drink?"
Carl waited for Beverly to come to the porch door, then shook his head. Beverly, dressed only in her underwear, walked out onto the porch and sat at his feet. The cold wooden planks touched her thighs and caused her shoulders to shiver.
"Night's creeping up on us," she said.
"I've got to go home."
"Stay, Carl, please. I'll make bouillabaisse and fresh garlic bread."
Carl shook his head. She knew he could see the river peeking out from behind the trees. His rowboat would be by the bank of the river. If he started rowing upstream now, he would be home before dark. He rubbed his hands together, then stretched his arms out wide. As he brought his hands down to his knees to rise, Beverly grabbed one hand.
"Do you love me?" she asked.
He looked at her without expression. With his free hand he reached into the
pocket of his white trousers and pulled out a piece of paper. It was folded into a
small square. Uninvited, she took the paper from his hand and unfolded it. There
was her body, sketched out in pencil: her long legs, the slightly domed tummy with the pubic hair rising almost to her navel, the funnel-like breasts peaking in dark swirls, and the slender nape reaching up behind the earlobes. But it was the
perfection of the facial features that gave her the confidence to smile up at him. He stood.
"Tomorrow?" she asked.
Carl shrugged and moved down the steps to the gravel path. She waved, but he never turned to see it. He probably would listen to some Mahler, she thought, finish the Nietzsche book that they had discussed earlier that day, and have a light supper.
Most of the next day Beverly pecked at letters on her computer keyboard, forming words that ran into sentences. The drawing lay to the right of the keyboard. She was sorry she hadn't asked him to sign it, "Love, Carl." Maybe tonight.
Beverly had dinner late that night. She didn't know whether to make it for one or two. Eventually she put single portions on the stove. At bedtime she plumped up some pillows along his side of the bed and threw her left leg across the bottom pillow.
The pillow was still buried between her thighs when she felt a hand slide up her
buttocks. She looked at the clock. Seven a.m. The hand felt rough against her. It coursed over her flesh like sandpaper levelling a rough board. His full lips touched her shoulder blades. Then she felt the hair of his chest rest softly against
her back. She could feel her wetness spreading across the pillowcase as her pelvis pushed into it.
Later, at breakfast, she noticed how dark Carl's skin was, as if he had been working outdoors all the previous day. His blond hair had been whitened by the sun, almost camouflaging the grays. His hands were raw. Many calluses had broken open into wounds.
"You must have worked hard yesterday."
He didn't say anything.
"By the way, I'd like you to sign the drawing."
He looked at her and shook his head. His handsome features were pensive. She saw a cruelty that had never been there before.
"I shouldn't have given it to you. I should have kept it for myself."
"I'm sure you can duplicate it." She started to remove her bathrobe. "I'll even
pose for it."
Beverly dropped the robe over the back of her chair and stood.
"Let's go back to the bedroom and see if we can manage a repeat performance."
A few hours later, there were a blank paper and a pencil on the nightstand. On
the bed Carl and Beverly lay entwined. She was awakened by the jolting movement of his body. Carl was trying to reach for the drawing material. Beverly moaned. Carl gave up his attempt and instead lay still beneath her. His breath halted a second or two and then slowly gained its rhythm. She waited. Ten minutes, a half hour, a day later, she didn't know which, then she suckled his teat. Beverly spread her legs across his hips and sat atop his body; she smiled, satisfied but hungry. He picked up the pencil and paper. Immediately she stood up on the mattress and heaved her auburn hair up across her forearms. He sketched.
The drawing was not as perfect as the first. His hand was shaky, and the lines were not following her body contours. This seemed to anger him.
"I think it's good." She pecked him on the cheek and got up to prepare lunch. As she left the bedroom, she turned to look at Carl. His hands obviously ached, for he grimaced as he opened and closed his fists. He stopped only to shred the paper and let the bits fall onto the stained sheet.
Beverly retrieved her robe in the kitchen and prepared an elaborate lunch.
After setting the table, she found Carl dressed and in her office playing with the computer keyboard.
"You've got to turn it on if you want to produce anything." She giggled from the
She saw Carl glance at the drawing that she had left next to the keyboard. Every curve, every shading was in place.
"Come on, Carl. Lunch is on the table."
She was already seated when Carl entered the dining room.
"Slowpoke," she teased.
At the table Beverly kept staring at his hands.
"How do you get those things?" she asked, a forkful of pasta poised in front
of her lips.
He looked at his cut and callused hands. "I bury things."
"What do you bury? Are you planting a garden? God, it's been, what, eight months since I've been at your place. Remember? It was the day I signed the lease for this house."
"Can you imagine? We've been neighbors now for eight months and lovers for seven of them."
Carl smiled at her.
"And it's been days since you smiled at me like that."
"I'm sorry, Beverly. I'm under some stress right now."
"Is that why you've been working so hard in the yard?"
He laughed. "As a matter of fact, that's exactly why I've been digging."
"You want to talk about it?"
Beverly looked down at her plate and realized she couldn't finish the pasta.
"You're a special person," Carl said as he reached for her hands. He squeezed them tightly. "I have to go."
"Please, Carl. You never wanted to leave in the past. You would spend as long as a week with me and go home reluctantly to check on your place. Now I can't get you to spend a single day with me. Why?"
His eyes seemed to shimmer under salty tears that never fell. As he got up, she watched his linen suit fall in wrinkles around his robust body. He still had the
body of his youth, and Beverly assumed it was due to his penchant for digging. She watched him walk to the threshold of the dining room and stop. His hands reached up and grasped the lintel. He hesitated. Beverly rushed from her seat and threw her arms around him. She could smell his body through the cloth, rich and heady, stifling her breath.
"I love you, Beverly, but..."
She waited for the "I can't make a commitment," which never came. He merely reached down to his right trousers pocket, almost slid his hand in, but stopped. Instead, he patted the pocket and pulled away from her.
Beverly watched him walk down the gravel path until he was hidden by the fir trees. When she brought her hands up to her face to rub away the tension, she smelled the garlic embedded in her fingertips and remembered that she had to clean the dining room after the half-eaten lunch.
After completing innumerable petty chores, she decided to hunker down to
write. As she entered the office, she noticed that the drawing was missing. She
searched the floor around the computer table, hoping that it had fallen. It was
not there. Beverly sat on the hardwood floor and felt hot tears streaming down her
That night, in bed, Beverly lay naked upon her cotton sheet, the tan of her body emphasized by the white of the material. Her dark eyes penetrated the dimness of the moon-sprayed room. The ceiling fan whooshed the air above her head, and her mind settled on that sound for comfort as she closed her eyes. Whoosh...whoosh. It became a lullaby amid the hyacinth smell of night. Beverly's limbs softened on the verge of sleep, when suddenly her breath
halted, and she found herself panting for air as her head turned toward the open
French doors leading to the garden. She swallowed and choked, then with her hands she pushed her body up off the bed, scrambling to the floor. Finally, she was able to stand and move to the garden.
The summer heat, cooled by the moon's full glow, hugged her body. Her breasts, stimulated by the night chill, ached as she sucked in deep breaths of air. A dream, she said to herself as her breath started to come again. A dream, a nightmare, she thought.
But sleep never came that night, and it seemed that over the next few days she dozed lightly only at the keyboard or while reading on the garden swing. Deep, dreamy, reviving sleep never came. Neither did Carl.
One morning after her shower Beverly stood in front of the full-length mirror
that hung behind the door to her bedroom. She had been skipping meals, and when she did sit to eat she barely touched her food. However, her body seemed to be swelling. There was a gnawing inside her gut, a steady nibbling at her intestines. As she belched, she tried to push on her stomach. Then she noticed the nail on her right index finger was loose--not just a portion of it, but the entire nail was coming free of its bed. She swung the bedroom door open and rushed to the bathroom for a bandage.
"Shit," she complained and wound the strip tightly around the finger.
When she looked in the mirror, she saw two reddish, bloated cheeks beneath the dark semicircles that sagged under her big eyes.
She had been pondering the possibility of an allergy or asthma, but these new symptoms frightened her. Could her ailment be more severe? If Carl did not come today, she would have to try to reach him. He had no telephone and no road led to his house, but she knew if she just kept walking upstream along the water's edge she would reach his place. But she didn't have to, because at midday, as the sun was peaking, he arrived.
He looked refreshed and even smiled when he saw her. Beverly moved awkwardly toward him as he entered her house. Her body felt full; her skin was pigmented with splotches of dusky red tint. A stale, eggish odor emanated from the folds of her flesh.
"Oh, Carl, I need you."
Carl held her and swept his long fingers through her thinning hair.
"I don't know what's happening to me. It started the day you left. I've had
trouble breathing and --"
Carl pressed his lips to her mouth and thanked her.
"What for?" she asked, moving her head back slightly so she could see him.
"For what you're doing."
"I don't understand, Carl."
He moved her back through the hallway to her bedroom and sat her on the bed. He knelt before her and undid the buttons on the front of her dress. His hands caressed her shrunken breasts and his tongue circled the hardened tips. Beverly was embarrassed, amazed, and soothed. Carl pulled the dress completely open and let his lips slide down to kiss her distended stomach as if she were pregnant from his seed.
"Do you know what's wrong with me?" she asked.
"You've taken my place in the grave, Beverly."
"What are you talking about?" Her voice was louder than she meant it to be.
"I'm so afraid of dying, Beverly. I'm afraid of the brown earth encasing me,
swallowing me. Several years ago, when I found out that I was terminally ill, I
travelled the Amazon, where I learned a trick, a means to stay alive, from a small
tribe that lived in the dense rainforest. To forestall death, the tribal headman
would carve out an exact replica of someone in an enemy village. Then he personally would bury the reproduction deep in the soil. The deeper he buried it, the longer the spell would last. At times, it's lasted as long as fifteen months for me."
"My God! What are you talking about?"
"The drawing, Beverly. I buried it after I left here last time -- I had to do
it. I could feel the maggots starting to eat away at my innards. I would have
bloated like you and --"
Beverly screamed and grabbed her stomach with her hands. Her shoulders hunched upward as her body tilted forward to release a hoarse cry. Carl held her tight and kissed the auburn hair already lying rootless on top of her head.
"I love you, Beverly. That's why I almost gave you the drawing. But it was
too late for me to find someone else. Neurological control had dissipated in my
hands to the point that I couldn't draw a straight line -- and it had to be created by
my hands. A photograph wouldn't do. The original drawing was made when we first slept together. Then I didn't mind the idea of using you, but later it preyed on
my conscience. I thought of how I would miss you -- but this is the greatest act of
love you could give me, and I realize you've always been braver than I. Probably
loved me more, too."
"Carl, stop it. Why are you telling me this stupid story?"
"Because I thought that if you knew the truth you'd allow me to help. I can make your passing gentler."
"Passing? Are you saying I'm dying?"
"Oh, no, Beverly. You are dead. Now the decay starts."
"I don't believe you. How could you make light of my illness?"
"Beverly, you are beyond illness. Look at your hands."
She spread her fingers in front of her face. There was a black cast to her right
thumb. Was it a bruise? she wondered. Her touch did not cause pain, but the skin began to scale. And what of the roil inside her body? Her hands returned to her stomach.
"What about me, Carl? What about my life?"
"I'll always think of you, Beverly. When the time comes to take your remains
down to the river, I promise to pray for you. I built an elaborate casket for your
image. It's sturdy; should hold up for quite some time. It'll make the decay take
place more slowly. Give you time to settle any matters you think are important."
"What if I go to the police?"
"And say what?"
Beverly swung her body down across the mattress and rolled over onto her right side while still clutching the churning life in her stomach.
"I lined the casket with the best white satin I could obtain and smoothed the
drawing across the bottom among some rose petals. Before closing the lid, I kissed your image, and I sang a hymn as I lowered the coffin into the grave. It was a moving ceremony, really. This is the first time I've ever buried someone I loved."
Beverly was screaming. Was it inside her head or coming up through her body? She was too confused to know for sure. Carl rolled her over onto her back, and she felt him trying to enter her. Her hands beat against his head. She pounded and kicked to release herself from this bringer of death.
From far away she heard him say that he was leaving; he couldn't stand to see her like this.
"You did it! You did it!" she yelled and watched him walk out of the room.
She slid off the bed and stumbled into her office. Alone in the house now, she
sat at her desk, remembering every detail of Carl's face and form. She tried to
duplicate him on paper but failed. If onlyher hands could mirror the image in her
mind. All she could see were the pronounced cheekbones, the straight, slender nose...
What the hell am I doing believing this crap? She flung the paper and pencil on the floor. She needed medical help, not ridiculous voodoo.
She wrung her hands together, and as she did sheaths of skin dropped onto the desk blotter. Her howling reached as far as Carl, who was about to push his boat into the river.
DRAWN TO THE GRAVE, Copyright ©Mary Ann Mitchell, 1997, first appeared in a Leisure Books edition in August, 1997. Published by Dorchester Publishing. All rights reserved.