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I didn't hear her until she was actually inside the room, locking the door shut behind her. Because that kind of place, the better type of that kind of place--and this was the better type--has its taproot in quiet. Anonymity. So whatever is required for it is provided: thick walls, thick rugs, well-oiled hardware. Whatever is required, but no more. No bath, only a sink firmly anchored to the wall. No easy chairs, since you are not there to sit. No radio or television, since the most glorious of diversions is in yourself. Your two selves.
She was scowling agitatedly, literally dancing from foot to foot, as she flung off her clothes, tossing them onto the single wooden chair where mine were draped.
I laughed and sat up. "Have to pee?" I said. "Why do you always hold in until you're about to wet your pants?"
"I don't always! Just when I'm meeting you, and I don't want to take time to--oops! Whoops! Help me, darn it!" she said, trying to boost herself up on the sink. "Hall-up!"
I helped her, holding her on her porcelain perch until she had finished. Then I carried her to the bed, and lowered her to it. Looked wonderingly at the tiny immensity, the breathtaking miracle of her body.
She wasn't quite five feet tall. She weighed no more than ninety-five pounds, and I could almost encompass her waist with one hand. But somehow there was no skimpiness about her. Somehow her flesh flowed and curved and burgeoned. Extravagantly, deliciously lush.
"Manny," I said softly, marvelling. For as often as I had seen this miracle, it remained new to me. "Manuela Aloe."
"Present," she said. "Now, come to bed, you good-looking, darlingson-of-a-bitch."
"You know something, Manny, my love? If I threw away your tits and your ass, God forbid, there wouldn't be anything left."
Her eyes flashed. Her hand darted and swung, slapping me smartly on the cheek.
"Don't you talk that way to me! Not ever!"
"What the hell?" I said. "You talk pretty rough yourself."
She didn't say anything. Simply stared at me, her eyes steady and unblinking. Telling me, without telling me, that how she talked had no bearing on how I should talk.
I lay down with her; kissed her, and held the kiss. And suddenly her arms tightened convulsively, and I was drawn onto and into her. And then there was a fierce muted sobbing, a delirious exulting, a frantic hysterical whispering...
"Oh, you dirty darling bastard! You sweet son-of-a-bitch! You dearest preciousest mother-loving sugar-pie ..."
I wondered how I could love her so deeply, and be so much afraid of her. So downright terrified.
And I damned well knew why.
After a while, and after we had rested awhile, she placed her hands against my chest and pushed me upward so that she could look into my face.
"That was good, Britt," she said. "Really wonderful. I've never enjoyed anything so much."
"Manny," I said. "You have just said the finest, the most exciting thing a woman can say to a man."
"I've never said it to anyone else. But, of course, there's never been anyone else."
"Except your husband, you mean."
"I never said it to him. You don't lie to people about things like this."
I shifted my gaze; afraid of the guilt she might read in my eyes. She laughed softly, on a submerged note of teasing.
"It bothers you, doesn't it, Britt? The fact that there was a man before you."
"Don't be silly. A girl like you would just about have to have other men in her life."
"Not men. Only the one man, my husband."
"Well, it doesn't bother me. He doesn't, I mean. Uh, just how did he die, anyway?"
"Suddenly," she said. "Very suddenly. Let me up now, will you please?"
I helped her to use the sink, and then I used it. It couldn't have taken more than a minute or two, but when I turned around she had finished dressing. I was startled, although I shouldn't have been. She had the quick, sure movements characteristic of so many small women. Acting and reacting with lightning-like swiftness. Getting things done while I was still thinking about them.
"Running off mad?" I said; and then, comprehending, or thinking that I did, "Well, don't fall in, honey. I've got some plans for you."
She frowned at me reprovingly, and, still playing it light, I said she couldn't be going to take a bath. I'd swear she didn't need a bath; and who would know better than I?
That got me another frown, so I knocked off the kidding. "I like your dress, Manny. Paris job, is it?"
"Tsk, tsk, such extravagance," I said. "And you were right there in Italy, anyway, to pick up your shoes."
She laughed, relenting. "Close, but no cigar," she said, pirouetting in the tiny spike-heeled pumps. "I. Pinna. You like?"
"Like. Come here, and I'll show you how much."
"Gotta go now, but just wait," she said, sliding me a sultry glance. "And leave the door unlocked. You'll have some company very soon."
I said I wondered who the company could be, and she said archly that I should just wait and see; I'd really be surprised. Then, she was gone, down the hall to the bathroom I supposed. And I stretched out on the bed, pulling the sheet up over me, and waited for her to return.
The door was not only unlocked, but ever-so-slightly ajar. But that was all right, no problem in a place like this. The lurking terror sank deeper and deeper into my mind, and disappeared. And I yawned luxuriously, and closed my eyes. Apparently, I dozed, for I suddenly sat up to glance at my wristwatch. Automatically obeying a whispered command which had penetrated my subconscious. "Watch."
I said I sat up.
I only started to, had barely lifted my head from the pillows, when there was a short snarling-growl. A threat and a warning, as unmistakable as it was deadly. And slowly, ever so slowly, I sank back on the bed.
There was a softer growl, a kind of gruff whimper. Approval. I lay perfectly still for a time, scarcely breathing--and it is easy to stop breathing when one is scared stiff. Then, without moving my head, I slanted my eyes to the side. Directly into the unblinking stare of a huge German shepherd.
His massive snout was only inches from my face. The grayish-black lips were curled back from his teeth. And I remember thinking peevishly that he had too many, that no dog could possibly have this many teeth. Our eyes met and held for a moment. But dogs, members of the wolf family, regard such an encounter as a challenge. And a rising growl jerked my gaze back to the ceiling.
There was that gruff whimper again. Approval. Then, nothing.
Nothing but the wild beating of my heart. That, and the dog's warm breath on my face as he stood poised so close to me. Ready to move--decisively--if I should move.
"Watch!" He had been given an order. And until that order was revoked, he would stay where he was. Which would force me to stay where I was ... lying very, very still. As, of course, I would not be able to do much longer.
Any moment now, I would start yawning. Accumulated tension would force me to. At almost any moment, my legs would jerk; an involuntary and uncontrollable reaction to prolonged inactivity. And when that happened...
The dog growled again. Differently from any of his previous growls. With the sound was another, the brief thud-thud of a tail against the carpet.
A friend--or perhaps an acquaintance--had come into the room. I was afraid to move my head, as the intruder was obviously aware, so she came around to the foot of the bed where I could see her without moving.
It was the mulatto slattern who sat behind the desk in the dimly lit lobby. The manager of the place, I had always assumed. The mock concern on her face didn't quite conceal her malicious grin; and there was spiteful laughter in her normally servile voice.
"Well, jus' looky heah, now! Mistah Britton Rainstar with a doggy in his room! How you doin', Mistah High-an'-mighty Rainstar?"
"G-Goddam you--!" I choked with fear and fury. "Get that dog out of here! Call him off!"
She said, "Shuh, man." She wasn't tellin' that dog to do nothin'. "Ain't my houn'. Wouldn't pay no attention to me, 'ceptin' maybe to bite my fat ass."
"But goddam it--! I'm sorry," I said. "Please forgive me for being rude. If you'll get Manny--Miss Aloe, please. Tell her I'm very sorry, and I'm sure I can straighten everything out if she'll just--just--"
She broke in with another "Shuh" of disdain. "Where I get Miss Manny, anyways? Ain't seen Miss Manny since you-all come in t'day."
"I think she's in the bathroom, the one on this floor. She's got to be here somewhere. Now, please--!"
"Huh-uh! Sure ain't callin' her out of no bathroom. Not me, no, sir! Miss Manny wouldn't like that a-tall!"
"B-but--" I hesitated helplessly. "Call the police then. Please! And for God's sake, hurry!"
"Call the p'lice? Here? Not a chance, Mistah Rainstar. No, siree! Miss Manny sho' wouldn't like that!"
"To hell with what she likes! What's it to you, anyway? Why, goddam it to hell--"
"Jus' plenty t'me what she likes. Miss Manny my boss. That's right, Mistah Rainstar." She beamed at me falsely. "Miss Manny bought this place right after you-all started comin' here. Reckon she liked it real well."
She was lying. She had to be lying.
She wasn't lying.
She laughed softly, and turned to go. "You lookin' kinda peak-id, Mistah Rainstar. Reckon I better let you get some rest."
"Don't," I begged. "Don't do this to me. If you can't do anything else, at least stay with me. I can't move, and I can't lie still any longer, and--and that dog will kill me! He's trained to kill! S--So--so--please--" I gulped, swallowing an incipient sob, blinking the tears from my eyes. "Stay with me. Please stay until Miss Manny comes back."
My eyes cleared.
The woman was gone. Moved out of my line of vision. I started to turn my head, and the dog warned me to desist. Then, from somewhere near the door, the woman spoke again.
"Just stay until Miss Manny come back? That's what you said, Mistah Rainstar?"
"Yes, please. Just until then."
"But what if she don' come back? What about that, Mistah Rainstar?"
An ugly laugh, then. A laugh of mean merriment. And then she was gone. Closing the door firmly this time.
And locking it.
Posted June 29, 2011
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