Mattie’s voice jolted him back to the present. “What do you mean, Dave?”
Monday, May 27, 2013
[Several web sites offer randomly generated suggestions for conflicts, characters, scenarios, etc. which blocked writers can use to kick start their creative process. Or you can do something really dumb and ask your Twitter pals for suggestions on situations that create conflict. This one is for Dan (@dbw780). Or, alternatively, this one is Dan’s fault. – KHN #52Weeks]
A short story by Kim Norris
Nothing obscured the sound of their shouting; it was about all he could count on these days – them shouting. Listening to Dick and Ingrid scream at each other reminded him of when Dick and Mom used to go at it. Dave had been younger then, but he remembered the yelling. By the sounds of things, Dick – Dad – was heading for divorce number two. Dave unzipped the top of the backpack as he made his way to the mini fridge behind the bar in the basement rec room. The twelve giant steel cans of beer that Ingrid had brought back from her latest flight to Australia barely fit in the small icebox. He grabbed two and stuffed them in the top of the backpack, rearranging the rest of the cans to fill the empty space.
Dave slid the back door shut as quietly as he could, freezing at the point where the frame of the heavy, double-paned glass hung on the track, clunking as it cleared whatever unseen obstacle made it lurch up and down like a wooden roller coaster. He need not have worried tonight – nothing was cutting through the melee coming from the living room upstairs, but it was good to stay deft. Once outside, he looked up on instinct, but the remnants of the morning’s storm still obscured the moon. He covered the short distance between the door and the curb, grateful as always for the cedar hedge that shielded the living room windows from the street. He’d be around the corner and halfway to Mattie’s before anyone could spot him.
He saw his best friend waiting at the pre-appointed spot, shifting from one foot to the other nervously, like he always did. It made Dave smile. Most of the kids at school ridiculed Mattie for being heavy, clumsy and smart. Dave found in the shorter, shyer, lumpier classmate a good ear to bend and someone who didn’t get all pissy if Dave did better at sports or girls. Mattie expected to get picked last, Dave mused. He didn’t deserve it, but since Mattie expected it, it never seemed to hurt him.
Mattie shifted nervously, grateful for the clouds that kept the moonlight from revealing his location, out of doors, way past curfew. He couldn’t remember why he so badly wanted to sneak out tonight, but there was no going back to bed. Anyway, it was the first night of summer vacation. The group home that Father Dick was building in the field behind the church had intrigued him the moment they broke ground and curiosity beat out his normal caution. He and his family had lived across the street from and attended the brick Episcopal church his whole life, and the field behind the Small Woods had always been a part of it – he spent hours in the summer stalking fireflies at night, flying kites or building shrub forts during the day. In the spring wild flowers bloomed; come the fall he could hunt for fat brown rabbits, which he never managed to catch.
But not this fall. The church, under Father Dick’s leadership, had decided to take their charity in a new direction, building and sponsoring a group home for low IQ adults. Concrete trucks had finally poured the foundation and framers were making fast progress in the warm, mostly dry late spring weather that Virginia Beach often experienced. It started to look interesting when the roof trusses went up. Dave said they could go in, but not when the workmen were on site. He had assured Mattie earlier that it wasn’t actually trespassing. After all, the building was on church grounds, to which, as a resident of the vicarage, Dave had full access.
Finally Mattie saw the silhouette walking toward him – it had to be Dave – that confident swagger. Mattie texted, just to be safe **that u?**. He could hear the chirp from Dave’s Smartphone, but the text went unanswered. As the form passed underneath the street light directly in front of the church, Dave’s face showed clearly for a brief moment. Mattie relaxed a little and started to walk toward him.
“Why did you text me?”
“I wasn’t sure it was you.”
“Who the fuck else would it be?” Dave stopped in front of the church. From this angle, the house that the church maintained for the current preacher and their family to live in could not be seen.
“I don’t know. Hey do you think the church is open?” Mattie shifted from one foot to the other.
“Doubt it. Why?”
“I’ve got to take a leak.”
“Go over there.” Dave pointed to a dark corner of the church where waist high bushes covered the building foundation. Although the entrance to the sanctuary was well lit at night, the angles of the light fixtures missed this corner completely.
“Are you crazy? I can’t go there!”
“Why not? No one will see you.”
“It’s a church!” Mattie cried. “You can’t piss on a church!”
“It’s just a building. You don’t really think God gives a crap if you pee on those bushes?”
“Not risking it.”
Dave laughed out loud at Mattie’s determined tone. “Wussie.”
“Because Hell might be real, dickhead!” Mattie cut through the church’s side lawn toward a cluster of trees behind the building, the beginning of the Small Woods, as the neighborhood called them, found a suitable tree, and re-emerged a few minutes later.
Dave laughed again, more because he was sure it annoyed Mattie than out of a sense of mirth. He couldn’t help thinking to himself, Hell is real, amigo. We’re living in it.
Mattie intoned a small prayer for forgiveness as he relieved himself. The very idea of whipping it out onto the side of the church felt sinful. The act itself was unthinkable. Dave had always been a mystery to Mattie. But this – Dave’s dad was the preacher – how could Dave even suggest it? Even as he silently judged his friend, he felt the usual stir of admiration that bordered on envy. Dave never seemed to fear anything -- not grownups, not girls, not failure… .The coach of every sport in high school tried to recruit Dave to the team. Only the track coach had any luck.
Mattie didn’t get that either. Mattie despised running. Okay sure, if Mrs. Gomez’s stupid dog got out again and gave chase, Mattie could outrun the little rat, but Dave said he liked running, which Mattie could not comprehend. You might as well like the dentist. Yeesh!
“Okay, I’m ready,” Mattie said as he walked back toward Dave. “Which way?”
“Let’s skirt the edge of the Small Woods and cut across the field. It’ll be quicker than walking around the block. Fewer eyes.”
“I thought you said this wasn’t trespassing.” Mattie tried to cover the nervous quaver.
“It’s not. Technically. But we still don’t want Dick to see us.”
“You shouldn’t call your dad by his first name. It’s disrespectful.”
“Respect.” Dave spit on the ground and kept walking forward, his stride lengthening with each step.
Mattie jogged a bit to keep up beside Dave, and they moved in silence.
The dark field brightened as the clouds broke up, revealing the old moon, large just three days past full. Dave hitched the backpack up on his shoulder and quickened his pace.
“Keep up!” he yelled over his shoulder. “You want someone to see you?” He ignored the reply and broke into a jog. The moonlight cast long strange shadows on the place he was heading, erasing the hard edges and transforming the structure into an amorphous space defined by varying degrees of darkness. Where the roof was still missing, pearly moonlight reached all the way down to the subflooring.
He heard the plea, “Wait up!” Mattie’s voice was more distant than he expected, but he kept moving. Shadows took form, becoming framed walls and corner studs. He walked through the opening where he knew the front door would hang one day and made his way to the center of the structure. Moments later, he heard his best friend’s heavy breathing and clumsy footsteps.
“I’m over here,” he called. The roof had not yet been put in place here, and moonlight filled the space. He put the backpack he had been carrying on the ground and sat down beside it. He listened as Mattie tripped over something and chuckled quietly at the expletive, “Crackers!”
“Just say, crap.”
“Keep talking so I can find you.”
Dave said nothing and unzipped the top of the backpack. He removed two quart-sized cans that had “Foster’s Lager” printed on them. He set one can down and pulled the tab on top of the second can. He hadn’t counted on how much his jogging had shaken the backpack contents, and beer began spurting from the top as soon as he opened it. “Shit!” he yelled as he hastily held the spuming can at arm’s length. Mattie made his way to where Dave sat and goggled at the beer cans.
“Where did you get those?” he asked with hesitation.
“Ingrid brought them back from her last flight.” Dave handed Mattie the unopened can. “Come on, sit down. It’s the first night of summer vacation. The moon is full, the beer is cold...careful when you open it. They got shook up a little.” He instantly regretted giving the warning; if they got caught, it would go better for Dave if Mattie smelled like beer too.
“I’m not allowed to drink.”
“Neither am I, dipshit. Bottoms up.”
Mattie picked up the can then set it back down heavily. He pulled the tab off the top. Beer foam surged through the opening.
“Slurp it! Don’t waste it!” Dave brought his own can to his lips and demonstrated. He watched as Mattie sucked up the beer that had accumulated at the top. He hadn’t actually expected Mattie to drink any of it. Instead, Mattie took a long pull and then burped with gusto.
“It’s sort of like soda. All the bubbles,” said Mattie.
“It ain’t soda.” Dave opened the front pocket of the backpack and pulled out a plastic sandwich baggy and a pack of matches. He saw Mattie’s eyes widen in horror. The sight of it was so comical Dave laughed out loud, registering with increasing amusement the angry look on Mattie’s face. “Oh Jesus, lighten up! No one’s gonna catch us.”
“You don’t know that. If your dad finds us, we’re both going to Hell.”
“This was your idea!”
“Sneaking out was. Not drinking. Not smoking cigarettes.”
“It ain’t a cigarette.” Dave opened the baggy and pulled out a hand-rolled joint. Putting it between his lips, he struck a match and held it to the end. The paper and weed caught, glowing bright red as Dave inhaled. He started to cough, pinched his nose to keep smoke from coming out, then lost it completely and hacked loudly as smoke billowed around his head. “Here,” he passed the joint to Mattie.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Never mind where I got this.”
“I don’t know, Dave. What if it makes me go insane?”
“No one would notice.”
“Ooooooh. Mattie used a swear word.” He waved the joint. “Take it. Live a little. You’re so fucking uptight.”
Mattie took the joint and sucked hesitantly on the unlit end. He inhaled a small amount and stopped.
“Go on! You have to cough to get off.”
“You’re so full of shit.” But he took a larger puff and was soon choking, his eyes streaming as his lungs burned.
They passed the joint in silence, coughing less with each hit. Dave sipped the beer after each toke and was soon feeling lightheaded and giddy. He looked through the unfinished roof up at the moon. It seemed larger all of the sudden. Brighter, too, and the face in the moon seemed to wink. It’s the man in the moon, people said, but it looked like a lady to him. It always had.
“A toast.” Dave said suddenly, lifting his beer can in the air.
“Here’s to sin and here’s to virtue. A little bit of both won’t hurt you.” Dave tilted the beer as he drank.
Mattie began to giggle, then laugh, then guffaw. “That’s a good one.” He took a large swallow of beer.
“Dick says it all the time.”
“Your dad? Father Dick?”
“He’d know wouldn’t he? About the sin part anyway.”
“What do you mean, Dave?”
“I saw him. With Mrs. Neroni."
Mattie’s eyes widened again. His tongue touched his upper lip. “Where?”
“Right here.” He pointed to the floor they were sitting on.
“Ew!” Mattie started to stand up hastily, but Dave pulled him back down.
“They weren’t doing it. Not yet anyway. But I saw them holding hands. They didn’t see me.”
“Maybe he was just comforting her. You know, giving her spiritual guidance. Didn’t her husband just move out? I overheard Jenny Neroni talking about her dad leaving at the school dance last week.”
“Maybe Dick's the reason Jenny’s dad moved out,” Dave said darkly. “Maybe Mrs. Neroni is the reason Dick and Ingrid spend every waking moment they are together hollering at each other? Fucking grownups – screwing around and screwing up our lives…”
“What do you mean, Dave? How is your life getting screwed up?”
Dave didn’t answer. He took another drink of beer, studied the can as he swallowed. He was definitely beginning to feel the effects of both it and the joint. He’d been high before, one other time, at Joey’s house. They had used a water bong. He coughed until he thought his lungs would flip inside out and fly out his nose. He’d been drunk a time or two also, once on sacramental wine, once sneaking beers at a church picnic. He’d never put the two together before tonight. Hell, he rarely had access to either, much less both, but a perfect storm of opportunity presented itself. Ingrid had brought a case of the beer back from her last flight to Sydney, Australia. “It’s their national beer!” When Dick pointed out you could get Foster’s in the USA, a fight ensued. Dave figured he was doing everyone a favor by getting it out of the house.
The joint, too, had simply presented itself to him. Last week at the final dance of the school year, Dave had hooked up with Gretchen, a senior who was two years older than Dave. Generous Gretchen – Dave smiled as he remembered how the evening had ended, in the back seat of her car. She had let him drive home even though he only had his learner’s permit. And she’d just given him the joint when she kissed him goodnight. It made him feel a bit “paid for.” He kind of dug it.
Mattie’s voice jolted him back to the present. “What do you mean, Dave?”
Mattie’s voice jolted him back to the present. “What do you mean, Dave?”
“I mean, I think Dick is looking to move again. To a new church.”
“I thought you moved here because it was the hub town for Ingrid’s airline.”
“Yeah, I don’t think Dick is all that concerned about Ingrid’s needs anymore. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. They fight non-stop now. It’s hard to sleep.”
“But, you’d still be in town, right?” Mattie sounded crushed.
“Doubt it,” Dave said quietly.
Mattie felt the world drop out from under him when Dave said he might move away. He had taken for granted that Dave would stay, now that they were friends. Dave was the best friend he ever had; Dave didn’t judge Mattie the way the other kids did. He didn’t call Mattie a “brainiac” like it was kind of disease. He listened to Mattie.
“You could stay with me? I could ask my parents. You know, until we graduate high school.”
“I think I might go live with Mom. She’s in Clearwater Beach, Florida these days. It’s a nice town, lots of hot chicks in bikinis. You can come visit during Spring Break.”
“It won’t be the same as seeing you every day.
“No. No it won’t.”
Dave staggered to his feet. The moon was setting and darkness once again overtook them.
“We better head home. It’ll be dawn soon. Anyway, I need to take a piss. All this beer.”
“Me too.” Mattie tried to stand, got his left foot entangled underneath his right leg, and fell back down, laughing. “Ah shit, I’ll pee my pants if I don’t go soon. Help me up.”
Dave held out his hand and pulled Mattie to his feet. They retraced their steps out of the building, but instead of crossing the field, they circled around to the building’s side that faced the far end of the Small Wood. From this side, through the trees, they could see the steeple of the church, luminescent in the failing moonlight. They followed the line of trees, skirting the deep field grass that dripped with dew, soaking their shoes and the edges of their jeans. The Small Wood ended at the church’s backyard. Mattie paused at the edge of the trees again and unzipped. Dave strode forward, across the lawn, past a small swing set and up to the church. The last of the moonlight cast his shadow large against the wall.
“Dave, don’t” he heard Mattie whisper-shout, but Dave ignored him. With the moonlight failing, stars blazed across the sky; Dave dared the universe to stop him. He grinned in relief as a somewhat revised form of Australia’s national beer splashed down the brick wall and returned to the earth from whence it came.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
The themes of peeing on churches and spurting will show up in next week’s blog post (although working those in just now fulfills my two technical obligations for this week). I got a good start on Dave and Mattie’s story, had a heart-to-heart with my muse (who is a real bitch) and we agreed where to go from there.
Then, true to form for me these days, crap got in the way of what I wanted to do. Today’s crap came in the form of a natural gas leak. At my house. I was hunting stink bug nymphs in my herb garden. They like the mint and oregano, the little fuckers. Instead of ripping out the entire garden (like I did two years ago), I’m trying a more surgical approach this year. As I was cutting out nymph-ridden herbs, I got close enough to the natural gas connection to smell it. Kudos to whoever decided to add the rotten egg odor to the natural gas product. Kudos to the gas company, Atmos, for sending someone right away. I do not fear an explosion tonight, but I don’t have time now to do justice to Dave and Mattie’s story.
I like Dave and Mattie. They’re good boys. They don’t mean to be bad, I’ve just drawn them that way. They deserve a few more hours of my undivided attention, and I will honor that.
In the meantime, deadlines loom, and I have promises to keep that will consume the rest of this weekend's writing time. So in honor of a gas leak, I present the short story, "Matchbook."
I wrote "Matchbook" in 1998 as a fictional work by a fictional character within a work of fiction, a murder mystery, which I also wrote. The victim in my murder mystery (called Litmus) is a writer; Reese Goddard has penned a collection of short stories that may hold the key to who killed her and tried to make it look like suicide…
“Matchbook” is one of Reese Goddard’s stories. I know at some level, it is also mine, but as I wrote this story, I wasn’t trying to write as Kim, I was trying to write as the fictional Reese… She’s a better writer than I -- fearless. Crazy like me, many of her fictional characters are writers…poets. She features their poems in her stories the way I feature her stories in my novel; the murder mystery contains the full body of her works. “Matchbook” is unique for Reese. It has no poems, but it was one of her favorite stories, and it is one of mine.
I love writing fiction. It’s like standing between two facing mirrors. It goes on and on.
It pleases me to give this one a venue while I spend a bit more time on the new piece, sorting out why Dave is spurting pee on the church and whether or not Mattie will get the nerve to call him out for it (" 'cause Hell might be real, dickhead!")
A short story by Reese Goddard
I will not be called these things, thinks Emaline Rizotti as her shaking hand dives into the pocket of her husband’s trousers. I will not be called adulterate, jilted, scorned.
But I am these things, she realizes, sitting back and dropping her hands in a motion that resembles surrender. The wool slacks slide soundlessly to the floor. What would another matchbook amount to?
More names come to mind for the mistress than for wronged wife. Emaline counts them like rosary beads: bitch, chippy, homewrecker, Jezebel, slut, strumpet, tramp, tart, whore. Emaline has a matchbook collection, which will number 59 when she retrieves the one she knows is in his right back pocket. And it, like each one of them, has pressed on the paper behind the matches, the print of her husband’s lover’s painted lips. Emaline now considers herself an expert at reading lip prints.
These are all identical.
Emaline detests this brazen woman who leaves her lips on these matches, like a brief fiery instance, a whiff of sulfur. She knows her husband, Roman Rizotti, does not realize these matchbooks are being slipped into his pocket. With the sureness of fifteen years of marriage, Emaline believes that Roman has never, will never empty his own trouser pockets before giving them to Emaline to be laundered. In this way, he will always need her.
“He may be an asshole,” Emaline says resolutely, “but he’s my asshole.” She nods with determination to her own reflection.
The next day, Gwen, Emaline’s therapist, says “Revenge is a perfectly natural response, but it would be more proactive for you to work through this anger to the next logical stage.”
“Murder?” Emaline feels murderous.
“No. And I wish you wouldn’t joke like that.” Gwen is a nervous, middle-aged, overweight woman with an unfortunate skin condition that leaves her face pocked and flushed like a ripe, bird-pecked cherry.
“I have 59 matchbooks now.”
“I thought we resolved your obsession with the matchbooks. Obviously, this mistress knows it is you who finds them. She’s goading you. You give her power....
Emaline interrupts, “I give her power over me when I obsess over her. I just thought it was interesting. I keep a journal every day that I started the day I married Roman. In fifteen years of marriage, he has taken me to exactly twenty restaurants on the occasion of fifteen wedding anniversaries, three children and two apologies for two love affairs. Lips is up to 59 different restaurants. Six are from Hawaii!
Gwen looks at her watch. “We’ll talk more about that next week.”
As the polished walnut door of her therapist’s office closes, Emaline says, “I want to go to Hawaii.” But no one hears her.
Somewhere in the darkest center of Emaline’s cerebral cortex, a rebellious cluster of neurotransmitters refuses to do its part in the production of critical brain chemicals. Emaline has no knowledge of it as she numbly boards the crowded elevator and descends to the marble lobby in the office building of her expensive and unhelpful shrink. Her thoughts at this moment are occupied with anger, frustration, rejection, and most frightening of all, indifference.
She says aloud, “What do you want to do today?” and ignores the others in the elevator who turn to stare. She refrains from answering herself out loud, deciding in silence to go across town and have lunch at the new Italian restaurant she had seen written up in the Living section of last Sunday’s paper. Then she’ll go to the travel agency that she thinks is near the restaurant and look into the price of a trip to Hawaii.
At the new Italian restaurant, across town from the office of Emaline’s therapist, Roman Rizotti sits and fiddles with the complimentary matchbook, poised open and ready to strike in the cut-glass ashtray. He untucks the matchbook cover from behind the matches and reads “Anthony’s Bistro” on the front. The color choice, olive green, fails to impress him, but the typeface is nice. His lunch date, Esereé, will want this one for her collection.
Roman does not understand collections. They accumulate. Roman’s family is the closest thing he has to a collection. Roman admits, as he twirls the corner of the matchbook on the tip of his finger, that he doesn’t understand Esereé either. She appears sincere in her claims that she does not want a commitment. Roman understands that he needs this most from Esereé, her lack of need for him.
Two blocks from Anthony’s Bistro, in the walk-in bedroom closet of Apartment 37, Parkview Heights, Esereé O’Leary chooses the red satin dress, sleeveless, backless, well above the knee. She’ll wear it with the open-toed leather stilettos dyed the color of maraschino cherries to match the dress. It is her lover’s favorite outfit. Her hair, a more intense shade of red, is pulled back; her blue eyes gleam back at her in the bathroom mirror. Esereé is going to be late for her lunch date, but her entrance will be worth the wait.
As Esereé applies lipstick, red as her dress, her shoes, her hair, she visualizes kissing his soft lips not so full, but not thin either and leaving her lip prints around his nipples, his belly button. Esereé knows that wherever she leaves her mark, a part of him stays with her forever.
Roman stands to greet Esereé as she winds through the tables. The red satin dress with the dyed leather shoes attracts Roman more than anything else on the planet. Like a living flame, Esereé flickers and undulates towards him. She greets him with her usual soft handshake, her rule — no kissing in public. Instead, he pulls out her chair, softly murmuring, “you look beautiful,” as he seats her.
They dine on a salad of shrimp and roasted red pepper, seasoned Italian risotto with fresh lobster, and broiled eggplant, savory with garlic and fresh oregano. Roman selects for them a Sonoma county Chardonnay. For dessert they share sweet pears in wine and lemon sauce. Esereé says, “The typeface on the matchbook is attractive,” as she delicately extracts the pack from beneath his napkin. “Olive would not have been my first color choice, though.” Roman smiles and takes her hand. “I knew you would say that.”
“Have I become so predictable then?” Her smirk excites him. He detects in her voice the tone of an unspoken challenge now accepted. “We’ll just see about that. Excuse me.” She slips the matches into her purse as she rises and glides off in the direction of the women’s lounge.
Emaline Rizotti feels better by the time she finds the restaurant, and to her delight the travel agency is situated right next door. She smiles as a parking space opens in front of her in the lot next to the travel agency. Everything, she thinks, is going to be just fine.
In Anthony’s Bistro, Emaline spots Roman immediately, always the pin to his magnet. He sits staring at an empty chair, but the place servings clearly tell her that her husband sits at a table for two. The maitre d’ is taking her in that direction, to tables further back in the room.
Roman sees her, too, as she draws nearer. He stands, fumbles with the napkin that has fallen off his plate and onto the ground in front of him.
“What are you doing here, Emaline?” He sounds defensive.
“I’ve come for lunch. Same as you, I imagine.” She glances at the nearly empty wine glass, a companion to the empty chair. She notes the lipstick, cheap slut red, and she recognizes the lip prints immediately. She can only hope that her reaction isn’t really the color draining from her face, even though that is how she feels.
Roman follows his wife’s glance. “I’m here on a business lunch.”
“Business, professor? During the summer?”
“I’m meeting with a journal editor about publishing a paper.”
“It’s one I’ve just started.” Roman feels like he is ten years old again. He hates explaining himself to her. The guilt, he decides, is undeserved.
“I don’t tell you everything I’m working on.”
“I see.” Emaline takes a long look at her husband. After fifteen years, his eyes are still her first attraction. Sea colors always, today they gleam green and amused. In stormy times, his eyes flash gray, cold, the muted reflection of sullen inner skies. He still steals her breath, makes her stomach flip flop. “I won’t keep you then.” Emaline turns and resumes following the maitre d’ to her own table.
Esereé dries her hands carefully, working the towel around the rings on her fingers to avoid spotting the satin dress. She scrutinizes her bared teeth, checking for pink strips of lobster claw, the red pepper strands of shrimp salad, oregano flakes. Her snarl becomes a smile as she takes out the bistro’s matchbook and sets it carefully beside the open tube of lipstick. Esereé O’Leary has a fire to start.
She purses her lips and blows herself a reflected kiss before she picks up the shiny gold-tone tube. The pristine red point, called Beyond Blaze, emerges perfectly angled. This angle, Esereé is careful to preserve as she slowly presses the colored cream stick to her lower lip. Smooth, the makeup slides like satin on skin. She applies the same even coating to her upper lip, and presses both lips together. Then she smiles again.
Taking up the matchbook, she bends the cover open, exposing its whitest interior. This she presses firmly to her own kiss. After she pulls her lips away, she notes the even imprint with satisfaction. Softly, she blows cool air across the mark so that it will dry before she closes the matchbook cover.
Roman is paying cash for the lunch tab as she approaches the table. His hand shakes as he counts the bills onto the small silver tray. They leave the restaurant not touching, but Esereé loops her arm through his as they start down the sidewalk, past the window that looks into Anthony’s Bistro, not seeing the angry red face of Emaline as she forks lobster risotto into her pinched, furious mouth.
Esereé decides to be unpredictable today, so she kisses Roman full on the lips as they wait for the “walk” sign to flash. He groans as she presses her full length against his, brushing against him, there, on the corner of Sixth Ave. and Westover St. She slides her left hand into his right back pocket, depositing her matchbook into the deepest corner.
Roman drops with exhaustion onto the queen-sized bed in his and Emaline’s master bedroom. Emaline is not home which surprises Roman. It is 5:30 p.m. He is punctual, as usual. His wife has never been unpredictable. It’s just as well Emaline is elsewhere, he muses. It saves the trouble of having to fake sincerity.
The lobster risotto is still with Roman, bulging uncomfortably into the waistband of his trousers. All this eating out in pursuit of a woman’s matchbook collection is making him fat. Funny, he giggles, he would have thought the sex would have worked it off of him. He loosens the button of his pants then decides to shower. He tosses the trousers onto the top of the laundry pile, removing his shirt and depositing it on the floor before stepping into the steamy spray.
Emaline is home by the time Roman emerges dripping and reaching for a towel. Emaline watches from the hallway, mentally brushing his wavy, dark hair, kept short — finger deep, the way she likes it. The hair that runs across his chest, down his stomach, is no less dark or wavy but sparser. It, too, is finger deep, the way she likes it. She hates how attractive she finds him, even now. She goes to the bedroom to retrieve what she knows will be in his right back trouser pocket. Her hand shakes as she slides the matchbook in her own pocket, and she attempts nonchalance, sorting laundry when Roman strolls in naked but dry.
“You’re behind on laundry,” Roman says as he reaches for briefs.
“I’ll put a load in now.” Emaline’s voice is glacial.
Roman does not think much about his wife’s tone. His mind is still on the third floor of the Parkview Heights apartment building slowly unzipping a red satin dress. The sound of Emaline’s car pulling out of the driveway gets his attention, however. Now where is she going? Who the hell is going to cook dinner?
Esereé checks the peephole carefully, recognizes Roman’s signature bouquet of perfect red rose buds and opens her apartment door. The FTD delivery person’s forceful shove into Apartment 37 surprises Esereé at first, but then she recognizes Emaline. She also recognizes insanity shining in the woman’s eyes. Astonishing, though, is the pipe wrench that connects with Esereé’s temple.
Emaline gazes on the prone mistress. More names come to mind: banshee, body, corpse, ghost, haunt, phantom, specter, worm chow; suddenly, Emaline likes her.
She removes the slender juice jug of gasoline from her deep coat pocket and pours out the contents, tossing the empty jug. It bounces off Chippy’s taut bottom. Emaline smiles and removes the matchbook from Anthony’s Bistro. Pulling off one match, Emaline strikes and lights the rest of the book with it. Before the torch can burn her fingers, she flings it in the same direction as the gasoline and the jug.
Things catch quickly. Soon Chippy’s scarlet locks begin to smoke. On her way out, Emaline pulls the building fire alarm, but she rides the elevator downstairs. She doesn’t stay to watch the arrival of the fire department. Later, she will regret that she missed seeing the kitchen window spew flames fifteen feet over the avenue, but right now, Emaline Rizotti has a plane to catch.