Saturday, August 11, 2018

'The Fire Hostage (Part 2)'--a story by TAS

(Part 2)

The stench of death hung heavily about the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Above that cheerless pit it lingered, the odor of a thousand rotting things; smoldering brimstone, blood, and ordure, failed courage, sorrow, and despair.
“Not far now!” the dwarf led on like an impatient waif, taper in hand as he scurried through a warren of narrow-winding tunnels, the most capacious scarcely broad enough to admit a child, save a man full-grown. “Make haste!”
“So eager to meet your doom?” Ducking low, his back to the wall, Garin expelled the breath from his chest, barely able even then to squeeze beyond a treacherous restriction.
“Nay! Zvergrotz will surely live!” The dwarf’s voice echoed dully in the gloom. “As richly as a landed lord when once the treasure’s mine.”
At last the way widened before them, for they had reached a cavern deep within the earth, where, long ages past, the hands of men had hewn a city from the living rock. Through high-vaulted corridors they passed, great halls of carvéd block and gravéd stone, so vast that one might wander for many days without ever coming to the end.
Yet, even now, the path was not without its perils. For, here and there at intervals along the passageway, flickeringly illumed from dreary fires far beyond, dust-smoking heaps of human bone loomed up like morbid mountains, disgorged from glutted catacombs through buckled fissures in the walls; obstacles impassable, compelling rashly-improvised retreats through lightless galleries where only skittering rodent hosts remained to rule the gloom. Their red eyes peeked out covetously from amongst the rubble, precarious mounds of shattered masonry where, from time to time, an interloper might espy the detail of a pallid human face, shards of statues toppled from upended plinths, once-proud features immortalized in marble now fractured into voiceless infamy.
Presently through the branching halls there came a sound like the lonesome keening of the wind, desolate in its melancholy rise and fall.
“The serpent wakes.” Zvergrotz ran to cower at Garin’s back. “Have a care lest we be roasted alive!”
“Which way then?” The hero drew his sword.
“It matters not.” The little man blubbered in fear as flame leapt from a hundred hearths throughout the city. “Doom comes for us anon!” And surely it was true, for the fire spilled forth in a great torrent before them.
“In time,” said Garin, withdrawing into an alcove along the wall, whence the flames scorched neither man nor dwarf. “But not this day.” The niche into which they had retreated was itself a disused antechamber. Beyond this stretched a curving thoroughfare, a spiral ramp leading still further into the depths.
“S’blood!” The dwarf held his nose, for the vile stench of ordure waxed more keenly the further they descended.
“Ah!” The hero brightened at a thought. “Mayhap we’ll yet outwit the beast!” So saying, he bade the dwarf climb upon his back. Thus, like a steed with his rider, far and fiercely did bold Garin hasten, and for a while until, at last, he came to the place where the monster held its solitary sway, keeping drowsy watch o’er all its vast ill-gotten hoard.
And what a treasure it was! As far as the eye could behold it lay in such extravagant profusion as might seduce the noblest mind: bricks of gold in gleaming heaps, plate of silver piled high, and gem-encrusted drinking horns, gilt armor, scabbards, helms, and swords with jeweled hilts; even noble crowns, purloined from the heads of kings and princes, scattered carelessly about the floor like the cast-off trifles of a spoiled child. Beyond these, coin of every weight and value spilt forth from ancient yawning chests, more than the greediest of men might dream to covet.
Yet all that shone was not fair or wondrous, for here and there amongst that vast surfeit of wealth, jutting up above the glittering peaks, enormous skeletons might be beheld, the hulking remains of mighty monsters, spines like gargantuan tree trunks, and broken ribcages like the frames of houses, ravaged and burned, limbs twisted and broken, sharp and deadly as a phalanx of spears.
And in the very midst of it all, a towering massif thrust up amongst those grisly hills, the dragon itself, still half aslumber, coiled jealously around the spoils it favored most. Perpetually bereft of light, its flesh shone with a ghostly gray pallor, appearing to glow in the subterranean gloom. Its sides were as battered shield walls, scales singed and blackened by a hundred battles. Its claws were each the size of a heavy broadsword, and twice as deadly; its legs, short and stout as gnarled roots, but powerful and swift. Most terrible of all, its hingeless, wormlike jaw, a yawning pit of death, edges studded with row upon row of venomous fangs.
Garin could only marvel at the sight, for he had never stalked so fearsome a beast before. “Wait here,” said he, “for I shall steal around behind ere the curséd creature stirs.” So saying, he took his leave of the dwarf and made his way, half-crouched among the shimmering mounds of booty. Thus, creeping forward with artful stealth, would he surprise the serpemt in its wakeful torpor. And, sure enough, at last he stood within a hand’s breadth of the monster’s side.
But ere he raised his sword to strike, there rose a great commotion in the hall.
“Halloo!” The dwarf stood atop a heap of treasure as he called out loudly to the beast. “See what Zvergrotz has delivered just as he promised?”
The monster yawned by way of answer, sending a voluminous ring of smoke into the air. Garin scrambled to keep out of sight as the dragon stirred.
“Remember the bargain that was struck between us!” Zvergrotz demanded. “Have I not kept my part in full with this offering? Ah! See what a fine morsel he will make!”
The dragon spewed forth a bolt of fire that lit the cavern all about, the light redoubled in the shimmering mirrors of yellow gold and pale silver littering the floor. Yet the monster itself was quite blind, responding in no way to the sudden brightness. 
“And you shall keep your word as well,” cried the dwarf, though his voice quavered now with doubt and trepidation. “As much as Zvergrotz can carry in payment for this feast. Be we yet agreed?”
The serpent roared as if in ascent, whipping its tail about like a mighty flail with which to send the interloper to his doom.
But even now, having lost the element of surprise, the youth kept his wits about him. Thus with bold alacrity, he leapt upon the dragon’s back, whence the beast thrashed about wildly, determined to be rid of its tormentor. Yet the more furiously it struggled, the more adamantly the hero held fast, keeping his grip with one hand, while, with the other, weilding his enchanted sword, biding his time to strike.
At last, the daring hero plunged his blade through the back of the serpent’s throat, bracing himself for what he knew must follow. In fury did the beast rear up, vomiting fire from its gullet, though grue-ish ichor followed soon enough. Yet still, not altogether vanquished, the dragon charged forward at an ungainly gallop, smelling at the air as it cast about with its head, determined in its blind agony to be avenged upon the trespasser.
Thrice more did the hero strike, and thrice more did he wound the beast, though its ferocity was not abated in the least. At last, Garin rose to his feet, riding the serpent’s back as one might bestride the heaving deck of a ship at sea. Thus, clutching the hilt in both hands, the youth stabbed downward with all his might, striking so forceful a blow as to rend the monster in twain, cleaving head from shoulder with a single fearsome stroke. A river of gore flowed forth from the stump of its neck even as the carcass juddered in the final throes of death. But ere the curséd head did strike the ground, a roar of despair escaped its broken maw like the tolling of a broken bell above a sepulcher.
Then Garin saw that some of the dragon’s blood had spilled upon him in the fray, and now lay spattered o’er his face and hands. Unthinking, the lad licked the blood from his lips and fingers. Yet, no sooner had the blood been tasted upon his tongue, then he heard a strange voice resounding in his mind:
How now shall I slay him? But not too soon, for who else will help carry the treasure from this place? Curse that foolish beast!
In a moment, Garin came to understand that it was the dwarf’s own thoughts he was hearing.
I suppose I’ll have to do it myself. Once the treasure’s been removed, and he is weary from his labors, after he settles down to rest… Yes!  I’ll creep up to the place where he sleeps and plunge a dagger deep into his heart… Only for now, let him believe all’s well…
“A silver pffenig for your thoughts,” Garin said slyly. “What’s to become of all these riches now that their guardian is gone?”
“It’s ours at last!” Zvergrotz turned about to face the hero, feigning innocence, dancing and skipping about like a merry child, though his thoughts remained as dark as the pit about them. “The treasure is ours!”
“Ours?” Garin spoke coldly.
“Aye,” cried the dwarf. “Plenty to go around…” Especially once I’ve slain you in your sleep…
“So much wealth,” said Garin. “You wouldn’t be tempted to betray me?”
“What’s this? Nay! Zvergrotz is a dwarf of his word!”
“Indeed? You’re not tempted even a little? Not thinking of burying a dagger in my heart?”
“Zvergrotz would never…” The dwarf affected outrage. “Zvergrotz is noble! Zvergrotz is loyal to a fault, and ever generous… See?” He tossed a handful of silver coins in Garin’s direction. “Let the gods bear witness to my munificence!”
“Verily.” Garin approached the faithless halfling, wading  hip-deep through a lake of blood and steaming viscera. “Let me likewise be generous and dispatch you quickly.”
“Mercy!” cried the dwarf. “Spare poor Zvergrotz his life!”
“And what should I have in return?”
“My gratitude and… half the treasure?”
“When you had already sold me to the serpent, just as you once sold me to the ogre? Surely so noble a life is worth more than such a pittance?”
“I beg you, son of Lotharing,” the dwarf croaked piteously, “pray, stay your hand! Zvergrotz will be as good as his word!”
“How well I know the worth of your word,” said Garin, still coming on, sword drawn and ready.
“Nay!” Zvergrotz began to pelt the hero with whatever missile came most easily to hand; volleys of gold and silver coin, the merest handful a fortune; sacks and purses groaning with jewels and precious stones, sapphires, diamonds, and pearls, gilt trinkets, chains, and baubles, flung with ruthless desperation in some vain hope that his doom might be delayed.
“Cease, feckless fool!” Garin cried. “Today your pathetic destiny is decided. This cavern has become your tomb, and so shall it be, both now and forever more.”
“Keep away!” Zvergrotz shrieked in terror. But as he endeavored to flee in the face of the hero’s relentless advance, the dwarf tripped and fell. The heap of treasure on which he had made his stand suddenly gave way, collapsing in a treacherous landslide, carrying the little man headfirst towards the bottom. “No!” he cried, “Surely this cannot be my fate! Surely Zvergrotz will—” But his words were stopped in his mouth, and in their place a trickle of blood spurted from between his lips, for the dwarf’s body had been impaled on one of the sharp bone pikes half hidden like a hunter’s snare amongst the dragon’s shimmering hoard. He lay, gasping and panting, his eyes bulging in disbelief as his fate dawned upon him.
And now the rats came swarming, drawn by the odor of looming death, hungry, ravenous things, they descended upon the little man, and the last sounds Garin heard ere he turned away were the wordless screams of that craven soul being devoured alive.
Thanks for nothing, little man, Garin thought as he turned his back upon the dwarf, making his way as best he could, holding the enchanted sword before him like a glowing lantern in the gloom. Moving cautiously along, he cocked his ears, listening for the telltale sounds of wind or water, some sign that might forebode escape. At last, he heard the roar and rush of an underground river somewhere far away. But before he could reconoiter the pathway ahead, he found himself falling, a portion of the floor having given way beneath his feet. He plummeted like a stone into the darkness below until, at last, after what seemed a fall of many leagues, he came down, splashing and spluttering in the icy churning waters, still clutching the hilt of his sword. The fast-moving stream bore him along through narrow tunnels and yawning caverns turned to lakes, roofs open to the starlight far above, and yet again into the blackness, down rocky chutes and over plunging cataracts, his limbs bruised and sore.
In time the river carried him out into the world. Washed clean in the flood, the hero stood upon a stony bank and turned his eyes again to the east. The strange light still shone upon the moutainside, and there, bold Garin knew, his destiny awaited.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

LN Bey's Review of 'The Erotic Writer's Thesaurus'

Lovely review of The Erotic Writer's Thesaurus from author LN Bey today on their blog.
Read it here.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

'The Fire Hostage' (Part 1)--a story by TAS

NOTE: Parts 1 and 3 of The Fire Hostage first appeared on author and fairy-tale maven extraordinaire  Madeleine Shade's website in early 2015. Madeleine had invited me to write something for her, and I was more than delighted to accept her invitation, though with a limit of 4000 words my ambition far outstripped my word count, and I had to leave the middle part of the tale untold, at least for that time being. I finally  completed Part 2 earlier this year (February, 2018) bringing the total ending word count to 7,463, 

In celebration of my 60th birthday on August 9, 2018, I offer the story, complete for the first time, in three installments. I've included a few of Arthur Rackham's classic color illustrations for Wagner's Ring cycle, as The Fire Hostage is closely based on Siegfried, the third opera in the cycle. 

Enjoy! (TAS)

 (Part 1)

Once upon a time—and a fell and fearsome time it was, when endless twilight lay upon the land—there lived a lowly orphan waif whom men called Findlekind. A callow and untutored lad, brusque of speech and coarse of manner, the youngling had been set to work as a striker’s apprentice when he was scarcely tall enough to hoist a hammer. And so in the forge he labored for many a year, growing at last into a strong and comely youth.
Now, having been raised among hard, rough-spoken men, Findlekind was ignorant of his origin and lineage. Neither had he known the companionship of a woman, nor ever, in truth, set eyes upon one save from afar. And yet, for all, the lad knew naught of fear; undaunted by darkness or danger, brash and impetuous as the wild beasts he often joyed to stalk beneath the spreading branches of the trees, even to the far reaches of the great green wood. So it was that when he came to be of an age, Findlekind took his leave of the brigands who had fostered him, and boldly struck out on his own with a mind to explore the wider world, to seek his fortune, and to learn the secret of his birth. “Mayhap I shall come to know fear as well,” said he.
Some leagues to the east, upon a barren mountainside, a mysterious light was seen to shine perpetually in the gloaming, a shimmering roundel of varicolored fire that danced and flickered, silent and graceful as the lambent curtains so often wont to ring the northern sky. It was toward this wonder, like a guiding star, that Findlekind made his solitary way. And so it fell out upon an hour belonging neither to day nor to night, that the youth found himself  deep in the murky heart of the wood, a place where even the bravest souls were often loath to venture.
And there, before the narrow mouth of a cavern, the fearless callant came upon a dwarf, a vile creature of baleful countenance and irksome humor, who, with peevish curse and impious oath upon his gnarled lips, labored at a battered forge of ancient elvish make, the dull ring-a-ting-ting of his tiny hammer echoing among the ageless trees.
“You there, boy,” cried the dwarf, “come, help build up the fire for me, for, in truth, I cannot make it hot enough myself. Look lively, now, my son!”
“You are no sire of mine,” Findlekind replied, and it was surely true, for the youth stood three times taller than his would-be master, pleasingly formed of body and limb with flowing locks of golden hair, a handsome human creature born of beauty and strength. “In any case you are a fool to fear a little heat, even so small and weak a thing as you are.”
“Nay, ‘tis you’re the fool,” croaked the dwarf, “for, though scant and frail, I know the secret of a great treasure-hoard that lies hidden but a little way from here. I’ll share it with you, on my name, Zwergrotz, I swear, if you’ll but help me put this shattered sword to rights.” He held up the splintered remnants of the blade so that the youth might examine it.
“I’ve never seen its like before,” said Findlekind as he turned the pieces this way and that in his hands. “Such a blade was surely spell-forged, for the edges are like adamant, and the face of it shines with the gathered light of a thousand twinkling stars. So marvelous a thing must have been formed in the magic fire of Loge himself, for only such an unearthly blaze could ever burn hot enough to melt the metal.”
“Do I look like I’ve got magic fire?” Zwergrotz grumbled bitterly. “Think you I have but to whistle for the Trickster to come panting like a hound at my heel? No, no! ‘Tis not so! Zvergrotz might as well wish for chickens that roast themselves upon a spit, or sacks of gold that fall like hail from cloudless noon-bright skies. Alas! The gods are cruel to such as I. Their favors fall on comelier folk, wherefore poor dwarves are left to toil and fend as best they might. Come, then, show some pity, and work the bellows for me, boy!”
“If so I must.” The young man heaved an indolent sigh. “But only if you will tell me how this goodly weapon came to be sundered, and of the hero who wielded it. For combat that could shatter a blade like this must surely have been fierce, and how I’d have thrilled to witness so mighty a battle! Yet I suppose I can settle for your telling of the tale instead.”
“I know naught of all that,” said the dwarf. “The thing came to me as you behold it even now.”
“And how was that, my little man? Whence came this wonder into your possession?”
“From the hand of a dying wench—Lorne her name. Great with child was she, weary and weak, for she had been fleeing a terrible bane: her lover felled upon the field of battle, and the gods’ own minions pursuing her through the forest, seeking after her, or so she claimed, to snatch the babe. She bid me take the sword and foster the child so that he might one day wield it in honor of his sire.”
“What then?” said Findlekind, pumping the bellows with all his might until the fire roared hot and high.
“Pffttt! What then indeed?” The dwarf’s spittle hissed upon the coals. “The wench died in the whelping of a son, naming the child with her final breath. ‘Garin,’ said she, e’er I could lift the cursed thing to her breast, ‘My little Garin. son of Lotharing, my brother, my love...’ And that was that.”
“So what became of the child?” asked Findlekind.
“What do you suppose,” Zwergrotz laughed scornfully, “that I’d have aught to do with a bastard born of incest? Nay! Better to curse myself a thousand times! I kept the sword as payment for my trouble, and sold the squalling brat to an ogre, the better to be rid of it.”
“Try the fire now,” said Findlekind, “for, in truth, I think it burns too hot for any common metal.”
“Still no good,” complained the dwarf. “It’s useless! Useless!”
“Patience, little master,” said Findlekind. “I’ll make it hotter still. Only tell me the rest of the tale as I work.”
“The rest? Aye. There’s more to be told. The ogre had not gone far with the brat. He meant to roast it up with onions and turnips, and make a soup from the bones that were left after the feast—I recollect his going on about it, drooling, and smacking his fetid lips all the while. But being quite stupid like the others of his kind, and short-sighted withal, the hapless fool lost his way in the dusk before he could reach home. T’was then he stumbled into a camp of tall-folk, a band of deserters from some war or another, and a desperate lot they were. They fell upon the gormless fiend and slew him. I heard the commotion from a distance, the shouts and roars and howls of rage, and all the while the infant  bawling like as to wake the dead. T’was they, the tall-folk, took the child, but whether to foster it or feast upon it themselves I was not keen to learn. All I know is that the cursed squalling ceased, and I was content to have peace and quiet at last.”
“Methinks the fire can get no hotter now,” said Findlekind. “Give me a turn at the striking plate, and we’ll see what a pair of strong hands can do.”
“Very well, boy. Use that!” Zvergrotz nodded towards a heavy mallet that leaned against the cavern wall. “A clumsy thing it is and poorly balanced, but better suited to your size, I’ll wager.” Findelkind hefted it easily and began to work the metal. A spray of orange sparks flew up with the first clanking blow, like an angry flock of fiery birds rising to their doom. And over, and over, seven and twenty times again, the anvil rang, until, at last, the broken pieces of the sword were roughly joined anew.
“You’ve done it!” cried the dwarf, dancing about for joy. “With this the treasure surely shall be mine!”
“Perhaps.” Findlekind examined his work with a frown. “Yet even in so hot a blaze, these welds are weak at best. No telling how long it will be before the thing breaks once again. I must needs reheat the metal that it may be forged with greater care.”
“So be it,” Zvergrotz muttered impatiently, “only be quick.”
Now, as he labored, an idle notion came into Findlekind’s head. I wish I’d known my father and my mother. I wonder what they were like, and how they came to know each other e’er I was gotten... And then a strange and wonderful  thought came to him: What if I were the infant in the dwarf’s tale? Could I be the son of Lotharing, the great warrior, and Lorne, the fair and faithful? At that very moment an errant spark leapt up from the forge to waken the lad from his daydream, scorching him painfully upon the chest, quite close to the heart.
“Donner’s cock!” the youth swore in a loud voice. “Will this cursed metal never soften?

Melt! Melt! Flow together like a river and be one
Where there were many and yet none!
May Loge, the fire-god’s will be done!”

No sooner had Findlekind uttered the words than his prayer was answered, for there came a great gust of wind, and a column of brilliant viridescent flame fell from the sky with a yawning roar. The unearthly green-gold fire danced upon the crimson coals with a sound now like the tinkling of tiny bells or again the mischievous laughter of a child. Yet the green fire did not overwhelm the red, but only made the forge burn hotter until the metal was soft enough again to work.
Findlekind wasted no time, but laid the glowing blade upon the anvil and struck home, folding and refolding the metal three times by three times, and hammering three times again, until the sword had been turned no fewer than seven and twenty times in all, a number most pleasing to the gods.
“‘Tis done!” he cried, lofting the weapon in haughty salute to the glory of youth, which knows nothing of the impossible. “Now, to try it!” Findlekind twirled the sword about, tossing the hilt from hand to hand in order to test its balance. Then, grasping it firmly, he brought it down edge-on against the fulciment itself. A single blow was all it took to cleave the anvil clean in twain.
“Ha! At last” The dwarf hopped up and down, grabbing greedily for the hilt. “’Tis mine at last!”
“Have a care, little man,” said Findlekind, knocking the dwarf into the dirt, “lest I be of a mind to sunder your miserable carcass as well, for I know now who I am!”
“It cannot be!” cried Zwergrotz with a piteous squeak. “Surely, you cannot be—”
“Aye!” said Garin, for this truly was his name, “I am the son of Lotharing and Lorne! T’was my mother you found in the forest, and this very sword you stole from her dying hands. T’was to her you gave your worthless word, turning away before the warmth had even left her to sell me to the ghoul, and wash your cursed hands of mother and child, all in a single craven stroke. I should slay you here and now for what you’ve done!”
“Mercy!” The hapless creature cowered upon the ground. “Have pity on poor Zvergrotz! I’ll share my treasure with ye, young hero! Did I not promise to divide it so? Only aid me in retrieving it, and I shall be as good as my word.”
“What good was your word to my mother?” Garin towered menacingly above the dwarf. “I shall have my revenge upon you, feckless worm, of that you may be sure. Yet, perhaps I owe you some little grace for telling me of my beginnings. And if there’s treasure to be had, well, you’ll lead me to it and soon, for a wealthy man can slay a traitor on the morrow as easily as a poor man make short work of a cowardly wretch today.”
“I will! I will!” The dwarf groveled at the young man’s feet, crawling forward to kiss his boots. “Zvergrotz will keep his word this time! He promises!”
“Up now!” Garin prodded the loathsome supplicant with the tip of the sword. “Make haste, for I’m impatient to be done with you.”


Saturday, July 28, 2018

'Blind Date (Part 2)'--a short story by TAS

Blind Date (Part 2)

Ginny is parked a few blocks north of the tower complex, and we have time to talk along the way.
“Zane seems like a really nice guy,” she says.
It’s not like her to make small talk and my laughter brings her up short.
“What?” she says. “What’s funny?”
“Well, you have to admit that ‘he seems like a really nice guy’ is kind of an odd thing to say about somebody who was balls-deep inside you not five minutes ago. Seems like a really nice guy to me... Yeah, I’ll bet!”
“Tell me about him,” Ginny says, “I mean, seriously.”
“Well, he is a nice guy. One of the nicest I’ve ever known. It’s always kind of bugged me that he’s never been able to find the right person.”
“Because he’s blind?”
“There are lots of reasons that don’t necessarily have anything to do with his being blind—”
“But that’s a part of it, right?”
“I suppose—do you remember the night we first met?”
“Sure, at Cheryl’s party.”
“And do you remember who made the first move?”
“I remember us talking... but, no, I don’t remember who started the conversation.”
“I can’t forget. It was you, Ginny. You came up to me, bold as brass, and dove into a discussion like you’d known me your whole life. That conversation was one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me. Do you know why?”
“Tell me.”
“It was because you were so direct, so open, and honest, and verbal with me. You made it easy for me to pick up on the signals you were sending out. I didn’t have to guess about the hidden meanings in your body language.”
“Oh...” It begins to dawn on her.
“You’re already at an enormous social disadvantage when you’re visually impaired—when you can’t read people’s gestures or pick up on their visual communication. Fully-sighted people take it all for granted; being able to read the non-verbal subtext, or take the hints another person gives by the way she carries herself, or the look in her eye, or the way her upper lip twitches when she’s nervous. It’s like a set of subtitles that aren’t necessarily a literal translation of the spoken dialogue on the screen—and sometimes might even be the exact opposite of what’s being said. Body language and gestures add the deeper, richer, truer layers of meaning, and those of us who have sound but no picture really are handicapped in that department.”
“I hadn’t thought about it like that,” she says.
“Every time we saw each other after that night, especially when we started finding excuses to be alone together, you let me know—showed me in no uncertain terms—that you liked touching and being touched, that you wanted to be kissed and held and cuddled, and that it was OK for me to take the lead—be the kind of  dominant that turns you on.  For me, it was a dream come true. I mean, look: I have some vision, but I can’t read people from more than a few inches away. Imagine not being able to see them at all. Wonderful as it can be, you still miss out on the deeper subtleties of seduction, all those exhilarating nuances, the miniscule movements fraught with meaning, the things that make romance so thrilling and mysterious and fun. It becomes like a minefield.”
“A minefield covered with eggshells,” she says. “It’s kind of sad when you think about it.”
“To have to face those kinds of impossible hurdles everyday—”
“They’re not impossible, Ginny, just slightly more challenging than the average lazy-ass sighted wuss is used to. Jesus! If everything had to be easy, grown men would be playing T-ball in the major leagues. If everybody was expected to be good at something the first time they tried it, nobody would ever have sex more than once. Most people are given the benefit of the doubt concerning their potential abilities. If they express an interest in something, the attitude is: Sure. Go for it. Give it the ol’ beginner’s try. If you fall on your ass the first time, get up and try again. Then start practicing, concentrating, honing, improving, getting good. We’ll cut you the slack you need to grow, give you the space and time you need to fail if you have to on the way to achieving your goal.
“And that, my friend, is what being normal is all about; having the opportunity—no, the right—to try and fail like everybody else. But sighted people in their paternalistic wisdom are so concerned about protecting us ‘poor blind folks’ from ourselves that they routinely deny us this most basic human dignity.
“Let me tell you a little story. That summer when I was at the state school, they would organize recreational activities for the kids in the evening—like the thing with the go-carts where I first met Zane. One night, Miss Fotzenberg had us all line up for a game. She put shaving cream on a toy balloon and had us take turns trying to ‘shave’ the balloon with a safety razor. Sure enough, the balloon would always, always pop, because, of course, blind kids are all dull-witted, clumsy, incompetent things who will never amount to anything in their lives—never be anything other than clumsy, incompetent blind people who can’t perform the simplest task without a sighted person’s help.
“It struck me as odd that anybody would be able to pop a balloon with a safety razor, even if they really put their mind to it. And, sure enough, when it got to be my turn, I was extra careful, wanting to be the one kid in the line who didn’t fuck up. I was almost done, when I saw—saw!—the teacher’s hand coming up from underneath with a needle to pop the balloon, exactly as she’d done a dozen times before with the others. That ‘funny joke’ of hers was nothing more than a sadistic exercise in humiliation—an experiment designed to condition us—to make us all feel worthless. The message of that game was loud and clear: Don’t. Even. Try.”
“Oh my God, Hank, that’s terrible!”
“Thank your god I never went back to that school as a regular student. But Zane—”
“Was stuck there? I feel so sorry for him—”
“No pity, baby. Pity is the last thing he needs or wants. Pity is part of the reason he’s alone.”
“Guess I don’t understand.”
“You can love someone you pity, but can you honestly fall in love with them?
“It could never be the true love of equals, because the pitier always feels somehow superior to the pitied. The object of pity is just that, an object, a kind of pet, like a dog or a cat the master can project his own shallow, manipulative notions of dominance onto, his own imaginary nobility and righteousness.
“Most people’s first instinct when they meet somebody like Zane is to feel sorry for the poor blind bastard, and they never get past that first impression, no matter what. They’ve judged him, classified him, pigeonholed him, folded and flattened him into a trite, one-dimensional factoid before he’s spoken a single word out loud. They never allow him to speak for himself or allow themselves to see the accomplished, smart and incredibly deep human being he truly is. All the well-meaning, ignorant, pitying assholes see when they look at Zane is a blind guy, an object, a thing—”
“Isn’t that how we saw him this afternoon though? Didn’t I just treat him to a pity fuck?”
“Is that how you felt?”
She thinks about it for a second.
“Neither did I. Oh, I suppose somebody might think of it that way, but I’m pretty sure Zane doesn’t. Take his blindness out of the equation and how is what we did any different than what sighted swingers do every night of the week? Besides, it’s not like you were stringing him along or offering to go steady.”
“Maybe I should have,” she teases.
“Don’t even think about it,” I say. “You’re mine!”
We are half way to the car. A bleak cloister of dwarfing concrete pillars beneath a vacant office building affords us a transient moment of privacy. I take her in my arms for a kiss, re-breathing through my nose to make it last. Finally, she breaks away, and we resume the death march of the fast-waning weekend.
“So tell me, baby,” she says, “weren’t you just the tiniest bit jealous watching Zane and me getting it on together like that?”
“Kind of ironic, don’t you think, me being jealous of you with another guy?”
“Well, are you?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, a little.”
“Only a little?”
“What do you want to hear, honey? Seems to me we’re a long way past being surprised or jealous about anything.”
“And what does that mean, Hank?”
“It means... how can I be jealous of you and Zane for doing exactly the same thing that you and I have been doing behind your husband’s back for half a year now?”
“What?” She is stung by my too-casual reference to our adultery. “I thought you were OK with this—I mean with me and Zane today.”
“I was—I am. I helped set it up, didn’t I? It’s not like one of us came up with the idea and dragged the other one along kicking and screaming. And if you’re asking if I regret it now, the answer is no, I don’t.”
“Do you regret us—you and me, the way we’ve been these past few months?”
“I love you, Ginny. I’ll never feel bad about anything we’ve done together.”
“I want to believe you,” she says. “So, did you get off on it?”
“Off on what?”
“You know, silly!” She punches me in the shoulder.
“You mean, watching my best friend screw my best girl? Yes. It had its discrete charms—voyeurism’s a major hoot. Anyway, it’s not like I could tell you guys to get a room.”
“Is that what you wanted to do?”
“No. What I really wanted was to be in there with the two of you, maybe pleasuring an alternate hole or three. I figured you’d be cool with it. I just didn’t know how Zane would feel about having a co-pilot.”
“I could handle two sticks at once.”
“I know you could, baby. And Zane is the only guy I would ever feel totally comfortable sharing you with, because... I love him, too, like a brother. And I could never see myself in a threesome without another guy I loved that way.”
“Awww! That is so sweet!”
“It’s what they call compersion—feeling joy when your partner has great sex with somebody else.”
“I didn’t know there was a word for it,” she says.
“True. I promise.”
“Mm hmm, and what if we had asked you to leave?”
“I would have left.”
“Liar!” She punches me in the arm again.
“I swear, Ginny—ow!—I would have left.”
“If you’d both asked nicely? Of course. I would’ve taken the elevator down to the lobby and paced around for half an hour, all the while imagining the two of you together, and that would have been pleasure and pain in pretty much equal amounts. I’d still have been glad about it, but I can’t deny the jealousy would have been a lot stronger, too. Not to mention the fantasies I’d be having if all I had to rely on was my imagination. It’d be a million times more vivid and intense than an actual memory—mainly because the laws of physics are mere guidelines in the realm of wet dreams.”
“You are such a smartass! Shame we didn’t throw you out.”
“I’m glad you didn’t, honey.”
“Seriously, Hank, you’re the smartest man I’ve ever met, the most perceptive, the most passionate. You see farther and deeper than anyone I’ve ever known.”
“And you, my lovely Virginia, are the sweetest, most intelligent, kind, empathetic, generous woman I’ve ever been with or would ever care to be with.”
I draw her close for one last kiss. She pulls away too abruptly and I am confused.
“Sorry.” She is suddenly melancholy. “I miss my kids, that’s all.”
“I understand, baby.” This is my lover’s way of trying to re-establish her real-world identity. Distancing herself from me and our shared world is how she begins to re-enter that other life.
She walks away from me like a stranger in her tight jeans and loose-fitting blouse, and I am in agony, hollowed out, empty, utterly alone. We’ll always have this city—this weekend—the final afternoon’s dalliance a memory like no other. In years to come we will recollect the glorious abandon of that hour and know that there was a time when we were truly alive together. And yet, I sense that the experience has already begun to come between us like some shameful secret—that we will look back on the moment of our greatest bliss, our highest exultation, only to realize that it was the beginning of the end for us.
I wish I could not see it all so clearly.