Saturday, September 1, 2018

'Salix Babylonica'--first of three short stories by TAS

(I) Salix Babylonica

“So... were you and my mom ever, like, together?” The girl strokes my wrist, tracing an invisible bull’s eye around my pulse.
“Please don’t do that if you don’t mean it.” She thinks I don’t know what she’s up to, assumes I have not noticed the humid web of sex she’s been weaving around me now for the past five minutes. And it’s true, I am unaccustomed to such closeness. The intimate proximity of her young body is bliss and terror, lulling my spirit into languor even as it wakens something warm and hungry deep within my too-long slumbering loins. I know that I will be telling her the truth sooner rather than later.
“So?” she presses.
“You have to understand, Willow,” the words fall mechanically from my mouth, “your mother loved you very much—”
“I know—”
“You and your brother were her whole world. Everything else came second.”
“Do you think I haven’t heard that before, Mr. Laclos? Two hours standing in the receiving line at Mom’s visitation and I could probably count the number of people who didn’t say those exact same words on the fingers of one hand. Please, tell me something I don’t know.”
“Call me Jim. You used to call me Jim—”
“You were around almost all the time—”
“Your mother and I were friends.”
Only friends?”
“How old are you now, honey?”
“24 in October. Why?”
“It just doesn’t seem possible—that it could have been so long ago.”
“But you do remember?”
Of course I remember. I remember everything and forget nothing—it is my gift and my burden. I remember her as a bright-eyed 8-year-old, a gawky, towheaded Disney princess-in-waiting, tearing around with her little brother, all giggles and shrieks, blissfully oblivious to the turmoil in her parents’ marriage. A fairly unremarkable little girl, I’d thought, though children seldom hold much interest for me.
But Willow is no longer a child. A dozen years and she has blossomed into a striking young beauty, uncannily grown to resemble the supplely graceful tree for which she is named. Her hair has darkened somewhat, and she has begun to look more like her mom, or, at least, what I imagine Sharon would have looked like in her early twenties, long before we ever met. The young woman before me has that same sultry social-butterfly nonchalance, the same bright blue eyes and easy sunny smile I once found so utterly disarming in the mother.
How could she do this to me? Make a copy of herself only to torment me from beyond the grave.
“What is it you want from me, Willow?”
“I want to know who my mother was.”
“I’m hardly the person to ask—”
“Please, Jim.” She touches my arm.
“Don’t, honey—”
“There are things I want—no—things I need to know—”
“Such as?”
“All the stuff she was supposed to tell me when she was older. The stories and the secrets, the life lessons, the warnings.”
“Didn’t she ever warn you about me?”
“I’m serious, Jim—and I’m seriously confused. See, I always thought I knew exactly who she was, but lately I’ve discovered things, things that make me wonder if I ever really knew her at all. It’s as if I’d found two pictures of her that don’t look anything alike, and I can’t figure out how to reconcile them. I need to know the whole truth, the good and the bad. I need to understand this weird jigsaw puzzle that was her life—”
“And you think I’m a piece of that puzzle?”
“I know you are, Jim.” She looks me in the eye for the first time. “I found some of the e-mails the two of you sent each other all those years ago—”
“She kept them?”
“She kept everything.”
“I don’t know what to say, honey. I...”
I promised never to tell and I never have. I was always true to her, at least as regards that small final request she made of me. But does this mean I’m free at last? Can I tell the daughter the truth now that she’s found out on her own? Now that she’s—
“I’m not trying to blackmail you if that’s what you’re thinking,” Willow says. “I only want to understand—”
“There was something about the passion in those e-mails, something about the way you got into her head and under her skin. She showed you a side of herself that nobody else ever got to see, and, to tell you the truth, I’m kind of jealous.”
“She had lots of friends—”
“Oh, my mom knew lots of people, but I can’t find anybody who really knew her. She was married five times, but none of those guys—not even my dad—seemed to have a clue about what was deep down inside her soul. None of them ever really owned her heart. And all those strangers at the visitation telling me what a great friend of theirs she’d always been, and how much fun she was to be around? Well, it’s true, she was friendly with hundreds and hundreds of people, but I don’t know a single person who was really and truly her friend—except maybe you, Jim.”
“We were close for a little while, I suppose.”
“Close. That’s one way of putting it.”
“Yes, for a year or so, until we weren’t.”
What is the opposite of close where the heart is concerned? Not far away. No: Forgotten, perpetually unremembered, ever out of mind—
“She always seemed happy when you were around. I remember one time when Ash was about 6, he said ‘Mommy! You should marry Jim!’ and when she asked him why he said ‘because Jim makes you sing!’”
“The darndest things from the mouths of babes.”
“You were together, weren’t you?”
“If I say that your mother and I were lovers, what difference can it possibly make now?”
“It makes a difference to me if I can begin to understand her.”
“And you think that flirting with me will help you gain insight?”
“If I can see the same things she saw in you—”
“She saw a much younger man back then.”
“—and what you saw in her.”
“Tell me, Jim, am I anything like her?”
“You’re beautiful like her, honey—”
“And you’re a good little actress—”
“Is that what you think?”
“Just like her, yes. She was extremely good at using people to get what she wanted.”
“The way I’ve been using you this afternoon?”
“Are you denying it?”
“No. But let me ask you this, Jim. Can you make me sing? Can you...” she whispers the rest in my ear.
“Willow.” I reach out to frame her lovely face in a garland of trembling fingers, staring into the infinite blue of her eyes, the calm surface sparkling now with a promise of salacious anarchy. But will I also find her mother’s madness there?
The moment unfolds slowly, though I will probably remember it only as a fevered blur, an aging agnostic’s fleeting glimpse of heaven. We undress each other, uncertainly at first, with a kind of awkward reverence, paying our final red-faced respects to the past. The details themselves are unimportant. All that matters now is that she is perfect, young, and beautiful, and willing, freely giving herself over to the tender mercies of my lust.
My mouth waters at the sight of her body—so wondrously, aptly willowy—her long lissome limbs, and the sweeping, luxurious arc of her torso. She is naked now except for the silver crucifix around her neck, like the one her mother always used to wear—or perhaps it is the same one—Jesus resting in the blooming bosom of eternal youth. We lie on the couch together. I use my tongue and fingers, drawing her into a state of moist wakefulness, though she has been ready from the beginning.
She shudders as I come into her. Wanton, she arches her platinum cunt to meet my dusky animal thrusts, over-excitedly at first, unable to control her breathing. I slow the pace long enough to reassure her, giving her the time to relax. We kiss, open-mouthed, as beneath me, she eases gradually into the rhythm I set, the intricately metered cadences of grownup lovemaking. She whimpers softly as I fill her, each forward surge eliciting a giggle of joyful surprise, each lugubrious withdrawal, a questioning sigh of forlorn despair, until, at last, the daughter comes the way the mother never dared, with a full-throated wail of primal ascent, her body tremoring in hysterical ecstasy from the blazing epicenter of its core, as she begs to be taken again—as somewhere, far away, the ghost of her mother begins to weep.

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