Stephen Faulkner is a native New Yorker, transplanted with his wife, Joyce, to Atlanta, Georgia. Steve is now retired and living the good life in Central Florida. He has recently had stories published in such publications as Aphelion Webzine, Hellfire Crossroads, Temptation Magazine, Hobo Pancakes, The Erotic Review, Liquid Imagination, Sanitarium Magazine, The Satirist, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Fictive Dream, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Literary Hatchet, ZiN Daily, Longshot Island, AHF Magazine, Midnight Street Anthology #3 and the anthology, “Crackers,” published by Bridge House Press. He and Joyce are both now retired and living the good life in Central Florida keeping busy volunteering at different non-profit organizations and going to the theater as often as they can find the time. His novel, Aliana in Paradise, was published by World Castle Publishing in 2018 and is available through Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. His second novel, Lunar Effects, was recently published by Eden Stories Press and is also available through Amazon.com.
“Oh, hello,” said Jack Aptley, turning his attention to the large mirror on the wall as if he had just heard his name called. “You look very familiar. We have met before, haven’t we? Let me see if I can remember…. No, don’t tell me. It’s right on the tip of my….”
After some quiet deliberation the name came to him. He was a little surprised that this time it was female; most of the fictional characters that he created through this rather novel means were male. Most of them, as well, bore some resemblance, whether in the way they thought or in their general background, to Jack himself, a fact which usually made the actual writing that much easier. The several magazine editors with whom he had contact seemed to appreciate this. A vague worry rose in the back of Jack’s mind, then, whether or not a female protagonist would be accepted, say, by Alex Bensher, the editor who had commissioned the story he was now just beginning. Putting the concern aside, he sat down in his armless secretary’s chair and wrote down the arrived-at name: Cheryl McKendry.
He swiveled the chair around, gritting his teeth at the shrill squeal of its rusty ball bearings as he gazed once more into the mirror. Crazy game, this, he thought; but it was the most expedient means that he had found to help him work out the underlying particulars of any new character that he was at the moment creating: talk to them. What tale, then, would this girl have to tell him?
“And where was it that we met?” he asked of his reflection. “Oh yes, in the lobby of the building in which you worked. You were leaving, if I recall. It was morning, not much past nine or nine-thirty. Going home, you said. Yes, and you were quite upset. Even though I was a stranger you accepted my offer of coffee at a nearby shop and you sat down with me where you spilled out your tale of foolish whim all in a big rush. Worked, then, is the key word here; past tense. You’d lost your job. Do you mind if I tell it?”
He turned back to the note pad on his writing desk and circled the name he had just written. The story – a portion of it, at least – was taking shape in his mind. “Cheryl McKendry was…” he wrote, then crossed the three words out. Pretty, vivacious, flighty, he thought, playing with adjectives. Friendly, warm, unpredictable, exhibitionist. That last word had a ring of truth in it for him. “Of course you won’t mind my telling your story,” said some watchful, judging part of his mind as he began to write. “You’d positively relish the idea of your story being made public.”
Cheryl McKendry had wakened with that unmistakable giddiness to which she was prone which signaled that she would do something rash today, something totally precipitate, something that would make a difference. She didn’t know whether to call the oddly pleasant sensation a compulsion or an inborn irrationality of her spirit and neither did she dwell much on such semantic nitpicking. What did it matter what you called it? It just was and she knew that she would revel in whatever mischief to which this giddy, wonderful feeling would drive her today. Whatever it was would be surprising to everyone who it touched. Before she had gotten her feet out from under the covers and on the floor she knew exactly what it was that she was going to do.
She giggled at the idea, the sheer daring of her choice as she picked the components for an appropriate outfit out of her closet and dresser drawers. She chose each item carefully, keeping in mind the initial reaction she wanted to foster: conservatism, propriety, even a kind of dowdiness. There was the prim, shell-colored blouse with the ruffled collar, the sensible shoes, the constricting bra that always felt to her as if was shrinking her bust by a full cup size, the drab full circle skirt that came to just above her knees, the garter belt and seamless stockings, Her purse was mismatched to the whole but blended nicely. She would do her make-up with a very light hand; nothing flamboyant or in any way eye catching.
She didn’t eat breakfast. She walked the half mile to the office on an empty, growling stomach. The balmy warmth of the day added a new dimension to her peculiar lightness of mind, a sort of spring fever that accentuated her mood to near rapture. She felt as if she could walk forever. The warm air caressed her legs like a lover. The address on the front of the building gin which she worked came upon her all too soon, almost surprising her that she had arrived there so quickly.
Mister Garren, the stiff-lipped head of the accounting department, stood in the doorway of his cubicle as she came in. Displeasure shone on his wizened face like the effect of some exotic disease. He tapped the face of his watch and shook his head reproachfully. Miss Corbett, the office manager whose face bore a perpetual look of dyspeptic discomfort, was right beside him. Marky, the youthful office assistant whose adoring puppy love for Cheryl had never been a secret looked worried. Late again; what kind of trouble would she be in this time?
Chery smiled brightly at them all. Here was her chance; all that was needed was the act that would draw the reaction she had planned for. She said nothing, only performed a sustained and flawless pirouette. She rose on the balls of her feet and spun around, the smile on her pretty face one that she might have assumed as she entered a party and was now turning to show off her new designer frock to an envious coterie of debs. Her wide hemmed, drab skirt was not what she was showing off, however. With the speed of a ballerina’s graceful whirl the skirt rose and bloomed, spreading outward from her generous hips. She felt a mild breeze on the skin of her naked buttocks, imagined that she heard the rasping rustle of her pubic hair as the stale air of the office wafted through it. Pantyless, she gave them a show that they would not soon forget. She then came to a sudden stop, facing them after a count of seven complete turns.
Miss Corbett was stunned beyond words. Mister Garren managed to affect a similar look of shock on his weasel’s face though a deepening of his sallow color told the real story of his stimulated response to the spectacle of Miss McKendry’s bared derrière and “privates.” Marky’s first reaction had been to gasp and start, first in disbelief at what he was undeniably seeing, then in growing pleasure. His later admission, when he spoke of the scene to friends, was that he wished it had not ended as suddenly as it had begun.
Cheryl McKendry was, of course, summarily fired as soon as her little show was finished.
“Where does this all fit in?” Aptley asked of his mirror a little peevishly. “Is this a beginning or just an episode or is it how the story ends?”
His face was placid, belying the concern in his voice. He knew that this was only a start, that the episode he had just completed would somehow find its place in the finished work. He trusted his instincts, his years of experience. He would either make it fit and work the rest of the story around the scene or else rewrite it to suit what he would come up with later on.
“If I take this as the start,” he wondered aloud. “What happens next? Have her do another skirt-raising turn on the street, maybe even giving heart palpitations to some casual passerby? Turn on some loco’s switch with flash of fanny flesh and so incite him to assault and rape? Or in front of a cop and get herself arrested for indecent exposure?”
Jack Aptley turned back to the mirror with questioning eyes. It was starting again. Here was his strange talent, his art, what one editor friend of his called his genius. All he had to do now was listen closely and write down what was said.
“This is what happened,” said Cheryl McKendry’s mild, persuasive voice. “It’s what happened that first taught me that I was different, that I wouldn’t be satisfied with what others expected of me.”
The little box lay open on the table before her. The proffered ring blazed and sparkled under the restaurant’s high ceiling lights. The ring’s center was a half-carat, pear cut diamond. The surprise of its sudden unveiling made Cheryl want to cry. “Be mine,” her boyfriend said.
She was ready to agree, to assent, to use her voice to break the joy that had cut off her breathing when he had laid the little box open on the table. She wanted to say yes, shout yes, cry yes, sing yes yes yes! In near catatonia, though, she could only smile stupidly and nod. Her vision blurred with the up and down motion of her head, making the other tables nearby look to her like a doll’s melting plastic furniture. Her boyfriend took her left hand and slid the ring onto her fourth finger, had to push a little to get it past the second knuckle. The stone wobbled there and then leaned drunkenly against her pinky.
“Mine,” he said with some finality and kissed her fingers. How could he have known that that was exactly the wrong word to say? He had said it often enough to her in the past – “My woman,” he had proudly told his friends as he introduced her to them one at a time. “Mine alone.” The last time he had used the possessive word had been only moments ago though that was more of a request rather than a statement of what he assumed to be fact when she had nodded her head in avid approval. Now, though, with the ring on her finger and that one word in the air between then – mine – something had snapped inside of her stilled thoughts. No, not his, she thought. I am my own. I will not relinquish custody to him, no matter how much I love him and need to be with him. Then another thought rose: up until that moment he had been her only lover. Her only love, as well. Was he to be the one and only one for her, then? The rosy future implied in that supposition was suddenly not so certain and was, in fact, becoming very dark and hazy.
“Wait,” she said as she worked the ring past the knuckle and off of her finger. “Now I’m not so….”
The confusion and shock on her boyfriend’s face was eloquent. “Not what?” he asked a little desperately, "Not sure? Not in love with me anymore? Not going to…?”
“Not now,” she said. “Time. I need more….”
“What do you mean, more time? We’ve been going together for over two years. That’s time enough, don’t you think? Now’s the time to be making plans for our future together.”
“But I’m not sure, don’t you see? Being with you has always been a delight for me. I love you. You’re one of the best things that’ve ever happened to me so far in my life. But the whole do-it-by-the-numbers thing – love, sex, marriage, baby carriage, et cetera – scares the hell out of me. I’m just not ready for it all. I mean, what’s the rush? Why not just live together, see other people, experiment, make sure that it’s all really right before we jump into it and have it as the last big emotional decision we make? I mean just let’s make sure that we know.”
“I know,” he said, his certainty unshakable. “It is right. I’m ready. I need it.”
“But do I?” she asked plaintively. It wasn’t rhetorical. She wanted him to tell her.
The querulous modulation in her voice had stopped him cold. His reply was guarded but kind. “You know yourself best, Cheryl, so you tell me. Do you need it, our being together, our getting married?” And then, anxiously: “Do you need me?”
The answer was I her eyes: confusion, wonderment, doubt, hesitation.
They had not ordered their meals and yet he had left a generous tip for the waiter as they got ready to leave. It was so like him, she considered, that uncalled-for generosity. It was one of the reasons she had fallen in love with him in the first place. She felt about to cry again.
The ride back to her house – which was actually her parents’ house – was silent. She did not invite him in. She told him that she had much to think about.
“Well, I suppose that I do, too,” he said rather distractedly. As he walked down the front steps and was striding to his car, she called out to him to be sure to phone her. She did not say it but it was implicit in her request that she still did need and love him. He did not answer. The engine of his car roared to life and he drove away.
Apparently, she had given him more to think about than she had realized. When he did phone it was two weeks later on a Saturday evening when he knew that her parents would not be home. He hung up when an unfamiliar male voice answered telling him that Cheryl was indisposed.
The only time that Jack Aptley talked to himself was when he was alone in his apartment. With friends he was bright and excellent company. On the street he showed the world a stern, tight lipped countenance at which times he often seemed to be a man of a most intensely observant nature.
The morning following his initial encounter with Cheryl McKendry and her unorthodox personality he was seated on a bench in the park near his home. His attention was focused on an elderly gentleman who was traversing one of the asphalt paths through the park some twenty yards in front of him. He was trying to decide why the man reminded him of his father. It couldn’t be the old fellow’s stooped posture or his stiff-legged gait; Jack’s father had always walked as if his back had been securely braced, his step as long and nimble as a dancer’s. It couldn’t be the old man’s face; it was haggard and closed off in deep, private concerns that only seemed to find release in an occasional flurry of lip fluttering, voiceless monologue. Jack’s father’s face had always had the look of one who was seldom touched deeply by any idea, thought or emotion.
No, none of that.
The thing about the man that reminded him of his father was the scowl on the man’s face. From Jack’s distance from the subject of his scrutiny that scowl was barely detectable but it was surely there. He had only seen such a disturbed and sneering look on his father’s face once but it was a memory that had staunchly remained with him. That look of disapproving aversion had appeared on his father’s face under circumstances very similar to those which had caused this stranger’s reaction: two teenagers, one male and one female, lying together on a blanket in the grass, openly and very physically expressing their affections and desires for one another, kissing and fondling with oblivious abandon.
Jack watched the old man as he passed by the busy couple, heard his voice but not the angry words. He recalled what his father had shouted in just such circumstances as this those many years ago, Jack took our the small, spiral-bound notebook he carried with him for just such epiphanic moments, let his thoughts proceed like a parade past his vision for a few seconds more before writing: Cheryl’s father – kind but stiff – prudish – angered by any open displays of affection or eroticism – “Take it to the bedroom where it belongs.”
Cheryl had been a rather loud child at the age of five. At least much of what she recalled from that time of her life was about her being shushed or told to pipe down, to be still. On the long walks that she took with her father such complaints for silence and less exuberant behavior became a common litany. When her loud chattering went on for longer than her elder’s patience could bear, a sharp slap on her behind would soon change her tune straight to a C-sharp as she would recall when she was grown up and on her own. Maresy doats became a siren scream of anger and hurt with one well-placed smack on the bottom.
It didn’t often happen that way. When it did, though, she was never sure exactly when or why his patience had come to such an abrupt halt and his hand rose behind his head for the sweeping descent. Often enough he put up with her childish shenanigans and the minor mischief she happened to wander into either by word or by deed. But – and it was here where her memory was uncertain – perhaps those remembered times when he was solicitous with her came after those few public spankings that she recalled when the message delivered along with the punishment had sunk in and unconsciously modified her raucous behavior to his satisfaction. After that she recalled there were only very rare paternal admonitions for her to pipe down and be a good little girl.
She remembered her fixation on that word – good – and having decided that it was synonymous with “quiet” and “ladylike.” There were those times when, happily walking with her father, she would point out a policeman, the mothers and baby-sitters with their infant charges, the bike riding boys, and the sweat-suited young men playing basketball on the concrete courts. “She’s a very good girl,” she would say as she pointed out a particular child who was quietly playing with her dolls. “And he must be good. Don’t you think so, Daddy?” All were good because they were either quiet or simply going about their business or amusement without bothering anyone else. And Daddy, absently smiling as if he had just thought of a good joke, would quietly agree. All were good, everything was right and fine. Yes, yes, he would answer. Very good, yes.
Until there came the day when he suddenly stopped smiling.
“No,” he said in answer to her query about the young couple lying together on the park’s wide lawn. His face had become suddenly angry; he looked about to shout something vile and mean at them. “They are not being good. Not with what they are doing, not at all.”
“But –“ Cheryl said and somehow knew enough not to pursue her incipient argument any further. She was confused and did not understand. The two people lying there together in the lawn were so quiet with their mouths pressed together as if in an effort to stifle whatever sounds the other might make, eating the other’s words before they could be spoken out loud. True, they weren’t totally successful – a hoarse, humming groan had several times escaped the throat of the girl – but wasn’t the attempt enough? And what was it that Daddy had called out to them? Why did it belong in the bedroom? Was the bedroom the only place where you were allowed to lie down? Cheryl remembered having lain down on the couch in the living room, even on the floor, and no one seemed to mind. What did Daddy mean?
She didn’t ask what or why as they continued in the direction of the loud pock-pocking noise and the squeaking and running sounds coming from the basketball courts. His patience and pleasant humor restored, her father asked her if the two strong young men there that were playing one-on-one weren’t very good at the game. They shouted to each other and laughed loudly as one of them, then the other, would try to gain possession of the ball. Cheryl shrugged her answer, not sure of anything anymore.
Was that the start of it all? she later wondered.
She infiltrated his dreams: Cheryl with the model’s gorgeous naked body; Cheryl McKendry, the woman without a face. She danced around him like he was a Maypole and she was a flesh colored puddle that lapped like a mini tide at his feet. The puddle swelled to the size of a lake and he swam in it, doing the backstroke/ But he hit his arm against the sides of the empty bathtub and Cheryl was straddling his groin. She whispered encouragement in a hushed and sexy voice. She dribbled her juices over him and soon the tub was filled with her warm, mucid liquid.
He woke slowly, the realization of the imperative urge to urinate increasing with each successive stage of his rise from slumber/ He had an erection, the kind that was blushingly called a “piss boner” when he was a boy.
He dropped his pajama bottom in front of the open toilet and leaned forward so that the angle of his aroused penis would aim its arcing stream to the back of the bowel rather than in a high whale’s spout whose trajectory would be all but impossible to control. He tilted his body perilously forward, his one arm outstretched before him to rest his weight against the tank. He chuckled at the incongruity of his position as he waited for the nearly orgasmic sensation of release to begin in his groin.
“What would Cheryl think?” he said his thoughts out loud. “What would her reaction be if she saw me like this?”
Almost immediately, he knew. His penis slowly shrank to flaccidity as his bladder emptied. When he was through he hiked up his pajama bottom, laced it at his waist and went straight to his writing desk.
Cheryl mulled over the situation after the fact. The way she recalled it, it seemed that the man had been waiting there only for her. There had been several women that she had seen pass his concealed position ahead of her and yet it was not until she came into his sphere of vision that he chose to step out into the light. He had a curious smile on his face and he seemed about to speak, to introduce himself, perhaps to ask if they had met before. She stopped and waited for him to say what he had to say. The knee-length raincoat that he wore did not catch her attention until it was opened. What had looked like the legs of a pair of trousers that he wore were only the legs of the trousers. He had apparently cut them from a pair, slipped them over his calves and secured them above his knees with rubber bands.
She gasped in surprise at the sight of his sudden revelation but she did not scream. Instead, she intently studied what he was so proudly offering for her attention. She spent a few long moments in silent inspection. The longer she looked and rubbed her chin the more apprehensive the man became. She looked him in the face – a kind face, she thought; a sad one, too – and smiled warmly at him. When he heard her hands slapping together in spontaneous applause, he blushed deeply and closed his coat.
“I usually don’t like to just look,” she told him pointedly. She took a step closer while reaching for the closure of his coat at the level of his crotch. He backed off a step with horror beginning to show in his kind, sad face. She asked him if he would like to come to her apartment for dinner. “I’m a great cook,” she said cockily. “And an even better lover.”
The man backed off another step, his earlier blush of pleasure draining from his face until his skin had turned ashen. He declined her offer, his voice catching on his words of apology and rejection. He kept backing away. When he had backed eight steps away from her, he turned and fled.
Cheryl took the man’s sadness home with her. The plans she had intended to make for that evening were abandoned in favor of quiet contemplation over a cup of rum-spiked tea.
“Jackie my friend! How’re you doin’?”
It would have been nearly impossible for Jack Aptley not to have recognized that voice. Even stone drunk his mind would have connected it to only one person. Alex Bensher, the senior editor of Today’s Fiction Magazine, had a voice that crackled and rasped as if his larynx had been bathed in acid. It had its usual effect on the writer. Jack pulled the telephone receiver away from his ear and winced.
“Listen, Jackie my man,” Bensher raped on. “Tell me what’s happening with that story you’ve been promising me for the next issue.”
“This one’s moving along kind of slow, Alex,” said Jack, holding the receiver six inches from his temple while speaking loudly enough for his voice to carry to the mouthpiece. “The main character is female and I’m having a little trouble getting inside her head.”
“Female? Well, that’s a switch. Getting away from that father-son motif you were playing with in the last few stories, huh?”
“That was just a phase I was going through, I guess, something I had to do for my own sanity or something.”
“I hear you. But that’s all done with now, right”” Even with the query added, Bensher gave Jack the impression that this was already a decided fact. “So tell me, then, when can I expect delivery?”
“When’s your deadline?”
“Mine’s the fifteenth, so I’ll need your manuscript for edit and formatting by the first.”
“What’s that, then, about two weeks?”
“Um-hm, from yesterday.”
“You’ll have it, maybe even a day or two early.”
“Great. I can always count on you, Jackie. And, pal? Any sexy stuff in this piece?”
The question came as a surprise to Jack. “It can be worked in if you really want it,” he said uncertainly.
“Nah, I wouldn’t do that to you, pal, tell you what you should or shouldn’t include in a story. Listen, you’re the writer, so you do it your way. Just make it work, okay? Make it right. I trust you for that. You’ve given me some strange stuff in the past but all in all it’s always had the ring of truth to it and that’s what I’m always looking for.”
“Look, Alex,” said Jack a little anxiously. Was Bensher asking for a little gratuitous sex in the piece to help boost the magazine’s lagging sales? he wondered. “If you feel it’s necessary a bit of the old soft-core just might work in this story. I mean some healthy shtupping wouldn’t be beyond the girl I’m writing about, at least not the way she’s shaping up in my notes.”
“Jackie!” came Alex’s surprised reply. “Do I sound like I’m making demands here? I told you, pal-o-mine, I wouldn’t do that to you. It’s just a suggestion, okay? And that’s only if a little nookie fits in with the theme, the character and the plot. That’s all I ask – but you know that, right?”
“Well, all right, then,” Jack said. “We’ll see.”
“Fine, then,” said the editor. The subject was closed. “And Jackie? Tell me this…. The father angle?” A familiar hint of manipulative wheedling edged into his harsh voice. “It’s out, right?”
“We-e-ell,” said Jack, drawing out the word thoughtfully. “She does have a father….”
“Hah! So it is a part of it, then. I knew it. So what does she do in this story, kill the old man off or something?”
“I haven’t gotten that far along yet, Alex. It’s too early to tell what the outcome will be.”
“But it might be?” asked the editor, still fishing.
“Might,” said Jack, making sure that his tone suggested that the opposite could just as easily be true. “No promises, though.”
‘“Well, listen, pal, as good as those father-son stories you’ve been handing in have been, I’d love to see you get back to the old Terry Jepson style. I have a feeling that that’s what our readers are looking for, the old psychological thriller; that old Jepson hallmark of a good, healthy scare.”
“I don’t know if there will be any scares in this story, Alex. I can only promise that you’ll be surprised."
“But you’ll be using the Jepson pen-name, right? Not that other one you were using for a while there…. What was it…? Rawley Parlen. Not that one, right?”
“Like I said, Alex, no promises. You’ll know which name I’ll be using when you get the manuscript. And remember, I’ve used more than just Jepson and Parlen in the past. It might be one of those other ones.”
“All right, fair enough. Be secretive about it, I don’t really care. But two weeks from yesterday, Jack. I’ll be watching my inbox for it.”
The line went dead. If Jack hadn’t known Alex Bensher as well as he did he might have been offended. The editor’s abruptness was familiar to him and had even become something of a joke among the regular contributors to Today’s Fiction.
Jack relaxed and wondered what kind of dilemma he could devise for Cheryl McKendry. Patricide? No, Alex was way off with that. Still, though, something had to have happened to have been a contributing factor to her rather flaky personality.
He went to his writing desk and sat down. He swiveled his chair around to face the mirror and study the worry lines that had begun to furrow his brow. “Tell me,” he said to his reflection. “Like your boyfriend said when you turned down his proposal, you know yourself better than anyone and definitely better than I do. So, tell me….”
At age fourteen Cheryl had formulated a number of sensitive and pressing questions concerning what she might expect in her future personal dealings with men. The phrase “personal dealings” brought a smile to her mother’s face. She told her daughter to say what she meant; if it was information about sex that she wanted then she should say so. “Personal dealings,” her mother explained, could mean anything from the proper etiquette to be employed when being introduced to someone new to tips on how to write a friendly letter.
“Aw, Mom,” whined her embarrassed daughter. “You know what I mean.”
“All right, then, let’s talk. What is it, specifically, that you want to know?”
Most of Cheryl’s questions concerned how to behave and what to expect on a date. What if you really liked the boy? she asked confidingly. How far should you go? What was “petting” and was it a reasonable alternative to more intimate contact? Was there a kind of sliding scale on what was permitted or was going all the way always a no-no? Her mother’s answers to most of these questions were fairly non-committal. She left the questions of how far to go and with whom and the permissibility of “giving herself” – a phrase which Cheryl found amusing – to a boy up to her daughter’s own standard of morals. “You know what’s right and wrong,” she said with a wink. “I’m sure yYou’ll make the right decision when the time comes.”
Other questions deserved more definite answers. The fact that the menstrual periods which Cheryl had been experiencing for a little more than a year would continue like clockwork for much of her adult life did not sit too well with the girl. There was another piece of mis-information shot down. A friend of hers had sworn that they stopped once you got married. The fact that they didn’t, news which was delivered succinctly and with such authority by her mother, made Cheryl feel a little bit queasy.
“Look at any woman that you know and even the ones you just see on the street and realize that they have the same thing to contend with, every month, that you do.”
“Something like a ‘misery loves company’ club, huh?”
“I guess that’s the idea,” said her mother. She had to agree that it wasn’t much of a consolation when you had to deal with pads and tampons and, in Cheryl’s mother’s case, the occasional bout with backaches and cramps, but it was the best that she could come up with on such short notice.
“And boys?” Cheryl asked, changing the subject. “Do they have…?”
Her mother dismissed the question with a wave of her hand as if clearing the air of a foul odor. “Boys are another matter altogether” was all that she said.
“But do they feel the same way about love and sex as – well, as we do?”
Her mother smiled at the innocence of the question as well as the conspiratorial tone in which it was couched. “I’m sure that they don’t, darling. But I couldn’t tell you what the differences between our feelings on sex and theirs might be.”
“Would Daddy be able to tell me?”
Her mother looked thoughtful for a brief moment and then gave a slow, knowing nod. “You could ask him,” she said.
Her father was working late that day so she had to wait for him to get home. When he finally did there never seemed to be the right time to broach the subject. He was either busy with something else or she was stricken with a debilitating shyness that precluded her making the initial overture on the matter. What would she say to him anyway? Daddy, what’s the big deal about making love? She tried out several openings in her mind and they all sounded either too dirty or too silly to even consider.
As she was getting ready for bed it was her father who confronted her. She was outside the bathroom dressed only in her robe when he stopped her. “Your mother tells me that we have something important to discuss with me,” he said.
As she thought about the scene later on it seemed absurd to her that she merely nodded and walked into the bathroom. At the time, though, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to do. Her father came in to find her seated on the closed toilet, waiting for him. She posed her question about the differences between the sexes, about what men wanted as opposed to the desires of women. He confessed a sore lack of understanding of the latter. “A man, however,” he began and then embarked on a long winded speech about the beauty and desirability of women in general, the passion instilled in him by her mother in particular. He used the word “arousal” several times without any further definition. She found that she could guess what he meant by the word from the context in which it was used as well as through her own hearsay and book-learned store of knowledge. The word cropped up, mostly in his halting descriptions of the physical and emotional changes that his wife produced in him during the throes of heated passion.
At the conclusion of his little oratory Cheryl stood and hugged him in thanks for his efforts at clarification. When she stepped back she noticed that the front of her robe had fallen open at the throat. Her father gazed down at her exposed, budding cleavage. “You’re becoming quite a beautiful young woman,” he said, his voice warmly appreciative. She shifted her stance in abashed coyness, causing the robe to open even further. She was not embarrassed by his intense gaze for it was clear to her that it was one of positive appraisal.
“Yes,” he said, suddenly nervous. “You’re your mother all over again.” And he left the room quickly, shutting the door behind him.
Cheryl stood there in the chill air of the bathroom, her robe still open to the navel, wondering at the strangely pleasurable heat that was now coursing through her body.
“This leaves a lot to explain,” Jack told his reflection. And I’ve got to have this thing finished damned soon, he thought. He could just imagine Cheryl McKendry’s face looking at him from that world beyond all mirrors in which she resided. This project was becoming too intense; he simply had to finish it before Cheryl became a madman’s reality for him. “I may have to leave this part out of the finished story altogether,” he muttered.
“What’s there to explain?” his protagonist asked. “I delighted in my father’s finding me attractive and sexy. All young girls do.”
“Maybe,” he allowed. “But there have to be other ways to gain his appreciation than baring your bosom for him in the john.”
“Things like that happen all the time,” she said, sounding confident of this being a fact.
“And I think,” he said, pressing forward with his own thoughts on the topic before he lost his train of reason. “The normal reaction would have been for you to clutch your robe closed in embarrassment as soon as it became apparent that more was being shown then was decent.”
“Well, we both know that I’m anything but decent,” she replied proudly. “What decent girl ogle’s a flasher’s dick and then invites him into her bed? Or bares her – ahem! – naughty bits for all to see in the middle of the place where she works? Decent? No. But anyway I’m not normal by any means.”
“Some readers won’t buy your father’s reaction as normal either, I’m afraid.”
“And what do you think they’d expect? Daddy seducing me, maybe even a steamy little incestuous rape scene? Some traumatic episode to explain away my later behavior?”
“I thought that I was the one asking the questions here.”
“And answering them,” she said in a voice that sounded much like his own. Right, he though, assessing the situation he was in. It is all me, here, answering my own questions. “Is it enough, though?” he asked. “It all has to be at least somewhat believable. Is your pleasure at your father’s reaction to seeing your semi-naked body enough of a reason for what comes later on?”
“You want reasons?” said his conjuration testily. “Maybe I saw that episode in the bathroom as a missed chance. I could have made love to Daddy, until then the warmest, most attractive man I’d ever known, and I’d blown it. Maybe all the rest of the lovers I’ve had since then have been unconscious attempts to find what I’d missed out on with my father.”
Jack shook his head. “Too many maybes. They’d just bog the story down.”
“Then don’t mention them, just imply. And as for the prime cause for my unorthodox behavior….” The ephemeral form in the mirror shrugged what passed for its shoulders. “I’ve heard less convincing arguments than the warm, erotic urges gotten from a father’s leering looks.”
Jack’s mind waffled between acceptance and negation of the scene he had just written. Cheryl broke the tie, telling him what he already knew: “You want to leave it in,” she told him. That was all; the decision was made. On to less pressing matters.
“You said something about ‘other lovers,’” he said. “Were there many?”
“Enough,” she said with a mocking coyness that his present mood of affection attributed to her. “I’m healthy and so are my appetites, sex included. Sure you don’t want to rewrite the flasher scene, add in a really juice description on how I break him of his need to show what he’s packing in his shorts?”
Jack said no and this was one negation about which he remained adamant. It wouldn’t do for the story. No matter what Bensher had intimated, Today’s Fiction wasn’t the kind of magazine that would accept explicit sex scenes in a story just for the sake of a reader’s titillation. There were still certain rules.
“Have it your way, then,” she said. “I wasn’t too set on making love to him anyhow. Besides, I wasn’t really applauding his cock, only his guts for showing it off.”
“You mean that you saw something of yourself in him, don’t you?”
“You talking about my bare-assed twirl in the office? Well, I’ve gone much further than that, let me tell you.”
“All right. So, tell me, then.”
The figure in the mirror smiled. A face was starting to take shape: the eyes were brown and evenly set, the nose small, the mouthy wide and full. “That’s become your favorite phrase, lately, hasn’t it? ‘Tell me…?’“ The face in the mirror continued to smile and said, “Well, get out your pen, fella. You’re going to love what I’ve got to tell you now.”
The gym that Cheryl went to for her twice-weekly workouts wasn’t a gym at all. It was the living room of the home of a woman who conducted exercise classes there for pin money. Her rates were far less than those charged by established gyms and spas or the more prestigious clubs closer to the center of town. Cheryl added this consideration to the incentive of her almost immediate liking for the woman whose name was Agnes. She was fifty five, slim, small busted and angularly built. She always spoke with a certainty of purpose that gave her an air of self-assured authority. These were the qualities that made her a good phys-ed instructor but were also the reasons by which Cheryl had originally assumed that Agnes was a lesbian.
The first exercise session that Cheryl went to in Agnes’ home was also attended by three other women. Their names were Penny, Melanie and Delores and all three were in their early to mid-twenties. Penny, the oldest, was a few years younger than Cheryl.
During the short break between warm-up and workout Agnes told then a bit about herself. She spent much of her impromptu talk on the many pleasures of her twenty eight year marriage that had ended only two years before with her husband’s death. All the girls were solicitous but Agnes poo-poohed their melancholy concern with a dismissive wave of her hand and the announcement that now the real work would begin.
Enough of Agnes’ dissertative ramblings had alluded to the sexual aspects of her life with her husband that Cheryl was forced to change her earlier opinion of the woman. Well, she thought as she stretched and worked her achingly resistant muscles to their respective peaks of endurance. So much for stereotypes.
After the workout Agnes herded the four young women upstairs to the bathroom for showers. There were towels enough to go around, she told them. All she asked was that they made sure to dump them in the hamper when they were through.
This was Agnes’ home so they all expected to have to rush their showers in deference to those who would have to wait. They were surprised to find not the single stall that they had anticipated but a locker room array of three shower heads each with its own individual controls lined along one wall of the spacious lavatory. The floor was scored and pitched toward a common drain in the floor. There was no question of privacy; though there was a curtain that could be drawn to close off the shower area from the rest of the room with its single sink and toilet, there was nothing to separate each individual shower area from the other two. By her own choice Cheryl was the odd-one-out in the push for use of the communal facilities. She sat on the closed toilet and watched the others strip out of their leotards and tights and position the sliding plastic curtain between themselves and her. Steam was soon billowing above the concealed area like smoke from a three alarm fire. Melanie began to sing about being done wrong in a high, melodious voice.
Cheryl undressed in relative privacy and, while the others luxuriated under the steamy spray, she opened the toilet and sat back down to pee. She rested her right forearm on her bare thigh and dangled her hand between her splayed thighs. Her fingers combed lightly through her pubic hair. When she was through she wiped herself and then, with her bare hand, fingers stiffened, she probed her moist labia. When Penny, Melanie and Delores emerged from the common shower, water sluicing from their fresh-scented bodies, they found Cheryl still on the john, placidly masturbating. She looked up at them and smiled sweetly. In a hoarse whisper she asked if any of them would like to join her.
Penny hurriedly dressed and left the room in a huff. Melanie, the youngest of them, stared at what Cheryl was doing in fascination. “I’ve never watched anyone else do it,” she said, nearly in awe. Delores lay on the floor, cocked and spread her knees and dis as Cheryl had suggested. Feeling left out and rather foolish just watching, Melanie sank to the floor and started pumping her middle finger into her vagina while expertly rolling her thumb over the exposed clitoral hood. They giggled and moaned, sighed and talked dirty and shuddered their respective ways to orgasms that were separated only by a minute from Cheryl’s’ first to Melanie’s last.
While Cheryl took her much needed shower, Delores and Melanie stood with her behind the drawn curtain. They talked about what had just taken place, Delores likening it to a “circle jerk” such as they had heard that adolescent males sometimes engaged in and wondered if this was some kind of proof of their having lesbian tendencies.
Melanie made a face and expressed what they all knew of themselves. “I do it myself,” she said. “But I’d positively vorf if I had to put my hand on another’s girl’s pussy.” They all voiced unanimous agreement though varying in the intensity of their reactions to the notion of helping another woman achieve an orgasm.
When they were finally dressed and had come downstairs, Agnes motioned them into the kitchen. She had fruit juice waiting for them on the table. “Penny wanted to know what kind of a dyke-house I was running here,” she said evenly. “She demanded her money back and stormed out like she couldn’t get away quick enough.”
Cheryl and her compatriots sipped their drinks in nervous silence.
“You think it would help things if I got some men to join this little club?” she asked. The question was directed specifically at Cheryl.
“For all of us,” Melanie agreed. Delores tried vainly to suppress a giggle.
“I thought that was why you three took so long up there,” Agnes said, an odd little smile playing at the corners of her thin mouth. “I’d suggest you three keep it among yourselves, though, it it’s going to be a steady thing. I don’t want you scaring away any more of my customers.”
Promises were made all around. They were unnecessary, however. Even though the three women took the same days for their workouts and always showered together afterwards, the original incident was never repeated.
Jack Aptley showed the bank clerk his identification and key and signed the card he was given before waiting while verification was made. He wasn’t sure that this was the best way to go about finding inspiration for a story but Cheryl McKendry’s scattershot behavior had brought him up against a stone wall. Maybe, just maybe, what he knew to be in the safety deposit box would provide him with the chisel he needed to break through that wall and find out what was on the other side.
Right after he had completed the shower scene was when the doubts began pouring in on him. As much assurance as he had gotten from Cheryl – or, more accurately, from the part of his mind which was involved in creating and explaining her – that such behavior was in keeping with the personality and character, he was having trouble reconciling it with the more passive elements of her unique individuality. Making a statement against prudish conformism by mooning the people in the office where she worked was one thing, reacting with appreciate applause for a flasher’s “performance” was quite another. He had few reservations about that but it was still fairly acceptable as far as the story was shaping up. Even her response to her father gazing hornily on her exposed frontal nudity was something that he could live with. But this…. It was a part of her personality, he had to admit, but it was certainly at its most distant remove from rationality.
“This kind of craziness can’t be you,” he told her. He had taken down her story almost totally verbatim, only making changes where grammar demanded. “Why didn’t you just use a mop handle for a dildo?” he asked, trying to come up with something even more bizarre than what he already had down on paper.
“There wasn’t one at hand,” she answered coyly, her tone implying that if one had been then she would have used it in just the manner he had suggested.
This was too much, he thought as he turned her off, refusing to listen to anything more that she might have to say. She was real, he knew that, but there was too much here that was extraneous; something important was missing. There simply had to be a unifying factor somewhere. It was at this time, when Jack was nearly distraught with concern over his “creation” that the phone rang.
Later on, in the bank, Jack silently thanked his friend Leo for so unwittingly pointing him in this particular direction for inspiration.
Aside from his general concern for the character of Cheryl McKendry, he was wondering if the installation of multiple shower heads in the bathroom of a private home would sound too preposterous to readers. When he answered the phone he was unsure of his own voice. Leo recognized it right away and with little more than a hello he went into his usual high speed patter about his new found religion and how Jack should get off of his secular duff and find something to believe in. The familiar pattern of Leo’s exhortations and queries was somehow comforting. Jack listened to his friend without thinking, letting the problem of Cheryl McKendry receded into a shadowy corner of his mind.
The conversation took its preordained course until the subject slowly turned to Jack’s own dealings in the “real world.” The calm of mind brought on by the familiarity of Leo’s self-serving chatter was suddenly broken when his friend asked if he was still writing “those father and son stories” for Today’s Fiction.
“Father and daughter this time,” Jack said, rising up out of the slouch into which he had sunk in the chair.
“Oh? Well, that’s something new. But the similarities are there, aren’t they. I mean, whoever this ‘daughter’ person is, she can’t be all that different from you, the person who’s writing about her, can she?”
“You’d be surprised,” said Jack. “With me, I at least have a handle on causative factors, the things that shaped me, where I come from and like that. Every time I think that I know her, though, she gets away from me and does something that I keep having to make allowances for.”
“So, make them. What’s the big deal?”
There would be too many of them. The story would bog down in too much explanation and not enough action.”
“Then expand it into a novel. You’ve been talking about doing that for a long time, you know.”
“I know, but not with this one. The story is a commitment I have to honor; there’s a deadline. Besides, I want to be done with it. She’s driving me crazy as it is.”
“Then you just have to find her key, her center. Since you’re the one who’s writing it you’ll probably find that hers is pretty close to your own. Do you know what your center is, Jack?”
“I think that I do,” Jack answered, thinking. Leo had hit it right on the nose was what he was thinking right then. How could he thank his friend for saying the right thing even if he didn’t realize that at that very moment he was playing the part of Jack’s muse? Leo had pressed a button without realizing it and would never know what connection his chance remark had made in Jack Aptley’s memory. Key: a safety deposit box key. And center. The center of his life, mind, meaning. The double association had startled him.
The conversation dragged on for another forty-five minutes after that but, as with its beginning, Jack barely listened. His answers to Leo’s hopes and dreams for a safe and sane future for the world were delivered automatically, without any interest or thought behind them.
Center, he thought later that day in the vault of the bank. He studied the document that he had just retrieved from his safety deposit box. It was one of a number of papers that his father had left for him when he died. My center, Jack thought. My gift to Cheryl McKendry. This will make her real; remove the unpredictability from her personality.
This is what will make her truly human.
The typed list of instructions that her father’s lawyer gave her included so many things that had been drummed into and thrown at her practically all her life. Aside from the cash bequest and whatever she might realize in profit from the sale of the family home and its furnishings, this was the entire legacy which he had left her. “A reminder from beyond the grave,” she remarked without emotion. She remembered him mentioning something about his own personal “Fourteen Commandments” and how, through his growing and maturing years he would offer up one or another as the situation allowed. She flipped through the three neatly typed pages to be certain that nothing that she remembered had been left out. They were all there, she saw, just as she had recalled having received them from his lips, one at a time and out of sequence. The only difference here was that he had added a fifteenth.
She didn’t thank the lawyer for his time and effort for he was a man that she barely knew. This was his job and he was being well paid for his services. That, she considered, should be thanks enough for him.
At home she read over her father’s list of do’s and don’ts carefully. The main thrust of them was threefold: money, religion and relationships. In all of the categories his message to her was clear: be careful.
“Don’t involve yourself with any religious sect, cult or organization which professes to possess the only truth,” said the third rule. “Truth is like wax; in the heat of discussion, it often melts.” This, along with the fourth – “Be true to whatever religious conviction that you do profess and treat every tenet as a solemn promise to God.” – were those which she had taken to heart since she was a child. No religion had ever been forced on her or described to her as better than any other. As a result Cheryl maintained what she considered to be a healthy skepticism about any belief or code that was in any way absolute. If you don’t give credence to the possibility of the truths espoused by other disciplines, then Cheryl did not want to hear what you had to say.
Numbers five and six dealt with career and money. The career she chose, her father had always said, should impart the following benefits: financial security, the respect of family and friends, creative fulfillment (“I know that your temperament would demand this last part,” he had added in his written list) and peers who will not embarrass you. She recalled her father ticking off each point on his fingers as he recited them. From puberty on Cheryl had looked forward to putting his words into practice. It was evident from her father’s preoccupation with his own work that he certainly had.
The numbers regarding money were simple cautions: be frugal, don’t waste your hard earned capital on frivolous amusements, be careful when either borrowing or lending money, always keeping in mind the character of the person with whom you are dealing. There was a reminder that people were individuals and that it would always be in her best interest to determine how far – as if on a personal sliding scale – that each person could be trusted. This little admonition was followed by an asterisk which referred her back to the cautionary note on borrowing and lending. Then there was this which smacked so sharply of her father’s rather pedestrian business philosophy: “Don’t stab anyone in the back either by word, deed or written testimony. He/she may soon be in the position to do the same (or worse) to you.”
The numbers on marriage, love and sex reflected her father’s priorities which he practiced in his own life. “Marry a friend,” it said and she mused that that was just what her parents were to one another: associates and friends as well as lovers in all senses of the word. “Love and need for your mate will soon follow.” As would passion and continued desire, it also said, if you made love with the lights on and took notice of your lover’s every change of mood and expression during the acts of foreplay and intercourse. “This will make him all the more endearing and important to you,” he had typed, having scratched out the word “her” and penned in the correct pronoun. Under this, singles rather than double spaced from the preceding line, was the afterthought, “Ask your mother; I am sure that she will tell you much the same.”
Cheryl smiled, remembering how he had begun his answer to her innocent question about the differences between the male and female points of view on sex and love: “I am afraid that I cannot speak for women and what drives them in matters of the loins and the heart.” She lingered over the page a moment longer, warmed by the memory of his honesty and boyish blushing before he had continued with his diatribe about passion and “arousal.”
After this the advice against getting into one-night stands or any illicit affairs were like aspects of some undefined mystery to Cheryl. The three lines sounded as if they had been written from personal experience. “The negative repercussions of such liaisons will far outweigh the transitory pleasures that they offer,” he father chided in print. She tried to recall a time when such “repercussions” had ever mad themselves apparent in her home life but she could recall no such circumstances. Perhaps the very first number on the list had something to do with that: “Don’t do anything to dishonor the McKendry name” was the way that it was worded. The interpretation was simple: discretion; don’t air your dirty laundry for others to see. For him that meant not even in front of his own daughter. It was so like her father to include such a rule, she thought. But was it really so important to make it number one on the list?
And was it really so important to her? This was a question, she knew, which would nag at her for a long time to come, along with the question of her own interpretation of the word “dishonor.” Her father’s take on that was easy – be what you are expected to be; no surprises. But where was the “creative fulfillment” in that? Daddy, Daddy, she thought while affectionately shaking her head. I know what you mean and what it is that you want to say but you don’t know what you are asking of me. The differences between them were so real, she thought, and the realization was nothing new. People are all individuals, she said to herself, paraphrasing him. She intentionally left out the part about trusting. With her father that consideration – trust – was a foregone conclusion.
She scanned the rest of the list, skipping back and forth among the pages, reading here and there until she had had her fill and stopped on the last item. This one was brand new to her. It made it clear that the list had been meant to be read only after his death. “Do not grieve unnecessarily. Learn how to say good-bye and mean it.”
She laid the typewritten sheets aside. Vision of her father rose before her eyes, the familiar shifting from one expression to another on his handsome face: thoughtfulness, disgust, elation, anger, disapproval. “That,” she said to the room, to her memory. “Will be nearly impossible.”
Jack Aptley gloated. Now it’s coming together, he thought. How can I thank Leo for that little piece of inspiration? He looked over the private bequest from his father once again. Center, he said to himself as he placed a finger under the second item: “Don’t indulge in needless fantasy. Imagination is fine for children; for adults, it is an abnegation of responsibility. Be HERE in the real world.”
For Cheryl McKendry the center of her life was her own interpretation of what honor and dishonor truly meant. For Jack Aptley, it was fantasy and reality.
The image in the mirror cleared its throat. He looked up and their eyes met. “Not through with me so fast,” she said. “There’s still one more scene.”
“I know,” he said. “And then we’ll see how it all fits together, these flashers and fathers and fannies and fingerings.”
“Cute,” she said, modulating her tone seductively. Maybe that had been the way she spoke in her attempt to proposition the nervous exhibitionist, Jack mused. “But don’t forget the most important Fs of all,” she said. “The ones that started this whole thing in the first place: fiction, fabulation, fantasy…. Your stock in trade, Mister Aptley.”
“That’s my excuse, not yours.”
“Oh yes, that’s right. Mine is honor. Honor they father, thy name, thy heritage…. There is my center, my key. Is it all so really important to me, though? You asked the question – or had me ask it of myself – but didn’t answer it. How will you explain it, Jack? How will it all end?”
“I…. I’m really not sure just now.”
“And you’re the one who doesn’t like maybes, who wants everything to flow from an explicable source. I’ve got a word for you, then, Jack: simplify. Just set me down and hear me talk. I’ll tell it so that there’ll be no more questions, no room for interpretation.”
This is what Jack Aptley had feared. She was starting to take over. The story was getting away from him, was no longer his or even something that he could control.
“You know best,” he said, understanding that this was his final act of faith, of relinquishment. He only hoped that her personality was not so strong that it would negate his own. It was a fear that he faced with every new story he began, with each new strong character that had his or, now, her own tale to tell. “Go ahead,” he said, his voice soft and submissive as he prepared to play the amanuensis to her final chapter. “I’m listening.”
“I had a dream last night, Doctor,” she said almost as soon as she had attained her customary supine position on the broad, comfortable couch. “Now don’t groan. I know I’ve described a lot of them to you in the past but this one is different. I don’t understand it but I’m sure it’s very important.”
A long silence elapsed. The psychiatrist urged her to continue. She took a deep breath and began describing her dream in a thoughtful monotone that soon gave the impression that she had lapsed into a trance.
“I was walking with Daddy in the park. I was a little girl again and we were holding hands. We came upon a young couple who were making love on a blanket in the grass. And when I say making lover I’m not just talking about the kissy, groping stuff but full naked body on naked body grinding and slip-sliding and penetration. I was fascinated and thought it was the most beautiful thing that I’d ever seen. I moved forward and as I did so I developed from a little girl to an adolescent to a woman in only five short steps. I remember Alice in Alice in Wonderland and how she would grow when she either ate or drank something – which was it? – but for me it was the simple act of walking, of moving forward, that made me grow up. Daddy called out to me and I turned around to see him still standing on the path. He was wearing a policeman’s uniform. His words were garbled and he seemed to be saying several things at once. If I try to separate what he was saying into intelligible chunks they come out something like ‘Save it for me,’ ‘Propriety before pleasure’ and ‘Meet me in the bathdroom in your red robe where it belongs.’
“I turned back to watch the lovers on the lawn. My clothing had either disappeared or maybe it had all been torn to shreds with my sudden growth and had just fallen away on its own. And there was Daddy lying in the grass, all alone, with the biggest hard-on I’d ever seen on a man. He gazed at my naked body like a starving man and I was to be his first meal in years. I could feel my entire body blushing and I approached him at a trot, wanting to dive onto him and impale myself on that long, stiff cock of his. But his arms were long and they held me away, held me from doing what I wanted to do.
“He was a cop again, his uniform dark green with golden buttons. He was naked from the waist down and his erection reached for me while his arms held me away. ‘Honor before pleasure,’ he told me sternly. ‘Make love to me,’ he said a moment later, breathing heavily, his long tongue sliding deliciously all over my face, my shoulders, my breasts and tummy….”
Cheryl writhed on the Doctor’s couch, vainly attempting to do and not do at the same time. “I did, or at least I was ready to,” she cried out. “Just that one time….”
The psychiatrist behind her made a questioning sound.
“In the bathroom,” she explained. “I let the robe fall open all the way. He saw me naked. I turned a full circle so he could get a complete look at me. I could see his excitement, that lump in his pants grown so large that it strained at the fly. ‘This won’t do, Cheryl,’ he told me. ‘As much as I want to, it’s just not proper.’ Proper! He’d just said that he wanted it! That he wanted me! If I hadn’t been his daughter I would have been his lover, he would have taken me – but no. Not taken, for I would have given, freely given him what it was that he – we – so much wanted to do. If I hadn’t been his daughter we would have had one another right there on the tile floor. I would have been his lover, even if only for that one time. That one time.”
Her voice trailed. The doctor allowed a pause to elapse before he hummed his approval and asked her what she saw as the point of all this.
“We never spoke of it afterwards, he and I,” she said when she had regained enough of her composure to continue. Actually, we spoke very little after that, barely exchanged the usual polite things you usually say when you pass someone in the hall. There were times when I caught him looking at me, studying me in a quizzical, disapproving sort of way when he thought I wasn’t aware of his attention. I had broken one of his cardinal rules, something that I had never done before and I guess he was trying to relearn me, to figure me out.”
She sighed deeply and twisted on the couch, finding its wide expanse and leather upholstery suddenly uncomfortable. “You see, Doctor,” she said after another pause. “As far as Daddy was concerned, I was as guilty in my passion as he was in his own. In his mind, though, I was the really guilty one, not he.”
“She said it, I didn’t,” Jack muttered as he typed out the last line of the story. What he had finished, though it encompassed over thirty handwritten and ten pages already typed on his computer’s word processor were only his notes for the projected piece. He checked his calendar; he had eight days to finish it and email it so it would reach the offices of Today’s Fiction Magazine by the first so that Alex Bensher could ready it for publication by the fifteenth. Even if he put off the rewriting and revisions until the next day he knew that he would have it completed well before that. The hardest part of the writing was already behind him.
In effect he had already said good-bye to Cheryl McKendry. As with all the characters that he had created for stories over the years she would now become more just a fictional persona with each revision and less and less a real and demanding individual. All that would remain for him to do, then, would be the choice of a title for the story. He was already considering a few including, “Cheryl’s Reasons” and, perhaps, “Under the Skin.” There was that and the decision to be made as to which of his several pseudonyms he would employ in the by-line.
“Honor be served, eh?” Jack said as he gave three sharp knuckle-raps on the mirror to alert the fading illusion. She didn’t respond but he was sure that she understood his intended meaning.