A door in the main hall opens into the spacious kitchen. The kitchen gives to the dining room. Sliding doors separating the kitchen from the dining room are in open position, giving the impression they permanently are. Another door in the hall opens into the middle room. A doorway connects the middle room to the dining room. At the other end of the middle room is an arched passage to the front room, open.
“You wear pretty dresses”, he said.
The days being hot from mornings through late evenings it was true that on every day he had come she had been wearing a different summer dress. On none had she been wearing anything expensive, even if she possessed many expensive clothes. She was tall and slim, her waist markedly slimmer still than her slender hips. She was rather large-breasted. Any summer dress catching on those physical characteristics would flatter her, and each she wore on each of those five days did.
The first time he had called at her door after she had phoned him straight off a flyer he had distributed personally, months ago in fact (she must have kept it all this time), in her very upscale neighborhood, the flyer proffering any and all fixes around the house that residents can think of being in need of being done but for some reason or excuse never done or made to be done. She needed the rain gutters of her house and the detached garage cleared from debris that came from the many trees in her enormous and largely uncultivable garden, the grounds of which back of the house sloped steeply upward to protected dune forest. He easily identified other sores, and angled in $750 worth of work (his calculation, which she neither contested nor, even, discussed), which he performed, and got paid for, on that same day, that first day.
That day and the days following she had impressed him as pretty, meek, dependent, and, if only because of the enormous monumental brownstone she lived in, affluent. She spoke softly, she was generally acquiescent. Her many smiles were defensive and wrangled. He knew that, intellectually, she was beyond his reach. He didn’t think that anything that would interest him would interest her, and vice versa (the latter not words he would use, or even know). But from what she told him – and (this not being an analysis he was capable of consciously reasoning out) she clearly had a proclivity of pouring out her heart to someone, like him, whom she depended on to perform an odd job from time to time – he gathered that she had got beaten up by life, in years more recent rather than long past, and that her apparent wealth might be flotsam in a sea of trouble (a metaphor, with a whiff of Shakespeare, representing his gut feeling of her situation, but one which he would never think of).
In a matter of days, if not on that very first day, he had “fallen in love” with her, though, with acute erotic desire into which his gentler feelings towards the other sex inevitably devolved, and to graft off her never crossed his mind. By nature he wasn’t a grafter. Principle had nothing to do with it. He wasn’t a man of any principle, high or simple. He lived the best he could, in terms of foraging, not of ethics or estheticism, or of intellectual curiosity and advancement. He had a wife, children. He would grow old, die. His being was nature all over him. By a stroke of luck he wasn’t dishonest by nature. Nature inculcated his love for her, as it, as nature, would to him for any woman exhibiting her distressed prettiness. She fitted the type.
If he wasn’t dishonest by nature, neither by nature was he faithful. His marriage and his children were chattel he had gathered along the way.
Yes, she was in trouble, and her wealth was a façade fronting the ruins that remained after a rapid collapse of her 20-year stab at being a wife, a mother, and a careerist.
But that is not something we must delve into. What is told here is about the interaction between him and her, with the application and the benefit of the Directress’s comprehensive perspective, which we have seen instances of already in this story. Vetted by the Directress’s omniscience we can consider her predicament a given, and that it had caused her to gradually withdraw, not from what we can reasonably (i.e. using reason) establish to be facts, not yet (she had not lowered the shades, flipped the slats, retreated to the immured world of her own mind, not yet), but from the struggle for the only kind of a life that she wanted to do life for: art and splendor, the vindication of her resistance to all religion and creeds, and of her stern morality.
It was because of this withdrawal from her aspirations that she impressed him as she did. The interaction between her and him was predicated on her withdrawal, and on how she impressed him because of this withdrawal, this loss of faith and drive.
Today (the day, as you will recall, when he complimented her on the dresses he’d see her in on every day he came to her house) she sank to her knees before him (this was in the kitchen), certain of his sexual desire, undeceived of her own. She could never have made out with him first, so much as have kissed him first, come close to his face and whispered words in his ear first, looked into his eyes and breathed his breath first. Nor would he have known how to deal with such things. If it were to be done, as their interaction over the past days suggested (the frequency of his visits, the sexual tension between them, the wondering, that they could almost sense in one another, if this wasn’t the situation when these things are expected to happen between a man and a woman who weren’t lovers, and never could be), then it could only be done raw and peremptory, blind. Penetrative and ejaculatory sex she saw as their only common ground, anywhere outside of which they would remain strangers to one another, probably find disgust of one another; which is why she would not look him in the eye, or talk, or kiss; which is why she would not allow intimacy a part in what they would do to each other.
So, on her knees, unspeaking, not looking up (or down; she would not add a display of humility to the act of self-humiliation implied in the sexual act itself: such erotic playing would bring them closer to one another than was her desire; than, she gauged, was his, too), she undid his button fly, and she made her hand grope for his penis in his underpants, and take it out – now it became huge and hard with a purposefulness of its own, taking control over him (the Directress’s perspective), and effacing him (her perspective) -, and she took it in her mouth and made him come, and she kept it in her mouth until it went limp and, silent, her eyes steady on his groin, made her hand take it out and away from her and snug it back into his underpants and, her other hand made to assist, button up his pants.
But now, on her knees, never looking up, she turned and positioned herself on all fours, waiting for him to grow hard again, as she knew he was bound to, unbutton himself, hike up the skirt of her dress, and penetrate her, and, spending himself, satisfy her. She did this for herself, because a woman’s sexual desire can be kindled (as was her motive) by what she had done to him before but not quenched as a result. In simply, from her kneeling position, turning around and huddling at a short distance from his feet, she had foreclosed the interlude she did not want, the intermission that lovers, which they were not, use to affirm their longing for closeness to the point where their bodies crave to join once more; on all fours before him she had merely waited for his sexual ability to be restored as she knew it was destined to be at the mere sight of her.
Yet, when the unavoidable scene had played out and she had gotten up, she stroked his face, briefly, brushed it with her fingers, feeling kindly towards him. He went outside. He worked hard around the house for a time. He rang the doorbell. She opened the door. She wore her wrangled smile. He remained standing in the doorway. He said he’d call it a day. He said he’d return the next morning to finish what he had been doing.
She said: “Will you bill me?”
He said he would not. He said he would return the next day to finish the work.
That night, before she fell asleep, she imagined hiring him, keeping him on as a hired hand, and that she would pay him with sexual favors. But, she thought, imagining the situation, could not I be said to have been hired by him and his doing odd jobs to be my recompense? Would we not be trading services? I don’t want that, she thought. I pander to my needs. I’m rendering a service to myself. I will pay him money.
She dreamed that she had a house resembling a citadel, which, in her dream, she could only see the outside of; clad in what her brain, collecting her life’s icons, must have adopted as Brontë-novel period attire, she closely skirted its circumference, certain of her title, spreading out her arms, as she walked, towards the brindled walls of tightly laid slightly polished rocks, as if to demonstrate something – her isolation, her security, her wealth? – to a man standing nearby, whose face, in her dream, was indistinct, whose presence was passive and harbored no menace.
He arrived early next morning, minutes after she had seen her daughter off to school. She let him in. She offered him coffee. He declined but he sat down at the table in the dining room where she had led him, for the first time. It was the airiest room, the lightest room. It was rectangular. A rectangular table with twelve chairs with straight backs was in its center. In one corner was a fire place. The walls were painted a caperat lichen green. The walls were exempt from furniture. On the walls were modern paintings (oils and watercolors) with food themes. It was the room which imposed its order on people in it.
She wore a dark green silk pleated skirt, which she gathered and smoothed emphatically as she moved to sit in the chair at the head of the table, the deliberate fastidiousness slowing her down. She asked him how long he would be, finishing the work. He said it would take another hour or two. He said that he thought the house should keep well for a while. He would move on after this. He had contracted a large assignment in a nearby town, a condo refurbishment. It should keep him busy through fall.
She felt lost. It seemed to him she looked for clues, directions. She was silent. She sensed his impatience, already, at her uselessness. He rose.
She said, preempting him: “Come, please, there’s something…”
She crossed the middle room, pointing at books, works of art, baubles, details, things. She entered the spacious front room, where she halted. He was on her heels. She stepped backward, quickly, and now the small of her back was against his groin. She arched her back, which made her buttocks rise against his groin. She pointed at the woman sitting on the large window bay sofa. She turned her head. He was slightly taller. Tilting her head she looked up at him, easily avoiding his eyes, which took no interest in hers.
She said: “She decides. Everything.”