“Are you awake?”
“I’ve got to go.”
“What time is it?”
“Late. I overslept.”
She turned peremptorily in bed, letting the sheets come with her.
“Oh my God,” she said when she saw the clock, one of those digital jobs.
It read eight fifteen.
“It’s eight o’clock,” he said approximately.
“No, its not,” she complained. “It’s eight fifteen. I’ve got to be at work in two hours.”
“One hour and forty five minutes,” he corrected.
They had a complimentary relationship. His wife and her boyfriend had no idea about these weekends these two found it convenient to disappear from one world and reappear in another, a world which consisted primarily of a king size bed, a dresser and a few modest amenities, in other words a motel room.
“I’ve got an idea,” he said. “Why don’t we go out for dinner tonight?”
“Oh,” she said. It sounded plausible, so unexpected it might work. She knew his schedule. He knew hers. She knew her boyfriend’s schedule. It took him out of town this week. She knew about everything she needed to know, but her antenna toward trouble wouldn’t retract completely, due to the rarity of her deviation from routine. She didn’t trust deviation. They met in a room such as this primarily to, well, primal seemed a reasonable contraction of the rationale. They needed it, as divers underwater need compressed air or mammals that swim take a deep breath from the surface before plunging again into the depths. Their definition of evil resided primarily in what other people told them to do, the incessant demands of career and obligations of responsibility, and their definition of divine not in devotion extolled by clerics, but the raw requirements of human need as exemplified and expressed by these hours when all they wanted they found in one another.
“Tell you what,” he said slipping into his underwear, pants and socks. He liked to talk and dress at the same time. In fact, he liked to talk and do anything else at the same time. She noticed he usually talked when they made love, unless he found other uses for his mouth. “I’ll pick you up after work. We’ll go to Carmelo’s.”
“Alright,” she said game for his game. “What’s Carmelo’s?”
She loved food. She could compare him and food, but not favorably.
Why be saccharine?
“A restaurant I go to all the time when you’re not here.”
“With anyone?” she asked.
“With everyone,” he countered the thrust. “It’s good food. It’s great décor. It’s private and Carmelo is suave, a Sicilian, a true gentleman of the world. You’ll like him.”
They kissed. He fondled her naked breast. She let him. He picked up his briefcase after the last button of his shirt, a final adjustment of his tie and linen sport coat donned as he went out the door. He closed the door blowing her a kiss. Why did it always go like this? No matter how she wanted to hurry, no matter how she wanted to get away, he got away first.
He came and went.
She came and got left.
“Oh well,” she sighed.
She rose from the bed before the door to the room the number of which she did not know actually clicked shut and she hit the shower, turning up volume by remote on the weather channel so she could hear beneath the spray. It would be a very nice day with this carton of whatever they left over from take out dinner last night for breakfast and coffee made in the tiny Pyrex carafe on the vanity counter. Could she get one that small for her apartment? She never wanted more than a swallow and a bite of egg rolls hot or cold.
She really loved egg rolls.
She loved them before she knew him.
These were especially tasty.
He said something the same about her.
She dressed efficiently and comfortably in black, a string of pearls for decoration around her neck, efficient and comfortable. She didn’t like show and checked out of the motel at the front desk to be courteous and because she didn’t like details left to chance. She didn’t like details, but if you didn’t attend they had a way of coming back bigger and leering with teeth and saliva. She tossed her overnight in the trunk of her car which opened automatically and shut the same and made it to work with five minutes to spare.
“Why do I always worry?” she worried. She worried all the time about worrying. That’s one of the reasons she loved being most recently in his arms. He took all the worry away, well, most of the worry and one of the reasons.
That night after hours he met her at the entrance of the office building where she worked editing a small soon to be famous everyone hoped who wanted to keep their job quarterly women’s magazine with regional emphasis unless they declared bankruptcy after the spring edition.
He held the car door open for her.
“Thank you,” she said.
They clicked not symphonically but rhythmically at least enough to get as far as they had gone.
“The sight of you naked on that bed almost cost me my first appointment,” he said.
“You should have stuck around,” she said. “I got wet.”
“Jesus,” he murmured, never one to use the Lord’s name in vain.
She put her hand on his right thigh and kept it there across the console as they drove a few intensely urban miles to a small restaurant with a large parking lot with a valet who knew him by name.
“Hello Mister Tom.”
The valet opened her door first and acknowledge her looks wordlessly before he swiftly opened the driver’s door and spoke his greeting with a smile without betraying the slightest envy or avowal of his own religious fervor at the sight of her legs swinging out to the pavement.
“Good evening, my friend,” spoke another man the owner who saw them through the window in the door as they approached and held it open for them as they entered. “Always so good to see you, so good to see you.” He wore immaculate slacks perfectly pleated and pressed after a day of holding the door for other customers he greeted as if they were his only customers and always for him his favorite, a delicate gold buckled belt, comfortably tasseled shoes and a white shirt that defied all comparison with all other shirts white or otherwise.
“Belle, this is Carmelo. Carmelo, this is Belle.”
No last names.
Carmelo stepped forward ever so polite and took a slight bow as he took her hand and held it as though to kiss but no.
“A beautiful woman is always welcome here,” he said savoir-fair apropos, then adroitly passed to one side in the tiny foyer as if on a crowded dance floor, swept two menus from the maître d’s podium and led them to a corner table. There seemed to be many corners at Carmelo’s. They sat beside one another facing a decorative ersatz Sicilian village with harlequino figures in discrete alcoves here and there, each wearing a checkerboard costume. The same figures appeared in printed form on the menus.
All harlequinos at Carmelo’s wore masks.
Belle liked disguises.
Hungry eyes watched them order their drinks.
Painted lips sipped one of their own.
Manicured nails traced a delicately obscene pattern on the white linen of a table cloth not too far away in another corner of the room.
“I got them to come down a little,” he said, “not as much as I knew they would, but enough. I think they’re happy. The buyer’s happy. I’m happy. Everybody’s happy.”
He sold real estate.
“You’re good,” she told him.
She liked her drink, a dry Chablis.
He drank a whiskey sour.
“Love you,” he said to conclude the business part of the day.
“Liar,” she said.
“Did you enjoy last night?”
“Don’t be fresh.”
“You wore me out,” he said distractedly looking at a woman seated nearby at a table with her husband definitely her husband who may or may not have heard any of their remarks, a real married woman.
“Liar,” Belle said again slightly different intonation loud enough just loud enough to make sure the woman he looked at heard the remarks and served notice the other woman had no right to eavesdrop.
He laughed. The empty glass now in his hand after he let the ice hit his lip on the last sip he turned slowly contemplatively on the same kind of white linen tablecloth as the one used for magic runes inscribed by the witch who beheld him and Belle as specimens in a collection she had yet to claim. Every piece of silverware on the table glistened to the light of a candle in a glass holder on the center of the table with a bud vase in which a single rose stood erect stiffly off center to the placements. There remained two unused wine glasses and two place setting a waiter now removed. A silver plated basket of woven strands contained envelops of raw sugar, milled sugar and artificial sweeter. Everything seemed heightened suddenly and perfectly apropos to this veritable instant of their lives.
“Will you order now?”
“Give us a few more minutes,” replied Tom.
“Do you know her?” asked Belle.
“The woman over at the table in the corner. Don’t look. She hasn’t stopped staring at us since we came in.”
“How can I tell if I know her if I can’t look at her?”
“You know who I mean. Don’t look.”
The woman acknowledge his gaze with a nod and a smile, for his glance became a gaze. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She met and held him in the air between their eyes. Another aspect became involved, something akin to a conversation of souls. He felt the breath leave his body.
“What are you doing?” she asked him. The woman across the room asked Tom with her eyes.
“I’m sitting here having dinner with a woman I love.”
“You don’t love her.”
“I do. We spent last night together in a hotel room. I love her.”
“You don’t love her. You love me.”
“I don’t even know you.”
“Silly. You’ve known me since the moment your father and mother conceived you. You’ve known me longer. I watched them make love. I have watched the two of you. I watch all lovers. I am that one who makes them love and you are in love with me.”
“Tom, I’m talking to you.”
He talked to her then, spoke out loud, but he didn’t know the words. He just spoke them.
“I don’t know her,” he repeated. He spoke to Belle, but he only referred to Belle as he spoke the words to the woman at the corner table, the epitome of love, the femme fatale of which so much has been written.
“Will you order now?” the waitress asked as she returned to the table.
The waitress repeated her question.
“I don’t know. I’ll have what she’s having.”
“Tom, what’s wrong?”
“Everything is wrong,” the woman at the corner table seemed to say wordlessly. “She is wrong for you. This is the wrong place for us to be together. Leave her. Come with me. I can do you no harm, only good. I am violent and wicked and you love me more than your own life from this moment. I am your perfect heart’s companion.”
With that Belle stood from her place, put down her napkin with a fling and walked directly to the woman at the corner table and spoke words she could not believe emanated from her own thoughts spontaneous and without premeditation.
“I don’t know who you are,” she said, “but I’d thank you to leave my man alone.”
“He is not your man. You have a relationship with another and this man is married. He is not your man. He belongs to me.”
Belle stood shocked, but retaliated.
“Who the hell are you?”
The wait staff didn’t seem to notice. As far as anyone could tell, two women conversed politely at the corner table. One seated the other standing nearby having left her own table a short distance away. They seemed like nice women, not the paradigms of virtue and darkness they were in truth.
“I am your worst enemy or your best friend,” said the witch as she stood. She offered her hand.
Belle did not take it.
Belle did not move.
The woman who stood now made up the difference. She stepped from behind the table, for she had sat where she could see and no one could see her from any vantage other than her own.
“My name is DeVoe,” she said. “Madame DeVoe.”
“I don’t care what your name is,” said Belle.
“Insolent child,” said the stately woman, a veritable Eiffel Tower of femininity, a glamorous woman. Let us be clear. She wore black in sequins and form fitted and it must be said some women such as this woman have a figure for which art and science and literature and mathematics and all the known studies of tedium and discipline are forfeit. She presented a ravishment for the eyes and something else. Belle felt it. Belle felt afraid.
Exactly what Madame DeVoe wished her to feel, for Madame DeVoe controlled her thoughts, the instincts, the very soul of this unwitting ingenue.
Reaching out as though a queen to a subject, Madame DeVoe took the hand that Belle did not offer and while holding it ranged visually and quickly over the young woman. “Adequate,” she said and drew her hand holding Belle’s toward herself then toward her lips as in a move so well practiced yet shocking Belle could not respond, as though the older woman would kiss the hand that held itself firm against her but then, at the very last instant, Madame DeVoe let the hands find another space, wherever they might care to go and leaning forward with perfect elan placed a kiss on Belle’s right cheek, then the left in the continental practice of cherished civility and polite public affection until as a cat might pounce on a rodent, as a hawk might land on a prey, Madame DeVoe centered herself and Belle with a fine lightning wicked smile that transformed into lips of ruby preparedness and landed a kiss firmly and lingering right on Belle’s mouth and did not part did not pull away until the young woman more a girl now than anything else unsure of everything but the dazzling enigmatic perfect power with teeth before her pulled back and said, “There. All better now. Take me to him.”
They crossed the room to the table where Tom stood and would have stood there forever. A man can only run so far and sometimes a man cannot run at all. He may not know what to do, but he knows stupidly he cannot run.
Madame DeVoe extended her hand always the initiator took Tom’s hand and shook it like a man. Then she turned to Belle with the odd inclination of an eyebrow, the left eyebrow which said something all women should be able to say to one another, themselves or any man.
“I know it all, do you?”
High heels, not stiletto but close, a tiny purse big enough for a tiny gun or knife and mascara, a diamond clasp in the shape of a dragon, things unspoken on her mind and well equipped to kill or cure, she sat down when the waiter who seemed to magically appear pulled out her chair for civility and pushed it tenderly closer to the table with her as she sat.
“Thank you,” she said to him really quite sincere.
“Si,” he spoke with a bow and withdrew not too far, attentive and devoted instantly for eternity.
“The Spanish know me so well,” said Madame DeVoe. “Castilian, rather poor after centuries of culture. I can do wonders for him and what of you?” she asked Tom. “What is it I can do for you?”
“Nothing,” interposed Belle.
“I can destroy you, young creature or endow you beyond your dreams. Make up your mind before you speak again.”
“I want love and power,” said Tom, drinking his wine rather quickly and setting down the glass with the long fragile stem on a crease of the tablecloth. His hand shook. He seemed to understand.
“Easy,” said Madame DeVoe. “You?” she asked Belle.
“With him?” asked Madame DeVoe.
“With anyone,” said Belle. “I want everything.”
“You shall have it, princess,” said Madame DeVoe. “I’m famished. I haven’t eaten all day and you two look so delicious.”
“We haven’t ordered,” ventured Tom
“Oh yes you have,” said Madame DeVoe. She snapped her fingers and the three found themselves in a bedroom with sumptuous appointments, furniture from another age and covered with a fine layer of dust like talcum powder from the dressing table of Marie Antoinette. Everywhere artwork stood on easels, hung from the walls and stuffed animals posed motionless from exotic adventures from which only hunters became extinct.
“Let’s eat,” said Madame DeVoe.
She laughed and threw back her head.
The sound of her laughter like music in crescendo echoed from the corniced walls and escaped the open windows it would have broken if they had been closed out into a world where it defied gravity and found its way with ever increasing passion and velocity into space beyond the stars.
Every single star.