There’s a quilt on the bed. It’s a crazy quilt. It’s what’s called a crazy quilt. You know why it is called by that name? It is called a crazy quilt because it does not follow a pattern. It follows the shape and size of the pieces of cloth of which it is made, the pieces which are available. Any kind of cloth will do or any fabric of any size and shape. They are all sewn together and often with bindings and embellishments of added interest. Buttons and ribbons my be added, perhaps inexpensive yard goods or extravagant scraps from cut up dresses and men’s suits. Anything will do, but therein lies the secret. The best ones are serendipitous. Do you know what the word serendipitous means? It means you didn’t see it coming, it just came, just came together and that’s the way it is. That’s the meaning of the word serendipitous and that’s what makes a crazy quilt a masterpiece. Otherwise you’re cheating. You may be a very good quilter, but if you plan to make it look like it wasn’t planned or you put fabric into it that appears to be selected at random, but in fact you selected very carefully and purchased at your favorite fabric store knowing all the time you intended to control very square inch, then you’re cheating.
The material in this quilt is really crazy. No one planned it. Here it lies, in the middle of a four poster bed in the middle of Iowa in the middle of an Iowa bedroom in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere which could be anywhere in Iowa. Maybe its in the middle of a corn field or a bean field. It really doesn’t matter. Nothing gets more cozy or down home than all the bucolic distancing and misanthropy people enjoy in the heartland and it’s all done on purpose, because this is a modern story, set in the her and now and the people who own the house and live in the country aren’t really country people at all. They’re haughty white upper class professionals who live in the country because they can afford it and have no intention whatsoever of roughing it or giving themselves to the land so it may, if they’re lucky enough and work hard enough, give back just enough for them to stay alive. Those days are gone. The cemeteries are full of those days and the people who lived them. These people are from another planet. They’re so lucky they have no need for God. They have money. They have so much money they make more money just be having money. People worked themselves to death in the last century which is when the crazy quilt on the bed was made, but nobody wants to do that now. Nobody wants to work themselves to death now. That would be awful. That would be just terrible.
There’s another quilt in the room, but it’s not a crazy quilt. Far from it. The second quilt is meticulously designed and perfectly crafted. Whereas the crazy quilt is hand stitched and the stitches applied by rough calloused hands with arthritis of a farm wife and her friends over weeks in the dead of winter when they could manage to get together by horse and buggy, walking or riding along in he few automobiles owned by neighbors willing to give them a ride, the new quilt is technically precise, executed with custom equipment, basted and stitched on a computerized Husqvarna sewing machine with more attachments and capabilities than a BMW 7 Series sedan. The woman in the bed made it. The design of the quilt is called Lover’s Knot. She did not make it for the man in bed beside her. The man is her husband. It is a very beautiful quilt.
Let’s look at the room. Let’s examine it. The man and the woman are asleep in bed. They won’t mind. They won’t even know. They are dreaming separate dreams and the alarm is not set to go off for another few minutes. We have time. They have time. The room overlooks a vista of desolation and despair. It’s been romanticized very heavily, but let’s not do that just now. Let’s be honest. This is Iowa in March. It is a vision through every window of raw, rolling fields of corn stalks blasted and shredded by last year’s combine and either chopped for silage or disked under. Every field is outlined by leafless trees and inhospitable barb or hog wire fences. Some fences have both hog wire and barb wire stapled to the same steel or wooden posts with bits of fur attached where animals have tried to get through. The land will be plowed open if Spring ever comes and potent chemicals will be incorporated prior to insemination to maximize yield and minimize risk from insects or weeds and fungus or mild and those chemicals will leach down into the groundwater, but that is of no consequence. No one except livestock drinks the water.
Snow is in the forecast. The sky is leaden. The air is sharp and biting and there is no resistance from the land which runs all the way to Canada and from Canada to the Arctic Circle. One farm does not protect another. It’s every township for itself. These two sleepers own the house and manicure a sumptuous yard which they keep mowed for no practical reason with a riding lawn mower which resembles a miniature tractor. They rent the tillable acres to a big farmer in the county. He is big and his agricultural corporation is huge. He eats too much, sits quite literally on the Co-op board of directors and has been a member of the school board since before anyone wants to remember. He has an eye for the woman who is asleep, though he does not envision her asleep though he always envisions her on a bed or somehow on his tractor, but none of that or what he envisions will be a part of this story. She thinks he looks like a big ox, a big stupid ox.
Her husband on the other hand, quite literally on her other hand, lying beside her on the left looks like an athlete. He is a doctor. She wouldn’t have him any other way. She wouldn’t have anyone in a continuous way unless they had way more than average attributes. She considers herself a professional and she loves only professionals. She judges them entirely by their success with the exception of farmers. She lives in the country among them to magnify her own exclusiveness and farmers and their farm wives are typically too dumb to spell the word egocentric without spell check on their computers or know what it means, so living with a doctor and being married to a doctor is perfect, because that also adds to the mystique which farmers also do not know how to spell. Farmers and especially farm women admire doctors, think they charge too much, but farmers and their women get government subsidies so they’re even.
The room, back to the room, furnished entirely with the most expensive furniture for a room in the country anywhere money can buy. That would be antique oak furniture purchased from England at auctions no closer than Kansas City, plus a few rustic pieces made to deceive. The four poster bed from a Pennsylvania estate, the armoire a gaudy piece of French revival decadence from one of the old Dubuque mansions being demolished by that city for yet another parking lot, a dresser with a swivel mirror that doesn’t work and can’t be fixed because no one can find the hardware but she wanted anyway and a bent wood rocker with cane bottom she thought she might learn to restore someday but hasn’t found the time, nightstands on either side of the bed to vaguely match the bed and a door which leads to a bathroom which features a whirlpool bath and a shower big enough for both of these people if they eve waned to shower together but they never do. The white tiles of the shower face in toward the bathroom through a wall made entirely of glass. This cost a fortune. No one locally could install it. When the two sleepers remodeled the farmhouse they had subcontractors from Omaha.
The toilet is a bidet.
It has a gold lever on one side and another level on the other side.
The other lever is also gold.
What more can be said? The draperies are sheer with valences and heavy panels pushed to one side for blackout effect if needed, the heat is baseboard and silent and operates on water circulated up from a filtration system in the basement. They considered solar, but what the hell and decided on propane. The area rug is Kafiristan measuring eight by ten oval and the toiletries in the bathroom are herbal, organic and priced to assuage any similarity between the bodies in the bed and bodies less fortunate.
These two aren’t really all that fortunate.
They just have tons of money.
The alarm clock rings.
We must hurry.
The walk in closet is hers. The armoire is his. She has dresses and ensembles for everything, shoes for everywhere and accessories beyond compliance with any fashionable expectation. Hew is much more austere in his taste, yet equally expensive. A wristwatch must be a Rolex. Cuff links must be jade. A pen must be Viconte. Doctors have their little ways and he has his little ones. She has hers. They don’t mix and they don’t match. He doesn’t ask to wear her jewelry. She doesn’t ask to wear his clothes. She just does occasionally. She has pieces he has never seen, strange pieces she would find difficult to explain. She never bought them. They were given to her.
On with the story.
The alarm clock rings. It is early. He must catch a plane. She will not. She will stay at home. He must depart on business. She must act as though this is a regrettable inconvenience in her love for him, an unavoidable necessity she must nevertheless endure. It is a superb performance. She does it very well. She’s done it before. He has never addressed the issue of what he suspects. He would be a fool to do so. He thinks he loves her. She knows he does. They need each other. They have been married a long time. It seems to work.
She calls to him.
“Just wanted to be sure you’re up.”
“Yes,” he says and returns to the business of bathing followed by brushing his teeth and drying his hair while she catches a few more winks. The coffee pot downstairs is on a timer.
It turns itself on.
“Good morning,” he says as he stands in the bathroom door looking into the bedroom. He is nude. There are many women who never see a man in such good shape so entirely exposed. She never takes her face from the pillow.
“Good morning,” she says in muffled reply.
When she gets up he is already back in the bathroom with an arm full of clothes from the armoire which he proceeds to put on. She can use the bathroom down the hall by the guest room to relieve herself and she does and he goes downstairs while she is back in the bedroom. He gets his first cup of coffee.
This is a good marriage. They kiss in the kitchen. They embrace.
“Finish it?” he asks.
“Yes,” she answers.
“I don’t know, had to be really late.”
“Must have been. I never heard you come to bed.”
“You never hear me,” she said.
She could come to bed and leave and go to the bathroom or anywhere else in the house or go outside and come back to bed and he never knew. He was a sound sleeper.
They had a very good marriage.
By this time he put a piece of bread down in the toaster and filled his coffee cup a second time, not before he poured her one. Yes, a very good marriage indeed.
They engage in whatever banter an early hour and the Internet would allow, for she went to her laptop at once as he ate his toast and glanced at the clock on the wall more than once, although he wore his Rolex. He liked Rolex. It made him think of his importance.
Did I say it was a good marriage?
When he thought of his own importance she often did not think of him at all, thereby giving him all the space he needed to think whatever he thought while he often forced himself not to think of her for somewhat the same reason, though for her not thinking of him or anyone other than herself came naturally.
She was a very good looking woman, as we may have said. She had once posed as a fashion model and everyone noticed when she moved to town and everyone thought, at least to themselves in a small town they often thought to one another, what a woman of that hauteur could find in a small town like theirs, but of course it wasn’t theirs at all. She only tolerated them until she could own it altogether and proceeded to do so with a finality that made everyone realize a little bit too late she intended to own whatever she wanted and throw away the key. Of course, small town people being venal and selfish, so long as she paid her bills and helped them pay theirs, it wouldn’t matter much, any more than it mattered who lived in a castle on the hill, as long as the peasants got their meager allowance. She intended to use his money first. He had enough to get them started in the manner to which she intended to be accustomed. Then she would launch her own career in arts and then, well, then she would just give everybody hell. She sat now at the kitchen table in her cashmere road, checking the Dow Jones and notes from her agent and otherwise completely naked underneath and smelling ever so faintly of Chanel. They made love last night. She didn’t want to send him out of the house without a little something to keep him preoccupied and she didn’t want to smell like him or what they’d done, thus the Chanel. She put it on this morning, a touch behind each ear. It came about three hundred and fifty dollars the ounce.
“Gotta go,” he said.
“OK. Got everything?”
“Yes.” He had a conference to attend in Denver. Snow had fallen there, but the flight pout of Des Moines had not been cancelled or delayed. She checked for him. A good marriage. He put on his coat, gloves, hat, took his valise and briefcase in hand and headed for the door leading from the kitchen to the garage. She stood from the table and followed him through the kitchen. There at the door they embraced and she did something rather surprising he thought much later although it didn’t make any difference now. She opened her robe to him and stood there between the garage and basement doors in that small space by the trash container and the key caddy on the wall, by the Home Sweet Home counted cross stitch by a thirteen year old girl in the nineteenth century over the kitchen window, stood there exposing herself to him for what she knew wouldn’t be long enough for him to do anything about it.
She did that to people.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Jerking you around. Making you feel awkward and uncertain. Throwing you off balance. Showing you who’s boss, but she didn’t say any of those things. She said, “Saying goodbye,” and dashed up to him and said, “Have a good trip” and kissed him on the cheek and he kissed her on the other cheek because she let him and he reached around inside her robe with his gloved hand because he set down his briefcase and gave he a pat on the bottom which she didn’t like and backed away.
“Be good,” she said. “I’ll see you then.”
“I’m always good,” he said.
She said ‘then’ rather than day after tomorrow. He said ‘good’ with reference to performance rather than abstinence. They both knew what each other meant and what they meant to each other. They had a shorthand method of stating the obvious. The had a good marriage.
She watched his car pull out of the circular driveway and enter the gravel lane that led from their home about one hundred and fifty yards off the county road to the top of the hill where he turned right and disappeared north. She always missed him momentarily. Then the missing feeling went away because she had so much to do. She always had so much to do. She had a project on the easel in the studio. She always had a project on the easel in the studio and she had other projects. She had proposals to write, emails to answer and envelopes from fans and associates on this continent and a few others who regarded her as their inspiration because they had no inspiration of their own and worshiped whatever muse happened along. She went back to the kitchen table where she put her laptop to sleep and turned to the window to look out through the oak grove. Trees extended all the way to the county road on either side of the lane and she did again the unexpected. This was shaping up to be quite a day. She let her robe fall open and stood before the window seven miles from town and far from the nearest neighbor and beheld her own image reflected in the window superimposed on the view of the stalwart oaks. She reached down shamelessly, held her head up high and tilted back as she ran her fingers down over her very own body which she risked twice giving birth to children, but no more. No more swelling and pain. They were long gone. She’d done all the right things, post partem diets and exercise and a little cosmetic intervention to defeat the consequences of natural childbirth. Her scars were indiscernible. She explored herself from hips to breasts and back down somewhat further. She liked herself a lot and ate yogurt with cherries on the bottom from the double wide refrigerator with built in ice and cold water dispensers in brushed stainless steel. She took a shower now that he was gone and the phone rang, but she didn’t hear it. The message waited for her until she had time and inclination to listen and dial. She didn’t have that inclination right away.
“Hey,” she said. Not her. Another she.
“Hey yourself,” she said. This time her.
“In a little. I’ve got a few things I really need to do. I mean really need to do.”
The other end of the line got predictably terse.
“I don’t want to hurry anything,” she said to the other she to impress with authority and purpose. “You know me.”
“Sure I do. I understand.” The other end of the line went dead as the other she hung up.
“Bitch,” the she at this end said, but didn’t mean it. Well, actually she did mean it, but she didn’t let that interfere with what she wanted or needed from anyone in a relationship.
She saw a car go by way out on the road. It wasn’t his. Why would it be and it went the opposite direction. At first she thought it might be, but couldn’t be, took it for guilt and hated guilt, but realized with instantaneous relief by now he’d be half way to Des Moines. He’d call if he had to turn back. He always called. He never turned back, including the night before they got married when he had those second, third and fourth thoughts about turning back but married her anyway. Some men are brave. Some men are cowards. Some men do the very same thing for those two exactly very different reasons.
The car reappeared.
She didn’t see it.
She gazed at a video on the Internet with her back to the window. She sometimes gazed at such movies when she wanted to relax. The car slowed to a stop at the top of the hill where their lane entered the county road. It stayed there for a moment maybe two, made no move to go further and then astonishingly turned in and began the equally slow approach to the house. It made no sound. She didn’t hear it. There was audio with the video. There were two people making adult sounds, but the sound of a car door slam made her shut her computer instantly and turn in her chair. She saw the car, didn’t recognize it and stood up right where she sat. Now she wore faded jeans and a cotton blouse buttoned not all the way with her heir brushed straight back to dry. She wore socks but no shoes. She dialed.
“Decide you need me now?”
“What are you driving?”
“Are you here?”
“No. You told me you didn’t want to talk. You told me you were,” but the woman on the farm interrupted her again.
“You’re not here?”
“Call you back.”
“Listen,” said the town woman, “if there’s someone else just tell me. I’m all grown up. I’m a big girl, remember? I can take it.”
“Let me call you back.”
What the woman on the other end of the line would have liked to say came out after the call ended.
“I haven’t got time for this shit.”
The lesbian held a dead connection. She might have been more sympathetic if she had known what was about to happen in the house where she enjoyed going whenever Herr Doctor was away. That’s what they called him. They sometimes called him Hair Doctor, because he spent so much time at the salon, but that gave them more time together. She might have grown suspicious at her middle aged friend’s tone of voice. She might have dialed an emergency. She might have dialed back, but she didn’t. Between illicit lovers there is a certain sense of propriety. It heightens sensuality and enhances longevity. It also requires a certain acceptance or ignorance disguised as discretion. She really didn’t care what happened on the other end of the phone because technically she knew she wasn’t a part of it and the best way to avoid being hurt by exclusion was to ignore whatever it might be entirely. So she abandoned the idea of an explanation with a huff and fluttered off to perform her own therapeutic meditation. She did hot yoga. It kept her trim. It kept her toned. It kept her focused on herself. It gave her inner peace.
Meanwhile on the plane Bill found his seat.
That’s his name, remember?
He buckled his seat belt and pulled it tight took great delight in the girl who sat down next to him.
A woman actually with a body that would stop a parade or create one.
Cheerleader, he thought. Got to be a cheerleader. “Hello.”
“Hello,” she said.
“How old are you?”
“Beg your pardon?”
“How old are you. I’m a doctor.”
“No, really. I am a doctor. I take a professional interest.”
“I’ll bet you do.”
“How old are you?”
She gave that, “I’ll just decide in the next second whether or not to call the stewardess,” look, made her decision and said, “If you’re a doctor, you tell me.”
He made his decision in the same fraction and said, “Without further examination I would say twenty eight.”
He guess low on purpose. The compliment took effect.
“Do I get charged for this examination?”
“Opinion,” he corrected. “It’s an opinion,” but he moved the newspaper and magazine he had laid on the empty seat before she appeared into his seat back pocket which left the seat between them open. “Am I correct?”
“You should keep your opinions to yourself.”
She was being testy, delightfully difficult. He had been trained in desensitization and personal distancing, the ability to ignore a patient’s pain or discomfort to discover and treat the problem. Even screams and tears had to be ignored. He had to get at the cause of the disorder.
He enjoyed his work.
“Buy you a drink?”
She looked at him really looked at him now, sized him up, not askance or at a glance, but directly and with exasperation born of circumstance beyond the fuselage.
“Maybe you should wait until we get off the ground.”
“Wait for what?”
“The drinks or do you call them anesthetics?”
“Yes or no?”
She said, “Yes, Jesus I suppose so.”
“Not a priest,” he reminded her. “I’m a doctor.”
She had to admit.
She shook her head and laughed.
Bonnie had just broken up with her husband again.
That was her name. She dressed like this as a declaration of her being so good and goddamn fed up with his drinking, his football and his football friends. She had been a cheerleader and he had been a jock, but people grew up. She got over it. He didn’t. So what the hell? This guy looked decent and a hell of a lot sharper than Mister Halftime.
“What kind of doctor?” she asked as they taxied out.
“I’m a psychiatrist,” he said. His specialty was urology, but nobody wanted to talk about or listen to anything related to excrement or urine, so from time to time among the uninitiated he portrayed himself as something somewhat different. In this case, considering the new patient, a psychiatrist.
“A shrink?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, “a shrink. I play with people’s minds.”
He razzle dazzled at her with his fingers and made a little Svengali wiggle of his eyebrows.
She laughed yet again.
Then she said, “Crazy,” and made another of those split second decisions which tend to alter the course of a person’s life. She said, “My brain could use a little play time.”
He smiled knowingly.
They took off.
Back on the farm he saw the overhead garage door standing open with no car inside from the county road and drove up the lane and got out of the car and entered the garage at great risk. He had seen no one leave and couldn’t be sure. He wanted the house to be empty. He needed the house to be empty and couldn’t wait from a safe distance. Blood soaked the shoulder of his left arm and dripped down the sleeve everywhere he want. Everything he did brought pain and evidence of his presence. He found himself momentarily in a garage the same way they looked in advertisements, perfect and filled with stuff on the walls for fun and excitement. Tennis rackets and golf clubs and a boat for Christ’s sake where a second car might be and shelves full of gear like camping and boots and landing nets and fishing rods. It made him angry. He could never afford this shit. He hated the people in the house automatically. The automatic in his hand did not make him hate. Hate came first. It comforted him, a .45 caliber Cold Combat Commander. It took no shit off anybody.
Fuck ’em. Fuck ’em all.
He approached the door which led up two concrete steps into the house.
She made no noise.
That gave her away.
He could feel her presence. He knew it must be the wife, probably not a girlfriend not way out here in the country. Maybe a widow, but that wouldn’t explain the missing car, no a daughter maybe, most likely the wife.
She made a big mistake.
He’d made a few, but she made this one first.
She asked a question through the door.
“Is anyone there?”
He held the gun. He didn’t hold his breath. He didn’t hold his breath for anyone. He stood there, quieter and more calm than anything or anyone she could imagine. Three drops of blood hit the floor by his feet. One more landed on his shoe then another. He held the gun on safety. He had a good one. Four rounds remained in the clip. One in the chamber. Three previously fired. He took off the ambidextrous safety. He wasn’t afraid.
He just knew.
Imagine, a man on one side of a door with a lock set and a dead bolt neither of which had been engaged by the departing husband, this bleeding man with a gun and a woman on the inside of her own home behind the door not knowing, excruciatingly scared because she didn’t see a car parked outside until she saw it with no one inside and no one expected and her children grown and gone and her husband she had been glad when he went but now not now and her lover in town and now not this.
“Hello?” she called one more time.
She called her friend.
She used her cell.
She kept her eyes on the door.
It rang. No one answered. It went to voicemail.
“There’s a car parked outside and nobody in it. I don’t know where the driver is and I’m here and I’m getting afraid. Call me back. I don’t know what’s going on,” and when she ended the call at that very instant, he put his hand on the door knob and gave it a turn and she saw it rotate and backed away with a fright that knocked her into the Hoosier cabinet at the end of the kitchen counter and a glass clinked against another glass and he violently pushed open the door.
She fainted to the floor.
She fainted for the first time in her life.
It felt like death.
She lay on the kitchen floor as he entered the kitchen and put the gun on the kitchen counter because a wave of pain went through him that almost made him sick and made him set his teeth, but he didn’t get sick because he didn’t know if anyone else might be in the house thus he picked the gun back up and stepped over her body. He looked around. He saw some food. He ate it.
In the airplane at fifteen thousand feet climbing to a cruising altitude of thirty-five thousand she asked for white wine and he took a whiskey sour. It was ten o’clock in the morning, Central Standard Time.
“Cheers,” he said.
She didn’t reply, didn’t offer to touch glasses. She sipped. He sipped. Then she sipped again. Then she went ahead and took a swallow. A big swallow.
This is going to be easier than I thought, he thought and put his plastic glass down on the seat back table in front of him. “So,” he said, “why do you dress like that?”
It would be easier to depict her body language in a video, but let’s try here with words, a combination shrug and slack jawed exclamation of interruption and incredulity. She had never used he word incredulity in her life, but it fit.
“Who he fuck do you think you are?” she blurted. She took another swallow of the wine, a big fruity California wine with accents of apricot and strawberry. “I mean really. Do you come onto every woman in public like this or am I just the lucky girl today? I am going to call the stewardess and I am going to have you thrown off this flight after I get my seat changed.”
“Go ahead. Maybe I can finish my drink before I hit the ground. Is it because you want to defy your husband and attract strangers in retaliation for an unhappy marriage?”
She took the bait.
She leaned in close. She unfastened her seat belt to do it.
“Listen,” she said and added, “Doctor,” with sarcasm. “I don’t play games. I’m in no mood. OK? He’s a bastard and as far as I can tell so are you. I’m getting up now and I don’t want you to speak to me for as long as this plane is in the air. Do you read me?”
He took another sip.
“If you spill your wine,” he said, “I can buy more. I can also buy you champagne. We can get off this plane together and spend the night together and you can tell me all about it. I’m a good listener and I’m good at whatever I do, whatever you want me to do. You won’t be sorry. We should be landing in about,” he reached out to check his watch and she knew a Rolex when she saw it, “an hour and fifteen minutes. We can be pretty good friends in that time and much better friends by this time later tonight.”
“Is that real?” she asked.
“Are they?” he asked.
She meant his watch.
He meant her breasts.
That made her laugh.
She sat back down, this time in the empty seat no longer empty between them.
It was a good beginning.
He knew the thrill of being completely free and honest for brief intervals of his life.
She knew the thrill of being laid by a complete stranger with an athletic body and skills he had not misrepresented. They spent the night together. She had no previous commitments, obviously, in flight from her husband. She phoned her parents and said she missed her flight and not to worry. They told her they loved her and would see her whenever she arrived. She told them she loved them too and hung up before she and the doctor resumed a further demonstration of animal rights.
She regained consciousness with a gag in her mouth and her hands tied behind her back with what she would later discover had been taken from the garage, cable ties her husband used in various sizes and colors. These two were large and with them her hands had been fastened to the leg of the kitchen table where she sat on the floor against the table leg with the gag in her mouth and he sat across the room in a chair with of all things the Lover’s Knot around his shoulders, the quilt revealing he wore no shirt and his hair wet and he had no shoes or socks on his feet and he seemed different from when she saw him before she fainted. She stared horrified at him not for any reason related to his being in her house or the car outside or the bondage in which she found herself, but the fact he wore the quilt over his shoulders like some sort of shawl and horror of horrors bloodstains on the quilt. She could see it and he saw her see it and looked around to find what filled her face with so much wide eyed terror and when he couldn’t find it just resumed string at her with calm determination and resolve. He had a gun and a cup of something hot in a steaming cup. The gun lay on the table beside the chair where he sat. The cup he held in his hand. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t speak. He didn’t need the gun.
“You fainted,” he said. “I didn’t touch you.”
He meant sexually.
She tried the restraints right then and there and gave up. She grunted and struggled and quit. He didn’t blink. He winced when he put his cup on the table beside the gun. Then he leaned forward and looked at her more closely without anything in his hands.
“You’re pretty,” he said. “You’re really very pretty, but I suppose you know. Married with kids all grown up. Everything you want the way you want it. Nice home. Nice car out back I didn’t see when I drove up. Where’s your husband? He at work?”
She didn’t move.
“Answer me. Where’s your husband?”
She didn’t move.
“Answer me,” he repeated with finality. “Is your husband at work? I haven’t got all day and quite frankly, neither do you. Nod or shake your head.”
“Good. Then we can relax a bit.”
He sighed in pain.
As he stood he moved the quilt from his shoulders to the back of the chair. She saw a white gauze patch on his chest and when he turned another way up high on his shoulder in back. Blood darkened both otherwise white patches. The quilt had blood all over it. She could see now as it draped over the chair. It made her sick. She closed her eyes. She opened them when he came back into the room.
“You’ve got a lot of neat stuff in the bathroom,” he said. “All sorts of medicines and supplies. You the doctor?”
She shook her head.
“Your husband then. I’m a good guesser. I’m just abut his size, maybe a little bigger.” He pulled on one of her husband’s shirts with difficulty and buttoned it with one hand. It had cargo pockets and epaulets. “Nice shirt,” he said. “Expensive. You the artist? You make the crazy quilt on the bed?”
She didn’t answer.
“I know a little bit about quilts. Mom used to make them. We had one or two from my grandmother on my father’s side. That one’s new,” he nodded toward the chair. “You can tell. Machine made. Too nice to be practical. Just for show. Hope you get the blood out. Otherwise it’s screwed.”
You bastard, she thought. You foul contemptible ruthless degenerate bastard who ruined my quilt the one I made for love and you’re going to rape me and get away and murder me and oh I don’t know and don’t murder me and wreck my home and make me live in hell for the rest of my life knowing what’s happened so real I can never get out or ever forget and ever recover and be proud and arrogant and confident again and oh I want my Daddy I want help. Help. Help.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “I won’t. Why would I do that? I never laid a hand on you except to tie you up. I didn’t hurt you. I protected you from doing something stupid and I protected myself, but now that I’ve got your attention, I might as well take this opportunity to say your work stinks.”
She sat stupefied.
She might soil herself.
He left the room. She could hear drawers opening and closing, doors she identified with closets and the armoire and footsteps down hallways she couldn’t see but knew in her mind every inch before he reappeared. The effort of twisting against the sharp edged cable ties almost cut her writs, so she stopped. She reeled with suffering altogether internal and all the more accentuated by an anger and a fear combined with inadequacy and helplessness the likes of which she never knew. Oh, if only someone would come and rescue her. If only someone would come and make her omnipotent again, if only for a moment.
“You take anything?” she asked him.
“You know, pills. You take anything for sex?”
“I thought maybe you did.”
“No, I mean really.”
“Thanks, really,” he said.
She sat on the edge f the bed, a very big girl, not big in the sense of overweight, no indeed, big in the sense of fantasies and nocturnal emissions. He had an eye for beauty and she had lots of beauty.
“You’re very beautiful,” he said.
“I get that a lot.”
“From your husband?”
“Usually after this so you’ve both got something in common.”
“I mean it.”
“So does he afterwards.”
“Sorry if I hurt you.”
He didn’t reply.
They were getting familiar.
They were already stark naked.
“We all get hurt sooner or later,” she said and left the bed to stand by the window. The sight of her walking nude across the floor, the carpeted floor silently from behind mad her something of an anatomical architectural drawing.
“I do really mean it,” he said. “You’re beautiful. I’m a doctor. I know.”
“OK,” she said disinterestedly. “You mean it. I wonder how many people are out there having sex?” She spoke standing by the unit beneath the window that poured hot or cold air or anything in between into the room according to how you set the thermostat. The machine had a digital green dial that glowed with the number of the temperature and a few buttons you could press. She didn’t press any. The air coming up ruffled her hair which hung to her shoulders in a blonde cascade and the air mussed the curtains just a bit. They billowed back into the room. The window wasn’t made to open. She leaned forward to let the forced air caress her body. It felt good.
“I don’t know,” he said not to dismiss her guesswork. “Maybe lots. Maybe none. I’ve found sex isn’t all that important.”
“Don’t lie to me, Doctor,” she said. “Tell me the truth. Is it cancer?”
She knew his name by now. She didn’t use it.
He knew her name.
He didn’t use it either.
“No,” he said. “They don’t care about it. They use it. They avoid it. They obsess about it, but that doesn’t make it important. They may want it to be important, but it’s not, only inevitable, not important. It takes up a very small place in our lives.”
“You sure as hell have a way of making a girl feel special.”
“Don’t get me wrong. There’s unimportant and there’s rare. You’re rare. That makes you important and important doesn’t come along very often.”
“I just come, right?” She walked from the window back to the bed and stood in silhouette against the light outside. “You want to go again?”
“Sure,” he said. “Climb on.”
“You’ve got horses,” he said to himself looking out the back windows at the paddock. “You’ve got everything. Lucky lady or very, very greedy. Very selfish. It sure as hell isn’t your artwork.” Then he found an envelope containing hundred dollar bills which he took from a sock drawer and a small gun in another drawer under some panties. He felt the panties and lifted one to his face. It smelled funky. He left the gun alone. He had a gun. He found her right where he left her. He also found the picture of a woman wearing only a pair of panties he recognized from the drawer as the same pair of panties he had impulsively raised to his face. He went back and checked. He held the picture and the panties up together. “I’ll be damned,” he said out loud. “Another very pretty lady. I wonder if Mister Absentee Pill Pusher knows.” He put the picture and the panties back in the same drawer. He didn’t find them together. “They might as well know I know.”
Like I said, he found her right where he left her. He noticed her phone ringing. He heard it ring and it lit up.
“You better answer that,” he said because he knew she couldn’t answer. He liked the joke, but his instincts forbid it. Time to get serious. “Time to get out.” He obeyed his instincts. “I’m not telling you how I got this,” he said placing his right index finger tenderly on the wounded opposite shoulder. “You don’t need to know. What you do need to know is I’m taking food, all the money and your car. Suppose I’ll find your keys here in your purse? Yep, right here. Tell you what. I won’t let you suffer. I’m a nice guy. I don’t hurt on purpose. I just don’t like getting hurt. Remember, I’m a nice guy. I clean up after myself. I’ll put this in the wash.”
He took the bloody quilt and came back without it.
“I put it on gentle,” he said.
He prepared to leave.
“I don’t like your artwork,” he said. “I’ll dial that last number on your cell phone and leave a message if they don’t pick up. Ready?”
He took her cell phone and ignored the new message. He dialed the last number. A woman answered. He knew who she was, who she had to be and kept it simple. “Never mind who this is. I’ve got your friend bound and gagged and you can do us all a big favor if you’ll come out there in about twenty minutes and let her go. I said twenty minutes. She’ll have a little story to tell and don’t call anyone else until you get here. I won’t be here, but if I find out you’ve called anyone before you get here I’ll find a way to hurt you both and believe me I know enough now to do that do you understand? Good. I’m going to hang up now.”
“There,” he said. “All done.”
He made a stop out by the horses before he drove away in her black Cadillac Escalade.
“Hello boys,” he said. One of the horses came over to the fence, he curious one. He reached out his hand and the curious horse let him pat it on the forelock. “Wish I could stick around,” he said. “You and I could be friends. Maybe next time. Stay out of trouble,” and the horse gave a snort and shook its head in agreement the way horses do. He leaned into the horse across the top rail of the fence and kissed it on the broad place between the ears. The horse understood and watched him walk over to the car, watching the lights flash as he unlocked it remotely with its insipid beep beep and the man got in the car it started and he drove away and the horse thought it could remember times when a man would have mounted a horse and it might have been him and the man riding off and the horse thought those times were better for horses and men, but those times were gone so the horse continued standing at the fence looking at nothing and nothing happened for a while longer. An hour passed then a lot happened all at once. Cars and Emergency vehicles with lights on top arrived and some stayed on the county road and some came up all the way to the house and parked all over everywhere and all of a sudden people in uniforms with guns came out and went everywhere and lights came on in the house and there was more noting for a time, because here’s what happened. The woman in town phoned the police. Finally she phoned the police and finally she and her lover sat together alone.
“Don’t touch me, OK? Just don’t touch me. I don’t want anyone to touch me. I feel so completely violated.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t come to the phone right now. Leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as possible. If this is an emergency dial 911 or proceed to the nearest hospital.”
A birdcage had been knocked over by one of the responding officers as he entered the front door with a drawn Glock and the parakeet inside the cage died when it hit the floor, being unable to fly away.
“Poor baby. My poor lover. Poor child.”
“What took you so long? What took you so fucking long?”
“I didn’t want you to get hurt. I did what he said. I didn’t want him to hurt you.”
“You believed him? You believed that fiend?”
“I didn’t know what to do. He said twenty minutes.”
“Yes, he said twenty minutes. He said twenty minutes and you waited an hour? You waited an hour. You’re such a pansy.”
“You’re in shock. That’s not true. That’s not fair. I love you. I came as fast as I could. Really I did. You don’t know what went through my mind. You have no idea.”
“No, I don’t. I really don’t. I could have been killed. You could imagine me bleeding out my life on the floor and you waited.”
“I’m glad it’s his blood and not yours.”
“His blood is all over the quilt.”
“The quilt I made for you, the one I wanted to give you.”
“You made me a quilt?”
“Oh for Christ’s sake. Yes I made you a quilt. What did you think? I made it for him? I’ve been working on it for months. I finished last night and I wanted to give it to you today. Now it’s ruined, completely ruined. He bled all over it.”
“I want to see it.”
“That’s sick. He bled on it.”
“I still want to see it. You made it for me.”
She wanted to see the man’s blood. When she did she said, “That might come out.”
Gentle cycle and air fluff had little effect.
“He tied me up,” the inconsolable quilter insisted, “and tried to make me do things I would never do.”
“What do you mean? What things?”
Now she’d done it. Her pretense to suffering, her enthusiasm for her own ordeal required additional amplification and finesse. She had to piece it together. She couldn’t back off now. She had to go through with it.
“You know,” she muttered.
“Oh my God.”
Will it ever be the same when we do what we do? her partner wanted to ask, but she didn’t. She couldn’t. She really was a coward.
They just sort of drifted apart.
“Will you give me your phone number?” he asked as she hooked her bra.
“So I can call you. I might like to see you again.”
“Let’s not fool ourselves. This happens. When it does that’s fooling around. The rest is fooling ourselves. You live somewhere. I live somewhere. We meet on a plane. We jump in the sack. We rock we roll and tomorrow we’re a thousand miles apart. Don’t get sentimental.”
“I’d like your phone number.”
She picked her blouse up off the floor where she’d thrown it as he unhooked the waistband of her skirt hours before. She told him her number. He wrote it down. As he did he glanced at his phone and saw a message waiting. He knew it was his wife. Her name appeared on the screen. He ignored it. When they parted he returned the call. He entered her number as a New Contact then called his wife. He got an earful.
“Is everything all right?”
“Do you want me to come home? I can catch the next plane.”
The very fact he asked and didn’t announce he intended to catch the next plane told them both it was over.
“No, don’t. I’ll be all right. I’ll make it.”
Meaning I can live without you. My life doesn’t require you. My hurts are my own. I can take care of myself. I want revenge on the bastard and you’re no help.
“OK. I’ll call you tonight. You call me any time.”
“I did. You didn’t answer.”
He let it pass.
“I love you.”
She hung up.
He kept the blonde’s phone number.
He used it.
That night he heard the horses neigh and next morning one of them was gone. The stallion was gone.
She phoned the police.
She swore vehemently. The officer encouraged her to remain calm and someone would come out or she could file a statement in person.
“I don’t want to calm down. I don’t want to come in and I don’t want to file any more statements. I almost got killed in my own home yesterday and I want someone out here now and I want protection. I deserve protection and I demand action. Can you imagine how I feel after what’s happened?”
“I appreciate what you’re saying and how must feel,” said the officer without effect. A deputy would arrive before noon. That didn’t happen. When he did manage to arrive she was not satisfied with his attitude, his questions or his assurances.
“We’ll find him. A horse isn’t that easy to hide,” he quipped.
She was not amused.
She did notice blood on the fence she didn’t remember yesterday. That made her want him. It could have come from one of the horses. She didn’t know. She wanted him to bleed. She went into the house and sat with the tainted quilt for a long time. It came out of the wash a third time perfectly clean, but she didn’t trust it. She couldn’t see the blood, but she kept looking. She remembered him. She wanted to remember him, but she hated him. She loved to hate him. Her husband would arrive tomorrow. That didn’t help. He made it worse. She couldn’t stand waiting unless it gave her satisfaction. She wanted what no one could give.
That night the horseman paid her a visit.
A man came to her in a dream on a horse. He rode up to the house and dismounted, tried the door and found it open, walked in and the horse found its way to the stall and the man found his way upstairs to her bedroom. She did not awaken. He mounted her and they rode away. She dreamed vividly, profoundly, shockingly explicit and in detail not even those who knew her could imagine. She awoke startled and he had been there. She knew it. She pulled off the blankets and pulled on her robe and went to the door. She couldn’t stand even the crazy quilt. He had seen it, lain eyes on it, lain on it for all she knew. That ruined it. He ruined everything. She took a brand new store bought synthetic blanket from the closet in the guest room and wrapped it around herself. The blanket was in a plastic shopping bag. He couldn’t have seen it. It wasn’t contaminated. A fine light snow had fallen, enough to leave a tracery of footprints she saw from the bedroom window. She wrapped the blanket as tightly as she could around her shivering self and dashed outside with bare feet to add her own prints to those of a man and a horse.
She knew it was him.
“I know who you are!” she shouted. “I warn you,” even louder. “I warn you. Stay away from me. Stay away! I won’t be intimidated by you. I won’t have you. I won’t,” she couldn’t take the cold. Suddenly talking only to herself she felt his arms around her and she raced back in on freezing feet shaken with cold and there he stood, looking at her in the kitchen with the same fierce determination of a man a bullet could not kill, a man healed of his own wounds who stile her heart as well as her money, her horse and her identity, she who never liked to ride, just liked the thrill of ownership. He took her in his arms against her will.
She craved his strength against her will.
“Here I am,” he said.
“Where have you been?”
“Everywhere but where they looked.”
At that moment he phoned her, the perfect blonde.
“I want to see you.”
“You’re asking for it.”
“I certainly am.”
“I certainly am. So are you.”
“Not for long.”
They made short term plans, always the very best plans to make involving time and place, where and when.
He walked away from the house where the woman who lived in the country with her husband was unaware she wouldn’t be living with or be married to her husband long either. He would come home with a nasty surprise, her cherished solitude and autonomy transformed into isolation and mere dejection, her rule reduced to a vacant kingdom. He would enjoy himself more than he thought possible with a woman who let him and the house would go up for sale because she had no taste for life without a minion and her friend in town with the same sexual apparatus found another friend because in the realm of sameness the only antidote for the boredom of interchangeable parts is perpetual change. The stallion serviced a mare who gave birth under different ownership and the police never found him because they never knew exactly where to look or who they were looking for and the case went cold after the opioid epidemic hit Des Moines.