Things were not quite as bleak as Ben had painted them in his dark night of the soul, boozy and self-pitying. He had Marianna's phone number, and he called it a few days later. She was, to his amazement, glad to hear from him.
"Ursula Le Guin is reading here next week," he explained, feeling as vulnerable as a teenaged boy approaching what could be, if he played his cards right, his first Big Date.
"Oh. That's that science fiction writer you like," she said. "The Earthsea trilogy? I have to come. When is it?"
"Thursday," he said, a little flustered. "I thought we could have dinner, go to the reading. There's a party after."
"That sounds wonderful!" Marianna said. "Where should I meet you!"
It was Le Guin that was wonderful. They enjoyed dinner, and Marianna listened avidly at the reading. At the party she got a little blitzed. They had gone in Ben's car; the plan was he'd take her back to her car, which they had left on campus, and she'd drive homeless than a half hour. She was a little too drunk for that, and she leaned into him on the sidewalk as they made their way to his car. He put an arm gently around her waist. She did not resist.
"You want me to drive you over to your car?" he asked before opening the door of his own. She leaned against the door, smiling up at him.
"That's what we were going to do," she said.
"I'm worried about you driving," he said.
"You could stay at my place." He felt foolish before the sentence was finished. "I don't want you to get hurt," he added lamely.
"It would be safer," she said without hesitation.
He was so flabbergasted he considered her statement at face value. She didn't understand what he meant, he thought. Then he thought, she's not that drunk. He put his hands on her hips. He leaned in and kissed her. She put her arms around his neck.
"I'll tell you my true name, if you want," she murmured.
ms., Diseases of the Heart
I drove out to Winnemucca after the semester was under way. Half the time when I went out, Ellen and I just talked. When I actually visited Apple Annie's, I always had a different girl. "Sampling," Ellen called it. Many times she would quiz me discreetly about the woman later; Ellen was using me, I thought wrily, for quality control.
"So did you run your ad yet?" she asked one night. We had agreed that an ad in the personals was a sensible beginning. She had helped me draft it.
"Not yet. I'm still getting settled."
"Or maybe cold feet?"
"I don't think so."
Word of my plan to hire a wife had leaked into the back hall, and a couple of the girls were putting the make on me. Ellen did most of the hiring, with her boss, Luke, reserving a final say, and she had an eye for good candidates. Most of her girls in the brothels were uneducated and seemed mentally unambitious, more interested in tabloid news and afternoon television than anything consequential. They had little to offer me except sex, and little interest in anything I could offer them except money. I knew that they wouldn't hold my interest for long, nor me theirs. One night, Ellen announced that she had a possible candidate for my experiment.
"Talk to her, Doc. She looks promising." Her name was Elise, and she was from New Mexico, a college dropout with an attitude and, as Ellen put it, "an open mind about her employment opportunities." I was taken aback to realize, when I was alone with her for the specific purpose of evaluating her, that it was hard to imagine myself taking a girl from Annie's and bringing her to Reno with me. It always a shock to discover prejudices we didn't know we had. I tried to talk with Elise anyway; it was awkward.
"I'd like to see your body," I said.
She fondled the ends of her peignoir sash, lifted them so that a single pull would pop the half bow holding it together, and named a price.
I sat down in the chair by the door. "Look," I said amiably, "I'm going to pay you a hundred dollars for an hour of your time, and I'll want to make love to you during that time. Plain vanilla. No Binaca Breeze, no Daily Double, no Crème de Menthe aperitif. Nothing exotic but a little conversation. OK?"
"What if we run over?"
"Five dollars a minute. We won't."
She grinned. "It's your party, lover. You want it fast or slow?"
"I'd just like to see your body."
She pulled. Underneath she was nude. Her body was solid as a Renaissance marble; her breasts were high and firm, round as oranges. She turned slowly, elegantly in the puddle of fabric, rotating on the ball of one foot, pushing with the other. Her left heel was raised, accenting the cuts of her calf and the twin tendons behind her knee. When she faced me again, she raised her arms like a singer acknowledging applause and smiled.
"Now you say, 'Not bad...'" she murmured.
"Pretty as sculpted caramel."
"And twice as sweet."
|Chapter Eleven continues...|