Day of Reckoning
written by: Michael McCarthy
I was lying on the unmade bed in the nearly dark room. Sitting beside me, was a hunched over figure. He was tall, bulky and ponderous and his hat was tilted to cover the top half of his face.
I’d received a phone call a couple of hours ago. A very polite and cultured sounding voice had asked,
“Would it be possible to make an appointment for this afternoon?”
A minute before the agreed time the doorbell had rung.
“It’s your three o’clock.”
That same voice had announced. I buzzed him in.
I opened the door to the flat and heard his labored trudges as he slowly made his way up the stairs to my fourth-floor rooms.
Suddenly he was there, looming in the doorway like an ancient statue.
“Hi. Come in. Could I ask you where you have my number from?”
“You enjoy a first-class reputation.” He said breathlessly.
The grimy windows were closed and the curtains nearly drawn against the sun. The air was stuffy and warm and, I thought, the overall impression was of a slightly seedy, cheap hotel room.
The wallpaper was peeling in one corner; a bare light bulb hung limply from the ceiling; the carpet was dull and threadbare, what furniture there was old, dusty, and chipped and obtained from a secondhand shop. For some reason, this claustrophobic and decaying ambiance seemed to help my visitors to relax.
“Is anything off limits?” He asked.
“Only your fantasies.”
“Thank you.” He smiled. “By the way, are we alone in the house?”
“I don’t know. Why?” I lied.
We were but he didn’t need to know that.
“I detect a chill in the atmosphere.”
“That’s not the atmosphere.”
I lay on the bed and patted the space beside me. He eased himself painstakingly onto the bed.
He shifted his weight and the bed springs groaned in response. It was a large, old double bed, they made them to last in those days.
“That’s a nice dress you’re wearing, what I can see of it in this light.”
His hands were under my dress slowly moving up my legs.
I stifled a shiver.
He had a croaky, wet voice as though he smoked too many cigarettes. If so he must have given up because there wasn’t the slightest whiff of nicotine on him.
“I love the feel of your dress.”
“We could have the light on.” I offered.
“Best not to.”
That wasn’t unusual.
“As you wish.”
“Describe your dress to me.” He removed his hands.
“It’s a pattern of what looks like small, different colored flowers or they might just be uneven circles, on a light green background. It’s quite demure, lengthwise it goes to my shins.”
“Aha. Go on.”
“The sleeves are bunched at the shoulders and are just above elbow length. In the front, the neckline starts just below my clavicle.”
“Is it your favorite?”
“One of them.”
“Are you wearing jewelry?”
“Just a very thin gold chain.”
“Does that reflect a modest streak in you?”
“Would you please pull your dress up to above your knees.”
“You’ve got lovely legs, smooth, lithe and long. Did you inherit them from your mother?”
He let his forefinger play up my leg from my ankle to above my knee.
“Yes. She loved to dance.”
“Have you followed in her dance steps?”
“Yes. I love dancing but only in my spare time. Like my mother.”
“Is your mother still alive?”
“What did she die of?”
“Please, pull your dress a bit higher.”
“Is that OK?”
He put his hands on my lower thighs and squeezed softly. His hands were large and cold and smooth and his fingers were thin and well manicured.
Unusually for me I still felt nervous. That normally wears off after a few minutes.
“You seem edgy. Are you? Is it me?”
“My mother always told me to say what I think even though it’s difficult for me.”
“She was right. What was her name?”
“It has a lovely regal ring to it I think. I knew a woman called Helen, a long time ago now.”
“Were you in love with her?”
“Not in love, no.”
“I feel conflicting vibes from you.”
“Tell me more.”
“Fear, vulnerability, and barely contained, simmering violence. I told you, I say what I think.”
“I have no problem with that. I’m sensitive but I appreciate honesty. I don’t want you to feel frightened. I’d never hurt you.”
He leaned over me and gently stroked my face with the knuckles of one hand.
“And fear and vulnerability?”
“My fears are my fuel they enable me to function.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a cold and lonely world out there.”
“Is that what you’re afraid of?”
“I’m afraid of my own actions. What I’m capable of.”
“What are you capable of?”
“Anything and everything. I struggle to keep a lid on my temper. Not always successfully.”
He tossed his hat on to the foot of the bed and, clamping his hand on the back of the bed and with gritted teeth and a sharp intake of breath, got to his feet. He lumbered over to the window, blocking out the rays of sunlight, pulled the curtains half way open and slowly returned contained in a corona of sunlight.
He had an unremarkable face, large, doughy, his thinning, dark hair was swept back with the aid of some hair cream and he wore black rimmed glasses. He was older than I’d first thought. He sat down again, the bed springs offering minimal resistance.
“I feel paternal towards you.”
“Tell that to your hands.”
“I sometimes think they’ve got a mind of their own. They get me into difficult situations on occasion. Anyway, I thought stroking and caressing were allowed.”
“You’re paying for them.”
“You don’t need to sell yourself to men.”
“What do you call it?”
‘What’s the difference?’
“I still belong to me. By the way, what about your vulnerability?”
“Yes. I think that’s why my hands act the way they do.”
He gently touched my hair and then leaned forward until I was in complete darkness and sniffed my hair. His breath smelled of mouth wash. I held mine. I thought, if he had a heart attack and fell on me I’d be trapped. How long would it take for me to be discovered? If at all.
“Don’t you ever brush your hair? It’s all over the place. It looks…. windswept. Is that a hair style?”
“It just falls that way.”
“It’s lovely and soft.”
“I use baby shampoo.”
“You smell nice, citric if that makes any sense.”
“It does. You smell nice too.”
“Really? What of?”
He started stroking my arm, the hairs stood on end.
“You have a very risky job. Why do you do it?”
“I believe I help people.”
“Aren’t you scared?”
“Yes. But at the same time I feel safe. Like with you.”
“You must meet some strange men.”
“Sure. But they’re the ones who really need to talk.”
“Why they are what they are.”
“What are they?”
“Aren’t we all?”
“Some more than most. What’s your poison?”
I nodded towards a small cupboard in the corner beside a hand basin, on top of which stood a collection of dusty bottles and glasses.
“I think you know.”
He struggled to his feet and ambled over to the bar and waited for my answer.
“My one weakness. How did you know?”
He poured a glass and swallowed it in one.
“It’s like your breath, cool and fresh.”
“Are you having one?”
“No thanks. Not when I’m working.”
He refilled his glass, came back and slowly eased himself onto the bed putting his glass on the bedside table.
“What about sex?”
“Men don’t just come to me for sex. Some do and when they come to me they have no pressure to perform. For them it’s a huge relief, palpable.”
“Do you think that helps them to talk?”
“Without a doubt. But I’ve always thought, they open their mouths and out it all comes, the words tumbling over each other.”
“You haven’t asked me why I’ve come.”
“You heard about me and you wanted and needed to talk to somebody sympathetic.”
“How do you know?”
“Your body language and voice tell me all I need to know. Trust me.”
“What else do they tell you?”
“You’re glad you came to me.”
“Yes. I am. Are you wearing lipstick? Only I can’t see it or smell it.”
“What does lipstick smell of?”
“I don’t know. But it does. Are you?”
“I don’t use any form of make up.”
“I can see why.”
He was staring at me intently, it didn’t bother me.
“I wouldn’t know how to apply it anyway.”
“Do you always lie completely still?”
“Yes. It’s easier for some men. They prefer passive women.”
“Pull your dress up a little more.”
“Tiny bit more….. no, that’s too much. That’s it.”
He began caressing my upper thighs, it was quite pleasant.
“How do you feel?”
He turned and took his glass, drained it in one, and put it back on the table.
“There are so many sad people in the world.” He said mournfully.
“You’re one of them. Why are you sad?”
“I’ve done bad things. So many things that I regret.”
“Regret doesn’t settle anything.”
“Payment. In kind.”
“Deep down, I’ve always known that.”
“We all have our day of reckoning.”
“I think I’ve been putting mine off.”
“It’s here now.”
He froze, then fell to the side crashing onto the floor like a toppled ancient statue.
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