Sunday, April 1, 2012

Brindi Again -- after the bike-ride.


I didn't tell you in the first part: Brindi does not drive. She walks, takes the trams, or bikes. Save the environment. No smoking. Off and on again vegetarian.

I called her at her office. Another Thursday. I ask, "Let's take a bike ride after work?" She says OK.

I put my bike in my Toyota. I drive to her flat. It is 6:30. She waits at the entrance. We peddle two streets toward the bike path along the shore.  We stop a few times to rest. My rest. She is fit. Not so much me. When we stop we talk.

I learn her father has made warnings about her life with the older man. So she asks me. I also think -- as I say -- he may not fit into the family and it is awkward among friends who may have little in common with him.  Maybe now exciting -- as she likes the attention and gifts -- but later when he is 60 or so and she is still in her 30s.... I shrug my head. She thinks.

We return to her flat. I call my partner...tell him, having dinner with my cousin.  My bike is returned to the Toyota. I help carry her bike up three flights. The bike is again behind the door.

The un-needed clock above her computer says 8:35. Evening shadows fall from surrounding buildings.

She turns. She reaches. With arms around my shoulders, she thanks me for help. And she kisses me on the lips.

I return the kiss.
  
Perhaps two or three minutes into more wet kissing, I lift a breast in my hand. It is hard. She wears an athletic bra. She presses her fingers between my legs. I open my legs. I try not to give in to impulse.

Brindi whispers, “Do you like that.” I answer, “Uh huh.” I press her hand down. I'm weakening.

Against the door we begin to rock, not side to side, but back and forth. 

Brindi takes her hand from between my legs. She says, “May I.”

Stepping back, she takes her shirt off and reaching behind removes her bra. She purses her lips as the bra is thrown – with a flourish -- onto the desk top.

I see shadows in the full light coming from a side window she is exceptionally fit. She drops the same shorts she wore that other Thursday. Kicks them under a chair.

As I watch, she bends to remove her athletic shoes. She wears no sock. She straightens, steps toward me and we resume kissing. My blouse is removed; she started with the lowest button. The padded bra I remove. It drops to the floor. She unbuttons my biking shorts. She reaches into my panties. As her hand again presses, she says, "I want to feel your bush,” adding, “And I want your hair in my teeth again.”

She remembers the first time. Since then, I have trimmed it, neat and tidy.

I say, "I want to be in your bed."

She does not reply. I take her hand in mine and lead her to the bed. It is not made from her sleep the night before. She sweeps the cover off. She sits on the edge. I stand in front. I allow her to slip my panties down. She brushes her fingers, circling my dark triangle.

I say, "My turn."  She remembers. She lays back. I pull her panties off. I throw them over my shoulder. She laughs. I see her lean, fit, long legs. I spread them. I'm reminded our legs spread so much wider than bloke's legs and the result ... so much more lovely. I kneel. I lick, I kiss. I know what to do...so natural now.

An hour or so later, we are still moist, and sweaty, and taste of salt ... all so luscious.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jenn in Italy

Villa dei Misteri

My mother, bless her soul, is — as the British say — a pain in the arse. Of course, she means well. However — you see — she is handicapped by a proper heritage traced back to a 'great-great-great' someone arriving in 1620 aboard the Mayflower. A graduate of Vassar '51, she quite naturally, discovered and latched on to dad. Dad: Harvard '50, Oxford D.Litt '55. She reminds me frequently, “Your father was a man of letters.”
   I didn't really know dad. He spent long hours in his study, more lecturing and traveling. He died when I was almost 'sweet-sixteen.' There was no choice but to attend a flash (as the Aussie's say) girls' boarding school in Connecticut. At least — after Connecticut — I wasn't forced to go to Britain. That is where mother expected me to meet some nice gentleman. She implored, “Jennifer, you could be discovered by a refined young man and he will take you to Oxford where they speak so adorably.” I thought, no thanks mom, but didn't say it.
    A plain-Jane, house-mother at Connecticut Girls' Academy introduced me to Australia. She told me about the Outback, Aboriginals, and (shocking at the time) topless beaches. Mrs Watson, Sydney '79, and her husband taught the classics. Dr Holland Watson, a scholar of antiquity (ANU '70, Yale PhD '81), arranged my senior-trip-abroad, to Tasmania — me not knowing, then, an island-part of Australia.
   That is where I lost my virginity. A Visiting Fellow, Almer, had been an Olympics-competition, long-distance runner from Egypt. He had great stamina. Almer was a graduate of American University, PhD '95. American University is in Beirut — I think — maybe Cairo?
  He and I jogged mornings. After jogging, much to mother's distress, Almer took me on digs where I learned about archaeology: “How, Jennifer,” mother exclaimed, “are you ever going to meet and marry a doctor or at least an attorney or architect if you spend your time digging for broken jars and looking for the bones of the unfortunate.” She could sound like the arch-typical New York or Miami Jewish mother — someone I recall Woody Allen featured in a movie.
   Almer disappeared in Iran with the burka-wife he didn't tell me about. I bet she doesn't, well, run every morning.
   Mother never calls me “Jenny.” Nor, as my school friends' do, 'Jen.' She would be horrified by my Australian nickname. I earned it after I made an important discovery on the York Peninsula – 'Bones.' Mother still defines people by their school – Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Stanford, Oxford. At dinner parties, in typical New England style, after she first asks where a person lives, if it is an acceptable address, she asks about their school.
   My Hobart '90 and Monash AM '92 do not count for anything. Even Michigan PhD '98 was a disappointing choice: “But Jennifer dear, Ann Arbor sounds like a nice,” as she adds, scornfully “Midwest, small town, but isn't everyone either a bible-basher or a football fanatic?”
   Mother's condominium in The City (85th Avenue) comes with a live-in maid; Sally's primary task is to care for the organic-fed and fat, no-mice-for-mom's cat, Pilgrim. When not in New York mother is at the “The Lodge,” or she will say,“At The Lama Estate.” Either way I know it's the resort-drenched Poconos.
   Her weekend companion – before and after the crash – is one of those Wall Street brokers, whom she admits is not a man-of-letters, however, as she says, “William Stratin Bellsworthy has retained A-Class equity.” She introduced him, saying, “Jennifer dear, this is William — Amherst'60, Harvard MBA'62, and Yale J.D.'63.” She didn't mention my Hobart or Monash, or even Michigan, saying only, “And here is my lovely Jennifer.”
Mother and William maintain memberships in three University Clubs; conditions of remaining members, as William says, “Are if women are accepted and if they prepare a proper Martini.” Three years before he met mother, William Stratin Bellsworthy resigned from the Fifth Avenue Varsity Club when women were allowed visiting rights. So there is progress.
Mother did hope I might at least meet and marry a professor with the right pedigree. Of course, unmarried coeds attract the attention of professors—and teaching fellows. Yes, I had – after Almer – my share of clandestine events, sometimes on cleared desks or on carpeted floors, and, because dad left me enough money to support myself, I sometimes treated a fellow student or an unmarried professor to a resort. With pancake breasts, it helped if I made the offer.
I like to think I am slender, at least trim, maybe (on a good-hair day) statuesque. 'Bones' is also descriptive. As I am outside most days, I am tanned. With a tan, and reddish, short, fashionably-cut, casual hair, in tight, worn jeans, and minimal makeup, I think I look sexy in a tall, boyish kind of way. Men might think me a lesbian until I gesture or they see me do my willowy walk, with a bit of nonchalant lean, or until they see how I look over a man. I start with what he is wearing on his feet, ending with a look into his soul by his expression and eyes. Sizing a man, so to speak, only takes a second or two; sometimes — if I want to be noticed — there is a second or — when necessary — third glance.

That's for background. Here I am in Pompeii Italy, and I have a major-man-problem to ponder. I am sipping a morning cappuccino outside what my Australian team of 'archaeologists' or 'archeologists' call The dig. Cannot make up my mind on how to spell 'archaeologist' or 'archeologist.' That is the least of my problems.
   Our team is measuring and photographing fountains, tombs, and theaters for an exhibition that will tour Australia. We have been on-site for over four months.
   Last evening mother called from the Lama Estate. 'Jennifer dear, what do you mean, 'I am seeing someone?' I wrote that in a letter: 'I am seeing someone.' It was probably a mistake to admit that, but – you see – as her only child she has expectations of me marrying.
   I want to provide some modest encouragement for a grandchild. After a series of failed – what shall I call them? . . . 'hook-ups' and 'dating' situations, plus a few 'live-withs'. . . I have a modest hope that maybe – unlikely as it is – I found the right man. I say 'unlikely' as the list of 'failures' is getting long, even by the standards of a confirmed, independent-minded, modern woman.
   Those knowing my views on marriage and careers look upon me a feminist. It is not obvious, but I do desire some form of permanence. The desire for permanence, deepening since turning thirty-five. Behind the facade, I believe two people can meet and at least like each other well enough to stay together exclusively. I am over my experimenting years — being a loose-woman and the casual hook-ups. The men I have known recently, however, seem — from the decade before I was born — to be into 1960s notions: free love, date-less sex, and noncommittal theories of mutual independence and non-property rights. Even those who say they prefer exclusive love relationships have been dumping me with variations of . . . 'moving too fast' . . . 'being smothered'. . . 'needing personal space' . . . “too much too soon”. . . and more of the same.
   Last summer there was the high technology researcher, Kevin (MIT, PhD'85). He invited me, after learning I wasn't seeing anyone, to a wine and cheese showing of the latest from Apple. Our tongues were introduced on our second date and by the third he was fixing pasta by candle-light in his Melbourne flat. He had delicate hands, blond hair, and smiled easily. The linen was clean. I was smitten. After six weeks, he told me he needed 'space.'
   Russell, whom I was attracted to because of his personal confidence and indifference to politics, and who also adored foreign films, told me, after popcorn and a New Wave French film in his apartment, that he didn't believe in exclusive relationships as they were a chauvinistic throwback. In my non-attachment twenties, I would thought him my perfect partner. Not now.
   There was the former Jesuit (Stanford, PhC '02) who was into Zen. He didn't call me again after I said – at the end of our third meditation – 'I am sorry Phillip, maybe later, but just now I am not ready for more Zen.' With all that meditating, he was plump, bordering on fat, charitably, chubby.
   Three days before flying from Perth, via Bangkok, and Rome, then by car to Pompeii, I broke up with an eventually-divorced, tenured professor of literature (Edinburgh PhD '88). Even with two children, mother would have approved of a Milton scholar. As we were washing the dishes the morning after the evening's stay-at-home-candle-lit-dinner, he said, 'Now that I am single, I want to see a lot of other people.' Arthur, of course, meaning women. Arthur did say, I should call him when I returned. He was 'fond' of me. During flight segments over the Middle East and Europe, when not watching the latest from Hollywood, I recalled him as presumptuous and arrogant and he snores.
   Of course, I didn't tell mother about the foreign corespondent met on the train, the construction worker with L O V E tattooed on his knuckles, the Irish surfer, the bond trader from Hong Kong, and the 14-year-older, unemployed actor who lives with his mother and didn't get it up, but I did write, 'I am seeing someone.'
   I met him at the Villa dei Misteri and I will see him again today at the Villa. He works at the Villa. He is a custodian.
   Do I begin by telling mother when Ali gives me one of his wide-eyed, happy grins it makes the heat in my body rise like a thermometer reading fever — a fever so high my ears burn? That my knees — the way they did as a teenager — go weak? That when he opens a door for me, my stomach constricts with desire and my shoulders give a little jerk? That when he holds my fingers in his warm hands, my pulse throbs? That he is a virtuoso at . . . well, I won't go there . . . not with mom.
   It is to be another long day in the hot Italian sun, in this land of eternal disorder — in this land I adore. I seek evidence to sustain a contention: the Villa served the same purpose as 'moon camps' among the tribes of North America as well as, perhaps, among the Aboriginals of Australia — a place detached where a woman is exclusively among women once a month.
   As I ponder my man-and-mother problem, the always happy-go-lucky Max has brought me a second cloudy cappuccino, the mild so thick it holds its form. When he places the cup and saucer before me, he says, proudly, mixing English and Italian as usual, 'No chocolato, docttor-essa, extra sugor.' I give the usual grateful smile, and reply, 'Grazie, signori Maxi.' He seems to like I add an vowel to his name.
   Sipping caffeine and munching a sugar-laced donut I watch over-weight, and stocky, Mimi – strange name for a man – showing severe-looking, brunet Juletta his latest tattoo. I doubt she cares but looks appreciatively as she twists his arm making comments about each bird, cat, dog, and military symbol.
Despite the decline in the value of the U.S. dollar, American tourists arrive by the bus load, a few by train. Max is pacing back and forth on the road, working his way through the arriving tourists; he is asking who parked the sporty red Fiat in the bus zone. Franko – lieutenant with the Carabinieri – threatens to have it towed, that is, as soon as he finishes the morning edition of La Repubblica and has a second lively espresso, the beans ground on location.
All gesturing and talking at once, the dozen or so regulars at the train station's outside cafe, are chewing breakfast pizzas, sipping coffees, licking pistachio gelatos, and throwing down espressos from pre-heated ceramic cups.
In a short time I will shoulder my camera, briefcase, notebooks, site charts, pens, pencils, compass, magnifying glass, lunch and water, but first I want to see if Franko will have the Fiat towed. As I wait, I see Max is now admiring Mimi's tattoo. Juletta answers her cell phone. With cloud-scrapping hand gestures, in a loud, undulating voice, she makes one point after another, then another and another. Someday—maybe twenty years—this scene will appear at La Scala.
I am distracted from watching operatic Juletta as I see all the men's eyes follow a passing woman. She is tallish, thirty-ish, strolling under a wide-brimmed, fashionably floppy black hat, and black blouse. She is moving away from the train station. Her gait is lazy, contemptuous, exuding the glamorous air of you-will-look-at-me but I-will-not-look-at-you. I stare too. Besides bra-less, what has caught our collective attention is the short, flared, black skirt that, probably knowingly, lifts to reveals a black thong. A Ferragamo shoulder bag, hanging from her right shoulder, raises then lowers the skirt with each long stride. Old opera in a culture where pleasure and beauty are worshiped.
After that distraction passes, I see the Carabinieri's Franko stroll onto the street. The red Fiat speeds off. Then two motorcyclists, thinking to leave their machines at the bus stop, depart hastily as Franko, first lowering his head slightly, then with a click of thumb raises his cap half a millimeter; he glances; the wrong-doers flee. I watch him every morning. I sigh. With his knee-high, black, polished leather boots, red-striped, blue uniform and regal bearing, even when not emerging like Nero from his Alpha Romeo, such a powerful man, no doubt, is warmly greeted at the end of each day by a voluptuous and grateful wife and joyful, healthy children.
Yesterday I watched Franko taking Max's arm in his. Both mens' heads are lowered as they passed near my table; they conferred in subdued tones, like brothers might at a mother's funeral. I have come to appreciate the soft side of Italian men.
There are fewer Americans now, but a bus load of camera-toting Japanese tourists arrives. I follow them to the Porta Marina. Before I flash my archeologists' pass, I see their tour-leader, unusual for the Japanese — he being short and stout — distributing maps of the two or so square miles of ruins. The stout guide, wisely, has an umbrella under his left arm: there are clouds on the western horizon. As none of the Italian guides speak the language, the Japanese arrive with their own.
Handsome Carlos is at the turn-stiles. I appreciate the way he compliments me with his eyes. No doubt he knows our green-eye-tones match. Italians look into your eyes; same as the other Mediterranean people do. They are not like the north Europeans who, perhaps, consider looking directly into your eyes an invasion of privacy. I am trying to be Mediterranean.
Mother, however, for as long as I can remember, repeats, “Jennifer, do remember, you are mostly clean-living and industrious Dutch.” That is, after reminding me, “Jennifer dear, most of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower sailed from England's Plymouth, but they fled religious persecution from Holland.” Maybe – as men and women of the Netherlands are now the tallest Europeans (all that milk and cheese?) – that is why I am tall and lean.
After our eyes meet, always politely, Carlo says, with gusto, 'Prego, Dottore signora. Buon giorno.' Then – almost like Franko – with thumb, adding forefinger, he tips his hat in a way to say, 'Please also notice my broad smile, charmed profile, and brilliant teeth.'
Nodding my head, I answer, as always, 'Buon giorno, signori Carlo.' He is so very Italian: confident and, at the same time, attention-seeking.
To conduct my archaeological research, it is necessary to invest in well-ordered habits: the numbered notebooks, pencils sharpened daily, three photographs of each find, measurements in millimeters . . .. Yet I admire the tumult, unpredictable, frequently dismaying Italian repertoire of behaviors that nevertheless has moved the nation of pleasure seekers to have one of the higher disposable incomes in the world. And — same as my adopted Australia — Italy is a fresh-air society.
Italians appreciate the out-of-doors. They literally parade themselves down streets. Lovers, teens, and families, are, whether an evening passeggiata, or lunchtime stroll, always providing a continuous show. That is how it is I begin sharing in the life of a custodian — at an out-of-doors concert.

Our team of archaeologists, as a gesture of appreciation for our volunteer work in Pompeii, where funding is never enough, were invited to an evening of Beethoven, Ravel and Chopin in the outdoor gardens of the Villa Rufolo overlooking the sea on the Sorrento Peninsula in the small town of Ravello. It was a Sunday. The sun already low on the horizon.
Unfortunately, traveling in two cars, we got lost negotiating the many roads crisscrossing the peninsula. We had been in Amalfi passing the afternoon with pizza and beer watching a Medieval-era competition of rowers from Pisa, Venice and Genoa. Arriving late, we were ushered to seats near the rear of the audience.
With the sea as background, the setting is breathtaking: in the foreground, situated under a palm tree, within a lite, thirteenth century arch, providing superb acoustics, Beethoven's Sonata op 22 is concluding. I am re-adjusting my chair, getting comfortable. I am glad to be tall enough to see over the elderly couple seated in front of me. Three violinists – two women and a man – enter from the right. They take the three seats arranged in front of the grand piano.
As the musicians tune their instruments, I look closely at the handsomely-dressed man. He is re-positioning his chair and tuning the violin. Mint-white shirt sleeves flash from his perfectly-tailored black suit, black socks and – no doubt, name-brand shoes. Because he leans forward and because of the angle he holds his head, chin clinching the violin to his shoulder, and because of the shade, I am unable to see his face. He is not an older musician, the long-haired types, as I might have expected. He is rather younger than the women, who are beyond forty. He seems vaguely familiar. Maybe he played at the recital held cliff-side at the Convent of Santa Rosa that first week? Maybe he was with the orchestra in Naples and I was introduced to him at the reception following the Verdi Festival the previous year?
As the sentimental sounds of Ravel wash over the audience, I close my eyes, listening. I dismiss further thoughts of the violinists. I think of my research.
A new man asks for my credentials. Since the first week, the regular staff, seated in the small, wooden building behind the entrance, merely look up and wave me in. Because the closest entrance to the Villa of Mysteries is along a narrow, side road, far from The Digs' main gates and its primary attractions, custodians have little to do. They usually pass time playing cards.
This man is asking for 'documento.' He is not only unknown to me, but I guess, since his uniform looked new and freshly ironed, the officious custodian is a new employee. I am annoyed by his insistence. I dig into my bag, cluttered as it is, and find the plastic-encased authorization to come and go as I wish. He examines it with care, turning it in his hands, checking the signatures and dates. I feel I am suspected of being a mafia-recruited thief, maybe a terrorist.
That done, I enter into that day's primary task: search for evidence of Cupids and moons among the decorative frescoes and tiles in the Villa's more three dozen rooms and corridors.
The Villa has aroused great interest and there are multiple interpretations of its history — all debated by men. The only agreement among them about this site – outside the walls of Pompeii – is that it is among the more magnificent of its type. The evidences tells that it was initially constructed two centuries B.C., reconstructed over the centuries and was under re-construction when buried by ash in 79 A.D. I – as a woman – am attempting (as I already mentioned) to establish the probability the villa served as a resting and ritual place among women during their monthly periods — same as was definitely true of the detached camps among Ojibwa Americans in Wisconsin. True also — I contend — of the Aboriginal people of Australia.
With magnifying glass, I am examining the fresco-painting of a woman thought to symbolize Spring in Triclinium Five — the Dining Room of Mysteries. Glancing left, I see the new custodian entering. Still annoyed by his insistence to show my credentials, I ignore him. He stands patiently as I make notes. Five, maybe ten minutes pass. When done, I slip the notes into my briefcase, turn, and, in my best Italian, ask, sarcastically, “And what can I do for you?”
When he answers in perfect English, and American-spoken English at that, I am astonished. After learning from the other guards – the truth so out of proportion, but so Italian – dottore is a famous scientist, he told me he came to apologize. Adding, in Italian, touchingly, he is sorry to imped my work, “Scusa dottore. Dispiacente mi.” Not knowing I understand, he repeats in English, “I am sorry and I am displeased with myself.”
I can hardly contain a laugh, but, acting dignified, answer, “Niente problemo.”
He – breaking the ice – smiles at my crude Italian.
I acknowledge the moment, saying — my tone more friendly: “Everything is just fine.” After another moment, asking, “How is it you speak such good English?”
“I was assigned to the American's Ramstein Air force Base near Frankfort,” pausing, before adding, “When I was in the Italian Army,” then with pride, saying, “as an Alpino.” Pausing again, awkwardly adding, “Excuse me, I am Ali - Ali Vecellio.”
After he gave me his name and I gave him mine, I begin looking him over. His facial features are rugged with a square jaw, prominent cheek bones, high forehead, partially hidden by an overhang of wavy black hair. His ears, far from delicate, are rather large and stick out, but again the wavy hair softens the effect. The eyes are striking, wide and large, pale blue under thin eyebrows, and eyelashes that many women might like to have, long and fine.
I don't know what he means by “an Alpino” but assume it is a military rank of some kind. This new custodian, perhaps habitually, stands at attention. I see he has broad shoulders, squared under a muscular neck. The torso narrows nicely down to perfectly polished boots. So military. Yet, I sense a softer, sensitive side as his blue eyes, the eyes of a dreamer, soulful, look into mine.
Graciously, as he departs, his hand is offered. As our fingers touch I feel a momentary charge. Hmmmmm.
I learn later, he was a Captain in the special Mountain Division of the Army. They are the Alpino, a word taken from Alpine. Their brown hats, pinned up on one side, are like those of the Australian Diggers, but with a long feather. He has been a skiing instructor, until his left foot is crushed by a run-away military vehicle. As a skier he can no longer lead his men into battle, so his military career ends at age 38. When weary, he walks with a slight limp.
Same as his father, and same as grandfathers for generations, he was (still is) a proud Alpino. A grandfather, who served in Ethiopia and who admired an American boxer, suggested his Arabic name, Ali. He joined the Alpine Mountain Division when he was 18 years old. Accepting a discharge with honors along with a military-service pension, he now turns his attention to a second love: archeologia (no 'a' before 'e'). What better place than to be a custodian-guard at Pompeii?
When not guarding the site, he is photographing and cataloging faces among the marble carvings, frescoes and tiles. That is how we eventually became lovers: when I asked if he would show me his collection of photographs. I say, 'eventually' as the first times I invited him to my hotel suite, he declined. Both times saying, “It is better I not.” Adding, “Prego, scusa me.”
I didn't probe, ask why not, but later learned my handsome Alpine Captain was not over the death of Genevra. Married for less than a year, her car – two winters earlier – slipped off an Alpine road. She and their unborn child were lost. His heart, he said, since meeting me was filled, aver paura (with fear). When I delved into his fear, I learned he believed it perhaps a bad omen (cattivo augurio) about 'Jennifer' and 'Genevra.' I suggested maybe buono augurio. When I looked (I had to ask.) at the first picture of Genevra, her smiling, flowing reddish hair, wearing hemp, hippie-chick dungarees, I wished her to be the sister I never had. I cried. He cried. I loved her. A matter the heart's complexity of passion and empathy. I didn't know why. I still do not.
Before we became lovers I was already smitten. My romantic feelings started the evening he “rescued” me. I had been....

Story is finished -- draft, of course -- email me if want more:

Lovena in Holland

Vivia, Deena and Lucy
From the window of her fourth-level, three-room suite, Lucy sees the Amstel River and two canals. On leave from her university to promote an anthology of short stories, the task over, freshly showered, as she applies mascara, she anticipates a much-needed quiet evening. Drake Publishing, of New York, paid for the classy Daalen Hotel on behalf of their fledgling East-European editor. Knowing Hungarian, Russian, and Romanian, made the young editor's task a natural.
In the hotel's lobby, the artist, Vivia Lindberg, is waiting for her Swedish lover, Deena. The artist had seen Lucy's arrival a week earlier. Lucy's dark eyes, full eyebrows, thick, black hair and caramel-brown skin, had Vivia speculate that Lucy might be Gypsy? Deena, thought the same. Neither expected anyone of that culture in Amsterdam. The evening was still young when both women learn Lucy was born in Romania. They decided, yes, Gypsy.
Dark and taller than most Gypsies, Lucy was – as a teen – in summers, a solo, prize-winning tennis player; in winter, a water polo team member. Always attending her sporting events, her mother, Syna, knew her athletic, good-looking daughter will attract the attention of men. Mother, when naming her 'Lovena' – little loved one – didn't anticipate women.
Her fair-haired and pale-skinned girlfriends called her 'Lucy.' 'Lovena' sounded too foreign in corporate-insurance, All-American Hartford.
***
Observed by neighbors, mother and daughter, both immigrants, now naturalized citizens, were closely bonded; an only child, Lovena fulfilling needs of a long-suffering mother, a dim-recalling of her Romanian husband – a citizen journalist, he disappeared two months before the birth of Lovena – never proven, but believed abducted by the Russian KGB.
     Bidding goodbye at the Hartford airport, mother warned Lucy, saying, “You careful now. I want you meet nice American man. Have babies in America.”
Since her birth, her first return to Europe, the twenty-eight year old daughter of Syna, prepared for radio and TV interviews; she prepared for meeting with book clubs; and she prepared for speaking at book fairs. As mother would know, because she still lives at home, she was not well prepared for men and not at all for Vivia and Deena.
* * *
Danish Artist. Away from her studio in Copenhagen, Vivia, a thirty-something, briefly married, abstract artist travels with her exhibits. At the art gallery, left of the reception desk, twenty-four, large-scale paintings, oils, line the vanilla-shaded walls of two rooms at the four-star hotel. During gallery showings in Amsterdam, the artist stays with university student, Deena.

Swedish Deena. Deena, not looking Swedish, instead, olive-skinned and slim, moved from Stockholm when she married a Dutchman. She stayed after the divorce. On her web-page Deena Halstrom describes herself as a part-time student and aspiring photo-artist.
    Deena's sparsely-furnished, one-bedroom, apartment, fills the fifth-level attic of a tall, narrow building from the 17th Century. With painted floors, each room has slanted-ceilings and hand-hewn beams. Except in the middle of rooms, it is difficult for her to stand upright. The ceilings and beams are painted off-white, almost yellow. Between beams and ceiling, every space is filled with a variety of books, boxes, newspapers, and the odd electrical appliance that might otherwise be in a closet. Two sooty skylights allow east then west light. As small restaurants do, mirrors reflect and create an ambiance of a larger space.

      Outside, off the living-dining area, Deena's roof-terrace is edged with miniature fruit trees, flowers, and a variety of herbs. Other narrow buildings with hovering, diving nighthawks complete the view.
      No different than artists' lofts worldwide, three to five painting or etchings or photographs hang on every wall. Along floors, some framed, some half-framed, some not, another five or six await space or a larger apartment.
There is a complete, every bone (if plastic) human skeleton standing left of the door to the WC. Androgynous, it wears a mauve wool night-cap, red mittens, non-matching, brightly-colored knee-socks and fuzzy slippers.
     An odd assortment of thrift-store castoffs complete the furnishings. Along the windowless north wall, a worn, flowered-couch, capable of seating four adults, with eight multicolored cushions, faces toward Euro-style, kitchen-cupboards. One of Vivia's abstract painting hangs over the couch.
Swedish Deena, Danish Vivia and Romanian-American Lucy will sit on the couch. Lucy in the middle. A protective mother's never-imagined nightmare.

What Lucy didn't tell mother: My responsibilities in Amsterdam are over. I am craving a low-key, placid, even-boring weekend; no more publishers' parties; no more late nights of too much coffee, vodka or beer and sweet wine as I listen to hopeful authors pitching stories and poems, some of the presenters, both men and women pitching, in any direction, perhaps, more than poetry.
After taping two radio interview that Friday afternoon, I don't want to return to my suite with its muted-brown and bland, over-size, look-alike paintings of silent windmills. The faux-wood paneling, the king-size bed, the many-feathery pillows, the over-sized, goose-down duvet, everything, the desk, the upholstered chairs and over-size TV, and a bathroom the size of an ordinary hotel room, call for the intimacy of lovers. Taking mother's advice, I am avoiding men, almost.
Not that I know about men and their ways. After six months of dating – despite mother's pleading not to – I did keep-house weekends with Jason. He was an aspiring writer; during a temporary teaching assignment in Alaska, he met an older, widowed, millionaire woman and didn't return to Connecticut. My first broken heart.
     Before Jason, during a literary conference in Dallas, an over-sexed, older, married journalist invited me to his suite; he had camel breath.
     A year earlier, before six months dating Jason – a visiting graduate student from Rome – I learned later – was mostly gathering material for a sex novel – something about students and teachers. Published in Naples, it became a best-seller. I became the unflattering, newly-minted teacher, the difficult-to-arouse Lynda in his story.
     Most recent, the courteous, square shouldered, handsome flight attendant on my Air France flight to Paris offered to show me around the Left Bank, including his body in exchange for mine. I accepted. Counting different men, not including that first teen-age tryst, I have a finger to spare on one hand.
***
     My evening with Vivia and Deena started after a Moraccan lamb dinner, with, of course – where invented – Hollandaise sauce over asparagus. The wine a German Mosel. I finished with a sticky-smooth brandy Advocaat. I ate alone in a quiet, fern-obscured, corner-table for two.
     Before leaving the open-air restaurant, I was already tipsy and enjoying a less-in-control moment. Feeling the need for a touch of romance (without complications), I planned to taxi to the De Balie Cinema to see 'The Romance of Astrea and Celadon.' I missed this sensual, bucolic comedy in Paris. The desk attendant arranged a ticket. With the usual turned-on smile, saying, “It will be available at the box office. Show-time is nine,” then, gesturing toward the entrance, adding, “Taxis are always available at the door.”
    Since I had an hour or so to spare, I wandered into the hotel’s ground-floor art gallery where my attention I was immediately seized by large, splashy oils – some measuring two meters by two – each with striking colors. In wide brush strokes, they cover the walls of the gallery's two rooms. Red dots are everywhere. So striking was the effect, I lingered over each abstract attempting to discover if there might be poignancy in hidden meanings.
     A woman I had seen the lobby the evening before, seemed to follow in my steps. I turned – to make conversation – I said, “It appears the artist has done very well, except (pointing to an unsold oil) with this.”
***
Vivia had seen her before. Despite an underlying gypsy appearance, the young woman had a prime, proper-looking, academic bearing. She was intrigued with the contrast.
     The academic had passed through the busy lobby several times over preceding days. Now she lingered over the oils, just now looking at a smaller unsold work. Even before she turned and spoke, Vivia thought she might ask for the woman's impressions. Only an American, even if she looked like a gypsy, would wear gray slacks and a lime, linen, fitted jacket. She was not surprised by her question in English.
***
Lucy thinks the blond woman replying might be one of the hotel guests. While not fashionably groomed in dress, jewelry or style of hair – as nearly all the women she saw with their well-shewed husbands – the woman is attractive in a subdued way.
She appears about ten years older, perhaps even forty. It's so hard to know. There is jewelry, but no ring on her left hand. She wears a sleeveless, molded-charcoal wool dress embroidered with random black-sequined flowers. Her heels are stacked and there is a flash of fringe at the ankles.
     The woman answered with a question, in a Germanic accent, “I vaz asking myself vhy this painting did not sell?”
     Hearing no answer, looking up, she continues, “Do you see something dat makes this painting less interesting?” Then adding, before Lucy answers, “Do you like it?”

More forthcoming... March 22, 2011


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Girl on a Train

Dad sent the round-trip train ticket. First class. He and I attended a tennis match in Perth two days before I was to return to school in Sydney. I'm seventeen. My last year of high school. We watched four matches including one where an American lost rather badly, 6-2, 6-3, and 6-0. Someone from Sweden or Switzerland won the mens' match. One of the Williams sisters, maybe Venus, won for the women.

After leaving dad on the platform – usual hugs, kisses and promises – I am looking for 3-K and almost to my cabin when I nearly wet my pants to see that same American tennis player lowering his head to enter the cabin across from 3-K. He glances back and smiles before entering. Looking even taller than two days ago, he watches me approach.
This tennis bloke – on first sight – standing there appears thoughful with a courteous, caring, and steady gaze. Without staring, I see kindness in his blue eyes as he holds my narrow door so I can enter with camera bag and two pieces of luggage.
His eyes are a standout, enhanced by his sponsor's blue polo shirt – Nike. I was to learn, blue (as for me) one of his favorite colors.

The train pulled out – all thirteen carriages.

An hour later I listen at my door. It's lunchtime. I step into the corridor when I hear his door click open. I say with cheer, “G'day. Isn't this a happy coincidence.” I try to give him a detached, cool look but I am burning inside; my school-girl belly is tight.
While weaving along three sleeper cars to the site of napkins, food, forks and spoons, as the Indian-Pacific sways like an ocean liner at sea, the windows at each end of sleeping comparments provide the best views of Australia's vast, dry interior. As we swayed together, stopping to look out windows, he explained wanting to see the outback so he decided to take a cross-country train.
We were together – four days, three nights – on nearly soundless iron rails, Indian Ocean to Pacific Ocean. Perth to Sydney. On his way to the next competition, prior to the Australian Open in Melbourne, his coach said he should relax.
At the dining car, the waiter, I recall as an aloof, short, balding, veteran of the rails, offers to seat us at the same table.
I am quick to say, “I don't mind.”
The tennis player, still wearing the blue polo shirt, smiling brightly, “Yes, of course.”
He gestures for me to lead the way. He's a real gentleman. Most Aussie mates are not so courteous.
From my seat, even when not in his white tennis shorts, my eyes sort of caresses every part of him as, with athletic calm, he moves to sit opposite me. I think that is when I began thinking of how we might be lovers. I already have that smitten feeling.
We both order lamb cutlets – Frenched and rare. When the meat arrives, embarrassed, I point to my braces, saying,“Only need these a few more weeks.” Adding, after a pause, “An adjustment my dentist says I need for a better bite. Imagine at my age!”
The tennis player says nothing as he pours us glasses of water.
When he puts the pitcher down, by way of introduction, I say, “My name is Stacy, and I know yours already.”

He looks quite surprised until I tell how I watched him play tennis. That is when he told me how badly he was feeling about his terrible loss, compounded by his girlfriend leaving him in Australia as she holidays in Italy. He looks hurt. Even his coach was traveling without him; they would meet again in Melbourne. When he asked my age, I lied, saying, “Almost twenty.” Told another lie: “Attending college in Sydney.'
Those formalities past, we engage in the usual small talk: the distance across Australia; the remoteness of Perth; how good the Williams sisters are at tennis; about Federer the Swiss player; the endless sunshine; my hobby as a photographer, saying, for romantic tone, “ My purpose is to capture fleeting moments of sadness, love and friendship.” I cringe now, think how, like, teenager-lame that was to say.
* * *
Well past lunch, late the first afternoon, “arvo,” as we say, the train stops in Kalgoorlie. We join two dozen passengers in a bus for the Hay Street tour. Most passengers appear of retirement age. They smile at us in a sweet way, maybe thinking we are a couple on a honeymoon.
Seated at the window, I snap photographs of sex-workers posing – as they do in Hamburg's Ripperbahn – in the store-front windows of Australia's legal brothels. Named Swedish, China, Spanish, and so forth, each – the woman-bus-driver says – “...is a house offering benefits.” I think I blushed.
My hunk of a tennis player is amazed that prostitution is legal over most of my country. Rolling his eyes, he says, “In the U.S. that is only legal in (I think, he said) Nevada.” After he said that, he grinned, so I concluded he didn't take the matter seriously.
I took snap-shots of him near or on the bus; he did the same of me. Nothing taken together; we are not that friendly. Not yet.
Back on the train, as it will be for three more days, there is the steady hum of steel on steel and the soothing sway of carriages. We dined together most meals.
The first evening, after dinner, the tennis player suggests going to the Gold Kangaroo Lounge car. There we became favorites of the black-mustached, white-haired Armenian bartender with a formal bow-tie and an almost too flashy, red-satin vest.
When the American tennis-guy tells Nickabar he knows the location of Armenia and knows the capital city is Yerevan (An odd bit of trivia retained from a geography class in Chicago.) we get a larger pour in our drinks, more slices of lemon and extra ice cubes. The Armenian didn't even ask to see age identification. Because my family is Italian, I have been drinking watered-wine since I was eleven or twelve. Otherwise the drinking age is eighteen. I look older...a little...I hope.
During this first of two visits to the Lounge, having exhausted the small talk over dinner, I got to tell about visiting my dad and how he and my mum divorced, partly – wanting to be very adult, or it was on my mind – because mum thought dad wanted sex, I said, “Maybe too often?” Neither dad or mum told me that, but I overheard them arguing. I'm certain there were other issues, but that was one important one for dad. And I suppose for mum too.
I pretended – more-than-a-little – knowing about guys and sex when I said, “Naughty blokes always want to get into my knickers.” I wanted the American tennis player to think I knew about sex, even if I think I am the last virgin in Sydney. At least, I had rubbed a few fellas and let my breasts be felt, not that there is much – even today – to feel.

The tennis-guy listened politely, not showing a startled emotion or discomfort, even when I, reaching across the table, touched my finger tips to the back of his hand, asking, “How often does, like, a guy, you know, have to do it?”

Since dinner, heightened by every touch, I feel chemical changes in my body and an intense curiosity. I'm feeling cheeky.

Elusive, I see he thinks he has a way out of answering. His words are sticky as if he had eaten white, dry bread, “If I was married, maybe I could tell you.” He didn’t think he had to say more. Maybe – he thought – none of this chat is really happening. A moment of delirium?

By now I am feeling, kind of, in control. I don't know why but I don't mind causing him some mental discomfort and I do want to know more about guys and I am never going to see him again and think, if he has a girlfriend and looks, maybe, twenty-five, he has had sex lots of times so he can tell me.
So I say, “But you blokes have needs. You’re all the same...married or not.” Then I give him a belt-level glance and a squint, and ask, “Is there pain down there if, you know ...,” repeating, “You know... if you don’t ...?
That's when I felt embarrassed. I tried to correct what I said, “I don’t ... don’t mean you, not you, you know, blokes?“
I felt like falling into a hole, disappearing.
He did look uncomfortable. Maybe I made it worse when I told about my best girlfriend, Annie, and how she told me her boyfriend said he needed to come on every date...and Annie.... I didn't say more. I didn't know what she did for her boyfriend. But it got me wondering?
The American tennis player, looks like he is not certain where questions are going, hedges, saying, “Every man is different. I s'pose every woman too.”
I let time pass. I expect him to say more. Crawling from my hole, I peer directly into his lovely blue eyes. I sip from my glass. Finally, I say, “Aa-nn-dd...?” I leave the word hang as I continue staring.
He tries a clever move. To divert questions from him, he suggests asking the Armenian bartender, Nickabar, for his opinion, “I'll ask the barkeep.”
This ploy is fruitless. He is not to weasel out. Ignoring his suggestion about Nickabar, feeling less embarrassed, certainly not – for that moment – shy, I teased, “Come on, like how's it...with you?”
Seeing – for dramatic effect – my imploring eyes, he knows he must answer. Looking around first, he answers, softly, “It all depends on a desirable woman,” then, barely breathing, between words slowly expressed, “If available, yes...I ...ah...feel desire... sure, frequent desire.” He rubs his forehead, but says no more.
I listen intently, peer harder, not say anything.
Seeing I am not satisfied, and he seems more daring, he continues, “Sex – good sex – has to be someone (sounding like an academic) with whom I feel connected, you know, whom I know something significant about. Maybe I know her hopes, or a dream, maybe her fears, maybe she has some insecurity, maybe ... maybe ... (rambling now, searching for what to say) ... maybe if I feel I can add some joy in a woman’s life for ... even just once, yes, I feel desire.”
When he said, “Even just once,” I knew he had lots of experience. I keep my head up, I continue showing interest, but let him talk.
After a pause, directing my attention away from the is-there-pain-down-there point of my question, the tennis-guy adds, “That is what is so wrong about the ladies in the windows. I doubt there is any, you know, knowing between the sex partners.”
He shifts nervously in his seat. There is a long pause before he adds, intently, with a simple, sincere expression, his tone intimate, saying, at nearly a whisper, “I want the woman to know me too. I don’t want only to be (he looks uncomfortable now)... you know ... a ... her ... sex toy.”
I have a quick, naughty thought, Maybe he could be my sex toy? I don't say anything.
He continues to evade telling about himself by asking me a question, “Don’t you think, it’s a matter of harmony, spirit to spirit, between the man and the woman, even two women?” Adding quickly, I wonder for a second, if too quickly, “I don’t know anything about two men.”
Naw, I think, he couldn't possibly be gay. He may not be macho like a football player, just a real guy, with a tender side. I like his, maybe, Irish looks, the unkempt black hair around his ears, wide chin below expressive lips and, under full eyebrows, those lovely blue eyes, so steady and honest.
During a stretch of thoughtful silence, wrapped around his highball glass, I note long, slim fingers and well-trimmed nails. Mum told me over tea one morning when the subject was boys, I should look to see if a guy cleaned and trimmed his nails; I think she knew that is a sign of good breeding, a good family, someone worth dating.
I know, like his arms, seeing him racing across the court, running, jumping, his legs are lean and muscled, and suppose his toes are long and delicate. I am wondering about all of him. Then I say, the tone a question, inviting, “Tell me more.”
He nods a sort of okay, then stands. Walking to the bar, he orders a beer for himself and, “Nickabar, please, a tall gin-and-tonic, no ice, for the lady.” Wow, I thought, he called me “a lady.”
He looks relaxed and thoughtful as he reaches around my right side, sliding my gin and tonic and a napkin in front of me. He returns to his seat. While sipping drinks in silence, we look out the side window seeing in the light from the carriage a kangaroo leap into the brush. His eyes light-up and bounce same as they did in the afternoon when we saw emus running in groups.
We feel the carriage weaving more than usual – a rare stretch of poor roadbed. He sips his beer to keep it from sloshing. I know we are each feeling the intensity of the moment. I no longer feel the need for him to tell my anymore. We already jumped some fences.
I notice him, like guys do, staring at my breasts. I'm glad. I shift sideways for a better angle. I think maybe open a button, like it is too warm. I don't. We smile without reason. We both grin. I think it is because we are both thinking of becoming lovers.
A half hour later we decide to call it an evening. We walk along the narrow passageways. Both swaying side to side with the train’s movements our arms bump comfortably. It's like I have known him for a longer time.
At the water cooler I pause. Without saying anything, I wash down a white pill from my purse. Mum bought them for me. She said, “Stacy, you need to be careful.”
At our cabin doors, we hug lightly, then self-consciously laugh for a moment, as, at exactly the same time, we say, “It is nice meeting you.”
Less then a day since he held my door, we are already feeling friendship. He offers, bending, with a peck on my cheek, a “Good night Stacy.”
“Good night” – to protect his identity, let's say – “Shawn.”

I didn't sleep much that night. Thanks to dad, with a first-class fare, I have two meters of skylight. The thick strip of Milky Way, its clouds of stars, against a darker than coal background, are a luminous vapor. Frequently obscuring the orderliness of familiar constellations, even the smallest single-pinpricks of light standout. I do make-out the Southern Cross. Non-twinkling planets – Saturn, Pluto, and – on the horizon – the setting Venus, beam large. Even without the moon, they provide sufficient light for writing or even reading as the carriages, with more than a hundred, mostly sleeping passengers, are pulled across the 800 straight and flat kilometers of the Nullabar plains.

Laying on my back on the narrow pull-down cot, I look through the overhead canopy, almost unaware of the stars, feeling an extra-sensory message, an emotional pull, a connection to the tennis player, a man, only meters away. I wonder if he feels a pull. My face burns; my heart pounds away; yet my hands feel cold until I clasp them together and squeeze them between my legs, finally, rolling to my side, I fall to sleep.

During a sleepless stretch, on my back again, I imagine the sky is without depth as though I travel in a space vehicle, the sound of steel on steel a solar wind pulling me fearfully now into an unknown; as I lie there, I grip the sides of the narrow bed, digging my fingers to overcome the feeling of streaking through the galaxies, the vertigo.

The next day was without an important event except I went to the lounge car to take a portrait-shot of Nickabar, who says – as I ask him to lift his chin – with pride, “This run with thirteen carriages,” he adds, “is – for me – four hundred and thirty-two crossings of Australia. I work only less the three years. This is good, no!”
* * *
Dinner time, day two.

As the waiter arrives with the lamb roast, I stand and offer to serve, then, looking down, in my most adult way, ask, “Do you mind telling me more about yourself? I've been doing all the talking.”
He told me he was ranked, I think, sixty-sixth among tennis players. If he didn't do better, he was going to return to university studies in law. How he did in Sydney and then the Big One, the Melbourne Open, would set the pattern for the French, British and American Opens. His expectations were not high. I could feel his doubts and pain.
Then he told me he thought his girlfriend was going to leave him (maybe had already) and he was sad about that possibility. He seemed to need to talk. He admitted to not sleeping well, full of worries.
The main courses finished, he is silent as I watch him lift the last sweet Pavlova to his lips. There is a broad smile. He seems relaxed again.
I turned the conversation, as I pushed my plate away, placing both elbows on the table, to something I thought about during the night. In a low voice, not easily heard over the muted hum of the rails, I asked, “Shawn, I am curious. I'd like to know how a guy feels when he...” I stretched out the phrase, “is ... is ... commmmmming? What's he feel? What's it like?”
I must have blushed. I see he flushes. His eyes enlarge. I have surprised him. I supposed he thought, here she goes again. After a deep breath, I see him grinning. Now I am more relaxed too. Our moods change so quickly.
Rolling his eyes across the wood-paneled ceiling, then turning around to see if anyone might hear him, he says, “You know. It feels kinda good.” He has a dreamy look as he returns his eyes to look at me.
I run my tongue over my lips before saying, “Yeah, but, what feels good? Is it just in a guy's ...?” I cannot say that word, not to a guy. I add, “You can tell me.”
Ah, well ... yes.” Long pause.
Feeling cheeky now, I add, “And...?”

Swallowing, he looks away, then returns his gaze, looking into my questioning eyes. Feeling more courage, he asks, “How much you ... you want to know?” Then he adds, “Really have not tried ... ever ... to put it to words.” There is a long pause then he adds, “Never really have thought, you know, about what happens. Just, you know, happens.”
I purposely look intense, pursing my lips, and say, “I like detail...if it hurts, or...well ... I don't know?” I keep my eyes on his. To break the tension, I stick my tongue into my cheek making a bulge, tip my head, sort of clown-like.
I want him to know I am willing to wait, not wanting a quick answer. I offer a smile. As though there is a conspiracy, I whisper, “I won't tell.” I blink my eyes, continue staring.
Sounding like he is dodging, the world-ranking sixty-six takes a deep breath, letting it out, less academic now, he asks, “Like, so whacha want to know?”
Aware I don't know what to ask or how about how to ask, I say simply, “Can you sort of start after a guy, you know, is, like, hard there ... ah and he is .. ah coming....” Quickly I correct myself, “No, not then!
I see he's patient as I fumble for the right thing to say, the right words....
I want to say when 'he has' or even 'you have an erection,' but I can't say that word, so I say, “Like when a guy knows ... like ... I think ... he knows he can't ... you know ... longer, but he's not coming yet, but he's, like, going to.” I paused, and quickly added, “You know ...then.”
He continues with a patient look while searching for a way to start. I wonder if he is beginning to think I am still just a teenager. It worries me. I'm feeling so dumb about all of this, wishing now I hadn't started.
He removes my worries when he finally says, “Well, ah, there is a sort of pressure.” He stops, looks, leveling his eyes at mine, questioning tone, and I am again afraid he is going to ask my age, but doesn't, instead, softly, “You want detail?”
Maybe with too much enthusiasm, I say, “Oh yeah. Yes. Like where is this pressure?” Damn, I sound like a kid, asking dad where the batteries are on a new Christmas toy.
The tennis-guy seems to be caught in his own thoughts, not seeing me as I probably turn pasty white. He says, “Ah ... ah ... at the base of a guy's – you know – penis.”
At the mention of that word, I try to look like I hear it all the time, and now trying to sound cool, I casually ask, “Like, when it's (I get it out) erect, hard, like up? There is ... like...pressure?”
While I try to figure out what he means by “base of,” he adds, “Yes, and the pressure grows, and...a guy feels it more and more.”
Now I am quick again, “Feels what?”
He thinks, rolling his eyes, then, says, “Even in his belly, muscles sort of contracting...like a pulse is --”
-- breaking in, I ask, “Balls too?” I hope he doesn't see me cringe. I don't know what got into me. Oh God!
After my interruption, he simply says, “Later.”
We both shifted around in our seats and he sipps his beer and I finish off my gin-and-tonic which by now is at room temperature barely cooler than my hands which were wrapped around the glass. For relief of tensions, we both looked around the carriage to see if anyone was paying attention to us. No one cared.
I excused myself without necessary explanation. Returning ten minutes later, I saw he had a fresh beer and I had a new gin-and-tonic.
After thanking him, and getting seated, I knew there was an expectation of continuing from where we left-off so slowly I asked, trying to sound intellectual and nonchalant, “So a man feels pressure and the pressure is building. Then what does he feel?”
To be helpful, before he answers, and not seem like it is from personal experience, I say, “Like in the movies, when the actor sort of groans...you know.”
Shawn looks out the window, takes a deep breath, then another, looking again at me, biting his lower lips before answering, he says, “When I come ... I mean, when he comes, the man feels the tingle of fluid raising ... pumped, sort of, as it goes up.”
Ripper! You mean, up his shaft.” Damn, my buttocks clench.
Ahhhh...yeah.” Again biting his lower lips, he adds, “Up the shaft.'
Maybe I've not seen a penis close and personal, but I have watched a few porno videos. I go, “Yeah? You mean, like, when it comes out the top? The head. Sort of shoots.”
He answers, “Yes.”
Like it explodes out the tip. Fair dinkum.” Not to appear too – you know – na├»ve, I take a deep breath to calm myself.
Looking less comfortable, the guy, repeats, “Yes.”
Getting this far seems to relax him. He looks into a half-full glass of beer. His expression is vacant.
After a pause, I try to summarize: “Let me see, if I get this? As you get hard you feel pressure ... like from a pump, then feel it, sort of warm juice go up. It's like a pulse. And it tingles.”
Tennis player: “Something like that. Yes.”
Not satisfied yet, I ask, “Tell me more.” I look with my most emploring eyes.
Feeling more comfortable now, more relaxed, having said so much already, he adds, “And you know how a guy's body spasms?”
I don't, but say, “Yeah. Oh yeah! Uh-ha. Sure.”
He sips his beer. I draw down my gin-and-tonic. Fishing the lemon peel out, I chew the bitter rind and wait. I cannot imagine what more there is to tell.
He goes on. Telling like something from a distant past, I see his eyes moving about doing a memory scan, he says, “Well, when a guy comes...there is this uncontrollable – I think 'pumping' is a good word – pumping...from down deep ... maybe ...maybe ... once every second for five or six or even ten seconds.”
This seems like it's an orgasm. I know what that is, so I say, “You mean, like, a guy can't stop?”
Ah...yeah...the pumping, the pulse...hmmm...more spasms.” He looks away.
Like,” I say, “uncontrollable...over his whole body?”
Still not looking at me he nods his head and says, “You would know.”
Pretending, I say, “For guys, sure, yeah, I know.” He is still looking away when I ask, “But it isn't over, is it?”
His eyes return to me. Looking annoyed now, he nevertheless, goes on, “Not really. There are after-shock spasms, milder. You know, like a twitch.”
He seems caught up now in analyzing his experience so I see an opportunity to learn more. Playing with him now, I grin as I ask, again being cheeky, “How long does your tingling last?
Maybe I was too loud? We both look around to see if anyone is listening or looking our way. There are three other couples and a table of four, but they are busy with their own chatting. I again look at the tennis-guy.
He closes his eyes, contemplating. Lips pursed, then teeth grasp his lower lip longer than usual. Finally, as he exhales, he says, “Not long.” I see him sigh.
He also appears saddened. I wonder if there are thoughts about his girlfriend.
Ignoring the lack of time-detail in his answer, I ask, “You feel tingling, like...in your...in your...(I say it)...like in your balls. There too?” I hold my breath, think for a moment I should have said 'testicles.' I sigh.
As though he is trying hard to remember or shake thoughts about his girlfriend, there is a pause before he answers, “No, not really... Not as much.” Then with a twitch of his shoulders, he says, “Well, that's about it.”
Braver myself now, breathing again, I want to keep the upper hand, perhaps make make him squirm or reveal more about himself. I ask, “Does it tingle, like, for a long time after?” I pause. Feeling encouraged, I add, “You know ... as you ... I mean ... it ... it gets softer and softer?”
Looking away again, he says, the tone contemplative, “Gets more sensitive, kind of twingy, raw, you know, easily hurt.”
With more caring in my tone, sympathetic voice, “Really, you mean vulnerable. Soft and kind of spongy. But the tingle is gone?”
Yeah. That is when I – you know,” he corrects himself, “-- I mean, guys feel a peaceful feeling wash over and want to sleep.”
I don't say it but, yes, I read about rolling over and falling asleep but I didn't know about pressure or feeling fluids pump or getting spongy and vulnerable. I am feeling affectionate as neither says anything. Then I realize we were both so intense we need a break.
I see his glass is empty so I went to Nickabar, whose back is toward me, and – remembering I am not old enough to legally order liquor – say with offhand aplomb, “Excuse me ... my partner has earned another beer.”

On the return to our cabins that second night there is another stop at the water cooler, another pill and – for me – the good night hugs are too casual.

Maybe I thought he would invite me into his cabin? The cabins are small. We would have to sit on the pull-down bed. That had its possibilities. Maybe even look at the stars through his sky-light.

I trusted in the kindness of this American. And I knew he needed affection, the sort of attention he deserved. I wanted to take his mind off his faltering tennis and the probable loss of his girlfriend. I now felt I knew him in some personal way, in a way allowing us to become intimate.

Maybe I am not the model-perfect girl, certainly no plans to be a model, more like the girl next door. Annie, blond, shapely, sexy friend, said I am “eye-candy, good-looking everywhere it matters to boys.” I wish I had her boobs, but mine are perky and the nipples a lovely darker-brown than most I'd seen – and stand-out pointy.

In a tasteful bikini, at a beach north of Perth, my charming Dad said, “Stacy, you are so beautiful, I cannot believe you are really my daughter.” But that is dad. Mum worries about me and boys, so I guess I am okay. But tonight, I am disappointed

In the end, feeling horny, I fell asleep after engaging the fingers of a girl's best friend.
* * *
The third and last night.

We are to arrive in Sydney about nine am the next morning. We saw little of each other through the day. With cellphones completely out of range, I feel the joy of the present as I snap photos around the train. Sponsored by the Indian-Pacific Railroad, I planned to enter a contest; the photos had to be of and within the carriages, even passengers -- if I had their permission.

Taking pictures of the crew was easy; they posed for me. The prize was 5,000 dollars. As I anticipated taking photo and film courses in college, if I won a prize, it would help me earn a scholarship. I already had the beginning of the portfolio of work to submit to the selection committee; except for a few photos – personal shots Annie took of me – I showed it all to dad. He thought I might have a promising career. The portfolio is in my luggage.
About three in the afternoon, I knocked on 3-J. The brass numbers are not on the door, tastefully, to the side. From the open doorway he looked a bit unkempt. His hair not combed, he had been napping and reading, but agreed to go to the back of the train, the rear platform, where I could (as I told him) take pictures of him with the rails trailing off in the distance and the light at an angle creating shadows to enhance his profile.
He laughed, sort of merrily, when I offered to comb his hair.
I was invited in. Combing his own hair, he added a long-sleeve, blue-striped shirt over a plain white tee-shirt already tucked into worn jeans. The shirt and jeans matched beautifully.
I see his cabin the reverse of mine: to the right, the same pull-down, single bed with a reading light; on the left, a wash basin and mirror are next to door into the loo. I see a moveable chair I don't have.
Looking right again, I am envious seeing his girlfriend's picture on the only shelf. Leaning seductively, with a come-hither expression, on a black BMW, I see she is tall like him, blond, and – in snug jeans and a tight, sleeveless blouse – appears to have – seeing the shadows – at least C-cups.
When he noticed me staring, I said, “Nice car.”
He answered, “Yeah, it's hers. College graduation gift of her father. He's a banker.”
All I mustered was an 'Oh.'
When I looked for an expression, I saw his lips tight, puckered out, like when hard thinking is going on. At first he was merry, but now he didn't look happy, not at all.

As we weaved our way to the open-air, last compartment and platform, I tried not to think about him with her. I did anyway. Even when viewing him through the view-finder, I recalled an image of a sexy, gorgeous, tall, and rich girlfriend. I hoped he would not mention her name. He didn't.
My hopes for our last night went up then down.
We returned to our cabins. Up, when standing alone in the corridor, he placed his hands on my shoulders, looked into my eyes and thanked me for asking him to a photo shot, saying, “I needed a break.”
Except that I was holding a large camera, I wanted to wrap my arms tight around his waist, get really close. Then I wanted him to, maybe, invite me into his cabin – in a vague sort of way, hopeful, maybe, to kiss.
Hope went up again, then down. With his hands remaining on my shoulders, he said, “Without you, the train alone is boring, even Australia ... you are such a sweet girl.” Oh God, I thought, 'sweet girl.'
I liked him touching my shoulders. Just finger-tips. Then – at least – I hoped for a hug. No.
He must have seen my deep disappointment – same as the night before – and, wanting to cheer me, added, “We had such interesting talks; you really know how to ask good questions. You made me thoughtful. I discovered a lot.” I took that as a compliment.
Best of all, was when he added, “I'm looking forward to tonight. We'll have to make the most of our time.” Then best of all, he offered, “I'll make reservation for ... is six okay? ... and order a bottle of Australia's best wine...maybe, if okay with you ... even start with champagne.”
I was faint. The ups and down came so fast. I didn't have words, so I looked up with a I-want-to-kiss-you, chin up expression. He bent, and our lips met, touching barely.
Turning away, as I opened my door, I said, sort of over my shoulder, “I'll be ready. Six.”
Collapsing on the bed, I waited until my breathing slowed to nearly normal then considered what do wear and how I might get invited into the American guy's compartment.
I hung out a figure-hugging skirt, blouse with buttons, front and shoulder, and – this being a celebration – dug out the heels. Pearl necklace and matched ear-rings, seemed right to make me look older. Check my make-up later. Add a fragrance.
Laying on the bed again, looking through the sky-light into the blue and cloudless sky, I collected my thoughts. Seeing me stop to take the pills at the water cooler both nights means he must know I am on the pill; well ... maybe not ... so tonight ... if need-be, at the water-cooler I'll say, casual, “You know, birth control.”
Hard to know how it is with his rich girlfriend? But I'm here and she is.... Difficult to read his intentions, but guys are guys so maybe he is only a little slower, maybe more shy; that is okay as I tend to like guys who are on the shy side.
Before dozing off, my last thought was, if he didn't invite me in, I could sort of invite myself by offering to show him my portfolio ... get his advice....
In the still of my cabin, the only sound muffled, murmuring steel on steel. I dreamed....
They walk the three carriages to their cabins. The girl in the dream makes a stop for pill and water, saying, matter-of-factually, “Birth control.”
She looks at her watch. It is 9:30 when she taps on his door. He turns the single reading light out and opens the door. In the light from the passageway he sees she is barefoot, otherwise dressed in the same tight skirt and blouse he saw at dinner: the blouse with the three buttons on each shoulder; only now, the buttons are undone, the blouse nearly slipping from one shoulder.
As she enters, he smells a new fragrance, perhaps rose.
With the cabin lights out, after she closes the door, a shadow-less glow from an endless universe of unblinking stars adds a mysterious feeling to the dark. The man stands and lowers the bed from the wall as she, facing away from him, slips her blouse over her head. In the dim glow, he sees she is not wearing a bra. Still with her back toward him, she chats easily about the afternoon. Then placing her blouse on the back of the only chair she turns.
Showing her breasts to his anxious eyes, she sees he is standing leaning on the door fully dressed. The girl reaches to his shirt. Not opening a button, instead she grips the collar, pulling good naturedly, saying, “What about this?”
She is pleased to learn he showered earlier, smells of peach, and got dressed again. Pleased to see too, that, like her, his feet are already bare.
Letting go of the collar, she reaches around his waist, lowers her hands to lightly clasp his hips, on tiptoes, raises her lips for a wet kiss, saying, before their lips meet, “Sorry about the hardware. It won’t hurt,” adding, “I promise.”
As their lips meet, he worries, “Won’t hurt what?” His worrries diminish to nothing as her softer than soft, moist lips, then searching tongue, are felt.
Lowering her head again, the girl seems hurried as she helps him out of his clothes. She starts with the shirt buttons as he undoes the belt. It is awkward in the small space as he lifts one foot at a time out of the trousers. Hands again on his hips, her fingers are feeling the band of silky boxer shorts. As the train sways, she holds on to steady herself, then with thumbs she slips the man's boxers to his knees. In the narrow space she is unable to bend further, so lifting a foot she expertly pushes them to the floor.
Now, only wearing a particularly chosen, long, tee shirt, he moves into the corner, continues standing, giving the girl space to pile his garments, boxers last, neatly and domestically, under hers.
Still standing in the corner, he thinks, it best if she leads. He is enthralled by her confident ways. Over the humming from the steel rails, he hears water running from the tap in the small sink; he sees she fills a glass and places it in the glass holder next to the bed, the bed, perfect for one, is so narrow he wonders how they both might fit.
Knowing he is shy, she is in charge, the girl doesn't say anything, nor feels any need to say anything since the brief meeting of lips. With everything ready as she planned, she says, “Best if you get in first.”
When lowered the bed’s surface is waist-high. While wondering about her next move, he hosts himself and slides on. On his side, bent, he faces the length-of-compartment, outside-view window.
Comforted by it being long, he didn’t attempt to remove his tee shirt. He thought she might have wanted it off, but realizing he might feel vulnerable, she thoughtfully didn’t attempt to raise or to remove it.
He didn’t know when he was standing in the corner and the girl glanced at him, because his legs were invisible in the dark, she thought he looked like a tee-shirt-wearing-puppet hanging by strings from the skylight. She smiled to herself, remembering what he said about not wanting to be a sex toy.
The photo-taking girl had planned ahead. He didn’t know where it came from, but the next thing he became aware of was a small candle she lit, placing it in the slot on the shelf below the mirror over the wash basin. A warm glow flickers, adding to the glimmer from distant stars.
Looking at a reflection of herself on the window, the girl sees her breasts glowing, sensual, she lifts both hands, thumbs her nipples.
Now she is standing beside admiring the man's lean body, long fingers, and even the outline of legs a woman might like to have. As she feels the slippery liquid seeping to her knees, she contemplates getting her camera, adding the wide-angle lens, asking if he might ...? Tasteful photos of willing nudes might add a cutting-edge to her portfolio. Later, maybe.
The girl sees the promise where his legs join, imagining the soft curve of his penis, the ridge of foreskin ... She gently places her fingers, so lightly on his waist, touches his tee shirt, as she follows his eyes outside also seeing the curve of a river, its surface reflecting a sliver of new moon.
Knowing she is at his side looking, as he waits for her next instruction, the man, who is not much more in years than a boy, is calmed by the passing scene, the open spaces, the river, a rail-bed curve now so sharp carriages front and back come into view, their lights reminding him of boats in a Fellini film.
On entering a tunnel to slow the train, brake's squeel waking all the dozing passangers. On her own bed, the girl feels a flush of blood burning her cheeks.
* * *
Struggling for air to cool myself, rolling over, I see it's five-thirty. I reach for my hairbrush, change into dinner-wear, brush my teeth, check my makup again, and wait for the tap on the door.
When I open the door I see at six feet and more my favorite tennis player looking handsome in a light-weight, pure nobby-silk sport jacket, matching tan trousers, and brown wing-tips. Yes, and an ear-to-ear smile. A girl's dream. He takes my hand. Draws me into the passageway.

When seated in the dining car, we are pleased the the champagne is complimentary to all first-class passengers. Even the refill.
Shawn asks me if a red wine, from the state of Victoria – a pino noir – is a good choice? I feel honoured he should think I know. And I do. Dad's a wine buff. “I remember him saying Victoria has the best pinos.”
I say, “Good choice.”
Even after the champagne, it's a little awkward getting chatting started. It helped when he said, “That's a lovely blouse.”
I answered, grinning, “Thank you. “Goes well with a well-chosen jacket.” I felt it was a mature, clever thing to say. Something a foxy woman might observe.
As the first-class dining carriage is fully booked, we are seated too close to other passengers to have the sort of probing, personal sharing of the first two dinners, so over sauteed scallops, then a nutty-flavored Coqau-vin, wine and – we agreed – the best-ever chocolate fondue, I learn more about who he thought would win the match in Sydney (a Spanish guy, Nadal – I think) and about his hope not to be beaten too early in Melbourne; he wanted to – at least – survive first-rounds in both cities. He told how his coach, a Canadian champion player, was urging him to adopt an aggressive net stance. I told him, hiding tongue in cheek, I played tennis, “Since I was sixteen...not too well, so only (doing my math quickly) about four years.”
I was terribly uncomfortable when he asked what courses I am taking in college. After some vague reference to literature and history as well as multi-media classes, I changed the topic quickly to asking his impressions of Australia. He was – like all visitors – impressed by the many beaches and so few people. He tried surfing but – and we laughed – the waves were not known for their challenging ways in Chicago, so he ended, as he said, “Eating a lot of Australian sand.”
We followed impressions of Australia by me asking about Chicago and gangsters...he also told me about his two brothers and two sisters, his mom and dad ... all suggesting he came from crime-ridden, political city but a good family.
There was no mention of the girlfrind. I'm glad. Too personal, I suppose, he didn't ask about boyfriends either.
When – after the fondue – he asked if I wanted to go to the lounge car, I declined, saying, “I had enough to eat and drink.”
That's when I expected he might invite me to his cabin. He didn't.
As it was only half past eight, while I looked at my watch, not at him, I – casually as possible – said, “It's early enough, if you might be interested, I'd love to show you my portfolio of best (connecting to visitor status) Australian photographs.”
Both still seated, I see the next guests are approaching. Time is slipping by. No answer.
As I wanted him to invite me to his cabin, I didn't add, “They are in my cabin.” Given all our chating about Australia, I didn't think he could turn down an “Australian-Photo-Show” opportunity.
Still no answer as he slides he chair back. I do the same. He stands. There is a polite you-first nod. Clutching my purse, I lead the way toward our sleeping comparments.
There is no space for him to reach ahead and open the door for me, so I precede the tall, yummy, hunk of a tennis player out of the dining car.
Still silent, following, he pauses behind me as I reach the water cooler. As I pop another tiny white pill from the package, he says, “Yes, I'd like to see your photos. Is my cabin okay?”
I very nearly dropped pill, package and bag. As I quickly washed the pill away, not looking up, nearly a whisper, he hears, “You know...birth control” Then feeling more collected, louder and clear, brushing my hair to one side, I answer, “That would be nice.”
I'm thinking, Oh Goody!
We don't say more until we enter our carriage. He is behind when I turn to say, “Give me ten or fifteen minutes to get ready.”
Immediately after saying it that way I want to shrink into the rail-bed below the floor. It was so like, yeah, I need to get into something comfortable, take my bra off.... Maybe I am too conscious of everything?

Sure,” he says, adding, “Can I fix us some tea?”

Again, I say, “That would be nice.”

As our doorway, after allowing a man and wife pass, I turn, place a free hand on his right shoulder, look up and, he, knowing from my look, feeling the moment, lowers his head. As I brush an appreciative kiss on his cheek, I say, “You will like my photos.”

He gives me a tender, quisical smile, tips his head sideways and nods. I see he's is thoughtful, but says nothing, so I say, “See you soon. I really enjoyed dinner. The wine sensational.”

In my dark compartment, I drop my bag to the floor, and as the bed is still lowered from the nap earlier, I flop face up. I've wanted this moment to come since that first lunch and through two days of anticipation. I am making dry swallows like the pill is still in my throat. I squeeze my eyes tight. I begin to take deep breaths. Same as at the end of an orgasm I give myself, the air leaves my lungs in gasps. It feel like being in a fog. For a moment, I consider telling him I am not feeling well ... sorry.

Maybe five minutes have passed. I open my eyes. I see endless space, the sliver of a new moon, and hear the now comforting distant roar of what sounds like the sea, the rhythm of steel on steel.

Calmness – even strength – begins to wash over me. I fetch the portfolio. There isn't time to sort photos in advance so it is leaned next to the exit. Turning the light over the mirror on high, I check my makeup. Adding a touch of eye-liner, I then brush my hair, and after removing my bra, dab a bit of fragrance under my blouse. Ear-rings are tossed on a shelf and I leave a top button undone. The pearls about my neck stay.

Before I tap on his door, I recall the dream. She was so in-charge, took initiatives. I'm fearless.

First I see he has removed his blazer and – neatly covered – the bed is down. Every light is on. I smell tea and see the electric pot and two cups on the pull-down bedstand.

* * *

Returning to her cabin, hours later, she, re-living, sees it all again, as if through the sight of sticky-beak bird, its beady eyes focusing in from the outside, the north side, his window. The blind is up. A single light is dimed.

Seeing the full width of the compartment from the dim light, the mirror and the washstand on her right to the chair to the left, she sees order. On the chair, his and her clothing are folded – hers on top. A portfolio of pictures stands on a shelf where earlier in the day a rich woman's picture stood. A tea pot and cups, all rinsed, and are drying below the mirror.

The first-class passenger assigned to compartment 3-J is sprawled akimbo, long, musclar-legs and knees inches apart. He is on his backside, head on a pillow, eyes half-open looking tense. The passenger from 3-K is seated at his side, naked, except for a strand of pearls. Both her hands are stroking the back of one of his, like a mother consoling a son after she learns his bike was stolen.

He wears a long tee-shirt or perhaps it is a night shirt. White. The lower edge is almost to his knees – inches above. The sleeves are short; his lean, hairless, arms show. The hand she is not stroking is clenched.

She speaks, but cannot be heard from outside. What she says appears to be a mix of explanation and pleading. Because the dim light's glow is behind, her expression is not seen, as the man, so few years from being a boy, listens intently.

With his free hand, he gestures toward the portfolio, then shakes his head as though she needs to explain more, or better. She appears to agree, nodding as she explains. Adding to the message, she leans placing her hands on either side of his eyes, at the temple, massages as one might to sough a headache.

Soon there is a reluctant smile, yet his eyes remain half-closed, still looking up, seemingly to avoid staring at the girl's breasts, so pert, full of youth.

Seeing him smile the naked girl lifts herself, kisses his forehead, takes two wet fingers to his lips and – after she speaks – he first kisses the fingers and accepts their presence in his mouth. She runs fingers along his lower teeth then his lower lips as he keeps the fingers moist with his tongue.

Speaking again, after he nods, she frees the hand stroking his, reaching, she draws the covering fabric up. Inches. She stops, looks questioningly, says something.

It may have been cute, funny, amusing, silly – at least entertaining – as he smiles easily.

The girl now extends her other arm and with fingers from both hands slides the garment high enough to expose blue-striped boxers, the same shade and strip as the shirt the passanger in 3-J wore earlier.

Reading the girl's lips, her tongue planted firmly in cheek, one might think she said, “Looks a lot like .. no doubt ... a matching gift from mum?”

The boxer shorts were not of the fly-open front, rather exposing a single pearl-colored button the shade of the girl's neckless.

As his hands, thumbs inward, inch down she stops them; it appears she wants to remove the boxers herself. But first she reaches to lower the window blind and does.

There is a roar as the train enters a tunnel, a long tunnel....

* * *

I'm awakened by the seven a.m. sun. When I returned to my cabin last evening it didn't occur to me to lower the blind on my east-facing window. I'm in my pajammas.
There is no time for brekkie on the train and I am hungry, so I am happy when – always-on-time mum – even before the first hug – says, “Stacy dear, you look exhausted, let me take you to my favorite breakfast chef.” Mum writes restaurant reviews for the Sydney Hearld.

As mum and I hug, over her shoulder I see him step off the train. He flashes – seems to me – a mouse-has-caught-the-cat smile. He approaches. Mum looks up seeing him waiting. She realizes he is my friend. With a modest bow, he hands her an envelope before sauntering off toward the exit.

He turns for a moment, smiles, blows me a kiss. I do the same.

Turning the envelope over in her hand, mum asks, “Who is that?”

Guy I had dinner with. Plays tennis. A yank.” Then I ask, “What did he give you mum?”

Opening the flap, she lifts out, holds up two premium, box-seat passes to Sydney's Olympic Park Tennis Centre.

And that was not the last time I saw World-ranking, sixty-six.

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