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3.06.2013

Frank & Val. A story straight from my sleep

Here's some fiction for your day. This story is almost word for word from a dream I had a little over a year ago. It probably says more about me than I suspect...

                                                        Frank & Val
One afternoon in a timeless part of my life where one day leaked into the next and didn’t really make a dent on whether it was a Thursday or a Sunday, I was working out in the back garden with Val. She often came over, kind of drifted over from her house to share the quiet hours of the summer. That day we were clearing away some weeds from around the stone garden near the pond.

She was wearing a print pattern summer cotton dress and I looked up as she leaned over to pull a fallen twig from the grass. Her dress was hanging down and she wasn’t wearing a bra. I just stared. I hadn’t thought about Val as being old, or particularly young, either. She was kind of ageless, locked in that twilight between time when you slip through the years without changing much. But this was definitely and old woman’s breast, swaying like the pendulum on a grandfather clock.

For some inexplicable reason I saw my hand reach out as though it belonged to someone else and slip through the gap of Val’s indiscretion to gently cup the bare breast up against her rib cage. The warm pouch of skin in my hand didn’t feel of any age either. It was the soft familiar feel of womanhood that I hadn’t held in a long time.

Val’s face suddenly came up and her eyes met mine. Not having the vaguest idea what I was doing, I half expected her to be enraged but she wasn’t. Just the opposite. Her hazel eyes were dancing with the mischief of a twenty year old girl who lifts her shirt just to shock the boys. She dropped the twig and her hand came up against mine, pressing my fingers further into her soft flesh. “Why Frank,” she said with playful innocence, “thank you for protecting my virtue.”

As we were frozen in the moment, her tone, and smile and bright eyes were of a young woman that had been hidden for a lot of years. As quickly as it came, it faded and she suddenly looked very old. The lines of her life re-creased her face and gave away her secrets. She stood up and I slipped my hand away realizing that it wasn’t just her age I was seeing but my own as well. Before me was a dry, wrinkled hand with brown spots on the back of it and knuckles that more resembled ball joints than fingers.

Val moved in close to me and I thought she might kiss me but she didn’t. Her eyes held me, mixed up with the faint aroma of skin cream and shampoo.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t know why I did that.” I could feel my face heat up.

She patted me on the chest with the flat of her palm the same smile lingering on the corners of her mouth. “Come on, I’ll make us some tea to go with the cookies I bought this morning.”

In that moment I realized I would never again see myself through the love of a woman’s eyes. Never to see the look of hunger after returning from a trip like she’d been starved of me while I was gone, her eyes running over my face and chest to see what had changed during the few hours I’d been out of her world. It saddened me.

I had been a widower long enough now to have fallen into a quiet ritual of comfortable loneliness. I had gone out with a couple of women after Jenny died but nothing came of it. They never looked at me with anything more than need and I looked back with even less. The years spun on and I kept to my own. Except for Val. She had been a neighbor and friend all these years.

“I miss her, too, you know.” she said, as if everything I was thinking had been said out loud. “She would come over many nights when you were off on the road selling your patent medicines and we would read Walt Whitman or James Joyce to each other into the wee hours. Did you know that?”

I shook my head. It didn’t surprise me. She took my hand and led me towards the back gate, her fingers gently holding mine as though I were very fragile. Val had been, was still, a very beautiful woman. She’d been through several bad marriages. Men fell in love with her for all the wrong reasons and she let them. Then they would both be disappointed.

“Did you ever have an affair during all the long trips you were away?” she asked, still reading my thoughts.

“No. Never,” I said with a tone that only comes from honesty.

“I didn’t think so. Neither did Jenny.”

“Think so or have an affair?”

“Both.” She spoke into the air in front of us and we walked through her words like walking through the mist of a perfume spray where a hint of the memory sticks to your skin and the rest dissipates into history.

 “Although, there was one time when I wondered about you, when you looked like you were drifting apart.” Val added.

I named the year. She repeated it in confirmation.

“I had a hankering for you that year,” I said, this time the playful smile was on my lips. “It was during a time in my marriage that... I don’t know... I suppose every marriage has squalls that you simply have to shutter up the windows and wait through.”

“I got more than squalls than calm in my life,” she said. “That was when I was on the verge of divorce from Lars. I would come over to your house to get away from his bickering and there was a look in your face that should have made me blush to the bone.”

I could feel an awkward grin spread across my stupid face. All I could do was fess up. “I would fantasize about you, wonder what undressing you, touching you, having you want me would feel like. Jenny was so aloof right then, in her own world, as, I suppose was I. It was a palpable need, or so it seemed. But it passed.”

She clicked the gate that joined a path connecting several back yards. I looked up at the swirling cirrus clouds that were telling me they would force me to pile on a spare blanket that night no matter how warm it felt now.

“I lived for that look. It kept me sane. The idea that there was a man out there that found me attractive...” she admitted and held the gate open for me to walk through. “I dreamt the same thing. It wasn’t love or anything just a safe place during a bad time. It helped me survive a dreadful breakup that was inevitable anyway.”

“For me, too.” Her words could have been my own. I didn’t want to have an affair with Val. The imagined assignation was enough: a raft to float on while Jenny and I got our footing again. “Isn’t it strange how our mutual need helped each other out without a word or touch between us. Do you suppose it was any sort of love?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not that uncommon. People spark for each other. Simple as that. I don't suppose sexual energy is always meant to be spent like a fiver that’s burning a hole in your wallet.”

Her hand touched my back as she gently propelled me through the gate and down the path. Her fingers lingered there as we walked on, like a blind person keeping contact to make sure of their footing. A moment later, she linked her arm in mine. We walked in silence the three doors down to her back fence.

As she lifted the rusty wrought iron latch, she said, “I want to read you a passage from Ulysses I think you’ll like.”