out of the ashes

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Chapter Seventeen

Marvin lay on his back with his hands clasped behind his head on the pillow. The bedroom was dark except for the wisp of moonlight that brightened the window above his desk. In the dim surface of the mirror above the dresser beyond the footboard, next to the door, he seemed to see his dusty reflection; his face, shoulders, the outline of his shirt. The angle of sight was wrong, though. His eyes were deceiving him, and so he blinked hard. When he reopened them he was gone.
When he first lay down, not long after Maribeth had left, he had covered his feet with a crocheted comforter and concentrated his stare at the ceiling stretching overhead. Looking up, he imagined genes dancing energetically in a ballroom the size of the planet, all of them dressed the same in their spiral gowns and flung close together in a maddened waltz. He grabbed at one that carried an almost imperceptible, aged look about her, a slight variation in the color of her hair; eyes that had beheld the passing of time. She slipped away into the crowd the moment his hands came into contact with her, leaving him holding pieces of shadow that dripped from his wrinkled fingertips. Now, several hours later, the phonon ball had ended and Marvin forced his mind to reconstruct the images of the young woman his heart longed for. The throbbing at his temples eased and his body began to tingle.
Anselm hovered at the headboard, or sat. He had fixed his eyes on the mirror, studying the reflection of his subject laying at his feet. The angle was right. Other than the low, steady breathing of Marvin Fuster there was no sound of any sort. No footsteps above where the maids and servants might have been. No Robert. Anselm had dispatched two of the team to keep an eye on him immediately after breakfast, but he had done nothing particularly suspicious throughout the day, they'd said, guarding his thoughts well with the mundanity of running the household.
Suddenly the light in the window grew brighter, the walls and ceiling purled, and six angels blazed into the bedroom. Their eyes were on fire, and they gathered in a cluster at the foot of the bed. Marvin shuddered, feeling the room expand for an instant, but he didn't see anything. The air seemed thicker, though, in movement. He knew they were there.
"Who is it? Anselm?"
There was no answer.
They spoke in rushes, excited, jumbled, but still he heard nothing, felt only the air curling in on itself all around him.
Anselm whisked away, leaving the room to settle itself, followed by the other angels. They gathered at the front of the property and he motioned for only one of them to speak.
"Something terrible has happened," the spirit said.
"What?"
"He touched her. There was nothing we could do. Why would we have expected anything? He had been considerate, kind..."
"Stop! Go back. Start at the beginning and tell me exactly what happened."
"Yes, sir. Their gathering started on somewhat of a sour note. He left her alone after they had arrived, but..."
But John had made up for it. After the dinner and the speeches concluded he rose and pulled Amy's chair back for her, then he took her to The Churchill Bar near the Grand Ballroom. An old friend, another lawyer, had invited him to join his wife and himself for drinks after eating. He had agreed, knowing Amy would need the comforting presence of Maria Turnbull if the evening was to progress in the way he had hoped--no, knew it must.
Maria was twenty-six, beautiful in the way women can be who are searching for the eligible professional man. She knew her way around those places they congregated, and she made her presence known there, patiently surveying the men for the prospective winner. She was single-minded, fixed on what she wanted, and she got it in the person of Joseph Turnbull, attorney-at-law, ten years her senior, headed for the top in corporate law. The mercenary reasons for her descent on him aside, time and fate and passion dictated they should fall very much in love. And they did. Joseph knew what he had in Maria, and he was good to her. She had no interest in a career, no aspirations other than to keep a spotless home and never leave it with a hair out of place. But above all to to untie Joseph's shoes when he arrived home from the office and make love to him as though Venus herself had provided the instruction manual. Maria was well-read, an asset in the circle of friends they flew with. Though she had never attended a day of college, she was quick, outgoing, and knew how to converse with anyone on a wide range of topics. She was the perfect corporate wife, and that evening inside The Churchill Bar, Maria found a friend in someone she thought was exactly like herself. Amy. Beauty attracts beauty.
"Then you have no plan? Concerning marriage? You're just here with him?" Maria whispered. Her husband and John were adrift in business matters; not law or strict politics, just speculations revolving around the ripening harvest of fruit hanging from the forest of money trees sprouting up around the state. These matters bored Maria.
Amy laughed at the notion, openly. "You must be kidding!" She leaned over close to Maria's ear, spilling a tiny bit of champagne on the tablecloth. "Not with him, anyway. Yesterday I loathed him. he made me come with him tonight, you know."
"What?"
"Yes! Ordered me earlier in the week," Amy said.
Maria sat back, took a long drink, which Amy did also, and shot a glance at John. Then she set her glass back down and leaned forward close to Amy.
"Well, maybe it wasn't all that bad, huh? We got to meet. The Brown is the best. The champagne is even better than the best. He's handsome, too," she added. "What more could a woman ask for?"
Amy remained still for a moment, narrowing her eyes in thought, and then she jerked her head up, making her shining hair swirl across her cheeks.
"More champagne!" she blurted out. "You're absolutely right!"
"We thought she was not, sir, and considered ending the party--a fire, perhaps, or the bursting of pipes. but we decided to wait. And there was the matter of the other woman sitting across the room. A cement man was attempting to deflower her."
"A what?"
"Well, sir, while the other young woman..."
The clock ticked and the champagne continued to be delivered, along with gin and tonic, Joseph's other passion. He wasn't driving back to their home in Cherry Creek South, and so he pulled off his bow tie and dove in. Maria would end up pouring him into bed later, not bothering to unlace his shoes or undo his shirt and touch her lips to his stomach.
John drank little. Joseph drank a lot. And as for Amy, she quickly fell into a state of blissful relaxation and lifted her glass to match Maria's every swallow. Smiles turned to laughter and later to admissions spoken in whispers with delicate hands covering barely moving mouths. Of small intimacies and secret desires that neither woman would ever share with another, even in the sanctity of the confessional. Maria painted a wonderful portrait of a man like Joseph--someone like John Sampson--whose real affections might only be surpassed, in time, by his success.
"These creatures drink that chemical far in excess, sir. The young woman's mental faculties were badly impaired by the time she and her employer left the building. That was long after Timoteo and Gerard put out the lights in the chandelier, after those who remained had calmed down and stopped cursing."
To be continued...

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