by Lisa L. Lynn
In Derrick’s younger years as a baker, women and pastry were somehow all of the same dreamlike confection, heady with sugar, alternately cloying and sublime. They were so indelibly coupled that he had often tasted women as rich layers of butter and salt, almond and fruit, had found himself kneading flesh similarly to dough. In his mind they were in bed, coiled together tendon upon cushiony down, hairy shin quashing bony ankle, smooth calf, lips and throats damp, hearts continuing their efforts toward entrainment as bodies found a corresponding rhythm. That was where he was as he watched the line of Ella’s nose change as she rotated toward him on the barstool.
The dress was yellow, upon that they both agreed. Beyond that, however, there were only those parallel narratives that can be attributed to the separate mountains upon which people stand, sending smoke signals in the distance. Upon those mountains, they faced one another now, in a swank bar after more than two decades.
“There was that time when you made truffles. Do you remember?”
He only looks at her, knowing well to keep his face neutral while bedding her in imago.
She continued, “We had had a fight, but a sexy fight.”
He has no idea about the truffles pertaining to a fight but concurs that they might be true. He had made many a truffle in his early career. And they had been proficient at sexy conflict.
“It wasn’t the sabayon. That was an entirely different day. The sabayon, that is.”
He had the abrupt and uncanny sense that he was about to fall into a dark abyss, with various chambers of alternately intense fire, primordial dankness, and possible lurking giant reptiles. That was what it had been like back then too.
Ella had, with an indecorous finger, dredged the lemon twist from his drink. She took it with her tongue, whereupon it disappeared into the cavern of her mouth. He watched her with both entrancement and amusement. She languorously removed it again to speak.
“It was a vintage dress. I knew you liked it. I was already irate with you when I went down the stairs, but there you were in your chef’s whites with those burning eyes, eyes that I knew wanted me but didn’t know if they contained any caring whatsoever.”
Derrick felt it again, that sinking into a mire of some mucky substance. His fantasy of their previous lovemaking had evaporated, like a good meringue on the tongue, leaving only a reminiscence of sweetness. He roused from the purported trance of watching the lemon interact with her mouth and said, “Yeah, there was always tension.” In fact he knew not of the scene she was culling.
Ella’s green eyes narrowed and then she laughed jaggedly.
“I walked past you, grabbing them, those resplendent truffles. And I smeared them all down the side of the walk-in cooler.”
His diaphragm, tight until that point, slackened a bit and he said, “And then I took you into that cooler and had to work steadily and diligently to keep us both from freezing.”
He regarded her as the rejoinder had it’s impact.
She burst into unabashed laughter, and he could see how her teeth were lined up in her narrow mouth, configured more like horse than human. How had he forgotten that? And how now was it also so suddenly familiar?
Moreover, despite the minimal size of her mouth space he had not ever felt her to be remiss in taking as much of him into that alcove as he desired. She must have a great deal of control over her gag reflex. He almost had to shake himself and tried not to stare at the twist of lemon in her fingertips, hoping she would suck it again, or at least masticate it to destruction.
Derrick was not prone to cajoling women, but he did know how to lob diffusing remarks so as to prematurely avoid danger. He steadily maintained a shellacked casing that prevented internalizing too much of what he didn’t understand, coming across as affable, even a bit dense. He knew it raised ire at times but that served in many contexts. And it was entirely false.
He also knew that Ella tracked him tracking her movements with the lemon, tongue to teeth to fingers ensconced in rings.
Twenty years brings with it a shedding of veils along with the rather astounding observation that attraction remains consistent in some undefined alchemical fashion. He had always had this quality of looking her squarely in the face, his gaze unflinching. Yet he knew she had to mitigate the intensity with anxiety-reducing mannerisms, interminably moving her eyes askance, fingering the hair off her face, or twiddling a lemon, for example.
Now, at the bar, they talked, such a seeming simple volleying of phrases, of prosody. If he followed the words, they made sense, but the tone of the conversation was irrefutable. They were making love again, sensuously, as aggressively as always, holding the tension between them until it became unbearable.
Dragging herself over him and making a shivery kind of purring sound. That is another behavior he remembered spontaneously about her.
“Wait, did we ever do it in the cooler?” she asked. “I would remember that.”
Now it was his turn to laugh. With countless women and three marriages behind him, he might never have the exact answer to that question. But, he paused in his mind, had they?
Ella turned slightly away from him, crossing her legs in the opposite direction, undulating with the music.
“I have no idea, but neither did you desecrate truffles. I would remember that.”
Her spine stiffened, and he could see the hinge of her jaw flex in a brief flash.
“Yes I did. It was magnificent. You should have seen your face, anger, awe, passion all coursing through.”
He was wholly certain that she had not sullied a sole truffle in his presence. Still, her defiance came rushing into his visceral memory, and he felt a tremendous urge to either slap her or fuck her. It had always been thus with Ella.
Derrick allowed himself to imagine briefly her scatological drama with the chocolate and decided that it would have been quite sexy, having found her at her most superb when enraged. Paradoxically for him, it both heightened the allure and made it easier to resist her. Or perhaps increasingly motivated to resist. The more he pushed her away, the more incensed she would become and thus flagrantly spectacular.
“You ready for another?” he asked, nodding at her glass.
“Don’t try and worm out of this. How could you not remember?” Ella said sharply, clearly wounded that her angriest sexy moment was no longer written in his historical lexicon. She turned her head, flashing the luster of dark hair in his direction, refusing to look at him.
He did recall the forward thrust of chin when she was angry, in addition to her stubbornness. He considered lying.
“I do remember that time you dropped four plated salads on the way into the dining room.”
His aim was true. This distracted her.
“That was totally Joe’s fault, tripping me with his giant clogs! He should not have been standing there in the first place, spying on the diners. He belonged in the kitchen with you. For that matter, you did nothing to help clean up, if I recall. You were just back there on the line cracking up.”
As this image was layered in, he observed the familiar spread of venom through her countenance, and her rage toward him came back with such potency that she appeared helpless to stem the tide of neurochemicals. He was the one who had left her after all, to move out West coast and marry his first wife.
Derrick had another memory, one that came unbidden and had been strangely lost to him, until now. It was the first time they had been together sexually, typically for him an amalgam of awkwardly trying to fathom an unknown woman’s pleasures along with holding himself back from becoming too aroused. But with Ella, he had felt entirely invested in being an outstanding lover from the start. Her intensity was both startling and intriguing.
She was a woman even then who knew that her femininity wielded a capacity for strength and surrender both. He had felt he might fall in love with her and was motivated to discover her body by being absolutely present with her. He remembered this so clearly that it was as though the linear years between now and then had dissolved, the string of time looping upon itself with disparate moments of past and present touching, quite similarly to the inside of his thigh and the outside of her knee there sitting at the bar. Back then, just as he was incipiently about to penetrate her, he began quivering. It had happened so surprisingly and so uncontrollably that he was utterly unnerved, particularly because it was inevitable that she had discerned it.
He touched the lower line of her jaw with one finger and gently nudged her face toward him, suggesting with this tender gesture that she look him in the eye. She didn’t.
She raised her eyes.
“Ella, just now, I thought of something.” His voice had changed, deepened and softened at once, which did bring her to attention.
“The first time we had sex, do you remember how I actually trembled?”
While her gaze had lost it’s fire, she blinked and appeared perplexed.
“The first time,” she repeated. “Was that when I was staying with my sister?”
“I don’t know where we were. Maybe your sister’s? My place? You put your hand on my chest and I was literally quaking. You did something so kind.”
Her face was still blank
“I do remember the first time. I was staying with my sister for a few weeks, in between having moved back to the city and my apartment coming available at the first of the month. You came somewhat too quickly and then left. No trembling, of that I am convinced.
“Besides,” she continued, “I thought that the first time we did it was just a way of dispelling the tension and getting on with the whole fucking thing.”
He took in his breath and removed the back of the hand that was stroking her jaw.
“No, I really felt it, that we actually made love the first time. Or, at least I did, like some sense of potential with you that was powerful for me. I mean, we were young, but it really stands out. I hadn’t thought of it until now. Do you remember what you did?”
“No, truly, I don’t. I honestly think you must be remembering someone else. You left me, remember? To go get married?”
“No, it was you. You put your hand on my chest, over my heart. You said that the rabbit in there did not have to worry, that you would give him another chance, another go if necessary.”
He glanced down for a moment, an unsettling flutter under his sternum. He knew as the length of his bulky thigh brushed the outside of her slim one that the polarities generated the tempest between mountains, the lightning ultimately both illuminating and blinding them to the dark depths of crevasse in between, and the black river of vulnerability running at bottom.
“Yes, that yellow dress was fantastic.” He watched her surrender to a reluctant smile.
He looked into her eyes now that her face was pointing toward him again.
“Another?” A brief gesture of chin to her glass.
She acquiesced from her mountain, peering down between their four legs.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story