Hope

by Corey Mesler

“And this is the only immortality you and I may share….”
Vladimir Nabokov

“I looked. What are eyes for?”
Amy Rigby


She was plain low in slacks. She came from some far side of the tracks, an apartment complex in the underworld, our lives mixed by the melting pot of public schools. She came home with my son, though they were not “going out,” as he put it, she was just someone to hang with.

She was callipygian and sensual and flirtatious in a way I do not remember from my younger days sixteen year old girls being. They get it from MTV. They get it from the daytime talk shows, philistinism, unfettered sexuality and shabby behavior made public spectacle or art, fodder for the great brain-dead middle of Middle America.

And in those white-trash slacks, tight all the way down to her perfectly turned ankles, she was a version of desirability created to tempt any man into Dante’s second ring. I think it’s the second, reserved for adulterers and satyrs. The second ring like a school bell going off inside my reptile brain, calling me back to when I was all libido, a walking gland, and the thing was, the troublesome thing was, she knew it. She damn-well knew it.

Chet brought her home one afternoon, one of the first afternoons we let him take the car to school, to show her a new video game system we had just gotten him. I didn’t believe girls were interested in video game systems, not sixteen-year-old girls, but what do I know? Chet’s little sister, Angel, two years his junior, was decidedly not.

When I got home from work, before my wife, Hayley, as usual, Chet’s bedroom door was closed and I could hear the outerspace ping of the game and the tinny music which is not unlike the kind of soulless music used in adult movies, a background ether of sound, which, if you listened to it, could draw you into realms of inanity from which you might not disengage.

I started dinner the way I normally did. Let me explain why I was ordinarily home before Hayley. I worked for International Paper, basically as a glorified or not so glorified accountant. My hours were fixed. I got off at 4:30 every day, Monday through Friday. Rigid. Boring. It paid well, ok?

Hayley worked retail. That is, she owned a small bookstore, in a small town just adjacent to our city, a town small enough to still support a small bookstore. So her hours were not as regimented and often she didn’t make it home until seven or so. I had dinner waiting and we ate in front of the television, especially if Friends was on, or Hayley’s new favorite, Ed. Call it a life.

The afternoon we are examining was in late April, a busy time for Hayley. I don’t know why. I’ve never worked retail.

I was simmering some chicken breasts in wine and I felt something near me, a presence like a revenant at my left elbow. I may have even shuddered. I turned and there she was, about five foot five, brown hair, badly cut, a white man’s shirt, frayed and torn away around her midsection, and those slacks, fitting her formidable form like a good prophylactic fits you know what. She was smiling, feigning interest in what I was cooking.

“Hello,” I said.

“Mmm,” she said. “You cook?”

She asked it the way Angel did, when she first realized that her father was the house’s main chef, incredulity on the edge of supple acceptance.

“Yes, yes I do,” I said.

“Smells good.”

“Thanks.”

This mundane beginning to what was to become a capharnaum of guilt, upheaval and life-and-death pronouncements, should be noted. There is an innocence to everything. Eve picked that apple because she was hungry.

“I’m Chet’s dad,” I said. “Mr. Henry. Pat.”

She looked at me like she had my number already after that recitation of numerous choices for monikers.

“I’m Hope,” she said, extending a hand the way the devil must have spread his when offering Jesus all that lay before them.

I clumsily dropped the fork I was holding, wiped my hand, wet with wine and chicken juices on my jeans, and took her hand in mine. Her fingernails were bitten to the quick and her hand resembled a small child’s in its grubbiness but also in its texture. I relished its silky otherness in mine.

“Mr. Henry,” she said, holding my hand a little tighter, if only for a second, “It’s a pleasure.” Her mimetic adult act was sweet and sad simultaneously.

She turned away slowly, an actress in the drama of her own real life, and I watched her perfect rear end swivel like a well-oiled machine on the pinions of her legs. Her butt was so round and deeply cracked it seemed to swell, it seemed to breathe, and she was displaying it for me like a barnyard animal. She looked once over her shoulder, caught my eye on her backside where she wanted it, and smiled a farewell.

Later, that evening, after dinner, after Hayley told me about her day, which included apparently a heated disagreement over the phone with a publisher called Random House, after we had swept away the dinner’s preparatory tools and settled back in our chairs, me watching a basketball game with the sound low, Hayley reading a book, Chet came into the living room.

“Hello, Chetboy,” I said.

“Dad,” he smirked. “Haven’t seen you in minutes.”

“Ha ha,” I said to mock him back, though I really did find my son humorous.

“Whatcha reading, Ma?” Chet asked. Chet shared with his mother a fondness for books. Angel and I were the ones who would rather be shooting hoops in the backyard, or playing pingpong. Though I read. Some. Hayley wished it so and so I did, things she recommended or the newest Stephen King, which drove her bats.

“Bend Sinister,” Hayley said, smiling. She was proud of her son’s interest in the higher things.

“I’ve never heard of it,” Chet said.

They continued this discussion a while longer. I tuned out; Boston had been down by twelve and now it was tied. What had happened?
The game went to commercial and Chet had already turned to go back to his homework.

I fairly blurted out, “So, who’s this Hope?” It came out too hot, my throat was dry. Hayley didn’t seem to notice.

“Girl from school.”

“I realize that,” I said. “She your new girlfriend? I just haven’t heard you mention her before.”

“No, she’s not my girlfriend. She’s new this year. Moved here from Baltimore or someplace.”

“You know what her folks do?”

Angel came into the room fresh from riding her kick scooter around the neighborhood, in the gloaming, in those long spring hours before night comes, when it seems like night may never come.

Chet looked at me like I was Regis Philbin.

“What’s the dif?” he said.

“Hey, mind the attitude,” I corrected, half-heartedly. “Just curious, you know, what brought her to Memphis.”

“Whadd’re ya’ll talking about?” Angel asked, brushing back a sweaty bang.

“Her parents split. Her mom and her moved here. I think her mom does hair. They don’t have a whole lot of money. I think her dad was sort of a snake and they’re kinda stuck. Ok?”

“Mn,” I said. “That’s tough. You tell her she’s welcome here anytime. You should have had her stay for dinner.”

Chet looked at me for an odd minute. I felt a little queasy.
“She has a home, Dad,” he said, finally.

*     *     *

I think the second time I saw Hope Douglass was the evening of the school’s parents’ meeting a few weeks later. Parents were called to the school to discuss the purchase of laptop computers for all students 7th grade and higher. What this meant was, how much were parents going to kick in? It was always money, these meetings.
I sat in the back so I could slip out early. I slipped out early.

I was walking down the deserted hallway of the school’s main building, relishing the odor of floor wax and old wood and sweat which seemed to characterize schools since my father’s father attended. I heard a sound behind me and turned to see Hope skipping to catch up to me.

“I thought that was you,” she said. She was out of breath.
“What are you doing here, Missy?” I said. It sounded foolish as soon as I had said it.

“Hope,” she said with a wrinkled expression.

“I know,” I said. “I was being, what?, breezy.”

“Oh,” she said, suddenly pleased with herself or me or something hidden.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

“Oh, Mom’s at the meeting and she doesn’t like to leave me alone where we live. You know, rapists and stuff.”

“Oh,” I said. World-weariness engulfed me like a cloud.

“You wanna see the Bio lab?” Hope Douglass asked and she put one of those small hands, those feathery hands, on my forearm. Even through the material of my sleeve it felt like balm.

“Why?” I asked stupidly.

“It’s cool,” she said. “Look, it’s right here.” She skipped ahead and opened a door. She was wearing a short skirt which, of course, from the rear, stood out from her torso and allowed a wonderful view of her upper thighs.

I looked. I admit I looked. She was as unavoidable as the weather.
I followed her into the lab; it was dark and smelled of some chemical like sulfur. An unpleasant odor.

“Where are the lights?” I asked.

“No!” she almost shouted. “Don’t turn on the lights.”

I swallowed hard. This wasn’t good.

“Come here,” she said. She was standing near a bowl, aquarium or terrarium or something.

I walked toward her, a condemned man.

“Look,” she said. Inside the bowl were tiny worms that glowed in the dark. Their light was like a small city seen from above, a mystification like a queer malison.

“Wow,” I said and I meant it. She had only wanted to show me the glow-worms. I was both relieved and, ok, disappointed.

And then just as suddenly she swung her face upward and pressed her lips against mine. It was a clumsy kiss, too hard, our teeth seemed to jar. And she smelled slightly of perspiration, a not-unpleasant mixture really of body musk and cheap hairspray.

She backed away quickly.

“Hope,” I said. I had no corrective phrase to add.

“Sorry,” she said, but she was smiling. She put out her hand.

I looked at it there in the air between us and it was in this moment when everything was decided. I knew it then, too. I knew if I took that hand in mine it was all over. I was standing at the mouth of the cave.

I took her hand.

It was soft, like the music of a flute. I held that hand and tears almost came to my eyes. Hope Douglass saw the effect she had on me. She saw it right then and I was as lost as Eden.

I pulled her toward me and kissed her right this time. I held my lips against her young, fresh mouth and her tongue went into my mouth, surprising me. It was then I grabbed that perfect ass for the first time and pulled that young girl against me. My hands held her there, digging into her rump with animalistic fervor. It was the most delicious thing I had ever held. I say that now, even after everything that has happened. Hope Douglass’ ass was made to drive men wild and I was smitten with it and her simultaneously.

For her part she ground her pubic bone against my erection, a fake copulation, a show. If it was a dance it was a dance of death, a dance of life.

“Hope,” I finally breathed in her ear, my mouth against her sweat-drenched hair. “This is wrong.”

I did say that.

I said it right before she unzipped my fly and I fucked her dog-style against the lab table, putting my hand over her mouth to muffle her wild, perhaps overly dramatic, squeals.

*     *     *

Many people will say, many people said, how could he with such a wonderful wife? Many people wonder, what was wrong with his marriage?

These are delusions. My marriage, prior to this fulmination, was as secure as a stone in a peach. Hope was thrown in my path and I did not turn away. This was my sin. I did not turn away when I could have, were I stronger, were I a different man.

Who is that man? Does he exist?

I imagine he does. I imagine there are men out there as strong as the mainstay of the laboring bark. I am not such a man.

Let all baneful souls that threaten the hearts of men be banished by this salt.

The pull toward Hope was the yearning of the blossom toward the fruit, if that’s not putting too fine a point on it. She became an obsession, briefly or forever, does it matter? Does it make me any more or less culpable?

The next time I saw Hope was an arranged meeting at her apartment. Her mother had been called away for the evening and, against her normal precautious nature, left Hope alone (or what she thought was going to be alone) with many admonitions about locked doors, etc.

It was at this tryst that I first saw Hope Douglass naked, saw the light spray of pimples across the back of her neck, saw the mole which sat like an island right above her pubic hair, saw that brilliant thatch of pubic hair glistening with the moisture of youth, saw how her elongated thighs led upward to that perfect ass, the way a tree leads to its branches. It was here she saw me naked, too, and, with the anxious precocity of the coquette, told me how she loved the extra flesh around my midsection.

It was here that she took me in her mouth. It was here that I put my mouth to her and brought her through a series of explosive orgasms, introducing the child to cunnilingus, as if it were algebra or the arts. She was flabbergasted and a bright, roseate flush covered her chest after my oral exertions.

“Whoof, Mr. Henry,” she said then. Her poise was momentarily extinguished and her position of overwhelmed, lightheaded teen was comic, almost.

Only afterwards did I take stock of where I was, of how rueful and degraded the surroundings were. The cheap furniture, nevertheless covered in plastic, the card table in the kitchen, the $10 paintings on the wall, the shag carpet. After I had exploded inside Hope Douglass I burst into tears for her pitiful life and for the love I felt for her, a love as corrupt, as painful, as wrong as a siege.

Thus began our affair. Hope knew of a motel out on the highway where we could meet. It charged by the hour. Of course, teenagers knew of such places.

We would meet there often. Some afternoons she would call work and I would leave on some false pretext, finding her already in the room, dressed only in her cheap underwear, already wet between the legs, and I would fall, downward, as if in a spiral.

Sometimes we would meet and she would tease me. She had power. What young woman would not use such power?

“Hope,” I would say, finding her sitting on the end of the bed, on its orange, polyester bedspread. “I was praying you would call today.”

“Were you?” she would say, a crusty boredom in her speech.

“Why don’t you turn down the bed while I get undressed?”

“Perhaps today I feel like watching the television. Jeopardy is fixing to come on. Do you like Jeopardy?” she’d say.

“I didn’t come here to watch TV, dear,” I’d say, unable to keep the whine from my voice.

“Didn’t you, dear?” she would mock.

Of course we ended up doing it anyway, but sometimes she had to go through this charade. I didn’t mind. I was old enough to understand such things even as they drove me crazy.

Other times she seemed to cling to me as if I was her very lifeblood. In bed, in only our underwear bottoms (did I mention her breasts were small but perfectly round, dark fruits with nipples eternally erect, dun buds which felt good on the tongue like a sore tooth?) she would coo in my ears, ridiculous things, childish things. Of course, she was a child in many ways.

Sometimes she wanted to hear me talk about her, my hunger.

“Tell me about my ass again,” she’d say, and then add like a purple period, “Pat.”

“Oh, It’s like some ungodly pillow, it emerges from your lower back like a shelf, it is desirability made flesh. I want only to suck on it, hold it firmly in my hands and enter you.”

“Oh, I love that talk,” she would say, schoolgirlish. “What’s that word again?”

“What word?” I would say, slipping her briefs off and my hand over the aforementioned region.

“That big word that means my ass is perfect.”

“Callipygian,” I’d say.

And as if that were the secret word to unlock her fever she would pull my cock out and yank at it furiously. She treated it like it was a marvelous thing, a lodestone, a lever she could pull to get treats. Sometimes, afterward, it would be raw from the chafing. It was a wonder Hayley never discovered the affair through this simple test, how sore I was some nights. Only when Hope’s mouth lowered onto it would the redhot pain dissolve. She blew me like a practiced whore. Teenage girls know how to give blowjobs. This is worrisome.
And she loved it when I entered her from behind because it pleased me so. She knew how her ass effected me and as I drove into her to see it there shaking and moving against me I knew a pleasure almost divine. This is sacrilege. This is abominable. But I was in the grip of something prodigious, something supranatural.

*     *     *

Of course, Hayley found out. She found out because Hope told her. God help me.

I came home from work to find Hayley’s car in the driveway, not that uncommon that she should precede me home, but rare enough to set up a knocking underneath my sternum, a dyspepsia of worry.

I walked into a nightmare. There on the couch, like two sides of the Janus mask of one’s lovelife, sat my wife and my lover. My teenage lover.

It was incongruous, Hope there. It was a shattering of time and space, as if Guernica had sauntered into my living room.

“I’ve already called my lawyer,” Hayley began.

“Hayley,” I squeaked.

Hope sat there as serene as a virgin in her shroud. I looked at her with a look of amazement. To see her sitting there, it was as if my home now housed a witch or some creature from mythology, such was my wonder.

“Where’s Chet and An—”

“I’ve sent the children to my sister’s,” Hayley said. Her voice was granite, full of searing poison. I hated it. It felt like death itself.

“Hay—” I started again but it was obvious I wasn’t to talk.

“Jonathon said that you’ll be lucky if they don’t pursue charges against you.”

Jonathon is her lawyer. Of course, they would pursue charges against me. I was a monster, a vampire.

“There is Hope’s background to consider. He says the courts may allow us to keep her out of it. Meanwhile I’m going to take you for everything you have. Count on that, at least.”

I don’t know how I made it through that hour. I’m not sure when exactly Hope left but she left without a word to me. At some point I packed a bag and left. I took a room at the Midtown Ramada Inn. I was numb, walking-dead.

Somewhere around two weeks later, I called Hope’s apartment. She answered, thank God. I don’t know what I would have done had her mother answered. I don’t know what she knows.

“Hope,” I said.

“Hello, Pat,” she said. There was actually a lilt in her voice, as if she were in a musical and it was almost time for her big number.

“Hope, come to me.”

“Hm,” she said.

Was she thinking it over? Was she acting again? Surely even she could see the time for dramatics was over. The universe had imploded. I had lost my wife, my house. Neither of my children would speak to me. Hayley, apparently, had filled them in on everything, everything she knew.

“Where are you?” she said at last.

She showed up outside my room dressed in halter top and very brief cutoff jean shorts. It was summer. Too much flesh entered my motel room.

“Hope,” I said. “Thank you for coming.”

“Sure,” she said. She appraised the room. “Nice,” she said.

I put my hand around her forearm and she stood there as if arrested by a ray. She stood stock-still and the tingling up my arm was either infection or lust.

I pulled her close to me. At first she was stiff, unresponsive. She was already decathecting. But my desperation must have won her over. She let me untie her top and, while I kissed the sprouts of her breasts, she began to sigh as of old. Did I forget my miserable state in the midst of my desire? I did not. But I still wanted to hold her, to have her. Consider the human animal.

Suddenly she put a hand to my chest and pushed me backwards. I stumbled, looking absurd in my vertigo and landed, just barely, on the edge of the bed.

“Ok, you can fuck me,” Hope said. My Hope, my only Hope.

It was pitiful, as sad as her life, as sad as mine, now lost. She undressed and I undressed and naked we rolled together to assuage the pain and the new distance between us. This time she insisted on sitting on top of me and drove herself against me hard until she came with a war whoop too loud for the thin walls of motels. She collapsed against my chest, lying there momentarily, a doe, a wounded doe.

It was only through my own movements, holding her beautiful ass for the last time, that I was able to bring myself off. And as she hopped up from the bed after my detonation I looked at that ass in the dim light of that motel room and I knew I would never see it again and I knew that my life was over as her innocence was over, as melancholy as the uncoiling spool of time, dragging at my body, slaying me and corrupting my flesh like a virus.

It would be years before I would sleep with a woman again. I became low and lifeless, a nosferatu. Eventually my children forgave me, as adulthood emerged in them from the dormant seed it is in all of us. They talked to me on the phone, gently, like one would talk to a crazy person. And we began having lunches.

This is what happened. I met another woman later. I loved her. I believe I did. But it didn’t last because there was a rot in me, a cancer.

The Greeks have a word, apoptosis, which means, “a falling away from life.” I was falling, like Icarus, head over heels, endlessly. The goddamned Greeks.

Sometimes I would call Chet at his office and I couldn’t talk. The silence was like an undersea world.

“Dad?” he would say.

And I would begin to weep.

“It’s ok, Dad,” my loving Chet would say. “It’s going to be ok.”

And later Chet married, a beautiful black woman with eyes the brown of the Mississippi River, with his lovely little sister, my Angel, as the maid of honor, and his mother, Hayley, there dressed in white, looking like a seraph, one with a sword in her hand.

She would not speak to me even there, even at our son’s wedding, and when I tried to kiss her on the cheek she moved away, finding someone to talk to quickly, slipping me as if I had tried to lasso her. And she was right to shun me, of course.

Hope and her mother moved away after Hope graduated high school. I think she lives up north.

Some nights I still dream about her. It is like it was back then, innocent in some unearthly way, sweet and sexy and full of a magic outside of time. She smiles at me in my dreams and I am a happy gommie, foolish as all swains before me, until I wake again, into the makeshift world.

_______________


Corey Mesler is the owner of Burke’s Book Store, in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores. He has published poetry and fiction in numerous journals including Pindeldyboz, Orchid, Black Dirt, Thema, Mars Hill Review, Poet Lore and others. He is also a book reviewer for The Memphis Commercial Appeal. A short story of his was chosen for the 2002 edition of New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, edited by Shannon Ravenel, published by Algonquin Books. His first novel, Talk: A Novel in Dialogue appeared in 2002.. He also claims to have written, "Ride Captain Ride." He is now at work on a collection of linked stories, built from poorly remembered history and bent mythology. Most importantly, he is Toby and Chloe’s dad and Cheryl’s husband.


Hope
©
2003 by Corey Mesler

 
     
     

 

 



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