this is the only immortality you and I may share….”
looked. What are eyes for?”
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
“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
“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.
“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
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
“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
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
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
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,
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“Hope,” I said. “Thank you for coming.”
“Sure,” she said. She appraised the room. “Nice,”
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
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
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
by Corey Mesler