They were late coming home, and Jane wasn't feeling well, and the house was freezing cold. The sports car rolled to a halt on the sprawling lawn, amid autumn leaves, and they got out an elegant couple, disinherited, stripped down to this poor lot.
Perry knew what was coming as he carried their suitcases to the house. Jane had that look as she stared at their home and brushed stray hairs from her lovely face.
When he opened the door, and the chill hit them, she began to cry. "No!" she sobbed brokenly: "No! I can't take anymore."
"Shh," Perry said, taking her in his arms. She shivered uncontrollably as he carried her upstairs. Quickly he tucked her under a pile of blankets and quilts. He knelt by the bed, stroking her arms and speaking endearments. She stared at him bitterly, her eyes beaded with tears. "Make it stop," she whispered.
"There now," he said, "I'll get the fires going." He rose from her side and went downstairs. In a short time, between the cellar furnace and the livingroom fireplace, warmth began to fill the house enough even to open a window toward evening. Jane accepted a cup of hot tea and sat on the bed, sipping. "Thanks," she said, with the first flicker of a smile. She appared to be feeling much better already.
"We'll go to the dance tonight," Perry said happily, ironing his shirt.
Jane began to dress for the affair. Her way of doing this was in stages. Right now all she wore was her chocolate miniskirt and a lacy beige bra that showed much of her small but full breasts. She sat by the vanity, combing her long amber hair. She was thin and beautiful, Perry thought. She combed languidly, letting the brush rustle through her hair, then letting the hair tumble soundlessly on her bare shoulder. She would look lovely in her dark velvet dress the color of autumn leaves, he thought.
"I'm going to put on some more heat," he said, inhaling the crisp scent of Fall night that came through the bedroom window. An owl mourned outside. The wind tussled the curtains, leaving a faint breath of cold standing water a pleasant smell, with a hint of this and that: wood smoke; leaf rot; fresh air.
"Do, baby," she said, combing in long lazy motions. She gave him an affectionate look. "Put another log in the livingroom fireplace too, darling, will you?" He loved her voice soft, full, sensuous.
He left her at her vanity, a full moon over her shoulder framed in the window. The owl mourned again. He walked out of the bedroom, through the extremely narrow corridor of their old house, and down the cramped stairway. The downstairs was dark. Gloomy shapes occupied the livingroom, and he had no yen to switch on any lamps. Somehow, it would be like casting unwanted light on his and his wife's plight. They might be poor, but they were young and elegant, and they'd stuck together. They had each other, where before they'd had fortunes. He lifted a thick log of dry oak and threw it in the brick fireplace. Wan flames roiled up around the wood, eagerly licking it with blue tongues. The flue moaned, and sparks spiraled upward from the disturbed embers. The flames took, grew robust, turning orange. He rubbed his hands briskly together, breathed into them, stuck them in his pockets, and did a little dance of pleasure as the fire warmed him.
Now she yelled from upstairs: "Hurry up, darling! Where are you, Perry?"
He heard her clattering around on high heels, searching for a lipstick, a cigarette, a hankie, a dram of perfume.
"I'll be right up." He descended into the cellar on creaky stairs to check the furnace. Reassured by the red glow inside the drum, he rubbed his hands noisily together again and hurried back upstairs. On his way up, he picked up a pair of glasses and a wine bottle from the mantle piece.
"How do I look?" she asked as he came down the narrow corridor.
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Copyright © 2018 by Jean-Thomas Cullen, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.