Her devious little smile charmed him so. He loved the way her lips would curl at the edges, exposing just the sharp edge of her teeth. Her head would lilt to one side, and her eyes would somehow glint no matter how little light might be in the room. Her hair was a native auburn wed to her pale complexion, and made her emerald green eyes seem both inevitable and otherworldly. He found her enchanting. Even her walk spoke of hidden worlds. She seemed to float through a room. The sheer natural theatrics of her persona drew him in. She fulfilled something so deeply missing in his life that he was lost to how much power it had over him.
Visiting her apartment only added to the mystique. Her choice of art was enough to send him into long musings about her inner workings. Men were depicted bearing great loads, being whipped by slave drivers, or falling under the attack of massive shards of glass from a blackened sky. Dragons emerged from ominous clouds as lightening bolts set trees and houses afire. The cat himself seemed full of unspoken stories. He would sit on a pillow in a large Victorian era chair, staring at him, assessing him, as if to question: would he be told the story, or become the story itself. He decided not to pay the cat so much attention. Its reddish fur and green eyes disturbed him.
She on the other hand he could observe for hours. Her humor was completely irreverent and offbeat. Nothing was sacred for her. She found absurdity in everything, especially conventional behaviors. She laughed for example that she would order books from Amazon, but what UPS really delivered were the men at the door. He played along. “How’s the selection?” Well, she answered, some are better than others. As in all things, few are real keepers.
He never dared to ask if he was a keeper. He was almost sure that her answer would unsettle his fragile self-esteem. “Where do you keep the keepers?” “Excuse me?” she said, turning back to him from her work at the knife sharpening over the kitchen counter. “Where do you keep the UPS men who are keepers?” Oh, she said, with that little curl of lips and green sparkle in her eyes. “I cut them up and bury them under the house.” She waved the large knife threateningly back and forth in his direction. They both laughed, though his laugh was louder by far than hers. She probably thought it unseemly to laugh too loudly at her own material, he reasoned.
The night the electricity went out, he was wrapped up in her arms, intoxicated by the feel of her warm softness fitting into the curves of his body. Reluctantly, he pulled away slowly from the forces that absorbed him. She found the flashlight in a drawer at the side of the bed. He took it, searching for the fuse box. It’s downstairs she said. As he moved carefully down the stairs he found the box to his right just where he said it would be. Outside, the wind and rain caused a whistling sound through the cracks of the old house. Reaching inside, he found the tripped switch and reset it. The electricity returned. He found a light switch near the stairs. With the lights on, he looked briefly around the basement area. It included a long workbench, with an assortment of odd tools: no screwdrivers, hammers or drills, but knives, axes and saws, both handsaws and electric, and a large anatomical chart on the wall. Next to the workbench was another room, with a door and large padlock The security struck him as a bit of overkill. Walking in the direction of the room, he noticed several examination tables off to the right, like those he had seen in doctors’ offices. The area was not well lighted, and so using his flashlight, he looked more closely. He saw stains of red in the wooden bracing of the tables.
“Every thing OK down there?” she heard her yell from the top of the stairs. “Yeah, fine,” he answered. He was cold, and he hurried back to her, eager to feel her close to him again. “You have an interesting work bench down there,” he observed. I didn’t know you were handy with tools. “Oh,” she said off-handedly, my father worked as a butcher, and from him I learned to cut my own meat. Butchering is a hobby of mine. I usually buy a full side of pork, beef or lamb, and prepare it myself, then freeze it. I’ll show you the technique sometime if you like.” Well, yeah, that could be interesting, he said, but right now I’m freezing. “Are you sure you can wait?” she asked. I could do a demonstration right now.” “Are you crazy?” he asked? “Let’s get in bed!” “Ok,” she said, “I guess I’ll just have to size you up later as a butcher’s assistant.”
The next weekend, they were shopping for new blinds for her living room window. The large hardware store covered acres of materials. After some agonizing time of indecision looking over options, she decided. While the clerk began the ordering process for her specifications, she excused herself. I’m going to look around a little, she said, I’ll seek you back here in a few minutes. He could tell the crowds, the noise, and the details of style, color, cost, had stressed her. Sure, he said, I’ll wait here for you. But he didn’t, he watched as she turned down the tools aisle. He decided to join her. As he turned the corner he hesitated, and decided just to watch her from the end of the aisle. She was looking at saws and axes. She would select an axe, and then another and holding each for weight and balance in her hand. He half expected her to flip it into the air, catching it by the handle as it came down.
Walking up to her, he asked, “Planning a wood chopping party?” She smiled that trademark smile: “No silly. I’m just killing time.” “Good, he said, no one went to jail for killing time.” “Well” she laughed, unless you kill a whole lifetime in one stroke!” She moved the axe playfully in a slow arc from her side, over her head, and down upon his clavicle, touching him slightly. He felt an odd chill, maybe mistaking the playfulness in her eyes for something more serious. He managed to laugh, wondering if his silly fear was detectible. We best get back to the ordering desk to get your receipt for the blinds. “OK, fraiddy-cat she teased, I’ll put the axes away.”
The next day, he called his brother in Minnesota. “She’s mesmerizing,” he told him, but challenging.” “What do you mean?” he asked. “Well, she’s . . .quirky. She’s always keeping me off balance.” “You’ve always preferred those kind of women, and you know it.” “Well, yes, but her kind of ‘off balance’ is different.” “Like what?” asked his brother. “Well, her choice of reading for example, and her art work. Things like an interest in the implements of medieval warfare and torture methods of the Inquisition?” “So, she likes history. Relax already! You’ve already started making her into an axe murderer. You do this everything you really start getting close to a woman. You start demonizing her.” He knew his brother was right. His brother had his own problems. He was dating a rich woman in Minneapolis with connections in the art world. She somehow was always flush with money, but evasive with stories of how she earned it. He told his own story of being “off balance” but intrigued by her mystery. He didn’t want all the answers he said. He just wanted more of her. Listening to his brother’s story, he knew somehow it had something to do with their detached mother, and the need they both felt to solve the mystery of where she hid her love.
“What’s in the locked room in the basement?” he asked her the next weekend as they sipped wine on her patio, watching the autumn sunset over the tree line. She laughed as if to punctuate her comment: “You’ve wanted to ask that question for some time, haven’t you?” “You won’t be satisfied until you see it for yourself.” He felt foolish. “Come with me!” she said. “Let’s get this over with!” She escorted him downstairs. “How many lamb shanks will I have to show you to get this fascination out of your mind?” she asked. “You’re the only lamb chop I care about” he said, patting the round of her tight rump. “Good!” she said, and while we’re down here, lets pick out a few cuts of meat for the BBQ,” she said.
He was a little surprised she didn’t fetch the key. It was already in her pocket. She removed the heavy padlock, and pushed the door open. “After you” she motioned. He entered the darkness by the shaft of light entering through the door. Inside, he found three large freezers. Each was itself padlocked. “Why?” he asked. “Oh, she said, I know it’s a little odd, but when I was a little girl, I and my cousin were playing. She climbed into an old freezer my parents were intending to trash. I didn’t know where she was. She was hiding. She lowered the door on herself. She was in there for hours and hours before we found her. She was terrified, and today her parents blame that event for her mental problems. Personally, I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. But ever since, I never just leave appliances like that unlocked. “You let children play down here?” he asked. “Well, my nephews and nieces come to visit occassionally,” she added. “You never know what kids will get into.” She had not talked about her family before. He had seen no family pictures. It as if she had emerged whole from the sea foam like the goddess Diana.
She opened one of the freezers. The automatic light from the freezer door made the carpeting more visible. He saw spots of brown and red on the gray carpeting. “Well,” take a look.” He walked closer, looking inside. The packages were labeled and sorted by type into three sections. “No evidence of human remains here,” he said. I guess we’ll be having steaks after all.” “Would you mind carrying this upstairs?” she asked as she handed him a frozen package.
The next morning, his brother called. “So how was dinner?” he asked. He explained how she opened only one of the three freezers. He explained how news reports were covering the recent “UPS” driver cases. No bodies. The men just disappeared on their days off. They were all between 20 and 30 years old. They vanished from different locations all over the country, without a trace. His brother teased him: “So do you think they’re packed away in those other two freezers? Maybe you had one for dinner last night even?” “Gruesome!” he chided.
There was silence on the other end of the phone. “You still there?” he heard his brother ask. “Sure” he answered. “What’s a little blood on the carpet?”
That night, as he held her, he found her strangely more exciting than any woman he had ever known.
(c) 2010 FXP