A man walks toward a river. He is a funny looking smallish kind of guy with beady eyes and pronounced pattern baldness. He’s wearing a plaid checkered short-sleeved shirt in light colors with light brown or tan pants and sandals and he has small round framed eyeglasses. There is a small muddy flat with a fence along the bank of the river and there are prisoners tied to the fence in a row, both men and women. The fence is broken at the top end to his right. He is looking nervously over his shoulder for another man. He looks right through me so I must be invisible to him. He unbinds one young man, a boy really of maybe fourteen or fifteen, from the end of the fence and leads him away from the clearing back up a path.
He turns the prisoner over to the custody of a tall and very dashing young man in his late twenties or early thirties seated at a table and returns to the river. I feel he is going to get the next prisoner. She was a woman in a red shirt and blue jeans I had noticed on his first trip. Her clothing had been torn in places and it caught my attention, but I couldn’t tell if it was just a style she preferred. It doesn’t matter. When the man returns for her, the fence and the muddy flat are empty. There is another man there but only his voice and it speaks.
“That’s right, they are all gone now aren’t they, Henry? It’s only you and me.”
The voice belongs to the man he was nervously looking for the first time. He obviously does not know I am there either. Henry doesn’t turn toward the voice though. He pauses in reflection staring out blankly over the river and then walks to the broken area of the fence.
“I wouldn’t step to close to the…”
Henry slips on the muddy bank and plunges into the water. I can feel his fear in the air it is so intense, as if he is about to be ripped apart by alligators, only there is nothing in the river but water. He swims down to the other end of the fence, half carried by the current, and begins to crawl up out of the water. His beady eyes and the way he drags himself up on his hands makes me think of a lungfish.
“You don’t like the water do you, Henry?”
Henry finally peers up over the top of his glasses to look at the source of the voice. The glasses were not lost in the river but they are wet now and he can’t see through them. I still can’t see the other man, but Henry can. He stops on his hands and knees in the mud.
“Perhaps it has something to do with the rats in the bath, or…”
The voice gains a terse steely tone.
“… the guilt for that girl you drowned. Or maybe it’s because we were under water when you stabbed me.”
Henry stares but says nothing. His mother’s shrieking about the rats in the tub echoes in his mind over the images conjured from his memory of the murdered girl and his attempt to murder his friend but his face shows no emotion.
Then I am back at the table where he had taken the prisoner. There is a crowd of spectators huddled in a tight circle around the table and I am standing among them. I am not one of them, but I was not a prisoner either. We are in a clearing with trees everywhere. It is dark. The table is illuminated but I see no source for the light. In the background there is a strange thatch roof hut built at the top of a long post or tree trunk with a ladder of rope leading up to a railed veranda.
The prisoner is a boy in his teens as I said, thin with wavy brown hair and a face I can only adore. A peppering of thin freckles dots the tops of his cheeks under dark chocolate eyes. He laughs nervously but doesn’t speak with a voice that is growing deeper with his changing age. He wears a dark T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes covered in mud from the river and he is seated now at the table opposite the tall dashing man. He awaits with an innocent and winning smile the execution of a sentence that will almost with certainty ultimate in his death. He reflects unbelievable courage for a boy his age.
The man at the table has an extremely virile sex appeal. He has blond brown hair parted to one side that is a little bit long and tied back behind his head in a short pony tail. Bold masculine facial features and a slightly beaked nose with his blond beard and mustache all trimmed short almost to stubble lend a rugged appearance to a face that would otherwise be one I called pretty. He wears a very fancy white shirt, open collared and unbuttoned down to the cleavage of well defined pectorals sparsely populated with thin curly hair, darker than on his head. A heavy gold chain with an amulet hangs around his neck and his hands are adorned with several rings, a bracelet and a very expensive jeweled watch, all of which he is slowly removing and placing on the table. He instructs the boy to remove his rings as well, but the boys hands are bare. I can sense somehow that the comment is intended to mask an unfair disadvantage in a competition of some kind.
A very sexy girl dressed in a French maid costume of black with red trim, over a frilly white petticoat with a white apron stands at the man’s side. A sparkling tiara holds her hair back from the prettiest curly bangs that I envy for just the briefest of seconds. She has red fishnet stockings and very high heels that leave her still only an inch or so taller than me. She holds a silver drink tray in her right hand that has no drinks on it. When the man is done removing his jewelry she extends the tray and he places it all there. She extends the tray to the boy too but he of course has nothing and I fall completely in love with his smile as searches her face for some hope and laughs again nervously.
“Let it begin, then.”
There is a sadistic tone riding the man’s words that I ignore because his deep and dulcet voice melts all over me like hot fudge and the confidence and power in it stimulate me past excitement and almost to the point of pleasure. The poor boy stands as a clamor of speculation begins around the circle. Everyone touches hands in some form of gambling but nothing is exchanged so I don’t know what is being wagered. The man smiles. His smile is so beautiful and his mouth is so perfect I can feel it all over my body when I look at it and it arouses me against my will. He stretches his hand out over the table, and the boy begins to slap it first forehand and then backhand and continues like this until he is exhausted. The man never flinches. I am confused as to how this represents punishment or how it could have a fatal result, but I am now genuinely scared for the boy as he holds back from crying in pain. I love much more than his smile now.
“Very good. Now it’s time for the rings.”
I am not supposed to have said whatever I say. There is lots of talking and none of it is considered inappropriate, but whatever comes from my mouth brings a dead silence to the clearing in the trees. There are no crickets or birds or any sounds from the woods at all, just dead silence. The man turns to me and I can feel him penetrate between my legs just by looking at me.
“We do have an intermediary,” he says.
He looks me over. I try to conceal the nature of my discomfort, scared that he knows.
“What honor does this wisp offer?”
He is scoffing as if it is better for the boy to die in honor than to live in disgrace and I have disgraced him irreparably now. I say nothing. I had not meant to say anything in the first place.
Someone shoves me forward and the girl in the maid costume sets down her tray on the table. She produces some kind of light blue garter from her apron pocket. I step forward and watch as she slides it up my left leg and up underneath my dress. My feet are bare. My dress is plain and pure white with a short skirt. My legs are incredibly smooth as if I had waxed them and more tan than I am used to. There are no tan lines at my feet so I must be barefoot a lot. The back of her hand brushes me as she reaches the top of my leg and I jump, not as much from her touch itself as from fear that she will know the man has excited me. There are hushed chuckles around the circle. She looks at me with disdain but says nothing and gestures with her head for me to take the boy’s chair. She turns to the crowd and holds the back of her hand to her nose to sniff it. The hushed chuckles become guttural laughter but the man does not see what she did and just stares forward waiting for me to take my seat. The maid hands the tray to the man who decorates his hands again and then she hands the tray to me. It should have been empty but there is one very large ring there, studded with sharp diamonds. I glance at the girl as I take it but there is no look of explanation.
I study the ring, trying to determine what I am supposed to accomplish as the clamor of speculation renews around the circle with added fervor. The ring is almost big enough for two of my fingers to fit inside and the diamonds are so sharp I know they will leave deep wounds. I don’t believe I am going to die from the contest, but if I anger the man, he will kill me without a thought. He reaches out his hand. I look again at his face. There is no sexual attraction anymore. He seems evil and I hate him for violating me even if only in my mind. I stand up, looking back at the ring cupped now in the palm of my hand. I can never hit him with even half the strength the boy did and I know it. Something tells me the ring is poisoned and I must make sure it doesn’t scratch me. I wonder what happened to Henry and I wake up staring at the ring.
© 2010 Anne Schilde