"Probably," he tells her. "Iíll call when I know."
"Right," she says.
So it goes. Day in and day out. The ritual conversation bores her almost as much as it tires him to repeat it. Daily they still sit this way, always slobbering over their mugs of foul-tasting brown liquids, repeating the question and answer pattern established years ago. She should feel gratitude for his hard work, work that keeps them alive, keeps them afloat and not in too much debt, but instead she only feels the boredeom of lonely nights and despairing days.
"Iíll make you a sandwich, all right?" she asks, continuing the rite of passage.
"Yeah, fine," he says, knowing that he will throw it away as soon as he can. Like her hands on his face or the smell of her body in bed next to him, he cannot abide her sandwiches.
"P&J all right for you?" she wants to know.
"Sure, why not," he tells her, "but no mayo."
"Okay, fine," she says. She only did that once, and then only to annoy him. He has never let it go, never stopped mentioning it. For this and this alone she could be hating him. But there are other things in the way of her happiness now, and he and his dislikes and his attitude are no longer among the foremost. Now she is at her fourth love in just a few months, and this one must succeed where the others have not.
She goes about her business. He leaves the room.
When the fourth man appears, she is ready for him, prepared for her seduction.
"Hope springs eternal" she mutters to herself and her heart skips a beat causing her to suck in her breath suddenly which, in turn, causes her heart to beat faster than it normally might have done.
When this man, this carefully selected specimin of masculinity, appears she waggles her tongue in his direction and than whispers, in a hoarse and sexy tone, "Have Faith," as she spreads her legs before him. She is naked, with only a light whiff of perfume applied from the bottle she keeps at the ready. He is inside of her instantly and she exults the strength and the size of him. She reaches under her pillow and removes a bottle from which she flicks the cap, already half unscrewed. The odor of its contents pings to her brain and to his as both of them breathe deeply from it.
The sensation is overwhelming and the two of them move more deliberately, more quickly, more deeply than before. It is his groan and then his gasp that triggers her own orgasm, moments after his own. Like beasts in a brothel, a bordello of animals, they finish with one another and, after one final hard push of body into body, they separate, fall back onto the bed, side by side, exhausted.
His breathing is heavy; hers is quick. He sighs, not a sigh so much as a passionate release of air from somewhere beyond the lungs. She purses her lips and supresses a broad smile. Without a word between them she reaches over and takes his hand. He doesnít withhold it and she is satisfied. This is the one, as she knew he would be. This is the one!
She lay, still and unmoving, on the second floor hallway carpet. He saw her from above, like a vision in a crystal ball, and he didnít know what to do.
"Faith?" he called out to her. "Faith, are you okay?"
There was no answer and that surprised him. He knew he should rush down to where she lay immobile and silent but his own fear of discovery, fear of cupability held him where he was. How would he explain his presence in her house and the fact that she was naked? How could he manage to tell a story about his experience with her upstairs in the private third floor room? What excuse, what rational explanation, would suffice here? There was no easy answer to a single one of his internal questions.
He saw the faces of his mother, daughter and wife flash before him, in that order. Of the three only his wife might have understood his desire for this very odd woman and this very strange situation. She was the only one he would ever trust to know about all that had happened.
Unable to remain where he was, for now he saw the trickle of blood coming from under her static body, he took the narrow staircase two and three steps at a time until he was beside her. She lay on top of his pants, he realized, her head having connected with the buckle on his pants. The Coca-Cola buckle with the long, curved, brass stem that hooked into the hole on the other end of the thick, leather belt. He remembered when she gave him the belt, part of his invitation to the house.
"Wear it for me," she had said at the time. "Itís my special present," she had told him.
Now it was the weapon that had crippled her, probably killed her. He could see how it lay, grabber up and how her head rested inside the crook of the buckle. The nib must have penetrated into the back of her skull, perhaps exactly where the neck and head joined and the bone was thinnest. Her gift to him had been the ultimate instrument of her death. He wanted to weep.
Primarily this sense of fear, humility and sadness came from the fact that the belt was still looped inside the pathway that circled the waistline of his jeans. Heíd have to grapple with them to remove them from under her head, from the belt that held them so snugly. There was no other way to remove himself from this place. He had to have his clothing, all of it. He could leave the belt; he had never worn it except for this morning affair with her. No one had ever seen it. It wouldnít bear witness against him, he believed.
Slowly, delicately, he pulled the pants free of the belt. When he had them, he still only held them, almost afraid of them, at armís length. He wanted to check them, make sure they didnít have her blood staining them before he put them on, but that same fear kept him from examining them closely.
The old cuckoo clock in the downstairs hallway hooted just then, and the odd sound seemed to release him from his self-imposed prison against the wall. He looked down the garment in his hand, checked it for stains, and then he put them on. He addeed his shirt and the rest of his clothing and then he sidled away from the corpse of the woman he had lusted for, had and emotionally abandoned. He knew he had to leave the place, get out while he could. Certainly someone was going to find her, before long, and he had to be well away, unseen by neighbors, unknown to her family.
He knew she was married. That had been part of the thrill for him. He had been chasing thrills all of his life and this one had turned against him, badly. He had to make his move, NOW, and get out.
He turned his back on her and walked down the first three steps, taking strong, definite steps, asserting the manliness of his being. As he trod his fourth descending step he halted, turned and looked at her, the belt snaking out from under her head. Her face had relaxed slightly, he thought, or perhaps it was this other, reverse, upside-down perspective. He wasnít sure.
"No baby, Faith. Not from me," he said. She didnít answer him this time, couldnít answer him. Faith wasnít answering anything on this plane at this time. He thought, for only a split second, about wrenching the belt free, but he thought better of it in an instant and instead he followed his instincts and kept on going down the stairs and out of the womanís house.
Faith lay where she was, unmoving, unhearing, definitely impregnated but never to know it.
Below her, three stories below her, lay the others, the three who had failed her. Her one thought, her final thought as life finally escaped her altogether, was of them and what her neighbors and friends would think when they were discovered.