Goodnight, said the Sandman

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August in Saint Louis is like an obscene phone call from Mother Nature. You can feel her hot breath down your back on the slightest of breezes. You drink water by the quart and sweat by the gallon. Even drying off after a shower, you’re drenched with sweat before you can get dressed. With both the temperature and the humidity hovering in the nineties both days and nights there was hardly any respite, even in sleep. Andy had hoped the shower might help after a long nearly sleepless night but as he tossed the towel onto the sheets still wrinkled from the nights pressure and perspiration, he knew the day would be just as long and uncomfortable as the night had been.

Not to mention the funeral. Ceremonies of death were not his favorite activities, and after two divorces, neither were weddings. This errant thought caused a wry smile to warp his lips as he adjusted his tie in the bathroom mirror. Bad enough having to drag halfway across the country on a minute’s notice, but a funeral made it even worse. Although they had been childhood friends, he hadn’t seen the deceased in nearly two decades. Just half an age ago they had kept each other alive in the hostile jungle of a foreign land. Now his friend was killed not by a vicious enemy but from an airframe failure in the test aircraft he’d been flying. A small piece of metal parted unexpectedly and he had flown into the ground the previous afternoon and died. Instantly, said the yellow folded telegram form he carefully refolded and slid into a pocket, followed by wallet and keys. He made one last check of the room and stepped out into the bright oven of morning.

He soon found some familiar landmarks so finding the funeral home would be easy enough. Unbidden, memories of the streets they had cruised in their parents’ cars came racing back. The air conditioning in the rented car was working wonderfully and he soon found his somber attitude improving. The telegram was from his friend’s wife, a woman he had met only once, at their wedding. A beautiful girl, as he remembered, with very long dark hair and a voluptuous figure. They met and married in the brief month of leave between Training and Southeast Asia. Her letters had been a source of support for both unwilling conscripts, being a lifeline back to the real world. He had written a few of his own missives to her, not having a girl back home and not being able to get her husband to join him in revels with the local available girls. He had been careful to keep them cheerful and emotionally bland, and her replies were bright and almost flirtatious. She had even sent them care packages, boxes of their favorite foods and such from home. Without these small amenities, they might both have become another of those lost ones, the thousand-yard staring walking dead.

Turning into the parking lot, he thought he recognized her, standing near the massive entry of the brick and stone chapel, looking very much like the last time he saw her, except that this time the dress was simple and black. He parked and reluctantly stepped out into the heat. Making his way across the blistering asphalt, he remembered also why he had taken jobs in cooler climates. As his eyes tried to adjust to the too bright sunlight, he tried to focus on the vision of her in basic black. From his point of view, across the shimmering asphalt and a brief stand of cropped grass, the view was rather spectacular. Tall, maybe six feet even, with a stunning figure that made the Cosmo girls look like boys and about four miles of legs between the last curve and the black satin pumps she stood in. She had piercing green eyes and long raven tresses she kept straight down, with a simple row of bangs that helped frame a classically beautiful face. He’d always found her attractive, paralyzingly so. In fact, he found her so appealing, that he’d pushed himself away from his lifelong friend because she was so attractive. The closer he came to her now, striding across the lot to the porch where she stood. He approached from behind, she hadn’t seen him coming, he was sure, so he had the walk to compose himself and stuff all that desire to the side.

He reached out to touch her shoulder and said aloud, “Kathie?” His fingers had just grazed her pale bare skin when lightning struck his outstretched hand and a total stranger turned to him. A stunning stranger.

“You must mean my Mom, I’m Pam.” She stuck out a gloved hand and he saw her closely for the first time, a doppelganger of the youthful Kathie smiled from some decades away, a place where the air must not be so thin. Andy took the offered glove and held it for a moment as if it were priceless and fragile.

“Pleased to meet you, Pam, I do wish it were more cheerful circumstances.” Andy offered, resisting a strong urge to click his heels and kiss her hand.

“And you are…?”

“Sorry, I’m Andy Pierce, your Dad and I went way back,” he shrugged, hoping to move into the air-conditioned chapel before melting into a puddle.

“Really?” She practically squealed, “THE_ Andy Pierce? The Sandman himself? Mom will bostancı escort sure be glad to see you, she’s a mess.” She nodded to the two somber young men she’d been talking with and took his left arm in tow and strode toward the chapel door. He let her. Like her mother before her, she was the kind of woman a man would follow to the ends of the earth. The kind of a woman for whose favor wars are fought. They stepped into the hushed confines of the chapel’s vestibule, choked with black clad strangers. The air handler struggled valiantly to accommodate the mass of humanity and the heat it bled into the room.

“Mom,” she announced. “Look who’s here.”

‘Mom’ turned to recognize me and collapsed into tears, throwing her arms around my neck and clinging to me. Of all the times I had fantasized about the event, it was never under these circumstances. Andy was overcome and held her tight, whispering into her ear, “Are you alright?”

“N-no,” she replied without loosening her grip on him. In spite of himself, the smell of her hair drifted into his nostrils, awakening the desire he was determined to keep asleep.

Before either could speak again, an organ began faint strains of some vaguely familiar hymn and people began to move into the chapel. An usher took Kathie’s arm and steered her toward the aisle. They hadn’t taken but a few steps when Pam took Andy’s arm again and followed her mother to the second row where he sat in silence between them. A white-robed minister took the podium and began to drone.

Andy’s thoughts bounced back and forth between disgusting but strangely appealing erotic fantasies and a steaming jungle of long ago and far away. He found himself wondering what the remains in the coffin on diplay were really like. The casket was closed due, they said, to the massive destuction from the impact. He’d overheard one relative say the wreckage wasn’t recognizable as an aircraft. The service was a severe disappointment, a religious sermon instead of a remembrance of the deceased. He felt no guilt for letting his thoughts run free. At the merciful end of the ceremony, he was torn between the desire to remain between these beauties for the rest of time and sprinting for the airport in relief. But first, he had to pass the gauntlet of his friend’s divorced parents and their respective spouses, individually. At one point in the melee, Kathie turned and said to him, “You must come out to the house. Please. You must. For me, please.” He hadn’t said anything, but as her entreaties became more fervent, he heard himself saying yes of course he would. Anything he could do. The usual banter, sincere but standard.

He extracted himself from the crowd and slipped into the Men’s room. After relieving himself, he rinsed his hands and face with cool water, dreading the heat. Dreading the inevitable cruise down memory lane. Minutes later, with the AC running in the rented car and something at least tolerable on the radio, he was startled by a tapping on the passenger window. It was Pam. He hit the lock button, the door clunked, and she jumped into the seat beside him and pulled the door shut.

“I’ll show you how to get there,” she said, fumbling through the contents of a small black clutch.

“I told Mom I’d go with you, she has Erma and Phyllis and Chuck in her car.” He had no idea who those people were, so he just smiled and nodded and put the car in gear, glad to leave the chapel behind. She fished a cigarette from the bag and lit it with the lighter in the dash. He found it unsettling, just how short her skirt had become and although she adopted a demure posture, keeping her knees together, their perfect curves and great length were apparent. He really tried not to stare but forcing himself to look directly into that face was no chore either. They drove through the city to an expressway and she guided him to the distant suburbs through neighborhoods newer than his memories of those roads. All the while they were riding, she chatted cheerfully about herself, her memories of her father and his stories of their youthful exploits.

“You were his hero, she told him flatly, ” he always wanted to be like you, traveling around to all those exotic places, instead, he stayed here and built us a home and stuff.” She sniffed a little, her eyes brimming but not overflowing. “He talked about you all the time,” she continued. “You must have had some real fine times, huh?” She applied her tissue to her nose and raised her eyebrows with the question. He couldn’t help the rush of affection he suddenly felt for her. When he didn’t respond, she continued, “He never told us why they called you the Sandman but I heard a few times why they called him Otter.” She smiled a pale smile that could defrost North Dakota.

He looked away. Unable to look at her for too long, for fear his retinas might be scorched beyond repair. She seemed almost totally unaware of her great beauty, so poised she seemed and self-assured. He smiled finally and said,” I had two divorces and too many jobs. Not what you’d call a ümraniye escort bayan fantasy life, Kid.”

“Don’t call me ‘a kid'” she huffed, stuffing out the cigarette in the ashtray. He began to protest but she continued, ” I’ve done some living too, you know. I’m not some little glass doll and I’m not some little innocent schoolgirl. Why won’t you tell me?”

He found himself apologizing again, not entirely sure why, although he was aware that to upset this angel might indeed be unforgivable. He explained that ‘Kid’ was just a term of endearment, somewhat less sexist than ‘Sweetie’ or worse, ‘Babe’, compliments of his youth that were now epithets to some. The nicknames belonged to a place and time worlds away and he hadn’t ever heard them uttered in the world he now inhabited. Nor could he bring himself to explain. Her expression softened then she did that flirtatious switch and began begging his forgiveness for being oversensitive. As she held onto his arm, staring soulfully into his eyes, he was disinclined to mete out absolution too quickly. But they had arrived.

She kissed his ear, just a brush of the lips, enough to send an electric shiver down to his toes. In the time it took for her to exit the car and walk the short distance to the house’s front steps, all the flirtatious teenager evaporated into the humid air around her and she was a subdued young woman again, being strong for her Mother. The house they were parked in front of seemed almost to be a growing part of the surrounding countryside. No other houses were visible, yet there was a lot of open grassy ground to be seen. A group of small children played in the shade of a mature Oak and several adult men were gathered in the driveway smoking. Pam disappeared into the house and Andy mingled with the men. After a while, they all gathered inside and comforted the widow. This was one of those times you had to pity the Protestants. Lacking the permissive doctrine that would have allowed them to party as in New Orleans or a nice Irish Catholic wake, they adopted instead a sober version of sitting shivveh. Andy dreaded the inevitable weeping and lamentations, He would miss this lost part of himself always too, yet felt no need to punish himself so severely for the loss.

He kept as quiet as possible and still being polite, shying away from embellishing the stories Pam or Kathie alluded to, giving him frequent openings to spin yarns about the deceased’s exploits from one who was there. But each of his dodges was rescued by a relative if not by the girls themselves. There were plenty of stories to go around. As the day wore on, he became aware of several small gestures and contacts from the girls too. Each time he felt complacent, one of them would say or do something or give him a look that was to him obviously laden with multiple meanings. One of these occurred as he was sitting in the living room listening to a handful of aged relatives discussing his youth and Pam came in from the kitchen, where Kathie and another woman were, and sat on the arm of the overstuffed chair he was parked in, draping an arm across the top of the chair’s back. She had changed from the black shift she had worn to the chapel, that well cut, thin strapped, mid-thigh dress into a somehow appropriate black Harley-Davidson jersey and charcoal pedal-pushers. None of the camouflage did anything whatsoever to hide the curves within. And just as he felt successful in capping the wellspring of desire he was being inundated with, she leaned over and told him Kathie wanted to see him in the kitchen, but not to hurry. And as he turned to her she brushed the side of his face with her breast, actually pausing for the tiniest of moments leaning on him, her left nipple pressed to his temple. He froze and the moment passed. She continued the motion as if there had been no pause at all, getting to her feet and reaching to the low coffee table for the ornate cigarette case there. Andy felt his face warming in spite of his massive efforts of self-control. He stood slowly and walked around the table toward the hallway, pausing in its arch to glance back at Pam, but she was in animated conversation, an unlit smoke in her left hand, lighter in the right, waving both in wide gestures and still sitting on the arm of the chair.

The house was deceptively large. From the outside, it blended the simple architecture with the hillside. The hallway from the main living room split the house with bedrooms to the right and up, the office, kitchen, garage and service areas to the left. At the end of the hallway was an atrium with the deck underfoot extending past the glass doors to a balcony overlooking the trees in the draw behind the house. He found himself there, ignoring the heat, staring into the leaves and wondering what was going on in his life. Quite a while he stood there until he remembered with a shiver how much he had hated green for a time in the past. He paced the balcony between the handrail and the wall of glass noticing the other pairs of doors with curtains drawn behind them. Probably kartal escort the bedrooms. Finally he took a breath and went back into the hallway to find the kitchen. There, he found Kathie.

She looked an awful lot like she had nearly twenty years ago, still wearing the match to her daughter’s black dress, her hair down and falling around her shoulders like an ebony waterfall, breaking over those pale shoulders and spraying foam down those beautiful breasts. He caught himself again, and he pressed his attention away from her, looking around the room and nodding toward the other woman, standing nearby. Kathie introduced her as her Aunt Phyllis who actually remembered him from the wedding. Kathie practically forced a drink on him, showing him where the glasses and ice were, even remembering his favorite Scotch. He stood, leaning on the counter of the island, carefully placing himself at a neutral distance from both women as they continued a conversational thread he had some difficulty following and soon found his thoughs drifting away again.

“Won’t you, Andy, Please?”

“Sure,” was out of his mouth before he realized. “What?”

“You’ll stay with us, here, to help us handle things.” Spotting the panic in his expression, she came to him, pleading, “Just a few days, please.”

“I’ll have to make some calls, make sure some things are covered, but I really need to get back.” The words sounded lame even as he spoke them. The airline would change his ticket, the project had some impending deadlines, but could run without him for a day or two.

“Of course I will, Kathie,” he found these words came easier. She took the opportunity to hug him again and kissed him a warm but sisterly kiss that lingered just a fraction of a second too long. In drawing back from him, she curled an arm around his waist and continued the conversation from there. He struggled with his will until he finally allowed himself to feel comfortable with her attached to him. Very comfy indeed. When the other woman left the room, she turned and kissed him again, not a sisterly kiss at all, but over all too soon. She held him and said, “I just can’t tell you how grateful I am that you’re here and that you’ll stay with us.”

She held her face close to his, lips parted, eyes almost closed, poised. The moment seemed suspended in time and space as if the two were figures in amber, then he closed that tiny distance between them. Her tongue waltzed across his lips then did a tarantella on the tip of his tongue. They stood in this marvelous embrace until the bathroom door clicked in the hallway, and they separated. She was refreshing his drink when Aunt Phyllis returned. Andy took it with thanks, hoping perhaps it might slow the spinning room, if not stop it altogether. They chatted for a while longer, then the kitchen began to fill with relatives in preparation for the next feast. Andy freshened up his Scotch and headed for the balcony.

The hillside dropped away sharply behind the house, giving the illusion of a much greater height than the fifteen feet it was. The sun had dipped behind the hills to the West and the air had begun to move at last. It was growing pleasant there and he took large sips of the fresh air as well as the iced Scotch.

“Mom tells me you’re staying with us. I can’t tell you how glad I am.”

Andy almost lost the glass of amber liquid to gravity. Looking far calmer than he felt inside, he turned from the sunset to see it reflected in the glass wall behind her, framing a picture he knew immediately would be tattooed on his memory for eternity. She stood with a hand on one hip, a cigarette in the other, the reflected sunset sending highlights through her hair. It seemed to flow and bend around her, subject to her will and whim, lighting here, shading there, she seemed to almost shimmer like a distant heat mirage. But she was real, so real. As if to spare him the pressure of conversation, she turned and walked to the last set of doors, sliding one open and holding aside the sheer white curtain.

“This is your room,” she said brightly. He stepped in and she followed, reaching for a switch on the wall. “Why don’t you get comfy and I’ll get your bag out of the car, ok?”

How could he possibly refuse her anything? He gave her the keys and he settled into a chair next to the night table where the phone was. He took out his phone card and began the necessary calls. Just as he anticipated, the airline was accommodating, the associate he talked to was reassuring and he managed to leave messages two other places before he realized that his life was now on hold everywhere. A foot in the past, a foot in the unknown, he turned the light off and sat in the gathering darkness, slowly draining the glass in his hand. He left before Pam could return.

He glided through dinner oblivious to those around except for the two women who seemed bent on his mental destruction. After eating little enough, he made excuses and retired to the bedroom. Pam had unpacked his suit bag and hung his clothes in the closet, leaving it open for him. His kit bag was on the vanity in the bathroom, and he unzipped it, digging out his toothbrush and other items. He undressed quickly and got into the shower. He stayed there for as long as he dared, wishing the streaming water would wash it all away.

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