"Thank you for trusting me to drive your car."
"In Australia, we drive on the other side of the street, you know."
"Oh aye, we do. The steering wheel is on the other side of the car, too."
"So it's a little confusing."
"And at home I don't have a car of my own, you know."
"So I haven't had a lot of practice."
There was silence for a few minutes. Marian glanced over at her "date". He wasn't 85 years old, that's for sure. Maybe 25, but she couldn't tell for sure. She'd been surprised when he showed up on her doorstep, to "pick her up". And wondered why her nephew felt like they had to set him up with somebody twice his age…….wondered for about two seconds. Then she got a good look at him.
She'd had two urges simultaneously---one, to forcefeed him a box of ice cream and a half a cake; and two, to stick his head under the bathroom faucet and scrub that stuff out of his hair. Since she didn't know him well enough to do either one, and because she couldn't make the urges leave her alone (you know how urges can be), it was hard to make conversation.
He looked over at her and tried to smile. Timid sort. He looked uncomfortable. She supposed she should take pity on him. Since she was stuck with him for the entire evening.
"What did you say your name was, again?"
"Arthur. Arthur Baskin." He actually managed a smile for a second this time. Well, that wasn't so bad.
"Could you turn left at the next corner, Arthur?"
"Certainly." A genuine smile this time. It was sweet. She wondered if his personality matched his smile. She hadn't met anyone actually sweet in a long time.
"I'd like to make sure my subordinate closed up the library after I left," she said.
"Of course. You work at a library, then?" Such a polite young man.
"I'm the director."
"Oh. You must be very important."
"Well……yes. The library is the mainspring around which any community worth it's salt turns; and the director, of course, is the….the screw that holds it on it's……well, hmmm, not that exactly, but yes, I'm pretty important."
Arthur looked confused. "You're the----"
"No. That was…..that is to say…….never mind---look out for that car---!"
Arthur swerved. "I'm sorry. I wasn't concentrating. I was thinking about what you said-"
"There's another--! Look out! Oh my…....pull over. Just pull over. We're close enough. We can walk a block or two."
Crestfallen was one of those words that you read in books, but you never actually see it in practice. Until now. Because that's certainly what Arthur was. His crest had fallen lower than low. It was dragging on the ground.
"I'm very sorry, I just got distracted for a minute. I suppose you won't want me to drive anymore. Can we still go to the dance?"
"Do you like to dance?" Marian asked as she walked briskly down the sidewalk. "Come along, now, keep up."
Arthur trotted up beside her. "Oh, aye, I love to dance."
"I suppose you were disappointed when you found out you were escorting a middle-aged woman to the dance, instead of a girl your own age."
"Oh, no. I don't care about that. In fact……." he looked down at the sidewalk, "young girls can be very flighty, don't you think?"
"I believe that's one of the requirements you have to meet in order to be a young girl."
He looked confused again.
"Never mind. What makes you say that?"
"Well…..I met this girl……she's so beautiful……and she danced with me…….and then we went on a date…….and the last time I called her, she said she couldn't go out with me, she had to stay home and wash her hair. And it seems to me, she could wash her hair before I come to pick her up, don't you think?"
"You'd certainly think so."
"So, I think she was making that up. So maybe I'm not interested in girls anymore…..if you understand me."
Oh, great. She hoped she wouldn't have to listen to him talk about this ditzy girl all night. Sob stories just put her to sleep. That's if she didn't just slap him and tell him to get over it before they got there.
Aha. She was right to come and check; all the lights were still on in the library. She muttered about incompetence, and fecklessness, and threatened Henny with the loss of her job under her breath. She walked faster. Arthur fell behind.
"You're not keeping up, Arthur Baskin. Come along, if you want to make it to that dance tonight."
Henny was right where she expected to see her-asleep at the computer.
"Wake up!" she said as she stormed around the counter. "Henrietta Hodges, you wake up right now! The library was supposed to be closed an hour and a half ago."
Henny didn't stir. For a moment, Marian was afraid; then she saw Henny quiver, just a little.
"Excuse me," Arthur said, "But where's the, um, the---"
"Bathroom's through there." She pointed without missing a step. "Henny!" She strode over to the sleeping woman, reached out, and grabbed her by the shoulder. "Sit up here." Pulled her back in her chair, away from the computer…….
And Henny bolted to her feet, wide-awake and trembling.
"Oh!" she said. "Oh dear God! Am I still alive?"
Marian put her hands on her hips. "You're making an awful lot of noise for a dead person if you're not. What in the world have you been doing?"
Henny rocked back and forth, and didn't act like she'd heard Marian.
She was clearly hysterical. Marian pulled back her hand, preparing for the theraputic slap on the face she meant to administer…..and Henny said, "You touch me with that hand, bitch, and you're gonna be pulling back a bloody stump!"
Marian was dumbfounded (another one of those words you've heard, but never seen). Not more so than Henny herself, however. She clapped both hands over her mouth and stared at Marian, wide-eyed.
"What on earth has gotten into you?"
"I don't know……I was just cataloguing……and then there was this man……"
"That's why you're supposed to lock the doors, you ninny."
"No, he wasn't……I think…..I think he's inside our computer." She stared at the unprepossessing tower with an apprehensive look on her face. "And I think I was in there with him….."
Marian raised her eyebrows. "I bet that was a tight fit."
"But that can't be right…..he knew so much……it's like he was inside me…..or something….."
"Ah, I see. And how was that fit?"
Henny's mouth opened. Then it closed and she blushed. Scarlet. Crimson. Burgundy-colored.
"Uh-huh. All this computer talk is just to throw me off the scent. Well, if you've managed to finally get some, I can't fault that too much. But you have to remember to lock the doors before you get down to business. What if a board member walked in on you while you were……you know……?"
"No….it wasn't like that……"
"It never is."
"…..it was so scary….."
Marian raised her eyebrows again. "Scary? Ok, you need to go home and lie down."
"We were dancing…..but then we weren't……" She blushed again. "And then he grabbed this big---"
"I really don't need to hear any more. I'm glad you had a good time. Go on home now, I'll lock up. Walk, why don't you?" Marian handed Henny her coat and handbag. "I hope you got his phone number," she said as Henny went out the door.
She turned out all the lights, the switches for which were located all over the darn place, and pulled her keys out of her pocket. She locked one door, and was heading for the other, when she realized she was alone. And she wasn't supposed to be.
Surely he wasn't still in the bathroom. "Please tell me it isn't going to be that kind of night," she muttered. "Arthur! It's time to go!"
She heard his voice muffled through the solid door of the men's restroom (solid oak because no one, absolutely no one, wanted to hear what went on in there), but she couldn't understand what he was saying. She'd had a hard time with that at first anyway. He said he was from Australia, but he didn't sound like any Australian she'd ever heard before. And she'd heard some Australians in her time. And they didn't sound like that.
She waited, glancing at her watch from time to time. Ten minutes later, he still hadn't emerged. She walked over to the door and knocked. "Arthur. We need to go."
He mumbled something else.
"Are you all right?"
One of the most under-appreciated perks of being director of the library was the big ring of keys. Every key to every single thing in the library was on Marian's ring. She dug it out of the bottom of her purse, and stood for some minutes trying to decide which one fit the bathroom doors.
Finally, "Aha." She put it the lock, turned the knob, and opened the door.
"No-" Arthur was saying as she looked in.
She'd thought Henny blushed hard, but Arthur won the prize. He was standing against the wall, with his belt open, tugging on his zipper.
"So you're not dead," Marian said. "You're supposed to answer when someone asks you if you're alright."
"I'm sorry….it's just…..I can't….it's…..ummm…..I've been trying and trying, but it just won't…….I'm going to have to go back home."
"Men are such klutzes. Here, let me try."
Marian pushed his hands out of the way, and tugged on the little gold tab. "This isreally stuck, isn't it?"
"Could you not--? That is, you know, you're a woman, and you've got your hands in my pants……and it's hard to…….I mean, I don't think……"
Marian looked into his face. It was rather a sweet face, and he was so extremely humiliated……normally Marian was a woman of very little patience, but this young fellow seemed to have a fine sense of his own inadequacy, and she appreciated that.
On the other hand, she didn't want to miss the barbeque, her stomach was starting to gurgle, so any delays were undesirable.
"OK," she said. "Here's what you do. Close your eyes, and pretend it's your father standing here with you in the men's bathroom trying to help you with your zipper. Do you suppose you can do that? I think I've almost got it."
"Well….I don't know….."
The hand on the inside of the zipper, holding it together while she worked at sliding the slide, felt something that hadn't been there before. She waited……yes, definitely something there…….
She looked up at him suspiciously. His eyes were closed tight, his arms folded and hugged tight against his body.
"Are you thinking about your father?"
She moved to the side, so the light would be better where she wanted to look; pulled the edges of the opening apart, and peered inside.
"Goodness." She stood up straight, and swallowed hard. This young man had unexpected assets. "Are you thinking about somebody helping you with your zipper?"
He didn't answer right away. She looked up in his face---he was taller than she thought at first---and his eyes were open.
"You," he said.
"I'm sorry," the words started rushing out of his mouth. "I realize you're just trying to help me and I realize this is not the sort of situation a fine lady like you wants to find herself in, it's just I've never had a lady with her hand just there before today, and you're so-----and you have such-----" He made vague clutching motions that didn't quite touch her chest.
She put her hand over his mouth. "Don't worry about it. Let me just lock the doors so no one can walk in on us unexpectedly. Stay right there for a minute."
She made sure all the doors were locked tight. "Come on back into my office, Arthur. We can take care of this problem."
He walked out holding his pants up. "Do you have a safety pin back there?"
She shut the door after he was inside her office. "I wasn't talking about that problem," she said, and started to unbutton his shirt.
"Umm, Ms. Mott? What are you doing?"
She touched his lips with hers, and let her fingers drift inside the open zipper. He wasn't quite a skittish as she thought he might be……after a couple of minutes, he said, "Ms. Mott, could I…..that is……will you let me know when……."
"Call me Marian," she said.
He grasped the finer points of the exercise almost right away. Both of them. She only had to show him something once, and he remembered it. And then tried it on his own. Mmmmm, who needs barbeque, Marian thought, I could live on a diet of eager but humble for weeks. Well, days.
They ended up on the floor, the desk shoved over against the wall. Marian fell asleep at one point, and he woke her up with something other than a kiss.
"I think we missed the dance," Marian said toward sunrise. He was too busy to answer her, just nodded, which made Marian tense all over. "I hope you're not too disappointed." He shook his head, which made Marian arch her back. "And we missed the supper." Another nod. "Oh my…….but I guess we're taking care of that."
Still later, she said, "I'm taking you home with me. We're going to take a shower. Together. And then we're going to eat ice cream."
"Oh, aye," he breathed in her ear, and groaned unexpectedly. "Ice cream."
They found a safety pin. As they were leaving the library, Marian stopped and said, "Did you hear something?" She looked back at the computers.
Arthur kissed her, the sweetest and purest French kiss she'd ever had. Then he did it again. She dragged her mouth away. "Home. Shower."
"Ice cream," Arthur agreed.
In her bedroom, Henrietta Hodges stood in front of her mirror and touched her neck where the knife had nicked her; and then where the man had bitten her. There was nothing to be seen in either place. It was a dream. Had to be a dream.
She took off her drab brown dress and held it in one hand at her side.
"Throw that rag away," she muttered. "That's not you. You should be wearing red."
"It is me, though. This is what I've always worn. I'm not a woman in a wine-colored dress."
"Aren't you? Who are you? Do you know?"
Her eyes widened. She was talking to herself.
It was just a dream. She just got woken up before she'd gotten to finish it.
Laughter bubbled up in her throat. "Yes. Not being killed slowly and painfully was a disappointment."
She touched her hair. She hadn't changed her style in 25 years. Maybe she should try something new……Nothing blue or spiky, though. Not that new. At least not now. Who could tell about later?
She realized her other hand was resting on the little swell of her tummy. Where he'd been. That part had been right. She smiled.
Then she remembered Marian's face when she'd called her a bitch. She covered her mouth and laughed at the woman in the mirror. Do you ever know who you are, really?
Life is a surprise sometimes, isn't it? she thought. There can be boredom, there can be fear. There can also be passion. Joy. You just never know when you get up in the morning what you're going to get.
She laid down in the bed she'd never shared with anyone, and fell asleep with a smile on her face, resting her hands on her tummy, a scent in her nostrils that didn't exist.
Tomorrow she'd dress in her drab clothes and go to work. Comb her hair the same old way. Just tomorrow. And after that……..who could tell?