She lay upon a couch of deeply tufted leather; leather dyed a color darker than spilled burgundy, lighter than clotted blood. Although the air in the study was almost chilling, a thin film of perspiration formed on her back, buttocks and thighs. This effect, more of adhesion than lubrication, held her transfixed to the smooth leather, somewhere behind her the mechanical punctuation of a pendulum clock monotonously accented the silence.
Through slats of eyelash she saw a muraled ceiling arrayed high above her in curving panorama. The scene, an innocent harvest festival, where frescoed nudes of fat, jolly Rubenesque proportions once reveled, was now overlaid by grime. Decades of ill trimmed wicks and poorly laid hearth fires transfigured maidens and nymphs into hags and crones, and corrupted a naïve Saturnalia into an obscene witch’s Sabbath – a Faustian Walpurgisnacht. The cheerful pinks and blues the artist once tinted into summer were hoar-frosted over by beady, gray-green hues she associated with lichens, or the backs of toads.
A shadow imposed across the ceiling and her eyes followed intemperately, opening perhaps a millimeter.
“You are awake at last.” The cello voice of the shadow caster resonated in the room.
“Am I alive?” Her voice hung in the air. “Why am I so cold?”
“What a poor host I must seem. I am standing between you and the fire.”
He moved to her feet, draping one arm languidly over the marble shoulders of a Greek statue, his pose a study in conviviality.
“You fell faint in the ballroom. The air is cooler here, revivifying. I took the liberty of loosening your clothes, they are here…somewhere.”
This was the same man who had whirled her around the brilliantly lit ballroom as the phonograph hissed the waltzes of Strauss. Yet somehow he was not the same man at all. The ballroom youthful giddiness matured in the gloom of the library. The untamed wheat straw hair was darkened by water and swept back into a semblance of order. The ruddy athletic complexion had blanched to a scholarly pallor almost matching the bust of Athena he now adorned.
“Why am I so weak? I feel helpless to move, as though oppressed by some great weight.”
“Rest a bit more, your strength will certainly return soon.” He wandered at her feet not taking his eyes from hers as though remaining in her field of vision was reassuring.
“You have done this to me. Some drug or potion…”
“You affront me,” he said. “How could that be true? You touched nothing on my table; your champagne flat and untasted remains in your glass. A good year too – shame.” He continued to pace as might a polymath who weighs solutions but finds each wanting. “Ah,” he said, pausing his stride. “Perhaps I placed this drug upon my own lips. No, that answer will not serve! You have sampled none of my offerings.” He smiled at own joke.
Her head moved slightly to follow him. “Yet here I am, despite your words. You have poisoned the very air, some mist or vapor that when breathed…”
“Rest from these speculations. What miasma could I compose that would captivate you while it invigorates me? This is no alchemy that so affects you. Mark my word.”
“If it is not science then you work through some darker art – some necromancy that gives you this power over me.”
He looked pointedly away from her. His splayed fingers caressed the books that lined the study walls as if all answers were hidden there. “I too sense such a power.” He ran a fingernail slowly down the spine of a volume of Mary Shelley. “It is an animating force – one that cannot be resisted.”
Fluidly as water he poured his body over hers until only a shadow’s thickness separated them. His mouth sought out the unresisting alabaster flesh of her neck. The warmth of a long blue vein flushed under his cheek. She felt herself levitating to meet him, levitating until only her shoulders and heels seemed to press upon the couch.
He raised himself on locked arms and looked into her, past his own reflection in her eyes. “I am not such a fool as to believe any force of mine has brought us here. It is you. Your power has brought us to this place.”
Her hand flew, swift as thought, and slapped him with a red sound that reverberated like gunfire though the room. “DAMN YOU!” She screamed.
The single tear which fell from his face coursed between her breasts and finally came to rest like a diamond in the navel of a slave girl.
“Damn you.” She said. “Damn us both.”
Then, with fingernails raking his scalp, she pulled him down to her.
A recent photo of Ray Busler is unavailable and will remain so until certain statutes of limitation are past. Interested parties may Google Wilford Brimley and be assured of a close match. Busler is an autodidact who blames his teacher for his many shortcomings. His theory of writing is to never try to re-invent the wheel or discover fire and he seems content to drag along from sentence to sentence hoping for a spark. Ray Busler lives in Trussville, Alabama with his artist wife of 40 years.