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Many a Good Man

by David H. Fears

It was like being stung by a lovely scorpion, the day I turned the corner and saw her lying there sunning herself. I froze as if a Brazilian blow-dart had sunk into my neck. One of my internal voices, the one that sounds a lot like dead Uncle Ernie, said, What an idiot you are. Tits and ass, always with the tits and ass! You’ll never get rich letting your dick yank you around, idiot!

Eternal seconds passed during which I forgot to breathe. I gaped at her oiled form glistening in the white sun. My mind flapped; my feet turned to lead. Then the rush came, pungent of lilacs, or it seemed.

Strangely, instead of lust, I felt loss — great, utter and irrecoverable loss — home abandoned, hearth-to-ashes, keys-lost, credit-card-rejected, living-under-a-bridge level of loss. I gripped the top of the gate. Premonitions flooded in on me. Crash and burn; sackcloth, ashes and prophetic drooling gibberish. Yeah, that’s an understatement. I mean, the woman (or if not her, who? what?) drained my practiced poise, somehow stealing something valuable from within me. But what, exactly?

I leaned forward. The gate gave way silently. My mouth opened. Words fell out like rolling pearls, over the grass to her feet, though if my life depended on it I can’t tell you now what I said. I only know the words were not earthly, that’s for sure.

My thoughts raced downhill to the sheen of her limbs. Until that day, that moment, I’d committed only practical, purposeful, and you might even say intelligent acts, aimed at constructive, helpful, sweet, even good ends. I’d always followed my dead Uncle Ernie’s advice. It’s not a stretch to say I was a good man, not given to playing around. Barely tempted by those seven deadly sins, never pausing to ponder.

“As long as you’re staring,” she said huskily, “would you mind doing it up close and rubbing oil on my back?”

There are traps that rise like snags from a mirrored river, hopes that fetch foolishness bigger than the worst luck brings. I was in the cage with that scorpion, embracing the fatal sting, courting some beauteous death. That may be overplaying it a tad, but all that stored goodness in me somehow skipped out on a world tour without me.

She slipped her sunglasses down her nose, parted her pearly pink lips, then rose to one elbow; a nervous tangle clenched in the basement of my darkest fears — not really an emotion as much as instinctive chords plucked, pulled out, flailing, shooting trembles up my legs. Who was I at that moment? Could heaven be accompanied by such a hell?

I was a master criminal, that’s who — too sexy for a jail cell, too devious for Sherlock Holmes or Lieutenant Columbo. Into my mind rode a thousand urgent and felonious schemes, and in my mind’s eye I stood in the womb of a mammoth bank vault, stuffing riches into my knapsack, cackling gloriously at crimes that pay, of victories that prove goodness to be naive stupidity.

I’d always been pretty stupid around half-naked women, never took a class on what to do, I guess, so I’d always done the wise thing, the Uncle Ernie thing, the good thing. I’d always kept walking. Flee from evil, son. Flee.

Now things had turned. I was unable to flee. I was a lost ape missing-link until I stumbled numbly across the yard to perch on the edge of her chaise, mouthing impossible words — the best words, the perfect words — pearls into diamonds.

My hands spread oil around her back; her neck to her ribs to her hips. Her joyful ooohs vibrated up my arms even as I contemplated our future Bonnie-and-Clyde getaways. Yeah. It was some sort of wacky, drug-induced coconut oil and hijack nirvana, you might say.

“You have strong hands,” came the silky fog-tinged voice.

Depraved currents swirled from my DNA, passed down from apes, ready to make a monkey out of me, and all it took was that one glimpse of her, top off, sunning in the hot July sun.

Ernie’s voice faded out after a few circles on her delicious fairness. Too late, Uncle.

Lazily, she turned over, her bare breasts a follow-up sting to the anesthetized fool I’d become. How long did I hold my breath?

She licked her lips with a lazy tongue. “Now, these, if you dare.”

My answer was forgotten as soon as it was spoken, if indeed it was. Her Mona Lisa grin said enough — she was enough to thwart my best impulses to run, and I confess it took a seeming hour to look in her eyes. So I followed my hands to those places I used to flee from. The point of no return was the point of it all, you might say. A couple of points of no return, you might also say, but at the time I wasn’t so glib, so confident. I was paralyzed.

After a dead lump of time, during which my clothes fell like dead leaves, and my will to survive wandered off like a dumb creature, I awoke staring at a lemon yellow bedspread with small blue butterflies. My mind had gone on a long and timeless journey.

The only thing was, it was so timeless I can’t recall a damned thing after that — not a whit, not a thrust nor a cry, a welt nor a scratch, much less orgasmic joys, even though the marks of her angry passion were well evident on my body.

We were in front of the bank a few minutes later, her at the wheel, her beret cocked rakishly, her lips still curved in silent challenge. I channeled John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd. The newspapers later called me the “charm bandit” for the polite prose of my holdup notes. Someone with editorial skills, the paper said, or a literary background — who else would include purple prose and semicolons in such notes, six in all, linked into a surreal narrative?

When I awoke later that night she was counting wads of cash on that lemon yellow bedspread with small blue butterflies, placing stacks of hundred-dollar bills on her naked lap.

She looked at me with eyes that dared to feign innocence. “What would you pay to own me? What’s your price?”

“I will pay any price,” I whispered, not knowing why.

When I awoke I discovered she’d deserted me with the cash — deserted with my pants as well, though I soon found them in a nearby tree.

The house was empty, damp, musty. I listened intently, unwilling to believe she was gone. No oiled body made for speed; no Uncle Ernie voice, no lemon yellow bedspread with small blue butterflies. Only a far-off siren crying about someone else’s crime.

I dressed and walked out into a sleepy moon-filled night, retrieving my pants with a shinny and a stick, while a frog chorus beat encouragement. I made my way to the road and trudged on home, puzzled by it all. I wanted to forget where I’d been, what I gave a damn about (if anything, I wasn’t sure), worrying what I’d do if I ever saw her again, which I never have.

I tossed that night trying to wrap my head around why I should toss, but in the feeble green dawn it came to me in a residue of irritation — she’d stolen my values, my discipline and my stored convictions — all that I cared about. I wasn’t good any more. I wasn’t even me any more.

All I’d done was look at her, rub oil on her back and other joys I couldn’t even remember, and I’d robbed a few banks and lost my foundation. I simply wasn’t the man I’d been the day before, nor could I explain any of it. Many a good man has been pulled down by a vamp with style, Uncle Ernie used to say.

After a year of scanning the newspapers to learn that the pair from those bank jobs were never caught, a bit more truth about that day accumulated. It wasn’t her sex appeal, or even her grin. No, she might have even been a librarian, or a checkout girl at the grocers, or maybe even a single soccer mom of three down the block — it was all the same to me.

I would have to relearn right from wrong — start over; make choices; sort out results; fail fast and succeed slowly. At least I held no more crime urges, but neither did I desire to do the good thing, really. I just didn’t care. I’d been stung by a lovely scorpion, and I was immune to such contemplation. And my internal voices were gone, somehow. Ernie was finally, totally, irrecoverably dead — at least, Silent. Maybe he could rest in peace. Again.

I realize I’ve come to look at saints and criminals as one and the same, two sides of the same corrupt coin. If goodness is a choice, who can really choose after such a sting? And, if it isn’t a choice, just pure simple instinct and DNA working out their pattern at the right moment, a scrambled moment from one earth-shaking sight — then what is it worth to try to choose? Bad or good, who really cares? Isn’t the conscience just some amalgam of Uncle Ernie’s that quits in the clutch? That tortures with false demands?

So I lie here turning it all around in my head — if I turn myself in, now, a year later, would it be a good act or a bad act? And if a good act, would I find myself again, or lose what I’ve got left?

Sleep is crowding me. A restless breeze brushes the windowpane. I listen. It’s a wind in the tops of the trees. If a storm’s coming I want to drift off before it comes. I roll over, away from the window. The wind dies down. Quiet again. I think of the woman, and wonder where she is. Then comes an unmistakable whisper in that old familiar rasp: Idiot!

Copyright © 2009 by David H. Fears

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