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BURNT OFFERING

Chapter 1 

In dream fragments and lingering memories she returns with the flame of love in blazing and stolen moments to play the empty game of King, Queen, Knave, the Knave still trying to grasp the elusive past while old tales retell themselves, but never the same way twice, the Queen now gone, the grieving King already with another woman.

She's there with him out of the restless nights arousing to the vast mountain dawns; she's elegant; she's a lady, the queen, and she's got this big $6 million mansion standing in sunshine on a mountain overlooking the valley beneath billowing morning fogs, and he, John Powers, lives here in his two-bedroom condo deeper in the same valley among damp, icy shades by a creek frozen-over through the winter afternoons. And in all her queenly elegance and her own whispered words she's in his bed fucking him, her big diamond wedding ring and diamond earrings and diamond bracelets bunched in a careless pile glittering on the old worn wood of his dining-table top, the elegant Nancy Gordon, kneeling on the sheets with his cock in her mouth, her naked marriage finger with its ring-blanched circle of the elegant hand cuddling his balls. Elated and possessed he grasps for permanence time after hundreds of sporadic times in these afternoon and evening hours while 10 years vanish with the substance of fading dreams, the reality never captured; the reality of the queen is a woman, too, the reality of love's intriguing spin offs – death and  desolation of spirit.

The queen still lingers, yet to go on into the vast reaches of the beyond. She will not leave his head, asleep or awake, staying with him in deep slumber and through all the steps of arousal, struggling again among the ruins of love. Reason begs for attention; he dismisses the impulse, but he knows the truth as near as any man can grasp it. He knows love is like time and like light, all moving constantly to another destiny, all carrying with them the hapless throes of life. And he knows too, this a purgatory through which he will have to wander toward a release, if one ever comes.

She caused his hunger then in reality; she causes his hunger now in the images of memory; she feeds his hunger and gives it substance for more hunger; appeal is her quality, a lady, a woman, elegant and classy, the same as she was so long ago, the gracious Nancy Gordon. After love and later between the waves of grief, he held to the vision of her lying peacefully in repose, a shrine to visit and meditate and grieve over, but news of the ashes destroyed the last of her existence, leaving him with the sifting images of minute particles, weightless, floating filaments drifting in slow, feathery descent to settle among the tangled roots of wildflowers and pebbles and rocks and great boulders, later to sleep the seasons beneath the snows of Sacred Mountain. She has disappeared from existence, from reality, from the face of the universe, the loss leaving a great nothingness, Nancy, gone forever, to return only in memory, to return only in dreams, Nancy, his little queen, his precious little woman, Nancy, where he went to a new depth in love.

Now each day, long after the game has ended he comes fully wake out of nocturnal struggles to find a widow in his bed beside him sleeping peacefully as the morning light begins to lift, she of a pearly white glowing, his condolence, a gift delivered to his side by ironies from hell, through long suffering and anguish. 

___________ 

In the beginning Nancy Gordon came to his condo later in the afternoon of a 1990 spring day, the same day they met, just hours after he first saw her on the ice in Village Arena, skating around the distant circle, her profile handsome, delicate, innocent if not angelic, the brown hair auburn tinged and radiant in sunshine shafting down from skylights onto the brilliant ice, and he knew at once, but with little hope, skating on, wondering who she might be as she disappeared around a curve to the left, and in a moment too soon to seem real, he felt a presence as she came up alongside, her face just up to his shoulder, and they went on skating and talking casually, talking as if they already knew each other. Her husband will be here soon to take her and her girlfriends to lunch. They are skating about the arena now, here on a lark. They don't do this very often. Around the rink several times and to the door and as they go out, she invites him to come with them to lunch and to her house to dinner in the future and to parties, and he, in uninhibited awareness of possibilities if not likelihood, cautions her with a let's see what happens first, and thus spared himself meeting the husband at least for the day. She did not speak her name. All of his women happen to him this way. He never makes overtures; he never takes chances; he never places himself in the position of being rebuffed; he never assumes anything. It either happens or it doesn't. Some like his curly red hair and green eyes, and his tall slender yet muscular build, some seem to resent the appearance as a threat. He quickly gets out of range if he senses danger or the wrong choice.

Later the same afternoon, the gentle tapping broke his concentration, and he guessed who waited out in the narrow hallway before he opened the door and silently stepped aside. She entered his little home smiling, looking up at his face, her blue eyes dancing back and forth, and they began to talk without any hellos or formalities, and talked through the languid silky-balm June afternoon in the mountains, 9,000 feet above sea level, the sunshine warm in the high 80s, the windows open to the cool air, the murmur of the rapids rising from the creek below his windows. Then she said her name, and her husband is Tom. It would be December before she moved into his arms after she had returned many times for long afternoons of talking. Her presence always felt as natural as his own breathing, and her absence a fathomless void.

She kept him at her fingertips. The phone rings, her voice low, purring, almost whispery, saying, “Tom is in the shower, and I wanted to say hi.” And he knows better. He knows the full meaning, but he can not admit it to himself. He can have no such good luck. “Tom has gone to the bank.”  “Tom has gone for groceries.” “Tom has gone to a meeting.” “Tom has gone back to Boston on business for three days.” And they hike, or bike, and in snow season ski together. In her presence he will not attempt to cross barriers; he waits, knowing it will happen or it won't, wanting it to happen, dreading it with a certain innate biological caution and fear. Where is she taking him and what does she really expect or want him to do? He would not ruin something with a false move.

And she came back often to his condo, never with an invitation, and he dropped all dating around for fear of an accidental encounter. Not believing his luck, he did not know with certainty, he a man, she an aristocratic delight, a work of pure quality, so compact, so contained, so quietly elegant, such a perfectly controlled lady, a little demure, glamorous queen, never a bobble in public, the darling of retired Presidents, and diplomats, and billionaires on the mountain, himself a new arrival in the resort, a hermit in retreat. He has been blessed by the fates; he has been handed a treasure. She introduces him to the music festival, and shows him the smart way to invest in its charity for social position, and he will move into her circle, never before to have shaken hands with a Mr. President, nor with two Mr. Presidents, and three before it ended, and the palms of billionaires feel no different, never dreaming someone would die for this; never dreaming of wanting someone to die, an emotion out of control, the bitter manifestation of love.

The 1990 autumn comes, and she hikes the Himalayas for six weeks, Kathmandu, and he hears about its wonders when she returns, the barefooted Sharpas running with heavy backpack loads, the chickens killed for daily meals, dirty urchins and peasants beside the trails, the magnificent vistas of mountain ranges. At night in the cold, alone in a tiny tent she wakes up to realize she is in love with him, and the hikers have to go outside in back of the tents to pee in the frost, squatting alone over the ready ground. She gives him a vision to remember always, squatting in the frost to pee on the ground, in the Himalayas, peeing into the frost and thinking of him. When she returns in late December, she says, “I'm in love with you. I had to go there to know; I am in love with you.” She has knocked at his door, and she has come in without a hello, smiling a sweet little innocent grin. Seated on the couch, talking quietly, in the Himalayas every year for 10 years, “This the only time I wanted to come back,” she tells him, “I'm in love with you.” He worries, crossing vast leaps of anticipation; she would have to come down a few notches to live on his level. He is thinking marriage and permanence. In his arms, rather he's in hers, she moves into him, a hand on his thigh, and he goes to hers; she does not resist, nor does she yield, no invitational spreading. Eventually she gets up from the couch and goes into his bedroom on through to the bath, and he follows, lies on his bed, and she comes to him, the advances slow, the yielding restrained, and when she gets up after awhile to go to the bath again, lying on the bed, talking to her through the open door, watching her profile, he says, “Let's make love.” She turns in the light beyond the mirror and looks at him and hesitates a moment, then she makes a decision right then and there and she says, “Yes.” She takes off all her diamonds and with them in one hand goes into the next room, rolls them out of her palm in a pile on the dining table, and comes back to bed wearing no clothes. Naked, a delight, the pretty little body moving with such restrained grace, the sexuality smoldering. He is being given the most tantalizing of all treasures. She mounts the mattress on her knees. She has already told him about the cancer, the breastplate over her heart a shiny scar, the right nipple anticipating and pert. He sits up, cups the breast with both hands, and takes its nipple in his mouth, her gasp sharper than the ecstasy of a 16-year-old. He loves her, and he knows he has loved her from the moment of first sight, kissing, hungrily seeking, as passionate as mouth can get, and she smells good and sweet, and long as they loved, her mouth always fresh and sweet and eagerly passionate. He runs his hands over her body everywhere, the smooth beautiful skin. She takes him in fingers, and stirs him, then looks down and says, Oh my. First times can be frightening but not with real love. Her first orgasm stops her breath; the second and third turn to longer sustained spasms of body arching. Afterward, he pulls her back to his belly and cuddles against her and sleeps briefly, in the first moment of pure happiness in his vanishing life. Ah yes, the tranquil afternoon. And what can add allure to such a lady? Lusty earthiness. Her next remark silences him in astonishment and boundless strength. Talking of both husbands and at least one lover when she was very young, she says in tramp words out of the mouth of royalty, “Until now Ijust thought I had been fucked,” her words haunting, raising questions for the soul. Her tranquil eyes regard him with ardor, her short brown hair gleaming in the half-light of the snowy afternoon, outside, the flakes beginning to fall heavier and thicker, closing off the light, all sound subdued. She looks at him side long, and grins wryly, knowing, wise and bemused. He wants to gather her up in his arms and sleep the night through, but she has to go. She will get dressed and go out the back way so she will not be seen leaving his place – So many times, so long ago.

Now she lives in his head and will always live in his head; he has no waking moments without her waiting there to pop into full bloom of his awareness, and she comes to visit in his dreams, their nocturnal reunions lost in the amnesia of daylight. After love in the afternoons, she walks slowly up the little path, climbing the hill along the creek-bank behind his condo, turning to wave back several times before going out of sight around a corner, he standing on the balcony of the second floor, as she leaves to hurry home to answer husband's questions about where she has been. After she has gone he continues to stand on the balcony, looking at the empty path, the emptied scene whispery with the afternoon sounds of susurrous rapids in the creek beneath wind-murmurous trees, the lonesome, erratic bird cries piercing the cold world around them. At night she will phone when husband goes to the bathroom, in the morning she will phone as soon as husband goes into the shower. The breathless I-love-you over and over, day after day makes a new life for him. His phone rings when husband goes to the bank. His phone rings when husband goes to the post office or to a business meeting, she breathless, explaining, “I'm standing in the kitchen, watching the front yard and the driveway for Tom. If Ihang up it's because he has turned in the driveway,” between calls, living alone in his own head, the worst place to be alone, in your own head, addicted to the secretive calls, dependent upon them. Her keen anticipation of danger, of her husband's imminent return to the house, strikes him as odd then, especially when repeated often. Why had she not called as soon as Tom left on an errand? Later he will give the actions more thought, more insight, more question. 

From the beginning John has wanted to remain Nancy's secret; he does not welcome the social aspect, nor does he want to meet her husband, not ever, but he does. Weeks later, Tom walks right up, just outside the chapel door where an evening concert will begin momentarily, with hand held out, a medium tall man with a shock of prematurely gray white hair,  and squinting gray eyes, “Hello, I'm Tom Gordon. You're new in town?” John had instinctively guessed his identity but wondered has Nancy told him anything? “No,” she will say later, “It's just the way he is.” So, almost from the beginning her social life pulls him in, right into the Gordon mansion at the big parties. But here in this new-found life, at intervals of days, even weeks, circumstances separate them, where she cannot call long distance, nor get away from husband even for an hour, and John alone in his own head again, so lucky to have such a woman, as he sees her, waiting her return and the return of opportunity, on edge, jumpy with anticipation whenever the phone rings. He says then, “Let's leave if you can live on my means.”

And she says, “Wait, not just yet. And I don't want you to give up other people; you must keep your own life until we are committed.”

“When?” he asks.

She says, “Sooner than you might think, maybe. Date other people,” she says again. “I want you to have other people,” she repeats emphatically, “I do not want you to change your way of life for me, not yet.”

But in a way he feels trapped. He can not have other people seriously, not with the deep and consuming secret of his love for Nancy. He cannot see other people in a mental vacuum.  Emotionally he belongs to her, and he will have to conduct his behavior with other people accordingly. He has not told her about the woman who has been doing secretarial work of a sort for him. He wonders how strongly Nancy actually feels the words she has said, giving him his freedom. He does not think she really means them and suspects she may be setting a trap if not a litmus consciously or unintentionally to test the true depth of his commitment. Would she with whimsy and high humor gleefully tempt him into self-destruction of this great new-found love? Would she feel the need for doing such a prank, or such a testing?  Anyway, in no mood to look seriously in another direction, he does nothing but wait for her calls. She has repaired much of the damage from his ruined marriage, after 10 years of grief and regrets the terrible wound now much less touchy. Caught up in the power of the new emotion with Nancy, he can make no major changes outside of secrecy. But in secret he does have help. She has given him a new life with insights, a new tranquility of a restless sort, a goal to reach. Out in the open he belongs to her and to no public social life. He holds back an impulse to tell her about the other woman who comes to his home and who is never to be taken seriously; somehow he knows better, and he never tells her.  

 

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