“Do you smoke?” He asked in a whisper, handing me an open pack of cigarettes. I forget now what brand they were, but I gladly took one and he offered me a light.
“Yeah. You’re Joey’s younger brother.”
“Sam. Samuel, but friends call me Sam.”
He was five eleven, maybe six. Longish hair and a noble looking face. I can’t claim to know whether he had what others call aristocratic features but he certainly had that flair. Not of decadence, but of poetic curiosity. I had to laugh inwardly. If he was Joseph’s younger brother he had to be at least ten years younger than me.
It was raining outside but that didn’t stop us from stepping out. I was wearing a short dress, not modest when I now think about it. It was something I liked to wear to night clubs. Joey’s bride didn’t like me and neither did his mother or father. All deeply religious people. I came only because it would have seemed impolite not to. I worked at Paul Lancaster’s office and everyone was invited, even the “Los Angeleno babe.” Had I had anything different to wear I’d have worn it, but as it was I had only been employed at the “firm” for two weeks, and then someone sprung this one me. “You’ll be at Paul’s boy’s wedding on Saturday, right?”
Sam was an anomaly. In a family that went to church every Sunday and spent millions of dollars a year on advertisement billboards around the country that said: “The family that prays together, stays together,” and the like; Sam seemed to be a hijacked stranger, along for the ride, but showing little if any interest.
He didn’t wear that “devoted” look on his face. I looked him over that day, while everyone (I gathered) looked us over. We were standing on the huge terrace porch of the largest mansion I had ever been to in my life while it rained. We were by far the only two people that smoked. In smoke-less L.A. more people smoked than out here in the bible-thumping town of Jefferson.
So what happened next? Why did I sit down to write this all down? If only I had a clue. The smell of his cologne, the intoxication I felt after meeting someone in this dead place who resembled me in some way. All of this put together with the fact that my ride had left with some other people after he gathered I was not received with approbate by the town matrons. It was meant to be. Sam offered to give me a ride.
Needless to say I expected the usual. I expected him to walk me to the door. Kiss me on the cheek. Have his hand land on my ass, and then a hurried romp through the sheets with a “shy goodbye” in the morning. But that’s not exactly what happened. Oh, he walked me to the door, and he kissed me, but he didn’t grab me and we didn’t sleep together that night. Instead he proposed a walk, in the rain, through the dark woods, across a field of muddy grass, to where the swollen river flooded the plain and to where an ancient covered bridge stood out ominously against the backdrop of a sleeping town in the moonlight. How can any girl resist something like that?
I changed my clothes, and he waited outside. He didn’t use it as a pretext to see how I lived and whether I had the picture of an old flame pinned to my wall. I put on my old “Oakland A’s” baseball cap and off we were in the dead of night across the wilderness. I made it a point to grab couple of condoms, just in case his idea of a romantic walk included a quickie up against the tree in the middle of the forest. But these were my ideas. It was I who had the hot’s for him. All he wanted was the good conversation and quiet solitude of someone not associated with all things decent in this town of a thousand bibles and endless Sunday’s spent in the church talking over the latest sermon made by the not too sharp but ever fiery preacher, Father James.
I found him irresistibly attractive and he found me, what? I don’t know. That night he found in me a soul-mate. What is it that we talked of? Was it music? No. That wasn’t it. I think it was of L.A. Of all the places in the world I wanted to get away from, here in the middle of the bible-belt I ended up talking to a disenchanted soul about Los Angeles and New York, about Paris where he had spent a year studying French and about Jakarta where he spent six months living in shanty-town studying the local populace. His family thought he was insane. “Settle down, son, marry a good decent girl and have some kids, that’ll teach you what life is all about.” He knew it wasn’t as simple as that, he knew and so did I. If only I were ten years younger, or he ten years older. Why did that all of a sudden become so important? No, if only I were not who I was, and he not who he was. I wanted to do what he wanted, I wanted to travel the world the way he had travelled it. In the end I got scared and pushed him away when he asked me why my name was Seraphina.
Damn you, I thought. Why can’t you just grab my ass and rip open my clothes, suck my tits and bend me over like the others? He was shocked and speechless when I walked away angry. Too much poetry and too much chivalry can scare a girl. They can make a girl think of old romance novels and the time when knights respected the virtue and honor of a maiden, even if she was a free spirit like me (and wasn’t a maiden). He followed me and suddenly knelt down on his knee.
“Get up stupid, why are you kneeling in the mud?” I stammered out. But he grabbed my hand and kissed it tenderly.
“Marry me,” he said at length.
I wanted to run, I wanted to hide, I wanted to slap him, I wanted to be near him, I wanted to yell, and I wanted to die, all in the span of two seconds flat. But I did neither and just sat down in the mud. The rain was softer now. I felt as the water inched its way into my pants and up my crotch. It felt exciting and disgusting at once. I wondered why I had sat down in the mud in the first place, but then he sat down next to me. Two fools out in the rain sitting in the mud, we must have been a sight.
“Your family would disinherit you,” I said. I couldn’t believe I had treated his remark with any degree of seriousness.
“Let them, I don’t care, I don’t care about their money, or their prestige or their connections. I have not a thing in common with the whole lot of them.”
“They are good people.”
“You’re right. All in all, basically decent multi-millionaires. So what? I have different wants and different desires. Marry me, and let’s fly away. To the moon or to Arizona, to Mars or to Europe, anywhere but here where I have to be around for all these family gatherings where they observe how I dress and what I say and mother keeps on asking me when I’ll take that atrocious earring out of my ear.”
I smiled. It did look atrocious, but I had no heart to tell him. “You’re twenty eight, right?”
“Twenty four.” He blushed when he said it.
“Oh my. I’m almost forty Sam. You’ll find money to be far more important when you have none and you get older. You’ll also find that there is no substitute for family. But I believe you. I know you have nothing in common with them. I know you want to fly like the wind. You should. Go see the world some more, fall in love, break your heart, and come back home when you’re older and wiser.”
“I want to do that with you.”
“You can. I suppose I have a few years to kill. But I need this job, and I think marrying you would cause you too many problems for your own good. I’d feel lousy, not today, not tomorrow, but ten years down the line, when I’d be almost fifty and you, just over thirty.” I shouldn’t have, but I did, I caressed his face and then trembled.
He was silent for a while. I smiled and gave him a kiss on the lips, just a peck.
“Wouldn’t you rather have a fling with me, instead of proposing marriage?” I chuckled inwardly as I said it. So now I was the older woman. From the seduced I had become the seducer. How many years had done this? What would me ex say if I told him I was seducing a young lad old enough to be my son. He’d call me a hypocrite, I’m sure.
He said nothing and got up. We walked home in silence. He was the perfect gentleman. He even cracked three pretty funny jokes on the way. He walked me to the door. I asked him in, but he said no. We could have taken such a great shower together. But no, that wasn’t his way. Moral, yet debonair, I’d have never thought it possible. He drove away. Though we had been out walking about for no more than three hours it seemed like I had spent a month with him.
The next week, just two days later on Monday, “they” were all so worried about what might be that Paul, his father, called me into his office.
“Seraphina, I think you’d do better in our London office, what do you think?” Was the line he fed me.
How could I refuse. How could I say no to the chance of a lifetime. He showed me their London portfolio and I’d be earning twice as much at a higher position. I told him I would think it over and cried myself to sleep that night.
It was one in the morning when I was woken up by a light tapping on my window. I got really scared (in L.A. I’d have called 911) and I grabbed one of my free-weights and peeked out the window; it was Sam.
I let him in. He was soaking wet. He had been walking outside the whole night. Somehow he missed me coming back and figured he should give the window another try.
“You’ll catch your death.” I said. I got him a robe. And he undressed.
“Where did you go after work?” He asked.
“To a bar, to drown my sorrows.” Unfortunately the bars closed at 9pm in Jefferson.
He undressed in front of me. I wasn’t surprised. I could have averted my gaze, but I didn’t. He could have walked into the bathroom, but he didn’t. When he pulled his robe on I took his clothes and hung them out in the kitchen.
“They told me you were transferred and were leaving tomorrow.” He said at length. We had been standing and staring at each other for a few minutes. It was dark. The only light the neon grocery sign outside. Occasionally I could hear the muffled sound of the passing train in the distance and the beating of my own heart.
We made love all night long. He had no experience whatsoever. He knew only the purest of basics. A little bit of talent for empathy and passion, but lacking the severity of the embrace or the urgency of the kiss. He reminded me of the very first boy I slept with. Back when I could very well have become a mother of one roughly Sam’s age. I suspect we exchanged no more than three or four sentences more. He asked me to where was I going, I told him. He gave me his address and I promised to write, a white little lie.
He left with that “shy goodbye,” in the morning. I took the bus to work and told Paul I accepted his offer. A private car took me from work to my little single room. On my bed I found a dozen roses and a yellow ribbon for my hair. I cried for an hour while the driver waited and then packed my two suitcases. I gave my free-weights to the driver, he seemed pleased to get them. I smelled the roses, saved three and gave the others to the driver as well. “Give them to your girl,” I said. At the airport a private plane was waiting for me, two senior executives were travelling to London as well. I wondered what transgression had they committed that they were being so promoted. I was searching nervously through my purse and then found the yellow hair ribbon Sam had given me. Tears welled up in my eyes again and I put the ribbon on.
I wanted to do something. Something passionate and urgent. I couldn’t think of anything and so I grabbed a cigarette out of my purse, and put it in my mouth. My hand shook. I felt cold and desperate. I lit it up and took a single drag. Then I put it out gently. It had my lipstick stain on its filter, I wrapped it in a tissue, put it in an envelope and wrote Sam’s address on it. I didn’t write my name. I didn’t have to.
That night we were walking, before he proposed and I declined, I asked Sam what had made him walk up to me at the wedding.
He looked me in the eyes and rasing one eyebrow had said:
“I imagined you smoking, and I thought that if you didn’t smoke, all that I believed in was false.”
1998 – Konrad Tademar