Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chapter Eleven: Renata at the Campsite

Only with great reluctance did Renata return to the campfire to lie in the bedroll that Señora had prepared for her.

Antonie was in a deep sleep when Renata woke him sometime during the night. The first thing to catch his eye as he came to consciousness was the moon, a glowing curl, visible just over Renata's shoulder, as if it were somehow entwined with her image as it moved toward him.

He knew that was an illusion, because her hair, naturally, was tied back and completely curtained by her dark veil. Her eyes shone, too, or at least the whites stood out, circling the irises that dropped with the rest of her looming form into night. All but the stark white swath of linen binding her forehead was black.

For a moment, he imagined the linen to be some insurmountable white barrier, the stone fence he once faced, years before, back when he was a child struggling to master the forbidding Arabian steed that his father had called “Paolo.” In an instant, Renata’s face had displaced the frustrating memory of the horse. Her breath was shallow and insistent, and before he was altogether sure what was happening, she was drawing him in over the white wall. Her lips were moist and warm, and her mouth lingered tenderly on his for a long time. In the morning, he knew for certain that she would deny that she had ever left her bed. In the morning, she would deny she had ever approached his cot, or knelt beside him, or that she had kissed him repeatedly, cradling his head, or that she had laid her own head briefly on his chest berfore she got into his bed and proceeded with her seduction.

Nonetheless, he let her proceed. He kept his eyes closed and tried to breathe in calmly as she unbuttoned his shirt and slipped the belt out of the hammered silver buckle of his pants. Silently, she set to work with her fingers, letting them pass lightly across his raised nipples, dipping them gradually toward the ribs, lettting them dance down his chest until he was heaving with impatient desire. Soon she traded lines for circles, the circles following the slight swell of flesh around his stomach. She enlarged the circles so slowly that he hardly noticed them widening, expanding, until, her hand just grazing the uppermost edge of his pubic hair, she proceeded to leave it there. Her circling abruptly stopped, and her hand remained, poised, lightly running back and forth along the line at the top of the triangle of hair. He lay there, head flopping side to side, teeth digging into his bottom lip, not daring to moan because it might wake Senora, or the driver of the wagon, but praying all the while that Renata would keep on, dip further with her fingers, let them encompass the rest of him. His legs turned liquid, and limp. Tired of waiting, he groped impatiently for her hand. He allowed himself to groan, and to call out once, “please, Renata, now.” And then, his own hand shaking, he pulled at her fingers, desperately pushing them downward, at which point she froze, and grabbed her hand away from his groin.

“No,” she said abruptly, her voice stern. She rose and he lay there, his eyes wet, his chest heaving. For the first time he realized that he was almost completely exposed to the damp night air. He shuddered, but made no attempt to cover himself, there, where his desire welled.

“You…you are so unfair to me,” he began, tears pooling. “You are…” but he couldn’t finish, because his voice had risen to a high pitch, and he felt choked off and breathless. After a moment he was able to continue, but only in fits and starts. “I…I lie here…I …I am…half crazy with desire…I am in sheer agony when I’m near you…I am helpless around you, and you, you know that, you know that so well. Helpless. I am helpless to do anything about my…myself, the way I am…you know that too, you know me so well, so long. You know, and yet you…you just…you just keep taking advantage of me.” The last words were barely audible. She stood over him, and he was horrified to see that she was smiling, she was delighting in his humiliation once again. Whenever this happened, whenever she led him to his breaking point, and left him there, abandoned him, unwilling to follow through, to show him she cared, he felt as though he had to start over, invent himself anew.

“It’s too bad that you’ve developed such an…attachment to me,” she murmured after a moment had passed. “You know,” and here she sighed deeply, and he wondered if it was just for effect, “you know Antonie, or you should, that this is…this has been so…so hard for me, too, your illness especially, trying to coax you through, this has been more difficult than you can imagine.”
He raised himself to both elbows and poised there, trembling. If she could have seen his face then, she would have observed an unusual fury in his eyes, a brutal anger creasing his forehead and pulling back his lips and chin.

“Hard? For you? Hard for you?” His voice was coarse and throaty. “For you, no, this isn’t hard. This isn’t hard at all. And this isn’t new either. This is, this is what you do best, best in all the world. You tease and mock me, yes, you mock me, you scorn me, you always have, forever, ever since you were the horrifying child I grew up with.” Exhausted, he dropped back off his elbows onto the makeshift bed, which wobbled with his every move.

She was silent again, and again, he couldn’t imagine her face. Nor did he want to. He vowed not to think of her again, not to let her come near him, to tempt him, tease him, and then, let him down. But it was fruitless, and he knew that too. Within a few days, another episode, another encounter, another seduction by Renata would follow, because that is how it went, always.
Gazing at her, he could barely make out the white linen fence.

“I suppose I could lie with you, lie next to you, that is, for a short time, if that would calm you.” Her voice blended into the night wind.

He stared at the stars, pinpoints of light in the blue black night sky. He watched one of the points flicker and blink. “Am I awake or asleep?” he asked himself then. It occurred to him that if he would just keep asking that same question over and over throughout the night, then it might not matter what Renata said, or did, because she would simply assume a place beside him, a place in one of his grand illusions. She might seem real, or she might not. But she would be fixed for certain in her uncertainty and she could not hurt him anymore. She would become, simply, a matter for discussion, observation, an unstable image or object evading direct perception, one of a myriad fluid aspects of nature. Her reality, simply, would reside apart from him behind a curtain. He could live with that. At least he thought so, in that moment, lying there, staring at the winking stars.

But almost immediately, and maybe because of the way the stars flickered, he wasn’t sure. After all, he knew so little about the boundaries of trickery and sorcery and witchcraft. And Renata, after all was said and done, was of that nether world.

“Yes, I would lie with you,” she said in an enchanting whisper. And before he could answer, or refuse, she stretched herself alongside him on the cot. As he felt the rough black fabric of her habit against his bare skin, he thought of her soft white underclothes beneath, and beneath those clothes, her flesh, as soft as the underbelly of a new pup. As she cupped her clothed body submissively around his, his mind circled around one fact: that black is black and white is white, and the world, understandably, wasn’t ready to accept someone like himself, or Renata, either, people who so casually blurred the distinctions of propriety and good taste.

“So why,” he asked himself, “should we be any different than we are? Why should we be shy about our desire?” That thought squared him, gave him assurance and peace, eased his mind, allowed him to let go of his anger and frustration. He folded her in his arms and stared into the dark sky and held her black and white layers to his yearning flesh, and he felt terror about what was to come, the grotesque treatments the doctor would soon prescribe. He feared dying, but even more, he dreaded living through what was in store.

But now he lay quietly beside Renata, happy to absorb himself in the stars, and in her, and in the curl of the moon approaching the horizon. In his feverish state, her words echoed and reverberated in his mind. He heard her saying: “I would lie with you, I would lie with you.” But soon enough, like the winds cooling his forehead, the words shifted. “I would lie with you” became “I would lie in you.” The vacillation continued until finally her words achieved their final form: “I would lie to you, I would lie to you.” He felt her warm breath, heard her singing whisper, and knew that “I would lie to you” was the only truthful statement he would hear from her all night.

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