As rain fell Zeno was working on a portfolio of his artwork in the front room when he heard gasping and looked up his eyes widening in soundless horror to see Zelta and the flesh colored house robe gone.
In one hand she managed a glass jar of milkshake, the other a bag of M&Ms. Thaddeus, the short-hair black cat Zelta called Blackey, was in tow.
He shook his head in disbelief. It was the same woman who had managed to appear so miserable just yesterday. Now, she wore a loose fitted white gown cut into a full sweep above her breast and adorned with floral lace and tiny shell buttons. Her small mouth was shaped with red lipstick and soft earth shadow and rouge painted her chalky complexion giving her cheeks an unnatural glow. Her snow-white hair was parted in the middle, was neat and brushed down.
Abel would be horrified at seeing her upon his return from Charleston, Zeno thought to himself and had to refrain from giggling out loud.
She placed the milkshake on the side table and sat down in the arm chair with the M&Ms secured in her lap. "Where is Rosa?" she said looking anxiously around the room.
"Rosa won't be in until the afternoon,” he replied kindly, then added, “she has a doctor’s appointment that’s why she’s late.”
"I hope she'll be all right.”
"She’ll be fine I’m sure. How are you, Mrs. Erikson?"
“I am well,” she said sharply and grabbed the milkshake she lifted to her mouth and slurped it through a straw. She smiled. It was a good one and much better than the ones Ahab used to make for her. This one had real strawberry flavor and not too many egg yolks added into the cream, and she was pleased. She fidgeted for a moment, sat the glass back down and clasped her hands over the bag of candy.
Hearing the crinkle of plastic, Thaddeus meowed for treats and scooted out from underneath the chair. He swung his tail back and forth, constantly meowing and looking at her and occasionally looking over at Zeno.
“What is it Blackey?” Zelta said reaching one hand out to the cat looking back at her. “You want my candies, don’t you.”
For Zeno Thaddeus’ meows seemed to be stuck, and Zeno stopped working. The cat wouldn’t stop, Zeno got nervous hearing Thaddeus' yelping meows, started to itch and scratched his head.
“Well, you can’t have mommie’s candies,” Zelta went on as if talking to a human baby. “M&Ms are for mommie. Maybe for the young fellow, too, if he were to ask. But no no no, this is mommie’s food. Do you understand?”
Last updated December 13, 2018
"Would you like a drink?"
“A little bit.”
"I ran up the hill."
"From Castro Street?”
"Yes," the boy said nodding as he sat down on the armchair closest to the fireplace and crossed his legs delicately.
“Why didn’t you drive?”
“I didn’t feel like it.”
"Running uphill? That's a good reason to be out of breath.”
“Was it up to 17th directly to Twin Peaks or up Pemberton steps?"
Abel looked down at his crotch and grinned remembering the way he moaned and shivered in the mirror and hugged himself in his own arms like a lover. It was the boy's pretty face and bubble ass with dimple cheeks humping like a hardworking whore he lusted for when he madly spilled his seed over the shiny hardwood floor Rosa the housekeeper had meticulously scrubbed and waxed into pristine condition. “You know, I miss you terribly when you’re not here."
"Even when I'm painting in the Green Cottage?"
"But of course, even then when you are there.”
"I started a new portrait.”
“Do I know him?”
“No, I don’t think so."
“Where did you meet?”
“Under that bridge?”
“No," the boy said studying red embers in the fireplace; then looking back at Abel, "it
was at the top of the hill on 19th Street.”
“Oh, the gay beach?”
“If that’s what they call it.”
“Was he blond?”
The boy swallowed, sweated and wiped his mouth. “He had dirty blond hair.”
“Yeah, he was OK.” The boy got up quickly, went over to the fireplace and stirred embers with a poker until the fire revived.
"Was it a nude portrait?" Abel raised one curious eyebrow.
“No,” the boy said.
"Just his face," the boy closed his eyes and his lips trembled when he murmured, “Nothing more.”
“Was he paid for this sitting?”
“He wanted a burrito.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Nothing more than that.”
"Steak, chicken or burrito de cerdo?"
"It was a fat steak burrito with extra meat from a restaurant on Valencia Street,” he said opening his eyes and staring at the poker squeezed in his hand. He was horrified and put the poker back into place and came back to his seat. “That same one you took me to before Halloween. I forget the name of the place because I can’t pronounce it in Spanish-"
"Yes, that's the place."
“Nothing more than that?”
"Bravo!" Abel cried clapping his hands so loud the noise popped the boy’s eardrums. “What a magnificent performance.”
"Abel.” The boy looked anxiously around the room. “Isn’t Mrs. Erikson sleeping?"
"Mrs. Erikson?" Abel said, his right hand clenched into a fist. "I don't give a goddamn if my excitement rouses that woman. If Zelta fell down a flight of stairs tonight and broke her silly neck I would not shed a tear."
"I'm sorry that Mrs. Erikson has hurt you. I hope someday you'll be able to tell me why you dislike her so. I promise I'll listen."
This pleased Abel wholeheartedly. He grinned, chin up. He was content his boy had a compassionate heart and wasn't always so selfish. That raging beast that had overwhelmed him with unseemly thoughts of his mother faded. "What is done is done," he said calmly. "I'm simply happy that you care. But let's not talk about Zelta. I much prefer to hold you in my arms and kiss you."
The boy crossed his legs and looked down at his manicured fingernails with trepidation; they were neat and trimmed just the way Abel preferred. It was the tip of them he recalled, and he sighed heavily over what he had done. He looked at Abel sitting on the sofa like a supreme authority and that silly smirk as always on his face. Finally, he got up and on tiptoes went over to him like an obedient puppy and gave him a reluctant smooch as cold as an ice cube.
Abel was unhappy by this worthless kiss. He pulled the boy down between his legs and drew his mouth to his. "I do love you, Zeno Dexter Elliot," he said, "and tonight you can rest assured I won't lecture you on the importance of fidelity. You're home. However, I must demand that you take extreme caution when you're out and about. According to the media, an incurable virus as ugly as Santa Ana winds is spreading in the worst unimaginable way among sexually active men."
"Who said I had sex?" Zeno climbed up. "I swear I was in the Green Cottage working all day."
"It's not wise to swear, my boy, especially when you choose to utter an untruth. Do you think for one minute I believe this ludicrous story of your meeting a trick in Dolores Park and painting him not nude?"
"I was there in the studio. That much is not an untruth."
"I'm unconcerned if you spent the day in the studio, Dolores Park or under a windmill in Golden Gate Park with your hands on your hips. I’m simply suggesting you’re careful when you’re out and about and among foolish men who could very well be carriers of this mad Red virus.”
Zeno hated it when he sounded this way. So goddamn fatherly, so goddamn right about everything. Always blabbing something with his "big know it all mouth". He pushed his hands in his pockets and strutted over to the window. The windows of houses downhill shimmered like candlelight, in the distance, tall skyscrapers in various colors rose into the black night.
He swung around abruptly glaring at Abel with blazing eyes. In three years, he still had his manly good looks, but his brunette hair had turned salt-and-pepper. Thinner and thinner atop his pasty weathered head.
"I want my darling boy beside me where he belongs," Abel motioned him to a spot on the sofa. "I have a surprise."
He held his tongue, said nothing at all and rejoined his lover on the sofa without even a whimper.
"Do you still love me?” Abel demanded. “Your man? Your teacher? Your lover as I am?"
"Of course, all those things, just as you’ve said."
"Then look me in the eye, Zeno, and tell me that distinctly."
Zeno opened his mouth, but no words would come. He thought about the studio he called Green Cottage, the house up Pemberton steps where they lived and "I love you, sir" finally spilled out.
Abel squeezed him in his arms. "Thank the Lord, baby,” he exclaimed. “You said you love me. That is most important to my heart."
"I'm glad you brought me here..."
"Always remember it was I who made this entire journey to San Francisco possible."
Zeno leaned his head against his chest. He felt safe, secure so close to daddy. Nothing more than that. He took a deep breath and wrapped his arms around Abel's slender waist and closed his eyes.
"I am the best thing that's ever happened to you," said Abel stroking the boy's kinky black hair. "We will never hurt each other or stop sleeping together because we are a permanent couple. I told my therapist today I felt I was ready to make love to you. Guess what? (An abrupt laugh) Just before you came home tonight I was aroused. It's true! I am ready to make love to you. That's my surprise. Reach down right now, my boy! Reach down and feel what is..."
But he stopped after hearing Zeno snoring with its gargling and squawking against his chest and a terrifying pause like he’d run into the devil in his sleep.
* * *
About two miles southeast of Pemberton steps Travis Weatherford, a blond with stormy Nordic good looks and green eyes, snorted the last line of cocaine from a mirror in his Bernal Height’s flat. The feeling was dazzling, soothing. Things looked clearer now, and he was pleased listening to piano solo and gazing into a fire burning in the hearth with the smell of wet burning wood enhancing his euphoria.
Later he added another log and settled back with thoughts of a painter he’d met in Macombe Alley. At first sight, their eyes kissed. then their lips met. He fell on his knees and unzipped his pleaded crotch pants eagerly. A beautiful black black dick popped out and into his face. He grabbed it with both hands, working it harder from the base and licking the long shaft shaped like a cypress tree and a pointed mushroom head he swallowed effortlessly down his throat…
The telephone rang disrupting his thoughts. He leaned lazily over, picked up hoping it was already the painter. Instead, it was Tyrone Belin with a rural black southern accent.
"Tyrone," Travis said into the receiver with a slight Texan drawl.
"Yassar, Clarence's brother.”
"Why hello, Tyrone," he tried sounding cheerful and swallowed a dry lump in his throat. "Where is Clarence?"
"Dat's why I is callin', sar."
"What's wrong?" Goosebumps spread over his skin, little blond hairs erected on back of his neck. He sank deeper into the chair feeling a chill down his spine and repeated, "Where is Clarence?”
"He was here, sar."
"Then he's finally come back to his senses and on his way back to San Francisco?"
"No sar. Clarence. He gone away, s-sar."
"I don't understand." A pain in his chest. This feeling of foreboding doom agonizing him so. He pulled his fingers through his hair.
"My brother is dead."
"What do you mean dead? What kind of prank is this? Who the fuck are you?”
“Clarence’s brother like I say.”
“You’re telling me he’s dead? Just like that. Dead?”
"We's done buried he dis past Friday. Momma says ya oughta be tolds-"
"So you're just now telling me about this after burying him a week ago?"
"Sar, we's real upset down here, too. It happens so quick. Nobodies knows how sick he is when he comes down. Den he gots so weak and slim and dem sores. Open sores all over he face, he body. He gots to de place where he can't eat no mo! Dose sores in he mouf dat he can’t eat. Lordie, we almost too scared ta touch he. Doc up in Alicetown scared, too. He gits so bad dat we-"
"Oh my God," Travis cried, tears rolling down his cheeks. "He went back there to die. Dammit." He gritted his teeth. "What a fool I've been." He stared into space furiously, pulling his hair and cursing God under his breath. He didn't hear Tyrone's desperate stutters anymore. "I gotta go, Tyrone. I can't talk now. But thanks much, buddy. Thank you for letting me know about Clarence."
He hung up the phone, shaken and frozen to the spot. Then it struck, the painful aching, the burning misery. Long guttural wails echoed from his mouth as he screamed out his sorrow. The pain wouldn't ease. It kept coming, kept digging and twisting in his gut like a parasite.
He caught a terrific chill thinking about it and smashed the mirror he had used to line cocaine, and then the lamp, leaving him weeping in the shadows of a dying fire.
Last updated December 11, 2018
Three years later, on the first of November, Abel Erikson was not enjoying the view of San Francisco's thick grey fog and the dreariness of seeing nothing beyond the hedges across the street. He sighed wearily and folded his arms across his chest missing the boy who was not at home by his side. Always together. And when apart longing for the other. The way he imagined they would always be after Rome. He swung around eyeing two decanters, one full of gin, another brandy on top of the sideboard in the corner of the front room. No one in sight. He could really do it, could pretend to fool even himself. He wiped his mouth hurrying across the room. At the sideboard he grabbed the shaker; then stopped and breathed a sigh of relief. What was he doing? His eyes were wide open. What was he thinking? Except he wanted to scream and never stop.
Once upon a time, he could drink until he was literally blue in the face. There were no hangovers then, no problems. Now, he went to therapy and made special appearances at AA meetings upon his therapist's suggestion. He hated the meetings, having to sit there in that melancholy room, half listening to their stories, thinking he wasn't as far gone as those people. Drinking out of control and waking up in a gutter was not something he had in common with any of them.
He closed his eyes silently admitting he was powerless over alcohol-that his life had become unmanageable. The second step he whispered but at mid-sentence hesitated and his eyes popped open hearing her coming down the hall. It was an annoying patter like little feet. He put the shaker down glaring at the French door and then her appearance in the threshold with snow-white hair erect like an electric bush and a beige gown clinging unnaturally making her look naked.
She was gasping to the point of drooling like a bitch, her pale blue eyes fixated upon the chandelier. She didn’t see him and switched off the lights.
"Farchrisake, turn that light back on,” Abel said. “Turn it on, now."
"Ahab," the woman cried clicking the switch back and, squinting, she saw it was not Ahab but Abel, and she shivered.
"That’s right, it is I,” Abel said scornfully. “The other you ardently hate.”
"I don't hate you so much,” she blurted out.
"Why I’m flattered you don’t hate me so much considering you’ve degenerated into a mere slut.”
“I’m your mother,” cried the woman, with sudden vivacity.
“Then be a good mother. Go back to your room."
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course, you don’t. Now, get the hell out.”
“How dare you speak to me that way. I get an allowance every month, young fellow. Ahab deposits it in the bank to take care of this house-."
"Ahab made those deposits of your measly pennies into his own personal account right down to your last nickel.”
"Ahab wouldn't have.”
“He would have let this house foreclose from right under your nose if-"
"Why must you make up filthy lies?"
"I just can't get it.” He threw his hands up in the air helplessly and looked dubiously up at the ceiling. "After all the miserable years you've spent with Ahab you still insist defending him against me when it was Ahab who defrauded you for his vile obsession."
"I'll get Ahab. He'll speak the truth! Unlike your lies."
” You’ll have to go all the way to 6th Street to find that idiot you so cherish. He’s been evicted and will never again set foot in this house."
The thought of Ahab being evicted had never actually occurred to her. It seemed so remote. Finally, some truth of Ahab’s eviction sank temporally, and she felt sick remembering that terrible day when the police came and dragged Ahab away until she got a splitting headache. "Ahab can't be gone," she snapped. "He simply can't be. Why would you evict him? Your own brother? It was because of her, wasn’t it? That woman?"
"Why mother you are that woman," Abel said.
"I don't hate you so much."
"Get out or shall I remove you with my own hands? Dearest mother, you wouldn't prefer that..."
"All right,” she said. "I am leaving...now." She recoiled without shame and made her way out of the front room and down the hall feeling her hands along the wall like a blind woman until she reached her bedroom near the stairs that led up to the master bedroom. She went inside her room and mustered enough strength to slam the door.
"Wretched bitch!" Abel said biting his bottom lip until he tasted blood and then got an intense metallic aftertaste, and he was aroused upon seeing himself in a mirror on a back wall off from the sideboard. Oh for goodness sake, he squealed. It was really happening after so long ago. His manhood, his dick stiffened as hard as steel. It kept swelling and pulsating through the slit of his boxer ready to explode. Effortlessly he touched it, then pulled it out, cupping it in his hand and jerking it from the base. He burst into naughty laughter and shouted the boy’s name as he shot enough semen to seal a beauty cream jar. Sweaty and relieved he sighed and purred like a cub, closed his eyes and hugged himself in his arms like a lover.
The front door banged open downstairs. Footsteps pounded, rushing up. Abel tucked the cloth into his pocket, squirted club soda into a glass, his face glowing hurrying over to the sofa.
"Darling, I’m home," the boy's breathless voice from in the doorway.
His boy had come safely home. He wouldn't complain or question him about his day away from him. Besides, he had argued long enough with Zelta, his scraggly mother, about those goddamn cats. That had exhausted him. "Well, don't just stand there,” he said wiping his eyes. "Come on in my boy."
Last updated December 2, 2018
It was three years earlier the 21st of November when they met on the Battery. That night the moon was full; a half-dozen boys in search of Mr. Right waited against the seawall shivering in unsuitable summer coats. Abel Erikson was one of those Mr. Rights enticed by the one black boy who was there with an overstuffed backpack. He was more distinguished and poised than the white ones all the same.
“Do you have a light?” he said with a cigarette cocked at the corner of his mouth.
“Sure,” the boy said striking a match and, in the flame, he saw that Abel's eyes were hazel like the color of algae murky pond water. He shook the firelight out and backed up.
He wasn’t necessarily skinny but full-bodied like a strong field hand, Abel thought. Indeed, he carried himself well in baggy cheap clothes Abel prayed were surely just baggy but undeniably dirt cheap. No, he didn't look fat at all in his outfit. “Cold out, don't you think?" he said as smoke billowed from his mouth.
“Yes,” the boy said mashing his cig butt out with the tip of his worn-out boots.
“What are you looking for?” Abel said.
“I’m looking for you,” the boy said.
“My car is parked up the street. Would you like to go there and warm up?”
“What kind of car?”
“A Mercedes. A dusty kind of red with soft leather seats. Very comfortable.”
"Of course," the boy smiled.
Inside the car, the boy offered a stale can of malt liquor beer pulled from his backpack, and they shared it along with one cigarette. As the moon rose higher in the black sky changing into a dazzling white, Abel leaned over and kissed the boy on the mouth and felt himself sinking, slipping into the soft leather seat, losing control and wanting it.
This kiss, the helpless way it made him feel, captivated him so, leaving him no hint of the dark machinations yet to come, no hint of the relentless downhill spiral . . .
Zeno stretched out his long legs underneath the coffee table and lifted his arms high in the air above his head as long and hard as he could reach until he felt his spine crack and, all over, he tingled with relief. He smiled at a distant memory. The memory of a man he had recently known. Every thought of him delighting his senses.
It was raining with the view of the city hazy and gray. Gradually, his concentration returned. He got back to working on a portfolio of his artwork. The wind had picked up and the rain fell harder by the time Zelta came through the French doors and into the living room gasping with every shuffling step.
In one hand she carried a bag of M&M candies, the other a glass filled with a milkshake. Ceto, the short-hair black cat Zelta always called Blackey, followed in tow with a gay erect tail.
Zeno was about to say good morning but hesitated after seeing pale lipstick shaping her small mouth and soft earth shadow and rouge painting her chalky complexion giving her cheeks an unnatural glow. Her snow-white hair was untangled and brushed neatly into place. She wore a clean blue velvet gown with a flower embroidery knitted above the breast, a striking improvement over the drab flesh-colored robe she had worn previously. He couldn't believe it was the same woman who had managed to look so miserable only a few days ago.
This change, he thought to himself and almost laughed out loud, would horrify Abel upon his return from Charleston.
"How are you today, Mrs. Erikson?" he finally said after she settled into her favorite armchair with a high back and a small fluffy pillow. The chair was closest to a floor lamp and off to the side of the white fireplace mantel with a ticking antique clock and Abel's portrait focused above the fireplace.
"Just fine, young fellow,” she said haughtily. “Thank you," she added and Zeno looked away from her and she placed the glass down on the side table and centered the bag of M&Ms in her lap. "Where is Rosa?" she said looking anxiously around the room.
"Rosa won't be in until the afternoon,” he glimpsed at her and continued his work. “She has a doctor’s appointment. That’s why she's late."
"I hope she'll be all right.”
"She’ll be fine⎯I’m sure."
She reached for the glass with a plastic straw anchored at the top and lifted it to her mouth and, staring straight ahead into a downpour of rain dripping down the terrace glass, she parted her lips and sucked. The sound of sucking and then wheezing startled Ceto, the black cat, underneath the chair and it scouted out between her feet. She got only a glimpse of the cat vanished through the open French doors. She put the glass back down on the table and fidgeted with the seal of the M&Ms until she tore it open violently in her lap. Like a child, she picked out the red and yellow candies and popped first the reds, then the yellows into her mouth and chewed ravenously.
The French doors from the hall into the living room were wide open. This worried her more than the cat always chasing after Thamaus, the other cat, she called Blondie. She sucked in her teeth and thought of Ahab, the second son, expecting he would come rushing through the door into the room at any moment raging about wasted heat being let out into the hall and the bill sky high. Ahab was always complaining about money he never seems to have and needed to buy items she suspected were no good. She leaned forward with her elbows pressing into her thighs and peered at Zeno. She wished he would stop with that picture book right now, get up off of that floor and shut the door before Ahab burst in or that other one (Abel, her first son) returned like hurricane Hazel. Without either of them around the house was calmer. She liked it that way.
She popped more candies into her mouth and thought about the milkshake and how good it had been⎯and how much better it had tasted than the first ones Ahab had made. He had told her Dr. Abagtha prescribed shakes especially for her diet, which was all he ever gave for breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with M&Ms on the side. All this saved on grocery bills and provided more funds for Ahab’s pleasure. "The milkshake was another good one,” she blurted out loud. “Was it you, Rosa or that nurse who made it for me?”
"It was I. Nurse Wilma Hope is out of town. I hope you like strawberry?"
"I love strawberry. It's a good flavor. The milkshake is best I've ever had. I thank you very much."
In the palm of her right hand that was whiter than a sheet, she stared at chocolate candies thinking she had never lived with a Negro before. She consumed the candies until dark chocolate melted down her throat. She swallowed remembering a time when a Negro fellow of any complexion not of white people purity wasn’t allowed to sit alone in the same room with a white woman or even look at her, else he could be lynched or tied down to a stone to drown at the bottom of a creek because his color was wrong...evil. But this one, this young fellow, wasn't evil, wasn’t terribly bad looking. In fact, he didn’t look particularly ethnic of any sort, African or Middle Eastern, and he was handsome and hadn't stolen anything from them. He didn't curse in front of her and didn't have body odor.
Abel certainly appreciated him sniffing behind him like a hound dog. She certainly liked the way he made her shakes. They were the very best. Couldn’t his name very well be Blackey like her cat’s name? He was dark-skin with pretty black skin like Mario’s deep brown skin, her Cuban house gardener from a long time ago in Charleston. Sometimes, she called Mario by his nickname, Blackey. This young fellow’s nickname could be Blackey, too, like Mario. Why she, herself, even had a nickname as a girl given to her by her father. Her father called her Knut short for Peanut because she was his little peanut all of his life.
"I forget your name young fellow,” she said. “What is it again?"
"My name is Zeno. Zeno Elliott"
"Zeno Elliott...” She pondered his first name silently for a long moment.
"Is it with a `Z' like in my own?" She liked his name.
"Yes, it is."
"Well isn't that something. A `Z' like in my name. My name is Zelta, you know with a `Z' as well. Only you’re a handsome young fellow. I'm an old lady no longer so beautiful."
"But I think you are beautiful, Mrs. Erikson. You're an absolute doll."
"I was very beautiful a long time ago,” she grinned remembering horseback riding right by the ocean in Fort Bragg and she smiled and noticed Zeno had stopped fumbling with the picture book and was looking at her with shiny eyes. She blushed like a young courting girl or swore she could have blushed, which was improbable at her age. “Have you not seen the pictures when I was a young woman?”
“Abel has shown them to me. Yes, you were more beautiful than Marilyn Monroe with striking blonde hair down to your shoulders.” And perky breasts he didn’t tell her and smiled remembering the size of Zelta’s breast in a tight fitted sweater in one black and white photograph, and she was radiant like a movie star.
“That was a very long time ago,” she laughed and so did he. Though he didn’t know why he was laughing she was laughing and happy and that made him laugh more because she was so happy and no longer sad.
The telephone rang out in the hall. Zeno placed his portfolio on the table and, still amused by Zelta’s gaiety, got up to go answer the phone.
"So what's new besides your sleeping in until noon every day?" Abel teased him over the line.
"I haven't slept in until noon. Not a single day since you departed for Charleston."
"Have you been painting?"
"Then what have you been doing?"
"I photographed my latest artwork for a new portfolio I'm making. You'll like it. Besides, there's not much else to do here in the rain."
"How long has it been raining?"
"Nonstop all week."
"I hope you didn't forget to pack your rain gear?"
"Actually, I did forget since I thought it never rained in California."
"Well, it does rain in California, my boy. But don't fret; I left enough petty cash in the top drawer of my desk for both you and mother or you can always use one of your cards. Purchase what you or mother might need. How is the mother by the way?"
"Mrs. Erikson is jollier than ever. In fact, you'll be amazed whenever you see her."
"Amazed?” Abel sounded with a tinge of alarm. “What wickedness has she concocted now?"
"Nothing wicked. I'd say it's a change for the better. Would you like to speak to her?"
"That would be most disconcerting, my boy. Don’t be ridiculous.”
"Then how are lofty old Charleston and the gallery?"
"Charleston is all right. As for the gallery I am most impressed with Marcel’s accomplishment. Gallery attendance is up and sales have exceeded my expectation. She's an excellent curator and friend. I trust this woman with my life."
"How is Matthew?”
Any mention of Matthew Rae exasperated Abel and he was breathing hard into the phone when he said, "I've been meaning to tell you all about Matthew Rae."
Zeno’s heart skipped. "He is still working there in the warehouse?"
"Matthew was let go."
"Yes, as in terminated."
"You fired Matthew? But why Abel?"
"Matthew was not only insubordinate but he is white-trash scum. Furthermore, he's a thief. I'm grateful that Dale Savage is so efficient in keeping the books, else Matthew would have gotten away clean-free with thievery."
"Matthew, a thief? I can't believe that. Matthew is not a thief. There must be some kind of mistake. Something Dale did to-"
"Matthew Rae stole from the gallery. It's as simple as that. I have filed criminal charges with the Charleston PD and a warrant has been issued for his arrest-"
"Matthew could go to jail?"
"Matthew will go to prison if I don't destroy him beforehand for what he’s done.”
“What has he actually done, Abel?”
“More than you’ll ever know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Listen, I didn't call home to quarrel or discuss Matthew Rae. I don't really care where he is...except he's out of my life, out of your life, out of both of our lives. I simply called to check in and make sure everything is satisfactory for both you and mother."
"Everything is O.K.,” Zeno said slowly.
"Try not to sound so ecstatic about it, will you?"
"Matthew was like family, Abel. My only connection to my past and the island-"
"Matthew Rae was a lot of other things and part of a past on a backward country island you never gave as much of a goddamn about then, you still don’t now, you never will care and you know it." Abel paused listening to the sound of his breathing on the phone and he got a warm feeling thinking so much about him. "Zeno...” he continued.
“Let’s not argue anymore.”
“I’ve missed you every single day since I've been away...I'd be the happiest man in the universe when I’ve found the right person to run JeE; then we can spend more time together. Just you and I. We can go back to Rome if desire, New York or Venice is so nice right now in November without all the tourists. I love you so much, Zeno, that sometimes it scares me that I could love anyone as much as I love you-"
"Sir, can't we talk about all of this later in person when you’ve come home? There's so much we need to talk about. So much I have to tell you."
"Then we'll talk on Monday. I'll be home late Sunday night. You'll probably be asleep."
"Then Monday. We'll see each other then."
"Yes, Monday. I love you, Zeno Elliott," he whispered from the bottom of his heart, "don't ever forget that."
"Thank you," Zeno whispered back and quickly told Abel good-bye and hung up the phone.
For a long while, he stood in the hall, shaken with memories of Matthew Rae. He knew he could not continue protecting Matthew from Abel's rage without jeopardizing himself and/or losing everything. Perhaps it wouldn't be so terrible if Matthew were caught, arrested, carted off to prison, never to interfere in his life again. There could be only peace with Matthew imprisoned 3,000 miles away.
He started back into the living room where Zelta waited with a silly grin on her face. "That was Abel on the phone," he told her from in the doorway. "He asked about you."
Zelta felt a sudden draft in the room from his shadow and she reached for her shawl on the arm of the chair. She pulled it over her shoulders and stared out the window at the rain beating on the terrace.
Zeno heard footsteps. He turned around and was relieved to see Rosa coming in. Rosa had more patience with Zelta unlike Nurse Hope and especially Abel.
"Is the senora up and about?" Rosa said in a thick Spanish accent.
Zeno looked again at Zelta. So gaunt and tiny in the armchair and it was raining harder. He pulled the doors shut. "She's there in the living room,” he said to Rosa. “We were talking and having a good time until I came out to get the phone. Abel called from Charleston. After I hung up, I told her he asked about her. She turned away as if she didn’t even know me anymore..."
Rosa did a sign of the cross and muttered something in Spanish. "Senora so afraid of the senor, si?"
"I don't understand the reason."
"Maybe it is best you do not know the reason."
"Then you know why there's so much friction between Abel and Mrs. Erikson? Of course, you must know. How long has it been since you were housekeeping here?"
"I’ve been domestic in this house ever since I left my people in Nicaragua four years ago," she said, holding up four fingers as if to double-check her own shaky account of when she first came to America. "I don't know why they argue all the time and hate each other so. I was in the house the day the senor evicted that brother. It was a terrible day like a nightmare. The police came. I so afraid because I do not have all of my papers. I hid in the basement until the house was silent."
"Then you knew Ahab Erikson?"
"I not know him long enough," she said crossing her breasts again. "I not say much to him when I come do the cleaning. He was not nice to me. Always looking at me with the funny eye." She smiled as she spilled out of her blue plastic raincoat.
Zeno blushed and was unable to remember her uniform being that snug before on her plump figure.
She swished over to the closet and removed her rain-cap and hung it up along with her coat. "I go see about the senora now," she looked at him with black penetrating eyes. "You gonna paint me a pretty picture today, senor?"
"I'm not painting anything today," he glimpsed up at the skylight and the rain was coming down like buckets of water hitting the glass.
"Then what you to do today?"
"I'm going upstairs and watch television. I am in need of a distraction.”
"You so young, so handsome, senor. Surely, you find better way to distract yourself than television. Television, like they say in this country, is bubble gum for the eye, si?"
"But I like chewing bubble gum once in a while, Rosa. It keeps me from getting carried away."
"You get carried away easy, si?"
"Let’s just say that when the moon is full, Rosa, there are a very few things I would not try for the hell of it."
“I saw the moon last night above Coit Tower,” Rosa said feeling a fervent sensation in her heart, and she blushed. “It is very full moon.”
"Yup," Zeno nodded and turned and left.
Rosa leaned her shoulder against the door watching him until he disappeared up the spiral stairs and into the master bedroom on the top floor. All the while she waited to wonder why Zeno insisted on wasting his time with the zancarrón anyway? Abel was a rich senor but a no good-for-nothing diablo!
Eagerly she waited in secret to bestow her passion upon the trueno who would soon know that she was truly worthy of his affection. And in return, unlike senor Abel, who had broken all of his promises, Zeno would ask her to be his senora and make her legal...