Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Slightest of Indiscretions by Phil Slattery

A national park guide in New Mexico has lustful urges for a Vietnamese visitor with a domineering husband; by Phil Slattery.

Quinn sensed something disturbing about the couple as they entered the park's visitor center. He couldn't express it, but the feeling penetrated to his body's core. Quinn thought it had to be the contrast between the woman, a demure yet stunning, young Vietnamese woman of Quinn's age, and the lasciviously grinning, much older Caucasian man following her. No, thought Quinn, "following" was not the right word; some variant of stalking would be a better word, something that implied tolerated stalking with undertones of masochism and sadism.

By the time the couple had taken five steps into the store, Quinn had decided that the only things the couple had in common were clothing and matching wedding rings. "Good afternoon, how are you today?" he said with a smile.

The woman nodded and smiled slightly. Never letting his grin slip, the man let out a quick, soft "fine," as if it were a small burp.

"Can I help you with anything?"

"No," said the man still grinning.

"Well, if I can, just let me know."

The man nodded slightly.

Quinn had always preferred Asian women to any other race, even his own, and given the woman's beauty, he struggled hard not to stare at her. Quinn sensed the man would take sudden, intense, and possibly violent, offense if he perceived Quinn's eyes as lingering on his wife a heartbeat too long.

She looked about five foot nine, uncommonly tall for an Asian woman, and was dressed in polished cowboy boots, pressed jeans, and a denim shirt. She took small, tense steps with her arms crossed, as if each step needed some unspoken permission. She kept her head slightly bowed. She smiled easily, naturally, shyly, but with hesitation, as if not certain of whether she should. So long as she knew the man could not see her eyes, the woman looked at everything she encountered with an eager, insatiable curiosity, her eyes sparkling as if they were two stars struggling to pierce an all-enveloping night. Now, for a moment, the sparkle and a brief smile fell upon Quinn as he stood behind the cash register at the information desk.

The man caught the turning of the woman's face and fixed his eyes upon Quinn in a blend of intense hatred and unimaginable envy. As soon as the woman diverted her attention from Quinn to a shelf of books, the man diverted his to the same and examined them as if deciding whether they were something the woman should read.

The man impressed Quinn as a man in every negative sense of the word. A throwback, Quinn thought, something from a primitive America that the social advances of the twentieth century should have eradicated, a man of tough, pioneer stock, but not in any noble sense of the word "pioneer", instead he was of the fringe that eastern society could not condone for whatever reason and had banished to the western desert.

The man stood six feet tall, and was in his early to mid-sixties. Like the woman, he was dressed in clean, pressed denim and polished cowboy boots. His body was rawboned, coarse, and wiry, like a coyote in good health, with closely cropped, white hair beneath his cowboy hat. His face was sharp and narrow with a myriad of fine, interwoven creases. Deep crow's feet surrounded his penetrating eyes. He had not shaven in a few days and coarse, white stubble covered his sunburned cheeks and prominent chin, which he kept pulled back against his throat. His grin, his most sinister aspect, was tense, unnatural, and reminded Quinn of a joker's grin in a deck of cards. The leering eyes and satyric grin made Quinn feel the man was proud of something that could not be discussed in polite society.

The man stepped slowly with his back extraordinarily straight and his knotty, sunburned fists on his hips, as if facing down everyone that crossed his path while flaunting a long-sought possession in the face of everyone he met. He stayed three steps behind the woman, scrutinizing her slightest move, every wiggle of her hips, every rise in her shoulders as she breathed, and every turn of her head whenever something caught her attention.

As soon as the man turned to look at a shelf of books about Geronimo, the woman looked into Quinn's eyes as they undressed her. Yielding to temptation, Quinn gave the woman the same smile and thoughtful gaze that he gave to every woman he had ever picked up in a bar. The woman returned the smile over her shoulder as she walked over to a shelf of Southwestern cookbooks a few feet from the information desk.

The woman glanced at the old man for a heartbeat, then, while he was not looking, turned slightly and smiled again at Quinn. Then she turned back to the shelf and started leafing through cookbooks.

After a few minutes, the man took a step back from his shelf, and stared at the woman, who noticed him and took it as a cue. Holding onto one book, she passed in front of him, not looking at him, not saying a word, and headed toward the entrance to the small museum in the back. As she walked, she glanced over the books on the shelves, the posters, maps, and other souvenirs. The man took his place three paces behind her and resumed watching her every move.

Quinn watched her as she walked away. He had had a lot of women in his life, but none as alluring as that one. She seemed to ooze sexuality. What wouldn't he do to have a woman like that? He had been with married women before. Maybe she would be worth the risk.

After they had disappeared into the museum, Quinn came from behind the desk and went to the main door. He looked out the plate glass windows to the surrounding mountains. The weather was warm and dry and he longed to be in the sun, but it was his turn to staff the information desk. He would much rather have been outdoors conducting tours or strolling through the park answering visitors' questions. The things that had long ago become mundane to Quinn, visitors almost always approached in awe, enraptured with the magnificence of the park high in the New Mexico mountains. Their enchantment frequently rubbed off on him when he needed it most, on those few days he was fed up with his job and with his life in general. Quinn found the visitors fascinating as they came from all walks of life, all parts of the globe, and from all degrees of experience from the youngest and most naïve to the seniors who had passed through all manner of calamities. But the couple that had just entered were something unique - in a perverse sense - something deviant. They fascinated Quinn more than anyone else had in a long time.

Quinn theorized that the woman was probably a mail-order bride. What kind of man resorted to finding a wife out of a database, thought Quinn, and what kind of woman would submit to that? After three tours in the Navy and five years at the park, Quinn thought sometimes that he had seen every type of human relationship possible, but he knew better. Some new twist always cropped up.

Quinn guessed that this guy was one of those men so insanely insecure that when their women went to the toilet, they would stand outside the bathroom door and wait. Although he tried not to think about it, the thought of the woman submitting to whatever perversions the old man desired sickened Quinn. Quinn felt certain, or at least he hoped, that the couple's marriage would end in divorce. He hated to think of a woman saddled with a grinning brute for the rest of her days, or worse, being the victim of unimaginable violence for some innocuous offense as many mail order brides were.

Quinn wished he had a small cigar to help him get rid of the perverse feeling the couple seemed to give off. He hoped someone might take over the desk for him soon so he could slip off and fire one up.

Still, if Quinn had learned one thing in life, it was that it was dangerous to underestimate anyone's cunning. Some foreign women married naïve American men to get a ticket to the States and as soon as they became a citizen and had a job, they filed for divorce and started searching for the husbands they really wanted. This cruel, unfeeling, and common ploy was profoundly logical when one considered that a single woman's only options in her native land might be poverty or prostitution. Though the old man seemed to have meticulous control over his wife's every action, Quinn had to wonder who actually had the upper hand.

Maybe though, he thought, the woman really loved the man and this was the life she wanted. That seemed the sickest supposition of all.

The phone behind the information desk rang and Quinn picked it up. After he answered a few questions and hung up, Quinn saw the woman walking confidently and quickly toward him with the cookbook still in her hands. Her husband was nowhere to be seen.

"Hi," said Quinn.

"Hi," said the woman softly and with an infectious smile. "I would like this, please." She laid the book onto the counter gently with the back cover up so that Quinn could read the price.

Quinn gazed into her eyes and she gazed into his. He lowered his eyes as he sensed himself blushing for the first time in many years. They descended upon the delicate features of her throat and upon her upper chest leading down to the top of her cleavage peeping from her collar that was open by one more button than it had been when Quinn had seen her a few minutes before. Quinn raised his eyes, quickly stumbling for something to say and found himself again looking into her eyes as she gazed back and smiled coquettishly with a barely perceptible giggle.

Out of the corner of his eye, Quinn noticed a tall figure a few yards away, fists on his hips, silhouetted against the sunlight streaming through the plate glass windows, and watching Quinn intensely. The figure was frowning, unblinking.

Moving only his eyes, Quinn glanced at the silhouette to let the woman know her husband was in the room. Her smile broadened.

Quinn rang up the purchase on the cash register. "That'll be twelve ninety-five, ma'am."

She handed Quinn a ten and a five. He gave her change and put the book and receipt into a paper bag that he handed to her.

She glanced at the name tag on his uniform. "Thank you, Quinn", she said with a smile her husband could not see and in a soft tone he would not hear. She turned and, returning to her hesitant gait with head bowed, walked out the door with her husband following close behind.

"Have a nice day," said Quinn.

The man said nothing, ignoring Quinn as he exited. Quinn walked over to the door and watched the couple cross the parking lot in silence to their pick-up and drive off, both staring ahead through the windshield. The man was yelling angrily at the woman and she was... smiling. Quinn looked again. Yes, she was definitely smiling. Quinn was nonplussed.

Yeah, Quinn thought, he would have a cigar on his next break, but after work he would down a bottle or two of red wine - just to clear from his mind the lingering, unwanted, tasteless images that kept popping up of the two having sex. Quinn shuddered. Quinn couldn't fault the old man, he thought, but he had to wonder what she was thinking.

Then Quinn noticed a receipt lying where the woman had laid the cookbook. He thought he had forgotten to give her hers and picked it up. It was from a clothing store from a few days before. On it was written in an elegant script, "Kim (505) 334-1957".

Quinn placed the receipt in his wallet. What kind of game was she playing, he wondered, and did he want to be part of it? It was tempting. He had actually loved some of the wives he had dated and he still had a soft spot in his heart for all of them, but he had always been fortunate and had never had to confront an angry husband eye to eye. With this old man, Quinn guessed that any confrontation would involve the old man holding a shotgun.

A few nights with her might be worth running the risk, but what would happen if they weren't caught? Would she leave the old man for Quinn and then dump him as soon as she found someone better-looking with money? And what was this with her smile? Twice when he thought she would be in terror of her old man, she was smiling. Maybe I can just get with her for one night. She has probably had one-night stands before. Maybe she was still having them on the side now.

Maybe he would fall for her once they could converse in private. He could picture them sitting on his sofa with only the fading evening rays of the setting sun to light the room. He could imagine the brush of her lips against his ear. God, he could imagine slipping off her brassiere. He could imagine the smooth feel of her inner thigh on his cheek. Quinn sensed himself becoming lost in fantasy; he shook his head and took a deep breath. He took the receipt out of his wallet and sniffed it. He had wanted to detect some trace of her on it - body lotion, perfume, soap, anything - but there was nothing. He started to toss the receipt in the trash, but instead he put it back in his wallet.

A family entered the bookstore then and Quinn went back to work, asking if he could help, giving directions, making them feel welcome - anything he could to shut the woman out of his mind for a little while. As the family milled through the bookstore, he looked over the mom. She was quite attractive with brown hair and eyes and a good figure. She seemed really into her husband and young children and smiled whenever one or the other spoke to her. Quinn had never had a wife or family of his own, but then he had never wanted one. Sometimes he wondered what he was missing, but at other times he was glad he didn't have one. A family is something someone has to want, he thought, otherwise life can be miserable for all involved. But why had he never wanted one? He did not know. He had had loving parents and good, happy, middle-class up-bringing, but somewhere along the line, his particular combination of DNA and experience had eliminated the desire for a family life. For the most part, he was happy as a bachelor, he thought, and the anti-depressants he had recently started helped assure that he wouldn't be too miserable, but he had to wonder if he couldn't be happier.

He looked the mom over again as the family headed into the museum. He could see himself having an affair with her, but he wouldn't attempt to. What few scruples he had left forbid him from trying to break up a happy home. He envied this woman's husband, though somehow in a different way than he had envied the old man - and again in a way he couldn't express.

Just then he heard an office door shut down the hallway to the left of the desk. Carla, an attractive co-worker was leaving her office to go to lunch in her apartment in park housing as she always did. Carla would make a fine wife, Quinn thought. She had a boyfriend already, but he lived about a day's drive from the park and Carla saw him only on weekends, and not every weekend at that. Quinn occasionally had the impression that she was not terribly happy with the boyfriend, whose name Quinn did not know, although she seemed to always perk up and smile whenever Quinn entered the room and Quinn enjoyed her company. One day after work, they had even taken their swimsuits and had spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting in a hot spring hidden nearby in the mountains. Quinn had once or twice started to ask her out, but had changed his mind at the last minute both times. He was not certain of why. He just knew he couldn't stay with her. He would leave her at some point and that would break her heart and it would hurt him to think he had broken the heart of another good woman.

Later that evening, after a bottle of wine and a lot more thought, he took the Asian woman's, Kim's, number out of his wallet and looked at it. He studied the writing and wondered if a handwriting expert could tell anything about her from the sample.

Just then some music came from Carla's apartment next door. She was at home. He thought about walking over, knocking on Carla's door, and asking her out. Instead, he pulled his phone from his pocket, dialed Kim's number, and hoped her husband didn't answer.

"Coward," he muttered to himself.

6 comments:

  1. Excellent writing brings this poignant story to life and makes the reader work to understand more of what might be. Very many thanks for a satisfying, emotionally intelligent read,
    Ceinwen

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  2. The back and forth in Quinn's mind makes it an excellent read. Thank you, Phil.

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  3. Sure Quinn is a coward, but he's not short of company. The fact that 80,000 men a day use prostitutes in London alone gives some idea of the level of 'commitment' in 21st C society. But this story's telling us more than that. I like the way the writer takes control and slows time to a standstill during the description of the initial trio, though I'm sometimes unclear about the characterization; for instance what does 'primitive' mean in this context, and does it predate 'pioneer'? Excellent cerebral food. Have you read 'The Comfort of Strangers' by Ian McEwan? Many thanks Phil!
    B r o o k e

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  4. Thank you all for your excellent comments. That is what keeps me submitting to Fiction on the Web. I know I can come here and find professional, constructive criticism that helps me develop as a writer. By the way, I have not read "The Comfort of Strangers", but I will definitely look it up now. -Phil Slattery

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  5. very thought provoking story, Quinn is a very interesting character, is he so bad? he doesn´t want to break up a family. I´d like to know more about him.
    Mike McC

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    Replies
    1. Quinn also appears in my story "The Scent", which was also published by Fiction on the Web some time back. If you search for it, I'm sure you'll find it.

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