Old Reliable Jack
Just as the second deadbolt responded to her repeated wiggling of its key, she felt him come up on the porch behind her. Without turning around, Lily pushed the heavy door open, kept it from slamming into the wall until Sarge was inside then threw her entire weight against it to get it properly closed again. Only after resetting the deadbolts did she turn to Sarge and nod towards the hallway lighted by another string of tiny blue lights like those outside. “This way. Watch out for Karen’s cat. He likes to chase heels. He doesn’t bite. He just tries to catch with his claws.”
She was grateful for his silence as he followed her down the hall to the door of her apartment at the rear of the big two-story house. Another string of little blue lights hung overhead. Both locks opened easily. Stepping into complete darkness she flipped the wall switch for lamp light then gestured for Sarge to come inside.
He listened to the locks clicking behind him while quickly scanning the large square room that clearly served as Lily’s parlor and study area judging from the books in evidence. Uncertain of just what Lily had in mind, yet fairly certain it wasn’t the obvious first choice of most of his gender, but very curious—especially about this unexpected invitation into her home space, Sarge waited for her cues.
“Coats here.” Lily nodded at the large hooks screwed into the back of the door as she hung up hers. “Boots there.” She pointed to a rough textured brown floor mat on top of some newspaper as she sat down on the floor and proceeded to remove her knee-high black leather boots. “Don’t even think of giving me grief about going barefooted. All the rugs are clean and rock salt is not nice to walk on indoors. Nor does it do the wood floor any favors.”
Sarge hung up his coat then joined her on a bright red braided rag rug and went to work unlacing his own boots.
Lily set her boots on the mat then stood watching his quick fingered progress. “Hungry?”
“Yeah. Why? You gonna poach some eggs?” He glanced up at her obviously hoping for an affirmative response.
“Nope.” Lily walked away. “Gonna heat up some soup.”
Watching her disappear into a dark room that he guessed was the kitchen, Sarge said, “Soup is good. I can do soup.” After pulling off his boots, he placed them on the mat then stood up and looked around the room again while slowly walking towards the dim light now coming from the room Lily had disappeared into. A clearly well used, but still impressive old-fashioned scallop backed red velvet couch with dark wood edging sat in the middle of the room facing the room’s windows with their white shades drawn down to the sills. An old long wooden table bearing an assortment of college math textbooks stretched along the backside of the couch. The two pieces of furniture together effectively divided the room in half. A rainbow-colored assortment of various sizes of braided oval rugs, rectangles of cotton throws, several odd cuts of shag along with what were clearly carpet store remanent pieces effectively covered most of the wooden floor up to within a foot of the line of radiators standing at attention under the windows. The books massed on the cinder block and two-inch by eight inch wood shelving taking up most of the wall opposite the entrance door drew Sarge to them as strongly as a red hollyhock draws in a thirsty hummingbird on a hot summer morning.
He heard Lily cursing the gas stove in the kitchen as he closed in to investigate the books. The first few shelves contained a variety of children’s school books for several grade levels. Below those were more math textbooks. On the top shelf of the next section he discovered a King James version of the Bible next to an old hardback copy of The Tao, a worn paperback copy of the Lotus Sutra followed by The Way to Freedom, the Koran and a host of other religious texts. Abruptly, any readily discernible sense of order disappeared. Slim volumes of poetry mingled with novels, history books, science texts, individual plays and collections of dramas. Trying to get a sense of it all, Sarge quickly scanned the rest of the shelves only to discover that the pattern of no apparent pattern at all extended through the remaining majority of the shelves’ contents. He continued reading titles until Lily called to him from the kitchen. “Okay, quit jerking off, Sarge. Soup’s ready in here.”
Catching a faint scent of what might be chicken soup, Sarge reluctantly gave up exploring the books and made his way into the kitchen. A square red topped old dinner table occupied the center of the kitchen with an even older four burner gas stove on one side and on the other what Sarge guessed was probably the building’s original sink with a very large, very modern, stainless steel space age looking fridge next to it. “For the record, I was not jerking off,” said Sarge as he took the plate with the deep flared edged bowl full of soup that Lily handed him and set it on the table then occupied one of the three red chairs.
Lily ignored his statement as she set down a bowl of soup for herself then took a knife from the wooden drying rack on the sink ledge, set it down it next to the slab of butter on the plate next to several newly sliced pieces of rye bread. Only after she sat down opposite him did she respond. “Maybe not physically: but probably mentally. It’s what guys do almost constantly. Scientific fact. Don’t bother denying it.”
Deciding not to take her bait, Sarge turned his attention to the bowl’s contents. Immediately he noticed the pieces of chicken meat, carrots, celery and translucent slices of onion in a broth clear enough that he could see the bottom of the deep old soup bowl. Tasting a spoonful confirmed that this soup had never seen the inside of a can. He looked over to the stove at the large white porcelain pot occupying a gas burner. Watching Lily butter a slice of rye bread, Sarge took a piece for himself then commenced to devouring both it and the soup with the gusto of a man who’d had only a tiny vanity cupcake to eat in the previous several hours. A few minutes later he got up and served himself another deep ladle from the white pot, filled Lily’s bowl when she held it out to him, then wolfed down his second serving. Tearing the dark crust off another slice of rye, he thoroughly wiped out the remains of the broth from his bowl. In between bites of the rest of his bread he said, “This beats the hell out of those little red cakes by a long shot. Thanks Lily.” To himself, he added, Beats the hell out of every meal I’ve had in the past several months by far, including Nora’s birthday dinner.
Without looking up from finishing her soup, Lily replied with a quiet, “You’re welcome, Sarge.” When her bowl was empty, she leaned back in her chair and sighed. “That’s better. I think a case can be made for hunger making people crazy.”
“I suspect you’ve got that right,” said Sarge with a fleeting grin. He was feeling basically set to rights physically by the meal yet at a loss at regarding what to say or do next as Lily wasn’t sending him any of the usual cues or any others that he could discern at the moment.
Logic indicated one direction to take with the man sitting politely across the table and intuition prompted her in the exact opposite direction. Lily toyed with her soup spoon briefly then pointed it at Sarge’s face. “What exactly happened with the beard? Start from the beginning.”
“Do you really want to hear this?” Doubt mixed with a faint hope in his voice and expression for some of the relief that comes with talking about something troublesome.
Lily’s intuition and logic merged as she read his face. “Yes I do. More importantly, I think you really need to talk about it.”
For a few moments, Sarge tapped the edge of his bowl with his thumbnail. “Okay, since you asked so nicely, it started with . . . . “ Intending to give her the shortest version of events as fast as possible, Sarge spoke quickly without realizing the degree of hurt and confusion the tone of his voice was conveying along with his words, facial expression, body-language and hand gestures.
When he fell silent he looked out the dark kitchen window to the gusting wind and hard falling snow beyond. Lily didn’t offer any glib comforting or superficial platitudes along the lines of the standard variety of, ‘It’ll be okay. Don’t worry. They meant well.’ She listened carefully to the soft prompting of non-linear thinking, then nodded slightly and said matter-of-factly, “Okay now I know why your missing beard is such a sore topic.” For her own reasons her attention was strongly drawn to the snow through the window next to where Sarge was sitting. After a few minutes her eye caught some small movement he made and she shook off the trance like state she’d fallen into. “It’s late. We’re both dead tired. Let’s clean up and go to bed. Oh, and to be very clear about it: to bed for sleep, not sex.”
Standing up, she stacked her bowl and plate with his. “Soap is in the sink. You wash while I put this away.” Without a word, he complied by immediately taking the bowls to the sink and turning on the hot water while Lily returned the soup pot and butter to the large fridge then the bread to its storage bin. Completing their tasks at nearly the same time, Lily gestured for him to follow her out of the kitchen, through the book room and to the bathroom. “There are some brand new toothbrushes in that box over the sink. Help yourself. Um, clean towels in the cabinet and, well, use what you need. When you’re done, the bedroom is the room on the left.”
When she turned to leave him in privacy, Sarge cleared his throat loudly. Without looking at her he said, “Hey, I’ll be fine on the couch.”
Lily laughed softly as she spoke. “No, you won’t.”
Sarge forced himself to meet her tired black eyes. Worried that venturing into her bedroom was a sure way to foul things up before anything had even half a chance to get started, he tried to stand his ground. “No really, I’m good with the couch.”
“I don’t doubt it. But, believe me, that couch is not good for sleeping on. I know it well. If you’re scared of sharing a bed with me, then the floor is a much better alternative than the couch. But it gets a tad chilly down there in this weather so I don’t much recommend that choice either. Don’t worry. I don’t kick or bite in my sleep.” With that, she left him in the bathroom.
Lily turned on the light in the bedroom then picked up a hammer lying on the floor and beat on the radiator pipes several times in two places until a hiss of steam satisfied her that heat was indeed forthcoming. Going back to the main room, she slipped into her usual routine of checking the door locks, the windows, giving those radiators a few whacks with the hammer and turning off the lamp light while discarding her socks, pants, sweater, and shirt along the way. Clad in her navy blue long underwear bottom and top, hammer still in hand, she reached the bathroom and entered it just as Sarge made his exit.
Startled by their sudden two-way passing through the doorway at the same time. Sarge watched the bathroom door close behind her then stood indecisive between the bedroom entrance and the now dark main room. Thinking that she was pretty much daring him to not share her bed, and unable to resist a dare even when he wasn’t feeling the consequences of having worked a hard double shift as he had in order to have the evening free, he entered the bedroom. Hearing the clanking of the radiators he figured it would be polite to take the side of the bed furthest from the heat.
Seeing that most of the room was taken up by the bed with its simple high wooden head and footboard and finding nowhere else to set his clothes, he pulled off his sweater and folded it over the footboard, his shirt followed it. Undecided about the need for the warmth of his long underwear he felt the comforter of dark velvet patchwork and discovered it was probably filled with goose-down. Having one such of his own he knew he had to take off his thermals or he’d be soaking wet with sweat ten minutes after getting under the quilt. Just as he laid his jeans on the footboard, Lily entered the room unwittingly swinging the hammer at her side as she walked to the radiators and stood listening.
Totally not knowing what to think of the hammer in her hand, Sarge stood stock still watching her. When she felt heat from the cast iron, Lily smiled at him, patted the hammer-head then dropped it on the floor. “Old reliable Jack. Does the trick every time. Just got to bang the right spots.” Noticing his wary expression, she frowned. “What’s wrong? Is Karen’s cat in here?” She bent to look under the bed. Finding it feline free, she gestured at Sarge. “Huh?”
Sarge looked to where the hammer now lay on the floor next to the radiators. “I’m just wondering about Old Reliable Jack there.”
Realizing that she’d actually scared him with the hammer, Lily laughed a little. “Don’t give Old Jack any trouble and Old Jack won’t give you any.” Noticing he was still wearing his thermal bottoms she added, “Better take those off unless you’re wanting to boil.” Seemingly without a care for his presence, she pulled off her own thermal top and bottom and tossed them over the footboard.
Relieved that between the high footboard and her long hair the only glimpse he caught of her unclothed was limited to a flash of bare shoulders between the thick masses of long black hair floating around her like a cape and only the very center of her chest, Sarge decided to take her at her word that sleep was all she had on her mind. Noting that the hammer was out of her immediate reach where it now lay on the floor near the end of the radiator he managed to forget about it. Keeping on his blue cotton boxers, he watched her slip smoothly under the covers before following suit. “That side okay with you?”
“Yep.” She turned off the small wall lamp just above the top of the headboard. “I left the bathroom light on. The switch is hard to find in the dark even if you know where it is.” She slid further under the down quilt until it covered her nose. When she’d snuggled into her usual spot she felt sleep just moments away. “Night, Sarge.”
“Good night, Lily.” Thankful for the familiar feel of the down comforter, Sarge lay on his back, raised his arms overhead, locked his fingers together then lowered them to cradle his head. Staring up into darkness he focused on inhaling and exhaling as slowly as he could. He knew full well that he had no intention of making any sexual overtures towards the young woman lying next to him. He also knew he had no certain idea of whether or not she expected him to or if she had an agenda of her own. What he needed and wanted was for Lily to be as good as her word without having to second guess her. He worked on relaxing using his breathing while waiting for her to either sleep or make a move in the absence of any on his part. When enough time had passed without any action on Lily’s part to convince him he wouldn’t be blindsided if he gave into his increasing need for sleep, only then did the tension ease out of his shoulders and back muscles and only then did he turn his head towards where Lily lay motionless less than an arm’s length away in the darkness. His ears searching for and finding her soft steady breathing, he fell asleep.
Touch Me Not by Jonathan Ojanpera
As much as I would love the human touch
I’ve one thing to add before the fading light
As the room goes dim, pupils shrink tight
Touch me not about the face, nor my neck
Stray from my shoulders, they are too sore
Leave my back alone, no peripheral sight
My chest may be muscled, maybe it’s not
But hands off is what I am asking tonight
Below the belt could be a sucker’s punch
In front or back, neither the worse, fright
You see, because I am a touch me not
I say this so you know how I like to be
Feet are off limits, I may not be clean
My knees are too knobby, why anyway
There are no zones I wish to be noticed
I prefer the air, all the space between us
Touch me not, if I have your precious ear
Your glare befits this man,my persuasion
Maybe tomorrow I will let you inside me
Possibly allowing your hands on my skin
For tonight I am a touch me not, not, not
For this poem complete with photograph and more of Johnny’s poetry please visit -> http://johnnyojanpera.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/touch-me-not/
Vintage Cast Iron Radiators
A beautiful video where Steve explains how antique, cast iron radiators are refurbished and installed. Lots more great info athttp://www.stevemaxwellhowto.com.
Breakfast Special, tenth helping, “Snowing Deep Sleep” —>> https://47whitebuffalo.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/breakfast-special-tenth-helping-snowing-deep-sleep/