Divine Inspiration

She preferred fantasy to reality. The modern world bored her to tears. Marguerite was a Parisian girl at heart. Growing up in a run down midwestern town, she had always gravitated to all things French. She’d spent hours and hours at the local library, devouring French culture, history and fashion. At thirteen, she began styling her hair like a coquette, and sewing her own clothes. Her Grandma’s basement was a treasure trove full of all sorts of fabrics, buttons, and best of all, old photos. She didn’t know much about Grandma Ceci, because she had died days before Marguerite was born. The story went that she had grown up just outside of Paris, and had studied to be a couturier at the most prestigious design school in the “City of Lights”. At 18, she left her studies to marry an American military man, and relocated to this tiny midwestern city, where she quickly acclimated to American life, and focused on raising a small family. No matter how much Marguerite pressed her mother, she really couldn’t find out more about her Grandma. From the old photos and items found in dusty boxes, she pieced together a life imagined.

These days, Marguerite lives in New Orleans. She fell in love with the city on a weekend visit, and never went back to her small town. She lives in an apartment close to the French Quarter, and designs dresses that she sells on Etsy.  She’s been studying French for a while now and uses it as often as possible. Her entire apartment is filled with antiques found at thrift shops around town. An antique record player spins french ballads. She had her mother send all of the old photographs from her Grandma Ceci’s basement, which decorate the hallway entry. At night, she dreams of being in Paris with a dark-haired man. He wears a suit, pocket watch and felted hat. He takes her hand, pulls her close, and whispers to her to stay with him in forever. Her heart hurts as she watches him disappear behind a wall of thick icy fog lifting off of the Atlantic. The blast of a steamship’s horn wakes her abruptly, her damp cheek pressed into a pillow drenched with tears.

 

Damaged

 

This story is ultra personal. It is a small event which changed the course of my life. I didn’t tell anyone until years later. I’m not one to “overshare”, however in light of recent events, I feel it’s warranted. With all of the clamor regarding old testimonies from “never mentioned” crimes, it’s easier to tune it out. But, the fact is that these things do happen. Humans are flawed, and they make mistakes. These incidents play forward until there is some sort of resolution, acceptance and forgiveness. I’ve done all three, but I can be honest enough to admit that what happened was real, and it did manifest in my life for many years after. For this reason, I believe women who come forward after the fact. And, I do believe it speaks to the character of the individual who perpetrated the incident, when they deny the fact that anything ever occurred. 

The first time it happened, I was 17. It was supposed to be the best time in my life. I was in New York City, studying fashion design at a prestigious art school. I had always dreamed of becoming a costume designer and working in the world of theater or film. Finally, I was on my way.

The first time it happened, I was 17. I thought I was so grown up and sophisticated, until I arrived on that campus in Manhattan. It was immediately apparent that I was way out of my league. Girls flitted by in the latest high fashion outfits, and the boys, well, they were just as stylish. I remember suddenly feeling very small and insecure in my Macys jumpsuit, wearing one of two pairs of shoes that I owned. I always had felt confident about being able to put together an outfit, until I saw my competition.

The first time it happened, I was 17. Sure, in my small town, I had gone out on occasion. I had my first drink, when I was 14, and I continued to drink because it helped to relieve painful shyness. Even so, it was only on occasion, to get bold enough to socialize, or cut loose on the dance floor. I guess I was pretty sheltered. This became clearly apparent within a week of arriving to college. My roommate, who was 2 years older, seemed so savvy and cool, I couldn’t believe she wanted to hang out with me. She invited me to go out, and I fell under the spell of the nightlife that was NYC at the time. Swirling lights, music, drugs, and plenty of them. I was underage, but there were plenty of girls out in the clubs that were far younger than me.

The first time it happened, I was 17. I had never had a real “boyfriend” during high school. You could say I was a loner. I guess the combination of shyness, coupled with the fact that I wore thick glasses up until 11th grade didn’t help. I was still a virgin, and I secretly longed to find that special someone to share the first experience with. I wished to find that “true love”. The first month passed quickly at college. The soft summer air chilled to a crisp. It was time to break out fall fashions. Sweaters, boots, scarves, hats and gloves.

The first time it happened, I was 17. My roommate coerced me into going out to one of the last standing monsterous clubs of the moment in midtown Manhattan. I wore a vintage 60’s hot pink fitted shift dress, with a black fake fur cropped jacket, fishnet tights and pointy patent leather pumps. My friend wore a black sharkskin fitted men’s suit, with nothing under the jacket, along with red shiny booties, and her trademark black beret. She styled my hair into a sexy tousled mess, added heavy black eyeliner and hot pink lipstick. As we headed downtown in a cab, drinking vodka from a bottle, the interior filled with a cloud of Aqua Net and cigarette smoke. I was already tipsy by the time we got there. Standing in line behind the velvet rope, we were immediately selected to enter. My friend was strikingly beautiful, with her wild curly black hair, green eyes, and androgynous style. As soon as we walked in, the music took me over, and I headed to the dance floor, as she went off on her own. The place was a vibrating cavernous, multi-level extravaganza. A sensory overload. I lost myself in the music and danced for what seemed like hours. Intermittently strangers would come up and dance with me. It was a different time. People used to dance, and it was all very sexually charged, mixed up, and fun.

The first time it happened, I was 17. It was 3 am in the club. The place was still going strong, but I was ready to leave. I walked over to sit in a banquet, and moments later, a handsome stranger sat down close to me. He was well dressed, in a Wall Street sort of way, but friendly enough with his sweaty bangs falling over crystal blue eyes. He asked if I wanted to party with him, and laid out a couple of lines of coke before I even had a chance to answer. He snorted it quickly, and asked if I wanted any. I had never done drugs, but I was curious and I thought, well, why not. I took the rolled up bill, and he held my hair as I leaned over and snorted a line. As I let the cool burn slide down my throat, I could sense a shift in my body. Now tingling and alert, I told the stranger that I wanted to dance again. He slid his arm around me and told me that he wanted to take me to an after hours club where we could dance till dawn.

The first time it happened, I was 17. Riding in a cab through midtown, after midnight, with a stranger. High on cocaine, and giddy with nerves. The stranger was funny and charming. We made out in the cab. I asked him where the after hours club was. He told me we needed to go to his place to pick something up first. I was too out of it to protest. We headed over to the east side, and the cab stopped in front of a fancy brownstone. He took my hand to help me out. I followed him up the steps to the big wood entryway. Once inside the luxurious apartment, he invited me to sit down on the sofa, while he went into the kitchen to make drinks. He returned with two drinks on a tray, along with a pile of white powder. I took the drink, but declined the coke. He just laughed and said, “more for me.” I was starting to come down, and felt very tired and weak.

The first time it happened, I was 17. I was falling asleep on the sofa, and I told him I needed to go home. He had been yammering on and on about some deal he had made on Wall Street, and how much he was going to make during the next year. He reached over and grabbed me as I started to get up to leave. I told him I had class the next day. No, no, he said. I’ll send you home in a cab in the morning. Stay. Stay. I told him I couldn’t. He kept persisting, his sweat dampened hair dangling over wild looking, bloodshot blue eyes. As he tugged on my dress, he tried to slide his hand up my thigh. I firmly gripped his hand to stop him. I told him I couldn’t sleep with him because I was still a virgin. I told him I was saving it for that special someone. I told him I wanted to leave. He grabbed me, and kept kissing me, even though at this point, I was not reciprocating. He was in a coked up frenzy by now, and suddenly I was very sober. I pushed him away and told him to stop it. He pushed me back down on the sofa. Tears welled up in my eyes. He was so much stronger than me, as he pushed me down, I heard him unzipping his pants. Tearing at my stockings, he told me to lie still, and urgently forced himself upon me, heaving and breathing like an animal. Hot tears flowed down my cheeks, pooling at the side of my face, as it was crushed deeper and deeper into the velour pillow. Physical pain was dwarfed by my emotional agony. Then, suddenly, I felt myself floating upward and watching this event from above. I disconnected and became numb. Nothing could touch me now. I became smaller and smaller, fading away into the distance, until I finally disappeared completely.

The first time it happened, I was 17.

 

Hairowin (rough draft)

Her mother tugged harder than ever, smoothing back Chevon’s deep brunette hair with a fine toothed metal comb, into a high elegant chignon. The small child squirmed in the hard chair, impatient after more than 2 hours of primping. “Stay still”, boomed her mother’s voice over her head, echoing off the grey marble flooring of the large bathroom. “Don’t you want to be pretty? Beauty is pain! You will suffer for beauty, but it’s all worth it. Money you can’t always get with brains. You do what I tell you, and you will be thanking me, and taking care of me when I am an old grandma living in your house.” She leaned her head down to press her cheek against the tiny face, and smiled at their reflection.

Tears welled up in the young girl’s eyes. At 6, she had endured this fussing for 4 years already. Since she turned 2, her mother had dressed her up like a tiny doll. The more serious makeup and hair styling had started around 3. By now, she had been in countless competitions, and won multiple trophies as the cutest, sassiest, prettiest girl in the world. “World Doll”, “Adorable Baby” “PerfectionZ”. You name the competition, Chevon had won it. First place all the way.

Her mother set up the instagram a few months ago. Hairowin was built to feature her daughter, and profit from her fame via affiliate sales. Sheila had been a hair-stylist, long before she became a stage mom. Salon work had gotten too difficult for her, with standing for those long hours. Her weight had ballooned from chronic stress, and was now considered a health hazard. However, she could still do hair like a wizard, designing elaborate up-dos, and a multitude of glamorous styles. Working at home, she could spend time with her daughter, sit down and rest as needed and save money on babysitting expenses.

That’s when Sheila had the brilliant idea to feature her daughter as a model on instagram. Chevon had a long head of luxurious shiny deep brunette hair, which her mother embellished with extensions, and featured in posts on a daily basis. The followers swooped in. No matter that more than half were most likely pedophiles. Sheila knew it was a numbers game, and the higher the following, the more opportunities she would have to turn a profit. Winning pagaents was all well and good, but creating a passive stream of income was even better. Her bank account grew daily, and so did her greed.

Chevon struggled in the chair again. Tears welled in her sparkling blue eyes. “Mommy? I have to go pee. Can I get up please?” Sheila tugged extra hard, swirling her glossy locks into a corkscrew bun and fastening it with a crystal clip. She roughly pushed her daugher and told her to hurry up. They needed to post within the next 2 hours for optimal exposure. As Chevon shuffled to the toilet, Sheila headed to the kitchen, grabbed a slab of cold pizza from the fridge and inhaled it, wiping crumbs on her sleeve.

Back in the master bathroom, her child obediently sat on the chair at the vanity, patiently waiting, while her mother swirled, pinned, combed, and teased her hair into an ultra vixenesque style. Sort of a cross between Marie Antoinette and an 80’s glam rock star. She grabbed the makeup bag, and launched into a whirlwind application, adding glitter and gloss for a finishing touch. She laughed with delight seeing the bright blue eyes glisten under long mascara coated lashes. An awkward smile appeared on her child’s face. “Gorgeous! This is a winner!” Sheila ran to the bedroom, and returned holding a hot pink and red chiffon dress encrusted with swarofsky crystals across a corsetted bodice. “Let’s get you into this dress, and start taking pics! I smell money honey!”

She roughly tugged off Chevon’s flannel pjs, throwing them in the corner. Unzipping the gown, she tossed the fluffy tulle over her head like a fishing net, careful to avoid the hair and face, yanked and zipped it tight. Custom made by her aunt, it fit like a glove. She picked up her child like a doll, and plopped her down onto the large velvet divan. Then she posed her, rearranging her arms, legs, and tilting her head a few times until she sat there, in the perfect temptress position.

“Smile!, Now, Pout! …no, not like that! Look at mommy, like this. See how sexy mommy looks?… Sheila demonstrated, pouting with a slight grimace. Her daughter dutifully obeyed and posed like a mini doll, doing her best to please her mother.

This went on for about half an hour. Satisfied, Sheila told her she could take a break and watch tv, while she uploaded the photos onto social media. Sitting in front of the computer with her phone at her side, Sheila smiled, laughed, and texted, while mouthing responses to the comments as they poured in. She was too excited to bother with any negative remarks, just deleting those as they appeared. Her daughter was a star and she was gonna be rich!

Finally, she headed to the living room to find her daughter fast asleep with the tv on. A program about serial killers blared in the background. She picked up the small child, shaking her gently. “Bedtime princess. Someone’s gotta get that beauty sleep. You did so good today, doll, You did so, so good, 5,000 likes so far and counting….we’re gonna be so rich. I love you. Tomorrow I’m gonna do a sleek long style, and I have a silver sequin gown for you to wear! It’s going to be topped off with one of your pageant tiaras.”

She carried the small child, a bundle of chiffon and hair, into her pink princess room. She laid her down on the canopy bed, surrounded by twinkling strands of tiny white and pink lights. Chevon looked like an angel. Sheila began arranging and spreading her silken hair on the pink satin pillow. The child’s eyes fluttered, and closed again as she fell into a deep sleep.

Sheila pulled out her phone and snapped away. A few more photos, the hair on the pillow, so perfect. Ultimate in glam. This would be a sellout image. She titled it “The Real Sleeping Beauty.” Uploaded, and boom….instant likes and comments. “Living doll” “OMG” “beautiful” Adorable “Sexy” well, who cared where it came from, she was getting lots of likes and action….meaning money. Money. Money. Money.

Her husband still worked nights for the city morgue, and he was doing a lot of overtime these days. He really had no idea about social media, and had always stayed away from all that “girly stuff”. When he got home that night after 11, Sheila was dressed in her favorite long black slip, with a slit up the front thigh. Her large silicone breasts overflowed, and her thick body bulged out in quite a few directions. He smiled. She offered him a beer, and they went to their room. She was in the mood, and they stayed up late into the night doing things they had never done, and many more than once.

Sheila slept well that night. So well that she didn’t hear her alarm. Today was the day she was going to do the long luxury ponytail look on Chevon. She rubbed her eyes, looking at the alarm clock. Grabbing her phone off of the side table, she quickly logged into the instagram. Her eyes cleared and she saw the thousands of likes on the last post. Sleeping Beauty was a giant hit! She had DMs for buisness proposals, and a multitude of opportunities coming her way. Today was gonna be a good day. Finally all of her hard work was paying off. The baby beauty pagaents, the styling, the sacrifices she had made. All paying off big time.

She texted her husband. Dan texted back “last night was hot, babe. Let’s do that more often.xoxo” She smiled. “definitely babe. I love you” she responded, smiling as she glanced into the bedroom mirror admiring her afterglow. Sure she had gained weight, but it made her feel powerful and her husband was enjoying her extra curves and fleshy hips and thighs.

Grabbing her silky robe and putting on her favorite sheepskin slippers, Sheila shuffled towards her daughters bedroom, humming as she thought about the next “look”. The little angel was still asleep. Her hair splayed out in tendrils. She touched the shimmering bronzed forehead, realizing she hadn’t removed the makeup. She headed into the bathroom, and brought back some makeup wipes. Sheila began gently removing the makeup from Chevon’s delicate tiny face, with a tenderness she hadn’t felt for some time. Her little girl still looked like a baby in the morning light.

Sheila pushed the hair back gently off of her tiny forehead. As she pushed the hair, it moved further back. She pressed a bit harder, and she saw pale scalp showing through. To her shock, as she took hold of a tendril, lightly lifting it, effortlessly, the hair lifted completely from her daughers head. She moved her hand through the hair, and felt it detaching from the scalp with ease. In fact, all of Chevons hair seemed to have become loose overnight and was now just falling off, leaving bald sections. Sheila was horrified, as she took sections of the long tresses in her hand, watching them slip through her fingertips onto the bed and floor. Her daughter stirred. “Was anyone in your room last night?” Sheila whispered loudly.

Chevon cracked her eyes open and squinted, “No mommy!” Nobody came in here. Why? What’s wrong. Mommy! What’s wrong?” Alarmed at seeing the expression on her mother’s face. “Mommy?!” Chevon reached up to her head and felt the bare skin. She touched a loose lock of hair that had fallen over her face. Holding it between her forefinger and thumb, she slowly took it from her head and held it up in front of her own eyes. “Mommy! What happened to my hair?” Mommy!” She started to get hysterical. Sheila grabbed her, hugging her close. “What are we gonna do now? Your hair was our life!!! We need to figure this out. Get up right now!”

Click

A sudden screeching of tires caught him off guard, as he headed out to his car. Glancing across the street, he saw the shiny black Maserati crushed up against a lamp-post. Smoke drifted upwards from the smoldering scene. He watched as the door opened and a single shiny red high-heeled pump emerged, soon followed by a long flawless leg, and then the other. As the woman stood up, he was breathless seeing her beauty. A tall platinum blonde, she towered over the wreckage beneath her. Reaching in, she swiftly pulling a small glossy red handbag out of the vehicle, and turned on her heel to stare straight at him. She didn’t appear to have been injured in the incident, in fact, she seemed quite nonchalant about the entire thing. As she crossed the street towards him, it seemed almost like a dream. He was speechless at this fantasy approaching him. Click, click, click went the heels as they tacked along the pavement. A cool breeze was in the air, and as she neared him, a gust picked up, lifting her shiny tresses like a halo.

“Are you ok?”,  he asked, nervously. She pushed her sunglasses up, revealing steely crystal blue eyes, and glared at him, answering with a curt “Obviously.”  Followed by “What are you just standing there for? I need a fucking ride!” His car was sitting behind him in the driveway. He walked over to his older model silver Mercedes, opened the passenger door, and motioned her into the vehicle. She sniffed the air with disdain. He got into the driver’s seat and pulled on his seatbelt. She lit up a cigarette, inhaled dramatically, and blew a stream of smoke out through a crack in the window. “Where can I take you Miss?” he asked as he started the ignition. Classical music came on. She immediately switched the station to a techno beat. Reaching down, she slipped of her shiny red pumps and tossed them onto his lap, one at a time. He could feel the sharp heel and the weight of the shoes pressing through his lightweight trousers. Now, he became aware that she knew exactly what she was doing. She threw her head back, and laughed, “Honey, I don’t have anywhere to go now. I wrecked my car. What do you think? I need a god damned drink and I want to go relax. Let’s go get some wine and head to your place.”

He was extremely nervous, but excited at the same time. “Okay, sounds good.” He was supposed to have been on his way to a networking event, but this was a once in a lifetime situation, and he had to seize the opportunity. Unmarried, with no real options, he had been desperate for something to happen in his life. This was it!

He drove like a banshee to the local liquor store. She didn’t want to put her shoes back on, so he went in and picked up a few bottles of wine, a bottle of acceptable pink champagne, as well as a pack of cigarettes per her request. As he made his way back to the car, he could see tiny smoke rings billowing from her red lips, from the car window. She tipped her head up watching the miniature clouds dissipate into the wind. They drove back in silence, and he looked over to see her rubbing one nylon clad foot and then reaching down to massage the other. “Uh, um, I can do that for you.” He stated awkwardly.  She sighed, and slowly turned towards him. Slowly she countered, “Oh, yeah, well, you can do a lot for me.” He remained quiet until they pulled into the driveway. His hand trembled with nerves as he unlocked the door. She stood so close to him that he could smell her fragrance, a delicate balance of expensive perfume, mixed with shampoo and tobacco. Intoxicating.

As they entered, he took the bag into the kitchen, and opened one of the bottles of wine. She flopped on his sofa in her stocking feet, her tight white dress riding up to reveal the long satin nylon encased legs. He carried two glasses over, handing her one and taking a sip of his. As he began to sit across from her, she motioned him over. “Come here., you told me you would massage my feet.” He obliged. Sitting next to her, she placed her perfect legs and feet over his thighs, and he reached down to begin gently rubbing the impeccable arches, toes, heels, calves. Slowly moving upward, to test her response, she leaned back softly moaning, her glossy pink lips slightly parted…

 

Dame of Delray

Behind a crumbling façade, the grand old hotel still retained a regal quality. Gilded details glimmered through the faded layers of peeling paint, providing a glimpse into the glamorous past of this faded beauty. Precariously positioned on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the vast Atlantic Ocean, the structure stood strong. A relic, with a once glorious past. The grounds around the massive property now overgrown and wild, had at one time been well-manicured gardens, thick with flora and fauna. An enormous empty swimming pool full of dried leaves, revealed patches of intricate mosaic tile work. Mossy cracked statues of cherubs stood guard. Long ago, this oasis had sparkled, surrounded by alabaster Italian fountains spouting arched streams into the crystal blue water. Remnants of a small stage stood at the far end of the pool. This was where bands would play and guests would dance, often late into the night.

Built in the late 1800s, in its early years, the Delray had been a mecca for the rich and famous. It hosted brokers, movie stars, as well as royalty from around the world. Of course, entourages and wannabes soon followed, looking to piggyback on the excesses of the times. The hotel was notorious for its glamorous and wild parties. Rumors were kept quiet, but it was common knowledge that people of a certain caliber were allowed to get away with everything and anything. The liquor ran freely during prohibition, and alongside gambling, there were plenty of beautiful girls brought in for the single men, and practically anything else imaginable could be requested for a price. It was said that if you could dream it, you could have it at the Delmar. The heady mix of money, alcohol and cocaine, alongside an “anything goes” attitude, allowed for many scenarios to unfold. Countless payoffs and favors had been done to keep most of the stories hushed, however quite a few scandals of debauchery and bad behaviour frequently slipped out into the city papers, which the masses ate up like cake.

The golden years came to a screeching halt with the crash of the stock market in 1929. Party time was over, and the guests stopped coming. The hotel, like so many of its breed, chose to accommodate long-term tenants in order to maintain the expenses of running the place. Initially, quite a few units were rented, and the hotel managed to maintain a skeleton staff along with groundskeepers. The tenants enjoyed a comfortable life at the Delray, with full service at their disposal. Gradually, as the economy worsened, most of the staff was let go, other than some maintenance workers who lived on the premises. The gardens were left unkempt and the pool drained. Finally, most of the tenants moved out, leaving only a handful of very elderly ladies and a few eccentrics.

As the years passed, the hotel continued to become more dilapidated. A series of severe storms wrecked the façade, and the gardens became unrecognizable. Ivy grew over some of the shuttered windows, and the place was rumored to be haunted. Finally, of the 200 rooms, only 4 were rented. One to a wealthy TB patient on her deathbed, quarantined to the far quarters with her 24 hour nurses, and three other suites, which belonged to a tenant named Lena, who resided at the opposite end of the property. Twice a month, an order of basic food and supplies was delivered. Other than that, the residents were left in isolation. The maintenance staff had long gone, and if anything was broken, it stayed that way.

At night, from afar, the place stood desolate, appearing vacant, except for the occasional glow of light on one end or the other.The darkened halls of the hotel creaked. Floorboards had absorbed years of humidity from the ocean air. The atmosphere was stagnant and musty, carpets mildewed and dank. The TB patient never left her room, and the only activity on that end of the hotel property was that of nurses trading shifts.

On the other end of the hotel, however, it was another story. The Cabana suites consisted of the entire southwest corner of the hotel, which was cliff side with ocean views. Back in the day, this had been the most luxurious section, and was reserved for only the most elite of guests. It had a private entrance, windows facing the Atlantic, and a courtyard view from the bedroom. Albeit, now the view was of defunct fountains, overgrown weeds, and debris.

The interior of the suite, however was immaculate. The only light which ever seemed to be on was a peach tinted lantern in the bedroom. This was where Lena spent most of her time, other than the delivery days, when she would meet the truck at the door and allow them to bring her orders into the kitchen.

In her room, she had a giant pink lace canopy bed, with silk satin sheets and scalloped shams. A white mink fur throw finished the look.

The vanity was well stocked and she would sit there for hours, carefully applying her makeup, eyelashes, and lastly selecting a wig for the occasion. There was a calendar on the table, with a special event inked in for each day. Obvious holidays and a lot of invented ones. In fact for Lena, each day was a holiday. Today was the special “Cruiseship Day”, and she dressed in an all white ruffled top with flared high-waisted pants. As she stood in front of the full-length mirror, Lena squinted to see her reflection. She scowled at herself and tied a scarf over her long blonde wig. Quickly, she picked up a pair of sunglasses and put them on as well. Reapplying her bright red lipstick, she smiled. Smiling revealed her missing tooth, so she pursed her lips together in a pout.

Smoothing the hair down, she turned in the mirror, and began a conversation with an invisible man. “Darling, I do think we should have brought more champagne. Don’t you?” “What is it?” “Oh, my love, you shouldn’t have.” Lena reached down to pick up a diamond bracelet off of the dresser, and gently put it on over her white glove on the left arm. “It’s absolutely spectacular, my darling! How did you know?”

“I shall wear it to my performance this evening! But I must change because the bracelet deserves my sequins gown! Tonite is our night my love!”

With this, Lena walked to the massive walnut armoire, opening the double doors to reveal a cache of gowns, sparkling in the low light. It looked as though every color of the rainbow was inside. She extended her white-gloved hand, selecting a white crystal encrusted gown, which weighed so much, she needed to use both arms to carry it. Laying it on the shiny pink bed, she smiled. “Ah yes, this is the one. The most exquisite of all. It is our special occasion, isn’t it!” With that, she removed her gloves, laying them on the bed next to the gown. Unbuttoning the sailor pants, she let them slide to the floor, carefully stepping out of them onto the Persian carpet. She unbuttoned the blouse and threw it over a slipper chair in the corner. Now naked, she covered her breasts, with a coy smile “please my love, you must not look.”, as she leaned towards the heavy gown, lifting it to maneuver the heavy beaded fabric over her head. Catching the armhole, she slipped into it quite gracefully, and managed to zip it up along the side. It fit like a glove. She turned to look in the mirror, smiling. Adjusting the wig, she looked around the room. “Oh, there it is, my love.” She walked over and picked up a long veil from a small table. Back at the full-length mirror, she placed the veil on her head, smoothing the blonde waves down to one side. She put the long white gloves back on and smiled. “I’m ready, my pet, you can look now.” She shyly looked down at the ground. As she raised her head, she caught another glimpse of herself in the mirror under a brighter beam of light. She gasped at the sight. The delusion momentarily broken, she shrieked in horror. What she saw was an old woman, missing a tooth, bony and weathered. Her heart beat faster, and her breathing got heavier. Panic set in. She needed air. Fresh air. Lena headed for the door, and pushed it open against the powerful wind. Hurling herself outside, she fell on the ground. The rain pelted her face and her dampened veil clung to her skin. She crawled towards the cliffside. The violence of the ocean below called her name. She ripped the veil from her eyes and threw it over the ledge. Somehow, Lena gathered the strength to sit up. She unzipped the gown, pulling it over her head. It fell over in a heap next to her shivering body. She pushed the dress away from her towards the Atlantic. A sudden gust took it away. The white wedding gown flew up into the misty night air, momentarily pausing as if begging for a second chance, before vanishing into the abyss below.

Lena lay there naked, yet she felt reborn. She managed to get up and make her way back to the bedroom. Gathering the huge mink throw about her, she used a tissue to wipe the lipstick away. She put on a long cashmere robe and ran herself a bath. As the tub filled with warm water, Lena laid out her clothes for the next day. A modest skirt and sweater, along with a hat, gloves, and a wool  coat. It was time. Time to move on.

Kept

Joey had been living his life as a kept man, and a gigolo on the side. It’s not something he planned on. It just sort of happened. Well, it happened the day he met Delores. She was a bawdy customer at the bar where he worked the closing shift. One night, like so many others, Delores had had one too many martinis, and, while pressing her sweating breasts over the edge of the wooden bar, she beckoned Joey over with a long red laquered talon. “Hey hon, ya think you wanna give me a ride tonite?” Joey, being the consummate professional, assumed she meant that she was too drunk to drive home the few blocks across the flat industrial town. He asked her to wait 10 minutes until the end of his shift.

Exiting the buiding, she held his strong arm, teetering on her stilettos through the parking lot. She pressed a car key into his hand, and he opened the door to her dilapidtated Cadillac. The scent of stale perfume and cigarettes permeated the interior. She told him to get into the drivers seat and take her home. As he fastened his seatbelt, she reached over and grabbed at his crotch. Joey was only 23, and Delores, well, she was definitely older than his mom, and perhaps even his gran.

The first time it happened in that Cadi, they just leant the seats back. Her excitement, triggered his ego, and he was addicted immediately. The scent of well-worn whole grain leather, White Diamonds,  Benson & Hedges and Aquanet intoxicated him. This moment would remain with him for life.

Joey continued seeing Delores, initially in exchange for food, and meager trinkets. Later on he was given a watch, numerous shirts, socks, underwear, and once, an incredible pair of alligator boots. She lavished him with attention and occasionally, he would find a 100 dollar bill tucked into his wallet. He had a key to her house, and he came and went as he pleased. Delores was always available, except for Wednesday nights, for those were her “service” nights. He started to notice odd items around her home. There was an alter at the entryway, filled with embers and small metallic bones. In addition, she had a few strands of ancient looking beads, and unusual amulets strewn about on doorways, and hanging in corners. Now and then, she would burn something, which left a sour note lingering in the air.

One night, as they shared the giant bathtub, full of bubbles and red rose petals, she closed her eyes, leaned her head back. Slowly she opened her eyes to meet his. Staring for a few moments, she said “ It’s time.”…”Time for what?” Joey was confused. “You’re ready. “ Delores mesmerized him with her stare, as she caressed his strong arms. He really didn’t think much of it, because he always went along with her whims. She told him to keep next Wednesday open, and have an all black outfit ready. In fact, she said, she would get him something to wear.

A few days later, he got to her house to find a pair of black pants and black button down silk shirt laid out on the bed, along with shoes to match. He dressed in the outfit, and walked downstairs to the living room where Delores sat in an extravagant black velvet gown. She smiled with approval. “Come here, come baby.” He sat next to her, inhaling the scent of her potent fragrance. She stubbed out her cigarette in the overflowing ashtray. After offering him a drink, she took his hand in hers. Delores had beautiful hands. Long fingers, decorated with cocktail rings, which sparkled in the low light. She looked him in the eyes, “listen baby, this means everything to me, and I want you to know I’m doing it for you.” He smiled a weak smile, not sure what to make of her cryptic message.

The clock in the hallway struck 7 pm, and Delores startled. “Let’s go!” she told him. “We need to be there by 7:30.” He dutifully followed, feeling a bit numb from the drink she had given him.

Somehow they arrived at the service, and shuffled in behind a line of people all dressed in black. Upon closer observation, he realized that all of the people were women! He turned to ask Delores why, but she only stared straight ahead, expressionless. He thought he heard music playing. Either it was muffled, or he was drunk. As they reached the alter, he saw a cloaked priest or priestess, holding up a flask containing a deep red liquid. Further in the distance, he noticed a platform, with a sort of ditch around it, in which there appeared to be dark water flowing. Delores pressed him forward as his body resisted. He felt all eyes on him, and the humming began ever so subtly…a soft hum which gradually became an unbearable crecendo…hands were now touching his body, and massaging his arms and back, he was being pushed forward to the alter. The women swarmed and pressed inward….