Lindsey Walker

There’s Always Free Cheese in the Mousetrap

Some gals are tall and lean, lascivious, long legs lithe and luxe. Some gals are petite paramours, prurient, petal-pretty and petal-perfumed. There are titanic tarts, tempting, maximal, mountainous, yielding only the softest flesh. There’s demure dames who do what they’re told. There’s bawdy broads who’re mouthy and bold. Tragic beauties who’re only gorgeous when they cry, and ingénues who giggle clear and sparkling as a babbling brook. Lemondrop girls with golden curls. Brunette bombshells, doe-eyed and tawny. Soft voices, smooth skin, fragile and fragrant as dew-kissed flora.

Albert lay half-sleeping, his oneiric odalisque, his Gypsy rose, nestled on his chest. He ran his fingertips lightly over her dusky skin; her ebon tresses which curled in on themselves hung like Spanish moss. He savored the heat of her body under the quilts in contrast with the cool air enveloping his face and arms outside the blankets. In her sleep, Alma pulled the covers up under her chin and threw one lanuginose leg over him.

Albert traced his lover’s full-lipped pout; she didn’t stir from her dreaming. He relished these moments, though his heart felt heavy behind his ribs. It was a guilty relief that washed over his bones. No nagging wife. No boisterous brats. Just the freedom from duty. Just the pure pleasures of every sin in excess; he felt bad for enjoying it as much as he did. Yeah, he could shake a leg, shoot the shit, drink you under the table. He craved the smoke-filled saloons, the sound of breaking glass and country blues and some splittail laughing her head off at all his jokes. His mouth tasted sour, so he reached with stealth, so as not to rouse his sleeping charmeuse, for a sip of shine he’d bought from one of them Trantham boys. It burned like Satan’s toenails sliding down his esophagus.

He lit up a cigarette, too, and practiced his innocent face, relaxing his brows, pseudo-smiling, trying not to look smug. Albert was supposed to pick up the wife and kids tomorrow, and dread gnawed his stomach. By the look on his face, she could always tell if he’d been out carousing. He puffed on his smoke, stubbed it out in an upturned Kerr jar lid, and wondered how the hell she could do that. He shut his eyes for a minute to breathe deep and soak in his surroundings: the musky smell of dirty sex, the soft feather bed beneath him, the stitches down the center of the hand sewn sheets, the weight of the homemade quilts, the sound of children gleefully playing a couple doors down, and an old clunker rattling through town at drive-by speed. A barren dogwood tree, knocked about by the wind, scratch-tapped a cadence out on the window glass, its bony branch pointing at him like an accusatory finger. He had just started to doze when he heard the jingle and clacking of keys in the doorknob. There was only one other person in the world who had keys to his house.

“Getupgetupgetup!” he shook Alma and bolted from the bed. He snatched his rumpled trousers from the floor and in his panic stuck both feet through one pant leg, tripped and fell with a resounding boom that vibrated the floorboards.

“What the hell, Albert?” Alma muttered groggily.

“Alb! We’re back! Surprise!” Myrtle Belle hollered, making her way through the front door, her sopping wet, lace-up, clunky-heeled shoes tracking snowmelt and sloppy mud down the hallway. “Momma was in one a her moods again, and I jist couldn’t take it, so I had Vera drive us! Ain’t that a scream! Vera behind the wheel, drivin’ like a bat outta Hades!”

Albert could barely hear his wife clomping down to the kids’ room to put baby Jene to down over the thumping of his own heart. He wrestled his way into his pants as she prattled on about bad luck and broken dishes. Alma, naked and unsure of what to do, pulled the quilts over her head and tried to be as still as possible. Albert was just fixing to pull his undershirt on as Myrtle Belle came round the corner.

****

It took a full ten seconds for Myrtle Belle to digest what she was seeing, but it could have just as easily been ten years. Albert, half-nude, his face flushed incarnadine, the wadded floral dress on the floor, a wisp of black hair snaking over the pillow, a lumpy mass under the covers, the redolent scent of a woman and a lavender rose perfume. The only sound she heard came from herself, although it seemed to come from another dimension: a sharp intake of breath and a high, thin note resembling the yelp of a wounded dog. She felt like the wind was knocked out of her, then she felt the urge to vomit. She staggered backwards, turned and fled, flung the front door wide. Tears blurred her vision, and she crumpled, an empty skin, a helpless ragdoll on the damp porch.

Cold.

Alone.

Forgotten.

Abandoned.

She wailed, wept and moaned. She sobbed, and snot bubbles popped, and Jack Frost sent a glacial wind that made her teardrops freeze on her cheeks. A few neighbors discreetly parted their window curtains then just as sneakily closed them. The unabashed ones came right out on their stoops to gawk at her forlorn form. Music leaked from a window a couple doors down; a crackly 78 spun on a turntable and a wheezy phonograph choked “Oh! Run into me, but don’t hurt me!” A black smoke smell wafted on the breeze; someone must forgot to empty their bacon grease…

How long did she sit there before feeling a warm hand on her shoulder?

“Hurry up inside. Yer makin’ a scene,” Albert hissed without bothering to disguise his annoyance.

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