Vlasco and Darlene withered as lovers will do over time, but slowly like a cloud passes over the sun. Each partner found a separate, unspoken pastime to keep them somewhat lively and unencumbered as a couple. Vlasco had taken to internet porn sites in his locked office on Sunday nights after Darlene’s snoring was rhythmic and deep. Darlene greeted the dawn three times a week with Tyrone. Vlasco sometimes woke up before the sun, with a distinctive urge to pee, to a locked bathroom door and the vibrating regularity of that erectile, blue, larger than life Tyrone, who kept Darlene in a state of C battery abandon.
This was sufficient for a period of time, until Darlene decided it was no longer sufficient. She came back from a weekly luncheon with her friends loaded with a mission and a phone number to match. One phone call later and Vlasco found himself sitting on a couch next to Darlene, across from this psychologist, this man of letters, a brute of a man who held all the libidinous keys. Vlasco deflated before this professional muscle man framed by bookshelves, while Vlasco noticed how Darlene inflated. Her eyes blasted dams open and the couple’s non-coupling sexual activities became a typhoon of Vlasco’s inadequacies as a lover, a provider and a companion.
Vlasco cupped his crotch with sweaty palms holding on to whatever was left of his balls at these weekly meetings. A new tic discovered Vlasco’s left eye. He had to focus to keep it from twitching while Darlene and the doctor calmly discussed Vlasco’s depression, sometimes clutching his head in his hands to hold the eye taut. And it didn’t end at the counseling sessions. He drove home with Darlene reliving the doctor’s ludicrous responses like, “let the downpour begin” “sounds like a bunjee cord of a ride” or “good to get it out of the oven” yet she never opened her wallet to pay for this crap. No, Vlasco, the buffoon of a provider, had to slap down the $120 every week with Darlene gushing all over this crackerjack who probably laughed all the way to the bank.
But Vlasco kept with the $120 a week, the twitching eye, the literal and figurative reminder that was, in the flesh and inside his head, the psychologist, that man a whisper in his ear of being a lesser among lions. And he tried to stay away from those late night internet sessions, but when Darlene drifted, mumbling between her snoring words like “downpour” and “out of the oven,” Vlasco found himself again in the dark folds of his office with the computer screen a beacon of release.
To his credit, though, Vlasco searched for porn with actresses who looked like his Darlene, the Darlene of their beginnings – a softness in the eyes and across her hips, a mouth endlessly trimmed with lips always swollen, full, lush. Red hair like autumn leaves. And legs so long, and long, and, oh. Toenails painted red this day and a light purple the next. The videos, the pictures, slowly became memories that after a time were to him those moments of the Darlene he lost, allowed to slip away. In the darkness then, he found the courage.
Into bed, sliding across the sheets on hands and knees, eyes closed and focused on the Darlene of his beginnings, he felt Tyrone jutting into his knee, tucked in the bend of her back like the remains of a lover Vlasco never had the chance to see face to face. Tyrone in his spot, inside his woman. The psychologist would not whisper now, but roar into Vlasco’s ear. And that roar was a true lion. It could have been laughter or rage. Vlasco was unsure. But there was an old proverb he remembered from childhood, and he repeated it over and again to find sleep. Better to be a wounded lion than an impeccable flea. Better to be a wounded lion than an impeccable flea.
Vlasco whispered the words like a mantra, but sleep would not find him. He sat up again, knees folded under him, and knelt as if praying before Darlene. He rocked his torso back and forth, still whispering the words, a psalm, repeating them faster and faster until they mutated into a furious chant. “Better a wounded lion than impeccable flea, better lion than flea, lion not flea, not flea. I AM NOT A FLEA!” Vlasco looked between his legs at a manhood, big as a wildcat. Next to him, Tyrone sat there not daring to mock him anymore. Vlasco grabbed Tyrone by the neck and ejected the blue bastard from his lion’s den, cracking Tyrone’s throbbing head against the bedroom wall, spilling the C battery guts across the floor. Despite the violence and roars, Darlene still slept, snoring softly, unaware of Vlasco’s transformation.
Vlasco placed one arm on either side of Darlene’s head and lowered himself down to her neck. He extended his tongue and licked the length of her neck like an animal tasting a snack before devouring it. Darlene woke with a start and Vlasco saw his face reflected in her rabid eyes. It was the face of a feral cat. And before Darlene could blink, it happened. They were fucking again. Or was it called coupling? Vlasco took Darlene down, with all the porn queens from his computer screen forgotten. They did it all, like the days of yore. This was no mere “making love.” Vlasco sneered at those words as he thrust deeper, thinking back to the question posed by that sniveling fool of a shrink to his beloved Darlene, “How do you feel when you and Vlasco make love?” The quack had spoken these words like only a clinician could, sterilizing the act with his thin, warbling voice. The words amused Vlasco and he roared at the ceiling–a yell, or laugh, or growl–he didn’t know. It was no sound he’d ever made before.
Vlasco looked down into Darlene’s eyes. He could feel Darlene’s blue jewels penetrate him while he worked at penetrating her. They would climax in a chorus together like they used to, at the beginning, when they first met. Darlene had a distant look, far away, yet so close. Her lips parted for something? A rapturous kiss? To moan like a conquered lioness? To scream out his name? Her mouth opened wider and he interrupted with, “I’m going to–I’m going to…!!!” And just before he hit the mark, Vlasco looked down into that beautiful mouth in time to see it complete a YAWN?
And then it happened. Abandoned by the Darlene of his youth and God himself, raw rage pulsed through Vlasco. Darlene’s face became scruffy and her eyes were just smudged glass. Vlasco heard that psychologist’s annoying voice as Vlasco pounded away, “letting the flood down”, “letting it all out of the oven.” Oh, hell yes, it was all out of the oven now, and Vladdy boy was finally giving Mr. Something-up-his-ass the whooping he so deserved. It culminated in a downpour of therapeutic proportions. And then it became limp. A sea cucumber between his legs.
At their next appointment Darlene didn’t even sit next to Vlasco, instead choosing the crushed green velour chair. She picked at lint on the arm handle and started to cry as she described the “particularly violent” sexual episode that had transpired between them. The therapist nodded in a concerned, eyebrow-knitted rhythm. It was a call-and-response chorus of “hmmms” and “I sees.” Vlasco sat alone on the white leather couch with the eternal jellyfish between his legs, and wondered if he should have just punched the guy in the mouth months ago.
The psychologist looked at Darlene’s sniveling face and handed her a Kleenex. He glanced over at the clock and Vlasco knew what that meant. Vlasco took his hand off his balls and pulled out his checkbook.
This month’s contributors to Exquisite Quartet are:
Sheldon Lee Compton, whose work has appeared in more than 100 journals and anthologies including Ramshackle Review, BLIP, Emprise Review and, most recently, the short story collection Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia. He edits the online journal A-Minor and can also be found here. He lives in Eastern Kentucky.
Karen Stefano, whose short fiction has appeared in the literary journals Ellipsis and The South Carolina Review.Other stories are forthcoming in The Santa Fe Literary Review, Iconoclast and PilotPocket. Her book, Before Hitting Send: Power Writing Skills For Real Estate Agents will be published later this year. She lives in San Diego, where she practices law and struggles constantly to find enough time to write.
Meg Tuite, whose writing has appeared or is forthcoming in over 40 magazines and journals including 34th Parallel, One, the Journal, Sententia Magazine and SLAB Magazine. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Reviewand Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. Her fiction collection “Domestic Apparition” is forthcoming in early 2011 through San Francisco Bay Press. She can be found here.