Steve followed the scent of the wood-stove up a gravel driveway.
A woman wearing a threadbare sundress was in the fenced garden, picking green beans by the look of it.
She stood, placed the palms of her hands on the small of her back and stretched the kinks out of her back. After a slow, luxurious stretch where she arched her back and first rotated one shoulder forward, then the other. Steve could almost hear her vertebra “pop” she straightened and caught sight of Steve.
The sundress was pale yellow and nearly transparent. The lay of the sun enhanced the effect and gave Steve near-superhero vision. It left little to the imagination.
Steve had not been whistling and had clearly caught her unawares.
The universe shifted slightly, like the feeling one gets in an upward bound elevator as it neared its destination. It quickly resettled to normal.
“You must be the peddler” she stated, looking at his pack. “I heard there was one in the neighborhood.
“It is getting late. Will you be able to stay for dinner?” she asked, without guile.
Steve looked around the yard. It was neatly trimmed. Chickens and ducks wandered about. There were no children’s toys or signs of a man.
“Very kind of you to offer” he said. “My name is Steve.”
The woman gave him a dazzling smile. It spoke well of her dental hygiene. “My name is Sally.”
She was barely five feet tall and tanned everywhere not shaded by her wide brimmed straw hat. Daintily holding the small basket filled with beans, she pirouetted and walked to the garden gate.
Steve watched with rapt attention as she half strutted, half minced along the path, every muscle in her legs rippling beneath her shrink-wrapped skin. Clearly, Sally’s fitness was not due to sudden weight loss brought about by the lack of groceries.
Steve was enchanted.
“It will take me a while to pull together enough dinner for the two of us...” she said, looking over and seeing Dog “...three of us. Would you mind cutting and splitting some wood while you wait? There is a shower behind that shed” Sally said, pointing “where you can wash up before eating.”
“Sure, no problem.” Steve said. Cutting and splitting wood was part of the new etiquette of eating out.
Sally must have had connections. There was an ample pile of 6”-to-8” diameter, bolts by the wood shed. Steve had no difficulty flipping them up onto the saw-buck and whacking them to the desired length. He took the precaution of using one of the pieces that had already been cut-and-split as a guide, so-as to not cut them overly long. Not every stove is the same.
After cutting up three of the bolts with the cross-cut saw, Steve hung the saw where he found it and then split the rounds into eighths that could be used for kindling. The sawing went slowly. The splitting went quickly.
He continued cutting three bolts and then splitting until Sally told him it was time to wash. By then he had worked up a good sweat and was sure he smelled like a goat.
The washing area behind the shed had a shower. The water had been pumped up into a black, plastic bag in the morning and warmed by the sun all day long. It was toasty-warm.
Steve took his time. A hot shower was a rare luxury.
The soap was not the usual cake of hastily made lye soap. It had fragrance and something had been added that made it less slippery. He would have to ask Sally about the fragrance. He was sure he could sell it to other homemakers if it wasn’t too difficult to carry.
Leaving the shower, he noticed Sally had left some “jammies” for him to put on. She must have gotten a whiff of him and his clothing when she walked down wind. Regardless, the loose, baggy pants and shirt were more than large enough for him and the draw-strings kept them from falling off.
Sally gave the impression of somebody who liked to entertain but had few opportunities. She had prepared countless courses. Each course was barely more than a few bites. It was if she had taken her usual, scanty meals for the next week and split them in two. Salad was followed by soup which was followed savory crackers to clear the palate and on, and on, and on.
The conversation was light and inconsequential.
Until it wasn’t. It was another elevator moment.
Steve decided he wanted Sally. That he needed Sally.
He became the hunter and she became the prey.
She was mesmerized by his eyes, his voice.
Like a cobra, swaying before a bird, moving a millimeter closer with every sway...the stalk was infinitesimally slow and patient, the bird hypnotized by the cobra's eyes.
“You wear a wedding band?” Steve asked.
Sally sighed. “He travels. I never know when he will be back.”
“Has he been gone long.” Steve asked.
“Seems like forever.” Sally said, verging on theatrical. “I don’t keep exact track. That just makes it seem longer. Makes it seem much longer. A month, I think.”
“I never know when he is coming home” Sally confided.
Steve said “Hmmm” in the most noncommittal and neutral of ways.
Conversation covered a huge range of topics. Sally was hungry for news.
She asked where he had been. What he had seen.
Steve told her. He was blessed with an observant eye and a gift for story-telling. It gave him the exotic allure of the sailor who had visited distant ports.
Like a boat with a broken dagger-board tacking into the wind, inch-by-inch Steve moved ever closer to his objective, never pointing directly toward the objective, with much froth and foam to distract the target.
Had you spent the previous month with Steve on the road, you would have never guessed he was capable of such cunning and focus and...seduction.
Sally, eventually, picked up the vibe of Steve’s intent. Her eyes dilated and she gave a little twitch that shook her from head to toe.
Steve held his breath. This was the critical moment.
She was only slightly taken aback. She did not throw him out. She had not yet served dessert.
Every woman wants to feel love. To be desired. What harm was there to bask in Steve’s desire. It had been SO long.
Steve smiled. At that point, he knew he had won.
Steve’s patience seemed infinite. He asked Sally about her every-day routine and seemed genuinely interested about how many eggs her ducks were laying and how many more days she would be picking green beans.
He made sympathetic sounds when she told him of the difficulties of finding a good pair of scissors and expressed his admiration when she shared that the soap was scented with both mint and sage.
Sally glowed and swelled beneath the admiration.
Neurons that fire together, wire together. In our brains, the center for pleasures-pursued and the center for pleasures-consumated are Siamese twins. The agony of ALMOST releases the same endorphins as the pleasure of YES!.
Like kids playing keep-away with a hat in the school yard, the game demands that each iteration must be played so the pursuer is ever closer achieving the goal...or the thrill dies. The pursuer always wins as long as he does not give up.
Her last bit of resistance was at the bed. Steve had gently disrobed her. Steve was as naked as the day he was born and Sally was down to her panties. Then she hesitated.
Steve averted his eyes in the candle lit room. Then he huskily whispered, “Its OK. I get it. I understand.”
Then he took a slow step toward her and offered a chaste hug.
She stepped into the hug.
Feeling his urgency, she whispered “What the hell. Let’s do this.”
Steve needed no additional encouragement. He shucked off her panties with his extended pinkies beneath the tired elastic, caressing the outsides of her legs with the palms of his hands as he slid them down….
Steve woke in the morning with Sally’s head on his chest, her hair fanned across his chest. Strands of her hair were pressed into the stubble of his beard. Steve’s left hand was resting on the swell of Sally’s hip.
He must have stirred when waking because Sally started playing with the hair of his belly. He felt the quick flit of her tongue on his skin.
Steve cleared his throat. “Next time” he said “I get to be the innocent bumpkin and you are the sultry temptress, right?”
“Do you want to talk or get busy?” the actress now known as Mrs Straeder asked.
Judging by the tone of his wife's voice, she was not referring to the honey-do list she had been adding to for the last month. That would have to wait until after lunch.