Chapter VI of The Mark of Cain (a novel-in-progress)
Anyone who is conscious that life is a progression, that it is a limited series of moments, is aware that there is a point when the path of life diverges, and two lives are made; the one that was and the one that wasn’t. What is subtler, though just as significant, is the moment when the journey down one life’s path converges with another’s.
Marriage is a reunion of two separated paths. Two paths unite and from that moment that is the quintessence of sacrifice and need, of love and reception, of conjugal incorporation of spiritual and physical togetherness, the path extends onward, a road that is even now the more ambitious and uphill.
The ability to navigate this new path together is of extreme consequence to the couple. The conjoining of undisclosed needs, undiscovered feelings, new dreams, new careers, all of these present another bend in the road. Managing to jointly stay on the path demands a great amount of faith, and exertion of the courage invoked by love.
This cannot be taken for granted. Though their path is the same their direction may not always be corresponding, and this elicits the winding unknown up ahead. Though their course is unknown it is never directionless, for every step taken there is another ordained. Every move is closer to a conclusion of one kind.
They don’t know what is beyond the horizon. The shared happiness and shared defeat experienced within every twist and turn still don’t reveal the ending. This is the burden. When they travel together they walk where in an instant an inclination becomes a commitment. Hopes become promises, promises begat necessity. Necessity brings responsibility, it in turn brings dependence. That dependence on one another allows the right turn to the right end.
Will they make it and if so for what?
She had her eyes closed as his tongue caressed the bottom of her neck, and on down to the tops of her breasts and sternum, each touch of his lips growing wider and wetter until their entire upper bodies were moist with saliva and sweat.
The light hit her eyelids hard.
She opened them as she heard her name being called. As he slid off of her and onto the floor, she closed her legs tightly together, and pulled them up against her chest to cover herself. But he seemed to pay her no attention.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“What’s that hon?” he replied in a soft, sweet tone.
“What are you doing?”
He grabbed something from the drawer and walked back over to the couch where they laid. Another figure lingered behind him in the light. She gazed at him in hope, but her fixation was quickly transfixed into the object in Noah’s hands.
“Oh God! Noah don’t,” she pleaded.
He smiled back at her. “Don’t worry baby.” He looked away from her. “I hope you were worth it, Man.” He looked back at his wife. “Was he?”
Charity didn’t answer.
He turned his back to her and walked away. The stranger knelt down in front of the two of them on the couch.
“Did you ever love me?” Noah asked her.
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you remember the first time we had sex? We were eighteen. You bled all over me and my bedspread. And here you are. Doesn’t he deserve the same?”
James began to ask Noah to leave her be, but he was stopped with violent warnings. Charity began to cry harder.
“Noah you don’t have to do this.”
“I know I don’t. I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to listen to you cry and beg.”
The stranger sat down beside her on the couch. He took her wrists in his grasp, and put her hands together. She opened up her position and exposed her naked body. He took her folded hands and placed them on the tresses of her lap, then put his hands over her eyes.
“Look at this, Bitch,” Noah said to her.
The stranger took his hand away from her eyes, and put his lips up to her ear. “Pray,” he whispered. “Pray with me. Pray to me and I’ll save you.”
She prayed with the stranger, as she looked down upon him on the ground. Then the man stepped away from her as Noah hovered over. He leaned down, his face now inches from her own.
“What are you crying about? I haven’t done anything to you yet. You did this to me. All of this is your fault.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. She repeated it.
“You’re sorry you got caught. You’re not sorry about me. You never loved me. But now you say you do.”
She sobbed out an unintelligible reply.
“Love, attrition, they’re both the same thing. Different means to the same end.”
She stared at him through tears. Trembling, not knowing what to think and fearing what to say.
“Since you don’t love me, you have to hate me. You understand baby? You have to hate me because you fear me.”
“But I do love you. That’s the truth. I’ve never done this before. I didn’t plan this, it just happened.”
“Of course you didn’t plan it like this. If all was well I’d still be at the office. This wasn’t your plan at all, I know, and I am just so fucking sorry.”
She laid there with her hands still folded together. She looked away from Noah for her savior, and he met her longing eyes with a soothing smile that rested over her. Noah bent down and kissed the top of her ear. Then he traced the golden loop with his tongue, and pressed his lips against her ear lobe.
“A aver et tener,” he whispered.
It was 8:30 a.m. Noah had pulled another all-nighter, but he had finished the bookwork and billing of the divorce of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Robert Evers, a proceeding that had been quite a pain in his derriere.
Andy Quinton worked in the same law firm, Loris, Davis, and Quinton, as Noah. Andy’s father, Andrew Sr., was a lawyer. Andy had gone to Yale, finally graduated twelve years later, and then joined the firm when his dad retired. He was just coming in as Noah was packing up his things.
“This your last day?”
“Nope, tomorrow is.”
“So you’re finished with the Evers?”
Andy went over to his desk. He picked up a handful of papers and pretended to study them. He sat down, leaned back in his chair, and propped his feet up on his desk.
“So are we gonna give a big sendoff tonight or what?”
“No thanks. I’m going home to be with my beautiful wife. I hope she still remembers what I look like.”
Quinton and Noah weren’t exactly close, but Andy was getting sloshed that night anyway and he thought he might as well find a reason. He grinned his smarmy Irish grin and walked over to Noah to give him a hearty pat on the back.
“Tell me again why you’re leaving us?”
“Oh, that’s the bullshit term for it. C’mon man, you’re going to Chicago to become Perry Mason, to make a lot of money. The clip is going to be fat. You’re gonna have all the pussy.”
“The fat clip is going to get me all the pussy? I’m a professional. You’ve been hanging around with some of your clients for too long.”
“The brothers can’t afford me.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Well, you know what I mean Perry Mason. This future prosecutor we’ve turned out is looking for some limelight. You’re not especially worried about defending justice.”
“Hmmm, you might be right. Advocatus diaboli I may well be.”
“What’s that mean?”
“You’re Catholic, figure it out.”
“Uh-huh, yeah whatever. So you gonna be here tomorrow?”
“Yeah, bright and early. I’m cleaning out my desk at six in the morning.”
“Well I guess I won’t be seeing ya’. I hate long goodbyes so, so long Noah my boy, it was real nice knowing you. Do us proud.”
“Have a nice life.”
Noah walked down the steps of the office and plopped into his blue 1997 Buick Riviera. The ignition switch burned his hand as he touched it. The seat warmed his pants through his legs. As he drove, Noah waited impatiently for the air conditioner to produce cool air. The heat was certainly not one of the things he was going to miss. It was humid, and the dust would stick to everything. Heat rose from the road in front of him and it was only nine a.m.
Noah stopped by Shipley’s Doughnuts. He grabbed a half dozen jelly-filled doughnuts and was on his way down Highway 82 East. He had one hand on the wheel and the other on a doughnut. Biting into the wrong end, he spilled cherries down his Ralph Lauren tie.
For the first time in a long, overworked while, he was anxious to see his beautiful young bride, Charity. Things had been tense the last couple of months, what with his impossible schedule, but had gotten especially worse since he received a phone call from his old college chum, Mark Heimdall. Mark had roomed with Noah the last two years of their undergraduate study and had split an apartment with him the two years they were in law school. Those were the glory years. It was a good time to be a white male. Mark and Noah would stay up until morning arguing law and reading about old cases, basking in the Reagan era.
Noah met Charity his last year of law school. She had just finished up college at Mississippi State herself. Mark moved back to his hometown of Chicago and Noah became a prosecuting attorney in Mississippi. Mark and Noah had always wanted to work together and within five years Mark had looked him up with a proposition. Now he finally had the loose ends of his career tied. Finally he could concentrate on helping his wife duct tape old boxes of shoes, shirts, kitchenware, towels, picture frames, and what not.
The young couple had fought over the move many a late night until they were too tired to fight anymore. Charity’s job was there and Noah didn’t want her to leave it. She was an interior design consultant, freelancing her work around the region. Noah had talked her into holding off going into business for herself, so her career had never had a sense of stability. Noah had convinced himself beforehand that Chicago held more opportunities for her just as it did him, even if meant leaving friends and family. But they each loved the other more than anything else in the world so it was only a matter of time before one of them won out. This time it was Noah.
Noah drove into small town America, the place where dreams go to die, past the two-story houses with their big Norman Rockwell yards, with tomato gardens and clotheslines. The freshly mowed grass to the side of each house had four dead spots; first base, second base, third base, and the area around home. He pulled into the driveway of his home.
Noah set his briefcase down in their glassed-in porch, and scouted himself a walking path through the maze of cardboard. Charity was in the back bedroom. He could hear Eric Clapton blaring out from the open door. Charity usually sang along with the stereo, but lately she hadn’t. Noah looked at the stillness in her sweet lips. She was packing clothes. Her hair hung down over her face. Long strands that since she was a very little girl had never known the shear or blade. Dark, strong strings hung boldly around her dark, heart shaped face and slender neck. They were so brilliantly brown that it would’ve caused a woman with a paler complexion to look wan, but her clean, tan skin gave her a look of completeness. Cute, round playfulness in her cheeks backed by the strength of intelligent expression.
Every time she would pack something, she would tuck it back behind her ear, and as she reached for something else it would fall back down, strand by long brown strand. She was wearing one of his Mississippi State T-shirts and old cut-offs with strings that ran down her tan thighs to her knees. Noah walked up behind her and put his arms around her waist. She seemed startled at first, but didn’t jump. She looked around and they exchanged kisses on the cheek, as he moved his hand under the shirt she was wearing.
“What are you doing home?” She turned around and he kissed her on the nose.
“I’m finished. I came home to help you finish packing the clothes.”
“I’m almost done.”
“Oh.” Noah walked over to the chair in the corner and plopped down in it.
“You want a doughnut?”
“Nah, I just ate some toast.”
Charity seemed distant. She hadn’t been really open with him since the fight they had last Thursday that had ended with her storming out of the kitchen and him going back to work. They had begun talking about the move to Chicago over dinner. Charity had questioned his reasons for moving his practice up to Chicago, and Noah had taken the defense.
“Why the hell are you so dead set against me moving up in the world?” Noah had said.
“I’m not dead set against your ambitions. I’m dead set against uprooting our whole life for the sake of money.”
“Why does everyone think I’m in this for wealth? Do you think I’ve become that way? I’m leaving the defense and becoming a prosecutor. How the hell is that going to make me rich? Explain that to me.” He got up to pace back and forth behind his chair, as was his manner whenever he was nervous or angry or both. Charity was less animated, though just as agitated. She scraped across the tops of her fingernails with her thumbnail in composed irritation.
“I don’t know. It’s just that you don’t seem like the same person I married.”
“Oh, that’s original.”
“Fuck you.” She stood up now.
“No, fuck you. You’re just a selfish, spoiled little bitch.”
“I’m selfish. Why? Because I don’t want to move from our home and our families.”
“You’re selfish because you’re doing this now. Right now, instead of making everything easier you’re just doing everything you can to make it worse. You knew this was coming. Why have been saving up money our whole lives? Why have I been working so hard?”
“I thought it was so we could have a better life.”
“What’s wrong with our life here? I don’t want to move from where I’m happy. Why aren’t you happy here?” She silently grated the tops of her pinky and thumb nails across one another.
“I’m happy. But there’s a difference between being content someplace and being…….sedated.”
“That’s bullshit. You’ve just been wandering here aimlessly? Forced to go to work, forced to come home and sleep with me.”
“You know what, fuck it. You can’t talk to somebody who is unreasonable. I can’t reason with you, you just don’t understand. You can’t possibly see anything somebody else’s way cause you don’t want to.”
“Go to hell.” Charity sat down her fork and walked out.
They hadn’t spoken in depth since. Noah studied his wife as she finished taping up the box she had been filling. When she was finished he walked over and picked it up.
“Where do you want this?”
“Over on the porch.”
When Noah had placed the box with rest of the cardboard mountain, he went into the kitchen and once again took hold of his wife.
“Baby, I’m sorry about the other night.”
“Yeah me too. But let’s not talk about it right now.”
“What do you want to do?" Noah moved her hair over and kissed her on the neck, but Charity pulled his face back up and kissed him on the lips.
“Not right now honey, okay? I’m too tired.”
“I need a break. Could you massage my temples while I lay down for a minute?”
They walked over to the love seat that was left in the living room. He sat down and she laid her head in his lap and hung her legs over the other side.
“That feels good. If I fall asleep don’t let me sleep for too long.”
“Thanks. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Noah awoke at 5:30 the next morning, a ritual usually adopted by men over the age of fifty, but one that Noah himself had took up on account of his work and there not being enough hours in the day.
Noah set upright. He looked over at Charity sleeping on her side. The streetlight was still on and reflected through the blinds. He raised up her T-shirt from the back and slid his hand around to her stomach. He put his cheek up next to her to feel the warmth of her back. He pressed his lips against it. He felt up her stomach with his hand raising it to her loose breasts, feeling her nipples in between his fingers before pulling it back around to rub her back, then tracing her spine with his finger. He took his feet out of the covers and put them on the floor as he stretched his arms and back.
“Baby, you’re making me wide awake.”
“Sorry, I just had to nuzzle you a little bit. I’m about to go.”
“Where are you going?”
“To the office to pick up my things. I won’t be gone an hour.”
Noah went to the bathroom and splashed water over his face. He didn’t need to shave. He didn’t have to every day. Noah ran his short, black hair under the sink then combed it straight back, parting it on the right side. He let his underwear drop to the floor and pushed them over to the side of the wall with his foot. Noah stood up on his toes, making him almost six feet, turned his head back, and gave a great stretch to his back. He continued to stretch, as he stood naked using the bathroom. He walked into their bedroom to put on slacks. His sweater messed up his freshly combed hair and loosely covered his slight muscle tone, a product from a fleeting infatuation with a Soloflex.
“Honey, wake me when you get back.”
“Thanks. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Noah stepped out into the darkness. It was only seventy degrees with the sun down. Noah’s socks got soaked as he walked across the grass and into his car. Noah drove eighty miles-an-hour to his office, with one swoop of the arm he cleared out his desk into an old TV box, and he drove equally fast going back. He dropped the box on top of another marked “dishes” and crept back into his bedroom.
Noah sat down in the chair and watched his wife’s chest rise up with every breath. She always looked angelic as she slept, her dark hair covering the pillow, and her eyes, though closed, appeared to be fixed in thought. He got up after a few minutes, kneeled down by the bed like a child praying, and laid his head parallel with hers on a blanket of air. Charity opened her eyes halfway and smiled.
“I thought you were going to wake me up.”
“I’ve only been here for a few minutes.”
“I need to get up.”
“Just lay there.”
“No,” she said over a yawn, “there’s a lot of stuff we got to do before tomorrow.”
“It’ll get done.”
“Yes, but only if I do it.” She got up and went to the bathroom to put on her robe, the white silk one that he had bought last Christmas. The one that she had said was elegant and understated when they’d seen it in the store. She went into the kitchen. Noah followed close behind.
“Are we still having dinner with your parents tonight?” he asked.
“Oh damn. I’ve been pissed off at you I forgot about it. It won’t matter if we’re late,” she half stated and half asked.
“If you say so.”
“We’re out of coffee,” she said aloud.
“Want me to go get some?”
“No, that’s fine. We got orange juice.”
Noah walked up behind his wife and pressed his body hard against hers, hugging it tightly.
“Baby, it’s been a long time since we’ve had the time and the energy.”
Charity answered him by turning around and untying her robe, before she put her arms around his neck and kissed him. When Charity kissed him before they made love it felt like the first time she’d ever kissed him.
“Where’s the kitchen table?”
“Not in the kitchen anymore,” she answered as she knelt down and unzipped his pants. “Lay down on the floor?” she asked not waiting for a reply as she gave him pre-sex fellatio.
“Uh-huh, the floor will do nicely.” He took her head back and eased it to the kitchen floor as he fell over her. Her ankles crossed between his feet, as her legs wrapped tightly around his waist. He swayed hard back and forth, and gritted his teeth into a devilish smile while rubbing her chest with his free hands.
“Is that hard enough?” he whispered.
She closed her eyes and shook her head yes.
“Any harder?” She moaned the Lord’s name in approval.
Noah and Charity liked having hard, rough sex. It hurt a little, but the pain reminded her of the first time. Charity had lost her virginity to Noah and likewise, on the perfect, romantic night. The first time was uncomfortable, but the rough sex reminded them of the ultimate sacrifice, the greatest labor of love, a comfort.
Noah turned her over and went in from behind when it was nearing the end. Noah rubbed her back with the rhythm, slipping his hands around her side and feeling her breasts swaying loosely. Neither one of them made much noise, though both of their mouths were open with delight. Noah pulled out just before he climaxed and finished on her back. Noah laid down beside her on the tile floor.
“Yes,” she answered.
Charity reached for her robe and wiped off her back with it. Noah laid there beside her for a few seconds, but had to get up.
“Just a minute, I gotta go to the bathroom,” he said. “We got any paper towels? I better clean this up.”
Noah stepped over the stream pouring from the overturned carton of orange juice that had made its way to the edge of the carpet.
(photo by Robert O'Nale)