With Shay on top of her, Karen Vaughn’s mind jumped. She wondered about the real reason Lexis Jordaens wanted to meet.
She tried to meditate on the silent river of taillights, which she could see through the deck doors, as they streamed over Pell Bridge to Newport.
Nothing worked. She was bored.
“Shay, get off me.”
He didn’t hear her. She looked over his shoulder at the TV in the next room. CNN’s Aaron Brown credited NASDAQ’s April decline to folding dotcoms and announced that tomorrow Putin would meet Hugo Chavez in Moscow.
Made sense. Hugo’s oil was a better deal for Putin than Castro, and wouldn’t such an alliance delight Lexis? Maybe not a commie, but as a New Age witch dyke with a perpetual leftist cant, what was the difference?
Lexis, Shay’s former sister-in-law, had just returned to Rhode Island from exile in New Orleans and had dragged along her bastard Jake. This morning Karen listened to the phone message that said Lexis wanted to meet. What the fuck for? The presumption filled Karen with rage and she tensed beneath Shay.
“Shay. Damn it, that hurts.”
Oblivious, he continued to pound away.
A shroud of fog muffled the tolling bell offshore to warn ships of the rocks off Conanicut. The bell reminded her that tonight, for the first time in a long while, there had been no lights in that gothic horror of a house clinging to the top of Castle Rock. If lights they were? Green wisps of iridescence, encircling, whipping around the house like a barrier. Even the thought of them made her shudder.
Shay drilled down again and again.
Her hair streaked across the pillow, her body invisible beneath his bulk.
She kicked the duvet, batik and red, to one side of the mahogany bed.
Shay paused, “What?”
She ignored him and breathed in the scent of cedar from the candle left burning in the living room on her new glass table, delivered last week from Restoration Hardware. Calmer, she refocused. She could tolerate Shay’s clumsy assault as long as she ended up pregnant. With her own child, Karen assumed Lexis wouldn’t matter and any claims she thought she had, because of Andrew’s will, would be void. That is unless Jake, in fact, was the grandchild that Andrew warned her in a letter might appear. A prospect entirely ridiculous, because for it to be true her faggot brother-in-law Nick would have to be the father.
For control of Vaughn assets, Karen could tolerate so much more than Shay’s incompetent attempts to get her off.
She looked out towards Newport again. The door reflected the Buddha on their dresser and condensed the fog into drops that sank slowly down the glass.
Frustrated, bored, Karen whipped her head side-to-side. Then, she decided enough was enough. She slashed long acrylic nails dark, dark red, almost black, down the bronze of Shay’s back. Blood oozed.
“Jesus, Karen.” He pulled out.
“I said get off me.”
He didn’t answer. His eyes were empty and gray.
He started to roll on to his back.
“Don’t get blood on my sheets.”
He froze, then tried to slide atop her again, “Honey, let’s finish.”
She shoved at his chest. “Finish what?”
“Making love? That was an exorcism.”
“Come on, sweetie, don’t.”
“You saw them, right?”
He sat up. His feet shuffled in the shag of the slate carpet.
“You saw those damn boys,” she said.
He stretched towards the window and pressed his palm on the cool glass. He left his print in its condensation. He looked out.
She said, “Like I give a shit. Get up and shower. You stink.”
“Now, baby, don’t …”
He sat back, straightened. “Don’t be such a bitch.”
After Shay shut the bathroom door, Karen heard him fumble through the bottles in the medicine cabinet. He retched, and her face squeezed in disgust. The toilet flushed.
She didn’t want to seem available. She didn’t want to “finish,” so she got up before he came out and switched off the bedside lamp. She walked nude out on to the deck. The fog had thinned and her silhouette was black against the Newport-brightened night. Across the bay the lights of Bowen’s Wharf flickered through the vanishing fog. Maybe she’d drive over later? She needed to party, to shake off the gloom of Shay’s perpetual haunted stare.
Why didn’t he get help? Shay’s own father, Andrew, had warned her before their wedding that, “I tried to channel that damn sixth sense of his into something less morbid. Gambling, I thought. Get him to focus on what vibes he could pick up at a casino. The boy does have a talent and I thought if I suggested he didn’t focus on death all the time, he could be a phenomenon at the tables. But I’ll tell you, honey, the boy’s off, weird. Always has been. I mean, Karen, you don’t think anyone in my family ever wanted to be a mortician? He’s been seeing things like those damn dead boys since he was a kid.” Andrew had told her that although Nick, queer as a fruitcake, was a disappointment; his deepest concern was for his other surviving child, Shay.
Well, Shay might have been Andrew’s greatest worry, but Karen couldn’t imagine herself married instead to Shay’s older brother, Nick. Nick, while he lived off the teacher’s wages of his twenty-year younger lover Ted, wrote a libretto for an opera about Andrew’s fall forty years ago from the Veteran’s Memorial Stage. A libretto? What was that about?
She stared at the lights across the water. She’d love to pop over to Jimmy’s or the White Horse. That black dude with the Mercedes could be at the White Horse. But Shay would sulk, or worse yet, would want to go too.
Shay at Jimmy’s, as he postured as her husband — the lucky, lucky man, who had snared Karen Blicher — made her whole being squirm. Patience, patience, at least until I get pregnant.
The bathroom door opened, and she thought, maybe we should finish. Maybe I should haul his ass back to bed, focus, and make him come.
She couldn’t put up with this farce much longer.
“Karen, are you crazy? Get in here.”
She continued to look out at ShoreView Condominium’s eighth fairway that reflected a ghostly sheen under the fog-filtered moon.
She turned to face him. She snapped, “Really? They opened the course to golfers at night? Who’ll see me? Who?”
She came in and ripped her black robe from its hanger, jammed her arms into the sleeves and cinched the silk belt. She switched the bedside lamp back on. Shay wore the black Marc Jacobs jacket she had given him for his 40th.
“Where are you going?”
“I have to get them out of my head.”
“To the casino? Foxwoods?”
“I have to.”
“Come on. You’re right. We should finish. Let’s make us a baby.”
He paused, then shook his head and walked out.
Shay’s Porsche roared down the hill to head off island. Relief, like blue sky, surged through Karen. She grabbed a glass from the overhanging rack in the kitchen and the opened bottle of Golden Gate Pinot Grigio from the fridge before she slumped on the sofa in front of the TV. CNN had switched to the cleanup after last’s week’s tornadoes in Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
She snatched the remote from the table where the cedar candle still smoldered and fired through the channels. The familiar voice stopped her. “My darlings, is life too much? Don’t know how to pull it together one more day?”
She smiled. Reverend Randy from Frisco. Her shoulders dropped.
“Tell me. Tell Randy. What’s the answer?”
Karen whispered, “Jesus.”
“Jesus. That’s right, my darlings. You remember that.”
Karen got the key from far back in the kitchen drawer and unlocked the small safe. Inside she kept the letters sent to her from Elizabeth and Louis Corio. She hadn’t met Corio, but as son of Rhode Island mob head, Sal Corio, Louis had been an associate of Andrew’s for at least twenty years. Andrew had told Louis that Karen would be in touch after she took over the business. Perhaps Karen would need to contact Corio like Andrew had when he needed to ship product to New Orleans to avoid another State Attorney’s investigation.
She also had letters from a certain Helga in Sofia, and, yes, from Reverend Randy in San Francisco. Each of them promised her a flow of boys ready to go to work once her Internet sites were functional. She wanted the boys to appear young, but be legal. Or at least that’s what she wanted ideally. Not an absolute requirement, but if they were all of age? So much easier. All was ready. It would be soon now.
But first, she needed a baby. When she and Andrew had considered this expansion of the Vaughn business, he had asked, “Karen, please. You think they’ll suspect that a mom is head of a kiddy porn op?” Her baby, their first baby in a generation, would blind the Vaughns. She could easily shuffle funds in a shell game of their accounts and could siphon off enough to finance her and Andrew’s new enterprise.
And if she didn’t get pregnant? Well then screw the Vaughns. She could always hook up with Louis Corio in New Orleans.
But then, she knew she would get pregnant. Everything was almost ready. She could handle the Vaughns. They were pitifully transparent and trapped in ruts of their own making. Zette, Shay’s mother, would continue to revise family history to justify why she had ever married Andrew. While, Nick, Shay’s older faggot brother and once-upon-a-time fake husband to Lexis, now played artist while he kept house with that boy Ted.
And sadly dead boys haunted her own Shay, the dimmest of the bunch.
No, only Lexis, with that brat in tow, was a concern. Those two were back, and Karen assumed they were back for their cut of Andrew’s money. She supposed she had to agree to meet Lexis. If Karen could control her rage at this woman’s sense of presumption, a meeting could be useful. Whatever. Karen was not worried. She would prevail.
Mommy Karen would run the kind of business for which her own mother, Mara, promised there would always be customers. “Laws will never wipe out markets created by lust and taboos.”
Karen locked her safe and turned back to Reverend Randy. No collar or black for him. All rebel in his tie-dye and beads, his eyes said, “I may know the devil but I also know God.” She closed out the show with her pastor in a prayer to Randy’s sanctioned catalog of Saints for a New Time: “St. Elizabeth, St. Michael, St. Jude. …” Then before she forgot she wrote out a check to Rev Randy’s foundation, The First Born. She’d mail it in the morning.
The fog had lifted. Across the water, someone in Newport partied.
Karen slipped into a black thigh-high teaser and drifted into the night
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