(Now if you read "Frankie's Girl", this is what happened afterwards...)
That Old Black Magic was playing on that radio and I could barely hear it, so she made a turn-it-up gesture to the bartender who couldn't stop staring at me, now that I'd broken the ice. Jealousy smoldered in his beady dark eyes. I almost stuck my tongue out at him, but Doris pulled me into a heated dance, and I was swirling her around me, her skirt blossoming over and over; the sweet smell of martinis and fancy Paris perfume, heady and bizarre, inscribing forever in memory of what a perfect girl could be. She was perfect, and she wanted me.
My pals knew better than pry me away from my new obsession and all but tiptoed past our huddled forms there in the darkest corner on their way out the door.
“You got someplace to be tonight sailor?” she said, breaking our kiss to light a cigarette, her azure gaze intense in the dying of a bent match. She offered me a cigarette, and I accepted, even though I didn't smoke. I was willing to do just about anything to make sure the night never ended. We smoked and drank, and we talked about me. I don't think I learned much beyond her name and the fact that I was in love with her.
She had a car outside, a long black car, shine on the half-moon hubcaps and another place to kiss and feel what I hoped would be mine before sunrise.
After an hour of heavy petting, me wearing some of that blood-red lipstick, we were chased out of the parking lot and she drove us down to the dock, my hand creeping up her slender thigh. She smiled and parked behind the service building, and we slid over the leather interior of her car, our bodies tangled and slippery with sweat.
“I have to ship out tomorrow,” I said as we shared cigarettes and whiskey from her compact silver flask.
“I know,” she said, cutting those limpid pools of the bluest damn blue I'd ever seen at me. “Sometimes you just take a moment, y'know?”
“But I don't know a thing about you,” I said, hearing a whine enter my voice. I wanted to keep her close to me for always.
“I travel a lot,” she said finally, giving me a half-roll of her eyes and an innocent smile. “Chances are, I'll see you at least once more.”
I bit my lip and nodded, squinting at the brightening of the sky, like a slow light reluctant to wake up, and I just wanted to turn it off, fall back in her arms, and stay there.
I didn't. Instead, I stepped out of the car, ignoring the faint creak of the shocks relieved of my weight, shut the door, and leaned into the window.
“Bye Doris. I hope I see you again.”
She lit a cigarette, releasing a delicate plume of smoke from between her lips, red as apples in Washington.
“It's time for me to go,” she said, and nodded at me. I backed away from the window and strolled back down to the carrier, whistling a gay Sinatra tune, hands stuffed deep in my pockets.
The day was long, and I did my duties with a weary smile on my face as we sailed farther and farther away from shore. Doris. Doris. Doris.
My mind was branded with those ruby lips. Her silken fingertips. Her smoky breath, sweet with citrus. A day passed. Another day passed, and another still. The light she ignited in me burned slowly, dulling as the years passed, to a burning coal deep in my heart.
I finished my stint with the Navy and returned home to the states, where I met a sweet girl from Indiana named Joyce and married her. We started a family and life progressed beyond slow dances to the tinny notes drifting from a radio, to the point of sitting in a recliner, slack-jawed at whatever crime-thriller happened to be on television.
Still, I always kept Doris in my heart.
At sixty-seven, my smoking habit caught up with me, suddenly and violently, landing me in the Sisters of Mercy hospital. I had less than a month to live. Joyce came to see me as much as she could, but with the kids still living at home, her course was set. I lay propped up by pillows, my ruined lungs struggling to support my system and supply me with oxygen, sucking as deep as I could on the aerator.
The sounds of my pulse beeping over the monitor annoyed me, and I called for the nurse to put it on silent so I could sleep for the night. But it wasn't Kathryn the nurse that walked through my door. It was Doris, not a day older even though fifty years had passed.
“I told you that you'd see me again,” she said, that kiddish grin bringing tears to my eyes.
“Don't look at me like this Doris,” I said, though I was convinced she was obviously an apparition of a desperate dying brain.
She stepped forward, and my eyes took in her modern dress: royal blue, wrap-style to match those radiant azure irises. “You're a mess sailor,” she purred and stood at my side, her cold hand talking mine. I couldn't help but gaze longingly up at her.
“How?” I whispered.
“How am I here?” She smiled, her lips the same color as when I'd seen them last; her hair was still dark as a raven's wing, but shorter, with less curl. “I guess that is a hard question to answer. I could ask you why you're here,” she said, her blue eyes cutting left and right to take in the sterile surroundings.
“I'm dying Doris,” I said, dark anger descending upon me, unbidden. “I started smoking after I met you, and here I am. A lifetime later, I'm dying, old, and used up while you stand there just looking as pretty as you did the night I met you. Leave me alone Doris. Let me die in peace.”
She appeared to think, cocking her head in curiosity. “Are you in pain?”
“Thanks to the morphine? No.”
“No need to get sore, sailor,” she said, that adolescent grin creeping to her cheeks again. Seeing her here, at this age made me feel old and perverted. We couldn't have been more than seventeen back then.
“My name,” I gasped, “Is fuckin' Andrew, Doris, but you wanted to keep that knowledge secret. You never wanted to know my name. Why?”
Her gaze dropped to my hospital-issue blanket, somewhere between the color of ash and a robin's egg. She picked at a loose thread.
“Don't make this harder than it has to be, sailor. Everything will make sense. Come with me.”
She tore the IV tube and needle from my hand with a protest of sticky tape. I rose from the pillows, strangely invigorated by that touch, and found my feet before stripping off the heart monitor. The machine protested at once.
Nurse Kathryn rushed into room 203 to respond to a request from an old WWII veteran to silence the beeping by his bed, so when she heard the error tone coming from his doorway, she wasn't alarmed. That easy demeanor changed when her eyes fell on an empty bed. With a startled gasp, she wheeled around on rubber-soled sensible shoes and rushed back to the nurse's station.
I rode in silence as Doris drove the long, lean Cadillac towards an unknown destination. It no longer mattered where I was going. My vision dimmed as the lack of oxygen set in. She patted my thigh and assured me we'd be there soon. 'There' ended up being a little no place down by the stream and the power plant.
Her hand grazed across my face, day-old gray stubble registering every last sensation of her youthful skin on mine. I saw myself in her eyes: an old man, paper-thin wattle draped below sagging neck, the wrinkles in my cheeks, deep lines surrounding my lips. Lips that once carried her name with dignity and grace. I wasn't anywhere near her in age, and as her plush mouth pressed to mine like pillows over hard horn, I startled.
“Shh sailor,” she said, cooing in my ear to assure me. My mind reeled with the very wrongness of all of this.
“You knew me once,” she whispered. “In the backseat of my Cadillac. No need to be shy.”
“I could be your father,” I said in a raspy voice that couldn't be mine, but it was now. She pushed me towards nostalgia. Tears spilled over my cheeks and sank to the underside of my chin.
“You're not my father,” she stated, as if it were plain truth, which it was, but I was not swayed. My wife's mouth hadn't felt like Doris's in decades. My eyes were drawn to the curves beneath her blouse. My hands itched to take them. Hands with tissue-thin skin, littered with age spots from too many days in the sun. She took my hands in hers, and put them there for me. I hissed and snatched them away as if her breasts were a hot coal stove.
“I can't be the man you're thinking of Doris,” I said, “What are you doing here with me? Find another sailor and steal his heart.” I licked dry lips and shook my head. “Mine doesn't have much longer to beat.”
I glared at her in annoyance, but changed my tune when she took my head in her hands and sank little pinpricks into my neck, like kitten fangs. Fangs. I struggled against the initial drain, but my weak heart and lungs couldn't persist in the conflict.
Resigned, I leaned into her, my fingers numb and my mouth dry, until warm fluid splashed across my lips. I opened my eyes and blinked. Her face hovered over mine and I drank from a creamy swell of breast, only it wasn't milk, but blood.
“Vampire,” I gurgled, rivulets of red rushing down my chin. I swallowed. Passed out.
The day passed. One more day.
I awoke in a strange bed, sitting bolt-upright to feel for Joyce, or the IV stand, or anything familiar. In the distance, faint but familiar, That Old Black Magic played from a radio in the corner. My eyes caught the sight of my hands.
Hands young, sturdy skinned, free of spots or wrinkles; hands like a seventeen-year-old.
Ooo, nice. I knew I liked Doris.
Awww and still no Doris...I wonder how he's going to explain that to his wife or maybe the wife never finds out...did I ever tell you how much I love cliffhanger endings? You've got me thinking about all kinds of possibilities instead of just hand-feeding me them. Brilliant! I love this story. I love the language. It feels like the past with that hard-broiled Mikey Spillane kind of speak. I love that use words like "gay" as they were used back then. You've really done an excellent job...now to submit this somewhere...oh yeah...it's that good.
ooh very crafty that one, lives so that others may die!
(Regarding both parts of the story)
Ditto on the "dame" and "gay" issue - these words need to be reclaimed!
As an aside, as a fellow leftover from the goth era, I couldn't help but chuckle at your choice of name for the hospital :)
Mazz: You seem to be the only one that caught it. ;)
I put tidbits in almost everything I write. Because they make me chuckle. ^_^
To Rachel and Ditty: Totally appreciate the heavy praise. I have no idea where I'd submit such a short story.
Michael, thank you for visiting my contribution.
I really liked this, especially your choice of words. Great job.
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