Leonora sat on the porch cradling her bosom in her big white arms. The twilight dashed itself upon the horizon, splashing its colors on the scattered clouds. She sat rocking, and the porch floorboards of the old house creaked with every dip of the chair.|
Leonora was large and rawboned, even in the shadows, which did little to disguise her looks. Her face was sallow and fleshy, a sickly ivory hue, and there was a look of pain, physical pain, that hung about her eyes. The door to the hallway yawned behind her. A man’s step, quick and light, sounded in the passage and approached. Leonora listened until she knew Barclay was standing in back of her.
“Dinner’s about done.” He had a voice that was young and quick, like his step. Leonora heaved a little in her chair and continued rocking.
“I’m not very hungry,” she said.
“You have to eat.” Barclay’s voice had an edge to it.
“Don’t work yourself up,” Leonora said. “I’ll be in a bit. The sunset’s pretty tonight.”
“Well, I’ll have it ready in a minute.” He cleared his throat and Leonora heard him return to the kitchen.
At last the flame in the sky seemed to flare, and then it began to fade. Night came on quickly. Leonora watched a few moments longer, then she sighed and got up. She stepped heavily into the hallway and made her way into the kitchen. Barclay was stooping over the stove, doing something with two or three steaming pots, and the microwave was humming on the counter. He looked up as she entered.
Leonora noticed, again, by the light of the ceiling fixture, that his eyes were beautiful and dark. “That was nice,” Leonora murmured, “I’ll remember it.” She sat down at the table, propping her elbows on its edge. She dropped her face into the palms of her great, flabby hands.
Barclay served the meal quickly, methodically, and sat down opposite. He didn’t really look at Leonora — his eyes skittered from side to side, upward and downward, and sometimes they landed on something for a moment or two, but never on her face. Leonora looked at him, though. Hot steam rose from the dishes before her and made his features waver in her eyes. He’s beautiful, she thought. He may even be worth the pain. At least his looks. They’re worth the whole thing. How could I have gotten a beautiful man any other way? Her thoughts seemed to stall for a
moment, then, Or any other man, for that matter.
Barclay glanced over at her. He cleared his throat again and said, “Good chow tonight, if I do say so.” He glanced quickly away and down. Then, with movements nearly furtive, guilty almost, he picked up his utensils and began to eat.
He’s a picture — the thought raced down the alleys of Leonora’s mind and died away. She looked down at her food. It was still quite warm, and a liberal amount of what looked like salt had been sprinkled over it. The salt glistened like ground bone in the dull light. There was none on Barclay’s food. Leonora shivered, then she picked up her fork and began to eat.
After the meal Barclay washed the dishes while Leonora sat in the parlor listening to her old records. Shades of Tony Bennett, Nat “King” Cole, and some of the other old crooners rose from the stereo, and Leonora was nearly happy hearing their familiar voices slurring out the old songs.
Later on, the evening dipped toward absolute darkness as Barclay sat on the divan with her, his arm pressing her shoulders, his hands batoning her flesh, creating alternate chills and flashes. The music was redolent, and Leonora was completely happy at last.
“Is it time?” His voice was sultry and moist, like promised rain in
“Yes,” she breathed thickly, and his body was like a knife upon her flesh. He took her, as she wanted him to.
When it was done they lay spinning back time — her time if not his, and the room became a confidential music box as the CDs continued to turn and the laser beam still followed the invisible groove. Leonora was quiet, trying to see the ceiling through the darkness. Then she moved her head so that her mouth rested near his ear. “How much longer have I?” she asked.
Barclay was silent. Then he said, “I can’t say exactly. Three or four weeks, about, I guess. Your fiftieth birthday is in a week.”
But Leonora knew that. She felt as though there were a barb caught in her throat each time she breathed. “Is that all?” She tried to keep the pleading tone out of her voice.
“That was the deal,” Barclay said, the hard edge back in his words. Again he was silent. Then, “Been to your lawyer’s yet?”
“Yes,” she answered. “You know I have. You dropped me off at his office last Wednesday.”
“How much is there exactly?”
“Almost a quarter of a million. Two hundred and forty-seven thousand.”
“It’s too bad you can’t draw it out now.” The night rustled outside the windows. “It’d save me lots of trouble.”
“I told you,” Leonora replied — she made sure she put a bit of annoyance into her words, “it’s a trust. Until I turn fifty.”
Barclay grunted. “What a miserable old man you must’ve had. You should have had that money when you were twenty-one.” He cleared his throat angrily.
“If I had, I wouldn’t have had you,” Leonora said and reached out to stroke Barclay’s arm. He tried to control it, but she felt him flinch.
“You’re sure nobody will ask questions?” His voice sounded tense. A chill breeze began to seep into the room through the open windows and it started to rain.
“Not in this town. Everyone knows I’m sick. Besides,” Leonora said, "we’re married. It’s all legal.”
Barclay laughed nervously. “Yeah,” he said, “married.” He was quiet again for a time. Then, “But it’s worth it, I guess.”
Leonora knew it was worth it. She loved him, and she had him, and
everything comes to an end sometime. He’s beautiful, she thought, and he can cook, too, though his hand was heavy on the seasonings, on the “salt.” She wondered what he would do when he found out that there was no money, no money at all — that there never had been any. She shrugged in the darkness beside him. It made no difference. She would be gone by then.