The introduction and prologue is here
Part 1, "On Monday, A Funeral", is here
Part 2, "On Tuesday, An Awakening" (which contains sexual situations...just FYI in case such matters disturb you and you wish to opt out of reading this part of the story) is here
Part 3, "On Wednesday, A Letter Home", is here
Part 4, "On Thursday, A Smile", is here
Part 5, presented here below, contains sexual situations and some profanity...again, just FYI in case such matters disturb you and you wish to opt out of reading this part of the story.
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Ellen took a long, deliberate swallow of her scotch and soda and then took a deep, fortifying breath allowing the bittersweet fire of the drink time to radiate throughout her system.
Waiting there in "their" place...waiting for the dining room to open...she felt her heart filling her throat...this annoyed her for reasons she knew all too well but could do nothing about even so.
Ellen felt the residual, calming whisper of a buzz coming from the scotch in her bloodstream but her pulse was still racing nevertheless. She wondered, yet again, why she had agreed to come and put herself through this...this…this whatever the hell it was going to be...
And then she wondered, idly but undeniably, if she had put on too much perfume.
Ellen carried her woman's weight in full-bodied, middle-aged curves that managed, somehow, to still give the illusion of winsomeness.
Her hair, several harmonious shades of medium brown, was pulled back in a simple ponytail that hung unobtrusively just between her shoulder blades. Her skin, buttermilk smooth, betrayed her heartland roots to anyone who took the time to look.
"So," she said evenly, "are you going to tell me why you went back to
She hoped against hope that he couldn't see how vulnerable she felt.
Malcolm looked up hoping to find anything akin to empathy in her steel-grey eyes. Failing that...as he fully expected that he would (and, he reminded himself with no small measure of sadness, as well he should)...he took in a measure of the bar's vaguely-smoky air and let it slowly sigh out through his clinched teeth. He glanced around nervously.
He was a large man who moved with unconscious grace. His hair was close-cropped and carefully patted into place...like his beard and his moustache, there were grey hairs sprouting haphazardly all throughout the hair on his scalp; his skin was rich and brown, like fine tobacco; his eyes, shimmering brown and black with a slightly-haunted quality that spoke of things which would never otherwise be discussed, were kept safe behind a fortress of wire framed glass. He looked more like his late, unlamented father than he cared to think about.
The bar was quiet in the early evening. The bartender and the waitress chatted amiably at the bar, glancing every once in a while at Malcolm and Ellen or the man in the booth on the other side of the room to see if it was time to sell some more liquor.
It was getting close to six-thirty; the restaurant in the other room wouldn't be open for another half-hour.
"A girl," he said finally. "I went back for a girl."
He gauged her reaction and then, in a smaller voice, added, "A white girl."
Ellen winced, her stare growing icy and unforgiving for a flickering moment, and then she forced a wry smile. "Like me?"
Malcolm reached up with one of his broad hands and pulled off his glasses. "No, Ellen," he said wearily, "not like you. A girl...a 22-year-old girl..."
Ellen shifted restlessly in her seat and drummed her burnished scarlet nails on the table. "This is the 21st century, love," she said desperately trying to sound urbane, "22-year-old females tend to prefer to be called 'women'..."
"Not in this case," he replied, undaunted. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. "She was 22 but sometimes she seemed barely half that emotionally. She was a 'girl'...and damn proud of it."
The band of gold on Ellen's finger began to tighten and burn. "Well if she was that fucking immature," she spat, "why did you leave me to be with her?!"
Malcolm opened his eyes and tilted forward. "She purred when she came," he whispered.
"What?" she said incredulously.
He smiled wistfully. "She purred when she came," he repeated. "A low, soothing purr that seemed to resonate from deep within her belly then outward up and down her body."
He sighed humidly. "Eventually her whole body would be purring and rocking...rocking and purring. She'd call my name. She'd call me 'baby' and then 'daddy' and then 'baby' again. She'd lock her arms around my neck and her legs around my ass and she'd plead 'fuck me, daddy, yes fuck me' in that ludicrous, thrilling little girl voice of hers..."
He shook his head and smiled. "And she'd purr...sweet Jesus...she'd be shivering and purring against me after I came. Sweating and shivering and purring...snuggled as close to me as she could possibly could be...murmuring happily...'thank you, baby'...'thank you, daddy'...over and over until we both fell asleep..."
Ellen's mouth was agape but she caught herself and found a malicious chuckle to offer him. "Malcolm, aren't you a bit old to be letting your penis make important life decisions for you?"
Malcolm replaced his glasses and then reached for his rum and cola and sipped at it. He knew she wasn't finished.
"Well, if she was such a sweet young thing...with the purring and all...why did you leave her and come back here?"
Malcolm took another long sip and let the question hang in the air. Then he said, "I didn't love her."
Ellen frowned. "But she purred for you," she shot back sarcastically, her voice gaining pitch as her words became more clipped, "didn't that count for anything?"
Malcolm's face grew dark, shaded. "Fuck you."
"You already did, baby," she replied coolly. "In many different ways."
Malcolm's mouth opened but nothing came out. He slumped back into his seat. He wanted to reach out and take her into his arms and just will all of their pain and confusion away. "I don't want to fight, Ellen," he finally said somberly. "I didn't come here to fight..."
Ellen finished her drink with one sustained swallow and then motioned to the waitress.
The waitress, a plump ruddy-cheeked woman of indeterminate age with straw-colored hair and cool diffident eyes, came over "Can I get you folks another round?" she said brightly.
"Yes, please," Ellen replied.
The waitress scooped up Ellen's glass and then turned to Malcolm. Malcolm drank his rum with one gulp and handed the glass to her.
"So why did you ask me to come here?" Ellen asked as the waitress ambled away.
She had run through dozens of various answers to this question...and dozens of replies to the eventual answer...in the long, anxious days since Malcolm had called, quite out of the blue, to ask her…practically beg her…to meet him.
In most of those scenarios, she was powerful and righteously vengeful and, most of all, in control.
Waiting for his answer now, she wasn't any of those things. She was, instead, awash in passion and dread...forgiveness and contempt...love and...something that was most certainly not love.
Malcolm watched as all of these played, separately and in concert, across her face and then, feeling lost and unsure and guilty, he looked away.
The bar was slowly filling with regulars and with people waiting for the restaurant to open and he was beginning to feel exposed and isolated even though he was quite aware that no one in the room was interested in his conversation with Ellen.
The waitress returned with their drinks. "Here you go, folks," she bubbled as she placed the cocktails in front of them. "The dining room will be open in a few minutes and your reservations for the seating are confirmed."
Malcolm nodded and smiled...more than a little unctuously, more than a little deferentially, Ellen thought in passing...she'd seen that smile directed at her in times past but she'd mistaken it for something else.
“Thank you very much," Malcolm said to the waitress who, noting the tension between he and Ellen, nodded and scurried away.
Ellen took a small sip of her drink. "You didn't answer my question, Malcolm."
He looked into her eyes again looking for a clue. He sifted through the many answers to her questions...sifted through all the rationalizations, all the bullshit...all the myriad truths and half-truths that danced in haphazard orbits around the core of what he had felt when he left her...and what he felt when he sought solace between the thighs of a girl less than half his age...and what he felt when he decided that he had to come back. He sifted through all of that and found no satisfying reply therein.
"I came back," he began cautiously, "because I still love you." He waited for a reaction; her face remained impassive. "Because I never stopped loving you." He reached for his drink and waited expectantly.
Ellen regarded him dispassionately, her churning cauldron of emotions swallowed whole, for an eternal instant, by cool dark blue stillness. She had heard and comprehended his words...words that an undeniable part of her being, slashing through the stillness, seized upon with a flood of relief and a soaring banshee wail of redemption...but she didn't know what they meant. A small, vaguely coquettish, smile dawned on her face but that quickly gave way to a soft, cathartic, purposefully cruel laugh.
Malcolm shuddered and looked down at the table, his face flushed dark with anxious, angry heat.
Ellen laughed softly for a few moments and then, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye, took another sip of her drink.
Malcolm sipped at his own drink but dared not make eye contact at that moment for fear of being consumed by the righteous indignation he fully expected was blazing in her eyes. This whole thing seemed like a bigger folly than leaving in the first place was and he was feeling an almost-overwhelming urge to flee...to run into the shadows where there weren't any white women...or white girls...to tear at his sense of self and catch him in the voodoo lure of their soft skin and their pale, forbidden breasts.
"My father called me last month," Ellen said suddenly, ruefully. "The first time I talked to him in five years..."
"Since you married me..." Malcolm said completing the statement with a mixture of rancor and resignation, the puffy unyielding blood- red curves of her father's face forcing their way into his second sight.
Ellen frowned and nodded. "Mother told him that you had left me." She let the accusation linger between them for a half-dozen heartbeats.
And then she continued, "And you know what he said?" she asked rhetorically. She took a longer sip of her scotch. "He said it was a good thing I hadn't gotten pregnant by you...he was real happy about that..."
She continued, "He said that it showed what he always knew: that you were just another no good..." her voice dropped to whisper, "... nigger..." The volume of her voice went back up, "...wanting to get with as many white women as you possibly could..."
Her eyes grew hard and sad at once. "He said that he was glad that I could be his daughter again..."
Malcolm felt the air go out of his beefy frame. "Bastard," he hissed.
Ellen resisted the urge to say "it takes one to know one"; she pursed her lips and stared at him until his eyes drifted up to meet hers.
"And now you tell me that you love me," she said sardonically.
"Now you tell me that after going off to have your middle-age crisis...or your black super-stud crisis...or whatever the hell kind of crisis that you had to indulge with the purring girl...now you tell me that you 'never stopped loving' me?!?"
She sighed and squinted back the tears trying to form in her eyes; tears were an old story and she didn't have time for them here and now. "And that's supposed to make it all better?"
"No," Malcolm replied in a small voice. "But it's a start..."
Ellen shook her head sadly. "I guess from your point of view it is..."
Sepia-toned snapshots of events past cascaded through Ellen's memory: the gentleness, astonishment, and apprehension in the eyes of the dark, forbidden and forbidding, stranger...the passion of his kiss putting aside her fear...the scarlet rage of her father as he closed his heart in the face of her "betrayal"...the rueful wistfulness that shrouded him after every call to his daughter from his first marriage or to Malcolm, the nephew who had been named for him...the hint of sadness (and relief?) in Malcolm's eye when the doctor told them she was not going to conceive...the cool chasm that grew with drawn-out suddenness between them...the note, an explanation that explained nothing, found on their bed near to a half-empty closet...the nights, cocooned in terrycloth and kept company by ten-year-old scotch, crying and raging and resigning to the cruel fickleness of fate and stupid men.
"My mother said you'd come back," she said wistfully. "She said that men...almost all men...have business to transact that doesn't concern their wives...but that comfort and duty will always bring them back home. Love has nothing to do with it, she said...and who cares where they put their little things as long as there's a roof over our heads?"
Ellen allowed herself a small, affectionate laugh. "I told her she was hopelessly out-of-date and then I kissed her on her forehead. She told me to wait and see...you'd be back…" She looked up into his big, liquid eyes. "And here you are..."
"And here I am," he echoed.
They looked into each other's eyes, conflicting and contrasting emotions and impulses dancing back and forth across the table.
"You and my father," Ellen said thoughtfully. "I'm not sure which one of you I hate most...or which one of you I love most..."
She looked up and away. "It's not fair...my daddy's happy to have his 'little girl' back...and you always loved me even while you were making the purring girl sweat and shudder..."
She laughed bitterly and shook her head. "It is so much fun being free, white, and well over twenty-one these days..." she said choking back a large measure of sarcastic bile as she did so.
Malcolm's mind drifted away and then frowned with wry nostalgia. "You know," he said, "my daddy once told me that if I wanted to get through life smoothly that I should always avoid three things: preachers who smile too much, meat that's still bleeding, and..."
"...and white women," Ellen said not unkindly. "You've told me that story once or twice, pal." She shook her head and laughed. "Well, two out of three ain't bad, big guy..."
They both laughed a bit self-consciously.
The waitress came over, a bit warily. "Your table's ready whenever you're ready, folks," she said. "I'll have your drinks brought over for you"
Malcolm nodded and smiled at her once more. "Thank you." He reached into his jacket pocket and laid a five-dollar tip on the table. And then he looked over at Ellen. "Now what?"
Ellen reached for the purse on the seat next to her. "Now we have dinner, Malcolm," she said resolutely. "I'm starved."
They both rose from the table. He put his hand on hers and drew a bit closer. "And then what?" he asked anxiously.
Ellen reached up and gently caressed his face. "And then we'll see, Malcolm...we'll talk, you'll go back to your hotel room and I'll go back to our house and we'll think about what we've talked about...and maybe, just maybe, one day soon we'll talk some more."
"We're on my time now, big guy," she said, "and you'll just have to deal with that." She toyed with his beard a bit and then lowered her hand. "After all," she added, "
Malcolm frowned as he followed her. "What the hell does that mean?"
"I don't know," she conceded with an impish grin, '"it sounded much more profound when I thought it than when I actually said it out loud."
They looked at each other and then shared a fleeting, conspiratorial giggle as they, separated by a discreet space, followed the hostess out of the bar and towards their dinner table.
On Saturday, a Wedding