Friday, April 9, 2010

Hard Times -- A Short Story

A Short Story -- Fiction!
by Charlie Leck

This short story – completely fictional – has some limited but not graphic descriptions of sexual activity. If you are offended by such literature, you probably should not read this account.

These were hard times in Minnesota. Certainly they were the most difficult times that Marleen Svenson had ever faced. Of course, she was only twenty-two and the economy had been in a boom period for the first twenty of those years. Now, as she lay in bed, listening to the shower that was running just behind the thin wall to her left, she was feeling awfully sorry for herself. And, she was angry as hell.

Her eyes wandered around the extremely small, studio apartment. Like most of the others in this south Minneapolis neighborhood, surrounding the spectacular Art Institute, her apartment building had been constructed in the early 50s. The plumbing and electrical wiring was old and so were the heating and air-conditioning systems. She could see the cracks and peeling pieces of the ceiling paint. Every evening, coming home from work, she could also smell the stale and aged pungency of the place – aromas left by generations of tenants who didn’t care. Was she just another of them? It was frustrating to deal with the property manager even in good times. Now, in these hard times, it was impossible. How she loved the newly constructed apartments and condominiums closer to downtown. Wow! That would be the place to live.

The guy in her shower, cleaning off the wondrous evidence of their night in bed together, had, of course, lied to her even as most men consistently did. He’d fed her a line of bullshit at Fryderyk’s, the little restaurant in the Northeast section of the city, where she worked as a waitress. Of course, he was single and had lost the girl he’d dated for years. He told her he worked in the city’s finest law firm and was in line to be made a partner. In truth, he did wear spectacular clothing that even Marlene could tell had been hand-tailored for his very impressive, slender and strong body. His hair was expensively coiffed and it framed a perfectly handsome and manly face with a delicately squared jaw. His deep blue eyes had tantalized her all evening. She imagined that women were constantly fawning all over him, pandering to him.

Now, in a more rational moment, she realized he could have found nothing special in her except a momentary sexual urge that had riled up his insides. When he had first stepped into the shower, Marlene had taken the opportunity to fish out his thin billfold from the inside breast pocket of his suit coat that hung from the doorknob on her closet door. There she’d found, along with the platinum colored card from American Express and several hundred dollar bills, the photographs of his gorgeous wife and splendidly cute twin girls.

It had happened to her too many times before; and so she wasn’t going to blame anyone but herself. And besides, the sex had been damned good and he had slowly and softly strummed the most sensitive cords of her desire and driven her through a prolonged moment of sheer ecstasy. Marleen, looking up at the wretched ceiling, envied his wife all the moments she had with him in bed.

And frankly, Marlene had brought him back here, to this shabby apartment, only because she’d realized he had plenty of money and might be able to help her out during these hard times. The more she panicked about her struggles, the more she did such stupid things.

She knew he would soon come out of her bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist, showing off the firmness of his body. He’d say sweet things to her about how wonderful she’d been and that they should see each other again soon. It was always the same. It never changed. And, even though he’d been far better in bed than any of the others, she hated him and couldn’t wait for him to clear out of her apartment. She didn’t like men who lied – men who lied and cheated on their wives and put their marriages in danger.

The shower stopped and Marlene could hear the metal door spring open and vibrate softly. She could picture him stepping out of her shower and using one of her towels to wipe himself dry.

Her dreams were simple enough. Why were they so expensive to achieve? She just wanted to teach kids how to draw and paint and make beautiful things as a way of expressing something that each of us has inside. Before the hard times hit, she’d finished a year at M-CAD, as all the students called it – the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It was expensive, but the tips ran hot at Fryderyk’s when she first started there. If she’d hustle hard, she could make and save just enough in a year to pay off most of the tutition and then put the rest on a student loan tab. When the bubble burst, Freyderyk’s was one of the restaurants that got hit hard. Business fell off by fifty percent and tips fell even more.

She talked to the financial office at M-CAD, but there wasn’t any scholarship money avialable for her. She felt all her dreams falling apart. She wasn’t going to get that dream degree after all. It would have been a ticket to a job in almost any middle school or high school in Minnesota. It might even get her summer jobs with advertising agencies or graphic design shops. Perhaps she'd be able to set up her own little instruction studio and teach there nights and summers.

So, she looked at a few of the community colleges instead. They were so blatantly inferior that it frightened her. Then she ran the numbers and realized that she couldn’t even afford them anyway. That’s how far things had fallen and how hard times were.

The door to the bathroom opened and startled Marlene out of her thoughts. Indeed, the handsome bastard came out of the steamy room with a towel wrapped around his waiste and folded cleverly and securly just above his hip. He smiled at her and walked to the bed where she lay.

She held up a hand to him, signaling him to stop. He looked surprised. She didn’t want to hear a lot of bullshit. She knew the truth now and the lies would only make her sick to her stomach. She could still feel him inside her and the insides of her thighs still bore a thick stickiness from what he had left there.

“Just dress and go, please,” she said rapidly and sternly to him. “I made a mistake bringing you here. I shouldn’t have done it and I’m sorry. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t right. Please, just dress quickly and leave. Forget this ever happened.”

She could see his ego crash. It spun wildly as she spoke to him and then it tumbled fiercely and dropped straight down. He stammered and tried to say something, but she cut him off again and asked him to leave.

“Please! Go! Quickly!”

She allowed the blankets to remain down at her waist as she leaned back on several fluffed pillows. He could see her strong, generous breasts and she could tell he liked them. It made her even angrier, but she refused to lift the blankets.

He was nearly frozen there in shock. She could see the disbelief if his face.

She wants me to leave -- to go -- to get out quickly. What does she think?

“What do you mean, it was a mistake to bring me here?”

“Please! Don’t do this! I asked you to go! Go quickly! Please!”

He began to turn away, but he stopped and turned back to her, not understanding.

“What is it? What made you so angry at me?”

“Go! Go! Get out of my apartment!”

Awkwardly, he moved toward the dresser upon which his underwear was thrown. She watched him as he dropped the towel and tried to pull on his briefs much too quickly. He lost his balance and stumbled and struggled to land safely on both his feet, with the white briefs tangled at his ankles.

Marlene wanted to laugh, but she didn’t. He was so generously equipped and delightful to look at this way. How she had enjoyed fondling and kissing and tantalizing him to the point of craziness.

A second quick try drew the tight white briefs over the most delectible part of his body and he rapidly followed with socks, shirt, pants, shoes, tie and jacket. He looked into the mirror and brushed and fluffed his hair around. Behind him, in the reflection, he could see her lying there with her breasts uncovered and she could see him looking at her. Without turning around he spoke to her.

“I want to see you again!”

“No,” she replied softly, with no hint of displeasure in her voice. “I don’t want to see you again. It wasn’t right. We’re not right.”

“Not right? Are you crazy? We were glorious together!”

“Just get out!” She screamed at him, the pitch of her voice frightening her.

He wanted to call her a “bitch,” but he was fearful now of the anger he saw in her eyes. Perhaps she really was crazy. In the mirror, he took one long, last and longing look at her magnfiicent breasts; and he took the two quick steps to the door that let him out into the dim hallway. He pulled the door shut firmly behind him. He was gone.

Marlene rolled completely over and flung her face into her pillow and allowed her body to drift down into the matress with the heaviness of solid concrete. Everything was dark and black and the heat of her breath bathed her face. She mumbled into her pillow.

“Why am I such a fool?”


Minneapolis is a good city for an artist who doesn’t want too much city. For a community of only a half-million people, there are a number of wonderful art museums and some terribly good galleries. Marlene liked MIA the most -- the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. There was a large wing of the building that housed M-CAD. She was very much at home here and very comfortable.

It was slow on weekday mornings and she liked to get there at opening time and stay a few hours before she had to take the bus to northeast and Freyderyk’s.

She still had her copiest badge and she wore it whenever she visited the museum with her sketch pad in hand. The school had not asked that it be returned when she withdrew. The badge allowed her to sit before the paintings and to sketch them or reproduce them in the medium used by the original artists.

She particularly liked a painting in the collection called Portraite of Madammoiselle Hortense Valpinçon by Edgar Degas. She’d been working for days on a sketch of it. It was nearly four feet wide and she was reducing its width to approximately 17 inches and she wasn’t worried about colors. She was trying to capture the mysterious and wonderful look in the young girl's face. Perhaps she was 11 or 12. She seemed to understand mysteries that went way beyond her years. She understood life and her place in it. She carried a peaceful acceptance of herself and her surroundings. Degas had finished the oil painting in 1871 while visiting the home of a friend in Normandy; yet there was something modern and contemporary about it. Colors exploded from unexpected places.

The painting hung in a peaceful and usually quiet place in the museum where Marlene could work on her sketch slowly and patiently; but, on this particular morning, Marlene’s surroundings and peacefulness were interrupted by someone important who was receiving a tour of the museum from the Chief Curator himself. The little man, with the pleasing Dutch accent was pointing to the Degas and explaining it to a handsome young man in a well cut business suit. Marlene tried to ignore them and gave full attention to her sketch, touching it lightly here and there with her soft pencil, but she felt eyes staring down at her. She raised her head to look. Her faced flushed when she saw him. It was the creep she’d thrown out of her place a few months before -- the man with the gorgeous wife and the twin girls.

He tore his eyes from her and gave his attention again to the curator. Their conversation wandered and Marlene could not help overhearing them. Obviously, her one night lover had been elected to the Board of Directors. He was receiving an insider’s tour of the museum and the important pieces in its collection. He was likely ignorant about art and the ways of art and artists; but, he likely had scads of money to give away to both impress the community with his philanthropy and to gather some income tax deductions.

As her face burned, Marlene could feel his tender hands on her thighs and his tongue sliding over her abdomen. Her face flushed even hotter. She hated the bastard for having made such magnficent love to her. She hated him.

Yet, she raised her eyes afer him when she heard the footsteps of the two men moving further off into the gallery. His handsome, tight body made him look comedically out of place next to the soft, pillow shaped form of the curator.

She looked away from him and back toward the Degas, and into the eyes of the young Valpinçon girl. What a sparkling beauty. What a magnificent painting! Had he noticed? Did he appreciate it? Did he realize what talent it took to create it?

Her morning was in ruin, but she remained in her place there on the floor, leaning on the wall across from the one on which the painting hung. Sweet Hortense was in a comfortable and wealthy home. Monsuier Valpinçon would have no difficulty sending her off to study in any of the great academies of France. Yet, Marlene did not envy Hortense or begrudge her anything. The young girl had become a friend over the weeks that Marlene had sat here visiting with her.

The light changed in the hallway and Marlene knew it was time to pack her pencils and sketch pad and head over to the bus stop on Nicollet Avneue. She needed to be at Freyderyk’s in short order. She rose and flicked her legs to loosen the joints that had been so still on the hard floor for two hours. She took one last look into the eyes of Hortense and saw him, instead, looking over at her. She spun to walk away.

“Wait! I need to talk to you.”

She kept walking quickly, her shoes clicking and echoing loudly on the hard floor; but his long and powerful legs brought him up beside her in only several steps.

“I’ve been terribly angry at you,” he said as he hurried along beside her. It was like someone had begun playing a flute that was badly out of tune. There was something terribly incongruous about what he’d said.

“You’ve been angry at me? Oh, brother! You must be crazy! Please go away and leave me alone.”

“Wait! You’ve got to hear me out!”

She reached the staircase that led downward and turned toward the museum lobby.

“I’m late for work. I need to hurry. I’ve no time to listen to any more of your lies.”

He stopped and she walked on ahead as rapidly as she could. She was embarrassed when she heard him loudly call out after her.

“You’re wrong you know! I’m not married. I never have been. I have no children! You saw the photograph in my billfold. That’s my sister and my two nieces. You were wrong, you know!”

Many people were watching them, including a security guard who looked nervous and ready to spring. Marleen continued out through the lobby of the museum and through the doors that led out on to Third Avenue. She walked quickly to the sidewalk and turned north, toward 25th Street. Then, she stopped and looked back. He had come out through the big, glass doors as well. He had stopped just outside and was watching her. Now they were both frozen, looking at each other. He called over to her.

“You were wrong!” He paused significantly and then called out to her again. “And, I’m angry at you!”

She could taste his lips and feel his warm breath. Yet, she remembered so clearly how he had reacted when she accused him. He had not protested. He had just been dumbfounded. (But, wait! Had she accused him? She couldn't remember. Perhaps she hadn't!)

He turned and went back into the museum, through the big doors, and disappeared in the darkness of the lobby. He was gone.

Marlene was confused and hesitated too long; and then she ran quickly back toward the big white building, and the glass doors, through which he had completely disappeared.

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