Still Life with Infidels #21
Story codes:  MF, Exhibitionist-Voyeur


Still Life with Infidels #21
by M. David Hornbuckle



Highland Park, Birmingham, AL—July 11, 1992.

   Rob, 21 years old, sits on the floor—naked, masturbating, too drunk to come
from fucking. A pale, thin girl beside him pulls on her clothes. Her name is Leigh
Ann, and she’s 19. Her hair is dyed black with straight-trimmed bangs and hangs
down over her shoulders. His is orange-red, or strawberry blond, and is the
same length as Leigh Ann’s. He has about three inches of scraggly red goatee
hanging from his chin.

   Rob’s wife Edie, 23 years old, has just walked in the door, followed by a 19
year-old Marine named Jackson. That’s his first name: Jackson. He recently
came back from the Persian Gulf, and he made a point of telling Rob and Edie
earlier that he only joined the military so they’d pay for him to go to college. He’s
not into politics, he said, and he didn’t have much of an opinion about whether or
not they should have gone to Kuwait, but he, personally, didn’t really have a
choice.

   Rob and Edie’s apartment is on the second floor of a large house that’s been
converted into several modest units. The four rooms are of roughly equal size,
the bathroom being slightly smaller than the kitchen and two rooms without
specific function. The highlight of the rearmost would-be bedroom—a huge
picture window overlooking a steep hill—prohibits sleeping past sunup, and so
they keep the bed in the front room. The gorgeous view is offset somewhat by
the cheap, pale blue wall-to-wall carpeting that extends even into the bathroom.

   The lights of the stereo system add a red tint to the soft light cast through the
picture window by the stars above and street lamps below. The glass reflects
Edie’s face, which is expressionless, hard for Rob to read, but turned toward the
floor. Her right hand is imbedded in the bobbed curtain of dark brown hair that
swoops under her ears and her left hand is out in a Stop position, facing Rob.

Earlier in the evening, before Leigh Ann and Jackson showed up, Rob had been
watching the sunset through that big window in the room that they generally call
the den. Although the window faces north, he could still see the orange halo
easing down over the autumn trees, and the mahjong pattern of rooftops of
houses on the next block, the old retired steel mills in the distance.

They have a pretty bad cockroach problem in the apartment and sometimes
mice, but the view just about makes up for everything. Since they’re both still in
school (he, a senior English major and she, a graduate student in Library
Science) and only working part time, they were happy to find a place they could
afford that was near the University and not in the slums. Birmingham is amenable
that way, especially if you’re young, white, and have low expectations. That’s
what Rob was thinking about while he watched the sun set, sipping beer from a
can and listening to a Smiths CD.

   Leigh Ann used to work with Edie at a clothing store in Irondale, a short way
up I-20. She was in high school then, but she graduated and moved into her own
place, which is just a couple of blocks away. Even though Leigh Ann lives in their
neighborhood, before tonight, Rob hadn’t seen her since the store went out of
business a couple of months ago. Once, one of their co-workers had a heart
attack and died, there in the store, and they closed up early, and Rob met Edie
and Leigh Ann for drinks. He was surprised that Edie hasn’t asked her to come
over before. They always seemed to get along well at work. Tonight, Edie told
him that Leigh Ann recently broke up with a boy she’d dated throughout high
school, and she’d called them up because she wanted some company.

   When Leigh Ann showed up at their door earlier tonight, it seemed to Rob she
was only half-way dressed. Her top just covered her barely-there boyish breasts
and left her ass, her extraordinary ass, nearly peeking out the bottoms of her
cutoff jean shorts. On her legs, she wore fishnets and garters. All this caused
Rob to really take notice of Leigh Ann’s lithe, highly fuckable body for the first
time. Immediately, he began calculating his chances of having sex with her,
finally cashing in on the agreement he made with Edie when they got married last
year, which they did mainly to improve their chances of getting financial aid at
school. At that time, for various reasons, neither of them was very sexually
practiced, and they were determined not to get in each other’s way if there were
opportunities to expand their erotic experiences.

That’s why his heart fell a little when he saw, seconds later, that Leigh Ann had
brought that dude with her—Jackson, a thick-necked kid with a blond crew cut
and camouflage pants. Rob studied the young soldier— taut, tan and fresh from
combat, but shorter and thinner than the stereotypical hulking Marine. Also, even
though he’s only a couple of years Rob’s junior, Jackson seems so young, so
juvenile, not like someone who’s been to a war and back.

Later, Edie and Leigh Ann will hug each other and lie in bed together, whispering
derisive judgments about men while Rob and Jackson remain in the other room,
talking but not looking at each other. Jackson will tell Rob again that he admires
their openness, that Edie filled him in on why he would want to fuck Leigh Ann
and why it was basically okay, if sort of awkward. Rob will ask Jackson if he killed
anybody while he was in the Middle East. Jackson will say doesn’t know. He was
in a room with a few other guys, and everything was done with computers, like a
video game. Mainly, they were shooting down scud missiles, but sometimes they
had other targets.

Both of Jackson’s parents are dead, and he’s a ward of the state. That’s another
reason, he told them earlier, why he joined the service—giving back something.
Rob thought that sounded like an admirable rationale.

They had all been to see a band, the Lost Expletives, whom Rob and Edie had
both heard of but not yet seen, who were playing at a new club nearby, within
walking distance. Although Leigh Ann and Jackson were both underage, they
had no problem getting in with fake IDs. The space was large and open, a former
restaurant. The stage was in the corner farthest from the door, and there were
tables by the bar, slightly elevated above the dance floor. Right away, they found
a table and ordered a round of drinks.

At some point, after a couple more rounds, for a brief couple of minutes, one that
Rob could already feel burning itself into the darker parts of his memory, Rob
and Leigh Ann were alone, Edie and Jackson both gone to the restroom. Rob
and Leigh Ann had a conversation that went something like this:

- What’s the deal with this dude Jackson?

- He’s a friend of mine from high school, and he needed a place to stay for a
couple of days.

- Are you guys really on a date or what?

- He’s just a friend.

- Would he get mad if I kissed you?

- I hope not. It wouldn’t be any of his business. But Edie would get mad.

Rob began whispering blatant lascivious suggestions into Leigh Ann’s ear, telling
her she looked so hot and he wanted to fuck her, telling her it would be okay with
Edie because they have an understanding (which he knew sounded so fake and
pretentious and like something from a bad ‘70s movie, and she probably didn’t
even believe him). She’d protested lightheartedly, he’d even say flirtatiously. But,
she didn’t push him away. Rather, she seemed flattered and also intrigued. She
looked at him all wide eyes and giggles. He kissed her, and she kissed him back.
But they stopped before they could be seen by either Edie or Jackson.

Later, Edie will tell Rob that she’s angry with him about putting her on the spot
like that. Her biggest objection, she’ll say, was that she doesn’t actually like Leigh
Ann that much. Leigh Ann is shallow and says dumb things that make her cringe.
She hadn’t planned on being close friends with Leigh Ann, and now he’s put her
in a position where she has to recognize this bond, this intimacy, a shared lover,
and that’s not something she can toss aside very easily. Rob will then know that
he’s going to start hiding things from Edie.

After the show, when they’d all returned to the apartment, Rob told Edie that that
he wanted to fuck Leigh Ann, just like that, matter of fact. She said something
like: here, now? Then she said that might be considered something of an affront
to her date, Jackson. Jackson took a swig from a bottle of Canadian whiskey he’d
brought over and said it was fine with him. He was just along for the ride. They
were just friends, and he admired their openness, their honesty. Leigh Ann said
it was fine with her. Edie and Jackson then went for a walk. Rob and Leigh Ann’s
clothes were off by the time the door shut.

Rob’s eyes are open as he furiously pumps his cock, a gesture that he already
knows will not resolve the tension in either his body or the room. Although he’s
very drunk, he’s fully aware also of the desperation, the empty, ridiculous,
pathetic desperation encapsulated in this moment. The other three bodies in the
room, two fully clothed and one partially, form an acute triangle around his
nakedness, and it seems to him that the standard metaphor of the love triangle
makes less sense to him than this one, a triangle where he is not one of the
nodes, but a free-floating mass somewhere in the center. After a minute or two,
he’ll give up trying to reach orgasm and put his clothes back on.

Later, Rob and Edie will see Leigh Ann as they’re walking past the fountain in
Five Points. The fountain sculpture depicts a goat-headed man reading from a
small book, a menagerie of forest animals gathered around at attention. It’s
called ‘the Story Teller’. Since he moved to this part of town a couple of years
ago, Rob has passed it almost daily, but never without stopping for a moment to
admire it and toss a penny into the water. Recently he hasn’t dared to wish for
anything.

They’ll try to make small talk with Leigh Ann, but they won’t have much to say.
She’ll tell them that Jackson tried to fuck her after they left that night, but she
refused him, and he had a meltdown, calling her a whore and a slut and throwing
things around her apartment. Rob will feel ill because he knows he made this
happen and that he’s sorry that happened. Leigh Ann will say it’s okay, that she
can take care of herself, and Rob knows that he and Edie will only see Leigh Ann
now on rare occasions, and then with a strained and somewhat affected
friendliness, and this will be something of a relief.

While Rob masturbates, Jackson has his hands in his pockets, and he’s making
a sort of pouting face like he might whistle, or maybe he’s just exhaling heavily.
There is a moon, not a full one, but one that lingers in the background, sickly
and detached, not looking at them. Later, Jackson will tell Rob he thinks people
will be living there soon, at least maybe with 10 or 15 years. Maybe on Mars too.
Either that, or people from another world will have found us, and we’ll be living
under their rule. That’s why he’s not too concerned about things like the
environment or war. Soon enough, he will say to Rob, we’ll all be out of here.

© 2008 M. David Hornbuckle

M. David Hornbuckle is originally from Birmingham, Alabama and has lived in
New York City since Summer 2001. His novella The Salvation of Billy Wayne
Carter was published as an e-book in October 2007 by Cantarabooks. He has
had short stories published in over a dozen literary magazines, including
McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Ruminate Magazine and Nanofiction. By day,
he freelances as a copy editor, and he is also the leader of an avant-garde
Dixieland orchestra.
www.mdhornbuckle.net