Tag Archives: Kenneth Radu

FOG by Kenneth Radu

Opening her window to the fog, she wondered if the cat had returned. Just before dark last night she had placed a bowl of mashed sardines under the false spirea bushes surrounding the above ground pool. The fog wafted into her room. She saw very little except shadowy shapes, the top limp branches of a sun-burst locust tree which appeared to be floating, the smoky blue roof of the garden shed. No sound, not even birds who usually woke her up in the morning. The pool itself had all but disappeared, the surface of the water or the deck no longer visible. Leaning out, Cassie peered down, listening for the cat, but heard only her own breathing.

The fog almost covered the second storey of the neighbours’ houses, but she could make out windows, chimneys, and the arch of a gable. Perhaps sardines from a can were not to its taste. Shivering in her thin nightie almost the same colour as the fog on the window pane, she carefully closed her bedroom door and tiptoed past her parents’ room. The hard wood floor was cool to her soft feet. She did not expect either her father or mother to be awake before noon. They had not returned home until three in the morning.

Emmanuel had just left the house minutes earlier, promising to come back and wake her if necessary. He had dared her to let him stay the night in her bed where he left his underwear. Rolling it into a ball, she stuffed it under her own panties in a drawer. Her parents no longer checked to see if she was sleeping. Emmanuel had sneezed over her stuffed bears on the bed. She heard every drunken step up the stairs, her father’s curse on the landing when he tripped, and her mother’s loud, “ssssshh, you’ll wake Cassie.”

After they left last night she opened the tin of sardines. Her mother would never notice one missing from the stockpile of tinned goods she kept in the pantry. Cassie then phoned Emmanuel to say the coast was clear. She had first noticed the cat a week ago, having heard a rustle in the bushes just feet away from the deck stairs. There it was, so concentrated on ripping the head off a bird that it didn’t scurry away when she approached, but continued gnawing on the skull. When it became aware of her presence, it simply hissed. Cassie stepped back and the cat resumed his meal. It was a large calico cat with one ear bent and one eye puckered shut, the fur knotted on its back, skin revealed in patches, scratched and pimpled with black and red sores. She stood watching it eat the poor bird, licking its paws, separating each claw. Then it suddenly pricked up one ear and dashed into the bushes, leaving behind feathers and a bird’s delicate foot.

Her parents refused to let her have a dog although they had once allowed a gerbil. It died within a week and they said she was responsible for its death, so no more animals. Once Emmanuel had hoisted himself over the fence last year and joined her in the pool, she stopped thinking about pets. Still, the animal looked hungry. Why not feed a stray cat? Careful that her parents, if home, did not see what she was doing, she left out food and milk and it returned each evening. Emmanuel wasn’t interested in her story of the wild cat, but pushed her up the stairs to her bedroom where he liked to caress her legs first.

Outside the fog felt damp and cool to her skin and she imagined herself walking right through a cloud. A squeak, a meow, a hiss and rustle: she couldn’t quite determine the sound as she approached the ring of bushes scarcely visible herself to Emmanuel’s father who had opened his own window and spied her in the fog below. He had seen Cassie leaving food for the cat the other day, and wanted to tell her not to encourage the presence of feral creatures in the neighbourhood. They spread disease, wrecked gardens, and bit children, he would have said, although he had never in fact heard of a cat biting a child.

Last night he shouted at Emmanuel who had come home too late and smelled of recent sex. “Where the hell have you been? Do you know what time it is?” He knew of course where his son had been. Emmanuel shoved past him on the stairwell, mumbling something about needing sleep and “leave me alone.” Emmanuel was sixteen, big for his age, and a student of martial arts. Strictly speaking, having sex with fifteen year old Cassie was statutory rape. He leaned over the window sill as if to move the fog aside with his hands: ah, yes, there, the fog appeared to separate to his advantage and he could make out her shape bending under the bushes. It would be absolutely reprehensible, not to mention illegal, to seduce Cassie. He was afraid to speak to his son.

Since his wife’s death in a year ago in the car crash, he was burdened by grief, insurance policies, grocery shopping, depressed over the declining sales commissions at the furniture store, and perplexed by Emmanuel’s sullen belligerence. Now he had to remind himself that, yes, he had loved Emmanuel’s mother and cried over her death, but he had forgotten what it felt like to caress her flesh. He imagined Cassie wrapped around Emmanuel’s taut and vigorous physique. His hand reached beneath his pyjamas just as Cassie entered the bushes and disappeared.

Fog wet the bushes and soaked her thin nightie, but she circled the pool behind them. Not even Jackson could see her anymore.

“Here, Kitty, Kitty.”

“Cassie, you there?”

Emmanuel had crossed over the fence.

“Here, I’m here on the other side, Manny.”

“I’m getting wet in the fog. Let’s go to the shed with me. Your parents sleeping?”

“I’m looking for the cat. Yes, they are.”

“Forget the cat.”

Jackson saw Emmanuel’s outline as he climbed the fence and pushed into the bushes. Removing his hand from under his pyjamas, he leaned out the window as far as he safely could as if to call his boy home or warn both kids about the dangers of savage and mangy cats. As he dressed he thought now was a good time to speak to both kids, kindly and fatherly, about the trouble they’d be in if Cassie’s parents found out. Well, he’d begin his warning with the cat: a filthy animal that should be put down.

He didn’t see Emmanuel and Cassie running to the shed, nor hear the door shut. Downstairs he stepped outside into the thickness of the fog. He could just make out the steps and the paved walkway leading to a vegetable patch. Above the garden rose the cedar fence marking the boundary between his property and Cassie’s house. He could climb that like Emmanuel whom, he recognized for the first time this morning, stood taller and broader than his own father. Should it ever come to a physical confrontation, Jackson could not be certain of winning.

Straddling the top of the fence, Jackson admitted that he could just as well have walked around the corner to Cassie’s, which would have taken longer. He didn’t want to waste time. They’d be in the bushes, possibly petting the cat, or Emmanuel might even be hoisting Cassie on to his … Jackson took a deep breath. He would caution them about the dangers of disease and discovery.

In the shed Emmanuel sat on a wooden tool box, his jeans crumpled around his ankles. Cassie straddled his thighs, holding her damp nightie above her navel, just as his father pushed into the bushes and called their names. Their breathing was loud and their attention concentrated.

“Cassie, you there? It’s Emmanuel’s dad. Emmanuel?”
The sound underbrush was sharp, unexpected, as he tripped, fell towards the curve of the above ground pool and struck his head against its grey sides. The next sound, his own yell, broke through the fog, momentarily distracting Cassie until Emmanuel pulled her down again. The cat’s claws scratched one fierce time and tore the skin of Jackson’s left ankle. He had not put on socks in his haste to warn the kids.

“Damn!”

He reached for his ankle when the cat slashed again, this time ripping the back of his hand. Jackson kicked, but missed, and the cat dashed away. Holding his hand close to his eyes, he saw streaks of red and felt the heat of new pain. Over the rim of the pool, he plunged his hand into the water. Temperatures had fallen overnight as they usually did in late August when only the kids, braving the cold, still splashed about in the pool. Cassie’s parents would soon close it.

KENNETH RADU’S most recent collection of short fiction, his fourth, is called Sex in Russia: New & Selected Stories, published last year by DC Books Canada. Some of the stories take place either in the Russia of reality or a Russia of imagination. There is sex, both real and imaginary, as well.

DINNER FOR TWO by Kenneth Radu

Two Saturdays ago in a corridor he had overheard his language teacher Mrs. Ch’en speak to fat Mrs. Hsieh, the Chinese history teacher, that of all the boys she thought Wangqi the most beautiful. Dumpy Mrs. Hsieh giggled and covered her mouth. He could have sworn the word was beautiful even though much of their whispered Mandarin eluded him. At home he stripped in front of his mirror. Twisting and turning to examine his reflection from all angles, including his genitals, he agreed: yes, it was true, he was beautiful. Mrs. Ch’en who loved beautiful vases and jade said so. He washed his long black hair with perfumed shampoo before going out for the evening.

At the sound of a siren careening down de la Gauchetière, the main avenue through Montreal’s Chinatown, Wangqi raised his head from his calligraphy exercise and stared out the window streaked by sunlight trying to burn through the city grime. The heat would rise this Saturday and some of his friends planned to splash about in a community pool, then hang out for a while in the park while he, for the next six hours, would painstakingly brush ink on rice paper, or carry on artificial conversations in his still faulty Mandarin. Mrs. Ch’en was a dragon when it came to the enunciation of vowels and tones. Other equally distracted students drew the teacher’s attention and she cracked her desk with a pointer, demanding they return to their work. He didn’t understand the purpose of writing with a brush as if he were painting when he could write the characters more easily with a pencil and erase a wrong stroke. Outside of school exercises he never wrote in Chinese anyway. Half the time he forgot which way to begin a character.

Mrs. Ch’en was always demanding in that musically high-pitched voice of hers and Wangqi wondered if she sounded the same way at home as she did in class. Did she crack a pointer over a bowls of noodles or steamed rice when her two children acted up around the dinner table? Carefully he brushed in the characters depicting a beautiful bird in flight. He imagined Mrs. Ch’en as a beautiful bird even if she did have two children. Flying away with her and perching in a tree like cooing doves: how sweet would that be?

Before the class began this Saturday morning he saw her kiss her two little children good-bye, a boy and a girl, before their father drove them away in his black sedan. Grey-haired Mr. Ch’en looked like a old merchant who spent too much time counting beads on his abacus. Wangqi knew he used a computer like all business men, except for a few ancient traditionalists selling goods in overstuffed shops on the side streets of Chinatown where his mother bought medicines not available at the white pharmacies. White, she called them, as if the buildings themselves were coated in white wash. It didn’t matter if the pharmacist was Chinese and spoke her language, the medicines were not.

When Mrs. Ch’en arrived, Wangqi was standing in a group of fellow students, all in white shirts or blouses and black slacks or skirts, the required uniform. The silky cloth of Mrs. Ch’en’s blue sheath, peony-patterned dress clung to the curves of her slender body when she leaned over. A great blossom spread over her buttocks.

Last week in class she had leaned over his shoulder and examined his work book where he had copied rules of Hanyu pin yin regarding the use of demonstrative pronouns which Mrs. Ch’en had listed on the black board. He resisted learning the system for romanizing Chinese words because in real life, his life outside of home and school, he spoke and wrote both English and French. Her perfume spilled over him like a waterfall cascading down rocks in a garden, washing among the supple crevices of his brain, leaving him almost gasping for air like a gold fish,. His urgent groin stirred. Ah, if only she would touch him, let him swim in the sensation of her moist presence and seductive fragrance, let him raise her dress above her thighs.

Turning to the student sitting next to him, she displayed her backside within touching distance. Wangqi pressed his thighs together to control sudden tumescence which he tried to soften by picking up his brush and concentrating on Chinese characters, but with a trembling hand the strokes of that bird in flight thickened over this pond, ink spread and accuracy perished. His fingers sweat. She thought he was beautiful.

This week he would have to stand in class and recite fifty lines of a poem in Mandarin. He had spent all week trying to memorize it, but faltered over the unfamiliar imagery and allusions. His father admonished that he do everything right; that he work on his accent; that he pay attention at home and listen to his parents; that he stop playing soccer or paint ball with the white boys of Montreal who called him Willy; that he not see his white girl friend; that he speak Mandarin as well as Cantonese, be a master of both dialects and write correct Chinese script.

Despite his parents efforts, he had grown up resisting linguistic perfection, and what he did speak was so compromised with impurities from French and English that his father could barely carry on a conversation with him, although his mother had no trouble understanding her son. Now after five years of regular attendance, he read the characters easily, pronounced accurately, and he was learning the fine art of calligraphy. Mrs. Ch’en noticed him. Beauty need not speak its desires, for already he understood how he enticed, even fat Mrs. Hsieh who tousled his hair in history class.

Tonight he was taking his girl friend to a movie and planned to caress and probe until Michelle, always resisting, would yield once again. His parents disapproved of her, and his father had cautioned him against pursuing the relationship. Her father disliked him because he was Chinese and because his daughter was too young to have a steady boy friend. Her mother, who looked hot in black slacks and red curly hair, always shook his hand and smiled. Madame St. Denis asked him questions about paintballing and once touched his arm. He answered in his colloquial French which she thought très charmant, his body reflected in her eyes.

He’d have sex with Michelle the way he wanted, the way Miss Ch’en, now writing on the black board, her hem rising up one side of her leg, made him want to. If she called him this very instant to stand up and recite, the entire class would see how much she aroused him. He would flame and explode like a fireworks celebrating the Chinese New Year until he fizzled out in full view of his laughing class mates.

After a shower and before dressing to go out with Michelle, he lay down and thought of Mrs.Ch’en and the fine silk of her dress riding above her thighs. How sweet the sensations flowing through his fine and slender body, especially when he took himself in hand and dreamed of his teacher floating in the sky on effortless wings as he kept company with her, stroke after stroke in the aromatic air. Ah, the brush of fingers on her thigh, the characters his tongue traced on her skin. Could she feel him express on the delicacy of her flesh how beautiful she was like a bird in flight, like a wild swan? The tip of his tongue brushed in her flight. So insistent his body, but patience, patience, patience, she always insisted upon patience, the tonalities would come, the inflexion would come, the perfect stroke would come. He felt big, huge and hard, ponderous with the yearning between his legs.

Michelle just grabbed and lurched and almost wrestled him, repeating Willy, Willy, Willy, do it to me, until he lost control and the joy was over before it really began. After only a month of dating she wanted him to give her a ring to prove they were going steady. And she phoned every night which caused his mother to frown. The sex was fun and always better the second time after Michelle calmed down, but he sometimes felt bored and suffocated.

He didn’t believe Mrs. Ch’en would be frantic like his girl friend. Patience, patience, he could almost hear the teacherly voice instructing him, pulling him on top of her resplendent, perfumed, mature body until the heavy thrilling heat burgeoned into light, but ah, easy, refrain, perfect the tone, he gasped, he held back. Her leg wrapped over his back as he guided himself in, guided himself between the luscious lips he yearned to lick as he licked his girl friend, lips surrounded by hair soft as down, quivering, swelling, moist lips, quivering — a word he recited in a Chinese poem — her most intimate lips quivering as he began to sink gently and most certainly inside the receptive and aromatic body of Mrs. Ch’en.

Erupting over his fist with a groan and enjoying the sudden warmth slipping among his fingers, he paused to catch his breath, then stirred as if doused with cold water and felt the absence of Mrs. Ch’en. He got off the bed and showered again. In the mirror his taut body glistened with wet beauty as he slowly dried himself, brushed his luxuriant hair, and ran his tongue over his exquisitely shaped lips.

Later in his friend’s bedroom and fully clothed, Michelle and he necked for half an hour, but he kept thinking of Mrs. Che’en and also Madame St. Denis while he nibbled on his girl friend’s ear lobe. Jean-Guy, whose parents were vacationing in Florida, had promised to stay out at least until eleven or so when it was time to leave. All he saw when he closed his eyes was Mrs. Ch’en’s silky dress riding up her backside. Instead of arousing him, the image deflated his intentions. The more insistent Michelle became, the more indifference spread through Wangqi like a cold virus. He wished Jean-Guy would walk in and take over because he knew his friend wanted a piece.

“What’s the matter? Don’t you love me?”

He kissed rather than answered and immediately imagined her mother’s lips on his, deliciously surprised by the picture of Madame St. Denis’ vibrant red hair spilling over his chest. He fondled Michelle’s little breasts until her tongue invaded his mouth and he was overtaken by nausea. He pushed her back, at which point Jean-Guy drunkenly barged into the room and Michelle got so upset when he made a grab for her that Wangqi said it was better to go home as it was late anyway. On the metro train, Michelle sulked like a child which bothered him to no end. He had to admit she was little more than a child and not all that interesting, so he kept his eyes and imagined both Mrs. Ch’en and Mrs. St. Denis beckoning him. He tried to make up for Michelle’s disappointment by kissing her long and hard on the porch before Madame opened the door.

On Sunday afternoon his father sent him a message by way of his mother: “your father wishes to speak to you in the library.” This time he noted tears in his mother’s dark eyes. “Please do not offend your father,” she whispered. One always knocked on the door before entering. His father spent most evenings working in his library. Here he discussed business matters after dinner with his clients, mostly Hong Kong entrepreneurs seeking opportunities in Canada, emerging precisely at eleven at night to prepare for bed. Wangqi often heard him pause outside his son’s door and the boy would stop clicking messages on his computer to his friends, or quickly exit whatever forbidden website his was perusing, lest his father enter, see, and criticize.

“Come in.”

Sure enough, father sat in his brass-studded, wine-red leather arm chair, reading a Chinese newspaper. Wangqi stood, waiting for his father to acknowledge his presence. His eyes roamed the dark room, heavily shelved with history books, philosophy and encyclopaediae he had himself never opened, gathering all his facts quickly off the Internet. The monitors of his father’s two computers flickered on the enormous black-lacquered desk imported all the way from Shanghai.

“You are still seeing that white girl?”

His father looked directly at him, the light from the one lamp reflected in the old man’s rimless glasses. The question was rhetorical. Wangqi blushed, ill-prepared to meet his father’s objection which he had known would, must, occur.

“You will no longer do so.”

“But father …”

“There is no room for dispute. We have spoken about your bad behaviour before. Now we end the discussion. Know this: if you see the white girl again, you will not be permitted entry into your father’s house. Your family or the white girl. You have one year left of high school before university and your work is suffering. You will lose any chance for scholarships. You must devote yourself to your studies or perish. Do not bring shame to your family. Now, you may leave.”

The next Saturday at Chinese school, he concentrated on his calligraphy and pronunciation, only allowing himself to be distracted occasionally by Mrs. Ch’en’s black and gold silk dress that rustled like breath in his ear which sent shivers right to his groin. She praised his work. He had not returned Michelle’s calls the past few days. This morning his teacher had arrived at the school by taxi and he wondered if there was trouble at home. Why would her husband not have driven her as he usually did? His cell phone buzzed in his pocket. Surreptitiously checking it, he saw again that it was Michelle. During recess he phoned and Madame St. Denis answered.

“I’m sorry, Madame, I thought Michelle would answer her phone.”

“That’s quite alright, Weelee, I have to answer because Michelle’s expecting a call and she’s in the shower now.”

Saturday afternoon and she was in the shower? Was Michelle expecting his call?

“Ah, how are you, Weelee?”

“I am fine, Madame St. Denis, you?”

He enjoyed the sound of his anglicized name the way this French woman pronounced it.

“Fine also, we miss you, mon cher. We haven’t seen you all week. What a pity I said to Michelle. Weelee’s such a handsome boy, and so courteous, any girl would be lucky to have him.”

He turned away from the various students lounging about the yard and faced the school wall as if to prevent his French conversation from being overheard because school policy forbade the speaking of any language except Chinese on school grounds.

“Well … thank you.”

“I would love to see you again, Weelee.”

“You would?”

“Michelle is going out a bit later and will spend the weekend with friends. My husband is out of town. Pauvre moi, I shall be alone. Come for dinner. I am a fabulous cook. Just the two of us. No one will know. Listen, I have to hang up now because Michelle’s call is waiting. Phone me on my own cell, Weelee. Do you have a pen?”

“I have a great memory, Madame St. Denis. I can’t promise to come for dinner, but I promise to call.”

She gave him the number which he committed to memory. Pausing first to regain control of his nerves, he followed the other students into the building to resume class. Remembering Madame St. Denis’ caress of his arm, Wangqi carried on a half-hearted debate about why he should or should not accept her invitation. She was most definitely not a girl. He’d hardly ignore his studies for a married woman and take her to the movies. Secret arrangements could be made. No one would know. Half way during the class devoted to writing according to the rules of pinyin, he caught Mrs. Ch’en staring at him and he blushed. Married women, the very thought, unsettled his concentration on syntax.

After school he showered and perfumed his body which glowed in his mirror. His father had flown to Vancouver on business. What his father did not know would not hurt him. Delighted by the perfect mark he had received for an exercise from Mrs. Ch’en, his mother did not mind his going out, not with Michelle, he had assured her. Waiting for the subway train with a bouquet of flowers, he dreamed of driving his very own jaguar. His  beautiful face was reflected in the train windows and fire stirred in his body.

Michelle’s mother opened the door. For a moment Wangqi confused her with Mrs. Che’en because of her red Chinese dress with a Mandarin collar, incandescent with gold birds and flowers, fitting her body so tightly it outlined the pattern of her bra. She reached for his arm. With a broad smile, he offered her the carnations and daisies he had bought at a local market, then crossed the threshold.

KENNETH RADU’S most recent collection of short fiction, his fourth, is called Sex in Russia: New & Selected Stories, published this year by DC Books Canada. Some of the stories take place either in the Russia of reality or a Russia of imagination. There is sex, both real and imaginary, as well.

TREE by Kenneth Radu

She thought of  murder, the more horrendous option than a simple separation, if ending fifteen years together could be simple. Perhaps inclement weather had unsettled her nerves. The windstorm last night had ripped the tin roof off their shed, exposing the insides to the rain. Panels of metal lay bent or twisted on the sodden lawn, one floating in their  neighbour’s pool which they most definitely would have to retrieve. The pool water had turned green. Past Labour Day and her neighbours took their sweet time closing it down for the winter. Adrian had not emerged from the house yet. She wondered if he’d delay their departure for the college or choose to gather the tin sheets after they returned home.

***

Tariq, a youth from Lebanon whose family had fled the wars, stopped by her office almost every morning for a quick kiss before classes began. Well, not quite a quick kiss because Tariq’s tongue probed as far as it could reach. She almost choked on its sensitive tip at the back of her throat. Yesterday morning, breaking free, she held Tariq’s face in her hands.

“Stop it, my darling. We can’t, we shouldn’t do this.”

“We should do it all the time. In class all I can think of is fucking my favourite teacher.”

“It’s a good thing you’re not taking my class this semester. Now leave, I have to get my notes together.”

She had not feared discovery because she arrived in her office before other colleagues appeared, Tariq always shut the door, and she never let him stay longer than an intimate kiss.  It began during the summer when she had found herself only one of three adults in the community pool. An elderly couple side-stroked slowly up and down two lanes. She swam a fast crawl for thirty laps before stretching out on her back, floating, letting the sun dry her face. She paddled with her hands to direct her body and sensed it move towards the lifeguard’s stand shaded by a giant maple tree behind the fence.

“You are a great swimmer Madame Gautier.”

“Tariq! I hadn’t noticed. You’re a life guard here?”

“I have been fortunate. I was just hired, m’am. Yesterday was my first day. You visit this pool often?”

“Four times a week, if I can manage it, during the adult hour when the pool is more or less free. Not many adults take advantage of it.”

“I think many of them have day jobs in the summer. They are not teachers like you.”

Swinging off the seat and clambering down the side ladder, slender body, long legs, muscular back, the elegant physique of a swimmer without ludicrous muscular bulk, the natural bronze and olives hues of skin deepened by a summer’s tan, the boy scintillated in the sun like a bar of newly washed gold. How unlike Justin. He wore a black Speedo bathing suit, his stomach flat. The elderly couple were helping each other out of the pool. Tariq sat down, keeping his somewhat hairy legs separated. She didn’t think he had deliberately chosen to be provocative. Checking to see that the elderly couple had negotiated the slippery pool steps successfully, he gripped the edge of the pool and hunched forward, his dark eyes darker in the shade of the tree. She needed to make a decision: resume laps, get out of the pool and say good-bye, or flirt with her student and sit next to his almost naked body. He had done quite well in her biology class last semester.

Only once before had she ever indulged her fantasies for boys, especially of the slender and taut frames. That affair had lasted one semester, the student had been vigorous and grateful, then graduated and disappeared from her life. Since then, professional ethics, although weak, had not prevented dalliance so much as time-eating duties, responsibilities and, of course, Justin. Treading water, she regretted lost opportunities and became fiercely aware of time and yearning. Tariq kept staring at her and she could so easily touch his perfect feet. Then she rose, raised her arms above her head, curved, dove to the bottom and swam underwater to the other side of the pool.

***

Justin came out of the house and cursed when he saw the shed.

“I had better get the damn thing out of the pool. Put my brief case in the car.”

He disappeared around the house. Moments later she saw him reaching for the panel with the life-saving pole and dragging it towards land. The scummy water soaked his clothes when he lifted the sheet and he would have to change. Already they were late and she’d probably miss Tariq this morning. He always wanted to text message or phone on her cell, but she absolutely forbade it and, despite his lustiness and penchant for dirty sex talk, he refrained. Growing up in a household of many rules, regulations and correct speech, with her he burst into the testosterone-driven raciness and garrulity of randy youth.

She had to teach him discretion, no easy matter for a boy. In compensation she encouraged him to say whatever he wanted, even adopt a proprietarily attitude towards her when they were alone together in the apartment of a trustworthy Québécois friend who lived only a fifteen minute walk from the college and obligingly vanished at Tariq’s request. They had agreed to go out for lunch today. He insisted on skipping his two afternoon classes, meeting her by her car, then driving to a cozy bistro in east end Montreal, not frequented by any one they knew, a half hour from the college.

So involved with research and labs for the entire day in a part of the campus several buildings away from her classes, Justin would not be looking for his car until six or so. He had promised to call her office then. After lunch, Tariq wanted to take her in every sense of the word on Mount Royal rising above the city, for he knew the paths intimately.

“Against a tree,” he had said in a serious tone as if he were ordering an execution. She thought of her silk blouse, of abrasion on her back. In her a satchel full of lab reports she had stuffed a sweat shirt to put on during sex against that tree. Justin was hidden behind the panel as he carried it to the shed.

“The rest will have to wait. Shit, I don’t have time to change, my pants are sopping, but they’ll dry soon enough. Let’s go.”

Lately he had acquired a peremptory tone in his voice, no less commanding than Tariq’s. When she had appeared to favour a student in class, Tariq sulked in her office and to humour him she agreed to his command that she not look at other boys. His bossiness charmed her still. What she forgave in the boy, she resented in the man. Oh, yes, fantasies of murder she fully understood arose out of the decay of love and desire. Still, as long as she remained with Justin, Tariq could only insist upon so much and no more.

***

For the rest of August she tried to swim laps every weekday during the Adult Swim hour and Tariq successfully got lifeguarding duty at that time. Another guard fiddled about the cabin with schedules for games and competitions. She knew Tariq fancied older women, older in her case being thirty-nine which fit in her newly purchased bikini with only a modest roll of flesh around her waist. Tariq focused on her breasts and legs, all of which the bikini displayed to excellent advantage.

One day, the weather being unseasonably cool and overcast, he wore a blue jacket on the stand while she swam forty laps. The other guard busy with paperwork in the cabin, Tariq extended a hand on the steps and helped her out. He did not budge when she faced him dripping wet.

“I’m wet.”

“I believe you are.”

She could have laughed over the obvious innuendo, but was charmed by the breathy earnestness and utter lack of irony in his voice, charmed too by his youthful vigour and beauty, charmed by his accent, charmed by the desire burning in his black Lebanese eyes. She could see he wanted to kiss her, but had realized how risky the move at the moment. To his instant amazement and reaction, she deftly placed a hand over his Speedo. He did not step back.

“I need to change.”

Then, winding the towel around her waist, she scurried into the Ladies room.

“Walk,” he had laughingly shouted after her, “no running on deck.”

***

The swiftness by which the affair began did not astonish as much as fantasies of killing Justin. He had grown wearying, chronically bothered with one minor ailment or another, and sex had become both rare and indifferent. Whenever Justin touched her, she hungered for Tariq. Now it was the ulcer again; last year bronchial pneumonia which had rendered him homebound and tedious for weeks. His love of tennis led to tendonitis. Over his breakfast he also mentioned a sudden dizzy spell in the shower and a heaviness about the chest. Spreading freezer marmalade over her toast, she envisaged herself becoming a full time nurse for a man old before his time, which made her feel even older.

She had wanted children, he did not, but for the past few months he had been loudly fantasizing about paternity. He had changed his mind. “It would be good thing for us to have children,” he said. She, however, had also changed hers. What she had not experienced, she longer desired. Sitting in the car next to her partner who drove without talking, she still considered leaving, but she lacked the energy to make a decision and go through the motions. She didn’t want to enter into discussions over a division of the spoils, investments, goods and chattels.

The other morning Tariq had kissed, then whispered that she belonged to him and no one else, fate had so decreed, conveniently forgetting Justin of whom he never wished to hear. She had found his possessiveness, once sexy, just a bit presumptuous, but put it down to tumescent euphoria. If she were entirely free, perhaps Tariq  would insist upon more than she wished to give. True, in the proverbial throes of passion she sometimes cried out like a heroine in a cheap erotic romance that she’d die without him.

Really, ending a common-law relationship lacked the compelling interest of murder, at least imagining how to achieve murder on a strictly theoretical basis. Only a fanciful thought because in the end she would have to come to terms with her very great fear of growing old and undesirable alone. Moreover, aware of subterranean currents in Tariq, an undertow that could drag her down, perhaps Justin could serve as a lifeline, should the need arise. Ah, the boy confirmed her desirability, but for how long? “Run away with me,” he had several times whispered during and after sex. Where, she thought of asking, to what purpose? Lovers only ran away in the movies.

Caressing his beautiful body and murmuring her craving to be overwhelmed distracted him from the future, and he rolled over to delight in the present again. She had taught him to take his time, how to please her body to make it yearn for his touch. He had at first been too rushed, fucking as if racing and reaching the finish line in an explosion of expletives. Now he paced himself according to her response, as she rejoiced in the luxurious smoothness of his torso like steel sheathed in silk.

Tariq ordered their meal in his precise French, but they ate in silence. His cologne or aftershave was too strong although she liked the fragrance, a hint of lemon. He seemed glum, some family trouble perhaps on his mind, visibly upset when she refused to let him pay the bill, arguing with her on the way to the mountain that she should not have paid for the meal.

“I am not your little boy that you should pay for me.”

Well, he was a student after all. She didn’t think he had excess cash to splurge on expensive luncheons, although his family had money. He was prone to moodiness, she had noted, tinged with anger, which she always attributed to late adolescent impatience, brain wave turmoil and sexual jitters. Perhaps he also evinced some kind of middle-eastern temperament, a history of violence to which she was not privy.

She found a parking spot near a well-trod mountain path up which he led her. They veered off that and entered the forest where he knew one clearing or another, obviously having come here often. She and Justin used to picnic near the famous illuminated cross. Tariq grabbed her hand and pulled as if she were reluctant to follow. Given her choice of heels, hiking upwards and over rough terrain presented difficulties.

At last, there it was, suddenly before her, “our special tree,” he called it, against which he wanted to take her well out of the purview of the police on horses who patrolled the mountain. She guessed it was  a red oak, indigenous to the area. In the distance she heard faint sounds of the city below and the sky was somewhat obscured by the interlocking branches, the leaves already turning.

“I want to fuck you now,” breathing heavily, he pressed her against the trunk before she had a chance to change into her sweat shirt. His hand quickly found its way up her skirt, which she had been careful to select this morning because he had told her not to wear slacks. He roughly inserted his fingers. She cried out.

“Shut up, say you love me, say you belong to me, say you want Tariq to fuck you, say it, you love Tariq, you will never leave your Tariq.”

“I love you, I love you, fuck me, Tariq, I will never leave you.”

No more than the evanescent truth of the moment, and no more truthful than all such words spoken in sex, than all fantasies of murder. When he lowered his pants, raised her leg, held it under a knee and around his waist, adjusted position and thrust hard, lifting her off the ground, her shoulders and back rubbing against the bark, she could not stifle the groan.

“Say you need it, you need Tariq’s cock.”

“Yes, yes, I need it!”

He wanted to please only himself this time. She burned, hurt, lusted and panicked. Tariq possessed a force she not previously encountered, and he would always take her as he desired. He drove thoughts of Justin from her mind, he drove away all reason and qualms like meek cattle to the slaughterhouse until she became a vacant field.

Tariq insisted on driving her car back to the college, the first time he had done so. He spoke about his studies, graduating, engineering at McGill university, finding his own place to which he would give her the key, spreading his fingers over her thigh, she belonged to him now and no other. He had been wanting to tell her this at lunch, but could not until after he had taken her to the tree, he said, now she would always be his woman. Pulling into a secluded spot a fair walk from her academic building, he leaned over and kissed her, held her face in his hands, his own face glowing even as she felt chilled.

“You love me, you will see me tomorrow morning in your office, do not be late again for I will become angry. I love you so much I will kill you, then myself, if you do not love me back, you belong to me now. The tree has proven it.” His voice was gentle, good-humoured, announcing an inexorable fact like a law of physics.

He walked away, looked back and waved. She waited until he disappeared, still impressed by his beauty. Emerging from a daze, she began thinking, ordering her choices to see them clearly. With Tariq gone, she was not distracted. Meeting no colleagues, by the time she reached her office and sat down, her back sore, her body smelling faintly of sex and Tariq’s cologne, it was past three and she tried marking papers, her mind lapsing into reverie, when the phone rang.

“Camille?”

“Yes.”

The dean’s voice surprised her. Justin had been rushed to hospital earlier around noon. They had been trying to reach her for the past couple of hours and she remembered having turned off her cell phone in the car. Some sort of heart seizure, a mild attack, he was certain. If she needed anything, maybe cancel a class or two tomorrow, let him know and he’d arrange matters. Thanking the dean for his consideration, she didn’t know how she felt, but arranging matters now seemed futile like the notion of fate, a pointless attempt to explain the irrational and arbitrary.

It was anyone’s guess how long Justin would stay in the hospital, or how ill he was. What care at home would be required? Who would gather the sheets of roofing and recover the shed? She could ask Tariq, but wondered if that would give him the wrong signal. Hiring a handyman would solve the immediate problem of debris in her yard if she did not hoist up the roofing herself. Tariq must be made to understand that she could not desert a sick man in his many hours of need. Then she noticed a small torn leaf from the red oak tree stuck to the left upper arm of her blouse. She would cancel classes for the rest of the week and not see Tariq in the mornings. Of that much Camille was absolutely certain. The leaf, once removed, left a stain on her white silk.

KENNETH RADU’S fiction has appeared or is forthcoming online in Spilt Milk, The Medulla Review, Danse Macabre, The Tower, Lacuna, Whisper&Scream and elsewhere. A collection of his stories entitled Sex in Russia: New & Selected Stories will be published this year by DC Books of Montreal. He considers himself a reincarnation of a ninetheenth-century writer of letters, maybe Flaubert, but faster and without the fetish for exactitude.

WINDOWS by Kenneth Radu

Through the front room window she watched Isaac drive away. He was proud of the van. His first choice of car after the accident had been a fuel-efficient compact, Japanese model, but it was too cramped for her crippled body and too small to transport a wheel chair. Yesterday she had undergone a painful physiotherapy session that had drained all of her energy. Today, she did not have an appointment. She wheeled into the kitchen and, having lost her appetite, scraped the eggs into the trash bin under the sink. She could turn on the taps from her sitting position, or stand by supporting herself against the counter, and do the dishes, but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to wash so few dishes.

Rain threatened again today. The first week of June was especially wet and unnaturally cold. She wore her fleece sweat suit because the house was chilly. Isaac preferred not to build a fire in the wood stove after the first of April, relying on the electric baseboards heaters. She loved how wood heat penetrated into the marrow of her bones. Electricity did remove the damp, but she struggled into a sweater over her fleece top and was thankful for her woollen socks.

For a moment Emma considered starting a fire herself. Even from a wheelchair, she could open the door, crumple paper, insert kindling, and strike match. Individually the logs, of which a few still remained on the back porch, were not heavy. She could wheel them in on her lap. Isaac, though, would strongly object to a fire in June, even more if she had built it. She had already raised the thermostat to no good effect.

Emma supposed she was glad that Isaac had taken an early retirement. Before the accident, her notion had been to continue working at the pharmaceutical company for another ten years. He did so much for her and sometimes she felt lonely and frustrated confined to a wheelchair or practising to walk with crutches. A hot bath would warm her body. Isaac still felt it necessary to bathe her until she protested that she wasn’t a child, having to convince him that she was capable of washing herself.

A bath board had been secured across the tub. A shower hose attached to the faucet was within easy reach. True, she could not lie back and soak in scented, bubbly waters. Sitting on a white board, directing the spray over her head, down her back, against her breasts and stomach and over her legs, then scrubbing herself with a washcloth, did not rank high on her list of sensual delights. The physical activity, though, performed in Isaac’s absence, provided its own satisfaction.

Without the presence of a bathroom on the first floor, she would not have been able to leave the rehab until she could up walk up the stairs to the washroom on the second floor. Opening the door, she wheeled over the threshold into a green and white, ceramic tiled room, brightened  by light streaming through a very large sash window. It looked over the vegetable garden. The abundant lilac bushes between the vegetables and their neighbour’s provided privacy. White shutters covered the bottom half of the window and a hunter green shade, when pulled down, covered the top.

Rain began to fall. As Emma undressed, she watched the drops splatter, then gutter, down the panes. A massive grey and striated cloud looked like the underside of an island floating in the sky. Enjoying the view of their garden in the rain, she decided against closing the shutters or pulling down the shade. Large enough to allow Emma to manoeuvre the wheelchair, the room also contained a pine linen cupboard. Suspended from the high ceiling in front of the window, a many-legged spider plant arched over the rim of a green pot.

Raising herself out of the wheelchair and sliding herself onto the bath board over which she had spread a towel – it was so cold to the touch – her sense of relief deepened into wonderfully guilty feelings of pleasure. Adjusting the water temperature, Emma wet her hair. Lifting a breast, she washed underneath. Isaac spent so much time at home. Was it absolutely necessary? She didn’t mind being left alone.

The rain splattered hard against the window. Emma turned her head, dropped the hose with water still squirting out of it, and screamed. A man was staring at her. His face half-covered with a  yellow rain hat, he pressed his lips puckering out of black beard against the glass and moved his head in a circular motion. Emma reached for a bath towel from the wheel chair and covered herself. The hose squirmed at the bottom of the tub and shot water upwards, wetting her towel. His hands splayed against the glass, the man opened his mouth and licked the rain. The hands became fists and he tapped them on the pane.

The instinct run was so powerful that Emma’s body jolted as if electricity bristled and burned along her nerves. She shouted “go away, I’ll call the police.” Water was still spraying out of the shower hose, soaking the towel covering her body. Clutching it to her stomach, she leaned over and turned off the faucets, nausea rising in her throat. If only Isaac were home. She did not look at the window, but knew the creep was still pressing his face against it. Every piece of metal in her legs clanged and clicked, vibrating against her bones, her blood chilled, and goose bumps pimpled her flesh.

The front and back doors: were they locked? Not the bathroom door. She had seen no reason to lock it. True, Isaac always secured the doors when he left her alone and had told her never to open them to any one she wasn’t expecting. Surely the stranger wanted to get into the house. Emma could not help herself but turn to see him again. His mouth gaping and thin-lipped, a thick tongue like a dog’s protruding through the black beard so obviously false it was laughable. Emma did not laugh. He could break the glass, double panes notwithstanding. She looked for something to throw at him. If wishes were facts, the spider plant would leap out of the pot and spread its hairy legs like a giant tarantula against the window and frighten the monster away.

They did not keep a gun in the house. The man rubbed his mouth and tongue up and down the pane, his beard slipping. Neighbours couldn’t see her bathroom window from any of their own windows or yards. She wondered what she could use as a weapon to defend herself. Quickly searching the pine cupboard and the vanity, her mind saw a hair dryer, rolls of toilet paper, and Isaac’s razor blades. With a razor blade she’d be able to slash the man’s face if he attacked. Fighting back the urge to pee, Emma imagined for a moment how pathetic and frustrated the creep must be that he spied on a crippled woman in her bathtub. God, her bladder bulged and hummed.

He was doing something —  hoisting his body? Raise himself he did until his waist was higher than the window sill. He unzipped his pants. His flesh would be cold like a dead fish in winter. She wished for a dog to materialize miraculously, a pit bull especially trained to snap down hard on the genitals of voyeurs. She had only her mangled, naked body which, judging by a penis fondled outside her window, could drive a man wild with desire.

Trying to scream, Emma could not: desperate to stand, she could not: desperate for a plant to metamorphose magically and for ferocious guard dogs to appear, they did not. Desperate for Isaac’s razor blades. Whatever he had found to stand on was not sinking in the soft wet earth. She shifted position and slid towards the wheel chair, still holding the wet bath towel against her breasts. The wheels locked, Emma gripped one of its arms and pushed her body on to the seat, her back turned to the man in the window. His mumbling voice against the glass sounded like the moaning of a beached whale. There were a few cement foundation blocks on this side of this house. He could be standing on them.

She had a cell phone on the table next to her bed in the sun room. Isaac always advised that she carry it on her person. If anything happened, if you should fall, anything at all, you’d always have a phone handy. Stupidly, she resisted his advice on the matter, and here she was, helpless before a stranger’s lust. Emma didn’t want to look at the man, but a compulsion overcame her, some inner necessity, catching her like a mouse paralysed by a serpent’s stare. Cock in hand, he jerked his body up and down outside the window. She started to push down on the wheels, but the chair did not move. She tried harder, her voice suddenly returning in a loud command to the chair.

“Move, damn it, move!”

Then Emma realized that she hadn’t lifted the levers from their lock position. One hand a fist now. His hands looked powerful enough to break the glass. If not, then a cement block could smash through the window. Not much time remained before he forced his way into the house. He was no longer staring directly at her and she couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or closed. Preoccupied with masturbating and rubbing his tongue against the pane, he seemed to have forgotten she was in the room. Emma glanced at his penis twice and tried to get a good view of his face under the hat and behind the beard. If she called the police, they would ask for a precise description.

The commode over the toilet seat beckoned. Her bladder would soon explode. If she opened the window, sitting on the toilet would bring her practically within touching distance of the hand rubbing his genitals. So cold in the room, so cold her shattered legs, so cold the bath water on her skin.

At last, the fierce pleasure and pressure of nature overcame willpower and fear poured out of her body. Wet and warm heat. Slumped in the chair, Emma didn’t stop peeing until she had fully relieved herself. Goddam you, she wanted to shout, did you get a good look at that? But when she looked up he had disappeared, rain dribbling his semen down the window pane.

Perhaps he was creeping below the window, a slimy, human slug of a creature slithering in the mud. Holding back the tears, Emma towelled the urine off the lower half of her body. She dried her legs and wheeled herself out of the bathroom with such force that she pulled a muscle in her left arm. In the narrow hall, the wheelchair cushion soaked with piss, she banged against the wall. She reached the cell phone, a wheel of her chair catching and knocking over her easel. Her winter landscape in watercolour fell to the floor. The numbers seemed too small for the tips of her fingers to touch accurately. Several tries and each time she pushed down on the wrong numbers. She couldn’t take another bath. She would have to wash the bathroom floor or Isaac would surely notice the puddle of pee.

She put the phone down and wheeled towards the back door, her arm aching. Yes, it was locked. All the windows were shut and locked. Isaac had checked before leaving. Looking through the sun room window, she couldn’t see the stranger anywhere in the back yard. He was not lurking among the lilac bushes, but she had no assurance that this was true. He could very well be squatting on his haunches out of sight, waiting like a feral animal for his prey.

Lovely, deep purple French lilacs, their perfume intoxicating. Would she ever be able to hold a bouquet to her nose again without thinking of perverts in the underbrush? Taking a deep breath and fighting to control her shaking hand, she called  911. Her voice rushed out in breathless babble – man, window, creep, help, bath, cripple, psycho, help, help, pee: all garbled together until she stopped crying, got some measure of control, and spoke more or less rationally to the operator. She thought the woman said she’d send the police. Emma then tapped in Isaac’s cell number, but he didn’t answer. She left a message, crying for him to come home. Friends, their numbers, but she could no longer see the see clearly, and then her ability to speak failed and she dropped the phone.

Smelling of urine, the seat cushion needed to be washed.  Oh, if only a fire burned away the cold terror in her bones. Emma clenched on a hope that the prowler had left the grounds, that she was indeed safe in her own house, protected by her husband’s vigilance. And she remembered one of Isaac’s favourite sayings: hope did not change the weather. She huddled deep in her wheelchair overlooked by many windows, waiting, staring at her fallen canvas of snow drifts and naked trees.

KENNETH RADU’S stories have appeared or are forthcoming online in Foundling Review, Thirst for Fire, Two Hawks Quarterly, Clearfield Review, LWOT, and elsewhere. He lives in a French village in Quebec where he writes obsessively in English to maintain his identity.