Alarmingly Strange Stories
 

Strings Attached
by
Cyndi Kirkpatrick


She wound a pale ribbon through the curls. It reminded her of her mother, who wore a ribbon so in her own dark tresses. When a hunger driven time like this arrived, it always made her retreat from it to childhood memories. She risked depression by briefly indulging in nostalgia for her home of long ago, her mother spinning wool as she basked in the afternoon sun, sheep grazing through rocky meadows, the blessed, innocent ocean, the laughter she had known. Now her family was dead and she was the only one on earth who remembered her youth. Laughter was scarce and never so real as it was in those days, when every embrace came from heart. With long practiced discipline, she brought herself back to present needs, took her jacket from where it had been tossed on a cardboard box, and went out the door, locking it behind her. There was no going back to what she was before. She had stopped trying so long ago she couldn't even remember when it had happened.

It didn't take long to find him or rather, to let him find her. One seedy bar, one drink, one long, meaningful look exchanged with the first lecherous man who stared. It didn't matter much who he was, she let the fates decide it. Sometimes if he was young, she would turn him down and go on with her search. She had been desperately in love the first time she took a man, at least half a dozen times since she had felt the stirrings of affection when with one of her lovers. It made the morning after a thousand times worse, so now she made sure there would be nothing about a suitor to engage her heart and she talked to them as little as possible. If she had a preference at all, it was for very old men because that seemed kinder to her.

This time he was in his late middle years, drunk but not weaving, red in the face, a little too fat and a little too sweaty to be attractive. His suit and haircut were more expensive than they should have been for this bar, his fingernails were manicured. He was slumming, just as she was. They exchanged small talk as he bought her another drink. He told her his name was Bill but she doubted that was true.

"Where do you work?" Bill directed this question to her chest. She leaned back and stretched a little to let him know she didn't mind. Men had been staring at her breasts since she became a woman but it always seemed strange to her when people asked about her profession, assuming that she would have a job. As she grew up, her family had never prepared her for the idea of working outside her home, like a man. It still felt vaguely wrong to her. She wondered why he asked, since he so obviously didn't care. Maybe he was trying to find out if she planned on charging him.

"I'm a curator over at the museum. I work with tapestry restoration and textile arts. Actually, I should say I did work there. I'm moving out of town tomorrow." She didn't know why she was bothering to tell him even this much. It was babble to fill the moments before they could leave, that was all.

"Really? Huh. Who would have thought you were the artsy type? You don't look smart." Smiling at her, it was clear he thought this a compliment. The fact she wouldn't be around after tonight increased his attraction to her. "I'll bet you're a foreigner. I'm good at reading people. What are you, Puerto Rican?"

"Greek." She licked an ice cube from the glass and rolled it around in her mouth. When it was almost melted, she gnashed it into bits to feel the satisfying crunch of it shattering. He found this erotic, imagining that mouth on his skin, and decided not to waste time.

"Do you live around here?" She was glad he was getting to business. The need was stronger and she was tipsy enough not to resent it as much as she had earlier. She never propositioned them, never, she made a point of it. But he was going to ask her something she could agree to and that she would do. Had to, in fact. "Down the block," she answered.

"It's kind of crowded here. What do you say we go to your place so we can really talk?" His question brought a genuine laugh from her. There were only a handful of people in the bar, engaged in their own private, sordid conversations. Still, she knew what he meant. He knew she knew.

"Are you sure you want to be alone with me? You don't know me. I could be dangerous." She said this seductively which was misleading but her flesh knew it was close to being satisfied and the belly deep pleasure at the thought made her cunning.

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