Aphrodite Among Mortals

Mr. Belvedere brought a bottle of lotion out of his manpurse and set it between them on the table. “Shall we lotion between courses, Miss Kube?”

“Hands or feet?”

“Why differentiate? These little rituals are comforting waystations on the path through the wilderness.”

“Speaking of non-differentiation, Mr. Belvedere, have you heard about the Singaporean wonder who can play ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ with her toes?”

“No, but I have drunk of the Ganges.”

The man’s lightning-quick mind! She would have to request assistance connecting the dots. “The Ganges? Where did that come from?”

“Somewhere upstream though some say it was born of a dwarf.”

“I am born of dwarves.”

“In this way you are like the Ganges, Miss Kube.”

She mused. “I suppose one could say.”

“Some say Saint Paul himself was a dwarf and that this was the thorn he asked thrice to have removed from his flesh.”

“I really couldn’t say.”

“You are very noncommittal on the subject of dwarves for someone who has them in her house. Perhaps they are descended from Saint Paul, your parents. Are they hysterical?”

“They could be quite funny at times.”

“A laughing childhood. How I envy you that. I was thrust from my home at a tender age and sent to wander the world like the two from Eden before I quite knew which end was up. For a long time I squatted like a female dog before some kind soul pointed lampposts and tree trunks out to me. I am speaking metaphorically, of course, as I am wont to do. It is up to you to discern the facts behind the poetry. My whole life has something of the legend, the fairy tale to it. I could be born from a narcissistic hermaphrodite for all I know. A certain recurring nightmare I have seems to point to that.”

“A hermaphrodite is half Aphrodite half Hermes, you know. And fully capable of taking advantage of itself, I suppose.”

“Please! The sting is bad enough without bringing the pagans into my nativity. Their temples have long ago been sacked, their priests and oracles put to the sword, their statues beheaded, their ideals humiliated.”

“If you are, as you suspect, Mr. Belvedere, the issue of a self-serving hermaphrodite, I too have had my shame.”

“Oh?” He hiked his eyebrows.

“Oh, yes. Mine is of fairly recent discovery. In fact, it was only this afternoon that I came face to face with it, though it is of ancient origin, or the genesis of it is.”

“So you have your own genesis with a fall in it. Shall we compare falls?”

“More than that, mine is a double shame.”

“Two for the price of one?”

“Something like that.”

“You’ve one-upped me, Miss Kube. You may tell me if you wish. There is nothing I like more than hearing of a lady’s shame. For the purpose of giving her a sympathetic ear, of course.”

“Oh, of course.”

“It is only to know you better that I inquire. First, shall we lotion again? I find it eases the channels of communication.”

They lotioned in silence, which seemed to Miss Kube to poke a hole in Mr. Belvedere’s justification for it, but she gave him his due out of respect for his vast experience. Meantime, the waiter, in white gloves and swallowtail jacket, removed the shards of their duckling l’orange.  Miss Kube was sorry to see it go. Normally she would have sucked the bones dry, but as Mr. Belvedere did not take his up, she behaved herself.

“Soon we will have flaming cherries,” he said, “and then our digestif.  Chartreuse, perhaps.”

“But it is such a nasty color.”

“That is part of its charm and the method to its madness, Miss Kube. At home it would be ginger ale with an olive. I suppose the little people have their own preferences, hard to fathom. Tell me a little about your income. Then we will move on to your shame. How do you earn your keep, in other words?”

“It is not a very interesting life, I am afraid. I do a lot of charity work. I have a fairly generous inherited income, vast, really, fairly bottomless, but I can’t say I earn it. It’s just there.”

Mr. Belvedere filed this away in his mental craw under “The Charms of Miss Kube.”  Perhaps the parents had sued for dwarfism and won?

Time for butter. “I must compliment you, Miss Kube. No one would ever suspect you descend from dwarves. You cover it very well. I would imagine your charity work involves getting things down off the shelves for dwarves or something of the like. Or maybe you’ve had enough of that and want to move on to something entirely different. You may begin the account of your shame and degradation at any moment you wish.”

“Shall we wait for the flaming cherries?”

“Does it require an opening act?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Have the courage of your perversions, Miss Kube.”

“Very well.” She watched herself place her recently-lotioned hands together palm-to-palm like they were Words and Meaning, or Guts and Glory. She appeared satisfied that she was about to lay on him something he would wish he hadn’t heard.

Mr. Belvedere abandoned his nostrils to breathe exclusively through his open mouth, such was the level of his anticipation. He had read disapprovingly very many accounts of the shames of ladies before shredding the periodicals in which they appeared and pouring boiling water over them in the kitchen sink to signify the torment the first person narrator would undergo if she did not leave off mocking propriety and the elevated status of Woman, but he had never had the opportunity to listen to the sordid tale spoken directly from the mouth of the guilty.

“My parents are dead:  to begin with. There is no doubt about that,” Miss Kube began inauspiciously. “There is no doubt they are dead. This must be distinctly understood or nothing horrifying can come of the story I am going to relate.”

Mr. Belvedere whistled a tuneless ditty and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. This was not up to “The Spanking of Salome,” which had recently been scalded in his kitchen, in fact at exactly 4:15 this very afternoon right before he flipped on “The Rosary on the Air” and grabbed his. “Come, come, Miss Kube. Must you open your raunch like a cloying Dickens novel? We’re not Victorians here. We’re not even post-Victorians.”

Miss Kube’s buttocks gave her a little bounce then were there to catch her on the rebound. 

They’re only buttocks, Mr. Belvedere reminded himself. Everyone has a set if he or she is lucky enough. They are also referred to in anatomy as gluteus maximi, and doesn’t the clinical ring of that take a bite out of their allure? They flex, sometimes repeatedly and rapidly. What was in a vibrato? Even large soprano voice boxes behaved that way.

“Please! Have the grace of the minimalist. You of all people should have it in you.”

Her buttocks were still making her do things:  wobble, feint this way and that. She was acting very pre-hemorroidal as though she was opening a can of worms back there. These must be apologetic tics in her world, learned from the little people. 

“Can you please sit still and just move forward, Miss Kube? Who needs all this body language when she has a tongue? It is quite exhausting, trying to interpret it all in the best light. I will need to lotion again.”

“Be my guest.”

“Of course I will.” It peeved him to be invited to take his own prerogative.

“But haven’t you ever felt Dickens was the only way to go?”

“I’ve wanted the man to be snatched up on the fiery chariot with Elijah and all his books burned along with him. Now, go on before I run out of Jergens. In your own words, Miss Kube. No more plagiarizing the dead.”

“Very well. Let me take you back to a time this afternoon when I went to Whole Bean to relax and reflect over a cup of coffee. I ordered a café au lait and one of their little madeleine cakes. As I sat with my head drooping over my steaming café au lait I suddenly was borne back by its nostalgia-inducing aroma into the past. I remembered vividly the time in my youth when I wished to kill my mother and sleep with my father.”

“And did you end up killing your mother and sleeping with your father in your youth?”

“No. It was a complex, a psychological state, not a course of action though it molded my personality.”

“Oh one of those,” Mr. Belvedere said, trying to master his disappointment that it was yet another account of a psychological state.

“Though it completely molded my personality and psychology I had forgotten all about my desire at age seven to kill my mother and sleep with my father. That is until I smelled my café au lait and saw my sweet little madeleine cake waiting to be dipped. Then I remembered. I remembered things past. Now that I remember I can’t forget. I have recaptured the past and all of those complex emotions that gripped me and made me grumpy when I was seven and wished to kill my mother and sleep with my father.”

“But your parents are dead.”

“So now I have become a necrophiliac. No one can compare to Dada, dead or alive.”

“It must be a sobering thing to go in for a cup of coffee and come out a necrophiliac. They should put a warning sign on their doors:  ‘Danger! Drinking coffee here can lead to necrophilia.’ You could sue them. Or you could wait until you are caught in the graveyard and arrested.”

“I don’t intend to let it go that far. I will still be a necrophiliac. I just won’t go through the motions. We all carry these complex archetypes around dormant inside us until something triggers them. For me it was the night Dada took me to the Bluebird’s father-daughter banquet. And then of course, the moment this afternoon when that whiff of coffee transformed my Electra complex into necrophilia.”

Mr. Belvedere drew back from the table and stroked the goatee that could have been there but wasn’t. Such a gesture was essential to clinical detachment. It provided the exact distance necessary to keep him from giving her exactly what she deserved, one great big bloody Yuck! He measured his speech out in bolts of crisp damask.

“All in all I would say, Miss Kube, this trumps my being the issue of a self-raping hermaphrodite. The only consolation we have is that Dickens wrote neither of our tales. He did have one character who spontaneously combusts, however, which I feel I am about to do. I’m not sure where this leaves our connubial future to be quite honest. I cannot possibly hope to compete with a corpse, and I am far too tall for your tastes. Nor am I related.”

“My sins, if any, Mr. Belvedere, are all mental.”

“Mental is moral, Miss Kube. A very nice Jew taught us that.”

“I hope this doesn’t change things between us.”

“There is not enough lotion in the world to make this right.” 

He saw moneybags with wings flying the other direction. Oh! This cursed habit of resorting to cartoons to depict tragedy. “Come back, little bags! Roost in Daddy’s nest!”

It was a good thing his mind didn’t make noise. It would be clang clang clang of the hammer at the forge all day long if it did.

“Yet we are taught patient forbearance of the fallen woman, Miss Kube, toward the end of snipping her out of the snare mesh by mesh.”

“But I’m not really fallen, Mr. Belvedere. As I’ve said, it’s all mental at this point, more in the lines of an awakening to what has been hidden from me all along until the time came for cafe au lait and sweet madeleine to bring it to the fore.”

“Coffee and cookies. The handmaids of desolation! I couldn’t help my solo parentage.” 

“Just as I can’t elude the magnetism of The Archetypes.”

“Come, come! If these Archetypes had the ineluctable pull you ascribe to them, we would all be marrying our mothers and fathers. You can see that some of us have no interest in that sort of thing. What does that tell you?”

“You haven’t read the right books?”

“I have read all of the Children of Light series and consider myself better off for it.”

Rats!  She had blown it. She had set her cap on being his salvation, and what was this? It had all begun to unravel, as so many things did, with that fucking Ganges. She’d drink the whole thing to make it right, turds and all.  Muslim turds, Hindu turds, it didn’t matter. 

“I wonder.”

He was thinking, a worrisome prospect. Odd things happened when people thought. Oh, why did the brain always have to bring pressure to bear on the information fed into it? Lordy, Lordy. What was wrong with a good stupor? A snort of etherizing slumgullion?

Here came their flaming cherries just in time to gas the reptilian part of the brain with its vapors. Perhaps he would be bumped into the quicksand of nostalgic thought by some lingering aroma as she had been by the spirit that hung around cafe au lait.

“Put it up to your nose, Mr. Belvedere, give a good suck, and see what happens.”

“Nothing would please you more than that I catch my nose hairs on fire, I suppose, Miss Kube.” He deliberately roughened his voice to frighten her, but he had his plan.

“Nothing of the sort. I merely hoped the redolence would please you.”

Bingo! Her voice throttled and choked, old jalopy that she was. He stroked his ghost of a goatee again. “But upon dire reflection, Miss Kube, I think I see what this is all about. This complex, as you call it, manifested itself when you were seven, you say. You were the same size as Daddy at the time of this satanic father-daughter dinner rite. There were little nut and mint cups that seemed quite large to both of you. Naturally because you were evenly matched in stature, your little girl mind saw him as marriage material. It is all linked to dwarfism. If he had been a normal-sized daddy, the whole idea of sleeping with him would have stricken you as preposterous, and you would have laughed your silly head off at it. In this way we see that the Electra complex, as some Viennese lunatic dubbed it, is specific to dwarves. He missed that part of the formula. His work was incomplete. I have finished it for him.”

There. That bit of casuistry was as good as he could do to give that kinky little Snow White a leg up and get her off the roll of blacklisted heiresses. And what it cost him! Something resembling but not really his integrity like the Chinese resembled the Koreans but weren’t. A sharp eye could tell them apart. Fortunately, his God had a sharp eye and understood that sometimes a good man snuck as a saboteur into the devil’s camp to gather intelligence. If he passed as one of them for a night or two, it was only to gain a greater good in the future. It might look like expediency, but it wasn’t. In the courts of God there were kinder names for all kinds of acts devout souls had to resort to. Repopulation put the gloss on Lot sleeping with his daughters. 

“Besides, I have only your word for it. In absence of the evidence of two or three witnesses, I am afraid I am going to have to let you off the hook. There are at least no Biblical prohibitions against it. You’ve got that going for you. Jehovah is absolutely silent on the subject.  Single-parent births, however, are given high praise.”

“You don’t think, Mr. Belvedere …”

“I’m not going to speculate, Miss Kube. It is not healthy. Let me just say, if it is true, my parent is in good company. As am I.”  Lest she think he meant her, he added, “I too am a man acquainted with sorrows, rejected by those to whom I was sent. And Hosea married a prostitute, if you recall, so there is a strain of anything goes in the good book. That should be a relief to you. You have goo on your lips. Dab, don’t lick.”

She dabbed.

“There are these precedents for taking the fallen woman to one’s bosom, if Jehovah, like Simon, says. One must only guard against getting selfish interests into the batter.”

Had he just compared her to a prostitute? She would remain silent on the subject, like the Bible on necrophilia. It was a lot to put up with, but then so was a silent telephone, the empty dance card, the wall of flowers in which bouquet she was a featured daisy, virginal, if not a virgin, possibly, she wasn’t sure what counted, at forty-five (subtracting three years against the ravages of that lost civilization buried under a topnotch foundation).

He decided to gouge her playfully. “Tut tut, Miss Kube. You did not check the dwarf box in the ‘family heritage’ column on the Mixen Match dating profile.”

“Still, even without the dwarves it was a chilly five-month wait.”

Months sounded better than years.

“And you?  How long was it for you?”

“A thousand years is like a day in His eyes, Miss Kube. If He can’t keep track, why should I?”

“I don’t recall what it said you did for a living.”

Suddenly his fingertips became very interesting. “Let me assure you it is top-secret ecclesiastical work, and if I told you specifics, I would have to slit your throat. Therefore, I will spare you the details. It leaves me with what looks like a lot of time on my hands, but I am receiving reconnaissance all the while. You see the fan dancers entertaining us luxuriously there on the dance floor?”

She had been avoiding looking at their wayward clunkiness. They were two wall-eyed octogenarians of incredible height and thinness with enormous kneecaps and elbow joints, martyred expressions frozen on their faces. They seemed to be losing track or making it up as they went along and concerned most with keeping the fans out of each other’s eyes. The floor was littered with the detritus of swans. They went unaccompanied by music, keeping time in a kind of spiteful duel with their thick clomping heels. “Yes, they are lovely.”

“To you it probably looks well-rehearsed, impeccably choreographed. But they are agents too. All this time they have been passing messages to me with the motions of their fans.”

“But you have been writing nothing down.”

He tapped his forehead. “It is all up here, Miss Kube. And at the same time I have been able to carry on this delightful conversation with you. I have that most valuable asset in an ecclesian agent, a bifurcated brain.”

Why not make the leap of faith and believe the man? That the two wretched hoofers were passing him vital information with their amateurish flapping and fluttering was as good an explanation as any for why it was allowed to go on. Besides, it was quite wearing on the nerves, all this trying to decide what to believe and what not to believe. If he could accept an Electra-oriented necro, couldn’t she let a few things slide? Fair was fair.

“That is some of the most moving fan dancing it has been my privilege to dine to, Mr. Belvedere. But they do seem a bit confused about which way to go.”

“That is hardly surprising. They are passing on messages rooted in existential angst, I will tell you that much. It goes to the highest levels of ecclesiastical authority and threatens doctrinal purity and the momentum of the confessional.”

“All that can be conveyed with fans?”

“The era of the carrier pigeon is over, Miss Kube. Why mourn it? Pigeons have gone back to being just pigeons. It was high time. These two don’t shit in transit.”

“Perhaps as they take a bow? Let’s not clap.”

“They are too old for applause, and they know it. Don’t worry. The old plastic expendables are very reliable. You have to know your business right down to the protective liners. At issue is the question whether a gluten-free host can really be turned into Him, lacking as it does the element necessary to make your tummy hurt.”

“I vote yes.”

“You can fall but you cannot vote, Miss Kube. That should be left to those on whom these issues weigh most heavily. It might seem like light entertainment to you, but wars have been fought over these and similar issues and might be again. Excuse me a moment. I must answer. They require an immediate response. Please don’t imitate me.”

Mr. Belvedere turned his attention to the fan dancers and made salmon-leaping-upstream motions toward them with his hands as children do though there was no distinctly adult version of it either, it occurred to Miss Kube. 

The dancers, with their tunnel vision, stared on at the point on the horizon where the determination to remain alive merged with abject humiliation and seemed not to notice him. They turned their sides to the dinner crowd, went rump to rump for a moment, bumped a couple of times, then stutter-stepped away from one another, faces still toward the audience, eyes fixed, flapping and shedding feathers all the while.

“I hope no one noticed,” he said when he was done. “My fondest hope, if they did, is that they mistook it for hand jive not espionage. But it couldn’t wait. If at any point in our mushrooming relationship I do or say anything that strikes you as slightly odd, Miss Kube, chalk it up to the work I do. Conversing with the television might appear suspect to those with no working knowledge of the episcopate, but I assure you their interests must be guarded if we are to shore up the dam against the encroaching forces of this modern world with all its moral laxity. Are you a believer, Miss Kube?”

“In what?”

“I didn’t think so.”

“But if you would specify.”

Here was his opening. She was panting for an answer. She must be made to see that he was the answer to all her questions and that all the hair-pulling and face-scratching of doctrinal in-fighting was merely a prelude to that greatest Armageddon of them all, human contact.

He coated his throat in his most manly gravy-thickened voice, self-effacing yet virile, showing himself to be both a toughy and capable of the tenderest emotions, a lion who would turn into the most vulnerable lamb in the arms of the right woman, she. 

“Do you think you could believe in me, Miss Kube?” He gulped in just the right spot. It was a glug worthy of Sir Larry Olivier, the thespian of well-placed phlegm, and his esteemed chit-chat with the skull. “Now that we have eradicated a few erroneous first impressions and more or less appeared naked before one another, with all our skin tags and moles showing, have you concluded as I have that we are made for one another?”

She had read, in preparation for this evening, that first dates were hell. She must compliment the writer on his accuracy. He had every button buttoned, no doubt about it. But perhaps Mr. Belvedere saw hell too from his side. Of course, this wasn’t her first date. There’d been the one with Dada when she was seven. That was a perfect evening. She hadn’t known at the time that the perfection of it was rooted in anti-social urges and the upending of moral norms, hadn’t suspected a thing about it until this very afternoon. What a shock to meet her aberrations face-to-face. The date with Dada had seemed like heaven at the time and for so many years after. Was she not hell material, taking that Archetypal bait hook, line and sinker? He had looked awfully fine in his mini-coffin, and she recalled fighting the urge at the time to crawl in with him, but she thought that was simply how all daughters felt at their fathers’ funerals. How was she to know until that fatal encounter with coffee turned her bliss into the fodder of psychoanalysis? Her only consolation was that her necrophilia was corpse-specific. It was Dada or nobody, except, possibly, since he seemed game, Mr. Belvedere. All she had to do to lead a fairly normal life was to avoid visiting the family crypt. They’d had enough flowers and sweet remembrances.

“I said, Miss Kube,” he said, laying himself across the railroad tracks of her thoughts, raising his voice a little, “I think we two are tailor-made for one another. Don’t you?  I hope you don’t mind that this has doubled as a working date for me, but the Eucharist is at stake, as it always is in a liberal tide. We must hold fast against the siren song of these trendy fads, the gluten-free host, the chipotle host, the honey-roasted host. My God! They are treating Him like a variety pack. ‘You don’t have my flavor? Wah wah wah.’ He is not a canape at a cocktail party, is He? Is He? That’s a question, Miss Kube.”

As a sideline, he wondered, with his bifurcated brain, why, if she had all that money, she didn’t get that slight hump removed from her back. Maybe he would suggest she give him that little gift for their one-month anniversary. She must have gotten it bending down all the time to talk to the folks.

“No, no, I suppose He is not.” She was having a hard time gaining a sense of just what they were talking about by now and just who or what this He was, but she grasped enough of His centrality to Mr. Belvedere’s concerns to capitalize Him when she spoke. The man was certainly forceful when something, for whatever reason, mattered to him. It might be nice to cuddle up to a monomaniac for a change instead of to a Lollipop Kid doll at night. True, it spoke. She could pull the cord, and he would say, “Lick my lollipop,” but might Mr. Belvedere not say things of equal or greater interest? Yes, if she could get him to put the topic of He to bed in a different room.

Though she didn’t quite buy it herself, she heard herself say, “Yes, Mr. Belvedere. I too believe we are meant for one another.”

Having gained this much, he began to drum his fingers on the table, to shake his leg, and to look around the dining room as if bored all of a sudden. Was he the sort of man who lost interest and drive in that direction as soon as he got what he wanted? His tendency to stray made her want to give him all she had in order to get his attention back. Chapter two of That Minefield, Love had warned her about this. “If you make the mistake of giving him everything on the first date,” it stated, “skip immediately to the final chapter.”

She would delve into that last chapter, “The Pyrrhic Victory,” when she got home to find out just what she was in for.

Their gangrenous Chartreuses had arrived. He took his up and offered, “To the future.” For the sake of form, she lifted hers. They touched rims, and she went next, while he snorted his down in one green flush, to looking for a place to dump hers without bringing undue attention to the act. It was the most difficult challenge of an evening full of difficult challenges, but she managed, while he leapt a message upstream at the unseeing dancers, to libate hers into her purse at her feet.

Mr. Belvedere looked up just in time to see her rest her glass on the table. “What is your opinion, Miss Kube? Jesus Himself was not gluten free. He broke the bread many times, for the thousands, and insisted the apostles eat it. Surely He munched along. How then can the host ever be gluten free if it is He?”

So it was back to that, was it? She would have thought that drinking of the Ganges would have purged a man of certain concerns, but apparently that was not the case. “Oh, I am on whatever side you are on, I suppose, Mr. Belvedere.”

“And the mass?  Is it not heresy if it is not spoken in Latin?  Aren’t witches behind this switch to the vernacular?”

“Well, I suppose they might be, if they have nothing better to do that day.”

“And what do witches have to do but tear down the pillars of our faith? They come to the mass dressed in black. They only pretend to swallow the host. Instead they secret it on the roofs of their mouths and go back to their seats and sneak it into their purses. Then they take it to their next witch’s sabbath and treat it to all the blasphemies in the book.”

“I really couldn’t say.”

“Why not? Are you sworn to secrecy? You’re not one of those witches who secrets the host on the roof of her mouth, are you?”

“Certainly not.”

“Methinks the lady protesteth too much. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything more is from the devil, including certainly nots.”

“Well, then, no, I do not secret the host and bring it to my coven. You will have to take my word for it.”

“I am for examining the orifices of all communicants until this evil practice is stamped out. Expect a papal decree soon.”

“I shall be on the lookout for it.”

The elderly fan dancers ended their weary routine to scant applause, disappeared behind the black curtain, and reappeared for an encore bow just as the applause ended. Mr. Belvedere alone stood up and whistled and applauded and then called out, “Thank you, Ladies. I’ll be in touch.”

The dancers did an elaborate flourish and creaky bows toward him in acknowledgement and stepped backwards toward the curtains waiting to swallow them. Mr. Belvedere continued to shout and clap for so long that two rough-looking men in black suits finally pressed in on him and said, “All right, Buddy. That’ll be enough.”

Mr. Belvedere yanked his time back and forth and then flapped the end of it at the two rough gentlemen and at the same time moved his lips as if talking yet made no sound. Then he smoothed his tie down and rubbed his hair back with both hands. “And now that we have all had our say, I think it is time for my classy lady and I to blow this second-rate joint.” He crooked his arm, clicked his heels, bowed his head to her, and said, “Shall we, Miss Kube?”

The gentlemen with the leathery burn scars on his forehead and right cheek plastered his big hand to Mr. Belvedere’s chest. “No so fast.  There’s the matter of this.”

He presented the bill by tapping it on Mr. Belvedere’s nose. 

Mr. Belvedere snatched it from him. As he studied it, horror possessed his face. He patted behind him for his chair and aimed his rear-end in the direction he had faith it would be, too emotionally involved in the check to care for accuracy. “This is a little steep, Gentlemen. Let me lotion while I consider it. I confess I am a little nonplussed and will have to be careful not to over-pump. You may also wish to pump. I find it is helpful to defray misunderstandings.”

Miss Kube sensed the man was wrestling with the angel of embarrassment, and to provide him lots of room to wiggle around with his opponent, she flipped open her compact and went all over the place with her puff.

Mr. Belvedere dove into his manpurse and riffled the contents, which included a dog leash, ankle bracelet, several rosaries, a vile of Lourdes water, and two issues of Soul on Fire:  The Magazine for Discerning Gentlemen.

“Well, this is odd. I seem to have come off without my wallet. More to the point, Gentlemen, I suppose you have heard that Leda was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan.” He shook one of the issues of Soul on Fire to verify the source. “After that, ladies got wise and no longer went unchaperoned among swans. There were no further reported incidents. In addition, Aphrodite was born of the sea foam that formed when her brother Cronos cut off their father Uranus’ genitalia and tossed them into the sea. It is the first reported case of deep-sea intercourse. Here, if you don’t believe me.”

He slid one of the issues of Soul on Fire toward them. The two men stepped behind him and lifted him from his seat.

“But she has a purse! Miss Kube, please check your purse for my wallet, or one of your own. Gentlemen, I have ecclesiastical connections! If not precisely of virgin birth, I come in a close but equally outrageous second.”

Miss Kube searched her purse out of courtesy to Mr. Belvedere because he seemed, to an extent, to have lost control of the situation. She found only her own wallet, but she elected not to produce it, wet as it was from the Chartreuse. “No, I’m afraid not, Mr. Belvedere. I didn’t bring my own along. You asked me, so naturally I assumed you would pay.”

“But you said yes. That implies a certain level of financial responsibility.”

The unburnt thug asked Miss Kube, “Did you know this gentleman ordered without means to pay?”

“I had no idea of course. I assumed because he is a man and he asked he would pay.”

“But that is a ridiculous assumption, Miss Kube. I would like to know where you get your information. Gentlemen, arrest this woman! She is a necrophiliac!”

Miss Kube’s hands fluttered around her throat. “I’m just a beginner.”

“Come on, buddy. We’re gonna go pay the boss a visit,” the leather-skinned man said. He turned to Miss Kube. “Would you like one of us to see you home, Ma’am? He might be a while.”

“No, no, that’s fine. It’s not too far to walk.”

“You might as well kiss me, Judas,” Mr. Belvedere growled at her.

“But I never kiss on the first date.”

“Didn’t you kiss Daddy that night of the father-daughter banquet?”

“But we obeyed the five-second rule, so that doesn’t count.”

“The five-second rule applies to food on the floor, not Daddy’s lips, Miss Kube. There is no five-second rule for taboos. Please, Gentlemen. A moment. Stand over there so that I may say my good-byes to Miss Kube.”

His escorts reluctantly released Mr. Belvedere and moved a few steps off. In the moment their backs were turned, he made a run for it across the dance floor. The nimblest of the two thugs, the one with burn scars, tackled him before he was halfway across the slick floor. They skidded together to the edge of the curtains.

At that moment the curtains parted, and the two exhausted dancers, dressed in orange jumpsuits, came out, escorted by a barrel-shaped matron in a leather cap, a billy club strung from her waist.

“Be sure to have them back here seven p.m. tomorrow night, Greta,” Fireface said as he sat up. 

Greta gave the old ones a jerk. “Come on, you bitches. Back to the hoosegow for some shut-eye.”

Miss Kube ran over. “Please, Gentlemen, don’t hurt Mr. Belvedere. He has drunk of the Ganges. And he is in on important decisions regarding the host.”

The other thug came up behind her and steered her by the shoulders. “Wise up, lady. This guy is bad news.”

“But we’re in love.”

“I have reconsidered, Miss Kube,” Mr. Belvedere said as his assailant helped him to his feet. “I was a fool to think any good could come from indulging in profane rites to a goddess born of severed genitals. The whole set-up is dirtier than the Ganges, and less to my taste. I shall quaff her sea foam no more but stick to Mary, co-redemptrix ever-virgin.”

As the two men led Mr. Belvedere toward a door marked ATTENTION!!! COMMUNAL TRASH AND SOILED MOPS & RAGS ARE LOCATED HERE!!! Miss Kube called out, “Oh, Mr. Belvedere, please believe you’ve been very important to me.  I do hope they let you lotion first.”

Oh!  The man didn’t care that she retained a concern for his well-being.

It was a sad walk home. The urban mayhem that normally kept her in after dark was on full display tonight. Miss Kube was so chagrined after the collapse of her high hopes, she barely flinched at the gunfire. One either accepted the modern world as it was or went to pieces. She had lived long without falling apart and along the way acquired the perseverance essential to any woman determined not to be done in by her forties. At least she had her memories to sustain her.

She was passing a sweet little cemetery, the one with the green pond where she often went to feed the swans, when a stray bullet whizzed past her and nicked the corner of a nearby grave marker. But the message, as it applied to her life, was lost on her as she was thinking, now that she had learned of the lascivious nature of swans and that women should no longer go unchaperoned among them, that she must give up the habit. At home she put on her favorite record, “When You Wore a Tulip,” sat on the love seat, and held her father’s miniature inflatable hemorrhoid pillow to her chest. Those were good times, even if he did suffer at the bum. “Your lips were sweeter than julep when you wore a tulip, and I wore a big red rose,” the singer crooned. She cried a tear or two for missed opportunities, all the times she’d held her mother back from stepping into oncoming traffic, the times her mother held back on her own and one gentle push would have done it.

David Vardeman is a native of Iowa and a graduate of Indiana University Southeast and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His short fiction has appeared in Little Patuxent ReviewWriting Tomorrow, Sand:  Berlin’s English Literary Journal, Whiskey Island, Printer’s Devil Review, Dukool, Five:2:One, Mystery Weekly, Chariton Review, and various online journals. An Angel of Sodom (forthcoming from River Boat Books, 2019) is his first novel.

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