Halloween is for me the ultimate American Holiday: a European tradition that has mutated into something spectacularly American and then been resold to the rest of the world. It’s a feast that celebrates transformation and brings to the surface things we normally keep in the shadows. I decided that the best way to get the spirit of Halloween was to tell it from the point of view of Anthea, Mark’s boss. Once I got inside her head, everything looked different.
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“You can’t do this to me, Anthea.”
Mark is more pathetic than fierce. The smell of alcohol preceded him into my office. He looks slightly jaundiced. His cheeks and chin sport small islands of stubble that managed to evade his razor this morning. I’m surprised he can keep his hand steady enough to shave.
“I’m not doing it to you, Mark,” I say. “You’re doing it to yourself. You’ve lost it. Look at yourself. How long can you last between drinks now, Mark? An hour? Two if you really try? I’m giving you a simple choice: either dry out or ship out.”
For a moment I think he’s going to tell me to fuck off. I almost wish he would.
When we first met, before his long-suffering wife finally left him, he was a maverick. He always had a comeback ready. I liked him. He reminded me of Davey, my younger brother. Or at least how Davey would have been if he hadn’t wrapped himself around a tree riding that motorcycle of his.
I’ve never found it easy to talk to men. Somehow it always turned into a conflict: the strong ones saw me as a challenge, someone to put down either by bedding or ridiculing; the weak ones were afraid of me and their fear made me despise them and despise myself for feeling that way. I built a shell around myself. I out-manned them; being tougher than the strong and ruthlessly removing the weak.
I thought Mark was the exception, that for once I could drop the macho crap and make a friend. I liked the way he smiled and he was easy to talk to. Then, one evening, when we were working late, Mark pushed his fingers between my legs. I wanted to kill him. I felt betrayed. Stupid really, he wasn’t to know that he reminded me of my dead brother.
Mark works for me now. I should probably have fired him, but I always hoped that he’d pull himself together and be the guy I wanted him to be. Now he’s sitting on the other side of my desk with nothing to say. Oh shit. He’s crying. Not big sobs. More like his eyes are leaking.
Part of me wants to hug him and help him, but most of me just wants to slap him. How could he fuck up his life like this?
Of course I can’t do either of these things. I’m the boss, Anthea the Hun they call me: strong, logical, unemotional.
I look at my watch. Mark is my last chore before I head home. It’s Halloween tonight and I have things to prepare. I let my eyes rest on the picture of Drazen and his daughter that I keep on my desk. The picture is supposed to remind me of home, give me a smile in the middle of the day; increasingly it just reminds me that I spend too many hours at work and most of them are wasted on cleaning up the messes other people make. Time to clear up my last mess of the day.
“I’m going to leave these details with you, Mark. If you want to keep your job then I will get a phone call from the clinic on Monday saying that you’ve checked in. If you want to continue to drown yourself in booze, then just clear your desk and don’t come back. This is your last chance, Mark. Choose wisely.”
Why do I always sound so pompous when I’m doing something unpleasant?
Even though it’s my office, I get up to leave. I want to be home. I want to be somewhere where I don’t have to be in charge and where I can let people love me. Mark starts to cry properly as I leave. I pretend not to hear him and keep moving.
The express elevator, a perk of my executive status, is softly lit and lined with mirrors, presumably so that executives can maintain a positive image. I stand in the centre of the elevator and stare at the infinite number of Antheas that head off in each direction. I don’t recognize them. I don’t want these uptight, asexual women to be me.
Perhaps it is the shock of seeing the wreck Mark has become, or perhaps it is the news I want to give to Drazen tonight, but I feel a strong need to change the images in the mirror. I reach up and release my hair, letting it fall around my shoulders. My hair is thick and soft, I love the feel of it against my face, the taste of it in my mouth. My hair is my freedom, my sexuality. Which is why I bind it so tightly at work, but why I refuse to have it cut.
I bend forward at the waist, letting my hair fall forward over my head. It is almost long enough to touch the floor. Then I flick myself upright, casting my hair behind me like a mane. The images in the mirror, with their legs apart, shoulders back, hair shining in the massaged light, seem more recognizable now. I wave to myself just as the deferential tone sounds to let me know that I have reached the ground.
I opt for a limo rather than taking the train. I tell myself that it’s because I’m late and I need to hurry home, but I know that what I want is the privacy.
In the car I settle back against the leather seat and slip off my shoes. I will be home in less than an hour, but I need Drazen right now. The wireless earpiece of my cell phone (Anthea the Hun always has all the latest boys toys) is hidden beneath my hair. I say, “Drazen” and the speed dial starts.
“Anthea.” A statement, not a question. Drazen’s voice, soft and calm, slides into my ear and makes me shiver. In his mouth my name is “Ann-Tea-Ah” and immediately “the Hun” is left behind. I remain silent, waiting.
“So…” he says, “you can be overheard, but you want to play. Soon, I hope, you will be home, but then there will be other things before… I understand.”
I can hear him walking through the house. He will go to his studio. Sound proofed and secure. I recognize the noise the door lock makes as it snaps shut.
When he speaks again he is more relaxed. His voice is still soft but it has energy to it suggesting the confident strength and controlled arousal of a predator stalking his prey.
“You are in a car. No, it is quiet enough to be a limo. I can hear your breathing, Anthea. Press your shoulders back against the leather seat. Keep your thighs together. Tight together. Squeeze. Close your eyes and remember how it feels when your thighs close against my beard, when my tongue dips into you. Remember the smell of your arousal, the soft drizzle of your juices onto my chin. Remember how hard it is for you to stay still, how much you want to move, to grind, to rock, to press, to drive yourself down upon my tongue until it impales you. Remember all of that but keep a calm expression on your face.”
I look forward at the rearview mirror. The driver’s eyes are on the road, but if he looks up he will see me.
It feels as though Drazen is behind me, breathing into my ear, as if it is him I am pressing into. I want to open my legs, just a little, slide a finger along my thigh, draw small circles on my mound.
“No touching, Anthea. Keep your legs closed and your mind open.”
I smile. I know he will be imagining me smiling.
“Stretch your legs. Feel the muscles at the back of your thighs tense. Keep them tense. Can you smell yourself yet? Do you think your driver can smell you? Not yet perhaps, but soon.”
My face flushes at the thought. I check the rear view again. The driver looks up, then looks away.
“You will feign sleep, Anthea. Let your beautiful head rest against the leather. Hold some of your hair across your mouth. Keep it in place. Remember how my thumb feels, pressing against your lower lip, my fingers resting on your cheek, how good it feels to dip your head forward and feel the thumb press into the roof of your mouth.”
I bite down on my hair as the first little contraction hits. Memory flares. The first time that he fucked me in a public place it started like that, a small dip of my head on his thumb, my face scarlet with embarrassment, my sex damp with need. It ended with me bent over the back of a park bench, Drazen behind me, pushing slowly and calmly into my ass, as if anal sex was a normal pursuit on a Sunday morning stroll in the park.
“Good girl, Anthea. Good girl.”
His voice is stroking me. Soothing me. I hear him unzip his fly and a small moan escapes from me.
“Shh, Anthea is sleeping. She cannot see how hard I am at the thought of her, cannot smell the musk of that arousal.”
I love the smell of him. The taste of him. The fascination of playing with his foreskin. The strong scent that rises when I roll back that soft skin.
“In her sleep Anthea will reach beneath her respectable executive jacket, open one button of her pressed and spotless white blouse, push aside the cup of the plain white cotton bra and let her breast rest in the palm of her hand.”
Slowly, shifting to one side as if in sleep, I let my hand slide onto my breast.
My nipples are so sensitive that I can hardly bare to have them touched. Before Drazen, my lovers had always been too rough: pinching and biting when they should have been caressing. I had begun to think that I was a freak with hair-trigger nipples that would be constantly off limits. Drazen, with his pianist’s hands, showed me how wrong I was. He would stand behind me, his mouth on my neck, my breasts cupped gently in his hands, just the underside of them resting against his skin, lifted slightly but with no pressure. Then his thumbs, light as butterflies, would graze the tip of the nipples, coaxing them, letting them rise, working them until they throbbed, finally pushing them back firmly into my breasts and biting down on my neck until I was wriggling with pleasure.
“Anthea is dreaming. In her dream my cock slides, slick and stiff, out of her mouth. She guides it to her breasts. Uses it to draw a wet circle around her nipple. Laughs when I flinch with the extremity of the sensation. Rubs the underside of the gland over the stubby arousal of her nipple, then squeezes the head of my cock until the slit opens. She looks up at me, her eyes on mine as she pushes her nipple into the slit, fucking me and fucking me and fucking me.”
Drazen’s voice has a ragged edge now. He will be touching himself. His eyes will be closed as he remembers how I took him that night. The first time I really took the initiative.
“Stroke the nipple, Anthea. Slow strokes. Persistent strokes. Suck on the hair in your mouth. Squeeze your thighs. Sweat for me inside your executive suit in your oversized limo. Come for me. Come hard. Come silently. Come for me, Anthea.”
And I do. Not at once. Not on command. It takes maybe a minute of silent struggle. I can hear him breathing hard into my ear, listening to me, sniffing at me through the phone line. The come is a sunburst of warmth spreading up from my stomach, exorcising the tension of the day.
“Good girl, Anthea. Very good girl. Now come home to me.”
The line goes dead in my ear.
I open my eyes and sit up straight. The driver’s eyes flick away a little too quickly when I look into the rearview. I realize that I am smiling. “Ann-Tea-Ah” smiles a lot.
I open the window, even though the day is cold. I don’t want my smell to stay in the car.
I am nearly home now. We’ve left the freeway behind and are driving slowly through tree-lined streets. I can see Jack O’ Lanterns on porches. They are all grinning at me. I grin back.
Drazen was my New Year’s resolution. It was part of project APT GAL (Anthea’s Plan To Get A Life) that I dreamed up when I found myself alone in my house on New Year’s Eve. If I’d been sober when I put the plan together, I’m fairly sure that step one would not have read “Take piano lessons”. Nothing might have come of it except for the card I saw the next day on the notice board at the convenience store. It read “Drazen Bebic: Piano Teacher”.
For some reason, “Piano Teacher” had summoned up an image of a kindly old man wearing spectacles and an old brown cardigan and speaking with a Professor Von Duck accent. Drazen was nothing like that. First there was his hair: thick, jet black, and brushed straight back so that it seemed to cascade to his shoulders. Then there was his beard, short, precise, somehow emphasizing the sensual softness of his lips. But most of all there were his eyes, dark but filled with light, and hard to look away from.
He was at least fifteen years older than me and I’d only just laid eyes on him but, by the time he stepped forward and shook my hand, my palm was already damp. When he touched me, my nipples hardened. No one had ever had that effect on me before. Then he said my name, “Ann-Tea-Ah” and I understood what gives cats the urge to purr.
He sat me down in front of the huge piano that dominated his tiny apartment. I felt like Jane Ayre, asked to play for Mr. Rochester, and knowing that every note would diminish her in his eyes. Yet I’d been good at the piano once, back before work spread itself across my life like a gorse bush, leaving room for nothing else, so when, standing so close behind me that I could smell his cologne, he said, “I would like to hear you, Anthea.” I started to play.
He listened and watched. There was nothing flirtatious, but I had his complete attention. I played quite well once I got started. Enough to demonstrate some technique at least. He didn’t tell me to stop, so I played every piece I knew. When I finished I wondered why I’d ever given up playing. I was good and this was fun.
“I would like to know what it is that you want, Anthea.” Drazen said.
I had turned to face him, waiting for praise or at least coaching, wanting to look into his eyes again. His question surprised me.
“I want to play the piano.”
“Ah, I had hoped that perhaps you wanted me to teach you.”
“You already play the piano. But you play with these…”
He reached out and picked up my hand, holding it gently by the tips of the fingers. My skin prickled where it touched him.
“When you could be playing with this.”
He held me by the wrist and placed the palm of my hand against my chest, between my breasts. The contact wasn’t overtly sexual but I felt naked in front of him. The surprising thing was that my body was clearly happy about that. My mind was offended.
I shook his hand off my wrist and stood up.
“I’m leaving now,” I said.
Drazen bowed his head. I’d never seen anyone do that in real life before. His eyes stayed on me during the bow. I couldn’t read them but I didn’t want to look away from them. I had to remind myself that he had been rude to me and that I wasn’t going to stand for it.
“Are you always so…” I realized that rude was the wrong word. He’d been polite but, “…personal with your students?”
“What is life if it is not personal, Anthea?”
That was pretty much the question I’d been asking myself on New Years Eve.
“I’m going now.”
He stepped back and to one side so that I had a clear route to the door.
I didn’t leave. It was Anthea the Hun who wanted to leave. The rest of me wanted to stay. I sat down.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “You caught me by surprise. I’d like to stay.”
He didn’t look surprised, but he did smile.
“Then I’m glad that I ‘caught’ you at all,” he said.
And he had caught me. We became lovers within the week. But even in bed he was my teacher. He taught me to listen to the now, to surrender to the needs of my body in order to feed my soul. Another man talking like that would sound ridiculous, Drazen just sounds truthful.
Months afterwards, lying in his arms after sex, I asked him about the day we met. I wanted to know what he thought of me then.
He lifted my chin off his chest to make me look at him and said, “I thought then, what I think now. That I want you. That, if you will let me, I will take you. That sometimes life is worth living.” I knew then that he loved me.
“We’re here ma’am”, the driver says.
There are no lascivious looks, no innuendo. I smile at him and tip him more generously than usual.
Anja is waiting for me when I get home. She has the same grave face as her father, one that is transformed when she smiles.
Anja is doing her best to find a place for herself in America, but she has a solemnity about her that is not normal for an eleven year old American girl, but she is strong, a survivor. She has survived the war in Bosnia, the death of her mother, her exile in America. Seeing her standing there on the porch, her face lit by the huge Jack O’ Lantern that I helped her carve last night, I want to rid her of her ghosts. I want to see her filled with joy.
“Hello, Morticia,” she says, holding out her hand in a formal invitation “come and meet Gomez.”
Tonight we are, at Anja’s insistence, the Addams Family. She will of course, be Wednesday.
Drazen is already in the double-breasted pinstriped suit that is his concession to costume. I wonder if he was wearing it when I called.
“Gomez, mon cher, mon amour,” I say in a voice I hope is like Angelica Houston’s.
“Ah Tish, you spoke French,” he says on cue, taking my outstretched arm and kissing his way from the back of my hand up my arm to my neck. I glance sideways at Anja/Wednesday wondering if she approves, fearing that moments like this summon the spirit of her mother. The edges of her mouth are slightly upturned. I take that as warm approbation.
When Drazen’s head is at my neck I twist sideways, plant a quick kiss on his cheek and say, “Thank you. That was delicious.” Then I send him away so that Anja and I can change.
Anja has prepared everything, the clothes are laid out on the bed, the wigs are on the dressing table. It is all I can do to slip away and shower before she sets about her work.
There is an intimacy in dressing each other that is like nothing else. It is a recognition of trust and an offer to reveal and to transform. The costumes emphasize this. I never wear black at home, yet now I am wrapped in it like a shroud.
“How do I look?” I ask as the wig goes on.
“Believable.” Anja says.
Not quite the comment I expected. I wonder how I normally look to her. There is a short silence during which I grow nervous in front of this child.
Then she hands me the make-up bag and says. “Make me look sad, but scary”.
It doesn’t take long.
“Gomez” declines to walk the streets with us. Waving a thick cigar, which I know he will not smoke, he says, “My dears, the two of you are frightful enough, three of us could prove fatal.”
By the standards of the day, our costumes are sedate, yet at every door Anja makes a killing. She never once steps out of character, extorting treats because, from her, the threat of tricks seems so real.
I let her walk ahead of me, keeping to the shadows, arms folded across my breasts, whenever we reach a house. Watching Anja, I see her father, his stillness, his confidence. I wonder which of her gestures belong to her mother, Sanja.
I realize that I am jealous of Sanja, for having Drazen before me. Crazy to be jealous of a dead woman, and yet tonight I feel as though, at any moment, I might meet her.
When Anja’s sack is full we return home. She is so serious that I am uncertain whether she has enjoyed herself or whether this has all been a bizarre experiment in which she has tested the sanity of those around her and found them wanting. Yet when she sees Drazen on the porch, she runs to him.
“DaDa,” she says, holding up her sack, “look how much they gave me.”
“You must have made them tremble, little one.”
“No, it was Anthea, standing in the shadows like a threat. She was perfect.”
Drazen looks over Anja’s head at me and smiles. I feel as though I have won a medal. I wait for Anja to turn and thank me, but she grabs her sack and runs into the house.
“Happiness still catches her by surprise,” Drazen says. “She wants to go and hug it to herself in private.”
He takes my hand in his, rubs his thumb against my palm and says, “You understand that I’m sure.”
I almost tell him then, but I don’t want to do it in my costume so I wait. Dinner comes and goes without me finding the right moment. Anja gets permission to sleep in her Wednesday outfit because, as she explained very seriously, “it is still Halloween until morning”, and then Drazen and I are alone.
I go into the bedroom to change out of my Morticia costume. Drazen follows me. Leaning against the door frame, he looks at me, waiting for something.
I want to tell him. But not yet. ‘I need to think some more’, I tell myself. ‘Coward’, I reply.
“Come to bed,” Drazen says.
“I have to do some work first. I’ll be back later.”
I can see he doesn’t believe me, but he makes no comment when I go back downstairs.
I sit at my laptop, pretending to work, trying to find my courage. I make some coffee and go out onto the back porch.
The moon is full tonight. It sits in the sky, large and round and proud. It occurs to me that the moon and I are both pregnant, except that I don’t show yet.
This is what I need to tell Drazen. So what’s stopping me? We aren’t married. We’ve never really talked about the future. A man with a past like Drazen’s can be forgiven for living in the present. I don’t want to drive him away and I don’t want to force him to commit. And I don’t know how I feel about being pregnant.
I know exactly when this baby was conceived. It was on the anniversary of Sanja’s death. Drazen had never talked to me about how his wife died, but then I’d never found him crying before. I held him and let him cry.
“They hurt her, Anthea, before they killed her; they spent a day hurting her. And I couldn’t stop them. I didn’t even know what was happening until they dumped her body at my door.”
I rocked him, holding his head to my breast.
“She was my life, Anthea. And they killed her.”
There was nothing to say, so I stayed silent.
After a while he looked up. His eyes had no strength in them, only sorrow. I kissed them one at a time. Then I kissed his mouth, again and again, small healing kisses.
I put his hand between my legs. I don’t know why I did it. Words seemed so inadequate. I gave him what I had. The sex started slowly. I sat astride him and pulled him into me. Then I carried on kissing him. He stopped crying. He held me so tightly that it left bruises. Then he started to fuck me, fiercely, passionately, as if fucking me was the only thing that kept him alive. He clung to me even after he had come. I still hadn’t spoken to him, but now it was me who was crying.
I think he was saying good-bye to his wife that night. I know he was choosing me, choosing life. It turns out that we were also creating one.
I shiver in the cold and realize I have been outside a long time. Drazen is asleep when I reach the bedroom. The moon is washing his face with silver. He looks older, more vulnerable. I want him so badly it frightens me.
Time to choose: trick or treat?
I stroke his face, following the moon, then I sit astride him. He doesn’t wake until I kiss him. I place his hands on my breasts and rock gently on his cock, which is lying flat against his belly. I lift my hips and he slides into me. So good to have him there. So good to have him.
“There is something I need to tell you,” I say.
Drazen puts his finger across my lips pulls my head down to him. He pushes upwards, slowly, without urgency, until he is all the way in.
“What shall we call the child?” he says.
© Mike Kimera 2003 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without written permission from firstname.lastname@example.org
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