Ribbon of Darkness

Ribbon of Darkness, a novella, was written expressly for Michael Hemmingson’s collection, Short & Sweet: Original Novellas by Erotica’s Hottest Writers; pub. Blue Moon NYC, 2006.

It is a partially fictionalized account of the days surrounding my first meeting with my birth father, back in 1989. I wrote it especially for Michael, who always had an intense interest in father/daughter relationships, erotic or otherwise.

I miss Michael very much. He died under suspicious circumstances in Tijuana in 2014. He left behind a very young daughter, whom he loved to the moon and back.

Ribbon of Darkness also appears in:

Dirty Filthy Lovely : Dark Erotica by Marilyn Jaye Lewis; published by Renaissance eBooks SizzlerEditions, 2010.

The Muse Revisited, Volume 2: Erotic Novellas & Longer Works by Marilyn Jaye Lewis, published by Marilyn Jaye Lewis, 2012.

Ribbon of Darkness  DOES NOT CONTAIN INCEST but it does contain graphic depictions of eroticized M/f bondage & discipline and scenes of questionable consent which will not be suitable for most readers. Please be advised.

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Ribbon of Darkness

For Michael Hemmingson
(1966 – 2014)

Bobby is as thin as a rail now. The isoniazid pill he takes every morning to force his TB into remission kills his appetite. In fact, the pill makes him feel nauseated; he can’t look at food until later in the day. Dinnertime, usually. Sometimes not even then. He still smokes like a chimney though. And drinks his Budweisers in spite of the doctor’s warning about what the beer is going to do to his liver when the booze and isoniazid collide.

But Bobby survived how many tours of duty in Vietnam? Three. Not counting all the years he was stationed on a destroyer just offshore, in harm’s way. That was a hell of a lot of booze and pills and acid. Not to mention mainlining pure Benzedrine during the Tet Offensive. He’d survived a flamethrower attack in the Mekong Delta, hadn’t he? That little skirmish had taken half of his left lung. And, as a matter of personal triumph, he’d survived the fall of Saigon without slaughtering any more helpless Vietnamese–not outright, anyway. He was up in the sky during most of the fall, in an aging, overburdened Chinook helicopter, hustling the desperate fatcats out. There was probably some sort of collateral death down on the ground that he’d been blissfully unaware of, but he couldn’t have helped that. The whole nightmare of those days in’75 had been hell-gone-haywire. Too many cornered cowards saturated with the stink of greed. And he’d survived it all as a Navy SEAL, for chrissakes. What the hell is a dose of TB to Bobby at this point–all 43 years of him?

The book of matches he’s scrounging for to light his first cigarette of the morning is from the Rawlins Motel. That dive not too far from the American Legion Hall, out there past Allen Road. A memento from that totally useless fuck-date with Donna. He’d been too drunk to stay hard for long. Too drunk to do much of anything with her. Besides, hadn’t he told her that once she was married, the flings were a done deal? Over? Kaput?

Yeah, he’d told her that. A lot of good that had done. She was very married now and still sniffing around.

She’d only gotten married to punish him though, in some convoluted way that only made sense to her. “If you won’t marry me,” Donna had threatened one too many times, “I’m going to marry somebody else.”

“Then marry somebody else,” Bobby had encouraged her. Felina, his wife, had only been dead for four years. But fuck that. It didn’t matter how many years his wife had been dead, Bobby wasn’t getting married again, ever. Finito. End of story, amiga.

So Donna had married somebody else. That engineer, Johnson what’s-his-name. A geek of a guy with a ton of money who bought her everything she could possibly want. Except for the obvious thing, of course–satiation. Hence, she still came sniffing around the legion hall trolling for Bobby. And Bobby was always there, drinking Budweisers, telling tall tales, and singing along to the jukebox in that ornery way he had that made all the other guys wish he’d shut up.

It was more like caterwauling than singing. And he did it on purpose–to spoil the mood. Romance and tears were out of the question. They had no place in the American Legion Hall. That was Bobby’s take on it. But for most people, even for jaded war veterans, country music went hand in hand with drinking and romance and tears. It was a tough fight, but it was a fight that Bobby, in all his bitterness, his abject disgust, his complete denouncement of the human race, was well equipped to win. Nobody felt like weeping when Bobby was singing along to the jukebox.

He found the matches at last and lit his cigarette. He swung open the refrigerator and helped himself to a can of beer. This was a morning that required beer right off the bat, if he was expected to live through it, that is, without shooting himself in the head. Just the sound of the can popping open helped soothe his jittery nerves.

“God damn it,” he cursed anyway. “Shit. Fuck. Why, God?”

He tossed his pack of smokes on to the kitchen table and planted his bony ass in a kitchen chair. He switched back and forth between putting the can of beer to his mouth and taking a swig, and then dragging on the cigarette, inhaling deeply until he felt the pinch in his one-and-a half lungs; his TB lungs. He said nothing else while he stared out the kitchen window: at the olive tree, at the two mourning doves that were always in the olive tree, at the desert beyond the tree, and the mountains beyond that. The phone conversation of the night before repeated like a tape loop in his brain. If he played it over enough times, Bobby figured he might be able to make sense of it. After all, he wasn’t some stupid fool. He was Bobby Krieg. He would make sense of it somehow.

“Bobby!” Donny Hewitt had exclaimed on the other end of the long distance phone line. “We wondered when the hell you would call. Where you been, man?”

“Just here in the desert.” Bobby had been halfway to drunk when he’d dialed Donny’s number.

“Well, you don’t answer your phone much, you know that?”

“I know that.”

“Well, you wanna know something else? Remember that Mayhew girl–Sandy?”

Sandy Mayhew. Bobby had run the name past his beer-blasted brain. A long ago memory of adolescent intercourse had surfaced: at best it had been a nervous penetration, an overly excited, came-too-fast fuck. A girl with dark hair. Sandy. “Sandy Mayhew. Yeah, I remember her. What brings up Sandy Mayhew, Donny?”

“Well, you remember how she got knocked up in junior high school and never told anyone who the father was, then gave the baby away?”

“Vaguely.” Bobby recalled that it had seemed as though Sandy had fucked every guy in town by the time she was in the sixth grade. Who had cared who the father was? It could have been anybody.

“Well, guess who came back to town last month, all grown up and nosing around for her daddy and looking an awful lot like you?”

“Who?”

“Sandy’s baby, man. Well, she ain’t no baby anymore. She’s twenty-eight years old and lives in New York City. Can you believe that shit, Bobby? Twenty-eight years old. Where the hell does the time go?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, she’s the spitting image of your sister, Flo. I mean it. They could be twins. Me and Mary met her right here at the house. We think she’s your daughter, Bobby. But we didn’t tell her that. We wanted to tell you first.”

“I don’t have any daughters,” Bobby had offered up blankly. “I don’t have any kids at all.”

“Well, you better guess again, man, because she looks just like you and guess what else–she sings, and she plays country guitar. She writes country songs, too. Now who does that sound like?”

Every single member of the Krieg family, Bobby had thought to himself, going back to 1784. “Still,” he’d protested to Donny. “It doesn’t prove anything. Lots of people can sing and play a guitar.”

“And write country songs? Here in Mottsville? Don’t kid yourself, Bobby. You Kriegs have had it all sewn up for years.”

Bobby shook his head now, turning off the tape loop, wanting another beer. He stood up. “Shit,” he cursed again under his breath, angrily snatching a Budweiser from the refrigerator. It wasn’t fair. He’d raised six stepchildren from two different wives, one of whom he hadn’t really loved but both of whom had died too young. He’d put food on the table for other people’s kids. Had put them through school on a sailor’s pay, paid for the endless new shoes and clothes, co-signed for loans when they’d wanted to buy motorcycles, cars and then mobile homes. Crap like that. But when the last of the six had turned eighteen, when he’d taken early retirement from the Navy and wanted everyone to leave him the fuck alone, he’d told them all good riddance. The wives were dead. There was no reason to carry on with some charade as if any of these random kids were really his family.

And now here he might have had a kid of his own, all this time. Out there, being raised by someone else. “This whole time,” he complained out loud. His own flesh and blood. It wasn’t fair. He’d missed everything, all of it. She was already grown.

 

*     *     *

 

At three in the afternoon, Nevada time, Bobby stared at the kitchen clock. He did the math. She lived in New York where it would be six o’clock in the evening now.

He looked at the phone number he’d scribbled on a scrap of paper the night before. And the name Donny had given to him: Justine Dwyer. What kind of a twenty-eight year old, country-singing, illegitimate girl is named Justine Dwyer? He should call her and find out. He wanted to call her. But what if it wasn’t true? Maybe this was all just wishful thinking or some pipe dream. Besides, he was satisfied being alone–finally. All of it behind him. All of life. He didn’t have to answer to anyone. It was over. His doublewide was bought and paid for, and so were the five acres of Carson Desert that the trailer was planted on. Bought and paid for, all his, he had his pension and he saluted no one anymore. Why go looking for trouble now? A grown daughter, a complete stranger. Who the hell needs that? And still he picked up the phone and dialed her number. His hands were shaking, but that was only the surge of beer colliding with the isoniazid.

 

*     *     *

Always in black. Long and tall. This night she’s wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket unzipped, a pair of black Levi’s, straight-legged and skintight on her skin and bones. Black snakeskin cowboy boots and a black cotton tee shirt. A whole slew of silver bangle bracelets clink together on her delicate wrist. Silver earrings dangle from her pale white ear lobes, nearly lost in all that long black hair.

“Justine, how you doing tonight, girl?”

Justine is an anomaly in New York–a country singer. She gets a few gigs, some radio play, but it’s not enough to keep the bills paid. Why she doesn’t just move to Nashville is a mystery to everybody but Justine. She wakes up on any given day and is given carte blanche to all seven of the deadly sins amid all that glorious New York City anonymity. She thinks to herself, “I love New York.”

“I’m all right,” Justine replies to the black woman in black leather. But Justine is never all right. If I were all right, she fears privately, would I be hanging out in SM clubs, drinking like a fish and looking for someone who’ll hit me? Still, she smiles. She walks up to the bar and orders herself a bourbon and Coke. She is hoping to find a partner that she can take home and play with, someone who can go the distance with her, drive her hard. Male or female, it doesn’t matter. It’s the vibe that’s important. Do they have a finely tuned imagination? Will this one take me out to the edge and then surprise me somehow? That’s the key question.

She looks around. At five-feet-eleven with her boots on, she towers over nearly everybody in the bar. People are never as tall as it seems in the movies or in the world on television. Not that it matters. Justine is used to towering over people. It gives her a near panoramic view. But as usual, it’s a disappointing view; this crowd is the same-old, same-old. Fulfilling her quest for the evening doesn’t seem likely. She might have to settle for someone that she can at least get along with.

Justine is beautiful. Getting laid is not the issue. She gets as much sex as she wants, but it is so rarely the kind of sex she craves.

If it were as simple as needing to be humiliated, she thinks, taking her drink to a table and sitting down with her usual crew, if it were a simple thing like that, I could go into the back room right now and be humiliated, feel ridiculous and exposed. She’s thinking this because good old George Walker, the clandestine pedophile, just headed in that direction, to the back room. He’s looking for a girl to spank. But that’s all he ever wants. He never wants anything beyond the spanking and he doesn’t even get a hard-on while he’s doing it. What good is that?

“If I’m going to be degraded like that, if daddy is going to spank me, in public no less, I would hope he’d at least get excited about it, you know? Something noticeable, like an erection. It would do wonders for my ego.” Justine has uttered this unexpected segue aloud, to the general surprise of her tablemates.

Joey says, “Don’t you worry, babe. There’s a daddy out there with your name on it. I can just feel it. It’s in the air tonight.” Joey smiles at her encouragingly. Joey is an all-around good egg. They are chums from way back. Sadly, Joey is a bottom, just like Justine. Compatible buddies? Yes. Empathetic? Sure, but together they do not make a matched set. They have never even bothered to try fucking each other.

“A daddy with my name on it. I like the sound of that.” Justine smiles but the words pierce her heart. She is secretly starting to give up hope, to believe what the folks in Mottsville had hinted at, that Justine’s mother had lied, that there had simply been too many boys to know for sure who Justine’s father had been. It wasn’t that guy Donny Hewitt. That was for certain. Even Justine could tell that much.

Too many boys. Justine marvels at the notion with a sick feeling in her gut. She’d only been thirteen, for chrissakes. How could there have been too many boys when a girl is only thirteen?

“Did you hear a word I just said?”

Patty is shouting over the music that’s just gone up several decibels. She’s staring at Justine.

“I’m sorry, no,” she shouts back. “I was a million miles away from here, in a tiny little town in Ohio.”

Patty shrugs and drinks her beer. She’s gotten used to these vague references. She doesn’t bother to repeat herself. Justine isn’t listening.

 

*     *     *

 

It’s the same night, much later. The moon is full and bright white but far from the world since it’s just barely spring. It’s not a fat, golden moon, not a harvest moon that hovers seductively close to the earth, bewitching anyone sorry enough to be roaming it restlessly as half-man, half-beast. Still it holds some mystery and aligns perfectly with Justine’s bedroom window, a beacon slicing between the tall buildings and honing in on her fifth floor tenement flat. It shines in on her, as she lies on her back on her sagging bed and they connect somehow–Justine and the moon.

She’s naked and, in this light, looks impossibly pale to Walt, her partner of the moment. Her slender thighs are spread wide for him, knees to her tits, her wrists in metal handcuffs underneath her. She offers up her holes so easily, he thinks. The slightest cue and she opens right up. He feels like devouring her. He doesn’t want to hit her anymore.

The evening is winding down. The scene is losing steam. Justine can feel it, even though the mouth down there on her aching clit feels exquisite. Walt is a repeat. A man she’s played with before. Not exactly a “last resort”–he’s fun enough for an occasional fuck, but he’s more a lover than a true daddy type.

Or maybe it’s me, she thinks, watching him now, his head between her legs. Maybe I bring out something passive in him. She’s seen him behave much differently with that other girl he goes with, more aggressively. On the street, anyway. It’s not like she’s seen him actually fucking that other girl. Still, he’s a good age–mid-forties. And he’s been around; Justine knows that. She can tell from the hard expression on his face when he’s sitting at the bar alone drinking a beer, unaware of anyone watching him.

When his mouth has just about made her come, he stops. His cock needs to fuck. “Come on,” he says, “I want you to turn over.”

He helps her turn over since the handcuffs are depriving her of the use of her hands. He helps her plant her knees on the bed, lifting her ass up, her weight resting on her shoulders now. Then he sweeps her long hair aside to examine the pale expanse of her back. Her cuffed hands form loose fists and rest on the dimple just below her waist, at that widening sweep of her hips that slopes into the mounds of her ass. In this faint light Walt can barely see the marks he’s left on her. It’s better this way, he realizes. On Justine, he doesn’t want to see the marks. With other girls it’s different. With Rita, for instance, he stuffs three gags in her mouth at once because he knows he won’t feel satisfied until he’s really making her scream. He wants to see the marks he leaves then. He wants to see the bruises come to the surface, the welts blistering on her skin, even the occasional traces of blood, bright red. But that’s Rita. Walt is an animal with Rita.

He pushes down firmly between Justine’s shoulder blades, arching the small of her back up higher. Then he eases his cock into her vagina. It’s tight and hot and soaking. As usual, it opens right up, accepting him all the way.

Justine groans. She loves to get fucked, especially when she’s just been so close to coming, and this is her favorite position to get fucked in.

Walt leans over her, his full body weight pressing on top of her. He gives his cock to her slow, going deep with each thrust, listening for the sweet grunt in her throat that tells him he can’t get any deeper. So he pulls out and goes at her again, goes in deep. He can feel her cunt swelling around his cock, opening more for him; her cunt doing what Justine herself does best: accepting whatever Walt feels like giving her, the back of his hand, a strap, his tongue and now his cock.

His arms planted on the bed at either side of her head, he steadies himself and increases his rhythm, his force. He’s really giving it to her now. The strength of his thighs pinned against her thighs is keeping her spread wide; she can’t help but accept his cock now. The sweet grunts in her throat have swelled into more urgent cries. But she isn’t saying no, she isn’t saying stop. They’re just cries, indications that she’s suffering just enough.

It would be so easy to rape her, Walt thinks. His body flooding with lust at the full realization: I could rape her. Getting her into the handcuffs is easy–then you’re halfway home. But then he wonders, how would I even know the difference? Where is the line you cross with a girl like Justine? What turns it into rape when she simply acquiesces to any kind of force?

As if to prove his point, he’s fucking her so hard the bed is slamming into the wall. This is going to go over well with the neighbors; it’s three in the morning. But he keeps doing it, keeps up that force like he’s in some kind of fucking trance. He stuffs a pillow in her face because she’s really making noise now. But he knows that noise; he understands it. He’s fucked enough women to recognize ecstasy when he hears it.

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” she squeals into the pillow. “God!”

The feel of her cunt spasming around his cock is all it takes. He pulls out of her abruptly and shoots all over her ass.

 

*     *     *

 

At 3:10 in the morning, free of the handcuffs after nearly four hours, Justine bums a cigarette from Walt, breaking off the filter and lighting the ragged end with a plastic James Dean commemorative lighter.

They sit naked on her bed in the dark and smoke. Justine, who lives alone and usually leans more to the anti-social side, is in no hurry to ask him to leave. In fact, she’s privately hoping to coax him into Round Two, to see how dirty this man can get. She’s gained a new perspective on Walt.

She says, “Do you have to work in the morning?”

He says, “Yes.”

“Oh.” She smokes some more. And thinks about James Dean. She does the math. It’s 1989. James Dean has been dead going on thirty-four years. He died five years before Justine was even born. Yet she’s managed to see all three of his films on the big screen. Cinema Village, East Twelfth Street. Another reason why she loves New York.

“Why?” Walt asks.

“I thought maybe you’d like to stay a while longer.”

“It’s late.”

She says nothing. She should bait him. She should say, “I want it up my ass,” and see how late it is then. But if he wants to go, he can go.

They stub out their cigarettes at almost the same time. He doesn’t go. He asks her an uncanny question: “Have you always been into the daddy thing?”

“Oh yeah. Forever. For as far back as I can remember.”

He brushes a lock of that long hair from her face. She looks beautiful in the moonlight–so young. He can’t remember being that young. “And just how far back is that, Justine? What’s the first thing about it that you remember?”

She doesn’t have to give it much thought. Her sexuality privately obsesses her. She remembers exactly when it was: she was seven years old, lying alone in her bed one night, thinking about the father she’d never met, never saw. She wanted to be loved by this man, like other girls were loved by their fathers, but that was out of the question. He’d gone away, left her, abandoned her to the elements. A wild child to be raised by wolves. Or so it would seem, judging by how painful it felt. If it was out of the question that he should love her, perhaps he could be persuaded to hit her, like other fathers hit their daughters. That would do. That would be the next best thing. The thought of it secretly thrilled her. Imagine, getting close enough to him that he might actually hit her. The pictures in her head then were too compelling. Within a year, she’d learned to masturbate. The following year, to have orgasms. But that was too personal. She wouldn’t divulge a thing like that to Walt. “I remember enough,” she says.

“Give me an example.” Walt loves listening to girls’ secrets, the more shameful the better.

So she gives him an example, a true example. “When I was nine, I had a girlfriend at school whose father used to beat her and her older sisters with a belt for every little thing they did wrong. I’d never met him but his reputation was larger than life and he terrified me. When I finally did meet him, I wasn’t prepared for how young he was or how good-looking he turned out to be. It blew me away. He was very attractive, and when he wasn’t on the warpath, he was really nice. He had this incredible bond with his daughters–he had four of them, in all. And even though he was still strict, he was very close with each of those girls. He talked to them like human beings, like he was interested in what they had to say. And I envied that. To me, to my nine-year-old mind, all his rigid discipline translated into love, you know? It meant he cared about his daughters. I didn’t have a father, so I envied that bond they had. I developed a searing crush on that man. I wanted to be his kid, too. I wanted him to hit me like he hit the other girls. I used to masturbate like crazy, thinking about that guy. And somehow it got all tangled up in my sex life as I got older and it never left.”

Walt considers her in this new light. “Is your dad dead or something?”

“No. Well, at least I don’t think so but it’s starting to seem like an irrelevant point. An issue that is never going to come to a final conclusion.”

“And what does that mean?”

“It means, my mother won’t tell me who he is.” Justine thinks twice before going ahead and adding: “I’m starting to think it’s because she never knew.”

That feels good, saying it–admitting that terrible truth. Hearing it out loud, finally. Getting it outside her aching brain. Maybe it will start to torture her less? “You want to stay a while longer, Walt?”

“All right, Justine. A little while.”

He can’t bring himself to hit her again. Maybe some other night, if they come at it from a different angle and they’ve had enough to drink. Instead, he helps himself to a fistful of her long hair and pulls her down next to him on the bed, flat on her back. He knows she doesn’t care much for being kissed but he leans over her and kisses her anyway, right on the mouth, forcing his tongue in. She kisses him back but she doesn’t hold him, doesn’t put her arms around him. She’d rather have the handcuffs back on but she doesn’t say it.

Walt wants to feel his fingers up her hole. “Open your legs for me, Justine.” And she does, just like that. Her legs part, her knees are spread. Two of his fingers go up her hole and Justine moans. It feels nice.

This is why he can’t hit her, he realizes. He gets off more on hitting the bad girls, the ones who are asking for it. He enjoys taking off his belt and beating them, listening to them scream. But Justine is too well behaved. Not a petulant bone in her long bony body, not a drop of obstinacy. Ask her to do something and she does it, whatever it is. Just like that. Not like Rita, who fights him tooth and nail even over the small stuff, until he can’t wait to jerk down her pants and bend her over just about anything.

Walt thinks Justine is on the wrong track.

His fingers planted deeper in her hole, she rocks on them, groaning. She holds her knees open wider for him.

Even if she’d had a father, Walt thinks, feeling her cunt swelling around his fingers, getting more slippery, he would never have hit her. Walt was willing to put money on that. She’s too docile. She doesn’t inspire that visceral reaction, that savage impulse. At best she inspires mercy, he thinks. Albeit, mercy swollen with a lot of lust. “You want to turn over for me again?” he asks.

“Yeah,” she says. “I love fucking like that.” She turns over for him. She’s on her knees and elbows in a heartbeat, her ass eagerly in the air.

When his cock pushes into her cunt this time, it’s as if their genitals are rigged with electrified wire. They’re fucking like crazy in no time. Insatiable. Loud. Justine is working it now, fucking him in return, slamming her pussy onto him and grunting like she’s a whole lot older than she seemed even a few moments ago. She’s decidedly more assertive about getting fucked when her hands are unfettered, when she can balance her center of gravity and act on what it is she wants to feel down there: getting her cunt stuffed, getting it impaled.

“Shit, Justine.” Walt is overwhelmed. “I’m coming already.”

“No,” she insists. She feels like she’s just gotten started. “Don’t come yet!”

She pulls her cunt off him but it’s too late. He’s spurting on the sheets.

“Christ, I’m sorry,” she says. Still she finds it oddly amusing. Regrettably, so does he. But then they face it: the night is over.

Walt excuses himself to the bathroom to clean up, to get dressed. Justine helps herself to two more of his cigarettes while he’s out of the room. She slips them into the drawer of her night table, an investment for later, for after he’s gone. One will be a sort of aperitif to the orgasm she’s going to have once she’s alone. The second, she’ll smoke at dawn, a final au revoir to a partially successful evening.

 

*     *     *

 

Justine perches naked on the edge of the iron bathtub. The empty tub is ice cold. Walt’s leather belt has left just enough of a burn on her rear end to make him a more memorable daddy than she’d initially guessed. With any luck, she’ll hook up with him again some night and provoke him into really blistering her ass. She’s curious now to find out how much of the real Walt she can handle.

The bathroom is dark, the window wide open. The moon has shifted now and is out of view. Justine breaks off the filter and lights purloined cigarette #1. In the full-length mirror opposite the tub, the sudden flare of the lighter illuminates her momentarily in all her slender naked glory.

Catching that flash of herself in the mirror, she thinks, I look pretty. She doesn’t always think this but getting seriously fucked tends to leave her feeling pretty.

She smokes her cigarette deliberately, inhaling it deep, wanting to feel that rush of nicotine in her brain while she tugs lightly on a nipple, making it stiffen.

She’ll fondle the nipple absently until she’s smoked the cigarette all the way down, getting herself aroused, parting her legs enough to give the geek across the airshaft a reason to go on living. Justine knows he watches her, especially in the dark. She suspects he buys every crazy gadget for night-spying that’s ever been advertised in the pages of Popular Science.

She’ll give him this much–an unhindered glimpse of her when she’s naked, even aroused–but usually no more. When she really gets down to business with herself, she closes the curtains.

Still they have a special bond–Justine and the airshaft geek. A few months prior, Justine brought home a psycho-daddy by mistake. It turned out his fuse was short. It burned alarmingly quick. Without warning, he went from doing his daddy thing–flailing Justine’s ass in view of the full-length mirror–to doing his psycho thing: wrapping his belt around her throat and twisting it tight.

An unidentified flying coffee mug smashing against her bathroom window sent the psycho-daddy scrambling into the New York night. For that, Justine feels grateful to the geek across the airshaft, even while his coffee mug cracked her bathroom window. But she also feels that the better part of night-spying is in leaving the gritty girl-stuff to the imagination.

She flicks her cigarette into the toilet and then tugs closed the curtains.

In her bed she is little again. Safe. She doesn’t go so far as to think ‘free’–she doesn’t need to feel free. Just safe–in a safe world. In truth, she means ‘a predictable world’ but she doesn’t yet understand this difference. It isn’t important anyway. Her fingers are already between her legs. She’s in that place in her head that she saves for when she masturbates, the place where all the men are more or less like Walt, daddy-types looking to rough-up horny girls. She spends a moment revisiting Walt, lingering over that incredible fucking he gave her. She hadn’t been anticipating that, had she? The memory of how filthy it had felt to be captive under his weight, to be fucked so incredibly hard–this memory clenches her womb and sets it on fire. She rubs herself more intently to fan the flames. Her clit, welcoming this surge of attention, urges her on.

Justine sinks deeper into the pictures. How insatiable Walt had made her feel. Still the deeper she drops into the phantom lust, that world she alone is scripting, she knows she will eventually sink too deep, down to the familiar depths of incestuous taboos. That very private world, daddy’s world–the safe place. A conveniently soundproof room cut off from the house of love, ideal for acting on all her unattractive need. It’s here that the true daddy, her daddy, never fails to surface and take her in hand.

Funny, that he should be the one to epitomize ‘safe’ when he’s the meanest daddy of all. How he degrades and debases her in that private room; how he makes his little girl suffer. It’s unspeakable, really, the things he expects her to endure between her legs. Yet it isn’t half as shameful as how aroused she gets from letting him do it.

It never changes, either. These are the tried and true methods that make her come. Year after year, orgasm after orgasm. Just like now. Daddy is defiling her, fucking her ass, and she’s coming. Only this time she comes with a start, a jolt. Immediately she’s thinking of Mottsville.

Weird, she thinks, sitting up abruptly and going for the final cigarette. That whole town was weird. It’s no wonder my mom cut out when she did and never looked back.

Justine wasn’t raised by her mother, though. Sandy Mayhew had been just a child herself when her baby came. Justine was raised instead by an aunt and uncle, an older couple, childless until Justine was born. They’d lived two hundred miles from Mottsville. Her aunt had died several years ago from lung cancer. Then her uncle had followed a year after that, of complications stemming from diabetes.

 

*     *     *

 

Fuck, Bobby thinks. The phone is ringing in his ear and it’s making his heart pound. He wishes the phone cord reached as far as the refrigerator door because he’d sure like another beer about now. But he’s made up his mind, he won’t hang up. He’s riveted to the sound of this distant ringing–a phone somewhere thousands of miles away.

“Hello?”

God, she sounds young.

“I was looking for Justine Dwyer?”

“This is me,” she says.

The theme song from the Andy Griffith Show is playing on the TV in the background. It’s faint, but Bobby is certain that’s what it is. “Well, you don’t know me,” he starts in, wondering where his words are coming from since his brain feels frozen in space, “but Donny and Mary Hewitt in Mottsville gave me your number last night.”

“They did?” It takes her a mere moment to place their faces: Donny and Mary Hewitt. The Hewitts. Mottsville. Last night–last night she’d been fucking Walt.

“My name’s Bobby Krieg. I don’t know if the Hewitts told you about me? I used to live in Mottsville a long time ago. I live out near Reno, Nevada, now, though.”

“No, I don’t think they told me about you.”

“Well, I knew your mother. Briefly.”

“Oh?” Here comes another brutal story about her mother the pre-teen whore. A story about how many boys she’d fucked. “You did?”

Silence. Just plunge in, he thinks. Go for broke. “Yeah. I did. From what Donny Hewitt told me, I think I could be your father.”

“You do?” That’s all she says.

It doesn’t occur to Bobby that she might be in shock. Instead, he thinks she’s angry with him–why shouldn’t she be?

“Listen. I’m sorry, Justine. But we were just kids. We were stupid, you know? Kids do stupid things. Like have sex. We didn’t know any better. I didn’t really know your mother by the time she’d had her baby. It never occurred to me in my wildest dreams that I could have been the father of that kid–of you, I mean. Sorry. I was only, like, fifteen years old. I wasn’t even in Mottsville when you were born. I was in jail. Clear in another county. I’d robbed a store so they stuck me in a women’s jail for six months. I mean, it was a long time ago, I was a kid–I don’t still do stuff like that. I’m not a criminal or anything. They cleared my record when I went into the Navy. I was in the Navy for twenty years.”

This is going nowhere fast. He decides to shut up for a second and think.

Justine says nothing but Bobby can hear her breathing. He knows she’s still there. “So,” he tries again. “Donny says you look just like my sister Flo. Hey, he also told me you write country songs–is that true?”

“Yeah.”

“So do I, you know that? And so do my brothers, so did my dad, my grandfather. Everyone. I have one brother who still lives in Nashville. He makes records and sings back-up for George Jones, sometimes Johnny Paycheck, and Tammy Wynette. People like that. You’ve heard of them, right?”

“Of course,” she says. Justine is quietly astounded. “Who hasn’t?”

“Hey, if you write country music, then what are you doing living in New York? Shouldn’t you move to Nashville?”

“It’s a long story.”

She has such a pretty voice. Bobby falls right into it. He wants to hear her talk some more. But he doesn’t want to pry, to invade her world. How does he talk to a stranger, to a twenty-eight year old girl?

“I feel at home in New York,” she says unexpectedly.

He’s all ears.

“I hated it back home.” Her voice is achingly sweet. “I always felt like such a freak there. People were so, I don’t know, conservative? You know what I mean?”

“Yes.”

“I feel like I fit in here. I was never interested in going to Nashville. New York is–I don’t know. They leave you alone here.”

“I was in New York once, a long time ago. I think I understand what you mean.”

Does he? She wonders. Could that be possible? That anyone could understand her?

“I live out here in the desert,” he tells her. “I live alone, my wife died about four years ago. And I pretty much like to be left alone now. I don’t have much use for most people anymore. I was in the service a long time. A lot of it in Viet Nam. I’ve seen what people are capable of, what most of them are made of. Men and women, both.”

“Viet Nam? Wow.”

“Yeah.”

“So you’re not married anymore?”

“No. My wife, Felina–she was Mexican–she was always in poor health. Crippling arthritis and then she got a brain tumor. When she was in the hospital for the tumor, she caught pneumonia and that was it. In a heartbeat, she was gone.”

“Wow, I’m sorry. That’s sad.” She wants to ask him if there are other kids, kids besides her. But she’s not sure she wants to know yet. She doesn’t even want to know if this is really her father. For this moment in time, she simply believes he is.

“Yeah, it was sad. Yeah, boy. To be honest, Justine, for a while there I went pretty crazy. I couldn’t believe she was dead. Just when I’d finally retired and we’d bought one of those RVs, you know? We were finally going to travel together. Through our whole marriage I was in the Navy and always shipping out somewhere. Felina couldn’t live too many places with me because of that arthritis, you know. I was always being shipped to places that had such high humidity and the desert was best for her. She spent an awful lot of time alone. Well, she had three kids from another marriage. So she wasn’t completely alone. But you probably know what I mean. We were really looking forward to being together, getting to know each other again, and then suddenly she was gone.” This is getting morbid, he thinks. I don’t want to scare her off. “Well, listen,” Bobby says. “How would you feel if I sent you some photos? I could send you a bunch of different pictures of my family and you can see if maybe there’s any resemblance, what do you think?”

“I’d love that,” she says. “You want to see some pictures of me?”

“I sure would, I’d like that. And you know what else I’d like? I’d like to get a look at some of your songs. If you don’t mind, that is.”

“I don’t mind.”

When they finally hang up the phone, Bobby feels young again. He feels like singing, really singing. Not that annoying caterwauling stuff he’s gotten so famous for out at the legion hall. But the way he sang in the old days, when he would sing in bars for other American servicemen and play that old country guitar.

He grabs the keys to his truck and heads out the door of his trailer. He trots down the three front steps, the same steps where he sat one black midnight not so very long ago, drunk out of his skull and holding a loaded pistol to his head. Thank god he’d been too drunk to do much more than shoot his glasses clean off his face. If he’d shot himself that night, he would have missed this.

It’s four in the afternoon now. Most of the guys will be pulling up to the American Legion Hall, taking their usual seats at the bar. Bobby gets into his truck and sticks his key in the ignition. He’s known out there for his tall tales. Wait until they get a load of this one.

 

*     *     *

 

Justine sits on the edge of her bed and stares distractedly at the television screen. Her brain can’t keep up with this news. How can this be, she wonders; that God could favor her now, so suddenly? And it sure seems as if Donny and Mary Hewitt had been more sympathetic to Justine’s plight than she’d realized. Imagine, going out of their way like that to help a complete stranger. And not just a stranger, but also a distraught and overly emotional one who could barely keep from crying in despair right there at their kitchen table. And they hadn’t just helped her, either. They’d gone so far as to answer her prayers.

 

*     *     *

 

Bobby lies awake in bed. He hasn’t slept a wink. The sky is getting light. The roosters from the ranch down the road have wandered onto his property again and are already crowing, right under his bedroom window. Still he lies there, oblivious to the incessant crowing, trying to picture Sandy Mayhew. For the life of him, he can’t recall what she looked like. There’s just a shadow of a girl there in his memory, at best. Big eyes, dark hair, long skinny legs. He thinks it was fall. He remembers taking his coat off and tossing it in the weeds so that she can lie on it. He remembers her hiking up her dress and kicking her underpants all the way off, how exciting that had looked when she was naked from the waist down. But he doesn’t recall that either one of them was particularly bothered by the cold. He thinks it must have been fall.

Her parents were gone somehow, he remembers. Divorced, maybe? They’d left her in the care of an ancient grandmother who hadn’t had a clue what Sandy was up to. Fucking everybody. Just giving it away. Sandy Mayhew hadn’t been Bobby’s first girl but she’d been the youngest, that was for sure. And she’d been so matter-of-fact about it. Half sprawled in the weeds and spreading her legs open, letting him get a good look. That had surprised him–that she’d actually let him look. Other girls would just barely lift their skirts if he could manage to persuade them to pull down their panties, like they were ashamed of what they had down there hiding under all that hair. But not Sandy. Bobby had seen it all and it had nearly taken his breath away. He’d found her hole without any trouble. Went right to it on the first attempt and his cock went right up.

How could he have ever guessed that the few hurried moments that followed, out there in some Mottsville field, could lead to an entire lifetime for another human being? He had never imagined that what he was doing to Sandy that day, or to any of those other girls back then, could lead to an actual baby. In Bobby’s childish ignorance, pregnancy was something that only happened to grown women. Or to girls who’d been fucked by grown men. When he’d heard Sandy Mayhew was knocked up, he’d just naturally assumed she’d been messed with by some older guy. And then Bobby was gone from Mottsville anyway and never gave it another thought.

His stomach is queasy–and this time it isn’t the isoniazid. He hasn’t taken it yet. It’s his conscience at work. If Justine is his daughter then he should have been there to keep an eye on her. To make sure she wasn’t off in some field like her mother had been, giving the goods away to greedy boys like him.

Keep an eye on her how? he wonders. Taken her with me when I shipped out to the Philippines? When I was all of eighteen years old? Brought her along to the jungle when they sent me in to terrorize the Viet Cong?

But the fact remains, he doesn’t even know this girl yet and already the thought of some boy getting into her pants is vexing indeed. His instinct is at once territorial. His gut response suitable to his years of serving in the Special Forces: he wants to kill this phantom boy; roast him over a fiery pit and then pick his bones clean.

But she’s hardly a girl, it occurs to him finally. She’s twenty-eight years old. A grown woman. Surely she’s had sex by now. This impulse to kill anyone who touches her is likely not in anyone’s best interest. At last Bobby gives up on sleep entirely and gets out of bed.

Who is he kidding anyway? He goes out to the kitchen and, right off, grabs an ice-cold beer. She probably isn’t even his kid. His imagination is running wild. It’s getting out of hand. He’s Bobby Krieg, a widower. A former Navy SEAL, retired. He’s 43 years old. He doesn’t have, has never had, and most likely never will have a kid.

He drops down into a kitchen chair. It’s early but the sky is light. The sun is just about up. There’s the olive tree. He can see it out the kitchen window. Right where it was the morning before and where it’s been since long before he bought these five acres and set the doublewide down on them. And there are the two mourning doves. As always, right in the tree. It’s a good sign. A sign that the earth he’s always known is still underneath him. Nothing has changed. Nothing much.

So why does he feel like sobbing, like slamming his can of beer across the kitchen? Because Felina would have loved this. She would have wanted to know all about it. She didn’t have a jealous bone in her body. It wouldn’t have mattered that it was proof he’d fucked someone else. Another baby! That’s how Felina would have seen it. Bobby’s got a baby now, too. Let’s have a party and celebrate.

But she’s not a baby, he reminds himself. She’s full-grown. And Felina is dead.

Donna. He’ll call Donna. In a little while–when he’s sure her husband’s gone off to work.

 

*     *     *

 

The Rawlins Motel is the seediest motel in all of Fallon. Well, it’s on the outskirts, really. On the highway heading toward Reno, completely across town from the naval air station. They meet here because Donna can’t afford to have anyone see her car parked in Bobby’s driveway. Once, she’d tried pulling her car clear in back and parking it behind his mobile home. But from a certain spot in the road you could still see the car plain as day. And then she looked nothing but guilty: why would she need to hide her car if she wasn’t fucking her brains out in Bobby’s trailer?

Donna parks her car at the dairy mart across from the Rawlins Motel and then walks across the road. She’s already spotted Bobby’s truck. There are only three vehicles in the motel parking lot. She heads straight for unit 3. Bobby always gets unit 3.

“Hello, Donna,” he says, opening the door.

“Hey, Bobby,” she says with a wide grin. She spies a beer can sitting on the nightstand. A veritable party might be underway. “What’s all the excitement about? Since when do you need to see me so bright and early on a Tuesday morning? Not that I mind.” So what if he doesn’t love her? Or didn’t love her enough to marry her? When he’s horny, she’s still the one he wants to fuck.

The minute the door is closed, she pulls her shirt off over her head. She’s wearing a flesh-colored bra, satiny, filmy. Her substantial boobs are packed in tight. They look very promising. But Bobby doesn’t really want to fuck. He’s had her come out here because he wants to talk. “Donna,” he starts in.

“Yes?” Her bra is already off.

Her breasts look spectacular, as always. Bobby loves a full-figured woman, a gal with meat on her bones.

“I have some news,” he goes on.

“Really? What’s the news? Good or bad?”

She’s standing directly in front of him. They haven’t even kissed yet and already her nimble, manicured fingers–complete with the diamond wedding ring–are deftly unbuckling his belt.

“Stop for a minute,” he snaps, startling her. She stops.

She’s curious now. “What is it?”

“I think I have a kid,” he says.

She bristles. It’s instantaneous. “And what does that mean?” She’s feeling stupid for taking off her shirt so quickly. “Besides the obvious.”

“Relax, Donna. This kid is twenty-eight years old. And I’m not even sure if she’s my daughter yet.”

“Is this that kid from the Philippines again? That baby from the garbage can?”

“No, not that one. This one might really be mine–biologically, I mean.”

Donna, in all her eloquence, is referring to Ligaya. A girl, who, Bobby realizes with a bit of a start, is twenty-five years old already. Had the universe been trying to tell him something back in 1964? If it had, it now felt to Bobby about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

When he was first stationed in the Philippines, at Subic Bay on the island of Luzon, he frequented a bar that catered to American sailors and local prostitutes. One bright Saturday afternoon, on his way out the bar’s back door, his arm around the lovely Maria Corazon, right in front of him, there in a garbage can, was a baby girl. Abandoned. Not stuffed into the can like trash. But wrapped in a homemade blanket and tucked inside a wicker basket that was set in the garbage can. An infant. A newborn. Bobby himself had named her Ligaya–it was Tagalog for “happiness.”

Maria Corazon was older than Bobby and wise to the fact of unwanted babies in her very Catholic country. She led Bobby to an older woman in her own village that could be trusted to care for the infant girl, to raise her to adulthood–if Bobby were willing to supply the necessary funds on a regular basis.

When Bobby considered the life of Maria Corazon, a girl of twenty-one who had already spent most of her life as a prostitute due to dire poverty, he dreamed of more for tiny Ligaya. In his fervor, he agreed to a financial arrangement with the old woman. And for the next eighteen years, Bobby sent the money to the woman like clockwork, idealistically hoping that the child would then have a shot at a decent life, an education, a chance to avoid a life of prostitution.

He liked to believe it had played out just that way but it didn’t seem likely. When Ligaya turned eighteen and when, sure enough, the support checks stopped coming, she tracked down Bobby through the naval base.

“Anything,” she promised. Her young voice sounding plastic and well-rehearsed. “You can do anything you like with me. Just let me come to America, huh? We can do anything you suggest, you know? Does that sound good? We can get married and you get me a green card, how about it?”

After that sobering episode, Bobby had put Ligaya out of his head, nearly forgetting she had ever existed. Perhaps I’ve paid my dues in some small way, he realizes now. I raised so many damn kids in my adult life. Is it so terrible that somebody else had to raise mine?

Suddenly he no longer feels like talking about Justine. The subject seems fragile somehow. Why spoil it by divulging it all to a woman like Donna? A woman no one ever accused of being sensitive or discreet?

“Never mind,” he says, unzipping her tight jeans and helping her step out of them. She’s wearing the tiniest hint of a pair of panties and those, too, are off in an instant. Now she’s naked. “Let’s make some good use of a Tuesday morning,” he says.

“Now that’s talking sense.” Donna is content again. With Bobby close behind her, she’s at the small refrigerator. Bending over, she helps herself to a can of beer.

She has a perfectly delectable rump. Fleshy and round. An ass that a man can really grab hold of, sink his teeth into if he chooses. While she’s still bending over, Bobby swats her good with the back of his hand, hoping it stings.

 

*     *     *

 

On the very day the photos from Bobby arrive in Justine’s mailbox, an unusual thing happens. Walt calls her on the telephone, wanting to hook up with her that night. Until now, they’d only hooked up as an afterthought, when one of them seduced the other in a bar.

“How ironic,” she says into the receiver.

“Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting that reply. Why ironic?”

Justine laughs half-heartedly. “I’ll explain when you get here–maybe.”

“You want me to come over? You don’t want to meet me somewhere first, have a drink?”

“No,” she says decisively. “We can drink here if you want. I want you to come over.”

As much as she’s surprised Walt with this news, she’s also surprised herself. It turns out she’s very eager to see Walt. Since the phone call from Bobby Krieg, the world in her head has been topsy-turvy. Somehow her recollection of that night of unbridled fucking with Walt has gotten tangled up in her idea of Bobby Krieg.

The photos Bobby sent of his family are spread out on Justine’s kitchen table. She’s mesmerized by them. She can’t stop looking at them, even though they make her heartsick somehow. Mostly because here is her father’s life in pictures and, even while she does indeed look like so many of the people she sees before her, Justine herself isn’t in a single photograph; she’s keenly jealous of these strangers who are.

Bobby is fair complexioned with blue eyes and dark blonde hair. But everyone else in his family looks more as she does: dark hair, brown eyes. Bobby has Justine’s smile, though. There’s no disputing that. Or does she have his? Whichever. It doesn’t matter. The likelihood that Bobby is in fact her father stares up at her from her kitchen table. She alternates between crying and feeling numb. It hasn’t occurred to her yet to feel jubilant. Maybe because she’s only spoken to him that one time. What’s to keep him from vanishing again?

When Walt arrives, the pictures are in a neat stack on the table. She decides not to discuss it with him. Not yet, anyway. Maybe later.

Justine fixes them each a drink and Walt is surprised by the sheer scope of her liquor collection.

She shrugs. “I’m always trying to beat the devil. I come from a long line of alcoholics, at least on my mother’s side. I love to drink but I walk a fine line.”

Walt hopes it never gets the best of her. He can’t picture Justine being swallowed up in the world of booze. He finds her so pretty and sweet. Smart, too. And self-destruction is so unattractive. Still he’s seen plenty of people with a lot of promise go right down the tubes. It happens.

Justine is wearing a thin chemise, white cotton, trimmed with eyelet lace. Walt has never seen her in anything but black before. Jeans and tee shirts. Motorcycle jackets. In this chemise, with her long black hair, she seems delicate. Perhaps ethereal.

“What do you feel like doing?” she asks, sipping on a bourbon and Coke. “We’ve got all night, I hope? Or at least a few hours?”

“We’ve got as long as you want, Justine. As long as it takes. You look pretty dressed like that, you know? I’ve never seen you like this.”

Compliments are not easy for Justine. She’s great at giving them, not so comfortable taking them. “Well, I can’t dress like this in a bar, can I? I have to save it for when I’m at home. Thanks for coming over, by the way.”

He scoffs incredulously. “You certainly don’t have to thank me. It’s my pleasure. I guarantee it.”

“Oh.”

She’s blushing now. What’s with her tonight?

Walt moves closer. She doesn’t like to be kissed. Okay. He knows that. They’ve been all through that once before, but last time she kissed him so sweetly. He wants to kiss her again. Right now. He takes her in his arms and kisses her. A real kiss, tongues and all. She lets him. Momentarily. Then she pulls away, sipping her drink again.

“Can I ask you something, Justine?”

“Yes.”

“How old are you? I’ve been trying to figure that out.”

“I’m twenty-eight.”

“Twenty-eight. Really?”

“Yes, why? How old did you think I was?”

“Sort of ageless actually.”

“Oh get out of here, Walt. What’s that supposed to mean? How old are you, anyway?”

“I’m forty-eight. How old did you think I was?”

“Forty-eight.”

“You’re such a clever girl.”

It’s awkward between them. Not unpleasant, but still awkward. He’s not sure how to proceed. They’re here to do a scene together, aren’t they? He should take control; take that drink from her, for starters. Bark orders at her. Command her to do something, but what? With other girls it’s so easy. It almost comes down to a formula: speak when you’re spoken to, he’ll say. Stand over here, bend over that. And when a bared girl is positioned exactly, he grabs her by the scruff of her neck and lets the leather strap flail into her. He listens to her scream. It’s such an ordinary scene at this point in his life; he might do it with his eyes closed. Yet it suddenly feels foreign to him.

“Come here a second,” he says, sliding the drink from her grasp and setting it on the coffee table. “I want to see something.”

He sits down on the couch in her meager living room. It’s a Salvation Army special, that couch. God knows how many people’s lives it graced before coming into Justine’s.

She stands in front of him, uncertain. It feels like things have changed. It’s not a bad feeling.

“Turn around,” he says.

“Why?”

He looks up at her. “Does it matter why?”

The power exchange. A hint of it, anyway. He’s the daddy. She’s not supposed to question him; she’s supposed to do what he says. She turns around.

When he lifts her chemise in back, her pulse quickens. “Hold it up,” he says. She does.

Her panties, satiny white, cling to those perfect mounds. Her ass. He feels he could sit hear all night and look at her like this. Jerk-off, maybe, but just look at her and not touch her. And yet he peels the panties down her thighs, noticing the shift in her breathing, how it catches for a moment in her throat. And there are the marks, his marks, fading but obvious since he knows what he’s looking for: faint stripes across the flesh of her ass; pinpoint bruises.

He’s relieved that he didn’t do more damage. He doesn’t want to be responsible for ruining such pretty skin in any lasting way. A heady rush akin to lust roils in him, though. He’s marked her. Something in him wants to press his luck and mark her again.

And look at her: she stands so still. Holding the chemise high, offering him this intimate examination of her rear end. The only thing that gives her away is that breathing. He suspects a galloping need is overtaking her. But she hides it. She is so fucking well behaved.

He gets up and stands in front of her. He doesn’t want her to move yet. He looks her in the eye. “I want to ask you a question,” he says.

He’s taken aback by the expression on her face. She looks overwhelmed, but in the most promising way. “Are you all right, Justine?”

Her reply is a quiet but succinct yes.

He continues with his slow seduction of her, not expecting that she should excite him this much. He’s too old to be feeling like this over such a common thing. “When we spoke on the phone earlier, you said it was ironic–my wanting to see you tonight. Why?”

She hadn’t expected this. She feels like crumbling to a heap on the floor. How can she answer? Where would she start? It would require she confess to too many things at once. Talk about feeling exposed. But this isn’t likely to feel sexy.

That look of panic in Justine’s eye is, what? Intriguing? Walt gives her an out. “You can lie if you want to and make something up. I’d rather you didn’t but it’s up to you.”

He’ll know if she’s lying and yet he means it–it will be okay. They’re just playing.

It seems to take her an eternity to begin, but she does. “After you left last time…”

He suspects he’s getting the truth out of her. It excites him. “Yes?”

“Well, I was thinking…”

He studies her patiently and waits for the words to continue. He feels like grinning. She seems so genuinely girlish. Holding her chemise so obediently. Her panties down around her thighs. And all this seeming terror over a handful of words. But he keeps his face a blank slate. It’s part of the game.

“I was thinking…” she goes on.

She does a lot of thinking. This fact doesn’t come as any surprise to Walt.

Then it comes out in a flood. “You made a memorable impression on me last time. Something I wasn’t expecting. I mean, you seemed different, you know? I had a good time with you. A really good time. And just when I was thinking that I needed to figure you out–how to get you to respond to me in a more, well, daddy-type way, guess what happened?”

It was Walt’s turn to feel at a loss for words. What could there possibly be about him that she would find memorable? He’s never sure what to do with her. “I can’t possibly guess,” he says.

“I found my real father. Well, he found me. He called me. On the phone. From Reno, Nevada. The very next day.”

“I never would have guessed that,” he confesses. “Not in a million years.”

 

*     *     *

 

At his own kitchen table, Bobby Krieg is spellbound. Justine’s photos have arrived in his afternoon mail. She’s beautiful. Without doubt, she’s beautiful. And here are a handful of her songs–they’re good. She’s talented. Beautiful and talented. And she does look an awful lot like his sister Flo, and a bit like his brother Preston. Mostly, though, Justine reminds Bobby of his late father. It’s something around her eyes. And there’s Sandy Mayhew–the spitting image of Sandy is in this picture of Justine as a little girl. Suddenly, Sandy has come back to his memory full-blown. He recalls clearly what she’d looked like: like this little girl, Justine.

How could I have done it, he curses himself all over again. Sandy was just a little girl. He should have kept his cock in his trousers. And yet if he had, there wouldn’t be this person in the world, in his life. This beautiful, beautiful person.

 

*     *     *

 

There’s something about this that’s not right. Justine knows it. For the first time in her life, she knows it. But she goes through with it. She steps out of her panties, strips off her chemise. She bends over the edge of her bed. She does exactly what Walt instructs her to do because she’s the one who has asked him to do this, to take control of her. To hurt her. She needs to express something of profound urgency but she doesn’t know what–it has something to do with feeling loved, or with needing to feel loved. But this is her only method for accepting love. It’s her habit, her way. It’s what she knows. After all, no one can deny her this, can they? It’s not asking for much. It’s the paltriest kind of affection. Anyone can part with it without thinking twice, without noticing they’ve given anything away. It can be spared for a girl like her. As in “a crumb.” Spare this abandoned girl a crumb of love.

This is not how Walt pictured them spending an evening. He didn’t want to get brutal with Justine. For that, he could have gone to any other girl on earth. Still he wants to give her what she says she wants.

He’s insisted that she not wear the handcuffs, though. He’s told her to take responsibility for at least part of this. To go into this unbound and ungagged–to make that choice. She did. She knows that if there’s any screaming now she’ll be found out in the worst way: somebody somewhere, a neighbor, the airshaft geek, will call the cops. How humiliating would that be? And this isn’t about humiliation.

What is it about? she wonders, never really having a good answer to that question.

Walt grabs a handful of her long hair and wraps it tight in his fist, pulling her head back. She grips the edge of the bed to steady herself. This is exciting, she thinks, already anticipating the sting of his leather belt across her ass. Her heart is pounding. She knows she’s wet between her legs. At the same time, she’s terrified.

Why? How many scenes like this has she done already? Too many to count. Why should she feel terrified?

Because something doesn’t feel right. Because suddenly she’s a stranger to herself. Suddenly she doesn’t understand the things she does, the things she asks others to do to her.

It’s too late. Walt has taken aim and now he flails the leather strap down hard on her naked behind, giving it all he’s got with the very first blow, going right into overdrive.

The impulse to scream nearly overwhelms Justine. It forces the breath out of her. It catches in her throat.

Walt knows that sound. It doesn’t delight him, necessarily, but it satisfies him. He’s made the intended impression. He lays into her again.

The impulse to dodge the blow, to block it with her hands somehow is pure reflex. Justine can’t help it; it stings something fierce.

“Hey,” Walt cautions her, yanking her hair.

Obediently, she bends over again, grips the mattress more firmly. For some inexplicable reason, she’s determined to see this through to the other side, to get past the pain and turn it into something she calls sex. Before Walt can hit her again, she arches her stinging ass out. It’s a provocation. He nails it. His belt comes down on her ass with an impressive snap. A sound that permeates her room in tandem with a defiant groan. It’s wedged down in her throat.

Oh shit, Walt thinks, recognizing that sound, too, knowing he could thrash her ass now until the cows come home and all it’s going to do is get her hornier. He doesn’t want this challenge. He doesn’t want to be the one to subdue her, to take her down for the count and leave her blistered and bleeding.

Still, when she parts her legs like that…

He strikes her with renewed ferocity. She flinches in obeisance. She grunts but it’s tinged with a stubborn come-on. So he strikes her again. Her ass is bright red already. He hasn’t let up on his force, hasn’t gone easy on her in the slightest. And all she can think to do in response is bring her knees up onto the bed and plant them wide, pushing the girl-goods out at him, baiting him.

From where Walt stands he can easily see the glistening strands of how wet she’s gotten, how aroused she is between her legs. He knows what girls want when they do this, when they offer up their cunts to the belt. It’s instinctive. So he brings the belt down dead on it, the leather smacking flat against the swollen lips, her hole, her clit.

Justine’s head jerks up sharply in response to the pain, but the delirious moan she emits and the way she keeps herself spread, keeps her cunt centered in the line of the blows, tells a different story.

Walt wonders if he should make her come. If he has it in him to go the distance with Justine and teach her something about her capacity for subverting pleasure and pain. But it wears the hell out of his fucking arm…

He decides to risk it anyway. A quick yank on her hair to get her attention and then he introduces her to a new rhythm. He snaps the belt down on her cunt quickly, methodically, aiming for her clit every time, hitting her harder and harder. She does what all the girls do, a thing that never ceases to quietly amaze him, she keeps her clit in harm’s way, pushing herself into the blows. He can see the tiny hole of her vagina pressing open from the amount of labor she’s putting into it, into ensuring her clit meets the belt each time. And with each pushing open of her hole, it gets slicker. He wants his cock in her so bad.

“Oh god,” she cries out. But it’s a rapturous a cry. An exalted cry.

Shit, she’s thinking. Shit. She’s never felt anything as intoxicating as this. This is what it was always about, she realizes, what it was all leading to, this very feeling. She feels like she could actually come from this feeling.

But Walt can’t help himself. He simply can’t resist her cunt.

He releases his grip on her hair, throws the belt to the floor and unzips his trousers.

Justine was so close to coming, so close. But something deep in her gut tells her this is going to be better. Daddy is going to take his fill of her and this is what it’s really all about: letting him use her in the basest way, in any position he desires, in any hole he chooses. She will be his veritable pleasure machine, limited solely by daddy’s unlimited– and hopefully filthy–imagination.

 

*     *     *

 

When the sun comes up, Walt is sleeping soundly in Justine’s bed. Justine is sitting at her kitchen table wrapped in a silk kimono and smoking one of Walt’s cigarettes. She’s crying. She told herself she wouldn’t, but here she is in tears, studying a black and white photo of her father from 1965. “Home on leave” someone has written in ink across the back of it.

In this photo, Bobby Krieg could be James Dean. He’s all of nineteen years old. He’s wearing a white tee shirt, rolled at the sleeves, and a pair of jeans. His wavy blonde hair is brushed back from his face. He half-smiles at the camera, seeming reluctant to have his picture taken.

He’s outside somewhere. Nothing but fields and a couple of trees in the background. In the foreground are family members sitting in lawn chairs. Happy. Why shouldn’t they be? Bobby is home on leave.

This is the photo that kills her most. She doesn’t know why. The photo has captured his youthful rebelliousness, his freedom. Something about it emphasizes not just her absence from the photo but from his life. Is it because there are other little children in the picture–children that he’s related to but who, of course, aren’t her? She feels so insignificant that she might as well disappear.

She sticks the photo back in the pile and stubs out the cigarette. Back in the bedroom, she slips out of the kimono, gets back in bed with Walt and wakes him.

“I know you’re not my father,” she says plaintively. “I know it. I’m clear on it. If you were my father, you wouldn’t be fucking me or doing any of the other stuff. Because it wouldn’t be right.”

Walt looks at her. He can see she’s been crying but he doesn’t draw attention to it. “Right,” he says. “That’s right.”

“Right,” she says again. “I know these things. But I’m still having trouble with it. I…”

Walt waits patiently for the words to come. Finally, he says, “You, what?”

“I have a guilty conscience,” she confesses. “I hate myself.”

“Why?”

“For what I’m thinking about my father.”

He doesn’t ask her to elaborate. He’s not stupid, he can guess.

 

*     *     *

 

Justine has a gig. Her heart isn’t in it, but she needs the money. She’s singing in another useless bar for maybe fifteen people. But something happens to her when she breaks from singing her own tunes for a change and launches into a handful of country standards. Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” followed by Ernest Tubbs’ “Waltz Across Texas” and George Jones’ “The Window Up Above.” Then it’s Marty Robbins’ “Ribbon of Darkness,” a hit from 1965–the year Bobby Krieg was home on leave. Justine sings out like an angel, “How I wish your heart could see, how mine just aches and breaks all day. Come on back and take away, this ribbon of darkness over me.”

He did come back. Her heart doesn’t ache now. It soars. She feels as if she’s part of these songs somehow. Not just because she’s singing them for the zillionth time, or because they were part of her childhood. But because Bobby Krieg–her father–and her father’s brothers, and maybe even her father’s father sang these songs, too. She’s sure of it now.

What she doesn’t know is that back home in her apartment, her phone is ringing. It’s Bobby. His conscience is a wreck and he’s had a few too many. It’s probably best that she doesn’t answer. He’s not sure what he would say. He wants to apologize for having been so self-serving and careless when he was young. But is that also apologizing for giving her life? For saying somehow that she shouldn’t have been born?

 

*     *     *

 

Bobby sits out on his back step and smokes a cigarette. He needs some air. And he needs to cool it with all this beer. It’s getting out of hand again and he’s had it with the re-habs. He’s almost done with the isoniazid. The TB is gone, finally–after nearly six months of being on those meds. This is my chance, Bobby thinks, to pull myself together.

He wishes now that he’d had a different life. One that he could be more proud of now that he has a kid who’s likely to ask him about it. Most people are so impressed when they find out that Bobby is an ex-SEAL but it doesn’t impress him. Not anymore. It only serves to remind him of all the unknown, faceless people he’s killed.

–Murdered. Just because it was war doesn’t mean it wasn’t murder.

Bobby had been such a gung-ho patriotic kid when he’d first gone into the Navy. Even though he’d dropped out of school in the ninth grade, Bobby was very smart. Too smart for his own good. He excelled in the service. Fuck, he even excelled in Viet Nam. He made the perfect terrorist. He’d been highly decorated with medals that are now locked in a duffle bag and stuffed in the closet. He never so much as glances at them anymore.

When he’d finally gotten injured by that flamethrower, after his stint in the hospital they’d sent him stateside for a little r.& r. This was 1969. Bobby’s plane landed at the San Francisco airport, not at some air base, but right there with civilians. It was his first trip back to America since 1965. He’d had no idea that most of the country now opposed the war. It was worse than a rude awakening, it was traumatizing. Being spit on right there in the airport–for serving his country like he thought he was supposed to do, for going through hell on a daily basis.

He’d gone into the nearest men’s room then and changed into civilian clothes.

When his leave was up he was too conflicted to go back, to face the insanity of the war. Instead he found himself AWOL in Florida and drunk for over a month.

But underneath the confusion, Bobby Krieg was a Navy SEAL. Not just a trained killing machine but also a loyal, brainwashed one. He finally turned himself in. A senator quickly intervened on Bobby’s behalf because of Bobby’s flawless war record. They treated it as “depression.” It kept him out of the brig and from being court-martialed. But there was a catch. In exchange for not having to serve any time, he had to sign on to the Navy for life. Or at least for the next twenty years, whichever might come first.

This was even before Felina. This was back when he was still based out of Subic Bay and legally married to May-ani, his Filipina wife. She was dead now, too.

Bobby’s brain settled on May-ani for a moment while he smoked his cigarette.

She was the first girl to get the best of him. He despised her for it even now, all these years later. She’d acted so virginal, so chaste. He’d been nineteen years old when they’d met and he hadn’t seen too much of the world yet. He knew Filipina prostitutes. He knew Maria Corazon. But May-ani was different. She came from a good family. She was beautiful with her smooth brown skin and long black hair.

He was in a dead heat for May-ani, boy. He really wanted to fuck her. But she wouldn’t consider it without a proper wedding, a legal ceremony. So finally Bobby had consented to her demands, had asked May-ani’s father for her hand in marriage. Bobby wasn’t thinking straight then, he was too horny for her. Marriage seemed a fair enough trade for her virginity and May-ani’s father was all for it. Why wouldn’t he be? It meant an American serviceman legally in the family and at the very least a PX card, if not an outright gateway to the States.

And wasn’t the wedding night something? How his cock had gone right up and May-ani didn’t bleed? “And you are a virgin where, exactly?” He’d taunted her in rage, turning her over and scaring the pretty wits out of her. “Which hole? Show it to me. Because that’s the hole I want now, May-ani.”

From then on, he made sure he got his money’s worth out of her. He knew he was brutal to her but he couldn’t help himself, he was that enraged. He fucked her every which way he could. Flat out refusing to divorce her, instead making her suffer for the lies she’d told. Never kissing her anymore, just fucking her. And he was more than happy to leave her behind when they sent him over to Viet Nam.

It was during the years Bobby was away in ’Nam that May-ani had her three children. But what the fuck did it matter anymore? What was a little more betrayal when the entire world seemed stark raving mad? So he sent her the money to feed those little bastards, to buy the damn kids some clothes.

He finally divorced May-ani when he fell in love with Felina. Another brown-skinned woman with long black hair.

What is it with me and girls with long black hair? he wonders. Now he even has a daughter with long black hair. A beautiful daughter, at that.

Plenty of boys probably want to marry her, he thinks. Why wouldn’t they, she’s so damn pretty? Although few people bother with the getting married part these days. They go right for the sex.

For a fleeting minute he lets himself wonder about it–about Justine and sex. She’s probably done everything by now, she’s old enough.

But it’s none of his business, is it? He’s not going to let himself think about it.

Later, though, he finds he’s thinking about it again. He gets Justine confused with Sandy Mayhew.

Sandy is the one I fucked, he tells himself in plain English. Justine is the one I got because of fucking. Justine is the one I will never lay a hand on.

 

*     *     *

 

It’s a new day. When Bobby dials her number this time, he’s sober and Justine answers on the first ring. “Hello?”

He’s surprised again that she sounds so young.

“Hello, Justine. This is Bobby. Am I catching you at a bad time?”

“God, no. I was hoping you’d call again. I got the pictures!”

“I got yours, too.”

“Did you?”

“Yes. You probably know this already, but you’re a very pretty woman. And those songs are great, Justine.”

She’s not sure what to say, so she says thanks.

“No, I mean it. I know you don’t want to move to Nashville, but you could, you’re good enough.”

“Well, thanks.”

“So what did you think of my family? Do you agree with the Hewitts? Any resemblances there, in your opinion?”

Justine is quick to answer. “I thought so. What did you think?”

“What does it matter what I think? You could be descended from the old rancher down the road and I’d still take you for my daughter any day–who wouldn’t?” Bobby laughs at this notion. “The truth is I do think you look like the Krieg clan, going way back, Justine. I hope that doesn’t disappoint you.”

She feels a bit speechless. His comment about wanting her for a daughter overwhelms her. She’s never heard a living soul say that before. “Why would it disappoint me?”

“Well, we’re a colorful bunch, with a questionable history–especially me.”

He knew it was bound to happen eventually, and now it does: Justine asks him about his life and so Bobby tells her. He doesn’t mince words, either. He gives it to her plain enough. And for some reason it’s so much easier than he’d anticipated it would be, telling his daughter about his life. She seems to take it all in stride–the drugs, the war, the SEALs, the marriages. He even mentions the re-habs, although not in too much detail.

Before long, they’ve moved on to the rest of his family. They’re talking about music, about old songs that Bobby is surprised she’s even heard of. They’re talking about Mottsville, how quietly creepy that place has always been, how Bobby couldn’t wait to get away from there and about how he rarely ever goes home.

Two hours later, they’re both thinking that maybe they’d better hang up the phone. It hadn’t seemed like two hours. Before hanging up, though, Bobby gives Justine his phone number. “You call me anytime, okay?”

The next day, the very next day, she calls him and they talk for three hours more. The day after that, they do it again.

Time seems like nothing when Bobby is talking to Justine. It doesn’t just fly, it evaporates, it becomes a meaningless concept. They are two familiar entities from some barely recalled dimension, from beyond the laws of physics, re-acquainting after ages of sleep, connected now by a single phone line. And each day, they come closer to remembering who they are. They are becoming inseparable and their phone bills are skyrocketing.

“Don’t call me anymore unless it’s an emergency,” Bobby insists, worrying that she can hardly pay her bills as it is. “I’ll call you. Okay? Are we clear on that?”

And he does call her. Every day.

Justine fixates on this voice on the telephone, this man named Bobby Krieg who seems so interested in her life, her ideas, the thoughts that are in her head.

But she doesn’t reveal too much about that world–the world in her head. She’s been cryptic, at best. “I’ve thought about you my whole life,” she confides, the understatement neatly concealing so many unflattering sins. “It drove me crazy that I didn’t know who you were, that I couldn’t be part of your life. My aunt and uncle were all right, I suppose. They were good enough people, but it seemed like they were so old. I didn’t relate to them at all. It was isolating, you know? My mom was practically my age but they didn’t want her coming around. They were afraid she’d be a bad influence. You know, I might go out and have sex or something.”

It’s notions like this that make Bobby wince. He feels so guilty. “I didn’t know. I hope you can understand that. It’s not like I left…I’m not the kind of man who shirks his responsibilities, Justine. I simply didn’t know.”

It sounds so far-fetched. A baby, a human life. He readily admits that he had sex with Sandy Mayhew. He’d had some vague awareness that Sandy had gotten pregnant and still, he didn’t know? Who the hell could be expected to believe that? But I found a baby girl in a trashcan halfway around the world. She was just about your age…He hopes that if anyone anywhere is keeping score, that will count for something in the final tally.

Sometimes Bobby calls her when it’s late at night, when he knows she’s had a gig anyway and won’t be sleeping.

Already, Justine loves those phone calls best. She lies on her bed in the dark with the receiver at her ear. The sound of his voice becomes her whole world. What do they talk about? Every little thing. From the mundane to the extraordinary, just as long as they keep talking.

On the surface, she’s keeping her world in line. On the outside, everything’s in order. On the inside, though, she might as well be seven years old again for how much she hasn’t changed, hasn’t grown. She masturbates like crazy, thinking about Bobby Krieg. It makes her feel guilty but she doesn’t know what else to do with the thoughts that are in her head.

She sees an awful lot of Walt. But she isn’t interested in doing scenes. For a change, she doesn’t want to be hit. She wants to fuck. She even wants to kiss. She wears Walt out with all that fucking and kissing but he doesn’t complain. Justine has become his favorite date.

The day comes, finally, when Bobby calls Justine and says, “Listen. I know you can’t afford to get away for an actual vacation. I know you’ve got gigs booked for the next six months. But let me send you a plane ticket. Come for a few days. A weekend. Anything. I want to meet you.”

This is all she needs to hear. Reno is a long way from New York City, a long way to travel for just a handful of days. But he wants to meet her. She would hit the street this minute and start walking if that’s what it would take to get her there.

The night before she leaves, she’s strangely calm. Bobby telephones her one last time as a stranger. “You know what I was thinking about today?” he says.

“What?”

“How, when Felina’s kids were little, I tried so hard to teach each of them how to play the guitar. They just weren’t interested. None of them. So I finally gave up. And it made me wonder, who taught you to play?”

“No one,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone who knew how to play. So I taught myself when I was eleven, on an old Harmony guitar from Sears.”

“I wish I could make that up to you, you know? Things like that.”

Just the thought goes a long way with Justine.

Before bed, she looks at herself in the bathroom mirror. She thinks she looks pretty. She hasn’t been fucked; she just thinks she looks pretty.

She switches off the bathroom light and lights a last cigarette. She’s wearing the silk kimono. Tonight, she’s not planning on taking it off. No free shows tonight. Still she sticks her head out the window and talks to the airshaft. He’s out there, the geek. Just watching. She knows it. She says, “Everything’s going to change. I’m going to change. I can feel it. This is a good thing.”

When she’s smoked the cigarette down to her fingertips, she flicks it into the toilet and calls it a night.

 

*     *     *

 

Still thin as a rail, wearing his blue jeans and a blue tee shirt. Sleeves rolled. Work boots. Bobby Krieg, his hair thinning now. He’s all of 43. Standing in the Reno airport, staring up at the Departures/Arrivals board.

It’s too late to wish for a lot of things. Like a cleaner slate, a different past. But not too late to feel grateful. For one thing, he didn’t shoot himself in the head last winter. And another, he didn’t get killed in Viet Nam.

When he sees her de-boarding, coming through the gate, something catches in his throat. She’d told him she was tall and he already knew she was beautiful–he’d seen the photographs. Still. He isn’t prepared. And look at that hair. So long, so dark. He thinks of the girls in Manila, the girls in Saigon. There’d been so many of them. And what was the thing that he’d notice first? Always the hair. The long, black hair.

She walks right up to him. “Bobby?”

“Justine.”

He gives her a quick hug, suddenly afraid to have her in his arms. Now he’ll know what it’s like to not hold her. Now he’ll know how empty his arms have been–at least, since Felina died.

He takes her bags. They head out to his truck. It’s a forty-five minute ride out to his home, his refuge, his barricade between his life and the rest of the world–the doublewide on the five acres of Carson Desert. Talk about feeling young again. They chatter like fools on the ride to his place. It reminds him of when he first fell for Felina. He isn’t a spiritual man, but he wonders if Felina can see this from wherever she’s at. He hopes she can.

When they reach his trailer, he takes Justine inside and walks her down the hall to her room. It’s the room his two stepdaughters shared for ten years. Before they grew up, got married and left home.

Bobby and Justine have three days together. Well, they have the rest of their natural lives but what’s most pressing is the three days. What are they going do? Drink beer and smoke cigarettes? Sit around the kitchen table and talk until it’s nearly daylight? Play old Merle Haggard records on the stereo? And take turns playing Hank Williams songs on Bobby’s old Martin guitar?

Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

And somewhere in between that, he takes her out to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. The Waterhole. It’s been there forever and used to be Felina’s favorite.

Fallon is a small town and everyone in it knows Bobby Krieg. The phone wires are burning in no time: “Bobby’s got a long tall drink of water. They were in the Waterhole last night. A total stranger, but it sure looks like he’s in love.”

It did look like he was in love.

He hasn’t smiled this much or laughed like this in years. And how they sit at the kitchen table and study each other. Right down to the little things. She has his nose, okay, you might expect that, but she has his eyelashes, too. Who’d have ever thought anyone out there in the world would have Bobby Krieg’s eyelashes, besides Bobby Krieg?

There’s a lot of Sandy Mayhew in Justine, though. The two could be almost twins. Well, the Sandy that Bobby remembers from way back. He takes Justine’s hand, turns it over and studies her palm. With a start, they both realize their palms look identical.

Justine, who’s had two beers, says, “Now wouldn’t you think, fingerprints being such a personal thing and all, that our palms would look noticeably different?”

Bobby readily agrees. He finds her palm fascinating. He runs a finger over the delicate lines. For all intents and purposes, this could be his hand. He holds it a while longer. His thoughts seem to carry him far away.

Justine studies his face and wonders what he’s thinking. She likes having her hand held in his. She doesn’t try to pull it away. When he comes back to earth, he looks at her. He notices her looking back at him. He’s still holding her hand.

“This time tomorrow, I’ll be heading back home already, you know?”

“I know.”

“It’s going so fast.”

“I know.”

Not for a minute does she think of pulling her hand away. She wants him to hold her hand, to keep holding it. His hand feels so–what? Warm. It feels warm, strong, but gentle. He has gentle hands.

She knows what’s happening to her. It doesn’t surprise her, really, but she knows she needs to keep a lid on it. She’s not going to blurt out, “Sleep with me.” She’s not going to say anything like that. It would spoil the great time they’ve had together. The magic–that’s what it’s been. Magic. Justine has never gotten along so well; so effortlessly well with anyone else in her entire life. She’s not going to spoil it by saying, “Sleep with me.”

“You want to sleep with me?” she says.

He’s still staring at her, still holding her hand when those words come out of her mouth.

“I mean, not in that way,” she fumbles, shocked at herself. “I didn’t mean it to sound like that. I meant, you know, hang out all night with me. Sleep back there in my room. Spend our last night in the same room.”

Bobby gently lets go of her hand. He doesn’t say no. He’s thinking no. But he doesn’t say no. He’s also thinking yes. I sure do. Yes, I want to sleep with you, honey. But he doesn’t say that, either.

Instead, he gets up and goes to the refrigerator. “You want another beer?”

She takes another beer.

He sits back down at the kitchen table and looks at her. For the longest time, he leaves the question unanswered.

And she’s thinking that no one would ever know. They’re alone in the desert, for chrissakes, in a trailer. No one’s going to know.

Thank god she doesn’t say that. She drinks her beer. He lights a cigarette. “No one would know,” she says. It comes out sounding so quiet; it’s almost as if she’s still just thinking it. No harm done, really.

But Bobby hears her plain as day. She might as well be on a loud speaker, for the jolt it gives his heart.

He takes out another cigarette and snaps the filter clean off. He puts it to Justine’s lips and then reaches for his lighter.

“That’s right,” he says, lighting the cigarette for her. “No one would know. But I would know, Justine. I would know.”

She smokes the cigarette and drinks her beer. Why the fuck is she coming unglued now? Why can’t she keep her mouth shut? Things are going so well.

“Just sleep with me,” she finally says.  She’s not hysterical or anything, but she is pleading. “I mean just sleep. Sleep in my bed. Stay with me tonight. You don’t have to be under the covers with me or anything. There’s nothing wrong with being on top of the covers.”

Well, there is something wrong with that, he thinks, knowing how hard it would be not to touch her. Then he also thinks, she’s so right. How would anyone know?

For an hour they let the whole idea drop. They don’t mention it again. They talk about other things. But behind his mask, storm clouds are gathering in Bobby’s brain and he’s brooding now about the men who fuck his daughter. Not that he has a clue who they might be, and he knows there’s nothing wrong in it, per se. She’s a grown up. She can fuck whomever she wants to fuck, but it doesn’t change the fact that the thought of any man touching her makes his blood boil.

He won’t say that, though. He knows better than to say it. Her private life is none of his business. She’s a grown woman, even if she is his daughter.

Not that that’s a feeling he understands. It’s not a feeling he can relate to. What does it feel like to have a daughter, for chrissakes? He’s only known her a handful of days when you get right down to it. When you consider it in the whole scheme of things. He doesn’t look at her and think, “My daughter.” He looks at her and thinks, “I love her.” In truth, he thinks of Felina. He’s reminded of Felina–when they were first in love and Felina was still so young. He’s been lonely, that’s what it is. He’s been so fucking lonely without Felina and Justine has changed all that.

“I’m tired,” he says at last. “I’m going to bed, Justine.”

She stands up with him and looks at him hopefully.

Christ, she’s tall. “Alone,” he says.

She’s wearing a skimpy white tee shirt and no bra. He can tell that plain as day. Her tits are small–he can tell that, too. He could tear that shirt right off her, he thinks. He could pull it off, right over her head, right here in the kitchen and look at her tits. She’d let him. He knows this. She’d let him.

Now he feels thunderstruck by the sheer weight of this enlightenment. She would let him. He could do anything to her and she would let him.

I could fuck her, he realizes. I could actually fuck her. On some brutish level it’s hard to resist; she’s so beautiful, she’s so willing and young. But what would it mean? Just my cock going in her–and what is that? What is fucking? A gift from God, maybe, and still too common. Too ordinary for how I feel about her.

What he’d really rather do is devour Justine somehow, make her part of his very life-stuff. A new vital organ maybe; a better, more keenly beating heart. Then he’d never have to let her go.

He was dreading it in fact, letting her go. She was going back to New York tomorrow.

“Bobby, please,” she says. Not an ounce of pretense in her tiny voice. “I’m going crazy. I’m going to miss you so much. Just lay with me for a while.”

He should kiss her. He should get it over with; she’s standing so close to him. A single kiss would bridge the gap. They could cross over that bridge to the other side. Where they’d be just two adults doing whatever the hell they want to do and no one would ever be the wiser.

Instead he gives her a quick peck on the forehead. And somehow the words come out; they rally to the surface of his better judgement and make themselves heard, undeniable sounds on the air: “I’m going to miss you, too. But I can’t, Justine. You’re my daughter. That’s final.”

She’s suddenly so docile, so well behaved. “Okay,” she says. “I’m sorry. Don’t be mad, okay?”

 

*     *     *

 

Bobby survives putting Justine on the plane–barely. He survives telling her goodbye. Christ, it’s not like he won’t see her again. How many times has he been separated from someone he loves? How many times in his life has he had to ship out somewhere, go halfway around the world, and leave someone he loved behind? He survived that, he’ll survive this.

Justine hadn’t slept a wink all night, though. Instead she stayed up with Bobby’s guitar, writing him a song.

God, it was a good song. She has so much talent. She really ought to move to Nashville but for whatever reason, she doesn’t want to leave New York.

Hell, if he could persuade her to leave New York, he’d get her to come live with him.

And do what, exactly? Marry him?

That’s the problem right there. He can’t marry his own flesh and blood. Besides, his marrying days are behind him.

When Bobby gets back from Reno and realizes the doublewide will be empty again, like it’s been for the four years since Felina died, he needs a drink something fierce. Something stronger than Budweiser, that’s for sure. Something that will kick his ass and help him forget.

He skips the American Legion Hall and heads to the Cock & Bull. He can be reasonably anonymous there. He can get stupid drunk on bourbon and listen to the jukebox. Let those old country songs break his heart. George Jones, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn–song after song is like an old friend; pure poetry. It’s not helping him forget very much, though. And when Marty Robbins’ old hit, “Ribbon of Darkness” comes on the jukebox, Bobby makes a heroic effort not to cry. Justine could play that song with her eyes closed. Who would have ever thought she would even know that song? Felina had known Marty Robbins, when she was a girl growing up on the outskirts of Phoenix. It had been one of Felina’s favorite songs, as well.

It all seemed to be pointing to some larger pattern, didn’t it? The way they were all connected. Like some mosaic whose full effect could only be seen by God, or whatever higher power might be out there looking down on them, calling the plays.

Bobby closes the Cock & Bull. He’s stinking drunk when he gets into his truck. Oblivion. It’s the only way he can face going back to the empty trailer.

He isn’t halfway down the road, though, before the flashing lights pull up behind him. Bobby somehow has the presence of mind to pull over and stop the truck.

Deputy Wilhouse walks up alongside Bobby’s pick-up reluctantly. Bobby’s a local hero, being an ex-SEAL and all, but the law’s the law. “Well, hey there, Bobby Krieg,” the deputy says. “You wanna come on out of there?”

Bobby’s belligerent. He has a nasty temper when he’s drunk on bourbon. “Why?”

“Because you’re drunk, Bobby.”

“I’m going home.”

“You ain’t going nowhere but straight to jail tonight, fella. Now come on outta there.”

Bobby stumbles out of his truck and slams over his keys. Staggering behind Wilhouse, he follows him to the patrol car.

Once in the car, Deputy Wilhouse says, “Now what’s this I hear about you making time with a long tall drink of water?”

“That was my daughter,” Bobby hisses.

Deputy Wilhouse chuckles, knowing full well Bobby Krieg doesn’t have any daughter. He glances at Bobby in the rearview mirror and grins. He puts the car in drive. “I hear ya,” he shoots back at him slyly. “Been there, done that. Whatever gets us through the night, though, right?”

He pulls the cruiser out onto the empty highway and they drive away.

© 2005 Marilyn Jaye Lewis

The world of author Marilyn Jaye Lewis

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