“You’re tired. You’ve had a long day. Perhaps I could draw you a bath?”
It completely went over his head.
Draw me a bath?
Never mind the obscene parody of the mental picture of someone sketching a tub full of suds and water for the eyes of a blind man—what, was she blind too? What? What?
And why wouldn’t she leave.
He could accept someone helping him home with the groceries, maybe even coming upstairs for a moment, but this. This.
It was like she was never going.
She was in the other room. The taps were turned on, with a squeak and a thud from just inside the wall just as it always did, and then came the sound of running water.
Scott became very fearful.
She was obviously nuts, or bucking for sainthood…? Or what? What?
He heard footsteps, and craned his head to try and get some sort of a clue. Her shoes scraped on the old boards, tapped across the intervening linoleum, and then she was right beside him. Her aroma enveloped him.
“Ah, listen. Ah—Miss.”
“It’s all right, Scott. I don’t mind.” Her hands were on his shoulders. “Everything will be fine, Scott. I’m a friend. And please call me Betty. A little bath is not going to hurt you.”
His guts withered inside. She was serious, and he didn’t know how to stop her.
She could drown him in the bathtub. Something cracked inside of Scott and he was inclined to let her.
For fuck’s sakes, why not, eh? Not after all these years.
It’s not like he hadn’t prayed for death, or at least release, a time or two.
He shoved the chair back a little, putting his hands on the edge of the table, preparing to rise.
“No.” Her voice was gentle and soft, up beside his right ear.
She must be slightly bent at the waist to do it, a simple deduction, one based on old memories. For some reason his eyes watered but he blinked it back and watched his breathing for a moment.
Nary a hint of the longing inside escaped, he was almost sure.
Goose bumps and shivers were beyond his control. It was a kind of electrical shock—what pure fear did to a man. Her hands were on him, up close to his throat.
She began to knead and massage Scott’s shoulders. At first he resisted, and then with a recognition that nothing like this had ever happened in his life, not in his entire stinking life, Scott gave in again.
He sat there and let it happen.
Psychotic or something, he decided. She could have gutted me first thing if that’s what she really wanted to do.
Yeah, but who in the hell is she?
The realization that she could have done anything she wanted with him was no comfort. Thank all the psycho-slasher melodramas on TV for that. He’d listened to one too many.
He slumped in his chair.
“That’s better. I promise, a nice hot bath will make you feel a whole lot better.”
“Why are you doing all of this? Please don’t think that I’m not grateful—” He left the part about not being a charity case unsaid, hoping that she would get it.
He left out all the stuff about a man’s dignity.
She had done enough for him. He understood and accepted her need to do this, and yes; he needed someone to do something nice for him once in a while. As well. And that should have been that.
“I don’t know why, Scott.”
It seemed like a pretty good answer, all things considered.
Scott hadn’t done the laundry in three or four weeks. He hadn’t actually showered this morning, having slept in a bit and then he was feeling very tired for some reason. Then the cheque came in the mail, and if he was going to the bank he might as well get it over with. His breath was bad after ten smokes and a coffee. His feet stank. Blind as he was he had no illusions of his looks and certainly no unrealistic expectations of the crummy Salvation Army and thrift store attire. The kitchen garbage was beginning to smell. He’d been cramming as much as possible into the bag, which cost six cents each, before taking it out. It was probably the can of grease in there, and his place was often quite warm.
He hadn’t shaved in four or five days, when last it was, he couldn’t quite recall. While he still had a stick of deodorant in the bathroom, it was like he hardly used it anymore. He was trying to make it last a while.
Scott became very aware of all shortcomings in that exact moment. He really had let himself go—and to hell with it.
What in the hell was wrong with this woman?
The one thing he dare not ask was, why me?
Please don’t say it. Please don’t tell me.
“Would you…would you please step out of the room, if only for a moment, Betty? Please?”
“Don’t be silly. I’ve seen plenty of men’s bodies.”
Scott gave a funny, high-pitched little moan as her strong fingers took his upper arms and spun him twenty degrees to the left or so and then she was unbuttoning his shirt.
“Betty, I mean really…”
“”It’s okay Scott. Don’t worry about it. I’m very glad to help.” He lifted and moved his arms and she got his shirt off.
“At least you’re calling me Betty now.” There was a brightness of expression in there.
He still couldn’t really read her emotional state. She was too new.
He sensed her kneeling, and very fluid and graceful a move it was. This was the brightest room in the place, facing south over the alley and towards a gap in the tall buildings to the southwest. The last of the sunset was coming right in. It was all he could do to keep up with her.
“Lift your left foot.”
“Come on, Scott. You can do it. Don’t be a fraidy-cat.”
She was chiding him like a little kid or something. His face was suddenly wreathed in a smile.
Just the tone in her voice was what did it. Unbelievable. You really had to admire her gall.
“Oh, God.” He shook his head in despair and submission.
He was a little kid again. Holy, Jesus, who is this girl.
He lifted his left foot and she steadied him with one hand clamped on his other leg while she peeled it expertly off.
They repeated the process with the other foot.
This is where he baulked.
“What, are you shy? But why?”
“That’s okay, I’m not.” He could almost sense her impatience. “Come on, Scott.”
He could feel the heat of her body, barely a foot in front of him.
Scott hastily backed up and she had to grab him and steady him because he hadn’t been standing exactly where he thought, and he hit the laundry hamper by the door.
“Come to mama.”
“Oh, Lord.” He protested again.
She held him up, steadying him.
She dragged him two steps forward.
Finally he gave up. She was tugging at the top button of his jeans.
“Aw. No. Let me do it, for Christ’s sakes.” He wasn’t helpless.
What had started off as fear had suddenly transformed itself into anger, something he hadn’t felt in a very long while—perhaps too long. His jaw worked back and forth uncontrollably.
So you want to be like that, eh?
You have no idea, baby? No clue? Really?
Face hot and red, although he was completely unconscious of that, he pulled off his jeans, a bit tight but they still fit. He stumbled and hopped for a moment but he did it alone and without help. The exertion and the anger had him gasping for air. There were going to be some consequences.
When what was coming along very well in terms of erections un-snagged from the top of his underwear, and popped up as if to take a long deep breath of fresh air, he stuck his jaw out and kept his mouth stubbornly clamped shut. He threw the underwear aside angrily, but she just ignored it all as far as he could determine by sound.
Fine. Be that way.
He didn’t say it.
What did you expect, anyways?
He wasn’t trying to impress her. He was damned angry, right about then. And yet…he supposed he didn’t want it to end, either. She smelled so good, and what in the hell was she doing here?
“All right, let’s get you into the bath then.”
That was all she said, curiously deflating it was, for which he was grateful in some ways. His boner subsided, only slightly. The edge of the tub was up against the side of the calf of his right leg and he stepped into nearly-scalding water with her hand on his lower back and his lower bicep hard in her other hand.
He found the usual places to put his hands and cautiously lowered himself down into the water.
“Ah…” The water stung in a ring around him as it rose up on his flesh.
The air was steamy and the room nice and warm. The sound of light jazz came from the radio on the hall table. He hardly ever turned it on anymore.
He heard her moving beside him.
The colour of the water, barely visible to him, and the feel of it, told Scott that she had found some kind of bath foam under the sink. There was some stuff there from a previous tenant, which he had ignored until today. He couldn’t actually read the labels and yet there was stuff in it—he’d opened one and sniffed one, he recalled, a few weeks after moving in.
There was a curiously feminine scent coming up off the water.
“What the hell is that?”
“Sorry. What’s that smell?”
“Oh.” She went over to the waste basket and pulled something out. “It’s called Ginseng.”
So she said she needed somebody. Or no. She said she didn’t know why…the lady didn’t know why.
He wondered just exactly what the lady meant by that.
She seemed awfully intense, and painfully naive or something. She must be insane.
It was just his luck.
Scott bent his knees and eased himself a little deeper into the water. He was a terribly shy man, and what the hell were you supposed to do about it?
Normally he would take a shower, and this was an unaccustomed luxury.
He was just trying to think of what to say when she turned abruptly, opened the door and left.
Betty was in the kitchen. He heard glass clink out there.
She came right back.
“What is it?”
Rather than answer, she lifted his wrist and then something hard and cold brushed his fingertips.
His hand closed on a glass. Bringing it up to his face he recognized it. It was the last of the London Dry Gin of all things. He was sort of keeping it in reserve, as he didn’t usually drink gin.
Gin had to have the proper mixers and he usually just bought a six-pack and drank two or three at a time.
“Thank you. Betty—”
He didn’t get to finish as the sound of her zipper going downwards along the lithe curve of her spine caused his brain to completely lock up on him for ten or fifteen seconds or so.
His ears weren’t fooling him.
He took a quick slug of the gin. It definitely helped.
A bare leg came over the side and her foot probed the foamy blue waters to find where his legs were under the surface.
He sat up and pulled in his feet as best he could and wished he could see what the hell was going on. Betty settled into the water, he thought facing him from the sound of her voice.
“It’s okay, Scott. I just needed somebody.”
His jaw went back and forth in deliberation and his penis went up like a periscope.
“Oh, my God.”
What she did next seemed almost inevitable, judging by the last ten minutes or so, but even then it still came as something of a shock.
There was still that hint of terror, deep down inside, but some other part of his mind retained enough objectivity to realize that what he really ought to do was to try and relax and enjoy himself.
While it was true the building superintendent, Mrs. Jarvis, who lived down below, was a bit hard of hearing, the one thing he must promise himself was not to scream or moan or thrash about too much if he could possibly help it.
It had been so long since he had touched another person, or felt their warmth up close.
The first morning was the best, the worst, and in every way terrifying. It was also elevating, exalting even.
She had transformed his life, if only it turned out to be real. Hell, if only for a moment.
This new love in his life—Scott wasn’t sure if he was entirely justified in calling it that, but he was sure as hell enamored of Betty. He could learn to love her if he wasn’t so damned scared of what was happening to him.
If he could only relax a little.
Who was she?
It couldn’t last. There had to be some kind of a catch. It was all a big mystery.
But to wake up, have your eyes pop open, with a bit of a woodie in your pants, and to see that it was real.
To realize that last night had not been a dream or a hallucination. There was someone in the bed beside him.
Someone soft, and warm, and beautiful.
Kill me now while I’m still happy.
Come on, God, you’ve never let me down before—you bastard.
Scott had been afraid to let on that he was awake for fear of ruining the illusion. There came a time when you had to pee and there was no more delaying.
He didn’t know what to make of it.
Betty had the place all cleaned up, not that Scott really cared one way or another, but she seemed to think it was important.
Scott had been alone for far too long. At some point one had to ask some serious questions.
She was in the bedroom airing his clothes, folding laundry and putting his winter clothes away. They’d been heaped up there for a while, but of course it was a tedious job, one requiring pure feel.
He had the TV on, listening to the on-air personalities talking on the Weather Channel. It was his routine, and routine was the one thing that had saved him from going mad. One of the things, anyway. So what if she was crazy—she was nice, and he knew how close he had been a time or two. Going mad was just one of those things. It could happen to anybody.
There was a rap of knuckles at the door.
“It’s okay, I’ll get it.” His heart thudded in guilt for some reason.
It was probably Mrs. Jarvis, and yet here he was a grown man—he paid rent. She had always been somewhat solicitous, although royally ineffective at it…it’s just that he had so few visitors.
She was governmentally ineffectual.
He pulled the chain and undid the bolt. Turning the little knob on the lockset, he opened the door. He couldn’t quite see who it was, but there appeared to be two of them.
“I’m Officer Bruce Nyall and this is my partner, Officer Diana Wilson. We’ve been canvassing the neighbourhood.”
Scott wondered if it was for a subscription to something, raising money for some local charity.
The cops were known to do that from time to time. Then again they could be creeps trying to fake out a blind man, gain his cooperation and then get him in trouble. He’d seen one or two bogus ploys over the years, as often as not someone who had befriended you right out of the blue.
“So, what can I do you for?” Scott played it cool.
All he saw were two vertical blobs, elongated but nothing more. They could be real cops.
“Ah, yes, sir. You are Scott Nettles, and do you reside here?”
“Okay, sir. We are trying to locate a missing robot. She was last seen a few blocks from here. The robot is described as a blue-skinned female, about five-foot eight, with thick blonde hair and big dark eyes.”
“Anyway sir, have you seen anyone or anything like that in the neighbourhood?”
Officer Wilson nudged Officer Nyall with her elbow. She pointed, and following her glance, he noted the long white cane standing just inside the door. It was leaning up against a corner of the small front hall. It helped to explain the man’s odd demeanor, blankly looking off over to one side above their heads and with his left ear lowered to catch the nuances, eyes wide and unfocused.
“That’s okay sir, we’re just checking around. Is there anyone else in the apartment with you?”
“Ah, no—just me and my, ah, girlfriend.”
Officer Wilson’s eyes lit up a little in empathy. It was sort of romantic for the poor guy to have someone.
She’d never really thought about it. It made her shock at his blindness fade somehow. It wasn’t that bad for the man. Hopefully, maybe. Her heart went out to the more unfortunate of the city’s residents. For her, this in her third full year of being a cop, the duty really meant to serve and protect. It’s why she signed up. She hoped she would never become cynical. Some of her brother and sister officers sounded fairly cynical at times, but she often wondered if that was just some kind of emotional shield.
“All right, sir, we won’t take up too much of your time. Do you have a phone?”
Scott’s mouth was open in a half-witted grin.
“So you guys are looking for a robot?” His belly muscles, shirtless as he was, convulsed at the notion. “Heh-heh-heh.”
“Ah, yes, sir.” Diana spoke up now, with a smile evident in her voice. “Yes, sir. Please call us if you notice anything. Someone might mention something, you know?”
She pressed a business card into his hand, mentally cursing herself as she did so, but he took it readily enough. Maybe he’d be able to read it with his fingertips, she thought, the names and numbers were pretty heavily embossed.
“Officers Nyall and Wilson. Okay, sir?”
He could always get a neighbour or the landlady to read it for him.
“Ah. Yes. Of course.” Scott still had the ludicrous grin on his face.
Realizing a nod, or a tug at the cap brim wouldn’t be of much use, Officer Nyall spoke up.
“Okay. Good night sir. We’re leaving now, and we’ll let you get back at it.”
“Oh. Thank you, officers. Good night.”
Scott closed the door and locked and latched it all up again. Dimly he heard them move on to the next unit, number six, and rap on the door. It was just down to the left and across the hall.
“Hmn. Don’t that beat all.”
Scott turned and headed back to the couch, still shaking his head.
“You are not going to believe what just happened.”
She came out of his dingy little bedroom with a white sock in one hand and a black one in the other, and an inquiring look on her face.
...to be continued...