Page 56 Step by Step by

                                               STEP BY STEP BY STEP.                      11-1-10

                                                            Roy Garde

     I tried and tried to get out of it but they insisted.

     “You’re a writer,” they said. “You can write while sitting near her as well as you can anywhere else but we’ve both got 9 to 5’s to go to and how the hell long will we keep our jobs if we have to ask for a whole day off every week?”

     “They” were my half-brothers and “she” was the youngest one’s – Leonard, ‘Lenny’ –step mother and the middle one’s – Harold, ‘Harry’ – step-step mother and my step-step-step mother. That’s how we identify them to avoid confusion!

     Our father had died two years earlier, three years after marrying her, and had left everything to her for her lifetime and after that it was all supposed to come to us in equal shares but seeing that she was only a year or two older than me our chances of getting our hands on any of it seemed remote.

     Our three different mothers had been provided for in their individual divorce agreements.

     One day “she” – Margot – phoned all three of us and asked us to meet up with her on the following Saturday morning to hear “something important”.

     We drove over in one car and she looked as attractive as ever when she greeted us. She had long blond hair, as ever, and she was wearing an elegant light orange dress that

reached down to the floor and she had a black shawl, or cape, that, because she seemed to be wearing it backwards, should have seemed silly or affected but didn’t. She wore orange shoes that had wide black straps and the two colors matched her dress and cape perfectly. We were all intimidated by her sophistication and the fact that we were all wearing jeans and t-shirts didn’t help matters.

     She led us into the sitting room and then asked us if we wanted something to drink and when we told her that it was too early for us to have a real drink she shrugged and then suggested coffee or soda but we all said that we were “all right thank you” because we didn’t want to draw the awkward meeting out a minute longer than was essential.

     No doubt reacting to our abruptness, she told us, with little preamble, that she had to go to a hospital for Neuro-Surgery on the following Monday and that she had been told that the prognosis for a full recovery was not good and that there was a possibility that she might not even recover consciousness.

     Hearing that made us feel ashamed immediately and we all made an effort to soften our attitude towards her.

     She went on to say that she wanted us to know that she fully intended to follow our father’s wishes as to the inheritance but even though those wishes were spelled out in his will, and thus were iron-clad, she warned us – unnecessarily, we thought – that she could find ways to hold everything up for years if she so wanted. She went on to say that she didn’t want to do that and wouldn’t if things went well and then she confused us by putting aside her threat and smiling nicely all around.

     She stood up and walked over to a side table and picked up a folder and then, when she was sitting again, she took papers out of it that turned out to be copies, one for each of us, of the listed liquid assets involved and we saw that she’d circled the bottom line, which was the total amount that we would divide between us if she died. It was gratifying to see that even after being split three ways there would be a goodly sum for each of us which, when written down, required two nice commas to space it out conventionally.

    She told us that ‘this house’ and the apartment in town, along with all of their contents, had been surveyed and evaluated and she handed out copies of those too.

     She gave us time to gloat for a while then she said that there was just one little thing that we had to agree to do for her if we wanted the transition to go smoothly and with that we understood why she’d given us her barely veiled warning earlier.

     She told us that she didn’t have any living relatives besides us, here we all tried very hard and succeeded admirably in keeping silent and not looking at each other, and that she hated the idea of having strangers attending her when she came home from the hospital and she especially didn’t want any of them to have complete freedom to poke around in her home so, to avoid that, she wanted, if it proved to be necessary after her surgery, one of us three, in turn, to stay within calling distance through the day and to sleep in the house every night for as long as she, “needed someone’s help.”

     We were all stunned on hearing that and as it would obviously need a lot of discussion between us we couldn’t possibly give her a decision then so we agreed that we’d come and see her in the hospital when she was recovering and we’d tell her then what we’d decided.

     We stayed around for a while talking desultorily about this and that to be polite and then we three went to a bar that we’d used when we’d lived in the house that we’d just left, which was where we’d been brought up, and we thrashed it out.

     We all agreed quickly that we’d have to do as she’d asked – why jeopardize our prospects and, of course, we all needed the money ASAP. What else? – but exactly how to split up the chore between us took a three-drinks measurement of time.

     I finally had to accept that their logic about my not needing to go to work every day was strong enough to override my reluctance to be the fall-guy but I categorically

refused to stay with her all five weekdays, even if it did jeopardize their jobs, nor on Saturdays an Sundays, and so we ended up with a roster in which I would stay with her all day and night on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and Lenny would be there on Fridays and Saturdays and Harry on Sundays and Mondays.

     Again, remembering that lovely seven figured sum that she’d shown us was a powerful inducement for us to come to an agreement.

     She had to stay in the re-hab ward for nearly two weeks after her operation and when it got to be time for us to go and take her home we were taken to one side by a very glum and serious looking doctor who we hadn’t seen before and who asked us what relationship we had to his patient and when we all told him that she was our mother he was clearly incredulous – none of us looked anything like young enough to qualify – and when we insisted that it was true he told us to wait where we were and he scooted off to check the ‘next of kin’ entries on the forms that we’d filled out when she’d been admitted.

     When he came back he still had the grim look on his face and he told us that the operation had been only partially successful and that he was sure that she’d never get up from her bed on her own again but then he said that there was some good news in that she’d already recovered her memory. Reverting to the bad news again he warned us that her paralysis was likely to get worse in time and he feared that she didn’t have long to live.       Between one and two years, he guessed.

     The strange thing about it, given his appalling prognosis, was that we saw, when we were allowed to go to her bedside, that she looked just as attractive as she’d done before the operation excepting the place on her head that they’d shaved and that was already covered with a half-inch of stubble.

    Further, even dressed in one of those hopeless hospital gowns she was still a very good -looking woman.

     We were happy to find out that she had all of her faculties except for a sense of balance and she had little strength in her legs so she had to be supported whenever she had the need to get out of bed.

     The doctor recommended that we rent or buy one of those ‘hospital’ beds that are motorized and can raise the patient’s knees or her upper body, or both, so we checked them out and picked out what seemed to be the best model and the day before the promised day of delivery we met up at the house and we found, as we’d guessed, that the master bedroom was easily big enough to let us move the canopied king-sized bed into a corner and still left plenty of space for the hospital bed to be set up where she would have the best view of her garden.

      After checking the bed out she told us that it suited her, “down to the ground.’

     We put up a TV on a wall bracket, like they have in hospitals, and she could get onto the Internet easily because we got her wired for it and we bought one of those swivel shelf affairs for her computer. She was a voracious reader of best-selling novels and she had many hobbies like crosswords and sketching and she did a lot of telephoning so, all in all, she wasn’t really any trouble to us because she was never bored nor did she need to be entertained.

     Various beauticians and hair dressers and masseurs and the like came to administer to her on a regular basis and she took pains to keep herself looking attractive at all times.

     We thought then that she wanted one of us to be with her at all times for security purposes and to set up and trouble-shoot her equipment but mainly because she simply didn’t like being alone. She could have easily afforded to hire someone full-time to prepare and bring meals to her bed and to half-carry her to the bathroom so that she could use the toilet or take a shower except, as she’d told us already, that she didn’t want strangers in her house.

      We found that she had to be supported to the bathroom every time but once there she could use the many straps and handles that we’d had installed to let her do her ablutions unaided. When she wanted to take a shower we had to help her undress and then lower her on to a seat in the stall but she could then reach and control the specially re-located faucets and control valves without help.

     I edit and compile and write technical manuals, because I have to make a living, but I also write short stories because I have to – period.

    I found that I could easily cope with compiling the particular manual that I was working on while sitting in her room, or, more usually in a room nearby, but also that when, every time that I was ‘on duty’ and I’d done all of the editing that I cared to do in one stretch, I couldn’t just reach for my latest story and start in on it because I was somehow too conscious of her presence and so I couldn’t get off into my made-up world completely enough. I found that I could, however, come up with straight dialogue to fit the plot shifts that I’d already decided on and so I did that getting into our routines and then made notes, if it was too long to be memorized, for writing out in full when I had time to myself.

    On the second week of our arrangement, on the Tuesday evening, she told me that she could see that I wasn’t happy to be there and she asked me what would I rather be doing.

     “Well you know, I can’t do any creative writing here for some reason and that is frustrating but the real problem is that I can’t go out at night and I miss the bars and the restaurants of the city because I need an active night life to replenish my batteries, as you might say, because I seem to use up all of my reserves in my writings. Besides that, if you want me to be honest with you, I need to meet women regularly.”

     “Ah yes, of course! You’re your father’s son as far as that’s concerned, aren’t you? But at least you weren’t stupid enough to get married before getting all of that rutting out of your system.”

     I already knew far too much about my father’s philandering habits but to be polite I asked her, “Was it difficult for you, with Dad?”

     “Difficult? Difficult doesn’t begin to describe it!

    “He started meeting other women a few months after we got married. My parents advised me to leave him and come home but I couldn’t bring myself to give up on him entirely because I loved him to distraction. What I did do was to refuse to let him come to my bed for a week or two after I found out about each new – uh – conquest but that only made him worse, of course! Not to mention the fact that I was depriving myself. My word! How stupid I was back then. Now I know that sharing, in most cases anyway, is good and is acceptable behavior if there’s plenty of everything to go around. After all, who gets hurt?”

     She paused for a while and then she said, “God! How I ached for him during those weeks that I’d banished him from my bedroom. You know, not then nor since have I ever even heard of a man who needed sex as much and as often as he did and he got me into the habit of wanting it frequently too.

    “Oh! How I do miss him still. I literally couldn’t get enough of him and so, being realistic about it, I learned eventually to tolerate sharing him to be sure that I wouldn’t lose him altogether. I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to bear that and that proved to be true when he up and died. It took me a whole year before I could as much as cope with everyday life again.

     “But, you know what? All is not lost because he comes to me every night when I go to sleep! He holds me all night in the spoon position and his presence is so vivid that when I wake up every morning I can’t really believe that he’s not there with me. Every day I look forward to the night coming so that I can go to sleep and have him slip in with me again and snuggle up.”

      She slipped away into reminiscing for a minute or two and then she sighed and said,

“God! How that man could love. He wanted to do it morning, noon and night and, in between times, he knew how to hold me just so, too!”

     Again she went off somewhere in reverie and when she came back she looked over at me and said, “I guess that you’re like him in that respect but not, I hope for your sake, nearly as intensely. I’m betting that you and your brothers hate to have to go without it for more than a day or two. Right?”

     I didn’t want to talk about sex with her but she was right. I did need a lot of it. And regularly.

     “It’s not being unable to have sex so much as needing to be out there, absorbing everything.” I told her, a bit feebly.

     “Yes, not much it isn’t! You want to be out there tom-cat-ing, that’s what you want. I’ve recognized the symptoms all too well, already.”

     We left it there but on Thursday night, when I was undressing her so she could take a shower, although my head was conditioned to not react when I saw her nakedness my body wasn’t that time. I’d had to meet a deadline over the weekend and so it had been five long days and nights since I’d been with a woman and I got an erection and for some reason it wouldn’t go to `Present Arms’ and thus be straight up and out of the way and so she noticed it and saw that it was making me awkward in my movements and how I was walking slightly crab wise as I tried to keep off to one side so as not to poke her with it as I guided her to the shower stall.

     When she was lying down again in her bed a half hour, or so, later she said, “Poor boy. That’s another reason you don’t want to be here isn’t it? You keep seeing my body and you don’t want to acknowledge that it’s a woman’s body. What I’m stuck with is having your father’s widow’s body isn’t it?

     “Well please listen to what I’m going to tell you now – – – – uh, this is very awkward for me but I have to say it – – – well, here goes, I have needs too you know so why can’t we share what we have? You surely can’t think that I should meekly accept not having sex again and do nothing about it? I don’t think so, thank you.

“Well, please tell me something, will you? Who am I going to meet in the rest of my short life during all of which I’ll be stuck in this room? Tell me! Ha! No one, that’s who. Well, no one outside of the family, that’s for sure. Ha! Do you still that you’re being deprived for having to go without having sex for, what, three or four days?”

     “Well! Really!”

     “Don’t `Well! Really’ me. Answer my question. Am I right?”

     “Uh, I guess so, yes.”

     “Right and what are you going to do about it for me?”

     “What can I do? Hire someone, for God’s sake?”

     “Don’t be insulting. No. You don’t have to hire anyone. You just have to look around this room right this minute.”

     “What on earth do you mean?”

     “I mean you and me, that’s what I mean. You and me. Me and you. Sharing.”

     “My God! You can’t mean – – – ?”

     “Yes, I do mean that. Surely, I don’t have to spell it out for you any more clearly than that?

           – – – – –

    “Well? Does your silence mean that I have to? All right then, here it is – I need a man and you are a man. You need a woman and I am a woman. A woman, I repeat, who has gone without having sex for three months at least and I can’t take it any more. Do you understand that? You’ve been celibate for only a few days and it’s close to overpowering you so just try to imagine how you’d feel if it’d been three months!”

     “I can’t believe I’m hearing this. Stop it now please!”

     “Oh, stop protesting so vehemently. Your body is all for it, as we saw a while ago when you helped me undress, you just have to make your brain accept it, or rather, make it go into neutral for a while, that’s all. – – – – Oh, man! Please think about the situation that I’m in, will you? What other way is there for me? Be kind to me, please? Share! I really do need some nice loving. Badly. As much as life itself it seems to me at this minute. Please?”

     I was all of a quiver and could find nothing to say and she saw that I was wavering so she pulled the bedcovers down to let me see her right breast. It was beautiful, as I already knew, but because its verboten status was getting very cloudy it had already become doubly so.

She gauged my reaction and after a few seconds she revealed her other one too and being able to see both at the same time more than doubled their appeal, for some reason.

She wasn’t content with passively providing me with visual pleasure, of course, so, after a few seconds, she moved the covers on down and I saw her smooth belly come into view and then – surprisingly to me because I’d helped her to pull her panties on just a few minutes earlier – the enticing snaggle of her black and curly pubic hair and then, as a clincher, she opened her legs a little and the shock of seeing that she actually did have a happy valley of her very own that had been hidden from me up to then forced me to drop the last of my reservations but, although I’d already capitulated, I didn’t close with her because something in my physical make-up balked at doing so.

I guess that she knew what my problem was because she reached over and put out

the light and then she said, in a whisper, that I was to give her my hand and she took it and she pulled me toward the bed and then guided it onto her warm, soft belly and then on down to the down.

      She left my hand where it was, its fingers were already nestling nicely on their own of course, and she reached over and felt me and she found that I’d already gotten to be as hard as a steel bar and she said, “There, I told you. It’ll be all right, you’ll see”, and then she both pleaded and urged me to take my clothes off and then join her in her bed and both of those simple tasks proved to be difficult for me because of the state that my blood was in.

     When I’d slipped in beside her and had extended the movement by climbing on top of her – I’d dismissed all kinds of foreplay because I needed relief ASAP – she said that I was to think “woman” and only that just as she would think only “man”.

     “Aah!” she said, as it slid smoothly and deliciously up into her. “Blessed man. How I did need this. Aah! Yes. At last. Ooh! You’re so big, darling. Aah! – – – – Yes! Like that. – – – – Uh, when it’s all the way in keep still for a minute will you, dear? To let me savor being filled up again. Aah! There! Man oh man oh man oh man – – – .

    “Thank you. All right dear, you can move now but slowly, please, really slowly. Aah! Man oh man oh man!”

     If that wasn’t a love song I’ve yet to hear one.

     From then on we did it many times every day in the three days of the week that I was ‘on duty’ and neither of us could seem to get enough of holding each other the rest of the time and we only put clothes on if we knew that someone was coming to see her.

     When she’d eaten every meal that I prepared for her I’d take away her tray and then I’d come back to her bed and get in with her and we’d play for a while and then go at it for as long at it took and that, right there, was a lot of sex but, besides that, never once if one of us showed a need to do it, between times, did the other one not respond eagerly, in one way or another, and get ready in a hurry. Perhaps the fact that it was vaguely illegal kept up the intensity but it was our animalistic responses to the quality of the last performance, which never failed to exceed the one before it when measured in pleasure given and received, that made us keep up our ever-open-door policy towards each other.

     Although I delighted in lying alongside her and just holding her I couldn’t ever sleep with her at night because, no matter what side of her I chose, a hard object made its presence felt under my ribcage whenever I was just about to doze off and so, after trying to ignore it a half dozen times, I accepted defeat. From from then on I’d slip away to my own bed soon after doing it for the last time and leave her alone.

     Having to do that was frustrating and inconvenient and also puzzling and so I checked out both the mattress and the bed frame several times, when she was in the bathroom, but I couldn’t locate anything that could bother me when I wanted to go to sleep. I had to give up on it but I salved my ego by figuring that it must have something to do with the fact that the frame was mechanized and thus had many hard metal rods and angle-irons underneath the mattress and when our weights were combined that was enough to somehow squash it enough to bring me into contact with one of them but when she was in it, alone, it didn’t bother her.

     The fact that it was the best sex that I’d ever had stopped me from even trying to date anyone else on my “days off.” I knew that no one else could come close to providing the pleasure that she gave me nor the warmth and contentment that I felt when I was with her.

     At around that same time my inhibitions as to being unable to write fiction in her presence disappeared for some unknown but very welcome reason and I started writing stuff that was better than what I’ve ever done before, or since, and more smoothly too and the result of that was that I started getting acceptance letters instead of the, depressingly often, rejection variety.

     Directly because of that, an agent asked to see my novels and a few weeks later he handed me an advance and, with vast relief, I was able to give up on doing the boring technical stuff. However, being cursed with a strong sense of responsibility, I kept on doing it until I’d managed to find a replacement.

    I wanted to have more time with Margot so when I met up with my brothers at a celebratory party that my agent threw for me I took them aside and told them that they had been right all along in that, “I’ve found that I can write just as well when I’m with her as I can anywhere else and so, because of that, I’m hereby volunteering to stay with her for all five weekdays to let you two work full time again.”

    I was astonished to hear them both say, “Thanks but no thanks,” and the reasons that they gave made no sense – “Already gotten permission.” and “It would be too disruptive to change back.” and “I’ve been doing it for so long now that I’ve gotten into the habit.” and “I’ve been getting promotions like all the other guys so it would be stupid to change anyhting.” – And the like.

    Well, she lived on for just over four years and in that time I wrote two novels and many short stories. All of them were published and the novels sold quite well.

     I remained faithful to her through all of that time because she, single handedly, could and did recharge my batteries and I had no need to look elsewhere, for anything.

     When, on the day of her funeral, I, as Patriarch, had said goodbye to everyone who had come to the service only my half-brothers were still there with me and we decided to have a drink together before going home.

     We went to ‘our’ bar and we found a table and they sipped Scotch and I drank Bourbon as we talked about how strange it was to no longer have to look after her and how it would change our lives.

     We all agreed that it had hardly been a chore although it had been time consuming and we all admitted that overall we’d actually liked being with her and would miss her a great deal.

     The whiskey started taking effect and loosened us up some and my youngest brother started sobbing because it had come to him that we’d left her in the cold ground and when he told what he was thinking about it brought Harry and me near to tears too.

      After a few minutes of silence all around Lenny tried to make up for his macabre gaffe by telling us, “On second thoughts, she’s not alone exactly seeing that her grave is right alongside our father’s grave.” Which is true but it didn’t help us much.

      A few minutes later, when he’d nearly regained his composer, Harry said, in a strangled voice, that there was one thing that he’d never understood about her and that was how could she bear to sleep in that hospital bed of hers that had horribly uncomfortable metal objects pushing up through the mattress on both sides that poked one in the ribs and made it next to impossible to sleep.

     I sat up straight in my chair and I opened my mouth to shout out a protest and a wail of despair but before I could do so Lenny, who, like Harry, probably wasn’t thinking sharply either, said, “Yeah. I’ve never understood that either. What were the designers thinking? They got you right in the ribs.”

     I shut my mouth and then I opened it again to pour a large amount of Bourbon into it.

    Wow! Being a short story writer and always on the lookout for themes I instantly grasped the nettle, as it were, and a warm feeling rose in me that ousted my jealousy at once and I mentally played with the possibilities and, needing some time alone, I bought another round and then I excused myself saying that I needed to get some fresh air.

     I found a park bench to sit on and when I’d closed myself into the moment I pondered on various scenarios but then I found myself wondering what was it about her that, in my case, could and did both inspire and replenish me and, in their cases, could and did augment their value to their companies enough to persuade their bosses to give them regular promotions over the years even though they were working only four days a week?

    I didn’t stay in the park long because I wanted to get to my computer and so I went back to the pub and told them goodbye and I went home after getting them to agree to meet me at the house on the following Saturday afternoon to decide on what personal articles and paintings we wanted to keep and to assemble the really valuable things – like our father’s collections of old gold wrist watches; and cufflinks that had a sporting motif, and Margot’s jewelry – in one place and decide what to do with them before letting the real estate vultures descend on the property.

      I got to our old home a half hour before the agreed on time and I went up to the master bedroom and I checked out the hospital bed again because I knew that I must have missed something the last time and my short-story-in-the-making demanded a simple but effective solution.

     I knew that the electric motors couldn’t have played a part in the deception because I would have heard them start up so I got down onto the carpet and I saw that there were two cranking handles that were tucked away on both sides and were evidently for use if the power failed.

    They were made of steel but they were covered with white plastic.

    I pulled at the top one and it moved out to the side and then I laid myself down on the mattress and then cranked the handle one full turn – it was easy to do because the first turn was only to position the mechanism and there was little work involved up to then – and sure enough, two rods or angle-iron elbows, or brackets of some sort, moved up and one of them poked me in the ribs and I could feel the other one when I reached my hand over. Further cranking made them disappear down into the depths again as I felt the upper part of the bed begin to move up.

     No wonder Margot had lived for so much longer than her doctor’s prognosis.

     Over the years that we’d been looking after her she had enjoyed loving and being loved by three virile men, in turn, every day in the mornings and afternoons and evenings and she had enjoyed loving and being loved, in the essence, all through the night, every night for those same years.

     The wonder of it was that she had ever died at all.

     I also realized, then, why she had never called me anything but “Darling” or “Dear” in bed through all those years!