Backroads Ch. 04byAdrian Leverkuhn©
I walked down to the dining room; it was huge, tall windows looked out over the lake and Grinnell Peak beyond, and moonlight had filled in behind the passing thunderstorm. There were people queued-up to be seated but I walked past them and entered the room, saw Jennie sitting in a dark corner and walked to her table. I was doing everything in my power to keep calm, doing pretty well, too, given the circumstances, when I noticed the other place at the table was set, a glass of wine waiting.
She smiled when I walked up, indicated with her hand for me to be seated. "Did you have a nice shower?"
"Peachy. How 'bout you?"
"Nice, thank you. So. How do you feel?"
"Feel? I don't know. Maybe relieved you have small hands."
She laughed. "I see."
"Frankly, I doubt you do."
"Jim, are you angry?"
I couldn't tell if she was surprised, taunting me, or simply enjoying the fact of my evident discomfort. So much for my skills as a people person; she was opaque to me now.
"Well, gee. Let me think. Am I angry? Hm-m..."
"It was a gift, Jim. Accept it as such, would you?"
"Yes. You learned something about yourself tonight, didn't you?"
"I think you did."
"There's a darkness inside us all, Jim. Sometimes it's good to give that voice expression, revel in the release."
"Really? This might be news to you, but a lot of repression is self-imposed for a reason. It prevents us from acting like barking lunatics, and might even keep us from hurting people who have no interest in being hurt."
She smiled, perhaps a little condescendingly. "So. Tell me about the turn down service."
"What? The maid?"
"I don't know. Perhaps you should ask her what its like to walk into a room and find a buck-naked man bound and gagged to a bed. Personally, I got the impression she was a little upset by it."
"What did she do?"
"Are you going to be getting your rocks-off over her reaction, too?"
"Sure. Why not?"
I stood up. "Well, it's been a real slice, Jennie what-ever-your-name-is. My condolences to your constituents, and good night." I walked from the table.
People were staring now; perhaps I'd gone a little over the top on the 'bound and gagged' thing and not kept my voice in check, but when you're mad - you're mad. My face was burning, my stomach knotted and churning, and all I wanted to do was get on the Wing and ride. I didn't really care where or how far away it was; I was off for the backroads, back on my nonstop journey to nowhere, and I wanted to get as far away as humanly possible from this woman as fast as I could.
I plowed through the lobby like an ice-breaker, out the doors and over to the stairs that led up to the parking lot. A full moon was out; the whole world was dull silver and deep black -- which was exactly how I felt right then. The Wing was right where I'd left it, and not a Grizzly bear in sight anywhere. I was in luck! Off the menu!
And I could hear Jennie running up behind me, walking a couple of yards back, but she was there. I could hear her now, her breathing.
I unlocked my helmet and put it on, then hers and handed it to her. I climbed aboard and rocked the bike off the centerstand, steadied my feet, looked ahead.
"Don't do this, Jim. Please. We have something here, you and I..."
"Had. We had something. Then you tried to twist me . . ."
"No, Jim, that's not what I did."
I put the key in the ignition and turned-on the engine. The Wing kicked over and rumbled for a moment, then settled into her low, gentle purr. I felt her hand on my arm; saw a tear in her eye.
"Right." I slipped the Wing into gear and rode through the lot, down a little curving drive between dormitories and over a little waterfall, then right onto the main road and took off down the valley. It was almost ten at night, maybe a couple hours to the first town with a hotel that wouldn't be full. I decided to ride until I got tired, but I had a hard time concentrating on anything but Jennie. I set the cruise control once I hit the highway at the bottom of the valley and sat numbly while the Wing rolled southward across miles of dark shadows; the moon high above was silent and not at all interested in my thoughts.
I found it hard to order my feelings about Jennie. Some instinct when I first saw her told me she was something well off the beaten path but also something well worth knowing, kind of like the roads I'd been moving along. Then there were the subtle intrusions that come along: the sadistic underpinnings and the almost psychopathic disregard for other people's feelings. How on earth, I wondered, could the woman possibly be a politician? Or was a certain callousness necessary to do the job?
I could see contours of what the woman had been like once, before the assumed dominant had come along and reordered her tortured priorities. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered; her actions toward me had caused an intense reaction. Certainly, probably, not what she had expected, certainly not something from the realm of her experience? She'd had certain expectations based, I assumed, on her own history with this other man; namely, that I'd enjoy the experience or, failing that, at least be open to the experience and try to understand her in the light of that experience.
If that was the case, I'd certainly let her down on that front. And her observed inability to integrate other people's feelings had probably closed her down, prevented her from seeing anything other than what she wanted to see, and wanted to feel. The whole incident, in this world-view, had been driven by her needs and expectations; she'd wanted me to perform in her selfish little drama.
Or perhaps she wanted me to experience a part of myself that, for most people, remains buried by the conscious self. She had wanted to open that Pandora's box, give free reign to all those human impulses that had been relegated to the shadows by moralists and theologians for centuries. But...
Why? What impulse had driven her to make such drastic and unwarranted assumptions? Her personality seemed substantially intact; had, in fact, up until the events of that night.
What was in that Pandora's box that held her fascination? What was so important on those backroads of the mind? What would I have found there if I'd let go? Would it truly have been so dangerous?
Like the road ahead, everything was a vast, twisting ribbon across a gray landscape. I couldn't see ahead or behind, only the pool of light cast just ahead by the headlight, the fading light of memory that held me now in a last embrace.
If my reaction to these impulses was, or had been instinctual, then perhaps my reaction was appropriate, even if disproportionate. Yet, if this kind of reaction in general -- outrage, moral posturing -- was nothing more than a socially conditioned response, a response dictated by a morally repressive culture, then I was off-base, my actions very, very wrong.
The Wing and I rolled into Browning and gassed-up, then made for the Interstate and Great Falls. Even down and out of the mountains the night air was cold, and the moon -- now high in the night sky -- cast her silver glow on dry rolling plains of speckled grass. Deer grazed just off the side of the road, hundreds of them at times, so I rode along slowly, meditatively. There was no other traffic on this lonely road and the silver landscape was punctuated only by the white glare of the Wing's headlight on the pitted asphalt just ahead. I was well and truly alone out there. Alone again, I said to myself. What was that song? Alone Again - Naturally?
Around three that morning my eyes grew heavy and I pulled off the road onto a little dirt track and pitched my tent. While I settled in I heard deer munching on grass not a few yards away and I fell into a restless sleep full of troubled dreams and second thoughts. I awoke to the smoke of bridges burned and an empty road still ahead. I cleaned up as best I could and slipped back into ambivalent streams of chilling air, watched the sun rise over empty plains and oddly massive buttes. This was a foreign landscape, and I felt detached from it in every conceivable way.
Later that morning, while riding along the Missouri River, we passed through the most sinuously invigorating stretch of road I had yet seen. Though it was an Interstate the highway followed the course of the river, cut deep into black canyons and between fantastic pillars of round-shouldered rocks that soared majestically on both sides of the road. The highway was perfect, too; broad sweeping turned invited speed, dared you to push the limits of man and machine, but at the same time asked you to slow down and imagine this landscape in all its splendor.
Sitting at a little diner in Wolf Creek I wondered what to do next. I still had several days of vacation left, but the whole exercise was beginning to feel more than a little empty, feel more than a little futile. I thought again of Mary and Jennie in Waitsburg, the Irish Jennie of the park, and the contrasts between these three; left alone inside the contours of experience I tried to re-imagine what had happened, and why.
Each encounter was uncharacteristic of me, both were extreme in their departure from the normal trajectory of my life; ultimately, both experiences were becoming more than troubling with each passing mile.
Could it be true, I thought, that the worst pain is self inflicted?
The half-eaten chili-cheeseburger on the plate before me looked to be certain proof of that. I turned, looked, saw the pale blue packets on the counter and smiled.
Another day, another morning, the ride into Waitsburg under an indifferent and blistering sun; I filled up the Wing and looked down the street at the diner I'd been in just a few days ago, and to Mary. To go back, or not to go back; that seemed to be the question tumbling over and over in my mind. I neither wanted nor needed another sexual escapade of the sort we'd had, but I had felt something in Mary, something real and honest, and suddenly I wanted her voice, needed to hear what she had to say. Leaving the past few days unexamined suddenly seemed not simply obscure and pathetic, but resolutely obscene. With that thought echoing I puttered down the little street and pulled up in front of the empty diner; I could see Mary behind the counter with a cup of coffee and a book, and she looked up when she heard the Wing.
I'll never know why, of course, but she smiled at me and waved, and when I walked in I saw her wipe away a little tear. The feelings that washed over me in that moment rocked me, left me breathless.
"I wondered if you'd come back," she said quietly. I took a stool at the counter.
"I did. I rather took a fancy to you, you know." She stood, went to get me a Coke and a glass of ice. She looked at me all the while as if measuring me, calibrating her response to this sudden reappearance.
She put the drink down, returned to her seat, put a little distance between us. "You've had a bad couple of days, haven't you?"
I nodded my head. "Yes. Do I look that out of it?"
"Well, the dark circles under the eyes were kind of a dead give away. So is the frown, come to think of it." That Australian accent was still light and filled the air with an otherworldly tang, yet her voice felt comfortable and reassuring. "You look unsettled. What happened?"
"I feel like I've been inside a washing machine. You know what I mean?" I found that a little disconcerting, suddenly felt tight inside, unsure of myself.
"Yeah," she chuckled, "I do. Pretty unusual state of affairs for you, I take it?"
"Maybe, but probably not in the way you think."
"Unusual in that I've really had very little experience over the years with women, with relationships I general, so I'm not used to... a little unprepared for these feelings."
"Isolation. I feel isolated. Ignorant. Like the world has passed me by; like I don't know about anything outside of medicine."
She nodded. "Isn't isolation often a matter of choice? It was for me when I decided to stop here. To settle down."
"Can't run away from yourself, you know."
"Yeah, I've heard rumors to that effect."
"True, don't you think?"
"Feels that way right now."
"Don't you think it's reasonable to dedicate your life to something? Maybe things get lost by doing that, but isn't it worth it in the end?"
"I used to think so."
"Well then. What happened?"
I told her. All of it, all I could remember, anyway. She took it all in; didn't appear angry or judgmental at the implications of the affair with Jennie. She got a little wide-eyed when I told her about being tied-up, and laughed so hard she nearly fell off her stool when I told about the maid who untied me.
"I can just see that! Oh, the poor thing!"
"Yeah. She seemed pretty shook up about it, really. She was from Eastern Europe, I guess, probably summer labor and not at all used to that kind of bullshit."
"How does your bottom half feel?"
"Your rear end?"
"Not good. Like a truck drove up there and got stuck."
We laughed, then she grew serious.
"Well, I wonder. Maybe the woman does that sort of thing for kicks, sort of a serial dominatrix, you know. Thrives off the shock of her victims. You've described a sadist, certainly. But a masochist as well. Complicated, to say the least."
"I don't know what she is, what kind of label to stick on her. She seemed a couple of times like she had been really hurt, damaged, like someone had really messed around with her head just for the fun of it."
"Did you ever feel she was reaching out to you, or was she just playing you?"
"Not sure, I guess. I think she needed to be in control of things, everything. Like other people's feelings were irrelevant, or if she couldn't control events she made light of them."
We talked a long time. Customers came in and Mary recognized them all; even the Troopers came again, and they waved when the recognized me. Mary took care of them all it seemed with equal ease, and she would offer a knowing or caring word to most of these people if they needed it. Maybe it was just a pat on the shoulder or some other little affection that was full of comfort and empathy, but I sensed she was a rare spirit, a truly decent soul who simply did not care to do anything but care for people, all people. I felt a little humble around her, like there was something about her I needed to learn. Some failing within my soul, perhaps. She was like a good medicine; taking her in made me feel better about being alive, about the prospects for humanity with people like her in the world.
Maybe I had felt like that once upon a time. Somewhere along the way my vision had been clouded in a professional haze. No matter, though. We are what we are.
Eventually Mary and I had the place to ourselves again, and again I helped her clean up the mess. We worked silently, efficiently, like an old couple who had known each other for decades, and it was comfortable in an oddly reassuring way to feel such ease around another person after the past few days.
"I should hire you," she said after we finished and sat at the counter again. "You're a fine dishwasher."
"Thanks. I'll think about it. I could use a change."
"Could you?" She laughed, quietly, knowingly. "Tell me," she said, "what do you think this woman felt when you left her standing there? You said you were outside, by your motorbike? She reached out for you, touched you? Did you say she was crying?"
"I think she was, yes."
"So I don't know. Of course it's reasonable to assume, possible, uh... she was sorry for what happened, felt sad... upset... I was leaving."
"But? You sound confused, Jim."
"Well, here's the rub. I think she might have been feeling sorry for herself, not upset about what she'd done, not in the least, really. I got the impression my feelings were irrelevant, both during and after all this; that anything less than acceptance of what she offered was a flaw on my part."
"She told you it was a gift, right? That it was an experience you should be open to? What about that?"
"I don't know. Feels like a bit of a stretch to me."
"Does it? I wonder? But kind of a dilemma then, isn't it? I mean, maybe she was sincere; maybe she saw the experience as knowledge to be shared, or as an experience of one's sexuality that everyone should have, and she wanted to share that with you. Or she's, as you said, simply a sadist."
"Guess I'll never know. And I . . ."
"There's a third possibility, I think, as well. You said that first night she wanted you to choke her; she wanted you to hurt her, didn't you say? That she deserved to be hurt?"
"Yes. Yes, that bothered me too. But doesn't that tie into the second option, that she's a self-absorbed narcissist."
"Maybe. But I was thinking of something else. Maybe she was trying to manipulate you. Pull you into her game."
"I don't follow."
"Maybe she wanted you to respond to her need that first night, respond by hurting her as she wants or likes to be hurt. Or needs to be hurt. When that didn't happen maybe she decided to give you that kind of experience as a way of turning you on to the dynamic. Then she could have worked on you, gotten you to "experiment" on her; in the end she'd have gotten what she wanted from you."
"Well, like you say, you'll probably never know. Why do you feel it's so important? This one relationship -- this event; why has it taken on such dimension?"
"Good question; I'm not sure."
"Are you questioning your attraction to her, think you should have seen it coming?"
I could only shrug.
"Or do you think you made a mistake?"
I looked away.
"I see," she said.
"I don't think it's that simple."
"Maybe. Maybe not."
She was looking at me; I could feel her eyes burning into me.
"I wonder, Jim. Maybe you enjoyed this gift after all, and perhaps more than you're willing to admit to yourself. Does the idea bother you?"
"Why? I mean, if it's a part of who you are, why should you be ashamed of it?"
"I don't know if it's really so simple. This 'live and let live' thing; that whole gestalt assumes there are no real boundaries, and that is, to me, anyway, the essence of self-centeredness."
"So, there are boundaries, there are limits to what we should experience? Even simply want to experience?"
"Are you kidding me? Such as? What about pedophilia or necrophilia? There's two right off the top of my head! Want more?"
She looked away; I'd gone too far. "I wish you wouldn't be angry at me, Jim. I just wondered what your take on it was."
"Yeah? What's your take on it?"
"Is that relevant?"
"Yes. Yes it is. And I'm not angry, Goddamnit!"
"Really?" She looked a little amused at that one.
"Yes, really!" I tried to smile but I felt small, like a child.
She looked out the window, at the Wing parked on the street.
"So, where're you headed from here?"
"Home, I guess."
"Well, maybe you ought to get a start on it."
I was a little taken aback by that. "Yeah. Fine." I gathered up my things, left some money on the counter and started to leave.
I stopped, looked at her.
"When you've figured this out, would you let me know?" Her lower lip trembled, her eyes had begun to fill.
Was that all I could do? Leave women in tears? Care for them, then hurt them and run away? Who was being narcissistic now?
I moved to her, wrapped my arms around her. "I'm sorry."
I looked down at her now; her eyes were red now, her face wet. She reached up with her hand, stroked my face gently.
"Go now. But come back to me. When you're ready, Jim, come back."