'I'm seeing in the New Year, with my chosen lover, in front of the fire. Wonderful. Until, that is, an unidentified rural noise makes the townie nervous and something must be done to restore the magic.'
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But, Baby, It's Cold Outside.
A Seasonal Short Story
For all that it's black as the proverbial out there, I'm required to venture forth if I'm to retain credibility in the current lover's eyes. First, there's the unexplained and ill-defined noise, which I ignore. Then, coincidentally, the light goes out, provoking a performance worthy of the heroine in those supposedly scary black and white B movies from the forties.
The failure of the light turns out to be nothing sinister. 'Just a blown bulb.'
'Replace it, then.'
'Call me an old romantic, but wouldn't firelight serve us better?'
The response is unprintable and indicates an unhealthy reliance on artificial light. So, once I've restored adequate illumination, I'm ordered outside to see what made the noise.
'It's your house.'
'As the woman, shouldn't I stay in the warmth and safety of my home whilst you, Macho Man, go fight the marauders?'
'Along with the rest of your gender, you claim equality. You have to deal with the downside as well as the up.'
'So far, I've experienced little up, except the obvious, and I'm pretty sure that's been as much benefit to you as it has to me.'
He raises his eyebrows but not my hopes and I know I'm onto a loser; it doesn't help that my statement wasn't the truth, either. I wonder, in passing, why him? And then recall his superb taste in clothes and cars, his delicious and sensual touch, and the generous cut of his wallet, which has so far afforded me access to three first nights, a private viewing and the best table at Egon's. I can stand a little misplaced equal opportunity for the luxury and privilege that are his accessories. Wimpishness isn't the cause of his reluctance; he sincerely believes equality of the sexes means I should do whatever he'd be prepared to do on my behalf. Daft, I know; but he is a man, after all.
Being rural, I ignore strange noises in the night, examining their cause in full light of day, if at all. He's a townie who puts up with the shouts of drunks, the screams of distressed women, the whistling of fools and the constant clatter of traffic past his trendy pied à terre but is made suspicious by the noise of something falling over outside.
'It's just that old gate I stacked against the side of the house. The wind's blown it over.'
'Didn't sound like a gate falling over to me.'
'It's pitch bloody black out there. How am I supposed to see anything?'
'Use a torch.'
'Batteries are flat.'
'Well, we'll open the curtains and turn on all the lights, assuming they work.'
'They do. Mostly.'
Raised eyebrows indicate his lack of faith but he accepts. 'Good.'
'And your monster of the night is just going to hang about out there, awaiting discovery, having received the signal of our intent?'
'We're conspiring jointly in the process, even if I'm the active member and you're merely the source of ideas.'
I rise, turn on the spot. 'Look at me.'
'Yes, very lovely.'
'You really expect me to venture forth into the wild night with…?'
'Put something on and stop making excuses.'
I don seductive red satin recently abandoned, rather than the woollen protection I know is appropriate. It'll be cold out there. New Year always is. But I won't be gone long and I intend to continue where we left off after the interruption of the unidentified noise. I suggest he turns on the downstairs lights, front and back, whilst I plunge into the frozen void.
'You're not going out there like that on your own, are you?'
'Are you coming with me?'
'Are you mad?'
I try a simple facial message but it doesn't get through. Insufficient intimate togetherness yet for such subtlety to connect, I suppose. 'Exactly how am I supposed to go outside without you, yet not be alone?'
A pause for consideration. 'Be quick, then. I'll worry about you.'
'Not enough to accept my plausible explanation.'
He avoids the shrug that his body and my expectations demand and makes do with a non-committal grunt.
'Not enough to be the gentleman?'
'Equality of opportunity. This is yours.'
'But I don't crave such opportunity. In any case, I'm not worried by the noise.'
Another grunt; distinctly negative and indicative that this is the end of the discussion, as far as he's concerned. That much of his subtlety I have learned.
Outside, it seems even darker than the proverbial and I wait for light to issue through the curtains he's supposed to be opening. I wait. And slowly freeze. The darkness remains; unilluminated, unmoving and unmoved by my presence. I understand I am irrelevant to the void and begin to wonder if I represent a similar rank of importance to him.
At last, a faint glow signals the start of his simple task, but at the front of the house. I left by the back door and he saw me. Is this contrary action merely pique at my rational response to his irrational fear? Or is it simple idiocy? Hardly the latter. I don't get involved physically or emotionally with imbeciles. Not deliberately, anyway. But I wonder why I've become so attached to a man who's beginning to seem remarkably like a prat. Except, he has his good points. The fact that he's unjustly wonderful at that most subtle of interpersonal activities adds to the attraction of his wealth, devastating good looks and multiple connections. I ponder, for a fraction of a second, whether I might be a tad guilty of superficiality here but I expunge that unworthy thought and recall the extraordinary evenings, nights, afternoons and mornings I've experienced since we met.
The light at the back escapes at last through the raised kitchen blind and the drawn dining room curtains. I examine the area of garden I can see and note that the soft cold stuff assaulting me is snow, augmenting the frost already formed. Nothing moves but flakes of lightness and the tips of visible vegetation, shaking in the gale. It occurs I've denied any idea of what I'm supposed to be seeking and a question might afford me re-entry before I freeze further. I open the back door and call into warmth I'm tempted to re-enter.
'What sort of noise?'
He is by the fire; I can tell by the distance his voice has to travel. 'I told you.'
I have no recollection of either being told or, if I have been told, of the message. 'No, sorry, that doesn't help.'
'Oh! You're useless. There's something out there. Just see what it is.'
'Well, there's a large area of garden, mostly immobile and recumbent under a falling blanket of snow, except where it's sufficiently fragile to be disturbed by the howling gale, of course. There's a fence, beyond which lie several thousand acres of fields, forests and hills, dissected by a river, currently out of my field of vision ...'
As I list the inventory, he emerges into the kitchen.
'Idiot! I mean something moving, something that shouldn't be there!'
'Ah. An alien? Ghost? Creature of the night, specified or un? Perhaps a monster from nightmare? A serial killer out for a midnight stroll? A lynch mob intent on suspending a victim, if not its credibility?'
'God, you're obtuse. And I'm freezing here with that door open in my robe...'
'I suggest you shut the door in your robe and give me a…'
'Look, it was a sharp slithering sort of soft thudding scraping noise.' And he shuts the door. Not the one in his towelling robe, but the more substantial wooden portal to the house, before I can ask from what direction this comprehensive oxymoron of a sound emerged.
Disconsolate at being left out in the cold, wearing a garment designed to lure the eyes of men to my assets rather than protect them from frost, and unsocked wellies that barely insulate my feet from frozen ground, I begin a rapid exploration. Alcohol has lost supremacy by now and the threat of frostbite dictates I make a simple circuit to rule out any obvious cause before I return, bold cold and brave, to conquer his residual concerns with passion, before the night freezes my ardour: I can rest assured that his will not diminish in the waiting.
The corner of the house allows the gale to swirl increasing flakes into a small tornado that lifts my scandalous hem and spatters snow against the skin beneath to melt and slowly slide in wetness down my legs. But there's nothing in the intervening darkness, between the dim light at the back and the dimmer light at the front, to suggest a monster might be lurking at that side of the house. I pass, unmolested, beside the solid brick barrier to the front garden; neat, hedged and deserted.
Beyond the hawthorn and beech runs the narrow lane that leads eventually to the hamlet where my nearest neighbours celebrate the new arrival. And I recall we haven't made the usual ritual this time: I have no coal or logs, no money, salt or bread to enter with and bring the luck we all desire. Though, on being questioned, I'll deny any interest in or subjection to such craven superstition as 'first-footing'. In any case, he's supposed to perform that particular ritual, as the man.
The front garden is also devoid of alien beasts, hobgoblins and mass murderers. I lightly skip along the beds of resting flowers, past the blank front door and across the white blanket that is now the drive. His red Ferrari, encrusted with a soft layer of white icing, like a little boy's birthday cake, is exhibited at his insistence for the hungry eyes of the envious before the garage door, behind which skulks my wheeled utilitarian box. Fooled by softness, I forget the constant puddle and slip on the ice it has now become. The robe helpfully lifts so that my naked buttocks slide along the frozen surface until the stone kerb brings me to a halt with only a spine-jarring jolt and superficial injury to my fast freezing passionate parts. I curse the night, rub the offended rump and other bits and struggle upright, glad no one saw my pratfall and exposure.
The last side of the house, also in darkness, reveals no sign of monsters but there is evidence of some disturbance in the drifting snow. Tracks of recent footfalls meander, and the broken gate, which had been leaning against the house, has fallen onto the path. I right it. But will he believe I was correct in my original supposition when I give him this solution to his mystery?
I turn the corner and tumble headlong over a dark huddled shadow that mumbles. I land against the dustbin, upside-down with my head buried in a small drift, and moon into the moonless night. An unknown hand molests my unprotected flesh and then hoists me back to my feet and suddenly I'm at the back door.
He is there, in gratitude no longer worried by the door in his robe, which he's removed to reward my bravery with his undiminished and evident passion. The robe, that is, not the door. Behind me looms the huddled shadow that caused me to befriend the dustbin.
He cries out in alarm. I turn, ready to attack and defend.
''Appy New Year, m' dear. Shorry 'bout the clision back there. Dropped me lump o' coal an' I was tryin' to fine it. Firsht footin' an' all that.'
It is the redoubtable Miss Fobiter; she of the three facial hirsute warts and fixed leering grin. I grin back, hopefully without the leer, and wrap my robe more tightly.
By the time I've turned, he's vanished into concealing darkness within and I'm left stumbling my thanks to my nearest neighbour and inviting her in for customary seasonal cheer. The picture of departing gratitude, flouncing as though no longer quite so pleased with my solution to his fears, suggests I'll see New Year's Day arrive without his close company.
'Thought you'd be on your own, like me, don't y'know?'
I wonder whose car she thinks she passed on my drive and then recall her reputation as a woman resistant to normal consumer pressures. She probably didn't even notice it, or worse, thinks it's mine.
My neighbour, whose first name she reserves as a mystery, insists on two full choruses of Auld Langsyne, which I'm powerless to resist. To my surprise, he returns to join in this ritual, his robe replaced. She greets him with a cursory assessment that suggests she finds him, because he's a man, wanting. But she accepts the second glass of cheer he politely offers. Two hours of pointless chatter pass as the fire slowly settles in the grate and he grows glassy eyed. At last, she decides it's time she visited other neighbours. I hold him close about the waist as she departs into the snow and we close the door on night.
With her departure, my role in his earlier exposure is recalled and expressed in word and deed, the repelling hand shoving me unceremoniously back into my armchair.
'If you think you're having your wicked way with me after letting that dirty old hag see me naked, you've another think coming.'
'I don't think she was interested in you; naked or otherwise.'
'You should've warned me. I don't like strange women seeing me undressed.'
I'm being unfair and mighty inaccurate when I suspect, aloud, he's anxious at being found wanting. He sulks at the unguarded, unfounded suggestion the alcohol encourages me to make, and I watch him climb the stairs.
He lingers at the turn on the landing taking all promise of passion with him. 'A real woman wouldn't take no for an answer.'
Unsure whether this is an invitation or simply another assault, a reminder of my imperfections, I return to the fire, unwilling to be seen as coercive and determined to play the part of the injured party to the bitter end. I place more logs onto the embers, refill my glass with the last of the Chivas Regal I bought him for Christmas, and stare into the flames, imaging what might've been and recalling New Years that started more auspiciously.
Lurking at the back of my mind is the suspicion that he'll forgive me, once he finds the bed a little wide and cold without my company. Just to encourage that idea and persuade him of my value, I sneak outside and bang the metal dustbin lid with the coal shovel. I'm back in front of the fire, waiting on the hearthrug, by the time he reaches the security and warmth of me and the blazing logs.
I invite him to open the door in my robe. He does so willingly but, as I surrender to his delicious demands, I hear the gate fall over again and await his protest. Oddly, he seems preoccupied and doesn't even mention the noise, this time. Aahhh.
This story, whilst free to read here, is copyright the author, Stuart Aken, 2011. Please respect the author's work in producing this and avoid pirating, copying or sharing other than through this blog, to which I'm happy for you to link with all your friends.
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