Friday, June 15, 2012

Steamy Bath -- Adrift in the Sound Excerpt


Orcas Island Farm
Since several of my writer friends are trolling the waters of erotica, (see previous post on "Crashes and Explosions") I offer this excerpt from Adrift in the Sound, which is available now from independent and online booksellers. This section doesn’t reflect the overall story, but suggests the way social-sexual barriers were changing in the early 1970s and the level of intimacy between these two characters. In this section, the main character, Lizette Karlson, shows up unexpectedly at her best friend’s ranch on Orcas Island, located off the coast of Washington State. Lizette has been through a lot and Marian recognizes this and tries to soothe her, help her relax and sleep.

Adrift in the Sound – Excerpt from Chapter 8

Standing down, Lizette felt lightheaded, nearly fell when she dismounted the bike and her sack shifted from her shoulder. Leaning the bike under the eave of the old barn, she crossed to the back door of the main house. The evening news blared from the TV in the living room and she caught snatches of “Watergate” and “Wounded Knee.” Through the backdoor window, she watched Marian at the stove, leaning over the rim of a big pot, stirring. She put the wooden spoon to her lips, blew, bit a small amount. She had on a gray flannel shirt and jeans, her long black hair tied in a knot on her head. Lizette pushed the door open.
Marian wheeled around, broke into a smile. “Lizette! You’re just in time!” She wiped her hands on a towel, rushed to wrap Lizette in a warm hug. “I was in Seattle, at Sandy’s. Yesterday. I’ve been looking for you. Where’ve you been?”
She stepped back, looked at her. “God. I’ve missed you.” She laughed and clasped Lizette to her again, pushed her away. She searched her face, noted the stiff grin and wary eyes.

“Tell me everything.” She shooed her to the kitchen table with the towel. “Sit down.”

Lizette collapsed in a chair by the window and tucked her bag under the table. Marian saw the facial tic working under her right eye, the chipped and dirty fingernails, the broken lace on her worn boot. She saw lean thigh bones under dirty jeans. Her blond hair was broken and dull, matted from sleeping, she guessed.

The skin on her face is the color of old pearls, Marian thought. Small purple veins in the folds beside Lizette’s nostrils told of too many nights at the tavern, too many strangers, too many days of wandering the streets without food, her Nordic beauty in tatters. Suppressing her pity, Marian put a bowl of lentils and lamb before Lizette, who looked at her, confused, as if she hadn’t ordered it.

“How long since you’ve eaten?”

Lizette looked out the kitchen window into the yard, scanned the ground along the weathered picket fence for signs of crocus. Not spring yet, she thought. “What month is it?”

“What did you eat today?” Marian waited. Silence yawned.

Pfeffernüsse.”

“All you’ve eaten today are cookies?”

“Just one . . . Only a bite. I bought it at the Swedish bakery before I got on the ferry in Anacortes.”

“Liz, you can’t do that.” Marian took short paces in front of the stove, tossing her head, loosening her hair, pulling it back into a bundle at the nape of her neck, releasing it to flow around her shoulders. “You can’t stay here if you don’t eat. I can’t be responsible. Where’ve you been? Sandy said she hasn’t seen you in weeks. Neither have the Dogs. Greg told me.”

“Sandy’s. Rocket’s. The hospital before that. . . .  For a couple of months. I don’t know how long.”

“Well, you’re going to collapse if you don’t eat.” Marian realized from Lizette’s pained look that she’d upset her and turned to the cupboard and pulled down a wide, flat bowl. She ladled hot lentils and lamb chunks into it for herself. She brought the bowl and a board with fresh baked whole-wheat bread to the table. Settling into a chair, Marian fussed with a stick of butter still wrapped in paper, cut a pat, put it on a slice of bread. She snuck a glance across the table at the thin woman she’d known since she was a girl. Their parents had been friends. They were raised nearly like sisters, dividing time between Orcas and Seattle, but now Lizette seemed like a broken stranger.

“I’ll run some bath water,” Marian said between bites. “Want to jump in?”

Lizette nodded OK and nibbled bread. The overhead light bulb caught the blue circles under her eyes and Marian saw the painful intensity of her ordeal, whatever it was. She looked away to shield herself from Lizette’s hurt.

Marian got up and went to the bathroom, switched on the light. She’d hung her nursing degrees and midwife certificate from the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky above the toilet. She rarely thought about the arduous training, in nursing school and later in the saddle, riding horseback from holler to holler in the Appalachian Mountains, attending births and doctoring poor families. These framed mementos hung above an Andy Warhol quote her father had cut out of a magazine and thumb-tacked to the wall: “Having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art anyone could ever want to own.” Above the light switch she’d taped a quote of her own from Gloria Steinem: “Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.” Like faded wallpaper, these things had long since escaped Marian’s notice.

The hot water steamed the room as it filled the claw-foot tub. Marian switched on the baseboard heater and it pinged to life. She poured rose-scented oil into the water, the beads breaking up as the water shot from the faucet. She got baby shampoo and cocoa butter from the medicine chest above the sink and a stack of thick white towels from the linen closet in the hall. She went into the kitchen. Lizette sat slumped over her bowl. Marian took her by the elbow, grabbed the canvas bag from under the table, led her gently down the hall, toward the smell of soap and roses.

Closing the door, Marian unbuttoned Lizette’s jacket, starting under her chin, working down the row, lifting the cloth between nimble fingers, peeling it back from her shoulders, catching a whiff of wet dog fur, as she took it off. Finding a thin sweater underneath, a dark stain on the pastel front, she rolled the sweater from the bottom over Lizette’s head. Her small, round breasts plopped onto her chest. Leaning in Marian kissed the top of her right nipple, licked its tip. Lizette stood indifferent.

Marian unbuttoned Lizette’s jeans and pulled them down to mid-thigh, baring her hard belly and round hip bones, v-shaped blond hair between her legs. Lizette bent her knees, slightly opening her thighs. Marian tugged down and lowered the jeans to her knees and, bending, loosened Lizette’s boots, signaled, like a farrier shoeing a horse, for Lizette to lift her foot. She slipped the shoe off, doing the same on the other side. Then she slipped her jeans off, one foot at a time. Lizette stood naked in the blue-tinted light and Marian examined her—medically, compassionately, thoroughly.

Lizette turned and put a toe in the water, pulled back from the heat, tried again, put both legs in the tub and settled mantis-like into the bath. Marian soaped her back, outlined the vertebrae with lather, Lizette leaned forward, arched her spine to feel the tracing. Then Marian lathered her neck and chest. Pulling a leg over the side of the tub, she scrubbed Lizette’s toes with a brush, clipped her nails, lifted her leg back over the side and lowered it into the water, signaled for the other foot.

Tugging Lizette to her feet, she soaped her shins and calves, scrubbed around her knees with a loofah. Lizette spread her thighs and Marian slipped a handful of lather between her legs, lightly tickling her button, small and tight. Lizette let out a soft “um” and opened wider for the caress, relaxing her knees, lowering into the comforting touch, languorously extending her arms above her head, sliding her hands down her chest to roll her nipples in her fingertips.

“Good,” Lizette murmured. The kitchen door slammed and startled her.

Marian helped her sit down in the water before going to see who’d come into the house.

“Hey! Marian? Where the hell are you?”

Greg banged the refrigerator door, followed it up with the hissing sound of a beer bottle popping open.

“What’s up?” he said as she entered the kitchen. “You on the can?”

“No,” she whispered, sitting down at the table. Greg joined her. “Lizette’s here. I was helping her get a bath.  Getting her to relax, open up. She’s in pretty bad shape. Just got out of Westside. She needs sleep so she can get herself together.”

“The loony bin, again?” He belched, took another swig. “Chick’s a tripper, man. Can’t you get rid of her? I hate head cases.”

“Lizette’s my friend, she’s part of me,” Marian said firmly. “She needs soothing.”

“Look, the Dogs already kicked her sorry ass out, at least twice. Sandy, too . . . Shit.”

He got up and went to the stove. “What’s in the pot? Smells pretty good.”