Age of Bliss

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to people, alive or dead, are coincidental.

This work contains adult themes and is not intended for children.

Chapter 16

All of Martha's casual wear was spread on the bed that Friday evening. Most of it was light-weight; much of it was threadbare, and all of it was passé. She tried on a vee-neck black top. It reminded her of Jordan's jump suit, the very effect Martha wanted, but the top was faded and raveled. It was depressing, unlike the clothes which the cheery Miss Cage wore. Minz's equating Martha to the industrialist's daughter made no sense, she fumed.

Looking at all the rags before her, Martha decided there was only one thing to do. She was glad tomorrow's rendezvous was not until eleven.

She was up early the next morning and quickly prepared for her drive to the city, selecting an easy-to-remove dress and packing other items which she might need in her makeup case. She grasped her handbag containing her newly acquired charge cards. Perhaps she would be a debutante by 11:00, she thought.

A well tailored woman was opening the lingerie shop when Martha arrived. She had made good time on the drive. The drive had given her time to clarify her goal for these purchases. In a word, the goal could be personified in one name, Jordan. Martha wanted to look the way Jordan would look if she were Martha.

Martha smiled at the salesperson. The woman did not return the smile but seemed to look down her nose at Martha's shabby appearance. "May I help you?" sneered the merchant.

Martha ignored the tone of voice. She was too excited to be insulted. "I saw a brassiere which I liked when we were here a few weeks back," said Martha, walking to the case with the garment which Jordan had admired. "I think I want this one. May I try it on?"

"Certainly. You know where the dressing rooms are?" The woman's voice sounded warmer.

Martha liked the fit and the feel of the strapless bra. She understood why Jordan would recommend it. The material was sheer, but the underwire provided ample support and separation. She felt hedonic. She valued the increased control of the emotion, but also felt a twinge of guilt. Markus wouldn't actually see the underwear anyway, she thought.

"I'll take it," she said to herself and then to the waiting salesperson.

"Fine. It's a very popular item. You might also be interested in these new bikini cut briefs."

Martha looked at the lace trimmed nylon. "Yes. Yes, I might." She found a package in her size. "I'll take these also."

The woman took Martha's charge card and smiled at her.

"I'd like to wear these."

"Certainly. You know where to change. Happy shopping."

At the next store, Martha was attracted to a pastel pink cashmere blend sweater. She saw the price and started to replace it.

"Try it on!" encouraged the young clerk.

"Why not?" replied Martha and thought about how the response reflected Jordan's influence.

Martha was delighted with how the sweater looked on her and how it made her feel. She had never had anything so sensual. "This should get the job done," she told the assistant. "I need some pants to complete the outfit."

The sales person laid out three pairs of slacks as suggestions for Martha. She selected a gray wool pair. The combination produced the look she wanted.

It was after 10:00 and Martha still needed shoes and a clutch purse. Panic seeped into her consciousness. She had not been to a shoe store with Jordan and was unsure of finding the art gallery. Then she saw purses displayed outside a self service shoe store. "I'm in luck!" she said to herself.

She left the store in a cushioned pair of gray artificial leather shoes with cork heels and a small matching purse. It was ten till when she left the mall. If she understood Markus' map, she had enough time, she told herself.

Twenty minutes later, Markus was waiting when she arrived at the parking lot. He had her door open before she had the seat belt removed. "Have trouble finding the place?" he asked, offering her his hand.

"No, your map was most accurate," she said, accepting his assistance.

"You really look ... outstanding, beautiful, breath taking. I'm at a loss for the right word or words." He kept her hand as he looked at her.

"Thanks. Thank you very much. I went shopping on the way here."

"For me? I'm honored. It's my turn to say thank you."

Martha returned his smile.

"You want to see some of the place before we eat?"

"Yes, I would enjoy that."

They walked hand in hand down a hall lined with Aztec pottery. Martha stopped to look at the painting on a bowl. Markus' eyes did not seem to leave her.

"We could do things like this a lot next year. I can come home on the weekends."

"You're going to be working at that TV station."

"Not every weekend."

They walked farther down the hall to a room of Chinese artifacts. It looked interesting to Martha. There was another couple in the room and Markus directed her past the room. They turned a corner. This hall was lined with landscapes. Markus showed no interest in them. The next room contained paintings, but no people. Markus steered Martha into the room.

She looked at an impressionist portrait. "I wonder if it's a Manet? Look how distantly aloof she looks."

"It pales in comparison to your beauty," he said looking into her eyes. She felt his strong hand on her back pulling her to him. He released her hand, lifted her face and kissed her. It was a soft kiss. He was gentle, but Martha felt ill at ease. It was probably just fear of detection, she reasoned.

He moved his hand from her face to her back and started to kiss her again, but she turned her head and said, "Someone's coming. Perhaps we should go eat." She smiled, not wanting to have her reticence misinterpreted.

They ate between two Iconic columns, with the building to their north and the soft winter sun to their south. "This is a very interesting place," Martha observed.

Markus smiled, "I thought you'd like it."

"You bring Mary here often?" The question was asked before Martha knew it.

Markus frowned and shook his head, "No. I've never even brought Mary up here to the city."

"I'm sorry I asked," she said sincerely.

"No, we need to talk about it. We already have plans for her to spend Thanksgiving at my grandmother's and for me to visit her home for New Year's Eve. But, surely you know I long to be with you."

"Yes, I do."

He smiled and leaned toward her, "It's a long time from Thanksgiving to New Year's. Surely we can get together during that time."

She nodded and smiled, "I'm planning to be in Midtown."

His smile broadened. "You're not going back to Oklahoma?"

She shook her head. "You mentioned a movie?"

"I brought the movie section from this morning's paper; it's in the car."

"I could look around while you got it. Then we could look at it in the waiting area at the entrance."

"Or some less public area."

They found a bench near an emergency exit once Markus returned with the paper. He placed his arm around her shoulders while she held the section.

He pointed to one block, "This cinema would be good. It's nice but removed. There's a Bond, Live and Let Die, playing."

"Yes. How about this, Last Tango in Paris?"

"You want to see that? It's an art film you know?"

"Seems appropriate. We visit an art gallery and see an art film."

"Okay by me. I'm just surprised you want to."

"Well, I'm curious about it."

"Oh?" Markus arched his eyebrows.

"Yes. ... Yes, I am."

Markus shrugged, "So be it! We can easily make the 2:00 showing."

They strolled back to the parking lot. Martha enjoyed the art, the atmosphere, and his attention en route. The date was becoming more as she envisioned it. She identified her selecting the movie as a significant act; she was glad she had asserted herself. He opened the driver's door of the Dodge for her. "You want me to drive?"

"Just slide in," he laughed.

"It should be a good flick with Marlon Brando and all," he said once they were on the interstate. "Did Jordan recommend it?"

"No, not directly," she said, and looking at the hump in the floor beneath her, she inched away from him. "She read the book. Said it reminded her of me."

"About what I thought."

"So? Jordan and I are friends ... just friends, unlike you and Mary. Does she get in on your side? Sit over here next to you?" Martha moved further to her side. "I'm not Mary, I'll tell you that!"

"Let's not fight. I like Dr. West, too. The movie seemed more her than you, that's all. I didn't mean anything by it. You can sit wherever you want. I just want to be with you. I enjoy your company and look forward to your enjoying mine as much as you do Jordan's"

When they arrived at the quadriplex, Martha opened her door and walked to the cashier. "Since it was my selection, it'll be my treat."

"Fine. Thank you. Can I get you some popcorn, soda?"

"No, I'm still full from the lunch. It was a good meal. Get yourself something if you like. I need to use the ladies' room."

"Meet you back here."

The theater was still lit when they entered. The room was already half filled.

"This is nice," he said. "Our first movie! Forgive me if I'm too pushy. We still have lots of time and an obstacle or two. Just keep reminding me of our motto, 'patience.'"

Martha smiled and repeated, "patience."

Soon thereafter, the house lights dimmed and then the previews began. Markus reached over and squeezed her hand. She squeezed his in return. They held hands until the start of the feature.

The film consumed Martha's awareness. She experienced mostly confusion through the first half of the movie. The young Jeanne entering into an affair with the older Paul was clear enough, but Martha did not understand why it happened. Paul's wife had either been murdered by Paul or committed suicide, but it took Martha some time to conclude that the act had occurred shortly before the first scene of the film.

Jeanne appeared uncertain as to what she wanted, romantically. Martha wondered if that similarity to her had prompted Jordan to mention the book. Maria Schneider, playing Jeanne, had a gorgeous body; but, Jordan would not have seen her. Perhaps Jordan knew who was in the movie. Martha wondered how Jeanne was described in the novel.

Then, Paul got the butter and Martha's eyes became big in disbelief. Paul began to sodomize Jeanne on the big screen and Martha's eyes filled with tears.

She heard the characters saying the words and they spoke to her soul, "family .... that holy institution, meant to breed virtue into savages."

She suppressed the sobs, but the tears continued as did the words, "Holy family, the church of good citizens. The children are tortured until they tell their first lie .... Where the will is broken by repression."

Then, she could no longer hear the actors. Her emotions drowned out their words. The words she heard were from within her and they sounded angry: "We do live in a screwed up world, a hypocritical, screwed up world." Hearing the anger in the words, she thought that she had every right to be angry. Still, the tears did not stop.

Her attention was drawn back to the screen when Jeanne returned to the apartment where Paul was waiting. As Martha's mind focused on her inability to accept Jeanne's behavior, Martha's crying abated. She watched transfixed as the couple walked to the ballroom and spent the afternoon drinking while the dance contestants projected the hypocrisy of the perfect society.

When Jeanne told Paul that their affair was over, Martha felt a burst of relief, but Paul did not accept Jeanne's verdict. Martha felt her tears return. Jeanne needed to escape, but Paul pursued her into her home. Jeanne found her father's gun. Martha did not want Jeanne to shoot Paul. Murder isn't right, Martha knew, but she accepted Jeanne's killing Paul.

"You're crying?" Markus' voice and body showed concern.

"Yes. Could we go somewhere and talk?"

"Sure, I know a little hamburger place near here. It should be fairly empty this time of day."

The restaurant reminded her of the one in American Graffiti except it did not offer curb service. They were the only customers.

Markus looked at her curiously. She appreciated that he was being patient. They ordered hamburgers and fries. She felt the need for nourishment. Only when she had finished eating did she tell him of her abuse at the hands of her father. He looked shocked and caring as she gave the essential details. She amazed herself at how calmly she relayed them.

"The movie helped me, Markus. It helped me to realize I'm still trying to run away from that abuse. I saw in you a shelter. I wanted that protection. But, ... when you kissed me today, I didn't feel what I should have. I'm afraid my daddy killed my ability to love. At least I'm not ready yet."

"I'm patient. I can wait."

"I'm not sure I'll ever be able to love. I can't imagine I'd ever meet a more lovable man than you. But, it's not fair to you, and it's not fair to Mary. She loves you the way I wish I could."

Markus bit his lip as his eyes became teary. "Let me take you back to the museum. We can talk more later," Markus said, sliding from the booth.

"But," he continued as he opened the door for her, "this can't be the end. We've only started." She got into the car without looking at him. The door closed noisily behind her. He kicked the curb as he rounded the car and then slammed his door. They rode in silence back to the gallery.

"What a roller coaster this has been," he said, turning toward her in the parked car. "But, you're right. You'll never love me. I wanted you to so I convinced myself you would, but somewhere, somehow, I've known you never would, since Minz explained it to me. I had seen you and West together at the mall, but I didn't see it. Minz helped me, but I didn't want it to be true, but I knew it was. I would never have taken up with Mary otherwise."

Martha sat dumbfounded by what she was hearing, but when he paused, she said, "You're just hurt ...."

"No, I'm not so vain as to believe if any man could make you love him, I could. You need to look at yourself more objectively. Your father did not destroy your ability to love; just your ability to accept it. He put his phony morality in your way like the film said, the first lie. Society is too wrong to allow it to define what is wrong in nature."

She found herself nodding, "It is a messed up world, but that doesn't make the other true."

"One thing I've learned this term, truth is often bigger than fact. It's a fact I love you, but, I'm afraid nature is bigger than that. Do think about it, because we can deal with the abuse. If that's all there were, we could have the patience."

She moved across the seat, hugged him briefly and kissed his mouth. "Sorry to put you through all of this," she said returning to her door and opening it. "Mary is lucky. You're better off with her in any regard. You love her; you've just been infatuated with me. Often happens with teachers."

Markus' analysis repeated itself as she drove back to Midtown. She recalled Jordan telling her the same thing. She agreed that the world was cock-eyed and she could not depend on it to define what was right for her, even her sexuality.

She knew that she loved Markus, but could never love him as Mary did.

At home, she hung her new clothes in the closet. It was the outfit which Jordan would have selected for Martha, and she knew that she had selected it for Jordan. She emerged from the closet wishing Jordan were there.

As Martha went to sleep that evening, she could hear Jordan playing and see her hands massaging the white of the ivories. Martha had no trouble going to sleep.

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