Let Them Not Hunger
At last! I’m not constantly donating to political causes! Not that they’ve stopped asking, but I’m stopped answering, at least not for a while. I’m trying to get back to environmental causes, but there are always even more urgent needs, so just now I’m answering a cause or two (or more) to help in feeding desperate people in distant places.
Here’s how this works. I will contribute one dollar to this cause for every view of this post within two weeks, and two dollars for every comment.
My charity choice for this Sunday is AVAAZ.org, for their work in Yemen, where roughly 85,000 children have starved to death, unable to get enough food or medical care during the devastating civil war. Half of all medical facilities have been destroyed or forced to close, and 80% of the population needs urgent humanitarian aid -- including 12 million children.
As usual, I don’t have any stories at all connected to this situation, so I’ll resort once again to a food topic, or rather a long excerpt from a story that happens to include quite an entertaining dinner scene, even though that’s not the main theme of the piece.
“Some piece of work you got there.” Sigri jerked her head toward the door. Or maybe she was just flicking a trickle of sweat out of one eye, since her hands were occupied with hammering a rod of red-hot iron into submission. She’d been wearing goggles but shed them when we came in. “Ought to keep a shorter tether on your toys, Roby.”
It was just as well Maura had already flounced out in a snit when she realized that we weren’t going to focus on her—although Maura’s every movement was far too elegant to be termed “flouncing.” Even when she’d knocked over a short trollish creature built using trowel hands and garden-rake teeth, tried to right it, got those long auburn waves that had sold ten million crates of shampoo tangled in another contraption, and knocked that one over, too, her taut ass was as elegant as it was enticing. She could have been modeling those stretch ski pants for a fashion spread in Vogue. Probably had been, in fact, when she’d been here in New Hampshire in October for an autumn leaves photo shoot. Now, in January, the outfit suited the snow coming down outside.
Sigri’s boi, Rif, edged deftly among the metal sculptures, righting the ones Maura had knocked over, touching some of the others as though they were friends. Or lovers. In their shadows, her slight body and pale short hair were nearly invisible. She hadn’t spoken a word since I’d been here. Now, at a gesture from Sigri, she followed Maura out of the barn.
Maura needed to be the center of attention. Someplace deep inside being in the spotlight terrified her, but she still craved it. She didn’t know how lucky she was that Sig and I had been ignoring her, catching up on old times and our lives over the past twenty years. She’d brought us together for her own convoluted purpose and pushed me over the edge of anger into rage once I knew what she was up to. Could’ve been part of her plan; Maura’s plans were never straightforward. I didn’t care whether she was listening outside the door or not.
“I’m not her goddamned keeper!”
“No? Somebody sure ought to be, and I get the impression she thinks it’s you.”
I perched gingerly on the seat of an antique hay baler stripped of its wheels, waiting its turn to be cannibalized into parts for the scrap metal beasts and demons Sig sold to tourists and the occasional high-end craft gallery. “Not a chance. Don’t tell me she hasn’t been trying you on for size.”
Sig concentrated more intently than necessary on the metal she was bending across the edge of her anvil. “‘Trying’ is the word, all right.” Her hammer came down hard. “The magazine crew was doing a photo shoot down the road with my neighbor’s big black Percheron mare close by and sugar maples in the background. Rif hung around watching, kind of dazzled by the glitz, I guess, so when Maura asked about the weird iron critters out front here, Rif dragged her to the barn to see more. I knew you’d worked with her—Rif keeps some of those fashion mags around for some strange reason, and I don’t deny taking a look now and then. Just to see whether your name’s in the small print as photographer, of course. Not for those skinny-ass models.” That brazenly lecherous grin was just the way I remembered it.
“Yeah, Maura has a thing for sharp scary things, the weirder the better. So I guess one thing led to another?”
“One thing led to—zip! Nothing but some crazy maze of ‘yes…no…wait, maybe…’ Does she have any fucking idea what she wants? Won’t negotiate, won’t submit, won’t bend, likes to be hurt but mustn’t be marked anyplace it would show when she models bikinis. I tell you, Roby, I don’t have the energy anymore for games like that. No topping from the bottom.” One more hammer blow and a curse, and then the warped metal was cast into a tank of water where it hissed as it cooled. From what little I’d glimpsed, I didn’t think it had turned out as Sig intended.
“She doesn’t know what she wants until she gets it,” I said. “Looks like just now she thinks she wants it from you.” And she has the gall to want me to show you how to give it to her. I’d given in to Maura’s pleas to come back with her to the Mount Washington Valley in New Hampshire for a long weekend visit with my old friend Sigri, which did sound tempting, and then just as we arrived at the farmhouse, Maura had told me casually that she wished I’d teach Sigri the right way to hurt her. I had never come closer to hurting her in all the wrong ways.
“Screw it. I wouldn’t have bothered at all if Rif hadn’t been all for it.” Sig pulled off her heavy leather apron and straddled a wooden bench. “Why’d she drag you here, then? Not that I’m not glad to see you. Every time I see your name on one of those photo spreads in a nature magazine I think about getting in touch, but somehow I never get around to it.” She considered me for a moment, the fire from the forge casting a red glow over her square, sweaty face and muscular arms. “Good thing you moved on from the fashion ads racket. Your stuff is too good for that.”
“The fashion biz pays better.” I didn’t quite meet Sig’s gaze. “I still do it once in a while.”
“You didn’t come when Miss Fancypants threw a fit last October and insisted they had to get you because she wouldn’t work with anybody else. So why now?”
“I was in Labrador on assignment from the Sierra Club magazine! And next month I head for Patagonia. In any case, I do have my limits. The guy they had here was good and needed the work.” I looked her full in the face—a face I’ve seen in my dreams through the years more often than I’d like to admit. “This location is a big draw, though. So many memories…”
“Ohhh yeah!” Her smile this time was slow, reflective, and genuine. I wondered what she was remembering. My second most vivid image from those days was Sigri’s fine broad, muscular butt in tight jeans twenty feet above me on the face of Cathedral Ledge.
We’d been casual friends, members of a fluctuating group of dykes renting this very same farmhouse for a few weeks in the summer while we hiked and climbed, and again in the winter as a ski lodge. Both of us usually had a girlfriend in tow, but when it came to rock climbing, we trusted each other and no one else. Even on easy climbs with iron bolts not more than twenty-five feet apart, when you take the lead with a belaying rope and call "Watch me," you damned sure need to know that when your partner on the other end answers "Go for it, I've got you," she has absolutely got you, her end of the rope firmly anchored, and will hold on if your grip fails or a rock edge breaks away and you start to plummet down the unforgiving cliff face.
We’d only admitted to figuring in each other’s fantasies back then as mead companions, playing at being Viking warriors ravaging villages side by side as we bore off not-unwilling maidens. She still wore her yellow hair in that thick Viking braid down her back; I couldn’t tell in this unreliable light whether there were silver strands mixed in with the gold. My own dark cropped hair was still more pepper than salt, but not by much.
“Well, you’re here now, and I’m glad. No need to let that glitzy bitch spoil things.” She put away her tools and adjusted the damper on the furnace to let the fire die down. “Think we could make her sleep out here in the barn?”
“Not unless we made it seem like her own idea. Which isn’t impossible.”
“Never mind for now. Rif’ll show you your room, and once you’re settled in, we’ll eat dinner. She’ll have it the oven by now.”
“Rif sounds like a real treasure.”
“More than I deserve, that’s for sure,” Sig muttered, almost too low for me to hear. She made for the door. I followed, admiring that rear view the way I used to when no one was looking. Just a bit broader now, but even more muscular since she’d turned to blacksmithing. The front view had been admirable, too, but harder to enjoy covertly. Back then butch buddies did not openly ogle each other’s chests, and things hadn’t changed in that department. I could tell now that it was still remarkable, even hidden behind the leather apron shielding her from any runaway sparks or splinters of metal.
Snow was building up fast along the short path from the barn to the house, piling the existing banks along the sides even higher. Good thing we didn’t have to drive anywhere tonight. Maura had damned well better not make me wish we could get away.
Dinner was maple bourbon-glazed salmon with hot cornbread, mushroom risotto, and tossed salad with pecans and dried cranberries. Perfection. Rif was perfection, too. Maybe too perfect. Her cooking was excellent, and her serving of it—well, let’s just say she epitomized service in more ways than one while managing to sit for long enough to eat her own food. Quiet, efficient, never speaking without being spoken to, anticipating our needs, all with downcast eyes, at least whenever I glanced at her. Just the same, I could feel her gaze on me from time to time, and I was pretty sure she was sizing up Maura, too.
Maura was sizing up Rif right back, maybe taking notes on how to appeal to Sigri. At least she was putting on a pretty good demure act. Sig and I were wallowing in nostalgia, swapping recollections of cliffs we’d climbed, mountains we’d summited, ice walls we’d conquered, and après-ski orgies we’d enjoyed the hell out of.
Finally, when we were about done eating our desserts of individual pumpkin custards and sipping Rif’s excellent coffee, Sig turned to Maura like a good host. “How about you, Maura? Done any climbing?”
“Oh yes, I’ve been on some jaunts with Roby out in the Sierras.” She gave that trademark toss of her head that made strands of chestnut mane drift across one or another of her perfect breasts. Her navy silk shirt was conservative but clingy in all the right places. “You know how it is, though, hiking with somebody so much older, having to take things slower than you’d like.”
Sig shot me a “what the fuck!” look.
Okay, Maura was asking for it. I smiled, genuinely amused, but also irritated as hell. “Got a mouth on her, hasn’t she. Don’t worry. It’s just that insults are the best Maura can manage as foreplay.”
“So how does that work out for her?”
Maura’s glare in my direction was weakened by her belated realization that Sigri was just as old as I was.
“Depends on the circumstances. The last time she called me too old, she was already spread-eagled, tied to the four corners of a tent frame, and demanding to be gagged.”
Rif’s eyes flashed wide open for just a second. Sig nodded judiciously. “I can see getting a little something out of that.”
“What I got was a bent tent frame. What Maura got was my mark in a place even a bikini won’t reveal.”
Maura apparently decided to go with the flow. “Isn’t it cute,” she said with a sultry smile, “the way old folks’ memories get so fuzzy?”
Sigrid leaned forward and looked from Maura to me. “More foreplay?”
“Well, she seems to think so. It’d be cute if it weren’t so juvenile.”
Sig almost asked another question, thought better of it, pushed back her chair, and stood up. “Rif, how about you kids go take a walk while Roby and I have a nice chat about grown-up matters.”
“Is it still snowing?” But I knew perfectly well that it was. “They could just stroll around inside the barn, and Maura could decide which sharp-edged, long-toothed demon there she’d most like to fuck her in her dreams.”
Maura managed to stifle a smartass retort. Rif stifled a smile, then went to stand beside Sig with head meekly bent, speaking softly, before leading Maura away. Sigri and I moved into the cozy living room to sit by the fire and savor our after-dinner port, like any Old Country lords of the manor. Except that, instead of port, we savored excellent home-brewed mead a friend had given Sig and Rif at Christmas.
While Sig bent to pour a little of the golden elixir into my genuine bull-horn cup set in its own wrought iron stand, I felt her closeness with a jolt that startled me. In the old days, no matter what girl I was with, if Sig was in the room, I was more aware of her than of anyone else. Comradeship, sure, but I couldn’t deny that there’d been an intensely sensual element as well. Now she was so close I could have reached out and touched her breast, guarded now only by flannel instead of leather.
That’s all you get for now. What, you thought you were going to get some really hot sex? It comes later, after Rif reports that she and Maura have fired up the sauna hut, and everybody gets naked and really, really hot. And then rolls in the snow. The complete story is in my collection Wild Rides from Dirt Road Books. If you ask me nicely, though, I might email you the whole story. Another story with the two main characters, “Bright Angel Falls,” is on my blog as the Charity Sunday entry titled “National Park Nostalgia” posted on July 26th, 2020. As a matter of fact there are a dozen or so Charity Sunday stories or excerpts posted on my blog, and even more of my stories, so if you want some free reading, there you go.
For another Charity Sunday blog, go over to lisabetsarai.blogspot.com. Lisabet is the writer who established this tradition, and a varying number of others also contribute. Scroll down on Lisabet's post, and you'll see the link for another participant