“How bored are you?”
“Me? I don’t know. What the hell. I’m off at four. I read and I watch the television, and I watch those cassettes.”
“So far three nurses quit on me. I don’t want to lose you.”
“Look, you keep paying, there’s a lot of us out there. It doesn’t matter if somebody quits, right?”
“I’d hate to lose the prettiest one.”
“Some kind of talk.”
He edged her back against the wall, put his hand on her waist. He smiled into her eyes and saw how they changed.
“I don’t want we should be doing this,” she said uncertainly.
“So this isn’t the right time anyway, sweet girl,” he said in a guttural whisper. “Tomorrow Henry doesn’t come work on the yard and Lottie doesn’t show up until noon. So what you do, hear, after you relieve Mrs. Hardigan and you go in and pat Thelma’s pillow, you come in and you surprise me awake. Can you do that?”
She looked sidelong at him and bit her lip. Her eyes were very dark, her skin flawless. There was a glint of mischief in her eyes. “I guess if you want to be waked up, well… that’s kind of what a nurse does, isn’t it?”
“Surely is, and I’ll be right grateful to you.”
He walked out of the house feeling tired of himself, depressed by the recurring insistence of the groin, the slow engorgements, the fantasies. He had known that sooner or later, if she kept working, he would get to her. He had known he was making progress, that she was no longer thinking of him as an old white-haired fellow who liked to flirt with her, that she had begun to wonder what it would be like if it happened. He was a little surprised it would happen so soon. He had guessed it would take another week or two. His pleasurable anticipation of her body was diminished by his vague sense of disappointment. He had wanted it to take longer. He had wanted it to be more difficult to arrange. So it would happen and happen again in sweet abundance, until predictably Maria would fade back into the endless swamps of his memories of women, any uniqueness of breasts or buttocks or love-sounds lost in the general turmoil of sweating and pumping and coming.
And doing it to another one in the house where Thelma lay helpless would add another mild increment of guilt. She’d been asleep when she had the second stroke. She was exhausted They had stayed up very late, quarreling over his having taken the Rigsby woman to New Orleans. How the hell was anybody to know they’d run head on into that damned Morrison bitch who would run, not walk, to the phone to tell Thelma. A long and bitter and noisy quarrel, with her saying that because she’d had the stroke which slurred her speech and gave her the little limp, she was no longer attractive to him. There had been other quarrels across the years, about other women, but this had been the worst. She had not said good night, and, of course, had never been able to say good night or anything else from then on.
Warner Ellenson was in the big screened pool with Albert, the golden retriever, throwing Albert’s floating yellow bone for him to retrieve, wallowing and splashing around and barking at each other.
Ellenson was a big, overweight man, soft and pink and rubbery, and in far better condition than he looked. He swam fifty laps a day, walked six miles, and kept a pink thumb in lots of pies. As an ex-mayor, he had the use of a tiny office in the court house, and what stenographic help he could wheedle. He was a class-A wheedler. He had been known to pick up a lunch check, but nobody could remember exactly when or where.
He clambered out of the pool in his absurd little bikini shorts and went dripping to the outdoor bar and fixed the two of them bourbon on the rocks, a generous measure, but cheap bourbon.
They sat at a tin table in the shade. The dog bobbed about in the pool looking imploringly at his master, yellow bone in his jaws, barking “Marph, marph!” He gave up, climbed the steps out of the pool, shook himself so vigorously in the sunshine that Tuck could see little rainbows in the spray, then came over to Warner and dropped the bone at his feet. When Warner ignored it, the dog sighed and collapsed under the table in the shade, and was instantly asleep.