Rendezvous

Catherine had been taught modesty. She always tried to keep her full breasts “under wraps.” Today she wore a loose, flowered peasant dress and walked softly upon the soles of soft canvass shoes. She liked her feet these days and would smile down the full length of her body at them. She called herself a runaway to this foreign city and was proud to be so.

The starting point had been when she’d told Ray she was going to branch off on a little side trip of her own. Her friend, an art student with whom Catherine was traveling, had answered, “Where are you going? Not thinking you’ll meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger, are you? I mean, well, go on ahead if you like then. We’re two adults. Just hope you can find me when you’re finished though.”

“I’d just like to be alone for a few days,” Catherine’s words had seemed to float up, balloons waiting to be popped, but finally Ray had told her where they’d be able to meet up later. Ray, her companion, her friend and she on an extended summer vacation since she’d left home. Since David, her lover, had left her last spring. Since David.

Catherine looked for the castle. The brochure she held read “a fairy tale town” and “hidden in a maze.” She decided she was evidently lost in the maze part. Catherine had usually been an A-student, her name printed neatly across the top of a paper, but never all that good at puzzles or directions.

Suddenly she felt a body behind her, “Miss? Excuse me, please. Hello?” Catherine ignored the voice and studied the shop window in front of her intently. The body finally moved away from her backside.

Catherine had found this town of cool stone, of winding streets crisscrossed with moats and lined with churches and shops because of a conductor on the train. An older man with a too-round, jovial face, who’d declared, “God honey, but you do look fresh, a nun run away from the convent!”

Catherine had smiled politely back at the man on the train—she knew all saucer face, wide eyes, and pale cream hair. She did not like this man and she did not understand why she should go on listening to him rattle on and on to the clack of the train, so she had simply excused herself and gotten off at the next stop, thinking, “So there.”

Catherine now checked the clock above the doorway of the station house across the street. Her train did not leave until late afternoon. Her baggage was already checked. Everyone talked of a castle, so she’d saved the best until the last day of her stay here. She still had plenty of time.

“Miss, may I join you?” A shadow, long and lean, arched over her.

Catherine did not allow herself to jump. Instead, she considered buying souvenirs of her trip. One for her father, one to take back to Ray; maybe she should even get one for David.

“I’ll take you. You can come home with me.” This was the first thing David, her former boyfriend, had ever said to her. “Who’s the broad with the yellow hair?” He’d kidded the party’s host, delighted he was making Catherine laugh.

This time, Catherine decided to be rude. “No!” The shadow on the street disappeared at the tone in her voice.

“Hello, I think I might know you?” Another voice, though, seemed to come out of nowhere, “Are you busy?”

“No!” Catherine answered immediately this time, but then realizing she’d answered his question in the wrong way, tried to change it, “I mean, yes, I’m busy,” she tried again. “I’m busy.”

David had told Catherine once that her mouth was too wide, and that she looked as if she’d bitten into sour fruit if she frowned or pouted. Catherine tried to look like sour fruit now.

However, the man kept on, “I remember you, please, from last night.” He paused for a rejoinder, but getting none, persisted gently, “You’ve been staying at the hostel for a couple of days. I can tell you are—a woman getting away from things?”

Catherine thought this remark at least perceptive. She could see his hands out of the corner of her eye. They swirled in the air. He spoke pleasantly, she thought, as if giving her time to hear and understand each word.

The voice turned playful, “I’m the guitar player. Don’t you remember me?” The hands went up in the air, like those of a thief getting caught. “You saw me last night, remember?”

“Kitty, now Kitty listen, you’re not paying attention to Daddy.” Her father had always been patient, always serious, peering down at her. Catherine could always feel her chin lifting to meet his voice, her eyes avoiding him, “I am Daddy; I am. I am listening.” Catherine would always cross her legs at the ankles as she’d been taught was proper and fold her hands carefully in her lap. Then she’d look attentively at her father’s mouth because he was too tall for Catherine to look any further up comfortably. Her daddy was important. The principal of a school.

“That’s my princess,” he’d ruffle her hair with his so large hand. “You’ll grow up to be just like Momma one day, won’t you now, Kitty?”

Catherine caught herself looking up at the guitar player now. He was handsome. Tall and dark, and young like her. He had large dark eyes under curling lashes and shaggy hair. He smiled in dimples, like her.

“Oh, I do remember you!” She’d seen his face the night before in the center of a circle and in the center of light. Different groups of people had been visiting in the lounge of the hostel before they were ready for bed, and Catherine had stopped briefly to listen to the boy play a soft, lullaby song.

“You do remember me then?” The guitar player smiled, all dimples and white even teeth. Catherine liked his sweater. It was dark green and much too large for him, curling up around his neck and down around his hands. He wriggled inside of it now and laughed as Catherine corrected, “Well, I only remember seeing you!”

“You do remember me!” The guitar player nodded triumphantly, and hands in his pockets, her persisted in following her.

Catherine stood before a table covered with a bright red cloth. It was covered with lace doilies and handkerchiefs, scarves, silver spoons and jewelry. Souvenirs were laid out enticingly: Look at me. Buy me.

“You’d like a scarf for your mother?” The guitar player asked.

“No,” Catherine bit her lip. She’d almost actually volunteered that her mother was gone, long gone. Catherine answered simply, “I’m shopping for my father.”

“Not shopping for a boyfriend then? The guitar player teased her, bending just a little to look into her face, his shaggy hair ruffling against the neck of his green sweater.

Catherine very carefully did not look up. She noticed the birthstones were still there. The shops were full of them. Souvenir rings, Catherine had considered buying one when she’d arrived yesterday. Yes, why not just get herself a ring? Catherine was a Cancer. Lover of romance, the books said, of home and the family. Catherine would always wrinkle her nose. Cancer was a disease, she’d kid. Her sign? A crab.

“Girls always have to tell strangers they have lovers who are with them,” the guitar player sighed in sympathy now.

“Souvenir?” The woman behind the table held the rings up for Catherine now. They sparkled. The whole city seemed to sparkle around them like a mirror. The woman was small and thin. Catherine thought “a mouse” in tight gray curls, except this woman wore a long, red dress and a white apron. She wore a headdress. It towered above the woman’s tiny head, layers of stiff white linen, layers of starched white silk.

Catherine pointed toward some paintbrushes in the corner instead. Maybe something to pacify Ray.

“I paint too,” the guitar player volunteered. “I promise. I really do!” he grinned and held up his right hand as if swearing on a stack of Bibles.

Through the arched gateways behind the woman’s stand, Catherine could see the courtyard and the cathedral beyond, empty shrines and pale Madonnas cast in still, white stone.

“Thank you for your help,” she said firmly. “I’m going to visit the church now.” Catherine turned and walked away from the guitar player.

“Oh,” he said and followed her again.

The back gates to the courtyard were chained, so Catherine had to turn right back into him, move around him, and then the guitar player reached out gently as if to direct her down a smaller street with his hand, “This way.”

Catherine could not tell whether he had taken hold of her wrist before she fully realized that he was doing so and so now she could not pull loose, or whether she had first seen him reach to take hold of her, and had then very stupidly failed to pull the wrist out of his reach. A moment in slow motion.

“Cat, are we about ready to eat?” David had once suddenly floated into the doorway. Her lover was an oh-so-very-important student leader, and he and his friends had been busy as always, talking, talking, talking. Meanwhile, Catherine had been asked to prepare dinner. She had, though, forgotten all about it! Her rice had stuck to the bottom of the pan. She then couldn’t move the spoon, COULD NOT MOVE the spoon. Giggling, she’d wacked at the rice with the knife, thinking perhaps she’d just serve it up in little pieces!

Catherine had cut her own thumb, blood spurting everywhere.

“Take it easy, Cat!” She and David had both laughed then, though, sticking her thumb under a faucet. David had, in fact, continued laughing even after Catherine had stopped. He had tapped at the sides of her head, “Space. Spacey.” Catherine had protested, while having that sinking feeling—soon everyone would be in to look at her failure, everyone would see. Still, she’d protested. “I’m not spacey. I’m not.”

Now Catherine wanted to go back and try turning the corner again. The street she and the guitar player were on was very narrow, made of cobblestones. It was uneven and lined with deserted storefronts, a cold brown stone that seemed to lean down over them, the noise of the busier shops off behind them. The man’s grasp was cutting off the circulation in her hand. Stupid, she called herself. Not spacey, stupid.

The guitar player opened a door for her, “My lady.” He even bowed a little bit from the waist. When Catherine didn’t walk through the door though, he moved behind her and pushed gently.

“What’s your name,” she asked. Her voice was too high; she could hear it—high and too friendly. For a moment, Catherine couldn’t believe she, herself, was real. She tried to free her wrist. It was caught.

“I’ll call the police.” Catherine thought that sounded ridiculous even as she said it. What police, and her passport was all locked up back at the train station where she’d dropped it off this morning before one last look around. No identification on her. Stupid.

The young guitar player smiled down at her quizzically. “My paintings are in here. I’d like you to see them.” He opened a door along the interior deserted hallway for her. Beyond that door was a brighter room, bare except for a mattress in the corner, a heap of paintings off in another corner. Catherine was surprised to see the paintings.

“Are you going to rape me?” The words rushed out, she realized too softly even to sound loud in this small room. Catherine made herself repeat clearly then. “Are you going to rape me?”

The brightness of the guitar player’s eyes became softer for a second. They were blue, she noted. His eyes were sky blue. “What’s wrong with you?” The light in his hair suddenly turned to shadow when he moved.

Catherine had no answer. He bent down to kiss her, the tip of his tongue probing between her lips. Catherine did not close her eyes.

The guitar player tugged and Catherine followed him across the room, her head nodding to the sound of her own feet. Fool, of course, you fool, yes, of course. She was shocked by the taste of salt in her mouth.

Catherine began looking around the room, slowly at first, and then more quickly. The room was square and damp, filled with mildew. She shivered. The shadows thrown into the room were from the light of a window on the back wall. Think, she spoke to herself. She twisted and could see a cathedral out the back window, and its courtyard, Catherine calculated, would be at least three stories below in the sloping back then. Evidently, she wouldn’t be able to get out that way. The windows were probably all stuck anyway. She knew somehow without having to try them, they were painted shut. Think Catherine, her mind repeating over and over now, “Think.”

“Do you paint in this very room then?” Catherine was looking for a palette knife, a brush. There were no art supplies in this room though. Nothing resembling a sharp object that she could see. Catherine even looked up at the ceiling.

“Take it easy.” The guitar player stroked her nose and put his arm around her, his sweater warm against the tension in her cheek. “Look.” The guitar player held Catherine’s head still with one hand and directed her gaze so that she couldn’t help but look. She tried to move away from him, but he pulled her back.

All the people in his paintings were stiff. His paintings were of moats, streets, buildings of stones. There must be a castle somewhere, or at least he had painted one. All of his paintings, the castle included, had an undertone of red. Catherine watched her own hand reach out. The red glittered in the light, while her nails shown pink with oval moons near the cuticles. “Rubies,” she whispered.

Her captor broke the spell by casting the paintings aside. “Worth more than rubies,” he cradled her chin in one hand, kneaded the softness of her shoulder with the other. The guitar player pulled her head back to kiss her.

“Let me go.” Catherine’s voice sounded strangled, even to herself. She pushed her lips out, she remembered “like sour fruit.” There was still space between the two of them, but when Catherine hit the man, she remembered her father opening the door of his principal’s office to a waiting boy, “Your turn, sir.” Catherine had never hit anyone, not with a paddle or anything else, not in her whole life.

The guitar player laughed at her. Catherine raised her hand again, but her captor forbade her. His dimples suddenly disappeared completely, “Don’t do that.”

Catherine tried again though. The guitar player twisted her arm as she tried to walk around him.

“I won’t let you go.” His tone became soft, almost sweet then. His arm covered in his green sweater became a roadblock wrapping itself around her now. Close like a pillow against her face.

Well, it was her own fault anyway, Catherine admonished herself. If she hadn’t let him talk to her out there in the street, or if she could just hold still now instead of trying to get herself free of him like some stubborn child. She kept going up to meet him, as if she could climb up and over his body, and so the man just kept catching her. “Be still.”

“Don’t,” Catherine appealed. He had her kneeling at the edge of the mattress then, forcing her body down his legs, her hands touching her face and then his knees, her face and then his knees. “Don’t.” She heard a beggar’s voice echo.

“I’ll be very good,” her captor reassured her. His hands cupped up her face. They were warm. “I’m always good,” he knelt beside her then.

She lay down.

When Ray, her friend, now lay beside her on some nights, Catherine thought it odd that he so rarely moved. Sometimes on their vacation these last few weeks, Ray and she would end up out camping together, and while Catherine tossed and turned between Ray and the tent wall, Ray could sleep like the dead. Just once, he’d turned to her, “Cathy, you could marry me if you like. I’d take care of you. Will you marry me then?” Catherine had felt as if momentarily pinned to a wall by the question.

A body was against a body, was what she explained to herself now. A smooth man, well-built actually, her hands at his waist. He didn’t even take her dress off, nor any of his clothes, not all the way off anyway.

“You’re so cold.” The man spoke between labored breaths. He pressed her hands back toward the floor.

Still, Catherine resisted and tried to get at least her arms out from underneath him. She could feel the floor against her back, under the mattress, and there was no pillow, so her head tapped continually against the floor.

Catherine realized then that a mind could separate from a body. No drugs, no stories, no music, no magic: she checked these off like a list. Desire could cause separation, because when her captor forced himself inside of her, she simply walked away. Off beside the other side of her face.

Catherine danced to the roof of the cathedral outside the window to balance on curves and ledges without falling off. She pranced away from voices in the courtyard outside the window, the voices that rose up beneath her, voices with hands that could grab or would throw. Then she found a hole. She’d been running across a lawn, empty clothes flying on a clothesline in the wind. Her mother, golden hair piled high, a treasure, cried, “Kit, Kit, Kit.” The child, Kitty, had crawled into a hiding place though, curled herself up into a tiny ball and would not, did not care to come out now. Momma would never find her.

The man came.

“Don’t be so cold.” The guitar player complained. He pulled at Catherine’s hair, her neck, “Not like a whore.”

“No,” Catherine protested. The seam along the mattress in back of her head ripped down between her eyes. “No, I’m not cold,” she repeated. She moved to stroke the back of his neck with her fingertips. His shoulders.

“I was good then?” Her captor spoke halfway between a question and a statement.

“Fine,” she lied to him. He felt like dead weight on top of her now. “May I move my legs, please?” Catherine asked politely. She stroked his face, worried because he refused to look at her now. “May I please see your paintings again?” She forced enthusiasm into her voice. “I just might want to buy one!”

“You have money?” The guitar player came up on his hands, though his eyebrows arched clownishly.

Catherine said nothing then. She wrinkled her nose. She was looking around him and down at her feet. She had lost one shoe. Also, she was counting the walls surrounding her, four, five, if she counted both sides of the back window, six if the ceiling, seven would be the floor underneath, under her, under her. She could not get up.

The guitar player, though, moved off and then pulled her up with him. “You couldn’t afford one of my paintings, my pretty. Shall I just give you one? Would you like that? A souvenir?” He pinched playfully at her cheek, threw the paintings around while he continued to drag her along while he talked.

Her captor lectured her on various purposes of art and music, and Catherine paid no attention. She occasionally nodded, “Good, very good.” She was looking at the marks at her wrists and along her right arm while laughing wackily to herself. She figured the marks might be like blood-poisoning marks. They would run all the way up her arm and then into her body. The bruising would poison her heart.

“I’d like to go out for something to drink now,” Catherine spoke up, though her voice trailed off as the guitar player turned to study her. She shrugged, “Maybe go out to dinner?”

“But why should we leave here?” Her captor eyed her, tapped at her nose with the tip of his finger.

“It would be like going out on a date,” Catherine tried a more tentative tone. “We could go dancing, you and I?”

When he cocked his head, Catherine turned herself in front of him. Her arms outstretched, she turned herself slowly, turned herself carefully because otherwise, Catherine, my Catherine, you will fall. You will fall and you will break yourself.

“Maybe an ice cream cone?” Catherine stopped and made her eyes wide now.

“A what?” The guitar player stood back and crossed his arms, but he smiled.

Catherine saw him look toward his belt coiled down on the floor. She tried not to panic. She tapped at his shoulder and teased, “I’m hungry.” Her face up to her captor’s, he stepped back. She made herself step up.

“I’m hungry,” she made her face all dimples for him. Catherine felt like she could not breathe, but when the guitar player leered crazily and bent to kiss her, she stretched up to kiss him instead. The door was behind him, and it mattered to her that she got to that door. It mattered to her.

Catherine watched her own fingers, arched and white, touch his chest, run down his sleeves. She willed her eyes to tell her fingers what to do. Yes, she guessed she knew how to do this well enough. Catherine managed to coax her captor down to the floor, managed to get off most of his clothes, danced away when he reached for hers. When he appeared uncertain, she soothed him, “Let me.” A lullaby. Catherine allowed herself to think only, touch him here and there. Kiss here. Kiss there.

Catherine listened to her captor’s breathing, trying not to grow impatient when he seemed to be taking so long. If she lifted her head, she knew she would now be able to see people in the courtyard below. Wondered what they would see if they looked up, face of a lady in a window, Catherine marked her rhythm, lady in a window waiting, what would they see of her if they looked up? She commanded herself then: Do not. Don’t. Do not think.

When the guitar player finished, he kissed her softly, and Catherine laid her head on his shoulder. His arm grew slack around her, and then finally she knew, was not there at all. However, she waited until she could count three deep breaths before she rose. Even then, Catherine could feel herself moving too slowly, at first, but then finally, more quickly as she slipped away from his body.

The darkness in the hall blinded her for a moment, and she sensed that perhaps his eyes were open by now, but that he wouldn’t be right up and after her. Not yet. Her hand froze on the doorknob at the end of the hall. He was behind her, but the street would be outside, and people out there on the other side. Catherine touched her forehead to the stone wall. It felt cool and she heard noise. She opened the door and lurched outside.

The late afternoon was not as cold as Catherine wanted it to be. Running then, Catherine stumbled, then stopped. The sun caught at the brownstone shop at the corner and sparks lept from underneath her hand. She had one shoe off and only one shoe on!

Catherine scraped her bare foot across the cobblestone street because it hurt. Gasping, she gazed at the white scrapes that replaced her smooth skin. She closed her eyes and pressing harder, scraped again. Her foot only bled. She wished it could be her face.

“Hey! Hey!” A huge, hairy arm offered to sell her lace and chocolates.

Catherine sidestepped and stopped at the nearest stand. The old woman was still there. Her headdress teetered, “Souvenir?” Catherine touched her own forehead, her tangled hair. She tried to speak out loud but could not.

Then the guitar player walked up beside her. He was back in his green sweater, but this time he also wore black glasses, and he smiled mischievously. He held out Catherine’s shoe. “You seduced me.”

“Where did you get those?” Catherine looked up at him. She asked him about his glasses because she had no idea what this man thought he saw through them. “Can you see me better now? How frightened I was? I was afraid!”

The guitar player winced as if each word she said managed to get out of her mouth hit like a tiny pellet against his face. “Don’t,” he lowered his hand.

“Because of you,” Catherine said pointedly then. “I was afraid and I am ashamed.”

Catherine jumped then because the old lady had teetered up beside her. The old woman had wrapped a handkerchief around her bent finger, and she dabbed at it with her pink tongue. Then she dabbed at Catherine’s face. The linen was rough. It smarted. Catherine stood still for it.

The guitar player struck a pose, “There is a better, wider woman than you,” the guitar player made a space like of his with his hands. “I love her, worship her, but I can not . . .”

“I won’t listen anymore,” Catherine cut the guitar player off, nodded thanks toward the older woman.

The guitar player’s dark hair ruffled against the neck of his sweater, and Catherine thought he seemed to shrink down inside of the darkish green. He became a thin green arm holding out her shoe for her, a frog.

“Marriage! Jesus, Cat!” Her former lover, David, had once blown up at Catherine. “You and every other goddamned woman I ever met!” You’re just like all the rest!” This had been their last fight, and when he was angry, David always bullied Catherine. “Just how middle-class can you get? I wanted you and me to be different from all the rest!” Her lover had looked her up and down, Catherine felt, in disgust.

“I’m sorry,” Catherine had apologized for wanting to marry him. Indeed, what could have possessed her? “Really, David, I’m sorry.” She hadn’t been able to think of anything else to say, just trying, “But David, you’re middle-class too.”

So her lover’s hands on either side of her face, her head stretched up and balanced between them, Catherine had tried to decide whether her lover meant to crush it, pluck it, or bury his own face in hers, his own little saucer full of milk. What she could tell was that he was looking into her face for something he did not see. He’d finally said, “Cat, I want to be different.”

Then Catherine had cried the whole last time he’d made love to her. It had never occurred to her that she wasn’t different, and that her lover thought that being with her was what threatened to make him un-different. So—Catherine wasn’t special then. She was like “all the rest.”

This particular man’s face behind his glasses seemed so fragile, and he again held out her shoe for her.

“What is it you want?” Catherine’s eyes searched his face. She saw the street move out away from him, out around him. The sun was setting. Catherine saw the whole town glitter. A fairy tale town, like stained glass, like a rose-colored mirror, Catherine thought, except that it ran dark red.

The man squinted and offered her the shoe again. “Stay and we could go dancing?”

“I’ve got a train to catch,” Catherine turned away from him. Tilting lopsidedly, she padded toward the station house steps, struggling to lengthen her strides.

What sounded to her like a child’s voice called after her. “You’re not going to tell anyone, are you? Don’t tell.”

Catherine thought of the round-faced, jovial conductor who’d been on the train. She could imagine the way he’d glance furtively now at her tangled hair, her bruises. “Well, honey, took a little tumble?”

The older man would lean toward Catherine to chat. “Well, tell me all about your visit. Have a good time?” His hand would touch her bare knee. “Think to bring an old man a souvenir?”

Catherine knelt to choose a sharp stone.