“At last, here was a woman who adored
fornication, expected Jack to make her climax, and to do so frequently, and
who didn't burst into tears when the sadist in him punched her in the mouth.”
- The second wife, “Jack London: A Life”
You don't sicken me.
Hal and I were talking about women, which is
rather common after a few beers and no Presidential fuck ups to
complain about, when Sam walked in. Sam is the blonde who works
down at the hardware store for her father, Hank. She lives above that hardware
store in an apartment Hank had built years before she was even born. She walked
in wearing a long coat over stockings and a pair of blue pumps and
just about every head in the place turned to the door the moment they heard the
click of the heels along the bar room floor. Following close behind was her
boyfriend who wasn’t familiar to me. Some guy wearing a heavy coat, slacks,
and leather shoes, so I assumed he worked at an office somewhere on
Randall, Gantree’s version of Main Street USA. As they walked by Sam smiled
and said “Hi” to Hal and I as she passed, as we were both friendly with her dad
and I stop by the store when I am in need of a part or tool
that I lost. Very nice girl, always smiling and quite helpful. Her boyfriend
just nodded at both of us and continued along behind her to a table
near the jukebox. Hal watched them walk away and sit down, then stared
absent-mindedly at the wall beside them before turning back to me.
ever been with one of them submissive women?” he asked.
do you mean?” I said.
know… submissive. In the bedroom?”
shook my head. I had gone out with plenty of girls over the years, but never
any of the unusually sexual variety. Just honest girls who liked
to have fun.
I did, once.” Hal leaned in closer, as if frightened to discuss the topic too
loudly. “She seemed normal. Didn't go out of her way to act unusual, ya know?
But she was different, man."
smiled. That is how good stories always started out. "Oh yea? How
placed his elbow on the bar and swiveled on the bar stool towards me. “Well,
this gal came along right after Danielle left me. I met her over at the Gunnery
over in Tarlton. She was kinda shy, which ain't too different, but there was
somethin' about her.” He quieted himself again as he spoke. “She had
I expected quite a good story at that point.
and I realized it soon enough. She had those emotional issues. Hated herself
‘n all. Who doesn’t, right? I was at a low point myself after Danielle, but
this gal was there with me at the bottom of that barrel, and I think that’s
what did it. Our self-pity was what connected us to each other. Her self-hate
was beautiful. She was beautiful. Mind, body, and spirit. She was all there,
man, and every shiver or tremble or slight movement came across like… like a
wave, or somethin’.”
looked at him cockeyed. “A wave?” As I said that I happened to glance down and
noticed his pint glass was nearly empty and mine had been for the past couple
of minutes, so I gestured to the bartender to bring us another round as Hal
finished his. Stout, I told him. Hal’s eyes widened and narrowed as he
attempted to keep his focus on the glass he had just slammed down, then shifted
his eyes towards me. He was a good guy, but certainly looked mean as hell. He
had a determined blue stare and it often startled the non-locals who stopped at
the bar on their way to or from the air field when he suddenly turned in their
direction and stared at them. His goal was to scare them right out of the
place, but if they managed to survive his eerie staredown he would guffaw and
buy them a round. His narrow Norse nose and hefty brown beard certainly lent
him the look of a Viking, and when he got as drunk as he was just then his
pallid skin became red as a tomato. I suppose he looked more like Santa
Claus, especially with those whiskers that had sprouted up in
his beard those last couple of years, but no one dared to tell him such a thing
to his face.
wrapped his fingers around the next pint and brought it to his lips, then
continued as droplets rolled down from the corners of his lips and into his
ever stood in the ocean, at that point where the wave crashes down, sucking you
in and under it and spinnin’ you about, making you lose your sense of
direction, or place, of time… of everything? That point where the wave crashes
into you and you’re lost, you ain’t nothin’, and all you are is this little
floating piece of flotsam, completely helpless and unable to free yourself no
matter how hard you fight?”
nodded. “Mm hmm.”
that’s what she did to me. Every hit, every shove, every foul word outta her
sweet lips washed over me like a wave, tumblin’ me across and
through my own mind. But, you know what? I wanted more. No matter how high or
painful each crashin’ wave got, I wanted more.”
You can't sicken me.
I said, Hal was a good guy. The other pilots and I who made regular stops at
Gantree could always count on Hal to offer up a room at his
house in town to help us save on an overnight stay at Hennessy’s Inn. Hal’s
place was certainly big enough. I believe it was three bedrooms, one and a half
bathrooms, that giant kitchen with one of those island counter set-ups in the
middle, and the huge living room with a 62 inch television parked against one
wall and a couch on the opposite wall. As far as we could tell Hal just slept
on the couch and had formed a triangular path in his routine: living room,
bathroom, and the kitchen. There were beds in the rooms upstairs, but as
dusty as they were we doubted he ever stepped into those
was already halfway through that next Stout when he resumed.
tried to make me stay away. Tellin’ me she was sick, and perverted, and I was
good a man to stay with her. Became more and more disturbed, which’d probably
be better said as ‘more and more honest.’ She told me, and showed me, about
her need to cut herself, her suicidal thoughts, her
troubled childhood. And,” he slammed the glass down again, spilling more beer
on the bar, “it wasn’t that she was a product of an abusive home. Nah, not that ol’ tired story. It was
that she was a product of neglect. She needed a strong man type to control
her. I tell ya, old as she was, what she wanted was a daddy.”
chuckled. “Daddy, huh? Think I’ve heard of that. When women want an older man
because their father was abusive, or I guess in her case their daddy wasn’t
smiled, his thick walrus moustache covering his lower lip entirely, and
winked as he pointed at me. The wrinkles around his eye bunched up as his cheek
rose. “You’re a smart lad, Tommy boy. It’s why I like talkin’ to ya, not like
these bunch of LACKWITS!” He turned towards the tables
out on what was supposed to be a dance floor and said the last part loudly
enough to reach everyone inside, but no one turned. There were never any new
people coming into town on a Wednesday.
he saw that one was going to respond, he turned back to me. “Man, that woman.
Her lust for pain was like nothin’ you’ve seen.”
do you know?” He laughed, then, and I couldn’t help but feel offended.
young buck. You ain’t been with a real woman yet, not like this one was. I seen
you struttin’ outta here with Avery’s youngest; the pretty lil brunette number?
If that’s a real woman I’m Fred Astaire.” I was tempted to stop him then at the
mention of Avery’s daughter; Helen, a girl I’d gone out with a few times while
in town. She was a nice girl and didn’t deserve to have her name dragged into the
conversation. He continued before I had a chance to say anything.
boy, I tell ya this woman had issues, same as me. She wanted the
strike over the caress. It was kinda shockin’ at first, and it
sorta felt like I was forcin’ myself to do it until eventually I didn’t even
notice that I wanted it. Even when she became my ‘little girl’ and I’s her
‘daddy,’ I thought nothin’ of it. The love I held for her was so strong that
I’d do anything for her, or to her, to keep her with me.” His eyes dropped to
the floor. There was nothing there, so I assumed he was in one of those
ponderous states when a man stares off into space and just thinks. “To feel
her palm across my face, or the heat of her flesh between my fingers as I
held her to me… it was… it was, uh… what’s the word, Tommy?”
ya ass. That ain’t it. That feelin’ when yer lost and in complete happiness.”
He motioned with his hand for me to spit it out, but I had had several beers
myself at that point and my mind wasn’t exactly running on all eight cylinders.
Then he slammed his hand down on the bar.
That’s it! Ecstasy, physical ‘n pure. There was nothin’ she could say or do
that’d make feel disgusted at her. She seemed to be tryin’ so hard, and I tell ya
it was somethin’ to see. I remember thinkin’ to myself, ‘Why’s she tryin’, for
so long, to make me feel disturbed?’ And ya know, I always tried to look her in
the eyes just so she could see that we were the same. I mean here she is
worried she’s a disgustin’ human
being, and I’m just the same! Man, she had ‘em hazel-gold orbs that she called
her ‘drab eyes’ starin’ back into mine.” He trailed off again, and it seemed
like he had struck another nerve within himself. His face was blank; not a
wrinkle anywhere. “So many times, so many ways. I’d seen them eyes opened wide, rolled
back, and how many times they was shut altogether. There was
occasions when I had to imagine what her eyes was lookin’ like, ‘cause she
wasn’t facin’ me.”
Tell me what you consider to be your most perverse, sick
thoughts and I will nod thoughtfully and ask why you think that (or if it's something
that I think isn't all that bad I may chuckle out loud).
had finished another, and I was so engrossed by his story that I decided I was
not going anywhere soon. I asked Mike, the bartender, for a pitcher, and urged
Hal to continue his story. He was tomato red, as I mentioned, and began to slur
words, so I knew I needed to get the rest of the story out soon or he would
knock out right there on the bar. As his drinking buddy it would be up to me
to get him to his place or he would be tossed in a cab and left at his front
door. But I was far along as well, and when the pitcher came I poured him
another. He opened his eyes wide when he saw the drink, smiled, and took it in
his hand. He thankfully resumed before his next swig.
was afraid, man. Paranoid. Always thinkin' that I'd abandon her; that I'd
think she was a perverse and sick human bein'. She was as normal as they came,
and... and it was just..." Hal's head was bobbing and the brow above his
right eye looked like it was ready to fly off, as high as it was raised. He was
fading fast, and I knew that I should have just taken him home, but I needed to
I told him, "come on. What was she telling you? Hey!" A pat on the
shoulder brought him right up.
did she tell you, Hal?"
right, right..." He shook his head and smiled again as he continued.
"Well is just weird to hear her try 'n convince me, ya know? She's the
kinda woman's content in a world of fast food 'n malls 'n all that fashion
jazz. Had her friends 'n her family and was just a picture of normal. So when
she starts talkin' 'bout her fears and her 'sick' desires, can't help but smile
and chuckle." He paused here to look at the television bolted to the
wooden stand in the corner, above the Cognacs and Scotches and other
bottles that had a fine layer of dust from lack of use. No locals could really
afford the stuff except on the rare occasion when someone was having a bachelor
party or birthday, and no pilot would touch them unless it was an extended
stay. He stared off in that direction, at what could have only been the
television, to watch the game for a moment. I glanced up at the television off
in the other corner of the bar and glimpsed a player in burgundy running the
ball for a first down.
resumed talking as he watched the game. "I was lookin' at the floor the
first time she confessed all that stuff about her wantin'
me to control her 'n such. Then, I look up. There was tears in her
eyes..." Hal chuckled lightly as he let that linger in the air for a
spell. "And when my eyes looked into hers ya know what she did? She broke
down into soft sobbin'. Straight tears 'n red cheeks, right there in front of
me. All that pleasure and pain we'd done shared; all that emotion 'n physical
stuff, and she never cried. But there she was, man. There she was... sittin'
'gainst the corner of the bed, one sweet 'n soft leg folded underneath another
and arms folded. Tears in her eyes..."
I want to hear your insane thoughts.
of 'em, I told her.”
insane thoughts… that is a rather vague notion, insane thoughts. What could
possibly constitute an insane thought? True insanity must be difficult to
explain, particularly if someone truly is insane. An insane person can
convey insanity by virtue of being insane, and to ask someone to explain insane
thoughts seemed liked an odd request. Any thoughts discussed in a sane state of
mind would surely be sane thoughts.
she going to tell you her insane thoughts?”, I asked him. “You haven’t said
anythin’ that sounds like she’s nutty.”
glared at me as he held his glass, still sitting on the bar with beads of
condensation rolling down onto the varnish. He had not touched the glass for
several minutes. “Who’s tellin’ this? You, boy? Did ye know her?”
I didn’t know her, I’m just—“
up! YOU SHATUP!” He bellowed this and it caught me off
guard. As nice a guy as he was, there was a reason no one roused any trouble
with him. He was a large guy, about six foot three, and stocky to boot. When he
stood and puffed himself out as he did just then he
looked ready to drive his fist into a tree. There was a story that he had tried
that once and lost the use of his right hand for several months. Mike
approached then, no slouch himself in the heft depart having come from a
Polynesian family, and already known for tossing even the most intimidating drunk out into the street.
calm down, Hal. Am I going to have to escort you out of here?”
turned to him, and he sat back down. Hal knew what I had just explained. “Nah
Mike, relax. We’re just havin’ a talk is all.”
looked at me and I nodded reassuringly, letting him know we were fine. When Hal
saw that he had walked down to the other end of the bar he turned back to me
and waved his hand in Mike’s direction dismissingly. “Goddamn Samoan, think
he’s big shit…”
told him I was sorry for talking about his girl, and he seemed to accept the
sincerity. “So, you were sayin’ you asked her about her crazy thoughts?”
eyed me warily and drank more of his beer before continuing. “Not crazy, Tommy.
‘Insane’ is what she said. And I told her, gimme what ya got. Every pretty sick
lil thought that she hid away from the world, and I told her I'd tell her all
she wasn’t tryin’ to trick you or somethin’?”
shut his eyes and burped with his mouth closed as he shook his head. "No,
no, this gal was on the level. She told me… she told me what she’d done, least
some of what she’d done. What’d been done to her…” Hal muttered and I could
scarcely hear, so I leaned in closer. “And I said I’d tell ‘er things I’d done.
Secrets ‘n all. I would and
he smiled again and laughed. “I tell ya if I’ver run for President I’d need to
have ‘er taken care of. She got that much on me!”
don't have any twisted thoughts? Don't fuckin’ tell me that. We all do. They cross our minds, and they're just that, thoughts in our
minds. It doesn't mean any of the weird, twisted things we think will come to
fruition. So, tell me what you think will sicken and disgust me.
care of." I didn't think much of that when he said it, but in hindsight I
should have seen it for what it was: a warning. Hal, as good a guy as he was,
had demons. I mean, he was telling me right then that he hated himself, and
that he liked when this woman hit him and yelled at him, and even that he had
hit her. And all I could think at the time was how interesting such
a woman would be. Her background must have been troubled, somehow, and now I
was more interested in talking to her about this. To find out how she felt...
tried to talk 'bout her normal side..." Hal continued his side of the
story as I pondered hers. "... was clear from the beginnin' she ain't
normal. She's more'n normal. She asks once if I thought she's weird. I say
I said. "Like
sayin' yes when she asks if she's fat."
nodded and smiled. His eye lids were dropping heavily at that point.
"Guess so, but I ain't nothin' if I ain't a man who speaks it like it is.
But yeh...", he stumbled forward and I had to hold him up. "Um,
You were talkin' about her bein' weird." He glared at me then leaned to
the side again against the bar.
um, angry. She got pissed, which always got to her slappin' me... and
then bare naked on a table, uh, anyhow. Callin' me 'sick mother
fucker' 'n such. She tried, she did, 'n chump in me took it and
liked it, then turned right ‘round and gave 'er some..."
I assure you, I won't look away.
son, she was a beauty. She was, she was... goddamnit..."
was glad. Ecstatic! I'd heard all about this woman, this exciting and troubled
and obviously sexually twisted woman, and I felt like a teenager
finding out about Playboys again. And I was finally going to hear about her
beauty. Hal was now hobbling to and fro, the rest of his beer finished with one
final swig and drops running down his lower lip. He was beyond stewed.
'n spiritual, all that... but she was a beauty. Freckly all on 'er nose;
one of them bumped noses, like women over in Europe have. There ain't many
noses like that 'round here. Not long, white 'n goddamn pretty. Narrow too,
like somethin' ya see in a art textbook from school ya know?
Like some dead master painter type sat down with God 'n said,
'Hey, God, I got this nose I thought up. A real pretty nose. I think
ya outta use it on one of ‘em ladies down below heaven 'n test 'er out.' Now
God, he ain't no fool, I figure, so he'd ask this guy, 'Well, I got plenty of
good noses. I made noses. I know noses. Why's your nose any better 'an mine?'
And this master painter, he'd say, ''cause it'd be a shame, God, a shame if
this here nose don't grace the dominion of man. This nose, it outta be
shared with 'em.'' And goddamn, Tommy, ‘er nose... I loved 'er nose..."
Hal trailed off, his head dropping.
understood she had a fine nose, but what about the rest
of her? "Fine, fine, but what else? Hey, Hal! Hey' come on."
on what? She had a fuckin' pretty nose! I loved ‘er nose!"
Just as quickly as he yelled that out his arm was on my shoulder, and only
moments later I was on the ground looking up at him. His chest was out and
stomach pulled in as he loomed over me.
jealous, Tommy? Jealous of my woman, 'cause you only had girls? Ya ain't never
seen 'em like mine, Tommy. Never! Hair as dark as night, and shiny as hell.
Them lips as red as the hearts of the livin’. That touch of ‘ers like...
electricity! Electricity shootin' through..."
was on him, his arms wrapped under his armpits and holding him back. "Hal,
Hal! Stop! Goddamnit, stop! Stop mov--" In one hard thrust Hal pushed
himself back and into the bar, crushing Mike's back against himself and the
varnished edge of the hard wood. Mike's face contorted into an odd grimace as
his hold loosened and Hal pulled forward. He stepped towards me to the spot on
the ground where I'd fallen when he pushed me. His face was beet red now,
which if possible seemed darker than the tomato red he had already been. His
hands were clenched so tightly that I was sure I was about to take a beating,
and he was shaking like a mad man. As drunk as I was I had no coherent
reaction to the imminent beating. What could I do except
sum bitch… yea, yer jealous. Whaddya ya fuckin’ know. You
ain’t knowin’ love, not like this. Goddamn, you jealous of my woman… my lil
woman.” As he swayed from left to right, to and fro, he paused. I’ll never
forget that moment. His face, which although fearsome with the piercing blue
rage and stark beard, was surprising. I had seen him drunk and angry and happy,
but the face looking down on me then was not any of those. It was something I had not seen before. Hal’s face was twisted up all
right, but it was twisted into the most heart-wrenching frown I had ever seen.
Tears were forming along the rims of his eye lids.
lil fuckin’ woman…”, he said.
Why did you lie to me?
was a forgiving guy, I have to give him that. As angry as he could get he had
a soft spot for women and believed it is a man’s duty to “help women
because they need us,” which really just meant he was whipped in the worst
kind of way. He rarely mentioned his ex-wife, but as far as we could tell Hal
had smothered her to the point where she had to leave. He loved her too much.
So as I sat there on the floor that night, listening to him tell me about this
woman, I felt as if I had crossed a line. I had opened a wound
that he would not forget. These were more than simple feelings for a woman, and
while the relationship between a man and a woman is certainly a
difficult one to navigate, this was a step beyond. Hal was a tortured man and I
had brought it all out of him. He did not know
where to go.
stood up straight and tucked his lower lip underneath his upper, the deep lines
running from his nose to the sides of his mouth cutting deep into the flow of
tears. Hal looked down on me, my own eyes narrowed as the faint lights from the
lamps shone down upon us.
Hal…” He turned, then, grabbing chairs and tables along the way to keep from
falling, and stumbled his way to the door. He did not turn back and I did not
dare to speak again until the heavy wooden door had swung shut.
intensity of the silence after he left kept me from moving. I needed to
register what had occurred. I needed to wait and make sure he was not going to
come back inside and break his hand
again. The only sound in the bar was the music coming out of the jukebox;
something about “cheap sunglasses.” I did not move again until the song ended
and Mike gave me his hand.
nodded. “Yea, um… yea, I’m good. Sorry about this. We just got to talkin’ and
he lost it. How’re you?”
smirked and picked up the bar stool that I had been sitting on. “Fine, as long
as you’re good.” As he set the stool back and walked around to
clear our glasses and pitcher I reached into my pocket, pulling out a bill. I
held it in front of Mike and he looked at it then nodded, pulling it from my
hand. To this day I have no idea how much I gave him. When I turned around to
walk out I could not help but notice Sam and her man in the corner next to the
jukebox. She was glancing in my direction, and was not smiling.
I stumbled outside I stopped a few feet ahead of the door, listening to the
muffled sound of the next song behind me. The steady hum in a drunk man’s ears.
I shoved my hands in my pocket, keeping the cold at bay although not very well
given I was only wearing a t-shirt, and stared up at the sky. The sky was always clear there in Gantree.
a liar ya know.”
turned to my right to find Hal sitting on the curb, partially hidden next to a
yellow Honda. He was hunched over, his arms hanging between his legs. “She’s a
the fierceness in him was gone. In fact, all the emotion was gone. He just sat
there looking out across the street at a house whose porch light flickered. I
could not see anything in his face, although as dark as it was I probably would
not have been able to see much. I walked to him and stood slightly behind him,
looking in the same general direction of the house with the flickering light.
she lie?”, I asked him.
smacked his lips then raised his hand, stroking his beard
as he spoke. “I got hard eyes. Can’t look away. Had ‘er hand up over ‘er eyes
when she was tellin’ me. Loved them fingers. I wanted to hold ‘n feel them
fingers always. But just then I hated ‘em. She’d never been scared of
me since I known ‘er, but when she was tellin’ me ‘bout ‘er lyin’ she had a
looka fear. She was scared outta ‘er wits.” Hal brought his hands together and
rubbed them to warm up, then looked down at them. Stared intently at them. “I ain’t scareda much, Tommy. I can handle
it. It’s just me I’m scared of. My power to hurt’s what should be feared ‘cause
the power to cause pain ain’t nothin’ short of
stepped closer then and placed my hand on his shoulder. It seemed like the
thing to do.
know what she said to me ‘bout why she lied?”, said Hal. “She said, ‘I didn't
want to lose ya. I didn't want to lose the beauty ‘n love.’"
I can’t go back. I’ve beared witness
to the soul.
didn’t see Hal again after that night, but I have not been able to forget it. I
replay it all in my mind over, and over, and over again, and the fact that I
remember it all so vividly always seemed odd. It is as if it was meant to
happen; meant to glean some fact or lesson from it all, but what I could not
decide. Perhaps it was not a simple lesson. And perhaps it was not a lesson at all. I only understand that I was a much simpler
man before then. There was nothing more than that which I saw on the surface,
and I was content in my acceptance of the world for what it was. Now,
I don’t see what I see. My mind sees everything as
it is beneath the surface, only I do not know if what I think I see is real or
perceived. I never will be able to go back to before Hal’s
story, and I am in constant fear of meeting a woman like her. I fear becoming
I flew into Gantree a couple of times a month for another year or so but
never stopped by Mike’s again, and I always made my walks into town brief and as
quickly as possible. It was straight to Hennessy’s then back
to the field the next morning. And it’s odd, but there’s still one thing I
wonder about. One thing I wanted to ask him. Hal told me deeply personal things
about his relationship with this woman. Emotional issues and words of beauty
and rage. Words of the great love he had with this submissive, attractive woman
who had ensnared him so severely. He just never told me her name.
"Abnormal pleasures kill the
taste for normal ones."
- A warning, "Henry and June"