Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
A Serpentine Way
It was early in the morning. The sun had yet to rise above the taller peaks to illuminate the shorter ones. The way up the mountain was drawn-out. Thierry was feeling sick from the continuous switchbacks of the serpentine road. If the pace was kept slow enough, he reasoned, and there weren’t many curves left, the hotel could be reached without having to pull over. At least he hoped so. There hadn’t been a choice in the matter anyway; no reasonable possibility of pulling off had presented itself. The way continued steep as did the seemingly endless curves. Occasionally there was guard rail, but it appeared too feeble to restrain even a bicycle. He checked that thought. Not good, considering his present state of health. He directed instead to focus upon the road ahead, and not the depths below.
A car came up behind. Amazingly, it was the first. He watched in the mirror. It was fast approaching. Closer and closer. A horrible thought: did the driver not see? They would crash and both plunge off the mountain. His attention had remained in the mirror and not upon the approaching curve switchback. The sudden road edge woke him to the reality of the situation. Brakes were jabbed at, almost bringing the car to a stop. How the driver avoided rear-ending him was a test of their reflex. The awkward turn was managed. He accelerated slowly.
The thought at the bottom of the incline resurfaced, “How on this narrow road was a bus to pass? That would be an amazing feat.”
Though the wind was freezing cold, the car’s windows had remained down to hear the toot warning a bus would give before entering a corner. None had been encountered, which had him suspicious one was due just about now.
The car behind prowled to pass, but the road remained too narrow for their vehicle to overtake. They settled in tightly behind.
“There is no need to intimidate me,” Thierry said to the too large image in the mirror. “Upon the first opportunity I will turn out, for sure.”
That last corner had spooked him. Carrying on, only quick glances were given to the car. Behind their opaque windshield, the driver remained nondescript, beyond being of little patience.
On a signpost up ahead, the hotel’s name came into view, Clair de Lune au Soleil.
“‘Moonlight in the Sun,’ here I come,” he sighed.
After a final curve, the entrance sideroad came up. It was cut through a vertical wall of rock. He indicated and had a last quick look at the car behind. The turn was managed, though he had to downshift twice, almost stalling the motor on the grade. The road split into upper and lower parking. He chose the upper as that seemed closer to the hotel. The building loomed above. It was a modern construction pretending to be old. The façade was of local rock. Perhaps the same rock which had been removed to make way for the parking, and the road up.
Instantly, the mistake was realized. The upper lot was full. He drove the lanes back and forth, about ready to give up. But as luck would have it, near the front entrance, a car’s backup lights came on. They pulled out, and he pulled in. However, the joy of his perceived good fortune was short lived. After switching off the motor, a realization came. He would have to exhale to squeeze between the cars to make it around back to the trunk.
The bags were in disarray. They had been thrown together in haste. Benoît had been over last night to see him off. Really, his friend was there to make sure he actually did go. Only the photography cases had been packed beforehand. His assistant had seen to that. Benoît pulled a suitcase down from the closet and began to fill it up. Thierry emptied it, complaining that none of the clothes were what he wore anymore. Even the toothbrush had been wrong. It was an old worn out one; he had been meaning to throw it away. A new one was needed, which required a thorough search of drawer after drawer—some repeatedly. The rummaging continued on at length. In the meanwhile, Benoît had given up. He retired to the couch with a strong drink. Once the friend was gone, the packing proceeded without further delay.
During the drive, Thierry had stopped several times to re-inventory the photography equipment. The nagging worry that a critical component had been forgotten could not be satisfied. A note from the assistant was discovered. It was written in her beautifully flowing hand. He admired the balance of the script, tracing it with a finger. After several passes, the magic was debased by the reading of the words. They told: remain calm—don’t panic—nothing has been forgotten. He imagined hearing them spoken with her soothing voice. There was that ever present wry smile upon her face.
Her attitude was inspirational to his work. Should he have asked her along for this trip? She surely would have been thrilled to have been included, though there might have been some stress—innocently unintentional. Their relationship had remained professionally asexual. Passion was exhausted in their shared work. Both seemed satisfied with how this partnership had organically self-assembled. Probably for the better not to risk extended time together at such a place. After further musing, the note was replaced so he could later imagine finding it for the first time; he had done this before with her mementos.
A picture slipped out of the lid pocket. It was of Claire, from that first afternoon, one of his favorites. She must have put it in the case after they got back from her gig early yesterday morning. The hour they had gotten in had him exhausted. In contrast, she had been totally wired, which is the state he’s come to expect after a show. She was teasing him on the drive home, saying he was a naughty boy to be away from her; he was going to be left in a state of utter exhaustion that would require days of intensive spa-ing to recover from. Soreness would keep her in mind—a reminder to him not to be so distracted by all that nude flesh as to forget hers. He had assured her that could never happen. She had assured him she wasn’t going to take any chances. And after they arrived at his flat, she was good to her word.
Repacking the kit in the trunk before the hotel, sore muscles served in reminder—an adjustment also proved necessary.
Séverine was late leaving work. That’s how it was. One trivial thing begat another trivial thing, begat another. Before it had begun, the day was gone, lost to interruptions. But the morning’s planned tasks remained untouched.
“Such is my life,” she complained. “Always the crush before a holiday.”
Holiday! Was she crazy? How could the time off be afforded?
The manager grinned at her when she tried to duck out, waving for her from the conference room. On the other side of a glass wall, at the end of a long table, he stood beside a tech who was sweating over a laptop.
“Remember, I am letting you off on the condition that you remain accessible were we to have any issues that require to be sorted out before your return.”
His convoluted words gave her pause at the doorway. She stared at him blank-faced.
He continued, “Come in. We’ve got this brand new laptop all loaded up for you, don’t we?”
“Don’t we?” He bumped at the seated man.
The tech nodded affirmative as he pushed back from the table. He said simply, “Done,” and left the room.
“Credentials and all. Everything you will need”—she was about to shut him down, but thought better of it—“were we to need your, shall we say, diligent expertise.”
Instead of what she had wanted to say, she suppressed herself. “Fine. Whatever.”
Closing the lid and sliding it into a bag, she started out the door, mumbling, “The weight of a burden is more than a sum of its parts.”
He called after her, “Please check your mail, at least daily. Have a nice holiday. Take advantage of the spa facility. I hear it is wonderfully rejuvenating. Not that you need that, rejuvenating, of course.”
He laughed at his joke.
She gritted her teeth while walking to the train: that she had allowed herself into this trap, and suffered his sugary words. The situation was at an impasse, leaving her at a loss how to control it. There were no advances of a sexual nature with their office relationship. That took away a slight advantage she had used with others in the past. The tease was a go-to over men and women—not that she ever delivered. With this man though, it didn’t matter; he remained banally asexual. “There must be something. With everybody there is always a something. Keep observing. One day, boss, I will figure you out. You will be owned.”
“The metro is crowded,” she grumbled to herself, as no seat was free and none were offered. “Why all the people so late at night?”
She chose to stand by a pole, pressed in with the bodies. The tram was underway now—moving about. A probing feel of her ass began. Unmistakable. It started at her hip and moved, circling inward. Her darting hand caught the lingering miscreant. Twisting at the fingers, a bone popped. Above the background carriage noise, a stifled groan was heard. The satisfied smile that crossed her face radiated the first joy felt that day.
Car waited before the building where Home was. The service saw to that. Arranged with the garage lot where it was stored, the vehicle had been delivered as promised. The night glow popped from its recently detailed surface. The fresh leather smell would be waiting inside. That was the garage’s signature care, what the steep price afforded. Anticipation of the feel behind the wheel brought her the second smile of the day.
Up the steps and through the entryway, she traversed the stairs to Home quicker than the building’s impossible slow elevator; it never managed to be waiting on a convenient floor. Key in the lock gained entry, where she went directly to the bedroom. The suitcase was there in the corner, laying open. It had been packed days before. The clothes were folded and puzzle-pieced into an exact arrangement to minimize volume. Only the necessary was lacking. It was hanging in the bathroom. The last was packed into it. A new toothbrush was removed from its packaging and dropped into a clear plastic sleeve. The bag was zipped up and put in its place within the waiting suitcase. Thoughts of the road had her wired.
Showering washed the lingering fatigue away, down the drain with the day’s grime. Gone was the stink of the subway; she hated the smell of it in her hair. Twice a day suffered, to be washed away once a day—at night. The smell could not be tolerated in the bed, on the pillow. Leaning against the tiles, hands pressed against the wall. Water from the shower head drummed against her back. It wasn’t hot enough. The temperature was increased to too-hot. She turned her back to it and continued the wall lean. The water stung. Skin turned red. Her head hung down. Thoughts were lost to oblivion as the water had its way.
After toweling off, she reviewed her glowing skin, judging herself in the mirror. She knew the assets went unappreciated. There was no man at Home to admire her. No one worthy, at least. It had been a while. Experiments had proved boring after the initial excitement faded. None deserved her bedroom. All had proved clumsy. Without interest, it seemed pointless to carry contact on. Instead, work pulled her in. When a weekend proved free, Car was there. Losing herself by driving to exhaustion was a calculated prescription to hush the inner voice of need. This voice was speaking just now to the form of her nude image in the mirror.
Sighing, “There was nothing to be done for it.” She turned away. A moment’s thought played through her head. Maybe more than once before it could be submerged. Longing had begun in the shower. Turning the water temperature up hadn’t silenced it. Indeed, the thought had metastasized physical. Indulging it would interfere with the night’s plan, introducing delay. There wouldn’t be enough time to follow the route plan. Damn. It had started in the subway train. It had followed her to Home. Two fingers on her left hand were tender—slightly swollen. Luckily, they didn’t appear to be broken. How they happened to become that way she could not remember.
Coming back to herself, it struck her that the bedding wasn’t fresh. It hadn’t been on the bed long, but still it smelled. That would not do. If the task was not done now it would haunt her thoughts during the trip. The clothes were still awaiting. They were put on the chair by the closet. The old bedding was stripped off. New bedding was brought out. The fresh wash smell was soothing. Flipping the sheet to unfold it, the air snap brought more of that smell. It joined the other, a musky odor. That smell hung in the room. The pheromone was overpowering, creeping up from inside the back of her skull. It required satisfaction. In response, the used bedding was rolled up and brought to the laundry room. The sleeping machine waited for her. It made requirements of her. It presented a demand. “Again?” she thought, fading away.
The washing machine buzzed loudly. The sound startled her back from wherever she had wandered off to. Her body had remained in the laundry room. It wasn’t cold. The heat of the wash and the repetitious vibration had taken her away. The mustiness had followed here, saturating the small room. She had been honest with herself. A truce had been negotiated, though it could only ever be of a temporary nature. Without further debate, the sheets were loaded into the dryer. Sweat ran down her back; it dripped from her chest. Wetness was present. Another shower would be necessary. There would be enough time until the dryer, the washer’s sibling, completed its task. Its vibrating heat was tempting, even more so as the cycle settled in. The movement became fascinating. There still remained time. The shower could be had later, after the wetness demands were further attended.
A second damp towel was hung beside the first. The folds were aligned. Symmetry was important. Sharing space with a man would disrupt the lines. No matter how careful, no matter how diligent, the messiness would be found wanting. It would be distracting. Her inner thoughts parted to find herself before the mirror again. The water had returned a red glow to her skin. It was deep in the tissue as though originating from within.
“Careful,” she said. “Do not lose yourself again to the cycle. Focus. Do the task.” The shower walls were wiped down. The floor mopped. Satisfied the room was ready for her return, she departed.
The clothes were on the chair. They looked cold—too cold. Remembering, she went to the laundry room. The sheets were dry; they were exchanged with the clothes. The machine was set to its highest setting. Pushing at the button, the satisfying movement was again started. Around went the contact; the heat energy spread. The timer counted forward as the cycle approached its goal. Time was of no consequence in the process, but the resolution was assured. It was after this resolution that sweat was wiped and contact was cleaned: The Afterwards. Then, the sheets were aligned on the folding table as a relaxed activity. Hand-pressed into rectangles, they were rendered wrinkle-free.
Cycle complete, the clothes were retrieved from the dryer piping hot. They had remained longer in the machine than intended, and burned against her flesh putting them on. It was soothing, but again stimulating.
She said, “Purpose requires satisfaction, even if transitory, until it doesn’t. So it goes.”
The bedding was stacked upon a shelf in a closet. For the first time since entering Home, she looked at the hour. There was less time than planned for. A quick mental recalculation of the route to the hotel was done. It would later be entered into the GPS. The device wasn’t necessary, but the accompaniment was. A relaxed masculine voice had been the choice. He was the right one.
The handy was on the charger. Its alert light flashed. Swiping the device active, the texts were reviewed. She read them twice before deleting. Like Home, her handy was scrubbed fastidiously of memories.
“This Georgette has dedicated followers. How long have I had this number, and still they text. This ‘T.’ First, inviting her to attend a day of mountain wandering. Next, apologizing for forgetting to say ‘when and where’ in the first message. What is that about? Such a dweeb. Maybe I should pretend to be Georgette, respond to the next one. Could be a thrill. And why is the screen all smeared? I just cleaned it.”
The roller attended her choppy walk to the door. The laptop bag was hanging in the entryway. It was slung atop. The door was pulled shut behind. Home settled down from the interruption of her presence. The cycle of vacancy resumed balance. The newly laundered sheets cooled on their shelf in the closet, sharing heat with the other linen. A drop of water fell from the shower head to the dry floor. A lifetime was passed until the inevitable evaporation.
Car was there, waiting at the curb. The suitcase and bag were put into the small storage under the hood. There was just the space left to close it. Now the drive was before her. She slid into the seat. The chemical leather smell from the detail job was overpowering, but in a comfortable way—Car’s greeting. Beneath the artificial, the actual leather smell of the seats was there. The motor was switched on to warm up while she situated. Its deep vibration entered from the rear and flowed forward. Settling back, seat and mirrors were adjusted to her size. The GPS was programmed. The aggressively shouted metal turned up to 11 was ejected, replaced with a baroque classical disc—the booming volume remained.
“What was I thinking last time that such music seemed appropriate? No. Wasn’t me. The service driver must have left their disc in. Must speak to them about the appropriateness of music.”
Satisfied, the parking brake was released. Car rolled away from the curb. Home passed from view in the rear mirror without a glance.
Car howled down the deserted motorway. Entering a tunnel echoed the complicated sound back. A flush of noise proceeded the exiting birth. The motor’s loudness had drowned out the GPS voice warning of the speed RADAR trap ahead, even though the music was dimmed while the words were spoken. The screen had provided an eye-attracting visual clue as well. She acknowledged neither, continuing the pace, but prepared for the change. Just before the curve straightened, brake lights came on and gears were shifted. Avoiding traps was a reflex. This was but one of many in her head. Rolled beyond the sensor, another gear down was taken to hop back into cruising speed. The river of sound proceeded her out of the final tunnel in this series. City glare was left behind in the exhaust. In front, the inky black of a moonless night.
From the speed coziness of Car, the motorway brought the mountains near in short-time. In clock-time, it was longer. A glow had begun on the horizon defining the approaching range. The exit road had scrolled onto the screen. She glanced, looking over the accumulated numbers, and was glad for it. Almost no road traffic. The traps had been remembered. One had been portable, but the GPS knew. All had been avoided. The run would only cost fuel.
Gears were cycled through preparing for the exit. That the road here remained dry was noted. Powering up the mountain would be a thrill. She took in a deep breath to hold. It was released with a relaxed flow between teeth. As the off-ramp straightened out, two long black marks were left upon it—a signature. This road was familiar, though it had been resurfaced since the last visit. The thought of her marks below this new asphalt topping brought a grin to her neutral face. How would the rubber left today align with the rubber of past? “Exactly,” confidence replied. Her movements were exactly precise as was Car’s, leaping from corner exit, to straight, to preparing for the next. The slalom proceeded up the mountain.
No other vehicles had been in sight, until the Citroën 2CV was come upon.
“Jeez. A Duck. Are these things still allowed to waddle the road? They should all be extinct. What color is that? Unmaintained oxide, streaked with rust? Oil stink too. That’s just so perfect.”
There looked to be enough straight to pass, if hurried. Another gear was grabbed. The distance to the car ahead vaporized. But then, confidence barked up, saying the way was too narrow; the distance before the curve was too brief. Jabbing at the brakes, the speed was scrubbed off in a blaze of heat. She pulled up behind—close, but controlled.
There was no empathy for the near heart attack the driver ahead suffered. Their vehicle was an obstacle, a problem to be solved. The instruments were reviewed. All was in order, though the motor temperature was quickly on the rise. Fans would come on before that got out of hand. The GPS. Well, that brought a disappointment. The hotel was not much further ahead. If by the next corner The Duck could not be passed, it would be better to hang back, to let the motor settle into cool-off. This would have to be done anyway. The further road would be a run for another day.
The driver must have been really spooked. Fortuitous that she had backed off. The Duck almost missed the corner, and then pretty much stalled exiting. Their weaving over the line closed off the passing opportunity. The motor cooling option had been chosen for her. The GPS was zoomed in to review the hotel parking. Two lots. One by the hotel, the other terraced below. This time in the morning, the departing hadn’t departed, for the most part. She thought the upper lot would still be full. The lower was chosen.
Turning into the hotel’s drive, The Duck almost stalled again.
Coming up quick, she had to shift into first and idle on the brakes. Thoughts were still. No expression escaped. The Duck pulled ahead and into the upper lot.
“Tschüss, Rusty. Not roadkill today.”
A short rev had her in the lower lot. There were many cars here; however, the end was open. She rolled in backwards, crossing two spaces. The motor was switched off and the harness unbuckled. Climbing out of Car found her slightly stiff. Muscles were stretched flexible with a few held movements. The tea tumbler was found to still have liquid in it. That was remedied. She reviewed the panorama while drinking the last. The air was crisp, but not overly cold. Sunlight had the peaks aglow, drawing down. There was perpetual snow in the glacier. Memory of the road beyond the hotel was clear. After the further crossroad, the way became unknown. That left her anxious. The laptop would provide map with topo describing what to expect.
“Need to get to the room,” she said.
The roller and bag were retrieved. She started the trek across the lot towards the stairs.
Please help support the author by purchasing this book. Available at the author's site, deppli.com