The Erotic Adventures of Elizabeth Longstall (A Short Story)

3 Oct

Three weeks after the passing of his wife, Herman Longstall found a plain, black shoe-box marked “Bruno” among her possessions. A diagonal strip of masking tape stuck on the lid of the box and marked with a black pen bore the man’s name and was followed by a full-stop that read as an exclamation of finality and at the same time seemed to possess a lingering, misty memory. Herman recognized the handwriting as Bessie’s, the wife who he missed as one would miss a recently deceased life-long friend, instead of a romantic partner or a true love. He accepted this as a consequence of a carefully calibrated, yet warm and supportive marriage. They had become partners over the years; both dedicated to making their home a fruitful base from which to send their two children into the world. Herman and Bessie’s relationship consisted of mutual respect and an awareness of what it would take to make a marriage last as long as they intended to make it last. It was due to these intentions and the posthumous hold Bessie had over his heart that Herman chose to forget about the box and place it, along with the clothes and trinkets not given away as charity or to family, in the storage space in the ceiling above the guest bedroom.

Herman had not seen his children since the weekend of the funeral, but he spoke to them by phone on a regular basis and the children’s concern for their father gave way to comforting conversations and even episodes of irreverent laughter as his daughter shared secrets about her mother. She was lighthearted about Bessie’s fussy cooking habits and sincere about her occasional annoyance with Herman’s habit of backing down from arguments with his wife to promote peace during the children’s teenage years. His son would phone him to discuss recent sporting moments and complain about incidents at work. Herman would agree, console, advise and advocate as the situations called for it. In a few short weeks after finding the box, Herman had become accustomed to living life without Bessie. He did not forget about her, and he still felt the loss, but it became part of his life as a limp would to a cripple.

It was due to his curiosity about an illustrated edition of “Robin Hood”, that Herman found himself in the storage space considering opening the box marked “Bruno.” The book Bessie had since childhood lured Herman into the ceiling and had him wanting to find and leaf through it after watching a Robin Hood film on television late one night. There the box sat, on top of a stack of gardening magazines, lightly covered in dust, turned slightly askew as if to hide itself from onlookers. Herman gave the box a thought, then turned to the crates filled with books in the corner. He lifted a book out of one of the crates, but immediately his attention was drawn back to the black shoe-box. He stared at it from the corner of the room and readied himself to approach it as if the box might rebuke him for trying.

Herman squared himself to the box and walked the three steps towards it. He had forgotten the weight of the box and thought it better to extend two hands in order to pick it up. When he finally gripped it, he found it light enough to carry with one hand, but more comfortable to carry with both. He resisted shaking the box for fear of damaging something fragile that might lie within the cardboard confines. He attempted to guess the contents, but decided it would be better to do this downstairs, in the comfort of his kitchen, lest something awful came from this adventure.

Herman made a cup of coffee using coffeelets: chicory and coffee filled bags which made for an easy serving of one cup. He placed the cup on the kitchen table and sat down, refusing to look at the shoe-box on the middle of the table until he was ready to do so. He thought about “Bruno” and could not recall having met anyone by that name and became certain that he never heard Bessie mention the man. It suddenly struck him that she wouldn’t have mentioned Bruno if he was her lover. And upon thinking that, Herman realized that the box had to contain secrets that Bessie kept from him. An entirely different person could be revealed to have lived in the shell of his wife and he found himself thoroughly unprepared to acknowledge this as truth. Herman’s reaching hand stopped moving towards the box and remained suspended, hovering above the table a few centimeters from the box. He waited for the box to move towards him, to open its lid and for the black, shadowy secrets to slither out and greet him with a handshake.

The box had to contain proof of Bessie’s affair with Bruno. It had to contain memorabilia from their trysts: postcards from exotic locations, shells picked up during long walks on the beach, matchbooks from intimate restaurants and risqué little soapstone statuettes depicting sex acts. And, of course, letters. Letters from Bruno to Bessie. Long, handwritten, lovingly flowing descriptions of nights spent away from the world. Descriptions of dreams where escape from the dull responsibility of family and racked up obligations could be possible. Bruno would mention love as an abstract idea, but would never press the idea as far as to damage the fantasy.

Fantasies. They swapped fantasies. They discussed what they wanted to do. They teased each other with perverse possibilities. Other letters would reveal Bruno reminiscing about the fantasies that became true acts. He would remember Bessie whispering in his ear the things she always wanted from a sexual partner. The letters would describe how he felt when she licked her finger and ran it over her body, stopping between her legs and finding the wetness that he caused by merely looking at her. Bruno had magical eyes which could gaze into Bessie and trigger orgasms that reminded her of climaxes she had before she met Herman. One letter, from the middle period of their long affair, would tell of how thrilled Bruno was when Bessie asked him to trace his tongue from her collar bone, to her armpit, over her chest, down her stomach and suddenly being commanded to probe the forbidden (to Herman) darkness of her anus. Bruno remembered Bessie’s initial squeal of delight followed by a deep sigh of pleasure as his wormy tongue plunged into her and made a mockery of the functional love-making Bessie experienced with Herman. The letters would confirm Herman’s prowess and skill as lacking in passion and any semblance of experimentation.

The unopened black shoe-box stared at Herman, whose hand still floated near the lid. The box mocked his hesitation and dared him to peek inside and risk finding out what kind of a person his dead wife actually was. Herman suspected that Bessie kept her heart in this box instead of the empty space next to his heart where he thought she left it. He felt the emptiness grow as the cavity became more pronounced. The hollowness produced an echo that bounced from one side to the other and seemed to speed up as Herman’s wounded heart panicked with the realization that the neighboring void was expanding. The cold secret of Bessie’s box gripped onto Herman’s extended hand and multiplied itself as to grow over his arm and make its way to enveloping his entire form. Before the freezing pain defeated all the warmth of Herman’s body, he had one final thought: he had never hated Bessie as much as he did in that moment.

Herman Longstall’s body was found by his daughter two days later. She was initially traumatized, but soon found comfort in the thought that he could not live without his wife and his heart broke out of grief and loneliness. To her, this meant he had began making his way back to Bessie and the two old lovers would find each other in the next life. When Herman’s daughter and son packed up their father’s possessions, the box marked “Bruno” was still on the kitchen table, but neither the son nor the daughter considered opening it. It was just a box and soon it got packed away with all the other boxes in the storage space in the ceiling above the guest bedroom.

THE END

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