Latest Forum Posts:

Categories

The Four Seasons--Autumn

Hal recalls autumn, a season for judging the harvest

Chapter 3: Autumn

If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbor's door;
Then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her.

Job 32:9-10

Cleveland—January 1965

Hal held up two fingers; the bartender saw him. Hand signals were easier than yelling over the noise in the crowded bar. Outside, the snowstorm turned into a blizzard. No one would get in or out of town that night. For a while, Hal had been afraid he would be sleeping in the hotel lobby, but the storm kept things at status quo, so he was able to book his room for one more night.

"Whad'd ya say your name was?" he asked the person next to him.

The bartender brought two whiskies and set them down in front of them. He took a few bills out of the pile of money Hal placed on the bar.

"I didn't," the woman replied and took a sip of the whiskey.

"This is the second drink I bought ya. At least, I deserve a name."

"Hmmm; I suppose so."

The woman paused, pursed her lips as she thought for a few seconds.

"Lola," she replied. "You can call me Lola."

Hal absorbed the new information. It was true—he'd only asked for a name, not the real one.

"What's the difference, anyway?"

He tossed his head back and took a gulp of the stinging dram. He plunked the shot glass back on the bar.

"Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets," he sung out loud, off-key.

"If only that were true," the woman, now renamed 'Lola', replied.

She fell silent, staring into the mirror in back of the bottles on the back-bar. Hal didn't say anything, either. Whiskey has a way of easing a person deep into one's own thoughts.

The Division Reunion had been more-or-less a flop. Hal didn't know many of the guys. Most of the attendees were replacements that came into the ranks after the unit was chopped up in The Bulge.

When it started snowing the night before many of the men left ahead of time so they could get out of town before the snow stranded them. Hal thought he should, too. He would have if Martha hadn't been so against him going to the reunion in the first place.

Besides, he was one of the senior non-coms and felt guilty about leaving too soon. So, he had nothing to do but sit in a hotel bar in Cleveland, buying drinks for a woman who had just renamed herself. He had knocked down more than a few that afternoon and night, so somehow it all made sense.

"Do you hear that song all the time?" Hal asked her.

"Huh? What song?" Lola asked, seeming a little annoyed at the sudden break in wordlessness.

"You know," Hal reminded her, "whatever Lola wants, Lola gets..."

"Oh, yeah," she said. "No; no one ever sings that to me. You're not going to, are you?"

"Someone should start singing something. Look at us, a couple of sad sacks sitting at a bar, drinking 'cause we don't what else to do."

"You seem to be doing alright," she said.

"Holding one's liquor is the single-most important thing a young man learns in the Army," Hal declared. "It's how I got my stripes."

He tossed down the last of his drink and signaled the bartender for two more. Lola was laughing.

"Tell me the story of that," she demanded, "of how you got your stripes."

"Everyone was drunk. I'm the only one who could still stand up," Hal explained. "The Captain told me to march the men back to camp and when we got there he made me a Sergeant."

Lola gave him a curious look for a few moments then started laughing again. She pushed him on the shoulder.

"Go on," she said in a slight slur. "Stop pullin' my leg."

Hal raised his glass but only sipped enough to let the fresh anesthetic wet his lips. He stopped talking; he was out of jokes for the moment. He took a look at Lola. She wasn't bad looking. He put her in her late thirties; just a touch younger than Martha.

"She looks like Susan Hayward," he thought to himself.

She even wore a cocktail dress that had bare shoulders and showed a small amount of cleavage—just like many of the actress' photos.

"She's kind of saucy like Susan Hayward, too."

"Been married a long time?" she asked as Hal wandered inside his thoughts.

"Seventeen ... uh ... how did you know?"

Hal hadn't worn his wedding ring since he broke two fingers in an accident at work several years before.

"I can always tell," she told him. "Married men have a certain look—like little boys who want to do something naughty because you haven't had any fun in a long time."

Hal didn't answer. Lola’s answer made him think about Martha. He always thought she looked like Eva Marie Saint—more mother than mistress. Martha was tender and giving with firmly bridled passion, a woman whom Hal hated to disappoint.

"She always looks like she's ready to cry, even when she's happy."

He had seldom disappointed her and when he did he made it up as soon as he could.

"When's the last time you called her?" Lola asked.

"Just this afternoon, when I knew I wouldn't make it out of here."

"She wasn't too happy about it, was she?"

"Not really. She didn't want me to come here in the first place. The worst thing is that she was right. The reunion was a real dud; not worth the trip. She won't let me forget it for a while."

Hal looked down at Lola's hand and saw no ring. She was of an age when most women were married. There were a lot of possibilities. Hal considered for a brief moment about asking Lola if she was married. It would have only been a polite rejoinder. Finally, he decided not to ask her. It wasn't that he was afraid of the answer—he didn't really care. The whole subject was uncomfortable and delving into her life story could only prolong the unpleasantness. He didn't think that she looked like she was aching to tell him.

"She doesn't really understand you, does she," Lola said, as she sat on the stool beside him.

"What was that?" Hal's thoughts were elsewhere.

"I said that your wife doesn't understand you," Lola repeated.

Hal paused and screwed up his face in a puzzled look.

"I never really thought about it. Understand what?"

"You know what I mean," Lola accused. "All men say it—at least the men I know. Go ahead and say it. You'll see how much better it makes you feel."

Hal took a breath, ready to recite as Lola prescribed. He stopped before the words came out.

"Hey, Lola," he complained. "What's all this about? I thought were just having a good time."

She shrugged and lifted her glass again but set it down again when she found out it was empty.

"Want another?" Hal asked.

She nodded her head. Hal stuck two fingers in the air.

The crowd was beginning to dwindle so it was less noisy, which meant that sitting in silence was more awkward. Hal was unsure what to say. Serious conversation only meant more unpleasantness. On the other hand, he hated superfluous chatter.

"I ... I like your dress," he stammered.

Well, he did like it (or possibly what was underneath it) and the situation called for something superfluous. Lola's face brightened.

"Why, thank you. I haven't worn it in months. I almost didn't wear it. Do you think it ... you know ... shows too much?"

"I hadn't noticed."

Lola dismissed the denial with a laugh.

"Come off it," she scoffed. "All men notice. I only asked if it shows too much, not whether you noticed if it shows something."

"I don't think it shows too much," Hal said. "I was thinking before that it makes you look like one of those movie stars. You know—in one of those head and shoulders photos."

"Mmmm, you are full of interesting answers," Lola purred. "Which movie star?"

"C'mon, you'll laugh," Hal pleaded, but Lola pursed her lips in a pout and that meant she insisted. "One of my favorites," Hal confessed, "Susan Hayward."

"Susan Hayward," Lola mused. "Now that's a surprising answer. I would never have expected you to say that. Susan Hayward," she repeated in a cadence that marked each syllable.

"Well, you have your hair fixed like her," Hal said in defense.

Lola leaned close to Hal.

"What else?" she whispered at him.

Hal could feel her breath on his face.

"What else about me reminds you of her?"

Lola's eyes were wide and expectant. Hal didn't want to disappoint her. Another comment about her hairdo just didn't seem good enough.

"And, you're saucy like her," Hal offered.

"Saucy..." Lola mused and a wry smile slowly spread across her face. "So, you think I'm ... saucy. I don't know how to take that. You like saucy women?"

"Uhm ... uhm ... I don't know," Hal struggled to find the right response.

Actually, he struggled to find the answer that told what it was that he felt, for it was that which most cruelly eluded him. He watched Lola's smile change to a stern look.

"You like me, don't you?" she demanded. "And you just said that I'm saucy—so you must like saucy women."

"Yeah, I guess so..." Hal said.

"You do like me?"

"Yeah—of course."

He succumbed to the demand without honesty. He neither liked nor disliked her. At least he hadn't paused to figure out the question. It was an answer born of convenience; a prevention of termination. He liked that she was there and available to pretend to like at the moment. Thus, for lack of clarity he pimped himself; he knew it, but for the moment—at least—he didn't care.

Hal felt Lola's hand on top of his. It was a soft woman's touch—a promise, perhaps, of more. She stroked the top of his hand, a tender searching with her fingertips. She lifted his hand and turned it over and held it. With the fingers of her other hand she probed the flesh of his palm and the calluses where his fingers joined it. The soft caress of skin-on-skin bade him finally to gaze upon her bare shoulders—and lower to the tops of her breasts not quite concealed beneath the neckline of her cocktail dress. She must have seen him looking because she leaned forward a bit, granting his eyes access to the valley of cleavage and to his imagination the rounded completeness of her flesh that the dress did not quite hide.

"I like these hands," she said.

Hal tore his gaze from her breasts and found her looking at him. Her eyes told him that she knew what came next. He allowed himself to be led.

"Strong hands; used to ... handling things. They have character in them."

Hal didn't respond. He looked down again, instead, into the valley of flesh. Lola drew a deep breath and the breasts swelled up at him and it made Hal believe what she had just said.

She leaned close to whisper in his ear. It spoiled his view but he still felt her holding his hand and her breath on the side of his face.

"I don't want another drink—do you?" she whispered.

Hal weakly shook his head. She hadn't removed her lips from his earlobe.

"Your room?"

"Yeah, let's go," Hal mumbled.

He left a tip for the bartender and picked up his money. As she slid off the barstool Hal noticed that the alcohol had made her a little wobbly. He grasped her arm with one hand and her waist with the other to help her stand up.

"I knew I'd like those hands on me," she turned and said with a smirk.

She leaned back against him. Hal looked around to see if people were watching.

"Let's wait 'til we get upstairs," he murmured to her.

She straightened up and took his arm. Hal didn't care for that either, but it was a short walk to the elevator.

In those days, old hotels still had operators running the elevators. He was a small man, balding, with a swarthy complexion and a pencil-thin moustache. He stared straight ahead as the pair entered. They were alone, but chose to huddle in the back of the compartment, just the same.

"What floor?" the nasal, expressionless voice demanded.

"Fifth," Hal answered.

Lola snuggled up to him but Hal stood stiff, as if at attention.

"I thought you liked me," she pleaded.

Hal cleared his throat and secretly begged that the elevator operator did not turn around. Lola giggled and grabbed Hal's hand and threw it around her waist. He let it stay there, fearing that she would make a further scene.

His hand rested on her hip and in silence he judged the contours he found there. She wasn't bad; a lot different than Martha. Lola was curvy while Martha was more slender (like Eva Marie Saint). Lola shifted her hips and Hal's hand slipped lower. Lola didn't protest and Hal kept his hand where it was.

She looked up at him.

"I told you I liked your hands," she said with a little slur, and then laughed some more.

Hal felt the blood rush to his face; Lola snuggled closer. He gave in to her; it was too late to do anything about it.

"Fifth Floor!" the elevator operator twanged.

For a second it stunned Hal, for at the first trace of sound from the man he expected a comment, or a scolding. The elevator door opened and he and Lola tumbled out. He turned back toward the open elevator—he did not know why. The operator's deadpan stare caught him off-guard. It told Hal that the man knew what they were doing—but that he would not interfere. It was their decision to enjoy each other for a night and to live with whatever it meant—if it meant anything at all. Then the sliding elevator door closed. In half a minute, they were in his room.

He fumbled with the key for a moment, and then they stumbled through the door. She turned to kiss him and fell into his arms.

"Let me borrow the powder room to freshen up," she asked him.

"Sure, go ahead."

It was the first time he smelled the whiskey on her breath, mixed with her perfume. Lola disappeared behind the bathroom door and Hal kicked off his shoes and removed his socks. He pulled off his tie and stripped off his dress shirt. He sat in an overstuffed chair and waited for her.

"Here I am," Lola called out in a coquette voice as she emerged from the bathroom. "Now I'm all yours."

She reached her arms out to encircle his neck but he stopped her.

"You don't think that you're the only one who needs to freshen up, do you?"

She released him and he went in and closed the bathroom door behind him. He stared at his hands and then at his face in the mirror above the sink.

"She thinks I have a lot of character," he mused to himself.

He looked closer at his face in the mirror. His eyes were bloodshot; his face was full of stubble, as he hadn't shaved since early that morning. For some reason, he wondered how many times Martha had seen that face. He shook his head, hoping to snap the unwanted vision from his head.

"I don't see much character. A lot she knows."

He splashed cold water on his face and then decided to brush his teeth. Lola would have to put up with the stubble. He finished and the only thing left to do was relieve himself before going out to rejoin her. He stood in front of the toilet and unzipped his fly. He stared down at himself. Soon, he thought, that part of him would be seated comfortably inside Lola, or whatever her name was. It would be its first time in any woman besides Martha. In a few minutes the adventure would start.

He, himself, would never be inside Lola; only that one part of him. He remembered that he had no feelings for her. He took a deep breath and then sighed; he opened the bathroom door and went out to be with her.

Lola had dimmed the lights and she was waiting for him in the double bed. She had drawn the covers over herself, except for her bare shoulders and head. Out of the corner of his eye Hal saw her discarded clothing piled in a chair.

"I'm ready for you," she said in a husky voice. "Take off your clothes and get in here with me."

She lifted the corner of the covers as an invitation. Hal saw that she had left on her slip, as stand-in for a negligee. He stood still next to the bed and unbuckled his belt. She watched him; her eyes grew wider. She didn't notice when he paused.

"Lola, I ... I…" he stammered.

"You've never done this before," she said with understanding in her voice. "Don't worry. There's a first time for everyone."

"Of course I have," Hal retorted. "I have two kids and..."

"I meant like this," Lola said, unfazed. "C'mon, we're going to have a lot of fun."

She cocked her head to encourage him.

"I can't, Lola," he blurted out. He rebuckled his belt and sat down on the corner of the bed. "I was going to, but I just can't."

He buried his face in his hands.

"Are you nervous? Is it something I said?" she asked. "Don't worry; we'll take it slow."

"It's nothing to do with you. You're fine. It's me. I just can't bring myself to do it. I've done too much already."

Lola lowered her hand holding up the covers. She looked at him and sighed.

"Too bad," she said. "It would have been fun, but I won't try to talk you out of it. I've got some self-respect, you know."

"Thanks," Hal mumbled, but did not look up at her.

"You're not going to kick me out, are you?" she asked. "I'll never get a cab in this weather and my coat's still checked at the bar; I think they're closed now. I can't afford to pay for a room."

"I thought you were staying here at the hotel."

"No," she said. "I live in a flat uptown."

Hal thought for a few seconds.

"I can't afford an extra room, either," he answered. "It's my fault you're here in the first place. Stay where you are. You can sleep in the bed; I'll sleep in the chair."

"It's the least you could do, considering the circumstances."

Hal took her clothes out of the stuffed chair and went looking in the closet for a spare blanket.

"Have you got some whiskey, or something?" she asked as he spread the blanket in the chair.

He did have a bottle in his suitcase. He poured some into one of the glasses from the bathroom, but had no ice. Lola didn't complain. He poured himself out the same dose in the other glass.

"If you're not staying here, what were you doing in the bar?" Hal asked.

She downed the whiskey all at once and set down the glass.

"I didn't want to be lonely," she replied. She slumped down in the bed. "Turn out the lights, will ya?"

Hal stood and went to the wall-switch and turned them off. He returned in the dark to his chair. As he sipped his whiskey he thought that he should say something soothing to her, or ask if , at least, he had kept her from being lonely on that night. He decided not to. In a few minutes he heard her deep breathing and knew she was asleep.

Hal was nearly home the next morning. He worried that Martha would sense that he had done something wrong. She had a knack of deciphering mysterious moods and looks on his face that he was unaware of until she pointed them out. He resolved that this would be one time that he wouldn't give her a clue to chase.

"It could have been worse," Hal consoled himself. "But, I was wrong."

He was making surprisingly good time on the drive home. He had called Martha while Lola was in the shower. He allowed himself some time to have a shower, too, when Lola was done, and to buy her breakfast. It was the least he could do. He allowed himself more time than usual for the drive, anticipating rough going over snow-covered roads.

It hadn't turned out the way he'd expected. When he emerged from the bathroom, he found Lola was gone.

She left a note, "No thanks on breakfast. Good Luck."

She left his life as quickly and unimportantly as she had nearly entered it. Hal would never see or hear from her again. As he drove further away from the city, the roads cleared more and more. The storm had blown off Lake Erie and hovered over Cleveland and then passed to the south. As Hal drove east, the roads were almost dry.

Hal had nearly arrived in his neighborhood. He figured his early arrival would work out just fine. With the kids in school, and nothing in particular to do, he would spend some extra time with Martha—and who knows where that would lead. He could see that the two of them needed to spend some time together. The aborted incident of unfaithfulness had him thinking.

"I'm a lucky guy, although I didn't realize it until last night," he thought to himself as he waited at a red light.

He saw how fragile everything was. Of course he felt guilty, too. The last-second refusal didn't exonerate him, but it did make the crime somewhat less serious.

"A misdemeanor instead of a felony."

He was sure that Martha would forgive him, but she wouldn't get the chance.

"Why force her to deal with it?"

He turned onto his street.

"Almost there."

From a distance he saw his house, the garage; there was a car in the driveway. A man was getting into it.

"Who could that be?"

He drew closer. It was Steve Kowalski's car. It was backing out as Hal arrived at the driveway. Hal stopped short to allow Steve to swing out onto the street. His friend stopped alongside Hal's car and rolled down the window.

"Martha called me. She didn't think you'd be home so soon," he shouted out the window. "She said the furnace was on the fritz. I fixed it; it's okay now. See ya; got to go."

Steve rolled up the window and sped off down the road.

"That's funny; Steve doesn't usually act like that."

Hal pulled into the driveway. He lifted his suitcase out of the car and went into the house through the side door. Hal set his luggage on the kitchen floor. He expected Martha to greet him, but she did not appear.

"Steve, are you still here? I thought you'd gone," he heard her calling from upstairs.

Hal didn't answer, but headed for the stairs. He slowly trod up them without speaking.

"Steve," she called again with a giggle, "are you back?"

Hal opened the bedroom door.

"Hal!" Martha gasped.

Her eyes were gaping wide and her jaw dropped open. She was nude and the bed was unmade. She tried to imply modesty by wrapping her arms around herself.

"You weren't supposed to be home for hours."

She looked about in vain for something to cover herself.

"Did I surprise you?" Hal asked.

He said nothing else, just turned and headed back toward the stairs.

"Steve Kowalski was here," Martha called after him, as though in an afterthought. "He fixed the shower. It was broken. I was just about to take a shower."

"I'm going downstairs to get a sandwich," Hal said without turning around.

Hal did not fix himself a sandwich. He sat at the kitchen table thinking while he listened to the shower running. He decided to forgive Martha, as he forgave himself. He never asked her to explain, nor did they ever discuss it. What was there to say? Hal's night with Lola remained a secret forever. His friendship with Steve Kowalski cooled, but he never sought revenge.

As Hal dozed he realized that he was grateful for the close call. He was grateful for Lola, too. If he had not gone with her that night he might never have had understood what he needed to allow him to put Martha’s transgression aside. He never cheated again, and he was certain that Martha didn't, either.

As innocence was lost it was born again.

To be continued

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

To link to this story from your site - please use the following code:

<a href="https://www.storiesspace.com/stories/drama/the-four-seasonsautumn.aspx">The Four Seasons--Autumn</a>

Comments (1)

Tell us why

Please tell us why you think this story should be removed.

Reason