From “Elisa”, a short story

The enemy has been firing on the city for ten days.  Every night, black ships, their lights extinguished, steal from the cove and lob shells over the walls of the old quarter, as though, by obliterating those ancient stones and arcades where once the emperors walked, to strike the higher powers of the people, efface their memory, render them unable to resist and force them to collapse into the frightful present.

At first, it was terrible to contemplate the ruin of those ruins, the mortars raining destruction upon the past, upon history, in a war that seemed to have transcended the political and entered upon a metaphysical assault against human consciousness.  But time brings all down, hasten or retard it as you will.  War is only another means of accomplishing what will happen anyway.  We no longer go to the city, in any case.

Each daybreak, the shelling ceases and the ships withdraw.  Benni tells us it is because the cannons of the garrison are old and their sighting mechanisms archaic; the commander won’t risk scarce ammunition by shooting them off at night, when their targets cannot easily be seen.  All night long, the enemy warships attack without reply; in the morning, they slip away, just as the commander prepares to retaliate.

I tell Benni that’s absurd, to withhold your fire when the enemy is there in order to conserve your ammunition for when he is not there.  Nicole scolds me rudely, as she is in the habit of doing in front of no matter whom.
“This man is telling you what he has been told.  How can you contradict him? I’m sure he knows much better than you do, who never fired a gun and cannot even speak the local dialect very well.”

“No, no,” Benni intercedes.  “He has a point.”  Then he turns to me those wet olive eyes that have no expression in them but pity and resignation.  “Our ship will arrive eventually to evacuate the town.  The enemy will advance out of the cove to attack it, and then they may come within the garrison’s range in the daytime.  Let the city go.  What is it?  Stones and gravel.  But we must save the people.  The children most of all.  Whatever we have we must conserve to rescue the children.”

That, of course, makes little sense.  Benni makes little sense.  A people without a place is no less contradictory than a life without a memory.  Still, I like Benni.  I am aware that Nicole has allowed him to set up a communications post on the roof of the villa.  I’m not supposed to know officially — in case I should be questioned — but Benni realizes it has not escaped my notice.  Nothing does.  Benni is aware of this, too, and does not insult me by little winks and nods and intimations.  He simply goes about his business and leaves me to mine.  We are good collaborators, in a way.

Benni brings us bread and cheese, occasionally meat, and baskets of vegetables from the city each morning.  I do not know where he gets this bounty, I do not ask.  He eats with us, of course, and we furnish the wine from our copious cellar and tobacco from my closet.  It is an arrangement tacitly concluded.  Benni has become a member of our household.

Now he is bringing us more than food.  He brings us Elisa and a flock of children.  I watch them winding along the coast road from the city, single-file, the children holding a rope to keep themselves in line, with Benni in the lead and Elisa in the rear.  It is early in the morning, and the sky is a milky pink, presaging the day’s heat.  Benni has two baskets of food instead of one, and Elisa, in her colorful skirt and white jersey, carries a wicker basket on her back.  Each of the children carries a small bundle.  I suppose Benni thinks he has commandeered the villa.  Perhaps he has.

“Well, it makes no difference to me,” says Nicole, and retires up the stairs to her studio, giving the impression that she is going to paint.  But I know perfectly well she hasn’t worked in ages.  Benni has probably got her operating the radio or the radar or whatever he has installed on the roof.
For my part, I am doing very little work.  The Disquisition has me stumped, and the long poem is guttering.  I ponder the first, browse through my acres of books seeking the way in or the way out, I’m not sure which.  As for the poem, I can only hope I will find a rhyme for “window,” or I will have to scrap a dozen lines that have cost me months of effort.  Consequently, at the “window” I sit, playing cards with myself and watching Benni, Elisa (with her golden hair glowing in the rising sun) and the children ascend towards the villa.

I had not hoped to see Elisa again.  She is a cousin of Benni’s, and we were very close before the war.  Benni sent her to us as a housekeeper when Elisa was a girl of 17, but, like Benni, she soon became more a member of the family than a servant.  Nicole began insisting she eat with us, and after a while the four of us were as likely to end the evening drinking wine in Elisa’s room as on the veranda.  Elisa’s room is the coolest in the villa, even though it has no “window” to the sea; yet every breeze that strays into the house finds its way through her room before flying out the other side.  She is lucky that way.

Often we swam together, Nicole, Elisa and I — Benni, like most of the islanders, cannot swim.  He is a fisherman and prefers his boat.

“If the sea wants me,” he says quietly, without bravado, “there is no reason to struggle.  I must go.  I must want to go.”

On our private beach, we have no use for clothes and in the warmth of our little menage no use for modesty either.  I have opportunity to examine every part of Elisa’s sturdy, nubile body.  At first, I take my advantage with extreme discretion, following the etiquette of nude bathers, and do not stare.  I lie on my side on the soft sand or on blankets spread on the stones and read, but at such a body as Elisa’s it is impossible not to look at least a little, and I even catch Nicole with her eyes out and Elisa clearly enjoying the attention.  Nicole tells me she is fascinated by Elisa’s tumescent limbs and the slender joints that cinch them.  I think Elisa has modelled for her.  I am sure of it.

As the months pass, I begin to relax my manners and feast hungrily on Elisa’s rapturous beauty, the surging curves and the smooth skin slowly caramelizing in the sun.  Far from discouraging me, Elisa often teases, throwing herself down beside me on the white sand and letting the nipple of her fat breast brush my arm.  She professes to dislike her body and talks of it disparagingly, complaining that her flesh is too soft and insisting that I feel the inside of her thigh to attest to its flaccidity.  I take the precaution of rolling onto my stomach before complying.

“Look at my ass,” she demands and stands up to give me a compelling view of its breadth and pendulance, vigorously brushing off the sand to set its thick jellies quivering and give a brief glimpse of the blonde hairs in its steamy cleft.  I am trying desperately to watch over my shoulder while protecting my groin from view.  “It’s so big, it is like a great load swaying behind me.  If only I had an ass like Nicole’s!”

And from her rock nearby, Nicole laughs at my obvious discomfiture.  Nicole has no ass at all.  Her legs are tight as braided hemp and join without a seam at the base of her spine.  She is lean as a bullwhip, as flat on one side as the other.

“She can wear anything!” Elisa whines.  “Can you picture me in those Paris fashions?”

And I have to tell her how beautiful she is in reassuring and fatherly tones, when I would rather liken her to a blonde souffle, rhapsodize about how lightly her bounty of flesh rides on the air.  She looks at me coyly, rinsing me with her cool blue gaze.

“Do you really think I’m pretty?”

Yes, of course, I answer grumpily — the sand is starting to chafe.  Haven’t I just said so?

Then she squats down to tug at my shoulder but also to give me a view of her slick pudendum pouting between the fats of her thighs and a whiff of her sweat-steeped crotch.

“But do you mean it?”

I have kept my hands off her for two years.

copyright 2009 R.D. Eno


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