A Graham Greene entertainment inspired the second offering from Reveries. One of his earlier efforts.
Greene’s tale features a dip into the wild side. Published in the late 1930s, readers might’ve been titillated by the louche excursion. Looser as society has become what aroused then could now pass as mild diversion. Coolly presented rather than hotly conflicted, the story lacks the agony of his subsequent, more anguished fictions.
In this excerpt from “On Display,” Caleb Abercrombie covets and is in turn coveted. That would be a nice reach around but there’s a degree of difficulty to be surmounted. A substantial climb.
Monte and Fili Vargas are a husband and wife pursuing health and vitality alongside Abercrombie at the same fitness center. Fili is a woman who naturally attracts attention. Monte is a perceptive businessman.
The couple has arrived at an accommodation. The kind which keeps Fili under Monte’s benevolent thumb. Their arrangement is, well, Monte explains in the selection below.
… Next evening Abercrombie kept his appointment with Vargas. Fili was absent. His host had chosen an expense account extravagant restaurant. The obsequious deference its staff practiced almost exceeded menu prices. Almost.
Catching Vargas unawares pleased his guest. Knowing educators earned pittances, Abercrombie assumed Vargas figured he’d share his table with someone whose wardrobe would reflect their financial disparity. Rather, Abercrombie drank deep from Vargas’ admiring eyes as he measured his suit and shoes. Upon inquiry, struggling with modesty, Abercrombie relished disclosing his tailor and cobbler.
“If you like, I can give you their addresses later.”
Vargas smiled sickly thanks. Each man ordered simply. Prime rib for both. Vargas sipped Scotch. Bourbon filled Abercrombie’s glass.
Conversation quickly focused on the adjunct. Under prodding throughout their meal and drinks, he related how he’d come to American Literature, mentioned his journalism past, and why he had no unfinished fiction manuscript secreted in some drawer. Vargas listened adroitly. The host even commiserated after Abercrombie thought aloud about how one of his current sections confused the infant in The Luck of Roaring Camp with the boy-menace of The Ransom of Red Chief.
The last gesture struck Abercrombie as false. He reviewed their discourse. It became clear he’d been pumped. Willingly. He marveled at Vargas’ smooth interrogation talent. His host’s benign expression admitted nothing.
Vargas asked Abercrombie why he quit newspapers for the classroom. The adjunct recited him the same apercu previously given Paz: “The quotidian is ephemeral; literature endures.”
Stored and only deployed to dazzle the unwary, those phrases had buffed the shine in her eyes. Why not put on the dog? After all, he was an English professor!
A moment passed until his dining companion recovered his own speech.
“Wow!” Vargas exclaimed. “You must really like books!”
“Enough about me,” Abercrombie said. “What about you? What’s this all about?”
The executive exhibited practiced reluctance then waded into explanation.
“You’ve seen my wife. You know how lovely she is. How she walks. Stalks actually. She reminds me of those slinky wild cats. Like, uh, pumas. I see how other men look at her. Mind you, I don’t get jealous. Because she’s absolutely faithful I have no reason to feel threatened. Matter of fact those stares make me love her even more.”
Such tenderness aside, Abercrombie wished Vargas got to his point.
“Let me tell you, though, beauty is not her finest attribute,” the husband said. “Pleasing me, obeying me, sustains our bond. She obeys without hesitation. And seeing how other men desire her, me always having her within reach, knowing I can love her anytime, makes me insane sometimes.”
Abercrombie, feigning he followed the other’s course, nodded his head. Vargas continued.
“Insane in the rhetorical sense. Not in the crazy way. Then I got to thinking about all those hungry-eyed guys. It’s funny. It’s true. You can devour somebody with your eyes.”
Abercrombie matched the other’s drollery. “Banal but true.”
“What I want to say, professor, is that I think I’ve achieved one of the highest levels of adoration. I’m not madly possessive of Fili. I’m not the usual hot-blooded, instantly berserk Latin man. I understand that through no fault of her own Fili will attract excessive attention. For a long time I’ve been okay with that.”
“Good,” Abercrombie said. “That’s, uh, manly of you.”
Vargas broke out his toothiest grin. “So that’s why we’re here tonight.”
The next sentences from Vargas’ mouth elicited grins which failed rising above quivering lips on Abercrombie’s face.
“There are many men who ache to pleasure Fili. They all can’t be accommodated. Realizing this I’ve decided that occasionally we should select a stranger we consider worthy of sharing her bed. This time that man should be you, professor.”
Abercrombie chuckled nervously after Vargas’ badly put utterly ridiculous offer. Apparently his host mistook the reaction for disbelief at such marvelous fortune.
“What!?” Vargas said. “You think I had you over here for some kind of fag thing? I chatted with that Paz Diaz – ”
“ – Duarte,” Abercrombie corrected.
“Sure. We spoke a little while ago. Now there is a piece and a half! I knew you was tappin’ that, boy! You know how you act when you think nobody’s watching? Well, you both were and I noticed.”
Abercrombie shrugged. “It’s no big secret. Paz is special.”
“She says complimentary things about you too. What’s she, Mexican? Anyway, let me tell you something. I’ve been with a lot of women and say in all total honesty fucking Fili is fucking extraordinary. There are other women, naturally, but Fili still beats them by miles. So I ask myself how can it get any better than that? The only solution I could find is seeing her with other men. The right men. No, it’s nothing perverted. It’s just watching her being fully appreciated by other men. Again, the right men.”
Abercrombie soaked in Vargas’ statement before speaking.
“Monte, you ever consider taping yourselves then watching the playback afterwards?”
“I feel funny watching myself on TV,” Vargas said. “I’m too conscious of the camera. I’m a harsh critic of myself. Other guys are more natural. That intense desire in those particular moments, professor, you can’t fake them. I cherish Fili. I treasure watching her immersed in passion. Later, man, our sex is better than wild – it’s nuts!”
Somehow Abercrombie refrained from asking whether Vargas gave play-by-play commentary during his wife’s sanctioned trysts. He didn’t regard the businessman’s tender as mere performance. Even the best actor’s artifice could only be so convincing. This quandary tugged Abercrombie at either end. Fili was available, though with considerable strings attached.