Sin? Yes. Guilt? No.

           Both excerpts presented below are lifted from the second third of Cool Brass, a Slow Boat Media e-book. The deep trust between Marianne Messing and Caleb Abercrombie springs from various sources. Misunderstanding and contention are among them. The first exchange occurs in West Germany. (Yeah. Some events happen before reunification.) The second concludes somewhere in New England. 


(1989)

            
            
… A little late, Abercrombie returned to Marianne’s bedroom and dressed. One never knew. Maybe later the Klempner might’ve dropped by to unstop a sink.

            While Marianne busied herself over the stove, Abercrombie sat himself at the table.

            “You told your mother I was Jewish?” he asked. “Why?”

            She turned from the stove. “Are you? I was unaware.”

            “She obviously believed I am. I’m not.”

            Marianne grinned slyly and let him in on the joke. “Your ‘little man.’ She saw you are cut. Circumcised, yes. A Jewish custom, no?”

            “It’s something I never really hadn’t ever looked into,” he said. “But I know it’s a common practice in the States. Faith aside, for hygiene more than any Old Testament command.”

            His little off the top interested her. “Left intact makes sex feel better, no?”

            “Giving or getting, I’ve gotten no complaints,” Abercrombie said. “As you can well attest.”

            Both cleared their throats.

            She turned away while he picked up the [Hamburger Morgenpost] and started skimming the front page. Unrest in the East. The ominous kind harkening back to 1953, ’56 or ’68. Although the new Soviet supreme leader Gorbachev intimated being a different kind of Russian commissar, how long until he resorted to the tried and true of sending tanks to crush any sunshine breaking into the Eastern Bloc?

            Deciding not to spoil this afternoon with likely confrontation elsewhere, Abercrombie instead reverted focus on Marianne.

            “You listen to AFN radio?” he said. “All they play is weak cheese tunes.”

            Marianne brought the coffee pot, cup and saucer to the table. While filling his cup she answered.

            “Yes. The music is insipid. I listen for the hosts. Their accents. Words they use. Foreigners in America watch soap operas for the same reason, no?”

            Abercrombie granted that was true. She continued.

            “I studied, I took English in school. All very formal. Distant. Like listening to the BBC. Proper. Plumy. American English is warm. Is immediate. Because I like that it is easier to learn. To speak and improve.”

            Marianne returned to the stove. Asking how he wanted his eggs, she cracked and fried them.

            He lightened his coffee with cream and sugar. What Marianne prepared surprised him. In Europe, he accustomed himself to Continental breakfasts. Was the American meal available for all Messing guests or did they practice an American affectation? Or did Marianne just hustle out before he awoke, rustle up the fixings so she could slap it together for this certain guest?

            Abercrombie sipped his coffee. Despite the additions it was still a giant espresso. If he wasn’t awake before …

            She set a healthy plate in front of him. Buttered toast crowded hand-sliced ham and two eggs sunnyside-up. From his left he unfurled utensils wrapped in a cloth napkin. Marianne sat across from Abercrombie, watching him clean his plate.

            Among mouthfuls, he said, “Your mom handled, uh, the strange naked man in her kitchen well. Better than any mother I can think of. Especially my own.”

            “Strange naked men anywhere outside of closed doors happen seldom here,” Marianne said. “Not often enough. It helped you are handsome. Also, she likes men still. Or men still find her attractive. They chase her. She only 42. Still active.”

            Abercrombie nodded. “That’s good to be.”

            Plate cleaned, cup emptied, Marianne refilled the latter without his asking. Steam rising above the brim again, Marianne resumed her seat. Abercrombie chose this moment to broach remuneration. After all, he figured, she’d come across last night and put out further with brunch this afternoon. He hoped to exhibit enough tact in crossing her palm and not be crass doing it. Abercrombie could’ve been as offensive as he wished. Any suggestion of silver for pleasures rendered and received infuriated her. But good.

            Sparks replaced Marianne’s attentiveness. Injury sharpened her voice.

            “I should pour coffee in your lap. The night before I told you I am not a prostitute. I am a businesswoman. We were together because I thought we could enjoy our company. A whore, Herr Abercrombie, would’ve fucked you standing in an alley, not cooked you food.”

            He retreated miles. He offered sincere apology. His effort gradually pacified her. Nearly returned to Marianne’s good graces, she requested a favor. How could he refuse?

            “Very simple, really,” she said. “We must see a man. …” 

(1992)

            … That last Hamburg night Marianne occupied his thoughts. Smallness aside, his hotel ran a bar whose outdoor seating provided prime people-watching vantages. Located across from the Bahnhof allowed diverse humanity to engage his interest. This and cold beer after delicious cold beer firmed her in his mind.

            In Brussels he sketched the situation for [Paul] Knox. Blank swaths in the telling let his friend believe she’d been nothing more than an easy lay. That suited Abercrombie. He’d come to Europe for culture and on-the-fly sex, not complications.

            Months later back at his newsroom desk a letter from Marianne arrived.

            Although he’d given her his home address, mailing it to Abercrombie’s workplace verified him. That he’d received her first communications there, and these unreturned, validated his “journalist” bona fides in her eyes.

            With these, Caleb Abercrombie just wasn’t some card-carrying Schnorrer who’d gotten a leg over.

            Marianne wrote plainly. Her letters lacked any heart tugs or guilt twinges. She wrote so soberly hers could’ve been dunning notices. The questions asked were meant for him to clarify. Nothing more. All focused on the Polish man living in Boston.

            Throughout the next few years every piece of their correspondence referenced him. The Pole. When the former Eastern Bloc archives cracked open, Marianne’s inquiries intensified. They became so pointed, Abercrombie needed to file FOI requests.

            Two years into their exchange, a surprise. She announced a visit. Boston particularly intrigued her. Rather than guide, she requested him as her traveling partner. Marianne even volunteered to catch all his expenses.

            She arrived during the winter, the off-season. Outside of New York, Abercrombie preferred Montreal in February than Boston. But she insisted. Why not? He had the vacation time. Besides, journalism was disillusioning him more and more. The trivial and emphasis on the bottom line were steadily edging out vital news anyway. Foremost, though, the man she fixated on, the Pole. What was his story? How did Marianne fit?

            Abercrombie succumbed to inquisitiveness.

            She’d improved over three distant years. More womanly and surer at 22; just as assertive. Now, though, clear-carved calculations propelled Marianne’s sex. Where she’d scattered manipulation before, the additional years refined her spooning of these favors for utmost advantage.

            In 1989 she faked cool. In 1992 she was in control.

            New York didn’t dazzle her. She wasn’t blasé but preoccupied. Some genuine interest flared when Amtrak took them east of New Haven. There, urban America yielded to the iron grays of the Sound and sky above, the frozen marsh grasses, compact New England towns.

            Entering Providence cooled this arousal.

            Instead of booking a chain hotel room, he reserved one at Boston’s newest boutique address. A former Newbury Street mansion, one reconfigured and repurposed. Should the place have suffered from fatal cutesy, enveloping blocks of therapeutic shopping availed. Most importantly, the Pole was just a short walk away in Back Bay.

            Actually two conjoined townhouses quartered the Pole’s foundation. The 70-year-old man mentored an organization which once served postwar displaced persons. These days it labored to keep memories current. Or so its mission statement boilerplate proclaimed. Between that and his own inquiries, microfilm and microfiche study, Abercrombie compiled then sent Marianne a dossier. On the whole, his efforts stated much yet revealed omissions. The glaring kind. …

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