Stretched Bliss

    “Stretched Bliss,” the third story from the Slow Boat Media e-book Reveries, begins with Caleb Abercrombie’s interior disquisition on gratification. The professor muses during a late-morning moment of post-lovemaking languor with Paz Duarte.

    Long before the sweaty twining of their fevered bodies, mutual satisfaction, apparent exhaustion, and his subsequent daydreaming, they enjoyed a night on the town. Even when the attraction is based on exchanging pleasure, shouldn’t a minuet of sorts be observed?

    Hours ahead of sheets getting rumpled and pillows being ruffled in the throes of fulfillment, as well as the random calls and responses of lovers, the pair observed the social component that distinguishes human carnality from lower species’ rutting. It’s the thing that sets both apart. Though just barely.

    The following excerpt contains two of the previous night’s stations approaching its delightful terminus.

    … Mother and daughter chatted momentarily. [Elena] Herrera de Duarte still mildly suspected Abercrombie despite Paz’ assurances. Temporarily mollified, the mother covered her shoulders under her shawl then joined Diego at the door. The guitar player struggled not to wrap a possessive arm around her. At least not yet. They strolled into the busy night.

    Abercrombie asked how long Diego had been Herrera de Duarte’s protégé. Paz smirked.

    “Protégé?” Paz asked impishly.

    Her steps led towards the door. Half a beat behind Abercrombie followed into summer night. Her words were arch.

    “Surely there won’t be any hypocrisy about age-appropriateness from you, professor.”

    He quickly answered. “Not at all.”

    “It’s funny how the age thing works,” Paz said. “Available men my mother’s age are either cheaters or losers. If they’re married, they insist on some dirty hush-hush affair. If they’re divorced, they look to avenge their failed marriages. Especially if they caused the breakup. My mother has a certain zest for life that stolen moments or being a transference object doesn’t suit.”

    Outside the restaurant, Paz and Abercrombie stepped onto a bustling sidewalk. Previously they’d agreed on a jazz lounge as their next stop. He asked her opinion of Diego.

    “He makes her happy,” Paz said. “He appreciates her. Best of all he defers to her. He’s just a fling.”

    “So it’s not romance,” Abercrombie said. “It’s just convenience.”

    Paz glanced up at him, her features sharpened before wry accusation.

    “Oh? Sort of like us?”

    Her cackle filled his silence. Softening the sting, Paz hooked her arm through his. Their uneven strides gradually loosened into the same easy lope.

    Ochre and black darkened the selected lounge. Thanks to the hypocritical imposition of municipal Puritanism with its scary notices about calories, lurid warnings regarding alcohol consumption, and bans against indoor smoking, this Manhattan establishment lacked the necessary texture to be considered a bona fide jazz cave.

    Cigarette fumes would’ve added “atmosphere.” That notwithstanding, cannabis-derived art applied in random patterns across exposed brick walls eased many nanny squad edicts.

    A good crowd thickened the room. Stubby candles in runt holders availed meager glows over every table. Seated and cramped, drinks set before them on dampening napkins, Abercrombie offered a toast.

    “To convenient romance.”

    Paz laughed dismissively. The two touched glasses. They sipped then listened to the quartet’s set. Paz enjoyed jazz and blues. Not so much as background music in her studio, but certainly at her apartment. She favored Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn and Nina Simone. As she often remarked, men of her generation had difficulties comprehending such sagacious singers. On the other hand, Paz found those voices and their messages to be comforting, understanding; they spoke to her as women should among themselves.

    Buttery candlelight rounded Paz’ face. The incidental flame flickered in her eyes. A room full of small tables naturally squeezed listeners together. Other than an occasional exclamation, patrons conversed in low tones. Each murmured because of proximity; privacy compelled greater attentiveness. If possible, conditions lent Paz further allure.

    For reasons no urgent than his own satisfaction, Abercrombie caressed her cheek or hand. Smiles now bloomed after these gestures. Before, her reluctance prevailed against his affectionate displays.

    In their beginning, any kind of personal flattery hiked her suspicions. Despite sharing intimacies from the start, only recently had such trust established itself between Paz and Abercrombie.

    So much so Paz had accepted the nickname (nickname, not pet name) he’d bestowed. “Flaca.” Skinny. He limited its utterance to his neediest beseeching. Resist as she intended, Paz became helpless when he wheedled. Like most women.