A woman is in love but is the romance as sweetly safe as the cherries her lover hands her?
|The Innocence of Cherries - August, 2001|
Pretty yellow hair in Marcus's fisted fingers made him thrust that much harder, made him less aware of the midsummer sun’s heat on him and Beatrice as they made love beneath the fruited branches of a cherry tree. The grassy ground provided peculiar bedding while twittering sparrows created a symphonic canopy. Surrounded by such natural discomfort, Beatrice held her lover's pounding body in a vain attempt to control his sexual energy which had exceeded the limit of decency. Bad enough he insisted on doing it outside fully nude, bad enough his mild flirtation with a police detective's fiancee had brought them here.
Bad enough that she loved every moment of it.
The sound of Marcus grunting out his well-earned orgasm frightened the birds away in an explosion of flapping gray wings and peeps that rivaled Beatrice's own noisy burst of passion. He kissed a panting Beatrice deeply, noticing that she sneaked a peak at him through warm, narrowed eyes. She gazed at him innocently, before he rubbed his nose against her neck and pecked at her with satiated affection.
"Why do you do that?" she asked, still breathless.
"Do what?" he retorted, letting himself collapse at her side.
"Why do you always watch me while we…well…"
He shrugged, putting his fingertips to her mouth. "Why do you always ask so many questions?"
"I can't help it. I'm a psychologist. It's what I do."
"But I'm not your patient, doctor."
"It’s like you don't trust me or something."
"Don't say that word. I hate that word."
"What, ‘trust'?" Her question was framed by an abrupt laugh laced with a kind of exuberance that brought an instinctive smile to Marcus's face.
"Yes, ‘trust.' The word causes me a tic in my left eye."
Beatrice giggled again, shaking her head at his facial goof. Marcus liked her way of enjoying him -- she gave off no judgment when she listened to him, offering no analyses or ways to fix his irreverent behavior. He was sure she had her opinions, but for now, she shared them sparingly. She let him be and he did the same for her.
Her hand ran up and down the length of his arm, skipping to his bare hip. Staying there. He studied her features, remaining a long time at her lips, and then added, "I like the way you laugh." He couldn't believe that she blushed, not able to remember the last time anybody blushed at something he said. How virginal, he thought.
"I'm glad," Beatrice answered.
They were quiet a while, observing each other much like two wary cats. She let her eyes roll upwards toward the branches above her. "Are they good?"
"Yes. Have you eaten them?"
Marcus lay back, putting his hands behind his head and lifting one knee. "Yeah," he said dreamily. "Real sweet…sugary. Must be good earth from whence they sprout-eth." He grinned at his mockery of Biblical English, smiling, too, at a secret he had. Secrets were nice, comforting even. In fact, Marcus and Beatrice would never have gotten together if it hadn't been for their mutual secrets.
Beatrice stood, stretching tall to gather a bunch of cherries. She plopped down onto her knees, plucking at one of the purplish red fruits with her teeth. Chewed at it, contemplatively nodding her head. She rolled the pit in her mouth after swallowing the pulp and said seductively, "You're right. Very sweet…perfect." She spit the pit into the palm of her hand and studied it.
"I know. I told you. But,” he said, “you shouldn't eat them."
"Why not?" Near-panic widened her eyes, parted her lips slightly.
"You might learn too much from them. You might lose your innocence."
A knowing expression broke out on Beatrice's face. "Really? Thou speaketh like a serpent, one who might be condemned to crawleth on its belly for all eternity."
Marcus reached over and pulled her down to him, wrapping his arms around her. "You're as bad as I am with your Godly words."
They lay close for some time, the sun inching across the sky, reawakening their physical desires for the other, until Beatrice's cell phone rang out. Lazily she reached for it and answered. When she heard the familiar voice, she immediately looked at Marcus and pulled away from his probing hands.
Marcus groaned and Beatrice slapped a hand over his mouth. She could feel his tongue tickling her palm.
"Dinner? I don't know…no…nothing's wrong. It's just that…no, it's not Hannah. I talked to the hospital and she's doing much better. Yes…the delusions are not as bad they used to be. Sure, she IS still saying she didn't kill him. It doesn't matter…ok…yes, ok…um…me, too. I'm sorry. All right, bye."
Beatrice glimpsed the doors along the back porch as she put the cell phone away, resting her eyes on Marcus. He was lost in thought -- getting dressed.
"You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be? I just got done making love to a beautiful woman." He appeared serious as he carefully adjusted his shirt, straightening it. Asked in a low tone, "You don't feel guilty, do you?"
Beatrice looked away as if she could hide her emotions. However, she could never fool Marcus. The truth draped her, glimmering in any kind of light, whether it be moonlight or daylight or the light from someone's love of her. Her relationship with the detective was fast coming to a close and although she basked in Marcus's attention, the bittersweet loss of rock-steady Jake and the duplicitous reasons behind such loss powdered her presence.
"Never feel guilty, Beatrice," he said.
Tears immediately sprung to her eyes, "Marcus…my sister is being driven insane by me, by my not telling the truth about what I know of her husband's death. I could change things for her. And there's Jake, how's he going to feel when he --"
"He'll want to kill me first, then himself." Marcus smiled slightly and dropped his voice to a whisper, "It's human nature."
"I really want to know -- how do you not feel guilty?"
"‘bout what? Screwing over your intended?"
"No, about everything. How do you live with yourself -- with the things you tell me you've done. How do you free yourself?"
Marcus pulled on his shirt gruffly, momentarily regretting his having revealed his early dalliances in construction fraud. Horrible mistakes of judgment due to his painful upbringing at the hands of an alcoholic, abusive father, he had tearfully explained to Beatrice. How terrible, she had said on that cool springtime evening in an urban cafe mere blocks away from the police station. How tragic! Despite his knee-jerk wish to keep all aspects of his past buried, the fraud had been a necessary revelation, a desired one, because in order to get close to her kind of spiritual near-perfection, he had to let his guard down. He had to be vulnerable. Yes, he had told her ruefully, he did end up rich because of those beaten-in lesions in his basic moral makeup. He had pocketed lots of money at the expense of innocent homeowners, but he was a reformed man all thanks to his first wife, Claire. She had given him a daughter and even though their marriage ended bitterly, even though she'd disappeared mysteriously, he would never begrudge her the honor of having saved his cursed soul.
He muttered dramatically, "Who the hell said I was free? I don't feel guilt -- but I sure as hell am not free."
He bristled, "That better not be pity."
"It's not," she said in a firm tone, honesty lacing her silky voice and wetting her baptismal-worthy blue eyes. Ironic because Beatrice had her own dirty secret. She had confessed to him in a ragged whisper lurid details of a burr in her perfectly knitted sock of a soul. However, the solemnity of her sin lay within her oh-so-pure motivation. She restrained from telling the authorities what she knew to protect humanity from the evils of a corrupted woman. Hannah, oh lowly Hannah, utterly bereft of good moral character, deserved to be confined.
A breeze kicked up and devilishly angelic Beatrice reached to Marcus to caress his ruddy cheek, his features slightly easing at her touch.
"What are we doing?" she queried, her tone matching the fluttering of the cherry tree leaves.
Light eyes slimmed at her question, Marcus turning to lightly, sexily, kiss her hand. He didn't answer her. At his muteness, she pulled her clothes to her body as if to defend herself.
Marcus slumped back against the tree. Images danced before him, past remembrances: his hand smacking soft skin, a scream tingling his eardrums, the indelicate thumps of a body falling down steps. Nothing like the satisfaction of shutting up someone one hates with a punch or a kick or by shoving a person up against the wall. The key was to hate the person, otherwise it was unappealing. The particular memory playing out made him groan in a low, deep way.
"Trust in my words, Marcus!! Trust me! How can we have a marriage without trust!"
"And how the hell am I supposed to trust a lying, back-stabbing bitch like you? Tell me that!"
"Because you love me!"
"I love you? How can anyone love you?"
"You heard me -- they're your words. And you were right. We‘re both so unlovable."
"Trust," he said in a barely audible voice, the picture in front of him fading into that of Beatrice. Her inherent purity captivated him. She inched closer.
"I thought you hated that word."
"Why?" she asked, her visage showing a pointed lack of hidden meaning to her question -- this wasn't a demand for Marcus to trust her, it was simply an inquiry.
He stared at her thoughtfully, reaching out to rub his thumb along her lower lip. "Jake trusts you," he said. "He trusts that you're not screwing around."
"Yes," she answered with a touch of that precious guilt.
"But you are. With me, one of the bad guys."
"Not exactly ‘screwing around'," she answered, a hint of smile playing upon her pinkish mouth. "You know that things slipped badly when he had to investigate my own sister for murder."
"But he trusts at the minimum that you aren't screwing someone he's investigating for murder."
"Marcus, you were not exactly something I planned. I'd already been sorely disappointed in him. I didn't think that I'd be loving anyone else for a long while. But I suppose you're right."
"My point is he's trusting you and I benefit from that ‘trust' because he's not on my case, he's not on yours and I get it all. He gets nothing. Except, he's the one with all that trust -- of you."
"And I'm finished with him. He's calling me to try to repair things. It's not going to happen."
He shook his head, slightly aggravated, "You're not getting this."
Beatrice furrowed her brows, questioning him. Not wanting to misunderstand anything. How perfect could she be?
He explained, "I don't care what you're doing. It doesn't matter because I know the truth. Trust isn't real -- it's malleable, murky. It's a front." She shook her head slightly. He went on. "Look, there was a time when it did matter, when trust meant something tangible. Before, when someone cheated on me, it was the end of everything. I'd lose my mind. But I learned that ‘trust' goes so far beyond that."
He picked up a stem of grass, twisted it in his fingers, examining it. Finally, he pressed and rolled it until it became nothing but green, moist fragmentation. He looked at Beatrice, "Trust is a lie, a screen behind which people hide the truth. It's a form of blackmail. ‘Trust not what you see,' the liar says, ‘but what I tell you to see. And if you don't, screw you.' But the liar loses, because I see the truth. No need to throw ‘trust‘ at me."
"If Jake were to catch me with you, I wouldn't lie to him. I wouldn't ask him to believe in his ‘trust' of me."
"And we're back to the ‘truth,' not ‘trust.' Just like I said."
"So, how is it then that you won't care if you catch someone you love, cheating?"
"It doesn't matter because I trust only what I know to be true. My truth, my world, what I feel when I touch you, what I feel when I look at you. I see the truth and I'm always right. So whether I trust you, whether you're cheating on me -- it doesn't matter because I'll know and there won't be room for justifications, for ramifications -- for lies."
"I see. I think." She smiled affectionately.
"Let me put it to you this way. I won't catch you cheating on me because you wouldn't get a chance to do it. I'd know your heart, your truth. You wouldn't get a chance to yell at me about trusting you."
"And what would happen to me when you figured out my truth?"
He grinned. Chewed on a blade of grass. "I'd know what to do. I guess it all depends on the circumstances, on your handling of your truth."
"And yet you're still here."
"Yes, I am."
"When I'm with you, I'm challenged -- you make me think, laugh. You intrigue me. You are an amazing lover." She dropped her head slightly and he grinned. With a shake of her head, a clearing of her throat, she began to dress.
"Are you afraid of me?" he asked.
She closed her eyes briefly, opening them sweetly. "I trust you. I trust in my belief of you."
Soon, she stood again, grabbing another bunch of cherries. She kneeled in front of Marcus, fed him one succulent bite, then another. She kissed him, tasting the nectar on his tongue. Setting back, she shook her head thoughtfully. He twisted his mouth with peaked curiosity.
"I was ready to marry Jake," she said. "He's a good man. He loves me. Then everything with Hannah happened and I learned the truth about my own sister and about myself. I realized how cruel she could be -- I learned my own cruelty. And in the middle of that mess, for the first time in my life, I experienced someone's true disappointment in me: Jake's."
"What could he have possibly been disappointed in about you?"
"The fact that I was related to a killer."
"But you're not her."
Beatrice smiled, squeezing a portion of her lower lip in between her teeth. "The thing is, I knew that even if I told him the truth about Hannah -- that she really acted in self-defense -- nothing would have taken away his disappointment."
"I'm not disappointed in you. And I know everything."
"Yes, you do, and --" Overwhelmed by sincere emotion, Beatrice did not finish her thought. She breathed in deeply and her face reflected complete awe at Marcus's love of her.
"You couldn't resist me, could you?" he quipped.
"I resisted like hell!"
Marcus laughed, swallowing the last bit of cherry pulp. Beatrice's hair shined in the sunlight, shimmering, giving it a sense of fluidity. Her pretty, dainty features were so different than Claire's. There was a distinct softness that emanated from her insides, as opposed to hard, callous, misery.
"How's Jenna doing?" Beatrice referred to Marcus's daughter from Claire.
"Good. We got a psychologist." He spit the words out bitterly. "Girls are so damn sensitive."
"She went through a lot -- don't discount the profundity of her loss."
"‘Profundity of her loss'?"
"My god, her mother disappeared without a trace."
"Jenna's better off -- a whole lot better off. Kinda like East Germany without the Wall." Beatrice did not respond, glancing down at her hands. He corrected his crassness. "I'm being a jerk, I'm sorry. She's had a tough time, but she's getting over it. Or at least living with it."
"I'm glad for that. Really." She paused. "Even though Claire was toxic to Jenna with her alcoholism and emotional abuses of you and her, she was still Jenna's mother."
"Yeah, I know." He picked up a cherry and placed it on his tongue, holding it up by the stem. Then he took it into his mouth quickly. Nodded, speaking with his mouth full. "Sweet."
"It's the soil, you know. It's Bavarian."
He grinned. "Imported. Special chemicals, enzymes. Blood."
"Yeah." He laughed heartily, then tilted his head, taking his lower lip in between his teeth a second or two, mimicking Beatrice's habit.
"Hmm. Sounds more like ‘barbarian' if it has blood in it. Real blood?"
"You don't believe me?"
"But you ‘trust' me to tell you the truth."
She grinned back at him. "You're playing with me."
His eyes warmed up and he leaned over to kiss her. When he shut his eyes, because this time he wanted to, he listened to everything around them, listened to the sound of her breathing, of her not breathing. He tasted her truth as their tongues gently played. Pulling away, his passion was evident in his heavy-lidded gaze. Hers, in the way she wanted to continue kissing him.
"I have to go," she said, regret in her tone.
"You've changed your mind about dinner with your Jake?"
"No. I'm going to see Hannah at the psychiatric hospital." She hesitated. "Should I tell what I know? Has enough time passed?"
Marcus got up off the grass, offering his hand to help Beatrice up. They both stood, their hands still intertwined. "Are you asking me if enough time has passed for a rabid dog to stop being rabid?"
"I guess so."
"Look directly at me. Not at my mouth, not at my chin."
"Rabid-ness doesn't ever fade, doesn't ever disappear. It's never cured. Doesn't matter that Hannah has an out from killing her husband, doesn't matter that you know of a technicality to get her off. She's still rabid. She hates with her entire being and she'll never ever stop hating."
"She's my sister."
She turned away somewhat, a flurry stirring the leaves of the cherry tree along with strands of her blond hair. She patted the fly-aways. Returning her gaze to Marcus, she said, "You don't think she'll come around?"
"You're the psychologist. What do you think?"
"I don't know."
"I know her type and I can tell you that she will never change. Don't tell what you know."
He felt her hand on his cheek again, something she liked to do, and saw the boundless compassion painted on her face. He realized he had shown vulnerability in his analysis of Hannah -- he was glad for it. Anything to get closer to her.
"You are judge, jury and executioner, aren't you?" she said. "You only believe in your truth -- what you know it to be."
"She's ‘guilty' in a universal sense, Beatrice. She killed Raymond -- so what that she did it to stop him from doing her in. She was the one mouthing off, she was the one who had been caught cheating on him, she was the one. She deserves to be locked up." His voiced dropped, "Trust your truth. Hannah deserves what she got. One good turn, deserves another. Isn't that what they say?"
"But I saw it -- I'm the only witness. He was about to knock her senseless -- most likely kill her. I couldn't intervene, though, I couldn't get inside the door. I had to watch."
It was Marcus's turn to reach out to her, to react to her intense moment of beautiful vulnerability. "And you chose to keep silent."
"Yes," she sighed.
"Trust me. Don't tell your secrets." He smiled at his using his most hated word…and she did, too. "Besides," he said, "she's not in prison -- she's in a mental hospital. She'll be taking lots of anger management classes and basket weaving. The longer she stays inside, the higher the chance that she'll be tamed."
"Wish me luck."
"I'll go with you."
"No, I'll be fine. Really."
She laughed and kissed him. "Bye, my love."
"I will. Trust me."
He then watched Beatrice cross the wide expanse of grass, climb the steps to the wrap-around porch and walk into the house, giving him a last dancing wave of her hand. He pictured her stepping along the wood floors toward the front door, passing by the solid mission-style furniture and pictures lining the oyster-colored walls, passing by carefully structured normality. She didn't know the truth about the ghosts which lurked in that house, ghosts he would not expose. So innocent Beatrice was in spite of her little dark secret, so idealistic.
How fortuitous it was that they came to be at all. Literally bumping into each other outside the police station -- he was going in to be interrogated about Claire's disappearance, she was emerging from her own interrogation about Raymond's killing. Each wrapped in a flurry of distrust and paranoia about their secrets. And yet, when they looked into each other's eyes, they connected. Immediate attraction, immediate fascination.
Polar opposites they truly were -- good and evil, purity and filth. Yet it worked. How delicious.
Marcus strolled along the perimeter of his property, keeping a watch on the cherry tree. It was the focal point of the back grassy garden, the center of the greenery in the spring and summer, the center throughout winter and fall. Always there, steady and sure. Sometimes at night, he'd stand in the darkened window of his bedroom and watch the leaves of the cherry tree shudder and settle with evening mist, thinking of each part of the tree, wondering which portion needed the most nutrients, wondering about the special soil that fed it.
"Bavarian, barbarian…Clairian. I guess it's all the same, huh?"
Kneeling down at the base of the cherry tree, he scooped out a chunk of soil, running his fingers across the pebbles and black dirt while the sound of chucking that same soil played about in his head. Whoosh, wahhh...whoosh, wahhh...whoosh, wahhh -- it was musical, the repeated pitching of the shovel and the intermittent pauses during which moonlit dirt flew through night air. Lots of work to dig a hole big enough, wide enough. Lots of work to thump down a burgeoning tree in that already halfway-filled space. Thump.
What hadn't been hard work was the quick death that preceded the burial. That had been all too easy.
Marcus took the hand-full of dirt and tossed it outwards, watching the dark spray dot the grass wildly. Turned his head to study the symmetrical windows lining the outside of his home, recalling Claire's last day here, her last minutes, her last seconds.
"You okay, Claire?"
"Can you…can you just help…help me up?"
"Yes…yes…it's my back I think…I can't feel my legs. Why'd you hit me? Those stairs, Marcus…why? I know you're angry…but--"
"Shouldn't have cheated."
"But the affair was nothing…meaningless. Please, I told you how sorry I was --"
"You cheated, then you lied to me. Lied to play with me, to manipulate me…to fuck with my head."
"I lied to protect you…I knew you'd be hurt! Help me."
"You trust me to help you?"
"I trust you, Marcus. Call someone, please…I'm really hurt…I won't tell anyone that you hit me…"
"I guess this really was my fault, huh? You falling down these steps."
"Marcus! Stop talking and call someone! I won't tell!"
"You're the one talking too much. I'm tired of your screeching."
"Wh-what are you doing?"
Easy as pie. A well-placed hand over leaky holes can do wonders to the torment of a broken psyche. Close the openings, stay firm, don't let her move an inch -- then pitch the dirt as you dig a hole. Fill the space. Plant a tree above it all. Watch the blossoms, watch the healing of your heart. Sure, it hadn't been physically easy to hold her down, but her injuries had worked in his favor, not letting her thrash about much. He'd straddled her and felt her bucking up against him while he held her nose and mouth shut. God, it was almost like fucking. He’d leaned down into her and with each passing second, whispered her cruel history with him into her ear, telling her of her crimes against him.
Remember the men, Claire, remember Harold, remember Trey, remember all your ugly ranting, Claire. Remember your drinking yourself into an oblivion, Claire, telling me how ugly I was, how useless, how worthless, wanting my money, threatening to tell the whole world about my crimes. Remember each name you called me, Claire, each name you yelled out in your sleep, Claire.
Toward the end of her struggle, he growled that this final act was all him. Complete retribution. He'd be free of her.
She stopped the fight and he breathed easier. Tears spilled not for the loss of her or for the inevitable familial trauma, but for the sheer relief of putting an end to his misery, the sheer relief of killing the disease, curing his rabid-ness.
Jake Strauss's unmistakable essence of authority interrupted Marcus's black reverie, startling him. Turning sharply on his heels, still in a crouched position, Marcus got to his feet, grinning mischievously. "Well, well, if it isn't the city's finest, come to check out my cherry tree. Wanna a bunch?"
"Oh, not a cherry kinda guy -- you like your fruits even sweeter, huh? More innocent."
Breathing in deeply, squinting his eyes at the sun, Jake shook his head, "I wanted to close out a file today -- close out the missing persons case of your wife. Put it into our long-term unsolved category."
"She's not here -- she's still missing."
"I wanted to ask you one final question before I come to that conclusion."
"Ask away, Officer. My life's an open book." Marcus's eyes didn't waver from Jake's.
"Where did you say Claire went? The last time you spoke to her?"
Putting on a false expression of pain, Marcus answered in a funereal tone, "My former wife told me she was distraught over our crumbling marriage. Said she was going to South America to take a trip down the Amazon river. I argued with the absurdity of the idea. She slapped me and walked out the door. End of a very long, painful story."
"Any witnesses to the conversation?"
‘I thought you only had one question?"
"I thought your life was an open book."
Marcus smirked slightly, crossing his arms across his chest. "Touche."
"Answer the question."
"No witnesses -- but there were notes of flight plans on her desk. You guys have it. There were the tire marks on my driveway from when she split. You guys have pictures. Nothing more to say."
Nodding, Jake crossed his arms, too. Glanced downwards, then raised his eyes to Marcus. "You hurt Beatrice and I will see to it that you get the chair for the murder of your ex-wife. I will find Claire and I will rub your nose in her rotting remains."
Marcus's face registered none of the cool threat. He remained still in the flow of air that shifted the weighted branches above him. "Beatrice will be fine,” he said. “I would never hurt her. I trust her. And I'm sure you trust her to make the right decisions in life."
Throwing out one last expression of disgust, Jake then made his way slowly down the side yard and disappeared from Marcus's view. Marcus inhaled all he could of the overly-clean air before letting go, figuring the police must have been tailing Beatrice, figuring the detective himself had seen his ex-fiancee lose some of her innocence in the back garden of Marcus's country home. He chuckled and then laughed louder, plopping down on the grass.
"Clairian soil," he said to the ghosts of his past crimes which lived around him, "better keep your secrets lest the tasters of your fruit lose their innocence…entirely." He lay on his stomach, petting the grass with his hand and holding his ear to the ground as if listening for a response. Purred, "You were right, Claire, all I needed was to trust you and I'd be happy. Imagine that…so very simple."