Midwife in the Tire Swing
Chapter 41—Heidi writes a Letter
“And when I give him this letter. Then what?” Heidi was uncertain as to outcomes.
“Rejection. You fear rejection,” said Elder Jesse Youngblood. “With all due respect, no man ever turned away a free piece of ass. Those few who do will be so flattered that they’ll treat you like a princess forever after, sex or no sex. Women are different; you all want ‘closure.’ Closure is the big buzzword these days. You hear it all the time. What you are after is an opener.”
“What if he says yes? What do I do?”
“First time most men will settle for a blowjob in the back seat. You’re after the Big Bang, remember that. Don’t get me wrong, blowjobs are fine and dandy in their place, heh heh.”
“What kind of woman do you think I am?”
“Normal. Healthy. My parishioner.”
“In your telephone church, the, the...”
“Church of the Divine Satisfaction. A Chapel. A nonjudgmental chapel.”
“Uh... well, yes I guess...”
“You are worried about compatibility; you should try a dating service.”
“No, Ed will be just fine. He watches me, you say.”
“You said. I merely pointed it out.”
That Ed Hobart might be a voyeur, her personal peeping Tom, sent a thrill up Heidi’s spine. That Ed watched her, wanted her for something other than collating brochures was a definite step up. Ed was not much to look at. He was bald and beefy, but carried himself with a cautious grace except when he rode his bicycle.
“All you got to do is bat them baby blues,” said Elder Jesse Youngblood. “He’ll come a-running. Trust me. But you got to do as I say.”
“You mean write the letter.”
“Yes. By hand on yellow paper. That’s what does the thing.”
“I have a problem. I can’t think when I write. Not with a pencil. I’ll use the computer—type it out then copy it all down.”
“Whatever works. I’ll call you back on redial.” She thought about the empty years with Andy Nichols. “Yes,” she said. There was a disconnect and Heidi wondered where Elder Jesse was off to. Soliciting other fallen angels, she supposed. But she hadn’t fallen; she had been lured from her perch; she was dumping her marriage to follow a trail of bread crumbs.
Heidi sat at her desk and, loosening the knots of her French braid, let the hair fall down across her shoulders. She unbuttoned her top two buttons and pulled her bra strap up. There... some come-and-get-’em in case Ed wondered what she was doing at the office late. She had a story ready, “Putting the files in a digital format,” she’d say. He’d been after her to do this for months. He had even wheedled the administration out of a laptop with a lot of hard drive space and a spare battery pack: “Slide shows,” he told the bursar. “Taking the show on the road next year.” The laptop became Heidi’s, the assumption being that with a classy Mac to play around on she’d take work home.
The thought of eliminating waste struck a responsive chord. It was not that Ed was cheap, exactly. It was just his everyday peculiarities that set him apart. He was a strange duck, Andy said when she announced her new job at the Agricultural Extension. Heidi had found herself defending him. She did not know Ed Hobart, they had just met. The snide reference to her new boss as a potential weirdo was only her husband’s way of getting to her. They had slept in separate beds, then separate rooms, for most of their marriage. She suspected impotence, but when confronted Andy had told her to mind her own business.
“He can’t get it up ’cause he’s a closet reader,” said Gloria Wellcome, a friend from high school. Gloria was the only one of her classmates Heidi kept in touch with. The only one who hadn’t moved away. “He’s jerking off so much, he’s worn out. You got plenty of sex when you were first married, didn’t you?”
Heidi remembered fumbling awkwardness in a Boston hotel. “Sure. You bet.”
It wasn’t like she had latched onto the first thing in pants that came along; it had been ten years. As for Ed, well... There was a string of petty annoyances that made Ed all the more adorable now that she viewed him in this new light. At the top of the list was Ed’s addiction to head-banger rock ’n’ roll. When she used the company car—the old pickup with the magnetic sign and the logo of the University that Ed kept parked behind the laundromat—Heidi had learned to make sure everything was turned off before she cranked the ignition. Otherwise she was hammered into a near-trance state by a blast of heavy metal and the slapping of windshield wipers left on high. And in that old black leather jacket he looked like Mark Trail in drag.
At the Rotary, Kiwanis or university-sponsored symposia he looked grim, mumbled into his chest and never cracked a smile. Mercifully, he was seldom invited back. It was the rubber chicken socials out in the williwags that were the county agent’s version of academic publish-or-perish. Ed didn’t have a choice. Tonight he was doing his standup at the Greenville Rotary. For his standup speech to praise the Extension’s good works, spreading the word on cabbage worms or genetically modified seed stock, he swapped the jeans and motorcycle leathers for chinos and a Norfolk tweed coming out at the elbows. His for-Heidi-only smile, big and bright, illuminated the office when he walked in. If he didn’t trip and fall over.
Heidi went through fifteen drafts of the letter. “Dear Ed... I want to get laid,” it began. “Once I send this there’s no going back, I won’t be able to unsay it. I will have to trust you, whatever your answer...” She turned on the radio, preset to an oldies station. The Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth was playing: “Paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep...” came slithering out of the speaker. Heidi sighed, “Just what I needed to hear.” I can’t do this, she thought. Or perhaps, maybe, something important is going to happen. She switched the radio off and started copying her final version onto a yellow legal pad.
The door flew open and there was Ed. He dropped the two overstuffed salesman’s sample cases he carried under one arm and jockeyed a milk crate file box of newsletters past his hip, letting it slide down his leg to the floor. “Oh Jesus. Oh, shit.” He was in a panic. His arms flapped helplessly as he tried to get his words out. He knew. Does he have some kind of spy software planted in my computer? No, paranoia strikes deep. There must have been an accident, a fire—mangled bodies out on the road. Sue Maldonado. Heidi felt a flash of exhilaration at the death of a rival. Unworthy. She quashed it. Sue was not a rival till Ed got the letter. The letter. She minimized her word processing screen and called up a solitaire game. “Ed. Talk to me. What’s happened?”
“The laptop. The school’s laptop, your laptop. The Apple? I forgot it there. The guys helped load the whiteboard and all the books and pamphlets in the truck and they must have left it behind. Gotta go back for it, to the Patrons of Husbandry. My night vision is shot all to hell, and I need help. I’ve got to get it and get back to the Greenville Rotary. They are meeting in the Odd Fellows hall, you know it?”
“You want me to drive.”
“I’ll be right with you.” Being careful not to direct Ed’s attention to what she was doing, she tore the three handwritten pages from the legal pad, folded them into a precisely quartered square and, reaching her coat down from its peg near the door, slipped the letter into an inside pocket.
As Ed fidgeted in place, he noticed the two plastic tubs that occupied a place of prominence just inside the front door. “Paper?” he asked. Heidi slid the now blameless pad, empty of all but blue ruled lines, into her top drawer.
“It’s a letter. A personal letter,” she huffed and blushed, “Oh, the totes. No. Recycling, yes—no need to get your nuts in a vise.” That he might not have any testicles to apply a vise to had not occurred to her. What if... No, that was borrowing trouble. If he’d had some terrible injury in the war. Ah-huh, Ed hadn’t been in any war. Maybe a hunting accident. “Ed.”
“You and Sue...” Heidi did not say this. She had almost come right out and asked him if they had sex, normal sex. Well, any sex at all before Sue broke it off. Maybe he never touched her. They moved in together; then Sue left. They were an item for only a couple of months. Maybe Sue was frigid. On the rebound Ed had picked up with a pole dancer from the topless bar next to the bus depot. The woman had a routine with a rubber snake that squirted shampoo, Heidi heard. Really, she thought. But that lasted only a week, the pole dancer moved in with another woman. Fresh uncertainty overwhelmed Heidi’s inner voices and they were still.
“Heidi,” Ed said, “...we’re late. The Grange will be locked up till next meeting. That’s October.”
Heidi fussed with getting her jacket zipped; she knew how that got him wound up. He needed the calming influence of a girl with no snake that he could bring home to mom. Mom would mean Philomena Hobart, Ed’s mother, old enough to be his grandmother. Maybe she was both. The family tree of the Hobarts was a popular topic in the county. Heidi shuddered; she hoped Ed would think this was in anticipation of a trip by unheated pickup in the chill evening air.
Heidi led; Ed followed. She swung a green-striped knit muffler tight around her neck like a sailor wrapping a bollard. Ed flicked off the lights and gave a yank to test the deadbolt then hurried to catch up. As he slid into the passenger’s seat, Heidi put the key into the ignition. The starter cranked a few times and, as the engine started to catch, she switched it off. “Ed.” She removed the key and turned to look at him.
“What.” He checked his watch and fidgeted.
“This is important. Only take a minute.” She pulled the folded yellow letter out of her pocket. She held it, considering. “There is something I want you to know. But I don’t want you to know it right now. Do me a favor?”
“Take this home with you and don’t read it until you are alone.”
“No, not that. Just promise me, OK?”
“I promise.” He took the letter and started to open it.
“No! Not now. That would spoil it. It’s, it’s... a surprise is all.”
“Uh, sure. If you say so. Sounds important.”
“Very.” Heidi started the old truck and hurtled out from behind the laundromat into a U-turn that headed them toward the Little Falls Grange Hall. “We’ll take the Ridge Road, OK? Cuts five miles off the trip.”
“Fine with me.” Heidi floored the accelerator and Ed buckled his seat belt.
They jounced on a rutted back road that tunneled past forsaken pasturages dotted with rusted farm equipment and apple orchards gone leggy with neglect. Heidi took a turn too fast and brakes squealed as they went off the road, then back on, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake—then an isolated farmhouse with one dim bulb burning yellow against night winds, night whispers, unquiet graves. At a snow plow turnaround cut into a copse of mixed spruce and hackmatack, she pulled in and cut the engine. “Ed.”
“This is more about that letter I’m not supposed to read.”
“Know how many men I’ve had sex with? I’m 38 years old, remember.” He looked at her as if she had just parachuted out of a flying saucer. There was a Mr. Heidi somewhere in the works, Ed knew. He never came around. Funny. He was an anesthesiologist, Andy from Texas A&M. He had put Lucy under during a knee replacement. Ed was silent but his mouth opened and closed like the aquarium lobsters at the Red and White.
“One,” said Heidi.
“No. In high school, a boy named Terry Wintrode.”
“Once. We skipped band practice. He played percussion.”
Ed was bewildered. What was this all about? He knew he had to be sweating; his palms were wet. He wondered how his face looked—probably those red splotches under the eyes that he got when he had been drinking jug wine. Histamine release, an allergic reaction, the doctor told him. “Just cut back on the wine, Ed. Fluid buildup, that plus the low alcohol content, it takes a whole lot to get you under the influence. I’m concerned about your alcohol consumption. How much of that stuff do you put away?” Ed had said just with dinner. Doc Harmon put him back on the scale. “You haven’t gained a pound. In fact you’ve lost weight since the last checkup. To get the condition you’re presenting, you have to be putting back a gallon or thereabouts each and every day. That about right?”
Ed conceded that sounded about right.
“Ed,” Heidi said, “Your face is all red. Am I embarrassing you with this?”
“Frankly, yes. Where are we going with this... this... confessional? And I only had a couple of beers.”
“Read the letter.”
Ed read. Then he read again, being careful not to look up. “This is not a joke. I mean...”
“Dead earnest. You think about me. I see the look in your eyes when I wear anything that shows a little skin. You want me, too. A woman knows. It’s all right, Ed, for Chrissakes.”
“I guess you could say we’ve been introduced... five years after all.” Ed looked into Heidi’s eyes. She kissed him on the mouth.
“And now.” Heidi’s right hand was on Ed, taking a gentle inventory of the contents of his pants leg. “You are getting an erection. Ed Hobart, you old dog, you.” She unzipped his fly and touched the pouch of his jockey briefs. Ed made a small sound, part groan, part sigh as he felt an ejaculation of pre-coital fluid trickle forth. “Just here to see the sights,” Heidi said. She removed her hand, shed her jacket and began undoing the buttons of her blouse. Then her hand was back in his pants. “Here, boy. Mmmm, I’ll have to wrestle him out.” Ed did not move. His body was doing things—having things done to it—that he had only fantasized about in moments of solitary masturbation. This was real.
“God, how I’ve dreamed about this. With someone, with anyone. I’m so glad that it’s you, Ed. This means we’re an item, right?” She gave a girlish grin, the kind of smile Ed had seen only in the movies, and then went back to work, bobbing over his crotch.
“Oooo...” Ed could not control himself. But why try? He felt the release of what he imagined to be cupful after cupful of hot streaming semen surging forth. Heidi pulled back to see what was the matter. Had she hurt him... and got the full flow of Ed’s early climax in her face.
“O God, Heidi... I’m sorry,” was all he could think to say. “Uh, thank you.” Lame, lame, lame.
“You are very welcome,” Heidi said. She touched the sticky wetness that covered her face tentatively, with a kind of wonder. “And all the girls in high school said you were a great kisser. You were their fantasy. Did you know that? I didn’t think so. That was because you were shy, withdrawn. Most guys who keep to themselves get teased as homosexuals. Not you. But you never had a girl—not like you just had me, not in school. None of them ever went necking with you, I bet. Kiss me, Ed.” Ed kissed her. Heidi’s lips tasted mildly briny, resinous, like an imported salad dressing he had bought once. Not terrible, not strange, but right, right for him. Right for her, Ed hoped. And right now.
Heidi was removing her brassiere, shrugging her breasts out for him to fondle. He kissed the offered nipples, then took as much of one breast into his mouth as it would hold. “Ouch, easy boy, easy,” she said. Ed wanted more, more than he could ever consume in many lifetimes. Ed Hobart was a lost man awash on the damp, welcoming shores of Heidi Nichols.
After several minutes of passionate kisses, Heidi pulled away and dug in the glove compartment for a Kleenex. “I’m drying stiff. Hold on for a minute.”
“I’ll never look at a yellow legal pad the same way again,” said Ed Hobart.
“And we’ll go back to the office tomorrow and act as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened. This will be our secret. There will be the glances, brushing touches at work that make the secret all the more delicious. Then...”
“Then...” Ed was recalled from a post-coital reverie.
“Then we move in together and do it all the time. On sheets, no clothes, central heating, an après-sex glass of wine, or whatever. You still don’t smoke, do you? I mean...”
“Wine is fine. I guess it will be too late to get the computer from the Grange now. It will wait,” Ed said. “I can do my presentation with that old Kodak slide carousel. We still have it, right?”
Heidi smiled with the glow of a pre-Raphaelite heaven. “I never throw anything away, Ed. Not even you. Yes, we have it. And the trays of slides.”
“You are wonderful. Would it be alright to say I love you?”
“Well, I love you, Ed.”
“Nothing like this has ever, never, happened to me in my whole life.”
“You mean you and Sue... never. Not even once? Not just heavy petting, real sex, naked in a motel like teenagers after the prom? Heavy petting, doesn’t that just show our age. Come on, Ed I’ve told you my deepest, darkest secrets. Now you tell me yours. Oral sex is the adult equivalent of a class ring. It is, admit it. We are bonded. I have left my mark on you and yours is all over my face. I’ve got you now and as long as you live you’ll never forget this day. I know we’re supposed to be all grown up and everything, but moonlight passion in a car, that is our birthright.”
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