Renewal

By Christie Marra

“When I came home yesterday I found this on my door.” Ms. Randolph’s hand trembled as she passed the wrinkled paper across the desk.

 

       Libba nodded and scratched down bits of Ms. Randolph’s story, struggling to focus on the elderly woman’s words instead of the hands of the clock.  4:30. Damn Scott for being late again! He’d promised to relieve her by 4:00, but as usual he was MIA. Scott had been disappearing for hours at a time since his divorce, probably hoping the staff would assume he was fundraising or tending to other Executive Director duties. Libba knew better. Good thing, given all the times she’d had to fill in for him in the past year. If she told the Board of Directors how much of Scott’s work she actually did, would they regret selecting him over her? Probably not. They’d probably tell Scott that she’d complained. Then he wouldn’t renew her appointment as deputy.

 

      Ms. Randolph pushed the wrinkled paper closer to Libba.

 

      Libba knew what the paper said before she read it.  The few notes scribbled on her legal pad – missed court because husband left her without car, lost receipts for rent paid, still $300 behind – told her that the sixty-eight-year old woman had no way to avoid eviction. The sheriff’s men would change the lock on her door and place Ms. Randolph’s belongings on the curb, exposing her nightmare to neighbors and strangers alike.

 

      Libba sighed. “Is everything alright, dear?” Ms. Randolph asked.

 

       Damn all these broken people!  And damn the people who broke them!  Who broke Ms. Randolph? Was it her landlord, which from the information on the paperwork was some faceless corporation, a front for old white men who smoked cigars and vacationed in the tropics with their profits. They didn’t have to look at a dozen Ms. Randolphs each week, leaning forward hopefully in their chairs, believing you had some magic legal beans that would let them keep their homes. Or had Ms. Randolph been broken by her husband, the selfish coward who left his wife to not only face the judge alone, but to figure out how to get to court in a county that cared so little about its poorer people that it couldn’t be bothered to have a bus system.  Loud, stinky, unattractive busses would disrupt the serenity of the countryside.

 

       “I’m sorry, Ms. Randolph,” Libba began, hiding her hand beneath the desk so Ms. Randolph couldn’t see her digging her fingernails into the flesh of her palm. You see, the legal system was created by men of privilege who generations ago sold their souls in exchange for eternal profit, she imagined herself saying. “Without any receipts,” she said aloud, “we have no way of getting the judge to reopen the case.”

 

       Ms. Randolph stared at her blankly for a minute, then moved closer to the edge of her chair. “But the man in the management office promised me he’d let me stay as long as I paid something, and I paid him $550 when my social security check came.”

 

       “I’m sorry,” Libba said again. “There’s nothing I can do to stop this eviction.”

 

       Ms. Randolph’s eyes grew wide and started to tear, and her chin trembled. Libba opened the middle drawer of her desk to pull out a tissue, but before she offered it, Ms. Randolph stood and extended her hand.

 

       “Thank you. I appreciate you explaining this to me.”

 

       As Libba shook Ms. Randolph’s hand, she said, “Let me give you a list of shelters that are open, and churches---"

 

       “No need, no need,” Ms. Randolph said, waving her off. “I’ll find a way.” She nodded at Libba, her mouth set in a thin, straight line, and walked out of the office.

 

       Libba wanted to scream. She hurled her half-full Coke can against the wall. “Goddamn men!” The pop of can hitting wall made her feel a little better. “Screw you!”

 

       Scott’s face appeared in her doorway.  “Everything okay?”

 

       Libba forced a smile and rolled her chair closer to the Coke can. She tried to nudge it under the desk, but it hit a chair leg and rolled across the floor, stopping a few inches from Scott’s foot.

 

       His eyes travelled from the can to the light brown lines streaking the wall. He shook his head. “You know, I would fire anyone else who had the type of tantrums you have.”

 

       “I’m sorry,” she said, cringing, remembering all the times her father had chastised her for her tantrums.  “I’m working on the whole impulsive anger thing.  Really I am.”

 

       Scott sat in the chair Ms. Randolph had vacated. “Seriously, Libba, I can’t have you exploding all the time. The staff is starting to talk.”

 

       Not as much as they talk about you missing meetings to rendezvous with your new girlfriend. “Scott, I’m so sorry. But can’t we talk about this tomorrow?” Libba glanced at the clock. “I was hoping to get on the road by 4:30, and it’s 4:45 already.”

 

       “No, Libba,” Scott said. “Every time I try to talk to you about your outbursts, you suddenly have somewhere to go.”

 

       “Scott, I---” The chirping of Libba’s cell phone saved her. “Hey, Al, is everything OK with the kids?” She mouthed I’m sorry and raised her hands in a sign of helplessness. Scott stood, shaking his head.

 

       “We will discuss this tomorrow.”  He closed the door behind him.

 

       “The kids are fine!” Al said. “Your dress is here.  I thought you might want to pick it up on your way home from work so you could take it to be altered tomorrow.”

 

       Libba bit her lip to keep from telling her ex-husband what she really wanted to do with the bridesmaid dress she’d paid $200 for before the impending alteration costs. When Al told her he was in love with Joe, only a year after he’d divorced her, she’d thought, Well, at least he can’t marry him. But then the Supreme Court changed the rule and when Al asked her to be in the wedding party, she’d said yes. What else could she say after six years of celebrating every birthday and holiday with Al and Joe, telling both of them she loved them an inappropriate number of times, and swearing she couldn’t be happier for them?  

 

       “I’m heading out of town for the night. I’ll pick it up tomorrow when I get the kids from you.”  She didn’t understand why she still felt guilty every time she didn’t do exactly what Al wanted.

 

       “The kids are at my sister’s this week. I’ve told you that half a dozen times.” The edge of annoyance in Al’s voice still hurt Libba, but not as much as it had when they were married, and it appeared when she diapered their twins too loosely or made the bed without hospital corners.

 

       “I’m on top of it,” she promised, running quickly through her schedule for the week. She’d have to miss her favorite dance class to get the damn dress altered.   

 

       “I’m sure you are, Little One.” Al’s voice softened, and Libba smiled. In spite of everything, Al would always claim a piece of her heart.

 

       When Libba finally pulled her battered VW Bug out of the legal aid parking lot, the dash clock read 5:05. Stopped at a light, she shot a text to Calder: “Running late. Will make it up to U when I get there. Don’t forget – 2day is Renewal Day!! J” She chuckled. Calder probably wouldn’t even remember that they’d promised to renew their relationship each month. Maybe she’d design a sexy ritual for every renewal day. Throughout the hour drive, she considered different options.

 

       She could show up in nothing but a thong and low-cut negligee every Renewal Day.

 

       Renewal Day could be the day they played with new toys.

 

       Every month, they could retie their relationship knot – literally. She reached over to the passenger seat and ran her hand over the tangle of rope.  Yes, retying their knot might be the perfect renewal ritual.

 

       It was dark by the time she arrived at Calder’s, and she had to feel her way through the trees and down the path to his cottage. More shack than cottage, Calder’s place was just one large room with a small stove, dorm-room sized refrigerator and sink tucked into one corner, a curtain not quite hiding the dingy tub and toilet beside them. Libba felt a little sad every time she came. But when she saw Calder standing in the doorway, broad chest bare and mouth spread into a grin, excitement bumped sadness out of the way.

 

       Calder was the one. Libba was certain, and so was Calder. “You’re the yin to my yang,” he liked to tell her. Yes, Calder was the hippie she’d always dreamed of meeting, unconcerned with convention, happy to forego his family’s fortune to live his simple life, and finding Calder now explained why all her earlier relationships failed.

 

       Fifteen minutes after she arrived they were naked, Libba bound to a kitchen chair, blindfolded, Calder lightly tracing circles around her breasts with the edge of a feather duster they had purchased for such erotic uses. He switched to the miniature whip they’d ordered, maneuvering it so that she moaned in pleasure rather than pain. Hands, lips, tongue and toys – he played them all until Libba lay flopped across the chair, an erotically spent Raggedy Ann.

 

       When she’d recovered, Libba led Calder to the recliner and gently pushed him into it. She blindfolded him, pulled his arms above his head and tied his wrists tightly together, securing his ankles to the chair legs with the thick rope she’d brought. She knelt, tugged off his boxers, and lowered her head between his thighs.

 

       Before she began, she asked playfully, “You know it’s our Renewal Date, don’t you? Let’s renew!” Lowering her head again, she started to giggle.

 

      Calder said, “Yeah, um, about that.”

 

       Libba sat back and studied his face.

 

       He stared at the far wall, frowning.

 

       “What?” she asked. “You want to renew, right?”

 

       Calder continued to stare silently at the wall.

 

       “Calder?” She hated that it sounded like a desperate plea.

 

       “Can you untie me?” Calder asked.

 

       “Answer me!” She had no desire to make him comfortable.

 

       “Libba, please.”

 

       “Answer!”

 

       Calder squirmed, turning his head from side to side, and twisting his wrists and ankles in an unsuccessful effort to free himself.

 

       “Well, Calder? Do you want to renew or don’t you?”

 

       “I…I…don’t know.”

 

       “You don’t know?” Libba grabbed one of Calder’s ankles in each of her hands and dug her nails into his skin.

 

       “Hey! Ouch! Lemonade!” he screamed their safe word.  “Lemonade!”

 

       Libba dug her nails deeper into his flesh. “Why don’t you know?”

 

       “It’s…I…It’s just not what I want.”

 

       “Why?”

 

       “I…no reason, really. I’m just listening to my heart.”

 

       “I see,” she told him, slowly rising to her feet. “I can’t help admiring a man who listens to his heart.” When Calder continued to struggle to free himself, she added, “I’m game for one last round if you are.” She leaned into him and started their final round while he squirmed. Finally, he stopped resisting. Once he was completely responding to her movements, she whispered into his ear, “I want to make our last time special. And I have an idea.” She ran her tongue along the edge of his ear. “Don’t go anywhere.”

 

       Calder’s only knives were what Libba’s mother would have called butter knives, their rounded, dull tips utterly useless. Libba dug around in the back of the drawer until she felt something sharp. She pulled it out. A corkscrew!

 

       In front of Calder again, she ran the fingers of her left hand up his right leg, slowing as she moved up his thigh. When her free fingers reached the crease where his left thigh met his pelvis, she shifted the corkscrew into her left hand and dug the point into Calder’s skin.

 

       “Holy shit!!” Calder screamed.

 

       Smiling, Libba held Calder’s leg down with her right hand for leverage and twisted with her left.

 

       “Ah! No! Ah!” Calder’s high-pitched scream pleased Libba. She twisted until she felt the skin puncture. Red dripped down Calder’s thigh as she withdrew the corkscrew.

 

       “Stop…please…I … I’m sorry .. I want to renew, I want to-“

 

       Libba shifted the corkscrew into her right hand and deftly twisted it into the crease between thigh and pelvis.

 

       “I’m so sorry,” she said in her most professional voice. “But the time period for renewal has expired.”

 

       She twisted the corkscrew harder. The blood running down Calder’s thigh exhilarated her.  She began to understand how Scott felt when he made her cover for him at a lunch meeting of their board of directors so he could screw his girlfriend in the backseat of his car.

 

       “Ah, Ah!” Calder wailed.  “Stop! Please stop!” he screamed

 

       Libba watched two scarlet lines race to Calder’s ankles. She felt surprisingly calm, better than she’d felt in years, stronger than ever. But as Calder continued to scream, she hesitated. This was wrong, completely out of proportion, and the pleasure she was deriving from it suddenly troubled her. She should wipe the blood from Calder’s skin, clean and bandage the wounds she’d made, show him the kindness he hadn’t given her.  She stood and took a step toward the bathroom, trying to remember where she’d seen the Band Aids and Neosporin.

 

       “I…I, I love you Libba.”

 

       She turned back to Calder and stared at his blindfolded face. But instead of Calder she saw Al at the altar on their wedding day. For better and for worse, until death do us part. Or until Libba ruined her figure having children, time etched thin lines around her eyes, and she’d lost all strands of confidence she’d had.

 

       “I love you,” Calder repeated.

 

       “Mother fucker,” Libba whispered, and she jabbed the edge of the corkscrew into Calder’s gut and twisted it hard and fast.

©2020 by Variant Literature Inc.