forty-two            

            The colours of Felicia's outerwear and underwear repeat themselves in lavender variations throughout the dining room's decor. In love with mauves and purples, the newlywed has employed them everywhere: in the satin drapes, the thick-pile carpet, the Florentine crystal chandelier, the wallpaper's lilac-motifsubtly sometimes, often merely a touch or delicate shade, tastefully, in fact; but the colour scheme calls to Zachary's mind (as he enters, nods, and sits) the brothel he once frequented in the backstreets of Charleston.

            "Zack Squire! Well I'll be damned. Ain't seen you in a coon's age. Rumour has it you went and tied the knot."

            "Zachary; I do declare you look as if you've worn yourself to a frazzle. Perk up and eat your soup. Here I've gone to all this trouble, ordered brand new candles and your favourite dishes: game hen, turnips, black-eyed peas, andno, I will not tell you what's for dessert; that's a surpriseand my darling husband sits at table lively as a slug."

            "Is she pretty, Zack? Does she treat you right in bed; is she good? As good as me?"

            "Honestly, Zachary Squire, you are driving yourself too hard. There are other things in life besides manual labour. Can't you leave the work to Mister Tune and those unhygienic slaves? Ours is one of the richest plantations in the state of South Carolina... Maybe not the biggest or the most elegant; not like the Hampton's. Now there's a family that rightfully belongs to the aristocracy; the Hamptons are the absolute epitome of je ne sais quoi. Can you imagine Mister Emery Bob Hampton sitting down to dinner in his shirtsleeves?"

            "You look tired, Zack. Not love-tired, weary-tired, like maybe married life ain't all it's cracked up to be. She's young, ain't she? How young? Fourteen, fifteen?"

            "Not that I am criticizing. You can come to table dressed in any old thing you please; come in your pyjamas if you have a mind. But don't you think you owe your wife the courtesy to dine at table washed? I mean, Zachary, you have been in proximity to creatures  less than sanitary."

            "Zack, you need a woman, not some flighty adolescent. Let me shuck these duds off; now don't go shy on me; it's Lulu, remember? I know you married men make vows, but none are broken here. Services bought and sold don't compromise fidelity. In the honour code of wedlock, a house is not a home."

            "Would you kindly pass the bread, dear?... Zachary?... Zachary!"

            "What?"

            "The bread?"

            "Very tasty."

            "Would you pass it, please?"

            "Oh."

            The table being of formal size (another of Felicia's home improvements), Zachary has to stand and walk its length in order to comply.

            "You haven't said a word about my dress."

            "Very pretty."

            "Do you think it's cut too daringly?"

            He watches with detachment as she puffs up her chest.

            "How is she built—your wife?... Don't wanna say? I'm curious, is all. You know how women are, the way we're itching to compare. She cushiony up top or green-apple firm? Must be firm, if she's only—sixteen, is it? But is her bust as big and round and rubbery at the nipplesHm—as mine? Does she whimper if you suck too hard, or sink her nails in deep and rake your brawny shoulders?"

            Zachary beats a retreat to his end of the table.

            "Your dress is very lovely, Felicia."

            "Why thank you, darling."

            Priscilla enters with a sterling silver platter. She starts to serve. Felicia stops her.

            "You may go, Priscilla."

            "Mistress?"

            "Run along. Tonight I'm serving Master Zachary myself."

            "Yessum."

            Priscilla collects the soup tureens, curtseys, then departs. Felicia glides to Zachary's end of the table and leans forward—more than is necessary—to transfer a steamy portion onto his plate, inhaling deeply to savour the food's aroma—and once more to inflate her half-exposed bosom.

            "Mmmmm, isn't that an absolutely scrumptious smell? I do declare, you are fortunate in Beulah, Zachary dear. Of course I've given her some pointers about savoury herbs and spices, but she's remarkably accomplished for a slave. I mean, preparing meals for years and years for bachelors, it's a wonder she has any finesse at all—men being so irksomely indifferent to fine cuisine. Why, interrupt most any man mid chew, and what is in his mouth he like as not can't name."

            "You're all tensed up, Zack. What's this woman done to you? Or maybe I should ask what don't she do? She do this?... Bet not. Mmmmmmost women won't... But you love it... Don't you, Zack?... You... just... love it."

            "Maybe you would like to have your back rubbed while we dine. No? Let me try. Just relax. That's it. Priscilla does me all the time and it's absolutely marvellous. See? You like it, don't you? My, oh my, your back is cast-iron hard! You must have muscles on your muscles. I forget, sometimes, how powerful my darling husband is. Zachary? I have to ask you something. It's a teeny-weeny favour. May I ask it, darling; may I? Promise you won't get mad."

             "She asked me not to come here."

            "Zack Squire speaks; hallelujah! Oh, oh, that did it; hush my mouth for wilting what I'd only just gotten firm. "

            "Begged me not to come."

            "Well, I'm flattered, Zack. Never thought you cared."

            "It was touching; she even went down on her knees."

            "Had the right position... Sorry. What's wrong, Zack? Is she slow to learn, or clumsy, or just plain frigid?"

            "It's not about sex."

            "Since when?"

            "I mean Felicia's willing—more than willing. I'm the one disinterested—leastwise in her."

            Lulu wriggles up the bed until her head eclipses Zachary's. She irons his furrowed brow with a stroke from opposing thumbs.

            "You're different, Zack. You've changed. Married life don't suit you. Look at all these creases. You got worry-lines for days, Zack. You'll be old before your time, don't come to town more often, kick up your heels. Why so serious? That whole big place is yours now; don't that make you happy?"

            Zachary, still reclined, locks his fingers behind his head.

            "When I was eleven years old, one of my father's niggers took me fishing. We both had poles we'd cut ourselves only his was really fine; he'd spent a long time on it. We fished all afternoon and he had so many bites he started throwing them back in. I caught nothing. I was convinced the only difference was our poles. When I got home I told my father. He said, take the nigger's pole. I said, I didn't reckon that was a proper thing to do, and he said, if I were on another man's plantation and wanted a pear from one of his trees what should I do. I said, ask. He said, right. But what if that pear tree were on our own plantation; what would I do then? I said, just take it. Then he said, anything a nigger has that isn't another White's property rightly belongs to me. The next day I took Larchmont's pole; he didn't say a word; he used mine. I caught three fish; he caught twelve."

            Lulu wriggles back down, tracing the hairline partitioning Zachary's chest, stomach, abdomen, working her way further down.

            "So, Larchmont was a better fisherman. Big deal."

            "But Larchmont was and is a Negro."

            "Yeah?"

            "Don't you see? I was raised to believe that anything a black man can do a White man can do better."

            "Well, you was only eleven."

            "That's what my father said—then he had Larchmont whipped for showing-up his son."

            "Served the nigger right."

            "Why; for doing a thing with more skill than an eleven-year-old? I resolved from that day forward to master every task my father's niggers did—and that meant everything, from fishing to picking cotton."

            "Don't take no skill to pick cotton."

            "Have you ever tried it?"

            "Me? You must be joking. Closest I come to cotton is these here sheets. The title Lady of Leisure is one I take to heart. Anyhow..." Lulu jiggles Zachary's penis. " ...what's that got to do with your frigid wife?"

            "I told you, she's not frigid."

            "Well, your ugly wife, then."

            "She isn't ugly, either. Let go of that, will you."

            "Aw, don't get riled. Lulu's only joshing. Come on, let's have ourselves a goosy-greasy time."

            She slides a garter from her leg and lassos Zachary's member. Despite his irritation, arousal soon sets in—though the lips that aim to please lack the suitable proportions... seem lean to him by comparison... too obscured by iridescent paint to. Only with eyes shut tightly can he conjure up the pucker his mind and body craves.

            "Did you, Zachary? I know you told me I was not allowed to ask, but... Did you?... I mean, it's not because I'm jealous; it's only... Don't they have diseases?"

            Lulu ably undulates, straddling

that which stiffens with remembrance of intoxicating musk, of cunnilingus and humidity so corporeal it lingered on his taste buds, drugged him like a necromancer's potion, enslaved him to a slave, or rather to a slave's uncanny vapour, aromatic sweat, and involuntary discharge, luring him past propriety to drink unto drunkenness, yet abstain from taking ultimate possession. Why? Why once she had climaxed, once her spine like a bowstring's quiver ceased to vibrate in response to ravenous titillation, had libido not insisted he continue Jewel's defilement? Why, when she was vulnerable, when the sheets betrayed her rapture, had he spared her hymen's rupture, leaving himself unsatisfied (?)

—guiding his erection to her vulva's pulpy flaps and stuffing him inside.

            "I missed you, Zachary. We hadn't been apart since we were wed. I know your trip to town was brief, but to me it seemed an eternity. You didn't miss me?... Say you did, Zachary, even if it isn't true... Why won't you make love to me?... A marriage isn't a marriage until it is consummated. Don't you find me attractive? I realize I'm inexperienced, but, is that not as it should be? I mean how are wives to learn if their husbands...?"

            The bedsprings start to groan as Lulu churns and gyrates, her flesh-in-motion lewd in its practiced machinations...

            "Won't you give me a chance? I want to make you happy; honestly I do. Anyway you like; you need only ask."

...her throat emitting expletives; Zachary, indisposed to having his semen sapped, is past the point of keeping in check the pent-up pressure...

            "Let me prove it. Let me... Help me, darling. Come upstairs. I'll go first; you follow."

...tossing back her head, teeth exposed, lower lipped entrapped, Lulu tries to bring herself to—Zachary bucks her off, the shock inhibiting both achieving orgasm.

            Upon Felicia's exit, Zachary—resolute, unwilling to fulfil his blushing bride's request—resumes his seat at table and dines by himself.