Fall 2012

Table of Contents - Vol. VIII, No. 3


Poetry    Fiction    Translations    Reviews   

Caryn Coyle


The Sharp Points of Holly Leaves


Genevive had not wanted to get involved with Paul.  She did not think of him as even a possibility when she met him.  He kept a photo of himself with his wife, Eve, on his office desk.  They stood in a doorway; a curved beige arch framing their heads.  Eve was much shorter than Paul.  She had stiff looking blonde hair and she was not smiling in the photo.  Her lips were closed.  She had severe looking brown eyes.   Eve wore a frilly, Laura Ashley dress under one of those short, boiled wool jackets.  She looked like someone out of The Sound of Music.
Genevive's fingers shook on the keys to Paul's IBM Selectric typewriter.  He'd lent her the use of his office to type up her résumé.
Now, she has met Paul for a weekend – alone – and her head is pounding. 
Genevive’s map is neatly folded, lying next to her on the passenger seat.  Her heart thumps quickly when she sees Paul’s black BMW parked on the gravel parking lot.  The lot is a courtyard enclosed on two sides by an ancient, four story brick house, and a third by a high wooden fence with crisscrossed strips of wood framed at the top.  Patchwork.  Pretty, she thinks. 
Paul comes out of what looks like the back door of the house.  Beside the door is a small holly tree, maybe ten feet high.  Genevive can see the glossy bright green leaves of three larger holly trees behind the crisscrossed wood strips at the top of the fence.  It is too early in the season for any red berries.  The other trees are perhaps fifty to sixty feet high and each appears to be dozens of feet wide.  “Holly House,” she says to herself as she watches Paul hobble barefoot over the sharp prickles of the holly leaves, which are scattered on the crushed gray and off-white stones of the parking area.  He is wearing a salmon polo shirt and khaki pants. 
Genevive turns off the engine.  Even though the air in the car is still comfortable, she is not.  Her face feels hot.  She is wet.  Everywhere.   Her arm pits, the nape of her neck.  Inside her cotton bikini panties.  She opens the door when he reaches her side of the car.
“Hi,” she says, climbing out.  
   “Hey,” he embraces her. 
They are enclosed in gravel, brick, and holly.  She tastes his tongue and thinks, remember this.  This is how it is supposed to feel.  Delicious, familiar and better than any other kiss ever.
“Where are your shoes?” she asks him.
“I was unpacking, and I kicked them off.  Then I heard your car, and I forgot to put them back on,” his right hand moves to the small of her back.  She can feel its weight under her shirt.  It gives her a euphoric pause.  The sensation resonates down to her legs and out her arms.  It also travels up her neck, behind her eyes and throughout the top of her head.
“Show me our room.”
“It’s right there,” he points to a window on the second floor above the door.  The window’s glass panes are old, thick.  They reflect the early evening’s sunlight and mix with uneven dark splotches from whatever is beyond the window, inside, “C’mon, let’s go in.”
“Wait!”  Genevive says as he removes his hand.  “My luggage?”
“We’ll get it later.” 
The initial moments on the four post bed -- covered with a cream colored bed spread, green holly leaves with red berries are appliquéd on it -- are in slow motion.  Genevive tries again to savor every detail, to imprint the entire experience in her memory.  Paul lies on his back; his dark haired chest is moist with sweat.  He smells strong, like the dirt in potting soil.  She breathes in as much of him as she can.  She takes tiny bites of his nipples, kisses them and runs her tongue down his chest, through his furry hair, to his belly button.  She flicks her tongue inside it, and continues further down.
An hour passes before Paul dresses again to go back outside for her luggage.  He pulls on his khakis, and tosses his polo shirt over his head.  Genevive lies on the bed, her head and the back of her knees rest on the eyelet covered pillows.  Paul’s fingers trace each of her breasts and her stomach before he rests them on her pubic hair.
“Maybe one more time?”  His smile is devilish as he yanks the salmon polo off again.
Right after he leaves to retrieve Genevive’s luggage, a pager announces itself.  Genevive follows the tinny beeping noise to the bureau and picks up a small black rectangle.  When she sees a phone number in the top part of the pager, she grabs a pen from the desk next to the bureau, rips a sheet out of the guest journal on the desk, and quickly jots down the number.  She turns off the pager and leaves it on the bureau.  Genevive hides the sheet from the journal in her discarded panties, stuffing them under the clothes she has shed on the floor.  
They are the last to be seated for dinner in the tiny restaurant across the street from the Holly House.  The tables are covered in white linen.  Behind Paul, in their booth, is a large, mirrored wall.  Genevive can see herself as she watches him.  Their food is artfully displayed on large square plates of different colors.  Paul’s is turquoise, Genevive’s is orange.  Paul orders a Cabernet Sauvignon, and they clink their glasses after he pours the berry-colored wine into them.  Genevive thinks the connection she feels with Paul is the perfection everyone seeks in another.
They stroll for a block and a half up the main street after dinner.  The air is still thick, and the deep night sky is illuminated by ornate lamps disguised to look like lanterns.  Genevive and Paul stop at the end of the block where the Leesburg Courthouse rests in a vast lawn.  The large brick building is framed with four columns on its veranda and a belfry with a clock that is lit up with a spot light.  They stand behind the black wrought iron that fences the courthouse.  Genevive thinks of the history the building has probably seen. 
Paul appears to be reading her thoughts.  “It replaced the one that did witness the Civil War.”  He takes her hand and places it around his waist, “They fought right there on the lawn.”
Genevive’s eyes adjust to the dark and she recognizes a dark statue in front of the courthouse.  She can tell by the uniform it is a Confederate soldier.  She thinks of the soldiers who also died on the lawn, from the other side.  There is no memorial for them. 
She pulls her arm out and holds onto Paul’s, brushing her breasts against him.  He smiles at her.  Their lips meet -- lightly -- before their tongues dance with each other.
A siren wails in the middle of the night and wakes them both.  Genevive is unable to fall asleep again.  She watches Paul as he begins to snore, his eyelids fluttering.  Paul’s hands and arms lie straight along the sides of his body.   
In the morning, Paul’s pager goes off again as Genevive is turning the faucet on in the shower.  She stands, naked, in the doorway waiting for Paul to look up.  His head is bowed.  He is talking – on his mobile phone -- in a voice too low for her to hear with the shower’s water running behind her.  Genevive shifts her weight from one foot to the other.  A sinking sensation creeps up from her stomach to her chest.  She thinks of when Paul must have noticed that his pager was turned off, and whether or not he figured out she had done it.  He has said nothing to her.
She walks over to him and stands as close to him as she dares, brushing her lips on his cheek.  He is wearing boxer shorts in a paisley pattern.  He looks up at her, tries to smile, but misses.  Genevive’s heart sinks.  Paul nods and bores into her with his eyes, as if to say, “I need to take this.” 
She interprets it as, “Go away,” and moves in shock, turning and walking away from him.  She steps over the tub’s rim and puts her head under the water’s flow.  It caresses her forehead and coats her face.  She chokes back tears, reaching for a bar of soap that is shaped like a holly leaf.  It smells of synthetic pine, too strong to be real.  It softens in her hands, and she lathers her breasts.  Before she can go any further, Paul pulls back the shower curtain and joins her.
Under the stream of water, she holds onto him, tightly.  Paul pulls his head away and she lets go.  He takes the holly soap from her hand -- the water is streaming down his face -- and he carefully, slowly rubs the bar over her breasts.  He places the holly bar back in the soap holder built into the ceramic wall.  Gently, he rubs the soap into a lather.  His touch soothes her.  When he pulls her up, he holds her in an embrace with his arms.  Genevive encircles him with her legs, locks her ankles together on his buttocks, and guides him into her.
“I have to leave,” Paul tells her as she dresses for breakfast.
“Why?”  Anguish tightens her throat. 
“I’m sorry, Genevive.  I can’t stay.”
“We weren’t supposed to go home until tomorrow.”
“I know.  I’m sorry.  Let’s get breakfast, and we’ll pack afterwards.” 
There are two other couples seated at the dining room table.  The table is covered with an eyelet cloth, intricate holes are peeking out amongst the china and silverware.  Thick, pressed linen napkins -- embroidered with one green holly leaf outline – are at their place settings.  Genevive smoothes hers on her lap and tries again to slow down time.  The couples take turns introducing themselves: Julie and Steve from Seattle, Marianne and Brian from Fairfax.
“Morning!  We are Paul and Gen from Baltimore,” says Paul.
Genevive thinks of their names together.  Paul is the only person who calls Genevive Gen.  She feels connected to him, legitimate.  The other couples may even think that she and Paul are married.
  A soufflé with melted cheddar cheese is served, and Genevive knows she should not eat it.  Her head has been tottering on the verge of a headache, with her loss of sleep and the shock of their aborted weekend.  But she does not want to insult the hostess or draw attention to herself.  She takes a few cautious bites.
Genevive refuses all alcohol, she knows that will bring it on, and asks for hot tea instead.  No coffee.  Tea and toast are all she really trusts.
The pin pricks of light start.  The faint throb on the right side of her forehead grows and the pain is full blown by the time she rises from the table.
Genevive presses on her forehead with her right hand.  It is the only relief she can muster.  She has Cafergot with Phenobarbital she always carries with her and she grabs a glass from the bathroom to gulp it down while Paul carefully places his discarded clothes in his suitcase. 

* * *

Driving back to Baltimore, Genevive concentrates on the road instead of the pain.  She took the Cafergot too late.  Her headache will proceed through the next three days.  She loses sight of Paul’s BMW when he turns off of the Baltimore Washington Parkway to take the Harbor Tunnel exit. 
Genevive continues down the parkway toward the Inner Harbor.  Once she is back in stop and go traffic, she presses her fingers onto her forehead at each red traffic light.  Genevive takes Charles Street through the city and stops at a gas station after she passes Penn Station.  She is almost out of gas.  Feeling nauseous, she puts the gas nozzle in her car.  Genevive decides against using the ladies room to throw up.  She’s not too far from home.  She spots a pay phone next to the station’s building where the cashier sits behind a bullet proof glass window. 
Holding her fingers to her mouth, Genevive gags as she pops the trunk.  She opens her suitcase and finds the scrap of paper with the phone number that she stuffed in a side compartment.
As she walks over to the pay phone, her head screams at her and her heart pounds in her ears.  Genevive’s hand trembles when she punches the numbers and listens to the phone ringing at the other end.
“You’ve reached Paul.”
  In a second, laughing voice, “And Eve Snitzel.”
The mirth is crushing to Genevive.  The voices continue in unison, “We can’t come to the phone right now, but please leave us a message.  We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.”
Genevive vomits on the pavement, holding the phone’s receiver away from her.  She places the receiver back on the steel holder of the pay phone.  Her head throbs, but she is not nauseous anymore.  Relieved that she does not have to do anything but crawl into bed with the window shades drawn, she hopes she may be able to sleep.  A police siren screeches on the street next to the station.  Flashes of color stream by her.  She thinks of the empty afternoon ahead of her.


© Caryn Coyle


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