Sexual Mercy, a novel by Roberta Morris and Paul Savoie
From the front window Heidi could see the sun rise and glisten on the surface of the reservoir. She rolled her chair through the old house that hugged the steep Silver Lake canyon. Thick walls inspired by native adobe corralled both her house and garden, and she felt herself cradled, protected. Her housemate, Dominique, had built a strong trellis outside that framed the window and supported a lush red bougainvillea vine that clung to the trellis and the wall. The Santa Ana winds had blown hot and wild last night, but the thick vine offered refuge to a rat-eyed possum now living under the eaves. Infamous strange winds, the Santa Ana’s, coming through the canyons from the desert so late in the season, wreaked havoc in a dry garden and were said to make people feel unstable, even slightly mad.
Wheeling herself out the back door, Heidi surveyed the damage. A palm frond from the tree next door had blown into the pond. Leaves and seeds were scattered along the path that led to the guest house where Pat still slept. The neighbor’s orange and lemon tree branches also hung over the fence. Right from the beginning, when they first moved in, Heidi and Pat helped themselves to the fruit, rolling and rollicking around the place as Eve and Lilith might have in the Garden of Eden. They were joined soon by Dominique, who shared the main house with Heidi. Fresh fruit from the garden proved a good way to break into their new environment, with nature and neighbors easing them through the initial stages of cohabitation. Now even the figs were finished for the season. Only the Hachiya, those persimmons that hung exposed after the last gold, orange and cerise fall foliage dropped off the branches, would remain into early December like bright little lanterns. And there were still herbs.
Heidi rolled herself along the path, letting her hands swing wildly, a sight to behold if any neighbors were awake to see her. She hadn’t bothered to change out of the pink camisole she wore to bed, had just thrown on her black the flower-laden kimono that bunched up on her lap, and the sun was not high enough to spill over the high garden walls, so only the small solar lamps directly lit the path. Heidi was house proud.
Pat and Dom felt like her family now, women whom she could, by ill fortune and good will, house along with herself in this gentrified canyon with its orange rising sun. Pat was an old acquaintance, built like a fire plug, short and so ordinary you might walk past her and not notice, but like a fire plug she could turn a hot day into a street party if someone just opened her up. Dom was Pat’s antithesis, dark and elegant as a black orchid.
But this morning it was another friend, Ricardo, on Heidi’s mind. She wanted to harvest a bouquet for him and scanned the terrain for materials. Everything was yellow with the withering late fall winds though perhaps this frond would make an interesting base for an artful arrangement of dried weeds. Ricardo would appreciate her queering it up, perhaps wrapping it with copper wire. She could wrap wire around a pencil as well, then pull the pencil away leaving ringlets like steel flowers, or she might go more camp and just stick an opened metal coat hanger in the center of this bouquet.
Ricardo would appreciate the wildness. He was an old drinking buddy from college who had lost both his legs during the first Gulf war. Heidi had helped him open his bar, and in turn he’d become Heidi’s best ally after her accident. He stood by her every step of the way, served as confidante, coach, and bartender, supplier of pitchers of beer and margaritas down at the Legless Arms, the club he owned. While everything around her had appeared to shrink, when options fell off like dead branches that had once supported rich fruit and nests of exotic birds, he had found ways of propping up her fragile ego, and helped her ward off impulses of self-loathing, right there by her side all the way, giving her the strength and perseverance when her mood sank perilously low.
Ricardo was also the one who got her to the right people to process damage claims and secure the handsome settlement package that allowed her to buy this house and then to remodel the kitchen and bath, to ramp it and make it accessible throughout, even this garden, especially the garden. She’d offered the guest house to him before Pat, though when he turned her down she was quietly relieved. She didn’t want to risk their friendship by becoming Ricardo’s landlord. Since she and Pat were friends there was some risk there as well but Heidi’s stake in this friendship wasn’t so high. Pat had introduced Heidi to Dom, a young woman who occasionally did laps and worked out after hours at the health club where Pat worked. Pat had confided in Heidi that sadly there was no hope of she herself ever hooking up with Dom. Pat even wondered if Dom might be straight, but in any case this runway was clear as far as Pat was concerned and Heidi was welcome to give it a shot. For her part, though, Heidi saw in Dom a kind of rare fruit to which she suspected she might be allergic. Besides, she was looking for a roommate, not a lover, and she didn’t want to mix sex with rent. Now that they’d all settled in, Heidi quipped that they’d achieved a perfect wave pattern; she rose to Dom’s gravity and sank with Pat’s levity.
Heidi rolled over the seed pods that might have halted her progress toward the raised herb garden a year ago. She was stronger and quicker now. The padded wheels of her chair no longer represented a personal affront but rather a means of getting to her herbs. She clipped the salvia and rosemary with the shears kept judiciously in a garden box nearby. Dom had planted the herb garden just out the back door the same weekend she moved in, and had designed the box to store a few garden tools so Heidi could putter whenever the spirit moved her. There was already lavender in abundance. Dom had lauded the virtues of this mild-mannered plant, and instructed Heidi in its uses beyond soaps and sachets. A Zen tea could be brewed mixing it with pineapple mint and peppermint leaves. Heidi hadn’t known the leaves had a distinct gingery taste that, combined with orange and lemon flavors, made great muffins and fruit salad. She was glad to add this ingredient to her list of home grown produce.
She clipped some basil and oregano as well, cradled the herbs in her lap, wedged the stalk of the palm frond in the seat of her wheel chair so that it waved like a flag over her head and, placing the shears back in the garden box, she wheeled herself around the koi pond towards the kitchen, lured by the smell of heated butter and the sounds of pans clanking on the burner. She wanted to intercept Dom before she left for work.
Dom stood in front of the stove, not quite awake, preparing an omelet with the automatic gestures of one born to cook. Heidi wordlessly contributed the herbs she’d picked. Dom nodded her approval and asked, her voice still hoarse from sleep, “You want some toast?”
“Thanks, and coffee too. I prepared a pot.”
“Yeah. I put it next to the juice on the table.”
Dom thought of everything, and Heidi was not one to take these little gestures for granted. “What would I do without you?”
“You’d manage.” Dom hated compliments, especially those directed at her. “You did before I moved in and will again when I’m gone. Meanwhile, enjoy the omelet.” She slid the eggs onto Heidi’s plate and took her own food into the bedroom to eat as she dressed. Casual, almost aloof, her thoughtless finesse at times annoyed Heidi. In the morning, Dom seldom engaged in any kind of small talk. She didn’t even bother to ask Heidi about last night, about why she had returned so late. Sometimes Heidi wondered if Dom cared at all about what was going on in her roommate’s life. Whether this was a calculated distancing or true unmitigated indifference, Heidi couldn’t tell, and would be the first to admit that she was bringing more to the situation than was probably warranted. All she could say for sure was that when Dom left for work the house seemed emptier. Not just lately. In fact, ever since Dom had moved in her morning departures added weightiness to the morning, making the first incoming call all the more difficult to handle.
She was seriously considering going back to bed about twenty seconds after Dom left when the phone rang. It was probably Albert. Albert was the only absolutely predictable moment in her day, the rest a crap shoot, and indeed it wasn’t Albert’s name displayed on caller ID now but rather ‘Wes’.
“Hello, Wes.” There was a pause, and for a second Heidi couldn’t remember this man’s routine. She waited for him to speak so that she could get her bearings. She knew she wasn’t at the top of her game just yet, and she thought she heard traffic noise on the other end of the line. She needed to focus. Wes, Wes… Who the hell is Wes? She fumbled with her cards.
Wes was already in full stride. “I want you to put your head in my lap here, and suck me off.”
“You’re hard? I bet you’re big and hard. How long can you keep it up, honey? There’s no stopping you? That’s the spirit! Up, up, good and hard for me. My lips are wet. I’m ready to make a meal of you. What are you going to do with that big hard… Yeah, it’s a present, and I’m going to wrap it in something smooth and soft, and… Honey? You still there?” She thought he’d hung up but now there were grunting sounds coming out of the receiver. “Good boy. So big…” He’s good. I’m good. Everything’s fucking good, she thought, except she definitely heard traffic in the background. “Kneel and kiss my feet, darling,” she cooed into the mouthpiece. This was a test.
There was a pregnant pause on the other end of the line. As soon as Wes spoke she realized she’d mixed up her clients. “Excuse me?” he asked.
With the incomplete card in front of her, she was mentally registering some of the basic facts. “Is that traffic I hear? You’re driving? That’s against the law, you know, talking on a cell phone while driving…. okay, a Bluetooth, but…” She was thinking about Dom again, worrying about her and all the others sharing the road in LA’s early morning rush hour with this guy engaged in phone sex. And this was Albert’s hour. She wasn’t in the mood for Wes. He sounded too complicated for her. She could tell him to call in the afternoon when she’d be in better shape, but she was in no position to make demands; lately her average was slipping. “You call me when you get to the office, honey. I’ll be waiting for you. I can hardly wait.” She whispered these words as convincingly as possible.
Wes hung up and to her relief Albert was immediately patched in. She took everything again from the top. “On your knees, darling. Go ahead, confess. Yeah, I’m listening, and I like what I hear, big boy. Do you want me to tell you what I’m thinking? I’m thinking what you want is a 24-7 cock sucking whore… You like that? You want some? But first you gotta say a few prayers.”
She didn’t know a whole lot about Albert but she knew the basics. The familiar sound of his voice. The predictable pauses. The silences. And she knew into exactly what corner he wanted her to lead him, and the forgiveness he sought. He would give his soul to obtain pardon. For Heidi this was easy; life was good again.