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Somehow, Colin manages to live alone in a 1908 four-bedroom Victorian with a one-acre backyard. I pull in under a shade tree and walk the long drive, discovering oversized body parts on dropcloths: an arm here, an arm there, two legs, torso, a world-beating rack. I find Colin and some other guy on the hedged-in porch, applying paint to a five-foot-tall head. She looks like Sacagawea as drawn by Diego Rivera, all Aztec cheekbones and wide brown nose. The eyes are enormous white diamonds with green irises.
“Micko! Meet the goddess of Joyism, Iluana.”
Colin gives her a long study.
“I suppose so. You recall the Camarena deck?” He holds up a can of Cabot stain, a reddish brown hybrid we call Coco Ray. “Oh, and this is my helpmeet, Greg.”
Greg is a bald man with an egg-shaped dome. His skin hangs basset-like from his face, and shakes when he talks.
“A million small suns. Helpmeet - wonderful word. A million small… Iluana, the helpmeet of a million small suns, flies with Coco Ray to the conference of contrabands.”
“Hi,” I say.
Colin laughs. “Sorry. Greg’s in riff-mode. He’s a poet. He gets hooked on these phrases and has to speak them all day until they sprout a poem.”
Greg’s eyes get wide, like someone’s just shot him with a taser. “Like an oyster working a pearl.”
“Wonderful,” I say.
“A million small suns.”
“Exactly.” I turn to Colin. “Could I fetch the sprayer? I have to get to a softball game.”
“Oh! Certainly. Carry on, Greg.”
“A million small suns,” says Greg. “Preposterous.”
The paint sprayer is next to the garage, freshly cleaned after some clogging issues. Colin begins the briefing.
“Let’s see, you’ve got the gate code…”
“Cell phone for Mrs. Atkins?”
“Gave you the layout of the deck – oh, and don’t forget that little porch out back. They’re on vacation all month, so it’s up to you as far as the schedule, but whatever you do, avoid the sun! Morning, evening, whichever you prefer. I trust you completely, my friend. And if anything comes up you are utterly on your own. You might be able to smuggle a text onto the playa, but it would probably take me too long to respond.”
“Have a great time,” I say. “I expect some naughty stories.”
“If nothing happens, I’ll make something up.”
Colin and I maintain a handshake professionalism, but for occasions like the annual Burning Man sendoff I use the he-man hug.
“Thanks, pal. And thanks for handling this job. It does help the old cash flow.”
I pick up the sprayer, loop the hose over my shoulder and head off.
“Ta!” says Colin. “No fuckups!”
Greg pokes his head out of the hedge.
“A million small suns!”
We’ve got a couple of new infielders, so I’m back in left field, which is kind of nice. It’s relaxing to turn off the brain and just go fetch the ball. I’ve been doing pretty well (for an old fart), but the infield commits a couple of bobbles and soon the virus is hitting the whole team. I have no idea why such things are contagious, but they are. My centerfielder is chasing a base hit when he steps on a bald spot and goes down like he’s been hit by sniper fire.
“Okay!” I shout. “I think we’ve got enough for the blooper reel now!”
Famous last words. I’m chasing a flare down the line, trying to get a lower angle on the ball, when my feet get tangled up and I go down like I’ve been hit by a shoestring tackle. The ball clanks off my glove and falls to the grass.
“What the hell!” says Doug. “I’ve never seen you do that.”
I adopt the rumbling baritone of sports documentaries. “It was the end of a brilliant playing career for Mickey Siskel.”
“Yeah, right. Get up there and get a fucking hit.”
We are a much more talented team than our opponents, but that never stopped us before. We’re tied in the top of the seventh when someone lifts a lazy fly to my left. Something in my gearbox goes off by an inch and the ball clanks off my glove again.
Oh no, says my body. Not this time, you fucker. I follow the ball down, slapping at it with various appendages as I crumple to the ground: the left elbow, the right hand, a ricochet off both knees, bada-bing. Now I’m crawling, and I manage to slide my glove beneath this last bobble just before it hits the grass. Lying flat on my stomach, I raise my glove to show the umpire, and he signals the out.
“Well,” I say. “That was entertaining.”
Doug is laughing up a storm. “You probably saved a run. The runner couldn’t decide if you were going to catch it or not, and he got all brain-locked.”
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about.” I tap a finger to my temple. “Stragedy.”
We eke out the winning run and slither away like a man smuggling the ugly girl out of the bar. I’m feeling just as unsettled as my glovework, driving into the suburban night, gathering stray thoughts at the stoplights.
At the left turn to the 85 onramp, I flash on my early July doubleheader: the ex-wife and the booty call. Allison’s quick fadeaway is neither surprising nor disappointing. Her mojo-resuscitation act was like chemotherapy: a little is effective, but too much will kill you.
As for Katie, I suppose this is the nature of booty-call arrangements. They survive on the understanding that they are not real relationships. When they go on too long, or become too regular – when they begin to take on the appearance of relationships – they are bound to scuttle themselves on the next sandbar. She stayed that night, she kissed me goodbye in the morning, and I haven’t seen her since. Desperate as she is for any candle in a dark existence, I think she was able to ignore her growing attachment, but when she came up against a mythic figure like Maddalena Hart, she decided it was time to quit. I’m sure she’ll be in church this Sunday, rationalizing our Saturday nights as a sinful mistake, feeling the kind of warmth that does not emanate from a pew. I don’t deserve to, but I miss her.
I come to a stop at Prospect and Saratoga-Sunnyvale, the dark mass of the Santa Cruz Mountains looming across my windshield, and I’m thinking what a lonely man I have become. Thankfully, the decking business is booming. But when it’s this busy, Colin and I tend to split the jobs, so even there I’m losing companionship. I try not to go home too early, because the solitude around the cabins is pretty thick, and it’s not like you can dash to the corner for a late-night coffee.
Thanks to softball, tonight’s schedule is just about right; it’s 10:30 and I am pulling up to Saratoga Village, my final stoplight before the long, slow rise of Highway 9. It is precisely at this right-hand turn, each and every night, that my thoughts turn to Maddalena.
September 23. That’s when Guillaume Tell opens at SFO. That’s when I am guaranteed of seeing her in the flesh. Left alone without my usual supporting cast, I find myself aching for her. Silly, poetic thing to say, but that’s what it feels like – a deep-tissue bruise, a separated shoulder. I am hopeful, nonetheless, that her two-month, three-opera stay will give us an idea as to what, precisely, we will do with each other.
Meanwhile, I subsist on a diet of text messages. Neither of us are fond of phone calls, which are just close enough to actual contact to max out the frustration level. But these little tapped-out thoughts are okay. I am surprised at their power.
At the turnoff to Sanborn County Park, my cell shakes against the cupholder. Being a performer, Maddie keeps a night-owl schedule, so one-thirty Eastern is nothing unusual.
Did you win?
A W’s a W, bebe.
God I miss u.
Just another month.
Don’t worry. It’ll seem like 15 mins.
Rossini’s tough! Especially GT.
She always seems to catch me on Highway 9, so I have learned to type by touch as I navigate the curves.
I don’t dare text on the dirt road, however, so I always let her know when I’m about to go into cyber-silence. For some reason, Trey the Fish has reattached the lock on the wrong side of the gate. I have to yank it over the crossbar to catch some light from the highway. I return to the car to find Maddie's signoff:
Drive carefully! Never know what night creatures you may encounter.
I switch on my brights and follow the usual tracks: the short first climb, the sandy straightaway, uphill past the hiking trail, the long gravelly downhill, the tricky outcroppings of rock. Approaching the first overlook, I catch a flash of red reflector, then a bright sedan, then a woman in a white pantsuit. I crunch to a halt, sending up a cloud of dust that follows me as I jog into my high-beams and lift her off the ground. She lands laughing.
“They wanted me here early. Some sort of… Oh who cares? Kiss me!”
I kiss her until all deep tissue bruises and separated shoulders are absolved, and then I hold her tight as she hums in my ear. When I open my eyes, I see the lights of Silicon Valley spread out like a million small suns.
“A million what?”
“Nothing. Poetry. God it’s good to see you.”
I have thoughts of showering, of pouring Maddie some wine, maybe scraping together some dessert. I recall that I have peanut butter. What can you do with peanut butter?
Maddie has other ideas. She nudges me like a border collie working a sheep, driving me across the living room, to the edge of my bed and over. She yanks at the layers of my softball gear – pants, sliding pad, athletic briefs – until she unearths my cock. She works it over with her tongue until I’m sporting a grade-A hard-on. Then she hops off the bed, removes her pants and readies herself to hop onto my dick, which is now limp.
She looks at me. “Is it all right to yell?”
“Neighbors won’t mind?”
She stands to give her diaphragm more room, and delivers her next three notes with an impressive amount of volume.
“Fuck! Fuck! F-U-U-U-U…”
I’ve got my hand clamped over her mouth, an arm around her waist. She’s still yelling – I can feel the force of her breath against my palm.
“Maddie? Honey? Ya gotta stop, Maddie.”
It takes her a few breaths to calm down, and then she peels my hand away.
“Because I am not going to explain to the opera fans of America how it was that the end of your singing career was inspired by my limp dick.”
She takes in a hissing breath that might be a rising indignation, then lets out a little burst, like the first puff from an air compressor. That’s the hole in the dike; the rest is a flood of wild, rolling laughter that sweeps me along in its wake. Two minutes later we are flat on the bed, pantsless, trying to stop before we asphyxiate ourselves. After that we grow silent, and I think I know why: we’re both afraid that the next utterance will send us right back into the water.
Maddie curls across the bed, grabs my dick and gives it a stern look.
“Why don’t you like me? Everybody else likes me.”
This isn’t as funny as it should be. I am drowning in frustration.
“When you got home from your drive, did you masturbate?”
“Hard as Wagner.”
“Wagner is hard. I’m so sick of this.” She releases my idiot cock and leans back on her elbows. “Sadly, this has happened before.”
“I’m a pretty intimidating figure. La Diva! Tenors and penises cower before her. Christ.”
She leans up and gives me a kiss.
“If I was smart, I would sleep only with men who know nothing about opera. But don’t worry about it, honey. Please don’t. Well. I gotta go.” She hops off the bed and fetches her pants.
“My boy-genius stage director. Jose Maria Condemi. He’s one of those fucking morning people, and like an idiot I agreed to meet with him at nine o’clock. No way in hell I’m accomplishing that from here. I’m awfully sorry, Mickey. I feel like I ambushed you. But I had to at least see you. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I adore you.”
“I adore you.”
“Now put on your pantalones, Dimaggio, and walk me out.”
I lean her against the hood of her Lexus and kiss her like a lover should.
“Thanks for surprising me.”
She taps a finger on my chest. “Your assignment: don’t touch that thing. Get a lot of sleep, and be here at seven tomorrow evening. I’ll bring dinner.”
“I will think of something.” I give her a last kiss and watch her drive away. When I get back inside, I open a beer and crash on the couch. I have a visual flash of Maddie giving me head and my dick starts to stiffen.
“Oh fuck you. You had your chance.”
I turn on the TV and search for the most non-sexual shows I can find. The Disney Channel. Murder She Wrote. The McLaughlin Group.
My sleep is pretty spotty, so I spend much of the next day napping on the couch as a classical station lulls me in and out of slumber. I manage to take an afternoon hike through the madrones, and then I head for the bath so I’ll be presentable for La Diva.
She pulls in exactly at seven and parks in my front yard, which is really just dirt and tree droppings. I meet her at the door and give her a kiss. She seems excited.
“Hi. I need some help loading up.”
She opens the back door of her Lexus and hands me a couple of wardrobe bags on hangers. I attach them to the curtain rods over the living room drapes. A few trips later, we are adrift in a sea of clothing. I sit on the couch expecting some sort of explanation. Maddie hitches her thumbs into her jeans pockets, surveys the landscape and says, “So. Who do you want to fuck tonight?”
“I have just pilfered a hefty portion of the San Francisco Opera wardrobe department. Any lyric soprano you’d like. We’ve got Violetta, Gilda, Mathilde, Manon, Micaela…”
She flashes an amused smile. “Oh! Micaela. That’s interesting. Okay. Here’s what I want. Lose the coffee table. Leave the armchair. Round up some candles. Then just relax, watch some TV. This may take a while.”
She fetches a bag reading MIC ’06 and leaves for the bathroom. I close all the blinds and curtains, lean the coffee table against the far wall, pull the rug to the center of the remaining space and position the armchair atop that. Then I set four large candles on an end table and add an incense holder with a stick of patchouli. A half-hour later, as I’m dozing through an episode of Seinfeld (George as a marine biologist), the kitchen door closes, and three knocks resound from the other side.
“Two minutes! Light the candles.”
I light the candles and incense, setting the room in a hazy orange glow. I sit on the couch, an expectant audience. Maddie gives another three knocks and enters. She wears a long gray skirt with petticoats, a white rectangle of apron descending from the waist. Above that is a white blouse with puffs at the sleeves and a chocolate-brown leather corset. Her collar is open, revealing just a hint of cleavage. She wears her hair tied up in a blue scarf, flowing out the back, and her face is marked with swipes of dirt, as though she has been on an arduous journey. She speaks in clear, unaccented English, but the formality of her tone implies a 19th-century European.
“Thank you so much for taking me in! These travels have been much more difficult then I expected. It’s very gracious of you.”
She listens for a moment, as if someone is speaking to her, and then smiles.
“Oh! Well, you see, I am on a quest of sorts. I am trying to find my beau, Don Jose, who has taken up with gypsy smugglers. His mother is quite ill and… May I sit? Thank you.”
She settles rather properly on the armchair and takes a sip from an invisible glass.
“Thank you so much. Yes, you’re right, it is quite dangerous. I’ve never really done anything like this.”
Another attentive pause.
“Oh, well. I… care for Jose quite a lot. We grew up on neighboring farms, and we played together as children. And I remember this one day. I was twelve. I was beginning to… develop. I was walking back to the house after milking the cows. Jose was working the fields. It was hot that day, and he had taken off his shirt. He waved to me; I went to lean against the fence and talk to him. He continued to work as we spoke. I could see the muscles moving in his arms, like the strings of a guitar, and the way the sweat shone on his back.
“I don’t know if it is proper to describe what it was that I was feeling. A tingling. Like the tickle on your skin when your clothes rustle in the wind. Only this… tingling seemed to emanate from beneath my skirt. I wanted so badly to reach down and rub myself, but of course I could not. And watching Jose, I recalled something I had seen two days previous. A bull approached a cow in the field and, amazingly, he stood on his hind legs behind her. I had heard of such things, but I had never seen the mechanical aspect, the way the bull’s tube of flesh slid in and out of the cow’s backside. I tried to be disgusted, as I knew I should, but I was fascinated by the beauty of the design, as if these two dancing animals had rehearsed all their lives for this one performance. And that same tingling beneath my skirts – though why I should feel this way about a bull and a cow I do not know. I almost could not keep my hands off of myself. That Sunday, in church, I prayed for God to remove these temptations, or at the least to let me understand them better.”
She stops for a moment; her thoughts seem to drift. Then she squints her eyes and purses her lips.
“I detest gypsies! Filthy, ignorant animals. You see, I always thought that Jose and I were rehearsing. I suppose that I loved him. But I was a terribly shy girl, and I did not tell him a thing. Before I knew it he was in the army and off to Seville – Seville, that evil place. It was there that he met this Carmen person. I do not know what he sees in her – she’s not even pretty. But now… Now I have what it will take to win him back. If his mother’s sickness is not enough, then I will simply have to give myself to him. I am ready, I love him, and that should be enough for God. Just the thought of it… just the…”
She reaches inside her blouse, brings out one white breast and tweaks her nipple, arching backward. Then she opens her eyes and smiles.
“Everyone at home believes that I am a good girl, but I have spent years walking by the field with the bull and the cow, and… well. I know, sir, that your wife is away at her sister’s, and I hope that you do not think that I am taking advantage of circumstance, but I wonder if you… if you would show it to me.”
It takes me a moment to realize that I have been drafted – that I am the kindly farmer who has offered her lodging. I stand and shuck my shorts, revealing a hardening but untrustworthy member. She giggles.
“It is not so large as the bull’s, but it is much more handsome! Here, I have brought some oil with me. Perhaps you’d like to rub it? I have heard that men like to do such things.”
She pulls a small vial from her skirts and hands it to me, then dashes back to her chair as though I were the bull in her story. I pour some of the oil into my hand, apply it to my dick and make a good show of stroking it.
“Ooh!” Her eyes squint in pleasure and she places a hand over her skirt. “It’s that… feeling again, that tingling. Only now it’s unbearable. Are we… Are you sure that we are quite alone?”
She looks around nervously, then slowly gathers her petticoats until, in a narrow gap beneath all the layers of clothing she reveals her pussy. She opens her legs further, displaying the moisture coating her labia, then reaches down to rub her clitoris and dip a finger inside.
“Oh! Oh! I see now why I have wanted to do that for so long! What an incredible sensation. I think it is time…”
She closes her legs, reaches into her skirts and extracts a large black dildo, made to look as realistic as possible.
“I hate the gypsies, but they do occasionally prove themselves useful. This one was a peddler of novelties, and he sold me this, a life-cast from the erect member of a Zulu warrior. ‘Even though you may not yet want to join with a man,’ the peddler said, ‘this will give you an idea of what it feels like. And you won’t get babies.’”
She spreads her legs again, pushes her petticoats aside and inserts the black cock. The sides of her entrance cling to the dildo as it slides in and out. Micaela moans.
“Oh! It feels so good. I want Jose to fill me like this. Sir, oh sir, please. Be my Jose. Put your thing inside me. Show me how it feels.”
I leap from the couch, take her hand away and push the black cock in and out, faster and faster until Micaela’s eyes begin to bug out. It’s the filthiest thing I have ever seen, and it’s divine. I take the dildo and throw it to the floor, take my cock in my hand and I am inside of her, aloft on a cloud of petticoats.
“Oh, Micaela, you feel so good.”
“Jose! Jose! Je’taime Jose. I will love you forever.”
The layers of identity are getting pretty deep. I am the middle-aged farmer banging away at the lost little girl as the pretends that I am her soldier-boy. Carmen could never be this hot – she’s too fucking obvious. I sink into the illusion and continue pumping Micaela into the armchair. I hold myself deep inside of her as I drive my tongue into her mouth, then I stand up and order her outside. I push her against the Lexus and I lift her skirts so I can surround my dick with that plump white ass.
Then I’m on the ground, redwood cones digging into my butt as Micaela bounces on top of me, all of our parts delicious hidden beneath her petticoats. She takes off her scarf to release her hair. I find myself shouting a long string of yesses as Micaela begins to sing. She looses a top note into the trees; I can feel the vibrations all the way down to my dick and it’s too much. I explode, gushing into her. Micaela screams; the sound echoes off the hillsides. I grab her by the waist and continue to empty myself out, then I roll beside her. We spend the next five minutes laughing, kissing and smiling, leaves and sticks and God-knows-what entwined in her hair.
“Micaela! You are a bad, bad girl!”
“You knew that all along; that’s why you picked me.” She kisses me and snuggles her face against my neck. I roll onto my back and see the moonlit sky, jagged silver patterns sketched across the treetops. A jetliner skates across, flashing red and white signals.
My non-existent neighbor snuck in while I was away and left an old picnic table next to the fire pit. I am high on sex and feeling ambitious, so I construct a pyramid of aged logs, douse it with lighter fluid and soon I have a raging fire. So raging, in fact, that Micaela and I are forced to sit on the opposite side of the table, digging into the baked lasagna that Maddie picked up at Bella Mia. She has decided to keep the costume on for a while.
“So this monologue. Did you rehearse that?”
Micaela wipes her mouth with a napkin and kisses me just beneath my earlobe.
“That is the kind of well-developed backstory that any decent soprano should come up with. Really, it’s the one part of the opera where we get to be the creators. The backstory builds the character, the nature of the character affects the musical and dramatic interpretation, and those interpretations determine the flavor of the production as a whole.
“The critics, bless their hearts, have always said that my Micaela has a little more umph than most, and now you know why. I don’t buy the hapless innocent. This is a girl who ventures into the mountains all alone, knowing full well that there are murderous gypsies up there. She wants Jose, she has always wanted him, and she will do just about anything to get him away from Carmen. My backstories are not usually so explicit, but you can bet there’s a lot of suppressed sexuality there, and it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that she would put her virginity on the line. When you picked her out of the lineup, I thought, Well shit, this is a piece of cake.”
“The corruption of the girl next door.”
“Girl next door. Used to lay out by her pool, which was just visible from my window.”
“When you men see all that innocence, you just want to go in there and mess with it.”
“I get the feeling Elena wasn’t all that innocent. Not from the looks of that bikini. What was that aria? Was that the famous one?”
“‘Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante.’ Yes, the famous one. And she sings it at that very point in the opera, on her way up the mountain. Little did we know she had just spent the night banging a farmer.”
We enjoy a long laugh, and then we return our attentions to the lasagna, which is extraordinary. After Maddie finishes, she lifts my right leg over the bench, straddles me, takes a draught of wine and swirls it into my mouth. When we’re done, her eyes are half-closed and dreamy.
“Having you inside of me, I can’t tell you…”
And she can’t, because she’s crying. I settle my head against her chest until she recovers. She wipes her eyes, laughing.
“I’m sorry, honey. I guess I was really anxious about this.”
Once the floodgates have opened, there’s no stopping us. Being a professional, Violetta is an expert cocksucker. Manon is into full-body massages and having her toes licked. Susannah is a saucy little wench who enjoys filthy language and (much to Figaro’s surprise) anal sex. Donna Elvira keeps slapping Don Giovanni in the midst of intercourse. The Celtic priestess Norma is a tender, generous lover who likes it on top, surrounded by banks of candles. Lucia is a fucking maniac, speaking in tongues, changing position every two minutes and constantly referring to Edgardo’s tool as a dagger. The Queen of the Night brings along whips, handcuffs and (much to Papageno’s surprise) a strap-on dildo.
And Rusalka. In a pool of deep blue light, the water nymph plays with her newly granted human body until she brings herself to a slow, quiet climax. She does the same with the body of her prince, holding and licking his staff for long minutes, then spreading herself open and inviting his entrance. After shuddering to a wordless climax, she sings to the moon as the prince continues to stroke slowly in and out.
The following evening, the woman who is all of them returns home after a day of errands and appointments. She looks a little frazzled, her hair tied up in a bandana, her face lined and weary from the heat. She greets me with a hug.
“So,” she says. “Who do you want tonight? I’ve got Mathilde, Desdemona, the Marschallin…”
“I want the opera singer.”
She looks at me in the filtered shade and gives me a smile that grows and grows.
The next day is our last before she begins rehearsals. Regardless, I decide that it’s time I get to that deck. Maddie invites herself along (“After all, you’re always watching me work”), and sits in the shade with a cooler of beers and a book.
The Atkins house is a veritable mansion, built on a steep, sunny hillside far back in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After a few back-and-forths with the pressure washer, I conclude that the deck is completely hidden from neighboring roads or houses. I head for the far corner, out of my diva’s vision, and remove every article of clothing, save the Wellies. Then I return to my work as if nothing is awry, following a pair of planks all the way down. The mix of sunlight and mist on my privates is intoxicating, but what I’m really after is audience reaction.
Making my full frontal turn, I find that the joke is on me. Maddie has planted a chaise lounge at the center of the adjacent deck and is lying there absolutely starkers, like a plus-size model at the Playboy mansion. She gives me a little wave to let me know that I’ve been had. I raise my wand, sending a spray that catches the breeze and settles on her radiant white contours. She spreads her arms as if welcoming a lover.
Photo by MJV