Sunday morning, after they had all had coffee, Terry and George took the canoe out to go fishing, and Isolde wandered around inside the house, exploring. She found the pull down attic stairway in the upstairs second bedroom, and went up in the attic, just to see what was there. She found several rolled up rugs, and assumed they were in storage until winter. There was an old Electrolux tank vacuum cleaner, and she hauled it, and it’s attachments down into the main house. Maybe I’ll vacuum this place later, she thought. First, I’m going to make the beds. She went back upstairs and dug three sets of sheets and pillowcases out of the linen closet. She made her bed first, and carried the rest of the sheets into George’s bedroom to make his bed.
He had left his shirt and socks from yesterday wadded up in a pile on the floor, and she picked them up and tossed them out into the hallway. In some ways, she thought, he is such a slob. She remembered a conversation she had overheard as a little girl. Her mother and the next-door neighbor were in the kitchen, chatting over coffee, and the neighbor was complaining about her husband.
“I spend all day, picking up after the kids, and trying to keep the house clean, so he can come home to a place of orderly neatness. And the first thing he does when he hits the door is start shedding. He takes off his jacket and kicks off his shoes, and just drops his clothes wherever he is, and by the time he gets down to his tee shirt and trousers, it looks like a tornado has gone through.”
“Well, dear, you picked him,” her mother had replied.
Isolde heard her mother saying that as plainly if she was right in the room with her that very instant. “Yes, I guess I did,” she said aloud.
After she made George’s bed, she took the sheets for Terry’s bed downstairs, kicking George’s dirty laundry ahead of her as she went. She said to herself, “I wonder if there’s a washer and dryer here, or if we have to use a Laundromat?” When she got downstairs, she set Terry’s sheets on the kitchen table, and picking up George’s clothing, stood in the center of the room, looking around for a door behind which there might be laundry appliances.
There was a door on the far wall that she had earlier supposed was just a closet beneath the stairway. She went over to it, and opened it gingerly, as if the closet might be something out of Fibber McGee and Molly, and she would be inundated by things crashing down on her if she opened it too quickly. Inside, she found a stacked washer dryer unit, an ironing board, and an iron. On top of the washer was a bottle of liquid laundry detergent, and a bottle of bleach. On the floor next to the folded ironing board, there was an opened box of fabric softener sheets for the dryer. HA! She thought to herself, and put George’s dirty things in the washer. She left the lid open, for more things to go in to make up a full load.
She picked up Terry’s sheets from the table, and went down to hallway to his bedroom. The door was closed, and she hesitated a moment before opening it. She felt a little bit like she was intruding on some private, intimate space where she had no business. That’s silly, she told herself. After all, I am planning to sleep with him. When she went in, she was surprised to see his clothes from the day before neatly folded on the chair. Well they’re not alike in that respect, she thought, and immediately felt guilty. She had promised them both that she would not make comparisons, but it was so difficult not to.
She set the sheets on the bureau, and picked up the shirt he had worn yesterday. Using both hands, she held it up to her face, inhaling deeply. It still smelled of him, and she found herself imagining how it would be to have him in her bed next to her. Still holding the shirt with her left hand, with her right, she gently touched her nipple. It was hard, and her touch sent a little shock wave through her, that started at her neck, and ended up centered on her crotch. She could feel herself getting damp, and went over to the bed and lay on her back. Still holding the shirt, she explored herself with her free hand. She was getting wetter and wetter, and undid her waistband and slid her jeans and panties down around her ankles. She spread her legs and gently ran her hand up her inner thigh. When she came to her crotch, she paused slightly, letting her hand rest on her outer lips. Then she opened her hand flat, and lightly caressed the hair on her mound. Her breathing was becoming more and more ragged, as she took herself higher and higher. She placed her hand back on her crotch and slid her finger between her labia, where she was by now very wet, and gently moved it up to her clitoris. It was throbbing and hard, and she ran her finger up and down it, along the shaft at the upper left side. She moaned as she did. Moving faster and faster with her hand, she soon felt the familiar clenching of her abdomen. Her whole being seemed centered on her vagina, and she wished he were here to be in it. She put one finger of her left hand inside. That, combined with the continued stimulation of her clitoris, suddenly sent her over the edge. “Oh yes, oh yes, all right, oh yes,” she moaned as the waves of her orgasm washed over and through her. She lay there, panting, with her eyes closed, and pressed her hand across the opening to her vagina. “Oh God, Terry,” she said softly.
After a time, she slowly sat up and put her clothing back together. She picked up Terry’s laundry, and took it to the kitchen to go with George’s things. She went upstairs, and got her dirty things from the day before, and took them down to the washer, picking up Terry’s as she went by. She measured out a capful of detergent, and started the washer. It seemed very loud, so she closed the door before she went back into the bedroom to make Terry’s bed.
When she had finished making the beds, the washer was still running, so she went outside and walked all the way around the house, just to get her bearings. She discovered that the rhododendron was hiding some garbage cans, and that there was an outside basement entry. She was surprised the place had a basement, being so close to the water. When she opened the entry doors, she saw that it wasn’t a real basement; it was just an oversized crawl space to make room for a furnace and a hot water heater. Inside, to the left of the door into the crawl space, she saw there was a circuit breaker panel. Well, she thought to herself, it’s good to know where that is, in case I blow a fuse with the vacuum cleaner. She closed the basement door, and went back into the house.
Presently, she came back out and sat down on the porch with a cup of coffee, and an Anne Tyler novel she had bought several days ago at the Goodwill store. It was The Clockwinder
. A friend of hers had told her about it, but she had never read it. She had read several others of Ms. Tyler’s novels, and enjoyed the quirky characters. She smiled to herself as she remembered the exchange between the deaf old man and his granddaughter on the train, at the beginning of Searching For Caleb
She was fast reader, and covered several chapters before she remembered the washer. She looked at the page number and memorized it before she closed the book and went to put the laundry into the dryer. She never used bookmarks; she said they were just something else to lose, and it was easier to memorize the page number, especially since George was apt to pick up and open at random any book she left laying around, and start reading. She was sure that if there was a bookmark in it, he would drop it out. Oh, he’d probably try to put it back if he noticed, but the chances were slim that he’d put it back in the same place.
She wondered if Terry ever read just for pleasure, and what kind of books. He seemed to be so smart, she thought maybe he was one of those people who only read non-fiction. I’ll ask him when they come back in this afternoon, she thought. He is so incredibly good-looking. I’ll bet the girls just swarmed all over him when he was in college. I know I’d like to.
She thought about the conversations last night. That was pretty heavy stuff, she thought, and then – I wonder if George is really gonna be able to be so calm and accepting when I actually do go to bed with Terry? I think that tonight, I will put it to the test. We may as well find out if this thing is gonna work, before we talk to Bob about renting this place and playing house together. I wonder what his reaction to that will be? Maybe I should just tell him that George and I have decided I need a place of my own for a while. But as a landlord, he will have a key and right of entry. He’ll probably stop by while I’m at work to make sure I’m not trashing the place. It will be kinda obvious that I’m not living here alone, that’s for sure. There’s no use trying to hide it. We may as well admit, at least to him, that we are in a ménage a trios. Gee, I wonder if we were hiding it would we be a ménage a troglodyte? Can you even say that? If you make a pun in two different languages, isn’t that some kind of mixed metaphor or something? It feels like breaking a rule. Maybe it is a rule, like splitting infinitives, that was made to be broken. To boldly enter into a ménage a troglodyte, she thought, and giggled to herself. Suddenly, she felt the first line of a limerick coming on:A nudist and troglodyte Kept herself hidden from sight.
No, that doesn’t scan – it needs more syllables, she thought. Kept herself mostly hidden from sight
Maybe it should be a girl
nudist – a feminudist – STOP THAT! she thought, and stick to the business at hand. Now, where was I?
Oh yes –A girl nudist and troglodyte Kept herself mostly hidden from sight. But when she showed – rowed – towed (or toed)
- no, that isn’t gonna work. But when she came out, something something pig snout
– no that’s no good either.
AHA!A girl nudist and troglodyte Kept herself mostly hidden from sight. ‘Cause when she went to town, all the people would frown
Um - - Troglodyte – fright, sight – no I used that already - , bight – or bite, height, sleight, right, smite, erudite -
OH, of course! light!At her body exposed to the light.
She giggled at the thought, and then had a sudden realization. The limerick had not come to her all at once! That had just been a fluke yesterday! She was overjoyed, and thought to herself, Take THAT, Pooh Bear!
Just then, she heard George and Terry yelling from down at the water’s edge.
“No, asshole! That’s the day he DIED, not his BIRTHday!” Terry was yelling.
“Well, I think you’re STONE FREAKING WRONG.” George yelled back. Then added, “I’M gonna ask Isolde.”
“What does she know about it?” Terry inquired. “She’s not a musician.”
“No,” George replied, “but she is a walking goddam encyclopedia.”
Oh, jeez, she thought. They’re fighting, and now I’m gonna get dragged into the middle. Men are such a hassle. I love ‘em, but they are such babies sometimes.
“All RIGHT, you two, she called out. “Settle down and let’s hear the problem.”
“ASShole here, says that July 17 th is John Coltrane’s birthday, and I say he’s full of SHIT!” called out Terry.
“Watch your mouth,” Isolde called back, as she descended the stairs. When she got to the bottom, she said in a seriously quiet tone, “This is a public beach, and I could hear you two from inside the house. I don’t think we want to be calling attention to ourselves. There is probably going to be enough talk when they figure out our living arrangements. And while we’re on that subject, I think I should tell you both that I’m calling the shots as to whom I go to bed with, if anyone, and when. Is that understood?”
“Of course,” they replied in unison.
“We talked about that while we were out fishing,” George added.
“Yes. And decided that neither of us had the right to choose for you,” said Terry, “even though we might want to.”
“Good. That’s settled, then,” said Isolde. “Now – What in the Hell were you two so worked up about?”
“Well,” we were playing a musician’s game.” George explained. “Neither of us likes dealing with the damn bloodworms glomming on to our fingers while we’re baiting the hook, so we said we’d take turns asking each other musical questions. First person to get an answer wrong had to bait the hook the next time.”
“Oh God! You guys really ARE kids!” Isolde exclaimed. “So – go on. What was the question?”
“I asked Terry what was the significance of July 17 th , knowing it is John Coltrane’s birthday, and this BOZO insists it’s the day he died.”
“Well, George, I hate to burst your bubble, but I’m afraid it’s your turn to bait the hook.” said Isolde.
“Hot damn!” exclaimed Terry, grinning at George. He turned to Isolde and told her, “We were done fishing – we caught a whole mess of croakers, and were on our way back, playing the game to decide who was going to have to clean them.”
“Well, that’s a lot bigger and dirtier chore than just baiting a little hook, so I’ll help clean,” said Isolde. “Besides, it’s only fair to George that I spend some time alone with him this afternoon, since you are going to be with me all night.”
She suddenly realized the polyandry business was going to take a whole lot more time-juggling and diplomacy than she had thought about last night, when she brought it up.
George and Terry went back to get the canoe and their gear, and Isolde went back up the stairs toward the house.
Terry said, “I’ll carry the canoe; it’s easier for one person to handle it going up the stairs, and I’m used to balancing it over my head. If you can bring the fish, the paddles, and the tackle, we can do this in one trip.”
“Okay,” George said, and gathered the rods and bait can in one hand. He tucked the paddles under his arm, and picked up the bucket of fish in the other hand. As he slowly made his way up the stairs, he thought to himself, so that’s how it goes. He gets me to do the dirty work, while he is getting cleaned up so he can screw my – and then he stopped himself – my what? he thought. She isn’t my anything. She is a person. People don’t own people. So why does it feel like something is being stolen from me? And, to be honest, if Terry weren’t on the scene, would we have had sex tonight? Probably not. We’d just read or watch the idiot tube until one or both of us fell asleep.
Like most couples, after they had been together for about five years, George and Isolde had fallen into the habit of not making love very often. Things had a way of coming up, and sex always got sort of shoved onto the back burner. In fact, George couldn’t remember the last time they had done it.
Terry was thinking about the coming evening as he lugged the canoe up the stairs. He was excited with anticipation, and felt himself becoming turgid, imagining what it was going to be like. God! I’m just like a ninth grader, he thought, walking around with half a hard-on all the time. Then he thought about George. I wonder how he must feel, knowing that I am going to be screwing the woman with whom he has been living for the past ten years. It can’t be easy for him. Terry vowed to himself to be extra nice to George for what was left of the day.
He set the canoe down on the ground, and had just placed a sawhorse under one end when George came around the corner of the house.
“Let me give you a hand with that,” he said, lifting the other end.
“Thanks.” Terry replied. “You know, I think we make a pretty good team.”
That’s easy for you to say; you’re going to bed with her, George thought. What he said was, “Yup.”
Isolde came back out of the house, carrying a cutting board and a knife. “I saw a faucet over by the garbage cans,” she said, “and thought we could clean the fish there.”
“That’s what I always do,” said Terry. “I dump the fish out onto the ground, set the cutting board on top of one of the cans, and scrape the heads and tails and stuff into the bucket, to feed to the crabs. I use the hose to keep the scales from flying everywhere, and to wash the board and all off when I’m done.”
“Okay,” Isolde said to him. “Now you go away, and leave us to ourselves for a while.” She watched as he walked back toward the porch steps.
Then she set the things down on top of the garbage cans, and turned to George. She reached up and took his face in both her hands. She looked him straight in the eyes and said, “You know I love you. That will never change. But you also know your first love is music. I accept that. Please don’t be hurt. I want us to be happy. And by us, I mean all three of us. I might make some mistakes, trying to make this work. If I do, please tell me, and please forgive me. Now kiss me, and hold me tight.”
George took her in his arms and kissed her softly and lovingly. He continued to hold her in his arms and said over her shoulder, “I want us to be happy too. I know that Terry and I would never have gotten so angry at each other today, if we had just been a couple of guys out fishing. But you were out there with us all day. Although we didn’t say it, neither of us could stop thinking about how all this is going to work out. We did talk about it – he’s very smitten by you, and the more we talked, the more I realized just how much I have grown to love you over these years. And I realized that, while yes, I love music, and yes, I can live without you, I don’t want to. But no matter what, most of all I want you to be happy. If what it takes is sharing you with someone else, then I will live with that.”
A tear rolled down his cheek, and as they stood apart, Isolde reached up and gently brushed it away. “Let’s clean the fish, Honey,” she said softly.
While they were cleaning the fish, she told him about her exploration that day. She didn’t tell him about masturbating, but she did tell him about the limerick, which she repeated, and about beginning to read The Clockwinder
. They laughed together about the limerick.
Then he said to her, “Would you do me a favor, and not share the limerick with Terry? I want to feel like there are some things that are private between us. I want to feel like we still have our private jokes.”
“I want those things, too, George,” she said.
Isolde took the cleaned fish into the house, while George took the bucket to the marsh and fed the crabs.
She was standing at the stove, when Terry came into the kitchen. He was all cleaned up and his hair was still wet. He had changed into a pair of khakis and a polo shirt with wide dark blue and narrow white horizontal stripes. He looked like a barefooted blond Gene Kelly.
“Hello, Sailor,” she said to him, and wiggled her hips.
“Oh, he went down to feed the crabs.”
“Well, I wanna say this real quick, before he gets back. I decided to try to be extra nice to him for the rest of the day. It seems like it’s the least I can do.”
“Thank you,” she said. “You have no idea how torn I feel, knowing the way this is hurting him.”
They heard the front screen door slam, and Terry went to the kitchen cupboard and started getting out plates and eating utensils.
“You know what we need?” asked George, as he came into the kitchen. Without waiting for an answer, he said, “We need to make a crab pound. I saw three busters while I was down there dumping the fish. It would be nice to have a float, so we could get soft crabs.”
“I have some old snow fence in the barn,” said Terry. “Tomorrow, I’ll bring it over, and we can make a pound out of that.”
Hold on,” said Isolde. “You’re getting the cart ahead of the horse. We haven’t talked to Bob yet about renting the place.”
“Oh, he’ll go for it, I’m pretty sure,” said Terry. “The end of the season is almost here, and it’s hard to get off-season people to come here after the rates drop over on The Shore. Also, the river freezes up once or twice each winter, so boat people usually want to stay closer to the Bay, where the water is saltier.”
“I’m not worried about his willingness to rent the place out – especially for the off- season. I’m worried about his reaction to all three of us living under one roof.” Isolde said.
“Why tell him?” asked George.
“He’s bound to find out, sooner or later,” said Terry. “Besides, how do we get him to go for renting out the farmhouse if I don’t move? And I’ll tell you this: I don’t know how he’ll react to our living together, but I for damn sure know how he’d react if we tried to hide it and he found out later. We’d all be out on the street before you could say 'Jack Robinson'.”
“No,” Isolde said. “I am not going to lie to someone with whom we have a relationship, even if it is only business. I don’t mind fooling the neighbors, but I’m not messing with my landlord, or with my boss, and you wouldn’t either, George.” She almost added, “if you had a lick of sense, which I sometimes doubt” but thought better of it. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings any more than necessary, especially tonight, of all nights.
“Well,” said George, “we will be maintaining three bedrooms, so he doesn’t have to know about the sleeping arrangements.” He wanted to say it more stridently, “. . . doesn’t have to know that we are both boinking you, or poking you, or schtupping you,” or, for that matter, even drop the F-bomb, but he thought that Isolde might get angry, and shut him out even further than he felt she already had.
Isolde was mildly surprised, and a little proud of George, that he had chosen to refer to the relationship obliquely, and sent him a mental “Thank you”.
They finished their dinner, and sat at the table awkwardly. None of them moved, until Isolde finally stood up.
Taking Terry’s hand, she walked him over to the stairs. “Go on up,” she said to him. “I want to kiss George goodnight.”
She went back into the kitchen and said, “ I love you, George. I think I love you more than I ever have. I won’t leave you – ever - unless you kick me out, and even then, I will still love you, but I will understand. Kiss me goodnight.”
George stood, and taking her in his arms, kissed her tenderly. “Good night, Love,” he whispered.
Isolde turned, and walked out of the kitchen toward the stairway. As she turned to ascend the stairs, she heard him say,
“ Have fun, Honey. I love you.”
After Isolde left the kitchen, George gathered up the dinner dishes, and put them into the sink for washing. He had originally intended to leave them for Isolde to do in the morning, but he looked at them in the sink and thought, No, I am not going to punish her for being human. He put the drain plug in, squirted some dishwashing liquid into the sink, and turned on the hot water.
George tried not to think about anything except doing the dishes. He had read once, somewhere – probably in one of Isolde’s books, he thought - “The art of Zen is not to think about God while peeling the potatoes. The art of Zen is just to peel the potatoes.” He tried to apply the art of Zen to washing the dishes, but it was not easy. At one point, he thought he heard Isolde giggle, but decided it was probably his imagination playing tricks on him.
After he finished the dishes, he opened a bottle of beer and went out to sit on the porch. He did not turn a light on, for fear of attracting mosquitoes. He sat in the dark, rocking on the porch swing, sipping his beer and thinking. He thought about little things, like the way she wrinkled her forehead when she was trying to come up with the next line of a limerick, or the way she pursed her lips when she read something with which she disagreed. His eyes teared up as he sat there, and he wasn’t even sure why. He did not know if he felt sorry for himself, sorry for the way their relationship was going, or just melancholy in general. Setting the beer bottle on the floor between his feet, he rested his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands.
And he sat there, rocking and silently sobbing.
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with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.
<a href="https://www.lushstories.com/stories/novels/george-isolde-etc-chapter-viii.aspx">George, Isolde, (etc.) Chapter VIII</a>