Love & Other
Terminal Diseases

The Deep Woods (part one)

("The Deep Woods" parts one and two were published in sequential 2004 issues of Pindeldyboz, a literary magazine which alas has ceased publishing and is no longer available online.)

Cassandra McPherson learned early in life that, if something worked well, you did everything in your power to try to duplicate it. So when Johnny Moonbeam made love to her in the Deep Woods that Sunday afternoon near Sag Harbor, and she came twice without even her breasts being touched and promptly dubbed it the most exhilarating experience of her life--looking up at the tops of the fifty-foot maples and pines while her bottom squirmed within the soft leaf-cover, her torso on a slight incline (head up and tail down)--she almost immediately set about, back in her apartment in New Brunswick, to try and reproduce the environment that had made those moments in the Deep Woods so extraordinary.

The first step, of course, was to find a poster with trees. That did not seem like such a difficult task, but in fact it took her a month. The problem was not so much posters, but the right posters. New York City--a brief bus-ride away--was crammed with shops that sold posters by famous artists, or famous photographers, or featuring famous movie stars of a bygone age, and even an occasional poster of trees. Even New Brunswick had a few of these. But rarely did they feature the tops of trees, and they were always the wrong kind. What good was a birch or a laurel when she had gotten laid among pines? But finally, after searching for hours in libraries, catalogues, and special collections, she discovered, in an obscure publication of the Sierra Club, a reference to a poster that seemed to duplicate, in splendor and feeling if not in exact detail, the breathless wonder of the view she had experienced that Sunday in October. She sent away for it (in color, no less, at $14.95) and promptly affixed it to her bedroom wall with scotch tape.

Next was a way to create the incline. Cassandra pondered long over that one, from one corner of her powder-blue bedroom, tossing her short dark bangs, standing first on one slender leg, then on the other, looking at the bed. Well, there had to be a plank, didn't there? And it had to be supported by something under one end, like a pillow. Fortunately, Cassie had two sets of pillows, one that she kept in the living room on the daybed. So after she had gone out to South New Brunswick Hardware & Lumber Company and purchased a plywood plank exactly the right size, after she had lugged it home through the crisp November air, after she had puffed and panted up three flights of stairs in her four-story brownstone, she doubled over one of her two spare pillows and lay the board on top. Too steep. Then she laid the pillows underneath without folding. Not steep enough. An inspiration reminded her of the ancient, moth-eaten, rolled-up scatter-rug in the closet and she whisked it out to try. Perfect. When the bed was made up, it looked tidy enough, but what a slope!

And third were the leaves. Cassie didn't want to create a mess in her apartment, of course, which would constantly need to be swept up, so she filled a bushel peach basket (from that same closet) with leaves that she had gathered from the backyards of neighbors. This she kept in a corner, waiting for the appropriate moment to spread them around the room in a splash of autumn color. She had pretty much achieved--give or take a snapped twig or two and an occasional cool breeze--a replication of that magic environment.

The problem was--alas--she could not duplicate Johnny Moonbeam.

- - -

When Cassandra McPherson left her home in Wyandotte, Ohio at 17 and went to work in the Accounting Department of Montgomery Ward in Cleveland, she had not had the most fortunate initiation into the joys of sex. She fled a home in which the mating between mother and father was so rare that her mom later told her she believed Cassie's own gestation to be a miracle of immaculate conception. (According to actual count, papa had approached mama four times, and she had produced two children and one miscarriage. One bout of bawdiness, presumably, was just for the sport.) In her isolation and loneliness Cassie found a way to conduct interesting experiments Sundays after church with a high school boyfriend whose mother was always away until 2PM, but the boy's efforts were so half-hearted--despite her embarrassingly energetic encouragement--that even after twelve such experiments she discovered that she was still a virgin. And the thirteenth time was the last.

A few years of the Accounting Department at Monkey Wards soon whetted Cassie's appetite for higher education. By then she had learned to drink. She found that there were many men in the workaday world, and especially in the bars that she frequented, who were willing to teach her about debauchery. She also found that few of them knew their ABC's. By the time Cassie returned to her education at Miami University of Ohio, she had been pecked at, fondled, and slobbered over by any number of barflies, hotel clerks, and short-order cooks, most of whom were incapable of more, after an evening of profligate drinking, than a hasty, open-flied, ass-clutching eruption onto her gabardine raincoat. She was mortified by her weekly trips to the cleaners.

Cassie's college career inclined her toward the Peace Corps and to adventures in the wider world. At a Peace Corps Training Center in Philadelphia she met her husband-to-be: an effete young academic named Harmon Carlyle, whose principal attraction for Cassie was that he was the only man in five years of dating who had not pawed her the moment they were alone in a hotel room. Such scruples did not, however, bode well for a happy married life. The young Dr. Carlyle's propriety stemmed less from respect for Cassie's moral character than from a flagging sex drive. Through most of the seven years of their married life, Harmon's idea of sex was to show up on the steps on Friday evening with a bottle of fine wine in the grocery bag and a leer on his bespectacled face. This signaled that, following dinner, he would expect a few minutes of frantic bodily activity which would leave Cassandra up half the night smoking, biting her fingernails, and waiting for next week. As a matter of fact, she came to dread those Friday evenings. But the years rolled on, each like the other, despite changes in the scenery as Harmon's teaching career whisked him from Ohio to the Pacific Northwest, to Boston, and finally to New Brunswick.

The positive side of such a paltry level of connubial activity was that it left Cassie with a lot of time on her hands. She took advantage of this to study law, which she determined to use to protect and defend the beleaguered, misfortunate and criminal poor--the pariahs--among which, no doubt, she continued to number herself. The single rewarding sexual experience of those married years was a highly charged copulation on top of a conference table, not with her husband, but with a fellow Public Defender one night as they worked late on a case. The energetic young barrister in question promised her undying love and moved to Venezuela.

Things improved very little after the divorce. She lived for a couple of years with an Hungarian handyman, ten years her junior, who had come to fix up her apartment and stayed to explore her plumbing. Istvan had moved in almost before he'd driven the first nail, with nothing but the shirt on his back. Cassie, who had read Pygmalion, was intrigued by the challenge. She not only bought him clothes, she taught him English and introduced him to fancy restaurants and fine wines. Istvan, however, preferred Dewar's White Label to Chateau Le Turquet 1978. Not only was he a budding alcoholic, but his Catholic scruples balked at birth control. So Cassandra, in order to avoid littering her apartment with Scottish-Hungarian offspring, compromised by making Istvan a present of her throat. One of the only times during their two-year imbroglio that they had intercourse in the more traditional manner was at 4 a.m. one morning on the front seat of Istvan's Plymouth, where he, with all the drunken aplomb of a Turkish seraskier claiming his booty, put a leg-lock on Cassie, thrust aside the crotch-band of her panties, and impaled her, with the car door gaping open and Cassie in frozen terror that some insomniac neighbor might be watching.

(Continued in "The Deep Woods," part two.)