A very long time ago, before I moved to Colorado, I took a creative writing class. It was a fun class and the teacher was not only amusing, he turned out to be someone I knew very peripherally from another area of my life. He assigned us a number of exercises, but 2 of them stood out for me. One was that he gave the class a limited number of opening sentences and each of us had to pick a different one and at least begin a story with that opener. The other exercise, which I thought was more interesting, was that he gave the whole class the SAME premise and each of us had to write a story based on that. The premise was “A man and a woman meet for lunch.” Well. I mean, for some reason, this just flat stumped me. I tried and tried and tried to get a story out of that and left a trail of crumpled paper in my wake (metaphorically speaking). Then, I decided that rather than try to figure out the reason why the man and woman were meeting for lunch, I would just concentrate on what the setting of the lunch looked like. Lo and behold! A story just popped right up. After that little trick, the whole thing flowed out, and, I have to say, it was deemed the most original of the class for that particular exercise. Herewith:
The room glows with candles. Outside, the climbing sun shortens the shadows to nubs at the feet, but in this room the tall windows are covered with thick, velvet draperies, and no hint of natural light is allowed in.
The room waits. The air is still, yet not oppressive. The candle flames burn tall and steady, undisturbed by draughts. Two place settings grace one end of the table. The translucent china and golden flatware absorb the gleam from the burning tapers and seem to throw off an internal illumination of their own. The pristine linen napkins stand stiffly in their folds.
Fresh flowers in the center of the mahogany banquet table infuse the room with the fragrance of summer. The crystal glasses are so delicate they seem to disappear in the soft light. The clock strikes noon.
The double doors at the end of the room glide apart silently and a woman enters. The candle flames dip and waver, then resume their steady burning as the air in the room equalizes. She is dressed for a ball, or a queen’s reception. Her gown is the color of a mountain lake on a clear day, matched exactly by the sapphires that twinkle among the diamonds in the necklace at her throat. Her mane of jet hair is twisted upon her head like a natural crown, held with yet more jewels, allowing her bare shoulders and neck to gleam in the candlelight–snow under the moon.
The woman walks around the table, surveying it with a critical eye in a serene face. She nods once, satisfied, then goes to the sideboard and pours a small glass of sherry. She sips and fastens her eyes on the door she just came through, waiting.
The clock strikes the quarter hour. The woman straightens as she hears a soft step on the threshold. A man enters and crosses quickly to her. She smiles softly as he takes her hand and kisses the inside of her wrist. She offers him sherry, he accepts.
He is clothed to match her. His crisp shirt shines in the candle light, its starched front ready to stand alone. His sable tail coat hugs his strong, slender frame in a formal embrace, the ribbon- edged trousers travel the length of his long legs to where they break just at the tops of his shoes, which are burnished to a military brilliance.
His hair reflects hers, raven, thick, well-cut and combed back from his rather long, sharp-featured face. His dark eyes hold hers as he drains his sherry.
“This is one of your best ideas, my dear.” He reaches out to stroke her pale cheek. His praise brings the faintest of flushes.
“I feel it brings us closer together; sharing a meal can be so–intimate.”
“Intimate,” his voice holds rich laughter under the words.
“Indeed. Has our guest arrived?”
“She’s waiting anxiously. Let me get her.” The woman crosses to the small door that leads to the kitchen and the servants’ quarters below. She disappears and returns in a moment leading a younger woman by the hand. They cross to the man.
“Allow me to introduce our luncheon guest. This is Eugenie.” She watches her companion closely as he greets their visitor.
“Ah, Eugenie! How charming. Will you be seated?” He pulls out a chair, and the girl settles into it. She is dressed as her hosts, in a deep green gown that sets off her russet hair, and adds to the blush in her tanned cheeks. She wears no jewelry.
“Eugenie, will you have sherry?” A slight tremor runs through Eugenie’s frame. It is as if she is coming back to herself after a light doze.
“Sherry? I believe…yes, a little, thank you.” Her voice is light, almost fragile. She takes the sherry in a hand that has only the slightest tremble. The woman looks her question to the man. He smiles his approval.
“She’s lovely, my dear, an excellent choice. You outdid yourself. In fact, Eugenie? I’m feeling rather whimsical today. Would you honor me with a dance?”
Eugenie blushes as the man holds out his hands to her. They can see the flush rising from where her low-cut gown begins, to travel its way almost to her hairline. She glances at the woman for permission.
“Oh, please, Eugenie, do! It’s quite all right. Ector is a superb dancer.” The sherry seems to have taken effect; Eugenie’s movements are firmer, less tentative as she rises to meet Ector’s embrace.
“But,” she hesitates, “there’s no music.” Ector pulls her hand to his face and plants a kiss full on her palm.
“My dear, the dance will make its own music.” He leads her around the table in a waltz while the woman watches, her eyes alight at her partner’s enjoyment.
They circle the dining room twice. Eugenie fits into Ector’s arms as if designed for them. On the third turn, he pulls her closer, touches his lips to her hair, her forehead. She almost falters, blushing again, but his strong lead keeps her in the rhythm. Closer she molds to him; they are one unit moving, around, around, whirling, floating, lost in the dance, until at last Eugenie pulls away with a gasp.
“Oh! That was–lovely, lovely, but I–suddenly, I’m so dizzy…I must…need to…”
Ector leads her back to her chair. Eugenie sinks down, trying to catch her breath in the tight-laced gown. The woman fetches her another sherry.
“I’m so sorry, my dear! Drink this. Ector sometimes gets carried away in his dancing.”
Ector stands behind Eugenie, his hands resting lightly on her shoulders. Her brief period of animation has passed; she has returned to her former listless state. Ector turns to the woman, and pulls her into an embrace. His eyes are alight, glowing like the candles.
“Valerie, she’s wonderful! Such energy, could you tell? Could you sense her? It was–exquisite. All this…all the plans, the precautions, everything, for me. I am overwhelmed.”
Valerie ducks her head demurely away from Ector. His delight is her gratification. She touches his cheek lightly with her lips.
“Shall we dine?” There is hunger in the question.
“Yes,” he whispers into her hair, “Oh, yes!”
Ector turns back to where Eugenie sits in the chair. Her face is puzzled, as though she is trying to remember something. Ector takes her hands and helps her to her feet. She sways briefly, then regains her balance. Ector bends his knees and picks Eugenie up into his arms. His eyes devour hers, and she cannot look away. Her head lolls back as he carries her to the empty end of the table and lays her across it. Valerie follows.
He caresses her neck, her shoulders. He can see the pulse beating wildly at her throat, sees the tremors running through her body and his own hands begin to tremble with his need. He looks at Valerie standing on the girl’s other side. His brow rises in a question. Valerie’s laugh is as crystalline as the goblets at the other end of the table.
“Oh, Ector, you have the most impeccable manners! She’s for you, my love, for you.”
She lifts Eugenie’s delicate wrist and brings it to her lips. Her smile widens to reveal the hungry, canine teeth she can no longer hide.
“This will suffice for me today, my dear. Next month, lunch is on you.”
Together, Ector and Valerie bend to their meal.