The Frigid Princess


            When phone rang, I thought it was a dream. Then I opened my eyes to bright morning light and glanced at the clock to verify this.

            Everybody who knew me knew I worked a night job and knew better than to call me before noon. Even Pauly knew how irritable I would get and avoided calling me until later in the day.

            But it was 11:15 and the phone wouldn’t stop, so I got up, groggy, curing the phone before I reached it and the phone company, and the countless number of strangers who also called this number by mistake.

            “Hello?” I said in voice that would have curdled milk. “What is it?”

            “Alfred? Is that really you?”

            For a moment, I stopped breathing.

            “Peggy? Are you calling me from work?”

            “I don’t work on Fridays,” she said. “It’s one of the fringe benefits of being assistant head to my department. I was wondering if you could come over.”

            I looked at the clock again, just to make sure I hadn’t been seeing things in my groggy state. But only a minute had passed and it was still nearly an hour before noon.

            Pleasant thoughts returned from the previous night, and the hours of playing music for Peggy at her bed side. I couldn’t quite believe it was real, just one more dream in a series of dreams, but this one without the haunting quality of a pending nightmare – although I did remember sneaking out after she had nodded off, only to have my guitar bump the kitchen and inspiring the dread that I might wake her and start her ritualistic screaming not to be beaten. I’d experienced this three times already and I still hadn’t gotten used to it.

            “It’s really kind of early for me, Peggy,” I said.”

            “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. How about coming over around one o’clock?”

            Even that was kind of early with the lack of sleep I’d been getting lately, but the idea that she wanted to see me two days in a row warmed me.

            “One will be fine,” I told her.

            “Don’t forget to bring the guitar,” she said before she hung up.

            This last I carried back to bed with me, and felt good as I drifted back into my dreams.

            I got to Peggy’s place later carrying my guitar in one hand and a binder full of songs in the other and found her with a vacuum cleaner in hers.

            “I’m hungry,” she said. “Why don’t you go get us some sandwiches or something while I finish vacuuming the living room.”

            Again, it was a matter of money. I didn’t make a lot of money to start with and since meeting Peggy I had spent a lot more on her and our being together than I ought to have, leaving some of my bills unpaid.

            I was actually relieved at the idea of sandwiches rather than going out. So I bounded down the stairs again, laughing at life.

            I had not felt this good around anyone in a long time, although the manic mood swings drove me crazy, sending me up and down with her, and I very much feared the underlying horrors that made even the good moods seem temporary.

            When I returned, Peggy had the stereo going. She was sitting in the living room staring into space as the words to “Landslide” echoed through the room.

            I put the bag on the table and sat there, waiting for her to acknowledge me, noticing for the first time the unicorn-shaped mirror on the wall with a crack through it.

            “How did that happen?” I asked.

            Peggy didn’t even look at what I was pointing to.

            “Robert broke that,” she said. “And the wall behind you.”

            I glanced at the space behind the door where there was a dent the size of a fist.
            Peggy once told me that she had agreed to marry Robert.

            “At least he only hit the wall,” I said.

            “He was aiming for my face,” she said. “It was one of the few times he missed. Where’s the food.”

            I pointed to the bag and she unpacked it.

            We ate to quiet music, the selection of which surprised me since it differed sharply from her normal “winding down” tune, music by people like James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, and Cat Stevens. This was not the kind of material anyone at the bar would think of when Peggy’s name was mentioned.

            This long-legged woman before me was full of surprises and much more complicated than even I ever gave her credit for being. Curious things like her taste in music made her even more attractive to me. When one record ended, she got up, and put on Fleetwood Mac again, and back came the sad mood of “Landslide.”

            I asked her why she liked it so much – my own associations full of lost loves fading in the distant past, and I now knew better to resurrect them in front of Peggy.

            “Listen to the words,” she told me. “It’s about building your life around one person. I tried it. I was sorry for it. I’ll never make that mistake again.”


            “Never!” she said coldly, staring at me across the small coffee table.

            Suddenly I wasn’t hungry any more or cheerful.

            She got up to change, back into that skimpy shirt and underwear that let loose her long legs.

            “Come on, play for me,” she said, holding out her hand to lead me into the promised land of her bedroom. I unpacked my guitar. I had come better prepared this time, opening a large black binder filled with the songs I always wanted to play out, playing them often in the privacy of my own apartment, too cowardly to take a chance of seeking out a public. In truth, no one had ever wanted me to sing for them before, until Peggy.

            I like the idea of singing one to one, the way I had seen others doing back in the old rooming house in Montclair. I liked the idea of playing my own tunes as well. So did Peggy apparently.

            “What do you want to hear?” I asked, settling on the corner of her bed as she looked over at me, her back propped up by pillows against the headboard. At times like these, she looked more like a little girl than a grown woman. Yet I knew perfectly well it was only a mask and that behind it was the face of a street-hardened go-go dancer, terrifying and deadly when she needed to be. I glanced over at her dresser and the drug works she kept there for quick use, and I shivered.

            “I want to hear my songs,” she said, laying claim to those three or four sounds I had written about her.

            I strummed the guitar. The strings were nearly dead, but somehow out of them I was able to generate life, the words to her songs having a meaning to me that went beyond the lyrics, striking up in me the original feeling of when I first created them.

            Then, I felt something on my neck.

            Peggy’s fingers rose up along my shoulder, her breasts pressed against my back as her mouth moved on my neck, softly kissing me.

            I started to put down the guitar.

            “Don’t stop,” she said, still pressing herself against me.

            “But you’re getting me excited.”

            “Then I’ll stop doing what I’m doing.”

            “No, please,” I said. “I like it.”

            “Then keep playing.”

            I tried, oh, how I tried to keep my fingers pressed against those strings and my mind focused on the words I was supposed to be singing, but her tongue once more played against my neck, sending chills through me.

            “To hell with this,” I thought, pushing the guitar and the binder to one side to I could turn to face her.

            “Hey, what you doing!” she demanded to know.

            “I’m going to make love to you,” I said, pushing her down, kissing her lightly on the lips as my fingers searched for other strings to play.

            “No, no, I can’t!” she protested. “I – oh, but it feels so good. I like the way you touch me.”

            “I’m glad,” I mumbled, my lips against her neck. I could hear he heart beating faster and faster. Or maybe it was my own.

            “No, I mean it, Alfred, I can’t.”

            “Why not?”

            She blinked at me coyly, against giving me that little girl look which I knew wasn’t real, a look that denied her whole life in the bars, that denied that she had anything in common with strip clubs or anything so vulgar as sex. “I can’t tell you why.”

            “You can’t what?” I said, the mood shattered, so I sat up, confused by the combinations of yes and no, all of it reverberating inside of me like a broken traffic light, green one minute, red the next, with no warning about the sudden shift.

            I felt all jammed up, aching to have her, wanting to take her, but stopped by her simple statement.

            “You know what I mean,” she said, giving me another coy look, her eyes turned down like a very proper but flirtatious Southern belle. “I just can’t let you do it.”

            More games, I thought.

            She really couldn’t be trying to say she was a virgin. The underworld of go-go dancing produced a lot of strange things, but it did not go out of its way to preserve a woman’s virginity.

            So what was she trying to say?

            “It can’t be that time of month again,” I said. “You just went through that.”

            “Stop it, Alfred,” she said, again in a mock virtuous voice like a church woman shocked over his reference to an unmentionable bodily function. “I told you I can’t say.”

            “Do you have something?”

            “If you mean, do I have a disease, no, that isn’t it.”

            I laughed. “Then you must be frigid, eh?”

            For a very long moment, she stared at me and blinked, total disbelief showing in her eyes. Then she erupted into a fit of laugher.

            “Frigid? Me? I’ve been called a lot of things in my time, Alfred. But this is the first time anybody has ever called me frigid.”

            “Well? Are you?”

            “Don’t be stupid. Just play the guitar.”

            I tried again, my fingers hurting from the long gap in playing. But almost as soon as I started to sing, she was on my neck again, and again, the ache in me started, down to the roots of me, quaking with lust, lust that had been mounting from the first time I saw her long legs strutting across a go-go stage in front of me.

            Down went the guitar and moments later, we were locked together – me forced to settle for the ability to touch her, feeling her vibrate through the tips of my fingers. But I wanted even more.

            She pushed me away, breathless.

            “Play!” she said, ending this frustrating love-making.

            So I played, going through the tunes that I had played for myself over the long years, each song having a personal meaning Peggy could never understand, of faltering and failed relationships, a love at a distance, or simply the power of someone’s great smile remembered and treasured and long gone.

            But the songs couldn’t keep my mind off Peggy.

            What kind of game was she playing with me? She certainly wasn’t a virgin. Even she’d admitted that, telling me that she once made love to a guy in this very bed while talking to her mother on the telephone.

            She pointed to the large tapestry on the wall beside her bed and the fox there, and laughed. “If only that creature could talk,” she said. “What tales he would tell.”

            Her new rules. All I could do is touch her. No more.

            And she wouldn’t tell me why.

            When I came back the next night, I ached all the more.

            She was waiting for me in the living room and has the couch folded out into a bed.

            “Play,” she said, even before I’d had a chance to feed any of the treats to her cat.

            She motioned me to the chair beside her, one of her long legs exposed before me, I could look at almost nothing else. I played her songs, then found myself mingle with those legs in a strong effort at making love. But I couldn’t make it work. One of those things that often happened the first time I make love to a strange woman.    

            “I need to get used to you,” I said, embarrassed, trying to assure her that it was me, not her.

            But something was wrong on her side, too. She seemed to have trouble receiving me, her face cringing like a torture victim’s when I tried to get inside her.

            “It’s not support to hurt,” I said, concerned.

            “It doesn’t hurt exactly,” she said, through clenched teeth. “You simply have to calm me down some, tell me everything is going to be all right. Please!”

            My mind raced with it. Had she been raped or something. I tried to calm her down, but it affected me. I wasn’t the kind of person who enjoyed causing another people pain and when I saw Peggy’s face still in the throes of pain, I stopped and rolled off of her.

            “I can’t do it,” I said.

            “Damn,” she said and rolled away from me, her smooth back shivering with her sobs.

            “Look, I’m very sorry,” I said.

            “Sorry doesn’t do it!” she growled. “Don’t you know I want to please you, too?”

            “But it isn’t you,” I said. “Why don’t we watch TV or something. Get our minds off it. I feel very bad about all this.”

            “YOU!” she roared, turning, the sheets falling away to reveal her naked form. “How do you think it feels for me, not being able to turn you on?”
            I stumbled as I climbed out of bed. Why was she doing this? Of course, she turned me on.

            I’m the one causing her pain.

            “Get back in bed,” she said angrily.

            “I don’t think I should,” I said.

            “I said get into this bed,” she commanded.

            I did.

            “Now we’re going to do this again,” she said. “And this time we’re going to do it right. But you have to make sure you don’t do it inside of me. I don’t need to get pregnant.”

            “You’re not protected?”

            “What did I just tell you?”

            “I know but…”

            “Just do what you’re told.”

            A little while later, she shouted at me.

            “Pull it out! Pull it out!”

            I fell away from her, leaving a trail of went on the bed sheet.

            She propped herself up and glared at me.

            “What did I tell you about pulling out?”

            “I did pull out.”

            “Almost not soon enough,” she said. “I thought I was being nice to you. Next time, you’re going to wear a condom.”



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