The Frigid Princess
When the phone rang, I thought it was a dream.
But I opened my eyes anyway, squinting against the scalding morning sun I knew was too angled to be late morning, and then I glanced at the clock.
Everybody knew I worked the midnight shift and didn’t get up before noon – if that early.
But the ringing persisted and I pushed off my covers to get up.
I figured it had to be important and most likely bad news.
“Hello?” I said.
“Alfred, is that you?”
“Yes, Peggy, it’s me. Are you calling me from your job?”
“I don’t work on Fridays,” she said. “It’s one of the fringe benefits. I want you to come over.”
Again, I looked at the clock.
A whole minute passed.
While pleasant memories of playing guitar for her the previous night sill lingered in my head, it had left me that much more exhausted, especially since I had lingered late to let her nod off and then got to work an hour later than usual, and thus got out of work late as well.
“This is really kind of early for me, Peggy,” I finally said.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot. How about coming over around one?”
Even that was kind of early considering how little sleep I had, but I agreed.
“Don’t forget the guitar,” she said as she hung up.
I got to her house around 1:30 with guitar in one hand and a binder full of songs in the other – not all of them my songs, but songs I sang when I was home alone in the house, songs that made me feel happy or sad or both.
Peggy had a vacuum cleaner running – a sight so odd to me that I actually laughed, drawing a scowl from her.
“This isn’t funny,” she said, though quickly added. “I don’t dust. I will never dust.”
Since I rarely did either, I couldn’t argue, and watched while she tucked the machine away into a closet.
“I’m hungry,” she said. “Why don’t you pop down to the deli and get us something to eat while I finish up here?”
This relieved me greatly since I had already dipped into the money meant for other expenses and buying at the dele was a damned-side cheaper than going out to eat.
I bounded down the stairs like a giddy teenager as manic in my moods as Petty was, partly because so much of my mood depended on how sh3e felt at any given moment. While this should have warned me to take care, I was elated anyway.
I gave the deli guy a tip for making our turkey clubs, getting an odd look from him as change.
By the time I got back, Peggy had the stereo going.
“Landslide “filled the apartment, once again altering my mood.
I put the bag down on the table and stared through the living room door at Peggy, who sat mesmerized on the couch, not singing, not humming, just staring into space.
I noticed for the first time the unicorn-shaped mirror with the crack down its middle.
“How did that happen?” I asked, just as the song ended and Peggy looked up.
“Robert,” she said. “He also broke the wall behind you.”
I glanced at the wall behind the door where a hole the size of a fist had been poked, about the height of where Peggy’s face might have been.
“Robert has a mean temper,” Peggy said, rising from the couch to make her way to where I stood. “He was aimed for my face. I ducked that time. Sometimes, he was too quick for me. We’ll eat in the living room if you don’t mind.”
I shrugged and carried my portion of the foot to the couch, spread it onto the coffee table as Peggy put on a few albums, then joined me.
James Taylor, Carly Simon, and other softer sounds eased the tension out of the air again.
When the food was gone and the records over, she stood up, held out her hand for mine, and said, “Come play for me.”
I accompanied her to the kitchen where I had left my guitar and binder, unpacked the instrument as she changed into her sleeping outfit and she settled into the bed, motioning for me to sit on the edge of the bed where I could play.
I had divided the binder into musical sets I once imagined I might perform out, but never had. In truth, I liked courage to get up on a state and this was the first any one actually asked me to sing for them.
“What do you want me to play?” I asked.
Peggy had propped herself up on pillows against the headboard as she usually did when preparing to watch TV. She looked like a young, teenage girl rather than a grown woman, and it was hard for me to remember that behind this mask of innocence was a streetwise, experience-touched stripper, terrifying and deadly when she needed to be.
I didn’t need to glance over to the drug paraphernalia she kept on top of her dresser near the door to recall just how addicted to that life she was, but I wanted to forget it, needed to believe in this illusion, if not for her sake, then for my own.
“I want to hear my songs,” she said, referring to the four tunes I had played for her back in my apartment the previous day and then again here after she had dragged me back.
Besides “her” four songs, I had a handful of original tunes in my books. She didn’t press me to hear them, but let me play the numerous cover tunes I had collected from Neil Young and The Rolling Stones, to Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.
One song she made me repeat several times the previous night, that night and on later occasions was a song by a local song writer named Dean Friedman, a tune called “Sandy Eyes” I had taken a fancy to the first time I heard it, partly because of its sentiment about how love transcends economic hardship, and how the hero would continue to love his lover, rich or poor, regardless of how life turned out.
I was singing this for the second time when I felt something soft touch my neck and after a moment I realized she had shifted forwards on the bed to kiss my neck.
I started to put down the guitar.
“Don’t stop,” she whispered, her mouth near by ear, her soft breasts pressing against my back.
“But you’re getting me excited,” I said.
“So should I stop?” she asked.
“I never said that.”
“Then keep playing.”
So I turned my attention back to the guitar, struggling to remember where my fingers were supposed to go. The fact was they hurt. I rarely played this long at home, usually performing only a half dozen songs a night. Peggy had me playing dozens and often making me repeat the ones she liked best so that the tips of my fingers on my left hand grew sensitive to the touch, often unable to press down on the strings hard enough for the chords.
I started the song again, trying to focus my attention on the sheet of paper in my note book and the words I had to sing.
I didn’t get through one verse before I felt her touch again, first her fingers, then her mouth and finally the tip of her tongue playing gentling on my neck and near by ear.
Again, I stopped, and leaned the guard against the night stand as I turned to face her.
“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” she demanded to know.
“I’m going to make love to you,” I said, pushing her back against the pillows, my lips finger her lips for a very gentle kiss.
Not until later, did I realize that this was our first kiss – at lease as a prelude to romance.
During my previous attempts, she had always pulled back or responded with a peck on my lips or cheek.
She didn’t resist this time or rather as much, pulling away after an extended conflict.
“No, no, we can’t do this,” she protested, her mouth to one side as I let my hand move down her front, aching fingers from the hard edge of the guitar strings finding softer territory to explore. Even numb from playing, my fingers felt her breasts and her aroused nipples.
“Stop,” she mumbled, this time avoiding my further attempts to kiss her.
“Why?” I asked, my hand moving down to the place where her t-shirt stopped and her long legs started.
“Because I said so,” she said, still not stern enough for me to believe her – my hand easing between her legs, finding the gap there, finding that gap wet with excitement. “Oh,” she moaned. “But that does feel good.”
“I’m glad,” I said, my heart pounding so hard it throbbed in my ears.
“No,” she said, pulling herself back, and forcing my hand away from her. “I mean it, Alfred. I can’t do this.”
I cased my advances.
“Why not?” I asked.
“I can’t tell you why,” she said coyly.
She even batted her eyes the way a small innocent girl might, giving me a look so out of character with her role as a dance, I nearly laughed – it was a looked that denied any connection to that other, vulgar world.
“Why the hell can’t you tell me?” I asked, the mood completely evaporating, my condition returning to one much less elevated.
I sat up, feeling as confused as a broken traffic light with “go” and “don’t go” signals flashing in her eyes at the same time.
I couldn’t read which signal she really meant and so became jumped up inside, a traffic jam of confused emotions I had no way of sorting out.
“You know why not,” she said, clearly knowing that I had no clue.
Again, she gave me that coy look – something straight out of “Gone with the Wind.”
“I just can’t let you do it,” she said.
In a desperate attempted to make sense of an insane situation, my mind began churning out possible reasons why could not have sex with me – none of them making the least bit of sense even as they popped into my mind.
“It can’t be that time of month again,” I said. “You were just through that.”
“ALFRED!” she said, mockingly offended. “I’m surprised at you.”
She sounded like an outraged church woman, offending at my daring to mention such a bodily function out loud.
“I told you,” she said, “I can’t say.”
“Do you have something contagious?” I asked, pressing the point.
“Do you mean do I have a disease?”
“Yes, that’s what I mean.”
“NO,” she said firmly. “I do not.”
“Then you must be frigid.”
The word exploded out of her in a genuine expression of surprise, stripping her face of its usual satirical mask. “Where the hell did you come up with that?”
She just continued to share her head.
“I’ve been called a lot of things in my times, Alfred, but this is the first time anybody has called me frigid.”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“Don’t be stupid, just play the guitar.”
So I slid to the edge of the bed again, recovering my guitar and turned the page in my binder to the next song.
A great sadness lingered in these tunes, drawing up in me images of more hopeful times in my life when I had ambitions to be someone important, or do something significant, when I had lived in a rooming house with other more hopeful souls, each of us striving for some inaccessible dream time later denied us.
I went from one song to another, and was just starting a third when I felt her lips on my neck again, and the elevated ache she had inspired earlier returned more acutely than before, digging down into the roots of me, tugging at parts of my anatomy I never felt so intensely before – not just lust, but a glaze of something infinitely more powerful, a rush of desire that would not end with a mere fuck – I wanted to climb down inside of her and go so deep into her that I filled every inch of her – her skin becoming my skin, her breaths filling my lungs.
Down went the guitar again, this time with a thump as I wrapped my arms around her and pressed my chest against her, forcing her back onto the pillows with me on top of her.
“I don’t want you inside of me, please,” she whispered.
“But I need to be in you.”
“Not yet; not now.”
“If not now, when?”
“Later, I promise you.”
But she let me kiss her, a long, lingering kiss that set up lips on fire as if we were two opposite poles of a battery connecting, sparking also from contact she allowed my fingers to have with the tips of her breasts through her thin t-shirt, and then, cupping them, I felt her hard nipples against the palms of my trembling hands. She even let me once more explore between her legs, allow those already trembling fingers to ease up into her wet warmth where the rest of me could not go. She even let my fingers linger on those rose pedal folds of flesh until I made her shudder and moan.
“Enough!” she finally said, pushing me away, her voice breathless, telling me more than she ever intended.
“Just play the guitar, Alfred.”
I could not stop trembling as I recovered the guitar this time.
My fingers stung all the more when they came into contact with the strings again after having just careered something infinitely more tender, her moisture leaving marks on teach fret as I struggled once more to play,
One through the binder, I played only those few other songs she requested, then stopped.
“Are you going to play or not, Alfred?” she asked.
“My fingers hurt,” I said. “I need to rest.”
“All right,” she said. “But don’t get any more ideas.”
“I can’t help getting ideas.”
“Why? Because you think I’m frigid?”
“Well, you’re certainly not a virgin,” I said.
“And how would you know?”
“You’re a go-go dancer.”
“Last time I checked, dancing isn’t what stops you from being a virgin.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I suppose I do,” she said. “All of us on the stage must be bad girls, is that it?”
“Maybe you’re right,” she mumbled, glancing up at the tapestry she’d hung on the wall beside her bed, a woodland scene with a fox front in mid stride in the middle, staring out as if caught in some nefarious act.
“If only that fox could talk,” Peggy said. “It could tell you some wild stories. He’s seen it all right here.”
She laughed in her honking barroom laugh, one that her high school class mates recalled years after her leaving Garfield High.
“Did you know I once had a man fuck me here while I had my mother on the telephone? My mother kept asking why I was breathing so funny and if I was all right and whether nor not she should call an ambulance. I nearly bust a gut holding back my laugh while that guy pumped me.”
“Did she ever find out?” I asked.
“No, but I’ve been tempted to tell her a few times. I just never got around to it. Are you rested yet?”
“I suppose. But I’d rather…”
“I know what you’d rather do. Just play a few more songs and then I’ll go to sleep.”
I played. This time she didn’t touch me – so I had not excuse to touch her. When I was done, she fell back into her usual position. I started to rise to leave.
“Don’t go until I go to sleep,” she said.
I glanced at the clock. It was already later and I knew if I waited much longer I would be late for work again, and have to stay late again, and I was already exhausted.
But I sat back down on the edge of bed.
“When you go,” Peggy said, “don’t take the guitar.”
I nodded and waited, and when she slipped off into sleep, I rose, leaving the book and the guitar behind, hurrying into the hall so I could not have to witness again the cringing, fearful, beaten Peggy that always arose out of her nightmares.