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September 2009 Volume 11 , Issue 9 submit to us!
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The+Ice+Storm
by Nick Sansone -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

Clarisse Delacroix gazed out of her second-story bedroom window into the dusky suburban gloom below. The snow hadn't started yet, but a threatening blear of gray cloaked the sky. Clarisse's well-manicured lawn, obscured now by mist, was the dull gray-green of a tarnished penny. Clarisse could faintly perceive the mailboxes of her neighbors standing in well-ordered rows along the foggy street. The trees shook like giant rattles in the fists of a petulant newborn and their empty branches clicked and clattered as they struck one another. A subtle draft snaked through a crack in the putty around the window that sealed the room off from the outside, forcing Clarisse draw her silk bathrobe around herself and lash it shut with a wide, red sash.

"My husband should be home momentarily," she said, without turning away from the window of her master bedroom. "Then you may leave."

The man to whom she spoke was muscular and young-- just coming into his mid-twenties-- and clad only in a blindfold and three white socks; the two that covered his feet were his own, but the third, stuffed indelicately into his mouth, had originated in Clarisse's lingerie drawer. He sat in a scooped wicker chair, to which he had been tied with a combination of electrical tape and panty hose. An extension cord bound his hands behind him. His glistening body reflected the low lamplight that softly illumined the room. Upon closer inspection, it could be seen that he was covered, head-to-sock, in margarine. An empty tub of it lay near his feet.

This young man, Hector Marcellus Thibodeaux, was not at all concerned with his relative immobility. He smiled broadly around the sock in his mouth and the unconscious stiffness of his most currently prominent feature betrayed his pleasure. He gurgled contentedly from the back of his throat.

Clarisse turned away from the brewing storm and faced her houseguest. The sheets of the king-sized bed that she typically shared with Mr. Leonard Delacroix were twisted into a sweaty tangle on the floor. The Monet print over the headboard had been knocked askew so Clarisse walked over to it and set it right. She gave it a satisfied nod as she fumbled through her sleek ebony nightstand and withdrew a slim filtered cigarette and a silver lighter.

"Do you smoke?" Clarisse asked, sitting on the edge of her bed and lighting up.

Hector shook his head. A tiny thread of drool slipped around the sock in his mouth and drooped lower and lower until, finally, gravity sent it plunging onto his upper thigh with a splat. Hector squirmed as his spittle slowly slid down the inside of his leg.

"It's as well," Clarisse reassured him, replacing her lighter and stepping once again to the window. "Then I would have to take your gag out. And who knows what naughty trouble that tongue of yours would get into then?"

Hector's face and torso turned crimson. He struggled against his constraints, and his sexual interest rose visibly.

"Calm down, Romeo," glided Clarisse's high, slightly nasal, voice, as she opened the window and coolly breathed out a jet of smoke. "There's no time for another grand finale, so try to restrain your animal impulses. Leonard shall be back in no time at all, and then your relevance will be marginal. I'm going to finish my cigarette downstairs. I would invite you to accompany me, but you seem comfortable where you are."

Without waiting for Hector's mumble of response, Clarisse turned on her heel and strode quickly out of the room. The master bedroom opened onto a tastefully decorated landing sparsely populated by long, white candles and golden angel chimes. A strip of red crushed velvet flowed over the edge of the landing, down the staircase, and into the front foyer. As Clarisse descended, her cigarette balanced smoothly between the fingers of her left hand, she allowed her right hand to trail along the great oak banister.

The foyer greeted Clarisse in all its opulence. Massive bookcases filled with dusty handbound volumes, well-arrayed bottles of liqueurs, and decorative vases lined the walls. A gold-fibered carpet depicting an elaborate dragon floating on a bed of swirling clouds sprawled to a stop just before the redwood front door. The carpet had been painstakingly woven by Indian schoolchildren, and the dexterity of their tiny hands was evident in the subtlety and fine detail it boasted. A small crystal chandelier hung from the foyer's high ceiling. The chandelier only consisted of four walnut-sized crystals, but the candles were placed in such a way around them that, when lit, the structure sent a dizzyingly infinite bouquet of rays streaming throughout the wide vestibule.

Clarisse pulled an orange ceramic ashtray from one of the wall units and tapped the blackened end of her cigarette into it. She took another deep puff as she glanced at the grandfather clock ticking away the hours from its niche between two bookshelves. Leonard was late. Clarisse supposed that the buses were driving cautiously on account of the ice storm that had been forecast.

Clarisse didn't wait long before she heard the familiar sound of her husband's wingtips on the cobblestone walkway outside. Before Leonard could make it to the door, Clarisse slid open the latch and stepped onto the front porch. The cold bit at her beneath her silk bathrobe, so she hugged herself tightly against the wind as she flicked her cigarette into the garden. Leonard was bent over a small red, white, and blue sign that he was unsuccessfully trying to replant in the frozen soil. It read: "Vote Leonard Delacroix, Representative for the Third District" in garish gold letters. Clarisse suppressed a smirk.

Clarisse admired her tall and strapping husband, at least physically. His professionally styled blonde hair was always parted neatly and his steely blue eyes were masculine and sincere. He strode everywhere with confidence, youthful athleticism, and expensive shoes. To look at him was to trust him. He was an excellent politician.

"Welcome home, dear," sang Clarisse from the porch. Leonard looked up from the sign over which he was wasting his labor and smiled broadly. His face was red and chapped and his nose was running.

"Hello, Clarisse!"

"Come inside, dear, it's frightfully cold out."

Clarisse held the door open while Leonard lay the sign down and walked up to the porch. As he was stepping inside, puffy snowflakes began drifting down from the sky, freezing immediately upon hitting the ground. Clarisse surveyed the weather with a stern frown and a shiver and stepped inside after her husband, latching the door securely behind her.

Leonard had already taken his shoes off and begun to unload his briefcase in his first-story study. Clarisse marched into the room and cleared her throat pointedly. Leonard looked up from his papers and shot her a broad, hygienic grin.

"What's up, honey?" he asked.

"We're out of margarine."

"I just bought a whole tub," he said.

"Well, we're out."

"Okay, I'll buy more. Let me get undressed. I'll start dinner."

"I've been cheating on you."

Leonard glanced up, his smile intact, and raised his eyebrows.

"I know," he said.

Clarisse glared at him. She glanced peevishly over her shoulder and sighed. She repeated herself a little louder: "I said, ‘I've been cheating on you.'"

"Yes," Leonard said, loosening his tie and stepping back into the foyer, "and I said, ‘I know.'"

"No!" growled Clarisse, as she followed him. "I don't mean once or twice, dear. I mean a lot. I've been making a mockery of this marriage. I've engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners. Every day when you go to work, I have wild, frenzied sex in our marital bed with a new young man."

"Very good," said Leonard, good-naturedly, as he took off his suit coat, draped it over his shoulder, and ascended the stairs.

"I'd like you to meet Hector." Clarisse was at his heels.

By this point, Leonard had entered the master bedroom and could see Hector Marcellus Thibodeaux for himself. Hector was as far forward in the chair as his bonds would allow and was listening to the footsteps of the Delacroixes. He began to wiggle and gurgle playfully. His thin, dark body hair was matted with oleo and he had turned a little red where the electrical tape ran across his skin. Upon seeing Hector, Leonard was shaken. First, he turned a lush shade of pink and then he let his suit coat drop to the ground behind him. His hands started sweating heavily and he ran them up and down over his slacks.

"Hector," said Clarisse, suggestively removing her captive's blindfold and gag, "this is my husband, Leonard. I'll start dinner and leave you to get acquainted. You'll like Leonard; he's as sweet as a fine port, but as square as a Mondrian." She winked at her husband.

Leonard, still stammering, offered a disturbed grimace to Hector and growled inaudibly to his wife: "You know, there's a portrait of you in an attic somewhere getting wittier and wittier."

Clarisse didn't respond to Leonard's awkward comeback and slipped out of the room, closing the door behind her. Hector stared up at Leonard, smiling reassuringly and somewhat expectantly, and wet his lips. Leonard continued to fidget and run his hands along his sides. He met Hector's eyes for a moment and then dropped his gaze self-consciously; unfortunately for Leonard, this brought his wife's lover's eager genitals directly into his line of vision. Taken aback, he grimaced, forced a face-saving smile, and once again lifted his eyes to Hector's face.

"First time, huh?" Hector said knowingly.

"First time?" Leonard repeated. Outside, the fluffy snow had turned sleety and sinister. The insistent padding of windblown snowflakes on the shale roof reminded Leonard of some ancient tribal drumbeat. Hector, sensing Leonard's discomfort, began to blush.

"You're not down with dudes?" Hector offered.

Leonard creased his brows, but then attempted a pleasant, oafish smile. "Uh, no. I'm not . . .  how did you call it? ‘Down with dudes?'"

"Oh. Sorry."

"That's alright. I don't know what my wife might have said to you."

"She's very pleasant."

"Yes. Sometimes." At this point, both Hector and Leonard stopped talking and listened to the clattering of pots and pans coming from the first-story kitchen. Clarisse was singing to herself below as she prepared dinner.

"I don't want to be indelicate, then, but maybe you'd untie me," Hector ventured, avoiding eye contact.

"Yes, certainly," Leonard said, making no move to do so. "You've made quite a mess up here."

"Sorry."

Leonard searched for something to say or do. The winds picked up, and Leonard welcomed the opportunity cross over to the window and peer out. He could see nothing through the panes, all of which had been frosted over with frozen snow. Leonard swallowed.

"So, are you a Democrat, Hector?"

"I don't really vote."

"Oh. You should vote," Leonard said, rapping on the window.

"Yeah."

"I don't suppose my wife told you I was running for office, did she?"

"I don't know," Hector said. He tried to pick at the knot binding his hands behind his back, but to no avail.

"I wouldn't be surprised. She's been very encouraging." Leonard blew lightly on the window. It frosted over and he wiped off the condensation with his sleeve. "I guess you probably want to go home."

"Yeah, I think I'm losing circulation to my arms."

Leonard came to Hector's side and attempted to undo the knots without coming into contact with his skin. "She really did a number on these cords!" Leonard said with a nervous little laugh.

"Haha," Hector agreed. "Yeah."

A sudden blast of wind howled against the window. The barrage of falling snow grew heavier and louder as the harmless flakes morphed into high velocity shards of hail. Heat streamed into the room from the duct tastefully concealed behind the oak dresser. Mother Nature and the central heating system of the Delacroixes's two-story town house growled against each other in bitter conflict.

"Did you drive here, Hector?" Leonard loosed the last of his wife's lover's bonds. Clarisse was still singing happily in the kitchen. The men could hear the steady clipping of a knife on a cutting board.

"Oh, no, your wife picked me up."

"Dammit!" Leonard exclaimed before immediately regaining his composure. "I made it very clear to her that we need to take public transportation whenever possible. Good press, you know? Energy lobbyists," he said.

"Yeah, so . . . " Hector said, standing up and discreetly rubbing his chafed wrists. He reached quickly for the black-and-white plaid boxer shorts poking out from beneath the bed and pulled them on. "May I get a ride back?"

Leonard eyed Hector a little more comfortably, now that his personal areas were appropriately concealed. Small grease stains quickly soaked through Hectors thin underwear. "Perhaps you'd like a shower first?"

"Oh." Hector looked down at himself and nodded. "Ha."

"Let me get you a towel." Leonard stepped into the immaculate bathroom and rummaged through the linen closet for the rattiest towel available. He pulled out a threadbare peach-colored washcloth that was mis-monogrammed with "LT." Draping it over the edge of the slippery plastic bathtub, he popped back into the bedroom with a forced grin. "All ready," Leonard said.

"Thanks," said Hector, as he shuffled past Leonard and into the bathroom. "By the way, I didn't know she was married."

"That's okay. You're not the first," Leonard said, making an unconscious mental note of the audacity of Hector's lie.

"You know," Hector continued, uncomfortably, "there's no reason to let yourself be treated like that."

Leonard shrugged. "Politics. No-one votes for a broken home."

"Well, I'll vote for you." Hector shut the door behind him.

As Leonard descended to the first floor, he could hear the water start up from the shower. He slipped into the spacious kitchen and watched his wife, unaware of his presence, furiously grind a handful of basil leaves in a faux-marble mortar. Leonard could make out her thin, angular build beneath the soft drapery of her silk bathrobe. Lithe and confident, she could still turn heads at thirty-six. Her sandy blonde hair, usually gelled and flipped up at the ends, was now splayed over her shoulders like a feathery stole. She held herself with gracious poise and exaggerated dignity.

"Cute stunt," Leonard remarked. Clarisse jerked around with a gasp but, upon seeing that the sudden voice belonged to her husband, quickly recovered herself.

"Don't sneak up on me," she said, pestle in hand.

"What's cooking?" he asked, approaching the bubbling pot on the stove. Removing the lid, he saw a mass of tangled angel hair pasta.

"Shrimp and asparagus," Clarisse replied, returning to her basil. Leonard listened to the wailings of the winter wind. Hard gusts slammed into the sides of the house, banging the shutters against one another and raking tree branches across the roof. The windows creaked and groaned against their steadily thickening layers of ice.

"We need to talk," Clarisse said, as she scraped the ground basil into a heavy wooden serving bowl, "about our joke of a marriage."

Leonard exhaled heavily and propped himself up against the Formica counter. He sucked his lower lip into his mouth and nibbled on the chapped skin flaking off of it. Minute grains of stubble pricked his upper lip. "What about it?"

"I'm dissatisfied." She glanced at the clock and turned off the stove, lugging the pot of pasta to the colander in the sink.

"Clearly," Leonard said, indicating the light trickling of water audible from the upstairs bathroom.

"You never pay any mind to me. You're always at work." Clarisse dumped the boiling water down the sink. The angel hair slid as a clump into the colander, issuing a satisfying thud.

Leonard shrugged. "That seems to suit your needs."

"Ha. My cashmere-thin relationship with Hector has far less to do with wanton carnality than with my gentle pleas for your attention."

Clarisse began to bounce the colander vigorously to wring out all of the excess water clinging to the pasta. One slender strand flopped onto the counter and Leonard helpfully hooked it back onto the heap. "Careful with that pasta," he said. "I know you're upset, but, hey, I'm on the campaign trail. That's politics. It's no reason to rub my nose in my own cuckolding."

Clarisse shook her head. "So get mad about it. Hit me. Bang some pots around. You're such a politician." She punctuated her last epithet by carelessly emptying the pasta into the wooden bowl.

Leonard smiled evenly. "It's no secret this is a marriage of convenience."

"Well I don't want a ‘marriage of convenience' anymore. If you won't leave me, maybe I'll leave you."

"You don't want to leave me." Leonard snapped a loose thread off his shirtsleeve. "You want to be the Senator's wife."

"State Senator."

"Nonetheless," Leonard said, with a dismissive wave, "I can't have a divorce right now, and you don't want one, so it seems to be a mutually detrimental proposal."

Clarisse took several spears of asparagus out of the refrigerator and chopped them furiously. She attempted to keep her voice calm, but tremulous indignation nevertheless crept into her question: "Why do you assume I don't want one?"

Leonard came up behind her and brought a tender hand around her abdomen. She allowed this contact and didn't flinch when he stroked her delicate hair. "Because you're Lady Macbeth," he muttered.

"Yes, Leonard," she said, continuing to slam her knife onto the cutting board with each hack, "social class means a great deal to me, but I'm bored at home. Make me a secretary. We can shag on your coffee breaks."

"And those headlines would look great."

"At least we're married."

"I don't understand what you want from me, Clarisse." Leonard backed away from her and set up the electric skillet. "You wanted status, and, if I win, you'll get your status. You want an afternoon fuck? You've got Hector. You want a divorce? Wait until December. We're in this together."

Without looking at Leonard, Clarisse dropped her knife and the tension in her back melted away. "I don't want a divorce," she whispered. The shower ceased upstairs.

Leonard glanced nervously out the kitchen window as he began to heat a puddle of olive oil in the skillet. He couldn't see anything through the drear, but from the hard sounds of rattling hail he could tell that conditions were beastly. He returned to the front vestibule and clicked the thermostat up four degrees.

"Don't waste the heat," called Clarisse.

"Jesus, Clarisse," Leonard said as he entered the kitchen again. "I'm not driving your little consort home in this. He'll have to stay the night."

Clarisse still had her back to him. She had emptied the asparagus into the heated skillet and pushed it around with a large wooden spoon. She took five even breaths, and then spoke: "I think I've quite fallen in love with you, Leonard. So I'm not sure where that leaves us."

Leonard coughed as though somebody had knocked the wind out of him. He grasped the counter to support himself as he let out a humorless laugh. "You're . . .  surely kidding."

Clarisse turned to face her husband, and Leonard was struck by her uncharacteristic vulnerability. Her typically incisive aquamarine eyes were muddied with deep pools of moisture. Her full lips were parted slightly and moving imperceptibly with her heavy breath. She ran a thin, pale wrist over her forehead and sniffled. "I'm not."

"Shit," Leonard mouthed as his eyes widened in shock. He surrendered to a fit of deep coughs and doubled over. The light sound of feet padding over the hardwood floor of the front foyer made him raise his gaze suspiciously. Hector stood near the front door, his wet, black hair plastered to his scalp and his slightly damp clothes hanging off him like seaweed.

"Yes, young man?" Clarisse snapped at him.

A look of brief surprise registered on Hector's boyish face. "Young man?" Nobody spoke in response, so he continued. "I need to get home."

"You'll sleep on the couch tonight," Clarisse replied, "and Leonard will take you home tomorrow."

Hector came into the kitchen. Leonard noticed that he looked considerably younger now that he was clothed. An overlooked daub of margarine gleamed behind his left ear.

"I'm sorry," Hector said, "but I've got to get back to campus tonight. My paper's due tomorrow."

Clarisse indicated the frosted-over window. "There's no way, Hector."

A bluish thread of acrid smoke wafted up from the skillet. The forgotten asparagus, now charred, sent its fumes into the air. Leonard swore, unplugged the skillet, and scraped the blackened vegetables into the trash with a metal spatula.

"Clarisse," he said, wincing at the abrasive sound his spatula made on the surface of the skillet, "take your friend home."

Clarisse's lips puckered gently in thought. She lowered her long, black eyelashes and looked disdainfully on Hector. "I cannot drive in this weather. Perhaps, Hector, you should have been more diligent in your time-management, or at least steeled yourself more effectively against temptations of the flesh."

Leonard stiffened and hurled the skillet across the kitchen. It bounced once as it skipped over the plastic-tiled floor, leaving a deep gouge behind it. A gust of wind screamed through the window frame, causing the house to moan in protest. Ruddy anger soaked Leonard's face as he whipped his right index finger towards the door.

"Both of you get out!" he screamed.

"Baby . . . " Clarisse attempted to soothe him, but kept her distance. She had never seen her husband angry. Hector edged back into the front vestibule. His back was towards the door, but he kept one hand on the knob.

"No. Get the fuck out of my house." Leonard flung his car keys at Clarisse. They struck her directly beneath her left elbow, opening a tiny cut before jangling to the floor. Leonard knew that his chances of election had, at that moment, evaporated.

Clarisse's upper lip trembled, but she smoothed out her silk robe, bent down daintily to pick up the set of keys, and turned to Hector with forced coolness. "I suppose we ought to go," she said. She stepped into the foyer and opened the door. Bracing herself against the onslaught of hail and snow, she led Hector out into the night.

Leonard crept into the vestibule and continued staring at the open door for three minutes after the wash of headlights had passed slowly over him. The biting wind of the winter night coursed into the front hall and blasted Leonard with its frigid breath. Snowflakes blew into the house and drifted onto the bookshelves, carpet, and golden candelabras. Leonard shivered and bent against the wind as he stepped into the yard.

Leonard could barely see anything other than a pasty screen of dizzying white as he raked his fingers through the six inches of wet snow that had collected on the ground. After a couple minutes of searching, he finally grasped a piece of thin metal. He dug it out from underneath a layer of snow and brushed it off. Although a mat of crystallized ice particles obscured the lettering, he could still make out the red, white, and blue of his campaign sign.

Shivering, Leonard walked to the trashcan just outside the garage and tossed in his sign. He returned to the house, closing the door and carefully latching it behind him. The rubbery smell of burnt asparagus greeted him in the kitchen as he put on water for tea and began to consider how to prevent this election season from destroying his career.

 
 
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Features -- September 2009 -- Mid Month Issue