angry wasps & juicy plums

This is part two. The story begins here: watching the river go by

"Marie. Are you sure this is right?"

"Oh Frank, of course I'm sure. What would keep me here anyway?"

What would keep her here anyway? Frank sighed and reached for his iced tea, idly noting the ice cubes clinking against the heavy glass tumbler and staring off into space. The ice and the glass measured time with the breeze against the torn chunk of the aging canvas porch awning. Clink flap flap, clink flap. I gotta get that thing fixed, he reminded himself, as he did each time he sat out here.

He put his feet up on the porch railing and focused for a moment on the lamppost across the river, the one that illuminated the little park area with the grills and the gazebo. The lamp flickered off and on again in a regular pattern that he knew by heart, off for about two minutes, on for four, off for two, on for four. Maybe one day the DPW guys would come by and fix it, but he hoped it wasn't any time soon. He liked how the light marked the moments as they passed. Marie slowly rocked the porch swing, her eyes closed.

As the lamp flickered on, Frank allowed himself to steal a glance at her there in her swing. She sat erect as she always did, her chin slightly raised, appearing alert and far from dozing. Her hands sat lightly in her lap, palms facing up. Her feet grazed the floor and her legs pumped just slightly, enough to move the swing about a foot in either direction. Her mane, more salt than pepper these days, cascaded across her shoulders and ended in curls just above her breasts. Just at her nipples, really, he noted tonight, her hair has grown a tetch, I wonder if that tickles?

Frank shifted a bit as he felt that last thought in his gut, ah, better change the subject, old man, you're sitting here buck naked with your oldest lady friend, she might not appreciate the appreciation. He shifted his gaze back over to the park and a movement at the gazebo. A couple stood there, close together; a woman looking out over the river with her hands on the railing, her man directly behind her with his hands around her waist.

"Would you like another bite, Frank? These are so good, aren't they?" She held the dripping red plum to his mouth and he slurped a bite. "So ripe. Where's that stack of napkins?" Marie handed him the plum and rummaged through her bag. The wind off the river blew her hair into her eyes; without thinking, he reached and tucked a strand behind her ear. She started, a tiny jump.
"Marie? Come over here, Marie." Delicious and juicy they were, but the plums were no contest for his want of Marie. "Come. Sit with me." She dropped the bag and met his gaze, her hazel eyes dancing. He patted his lap and beckoned her. She sat on the bench. He patted again. Standing and taking a step so she stood directly before him, Marie hesitated.

"Frank. What are we doing here, Frank? You want me in your lap, really?"

"Yes, really, Marie. Come sit with me."

She lowered herself to his lap and he held her there, one hand lightly around her waist and the other resting just above her knee. She looked at her hands for a long moment, then raised her chin high and looked directly at him. Now that she was here, he scrambled for what to do next. He just looked, searching her eyes.

"Marie, I..."

"Aw, ants!" Marie jumped up, knocking the half-eaten plum onto the gazebo floor. "What a shame, Frank, those delicious plums!" She set about shooing ants from their plates as Frank stood and brushed off his trousers. Frank, you bastard, you missed your chance. 

He pulled himself from the memory reluctantly, taking another sip of his tea. "Marie, can I get you anything? You comfortable there or you want some more tea?"
"I'm good, Frank, I'm just fine."

"Well, I'm going in for just a moment, Marie. Gotta use the gent's and I'll bring us out some tea, just in case you want some." He rose slowly from the chair, bare thighs resisting, preferring to be stuck to the wicker with sweat and heat. Pulling his robe on loosely, he swung open the screen door and stepped inside, glancing back at Marie, who still sat with her eyes closed.

She looks so peaceful tonight. Even though she slammed me with some big news for sure. Frank walked slowly through his den, headed for the kitchen, head in his thoughts. What can I say, can I say anything? What can I say to her? He stopped at his desk out of habit, looking past his old Underwood and searching his desk for what? He forgot what he had stopped here for. Dammit, Frank. His eyes landed on the box, there in its spot next to the vertical files, and his heart skipped a beat.

The delicate box, hand-carved in cherry with malachite inlay. He had chipped and carved it himself, setting the stone in channels and leaves, vines and greenery to wrap her up in, for her to get lost in, with him. He meant it for her forty-fifth birthday, how many years ago? And here it was, on his desk, ungiven, imploring him to open it. He pulled it out, blew off a fine layer of dust, and opened the hinged lid.

His own reflection startled him, staring back from the underside, lapis flowers framing his surprised expression in the mirror. The contents of the box were familiar: a postcard from his trip to San Francisco inscribed "be sure to wear some flowers in your hair" on top of several envelopes containing letters he could likely recite by heart and had never sent. A tattered copy of the Yeats poem he loved, a pressed moonflower in wax paper. As he lifted the stack, a crisp and dead bug tumbled to the bottom of the box. He looked closer. A wasp, what the? Ohhh.

"Hey Frank? Think you could gimme a hand here for a sec?" She fairly bellowed at him through his kitchen window. Placing the plate in the drainer and drying his hands on the checkered dishtowel, he grunted. "Coming, Marie, gimme just a minute here."

Down the back porch steps and around the corner, he stammered when he saw her. "Ah, Marie, what are you doing up on that ladder? C'mon down, you're too high there with no support."

"Damn wasps, Frank. I'll get 'em. Just hold the ladder for me, I'm a little shaky."

"Marie, please. Come down and let me take care of that for you."

"Honestly, Frank, you think I can't take care of these bastards on my own? I can do it, Frank, I don't need your brute manly strength, you know. Just hold the damn ladder for me, I need to go a bit higher."

"Oh, Marie, for crying out loud." He strode to the ladder and secured the base with his foot. Grasping with both hands, he looked up. "Marie, you..." Frank swallowed hard. There she was, several feet above him, swinging a yardstick and wielding a can of Raid. Holding that ladder with strong bare legs that traveled all the way up to her peach of an ass, hugged by lavender panties, her floral skirt swaying. He felt weak. Hang onto yourself, Frank, hang on. That's Marie's ass, nothing more, nothing less, look away, Frank! For crying out loud. He looked down. "All set, Marie?"

"Dammit! Ah, damn wasps!" Marie cried as her last strike and spray provoked the fury of an angry half-dozen evicted wasps. "Damn!" She faltered on the rungs as she quickly descended. About four feet from the ground, she jumped, tripping over Frank's feet and whirling dangerously close to the porch edge. "Damn wasp got me."

"You okay, Marie? Here, gimme that," Frank barked as retrieved the can of Raid from the bleeding hearts, where it had landed. He sprayed with abandon. "That should do it. Are you okay, Marie?" His heart was thumping under his t-shirt.

"Aw, Frank, it stung me. It hurts." She held up her arm for his inspection. He took her arm without thinking, raising it to his mouth. He brushed the raised heat of her forearm with his lips. She winced and then stared at him as she broke out in gooseflesh. He pressed his lips harder to her skin, finally sucking hard as though to draw the poison out of her. "Frank?" she choked and tears sprang to her eyes.

He dropped her arm quickly; she bowed her head, her hair hiding her eyes. "Thanks. Thanks for the help, Frank." She scurried to her back door and disappeared as fire licked his insides.
That fire was so familiar, he could feel it now, smoldering deep in his abdomen like bright embers cradling tunka stones. Or was that his bladder? Dammit, Frank, you have to pee, get with the program here. He blinked it back and stumbled to the bathroom, stopping by the fridge after for the pitcher of iced tea.

Marie jumped at the slam of the screen door, her eyes calming as she took in Frank's bathrobed silhouette. He poured the tea and handed her the glass. Holding tight as she grasped it he looked her directly in the eye for the first time in who knows how long. Frank you gotta say something, it's now or never, man.

"Hey, Marie. Marie? I want to keep you here, Marie. Stay here. I'll be why you stay."

I forgot to sign up for the Indie Ink Writing Challenge for this week, but after much whining, my lovely friends provided me with three delicious prompts for this story: Lasidaisical gave me "staring out into space..." and my Sunshine directed me to write about ants at a picnic. And lovely Grace O'Malley said "Ripe red plums, angry wasps, love letters in a wooden box, at least 500 words, and I believe in you." Aw.