Never Talk to Strangers

The storm’s rumbling became intense. The sky ruptured just as Ted passed through the doors between South Station and Summer Street. Rain clouds dragged dusk out early, especially for a July evening.  He rounded the corner to Atlantic Boulevard with a newspaper held above his head.  Between the bus and train terminals was the taxi stand.  He picked up pace and waved his hand at a city cab prowling the pavement. He jumped in the moment it hesitated.

“The Fairmont near Copley Square, please.”  Ted spoke to the driver simultaneous with removing a hanky from his back pocket and doubling over to wipe the rain from his newly acquired Brook’s Brothers hand-sewn Louisiana Alligator loafers.  That was when he noticed the pink high heels and the ankles neatly crossed.  His eyes followed the ankles up to perfect round calves, then to a patterned skirt, sleeveless white cotton blouse and ending finally at a lovely profile.  She had her head in that slight tilt often seen in paintings, only her head was resting against a taxi window.  Stringy drops zigzagged down outside opposite her.  Both were illuminated by passing lights.  Tall buildings blurred like shadows in the background.  It gave her face a surreal  sculptural quality.  

“Hello,” he said.  “I guess I commandeered your cab.  Sorry about that.  Really needed to get out of the rain.” The onset of small talk, Ted’s skill.  At 32, he was what the office girls back home in Albany called a hottie, muscular, lean, agile, aggressive and self-confident.  He attributed all these qualities to a past full of organized play, from pop warner to college ball.  He didn’t have time for workouts or team sports these days.  Work filled almost all of his waking hours.  He had a trajectory.  He had a goal.  His dark complexion and dark hair were highlighted by a square jaw, square nose, prominent forehead and soft blue eyes.  His face made even more masculine by a collar of cinder-like stubble.

She didn’t take notice.  She was someplace else entirely.  A brilliant flash illuminated the sky and was quickly followed by the customary boom of its counterpart.  It was now a full on downpour.  When the cab’s brakes squealed, Ted gave a worried look to the back of the driver’s head. The driver was mumbling something about being blinded by the rain. He had the windshield wipers flying at a furious rate in an effort to keep up with the bucketfuls coming down.

“I’m certainly glad not to be stuck out in this.  Where are you headed?”

Her head raised away from the window slowly turning to look at him, as if obeying the commands of strings held by a puppeteer.  Her face was pale, drawn with a sharp structure to her cheeks, nose and chin.

“Not far,” she responded.  Her voice was soft, heavy and dark in its tone.

“I’m here on business, staying at the Fairmont.  Do you know it?  I hear it’s very nice.”

“Indeed it is.”  

“I’m Ted.”  He stuck out his hand, not really sure whether she’d shake it.  Surprisingly, she slid her hand out from the fold of her rain jacket and put her palm next to his, her fingers curled around.  Ted pressed lightly onto the cold porcelain of her skin. She withdrew and rustled her hand back from where it had emerged, away from the captivity of his.

“Serafima”

“That’s unusual.”

“It’s ancient Hebrew, actually.”

The cab had slowed and now had a gentle roll along the streets.  She told him she was an artist as well as an art collector.  She sold and bought pieces throughout the world.  She had just flown in from Brussels.  It was a trip that produced nothing.  The painting she was to value turned out to be a fraud. She told him she had chosen Boston as her home five years earlier.  She liked the vigor of the city.  It was cleaner and more distinct to her than New York City.

He told her about Albany, where he’d lived his entire life.  He’d traveled through Europe when he was young, the typical exploration by rail, hostel to hostel.  

“Have dinner with me.”  Ted blurted out as the cab pulled to the curb in front of a brownstone.

She refused with a shake of her head.

“How about you show me something beautiful to purchase?”

Serafima paid the cabbie.  “You mean you want me to bring you inside my home, a total stranger, and let you rummage through my art collection?”

“Yes.  Though you do make it sound much more fun than I did.”

She smiled.  “You are a bold man, Mr. Ted.”

“It’s Jameson, Ted Jameson.”

She opened the door, raised the umbrella and climbed under it.  Serafima turned and gave Ted a wave goodbye.  

The cab pulled away from the curb.  Halfway up the street it turned around and came back and stopped across from where she stood. Ted was drenched by the time he made it across the street.  She was a tall woman, 5’9 or maybe even 5’10, looking even taller with the umbrella held high above her head.  Ted liked that. He didn’t know he’d like that, but he did.  Everything about her intrigued him.  A set of keys dangled from her hand as she searched for the one that opened the front door. She gave him a sideways glance before she proceeded.  They walked together up the four steps to the landing.  She opened the door and went inside.  He followed her movements.  She hung her jacket on a coat rack that looked more like an accent piece.  She removed her shoes and set them neat on the mat below the jacket.  He removed his and placed them next to hers.  He lingered over his shoes, thinking of the $628.  

“Alligators come to us from the water,” she said.  “They will be fine.”

He stood in his socked feet soaked and shivering embarrassed by her knowing his thoughts

She threw him a towel.  Tall windows hung in the front room.  A set of French doors led to a balcony terrace with a beautifully carved stone facade. A sudden flash lit up the sky.

“Tea?”

“Actually, something harder would suit me better.”  

“Tea it is.”  She disappeared into the kitchen.  

He heard her banging around but kept his distance.  

“Why did you let me in?”

“You are persistent. I find that a reasonable trait.”

“Reasonable?”

“Uh, admirable.  Sometimes I get it a little wrong.”

“Where are you from?”

“Paris.”

They drank tea.  Ted warmed.  

“I do imagine you’d like to get out of those wet clothes,” she said.

Ted perked up.  “Why, yes, I would.”  A broad smile ran across his face, revealing white even teeth.

“I meant you can see what I have to offer and then get to your hotel.”  

“What do you have to offer?”  His eyes glinted like a fox.

“No.  My meaning is becoming all wrong.”  She was blushing.

“Relax.  I know what you mean.”  

She breathed a sigh of relief.  

“My studio is in the attic,” she said.  Her accent now perceptible to him when she spoke.

They climbed two sets of stairs and arrived at a beautiful old door, embellished with gold and hard-carved details.

“It looks like a palace door.”  He touched the ornate gold handle. “It’s lovely.”

“Late 18th century rococo. I had it brought here from my collection in France.”

“You have a door collection?”

When she laughed, her face lifted, sending a swathe of dark curls cascaded down her back.  

“I have an art collection.”

“Rococo did you say?”

“Yes, it  was an artistic movement started in Paris, a sort of rebellion against the strict symmetry of the baroque.  You see here,” she touched a wooden panel, “the graceful curve, and here on the gilt handle.  Spectacular.”

“Yes, quite spectacular,” he agreed though he was not really looking at the door.

She again dangled her keys in search of one.

As she picked through pieces, he wandered around her workshop amazed.  Through the attic skylight lightning no longer dazzled, the rain had stopped its drumming, and small gray clouds deflated in the slate blue sky.  

“Oh, look.  It’s over,”  Serafima looked to the window and then to Ted.

He sank into a chair.  

Her eyes strayed from his face.  She became flushed.

“Something’s wrong,” Ted said.  His tongue felt bulky and dry.  The words heavy as they left his mouth.

“Yes. But if you can make it out the door, I’ll give you one last chance to leave.”

Sure.  Sure.  Came out “shu…shu.”   He had a healthy enough distrust of crazy women to know something wasn’t adding up here.  Ted managed to stand.  His legs heavy as iron slid slowly to the door.

She came up from behind and pressed him against the wood.

She tore open the back of his shirt and groped his back. She was aggressive, her nails leaving long red trails.

He managed to push her away.

She could see the pounding of his heart through the clench of his muscles.  Heightened feelings raged through both of their bodies, chemical cocktails firing up as each’s emotions outweighed thought.

Ted no longer saw her but some fiendish creature.  His stomach twisted into a knot of fear.

“Who are you?”  He stammered, now crawling across the floor and close to sobbing.  

Her hand brushed against his face, and her eyes were in a posture of half-sleep when her teeth sank into his skin.  It felt like red embers of fire, and a pulsating vibrato of sounds escaped from him.  Red’s violent tone excessively bled onto her lips.

 

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