The Huff Post has revolutionized journalism in the last few years by taking over the news and news feature delivery business. Now I'm using the blog to venture into the realm of story publishing. Starting this week, my novel Seeing Red will be serialized on the Huffington Post. Here is CHAPTER ONE:
"Sex and Cinnamon"
Years later, she tries to focus on the details: the cinnamon sugar sticking to her shoulder. The thick fold of leaves overhead.
The cold buttered toast wrapped in tin foil. The smell of his sweat mixed into the smell of pine needles.
The feeling of him feeding her the small concord grapes. And especially, the watery green sunlight, the way the rays of light angled, dissolving into gray forest shadows.
She concentrates on the small details because she hates to look at the bigger picture. When she does, she is sure to get into trouble. She is likely to look back and agree with her therapist, who once pointed out that the first time Ronda had sex with the man who became her husband - the man who fathered both her sons - she was, for all intents and purposes, raped.
Ronda cannot face that, so she focuses instead on the cinnamon and the leaves, the grapes and the light. The way the rays of the sun filtered through the trees and seemed to hang, like fog or mist or smoke. Lying on the blue blanket with Ben that day, she recalls passing her hands through those slanted rays. Watching the light as she sliced her cupped fingers through it.
Sometimes she allows herself to recall this: how he whispered to her as he slid his fingers into the waistband of her sweat pants that morning, and quickly worked them down and over her hips. "I really think I'm in love with you Ronda. Can you hear me Ronda Cari, I'm saying that I love you."
Lodged as she was beneath his heavy frame, she coughed up a reply, "Ben, I am not ready. I really don't think I want to do this yet I am just not there yet I..." He kissed her then, and she must have swallowed that last word, "ready." By then his urgency and his thick hands took over. He settled himself between her thighs.
"Please stop," she yelled, but by then, she wasn't deciding anymore. She was feeling his fiery skin and the sandpaper of his face and she was hearing his urgent breathing as he pushed inside her.
She heard him exhale and say a single word. Amen.
What filled her mind then was the sound of the bird, the bird that he had called the red-eyed vireo. She heard the vireo warble its sweet morning song in the tender canopy overhead.
Later, on a night when he should have known better, when everything about the new baby was painful and exhausting and wrong, Ben dared to say that he hadn't realized that she wasn't sure, that he never knew that she hadn't wanted to do what he made her do that morning on the mountain. He hadn't realized that she had been so terribly frightened that first time. He implied, simply, that after all was said and done, her feelings on the mountain that morning didn't add up, or worse, that they just didn't matter to him.
That night with the baby was one of those evenings when Ben Junior simply couldn't be comforted, no matter what she did for him. Ben Senior had come home from campus to find her with the baby in a T-shirt and diaper, face down across her knees.
The infant was wailing, a long, low persistent screech, and she was in the rocking chair, bouncing him face down on her knees and rubbing circles on his bony back. Now and then she'd lift him to her shoulder and he would stop crying for a moment and then he would pull his legs up, and hiccup and puke a stream of white curdled milk onto the wood floor, and then he'd start screeching once more.
Ronda was frantic even before Ben Sr. arrived home and placed a long kiss on the crown of her head. But things didn't improve after he walked through the door. She told him she was totally spent, and he made some comment about her needing to join him in their bedroom for "a little love and affection." Which she interpreted to mean that she needed sex, which she absolutely knew she didn't need. Lately, he'd been alluding to the fact that they hadn't made love for months.
"Maybe you need sex, Ben, but that's not what I need. That's not going to fix things. Honestly, Ben, when you see me struggling like this, how can you even talk about sex? Don't you see I'm drowning here?"
She held the newborn to her shoulder. Ben Jr. was barely seven weeks old and she was sore and still bleeding and constantly feeding the baby and crying and feeling depressed all the blessed time. And even though the semester was over, Ben was spending less time at home.
Things between them had gotten so tense that for several nights she had been sleeping on the single bed in the baby's room.
He was leaning on the door of the nursery, the room that for a few short months before the baby came had been her ballet studio. A studio minus a mirror.
"Let me take him for a while," he said. He reached for the baby, and held him. The baby's cries softened for a moment, but then he began bawling again. Ben walked back and forth across the nursery bouncing the infant against his chest. The baby quieted again.
"See, he needs his daddy is all," Ben said, in a low voice.
Ronda sat in silence in the rocking chair, glaring at him.
"And all I was saying before is that it's time you come back to sleep in our bed," he said. "That's all."
"Oh, so is that for your comfort or mine?" she shot back. "Because who gets up four or five times every night to feed this child? Not you, surely not you."
He stopped walking. The baby started crying. "Ronda, I don't want to fight, honestly I don't. I just want things to be right between us again. The way they were."
"When was that exactly Ben?"
He closed his eyes. Stood there. "Please Ron, I know you are stressed to the max. I know you are exhausted and furious and ..."
"You know that but what do you do about it?" She started rocking in the chair. There was no way forward, nowhere to go with this discussion. "You take care of you, period. But then, that's all you've ever done. You want me back in bed so that maybe we can screw. What difference does it make to you that I'm falling apart? It never has mattered, how I feel. That very first day, way back when, up on the mountain. You just did what you did, because that's always what you do. Just exactly what suits you."
"Ronda, stop this nonsense. You were there because you wanted to be. I didn't force you."
Her eyes flared. "You did indeed force yourself on me, Ben. You didn't care a bit how scared I was."
"Great, now you bring that up again. It's a little late to be talking about that, isn't it? Besides, you seemed to enjoy yourself just fine the second time that morning. How was I to know? How bad could things have been the first time if you were so gung ho the second time through?"
Ronda set her head into her hands. "I don't believe you, Ben. I do not believe what you say to me."
"All I'm trying to say is that it's in the past, Ron. We have a son now."
"It's not in the past," Ronda yelled. "Yes, we have a son, but he's a son I take care of, night and day. You drop in now and then, but when you do, what help are you?"
Ben seemed genuinely shocked by the last comment. He dropped onto the bed, and held the baby, who once again quieted. As if somehow the infant knew at that moment, that his parents needed him to be silent.
The two of them, Ben Sr. and Ben Jr., just sat there, father and son in statue.
"I try to be helpful Ronda," he said simply. He set one large hand on the baby's back and patted him gently. "I have a job. A career. But I do try to help you with him when I'm here."
"Well, good for you," she snarled. "It has been a lovely year for me, being pregnant, dropping out of school before my sophomore year, and now, having this...this dreadful..." Her words melted into a whisper. She shook her head. Sometimes she said things that she felt in the moment, but that later, she absolutely knew she didn't feel.
The baby wailed sharply then and Ben handed him back to Ronda as if the child was on fire. She hoisted him to her shoulder. She was starting to cry now. She wiped her nose with the sleeve of her bathrobe. Here it was six o'clock at night, and she was still in the bathrobe that she had been wearing since the morning.
Ben retrieved a box of tissues from the changing table, handed it to her. Then he sat down on the bed. "I know you are angry, Ronda. You hate to talk about all this." He paused, waited for her response. She said nothing. She sniffled. He leaned closer.
"Ron, you made the decision in the end to have this baby. I know sometimes you wish you hadn't. But I told you then when it happened that I'd support whatever you wanted. And this is what you said you wanted."
Ronda brought the rocking chair to a halt. And in what amounted to a second miracle, the baby stopped crying, again. But that just got Ronda crying harder.
"Think about it, Ben," she sobbed. "I was barely 19. I had never even seen a man, naked. And you, you just moved in on me that morning and ...and you took over. And there I was lying in that
goddamn forest on that goddamn blanket, completely vulnerable, with you, 20 years older than me, a professor I hardly knew, and there you were doing things to me I never dreamed of doing and there I was terrified, so terrified..."
Catch up with Seeing Red, and READ ALL THE NOVEL SO FAR AT "Seeing Red on the HuffPost!"