Pen to Paper: Excerpt

“Hello?”

“Hi. I hope you don’t mind, someone let me in the front door.” Her voice was sultry and low, the type of voice that would accompany an ad for lingerie or chocolate or belong to some gorgeous, raven-haired actress. Herman looked through the peephole and saw a woman standing there, her tumbling blonde hair hidden by a hat pulled low over her face. Her lips were blood red, immaculately painted, and curled up at the corner. Her coat was tight and her boots were long.

“I –” Herman started, his voice catching in his throat. He swallowed. “I’m sorry, who are you?”

“Whoever you want me to be,” she replied, raising her hat a little so that one brilliantly blue eye surrounded by long, luscious lashes peeked up at him. Herman opened the door, although he wasn’t quite sure why he did. She sauntered into the apartment, her eyes raking over the steaming pizza-for-one sitting on the coffee table and the closed bedroom door. She took off her hat and shook out her buxom curls, affixing Herman with a steamy stare. “So.”

“Listen,” Herman said, one hand still on the door. “I didn’t call for a – that is to say, I – I’m not really sure why you’re here.” The woman raised a curvy eyebrow and smiled.

“There’s no need to be nervous, darling,” she said, slowly unzipping her coat.

“No!” Herman said, louder than he meant to. He raised an arm as though to stop her. “I mean… honestly, I don’t know what you’re doing here.” The woman faltered for the first time, her smile slightly slipping and her eyebrows creasing.

“Isn’t this 134 West 90th?”

“Yes.”

“Apartment 4B?”

“Oh, no,” Herman said quickly. “This is 3B.”

“Oh.” The woman zipped her coat back up.

“Mr. Tanner lives in 4B,” Herman said, although he wasn’t quite sure why he told her that. Maybe he wanted to keep the conversation going. Maybe he wanted the company.

“Oh,” she said again. She dawdled, slowly losing her sophisticated, sexy composure. “What’s he like?” Herman wasn’t sure how to answer. He wished he was wearing his glasses, because they made him feel safe.

“He’s…” Herman swallowed. “He’s nice enough. Tough guy, Italian, I think…” Could be in a mob, he finished in his head. Probably killed his wife. Served 2 years in prison. She looked kind of like you, I think.

“Tough guy, huh?” The woman smiled again. “That’s good.”

“Mmm,” Herman said. He was getting hungry. The woman looked a little wary.                  

“What does that mean?”

“What?”

You sounded like you don’t like him.”

“What?” Herman wondered why the woman cared.

“I said ‘tough guy, that’s good,’ and you said ‘mmm,’ like it’s not good.”

“Oh.”

Oh?”

“He’s okay,” Herman said. Greasy hair, greasy personality, greasy fingers. The woman looked uncomfortable, which Herman thought was kind of weird, considering what she did for a living.

“I guess I should go up,” she said, sounding thoroughly unconvinced.

“I guess,” Herman said. The woman walked towards the door, then paused and turned around.

“Actually,” she said, “can I have a cup of tea or something? I got a little sick yesterday after taking the B downtown and I forgot to buy cough drops.” She coughed a little to prove it.

“Oh.” Herman looked surprised. “Sure.” He walked over to the tiny kitchen and filled up the kettle. The woman dawdled in the doorway. “You can sit,” Herman said, gesturing to the tiny kitchen table. The woman stepped into the room again and sank into the chair, draping her coat on the back of the chair, revealing a tight black dress. The clock ticking its way to 9:00 on the wall was the loudest noise in the room, until the woman spoke, dropping her sultry voice.

“I’m Martha, by the way.”

“Herman.”

“Really?” Martha looked amused.

“Is yours really Martha?”

“Yes,” she said, raising an eyebrow. Herman took down a mug from the cabinet, an old one printed with the logo from a probably out of business plumbing company, one of a pair of mugs that he’d found in the cabinet when he moved in.

“I have lemon tea,” he said, dropping the box down on the table.

“Perfect,” Martha said.

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