by Ben Best
[ Readers who have found this page through a search-engine
might also be interested in my essay
Philosophizing About Love]
Greg stared spellbound at the painting. The color, the detail and the imagination captivated him. Greg prided himself on his practicality. He contrasted himself with this artist, who showed no inhibitions about living in a fantasy world of outlandish beauty. He felt a whisper of fear that he could lose himself for the rest of his life by being hypnotized with this art.
Greg forced himself to move on, walking slowly from one booth of fantasy paintings to the next. Suddenly he saw a woman who seemed to be the human incarnation of the artwork that surrounded him. Like so many people at science fiction conventions, she was in costume -- dressed as a medieval maiden. Her face was radiant, the reflection of a good-natured, enthusiastic cheerfulness. Her companion was a lady-friend, also in costume.
Greg's transfixion had not gone unnoticed by the fantastical pair as he passed them, nor had his sudden change of direction that had placed him beside the two women in front of an exhibit. They seemed flattered, friendly and receptive.
"I've never seen such a collection of art before," said Greg, grasping for the beginnings of a conversation.
"We like it," the maiden answered.
Greg relaxed a little. "This is the first time I've been to a science fiction convention," he said, warming to his subject and his subjects.
"We've been to a few," the maiden said.
"Do you live here in Cleveland?" Greg ventured.
"We're from Brighton Falls, about 20 miles southeast of here."
"My name is Greg, and I'm from Toronto, Canada."
"I'm Janice, and this is my friend Julie."
Greg walked with Janice & Julie as they proceeded. He dared not actually ask if he could accompany them. But they seemed comfortable having him along. Greg tried to speak to both women even-handedly, but his obvious fascination with Janice could not be contained. Greg felt increasingly welcome. The threesome enjoyed each other's company for the rest of the afternoon as they strolled through the art exhibits and the room where dealers sold books, jewelry and posters. Finally, they went to dinner together.
Greg described how out-of-character it was for such a practical fellow as himself to come to a science fiction convention. "I read some science fiction in my early teens," he explained, "but since then I've mainly read non-fiction. I saw an advertisement for this convention in Cleveland and, after working all summer, I decided that I needed an escapist break before returning to engineering school."
You should treat yourself more often," said Janice, "you probably work too hard."
"We both have jobs," said Julie, "but on our time off we try to get as much art & entertainment as we can. And without Philip along, we've been doing things we hadn't thought to do before."
"Who is Philip?" Greg asked.
Julie looked at Janice. Then Julie said, "Philip and Janice were living together until a couple of months ago. Their relationship was strained, and Janice finally decided to leave."
"He was a great guy until we started living together," Janice added. Her eyes narrowed and she looked into space as she continued, "But as soon as we moved into a house he acted as if he owned me. Somehow I managed to stay there for a year. I had put as much money into the house as he had, but it was all in his name. When I told him I was leaving, he refused to give me a penny."
"Did you go to a lawyer?" Greg asked.
"No," Janice answered, "Right now I just want distance from Philip.
But he'll pay."
After dinner, Julie said she needed to drive home to help her mother.
Evenings at a science fiction convention are dominated by parties. Greg & Janice wandered from one party to another, but had no interest in the activities or conversation. They were interested only in each other.
Although Greg was fascinated by Janice's every word, his fascination went beyond words. After a while they fell silent, exploring sensitivities in each other's face & eyes. Greg felt he was the beneficiary of a colossal privilege, which he imagined could be revoked at any moment.
After a long, enchanted silence, Greg took Janice's left hand between his two hands. Again their eyes embraced.
Greg said, "Let's go to my room."
"OK", Janice answered casually.
"But first I think we should drop by a late-night drug store so I can get some toothpaste and some ... um ... other things," Greg said.
Janice smiled knowlingly. "Like some condoms?"
"Janice, for such a sensitive-looking person, you can be very bold.
And believe me, it's appreciated." Greg kissed her.
Opening the door to his hotel room, Greg could not dispel the feeling that he was walking in a dream. Adding to the unreality of the situation was the fact that he had kissed Janice only once and never even hugged her. He thought that it might be best if they got to know each other physically a bit before rushing into sex.
"Let's cuddle," Greg suggested.
"OK," said Janice, walking toward the bed. She began unbuttoning her blouse and then saw Greg dumbly staring at her. "Did you mean to cuddle with our clothes on or off?" she asked.
"Off," said Greg, who had all his clothes on the floor in an instant. It wasn't his intention to rush things, but neither did he intend to slow them down.
Soon they were together in bed, relishing the experience of their bare skin against each other for the whole length of their bodies. Greg loved every inch of her and he wished his hands & his lips could be everywhere at the same time. He stroked her as if playing a fine instrument. Janice quivered with erotic pleasure from the sensations Greg was creating throughout her body. He caressed her breasts, licked at her nipples and then ran his hand to her inner thighs and the soft wet spot in between. His finger gently caressed her bud of femininity. She turned toward him and kissed him ardently. Her hands clasped his scrotum and then she circled her fingers around his shaft.
"I want you in me," she said.
Greg rolled the condom onto himself -- and Janice's hand led the tip of his penis to the opening in her vulva. He entered slowly, respectfully, like a humble pilgrim first visiting a holy shrine. Soon he was thrusting and kissing and stroking -- again and again, driving ecstasy directly into Janice's eager body. An orgasm spread through him and Janice gasped with delight as he exploded.
Then there was quiet. His erection did not subside. They lay
together in sexual embrace with the stillness of a vast serenity. "I
love you, Janice," Greg whispered. Janice could not speak. They drifted
off to sleep, locked together in intimate connection.
There were two more full days of the science fiction convention, but the events there were no longer of interest to Greg or Janice. A "Do Not Disturb" sign stayed on the doorknob. Only the demands of nature could move them from the bed. They stroked, massaged, embraced and made love to each other in every way that they could, ceaselessly discovering new ways.
On the morning of the third day, Greg awoke before Janice. He gazed at her angelic face and the long strands of straight brown hair that decorated her pillow. Janice slowly opened her eyes, and then caught his gaze.
"I don't want to leave you," he said.
"You don't need to."
"But I haven't finished engineering school."
"Is that really important?"
"Janice, my whole life has been consumed with my attempt to build a career, with trying to make something of myself."
"Greg, you already are something. I love you, and I love you unconditionally. You don't need to establish your worth to me. Is there someone more important to you than me who you want to impress?"
Greg was stunned. His complex life and complex motives had suddenly been sheared to simplicity -- he wanted to be with Janice.
"But how can I work? I'm from Canada. I have no profession that qualifies me for work in the United States under NAFTA."
"You can work as a caddy at the golf course. No one asks for a social security card, and you get paid in cash. It just means hanging-around the golf course all day."
"If working as a caddy is the only way I can be with you, then
that's what I'll do," said Greg.
Greg phoned his mother and told her he wasn't coming home. She wanted an explanation, but he simply said he was doing well and had decided to explore some new directions in life. Greg's father had died five years previous, and he knew she would miss him. But he also knew that she could shift her attention to her network of friends. She would do fine.
Greg moved into Janice's apartment in Brighton Falls. He began to spend his days at the golf course while Janice was at her secretarial job. Every other possible moment they spent making love. But they weren't getting enough of each other. Work seemed like endless waiting for the time when they could be together again.
One day, Janice came home and announced, "I've quit my job. I think we should both stop working."
"But how will we live?" Greg asked.
"I can collect unemployment for a while, and after that we can live on welfare. We can move to a cheaper apartment and have money left over for food. We won't have much money for anything else, but what really matters is that we can spend all of our time together."
Greg's hardworking, responsible heritage caused him to flinch
at the thought of doing no work, earning no money and living entirely
on Janice's welfare check. But he had already deviated mightily from his
heritage. The prospect of
more time with Janice was a powerful inducement. He agreed to her plan.
For months, Greg's life was Janice, Janice, and more Janice. And Janice's life was Greg, Greg and more Greg. They caressed & explored every inch of each other's body & soul in the bed of their tiny apartment. Laundry went undone and meals were skipped. Piles of dirty clothes and unwanted dishes could not distract them. Periodically, Julie phoned, Greg's mother phoned, and Janice's family phoned. But the conversations were short -- and ceased altogether when the phone was disconnected.
The world outside was less important than the world within. Greg discovered that meaningfulness in life came from Janice. The things that Janice said, thought and felt were what really mattered. Everything else was trivia. To be with Janice was to be truly alive.
From time to time Greg wondered if he and Janice had become
love-addicts. Yet for all the time they spent together, there seemed to be
no end of new physical & emotional intimacies to explore. In the face
of the feeling of addiction was always the question, "What really matters?"
And the answer was always, "Love!"
Although Greg was obsessed with Janice and Janice was obsessed with Greg, Janice had another obsession too. One day, when they were enjoying a quiet moment together, Greg noticed that Janice appeared particularly absorbed in her thoughts.
"Philip really loves that Porsche of his," she began, "and he thinks he can save money by not having it fully insured." Her eyes suddenly fixed on Greg's. "I want you to trash it!"
"What am I, your tool of destruction?"
"But we're lovers."
"There is a difference between a lover and a hitman."
"Greg, I love you unconditionally. I give myself to you unconditionally. I want you to love me unconditionally too. Don't judge me. Listen to my needs."
"If you love me, why would you want to put me at risk by doing this foolish thing?"
"There would be no risk. You could do it in the middle of the night in a way that no one would see you. My brother drives a tow truck and I can get one of his hooks to unlock the door. He could also give us welding equipment. You could cut your way to the engine from the floorboard and destroy everything from the inside, so no one would see you. When you're done you could slash the tires."
"That would be vandalism!"
"No, it would be justice. He stole my share of our house. I have a right to some of his property, and I want to get my share in a way that will hurt him the most!"
"What if I refuse to be a part of your plan?"
"Then I'll know that you don't love me, and I'll treat you accordingly."
"Does that mean withholding love?"
"Janice, if you can threaten me like this, either you are bluffing or you love me less than I love you. In either case, you are using love to gain power. And as long as I love you more than you love me, you will have power over me."
"Lovers care about what their lovers care about. If you love me you will do this for me."
Greg had no reply. He was stymied. He loved Janice, but there
was a terrible side to her. Now his love was being put to the
test. As powerfully as he loved her, he wasn't sure if his love
could stand this kind of strain. He wanted to make Janice happy. He loved
the thought of fulfilling her desires. But now the cost was not his
effort or his willingness to suffer deprivation, but his integrity.
Now he was feeling like a heroin-junkie, enduring degradation to support
Late one night Janice & Greg stood side-by-side behind a bush in front of the house Janice once called home. Greg was wearing a ski-mask. With welding equipment over his shoulder, Greg walked quickly & quietly toward the Porsche. Janice watched from the bush as he effortlessly hooked the lock and entered the car.
As Greg began to burn holes in the floorboard, he reflected on the love that had driven him to this. Did he really love Janice or was he just addicted to her aliveness and the pleasure she gave him? She did seem to love him and he was grateful for that love. But is love just gratitude, or is it a response to the deep character of another person? If his love for her was really fulfilling to her, why would she feel so much need to avenge her pride by trashing Philip's Porsche? The more he thought about where he was and what he was doing, the more Greg saw Janice as a person spoiled by her beauty -- a fascist smugly using the power her attractiveness gave to her.
There was a loud clank as a camshaft hit the cement driveway. Greg turned off his blowtorch and listened. The night was supremely silent. He waited a few more moments before resuming his task. Soon he heard a sound at the window. He looked up and saw a face that looked like Janice's photos of Philip. Except the face he now saw was much redder, and the eyes were filled with fire.
"What the fuck are you doing to my car, asshole?" Philip roared.
Greg lunged for the opposite door and was sprinting across the pavement faster than he thought possible. But he slipped on a rock. By the time he got to his feet, Philip was upon him.
Philip punched & kicked ferociously, while shrieking "You mother-fuckin' goddamn piece of shit, I'm gonna kill you."
Philip was not what anyone would call physically fit. If Greg had the heart to fight, he probably could have beaten Philip. But Philip was pounding with a furious passion, whereas Greg only wanted to escape as quickly as possible. Greg managed to regain his stance and started running as fast as he could. Philip chased, but he didn't have enough stamina. Greg got away.
Greg made his way back to Janice's apartment. Fifteen minutes later Janice entered.
"Why didn't you beat him up?" she asked.
Greg was suddenly aware that he felt no love for the woman who was talking to him. It shocked him to be so instantly devoid of the feeling that had been consuming his life. But his perceptions had changed, illusions had been destroyed. He was now seeing things he hadn't wanted to believe, but could no longer deny.
"I'm going home to Toronto," he said.
"No!" Janice commanded. "You stay here!"
Greg walked to the door and was gone.
Greg spent the rest of the night walking the streets alone. Janice had made it too easy for him to leave. Why had she acted so imperiously? What would he have done if she had started crying and pleaded with him to stay? How could he have loved Janice so intensely and become so cold-hearted so quickly? Was she really so blameworthy for her attitude toward Philip and her attempt to use Greg for revenge? Greg wondered if the bitterness Janice had toward Philip was a manifestation of the very thing that he found most attractive in her: her sensitive & passionate nature.
Janice had been hypocritical in saying that she loved Greg unconditionally, while threatening to withhold her love if Greg did not agree to trash Philip's car. Greg could have challenged her about this, but he hadn't thought it would change anything. He could have refused to trash Philip's car to see if Janice was bluffing about withholding love. What disturbed Greg the most was Janice's awareness of her power over him, her willingness to try to use it and the fact that his only defense was to stop loving her.
Greg had felt like a love-addict. An addict is preoccupied with a source of pleasure -- sacrificing all values, material & ethical, to gratify a need. But it still didn't seem quite right to think of love as an addictive substance.
It had troubled Greg that his life had been resting on sand. Before meeting Janice his goal had been to achieve a career in which he could experience productive accomplishment while providing him the means to survive. Was he to blame Janice for her Siren song of love -- or blame himself for being captivated by her song? Or was he really just a workaholic, turning from one addiction to another?
Daylight, rather than definitive answers, put an end to Greg's questions. Before his departure, Greg called Julie. "Go visit Janice," he told her, "she is alone and she needs your friendship."
Greg felt few regrets as the train pulled out of the station. He
had experienced remarkable things about love which would be in his heart
for the rest of his life. The lessons he had learned might one day give
him the key to a deeper fulfillment of love and accomplishment --
without the pressure to degrade himself.
I am a person with virtually no experience writing fiction other than the two stories in the literary section of my website. This story was my first attempt at fiction. I am not expecting to be writing any more fiction in the near future.
I feel I did a very poor job of introducing Greg & Janice to each other and of beginning their "love-affair". I am now keenly appreciating the fact that the romance genre consists almost entirely of novels because it is so difficult to develop a feeling of love between characters quickly within the context of a short story. Some of my readers doubted that Janice loved Greg at all and viewed their relationship as simply sexual.
I originally wanted the story to deal with the theme of two people
addicted to each other sexually and emotionally. But I could not come up
with a strong plot and climax that I could incorporate within this theme.
Once I fixed on a climax with some violence, the story turned into a spoof
of the idea of "Unconditional Love". I enjoy a good debunking,
but am somewhat frustrated that I was unable to write a story with a
happy ending. I still have the hope that I can one day write a love story
with a happy ending because I think this augurs much well for creating
a love story that ends "happily ever after" in my own life. As
I currently see it, this project may take a thousand years -- and I am
now devoting most of my time to extending my life.