Blind Guides Chapter One
There are two priorities that hold a man in place. Without them he is like a feather drifting in the whimsical winds of the universe. They’re not extravagant priorities by any means, but reasons to live. They are in essence, work and a good woman. A man can live with either one or the other at any given time, but to have both is to be one step beyond the gates of heaven.
At the moment, Stace Manning had neither.
He caught his sweating bottle of beer just as it tipped towards the grass. Kissing the coppery edge, he sucked the warm dregs of the brew over his tongue then spit it out. Disgust rattled his face as he swiped the dribble from his whiskers. The balmy sun of September had cooked its contents into a revolting concoction.
Sitting on his blanket at the Freibad public swimming pool, he leaned back and tipped his face towards the sky, enjoying the sensation of white-noon heat burning through his eyelids. Across his chest, beads of salt-ripened perspiration beaded into drops and ran through the dark curls towards his navel. He rolled his head back and forth, massaging his shoulders with the tips of his long black hair, listening to the orchestration of noises reaching his ears. He heard the tinkle of a breeze passing through the leaves above, the rumble of a car passing by the outside fence, and a father calling to his toddler. Down by the pool, children were jostling for position behind the diving boards. The metal springs of the boards croaked like frogs as children bounced on them. Nearby, people were laughing by the concession stand eating pomfrits and drinking beer. Closer to him, two young women were gossiping. Stace couldn’t tell what they were talking about. He had learned little German in the past year he’d spent in Frankfurt.
What was her name? He held his breath and listened for her movements. He’d not heard her leave since he’d finished his confession and had closed his eyes. Never in his life had he dared to reveal so much to anyone, especially a woman. He felt self-conscious, as if he’d taken a knife and sliced open his mind, exposing his most ghastly secrets. Was she still seated on the corner of his blanket facing him, her feet folded to the side, sandy hair falling down the left side of her face? “She’s probably bored stiff! I’ve been the pitiful American and played on her sympathies,” or so he thought.
“Hallo,” she said, in a way characteristic of Germans calling people out of a daydream.
He dropped his head and opened his eyes. “I hope I haven’t bored you,” he said.
She looked at him amusingly, with a slight smile twitching underneath her erect nose. It wasn’t her habit to walk up to complete strangers, especially the men whom she knew were just scrutinizing her. Those men who looked over their books and newspapers, or lay with their heads propped over their folded arms stealing glances at the sunbathing women. She’d rather they just look once and get their fill, instead of concealing their lust within disinterested gazes. Stace had looked as well, but she noticed in his glances a look of curiosity. As if he was looking not only at her, but into her, with an unquenchable thirst to know. She sensed him to be foreign. His long curly hair clean and combed, a well-trimmed beard, and the unmistakable lack of custom set him apart as a foreigner. At twenty-seven, she’d seen her beer stein full of the predictability of German men and the thick presence they wore about them like cologne. Almost unknowingly, she had found herself walking towards this stranger as though wrapped in the expectation of an unfolding romance.
“No,” she said, “you don’t bore me. I’m sorry to hear about your art exhibit.”
“Well, it really wasn’t my exhibit,” he said, hoping she wouldn’t see his disappointment. But it was to be his exhibit. It would have given him the edge he needed to jump-start his dreams. He’d spent the last four years living through the reality of being rejected from the exhibit and he was surprised the pain of its memory played out today, just as much as it did when it happened.
A moment of anticipation passed between them.
“Would you like to go for a swim?” he asked.
As she stood, she reached behind her and unfastened the bow of her bikini top. He caught her movements out of the corner of his eye, turning his head just as the long strings from the bow fell to her side. Her breast leaped from the cup and settled into a noble curve upwards. Timidly, he looked the other way.
Stace walked ahead of her on to the first step leading into the center of the pool. Icy water, cold as the mountain streams of New Mexico, lapped across his ankles. His skin turned to goose flesh. Eva quickly caught up and stepped in, impervious to the chill. She descended the steps and dove in, moments later reappearing. He stood there for a moment admiring her tenacity. Her head was bobbing along the top of the water as the rest of her body was contorted by the hallucinogenic effect of the waving water.
“Come in!” she yelled at him.
“Too kalt!” he protested.
“It’s nice once you get used to it.”
“I bet.” Not wanting to appear like a total coward, he dove in.
The underwater world exhilarated his spirit. Somewhere the pains of the world lay . . . somewhere above the surface the memories stung, but here was a world without walls and without the need to conform. Instinctively, he turned towards Eva and found her swimming along the surface directly above him. Her eyes were wide open and her hair was glowing in backlit sunshine, extending like an aura around her head. Diamond shaped ripples of light danced across her skin and her breasts greeted him with hazel-colored nipples. He joined her at the surface and she followed him back down into the depths.
After their swim, they strolled up to where Eva had spread her blanket. She grabbed a towel and began to dry off while he searched for words.
“That was fun,” she said, turning her head and squeezing the water out of her hair.
“Are you doing anything tonight?” she asked without looking at him.
“No. Would you like to get together?” he asked quickly.
He wondered if she was joking.
She finished drying her hair and left it wild. From a plastic bag, she brought out a pair of denim shorts and pulled them up her unshaven legs. After snapping the button, she looked over to him as if expecting something.
He was still searching for words. She pulled out a pink tank top from the bag and as she reached towards the sky, it fell over her breasts. Having dressed, she put her hands playfully on her hips as if to say, “Well?” then asked, “Would you like to come over for dinner tonight?”
She fumbled for her wallet and took out a business card. “Here’s my number. I live nearby. Call me around 6:00 p.m. and I’ll give you directions.”
He was ecstatic, but managed to conceal it. His response was formal, as if he was used to this sort of thing. “I look forward to it.” He glanced at the card, which read, “Eva Burtman, Investigative Reporter.”
She finished packing her things and walked towards the main gate.