Shelagh Power-Chopra

The Dumbwaiter

When they were all good and tip­sy, the late after­noon sun behind them, she found her­self in front of the dumb­wait­er with her one-armed cousin. He was so keen to pull her over there: Where is that old dumb wait­er? she remem­bered him ask­ing, Surprised it ever worked. They found it in the dark hall­way; the pas­sage that lead to a sel­dom used guest room where mildew stained water­col­ors lined the wall and bro­ken puz­zles lay flat on aged green felt sur­faces. They stum­bled down the hall­way bump­ing into the wall as they went, arm in arm (the good one of course), drunk from eggnog their grand­fa­ther had made.

There was the door, a heavy, sil­ly thing—most like­ly mahogany—with a brass latch. They slid it open and peered inside. It was bare inside except for an emp­ty, oblong tray, the paint peel­ing back; a curl of paint reach­ing upwards towards the damp ceil­ing of the ele­va­tor. The Thin Man theme was play­ing in the back­ground, who had put that on? It was the wrong music—not hol­i­day music, too eso­teric, but then again they all seemed a hap­less bunch, scat­tered rel­a­tives com­ing togeth­er from all cor­ners of the South, a mixed lot—a job lot of sat­ed gen­try and younger brash types—slim, col­or­less cock­tails in hand but they were the next gen­er­a­tion; thick­er skinned and tee­ter­ing on the shoul­ders of the last gen­er­a­tion, just forty, trav­el­ing well into the lime­light of idle age but still kick­ing back to punk rock and star­ry filled plas­tic worlds and the eggnog, the eggnog was ter­ri­bly strong.

When she peered inside the dumb­wait­er, she could only smell the rum from the eggnog and some of the cousin’s cologne; it was spicy, smelled of cheap adven­ture, it wasn’t sub­tle like some­one who wished to blend into the back­ground, it was the cologne of a man who want­ed to be seen; noticed. Wouldn’t the one arm get noticed enough? She hadn’t seen the cousin in years, what had it been, ten years? Look at that, an old tray! He exclaimed as if they had found a stack of gold bul­lion. They both reached for the tray and held it togeth­er as if read­ing a found trea­sure map. It was wood as well, but brit­tle and thin like basalt. It smells like cow manure, he said. Really? Because she didn’t smell cow manure but smelled brisket, and imag­ined a chi­na plate, an old Willow pat­tern say, piled high with sliced meat and aspara­gus driz­zled with a lemon dill sauce and it would be brought to the old man, the cur­mud­geon who sat in the din­ing room, mum­bling bribes into his waist­coat, by the ser­vant, old Tom, who had worked for the house­hold for some thir­ty-odd years and had a dis­tinct mem­o­ry of every event around him, every del­i­cate nature, each wink and nod but she didn’t share this with her cousin whose whole head was stuck in by this point.

God, this thing is so ancient, can’t even imag­ine putting food in here, those deca­dent Wasps, got­ta love them. Does it work I won­der? And he start­ed to pull the old rope on the side and the plat­form began to move down slow­ly. Bring me up some por­ridge will you, Bess? he shout­ed down then laughed uproar­i­ous­ly. Let’s get inside, he said and pulled the plat­form back up and start­ing to drop him­self on. God, no, we’ll break the plat­form, kill our­selves when we land—get stuck! No we won’t look you know how much crap they piled on these things? Roasts, par­tridges and what­not! Come on it will be fun, he said and he pulled him­self in, swift­ly with great deft­ness she thought con­sid­er­ing he was one-armed and there were no groans or jilt. Come on, come, he said and she found her­self crawl­ing in despite her bet­ter judg­ment but again no heavy creaks or whines and they sat tight, both of their bod­ies square next to one anoth­er, fit­ting rather well togeth­er in the dumb­wait­er prob­a­bly because his tor­so was more com­pact with the miss­ing limb. They moved slow­ly down, it became dark not pitch black and she felt like Alice in the rab­bit hole but Alice mov­ing slow­ly through time and then she could hear some­one call­ing his name in a low, grav­el­ly voice, George, where’d Georgy go? I want­ed to ask him about that par on hole 17.

Her cousin was laugh­ing now, hum­ming, This is fan­tas­tic, isn’t it? Fucking fan­tas­tic and he moved slight­ly and the dumb­wait­er groaned a loud, deep moan as if the house itself was cry­ing for mer­cy. Jesus don’t move, she said and just then he reached toward her face with his one hand and pulled it towards his like an aunt grab­bing a child’s cheek to kiss and he cov­ered her lips with his, stuck his tongue rough­ly in her mouth, swabbed it around a bit and the dumb­wait­er was still mov­ing. She start­ed slight­ly but didn’t want to move too quick­ly, fear­ing the cables would snap, and there they’d be, a pile of frac­tured bones in the base­ment. He groped her with his hand, ran his hand with­in her silk blouse, over her breast and she didn’t stop him. George, what the fuck are you doing? she said qui­et­ly, pulling her head back but he pushed for­ward and kissed her again. She moved her arms and touched the walls of the ele­va­tor with her hands and it felt damp and thick, like bark after a rain and just then she kissed him back, moved her tongue against his and he made a deep noise like that of a lis­some cat and the wait­er land­ed, land­ed heavy but not hard. They con­tin­ued to kiss in the still air, the stale and damp air with­in and she was amazed that their bod­ies man­aged to sit so well togeth­er, he was after all on the small side, regard­less of the miss­ing arm. Her hand set­tled on his crotch, slid down from his cor­duroy jack­et, fell quick­ly as if pushed sud­den­ly from a cliff as there was no arm there, no mass to stop it on the way down and it fell so nice­ly on his lap, brush­ing the top of his pants, her fin­ger­tips feel­ing just the precipice of hard­ness, not a full calami­ty, just a breath of stir­rings.

Wasn’t he sort of a cater-cousin? She wasn’t sure if his moth­er was Jean or Sandra—all those heavy aunts blend­ed togeth­er some­how, were they aunts of her father or sec­ond cousins? Cousins and uncles, once removed or twice removed, how she loved that term, twice removed—taken with tongs from the imme­di­ate fam­i­ly and shoved aside. When had she last touched a penis? Greg from work—awkward and lum­ber­ing on her couch, thick pork shoul­ders hov­er­ing above her, a heavy and sour mas­culin­i­ty but his penis, she remem­bered was small or was it? Maybe just not exem­plary, that was it—it paled in com­par­i­son to his tor­so, tiny com­pared to the wide mass above and this boy here in this ele­va­tor seemed more, his one arm wrapped around her oh so com­fort­ably. He was very hard now and she rubbed him again and she felt a damp­ness spread­ing through his pants as he moved his tongue to her ear now, Oh my, she said out loud and she saw his eyes in the dark­ness, in the lit­tle sliv­er of light that now peeked up at them through the door and he looked right through her real­ly and she saw him as oth­ers might—a regal crip­ple. She pulled her­self away from him, felt for the door of the ele­va­tor and slid open, wide and expec­tant.

Jesus, George, are you crazy? That thing is as ancient as Rome itself. It was George’s broth­er, Ross; he stood before the dumb­wait­er, a watery whiskey in hand. They were in the kitchen now, the cel­lar kitchen where the old, black cook once cooked corn­bread in cast iron pans and they slid out from the wait­er like after­birth from the womb and onto the floor and George pulled her up. That was fun, he said and smirked and she stood still on the stone kitchen floor, look­ing at her shoes and won­der­ing why she had worn such plain shoes and not heels like the rest of the women upstairs with their but­toned straps and swan backs. Once she had found an old pair of opera shoes in her grandfather’s wardrobe upstairs. They were silk—a light ivory with a sim­ple vel­vet bow on the front of each, cer­tain­ly fem­i­nine and she couldn’t pic­ture her grand­fa­ther ever wear­ing them. Now her grand­fa­ther smoked Moores with plas­tic fil­ters and wore loose trousers and sat on the stone porch with a Dachshund on his lap and read “Eulogies” in his spare time. Ross tapped her shoul­der: tap tap, tap. Hey there, Abbie, let’s get some more nog, and the three of them walked heav­i­ly over the stone kitchen floor, past the met­al pie chest and Portuguese tile and the swim­ming fish on the ceil­ing trim.