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.