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.