That Old School Skirt, or, Payback’s a Bitch
They had been good girls. Good students, too, mostly. Fifteen years old or close, all from good families. And smart. Edward thought some of them, like Nina and Danica, were very smart. Others, like Chloe, were quiet. She stared. They all would giggle as he approached, peeking at him, then stop as he passed, then giggle again.
Some were very pretty, too. Edward could see this in spite of school regulations – a private school, of course, Anglo-Peruvian, in Lima. The grooming rules and uniforms – gray in both public and private schools, for democracy was the rule these days – were severe. No makeup, no adornments, long hair would be worn back, shoes were black and laced, skirts (the wrap-around type) worn at the knee. Still, Edward could tell that some of these girls, like Nina, were very pretty.
But she wasn’t flirty, like, say, Francesca, whose hair tie always somehow managed to slip off, so all that wavy blackness cascaded down and about her shoulders, whose lips somehow always glistened, and whose skirt somehow always rode up to her thighs. He didn’t like girls, or women for that matter, who lacked what Peruvians call pudor, a brand of modesty deriving from self-respect.
That year, 1981, had all Peruvians unsettled. An American with just the right computer model had predicted an earthquake so severe that Lima would “fall into the sea.” The story had even made 60 Minutes. Edward was appointed earthquake monitor by Mrs. Fairburne, the headmistress. It meant he would be the last to leave the building as it crashed to the ground. He was a first-rate English teacher and congenial, too, so in spite of residual anti-Americanism he was well-liked, at least by those who bothered to get to know him. Mrs. Fairburne, who had twice, but oh-so-discreetly, pinched his ass, seemed to want to know him somewhat better than the others, but once she had revealed her flirtatiousness, Edward changed his stance towards his boss.
One really couldn’t blame the headmistress. Edward was just under six feet, fit, and moved gracefully. He was told he was buen mozo, even “un churro,” handsome and appealing, like some gooey sweet confection. But he chalked this up to the curly light brown hair that ran in his family and seemed to impress girls. Withal he was unself-conscious, with a ready sense of humor and a sly wit. He took some care to dress neatly, “shy of stylish,” as his mother would say, “just like my handsome boy,” but since he was without vanity there was a line of attentiveness to himself that he just would not cross. About his temper, his father had told Edward to “channel it constructively.”
He attended The Church of the Good Shepherd, not Evangelical but Anglican – that is, calm – an affiliation that was frowned upon by his parents. “Well,” said his mother, “it could have been worse. At least it’s not Catholic.” In truth Edward liked the building and the walk to it. Peruvian winters, warm by Iowa standards, were cloudy and therefore, he thought, somehow cozy, and the houses (at least in the affluent neighborhood of San Isidro) interesting: brick, stone, fenced in, flat-roofed (because it rarely rained, at least as Edward knew rain), modestly but brightly painted, beautifully landscaped – and all maintained to perfection. Here were wide sidewalks and reliable street signs and drivers obeying traffic lights.
The first incident happened a couple of months into the year. Nina, of all people, approached him after class and said, “tu eres el hombre mas apetecible del mundo.” In other words, that he was “appetizing,” in fact the most appetizing man “in the world.” Like certain fruits. Edward was speechless. As he blushed, Nina smiled, unwrapped her skirt, slowly turned, and walked away. She was wearing gym shorts. All the girls were in their shorts: it was gym period. But when she turned her head to look back, no longer smiling but with her eyes very wide open and lips parted, Edward was . . . stirred.
Those eyes – pools of brown liquid – and those lips – plush, slightly open, and curling up at the both ends of her mouth – he could get none of this out of his mind. So he avoided her, even avoided eye-contact, as much as possible.
Then it happened again, but this time with Danica, just before the mid-year break. Almost the same thing, with the same response. The difference was that Danica was wearing panties instead of gym shorts, so Danica re-wrapped her skirt very quickly. Now an ass was added, in this case to long blonde hair and pale gray eyes and even shapelier and longer legs. Then again, six weeks after the mid-year break, only this time it was Chloe, the shapeliest of the girls and the most brooding. Instead of gym shorts or panties there was nothing. They were alone in the classroom and Chloe just stood there, but very quickly she re-wrapped her skirt and, peering over her shoulder but without a smile, scooted out of the room.
Earlier in the year Edward had found great pleasure in simply walking the grounds. The classroom buildings had two floors and formed a rectangle surrounding a quad that was more like a meadow. The walls of the ground-level rooms that faced the quad were all windows and glass doors, so there was always much reflected light. Trees populated the far ends. The place was old, Edward thought, but very well-maintained. In his own way, Edward had found delight in the school itself and believed he had found his niche.
But this all changed when the three girls pulled what Edward innocently considered their “tasteless stunt.” Now he worried and began to design responses. He thought to tell someone – Pearl Fairburne, the headmistress, or another teacher, or even their parents – but he realized that it would do no good and might do him, and the girls, real harm. What he settled on – not much of a plan, he thought – was always to be among several girls or colleagues. Any interaction with the three would be about school, always brief, and would take place only in open spaces.
Then one day, with three weeks to go in the school year, he got careless. Class was over, the students were making a racket as they poured out of the second-storey classroom, and Edward was gathering his notes. When he turned to leave he saw the three of them, shoulder-to-shoulder, facing him, their backs to the door they had silently closed.
Together they unwrapped their skirts and dropped them. None of them was wearing underwear. They smiled over their shoulders, Edward stared, then they slowly turned all the way around. When they were facing him again, Nina spoke.
“Meester, we can see plainly how much you like what you see. How much you want what you see. All we want is to satisfy you.” They looked at each other and giggled. “Edward,” said Danica, “please say yes.” Now they were facing him. Chloe was slowly rubbing herself, her fingers buried between her thighs. “I dream of you doing this for me, meester. Por favor.” Tears were sliding down her cheeks. Nina added, “we can arrange for a meeting, meester. Just please please please say yes.”
Edward got mad, his usual response to fear, but he kept still and quiet. After a few seconds he said, “dress yourselves, girls, and open the door. We will leave together, and tomorrow you will have my answer.”
They all stayed in place, with Danica shaking her head. “You are right,” he added, “I want you all very much, as you can see. You are each so desirable. But if you do not do as I ask right now, then right now my answer will be ‘No’ forever, come what may.”
The girls waited, then, following Nina’s lead, picked up and wrapped their skirts. “See you tomorrow, Edward,” said Chloe, adding “I love you so much.” “Me too, meester, so so much,” added Danica. Nina smiled, turned, opened the door, and led the march out.
The next day, a Friday, Edward was not at school. He had told the headmistress he was ill, which was sort of true; what he did not say was that he might not be back. But over the weekend he had met with Mrs. Fairburne and told her everything. He knew it was risky and did not know what her response would be.
“I know girls, Edward, and what some of them, especially at that age, are like.” And then she added, “and I’ve watched you all year, I’ve seen you change. Now I know why. Let’s see what we can do, shall we?”
So on Monday he waited in his classroom. The girls, who had left the room with all the others, would return, he knew, and they would say more than enough to show their true colors. Then he would go to the headmistress.
What they saw was a nervous man, hands shaky, voice weak. The four of them sat together at desks. Edward said, “I still don’t know. I still don’t know.” Nina began to unbutton her blouse. “Please don’t do that, Nina.”
“But they are so beautiful, professor, and soft. Not too big, but you’d like them so much, I know.”
“So do I, my dear, dear Nina. I know how much I want to hold all of you in my arms, to make you mine and to become yours.”
“What should we do meester,” Chloe asked. “What do you want us to do now?” So they discussed where to meet – there was a B&B for such a rendezvous in San Isidro – and when. Remaining seated at the desk, Edward trembled as the girls left.
Twenty minutes later he went to see Pearl Fairburne. He would lay out the whole plan, confident that disclosure would establish his innocence. The office was small, an interior room with no windows, English and Peruvian flags standing against the wall behind a large desk. Between the two flags was a portrait of President Belaunde. He found the headmistress seated with the girls standing around her, all of them in tears. Edward was very still.
He heard that months ago the girls had told the headmistress that he was making untoward advances. She had instructed them to keep a log of their encounters with him. They had decided to take a recorder with them to their last meeting. She played it for Edward.
With his blood rising but still without any affect whatever, he said, “months ago, all this time,” and then, after a two slow breaths, asked, “why?”
“Because I’ve known men like you, and I know Americans, who rule the world and take what they want. You think the rest of us are so stupid, will believe any sham story you tell to cover your tracks. This isn’t Viet Nam, you know, where you come in, break everything, take anything you please, and propagandize along the way. Well, I never wanted you here in the first place.”
Edward knew a done deal when he saw one, like the time he and Billy Fregas stole some beer, only to find Mr. Fregas waiting for them right outside the store.
“And what do you want, Headmistress?” without blinking, looking only at her.
“You will resign. When I have that paper I will send you this recording. Then you will leave. Today is your last day; we will never see or hear of you again. If we do I will . . . take steps. And know that you are getting off easy. If I were to tell these girls’ fathers what you’ve done, well. . . .”
The girls were sniffling. Edward removed a notebook from his briefcase, ripped out a page, wrote out his resignation claiming illness, dated and signed it, and handed it to the woman. At that the girls stopped their sniffling and stared. Edward turned and walked out of the office. The next day the cassette was hand-delivered to his apartment.
The day after that a very bitter Edward left Peru forever. Once back in the States he enlisted in the U.S. Army, a sort of family business, and went to Officers Candidate School. For his service in the first Gulf war he was awarded a Purple Heart and the Silver Star for the same action: personally killing four Republican Guard soldiers, two as he closed on them, another at close range, the last hand-to-hand. He had saved the lives of ten men. When asked why he acted with such courage he said, “Courage? That wasn’t courage. I was just so fucking mad. And I was closest.” Soon thereafter he was promoted to captain, and two years after that was discharged.
The Army paid for grad school. By 1997 he had earned his doctorate. In his dissertation he compared the lax Catholicism of Chaucer to the severe Protestantism of Milton, favoring the latter. By 2002 he was a tenured Associate Professor. He and his wife, June, had met in the Army. She, a Catholic girl from Georgia, held the rank of major. Love at first sight. They left the Army together, married right then, and had remained in love every single day of their lives. Even Edward’s parents were charmed. “Be all that you can be” had turned out to be true, at least for Edward and June.
The email arrived from Nina, now Nina Kurtz, in 2007. She had found him online, discovered where he was teaching, and thought to get in touch. In two weeks she would be passing through New York. Would he care to meet for a drink? Edward rarely thought of his time in Peru, or about the motives of those three girls and that one woman. Now he did, and he found it unfathomable, and that angered him.
He answered vaguely, civilly; she replied that now, approaching middle age, “catching up” seemed important to her. “Yes, it would be nice to catch up” he answered. They agreed on a drink at the small bar of the Algonquin Hotel at eight on the following Tuesday. Along the way he had done more thinking, more remembering.
Two nights before the meeting he had dinner with his comrades from the old platoon – of course they would never let Edward pay – at Jimmy’s, a big, crowded Puerto Rican restaurant just off the Deegan in the Bronx. A monthly event, more or less. Edward had called one of them, now a cop, a few days earlier. After dinner they left together. By the time they parted Edward had a Colt Cobra snub nose .38 caliber revolver in his right pants pocket.
He arrived at the Algonquin bar – a small, crowded room – fifteen minutes early not knowing what to expect. He wanted that first drink alone. But when he entered he saw all three women standing there. He stiffened. “Hello Edward, we’re so glad you agreed to meet.” That was Nina. They were all quite beautiful. Stylish, elegant, smiling. Danica in leather pants with a long, belted, silver peasant blouse and a black choker; Chloe in a long black clinging dress down to her ankles and a long string of pearls; Nina in a tight black skirt almost to her knees, a sequined shirt and a diamond necklace. All three wore high heels and their hair up.
He walked past them to the bar, ordered a bourbon neat, and said, “I didn’t.”
“I knew you probably wouldn’t.” It was Nina, now over his right shoulder, close enough for him to smell.
He turned and sat on a stool, anger rising.
“Why are you here? What do you want?”
Danica spoke warmly. “Closure.”
“For all of us,” Chloe rasped.
Nina said, “can we take a table please. I’ve reserved one.” It wasn’t a question. “There’s no reason to be uncomfortable, physically or otherwise.” The same self-serving, cunning, entitled pretty girls he had known twenty-five years earlier – from such good families – now stood before him as self-serving, deceptive, entitled, beautiful women.
“You’re more handsome than ever, Edward, and much bigger. I mean muscle.” They were sitting in a tight circle.
“That happens in the Army, Nina.”
“I didn’t think you’d be this cool,” said Danica. “A suit but no tie, curls touching your ears and your collar.”
“Let’s get your closure over with, Danica. For me the book was closed twenty-five years ago, and I have to – ”
“Not for us, Edward.” It was Nina. “It was supposed to be a joke. A prank! And you know other men, I mean a couple of Brits and one Peruvian” – here the others nodded – “had taken up our offer. And Fairburne knew all about it!” – more nods – “You would be our first American. But that stupid, man-hating bitch with some axe of her own to grind jumped in. And after she had seemed so supportive, too. Una loca de mierda. We even thought you’d be back. But instead we ruined your life.”
Edward looked down and, shaking his head, murmured slowly, “you ruined my life.” Then, his head snapping up, he almost chirped, “what happened to catching up? Let’s do that. I’d like to catch you up on the life you ruined.”
“I see,” said Chloe. “There is some bitterness. And that’s why we must make it up to you.”
Danica looked at Chloe and said, “No. We couldn’t do that. But at least we can show we’re sorry. You see, Edward, it did start as a joke, but then we thought – ”
“No.” Chloe interrupted. “You thought!”
“You came along, Chloe. You came along.” Danica was biting her lower lip. “You wanted him, too. More than we did!”
There was a pale amber tone to the lighting. Nina had been sipping her drink all along. A piano started up: Billy Joel, but Edward couldn’t nail down the tune.
“Can I freshen anybody up?” The waitress was loud and smiley, half Edward’s age.
Edward had seen her approaching behind the three women. “Yes,” he said. “Do you have pisco? It’s Peruvian.”
“No, no I don’t think so.”
“Okay then. I’m sure you have grappa. That’s Italian. Tell the bartender to make four grappa sours, very cold.” He looked from face to face, smiling. “Since we’re talking of Peruvian days, let’s drink as much like Peruvians as possible.”
When they got their drinks Edward said, “Salud. To Pearl Fairburne!” The three of them – Chloe was shaken out of her stupor – shouted, “to Pearl Fairburne! salud!”
And then they caught up. Edward said he had escaped to the army, gone to war, been wounded. He told them how he sailed through grad school, landed a teaching job in an English department, and that he had just been elected chairman.
Out of the blue Danica said, “you see he hasn’t mentioned his wife.” That caught Edward off guard, and his eyes darted to her. “The ring, Edward.” He had not taken it off.
Control your breathing, he thought. Pay attention to detail. Don’t over-react. Stick to the plan. Be willing to improvise. Combat protocol. Out loud he said, “every now and then a timeout is healthy, don’t you think? There’s nothing more reassuring for an aging man than the congenial attention of smart and beautiful women.” At that they actually giggled.
An hour later the women were lit up, Edward only a little, no more than when he was about to enter a firefight, which sobered a man up real quick. Nina said, “Edward, before it gets too late and we’re all too drunk we’d like to make our amends, as far as that’s possible. I took a room. We want you to join us.” She stood as she placed two hundred dollar bills on the table.
Looking into her eyes he stood and said, “I thought you’d never ask.” Danica, to Edward’s right, looked at him and said, “mas apetecible que nunca.” More appetizing than ever. He flushed and he felt it.
“Look at that,” said Nina, from across the elevator, “he’s still shy.”
Nina had booked a suite. She asked Edward to wait in the front room while they freshened up inside. “No,” he said. “I’d like to watch the freshening up.” They stared, he opened his arms and said “please,” and they turned into the bedroom. Edward followed and closed the door behind him.
Looking from face to face he said, “your move.”
The three of them undressed. Danica had on a red bustier, black thong, a garter belt, and black stockings; she turned and peered over her shoulder. Nina wore a lace bra and tap pants, both midnight blue, and blue ankle socks; she cocked one hip and put her hands behind her neck, ruffling her hair. Chloe, who was by far the most voluptuous of the three, was completely naked, her feet bare; she had folded her hands under her belly and stared without smiling.
Nina spoke. “What’s your wish, Edward? “
Danica followed quickly. “Wait Nina. We should see more of Edward.”
“Let me,” said Chloe. She stepped to Edward, now seated. As she straddled him she placed his hands on her hips. Then she began to unbutton his shirt. After the first two buttons she stopped and gently held his head, tilted it up, bowed her own, and kissed him. She was almost panting as she finished unbuttoning his shirt.
He took it off. She patted his zipper – and found . . . not much.
His biggest challenge was hiding his contempt, and his anger. “Chloe, you’re beyond what I’ve imagined, and I’ve been imagining for a very long time. No offense to you both, but you, Chloe, are the most apetecible woman I’ve ever seen. But I’m not a young man. You’ll have to work harder.” At that Chloe actually wept.
Nina stepped forward and held her friend. “What do you suggest, Edward?”
“You know, seeing the two of you hugging, I . . . I know what will do it. First, please, all of you, just get naked.
As Nina and Danica did that, Edward removed his shoes, socks, and pants and sat back down. “That’s the spirit, Edward,” said Danica. “Now come to bed.”
“No.” Edward murmured. “The three of you. Nina, I want you to caress and kiss Chloe all over her body. Danica, you kiss her Venus mound – you know what that is, right? – and bring her to orgasm. She deserves it.”
All three women gaped. Edward reached behind him into his left jacket pocket and took out a vibrator. “Chloe, you take this. Use it on Nina. Any way you wish. But she doesn’t get an orgasm.”
Chloe stepped forward obediently. “Thank you, Edward.”
“NO!” shouted Danica. We don’t!” Then slowly, “we won’t. Chloe, are you crazy?”
“Nina. Danica. Don’t get hysterical. And please don’t turn on Chloe. Just do as I’ve asked.”
Nina began to re-dress. “No Edward. We’re not that sorry. Why would you do this? We would keep it light, satisfy you, have some fun, as we always intended.”
“We’re not perverts.” It was Danica.
Edward could not tell if she was joking. “Perverts?” he asked. “You’re not perverts, just . . . just good Catholic girls? Here’s news, Danica, I was married to a good Catholic girl just like you.”
“Was married?” asked Chloe. “Oh, Edward! Edward, are you divorced?”
“No Chloe. Not divorced. My wife died last month. Cancer. Now I’m alone. She didn’t have it coming. She was a saint, really. But” – he paused and looked at each of them – “you do have it coming.” Without turning he reached back into his right jacket pocket and removed the revolver.
Danica and Nina stepped back, their whole bodies gone pale. Danica was trembling; Nina, with big eyes, was chewing on her own lip. But Chloe said, “Edward, I have something for you. Look.” She reached down into Nina’s bag and took out a piece of gray cloth. “ Look, Edward, the old school skirt! We brought one for you, as a memento!”
He took the skirt. “A perfect silencer.”
Nina fell to her knees and began to cry. Danica stepped to Chloe, knelt in front of her, grasped her hips, and began to bring her face close. “I’ll do it, Edward, I’ll do it!”
“Wait a minute.” He bent and took a small camera out of his pants pocket. Then Danica began to beg, or blubber; Edward couldn’t tell. Nina, too. Chloe was smiling radiantly. Edward stood, put the gun on the chair, and began to snap away. He chuckled, “I still use film. Old school.”
“Edward, Look. Please, Edward. Look – take my mouth.” It was Danica, her mouth an O.
“Don’t you dare,” Chloe screamed. “I would be first. Take me Edward!” And she knelt.
Now with all three of them on their knees, Edward walked around snapping shots.
“Chloe, don’t you think Nina needs a good spanking? Bottoms up girl.” And Nina, without protest, leaned across the bed, and took the spanking of her life. She was noisy. All along Danica watched, fascinated.
After a dozen or so hard whacks, Chloe said, “My hand hurts, Edward.”
“Forty years too late” he said. Nina was crying hard and gasping as she hugged a pillow.
“Let’s take a break. Rest up for the serious stuff. Go ahead, lie next to each other. I want a pretty group shot. First on your nice, flat tummies, then on your backs. And, Nina, you just be quiet, okay? Get in the middle. That’s it. Does anyone have anything to say before we go to DefCon Two?”
“What’s that?” It was Nina, sniffling.
“That’s where you’re up and down and over and under each other. That’s what.”
All three froze; Nina gasped. “Oh, come on,” he said. “Danica, don’t you want to feel your friend throb with satisfaction, Chloe all watching and panting?”
At the mention of her name, Chloe seemed to come to life. “What about you, Edward? When do I – ”
“Oh, that. Well, love, you don’t. The Purple Heart is a medal you get for being wounded. Guess where I got it?”
“Oh no, no Edward! Oh, my poor darling Edward!”
Nina and Danica both turned to Chloe. Then Nina said, “please Edward. You must believe we were – we are – sorry. So so very sorry.”
“I believe you, Nina. Maybe not sorry enough, or as sorry as you will be. But I believe you. So now listen. Sit up. Good, there. Now unfold the skirt and spread it across the three of you. Here I’ll help. Hold the pillows in front to cover yourselves. It’s time for some pudor.
“So you think you ruined my life, you three putas? When I left Peru I joined the United States Army. I went to war and became a man among men. I helped free people and saved the lives of my brothers. I met my wife to be. My wound didn’t matter to her. I told you she was a saint. We loved more than any two people could love. My life was ruined, but not by three twerps like you. By her death. Now I have nothing to lose. So. Tell me why I shouldn’t kill the four of us.”
It was Chloe who lifted herself off the bed. Everyone watched as she slowly dressed herself. Then she said, “I don’t know why you shouldn’t, Edward. I know that I’ve always loved you and still do. And I know that you living matters more than anything else. I’m asking that you leave us alive so that you don’t die, and so that, wherever I am, I can still love you.”
He said, “grow up, Chloe. You’re . . . what? Forty? Get over it, you sorry, sorry creature.” It was Chloe’s turn to redden.
Danica jumped to her friend’s defense, gasping. “She’s telling the truth, Edward. She’s never changed. She joined us then, and now, only because she really does love you.”
“Well then. What can I say? Nina, you are what Shakespeare has called a ‘motiveless malignity’. Danica? A cheap, over-compensating tramp. Woeful. And you, Chloe, more than half nuts. But all three of you are just too boring. It’s time for us to go.”
Danica almost whispered. “You’re letting us go?”
“I’m giving us a sendoff.” He lifted the gun, pointed it at Nina. She howled. He did the same to Danica. She dropped to her knees trembling, and she peed. He looked at Chloe, who didn’t move. Then he pointed the gun at his temple. The women stiffened. He pulled the trigger and the hammer clicked.
He clicked off an imaginary round at each of them. “No bullets. And so you’ll have your own mementos – ” He tossed the camera onto the bed and put the gun back in his pants pocket. “I was just having some fun of my own, girls. You know how that is. But here’s a warning. I never want to hear from or of you again. Ever. There’s always DefCon Four.”
As he left he heard Chloe. “The skirt. Edward, you’re forgetting the skirt!”
It was ten-thirty when he got back to the bar, the piano still playing, the conversation still low. An elegant gathering. Soon a woman came up behind him and grabbed his ass.
Without turning he said, “that’s my Juneybelle.”
She leaned in and kissed his cheek. “So, how was your catching up? Tell any whoppers? I know you, my manly man.”
“Ah. A white lie or two. Seems I’m chairman of the department now. You know me. No imagination of my own. She’s still sweet. She was a good kid and now she’s a good middle-aged woman. So it was nice to see her. I was hoping you would meet but she had to run.”
“Too bad.” Pause. “And why in particular was it so nice to see her?” Another pause. Then sternly, “did she make a move? Because if she made a move she’ll have a real good ass-kickin’ comin’.”
Edward laughed. “No. No move. Some cheek-pecking. Photos for her friends. Turns out they keep in close touch. But I gotta tell you. She looks worn out now, almost old. Not like us, Juney. We are perpetually young, you and I.”
“Oh really. Well then, let’s go home and you just show me, know what I mean, Captain Stud?” “Aye aye, Major,” he answered slowly, smiling, looking into her glistening eyes as he saluted. And out of the hotel they walked, arm-in-arm.