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The Delicate Hours

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Eleanor heard the footsteps. Instinctively she clutched at the collar of her robe, pulling the already constricting, conservative cut of the cloth even tighter around her. But as she listened to the footsteps, growing ever closer in the blackness outside her door, she relaxed her grip.

She could tell that the steps coming up the path were tentative over the craters and outcroppings; almost shy and submissive in their gait and footfall.  The person coming her way was more of a lost soul than any kind of threat.

And besides the villagers knew better than to send an undesirable her way.

Eleanor moved through the light and shadows of the sitting room; candlelight and familiarity guiding her through a well appointed  house and to the thick oaken door. She reached out slowly and, with hand shaking ever so slightly, slid the latch on the peep hole.

She smiled a tight smile as she laid eyes on her visitor.

Young but not too young. Very much a May to her very late December. His sensitive eyes, shoulder length hair and a ragged waistcoat over a animal hide tunic made him as an intellectual in Eleanor's mind.  A former teacher, perhaps an author? There were not many of those around anymore. He looked like he was lost and in need of a pause in his journey.

Eleanor opened the door, smiled and waved him inside.

He was Henry, a man of some culture and taste. Eleanor discovered that when, after setting down a simple meal, he was quick to pull out her chair. It was an act that had long since become an oddity to those who could remember when such niceties were common place.

They talked of good books, the art masters, fine wines of bygone ages and all manner of philosophical and social mores. He had opinions but was open to spirited debate.  As the night wore on, Eleanor was flushed like a school girl at this onslaught of intellect and curiosity from the  stranger.  And she literally melted when he spied a battered guitar in the corner, picked it up and serenaded her with a soft, chord driven rendition of Cat Steven's 'Peace Train'.

The hours wound their way slowly into the night. At one point Henry stretched and yawned. Eleanor tensed. She knew what the stranger's gesture  was a prelude to. She had a spare room. But she was nonchalant in offering him her company in her bed.

They walked together to the bedroom.  Silent. Caught up in whatever was to come. Eleanor opened the door to a room that would have been considered elegant in another age.  Reproductions of paintings by the masters. Colorful drapery hanging from every available inch of wall and  ceiling.  All centered by a four poster bed, surrounded at each corner by heavy falling bunting and filled with colorful oversized pillows, layered  satin sheets and  a lovingly overwhelming array of blue, red and gold blankets.

Eleanor turned to face Henry.  She opened her robe and let it fall to the floor. Henry's eyes instantly reflected shock at the horrifying tableau that was Eleanor's body.

Jagged red scars ran in all directions up and down her body. Between the patchwork stitches were discolored welts and layers of tattered tissue that had long ago gone hard and permanent. One breast appeared fairly normal; the other hanging far less perfect with the primitive efforts to save it, incisions that had barely survived gang green but had apparently done the job.

Eleanor had been far enough away from the last bombing of the last war to survive. Physically she was a map of hell. Mentally she got through life by just making do.  Somehow she had survived...And was rewarded with a lifetime of isolation. She had taken lovers. But the novelty of being with men who treated her like a freak inevitably wore off on both sides.

She looked up at Henry. The horror and revulsion she had come to recognize in the men she had encountered since she crawled from a shelter that had not been close to doing the job, stood out almost in base relief. But after a moment his eyes went soft, sympathetic and understanding. Without saying a word, he peeled off his tunic; revealing a body lean and unmarked. Eleanor marveled at the later. He had obviously been young enough to come after the apocalypse and the radiation level had subsided.

Henry took Eleanor in his arms, hugged her tightly and then lay her down on the soft sheets. He was a quiet, considerate lover; touching her ravished body with soft caresses and her soul with tender and prolonged lovemaking.

Finally satiated, they both fell together. Henry managed a good night peck to the cheek before drifting off to sleep with a smile on his face. Eleanor curled into the crook of his arm; a tight smile but a thoughtful one.

She felt like she had felt before coming to the inevitable conclusion that there could be no love for an atom blasted monster. But still....

Inside she giggled at the prospect of Henry staying for a while. Who knows. It just might be forever.  But then reality once again invaded her thoughts. If he was still here in the morning...

She would take off her mask and wig

THE END

 

 

 

 

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