Teaser 030: Stories for Serena

The song ended, another began and ended as we continued to dance apart, when I announced, “That's good. You wore me out. I'm an old man in need of a break, a smoke break.”

She frowned but we moved toward the rest. When we were close to the chairs where everyone else was gathered, she pushed me playfully. “You're not that old. You can still move. You need to quit smoking, old man.”

“I am an old man. I am the elder of this group, this tribe, as it were. You've all heard, 'Respect your elders.' When one of us is in trouble, the others will say, 'We must consult the elder,' and you'll all come to me. This, of course, would make us a pretty sorry tribe, but I'll always astound you when I announce, 'I must seek advice from the ancestors.' And I go out and smoke a cigarette.” I immediately walked around the pool toward the patio outdoors. As I sauntered through the sauna room toward the sliding door outside I heard footsteps behind me, Serena.

I slid the door open and waited. “If I didn't know any better, and I'm not sure I do, I'd swear you have feelings for me, Princess.”

Within a few feet she asked, “Princess? Now I'm a Princess in your warped and twisted mind?” She smiled the whole way.

“Of course you are.” As she walked past me I closed the door behind us. “You have never looked at yourself in the mirror, before you put on your make-up, and seen the prototypical appearance of an Aztec princess?”

It caught her by surprise. I could tell because she looked at me like I had delivered her most cherished desire. She couldn't even speak for a few seconds. “I don't look like an Aztec princess. You don't think so, do you?”

I shook my head like I couldn't believe what she was saying. I honestly could not. “Oh, God, Serena!” I exclaimed as we took a few steps out on the patio. “I've seen the pictographs. I've seen you without your make-up. This was your painter movie, by the way. You're a dead ringer!”

Serena laughed. “You think I'm an Aztec princess. You are obsessed!”

“And I'm a defeated Aztec foe...Cumon! I'll tell you a short story about it. You'll like it. You're in it and you'll like the ending.” She looked at me warily but I dismissed it. “I'm going to take my shoes and socks off, pull up my pants legs, sit on the edge of the pool, and swirl my feet in the water. Join me.” I walked quickly to the edge of the pool and sat down on the patio concrete. In seconds I had my shoes and socks off, stuffed my socks inside the shoes, pulled up my pants legs and sat down on the edge of the pool to drop my feet in the water. Without saying a word, Serena flicked off her flip-flops, pulled up her pants legs and sat down beside me as she dipped her bare feet in the water.

“I don't know if I want to hear another story from you.” She slipped her arms around my right arm leaning on the pool's edge.

“I'm a storyteller, Serena,” I responded calmly, trying to take as little notice her arms were wrapped around mine. “It's what I do and I'm good at it and this one is good. You'll like it, it's not long.”

She looked away from me. “Okay.”

I looked out across the pool at nothing. “Our story begins with me, a poor, unfortunate foe of the Aztec tribe, who have waged war against us and captured many of us. I know I'm in for a sad ending. I never wanted to be a fighter and I wasn't very good at it. I'm a lover and I'm not certain I'm good at that either.” I stole a glance at her at the moment she did too. Her face was unsure but when I smiled she returned my smile sincerely. “The woman I wanted in our tribe, she kept putting me off. I've tried and tried and failed and failed, but none of it matters any more. I've been captured by the dreaded, bloodthirsty Aztec tribe and I know what that means. I stand with my tribal brothers, roped together, our hands tied behind our backs, led one by one to the sacrificial altar. I will certainly be killed.

“Little do I know, a tiny Princess sits looking out the hole in her room of the royal palace watching the grisly procession when she sees me at the very moment I reach the top of the temple, having been pulled up the steps as each one before me is sacrificed. I know my end is coming soon. I've been counting. I know I have minutes and no more. The Princess, though, runs out of her room, plunges headlong down the steps to the main floor of the palace, out the door, across the plaza, her elbows flapping because she runs like a girl but no one ever tells her that, up the temple steps, where she stumbles at times because her legs are short, but she reaches the top of the temple at the very moment the priests have secured me across the sacrificial altar, and the high priest has his sharp dagger poised to stab into my chest, rip it open and cut out my still beating heart, when the Princess screams, 'Stop!' All freeze, even the high priest. No one moves, not even me. The Princess commands, 'This one is mine.' No one argues. The high priest commands the others to release me, in a sense, for my hands are now bound behind my back as before, the rope is placed around my neck, and the other end of the rope is given to the Princess. She pulls me down the temple steps with her as I often stumble, and she merely yanks on the rope, but we make it to the plaza level, and as I meekly struggle behind the Princess, I think, This is either the best day of my life or it's the worst. I am pulled along into the bowels of the palace by the Princess who saved me from a painful death for her unknown and uncertain personal desires. The end.” I always liked this story and I always wanted to tell it to Serena Dominguez personally. I had fulfilled one dream.

When I turned to her, Serena was looking at me with a sense of wonder. I saw it. She was a little girl, but her voice was very adult and disappointed. “That's it? No explanation of what happens to the man, to the Princess? What kind of story is that?”

I smiled at the little girl holding my arm. “Not every story has to tie all the loose ends. Sometimes, a great story comes along which ends without explaining everything, makes the audience think and dream and believe. Some in the audience will believe the Princess is good, she treats this man well, takes him as her mate, they live happily ever after, and others in the audience will believe the Princess is evil, she treats him cruelly, sadistically, so his days having been saved from a painful death are instead unending torment, that every day he wishes he had been sacrificed on the top of the temple. It is, however, better than the other one.”

“What other one?” Her arms were tightening around my arm.

“That's the one where the Princess is already at the top of the temple when I'm laid across the altar and she screams, 'Stop!' She steps over to me, grabs a handful of my hair, lifts my head, kisses me with abandon, even shoving her tongue in my throat, stands up, drops my head from her hand, walks back to her post and commands, 'Continue.' Here comes the dagger.”

“I like the first one better.”

- Just Desserts, Segment FourDidn’t See That Coming” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com