Dark Desire ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Prinny Eames was twenty-three years old and lonely. She lived with her mother and father and her twenty-year-old brother, Ellis, in the country a couple of miles from town on a small farm. All her old friends from school had abandoned her and she hadn’t made any new ones.
To compound her loneliness, she was what might be called plain. She wore her hair in a severe style pulled to the back of her head in a knot that resembled a turd, causing her ears to stick out in an unflattering manner. Her nose, as her brother Ellis was fond of telling her when they were children, was shaped exactly like one of the knobs on the dresser drawer. Her hands and feet were too large for her body and she was prone to fall down. The one thing, though, that people were sure to notice and remember about her was her lazy eye.
Ever since she was a child, her eyes refused to work in concert with each other. If she was looking at a tree, for example, her right eye would look at the tree while her left eye would appear to look up, down, to the side—anyplace other than the tree. It was as if that one eye had a mind of its own.
The one time a doctor had taken a look at the eye, he said it could only be corrected with an expensive operation that would not be worth the risk involved. The eye might correct itself one day, he said, and, even if it didn’t, it would still continue to serve its purpose for as long as Prinny lived.
In spite of her obvious limitations, she hadn’t refused to give up on the idea that she might one day marry and have a home of her own. There was one man in particular she was interested in.
Rex Galvin lived in the best part of town in a big house he had inherited from his grandfather. With his thick, dark hair—about which he was very particular—and his chiseled profile, he was thrillingly handsome, but, for some inexplicable reason, he had never married. Until recently his mother had lived with him and had taken care of the housekeeping, but, after she was carried away by the influenza, he was left all alone in the big house. By rights he should, so the thinking went, be scouting around for someone to marry.
Did Prinny believe she had a chance with Rex Galvin? She somehow believed—or had persuaded herself to believe—that he had no experience with women and, since he would have no basis for comparison, would find her as acceptable as any other person of her gender.
Prinny had never been formally introduced to Rex, but she knew that her brother Ellis and Rex were chums of a sort. She thought that she might at least persuade Ellis to introduce her to Rex. She broached the subject when she and Ellis were alone in the truck, coming back from buying groceries in town.
“How well do you know Rex Galvin?” she asked.
“I know him well enough,” came the gruff reply.
“What’s he like?”
“He’s all right, I guess. Why?”
“Do you think we might invite him to go on a picnic or something?”
“Who might invite him?”
“You and me.”
He laughed. “Why in hell would we do that?”
“I don’t know. I just thought it might be fun.”
“It sounds like the most harebrained scheme I ever heard of.”
“Well, all right, you don’t need to get nasty about it.”
“Do you mean just the three of us—you, me and Rex—going on a picnic together?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
“Hah-hah-hah! That’s a hot one! Wait until I tell Rex you said that! He’ll laugh his head off!”
“Please don’t tell him that!”
“Don’t go getting any ideas into your head about you and a guy like Rex hooking up with each other, you understand? I know Rex and I know he would never be interested in getting to know an old thing like you! Just look at yourself. Why, that eye alone would scare off any sane person. You need to set your sites on Eddie the Gimp who shovels manure for a living. Hah-hah-hah!”
“All right! I think you’ve said enough.”
She could see her own reflection in the side mirror on the truck and to her own eyes she had never looked any uglier. When they pulled into the home place, she was fighting back tears.
A few days later it came about that Rex had bought a parcel of land from Prinny’s father. To celebrate the completion of the deal and to talk over some details, he invited Rex to come and dine with them on Friday evening. When Prinny heard the news, she gave Ellis a pleased smile but he was getting ready to go out and didn’t notice.
“I wonder what we could have for dinner?” Prinny’s mother said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Prinny’s father said.
“It matters to me. I think I’ll roast a turkey.”
“I can make a lemon meringue pie,” Prinny said, unable to keep from smiling.
At last she was going to meet the man of her dreams.
On Friday evening she was more nervous than usual but tried not to let it show. She took a bath and tried to make herself look better than she ordinarily would on a Friday. She put on some lipstick and a little eye makeup. She took her hair loose from the knot at the back of her head and let it hang down naturally. This at least kept her ears from being so prominent. She expected her mother or her father, or at least Ellis, to notice and comment on the change in her appearance, but they didn’t even look at her.
When Rex Galvin arrived at the designated hour, he was full of easy charm. He didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable at being in a strange house with people he didn’t know. He sat and talked with Ellis, sipping at a glass of wine, until dinner was on the table.
Dinner conversation was kept to trivial matters, as befitting people who don’t know each other very well but want to be polite.
“This is certainly a wonderful meal,” Rex said. “I forgot what home cooking tasted like.”
“We don’t get many guests,” Prinny’s mother said. “It’s a treat to fix a special dinner for company.”
“I hope you didn’t go to a lot of trouble.”
“No, I was just glad to do it and Prinny helped me.”
He smiled at Prinny and nodded his head. She knew he had noticed her lazy eye and she felt terrible that she had such an affliction, while he was, as far as she could see, very nearly perfect.
“You’ve got a beautiful place,” Rex said. “It’s always so peaceful out here.”
“Yeah, like a cemetery,” Ellis said.
“I’d like to live in town,” Prinny said. Everybody looked at her and she swallowed hard, thinking she had said something stupid.
“Why is that?” Rex asked, looking closely at her.
“It’s lonely out here. The nearest neighbor is a mile up the road. There’s nobody to talk to.”
“Well, I have neighbors and I don’t talk to them,” Rex said. “That’s the way it is when you live in town.”
“People always want what they don’t have and can’t get,” Prinny’s father said and belched quietly.
“We lived in town when we were first married,” Prinny’s mother said, “and then we bought this place out here.”
“I think you made the right decision,” Rex said.
Rex ate prodigiously and when it came time for dessert, he said the lemon meringue pie was the best he had ever eaten. Prinny felt greatly encouraged and not quite so ugly.
When the meal was finished, Rex and Prinny’s father talked business, while Ellis sat and smoked a cigarette and looked up at the ceiling. Prinny and her mother cleared the table and went into the kitchen to wash the dishes.
Prinny’s father had to leave to go to a meeting in town of the landowners’ association, so Rex and Ellis went outside. Ellis wanted to show Rex the old barn and grain silo, he said. He made a joke about Rex seeing how charming the old place was and wanting to buy it.
While Prinny was drying the dishes and her mother washing, the phone rang. It was one of Ellis’s shadowy business associates, insisting that he speak to Ellis. On the man’s insistence, Prinny agreed to go outside and find Ellis and bring him back to the phone.
She crossed the back yard to the fence, turned the corner at the fence to the little dirt road that led to the barn about a quarter mile from the house. There, framed in the doorway of the barn, were Rex and Ellis. But something was not quite right. They were standing with their arms around each other and were passionately kissing. She wasn’t sure if she was seeing what she was seeing. Her legs stopped moving so suddenly that she almost fell forward.
She turned around and ran back into the yard, toward the house, when she struck her head on a limb of the sycamore tree. She had been ducking the same limb her entire life and had never hit her head on it before. She hit it so hard right above her lazy eye that she was knocked out cold.
When she didn’t return in a reasonable amount of time, her mother went outside to see what could be the matter. She found Prinny lying on the ground unconscious, underneath the tree, looking for all the world as if she were dead. Already she had a large egg-like knot on her forehead.
Rex and Ellis returned from the barn—or wherever it was they had been—and when they saw what had happened to Prinny, they got her into Rex’s car and took her to town to the hospital. Prinny’s mother held her hand in the back seat all the way there and prayed out loud that she wouldn’t die.
While the doctor was examining her—the same old doctor she had had since she was born—he laughed.
“What happened to you?” he asked.
“I ran into a tree,” she said. “It was an accident.”
“What were you running from? Did you see something that scared you? A ghost?”
“No, nothing like that.”
He bent toward her and looked into both her eyes with a little red light.
“What does it mean,” she asked him, “when two grown men have their arms around each other and are kissing each other on the lips as if they like it?”
The doctor had been practicing medicine for fifty years and was accustomed to being asked all manner of questions. “It means that something in nature has been subverted and replaced by a, uh, dark desire.”
“Does this happen often?” she asked.
“Often enough,” he said.
“I should have known.”
“Well,” the doctor said, “putting all other concerns aside for the moment, I have some good news for you.” He handed her a small round mirror. “Look at yourself and tell me what you see.”
She sighed and looked at her face in the mirror, believing he was going to make a joke about how ugly she was and how terrible the welt looked on her forehead. “I don’t see anything,” she said.
When she looked past the obvious imperfections of her face, past the wound on her head, she realized that something was different. For the first time in her life, she had two perfectly normal eyes. The lazy eye was gone.
“How?” she asked.
“Sometimes all it takes is a good whack on the head.”
The next week Ellis announced casually at the dinner table that he was going to be moving into town.
“Do you have a place to stay?” his mother asked, greatly concerned that he might be too young to go out into the world on his own.
“Oh,” he said in his offhand manner, “I’m going to rent a room from Rex Galvin. He has that big house to kick around in and he needs some company.”
“Well, don’t forget you have a family here.”
“I won’t, mother,” he said.
Prinny looked across the table at him to see if she could read anything in his gray eyes, but he was looking down at his plate and keeping it hidden away inside himself, along with all his other secrets.
Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp