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Emma Lapel: An Extract from Lake of Urine by Guillermo Stitch

By Guillermo Stitch.

Guillermo Stitch, Lake of Urine (Sagging Meniscus, 2020)

Marrying Silky Lapel—my third husband—was, with the benefit of hindsight and the best will in the world, not a very good idea.

“Table manners!”

His first words to me. We were both guests at a luncheon at the Anthony’s. The village had a new milliner, a Mr Bouchier who hailed from Ampleton and was sprucing up local heads with his urban chic creations; Thomas Anthony and his wife Barbara had wasted no time in arranging the get-together, which to all intents and purposes would be an interrogation. The Antennae, was the clandestine nomenclature, such was the fishmongering couple’s sensitivity to environmental change of any kind. Mr Lapel, a solicitor by profession, had only moved to the county a week or so before the hatter and was also to be scrutinized.

I was at a loss as to what I had done to offend. Mr Lawter, owner of the general store, wouldn’t lift his eyes from his plate. Neither would Mrs Sutton. Ms Tradshame was looking intently at me as if in an effort to determine exactly what it was she ought to disapprove of.

“No, no,” said Mr Lapel. “Not at all, Mrs Harsykes. Not at all.”

He took the bowl of buttered corn that Mescaline Stroop held out to him and helped himself to seventeen kernels, one at a time.

“No. I meant generally,” he said, passing it on and accepting a sliver of boiled bacon from the lady of the house. “So important, don’t you think?”

There were nods of accord, not only from myself but from the company in general.

“I have undertaken to make an authority of myself on the subject and will be pleased to share my findings here, for the overall improvement of village life.”

Barbara Anthony’s face was the same color as the beetroot Mr Lawter was shoveling onto his side plate.

“Oh, Mr Lapel, I do hope you don’t find us coarse! You must take us to task instantly if you find any of our country ways at all denigrating,” she said, trying very hard not to look at the shopkeeper who, having amassed a quantity of beetroot, was putting some bacon in his pocket.

“I wasn’t alluding to any deficiency in the manners on display around this table, Mrs Anthony,” said Mr Lapel, casting his eyes slowly and deliberately over each guest and their cutlery. “To do so would be impolite.”

He was polishing his knife.

“However, it just so happens that I am currently putting together a pamphlet for the ignorant which I intend to distribute locally and the contents of which I would be delighted to outline here. As long,” and here he bowed in acknowledgment of his hostess (Mr Anthony was busy fashioning a kind of sandwich from two slices of steamed turnip and a smear of parsley sauce), “as nobody objects.”

Nobody did.

“Very well. There are a number of requirements pertaining to arrival and reception, of course, but my expertise is limited to that which takes place once guests are seated, so I shall begin there.”

He put his knife back in its place and straightened it.

“Before a meal commences, a firm resolve to enjoy it should be unanimously expressed. Men’s hats must never be worn at the table. Ladies’ hats may be worn as long as it is daytime and the wearer is visiting. The occupant of the hat should, of course, be a lady. Pocket-sized telephones and other distractors must be put away. Reading is permitted at breakfast only.”

He picked his knife up again and took to his bacon with it. The others waited for him to continue, none of them mustering the nerve to lift a finger. Mr Bouchier, in so far as such a thing was possible with a bonnet-style turban of blue and green taffeta, wide-rimmed in shirred silk and gathered velvet and adorned with any number of tiny bells, quietly removed his hat.

“The meal commences when a dish is served to the angriest person present. The dish—normally a small oval saucer of wilted greens—is then passed to the tallest person, followed by the most frequently jilted, the freckliest, the rudest and so on. The most sarcastic dinner guest should be the last served and should make a remark. Ideally, there would then follow a devotional sing-along.”

At this point I fancied that Mr Lapel was looking rather fixedly at me.

“Neither food nor fellow diners should ever be touched with the palm of the hand. Candlesticks should be put away during daylight hours. Reaching is unacceptable. Spitting is—”

He broke off, eyes still on me. I glanced to either side but nobody would look back at me, so I put my cutlery down. Mr Lapel had done the same.

“You are from South Korea, perhaps, Mrs Harsykes?”

I told him that I most certainly was not and inquired as to what had put the idea in his head.

“In the Kyongsanbuk-do province in the south east of that country, I am told, it is considered perfectly benign to hold one’s fork with the tines pointed at a fellow diner. Even,” he said, resuming the slicing of his meat, “in what passes for polite society there.”

Well. You can imagine. I was utterly besotted. Having emerged childless from two disastrous marriages, here, finally was a man to whom I might entrust the education of my offspring. As soon as was physically possible— about twenty minutes after pudding was served, around the corner from the Anthony cottage and behind the village well—I masturbated him. We were married within the month.

Having brought the gentleman and his encyclopedic grasp of seemliness back to live in the house, I very much looked forward to his impregnating me and was expecting that etiquette would continue to be a preoccupation for him in the matrimonial home. Finding this not to be the case, and that he had quite different interests, was the first of three disappointments which were to doom our union.

One evening very soon after the wedding, we were preparing to excuse ourselves from the dining table. Little Bridget had cleared everything away; she was so tiny then that it had taken her quite a while. Father never would join us for dinner and displayed an aversion to Silky—I suppose I ought to have paid more attention to that. As we stood, my husband addressed me.

“Tell me, Mrs Lapel, do you like knickers?” I’ll admit to a moment’s hesitation before replying. “I couldn’t claim to have given the matter any thought,” I said. “They serve a purpose. I like them better than I’d like their absence, I dare say.”

He smiled that serious smile of his. “I like them. I like them very much.”

“Do you?”

Placing his hands on the table, knuckles down, he leaned towards me a little.

“Would you like to see my knickers?”

I was minded to decline, but he had already turned and gone to the sideboard, from which he retrieved a black leather portfolio. He came back to the table, opening it in my direction and revealing the contents—a sizable collection of ladies’ underwear. Many different kinds, displayed side by side and pinned to the case as bugs might be to a board behind glass in a natural history exhibit.

“Since you are a lady,” he said, “you may choose.”

I looked from the portfolio to my husband. “I’m not sure I have an opinion, Mr Lapel.” But he insisted and so I indicated a pair which, if I’m honest, had rather caught my eye with their zebra stripes and fine lace trimmings.

“Very good. An excellent choice,” he said. “Please wait for me in the parlor.”

Presuming his little game to have come to an end and in the habit of going to the parlor after dinner on most evenings, I had my knitwork to hand and went there. About ten minutes later, Mr Lapel joined me, silently entering the room and going to the arm of the sofa opposite my seat, over which he bent to rest his face on the upholstery. He wore nothing but the knickers I had selected.

“Tell me, wife,” he said, his voice a little muffled, “can you see my testicles when I do this?”

I looked up from my latest project—a dishcloth for Bridget—and responded.

“Yes, I’m afraid I can.”

“Good,” he said. “I want you to see them. I want you to look right at them.”

He remained in that posture for the rest of the evening, silent save for a kind of baby noise he made by chewing on a cushion, and that every once in a while he would ask me if I was still staring at his testicles. I would assure him that I was, although in truth I was concentrating on my zigzag stockinette.

The knicker scenario was to become a daily one.

“Can you see the tip?” he asked me the following evening, bent over the sofa and sporting the plain pair of white panties I had chosen for him. I looked.

“Yes, I can. It has popped out of the cotton, there at the side.” I very strongly suspected that he had popped it out himself.

“Good. I’m glad. I’m glad you can see the tip,” he said and soon afterwards fell asleep.

One day, on Mr Lapel’s return from the small office above the general store which he rented from Mr Lawter, he was not alone.

“Wife,” he said to me in a decidedly formal tone, stepping aside and raising his hand to indicate his companion on the veranda, “this is Betsy.”

Betsy was the second disappointment. Dressed in a billowing summer dress in a tropical print and a simple straw sun hat with a red ribbon round the rim, he was a tall, hirsute gentleman and quite astonishingly overweight. I couldn’t tell you much about his face, concealed as it was behind an unkempt beard, and he said nothing, instead offering me the back of a hairy and meticulously manicured hand.

“Betsy and I are members of a club.”

Without further explanation, the enormous man moved in and I soon enough grew accustomed to their sitting together on the chaise in the hallway with their portfolios, fondling one another’s knickers and gasping with delight. In the evenings, Mr Lapel continued to exhibit himself and Betsy, though he never said a word, appeared to enjoy my husband’s performances, giggling and applauding throughout. One small advantage, I suppose, of having him there was that I could get on with my knitting.

As that strange summer began to cool, Bridget came to me in the kitchen one morning before breakfast to tell me she wasn’t sure if all was well with Mr Lapel. Once she’d rinsed her hands—the onions on the back patch were ready and she’d been out there for a few mornings digging them up—she took mine and led me into the hallway. There they were, side by side on the chaise and slumped over each other, Betsy’s narcotical paraphernalia in his lap.

Very, very disappointing.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Guillermo Stitch is the author of the award-winning novella, Literature™, and the forthcoming Lake of Urine (Sagging Meniscus, 2020). He lives in Spain.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, June 11th, 2020.