FICTION: Heartfelt by James Stack

Ginny awoke with a grin it being a notable day. Her black-silk nightgown slipped further up her torso as she slid onto her left side. It had progressively risen with each change of position, having begun at her knees. Sliding such that it tickled her thighs and then buttock, it shimmied as if to amuse while encompassing her hips and waist. It finally sashayed about her ribs, giving the impression of being caressed.

While adjusting her nightdress, she permitted her lids to open to slits. Ginny noticed through a split in the curtains that it was lightly flurrying. The fragile powder had been falling since late the evening before, accumulating to roughly three inches with a drifting quantity having built up on the windowsills. She imagined it would give the perfect picture of a New England winter were the curtains parted.

Opening her eyes a fraction more, adapting her sight for distance, she could perceive through the curtain divide a few remaining stars inhabiting the welcoming breaks in the clouds over the meandering, snow-covered, ski trails on Stratton Mountain. Snuggling into a fetal position under the covers, she recalled the weatherman predicting an arctic cold of one degree Fahrenheit with a brutal wind-chill factor of minus sixteen due to the brisk, easterly airflow. As she took a deep breath, her eyelids gradually closed together, kissing her back to sleep.

Leisurely rolling his head to the right, Arnold peeked around the edge of the down comforter made enchanting by the Je t’aime, verbena-bloom duvet. His sight took in the bedside table and landed on the digital clock. It was displaying 6:59 AM. With apparent abandon, he tossed aside the two hundred thread Egyptian combed cotton sheets, the heirloom flannel quilt, and the comforter. He was oblivious as to whether or not he would have awoken Ginny.

He bounded out of bed into a chilly, sixty-five-degree room. Although he was wearing his baby blue, Sea Island, jim-jams that caressed his lithe physique like cashmere, Arnold’s still sleeping form was invigorated by the coolness. The hair on his arms and legs tingled while his body gradually revived, anticipating his pre-work exercises.

By the time he’d made it to his dressing room, Arnold was out of his pajamas. Their home assistant had laid out his workout clothes and running shoes before leaving the night before. He changed and began making his way to the room in the basement where his gym equipment anxiously awaited his habitual arrival. His only diversion was a quick stop in the kitchen to make a cup of java from their Keurig. The previous evening he had selected French roast.

As Arnold’s footsteps receded into the distance and gradually lessened the vibrations of her inner ear, Ginny was little-by-little starting to be endowed with enough energy to begin her protocol. Sticking her fingers, one-by-one, out from under the sheets as if she were a cartoon kitten, she admired her nails. Initially unable to decide whether the polish was still fresh enough or if a trip to Manchester later for a manicure was required, the weather helped her arrive at a decision. She wouldn’t make a trip over Bromley Mountain through the cold and new fallen snow – her nails could wait. Peeling back the covers, she exposed her elfin figure to the elements. Sliding her feet into cozy lambswool slippers, Ginny wrapped herself in her cottonista terry robe to ward off the chill while she made her way to her dressing room.

The mirror over her vanity table reflected back an image of contentment as Ginny ran a brush through her silvery-blond trusses. She was relieved once again knowing she wouldn’t need to make a trip into New York City to have her hair cut and dyed for at least another month, by which time it would be nearly spring. She’d been there after the holidays when she’d also shopped for spring clothes to add to her ever-expanding wardrobe.

After securing the final strands of hair under the plastic cap, she reached for the bar of lavender soap. The corners of her lips lifted when she drew in the fragrance. She had attempted to grow lavender – it was her gardener who had tried – to no avail. Other people had been successful growing it in Vermont, but her thumb was not green – nor was her gardener’s. The showerhead dispensed a lukewarm rainfall. She associated being exposed to hot water for any length of time with dehydration.

While patting herself dry, she felt invigorated due to it being a most exciting date – lovely for some. She briefly considered making it surprising for Arnold. However, that thought passed quicker than a snowflake melting on a warm, exposed cheek.

Making his way into his separate dressing and bathroom area, Arnold detected no sounds coming from Ginny’s bath. It being a Friday he was anxious to get in front of his computer to check the overnight financial news. This morning he knew that would have to wait. Ginny wanted to go to the market. He also knew she would want to get there as soon as it opened to avoid seeing anyone with whom they might need to make small talk, something at which neither excelled.

Checking his build in the mirror, one side of his mouth rose in admiration while he lowered his head slightly in what he considered a suggestive position. He may have stood merely five feet four inches in his bare feet, but his pecs and glutes were compact and tight – there were no signs of flab. The muscles on his arms and legs were well defined, and his abdomen displayed a “six-pack.” Arnold took an inordinate amount of pride, and time, in his physical conditioning.

Still, he needed to wash away the pungent odor from his workout. Stepping away from viewing his likeness and into the warm, enveloping water, he ran his hand over the top of his head to check for any stubble from his prior shave. He was satisfied that there wasn’t enough growth on the sides or back to warrant a trim. Now he could relish in his thirty-minute shower without interruption.

Tenderly touching her cheek with the tips of her right-hand fingers, Ginny scowled internally at the thought of her porcelain face and petite frame becoming parched from the dry heat of the winter. Reaching with her left hand to embrace her facial moisturizer, Ginny began the ritual of revitalizing her thirsty epidermis. While allowing the cream to be absorbed, she applied a refreshing lotion to her arms and legs.

Knowing that Arnold did not appreciate scents, to put it mildly, yet still enthusiastic that she might enjoy making this excursion quasi-exceptional, Ginny hesitated, and then quickly, before she could change her mind, dabbed a delicate drop of Chanel #5 on her left wrist. She rubbed her right against the left vigorously as if to erase the essence. Exhaling deeply while raising both hands to her nose, she sniffed the aroma radiating from her pulsating pelt. The aromatic scent penetrated her brain with satisfaction, causing her eyelids to flutter before gradually melting closed. Sensually smiling she was confident that such a minute amount would go undetected by Arnold, especially if she didn’t apply any to her neck.

There were sacrifices she had to make for her husband, but there weren’t that many. She even enjoyed some of them, especially those of an intimate nature. Still, she would never let Arnold know – at least not verbally. She knew he might have discovered her delights in other ways.

Roughly half an hour under the caressing water was one of Arnold’s favorite interludes. Of course, there was also his weightlifting and professional periods. Nonetheless, Arnold excluded luxuriating in bath oils and scents. It was the massaging he received from the vivacious showerhead that caused his shoulders to droop forward ever so slightly while lowering his head, sanctioning the current to begin kneading his stiff neck. He would never permit another person, other than his wife, to touch him while naked. The sensation of the titillating surge was different. He found it to be a welcome relief.

Any other soaking he would have begun by soaping himself thoroughly, spending a great deal of time, and attention, on his mid-section, relieving residual stress. However, it being Friday he was reminded of his weekly, scheduled rendezvous with his wife the following morning. As it was, this immersion would be somewhat less comforting.

After enjoying her one rebellion, Ginny began applying her makeup. She would never admit to the degree of pleasure she took in the act, for she rarely deviated from either the process or application selections. The makeup artist who designed her mien had initially prescribed every delicate touch made to her face. She was not one of those women who wore a heavy mask. Her fair complexion allowed for only a light base foundation. She followed this with a subtle blush and powder. After which she applied a practically nude, beige eyeliner and shadow. Next came the application of a faint, fawn mascara. Ginny always ended with a pale pink, matte lipstick. Voilà! She was a ravishing beauty at five feet even.

Looking at herself in the mirror longer than was characteristic, she acknowledged that she was still lovely. Age had put its stamp around her eyes, yet in a sedate and sophisticated manner with weak wisps of wrinkles she successfully obscured from view. Otherwise, the epidermis she inherited from her mother was still, even in her sixties, as youthful as when she was in her twenties. There was no talk nor thought of having any work – there was no need.

It was then she noticed her nipples were firm – her dressing gown was hanging on the hook behind the door – and she was feeling vaguely moist. Except Friday was not when the appointed rendezvous took place, so she rose and began considering what to wear. Dressing her doll-sized structure was another act she thoroughly enjoyed.

If he could, Arnold would have stayed under the water before having to get back in bed for the night, even though he knew that thirty minutes was the maximum his wife tolerated. She had informed him he would turn into a prune if he were wet any longer. He knew she didn’t fancy herself married to a shriveled grape – she much preferred to drink the juice from the vine.

Once the water was turned off, Arnold could hear Ginny puttering around. He wasn’t sure if she was in their bedroom or her dressing room. It was unusual for her to be still selecting her wardrobe by the time he was out from under the cascade. However, it was still early for one of their semi-special outings she appeared to enjoy immensely. Therefore it made sense to him that she was taking her time.

A tingling sensation from visualizing his wife stepping out of her bath caused his shaft to stir. Arnold was tempted to enter the bedroom at half-mast. Given that it was Friday, he let the feeling subside while he finished toweling dry.

Standing in her dressing area, Ginny scanned her three-sided closet with laser-focused attention. Their home assistant organized the racks and shelves and arranged them by type of clothing, color, pattern or solid, material, and texture. Their home assistant cleaned most garments within twenty-four to forty-eight hours of wearing to provide Ginny with the ability to always choose from nearly everything she owned. If for some reason she didn’t find what she wanted, there were two other storerooms full of clothes from which to choose.

Once every three months, she traveled to New York City to visit with her Personal Shoppers at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. They knew her sizes and preferences, such that Ginny would be seated in a comfortable lounge chair in a private room while clothes, shoes, jewelry, etc., were modeled in front of her. She would choose which she desired. They were then altered to her size and prepared for shipment back to Vermont. In this manner she didn’t have to carry anything; her home assistant was actually the one saved from being weighed down. While Ginny might be choosy, she chose an abundance – a large number of which would find their way back to the stores for one reason or another.

In-between her visits to the city, her Personal Shoppers would also send her fashions they thought she might enjoy, most of which she returned in the pre-packaged shipping materials the Personal Shoppers were accustomed to including. Everything they did was for Ginny’s enjoyment and her home assistant’s ease.

Even with such an extensive wardrobe, it was her shoe collection she prized. Had Ginny been a centipede she still wouldn’t have been able to wear anywhere near the number of pairs of shoes she owned. She knew she couldn’t hold a heel to Imelda Marcos. Still, she appreciated the fact that she out-arched Carrie Bradshaw.

Directly outside of Arnold’s bathroom, his closet and dressing area were also highly organized, with the contents being from his favorite stores: Orvis, Patagonia, Eddie Bauer, and, for more formal wear, Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers. While he relished knowing he looked sharp in his attire, he was less fastidious than his wife. Of course, he knew that she might comment positively or negatively on what their home assistant chose for him to wear. Still, he was his own man, and he knew she respected that.

When he was flying in his Pipistrel Panthera four-seater aircraft, he didn’t want his clothes constricting his movements or interfering with his concentration by chaffing or fitting too tightly. He wanted the comfort he received from his more casual apparel while soaring through the sky. However, he was okay with Ginny wearing one of her designer outfits with a pair of Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik shoes when she flew with him, as long as she was content.

Her very happiness was uppermost in his mind. He observed other couples who had been together as long as he and Ginny. Most of the participants in those duos seemed to be mainly concerned about their well-being and not their spouse’s. Perhaps it was a generational thing. Regardless, Arnold reasoned he dressed primarily for his comfort with an eye to pleasing his wife.

Red gave the day purpose as far as Ginny was concerned. Nonetheless, most of her clothes were either black or a neutral shade. She had only one heart-dyed outfit. However, she didn’t deem it appropriate since it was an Oscar de la Renta couture evening gown she wasn’t sure she’d ever wear again. She knew this particular day would require red shoes. She decided to pick out her shoes first. The designer outfit to go with them would, of necessity, have to follow.

After visiting the room next to her dressing area that housed her vast collection, Ginny reflected on the distinction of the date. Had she counted, she would have discovered thirty-seven pairs of red shoes in various shades she would have deemed acceptable for the outing. In the end, the choice revolved around one of two different pairs. She adored the Gucci, exposed toe, patent-leather shoes, which she found suggestive and fitting. However, there was also the Christian Louboutin deep scarlet, three-inch heels providing stature – the richness of this tincture and the height made her distinctive. Before deciding she took both pairs into her dressing area so she could visualize herself wearing them in the full-length mirror.

In the final analysis, it had to be the Louboutin’s since a buttery polish painted on her toenails would show through the Gucci open toe shoes. She didn’t consider yellow to be an appropriate color to exhibit on such an occasion as today. The thought of putting the creamy tone with the fire engine, Gucci heels disagreed with her. If only she’d sanctioned a French-style toenail polish to be applied when she had her last pedicure, she could have worn the Gucci’s. Considering the weather, Ginny knew she would need to change into her black, rubber boots because of the snow; but it was these shoes she would wear while at home and inside the store.

The thought crossed her mind that she might change her lipstick to a vibrant cherry. When her left eyebrow arched, she acknowledged that she didn’t own that particular hue among her collection since it would make her look cheap. No, she would make only her shoes reflect a suggestion of the day.

As for her clothes, she knew as soon as her eyes embraced the sizzling style that she would wear her vintage Chanel, black & ivory, zig-zag stitch, wool skirt suit. Envisioning herself in that outfit with her red shoes, Ginny smiled and closed her eyes once again while she brought her thin wrist up to her petite nose and inhaled deeply.

Acknowledging it was past 8:00 AM, Arnold admitted he had to stop admiring his toned frame and get ready to greet the day. Their outing was one of several annual rituals. He knew Ginny would be anticipating the excursion with enthusiasm while patiently waiting for him to finish getting dressed.

Since Arnold was color blind, their home assistant had laid out his clothes before leaving the previous evening. She had chosen a yellow turtleneck, over which Arnold would wear a dark blue, v-neck, cashmere sweater. She had forgotten the importance of the day to Ginny.

His slacks, as usual, would be black. He had a choice between ones with a cuff and no cuff. Given the line of the sweater’s neck, he opted for no cuff. Besides, he would need to wear his snow boots outdoors, and cuffs would bulk inside the area above his ankle.

Even though their cars were in an attached garage, to get inside the store at the shopping center, they would need to walk in the snow. At this early hour, Arnold was positive the parking lot wasn’t plowed. His favorite pair to wear during inclement weather was snowsquall, mid-winter boots he’d gotten at EMS in Manchester. He kept them in the mudroom. Until they left his feet would enjoy the cuddling sensation from his Nappa, full slippers while puttering around the house.

Noticing the bottle of Polo someone gave him years before, he considered putting a drop on his neck for Ginny’s benefit but recoiled at the thought of a man wearing, what he called, perfume. Remembering what they were to do shortly, he thought again about applying a meager amount. Looking at his reflection, he once more frowned and retreated as if repulsed. He did want to please her. Still, they long ago agreed that this was not going to be one of the ways. He moved as if to toss the bottle in the trash. Giving it a second thought, he put the cologne back on the shelf, an act he had performed multiple times before.

Waiting for Arnold in the kitchen, Ginny fidgeted with the rings on her fingers. Her right thumb was twisting an heirloom from her great-grandmother, a proud woman who was married to one of the Presidents of the United States during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The ring was in its original setting. It fit her finger like a glove. Her left thumb worked the other rings, her engagement and wedding bands she only removed to clean them. Around her neck hung an understated gold chain with four individual diamonds, each osculating her chest. They represented the first forty years of their marriage. She adored the symmetry of the stones. Still, she was looking forward to adding another when their fiftieth anniversary year cycled around.

Ginny had thought of wearing her platinum necklace with the letters G-O-L-D since it was the marriage of her and Arnold’s names. It gave Ginny great pleasure when she discovered that if she used her first initial, “G,” and added it to the last three letters of his name, “old,” that it made the word “Gold.” She used it as her moniker when signing her name to certain correspondence. It would give her pause when she arrived at the end of a message as to whether to apply her real name or the composite. If they were friends, she signed the dispatch “Gold,” as if it were coming from both of them.

Seeing Arnold walking towards her, she smiled with eyes that embraced him. Since he had no idea how he looked other than in black, white and grays, she told him he looked handsome. They rarely exchanged such intimate words while out of bed, yet she deemed it suitable for this holiday. She didn’t comment on it, but she would have preferred if he had worn something red. Then again, she knew it wasn’t his decision.

He thanked her and, although she appeared to him to be in all black except for some white trim to her suite, he repeated the compliment.

“Shall we go?” she asked.

“Yes, unless you’d like a cup of coffee.”

They wouldn’t be breaking their fast at this early hour since it was their habit of only eating one meal, at dinnertime.

“I’m fine; but do finish yours.”

“It’s gotten cold.”

Before saying anything further, she patiently waited while he rinsed his cup in the washbasin and put it in the dishwasher. He then used a paper towel to dry the sink, placing the used rag in the trash.

“Ready when you are,” he said. Taking in Ginny’s high heels, he added, “We’ll need to wear our boots.”

“Only outside. I’ll wear these while we’re indoors.” Knowing that he wouldn’t know their pigment, she added, “They’re red.”

“How fitting.”

Their garage was spotless. Not even the most recent tire tracks were visible although it was winter and their driveway was snow-covered pavement. The scent in the garage was fresh – an unsullied odor as if it were perpetually springtime as opposed to a disinfectant smell. Two, shiny BMWs: a 2016 X-5 SUV and a 2000 750Li sedan, were parked in the garage, appearing to be lounging in the comfort of a sitting room. When they entered the garage, Arnold moved towards the SUV. When he arrived at the driver’s door he noticed that Ginny wasn’t on the other side.

“We should take the SUV,” he called to her.

“The sedan is much more comfortable, and, if you give it some thought, more appropriate to what we’re doing.”

“But it’s snowing outside.”

“Blue skies are approaching. I don’t imagine the snow will last. Besides, it wasn’t that much, was it?”

“We had a couple of inches. I’d rather play it safe. We’ll most likely need the four-wheel drive.”

“Whatever you think best.”

Arnold always drove when their excursions were together unless it was the conclusion of an evening and her turn to be the designated driver for the trip home. They tended to view the SUV as his car and the sedan as hers.

It would take them not quite five minutes to drive to the shopping center in Londonderry. Before they arrived at their destination, Ginny privately congratulated herself for not having been found out about the perfume she’d applied less than an hour earlier. If Arnold hadn’t sensed it, she assumed he never would. The minute, clandestine application gave her immense gratification. She took no liking in having hidden something from her husband, yet she derived pleasure from being able to wear her Chanel #5 on this happy affair without having offended him. Still, she considered, he might merely be being kind because of the significance of the day.

Had anyone seen them with their beaming faces as the cruised into the shopping center parking lot, they would have been considered the happiest couple in Vermont. There was an additional reason for jovial countenance. The sun had freshly risen. It’s rays, at a truncated slant, highlighted the new, clean snow’s effervescence while the sun, passing in and out of a few puffy clouds, floated above. This intermittent hiding of the sunlight served to dull the vivacity from moment to moment, causing the rewarding sparkle to enchant each time the sunshine exploded to life.

The biting cold struck them when they opened the car doors. The wind was whipping as if to tear through their heavy coats, sending shivers coursing through them. As expected, no one had plowed the parking lot. This fact made them both content to have worn their winter boots. Ginny carried her distinctive red shoes along with a black, Chanel purse.

Without any warning, even at this early hour, their sense of smell was flagrantly insulted by a whiff of the grease from the restaurant that was in the middle of the shopping center. It had, until recently, been one of their favorite places. They had eaten there every Thursday night during the last couple of years. However, after the chef called Ginny a “rich bitch,” they had not been back. Their smiles flew from their faces as if being chased by falcons as they remembered the incident.

Without a second thought concerning the eatery, they proceeded to the market. Once inside, Ginny changed out of her rubber boots and slipped into her festive shoes. Bypassing the shopping carts since there were no plans to make a purchase, which their home assistant managed for them, they proceeded directly to the greeting cards aisle. They didn’t recognize anyone in the store, nor did anyone acknowledge them.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, they began reviewing the missives. They each withdrew a separate epistle, silently reading it, occasionally chuckling, replacing them and preceding to the next in their section. They repeated this exercise, now and then retaining one until they found another they favored more.

After they exhausted the sleeves under the topic, or else once they decided they were tired of the exercise, they would discontinue their search and patiently wait until the other finished their review. Arnold was the first to stop. Shortly, Ginny noticed that he was no longer reading the notes. While it was vital to her to select the best card for Arnold, she didn’t want to keep him waiting. Reluctantly, she decided the offering in her hand would have to do.

“I’m not sure it’s the best one, but let’s proceed with the understanding that it’s the most appropriate given the limited choices.” Ginny handed hers to Arnold.

“I happen to like the one I’ve chosen. I believe you will too,” Arnold said, trying to lighten the situation since the selection was, indeed, narrow. He added, “It would give me great pleasure if you read yours first.”

“Oh, goody! I’d like that too.”

Arnold handed her his card. Ginny read the words on the front to herself. She did this since she didn’t want to share the moment should anyone come upon them. Opening to silently read the words on the inside, her eyes brightened. “Oh, I do like this one. Yours has such lovely sentimentality.”

Arnold then looked at the one she had handed him. He read the front in silence. Opening it, he examined the inside message. A chuckle rose from his throat, and his eyes widened.

“Nice.”

“I told you it wasn’t the best.”

“It’s amusing, thank you.”

“You always know the right things to say,” Ginny said, batting her eyelashes while demurely lowering her head.

Arnold subtly brushed the outside of Ginny’s ear and whispered, “Why don’t we go home and pretend its Saturday.”

“If we wait, it’ll make tomorrow that much more enjoyable,” Ginny tried to explain without offending. From the warmth of his breath against the curves of her ear, she felt tremors playing up and down her spine as if it were a piano keyboard.

After putting the cards back in their corresponding slots, for they never purchased these tokens, they made their way towards the exit. This celebration’s annual ritual was over. It was time to return home.

Passing the manager’s station, the young woman sitting behind the counter called out after noticing Ginny’s red shoes, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Arnold and Ginny’s smiles ballooned as they thanked her. At the exit, Ginny removed her red shoes. There was the beginning of a blister on the mound of her left foot’s inner big toe. Gently sliding into her snow boots and out into the morning’s glistening sunshine, she took Arnold’s hand. Using her fingers, she tightly interlaced them around his as if forming a bow, wrapping their lives together.

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James Stack

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James Stack is a recipient of the Freedom of Expression of Courage Award from PEN America. He has self-published a memoir, World’s Fair, and collection of poetry, Pleasures & Seasons of Vermont. His short stories have appeared in Ghost Stories (Zimbell House Publishing), Maine Review, Five2One Magazine, Ruminate Magazine, and FishFood Magazine, and been semifinalists in the New Millennium Writings and Cutthroat contests.
If you enjoyed ‘Heartfelt’ leave a comment and let James know.
You can find and follow James at:

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Author photo by Robert Schwartz

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