From the author: Lunch is never long enough.
"Does she look like the Antichrist to you?"
"Jesus Christ, what now?" They sat together on a bench by the second-floor fountain at North Shoals Mall. It was the third time Belinda had interrupted Martin's search through his ratty old briefcase, making him look up to consider an alleged point of interest.
"Antichrist, her, over there." She nodded toward a tall woman in a yellow fleece jumpsuit, who stood contemplating the contents of the window at Lacy & Racy.
"I'll bet you anything she's about to strut in there and buy something crotchless." Belinda's eyes narrowed, her little mouth set in a hard line. Martin turned from her to look again at the woman in yellow.
"Hey, isn't that Will's ex-wife?"
Belinda slapped him on the back of his head. "Hello? I said Antichrist!"
"Why do you hit me?"
"My ears are ringing. We get one lousy hour for lunch, and you always spend part of it injuring me."
"Takes away from my quiet time."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, don't be such a pussy."
"You know we really only have half an hour, right? We're supposed to be back at the office right now."
"And yet, here we are." He'd been staring at the woman in question. "She's kind of hot. Are you sure that's her?"
"Stop looking at her!"
"I'm not your goddamn monkey grinder! Organ grinder monkey. You're as bad as the bossman, with his bullshit clocks. Hey, isn't she supposed to have some kind of mark on her body, like on her breast? Or is it the mark of the Beast?"
"It's witches that have a mark." Belinda poked a finger toward the woman. "Crotchless!"
"Amen to that, I guess. Y'ever wonder about that phrase 'colder than a witch's tit'? I oughta go see if that's true."
"No, don't talk to her, don't let her see me, she'll want to be friendly!"
"Friendly? Why is that bad?"
"I don't need friends like her!"
"Wow. Bitch really is the Antichrist, then. All friendly and crotchless, with her cold witch tits pokin' out like that."
Belinda turned to him with a face like a storm front. He ignored the threat and continued. "I doubt she'll even notice you in this crowd. Hell, she looks oblivious."
"You're such a smartass."
"My dad used to say, 'Everybody likes a little smarts, and everybody likes a little ass, but nobody--'"
"--Of course she's oblivious, other people don't even exist for her."
Martin nodded vigorously. "It's her world, we're just living in it."
"Why do you say that?"
"I'm going along with you, that's all. Just being friendly. Does that make me the Antichrist too? Oh, and thanks for interrupting me all those times. Because whatever you're talking about is automatically--"
"--Look, she's going in!" Belinda half-stood and craned her neck to keep the woman in view.
"God ... damn it. Look, Belinda, she's not the Antichrist just because she was married to Will before he met you. You've been married before--does your first husband's new wife call you the Antichrist?"
"No, actually we're pretty friendly."
"So why is Sonja there the Antichrist?"
"Who's Sonja?" Now she was looking at him blankly.
"Okay, whatever her name is. Crotchless witch-tits."
"Theresa is her name, my least favorite name, which seems to crop up everywhere lately."
"So who the hell am I thinking about? I know there's a Sonja somewhere. What's Will's sister's name?"
"I know there's a Sonja. Screw it." He went back to looking through his briefcase. "You and Muriel get along?"
"Yes, of course, don't you remember when I brought you all that homemade zucchini pasta and I said, 'Here, Muriel taught me how to make zucchini pasta and now I can't stop'?"
"No. Yeah; I threw that crap out. Here, this is for your Mom." He gave her the booklet he'd finally retrieved from his briefcase.
Belinda flipped through the booklet. "Why?"
"Well, you told me she likes to do crosswords."
She looked at him with what might have been pity. "Marty, these are acrostics, the kind of puzzles where you just find words and circle them. Little children do these, not my Mother. She finishes the London Times crossword over breakfast."
"'There are strange things done in the midnight sun, by the men who moil for gold.'"
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Makes me sound smart."
"Not really. Come on, let's see what that bitch is up to."
"I can do the whole poem if you want. If you say please."
Belinda led the way. She flattened herself against the wall, filling the blank space between Better Mousetraps, with its display of overpriced unnecessary gadgets for yuppies, and the Lacy & Racy window, inhabited by pert-looking tiny-waisted mannequins adorned with impractical lingerie.
She took a quick peek through the window, then told him, "You look and see what she's doing. I don't want her to see me."
"Great, I'll look like a pervert. What makes you think she won't recognize me?"
"You only met that one time, didn't you?"
"Right, the theatre thing. So you don't expect she found me memorable?"
"Nope. She only has eyes for Will."
"So it's not because I'm lacking in some way?"
"Eyes for Will? I guess she used to have a lot more for Will, right? I mean, her body, for sex. Bangin' the gong. Tits and whatnot. Right?" He tried to look casual as he peered through the shop window. "Hey, do they charge less for the crotchless underwear, or more? Do they just leave out the crotch when they make it, or is it standard underwear from which the crotch has been removed?"
"I think it's just slit front to back. Do you see her?"
"No, she must be in the changing room, trying something on. Slipping things off, then trying things on. Maybe she's wearing nothing but thigh-high stockings in there right now."
"Your mind's in the gutter."
"Theresa's kind of a nice name. I should ask her out."
"Oh, you better be joking."
"Well, if she had a boyfriend she wouldn't be phoning Will six times a week and thinking about him, I assume, in the shower. I should take her out."
"Ixnay, jackass, she'd want to double-date! Did you hear me say 'Antichrist'?"
"You don't want to mess with her. Why do you think she's been married so many times?"
"Guess she just loves, loves, loves men. Men like Will."
"And for every marriage, a divorce. Why do you think that is, Nimrod?"
"Don't know; guess I could ask Will." He was watching the back of the store, trying to ignore the salesclerk who was glancing at him with increasing signs of annoyance as she helped a middle-aged man look through a rack of translucent teddies with matching panties. The man seemed uncertain of what size he was looking for; he kept closing his eyes in thought as he held his hands varying distances apart.
"She's been in there a while. Probably trying on this and that to see how it feels sliding against her naked skin. This Antichrist thing intrigues me."
"I must say, it does."
"You don't have to say it does."
"I must say it! I'm intrigued. I owe it to myself to check that stuff out."
Belinda had her back against the wall, making a show of rubbing one foot, the picture of somebody who'd paused momentarily in a long day of shopping. Now she started to slap him on the head again, but stopped; she was trying to break the habit. "You men are really moths to the flame, aren't you?" She flicked his nearest ear with a fingernail.
"Ouch! Go back to the slap, I prefer that. And stop gender-stereotyping me, I feel violated."
"Sorry. I'll stop."
"Don't worry about the flame thing, I'll only get a little singed, to carry on your metaphor. Okay, she's coming out now. Oh, my God, oh my God, I think it is crotchless. You got to see what she's buying."
"What?" Belinda hid behind him and sneaked a quick look past his shoulder.
"See, the purple nightie thing, and it's got the matching panties, they look like a slingshot. Hey, that's a gold card. She could buy me dinner. I could be a kept man. She could keep me as her boy-toy."
"Do you know how old Will was the first time that woman got married? Ten."
"Jesus Christ, is that legal?"
"Not to him, idiot. It was another fifteen years before she made him husband number four."
"Maybe she needs their young virgin blood for a necromancy potion to stay young. Was Will a virgin?"
"She's too damn old to wear transparent stuff like that. Ridiculous."
"Not if she keeps using that virgin-blood potion. Do you think she should wear a lot of petticoats instead? Petticoats are sexy."
Belinda snorted. "Right!"
"No, a man needs a challenge. Make it past three layers of petticoats and you feel like you've accomplished something. I'll buy a ticket for that voyage of the damned any time. Her ass looks like a juicy round peach."
Belinda took her shoe off and slapped Martin on the head with it.
"Sorry. I'll try to stop."
"At least taper off. Uh oh, hold on." Theresa was heading for the door, and Martin turned away, shielding Belinda with his body. Belinda glanced past him.
"There she goes--down to the food court. That's right, oblivious as usual. Look at her move that ass--"
"Yes!" He squinted a little. "Hey, it's describing an infinity symbol. I could watch that forever."
"You said to look at her ass."
"I didn't mean it literally."
"What, a metaphorical ass?"
"I didn't mean look literally."
"We already crossed the ass threshold. Even if she is the Antichrist, she's got the ass of young coed."
"That's just expensive ass-defining underwear."
"Whatever it is, it works. No VPL."
"The Antichrist's on the prowl for a new husband, is the point I was making."
Martin looked at his watch. "Guess we're late enough."
Belinda checked her cell phone. "We've been out for ninety minutes."
"Yeah, tempus fidget. Stupid work. Wish I could throw this watch away."
She looked up with a half-smile. He liked Belinda's face looking up at him. She was tiny, really. "You'll be late to your own funeral."
"I'm one sixteenth Seminole. My people don't live by the white man's clock."
As they headed for the escalator, he asked, "So, do you have the Antichrist's phone number? I could ask Will. You're looking daggers at me, I can see it in the peripheral."
"You're being stupid."
"Ha, I could just ask Information for the Antichrist. How many of those can there be? I'll call her up, ask how the OCU is working out."
"Should I even ask what OCU means?"
"Open Crotch Undergarment. Don't hit! No hitting, that's harassment."
"OCU. I swear--does that go along with the VPL?"
"Visible Panty Line, yes, sometimes it does. See what you learn hanging around with me? Antichrist with OCU's. Hard to resist."
"Hard for you, maybe."
"I'm a mortal man." He held open the door to the parking garage. "Hey, in England they call a parking lot a carpark. I'm studying the language in case I ever go there."
"Maybe you'll meet a nice English girl. Why don't men ever go for nice girls?"
"You're a nice girl, and you got Will wrapped around your little finger."
"Yeah, but first he had to go through Theresa."
"All the way through?"
"You know what I mean."
"She enticed him with womanly wiles, that's what she did. Maybe the Number of the Beast is really 69 instead of 666." He opened the car door for her.
"I could have gone all day without hearing that." She shut the door, and he went around and got behind the wheel.
"Tell you what; I'll let the Antichrist destroy my life for a while and then settle down with a nice girl. Fix me up with somebody. Hey, what about your used-to-be sister-in-law--what's her name? Your brother Pete's ex-wife."
"Yes! That's who I was thinking of. Sylvia, not Sonja."
"So who is Sonja?"
"There is no Sonja. What's Sylvia like?"
"Pete calls her EB. Know what that is?"
"No, Evil Bitch."
"Zowie. Evil Bitch and Antichrist in a steel cage death match. They could fight for me. Fight over me."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"Hell yes, both of them all oiled up. Naked, ferocious. That's empowering, right?" He played with the rubber Marvin the Martian figure on his key chain.
She smiled up at Martin; he saw it in the peripheral. "Is that what you daydream about?"
"Yes. Naked, savage women. I'm not ashamed."
"You should be, because those are two awful choices. Either one of those women would use you up and suck you dry."
"Ha! Now, my ideal woman, she'd .... huh." He sat staring into space until she poked him. "Yeah, my ideal woman, she'd be a woman I can talk to like you, but with maybe a little bit of Antichrist in her. And a freak in the sheets. Screamer."
"Good luck with that."
"Thanks. Damn it, one hour for lunch is unreasonable."
"Whatevs. I hate to rush. Take it slow. Just like with other activities. Certain other things people do together."
Belinda rubbed her eyebrows. "Would that be sex?"
"Yes ma'am. Churnin' the butter. Yes ma'am."
"Start the car."
Will glanced over at her.
"I sense my companion is no longer amused."
She looked straight ahead through the windshield at the sign telling them then were on Parking 4.
"Will you just get laid, for God's sake? Don't answer. Start the car."