THE STEPMOTHER - PART THREE
“Turning forty isn’t such a big deal after all,” Katherine thought. All the fear and apprehension she had been storing up had been unfounded. “In fact,” she continued thinking, “I feel a new woman. I am a new woman. I have been given a new lease of life. I am reborn.”
She stretched lazily in the dark of the bedroom. She felt young and beautiful, happy and carefree. But what was true happiness? Surely it was nothing more than a state of mind? It had a fragility that could so easily be shattered. There was always something around the corner waiting to derail you. She was almost afraid to feel ‘happiness’ in case fate snatched it away without warning. “Why shouldn’t happiness be mine?” she thought to herself. “Why should I feel guilty over being happy? I deserve it as much as anybody. After all, I have earned it, worked hard for it.”
Her husband loved her; he proved it to her in tender, thoughtful little ways each day and sought her favours with youthful ardour almost every night. Ever since they had decided to marry, six months earlier, he too seemed to have grown younger, more vital and more in love with her. The fears that had kept her from taking that step for so long had vanished. Her first marriage had been a disaster. The husband had been untrustworthy, dishonest, having affairs behind her back until one day his mask slipped and she found out the truth. She warned him, but he strayed again, betraying her even more hurtfully and soon after she was filing for divorce.
She had lost confidence in herself, even though she was an undeniably beautiful woman. Several men had tried to date her but she had always shied away from them. Even with Peter, it had taken all his persistence and determination to even persuade her to go out for a drink, and thereafter the long engagement before she felt able to commit to him.
From the outset she had taken over her new household with the greatest assurance. The first thing she did was to redecorate all the rooms, so that nothing would remind Peter of his late wife.
This might have appeared heartless, but she considered it necessary to erase such painful memories. She now ran the house with a sure hand, as though she had always been the mistress of it.
Only the cook, who had been there before she came, showed any hostility towards her, and she’d had to replace her. Maureen, the new cook, turned out to be a real find. She was efficient and smart, scrupulously clean and devoted to the family and cheery.
But her greatest success had been her relationship with the little boy – a real triumph. He had not been hostile towards her, only politely cool. Sometimes he had seemed impenetrable. It had been difficult for him to accept his surrogate mother. But with gentle determination and love she had won him round. Yes, it had been a triumph of one will over another.
She stretched between the warm sheets again, coiling and uncoiling like a lazy serpent. Hadn’t the boy finished first in his class just to please her, give her the present he had promised for her birthday? She remembered his flushed face, the triumph in his china-blue eyes when he had handed her his report card: “Here is your birthday present, Stepmother. May I give you a kiss?”
“Of course, Steven... You can give me ten... twenty if you wish!”
He was forever asking for kisses and giving them to her and she reciprocated wholeheartedly, though at times she found herself clamping her teeth and lips together when the temptation was to part them. He kissed her with such excitement and fervour, that at times it made her feel quite unnecessary and the manner in which she felt this discomfort filled her with guilt. She felt sinful.
Perhaps she shouldn’t encourage him. She should perhaps keep her distance. But that might appear inappropriately cool after the progress that had been made. He would sense her stand-offishness and wonder why all of a sudden. It was delicate and difficult to strike the right balance. She liked his kisses, loved them unreservedly, felt his affection and ardour in her bosom when he was pressed up against her. But she needed to tread carefully and remember who she was, and, for that matter, who he was too. He was her stepson and only a little boy after all, and he was innocent and as yet uncorrupted by the world.
But was he so innocent? Was it quite possible that there was some intent beyond normal son-mother affection in his kisses? Was he aware of such things... more aware than Katherine ever thought possible? Young boys did feel things, become conscious of their bodies early on in life. It was perfectly normal for them to have erections from an early age. Even babies had erections.
But even though she would never confess aloud to such a thing, least of all in her husband’s presence, when she was by herself, as she was now, Katherine wondered whether the boy was not in fact discovering desire, the nascent poetry of the body, using her as a stimulus, a focus for his urges. Steven’s attitude intrigued her. It all seemed so innocent yet at the same time ambiguous. She remembered then an incident that happened when she was herself a pre-teen, probably only six or seven years old – that of riding the ‘cock-horse’ to Banbury Cross on her father’s knee. She remembered how he used to bounce her up and down on it, the pleasure and agitation she had felt in her vagina, so much so that she had prolonged the activity and actively sought to play the game with her father. It puzzled her. It was as if something gathered inside her, an excitement, an anticipation of release, something that she could not quite understand or assuage, something that seemed to remain out of reach. After a moment or two of her father singing the song to her, her face would become hot, her scalp would prickle, and the game would enter a new exciting phase. She called it ‘Gallop Time.’
Her father would generally call a halt to proceedings before anything untoward happened. But looking back, this had been a game played in innocence as far as she had been concerned. But could the same have been said about her father? Had he been aware of what was happening to his little girl? Did he feel embarrassed, or guilty, or perhaps both? He never refused to give her a ride on the ‘cock-horse’, but he never allowed her to go beyond a certain point either. Whether or not this was intentional, she did not know.
Sexual feelings were present from a very early age. One could be aware of sensations and pleasures without actually understanding their significance. That came with maturity. Didn’t it follow then that a sexual feeling, a stimulus could be actively sought and pursued as an innocent pleasure? It was only in the understanding of what these feelings actually meant that made the event or experience sordid and unwholesome. It was the ‘knowing’, the awareness of significance that made it wrong.
Was Steven aware then, that when he threw his arms around her neck the way he did when he gave her those lingering kisses (for they could never just be called ‘affectionate pecks’), seeking her lips rather than her cheeks, he was going beyond the bounds of the permissible? It was impossible to know. The child had such a candid, gentle, innocent gaze, that it seemed impossible to Katherine that this beautiful angel could harbour anything other than the purest of thought.
“Any dirty thoughts must be mine and mine alone,” she laughed into the pillow. She felt in fine spirits and a delicious warmth began coursing through her veins, as though her blood had magically transformed itself into mulled wine. “It is the intoxication of love for sure,” she breathed and stretched out, moaning contented sighs, almost erotic in tone, luxuriant in the big comfortable bed. “I am loved by two... father and son. Perhaps God should punish me for my wicked thoughts.”
The round cores of her breasts tightened. She was tempted to touch herself. But she resisted the gentle fluttering sensation down below.
“I must not. Not when the boy is on my mind. It would not be right. But he loves me, and I love him. So why shouldn’t I indulge myself?”
Katherine felt the creeping confusion again, the blurring of the edges between right and wrong.
“It is not wrong to think bad things when nobody knows,” she said to herself. “It cannot hurt or offend them if they do not know. If it is in my head and nobody knows, I can enjoy it.”
Once again her hand began to wander downwards, fingering the wispy material of her negligee as her hand descended. But once again she stopped herself short.
“No, I cannot. Not with an angel on my shoulder.”
Steven could not have the faintest idea that he was playing with fire; those effusions of affection were doubtless prompted by a vague instinct, an unconscious tropism. They were dangerous games, nonetheless, weren’t they? Because when she saw him, just a little boy still, kneeling on the floor, contemplating her as though his stepmother had just descended from Paradise, or when his little arms and his frail body clung to her, and his lips, so thin as to be nearly invisible, glued themselves to her cheeks and then slid down to graze hers – she had never permitted them to linger there for more than a second, despite the child’s insistence – Katherine could not help feeling at times a sudden sharp stab of excitement, a steamy breath of desire.
“You are the only one with impure thoughts, Katherine,” she murmured, hugging the mattress with her eyes closed, a delicious wave of impropriety washing over her. Would she one day become a ‘hot-to-trot’ older woman, like some of her bridge-playing cronies? Didn’t they often surprise her with their scurrilous thoughts and stories? Their hopes and schemes for ensnaring a younger man, although never a boy... a child.
Such ripe language, it sometimes made her blush.
But it was fun. Who would have thought that such respectable ladies could entertain such naughty thoughts and talk about them so candidly? How their tongues loosened once they were away from their husbands. Katherine sometimes allowed herself to be drawn into it, the lewd discussions that glasses of gin and tonic could induce. But she dare not speak of her thoughts about the boy.
They would have her locked up.
Perhaps that was what was meant by the saying: The devil at midday? - the passion of women of a certain age? Calm yourself; remember that you’ve been a ‘grass widow’ for two days – Peter was away on a business trip and wouldn’t be back until Sunday – and no more of this lolling about in bed. On your feet, you lazy creature. Her mother would have called her ‘dilatory’ in her lazing about. It had been one of her mother’s favourite scolding words to her children whenever they were loafing around, and idling their precious time away. Struggling to shake of her pleasant drowsiness she picked up the intercom and ordered the maid to bring her breakfast in bed.