Married But Looking
Daniel S. Libman
(Livingston Press/
University of West Alabama)

Daniel S. Libman has been given accolades for his short story --- the first here --- "In the Belly of the Cat." Mr. Christopher ("dentures, a toupee he no longer wore but kept hanging off his hall tree, an artificial hip") loses his wife of so many years and puts an ad in the Tribune for a call-girl and so Monique comes and she's all business.

Mr. Christopher asked for three hours because he wants to put on a do. Fresh baked bread, Thai soup, fruit slaw, Benny Goodman, artichokes, flan, liqueurs. Nothing doing says Monique. If she's not out of his apartment in an hour, Mickey waiting downstairs will come up "and he will clean your clock." She usually expects to do "dancing and a rub down," but if he wants to cook and eat, "well ... it's your money."

Libman does a fine job of setting this up: Mr. Christopher the old innocent, Monique (and Mickey) who --- to say the least --- have another agenda. Mr. Christopher had planned on many courses but Monique is all business, and Mickey is pacing, "His arms and legs were thick, like sausages."

Mr. Christopher tries to get Monique to stay on. "This is all I wanted," he tells her, "for you to come here and have a nice meal and a nice time. It's my special day and this is all I wanted." But the party's over. And Libman's touch is perfect: the sad end of innocence for one who should have gotten over it decades ago.

§   §   §

Libman's stories --- there are fifteen of them here --- specialize in obsession pitted against misunderstanding and laced with surprise. Obsession ... but always with a twist. Some of the stories can't manage to make it out of bed, those that do will give you the chills. There is one so twisty and weird and on the edge --- it's called "Rate of Exchange" --- that you might want to see if you can get your friendly local librarian to order up Married But Looking so you can check out the Chill Factor.

We're in another world: in this case Guatemala. Suzanne leaves her husband --- briefly --- to go off with Maxwell. They just met him yesterday; he invites them to go trekking in the mountains, up to the hot springs in Xunil. Hubby stays behind to do his Spanish lessons. So Suzanne ends up here, alone in the mountains with Maxwell, and the reader thinks that maybe, up there in the clouds...

At times, you know, when we're away from home, alone with someone new, especially one who is confident, quite good looking ... there on the mountain trail, you think now, here, perhaps in the bushes over there ... but then they meet a Mayan girl, K'ek, coming down the hill, "no more than 13 or 14," and Suzanne wonders if it is safe, alone in this deserted place, with this girl (there may be others, "this girl probably wouldn't do anything bad, but you never know") but suddenly, when she draws near, Maxwell reaches over, starts rubbing the girl's face, running his fingers "from her ear to her clavicle." He lay his briefcase in the dirt

    and opening it so K'ek couldn't see what was inside. He removed a blister pouch and tore it open and pulled out a washcloth.

Then there comes a twist, and you think 'No, this isn't right." And then the other gringos arrive, and you think, no, this can't be. This is so weird. What they're doing! And you're sucked in, beyond all reason, and it's one of those stories that you have to go back and reread parts just to be sure you got it right... see how the author was able to put it all over on you (while you weren't looking) and, even more, make it stick.

--- C. A. Amantea
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