Subterranean Press Magazine: Fall 2010
Fiction: Weekdays: A Lucifer Jones story by Mike Resnick
People are always writing about romance on the high seas. I wish some of them writers had spent a week on the Acropolis, which was a cargo ship in pretty much the same condition as its namesake back in Greece, except that the original Acropolis was cleaner and smelled better and probably served up grub that hadn’t been overcooked and smothered in olive oil.
As for the kind of romance I was more interested in, the Acropolis wasn’t the place for it. It carried three women, who weren’t crew members and probably weren’t cargo, and spent all their time giggling in the captain’s cabin, except when they were busy shrieking in the captain’s cabin. At first I thunk he was torturing ‘em, but come morning it was always a contest to see which of ‘em had a bigger smile on her face as they stood in the doorway and waved to him while he went off to steer the ship or shiver his timbers or whatever it is that captains do when they ain’t dallying with people of the feminine persuasion.
Now, since I didn’t have no duties, having paid what seemed like a reasonable fare of ten dollars for passage to the next civilized island after we left Hawaii, but which was looking more each day like an extortionate rate, I was free to wander around the deck, which could get pretty boring once you’d wandered it a couple of hundred times in an afternoon, or I could sit in what wouldn’t never pass for a deck chair and look out to sea. One of things I was learning about the Pacific, ever since leaving Chile and stopping by Easter Island and Honolulu, is that it looks an awful lot alike, no matter where on it you happen to be. It’s as if God decided to make this enormous swimming pool, and got so enthused that He plumb forgot to stop. There’s some poem about “Water, water everywhere”, and people read it and get this wistful faraway look on their faces, but they ain’t got no conception of what “everywhere” is until they’ve spent a week looking out at the Pacific and realize it ain’t changed one tiny little iota. (I don’t know how long an iota is, but if it’s anything less than a million miles or six months, I stick by my statement.)
Then one day I heard a holler from one of the crew, most of who didn’t speak no civilized language like English or American, and pretty soon there were some whoops and some more hollers, and then a couple of whistles, so I left my room, where I’d been watching a bunch of roaches learning to march in formation, and walked over to see what the fuss was about.
It turned out that the whole damned crew, which only came to fourteen if you didn’t count the captain and his ladyfriends, was all on one side of the boat—I never did understand the difference between starboard and port, except that nobody ever called a bottle of wine Starboard—and lo and behold, we were passing within half a mile of an island. I knew it broke the monotony of the voyage, but that didn’t explain all the whistling, and then two of the men started fighting over a telescope one was holding, and when he put it down to defend himself or attack his bosom buddy, whichever came first, I picked it up and trained it on the island to see what was attracting everyone’s attention, and what I saw was the most beautiful half-naked woman I’d ever seen (well, since the last most beautiful half-naked woman, anyway), and then I saw another one, and another still, and suddenly I was hooting and hollering and whistling every bit as loud as the rest of the crew.
Then the two combatants noticed that I was holding the telescope, and they made their peace right quick and grabbed it back from me. So I edged my way to the rail to grab a better look, but I couldn’t quite make out the young ladies’ features, so I leaned forward a little, and then I leaned a little farther, and suddenly I wasn’t leaning no more, but I was falling down toward the water, and then I was under it and face-to-face with a turtle that looked mighty surprised and more than a little bit annoyed, and after about a minute I remembered that I couldn’t breathe underwater, so I swum up to the surface and grabbed a mouthful of air.
The ship was moving along very slowly, and I kind of kept pace with it until the one crewman who could speak a little American leaned over and asked if I was all right. I allowed that I was as all right as a person was likely to be after falling forty feet into the shark-filled ocean.
“Wait!” he said. “I will find a rope ladder and lower it down to you!”
I got to thinking about it while he was hunting for the ladder, and I figured that if he pulled me up all I could expect was a roach-filled cabin and more two-thousand-year-old-grub, and of course all three woman were tooken, and truth to tell they weren’t likely to grace the pages of Esquire or even Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang anytime soon, while half a mile away was an island chock full of gorgeous women who could be starring in Hollywood if it ever did away with the Hays Code, and the more I thunk about it, the more I decided that falling into the drink may have been a stroke of absolute genius.
“Here it is, Lucifer!” said the crewman, starting to lower the rope ladder over the rail.
“Forget it!” I hollered up at him. “I been enough of a burden to you.”
“We can’t abandon you!” he said.
“Sure you can!” I yelled. “And the sooner the better!”
The captain showed up then, and the two of them started talking to each other, and finally the boat started picking up speed, and the crew waved good-bye to me—well, except for the one who tried to jump ship and join me before they caught him and pulled him back—and then I turned and swum to the shore.
Since I was in my usual magnificent shape, I made the half-mile to the island in only an hour, but when I finally walked ashore, all set to be whelmed over by a fewscore semi-naked women, what I found facing me instead was a man with a beard that came all the way down to his belt buckle—or it would have, if he’d been wearing a belt, but all he had on was a pair of shorts.
“Who the hell are you?” we each asked at the same time.
“You first,” he said, and since he was the host, and clearly older than me, I figgered good manners dictated that I should introduce myself first. And of course the spear he was pointing at me just helped to confirm my decision.
“I’m the Right Reverend Honorable Doctor Lucifer Jones,” I said, “shipwrecked and cast ashore by a whim of the gods.”
“Shipwrecked, hell!” he snapped. “I seen you jump.”
“Well, yes,” I admitted. “But I was on that ship because they rescued me when my previous ship was wrecked, so technically I’m telling the Lord’s own truth.”
“Technically you’re telling a whopper,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“Mostly I’m talking to a spear-carrying bearded man what ain’t had the courtesy to introduce himself,” I answered.
“My name’s Caruso,” he said.
“Like unto the opera singer?” I asked.
“Do I look like an opera singer?” he growled.
“No,” I said. “You look like a man what ain’t on speaking terms with his barber or his haberdasher. In fact, if you want to go scare ‘em up and make peace with ‘em, I’ll just spend the time getting acclimated.”
“I know why you’re here, Reverend Jones, and take my word for it: they ain’t gonna acclimate you.”
“They?” I said, doing my best to look shocked. “You mean you ain’t alone on this island?”
He looked surprised. “Did you think I was? Why do you think every damned ship that passes by slows to a snail’s pace?”
“Beats me,” I said. “I thunk it was uninhabited, Brother Caruso. Otherwise I wouldn’t never have intruded. I’d have just swum seven or eight hundred miles to the next island.”
He stared at me for a minute, then shrugged and extended his hand. “I apologize, Reverend,” he said. “I’ve been on this island a long time, and I’m just naturally suspicious. I got to protect what’s mine.”
“And she’s well worth protecting,” I said as one of the half-naked ladies strolled into view.
“You can look, but don’t touch,” said Caruso.
“You’re talking to a man of the cloth,” I said with outraged dignity.
“What was a man of the cloth doing on a tub like that?” he asked.
“Bringing them poor fallen souls the Word of the Lord,” I said, which seemed simpler than going into a long and complicated explanation about why I had to leave Honolulu in a hurry.
The girl reached us and gave me the kind of smile that made me want to paw the earth and bay at the moon.
“Howdy, ma’am,” I said.
She jabbered back in some language that sounded almost as foreign and incomprehensible as French.
“She got a name, Brother Caruso?” I asked.
“I call her Monday,” he said.
“And you leave her alone the other six days?” I said. “Seems kind of wasteful, if you ask me.”
“I didn’t, and Monday’s her name.”
“Did she come with the island?” I asked him.
“Her and the others,” he replied.
He pointed to three women that were approaching us, and each of ‘em was every bit as beautiful and every bit as underdressed as Monday.
“Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday,” said Caruso.
“Is there a Friday?” I asked, looking around.
“There was. An ugly sot with a disgusting beard. I didn’t like the way he kept looking at the others, so since I used to be a carpenter, I made a boat for him and sent him packing to some other island.”
“You made a boat?” I repeated.
“Then why in tarnation are you still here?” I asked. Actually, I could see four good reasons standing right in front of me, but if he built a big enough boat he could have took them with him.
“Why would I want to leave?” he asked. “I have everything I need right here.”
It was a difficult notion to argue with, especially when Wednesday shot me a smile and Thursday winked at me, but I still couldn’t see why he couldn’t take everything he needed in a bigger boat and get back to civilization.
“Well, as long as you’re here until the next ship comes by, I might as well show you around,” he said.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, one island’s pretty much like another, so long as they ain’t got no carnivores with a sweet tooth for preachers, but I had nothing better to do, at least not until Caruso wandered off and left me alone with the girls, which he didn’t seem to have no inclination to do, so I fell into step behind him and all them lovely weekdays, and he started walking inland through a thicket of palm trees and flowering bushes, and suddenly we found ourselves on an elegant stone path that wound in and out of some gardens.
“I see you’re admiring my handiwork,” said Caruso.
“I prefer to think of ‘em as the Lord’s handiwork,” I answered.
“I meant the path, not the girls.”
“You made it yourself?” I asked.
He nodded his head. “Yes. It took about two weeks.”
“Well, I suppose when you got a lot of time on your hands…” I began, though I could think of four better things to do with my time and my hands if I was in his place.
“I didn’t see any reason to be without my comforts,” he said, as Tuesday brushed by me and I could see that him and me had powerfully different notions of what constituted a comfort.
“Come on,” he said, heading off again. “The manse is just around the next bend.”
I figured his “manse” was probably a straw hut, maybe with a path leading to a smaller straw hut with a half-moon on the door, but I didn’t say nothing because he was so eager to show it off to me. So I fell into step behind him—well, behind Monday, actually, who was a lot easier to fall into step behind—and a minute later we made that next bend, and I found myself facing a house that was probably smaller than the Taj Mahal and had a few less windows than Buckingham Palace, but in both instances it was a photo-finish.
“Close your mouth, Reverend,” said Caruso. “You never know what might fly into it around here.”
“Was this here house left behind by some mysterious and ancient race what left for better pickings a few million years ago?” I asked.
He laughed. “I built it all myself,” he answered. “I had to do something with all that time or I’d have died of boredom.”
I thunk about what he said, and then I looked at Monday through Thursday, and my heart went out to them poor girls, stuck alone on an island where the only man clearly had more interest in construction than seduction.
“It’s got twenty-three rooms,” he said, “plus six bathrooms and a fireplace. I’m thinking of adding a greenhouse and a ballroom next.” He paused. “I considered putting a swimming pool in the basement, but…” He shrugged and nodded toward the ocean, of which there was an awful lot surrounding us.
“Yeah,” I said. “I can see where that might be a little redundant.”
“So I’m putting a bowling alley in the basement instead, just as soon as I finish the tennis court out back.”
“Well,” I said, “as long as you’re going to be stranded on this here island, I suppose there’s no reason why you shouldn’t provide yourself with some of life’s little luxuries.”
“I’m glad we see eye-to-eye on this, Reverend,” he said. “I knew you were a man after my own heart.”
Actually, what I was was a man after his own workforce of four, but I decided that this was an inopportune time to share that particular tidbit of information with him, and that I’d wait for the proper time, like when the Earth plunged into the sun.
While he was pointing out all the features of the house, my eyes kind of wandered to the structures that appealed more to me. Thursday either had something in her eye or else she kept winking at me. Tuesday guv me a great big smile and kind of licked her lips. Wednesday turned to me and took a few deep breaths. Monday just waited til she knew I was peeking at her out of the corner of my eye and then reached her arms up and stretched, which would have been eye-popping even if she’d been wearing clothes.
Caruso kept on telling me how he’d created floor joists or something equally thrilling to him, and the girls kept smiling and stretching and winking and breathing, and I began to get the feeling they were either tired of Caruso’s attentions, or more likely tired of never being the object of them.
“There’s just one thing I ain’t got around to building yet,” he was saying.
I was torn between guessing between an opera house or a baseball stadium, but he turned to me and said, more stern than sad, “I never expected any visitors, so I ain’t built a guest house.”
“Well, Brother Caruso,” I said, “that don’t seem to pose no serious problem, since you got twenty-three rooms.”
“It’d be immoral,” he said.
“Since when is it immoral to give a man of the cloth a night’s lodging?” I said.
“These four young ladies ain’t married, and they’re getting to the age where they’re feeling their oats,” he answered me. “I can’t put you in the path of that kind of temptation.”
“Nonsense,” I said. “Looking temptation in the eye is one of the best things I do, me being a man of the cloth.”
“And I’ll bet temptation blinks first every time,” he shot back.
“Come on, Brother Caruso, it just don’t seem right that you got fifteen or twenty bedrooms and I got to sleep out here with snakes and scorpions and the like.”
“You don’t have to sleep out here at all,” he said.
He shook his head. “Nope. In fact, if I was you I’d do everything I could to stay awake. We got a colony of snapping turtles that have a real fondness for toes, fingers and noses, and there are some big hairy spiders that eat the turtles for breakfast and don’t cotton much to anything with less than eight legs. So you’d be well-advised not to sleep out here.”
“I don’t think you caught the drift of my comment, Brother Caruso.”
“I got four frail flowers of femininity here, and you just don’t strike me as the most standoffish preacher I ever saw,” he said.
“Well, if push comes to shove, I can’t see you in starring Caramel or The Barber of San Juan Hill, but I don’t hold it against you,” I said.
“You can talk until you’re blue in the face,” said Caruso, “but you ain’t sleeping under the same roof as my innocent young ladies.”
Wednesday and Thursday guv me such a pair of smiles at that remark that I was tempted to ask: innocent of what?
“What if it rains?” I asked.
He stared at me. “It is my considered opinion that you’ll get wet.”
Monday and Tuesday giggled at that, which made me think they understood a little more English than they let on, and then he turned to the four of them and said, “Come on, girls. It’s time to get ready for bed.”
I was dying to ask if they slept in one bed or five, but he’d already hurt my tender preacherly feelings, so I just stood stoically out there while they vanished into the interior of the house.
I looked around for a tree to prop my back up against while I slept. There was a nice one that looked into the dining room, and I figgered that would do until I could find out which tree looked into the girls’ bedrooms, and I sat down and leaned back, and after a few minutes I kind of drifted off to sleep, and while I was asleep I dreamed I was inside the house, tucking Wednesday and Thursday into the left side of the bed after doing the same for Monday and Tuesday on the right side, and then I climbed into the middle, and Monday began kissing me, and Tuesday and Wednesday just curled up close to me, and then Thursday began rubbing my back, and I just kind of lay there and enjoyed it, and then Thursday began hugging me, and I sort of wriggled a little and asked her to go back to rubbing my back, but the poor girl was so love-starved that she just squoze tighter and tighter still, and finally I whispered to her that she was starting to hurt my ribs and she should ease off a little, and then she whispered something to me, but I couldn’t quite hear it, and I asked her to repeat it, so she did, and it didn’t make no more sense this time, and I told her to speak more distinctly because it felt like she was hissing in my ear.
“Hiss!” she whispered.
“Now, damn it, Thursday, speak up!” I said, opening my eyes and turning to face her, and what I found myself talking to was an enormous green and yellow snake what was in the process of putting a bear hug on me, or at the very least a snake hug. “Never you mind,” I said. “I’ll speak up for both of us!” I turned to the house. “Hey, Caruso! This place is infested with sea serpents! Help!”
“Oh, shut up, Reverend!” came Caruso’s sleepy voice. “Ain’t nothing out there except January, my pet snake.”
“January?” I shouted. “How the hell many months have you got?”
“Be quiet,” he grumbled. “She’s just a snake.”
“And Napoleon was just a little twerp who liked to travel!” I hollered. “Get her off me!”
“Feed her a mouse or a fish or something,” he said. “She’s just begging for food.”
Well, from my point of view she wasn’t so much begging for her dinner as tenderizing it. I climbed onto my feet, wearing a wraparound snake which, believe me, ain’t never gonna be the height of fashion, and began looking around for something to feed her, or at least take her mind off uncooked preacher.
I must have wandered around the premises for the next five minutes, looking for something that was smaller than me that I could kind of help focus January’s attention on, but I didn’t see none of them spiders or turtles nor any other living thing Caruso had told me about, and I could tell that January was getting mighty anxious, because she kept jabbing my neck with her nose to see if that was where she wanted to take her first bite, and I’d just about decided that I could be perfectly happy with just three gorgeous mostly-naked young ladies and I was trying to figure out which one to introduce January to when lo and behold, I tripped over a log that differed from most other logs of my acquaintance in that this one kind of jumped and spun around and began wriggling, and when its beady little eyes fell on me and it began licking its chops I knew I’d stumbled upon February, or maybe July, or possibly December.
I figgered me and God would be hobnobbing in person real soon now, and I was wondering whether to challenge Him to a game of craps or maybe blackjack, when it suddenly became clear that generosity wasn’t January’s long and strong suit, and that she was no more interested in sharing me with February than I was interested in sharing the four weekdays with Caruso, and in fact the only difference between us other than the fact that she was the meanest ugliest snake in the whole of Creation and I’m a fine-looking good-tempered practitioner of the masculine virtues was that she was perfectly willing to kill February over the ownership of me, whereas I’d pretty much decided not to kill Caruso until I’d tried reasoning with him for a few minutes right after breakfast.
I’d give you a blow by blow account of what happened next, but it’s pretty hard to call a snake fight, since the combatants don’t jab or throw left hooks or even rabbit punches, and of course their footwork ain’t nothing to write home about, and neither are their feet, now as I come to think about it. Basically, they took turns biting each other on the neck, of which there was an awful lot, and then they kind of wrapped around each other, like that symbol you see in doctors’ offices but minus everything but the snakes, and while they were squeezing each other and hissing to beat the band, it occurred to me that no law said I had to stay at ringside to see who won, so I walked over to the front door of the house and let myself in, and the last I saw of January and February they looked like a pair of those winding phone cords that somehow got tangled up together.
The living room was just a little something Caruso had slapped together in his spare time. It probably couldn’t have held more than fifty people, and even then you’d have to move the hard-carved piano out into the parlor. I figgered if I went looking for an empty bed to spend the night in, I might find one, which in this house would seem wasteful as all get-out, or I might find one what was occupied by Caruso, which would be even more dangerous than wasteful. I wasn’t quite sure of my next move, which was to help him make his next move to anywhere but here, so I moseyed over to the wet bar he’d built, poured myself a drink, pulled up a stool, sat myself down, and prepared for a night of serious thinking.
Fortunately, I was relieved of that duty before I sprained anything, because not two minutes later Wednesday moseyed down the broad circular staircase and walked over to me.
“Hello, Reverend Jones,” she said in a voice that was so melodic I figgered she must have swiped it from Billie Holiday.
“Hi, Wednesday,” I said. “I thunk you ladies of the week didn’t speak no English.”
“Of course we do,” she said. “As well as French. But he”—she made a face—“thinks it’s more romantic if we speak only island dialects.”
“Well, you must be right fond of him,” I said, hoping I was wrong, “to give up English and risk getting sunburned in so many delicate places.”
She immediately burst into tears and threw her arms around me, with the rest of her just naturally following half a second later.
“He is a monster!” she cried. “You must save us from him, Reverend Jones!”
“What has that foul fiend done to you sweet innocent treasures of the islands?” I demanded, my good Christian blood starting to boil. “And just for future reference,” I added, “did you enjoy any particular part of it?”
Well, she was weeping and sobbing to beat the band, and before she could answer me all that crying attracted Tuesday, who suddenly was standing right next to us.
“You are heaven-sent, Reverend Jones,” she said in heartfelt tones.
“Call me Lucifer,” I said. “And perhaps you can tell me exactly what you ladies have in mind.”
“You must rid the island of him!” cried Tuesday.
“Yes!” echoed Wednesday, who was hugging me almost as tight as January had.
“Make him go away, and we will prove our gratitude a hundred times over!” vowed Tuesday.
“In one night?” I said.
“We will do anything for the man who frees us from Caruso,” said Monday, who was suddenly standing halfway up the stairs (or maybe it was halfway down them. I still haven’t figgered that out.)
“Anything,” echoed Tuesday.
“Anything,” said Wednesday, who’d stopped crying long enough to purr a little.
“You know,” I announced after considering the matter for a full three seconds, “you poor distressed damsels have appealed to my noble Christian heart. It would be unconscious to leave you at his mercy.”
“Unconscionable,” said Thursday, who was following Monday down the stairs.
“That too,” I agreed.
“You will really and truly save us?” asked Thursday.
“Really and truly,” I said. “Starting tomorrow you will be his playthings no longer.”
“Did you hear that?” said Tuesday excitedly. “We will never be playthings again!”
That wasn’t quite what I’d said, but this seemed an inappropriate time to mention it, so I just let them shower me with thanks and promises of still more exceptionally personal thanks. After awhile it occurred to me that they were making quite a lot of high-pitched wildly-ecstatic noise, and I tried to shush ‘em up a bit so they didn’t wake Caruso.
“Don’t worry about him,” said Tuesday contemptuously. “He drinks himself to sleep every night. Nothing will wake him before morning.”
Which guv me all night to come up with a plan.
Problem is, with all that soft inviting uncovered female flesh kind of undulating all around me, I just couldn’t seem to get my prodigious brain in gear, and the only way to avoid all them delightful distractions was to go back outside where January or some other month was doubtless waiting to become a floor-to-ceiling snakeskin belt with the snake still in it. I figgered about the only place I could concentrate while preserving life and limb was in Caruso’s bedroom, but I didn’t want him waking up and getting no wrong ideas, or worse still any right ideas, so I just sat there and looked at ‘em and took a deep breath and sighed and counted up to eight, and let it out, and counted up to eight again, and when that became too distracting I lowered my head and began counting up to four but that didn’t work no better, and finally I decided I might as well partake of Caruso’s best drinkin’ stuff, because I sure wasn’t getting any thinking done and it seemed a shame to waste the whole evening, and maybe a couple of quarts of island brew would help me come up with some way to amuse the four young ladies until sunrise, and I remember I was halfway done with the second bottle and had just come up with a new way to play Twist, Pounce and Grab (always assuming there was an old way to play it) when suddenly Wednesday was pulling on my arm and Monday was slapping my face and Thursday was pushing against my back and Tuesday was saying “Wake up, Lucifer! We can hear him getting dressed!”
“Hear who?” I asked, kind of blinking my eyes.
“Caruso!” she said.
“I don’t hear no opera singer,” I said.
“There isn’t one,” said Monday.
“Good,” I said. “Then let me go back to sleep.”
Thursday walked over to the bar and came back with a bucket of water, which she sloshed in my face.
“Thanks,” I said, licking my lips. “I was getting kind of thirsty.”
This time she held the bucket by the handle, spun around two or three times, and crashed it into the side of my head.
“Now will you get up?” said Thursday.
“Get up?” I groaned. “I may never be able to move again.”
“Hit him again,” said Monday. “What have we got to lose?”
Thursday wound up like Lefty Grove getting ready to hurl his high hard one, and I was out of that chair so fast I would have broke any stopwatches that were timing me.
“What the hell did you want to go do that for?” I moaned.
“Actually, I quite enjoyed it,” said Thursday.
Which was when I knew which of them damsels I was tossing to the snake the next time either of ‘em—Thursday or January—started getting uppity.
“What the hell’s going on here?” said a gruff voice, and I saw Caruso coming down the stairs in a bathrobe.
“I got chilly sitting out there all night,” I said, “so I just came in here to warm up a little, and me and the ladies have been talking about old times.”
“You ain’t had no old times with them,” he said. Suddenly his eyes, which weren’t all that big to begin with, got real narrow. “And you better not plan on having no new times with ‘em either.”
And suddenly, while I was hunting around for a reply that wasn’t totally dishonest and would still keep my head attached to my shoulders, and not having much luck of it, my Silent Partner hit me right betwixt the eyes with another of His revelations.
“Well, they’re nice friendly girls, ain’t no question about it,” I said. “But they’re a little on the plain side. Me, I like my women beautiful.”
“You think these four ain’t beautiful?” he demanded.
I looked each of ‘em up and down. “Well, Tuesday’s okay, I suppose,” I said without much enthusiasm. “And there ain’t nothing exactly wrong with Monday and Wednesday.”
“What about Thursday?” he asked, kind of frowning.
“She got a mean and hungry look about her,” I said. “Just the type to whack you on the side of the head with a water bucket when you ain’t looking.”
“Now how’d you know that?” he said, rubbing a few lumps on his head that I hadn’t seen before.
“Look, Brother Caruso, I don’t want to question your taste. You got a fine flock of young women here, surely as good-looking as poor Hermione…”
“Who’s Hermione?” he asked.
“My sister,” I said. “Born with buck teeth and an extra set of legs.” Which was half true. Hermione was my pet guinea pig when I was a kid, but she did have four legs and buck teeth.
He spent a couple of minutes staring critically at the four young women.
“You know,” he said, “I ain’t never noticed none of these shortcomings before.”
“I can see where that might be so,” I allowed generously. “You get marooned on one of these islands for a few years, you forget what a real woman looks like.”
He frowned. “But these here are the only women within a thousand miles.”
“Well, if you want to settle for second best, far be it from me to stop you, Brother Caruso. You just stay here with these four, while I build me a raft and head off to join the woman what they’d run place and show to.”
“Oh, yeah?” he said suddenly, as his eyebrows started doing little somersaults. “And who might that be?”
“You wouldn’t be interested in her,” I said.
“Why not?” he demanded.
“She’s a year or two younger than these here girls,” I said. “And despite the fact that she grew up practicing an Oriental religion that’s only concerns are sex and pleasure, I ain’t never seen her bettering her mind by reading a book, not even the Karma Sutra.”
“Kuma,” he said.
“Thanks, but I’m comfortable right here,” I told him. “Besides, I just want to grab a little coffee, and maybe a modest breakfast of a dozen eggs and a couple of steaks and maybe a stack of pancakes, and then I’m off to find the delectable Saturday.”
“Saturday?” he repeated.
“Yeah, you get to sleep late with her.”
“She’s really named Saturday?” he said.
I nodded. “The woman of your dreams is named Saturday.” And I was sure God, who can be a pretty observant critter, noticed that I didn’t say that the woman of his immediate future was named Saturday, nor even that he had an immediate future once he left the island.
“And she’s really gorgeous?” he said.
“As God is my witness,” I answered, which at least put me and the Lord in the same boat.
He wandered over to Wednesday, and stroked her hair, which came down to her waist.
“Her hair?” he said questioningly.
“Longer,” I said.
He ran his hand across Tuesday’s cheek and turned to me.
“Smoother,” I said.
He stood a few feet away from Monday and reached out to her.
“Bigger,” I said.
We both turned to Thursday, who had her back to us and was bent over, picking up a couple of flower petals what had fallen to the floor.
“Rounder,” I said.
“For sure?” he asked.
I held up my right hand. Nobody tossed me a piece of fruit to eat, and it ain’t my fault if he chose to misinterpret it.
“Come with me,” he said, walking out the door.
I followed him down to the beach, where he went to work dismantling a huge patch of shrubbery, and pretty soon he’d uncovered a little wood raft.
“Preacher,” he said, turning to me, “it’s all yours—the house, the girls, everything. Which direction is Saturday?”
I was about to tell him it was toward the end of the week, but then I remembered what we’d been talking about, so I pointed to a spot halfway between Tahiti and Borneo, which was maybe twelve thousand miles away. “Yonder,” I said.
“I thank my lucky stars that you landed here on my island,” he said, carrying the raft to the water. “I’m on my way!”
Unless there really was a Saturday out there, he didn’t have no lucky stars that I knew of, but I wished him Godspeed (and the faster the better), and then went back to take stock of my estate.
“Howdy, girls,” I said, walking back into the house. “I am the bearer of glad tidings. It’s just you and me now.”
I didn’t expect them to jump for joy, though it would have been nice, but an inviting smile would have been an encouraging thing to see. The closest any of ‘em came was Wednesday, who looked like she had a toothache.
“Cheer up, girls!” I said. “He’s gone, and now there’s no one to abuse you.”
“Almost no one,” said Tuesday.
“I hope you ain’t referring to me,” I said. “The only person I abuse is old Satan himself.” I paused and stared at the four of ‘em. “Getting back to the matter at hand,” I continued, “promises were made.”
“And we’ll keep them,” said Thursday.
“That’s more like it,” I told her.
“It’s our duty, and we’ll do it,” she went on.
“I’m glad we’re all friends again,” I said.
“But you have duties too, Lucifer,” said Monday.
“I’m well aware of that,” I said. “Where do you want to begin—down here or up in the master bedroom?”
“The garden,” she said.
“The garden?” I repeated. “But it’s loaded with bugs and worms and the like.”
“Not since January ate them.”
“Then it’s loaded with January,” I said, “and that ain’t no improvement.”
“Try to understand, Lucifer,” said Tuesday. “We go with the estate. If you want to sample our charms, we can’t do it while the place is falling to rack and ruin around us.”
“It’s in perfect shape,” I said, “just like your own lovely selves.”
“No it isn’t,” said Tuesday. “The basement needs a new coat of paint.”
“This joint’s got a basement?” I said, surprised.
She nodded. “The stairs are behind the pantry. You’ll find the paint at the foot of them.”
“So all I got to do is paint the basement and then you’ll fall passionately into my arms?” I said.
“That’s right,” said Tuesday.
It was a close call betwixt painting or rasslin’ January once more, and for a minute there I was thinking of chucking the whole deal, but then Tuesday took a deep breath, and Thursday sneezed and kind of shook all over, and Wednesday stretched, and before I could even see what Monday was doing I was on my way down the stairs, and I spent the rest of the day painting this enormous basement. The moon had been out for a few hours when I finally finished, and as I dragged myself up the stairs I saw the four girls standing at the far side of the living room, and I’d have guv ‘em a smile and then pounced on ‘em, but I found I was too tired to smile, and my pouncing mechanism was out to lunch, so I just stared at them and nodded my approval, and the next thing I knew the sun was shining in on me and three of the girls were gone, and I was lying on the floor while Thursday smiled at me from across the room.
“Good afternoon, Lucifer,” she said.
“Afternoon?” I repeated.
“You’ve been asleep for sixteen hours,” she said.
“Well,” I said, getting to my feet and trying not to notice all the little shooting pains in my back and shoulders, “do I get my reward now?”
“Soon,” she said. “I’m allergic to the smell of paint. Why don’t you take a shower first?”
I let her lead me to the nearest bathroom, where I stood under the shower and turned it on—and nothing happened.
“Hey, Thursday!” I shouted. “Your shower ain’t working.”
“I meant to tell you that,” she said from the other side of the door. “You’ll find all the tools you need right next to the sink.”
It wasn’t nothing simple like a clogged nozzle. I had to pull some of the tiles off the wall, and really go to work on the pipes, and I think it was maybe an hour or two after sunrise when I finally finished.
I went out to find Thursday and claim my reward, and found that I was bent over at the waist, that all that work at knee level had damned near turned me into a human pretzel.
“What’s the matter with you, Lucifer?” asked Thursday when I finally made it to the living room. “You look awful.”
“I feel awful,” I said.
“Are you ready for a morning of mad passion and wild lovemaking?” she asked.
I saw a couch that looked mighty inviting and staggered over to it. “Maybe an afternoon of it…” I began, and I was snoring about two seconds later.
Well, this went on day after day—once it was replanting the garden, once it was remodeling the attic, once it was moving all the upstairs furniture back to the ground floor after I moved the ground floor furniture upstairs. Every time before I’d start I’d be promised all the treasures they possessed, and every time I finished I was too damned tired to partake of them.
Now, being a bright fellow with an extremely active mind, it only took me twenty-five days to figure out they were flim-flamming me, that they were always going to work me to the bone on the main course before I got to sample the desserts.
Finally, on the twenty-sixth morning, I decided I’d had my fill of it, and I announced that I wasn’t doing no more household chores. Tuesday looked sad, and asked me if I’d ever heard the story of Lysistrata and the Greek women. I admitted that I hadn’t, and so she told it to me while the other three sat around nodding their approval, and when it was over I drew myself up to my full height and said, “You mean you won’t keep your promises until I go to Peloponnesia, wherever the hell that is, and win a war for you?”
“It means,” said Monday, “that we withheld our favors from Caruso in order to get him to create this magnificent estate, and then we withheld them from you while you upgraded and modernized it.”
“Well, you can withhold ‘em from January next,” I said angrily, “because I’m taking my leave of this den of false promises!”
“Don’t be mad, Lucifer,” said Wednesday. “It’s not our fault that you were so easily duped.”
“Tell it to January!” I raged as I walked to the door.
“Actually, January’s rather good company compared to men,” said Tuesday.
“Right,” chimed in the other three. “No hands.”
“Life won’t be the same around here without me,” I promised ‘em.”
“True,” agreed Monday. “It means we can finally go back to wearing clothes again.”
“Until the next boat comes by and we need more work done,” added Tuesday.
I tore the door off the outhouse Caruso had built down by the shore, waded out a ways with it, swum a little farther until the currents caught hold of it, and then I climbed aboard. As it floated away from the island I took one last look back. The four weekdays, all wearing shapeless robes—except for Thursday, who wore blue jeans and a t-shirt—had walked down to the shore and were waving good-bye to me.
I turned my back to ‘em and looked out across the sea, wondering (since I’m a preacher) if there was a Sunday out there just waiting for a devilishly handsome man of the cloth to show her all the different and unique paths to heaven—or if not a Sunday, then at least a queen of her own island.
Turns out that the wish was father to the thought, which sounds complicated and more than a bit obscene, because sure enough I found myself a queen at my next port of call. But as you’ll see, it wasn’t the one you are thinking of and I was hoping for.