When the resort closed for the fall and winter and only a few workers remained to make sure it didn’t fall into graceful, ivy-choked disrepair, Blake entertained himself after school by going through the guest room highboys to see if anyone forgot anything interesting in them. He wasn’t out for money, though he did pocket enough few silver dollars and fifty cent pieces to buy ice cream almost every day. The wealthy guests were tight about tipping but not about letting the contents of their purses and pockets stay in the empty drawers.
Along with coins, he found lone cufflinks, pretty jeweled hairpins (those he gave to his mother), handkerchiefs, love notes, and postcards never sent but filled out with little abbreviated notes written in flowery cursive (Hello, is lovely here. After just a week I feel much revived. Love to you and George). His most exciting find was a smooth white envelope marked “V. Important Papers” in a room that had been occupied the entire summer season by an elderly bachelor who was the president of a nearby university. The man was flamboyant and impeccable, and came to the springs to help his rheumatism, and the spring’s restorative qualities seemed to be working miraculously. Each night, after drinking the first of his three dry scotches, he would pick one of the middle-aged married women to dance with, swirling and whirling them around the smooth slate cavern floor with out a hint of stiff legs or back. He was quite deft at tickling the matron’s funny bones, important parts of a woman’s body that is often ignored by a husband. The husbands weren’t threatened by old gentleman, as the man was nearly eighty and clearly meant no harm. He was a good tipper, too, which Blake learned when he helped wait tables at the end of season ball. When Blake brought the man a glass of water and a napkin (the night was thick with humidity), the bachelor winked and placed five dollars in Blake’s apron and told him to spend it on a pretty girl at school.
Blake was very fond of the man (especially after the generous tip), so when he found the smooth white envelope on one of his scavenger hunts he opened the flap, which wasn’t sealed, and meant to send the envelope to the man by whatever means possible. Surely the concierge would have an address on file, or maybe they could be sent to the university. What Blake found inside weren’t papers, contracts, or telegrams but cabinet cards. Smaller than postcard sized photos printed on cheap cardstock that fit in the palm of Blake’s growing, adolescent hand. The photographs were of ladies in various stages of undress, and when Blake turned them over to the back (feeling as though the cards were living, breathing things that would bite his hands and know exactly the dirty thoughts in his head) he couldn’t read the words printed on the back. The women were French, all with names like Mlle. Sophie and Mlle. Claude. No last names were printed. There had to be at least twenty of the risqué cards, and Adam was too embarrassed and excited to notify the concierge or return them to the bachelor, so he kept them.
One of the women was naked to the waist and stared directly out of the card with a knowing smirk on her dark lips. Her black hair was swirled and coiffed upward like a Gibson girl’s, and a white robe was draped over her round, soft hips, hiding the secret, fascinating warm place that Blake had never seen in person or in photograph. Her thighs were full, and she wore thick white stockings that were held up by a band of white ribbon, tied with a black bows. Her breasts were perfectly round and full.
Blake was in love with each of the women on the cabinet cards, but especially the one with the black hair. He wondered what her life was like, and if she only spoke French or had ever been to America. He thought of his father who had died in France during the Great War, and if he had seen anyone who looked that full and beautiful before he died. Blake’s mother, while pretty, had a sort of pale and wispy, wistful fairy-tale look. These women were like goddesses. Like queens with huge breasts and round hips.
When Blake was a man, and had felt the secret places of more than a few women, he found himself constantly searching for someone who resembled the black-haired woman on the bachelor’s cabinet card. When he met Justine, and saw the curve of her hips and how soft her thighs were underneath the green dress she was wearing, he felt like he had reached the end of his epic search. When Justine looked at him, smirking a little at his jokes and attention and looking so like the image he had fallen madly in love with as a boy of twelve in that mineral spring resort, he knew he had to marry her. It was as though she was always hidden in his deepest, most steamy dreams. The fact that she was a bundle of secrets herself only made him want her more.