Monday, August 31, 2009

Don Juan and Men anthology edited by Caro Soles

The story of Don Juan is a popular one and has appeared in many guises throughout literary and musical history. The Spanish Don, with his single minded drive to seduce, conquer and desert those who fall under his spell, fascinates us all. He is a man of power, a man who goes against the rules, a cynic with devastating charm. But the stories in this anthology will explore a side of the Don that has not been examined before. What if Don Juan were gay?

Don Juan and Men: Tales of Lust and Seduction, an anthology edited by Caro Soles, contains stories that range from literary to in-your-face erotic, from fantasy to historical, to other-worldly and more. But they all have something to say about Don Juan and Men.

This excerpt is from the opening of the story “A Weekend in the Country” by Caro Soles, and takes place in new York City, 1916.

Don Juan and Men: Tales of Lust and Seduction
MLR Press (August, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1608200469
ISBN-13: 978-1608200467


I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love him, hate him, sometimes want to thrust a stiletto into his black heart. He has ruined my life but I do not want to live in a world without my lord, Count Andrei Alexandrovitch Rubikov.

Even here in America, so far away from our Mother Russia, he is a magnet for all in society. He fits in here, I do not. They court him, flatter him outrageously, for his looks, his wealth, his title. Me they look at sideways, trying not to see what I am, what I long for, lest it contaminate them, make them see my lord in a darker light. I watch them trying to place me; not a servant, yet not quite an equal. There is no title before my name, yet I am at ease in society, know everyone he knows. And I know his secrets. Sometimes I think this shows in my eyes and it scares them.

As I stand near the half open door to the Streusser’s ballroom, I watch him through the potted palms, the curly ferns reaching out to tickle my cheek. I see Andrei swing his blushing partner expertly into the next waltz, watch his full lips moving as he tells her lies, watch his green eyes slide away to fasten on the figure of her lanky dark-eyed fiancé Paul, standing in a group of young men, laughing. I see their eyes meet, and watch the young man’s laughter fade away as his gaze is held captive by the hunter. I know that look. Even though it is not directed at me now, I can feel the force of it, as if my body is attached to Andrei in some way, as if an unseen web is vibrating between us. My heart lurches.

The music rolls on, spilling out the door of the ballroom into the garden of this huge country house on the Hudson where Andrei and I are guests for the weekend. And then the dance is over and he has brought her back to her seat on the other side of the palms. She is not an attractive girl, hardly even a girl any more, but her heavy face is flushed and her eyes sparkle. Bathed in the reflection of Andrei’s charm, she is almost pretty.

“Thank you, mademoiselle,” he says, bowing over her hand. The diamond pin of the order of St. Dimitri flashes on his chest. “You are a lucky man, monsieur,” he goes on, turning to the fiancé, Paul.

He blushes, though whether at the compliment or at the heat of those green eyes it is impossible to say. “I know that, sir. Sometimes I pinch myself to see if it is all a dream.”

“A lovely dream to be enjoyed while it lasts,” Andrei says.

“While it lasts?” Paul says, his shoulders straightening, his chin rising. He is not as tall as Andrei. He looks like an adolescent beside him.

"Of course, my dear sir. It will be over once you are married, no? She will not be your fiancée then, but your dear wife?”

The young man relaxes and laughs and glances at his young lady, who fusses with her dance card, crossing off a name, adding another as she chats with a young man who has come to claim his dance. The music changes to a fox trot, a dance made popular recently by the Castles.

“Do you enjoy a good cigar, by any chance?” Andrei asks Paul. “I am becoming quite the aficionado, with the help of your soon-to-be father-in-law.” He moves between Paul and the other young men, effectively cutting him away from his friends. Like a sheepdog, rounding up strays.

They stroll out into the garden and he sees me.

“Misha! Join us for a cigar.” His eyes are bright, with a light I recognize all too well. My presence will give Paul a false sense of security. My frustration will fuel Andrei’s desire for the other.

“‘When the wolf shows his teeth he isn’t laughing’,” I say in Russian.

He smiles wider, his sensual lips glistening in the wavering light of the one gas lamp at the side of the red brick path. “Misha and his Russian proverbs,” he says moving closer to Paul to show his allegiance is with him, the new friend, not me.

“What does it mean?” Paul accepts the cigar from Andrei, reaches for the cutter on
his watch chain.

“It means that he is sulking,” Andrei says. “It means he worries too much, mon cher.”

Paul does not seem to notice the endearment as he clips the end off his cigar and moves along the path beside Andrei.

“It is difficult bearing the hope of one’s family on one’s shoulders,” Andrei says softly.

Paul looks at him, but says nothing. I can’t read his expression in the shadows.

“In my country we have another proverb,” Andrei goes on. “‘Marry your son when you will, your daughter when you can.’ Misha taught me that one.” He smiles and looks at Paul. He leans closer. “I understand. I have a wife at home chosen by my father. She is not beautiful, but sweet, like your fiancée. And with a lot of money.”

The web of half-truths and outright lies he spins wraps around Paul, light as gossamer, strong as silk, and soon the young man is confessing his plight. And yes, the hope of his family does lie on his shoulders. His is an old name and pedigree here, but there is no longer any money left. He has three sisters who need dowries.

“I am very fond of Olive,” Paul says.

“Of course you are,” Andrei soothes.

The farther away we have come from the house, the closer Andrei has moved to him until they are now arm in arm. It appears a quite a natural progression, since I am also arm in arm on his other side, but I know they have forgotten about me already. Soon Andrei will slide out from my grasp and steer Paul away from me and out of sight in the rose garden.

“A life without passion,” Andrei murmurs, “is hardly worth living.”

Paul was leaning into Andrei now and I can almost feel him shiver as I withdrew into the shadows.

A woman’s voice shatters the perfumed air. “Paul? Are you out here?” It’s Olive, the fiancée.

I watch the two men pause, raise their heads, look at each other. Paul will be startled, pulled out of the dream he has walked into, guilt flooding over him at what he has confessed, what he has experienced.

I can almost feel Andrei’s annoyance as Paul slips from him, hurrying back to the warmth and light and security of the familiar. But he turns at the steps to the porch and says, “We’ll continue our talk later, sir.” He raises a hand. Even then he hesitates.

Andrei is barely visible in the shadows, and I feel him tremble with suppressed anger at the woman for her unfortunate timing. I move beside him and we watch until they finally disappear within.


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1 comment:

Victor J. Banis said...

what a beautiful excerpt, Caro - of course, what I would expect from you. Very original, too. Great stuff.