Crescent Review 8.2
When Willy was five, a friend of his Mother's named Stephanie came to stay at his house in Connecticut. She was a tall smiling woman with a great tumble of shining blond curls, and when she bent down to hug Willy she smelled sweet and strong and something in him stirred helplessly.
Willy knew there was something deeply exciting about women and although he didn't know what it was, he knew Mom's tall lady friend had lots of it. Her pale, powdered flesh was abundant, her clothes and smells were opulent, exotic, and everywhere — at her wrists and fingers, ears and throat — small beautiful things glittered and moved.
When Willy was near Stephanie he felt very close to some womanly secret that made him feel all twisty in his stomach, like knowing the next day was Christmas or Circus day. He believed she could reveal this secret to him if she wanted to, although how she might do that, what the revelation might involve, he couldn't imagine.
Some mornings, Willy's Mom let him take a cup of coffee upstairs to Stephanie's bedroom.
"Don't you bother Stephanie," she would say. "Just give her the coffee and say good morning and leave."
But Willy could never do just that. Stephanie would sit up in bed when he knocked, and as he approached, his field of vision would fill with golden curls and sweet smelling rounded flesh and silken nightclothes. She would run her nails through his hair and tease him while she drank her coffee.
"You're my little man," she would say, "and I'm your best girl. When are you taking me out on the town?"
She would tease him that way until he felt like he would explode and die with happiness. Then, finally, she would hug him, gathering him into her arms and pressing his head (exquisite moment!) between her soft breasts.
"Shoo," she would say. "I can't have a little man here while I dress, can I?" Willy didn't understand why not, but he knew the answer had to do with the larger secret he was pursuing, a secret contained around and within everything that was Stephanie.
In the afternoons, when Stephanie shopped in the village or gardened with Mom, Willy would tiptoe into her room and examine her things, looking for traces of the secret in the oddly shaped perfume bottles, the sparkling rings and chains with their icy blue white stones, the creamy scented undergarments she sometimes left about. Willy would smell and touch her bras and panties and hold them against his flushed cheek and feel excited and good and bad at the same time.
Stephanie always left her dress watch on the table by the bed, a tiny glittery thing that was Willy's favorite of all her things. He knew watches told time but he didn't know how they did this, although he had an idea that watches got their life, their energy, from the people who wore them. His mother had a watch, but Stephanie's watch was much smaller and much more beautiful, covered with little stones that winked and flashed colors. As he held it and watched the second hand tick off its circle, pulsing like a tiny heart, it seemed like a living part of Stephanie lay in his hand. He wondered how Stephanie's watch in particular told time. He wondered if the secrets in Stephanie were also somehow in her watch, only in miniature.
One afternoon he took the watch to his father's worktable in the basement. He thought he could open it up, study the inside, and put it back before Stephanie returned from the village with Mom.
Willy climbed up on the stool, put the watch on the table, and turned on the overhead light. The tiny watch gleamed and sparkled. For a moment he just stared at it, entranced by the dancing facets of light and color and the delicate pulsing circle made by the second hand, everything so mysterious and yet so beautiful, so full of purpose, just like Stephanie! He held it close to his eyes and tried with no success to work his fingers in under the crystal at the corners.
Willy's fingers began to hurt as he dug at the watch. He picked up a small screwdriver and tried to work the blade in at the corners of the watch, behind the sparkling stones. But the blade wouldn't go in; the watch wouldn't open for him.
"Oh Stephanie!" Willy whispered. "Oh please!" Everything was taking too long. He pushed hard and the screwdriver slipped, nicking his palm. He licked a few drops of salty blood from the cut and stared at the watch.
Willy picked up a small hammer and hit the watch a pretty good lick. It popped open like a walnut.
He carefully lifted off the numbered face so he could put it back the same way and looked beneath the surface. He saw tiny jewels, red ones and blue, and the tiniest of tiny notched gold wheels, hundreds of them it looked like, many in motion. He lifted out one wheel to study it more closely, but it was so tiny it slipped through his fingers and fell to the floor.
Willy wondered if Stephanie was like that inside, full of bright jewels and complex gold wheels in motion beneath her soft exterior. He poked gently at the watch with the screwdriver, trying to see deeper inside, and two more little wheels fell out.
Something was wrong. Willy began to grow restive, and impatient with the watch. It was intricate and beautiful inside, but it didn't make him feel that twisty, excited thing he felt around Stephanie. It wasn't anything like the good/bad feeling that made his nub uncurl and grow hard and left him in sweet confusion.
Willy picked up one of the little wheels on the table and pushed it carefully back inside the watch. He couldn't find the other wheels but there were so many inside he figured one or two wouldn't matter much.
He put the face back on and tried to fit the crystal over it. One corner looked higher than the others. He pushed hard and finally got the crystal to stick on so it looked almost right.
The second hand didn't move any more, but he wasn't too concerned about that. He knew as soon as Stephanie put it on, as soon as it touched her living flesh, it would start up again.