Except for Deek, Irene lived alone in the house. The house was deep in uptown New Orleans, where burglars, rapists and voyeurs were known to prowl. So even with iron bars on the doors and windows, at bedtime Irene checked all the locks on the first floor. She went first to the foyer and front door, then through the dining room to the kitchen and side door, then through the den and library to the storage room and back door, turning lights on and off as she went. This had been her routine since Floyd left eighteen years ago.
At the foot of the stairs, Irene looked up toward the dark second-floor landing. Maybe she should sleep downstairs tonight, on the couch in the den. Except for her time of month, she’d been sleeping upstairs more often than not lately. Maybe she needed a break from Deek, who wouldn’t come downstairs. She quickly dismissed the thought. She wanted Deek to come, and that was that.
Starting up the stairs, Irene imagined for the millionth time what Floyd must have heard and seen that night. He’d been in the country around Vacherie helping his father with the cane the whole week, and he came home long after dark, expecting Irene to be asleep. But on the stairs he must have heard sounds drifting down from the bedroom. He would have stepped onto the landing at the top of the stairs, as Irene was about to do now, where he would have heard the sounds more clearly, and would have turned toward the open doorway of the bedroom. Then he would have seen a man, a tall dark man in silhouette against the moonlit window, leaning over the thick-posted bed where Irene lay moaning and squirming with her gown up and her legs wide. What he must have thought!
In the bedroom now, Irene clicked on the light, locked the door, and began undressing before the mirror. She was thirty-eight, but still her waist was trim and her skin was firm. She guessed her work in the yard and garden kept her in shape. Her blonde hair had darkened but not grayed, and the lines around her light blue eyes were hardly noticeable. Not that there’d been a man to notice since Floyd, or that she’d wanted one. There was only Deek. She pulled off her underwear and pulled on a pajama top, turned on the lamp, turned out the overhead light, and slipped into bed.
The night of the attack, Floyd had said something like “What the hell!” from the open doorway, and that’s when the man stopped what he was doing and Irene woke up. Irene’s first thought was Don’t stop!, but then through glazed eyes she saw the man who’d been molesting her, and instantly she sat up with a confused and terrified squeal and covered herself. Just then she heard a ferocious growl and saw Floyd rushing like an angry bull toward the man and slamming his shoulder into him. The man crashed into the night stand, but he was much bigger than Floyd and didn’t fall; instead, he just shoved Floyd backwards to the floor. But Floyd had his machete he wore to the cane fields — what he called his “snake knife” — and he unsheathed it and started to get up off the floor when the man grabbed him by the throat with both hands. “Floyd!” screamed Irene as Floyd swung the huge knife in a furious wide arc clean through the man’s arms. The man stood gaping at his arms, now bloody stumps above the wrists, and then at his hands still clinging to Floyd’s throat.
“Hands —” gasped the man, and Irene heard herself crying like a child, which she was practically — a horrified little girl wrapped in blankets on the bed. Then as Floyd flung the dark severed hands from his throat, the man roared “Hands!” and took a step toward Floyd, who plunged the knife deep in the man’s abdomen, held it there a moment, and withdrew it. The man groaned and crumpled to the floor.
Still crying and huddling on the bed, Irene expected Floyd to come to her. But he didn’t even look at her as he wiped his knife on his pants and sheathed it. “Goddamn whore,” he cursed and walked out of the room.
“Floyd!” cried Irene. “Floyd!” She heard him thumping down the stairs and immediately stepped off the bed and stumbled around the pool of blood surrounding the man on the polished wood floor, trying not to look at the gruesome handless arms. She ran out of the room and down the stairs, calling “Floyd! Floyd!” But Floyd didn’t answer, and outside the truck was gone.
She tried to picture Floyd now as she lay wide-eyed under the sheets and quilt. He’d been gone so long she hardly remembered what he looked like. She remembered him dancing at their wedding, and how ravenously he ate at the dinner table, but they’d only been married thirteen months, and much of that time he was off in the country working the cane. Then, before she even had time to miss Floyd after he left, Deek started coming. However she described her relationship with Deek, after all these years it was certainly more substantial than her relationship with Floyd had been. Now more than ever the anticipation of Deek coming was so great it kept her awake, and in her wakefulness the anticipation only intensified.
Following the attack, the police interrogated Irene in the library. After more than two hours of questioning, Sergeant Miller and Deputy Burke left the room to confer with each other and other officers, then came back in.
“Mrs. Gros,” asked Miller as he resumed his seat in the chair across from her, “did Floyd take anything when he left the room?”
Irene had stopped crying but still held her handkerchief. Burke remained standing, pacing back and forth behind Irene’s chair.
“Just his knife,” said Irene.
“Right,” huffed Burke behind her, “the ‘snake knife’.”
“Yes,” said Irene without looking back.
“What about the hands, Irene?” asked Miller.
“The dead man’s hands,” said Miller. He glanced up at Burke, then back to Irene. “Did Floyd take them?”
Irene looked puzzled. “No. Are they missing?”
“We ask the questions,” snapped Burke.
“Floyd pulled them from his throat,” said Irene. “Did you look under the bed?”
“Did you see them go under the bed?” asked Miller.
“No. I didn’t see where they went.”
Suddenly Burke stood over the back of Irene’s chair. “Mrs. Gros,” he demanded, “do you engage in the practice of voodoo?”
Irene turned toward Burke’s voice. “Voodoo!” she said. “That’s absurd! I’m white and I’m Catholic.” She caught Burke gazing down the top of her robe and pulled it tight.
Miller studied Irene as he gestured to Burke to back off. “The victim,” he explained to Irene, “the Reverend Deek Lewis — ”
“Who, of course, you didn’t know,” Burke interjected.
“ — was rumored to dabble in voodoo as well as scripture.”
Irene started crying again. “Deek Lewis!” It was the first time they’d mentioned his name.
“You know Deek Lewis?” asked Miller.
“My mother’s housekeeper was Roxy Lewis,” sobbed Irene. “He was her son. He used to pick her up in a brand new car. I didn’t recognize him.”
“When’s the last time you saw him?” asked Miller.
“At least five years ago, before Roxy quit.”
“Did you ever speak to him?”
“And you never saw him again till last night?” asked Burke.
“No,” stated Irene as she clutched her robe and dabbed her cheek. “I told you I didn’t recognize him. He came in through the window or something. He was attacking me in my sleep when Floyd came home and defended me. That’s all I know.”
“But you don’t have a scratch,” said Burke.
“And where’s Floyd?” said Miller.
“And the hands?” said Burke.
Irene stayed with her parents on Carrollton Avenue for several weeks after the attack. Her father, who’d bought her and Floyd the house on State Street as a wedding present, insisted on having the iron bars installed on all the doors and windows, and her mother had the bedroom cleaned and the house tidied after the police made a mess searching it.
When Irene finally came home, she still couldn’t sleep in the bedroom for days. Then on her first night back in the bedroom, she woke in darkness, fully aroused by the touch of fingers and hands between her legs and on her breasts. She was so wet, fast approaching orgasm as one strong hand stroked her and the other pinched and pulled her hard, tender nipple. Oh God, she thought. Then she realized she was moaning and thought Who? as terror overcame passion and she jolted her legs shut, flailed her arms around her, and curled up against the headboard. No one was there, but she knew it was Deek. She ran out of the room and slept downstairs the rest of the night.
The next night on the couch she touched herself as she thought of Deek. The way he used to look at her out of his fancy car! And the way he touched her! But he was a rapist. No telling what he would have done if Floyd hadn’t saved her. She plunged her fingers into herself as she vowed never to sleep upstairs in the bedroom again. Then she couldn’t sleep and wrote her vow in her diary.
She broke her vow a week later. When she woke in the throes of orgasm she didn’t resist. Then Deek was gone and she fell back asleep till morning. The next day she tortured herself with guilt for what she’d done and fear of what could have happened. She renewed her vow and broke it again several days after that. This went on for months, but Deek always satisfied her and never hurt her. Over time he became familiar and his visits routine, and Irene forgot her vow.
Now, as the ceiling fan hummed and the big house creaked, nothing touched her or, she knew, would touch her until she slept. She guessed the years had proved Floyd right — she was a whore. But she only smiled as she shut her eyes to wait for Deek.