The Darkness Under the Table

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Darkness by Elvio E. Gandolfo


Translated from the Spanish by Norman Thomas di Giovanni

The boss said I could leave a couple of hours early to finish work on some files I’d taken home the night before. After a long bus ride on a damp, misty afternoon, I enter our dingy elevator, make my way down the dank corridor and, since the apartment door tends to swell on such days, I shoulder it open. In the living room are four chairs, a solid old round-ended wooden table that rests on two U-shaped bases, each with a column as thick and round as a log. Past the table, by the kitchen door, is a scruffy sideboard. Behind a little door on the right hand side of it, where normally bottles of different drinks would be stored, are fresh stationery, carbon paper and the files I’ve been working on. Still in my overcoat, I squeeze between the chairs and sideboard (the room’s small and all the furniture in it barely fits), and crouch down. This door sticks too, but finally it yields. I take out a handful of files, and, rather than lay them out on the table, I sink down to the floor and sort through them, looking for the one I need. At the other end of the room, the hall door springs open — obviously my wife, I think, and I turn my head just enough to catch a glimpse through the thicket of chair and table legs and lace tablecloth.

What I see are my wife’s legs. She’s wearing high heels, which strikes me as odd, and I can only make out that part of her from the knees down. She’s in her purple dress — the one she usually wears on weekends. My eyes shift to catch the time. Quarter past four. I figured the slight movement of my head would be accompanied by the sound of the closing door (you shove it open, come in and slam it hard almost in a single motion). Puzzled to hear nothing, I look again.
There’s a second pair of legs next to my wife’s — a man’s. Now the door shuts, and the two sets of legs shift. My wife’s back is to the door and the man’s heels point my way. He’s clearly pressing against her. From below the edge of the table and tablecloth, a hand creeps down, slowly lifts the hem of my wife’s dress, and at one and the same time — tender and brutal, urgent and unhurried — it strokes her stockinged flesh. My wife is panting and she sucks in long deep breaths that get mixed up with the beginning of a word she can’t quite get out between her clenched teeth. The hand is fumbling under my wife’s dress again, and now I see the full length of her legs in their flesh-colored stockings.

All at once her legs come away from the door, and for a moment the man hesitates. Out of my line of vision he seems to be fitting his body to hers. She retreats backward into the room, hauling the man with her, clutching at his clothes and tugging, until she’s leaning against the table.

Her buttocks are on the edge of the table now and she’s opening her legs, getting them round the man’s, who is standing on tiptoe, still wearing his shoes. Just as I was waiting for the door to shut, now I’m waiting for the man to plant his feet firmly and for my wife’s panting to rise again, or at least start again, for it’s been interrupted. But the movements of the two seem softer now, almost silent and respectful. The man’s hands slowly peel off one of her stockings, while my wife’s feet nimbly kick off her shoes. I can hear the snap of elastic as her second stocking comes loose. Then slowly this second stocking slides down.

My wife’s legs are white, almost milky where they join her buttocks, and just on the plump side. But they’re still firm. They have a quality about them that asks for something. I’m not quite sure what. To say they’re asking to be touched would be to oversimplify.

I still can’t see the man’s face — partly because it’s somewhere beyond the fringe of the tablecloth and partly because her leg keeps hiding it. There’s a low whispering, my wife’s legs move, first one, then the other. She’s taking off — or he’s helping her take off — her dress. It flutters to the floor, beside the two pairs of legs.

I notice the man’s still got his trousers on. He’s stroking her, and from time to time a hand slips down between her buttocks, lingers there, then climbs up again. Until it just stays, and he’s delicately poking around inside her, and my wife’s panting and panting. I expected to see her legs rise, clinging to the man’s, or to hear a slight creaking of the tabletop to indicate that she’s lying back, that he’s easing himself onto her, shifting the lace tablecloth and knocking over the ugly porcelain swan centerpiece. Instead she softly drops down on her knees, and carefully but decisively unzips the man’s fly. From my position I can’t quite tell how his member comes out because almost before it does my wife takes it in her mouth and is working on it. The man has hold of her head, of her hair and ears, as if his rapture, which hovers on the edge of chaos, has to be kept in check in order to intensify the pleasure.

My wife slowly changes her position. Her face has become someone else’s. It is more real and more anonymous than her everyday face. Her eyes are half shut, her cheeks have gone pink and hollow owing to the task she is performing. Her blond hair swirls all over the place and slides back and forth with the motion of her head and of the man’s body. His legs seem to have relaxed, and one of his shoes lies on its side like a careened ship.

My wife, now pulling him down, slowly rests on the U-shaped base on that side of the table. Her shoulders are canted against the column, and as if in worship the man kneels, penetrating her at first gently, then with violence.

My wife’s head falls back, spilling her crop of blond hair, which seems to light up the darkness under the table. Now I can see her face, upside down, panting, throbbing. Her arms grip the man and hold him tight. For the first time, I see his face. He’s no one I know and is neither more nor less attractive or unappealing than I am, but at this moment he is redeemed by his pleasure, reprieved. The two are moving in harmony, melodiously, and his whole face is both tense and supple.

My wife must have detected something through her half-shut eyes, because suddenly they open. She must be seeing me upside down too, beyond the darkness under the table, with the files on my lap, my back to the sideboard and still in my overcoat. I look at her. In a brief twitch that displaces her concentration from the man to me, we must be communicating something to each other that preempts her surprise from catapulting into terror. Slowly, very slowly, my wife shuts her eyes again, and I can’t even invent the hint of a smile on her lips, which softly receive the man’s and let themselves be squashed by them in a wet sucking sound. The sound is one of mutual internal surrender, and the two nearly stop breathing.

For the first time the man’s movements seem desperately close to violence. He’s tearing off his sweater and shirt in one go, and, with a snaky jiggle of his whole body, his trousers too, which slip down to his knees. My wife clutches him anxiously, for they’ve separated for a few moments, but the man’s hands grasp her again, calming her, and they pull off her ocher silk half-slip, tossing it onto the pile of clothes.

The penetration, which is now forceful, is transmitted through my wife’s shoulders to the whole table, making the fringe of the tablecloth dance before my eyes. She and her partner reach climax quickly, gasping in unison, more and more hoarsely, as they rise to a final cry of agony and triumph. The man remains on top of her, stroking her hair, her shoulders. My wife shifts position, and her face is hidden. I then look at her breasts. The right nipple, as ever, is erect and hard, and the left soft, defeated.

Again my wife shifts, and the two of them lie there in a sprawl between the table and the wall, gently stroking each other. I can see my wife’s goose flesh. Then comes a moment when the pair seem to be dozing. A prisoner under the bundle of files, my erect penis begins to flag in a sensation somewhere between anguish and gratification.

The first thing to stir is the man’s hand. It begins caressing my wife. With a shiver, her whole body seems to awaken.

Her little flutter energizes the man, who takes my wife, lifting her bodily as he half rises himself. She takes hold of the table base so as to withstand the man’s rhythmic battering from behind. Now her eyes flutter wide open and she stares at me, mesmerized, until she finds herself forced to shut them when both she and the man reach a second orgasm.

The table’s rocking almost to the point of coming to pieces, and one of my files spills onto the floor, but nothing seems to jerk the two of them out of their animal trance. By now my arm aches, my erection is long gone and I feel my whole body on the verge of cramping up. I figure maybe they’ll collapse again, relax and doze. It’s ten minutes to five.

But my wife’s face, which she’s thrown back barely missing the edge of the table, undergoes a horrible transformation. In a split second it reverts to its normal features — the nervous twitch on the left side of her lips, her general defensive air. She’s on her knees beside the man, but when he tries to stroke her back she removes his hand, smoothly and forcefully, telling him she’s going to be late picking up our kids from school.

I don’t know how, but by his legs (down which his trousers have slipped to form a sort of shapeless pedestal), his hands and even his member, the man shows that he’s got the message, that he’s been doused with a bucket of cold water. One of his hands drops slowly and picks up my wife’s slip, which I bought her at Harrod’s for our fifth wedding anniversary. I think he’s going to hand it to her, but instead he carefully wipes himself with it. Then he hikes up his trousers and gathers his clothes. My wife has wriggled into her violet dress and shoes. Once more I see only legs — his standing still as he buttons up his shirt and hers clattering off and disappearing in the corridor doorway. I recognize the sound of the loose glass pane in the bathroom door. I notice she’s taken away her slip.

A second later she’s back. For a moment their legs are in the exact position they were when the two of them entered the apartment. I suddenly think it’s all going to begin again, with her pressed against the door and his heels pointing toward me. But in less than a second my wife’s feet are on the march, the door is tugged open and I hear the noise as it closes — a squeaky sound muffled by the damp — and their steps retreating to the elevator.

Only now — and not without difficulty — am I able to get up.

Elvio E. Gandolfo and