This story is largely a personal fantasy, but it is based on a woman I knew once, who was just as described here. I often wonder what might have been...
... Then will I swear beauty herself is black
And all they foul that thy complexion lack.
Shakespeare, Sonnet 132
I'll never forget the first time I met Martha.
I had never seen a woman so ... so beautiful, so well-proportioned, so words-failing-me-ly amazing to look at.
I had also never seen anyone with skin that dark.
Martha was the color of fresh-brewed coffee. Not mocha, not tan, not any variation on the theme.
She was black. Totally, completely black.
It's not a criticism. It's a fact. I report what my eyes told me.
Now, let me be honest with you. My parents expressed a kind of tacit disapproval of blacks, and discouraged my brothers and me from hanging out with any of "them." Bringing one of "them" home was just not acceptable.
I understood my parents' objections, and abided by them, but I did not absorb them. I could accept their viewpoints without being affected by them.
Thus, while I had never dated any of the black girls in my high school, or in college for that matter, it was for lack of mutual interest, not racism (whatever that is). Similarly, it caused me no consternation when I was smitten by Martha. I put those thoughts aside, though -- it wasn't like I was ever going to date the woman, or anything.
Let me set the stage a little better, here.
I was working for a project management company. We managed large projects for major builders, shipyards, companies like that, some far from our humble office setting. I had originally intended to become a CPA and then get a law degree, maybe work for the FBI or the IRS in Washington (where I could meet lots of professional women, yowzuh!). Long story short, I took a project management seminar class. I showed a knack for Gantt charts, and ten years later, here I was.
We were a little short-handed on a downtown renovation project that promised to put many dollars into the corporate coffers. I was heading up my first really big project, and we were just about to launch when three of my team members announced they were forming their own consultancy.
HR got on it right away and brought in candidates. They screened out the least capable, and in my few spare moments I interviewed the cream of the crop.
Which is where Martha comes into the story.
She was my last interview. I took one look, and had to fight to complete the interview. She was so beautiful, I could have stared at her all day. I hate to say it, but she would have had the job regardless of qualifications.
Ah, but her qualifications...
She had attended the same school I had, and came complete with a letter of recommendation from my old economics professor. Her senior project was one with which I was very familiar.
Needless to say, she got the job.
There was much to be done, and no time for flirting, so we got busy. We worked virtually around the clock for seven months, taking minimal time for baths and meals, everyone pitching in with their best efforts, and no one worked harder than that young woman. She was tough, organized, and professional. I didn't just have the hots for her; I was truly impressed by the entire package.
We got the project finished, on-time and under-budget, the Holy Grail of corporate accomplishment. At the end-of-project celebration, I singled her out especially for her work. Everyone was impressed; she was ecstatic.
Well, life settled down after the rigors of the big project, and I was assigned a somewhat smaller job. I was promoted, and given a small team. I made sure she was part of it, more because I knew her abilities than anything else. I won't deny the small bit of flirting that went on; we just kept it quiet, that's all.
So it was about 8 months since she had arrived, mid October, and the weather had still not entirely cooled. She commented on it a couple of times, and we teased her a little, about why had she moved to Florida if she expected actual seasons, that sort of thing.
It was a Friday, and truly unseasonably warm and humid, even for Florida. A cold front (not to say an actual Alberta Clipper) had moved through the rest of the country, resulting in a few very early snows and lots of rough weather.
It raised hell with us. We had endured lines of storms most of the day, mostly nuisances, but they increased in fury as the day wore on. A little after 4pm, we lost power.
What was surprising was that it did not come on again within fifteen minutes or so. I was the senior staff member on site, the big bosses having bugged out early, so I made the command decision to tell everyone to head out for the weekend. We weren't that busy, and everyone likes to leave early on Friday, right?
Well, not Martha. I passed by her cube, and she was sitting still. I could see by the light from the emergency lamps that she was crying.
"Martha? What's wrong?" I asked.
She started, and then wiped her face and managed a smile. "I just don't like storms," she said in a tremulous voice.
I sat in her guest chair. "Well," I said, in as soothing a voice as I could manage, "they're a regular feature of this part of the world. The good news is, they don't tend to last long."
"Okay," she giggled, trying to suppress all-out bawling, "what's the bad news?"
I laughed. "None, really, not on a regular basis. Of course, I did hear on the radio that we may get some more pretty big boomers rolling through this evening."
She put her hand over her eyebrow, and started humming softly. "Why don't you wait a bit and go on home?" I said softly.
"I can't drive in this," she said, the tremor back in her voice. "I close my eyes when I see lightning. I can't help it." The tears started again, and she let them come.
I waited a moment while I pondered. "Listen," I said, "I can drive you home. I'm accustomed to this stuff."
She rocked back and forth a little, humming some more. It almost sounded like a moan. A sharp crack of thunder in the background only punctuated her misery. "Can you stay awhile? I hate to ask, but I don't want to be alone."
I pondered for another moment, and said, "Would you like to come home with me? I hate to sound too forward, but..." I let it hang there, unfinished.
She finally looked up and nodded weakly. "Sure, if you don't mind. I hate to be such a baby."
"You're not," I soothed. "Grab your stuff and I'll get the car. I'll pull up and meet you at the front door."
She smiled and nodded again, and I left.
A few moments later, she was in the car. I got out and locked the office door, and we proceeded to my home.
On the way, another line of hard storms began to roll through. She looked terrified. The three accidents we passed -- and especially sitting while the traffic cleared -- did nothing to help her state of mind.
We finally reached my house a half-hour later than even I would have expected. I pulled into the garage, and as the door closed behind us she seemed to relax significantly.
My place was not huge, and I'm no neat freak; but I tend to keep a fairly tidy set of surroundings. I'm also a decent cook, and I whipped up soup, salad and sandwiches in short order. We ate in companionable silence, punctuated by small talk: family, school, like that.
The storms ebbed and flowed. Once when there was a particularly bad crack of thunder, she reached across the table and grabbed my hand. She withdrew it quickly, but the effect on my soul was electric.
"I'm sorry," she said simply, looking embarrassed.
"No reason," I said. I left my hand where it was and said, "Grab on if you need to." As if on cue, another crash sounded, and she grabbed on. This time, she held on for a few moments.
Our eyes locked for a moment, and I thought to myself, oh, how nice.
We eventually enjoyed a brief respite from the violence, as the weatherman had said we would -- we had dared to turn on the TV for a few minutes -- and I suggested showers.
She reflected for a moment. "I don't have anything to wear," she said a tad plaintively.
I laughed. "I think I can rustle up some garments."
We went through my armoire and found a light jogging suit, boxers and an A-shirt ("I don't keep a stash of bras," I quipped). She showered rather quickly, and I followed her.
We sat together on the sofa, resuming the small talk. Outside, another more feeble storm storm had begun to thrash, and I tried to keep her mind off of it. She once again took my hand as a security blanket.
And then the lights went out.
Her grip on my hand tightened. I said, "I'm going to need that for a second," as I arose and got the flashlight from its magnetic perch on the side of the fridge. I rejoined her and began to inquire about the insignificant.
The small talk was soothing to her. The couch faced away from the window, and the vertical blinds were closed; but flashes of lightning still caused her to tense, and she moved closer and closer to me.
At one point she asked, "Am I sitting too close?" She seemed genuinely torn between her comfort and mine.
By way of answer, I slipped my right arm over her shoulder, and she leaned in closer. "It's okay," I said softly,
She turned her head and whispered, "Thank you."
I turned my head, with the intention of replying, "You're welcome." Instead, when I turned, our eyes locked again; and then our lips met, and we kissed, passionately, hungrily, unashamed.