Five Course Meal by Maddox Herring
Updated: Mar 13
There, again, wafted in the smell that transformed his life. Its power pushed through the
fog. Staring into the bathroom mirror, Leon Sanders had to wonder how it happened. The
fragrance was a promissory note, a loan, something he would pay off for eternity; tonight
would be another payment.
He seemed to meld into his suit as the metal skin of a ship is molded onto its steel frame.
He took one look in the mirror, not noticing his tall figure, but only the knot on his tie.
His gigantic hands moved with precisions and grace. One loop under, over, through; he
finished his tie, patted his barrel chest and walked out of the bathroom--taking only
fifteen minutes to attain complete manly perfection.
He pulled out the ticket to the event tonight. It was a ludicrous event, he thought. But, all
the major bankers in the free world, and some from without, wanted to vet him and invest
in his newest venture. Leon being one of the only sure investments left.
Upon walking out of the bathroom he was struck by the same fragrance. She had awaken.
He could never fathom that a human being could permeate a fragrance merely from the
transition from unconsciousness to consciousness. His wife could.
He pushed back his stringy blonde hair and said “Amber, dear, you should get ready.
Dinner's in an hour and a half.”
She threw him a steamy look, her midnight black hair covering one almond shaped eye;
she calmly leaned back and said with a yawn, “yes, dear. It won’t take a minute.” Then
she lazily stretched, arching her back— emphasizing the long lines of her body.
Leon thought he’d better leave and let her get ready in peace.
At the sight of her, he was no longer thinking about which bank he would choose, he
would likely go with his long time banker James Hilthrop. Leon was no longer thinking
about his venture, either. He had run a successful shipbuilding enterprise for twenty three
years, working on battleships and supertankers since his father’s time on the harbors of
New York. His next endeavor would be another proud achievement. He would build a
brand new supertanker capable of hauling twice the amount of any tanker in existence,
while using less fuel.
But Leon could think of none of that now, he could only pace in wonderment at a steamy
look by a woman with the most delicate features he had ever encountered. She was a tiny
sparrow with the soul of a hawk. He was always amazed by the wonder she brought to his
life. He was a man who could control and command a crew of some of the toughest harbor men on the planet, but his immediate future was in the hands of this vivacious and
delicate woman--who he had no ability to make move any faster!
Leon knew the moment he entered his house that Amber hadn’t even taken a shower yet.
She had been awake most of the night negotiating with a rather surly and hairy Italian
man over a painting the museum she worked for sought. Amber had curated for this
museum for six years. Other Museum curators could only gawk in bafflement at her
selections. She chose such paintings and sculptures to exhibit that it was hard to imagine
how she was not laughed out of the business. Many curators speculated her husband, the
immensely wealthy shipbuilder, must be behind her success, for she did everything
contradictory to common trends; yet people kept showing up—rarely ever from the top
echelons of society, of course. They were rough but refined individuals who seemingly
had no taste for the subtler aspects of art and only wanted the crudity of seeing paintings
of recognizable human people. Amber’s only paintings of the previous one-hundred years
were placed in a small room toward the back, almost completely hidden by two large
Leon walked from the living room back to his bedroom, and peeked into the room.
Amber was just turning on the shower and looking around at the mess Leon had left.
Leon decided that watching the news would take his mind off of the wait. Walking back
to the upstairs viewing room he passed Amber’s favorite paintings. One, chosen just for
Leon was of a 19th century American Oil tycoon sitting at a dinner table with his family
and several guests celebrating some important endeavor accomplished.
He finally sat down and clicked on the television. He saw as usual, updates on a financial
crisis occurring in the country. This didn’t interest him much, because the worse things
seemed to get, the more banks sought out sure and easy investments such as his. He
expected to negotiate great terms, possibly even the best he had ever had. He was,
however, interested in events occurring overseas. As war and economic turmoil ripped
through many countries he wondered if he would have fewer customers to purchase his
new ship. This would be one argument bankers would use for not meeting all his terms,
although he was confident in his banker James Hilthrop and what he would be offering to
maintain their longstanding business relationship.
As a reporter was commenting on recent attacks in a far off place, Leon suddenly smelled
spicy lavender permeating from his bedroom. He was glad she chose his favorite
fragrance for this night—even if she was taking a bit too long to put it on.
He heard the quick scampering of a forest doe running from prey. Curious, he walked
past the painting, past the large marble staircase and slowly opened the door to his
He saw a wonder he still was enthralled by: A woman, wrapped in two towels—one for her body one for her hair—the towel for her hair had a long stringy wet black piece
protruding from the back; she quickly ran around the room gathering clothes, make-up,
hair dryer. Amber noticed Leon. She ran over and with a stiff arm much too strong for
such an elegant, fragile woman, kicked him out of his own bedroom, but not before he
saw the slightest tinge of a smile.
“Oh! Leon, why didn’t you wake me earlier?” She yelled through the closed door.
“I know you prefer waking on your own terms,” he said while walking back to the living
room; the scent of hot, spicy lavender remaining on the forefront of his consciousness.
Leon had long ago realized what kind of woman he had married. Most people thought of
Amber as some sort of trophy, a woman too beautiful to be of real worth. Till he met her
ten years prior, Leon would have agreed. Women had often shown great interest in him,
as he became more successful, they became more interested, and more beautiful. But
Amber was more. She was able to forget the fact that she was gorgeous. She was too busy
acquiring beautiful works of art to take the time to look in the mirror. Of course, she was
profound in her temerity during her negotiations. She was able to use her beauty as a
weapon against the men she often dealt with. Her tempestuous nature put men who saw
her as useless at quite a disadvantage, once she placed them there, she pounced.
Leon realized all of this and took it in stride. He was not one to ‘thank his lucky stars’ a
woman like Amber would ever choose his ‘sorry bones,’ as he had often heard other men
put it. Amber was never a puzzle to be evaded in a hopeless battle against unknowable
forces; she was something to be conquered. She was the plunder after an epochal battle,
and Leon Summers was first and foremost a warrior.
“Leon!” he heard her lilting voice with a surprising amount of force and depth carry from
his bedroom in to the viewing room. “Ask Cheryl if she can find my favorite dress.”
He stepped down the long curving staircase and entered the kitchen. “Cheryl, where's
Amber's favorite dress?” he asked nonchalantly.
“Mr. Summers,” Cheryl responded indignantly. “You yourself told me she wanted it
stored in the downstairs closet.”
“Yes... I suppose I did.”
“Mr. Summers,” she said with furrowed eyebrows, “have you forgotten which is her
“Absolutely not!” Leon sauntered over to the closet and opening it he peered at a long line of dresses, which seemed an infinite mathematical equation.
“Let’s see,” he proclaimed in a voice loud enough to be heard by Cheryl in the other
room. As he shuffled aside dress after dress, he began to hold his breath in terror. Blue
ones, red ones, strapless ones, long and short ones, and every kind of dress he could ever
fathom—and many he couldn’t.
He came to a long, golden dress that always reminded him of the first rays in autumn. It
was his favorite. He felt confident that this must be the one Amber loved, because he
loved it. He pulled it off its hanger and went to go up the stairs and then glanced down at
the swaying, golden dress. A crease appeared on his forehead. He rushed back to the
kitchen, and the man who oversaw an organization with hundreds of toughened crewmen
had to muster his courage.
“See,” he burst in the kitchen exclaiming to Cheryl, “I know her favorite.”
Cheryl smiled at his childish attempt. “Yes, Mr. Summers.” Cheryl was only ten years
older than Leon, but her calm voice had the affect his grandmothers used to have on him when he was a child.
He finally made it back upstairs and opened the door, just in time to see Amber snapping
on her bra. Leon did something no accident in his shipyards ever made him do: sweat. No
matter how long he was with Amber, he was always amazed at her elegant femininity.
She stood staring back at him and momentarily threw her head back and laughed. She
strode over, grabbed the dress and kicked him out of his own bedroom, again.
Leon crossed his arms, but was unable to get her image from his mind. He closed his eyes
and memorized every line connected to every curve; “well built,” he thought. He placed
the memory in the back of his mind for later use—where he always kept pleasant
memories, for times when he was forced to listen to shareholders and nasty Saudi princes.
He would pull these special images out and play them over until the meeting, or his
momentary bout of weakness, passed. While in his secret compartment, he noticed an old
memory he hadn’t looked at for some time. The day he met Amber.
He recalled the tremendous strain of the day. There was a major accident and several men
were almost killed. A piece of scaffolding had come loose and a whole section of his
newest tanker had almost collapsed. Leon was able to get things back to normal. He
worked with his crew throughout the night, commanding his army during the onslaught
of enemy fire—as it seemed to him later. Just before daybreak they were all running
Instead of going home to rest, Leon walked to a nearby pier. He placed his feet on the
first boards of the railing and leaned way over, smelling the sea which he knew so well.
Of all the wonders on earth, the sea is that which man has conquered the least. Suddenly he turned and saw a woman with a white dress that twirled around her waist like a hoola-
hoop. She was looking at him audaciously. Her perfection of beauty was not new to Leon. Neither was her audacity. It was the way her right hand tightly gripped the side of the
pier, as if she were afraid of losing contact with earth and ocean.
“Were you out there during the accident?” she asked, her voice tickling his ear as she
pointed to his shipyard.
She looked at his ragged, torn clothes, his slimy, greasy hands, his dirty hair, and smiled.
“Sometimes I think about jumping in the ocean and swimming to the deepest darkest
most unknown place on earth. It’s silly, but I’m sure there must be a great civilization
down there. And if I just try hard enough, I’ll make it.”
“It’s not silly.”
“Would you like to come with me?”
“I believe I already am. My name is Leon Summers, I own that shipyard.”
“I know.” She smiled in acknowledgment.
As his steel toed shoes clunked on the wooden pier she looked into the wine-dark sea and
said, “Man has struggled with two things in his existence: Ocean and woman. Are you the
man to master both?”
Leon was startled by a crash in his bedroom. “I’m fine” he heard Amber call.
The lingering effect of his memory felt like he had emerged from a resonating mirage,
which had enshrouded his soul during a treacherous four month stint at sea. He tapped his
foot for a moment, then crossed his arms, and then uncrossed them; pacing back and forth
as through on the deck of a ship. He walked resolutely to the door of his bedroom, and
stopped. He wandered around, ended up back in the viewing room, and then meandered
to the library. Gazing around the room he thought that when he finished this next ship he
would catch up on his reading, but he always said that.
Gathering his courage he went back to the door of his bedroom, he could only wonder at
the mysteries beyond. Then, he haughtily opened the door. After all, this is my room he thought. She was applying her make-up with some sort of silly contraption held gently in
her hand, and she would occasionally lean over the vanity and jab at the top of her eyelid.
Leon could rivet a 22 inch bracket to a large steel manifold 80 feet in the air, but was not
able to comprehend how she could apply her make-up without poking herself in the eye.
When she opened her eyes fully and saw Leon standing there scrutinizing her, she flung
her head around like a jungle cat. She got up with an arrogance of certainty in her
movement, and she started pushing him out of his room again. This time, he resisted. He
grabbed her arm in his strong hands, her wrist felt as brittle as lettuce, and he went to pull
her in for a kiss. She slipped away with the agility of a feisty French chef during high
dinner for the prime minister.
“Oh No, then we’ll never make it.”
“I don’t care.”
“Just a few more minutes, dear.”
She began pushing him again, but realized she’d have better luck moving one of his ships
by hand. Taking a different tack, she leaned over and kissed him slightly on the corner of
his mouth. He looked at her and staggered back, defeated.
The Main Course
Accepting his fate, Leon leaned up against the wall outside the room. He no longer paced.
He no longer crossed and uncrossed his arms. He looked like a statue in Amber’s
museum. He wore his full suit, one hand in his pocket, his blonde hair draping to the left
side of his head, and a contemptuous yet satisfied half smile on his lips.
He heard the rustling of Amber’s dress as she scampered around the room putting the
finishing touches on her masterpiece. The dinner had lost all import to him, his night
would end the moment she opened the door and revealed the totality of all her work. He
laughed at the thought of his friend, James Hillthrop, sitting next to Gamil, a Saudi
prince, as Gamil told the guests of his long list of female conquests—in detail.
They all waited for him.
He waited for her.
Finally he saw the handle of the door begin to descend. The door slowly creaked open
and he first caught the aroma of her perfume, which always made him think of the ocean
after a storm. Leon’s hands clenched and unclenched, he tapped his right leg and then ran
his hands through his hair. He saw the first folds of a gold covered leg appear through the
doorway, as the first beam of sunlight peers through a powerful gale. And then she stepped out. Her long midnight black hair had little curls at the end that bounced like a
child’s toy. Her naked arms had no jewelry except for her wedding ring. She wore only
the pearl necklace he had bought for her several years prior.
Suddenly Leon saw the entire night flash before his eyes. He saw Gamil’s lascivious
winks. He saw James’ disapproving looks at Gamil. He saw the other patrons all staring
at a wonder of the world they had not expected to encounter, like warriors landing on a
long lost deserted island and encountering a mystical nymph. Leon stared at her golden
dress and smiled. He wondered whether man had any right to have such pleasures as he
had. Then he remembered the lonely nights of his past, and the days in the blistering heat,
lifting steel beams only machines had a right to be able to move. He remembered
directing the men, overcoming the strikes, fighting the unions, the government, and all
manner of intrepid creatures. He recalled the long years of his struggle.
Leon closed his eyes for a moment and bowed his head in homage. When he lifted his
eyes from the bottom of Amber’s golden dress up to her eyes, he saw that she was
laughing in acknowledgement of their victory.
Her full red lips were the last thing Leon saw. In the next moment he was grabbing her
despite her feeble protests—and kissed those lips.
“Now We’ll be even more late, Le!”
He picked her up, one arm under her neck the other hooked beneath her knees. He felt the
flow of her heart beat throughout her warm, lively body. She resisted as one resists a
lovers embrace after a small lover’s spat. Leon moved into the bedroom as the door
slowly closed behind them: trapping within that room the timeless moment of their
successes and achievements—trapping the moans that would reverberate within Leon’s
consciousness until his dying breath.