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Short Story
2964 words
SHJ Issue 12
Spring 2015

Veronica Times Veronica Cubed

by Malcolm James Broad

Morgan lived in a sparsely decorated penthouse overlooking Lake Michigan. He thought of the space as his minimalist redoubt. In the living room there was a white leather Chesterfield sectional, glass coffee table, and a Mies Van der Rohe chair. His space matched his animus. He was minimalist in his relationships with women, relying on English charm and a premeditated progression of gifts (French perfume, Italian shoes, then something glittering) to do the otherwise “wet” job of wooing the opposite sex.

Thirteen months earlier Veronica had placed an ad in the Chicago Tribute’s personals. She described herself as an “urban lawyer, experimental, iconoclastic, beautiful, and uncompromising.” When men responded, she added: “tall in heels and biologically twenty-five years old.”

It was Veronica’s wit that first attracted him. He loved her wildness and eagerness in bed. But she had failed at every relationship in her life: a marriage when she was nineteen, followed by twenty-one years of dating more than eighty men, many her junior by a decade. Before she met Morgan she had a brief affair with a French finance minister, who twice took her to Paris, the last time leaving her in the early hours at the George V and never calling again.


“Let me see how you look in your new shoes,” Morgan said.

She had tried to wear them for an hour every day, and her feet were badly blistered. The shoes were too high for her small foot and thin ankles. She felt like she was walking on pointe.

“I love them,” she said. She tottered around the room.

“I love seeing them on your feet. Do they hurt you?”

“Not really.” She thought about it again. “Only when I move.”

He laughed. “You’re better when you move.”

She knew the reference to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and smiled.


They had come back from the pool. Morgan had stripped off his black Speedo and was wearing a spa robe; Veronica was in a silk kimono. That evening she told him he was the most brilliant man she had met in her life.

“Me? I’m just a ponce.”

“Brilliant and handsome, a rare combination,” she said.

“You are in fine form today, Veronica.”


A week later Veronica called him with an update on his visa application. “They’re going to approve your visa, Morgan.” She wanted to tell him all the details. She had succeeded where three big-firm lawyers had failed. She wanted to tell him how she had charmed the administrator at the immigration office. She almost blurted out how the office staff loved her. No candy, no gifts, just me.

“Why are you so positive?” Morgan asked. “Is it signed?”

“No, but I have them eating out of my hand.”


Being in love was good for Veronica; she was doing so well, her psychiatrist took her off lithium.

“How do you feel?” the doctor asked.

“Never better.”

“Are you drinking?”

“Not much,” she answered.

But she was drinking gin, small sips from an opaque cup that she filled without looking. She sipped all night and into the early morning. It smoothed her out and helped her get more done. This included mastering the new immigration law in the event the case ended up in court. She was Joan of Arc and this was war. She called Morgan at 2 a.m.

“Why can’t I go with you to Santa Monica to meet the investors?”

“You would be bored. The meetings go on all day.”

“But I know how to ask for a check.”

“It’s not the right moment to ask for a check. Anyway, Santa Monica is gray in June, and the water is too cold for swimming. It’s nothing like Miami.”


“It looks like it might be a few more months,” Veronica said.

He felt a burning in his stomach. “That’s not what you told me. You said it was a sure thing.”

“They’re administrators, Morgan. They have a thousand cases. The only reason you’re at the front of the line is because I’m dancing for you.”

He walked to the bar to mix martinis.

“You didn’t ask what I wanted,” she said.

“Sorry, darling. What would you like?”

“A martini is fine.”

She sat in the middle of the long sectional, while he stood silhouetted at the window, looking at Lake Michigan. It was flat, gray, and very calm. It’s how he imagined eternity; in the meantime he would enjoy life’s pleasant articulations. That lovely word has many variations, he thought, some quite extreme.


“No, I don’t think you are bipolar,” her psychiatrist said. “It’s a convenient diagnosis and, unfortunately, too often abused. I want to see how you do without drugs for a while longer.” A week later she began a manic stage; she was brilliant and brilliantly funny, an invincible mind driven by unrelenting hypomania and the belief that Morgan was about to propose. She could work day and night and she would. There were twelve inches of immigration law on her desk and eighteen inches on the floor. No stone unturned—no pebble, no grain of sand. If he lets me help, I could make him the next Elon Musk. Get out of my way and let me get this done. She needed a signature from one more administrator, a rotund man named Bertram Good.


“That’s a funny question. Would I give Bertram Good a blow job for the visa?” She laughed. “I would give every administrator in the building a blow job if I thought it would help.”


As he got ready for Veronica, he looked at himself in the mirror over the granite sinktop. His physique was trim with narrow shoulders, long legs, size eleven shoes, sparse hair on his chest and arms. Pushing was American but he had run out of options. There was only a month left before his Multiple Entry Visa would expire, then he would have to leave the US without returning for six months. Where was she? Why was she late? He looked at his watch.

“Sorry I’m late—hard to find a cab this time of night. You look worried. Are you all right?” she asked.

“I’m fine. Just thinking about it again. Maybe it is time to push the right people. But the last thing I want is to seem an eager beaver. It always kills things.”

“So you want me to be the eager beaver?”

“You already are.”

She almost took the remark as an insult. Then she laughed. “Oh, funny. I guess I am an eager beaver.”

He smiled roguishly.

“Oh, stop.”

Despite the fact that Morgan never said he loved her, Veronica had never been happier in a relationship. She consoled herself that his coolness was “typically English.” When the games started, she hardly realized what was happening. He inched her into the deep end. Why not, she thought. I’m a natural-born actress. These games are just a bit of dangerous fun.


“Be right out, darling.”

In the high-ceilinged room, Veronica looked like a child. She studied the single painting on the wall, a pseudo-monochrome, off-white, with faint circles of blue and brown. In the distance Lake Michigan rolled away: bleak, gray, and strangely convexed.

“Morgan, what are you doing in there?’

She was thinking about meeting his mother. I will be a perfect lady. I will be polite and well spoken. I won’t be loud. Oh, Christ. I can’t do this. What’s wrong with me? You loved it when I had the governor on the floor, laughing and grabbing his sides.

He appeared in the doorway, holding a large, inlaid box.

Is this a gift for me? she thought. Is this how he’s going to propose? A large box with a small, velvet-covered box inside? Oh God, this is agony.


They hadn’t seen each other for a week. The deskman was friendly and smiled while he waited for Morgan’s call before he sent her up. Morgan left the door ajar and was shaving. Veronica sat in the middle of the large sectional with her hands folded in her lap, as if she were in church.

Morgan entered, barefoot, in white pants and a well-pressed black shirt. “Hello, darling. How’s the weather out there?”

“Really blowing. Big whitecaps on the lake.”

“Never know it up here. Did you buy your ticket for Spain?”

“I thought you were buying the tickets.”

“I told you I couldn’t put two tickets on the expense account.”

“But I thought we were going over to meet your mother.”

“Well, we are spending two days with my parents, but we are going to Spain to meet an associate who invests in our kind of projects.”

“I’m excited about meeting your mother and father.”

“Yes, well, Mother can be rather difficult. Try not to be bigger than life.”

“Try not to be myself?”

“You know what I mean. Don’t interrupt her.”

“I only interrupt when it’s boring.”

“Oh God, Veronica. Sometimes, I don’t—”

She immediately regretted that she had snapped back like that. The prospect of meeting his mother made her feel sick to her stomach, and she hadn’t been able to sleep all week. God damn it, I’m not going to say a word, just agree with everything and laugh politely.

“What’s wrong? Are you mad at me? You seem funny. Come over here and kiss me.”

“I have a better idea.”

Morgan left the room and returned with a box of silk scarves. “Shall we play some music?”

“Classical would be nice,” she replied mechanically.

She undressed, folding her clothes in a neat square on the chair. She took a seat on the sectional, and Morgan started with the first of five silks.

“Did you shower?”

“I always shower first,” she answered, her affect flat.

After this question there would be no more conversation.

He bound her ankles, wrapping them three times, firmly, but not so tight as to stop the circulation. Next he tied her wrists behind her. They had played this game before. First came the long ceremony of binding, then tying and retying the knots. It seemed to take longer than before. Was he practicing new knots, new ligatures? She didn’t like it when he used that word. She knew its deadly meaning in law. He proceeded slowly. He was the master and she was the slave. She liked the silks better than the other variations: in one, she was dragged around the room in a dog collar. In another, he made her look at herself in the mirror and describe all the things wrong with her body. After her arms were tied, he wrapped a silk around her neck and connected it to the silk that bound her ankles. In this bent position, they made love.


In Majorca, Veronica thought herself the perfect houseguest. She was quiet and let Morgan’s mother talk. When his father told a story about the Mau Mau, she looked appropriately fascinated. On the last night they went to a bar for tapas and wine. Eunice, Morgan’s mother, joined them, but not his father. Eunice was a tall woman with a mannish but beautiful face. After a few glasses Veronica told Eunice a story about the demolition of the Wrigley Chewing Gum factory across the street from her townhouse.

“Six months of jack hammers and drills. It was hor-r-r-r-r-ible!” she said, affecting a New York accent.

“What did you do?” Eunice asked.

“Nobody could help. Not my alderman or the mayor’s office—both friends.”

Eunice nodded.

“So I ran out on the balcony nude and yelled: ‘Shut the fuck up.’ It was hysterical.”

On the plane Morgan was quiet. Veronica thought about all the reasons she loved him. They were a beautiful couple together. She loved how he looked in his European clothes and his elegant way of walking. She loved being seen at the best restaurants, where the maĆ®tre d’ greeted them by name. They were point and counterpoint, a brilliant team. She had done everything for him: all of those months working pro bono. Couldn’t he see it was an act of love?

Morgan had introduced her to the light whip and, recently, to a heavier one. In one session he placed her inside his beautiful inlaid box, the “cube,” built by a fetish-supplier in Japan. He left her inside for a half hour, and when she could no longer bear the pain and cried out, he opened the lid and told her she never looked more beautiful.

On the plane he put on earphones and disappeared into his iPad.

Why was he so quiet? “Your mother has a great sense of humor—your father, too. Did he grow up in London?”

“Kenya,” Morgan said.

“Of course, he’s so British.”

“Colonial, actually.”

“Why did he leave Kenya?”

“There was a smallpox epidemic and he never went back.”


Veronica knew the best route back to her apartment and instructed the cab driver. She was lost in thought, thinking about the final details of Morgan’s immigration case. Morgan had confessed he had consulted with another lawyer, a friend, who suggested Morgan smuggle himself through the Tijuana border. “They are looking for illegal Mexicans, not Englishmen. You’ll sail right through.”

The Nigerian cab driver looked at Veronica through the rearview mirror. “That’ll be forty-six dollars.”

“What? I’m not paying that. Why didn’t you turn off the meter when you got lost?” She threw down his fare, subtracting twenty dollars and his tip.

“Don’t scream at me, madam,” he said, raising his voice.

“Why are you cheating me? I told you how to go!”

“If you knew the way, why didn’t you direct me?”

Her face was red: “I told you to take West Adams!”

There was no way to calm her. They argued violently. The driver’s spittle hung in the air, lit by passing headlights and the green Starbucks sign across the street.

“I am taking down your hack number. I’m a lawyer, goddamn it. Don’t fuck with me.”

To shut her up, he produced a pistol from the glove box and waved it. The gesture was slow, almost indolent. He didn’t point the barrel at her face, although he felt like it. He didn’t aim it at any part of her body; it was only a stern wave to regain his potency.


Back in her apartment, Veronica didn’t know if she was furious or frightened. She had never raised her voice to an African. She was a “dues-paying member of the Lawyer’s Guild, for Chrissakes.” In some places that means something. She had taken down his name and hack number and called the police. After two hours the police finally came. She cried, telling them how she was frightened for her life. After she told her story three times, the sergeant said, “We’ll check this out, ma’am. We’ll check this out and get back to you.”


Morgan was reviewing a set of blueprints on the floor of the living room when the phone rang.

“You don’t understand, Morgan, he pulled a gun on me. He pulled a fucking gun. I could have been shot.” She went on like this for thirty minutes.

“What kind of gun was it?”

“Oh Christ, I don’t know—a big gun. A gun big enough to blow my head off.”

“I don’t think he would have shot you. Did you call the police?”

“They came but they’re hopeless. You don’t sound very sympathetic. What’s wrong?”

When she called again, he didn’t answer. She tried nine more times.


Ten days later his visa was approved. She left a message and tried not to sound too self-congratulatory; the message was too loud and went on too long. She wanted to erase it and send another. He called back immediately.

Morgan was elated but cautious. “Amazing, Veronica. You are a wunderkind. No one else on the planet would have been as tenacious. What a torment. Well, we know something about that.”

“I’m coming over. I have to talk to you,” she said.

“I can’t—have a meeting, Veronica. Can we talk later?”

“I have to come over. There is something you don’t understand. It’s not about the taxi driver.”

“You are an angel, Veronica. I can’t believe you really did it. Do I have to sign more papers?”

“No, it’s all done. Can I come over?” She was ready to do more for him. She would suffer more. She would submit to a heavier whip and let him bind her until she bled. She would pull him in a pony cart—naked—with a bit and ball in her mouth. I’d pull him down Michigan Avenue in a red-feathered cap and stiletto heels, if that’s what it takes!

“Not now. I’ll call you, darling. I have to get to my meeting.”


The following morning she arrived early at the lobby of Morgan’s condominium. She wanted to catch him before his swim. She asked the deskman to ring him. No answer.

“Ben, can you try again?”

He let it ring. “No answer, Veronica.”

Her heart was racing. “Can I wait here until he comes down?”

“I’m sorry, Veronica.”

Morgan sat in his spa robe. He had left a message at the desk that he wasn’t to be disturbed. He was relaxed after his swim and had hung his black Speedo across the arcing spout of the enameled, cast-iron bathtub. A day earlier he had called his father about Veronica; the older man listened quietly before offering his counsel: “No sense bothering with a stricken child. If it has smallpox, let it go.”

Lake Michigan was gray; Morgan wondered if there were whitecaps. He would let her down easy. No call for a week, no call for a month. No call—maybe there is some chop out there, hard to tell from up here.


SHJ Issue 12
Spring 2015

Malcolm James Broad’s

work has appeared or is forthcoming in Amarillo Bay, Rougarou, The Alembic, Griffin, The Legendary, ONTHEBUS, Voices, The Coe Review, Yellow Silk, AUSB Odyssey, Sage Trail, RiverSedge, Paranoia VHS, Collage, Antiochracy, Forge, Jet Fuel Review, New Plains Review, Crack the Spine, and in the anthology Poets on 9/11.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury