She came and went a few times. He stood there spying, smoking a cigarette and trying to work up the nerve. New York was blustery—December, and choked with cold. He'd been observing her for a week by then, rubbing his shoulders to ward away the cold, gawking up toward a window he imagined was hers. A few were draped in twinkling lights, glittering strangely majestic against the icy fire escapes. Unlikely hers. Hers would be bare.
She trudged up the sidewalk, catching his eye and he didn't think, flicked the cig and crossed the street toward her. In the distance, a salvation army bell kept time with his determined footfall. She let him in, but only after he told her he had money. Said she didn't do walk-ins, called him an asshole.
"Hurry up," she said. "I have a client in an hour. Did Rita send you?"
He told her he didn't know any Rita. Her apartment was spare and cold, no sign of Christmas anywhere. The place was even more destitute than he'd imagined. The floor groaned the way she paced on it, and she didn't stop moving once while he stood there. He was nervous. She could tell. Her response was to be nervous herself. She told him to wash his hands.
"They're the dirtiest part of the body," she said, peering at him as though he'd try to contradict her. He didn't—his mother, she used to tell him the same thing.
"I don't want to have sex with you," he said and coughed.
She found a cigarette, lit it. "Fine. Blow, hand job, touching?"
"Nothing like that," he answered.
She picked something from her mouth, a piece of tobacco—took another drag and looked through the bottom of her eyes while gray smoke exhaled from her nostrils. "Look," she snapped. "I don't have time for games and bullshit. I don't do kink."
"Sorry," he stammered. "It was a bad idea."
He turned to go, and she looked after him. He'd jerked the door open when she expelled an annoyed sigh like a radiator on pressure release. "The fuck do you want?" Her voice on full was raw and frayed, and he froze.
"I'm a student."
She took another drag. That time she blew the smoke-laden air overhead. "Yeah, so?"
"I'm a drawing and sculpture major at Embry Rice," he said, staring at the floor. "I was wondering—"
"Aren't you artist types supposed to be poor?"
"I can pay," he said, misunderstanding, but addressing the crux.
She went to the kitchen, kicked her heels off toward a corner on the linoleum tile and ashed into the sink. She removed the drain stop, tossed it behind the faucet and turned on the water. One more drag, she stood in quiet contemplation before dropping the butt into the basin. She shut the faucet off, turned around and leaned against the kitchen counter. Without the cig to content her, she chewed her lips. They were pale and chapped. There it was. Her fingernails were red. They were chipped, but painted on her thumbnail was a tiny white snowflake. The humanity warmed him, if for only a moment.
"You really a student?" she asked.
He dug into his pocket for the slip of paper he'd prepared. "This is my phone number and student identification information." He held it out. She looked away. He placed the scrap of paper on the dresser near the door by which he remained rooted. The dresser was covered in burnt-down candles, bobby pins, and blackened match sticks partially submerged in the hardened wax rivers that had flooded and froze to its surface.
"Fine," she stated flatly. "It'll charge like a blowjob. One-fifty." She left the kitchen and crossed through the living room, removing her faded purple pea coat and unbuttoning her pants. "You want some kind of pose?" she asked.
"I wanted to draw you…with a m-man," he stuttered.
Her jeans were pushed down over her hips, revealing an unattractive pair of white panties. She stopped and gazed quizzically at him. "What? Watch me fuck?"
She immediately hooked the belt loops and pulled her pants up. "I don't need this shit," she said. "Get the fuck out of here."
She stomped toward him, nearly tripping over her pants legs. It served only to compound her fury. "Fuck you. I said, get out!"
Heart hinged on a note, then crashing with a thunderous beat in his chest, he turned, jerked the door open and fled.
She called him a week later. He'd tried to put the whole traumatic encounter far from his mind. Before the holiday chime went off in his pocket, he'd been listening idly to a pack of roving carolers, serenading the house across the street. His mind was awash in homesickness, candied movie-time memories of roasted chestnuts and some such. He didn't recognize her voice. She nearly hung up.
"You're not some sick-o?"
"No," he mumbled, and his mind raced. "I wanted to just…draw something real."
"You can't draw a bowl of fruit like a normal artist-type?" The joke came from left-field. It was such a surprise, its delivery dry and monotone, he didn't know how to respond. She sighed. "You have to stay out of sight."
"Okay," he said.
"The client can't know."
"He can't know!" she cut in.
"All right," he said.
"This is a stupid idea. The client will be here at six. You have to get here early."
"It's got to be early so I can figure this shit out."
When he knocked, she was there instantly. Tore the door open and stood before him.
"One-fifty, okay? Count it out and put it in the dresser drawer. Don't hand—just put it in the dresser."
He shifted the sketchbook under his arm and retrieved the money from his pocket. She turned hastily, crossed the living room and disappeared into another room. The dresser's top drawer was cracked. He shoved the wad of bills inside.
"Always before," she called out. "That's the way clients do." He shut the drawer and stood stone-still. "What are you doing out there?" came her voice, tinged with nervousness.
"Just—nothing," he said with a helpless shrug.
"Come in here."
He went to the room—her bedroom—and stood in the doorway. His hands became unsteady and he shoved them into his pockets to keep from shaking. It was not from the cold. Her scent assailed his senses, and he swallowed hard. He saw her pea coat draped over the room's only chair, and nearby a desk littered with cosmetics and makeup. Upon the desk, leaning against a wall was a mirror riddled with unlucky fractures. He imagined her splintered face within it, worrying to herself as she applied dark shadow to her tired eyes.
"What are you looking at?" she said, appearing suddenly from the closet.
"Will this work?" she said, and stepped away from the slatted doors which were flung open and clinging precariously to their hinges. Her clothing was pushed to the corners, and those of which were draped from hangers had been divided down the middle and shoved aside.
"Anyplace is fine," he nodded.
She bit nervously at a fingernail. Her eyes darted from him to the bed, and back to the closet. "I swear to Christ, if you make a sound or do something—"
"I will not," he said.
Soberly and with a sigh, she took a different tack. "This is a regular client. One of my only, okay? You have to…fuck. Just—you can't make a sound." She took a leaden step toward him. Unconsciously, he retreated in fear. But she brushed past him, worrying the living room floor en route to the kitchen. There she retrieved a stool. "You can sit on this," she said upon her return, placing it between the parted sea of clothing.
"Okay," he said.
"Okay." Her eyes fell on the digital alarm clock partially concealed beneath a tattered silk slip. "He'll be here in an hour. Fuck. Should you just come back?"
"If you want."
She shook her head. "You might be late…he might be early. Fuck! You should get in the closet now." Becoming increasingly rattled by her hypertension, he took a step forward. "No," she said. "It's too early." She bit her lip, stopped, replaced flesh with fingernail and chewed at the remaining polish on her thumb. The tiny painted snowflake disappeared between her lips. She looked up suddenly. "Do you want some water? Or I have rum in the freezer."
Before he could answer, she swept past him.
"Water's okay," he said in her wake.
He followed her to the living room but remained there, perched by the room's anchor, an old brown couch and matching loveseat. She retrieved a pair of glasses from a cupboard, and inspected them a moment before placing them on the kitchen counter and reaching for the freezer door. "Shit. Did you say rum or water?"
"Either is—water's fine."
"I need some rum," she interrupted. "Have some rum with me? It's too cold…being like this."
"Sure," he muttered, not understanding.
The bottle of brown liquor was frosted cold. She unscrewed the cap and poured two fingers into each glass. "I should get a little eggnog," she said, more to herself than him. Handing him a glass, she did not wait—took a quick slug and wiped her lips. "I have to get ready." She swallowed the last drink and glared into the emptiness for a second. "I have to get ready," she repeated, then sighed faintly.
She reappeared fifteen minutes later. He was sitting on the couch. "Where's your glass?"
"I washed them. They're put away," he said.
She looked toward the kitchen as though unsure whether to take his word. She was different. Lots of makeup. Thick red lipstick. And despite the cold, she wore the slip he'd seen and a black bra. A skimpy faux-fur vest completed the look, but didn't seem to keep her warm. Instead, she kept moving, retrieving her heels from the kitchen and pacing the floor.
"He's ridiculous. Russian thing. He's got a thing for Russian women."
He nodded and swallowed. He'd quickly come to the conclusion that she didn't like it when he stared, so he tried not to, but it was difficult. He had trouble finding a suitable feature to place his agitated gaze. He was achingly curious about her. Dressed up to disrobe. Could she really do—?
There came a pounding at the door. Her face sank and she waved her arms wildly. He bolted to his feet, scuttled past her, forgot his sketchbook and when he glimpsed her face, he thought she'd scream or cry, or dive from the living room window. She followed him to the bedroom. He'd barely gotten himself inside the closet when she slammed the doors shut.
He could hear stuttered breath on the slats. "Not a sound. No matter what."
He leaned back, carefully adjusted a single slat so that it brought the bed into view, and opened his sketchbook. She entered, leading a large bearded man by the paw. From within the closet, the artist's throat suddenly went dry. He fought to keep from clearing his throat. His heart thudded dully, and it seemed as though the walls were pressing in on him. The weight of her scent off the clothing wrapped itself around him tightly. He covered his mouth and gagged until his eyes were wet.
A wholly inescapable reality crashed down upon him as the bed springs groaned. He stared out into her bedroom, cut into horizontal pieces by the slats. He'd made a horrible mistake. He couldn't do this.
The client grumbled coarsely at her, and pushed her down on the bed. She made an awkward attempt to stand, but tripped and fell to the floor. She couldn't be drunk, yet it was precisely how the mannerism portrayed her. Gingerly, she clutched the side of the bed and got to her feet. He shoved her again, and she fell onto the mattress with her ass facing him.
From within the closet, the artist's temples swelled and beat a fiery pulse. His moistening palms clenched themselves into fists. You do not know her world, he complained inwardly, forcing his hands to relax. He concentrated on his breathing, steadying it and running his fingertips over the smooth white page on his lap. Stay detached, he told himself. Easier said than done.
Her slip concealed little. "I'm going to fuck the tits off you," came the man's thick voice. It was not merely that he had a thing for Russian girls, he was Russian, the accent was pronounced. Then again, with his large crimson cheeks, a nose blushed by cold and drink, and the great white beard, the artist got a sardonic notion that the man might make his home somewhere farther to the north.
She moaned when his large paws kneaded her hips. He pulled at her, smashing her ass against his crotch. Then he shoved her with his thrust, and caused her to fall off the bed once again.
It was perverse. She behaved as if fluid, dizzy. Like a doll. She'd grope at the bedspread, and the moment she seemed to have steadied herself, he'd grab and shove and compromise her balance. It was entirely an act, his means of awakening. Thrust and push. He rubbed his crotch and sneered at nothing in particular. They'd neither of them shed a piece of clothing—she was helping him to get it up.
She groaned when he pushed her body down on the bed, leaning on her with all his weight as if he meant to drown her within the mattress. He got off her and slapped her ass until it colored. She cried for it. He grabbed her hair and made her look.
"See this?" he said, indicating his crotch. "I'm going to use all this inside you."
He pressed her face into the mattress, and smeared her lipstick over the bedspread and one of her cheeks. His hand remained on the back of her head, while his eyes traveled down the length of her body, resting finally on her ass. He slid his finger through the crotch of her panties, yanked and tugged until the fabric cleaved the lips of her vagina.
"There's my pink stink," he muttered, taking his hand from the back of her head and dropping to his knees. He stuck a pair of fingers into his mouth, pulled her underwear to the side and jabbed the digits at her pussy. He squished around and found her opening. She moaned dramatically when the two fat fingers sunk deep. He spat on her and pushed himself to the knuckles before wiggling his fingers inside her.
"Feels good," he said, less as a question, more a statement of fact.
She moaned for him. He moved his fingers in and out, seemingly awed at the way her pussy gobbled and returned them slick and wet. "Just right," he said.
Using her bottom as a crutch, he clambered to his feet, fished around in his pocket and retrieved a rubber. He tore the package open with his teeth, unbuttoned and jerked his zipper down. His pants fell of their own accord, and a pair of cold gray eyes hungrily consumed the body hanging askew along the edge of the bed. He dug his cock from within his underwear, fisted it and shook it, abusively. He frantically pulled the rubber from its sticky casing.
It looked like a bright red beacon when unrolled and clinging tightly to his cock, which stood straight out. Shaking it again, he coaxed it to anger and swell, the head purpling the rubber dome. He got to a knee, placed a hand on the bed and leant forward, using the other to guide his cock toward her slit.
"Dingle Bells…Dingle Bells," he muttered, his thick voice mutilating the carol. "Dingle…all the way." The sigh was deep.
The bright red phallus pushed past the taut white crotch of her panties, which lay astride her vulva. She moaned incredulously as he pushed with gritted teeth, the thing disappearing inside her. He was no more than halfway in when he lunged from his kneeling position, slammed forward and mounted her.
The head and foot of her mattress bent upward under his weight, and he groaned with supreme satisfaction, pushing himself up on fists and making good on his word to fuck her hard. His frenetic thrusts slapped hard against her ass. He made no attempt to touch or caress her, to grab her hips or even look up. His was a race, strictly between her cunt and his bright red appendage.
From within the closet, the artist stared down at the sketchbook. He was paralyzed. This is how you chose to spend your holiday vacation, his mind howled. These are the choices made when we can't leave well enough alone. And speaking of being alone, you're all by yourself, now more than ever. Reality charts a single course; it doesn't duplicate and double back on itself, you fool. The odds of survival are stacked against everyone who dares tempt his fate. There's no going back to what once was.
He lifted his weary head and allowed his vision blur. Stop clinging to the faint fantasy of a single boyhood memory. Put it to rest. Let it die.
The groans that bled through the slats and assailed him were those of a rutting animal. The man's mouth was open, but the sounds he issued seemed hobbled to his throat—a lodged, gritty mass of phlegm and angst, rushed over by seething hot air passing through an overly taxed diaphragm—escaping as some half-growl, half-panicked cry.
"Yes, baby," she said quietly, coaxing him. He didn't require it. Needed no encouragement. His spend was prolific and the grunting reached a crescendo with a raspy cough, at which point his arms gave and he collapsed on top of her. Each involuntary last spasm came accompanied with a somewhat surprised sounding grunt, the cheeks of his ass going concave, relaxing, clenching again, two, three times.
When he arose, it was as though she was not there. His eyes bore a dull luster. He was facing the door, looking away, his sentiment cooling in a red balloon at the bottom of her bedside wastebasket. The door was shut before she'd smoothed the last wrinkles from her slip.
He guessed he should come out from the closet, but dared not touch the door. What's more, she gave no word nor sign that he ought to move. Just sat there, staring blankly ahead. Her breathing was slow and controlled. Her hair was mussed, her face flushed. Otherwise, it may have never occurred.
"Come out," she finally whispered. Only, didn't seem as though she'd meant to. Her voice had caught, and a whisper's all that escaped.
He got up and pushed the door open.
"You have to leave now."
He did, without another word passing between them.
"What's wrong with you, baby?"
His girlfriend looked utterly adorable in the stocking cap, her long brown hair cascading down over her bare shoulders and breasts. But even the smallish, elf-like ears that peeked out could not shake him from his reverie. Becky pulled the quilt over them, and continued to fondle his balls and stroke his cock. His mind was irretrievably elsewhere.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "Just a lot on my mind."
She worried about him, he knew it. But he felt dark and dirty. "The invitation's still open," she said, gently nudging him. "My mom and dad want to meet you. Why don't you just have Christmas with us?" She snuggled him closer. "Imagine us cuddled up by the fireplace, watching the snow fall...waiting for Santa Claus to sneak out and put some presents under the tree."
I know Santa Claus. Santa's a horny old man from Brooklyn, with a hooker on retainer. He didn't say the words, but they thudded in his chest like an irregular heartbeat. He lifted his eyes and sought those of his girlfriend. They were warm, round and intelligent—jade compassion and forever twinkling. She was his for now, but how long?
He so wanted to love her. But he'd seen what love could do to a man—a man like his own father. In the throes of a young love, and then everything ended. So abrupt, so dispassionately.
He could barely visit him anymore, other than to pocket another tuition check. His father grew ever more despondent, dying from the heart out each day. Becky was a gift he couldn't accept. Nor could he afford the price. Loving meant loss. And every day moved him closer to the one when she might leave. Of course, he'd lose her. He always lost.