His legs buckle and he sits down. Gravity pins his head back onto the vinyl of the booth. Taking a deep breath doesn’t stop the room spinning upwards. Drinkers at the bar are hurtling to the top of his vision. With effort he brings them back down. They hurtle. He closes his eyes.
The voice is soft. A girl. He daren’t open his eyes. Taking care not to move too suddenly, he gives a small nod. The foam in the couch beneath him breathes and the PVC squeaks as she sits down and briefly places a warm hand over his.
The gesture shocks him. He would flinch, if he could, as though from a slap; but his body remains unresponsive, inert. Her touch angers him, although somewhere in the half-light of his being he recognises that this gentleness is what he craves. Sometimes, late at night, bed ruffled and damp from his exertions, he feels he would give all he owns for a light touch, a tender kiss, his hair smoothed from his brow.
A long time ago, he subverted this need for affection into a longing for sex. He’d spend a week’s wage buying drinks, flirting with girls who’d cackle out into the black night. Sometimes he got what he wanted, but it never seemed enough. The girls slipped away from him, no matter how many phone calls he made and texts he wrote, no matter how many visits he made to their flats. The whole thing was too much effort. There had to be an easier way.
There was. When he was plastering for McInty’s, high up a ladder, he’d overheard Big Bob and Micky talking about what they’d done the night before. Seemed like everybody was doing it. There were the occasional disadvantages, of course: the odd stretched muscle from trying to move a dead weight; funny looks from the taxi driver, that kind of thing, but nothing that would put him off doing it again, and again.
Until tonight. Now he feels awful. Sweat is beading on his face. Something has gone wrong. But what? The roofies are still in his pocket, so he hasn’t taken one by mistake. This time, someone has spiked his drink.
He smells the girl’s freshly washed hair as she leans close and whispers, “Open your eyes.” He does and shuts them again quickly. Her image burns onto his retina. One of his girls. He’d taken a photo of her, trussed up and naked. She’d never know. Where was the harm?
“Remember me?” she asks. The anger in her voice is controlled. “It’s my turn now.”
So this is what it feels like.
Although she never writes them down, Petra McQueen creates award-winning novels in her head while hanging out the washing.
Shari L Klase lives in a lovely Susquehanna River town with her artist husband and writer daughter and incorrigible corgi, Lucy.
The doll house was her secret place. A zone where her hands manipulated arguments and affection. Chelsea knew she was too old for this kind of play at eleven, but she could not neglect this power she had. She had lost the real dolls long ago. Now, plastic Disney characters of different sizes inhabited the house.
The plastic Cinderella swooned as her husband, Aladdin, knocked on the miniature French doors. Cinderella knew her husband, with his chiseled jaw and dark eyes, loved her, even though her head was shaved. Just a few synthetic fibers peeked out of her scalp. Chelsea filled in the back-story. Cinderella was recovering from cancer. The details clinked against her plastic figurines like a penny in a wishing fountain.
“I am so glad you are home,” Chelsea said in a saccharine voice while holding Cinderella’s sliver of a waist between her index finger and thumb.
“Hey, Baby,” Chelsea voiced Aladdin. Her voice dropped into her throat. She channeled Al Green, the music that once woozily drifted through the house from her parents’ record player. It had been a long time since his voice slowed the tempo and pulse of their home.
Aladdin inched right up to Cinderella, pivoting from foot to foot, like a cowboy, lacking mobility on plastic legs. Their figures fit against each other well enough. Although, if one were to examine the proportions… Chelsea rested Aladdin’s hand on Cinderella’s hip, right above the dramatic fluting of her ball gown. His hand could have wrapped around her.
“Take me upstairs. Now.” Chelsea was her puppet master. The Arabian street rat held the princess in his arms. At that moment, Chelsea knew as much, they were just a man and a woman. It didn’t matter that she once cleaned the filthy chimneys of her step-mother’s house. Or that he snatched apples from the open street markets.
Within the walls of this quaint Victorian home, encapsulated by the walls of Chelsea’s family row house, their histories vanished. Context was rewritten by the young director. Her voice filled the bedroom. Didn’t people follow a script in romantic situations? Chelsea hoped so because she could not fathom what she’d say to Bobby Enterlin, that curly-haired boy who sat in front of her in world history class without knowing the right words.
But Aladdin knew the right things to say. He made his way, carrying his woman, skipping through the finely furnished living room. He hopped up the stairs. Chelsea’s hands felt warm as she moved him. She felt his excitement. Warmth spread through her body. She felt it in her underwear, localized, like a pin prick of pleasure. Holding Aladdin at the top of the miniature staircase, Chelsea paused. She swore she heard a floor board squeak, but only fake-wood paper lined the doll house steps.
The previous night, she’d sat on the top step, roused from sleep by her parents’ voices downstairs. She’d tip-toed to her lookout and held her breath, out of sight. The hushed whispers of her mother and father had turned her stomach. Their voices did not solicit smoke. There were no special effects.
The word placate had flashed through her mind. It was a vocabulary word she learned at school. She’d used it in a sentence. Something about a mother handing her fussy baby a rattle. But in the context of her parents, the word had seemed more insidious. She’d thought of her mother smoothing out a garment on the ironing table. Chelsea wondered why she removed the wrinkles from her clothes before work when she returned with creases in her skirt and fine lines around her eyes. And the next day she’d placate the fabric with the heat of the iron.
What about the source of the wrinkles? The friction that emanated from her mother’s core and magnetized the fabric against her legs? What was underneath the placated surface?
Last night, she’d heard her mother say to her father, “I am not in love with you anymore.” He emitted a sound. A stutter. These kinds of words and sounds were not from the same script as her doll house characters. Chelsea had felt the unsaid as a tremor in her limbs. A mass of hard air formed in her throat.
“I don’t love you, either,” her father had said. Chelsea had held her breath. She’d wished she could shrink her parents down to doll size and press their bodies against each other in front of the delicate wainscoting in her doll house.
Now, Aladdin continued to the bedroom and gently laid Cinderella down on the four-poster bed. “What a beautiful bed we have!” The housewife chirped. She lived for the wood curvature of the bed frame as she waited all day for her beloved husband to come home from work. Chelsea positioned Aladdin on top of his house wife princess, but slid off beside her, because he was so much larger. Eleven-year-old hands held them together in their rapture. “Mmmmm,” Chelsea parroted sounds of pleasure from the adult world. Their passionate hug sent warmth to Chelsea’s underwear again. It was the “intimacy” that went on behind closed doors.
“Chelsea!” Her mother called from downstairs.
“Yeah, mom?” Chelsea’s head jerked up.
“Can you come down here for a minute, please? Your father and I need to talk to you.”
The girl placed Aladdin and Cinderella beside each other in bed and covered them with a small wisp of a blanket. She smoothed out the creases.
Molly Ruddell is a twenty-two-year-old introverted recluse going on eighty and fine with it.
Holly Day is a mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she teaches writing course at the Loft Literary Center.