THERE’S A SCAR that runs in a crude line, four inches, above and below David’s belly button. It’s where they took his intestines out. Toothy and coarse. Soft on either side. I like to run my tongue over it. Follow the fine hairs of his happy trail down the divide, then stop and raise my head to see that look in his eyes. That look when hunger turns greedy and violent. Predator-prey. Hammering heart. No room for thought. Open the cage. Allow the sleeping thing inside out. Pupils large and wide. All teeth and claws. I want to hold that look. The hot-blooded stare that could be hate or lust.
THE CHIROPRACTOR took a picture to show me—one leg turns in, the other out. My body is deformed. My sight, myopic. Corrective shoes and contact lenses don’t change that. I’m crooked. “You walk like a duck,” Mom said. Then came saddle shoes with braces to turn my out feet in. That’s how the bones in my legs got confused. I was ten. Braces on my teeth too. Glasses with octagon lenses to correct my view. Soon after there were pubes. Soft brown hair flush to my baby fat skin. Five-feet ten inches tall. Bigger than the boys in school. Still no boobs. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be. Parts of me hard, unyielding. Parts of me fragile, soft. My shirt said, Here Comes Trouble. The child of a single parent can be one too much.
TONIGHT, I AM TESSA’S PLUS ONE. I wear a dress. I eat cheese and crackers with a cocktail napkin. Not with my bare hands, trailing crumbs, like I do at home. I am polite. I introduce myself. I ask questions about the host’s work at Goldman Sachs. I drink the wine he bought. He fills my glass. Tells me about the downturn in capital investments.
The next night I am a waitress. I take orders. I bring people what they want. I carry cutlery and food and drink. I try to make people feel at ease.
“Is the salmon farm-raised?”
“The salmon is troll-caught, fresh, from Alaska,” I say.
I want the dining experience to be pleasing. I say wonderful and thank you and yes, of course, right away.
LIGHT CHANGES through the swinging door to the kitchen. “Steak medium rare, pork loin, table ten,” David yells. “Fire table five.” Ding. Ding. He slaps the silver bell with his big man hands. I think about those hands, on my hips, on my ass. The tattoos on his forearms rival burn marks. Denis the Menace hair falls over one eye. Jaw jutting. Defiant muttonchops. In the kitchen, he makes the rules—eighty-six whitefish—he learned in culinary school. San Francisco. Cordon Bleu. He was homeless after that. Slept in a car with his mother, sister and two ferrets. Brushed his teeth and changed clothes in gas stations bathrooms, sometimes truck stops. Showered and slept in a motel room once in a while with the money he made as a line cook. Scrimped and saved, sliced, diced and shucked to make his way, their way to Chicago. His brother lives here. David is the youngest of five kids: one mom, three dads.
My mom used to tuck me in at night, rub my back, apply Vicks Vapor when I was sick. Two hands gently pressed. Two hands slowly gliding over neck and chest. Skin cool to touch. Another shirt said, My Mom Went to Las Vegas and All She Got Me Was This Lousy T-Shirt. She’s been dead a long time. I’m the youngest of all my siblings: seven kids, three moms, one dad.
DAVID WAS A FAT KID—still sees himself that way. Avoided girls in high school. He was twenty when he had sex the first time. Then stomach cramps. Fatigue. Diarrhea. Diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at twenty-five. Fever. Distention. Rectal bleeding. Rapid heart rate. Dehydration. Ulcerative colitis. Emergency surgery. Hospitalized. Obamacare saved his life. These are the stories David tells.
I tell different stories when I’m fucking him, when his hands are tied above his head and I cinch the knot, when his eyes close, when his mouth opens, when his head tilts back, when all that we were evaporates and there’s just us. No clothes. No glasses. No braces. No pimples. No diseases. No money. Just hunger.
“ARTICHOKES AND SPINACH?”
“Yes,” Jenny says.
I order the pizza.
Jenny says yes to a lot of things I like. This makes us good roommates.
“I rode Trevor today,” Jenny says, her mouth half full of Chablis.
“He’s seventeen hands tall.” She puts down the glass of wine and shows me.
There’s just one requirement to enter our house: you must love horses. Unless you’re a plumber or an electrician.
Bruce is a plumber. Like his father, he owns his own company. He likes the work he does. “Puts his body into it,” Jenny says, about her boyfriend.
They met on OKCupid or Match or Tinder. Neither thought there would be a second date. That was after Jenny went on a date with the guy who lived in his mom’s basement, the one who smoked a lot of weed, who wanted Jenny to feel sorry for him because he was in remission, but before the Rabbi of her parents’ synagogue, who asked her for bus fare after dinner. Jenny’s smart. She got her bachelor’s in Fine Art from Carnegie Mellon, her masters from NYU. Now she’s an Art Director at a fancy ad agency. She works hard. It’s what good girls do.
GOOD GIRLS DON’T PUT OUT ON THE FIRST DATE. Good girls wait. I was fifteen when I lost my virginity. The last of my friends. Couldn’t wait. It was the summer before junior year. The summer we danced to “Darling Nikki” again and again. Tipper Gore didn’t like the lyrics. But Frankie Goes to Hollywood sang “suck it” and we followed Madonna down the aisles wearing wedding veils, rhinestones and bustiers.
Jim. Patrick. Clark. You never forget the first one’s name. But it was his best friend, really. He came over after school one day. Mod dudes were way hotter than New Romantics, Rockabilly boys, even hotter. We drank rum from my sister’s liquor cabinet, smoked cloves and danced and kissed and rolled around on my twin bed listening to The Clash. Hands up my shirt, on my belly, in my pants. Hands pulling down plaid boxers. Cuffed jeans off. Just a few barely-clumsy-thrusts and done. We stared at each other. Two dumb kids. Then awkwardly put our clothes back on. Blood on my panties said my cherry was gone. Three months later I asked Jim to be my first. I told myself that the last first one didn’t count. What’s the difference between a lie and a secret?
I DREAM. A gray-haired-kitten lays in the street. Eyes shut. Furry cheeks. Guts spilling out, squashed like ground hamburger meat. No mews. Barely breathing. I could take him to the best vet. I could save him. Wipe up and sew in. Make him good again. But what for the silence? No purring. Just a damaged coat, bent whiskers, tiny teeth and the feeling of something hopeful, something worth undoing.
“LET’S MEET FOR COFFEE.” David reconstructed the text over and over with his hands and in his head, before he finally pressed send. For a month, there had been glances. Smiles when our eyes met. Fingers brushing against fingers reaching for a plate. Bodies almost touching around tight corners, up and down stairs.
But I wouldn’t allow myself to want David. I felt ashamed. Old. Abnormal. Names like cougar, cradle robber, slut.
David gulps down an espresso. “I don’t care about the age difference. I’m attracted to you.” He hits his empty cup like an exclamation point on the table. He repeats the words, puts his hands on my legs. I want to turn him inside out and look in.
CHICAGO HAS ITS OWN STYLE OF PIZZA. Deep dish. Stuffed. Stick to your ribs. Lou Malnati’s signature. You won’t shit for days. Lou Malnati’s cut my thin slices into squares. Who eats four sided pieces of pizza? Give me Richard Wright. Give me Home Run Inn. I call Giordano’s to make Jenny happy.
I’M HUNGRY ALL THE TIME. I crave a mouth to meet mine, a tongue, to taste, to touch. Squeeze my nipples, pull my hair, fill me up, pretty-please. He takes off his chef’s coat, unbuckles his belt, unzips his jeans, puts a hand on my shoulder, wants me to kneel. I bury my face in his crotch, smell sweet onions, churned butter, his mother’s laundry detergent. I peel off his boxers, take his soft hard flesh in my mouth, feel his pulse. He slides in and out. My throat opens and closes around him. I feel my heart pounding. I swallow hard and release. His hands tug. He reaches around my ribs and lifts me up. Sits me on the bed. Yanks at my shirt. Grabs my breasts. Pulls my pants off. My hips thrust into his hands. Greedy want. He pushes me down, parts my thighs, shoves himself in. I steady myself. Press against. My nose in his hair, smelling fryer oil. My mouth on his neck, tasting brined skin. I hear his gasp tender and sweet and I scavenge for something meaty, something that will last, something to stay my constant craving, pretty-please.
“ITALIAN MEATBALLS AND CHEESE?”
“That’s not Italian or a pizza.” I say.
It’s almost 2:00 a.m. I search Netflix. Black Books. Season three.
David doesn’t agree. “It says Italian meatballs.”
Contrary to what you might think, Chefs eat some of the worst things.
“Italians don’t put meatballs on their pizza.” I say, moving the cursor from episode one to two.
“I’m Italian and I put meatballs on my pizza.”
“Did we watch this episode?” I point the remote at the TV.
David stares at another screen. “I watched it. You fell asleep” His face glows in the white light.
“Hmm.” The sound vibrates out of my mouth as I turn around. “And you’re half-Italian.” Press my nose to his neck. Smell stale cigarettes. Wrestle to get under covers.
“But which half?” I ask.
WHAT HURTS AND WHAT DOESN’T? There’s one more thing. Something else. Something private. Something I promised not to repeat. A confidence I will not keep.
“I want you to punish me,” David says.
I’m not sure what he means. I read books that explain. Books on topping and bottoming, consensual sadomasochism and BDSM. Books that talk about acceptance, validation, trauma and shame.
“We carry our past with us,” Carl Jung said. The shadow, that shuts away forbidden feelings, he named. There are parts of ourselves we keep secret. BDSM urges us to draw out what’s hidden. Edge play: banished memories, furtive wishes, scary feelings. Control the outcome. Relinquish who we’ve been.
THESE ARE OUR NEGOTIATIONS: Blindfolds? Clamps? Candles? Harnesses? Dildos? Cock rings? Plastic wrap? Third parties? Butt play? Butt plugs? Canings? Piercings? Jockey Bat? Toys that zap?
Pain is an acquired taste.
These are the ways that David knows me.
“GET ON YOUR KNEES,” I say.
I tie David’s hands behind his back. My feet walk a circle around him. I grab a tight hold of his thick hair and pull. Head back. Mouth open. My lips meet his tongue before I push his face to the ground and run my hands over the curves of his ass. Then I take a leather paddle and spank his soft flesh. Cock stiffens. His muscles clench and relax. His body shudders with each slap. He breathes harder. I breath harder. Faster. Harder. Slap. Slap. Slap. Stinging red marks swell and spread. I stop when he’s past the burn and fully slack.
“That’s my good pet.”
There are welts where I hit him. I smooth them with my bare hands and kiss him. My mouth full of water I spit into his, as if he were mine to feed.
MASTER COMMANDS 101:
“Take off your clothes.”
“Get in the bath.”
“I want you clean.”
“Did I give you permission?”
“I want to make you scream.”
David says, “Anything for you, my queen.”
I tighten the knot around his neck and pull the chain.
“I’M GONNA HANG THE MEXICAN,” Jenny says.
She holds up the framed picture. Her feet stomp. Stomp to the toolbox down the hall. She returns with a hammer and nails, measures the length of each silver spike, investigates the wall, approves the image. She doesn’t measure. She taps. Taps the silver into the plaster.
The Ranchero sits above the stove. Proud upon his stead. From under a wide rim hat he appraises me every time I make tea.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness visible—is something Jung said.
DAVID MAKES A PRETTY GIRL. Thigh high stockings and a silk dress. Tattooed forearms. Red lipstick. I press his face into the pillow. His hips instinctively raise. I take him as if I had a dick. Over and over I say,
“You’re my dirty little bitch.”
“I’m your dirty little bitch.” The words spill from my mouth to his.
I use him. Edge up and against the rage of my submissions. Betray the conflicts hidden. He breathes hard into me—me into him. Hips joust. The chorus tickles and torments. Push again and against. Slap. Bite. Suck. Sink deep. Once again. Then suddenly, release.
David collapses. Curls up into a ball and sobs into the sheets. Aftershock. My assault seen. I’m in ruins beside him. With all the strength I can muster, my arms reach. I wrap myself around him. Hold him as close as I can. As close as our bones will allow us to be.
DAVID’S IN THE HOSPITAL. Ruptured spleen. Massive internal bleeding. It stopped before I could find him. His sister, a brother and his mother, are all at the hospital to greet me.
The hardened parts of David are carved out of his mom’s hollowed face. Some of his shame is still buried in the extra weight his sister carries. Everything inside me wants to turn around and leave. This is private. I am unknown, but seen.
But then there’s David in a hospital bed. His Denis the Menace hair flat on his face. Muttonchops meek. Tubes running out of his nose, into his mouth, across his chest. Needles piercing tattoo ink. Machines huff and bleep. All my hunger twists and turns my stomach to knots. This hurt is too big to swallow. There’s nothing I can say. Belly heaves hot tears. I seek assurances: a stuffed kitten, jello cubes, a half-empty IV. I insert the language silently. Rub ice against his dry lips. Brush the hair off his face. Press my cheek to his chest. Feel the pounding. I listen. I wait. There’s no word to guard him. Spleen’s spliced out. Cut in half and sewn back. No command I can make to take the pain away. But I try. I submit.
I let the hurt yank my heart, feel the beating bruise ache. I take hold of his big man hand and I say, “Stay.”
Dein Sofley teaches refugees English in the sanctuary city of Chicago. She earned her BA from Columbia College and her MFA in fiction from UC Riverside’s low-residency program. Her work has appeared in Writers Resist, Five on the Fifth and The Coachella Review.
Cagibi Issue 6