Authors: Elizabeth Bennett
The train is crowded, this time with men who are leaving work early. As they pull out of the station and into the labyrinth of paths beneath the city, a loudspeaker crackles to life and informs them that there will be no air-conditioning due to work along the line. There may also, the speaker says, be some short delays.
There is a collective groan. The bald man seated next to Joanna shakes and refolds his newspaper then loosens his tie, releasing a puff of odor. Joanna waits for a polite minute before getting up. She makes her way through the car, steadying herself with her hands along the tops of the seats. Just before the door she miscalculates the motion of the train and her hand settles not on a seat but on the back of a brown head. When she turns back briefly to apologize, Joanna meets a pair of steel-colored eyes in a pale, oblong face. “Sorry,” she murmurs. The man nods. She continues walking but, even then, Joanna can feel those eyes following her the rest of the way.
In the small space between cars, Joanna finds room to stand next to a slightly opened window. The air rushing in is not cool, but it isn't unpleasantly hot, either. She leans against the wall and crosses her arms, trying to drift.
The train rises above ground and picks up speed, crossing the no-man's-land between the outer edge of the city and the inner edge of the suburbs. The buildings here are burned out and boarded up. They rise between lots of rubble and sporadic trees. Leaning over towards the window, she can see the first of two long tunnels between the city and the suburbs approaching swiftly, but just before they enter it the train halts for a work crew and sits baking on the track for them to finish. Joanna wipes her face and breathes deeply. Finally, the train starts again and enters the blackness. Behind her, there is a shuffle, a pause and a click. Someone has entered the bathroom. Outside the window, darkness flies by.
On the other side of the tunnel the houses have small, fenced-in plots of grass and concrete. Joanna catches a fleeting glimpse of a child, playing with a rubber ball. She closes her eyes again. The second tunnel, she remembers, isn't far beyond the first.
But as soon as they enter it the train begins to slow again, then only to crawl. Finally they stop entirely and the loudspeaker cracks and says, merely, “Sorry folks. This'll be a minute.”
It's very dark. Joanna holds her hand before her face and can barely make it out. She is glad that she left her seat. She does not like the idea of being in total darkness in a room full of strangers. Here, at least, she's alone. Except for the man in the bathroom, she thinks as its door clicks open, reminding her.
There is another shuffle, then stillness. Perhaps he's decided to wait it out too, she thinks, but even as she thinks it there is a small wind at the nape of her neck. Joanna freezes, her eyes open, staring at nothing. The man takes another step and comes up, lightly, behind her. Then, except for his breathing, there is nothing: no word, no touch.
She is astonished at her own calmness, for which there is no rational explanation. Surely this is, to say the least, an inappropriate contact and an uninvited one. And yet, Joanna knows instinctively that the body standing behind her means her no harm. It's warm against her back. It's still. It's simply
And suddenly, without warning, she wishes it
move. She would like to feel those unseen hands beneath her clothing, against her skin, even, she realizes, inside her body. Joanna's throat catches at the thought, releasing a small gasp. The body behind her is motionless. What is he waiting for? she thinks, but even as the words form in her mind, Joanna knows the answer. He's waiting for permission. Not an involuntary gasp, something deliberate and unmistakable, something that could only mean yes.
Joanna closes her eyes and slowly arches her body, carefully, until her head falls slightly back and her buttocks first touch and then press firmly into the stiffness in his groin. Immediately, his hands come up and press her head between them, the mouth at her neck opens and seems to swallow her nape, making her shiver. She presses back harder and he moans, a low sound that vibrates into her skin.
The hands descend on either side of her head and reach in front of her, moving lightly over her breasts and stomach, then coming back to find the nipples, already hard and pressing against his fingers. Instinctively, she pulls at her own sweater, gathering it into damp fists, and he dives beneath it, his hands broad and warm on her abdomen. Behind her, she senses his urgency and reaches back, finding the thick outline of his cock and offering it her hand. The man moans again, and Joanna feels the rush of her own power, and smiles to herself.
His fingers are raking her breasts, side to side. They pull at the lace, making small tears, then, frantic, they tear deliberately and Joanna feels herself falling into his hands. The tongue licks her neck. Her nipples are his now, rubbed between fingers, teased and brushed. Joanna squeezes the stiffness in her hand. A voice says, “Lift your skirt.”
She bends down and does what he asks, wadding it in front of her, the backs of her stockinged legs now bare, then turns until she almost faces the wall and leans slightly forward. Briefly, the man steps away from her, then Joanna hears the rasp of his fly coming undone, a quick catch in his breath as he releases himself. A hand reaches for her ass, then another, then both dip between her parted thighs and are instantly wet. She moves her hips slightly, rubbing against them. Her nipples, crushed against the wall, throb with heat. He is impatient with her stockings, would like to tear them, Joanna thinks. She frees one of her own hands and reaches back to show him the edge at her waist, where it begins, and he grabs it, rolling it with both palms down the sides of her legs to mid-thigh. She arches back to him, separating her buttocks, inching her legs farther apart, wanting his wet hand, his slippery fingers inside her. Instead the man's hands settle on her ass, softly at first and then more insistently. She is being spread apart, wide and wider, until she feels tightness and something just short of pain. There is a shift of his weight behind her, then something shocking and cold. He is kneeling at her feet, hands parting her behind, licking her slowly. Joanna presses her mouth to the wall and its steel swallows away the sounds she makes. The tongue is determined and slow and sweet. It dips into her and out of her, lapping the slit from front to back and pausing at her anus, poking inside with its tip. Joanna reaches back to hold him there for a long moment, her fingers twisting in soft curls. She wonders, oddly, what color they are. The man breathes warm air into her.
Come on, Joanna thinks. She has not said it aloud but the man rises anyway, his pelvis tilted beneath hers, and one arm snakes around her waist. She offers her hand as a guide but he doesn't need it. Joanna feels the thrust in his moan even before she feels it inside her, but then she fills with him and moans herself. It is a slow, sweet pounding, a softening, a secret thing. She reaches for her own breasts, imagining invisible mouths at them. A hand tangles in her pubic hair, looking for something and then finding it, pressing gently at the rim of each of his thrusts. The movement quickens. Her cunt feels swollen, sticky, open. His gasps sound like agony.
The word in her mind is “almost,” and she thinks it over and over, “almostÂ .Â .Â . almostÂ .Â .Â . ,” but before she can reach it he comes, hissing a low “fuck” into her ear like a message in a game of Telephone, filling her with quick, searing heat. “Fuck,” the man says again, this time to no one in particular, a twinge of mourning in his voice. He sighs and leans against her, briefly.
Then the hand slips quickly away and is busy behind her. She feels him falling free of her cunt in a moist wave and hears the rustle and zip of his clothing. For a moment he is motionless, then Joanna senses his hand brushing past her and along the wall. He moves away and she remains still, her cheek to the cool metal. The heavy door into the passenger car is wrenched open and closed. She can't hear his footsteps on the other side of it.
A minute more, she doesn't move. Then, dimly, Joanna is aware of her rolled pantyhose biting the outer sides of her thighs. She sighs and reaches down to roll them up again, pausing to lightly brush the mound of her pubic hair through the scratchy surface of the stocking. It throbs and quivers with urgency, but now it is too late. Her skirt is released and falls heavily around her knees. Joanna tries to adjust the torn lace of her bra over her tender nipples, then pulls down her sweater. Automatically, her hands reach up to test the knot of her hair. It is smooth and untroubled.
Her mood is stunned but calm and almost, she realizes, tender. The train gives a shudder, then another, then slowly begins to rock forward. Joanna leans down for her bag and fumbles inside for a compact. The lights flip on, stunningly bright. When her eyes adjust, the first thing she sees is her own face in the small mirror, lips pursed, smiling, the eyes full of mirth. She is thinking, so this is how it begins.
That night, during dinner, Joanna ponders her curious day: the women on the morning train, Curtis' first wife and the beautiful black woman in intimate conference at the restaurant; the plain white card with its inexplicable “O” on the pavement; her strange, potent encounter in the train. All evening, she has expected some recognition from Curtis, some curious glance, an insinuating “What did
But Curtis has asked her nothing, said nothing, done nothing out of the ordinary. His talk, over the meal, is of his own day at the large and distinguished bank where he serves as president, a position he has held since his father died and vacated the same job. Curtis has both inherited and made an enormous amount of money, some of which, Joanna now realizes, has probably made its way into “O,” whatever “O” is, via his divorce settlement with his first wife. He was generous with his money then, as he is generous now, with Joanna. But although Joanna is free to spend Curtis' wealth, her monetary demands have always been sparse: clothing and books, a new car when the Ford she drove before her marriage died of old age. And now, of course, the money isn't relevant. After all, what she wants (what she
, Joanna corrects herself) can't be bought.
Or can it? Joanna wonders. Smiling to herself, she imagines a full-page ad in the daily paper: Woman of Leisure Seeks Sexual Fulfillment. Top Rates Paid.
But who would apply for such a position? she thinks. And what good would it do? She has no wish for a gentle lover to stroke her and coo at her and tell her how much he loves her. Curtis does that, Joanna knows, and still she has never had a climax. Even the man on the train failed to satisfy her, though there was something in that encounter which brought her close, closer than she had ever been in the past. What was it? she asks herself. She thinks of his “Fuck” in her ear, the crude command to lift her skirt, the greed of his fingers at her crotch and is suddenly flushed and trembling. Something about thatÂ .Â .Â . Joanna thinks. It comes to her then that she would like to be taken, her pleasure imposed upon her. Not forced, exactly, but cornered, pressured, insinuated upon.
Without warning, a broad and shadowy landscape seems to open before her, stretching between rape, which both terrifies and disgusts her, and the bonded, affectionate lovemaking of couples, which clearly bores her. She cannot distinguish the possibilities and scenarios between these extremes but, instinctively, Joanna senses that her own desires belong with them. She wishes she knew what to do next, how to find her way into that place. She wishes someone would tell her, or better yet, take her there. But how can she ask if she doesn't know, exactly, what she is asking for?
“Are you all right?” says Curtis, interrupting her thoughts. “You look a little stricken.”
“I'm fine,” Joanna says. He reaches across the table and refills her wineglass.
“Did you have a nice day?” She nods, smiling. “Anything special?”
“The usual,” says Joanna.
“You are so sweet,” her husband says, kissing her hand.
The next morning dawns sunny and hot. After Curtis has left, Joanna sits outside with her coffee, watching the ripple of sunlight on the water. Already, she has begun to perspire, a light mist over her forehead. Joanna sighs. As usual, she has nothing planned for the afternoon. The sun beats down, promising to get even hotter. A good day for the beach, Joanna decides. Might as well make the best of it.
Just before noon, she changes into her bathing suit, a white strapless one-piece that hugs her breasts and cuts high over her hips. Over it, she puts on a long beach dress, shapeless and easy. Joanna fills her canvas bag with soda, sandals, her sunglasses and a long towel. When she is ready, she gets into her car and starts to drive.
Although the suburb where Curtis and Joanna live is technically on the water, most of the waterfront is wooded and slightly rocky. The beaches are farther away, some miles up the coast. Joanna's favorite beach is a sandy inlet between dunes at the foot of a cliff. The climb down to it is long and, accordingly, the many mothers who bring their children to the beach in the summertime find it tedious and tend to keep away. Joanna is hoping for privacy, but when she finally arrives, several other beachgoers have already staked their claims and are stretched out, reading and talking. Resigned, Joanna lays down her towel and pulls off her beach dress, sighing as the ocean breeze begins to cool her hot skin. She sits cross-legged on her towel and watches the ocean. The other beachgoers ignore her.
The sun climbs and swells. Joanna drifts, wishing she had thought to bring something to read. An hour passes, then another. Drowsy in the heat, she lies on her stomach. To rest, she thinks dreamily, not to sleep. I won't fall asleep, Joanna tells herself.
But she does, floating off on the sound of the waves, the moist sunlight. When she wakes, it is into a shadow cast over her face, an object between herself and the sun. She squints and turns.
A man is standing over her, a tall man with thick white hair and, curiously, a young face, unlined. He wears jeans and paint-spattered sneakers, a crisp white shirt. He is watching her intently.
Joanna sits up and holds her knees protectively against her chest. The man examines her frankly, without embarrassment, his hands in his back pockets. He seems not to acknowledge the fact that she is now awake. Joanna looks around, fearfully. They are alone. This man isn't a rapist, she thinks, trying to calm herself. She does not know how she knows this, but she senses its truth. Joanna lets herself look up at him. “Can I help you?” she asks, politely.
“I think so,” he says. His voice is soft, slightly ironic. “Will you please come with me?”
Her eyes widen. Her hands grasp her own legs tightly. The man hasn't moved. He watches her with interest. She should run, Joanna thinks. She should scream. Instead, she shocks herself by asking him his name.
He shrugs. “Do I need one? Why don't you give me one.”
“Robert,” Joanna says. He nods.
“So. Will you please come with me?”
Slowly Joanna uncoils her legs and lies back, her hands behind her head. The man's eyes follow the motion of her body, the stretch of her long legs, the rising mound at her crotch, the hardening nipples pressing against her white bathing suit. She hears his breath begin to quicken slightly, but he doesn't move. Permission, she thinks, a little sourly.
Abruptly, Joanna gets up and slips on her dress. Robert calmly watches her gather her things. Then, when she is ready, he beckons for her to follow and begins to climb to the top of the cliff.
“This is my car,” Joanna says when they reach the parking lot. It is the only one left.
“Then we'll drive,” he says. “It isn't very far.”
She lets him in and climbs into the driver's seat.
He sits calmly, his hands on his knees, looking straight ahead. She wonders, briefly, if she is wrong to assume he will not hurt her. “This way,” Robert indicates, impatient. Joanna starts the car and drives.
“There,” he says, almost immediately. Joanna pulls up in front of a small red beach house.
“Is this your house?” she asks.
“I use it,” he tells her simply. “It's owned by a friend. Please come inside.”
Joanna gets out of her car and follows him. Inside the entryway, an open door reveals a floor covered with spattered drop cloths, squeezed tubes of paint and several coffee cans full of soaking brushes. “I'm an artist,” Robert says, dismissively, beckoning.
She follows him upstairs and into a large bedroom. White curtains flutter at the window. A mattress lies on the floor, covered haphazardly with sheets and twisted blankets. He closes the door behind them and leans against it, his arms folded. He watches her thoughtfully. “You're very pretty,” Robert says at last. “I suppose you don't need to be told that.”
“No,” Joanna says. “I don't.”
He nods. “All right.” She waits for him to take her, but he doesn't move. “All right,” he says again. Then: “Would you like me to fuck you?”
“Christ,” Joanna says, exasperated. “Why do you think I'm here? Just do it, don't ask me anything else.”
He walks over to her calmly. “Undress me,” he whispers. “Slowly.”
Joanna sighs and starts to unbutton his shirt. His chest is pale and muscled and covered with white hair. The contrast of the hair against his young skin is breathtaking, Joanna thinks, wanting to pull at it, wanting his arms to pull her against him. But Robert only stands, patiently, waiting for her to slip off the shirt. She reaches down to unzip him, pausing briefly to run her fingers over the warm lump of his cock and it jumps slightly at her touch. Joanna eases the jeans down over his small ass then returns to his waist for the white cotton underpants. Robert sighs as they slip down. She kneels and helps him step out of his clothes, kicking off the sneakers, then straightens up to look at him.
He is beautiful, she thinks. She thinks she has never seen anything so beautiful. Still he stands motionless, his weight on one leg, his cock long and slightly curved. At its tip, a drop of moisture glistens.
“Come,” he says softly, extending his hand. Joanna takes it and he pulls her down beside him onto the mattress. She kicks off her sandals. His hands run over her lightly, too lightly, Joanna thinks. She presses up against him but he only continues, barely making contact. She pulls off her beach dress, hoping the clinging bathing suit will excite him more but he seems not to notice. His cock rubs against her thigh, regularly but without intensity. He kisses her face softly, her cheeks and neck and shoulders.
Finally, deeply frustrated, Joanna yanks at her own bathing suit, pulling it down and wriggling out of it, flinging it away in disgust. Robert looks at her with mild interest, as if he is only pleasantly surprised to discover that there were breasts beneath the fabric, all this time. Tentatively, he touches them, brushing with his fingertips around the nipples but never over them. He licks softly between her breasts and down around her navel, but even his licks seem uncertain. “Harder,” Joanna says, pleading, but he only looks up with slight curiosity. She sighs and looks away.
He is gentle between her legs, his fingers polite and sadly undemanding. Nonchalantly, he parts her thighs and enters her, lifting her ass as he pushes, his head on her chest. She feels the slippery rhythm of his thrusts, but only as if from a great distance. His breath, over her nipple, is mild and warm. Joanna feels nothing, but she is too resigned to the situation to actually resent it. She is just waiting for it to be over.
Robert comes, moaning, his face between her breasts. Joanna shifts, impatiently. A waste, she is thinking. A waste of his beauty. A waste of her own desire. She can't wait to leave.
He rolls away from her and rests on his side, his chin perched on his elbow. Joanna lies still but says nothing.
“Thank you,” she hears him say. Then, matter of factly, “You didn't come.”
“Of course not,” she spits at him, outraged. “What did you expect?”
“I think,” Robert says, “the question is, what did
“I'm leaving,” Joanna says, shortly. She starts to get up, but his hand suddenly shoots over and jerks her back by the shoulder, smacking her against the mattress. Robert grabs at her wrists and pins her, his face close to hers. He is staring at her. Joanna feels his thigh creep between her thighs, pressing upward, holding her down as she arches against it. Abruptly, she hears the rasp of her own breath and knows how much she wants him to pound her, to take her. When she looks into his face, he is smiling.
“I want you to come here tomorrow,” he says. There is a stiffness, a cruelty in his voice. “At noon.”
“Why should I come back?” She sneers at him. His thigh presses her crotch and she moans, despite herself.
“Come back,” he says, knowingly. “I think you'll have a better time if you do.”
Robert shifts, letting her up. Furious, she grabs at her clothes and puts them on and leaves without another word. Outside, as she starts her car, Joanna looks up and catches sight of him in the upstairs window, laughing as he watches her go.