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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
What You Never Thought You Wanted
by Heather Fowler
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K's mother said she was a nymphomaniac, and this telling admission released her from guilt. Thinking about the prude, she yanked on a pair of garnet thigh-highs and considered this evening's satisfaction. The idea of sex had wooed her from the day she was twelve when she had creamed her childish panties with masturbatory wet, read romance novels, and touched herself with sticky fingers stained like dime-store lollipops--cherry, grape, apple-incensed with Lady Eva with her manly rogue. Then a stuttering click from her mother's bedroom door. Then a disapproving frown. But no matter now. She always came with herself even after men entered her body, but there was something dark in consensual sex, something that threatened to consume her unlike the light of masturbation. She enjoyed the confusion.
     In truth, it obsessed her. And tonight she would find a man and take him in the street, but if he didn't prove enough to sooth her ache, she'd immediately take another. "Enough" was a word she understood very little. Who could possibly have enough? At twenty-two, K had slept with eight hundred and twenty-three men-pretty men, ugly men, fat men, old men, girly men-any men for a "fix." She took them with one leg, one arm, or half a heart... Size didn't matter.
     What mattered was that they came and came again and nothing paused her search for such continuous orgasms, orgasms swelling on the tides of others, and blissfully subsiding. She adored watching so many writhing in these spectacular endnote throes, spinning in the vortex that would pull them up or down, but change their world irrefutably, if only for a moment. An attractive girl, she had no trouble getting laid. Her skin was clear, and resilient--her eyes, gray beads in her cat-like face. Men hated her because she left them. Girls hated her too--those tight-faced, pink-lipped prudes, whispering behind their hands, "Slut, psycho, whore. She's mental. You know that."
     When this happened, she flew down highways like a migrating sparrow because she did not resent the cobwebs in their crotches, so why did they resent the nectar in hers? "You make men think that casual sex is okay," a plump girl with a sagging paunch jeered. But her response was: "Have they ever not?"
     And she masturbated into oblivion that night astride the hotel bed, before getting in her rental car and hitting the asphalt. She thought of that girl often afterwards and wondered why other women would stay with one man when she could use so many. Men were just pawns--sucked off, fucked off, and tossed. Garden-variety junk food. Old or young. The same blasting irons looking for a hole. Still, years ago, she had put ads in the paper seeking monogamy: Young woman willing for stable relationship with man of sustainable erection and steady output. Three times a day, or go away. It's a motto. I don't believe in love.
     And what was love, if it doomed her to boredom? She got many responses to her messages, and followed these furtive notes from rich houses along the coast to dark apartments on the south side of inner-cities. She went from town to town, taking money from strangers, floating onto unknown highways like a flesh stick on a cum river.
     Dental dams, rubbers, alternate contraceptives, dildos, vibrators, butt-plugs, and restraints-these were her tools. She had seen more latex than men who made surgical gloves and picked up her condoms by bulk at local Planned Parenthoods; they were free there, if sadly unlubricated, and if the woman at the counters gaped, she said in reply, "I'm serious. Can I please have more? This is only a week's worth." When the container brimmed--red, green, yellow, blue--she emptied it. Sex was a need, but protection a must.
     And it wasn't exactly the sex she enjoyed-more the expression of the orgasm. The human face was beautiful and funny as it froze, assuming an ironic grace. She had seen many faces in these throes, so many that sometimes a fix became a blinding collage of fixes, one's graying beard blending with another's blond goatee, one's hard chin paired with another's soft nose. Sometimes, with their permission, she recorded these sessions on a video camera the size of a tape player to watch later. Watching her own face on the reels later, she noted how she never came, though she faked it admirably, and laughed at how her bee-stung lips smiled only afterwards. She was 6'2, with breasts the size of honeydews.
     Her hair, long and blond, did not lose its luster even if unwashed. When she took a short man (as was her preference), she placed herself on whatever flat surface might be found (once a cold slab in a mortuary), and felt his (or whomever's) tiny feet rub at her calves, his knees near her thighs. She loved how little men seemed like ants feasting on her bounty, the thrill of standing to kiss them goodbye, leaning over them, pecking their questioning brows. Goodbye, Bill. Goodbye, James. Goodbye, ___. Sometimes, they kept her panties and wept, sniffing them when she was gone. To gain lovers in prudish cities, she whored.
     If the trick got iffy, she had a knife. "And is it so strange," she asked herself, skipping lanes, speeding toward a college town, "for a woman to take sex and money, if that's what she wants?" But the whores sensed her difference--they worked for money or a hit of crack, while she worked for pure bestial joy. On the day she met Max, she was librarian-prim at a University of Redlands, bored with street-tricks, casing the joint for her next brimming boy. Her breasts in a '50s bra, were concealed by pink angora, and her thighs were encased in a long, tweed skirt that skimmed her knees. Max did not look at her as he strode by, which interested her. He would take work.
     She strode among the stacks of books, layers of rotten paper scenting the air, and walked behind him then pushed her hips flush with his legs. Her breasts pinioned his wool-sweatered back. "Excuse me," she said, but he did not move, so she grabbed a random book from a shelf above his head, something about theology, rotated her hips harder against his thighs, then stepped back. He was so still, it was as if he did not notice her until he turned, looked directly at her, and said, "K-that was not wise."
     Her real name! She gasped as she stared at his face, tan and swarthy, then said, not too nicely, "Who are you, and how do you know my name?"
     "I'm Max," he said. "And you've been waiting for me for a long time, like I've been waiting for you."
     Her mouth drooped. Was he a goth-boy with a fetish? A freak? Who cared? He could suck her blood if he wanted to; it might be cold and bitter for all he knew. "Okay, Max," she said, toying with him, "what have I been waiting for?"
     "A solid fuck," he said, caressing her face with his voice and looking at her body. "A fuck that pleases you." The front of his pants was stiff, and she felt her skin thrum with his comments. They were so true. So to the point.
     "But do you know how to fuck, Max?"
     "I know how you like it. Best with a man standing in front of you, best when he shakes as he cums, best when you don't cum--and best when you walk away first."
     "What else do you know?"
     "That you've whored, that you're coming with me to the countryside, and that you need sex, so you won't say no. I also know you have no emotional attachments and you like who you are, but the veneer is so thick, you hardly see the sawdust anymore."
     She said, "You think you know a lot."
     "Let's go," he said. "Take the fuck or leave it, but I'm leaving. Right now. If you want it, you'll follow."
     When she got in his car, a gray station wagon, he yawned, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. "Glad you chose to come. I've been following you for a long time, but never let you see me until today. Interesting, isn't it?"
     He was creepy, but she played along. "Why not let me see you?"
     "I couldn't," he said simply, "I wasn't ready," and he drove, his thick hands drumming the steering wheel. She liked his steady silence, his sureness, and his thick hair. She liked the sight of him, stiff in his pants, and that he couldn't have been more than 5'3. Already, she pictured the way she might dominate him. It turned her on to think of him on the floor, licking her patent leather boots, though she did not wear them that day. His eyes scanned the road and returned to her.
     He said, turning the wheel, "I want to commit suicide and I want to die in the throes of passion, so you have to help me today. I want your face to be the last I see."
     K stared out the window as the landscapes grew rural. "How would I do that?" She thought about her knife.
     "I won't hurt you," he said. "You'll have to hurt me. It shouldn't be a problem."
     "I want to get out."
     "No. You want to stay."
     "I do not."
     He swiped a hand through his hair. "I've followed you all the way up the coast," he said conversationally. "Past Oregon, past Washington, through Nevada, and back again. At first I was furious. I went crazy with the obsession, then I returned. I realized you needed me. So I'm here. I'm here to help you, K." He stared through her, a wild luster in his eyes. "And I could give you sex five times a day, but since this suicide mission, that won't be possible. And you want to see my face that way, the way you crave, don't you? Wouldn't that look be so much better in death?" He made a sharp left into a dense spot of trees.
     "Don't lie. Think of my face, stretched in la petite morte, the little death, then the larger death, the final orgasm?"
     "You don't know me," she said, digging for the mace in her purse. "But this ride has been fun. Remind me to call Freaks Are Us to come get you. Mind if I take your car out when I leave?" He turned down a road smaller than the first, barely large enough for the car to drive though. Branches scraped the sides of the wagon like nails on chalkboards. He did not care. The trees seemed closer, less spaced out, and she fingered the hilt of the knife at her hip, reassured by its firm presence.
     He laughed, saying, "Don't be so cautious, K. Your life is funny, really. Lighten up. Besides, you like the look of orgasms because you like the idea of a heart stopping, death and rebirth, but you don't like slow suffering, niggling pain, or disease--that's why the condoms. And you don't understand that most men could snap your neck if they chose to. I could, right now. You never understand real danger. You never have."
     "You're wrong," she said, envisioning her blade twisting in his gut. "I've hurt people. I know what I'm capable of."
     "You don't even know why you need your fix, and I can tell you. Doesn't that give me an edge? Tell me it doesn't."
     The foliage gave way to a small cabin and swerved to park on an embankment, then said quietly, but firmly, "Get out." The cabin was dusty, filmed with a decade of neglect. A twin-size bed sat in the corner beside an unstocked kitchenette. Only the light from the open door illuminated the main room. A twitch of fear stole over her. If things went poorly, she had never made a will--not that she had much to offer. He walked to a cabinet under the sink and pulled out a bottle of scotch and a glass. "Drink?"
     He poured himself one, and sat in the dark at the tiny kitchen table. "By the way, the station wagon is yours when you leave. I already signed it over." She concentrated on the door, wondering if he was harmless or serious. If things went badly, she had her knife, but she didn't want to kill him. Maiming was fine; killing was not. Still, even if she hated him, she would fuck him. Hate fucks were often pleasurable. She got wet considering this, but said, "I don't want your car. I'll leave it on the road when I get to the city. I don't keep things from my flings."
     "You keep money," he said wryly, tossing his long, black curls back with his scotch. "You always keep money."
     "Who have you talked to?" Her skin felt like spiders crawled over it, baby widows traipsing on snow flesh.
     "I know you," he said. "Well. And I know the way you think from the moment you get up in the morning--brushing your hair, playing with your face, regretting the tiny acne scar just above your ear--or the crescent-shaped scar that's hidden by your hair-- and I know what makes you tick. I know you like being scared, but having control. A false scare. A mind fuck. Fucking the brain! You love it. The largest sexual organ."
     She shifted as he poured himself another scotch, "Even now your panties are wet for me. I might be a serial killer, but you'd fuck me just the same. You'll enjoy this, just like you'll enjoy killing me." He downed the drink. "So, enough preliminaries. Take off your clothes. All of them." She considered his cool face, uncertain what to do, then yanked at her pink sweater, but he stopped her hands and whispered, "Slowly. Do it slowly." She stared at her pearl buttons, white as aspirin down her sweater-front, and watched them shift, as if they had suddenly became huge and delicate in her fingers, spongy like mushrooms. She persevered.
     "Look at me," he said. "Let me see your eyes."
     When she raised her glance, she felt blood creep along her face and neck and was shocked. She had not blushed since she was thirteen, straddling the old pick-up at her uncle's farm, and she could picture the old man's face, everything around him.
          "He had a lot of rabbits," Max said. "He killed them on the white wall in that box of a room, his jeans stinking of blood and sawdust. You hated the smear on that wall, the cages outside the door, and the ax right beside it." She closed her eyes, but he kept talking. "You hated the way the rabbits died without screams, the soft, patchwork quilts, and the taste of rabbit stew. There was something unfair in their silence...in how many died before you ever arrived."
     "Who are you?" she asked him.
     "Keep working on your sweater," he said. "Get it off." It hung open, so she fingered the pink seams. "I want to tell you that I understand you now," he said. "I can read your mind. At first it was cryptic and had to be decoded. But I've learned the code." He suddenly looked joyous, and she trembled, her knees weak, but she tossed her sweater from her body and moved her hand to her skirt. The zipper snagged as she yanked on it, then broke with a mangled zirrrsp. The room smelled like tea, scotch, and sugar, which nauseated her. She pulled at her skirt, but did not peel it down.
     "Slowly," he reminded her, removing a rusted knife from a kitchen drawer. "Maybe," he said, reconsidering, "you would prefer to use your own." She felt for the hilt of her blade beneath the waistband of her skirt, the warm black leather of the holster, and she pulled it out, unsheathing it and waiting. He said, "Shhh. Finish undressing. Right now." There was something dulcet in his tone.
     Her skirt fell off. When she stood before him in her underwear, he smiled with a soft nostalgic look and said, "Those too. Bra and panties must go, but leave the garter on."
     She resisted him, looking at the open door. "No."
     "I'm not going to kill you," he said again. "So calm down. Your heart beats like a rabbit's. You can run if you want to, but that would be like when you wanted to run from that cabin in Vermont when you were seventeen; do you remember, K? You didn't run then. Why not? Were you afraid of standing in the road in your underwear, cutting your feet on the rough pebbles and the glass from those broken beer bottles? You were afraid of moving away from him, and anyway, he wouldn't let you go. He didn't deserve you. Not a great memory for a summer vacation...but I'll treat you better. I'll show you. Be naked for me."
     She peeled her panties down over her tan legs and let them pool on the ground beneath her. Her heart skittered. Vermont. The truck stop man. The memories came racing back like derailed trains. Max stared at her body, appreciated it. She tried to ignore his voice. She would watch him cum and he would be weaker. A nothing. She would not kill him; he could live with his sick self.
     "I want to please you today," he said and got on his knees, kissing her thighs; he licked her for a long while, bringing her to orgasm three times before he stood. She felt like someone shot up with morphine.
     Looking at his face in the semi-dark, she asked, "Aren't you going to undress?"
     "No." He sat on the bed and kissed her neck, the bones of her shoulders, her arms and finally her breasts. He sucked them, slowly, with his lips wet from her juices. "Don't you," he asked, "wish your first lover had been more careful? You hated the taste of tobacco on his lips, and the knowledge of your aunt in the other room--sickening... Age thirteen--too young. Too young, K."
     K said nothing as his mouth traveled over her, but she felt sadness and a desire to be free from him, so pushed him away. She said, though not intending to follow through, "How would you like me to kill you, Max?"
     "Your knife," he said, "twist it in my heart."
     The room spun like a child's ride, illuminated by old memories, but she wanted her fix. Her eyes slid over the dusty cabin, and she stood, placing the tiny video camera in the corner to film them then walking back to the bed. "You don't mind this, do you?"
     "Not at all."
     "Let's begin," she said, trying to sound businesslike. "Then we can go our separate ways. You don't have to please me again."
     "Such a shame," he said. "You are so pretty. I like to please you." He unzipped his pants but did not take off his sweater, and his legs were white like carnations against his oak-colored face. His member sprang free, and it was average length, average width, like a pole from his pubic hair. It looked as stiff as she'd seen it in the library, in the car, but he did not let her touch it until he had her gasping on his fingers, then turned his back to her and rolled on a condom.
     He clenched the knife in her hand and said, "At the right time, sweetheart, drive it in." She watched him hover as he entered her, fascinated by the fluidity with how he moved his chilled body. He smelled clean, like honey. "You must be cold," she said. "You feel cold." He did not reply but stroked her thighs as he worked on her, standing where she was seated.
      On his face, she surprisingly saw love, so closed her eyes and said, "Don't look at me like that."
     "Like what?"
     "A puppydog."
     He leaned in and kissed her lashes. "I'll tell you a secret. Do you want to hear it?"
     "I'll tell you anyway. The secret is--you already know me." Her eyelids closed. "No, K! Look at me! Don't you remember?" His voice sounded far off and plaintive. He kissed her stomach, talking into it, his words muffled by her skin.
     "I don't know you."
     "Remember me from Melrose? That tiny bar with the blue lights? You seduced me and gave me a week in your bed. You could have loved me, but you chose not to. Or, maybe, you couldn't love at all."
     "You're lying." She looked at his pitted face, his blotchy skin. She didn't recognize him, and his legs felt like frozen hamhocks beating her thighs. K stared at them, amazed by their pale force as he dropped his head to her shoulder. Near her crotch were patches of dusky and cosmetic olive. She touched them and they rubbed off with oily residue. Lifting her fingers, she smelled the cloying scent she'd been so saturated with and asked, "Why do you wear make-up, Max?"
     "Don't you like it?" He didn't stop pounding, and it was odd to see him half nude in a wool sweater, the garment covering his chest and arms as he pistoned his hips into hers, so she could not place his face but kept trying. He appeared to near his climax and asked, "Have I pleased you? Tell me."
     "Finish," she said, indicating his bucking hips. "Do it to please me."
     "Answer me--are you satisfied?"
     "What difference does that make?"
     "All of it." He kissed her cheeks and slid his tongue over her ear. It rasped like shark's skin. "You never cared for love," he said, pulling her close, thrusting toward her. His organ throbbed inside her.
     "So what? Who are you?"
     "I was an artist. Stained glass. You asked me to cut you, remember--the purple shard I took to your belly? Here?"
     He wrenched his hand between their slick bodies to touch her scar. "Samuel," she said. "Why the new name? You didn't have to deceive me."
     "You wouldn't have done repeat business, right? That's your rule."
     "Do you know how crazy you are? Following me across the country. What's wrong with you?"
     He looked at her as if she were a recalcitrant child. "Have you been satisfied?"
     She knew what he wanted to hear. "Yes-yes. Go harder, finish."
     He did not listen, but let his voice rise louder and louder to thud in her ears as his hips moved faster and faster. "I am the only one to please you, and what a relief." His voice trembled as he went on. "But I destroyed myself for a woman who felt nothing. I let you consume me. And you never let us make love. You analyzed yourself and tried to be real, but you never could... I had to be harsh. I had to be cold, or you wouldn't let me near you, but you drove me crazy."
     He smoothed his expression and cried softly on her shoulder, drenching her cheeks with murky water from his own face as his fingertips sent lingering caresses down her spine. He massaged her breast, then upped his tempo again, saying, "Bring the knife quickly. I'm ready to go."
     Staring at her, glaring, he said, "I would have ate glass for you, K. I clawed my way out of the ground. Kill me." His words came out evenly spaced, thick in her ears. He was a glob of sentiment before her. "Now," he demanded. "Now, use the knife."
     She stared incredulously as a small white maggot worked free from his socket, and as she watched his still face, the appearance of his approaching release felt false. He could have stopped at any moment. The worm writhed down his jaw. His face contorted, enraged. "If you don't kill me," he warned, "I'll kill you... But you can do it. So do it." The maggot oozed like a tear to drop onto her shoulder.
     "Get away from me," she said. "You don't know me!"
     "Yes I do!" he said, so firmly, so confidently, that she reached back and buried the knife in his chest. His expression froze, but not in orgasm. She pushed his heavy mass from her body and climbed out, glaring. His hard white penis stood solid under the yellow rubber, which had almost worked free. Angrily, she yanked off the condom, and a faded piece of newsprint fell from inside it, but inside there was no release, no sticky fluid-it was dry as a hole in the desert, dry as her eyes. His erection remained, unstoppable. She pulled up the stiff wool of his sweater and his underlying shirt until his chest was bare, then stared at her knife, lodged deeply. Nothing came from his wound. She tasted her own vomit as she watched oil leak from the wound near the blade, and she grabbed his wrist, inanely checking his pulse, then peeled back his sleeves to see other wounds, dry marks from an old razor, empty but gaping.
     "I knew what you were," she said. "I knew it from the start, but I didn't believe it." She wisked the paper from the floor and touched the old newsprint, pliant and soft. It said: Spurned lover takes life in L.A. loft. Samuel Maximillian. Artist. Age 35.
     More maggots appeared, writhing from his other socket as she read, and she recognized the scent of honey and chemicals familiar from her father's funeral. Embalmed, he had no heart then, no fluids. His internal organs had been stripped away.
     She glared at his face. There was nothing like sex about it. She felt dirty with his love, and on her cheeks were the first traces of wetness in many years. She looked at a rip in her scarlet garter, the redness on white in the dark room.
     The evidence of her own release was pale and pure on her panties, and her core was dry, but her emotions raged. The clipping fell from her fingers, the word lover smeared with a dusty fingerprint: hers. The camera rolled on.
     She wanted to rewind the tape. Would it show him? A bird chirped outside the window, beak pointed toward the dead man's car, which seemed to hold a silent vigil. The bird flew closer, and K stared in its black eyes for a long, long while, then strode into the sun. With a dead man's keys in her hand, she drove away, feeling him writhe inside her--fragments of his mangled flesh claiming her womb. She knew they would not wash free.
     He would not leave her, and she could not leave him. So this was love? A piece of forever in her loins and no way to remove it? Blinded by the dull back of her eyelids, she floored the gas, careening forward on asphalt in his borrowed wagon, hitting nothing, letting the car decide the road, and spiraling deeper, deeper into herself.

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