Best New Erotica 2007-8, Running Press, 2009
Clean Sheets, 2007
Deanna Clayton was the pride of Gilmer County, West Virginia, a mountain girl hard and brilliant as a diamond, who eluded her
Pappy when he was drunk, but just barely, and won a National Merit Scholarship because there wasn't much else to do with all that violent energy and talent
in a place like Gilmer County.
The scholarship took her to Smith College in Northampton, Mass. where she lasted one semester before informing the Dean of Women that the place was full of pussies in plaid skirts. Even at seventeen Deanna talked that way, used words like that.
After Smith, Deanna came to New York where she found employment as a topless dancer and landed another scholarship at NYU. Deanna was smart and competent to the point of intimidating most people. She could have had almost any job she asked for, but she felt safe in the topless bar. She said she knew exactly what the men wanted from her and exactly how to handle them.
Outside Tijuana at Agua Caliente we buy some sweet smelling green marijuana buds from a cheerful one-eyed hitchhiker and float down the coast toward Ensenada, where we check into a motel by the sea. Our cottage is covered with red Bougainvillea. Inside the room a basket of plastic flowers sits on a table by a window facing the Pacific. The late sun catches the soft tips of Deanna's breasts and paints bright highlights around the hollows of her flanks.
"Lean back a little more."
"Please. I can't. I just..."
"I know. Shut up, darling, and lean back."
"I hate it. I love it. I hate you. Oh God."
"That's right. Vaya con Dios."
Deanna graduates from NYU one month from today, Phi Beta Kappa, with a graduate fellowship at UCLA in political science. She's been living at my place on East 9th Street for about two months now and we've been in a sexual frenzy most of the time that feels like it could blow apart any minute. There's something uncontainable about her, a dangerous unpredictability that fuels my obsession and my anxiety, which are, finally, the same.
It's not easy with Deanna and me. We fight a lot. But I've never seen her cry except sometimes after she comes. When that happens, I love her so much I want to soak up all her pain like a sponge. I felt that way after she told me about Pappy Clayton and what he put her through.
But that's not the way I feel this morning. This morning Deanna gets up wearing nothing but these tiny white bikini panties with a little pink bow at the side and the first thing she does is take half a dozen nude photos of herself out of her knapsack and start showing them to me. They're actually pictures of her most private girl part if you want to know the truth, shot from different angles with the rest of her serving more or less as a backdrop. The pictures are black and white, sharply focused and savage.
So I just woke up naked and she's sitting on the bed showing me these pictures and I'm getting turned on, I can't help it. I know she wants me to ask her about the guy who took the pictures, and what went on between them, so instead I reach for her hip to pull down those little panties through which her dark bush is clearly visible, and as my fingers touch her, she stands and steps away, five feet eight, slender, imperious.
"Don't. I'm late. I have an appointment with my faculty advisor."
"Just hold on to it for a while, big boy."
Half berserk with lust, I watch her root through her knapsack for clothes. She pulls on a black tank top that looks like it's been painted over her breasts.
"Are you wearing that to go see your faculty advisor?"
"I think he's attracted to me. I think he might make a pass at me today."
"What are you going to do if he does?"
"Anything he wants."
"Okay, that's it. You're outta here. Take your stuff and get out. Leave the key. I'm not kidding."
"I'll go back to my place if you like. But no way am I through with that purple throbber of yours. Just look at it. Say, maybe before I go, I could..."
"Out! Goddamn it, I'm not kidding! Get out now!"
Just south of Ensenada a rocky spine of land hooks out into the Pacific and back toward the town. Punta Banda. We swim naked and spawn like sea animals in the rocky tidal pools. We eat roasted conch and melon in a wood shack restaurant by the sea and the juices drip from our chins. Deanna's eyes are feral and deeply blooded. I am sun baked and cunt fucked insensible. I could happily die right now, or happily go on to live a very long life. Either would be just fine, thanks.
"Dos tequilas grandes, por favor."
"Give me your foot."
Deanna takes my bare foot under the table and slides it between her legs under her loose skirt. She lifts her hips and buries three of my toes inside her. Her eyes close.
"Move your toes."
"Deanna, for Chrissake..."
Helpless to deny her, I stir my darling slowly until she makes a low keening sound and bites her lip and writhes on my foot like an animal impaled on a pike. Just as she opens her eyes again, the boy arrives with the tequila. She drinks hers neat in one shuddering swallow.
Six months after Deanna leaves New York for UCLA, the software company I work for decides to send me to an IBM internals school in Los Angeles. I call Deanna in LA the week before I fly out. I haven't spoken to her in a year but the talk gets flowing pretty well and I start missing her and all that wildness and I tell her so. She says she misses me too. Then she says some very hot things to me over the phone, some of which concern her recent discovery of women as occasional lovers.
The things Deanna says turn me on, which of course she knows and asks about, which only makes it worse, which she also knows. She says all this talk is getting her impossibly hot and thus the two of us agree that I should tack two weeks vacation on the end of the three day IBM school, which I do.
Deanna greets me at LA airport astride an ancient Harley Davidson, nut brown, dark hair whipping in the hot wind. Her Phi Beta Kappa key is clipped to her jeans loop with a heavy brass ring. I mount behind her and reach around under her tee shirt to grip her smooth muscled stomach as we blast down the Santa Monica Freeway toward Venice.
Deanna lives in the second floor front apartment of an old clapboard house half a block from the beach. It's full of pillows and bare wood and smells of cat piss and sunshine. As soon as we walk in she starts with me.
"Will you please take off your pants and shorts and give me the shorts?"
She takes my jockeys and buries her face in them. I can't stand it. I carry her into the bedroom and do not stop till I'm numb and dry and mindless. I never even get my shirt off.
Later, we walk the boulevard by Venice beach, enjoying the freaks and roller skaters and palm trees glowing in the LA sunset.
"I can't concentrate at UCLA. I'm afraid of success, like all women. In my mind, actually getting the Ph.D. is very threatening. It's like growing a penis."
"That wouldn't become you at all. Are you seriously thinking about quitting school?"
"I've cut back on classes. I've joined some women's support groups. I'm teaching a day a week in Watts."
"What about this fear of success? I mean, since when?"
"Since childhood. Men have been conditioning me to fail since childhood."
"Listen, if you don't want to get a Ph.D. that's your business, but I'm not sure you should blame mankind. I personally don't feel much responsibility."
"Come back to the house. You fuck better than you talk."
We pull the bed into the front room with the bay window from which we can look out on the beach and the ocean and the street scene below. Deanna stands before me and slowly lowers her panties.
"Do you like it shaved? I did it to accommodate a woman friend." She kneels.
"Yes, it's...oh Jesus. I like that too."
She raises her head from my lap. Her eyes are the color of the ocean behind her.
"Later on, when you're inside me, I want you to push an ice cube slowly up my ass. Will you do that?"
Her head dips between my thighs again. Finally, at last, but also too soon, I feel it begin to build to where, although it is still some seconds away, I concede the inevitability, my inability to control it, although Deanna still doesn't know yet (and I treasure this transient secret), doesn't and won't know until the involuntary spasms betray me and I let loose the scream I am sitting on because the game is up and she couldn't mistake the explosion taking place in her mouth for anything other than what it is, which is to say, my complete and utter capitulation.
Three full minutes pass before my breathing returns to normal. Finally, I can speak.
"That was heroic. Olympian."
"Do I get a medal?"
"I was watching the scores. Nine-eight, nine-eight, nine-five, nine-seven..."
"Nine-five?" she says, turning toward me and arching an eyebrow.
"French judge," I say.
* * *
The time in LA is good and I am beginning to love Deanna again. I love her high cheekbones and clean West Virginia beauty, her quick cutting intelligence, the loneliness at the core of her erotic quest. But the house in Venice eventually feels confining and an edge begins to build. We need new settings to frame our epic fornications and heighten their reflection in our own eyes.
Deanna and I rent a Toyota, find a sitter for the cats, and head south for Mexico and the Baja peninsula.
Deanna finds Tomas on the beach, a thin boy with quick black eyes who rents us horses and provides information on restaurants and points of interest. We ride three miles through Yucca and Cottonwood to a local hot springs spa. A huge steaming pool has been formed by damming the mouth of an arroyo below the springs. The pool is lined with smooth slabs of cut stone and filled with Mexican families poaching in the sun. We take one of the private cabana de banos, a small room with a wooden bench and large stone tub set in the ground. Above the tub on the wall is a single massive iron lever and spout to admit the hot springs water.
Deanna's already a little crazy from riding the horse. We strip down and smoke a joint and then she lies in the tub on her back with her hips positioned under the huge spout.
"Turn it on."
I kneel beside the tub, one hand on the iron lever, tumescent, stoned, mesmerized by the visuals. A beam of sunlight from the one high window illumines the swirls of fragrant smoke in the air and the tops of Deanna's knees poking above the tub. I watch her rosy kneecaps slowly move together and then apart.
"Turn it on. Please."
"Maybe we should wait just one minute more."
Soon her whole body is in motion.
"Please. Enough. Turn it on."
I throw the lever and the steaming water thunders down, cleaving her body and mind, bringing a transient peace.
* * *
Deanna grows restive. She wants an erotic setting that involves genuine risk. We pack food and canteens, gasoline and compass, and head south from Ensenada. Below Rosario it's all desert, a dusty trail through dead, sun blasted landscapes, with occasional trash heaps and tin shacks to remind us of the planet we're actually on.
"Car's running hot. Water temperature is up."
"Let's stop and take a walk."
The horizon is featureless, a shimmering heat line broken by a dry arroyo dipping to the west.
"Lets walk to the arroyo, see what's on the bottom."
As we approach the arroyo lip I hear a sharp clacking whir, like castanets. Five feet to our left a large diamond back rattler is poised to strike. The snake is absolutely riveting in the empty landscape, the golden diamonds on its coiled brown body in sharp contrast to the erect black and white tiered rattle. I jerk Deanna backward as a burst of adrenalin floods my body. She pulls away and begins to circle the snake, her chest heaving.
"Deanna, listen to me. Listen to me!"
"Look at it. Did you ever see anything so beautiful?"
"Deanna. Listen to me. This is not LA. There are no emergency rooms. The closest doctor is five hours drive!"
Deanna is standing just beyond the snake's range, undoing her belt. She slides her shorts slowly down her hips and steps out of them.
"I want to do it right here, right now. I want to be on top so I can watch the snake."
"This isn't funny. This is sick shit."
Deanna closes her eyes and slides her hand between her legs. The rattle shatters the air, a second warning. I leap forward and drag her back. I am not gentle. When I release her, she is gasping.
"I thought you had erotic imagination! I thought you had cojones!"
She waits until we are in the car. When I reach for the key, she slaps my face, once, hard.
* * *
We've been eating and drinking whatever we wanted, without caution, and the food and water finally catches up and hands me a 103 degree fever and nonstop diarrhea. Deanna's been like a coiled spring since we returned from the desert and I don't expect her to be overly sympathetic but I'm not prepared for the anger my illness apparently unleashes. After one night and one day of it she is stomping around complaining that I'm exaggerating my symptoms.
"Everybody gets this. It's nothing. How long are you going to stay in bed?"
"Give me a break. Why don't you go somewhere?"
"Give me the car keys. I'll go to Tres Cabras. Maybe hear some music."
The opium in the Mexican paregoric hits and I drift into damp, fever twisted dreams. The fever breaks around 2:00 AM and I awake, lucid, thirsty, and restless. Deanna is still out. I drink a cold Carta Blanca and decide to take a walk on the beach.
The night is filled with banal beauty, white caps gleaming in three quarter moonlight, dark shifting clouds and crashing surf. I feel lightheaded and detached as I walk, my mind empty, pleased to be rid of the virus. Down the beach I can just make out the corral where Tomas keeps the horses and the shack where he lives. As I approach, I see the Toyota parked behind the shack and a dim glow through the open front window. Then, by the light of a kerosene lamp, I see Deanna from the rear, naked, astride Tomas. I watch the supple twisting lines of her dancer's back as she grinds into Tomas. I feel like an actor in someone else's bad play, obliged by circumstance to act out my part and deliver my bad lines.
I rip open the flimsy front door. Deanna turns, dismounts, and stands, her body glistening with sex and sweat. Tomas, terrified, bolts out the back door, his slender cock flapping like a foolish afterthought.
"Nice. Really nice."
"Vacation's over in two days. What were you expecting, eternal vows? A picket fence and roses?"
"I wasn't expecting you to molest third world children."
"He's a delicious little slut, if you want the truth. Quite innocent, but his instincts are filthy. Whimpers like a girl when I rim him."
Deanna's tone is bright and casual but I can see she is fighting for control, fighting tears, and I'm fighting too, inside myself, because I cannot see a way out of this.
"Enjoy him. Can you find your way back to LA without me?"
"You still don't get it, do you? You're such a goddamn romantic. The fact is, I blow things apart first, before the men get a chance to. It's the only way I stay sane."
"Do you need any money?"
"Fuck you and your money, Jack."
"Jack. That's a good name. That's appropriate. If I ever run into you again, call me Jack."
Yes, I saw her again, about a year later, but it was pretty edgy. Some of the old heat was there, but by then the diverging lines had hardened. I was a technology consultant to large corporations and she was a radical feminist.
Two more years passed and then a final message on my answering machine: Deanna had her PhD. Pretty good for a hard scrabble abused kid from Gilmer County. I tried to call and congratulate her but the last number I had didn't work and she wasn't listed.
Listen. I'm not sure I want to know what happened to Deanna. What if she turned out to have an ordinary life?
A life like mine?