“In one way or another,” she said, “life always revolves around eating. Don't you think?”
Billy looked up and turned around. It was the first thing he heard her say and it made a strong impression. Bunny's remark floated on the air, skimming the surface of meaning as lightly as a mayfly skims the water. Her communication was as vaporous and as overwhelming as the sandalwood scent she wore, a perfume that would have delighted him if she hadn't worn too much of it. She wasn't aware of having said anything interesting; she merely meant that she liked to eat and that others did, too. Bunny in fact loved to eat, and Billy always wondered where she put it all. It never occurred to him that she fasted as well as she feasted.
“My real name's Beatrice,” she said, “But nobody ever calls me that.”
“It's an old‑fashioned name, isn't it?” Billy said. “Wasn't it the name of Dante's beloved?”
Bunny shrugged and glanced around at different parts of the sky as if for an answer to his question. She vaguely knew who Dante was, but she didn't understand why Billy should be so interested in a name that nobody called her.
“Well,” she said with a nervous laugh, “I mean, it's just a name. You know, like Beatrice Foods Incorporated!”
“Or Rappaccini's Daughter?”
“Whose daughter?” she frowned.
“One of those heroines of tragic love,” he said. “If they haven't changed textbooks since I took it, it's in your Lit course this year.”
Billy smiled and shrugged, though inwardly he was annoyed. Bunny noticed when he did that, though he didn't think she did.
Bunny knew that love had something to do with kisses, kisses that sometimes frightened her because she liked them so much. She was 19 and a freshman in college, yet it still embarrassed her to get so involved with herself. (“Her sweetness is endearing,” Billy thought with a grimace, “but such complete innocence is just ridiculous!”) One moment her large clear eyes would open wide as if to take the whole world in and the next moment squeeze so tightly shut that not a sliver of light could enter. Like some cursed, neurotic flower, she was forever opening and closing. Billy could barely stand it.
“I think you probably just need glasses,” he told her on their second date.
“And I think you're the most irritating person I've ever met!” Bunny snapped back.
“I see,” Billy grinned. He was trying not to show how annoyed he was with himself. He figured that it would be a long damn time now before she'd talk to him again. He was wrong.
“I'm not ready for another relationship,” she told him later with an incongruous look of embarrassment and pride. It was their fourth date, and she meant to imply that she had a past.
“I guess we could just be friends,” he said. He meant to imply that she had a chance of being more, yet until this very moment the thought hadn't entered his head.
He had met Bunny a few weeks ago on the way to his Entomology class. He was enjoying it immensely, especially the work with the dissecting microscope. He thought of her sometimes like that, as if she were some interesting carabid beetle that nature had painted in gorgeous red or iridescent green. He had an overwhelming desire to turn her over and see what she looked like on the other side.
“A thoroughly odd little specimen,” he'd thought the first time he'd met her, one whom until now he had considered far too immature for anything but a passing amusement. She was cute as a bug, all right, but a lot of goddamn trouble, too. Her various states of helplessness were sometimes attractive, but just as often awful. And yet here he was leaning down sympathetically, listening to her ingenuous claptrap with a stupid shit‑eating grin on his face. His own words (“just friends, just friends!”) rang in his ears like a soft alarm bell.
“I'm glad you feel that way,” she said, though she didn't look glad. She was squinting at him as if she had a headache. Was it just her usual I‑need‑glasses look or did she think she'd make some kind of mistake? Billy felt sorry for her and smiled. He took her hand, hoping to set her at ease. At times her unconscious thoughts were written so plainly across her small mobile face that he couldn't help wanting to help her, even if he didn't know how. In short, her transparent fragility made her more attractive than she really was. And being—as he thought—far more intelligent than she was, he was easy prey to a young man's fantasies about how he might “save” her from herself.
When they kissed goodnight at her door, he wondered why she pressed her innocence against him like that, as if she didn't know the effect it had. Billy—overheating rapidly, but hoping not to show it—patted her cheek softly and walked away smiling. He was 22 and couldn't help feeling superior. He knew what kisses were for, but just this once he didn't feel compelled to say so. Still—now he really was interested.
Two weeks later Priscilla was leaning over Bunny's shoulders to check her lipstick in the mirror.
“We have the most wonderful long conversations,” Bunny told her roommate. She was talking about Billy, of course.
“Uh‑huh,” Priscilla said to show she was listening, though she barely was. She was pursing her lips, wondering if she'd look good in Bunny's new Literal Red. Strands of Priscilla's long blonde hair kept getting in Bunny's mouth, but she was determined not to be bothered by it. Again and again, she shook her head sharply and ejected the hairs with small quick breaths.
“This bathroom just isn't big enough, is it?” Priscilla said, grinning into the mirror, then waited for an answer. Their conversation wasn't going anywhere fast.
Bunny, solemnly plucking her dark eyebrows, was too intent to answer. Years ago a friend had horrified her by saying her eyebrows made her look like a Neanderthal, and Bunny had followed a strict depilatory discipline ever since.
“I mean, we talk about everything,” Bunny went on. “But, really, sometimes he says the most outrageous things. For God's sake, he makes me feel like I'm the last one in the world to know about anything—especially sex—and that's not true!”
Priscilla's eyebrows crinkled in puzzlement as she glanced at Bunny in the mirror and wondered what was true. She'd been living with Bunny for six months now and still didn't know. She bit her lower lip lightly.
“If she's going to be so damned interested in sex,” Priscilla thought, she's sure going to have to change her style!” In the meanwhile it made her a little sad that it was so hard for them to talk about things. She blamed herself and tried to think of something that would help.
Bunny was very interested in sex, she just didn't want to lose her composure. Billy was just as interested, but he, of course, was positively indecent about it.
“Someday I'd like to eat you,” he told her.
Bunny stopped chewing. Her face turned red and she unconsciously opened her mouth. This was only their sixth date! Her mouth snapped shut again and she quickly glanced left and right in the crowded restaurant, then bowed her head toward her plate. She was terrified that someone might have heard him, but everything seemed to be all right. It was a very noisy restaurant, she realized, and felt that she could breathe again. Billy, who had been aware of her paralysis, saw her take the breath and thought, “Good.”
Then—inexplicably—she said, “Good grease.”
Billy smiled as if he understood. He didn't have a clue. Was she talking about her steak and French fries? What was she gabbling about? Finally it dawned on him that what she'd mumbled was “good grief” and that was a big relief. His proposal was unlikely enough to succeed without having her talking in tongues or non-sequiturs.
Too often already, he felt, she was going one way and he was going the other. This business about eating, for instance: she was always hungry when she was with him, he was always hungry when he left her. They enjoyed the same movies, but when they came out, they argued over what was good about them. About music, Billy felt he was beating his head against a wall. He loved Randy Newman's songs, for instance, but Bunny wouldn't even listen. She hated Newman because she thought his song, “Short People”, was spiteful. Billy tried to explain that the songwriter had adopted a persona to tell the story, but Bunny didn't buy it.
Bunny looked up from her plate and gave him a stern look. Then she sighed and continued to eat. Billy played with his food and continued teasing her. He was like an insect buzzing around her head—a big slow bumblebee perhaps who had mistaken her for an interesting plant. He was terribly irritating, yet his outlandish manners held a fascination for her that she couldn't quite fathom. She smiled a little when she thought he wasn't looking. He was always saying things that no one else ever said to her, and it made her feel very different. He excited her whether she knew what to say to him or not, and she excited him whether she answered or not. They were in perfect harmony.
Bunny was used to boys whose reserve was only a little less coy than her own, young men who'd hold doors for her, who would never put her on the spot. Billy wasn't like that. Once begun, his litany of seduction whirred around her like endless variations on a theme. It dizzied her, it made her nervous. Yet it was really all right; what he was saying now didn't seem to require much attention or any response at all. He lingered over his monologue the way she lingered over dessert, and they both enjoyed the taste. She kept her ice cream bowl close to her mouth and slowly, languidly fed herself with very large spoonfuls. Over the top of the bowl she kept a close eye on Billy.
As usual his curly black hair was unkempt and a little too long. It didn't seem to matter how early in the day she saw him, he always seemed to need a shave. He always had a day's growth, but seldom any more, so he did shave, but when? His wine‑colored shirt with its unbuttoned sleeves was as wrinkled as if he stored even his clean clothes in a laundry hamper. She wanted very badly to iron it, even though she hated ironing. His untidiness bothered her, but in a way it was interesting. She had decided that his problem was not that he wasn't vain, but that he thought he wasn't.
Inaudibly, Bunny sighed. Whatever he thought of himself, she quite liked to look at him. His lean, almost gaunt good looks seemed somehow improved by his disregard for them, though it maddened her that he never seemed to work at any of it. For her it was always work. The big dark-rimmed glasses (which he claimed to hate) gave his face, she thought, an ascetic look. He was always setting them down and forgetting where they were. He was the only person she'd ever known who had three pairs—there was always a spare at home and yet another in the glove compartment of his car. Even then, sometimes he'd misplace all of them at once and the world had to stop because he couldn't drive without them. No, he wasn't any hero in shining armor, but to Bunny he seemed as appealing as some rumpled errant knight in a fairy tale.
Billy paid the cashier, then as an afterthought bought a chocolate mint for Bunny. She took his arm and smiled. She loved it when he remembered little things like that. Outside in the moonlit parking lot, she leaned against him, closed her eyes, and “walked in the dark” beside him until she tripped on a crack in the pavement. As she stumbled forward Billy caught her and swung her back, then leaned down and lightly kissed her. Eagerly—she would have said eagerly—she pressed her mouth to his, but she wouldn't part her lips. Billy could detect the slight taste of chocolate mint on her lips and wanted to taste more of it. Yet he realized that he was jumping the gun entirely when he fantasized about this prim girl parting her legs; she wouldn't even open her teeth!
Bunny twisted away from him and hopped in the car when she saw that he was getting too passionate. Billy stuck his head through the window, took off his glasses, and stared at her. It made her uncomfortable when he did that—she felt as if he was trying to see her too clearly.
“It's not,” he said, “as if I'm going to rape you. I only said I'd like to eat you.”
While Billy walked around the car to the driver's side, Bunny made another inaudible noise, a small breathy sound just short of being a whistle. Billy said nothing, but wondered what she was “whew”‑ing about now. In fact, she was thinking, “Well, that wasn't too bad.” She'd even decided that she didn't have to sulk.
“Someday I may let you,” she said in a tense small voice.
He looked at her and grinned. Then she grinned back and ducked her head. The words she said aroused him and somewhat improved his temper, but the rest of the message was plainly written on her face: “But not now.” He understood that it was only an exciting abstraction to her. He'd still have to wait.
“I see,” he said and smiled.
Bunny knew that smile by now. It was a crooked, disappointed smile, a fixed and carnivorous expression poised above her like a bird of prey waiting for nature to take its course.
“I really like you, you know,” Bunny said, trying to brush aside his impatience (as well as her own) with a big friendly hug.
The longer he had to work at penetrating her defenses, the less such sweetness pleased him. Or even when it pleased him, it aroused and aggravated him. Even as she hugged him with the uncritical energy of a child, he was glad she couldn't see his face.
“I love you too,” he told her, not thinking for a moment that she might apprehend his irony.
Despite Bunny's praise of him to Priscilla, it was difficult to say just what was so wonderful about their conversations. Billy thought she was slow and frustrating, inclined to parochial views. Bunny wasn’t dumb and she often found him duplicitous and uncharitable, always on the brink of laughing at her. One Saturday afternoon in Eastwoods Park they were lounging quietly beside the remnants of their picnic lunch. A single tiny insect hovered obnoxiously in front of Billy's face. It was flying and alighting, flying and alighting, and in between doing figure‑eights in front of his nostrils. Billy's eyes began to cross. Just as he took a breath to curse it, it flew up his nose. Billy sneezed violently a couple of times, then frantically searched around for a paper napkin.
“What's the matter?” Bunny asked.
“Hippelates fly,” he muttered after blowing his nose.
“A gnat,” he told her, his eyes starting to water. “We studied them in Entomology last month. Nasty little creatures.”
“Is that the little bug that gets in your face and won't go away?” she asked.
“That's the one,” he said, surreptitiously checking his napkin for semi-disintegrated insect parts.
“Why do they do that, anyway?
“They're attracted to mucous and fatty secretions,” Billy answered with a teary grin. Bunny grimaced. “And blood and pus,” he added. He was starting to enjoy this. “They don't bite, but their mouthparts have spines that produce lesions in the flesh. I imagine they're a terrible torment to cattle.
“Ugh!” Bunny shuddered. “How can you even talk about them?”
“I like nasty things,” he said and slid his hand unexpectedly up her skirt. In quick reflex Bunny's knees clamped down hard and imprisoned his hand.
“Quit that!” she told him. “Someone might be watching.”
“Someone's always watching,” Billy laughed and slowly withdrew his hand.
They had promised themselves that they would study after they ate, but the hot sun made them lazy and inattentive. Bunny pushed aside her English Lit book and picked up a newspaper. Billy gave up on Economic Geology and casually browsed through Bunny's book. He had just settled into reading a poem by Robert Browning called “My Last Duchess” when Bunny interrupted.
“I think these hijackers and bombers are just terrible! Don't they have any sense of morality?”
“Of course they do,” Billy laughed.
“What do you mean?”
“Well—everyone believes in the honor of their own race, their own kind. And everyone believes in the dishonor of their enemies. Terrorists are just the most extreme form of moralist—they don't give a shit what they do as long as it's in the name of honor.”
“That doesn't make any sense,” Bunny insisted with a pained look. “To me, it's just plain immoral.”
“But immoral from whose point of view?” he laughed.
She wondered sometimes if Billy was crazy; his words sounded serious, but he never did. It wasn't just that he laughed at what she said; he also seemed to laugh at what he said.
Had Billy's sense of humor been more forbearing, he might have saved her a lot of confusion. He didn't want to instruct her, but every time he turned around she asked another question. Either he had to answer it or fend her off. In either case, he figured, he had a fifty/fifty chance of pissing her off. When she complained about it, he always brushed her aside.
“For the love of God,” he told her, “you need to toughen your mind a bit! You can't depend on me all the time.”
It didn't occur to him that what she most needed to toughen it against was him. (It did occur to her, but she never acted upon it.) Bunny looked injured by what he'd said, but also considered his point. She wanted to be honest. She wanted to understand.
“An attractive woman, goddamn it, should have more confidence, should know her own mind,” he kept insisting. “If she doesn't, then what's in her that's worth knowing?”
Bunny wasn't sure whether to be hurt or flattered. His complaint was blunt—almost bludgeoning—yet he had also implied that she was an attractive woman. To Bunny it seemed to be a startling revelation. Billy's attentions raised her opinion of herself simply by distracting her from her own opinions. And yet he was so critical of her that she wondered why he bothered at all. Sometimes she hated him worse than Randy Newman.
In night clubs or theaters, she'd ask, “Do you see where the little girls' room is?” She used that euphemism in place of the ordinary one, and it made him cringe. He could see where it was, and so could she—she just wanted an escort. She always seemed to be in need of some “kind gentleman” or reassuring mother, and he wasn't prepared to be either one.
Sometimes he tried to tell her, “You won't get lost, you won't get mugged, go on!”
Yet most of the time he went along. The times he'd absolutely refused to go with her, she'd sat in front of him squirming until his own bladder began to have sympathy pangs. Her silent suffering made him feel about as noble as one of those sensitivity‑training major-domos who think you've got your priorities wrong if you need to piss more than you need to listen to them—in short, a major shitheel. He disapproved of Bunny so strongly that in the end he even disapproved of himself. Bunny was aware of his disapproval; she didn't think he tried very hard to hide it. That's why she was in love with love, but only infatuated with Billy.
“God, he's passionate enough though,” she told Priscilla and covered her grin with both hands.
“What about his indecencies?” Priscilla asked.
“He's passionate about those too,” Bunny giggled. Sometimes she enjoyed talking about Billy more than she enjoyed him.
“You know what I mean,” Priscilla said impatiently, but gently. “I mean, he's awfully vulgar, isn't he?”
Bunny looked stricken, but thoughtful. There was more than that to Billy, she knew, but what her friends thought of him bothered her a lot.
“Have you got a date tonight?” Priscilla asked suddenly.
“Me neither. Let's get drunk!”
“Prissy!” Bunny squeaked.
When Priscilla came back from the kitchen with a bottle of white wine and two glasses she said, “Oh, I don't mean really drunk, you know. But if we're not driving, we can drink, can't we?”
“I guess,” Bunny replied in a doubtful tone.
Priscilla thought that the wine would help them talk. Several glasses later, the girls were relaxed and a little loud.
“I think it's awful,” Priscilla said, “when men want to paw you and you're not in the mood!”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Bunny said in a steady but studied voice.
“They don't seem to understand that a girl might like being with them without wanting to be teased and poked and squeezed all the time. I'm no trained seal or ewe in heat,” Priscilla said forcefully.
“You?” Bunny asked tipsily.
“I mean, they can't just expect us to switch on at the touch of a button. I'm a person, not a machine!”
“Sure,” Bunny agreed again lightly, “you have to be in the mood. Otherwise, it's just embarrassing.”
Bunny was thinking about Billy. He embarrassed her a lot, yet that was a big part of what she liked about him. So many people treated her like a good little girl, but Billy always chastised her for trying to get away with it. She interpreted his laughter and antagonism as challenges, signs that he had a “special faith” in her. By attacking her so ruthlessly at the root of her weakness, Billy had given her the impression that he cared for her as no one else did.
“Well, more than embarrassing,” Priscilla said with a dubious look at her roommate. “What I don't understand though is how come men never get embarrassed. If you say “yes” or if you say “no”, they're still encouraged! They're just so obsessed with their precious pricks!”
Bunny blushed and Priscilla thought, “Oops, now I've done it.”
Actually, Bunny had only half‑heard her. Her cheeks were warm and she felt very disconnected from her senses. She thought she might be smiling too much and put her hand in front of her face. The picture of a word floated in and out of her mind and finally settled like a diagram on a jiggling blackboard: “Em‑Bare‑Assed”. She giggled, then jumped up.
“Hold on a minute,” she said, “I've got to go pee.”
“Bun‑Nee!” Priscilla exclaimed, drawing the word out. She laughed loudly and nearly spilled her wine. She couldn't have been more surprised. Where was that usual sweet euphemism?!
All the way to the bathroom Bunny was aware of an exaggerated slow unsureness in her step. “I must be drunk!” she laughed. She was conscious too of a dangerous sensation in her loins; her bladder was very full, but even that seemed funny. As she flipped her skirt out of the way and sat down, she smiled and relaxed, making friends with her dizzy state. When she closed her eyes, she thought for a moment that she might lose her balance. A feeling of intense warmth spread between her legs; she ran her palms over the smooth cool skin of her outer thighs and sighed in relief. It took a few seconds for her to realize that the warmth was wet and in just what manner it was wet. Her eyes jerked open and she tottered forward, but when she felt it running down her legs she fell back again in confusion. She'd forgotten to pull down her pants.
Some time later Priscilla asked,, “What took you so long? I thought you fell in.”
Bunny said nothing. She had put on her frumpiest nightgown and was hugging her breasts. She stuck out her tongue as if to say “Yuck!” and put her hand on her forehead.
Priscilla could recognize a snit when she saw one; she bit her lip to keep from smiling. “A little trouble with the wine?” she asked. “I'm sorry, sweetie.” Priscilla had another drink and Bunny didn't. After a while they both felt better and their talk turned to boys again.
“I swear to God, Prissy, I think he knows me better than anyone else and yet half the time I'm not even sure that he likes me!”
“I don't think he does,” Priscilla said softly. She knew how easy it was to hurt Bunny. She hadn't meant to say anything, it just slipped out.
“Of course he does,” Bunny said. “He's just—uh, crazy, that's all.” She smiled, aware that she was trying to smile the problem away, then frowned and said, “Anyway, maybe it's good for me to get shook up a little. I'm 19 now and I want to be treated like a woman, not like a little girl!”
Priscilla wanted to say more, but didn't dare. Bunny was so fragile at times. Which was all the more reason to worry about Billy.
Billy thought that Bunny was childish, of course, but he tried to treat her like a woman because he wanted to get in her pants. And if he wasn't quite in control of the situation, well, neither was she. And if his incidental bad behavior made her feel guilty sometimes, that too might serve his purpose.
“I'll be her benevolent irritant,” he smugly told his roommate George. He was reaching for his second beer.
“Apparently you think she's an oyster,” George said and reached for his third.
“An oyster without a pearl, I'm afraid.”
“Not all oysters have 'em,” George sighed.
They were girl‑watching in their usual perches on the porch of the student union building at the university. George and Billy lounged expansively in big metal patio chairs; they both wore that indolent, inexplicable look of hunger you sometimes see on well‑fed housecats. The girls who passed in groups of two or three on their way to and from the library knew that look.
“Here's another covey of beauties,” George said.
The girls strolling by took no more notice of the boys than of the two stone lions that stood staring out from either side of the porch entrance. They were used to being watched.
“The parade is better on weekdays, of course,” George said in a tone of resignation. Today was Sunday and the groups were coming infrequently. There was plenty of time for talk. When the girls had passed, he turned to Billy and said, “It sounds to me like you're playing games with someone who doesn't know it's a game.”
“I know, I know,” Billy said with chagrin, “and I hate games. But you have to play games with Bunny if you're going to play at all.”
Suddenly it dawned on him that his smugness over Bunny's embarrassments was tainted with some embarrassments of his own. He wanted very much to justify himself, but worried that he just sounded weak and self‑serving.
Another covey passed by, the bright piercing voices borne to the young men's predatory ears not as explicable speech but as signatory sounds that identified the species.
“I like the tall one,” George said. He himself was tall.
“She isn't even my type,” Billy complained in a preoccupied tone. He reached for another beer, now quite warm.
“Who, the tall one?” George asked.
“Bunny. She isn't very smart and she's flat‑chested!”
“Oh, Jesus, that!” George laughed. “What's the attraction then?”
“It's a goddamned compulsion, that's what it is!” Billy said with theatrical grimness. Even with George he wasn't quite ready to say what he meant: that he knew she was hot, whether she admitted it or not; that he wanted to fuck her brains out.
“She's devouring my soul with her endless questions, boring me to tears, and yet teasing me to distraction! No one has ever appealed to me so much sexually and so little in any other way. I'm hooked, hooked like a fish—except that isn't where the hook is!”
George fell forward in his chair, exploding with laughter, spluttering beer all over himself. He had meant to listen sympathetically to Billy, but this was too absurd.
“It isn't that funny,” Billy admonished him. But he was stifling a smile. He was just too pissed off at himself to laugh.
“She'll have to be half‑tricked if you ever expect to nail her,” George smirked.
Billy smirked back. “Silly rabbit—tricks are for kids,” he said.
“And of course she'll take a lot of time,” George pointed out.
“Umm...that's depressing.” Billy's smile was slipping.
“She'll need subterfuge, patience, lots of lyrical lies!” George said. He was practically cackling now.
“That's disgusting,” Billy said. All the same, he looked thoughtful. He was trying to decide if he knew any lyrical lies and he had the feeling that George knew exactly what he was thinking.
“Very disgusting,” George winked.
Billy nodded, clicked his beer can against George's, and grinned. “Well, then—to Beatrice, my beloved.” They looked askance at one another for a moment, then broke into helpless laughter.
Later that night in bed Billy thought, “God, she probably will have to be tricked. Or caught half‑asleep.”
He was giving himself the creeps. He turned out the light and yawned, assuring himself sleepily, “This is only trickery, anyway, not trespass.” He'd never had to worry much about the difference between manipulation and rape, but now he considered it. For what it was worth, he had found an out, yet guilt hovered over his sleepy speculations like a police helicopter in a blind alley at midnight. Even his guilt worked against her, though, for the sharp scent of evil was in his dreams, an ether as sweet as Bunny's sandalwood perfume. Something about it was attractive.
It was true Bunny had some kind of past, but as far as he could tell from the muddled tales she told—she talked so much in disconnected mumbles, sighs, and inferences!—the closest that she'd ever come to sex had been a masturbatory tryst a year or so ago in the back seat of a Ford station-wagon. They'd folded down the seats and Bunny had pulled up her skirt and let a grateful high school sweetie insert himself somewhere between her knees and what Billy liked to call her “virtuous v”. The boy had felt so cool against her skin at first—yet nervous, breathless, not in control—that for a while she'd forgotten to be afraid. She'd squeezed him gently, gingerly, until she felt a warm sticky surprise spill slowly down her leg.
Billy had thought that her description of it resembled some sort of connect-the-dot puzzle, but he could well imagine how afterward she must have scrambled up with her eyes carefully averted. If that “mess” and those torpid twitchings were discussed at all by those two lovers, it was both euphemistically and very, very brief. Bunny wouldn't have stood for it, he was sure. And equally sure that she had soon pretended that it had never happened, and never let it happen again.
Billy thought it was hilarious and more than a little erotic. Bunny's behavior, however, made it clear that for her every memory of it was a painful one. He tried to get her to tell him more about it, but she was too locked up. Talking about it would be good for her, he thought, but such discussion was no more a real option for her with Billy than it had been with the boy in the back seat. Having told this much grudgingly, she withdrew again into her shell. Billy felt sorry for her, but such vulnerability was also a terrible invitation to the devil in him.
“You're still a virgin, aren't you?” he asked one night.
After a blank hesitation, she grinned self‑consciously and said, “You're crazy! I don't have to answer that!”
“That's true,” he conceded.
“I figured as much,” he told himself. Only a virgin could look that guilty over something that was none of his goddamn business. Of course he was wrong about that, but perhaps in Bunny's case he was still somewhat right. Bunny was in a more seriously invaginated state than even Billy supposed, more so than the presence or absence of her hymen could possibly effect. The greatest barrier she possessed was this terrible notion she had that she was still a “nice girl”.
George snickered. “Her role as a masturbatory fuck‑doll didn't disturb her romantic idealism in the least, I take it.”
“I don't think it even woke her up,” Billy laughed. “The notions she clings to may be silly, but you have to give her credit: she clings to them heroically.”
Thursday afternoon in front of the student union. It was a good day for girl‑watching, but Billy stood staring thoughtlessly at one of the stone lions by the porch. Actually he was waiting. They had just attended a lecture by the notorious atheist, Jennifer Nelson Hardy, and Bunny was in the ladies room. Billy was not in attendance because they'd met one of her girlfriends in the hall and Bunny had “gone” with her.
“I'll never understand,” Billy mused, “why going to the john is such a social event for women. What do they do in there?”
As a bosomy redhead in a clinging white dress clattered down the steps toward him, all of Billy's attention was drawn to a single focus. When her smoothly‑rolling buttocks came into view, he was struck by an oddity almost more compelling than the shape of her behind: a pair of dark green panties clearly visible through the stretched white fabric.
“Ass‑stonishing,” Billy muttered softly to himself.
He wondered if she was one of those women who objected to being treated as objects. If so, she sure dressed funny, he thought. Maybe it was an accident of nature, certainly it was subjective, that the young woman was beautiful and shapely. He was even willing to concede that her deliciously clinging dress was more nearly meant to be stylish or comfortable than erotic. He could live with that, he figured, and would probably have refrained from raping at least a hundred thousand delicious morsels just like her before his life was through. But, for the love of saintly Jesus, why in hell was she wearing that incredibly provocative green underwear under a white dress?! Did she know nothing of men at all?
“Dammit, if she isn't driving at anything,” Billy thought, trying not to lick his lips, “then she's asleep at the wheel!”
He was trying to catch one last glimpse of the young woman when he became aware of a young man on a bicycle standing still in the flow of pedestrian traffic and twisting his head off to turn around and get a good look at the green panties.
“Jesus,” Billy said and smiled to himself. Suddenly his curiosity was aroused beyond the arousal the girl had stirred, and he began to watch the boy instead. When the young man lost sight of her and turned his head forward, he noticed Billy looking at him. Their eyes met, and they shook their heads and smiled as if at the same joke.
Bunny came up from behind and took Billy's hand. “Who is that?” she asked.
“I don't know. Some would‑be rapist, I suppose.”
They began walking slowly uphill toward the library. Bunny was disquieted, Billy amused. He was thinking about that taut white dress.
“How can Mrs. Hardy say such terrible things about God?” Bunny suddenly asked.
“I don't know.” Bunny looked disappointed that he didn't have more to say, so he added, “Why, are you worried about her being rude to God?”
“I didn't say she was being rude to God,” Bunny complained.
“That's good,” Billy said. “It didn't seem to be the case with some of the other people at the lecture.” Then he laughed and said, “Anyway, you can't help but laugh at so much impatience.”
“Impatience with what?” Bunny asked in an irritated voice.
“Impatience with one another's intelligence, silly rabbit.”
“What do you mean by that?” she asked suspiciously.
“I don't mean anything by it,” he told her. “They—Mrs. Hardy and the Christians who heckled her from the audience—mean that whatever they don't believe in is stupid and that,” he said with another punctuating laugh, “seems to justify a good deal of rudeness on both sides.”
“Well, even if that's true, I don't see what you find so funny about it,” Bunny whined. What is so great about being impolite?”
“I don't know exactly,” he said comfortably. “What's so great about being polite?”
Bunny looked hurt and said, “I don't think you're taking me very seriously.”
Billy paused a moment as he considered it. “I think I am,” he said. “Anyway, I'm not so sure that being taken seriously is the best goal that you can have. Look at who's in charge of the world, and look at the shape the world is in.”
“Commie bastards with guns. Capitalist bastards with guns. Terrorists throwing tantrums. And in the middle starving children of every creed, who never have a gun—otherwise they wouldn't be starving.
“Oh, you're just going off the deep end!” she said impatiently.
“Sometimes it's good for you to go off the deep end,” he told her and grinned, a little too smugly. “You just don't have any sense of humor, that's all. If something tastes bad, spit it out—that's my advice to you.”
Now what did he mean by that? Was he threatening her or being helpful? Was he telling her to like it or lump it, or warning her against himself? In either case, it sounded more serious than he supposed. Bunny had listened hard, frowning in concentration.
“God!” she thought. “He can be so—! Oh!” Words failed her.
“Abstruse” might have been the word she was looking for, and if she could have told him that, they would have both been better off. She might have surmounted his foolishness or at least circumvented her own. Instead she asked another question.
“You sound like you think that the solution is just to be rude to everyone. Is that what you mean?”
She was staring at him so intently that it made his skin crawl. He was convinced that she needed glasses and just wouldn't admit it.
“I suppose you could say that,” he said, removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes. “But that isn't what I mean.”
His sense of humor was declining rapidly. He felt a strong burden of responsibility to be “nice” to her (how else was he to get anywhere with her?) and just as strong an impulse to say “Fuck it” and walk away.
“I mean,” he said, “that laughter is the only relief you ever get from yourself, that's all.”
It seemed as if neither one of them had the sense or sense of humor to escape this bickering mood. They were nearing the library now and the end of the long ascent. They stopped and leaned against a tree as if to rest. Billy kept trying to see Bunny's expression, but she hid her face against his arm and clung to his sleeve. Now and then she brushed at imaginary lint on his cuff. Nearby a grounds crew was reworking a flowerbed, taking old plants out and replacing them with plants in bloom. Billy watched the men sweating in the flowerbed and thought, “Shit, it could be worse; I might have to work for a living.” He was willing to think of anything except what he was actually doing. As if she'd heard something, Bunny looked up at him solemnly and said, “What?” He knew he ought to let the conversation die, but he was too exasperated.
“Your problem,” he told her with sudden energy, “is that you work too hard to believe in the things you already believe in.”
“But we have to believe in something, don't we?” Bunny insisted. “And anyway you make me sound as if I'm afraid of Mrs. Hardy or that I want to squash her, and that's not true. I just think she's a troublemaker, that's all.”
“You're probably right,” he said in a tired voice. He didn't care anymore. His levity was what was squashed, dying from exposure to her persistence.
“You don't agree at all, do you?” Bunny's frown of concentration was in danger of turning into a pout. Her pose of reasonableness wasn't fooling anyone but herself.
“I said you're probably right,” he said at length, “what else do you want?” His pose of fairness wasn't fooling anyone at all.
“I just don't see all that in it,” she said softly.
“I see,” he said and gave her a hard look.
The silence between them was heavy as they reached the library, turned right, and headed downhill again. At the bottom of the long incline lay one of Billy's favorite places, Littlefield Fountain. He often went there alone. He found it peaceful, although clearly the fountain and the bronze sculptures that formed its centerpiece were some sort of memorial to war.
“Look,” Billy said when they got near it.
Bunny looked, but she was restless and didn't know where to look. She saw a soldier and a sailor standing guard on each side of a sort of streamlined ship—a ship of state perhaps? The faces of the warriors were handsome, but dispassionate and tired. Bunny didn't think much about them, but Billy had always thought they looked like they'd just gotten laid and then been forced to go back on duty. More likely, they were supposed to be the calm and compassionate faces of decent, God‑fearing victors, but Billy ignored that.
Forward of the warriors, in the prow of the ship, there stood a tall stately goddess with wings outspread and arms uplifted. Someone once told him that she was Columbia, but the name didn't sound familiar to him and he just called her Miss Victory. She was gorgeous, dramatic, yet Billy thought she was remote and formal, as unawake and unliving as the figures behind her.
Arrayed in front of this—also bronze, yet more living, like something wild forced to pull a silly parade float—were three massive horses with demonic riders, fantastic horses from some uncharted seascape of the imagination. Their hooves spread strangely out so that they appeared to be webbed. Stranger still, only the front half of each beast was equine, the rest was crazily aquatic, with dorsal and pectoral fins and a fluked tail.
The horses' heads and forelegs strove furiously forward in the water, rearing and twisting, their nostrils flaring in the arc of the fountain's spray. You could almost hear them snorting the spray back at you, they looked so fierce. The naked demons riding bareback leaned back for balance, their strong hands clinging to the horses' manes, their veined legs crooked in stress over the huge pectoral fins. Their groaning musculature seemed almost more defined than that of their turbulent steeds, and Billy often wondered which one was riding which.
The whole fountain was beautiful, but it was the horses that Billy found irresistible. All this unrestrained effort, restrained by the sculptor's art! And beyond that, the whole effect so artfully heightened by a green patina of random oxidation. The warriors, the ship, the goddess really made no sense to him. Perhaps those remote figures had been made to satisfy the artist's contract and the rest to satisfy the artist. He didn't know. Perhaps he didn't understand the symbolism, perhaps he didn't know enough about art—but like any arrant gangster or moody intellectual misfit, he knew what he liked.
Bunny stood now between him and the fountain, looking bored and agitated. Yet when she turned her face toward his, he felt a sudden strong compassion toward her. There wasn't any point in being angry with her, it was crazy. He studied the lipsticked lines of her mouth and the sight both aroused and softened him.
For once the aquamarine eyeshadow she used so much of didn't seem so overwrought. A wind came up from behind her, blowing her dark hair slightly forward, wafting a scent of sandalwood to him. In the open air it smelled fine and thrilling. Light from the setting sun filtered through the branches of the nearby trees, flitted among the leaves, then struck the surface of the fountain's ringed pools with a softly glowing brilliance. In such a light, Bunny looked remarkably inviting. He felt forgiving, though what he was forgiving might have embarrassed him to say. He was caught on a wave of sentiment. He put his hand on her shoulder and started to tell her something about the fountain.
“I still think she was awfully rude,” Bunny said.
“I see,” Billy muttered. He took off his glasses and stared at her as if she were a bug.
She was begging now, he thought, but the very act of asking for it killed his compassion. He'd already done his best to explain something that was only half‑interesting to him, not even half‑real. The horses in the fountain were more real to him. He was thoroughly fed up with her. He wished he could put her in the refrigerator and come back for her when he was in the mood again, as he sometimes did with half‑eaten bowls of ice cream. He looked away from her and said, “Never mind.”
Bunny frowned, sensing their distance. She came up behind him and touched his elbow lightly.
“Let's just watch the fucking fountain,” Billy said. He desperately wanted her to shut up.
“Good grease!” she mumbled, her eyes squeezing shut as if she were about to cry. She'd heard him all right. “Let's watch the damned old fountain then!”
As evening fell, the fountain's spotlights shone brightly in the flow and spray, their rays scattering crazily like glints of quicksilver diamonds across the water's surface. It is possible that neither the sculptor nor the university's architect had foreseen all of this fountain's effects. Bunny began to feel one of those effects: she grew romantic and forgave Billy. Or perhaps she merely noticed how many other lovers loitered in the area, taking advantage of the fading light. She kissed him then and enjoyed it thoroughly until he tried to stick his tongue in her mouth. Then she pulled away from him.
“Dammit, you always try to go too far,” she muttered.
Billy pulled her back, but she wouldn't face him. Stealthily he slipped his hand beneath her sweater and stroked her belly button. Bunny blushed and shoved his hand away. She looked around, but everyone she saw was similarly occupied. No one was watching. The next time he kissed her she startled him completely by sticking out her tongue experimentally and letting it tangle with his. Then, just as he got his finger back in her belly‑button, they felt a sprinkle of rain.
“Let's go back to your car,” she whispered, and together, fleetly, they ran.
The shower increased steadily to a downpour, but Billy's car was nearby. Damp and flushed they scrambled into the front seat and Bunny turned to him and buried herself in his arms. Breathlessly, she said, “Let's kiss. Just kiss.” But one thing led to another.
When his hand slipped beneath her sweater again, she started to speak, but he darted his tongue in her mouth. She sucked it and forgot to argue. She trembled steadily as his hand pushed slowly upward under her sweater. Billy took a deep breath; he was pretty nervous himself. When his thumb and forefinger reached their mark, she nearly sucked the breath out of him. Her eyes stayed tightly closed and that was a green light as far as Billy was concerned. Later, when his hand strayed downward and pushed between her legs, her face took on the worried look of those who dream of locomotion in their sleep. Like a sleeping dog, her body moved in place. It surprised him to find that she could feel anything at all through the stiff material of her new blue jeans, but she was sensitive, amazingly sensitive. He'd never seen anyone wriggle or quiver so much.
“Dear Christ,” he thought, “she's turned into jelly!”
In no time her body arched and her arms fell limply to her sides. Billy couldn't decide if she was convulsive or catatonic. He himself could hardly have been more astonished, amused, or aroused. Rain was falling noisily now, resounding through the roof of the car. Rivulets of rushing water streamed down the windows, resembling a heavy curtain. They were hidden from the world by the darkness and by the unrelenting noise and downpour. To some extent they were even hidden from one another—Billy could barely hear her, but he could see that she was gasping the air like a fish out of water. His hand was still buried in her lap and she was stirring against it.
“Please don't stop!” she whispered urgently.
Once her pleasure began, it appeared, there was no stopping it. She went from zero to sixty in nothing flat, and could come on a dime in the dark without brakes or headlights. At the moment, however, she was coming on Billy's car seat and about to break his hand. She threw back her head and gasped and shuddered. The lights from a passing car flickered across her face; in the quick white flash, he could see the dark streaks of mascara running down her cheeks. Her face looked like a mask from a Greek play, except that her mask moved: her mouth gulped, her eyes clinched, and she kept on humping his hand.
Billy thought she’d never looked cuter, but began to wonder if she'd kill herself like this. He was amazed to see just how thoroughly involved with herself she could get. It didn't seem to dawn on him how thoroughly she had forgotten about him in the process. She wasn't thinking of Billy at all, but was dreaming of some elegant butterfly, fluttering exquisite wings frenetically as its guilty proboscis gently nuzzled a lovely, lovely flower. How disparate their views were, caught in the focus of a single intimate act!
It was a wonderfully long orgasm, but at last she reached the end of it. She lay there sprawled and trembling with her head in Billy's lap. Billy was thinking of something she could do, yet he was too distracted to say it. The rain had nearly ceased, but now the air was filled with the noisy stridulations of crickets. Below the threshold of that wall of sound, he could feel rather than hear something else, an indistinct but vibrant murmur. Stroking Bunny's hair, he bent forward carefully and listened: it was the sound of some querulous child in a distant room, quietly crying—not yet convinced of sleep, but victim to it. That sound, so close and distant, inexplicably quelled Billy's lust.
Later that night, of course, he regretted all notion of having been “nice”. It had seemed like the thing to do at the time, but now he wished—ah, never mind! He kicked off his shoes and got into bed with all his clothes on. Billy's mind reeled before the magnitude of her orgasms! They were almost a work of art—and no less so because their construction was so unconscious, so unconfessed. She wouldn't talk to him about them, but what could be said anyway?
“But, dear galloping God, who would ever have suspected that so much talent lay hidden in this nice little nice girl's erogenous zone?” he groaned to his roommate a few days later.
“She's got a talented cunt,” George laughed. “That's what you're trying not to say.” The hour was late and they'd given up studying to talk about more pleasant things.
Billy laughed too, but said, “Shit. We're a couple of adolescent bastards, aren't we?”
“Just the usual selfish sexist bastards, I think,” George replied.
“That's not much better, is it?”
“Probably worse,” George admitted, but you can't expect me to cry about that.” He was aware of Billy's bullshit philosophy about humor and wasn't above needling him.
“I only wish I understood this better, Billy said wistfully. “I mean, none of the women I've slept with made me feel this terrible.”
“That's just it,” George told him. “You got to sleep with them.”
“That's not what I mean. I mean terrible as in 'a terrible person', as in 'where's my goddamn conscience?'“
“It's hard to be fair when you're really just a horny bastard, isn't it?” George laughed. “You worry too much.”
“It's just that I don't understand why Bunny's vulnerability, instead of exciting my sympathy as it should, puts my whole moral nature to sleep.”
“I think I understand,” George said, “what she excites in you.”
“Yeah. You've found the pearl in your little oyster.”
“Jesus, I guess so! When it comes to coming, those other women couldn't hold a candle to this one.”
“Maybe a candle was what they wanted,” George leered.
“Are you suggesting that my dick is too short?” Billy asked in mock outrage. “But maybe you're right about the candle. How can you tell when they won't ever say what they really want?”
“Beats me,” George agreed. “Sometimes you wish they'd learn to talk dirty or else teach us their goddamn sign language.”
“The true burden of sex is in its guilty silences, huh?” Billy grinned.
“Right! Why won't they ask for what they want?”
“Don't ask me,” Billy said.
What was really so impressive to Billy about Bunny as a woman was that she very nearly had no requirements at all. The trick wasn't to satisfy her—for apparently who couldn't?—the trick was to get her started. George thought that Billy had hit the jackpot, but it wasn't that simple. Two of the hardest things to overcome in life are momentum and inertia, and Bunny was a prime illustration of both. She could go back inside herself as fast as she could come, and getting her out again was like trying to talk sense to a pet turtle. She'd give him that stupid pained look, then duck her head as if she could hide from him. It was amazing how guilty she could make him feel, but nothing she did could make him stop trying.
“God damn it,” Billy fumed at her, “you're pretending to yourself that nothing's happened between us. Every other time I see you, you act like we're out on our first date.”
“I'm not pretending,” she whined. “It's just too soon, too fast, that's all. Can't you see I'm nervous?”
“You're nerve‑wracking too,” he said in disgust.
Talking to her about it was silly, he finally realized. It just made her more likely to resist. He took another tact. He courted her with praise and compliments, asked her opinions, answered her endless barrage of questions. If she wondered about his change in behavior, she was too pleased to question it. Billy was ready to try anything. He thought of sending her flowers, but she was convinced that she was a jinx where plants were concerned and hated to see even cut flowers die. He bought her records instead, then found that he had to spend too much time explaining the lyrics. He did it anyway, gritting his teeth all the while. He fell into the habit of bringing her candy and that seemed to please her most. She was, he finally realized, ridiculously easy to please; all it took were simple kindnesses.
Yet it seemed to him that when a dozen pleasantries had made her feel better, it took a hundred more to make her feel secure; he began to count and grudge her every one. At unexpected times she'd let him grope her again, but she had a nasty habit of stopping him just when things were getting good. All these machinations in between embraces were starting to take the luster off his lust. Bitterly he began to think that he didn't like her at all, that no one could be more unsuited for one another. Everything was wrong. He dreamed of being rid of her, rid of the responsibility and the deranged desire for her.
Even George finally said, “Maybe you should just let this one pass before you lose your sense of humor entirely.”
“I told you to start with that this was a compulsion,” Billy answered.
“Yes, but all you're really doing is fucking with each other's minds, aren't you?”
“More or less,” Billy conceded.
A few weeks later Billy and Bunny came out of a movie theater and began walking toward her apartment complex. Her roommate was out of town and she had the place to herself. She hadn't seen much of Billy lately and she had missed him. She didn't know about George's advice or that Billy had done his best to take it and sharply felt his failure. All through the movie, she'd been unusually untroubled and untroubling, neither asking those persistent questions about the progress of the film nor protesting much when he rested his hand high on her thigh, just below her “virtuous v”. Billy began to like her better than he had in months.
At home she turned on the radio and the lights, then disappeared into the kitchen. Billy examined the living room and found it excessively pink and frilled. It was overfilled with ceramic animals, fluffy animals, posters of animals. Everything on earth that was cute was represented there, including two bigger‑than‑life Pink Panthers—one for each roommate, Billy presumed. It was to be expected, he thought, that young women living away from home for the first time would bring some girlish baggage with them, but this was a lot! “Mementos of their long virginity,” he smirked to himself.
Bunny brought out a tray that held glasses of Coke and two large pieces of chocolate cake. Billy nodded and smiled, but wasn't really hungry or very pleased at her presumption. Bunny thought nothing of it, and wandered the room nervously, keeping her glass poised beneath the cake to catch the crumbs. She ate neatly in small fast gulps. Billy took a sip of Coke and watched her. She moved about the room rearranging nick‑knacks, wiping at invisible dust, trying to appear unconscious of Billy's unwavering gaze. He looked at her as if she were prey.
On the radio, the easy‑listening station played something soft and chirpy, and her feet seemed somehow in tune with it. It had that anonymous sound of elevator music, though the tune wasn't anonymous. Bunny didn't recognize Randy Newman's “Short People” without the lyrics, but Billy did. He smiled. He figured as long as he didn't laugh, she wouldn't say “What?” and he wouldn't have to explain. As she moved she spoke of inconsequential things, restless small‑talk leading nowhere, and at intervals he answered, though he barely knew what he said. He was trying, once and for all, to decide why she attracted him.
She wasn't pretty or quite plain. Her cheeks were a little too round and her forehead a bit too flat to allow her face to achieve its full incipient cuteness, yet sometimes her eyes lit up with laughter in a way that made him wish he really were in love with her. That light never lasted. It was as inscrutable as if he'd broken a dull‑colored stone and found it full of phosphorous light that immediately, inexplicably faded. Unquestionably she had beauty, for all youth has beauty, but hers didn't seem to lead anywhere except back into itself, into that sweet and tragic cell.
He liked the way her dark mid‑length hair curved forward and framed her face, always drawing his attention directly to her lips. Why he found her mouth so erotic he could never quite say. It wasn't just her kisses that were amateurish, but the very shape and texture of her lips. How can anyone look “just‑kissed” and “never‑been‑kissed” at the same time? But she did, he thought. It didn't make any sense, but he yearned for that mouth. That virtuous, silly mouth. At the start of every kiss he felt that he might bruise her, and yet he never did. Like a prepubescent boy looking at pictures of ladies in their underwear in the Sears catalog, he was confused—certain that there was something wicked about what he was doing, but confident that he was going to do it anyway.
In a fit of exasperation with himself the week before he had told George, “This is childish! Self‑indulgent. Probably perverted.”
“That's what makes it such fun, you fool,” George grinned. He was sitting at his desk reading and looked up just long enough to answer.
Billy threw himself on his bed, covered his face with a pillow, and hollered, “ARRGH!” His face behind his book, George grinned as if nothing could be funnier, but pretended to still be reading. When Billy got up again and started irritably fiddling with the radio, George couldn't contain himself any longer and laughed. “Wait a minute, listen to this,” he said, and read aloud from the book in front of him:
“'A happy equitable eroticism is more nearly the province of Harlequin Romances than of pornography, though life ought not to be characterized as either. What pornography most exults in is the dramatic reduction of innocence to carnality and in the blearing of the distinctions between them. What pornography most denies is that it degrades or subjugates anyone. It's a very convenient philosophy, for in it everybody's having fun and everything leads everywhere.
“This hedonistic attitude is rampant in fantasy, of course, because of the correlative prevalence in reality of man's inability to reconcile true love objects with the temporal tickles of lust, or to distinguish between love and domination. We all want to sleep with a seductively innocent, helplessly wanton woman, although we seldom meet one. This perpetual state of aroused schizophrenia and arrested development concerning women is both conscious and subconscious and as such is responsible for a great share of society's sexual, moral, and economic ills. In pornography, none of these things need be taken into account; the greatest thing about it is its reprieve from responsibility. In such dire fantasy all problems are reconciled long before foreplay, and guilt follows no one home—at least not anyone for whom it is a fantasy.'“
“Jesus!” Billy exclaimed. “What the hell are you reading, 'The Psychopathology of Pornography'?”
“Not at all,” George cackled. “It's just some space-filler psychobabble from the murder victim in this detective novel called 'The Purple Slut.'“
“Well, I’m glad he’s dead!” Billy grumped, moving back to the bed. “I don't think I need this shit, you know?”
“What you need is to get laid,” George laughed. “What you really need is to stop trying to have your cake and eat it too. So you're really a shit where Bunny is concerned, so what? Either stop it or enjoy it! Don't moralize it to death.”
In Bunny's apartment later that same week, Billy fumbled a little in setting his Coke back on the tray, his attention fixed on Bunny. His heart was beating fast, but he looked calm enough. Bunny flitted from one side of the room to the other, still pursuing phantom motes of dust. Billy didn't plan to force her or even to say that he needed her—that might sound like love—but he had made up his mind to fuck her. If only she would hold still.
“Do you like Helen Reddy?” she asked, pulling some records from a shelf. “Yes, I think so,” he said distractedly, and then remembered that he didn't.
He was thinking how tragic it was that a mouth he only wished to kiss should always look so injured. She reflected the damage the world inflicted more ably than anyone he'd ever known. And yet at times her smile could spread across her face so suddenly and so forcefully that she looked like a joyous child. But no child's joy could be dashed so utterly as hers, her bright impassioned smile extinguishing like a candle-flame caught in a draft. She was as unstable as nitro‑glycerin.
None of that mattered now. Bunny bent over to set the record on the turntable. Billy observed how the olive velour fabric of her dress seemed to strain toward iridescence as it stretched across the apple‑roundness of her ass. Aware of him, she straightened quickly and adjusted her skirt. She sensed that he was turning the natural curves of her body parts into pornographic geometry. It was as if he could see through her dress.
“What in the world are you looking at?” she asked and stepped back. “You look like—”
“Like I want to eat you?”
“Good grief,” she said and averted her eyes.
“Ah‑ha,” Billy said under his breath.
Bunny was partly hidden now behind a glass étagère filled with painted ceramic turtles and small stuffed bears. She looked like a little girl playing hide‑and‑seek, like someone who thought she could make herself smaller if only she could concentrate hard enough.
“That won't do you any good,” he laughed at her. “You're not Alice in Wonderland, you can't get any smaller.”
She was small—a full foot shorter than Billy and he was of average height. Her short legs and lower torso seemed slightly broad in comparison to her narrow chest and shoulders, but she wasn't fat, just soft. She had the softest flesh he'd ever seen. Her slim pudding breasts made a mouthful each, no more, and when he pressed his palms against them, they disappeared entirely. It was eerie how all of her felt the same to him, whether breasts, belly, arms, or buttocks. If he groped her too long in the dark, he'd found, he began to imagine some amorphous organism, something primitive without correlation to compass, gravity, or modern evolution. Bunny couldn't help it, of course, and Billy was exaggerating. He was pushing toward some foregone conclusion, the solution to an abstract equation in his forebrain: that her physical and mental states were of one shape and kind. She was as undifferentiated as a good night's sleep, and yet he had to have her. He was as repulsed as he was drawn to her, but even in that confused state he could tell that all of her parts were in the right places.
Embarrassed by the long persistence of his staring, Bunny sought something more substantial to hide behind. She was peeking at him now around the corner of a tall heavily‑laden bookcase. Billy was on the sofa, leaning forward, smiling that vulturine smile. He stood up slowly, carefully, but couldn't hide the fact that the front of his pants stuck out.
“Good grief,” she said. She said it very plainly.
“You said that already.”
“I know, I know.”
She was cornered now in a small triangle formed by the bookcase, the wall, and the bulge in Billy's pants.
“What—uh, what are you doing?”
“I'm not doing anything yet, silly rabbit.” He didn't know what he'd said.
Bunny turned her face to the wall, crossed her arms over her chest, and leaned back toward him. Billy put his arms around her and pressed forward. Nuzzling her hair aside with his chin, he blew the last few strands away with two quick breaths and nibbled the back of her neck. Her eyes were tightly closed.
“Ummm,” Bunny murmured. She squirmed, not least perhaps because she could feel so distinctly his erection poking her buttocks. She arched her body away from him, but whether to escape his passion or to accede to her own, he could not tell. Unless she stopped him, he didn't care. He ran his hands up and down her dress, caressing her flanks and ass. Soon she was breathing heavily, as if in a labored trance. He placed his hands on hers for a moment and then she moved them, extending her arms forward to place her palms flat against the wall. Billy's fingers searched the smooth fabric of her bodice and quickly found her nipples. With a shiver she moved her bottom against him, then stood as if transfixed. She was leaning forward from the waist, her trembling legs slightly spread.
Billy listened carefully to her breathing. He was deeply aroused, but also in a panic. If he let up even for just a moment or if he made just one mistake, she might wake up. Exactly what spell he had cast he wasn't sure, but he could see that it was working and he wanted it to stay that way.
He spun her around and kissed her hard on the mouth. She kissed him back with all her heart and most of her tongue. He sucked it avidly, then seized her by the waist and lifted her off the floor. For a moment she dangled in the air, her arms around his neck, her lips glued to his—then slowly, with her eyes still closed, she demurely turned her head aside and let her legs (like separate entities) open wide and wrap themselves around his waist.
“Ever the unconscious lover,” Billy thought derisively. He kissed her neck and throat, but only as a ruse. His real attention was riveted on a different objective, an exercise in Braille, an awkward unacknowledged struggle to extract her long skirt from between them. He had to get at her flesh, but he was terrified of disturbing her trance by too sudden a move. An agonizingly long time later he was rubbing her exposed pink belly with a slow circular motion that was clearly pleasurable to both parties. Her stomach seemed distended and hard now, as if an incipient pregnancy had been engendered there by the mere proximity of their hidden genitals. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Billy kept stroking her as if he were trying to hypnotize a cat. His legs ached, but with this purring pussy snuggled against him, he wasn't about to give in to that sort of frailty.
Bunny's legs were tiring too, but her stamina could not withstand the constant pull of gravity. Slowly she was sliding and her downward drift was bringing her “virtuous v” into more and more vital contact with the upright effrontery in Billy's pants. He kissed her, kissed her, kissed her, and whispered fervently in her ear. The unconvincing things he said to her must have sounded convincing anyway for she seemed oblivious of what he was doing now, slowly and with such great stealth. The hand he'd been rubbing her belly with was now unzipping his fly. It seemed to take forever to find the overlap at the front of his jockey shorts, but now goddammit he had it!
Upon release, his straining erection sprang upward and nestled lightly against the warmth of her panties. He thought he felt her moving against him and his heart began to drum. Perhaps she wasn't really wiggling, just trying to adjust her grasp to keep from falling. No matter. She was there, and he was below her, waiting for her fall. He continued to ignore the tension building in his legs, but it was hard to keep believing in mind-over-matter when what mattered most had clearly pushed his mind out of the driver's seat. He wanted desperately to push those feather-white panties aside and jam himself into the nest, but he didn't dare risk it yet.
Even so, he was pretty far out of control. He flung her dress over her head and tongued her breasts. Her nipples were appropriately pink, erotically long, yet felt as soft and anonymous in his mouth as earlobes, utterly quiescent. That her nipples didn't stiffen seemed to him another symptom of what was wrong with her. Perhaps a “real” woman would not have provoked such preposterous criticism in him, but Bunny had never been real to him. She was a fantasy, and fantasies are always specific, unyielding, ultimately unforgiving.
Whether her nipples were stiff or inert, Bunny's excitement was otherwise wildly evident. With her legs she clenched him ever more tightly and leaned far back, letting her head and shoulders come to rest against the wall. In this position there was nothing she could do with her arms but let them hang wantonly loose. Billy liked it. He had a strong desire to whisper something vulgar in her ear and a stronger desire to hear her whisper it to him. There wasn't time, however, for any of this dirty talk, for the obscene position they had assumed simply wasn't going to work.
He felt her slipping away again, and this time she was really going. He stepped forward, got his hands beneath her bottom, and caught her—and was thoroughly amazed that he did. He had fully expected to drop her, but she didn't seem heavy at all. His libido had raised his physical stamina to a ridiculous level of athleticism, it seemed to him, and he grinned at the absolute foolishness of it all. He felt like an idiot, but he felt good. Her moist little beautiful “v” was pressed heavily against him now and its vivid hidden presence gave him confidence. He gave himself the reward of a few hard bold thrusts against her snatch, thinking that the only barrier to his pleasure now was the thin white veil of her panties, but he had forgotten about the wall. He had made a small miscalculation about his distance from it and smashed his erection against the sheetrock.
With a stifled groan he jerked back and Bunny lost her grip on him. She started sliding headfirst down the wall. Billy rushed forward in an effort to catch her, but as he bent toward her that long-awaited charley horse clutched the calf of his leg. His body went into auto‑retract, attempting to assume the fetal position, but Bunny was in the way. It looked as if he were trying to catch her by sinking his teeth into her belly‑button, but he only succeeded in catching the full weight of her ass directly on his injured prick. For a searing moment, it felt like she'd broken it off.
Still doubled over, Billy stumbled backwards and bumped the étagère, then veered sideways and jarred the bookcase. With one hand he clutched at the charley horse, with the other he held his erection obscenely in a firm protective grasp. Meanwhile, Bunny fell in what seemed to him a terrible slow motion, her feet high in the air, her face covered by her skirt, her arms waving blindly. For a moment she looked like a turtle on its back trying to turn over, and then her head hit the floor with a bump, quickly followed by a soft plop as her bottom struck, and she was flat on the floor.
Horrified, Billy forgot himself and went to her, hobbling like the Elephant Man. He twitched the skirt off her face, but was afraid to actually look at her. He had just grabbed her by the armpits and started lifting when, in a delayed reaction from the top shelf of the bookcase, several books tumbled down on them. One hit Bunny in the stomach and knocked the breath out of her; another struck Billy on the head. In an attempt to dodge any further blows he stood up straight without letting go of her. The straighter he stood and the higher he lifted her, the more his rampant erection thrust forward straight toward Bunny's startled face. She saw it coming and tried to jerk aside, but she wasn't fast enough. Billy felt his adrenalin pumping wildly as his glans poked her hard in the ear, then glanced aside into her tangled hair.
He was thrilled and mortified equally, but neither feeling could compete at present with the pains in his calf and cock. He limped away from her and collapsed on the sofa even as he heard her cry out.
“Stop! Stop it!” she said with shrill force.
Among all the bumps and thumps and thrusts, something had finally awakened her.
“I've got a charley horse!” he groaned at her and thought he must sound pretty stupid. Bunny didn't look like she'd understood him.
The thought that this would be the end of their sinful scene made him bad tempered toward everything, including Bunny. For Christ's sake, he thought, did the little twit think that in the midst of these absurd pratfalls he was trying to stuff his bruised organ in her mouth? When he calmed down enough to think who he was dealing with, he wondered if she would even choose to recognize what she'd seen. Whatever she saw, or thought she saw, or thought about what she saw, Bunny scrambled hastily to her feet and dashed to the bathroom.
Billy sat uncomfortably and massaged his calf. He would have felt preposterous massaging the other, but that pain, fortunately, was short-lived. The tension in his leg lessened much more slowly. He wasn't sure whether Bunny would ever come back, but he was damn‑well prepared to wait. Even by the time his leg had ceased hurting, his foolish erection still had not subsided.
“Just another idiot aspect of this night's goddamned athletic extremities,” he muttered. He felt ridiculous. No matter what mood Bunny might be in when she finally emerged, he knew he'd have to hide it. He stuffed it back in his pants, but didn't zip up—a compromise between caution and concupiscence. He noticed that the Helen Reddy record had ended and was about to repeat itself.
“Not if I have anything to do with it,” he growled. He slid across the sofa and tuned the radio to a classical music station. The unctuous voice of the announcer was apologizing for some delay, saying, “We now return to the scherzo movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony.”
“Big deal,” Billy muttered and turned the volume down. At last Bunny came out of the bathroom and walked swiftly past him. She was wearing a very light cotton shift, mostly beige but trimmed with a border of interwoven flowers in red and green. He'd never seen her look prettier. Moving quickly she turned off all the lights except one. As she stood for a moment poised before the last lit lamp, the light passing through her shift revealed the outline of a perfectly fluffed little puff of pubic hair. Billy sucked in his breath, and then was afraid to let it out again. He and his prick were ready to do the Snoopy Dance of Spring.
Bunny sat down stiffly at the far end of the sofa. Silently she slid one hand toward Billy and he slowly reached for it. When he'd grasped it, he pulled at her but let the tension pull him to her. Bunny slowly reclined so that by the time his face reached hers, she was fully recumbent beneath him. As he pressed down on her he was vividly aware of her naked “v” beneath the thin beige shift. By now you might think that Bunny's expectations and permission were fully apparent, yet he could still feel resistant tension in her body. He kissed her eyes and nose, then licked behind her ears until she giggled and gave him one of those big friendly hugs. He knew how much she liked it when he courted her “innocent” parts, and he meant to use that knowledge to effect. Bunny relaxed and snuggled against him, a happy volunteer and victim of seduction.
By careful stages Billy got his hand beneath the shift. He caressed her calves and counted signals and gradually worked his way upward. As her muscles relaxed he pushed her knees apart, flipped the shift upwards onto her belly, and kissed his way to the top of her legs—to her beautiful “virtuous v”. Its emanations of warmth made him think insensibly of ice cream. He stuck out his tongue and licked it.
He sensed the shiver that sped up her body and issued forth in a satisfied murmur. It was as if with that expulsion of breath the last resistant tension had been expelled from her and she spread her legs wide. He grabbed her buttocks and shoved his face in her cunt. She arched her back and yelped and moaned, gasping like a homeless fish. Her inarticulate pleasure made him crazy and vain with lust, almost as if she'd finally uttered that long‑sought obscene request.
“Who's talking in tongues tonight?” he thought gleefully.
He was in a fog of sensuality. He meant to chew her to a frazzle and Bunny was clearly ready for it. She was heaving toward him, faster and faster, and he had to hang on tightly. He closed his eyes and had a vivid vision of steering a speeding car through a jumble of careening traffic. She took every curve faster than the last one, a Ferrari in the world of orgasms.
There he goes again with those auto‑erotic automotive images! Whatever odd visions were zooming around in his head, what was real and in front of him was overwhelmingly ripe and procreant, alive and slick as some preconscious swamp. His tongue slid slipperishly though her like an eel slithering through primordial petroleum soup. She seemed as wild just now as some preacher's child who'd just had her first taste of lust and liked it. At this drugged moment he could almost have been in love with her.
“Just let me get my cock out,” he thought frenziedly, “and I will be in love!”
He groped wildly for the elusive opening in his underwear, but just as he extricated himself again, suddenly and violently she pushed him away from her and came. But more: she came, and came, and came...
“Welcome to the wonderful world of multiple orgasms,” he thought, almost with envy. He leaned back to watch. He hid his grin, but she wouldn't have seen it anyway. Despite everything he knew about her, he still thought her pleasure a reflection on himself. He pushed away from the sofa and stood up. He turned aside to loosen his belt and just as he was about to drop his pants, he looked back at her and froze.
Bunny had drawn herself up into a tight little ball; the loose shift now covered her from neck to ankles. Breasts and belly, cunt and buttocks, all of those playthings he thought would be his had disappeared. With a total lack of self‑consciousness she was hugging one of the tiny teddy bears that had fallen off the étagère. There was an infuriatingly childish look of tranquility in her eyes, a terrible air of self‑possession in her demeanor. If she'd had her thumb in her mouth and a machine gun under her arm, the picture would have been complete. Billy felt his ears burning and experienced a desire to kill her.
“Dear God,” he thought, “the deranged little succubus is going to pretend that nothing's happened!”
She had retreated already into that incomprehensible and incontrovertible insulation of which she was master. She'd orgasmed her brains out, but she wasn't going to orgasm him! With a demure and luxuriantly relaxed grace, she rose from the sofa and walked (rather teasingly, he thought) toward the kitchen.
“I'm going to fix a late supper for us, sweetie,” she called back over her shoulder.
Billy stared in disbelief, then looked down at himself. He thought confusedly: “How did I lose control?!” Control? “I had it, just a few minutes ago!” Had he?
“I should have made her ask for it!” he thought despairingly.
It was too late now. Now she was rattling pots and slamming the refrigerator door. Now he was “sweetie”. He began to have an inkling of what the real trick was.
What was he supposed to do about it, rape her? Not likely. He could no more force her than fly; the “trick” had been his only device and he'd been outdone. He wanted to scream at her, but he could no more form the words, “You come right back here and fuck me!” than she was going to whisper in his ear for him to do it.
His imagination and desire had been rapacious, but now he felt tamed and squashed. Was anything he'd thought about her true? Had the shy little creature exaggerated or had she simply lied? Was she a “nice girl” or not? Had she pretended to believe his lies as he had pretended to believe hers? He wanted to spit.
Billy's face was already a vivid red when he heard a fumbling at the front door and the turning of a key in the lock. Just what he needed. As Priscilla came through the door Billy was headed hastily toward the bathroom. He held the loose ends of his pants together with one hand, the flapping tongue of his belt with the other, and hoped it was not apparent from behind. His mis-informed erection waggled in front of him, deathless in defeat. Slamming the door a little too hard behind him, he collapsed back against it, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. His eyes popped open and he made a face. The room reeked of sandalwood perfume as if someone had broken a very big bottle of it.
Through the door he could hear the roommates chattering happily. Would she spill the beans to Priscilla, he wondered, or was it too much a dream to her? Would she, would she, would she? Damn! Nor could he tell which was more awful—his dread, his lust, or that dizzying reek of sandalwood that filled the room. He felt sick and thought he might get sicker. He felt like he'd been poisoned.
Priscilla might be out there saying, “You didn't let that bastard—.”
No, no, no, he didn't think so.
Nor would Bunny smile and say, “No, but you should have seen—!”
Surely not. But you never can tell. Billy heard the young women laughing and began to beat his head slowly, softly, rhythmically against the tile wall and to silently, repeatedly curse. His sense of humor was about as depleted as it could get, and he knew what he could do about it.
Special Thanks To Pompeo Coppini
For The Horses In Littlefield Fountain
Notes on Rappaccini's Daughter, a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Set in Padua “very long ago,” this is the story of a “mad scientist” working in isolation on a completely unethical (at least by modern research standards) experiment involving poisonous plants. A young student of medicine observes from his quarters the scientist's beautiful daughter who is confined to the lush and locked gardens in which the experiment is taking place.
Having fallen in love with the lovely Beatrice, Giovanni ignores the warning of his mentor, Professor Baglioni, that Rappaccini is up to no good and he and his work should be shunned. Eventually, Giovanni sneaks into the forbidden garden to meet his lover, and begins to suffer the consequences of encounter with the plants—and with Beatrice, who dwells among them and has been rendered both immune to their effects and poisonous to others.
read Rappaccini's Daughter
20th draft: 01/10/03
©1989 Ronald C. Southern
Sunday, July 29, 2007
“In one way or another,” she said, “life always revolves around eating. Don't you think?”
Saturday, June 16, 2007
"Half‑wit," he said.
He was talking to himself, which was not unusual. It was a quiet summer afternoon from one end of Mosquito University to the other, including the sleepy labyrinthine halls of the Greenwich Liberal Arts Building. On Fridays, most of the students and staff went home at midday. Some of the faculty stayed late, either to lounge or to catch up on their work, and of course there was always a skeleton crew of maintenance workers. Johnathan, the "bug man", at the top of a six‑foot ladder, had been feeling pretty sleepy himself. He now hovered, eyes damp and bleary, over exotic Dr. Almquiski's desk and sighed. The woman below him had long beautiful bright red hair, but he wasn't looking at that. He was staring down her blouse.
He didn't usually do such things, but he was in just the right position for it. Nonetheless, he was trying not to be too obvious. He liked the view, but he didn’t want to make a scene.
"I didn't used to do this sort of thing," he told himself reproachfully. Sometimes lately he worried himself.
Her blouse wasn't cut all that low, but it was loose and fell away from her in just the right way. He could see the long graceful curves of her plump freckled flesh as it bulged out and sloped downward, terminating at last in sharp, beautiful tips. He almost licked his lips.
The nameplate on her oak desk said "Dr. Rita Almquiski". A crooked half‑smile of chagrin appeared on his face and he rolled his eyes. Voices in his head were insinuatingly singing:
"Love‑lee Ree‑ta Mee‑ta Maid,
Nothing can come between us!"
"Goddamn half‑wit!" he told himself.
He had been to her office a couple of times the week before to check for wasps above the suspended ceiling. Late one afternoon, after everyone was gone, he'd used the electric duster in her office and several adjacent offices to coat the area above the ceiling with boric acid dust. He'd only come in today to check his success. Everyone, including Rita, said the problem seemed to be solved. He wanted to see for himself, he said, and brought in the ladder. He knew that his fiddling around above the ceiling was taking too long, and he suspected from her expression that she knew it too.
As a rule, he liked to get out of these offices quickly; he didn't really care for strangers, and, besides, the more often he worked in offices, the more firmly convinced he became that he was going to lose his temper with someone. There were too many people doing "clean" work in offices who were unpredictably hostile to people like him, who did their dirty work for them. The office workers were demonstrably more crazy, too.
"Which is a pretty great accomplishment," Johnathan thought, "since most of us are pretty crazy!"
Most of the office workers on campus were women, of course—who else would work so cheaply for the State?—which made it all fit together nicely as far as he was concerned. In his mind, at least, women and craziness were inextricably linked. (Either they were, or else made you feel crazy.)
"Secretaries," he'd told his friend Ike, "are God's major illustration of that point."
"Yeah, there's really nothin' uglier, I guess, than a beautiful woman in an ugly mood," Ike had grinned cheerfully.
"Yeah, exactly," Johnathan smiled. The Negro custodian pleased him very much sometimes with his astute observations. The old man was nearing mandatory retirement and was one of the few people Johnathan ever enjoyed talking to. The old man read a lot and was very well informed for an uneducated man; still, none of his "intelligent" habits changed his "low-class" drinking habits. He was a lush from the word "Go". He wasn't exactly "impressed" with Johnathan, but for some reason the old man found the younger man amusing.
"I've sure met a lot of secretaries like that," Johnathan insisted. "Women who were so beautiful. And yet so ugly about it."
"Beautiful‑but‑ugly," Ike nodded agreeably. "Yep, that's right. Those bitches are all over the place. If you pay enough attention, though, you might find the other kind, too. There's some women that are butt‑ugly, but beautiful, you know."
"You heard that song about, 'If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, make an ugly woman your wife?', haven't you?"
"Yeah, sure," Johnathan said.
"Same thing," Ike told him. "It ain’t rocket science.”
Johnathan often thought he "saw". He worked in a variety of buildings every day and he watched people and drew conclusions. He was smart, though he was never as smart as he thought he was. Well, who was?
"All these people who work in offices go bug‑shit crazy from the lack of windows and fresh air," he insisted. "That's my theory."
"You figured it out, huh?" Ike laughed.
"Sure, I'm a fuckin' genius.”
“A rocket scientist,” Ike nodded as he lit a cigarette.
“Anyway, I figure the buildings all have air‑conditioning, but that's hardly the same thing as fresh air. Even air doesn't really have that much to do with it, though. It's that they can't be in the world and can't see it, either, not even as they work. The buildings have all been denatured, and so in a manner have their inhabitants. Half of the secretaries on campus think that the world owes them an apology because they work in buildings where sunshine can't fall, breezes can't stir, and butterflies can't rise on the wind."
"Well, maybe the world does owe them," Ike teased.
"Maybe so, but I can't do anything about it!"
Ike argued with him a while, pointing out that some of the secretaries on campus were the best people in the world. He mentioned some names they both knew and Johnathan grudgingly had to agree. The women around campus did their best, he supposed, under the circumstances.
"That still doesn't explain these other ones, though!" he snapped.
"There ain't no explainin' 'em," Ike said. "Just like there ain't no explainin' guys who are sons-of-bitches. Either fuck 'em or fuck it, you know?"
Back in the present, however, Dr. Almquiski was no secretary. She was an English professor, even though she was a foreigner. "That makes a lot of sense," he considered. And she did have one small window on the second floor, so maybe she wasn't as crazy as the others. "I'm getting more and more sensible as I go along!" he thought mockinging.
Or maybe the window explained everything. You can never be sure. At first, as usual, he'd talked to her about the weather and so forth—all the safe, dull things that you have to talk about to someone you don't really know. She'd smiled and talked freely for a while, speaking in that slight and charming accent, then all of a sudden she'd clammed up. Had she misunderstood something he'd said and taken offense? It was possible; even if she was a goddamn English professor, this wasn't, after all, her native language. Maybe she'd missed a "nuance" or some such thing, he thought. Yet she must have been in this country for a good while—she didn't have that lost look at all. She was bound to understand. Maybe she'd just gotten bored with him. "That happens often enough," he sighed.
She shuffled papers rapidly across her desk and started marking them. He'd gone back to trying to get the screws back in the light fixture, working slowly. Some of the screws didn't want to screw in. He'd never been in her office before and, for all he knew, might never get sent again—he might as well enjoy the view while he could. The job hadn't been too hard, and looking at her was easy. Very easy. He sighed again. He'd stretched out the job about as long as he could, though; he was going to have to speed it up. He noticed she'd stopped and started staring at him. For the last few minutes, she'd been working sporadically, looking up at him only now and then with a slight expression of annoyance. Maybe he should say something—hopefully, something sensible—before he left.
"You're looking very beautiful today," he told her softly.
She looked up from her desk, glancing at him without much expression.
"Oh, hell, I shouldn't have said it," he thought nervously.
He'd only meant to say something friendly, something in passing. He hadn't much expected a response. A smile perhaps, or a raised eyebrow. Maybe she would just shake her head self‑deprecatingly, something like that. He'd seen it before.
"Well, shit!" she said, slamming her pencil down hard on the desk and breaking the point.
"What's the matter?" he asked, looking down at her in surprise. His face flushed and he felt a strong presentiment of trouble.
"I'm so sick of—!"
He waited, wondering. Sick of what? Compliments?
"I've been very busy lately," she said irritably.
It sounded like a complete non sequitur to Johnathan. Perhaps she knew it and was just being rude. He wondered if he should be rude in return. It was one of his defense mechanisms, and he was good at it.
"Am I boring you?" he asked.
"No, that's not it." She still sounded irritable, and it was irritating him.
She pursed her lips, picked up her pencil again and bit it. Then she leaned back in her chain, crossed her arms in front of her, and looked at him sternly. She spoke in a stiff, but amused, foreign accent.
"I know you think I don't know what you are doing, but I do, you know." God, her voice was charming, he thought.
"What?" he asked, suddenly realizing he might be expected to answer. Of course, he'd heard her perfectly well.
"What am I doing?" he asked in what he thought was an innocent tone.
"I suspect that you are just looking down my blouse," she nodded.
"She must have been in this country for a while," he thought, listening closely to her tone of voice. She sounded very firm, and she didn't have that lost look. She knew what she was doing. She probably did know what he was doing. His heart began to thump. He still wasn't putting his guard up as fast as he should, though.
Why had he told her that she looked beautiful? Did he think that was any kind of sensible thing to say? Had he thought she'd be bowled over by it or something? Why say it at all? He'd never even seen her before today and had no former view to compare her to. For the love of God, the sentence didn't even mean what it meant to mean! Except to say that he thought she was attractive. "Big deal," he thought now.
She was tall, slim‑waisted, wide‑hipped. Like some kind of virgin Amazon, though of course she was not that perfect. (All humans compare badly to human myths—he knew that much!) Her bright red hair, worn long and straight, seemed to pour down over her shoulders like cascading water from a high fall. It was gorgeous. Her face, pale and handsome, was slightly marred by a sharp‑edged witch's nose, on which her large green-rimmed glasses rested easily. Johnathan thought her nose was handsome, though it was hardly her nose that interested him.
Her prominent breasts, at which he'd been staring, were not as firm as he would presume Amazonian flesh to be, but neither were they clad, as he supposed a warrior's would be, in armaments impervious to daggers, arrows, or simple outrageous passes. In fact, two small fascinating arrow-points were pointed poutingly outward beneath the thin white fabric of her shirtfront. In short, he could see the damn things right through her blouse and he felt like making a grab for them!
"You've looked long enough," she added sternly. Her voice thrilled and irritated him; it sounded like that of the strict, stiff-necked teachers he'd hated and loved in elementary school. As if to complete the picture, she stood up and looked at him over the rim of her glasses. "You must see that I do not wear a bra. That has not much to do with beauty, yes?"
She had her arms crossed in front of her, yet her bosom was still plainly in view. She looked thoroughly intimidating and thoroughly inviting to him. Lulled by her voice in the quiet room, he smiled, enjoying her accent. It wasn't a thick or unpleasant accent, just an unusual tone, an off-the-beat syntax. For him, it was sexy, and quite hypnotic.
Finally he snapped to what she'd been saying and his face felt very hot. He wondered if he was blushing. Jesus! Why couldn't he stop staring?! Hastily he finished his work and climbed down off the ladder. He knew that the safest maneuver would be to deny the whole thing and get out of there as quickly as he could. That would be realistic. But Johnathan's grip on reality wasn't firm. And maybe hers wasn't either. Maybe she wasn't the kind of woman who preferred being lied to. She looked like a woman who could tell.
"I saw where you were looking," she persisted. "What does it have to do with beauty? That is what I asked."
"Beauty?" he said in a puzzled tone. "Nothing much, I guess. But it's as good a way as any I know for judging a woman that I don't know yet," he told her. Johnathan glanced again at the front of her blouse. Those prominent arrow‑points made his heart skip a beat.
"Christ, quit looking!" he told himself.
He felt that he was getting totally out of kilter, and far too far out of line. Maybe he shouldn't have said what he'd said to her, but she'd brought it up, hadn't she?
"Why do you have to judge?" she said sternly. "What's the point of that?"
Damn, he thought, she's got a question and an answer for everything.
"I don't have to," he laughed uncomfortably. "It's just the major flaw in my character, I guess."
He folded the ladder nervously, carried it out into the hall, and laid it down against the wall. She walked behind him with some papers in her hand, evidently getting ready to leave. Possibly she was getting ready to tell him off, too. He knew very well that he ought to quit talking to her, just get out now before anything went really wrong, but he couldn't stop himself.
"But why so judgmental?" she said. She was persistent, he'd say that for her. She sounded earnest, but her face looked scornful.
"Well—listen, I didn't mean the word that formally, lady. I just meant 'appreciate', that's all. It's not my fault if you're beautiful."
"It isn't exactly my fault, either," she told him.
"It isn't? No, I guess it isn't," he thought.
But he didn't really have time to think, he was supposed to be working. But, hell, if it wasn't her fault, then she couldn't take credit, and if she couldn't take credit, then what was she looking so smug about?
"Oh, well, I guess you're right," he said, trying to worm his way out of further conversation.
He said it to seem agreeable, and only being agreeable because it would probably save time. Not that he thought that being agreeable was likely to smooth her feathers any. He was starting to get the feeling that she wasn't angry so much as agitated, and that she didn't disapprove of him so much as she wanted to demonstrate how clever she was. He was fairly certain that disapproving of what he'd said was just her excuse for talking to him. Did she mean for him to demonstrate how clever he was or not? He couldn't decide.
"I'm sorry if I'm bothering you," he said, sounding bland, but feeling rather acid about it.
"No, it's not a question of 'bother'," she told him. "It's more a matter of your looking down my blouse."
"Back to that?" he asked grimly.
"Unpleasant subject, all of a sudden?" she asked with a grin.
"You looked like you were enjoying it before. But good!" she laughed. "Yet not entirely so!"
"Not entirely what?" he asked. "Good or unpleasant?"
"Either! Don't you think?"
"You're confusing me now," he told her. "Maybe you're confused."
"Maybe I am. Maybe something else?"
She seemed to be asking him a question about her own feelings and he couldn't guess how to field it.
"You are confused," he said with a sudden grin. He was starting to get comfortable with her odd talk. He was starting to remember how nice her breasts had looked.
"Yes, but aren't you?"
She leaned forward suddenly and kissed him lightly on the lips, then stepped back and smiled, almost shyly. He considered shyness rather unlikely in her, however, and felt uncomfortable all over again. What was she up to now?
"Uh, look, I'm sorry I brought any of it up, okay?"
"Ah! I wonder!" she said sharply, and looked thoughtful. "But I do not have the time," she added, shaking her head and shuffling the papers in her hands. She started to turn away.
"What the hell?" he thought.
They were in a dead‑end hallway that wasn't much traveled, especially not on a half‑holiday like this; nonetheless, he glanced both ways before he spoke. He already knew that most of the faculty and staff wasn't even in the building. Anything might happen. She had aroused him, of course. Her kiss had felt wonderful, but it had also frightened and irritated him.
"It wouldn't have sounded any better, would it, if I'd just said that you look eminently fuckable?" he said quietly.
"No!" she said quickly and frowned, looking as if the taste of lemon had suddenly flooded her mouth. "No, certainly not!"
"Oh. I didn't think so," he said.
The appearance of a few frown-wrinkles on her forehead made her look suddenly severe, suddenly older than he'd thought. Certainly not 30. He looked at Rita again. Or 40, either. "No, she's not that young." She was more beautiful than most of the college girls, but she must have been nearer to 50. "No matter, though," he thought, "she definitely has character." Who else would be having this bizarre damn conversation with him?!
"You are not as complicated as you think, are you?" she said, her frown suddenly dissolving. She looked as if she thought she'd solved some puzzle.
He smiled at her, feeling awkward and yet like the Cheshire cat.
"Why do some women always think they know so much?" he wondered. He gave her credit for being smart, but she seemed to see something else in him. Maybe she was looking at his work uniform and not at him. "This is great," he thought. "She's figured me out: I'm simple!" He felt like he needed to say something clever.
"Perhaps not. But no one knows that about themselves, do they?"
As soon as he'd said it, he realized it just another stupid thing to have said. He was deeply chagrinned. Clearly there was only one thing he knew that she didn't know—namely, that he wasn't as stupid as he sounded!
Rita nodded knowingly and walked away. He wanted to watch her walk, to see that wide foreign bottom of hers rocking and rolling inside her tight black skirt, but he was afraid she'd turn around and look at him. That's all he needed, was to have her assert that he was looking at her ass. Of course, he was, but he'd already discussed anatomy with her enough.
He managed to take his eyes off her bottom, went back into her office, and grabbed his few scattered tools. He tossed them into a wooden box, grabbed hold of the large dowel rod that served as a handle, and walked out into the hall. He was surprised to see she wasn't as far down the hall as he'd expected. She had paused, poised, half‑facing away from him, looking back over her shoulder. What was she thinking? Was she thinking at all?
"She looks awfully seductive like that," he sighed. "She looks like she knows it, too."
She faced him, taking several steps in his direction, and looking him up and down.
"So, you want to fuck me, yes?"
"Uh, yes," he said, now thoroughly confused. It embarrassed him that she said it like that, right out loud, there in the hallway. He'd felt safer when they'd been near her office. He hadn't said it nearly that loud.
"Uh, any time, anywhere..."
Is that my big mouth, he wondered. Sure, he'd dreamed of saying something like that to a stranger like her, but now that he had, he wished he hadn't. Christ!
"Right now?" she asked, lifting her eyebrows and nodding her head toward her office door.
"Yeah, sure, I guess." What do I do now?!
"You do not sound too sure?"
"Listen, are you really serious?"
She smiled at him—it was that smirking look again—then glanced down the hallway in both directions. "Here, I'll show you," she said. Slowly and with some effort she pulled at her tight black skirt and didn't stop until she'd raised it all the way to her waist. As her skirt rose the first few inches, Johnathan was a little repulsed by the moderately thick dark red hair on her legs.
"Christ, it looks like she only shaves it as far as the hem of her skirt!"
Or maybe it was just how her hair grew. He wasn't against women being women, but he couldn't help it, he was used to regular fastidious American girls. It only took a moment however before he got vividly interested. She wasn't wearing any panties. Like many other men, his interest in vaginas was so universal as to be limited only to his own species. Coyly she patted herself. It was the most delightfully fluffy bush of pubic hair he'd ever seen. It was bright red, of course; he'd seen a lot of redheads, but he'd never had one of them show him her—.
"How you like my—umm, ah, what you call it? Ha! Good, hah?"
He'd never heard any woman smirk so much. She was still patting it, looking terrifically pleased with herself. Her tone seemed so prideful, and he wondered about it. He got the impression she'd done this before and knew its effect. No doubt the others had enjoyed the sight. He certainly did.
"No reason I should be different," he thought, and tried to swallow.
Involuntarily, he took a couple of steps toward her.
"No!" she snapped, holding up her hand to ward him off. "You stay there, for now! You just watch!"
He was ready to watch; she had his undivided attention. Her bush fascinated him as thoroughly as her hairy legs had upset him. His responses to signals like these were unerringly predictable. It's one thing that men understand traffic lights better than they understand most women, and quite another that, in all probability, traffic lights understand women better than most men do. Johnathan nodded his head as if he might say something, but didn't. His throat was dry and his ears were hot and there was a painful, growing tightness in his trousers.
"Egads, I could hammer nails with it," he thought idiotically.
Rita turned loose of her skirt, but it was so tight that the folds of the thin fabric clung to her belly and buttocks as tightly as a spider's web. She put her hands on the lapels of her blouse and pursed her lips as if tossing him a kiss through the air.
"Why don't you pull out your thing and show it to me?" she grinned.
"Uh—oh, ah—well, not here!" he spluttered.
"Okay," she said agreeably, sounding easy to please. "But is it a nice one? You can tell me that, at least!"
"Uh, yeah, sure..."
"Good. Anyway, it better be! You want to see more of this?"
Johnathan swallowed hard, then nodded nervously, and said, "Yes."
Why not? "Yes, please," he grinned.
Quickly she separated the snaps on her blouse and pulled it open. Her pale freckled breasts were heavy, yet seemed as finely and purposely shaped as artfully constructed pottery vases. Johnathan sucked in his breath. She moved her thumbs deliberately, slowly, across her nipples. He licked his lips.
"I'm dreaming," he thought, feeling faint.
She was an erotic cornucopia. Johnathan was terrifically excited and excitedly terrified. He thought about running toward her and he thought about running away. She was probably crazy. He was certain he was.
"Are you trying to give me a hardon?" he asked her.
"Nothing as nasty as that!" she teased him, grinning and closing her eyes. She slipped her hand between her legs.
"Nasty and crazy!" he thought.
He would have bolted right then, except that her face and arms flushed such a bright lovely pink! He stood there paralyzed, wondering if she flushed like that between her legs as well. What would it feel like to be inside her when she did it? Johnathan sighed. Rita definitely had nerve, he concluded.
He wasn’t certain whether she was more likely to consummate his passion or tear off his flesh and consume it! It was what he'd always wanted—a lewd and attractive woman coming on to him at ninety miles an hour, and yet it was—not exactly what he'd imagined. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been scared of women before; he’d just never been scared Shitless! As he watched her, she shivered a little and shook her head. She said something in Russian—at least he thought that's what it was—maybe she was just telling herself to stop while she could. With a final shudder, she closed her blouse and pushed her skirt down, brushing hurriedly at the wrinkles. She straightened her collar with one hand and pointed to her office with the other. Her face looked very businesslike for a moment, then she smiled and spoke softly.
"You wait for me," she said, leaning forward and kissing his mouth again. "I will be right back."
She smiled brightly, then turned and walked purposefully down the hallway.
As she turned away, he still couldn't help admiring her behind. It shifted gently back and forth in her tight skirt. He felt like a dog on a leash; more than ever he wanted desperately to follow her and just as desperately to run away. He swallowed hard and stayed where he was.
He lingered in the hallway, pacing back and forth in front of her office. He was overjoyed and paranoid at the same time. If she was serious, he was in the catbird seat! But if she was teasing? What if she'd only nailed him down there so she could go call the Mosquito University Police Department and have him arrested?
He hadn't actually done anything, except speak to her, but sometimes, he knew, just speaking to women can be the worst crime. He could at the least lose his job. He was supposed to be working, not teasing lady professors into fondling themselves in the hallways, and certainly not boffing them in their offices, rutting around on the carpeted floor as if nobody had a home or a bed!
Maybe she'd simply gone for the day—he hadn't seen her carrying any purse down the hallway, but he hadn't seen one in her office either. Maybe she just meant for him to sit there in her office until his stiff crazy cock shriveled down to a Vienna sausage.
It hadn't happened yet, though. He shifted nervously from one leg to the other, as aroused as he could possibly get, as agitated as a kid who needs to pee, knowing that he didn't have the nerve to stay and wait. He was stewing in his own foul juices.
"Goddamn it," he thought miserably, "That is what she means for me to do!"
Oh, but maybe she really would come back. It was possible. She might get him naked and wildly excited, have him leaping and prowling around her office like a beast—then she'd snatch his clothes and laugh and run out the door with them! Where would he be then? Standing there like an idiot, his erection waggling, his ego flagging, his libido popped like a pimple. Job security kaput! He tried, but couldn't think his way out of it. There was no clarity in it, no clarity at all.
He waited a long time and she didn't come back. Twenty minutes, then thirty, passed. He got more and more nervous. His erection began to fade. At last he picked up his ladder and tools, and walked slowly toward the elevator, barely lifting his heavy black shoes, scuffling them softly but insistently across the smooth polished floor.
It was stupid to try to screw up the floor, he knew. Three times a year he had to pitch in to strip and wax them. It wasn't a job that he liked, and now he'd have reason to like it even less.
When he came to the fire exit, he glanced down the hallway to the elevator, but decided he'd better not. He knew he could get to the first floor and out of the building faster and more simply by taking the stairs. He didn't want to go past all those offices. He didn't want to see any faces. There was no telling what was there. Maybe Rita, maybe something worse. He had a sudden terror that if indeed he had escaped from anything, it wasn't by a very wide margin. Opening the door anxiously, he stumbled on the stairs, cursed under his breath, and wondered if he'd given up too soon. Had he screwed himself out of a fast and easy, loose lucky lay by being so neurotically fastidious?
"It's possible," he sighed. "Shitfire!"
Why couldn't he just forget it? How she'd found the key to him so quickly, he couldn't imagine—but she had. This wasn't anything to tell anyone about, not even Ike. The way he felt now, he wondered if he'd ever have the nerve to look down a lady's blouse on campus again.
Current draft: 06/27/05
©1989 Ronald C. Southern
Posted by Ron Southern at 5:39 PM