Occupational Hazard By Stephen Faulkner

If asked, Carl would not have been able to say what style or technique he used in his writing. All that he knew was that he did it, that it came to him – plot, theme, dialogue and motivation – and, as if in a trance, he recorded it all in a flurry of near-blind touch typing.  Others would be astounded to see the pile of manuscript pages he poured forth in barely a month’s time: 200 to 250 neatly typed pages of unadulterated dreck, “Easy as can be,” he would say if asked how he did it while he rapped out yet another sentence, formed another paragraph almost as if by telekinesis; his fingers seemed barely to touch the keys, his eyes never to consider the words on the computer screen that was slowly filling with the product of his imagination. “But let me finish this thought first before I say anything more, okay?”

His fingers flew on the keyboard, tracing another of the numerous athletic couplings of his insatiable, shallowly drawn heroine. “She watched him approach with their drinks,” Carl wrote. “She noted with satisfaction how his meaty cock hung between his strong, hairy thighs. She could not help but think what a waste it was to have him with her, both of them naked and sheening with lusty sweat on that very private beach, and not do anything about it. ‘Let me,’ she offered as she took the drinks and put them aside. Then, in one smooth, fluid motion, she took his fat tool into her mouth and began slowly to suck its sausagelike thickness. It felt like something magic the way the soft putty of his fat cock stiffened and grew in her mouth, the knobby head of it sliding over her tongue to touch and massage the dangling uvula at the back of her throat. She had known his rod was big but when she drew her face back to see what her mouth had accomplished, she was amazed to behold that it had grown to the thickness of a beer can and the length of a child’s forearm and the solidity of stone. She wondered how she had been able to accommodate such a massive wanger in her mouth without choking.

“Like falling off a log,” Carl would say with a shrug regarding the speed of his composing, “once you’ve got the basics down pat. And let me tell you I’ve had plenty of practice at this kind of stuff.”

The fact of the amount of practice he had had over the past several years since he began writing his “pieces” was not a point of pride with Carl. At the beginning he had considered himself to be a “serious” writer; an unknown writer, too, which meant unpublished, unread, that peculiar type of pariah of the publishing industry that gets nowhere without “connections” in order to find a sympathetic ear for his particular brand of talent. The connections that Carl was able to foster grew out of his friendships with several junior editors at what are known in the magazine trade as “men’s sophisticates,” and not those of the more high toned variety, either. The editors he knew and whose business he received worked for the more raunchy of the men’s magazines, each making it clear that they were not looking for quality of theme and characterization in the stories they bought as they were for quick, three and four page vignettes for their respective publication’s “letters” columns that made the most of the sexual shenanigans of people like Carl’s latest heroine, her friends and male counterparts in the most explicit of terms. “Remember,” he was told at the outset, “a penis is never a penis but a cock or a rod or a shaft or some other cylindrically phallic item. A vagina is always a cunt or a pussy or twat or a snatch, maybe even a ‘love tunnel’ if you’re hard up for a synonym. Use words like fuck and suck and ream and poke and thrust a lot and you’ll do just fine.” So much for stylistic integrity. With the how and what already predetermined, all that was left to dicker with was the who; and it was a sure bet that the readers of such simplistic drivel wouldn’t care a whit for that, one way or the other.

Those editors had been his preliminary connections; it was the secondary one that got Carl to where he later found himself. After about six months of selling his letters to three different editors and having developed a reputation for coming up with the goods without a hitch, one of them put him in touch with a publisher of “sophisticated adult fiction,” paperbacks which were often advertised in the mail-order sections of the editor’s sleazy rag, or sold in adult bookstores and occasionally off the top tiers of candy store magazine racks, away from the curious eyes of adolescents. The publisher put his wares out under several different imprints with names like “Squeeze,” “Skintight” and “Lip Service.” Carl was immediately interested and purchased a few such books to familiarize himself with their particular approach to what had become for him a habitually worked subject matter.  He finished the first draft of his first book-length manuscript in two months, the final draft two weeks after that. He sent off the “work” to the publisher with the same kind of pessimistic trepidation with which he had mailed out his serious submissions to Triquarterly, Esquire, Shenadoah, Prairie Schooner and The Atlantic, expecting to receive the ever familiar form rejection letter in due time. Three weeks later he received a check in the mail for a thousand dollars and the request by the publisher to see more of his output. A sample copy of the book, (under the spuriously chosen pseudonym of “Oscar Putznik) said the letter, would be forthcoming in about a month and a half.

So began a career that, so far, spanned two years and five months with a new “work” required by two different publishers on an average of once a month. Since that first sale his asking price had gone up to fifteen hundred per book length piece and, more recently, to two thousand, so the money was at least somewhat livable. Along with the letters he still wrote for a few editor friends (usually excerpted from whatever book he had in progress at the moment and transposed from a third person to a first person format) at a rate of about twenty to twenty five dollars per letter, Carl’s current yearly earnings reached about a few hundred dollars shy of thirty thousand.  This, coupled with his wife, Lena’s, income from her job as an editorial assistant at a small women’s magazine, had them in a pretty comfortable financial position.

Carl’s output, he would be the first to admit, was fairly prolific and mostly quite easily attained with his “write it and forget it” habit of working. Let the editors do the editing, he figured; he was just a writer.  And he never fooled himself into believing that it was anything even remotely akin to being serious writing. “At least it’s honest, though,” he would say if asked what he thought about his subject matter. “Not like the stuff Lena copy-edits for – what’s it called? – oh yes, Ladies’ Choice. Now there’s real crapola for you.  I call a vagina a cunt? Well, listen to this: she has to call it a ‘ripening fruit’ or a ‘tender flower’ or some damned nonsense. Now you tell me: which is the more honest? I’ll leave that up to you.”

***

Lena moved the ruler down to the next line of type and lazily read the words in the narrow column. This is not what I had envisioned for myself, she thought. I’ve read this paragraph three times already, the whole story in fact, each time looking for typos, inverted e’s and transposed adverbial clauses. Then, I’ll look at the next one for the fourth time and five others as well and won’t find anything more than a missed comma and a misspelled word or two for every thousand words or so. Not what I had banked on when I took this job; certainly not.

Lena recalled what had been promised (or what, at least, had been alluded to) when the final interview was over and the job was hers. “Don’t let the title fool you,” said Mrs. Halbistam, the woman who in a week’s time would be Lena’s boss. “Editorial Assistant is a misnomer; you’re really going to be on your own much of the time. The job will be whatever you make of it.” What she was to make of it, she found, was precisely what was given to her each day and no more: taking other people’s writing, shifted around and worked over to suit the stringent format of the magazine by one of the Senior Editors (usually Mrs. Halbistam, sometimes Ms. Kramholtz) and reading it all very closely to be sure that the typesetters hadn’t screwed it up too badly. If the story or article was readable and made sense after four runs past an Editorial Assistant, several bouts with SpellChek and the typesetter’s CompuGraphic, then it went to press, ready for inclusion in the next issue of Ladies’ Choice.

Lena sighed, thinking that it was a small blessing that she wasn’t doomed to read and reread diet articles, health articles and how-to articles on pleasing the eye with an artfully appointed dining room spread. At least she had the fiction section to work with, somewhere in the middle of the preference list among the assistants on the magazine. Judy, in the cubicle next to hers, had the most sought after section to edit: the sex articles on how to attract a man, how to keep him interested, the how-to aspects of where, when, how and what to do when you got down to actually making love, and advice on how to gain the most pleasure from the entire scenario. There was at least one such piece per issue and since the entire staff always started working on an issue at least four months in advance of press-time with four readings of every piece to be included in the magazine, Judy had her hands full of flesh, lacy lingerie, dildos and condoms (figuratively, of course) from the time she walked into the office in the morning until she went home at five. Lena was occasionally tempted to check Judy’s seat for damp spots or other signs of excitation brought on by such continuous exposure to the licentious and lubricious, the baser instincts of the human species. (What else would you call an article that discussed the different types of orgasms to be experience, depending on the type of sexual position you were engaging in with a man?) Such temptations never lasted, however, and were usually replaced by musing reveries on her own sex life with Carl.

The ruler remained on the page, unmoved for several minutes as she recalled her previous night’s scrambling for a balance of passion and equality of result. She had demanded tenderness from him and had gotten it, hearing the tension in his voice as he whispered his endearments. He had wanted to call her a slut, she knew, but he yielded to her wishes, calling her “sweetheart” and “sugar bear” and other conservative coochy-coo words as he labeled them. It was what she had asked for, sweetly demanded, and was surprised when they were no longer sufficient and hadn’t been for some time. Was the honeymoon so long past? Her orgasm would have been rated a 5 on the scale developed by one of Judy’s “expert” authors on the subject; as a muted hum in her crotch that never had a chance to grow to the previously accustomed roar before it was all over.

Lena shook her head, clearing it of the disappointing memory and dipped her eyes to the line on the page which was underscored by the ruler. “…the roseate aureole shadowed under the filmy fabric of her peignoir. Her firm, round breasts rose and fell with her breathing as if on the lever of her growing excitement. ‘You know you want it,’ she told him in a husky, sultry voice. ‘Just take it and it is yours.’ His hands reached….”

“Right for her crotch,” Lena extemporized, not bothering to read any further. She looked out the window and let her train of thought develop. “His finger slid into her cunt to the second knuckle, serving to kick her libido into overdrive. Now all she wanted was for it to continue, to feel his fat cock where his finger now was.” She laughed and looked back down at her work. With a deft stroke she deleted “roseate aureole” and substituted the word “nipple.” She nodded at the change. At least that’s honest, Carl would say. Taking the idea further, she crossed out “breasts” and penciled in “tits.” She looked at the revisions she had made and then shook her head with a sigh. “Now that,” she told herself. “Is getting a little too close to his sort of thing.”

She erased the penciled changes, leaving only shadowy remains of the squiggly delete marks and the two words hovering to the right of the printed column. “Honest or not,” she muttered to herself, “this kind of thing could easily get me fired. Out on my pretty ass, bouncing all the way to the unemployment line.”

***

After making love, they talked; it had become something of a hallmark of their marriage. They both agreed that their willingness to communicate with one another was the glue that bound them together. Sex was a beautiful thing, they seemed to say as they talked of many things after the bed was no longer a field of foreplay and tussle, but it was not the whole and only. There were other things in their lives to indulge in and discuss.

“How did work go today?”

“You know how it was,” said Carl as he rezipped his fly. “Same old shit.”

“That’s what I’d call it, too, “Lena answered, nodding. Her fingers wrestled with the top clasp of her bra behind her back, always the hardest for her to reach. Carl stepped forward to lend what aid he could. “Six, seven years ago and you would have spun me around, kissed me like you meant it and we’d start all over again,” she said over her shoulder as he cinched her into her garment.

“Six, seven years ago I did mean it,” he said and spun her around to deliver an affectionate smooch to her cheek. “But then we were newlyweds, it was all brand new, being married and in love, and we were as hot as smoking pistols. And what do you mean, ‘That’s what you’d call it, too’?”

“Shit,” she replied. “That’s what you said about your work and I agreed with you.”

“Are we going to start that again?”

“We never really stopped,” she said calmly, answering the groaning query in his tone. “You know what I think about that crap you write. I’ve told you often enough.”

“And I’ve agreed every time. It’s crap, garbage, dreck, whatever you want to call it. But it brings home the bacon.”

“That’s not the only reason that you continue with it. You could do something else.”

“We’ve been over all this before,” he said, his voice tinged with frustrated anger. They had been over it all before, true, and he knew what little worth anger was when the outcome was almost a fait accompli no matter what emotion he displayed. “And I never know how to answer that except to say that now that I have the contacts it’s easy money and I’m stuck in a rut.”

Lena had her blouse on and was reaching for her skirt. They were going out; it was Friday night and dinner and a movie had sounded like a good idea when they had made the plans earlier in the week. “Still, you know how I feel about it all.” She turned and smiled at him. “What I wish could happen.”

:That I’d join the staff of some magazine, read manuscripts all day, ten out of eleven of which would be written in barely readable English – if you could call it that – and the eleventh one wouldn’t be up to the editorial standards or format of the rag I’d be working for.” His answer, in spirit, was nearly memorized. They had been over all this before.

“There is some good stuff out there, though. You could be one to make a difference.”

“Wasn’t that your dream when you started at Ladies’ Choice? Make your mark, make a difference? And so what are you doing there now? Reading spinsters’ trashy fantasies about being ravaged by pirates on the high seas or in the jungle by some Great White Hunter. Checking their spelling, dotting their i’s, changing all the dirty words for less objectionable ones so that your ‘lady’ readers can get a vicarious jolt without feeling cheapened.”

“That’s for now,” said Lena defensively. “But I’ve only been there five months; things’ll get better. And you make it sound so – I don’t know – so tawdry. It’s romance fiction and that’s what it’s all about, getting your thrills from reading about someone doing it right against the odds, no matter how unrealistic the circumstances. Romance: it’s beautiful, sensual and it takes you away from reality for a little while. What’s so wrong with that?”

“Nothing,” he said, surprised by the sudden heat of her reply. “But why so serious? When you started the job you’d come home laughing, telling me about what this writer or that one you were reading called a vagina or a clitoris or fucking….”

“I don’t see anything wrong with using an objective correlative,” she snapped.

“They’re called euphemisms, Lena,” he corrected. “And you only use them if you’re either trying to be cutesy, poetic or to get past the censors. Or if you’re too damned embarrassed by sexuality to call a cock a cock and instead have to have some virginal bimbo ‘gaze longingly at his phallic instrument.’” His eyes rolled comically as he recited the remembered phrase.

She eyed him coldly, or at least tried to; a smile began to form at the corners of her mouth. “You’ll always remember that one, won’t you?”

Carl’s smile was already at full shine. “You’ll  have to agree it was pretty bad. Personally I would have said ‘his stiff, drooling member’ and made it a point to spell out its dimensions. But hey, that’s my stock in trade, telling it like it is.”

“Yeah, sure,” she said facetiously. “Like it is, you pervert.” She slapped him playfully on the behind as she sauntered past him through the door to the hallway. “Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”

***

Lena gave her husband a photocopy of the manuscript she had taken with her from the office. “Strictly against the rules, taking work home like this,” she told him as he began to read. “But I thought you’d get a kick out of it. And anyway who’s going to know? We’re certainly not going to plagiarize it for publication.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” Carl said absently as he slowly turned the pages. “This stuff is pretty damned close to my own shit, just taken from a different perspective.”

“’Bodice ripper’ type garbage,” Lena said, identifying the sub-genre. “Virginal young woman finds herself in a compromising position with a lusty-horny older man; she finds it exciting and feels driven to give in to his advances. But she must yield to decorum to maintain her reputation – as if anyone really cares these days; people will say and think what they will no matter how loud you scream.”

“Yeah,” Carl interrupted. “They might think that’s the kind of noise you make when you’re coming.”

Lena had paused to allow for his comment then went on as if he hadn’t even spoken. “And so she puts up a brave fight,” she continued. “Gets her clothes all ripped and messy in the process. In the end, the randy d.o.m. has his lusty way with her and she gets her thrill with the added plus that she can say it wasn’t her fault, wasn’t her choice. Reputation soiled but not irretrievably lost, or so she thinks. You see, because of the loss of her virginity she becomes, by nineteenth century standards, unmarriageable.  Result: she marries her erstwhile rapist, though she finds out on their honeymoon that his predilections run only to virgins. Being that he has already deflowered her, he views her as soiled property or some such chauvinistic horseshit and she is no longer desirable to him.”

“Leave it up to the reader, then, as to why the hell she even married this son of a bitch in the first place,” sniped Carl. Lena shrugged; she couldn’t figure out that part, either

“Anyway,” she said, summing up. “She lives a sexually unsatisfying life until the old boy dies afterwhich she is a rich but still unsatisfied widow. Moral of the story: she got what she deserved, as do all young virgins who give into temptation with horny older men before the gold ring is firmly placed on the left hand ring finger. The conclusion to be drawn for the impressionable young women reading this claptrap (no pun intended): it’s always your fault, no matter what the outcome, so beware the man with the tempting way and empty hands.”

Carl had been listening to this with a thoughtful, if sarcastic, air of interested respect. His response was anything but flattering. “You about finished?”

“That’s about it,” said his wife evenly, having expected such a reply. “Sounds kind of medieval, doesn’t it?””

“I don’t know. Change a few things around and it could have some glint of truth in it.”

Lena laughed. “You’d have to revamp the whole thing to make it sound anywhere near reality.”

“Not really. I mean, take away the virginity angle, make the girl a bit more experienced, knowing that the rape part was just a game to keep things interesting and you might have a pretty good story.”

“One of your stories, you mean.”

“Well, that would take a little more work.” He was silent for a moment, then: “Mind if I try?”

“That kind of thing is second nature to you,” she said. “Just a walk in the park. Just for fun, though, why don’t I try? I’ve always wondered how close the stuff you write is in the spirit to this kind of thing. It’d be an interesting way to find out.”

Carl had no complaint with the suggestion. He gave her a few pointers in composition: lists of vulgar words for genitalia and coition, an admonition that the focus of the tale should be on the act and that any conclusions should be limited to a defense of the beauty of the orgasm and continued desire. Finished with his little lesson, he watched as she repaired to her computer to begin her first trial run at pornography.

Lena’s resulting story was longer by several pages than what Carl would have concocted out of the raw material, much shorter than the original. She had focused on the sexual aspect, as advised, and had skillfully used a number of the epithets her husband had listed for her. Her one main failing, in Carl’s estimation, was the last page, her summing up. She made decided conclusions far beyond what he would have deigned to be fitting to the subject at hand. Her heroine did marry the old roué and their sex life continued on, orgasmically fiery for the both of them. Her reputation was shot in the end, however, its plummet brought about by her insatiable need for more and more couplings and her later dissatisfaction with her husband as a lover. Instead of an unsatisfied spinster living on the memories of a few passionate experiences she became a single-minded bitch-slut, seducing young men in back alleys, spending all her money on a downward spiraling series of affairs that turned into a caricature of seedy sensuality.

“Why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone?” he asked as he laid her efforts aside. “Cut the cheap moralizing in the bud. It’s supposed to be a story of the sport, the acquisition, not the rotting corpse after the kill has been made.”

Lena had been standing beside Carl’s chair as he read her rendition of the rape story. She was wearing the sort of loose fitting blouse and skirt ensemble that had become a comfortable habit when she was at home; in the warm months of summer, as it was now, underwear was rarely worn, seen as just an unnecessary annoyance. “It’s real,” she insisted unsurely. “At least it tries to be.” Maybe I should have toned down the part about the woman enticing young studs into back alleyways, she considered in hindsight. Even without that the point would have been clear enough.

This is real,” said Carl and without warning he brought his free hand up and under Lena’s skirt. Her legs were slightly akimbo so that his fingers found easy access to her crotch. He moved his hand deftly, massaging her firmly, this thumb rubbing and insinuating itself between her labia as if motor driven. She squealed at the sudden intrusion, then giggled and squatted in compliance to give his fingers better, deeper access. “The rest,” he said as his middle and forefinger worried their way into her vagina. “Is all unnecessary chatter signifying nothing.”

“Nothing,” Lena whispered, intensely excited as she leaned forward to fumble at the fly on her husband’s pants. This was truth, she thought, here and now. Without thinking about it she felt that she understood what Carl had been talking about. Though she missed the foreplay, the slow build up, the tender beginnings that would have proved this to be a loving rather than a simply carnal experience, she indulged herself without any real consideration. That other way, she told herself somewhere in the back of her mind, could wait for another time. This time it had all come about too suddenly, had become too immediate, too intense all at once for niceties to be applied. As her hand grasped his erect cock and his hand had her on the brink of orgasm while she still stood next to him in his chair, right then she understood too well his lesson and what its outcome would be.

In the spirit of the immediacy of the moment, however, one so impetuously begun, outcomes did not come as promptly as Lena would have liked. As soon as her sliding hand had Carl shooting his jism onto his slacks his hand had slowed its work, then stopped. When her needs weren’t being met as she wanted them to be she told Carl what he needed to do in the most vulgar terms, surprising herself at how honestly insistent her voice sounded. Sure of its purpose, the lewdly worded demands that he do her, eat her, fuck her, seemed to have come from the mouth of a woman she did not know.

***

She came home several weeks later close to tears.

Carl jumped up from his writing desk to ask the reason why or, if no reason was to be given, at least to be near enough to be of help when comfort was needed, and she needed it right away. They embraced; the shoulder of his shirt was immediately soaked through with her tears. It was a moment that he would remember for some time to come since it was the first really tender moment they had shared in a very long time. He only wished that the circumstance were brighter. What he would recall, besides the tears and the ensuing embrace, would be the story she would tell, tearing little pieces of it from her harrowing day to offer to him in scraps. He would later recall the way it came out as being a strange rush of non-sequiturs pinned to a common theme: the last story.

It was titled “Red River Meeting” and was about an encounter between a man and a woman (what other kind of tale ever appeared in Ladies’ Choice?) on a bridge over the river in the title. The main theme of the story was the unspoken yet implicitly smoldering sexuality that passed between them as they greeted one another, shared pleasantries and local gossip. They had been lovers once, their affair having ended some years before; they had been engaged when it was abruptly called off because of some misunderstanding and they went their separate ways. They both continued to live in the same town, each ever aware of the presence of the other, just across the river. In the story they singly, silently revel in their memories of the relationship they once had together, indulge in fantasies of continued love, lust and moral lassitude with the other that, even as they had dated and been engaged they had denied themselves.

“It was the best thing that had come across my desk since I’ve been there,” Lena nearly wailed, her tearful distress having turned to anger and frustration. “And she turned it into a cutesy little melodrama about how the two characters had had a chance at love and had blown it in favor of ‘safe’ relationships with other people. God! It was revolting to see.”

“What’s so revolting? It sounds like a pretty good story to me.”

“Sure; one that’s been done a thousand times before and much better,” Lena huffed as she struggled to control her emotions. “But I had seen the original manuscript. It was great, it was daring. They still wanted each other – nothing bittersweet about it – they had to have each other. She made a grab for his balls, for Christ sake!”

“Don’t yell at me. I didn’t read the thing, you did. Just tell me…. What did your Mrs. Halbistam do to it?”

“Tore the guts out of it is what she did. The girl reaches for the guy’s nuts, right? So what does Mrs. Goody Two Shits do? Has the girl’s hand flutter helplessly at the guy’s shirt while she fights the temptation to just touch him one more time, lay her hand on his chest to feel the thump of his heartbeat. Yuck! And I have to read this crap, make sure that the typesetters spelled ‘tempestuous’ right.”

“So you got a good story made bad. But that’s part of the territory of your job, isn’t it? So what does this have to do with your dramatic entrance, all the tears and yammering about – what was it? – your career going down the toilet?”

“I’m getting to that,” she said, then stopped to give him a questioning look. “Was I really yammering?”

“Blubbering is more like it. I couldn’t catch more than a phrase or two. ‘Career going into the shitter’ is the way I think you put it and then something about wanting to break something over Mrs. Two Shits’ head. Would one of the everyday dishes do? The good china is kind of expensive to be used for mayhem.”

“That’s not necessary now. Just let me talk.” She took a deep breath and seemed to deflate as she let it out. She sat down and shook her head. “I couldn’t believe it while I was doing it,” she said as she recalled her day. “I even tried to blame it on someone else when it went through.  You ready for this, Carl?”

“I guess I am,” he said, not sure at all that he was. Do what? he thought. Blame what? He sat down and pulled his chair along the floor until he was directly opposite her, knees to knees.

“I changed it back,” she said.

“Changed what back? The story?”

“Yep, just the way the author wrote it, nut grabbing, passionate kisses, hands getting lost under the clothing and all. The only reason it was caught was that it ran over the limit that Mrs. Halbistam had set for it.”

“Caught? You mean it never got to typesetting?”

“Oh it got to them, but they bounced it right back to her to make sure the length was okay. The original ran over by a good ten lines of type.” She sighed and shook her head again, still not believing what had happened. “It was only the second edit so it was really kind of stupid of me. I should have waited until the final came by me. Even so it probably would have come back to her with question marks all over it. My only defense was to demand an explanation from the old bat why she’d bought the piece in the first place if she knew that she was going to rip the heart out of it.”

“She called you on the carpet? What happened? Don’t tell me you were….”

“Fired,” said Lena solemnly. She paused and gave him another quizzical look. “Didn’t I mention that before?”

***

Time soon became Lena’s own.

There was only so much of it she could spend each day in hunting for a job, only so many ads per week she could answer, interviews that she could go on. By the end of the first month it became evident that all time thus spent was a bleak exercise in futility. Despite a rather impressive resume interviewers brushed her off as soon as her references came through. It was not long before references were not needed at all; the offers of interviews stopped coming altogether. The phone only rang with calls from friends, family members and Carl’s associates. It seemed that Mrs. Halbistam’s influence in the industry was quite considerable. The word had gotten out and all those concerned were listening attentively to what the old bat had to say: Lena was not a “team player.”

Despondency did not become Lena’s naturally active demeanor nor did the role of the harridan or common scold that she thought she might become in those first few weeks of being at home with her husband day in and day out. No; instead she began to foster an interest in his work, much as it pained her to admit it. The manuscript of Carl’s present work-in-progress was daily growing in bulk and Lena began to read it, to give thoughtful suggestions on how this wording or that might better serve the licentious action building in a given paragraph. Carl listened and then patiently explained that style did not matter so much as long as the simple point was gotten across and the scene became visually, tactilely, even tastily vivid to the reader. “Put the reader there on the edge of the bed where the action is taking place, make him know what it feels like to be there and doing it,” he said of the purpose of his prose. “That’s the whole point of the thing; just get him as horny as hell.”

“I don’t think ‘tastily’ is the right word,” she remarked. “But I know what you mean.”

“What I do,” he said, having warmed to the subject. “Is elicit the simplest response from my audience. And I have to have it done by the end of next week. You know something about deadlines, so may I…?”

“But what about the letters,” she asked. “You usually do four or five of those each month for that editor friend of yours.”

“I’ll use parts of chapters four, eight, nine and fifteen, maybe thirteen, too, if I have the time,” he answered. “Just switch the perspective to first person, change the names and maybe the setting and nobody’s the wiser.”

“But how do you manage two deadlines like that?”

“The magazine’s deadline comes two weeks after Squeeze Publications’.  Plenty of time.”

“What if your magazine editor got ten letters from you? Would he still buy them and pay the usual rate?”

“Sure. He’ll snap up whatever I send him, check in the mail upon acceptance.”

“Then let me try my hand at chapters – what? Four, eight, nine, fourteen….”

“Thirteen and fifteen,” he corrected, looking at her as if at a total stranger. “You serious about this?”

“I might as well be doing something,” she said simply as she lifted the stack of typed bond paper from his desk to extract the needed material. “See you later.”

She came back to him that first day in only four hours, her work complete on three of the five chapter/letters. “Editing is editing” was the way she explained the alacrity with which she had transformed the chapters into self-contained vignettes of first person porn. By the time he had finished the novel she had done with the final two excerpts as well as five more letters of her own. “Just let your fantasies run free,” she said with a shrug. “Really nothing to it.” Carl read her efforts, made some comments but, on the whole, had no complaints with any of them.

They had to call several other editor friends of Carl’s with whom he had not been in touch for a while in order to sell Lena’s output. She was cranking out as many as five new letters a day when she was really on a roll. By the end of the second month they celebrated with a trip to the theater and dinner in the city. Their financial status, though not too much healthier due to Lena’s involvement in her husband’s work, had improved enough for the splurge to be justified.

Lines had been drawn and, for a while, they seemed to hold. Carl wrote the book-length material and Lena concentrated on the short stuff for the magazines. When Lena’s pieces began to reach the ten and fifteen page mark (deliberately; they brought in from $250 to $400 per piece when sold) she began to pester him about her helping with his own writing.

“An experiment,” She finally offered when hints did not seem to have any effect. “Alternate chapters, man’s point-of-view and woman’s point-of-view of the same affair. How does that sound?”

Carl did not have to think about it for long. The editors at four different men’s magazines loved her for her ingenuity and profligacy and she could write a steamy sex scene with the best of them. “What’s the underlying plot?” he asked.

She held up the wrinkled, well-thumbed photocopy of a manuscript. “’Red River Meeting,’” she said of the pilfered piece. “Start on the bridge, the meeting, the memories of a torrid affair, an open marriage where anything goes, lovers galore for both of them, every position and kinky twist we’ve used and that are still being used in every porn novel around. End with two quick chapters – his version and her version – of nuts being grabbed, the impassioned grappling on the bridge. Leave it open – do they get back together or is this the final heaving sigh of a failed relationship? – maybe work out a sequel on what happens next.”

Carl nodded thoughtfully, liking the idea. “Let me see story again first,” he said, reaching. “Then we’ll talk.”

“Just talk?”  Her excitement for the project turned to sudden disappointment.

He flipped through the pages, stopping quickly to scan a paragraph here, read several lines of dialogue there before flipping again. “Talk about how we’re going to go about it,” he said distractedly. He tossed the manuscript onto his desk and rose to approach her. He pulled her into a bearlike embrace and slipped his hands under her slacks to massage the buttocks and insinuate his fingers between them while continued to knead and massage. The pleasure of his warm, strong hands on her ass drew a moan from her throat. “Something like this takes more time to work out than just sitting down at the computer and banging away,” he whispered in her ear. “Something like this takes a bit of thought and planning.”

Lena undressed slowly, said nothing as if her actions were answer enough. For this, she knew, coming to him hungrily, no thought was necessary.

***

Slow and languid, that was the way she remembered him from the last time. She looked deep into his soft brown eyes, gently traced the line of his strong jaw with her finger and saw from his expression that he remembered, too. It had been more than two years and yet she recalled their last meeting so long ago as if it had taken place only hours, perhaps just minutes before.

            “Tell me that he still makes love the same way,” she thought. “Let me believe that he hasn’t changed in that regard.” She wanted to believe that his kisses would come slow and sweet, hot against the skin, sensuously defining the hollow at the meeting of her shoulder and neck, that he would still slowly, maddeningly, slide his tongue over her breasts, muttering sweet yet mildly vulgar words of appraisal as he took her brown nipple into his mouth to work it to a tingling hardness, an excitement that would wind serpentlike through her body until she would be just about ready to scream. If that was so then she knew that she would be the same as she remembered, stifling her instinct to howl and keen, muting her voice down to a guttural moan that would serve to pique his desire further, get him to continue his ministrations, make him want more, want to push her to the limit, have her grapple him, pull him closer (though that would be near to impossible), have him make her demand what they both knew that they would have of the other in that slow, languid, wonderful way that he had.

Lena stopped reading aloud and looked up at Carl. He had been listening intently; his only comment now was a disinterested shrug. “I got tired of the ‘wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am’ stuff I was writing for the magazines,” she said, defensive against his obvious indifference. “This is going to be book length so I figured I’d do it a little differently, with a slow build-up, kind of like the way I used to like it. Know what I mean?”

“Of course I do,” said Carl. “But you’ve got to realize, book length or not, it’s all pretty much the same thing as those little pieces you’ve been doing for the men’s rags. A major sex scene per each chapter. That’s the nature of the beast. You don’t want to risk losing your audience in the second chapter. They expect sleaze; that’s why they buy this crap in the first place.”

“I know that, but I thought….”

“Look, we’ve agreed to twenty-two chapters: ten for you, ten for me, an intro and a tie-up at the end where they break things off with a vague promise to see each other again, kind of hinting at a sequel. Now, the intro’s pretty good, draws’em right in. Then…this. Ba-bing! The reader puts the book down – and I’m talking about the reader at the publishing company here – and says that it’s too slow, so no sale. Don’t call us, et cetera, et cetera. Lena, you know the rules….”

“No way to break them, be creative?”

“Not if we want to sell this thing to Skintight Press. The form is the given, no way to play around with it.”

“It’s not fair,” she complained. “I mean, I’m trying to write this from a woman’s perspective. When a woman’s recalling a sexual encounter she focuses on the kisses and the build-up, what makes the man special. Sure I can do the heavy breathing suck and fuck stuff but I figured this being book length we could ease into it more slowly, give it a glow of realism… people….”

“Uh-uh, not for Skintight. All their stuff is pretty much the same with very little variation from the tried and true. All heaving bodies and musky damp sheets, cocks and cunts and asses and tits being used in imaginative ways. Remember their motto: ‘Every page guaranteed to scorch your fingers.’ With this….” He patted his wife’s draft chapter. “You barely warm the skin. Remember your audience and what they want. That’s the first rule.”

Lena nodded glumly as she picked up the sheaf of paper. “So,” she said dejectedly. “Try, try again, eh?”

“That’s my girl,” he encouraged lamely.

***

The actual writing of the novel took only one month to complete with both Carl and Lena working separately on their respective chapters. As with Carl’s first book, more than two years before, though, it was the editing and rewriting that required the most effort. An additional month was needed in actual collaboration to segue their alternating chapters into one another and to write the tie-up last chapter together. The time factor was further lengthened by the fact that each of them were, at the time, also writing the shorter, letter pieces to provide them with walking around money since the added month’s worth of work on the novel was taking a healthy bite out of their customary income. In effect, they would only be getting a month’s worth of pay for two months of work. That averaged out to about thirty letter pieces needed from each of them just to make up the month’s deficit that the additional novel writing was costing them.

In the end, though, the effort and mild hardship seemed worth all that they had put into it. They couldn’t us the title “Red River Meeting” as they both would have liked for fear of bumping up against some copyright law against employing a previously used title for a book that bore at least a superficial resemblance to the original, shorter piece. Old Goody Two-Shits Halbistam would be just the person to find out about it and take legal action against Skintight Press and the pseudonymous “Carla Lenz,” as Carl wished to have the author of the work be known.

When the photocopied acceptance letter came through for “Rivers of Lust,” Carl and Lena celebrated in their usual, low-key style: dinner and a movie. At Lena’s suggestion they went to an art-house showing of Casablanca. Lena cried at the airport parting of Bogie and Ingrid Bergman as she always did (she had seen the movie three times already, this being the fourth).

“What a thing to do,” Carl commented as they emerged from the little theater. He said that he wasn’t sure whether to respect the Bogie character for letting go of the love of his life for noble reasons, or to call the guy a foolish idiot. “It always gets me,” he said.

“That’s romance,” said Lena, still teary eyed.

Back home she would call that which she and Carl almost immediately engaged in by the same name—romance – ignoring the stark differences. The build-up of the foreplay was the way she used to like it: slow and languid. Carl was ever the perfect lover; he knew exactly how to turn her on and keep her body humming at near peak excitement until he was ready to apply just a bit more friction, more pressure, more intensity to tip her over the edge to orgasmic oblivion. Used to like it, she realized. Now, the going was much too slow. She told her husband what she wanted in no uncertain terms. She did not giggle as she used to when he heaved her onto the bed and projected himself on top of her; this was serious and not to be taken so lightly.

She did not notice the vacant gleam in Carl’s eyes, the fact that he was doing all by rote. It did not matter to her that he was a thousand miles away, indulging in the simple, animal essence of one of his (their) many sex stories, If asked she, too, would have had to agree that Carl was not her real lover that night. The man she was with had the cock the size of a donkey’s pizzle and it was splitting her cunt ecstatically wide with every pounding, vigorous drive of his hips as he forced himself into her further and further, ramming home, pushing her deeper into the mattress as his massive dong prodded and bruised her cervix with each propulsive thrust. Just the way that she had come to need and want it.

Words were moaned and growled; there were no endearments. Words uttered, meant to sting, to hurt and arouse one another to the steepest pitch of those feelings that were by nature the most basic to all mammals. Cunt, pussy, whore, bastard, cock, fuck, ream, shove, bang, ball, pound – words of anger and incendiary lust without true meaning; there was no reality shared between them. Their meeting was completed individually, inside of each of them, Carl and Lena, singly and without reference to the other.

“Ram it into me,” she moaned heartily, huskily as she thrust her hips at him for yet another exquisitely forceful entry inside her of that massive hot cock she had dreamed for her pleasure. She was playing the character in one of their stories with no real mind, no past, no ambition save for this. “That’s it,” she encouraged greedily. “Fuck me harder. Harder, I said! Make me scream!”

And he did, puffing and cursing mightily with the effort.

And when it was done, their orgasms spent like money paid, they lay separately on the tangled, dampened sheets of their connubial bed, each breathing heavily, exhausted, staring at the ceiling in wonder. And this is what it was, the thing they each had sought in the air above them, the thought and memory that had escaped them and which they would not fully realize: that neither of them was truly satisfied. Yet the driving, heady desire was still keen within each of them.

La Corniche d’Or By Michael Ampersant

It was three days ago that Josh and Jason arrived in Cannes. We had to pick them up at the train station—a semi-lit location with password-protected toilets tucked away under an ugly overpass that divides the town into two. The announcement screen goes dit-dit-duuh-dit (d#gg#d#), the TGV noses into the station, I wonder briefly what would happen if I lost my balance and hit the tracks, but Josh and Jason pour through the sliding train doors in front of us just in time, or before anything can go wrong.

Josh has aged well since his last visit nine years ago. His hair is gray now and cropped very short, but it is still in place—he didn’t go bald as some of his email pictures would suggest. His regular Dutch features hold up, including the boyish profile and a flat tummy (we know about his gym visits). Jason is a charming oriental guy with heavy-rimmed glasses that accent his jug-eared looks, he must have a sense of humor. We get chatty immediately, it feels like a conversation left dangling an hour ago. I’m glad he’s a bit camp.

I’m chatty myself since I’m excited—all day I have failed to find a pretext for buying condoms. Josh, a pure rice queen, had been Chang’s lover back in Amsterdam at one point, and us, bored up here in the wilderness of the Esterel between Cannes and St. Raphael, had exchanged views on Josh’s reputation as a “sucker”—as Chang would put it in his innocent English—not meaning a loser, but somebody good at blow jobs. I had never had the pleasure, but Chang also mentioned Jason’s dick, which was supposedly large. So we had been discussing the pair’s sex life that reportedly took a turn towards “clubbing” and “play” in recent years. I mentioned condoms repeatedly during the last couple of days but Chang wouldn’t listen, and my last hope, a sex shop (“sexy” shop, in French) opposite to the train station was closed. So we are condom-less when walking the pair to our vintage SUV parked on the ugly overpass that divides Cannes into two. The vehicle elicits a brief remark from Josh (“you still have that ‘thing’?”).

The sky is overcast and cold, they are exhausted from a trip through Taipei, Amsterdam, Paris, and Dijon, Chang will cook for us at home. But this is the Cote d’Azur, so we drive up and down the foliage-swept Croisette and exchange views on the Palais des Festivals (recently re-done in defeatist white, the building, previously painted in a dirty ochre possibly meant to hide the Concrete Brutalism of John Foster’s original design). We talk housing prices as if anyone of us would be able to buy an apartment here. I point across the bay where the Esterel looms on the horizon, a pretty panorama on a good day when the rusty ridge glows in the afternoon sun.

“You can almost see our house from here,” I point out, “it’s on the hill next to the hill with the antenna,” and miss the turn for the high street of Théoule-sur-mer, the last occasion to buy condoms.

We continue along the Corniche d’Or which begins here and leads to St. Raphael. It’s the raison d’être of Théoule, the corniche, since the road started as a private project of the touring club of Monaco which imported 65 Italian families to do the job. They had to live somewhere and erected goo-colored dwellings for themselves that still define the town center. The little houses give Théoule an Italianate flavor, and people who move here complain about vendettas between entrenched clans that poison the atmosphere as if this were somewhere in Calabria.

We arrive at the house, pre-dusk is descending. The salon is clogged by a tiny wood stove meant to go into the dysfunctional fire place, but the artisan who was meant to do the job has gone missing. We sit down anyhow. No, we spend a few minutes in the kitchen where I suggest that the tea could accommodate a bit of brandy. Chang says “no” but I prevail and pour myself an extra shot while they turn their back to watch a cruise ship sailing past in slow motion; cruise ships always slow down here before going into the bay of Cannes. They look at us (the passengers) and we look at them, they think we are happy, we think they are happy. Anyhow, I pour the extra shot while Josh and Jason admire the last cruise ship of the season.

We move back to the Designer’s-Guild-appointed living room paid for in better days. The conversation slows down a bit, I fetch bubbly from the fridge. Josh and Jason tell about Australia, how they found each other. Their paths crossed in Sydney, eyes meet, Josh counts to three and executes the “gay turn” (Josh’s words). Eyes meet again. Jason reverses direction, crosses the street (makes it easier to keep tabs on each other). Josh enters a Starbucks, Jason follows. Josh sits down, Jason asks whether the other chair is taken. I ask what they ordered. Jason had Mocha, Josh an Americano.

They ask about us. I’m on my late-afternoon bike ride along the Amstel River when an oriental guy, also on a bike, turns onto the dike from the right. I slow down a bit, then turn into the Amstel Park entrance which is not far and guarded by a statue of Rembrandt van Rijn. I brake and put one foot on the ground. The oriental brakes and puts one foot on the ground. “What’s your name,” I open the conversation. “Jason,” he answers. “What’s your real name,” I ask. He procrastinates a bit, then says “Chang.”

“My real name is Ban,” Jason says. Josh affects an assertive clin d’oeil for his partner. Josh (the pure rice queen) must have met many Jasons in his life.

It’s past six o’ clock, Chang’s getting hungry and everything stops. He’ll cook filled cabbage, a recipe from my mother. The cabbage provides a pretext for the first bottle of red wine. Josh and Jason brought two expensive bottles, we need to taste them both.

The cabbage is a bit undercooked and my sauce isn’t saucy enough (I usually do the sauces, gravy from the pan, added to a roux). Josh and Jason don’t seem to mind. We had dinner parties with Marc and Paul, the other gays in the village, Marc (a black guy from Martinique) sat next to me and rubbed his thigh against mine (it never came to anything, Marc and Paul broke up and moved away). So Jason is seated to my left, but there are several inches between mine and Jason’s thighs and I fail to remember how I managed to cozy up to Marc in the first place. We chat along, desert is served, a rosé bottle opened. I had a rough week with the banking liaison who wanted to know why I stopped servicing my mortgage, so I drink faster to stay awake.

Jason tells good stories, Josh says. This one is disgusting, Jason warns, whether we mind. No, we don’t. Jason tells about the time he worked at this sauna and checks on “the room.” Room is apparently shop-talk for the row of cubicles where the patrons “relax.” The room needs to be checked at least once an hour and he steps onto something slimy on the ground. He ignites his torch and discovers a molehill of grapes, strangely bruised. Turns out some guy had them inserted bottom-wise and another guy sucked them out grape by grape. “Suhk, suhk,” Jason adds in conclusion. I forget to ask how Jason found out.

The bottle is empty again. I get up to fetch another one and discover that my sense of balance is gone. I fall back onto the chair. This is the moment, I will fall off the chair inside two minutes or crawl to bed now. I excuse myself and stagger away. Regrets are shared.

You drink too much and wake up too early. You really feel like shit and can’t go back to sleep. I stagger upstairs (“Aspirin, Aspirin”), and recover behind my desk (a slow process). You can see Corsica on a good winter day, like today, shortly before sunrise. I take pictures.

The sun comes up and Chang emerges. He’s coyly smiling. “You know what?” he says, “We had sex. They sucked my dick.” I tell him to relax and get a cup of coffee. He’s teasing me, I know. He returns from the kitchen and reiterates: they sucked his dick.

I answer emails and study the disappointing page view statistics of my blog. There really was something unusual to Chang’s smile. He’s now busy behind his new laptop-tablet parked among a graveyard of bottles on the dinner table (cadavre is French argot for an empty bottle). “You’re making this up,” I say to him. (This is the moment I decide to write this up.)

“No,” he replies. “Jason got up and made the move. Unzipped my zipper. I got up, both of them got on their knees and suck my cock, Jason from the left, Josh from the right, deliciously.” He grins; “deliciously” is his favorite adverb.

“At the same time?” I ask.

“At the same time.”

“It’s unfair.”

“You drank too much and went to bed.”

“I talk about condoms and you turn me down and now this?”

“Yes,” he says and his grin broadens, “it wasn’t my fault.”

“It’s unfair,” I repeat.

“Life isn’t fair,” he answers. He’s deadpan in a way that he isn’t when he is lying.

“No semen stains on the floor,” I say.

“Josh finished me off.”

“We must buy condoms today,” I say.

# # #

Josh and Jason slept well. They brought good winter weather, a light mistral with dry clear air and steely blue sky. We’ll go visit Saint Tropez. It would be me, today, who has to make the move, but it’s easier to talk about the corniche or the Forêt Domanial de l’Esterel, the natural park that surrounds Le Trayas and protects us from over-development, we’ve recently met a fox in the park. I point to a villa on the cliff which supposedly belonged to Greta Garbo (everything is a rumor here, and they are always false). We’ve reached St. Maxime when I finally muster the chutzpah to say: “Chang tells me you’ve sucked his dick last night.”

“Yes,” they say in unison, they must have been waiting for this.

“It’s unfair,” I say. They laugh.

“We wondered whether Chang would tell you,” Jason says.

We arrive in St. Tropez and walk along the quay where Brigitte Bardot lived in Dieu Créa la Femme. I point out that La Cage aux Folles, another French film, was located next to what was Bardot’s house in the film. Josh has seen “La cage” and reminds us of the remake, Birdcage. We alternate between taking pictures of us and the sea. I ask Jason to zoom in on the northern horizon with his Canon EOS 70D and point to the tip of Miramar, a stone throw away from our house in Le Trayas. “It’s unfair,” I say. “They can see us, but we can’t see them.” We laugh. Josh and Jason embrace for a kiss—they have to make an effort, thought, Josh’s sizable frame towers over the petit Vietnamese by one head at least. We take more pictures. They kiss again.

I want them to see a bit more of St. Tropez. It’s still authentic, in a sense, the town, it just looks too good, and the number of real estate agencies has tripled since my last visit. We climb the streets and reach the over-restored citadel built to protect the place against the piratical Sarrazins in centuries past. Up here we have another postcard view. More pictures are taken, Jason climbs onto a wall for a better angle. Josh holds him in place with a hand under Jason’s bottom. “Let me do it,” I say. Jason’s bottom changes hands. “You like it?” I ask him. “Sure,” he says. St. Maxime sparkles across the bay.

Chang is hungry, everything stops. November is the month of the fermeture annuelle, hélas. Le Quai, a patio orgy of red director chairs is not fermé, but hors du moyens (appetizers around forty Euro). Chang has us almost destined for the crèperie at the cheapo end of the harbor next to the public toilet but I manage to drag us into a sunlitter outfit around the corner with a plat du jour a bit dearer than a crèpe suzette—I always use the presence of outsiders to defeat Chang’s camping ground instincts, often to good effect.

Very French-nouveau, the joint, white leather seats, crystal tumblers, and—yes, folks, welcome home—a real beach on the floor. I ask. Yes, it takes three hours each day to clean the sand. I’m handed the wine list (why me?). There’s a Roederer Kristal Jeroboam @ 4,200, a Dom Pérignon Magnum @ 3,200, and a Chateau Pétrus (normal size) @ 4,900 currency units. The waiter is sweet, though, and helps us to a bottle of tasteless tipple for 30 €bucks. The food is a bit challenging, especially the quail-asparagus-artichoke appetizer. Jason asks for the bill. They’re going it to hand it to Josh, he predicts, they always do. We discuss racism in general and the creeping takeover of gay spas in Sydney by boys from Lebanon, especially on the mixed day when all sexual preferences are encouraged and the boys from Lebanon can get a blow job without having to taking sides in the culture wars. Josh and I agree that we don’t like pubic hair in our mouth. Jason is handed the bill.

I take the wheel and steer us back but turn right at the entrance of Fréjus. “What are you doing?” Chang asks. I point at the Géant hyper market and evoke the need for more bubbly. We have enough bubbly, Chang says. I park anyhow. “We need condoms,” I whisper into his ear and jump out to convey a sense of urgency. “They have condoms,” Chang’s voice echoes through the parking garage. We buy more bubbly.

Night falls, Jason cooks fried rice, we serve real Pommard bought in better days. Jason is seated too far away for thigh rubbing, but Chang has installed his laptop-tablet at the head of the table and dials porn FM. Tyler Johnson and Jonny Cruz (pseudonyms, we take it) appear, undress, and embrace. Tyler is black and “hunky, sexy, dedicated, electrifying.” All of us get overly interested. I refrain from my usual secondary cockiness and don’t mention the cerebro-resonant effects of porn on the brain, even on brains adverse to smut.

You, reader, are now expecting a finely-crafted buildup towards the first sex scene, but we fail you. Chang zips his zipper, that’s it. We chuck all pretensions and clothes and stand in the middle of the dining area, penises horizontal. “Maybe we should go downstairs,” I suggest, but they want to stay put.

Josh and Chang unfold on the Eames lounge chair—perhaps I should explain since the chair is the Brigitte Bardot, or rather the Jimmy Stewart of 20th century furniture, three palisander plywood shells fitted with in-form leather cushions, the main shell for your bottom and two additional ones for your back; there’s also a fitting ottoman. You only have to look at the thing and feel comfy in ways that even Jimmy Stewart can’t make you feel comfy, especially if you had the money to pay for the original version from Knoll.

Chang and Josh don’t seem to mind my cheapo imitation though, with Chang now supine on the Ottoman, his head supported by the bottom shell of the chair, and Josh on his knees with Chang’s dick in his mouth. He’s sucking—“deliciously”—and there are noises, suckling sounds from Josh and promising moans from Chang.

Jason and I look at each other. I go and fetch a garden chair cushion and put it on the ground. We lie down. “You want to fuck?” I ask. Jason and his dick are somewhat non-committal. I stroke his dick and caress his crane with my other hand. This goes on for a while, Jason still fairly non-committal. Josh and Chang are on to something, Chang now lying on the floor with his feet on the ottoman, Josh’s face buried in Chang’s pubes—if you can’t beat them, join them. I take Jason’s dick in my mouth and begin to suck. Jason is pleased. Chang, in his parallel world, is more than pleased, now producing grunts that hold the middle between oinks and one-liners. Man is a playful animal, there always was give-and-take between nature and nurture, so now it’s between sex and porn.

Chang, who is a quick cummer, cums (“uughh, uughh”). Jason and I have to watch this and interrupt our efforts. Josh is already caressing Jason’s midriff, and I’m thinking of a paragraph in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities where Sherman McCoy, the hero, is invited to this Park-Avenue-based party and finds himself talking to his own wife (the horror, the horror). Josh is already headed for his mate’s private parts, and Jason’s face tells the story as Josh’s head bobs up and down on his dick. Jason’s eyes are closed, his jaw slack, mouth open and mildly contorted, head drawn back, body reverberating to the rhythm of Josh’s thrusts. It’s real, it’s real, although Jason stay silent throughout, the sound track is all on Josh whose smacks build like a crescendo. The orgasm on Jason’s face meets expectations.

Jason sinks back.

Experienced Josh has remained aware of the doings around him turns now to me. We briefly lock eyes, he licks his sensual lips, is down on me already. While my senses rise I’m thinking of an internet gif-joke (I’m not making this up, this really happened), three pictures, a jeune homme de famille telling his mother (obviously his mother), that “I like dick” (first picture), “I wanna suck dick, I like sucking dick,” (second picture) “And I’m good at it, too!” (third picture, wistful smile on his face). I cum.

# # #

They would take the train to Monaco on the third day. Jason works as croupier in Sydney, he must have a look at the casino in Monte Carlo. I walk them down the hill to the local train station through the village center (chapel and post office). The train station is located in the Esterel park, outside our settlement. We walk past the Bellevedère, a cast-iron gazebo built on a rock above the tracks. The vista is a popular spot for midnight sex—at least that’s what I make of the freshly-used condoms on the ground I find here on many days. The thrill of public sex enhanced by splendid vistas, Josh muses.

“You come here yourself?” Jason asks.

“No, not to cum.”

“How do you know about midnight, then?”

Opinions appear divided as to the train station itself, I’m making the case for 19th century utilitarian design. “Trayas,” I say, pointing at the blue name plate on the building, “Trayas means ‘three’ in Sanskrit.”

“Perhaps it means threesome,” Jason observes. They are off.

I forgot what Chang or I did during the day. Not much, I guess. Anyhow, Josh and Jason are finally back. The casino is too small, the minimal glass of wine is 14€, but they’ve seen Naomi Campbell. Yes, an exceedingly elongated black girl with big sunglasses and a big Vuitton bag strapped over her shoulder. Really? Yes, it was her, she also wore a fur cape and stiletto-boots emblazoned with thousands of real crystals. Mesmerizing, the crystals, blinding. She cat-walked past on her boots, she actually knew how to walk in those boots. She got into a Rolls-Royce. And, she looked like Naomi Campbell.

Dinner is pork chops today. Jason is a few inches away, as usual. How did you get to Australia, I ask him. He was a boat refugee, on one of the last boats from Vietnam, in the late ‘80s. One hundred and eighty people on an aging shallop on their way to the Philippines, at a fare of $3,000 per pop. You’ve seen this funny picture of the Kim the third of North Korea, taking off with a lot of generals in a decrepit sloop? It’s on the internet, the photo, the planking on the hull is rotting and the beloved leader waves to the crowd.

“That was like us, the planking,” Jason says. “The sea gets rough, the first hurricane of the season. The boat sways and bobs. There’s no food but nobody’s hungry. Nobody goes to the toilet, things just happen. We are getting low on water, except in the engine room where they have a leak. The crew fights the rising water with a chain of buckets. It’s the seventh day out at sea, we are getting nowhere. A Japanese freighter sails by, binoculars peek at us. We have no proper distress material, can’t signal our trouble in ways the Japanese would like to understand. We are sinking, the captain says. We ram the Japanese, he says, they must pick us up if there’s a collision. People pray to various gods, embrace, huddle. The captain heads for the freighter’s stern and misses narrowly. The Japanese sail on. Another ship has seen this, fortunately, a freighter from Panama. They are returning from the Olympics in Seoul, we learn later. They are on holiday and in a good mood. Three power boats appear around us, we’re hauled onto the boats and ask to climb rope ladders reaching up to the main deck. People are lifted up one by one and hosed down for lice or whatever. I’m still hanging in the ladder, look back over my shoulder, and see our shallop sink. Everybody survives. We’re taken to a refugee camp in Singapore. I end up in Australia.”

Chang asks about Jason’s family. Yes, he escaped with his mother, other people stayed behind in Vietnam. He has a lot of siblings, his Chinese father took a second and third concubine. How about the people that stayed behind? They are all rich now, started their own businesses, all rich.

Chang doesn’t dial Porn FM tonight. Regrets are shared, we go to bed early.

# # #

We wake up late. The high wind is gone, the sky is still mistral-blue. We have breakfast. Jason’s iPhone does ping. “Scruff,” Jason says.

“Scruff?” Yes, better than Grindr and Jack’d, not to mention Craigslist or other dating sites. He answers the ping with his left thumb. Meetic is on line, the picture a bit blurred. Meetic is only 6.7 km away, in Mandelieu (this is as the crow flies, per car it would be twenty minutes). Meetic appears young and hale on the iPhone display.

“Hi,” Jason chats.

“Veuve?” Meetic answers.

“Non,” says Jason—he knows a little French, Vietnam was once a French colony.

“Tu te polis le Chinois?”

“Je suis Vietnamien,” Jason texts. The chat dies down (we learn later from the internet that the Chinois-expression is French argot for masturbation).

“You use it a lot, Scruff?” I ask. Yeah, he likes it. Before you make an appointment, though, always make sure they’ll give you a valid cell-phone number, and check on the number. Sort of an insurance.

The sun radiates, we’ll take the pair for a walk up the Pic de l’Ours, the hill with the antenna. I explain a bit about the islands below in the bay, St. Marguerite and St. Honorat, named after fifth-century saints. Saints were rock stars in those days. Still are, Josh says, look at India. There’s a monastery on St. Honorat founded by the saint himself which has gone through many clerical hands and houses a silent order now, thirty monks that don’t speak but make fruits of the vine, rare and expensive stuff you can’t buy anywhere except on the internet. Monks, yes.

“Tell him the anecdote about your composer in Bangkok,” Chang suggests. World-famous composer travels to Thailand—this is back in the 50’s—and meets hot young monk in the streets of Bangkok. Monk takes him home (if that’s the word). Next morning, monk gets up and says: “Please stay, I’ll go out and beg rice for the two of us.”

The Pic de l’Ours is 500 meters high and offers views across the entire Cote d’Azur, from the point where the southern-most ridge of the Alps dips into the Mediterranean, along the curvature of the horizon, past St. Tropez and the Iles d’Hyeres to the west, 100 km in each direction. The earth is round up here and the sky is always blue, you won’t make the climb otherwise. Today is a bit hazy and not ideal for pictures, so we undress and take pictures of own naked torsos for the next edition of Scruff. I later delete mine.

Jason tells good stories, Josh reminds him, so Jason tells about a trip back to Vietnam where they meet this guy who has them chauffeured through the jungle to a party, in limousines. They end up in the place from Apocalypse Now, the lost village, and everybody is gay. Then he tells about their visit to Berlin and the Kitkat club and how this guy follows him into the men’s room and shows up in the mirror of the wash basin and wraps his arms around his shoulders. The guy is quite handsome, so they take him to the hotel. Now what. The guy wants to fist-fuck. What? Yes, fist-fuck, didn’t you see the red band around his left wrist, that’s code for fist-fucking. We didn’t know. Okay, no fists then, whether normal fucking is okay. Yes, sure. Guy fucks Jason (big dick), Josh holds Jason’s hand. So sweet.

I suggest the gay sauna in Nice, but Jason is not in the mood. Plus, we have to get up very early, they need to be at the airport at four in the morning. But we have a few minutes to look at their website, professional pictures of the pair taken in a Vietnamese studio, all black-and-white, skin, poses, embraces, formalized passion enhanced by light and shadow. They are very proud of it. They kiss. They kiss a lot, they celebrate each day.

We drink less tonight. Chang is pure bàli bàli, meaning he is very impatient in a Korean sort of way, meaning he’s always early. We reach the kiss-and-fly parking lot of the airport at three thirty in the morning. We kiss and fly. They’re off to Amsterdam, and it’s a bit too late to go back to bed. How about the gay night sauna, I ask. Chang is opposed but I’m adamant and steer us into the old town of Nice. This sauna is not the kind of place with an unmarked door in a dark side alley. No, bright neon lights shine, glass doors slide, an early Christmas tree enhances the lobby. Also enhancing the lobby is Tyler Johnson from Porn FM with his Jababa-lips and a cul de nègre attached the narrow-waisted perfection of his abs. And he’s smiling. At us. He’s had fun and is going home. The receptionist looks at us with sad eyes. The place is emptying, he warns, everybody is about to go home. You should come back tomorrow.

 

(Except for the last paragraph, this is a true-true story. Everything practically happened as told.)