A Christmas Gift

         A content warning: Although it is not graphic,  this short story deals with child sexual abuse. Child abuse and child sexual abuse are topics that are close to my heart. I’ve close friends who endured it, and it leaves terrible, if unseen, scars.

          I’ll also note that there’s some non-politically-correct language in here. It is in no way the language I use, being parent to a queer transgender son. But using my own voice wouldn’t be right for the protagonist of this story. I apologize if it offends–my intention is authenticity, not offence.


          Tommy picked up a tray and joined the chow line, head tipped down, shoulders rounded. He tongued his cut lip, could feel the swelling by his eye every time he blinked. He didn’t have much of an appetite, but hadn’t eaten since yesterday and didn’t want to give those fucking bastards the satisfaction of thinking they had him beat.

          Choice of canned ham or turkey loaf, soggy bread stuffing, slightly grayish corn, limp green beans and reconstituted mashed potatoes with runny gravy. A square of dry-looking gingerbread. Christmas dinner. Tommy mused that last years’ hadn’t been much better, but at least the dumpster-gleaned meal had been devoured in freedom. He closed his eyes, let the pain of that lost freedom pass through his rib cage.

          A nudge between his shoulder blades startled him and he gasped.

          “Yo, better wake up an’ move yo’ skinny cracker punk-ass.”

          “Sorry.” Tommy let the older con step ahead of him in line.

           “Yeah you are, pussy.”

          Tommy went for the ham and passed on the watery potatoes and gravy. He shuffled to his usual spot at the end of a table of cons who didn’t harass him too much, and eased onto the hard bench, jaw clenched, refusing to let on to anyone how much it hurt to sit. With his head low, he ate his meal in silence, filtering out the loud, boisterous shit bouncing between the tables. It wasn’t as noisy as usual. A number of cons were missing from the mess, having received extra commissary from family for the holiday. They were cooking up chow in their cells. Others were subdued by thoughts of home, of Christmases past with people they loved.

          Tommy had no family, none he was in touch with, anyway. Hadn’t seen his dad since age five, nor his mom since she’d handed over her parental rights to the state when he was fifteen. She chose that fucking lowlife sponging boyfriend over him. The last time he’d seen her was that night Stan punched him in the face, knocked a dent into the living room drywall with Tommy’s head. She’d screamed. Told Tommy to get the hell out, to leave. And he had.

          Tommy took a few bites, then let Cowboy have the rest of his ham. The stuffing was so bad, nobody wanted it, not even Jenkins, who was upwards of three hundred pounds and would generally take anyone’s leftover anything. “You gonna eat that gingerbread?” he asked.

          “Nah.” Tommy pushed his tray across the table, watched Jenkins open the top of his carton of low-fat milk and crumble the brown cube into it. He picked up a spoon, wagged his eyebrows at Tommy and tucked into it with a grin. Tommy smiled, shook his head and stood, sucking his sore lip as he did.

          “Dude, merry Christmas,” Jenkins said.

          Tommy shrugged. “Yeah, whatever. Merry Christmas.”

          He left the mess. Passed McKenzie, a guard known to be a real bastard unless you had means for paying him off. Tommy didn’t have the means, would never have the means. He kept his head low in passing, was buzzed into his pod.

          There was a recreation area where a handful of prisoners were watching Scrooged on the wall-mounted TV, and playing cards or checkers. A black prisoner wearing a do-rag and makeup made from whatever was handy sat crocheting something with garish yellow yarn. He looked up at Tommy as he passed. “Hey there, Baby-Cakes. You doin’ awright?”

          Tommy threw him a quick glance. He’d been told by another punk that it wasn’t a good idea to mix with fags and trannies. It would taint your rep by association. And as a newbie, a fish, your rep was shit to start with. “Fuck you,” Tommy muttered as he passed.

          Miss DeeDee–that was the trannie’s handle–blew out a puff of air and smiled. “Okay, little hot-stuff. Be that way. But I remember my first Christmas bein’ in the pen, an’ Santy Claus din’t leave me nothin’ good.”

           This Christmas sucked for sure. But it wasn’t the worst he’d known, not by far. The worst was one he’d pushed from his mind for a decade, and only allowed entry to now in order to avoid a one-man pity-party.

          He was ten years old, and it involved another of his “uncles,” men who blew through his and his mother’s life and their house like so much windblown trash.

          “Uncle” Wade had gone out Christmas Eve to replenish what was needed for the celebration. It had started to snow while he was out, and Tommy sat by the window in PJs, eating a Pop Tart and watching the fat flakes fall in the street-light’s beam.

          Wade’s battered car pulled up in front of the house. He climbed out and treaded up the cracked walkway cradling a brown bag in one arm, a gift-wrapped box tucked under the other. Hope gave Tommy’s heart a squeeze, though he realized how unlikely it was that the gift would be for him.

          “Wade’s back,” he shouted to his mom.

         She didn’t look away from the TV, but leaned forward to lift an empty beer can from the coffee table and give it a side-to-side shake. “About time. Damn, where the hell’s he been?”

         Tommy shoved the rest of the Pop-Tart in his mouth and ran to open the door.

        Wade shook snowflakes from his hair and stepped inside. “Hey, dude. I picked something up for you. Look in the bag.”

         Tommy’s hope sagged as he took the bag handed to him and put it down on the kitchen table. He took out a box of snack cakes shaped like Christmas trees, green icing and red and white sprinkles.  The other items in the bag were Doritos and a bottle of Jack Daniels. “Thanks, Wade.” He tried not to sound disappointed. It was better than nothing.

           “Geezus, Wade,” his mother called from the other room. “Didja bring something to drink or not?”

           “Comin’ up.” Wade put the wrapped box down on the table. Drops of water that had been snowflakes a moment before glinted like glass beads on his mustache. “This is for you, too, buddy.”

          The air in Tommy’s lungs seemed to turn to helium, lifting his heart. His smile betrayed his eagerness. “Thanks, Wade.” He reached out for the box and Wade put his large, cold hand on top of his, pinned it to the gift.

          “Whoa. For Christmas. Go stick it under the tree.”

        Tommy nodded. He could wait. He wasn’t a five year-old, after all. He picked up the box and took it into the living room, discreetly weighing it in his hands. Not too heavy.

          “What’s that?” his mother asked, glancing up from the TV. Wade tossed the bag of Doritos into her lap, put the JD on the coffee table.

          “Wade got me a Christmas present.” Tommy put it under the tree with a few other hastily-wrapped packages. He already knew what was in them without having shake them or peel back the wrinkled wrappings. He’d been with his mother at the dollar store when she got them. An out-of-season t-shirt on clearance. A Nerf Gun knock-off. A fleece blanket with SpiderMan on it. A Pirates of the Caribbean insulated cup. Cheap tennis shoes.

          She smiled as he arranged the items under the tree. “Isn’t that nice of him? Whatja get me, Wade?”

          “You’re lookin’ at it, baby.” He struck a pose. She laughed and opened the whiskey.

          Towards the end of both the bottle of Jack and It’s a Wonderful Life, Tommy’s mom passed out. Wade plucked the burning cigarette from between her fingers, mashed it out, then  bumped his leg against hers. “Hey, Sleeping Beauty, time to go to bed.” He hauled her to her feet. She groaned and struggled to get her eyes open.

           “‘Night, mom,” Tommy said.

           She mumbled something, and Wade half guided, half carried her to the bedroom.

          Tommy shook the Doritos crumbs from the bag into his cupped hand and licked them off his palm, then took the bag and some other trash from the coffee table to the kitchen garbage. He stood looking out the window a few minutes. The snow was now a soft, bluish blanket covering the yard. It made the dirty, rundown street and houses look clean and beautiful.

          He yawned, thought he might try to stay up to the end of the movie, then go to bed. Wade and his mom would probably sleep in, and he’d have to wait til they were up to open the gifts anyway. He thought about whether he should try to carefully peel back the tape on Wade’s gift. Taking a knife from a drawer–the better to lift the Scotch tape with–Tommy went to the living room.

          He stopped short in the doorway. Wade was on the sofa, taking a hit from a glass pipe. He exhaled, and Tommy caught a whiff of the smoke, smelling something like a foggy morning, and a little like the public pool he’d gone to last summer. He hid the knife against his pajama bottoms.

          Wade’s head tipped back, eyes closed. He sighed, and opened them again, saw Tommy standing there in the doorway. He lowered the pipe to his lap and smiled. “Hey, little man. Wassup?”

          “I just… ” Tommy’s face warmed, sure that Wade could read the guilt on it, see that he was about to take a look at what was under the wrapping paper on that present.

          “C’mere. Sit down with me.” He put the pipe and lighter on the coffee table and patted the sofa beside him. “Christmas Eve, huh? You excited?”

       Tommy nodded, took small, slow steps to the sofa, his palm sweating around the plastic handle of the knife. He sat down and quietly slipped it between the cushions.

          Wade smiled at him. He had crooked teeth, a gap on the top left of his mouth where one was missing. He stretched an arm out and put it around Tommy’s shoulders, gave him a light squeeze. “Hey,” he said, “Loosen up a bit, kid. You’re tense as shit. You need a drink?” He laughed.

          Yeah, Tommy was tense. His shoulders and neck were so tight they ached. His throat felt like someone’s hands were around it. The tension went up another notch when Wade put his other hand over the fly of his jeans and began rubbing himself.

          Tommy made a move to rise, but Wade’s grip around his shoulders tightened. He cocked his head, raised his eyebrows. “Just chill, Tommy. Calm down.”

          Calm down? Tommy’s heart slammed against his ribcage like it was going to bust through. He couldn’t control his breathing, and panted quietly, tears welling up in his eyes.

          Wade lifted his hips to get to the button on his jeans. Tommy slid his trembling hand over the sofa, slipped it between the cushions, retrieving the knife. His fingers curled around the handle and gripped it tight. Wade picked up Tommy’s other hand and rested it on his cock, now free of his jeans.

          Tommy gasped, swung the knife in an arc, hoping to stick it in Wade’s chest. Working against him were a dull blade, an awkward angle, and his own lack of strength.

          Wade let out a yell, and put the boy into a headlock, held Tommy’s head tight against his chest. His other hand squeezed Tommy’s wrist til he dropped the knife. “You little bastard,” he hissed through clenched teeth. “You tried to cut me. You little motherfucker.”

          Tommy’s breath was cut off. His head felt like a balloon about to burst. Wade rose from the sofa still gripping Tommy in a chokehold and shoved him face-down on it, then threw himself on top of him. Tommy tried to suck in a breath, but Wade’s weight on him wouldn’t permit it. The man slapped a hand over Tommy’s mouth, his thumb and forefinger pinched the boy’s nose. Tommy felt his pajama bottoms yanked down. He squeezed his eyes shut. I’m gonna die. I can’t breathe, and I’m gonna die.

          On the edge of unconsciousness, he was jerked back by searing pain. His lungs attempted a gasp, but came up short; his eyes threatened to pop out of his skull, and he blacked out.

         Christmas morning, Tommy woke up in his bed. His body hurt. His ass hurt.

         He had to pee. He bit his lip to keep from crying as he got out of bed to go to the bathroom. The house was quiet and chilly. He shivered and shuffled slowly, painfully, to the bathroom.

         As he stood peeing into the toilet, he felt something wet and warm trickle down the inside of his thigh. He was bleeding.

         Tommy cleaned up as best he could and stuffed a wad of toilet paper in his underpants. He went back to his room and curled up on his bed. After a while, his mother knocked on his door.                     

          “Tommy, it’s Christmas! What the hell’s wrong with you? Don’t you wanna open your presents?”

          He swallowed back tears, pushed words from a tight throat. “I’m sick. I’ll do it later.”

          His door opened. His mother stood there, a hand on her hip. “Hey, Wade got you something. Don’t you think you oughta go out and open it?”

          “I’m sick,” Tommy said. He pulled the blanket over his head.

          “You were fine last night. You just stayed up too late, you ungrateful little shit.” She closed the door.

          Tommy stayed in bed all morning. A couple times his mother opened the door to check on him. He pretended to be sleeping. One time she felt his forehead. “You okay?” she asked. She looked concerned.

          “I don’t feel good. I’ll be okay. I just wanna sleep,” he told her.

          “Alright. Me and Wade are going out for a bit. Call me on the cell if you need me, okay?”

          “Yeah, okay.”

           “Merry Christmas, baby.” She kissed his forehead. And she left.

          When Tommy was sure they’d gone, he got up. He shuffled to the tree in the living room and eased down onto his knees. He picked up Wade’s gift and slowly tore off the paper. It was a shoe box. He peeled tape from the lid and opened it, pulled off a wad of crumpled newspaper. In the box was a Nintendo DS. It was used, a couple years old, but he’d been wanting one since it had come out. He lifted it from the box and turned it over in his hands a couple times. Tears streamed down his cheeks, not from pain or self-pity. These were hot tears of anger. Rage seethed inside him.

          Tommy clutched the Nintendo and bashed it against the floor, screaming from the deepest part of him as he did. He kept screaming and slamming it down again and again, until he’d screamed himself hoarse and exhausted himself.

          He went back to bed, pajamas sticking to his sweat-drenched body.

          He was filled with hatred. He hated Wade. He hated his mother. He hated Christmas.

          Tommy found himself in front of his cell, so lost in the past, it took him a moment to figure out why his feet had stopped moving. He raised his eyes and saw something that hadn’t been there when he’d left for dinner. On the metal door was a sheet of paper that read “Merry Christmas” in fancy writing. A hole had been put through the paper, and dangling from it was a star, a star crocheted from garish yellow yarn.

           Tommy snatched it off his cell door. He went in, lay down, held it to his chest.

          There were worse Christmases than this. This year, he even got a gift. The hatred had dissipated, disappeared.

          Someone banged on his cell door as they passed. “Merry Christmas, Baby-Cakes.”

          Tommy sniffed, swiped the back of his hand across his runny nose. “Merry Christmas, DeeDee. Thanks.”


You Make Me Want

Not a poem, really…just a rhyme.

I’ve shown you my soul,
Who I really am.
Do you know what I feel?
Do you give a damn?
Do you think that I’m frontin’?
Well maybe I am.
Might not have balls enough
For playing this jam,
Just know that you make me
Feel more like a man.

I just want to feel
Your skin against mine,
Know how it feels for
Our limbs to entwine,
Don’t know what you think,
But I think it’d feel fine.
You want the same thing?
Just give me a sign.
If I’m overstepping,
Tell me, keep me in line.

We got oceans and decades
And people between us,
No need to worry whether
Somebody seen us,
But I want to be Mars,
Want you to be Venus;
Want to talk to you dirty,
You like it obscene, yes?
Want to feel myself in you
And not just to dream this,

I know this is fantasy,
I’m alright with that.
It don’t have to go both ways,
It’s not tit-for-tat;
I’ll run hot or cold;
You’ll be my thermostat,
Since I can’t be your man
I’ll be your doormat.
I’ll take what I can,
And stay where I’m at.





The Dog That Bit You

       A theme old as dirt…

        The day had started so right. How could it have gone wrong so quickly?
        Danny’s eyes teared, only in part from the scalding mouthful of burnt coffee, black and bitter as his mood had become.
        Susan put the empty coffee pot in the sink. “You’re angry, and it’s my fault. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let things take the direction they did last night. I don’t want to hurt you.”
        He forced a weak smile. Too late. “No, I’m fine.”
        “You sure? I mean, it would be uncomfortable. With us being neighbors. You know.”
        “Yeah, sure.”
        “Okay, then.” She smiled, gave him a peck on the cheek. “Friends?”
        Danny bit down on his burned tongue. He wanted to shove Susan onto the kitchen floor and make love to her again, wanted to throw a tantrum, like a toddler who’d just been told he couldn’t have that thing he wanted in the checkout line. He felt his face reddening, realized he needed to leave now. “Uh, yeah.” He patted his pockets to locate his keys and smokes, flashed an insincere smile and went for the door. “I’ll see you ’round.” She didn’t even see him out.
        Downstairs in his apartment he popped a couple of Paxil so as not to vomit his breakfast of coffee and crushing humiliation. And he lay on his bed, still in jacket and boots, smoked a cigarette and stared hard at the ceiling. His eyes burned holes through it, into Susan’s bedroom, where last night he’d made love to her as he’d never made love in his life.
        Involuntary tears spilled from his eyes. He sat up and crushed out his smoke. He had to get out, find something to distract him, to loosen this knot in the pit of his stomach. He hauled himself to his feet and made his way to the door to leave the apartment.
        Just outside his door, a girl stood with one hand on her shoulder bag, the other poised to knock. She had chin-length blond hair sticking out from beneath a knit cap, a denim jacket, and the face of a child lost at a mall, a barely-concealed panic.
        “Whaddya want?” he snarled. He pulled the door shut behind him, and she backed up a couple feet to give him space. Smart girl. He had no desire to interact with females. Not today, maybe never.
        “Um…can you tell me if Jacob Sanders lives here?” The words came out shaky.
        Danny sucked in a long breath, let it out slow. “Yeah. He’s my roomie. He’s spending a few weeks in the Hamptons with his fiancée.” It seemed to take a moment for his words to register. “And no, I don’t have his number,” he added. He shrugged, walked past her and started down the stairs.
        “Bastard,” he heard her mutter.
        Danny felt the word like a light blow to the chest. He stopped. “Beg pardon?”
        She stepped up to the railing, looked down at him. “Oh, not you. Him. Jacob. But maybe you’re a bastard, too. Most men are, from what I’ve heard.”
        Any other day, Danny would have laughed, blown it off and gone on his way. But there was a nest of vipers twisting in his rib-cage, just waiting to spit venom. He spun on a heel and stomped back up the stairs glaring daggers. The blonde’s face went white and she retreated a few steps, looking ready to scream for help. He jabbed a finger in her direction. “Listen, you…I don’t know what the deal was between you and Jake, maybe he was a bastard, maybe you got what you had coming to you. Think you need balls to be a dick?  I’ve had high heels ground into my heart more times than I care to remember. I been baited and bludgeoned senseless by beautiful bitches who had nothing in mind for me but a paid dinner and maybe a good fucking. Next day I’m as done as last night’s condom. I’ve bitten into so much fruit that looked sweet and tasted like vinegar, I figure I must have some kinda invisible tattoo that says ‘sucker’ on my forehead that women can see a mile away. So sorry, you won’t find a whole lotta sympathy here.”
        She stared at him, clutching her bag to her chest, eyes brimming.
        Danny rolled his shoulders to let go of the tension in his neck and traps. He felt tight as a hanged man’s noose. “Look, I’m sorry. Just…not a good morning.”
        “No,” she agreed. Water spilled down her cheeks. “It’s not. I’m sorry, too.”
        He snorted. “For what?”
        “I’m sorry you’ve been hurt a lot.”
        Danny’s mind jumped back to his first heartbreak. Cecilia, seven years ago, he was fifteen. Man, that one still stung. He thought at the time that he’d never get over it, that he’d never fall hard for a girl again. But he had. Again and again.
        The girl swiped at the tears and ran the back of her hand under her nose, sniffled.              Geez, she looked pretty young. “How old are you?”
        “Eighteen. Why do you want to know?”
        He felt a sympathetic smile pull at the corners of his mouth despite the pain in his chest. “You know you got a lot more shit like this ahead of you, right?”
        “I hope not.”
        “It always hurts, but you get over it quicker as time goes on.” He said the words before even considering whether they were true. He thought maybe they were.
        “Yeah. I think so.”
        A door closed upstairs. The clack of boot heels on laminate floors, and then down the stairs. Susan. Danny could feel his pulse in his ears. Susan glanced at him, then at the girl and stopped in her tracks for just a second. Danny noted the quick, forced smile, the piercing look she gave this girl. She cleared her throat as she passed between them. “Good morning,” she said, and went down the stairs. Her eyes rose for one more furtive glance.
        Danny took a deep breath and let it out. He assessed his mental state. He felt a little shaky, but not too bad.
        The girl watched Susan for a moment, then turned to Danny. Her eyes fired a question at him. He ignored it.
        “What’s your name?” he asked.
        “Christine. Tina.”
        “Tina. Whatcha gonna do now?”
        “I don’t really know…I’d planned to…” She looked like she might start crying again.
        “I mean, Jacob’s history, right? You’re not gonna waste your time trying to hunt him down, right? Because it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. You got taken in.” Tina threw an angry glance at him. Danny shrugged. “Right? I mean, you’re not alone. I know something about that.”
        Hint of a smile. Tina looked at him from beneath long lashes. “That one? The one who just passed?”
        Danny rubbed his nose, thought a moment about how much he should admit to. What the hell. She’s nobody to me. “Among others. Like I said, I don’t seem to catch on really quick. I’m not a moron, but I’m a little–I dunno, a little–”
        “That mean thick-headed?”
        “Uh-huh.” She smiled.
        It was a nice smile. Danny noticed she had a few freckles on her nose. And she was smart, too. “Yeah, I’m a little obtuse.”
        “And I’m an ingenue.”
        Danny smiled back, decided not to ask what that was. “I was just about to go grab some breakfast. My fridge is empty. Could I…you wanna…” Blue eyes locked onto his, waited for him to finish. “You hungry? You wanna go grab a breakfast or cup of coffee somewhere?”


        Danny turned his head on the pillow to look at Tina, napping beside him. He carefully pushed back the bed cover and sat up, put his feet on the floor, reached for his cigarettes on the nightstand. Damn, that had moved quick. Probably because she was feeling shitty and insecure, having just found out about Jacob. Danny himself was feeling a lot better than he had this morning. The saying, “the hair of the dog that bit you,” came to mind.
        He hadn’t had to do much. Buy her breakfast. Listen to her talk. Nod and smile while he wondered whether she wore bikinis or a thong, what her tits looked like. What had gone on between her and Jake. He didn’t ask.
        He lit a cigarette and smiled. Turned out they were pretty nice tits. But not exactly worth the trouble of putting up with her. She was sort of annoying. Talked too much about too many things he had no interest in. Her family. Her art studies. Her ex-boyfriends.
        Danny glanced back over his shoulder at her, then at his watch. Half past five. He thought about heading downtown, grabbing some pizza and then hitting a club or two. It was Saturday evening, after all. But this chick in his bed…damn. How did Susan do it? Oh yeah: “I have a very full agenda today, so if you wouldn’t mind getting your things together…I need to get out of here in a little while.”
        He he’d managed to keep it together in front of Susan, but he bet Tina wouldn’t. He thought about leaving a note and telling her to lock the door behind her when she left, but then worried that she might trash the place. She seemed immature enough for that.
        He sighed. Then he twisted around and grabbed her shoulder, shook it a little. “Yo, Tina…I need to get out of here in a bit. Think you could get dressed now?”
        She looked at him, sleepy, confused.
        Shit. He’d have to lie to get her to leave without a scene. “I’m supposed to hook up with some friends this evening. I…we’re helping one of our buddies move.” Okay, that didn’t sound too bad for being off the cuff.
        She smiled, twirled a lock of hair between her fingers. “I could hang out here…wait for you. Be here when you get back. I could pick up some things…cook dinner. You know, to pay you back for breakfast this morning.”
        Danny felt a panicky rush. No. No, he couldn’t let her into his life just to save her feelings. Jacob was a player, had this shit down. So did Susan. He could do this.
        He shook his head. “No, you can’t.” Look her in the eye, man. You got this. “Look, Tina, today was real nice, and I had a great time, but that’s what it was. We both kinda needed to be with somebody, and found each other for a day, y’know? I shouldn’ta let things go as far as they did. Sorry about that.”
        The tears he expected, but her face reddened. With anger. “You bastard,” she said, and bit her lip, tossed the covers back, got out of bed. “So that’s how it is.” She plucked a pair of pink bikini panties from the floor and pulled them on. “Just one more bastard in a long line of bastards. This is what I’m supposed to get used to? I don’t think so.”
        “I’m sorry,” Danny said. He was. Not for trying to brush her off, not for trying to lie to her. Sorry he couldn’t get her out of his apartment without a scene.
        She yanked her jeans up and finger-combed her hair back from her face. “So Susan fucks you over, and you get back at her by fucking me over? Oh, you’re a real prize, just like Jacob.”
        Danny stood frozen, the ash on his cigarette growing long. He almost didn’t recognize her as the same girl who stood in front of his door this morning, pale and teary-eyed. Her face was livid, her jaw set like a steel trap as she glared at him. Any features he’d found attractive in her had fled. She snatched her bag from the floor, rummaged through it and pulled out a handkerchief.
        Who the hell still uses handkerchiefs?
        It was wrapped around a .22. She pointed it at him. “I was hoping to meet Jacob here this morning, but I don’t think he’ll mind if you take a message.”

The Filling of Empty Spaces

Sean stood in the scalding spray, wishing the hot water could wash away the crap inside of him as well as the reek of sweat and sex. No, he thought. For that I’ll need vodka. Maybe check the medicine cabinet, see if she’s got anything good. The buzz he’d had going when she’d picked him up at the club was ancient history.

He turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. A thick, pink, Turkish towel had been left on the vanity for him. He tossed it over his head to dry his hair, toweled off his body and let it fall to the floor. He leaned into the mirror, finger-combed his dark hair.

There was a tentative knock at the door and it opened. Sean’s skin tightened at the air-conditioned draft, his junk retreating like a turtle into its shell. The old lady, in a silky, flowered dressing gown, held his clothes in a tidy pile. Raccoon smudges of mascara encircled her dewy eyes. She smiled a shy-schoolgirl kind of smile in spite of the fact that she was twice his age and then some. “Your things,” she said, holding out the pile.

“Thanks.” He took it and dropped it on the vanity, grabbed his boxers off the top and climbed into them without looking at her.

She made no move to leave, and it wasn’t his place to ask her to, but he wished she would.

“You really are a very handsome young man.”

Please…please go away. “Thanks.”

“Would you like something to eat? Are you hungry?”

He pulled up his jeans, shook his head. He tried to smile, but couldn’t make it work. “No, thanks. I’m fine.”

“Oh dear, I’m a mess,” she said. Sean looked up. She was gazing at herself in the bathroom mirror. She reached for a tissue, wet it on the tip of her tongue and wiped beneath her eyes. She saw Sean looking at her and it seemed she might tear up again. She fought it with another forced smile. “I was very pretty once. Not beautiful, but nice enough to catch a wealthy husband. A good husband.”

Sean pulled on his t-shirt and tried to even his breathing. “Um…I gotta go.” He sat on the closed toilet and stuck his feet into the deck shoes, then stood.

“Of course. Let me call a cab for you.”

She sat on the barely rumpled bed and picked up the phone. As she gave the dispatcher her address, phone tucked between ear and shoulder, she replaced her wedding band on her ring finger. When she’d taken it off, before she’d even undressed, Sean had thought it hysterically funny. Husband’s been worm food for five fuckin’ years…Now it made his chest hurt to think about it.

She pulled open the nightstand drawer, took out an envelope. From it, she counted out five hundred-dollar bills. She replaced the envelope, stood and held out the money to him. “Here you are, Sean. Thank you.”

Despite the air-conditioner blowing hard enough to move the heavy drapes, Sean was sweating. “Um, you know, two would be fine.”

“No, you said five hundred, and I agreed. Take it. I’m sure you could use it.”

Sure. More booze. More dope. “I dunno, I–”

She took his hand, pressed the folded bills into his palm. “Hush.”

Minutes later, a cab pulled into the driveway beside her parked Jaguar. She walked Sean to the door. “Forgive me for not seeing you out.” She smoothed her penny-red salon job. “I don’t look fit to go outside.”

He thought it would have been a nice gesture if he bent to kiss her forehead, told her she looked just fine, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.


“Five hundred dollars!” Raul exclaimed. “Five. Hundred. Fucking. Dollars. Drinks are on my man Sean tonight!”

Gregory laughed. “What did she want you to do for it? She was old, right? You have to eat her? Was she all shriveled up?”

Sean felt his blood rise. “Fuck you both.” Straight sex. That’s all he’d done. Missionary position. And she’d wanted him to hold her. “She was just lonely, man.” The laughter died to a few chuckles. She’d wept when he slipped into her, and he thought maybe he hurt her, but she said no. She cried quietly the whole time, and then clung to him long afterward.

Fuck the money. It wasn’t worth it. He’d rather have two dozen casual meet-ups for a Jackson apiece than have to do this again. “Tell you what,” Sean said. “I ain’t doing it again.”

Jacob, stretched out on the sofa with a spliff, craned his neck to look at Sean and smiled. “Ah…so you do have a soul, Sean. Afraid you might find your humanity and lose your living, huh?”

Sean’s face warmed. “I didn’t get into this to be somebody’s therapist. I just want to make a buck, y’know?

He could still feel her hands holding onto his arms, still hear her sobbing quietly into his shoulder. It was what made him resolve to never love anyone, to never grow old.

Undomesticated Violence

A little writing exercise in keeping the action going, inspired by Kiss With a Fist by Florence and the Machine.


“Don’t, Cherie. I’m warning you…” I could see her deliberating, weighing the consequences. Behind the storm in her eyes I thought I saw a lightning-flash of delight as I threw down the gauntlet. She picked it up, along with a heavy crystal ashtray which she hurled at my head. It passed close enough to my left ear that I could almost hear the death-cries of snuffed out smokes.

She yelled “Kiss my ass!” as it crashed into the glass of the china cabinet behind me. A shower of shards rained on the back of my head and neck.

“I warned you, dammit! You’re in for it now!” I lunged at the dining room chair standing in my way, tossed it aside and reached for her shoulder. She did a one-eighty and ran from me, and my hand clutched air. I came down hard on my knees, cursing, but was up the next second, right behind her. She slid on the polished wood floor into the back of the sofa, ricocheted off it right into me. I caught her by the wrist. She whimpered, let out a little cry like a snared fox, and slapped me in the face, hard. I smacked her back.

Blood trickled from her lip to her chin. She swiped at it with the back of her free hand, narrowed her eyes and spit in my face. Reflexively, I let go. “You little bitch…” I could feel my blood pressure rising.

She ran into the living room and snatched an empty wine bottle from the coffee table.

I stopped in my tracks. “Cherie, you crack my skull, you’ll go to jail and I’ll–”

“Go to hell!” Cherie let it fly. I ducked and the sucker stuck in the drywall behind me. We both stared at it a moment and I turned back to her.

“Oh, babe, you are so going to pay for that.”

“Bite me.”

“I intend to.”

She turned toward the hall. I grabbed a throw pillow from the sofa and threw it over her head. It landed in front of her, tripped her up, cushioned her shins as she fell on her face.

“Gotcha!” I threw myself at her, meant to tackle and pin her, but quick as a whip-lash, she was up and running as fast as I went down. She ran into the bedroom, slammed the door. I heard the lock click.

“You’re in trouble now, girl.” I leaned on the door to catch my breath, wondered what I might catch on the other side of it. Best not to let her have too much time to think. I backed up a couple feet and slammed my boot heel into the door by the knob. It flew open.

The moment I set foot in the room, something crashed down on my skull. There was a stupefying supernova of light followed by a swirling maelstrom of stars. I waited for them to fade. “Geezus, what the fuck was that?” I looked down at the shattered glass and heavy silver-plated frame of our wedding photo, then looked at Cherie. Her chin jutted out in a self-satisfied grin, challenge glinted in her eyes. Blood trickled into mine. I grabbed the hem of my t-shirt and wiped my face. Cherie stood there waiting for me to make a move.

I took a step in her direction and she threw out a punch. I caught her tiny fist in one hand and laughed. She tried to slap me with the other, and I fished the air until I hooked her wrist. With my head cocked back, looking down my nose at her, I danced her backwards to the bed. She tried to wrench herself from my grip, but I tightened my hold until she cursed and stopped jerking away. When the mattress was behind her, I gave her a shove. She bounced onto it.

She stared, momentarily frozen, like she could read my mind. There was blood smeared across her chin, and her hair was damp with sweat, sticking to her skin at her temples and brow. My bloodied t-shirt was clinging to me.

Suddenly she rolled, scrambled to the nightstand. I snatched her by one ankle and yanked her back. She twisted and flipped onto her back again, breaking my hold. She landed a heel in my crotch.

“Dammit!” It was enough of a blow to make me grab my junk, but not enough to double me over. She smiled, and again reached for the nightstand. She opened the drawer and shoved in a hand. I flipped her onto her back and threw myself on her, but she had the gun and smacked the side of my head with it.

I cursed and grabbed her wrist, shook it hard and the gun flew from her hand, knocking over the St. Jude votive candle she’d lit that morning. Cherie squirmed, looked up into my face.

“What now, Cherie?” I had my hands around her small wrists, my body heavy on hers, both of us breathing in the same cubic inches of heated air between us. A curl of smoke, an odor a bit like burning paper, a little like burning hair, rose from beside the bed. She thrashed beneath me, tried without success to get her teeth into my forearm.

She thought I was cheating on her. This time she claimed it was with my boss’ wife. It was bullshit, of course, but my boss apparently trusted his wife about as much as Cherie trusted me. I’d come back to the machine shop from lunch to find a new padlock on my locker and all my shit in a brown paper grocery sack. Cherie couldn’t keep a job for two weeks, so we’d likely be homeless if I couldn’t find another gig soon.

Tears welled up in her eyes. “I hate you!” she spat.

“Yeah, well I hate you, too, you insane bitch!”

The carpet was aflame, and we were rage-fucking like animals when the police and fire department broke in.

For skin



I don’t know what kind of reaction I was expecting. It wasn’t this. Apparently it was her first time seeing an uncircumcised penis.

“What’s wrong with it?” She was literally recoiling in horror. “Oh god…is it shrinking?”

I leaned back in the car seat, closed my eyes and sighed. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

It was the summer of my sophomore year at a new high school, and the closest I’d come to “getting some.” Ellen, being even less experienced than me, wasn’t really my first choice for lifting my virgin status, but she was cute, curvy and seemed to like me. In all honesty, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t her first choice either. Well, at this point I was very, very sure.

She was quiet for a time. I finally ventured to open one eye. She was still staring at my groin with a look of morbid fascination. Like the way someone might look at the wriggling halves of a severed earthworm. Okay, that was an unfortunate analogy, but there wasn’t much left of my pride or anything else at this point. I sighed again, tucked my shriveled manhood back into my pants and arched my back to zip up.

“I’m not circumcised, Ellen.”

“Which means…?”

“They usually do it to the baby boys at the hospital. My mother refused to let them do me. All boys are like this until they get cut.”

“No way!”

My blood having been first warmed by passion and then by humiliation, I was sweating like a draft horse in a sauna. The car windows were fogging. I rolled mine down a couple inches. “Can we just change the subject?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to–”

“Forget it. It’s okay.”

A pause. “So…what do you want to do now?”

“I dunno. Become a monk, I guess.”

“No, I mean right now.”

I looked over at her in the dim light. She looked so soft, no hard lines. And she smelled really nice, like shampoo and clean laundry.  I wanted to put my hands all over her, squish her body against mine. “Wanna grab a bite to eat?” It was the next best thing.

We ordered a couple burgers and Cokes at a drive-thru, then I parked by the basketball court, under the light, and we ate. Ellen pulled a long, limp French fry from the Styrofoam carton and observed it, wagged it back and forth like a metronome.

“Are you really disappointed?” she asked.

“About what?”

“You know.”

“Nah. It’s okay just hanging out with you. You’re not bad company.”

She smiled. “Thanks. Neither are you. Some guys might have taken me home right away.”

“Yeah, well, some guys are jerks.” Not to mention that I had an older brother who made it part of his daily routine to humiliate me. My ego was used to a bruising.

She dipped the fry in ketchup and held it out to me. I ate it from her fingers. No, she really wasn’t bad company.

We finished the food in silence and stuffed all the garbage into the empty cups. As I walked across the court to take it to the overflowing trash can, I thought about the ridiculousness of this rush to have sex. I mean, two and a half more years I’d be in college. There would be mature people there, right? People who wouldn’t give a shit one way or another whether I’d had sex or not. Experienced women who had seen an uncut dick. I could jack off for a couple more years, wondering what it actually felt like to…

Two years seemed to stretch out before me to a vanishing point on the horizon.

I slipped back into the car and took a deep breath. “Guess I better take you home.”

“In a little while.” Ellen scooted closer, close enough for me to smell the ketchup on her breath. She leaned her head on my shoulder, placed a hand on my thigh. A tremor passed from my chest to my crotch. I vowed to ignore it, but turned my head a little to inhale the scent of her hair. I saw that the buttons on her blouse were undone.

“My nipples don’t match,” she whispered.