Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Rage of Caliban

What follows is an unedited draft of a new short story. I've been working on it for a few days. Recent discussions in the feminist blogsophere have encouraged me to take on a topic I've never explored before now.

After you left, I washed every item of clothing your body touched. This included the comforter, pillow cases, and the fitted sheet. You left behind a particularly persistent smell. I'm sure you felt there was something enticing about whatever body spray or perfume you'd earlier applied liberally to yourself. Your erogenous zones had been scented like a fruity artificial flavor of chewing gum.

I tried to ignore the slightly sickly aroma, but it made me want to retch. Skin-to-skin contact with the remains of you made me reflexively scratch a thousand imaginary mosquito bites. Was I contagious now? I feared, in all seriousness, that I had taken on a contagion. In the end, it was all psychosomatic, but for the moment it was real. Perception, as we know, is often the understudy for reality. When reality fails us, perception steps into the breach.

A knowledgeable and sympathetic therapist, sometime in the recent past, had pronounced what I was experiencing as a prolonged disgust response. This is why I felt dirty and needed to reassert control over my feelings and surroundings. Cleaning has always been a way for me to remove clutter from an untidy world. I derive extreme satisfaction and gratification at the conclusion of scrubbing and scouring. If only the same could be done for people, who do not eagerly assent to a hot rinse and the spin cycle.

For the next several days, I knew I would not be a sexual being. Instead, I would feel out of sorts and gross, as if the odor was my own, not someone else's. It was my mistake, I see now, to feel that a few minutes with you might give me greater insight. You were a scientific experiment, one that went terribly wrong. This was my own immersion therapy, practiced on the cheap by a foolish novice. I wanted to shake loose the memories of a younger year, the ones my mind clung to tenaciously, the curtain I could not cast aside, no matter what I tried.

A fool and his money are soon parted. I counted out one hundred and eighty dollars and no cents in twenties upon your arrival. You teetered in on obscenely high heels. You barely had balance enough to stay upright without wobbling, much less walk in these stilettos. These were drag queen shoes, the exact kind I'd seen in the apartment of an acquaintance. They looked like they had been fashioned by hand from a block of wood and a lathe, like those Russian nesting dolls.

All desire left my body. You were not how I'd imagined. You were overly tanned to make up for the fact that you had seen much better days. Upon entering the bedroom, you drew several boundaries never to be crossed. No kissing on the mouth. No fellatio on your part for any reason. You dispensed well-meaning but entirely useless folk wisdom when I in passing, I noted my ailments. I could not reach a state of tumescence, but did not begrudge it. I'd wanted you out of my sacred space from the moment you arrived, but arrangements must be honored.

Over the phone, I had to tell you four times how to get here. I disguised my voice, making it sound deeper than normal. The meter was running from the moment you disrobed. A half-hour was somehow abbreviated to twenty minutes. You overcharged me and skimped on the time allotted, but I was too ashamed with myself and desperate for you to scram that I didn't contest your exorbitant rate. What I'd done was illegal under the law, but the cops had other, more pressing priorities.

Do you like me? I nodded my head in the affirmative. You kept asking me. I wasn't sure if you felt this would enhance the pleasure of moment or you genuinely wanted to hear words of praise. Both could have been true.

You're a good man. Very gentle.

I'd never done anything like this before, but I understood her craving to be accepted. At that moment, I wanted to confess everything, to throw it all out into the open. That was my only defense, though I used it with impunity. A line from a movie watched years ago ran through my head on a loop.

I thought you were unconscionably put out. Now I see that it's the rage of Caliban upon seeing his own reflection in the glass. 

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