I should have known better. I should have stayed home, remained alone. I should have known better.
Once you are an adult, every story begins in the middle. Mine is no different. The unpleasant details of what had come before do not need sharing, though they had brought me to New York where I could hide.
My job allowed me to disappear. A copy editor’s work is essential, yet never as important as that of the writer. This suited me.
In a gray, padded cubicle, reliable words and rules of usage occupied my monitor or filled the space on rectangular pages. Boxed in, I was invisible. Safe. Alone.
Weeknights, I rode the subway to a tiny square apartment with metal bars on the windows and sealed myself behind a door fitted with five deadbolts. I watched the world on television or read about it online. I ate my frozen meals from plastic or cardboard containers and owned no silverware or china, no knives to cut. No glass or china to break. I possessed nothing I did not consider disposable.
On weekends, I wandered museums where I could lose myself in the crowds. Walking beside handsome students, listening to docent lectures, I took notes as if I belonged in their cozy, boisterous groups. I fell into step beside family units, close enough to smell the baby-fresh scent of the shampoo mothers used on children’s hair. So close that, when the crowd swelled along with my need for contact, my hand could drift over a father’s fingers as he held his child’s hand upon an escalator or railing.
I reached for elevator buttons at the same time others did, on purpose, knowing my shrugged and smiled apology would be accepted. Knowing those I accosted would not suspect my longing for the touch of another’s hand on mine, however fleeting or unwanted.
Listening to strangers’ conversations, I would pretend they spoke to me, composing witty replies no one ever heard.
“So, like, the thing about acting is that, like, you can be anyone, you know? Like, I could be a warrior princess, or like a vampire and shit. Clothes, makeup, and attitude are everything, you know? I took dance too, so my coach says I have a really good shot at getting a part real soon.”
“Does he say that when you’re sucking his dick, or after?” her friend replied, as I applauded silently.
I could blame drama girl for what happened, but I would know it had been my idea, my fault. What if I acted, I had thought. What if instead of acting like one of these vapid young girls or pretending to be a doctor on a television show or a cat in a play, I acted as if I was normal? As if I was not damaged. As if I was not afraid.
Though at first, I comforted myself pretending I had carefully thought the scheme over for weeks, I actually began formulating plans even then, noting the shabby hooker-like clothing these girls sported, casting my gaze around with newfound interest in what others wore, how others acted.
Would I be a woman who wore crisp, black suits or one who wore dark-washed, pressed jeans? Did I wish to be no-nonsense in kick-ass leather boots or flirty in sandals with sky-high heels? Was I the sort of woman who wore dresses with no panties or one who never carried a purse? Would I be bright as sunshine, cool as spring rain, or would I have a metallic tang, like a penny on the tongue?
“Excuse me?” I said to a woman at my office soon after.
Only Botox, I suspected, kept her brow from furrowing at me for bothering her. “Yes? What?”
“I love that suit, and your shoes, and scarf and, well, just everything you have on.” My palms sweat.
It was the most I had said to anyone, anywhere, since suffering through the interview required to land my job. “Where do you shop?” I forged on, braver now that the words were out, though she stared at me as if I had lost my mind. Maybe I had.
“SoHo or the Lower East has the best boutiques for accessories. Fifth Avenue for serious clothes and shoes. I don’t remember where I bought everything, but the suit’s Ann Taylor.”
I watched her and others like her until I had a list. Until I knew just who I wanted to be.
Suit – gray, skirt just above the knee, slim fitted jacket, pants with no pleats, low on the hips, falling just so (tailoring a must for correct length with shoes)
Shoes – sling-back, heels (not too high or too short), leather, expensive, pointy
T-shirts – cut simply but made of really good cotton or silk, snug-fitting, boat neck
Belt – wide or skinny (I still couldn’t figure that one out), expensive, metal clasp
Bag – red or another color, expensive
Simple, gold jewelry
Trench coat – black, good material, not too heavy
Scarves – the only patterns allowed. Nothing loud or flashy
Very sexy lingerie under it all (this I guessed), expensive
It was not easy or pleasurable, finding these items, but soon I had them all. I ate Top Ramen and hot dogs for a month, but now I owned something sharp. Heels.
At work, I continued to wear shapeless shift dresses and cardigans, pants that sagged at the knees, and sensible flats. No one commented on the new blonde highlights in my hair, worn in my customary, messy bun; maybe no one noticed. Nor did anyone notice the injections that plumped my lips and smoothed my frown lines, or my skin, tinted self-tanner gold.
I remained invisible, or so I thought.
This was my first mistake, but mistakes are like lies; they always multiply. The first ones are easy and often go unnoticed.
“Hello, my name is Susan. Hello, my name is Frances. Hello, I’m Briana,” I practiced in front of my bathroom mirror. “Yes, I’d love a drink. No, I am waiting for someone. Why don’t you just fuck off? Fuck me.”
The more I practiced, the more I realized it was true; I could be anyone I wanted to be, anyone I wanted people to think I was.
“I’m a writer. I write erotica. I write romance novels. I am an editor, a doctor, a lawyer. I head up an investment firm in Paris. I live in Tribeca. I am from Milan, Japan, Italy, here on business. No, I don’t want to talk about it. I want you to fuck me.”
A woman who wants to get laid, and presents herself as someone without baggage, without strings attached, can find a man to do the deed just about anywhere.
I wasn’t stupid. I knew better than to go into singles bars or bad parts of town. I avoided places sure to attract the despondent, the alcoholic, motorcycle riders, or those with prison records, tattoos, or facial piercings. I was in the market for a particular type of man. I needed a man too nice to come looking for me later, too nice to hurt me, too nice to say no. The sort of man who was clean and carried condoms with him.
The bar at The Ritz Carlton, near Wall Street, the Stock Exchange, and Battery Park was perfect. The restaurant made a nice cover. The setting meant I didn’t have to be from New York, yet many people who frequented the place lived in the up-and-coming neighborhood or were tourists themselves.
Drinking from a martini glass, I tipped the bartender generously. He knew, no matter what I ordered, to fill my glass with nothing more than water. A twist of lemon rind completed the illusion. All night, that first time, I sat and picked at a Blackberry, frowned at galley proofs, and fended off would-be suitors.
I tried all my stories, all my names, but told all the men (and a few women), “No,” until he walked in.
He was the Ken to my Barbie, the scratch to my itch. I knew it, and he knew it. Watching us, anyone would have thought we’d arranged to meet there, were husband and wife, lovers, friends. My knees parted slightly in welcome.
He slid into the spot I created for him as if he belonged. “Hello, pretty.”
“Hi, handsome,” I replied.
“Say you have a room.” He did not touch me with his hands, but his strong thighs eased my knees wider apart, and his eyes caressed the newly exposed expanse of my legs.
“I will once you check-in.”
“Perfect. I’ll be right back.” Before he left, he turned his shoulder to the room, slid his hand under my skirt, and cupped my cunt through soaked silk panties.
The bartender looked away.
My heart pounded. It was happening. He had touched me. I had been cool, calm, a woman of the world. I didn’t even know his name! He didn’t know mine. No stories had been required. We would fuck. I would leave. Perfect.
“You don’t have to do that, you know,” the friendly bartender said many weeks later.
By now, I’d grown into my power and my autonomy. I’d relaxed. My second mistake, or maybe my third. I’m losing count.
Giving the bartender only the coolness of my gaze as a reply, I turned back to the room, and that’s when it happened. My make-believe world turned into a house of cards, and I knew I had made a terrible error.
“Vera,” my boss said briskly as if we had arranged to meet.
Alarm fluttered against my ribs, as violent as the wings of a dying bird trapped in a cage. “Mr. Blunt.”
Under his stern brows, steely blue eyes watched as I gathered my trappings of confidence and returned them to my bag. I chewed my bottom lip until his frown stopped me.
He tossed a large bill onto the bar top. Shame flooded my stomach until I realized it was meant for the bartender, not for what was to come. What I would do.
I followed him, swallowing my questions. What did it matter how he knew, how long he had known, or why he’d come for me now? We both knew what I pretended to be was, at heart, no act. We both knew I wanted it.
In the elevator, he pushed me to my knees and let me nuzzle my cheek to his custom-tailored, wool-suit-covered cock. Before my eyes closed, his wedding band winked at me.
Of course, no one else boarded the elevator, and the hallway was empty when we alighted.
“Crawl,” he said.
The carpet bit my nylon-covered knees, and I felt the burn of scrapes as they formed. There would be blood. As there should be.
The spacious gold-and-green room behind the door he opened boasted a sweeping view of the water surrounding the Statue of Liberty. Harbor-view rooms came with their own telescopes. Handy for the voyeur and stargazer alike, I imaged the marketing copy boasting.
Though he did not pay me, I was his whore. Though he did not ask it of me, I gave him everything left of that girl in the bar. He kissed the tears I wept for her away and held my hands above my head as he grunted over me.
I should have known better, stayed home, and remained alone. I should have known better, and now, I do.
Every story should begin at the end; the unpleasant details of what came before do not need sharing. Mine had brought me to the mountains of Colorado, where I could hide.
Working from home, in an office with walls painted uncertain gray, reliable words and rules of usage occupy my monitor. Boxed in, I am invisible. Safe. Alone.
From Amaranthine Rain (a Short-Story Collection)