Justin finished the last set of ab crunches, then hopped onto the CardioGlide with the built-in Holter monitor on the handlebar panel. With his EKG leads in place, he started rowing slowly, keeping an eye on the ultramarine flat screen, where the stylus paraded its jagged peaks and valleys in a surf-breaker sequence.
A monotonous bleeping came from the speakers. His heart pulsed nice and even, a steady sinus rhythm; so he began pushing his workout a little harder.
Sweat beaded his beard stubble. He scanned his condo warily, as if a sadistic troll lurked somewhere, waiting to scurry up and bite his balls any second.
His wireless Vaio laptop winked from the beanbag chair in the corner, and spiral notebooks lay scattered all the way to the patio doors, like stepping stones in a Japanese garden.
He had two projects on the front burner: the script for a new fuck flick tentatively titled “Mill Valley Milkmaids,” and his precious, four-fifths-finished literary novel—portions of which hed already polished, excerpted, and sold for a pittance to Tin House. His agent, and the editors at Ballantine, were asking when theyd see a finished product.
But he was busy trying to add some dramatic integrity to the pesky script—working it in as best he could around the obligatory sex scenes, which required no writing at all per se, just little blueprint notes like an AutoCAD designer might use for an engineering project.
This obsession with turning smut into substance was gumming up his rigorous writing schedule. He was already a week behind deadline on the script, and hed made no real progress on his novel in twice that time.
Justins novel was blossoming into the best piece of work hed ever put together, and he obsessed over it constantly. But the script could bring in enough cash to keep him afloat for months—and so required his day-to-day attention, like it or not. Arranging those endless sex scenes while trying to stay in spiritual contact with his novel made him feel like a postman trudging an inner-city delivery route in an ice storm, while visions of Aruba writhed in his brain.
He glanced at his Bulova as he bore down on the CardioGlide: two hours until his meeting with the suits at the studio.
Why couldnt they just do a video-cam conference?
As he struggled through a final rowing rep, his cell phone bleated from its pouch on his sweatpants. He checked the caller ID. Rachel—the third time shed called in the last eleven hours. He really wanted to answer, but he knew he should wait it out for now.
The voice mail kicked in after six rings, and he returned the cell to its holster. Then he stared hard at the EKG readout on the screen. The flat-plane stutter of the stylus indicated the onset of atrial fibrillation.
“Fuckall!” Justin bellowed at the ceiling.
In the bathroom, he dug into the medicine cabinet, popped an extra Catapril to ride herd on the heart rhythm, then a quarter Xanax tab for his nerves.
Later, after hed pulled his Legacy out of its parking slip and was cruising down the hill to I-5 South, his jaw finally quit clenching, and he willed himself to relax his white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel.
* * *
He entered the reception area of Crimson Streak Studios five minutes early. Marguerite, the Gal Friday, nodded solemnly at the oak doors to Bostwicks conference suite.
“Theyre waiting for you, Mr. McCune.” She brushed stringy brown bangs from her eyes.
Justin flashed her some teeth as he pushed open the doors.
The six of them sat around the oval conference table. Bostwick, owner of the studio, kicked back in his swivel chair, fingers interlaced across his chest, staring placidly at a six-foot plasma screen on the far wall, upon which was playing a scene from one of his early movies.
Justin recognized it.
“Case of Dom”—a minor porn classic, for its time. On the screen a well-built black guy was hanging, Christ-on-a-crucifix style, from the rolling caster joists of a meat locker, while a stacked blonde in granny glasses and a lab coat sucked his cock and simultaneously fucked his ass with a fat wishbone.
Justin cleared his throat.
“I thought this was supposed to be a storyboard conference,” he said. “Why do you have all the studio heads here?”
Bostwick grunted, and started in with his Water Cooler Guy routine, like always.
“Justinnnn,” he said. “Justin McCune. And not a moment too soon! Justin...bustin moves!”
Bostwick tapped his fat earlobe like a disc jockeys headset. “This. Just. In.,” he boomed. “JUSTIN!”
“Come on, Mr. Bostwick,” Justin said. He took in the ambush that had been laid for him.
“Have a seat, my good fella,” Bostwick said, with a squint and shoo-fly gesture.
On the screen, the woman in the lab coat was whipping the black guy, making him do chin-ups to touch his tongue to the cunt of a brunette spread-eagled and lashed to the rafters.
“All kidding aside, J,” Bostwick said “Lets just get down to it, shall we?”
He glanced at the gaunt graybeard to his right, Moriarty—a signal that he wanted Moriarty to finish for him.
Moriarty blew his nose into a linen napkin. Bostwick punched a sequence into his PDA, pointing it at the screen. The images flickered, then winked out.
“Yes,” Moriarty announced, “yes, well, we felt...you see, in some of your spec scenes weve reviewed so far...ah…you see...theres a problem.”
“Go on,” said Justin.
“A problem with the exposition,” chimed in Reavis, on Moriartys left. Reavis was a dead ringer for Danny DeVito, only fatter and whinier. “Right?” Heads nodded amid a low murmur.
“I think were all agreed that your writing itself is top shelf,” said Moriarty. “I mean, were not challenging your talent here...”
Bostwick blew on his buffed cuticles. “I think what theyre getting at, Justin,” he said, “is this: Lose the James Joyce shit, my man. I mean, lets get real. We tell jack-off stories here, OK? With word and image. Fast flux. John Q. Pud does not want to hear soliloquies and metaphors when hes trying to get off? Got it?”
“Fuck up a wet dream,” barked Reavis, as everyone nodded again.
Justin let the flush cool on his cheeks and spent the next 45 minutes pretending to punch notes on his Palm Pilot as Bostwick held forth on the finer points of fisting, and full camera coverage for those always-tricky 69 scenes.
When they broke for lunch, Justin made a beeline for the side exit. Bostwick called after him, loud enough for the whole room to hear: “So, Justin. Just so were clear now. Have 'Milkmaids' on my desk by Friday. Just like we talked about...
“Or youre fired.”
* * *
A speck of something—particle of eyelash, perhaps—had lodged itself in Justins right eye during the meeting, and it began to really bother him on the drive to his cardiologists office.
He kept pinching at the lid to force whatever it was out of there. Traffic reached a standstill as he hit Sepulveda. He looked at his eye from every conceivable angle in the rearview.
He gave up, and called Rachel on his cell.
“Hi, its Rachel,” the recording said. “Please be brief, but dont be boring! Bye...”
With his cell phone wedged in neck tilt, Justin gritted his teeth, and tugged at the lashes of his bad eye as the Subaru inched forward in traffic. Then he went back to the phone, tapping buttons, switching functions so he could access Rachels e-mail. He did not at that moment trust his voice to be cool. He punched the little letters on the keypad with a deft massaging motion, like popping zits.
Finally, he was satisfied with his message. It said:
I WANT TO SEE YOU. SOON, I DO! PLEASE BE PATIENT WITH ME!!!
Rachel was what Justins late father would call “a keeper.” Theyd met through connections in the industry. Hed been as surprised to find out she was a fluffer, in Bostwicks stable no less, as she was to learn he was a screenwriter.
“Gah, it is a small world, huh?” shed said to him, on their third date at a Kings game, snapping her bubble gum and drawing arrow-sliced hearts on the condensation coating the wrap-around plexiglass of the hockey rink.
Justin found her surprisingly shy and sweet for someone who made her living getting guys cocks hard and ready to fuck. The fact that she really seemed to dig him made it all the more mind blowing.
He felt like a sweepstakes winner, blinking back the klieg lights at center stage, stammering something to Bob Barker about Whats The Catch? But there was no catch. Rachel was real. All the signals were there—the framework for a relationship, if he wanted it.
Or maybe just sex. Would that be so bad? It had been so very excruciatingly long for him. The last time had been with his wife, right before theyd split up. Indeed, enough time had passed that, in some circles, he would be reclassified a virgin. So what the fuck was he waiting for?
The easy answer—what he told himself—was that a girl like Rachel was bound to so complicate his life that it simply wasnt worth the pleasure that came with the package. Yet, he was increasingly at odds with his self-imposed celibacy, and the day-to-day reality of it had begun to rankle.
He supposed he had to a certain extent desensitized himself to the sexual act since becoming a pornographer—but he knew it went deeper than that. For him, craft and creativity required solitude, which never lent itself well to getting laid.
Justin rationalized: Boxing trainers cautioned their fighters against sex—insisting on it being “bad for the knees.” He had simply reconfigured the caveat to read “bad for my muse.“
He wouldnt be the least surprised if Rachel blew him off, especially if he kept up this phone-tag routine. Her allure was maddening—like a big slice of chocolate cake in a display case to a diabetic ready to chuck his diet. Someone else was simply bound to scoop her up, Justin knew, if he didnt get on the stick.
Suddenly, a google-eyed guy in a green Expedition behind him began to lay on his horn—for no good reason, since they clearly were not going anywhere. He turned on Talk Radio. The honking continued.
“Asshole!“ Justin shouted. “Stupid motherfucking moron!”
He swiveled in his seat, trying to get a look at the guy, but now the traffic was moving again—slowly but surely. Justin powered the window down, and flipped the guy off. His eye was swelling shut. His neck was hot, and there were multi-colored amoeba splotches dancing like oil slicks in his vision.
He went into the glove box, and fished out another Xanax; then he punched the Alpines presets until he found a hard rock station. Pantera was playing “Five Minutes Alone,” and he cranked the volume to ten. Still he could not drown out the car horns that kept coming, and coming.
All around him now.
* * *
Dr. Narduwallah, the cardiologist, was whistling what sounded like “Suzie Q” by Credence Clearwater Revival as he scratched out a prescription for antibiotic eye drops. He handed Justin the slip, then sat himself side-saddle on the edge of the papered exam table. He clasped powdery brown hands primly in his gabardine lap.
After a moment, Justin said:
“So then, whats up...doc? Ha, ha! Sorry...it just came out that way.”
Mirth registered across the doctors wide, root-beer-colored brow, and he licked his forefinger, jabbed it mid-air, and made a slow hissing sound.
“One for you,” he said. “Justin, always a funny man you are being.”
“But all in all, being serious then, my friend, have you had any dizziness? Palpitations? Pains in the chest perhaps then?”
He reached over to check Justins pulse, then stabbed at his torso with the stethoscope, listening.
“Nah,” Justin lied. “Nothing like that, doc.”
The cardiologist got off the table and studied Justin.
“Your latest EKG,” he said, “and the echocardiogram...they are being alarming. The heart, it is doing crazy things. Troublesome to me. Are you under a good deal of stress? Please, with all candor your answer.”
Justin shrugged. “No more than usual.”
Narduwallah went to the hanging clipboard chart; he ran a crooked forefinger down its length.
“It is with futility that you lie to a physician,” he said. “We will be finding out one way or other.”
Justin shifted uneasily.
“Whatre you trying to say, doctor?”
The physician sighed, and looked into Justins eyes.
“You must be giving reconsideration to what we discussed. Before.”
Justin knew this was coming. Narduwallah had for the past four months tried to persuade him to undergo a radical procedure called cryo-ablation, wherein they ran wires from arteries in your neck and groin straight into the hearts faulty tissue—freezing off the offending sections that were causing the electrical pathways to bounce askew.
The pain and hassle involved had been described to him, by someone he knew whod gone through it, as like a biopsy. Times three. And of course there were the risks. Justin pictured a whole bulbous, bruise-colored ventricle under too much freezing agent, dropping off like a nose with frostbite.
But that wasnt the worst of it. Narduwalla wanted to follow up the ablation by implanting a silver-dollar-sized pacemaker anchored to Justins ribcage—a sophisticated microprocessor with a defibrillator function capable of delivering life-saving electric shocks, should his heart suddenly fly off on a fatal rhythm tangent.
It was precisely the make and model theyd put into Vice President Dick Cheneys chest after his fourth heart attack. Well, Justin was a Democrat, and he wanted no part of any defibrillator. He thought mainly of the clusterfucks it would cause at airport metal detectors—of gung-ho rent-a-cops leveling automatic weapons at his head as the shocker thing went off like jumper-cable nipple clamps grounded to a wall socket.
“I really dont want any of that, doc. Jesus, I told you. And anyways, the medications, they really seem to be—”
“The drugs we are giving to make you feel better!” Narduwallah snapped, irritation showing in his cheekbones. “They do not address underlying pathology. Nor can they prevent you from arresting! Now you have to listen. There is much urgency in my determination! As your physician I must press upon you. It is Russian roulette you are playing! Ventricular tachycardia will be killing you—like this.”
Narduwallah snapped his fingers like a hypnotist, and blinked back the glare from the fluorescent ceiling lights.
Then he sighed, and lowered his head.
“I would like to schedule you for next week,” he said softly.
Justin slapped at the shirt tag that tickled the back of his neck like a dragonfly.
“Ill think about it,” he said, tucking in his shirt tails.
Narduwallah was already at the door.
“Do what you are needing to do,” the doctor said. “I tell you truly, however: the ponderers, the hesitators, they are so often ending up as dead meat surely as the deer in headlight. Hear me, what I am saying.”
Narduwallah drummed his fingers on the doorframe for a few seconds, shaking his head. Then he began to whistle again, and disappeared.
* * *
At home, Justin watched SportsCenter and the Weather Channel for an hour-and-a-half; then he took two Xanax, washed them down with warm milk and protein powder, and went to bed.
In his dreams he was visited by Rachel, and by his characters—from the X-rated script and his novel. These visitations were strobe lit by grainy, herky-jerky montages, like the films they showed you in junior-high sex ed.
Rachels Ali McGraw face appeared, framed by her frizzy black
dreadlocks. Erect nipples like lemon heads poked through a spangled blue fishnet blouse. Her huge brown eyes blinked rhythmically against a backdrop of boxcars coupling roughly, making oil derrick sounds, then backing up in fits and starts. Suddenly the screen filled with an image of the whole train plunging over a jagged cliff face.
Dag, the protagonist in his novel, said:
“Go ahead, tap that ass! Take the pussy, J.—but then send her on her way, for Gods sake, get her gone...cause you got a fuck of a lot of work to do, my friend!”
The Willem Dafoe-looking lead in “Milkmaids” stepped out of a jacuzzi, wrapped a purple towel around his horse cock, and said:
“Ha! Homeboy here wouldnt even know what to do with something as fine as Rachel. That piece of ass would be his last, because Sweet Thing would sure enough flat out FUCK HIM DEAD! Dont even go there, Holmes. Leave her for me, and well be best buds forever, huh? Whaddya say?”
Then it was Rachel again, after kissing him hard on her doorstep, holding both his forefingers in her warm palms, looking in the direction of his crotch, and saying:
“I had such a wonderful time tonight. We will be seeing each other again. Wont we?”
Across the baby-blue horizon of his dreamscape, a rising sun poked through dense cumulus clouds like a dripping, angry-red vulva in heat, as his mother gently shoved him into the ice-cold water of the municipal pool for his first swimming lesson.
He gasped as he thrashed about.
“See, once you get in its not that bad, honey! Kick, thats it, kick now... Kick!”
* * *
Justin awoke, in a tangle of sweat-soaked sheets, to the helicopter hum of the ceiling fan at high speed.
He looked at his watch: 6:15...p.m.
Wednesday evening. Hed slept for the better part of nineteen hours.
He groaned and sat up slowly, reaching for the little squeeze bottle of eye drops on the night stand. His eye was feeling much better, but that was the least of his problems.
Bostwicks script deadline was only a day and a half away, and it was nowhere near finished. Meanwhile, ideas were pouring from his right brain—ways he might turn the final corner on his novel, and head for home. Some of these scenarios were worth sketching out, but that meant there was no way he could wrap up the script by Friday.
He stared up at the ceiling fan. It seemed to whisper at him to take his place on the highchair of shame in the corner, and not to come down until the electricity failed, or the eviction sheriff came, whichever was first.
Justin relished the respite of that image. In the months since learning of his condition, he had not even begun to bring himself eye to eye with the blunt reality of it—to start the Pity Cycle. There had simply been no time.
“Fuck!” Justin bellowed, batting at the bedside lampshade like a boxer working a speed bag. He took a deep breath, got out of bed, and padded to the bathroom.
As he was emptying his bladder, the first of the palpitation waves hit, making his head swim at such a pitch that he swayed and reeled, spraying his piss stream all over the floor tiles. Bent double, he cursed and crab-walked for the writing den, ready at any moment to stick his head between his thighs should he feel himself start to pass out.
He made it to the sofa, where he lay back on a pile of pillows. He fished around for the dictation headset, and hooked it to his laptop, then mouse-clicked into the voice recognition software program hed recently installed—for occasions just such as this.
Soon he was dictating the schematics for scenes 14 through 32 of “Milkmaids” with a deliberate, raspy cadence.
As he wrenched out the words between bouts of hot flash and vertigo, he visualized kicking a defenseless Bostwick square in the nuts, soccer style, and with gusto.
He continued with the dictation, incorporating subtle rhymes and alliteration into the script at random intervals. Bostwick would never pick up on it.
Justin spoke into the machine:
“Marla and Danielle in the purple Miata, they soon spot hardbody Henry hitchhiking. They look him over, decide to pick him up...page break...Danielle and Henry go at it. Angle on passenger side, she straddles and rides him for all shes worth. She has a look on her face that says, Damn, this is the nicest, nastiest fuck of my whole goddamn young life! They switch to side saddle, as Marla the driver licks her lips, sees the sign for the rest area coming into view, up around the bend... paragraph break...”
He flicked on the TV, chose a classical music station from the DMX cable menu, and continued dictating into the headset. By midnight his beta blocker medications began to kick in, and the terrible palpitations faded. He felt well enough to begin printing out the 40-odd pages hed compiled. He breathed easier as he stood at the kitchen counter and fixed himself a pastrami and onion sandwich on whole wheat.
Toward two a.m. he lay back down on the couch and dozed off.
Half an hour later, he came to consciousness with a terror bubbling in his veins that came from not remembering, right away, who he was. This feeling was followed by the hard-to-shake suspicion that everything hed accomplished in his life to that moment amounted to no more than a cockroach shitting on a dead crackly leaf in a hot-zone forest right before its swivel head is crushed under the heel of a fire-watch lumberjack.
To make his melancholy worse, an image alighted on the sill of his memory—the last really bad row hed had with his ex-wife, Rita, the night hed caught her poking through the Post-It storyboard notes stuck all over the walls of his writing den like a psycho-stalkers snapshot collage.
Hed freaked. She wasnt even supposed to be in there. Theyd agreed on that.
“You are vexing me,” hed hissed. “Who are you, Nancy fucking Drew?”
“Oh, youre something, mister!” shed shrieked at him, stomping away. “And youre gonna die alone jacking off with a Penthouse spread on your desk. Someday! You know that?”
A few weeks later she left him.
Checking the pulse in his neck, remembering the scene, he muttered, “Stupid! Fucking! Idiot!”
Then the cell phone on the coffee table went off.
Disoriented, his mind didnt have time to hesitate, and he answered the phone in a spring-load fulcrum of reflex. He heard Rachels voice, and he swooned back into the pile of pillows on the couch.
“Hey there, handsome stranger!” she was saying. “I cant believe I got through! I feel like I just won a radio station call-in contest! So... whatcha doin?”
“Oh wow, Hi Rache,” Justin said. “I, uh, actually... Im—”
He cleared his throat, sounding like a VW Bug with a bad starter, trying to turn over.
“Are you OK?”
“Uh, yeah. I think so.” Justin palmed his left pectoral, and willed himself to stop coughing. “Actually, Im kinda ass-deep in alligators right now, Rache. A project, you know?”
“A project, huh?” said Rachel. “Whats her name? Maybe I know her, and we can lobby for you to be let out...to play!”
There was silence on the line.
“Uh, hello? Thats a joke, Justin.”
“Oh,” he blustered, “Oh ho, ho-ho! Lobby, yeah. That is good.”
“Look,” Rachel said, “if Ive caught you at a bad time...”
“Oh, no no no no... I mean... Say, do you suppose I could, like, call you back? I promise you, in a day or two I will be so clear of this.”
“Dont call me, Ill call you, huh? Is that it, Justin? I guess thats where were at. Listen, if its because of the things I do at the studio, I can assure you that all of that is strictly temporary. I have a legitimate audition coming up next Tuesday.”
“No! Hell, no! Hey, wait... I only meant that—”
“Oh, fuck it,” Rachel said softly. “Such a shame though, baby. Really...”
Justin started to speak, but shed severed the connection, and all he heard was the thin, nasal hum of dial tone.
“Goddammit!” he shouted, banging the cell phone against his hip. He scowled, and threw it at the T.V.
It just missed the screen, and landed in a clatter amid the spaghetti clump of cords and cables coming out of the VCR and DVD players like spilled guts.
* * *
Justin squeezed in a catnap mid-morning, Thursday. He pressed on with the script. By late afternoon, he was nearing exhaustion, though coming up on the stretch run for “Mill Valley Milkmaids.” Or so he thought.
Proofreading a stack of copy hed just printed out, he discovered a huge mistake in the films continuity. A character named Luke, who was supposed to be laid up in the hospital with blunt-force trauma and a perforated colon after being raped by six female L.A. gang members, showed up in late scenes.
Now he was going to have to redo some thirty-six scenes hed just spent the previous four hours on.
“God, there is no end to it,” he muttered.
Yet there was nothing to do but work through it. He checked his pulse, and found it rock steady. His breathing was fine. It was as if his heart and lungs were taking a kind of comfort from his cornered-prizefighter resolve. Hitting his stride, the hours flew by.
By midnight the script was in the can. Justin whooped at the walls of his den. Now, he thought, he could start to unwind.
Just as he was tapping “Fade Out” on the Vaio, an e-mail hit his inbox. A message from his agent, Dimitri:
HEY BUBBA! SO WHAT THE FUCK, DO WE HAVE A BOOK OR NOT, CHUCK?
DONT STRESS OUT JUST SEND ME SOMETHING. SOON! yours, D
And there it was.
A few fatuous Dr. Seuss sentences tossed at him through cyberspace, and his exultant mood and cardiovascular stasis started to fishtail. The skittery pulse and vertigo returned. A hot flash sucked at his bristling cheeks, and he was suddenly sick to his stomach. He began to shake with raw fear and anger.
He clenched his fists, and shouted at the wall:
“Yeah, and you didnt hear me whining when they made us wait eight months to green light the novel! But ask them to be patient? Noooo... Next thing, theyll probably want their advance money back. Sorry, fuckers! Its all spent. All of it!”
Justin began to pace the room, fuming.
What exactly was there, anyway, to feel exultant about?
Hed finished another fuck-film script. So what?
His sixteenth project in the three long years of whoring his talent to a juggernaut smut studio that paid for the parade of heart specialists who pondered the anomalous pathology of a 38-year-old, otherwise healthy guy who sat on the verge of congestive heart failure one day, then sailed through their treadmill stress tests with flying colors the next.
Not to mention the $250-an-hour psychoanalyst charged with unraveling the Rubiks Cube conundrum of a seasoned porn writer who hadnt had any pussy in over three years.
It would be different, Justin reasoned, if he could convince himself that the loneliness and celibacy was actually necessary—for his “real” work—but he hadnt produced a single paragraph of any real merit for weeks.
The room rocked like a fishing boat on a storm swell. He forced himself to sit cross-legged on the floor, wedging trembling hands in the crotch of his sweatpants.
“You hear me, Dimitri?” he muttered. “That advance was chump change! You understand what Im telling you?”
He closed his eyes, and bowed his head. There was a sob rising in his chest, and a nursery rhyme prayer on his lips; but he stifled both, visualizing his pale fingers wrapped around the humped neck of his unruly heart, strangling it with a solemn, tender mercy—as if euthanizing a beloved-but-rabid pet rodent.
He sat there like that for a while, and ranted softly at the world, rapping his knuckles like a gavel on the hardwood.
* * *
He smelled the Chanel at the same time her soft palms landed in a guess-who patty cake on his sweaty brow.
Rachel said, “Boo!”
Justin eel-flopped on the hardwood floor, crying out like a nerd hit with a joy buzzer in his ass crack. She laughed, delighted, slowly releasing her grip on his cheeks.
“Do you always think about me when youre talking to yourself, baby?” Rachel said. “Wow, it looks like you really could use some company after all. Huh?”
She stepped back as Justin opened his eyes. Posing for him. She wore pink, low-top Nikes, black silk running shorts, and a pinstriped Yankees jersey unbuttoned to deep-brown midriff. Her ass-length, kinky black braid was threaded through the gap in a Viagra baseball cap.
“Oh God,” Justin groaned. “Rachel... Please... Dammit!”
His anger was poorly feigned, as evidenced by the rising gray tent in his sweat pants, which spoke the real truth, and could not be contained.
“Fuck, how did you get in here, anyway?” Justin whispered, gulping back his lust.
She hooked her thumbs on the inseam of the running shorts, cocking one hip at an impossible angle.
“Oh, I came in through the bathroom window... Protected by a silver spoooon...,” she sang, right on key.
Then Justin remembered hed left the sliding-glass patio doors wide open after hed been out there in the moonlight for an hour or so, composing final scenes for the fuck flick. He mopped his brow and pinched his sinuses. There was a strange tingling in his chin and collarbone, running through his erect nipples and spilling off onto his shoulders and biceps.
It wasnt much, really, when you faced it right down. Mr. Death really was a pussy, in the final analysis. But sneaky—a dirty fighter—and relentless.
“Jesus, Rachel, you know?” he said. “I really, really like you. A lot. Its just that now is so not a good time...at all. You really oughta go. I... I think...”
Even as his words came tumbling out, his hard-on jutted through the cotton. Rachel followed it with a glassy, sidelong stare, like a snake charmer behind the penny whistle.
“I just...,” Justin stammered. “I think we oughta talk over some shit, is all...”
Rachel swayed closer. Her silken crotch was throbbing within inches of Justins face. He could smell her wetness. She put her hands on his shoulders, and leaned her mouth up against his ear.
“I dont think you really want me to go,” she whispered. “And theres always time for talking.”
Justin breathed in the smell of her arousal mixed with the perfume, and it was almost too much. He fought to remain conscious.
“Besides,” she said, grabbing a fistful of his hair, “you talk too much as it is, my friend.”
Justin thought maybe, just maybe he could make it through the sex—if he could just get past the part leading up to the sex.
A sudden flood of warmth encased his bowels and inner thighs. A tingling spread in jagged flowing streaks, like icicles sliding down from his chest to his balls. He groaned.
Rachel had stepped out of her running shorts, and was wrapping her legs around Justins face with a deft, endearing movement, like hitching herself up on a barstool. Justin murmured a garbled plea out loud—as Rachels drenched cunt attached itself to his tongue:
“Oh God, please dont let me die until I get to feel her. Please, please...”
* * *
As he began to leave his body, bird calls and conch-shell surf whistled through his ears. Naked and sweat-soaked on the Pergo slats, he let Rachel take him from the top. She slid down on him, as if easing into a steamy, bubbling hot tub.
She made a high-pitched humming sound deep in her throat, and kissed him hard and deep, her darting tongue twisting with his in a frenzied, slippery dance. Their greedy tongues left off each other only long enough to let out call-and-response groans, mixed with reflexive gesticulations—like urgent tourists grappling with different languages on a subway platform as cars whooshed past.
He held onto her hips, and his thumbs dug deeply into her flesh just beneath the ribcage. He began to match her undulations with beautifully timed thrusts of his own, and the terrible see-saw G-forces began to tug his soul through the pores of his skin.
Then he felt they should change positions, and he tried to rise up from the floor; but she held him down, fucking him harder, then harder still. Now he was inside and outside his body at the same time, and her voice was the only tether stringing the two Justins together. He bucked and moaned, threw his head back, and started to scream.
“Thats it, darling,” Rachel whispered. “Now youve got it... Let it go, baby!”
He began to form the words in his mind that might release him. He felt he ought to call her Angel—that it would please and push her, to hear this come tumbling out his mouth so impromptu, in ecstacy. But he was still afraid. Of coming too soon, and leaving her forever.
Suddenly, the characters in his novel began to spin around in a head-high calliope cloud. They were mutely mouthing exhortations, accusations, and warnings like Edvard Munch specters throbbing and shape-shifting in a surreal séance.
His hero Dag pointed a finger at him, bobbing and receding on the merry-go-round. No sound came out, but Justin could read his protagonists lips as easily as his mind.
Dag winked, pointed, and said:
“You...The...Man! Bravo...Baby You Go...On Now!”
Of all his many regrets, leaving before he could complete the novel would break his heart, in the shiny places, even as the distended thing was splattering against his vascular wall like a paintball fired into a culvert. It was coming. It was coming now. His angel was waving him on.
“Fuck me, Justin!” Rachel shrieked.“Fuck me back! Cmon, baby, fuck me now!”
He drew sharp breaths and bit his tongue, tasting fiery spurts of copper.
Suddenly, Rachels climax bit into her savagely, right at the fault line where their hips joined—banging and writhing. She shrieked at the ceiling as her back bent parallel with the floor, and the beautiful black braid brushed up like a whisper on Justins balls.
He could hold out no longer. He began to bellow:
“OH ANGEL PLEASE ANGEL OH GOD... YES!”
His world blackened all around the edges, like a fragile paper thing fluttering against a bed of embers—his cum a splash of rocket fuel dousing dark red sun spots at the center where it blinded you to look.
Flaring, spitting, and leaving him, finally, still.
* * *
When Justin opened his eyes, he knew he was still earthbound by the smell of sex and the plink! plink! of someones tears on the hollow of his neck.
By the way she was nuzzling the beard stubble on his chin, and digging her thumbs into his temples, he could gauge the caliber and velocity of the bullet hed dodged—its rifling striations still hot on his scalp where the hairs vibrated like guitar strings.
The idea for the ending of his novel danced there, on the nerve endings, and Justin knew he only had so much time. To get it down.
He scrambled for a broken pencil and scraps of loose-leaf paper that lay within reach. Rachel watched him scribble on a sheaf of paper held like a hymn book in his palm.
She said, “God, you scared the holy shit out of me! It was only a few minutes, Justin...but you totally stopped breathing, baby!”
He kept going back and forth, between her face and the page, like a sketch artist rubbing a sea scroll parchment with a charcoal nub, scrawling the notes that would help him remember this moment for as long as it took to turn it into art.
It would become some project, rendering her likeness.
Then he began to picture the look on Bostwicks face when he slapped the script on his desk tomorrow afternoon with a two-weeks notice tacked to the cover sheet.
And of course there would be Narduwallahs cheesy grin, when he told the physician that he wished to go ahead with the procedure, and would he take a payment plan because his insurance would lapse after leaving the studio for good?
He understood that everything was mutable, and negotiable. From tidepools of poetry carbonating in a brainstem, to the sweep-second-hand of conductor wand-wave summoning your next heartbeat out of nothing. And again.
It was all punctuation on the sentences that kept the story stringing along.
Justin wanted very much to be there, to see how it all came out. He looked in her eyes again, and saw chapter after chapter—resolving, and segueing. Tugging, and letting go.
The novelist grinned, nodding like a savant as the pencil tore holes in the crumpled paper.
He began to laugh, and kept writing.
Dennis Mahagin is a musician
and writer originally from the Pacific Northwest. His poetry appears
online in Absinthe Literary Review, 3AM, 42opus, Erosha, Clean
Sheets, Slow Trains, Stirring, and Deep Cleveland.
He was recently nominated for the 2003 Pushcart Prize for Poetry.
This is his first published piece of fiction.
Pussy Willow began to take shape
as I finished writing a sex scene that I planned to submit as a
flash fiction to an erotica web site. When Id finished the
scene, it seemed somehow stale to me; and as I wracked my brains
for a way to spice it up, my imagination suddenly kicked in on another
That old litany of what-ifs.
What if, I asked myself, you took a celibate porn writer, who also has literary aspirations, then gave him a potentially lethal heart condition, and threw in a love interest, and fear of commitment for good measure?
I felt there was plenty that could be done with a scenario like that.
The problem came in trying to make Justin a likeable character. I dont believe he comes across as all that likeable, and thats why I came real close to killing him off. But, to the extent that Justins very real plight resonates for the reader, I felt in the end it was best to let him live. After all, you cant do a sequel if your main character is six feet under, can ya?