Ground Rules
Matt Bell

An excerpt from the novel Basic Beautiful Loser

How this works is, I have to cum if I want to heal someone. Just like Christ spitting into the eyes of all those beggars, mine’s a wet miracle. With all the floods and rivers turning to blood and water coming out of rocks, it seems the whole Bible suggests most miracles are this way. These women, they’re the lepers and lame men of the 21st century, cast out of a society increasingly defined by its advertisements, by a corporate idea of what a woman is, by that popular delusion I helped create every time I showed up to work.

To be fair, I’ve created very few feminine stereotypes at work lately. I haven’t even been there in a week. Even though a paycheck showed up yesterday, I’m beginning to wonder how long it’ll be before someone calls me to fire me or to summon me in for a debriefing session.

If someone at the Cassandra and Cassandra Advertising Agency finds out what Meg knows, it might be even sooner than I think. I’ve never been a big history buff, but I have a pretty good idea what happens to traitors. After all, I have been paid very well for my silence and cooperation.

Not to mention that here in America it’s a bigger crime to betray a corporation than it is to betray the government, which is why I shouldn’t be talking to Meg about FemTex, telling her secrets like I have a Swiss bank account to fall back on, like I have money stashed in the Caymans under an assumed name, just in case I have to retire suddenly.

My situation, I always assumed it would go on indefinitely, that nothing would ever change. Even if it did change, I certainly didn’t imagine anything like this kind of blackmail, this kind of extortion.

The thing is, I make more money per month for not talking about one particular part of my life than my mother ever made in any single year of waiting tables or cleaning houses. I make more per year than my father did in his whole life, doing the exact same job I do, the only difference being that he did it honestly.

The thing is, I make too much money for too little work. It’s not hard to see how that might be part of my whole problem.

How we find out about the orgasm requirement goes likes this. My first night at the Border Street Women’s Shelter, Meg meets me at the front door and quickly ushers me into a back bedroom. She shuts the door behind her, locking it with a key she keeps on a chain around her slender neck.

Strip, she says.

I say, Why?

She inquires, rather politely, whether I plan on having sex with my clothes on. That wouldn’t be very professional, she says.

I take off my clothes, except for my underwear. She crosses her arms, looks me up and down. She laughs, and not in a friendly way. She says, Aren’t you going to take those off?

I say, Not with you here. Not a chance.

Meg says, Suit yourself. Then she unlocks the door to let another woman in, this one wrapped up in a faded blue bathrobe with yellow stars stitched on it. Before I can say anything else, Meg gives me a quick wink then slips out the door.

A second later, the lock turns with a thick clunk, and I’m left alone with this strange woman, who just stands there staring at the floor while I cover myself by crossing my arms awkwardly. After a minute or two, I shake my head and ask, What’s your name?

This woman, she’s about my age, thirty-five or so. A brunette, her hair is cut short and straight, the kind of hairstyle you get if you don’t have time to take care of yourself. Her hair is also wet, which at least means she’s just had a shower. I took one myself before I came, and if Meg really means to hold me to this two women a day quota then I plan to take one afterwards, too. The woman isn’t wearing any makeup, something I’ll come to find is fairly standard for this place. Her nails are close bitten, another stock feature.

I don’t know what else to do so I move closer and try to kiss her, awkwardly, with my mouth open and hers closed. She smells of cheap antiseptic soap, the foam kind they have in gas stations and truck stops. She smells like a welfare check, and seriously, I’m being as nice as possible.

I mean, we’ve covered how I’m not a very nice person, and how I’m trying to change that, but still—this is not the kind of woman I normally sleep with. I’m not trying to be a bastard about this, because I do feel bad for her, but come on.

Still, I’m willing to give it a go. I have to. Meg’s made the consequences of not complying very clear. I can only imagine what she’s told this woman. This whole situation doesn’t seem very easy to explain.

The woman doesn’t kiss me back, so I pull away. I ask again, What’s your name?

Sophie, she croaks, barely even whispering. Sophie, she says, louder this time, and then she takes off the bathrobe, folds it and puts it on the floor. She lies down on the mattress, closes her eyes, and spreads her legs. Barely. Only four inches separate her thighs, and this is the space she apparently expects me to work in.

If you’re going to do this kind of charity work, you’re going to have to invent your own Kama Sutra. Knock yourself out. Go wild. Find a position for all these phobias and psychological traumas.

Position One: Sophie’s Four Inches.

Unfortunately, she just lies there on the mattress, even as I lay down on top of her. It’s then that I see the bruises all over her body, carefully placed where no one will see them, starting above her elbows, ending before her neckline. She’s got them on her stomach and her thighs, but not on her calves.

These bruises, they were created by someone with an amazing level of proficiency. I don’t know Sophie’s story, but if her husband or boyfriend or lover or whatever fits the normal stereotype, I’m almost impressed, the way people are sort of impressed with concentration camps, even when they don’t want to be. That kind of efficient cruelty, well, that’s not something just anyone can do.

The problem is, thinking about this means I can’t get hard at first, and once I do I still can’t stay hard after I’m inside her. The whole time, Sophie’s crying silently, not moving at all. She’s just dead weight lying under me and it’s in that moment that I know I’ll never understand what necrophiliacs see in corpses.

I roll off and sit on the edge of the bed. It’ll be all right, I say, not knowing what exactly I’m referring to, the sex or her life or whatever. When Meg comes in fifteen minutes later, I’m smoking and Sophie’s still crying and Meg, well, she’s pretty pissed off.

Even so, Meg’s the one who finds the solution to the problem.

I’m beginning to understand that Meg always finds a solution to her problems, and that she’s the kind of person who believes only in straight lines, completely disregarding anything blocking her way. Subtlety isn’t one of her stronger attributes.

Later, after it’s all over, I ask Meg, Don’t you think this is only going to cause more emotional problems? I mean, you coming in during sex to blow me so that I can orgasm with this woman? Is this really helping?

Meg gives me a long stern look and says, Last night, Sophie couldn’t sleep through the night because she was terrified that her husband was going to find her, beat her ass, and take her home. Right now, she’s sleeping with a big smile on her face. From what I can tell, it certainly isn’t because of your sexual prowess.

This isn’t exactly what I want to hear so I light a cigarette and glare at the part in Meg’s hair. This is a trick they teach young executives. If you can’t make eye contact with someone, stare at the lowest possible point of their hairline. It’s not real personal contact, but the other person can’t usually tell.

I say, I don’t have to do this, you know.

Meg laughs. She says, That’s what you think, and then she pulls out her three-ring binder and opens it up. She says, Now you have to answer some questions for my thesis.

I ask, About my work? About the tampons?

She shakes her head and says, Later. First, tell me about the sex. How was it? Did you have a nice time?

I say, You’ve got to be joking.

She says, Does it make you feel good to be helping these women?

She says, Do you think you might be a saint? Is this a God-given power, a miracle of sorts?

I say, It’s a psychosomatic trick. Nothing more.

Except it isn’t. We both know better, because if I could stop, I would, and I can’t.

Meg says, Just answer my questions. It’s not like we have all night. After all, you’ve got more lives to save.

This is how we discovered the ground rules, the basic nature of my penis’s healing powers, which at the moment at least, is causing me more problems than Meg’s prying is.

I do have to cum while having sex with the women, but I don’t have to cum in them or even on them. I can go in a condom, safely and thankfully, but I do have to cum, at least if I want to cure their problems and make them mine. What this means is I find myself thinking anything I can to get myself off.

This is harder than it sounds. These are women who cry through sex, whose vaginas have been raped, their orifices plundered. These are not women who innately feel sexy. They are not the prettiest women on earth, not with the black eyes and the marks from being whipped with garden hoses and extension cords. It’s hard to make love to a woman who still has her husband’s handprint blazing red on her cheek.

This is where Meg comes in.

Meg won’t fuck me, since she’s holding her supposedly perfect and possibly healing vagina over my head, but she does strip down to her bra and panties, then take me in her hands and her mouth until I’m hard enough to handle the next battered wife waiting outside the door.

Fast forward to when I’m watching all the porn, and I can tell you this is called fluffing. At the time, all I knew about it was that it worked.

Each woman comes in wearing that same star-spangled bathrobe, an excellent piece of illustration for one of the overarching problems. Thanks to their aggressive, abusive husbands, these women leave their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs, leaving them no choice but to share the same bathrobe. I mean, these are women who don’t even have their own toothbrush when they arrive. I can handle the shared bathrobe, but even the potential of the community toothbrush is too much.

It’s not like the women themselves are much help. Even after Meg’s fluffing, I’m still a long way away since they’re so uncooperative. I still have to coo and plead, even though I don’t want to. I have to tell them it’s OK, that I’m there for them, that everything will be better, if only they’ll help me reach orgasm then all their troubles will be over. Their nightmares, their memories, their addictions, these all get transferred to me. Even their bruises fade away and end up on my flesh.

What I give them is a fresh start. What I don’t give them, not ever, is an orgasm of their own. Honestly, I’m just not that good of a saint and, anyway, it just doesn’t matter if they cum or not. They’re healed either way, thank God.

What I tell them is, This is going to hurt me more than it’s hurting you, so please, stop crying. This is hard enough as it is without you making me limp.

Like I said, I’m not a good person yet and maybe I won’t ever be one. The thing is, if the only way you can save the whole world is to take their problems and make them yours then all you’ve done is make yourself a tragedy instead of them. Even when you’re saving someone else’s life, it’s easy to feel like everything revolves around yourself.

Do enough good deeds and eventually it won’t matter that you’re self-centered because no one will tell you any different. Trust me. This is the way it always happens.

“In Basic Beautiful Loser, an advertising executive with a bad love life and a head full of corporate secrets seeks hypnosis therapy as an easy solution to all his problems. Instead of fixing his life, he finds himself with a sexual healing ability he barely comes to understand before he’s blackmailed by a women’s studies graduate student into healing her patients at women’s shelters and support groups. Each time he cures someone of her biggest problem, he takes it on himself, until he’s a chain-smoking, nymphomaniac wreck with a host of addictions and neurological disorders, desperate for a cure himself.

“This novel is still very much a work in progress. The first draft has been finished since December of last year and I’m hoping to get through a first edit by the end of the summer. This chapter was a fun one to write because I was flying blind at the time. I started writing my novel with about a page of notes and things just started happening. I think this was the first chapter where the novel’s logic made itself apparent to me, so hopefully some of that joy still comes through.”


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