Coercion:Curio Vignettes 01(2)

By: Cara McKenna



I cross through the living room to kiss her cheeks. “What have you brought?”

“Something with a pretty label.” She shows me the bottle. Caroly likes pretty labels, beautiful objects, haunting, elegant music and rich food. She grew up poor, she told me, but her heart is an aristocrat’s, beating for the finer things. It seems she counts my company among them. I watch her eyes sometimes, when she doesn’t know I’m looking. When she reads or studies a painting in a gallery, they’re cool blue, distant. But when her gaze turns to me, heat burns there. Always.

I give the bottle a second’s attention, far more captivated by her. She does things to me, as if she were magnetized, my hands made of iron. They reach for her face and I glance her smooth, fair skin with my thumbs, slide my fingers into her hair, dark-blonde curls so soft they could belong to a toddler. Her lips purse in their bashful way, and I kiss them. My body would happily take things much further, but there is cream sauce to attend. Besides, I have more planned for tonight.

“You smell awfully good,” she tells me. “Is that the stuff I bought you?”

“It is.” I smile when she presses her nose to my throat for another sample.

“It smelled different in the store.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, it’s even nicer on you.” She kisses the spot, handing me a stack of post as she steps back.

“Thank you.” Among the bills and rubbish is a plain, unstamped envelope with my first name written in cursive, inside it a check from yesterday’s client. Caroly used to leave such payments for the pleasure of an evening. I can scarcely remember that dynamic, so much has happened since she ceased being my patron to become something more. I remember taking her virginity, every second of those first visits, but of us being strangers, client and whore—anything other than we are now—it’s as hazy and theoretical as a dream.

She’s not coy about what I do, nor jealous. Lately she’s asked more and more about my clients, wanting to know what they wish to do with me, to me. I tell her, compositing the details so they belong to no one actual woman. She used to ask over wine, before we took one another to bed. Now sometimes she asks in bed, and I know it excites her, eavesdropping on other women’s fantasies.

She rubs my arms through my sleeves, and just that affectionate, innocent friction makes me wish the cotton would disintegrate. That everything would dissolve until it’s just us in our bare skin.

“Something smells amazing.”

“Only pasta.”

“Works for me. I’m starving.” She follows as I walk to the kitchen. “I like the music.”

“I knew you would. How is your new exhibit?”

“Almost ready for public consumption.”

I uncork the bottle and she sets glasses on the butcher block. I like that she knows where to find things, that she has a favorite mug. I like her secret basket of womanly accoutrements, hidden beneath my bathroom sink lest my clients see it and feel uncomfortable.

We toast to Caroly’s achievements at the museum and sample the wine, as lovely as its seductive label.

She leans back against the counter, wrapping a slender arm around her long waist. I know every inch of the body behind her blouse and skirt, better than any man on earth. The thought stirs my blood as it always does, a hypocritical possessiveness. Though so much of sexual pleasure is rooted in the darker emotions, I long ago quit regarding guilt and envy and shame as sensations to avoid.

“What did you get up to today?” she asks.

“Very little, outside the brass.” That is her term for my hobbies. Going inside the brass, as if I don special equipment and spelunk between the wheels and pinions. Which I suppose I do.

“Enjoy yourself?”

“I did.” As much as one enjoys a deep dream. Once the trance of my hobby has been broken, it seems as though I’ve lost more hours than I recall experiencing. Often I feel as if I’ve only actively lived perhaps ten years of my life, many more lost. Not squandered, but dozed through. I wonder if morphine addicts feel this way. Sometimes I suspect I ought to fret more about it, but the worries only draw me back to my cabinet and its clockwork curiosities, to hypnosis or meditation, to that world where my brain goes as quiet as the Buddha’s.

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