“Only to make sure you’d be in town for the opening.”
“I want first look, Susan.”
“You’ll be one of the very first.”
“That’s not quite the same, is it? Susan, you’re impossible. How can you build up my excitement and then leave me like this?” The implied sexual metaphor could only be intentional. And how would he react, she wondered, if she were to crawl under the table right now and take his cock in her mouth?
“You just had a wicked thought, didn’t you? You did! Tell me.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “I couldn’t possibly.”
H E R N I P P L E S T I N G L E D .
But then they always did. At first, when the soreness wore off and left only the tingling, she thought this was going to be too much to bear, walking around all the time in a state of low-level stimulation. But then she found out that she got used to it, and felt a little bit disappointed. But there was no cause for disappointment; what you got used to, she came to realize, was being slightly excited all the time. It didn’t stop working, you were still excited, but that degree of excitement became your normal condition.
Which was sort of fun.
At first she couldn’t wait to make another appointment and go get labial rings like Medea’s. She positioned herself in front of a mirror and pretended she already had them and used her fingers to open herself up. You could see better, she thought, without the hair, and three days later, the earliest appointment she could get, she was getting waxed by the woman whose number Medea had given her. There was nothing sexual about the experience, except for the idea of it, but she couldn’t wait to get in front of the mirror again. And of course she couldn’t stop touching herself, and couldn’t stop watching herself touching herself, and when she was through she lay there, feeling utterly wiped out, and her nipples were still tingling.
And she decided to wait on the next piercing. There was no hurry, she decided, and it would be good to explore one level before rushing on to the next one.
What she couldn’t get over was that she felt sexy all the time.
She couldn’t credit this entirely to the physical changes she’d recently made. That was a part of it, but there’d been something going on before or she’d never have even considered the piercing in the first place.
Every day, some thought or presence would trigger an impulse not unlike the one that had put her on her knees under the dinner table at L’Aiglon d’Or.
But she wasn’t crazy. She could have an impulse without having to act on it. She could imagine herself doing certain things—and her imagination, she was just beginning to realize, was as vast and as eccentric as the imaginations of the artists she was drawn to.
But she could enjoy the fantasy without having to transform it into reality.
And wasn’t that how you distinguished the sane from the insane? Not by their thoughts but by their actions.
In her imagination, for example, she seduced Chloe.
She couldn’t believe it would be terribly difficult. Come into the back office, she’d say. There’s something I’d like to show you. And, with the door closed, she’d open her blouse. She’d have gone bra-less that day in preparation for this, or she’d have ducked into the loo and removed her bra, so she could bare herself as artlessly as Chloe had when she pulled down her scoop-necked blouse and showed her treasures. Look what I’ve done, Chloe! You inspired me.
I kept thinking how lovely your breasts looked and the next thing I knew . . .
Or she’d say, Do you like the way they look? Yours are bigger, aren’t they. Could you show me yours again, Chloe? And she’d make a fuss over them, and maybe reach out and cup the girl’s breast, she could feel it in her hand right now, just thinking about it. Or she could lean forward and press her breasts against Chloe.
And she’d say something like, Oh, do you know what else I did?
And she’d drop her skirt and step out of it, and take off her panties, or better yet have removed them in advance, or not worn them at all that day. And she’d show herself to Chloe, and Chloe would be stunned, she wouldn’t know what to say or do or even think, but she’d be turned on a little, even if she’d never done any girl-girl stuff, even if she’d never even thought about it.
Now show me yours, Chloe.
Oh, I couldn’t.
Oh, please, I want to see it.
But I have hair.
I don’t care, I want to see it . . .
And she’d have her, right there in the office.
E X C E P T S H E W O U L D N ’ T. N O N E of it would happen, she wouldn’t allow it to happen. She’d be inviting disaster, ruining a satisfac-tory working relationship, and, if by some chance life didn’t happen to follow her script, messing things up with results she could only begin to imagine.
And you didn’t have to seek adventure. If you prepared yourself for it, it would come to you.
Days after her waxing, the phone rang, and it was the man from Detroit, in town overnight for a closing. He knew it was short notice, but was there a chance she was free for dinner. “Someplace terrific,” he said. “Price no object, because I’ll expense it, and it damn well ought to cost them when they tell me at nine in the morning to be at the airport by ten.”
They met in SoHo and had the world’s most expensive sushi.
She sat across the little table from him and pictured him spread-eagled on her bed, his hands and feet fastened to the bed frame with cords of rawhide. His head hooded, but the hood a modifica-tion of the one she’d worn at Medea’s, with an opening for the mouth as well as the nose.
He couldn’t see, wouldn’t know what to expect, and she’d lower herself onto him. He’d smell her sex first, and then she’d be sitting on his face . . .
“You’re different,” he said.
The words startled her, fitting in so perfectly to her reverie. She recovered and asked what was so different about her.
“I don’t know, Susan, but something’s changed. Is your hair the same? You’re smiling, you look like the fucking Mona Lisa. It’s not your hair. You look sensational, but you always look sensational.
What is it?”
He was staying at the Pierre, as usual, and they went straight back to his hotel. She told him she had a surprise for him, that he had to play along with her, had to do as she said, had to keep his eyes closed until she said he could open them. She had him undress and lie down on his back on the cool sheets. She undressed and sat on the bed beside him and stroked him with one hand and herself with the other.
No restraints, no hood, but she could still act out her fantasy.
She teased him a little longer, then moved to squat on her haunches, positioning herself over his face. “You can open your eyes now,” she said, and she let him look at her for just a couple of seconds before she lowered herself onto his mouth.
Afterward, he couldn’t get over the nipple rings, the waxed loins. “I knew something was different. I thought you were going to show me a tattoo, a butterfly on your thigh, something like that.
I had no idea you were so kinky.”
“I’m a work in progress,” she told him.
He made her stay the night, which was a first, and demonstrated a propensity for kinkiness all his own. The next day she skipped lunch and went on a buying spree at the Pleasure Chest.
The sales clerk was a gay man with a physique straight out of Muscle Beach, and he was delighted to put names to all the different items on display, and explain their functions.
He helped her get everything into a cab. “Have fun,” he told her.
“But, uh, don’t use everything at once.”
S H E W A S A W O R K in progress. The phrase had sprung glibly to her lips, but later she realized how appropriate it was. A work of mad folk art, perhaps, but very much a work in progress.
And not off-the-wall mad, because she was able to choose what was to remain fantasy and what was to be enjoyed in the flesh.
So she didn’t dart under the table at Correggio, or let the lunch conversation amount to anything more than the lightest sort of flirting. Gregory Schuyler’s good opinion was far too important for her to jeopardize it for whatever rewards his pale body might provide.
She was back at the gallery in time to receive a call from Reginald Barron. Uncle Emory had completed another piece, and would she want to include it in the show?
“And he’s working on another. He’ll do like that, one right after the other, and then he’ll just stop for a spell. I know you were talking about having a catalog prepared, so you’d need to have everything by a certain date.”
She thought of his youth, his broad-shouldered masculinity, his adorable shyness. I have gold studs in my titties, Reginald. I have a hairless pussy. Do you want to come over and play?
“That’s very thoughtful,” she told him. “Suppose we use the end of the month as a cutoff date? I’ll arrange to come by then and pick up whatever’s completed.” And then she’d make another run to Brooklyn a week or two before the show; the catalog would already be closed by then, but if there was any Emory Allgood work outstanding, she wanted it in her storage locker, not where some smooth opportunist could snatch it out from under her.
After she’d hung up she had a thought. Suppose she rang him back, asked him if he could possibly come in today with the piece he’d called about. If it wasn’t too big, if he could get it into a cab . . .
No, the only reason she thought of that was because, if he brought the piece to the gallery—or, even better, to her apartment—she could have him out of his pants and into hers in nothing flat. And that was something she was determined not to let happen.
Not until after his uncle’s show.
S H E S E N T C H L O E H O M E at five, stayed on herself for another hour and a half. She walked home, detouring to pick up half of a barbecued chicken at Boston Market. She ate it at her kitchen table—
she had an eat-in kitchen, Marilyn Fairchild had found her a sweetheart of an apartment—and then drew a tub and soaked in it. Lying there, she felt herself stirred, and touched herself. Just a little.
She dried off and got in bed and played some more. Not all of the paraphernalia from Pleasure Chest required a partner, so she tried out some of her new toys. But she reined herself in, didn’t let herself climax, because it was Friday night and she felt adventurous and you could have a good time all by yourself, you could have an orgasm as powerful as the best anyone else could give you, but what you couldn’t have was an adventure.
She thought about the men she could call, and a woman or two she could probably call, but none of them were what she wanted, not tonight. She wanted a stranger.
Marilyn Fairchild had found herself a stranger, one who’d turned out to be a little stranger than she’d bargained for. God, what an awful thing. And what could it have been like for her, those last few moments?
Maybe she was unconscious, passed out. Maybe she never saw it coming, maybe it was over before she knew it.
But maybe not.