Jennifer Falkner

Posted on July 1, 2011

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Erotica

Okay, I say. To myself, obviously. I haven’t gotten to the point of addressing an empty room or even the cat as a way of disguising the fact that I’m sitting here all alone. Okay, take a deep breath.

If I am going to do this, there have to be a few ground rules. Certain words are verboten. Throbbing, for instance. And member. In fact, a startling number spring to mind with a troubling quickness. Engorged, shaft, heaving and thrusting. I lean back in my chair and light a cigarette. What am I doing? Losing a bet would be a much more acceptable reason for engaging on a project of this kind. Or because the rent is falling due. But having it suggested to me that I might actually be good at it, that this is the road in which my talents lie – am I the naïve actress auditioning for soft porn while dreaming of Bogart and Hepburn?

Nothing historical, no bodices to rip. No swashbuckling hero and his swooning maiden. I carefully stub out the half-consumed cigarette, saving the rest for later, and begin to type.

It’s easy, I am surprised and grudgingly satisfied to discover. I try out a few more sentences until I am interrupted by Gerard’s insistent knocking. He fills the apartment in his fleshy, slightly rancid-smelling way. His skin is the colour of dough but jiggles and wobbles in a far more off-putting way. There are dark patches on the shirt under his arms and he wheezes from the climb up the stairs to the third floor. He says he’s dropped by to see how I am, just a friendly visit from family. I know he is really trying to find out if I am going to pay him back any time soon. My sparse apartment at the end of a street bedecked with graffiti, the way a room might be with streamers for a party, is its own answer. Surely there is no need to show him the empty cupboards as well.

He looks around, everything becomes shabbier from being touched by his gaze. I refuse to feel ashamed. I am working, I tell him. He gets the hint. The room smells slightly sour where he has disturbed the air.

Right. Not historical and no clichéd professions either. That means no doctors and nurses, football players and cheerleaders, professors and students. It doesn’t pass unnoticed that, whichever gender you want to assign them, these heavily used, clichéd scenarios all involve a fundamental power imbalance. The strong having its way with the weak. Is this the seed of romance? The key to being swept off one’s feet is not to stand too firmly on them in the first place? Even Romeo was older and more experienced than childlike Juliet, if I remember high school English correctly. How about a poor relation forced to borrow money for her failing publishing house from her supercilious accountant cousin?

I should decide, before I go much further, how much detail I am going to include. Will I close the door on the enraptured couple, making graceful allusions to the pulling of tides, the heaving seas? Or will every pressure be detailed, each squelching noise, the sounds of two sweaty bodies slapping together be documented? The grunts of one and the half-pained moans of the other?

I stop typing and lean back. I realize I am angry. My hand is shaking as I pick up the half-size cigarette, my heart thuddering. I examine the cigarette, uncertain, and replace it in the ashtray unlit. I start typing quickly.

It’s necessary to go back a few steps, I realize, before the body-slapping and the whimpering. The hushed night. What’s the word? Portentous. Ponderous, like a withheld secret. There is somebody under the bed. She knows he is there, she is in on the secret. They wait. The sound of the grown ups becomes gradually distant – receding laughter, a closing door. Although the girl looks as though she is lying still, she is actually retreating, too, as rapidly as she can. It’s almost a game as she imagines pulling her secret self up through her toes, past her skinned knees, inhaling herself up higher, travelling through torso and neck, to be lodged and filed away somewhere just below the crown of her head. She imagines a chest, heavy and dark, ancient, with brass studs and fittings. The kind pirates used. The perfect hiding place.

From beneath the bed the luminous face emerges, pasty and moon-like. It hovers over her. She squeezes her eyes shut but she can still see it, she can still see pudgy fingers smoothing and prodding at her flesh. But it’s not her flesh any more, remember? She’s safely tucked away in the box.

I suddenly realize why Gerard suggested I try my hand at bodice-rippers. Only he called it romance. He sees me still, lying inert and frightened in the complicit dark, well-acquainted with the nature of sex objects.

***

Jennifer Falkner has fiction appearing in Paragon and The Fringe and was a semifinalist in the Summer Literary Seminars writing competition. She lives in Ottawa.

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