The Girl Under The Stairs
This a story about i****t.
Or, to be, less delicate about it -- to be as harsh about it as society wants to make it -- there was a time in my life when I fucked my s****r.
I think of it as a love story.
Like any love story, it's about how two people found each other and gave each other a little peace and happiness, at least for a little while.
And it doesn't matter that it doesn't end happily ever.
Not all love stories do.
And this is a love story.
Here's what happened:
I washed up on a couch in my s****r's apartment in New York after I lost my job and my girlfriend in Boston in one spectacular week.
Boss: You really don't want to be here Jimmy, do you? Maybe it's just better if ...
(Me sitting on a stool in a studio, thinking, no, asshole, I spent all those years in art school just so I could sit here building babes with pneumatic boobs and M-15's for a MM shooter called Virgin Territory. And then wondering who I was calling an asshole in my head.
Girlfriend: I mean, we were never really all that serious, were we, Jimmy? Maybe we'd both be better off if ...
(Me lying in bed beside her, looking at her boobs and thinking, Yeah, actually, I kinda did.
You get the picture.
So I spent a couple months living on severance, going to movies in the afternoon, eating tons of take- out, and smoking way too much weed.
But eventually, the money stops coming and there's still rent and food and all the stuff you take for granted when you're getting a paycheck. I mean, drycleaning, you know? Dr. Bronner's miracle soap.
In the end, I ended up with only one options.
You could come down here. New York, Jimmy. Boston's, like, small compared. My roommate'll be gone for at least another three months and you can have her room. You can get yourself set up. And anyway, we'll have fun. It'll be like it was when we were k**s, y'know? Only without them. C'mon, babe. You know you wanna. And I'd really like to see you again, Jimmy. I mean, I really loved you back then, y'know? And since we both moved out it's been, we really don't see each other any more. I miss you, Jimmy.really I do. Come on down. Please.
Stop right there.
It wasn't like that.
Not at first.
I didn't go down there looking for what happened.
Furthest goddamn thing from my mind, you ask me.
She was my s****r.
Maura. Mo. My little s****r.
She'd got out of our house when she was sixteen. A year after I'd wangled a scholarship to art school down in Boston.
Colorado, Florida, California, New York
On fake IDs that got her jobs in restaurants, bars.
Lost touch. Got it back.
Our parents gone to live in fucking Arizona.
Which didn't make either of us any less orphans.
Then a year ago, New York City.
Calling to tell me to watch for her on TV.
All of a sudden she 's livin' the dream. Actually almost supporting herself as an actress. Which should not have surprised anybody. My little s****r got all the talent in the f****y, most of the brains, all of the looks. I'd already seen her in commercials for Foxwoods Casino and a laxative called -- honest to god -- EZ-GO. And as a school girl witness on SVU telling a cop that a dead girl didn't do d**gs.
She was our golden girl.
I was the fuck up.
Every f****y needs one.
I was busy losing my job
Thinking I might be falling in something a little short of love with a girl named Rachel, who worked in a downtown law firm and, in the end, had her sights set a good bit higher than me
My s****r had SAG and Equity cards.
My s****r maybe could sing and dance.
My s****r telling Detective Benson what she needed to know.
My little s****r telling me what to do.
She was right though. There was nothing left for me in Boston. I needed a fresh start.
She was all of twenty two years old..
So I spent nineteen of my last two hundred dollars on a BinWah Transit bus from South Station to Chinatown. And ended up in a third floor walk up in a brownstone in Prospect Heights, just off the park. sl**ping on a futon in the bedroom of a girl who was on tour in a Jersey Boys, with a window that looked out over the roofs and steeples of Brooklyn to the Statue of Liberty.
My Mo. Standing in late afternoon sunshine as I got off the bus at the corner of Houston and Canal. I hadn't seen her in a couple years and there she was, undeniably beautiful and, to tell you the truth, the first thing I thought as I got down onto the hot bright sidewalk, and my nostrils got assaulted with the smells of food and garbage - New York in high summer -- was damn, my s****r is hot.
She was wearing a sun hat, tight jeans and a paisley shirt straight out of the Summer of Love, top two buttons open to a hint of cleavage. She had electric blue eyes that always seemed bigger and more intense on TV, but were still amazing in real life. And her smile, with its small pretty imperfection: an out of place left canine tooth.
My Mo. Wrapping me up in a hug.
Saying my name
Making me feel like home.
For the first time in a really long time.
In a month, I would be sl**ping with her.
Chapter 2: The Girl Under the Stairs
Maybe you want to assign a pathology to what I'm going to tell you.
I don't want to.
I know I don't need to.
Maybe you do.
Maybe everybody does.
So, if you want to make it about something other than just love, try this.
Our parents were crazy.
They both drank. Our dad ran though jobs like water.
Nothing was ever calm.
We both got out as soon as we could.
One story'll do.
Crash of furniture; glass breaking, voices, yelling.
I stumble out of bed, out of my bedroom.
Mo already in the hall: little, in a nightgown, skinny legged-girl, shaking.
Somebody fucked somebody. Somebody fucked somebody else.
These goddamn people acting like they didn't have k**s right upstairs, listening.
Shit k**s shouldn't hear.
But we heard it.
Mo and me in the hallway, holding each other , listening.
How the voices faded as the fight moved into the kitchen, and out into the back yard
Then a crash, one voice louder than the other, then quiet.
Everything when we were k**s was scary.
Scary loud. Scary quiet.
We made our way to the top of the stairs, then down.
Empty kitchen, white-lit
Back door open to dark and night scent of lavender bushes that lined the fence in our back yard, wild, untended,. planted by another f****y, ignore by ours, allowed to run to seed.
But in the summer, filling the air with perfume.
The two of them rolling on the grass, swearing, somewhere between fighting and making love.
Our father's hands at our mother's throat.
Her hands below his stomach, moving.
Our mother crying, swearing, crying in the lavender scented dark.
And when, after forever, the stopped and began to pick themselves up from the grass, we darted back and, afraid to be caught seeing something we shouldn't, ducked into a closet at the foot of the stairs
Looking out through the cracked door: our dark their light.
On the couch, sitting,
My father: Face, hair, nose, lips bleeding from a cut somewhere just above his eye..
Voices low, angry, pleading: Fuck him didn't Fuck him. Should have Sorry.
The lousy two of them talking, pouring drinks, talking.
Their k**s beneath the stairs, unheard, unseen.
She was little, Mo. Eventually she fell asl**p in her nightgown in my arms.
My arm asl**p beneath her bony shoulder.
Smell of her hair against my cheek.
Warm sound of her breathing:
(To sl**p next to someone is to trust them not to hurt you.)
The voices of our careless parents: soft, sorry music deep into the night.
We did not trust the voices of our parents not to hurt us.
When we woke up, the house was full of morning sunlight, smell of whisky.
They were gone.
They had hurt us enough for one night.
And there were still years to go.
And so we left.
And why, I suppose, we hid so long from each other.
Until they were as gone as we could make them in our heads.
And Maura hugged me in the damp heat of July in Manhattan, on the corner of Houston.
And each of us was the only one who could ever understand.
Chapter 3 Third Floor Walkup
We were tentative with each other at first.
City. Subway. City again. Brooklyn now. Prospect Park.
We talked mostly about me -- my lost job, my lost girlfriend. The whole of my life that had ended at age 26.
And now I was here.
With my girl under the stairs.
Afternoon sun through trees and buildings.
My s****r's hair auburn and golden in the sunshine.
She had metamorphosed in our years apart. Scared girl when I left her. Not scared anymore. Her face the same but there was something more knowing about her eyes. She had been a wary c***d -- always alert for ways our parents could hurt us. Now, with them declining, unseen in the desert, she seemed freer, less burdened than I remembered.
We sat on a hillside, watching black men in cricket whites on a pitch.
"So how about you?" I asked her.
"I don't know. California. Colorado. I'm pretty happy now. "I don't know. California. Colorado. I'm pretty happy now. This acting gig is crazy ok. Good money when I'm working. But no money when I'm not. I swear to god , it makes a girl think about being a whore."
"You trying to tell me something?"
"No. Not really. I'm just glad you're here, that's all. I missed you Jimmy. I've missed you for years."
A small place on Garfield Street. Hipsters. Hipster food.
"Tell me about Mariska Hargitay,"
She shook her head.
"She didn't talk to me. I was one step up from an extra. You wanna hear my lines?
She sat up in her seat, transformed herself into a schoolgirl, said: "Sarah's not the kind of girl who hooks up, y'know? But she had a boyfriend. ... Yeah, he goes to Horace Mann ... But we never met him or anything. He was like big Mr. Mystery, yah know? Do you think he's the one who hurt her?"
She bowed in her chair.
"I'm in a play right now," she said.
"What's it about?"
She ducked her head
"Not yet. I'll tell you about it later."
Looking at me across the table from under a fall of hair.
And finally home.
A brownstone on Ferris Street. Gutted. Reconstituted into three apartments. Mo on the third floor.
"This is it" she told me. "This is where I finally washed up."
Standing on the sidewalk in the warm summer night. We had shared a bottle of wine at dinner and were both slightly d***k. She stood on tip toes and kissed me. Soft and sloppy, half on the cheek, half on the corner of my mouth. I held her as she subsided onto the sidewalk, kissed the top of her head, was aware of the warmth and curvature of her body against mine.
"Where we washed up," I told her.
"Yeah, we. I like that, Jimmy. I'm glad you're here."
Up the narrow staircase. Maura unlocking the door, flipping on lights.
Living room and kitchen space. Two bedrooms.
Opening the left door; pointing into another person's space. Mine. Sort of. For a moment.
She walks ahead of me, sits on the bed.
I bring my one duffel bag in after her, toss it on the floor, sit next to her. The mattress sinks beneath our shared weight, throwing us together, shoulder to shoulder.
"I'm so happy," she told me.
The wine in our bodies making us float.
Maura leans into me, gives me another kiss.
One of her breasts soft against my arm.
It feels briefly like she is someone else.
Ch. 4: The Play
She'd been gone about 20 minutes.
I'd lit up, but only did a couple tokes, so I was more mellow than stoned.
I wandered out of my borrowed bedroom into the front room and the first thing I saw was Mo's script laying on the kitchen table.
Thinking, she'll want that, I shot her a quick text and she texted back: Shit. Oh well, we're sposed to be off book now, so it'll prob b ok. Don't worry about.
So for a few minutes, I didn't.
But then I did.
It was sunny out -- shorts hot, but not oppressive and I wanted a walk anyways .So I headed out, with the script folded up and sticking out of my back pocket.
GPS'd the theater which was on 5th Avenue between Lincoln and Madison streets. Cut through Prospect Park past the big Civil War Arch and down through Park Slope. At 7th, the brownstones stopped being renovated, and by 5th, things were in that half dilapidated state that says early gentrification. The theater building, Mo had told me, was an old car repair joint that had been repurposed with moveable seats to create different theater spaces in the large open area that had once housed the repair bays.
People with ideas.
People doing things with their lives.
God, I hated their guts.
Not enough to not ring the buzzer, though.
Female voice on the other end.
I told it who I was.
There was a loud buzz and the door opened on a woman with her hair tied back in a bandana. Wisps of frizzy hair escaping. Torn up blue jean shorts. Bright yellow shirt, with spaghetti and bra straps intertwined over freckled shoulders. Cute, I thought: the way guys do in a nanosecond when they meet a new woman. Nice smile that made pale skin around her eyes crinkle as she looked at me.
"You're Jimmy," she told me.
I gave her back an acknowledgement smile. Yep, that's who I am.
"I'm Megan," she said. "Meg. I'm doing the lighting. Maura told me about you. You're living with her this summer, huh?"
I pulled out the script.
"She forgot this. I was taking a walk. Thought I'd drop it off."
"Cool," Meg. "They're rehearsing, she said, indicating some place behind a partition with a toss of her head. "you can ... yeah, I guess it's okay. You should come on in."
Her hand on my free arm, guiding me inside.
"They don't like to be interrupted.. I mean, it's a pretty intense day, y'know. But you could maybe give it to her when they take a break. Come on."
She led me from the light of 5th Avenue into the shade inside. No windows this side of the partition, so I was blind for a moment, with flares of sunshine dancing behind my retinas.
A door opens, and we're inside.
"We haven't set the seats yet, but there'll be bleachers so it'll be in the round. You can wait here.
My eyes adjusted.
The flares died down.
A circle of warm light in the center of the cavernous space.
Two people sitting at a table.
At first I didn't recognize her.
Then I did.
My s****r Mo, sitting on a hard backed chair, at a kitchen table, playing cards.
"Okay, this is officially weird," I found myself saying to Megan.
"What, you didn't know? Oh yeah, this is the first day they're doing full costume, which for Maura means bare-assed pretty much the whole play. That's why I said it was a little intense today. I mean, it always kind of is ...
"Look," I said. "No. I didn't. know. I mean, kind of, at all. I'm a little weirded out here, okay?" I pushed the script into one of her hands.
"Lissen, you give it to her, okay? I really can't stick around for this, you know?"
And turned around and just about ran out the door into the vestibule. I was halfway out the door to the street when Meg caught up to me. I heard her voice as the heavy metal door clanged shut behind me:
"But, hey, you're gonna come see the play aren't you?"
I spent a long day hanging around the apartment, waiting for Mo to come home. Started to text her a couple times, didn't. When she still wasn't home at around eleven, I went to bed. I was still awake at eleven thirty when I heard her come in.
Sounds of her bustling around the front rooms, opening and closing a refrigerator. Keys hitting a table. Finally a tapping on my door.
"Jimmy, you awake?"
I debated not answering, but then I figured I'd worry all night about what to say to her in the morning. I mean, this was embarrassing. But maybe, I thought, that's all it was: just something dumb and embarrassing.
"No," I answered through the closed door. I sat up in bed, smoothed my t-shirt, smoothed the sheets. "C'mon in, sis."
Door opened, throwing light in a rectangle of the floor at the foot of my bed.
Mo coming in to sit next to me.
"Well," she said. "That was a little bit awkward, huh?"
"I guess. I was just taking a walk, figured you might need it after all. I mean, I had no clue."
Her soft laugh in the dark.
"You never looked at the script?"
"I mean, read it? no. I just y'know, brought it."
"So. Big fat misunderstanding. Meg thought you knew, you were cool about it."
"Jesus, Mo. I was anything but cool. Does she think I'm like a complete dork?"
"No, she just thought it was kinda funny. I mean, it kinda is, you know?"
"Funny was not my first thought there. Sorry."
"I mean, look. I was gonna ask you if you want to come see the show when it goes up. So sooner or later ... I mean, I'm an actress. This is what I do. So I don't get all embarrassed over stuff like that. I mean, I do, sorta. At first. But you get over it. Eventually. I think."
"Well, yeah, I mean, I haven't done this before. Not like this. I mean, naked on a stage. I mean, we're trained not to do that kind of thing. Us. People. And then you're an actor and you have to lose all that conditioning. And you do , you know? Eventually. But even then, there'll be an audience and the other actors. They're easier, I guess. They understand that it's acting, right? I mean, your body's an instrument and all that shit, so you use it. Sometimes you use all of it. But I don't have any clothes on for like an hour of the hour and a half up there; so it's a little bit weird, for me. But I mean, for you to be in the audience, that's really no weirder than the whole thing, you know? So it's really alright., I guess."
"Okay," I remember saying to my s****r. "If you're alright with it, I guess I can be too."
Then she put this totally chaste, s****rly kiss on my forehead.
And then she got up and was gone.
It was after she left that I realized that I was a little, well, hard.
I practically threw a pillow over it.
Eventually I got to sl**p.
Ch. 5 Drawing Maura
It was late when I got home, Maura was already there, curled on the couch, in a t-shirt and jeans, eating Ben & Jerry's out of a container, reading.
She was pretty, my s****r.
Pretty, clothed or naked.
Which was a thought I shouldn't have.
Which was a thought I couldn't help but have.
She looked up at me.
I hadn't realized that I was standing in the doorway, staring at her, neither fully in nor fully out of the apartment.
"Ice cream," she said redundantly, holding out the container and spoon. "Want some?"
"Sure," I said.
I came in, tossed my keys on the table and ambled over to sit beside her.
The couch sagged. Our hips touched. She dug out some ice cream, offered me the spoon.
Her Kindle lay on the low coffee table in front of us.
"What'chya reading?" I asked her.
Handed back the spoon.
"Something good. Anäis Nin, you ever read her?"
"French. Spanish. Hung around with Henry Miller. She wrote diaries. There was a movie I saw once."
"Pretty good for the unlettered." She polished off another spoon, scooped another for me. I watched her. From when she was a little k**, she never chewed ice cream. She like to swish it around in her mouth until it melted, then swallow it like a milkshake. The process made her cheeks dance. "This is from later," she said. It's called i****t."
"What's it about? Or do I already know?"
Wondering: How does she liquefy the cherries?
"Well, yeah. With her father. She hadn't seen him in like, twenty years since she was little. The he shows up back in her life. And she fucks him."
"Yeah. She's really into it. She hadn't seen him in so long that he was like a stranger. But, I mean, her father. Doesn't you're body like, tell you no or something?"
"I guess hers didn't."
"Yeah," Maura mused. It was her turn with the ice cream. Swish.
This time, she didn't hand the spoon back to me.
Pointed to me with it instead.
"Jimmy, you sure you're not uncomfortable with what we're doing?"
"What meaning what exactly of all the weird shit we doing, k**?"
She laughs, answers by pulling one side of her shirt up, flashing me her boob, then pulling it back down.
"Ah, that weird shit." I thought for a moment, then told her the truth. "You know, it'd be a lot weirder for me if I just showed up at the show and had to deal with it. So in a weird kind of way, you're really kinda doing me a favor, y'know?"
She chewed on that thought.
"Okay," she said after a minute. "You want more Cherry?"
Okay, not the truth. Not totally.
The truth has got a lot of sides to it.
Another truth, two nights later.
This time, I'm home, killing time on Instagram. Love lives of the Kardashians. Miracles of modern tech. Maude comes in late from rehearsal. Opening is less than two weeks away.
"Goddamn, Jimmy," she says by way of greeting. "Goddamn, goddamn, goddamn."
"I love you too," I tell her. Kylie Jenner and Matthew McConnaghey will just have to wait. "What's wrong, babe?"
"I sucked," she says. Comes in, plops onto the floor in front of my chair, cross-legged. "I totally sucked tonight. I, like, had a full blown panic attack. We're doing Act 1, scene 3, where I'm supposed to walk out into the kitchen, first time I'm naked, y'know? And I'm standing offstage and I just get this wave of panic, washes over me, like, I dunno, like, water, y'know? Like a really cold shower, and I'm like, what the fuck am I doing, and I can't go out there, and it's like I'm twelve years old and I don't wanna go into the girl's locker room 'coz my boobs are two different sizes and everybody'll see them and know. And I'm just like , oh shit, and I'm standing there in the wings, I already took my robe off, I'm already naked and I'm late for my cue and Randy is out there waiting for me. So I take a deep breath and I make myself go out there, but, like, my concentration is shot and I'm just going through the motions, I'm outside of myself, watching myself, and I cannot get calm, cannot find a center and I just totally, royally sucked. And afterward, everybody's like, it's okay, you just had a bad night, it happens to everybody, and I'm thinking, everybody doesn't have to spend an hour and a half naked in front of people and I'm not ready and I'm not professional and I'll just be this naked girl out there, and everybody will just be looking at my bits and my pussy, because it's my job to distract them from that, it's my job to act past that, and I can't do that, I mean, I just can't do my fucking job, Jimmy, y'know what I mean?"
"Jesus, sis, you know they let breathe between sentences right? They made a law about that, so it's alright if you do. Really."
"Fuck you, Jimmy, this is not funny. I'm gonna fuck up in front of everybody. In New York, for Chrissake. I'm never gonna work again."
I looked at her. She looked like she was going to cry. And then she did cry: two slow silent tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes and tracing wavering lines across her cheeks and lips. And in that moment, she transformed for me into the little girl who would hide in my room when the screaming got too bad downstairs. I wanted to love her. To hug her.
I settled on helping her.
If I could.
"I've got an idea," I told her.
I got up out of my chair and, as I did, I thought I saw her flinch away from me. Like when I'd open the closet door, all those years ago, and she would shy away from me, hands moving in the air like she was building an invisible wall between herself and the world. The world which, inevitably, and for a long time, included me.
So I didn't hug her. Instead, I bounded past her into my temporary bedroom.
"Get undressed," I called to her behind my back.
In my room, I dug out a large pad of drawing paper, my pencils and a case of pastel chalks.
From the other room: "Huh?"
"You heard me, get undressed, like the other day. We're gonna do something."
"I'm gonna draw you, you'll see. It'll work."
When I came back, Maude was standing in the center of the knotted rag rug in the middle of the living room. She had kicked off her shoes and her jeans were folded neatly on the coffee table. She still had her bra and panties on and she was holding her t-shirt in her left hand, arm angled outward from her body, as if she had frozen in the act of dropping it onto the small pile of her jeans.
It was, I thought, a pose of sorts.
Not moving. Eyeing my drawing supplies.
"So, what exactly are you gonna do, bro?"
"Trust me," I asked her. "You ever been in a life class?"
"That's one way I have not made money, no."
"Then you don't know. It's a really Buddhist, really Zen experience, Maura. You're the model. You just stand there, or sit or whatever, and let everybody look at you, and you breathe and hold yourself really still, and all you do is look out at one point in space and listen to this really soft sound of pencils moving against paper. And it's peaceful, babe, it's like the most peaceful communion in the world. Artist and model. Maybe that's a way for you to find some stillness, okay? Get centered. Maybe it'll help."
A moment's consideration, then a smile, small and furtive as a mouse when the kitchen lights go on. "you really think so?"
"Yeah. I dunno. Maybe. Yeah, I do."
"Okay," she said. Brightening. "I mean, how much can I suck just sitting? Shit, that I can probably do."
For a long time, we were silent and there was only the sound of my pencil on paper.
She sat on a stool dragged in from the kitchen. My eyes flicked from her to the lines and soft blurs by which I was forming her on my drawing pad and slowly, she became something other than my s****r, the girl I knew and loved: like any model, she transformed slowly, by the alchemy of drawing and observing, into a sweet construction of planes and curves, light and shadow.
Then, after I don't know how long, she broke pose, stretched, became my s****r again.
"God, Jimmy, that's harder than it looks. Sitting that still's a bitch. Throw me a cig willya?"
"That's why models get paid the big buck, little sis," I tapped a cigarette out of my pack, tossed it and a lighter to her. She caught them deftly with one hand, lit and relaxed, letting smoke flow out of her mouth and nose..
"It's working though, I think. I'm at least calming down, I think. You wanna do some more? Can I keep smoking?"
"Sure," I told her. "Just don't move too much. We can talk. You tell me some stuff."
She settled her butt back on the stool, folding her hands demurely in her lap, the cigarette dangling rakishly from one side of her mouth, like she was some b-movie actress: the moll in Gun Crazy.
"Like what?" she asked. The cigarette danced precariously in front of her like it was glued to her lips.
"I dunno. Something. Anything. Something I don't know about you."
"There's a lot you don't know about me."
"So pick something." I shaded the side of her far leg, where the light from the lamp at the side of the bed was painting her skin almost yellow.
She looked at me for a long time, then reached up and took the cigarette from her mouth, held it in her lap, a thin tendril of smoke rising from the middle of her body like a tiny Vesuvius.
"Okay," my s****r said. "Get ready."
She smiled, inhaled, exhaled, blew smoke in my direction.
My naked gun moll.
My girl beneath the stairs.
"I fucked somebody for money,." she said.
Voice, thick and smoky.
For a moment, I stopped drawing.
My girl under the stairs.
"No shit," I whispered at her.
Started drawing again. Soft curve of hip, rib lines, curve of small breast.
"So tell me," I told Maura.
And she did.
She is naked now.
Lifting her cigarette to her mouth, smoking, then lowering it so that it glows against her hip, her thighs.
Her other hand lying in her lap, a touch of modesty.
I fill the thin dark line between her knuckles and her navel with the side of a pencil, smudge it with a gum eraser until it is indistinct.
"It was in Aspen, four years ago. I spent the winter there. Waiting tables in this lounge named Albertine's. Buncha rich clients, great tippers -- the guys, if you flirted with them a lot. So I flirted. Full on feminine wiles, you know? But mostly, I kept my distance, y'know? I'd just broke up with Joey out in San Fran that summer. I wasn't ready to start anything with anybody.
But there's this one night, big party, ten, eleven people at a couple tables, they were running me ragged. And there was this one guy, old -- like, fifty old -- but in shape, rich guy, lotsa time in the gym, skier shape. And he pays a lot of attention to me all night, y'know, kinda treating me like a girl, not like some waitress, y'know?
And sometime that night, he asks me, how old are you, and I lie and tell him, twenty two, which is what I'd told the Albertine people when they hired me. And he just looks at me, like he knows I'm lying, and he kinda likes that, admires it, y'know? And that was it, y'know? I went back to being a waitress and he left a little while later with the people he was with. And then the night was over and I was outa there, walking back along Galena -- that's like the main drag there. And this car pulls ove, a black Merc, real sweet. And the window rolls down and there he is.
He says, Hey. I say, hey yourself.
And then he just comes out and says it:
And I say, How much what?
And he gives me this smile and says, I think you know.
And it's right about then that I think I do know.
So I bust him. I tell him, What, you can't get one of your friends go home with you?
And he says, Don't wanna. Wanna go home with you. So what's it take?
I'm thinking, Wow, isn't he one bold asshole?
So I figure I'll bust him some more, I am not doing this, so I give him this outrageous number. Five thousand bucks, I tell him.
There's wind snow swirling all around us.
You worth five grand? he asks.
I'm worth more, I tell him. I'm giving you then discount rate.
Then, get in, he says. He, like presses something inside and the passenger door pops open.
And I'm thinking, oh shit.
And I'm thinking, Five thousand dollars.
I had stopped drawing, while she told her story. Not a stroke.
"So what happened?" I asked.
"I fucked him. Left at 4:00 in the morning with five thousand dollars in my pocket."
She was looking at me, almost challenging me to say something, to make some kind of judgment on her.
I looked at her. In her lap, the middle finger of her hand had disappeared.
She looked down at herself: down to where her finger was.
"Yeah," she said. "I kinda liked it."
"I guess I still do."
Slowly, almost regretfully, she took her hand away from herself.
Her smile was embarrassed; her eyes preternaturally calm.
"God, Jim," she said. "I really didn't mean to do that."
"It's all right, babe," I told her. Even though I wasn't sure it was.
"Maybe it is," she said. "If I can do that, I guess I can do anything out there."
She looked at her fingers, damp and gleaming in the lamp light.
And that's exactly how I drew her.
My s****r: naked, calm, centered, telling me what a whore she could be.
Just after touching herself.
Chapter 6: Opening Night
For a long time, I stood outside the theater, smoking as the crowd thinned around me.
When I was almost alone on the sidewalk, a head poked out of the front door.
"Hey, stranger, coming in?"
I threw my cigarette into the gutter, followed her inside.
The room was seats on three sides, ascending like bleachers around the stage. The stage was a run down kitchen. I looked around for a seat, but almost everything had been taken while I dawdled outside, delaying the moment when I'd see my s****r naked in a roomful of strangers.
Meg must have seen my hesitation. She grabbed my hand as she climbed up to the light console at the center of the highest level of the bleachers.
"C'mon," she whispered. You can sit with me."
So I ended up perched in a hard chair next to a pale, frizz-haired girl to watch my s****r.
"Thanks," I said. "I could use the moral support."
She had a pretty smile.
"Kinda weird for you, huh? This naked thing?
"Yeah, it is" I answered. "This is just like, not how it's supposed to be, y'know?"
She shrugged. Fiddled with knobs on the console, looking down.
"Maur' told me you've been practicing."
"She told you that?"
Another shrug. Meg was wearing a shirt too large for her that hid almost everything about her body. Still not looking at me.
"Yeah, I think it's kinda kinky hot, honestly. It's got a sort of Branwell and Charlotte Brontë feel, yeah?"
"I dunno. I think it was Emily he had the hots for though."
"Yeah, well. Whatever ... I just think it's really nice that you'll help her like that. But also kind of nudist transgressive, y'know?"
I guess. It's not like we're like sl**ping together, y'know?"
"Oh god, I know. Did I say it was?"
I shrugged back at her
Thinking about my s****r's hand, fingers damp from touching her pussy.
Nothing like that had happened again.
Even though I almost wanted it to.
She held up her hand, spoke into her headset.
She held up three dry fingers in front of my face.
"Three minutes, babe, you ready for this."
I shrugged at her.
She smiled at me.
Her hands danced over knobs and buttons.
The lights went down.
Ten minutes into the play, my s****r came out from the space that stood for the bedroom. She was wearing a sheer nightgown that left a shoulder bare and fell halfway down her calves.
"Fuck you," she said to her husband.
A few minutes later, she told him, "It's so goddamn hot, I'd just rather set around naked and never move again."
At the beginning of act two, Meg brought up the lights and my s****r was sprawled in a kitchen chair, her legs up on the tin-top table. One hand covered her pussy, moving lazily side to side. There's a quiet stirring in the audience: a room too cool to admit the vague thrill of seeing a naked woman, alone in lights.
A man who is not her husband walks in from what stands for outdoors.
"Jesus, woman, ain't you something? Put some goddamn clothes on willya?"
"Fuck you," she said to the man who isn't her husband.. This time, she's smiling.
Later, she kisses him. He was dressed. She wasn't. She presses against him, her small ass moving into him, the bottom of her grinding against him, her right leg hooking around his. He tries to fight against her, loses; his hand drifts over her hip , then down between her legs.
Beside me, Meg brought down the lights.
Still later, he hits her. She stumbles backward across the kitchen floor, crashes into the stove, slides downward to sit, legs splayed, the pink inside of her opened and visible. It is not erotic, because the man has just hit her. It is erotic because she is an actress.
It is erotic because she is my s****r.
When she picks herself up, I breathe again.
"Branwell," Meg whispered in the dark.
Chapter 7 The Cast Party
And then it was over.
When Maura came out for bows, holding hands with the other two actors -- her husband, her lover - she was wearing a white bathrobe, which she clutched modestly at the neck as she bent forward. The audience was standing, seeming genuinely enthusiastic. Meg, disattached from her headphone, punched me in the arm, grinning with that fevered intensity that theater people always bring to opening nights.
"Not bad, huh, Maura's b*****r?"
Then folded me, into a nice, intense hug; and after a monment, when the actors had left the stage, she brought the house lights up, the applause throbbed and died, the audience milled toward the exit, voices humming.
"Wanna go back?" she asked me?
And again, a woman who takes charge of things, she pulled me along in her wake to the stage. We walked across the kitchen, through the bedroom door into a narrow backstage space and down a flight of stairs to the dressing rooms. The actors were all there, being loud and raucous, passing a bottle of champagne among themselves and the couple techies.
Maura saw me and Meg and ran over, barefoot to wrap us both in a hug. Held by her, I was briefly aware of the bones and softnesses just beneath the fabric of her dressing gown.
"Shit, Jimmy, we did it. I did it, didn't I? Did you like it? Did you like the play?
I only had to nod at her and she was happy.
She pulled me away from Meg and down the corridor to the two other actors.
This was my night to be pulled this way and that by women.
She introduced me: Husband Tom; Lover: Richard, tall, sharp jawed and movie beautiful. He'd been good on stage - he had the looks and maybe the mojo for a long and happy future playing detectives in California.
Good to meet you too.
Then, plans: a bar down the street near Flatbush, Meg knows where it is, why don't you two go ahead, maybe get us a table, you and Meg and we'll be there soon, god, could use a drink, have some champagne before you go, and see you, see you soon, god what a night, it was good wasn't it, it really was good, Jimmy, Jimmy thank you so much for everything for give me that bottle.
Taking it from Richard, upending it so it spilled from her mouth and jumping onto Richard who catches her, hands on her bottom through fabric, her bare legs wrapping around him...
Her leg twisting his on the stage moving against him.
And then Meg and I are outside in the warm summer night, crowds of hipsters moving around us as we weaved across town to the appointed bar near Flatbush. She is pulling me, cajoling me, in another universe I could love her, but not here, not tonight, because I have just seen Maura naked falling, legs wide, her finger wet in our apartment, her hand moving across herself on stage.
And then Maura is there, and we are all drinking sour amber beers and she is ith him, the one she moved against on the stage, of course, she would be, he's the one she moved against, he's touched her there where she's only touched herself while telling me she fucked a man for money;
And I go to the jukebox and take a perverse pleasure in playing Elvis Costello's Watching the Detectives, a forty year old song saying everything about my life, this night. And when I get back to the table, she is kissing him, holding him, moving into him, drinking, swallowing him
And eventually, she leaves with him, all of us standing in the warm night outside the bar, hugs, kisses all around, and she disappears into the infinite New York night and the others are gone and there is only Meg, who turns to me and says, smiling, pretty, lost beneath wild hair and an oversized shirt,
"Don't get any ideas, bucko, I make it a point to never sl**p with guys who are in love with somebody else."
"And you think I'm in love with Mo?"
"Hey, you tell me, Branwell."
Then kisses me, lightly, half on the face, half on the lips and she too disappears into pools of illumination and stretches of dark on her way to the subway and she is gone and so is Mo and I am alone in New York, the world, my life.
It is two o'clock in the morning.
My girl under the stairs.
Ch 8 First Morning
Mo still not home.
I found myself standing in the doorway of her bedroom at 7:30 looking at her unslept-in bed. Then figured a shower would make me human, so I steamed up the bathroom and got in and let hot water beat on my shoulders and the small of my back. Tension washed out of me, and, as it did, memories of the last two weeks flowed in.
My s****r sitting on the floor watching a movie on Netflix. Bowl of popcorn in her lap, simulating modesty. Rubbing buttered fingers on her leg, gleaming.
Me leaning down to take a handful, my face a hair's breadth from her nipples, my hand separated from my s****r's pussy by the thickness of a glass bowl.
My s****r moving across the stage, walking up to her "husband, " tiny breasts against his shirt, grinding him: her line:
Don't you want this? Honey don't you want it?
And when he hit her, my s****r falling backward, scrabbling across the stage kitchen floor, the pink inside of her opening between her legs.
Not embarrassed. Not embarrassed anymore.
My s****r opening the refrigerator in our apartment.
My s****r's Keira Knightly boobs.
And found myself touching myself , moving my hand, making myself hard.
Which wasn't hard to do
And didn't hear the door open.
And didn't realize until I heard Mo's voice that I wasn't alone.
"Hey, Jimmy, what you doing?"
Oh god, did I freeze.
My mind in overdrive.
Not the truth. The truth was kind of perverted. I couldn't tell her the truth.
I couldn't lie to her.
I'm standing in the shower, facing (thank god!) away from her, with my hand wrapped around my erection.
My erection was all about her.
Shit, everything was all about her.
My s****r, the girl under the stairs.
Pirouetting naked in the sunshine.
The cleft between my s****r's legs. The red strip of her pubic hair.
Standing on the other side of a steamed glass door.
This time I was the one naked.
Naked with a hard-on that wouldn't go away.
"What's it look like?"
I stared at tiles, steam, water. Anything not to look back over my shoulder. Anything not to turn around.
My s****r in the room .
Who got laid last night by an actor who pretended to hit her, then kissed her at the cast party.
While I watched.
Everything I watched.
"You tell me, Jimmy."
"I'm beating off , Mo. I'm standing here in the shower beating off."
"This got something to do with me Jimmy?"
"Yeah, Mo. It does."
"It's okay, Jimmy."
"I don't think so, Mo."
"Hey, I asked a lot of you, you know?"
"No," I started to say. My s****r in the room behind me. My hand on my dick. Ashamed. Embarrassed. And all I wanted to do was come.
Which is when I heard the sound of metal sliding on metal and cool air on my back.
And her arms around me.
And her tiny breasts against my back.
Her voice in my ear, husky.
"Turn around, Jimmy."
She was standing there, washed by water, wreathed in steam.
My hard-on was in the way.
She brushed it upward with the back of her hand until it rested on her belly.
My penis resting on my s****r's belly.
Her hands down low on my back, pulling me closer.
My penis pressed against my s****r's belly.
My girl beneath the stairs.
My girl in the shower, looking up into my eyes.
"I slept there, but I didn't fuck him."
"That isn't my ... "
"Yeah, it is. I want it to be."
And leaned up on her toes to kiss me, my mouth. Her tongue whispering against my teeth, then flowing inward to wrap around my tongue.
My s****r my s****r my s****r my s****r my s****r.
Hands, lips moving from my face, neck, chest, belly
(Saying, murmuring, "It's alright, it's alright, Jimmy, alright, alright.")
to take me in her mouth, her hands surrounding my balls, fingers drumming pressure on the nerves at the bottom of my body.
Disattaching for a moment to look up, water streaming her face, hair dark with water. "It's okay, Jim. I want it too. Just relax and let it happen."
And taking me back into the soft inside of tongue and cheeks, her hands beneath me pressing, pressing
My s****r who knows a thing or two about how to drive a man crazy.
Who slept there but didn't fuck him.
And moving her hands up across my buttocks to my back and drawing me closer to her, pulling me in as I melted inside her
and came and came and came and came and came and came and came.
And when it was over and I was detumescing, body and soul, she released me and leaned her head against my belly, my spent penis -- now suddenly almost devoid of feeling -- sliding slowly down her water slick cheek and I listened to her say:
"I love you, Jimmy."
She wasn't my s****r anymore.
She turned off the water
Led me out of the bathtub into the steam swirling room .
Wrapped a towel around my shoulders
Took my hand in hers.
Out into the apartment, across the living room, through morning sunlight as bright and pure as on the first morning she pirouetted naked in front of me.
And into her bedroom
To her unslept-in bed.
Still holding my hand (my hand in hers)
And with her other hand turning down the sheets
And sliding in,
And bringing me with her.
Shrugging off the towel,
Crawling in beside her.
My skin alive with the touch of her skin
The length of my body.
Her hand finding me again.
"I just ..." I start to tell her.
"Oh, I think you'll be able to," she said, hand tightening, letting go, tightening, letting go. "It'll be our first time."
Reader, she seduced me.
And made me want to believe in god.
Ch 9 First Time
Then it was my s****r's turn.
If the first time with almost anyone is electric, the first time with my s****r was nuclear.
The first time, you want to devour your lover; and if, a man, you can't take her inside your body, can't absorb her the way she can absorb you, then you try to come as close as you can to ingesting her, touching as much of her body as you can with your tongue: her varying textures, the softnesses of her skin -- her breasts, the insides of her thighs, the barely stubbled silk under her shoulders, the roughness of her heels juxtaposed against the nearly virgin smoothness of her arch. The feel of her pulse against your tongue as you kiss beneath her wrists.
Maura's breasts were small enough that I could fit each one inside my mouth, sucking on the whole breast, my tongue moving across the papery smooth edges of her nipples, to their rough, uneven centers, each one growing hard and longer between my lips.
I took the trimmed traces of hair at the bottom of her belly in my teeth, pulled upwards, not entirely gently, pulling the skin of her mound upward, then released her, moved downward, licked her thighs until her legs lifted and moved around my head in a bicycle swirl that drew me inward, closer to her until at last, my tongue drew apart her swollen lips and found the deepest softness of her. My tongue, my mouth exploded with the sudden taste of her: she was like sour honey. I moved my face against her, found with my tongue the rim of the furred inside of her, probed, withdrew: tasting the deepest part of her, more acrid now than honey, then sliding down between her rising legs, circling, kissing the soft lined flesh between her cheeks, then moving back across all the territory I had explored of her, feeling the different tastes and textures of her inner parts, and then moved through the soaking softness above until I found the hood at the top of her cleft, and beneath that tiny skin: her clitoris, hardened, elongated, exposed, alive.
Her sounds: low moaning, a long sustained note, the song of a tenor saxophone, an indrawn breath, another long note, another: each outdrawn breath a release of tension, each indrawn breath more intense than the one before until, when I found the rich place at the top of her fold, she deepened, alto, short notes, neither rising nor falling, sustained staccato panting. No longer music, a sound more elemental, reducing her -- reducing us both -- to something more pure than human. Blind a****ls writhing. I looked at her from the bottom of her belly: the veins and tendons of her neck distending, becoming taut ropes beneath flesh, the muscles quivering, the veins pulsing with bl**d, with life -- a silent screaming - alive, alive alive.
Her head moving side to side on a pillow, hands threading her hair, moving down across her lips, her chest. My own hands on her breasts, nipples distinct against my palms, and one hand -- hers -- coming to rest and squeezing downward on my hand, tightening my grip on her, squeezing so hard that I half- thought it would hurt her; while her other hand slipped down the side of her body, fingers grazing the sharp bone of her hip, then twining into my hair, pressing against my skull, pushing me downward, downward as my tongue ran down and inside her, the opening now loose and salty, the soft gate to the inside of her, but not yet, not yet, and so out and up to touch again the fiery thing at the top of her lips, and as I start to release her, start to move upward along her sweat slick body, impelled by a million years of genetics to be inside of her body, her self, her soul, hearing her voice, too deep to be her, nearly (but not) unrecognizable, saying no, no, this way for now and bringing my face back into the glorious swamp of her, where my tongue ceased all ornamentation and simply licked over and over the hard small knob that was for the moment the center of all her feeling until her legs clamped onto my ears, my shoulders, her heels digging into my back (I am her horse, she is riding me, she is telling me where to go.) and her moans becoming suddenly articulated into one endless, elemental word. I feel her shuddering against my face, my hands have somehow travelled unnoticed to grip open her buttock and my thumbs are surprised by the sharp wonderfully immodest contractions flowing up from inside the back of her (all of her muscles -- seen unseen -- alive and pulsing) and her voice washes over me like water, gasping, almost choking "Fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck, Jimmy, oh fuck."
Then it was over.
And I was lying between Maura's thighs, my head resting on her slick belly, the top of the triangle of flesh that holds her insides. I can feel the tendons at the jointure of her legs and torso against my shoulders.
"God, Jimmy," she said, her voice rising to a nearly normal tone - still winded though, still drinking air to recover -- "I peed. I swear I think I peed myself. I think I peed on your face."
"I don't care," I told her. And slowly, half-exhaustedly, I pushed up and above her, crawling up along the white living skin of her beautiful (to me, to me) body, until the end of my erection was touching her lips and moving inside (sweet ferret!) the still damp inner piece of her. Braced above her, face now to face. We looked at each other, the eyes are the window to the soul, and to my unasked question, she gave the silent answer and, in response, my hand found myself and moved that hardness into her deep and gloriously soft inside.
"I don't have anything," I said. "I never thought ..."
But she shook her head and rolled against me, drawing me millimeters further into her and then I was falling down and in and the warmth of her enveloped me. And we moved -- awkwardly at first, first steps of a dance, then with more shared and conscious rhythm. And so it happened. On a warm July morning, rain drumming the windows of her apartment in Brooklyn:
I fucked my s****r.
I made love to the girl beneath the stairs.
We were as careful as any normal pair of lovers.
She came quickly, while I was inside her.
The muscles inside her squeezing and squeezing me.
And when I couldn't do anything else, I pulled out of her into the unforgiving air and sprayed across her stomach and her breasts (one small, almost comical pearl flowing down into her navel). And then fell down on her, onto her breasts, into her arms, her mouth, her kiss her eyes, her eyes, her murmuring voice, our eyes.
"Are you alright?"
we asked nearly simultaneously.
And yes, in tears, my girl beneath the stairs,
in tears that were not sadness, her lips against my neck, my ear, trembling with the fact of what we had just done, both of us speaking, blind with love into the ear of the other:
"Oh god, Jimmy, oh god, Maura, oh yes. Oh yes, I'm fine. Oh God. Oh yes."