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Authors: William Bayer

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BOOK: Punish Me with Kisses
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"Smells like a cathouse," he said when she opened up the lobby door. But when she unlocked her own apartment, and he went inside, he turned to her and smiled.

"Great, and the window seat—just like you said."

She was pleased he liked it. She wanted him to like everything about her. As she showed him around she realized he was the first visitor she'd had in months. He sat down on the bed, then motioned for her to join him there. When she paused, he reached out for her and brought her down beside him, and then they were lying side by side.

"I ought to take a shower," she whispered.

"I don't want you to take a shower. I want to make love to you while you're still hot and wet and slippery in my hands."

He drew her T-shirt up and over her shoulders, then left it there so it covered her face. Inside the tent she could smell her body.
He going to fuck me
, she thought again;
we're going to fuck
.

She raised her arms so he could pull off her shirt, then watched as he peeled off his own. Then it was as if the years had never passed and the two of them had just met upon the cliffs. He made love to her as he had that afternoon, showing the same intuition, knowing just where to touch her, knowing when he should be gentle and when he should be rough. Everything was the same, the same sense of melting, of intoxication, the same rising, the same hunger for skin. She was lost in waves of pleasure, she could smell the pines again, the spray, and feel the summer sun. She squirmed against him, and all the time the same
thought kept coming:
It's happening to me again.

Afterwards, in the shower, he washed her body tenderly. Then, while she stood in her underpants cooking breakfast at the stove, he stood naked in the center of the room watching her.

"You've got good tits," he said in the sweetest voice she'd ever heard him use. "And you've got one terrific ass."

She turned, looked at him. He was smiling at her, shaking his head in wonder. "I think you're serious."

"I am."

She couldn't believe how happy she felt. His comment was vulgar, but it thrilled her just the same. Men weren't supposed to exclaim over women's bodies anymore, weren't supposed to refer to intimate parts as things. It was the sort of statement she'd expect to hear from a truck driver or a steeplejack. But she loved it, loved the idea of being thought of that way. It had never occurred to her that her boobs were anything much, and as for her ass, she'd never dared hope it would catch a male eye.

"A terrific
ass
—you really mean that?"

"Great ass," he said. "Just looking at it turns me on."

"And my boobs are good."

"Not great but good." He moved against her, caressed her breasts as she fried their bacon, gently stroked her nipples. "I like them. Maybe they are great after all." She felt him grow hard against her buttocks. "See how you make me horny. After we eat let's screw again." He paused. "I love you, Penny. I love you, and I always did."

They spent the rest of the morning in her bed doing things she'd barely fantasized before. He made ingenious love to her, and taught her how to love him back. Without his asking she did the unthinkable and took his cock into her mouth.
He's wonderful
, she thought.
He makes me feel desired, alive
. Afterwards they lay on her window seat—hot, perspiring bodies. She lay her head down on his chest.
Yes, he's gorgeous
, she thought.

That afternoon they took a taxi to his hotel. She waited downstairs while he packed his bags, then gave him money to settle his bill. They taxied back to her place and found space to store his things.

"You're sure you want me to move in?" he asked.

"You already have," she said.

She told him about her job, about Dr. Bowles and the strange people with cats he'd be running into on the stairs. She told him about the neighbors she'd observed from her window seat, about the
slushpile
manuscripts she'd been reading so many months, her ambition to discover new great authors, her depressions and her efforts to run them off. She talked on and on and he listened to her, the two of them sprawled out on her bed. Every once in a while he would reach out for her, to touch one of her legs or thighs or cheeks, or to stroke her hair.

"God, I love you, babe," he said during a moment when she paused. "You're so special—I've been waiting so long to tell you that. And so beautiful. You're so beautiful, too."

She stroked his body and marveled at its perfection just as she had three years before in Maine. "Do I really have a great ass?" she asked. And when he nodded she said: "Well, you have a great ass yourself."

He laughed. "That's what they used to tell me, when I auditioned for those films."

"And this?—" She fondled him. "Did you have to show them this?"

"Absolutely. When you try out for those things, you have to strip. If you're too big, it makes the men in the audience envious, and if you're small—forget it!"

She was amused. "So, what did they think of you?"

"They more or less agreed I was perfect."

She stroked him again. "Yes," she said, "I can see that. I agree."

They watched television. There was a "celebrity roast" and they hooted at all the corny jokes. They turned off the lights and drank wine in bed, then made love one more time in the strange light cast by the TV, pretending the applause of the studio audience was in appreciation of the beauty of their feat.

 

T
he next week the weather changed. The sweltering haze that had settled on New York so many weeks lifted, and the sky turned clear and blue. It was as if someone in the heavens had pulled a switch, and now suddenly it was autumn, the air was clear and clean, people wore sweaters as they walked their dogs, and the subways were bearable once again.

She ran with Jared every morning. They always gasped together when they reached the northeast tip of the reservoir and the city was revealed. "Let's go out there today, babe, and knock them dead," he'd say. "Yeah," she'd agree, "bring the city to its knees."

His endurance was improving; after a while he was able to match her stride for stride. After their workouts they walked back home, arms tossed about each other's waists. Then they made love before they bathed, while their bodies were still hot and moist. She didn't think she'd like this very much at first, but very soon she found she did. She savored the idea that they were like animals, copulating creatures driven by demons in their genes. She'd look at his legs when they were running, the strength of his calves, the hairiness of his thighs, and think:
soon he'll fuck me, and I will fuck him back
. Where did such thoughts come from? She'd always been so repressed. Now she found herself savoring the most pungent words.

Afterwards, in the shower they'd soap each other between the legs. Once, with the water running hot, a thousand burning needles stabbing at her back, she knelt upon the tiles before him and, grabbing onto his legs, hard as pillars, while his strong fingers massaged her dripping hair, she sucked him until he came. He'd go down on her while she lay back on the bed staring at the ceiling, her head swinging in wild delirium side to side.

Sex was glorious, she decided. Just the notion of his hard, lean body on top of her filled her with desire.
I've missed so much
, she thought.
Now I must make up the time
.

When they'd scrubbed and dressed, he'd walk her to the subway stop at Eighty-Sixth. Waiting for her train she'd do her best to appear demure. She wanted people to see her as a well-dressed, reserved young business person pondering her schedule as she waited to go to work. When men tried to catch her eye—and now, it seemed many men did—she'd turn away haughtily and think:
If only they knew what a fox I am; if only they knew how fabulously I've learned to screw
.

The autumn went well for her at B&A. She brought in some young writers, signed up a couple of books. "You're doing OK, Chapman,"
MacAllister
told her. "You look better now, too. Not so mousy as before."

After he said that she went straight to the women's room and stared at herself in the mirror. It was true. She didn't look drab anymore. There was something on her, a glow, and the haunted look, the look of a person afraid of being recognized was gone.

I look good
, she thought, and then she said it aloud: "I look like a girl who's getting well fucked."

Shocked at what she'd said, she looked around to be certain no one else had heard. Where did such notions come from, she wondered, such language, such vulgarity? From Jared, perhaps, or, perhaps from deep within herself, a dark place at the center of her being, a place she was just beginning to explore.

She and Jared went often to the movies and to plays at little theaters in the Village. One night they attended a by-invitation-only nude production of a Greek tragedy held on the upper floor of a warehouse in
Soho
, and then to a loft party afterwards given by one of Jared's friends. He was trying hard to find work, warming up all his old contacts, reporting dutifully to all the cattle calls, auditioning for everything, no matter how small the part. A couple of times he came close, but in the end the role would go to someone else. He'd get depressed, but she'd continue to encourage him. "You're going to make it," she'd tell him, and at last, in late October, it happened; he got a small part in an experimental workshop production, twenty-five dollars a week plus delicatessen sandwiches for lunch.

The director, he said, was a madman, and the playwright a raving egomaniac. Also, he said, the play didn't make any sense; it took place in the desert and also some farfetched "desert of the mind." But he didn't care. He was grateful to be working at last. No one in the cast bothered him about the
Berring
case, though they all knew who he was. His one regret, he told her, was that he wasn't earning very much. He felt bad living off her, he said, but she assured him he shouldn't worry about that, that her money was inherited, and as far as she was concerned he had as much right to it as she.

The same week that Jared got the part Lillian Ryan was finally promoted to assistant editor. Penny was relieved, for
though
she'd taken some pleasure in being promoted first, she'd found Lillian's resentment hard to take. They were still rivals, of course, out hustling agents and trying to sign up books, but their
slushpile
days were over, and with that their competition cooled.

It was a beautiful autumn, the best that she remembered, the best, many people said, that New York had seen in years. It was a pleasure to live in the city, to jog around the reservoir early in the morning, to watch the days get shorter and Central Park turn gold and red. Sometimes, from as far as a block away, she could smell the aroma of the burning chestnuts sold at the stand in front of the Metropolitan Museum. The clarity of the air amazed her, the crispness, sharpness of the light. All sense she'd had of oppression and danger in the city dissolved in her joy in being alive.

On Saturdays she and Jared explored on foot, visiting the Madison Avenue galleries, taking the bus to the Cloisters and to the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. Sometimes, when there was no movie they wanted to see, they'd wander over to Lincoln Center at night, sit by the fountain, watch the people pouring in and out of the theaters, and stare up at the Chagall murals in the arches of the opera house. One Sunday they walked all the way from Eightieth Street to City Hall, then crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on foot and spent the afternoon on the Brooklyn Heights esplanade gazing back at Lower Manhattan, its magical towers and spires.

As the autumn deepened, the leaves changed and fell, the city became truly idyllic and Penny thought:
I am happier
now than I have ever been
.
At last, she thought, it had happened; that lover she'd been waiting for, who would enter her life suddenly and swirl her away, had come, and he wasn't even a stranger but someone she'd known before. He'd reappeared as if by magic. They were together; he made her cheeks glow and her eyes brighten with delight. No more depressions, no more dreads. Now she didn't wait in movie lines alone or walk the streets envying others, people in pairs, lovers holding hands. Now she too was paired, had a lover, walked hand in hand, slept against the warmth of another body, was kissed and stroked and adored. Sometimes, looking through a restaurant window and seeing a girl sitting at a table eating alone, she thought of all the drab years she'd endured and how her time now had come.

 

T
hinking a lot about Child, lately—wondering what's in her head. Why did we turn out the way we did, me as me and she as she? Could things have been reversed? What would that be like? Hard to imagine, but I wouldn't wish my life on her, yet I feel she's studying me so she can imitate me, as if I'm worth imitating, as if my fife is anything but the purest shit. JESUS! Yes, I feel she'd take my life if she could. I fear for her, for all of us. The world's merciless, love's hard and dangerous and everything goes flop-doodle in the night—

BOOK: Punish Me with Kisses
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