Fiction

Penance

By: Stephen Faulkner

I walked from where it all took place with a steady gait down a dark and humid street. Darkness enveloped me like a shroud, like a fetid blanket pulled around me, hiding me. Still her eyes found me. Who was she? I had asked Gaylord that question and he just said, “Some cunt. What does it matter?” She whimpered like a frightened puppy, even whined through her nose as the act was being done to her, to her the way water does to a rock in the stream: pouring op, just pouring on until it cracks wide open and screams to let the pain flow through and out and away.

            I was the bank of that stream, the containment of the pain and pounding action. When she turned her look in my direction, directing her watery, terrified gaze (what more had she to fear than this which was being done to her now, was what she had previously feared the most?) at me, imploring of me what I might do.

            “Gaylord,…?” I said, not knowing what more to say, what she was imploring me to do, but at least to try. “Gaylord, she’s scared. Bobby, why? She doesn’t want this, want you. Why do this?”

            “You want me, don’t you, Sweetmeat?” Bobby asked the girl menacingly. He knelt down between her legs, spat on his hands to slather himself for her. “Don’t listen to him, Baby. You want me all right.”

            Gaylord and another guy held her legs wide at the thighs and knees while a third boy who I didn’t know sat on his haunches with his knees on her shoulders and held her hands in his own so she couldn’t flail about. He had hands as rough a workman’s gloves but twice the size. I could barely see the bloodless tips of her fingers struggling in his meaty grasp.

            She yelled when Bobby laid into her, hurting her, wet as he had made himself for this. He squirmed and pushed, pulled back and jammed hard like an engine part ramming into place. But there was no metallic sound, no thunk or clack of machinery being pounded into place, only the uh uh uh of his doing the sordid work and the whining wheeze of the girl in rhythm with his jerky humping, resting herself into the fears she has only previously shared with her nightmares before this.

            “Soppy seconds,” Gaylord pronounced when Bobby was through and switched places with him.

            Again, she looked at me but there were no tears. She mouthed a word at me as Gaylord hardened himself for her and one of the others drew a breath of either admiration or envy. “Coward,” she had said, dry eyed and bitter. Look at me, I heard, listening to her thoughts in my mind. (Am I going crazy?) My fear and here it is, she said wordlessly. Suddenly real, hanging over me, ready to penetrate me with that bratwurst thing of his, against my will like some animal in the forest. I fight, I cry, I plead and throw my body around so he won’t be able to, will have to hold me down to…. But it’s no use. Now I just lay back and take it. Four of them and I take it. But what do you do? What do you give me?  Neither aid nor pleasure nor pain. I hate you more than these ones who violate the dignity and worth that I have striven to hold onto. You are a nothing here; you do not exist and I loathe you for your nothingness. Coward.

            Hot and humid, I walk the dark alley that leads to only more of the same narrow, aimless backways. I have done nothing, I think, and it is what I have become for it.  Why, though, do they need it in such a way, such a violent and degrading way? The women I have known (and I have known a few fully and lovingly, gorgeously well), there has never been the want in me to make of them what Gaylord and Bobby and the others have made of her. (And those eyes, what was she asking of me with them but what was impossible for me to do?)

            And what was in it for them? Why? What for, to what purpose?  To shoot their jism? To show their brute manliness? To prove to me and to her and themselves their primitive disdain for love, sex, women, beauty? To say to me that I was not one of them? As Gaylord sniggered and cursed when I walked away: “Careful of the fairies, Pansyass. They’ll make you one of their own!”

            Because I would not join them…. What is there to understand?

***

            Then, there would have to be another time. And, thinking about it, the impetus was to say yes, to go with them knowing well what it was they intended to do, to find. Those eyes: haunting, hating, mocking, cursing. Her eyes – accusing me with the pain being given like a pervert’s prize – said nothing to any of the others who were doing because in their doing, she could understand them as I could not – as I wanted to. Could understand their animal motives, their hate-filled need to prove that they were not just impotent things, that they were men and in that sense needed to show their abhorrence for anything that was not of their sex, their drive, their sick disdain.

            And there was I, her eyes had said: who are you who are here but do nothing but watch and disapprove? If you can’t stop them and you don’t join them, then why are you here? As if her eyes—dry, sober, agonized – had a voice that said these things to me. Was that why I walked away so quickly, so secretively sought the backalley way homeward, trying to find the words she silently said that would lead me to some kind of understanding?

            This time, I promised myself, this time she (another, not the same woman or girl but the eyes will be the same, I know) will not haunt me so with her wondering, demanding stare. She will know who I am, what I would be to her (dreams, perhaps nightmares; as much a part of her life as the loves she would seek to sustain, then lose after I have done this thing to be done); the man she would expect me to be.

            Gaylord and Bobby came to get me in Gaylord’s hardtop Jeep. They taunted me about my sideline role last time, asked if I had brought along my camera. Bobby cleaned his nails with his knife as Gaylord drove, heading for one of the badly lit parking lots on the Avenue on the other side of town. The other boys couldn’t make this night’s fun, I was told. “Don’t punk out on us this time, kid. We need you.”

            “I need this,” I said and Bobby slapped my back as if to say “Good man.” “No cunt’s going to look at me like that again and not get something for it,” I said.

            Both Bobby and Gaylord laughed at the serious way I said what I said as they got out of the car to take their leaks by the outer wall of the old drugstore this side of the Avenue. “Good man,” said Bobby as he handed me his knife, clipped shut, the silver button gleaming on the handle. His voice said that he meant it and made me surer still that this night held some new wonder, my privilege to learn, to grasp like the hand warmed handle of the knife; my privilege and need to experience.

***

            Mother – damn. Why did she have to squeak so, like something living was caught in her throat trying to get out?

            She preamble while I held her down, not making a fuss but pleading, all voice and staring at the glint of the blade that Bobby held before her eyes like a remonstrance, a benediction, a reminder. What did she do to deserve this? she said. She had done nothing in memory’s telling that would deserve her this. Oh, God save me, she wailed, child voiced and trembling when Gaylord showed himself, slathering big. Oh, God, come to me now, he’s already there and ready and there and no but I’m a virgin don’t do this why are you doing this to me to me not to me please oh God oh God oh God…. A long drawn out painful wail; a cat’s piercing cry. The animal in her had changed. Not an animal in there at all; suddenly she was just a kid, a child, a human being.

            She was silent as doom’s prayer when Bobby got his seconds in but with me she squeaked like a trap-caught rat as if those squeezed shut eyes had peeped their single voice past the lashes and lids and that was all I got from her, that pipsy eek when I came like dribble from an empty bottle, last drops piddling out and when I pulled up my pants and heard Bobby’s last, hushed reminder to her to lay still and be quiet until we had gone I thought, So what do I  deserve?

            Mother – damn it. Why did she have to give me that answer. Mother, she called out as if expecting that woman of her comforted youth to come running, hush the storm, ease the hurt, soothe the tautened, little girl nerves (what was she – fifteen, sixteen?) and she yelled for her mother in shame, in fear, in confusion, in pain, in her little voice with that rat squeak quaking at the edge of every word: “Mother…. Mmaammmaaaa…. What did I do…?”

            When? Where? What? To deserve this? The hand comes down, the weapon is shown, the act done. To what purpose, what reason, fulfillment of what sick justice, this? The accusing eyes of the other woman left me then. Now I had this: a child calling for her Mama, terrified wonder at the terrible thing she had done to deserve being so humiliated, so violated, so degraded, so punished.

            “Now you done it,” said Bobby, proud of me as we pulled away in the Jeep. Accusation was the way I took it and every nerve of me agreed. Now I had done it.

            And what do I deserve for this?

***

            Back alley dinge and darkness again and the call of a distant voice overhead: “Gordy?! Don’t be late for dinnerrr!” Of course it’s not for me. A fire escape rattles nearby like ringing static; something jumps silently, stealthily from the lid of a partially open garbage can to the ground, whether a rat or a cat I cannot tell. My world, my state of mind – I never flinch, even at the oddest of sounds or the most startling, fleetest of visions. I am numb; nothing surprises me anymore.

Not even my reason for being here in this particular alley, ambling along to that certain place to see the one guy that might be able to help me.

            He sat near the cellar entrance of an old and gracefully sculpted (for that was the impression it gave, being of a single, hewn piece) apartment building. The door was the kind that is sheathed in sheet metal, heavily secured with three padlocks, each the size of a fist. He leaned lightly on the back legs of an old ladderback kitchen chair making it squeak with a wicked little voice. His own voice was soft and lilting, insinuating something with his greeting: “Hello, Love. Night air?” His shirt was gaudily flowered, open to the navel to reveal a hairless chest. The caged bulb above the padlocked door cast a sharp light that threw his shadow at me like a wraith on the attack, its glare momentarily blinding me as I approached. He had a kind face though not unscarred by the demands of his obvious preference for men, the prejudices and injustices it provoked in men of more accepted tendencies. He was gentle with me in a condescending sort of way as I stopped to consider his question. “What’s got you down, Baby?” he asked.

            I was surprised that he had detected my state so readily, so easily. Of course I couldn’t tell him directly, though I thought that I wanted to. I put the matter (as much of it as possible) in the form of a question which I thought would be beyond his comprehension or experience to answer: “What does a woman feel when you give it to her?”

            “Give it?” he said, stifling a nervous snort of laughter. He thought for a moment, weighing the reply he would give me, interpreting what I wanted of him. “You mean the old stiff snake? Oh, darlin’, I’m sure she’d feel much the same as I do under the circumstances – in heaven.”

            “But what if she doesn’t want it? How does it feel then?”

            “I can’t say for a woman, of course – fool if she doesn’t want it, I say – but I’d imagine it would be painful, intrusive like a violation of her body…. But no, something much, much worse. Oh dear – what would…?”

            “Like being stabbed,” I offered, not knowing but feeling that that somehow sounded right. “Something of her own being taken from her, something precious and priceless. An intrusion, yes, but into the very fiber of who she is, what she is, what she wants and needs. Her will not taken into consideration as something is taken from her by force….”

            “Well, Sweets, it sounds like you know already, so why ask? But, like I say, when the opportunity comes along she’d have to be a damned fool to say no. Just my own personal opinion, of course.”

            I stood before him, feeling his kind, sad eyes scanning my body as I shook my head. “You say that I know, that I sound like I’ve got it all figured out, but I really don’t; not at all.” He looked up at my face with a wondering gaze, full of gaze. “But I do want to,” I said.

            “Well, Hunk,” he said soothingly, insinuation rising in his voice once again as he seized the opportunity I had just given him. “There is only one way that I can think of to find out.”

Only the opportunity, he had said. Something for him. How could he know the vengeance I sought on myself, this confused mangle of obscure needs I could barely describe to myself? How could he even remotely guess or care why it was that I said, looking around unsurely at the clutter and eerie, hazy gloom of the alley: “Here?”

“Of course not, Love. Mrs. Gorlund upstairs always has her frazzled head hanging outunk,” He said soothingly, insinuation rising in his voice once again as he seized the opportunity I had just given him. “There is only one way that I can think of to find out.”

 the window. She’d hear our squeals of ecstasy and call the police down on us in a trice.”

            He straightened his chair onto all four of its spindly legs and rose while digging into the left front pocket of his pants. He produced a set of keys and held them in front of my eyes for inspection as if significant of some secret he would unlock with them. He turned and clicked the three padlocks open with the sound of horse hooves on cobblestones – clip, clop, clack – and shoved the door open.

            “I’m the super of this building,” he explained, waving me inside. “So, therefore the keys and so my ease and so the room down at the end of this hall, complete with a cot and a nice tumbler of brandy.”

            “No,” I said as I followed him down the dank corridor, hearing the crumbling concrete slap and crunch under my shoes. “No brandy. This shouldn’t be like a party. No delight for me in this as it would be for you.”

            “I know, Lover,” he said considerately as he pulled a cord that flashed a bare, dangling bulb to life, illuminating a barren, square little room, concrete-walled and windowless. There was an Army cot shoved into one corner, a rickety bed stand next to it that held a candle which was adhered to the little table by caked drippings of its own wax, a book of matches, a tube of personal lubricant, a half empty pint bottle of domestic brandy and two cloudy, film-smeared glasses. The other end of the room was a clutter of cartons, machinery parts, baby carriages, bicycles and stacked magazines and newspapers. “But we each have our own reasons, don’t we? I mean, we can’t all be happy.”

            I have asked for this, I thought as we silently undressed. But this will not be enough. I deserve much more, much worse.

            I stared at his erect penis in amazement, tried to estimate its circumference and length, wondered how I would ever be able to accommodate him. Still, though, even as I knelt down on the thin mattress, leaned forward and rested my head on the sour smelling pillow, heeded his softly spoken instructions to raise my haunches, to spread my legs wider apart, saw his hand reach for the lubricant then, a moment later, felt him prod and find my anus and press into me, even as I stifled a scream of pain and protest (my cries are a sham, I told myself; this was my idea) I thought: This will not be enough. Not enough. There is no fear here, no threat if I do not. I asked for this as she (as they) never did. I deserve worse, much worse.

The eyes of that first woman came back to me, were still with me, now a part of me that I could not lose and they asked the same questions: Who are you? What are you? What do you give?

Nothing, nothing. A cursed man can only search, never give; take but never give. What am I? I am an animal, doing an animal’s deed: joyless sex with one whom I don’t know, love ort want in a seedy basement hole. Better this, though, than to make another girl cry to her Mama for a solace that will never come.

Reason said all that to me. Something deeper, though, let itself be known as well. It is not enough, it said, will never be enough. Here is your curse, then, your continuing pain, your deed for the doing, the fact that it will never be repaid, something more (always more) to be deserved, to be born like a private wound that, by my wish (damned conscience) will never close, never heal.

            When he was finished he pulled away from me and rubbed my back in an affectionate manner, I stupidly asked if that was all. It was an honest question (what do you give?) for I had felt nothing of his ecstatic shudder and spurt.

“Done,” was his answer and then, quoting or paraphrasing something he had once read, said, “Done and done again as the deed is done, as my life is done…” and then muttered along, forgetting the rest of the quotation, mumbling to himself as he quickly got dressed.

“Done,” I repeated, feeling stupid for having to ask. I rose, watched him watch me as I pulled on my jockeys, my shirt and pants, watched him eye me appreciatively, still with that kind, hang-dog way of his. And sadly, I thought: Done, yes. But no, never finished.

###

Categories: Fiction

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