“Skin’s Skin,” Jack Bristow

by MP

      “Listen. I’m going to go dance, if that’s alright with you. You aren’t comfortable with it, that’s okay. I’ll sit here with you.”
      “Go have some fun. That’s why you came here, right?”
     Lou play-punched his best friend and coworker Carl Strothers in the arm. Carl, the only hetro of the two, probably the only hetro in the entire club had winced in pain. “Sorry,” Lou grinned, as he stood up and walked onto the dance floor, then strutting, waltzing. The rave music grew louder, the strobelights flashed with gusto as Louis Childers took the hand of a tall bearded fellow; gray, fiftyish.
     What the hell am I doing here? Ah, right. Lonely. Unbearably so. Fuck.
     Carl hadn’t been with a woman, romantically or sexually, for three years now. Three long years of solitutde. Of goddamn lust, envy. And she, Denise, had been the only woman. He had never really loved her, not really. But then he had been bogged down in a religion, and that religion had a strong edict: marry within the lord which had meant, basically, marry within the religion. His folks had forced him into it, practically. Playing severe mind-fucks with him. “Go ahead. Marry some bimbo”—they’d always say to him scornfully, when ever he’d have eyes for the non-converted, making him feel small, implacable.
     Well, he had thought with a healthy amount of irony. If only they could see me now, here. “A den of sodomites,” that’s what dad would call it. And mom? She’d faint. Ha.
     The woman they had forced him to marry hadn’t really looked much like a woman. No. More like a girl, or a boy. She had an okay face, brown hair, and small breasts. Scrawny. Whenever they’d have sex—which wasn’t often—he’d always felt strange, rubbing against this body he had felt nothing for. Zilch. And whenever she wasn’t satisfied, the damn bitch would always blame it on him. “This is not normal. You’re twenty-five—a comparatively young man. This is not normal for you to have such problems.” It had been subtle, but the implication was there. Carl doesn’t like girls.
     A young girl approached his table. “This seat taken?”
      “Actually, yes. But it belongs to that fellow down there.” Carl motioned to the tall, hulking goateed figure on the dancefloor, waltzing around to industrial metal with a man probably twice his age. “But it looks like he’s about to score. Bigtime. Please, sit.” He smiled.
     The woman laughed as she sat. And as she sat Carl first noticed her. Beautiful hair, short-cropped black with bangs, ala Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction.” She had dark-black fingernail polish and blue mascara under both eyes. She could have been an actress if it weren’t for her unusual height. 6’1, probably. She had reminded him of a Vegas showgirl.
      “So.” She said. He could now tell she was sizing him up, too. “No dance partner? Why not? You seem like a handsome enough guy.”
      “Oh, no. I’m not gay.” He explained how Lou had been his best friend, and how he had just come here to keep him company. “You wouldn’t believe it, but you should come with me. They go crazy when they see you with another guy, for some reason.” That’s what Lou had told him.
     She laughed. “Well, he sure looks like a character.” There he was out there, still dancing animatedly. Carl couldn’t help laughing, either. Lou was a character. And a man’s man, to boot. In spite of their differing sexuality Carl and Lou had had a lot in common. Both lifted weights, liked hard liquor, had an affinity for loud motorcycles and enjoyed partaking in celebrity gossip. “He’s gay!” Lou would always exclaim matter-of-factly when they were watching some movie. “How can you tell?” Carl would always ask in wonderment…
      “How about you? What brings a pretty woman like you to a bar like this?”
     Carl had noticed a blush seep through her heavily made-up face. “Oh, just to get a break from the ‘normal’ clubs. I get tired of it. Guys, assholes, I mean. Won’t leave me alone to enjoy my drinks. Walking hard-ons. Obsessed with only one thing: pussy. You know the type?”
      “Yes.” There was an uncomfortable pause in the conversation. Eerie. But not in a bad way. It was more in a way that two people who had liked each other tremendously would reach silence. Momentarily. “And that was Momentary Sound. “Breath Machine.” Next up is Indestructable. “Opium Princess.” The DJ cranked the next CD into the player, the PA system going wildly back to life.
     Lou started dancing in a faux, tongue-and-cheek tango with his dance partner. The entire dancefloor had stopped dancing now, with the exception of Lou and his partner. Everybody had looked on, laughing and smiling.
      “I can’t hear myself think,” The woman said. “Let’s get out of here. My place. What do you say?”
     He sat beside her on the green couch. Her place was colorful, but not tasteless. Showy, but not ostentatious. Several abstract paintings had decorated the walls. “Those are wonderful. Who’s the artist?”
      “Me,” she said, laughing, and exhaling the smoke she’d just inhaled from the pipe. “Toke?” She passed the pipe over to him. He was about to decline, but then had thought, What the hell? This woman is beautiful, so accepting. I love her. I want to go exactly where she goes, feel exactly what it is she feels.
     He had breathed it in all wrong. Like you’d inhale a cigarette. Not cannabis. She went on about her paintings.
      “I do it for a living—have been doing it for several years now. It is great. I love it. I’m really starting to go places. Museums, art shows. And making a pretty penny to boot. Last summer, an eccentric count from Romania paid five-thousand dollars for just one rendition. But it was something truly beautiful, though. Unique.”
     They had talked several more minutes about art. About Monet. Salvatore Dali. Picasso. After she had gone in depth about cubism and absractism there had been another strange pause. Carl, empowered by the cannabis, had made the first move, kissing the woman on the forehead. This woman he had barely known. In fact, he didn’t even know her name. But that didn’t matter now; she was returning his kisses all over the place—eyebrows, nose, ears. “Oh. Oh, yeah!” she laughed ticklelishly.
     He reached down for her breasts and massaged them tenderly. And then he reverted his hands back to the neck, his favorite part, for some reason, of the female anatomy.
     That’s where he had found the unexpected lump.
      “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ve been this way a long time. And you know what’s funny? You’re the first straight guy to have noticed. Good eye.” She giggled.
     What the hell, Carl had thought. Whatever was her past was in the past. This woman is a woman—more woman than I’ve ever seen. Certainly more of a woman than Denise. He resumed kissing her on the mouth, and then unbuttoning her shirt, thinking, somewhat maliciously, If mom and dad could only see me now.

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