On any given day I put myself in a position of catastrophic failure. If you spend any time reading my words, you need to be keenly aware of this fact. And if you’ve invested any time in me, I am likely to disappoint. I only ask that you don’t deprive me the beauty of my destruction.
I would also say, don’t be too secure in your own normalcy. What happens to me could easily happen to you. And on this day, I wandered from one particular bad situation into another.
I noticed her from a distance, across the street, through the crowd, and past the rush of life, standing solitary at a payphone. Yes, a payphone, one of few that remained. I suppose that was a sign in itself. But there was something more to her. Something I couldn’t shake.
It was her hair, deliberate and red.
Enough so that my eyes trample the curves of her dress impulsively, devouring her torso. There is taut fabric gathering among clenched fingers, and a slender, pale thigh.
Just beneath her neck, three buttons lay undone over the slope of her breast, causing no apparent concern. I watch her lips twist under the burden of cumbersome words, pushing anger into the phone. The witness of this leaves me feeling voyeuristic and dirty.
I see her look up in disgust. Then down in shame, her face flickering flush with panic, before emptying paleness onto the concrete. She shifts restlessly. Her feet bare, her body closed.
I move in her direction, and then stop; her eyes pinned to mine like sharpened tacks. There’s a dismissive shrug as she throws her hair into the sunlight, wispy shadows scattering across her face before the payphone slams the receiver. I catch sight of her alabaster skin glistening under the charge of emotion, fresh moisture pushing across the freckles that leak from her chest. As I watch with curiosity, her body opens with a simple twist of shoulder and torso in opposition.
In a burst, she closes the distance, leaving space for our words to move slow and intimate.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
She hesitates, manipulating the buttons on her dress between the tips of her fingers, before the hint of need escapes.
I am willingly pulled deeper into the distraction. And I realize we have no past.
“I need a ride,” the stranger says to which I respond with a quick nod.
Ten minutes pass before another word is spoken. I lean my head against the window and watch the buildings shadow long and ominous under the penetration of headlights. Doubt slowly creeps.
“You have any money?” she inquires.
“A little,” I answer.
Two stops later her motivation leads me to a house just off the main street. It sits odd but ordinary under the withdrawal of light. Together we cross the walk and hurry the stairs. A rusted rail groans but forgives my eager grasp.
Inside mirrors the out.
It was no time before the newly acquired product finds the coffee table, previous contents spilling onto the stained carpet, her oil-stained fingers moving with an efficiency that heightens my sensibilities. Within minutes of my third inhale, all feelings of connection leave my body. I float above the couch, above the house, above everything.
When I finally awake, the sun is pounding on my neck. My arms, outstretched and numb, drape the couch like a bird frozen in flight. My pants tangle my ankles, my cock sideways and limp. When I could, I swallow dry and unforgiving. A bottle of Jim Beam stands sentinel at my feet. The room is empty. The streets hum low, and the shadows retreat under the mounting sun. The darkness is now long absent.
Reality surfaces from the fog, she is gone; along with my wallet, keys, phone and unconsumed hash. It takes 45 minutes to force myself upright; the residual numbness muddling my limbs uncontrollably frantic. I navigate the hallway, stumbling onto the street to stop the first stranger who crosses the decaying sidewalk. The man pauses, peers deep into me with emptiness, and stands mouth half-cocked. A small amount of dried saliva paints the corners of his lips like a pale, dry clown.
When I ask the day, he mutters reluctantly “Tuesday,” drawing out the word as he stumbles, brushing my shoulder with annoyance and pity, his presence leaving a stain on my conscious.
I realize filth has emerged, something previously camouflaged by darkness and anticipation. I have lost time to this place, to this person. I have lost a piece of myself.
When I return to salvage my dignity days later, I find myself rapidly shuffling faces like a deck of cards; each stranger on display in a frantic search for something deliberate and red.
It was a good hour into the hunt that my body turns cold in contrast to the midday sun.
Motionless, I stand and watch the familiar unfold.
It was her hair he would notice first, deliberate and red. Her clothing taut and drawn between clenched fingers exposed a slender, pale thigh.
I watch him; his eyes quickly trampling down her dress.
In a blink, they drifted from sight. I shift through the crowd of humanity to the payphone. I lift the receiver. The phone is dead, the cord dangling free in the air.
SEX, NAIL POLISH & CONVICTS
I once fucked a woman I met in a nail polish factory as her towheaded toddler ran around the bed yelling, “Daddy, Daddy.” It was as awkward as it sounds. Even more so because the whole event took place with me, on my back, staring at the tips of my white athletic socks, while a pendulously breasted women writhed back and forth until a moan escaped her in a climax. At least that’s how my memory recalls the events. Right before I sprinted from the house for my very survival.
In life, there are places we land, and places we land awkwardly. In the summer of eighty-six, I landed sideways on the doorstep of an Armenian nail polish factory in the heart of the city. I was a young teen serving community service for some testosterone fueled assault charges. To this point, my life existed upon a thin film of social transgressions.
For six months I was relegated to the seedy underbelly of nail polish. A world peppered with Armenian rants, assembly line malfunctions and a learning curve that was much steeper than you could imagine. And I don’t say this lightly. Bottles were hurled, tears flowed and what I experienced nearly cost me my life.
But before I am allowed your pity we need to explore. Imagine a warehouse. Squat heavy and damp like a wet cardboard box; odorous and unduly dark all hours of the day. In the heart of the dilapidated structure, a long serpentine conveyor belt snaked from end to end.
Now let me explain how the relevance of this plays into my near demise. Silently standing along the metallic snake were about a dozen women. Six on either side spaced about 4-5 feet apart. A horn would sound, and the tiny uncapped bottles would flow like blood from a sliced vein. By hand, and at an impossible speed, each bottle moved down the line, fingers flickering in and out like pale fireflies as metal rollers cried click-click-click-clack until an error occurred and a low-buttoned bare-chested Armenian hurled something at your head. In a nutshell, this was the job. Eight hours a day. Five days a week. We capped nail polish bottles. Other, less important nuances may have escaped my memory. And others purposely ejected due to real discontent. Nevertheless, I think you have the idea.
But I must confess I have told a lie or a mistruth. Maybe more like a misrepresentation of why I am telling this tale. I guess in many ways it’s more accurately a confession of sorts. When I said I fucked woman, well that’s grossly inaccurate.
You see working the line produced callouses so big and painful that I was unable to unbutton my pants for days on end, and this created a curious dilemma. Eleven women and a sixteen-year-old boy took turns buttoning and unbuttoning each other’s pants so we could find relief in desperate sprints to the bathroom. And these are not exaggerations. Accidents of the uncomfortable, not polite to talk about, well that sort happened frequently. Then enter Mrs. Robinson. I can hear your snarky tone now, but before you judge, yes that was her real name.
One day, Mrs. Robinson tucked her fingers a little deeper than the rest. And you can image what that does to a teenage boy. The touch of her long slender fingers started a process I was incapable of stopping. It wasn’t but two days later that I found myself on her couch, dressed in my best leather and heavily doused in cheap cologne. That towheaded toddler I spoke of, well this is where we first met.
Mrs. Robinson introduced me to sex in a very a particular way. I’d like to think of it as open and nurturing, but let’s call it highly dysfunctional. You see Mrs. Robinson had a gaggle of kids. And at any given time, they ran wild through the house. And the time I remember vividly was the time she stripped me naked, tossed me on the bed and rode me until she exhausted herself. I never came, likely due to a combination of bewilderment and terror. I was sixteen, she was late-forties. The appearance of toddlers in and out of the bedroom, demanding this and that, well it’s slightly unnerving.
In summary, you’d think this situation would be a teenagers dream. And it was, right up until the point that I realized the towheaded sucker yelling “Daddy, Daddy,” as he did laps around the bed, and his mother’s breasts slapped against her skin like slabs of steak, really meant Daddy’s home.
And this is where things get sideways quick. Apparently, Mr. Robinson was an avid hunter, evident by the crossbow mounted above the front door. And Mrs. Robinson, well let’s just she say was equally the hunter. So in the midst of breasts slapping and toddlers toddling Mr. Robinson enters the equation. He takes one look at me, then at her, and sprints towards the door. I assumed he was leaving. Why I have no idea. Unsure of my next move, I remained in place. More accurately, I froze beneath his wife, until the first arrow thwacked the headboard. Mrs. Robinson snapped her head in the direction of the assault and muttered something at a volume that did not match my panic. More like a “Donny, what are you doing?” “You’re going to kill the poor boy!” My cue to leave was clearly defined at that moment.
I sprinted from the room, still hard, relatively, being sixteen in all. Two more thwacks from the crossbow struck the door and nearby sheetrock. By this point, I’d picked up my life is in jeopardy speed, palming the forehead of one toddler as I hurdle another with the skill of OJ Simpson. The noise in the house grew considerably in the meantime, but not the Daddy’s going to kill this poor boy kind of panic, more like a general fervor over the unfolding events. As if a wild raccoon was loose in the house. It appears this sort of thing is not out of the ordinary in the Robinson household. No one seemed particularly alarmed. But I was.
I met the backdoor in a full on sprint with my arms and legs moving at speeds incompatible with my level of coordination. Miraculously I cleared the door, the porch and the back steps in seconds wearing only my white athletic socks. Another arrow striking the door frame a split second before crossing all three. I hit the lawn in full stride, my toes grabbing mud in clumps, as I dug into the earth, never to look back.
Through an open window, I hear the fading; Daddy, Daddy, Daddy from the towheaded toddler. Fuck my life I thought to myself as I disappear into the woods, bare ass naked, landing sideways in a place I never imagined, accumulating mud, grass, and briers in epic proportion.
R.E Hengsterman is a writer and film photographer who deconstructs the human experience through photographic images and words. He currently lives and writes in North Carolina. You can see more of his work at www.REHengsterman.com and find him on Twitter at @rehengsterman