This month’s excerpt from The Muse Revisited is a short story from Volume 3:, entitled Night on Twelfth Street.
This was a highly autobiographical piece, based on events and people in my life in 1985, in New York City. It was published numerous times, both in print and online.
[WARNING: This story contains graphic content which could be disturbing to some readers.]
Night on Twelfth Street
In the half-light before dawn, the double bed jostles me from sleep; shaking with a distinct rhythm, like riding the double L train from First Avenue into Canarsie. It’s Manny jerking off again, I realize. Lately he seems to need this furtive sexual stimulation before dashing off to work at the last minute–strictly solitary sex is what he’s after. Sex that doesn’t involve me, that lands his jism in a tee shirt. The tee shirt winding up in the tangle of sheets for me to discover later when I’m alone. And I’m the one who he says is possessed by demons. Nympho demons, the kind of demons his aunt, the Mother Superior, warned him about when he was a teenage Catholic boy in Buffalo. He’s only twenty now. Six years younger than me.
Manny came into my life almost as an afterthought, like an unwanted conception late in life, and I can’t figure out how to get him to leave. Whenever I suggest it might be time for him to move from my little hellhole on East Twelfth Street and find a home of his own he punches me repeatedly and starts smashing dishes that are irreplaceable heirlooms from my favorite dead grandmother.
The one nice thing about this Catholic boy, though, is that he’s so hung up on his Catholic upbringing he’s psychologically incapable of coming in a girl’s mouth. I can suck him until the proverbial cows come home and never have to swallow so much as a drop of his spunk. The sin of wasting his seed in this specific way, weighs heavily on his conscience. But all the other sins have found a home in him. His soul is blacker than tar, mostly because his mind is so fucked up. Let’s face it, he’s too inquisitive to be Catholic, but he was raised by a father who beat him regularly, who alternated between using a leather belt on his ass and bare fists on his face, and a mother who was a sister to the top nun. It’s left a seemingly permanent schism in his psyche. Four months ago, he was a straight–A student at the university, studying to be an architect. Now he works as a ticket seller in a gay porno movie house over by the highway. It’s run by the mob and it’s the only gay porno house left with a backroom for sex in these days of AIDS.
There are a lot of things about Manny that don’t make sense if you weren’t raised Catholic, which I wasn’t. Still I’ve heard him babble on enough these last couple months to put the pieces together. He started out a trusting little boy with a good heart, but dogma has doomed him to a destiny of sociopathic perversion. I try to tell him to get over it already, that this isn’t Buffalo anymore, it’s New York City. He can be whoever he wants to be. Sometimes he listens to me intently and makes love to me in the dark like he’s starving for a sanctity he believes he can find in a woman’s body. Other times the black cloud rolls over his face and the fist flies out, connecting with my cheekbone.
It was never my intention to save Manny from himself, just to lead him to the vast waters of the variety of human experience and let him drink. But the variety proved to be too much for his conscience. Sometimes without my knowing it, the things I’d want to do to him in bed would push him over the edge and instead of succumbing to orgasm I’d end up dodging his fists. Lately I don’t have the strength to wave so much as a white flag. I’m reduced to trying to read his mind and staying the hell out of his way.
I like it when Manny’s at work. I like the fact that the movie house is open around the clock and that his shift in the little ticket–taker’s booth is twelve hours long. It doesn’t matter a bit to me that he’s back to doing blow, either. Even though it makes me spit each time I discover he’s stolen my hard–earned money from my wallet, I’d rather he spent all night in the horseshoe bar on East Seventh Street without me. Then he’s more likely to skulk around the Lower East Side looking for more blow at four o’clock in the morning, increasing the risk of landing himself in the Tombs again. He hates the violence of the Tombs. He’s come out of there sobbing. But having him locked in that mad monkey house is preferable to having his unpredictable rage lying next to me in bed.
I wish I could get him to give me back my key. I wish I could afford a locksmith to change the lock on my door. I’m going to find a way to get him out of here. I’m going to do it soon. Ruby’s band is back from their tour of northern Africa and Marseilles. She’s trying to quit junk again, which means she’s wanting to have sex with me. It’s her pattern and I’ve come to count on it. I love her so much it’s scary.
I can’t explain why I love Ruby. We have next to nothing in common. We don’t seek the same highs. We don’t like the same music. When we’re lying together in bed we run out of things to say. I don’t hang out in dyke bars like she does. I don’t wear black leather. Even our tricks are from different worlds. I don’t venture into the park after midnight to support a heroin habit. A cheap handjob in the shadows is not for me. My tricks are uptown men who shoot their spunk in broad daylight. Restaurateurs, or entrepreneurs, wealthy men, whose emptiness is too complex for what can be gotten in ten minutes at twenty bucks a pop behind some bushes. Ruby wouldn’t fare well in those uptown luxury apartments. She’s not okay with being handcuffed. She doesn’t own a pair of high heels. Holding on to a man’s dick in the dark is the limit of what she can stomach. Pussy is where her heart is.
The first time I made out with Ruby, in a toilet stall in CBGB’s, I didn’t know she was on junk. I only knew she was a good kisser, which was why I’d followed her into the stall. We didn’t do anything wild in there; we just kissed. We didn’t unzip our jeans or pull up our tee shirts–nothing. But kissing Ruby was enough to make me fall in love. Her face up close to mine like that, her brown eyes closing when we kissed; her dark hair brushing lightly against my face. Then the soft groans in her throat, as our bodies rubbed against each other in that suggestive rhythm. I understand now why she seemed to be in slow motion. It wasn’t some trance of Eros; it was the gold rushing through her veins.
I couldn’t compete with the junk. It wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted the whole girl. When I told Ruby that, we didn’t kiss again for a year. I blew my money that year on the gypsies on Avenue C. Mostly on the youngest girl, the fourteen–year–old with the stray eye. I paid her to hold my hand in her lap, palm up, and tell me a pack of lies. I was too in love to leave anything to chance. I wanted my destiny spelled out for me. I wanted Ruby to come to her senses. She did, after three men in the park raped her one night. She called me collect from the pay phone in the emergency room at Beth Israel. She was ready to try it another way.
She moved back in with her mother in Queens. Six weeks later, she showed up on East Twelfth Street, doubtful seeming, but her veins were clean.
If Ruby could find a way to keep off smack for good, there wouldn’t be cracks in my world, where vermin like Manny can wriggle in when I’m blind on bourbon and crying for myself. It’s not that I kick Ruby out when she’s shooting up, it’s that she stops coming around. So I plug up the holes with whomever I can find. Now I have this dilemma. I want Ruby back in my bed. Nothing compares to her.
The first night Ruby and I made love it was the height of summer. Salsa music blaring from some Puerto Rican’s boom box clashed with the tin calliope sounds of an ice cream truck parked under my open window. But in my double bed at the back of the flat, the intrusions of the neighborhood faded. It was finally just Ruby and me. Both of us sober. When I saw her naked for the first time I felt elation, like how an exulting mother must feel as her eyes take in the body of her newborn for the first time, that unshakable faith in the existence of God. That’s what it felt like to see Ruby without her clothes on. How else can a mind account for something so perfect, so entrancing, so long desired? Her firm, upturned breasts with tiny eager nipples. Her narrow waist, slim hips; the dot of her navel and the swirl of black hair that hinted at the mystery hiding under it all–at first, it made touching her a little daunting. But she lay down next to me and fervently wanted to kiss. The force of passion coming from her slender body made the rest of it easy. I didn’t worry about how to please her then. I knew intuitively what her body wanted. I could smell it coming off of her. Her nipple stiffening in my mouth needed more pressure. I twisted it lightly with my fingers instead. Tugging it, rolling it, pulling it insistently, while my mouth returned to her kisses. She moaned and her long legs parted. That’s how simple it was.
I knew she would be wet between her legs. My fingers slid into her snug vagina and her whole body responded. An invisible wave of arousal rolling over her that I could feel in the pressure of her kiss. The muscular walls of her slick hole clamped around my two probing fingers, hugging them tightly, making it too plain that the thick intrusive pricks of the pigs who’d raped her could only have succeeded in finding a way into her through sheer masculine determination. I knew how she had suffered. Struggling, succumbing, three times successively. It was hard to believe her body had withstood the repeated violation. I shoved the pictures from my head. I centered my thoughts instead on the rhythm of her mound, how it urged my fingers to push in deeper. They did. Feeling my way, my fingers found the spot inside her that opened her completely, causing her thighs to spread wider, then she held herself spread; bearing down on my fingers as her slippery hole swelled around them.
I kissed my way down her ribs, down the flat expanse of her belly. Following the wispy trail of hairs that led to the world between her legs. I wanted my mouth all over her down there. It was what I had dreamed of, ached for. At last, she was offering it to me; wide open and engorged.
Sometimes I think about how easy it was to make her come. Two fingers up her hole and my tongue on her clit, then the river of shooting sparks gushed through her. And because I loved her it made me happy to make her come, even though, afterward, we lay together entwined with nothing left to talk about. Ruby and me are always silent when we’re finished making love.
With those wealthy tricks uptown, it’s more complicated. They need to discuss each detail. They practically draw you a map: the tit clamps here, the enema bag now, the length of rope like this, the gag last. The timing must be meticulous and the monologue rehearsed.
And with an uptight, paranoid guy like Manny it’s even worse. There is no plan, no map–no discernible guide posts. Each gesture, every word is a toss of the dice: will it lead to a kiss or a bruised lip? I try not to lose sleep over it. If worse comes to worst, when Ruby arrives we’ll shove the heavy bureau in front of the locked door. We’ll go to my bed in the back of the flat, strip out of our clothes and make love. Then I’ll call the cops on Manny at last, when he’s shouting obscenities out in the hall and slamming uselessly against the barricade.
c: 2018 Marilyn Jaye Lewis