This is the latest in Meg Tuite’s Exquisite Quartet. To go to the column page, please click here.
Her name was Satin at work. Anywhere else she was Sarah Becklestein. Grade school and high school had been a mosh pit of vile half-wits who ridiculed Sarah’s flat chest and the purple birthmark shaped like South America stamped across her left cheek, when none of them would have been able to find any continent on a map with a compass in one hand and their dick in the other.
Since Sarah’s graduation though, life had changed radically. She’d been able to put a moratorium on all the abuse. Satin ran the only sex shop in this hound dog of a town. She always loved Christmas time. The shop became a hoopla of who’s who from her graduating class, the townspeople and, of course, the locals who loved her and formed a protective seal around her like a condom.
Satin smiled every time she heard that bell above the door tinkle. A deluge of shoppers with their ludicrous, well-scrubbed faces meandered around the store turning red and giggling, like the asses they were, until they finally shuffled up to the counter with their vibrators, blow-up dolls and triple-X videos praying she wouldn’t remember them. She didn’t even have to say a word. She had every one of those browbeaten tormentors stuttering with their pants around their ankles, so to speak, trying to pretend like nothing had ever transpired between them. This was way better than sex.
From behind that cash register, Satin learned more about the townspeople than she had in four years behind a high school desk. Mr. Embersol, the broad-chested P.E. teacher, who’d once evaluated Sarah’s upper body strength as pathetic, burned through his stockpile of ball gags and fuzzy handcuffs at an alarming rate. Dr. Templeton, who’d performed Sarah’s first gynecological exam, often came in bleary-eyed on Friday nights and fingered through the gay porn before leaving without a word or purchase. Even Reverend Dobler, despite the handful of zealots from his parish who’d sporadically staged puny protests in front of the store, had wandered in once or twice under the guise of research. Nothing surprised her. That is until Christmas Eve, when the bell jangled over the head of Clive Benson.
Clive didn’t recognize Sarah at first, or didn’t let on. He just headed for the dildo aisle and stood stroking his chin as if he was charged with finding the perfect Christmas tree. Satin’s legs bent, willing herself short enough to be concealed behind the counter. She felt fortunate to have cut her hair and added a good twenty pounds on her, some of which now clung bountifully to her new credit-card-extravaganza of a C-cup chest. She also wore a tag emblazoned with her new name, Satin. Clive had only known her as Sarah. She thought about making a break for the backroom, to hide amongst the vibrating throng of plastic love. But before she could move, Clive selected a rainbow tickler and made his way to the register.
When Satin had gotten out of bed that morning she’d been feeling good about things. She was ready to take on anything this bowling ball of a whistle-stop might slam at her, but she had not been prepared for Clive. He’d been the chief motivating factor that had led Satin into the dildo-selling arena in the first place. After Clive, a huge slot gouged itself into her life. She’d found herself torn between fleeing the country to teach Basic Pottery as a second language to mute orphans in Peru, or staying put and opening her Dildo Emporium sex shop. She’d chosen to fill the emptiness with dildos, and once filled, she’d never looked back–until now.
Watching Clive approach the counter, Satin found herself feeling less like the Captain of her Star ship sex shop and more like the flat-chested Sarah she’d once been–the sort of rookie cadet who had a hard time distinguishing between a Klingon scented Cock Ring and a Vulcan Butt Plug. Fortunately, Clive wasn’t carrying either. He’d gone with the rainbow tickler–a choice that also included, free-of-charge, a battalion of painfully unanswered questions.
Why was he buying a tickler? If it was a gift, was he doing it with someone she knew? If it wasn’t a gift, then was he back to doing himself exclusively? Did he even remember Satin and what they’d had together? Had she ever let him know how special he’d been? Satin had never let a man get up that close to her before or since. She’d actually let him lick her purple South American birthmark so many times that when she looked at it in the mirror, over time, it had become lighter, almost lavender. And the tip seemed less distinguishable. It was becoming a hazy memory from Patagonia to the lower Andes. Would Clive remember or even care? There were too many goddamn questions and not enough floor space. Satin jerked physically as she realized that he was no longer heading towards the counter. Shit. He was suddenly standing right in front of her. Clive was already there.
Everything felt dry–the air in the room, her mouth, her lips, her tongue. She swallowed hard and looked Clive right in the eye. Time had afforded her many graces, one of which was the ability to stare down the things that made her uncomfortable or scared. He smiled softly but did not give the impression he remembered her or the taste of her birthmark. She rang up his purchase. When he handed her the money, several neat and crisp bills, she shivered even though his hand was soft and warm. He took his change, the black plastic bag holding his tickler and one of the store’s business cards in case Clive ever wanted to call. Satin forced herself to smile. She wanted to say something, but when she opened her mouth a small puff of dry air escaped. There were no words. She stood there, trapped somewhere between Sarah and Satin, the humiliation of her childhood and the awkwardness of the present. She watched Clive walk away.
Satin thought of Clive for the rest of her shift–the palms of his hands, the pressure of his lips, the strength of his thighs and the shape of his heart. She rang up purchases of dildos, plastic fists, midget porn and edible underwear. The day, it seemed, would never end. She grew angry at Clive for not remembering her. There was a hollowness that had carved itself into her chest. She was getting disgusted with the never ending parade of perverse men who couldn’t own their desires, walking through the store furtively, handing her money with guilt, as if there was something so terribly wrong with wanting. She hoped Clive would stick his tickler where it hurt. She decided she hated his face. She knew she was lying to herself.
When midnight came, Satin made some desperate small talk with Lester, the strange man who worked the night shift. Then she gathered her things and headed to her car parked out behind the store. She walked quickly, tried to stay alert. Strange things happened in dark parking lots behind sex shops and she didn’t have it in her to deal with any of it that night. After she threw her large bag in the back seat, she turned around and gasped. Clive was towering over her. He smiled and reached for her nametag, carefully removing it and sliding it into the pocket of her jeans. He leaned in close and held her waist in his hands. Satin inhaled deeply, instantly remembering his smell. He kissed her forehead and her cheek, just above her birthmark. He dragged his lips across her face to her lips and she opened her mouth to him. She no longer felt dry. She was humid now. He pressed her against the car, sliding one hand beneath her shirt. His thumb pushed against one of her ribs. When they finally pulled apart, Clive brought his lips to her ear. His breath tickled her when he whispered, “Your name will always be Sarah.”
This month’s contributors to Exquisite Quartet are:
Roxane Gay‘s writing appears or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Mid-American Review, Cream City Review, Annalemma, McSweeney’s (online), and others. She is the co-editor of PANK, an assistant professor of English at Eastern Illinois University, and can be found at http://www.roxanegay.com. Her first collection, Ayiti, will be released in 2011.
Rob Geisen has published several books of poetry (most recent being The Aftermath, etc. by Get in the car, Helen. Monkey Puzzle Press). His novel, Godkiller is forthcoming. He also hosts a weekly Poetry/Open Mic at The No-Name Bar in Boulder, CO.
Josh Goller sprouted in Wisconsin soil but the winds carried him to the gloom and damp of the Pacific Northwest. He now resides in Oregon where he enjoys driving through fog and coaxing the squirrels out of his walls. His work has appeared here and there and he edits The Molotov Cocktail.
Meg Tuite‘s writing has appeared in 34th Parallel, Calliope, San Francisco Bay Press, One, the Journal, Fast Forward Press, Sententia Magazine, Spilt Milk, Monkeybicycle, Boston Literary Magazine and elsewhere. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review. Her fiction collection “Domestic Apparition” is forthcoming in early 2011 through San Francisco Bay Press. Blog: megtuite.wordpress.com.
More of Meg Tuite’s Exquisite Quartet at Used Furniture.