The only time we fucked was after an event she hosted at a sprawling and vast labyrinth of a campus in the city. (I would rather call it ‘making love’, but she wouldn’t allow it, saying that what we were doing was not about words or meaning but primal human instincts her husband didn’t know how to act on). She was the older pursuer, I the naïve young man looking to advance a career, like the one she had always seemed to have, at least from my vantage: one not obtained but grown into; woman don’t suck and fuck their way through limp dicked executives on their way to the top, as societal stereotypes would have us believe— more often than not they are already above us, and by us I mean men, and it is we who fuck our way to the middle, staved from advancing by vanity and our self-ascribed patriarchal privilege: the sex is never about power, it is meant to be expressive, showing us how pathetic we are in the face of all we do not and will never understand.
I had been published in a few unknown journals; she had a couple of books, the newest of which was jumping whole grades of sales rankings on Amazon. She’d read at colleges and book fairs all over the country; I followed her pixelated history, contacting her through social media and eventually meeting her at an event where she was doing some promotion. I was jittery and confused. I bought a copy of one of her books and waited in line for her to sign it, trying to muster the courage to hand her some of my own work… which I did, apologetically, feebly, like a mouse moving bread crumbs to the eagle’s nest. She was too nice; she had no composure. When she saw me she stood and hugged me tight around my neck and squealed; until that moment she’d been a picture on a screen, but as I hung there, her breasts pressed against my chest, there was the realization that she was a person, she was a wife and a mother, more than that she was a woman I felt physically and mentally drawn to.
That night I read the first few pages of her novel and then flipped back to the inscription: so many exclamation points, ended with a perfectly drawn heart, a little less sharp at its point. (Later she’d tell me she meant to draw the head of a penis, as if that’s what I should have expected, as if that’s what I was supposed to see).
Things worked out that we had each other’s cellphone numbers saved in our respective devices, every night it was my tempter; I’d scroll through the contact list and stop on her name, bringing myself up to erection with the thought of her as the predator and myself the prey, visceral, dark reactions; one in which she ripped off my flesh and ate my organs while I was screaming. I’d cum with the force of a handicapping spasm, a seizure; my brain flickering off and then on at the moment my ejaculate spewed forth from that sickly skewed mouth.
I only called her when I got the idea to host a reading, figuring I could maybe impress her. Afterwards she led me to her car; I didn’t ask any questions, it was parked in the farthest reaches of the lot, near a dumpster. I did as I was told to. The night was alive with electricity; we’d both read explicit work to a crowd of people. I got in the passenger side and she pulled her shirt up, exposed her breasts. I gasped, said nothing— or wasn’t able to say anything before she tore me down, telepathically linking me to her lust for an affair.
It either started or ended with a blowjob, depending on how you look at it, my flaccid wet cock like a dying worm on my pant leg, her mouth contorted into a sinister smile. I felt gutted… usually an orgasm allowed my head to empty, but it was stuck in rewind, driving me to masturbation later that night, recollections of spit and her swallow, all those hypothetical babies gone to her appetite, swimming in an acid bath, later rejected by the very cavity they would have been passed through in their birth. She was nothing but if not death incarnate, I feared her the way the ill fear the reaper, that shadow puppet cast upon the wall by our own hand’s ventriloquism.
Still, I hungered for her the same way the sickness hungers for a host.
At work my crotch would ache for relief from its swollenness, my mind engorging it with blood, turning it purple. On more than one occasion I locked the restroom door and jerked myself off into brown molting paper, the shame of which cast itself in the dim light of my face for the rest of the day. She was shame as it was a dweller, that parasite that burrowed its way through the back of my brain, like a tumor.
The next time we talked was when she called to tell me about the more famous author that was coming to town. We both were excited. This was the event after which we consummated our transgression completely. She found me in the hallway with a few of my friends, we hugged and exchanged pleasantries, we flitted our eyes at one another as a signal, eventually getting away, her shadow’s caress at my back as we moved from the herding, down stairwells and into spaces that felt like a basement. We kissed in the darkness, long slippery continuous kissing with hands like automatons set to ‘groping’, before I knew it we were behind a door, locked inside a room and locked to one another. Even as we stripped our mouths never parted, tongues strangling one another, teeth crashing against teeth like rocks thrown at gravestones, flinty adrenaline-fueled amnesia, the throb of our heart’s overtime, veins constricting and expanding, fluids draining and seeping into pores gaping, skin giving the sensation of jelly liquefying, that flood casting us into the white cap of a wave breaking upon the shore, into pearls, casting us in ghost trances on that dirty classroom floor, where we were splayed, totally forgetting, my friend’s desperate calls vibrating in some pocket of that discarded heap of clothing, her own phone’s buzz like the final call of a wounded animal, her husband unaware that I’d proclaimed his bounty.
I never eat anything I have to kill, I let others do it for me, I read that on a t-shirt once, and that’s what I let my ego satiate itself with in that moment, as a comfort; the trained hunter’s greatest gift is to make its target feel safe before striking, which is what most men kid themselves they do, knowing all too well the story of the widow spider, who cannibalizes her counterpart after mating, the male’s venom significantly less potent, making any attempt at self-defense a futile act.
I thought about this as I sought out her eyes in the darkness, those beady oil-wet vacancies. “Uh…” I started to say, my voice echoing in the hollow. I was afraid if I reached over I’d touch nothing but fabric, as if she’d evaporated with the last of our invisible panted breaths, leaving me there, impaled on my own double-edged sword. Within that room— my body amalgamated, I could have been anywhere, yet I knew that I was alone, on my way elsewhere, where not all keys are forged with the purpose of fitting a specific lock and not all doors are meant to be opened because there is no limit to the amount of darkness the room behind them contains.
Mark Anthony Cronin is the author of the short story collection, Gigantic Failures and the chapbook, Dear Ghost Of My Love. His work has appeared online and in print. He currently lives in Oakland, California and is working on a novel.