Coercion:Curio Vignettes 01(19)

By: Cara McKenna

It is a strange sensation to lie in this bed, a woman’s body against mine, and still suffer these insecurities. But Caroly’s no longer my client, and when she’s with me now I am only me, the faulty human, not the perfect man women pay me to be. It feels sometimes as though my skin has come off, as though she’s peeled away my clothes and not stopped at exposing my mere nudity, but shed every layer straight down to my heart and nerves and bones. If she lets go, I might come apart.

The anxiety hurts, so I think of other things. I go inside her body in my mind’s eye, and imagine all the places I might take her, within these walls. All the people we might become for an hour or two…women I’ve known and the man they wished me to play. There is no fear in these journeys, only excitement. I hold her tightly and, from the way her breathing hitches, I realize I’ve woken her.

“Go back to sleep.”

“Okay,” she mumbles, already back in her dreams.

Dreams and clockwork and other people’s fantasies, so many fascinating places to go without ever mustering the strength to open a door.

Tempting. Very tempting.

I keep a whore’s hours, falling asleep late and rising around noon, but I can feel myself dropping off. Safe against her warm skin and beneath this sloping old roof, safe in my own dreams, if they prove kind tonight. The dawn will bring a stab a dread sharp as a knife, and I will be awake, so very awake. I will trade all this security for the tremors of bravery, led on halting feet like a kicked dog to some unknown destination. There will be coffee—decaffeinated, at Caroly’s wise insistence, lest my heart jackhammer my ribs to dust. Its heat and flavor will go unregistered on my tongue, drowned out by the volume of the café, cranked to deafening levels by the echo chamber of my anxious brain.

Then I will look across the table, into those blue eyes. I’ll find concern and patience there, but also pride. Pride in me for having come so far, and pride for being seen with me. Those eyes will tell me they’re finding things in me I do not feel, like courage and potential and worthiness, and I’ll try to believe in what they see. The noise will quiet and the activity will slow, if only for a breath or two. But a breath is all I need, just air in my lungs, blood moving through my body, proof that fear may hurt but it does not kill. Perhaps my shaking hand will find her slender, still one across the tabletop. She’ll squeeze my fingers, happy somehow to be with this man, even at his worst.

I wonder if maybe that too is love—to feel fondness for a person’s deepest flaws, to recognize beauty even in their least flattering portrait. It is what I see, looking back at me across those terrifying café tables, and suddenly, somehow, I’m looking forward to waking up tomorrow. To uncovering proof that someone might find my company worth keeping, even away from the candles and the calm.

I would walk a kilometer for that.

I would venture into the earth alone and cross Paris on the Métro, suffer the crush of a thousand strangers to believe that was true. To see it there, reflected back at me.

I may surprise her someday, show her exactly how far I might go.

Someday, I may even surprise myself.

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