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The Subject

Arsch Sharma

He stroked himself lying on the bed, and the back-lit phone screen hurt his eyes.
“What kind of role play do you have in mind, hon?” The Asian stripper on the screen purred unhooking her lace bra, sliding off the straps, “How about a little show for my man?”
And he looked at her, and the little clock on the top left corner that flashed the remainder of her time he’d paid for. “Something kinky”, he typed and hit send.
She let out a husky breath and grabbed her dildo, “Do you like it when I slap it on my tits, ya? You like a good titty-fuck?” She stole a moan, and threw her olive tits out, tweaking her engorged nipple.
‘7:49’, flashed the clock. But he was done here.
Through the blinding dizziness of his head rush, he fished for a cig and popped it between his lips. The heat wave was on, and he could feel the sweaty June night trickle down the arch of his back. He had been driving for a couple of days now, and he had finally left the blinding cityscape behind. Being on the road, he’d not had much of a meal except Marlboros and Snickers, sometimes an occasional slushy at some doughnut place when he craved sugar.
“Time for a piss!” He boomed, and stumbled through the dark. And in the dimly lit washroom mirror, he saw the flesh that had taken the brunt of his misadventurous detour. A half-can of piss-warm beer lay on the sink – he brought it to his lips and flinched from the flat, sultry bitterness.
On his way out, his phone chimed with a text. It was picture taken in his apartment, in his bed – a selfie: his wife with her lips wrapped around someone. He was dripping down her chin. “I bet we’ve ruined your sheets for good”, the caption said.
He sucked in a drag, lost across the empty hotel bed with its sprawling creases. Outside, the rain fell slow, almost as if it were a hushed drizzle. And the neon glow signs from across the streets in gaudy pink and blue suggested an all-night store next to a filling station.
Wry, he stepped into his pants and decided to go there. Grocery stores were his safe haven with all their cardboard boxes and clinking bottles. The whirring refrigerators and deep freezes seemed to whisper ancient metallic secrets to him. He had met her at one of these stores too: the woman who was now off on a belligerent cuckolding spree.
He walked past cups of instant noodles, rows of Cheetos and shelves lined with disposable razors and cherry lube –
“Can I help you with something?”
He turned around to see a pasty grocery clerk with mousy hair. Her over-sized clerk’s uniform made her look smaller than she must have been, and to top it off, they had her wear a logoed terrycloth baseball cap.
“Yes. I need a pack of Marlboros.”
“Sir you’re in the dairy section. And we don’t keep cigarettes.”
“What kind of store doesn’t keep cigarettes?”
“Sorry sir, we’re next to a petrol pump.”
“I’m guessing you don’t keep lighters either.” He chuckled, but she didn’t seem interested. “Fine. I’ll take a deodorant then.”
“You bet. Come with me.” Her full lips curved into an obnoxious, almost petulant pout and the over-sized shirt collar slid helplessly from her collarbone in an earthy beckoning. She was standing with a hand on her waist, bending over a little, looking into his still grey eyes.
“Thanks, but I guess I can find my way.” He stammered.
“As you wish”, she ejected and took the longer end of the aisle to the pantry. And he couldn’t help but be enamoured by the sinfully coy sway of her hips. He reminisced his days of youth: he was living in a little town on the coast as a manqué artist – exploring the cusps and ledges of the female form. But that was a long time ago. Now he had some grey in his hair, and his eyes weren’t as blithe anymore. His face had roughened from all its years, that had steeled his eyes to an equal measure – but he still had the quivering lips of a teenager, when he tastes a woman for the first time.
Soon he found himself next to the pantry door. Turns out, he would have had to follow her indeed. It was slightly ajar, and she was standing on a step ladder, arranging canned pineapples into a stack. “Told you”, she said with a hint of mischief, “You’d have to follow me.” She got down the ladder and pointed at the fragrances section. “Right there”, she smiled before walking away with the same lingering intoxication as a whiff of gin.
And he went back, pretending to rummage through the little shelf where they stacked a bunch of spray cans that were popular with the teenagers – brands that promise a world worth of pussy at a hiss of aerosol.
There was some unintelligible mumbling at the front desk, and he saw her come back.
“We’re closing up. Are you done?”
“I guess.”
His phone chimed again, and she saw him grow heavy. “All okay?” She grabbed his wrist and felt his pulse under the chronograph, “You seem feverish.” She felt her nipples grow taut under her blouse from the contact, and she couldn’t take her eyes off his fingers, “Are you an artist?” She blushed once she realised that she’d spoken her mind out loud.
“Yeah, maybe…listen, do you have some coffee. I think I can’t sleep anymore.”
Back at the hotel he sat in the balcony with his legs crossed over the ledge, smoking. He wondered how far he would have to go to leave it all behind.
His midnight perambulations grew more frequent. He bought himself a sketchbook and charcoal pencils from the store: not the best, but workable nonetheless, and found himself in myriad corners of the town, filling the pages with croquis. It seemed like a distant past, when he would trace his wife in several amorous and lewd positions after passionate bouts of lovemaking.
“You’re rotten!” She’d scoff at his drawings, and dismiss him with a seductive flick of her slender wrist. Hopefully none of the men she was seeing now drew her anymore.
Every night since then, he would see the night clerk turn off the neon glow sign, and walk down the street. And he’d sketch her walking out of the store. Sometimes she seemed to look back at him, but he wasn’t ever sure of it. He couldn’t get her collar bone right, and it drove him to the brink of madness, and he’d often drink himself blind and curse at the moon in his failure each night. It was his broken shoelace.
Days slipped through the air into nights with relentless regularity. Everything had turned to noise.
One night, he walked down the street, and saw a figure emerge before him under a lamp: a feminine silhouette, clutching something against her breasts. It was the night clerk, and he saw her walk into one of the houses, where the lights were dim and the alleys alive. Men with blanched faces stood by the curb scanning the streets, and women, glistening with sex, walked about in tatters laughing out loud.
“Want some company for the night?” A short paunchy man muttered by him, “I could fix you a discount.”
He put out his smoke under his shoe, “What’s that house?”
The man looked at him with apprehension, “Listen, do you want in?”
Just then somebody chased a woman down the street, “You whore! I paid for full service!” He suddenly turned around to one of the pimps and grabbed him by his tank top, “She wouldn’t suck my dick! What a prude! I need my money back, you filthy mongrel!” And the lady, a couple of blocks away, was now yelling slurs at him.
“Do you want in?” He repeated with his hand creeping closer to the gun tucked in his waistband.
“Sure, but I need the girl who just came in.”
“The store woman?” He chuckled in surprise, “You followed her here? You a cop?” He gave him a suspicious glance, before the two men broke into a tense fit of laughter. And he was escorted up the staircase of that damned house.
“She’ll be ready in a while. Needs to wash off that store stink off her, you see?” He turned around to a tall woman who was walking by and shouted behind her, “At least wipe your mouth darling. Nobody wants to see that!”
“Fuck you!” She yelled pulling out a tissue to wipe the corner of her mouth, and hurled it back at the pimp.
“She’s a fierce one”, he winked, “Polishes the knob like she was born for it.”
“How long is this going to take?”
“She’s done…but remember, overstay your welcome and I’ll charge you extra.”
“Sure.”
They walked into the boudoir. It was sombre – nothing like how they write about such places in the stories – it could have been any room: dull grey walls, floral blue sheets. A tall dresser, a shower and bidet in the annexe.
“Are you here already?” Her voice broke into the room, but he didn’t answer, and pulled out a cigarette. “So what do you want me to be tonight, sugar?” She purred from within before he heard her piss.
He’d expected her to be surprised, but her coquetry did not cease or sputter even after she walked outside and saw him.
“I knew you’d end up here some day or the other.”
“How’d you know that?”
“You’re too sad to be away from a brothel.”
“And what about you? Do you belong in a bordello too?”
“Bordello?” She repeated, bending over the dresser and pulling out a bright lip gloss vial. Her robe rode over her delectable derriere, “Oh, what colour do you want it to be? I’m flexible.” She added with a sly wink, ensuring he got a detailed look of her sheer thong that seemed painted on her generous rump and her damp lips.
“A whorehouse. A bordello’s a whorehouse.”
She knew what had gripped him, and she arched her back viciously for a brief moment before turning around and letting her robe fall “You’re paying by the minute, so let’s just get down to it?”
“Listen. I’m not here to fuck.”
“So you want to play hard to get?” She licked her lips, “Poor me! If I had it in me to convince you…”, and she traced the outline of his hardening cock with her index finger nail.
“No, you aren’t getting it”, he repeated. “I need you to do something else for me.”
“What is it? I could do anything you want me to.”
“Pose for me.”
She scoffed in disbelief, but then saw that he was serious. “Really?”
“Yes”, he scratched his stubble, “Maybe here”, he walked over and undid the drapes. And she felt her skin respond to his touch as he cinched her waist to sit her down on the bed, and moulded her shoulders to the pose. Grazing her collar bone, that elusive clavicle, sent a shudder down his spine, and he felt himself stir. Now and then he would take a few steps back and look at her wildly, piercingly – the way she never knew she wanted to be looked at, the way that made her feel naked like never before.
“How – how should I sit?” She said, suddenly conscious.
He stepped close to her, and brought his fingers to the hook of her bra, “Shall I?”
She gave him a soft nod and felt the cups grow lax against the petite swell of her breasts. Her appearances had withered – no more was she a whore, and the feigned assertiveness that accompanies the trade of flesh was fading away. “Maybe try this”, he slid the left shoulder strap, undoing a cup. “Would you cross your legs and look out the window?”
“Like so?”
“Perfect.”
And he began tracing her: the summer air against her back, drizzling its supple warmth upon her pale skin. Her left breast exposed, the bumps on the mound culminated in an excited nipple, whilst the other pressed achingly against the satin.
He worked his way through her: he traced her lips in all their lush hunger and innocence, the hair, the clavicles; all the way to her trembling thighs and shapely calves. The blue summer moon on her skin, a light patter outside…and she sat still in her nakedness, looking at him, while he sketched the woman she’d never known herself to be.
Now and then, he would raise his eyes, and regard her well and deep. He’d finally got her collar bone right.
Her thighs flooded with desire. She felt beautiful. And soon they were lost in a song of flesh.
The next night, she did not see him at the grocery store. And all through the nights that followed, she would look in the direction of his hotel balcony almost achingly, but he wasn’t there anymore. A few days later, she heard that he’d taken his own life.
And she couldn’t ever go back to being naked again.


4 comments

  • Thanks very much for your generosity. I’m glad you liked it.

    Arsch Sharma
  • This is excruciatingly beautiful. These words are deep enough to transcend themselves and
    the imagery is hauntingly beautiful. You are a great storyteller. Keep burning bright

    Khwabida_ki_parvaaz
  • Agonizingly and mesmerizingly beautiful! The lust and longing seemed eternal and abstract, and no hint of vulgarity could be traced throughout the writing.

    Cherime Sangma
  • Beautifully expressed. Bright tears to my eyes

    Nishtha Budhiraja

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