I wrote this story nearly two years ago and submitted it to Best Men’s Erotica 2014. I was very new to the genre then, and it was only the third piece of erotica that I’d ever had accepted. Though Burning Books Press very sadly closed its doors before the anthology could be published, I’ve got a real soft spot for this piece. I hope you enjoy. xx.M
Laurence Olivier, Vivian Leigh & Leslie Banks in 21 Days Together, dir. by Basil Dean. Image courtesy of The Red List.
There is a man in a room. He is sitting on a hard-backed wooden chair, one arm held diagonally across his chest. His palm is pressed flat against the opposite shoulder, as if he is trying to keep it in place.
A woman stands behind him. It is her room, her flat, hers and his friend’s…no, not his friend’s. It’s her flat alone. A distant image of shrapnel and a cockpit full of flames tries, briefly, to surface, but it finds no purchase and drifts away. In any event, this room, this flat, is the only place he knew to go.
The woman, his friend’s sweetheart, now his widow, is tall and lean, a bit underfed. She holds a pair of scissors in her hand and is shearing off the man’s dark, lank hair, which has grown to unaccustomed lengths since his capture and release. Just past the collar. This is an estimate, of course. He hadn’t worn a collar in months.
Lift, snip, lift, snip. Her nimble fingers are gentle, as if she is removing layers of harm with every cut, revealing the man’s once untarnished future as she reveals the column of his neck. He is surprised by her gentleness. He’s known her only as his dead friend’s wife; competent, distant, impossible to know. He himself is impossible to know. He understands how one becomes this way, and doesn’t begrudge it in her.
Snip, snip, snip.
She lays the shears on the table in front of him. Its only other contents are a paper-thin towel and the cracked, oval mirror that he’d made himself confront the moment he sat down. A ragged ghost had stared back at him. Dead eyes. Not a man to know. At least now, with his hair cut short again, he looks more like himself. Himself as a corpse. He smiles, a cold stretch of lips over teeth. He’s seen plenty of corpses look worse.
She runs her narrow hands through his new-cut hair, sending stray, brown tufts floating to the ground. He is shocked by how good her fingers feel on his scalp, how unexpectedly erotic. He presses his hand harder into his damaged shoulder, reminding himself of his nearly useless arm and the treatment that had rendered it so. She is his dead friend’s wife. He doesn’t want to intrude. But his skin begins to hum as she moves across the room.
She returns with a mismatched set of shaving things, retrieved from a tiny cupboard above an even smaller sink. The straight razor is old. The soap cracked and dry. She dips the brush into a bowl full of water, before massaging the soap in disciplined circles, coaxing a respectable foam from the long-forgotten cup.
“These were Ben’s,” she murmurs.
He nods. He cannot picture his friend. He’s lost the knack. It’s always shrapnel and fire. He can’t picture what isn’t directly in front of him. He can’t picture much at all. He tries and the failure disturbs him, so he watches her instead. He can only see half of her reflection in the glass. It stops at her collarbones, a few inches above her breasts. She is lean and spare. Almost boyish. The mirror has been leveled to center his image, so that she can see him while she works. Something in his stirs. He wants to see her face.
The thought surprises him. He finds himself imagining her eyes, divining their expression through the angle of her shoulders, the hollow of her throat. She always had serious eyes. Grave. Even on her wedding day, in the courtroom, when he’d stood next to Ben. So serious. Too serious. Not his type. Not then. But now her gravity draws him. He craves those dark, sad eyes. He nearly turns to look – nearly, but does not. She places two fingers on his jaw and steadies his head, as she touches the brush to his cheek.
The shaving soap smells clean and good, so good after weeks in the filthy, dark hole. He inhales once, and then again, thanking a deity he no longer believes in for razors and soap and women who wield them well. She leans past him as she sets the cup aside, giving him the barest hint of her scent. Flowers… lilies? Her breast brushes against his good shoulder as she draws back. It is small and firm, the nipple taut beneath her blouse. His body responds, automatic and intense, a reaction he hasn’t had since his capture.
During his imprisonment, sex had ceased to exist, replaced by more immediate concerns. In the beginning, he had maintained a heroic defiance. Gradually, defiance had given way to the animal will to survive. Finally, all that had been left was the hope to die well. Sex served no purpose in a truncated life, so his body had shut the whole operation down. And so it had remained – until the moment her blouse brushed his naked shoulder, shocking his system to life.
He wants to see her face.
She pauses, holding the blade lightly in her hand. His face is done, and done well, but his neck remains and for the first time since undertaking the task, he can feel her hesitate. He sees her breath hitch in the mirror, a tiny catch. Then she comes around the chair and kneels between his legs. She is tucked in close, so close that her scent surrounds him, dizzying and female, clean. He cannot look at her, for all that he’d wished to moments before.
Disgusted by this weakness, this shyness, he makes himself meet her gaze. She smiles, and it transforms her. He remembers that smile now. It is lovely. She is lovely – as lovely as war is not. He thinks of college and baseball. He thinks of Ben. He shifts, slightly, in his chair.
“Sorry,” she says. “Necks make me nervous. One doesn’t want to slip.”
She guides his head back and to the side, exposing the angle of his throat. Adjusting her hold on the razor, she proceeds with great care, scraping the bristles and lather away, as his pulse begins to pound. He is sure that she can see it. Anyone could. Her breath flutters over his raw, exposed skin, but he remains as still as he can. His eyes grow distant, to compensate. She murmurs softly as she turns his head, but he cannot hear her through the pounding in his ears.
The razor is cold against his feverish skin. One pass. Two. Three. Done. She retrieves the towel without getting up, twisting her hips and leaning in so her trim, narrow waist is pressed, briefly, against his thigh. She takes the towel and pats his skin, clearing off the lather with a quiet, fractured air.
She lingers on his neck, his jaw, his throat. She flushes a delicate pink, and her breath catches, he could swear. He presses his palm hard into his shoulder, to keep from reaching out. Then she looks away, and he is glad he didn’t move. Perhaps he’d been wrong. He’s been wrong before. She stands and retrieves the mirror.
“Done. What do you think?”
She holds up the mirror so he can look at himself more closely. She’s done a good job. No longer a prisoner of war, but a groomed and respectable man. Familiar. Normal, if one avoids looking at his eyes, or his shoulder, or his near-to-useless arm. He clears his throat and nods, unused to talking and unable to find the words.
Outside the window, behind the curtains, sirens begin to scream. He flinches. Appallingly, he flinches. She puts the mirror back and kneels in front of him again. In his mind, he sees a pilot, outlined in smoke. He sees the letter his friend had written to her, the letter he’d had to send. Her hands, the hands that had opened the letter, drift up his torso now, as if to check his shoulder. It is scarred, deeply scarred, by a wound and its careless repair. The flat of his palm is still pressed against the ugly mess, though a part of him wants her to see it. She has, he knows, suffered damage of her own.
Her fingers drift over his wrist as she places his hand on his leg. He allows the manipulation, torn between the instinct to disconnect and the mounting need to feel her living warmth. She drifts closer, watching his eyes, gauging him, giving him time to withdraw. He knows he should, but he can’t. She smells like spring, like life, green and sweet, but her face is a woman’s face. They are not so young anymore. She is no longer his best friend’s girl. She is a woman of her own. And her waist is pressed against the rim of his chair – an inch from his hips and the erection that announces his return to the land of the living.
Her hands skim down to his scarred, naked ribs. She leans in and inhales his scent, her lips a whisper from his. His mouth goes dry and he angles his head, bringing his face close to hers. He can sees the world in her eyes. He sees the shadow of himself, and he knows he is going to kiss her. But she tilts her head and moves lower, past his mouth, until she finds his pulse.
She pauses there, at the hollow of his throat, and he savors the humid tension that thickens the air between them. Then she licks his thudding pulse, running her hot, nimble tongue over his receptive, newly shaved skin. Decency, pain, and memory are crushed. This room is all there is, this room and this woman and the simple need to fuck her.
He gathers her up with his good arm and roughly pulls her close, dragging her up off the floor. Her mouth crashes into his as they rock, precarious, in the chair. Then they are on the ground, their hands frantic, clutching and pulling, until her blouse rips and her buttons scatter. Tiny pearls on the floor.
They are too desperate to enjoy. He falls onto his back, pulling her with him so he can feel her without thinking about his arm. She understands and straddles him, pressing close before moving her hips against his hard, insistent cock. He arches his hips, changing their angle, while his good hand slides up her skirt and pulls her underthings aside in rough, inelegant jerks. When her sex is bare against his palm, she reaches down between them to unbuckle his belt. Her fingers shake. She is coming undone. She is pulling him apart with her need.
He feels the pulse of her, the wet, gorgeous heat of her as he moves his hand so she can rub herself against his naked cock. And then he is in her, thrusting and stroking as she clamps her legs around his waist, pulling him deep, deeper than he would have thought possible, if he’d been able to think at all. He rolls her onto his back, his arm and its limits forgotten. She is strong and full beneath him, and he is blind, lost in her scent, her throaty cries, her slick female heat.
She arches against him, scratching his back and clutching at his shoulders with her strong, desperate hands. Pain lances through him, but he doesn’t care. He loves it, embraces it, bares his teeth and tears into it as it shears through a wall of numbness and despair. He braces himself with his good arm as she buries her face in his neck, murmuring his name. Not his rank. Not his alias. Not God or the devil or angels or saints. Just his name. Then she comes, violently, shuddering in his arms.
He savors it and savors her, feels himself reborn in her clutching, perfect warmth. A second orgasm catches her, close on the heels of the first. It is more than he can bear. After months of stress and pain, he follows her, carried along by the joy of this woman, the only person left who knew him before.
When it is over, they lie on their backs on the floor, panting, unable to move. He feels shattered and restored. A cage inside him has broken – if not the last, then the first. She watches him, hair tumbled, lips swollen, eyes dark and serious. Grave. With an effort, he moves his ruined arm and touches her pale face, and through the numbness in his fingers, he can feel her dampened skin. She smiles her lovely smile and gets up off the floor.
She takes off her slip as she looks at him, rosy and full, not too skinny after all. Kneeling, he rests his head on the edge of her hip and inhales their mingled scents. Then he stands, and she strips him, revealing him in his entirety, scarred but whole. He kisses her, slowly this time, pressing his hips to her hips, his chest to her breast. Then they cross the room to her tiny bed, while sirens wail in the dark of the world.