"Shall we walk?"
In the course of writing something else, I stumbled across a story I wrote back in August 2006. I say 'stumbled' because I had very nearly forgotten it existed. That is, I remembered it when I saw it, but had I not seen it I would not have remembered it.
It's a frankly creepy little story (you've been warned!), but I think it's a pretty good one, if you like stories in which the only action consists of a middle-aged men climbing over a cafe's fence. I've removed a few lines and corrected a few typos, but it is otherwise the same story I wrote four years ago.
I should note that the character of Lawrence is not intended to represent a real person. I did use an old friend's appearance and mannerisms as a cheap and easy way to introduce an antagonist, but that's as far as it goes. The following is fiction, people!. I haven't hung out with Lawrence's real-life counterpart on a regular basis for many, many years and that I have no reason to believe he has chased after pubescent girls since he was a pubescent boy.
"Shall We Walk?"
"Eros starts young," Lawrence said.
I looked away from the slender girl I was admiring. Lawrence nodded and pointedly looked back towards the sidewalk. The girl was wearing a ragged, very short, denim skirt and a pink halter that left fully half her uplifted breasts in plain view. She strode in sneakered feet with a strut that seemed at once an invitation to look and a warning to stay the fuck away.
From behind, her legs were almost bony-slender, her ass barely a mound beneath that swinging little skirt.
"Think she's legal?" Lawrence grinned as the girl passed from my sight behind his shoulder.
"Maybe technically," I said. "I doubt she's older than 14 or 15."
Lawrence shrugged. "Maybe younger. But she's sweet and she's ready." He laughed, a deep, liquid gurgle from deep in his chest, reached for one of my cigarettes. "I'd fuck her."
"Jesus, Lawrence! You're old enough to be her grandfather!"
I've known Lawrence since I my first year of high school. He was an extrovert even then, no matter that he would tell anyone in ear-shot just how insecure he was. Two or three years older than me, and arguably ensconsed at the head of a group of very bright kids, he was nevertheless one of the first to talk to me at my new school and the first to invite me to a party. He was loud, he was well-read, he was always ready to risk embarrassing himself for sake of a laugh or a point; he was tall and gangly and clumsy; he wore his hair long and his clothes and hands were always dirty.
A lot has changed in the quarter century since we met, but Lawrence is still tall, still loud, still clumsy, and still outrageous. His hair is half-gray and he wears it in a ponytail now, his belly is a substantial gut, but he still dresses like a sloppy teenager and he still seems allergic to soap and water.
And somehow, we're still friends. Not close friends, but we see each other every few months, with the family-like comfort and affection such history allows.
"You're one to talk," Chuckling, he reached for his pint. His beefy fingers squeezed the sweating mug as if he was about to throttle it. He raised it to his mouth, then took a strangely dainty sip.
"Eros starts young," he repeated, then took a longer drink. "And that little girl was feeling it, playing with the power she's been given, just by virtue of being beautiful and female. You saw the way she was flaunting her tits, flashing her legs — you think she doesn't know that men are lusting after her? Yes, even you, you male-feminist-who's-fucking-a-17-year-old girl. Don't get holier-than-though on me, Orson."
"She's 19, not 17."
Of course, Lawrence laughed; how could he not? "How old was Clara when you met her? 16?"
"She was 17, and you know it," I said, hollowly.
"By about a month, if I remember." Clara, I believed, was the love of my life. We had been together more than 2 years and had just celebrated our first anniversay of co-habitation. We were going through what would later prove to be a terminal rough patch, but Lawrence wasn't the sort of friend to whom I would unburden myself.
"All right, by a month." Still chuckling, Lawrence set his half-empty pint-glass on the table like some sweating trophy.
"Don't be so fucking smug. There's a hell of a difference between Clara then and the kid we saw now!"
"Yeah? What is it? What's so different about that little girl and Clara at 17, when you first fucked her?"
"Oh Jesus, Lawrence!"
"She. Was. 17. And you! You were 39 years old. So don't tell me you weren't watching that sweet young thing pass by just now."
"I was only looking. I wasn't leering and I wasn't talking about chasing her down and fucking her."
"You're so full of shit, Orson." This time he raised his glass like a common bauble. He drained it and spattered backwash on his shirt.
"Maybe," he said, "she is 14. Or 13. Or 15 or 12. Who gives a shit? She looked good; she knew it.
"She's horny. I'd fuck her in a second." His empty glass clattered to the table.
"Oh for —"
"And so would you, Orson."
"— for Christ's sake, Lawrence!" I usually enjoyed Lawrence's contrarian tendencies, and the crossing of intellectual and philosophical swords that accompanied them. Often I even agreed with him, if only after a few pints and if somewhat despite myself. But here, he had hit my "ick!" limit — or so I told myself; I didn't want to admit he might also have hit a nerve. "You're talking about a fucking child, Lawrence! You're talking about fucking a child!"
Lawrence's chuckle was like watery gravel being sifted for gold. "Yes, yes, Orson: 'Won't somebody please think of the children!'
"In the right circumstances, Orson, you'd fuck that little girl too, legal or not — if she was 10 years old and she walked like that, and dressed like that, and she jumped you, you'd just say, 'How hard, ma'am?' and be off the to races."
"Lawrence, I wouldn't fuck a 10 year-old if she had tits like a porn star and was spread-eagle on my bed begging for my cock. Do you get that?"
"Of course you wouldn't, Orson." His smile dripped condescension.
"Thank you." I blew smoke, trying to take his words at face-value as he guilessly took another of my cigarettes. Where the rest of us, falling like so many aging, flesh-and-blood dominoes into the ranks of the ex-smokers — or wanting to — Lawrence kept smoking (and bumming) cigarettes with no apparent concern, for his health or my budget. Smokers' hack or no, he had the air of one immortal and it was hard not to believe he was, gut and grey notwithstanding.
He took a long pull on the cylinder and held the smoke like he held a lungful of THC, then (surprisingly) blew it over his shoulder rather than towards me.
"You wouldn't fuck a horny 10 year-old," he said, "because you're a pussy — not because you believe there's anything inherently wrong with it.
"You saw that young bitch. She was revelling in the power she's learning her tits and her cunt give her."
I leaned forward but Lawrence waved me off. He the raised his empty pint-glass and — somehow, somewhen, he'd made the signal — another landed on the table to replace it. He glanced to his right, smiling at the pretty waitress, whose name I had yet to learn, despite this being my regular summer haunt.
"How old" — he vacuumed up most of the foam — "were you when you first masturbated?"
"What?" I polished off my own beer and to my surprise, the waitress re-appeared with its replacement. I nodded my appreciation and said, "What does that have to do with anything?"
"How old were you? You're not ashamed to answer that question, are you?"
"Fuck you, Lawrence. You know I'm not."
"Then humour me. Reward my magical way with waitresses."
I hoisted my glass and gave him his due. "I was ... young."
The memory is vague — not despite, but because, it is a private story, I have shared more a few times over the years. It has stayed with me, and my memory may have been corrupted by those narrations, but I was — Five? Certainly no older than seven.
I liked comics — Superman, Batman ... but somehow, Supergirl also came into my possession. And she was a girl, not a full-grown woman. Yes, she sported breasts and a curvy figure, but she was clearly still a kid — a pedophile's wet-dream, maybe, but also a precocious boy's fantasy Older Woman.
She was clad in loose short-shorts and a tight blue tunic, cut low enough to show cleavage and that — save for the absent nipples — could have been painted on her torso (as I suppose, since she was a cartoon, it was). Her legs were long and bare, and the loose panties that hid her privates intimated all sorts of delightful mysteries.
How much of those mysteries I understood then, I can't really say. But my bedroom had a small closet, and I would take Supergirl into it with me, while I wore only a pair of white briefs. And in the closet, I would settle down on the pile of dirty clothes on the floor, and I would touch myself, I would rub myself ... not to orgasm, of course, but to some kind of pleasure that was unlike any other. A private pleasure. Even then, I knew that much.
"Yes," I said, "I was very young when I started jerking off — so what?"
Lawrence grinned. "I was 3 the first time I felt sexual," he said. "I led a strike at my day camp — convinced all the other kids to lie down in the road and block traffic. I had a hard-on like you wouldn't believe. Eros starts very young." He closed his eyes and nodded his head to some nostalgic music only he could hear, as if overwhelmed by erotic triumphs past.
"I don't know if I masturbated," I said, surprised to find I wanted to at least match Lawrence's tale, "but I remember this girl, when I was in pre-kindergarten — nursery school, we called it —"
"It doesn't matter." Lawrence leaned across the table, his forearms like bulldozers promising anhilation. "It doesn't matter what grade it was."
"It doesn't matter at all," Lawrence said, a fresh — an impossible — third pint foaming in front of him. "What matters is that you were young, and horny — even if you didn't know what that meant. You touched yourself, you wanted to touch that little girl, you wanted her to touch you ..."
I gaped at him. I felt he'd been reading my mind.
"You know that Eros sets in very young indeed."
I nodded. "I don't even remember her name. I vaguely remember what she looked like — her dark skin, her curly hair ... We must have played together, but what I remember is sitting next to her, when it was time for chocolate milk and cookies. I don't remember her any more, not really; I just remember that she was. I remember how I I thought about her all the time, how I wanted to see her, to talk to her — and, yes, to touch her, somehow.
"I remember that my heart would start to pound every time her face came to mind."
I shook my head and sipped from my beer — when had I ordered another? No matter. "But you're 44 years old, Lawrence. That's a far cry from two 4 year-olds having some sort of barely post-natal romance, or even, from the practice displays of a — barely, mind you! — post-pubescent girl using the safe risk of a public strut on a crowded street to test her wings. Horny or not, you have no business messing with a ... 13, 14, even a 15 year-old girl. Let her learn about sex with kids her own age."
"Boys her age know shit about sex."
"Neither do girls! Let them learn from each other. Why don't you go after someone who has kids, instead of someone who is one?" I drank violently, then slammed the glass onto the graffiti-marred top, getting even more angry due to the spillage. "What are you doing to do if she falls in love with you? What are you doing to do after you've had your fun and she wants to see you again and again and again?"
Lawrence's big stained teeth glinted wetly in the fading light. "So. You're granting that I could fuck her."
"Only for the sake of argument!" I drained my beer and set the glass down. No server magically appeared to offer a replacement.
Lawrence tipped his glass over the lip of mine, let spill a brief flow that leveled off at about two inches. "That'll keep you going," he said. "Now. You were saying?"
I sighed with bitter gratitude, sure he missed both emotions. "I wasn't saying you couldn't fuck that girl, I was saying you shouldn't — even if she wanted you to. Though frankly, you're a dirty, overweight, middle-aged man, Lawrence, and you don't have any money to speak of. No 14 year-old girl is going to see you as her knight in erotic armor."
I'd expected some kind of reaction, but Lawrence just waited, a hunter watching a baited trap. "But even if she did, she's a kid! 13 year-old girls are still children! That that girl was playing dress-up. She was treating herself like a Barbie, for Christ's sake!"
A shadow loomed over my shoulder, then a full pint descended with almost majestic patience to settle within centimetres of my drinking hand. I looked up and smiled my gratitude. The waitress was one who had regular shifts at Java House, tall and pretty in an English way, with just enough of a a hint of red in blonde hair to make it interesting. She had long body, just starting to hint at the middle-aged spread to come.
"You're not wearing any make-up," Lawrence said from across the table.
"Oh?" The waitress stopped, clutching my empty glass.
"You don't need any; I hope it's not an anomaly."
"Oh," she said again, then she laughed, and blushed. "Thank you."
"My name is Lawrence," said Lawrence, offering her his big, dirty hand. "My friends call me Lawrence." She set my empty glass down again and took his hand. "So you can call me Lawrence too."
"Well, Lawrence Two," she said, "I am called Elise. Which is what my friends call me." Elise considered him for a moment. "I suppose you may as well."
"I'll do that, Elise," Lawrence said, finally releasing her hand. "I'm looking forward to seeing you again."
Elise withdrew and Lawrence looked smug as hell.
"She left my empty," I said, flicking an ash at the offending glassware.
"Do you want me to introduce you to her?
"Fuck off, Lawrence."
He laughed, his tongue darting out to kiss his lips like a starving minnow. "Well," he said, "Where were we?"
"You bastard." I took a long drink — it was somehow the perfect pint, the Platonic Ideal of pints, where all previous pours at this cafe had been only beers. Having drunk, I landed it gently, not wanting to disturb the miracle. "We were talking," I said at last, "about the fact — the fact, mind you! — that children are not small adults. That they need to be nurtured, not used by adults as children themselves use their toys."
"Of course children aren't toys. But that girl isn't a child anymore. She's ready to be fucked and ready to fuck. Why shouldn't I be the one to show her how it's done?"
Lawrence leaned back and clasped his belly like a proudly expectant mother; I almost thought he might offer to let me touch it. But he only grinned. "I've got a nice cock (not as big as yours, maybe, but it does the job), I'm a superb lay and I'm interesting to talk to. She'll learn things from me she might otherwise not learn for years. Where's the harm?"
"What will she learn? How to drink? How to smoke? How to not bathe for weeks on end?"
I was unaccountably angry. A quarter-century after I had been a frightened, 14 year-old boy just moved to the big city, Lawrence still seemed to me wittier, more confident and smarter. And yet, I was a writer earning enough through my words that I took temporary secretarial jobs only 8 months out of 12, Lawrence still lived in his mother's basement — he was that home-renovation contractor that gives used-car salesmen a good name. He still talked about music and politics, but he was active with neither.
He was as dirty as Oscar the Grouch, his teeth almost as grey as his skin; he still laughed loud and liquid at his own jokes — and yet, he still carried himself with a self-confidence that left me feeling like a little kid.
"You're getting drunk," he said and took another of my cigarettes.
"This is only my second" —
"It's your fourth." Thinking about it, I realized he was right, but took a sip anyway, silently vowing I wouldn't lose track again. I set the mug down and said, "We were talking about child-abuse, Lawrence. We were talking about you fucking a girl — a girl, Lawrence! — then disposing of her like a paper-towel once once you've had your fun, no matter that your cum is still seeping from her once-pristine cunt.
"I was saying ... I am saying, that — just as you don't hand a 10 year-old the keys to your Hummer — you don't have the right to jump into a young girl's life and hand her the keys to your cock."
"Pants," said Lawrence.
"Pants. To get to the cock, she'd need the keys to my pants."
"For fuck sakes ..." I rolled my eyes and reached for a cigarette. The pack was empty so I took a drink instead, slammed the half-empty pint onto the table and bent to hunt for the fresh pack of smokes I had stashed in my nap-sack.
"For fuck's sake!" I drained my glass.
And — as if out of the very air — Elise appeared with another. Two, in fact.
I turned to look at the street. I didn't want to know if Lawrence continued his flirtation with her.
When I was sure she was gone, I looked back across the table and lit another cigarette as I tried to re-focus.
"My point is," I said slowly, hearing the first sign of a slur in my own voice, "the point is ... Would you fuck an infant? A one-year-old?"
Lawrence seemed actually to hesitate a moment, as if giving the question serious thought.
"No," he said at length, surprising me with such a simple, certain answer.
"Well, good" —
"I can't imagine a toddler reaching for it like I'd want her to."
I just gaped at him at him for a moment, while he settled back in his patio-chair, testing to the limit its molecular bonds. Its legs sagged beneath his bulk. And he watched me all the while, a smile struggling to escape his poker face.
"And if said 1 year-old was reaching for it 'in that way'?"
"That's just impossible."
I sensed a trap, knowing he was waiting for me to walk into it, but I couldn't see what it was.
"Fucking an infant is just wrong, Lawrence."
"Only because an infant is incapable of wanting sex with an adult," he said, still holding his triumphant laugh in reserve.
I sighed and resigned myself to the inevitable rhetorical defeat. "Would you fuck a 2 year-old?"
"No," said Lawrence.
"How about a 3 year" —
"Look." Lawrence splayed his forearms across the table. His right hand scattered his cigarette's detritus everywhere but into the ashtray, as usual. "I know where you're going with this and it's boring me already. Let me ask you a question."
"Fine." I drank some more, knowing I was beaten.
"Would you, Orson Panik, fuck a 17 year-old?" He leaned back again. "Wait, we already know the answer to that! You would fuck a 17 year-old!"
"Yes," I acknowledged. "I'd fuck a 17 year-old."
"So it's pretty safe to assume you'd have fucked her if she'd still had a couple of months to go before her 17th birthday, isn't it?"
"I thought she was 18 when I met her!"
"A technicality, a mere bagatelle!" Lawrence slapped his palm on the table. "Worse, A diversion! You've told me she told you her real age on your first date — and you didn't fuck her until your second." He drew his smoke right down to the filter and tossed it over the railing. In that same, clumsy yet fluid, motion, his hand snaked back to the table and he took yet another cigarette from my dwindling reserve.
"Am I right?"
"Probably. It was a long time ago, Lawrence."
"It wasn't that long." He leaned forward again, his mass itself a kind of aggression. "You — then a 39 year-old man — had sex with a 17 year-old girl. As I recall, you weren't wracked with guilt about it, either."
"She's the one who jumped on my lap and said, 'I'm horny!'" I shouted.
"Which is my point: She wanted it, she was ready. And besides, if you'd really thought it was wrong, you'd have said 'no'. Hell, you wouldn't have allowed yourself to get into the situation.
"Now, deny you wouldn't have done the same if she'd been two months younger."
The trap was closing. "I probably would have done the same thing."
"'Probably', hell! You'd have fucked her and you know it."
"All right! I'd have fucked her if she was 16! I would have also fallen in love with her, so what's your fucking point?"
"Love isn't the point, Orson. Fucking is the point.
"We've established that you'd fuck a 16 year-old girl. You might worry whether the individual girl in question was ready for it, but you have no theoretical objection to such a union.
"So: What if she had been 15?"
"She wouldn't have been the same person!" I lit another cigarette, only realized I had another on the go when I set the new one on the edge of the ash-tray.
"Let's assume she was, more or less. A little younger, a little less experienced, but still ... still Clara. Would you have fucked her?"
"Yes," I said. "No. Maybe." My glass was empty again. And Elise was suddenly there, with a fresh pint in each hand. I took a gulp before I spoke again.
"The point is, your conceit doesn't work. Teenagers change fast. Clara was a very different person when she was 15 than when she was 17 — and she's changed a lot since I've known her, too."
"Are you saying, Orson, that under no circumstances would you fuck a 15 year-old girl? If so, why not? How is that age so wondrously different from 16? Which, I shouldn't need to remind you, you've already admitted you would do, if only under some circumstances."
I saw the trap now and just hoped I would figure a way out of it.
"I suppose I can imagine fucking a 15 year-old," I said slowly, hearing my inner Serious Drunk rising to the ruins of my consciousness. "But the younger they are, the less experienced they are" —
"The less experienced they probably are."
"The less experienced they are, Lawrence! We're talking about individual women — girls — here, and no human being is less experienced than they were a year previously."
"All right. I'll give you that. But still, some people at 15 are wiser and more mature than others are at 45."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah ..." I was losing the conversation's thread while Lawrence was going in for the kill. "Would you fuck a 14 year-old, then?"
"Probably not," I said, but my heart was no longer into the debate, whatever it was.
"Yes or no?"
"Maybe, god damn it! Just 'maybe'! Women aren't rubber sex-toys, they're human beings. And the younger an individual is, the more likely she is to be damaged because some ancient pervert wants to turn her virgin pussy into a cum-bucket!"
"So you don't think there's anything wrong with me having sex with a 14 year-old, if she's ready for it, and she wants it?"
I leaned forward and dropped my head into my hands, my elbows no doubt soaking in the damn dusting of ashes Lawrence so liberally spread around him.
"I think there'd be something wrong with her if she had sex with you."
Lawrence just chuckled. "Seems to me you were pretty damned horny when you were 14. And you weren't getting any, that I know of, were you?"
"No," I said, "I wasn't."
"I got fucked by a 34 year-old woman when I was 14," Lawrence said. "It was one of the best things that ever happened to me."
"No doubt it was," I said tiredly.
"If Harriet had wanted you, you'd have been happy, wouldn't you?" Harriet had been the English teacher at our high-school.
"I'd have been happy to fuck Harriet," I admitted.
"When you were 14?"
"Yes, when I was 14! Harriet was smart, Harriet was cute, and it wouldn't have done me any harm if she'd taken me into her bed a time or two. Yes, I would have been happy to fuck her. And no" — I sighed, resenting not so much the truth to which I was admitting, but the fact that I was admitting to it at all. — "I don't think I would have been damaged by the encounter."
"On the contrary!" Lawrence shouted.
"Yes Lawrence, on the contrary. Now, just what is your point?"
"Just this: That Eros — my feminist-of-convenience — starts young. And that, just as there would have been nothing inherently wrong had Harriet had her way with you when you were 14, so there would be nothing inherently wrong if I have my way with that sweet little thing who sparked this entire conversation — and who we arbitrarily decided was 13."
"'But' nothing. I've heard you many times preach that there are very few innate differences between the male and the female of the species, that those differences are almost non-existent. Is it not pure sexism to arbitrarily deny the possibility of a mutually-enjoyable — indeed, of a mutually-beneficial — tryst between an older man" —
"Such as yourself?"
"Of course such as myself? Why not!
"Between an older man and the impatient young filly who so eagerly places on display her considerable sexual assets?"
"That presumes," I said slowly, "that said tryst would be mutually beneficial." Lawrence's history of long-term relationships made me — whose record stood at only three years — seem a paragon of stability.
But Lawrence's attention had turned to the street. His eyes tracked into the night beyond my shoulder. "She must have circled the block." He grinned his predator's smile and stole yet another cigarette. He drew smoke, than waved it at something behind me.
"Excuse me!" he shouted, and the the girl — yes, that girl — stopped outside the fence between our table and the sidewalk. Up close, standing still, she could have been a older or younger than the 13 years we had allotted her. Her breasts were small, but more than the unformed buds of fading childhood. Yet her limbs still retained the colt-like, unfinished, dimensions so often exhibited by 10 year-old tomboys. Her face was pretty, but her teeth flashed orthodontic steel. Despite the metal, she loudly smacked chewing gum and stared at Lawrence with both an impudent nervousness and a frank curiosity. She looked just as liable to bolt, to erupt in mocking laughter, or to burst into a vicious harangue, as to talk to him.
"I just wanted to tell you," Lawrence didn't wait for the girl to make a decision, "that you are one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen."
Whatever she had expected, it wasn't that. Even in the dim evening glow of streetlights and passing cars, it was obvious she blushed. And, surprised, she went on to surprise me.
"Oh," she said through a small giggle. "Well. Thanks." She bounced from one foot to the other, like a boxer waiting for the opening bell.
"I mean it," Lawrence said. "It isn't just anyone who can manage to look elegant, casual and downright sexy all the same time."
Her blush deepened. "Thank you," she said quietly, bouncing from one foot to the other even faster than before. Surely, I thought, she'll run now.
But she didn't.
"I'm Lawrence," said Lawrence, thrusting his huge hand across the wrought-iron fencing. "What's yours?"
"Nessa?" she said, as if trying it on for the first time. She took his hand and shook it gravely.
"'Nessa'." Lawrence pronounced her name as if tasting it. "I like that. It suits you." He let go of her small hand and pulled his big one back onto our side of the barrier. And she stood there, watching him. She still bounced a little, still smacked her chewing gum, but her eyes were locked on him now.
"I'm walking to the subway, Nessa," Lawrence said. "Since you're going that way, would you mind if I walked with you ... as far as you're going?"
"I'm going to the subway too," she said, surprised, as if their mutual destination was a coincidence remarkable in its unlikelihood.
"That's great!" Lawrence heaved his bulk from the sagging chair. I grabbed my beer to make sure it didn't topple. "Orson, it's been fun. I'll see you later." And, with only a little strain, he swung one leg, then the other, over the fence.
The girl stopped bouncing. Whether she was frightened or excited, I couldn't tell. But she giggled when Lawrence cursed as he stumbled on his landing, and accepted his paw when he planted it — to steady himself, apparently — on her bare shoulder. And she didn't object when, balance achieved, that hand slid across the back of her neck.
He tugged gently, and they turned east, towards the subway. "Shall we walk?"
Before they were even half-way across Augusta Avenue, I briefly heard her tinkling laugh, before it was drowned out by Lawrence's guffaw.
Only when they had disappeared behind the Second Cup on the corner did I realize that Lawrence had not only stuck me with the bill, but that he had also somehow palmed my cigarettes on his way over the fence.
"That bastard." I checked my wallet and hoped he would treat the girl better than he did his friends.