a room of one’s own
I WAS clearly caught in a cliché.
Everyone has seen those films—usually a sex comedy about high school or college—in which an alluring character is introduced to the plot with the use of soft lighting, swoony music, and, depending on the level of writing, induced drooling from the other characters in the film. Said character enters the library or cafeteria and the music hits its stride. Every other character, but most notably the main character, is dumbfounded—nay, lobotomized—by the sheer sensuality and godlike nature of that which has just walked in. Life, we are led to believe, was nothing before this divine event.
Yet what we aren’t privy to as viewers of this type of film—not at the outset, anyway—is what trouble will follow in this beauty’s wake. And there must be trouble, for without it there is no story. No life. No box office. What boisterous, if unbelievable, shenanigans will the hero have to go through to get the guy or girl of his or her dreams? And will it be worth it? That’s what makes or breaks films like this: worth. For if it is worth it, if after all the embarrassing smackdowns, the disgusting flatulence jokes, and the strained one-liners, if in the end we really do care about these somewhat contrived and clichéd characters, then we can forgive any plot hole. We, every one of us, are only looking for a good time, after all. Nobody expects a romcom to change their life.
Logan Brandish. That’s my real name. I was destined to be a writer, it seems, with a name like that. And I’m a decently successful writer too. I have even managed to amass a firm little nest egg from what was, at one time, a dubious career choice. Even when my sales start to sag, I’m still successful enough that my publisher, Hillside Books, pays for my meals at posh hotel restaurants. Especially when they want me to meet with a new editor.
And, now that introductions are out of the way, so starts my tale.
To put it plainly, I was pigging out. My new editor had yet to arrive and I had already ordered half the menu and was on my second Long Island Iced Tea. I’m a pretty man—clean-cut brown hair, a face that has been described as “open,” and a body that knows its way around a gym—but I don’t know how pretty I was looking just then. Though, in my defense, all thirteen dishes on the table were in nice rows, perfectly laid out. I was a stickler for order and conformity.
Normally when meeting with an editor, I would arrive early to look over my notes for my new project. But my notes had been destroyed. By me. In a fit of anger and self-ridicule. All that was left was a single piece of paper, which now lay on the table, a small dab of shrimp cocktail sauce on the right corner. Who cares.
It was for precisely this reason, I suppose, my publisher at Hillside Books decided to send me a new editor. They could tell I was having issues and thought maybe an editor could help. This is when editors start to resemble mean drill sergeants. There were going to be some major battles in the coming weeks and months. Most likely their thinking was that if they started things out between me and this new editor, a Mr. Brock Kimble, in a chic hotel restaurant where there were other people around, things would not so quickly dissolve into a sparring match—like it had with the last editor they sent me. And honestly, I’ve never been one for showy displays of anger, so they thought correctly. I was not going to knock over the gorgeous pastry tables or throw dishes at the large crystal chandelier, even if the thought did cross my mind. I was a nice guy. I would not be throwing the wine into the cascading fountain or slap some passing waitress across the face just for being too near to me. But I had decided I would not be so easily soothed either. Yes, I would eat their free food and drink their bribery wine, but I’d be damned if I gave Mr. Kimble one smile. My tolerance was worn thin already. Like that Kool-Aid T-shirt I had kept since high school and refused to throw away. Worn thin.
No. Mr. Kimble would have to get by on my curt and dismissive answers and challenging stares. I was very proud of myself for deciding all of this. It was written like a script in my brain.
And then, as I was devouring a chicken wing as if doling out vengeance, my moment of cliché happened. Into the restaurant walked what could only be described (albeit inadequately) as a stunning man. I swear, the room went silent and everything crawled in his presence. He was dressed in a dark suit, buttoned properly so that it showed a tapered waist. His shoulders were broad, and above them, oh deliciousness, was a face so proportioned and perfect I wanted to take up drawing on the spot. His hair was dark, as were his eyes. In fact, he was so pretty I found myself gagging. Then I realized that the chicken wing was still crammed halfway down my throat. Silly me. I spat it out just as his eyes focused on mine. The chicken landed on the plate with a resounding echo and my face, I could tell via the flames of my embarrassment, was flushed. My ears were most likely bright red as well.
I began to chant to myself: Please don’t be him. Please don’t be him. Please, please, please don’t be him.
But it was. And he was soon standing over me, grinning. He looked at my table and the mess I had made. “You’ve been busy,” he said. “Cute ears.”
As I reached for his offered hand to shake it, I gasped and choked. A bit of leftover chicken flew out of my mouth and onto the table, in front of his crotch. Humiliation complete. Lesson learned.
“Sorry,” I said, taking a quick drink of water. People were looking at me disapprovingly for daring to nearly die in public.
“Don’t worry about it.” He smiled and sat down, sitting his briefcase in the seat beside him. “I’ve had worse things thrown at me than a piece of regurgitated chicken. I’m Brock Kimble.”
“Logan Brandish. Of course, you know that, or you wouldn’t have known how to find me. Wish I had had a photo of you.” I grimaced. That did not sound right, even though the implication was very near the mark. By golly! He was pretty!
“Would have been easy enough to find you. All writers have the same look of social discomfort and inferiority.”
I can only imagine what I must have looked like, sitting there with him. How others saw me. He ordered his drink with style. He did everything with style. He was fluid. He was Henry Higgins. I wasn’t even Eliza Doolittle. I was Nell, still choking up bits of chicken.
“You’re my new editor?” I asked. My plan to be subtle and aloof was lost.
He must have heard that question and intonation before. His smile jarred the room. “I started as a cover model for the romance division of Hillside. After proving myself—he leaned in closer here, smelling clean and fresh—“and sleeping just a few feet up, I landed myself in this position. I’ve been in every position you can think of. Wink wink.”
Eyes bright. Eyes full of mischief. “I believe in being totally honest. That’s one thing you should know about me, Mr. Brandish. Or Logan? I’ll call you Logan. Over the next few weeks, I will hurt your feelings with some of my critiques, but I’ll also be there to encourage you on. We’ll get you going again. You’ll see. I’ll be like Henry V, ushering you on to victory… or something like that. I’m not certain what Henry V is famous for other than being played by Kenneth Brannagh. So, what have you got to show me?”
“Um… I… I’m having issues….”
He spread his arms. “That’s why I’m here. You don’t have anything?”
My fingers edged toward the lone, pathetic piece of stained paper on the table. He snatched it up and read it:
“The trireme surged on the open sea.”
He looked at the page a bit longer, then flipped it over as if there were any possibility at all of something being on the other side.
“This is it?”
“Well, there was more….”
“More better, or just more of the same?”
I didn’t know how to answer that. The fact is, since the destruction of my notes, I had only gotten as far as the first sentence. Fifteen versions of the first sentence. (There once was a trireme from Kent. Trireme Irene had seventeen children. Triremes are big, big boats powered by angry muscle bottoms. All aboard!) The first sentence gets things going. It’s the Start button to any new manuscript. Unfortunately for me, the first sentence of any new manuscript is like pushing a basketball out my urethra.
I shrugged and gave a half smile. That worked to get me out of trouble sometimes. I looked so all-American, people sang at me when the national anthem was played at ball games.
“Hmmm. Well, it’s a start.” He handed the paper back to me. “Do you know anything about galley ships?”
“Looks like you got some homework, then, huh?” He leaned forward and said, with a booming voice, “’Cause I sure as hell don’t either, and have no intention of edumicatin’ myself about ’em. Know what I mean, Jelly Bean?”
He was a silly man. A silly, gorgeous man.
A handsome young waiter brought Mr. Kimble his drink and I noticed a lingering gaze between the two. That’s when my stomach dropped and my balls disappeared into my abdomen. Here was a lovely gay man and I had, quite purposely, sabotaged any chance I had with him. He had even said I had cute ears. I had most likely put him off eating for the rest of his life with the whole chicken debacle. He certainly wasn’t ordering anything there. There wasn’t room left on the table.
The waiter looked at me, disinterested, and asked if I needed anything more.
Go away, little bird. Go away.
“I’ve read your blog,” Brock said. “Very entertaining. Witty.”
“Well, I’m no Noel Coward.”
“Never heard of him. Unfortunate name. About your blog. Like I said, entertaining stuff, but I would reconsider the links to the naughtier sites. You know. The porn blogs and naked men.”
How dare he!
“We want the focus to be on you. We don’t want anyone who has come to your site to be distracted by pretty pictures. We want them to stick around and not be clicking away for the first pair of fresh ass cheeks they see.” About that time, a fresh pair—those of our handsome young waiter—walked right by. Mr. Brock Kimble couldn’t keep himself from following them for just a bit.
“It’s my blog. It’s like a diary. I post things that interest me.”
“I get it. I know what a blog is. Still, the Lord wouldn’t like it.”
My jaw literally dropped.
“Just kidding.” What a wicked smile.
He looked around the restaurant for that cute little waiter. The one I had just bitch-slapped in my mind. “But seriously, consider taking those links down.”
“Are we through here?” I asked, doing my best to show some irritation.
“Sure. Would you like me to help you clean up?”
“No, I would not! I don’t think I like you, Mr. Kimble.”
“Good. Then you can stop worrying about how you appear around me.”
I froze. How could he know? How could he tell how awkward I felt?
His eyes locked with those of the waiter. “I’ve got another meeting,” he said. “And you’ve got homework.”
I sat a while longer, trying not to pay attention to my new agent walking out the door with the waiter. In my most Walter Mitty-like fantasies, I swung into action and knocked the waiter on his cute little buns. He was fired for flirting with a customer and trying to steal my man, and then Mr. Kimble and I purchased a suite where we fucked like toys wound too tightly. My fantasy love life was always so exciting. But life never measured up to fantasy. In real life, kisses are never as sweet and assholes only stretch so far.
I LIVED in a big Victorian house on a shaded street in the small town of Adbury with my best friend, Janey Caster. We met in college and became very close almost immediately. We tapped into each other’s needs quickly. The neighborhood we lived in was nice. Upscale but not snooty, and not a lot of children. There was a garden out back of the house, which we tried to keep alive. Over a short, white fence, we traded gardening tips with the feisty old woman next door, a Mrs. Grace Allenson. Nice old thing, if somewhat nosey. She could be a bit Margaret Rutherford at times. Janey and I had a Persian mix named Feed the Cat. We thought we were terribly clever when we named her. Janey was drunk at the time. Me, I have no excuse.
To our occasional delight, the street itself—East Second Street—seemed to be in the middle of a territorial dispute between the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was ridiculous, outlandish, and—we were convinced—totally true. Sometimes there would be a set of each of the two faiths on opposite sides of the street. Mrs. Allenson watched them as if she were watching a prizefight.
“Look at ’em eyeing each other,” she’d said once while we stood talking over the fence in the front yard. “Do ya suppose we’re going to have a holy dustup?”
And it was true. As far-fetched as it sounds, I half expected them to break out in song and click their fingers, like some reject West Side Story.
I walked into the house and found Janey right where I expected: sitting on her feet on the couch at the window and watching a set of nicely monotoned Mormons knocking on doors across the street. Feed the Cat was curled up beside her in a spot of afternoon sunlight that had snuck in past the tree branches. Janey was in her favorite blue shorts and a slim white T-shirt. Her shoulder-length hair was pulled up into a sloppy, auburn ponytail and she held a half-eaten Snickers like a rabbit’s foot. She loved Snickers. Milky Ways, though, made her gag. Who knows why.
“Hey, baby,” she said, not taking her eyes off the Mormons. “Can you believe this? They totally skipped our house again. Why do they keep doing that?”
“I honestly don’t mind it.” I sighed, as if I had been doing strenuous work all day. As if I had come in from the fields.
“Well, I do! We haven’t had a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness come to our door since we bought this place. Why the hell not? We’re just as sinful as everybody else. Why aren’t they trying to convert me? I’m offended by the whole damn thing.” She ripped at her candy bar.
“Go tell them. You might want to get out of your comfy clothes, though, and into something more presentable.”
“I’ll give them some more time to come around. Maybe this is just buildup. Maybe I’m so sinful they realize they will need to pull out all the stops.”
“I bet that’s it.” I plopped down on the couch beside her. Feed the Cat looked at me with annoyance.
Janey was not the type to be ignored. When she wanted something, she usually got it, and with insurance. She had found out just a year before that a movie star from the 1930s, of the Irene Dunne ilk, grew up in an old house just down the street from us. The house was falling apart and forgotten. Janey hounded the historical society until they spent the money to fix it up again, reasoning that it might just be a wonderful tourist attraction. Film nuts would love it. “She’s been nominated for five Oscars!” she had screamed at the head of the board, a pretentiously religious woman named Della who also happened to be a lawyer. “How many have you got?” Della eventually caved, but not before Janey riffed on her in the local paper as being of the law firm of Jesus, Mary & Joseph.
“How was your meeting with the new editor?” she asked. She had a narrow face. Delicate, with large green eyes. She could be precious or she could be manipulative.
“I don’t like him. He’s very pretty, but I don’t like him.”
“I feel the same about these Mormons. They’re very pretty, but I don’t like them.”
The fact was, however, I would have given my right nut to be the one leaving the restaurant with Mr. Brock Kimble. Thinking about him, about that fine body beneath that fine suit, tented my khakis. I felt Feed the Cat staring at me. Judging.
“Curtis is on his way over,” I said, rising from the couch. “Tell him I’m up in my room.”
“Absolutely. I don’t want him down here with me whilst I’m stalking. He’d bring the whole mood down.”
“Janey, he’s not that bad.”
“Logan, darling, your boyfriend is mind-numbing.” She sat properly on the couch and faced me. “Last week he cornered me in the kitchen and gave a whole speech on the fascinating topic of cardboard boxes.”
Yes. I was dating a cardboard-box maker. About as interesting as it sounds. We had met when I needed a box to send ten signed copies of one of my books to my mother, Lucille. Everyone in her circle of friends demanded a signed copy of all of my books. If she remembered to give them out, well, that’s another matter. But Curtis was there at the store that day to help me out, and so began our tangleweed romance.
“He’s a sweet man,” I said, and turned for the stairs.
Curtis Little. King of Little Boxes Big Store. And that’s all I knew of it. Even my trips to his store had been a blur. Cardboard boxes. I mean, who cares? I always reminded myself he was a very sweet man. That had to count for something. Better sweet than abrasive, like the gorgeous Mr. Brock Kimble. I adjusted my hard-on in my khakis as I entered my bedroom.
My bedroom had been converted by me, from the library or office it had originally been when whoever built the place lived there, to something quite a bit less severe. Or at least the effort was there. There is really only so much one can do to make bigness seem cozy. The room had a tall ceiling, crown molding, and two large windows. Opposite the windows, two dark oak bookcases spread out from a corner axis like arms in invitation to read. They were lined with books, notes, and anything else I didn’t have a proper place for. Everything was neatly in place and easy to find. Books in alphabetical order by author, CDs by artist. I had a desk directly beneath the bookcases, where I wrote on my laptop. In the other corner of the room was where I slept, on an old sleigh bed that came with the house. I tried not to think of the phantom sex that had occurred on that bed, but, after all, it wasn’t like it was the same mattress.
I turned on my laptop and played at writing.
Ten minutes later, Curtis stood in my doorway. He was dressed in browns and whites, as usual. Curtis would not enter a room unless asked, and he would never make himself known with a cough, so if I hadn’t seen him standing there, he might have stood perfectly still for ten minutes more. He easily faded into the wood. He might have said something to get my attention, but his voice was so light at times it’s doubtful I would have heard him from my corner of the large room.
He was a pleasant-looking guy. Nothing stunning. Nothing hideous. He was just there. He was Curtis and he always wore a smile and was constantly setting his glasses on his nose. His hair was short and neat. His nose whistled sometimes when he found something humorous. Physically, he had but one attribute that stood out. It bubbled, rather. His rear. He had a very nice, very round butt, and he knew how to show it off without ever really knowing how to show it off.
I smiled. “Come on in, Curtis.” When we spoke I noticed we often spoke in the manner of acquaintances. Not even friends. Acquaintances.
“How did I get the most talented, beautiful, most wonderful man in the entire state?” he said as he slouched in and gave me a kiss on the lips. “I brought you some of our new line.”
He held up some small, flattened boxes. Curtis was always bringing me boxes. Sometimes they were even brightly colored.
“They’re going to be big sellers.” I had never seen someone get so excited about cardboard. He loved his job, as odd as that seemed to anyone who knew him. Curtis loved boxes.
I kissed him again, letting my hands wander down his back to that prized ass. I cupped it in my hands. I could feel him growing hard, but whether that was my doing or his thinking of boxes I cannot say. At the moment I didn’t care. In between kisses, Curtis continued talking in breathless whispers about his new box line. What they were made of, how strong they were, what colors they came in. I just wanted to fuck and, God bless it, his jabbering was getting in the way.
“There’s a documentary airing on PBS tomorrow night about box making. We should watch it….”
I pushed him onto the bed and pulled on the elastic bands of his jockstrap, salivating at the thought of his ass. My fingers dug into him, squeezing plump life purple. That’s what I wanted. Dangerous reds and violets. Bruised flesh.
“Ow!” he cried and stopped the proceedings immediately. “Honey, that hurt. Can we be a bit more gentle?”
Yes. He used the royal “we” often. It was like nails on a chalkboard to me.
“Sorry, sweetie,” I said as I pulled down his pants and jockstrap with more tenderness but less excitement. My lust had been shaken.
He was hard. Curtis never disappointed in that area. And it was a very respectable dick. Just like him. Stiff and rigid and always eager to help. All it needed was a pair of eyeglasses. The problem, you see, was that Curtis was never too knowledgeable about how to use it. Now, I was never a Casanova, but I at least had a wonderful imagination. And Curtis? Well, Curtis liked boxes.
Still, I tried to work myself up once more. I stroked his penis a few times, giving it a quick flick of my tongue every so often, then gave his balls a gentle tug.
“Ow!” he cried again. “My scrotum! Baby, are you mad at me? Can’t we just do this normally? Like we normally do.”
Normally. Yes. Normal and safe and plain. That was Curtis. I smiled. “Sure.”
And so we did. We did it exactly the way he wanted. And something in me clicked. Something I barely recognized until much later.
When Curtis left that evening, he seemed satisfied. I almost expected him to say “Good job, you!” with a pat on my head, as if I had done my duty. I rinsed my mouth out and got a drink. A night of nautical research awaited me.
As for my novels, I tried to write things that I knew at least a little bit about. College, small towns, neighbors, and so on. American life in the first days of this dangerous century told with satire and, hopefully, bite. It had not been my intent to graduate from college only to find myself in a career where I spent hours reading other people’s words, other people’s versions of facts about ancient seafarers. But there I was. Striking through the brush of the Internet with my invisible machete like I was E.L. Doctorow’s slow brother or Mary Renault’s jealous cousin. But if you’re going to write historical fiction, you’ve got to have some historical facts. Unless you’re Dan Brown.
That was mean. I know. But come on. As if he’ll read this.
There is a lot on the Internet about ancient warships. Galleys, triremes, and the like. I hit all the major sites, looking for nuggets of interest. The truth is, though, no matter how interested you are in a subject, no matter how passionate, after a while it’s just work. Every so often I would wander onto a page centering on erotica. The ancients make for great sexual imaginings. Time is the great fictionalist. M/M fiction, it’s called. That kept my interest going for far longer than it should have. I was supposed to be researching, after all, not being turned on by muscle slaves and mean emperors.
Why had I chosen to write a novel of historical fiction on galley warships? I knew nothing of the ancient world other than what the History Channel had taught me, and I always had the feeling they weren’t too terribly trustworthy. But then, history in the modern world is a painted-up muse resembling more a pop siren than any half-divine tart. If you want anything of substance, that calls for some digging. Why had I chosen a subject that forced me to do research?
Then I remembered: It was a wild hair. I wanted to try and expand my horizons. It sounds admirable when it’s said, but when it’s actually staring you in the face, it’s a whole lot of expanse and you are too lazy for it.
I looked at the time. Two a.m. I decided to head for bed. I saved the few notes I had gathered from my research onto a flash drive and turned off the laptop. I leaned back in the chair and stretched. It would all begin again tomorrow, my precious routine. The same every day, with a few alterations here and there. My life revolved around lists and routines. They were tacked to the wall, folded in books, and saved on my laptop. Lists of things to do, places I wanted to see before I die, and, of course, outlines and half outlines for possible books. Sometimes I would find a list and I’d have forgotten what I even wrote it for. I had a lot of travel lists. I was not a traveler, but I always meant to be. I would save every list, no matter. You never know. You just never know. I’m a list hoarder, I suppose.
My daily routine was hung in my brain like it was boldly typed on bright white paper and then black-framed.
wake up ( very important, this one)
check e-mails & messages
watch the morning news (but not enough for it to ruin day)
work out (each day of the week having its own list of particular exercises)
play on the Net, usually porn
get ready for bed
That’s how it usually went every day. It was comforting and controlled. A big, deep breath. Curtis, of course, popped by, but he easily fit into the routine. That’s why he was so perfect for me. He blended right in. Have I said that before? That he blended in.
Yet sometimes, and more so around that period of my life, when I lay alone in bed at night (Curtis rarely slept over), I wondered how my life could be different with different people, in a different place. Maybe someone like Mr. Brock Kimble in his perfectly fitted suit. Maybe in some place I’ve never been.