My friend Jake stopped by for a few beers. We’d been pretty good friends in high school, gone our separate ways for college, then wound up in the same city, more or less by accident. He was a sweet guy, eager and a little sentimental at times, which probably gave us something in common. We were sitting on my couch, drinking, talking shit.
“How goes it with Sharon?” I said.
Jake sat up a little. “She’s amazing.”
Sharon was his new girl, a tall, elegant redhead, a little older than us. She had the kind of voice you always imagine a phone sex operator would have, moist and soothing. The unusual thing about Sharon, she had a plastic eye. Or actually, it was a polymer. Jake had clarified this for me. (“It’s a polymer, man. Get it right.”) She’d been shot in the eye with a BB gun when she was a kid and they hadn’t been able to save it.
“We’re having a great time,” Jake said. “I mean, this girl knows how to have a great time.”
“You’re not going to try to work things out with Lucy?” Jake said.
I’d broken up with my girlfriend a few weeks after Jake met Sharon.
“Nothing to work out,” I said.
“You guys seemed crazy about each other.”
“That one night you saw us, sure. I don’t know. We drove each other nuts.”
“Love does that sometimes.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t feel like I was getting to the real stuff with her.”
“That’s not a problem with Sharon,” Jake said. He laughed a little, as if at a private joke.
“What’s that mean?” I said. ”
Nothing,” he said.
He got up to fetch another beer. That was one thing about Jake. He could make himself at home pretty quickly. He settled back onto the couch and we talked about making a plan. But we were both shitty at making plans. We couldn’t decide anything. The only films around were based on comic books, and we knew all the cheap bars would be full of college kids. So we kept drinking and smoked half a joint and watched the Red Sox clobber the Tigers.
“What’s Sharon up to this evening?” I said.
“Some dinner up in Auburn Hills.”
Sharon did corporate fundraising for an educational non-profit. This explained her clothing and her impeccable phone manner. It impressed me that someone could earn money attending fancy parties.
“How long has it been with you guys?”
“She’s special,” Jake said.
“There’s something about her.” He made an expansive gesture. He’d drunk four or five beers by now. It was hard to tell because he always put his empties in the recycling bin right away.
“Yeah,” Jake said. “I lucked out.”
“She’s sexy,” I said.
“She’s sexy, all right.”
I let this sit for a minute. As I say, it had been a while since I’d been with a woman. “Fucking Tigers,” I said. Weaver had just given up a homer to some pigeon-toed bastard from the Red Sox, I didn’t know who.
“Fucking Hello Kitties,” Jake said.
We didn’t say anything for a while, just let the announcers drone on. I was thinking I might just call it a night, though I was worried if Jake left I’d be tempted to call Lucy up and make an idiot of myself. There’d been some of that already.
Jake got up to get another beer. He was staggering a bit upon his return.
“You okay there?”
“Sure.” He sat heavily. “This is your last malt beverage. You wanna go halfsies?”
“It’s yours,” I said.
Jake took a gulp and swirled it around his mouth. He’d told me once that this was the best way to keep debris from settling between the teeth. His dad was a dentist, so he was full of such useful advice.
“Listen,” Jake said. “You were asking about Sharon before.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“You mentioned that.”
“There’s this one thing,” he said.
“In terms of, like, our intimacy.”
“She likes to do different stuff.”
Jake glanced at the TV. It was a shaving commercial, some gorgeous idiot with the face of a Greek statue. “More offbeat, I guess. Offbeat might be a better word.”
I remembered now what had always creeped me out about Jake, which is that he had a tendency to say a little too much when he was sloshed. One night, back in college, he’d mentioned that he was sort of attracted to certain short-haired breeds of dog. “Not enough to do anything,” he assured me. Still, it had pretty much killed the evening.
“She’s a big fan of the face,” Jake said.
“Involving the face more.”
“As in, what, like facial massages?”
“Those too,” he said. He paused and glanced at the TV. “I’m going to mention something here, Pete. Okay?”
“That’s the whole point,” I said. “We’re talking.”
He glanced at the TV again.
“You want me to turn off the game?”
“If you want.”
His whole posture had changed. He was sort of hunched over. I turned off the game and put on the only album we could ever agree on, which was Al Green’s Greatest Hits. “It would have to be, like, strictly confidential. No kidding.”
“Scout’s honor,” I said. This was an old joke. We’d both been Boy Scouts back in high school, for about two seconds.
“It’s just this thing,” Jake said. “This sort of sensual play, involving the face.”
“She loves to feel me, you know, rubbing against various parts of her face.”
“Hold up,” I said. “What parts?”
“That’s just it,” he said.
“I’m not the most experienced guy in the world, in terms of sexually. I’ve kind of let her take the lead.”
“I don’t want to freak you out,” he said.
“You’re not going to freak me out,” I said.
What I was thinking about, oddly, was depth perception. I’d discussed the fake eye aspect with Lucy—we’d gone out to dinner with Jake and Sharon that one night—and she mentioned afterwards that she knew a girl who was blind in one eye and that it had screwed up her depth perception. This had made the act of giving head difficult.
“She likes for me to rub her eye,” he said.
“Not really her eye,” he said. “The area around her eye.”
“Just listen,” he said. “Okay?” He took a deep breath.
“I didn’t know about any of this shit, but you know she had a couple of surgeries. They’ve been able to make some real advances in ocular rehab.” He killed the last of his beer, swished it around. “You’ll notice, for example, that she can move the eye a little. It doesn’t just sit there. That’s because of muscles around the ocular nerves. She has to do these exercises, every night. To keep the muscles strong.”
“She does them, you know, with the prosthetic out. Most nights, I mean, by the end of the day those muscles are pretty sore. So she removes the prosthetic.”
“You’ve watched her remove the thing?”
“No,” Jake said. “She goes into the bathroom for that. Then she comes out with this patch. For the first few weeks, she always wore the patch. But this one night we’d been drinking and she asked if I wanted to see what she looked like without the prosthetic and I said yeah.”
“It was kind of heavy,” Jake said.
“What did it look like?”
“It’s like, I guess, sort of like a little cup. There’s some scar tissue.”
“She has to rub this balm in, to keep the flesh moisturized. So this one night, a couple of weeks ago now, I rubbed the balm in for her. Does this sound creepy, man? Am I freaking you out?”
“Not really,” I said.
“Because I’m not trying to freak you out.”
Jake had his eyes fixed on the bouncing red lights of the equalizer, which were rising and falling with Al Green’s voice. We could hear my upstairs neighbor, dragging something heavy from one room to another.
“I could see how much it meant to her, you know, to have me accept that part of her. And the flesh there, it’s extremely sensitive, the way scars can be. It was kind of a turn on for both of us. So it just sort of evolved from that.”
“Well, the first thing, she would start to touch me while I rubbed in the balm.”
Jake glanced at me. His eyes were glassy with the accumulated booze; I could see now that he’d been prepping himself. “It gave her great pleasure to have me touch her there. You know, anyone can love the other parts of her. You’ve seen her, Pete. She’s a beautiful woman. But to have a man accept that part of her, it drives her crazy. That’s what we all want anyway, to have our lover accept the most damaged part of us, right? Am I right?”
“Absolutely,” I said.
“So from there, it was a pretty natural progression.”
“What was a natural progression?”
“That she would want me to rub myself there.”
“Like a massage?”
“Sort of,” he said. “But not with my hand.”
“Hold on,” I said.
“This balm we use, it’s practically like a lubricant.”
“Get out of here,” I said. “Get the fuck out of here.”
But Jake was not the sort of guy who joked around. He lacked the imagination. And he wasn’t cruel enough. That was maybe worst thing about talking to him: everything he said was the truth.
“I didn’t understand what she wanted at first. I thought she just wanted, you know, to put me in her mouth. She likes to do that. And she’s excellent in that department, by the way. But then she moved. She moved down a little and said, ‘Do you trust me, baby? I said, ‘Of course I do.’ It’s true, Pete. I do trust her. ‘I’m going to do something,’ she said, and I told her whatever she wanted to do, that’s what I wanted, too. So that’s how it started. She took me and began to massage that area, very gently.”
Jake was silent for a few seconds. Al Green was singing, here I am, baby, come and take me.
“I don’t want to get too technical,” Jake said.
“No,” I said. “You don’t have to get technical.”
“But to her, like I said, that’s the most intimate part of her anatomy. So in that sense, what she wanted was just for the most intimate parts of our bodies to be joined, to be in contact.”
“How much contact are we talking about?” I said.
“Well, at first, it was just, like, a massage. Using me to massage that area. But you have to remember, I mean, we were both naked.” Jake was speaking quite softly now, fading in and out. He wasn’t looking at me, thank God. He was on the other side of the couch, staring at the equalizer.
“I mean, it began as something more sensual. But at a certain point, it sort of pivoted over and there was a sexual component to it, as well. She was using her hand. She was using her mouth. I was all over the place. I couldn’t always tell where I was, to be honest.”
“Sure,” I said.
“It’s what she wanted,” Jake said. “She wanted me to be turned on. She wanted me to get excited.”
I was trying not to picture what he was talking about. But it was difficult. I kept flashing to this image of a skull and how naked skulls look, how terribly stark and vulnerable. It was like an idea of what people really are, after all the pretty flesh has rotted away: white bone and black holes.
“The first time it was just sort of gentle like that, this gentle play. But since then, it’s gotten more intense.” Jake belched softly and excused himself. “There are times when I can feel she wants me to use more force. She wants me to take charge. It’s not like she’s issuing orders. But I can tell from the way she positions herself.”
Jake glanced at me. It occurred to me he was waiting for me to say something, so he could go on.
“Wouldn’t this be considered sort of dangerous?”
“Yeah,” Jake said. “That’s what I figured. I mean, it’s a part of the body that’s been traumatized. It’s right near the brain. There’s all this scar tissue. That’s what sort of freaked me out. I was having these fantasies of, like, something bad happening. But Sharon kept telling me, ‘It’s okay. I like the pressure.'” He frowned. “It’s not like there’s any real penetration. The area we’re talking about isn’t that big. I mean, feel your eye.”
I was afraid that Jake might really want me to do this, right there in front of him, but he kept talking.
“It’s more like the skin rubbing against the rim, that sensitive part just below the tip, you know, rubbing, sort of up and over the rim. I don’t even know what you’d call it. It’s not like they hand you a manual on this stuff in sex ed. The thing is, Pete, it felt good. It feels good. Not the same as making love, but I guess it is a way of making love.”
“Absolutely,” I said.
“And Sharon, she’s made it clear that she likes how it feels. She especially likes to feel me, you know, complete the act. I hope I’m not being too graphic here. Am I being too graphic?”
I paused. “It’s sort of the nature of the thing,” I said.
“Right,” Jake said. “Precisely.” He let out a long, beery sigh. “Anyway, it’s something I’ve been sort of carrying around. Not like I’m ashamed. But it’s just fairly intense, in terms of early relationship issues.” He leaned toward me and set his hand on my arm for a second.
“So thanks for listening, man.”
“Of course,” I said. I felt honored that he’d chosen to tell me, actually, but also a little put upon and also worried that I wouldn’t be able to resist telling someone else.
“I hope this doesn’t make you feel any differently about me or Sharon. I mean, I’d hate to think — ”
“Not at all,” I said. “What people do in the bedroom, how ever they can find happiness, that’s all good.”
“I knew you’d understand,” Jake said. He stood, a bit uncertainly, and stretched his arms out wide. “Man, I’ve got to piss like a racehorse.”
“Sure,” I said.
Jake took his leak and shambled back into the room. He said he should probably go. I could tell he wanted to see Sharon. The beers and the talk had swollen his heart.
“You okay to drive?” I said.
“Fine,” he said.
“I can call you a cab.”
Jake cocked his head. “No,” he said. “I’ll do a quick lap around the block. If I still feel drunk, I’ll come back up. Promise.”
Jake had survived a pretty serious car wreck in junior high and it came out later that his mom had been drinking, so I knew he wasn’t bullshitting. He paused in the doorway. “Listen man, scout’s honor on that stuff before, right?”
“You know it,” I said.
I listened to him trundle down the stairs, the flap of sneakers on the damp sidewalk as he started his lap. I was kind of relieved that he was gone. And then, on the other hand, I sort of missed him. The Reverend was still singing I’m so tired of being alone, and let’s stay together, all the things lovers should tell each other. It made me feel lonely, to be in possession of such a sudden intimacy. A secret can be a lonely thing to bear sometimes.
I could see her face in the moonlight: the round cheeks, the swell of her mouth, the shallow well of her eyes.
And I wouldn’t have expected Jake to be the one. Of all my friends, I mean. He’s not the one you’d pick out of the lineup and say, Yeah, him, he’s the one diddling his girlfriend’s eye socket.
I don’t mean to cheapen the thing. It’s no joke. This was something real. Sharon was a real person. Some kid, long ago, had shot her in the eye with a BB gun. And now she was carrying around this injury. She wanted her lover to touch her. There was something beautiful to the story. I could see that. But it still left me a little shaken.
Later on, I managed to convince Lucy to come by. There was a lot of coy begging involved, though she’d had a drink or two, which helped.
It wasn’t like that night was some breakthrough in our relationship. That’s not the point I’m making. It just felt good to have her in my bed again, the familiar shape and heat of her. Just before we fell asleep she set her head on my chest. I could see her face in the moonlight: the round cheeks, the swell of her mouth, the shallow well of her eyes, which were wet and delicate, as precious as rare stones. Then this awful thought flashed through my mind: the worms would attack her eyes first.
I didn’t want to think about it, but somewhere across town old Jake was with Sharon and they were finding their own path to love. It was—whatever, not strange or absurd, but human. Lucy closed her eyes and I let my fingers drift along her brow, her jawbone, the rim of her eyes. It was her skull I was tracing.
“That feels good,” she said drowsily.
“I’m glad you called.”
“I wanted to see you.”
“Keep going,” she said.
“Of course,” I said. “Why would I stop?”