It’s Cold Outside

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I was on tour with a collective made up of current and former sex workers. There were twelve of us, and we were crossing the country in two vans. We started in Washington where the winter was mild and slid down the coast of California and then into the brown scrub of Arizona and New Mexico, where the sky was big and blue and stretched over the mountains like a tarp.

Our shows were always packed. One of the women lip-synched "Breaking the Law" with her vagina. Another, a burlesque dancer and one of the kindest people I’d ever met, did a number to Dolly Parton’s "Proud to be An American" in which she pulled a roll of fake dollar bills out her ass. Byron was with me. He’s a prostitute and he lives not far from where I live in San Diego, away from the old city where the bay wraps around the water like a croissant, and he would paint his face and tell stories about turning tricks in various hotels and how he felt like a healer. I kept getting sick, and Byron had all these vitamins and herbal potions he would give me, and usually I would get better. Other times, he gave me pills from a baggy filled with pharmaceuticals. He convinced me that the most important part of healing was faith. In Oklahoma, we took mushrooms soaked


in chocolate and sat in a field for six hours, razor grass six feet high, feeling like air rushing across a stream.

At one of the college panels in Kansas, Byron told the students he didn’t use condoms when giving blowjobs and that he enjoyed swallowing his customers’ come.

In Colonial Williamsburg, they brought a tub of water into the student center, and a preacher baptized students waiting in line for the show, pushing their heads under the water, shaking a Bible at the florescent lighting.

During the performances I read a story about my year as a stripper in Chicago. Compared to everyone else, I was so inexperienced; I felt like a loser.

I didn’t understand why anyone would want to be a writer. I had a much easier time understanding swallowing another man’s come for a hundred dollars.

There were twelve of us, and we shared three hotel rooms. One of the women, a former prostitute who had formed an organization to legalize sex work in Brazil, made a point of telling everyone that she wouldn’t share a bed with me under any circumstances. She said it when I wasn’t around, but one of the dancers told me about it. She said I made her uncomfortable.

There was a blizzard in Philadelphia, and I walked around the Liberty Bell while snow fell in sheets. The snows got heavier as we traveled north again. In Boston, five hundred people waited outside with their hands and ears freezing to see us perform in an abandoned theater at two in the morning.

By Maine, there was feet of the stuff and trees naked as phone polls. I’d lived in California too long and didn’t know what to do about the weather. Also, when we were in Texas three weeks earlier, Byron fell on me and dislocated my knee doing karaoke, which sounds dumb, but it’s true. I went to a sports doctor near the Texas capital, which is made from local red granite and filled with statues celebrating the Civil War and is the only statehouse larger than the national capitol. The doctor told me I would never heal but eventually my knee would stop hurting, and I would run and jump exactly the same as I had before.

The weather was pounding, like clouds throwing snowballs. Andre lived half an hour away from the college in a small town and he came to see the show with his girlfriend, Serena. Andre left the West Coast two years ago. We used to play poker together, and now he was living out here, in the northeast. He looked rugged and good, like a man who enjoyed chopping wood. He’d actually moved out here to be a writer, which is what I was or what I had been for a while, but I was at a point in my life where I didn’t understand why anyone would want to do that. I had a much easier time understanding swallowing another man’s come for a hundred dollars.

Andre had a beard, and big curly hair that was all red and black. I remembered him as grey, salt and pepper, but now he was chicory. Serena had moved up from Boston, where she had worked for years as a psychoanalyst. She was tall, and white as milk. They had both given up on big cities.

“We like it here,” Andre assured me. He was teaching a course at the university. Serena worked in the coffee shop near their home. She didn’t want to be a psychoanalyst anymore. When I asked about her choices, Andre gave me a look.

The coffee shop where she worked was on a steep rise, and the windows looked out on the tops of pine trees and oaks.

After the show, the three of us went for a drink.

“I’m glad to be away from those people,” I confessed. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the people on the tour. I did, quite a bit. But we were

Serena sat on the bed with me. She grabbed a handful of Vaseline.

in vans together six hours a day, and the vans were crowded.

“Don’t worry,” Andre said. “At our place, you’ll have your own room.”

I hadn’t had my own room in a long time.

They had the kind of apartment you can only have in out-of-the-way places unless you have a lot of money. There were at least three bedrooms and hardwood floors throughout. The whole thing cost what I paid for one-third of my crappy apartment back home. I wanted to stay.

They gave me a room off the kitchen with a queen-sized futon, a double radiator and a big stack of New York magazines.

“Keep the door closed,” Serena said. “Unless you want to be woken up by the cat.”

I lay down, paged through the magazines and played with myself for a little while. I thought about a black woman in Vancouver I’d been corresponding with. She said she hated it when men were into her just because she was black. I was trying to keep from her my own fetish for dark women, which made me feel vaguely racist, but I thought she must know.






I was sleeping when Serena came in.

“Shhh,” she said. “Don’t wake Andre. He’d kill you.”

I didn’t think Andre would kill me. Andre was a "feeler," the type to get depressed. All internal.

Serena forced a sock into my mouth anyway and circled around the back of my head with duct tape. I’m not sure why people so often assume they


can do anything they want to me. In my early twenties, I lived in a large condominium in Chicago with a rich man who would lie on top and force himself inside of me. He was much bigger than me, and he’d wrap his large arms around my chest. I was hairless, young and thin. It must have looked like he was riding a dolphin. He would come in about three minutes, then go back to whatever else he was doing. After a year he started complaining that I didn’t care about him. Then he kicked me out, which was the beginning of a whole string of disasters I won’t go into here.

Serena tied my hands together with a long piece of clothesline. She went around my wrists and then between my hands all the way up my forearms. Then she tied my ankles together and placed a pillow behind my calves, then ran some thin rope from my ankle ties to my wrists. My knee hurt. I could feel where it had left the socket in Austin, the ligaments stretched like rubber bands. But it wasn’t too bad. I supposed I’d be limping later, but I was fine with that. If Serena hadn’t filled my mouth, I probably would have told her I loved her. That’s how I felt. I don’t think I had ever been in love before.

Serena sat on the bed with me. The radiator was blasting at 150 watts, but Serena was still wearing black leggings and a loose shirt.

She began to pierce me. I tried not to moan.

She pulled on a latex glove, and I turned on my side and tried to wrap myself around her. She grabbed a handful of Vaseline and wiggled her hand in my ass and stuck her thumb in my asshole. It felt wonderful. She got a finger inside me, then another. I wished my legs weren’t tied together. I wanted to be open for her so she could get her whole fist inside of me. I thought about Andre sleeping in the other room. I liked Andre. I doubted we would still be friends after this. Then I thought about the black woman in Vancouver. I wished Serena was black.

Eventually Serena took her hand out of me and began to torture me. First, she pulled out a bag of pins and started tracing them across my body, not so deep but enough to draw blood. She cut long lines up and down my chest to my thighs. Then she began to pierce me, pushing several pins into my nipples, then my balls. I tried not to moan.

“If you make any noise, you will be so sorry,” she said. It was weird the way she said it, like she was making a joke. She didn’t really mean it; we were just playing some little game. She lit a cigarette and dotted it across my chest where she’d already cut me. I was afraid of infection. Then she brought the cigarette close to my face.

“I’d tell you to relax,” she said, “but I don’t really want you to.” She pushed the cigarette into my face, which is why I have this little scar close to my eye.

She left me like that. I tried not to move too much because it increased my discomfort. The sun came out, the winter light slanting through the pane. I heard Andre in the kitchen just outside the door. “I’m going to get out of here,” he said. “Let’s not wake him up yet.” That was probably my moment to scream, but I didn’t. I don’t know why. One part of me knew the worst was over. The other wasn’t sure.

An hour later, maybe two, Serena came back into the room. I had been tied up for hours and I’d been crying, soaking the bed. She wasn’t wearing leggings anymore, just a little black skirt. Her legs were the kind of white that has never gotten any sun. They weren’t curvy, but they were fit.

“You were so good,” she told me. I wanted to smile, but the sock was still in my mouth. My jaw hurt, and I was dizzy with dehydration. “We’re almost done, okay?”

I nodded my head.

“I’m going to take this gag off you, but I don’t want you to say anything yet. Can you handle that?” I nodded again and she peeled the duct tape and I didn’t scream and then she pulled the sock out of my mouth and held my head and gave me water from a glass. It was the kind of glass that comes in sets of twelve at Target. Everything seemed so ordinary. After I drank the whole glass, I started to cry again. I cried a lot, and she didn’t make any move to comfort me, but she didn’t try to get me to stop either. I thought she would gag me again or slap me, but she didn’t.

When I stopped crying, she undid the line connecting my ankles to my wrists. She slowly pulled my legs straight and rolled me from my side onto my back. She pulled the pins out, then washed me with peroxide, water and a sponge. She paid a lot of attention between my legs, holding the sponge against the tip of my penis, pressing on my balls. “I’d like you to eat me out. Could you do that?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, though I wasn’t sure she wanted a verbal answer.

“Ask me.”

“Can I eat you out, please,” I said, and she lifted her skirt and sat on my face. I was enveloped in her, her pubic hair brushing my lips, ass pressing on my cheeks.

I was wearing Serena’s panties. What was that?

I pushed my tongue as far into her as it would go. She tasted sour and thick. I tried to do a good job because I didn’t want her to get off of me. I went down on her for a long time, and she ran her nails gently across my wounds.

Later, we showered together, and when Andre came home, I was okay, though my leg was stiff and I was walking with a limp. I had aggravated my injury.

The three of us went to dinner in the town. We ate at a local brewing company: fried chicken and amber beer. I was wearing Serena’s panties. What was that? A goodbye present? A nice touch? I felt vulnerable. I didn’t want to leave Serena and Andre and go back to those vans and another shared hotel room, the TV flickering late into the night, pills to get to sleep, pills to wake up, and more pills for the pain.

“Serena’s an artist,” Andre said. “She’s really great.”

“Yeah?” I asked, but Serena just smiled. She was humble around Andre, who has always been insecure and was maybe more so now, out in the middle of the forest, halfway through his forties. She seemed to want to make him happy. I’d never had that urge, to make someone else happy, but I was ready to change. I would have to.

“Check this out,” Andre said. “Serena did this.”

“I’m sure he’s not interested,” Serena said. Andre handed me a business card. It had his information on one side and hers on the other. It was green and blue, with something in the middle that resembled a rocket. I still had a show to do that night. The vans were arriving in front of the wide columns framing the university. Children walked past with sacks full of books. Nobody had noticed me missing yet.  



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©2007 Stephen Elliott and
Stephen Elliott is the author of six books, including the novel Happy Baby and the story collection My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up.