Holding Fire

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Holding Fire by Elissa Wald

Late August.
     The filmy sun fading between buildings.
     Six o’clock in the evening and Alicia is waiting for Jake. She has in fact spent the better part of the last few months waiting for him, something she hates to acknowledge even to herself. Certainly no one else would know it. Her waiting is a near-miracle of camouflage and self-containment. She doesn’t sit
by the phone, doesn’t even stay home. It’s something invisible: an inner ear cocked, an ache.
     Jake has been her lover since early June. Now he is going back to Caryn, his fiancé, whom he
is trying to convince himself to marry. And she will be left with the dregs of summer, swirling like backwash at the bottom of a glass.
     She stands at the window and watches the street. He is coming over after work to return her keys. And then it will really be over, whatever “it” may have been. For her own part, it required too much discipline to be called a fling.

* * *

Alicia’s apartment was just a few blocks from the firehouse. He would walk, as always. It pained him a little to think he wouldn’t be over there anymore. She had continued to flirt with all the guys in the firehouse but so far no one else had ever gotten an invitation to her room.
     She had admitted him into her private sanctuary and like all women was probably trying to weave him into her web. She had her dance of seduction like all the rest, her wiles and stratagems. It would be nice if he could be drawn in, if one of them ever had the strength and grace to keep him under her heel. Ultimately they always fell for him, always wanted more than he could give, probably because he could give so little and made no effort to pretend otherwise. For some reason this never failed to draw them in.
     Of course, this was fine too; he was nothing if not conquest-oriented. But as in any hunt, after the kill there was nothing left but the trophy, the ghost.
     He was already infamous for his successes. There was one he was supposed to be marrying and another on the side. A would-be wife and an unwitting mistress. And there were others, so many others. For a short, half-ugly guy he’d had more than his fair share and it was like a testimony to something special about him. Something they all recognized. Maybe it was his spirit — wild, kindred to all the creatures he’d ever slain. That was part of why he had to slay them. Sometimes it even felt like self-impalement — and who could resist that?
     He loved the way Alicia had been drawn deeper and deeper into him in spite of herself. She knew him for what he was and
she imagined herself a sexual stable-mistress, doing what she liked with whomever she pleased. She projected this image onto everything she did, but whenever Jake had a block of free time she took
it, and every time he saw her she was wearing something else, another dress, probably a new one just for him.
     She was leaning toward loving him but she knew better, and every move she made in his direction was so elaborately casual. She had an airtight pretext for each visit to the firehouse and every strut past it. How she loved to strut past it Hi boys doing her best Jessica Rabbit, slinky in Spandex or short, tight skirts . . .
     And she did look damn good too, he had to admit it. She looked edible, like something he wanted to sink his teeth into, ravish, dismember. The other guys at the firehouse were jumping out of their skin; they were openly jealous, almost gnawing on their own arms, and sometimes during an unguarded moment they looked at Jake with hatred. This glint of malice — sudden, unmistakable — always caused a perverse thrill to leap within his heart. He was envied. These other men, taller than him, more conventionally handsome, coveted what he had.
     Yes, he would miss her. A little. She had entertained him very well.

* * *

It was her rape fantasy that made her give him her keys in the first place. A set of keys along with her work schedule of the next several months. He could only use them once, she said. She didn’t want to know when.
     And in fact it was so many weeks before he did that she had no longer believed he would. She was no longer mounting the stairs with trepidation; her heart wasn’t pounding as she unlocked the apartment door. By the time he used them, she would have screamed had his powerful arm not cut off her air, coming around her throat in the dark. She had a moment of unadulterated terror as her hand flew to claw at that arm. In that first second of contact — as soon as her fingertips touched his muscle — she knew exactly who it was and it made sense but even in the wake of relief her heart hammered on with leftover adrenaline, exactly as she had fantasized. And then he was dragging her, one hand over her mouth, the other like a steel band around her waist. Not to the bed but to the table, where he forced her over it face down and pulled her head back by the hair.
     What else had they done? They took a bath together once: scented, candlelit, where she took a sea sponge and polished his whole bronze body: shoulders, chest, rock-hard thighs and callused feet. A magnificent body that the water made newly
radiant. As if reading her thoughts back to her, he said, “Look at you, your beautiful body, your pretty face, that smile . . .”
     She smiled a lot with him. She had straight, even, very white
teeth and he made her feel like smiling. He had roused her from sexual latency and after so many months it was an immense relief. Her job as a stripper had driven her real sexuality underground, but like a man drilling for oil he had found it and it was exploding like a geyser.
     There had even been some romance. An old fire coat he had given her. A present of striped bass, caught one afternoon in Montauk, which he blackened on her stove before his night shift. He brought her other treasures of the sea as well: fresh caviar, a jagged shark’s tooth, bits of beach glass: azure, mint-green.
     She brought him offerings too. Two weeks ago, she brought a dozen Rockefeller oysters to the firehouse, gotten to go from the South Street Seaport. A brazen gift: a veiled invitation to come by after work.
     She also liked to cook, would have cooked elaborately had it not cost so much leverage. As it was, she often painstakingly put something together and then took equal pains to mask its virginity — she would cut it into pieces, stash it in the fridge, say it was left over from something and offer to “re-heat” it. She would set a place for him at the table as if it were an afterthought, and with a half-ironic smile as some kind of disclaimer, she might light a candle.
     “I made a pie for Josie’s party, there’s one piece left, are you hungry?”
     And the slice would be taken from the fridge, having been separated from the rest of the pie that afternoon. The rest, wrapped in tin foil, had been hidden at the back of the freezer. One of several elaborate charades; one of many efforts to be kept under wraps.
     She had to do it this way. The truth would not be forgiven. Though it seemed that none of it had made a difference, in the end.

* * *

They acted out a lot of fantasies but Jake had to admit that the “rape” gave him as much pleasure as just about anything he could remember. It was almost like hunting — his stealthy, unannounced arrival at her apartment at quarter to four in the morning. She always worked the last shift at her strip joint, always from eight at night till four. He could’ve come earlier, could’ve read her damn diary or something if he’d had the slightest interest which he really didn’t, and besides she was the kind of girl who had probably devised some ingenious way to know if anyone ever fucked with it.
     No, he arrived close to when he knew she’d be getting off work and didn’t even bother to snap on the overhead. He’d memorized the apartment already with a fireman’s flair for spatial detail; he knew where everything was and he stayed just inside the entrance, positioned himself behind the open door of the hall closet and waited.
     It was like hunting, crouching patient and knowing in the dark with the intimate apprehension of his prey. He heard her
coming up the building stairs, knew it was her beyond a shadow of a doubt, knew her tread as he knew the gait of every animal he’d ever lain in wait for. When her key
turned in the lock he felt a stab of predatory joy and no sooner had she bolted the door behind her — reflexively, the light not even on yet — than he was upon her, with full, instinctive, perfect knowledge of exactly how to do it. She never had a chance to make a sound and he felt her panic, her not knowing who it was, and it aroused him almost to the point of creaming right there, that female panic and ineffectual blind struggle.
     One hand flew to the arm he had locked across her windpipe and with this he felt her body change. Recognition and understanding trailed her runaway pulse, and then almost immediately excitement — receptivity, surrender — set in; without a word exchanged, he felt all that in succession. It was like his exchanges with the animals: the giving over, the abandon, of one wild thing to another, of prey to predator. He dragged her to the table and flung her over it, for the first time now somewhat inefficient, clumsy in his haste. He could not get his pants unbuckled fast enough, couldn’t impale her a second too soon. Sinking himself into her like planting a flag on enemy territory, like staking a claim.

* * *

Tears were building inside like a storm. Green like a sky before rain; not to break until after he had come and gone.
     She had done her best for him. Been nothing but sanctuary, inspiration. Not one demand ever passed her lips. He never even gave her his phone number, and she never asked for it.
     When she discussed him with her friends, she didn’t say she was in love. Or in pain. Or in despair. She said she was horny. This was allowed. The woman of the ’90s was allowed to be horny. She was permitted (as long as she insisted on condoms) to take whatever measures were necessary to satisfy, gratify, herself. The only thing she wasn’t allowed to do was need.
Therefore, in accordance with this rule, Alicia did not need Jake. She was merely amusing herself. Toying with him. He was, perhaps, her favorite toy.
     The problem was that, in acting this role, she was no match
for Jake, who didn’t appear to be acting. He seemed to be getting exactly what he wanted. It was clear he was enjoying her, that he would come over and play whenever the impulse was upon him, and that his intentions did not extend beyond playing. He was appreciative, kind, but never fervent or passionate. No declarations would be forthcoming.
     Sometimes this was all right. The picture pleased her: the stripper with her different lovers, one of them a hard-muscled fireman. They came in turn, paying homage, bearing gifts, bringing her pleasure. And she received them each with equanimity, a gracious hostess, a mysterious lady in her tower, a girl who had to have it. Affection and carelessness.
     Jake’s permanent departure was not in this script, and suddenly Alicia did not see how she could do without him. His callused palms and cracked nails. His air of absolute competence. He might not be a deep or complex thinker, might not spend a moment of his life pondering unanswerable questions, but he would be competent at whatever he put those strong square hands to: steering wheel, pick-axe, rod and reel, bow and arrow, a woman’s body.
     Only once had he ever lost an ounce of his cool. And this had to do with his own fantasy. He had a secret one he had never told anyone but her, of a woman strapping on a dildo and fucking his ass.
     Alicia mentioned this to her friend Liz, a lesbian, who supplied her with a lavender one.
     “You know,” Liz told her, “this was the first dildo I ever bought and I was scared, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone. So I got this little one. But really, it’s too little . . . it’s embarrassing . . . I never use it, anyway. But it would be perfect for fucking someone in the ass. You can have it, and borrow my harness too, if you want.”
     So she took this paraphernalia home and stashed it away in the loft and the next time Jake came over, she showed it to him.
     “Look what I’ve got,” she teased. She was unprepared for his response: the sharp intake of breath and sudden gravity.
     “Can I see it?” he asked.
     She watched while he examined it. He appeared transfixed. He turned it over and around in his hands and finally looked back up at her.
     “Would you do me with this?”
     “You mean now?” Alicia asked, startled. “Today?”
     “Please,” he said. She couldn’t recall his ever being so serious before. “Would you? I mean, this is a — I don’t know
how to tell you, this is a very heavy fantasy of mine. It would mean a lot to me.”
     Alicia was taken aback. “Well,” she said finally. “I could try . . . I
mean, I’ve never done it before, I don’t really know how . . .”
     “That’s okay,” he said. “Try. Just do it, I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?”
     “Well . . .” she said, ” . . . all right, I guess you’ve got me. I mean, you know I’m not going to be the one to deny anyone their fantasy . . . and you’ve helped me fulfill a few of mine . . .”
     She opened her closet. “I know exactly the right thing to wear with this, I’ve just got to find it.”
     It took several minutes for her to unearth it — a kind of half catsuit, a bustier attached to pantalets, made of some black material. She took this and the strap-on and a pair of stiletto heels into the bathroom and shut the door. Once inside, she couldn’t figure out how to put on the harness and had to ask Jake to help her.
     To her surprise, he did so without any derision. And back in the bathroom, the catsuit stretched without too much difficulty to accommodate this new appendage. A snap closed a flap between her legs, which she sprung to pull out her purple cock. Perfect; it was perfect.
     When she emerged, Jake was staring at her, a strangely naked expression on his face. Not since the night she danced for him had she felt such a surge of power. She gripped the rubber member lovingly, holding his gaze. So this is what it feels like to be a man.
     “How do you want me?” he asked. When had he ever asked for direction?
     “Go bend over my bed.”
     Marvelous, the sight of him assuming this position. She smeared some cold cream into the crack of his ass first. She had never dreamed of doing this and could barely imagine how. “They’ve got a phrase for girls like me,” she said, entering him part of the way. “Chicks with dicks,” and then she saw that his jaw was clenched in pain.
     “Am I hurting you?”
     “A little, yeah.”
     She withdrew to apply more cold cream, then re-entered to the hilt. He moaned. She thrust tentatively, not knowing exactly what to do. It was not, after all, a real extension of her body.
She had no idea what it felt like to be inside him — was it touching his prostate gland, was it a tight fit? — and this cluelessness made her cautious.
     But it turned out that none of this really mattered. Just the idea of it was taking care of Jake. She reached around
to grip his cock but he demurred: “You don’t have to touch me, what you’re doing is enough,” and as if to demonstrate the truth of this confession, he shot almost immediately, all over her Indian quilt.

* * *

Jake made his way to Alicia’s with a pleasant sense of purpose. Bedford Street was dusky and peaceful, dappled with shadows from the trees. Her door keys were heavy in his pocket, a weight he was soon to be rid of. As in a hotel, returning them was the act of checking out.
     Out of the frying pan and into the fire, really. Caryn would be waiting for him in Montauk. But he didn’t have to think about that yet.
     Well, if he was going to get married, he was glad to have had this thing with Alicia first. Girls like her didn’t come along every day. Game for anything. And she really was.
     How had she gotten his ass-fucking fantasy out of him? Probably it was when he asked her if she’d ever had anal sex.
     “No,” she said, unexpectedly. “I’ve always wanted to . . . but by now I kind of think about it as a second virginity. I really want to give it to the right person.”
     “How about you take mine and I’ll take yours?” he asked.
     She smirked at him. The bitch. “I’ll take yours,” she said, and at this, her first flicker of one-sided greed, his pulse quickened and his cock got hard. They left it at that. He wasn’t going to confess that she could have his cherry on a silver plate if only she’d take it as her due.
     It didn’t come up again for several weeks, until the afternoon she pulled it out of some sleeve. A dildo, and more important, or as important, a black harness to strap it on with — a tangle of narrow, ominous strips of leather like bondage gear, like sex itself.
     “I borrowed this just for you,” she said, smiling with something like good-natured ridicule, and went on with some story about the dyke friend who provided it. Already he was erect, his heart pounding. Watering at the mouth.
     “Let me see that,” he said, reaching out almost involuntarily. She handed it over. He touched the rubber cock,
fingered the harness straps. They put a tremor in his hands and knees.
     “It’ll be waiting here, for whenever you’re ready,” she teased, but waiting was out of the question.
     It took some time to convince her to do him on the spot, still longer for her to equip herself. He waited on her sofa, hot with anticipation and unable to sit still. At one point she emerged, a sheepish look on her face.
     “I can’t figure this out,” she said. “The harness contraption. How are the straps supposed to go?”
     Jake took it from her, figured it out immediately — it wasn’t that different from how you improvised a rope harness, creating loopholes for the legs. He unbuckled the straps where they were mismatched and re-fastened them to girdle her. He did this with deference, a slave equipping his mistress to mount him. She took it and disappeared again. The next time the bathroom door opened, she was ready. Clad in a black one-piece outfit that stretched from shoulder to mid-thigh, with a lavender cock jutting out between her legs. She was heeled, as tall as him now or taller.
     Jake was ready to burst. “Where and how do you want me?” he asked, his voice gone husky with submission and a rare humility.
     “Go bend over my bed,” she said, command edging delightfully into her tone. “Take your pants off but leave your underwear on. Pull it down around your thighs where you’ll feel it.”
     He complied — obeyed — in silence, trembling.
     “Stay there,” she ordered. “I’m going to get some cold cream.”
     Bent over, waiting, feeling the breeze from the open window against his ass — this might be the finest moment of his life. And here she came, a five-foot four-inch woman turned amazon. Striding over on authoritative heels. A woman with a cock.
     “They’ve got a phrase for girls like me,” she said, dipping four fingers into the cold cream. “Chicks with dicks,” and then that hand was on him, in the crevice of his ass, such an intimate, hidden, vulnerable spot — and the cream was cold, a shock of cold — and the hand was sure, it was opening him up, priming him for invasion, readying him for her use.
     “All right, then,” she said, and he felt the tip of her cock enter him. “How’s that?”
     “Fine, go ahead,” he said through gritted teeth.
     She pushed part of the way in and ah, the pain, it was pleasure and pain so perfectly commingled as to be inseparable but yeah it did hurt, it hurt.
     “Does it hurt?” she was asking.
     “A little, yeah,” he gasped, and she withdrew as suddenly as she’d entered. Relief, yes, and loss . . .
     “I’ll put some more cold cream on you, then,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt you,” and of course she didn’t, that was maybe her fatal flaw though he never would have admitted as much. The hand again, the cold spreading over that sensitive membrane, and then she impaled him all the way. It was amazing, much less painful, a sensation of the deepest, most profound penetration and it was happening to him, being done to him. He was squirming against her like a woman would, like a bitch in heat, and he felt his climax imploding at the very picture of it.
     “Ah yeah,” he moaned, “yeah . . .” and she reached around to stroke him but no, she mustn’t, that would bring it on in an instant . . .
     “No, no, it’s okay, you don’t have to do that,” he said, but already it was too late. He came in the next moment, spurted helplessly and explosively everywhere.
     Her laughter stayed with him for days.

©1997 Elissa Wald and