“You own this place?”
“Nah.” Chip brushed his sun-bleached hair out of his eyes leaving a grease smudge on his forehead. “It’s my parents’. They’re in Taylor Falls visiting Aunt Silvia.”
“In that case how’d you like to make some money?”
Chip regarded the thin man with the sharp nose and chin. He didn’t quite trust the stranger but earning some easy money would sure as hell beat wasting his summer working at Ross’s Shoes. He looked at the van. It was past its prime but Amy, the blonde in the passenger’s seat, certainly wasn’t.
“Tell me more,” Chip said.
Once Chip agreed, it didn’t take Nate long to round up an audience. By 6:30 over thirty men crowded the Henderson’s walk-out basement after paying fifty dollars apiece. Because the house sat on a hill, the backyard sloped away, allowing the customers to enter directly through the side door without going through the upstairs. Chip had traded part of his share of the money for a seat on a wooden chair next to Dave Reilly. How could he pass up the opening night?
“You think he’ll fuck her in the ass?” Reilly asked. “I want to see him make that bitch suck his dick after he fucks her in the ass.”
Chip looked past Reilly to the painted concrete wall as if avoiding his eyes could make his meanness go away. Then the show began Chip turned to the cot set up in the center of the room.
“Sex! Coitus! The act of love!” Nate stepped out of his plush bathrobe and stood naked in front of the audience. “Fifteen hundred years ago the sages of India perfected the art of pleasure. Tonight, we will share some of the teachings they recorded in the Kamasutra.”
Chip glanced at Nate’s flaccid, uncircumcised penis, a big Italian sausage so different from his own. It began growing hard as soon as Amy made her way through the crowd to stand by her partner. She wore a dark blue robe decorated with sings of the zodiac, and her braless breasts jogged and rocked under the silk with each step.
“Often a woman can experience more pleasure when the man enters from behind.” Amy faced the audience and let the robe slip off her shoulders.
Her eyes locked on Chip’s and he was afraid to look at her body until she looked away. What a body! It was everything Chip had dreamed about – round breasts, belly flat as a drumhead except from the bulge below her navel, and dark pubic hair shaved into a tiny oval. She walked a few steps and bent over supporting her weight with her palms resting against the wall. Nate came up from behind and slid into her as if she were a pair of tight leather pants. A guy in front stood, blocking Chip’s view. All he could see was the strand of hair that fell over Amy’s forehead and how her flushed face rocked with Nate’s motion while she uttered tiny moans with each thrust.
Chip admired Amy’s shapely calves and even how her feet made contact with the concrete patio in the backyard.
“Hey, you missed a spot!” Chip pointed to a patch of long grass by the birdbath and the high-school student he’d hired swung the mower around for another pass.
Supervising gave Chip an excuse to hang around on the patio while Amy practiced yoga. She’d done her hair in a thick braid that lay over one shoulder close to where the straps of her lavender top crossed her back in an X. Chip ignored the spiritual aspect of her practice, concentrating instead on Amy’s womanly form, the flare of her hips, two ridges of muscle beside her spine, and the exposed skin on the small of her back made dewy with perspiration. How he longed to place his lips there and taste that sweet nectar.
“I’m not paying you to stand around and stare,” Chip told the high-school student. “Get back to work.” Chip turned to Amy and lowered his voice. “Sorry. Those teenagers are so immature.”
Amy nodded. “Would you go get my suntan lotion, Honey?” She squeezed Chip’s forearm before returning to her poses. “It’s in the bedroom in my purse.”
“Sure.” He circled the house to enter the basement.
His parents had set up a bedroom and living area for him down there. Chip had thought it better to sleep upstairs while his “guests” stayed below. Amy’s hemp purse was sitting on the floor next to his unmade bed. Chip removed a worn copy of the Kamasutra from inside and found a tube of sunscreen underneath. There was also a wad of cash even larger than the one Nate had given him and a tan plastic case for Amy’s diaphragm. Chip turned it over in his hands and imagined the latex disk riding inside her next to her womb. He returned everything to Amy’s purse except for the sunscreen and headed outside. He was in a good mood. There was a beautiful girl to admire and he had money in his pocket. If things kept going the way they were, he could pick up over two thousand dollars before his parents got back home. When he got to the door, a half dozen policemen were waiting.
That Sunday Pastor Robert Keneally took his place at the pulpit of the Grover’s Corners Community Church. The air conditioning had failed and several women in the congregation tugged at bra straps and fanned their cleavage with the church newsletter. Pastor Keneally was a handsome man in his early sixties with an aquiline nose and full head of graying hair. These along with his reading glasses gave him an air of serious scholarship. Despite the heat his robe, purple ecclesiastical stole, and the white cloth draped over the lectern projected an image of immaculacy.
“I see that Al Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said.
A few of the congregation snickered.
“It’s a pity, really. He spends all his time talking about air pollution and none talking about moral pollution.”
Reed Walker fidgeted in a back pew and glanced at the exit. Could he slip out without being noticed? The pastor’s descriptions of God’s Love were pure poetry but Reed couldn’t stand his hardcore conservative rants. Sometimes Reed wondered why he came at all. If only they hadn’t been so supportive when Sylvia had left him…
“I’m talking about pornography,” the pastor said. “Just this week police arrested a nineteen-year-old boy for hosting a live sex show. Nineteen years old. Live sex show.” Pastor Keneally paused to let his words set in. “And if you think that’s not a big deal, consider this. Over ninety-five percent of child molesters started out by viewing pornography. Ninety-five percent. One in four girls will be molested by the age of eighteen. One in four.
“What about rape? Titillated by sexual imaged on TV, intoxicated by smut in movies, and brainwashed by our secular society into viewing women as sexual objects, it’s no wonder these men think they can take away a woman’s most precious possession.”
“That’s not true!” a woman in a middle pew said. “Rape is a crime of violence, not lust.”
Along with everyone else Reed stared at the slim brunette in the dark pantsuit. He hadn’t seen her there before. The rectangular lenses of her glasses were larger than the pastor’s giving her an even greater air of intellectual authority. Like an avenging archangel Pastor Keneally leaned forward from his pulpit and peered down at this, this upstart.
“You don’t think young girls dressed like prostitutes are inviting trouble?” he asked.
“That’s exactly what the Taliban says. ‘It’s women’s fault if they get attacked. Put ‘em in burkas for their own protection, of course.’ Well, no thanks!” The woman stood. “When I have a daughter, I’ll teach her not to be ashamed of her body.” Ignoring the eyes burning holes in her back she walked slowly out the door.
Reed stared with everyone else. What a woman! No one had ever stood up to Pastor Keneally before.
“Let us pray.” Pastor Keneally bowed his head. “Lord, give us the strength to defeat this assault on our community. And though some refuse to heed Your Message through Your Mercy bring the light of truth to all that wander in sin so that they may see the error of their ways…”
Bang! Reed gaped at the red hymnal he’d thrown into the aisle, not quite believing he’d done it. He’d seen something noble in that outspoken woman and he’d be damned if he’d let that preacher slander her character. Reed stood. Lacking any other means to show his outrage, he kicked the hymn book and followed it out the door. Shocked by his disrespect he wanted to pick up the book but feared the congregation would interpret that as a lack of commitment. Instead he hurried to catch up with the woman who’d stood up to the preacher.
Heels clicking on the sidewalk she walked past the overcrowded parking lot and continued down Elm. Distracted by the chase Reed didn’t notice Eric Jensen, Pastor Keneally’s apprentice, following him. Reed caught up the woman when she stopped at a crossing light next to a newspaper kiosk.
“That was a brave thing you did back there,” he said.
“Absolutely, somebody needed to tell that, that windbag off.”
When the woman grimaced at the word windbag, Reed turned. Eric was standing behind him. His face showed no anger.
“This whole affair has gotten everybody in town upset,” Eric said. “Why don’t you two come back and talk it over with the pastor after he finishes the service?”
“I don’t think so,” the outspoken woman said.
“Why not?” Eric asked.
“I thought your church would be different but it’s the same old patriarchal bullshit. A woman’s body is a base, sinful thing and rape victims are asking for it because they dress like sluts. Fuck off!” She held up her hand to stop oncoming traffic and dashed across the street against the light.
“I guess we all could use a few days to cool off,” Eric said. “Before you go, is there anything I can tell Pastor Keneally about this? Some way we can better meet your needs?”
“His sermon was a bit much. I mean, it’s not the nineteenth century for God’s sake.” Reed looked at the kiosk to avoid Eric’s eyes. The cover picture on the newsprint magazine showed a naked woman with dangling tits crouching as if doing it doggy style. Reed blushed and looked away. “I guess I want my church to accept the deepest part of my nature and say it’s okay.”
Eric’s eyes drifted to the fly of the vulnerable lamb’s slacks. The unwanted image of Reed’s warm cock in his mouth hovered in his mind. Eric stretched the rubber band on his wrist and let it snap to feel the pain. It didn’t help.
“Jesus accepts you just as you are.” Eric looked at the sidewalk. “But that doesn’t mean you can give in to sin.”
Two weeks later Reed shivered under an air-conditioning vent in a courtroom with dozens of other potential jurors. While the judge delivered his welcoming speech, Reed’s competitors were swarming after the CTC account. Reed’s fingers strayed to the inactive cell phone on his belt. His only consolation was that the outspoken woman, he’d last seen leaving the church, was sitting in the prosecutor’s chair. This time she wore a neat, blue jacket and matching skirt.
A man with a Supercuts pompadour and features sharp enough to cut a silk scarf sat at the defense table with his heavyset, balding lawyer. A dark suit, clearly bought from a department store for the trial, hung loosely from the defendant’s bony frame.
Soon it was time for the lawyers to introduce themselves. The prosecutor put on her glasses, stood, and walked over to the potential jurors. Her jacket showed off her hourglass figure and her skirt revealed enough leg to get Reed’s attention. He imagined lifting it over her waist and burying his hands in her pantyhose.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Lindsey Johnson with the County Attorney’s office. I’ll be presenting the people’s case against Mr. Priestly who’s charged with three counts of performing lewd acts in public.
“Most of us have seen R-rated movies and no doubt some of you have watched adult videos in hotel rooms. Believe me. The County Attorney isn’t interested in regulating what you view in private. This case isn’t about that. It’s about a live-sex show held in a home five blocks from an elementary school.
“Some of you may be asking, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s a victimless crime.’ Wrong! There’s one group of victims no one speaks for, the women who are forced to take part in these degrading activities. We will show that like many naïve young women Amy Tibbett moved to Hollywood with the dream of a career in entertainment. When her money ran low, she applied to a modeling agency run by Mr. Priestly. You can imagine how it went from there. ‘Would you object to some topless photos?’ Then nude. Then a hardcore video and her first experience with anal intercourse. And finally traveling the country putting on sex shows in front of leering crowds.
“It’s time to draw the line against this kind of exploitation. You can strike a blow for decency right here in Grover’s Corners. Thank you.”
Reed’s eyes followed Lindsey back to her chair. After she sat down, the defense attorney stood.
“Quite a sad story. Isn’t it? A young woman forced into sexual slavery. Any decent person would want to stop that kind of thing. I would. But that’s not what this trial’s about. My client isn’t charged with kidnapping or pandering. He hasn’t been charged with these offenses because there’s no evidence he committed them. Instead my client is being charged with lewd behavior for performing an act that many of us find embarrassing but is far from sexual slavery. All I ask is that you remain calm, avoid hysteria, and keep an open mind. Thank you.”
“To begin, do any potential jurors know the defendant or any of the attorneys?” the judge asked.
Reed raised his hand. “The prosecutor and I used to attend the same church.”
“Thank you. You’re dismissed. Please see the jury coordinator on your way out.”
A block away from the Top Notch Tavern Eric Jensen’s heart began to race as if he were running a marathon. To get to the gay bar’s entrance the pastor’s apprentice had to walk a gauntlet of short-haired men, only men, smoking cigarettes and leering at him. He paused, took a breath, and pushed open the door.
Late in the afternoon the phone rang in Lindsey Johnson’s office.
“Lindsey, this is Reed Walker. We got thrown out of church together.”
“Why Mr. Walker, how nice to hear from you.” Like a cat toying with the string on a helium balloon, she wound the phone cord around her index finger.
“I hope you don’t mind me calling. I got your number from the courthouse operator.”
“Not at all.” Lindsey kicked off her high heels and leaned back in her leather chair. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?”
Chip Henderson touched the wrinkled sheet on the cot where Amy had sweated and writhed weeks earlier. Somehow after the arrest no one had thought to remove it from the basement. He moved his face closer to look at the threads in the light blue cotton. He knew he should strip the bed, wash away the stains from the lovers’ bodies, and put it all behind him just like he did with the plea bargain that kept him out of jail. But he couldn’t let go of her flushed skin and ecstatic face, an image that would follow him like the entry in the sex-offender database for the rest of his life.
Ganesha Lightwave hosts San Diego’s Gelato Poetry Series and is an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. He has published over two hundred poems in journals such as The New Orphic Review, Pearl, Pudding, and Slipstream. He has also published over fifty short stories in journals such as Space and Time, Zahir, and Tales of the Talisman. He has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. Another had a link on the Car Talk website.