We’re up to Day 20 and, now we’ve turned 20, I feel like we’re on the home stretch. Today, I’ve got a story from a writer who’s new to me this year, Sacha Lasalle. I loved Under Snow the moment I read it, and I hope you will too.
There wasn’t a time I’d ever thought it’d come to this. The patina that settles over the once unbridled passion for anything: careers, hobbies, relationships. It wasn’t that I thought, “Oh, me? Never.” It was probably more that I’d never thought of it at all. It’s easy to take yourself for granted. That intrinsic part that you never question, but like most things—including yourself—that too, can be lost.
The slow grind of the shutter echoes in the cubicle, but it’s only Max standing there with his arms crossed.
“You could have just come round the back.”
He shrugs and the plastic bag crinkles across his plaid clad body as he drops his arms. “Just checking in. You and your OCD.” He looks around the booth and shakes his head, mouth pinching his mustache at corners, channeling a late 60s George Harrison. “You must attract ‘em. Who the hell cleans up afterward?”
“It still smells.”
“What do you expect?”
Max’s face softens. “You want a break? Lily can handle them.”
“It’s okay. I’ll let you know if I want one.”
Max looks past me into the cubicle. “We have tinsel…” Although he knows I’m not interested.
It’s only a few minutes after Max leaving that the familiar grind begins again.
“Nancy…” Joe’s weather-worn rasp is quieter than usual, but it’s understandable. Sitting in his Sunday best, he looks smaller.
“Joe.” I slide closer to the glass and prop my chin in my palm. “You look handsome, as always.”
“And you, Nancy… So radiant…”
“Oh, Joe. No, but thank you.”
Easing up off the floor, my gown is fisted at my décolletage and my thighs, ensuring nothing shows. I slowly turn to the sound of withdrawing tissue. Silk whispers over of the top of my feet. I inch up the hem, exposing a subtle pedicure, glancing at Joe’s pristine comb over. A line in the snow. His modestly placed hat moves against his forearm as he stares at my toes. The silk slides back down to the slightest whimper. Joe is fixed on the black river edge against the linoleum. Again I inch it up, ebbing it over the dorsal. Time slows between the metatarsals and the ankle in this vacuum, marked only by the insistent graze of fabric.
His whimper is an echo in purgatory. Pleasure, drowned in conscience.
“I’m sorry.” Barely audible, his voice could have been telepathic.
“Nothing to be sorry for, Joe.”
Dropping the hem, I turn to give him a semblance of privacy.
Surprisingly, Joe is standing when I turn around. Glancing down, he fiddles with the brim of his camel hat.
“It’s colder outside today.”
“So I hear.”
“Soft and powdery, they say. Just beautiful.”
He looks at me, a Vermeer glint in the shadows, his mouth slowly upturning.
“Rita,” he says.
He clears his throat. “I think she would have liked you very much.”
“I’m sure the feeling would have been mutual.”
“I’ve been invited to lunch… Jason…”
The smile eases onto my face. “That’s lovely to hear.”
Our hands come up simultaneously, a half adieu.
Joe opens his mouth, but changes his mind, instead nodding and leaving quietly.
And then I’m Claire, Louise, Charlotte, Victoria. It’s my ankles, my neck, the inside of my wrist. Jared asks me to slowly trace my tongue over my teeth, and then my lips. Charlie watches me braid my hair. Kent guides me as I draw imaginary pictures with my big toe on the thick glass. Brad likes kneeling backbends. And Olivier just wants to stare at my gluteal sulcus, or the groove between my bottom and thigh.
Afterward, I lose count. It seems as though it were only a few minutes ago that Max double tapped on the rear door to remind me to have a break, but I’m flowing through the current of longing, so warm, so thick, it’s possible it could have been hours ago.
Eventually the shutter stays closed for more than just a few minutes and I stretch slowly. First prayer, then cat. Turning supine, I stare at the dim light of the stark ceiling.
Max taps again. “You didn’t have a break.” His voice is muffled through the door.
“I’ll take one now.”
“No need. Time’s just about up.”
I stifle a yawn. “Thanks, Max.”
My eyes water and I feel as if I’m regaining consciousness: the soft buzz of electricity, the rise and fall of my diaphragm, and a faint hunger. I resign myself to the end of the shift when the familiar slow grind takes me by surprise. Remaining on my back, I turn my head to watch the reveal.
It’s a stranger.
My slow coming around snaps into alertness. I notice the fitted dress pants, the vest, the rolled up shirt sleeves. He’s leaning against the wall, hands in pockets, completely at ease.
Rolling onto my side, I prop my head in my palm. “Hello.”
I wait. Explicit is not what I do here. It’s barely even softcore, much to the disgust of some customers. I don’t smack my lips and say, Hey there, big boy.
“Would you mind getting on your knees?”
Maneuvering onto my knees, I sit back on my heels, resting my palms on my thighs.
“Can you come closer?”
I edge closer as he comes to the middle to face me.
“Closer, please.” It’s not quite a request, or a command.
My breath is shallow, and I realize my chest is tight. I’m wary, but intrigued as I inch even closer. If I puff, I’ll fog the glass. He’s groomed, clean-shaven, and I find myself wondering about the scent of his skin when the grind of the shutter cuts into the silence. We look at each other until it slides into place. It doesn’t reopen. After a moment I take a deep breath, peel myself away from the floor and leave the cubicle.
A quick swap of my gown for a long wrap-around dress, I pin my hair, grab my bag and coat and head toward the front of the store.
It’s empty. Most of the lights have been turned off, but it’s not unusual at the end of the night. I dump my bag and jacket on the counter and head back to the booth to say goodbye.
“Hey Max, I’m going—”
Again there’s no Max, but the shutter is open, and in my place is the stranger. The hair on my neck stands up as a shiver ripples over my shoulder blades. It’s a peculiar mixture of fear and beguile, and I’m rooted with fascination.
I swallow. “Hi.” Somehow I continue before registering what I’m saying. “Kneel for me.”
He tugs gently at his dress pants and I notice he’s taken his shoes off. Kneeling, he slides toward the glass, and I find myself meeting him in the middle. Something inside me splinters, that old, almost long-forgotten vicious desire, so sharp I can feel it under my nails.
I trace the glass where his lips would be, trailing along his jaw and over his collarbone to his sternum. As I get lower, he presses closer to the glass, erect. Stepping back from the glass, I look at his face. There’s no hint of desperation, or expectation. He’s almost unreadable. Just watching, waiting. The sudden reversal strikes me.
“Again,” my voice is pinched. I clutch the dress at my thighs.
His clothed cock presses against the glass. I dig half-moons into my palms bunched fabric and nod. He repeats the movement, evenly, deliberately. There’s no sense of urgency in his movements, as I tug my dress down, straining the material at my breasts and squeeze my inner thighs hard. I’m mesmerized. Slick. Suddenly, I balk and drop my dress. I’m shaking as I force myself out of the booth and make a bee line for the counter, only to be intercepted.
I shake my head.
Max appears out of nowhere. “Is everything okay?”
I don’t want him to see me like this. “Yes,” I reply without looking. Grabbing my stuff, I mumble, “Merry Christmas.”, fumble the front door lock and quickly escape.
The snow is falling. Even in the dark it’s beautiful. Desire has left me raw, and suddenly I desperately miss walking down Kaisaniemenkatu to town, even if the nordic wind feels like a blade. I pull my hood on and tug my coat tighter.
I ignore the stranger, but he grabs my wrist tightly, drags me back inside, and presses me up against the door with his body. The security bars dig into my back.
“Look at me.”
I look up into his face.
“Say the word, and I’ll let you go.”
“I—” Need clogs my throat. I open my mouth, but he covers it with his. Rough. Hard. Uncontrolled. I swallow his moan. Somewhere between the counter and the door, I lose my coat, and my mind. Dress up around my waist, he gloves up and pauses, crown between my legs, and I take a moment to realize we’re surrounded by dildos, buttplugs and other sexual paraphenalia. He inches in. My breath catches.
“Does it turn you on?”
I frown. “Does what turn me on?”
He pushes. My tongue lolls.
“Christ. All those men?”
I grab at his shirt, ensuring I dig my nails into his chest a little. He winces.
“This is why you want to fuck?”
“No,” he gasps, going deeper.
My head drops back. “Oh god. We’re talking about this now?”
He hits home, and my legs are shaking uncontrollably.
“Maybe it gets you off.” I hiss.
Withdrawing, he slides back in without stopping. “Yes, I mean, no. Fuck!”
“Jea-lous?” I stutter as he thrusts.
He pinches my nipple. “Fuck. I don’t know.”
“I think you do,” I fire back, squeezing around his cock.
His fingertips pin to my hip. The pain throbs deliciously. And then I’m lost in the heat and the deliberate rhythm of his stroke. We’re talking, but I no longer know what it’s about. I’m probably saying yes to things I shouldn’t be. I’m simply flesh and feeling, relishing his palms over my ribcage, collarbone, against the side of my neck, his lips against my skin…
Reality rips me from my reverie as he yanks me upright.
“Need. Deeper,” he muffles against my neck.
All I have is a low moan as I slide down his cock that little bit more. The counter digs into my back. That’s all it takes. I come wet, and hard. He fucks against my quivering cunt, following me into sweet oblivion.
I shiver, and make an awkward move to get off the counter. Something I’m sure I’ll be paying for later. He moves without a word. I find my underwear on the floor, stuff it into my bag and pull my coat on. It’s still snowing outside.
“My name is Stefan.”
“Well, Merry Christmas, Ste—”
He pulls me back, his mouth once again on mine. I close my eyes and try to ignore the greedy lust.
“We’re not finished. Not by a long shot, but Merry Christmas Cara.”
I take him in. Stefan the stranger. Now dishevelled. Eyes bright. I vaguely wonder what happened to Max.
We’ll see, I think, but the expression on his face shows that he’s reading me like a book.
“Merry Christmas, Stefan.”
And once again, I’m under the falling snow.
If you’ve enjoyed today’s or any of the other stories on the advent calendar, please visit Crisis, The Albert Kennedy Trust or Coalition for the Homeless to find out about their work or make a donation.