A Most Pleasant Evening Was Had, Now Kindly Extract Yourself
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Normal"
Originally featured on 08-19-2008
As part of our series "The Ancient Trappings of Humanity’s Endless Summer (Age-Old Traps)"

Once upon a

Oh, right there, mmmmm-

time, there was a blacksmith living in a church

No, where you were before- (she made a vocalized inhalation) yes

whose name was Bryson. Bryson had two pet wolves

Don’t be afraid to hurt me. Slow down, make me feel it.

and every Tuesday he would hunt with them and

(her throat flexed) Oh, that’s so good. Stay there. Stay there or I’ll kill you.

haul back animal carcasses on a sled to feed

(her shoulders hitched and settled limply on the bed like soda in an upset stomach)

the clergy. Bryson’s workshop was in a small shed behind the chapel, where

I think you should quit your job and do this to me all day.

he worked tirelessly at the forge, and only at night, so as

You’re quiet. Cat got your tongue?

not to disturb the services. The pastor was a retired warrior by the

(she grabbed Tom’s chest hair in a tight grip, as if to hang on) I’m talking to you.

name of Helmstraussphelojimakorigusproxgard, who was promoted

Hey. Say my name.

to general on the same day that he saw a vision of divinity in a cave,

It really turns me on when you say my name. Just say my name.

walked out of the cave with heavy eyes, planted his sword in the dirt and

Where are you? Are you having one of your ADHD moments?

declared that from that day on, he would never kill again. In their tribe

Tom. You can’t do that.

it is tradition that every time a warrior is wounded in battle, another

Do I look like a robot? What do you think this is?

syllable gets added to his or her name. Bryson had no battle scars to speak of, but as a

You just can’t shoot off fireworks of hormonal bliss.

child he had aspired to accrue seven throughout his career so that he could get married

You have to talk to me too. Maybe you don’t love me, but you can tell me…

with the name Brysoncaulchassimanbrontigue. He became a blacksmith because

I know. Maybe you can tell me

“what my face looks like when I climax. I’ve never seen it before. You have.”

Tom could not cogitate why the character Bryson became a blacksmith, and he did not know what Faith’s facial expression looked like when experiencing an orgasm.

“Faith.” Tom spoke her name with punctuation, starting and ending it like a full sentence. He was looking at the sheen of sweat between her naked breasts.

Faith jabbed his ribcage with her forearm. “What’s the matter with you?”

Tom was not aware that he was drooling until a string of saliva fell and landed in the concavity between her abdomen and her chest. Probably not the optimal moment to tell her what he had invited her over to tell her, he reasoned.

“Gross,” she muttered out the side of her mouth.

“Nothing’s the matter.” Tom could hear himself stuttering even though he knew that he was not, and had not since the age of fourteen when his parents threw him a medieval-knights-and-sorceresses themed party to celebrate Tom overcoming his stuttering problem. Conquering it, as he had put it. Defenders of a castle had no time to choke on their words when shouting from horses to communicate strategic orders, and neither did Tom in his adolescence. Or beyond.

Why?, thought Tom. Why couldn’t you just say Faith, I have something to tell you? Why was it so difficult?

Faith lanced her eyes through his and out the rear of his skull. “I know what you were doing.” Tom could not tell if she was shaking her head or not, because her eyes were too steady. He tried to think, but could not push words through his brain. “You were composing one of your children’s stories in your head while you were getting me off.”

Her voice did not trail off in a weren’t you? Inflection; it was a closed statement leaving no space for a response. The statement was true and Faith knew that he knew that she knew it, thus barring any opportunity for denial. Tom’s only options were to attempt a change of subject, or wait for Faith to say something else. He thought of several non-sequiturs that might spark her interest, but just before opening his mouth, he knew that he would stutter, so he voiced none of them.

That was how it worked; it was never something one could eliminate, but it was something one could manage. As a teenager, Tom taught himself the art of anticipation. When he was about to get stuck, he always knew what words or subjects it would be, leaving just enough time to maneuver a conversational detour around the danger-words and still sound natural. The result was no different than what normal people called tact.

Normal people did not use their vacation time to attend Renaissance fairs and speak in old English while wearing a tunic and chainmaille groin protector handcrafted in Tom’s brother Elijah’s metal shop in Wisconsin.

Normal, healthy people did not encounter verbal blockages (although Tom had not stuttered out loud in over sixteen years, he stuttered daily in his thoughts).

Normal people’s minds did not wander to a fourteenth century blacksmith shop in a mythic foreign land while pleasuring a lady with long brown hair and fair, delicate elbow joints lying naked in his King Arthur bedspread and looking at home there.

Normal people did not have an elbow fetish, and even if they did, would never use the word “fair” to describe…well, anything outside of a baseball hit within bounds, and certainly would not apply the word to a woman’s body.

Normal people had not the inclination toward fantasy when the flesh-and-blood-here-and-now-did-I-mention-horny reality was circumstantially appealing.

A normal person would be changing the subject, and doing so with fluidity.

Faith had not moved or altered her expression since voicing her accusation.

A normal person would not feel like a fly skewered on a sewing needle, and even if they did, would not contrive such a lame analogy as that. A normal person would have made a satisfying apology and then promptly said something to make her laugh and laugh until she forgot that she was upset, and then the bulge that stretched his tighty-whities near to its ripping point would be attended to. All of this should have happened by now.

No. A functional person would have told her what he needed to tell her before she ever took her clothes off. Now it was too late to tell her. Or was it too late not to?

There was another option: Tom laid a hand on her thigh and said, “As a matter of fact, I was. My new story’s about a bla- I mean, you’re just so luminous, so-”

Faith placed both hands on his wrist and forced it to slide higher up her leg. She continued to look at him intently. She stretched out her other leg and worked her heel under the elastic band of his underwear. “Go on, don’t let me interrupt.”

“Something about you just transported me. I know that sounds like weaseling out of an incredible insult, but if you know me at all, it’s actually a rare and special compliment. It’s like, eating your pussy is my muse- wait, that didn’t come out right, I-”

Realizing he was staring at her breasts all the while he spoke, his eyes jumped around the bedroom to evade her nipples, and perched on the battleaxe that hung beside the door.

The axe gave him strength. He met her gaze and said, “You know, I’m…published.”

His underwear was down below his hips. Her foot felt cold in his crotch.

“C’mere, dweeb.” She yanked him down and rolled so that she could straddle him. “If you weren’t so nauseatingly sexy, I’d smack you for that.”

Her knee made an indentation in the mattress that would probably still be there the next morning, except after several hours it would be small enough that he could imagine it was made by her elbow. Tom smiled. He let Faith think that he was smiling because of what she was about to do to him.

He was smiling because of what he was going to do to the indentation in the mattress the following morning.

And then he tried to tell her. He knew exactly what would happen. He had known all evening, and had let things progress as they had. He thought of every possible way he could phrase it in English; there was only one way. After sixteen years, he had forgotten what it felt like.

He felt it first in the front of his throat and then in his chest.

The sensation was that of a loss of oxygen.

 

Once upon a time,

I c- c- cccc cc- cccccc-

there was a man who refused to grow up. His name

cc-ccC CH CCCCCH- C-

was Thomas Barnes. He lived alone and dreamed

(he inhaled audibly) CH- CC- (he inhaled again) ccc- c- c-

in anachronisms.

ccccccccccccc ccc cccccCCCCCCCCCC

“CCCHH” Tom stopped to catch his breath. “cccccc” He was screaming.

Faith did not back away from him, did not even cover her ears. Other people couldn’t hear you when you screamed just one consonant without any vowels, Tom reckoned.

She had climbed off his torso and was sitting cross-legged on the bed, calmly watching him. “Tom? Are you trying to break up with me?”

Tom said nothing.

“Tom. Are you trying to break up with me.”

Can’t. He was almost certain that the word he was trying to pronounce was can’t. What words wanted to follow the unpronounceable were indeterminate. There was too much to say to possibly say anything, or to know what he would say if he could say anything. He had to try, because he owed it to her to try and say everything.

Tom said nothing, and tried to say it louder.

 

In the standard vernacular, it would be said that Tom and Faith had been dating for a span of four months. If ‘dating’ adequately described what happened when a student at the fencing club — a wiry, bookish, brown-haired woman who wore twenty-five bracelets on each arm (Tom counted when they first shook hands) in search of a hobby — became enamored with her instructor — Tom — and the two began taking long walks along train tracks on Tuesday nights after the pizza parlor closed, and both found that their heels made very little contact with the floor as they shimmied through the rest of their respective days in anticipation of seeing each other, both acknowledging that they understood one another on a level uncommon to contemporary times, until finally one night when it was raining so hard they both slipped on the wooden train tracks Faith said “Screw this crap, I’m spending the night at your place,” their arms closed around each other’s spines and their lips fused together with the force of a train wreck, although the tracks had not conveyed any commercial locomotives in over fifty year, and the successive logistics of cohabitation, shared toothpaste containers, laundry baskets and distribution of pillows that followed with the force of the same train collision that started with their lips in the rain, then Tom would concur with the short explanation: they were dating. Dating. That was what people did. People did not keep secrets, because secrets had emotional weight, and telling her everything would enable him to be weightless.

Normality was a condition of weightlessness, Tom reckoned.

Maybe he wanted to tell her about his previous romantic affair. Or maybe he wanted to start from the beginning. Was he trying to break up with her? Can’t…can’t what?

 

Before Faith, there was the redhead on the corner of Brookwood and Sixtieth. They met because he asked her how to get to the Tri-Con Center.

She said, “You look like the real thing. You even got the deep voice.”

“Huh?”

“Almost fooled me. Not to judge, I mean, transgender, whatever word you use-”

“Wait, are you saying you think that I’m a woman?”

“Why else would you stop for directions, hon?” She poked Tom in the chest.

He said, “You have a terrible sense of humor. Um, my name’s Tom.”

“And you have a terrible sense of masculinity. You think that just because there’s no lady with you makes it okay to ask directions? What else do you do when your wife isn’t around? Paint your nails? Talk about your feelings? What kind of man are you?”

“Not married” was the cleverest phrasing he could muster intact.

He did not make it to the Tri-Con Center.

“You’re an astrologist?,” he said, later at home, as she tried to kiss him.

“Why?”

“Just curious what you do.”

“I’m doing you. Isn’t that enough?”

She pulled her shirt over her head and flung it to the floor.

Her elbows were too bony. Her shirt caught on them.

Tom said, “Tell me something about astrology.”

She closed her palm around Tom’s genitals, tightening gradually to eliminate any air pockets. He imagined cutlets of raw beef packed in her freezer, sealed in Ziplock bags. He could see her thoroughly and patiently massaging all the air out of the bag while Simon & Garfunkle played over the radio, purple raw juices seeping onto the tile counter from the squishy mass. Her hooked fingers flexed. He felt instantly dizzy from all the blood in his upper body rushing down to introduce itself to her hand.

She was saving him for later.

“Okay,” she said in a serious tone. “I can tell you that right now your balls are in the seventh house, and your dick is in retrograde. And, there is some very good luck in your immediate future, but only if you jump on it without hesitance.”

“You don’t know my sign.”

She let go and thrust her back towards him. “You’re a piece of work. Can’t believe you picked me up asking directions. And here I am, practically begging, and all you want to do is talk shop.” She looked at her body thoughtfully. Her hand crawled spider-like toward his thigh and under it as she said, “Actually that is pretty manly.”

She then looked up and noticed the battleaxe. Their relationship promptly ended.

 

“Tom. Answer me. Are you trying-”

“No.”

Faith did not look relieved. “Maybe I can read your story before you send it to the publishers. What’s it about?”

Oxygen returned to his chest, but too much of it. It all rushed to his head.

“Hey, Tom? Did you ever do one of those drawings in art class when you were a kid, the ones where you color a whole page with crayons, like bright colors, then you paint over it all with black, and then you take a paperclip or a needle and scratch lines out of the black and make a drawing like that? You see the crayon underneath, but the colors look shiny, kind of magical. You remind me of a drawing like that. Maybe you could write a story like that, you know? No, I guess I don’t know what I mean. Hey, Tom?”

“Faith, I have to tell you.”

 

Before the redhead was the bicyclist he nearly ran over with his car. Seeing that she was uninjured and her bicycle was unharmed, he offered her all the cash in his wallet (he did not look to see how much money that was, and neither did she) as a kindly gesture. She refused his money, declaring that the only token of apology she would accept would be for him to park his car, walk into the used bicycle shop across the street, buy a cheap bike and ride with her for the next fifteen miles of her journey, keeping her pace. Tom rarely found opportunity to be chivalrous, so he complied with the maiden’s invitation.

Their conversation was pleasant and enjoyable until she flashed him a look of disappointment when turning a corner. The wind was loud for the next several seconds, so he did not ask what the look was for. She was terse and hostile for the next few miles. When they stopped for water, he asked her if he had done something to upset her.

She looked at him as if he had murdered a puppy. “Where did you learn your bike safety? The school of ignoramuses who don’t signal when they turn?”

Tom bowed his head.

“Do you even know the proper hand signals? Thanks for embarrassing me. I can’t believe I just biked four point seven miles with a non-signaler. I bet you talk in movie theaters too, don’t you? If you were a bartender, you’d spit in people’s drinks.”

Tom asked if there was any way that he might make it up to her. They went to a park and she taught him signals. First they warmed up with jumping jacks and calisthenics, and before that, he made her bow and address her as “sensei.”

She drilled him on the finer points of right and left signal for twenty minutes without pausing to rest. He wanted to tell her that she had the most graceful elbows he had ever laid eyes upon, but such would be impossible to say without stuttering.

She promised that once he mastered those two signals, she would proceed to teach him the signal for slowing down. Then she asked him if he still wanted to make it up to her.

Tom said yes. She dragged him into the bushes.

“Signal,” she whispered.

Tom could feel the grass melting on her back as he thrust with both arms wrapped around her lean body, straining to hold back the eruption. Her hands pressed his chest away from her to oppose the pressure of his embrace. Their hips raged and splashed against each other like waves crashing at a castle’s shore.

“Signal!”

Tom did not signal. He understood moments later.

“God, what a waste of my time,” she said as they brushed themselves off and hastily got dressed. “How could you be so dense? Was I supposed to spell it out for you?”

Tom bowed his head. He wanted to tell her that he had a fetish too, but couldn’t.

She biked on. He did not follow.

 

“Why are you telling me all this?” said Faith. She was looking at the battleaxe with what might have been admiration and might have been derision, but could not have been mere amusement.

Tom was not sure what he had told her. He did not remember speaking any words to her, but he did feel weightless. “I don’t know. Just wanted to tell you a story, I guess.”

Faith rolled onto her stomach and seductively dragged her elbow across Tom’s cheek and pressed it into his mouth. “I can think of a better one.”

 

Once upon a time, there was a warrior.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

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