A novella of sexual obsession.

November 29, 2003


TW: violence, drugs, explicit sex, gun



Chapter One

I met her by chance.

My local tattoo shop. Me under the needle. Morphine’s ‘Cure for Pain’ playing, loud and low and ominous.

Her black t-shirt said, ‘Yes It Hurts’. Her arms were tattooed to the wrist. She was with a couple of other women, older, dressed in leathers like bikers. I watched her as she browsed the shop, looked at tattoo flash, talked to the owner.

She knew I was watching her, I could tell.

Eventually, she came over. Stood behind me and looked at the work on my back; complimented the artist. She told me I had some decent work. Decent, was the word she used, like what she really meant was not that good. She talked like a tattooist.

I try to go someplace far away, mentally, when I’m getting tattooed. Tattooing is a combination of pain and discomfort; when you’re first tattooed, adrenaline makes this exciting. After enough hours, days, years of getting tattooed, it’s not, it’s just a process one endures. So I try to escape it, visualize other things, places. Just to separate my mind from physical sensation. Too aware of her, though, I remained present, felt painfully aware of myself, my body, my pain.

I tried to flirt with her a little. She told me not to try that shit on her, and laughed. She said it like she sort of wanted me to keep trying, or at least, that’s how I took it.

I introduced myself, stuck out a hand, which she ignored.

I wanted to talk to her. But I was fading in and out, fatigued at the tail end of a long session. And then she was gone, and it was too late. I hadn’t gotten her name.

Johnny, my tattooist, didn’t know her. Said he thought she seemed like a pretentious bitch, added something rude about ‘her dyke friends’ as he shrugged his big shoulders.

From that day, she was in my head. She’s there still, always will be. Blood-red hair cut just past her jaw line, brushing her long, slender neck. Big eyes some strange color I could never put a name to. Full lips in a perpetual sneer. Her teeth were a little bit crooked (most of these things I noticed only later). Early 20s, probably ten years my junior, but with something in the eyes that seemed much older.

In my memory, she’s almost impossibly beautiful.

I dreamed about her that night. We were in a fast car. She was driving. I’m not sure what we were doing, where we were going, but everything was red. After the dream, I walked around thinking of her for days.

Weeks later, we met again. A bookstore, a signing by a tattoo artist trying to sell a book of flash-as-fine-art. I felt silly buying the overpriced glossy coffee-table book, waiting in line to get it signed. I liked the artist though, for all his pretensions.

I heard her laugh as I stood in line. Deep, a little rough; a voice like wet velvet. Pure phone sex. I shivered when I heard her.

She seemed to know the author; she was standing behind his table, poking fun at him and the fools who’d pay too much for his ‘big books of bad flash.’

Then it was my turn to get my book signed. I put the big coffee-table book onto the author’s card table. “Sign it,” I said, “to Matteo, ‘the fool who likes bad flash.’” Fucking with him a little. But mostly just trying to get her attention.

She laughed. The author looked at me, then at her. “Fuck Off,” he said. Directed it generally at the both of us, signed my book as requested, and chuckled as he handed it back to me.

She’d stepped away from the table, was in a back corner looking at art books. I followed, pretended to browse near her.

She looked at me, kind of side-eye, then turned more toward me, looked me up and down.

“I know you. The big guy – Johnny – he was working on your back.”

“He’s a friend of mine,” I said. I felt tongue-tied. Her gaze left me feeling naked.

“The work on your back is good. Some of it.”

“Thanks. I…I remember you,” I stammered. “Y-your shirt said, ‘Yes It Hurts.'” I was babbling. “It was worth coming down here, standing in line…”

She looked at me. Bemused. I tried to get my tongue working.

“Just to…to meet you…” I trailed off awkwardly.

She laughed. Waved to someone behind me. Lost focus on me completely for a moment, eyes tracking over my shoulder, miming, ‘call me’ to someone I couldn’t see. Then her eyes were back to me. I felt my face go hot.

“And why did you want to meet me?” she asked.

I swallowed. Unable to speak.

“Did you want to get tattooed? Or are you just in love with me?”

“I…” This was not how I wanted the conversation to be going. I usually wasn’t this lame with women. “I dreamed about you,” I blurted.

“And how was I?” she asked me, sneering as she said it.

Two women had come up behind her; the same women she’d been with on our first meeting. They loomed, almost like parents eyeing an errant child talking to a stranger. A distinctly threatening vibe. The girl looked at them, looked at me, then waved them off. They retreated, but kept a line of site, still watching me.

“I don’t know.” Somehow I felt bolder with her friends watching.

“Want to find out?” Like she was taunting.

“Yes. Yes I do.”

She looked at me, dead-eyed for a 30 seconds. Then she gave a hint of a shrug, and stepped closer. She was taller than I realized, half a head shorter than I am. She reached out with a finger, traced the edge of a tattoo that shows above my open shirt collar. Her breath smelled of cinnamon. She had a tiny gold ring in her left nostril.

I was afraid to touch her. She knew it. Counted on me knowing how to behave in public, to keep my hands to myself.

She leaned closer–breathed on my neck, my ear. Slipped an arm around me. Her breasts were small; I could feel one against my shoulder.

I could feel myself hardening already.

She pressed her hip against mine, laid her head on my shoulder. “You like?” she whispered.

I couldn’t speak. Could barely breath.

She slipped both arms around my waist, started to rub herself against my hip. I could feel the crotch seam on her jeans. She nibbled my neck.

“Was it like this?” A breathy murmur against my neck.

I put my left arm around her, stopped her rubbing. She raised her head, leaned back a little and looked me in the eye. She was waiting for me to back off, or to tell her to. There was sweat on her upper lip, and I could hear her breathing now.

She touched my face. I noticed a fresh tattoo on her hand, two female symbols, linked. Her nails were painted a deep maroon, almost black.

I shifted, put a hand on her waist; touched skin where her shirt and jeans didn’t meet. I moved her, pressed myself against her, my hard cock now pressing against her hip.

I heard a soft intake of breath, then a chuckle. “Oh, you do like me,” she whispered into my ear. Her hips began to rock against me, a slow grind. She pushed her knee between my legs, straddled my thigh.

I became aware of her two friends. They were moving closer, looking less amused as this went on.

I had both arms around her now, my hips starting to move with her. I closed my eyes.

“Fuck.” She stopped grinding. My eyes opened. She pushed away from me, looked me in the eye, her hands on my chest. Still whispering, barely audible; “You made me wet. That wasn’t supposed to happen.” For the first time, she looked almost vulnerable.

She looked over her shoulder; her friends were gesturing, indicating time to go.

She turned back to me, winked, let go and walked away.

She didn’t look back.

I felt faint. I couldn’t breathe. It was several minutes before I could walk.

The book signing was ending; I asked the author if he knew her, knew who she was. He gestured at a pile of tattoo shop cards people had left on the corner of his table, picked one out and tossed it to me. “That’s her,” he said. “But you should watch out for that one.”

The card was black, shiny, lettering in red. “Tattoos by Wanton” it said. Red lips imprinted behind the name, a pattern of female symbols forming a border around the card. The name and address of a tattoo shop on the back, across the bay. A shop I knew by reputation, but had never visited.

I stared at the card. Thought about throwing it away. Put it in my wallet instead.

Over the next couple of weeks, I kept having the feeling I should leave the whole thing alone. I told myself to drop it, just stay away, but I don’t often listen to my own advice. I could not stop thinking about her. Wanton. She had a name now, of sorts, and that just made it worse. I was enthralled by her. I wondered what her real name was, though in a way, I preferred not to know. I kept imagining what the rest of her looked like, picturing tattoos in various places.

The shop where she worked had a hipster reputation, and did as much business as a piercing place as a tattoo shop. It was in a shitty part of town; one of those neighborhoods they tell you to avoid at night. Though they sometimes seem even worse by day, when you can see exactly how decrepit and broken down the streets (and everyone in them) really are.

Eventually I gave up giving myself advice, and headed in that direction.

The tattoo shop took up most of the top floor in what looked like it had been a warehouse. It was easy to spot from big neon signs in the window: “Tattoo,” “Body Piercing”. The front door was reached by a large iron external staircase, freshly painted and surprisingly well-lit.

That first time I went by, it had been afternoon, just turning to evening. The early hookers were drifting out, looking for a john on his way home from work, or a score to start the business day off easy. I’d found the shop, stood in the lobby area looking at an impressive collection of flash, but when I’d finally asked for her (feeling a little sheepish asking for the odd name), the boy at the counter had mumbled around an absurd number of tongue and lip piercings that she worked other days, and then grudgingly wrote down her schedule for me. He warned I should make an appointment if I wanted to get her, as well as telling me she’s selective about who she.

I didn’t make an appointment. What would I say? I don’t want a tattoo, but I’m infatuated with her. It made me feel foolish to even think it.

A couple of times I’d thought about going, after work, or on a Sunday when I knew she was working. When I finally went, it was a whim. I’d been on my way home, after watching a ballgame after work, drinking a couple too many beers. I found myself getting onto the cross-bay bridge without ever making a clear choice to go.

I parked down the street from the shop – gave a homeless kid ten bucks to watch my van, with an offer of ten more if it was intact when I came back – and wandered into the shop.

Wanton was tattooing when I walked in, in a back corner. Her station was under a set of stairs that went into some sort of loft. Her back was toward the lobby, but the blood-red hair was unmistakable.

The shop was surprisingly quiet, old blues playing rather then the usual thundering hip-hop or doom or metal. Only a couple of artists working, no customers in the lobby, and no one working the front desk. I could see that she was finishing work, cleaning a tattoo on a woman’s shoulder, taping it up, giving the usual after-care spiel. I noticed she was left-handed.

I waited.

The customer, a fortyish woman with the look and build of a lady cop, dropped money on the desk, used the restroom, bid Wanton goodbye (they hugged), and walked through the lobby. She looked at the tattoos on my arms as she passed, never getting her eyes above neck level or looking at my face.

Wanton was cleaning her station when she noticed me. She looked around, then gave an indifferent beckon, inviting me into the working area of the shop. She met me half way.

“You have an appointment?” She gestured vaguely at the two other artists, one tattooing, the other absorbed in something he was drawing at a big drafting board in the corner. She looked wary, suspicious. Her shoulders hunched.

I couldn’t tell if she was pretending not to recognize me, or if she’d already forgotten.

“No. I wanted to see you, actually.”

“I don’t generally tattoo men.”

I began to realize I had no idea what to say, what I was there for. I had thought as far as finding her, of seeing her, but my mental image had not included any actual talking.

“I, ah, I…”

“If you want a tattoo, you should make an appointment. If not… what?”

She was sensing my discomfiture; the sneer was coming back, the body language changing. Her shoulders were back. She was not wearing a bra, her nipples pressing the fabric of her thin tank top.

“You’re looking at my tits,” she said. She was correct, of course, I was.

I smiled, relaxed a little.

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

She looked at me, waited.

“It’s what I came for,” I said. “To look at you.”

“Just look?”

“Look, at least.”

“You should leave,” she said. I wasn’t sure if she meant that, or was just fucking with me.

“Are you done working for the evening?” I asked. She shrugged. Turned, walked back to her station, started to tidy things up.

She ignored me for a minute. I stood, arms crossed, watching her. Her ass looked great in a pair of worn and faded jeans she’d tucked into engineer boots.

She pretended to notice me, as if she’d thought I was gone. Pretended to be annoyed. I thought she was pretending, anyway.

“You still here?” she asked me.

“Still looking,” I said.

She rolled her eyes, shrugged, stretched for my benefit. Popped a shiny red candy into her mouth and went back to cleaning her station, though it was clear she was mostly done.

I crossed the room, stood behind her.

“Hey, Wanton, you ‘k?” The artist who’d been drawing when I walked in was coming toward us; young, small, probably gay, and charmingly protective of a woman who did not look like she needed much protecting.

She looked at him, and back at me. “I don’t know, am I? Am I OK?” She directed the question at me, but it seemed rhetorical. I answered anyway.

“No,” I said. “not really.”

The small man looked at a loss, but she gestured him away. “I’m fine, Patrick – get outta here, go home”.

Patrick looked me over, then turned back to Wanton, looking for any unspoken signal. She waved him off, and, reluctantly, he returned to his drawing board and began to collect his things.

“So,” she said. “Am I in danger?”

I smiled at her. She didn’t smile back. I stepped closer, touching range.

“I want to kiss you.” I said.

“What if I say no?”

“What if you say yes?”

She looked past me, waved to Patrick as he left. Looked over at the other artist on the far side of the room, who was now at the bandaging stage of his tattoo.

She turned back to me.

“You should leave now.”

“What if I don’t?”

Her face turned very serious. Her eyes would not meet mine.

“That might be a bad choice.”

Bad for her, I wondered, or bad for me? She sounded like she might be dangerously serious, whichever it was.

“I’ll take that risk.” I said.

The sneer was back. She reached out, grabbed a handful of my shirt. Pulled me closer.

“You’re a stupid, stupid boy,” she said, breathing cinnamon in my face. “Go upstairs and wait for me.”

She pushed me toward the stairs and walked toward the other tattooist.

I went up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs was a loft, divided into two rooms; the first was a storeroom, open but with a steel door and several heavy locks, clearly where they kept the valuable equipment. There was also what looked like a gun safe in the back of the room.

The other looked like a break room/office combo, with a desk, a coffee table, a large couch and a couple of chairs. The room smelled of bong water, cigarette smoke and spilled beer.

I sat down, waited for what seemed like an hour, wondering what the fuck I was getting myself into.

Eventually, the music went off, I heard goodnights in the silence downstairs, the sound of locks being locked, then the music again, hard rock, female vocals.

I didn’t hear her come up the stair; the music was loud. She startled me when she stepped in the door. She was barefoot now.

I stood. She came toward me, stood facing me. I reached to embrace her, tried to kiss her.

She turned her head. “No. No kissing,” she said.


“No talking either. Take off your clothes.”

I started to ask her if she was serious, but she covered my mouth with her hand, shook her head. “Don’t make me get the duct tape,” she said.

I started to laugh. Then stopped.

She stepped back, gestured for me to get on with it.

My hands shook as I unbuttoned my shirt. I turned, laid my shirt on a chair and sat, unlaced my combat boots. Then I stood.

“All of it,” she said.

I undid my jeans; let them drop, stood in my boxers with my jeans around my ankles.

“Your turn,” I said.

She shook her head and gestured toward my crotch. “Shut up,” she said.

I slipped out of my boxers, finally, tossed them on top of my shirt, added my jeans to the pile of clothes, stood in front of her. I could feel my cock beginning to react.

“Turn around” she said.

I did. She moved close, touched the tattoos that covered my back and shoulders, stroked my back.

She took her hands away then stopped me with a touch when I tried to turn. I heard her belt, then her jeans buttons, being undone. She tossed her pants on top of mine.

I felt something touch my shoulder; soft, silky. Her panties.

I took them from her, felt them, then sniffed–they were wet, musky.

I turned around. She didn’t stop me. She took the panties out of my hand, tossed them onto the pile of clothes.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Now,” she said, “you make me come.”

“And then?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, boy,” she said. She flipped off the light switch, leaving us in semi darkness from the room lights outside.

I touched her, my palm on her belly. I backed her toward the couch, pushed her down. I knelt before her, leaned, tried again to kiss her.

She turned her head, pushed me away.

I slipped my hand between her thighs. She was wet. She opened her legs, lifted herself. I found her clit with my thumb, slipped two fingers inside her. There were small rings in her labia. Her pubic hair was sandy gold, soft as silk, close trimmed.

She pushed my head down.

Everything else went away when I tasted her. I don’t think I’ve ever been as intensely focused on a single sense in my life. I’d been thinking of this, of her cunt, her taste, since that moment in the bookstore when she’s said i’d made her wet, weeks before.

I licked her cunt, her clit, sucking wetness from her and swallowing, unable to get enough, get it fast enough. I bit her, and she screamed.

“Don’t stop,” she hissed.

She clawed at my shaved scalp, scratched my shoulders, her heels kicking into my back, her thighs clenched around my head.

My cock was so hard I thought the skin might tear–dripping, almost coming without any contact.

I pulled my face away from her, ready to climb her, enter her. She stopped me, pushed me back. “No!” she screamed, pushing my head down again. “Finish it!” I lowered my face, began again, slipped my tongue back into her cunt, then up to her clit, sucking it, fingers pushing inside her. I turned my palm up, curled fingers inside her, pressing from the inside.

Her nails dug into me, drew blood.

Then she was coming, back arched, breath drawing in, moans turning to screams, then rasping, growling, panting; juices running from her, dripping from my chin. Her feet kicking me, nails raking, then stroking.

Finally, she stopped me, pushed me away, closed her legs. She moaned, then sighed. Her eyes were closed.

“Get out of here,” she whispered.


“We’re done. Go.”

“But…” I stood, my cock straining toward her.

She stood, shoved me, pushed me into a chair.

“Fine, jerk off then. Be quick!” She switched on the light.

I’m not sure why I obeyed her, but I did. Jerking, my cock so swollen it hurt, left hand kneading my balls. I watched her, her face slick with sweat, her hands moving in her own crotch. When I came, she stopped, watched me, watched my come spatter my chest.

She threw clothes in my direction, pulled on her own jeans, panties forgotten. “Get dressed,” she said. “Now–don’t stop, don’t clean up. Go home like that.”

She walked out.

I sat, staring at the door, not understanding. Finally, I dressed, come drying on my skin as I pulled on jeans, boots, dragged on my shirt without doing the buttons.

I stepped out the door. The music had stopped. I wobbled down the stairs, my bootlaces trailing behind me.

“Out. Now.” She stood at the door, held it open.

“Wait a second.”

“Go. Now,” she snarled at me. “Don’t come back. Don’t call. This won’t happen again. Stay away.”


She looked away, slapped my hand away when I reached for her, pushed me out the door.

I didn’t hear the door close behind me as my boots clattered on the stairs. At the bottom, in the pool of light from the building’s outdoor spots, I stopped, trying to grasp where I was, what I was doing. I looked up, maybe drawn by some faint sound.

Something black fluttered down, landed near my boots. Her panties. I picked them up, stared at them, slipped them into my pocket.

I heard the door lock. The lights went out.

I found my van. The homeless boy accepted his tip, offered to suck me off for ten more. “Not tonight, thanks,” I mumbled.

I drove home, confused.

I hung the black panties from my bedpost. I tried to pretend they got there accidentally, flung in a moment of passion. After a few days, the smell of her began to fade from them. I think I’d breathed it all out of them, trying to draw her into me. In a particularly depraved moment, I’d thought of eating them, swallowing, making them part of me. I think it was the image of where they’d wind up that stopped me, not any notion I might choke.

The marks on my shoulders were no longer visible, though I could still feel a rough spot; the tattoos concealed anything else. The scratches on my scalp, though, I could still feel, when I shaved my head. The one above my ear had looked a little infected at first, and I hoped it would leave a scar. I liked the idea of a permanent mark from her.

Three weeks. I still had not called her.

Each day, I had to resist the urge, keys or the phone in my hand. I’d memorized the shop’s number. I’d driven halfway there once, but turned away.

I knew I’d give in.

I’d thrown myself into work, into exercise. I’d gotten tattooed twice, hoping the pain would help me move on. But it hadn’t worked; I wound up hard, trying to hide my condition from the tattoo artist, trying not to think of her while the machine buzzed. I swore to myself I’d never get another tattoo after the first time it happened, then went back a week later for another.

The first week after we’d been together, I could not stop jerking off, didn’t stop when I got sore. I jerked off in my van, in the bathroom at work, even in my office.

But now, I couldn’t, not without seeing her, wanting her. It only made me feel lonely.

When I wasn’t working or exercising, I was drinking, smoking pot. That helped a little. Considered buying something stronger from my neighbor, when that stopped helping.

I felt like was losing it a little. Darkness was calling. I kept thinking about answering.


The tattoo convention was a long day’s drive away. I wasn’t going, I swore to myself as I booked a room and then canceled it. I wasn’t going. Her shop had a booth; she was listed in the program.

I didn’t even decide to go. I just started driving. I’d been headed for work, and then I wasn’t; I was driving south.

Every mile, I’d resolve to turn around — every hour, every stop for gas. This time, I swore, I’ll turn around and go home. But I kept on driving, and having that same conversation with myself. And then I was there — in the basement parking garage — in the elevator — at the doors to the convention hall, numbly paying my money to get in.

“Show’s almost over, son, you sure you wanna come in? Shoulda been here yesterday, we had contests. Most of the action’s done and the artists are booked up, mostly.”

Yeah, I wanted to come in, just take my money, geezer.

I went to the bar. A last chance to stop and think, to pretend I was about to leave, that good judgment would intercede. To pretend that I had good judgment. I drank one and then one more. I don’t know how many ones, but I told myself I wasn’t drunk. In between drinks, I stared at the convention program, the booth map. She was in the last booth down, far end of the building.

Fuck it, now or never.

She was on break when I found the booth. Patrick, the little guy from the shop, looked at me funny, like maybe he knew something.

“She might not be back,” he said.

“Where is she then?” I was standing too close to him.

“I don’t really think she wants to see you.”

He was starting to look nervous. Maybe I was scaring him. It’s possible I looked a little crazy.

“…and she definitely doesn’t have any tattoo slots left.”

I smiled at him. He meant well. He was her friend, so I wanted to like him. My smile seemed to scare him more.

I walked away, thought about the bar, thought about leaving, then stopped thinking and just walked. There were people I knew, in the booths that hadn’t yet packed up, but I tried to avoid eye contact. There were tattooists I’d worked with, or had wanted to meet. Today, I had nothing to say, didn’t care. I just circled the convention, prowling.

When my third circuit was complete, she was back in the booth, starting a tattoo. She pretended not to see me. I waited.

The tattoo took an hour; still I waited.

She finished it, took a moment after cleaning up. Looked at me, held my eye. I stepped to the edge of the booth.

“No,” she said. “Not now. Not here.”

I just looked at her.

“I don’t want to talk to you,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked, finally.

She looked at me, the sneer gone. She was gorgeous, that deep red hair freshly cut, shaved short on the back of her neck, asymmetrical, longer in front. She wore a black shop t-shirt with the sleeves slashed off, knotted at the waist to give it a cropped look; a dark plaid schoolgirl skirt, mesh stockings. I imagined a garter belt under her skirt, but dragged my mind away from that.

“No, not here, not now.” It was half snarl, half plead.


“No. I’m working. Tattooing.”

“Tattoo me, then.”

“I…” she looked around, looked at me. She had a funny look in her eye, something that scared me a little.

“Fuck. Alright. Later. Closing time. I’ll do you last.”

“Thank you.” I said.

“Fuck off,” she shot at my back as I walked away, but it didn’t sound like she meant it.

I killed three hours, borrowed a hotel room from my friend Johnny, who was working a booth. I showered, helped myself to a little bottle or two from the mini bar.

Closing time. I’d talked a booth badge out of Johnny, so I didn’t get kicked out. Most of the booths were empty, some broken down, a few people still working. She was alone on her shop’s booth, the other artists already packed and gone, off to the post-show party or getting laid with someone they’d just met.

She didn’t say hello. Didn’t ask me what tattoo I wanted. She looked at me, seemed to be trying to decide something. I expected her to send me away, was wondering how much of a scene I’d make and if security was close. I didn’t think I would leave, no matter what she decided.

She told me, finally, to sit on a chair, facing away, straddle it cowboy style. I sat, faced away from her as asked.

“I missed you,” I began.

“Shut up,” she said. “No talk until I’m ready.”

I could hear her putting a machine together. “Take off your shirt,” she said.

The machine buzzed. For people who love tattoos, the sound is like Pavlov’s bell. It makes you itch; it makes you crave the ink. With her behind me, touching me, the sound made me hard.

I felt the needle dig in the small of my back. Deep, like she wanted to hurt me. How hard the needles bite is controlled by both touch and voltage; it felt like both were dialed way up.

I could see her knee from the corner of my eye. Astride me like a cello player. I could see garters clipped to the stockings when I turned my head.

“Sit. Still,” she said. Dug in again with the machine.

I tried to talk to her again. “I missed you.”

She said nothing. The machine buzzed. Pain flared. I heard her skirt rustle as she twisted, inking the needle.

“I stayed away. Like you asked.” The machine buzzed. “I wanted to call, to come by, I wanted to see you again.” Stab of pain, then rustle as she dipped.

“Why?” she asked. It wasn’t a question I expected or was ready for. “Why do you want to see me?”

“I…” I was at a loss. “Last time was…incredible.”

“I treated you like crap. I used you. I hurt you.”

“I liked it.”

She stopped. Stopped tattooing me. Stopped moving.

“Fuck.” Under her breath.

She reached around, felt in my crotch. “You’re hard, aren’t you?” she asked me. She had her hand on my cock. I didn’t need to answer.

“And you’re wet, aren’t you?” I asked her, knowing the answer.

“Fuck” she said again. And then the rustle, and the buzz, and the pain, and I got harder.

“What are you doing to me?” I asked. She dug.

“Marking you.”


She stopped. Rustled. Held the tattoo machine under my nose.

“Me” she said. The needle smelled of her cunt. She wasn’t using ink. My mouth watered at her scent.

Tattooists wear gloves when working, these days. They didn’t, when I first started getting tattooed. Now, always. She wasn’t; I could see bare fingers holding the machine.

She started again. Buzz. Pain. She kissed my back, now, when she dipped the needle. I could hear her breathing.

She was touching herself, playing with herself, between bites of the needle.

“I’ve written my name on you,” she said, finally.

“Are you done?”

“Almost,” She whispered it. And then, “Yes, done.”

I realized she hadn’t ever wiped blood away as she worked, felt a trickle down my back.

I stood. Faced her. She handed me my shirt.

She let me kiss her, kissed back. Then stopped me. “I have to clean up now. And you should get out of here.”

I helped her, dumped needles into red biohazard bins, picked up trash. She packed her gear, washed her hands.

She told me, again, that I should leave. Brushed past me. I grabbed her arm, barely slipped the punch she threw at me in return.

“I’m not done with you,” I said.

She sneered. “I’m done with you, though.” She shook me off. Walked away.

For five seconds, I was going to let her go. Then I wasn’t.

I caught her, spun her around. She slapped me once, then again; I didn’t try to stop her. Then we were kissing once more. She tried to pull away, once. She was strong, but I was stronger, my arms around her. She bit my lip. Drew blood, kissed harder.

“Let’s go to your room,” I whispered, as she bit into my neck hard enough to bruise.

“No.” She said it through clenched teeth as she ground herself against my thigh.

I slid a hand between her legs, felt the remembered slickness. No panties.

“You’re in me, now. I need to be in you.”

“Hey, you two!” Someone shouted. “Get a fucking room, wouldja?” The old geezer from the door. He gave me a thumbs up and a wave as we hustled out.

She slipped away from me in the hotel lobby, made for the elevator. She tried to get the doors closed before I could get in, but I jammed a steel-toe boot into the door, got it open.

I was on her before the doors had closed again, biting her neck, forcing her legs apart with a knee, pulling her skirt up. I pushed the button for the top floor.

She screamed at me, told me to get the fuck away, to stop. She pounded her fists into my chest, dropping her case full of tattoo gear, and then spread her legs, opened herself to me as I pulled out my cock.

I pulled her leg up, lifted her, pressed her into the wall. My cock pressing against her as the elevator began to move. Everything in slow motion suddenly; sweat running down the side of her face, the vibrations of the elevator, her ragged breathing. The wetness of her cunt, my cock sliding up, tip against her clit.

“I hate you,” she whispered, biting my neck, then moaned as I entered her.

Her legs were around my waist; I supported her weight. Her arms snaked around me, pulling me tight to her, gasping and swearing with each thrust. My back stinging as she pressed, where my fresh, inkless tattoo was still oozing blood. Our mouths came together, kissing, biting. I drank in her breath, sucked it from her, licked sweat from her face and neck. I drove myself into her, deep, long strokes, lifting her in my arms and then pulling her down onto me.

30 stories to the top–she came as the elevator slowed and stopped. Her eyes were closed, her head thrown back; she gasped, drawing air between clenched teeth, then sound built in her. Muscles clenching, her entire body seeming to stiffen. Sound burst from her, low and guttural, building, rising in pitch ’til a shriek filled the tiny cage of the elevator. The doors opened behind us on a dark and empty hallway.

I fell back against the elevator wall, her legs coming down, catching herself, helping to support our combined weight. She hit the lowest button, ‘P’ for parking garage, and the doors began to close.

I pulled out, still hard, kissed her, then turned her around, pulling her hips toward me, pushing her shoulders away. She resisted, a little, then gave in, let me bend her over.

I entered her from behind, pounding in this time, no longer in slow motion. I feared, at any second, the elevator would stop, the doors would open. I needed to fill her, drive into her, as deep and hard and fast as I could.

My hand was in her hair, pulling her head back. Her neck, her back, arched up. Her hands were against the wall, trying to stop her face slamming into the side of the car. I groped her with my other hand, squeezing her breast, grabbing her belly, her hip, trying to get my fingers on her clit as I slammed into her. Her face was pounding into the wall, her cries and sobs muffled.

I don’t know what good luck got us all the way up and all the way down without interruption, but we came, together this time, as the doors opened to a dark basement. She reared up against me, her head against my chest. My cock slipped out of her, my fingers still on her clit. My come was dripping between her legs as I continued to thrust, her thighs so wet it felt like I was still inside. My fingers rammed into her cunt, two, three, trying to shove my whole hand in. She thrust her legs against the wall, almost knocking me over, pushing me into the open door of the elevator. She was silent this time, shivering, breath ragged, her entire body jerking with her orgasm.

The doors tried to close around us, slammed into us; I forced them open, once, twice, a warning alarm starting on the third shove. I held her, our breath slowing, my cock going limp between her legs.

She turned against me, finally. We kissed. Her face was bloody, nose bleeding from a thrust into the elevator wall.

Then she let me go. Stepped back into the elevator. Pushed me out.

I didn’t resist.

“Please stay away from me, Matteo, please.” The first time she’d said my name.

“I can’t,” I said as the elevator door closed. She was gone.

“I CAN’T!” I screamed at the closed doors, screamed it to the empty basement.

Chapter Two

The drive home was long, fueled by cups of 7-Eleven coffee, and when that stopped working, pills I bought from a gaunt lady trucker in some nameless truck stop. She’d called me ‘sugar’ and wanted to ‘get comfy’ with me in the sleeper back of her truck, but her nicotine breath, yellow teeth and the implication that her husband liked to share was plenty to get me out as soon as I had a baggie of speed in my hand.

I imagine I was a little wild-eyed when I got to the tattoo shop several hours later — I’d gone straight there, not home first — and I was certainly disheveled, though I’d covered my blood-smeared shirt with a pep boys sweatshirt I found in the back of my van.

I needed to do something. Some gesture, some token. Something. I needed to reach out, let her know how I felt, let her know how to reach me.

I’d stopped a couple of times on the road — was going to buy flowers, but I knew that was stupid. I thought about a gift, actually bought a card in a gas station where I filled the tank. I threw it out the window five miles later.

I walked in with nothing. I asked mister mouthful-of-metal if I could leave a note for Wanton; went in without waiting for his answer. I found a sheet of tracing paper on her station, scrawled a note on it, crossed it out, started again, tossed it in the trash, started over.

In the end, all I wrote was ‘Please call me – Please.’ I wrote my home phone number, added my business card with work number, cell and email, taped it down to her desk. I wrote her name on it.

I wanted to take something, something of hers; I picked up a small pencil sketch. A heart slashed with a straight razor, dripping monochrome blood. It had a banner under it that said, simply, Broken.

My vision was blurring when I walked out into sunlight. My eyes seemed to be watering. I slipped the pencil sketch into my shirt pocket.

I could still smell her on me. My hands, my face. When I pissed behind a dumpster before getting in my van, I could still smell her on my cock.

I went home. Crawled into a bottle and stayed there a while.


It was a week later when I broke down and called. I got metal-mouth, and managed to extract she’s not here from his grunts and clicks. He hung up without any other useful communication. I tried again two days after, got the same, finally asked if I could talk to Patrick.

Patrick was evasive. Suspicious. Stuck with the party line, she wasn’t in the shop; then he let slip that Wanton hadn’t been back since the convention. He wouldn’t say more, just hung up on me.

I hit the shop two slow cross-bay hours of traffic later.

“Where is she, Patrick?”

He was outside, smoking. “You don’t know?” he asked, looking at me with the exaggerated suspicion of a cartoon character. I thought about killing him.

“No.” I could feel the muscles in my shoulders tighten. I forced my fists not to clench. ”Why would I be here, asking you, if I knew?”

He shrugged. I thought more seriously about killing him. Decided it would impede his ability to answer questions.

He told me in bits and pieces; she’d had breakfast with him the morning after I’d last seen her. She was quiet, seemed distracted, but nothing unusual, though he remembered a fresh cut on her lip. She’d said she was going to catch a ride back with other friends. They’d expected her back in the shop almost a week ago; no one at the shop knew where she was. He seemed genuinely concerned, but also seemed to think I’d done something, or knew something. Which I guess was true.

I walked away. Came back.

“Tell her to call me — are you listening to me?”

He was non-committal. I stepped closer, put a finger to his chest. “I’m telling you, PATRICK, I’m telling you,” poking him in the chest to punctuate each word. “You have her call me, or you call me when she shows up. Or I’m coming back here, and I’m going to make GODDAMNED sure you won’t be doing any tattoos for a while.”

He went pale — paler, anyway.

“YOU. FUCKING. GOT ME?” I was almost nose-to-nose with him.

He didn’t look away. He met my eyes. I’ll give him credit, I think I scared the hell out of him, but he looked me dead on.

I shoved a business card in his shirt pocket and walked away.

Two days later, he called my work number. Late, after I’d gone, I think on purpose so he wouldn’t have to talk to me. “She’s back at work,” was the message he left on my voice mail. No name, no details, just that.

And I was back to where I’d started. She was there. I was here. I needed her, but she’d asked me, again, to stay away.

But it was a little different now. The un inked tattoo on my back had that healing itch, didn’t hurt anymore. A tattoo needle leaves little marks behind, even if there’s no ink, faint, but visible if you look close. Even tattoos done in invisible blacklight ink can be seen in good light. I could feel the raised lines it left behind, knew someone else could see it, if they looked close. I knew I was going to see her again. She is part of me now, I thought.

She didn’t call me, not that I expected her to. I called twice, but couldn’t get her. Left the same message each time, tell her I called.

I walked into the shop, Sunday afternoon. The place was busy, a lot of walk-in traffic. Patrick and metal-face working the counter, the place a roar of music and tattoo machines. Wanton wasn’t on the floor, but her station was set up for work.

A few minutes later, she came down the stairs, walked to the front, consulted a datebook, shouted something to the desk guys.

She was faced away from me. I said her name. She flinched, but didn’t turn.

Wanton!” I said again, louder. She turned her head, looked over her shoulder. She acknowledged me, barely, and then continued her exchange with metal face.

I stood my ground and waited. Eventually she stepped to the desk. She looked at me, said nothing.

She looked rough. Tired. Pale. Her lips were chapped, her eyes dull. Gorgeous, I thought, for all that.

“I had to see you, I…” I trailed off, tongue-tied as usual when seeing her.

“It’s OK. I knew you would,” she sighed. She looked over her shoulder at someone, then back at me. She bit her lip. Tore out my heart.

“Buy me a drink, OK?” she said. Shouted to an older man in the back: “Ed? I’m gonna go.” The shop’s owner, her boss.

He said something I didn’t catch. She walked toward his station. There was an exchange. He looked unhappy, tapped his watch, gestured at the crowded lobby. Patrick looked at them, looked at me, and then went back to helping a customer with a book of flash.

She walked out past me. Shoved past a couple of customers, not waiting for me to follow.

I caught up with her at the bottom of the stairs. She was lighting a cigarette.

“C’mon,” she said, gesturing across the street in the direction of a bar. Again, took off without waiting for me, or even looking for cross-traffic.

The bar was dark, smoky. That universal dive bar smell, cheap beer and whiskey, tobacco and sweat, pain and despair.

She ordered wordlessly, pointed, showed a couple fingers. Same thing for both of us.

I paid. Cheap draft beer, two shots of cheap well whiskey. The barkeep was ready to pour another round before she had the shot glass back down on the bar.

For once, I didn’t feel like drinking. I sipped the beer. She looked at me, drank my shot. Rapped the glass on the bar to get another.

We still hadn’t exchanged a word.

I touched her, a hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it away.

I let my hand fall, picked up and drank a shot. More for something to do than because I wanted it.

She lit another cigarette. “Just when I drink,” she said, waving it in front of me. I hadn’t noticed the smoke smell on her, before.

There was a burn on her hand. The diameter of a cigarette. It looked fresh. Looking closer, it seemed like there might be a few more, under the ink on her forearm. Some of them looked old, some less so. And other marks, higher up, old, on the inside of her elbow.

“We need to talk.” I stopped, started again. “About us. We need to talk”.

“Is there an us?” She wouldn’t look at me.

“I want there to be.” I wanted to grab her face, turn her toward me. Make her look at me.

“You fucked me. Made me come. That doesn’t make us – ‘us.'” She ground out her smoke, in an ashtray that ironically had a ‘no smoking’ symbol in the bottom of it. She lit another.

“What does it mean then?” My voice sounded high and strident. I sipped my beer, drank it off, not —anting to be drunk, but needing to do something.

“Nothing. It means we had sex”.

“Just sex?”

“Fine.” She looked at me. Eyes on mine. No smiling, not sneering. She held my gaze for a tome. She was flushed from the drink.

“Fine,” she said after a few seconds. “It means we had great sex. Fantastic sex.”

I waited — wanted her to go on.

“So what?” she said. “Good sex is a hundred bucks down the street. Great sex is a G uptown.”

“It was more than that.”

She looked away. Shook her head. Didn’t answer.

I waved the bartender down. Ordered more beer.

“It has to mean more than that,” I started again. “I want us to be more than that.” I sipped. At least the beer was cold. “I want to see you, be… be with you.”

She looked back at me, frowning, serious. Looked away. Waved her shot glass for a refill. “Just give us the bottle,” she told the bartender. “He’s payin’ for it.” She jerked a thumb in my direction. The grizzled old man behind the counter looked my way for approval, made the universal ‘show me money’ gesture, fingers and thumb rubbing together.

I dropped a fifty on the bar.

I tried again. “I want to take you out —“

She snapped her head in my direction, interrupted me. “You want to fucking DATE me?” Incredulous, derisive. She tossed back another shot, slammed the glass down with a loud crack. “You want to be my fucking BOYFRIEND?” She was almost shouting now.

An aging hooker down the bar looked at us, entertained by our exchange.

“No… yes… I don’t —“

“Get the fuck away from me.” Not shouting now. Cold, through clenched teeth. She stepped off the barstool, stumbled, and then walked away. Out the door.

I sat. Paralyzed.

“Whatt’a ya’ doing, dipshit? Go after her!” the hooker said.

I pushed away from the bar, almost knocking over a barstool. The barkeep waved my bottle and my change at me.

I took the bottle. Left the change.

She was walking away, but not very fast. Knew I’d come after her. Didn’t stop and wait for me, but I caught up in a few steps.

“Where are you parked?” she asked, unexpectedly. “What do you drive?”

I gestured down the street. It was getting dark.

‘You need a ride?” I asked.

“I need a drink,” she answered.

We walked, tuned into an alley. I was parked behind a dumpster, in shadows. Stupid place to park, in this neighborhood, but my van was unharmed.

“This yours?” she asked.

I drive a 1966 Ford Econoline panel van. It once sported the logo of a house painter, badly lettered on the side. I found it for sale when the previous owner died, his wife not knowing how much to ask. I picked it up for nothing, worked on in all that summer. It was my teenage rolling party, the van full of big house bongs and party kegs. I’d always planned to sell it when I got out on my own, but never did. It sat in a friend’s back yard for a couple years while I was riding motorcycles and not wanting to be seen in an old van. But now, I had a mechanic who thought the old thing was cool. We’d been fixing it up, hot-rodding the engine, new paint, new carpet in the back. It was cherry red, an old Sailor Jerry thing painted on the side, brass knuckles, a blackjack and a cutthroat razor. “Love Thy Neighbor” the banner on it said, because old Jerry loved irony.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s mine”.

She shook her head. Sneering again. I could almost hear her thinking fucking hipster. She took the bottle from me, twisted off the top. She pulled the keys from my belt loop and opened the door. Climbed into the driver’s seat.

I walked around, got in, shotgun. She found my little baggie of speed tucked into the visor. She crunched a couple, washed them down with more whiskey, then shoved a couple in my mouth and handed the bottle to me.

I took the keys away from her when she tried to find the ignition. “You’re in no shape–” I began.

“You want to date me, huh?” She interrupted me, derisive. Made the word an insult. “I’m not your goddamned girlfriend. Maybe I’ll be your fucking whore.”

I stared at her. She reached across, grabbed my belt, yanked it open. I should have stopped her. I helped her instead.

She grinned at me. Took a pull from the bottle, passed it back. I swallowed. Closed my eyes. Felt her hands on my cock, and then her mouth.

It’s not that I’ve had a lot of blowjobs. I’m not an expert, a blowjob connoisseur. But I’ve always thought there was no such thing as a bad blowjob. She was terrible at it. Teeth, hand gripping the shaft too tight, gagging herself, stopping every time it felt right.

“Take off yer pants,” she ordered me, coming up for air and more whiskey. I slid them down to my knees. Then she was back at me, the whiskey in her mouth burning, but it felt OK, like she was getting a feel for it. She went on a while, and it kept feeling better, and I started to think I might come. Then she grabbed my balls, squeezed, then jammed a finger into my ass, dry. It hurt; I yelped, grabbed her hair.

“Stop it,” I said. “I want to fuck you.”

She wiped her mouth, sat back. “Go to hell,” she said.

“I’m going to fuck you. Get in the back.”

There are no back seats in my van, just carpet, a couple pillows, an army surplus blanket. I lost my virginity in this van, at 17. I hadn’t had a girl in it, in the back, for a long time.

“What, you’re going to force me?” she scoffed at me.

“If I have to.”

“If you want me, you’ll have to.”

She moved, started to get out. I stopped her, grabbed her arm, pulled her back. Shoved her over the back of the seat. She went limp, I thought for a moment she was giving in. I went over the seats after her.

She started kicking me, her engineer boots aiming for my nuts, missing in the dark. She caught my thigh and my stomach, but didn’t have much on the kicks.

I grabbed her by the throat. Pushed her down. Kissed her. She kissed back. My jeans were still around my knees; I tried to get out of them but wound up tangled. For a while she kept kissing, hands grabbing at my shirt, but then she pushed at me, pulled her face away.

“Get off of me,” she said.

“No. I’m going to fuck you.”

“You’re gonna force me. Say it. You’re going to force me.”


“Then go to hell.” She shoved me, stronger than I expected, sounding a little crazy now, the speed starting to hit her system with the booze. She punched me in the chest. Kept punching me. “Go. To. Hell.” Her fists punctuating her words, then a slap across my face.

“You want me to rape you.” I said. Not a question.

She went limp. Breathing hard. “Fool,” she said. “If I want it, it isn’t rape”. My cock was hard. My face stung from her slaps. I needed to be in her.

I reached down, pulled up her skirt. Tore her panties. She screamed, then stiff-armed my jaw, driving my teeth into my tongue, drawing blood.

“FUCK!” I yelled, blood spattering her face with my shout. “That fucking HURT!”

Blood was trickling down my chin. She kicked me again, drove her knee into my crotch, hitting home this time. I rolled off of her, doubled up, gagging. Then she was over me, something in her hand, the whiskey bottle. She swung for my head, missed, broke the bottle against the spare tire leaving a jagged weapon in her hand.

She jabbed the broken bottle towards my face, screaming something I couldn’t understand, connected with my cheek, just below the eye. It stung, then I felt wetness on my cheek, stinging from sweat and whiskey. Jabbed again, raked across my jaw, pain flaring.

Pain like that makes me incredibly angry.

I lost control then. Hit her. The pain and desire becoming rage, rage at her attacking me, but also for how much I wanted her.

I boxed some in high school. Wasn’t really good, never learned to defend myself very well. I lost a lot of matches, still have scars from it. But I won a few, too, because I could deliver a decent punch, once I got angry enough. Usually when I got angry, I won.

I fired three quick jabs at Wanton, limited in range, but still hard. The second one missed. The first one caught her in the eye, snapped her head back. I felt something crunch, like bone. I learned later it was in my hand, but then, I thought it was her cheekbone. She dropped the bottle, put her hand to her face.

The third punch didn’t do much; she was already pulling away, rolling off. It caught her in the chest with a solid thump.

Then she was gone. Out of the van, running down the street. I lost her, couldn’t get my pants on, landed face down in gravel as I came out of the van. By the time I was up, I could see a cab screaming away up the street, moving before the door was even closed.

Something golden was caught on the ring I wear on my right hand. Her nose ring, bent out of shape and bloody.

I watched the cab recede into the distance. Stood after it was gone. I felt blood dripping from my face, my tongue swelling. I mumbled her name, certain I’d screwed things with her for good.


I’d finished the speed on the way home. Bought crank from my neighbor after that.

The next few days are a blur. I know I didn’t sleep. I think I didn’t eat. I recall trying to stitch the cuts on my face with a travel sewing kit, pink thread and a dull needle. I gave up (my hands were shaking) and repaired the cuts with krazy glue instead.

Parts of this time are simply gone from my memory. I wish it could all be gone.

I vaguely imagined being dead. Not doing anything to cause it, just vaguely wishing for oblivion. Played next-car-game waiting for the police to show up, arrest me for attempted rape, assault. I knew I’d fucked myself forever, I’d never see her again.

Eventually, the crank ran out. Or I forgot where I stashed it in some paranoid moment. A while later, so did the whisky, and then the beer. And then I slept for what seemed like three years.

When I finally dragged myself out, bruised, filthy, unshaved, I didn’t know what time, what day it was.

When I finally checked my messages, I found I had couple dozen. Mostly hang-ups, two or three a day from a blocked number, interspersed with “will you be in?” calls from work and then later “Where the hell are you?”

Then there she was, her voice on my machine; “Hey, Matteo, how are you? I’m OK. I miss you,” I thought I was losing my mind. “So I’m still thinking about you, how good your cock felt in my mouth.”

What the fuck?

She reached me that night, real time, not a message. I was lifting weights, my hand still aching but trying to ignore it.

The phone rang. I tried to finish my set. It rang again. “Fuck it,” I growled, pounded the barbell into the rack. I grabbed the phone off the hook.

“Yes?” I barked into the receiver.

“What are you wearing?” she asked, in a breathy, sexy voice.

The incongruity of it, the absurdity, left me absolutely speechless.

“Baby? Did I lose you?” she asked.

“I’m… I’m here,” I stammered.

“Mmmmmm…” she purred.

“Are you… how is your…”

“Shhh!” she said. “None of that.”

I was silent, listening to her breathe.

“Take off your clothes,” she said. “I’m wearing a thong. Nothing else. You like me in a thong, don’t you baby?”

The universe was off-kilter. The woman I felt like I’d half beaten to death was now talking like a phone sex slut in my ear. And goddamnit if I wasn’t reacting.

“I’m sweaty. Shorts. I’ve been lifting weights.” I said. No idea why I was playing along, even less idea why I was telling her the truth.

“Uuuughh.” A back of the throat noise. I couldn’t tell what it meant. “I’m touching myself,” she whispered. “I want to lick the sweat off your tattoos.”

“You’re making me hard,” I told her. Faintly angry about the fact, not hiding the anger.

“Of course I am.” She laughed. “I can make you anything I want”.

My cock throbbed. I untied my shorts, dropped them to the floor. Closed my eyes.

“Are you rubbing your cock?” she asked.

“No.” I was lying.

“My fingers are wet. Do you want me to taste them?”

I swallowed. “Yes,” I said. My eyes were still closed.

Wet, exaggerated sucking noises. A girlish voice. “Oh, I taste so good,” she said.

I swallowed. Unable to speak.

There was a noise in the background over the phone, a clatter, a fumbling sound.

“…have to go.” She hissed. The phone slammed down.

I came, weakly, come dribbling though my fingers. I opened my eyes, Stared at the phone in my left hand. Wishing that I’d never met her.

The call was the same, the next night. Late though, she woke me up. Whispering, telling me about what she was doing. Using childish words, titties, clitty. Telling me she wanted my ‘great big cock.’ Some of it sounded like she was reading it off a card. She wouldn’t let me talk, other than to tell her about how my cock felt in my hand. She hung up as soon as I came, didn’t even say goodbye, just clicked off.

The next call — at work this time, 11am — she wanted me to jerk off in my office. I tried to talk. Find out if she was OK, what the hell we were doing. She shushed me, then hung up when I said I wanted to see her.

That night’s call, her words were slurred, hard to understand. She told me about her vibrator, what she was doing with it. I only pretended to masturbate.

After that, the calls got less frequent, but the slurring seemed worse, or she’d be talking fast, seemed wired.

“I don’t want to do this,” I told her, finally. She sounded clearer than usual. Had started with “Hey” instead of fake sex talk. She paused, a long silence.

“Then what do you want?” she asked.




“No. I’m not yours. I won’t, can’t be.”

I was silent.

“Should I stop calling you?” she asked.

I swallowed. Started to say, ‘yes’. Then to say, ‘no’. Finally, all I could think to say was the simple truth.

“Wanton, l’m in love with you.”

Long silence.

“Go to hell,” she said quietly. Sniffed. Was silent for 30 seconds, sniffled again, and then hung up the phone. The line went dead.

I started at the receiver in my hand for a long time.

“This has to fucking change,” I said to the empty air.


Sunday. I called the shop at noon, the posted opening time. There was no answer. I Finally got through to a person at 1:15. I Asked for Wanton, then for Patrick.

“I need to reach her, Patrick.”

“She doesn’t want to talk to you.”

“Is she there?”

“She’s never here, if it’s you calling.”



“Patrick.” A little louder this time.

“Don’t you fucking threaten me.”

“Patrick.” My voice caught. “I need to talk to her.”

I think it was the catch in my voice. He sounded a little less hostile. “She’s really not here.”

“When will she be?”

“I can’t…” he trailed off.

“I…I love her, Patrick.” My voice catching. I heard him sigh.

“She’s going to kill me for telling you this. She’d due in at three. Call at three-fifteen, I’ll get her on.”

“She’ll talk to me?”

“I’ll get her on the phone. I can’t make her do anything…anything beyond that. No one can make Wanton do anything she doesn’t want to do.”

I watched the clock. Did push-ups. Watched the clock some more. Tried to make it move faster. Finally called at 3:20. Patrick answered. “She’s here,” was all she said. He put the phone down, didn’t put me on hold. I could hear music, voices.

What?” she snapped into the phone, when she picked it up.



“I’m coming to get you.”

“Are you out of your mind?”

“Yes, I am.” I think it might have been true. “I have to see you.”

“I’m working.”

“I don’t care.”

“You’re going to kidnap me?” She sounded amused, suddenly.


“Fuck you.” She had a way of saying that, made it sound affectionate. “I’m off work at 10.”

She was waiting out front when I drove by at 9:50. I slowed, backed up.

She clattered down the stairs, got in. She threw her cigarette out the window. Looked at a pair of handcuffs on the dashboard.

“Do I need to use those?” I asked. “I also have a blindfold.”

“What are we doing?” she asked.

“I’m kidnapping you. You don’t get to ask.”

“Don’t fuck with me,” she said, but it didn’t sound like an objection.

I drove. Past liquor stores, gas stations. Pulled in, a motel with a name like el rancho, with a broken neon sign that once showed a neon girl diving into a neon pool. We parked where the pool once was, now an uneven space in the concrete lot.

“Here?” she asked.

“All night,” I said.


I grabbed her wrist. Held. She pulled. I held tighter, looked into her eyes. “You don’t get a vote.”

Her eyes widened, temper flaring. Then she smiled. She leaned over, kissed the side of my face. Whispered, the girly voice from the phone calls. Something I couldn’t make out, muffled against my cheek. Kissed me again, on the mouth.

I got out. Checked us in, paying cash. Mister and Missus Smith.

She was out of the car when I came back. I grabbed my bag, locked the van.

Room 13. Lucky 13.

It was warm in the room. She looked around. Dropped her purse. She turned to look at me. First time I’d seen her in the light.

Her left eye showed residual purple; results of the black eye I’d given her. I stepped close, touched her face.

She reached up and touched mine, traced the healing cuts around my eye, still looking like shit from my repair job. Said nothing. She’d replaced her nose ring; a thicker gauge this time. The hole was ragged, where the old one had torn out.

“Your eye,” I said. “Your nose.”

“It’s nothing.”


“Bruises are pretty,” she said. “And it’s not like people at work haven’t seen me with a shiner before.

She turned away. “The one on my chest is prettier.”

I flexed my hand, still aching and a little swollen. “I shouldn’t have —“

“Stop,” she said. “It didn’t happen. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”

She walked away, toward the bathroom.

“I need a shower,” she said. “Go get us something to drink.”

“What do you feel like drinking?” I asked.

She stopped in the bathroom door, looked at me over her shoulder. “It’s a martini sort of night,” she said, in a breathy, Marilyn Monroe voice.

I walked across the street, bought gin and ice. I wondered if she’d be there when I got back. My van keys were on the table in the motel room.

The shower was running when I got back; I dumped ice in the bucket, stuck the gin bottle in. My bag and toilet kit were open, my razor and toothbrush missing, nothing else touched. I sat on the bed, listened to the shower run, then stop.

She came out wrapped in a towel; hair wet, face flushed. I could see the fading purple bruise on her chest, above her left breast. It was partially hidden between tattoos.

“Pour me a drink,” she said.

When I kissed her, her mouth tasted of gin. She’d tossed one back, was sipping another. She looked fucking good in a towel. I kissed her, realized I’d never seen her naked. Kissed her again. I’m not usually a gin guy, but she tasted amazing.

She turned away. Put down her drink, Opened the towel. She looked over her shoulder at me, made a serpentine, dancing move. The towel sliding over her ass. She turned back, pulling the towel around her as she turned. Told me to get comfortable.

I did. Took off my boots, my jeans. Pulled off my tee shirt. I tossed my clothes across the room. Watching her all the while as she did a slow bump and grind. “We need music,” she said.

I found a Motown station on the cheap clock radio that was bolted to the end table. Weak reception, static, but it didn’t matter. I peeled the covers back. She was behind me, towel open, wrapping it around me. I could feel her breasts against my back. She continued her slow dance, her body warm and damp. The towel dropped, and then she was on her knees, sliding my boxers down, kissing the place she’d tattooed me, gently biting my ass cheek. Her hands slid up and down my thighs.

I was afraid to move. Afraid to disrupt this. But then her hand was between my legs, her fingers stroking my balls. I turned, looked down at her. She smiled up at me.

“So,” she said, the cartoon, childish voice again. “What should we do now?”

I lifted her to her feet. Held her. Then looked at her, at arms length, my hands on her arms. She had tattoos across her shoulders, down her sides, framing her small, round breasts. She had pierced nipples, thick gold rings.

“I want you so, so badly.” I said, through clenched teeth.

Her head tilted back. She looked at me though half-closed lids. Her smile widening. “For now–right now, you have me.”

I crushed her to me, hard enough to knock breath from her. Felt the rings in her nipples dig into my chest. Her mouth found mine.

We’d kissed before, but this was different. This wasn’t a rush, an attack.

I held her, slowly taking more of her weight as her body molded itself to mine, lifting her off the ground. Her legs wrapped around me. I held her up as we kissed, hands on her ass.

Her lips were soft, her tongue, gentle, not pressing too fast. Both with eyes closed. I could feel her nose ring against my nose as we shifted.

Her tongue in my mouth. I could feel her explore the chips in my teeth, the one canine replaced with gold, souvenirs of too many lost fights.

She stopped kissing me, pressed her face to my shoulder, let out a stuttering, ragged sighing breath. I could feel her teeth, gripping my skin, but not — quite — biting.

She whispered my name.

We stayed there, just holding each other.

Then slowly, she let go with her legs, stood. Lifted her head, arms sliding from around me to her sides. She leaned back, our pelvises still together. My arms around her waist supporting her.

She looked at me, her eyes wet, blinking. She sniffed. Wiped her nose with the back of her hand. I caught her hand in mine, kissed it.

She pushed me away, then down onto the bed. She stood over me, looking at my cock.

“Oooh,” she said, in the little girl voice. “So big!”

She was kneeling on the bed now, over me, astride me. Leaned forward, her hands on my chest. She stroked, found my nipples. Played with them. Then lowered her face to my chest, sucked my nipple, and then bit carefully.

I moaned. Pushed her away, off, rolled over with her, me on top now. I kissed the bruise on her chest, then found her nipple, the ring. Sucked, the metal clicking against my teeth.

I kissed from one nipple to the other; her legs were rubbing against mine, sliding up my thighs, outside, then between. Her arms were above her head, her back arching as I sucked and then bit her nipples. She moaned faintly, sighed.

I began to work down. Tracing down her breastbone, her abdomen, following the tattoos, vines, leaves and flowers. My tongue explored her navel. She shivered.

“Oooh, eat me, daddy, suck my honey pot.” Still in that absurd voice.

She’d shaved herself with my razor when she showered. Skin smooth and pink, almost raw. A vaguely heart-shaped thatch of sandy-gold pubic hair left behind. She was slickly wet. I kissed the crooked patch of hair, smelled the hot female scent of her. Licked wetness from her inner thighs, her labia, the tiny gold rings. The cheeks of her ass. Trying not to hurry. Not opening her, not touching her clit.

Her lips were swollen; she tried to push her hips up, arch up into my face. I held her down, hand on her belly. Heard faint mumbles from her, something pornographic. I slipped the tip of my tongue between her lips, tasting salty-sweet. I stroked the tip of her clit while she gasped and stroked my scalp, the back of my neck.

I sat back, looked at her; eyes closed, mouth open, far away for a moment. She pursed her lips, brought her hands to her crotch, stroked her pussy with one hand. “Come back,” she said softly, dropping the voice.

I put my hands under her knees; pulled them up, spread them. I wanted to open her, expose her. She sucked in breath through clenched teeth.

Still holding her legs up, I lowered my face, licked her cunt, swallowed. I felt for the tip of her clit with my tongue, teased it, flicked, then worked down, licking down to her ass, then back up. She bucked, gasped, then started in that voice again – “Oh, yes, Daddy, yes, you lick it so good…”

I wanted her to stop. Reared up, threw myself at her, kissed her. Found her cunt with my hand while I shoved my tongue into her mouth.

She sucked, licked her own juices from my face; “Oh, I taste so good” she moaned. Then “My turn, Daddy” and she pushed me over, climbed on top of me.

“Want to put that great big cock in my tight little pussy?” she said, straddling me, grinding her hips into mine. I cupped her breasts in my hands, thrust up against her.

“Yes — oh god, yes.” I moaned.

She took the shaft in her hand, raised her hips, rubbed the head of my cock in her wetness, played it over her clit. Then slowly, lowered herself onto me, working my cock in, an inch at a time.

I stopped breathing. Stopped thinking. Stopped being anything but cock. She squeezed me, muscles clenching, hard enough to hurt. We exhaled together, great ragged wordless noises, held still for long, long seconds, and then began to move together. Her hands were on my chest, her hips working up and down. I grasped her waist, let her lead, helped her motions as she gradually picked up speed. Soon I was thrusting up into her, now my motions guiding our rhythm.

She was riding me like a rodeo cowboy, one hand on my groin, one raised above her head; soon she was shouting to go along with this, “Oh, baby!” “Harder!” And once, an absurd “Yahoo!”

I pulled her down, crushing her to my chest, to kiss her, but also to shut her up. Then I lifted her, pushed her off.

She rolled onto her stomach, raised her ass into the air; I pushed my cock into her from behind, grabbing her hips, pulling her against me. I pushed her face down into a pillow to muffle her. I could still hear it, though, “you fuck me so good, so hard, oh yeah, oh baby”. Some sort of weird porn-movie soundtrack.

“Stop it!” I said. In between thrusts “Stop.” Thrust. “Talking.” Thrust. “Like” Thrust “That!” Pulled out of her. Rolled her over, looked into her face.

“Come on my tits, Big Daddy,” she said. “Shoot that stuff all over my tummy.” My cock throbbed.

“Stop it,” I said, putting a hand around her throat. She smiled, reached for my cock. Pulled me into her. She pulled me down, taking my weight on her chest, pulling my ass ’til I was all the way in. Clenched tight. She kissed me, hard, long, her tongue thrusting deep into my mouth.

“Make me come,” she whispered, her real voice this time, as I thrust into her, felt my orgasm start, felt hers along with it.

She came, silent, shuddering, biting her lip, legs thrashing. She finished with gasps, and then sobs.

I felt myself near tears, overcome, so filled with the need to tell her I could barely contain it. But didn’t, didn’t say the words that echoed in my head, I love you.

We rolled over together, ended on our sides. We stayed that way until our breathing, in sync now, slowed. Then she slid away from me, our bodies slick with sweat and come. “I have to pee,” she said, and giggled, not the cartoon voice, but real, deep and throaty. She left the door open; I could hear her go. She came back with a plastic cup of water, and a towel, began to towel me off as I drank.

She switched off the light, crawled in next to me in the bed. Stroked me, my chest, my cock. She’d popped a candy in her mouth when she’d gotten up; her breath smelled of cinnamon. I fell asleep to the soft sound of her breath.

I woke in the middle of the night. Turned to look at her, her face visible in dim light from the street. She lay beside me, eyes open, facing the ceiling. Silent tears streamed down her cheeks. I said nothing, touched her cheek, wiped away tears. Then moved close, kissed, licked away the salty wetness from her face.

We made love quietly, no talk, no nonsense. Her on top, controlling the pace. Kissing throughout. She never came, but brought me off, then kissed her way down to my cock, sucked until I was soft. Her head still rested on my hip when I went back to sleep.

Morning. The sound–feel–of an empty room. I knew she was gone before I opened my eyes. I crawled out of bed, glad I’d barely touched the gin, glad for once of a clear head.

I pissed, brushed my teeth, washed my face. Still not awake, trying not to deal with her absence.

I stood in the middle of the room. Looked around. Felt the emptiness. Inside, as well as out. Packed up my few things.

The note was with my keys. One word. Goodbye.

Nothing else. No name, no signature. The finality of it deadly clear to me. She’d taken the gin bottle with her, left nothing behind but the sweet smell of her on bed, sink, toilet, on my skin, everywhere she’d touched. I stood, breathed her in.


I drove home. Pulled tapes from a box in my van. Songs about misery and suicide. I listened to Matthew Sweet sing about needing someone to pull the trigger, to the Gin Blossoms singing about blowing the whole thing and being alone–all the miserable things they sang about before the songwriter offed himself with a .38.

I wished I were a songwriter, so I could make the way I felt sound lyrical. Wished I were sincere enough to think about suicide without feeling like a fucking poser.

Chapter Three

Things have a way of falling apart when you don’t give a rat’s ass.

My job went first. They had to call me to tell me I was fired. Let Go, they called it, euphemistically. I guess that’s what happens when you just quit going to work.

When you stop earning a living, it’s hard to pay your rent. Particularly if you’re spending your money on bail, booze and crank. Harder still when you have to spend it on getting your car repaired after running it into several things. It helps for a while if you sell stuff, but that requires that you have stuff to sell.

Most of what I owned was shit people give away or leave on a street corner, apart from a good set of weights, a not-too-bad computer, a pretty good stereo, and an old motorcycle that hasn’t run in a couple years. That, and some pretty damned good original artwork from my tattooist friends.

The computer was the first to go–fuck work, fuck the tools I work with. I sold it to a friend. I sold the same friend my stereo and TV as well. The stereo was the hardest to part with. I figured I’d try to sell the bike next, see if it would get me a few bucks. The weights, I’d already decided, would go last, even if I had to sleep on the floor and sell my crappy bed. The art, well, the art just wasn’t going to be sold. Some places, a man has to take a stand.

I still had electricity. Not for much longer though. The phone was shut off, but I had my cell phone. My ex-employers forgot to ask for it back, and better yet, hadn’t canceled service. Water came with the rent, and well, I was wondering if I could threaten my landlady to let me slide another month, or if maybe the old bag would let me fuck her for the difference. Or maybe I should just burn the fucking place down.

My neighbor had cut off my credit as well, told me I had to actually pay him if I wanted more crank. Which was just as well, that shit’s bad for me.

I’d also tried to talk an old girlfriend into a pity fuck, which evidently made her husband pretty angry. That was a bad thing; he drinks with cops, and now I figured the local boys in blue were keeping an eye on me.

After our night, our date, I didn’t call. Gave up, let her go. I was too drunk and fucked up to call half the time, sober enough to know I shouldn’t the other half. Only as time went by, I started to ask myself, what does ‘goodbye’ mean anyway. I think I worried at that one for a couple weeks before I picked up the phone to just fucking ask her.

Obviously, she wouldn’t talk to me. I knew that, really, even as I dialed. Tried anyway. Because I’m too stupid to quit.

The shop said she wasn’t there when I called. I don’t know if she was, or wasn’t. I thought at the time they were lying to me, but now I suspect she was missing much of the time. Eventually, Patrick talked to me, a little. He seemed sorry, or maybe it was pity. He never called me a stalker, though it wouldn’t have been unfair.

He did tell me, almost in a tone of brotherly advice, that it just wasn’t a good idea, and there wasn’t anything there; that I would do better to try to move on. He wouldn’t give her messages. I tried mailing her notes to the shop address, a couple of times, but he said she’d thrown them out, unread, unopened.

Eventually, he asked me to stop calling him. I think by then I just needed someone to talk to while I sat home, drinking and brooding. I think I was calling to talk to Patrick as much as to her. I did what he asked though.

It was Patrick that called me, finally.

“I just don’t know who to talk to about this,” he confessed.

I didn’t know what to say. And really couldn’t quite recall how to talk; I’d been alone too long.

“Things are going bad for her. Ever since that–that last time she saw you.”

“Why are you telling me?”

“I don’t have any fucking idea. Fair enough?” He waited for me to respond. I didn’t.

“She’s not working, Matteo. Not much. She’s here sometimes, but then doesn’t show up. She’s doing shit–stuff she shouldn’t be doing. She’s–something’s wrong.” He paused. Afraid to say it.

“She’s fucked up a couple of tattoos, man. Lost customers,” he said, finally.

There’s something they teach you, when you’re learning to tattoo. One of the first things you learn. Never Say ‘Oops‘. Never even give the impression you might have made a mistake. But tattooists know when they’ve fucked something up. Wrong color, crooked lines, color in the wrong place. Worse yet, a word misspelled. Customers may never know; the artist does. And the other artists know. When someone starts to fuck up tattoos, they are on borrowed time in a local tattoo scene.

“Fuck,” I said.


“I can’t help, Patrick. I can’t help if she won’t talk to me. And I think…”

“That you’re the problem,” he said.

“I’m the problem.” I agreed.

“I’m sorry I called,” he said.

“Ask her to call me, Patrick. Ask her to talk to me. I can’t help if she won’t.”

I knew she wouldn’t.

She did though. Three days later, She called me. It went badly.

Late at night. I’d been out, drinking beer at a cheap dive bar I know. Gambling, throwing dice for who bought rounds. I’d been winning, then when I started losing, I left. I didn’t have money to buy rounds. I walked around, sobered up, mostly. Not for any reason, but I was starting get a little bored with being drunk and alone. I couldn’t change alone.

I got home, tried to work out but couldn’t concentrate. Couldn’t sleep either. I’d sold my TV, my stereo, most of my books. I stared at the wall and tried not to picture her.

My cell phone rang, startling me. I never carried it; why bother? When it rings, it’s a wrong number. It sat on its charger, collecting dust.

I picked it up, expecting the usual call, some fucking crackhead looking for his dealer. I didn’t say anything, just punched a button and put it to my ear.

“Matteo?” She sounded very small, very far away. I was dumbstruck, silent. Not completely believing it was her. Maybe I was now hallucinating phone calls.

“Hello?” she said, again, a little louder.


A long silence, that odd deadness of a silent cell phone.

“Matteo.” almost a sigh. “Hi–it’s, it’s me.”

I felt choked up. Wanted to scream, to jump up and down, pump my fist in the air like I’d just scored a goal. Managed to croak out “Baby,” finally.

“I just wanted…” trailing off. Like she was fading.

“God, I’m glad to hear your voice,” I said. “I’ve been trying to reach you.”

“I know.” Stronger now. “Why won’t you stop calling me?”

“I–I can’t stop it, baby. I…” I started to say I loved her. Knew I shouldn’t.

“You hav’ t’ stay ‘way.” Her words were slurred; she sounded angry now. “Stop callin’. Stop talking to me. Stop being–stop being–stop makin’ me…” trailing off again, lost.

“Wanton, are you OK?”

“No. No, no no no. I’ve never been OK.”

She sniffed. I wondered if she was crying. Wondered if she was drunk, what she was on. “I can’t be OK,” She said.

“I want to help you, baby.”

“No.” She sounded faint and sad.

“Patrick said–he called me, he said you’re in trouble.”

“FUCK him!” she screamed it. “FUCK him! And FUCK you! Leave me ALONE!”

She coughed, sobbed. I heard a clatter; she had dropped the phone. It seemed to take her a long time to pick it up.

“‘m sorry.” She mumbled. “Drop you.” I could hear her drink, swallow. Ice rattling in a glass.


“Don’t call me that,” she said.

“I want to see you. I’m coming up there.”

“I’m not at work. You can’t see me.” She sounded almost pouty.

“Tell me where you are. I’ll come get you.” Hoping, for a moment, that she might let me into her life.

“No. Not here. Not ever. You can’t.”

“Why not?” I asked.

I could hear her suck in ragged breaths. Then finally, she whispered “goodbye”.

“DON’T GO!” I shouted into the cell phone.

“DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” she screamed it, distorting through the phone. “Fuck OFF! Get the FUCKINGHELL away from me!” Screams turned to shrieks. I heard glass break, a clatter, a sound like a body hitting the floor. Sobs. Then the line went dead.

I threw the little plastic phone across the room, shattered it into pieces. Knew I’d fucked this up, again. Knew she was gone, I’d lost her. Lost everything.


The knock on my door, hours later, pulled me out of fitful sleep.

I sat up, confused, wondering if I’d dreamed the knock, or if one of my neighbors had taken up midnight carpentry as a new hobby. Corrected the thought, 2:37am carpentry. But I don’t have any neighbors–I’m on the corner, one side a second-story outer wall, the other empty now for a couple of months.

The knock sounded again. Absurdly, shave-and-a-hair-cut, like in a cartoon.

“The fuck?” I mumbled to myself.

I got up, pissed off. Some asshole, lost, maybe looking for my downstairs neighbor for a late-night score. Mixing up apartments.

I pulled on sweat pants to avoid flashing whoever was disrupting my beauty rest. I keep an old Louisville slugger by the door in case of traveling salesmen, and as an afterthought, grabbed it to make sure whomever was at the door didn’t want to stay long.

I yanked the door open.

She stood away from the door, leaning against the rail. Her arms were crossed, hands in her armpits under her jacket. Hugging herself, her entire body turned in, shoulders hunched. Her head was down.

She looked at me from under her hair. She was wearing sunglasses, cheap biker KD’s. I could just see her in the dim moonlight.

“I’m sorry. I woke you,” she said, a small, forlorn voice.

“My god, Wanton–what are you–”

“Can I come in?” she asked. She looked at the bat in my hand.

I stepped back into the apartment, dumped the bat by the door. She brushed in past me. I switched on a lamp.

She was in old army camo pants, much ripped and patched. An oversized denim jacket. The sunglasses had salmon-pink lenses.

Her hair looked slept in. The red was faded, an inch of honey-colored roots showing.

My apartment is small. One main room, with the bed and, until recently, a wall full of TV and stereo. Another, smaller room, galley kitchen and breakfast nook. That’s where the weights live, where the table would be if I had one. A bathroom on the far side of that. It’s on the top floor in one of those courtyard-garden places, like on Melrose Place only without the good looking actresses.

She looked around. Seemed confused at the empty space, looked at me as if to say, ‘is this all?’

“Welcome to my home,” I said. “I’ll give you the grand tour.” I turned, 360, gestured around. “There, that’s the whole place.”

She looked for a chair I don’t own, then sat on the bed. Didn’t say anything. Didn’t take off her glasses or coat.

“Wanton, what are you doing here?”

She didn’t tell me, just asked for a drink of water.

I got it, tap water in a big cracked coffee mug that said ‘Bad Boy’s Bail Bonds’ on the side. “Sorry, I’m out of ice.” I said.

She shook her head, said it was OK. She drank it in small sips, holding the cup with her right hand. Her left was now inside her jacket pocket.

“How did you find me?” I asked her.

“You mailed me something. It had your address.”

I wondered if she’d read the notes. At least she’d kept the envelope, I thought.

She sighed. Looked at the floor. She started to shiver; dropped the empty cup.

“Honey?” I sat down next to her, put an arm around her shoulders. Just sat with her like that until the shivering slowed.

“We have to end this,” she said.

“I thought it was already ended.”


“I thought it never… we were never–”

“We were, though. I know what I said. I was wrong,” she said, still speaking to her boots, head hanging.

“Wanton–look at me.”

She lifted her head toward me. I pushed the glasses up onto her forehead; there were bruises on her face, on the left side. More on her neck. Her eyes were glassy, the pupils looked wrong. Dark circles under her eyes.

“What are you saying, Wanton?”

She stood. Walked a couple of steps into the middle of the room. Her hands were in her jacket pockets, then she pulled something out and turned.

I saw what she held in her hand. A little snub-nosed revolver, like a .38 police special. It hung loosely in her hand, by her hip, pointed at the floor.

“It has to be over. Really over,” she said. “But you said you can’t, said it after the elevator. You can’t… stay away.”

“Wanton, I — “

“Matteo, I can’t either. Can’t stay away.”

I stood.

“But I can’t be with you,” she said. “So it has to end.” She waved the gun, gesturing vaguely to include us both. Her finger was off the trigger. “So one of us has to go.” She let the gun fall to her side again. Looked at the floor. “Only, I’m not sure which one,” She said.

I took a step toward her.

She looked at me, put the barrel of the gun to her neck, under the point of her jaw. “I thought about it being me. But then I thought, how could you live with that?”

She waved the gun in my general direction. “But if it’s you, then how can I…” She trailed off, looked at the gun. Let it drop to her side again. “I don’t know. I hoped you could help me choose.”

“Wanton,” I said. “That’s…” I was going to say ‘crazy’.

“I know. But it’s what has to happen. It’s the only way we can get it to end.”

She pulled the hammer back on the pistol with a terrifying click; stepped forward and kissed me. The pistol rested between us, cross-wise. I recall wondering, as we kissed, if this would be the last mouth I would ever taste.

“No–it doesn’t have to,” I whispered to her. She drew a breath, held it. I braced myself, expecting the gun to go off.

Instead, she stepped away, turned. Still not ready, not sure who the gun was for. She looked at the walls of my apartment, artwork everywhere, some framed, some tacked, some leaned against the wall. She seemed to study each piece, though I don’t think she was. She made a circuit around the room; the gun was clenched in her hand, the knuckles white. Her finger lay outside the trigger guard, still.

When she reached my bedside, she stopped, looked down. Touched the black panties that still hung from my bedpost. “Mine?” she asked me.

“Yours,” I said. “Only yours.”

“You kept them.”

“I almost swallowed them”

She looked over her shoulder at me, smiled faintly, shook her head.

She turned back to the side of my bed, found the little pencil sketch I’d taken, the heart slashed with a razor, which was tacked to the wall next to the bedpost. “Oh–here it is,” she said. “I drew this after, after our first time. I was going to get it. Patrick was going to do it for me. But it’s more you, isn’t it? I wish I could do it for you.”

She looked at the things on my table; a crappy clock radio, a little lamp I’d gotten at a yard sale someplace, a couple of books. She pulled the drawer open, found condoms (how long had those been there, I wondered–the box was unopened), some dirty magazines and hand lotion. She came out with a bindle I’d forgotten was there–crank left over from one of my binges.

“Wanton,” I said.

“You mind?” she asked, not waiting for my answer. Dumped some onto the back of her gun hand and snorted.

“Ow! Fuck!” she said. “You should buy better crank.” She dropped the bindle into my drawer, shut it.

“I need to pee,” she said.

I followed her, watched her pull her army pants down one-handed, and sit. “You like watching me pee?” she asked.

“I do, actually,” I said. Surprised that it was true, and that I was telling her, now.

“I wish we had more time,” she said, smiling sadly. She stood, pulled up her pants. Stepped out of the bathroom.

We faced each other, less than arm’s length apart. Looked into each other’s eyes.

“We can,” I said. “We can have all the time in the world.”

“No, we can’t,” she said. She raised the gun between us again, looked at it. I put my hand on her wrist.

We stood, frozen. My hand locked on her wrist, not letting her move, her arm rigid, but not fighting me. Looking into each other’s eyes.

I raised my other hand, slowly peeled her fingers from the gun, like taking a rattle away from a baby. She never relaxed her grip, but never fought me off, either. I took the gun away from her, uncocked it. Kissed her cheek.

I walked away, to the front door. Popped open the action on the little gun, ejected the bullets into my hand (four, one chamber left empty, for safer carry). I opened the door, flung the bullets into the bushes below. Closed the door.

She was standing behind me, silent, lost. Her reason for being here now taken away.

I dropped the gun and took her in my arms.

“I just saved your life,” I said.

“Or maybe yours,” she replied, into my shoulder.

It was one of those moments, where I can see, looking back, the whole thing at a crossroads. Where I might have changed what happened after, had I done something different, thought before acting, used that good judgment people talk about.

Or–fate. I had no choice. The stars aligned. The will of gods, spirits, demons.

For a moment, I considered calling for help, seeking guidance. Maybe get her detoxed, off whatever she had in her system other than my crank. Maybe there were friends or parents who could step in and help with this. Maybe people I knew would know what to do.

But I held her. And she felt right in my arms. And even in this state, she smelled good. And her arms were around me now, her hands stroking the small of my back, where she’d marked me.

So I kissed her, instead of listening to that tiny voice of reason. Told it to wait, to fuck off, I’d listen later.

I don’t know if it made any difference. I do know, put there again, I’d make the same mistake. Every time.

Wanton shrugged out of her coat, let it fall to the floor. We began to kiss, both of us moving slowly. My hands slid under her shirt, stroked her sides and back. “Hang on,” she mumbled. “I need a drink.”

She fished something out of the cargo pocket of her pants. A bottle. She unscrewed it, dropped the lid. Gulped, then passed the bottle to me. Cinnamon schnapps, with some sort of little gold flakes floating in the bottle. I sipped, passed it back. She gulped again.

She smiled at me as she wiped her mouth. Her eyes were glassy. I took the bottle from her hand, took another belt, the vile, sweet, fiery stuff burning on the way down, and found the lid. I tossed the bottle onto the bed, picked Wanton up and tossed her after it.

I leaned over her, kissed her cheek, neck, each breast, then down her belly, still covered with her tee shirt. I pulled her engineer boots off, her socks. Realizing she had tiny flowers tattooed on her toes, I kissed each one. I kissed back up, one kiss on each knee, then slipped my fingers into the waistband of her pants, tugged them down. She arched, lifted her hips, helping me.

I tossed her pants to the floor, noticing there was still something in the cargo pocket–a small, zip-up leather case bounced out when they hit the floor. She wasn’t wearing panties. I could smell the musky sweetness of her cunt.

I laid my head against her, where hip meets belly. Breathed in her scent, wrapped my arms around her and hugged. Just held her. Her hands stroked my head. My scalp was rough and sand-papery, needing a shave.

“Come up here,” she said. So I did. I crawled up her, then lifted her to a sitting position. She peeled off her shirt, dropped it, and we began to kiss. Her mouth tasted of cinnamon.

She rolled me onto my back, had her hands on my neck, face, scalp as we kissed. I lay under her, spread eagle. Soon she was biting at my neck, a little harder, sucking. Her hands on my nipples, pinching, twisting. I began to murmur her name. My hands gripped the bedposts. She was astride my leg, her thigh in my crotch. I could feel her nails, rough, digging into the skin on my chest as she began to suck my nipples, then to bite them. She began to knead my cock through my sweat pants.

I pushed her off, down, held her, held her wrists above her head. Kissed her, hard, bit her lip. She was gasping; I held her with one hand, found her tee shirt, used it to lash her wrists to a bedpost. I went to work on her nipples with my mouth, found her cunt with my fingers. She gasped again as I slid my fingers into her cunt, my thumb on her clit.

“Goddamnit, FUCK ME!” she yelled.

“Not yet,” I said.

I shifted, above her on hands and knees. She was squirming, her hips twisting, legs kicking at me. I worked down, kissing belly, hips, then held her hips, held her still. I began to lick around her clit. “Hurry!” she said.

I worked on her clit, then licked her cunt, then slipped my tongue into her ass. I worked back and forth, each touch on her clit making her more frantic. I began to finger her, sucked on her clit, my thumb in her cunt, a finger slipping into her ass.

I heard the tee-shirt rip as she tore herself free. She grabbed for my head, my ears, pulled, then pushed me away. I slid off the bed, and she came off it after me, biting and scratching. She tore at my sweat pants, dragged them off of me. She grabbed my cock, took it in her mouth, sucked and bit. I yelled, hoarsely, grabbing the back of her head as she sucked my balls into her mouth. I pushed her back, tried to come up off the floor.

She pushed me down, her full weight on me; bit my nipple, sucked, her hand on my cock, squeezing it. Her teeth closed on the skin of my chest, next to my nipple. Hard. She bit; drew blood. I yelled, knocked her away.

She rolled off of me, was up like a cat. She had something in her hand, the schnapps bottle. She twisted the top off, drank, and then was over me, pouring the fiery liquor on the bleeding wound she’d left on my chest. I screamed, took the bottle from her, drank off the rest of it, then pulled her down on top of me.

“You fucking bitch,” I whispered, and kissed her. She laughed, kissed, lowered herself onto my cock. She licked schnapps and blood from my chest as my cock slid into her. “I love you,” I said into her hair.

“Shut up,” she said, gently, starting to move on my cock. “Don’t talk”. She put her fingers over, and then in, my mouth, shutting me up. I thrust into her, held her waist, working her up and down, She was moaning, gasping, and then crying out.

We rolled across the floor, me on top, side by side, her on top. She clawed at my chest, kissed me, bit. Her nails on my back and shoulders, her teeth in my neck, my ear lobe, tearing at my earrings.

I was on top of her when she came, screaming and choking; I could hear her teeth click together as she tried it bite me, my chest just out of reach.

She squirmed away from me, pushed me, was up and across the room. I followed her, was going to throw her back onto the bed.

“No–wait a second,” she said. Held me off, arm’s length. “Wait–no more–not yet”.

I looked at her; my cock still hard as an iron bar. She looked at it, looked at the wound on my chest. Smiled. “Just a minute–like you said, we have time. I need something first though,” she said. “Go get me something more to drink.”

I found a bottle of Jack that still had a couple fingers left in it, brought it back with me. She had the little leather pouch open on my table when I came back. I could smell something burning, saw a baggie, a little stub of candle burning. A spoon.

I watched her prepare one rig, then another. She smiled at me.

“Let me have that,” she said, reaching for the bottle. I handed it to her, took it back, a couple sips each.

She did me first. Found a vein like a nurse, cleaned my arm with a few drops of Jack, slid the spike in. A dark light began to shine in my skull.

I didn’t watch her do hers. She put her kit away. I took a last swallow of whiskey.

My skin tingled. The skin on my face was hot and tight. My heart tried to gopher its way out of my chest.

“Baby,” I said. Pushed her down. She was starting to sweat. So was I.

I rolled her onto her side, entered her with no foreplay. Heard her gasp. I grunted, pulled out, drove back in. I felt like an animal, Pawed at her breasts, wanting to lick her as I fucked. Wanting to eat her, bite out chunks of flesh.

I slipped my fingers into her cunt along with my cock, then into her ass, licked her taste off. I pressed her into the bed with my body, driving into her, sliding her across the bed, her head banging into the headboard.

She put her hands against the headboard, pushed back, pushed her ass against me as I fucked her, our bodies slapping together. Sweat pouring from my skin. She was slick all over. Sweat and spit were dripping from my mouth, my chin, dripping onto her. I thrust hard, pulled back, lost balance and slipped out, then drove in, hard, entering her ass this time. She screamed as I thrust. There was blood on my cock when I slipped out, drove into her cunt. “Yes! Fuck! Yes” She was screaming into a pillow, then sobbing as I drove back into her ass. She kicked me, twisted, and squirmed away, crying now, hair in her face, her eyes crazed. I went after her as she rolled off of the bed, tried to get onto her on the floor, but she was slick with sweat and I couldn’t hang on.

Then she was up and across the bed. She was sobbing.

I was up and after her, slower now. She had something in her hand, standing on the far side of my bed. A knife.

It had been in my pants pocket. My jeans, neatly folded under my bedside table. A big tactical folder. A fighting knife with a razor-sharp serrated edge. A knife meant to open fast and do maximum damage quickly.

She snapped it open one handed. Not looking at me. Looking at her own wrist. She raised the knife. She was sobbing.

“Wanton! FUCK! NO!” I screamed, throwing myself at her, trying to slap the knife out of her hand. She screamed wordlessly, slashed at me twice, gashed my forehead and neck. Shallow, but bloody. I slapped again, knocking the big knife from her hand, picked it up. “What the FUCK do you think you’re doing!” I screamed at her. There was blood in my eyes from the forehead slash.

“Damn you! DAMN YOU!” She screamed back, grabbed for the knife, almost getting it. Her hand coming away bloody. She slapped me, punched, clawed at the gash in my forehead. I saw stars, lost track, then realized she had the knife; I’d dropped it. She backed away; I lunged. She slashed me across the stomach. Not much on it, I think she just meant to ward me off, but the knife left a razor-line above my navel that opened and bled as I moved.

She kept backing up, screaming at me, words jumbled together; “Staythefuckback, I’llfuckingdoit!”

She turned the blade in, pressed it to her abdomen, just above her pubic bone. Edge up, like a samurai ready for seppuku, about to disembowel herself. The tip of the knife dug in, trickles of blood running down into her pubic hair.

I lost my mind. The mental image of her beautiful belly torn open and spilling guts sent searing white light through my skull. I was moving before I could think or speak. All my high school football skills came back, muscles remembering. I hit her like I was sacking a quarterback, all fast-twitch-muscle movement, taking her down as quick and hard as possible, slamming her to the floor, driving breath out of both of us.

I came up off her, terrified I’d driven the knife in; saw blood, but I’d just raked it across her hip sideways. Parallel furrows from the serrated edge were carved into her like tilled rows in a field, oozing droplets of blood from groin to hip.

The knife was beside her. She was clutching her gut – I’m not sure she knew the knife hadn’t gone in. I grabbed the knife, flipped it away, heard it stick in the doorframe with a solid thunk.

She was sobbing. So was I. I got my arms around her, pressed her to me. Then we were kissing, sliding to the floor. And then we were fucking again, my cock inside her, her arms around me. I was above, dripping blood from several cuts onto her breasts, her face. She was licking it from her lips, moaning my name.

“I love you, Wanton, I love you, I love you” I was moaning as I came, the orgasm like jets of fire through my gut, my balls, my cock. I pulled out, still coming. She had a hand on her clit, rubbing herself, coming with me, gasping, thrashing, blood and come all over her belly.

We came to a shuddering, sobbing halt, moaning, hurting, bleeding. Our faces were pressed together, breath mingled. She rolled me over, pushed off of me. Kissed me once, quickly, then she was up and struggling into pants. I tried to get up, couldn’t.

“NO!” she said, then commanded, ”Stay down!”

She was leaving, I realized. Going away, again. I started to get to my feet, screaming at her to stop, wait, not to go.

She had my bat in her hand, waving it at me, screaming something, telling me again to stay down. I didn’t.

She swung the bat with both hands as I came off the floor. I tried to get an arm up, missed, felt the bat connect with my skull with a resounding crack. I saw a brilliant flash and then blackness. There was a roaring in my ears. I went face down into the carpet, almost stayed there.

I heard some door bang open in some apartment far away. She was leaving.

I tried to push myself up from the floor–I was nailed, bolted down.

She was going away.

Suddenly I was up–not sure how. The room was a blood-red tilt-a-whirl.

Then I was out the door onto the balcony, vertigo whirling me in all directions. I reeled towards the stairs. I could hear her footsteps–or maybe my head clanging. I hit the stairway, was down half a flight, then stairs came up to meet my face and I was sliding, rolling.

Up again, now on the ground floor; my bare feet slipping in something dark and wet on the pavement. I couldn’t tell if it was blood–everything I could see was red. I was sprinting. I could see her at the gate, fumbling with the latch; I was almost on her, then she was through, gate closing behind her–running, looking back at me. I slammed into the gate, screaming her name.

Then I was listening from down inside a dark well; someone else screaming in my voice that he loved a girl named Wanton.


I woke in a very bright, very white place. An old, ugly woman was saying something nice about my tattoos.

I had no idea where I was, or what I was doing there. My head seemed to have giant vice-grips squeezing it. When they asked if I knew my name, or what year it was or who was president, I didn’t know. Or maybe just didn’t care. I gradually figured out that I was in a hospital, and the nice, ugly woman was a nurse. After a while she went away and another one came back, this one younger, prettier, with dark eyes and a name I couldn’t pronounce.

They kept at me for a while, poking me with things and looking in my eyes. They asked me a lot of questions. I got bored after a while and started making up hallucinations to tell them about.

I was concussed, they told me later, had a broken bone on my forearm and a count of stitches in the high double digits. I was lucky, they told me, that my skull had not been fractured.

I’m not sure who had found me and called an ambulance; I never found out. They found me stark naked, unconscious and bleeding on the patio by the gate.

Two police had come to talk to me once the people in white coats finished their probing. A burly white guy with a brush cut and a pretty Mexican woman who looked great in her uniform. They wanted to know what happened to me. “Walked into a door,” I told them. They didn’t seem very pleased with that, and even less pleased when I asked the lady cop for her phone number.

I checked myself out the next day–or rather, I left, I don’t know if I actually checked out or if I just stole some scrubs and walked away. My memory of it is still a little confused. I didn’t go home. I couldn’t stand the thought of being there. Had the cab take me to my friend Johnny’s house, had Johnny pay for it when I got there. His wife wasn’t thrilled when a big tattooed man in bandages and hospital scrubs showed up on the doorstep; she took me in all the same. She’s used to big tattooed men.


The tattoo machine buzzed. Gentle, a light hand. It didn’t feel right, it needed to hurt more.

I opened my eyes. Saw Patrick, reflected in the mirror above his tattoo station. He was bent in concentration behind me as he tattooed my back.

Wanton’s drawing was taped to the mirror. The heart with the razor.

Patrick dipped the needle–real ink this time. Blood red, like her hair.

“You OK?” he asked me.

“Feel like a hundred bucks, Patrick,” I said.


I was at Johnny’s house for a few days before I could face anything. Slept a lot, ate. Watched TV. Swallowed a lot of pills–legal ones, this time. The pain in my head started to get better. Eventually Johnny’s wife stopped waiting on me and started asking me to do chores.

I was gradually starting to piece together what had happened to me; I remembered almost none of it at first. As things came back, I starting to consider the possibility that I hadn’t gotten the worst of what had happened.

Eventually, I went home to find the mess not as gory as I’d feared, though the carpet was a total loss, as would be my deposit. Someone had locked up the door, after the action was over. Most of Wanton’s clothes were still scattered around the room. The pistol was gone, which seemed OK to me.

There’s a yuppie espresso joint across the street from my apartment that still has a payphone out front. I called Patrick from there after cleaning up a little. People were looking at me like I was a circus freak; I think I still looked like I’d been hit by a train. I dialed the shop’s number from memory a couple times before the memory was right.

I had to wait a long time for Patrick to get on the phone. I started to get a really bad feeling as I waited.

“She’s dead, Matteo,” he said with no preamble.

I stared at the payphone. Took the receiver away from my face, looked at it. Hearing the words but not really understanding them. Put it back to my ear.

“She’s dead. It was a car accident.”

She’d been on the way home. From my house–Patrick didn’t know that part, I told him later, where she’d been that night.

She’d been driving too fast; they figured she was on something. They weren’t sure; there hadn’t been enough left to autopsy.

The car had spun out on a curve, hit something. There’d been skid marks, like she had been trying to stop, maybe. They were not sure. The car flipped, went down a ravine. The gas tank had exploded, the car had burned. The highway patrol didn’t find it for a couple days after it happened.


Patrick wiped ink from my skin with a tissue, studied the tattoo, re-inked the needle and continued.


There hadn’t been a funeral. There wasn’t really much left to bury. They’d cremated what was left, which seemed redundant. There’d been a wake, but I didn’t go.


We were filling in her name where she’d marked me. Patrick could just see the lines left by her inkless tattoo, her name in script. He was tracing over it. He never asked me why the tattoo had no ink.

The heart and banner went above that. I thought about changing the word to “love”, but decided she wouldn’t have liked that. We were doing it just as she’d drawn it – Broken.

I’d asked Patrick to steal a pinch of the ashes, before they’d been disposed of. We’d mixed it into the red ink. Patrick had wanted to add her real name to the tattoo–but I’d stopped him. Stopped him even telling me what it was.

“She doesn’t have any other name, Patrick. Not for me. Not here,” I said, fist against my heart.

She’s in me forever though, I thought, wishing I could trade; wishing it were me in a little cardboard box somewhere, her here getting the tattoo with my ashes mixed in. Wishing it were me, in her skin forever.

I looked at Patrick as he tattooed me. Tears were running down his cheeks.