PARK STREET CAFÉ
Paragraphs for Grownups
by Mark Aster
"Look at those four."
"There's anyone else in the place?"
"What about them?"
"Watch them for a minute."
Ordinarily he doesn't stare at customers, but these four, two men and two women, seem unusually benign. There's certainly something about them, but he can't say what. Not supermodels, for sure.
"So what do they make you think of?"
What do they make him think of? They look happy, relaxed. Something about the ways their eyes linger on each other.
He pulls her close against his side. "About closing the place early and taking you upstairs." He puts his face in her hair and takes a long breath.
"Yeah," she says, and kisses him, "that's just what I meant."
Often, especially when he's away from home, sleeping in a strange hotel, he thinks about the woman under his bed.
Sometimes she is very small, small enough that she can walk around, moving from room to room in a comfortable apartment where each room's floor is at a slightly different level from all the others, where the ceilings are the springs of the bed he sleeps in.
Sometimes she is full-sized, lying placidly on the floor with her eyes closed, on her back with her arms at her sides and her head slightly turned. Dust in her hair.
When he moves, under the sheets, she moves in the same way, bending her arms when he bends his arms, moving her legs when he moves his.
Usually she goes about her business, walking in her apartment or moving in her sleep, without taking any notice of him. But sometimes, when he is just at the edge of sleep, she will whisper to him things that he needs to know.
When he was very small, he had an old matchbox that he kept a few things in, a marble, some scraps of paper. But he also remembers, and although it's an odd memory he's sure it's a real one, that he kept a woman in the box also, among the papers. She looked just like Miss Connelly, his art teacher, but much smaller. And she had nothing to wear but a pair of purple stockings.
Vin went on a long business trip, and the first night he was gone, after the kids were asleep, she watched a movie, an "Unrated" movie, on one of the late-night channels, and was surprised at how aroused she felt during the love scenes.
The next night she surfed to the Adult channels, and masturbated for almost two hours, to rhythmic New Age music and images of bare flesh. The dialogue, the dirty parts of the dialogue, shocked and entranced her; every bad word made her heart beat faster.
"Do me, honey," she thought to herself, moving her fingers down between her thighs, thinking of Vin's hands on her body, "oh baby oh yes fuck me now!"
She changed the sheets every morning.
"So do you think we have free will?" I asked Monty, who was over on one of the lounge chairs, necking with Felice. He had his hands under her bikini top, kneading her tits, and her tongue was in his mouth. He didn't say anything.
I was lying on my back on a couple of towels, thinking about free will and stuff, and feverish Justine was licking my chest and kissing my collarbones. She'd taken off her suit, and her big brown nipples poked at my stomach. I felt the blood flowing into my cock.
"I mean," I said, "do we have a choice about what we do, or is it all like planned out in advance?" Justine sucked my left nipple into her mouth and ran her tongue over it, back and forth. It felt really good, and I stopped talking for a minute, twining my fingers through her dirty hair and pressing my leg in between her thighs. Her skin was sweaty and her pubic hair was thick and tangled; her leg muscles squeezed my thigh.
Felice slipped off the bottom of her suit and spread herself open on the chair, and Monty dove in to lap at her pussy. She lay back and sighed, holding her knees. If there's a God, I thought, did he know from the beginning that Felice would love being eaten out, that Justine would be lying on top of me, her skin burning hot, licking at my belly button and feeling me up through my trunks?
My cock was big and hard now, and Justine pulled down the waistband enough to let it out. She squeezed it with her fingers while her lips sucked at my left hip, pulling my skin far into her mouth. I'd be covered with hickeys tomorrow. Her tongue started licking at my cock, and Monty had his shorts off and was holding himself up over Felice, rubbing his stomach over her wet crotch. "God, Monty," she said, panting, "just fuck me already, just fuck me!"
Monty groaned as his staff slipped into the girl's cunt, and at the same time Justine took me into her mouth, her lips sucking me in and her tongue stroking the glans and the tender thin skin. I groaned and bucked against her. Did she have a choice, did I have any choice but to lie there fucking her head and listening to Felice and Monty grunting on the lounge chair? If you started the universe over, would it all happen the same way again? If I wanted to, could I pull Justine's mouth off of my cock, turn her onto her back and fuck her pussy, her ankles crossed over my ass and my tongue deep in her mouth? I didn't know. I still don't know.
There's a woman in a long skirt sitting on the thick stone railing of the bridge, with a notebook, or maybe a sketch-pad, and a pencil.
She writes something on the paper, and then tucks the pencil behind her ear and starts tearing tiny pieces off of the paper, one at a time, and dropping them down into the river. Some pieces she crumples up even smaller before she drops them, some she just drops; those float a little before they hit the water.
After awhile she stops the tearing and dropping, and writes again. And then she tucks the pencil behind her ear and starts the tearing and dropping again.
I shouldn't stand here staring at her.
There was this really lovely woman in the café this morning, eating by herself. She was wearing a loose jacket over a blue blouse, and a wool skirt.
I went over and sat next to her in her booth, once I'd finished my eggs, and she smiled at me, and I put my hand on her thigh. While she drank her coffee, I slipped my fingers under her skirt, just to feel her skin through her stockings. She pressed her legs together, trapping my hand there between them, and rubbed her thighs back and forth around my fingers. It was a wonderful feeling, silky and fleshy and warm.
Before I got up to go, I kissed her fingers.
Actually, I just sat and looked at her from my booth; I didn't do any of those things.
But I thought about them.
He put his briefcase down by the door and sat down on the couch with his legs out, stretching. She came out of the next room in her thick white robe, her hair up in a towel, walked to him and sat down in his lap facing him, straddling him, with that new fire in her eyes.
Without speaking, she took his head in her hands and kissed him long and hungrily on the mouth.
"You're amazing," he said, coming up for air.
"You know why?"
"Because you're overwhelmed by my macho pheromones?"
"Because of your extensive training in the ways of love while you were a harem-girl in Arabia?"
With her mouth very close to his, her hands on his cheeks, her robe coming open, she whispered to him. "Because, as doctor goddamn Anson says, I'm one of the lucky fraction of patients in which clinical depression responds to a simple course of medication," and before he could say anything back she kissed him again, another long searching kiss, her tongue sliding into his mouth and along his teeth.
He felt his penis swelling in his clothes, her legs against his; he imagined he could feel the lips of her vulva opening between her thighs, through his pants.
"You're still my same lovely Ruth, though," he whispered to her mouth.
She drew back, her mouth a crooked smile and her eyes full of that new fire.
"No, I'm not.
"That Ruth that you fell in love with, that you were so good to all those years; that's not me."
She smoothed a whisp of hair back from her face with one hand. "How do you feel about that?"
His mouth opened and closed and opened. He felt again that incredible freedom, to say whatever he wanted, to speak to her face. "I don't know what the hell to say about that."
She smiled wider, leaned forward and ran her upper teeth down his nose. Whispered again. "Tell me that I'm hot, and that you want to have sex with me!"
"You're incredibly hot, and I want to have sex with you."
She leaned back and opened her robe, gave him her breasts one after the other to suck. Then she took his hand and led him into the bedroom.
I want to know what she has in her pocket.
I really want to know.
"Nothing at all, dear."
But I really really want to know...
They were all nervous, sitting on the two sofas pushed close together in Megan's livingroom. They had some wine. Fragments of talk started, led to quick laughter, stopped again.
Megan began things, sitting facing Tod, looking down at her lap, and undoing the buttons on her blouse. Tod swallowed and watched her hands.
Vin looked over at Ruth, meeting her eyes for a moment, and reached across and touched the front of her shirt. The buttons came undone easily; the top button by her throat, the next one, the next one. He could see the edges of her bra. She leaned forward.
He touched her cheek tentatively, looking up at her. She smiled, almost laughing, as he put his face close to hers. He could smell her perfume, light and flowery. He kissed her lightly and awkwardly. Her lips were dry.
She giggled again, softly, her body shaking a little, when he slipped his nose around to the other side of hers, touched his mouth to her lips again. Her eyes were closed. Slowly, her lips softened. She tilted her head the other way, put her hands to his hair, and her mouth began to open.
He lost himself in kissing Ruth, in her hands on his neck and his shoulders, in the closeness of her body. Kissing her, he stroked her back, and rumpled her shirt, and finally moved his hands up from her waist and weighed her breasts as her tongue ran over his teeth.
Finally she leaned back, her eyes still closed and Vin's hands on her chest. On the other sofa, Tod and Megan had taken off all their clothes, and were sitting close to each other; Megan's hand was in Tod's lap, very slowly squeezing his penis.
Vin licked his lips and looked at Ruth. He reached down for the zipper of her slacks.
She kisses me again.
I try to say something, but she twines her fingers tighter in my hair and kisses me again, sliding her tongue between my lips and into my mouth.
Her legs are apart, she's pushing her pelvis against me through our clothes. Her mouth is hot and open.
All right, if that's what she wants, I won't tell her.
I like the words that describe us as verbs.
What do you mean?
Like there are lots of "lookers", but a man's only got one "main squeeze".
And you like that?
So are you a looker, or a squeeze?
That depends who's asking, doesn't it?
She wanders the halls at night (isn't it always night?). She died a long time ago; she barely remembers anything before. But something of her body is still with her, and she feels something like muscles moving.
Sometimes when there is a man in one of the beds in the long brown rooms, and the man is sleeping, she will go to him and lower herself down onto him, her invisible ephemeral self, and move slowly up and down, crooning to herself and willing some connection, some touch. Playing her mouth and her breasts over him, his cheeks, his chest, his hips.
Sometimes, from the unfelt pressure of her body, her lips working insubstantial, air and nothingness, his flesh will respond and rise (or is it only a dream, a dream brought by the memory of her warm moist living flesh, or a dream that would have happened even without her?).
Then she raises herself up, parts her thighs around him, takes him into herself, into the misty nothingness of herself, and rides him, rides him gasping unheard in that night with the scratchy jazz playing on the radio and her ghost-head tossed back invisible, for a long long time, trying to remember release.
Sometimes, he comes.
And almost, she feels something.
At the very top of the peak, he stood on the biggest rock he could see, pointed his toes, and reached his hands far up above his head. Stretching every muscle available, he closed his eyes, let the air wash gently over him, and tried again to stop thinking about sex.
She slips the rumpled tank top over her head, down her arms, back on. It tumbles eagerly down to cover her breasts.
"You going to wear that again?"
"It got, you know, juices on it."
She smiles and looks down at herself. There are little dark spots here and there on the cloth, one larger blotch just above her stomach.
"Look at that!"
She's such a goddam slut.
Hell yeah, you can see it in her eyes.
That's funny; Ferrah Gregor was just saying what a nice girl she is, how she wished Penny was more like her.
Tah! She's never seen her down on her knees behind the counter with some guy's dick in her mouth.
Never seen her leaning forward with her shirt open and a couple of highschool boys sucking on her nipples, their spit all over her skin and their hands kneading her tits.
Never seen her with her panties off, on the floor with her legs spread, servicing every man who comes by, taking them into her pussy and laughing and screaming when they shoot into her, and kicking her legs and cursing when she comes.
The damned slut.
Have you seen all that?
Shit, you can see it in her eyes.
It's foggy outside; people appear and vanish softly behind the windows of the café.
Cindy's just taken the dark-haired woman's order, and now she's standing there, holding her pad, smiling and not saying anything.
Teresa, dark-haired Teresa in her sweater and slacks, is looking back at her.
Both of them are breathing, comfortably, without thinking about it. Without noticing.
The juke-box is playing Ani Difranco's cover of "Amazing Grace". Quite loudly. Cindy put it on just before she came over to Teresa's table.
If you look carefully, you can see that Cindy's hips, in the skirt and the pink apron, are swaying to the beat of the music.
That little metal thing has fallen down under the head of the bed again, and she's down there on the floor by the side of the bed, reaching under and trying to get it. It's just barely too far away for her to grasp, and she's stretching and grunting and starting to curse.
She is, of course, completely naked.
I am enjoying this very much.
But maybe I should help her.
I really want her fingers inside my pussy, her mouth sucking on my nipples, but she's tense, she's needy, she has something tight inside her that needs unwinding, so I'm here in this very warm dimness under the sheet, with my hands on her thighs and my tongue feeling for her clit. Her thighs are strong and smooth, and I love touching them. I also love the taste of her, the texture of her pussy-lips against my mouth, the way she bucks when I push my fingers into her. She'll come soon.
I really want to push my cock into his ass, pin him down on the bed under me and stroke into that tight ring of muscle and fuck him, but he's needy tonight, he needs holding and stroking and sucking, so I'm here beside him on the rug with my head down at his hips, and his cock is hot and hard in my mouth. My fingers make a circle at the base of it, just above his balls, and I squeeze him and pump him with them while I suck him and tongue the head, because he likes that, and he starts to writhe and his legs tense up. He'll come soon.
I think at some point in your life you start to realize that you aren't going to get to do everything that you ever dreamed of doing, and to stay sane and happy you have to start being glad that somewhere in the world someone is doing each of those things.
I like to sit at a corner table in the café sometimes, eating breakfast, and watch the people coming and going, talking and hugging and once in awhile raising their voices. I also like to sit at the counter sometimes, closer to the action. I flirt with the waitress; she's very pretty. I think it amuses her. She knows I don't mean anything by it. Or maybe she doesn't notice at all; lots of people probably try to flirt with her.
It makes me happy.
Given how little time he has, how little time they have, he cannot understand her silence.
"I want to write a novel," she said, kicking off her shoes.
"You already wrote a novel," he replied, taking off his shirt.
She undid her hair and shook it loose around her shoulders. "I want to write a novel that you can read either way."
"Either way?" He came up behind her, pulled her body back against him, began unbuttoning her dress.
"Starting with the first chapter and going forward," she relaxed in his arms, "or starting with the last chapter and going back." He nibbled on her neck and slipped the dress off of her shoulders.
"But isn't a novel all about development?" he asked, stroking her small conical breasts through the white brassiere. She pulled out of his grasp, turned toward him, and unsnapped his pants.
"It'll be hard. Things will have to look like development whichever way you read them." She smiled at the bulge in his boxers, and slipped her fingers up through one leg-hole to tickle the furry sac. He put his arms under her shoulders and hoisted her up to kiss.
"That sounds tough," unhooking her bra and pushing the straps off of her shoulders, "you have great shoulders." He bent his head and kissed her shoulders and her neck and her chin, his hands came up to cup her breasts and squeeze the stiffening nipples.
"Having read all but the last chapter, the last chapter has to be resolution; but having read all but the first chapter, the first chapter has to be resolution." She took a step back and hooked her thumbs under the waistband of her panties. He took off his boxers.
"Can you do that?" He followed her to the bed, and she turned and lay back on the blanket and spread her legs.
She smiled and opened her arms. "I can do anything. Think how rich and ambiguous and strange it will have to be. Ooooohhh..." His tongue teased her nipples, and his body pressed hers down into the bed. They kissed for a long time, her hands stroking his back and his bottom.
"I look forward to reading it," he whispered in her ear, reaching one hand down between them.
"I'll be sure to oooooo --" but then she stopped talking, because he was inside her, and he was kissing her again, and everything was just right.
The woman with the suitcase waved and went out the door, and for the moment the place was empty. Cindy went and stood in the doorway, letting the sun warm her skin and breathing the rain-fresh air.
He came out from the kitchen and stood next to her, looking out at the street and putting his arm around her waist.
"Excuse me, sir, I believe your hand is upon my bum!"
"It's a most excellent bum, madam."
"We can't fuck right now, you know," she said, smiling up into his face.
"Can't fuck right now, because someone might come in and need to be served."
"Uh, I --"
"But after we close up and wash everything, then we can go upstairs, and you can undress me, and then we can get into bed and fuck. If you want?"
She let him stand there failing to speak for a heartbeat or two, then she laughed and took him by the ears and kissed his mouth, pressing her body up against him. He held her, held her lips against his, her body against his, and closed his eyes.
When she talks like that, saying "fuck" right out there in public, he is confused, embarassed, helpless. But also deeply excited.
She sits looking out the café window at the street, slowly drinking her coffee. She's not late yet, but still she feels guilty to be sitting there, doing nothing.
A man passing on the sidewalk turns and looks through her window, into her face, directly into her eyes. She opens her mouth, but without meaning to say anything. He is gone an instant later. She wonders if he saw her there, or if the window just showed him his own reflection.
To be naked under a sheet, in a bed not your own, is to be terribly vulnerable. He lies with his eyes closed and tries not to shiver, listening to her moving around the room, jars opening, listening to her stockings rubbing together between her thighs, the rustle of her clothing.
When he opens his eyes she is standing there beside the bed, above him, regal in the pale light, smiling and holding the syringe.
"Now this won't hurt much," she says. He tries to imagine her where he is, naked under the sheet, but her lipstick is too red, too perfectly applied.
She reaches down and touches his shoulder.
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