You are fascinated by religion from a very young age. Your parents do not go to church, or say grace or do anything religious at home, but your mother insists that you go to church, first with your older sister to the Lutheran church where she was confirmed, and later to the little Episcopal church only a block up the street. Your mother is full of stories of the days when she used to sing in the choir of a church very like yours, and she comes to every church supper and bazaar although not to the services.
The beauty of church, the silk vestments, the candles and incense, the language of the Prayerbook, the music of the hymns, makes a deep impression on you, one that will last a lifetime. When you discover a Bible at home, not a child’s Bible with a few words and many pictures but a proper Revised Standard Version, you read it with the same curiosity you bring to books about Hinduism and Greek mythology and ancient Egypt and the Mayas. And you discover in it more poetry, more memorable language–language that makes your face grow hot, makes you shift guiltily in your seat, the kind of language that you never expected to find in The Bible.
O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!
For your love is better than wine….
As an apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love.
How graceful are your feet in sandals,
O queenly maiden!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
the work of a master hand.
Your navel is a rounded bowl
that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat,
encircled with lilies.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle.
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is cruel as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
The word “erotic” is not yet in your vocabulary, nor do you connect these shocking words with the paintings of a blond-haired, blue-eyed, half-naked Jesus in your child’s Bible, Jesus being baptized, Jesus on the cross, his muscular arms and chest and belly exposed, and the curious feelings those pictures evoke from you, the sense that there is maybe something vaguely wrong with those feelings.
The connection comes a few years later, as you listen to one of the seven Good Friday sermons your rector offers, on the Seven Last Words of Christ. What dear old Father F. said then fades from your memory, but not your reaction: The thought that Jesus could be like your boyfriend. You are only twelve or thirteen, and the notion of “boyfriend” barely has any sexual ideas attached, yet the thrill is there, the same thrill that attended your discovery of the Song of Solomon, the erotic secret hidden in the heart of the Scriptures. The connection between the erotic and the spiritual has been made, and it will never go away.
You know as a little girl, in kindergarten, in first grade, that you have feelings in your body that don’t have a name. Your grandmother calls the place between your legs, the place where some of those feelings live, your suzie. That is not your name for it, but you don’t have another one.
Once when your mother sees you scratching between your legs, because it’s itchy, she says, “Soap and water will cure that, you know.” “It itches,” you respond, indignant. Her words and your indignation will stay with you for four decades.
Like many children,you have an imaginary friend. His name is Jim, and he has brown hair and brown eyes. He is quiet and serious, doesn’t talk much, and lets you lead the way on the adventures you have together in places only you can see.
Your friends are mostly boys, although you are not a tomboy. You don’t think of yourself as being different from other girls, it’s just that the boys like Batman and Star Trek and Lost in Space, just like you. You also like some, though not all of the boys in ways that have to do with those feelings you don’t have a name for. There is one boy in particular in first grade that you think about a lot away from school, when you are falling asleep. Later, you will watch the blond boy and the Chinese boy who are friends, always side by side, and think how handsome they are and have a crush on them both at the same time, together.
It takes a while for you to wonder if you do have feelings that other girls don’t have, that women don’t have. You already know that you are different from the average; you’ve been advanced from first grade to second, and you’re in the third grade reading group. It’s not the last time you’ll be allowed to jump ahead in school and then wonder where you are in the rest of your life.
A Tale of Nouveau Montmartre
“Now, you’ve watched yourself fingerdreaming, and you’ve watched me, and we’ve done it together. Time for another step in your training. This is my friend, Josephine.”
Jerome gaped up at her, obviously struck by a woman nearly as tall as Fionn, and then gave her his very best “gotta love me” smile. Josie flashed her eyes at Fionn and returned the boy’s smile coolly. “Hello, Jerome. You can call me Josie, if you like.”
Fionn tugged at the boy’s sleeve, and he sank down beside Fionn, not taking his eyes off Josie. He’d seen plenty of naked women so far, of course, but seeing them casually naked in the gym, the baths, in class, was not the same as watching a fully trained, experienced female Courtesy stripping for him–and Josie was definitely putting on the show. Fionn hadn’t done anything more than set up the appointment, which was standard training, and he’d wondered how she would handle it. Would she go formal or casual?
Formal it was, and no doubt the boy needed it. She was dressed in shimmering layers of white, gauze and crystal beads and fringe that parted and closed and parted again. Her dark skin gleamed, and the scent of her signature perfume was strong, amber with undertones of patchouli and musk. Every Courtesy was trained to undress and dress again in a pleasuring, alluring manner, but not every sod could carry it off like Josie, who’d trained as a dancer for over a decade before coming into the life. Even Fionn was still impressed when she raised one leg straight in the air, her knee just about touching her ear, and stood perfectly balanced while she unsnapped her sparkling garter and rolled the stocking up and off.
She didn’t take it all off, of course. A stocking here, a scarf there, a few layers let to slither away with a whisper of crystals, and enough glittering white left against her sleek dark skin that it seemed to glow. She sat down at the foot of the chaise longue, and the fringe that was all that covered her thighs parted, just so, to let them see her pussy. Jerome’s lips parted, interested, and then his eyes lifted, just as they were supposed to, to watch Josie unwrap her turban. That was the best part of the undressing, the way Josie did it. As if you knew, after all, what pussy and tits would look like underneath the glitter, but a woman’s hair, now, that was unpredictable. Josie’s hair was unpredictable, for certain. She’d gone at times from knee-length locks to half an inch of dark bronze fuzz. Fionn was almost as spellbound as Jerome as her fingers peeled away layers and layers of white, fine as the skin of an onion.
Her braids unwound in a spiral, a galaxy of red and amber stars–bits of garnet and of amber woven into the lengths of hair. Jerome’s mouth formed an “O”, and if he hadn’t been aroused before, he was now, poking up in his loose trousers. Fionn crooked a smile. He’d been afraid, at times, that the boy didn’t respond to women well enough; this test was laying those fears to rest. With a smile that justifiably bordered on smug, Josie lay back on the chaise and spread her legs.
A Tale of Nouveau Montmartre
He always brings me champagne. Real champagne, that is, sparkling white wine made in a particular place on Earth, the fields of northeast France. Of course we make perfectly good champagne here, good enough to be exported to Earth, in fact, but there’s a certain charm to drinking the original, the eponymous itself, and a very great charm to how much it costs Beal to purchase a bottle of the best and transport it here to Nouvelle Terre. I’ve trysted with half a dozen virgins this week and charged none of them more than ten credits for my time; I surely don’t regret it, but I *am* a whore, after all, and it pleases my vanity to have people spend extravagantly on me.
Beal does, and I am extravagant with him in return.
He brings the champagne, vacuum-chilled; I provide the traditional bucket of crushed ice, the finest goblets, the pure beeswax candles already burning, the slow jazz playing. He comes from his hotel room twenty floors up in his best high-collared suit buttoned up to the chin, his hair sleeked back in the fashion of rich men from Titan, his shoes so highly polished I could shave by my reflection in them. I await him in nothing but a robe, fine cashmere wool over freshly depilated skin because cashmere on skin is a feeling he loves. I am just this side of itching, but it makes my arousal keener, and when I want to scratch, I just think of how much he’s paying for this visit.
The door chimes and I hurry to answer it, then pause before raising my hand to the plate. It opens, and the light outside turns from green to rose. “Hello, Beal.”
His arms are full of roses and the champagne. I rise on tiptoe to stretch past the bundle and kiss him. As always, he’s trembling a little. I don’t know if Beal has a lover, a permanent partner–a Courtesy doesn’t ask–but I’m certain he never sees another courtesan, here or anywhere else. He always seems both shy and eager when he comes into my studio, his arms full of gifts, and I press my lips to his. He trembles as if he’s never been kissed.
The roses go into a deep blue vase; the champagne is carefully removed from the vacuum box and placed in the ice bucket, where it will warm up a bit before we drink. I putter around, lighting a few more candles, bringing up the volume on the music, and turning up the thermostat, before I pour us each a glass. I raise my glass and wait for Beal to propose the toast.
“To recreation,” he says, and gulps the fizzing golden liquid.
“To recreation,” I answer, and take a judicious mouthful. Delicious, dangerous stuff.
We sit down on the couch, Beal still tightly suited up, me in my robe. I stretch out my legs and put my bare feet (toenails trimmed, peppermint lotion) on his thigh. Offer him a practiced seductive look under lowered lashes over the beautiful rim of the champagne glass.
Beal unbuttons two or three buttons on his collar. “It’s good to see you again, Dermot. How have you been?”
“Busy,” I say, quite honestly. “I recorded a disc of improvisations at the end of last season, gave three poetry readings in three decans, read two manuscripts of student poetry, and have been up to my eyebrows in virgins wanting me to initiate them.” I sipped my champagne and laughed. “Virgins are so delightful.” As I expected, he blushes; I suspect Beal was a virgin to men the first time we trysted, although he never said. “And you? how’s the business?”
Beal opens a few more buttons and gulps more champagne. Be careful, my dear; it’s stronger than it looks. (Rather like me, if I do say so myself.) “Up and down. It’s always up and down. More up lately, I suppose.” He gives me that shy grin I find so appealing. “Or I wouldn’t be coming to see you.”
I smile back. “Your success is my good fortune.” I dig my toes into his thigh and hold out my glass. “And my good fortune is your pleasure. Refill?”
I withdraw my feet to let him get up and loosen the robe while he’s pouring. I’d be hard already from the flirting and the heat in his cheeks, if it weren’t for the damned itchy wool.
His hand is trembling as he pours more champagne. Always so nervous. I’m flattered by the gifts, of course, but I suspect the real reason he brings champagne is to sedate himself, to float past the trembling in his hands, the flush in his cheeks, to the point where he can kiss another man, put those hands on another man’s body. Lovely hands, long-fingered and slim, the nails as carefully manicured as my own. He sits down beside me again, gulps his champagne, and opens another button.
I’d like to reach over and undo them all, down to his trousers, pull aside jacket and waistcoat and shirt until I get to the rank, sweaty flesh underneath, but I can’t. I mustn’t. I know that I must not hurry this patron. I must laugh and sip champagne and give him lingering glances over the rim of my beverage until he has had enough champagne himself to lean over and kiss me. He will, sooner or later. That’s how it works. And then I’ll be the one in charge.
He’s still talking in very oblique terms about his latest trump of a deal when he realizes the champagne is gone. Yes, dear, we’ve absorbed the whole bottle, and a very fine year it was, too. He breaks off in mid-sentence, licks his lips, and darts in for the kiss.
It’s quick and stinging, as if I might run away. As if I weren’t lying here with my feet in his lap, my robe hanging open, my cock waiting alertly against my thigh. In spite of all the champagne, I’m cool and awake–I took a neutralizer earlier, of course–and I taste Beal, not the sparkling beverage: heat, fear, desire. His thin taut lips, his astringent tongue.
His hands move quickly under my robe, over my back, down my spine. I put my glass down without looking and then arc forward into his arms, the itchy cashmere sliding away, my cock and my nipples rubbing the lovely satiny slick of his expensive suit. If he wants me to wear this robe next time, he’ll have to buy me a better one–a cashmere as soft as his suit. He chews ravenously at my mouth, gropes my arse, and lets me pull away his cravat, undo the rest of his buttons, and pet his bare chest with one hand, the ridge of his cock in his trousers with the other.
When Beal gets to his feet, wobbling, that’s my cue to drop the robe. He always seems kind of shocked when he looks at me, like an archaeologist opening up an ancient tomb and finding it full of gleaming gold and precious gems, all its colors vivid after ten thousand years of darkness. I deliberately pose for him, a bent knee and raised hip the ancient Greek sculptors would have approved, and shamelessly stroke myself. Yes, I have a big one and I’m proud of it. It brings the patrons back.
Beal drops to his knees in front of me and starts sucking my cock. He has no skill but a lot of enthusiasm, and I have to get control by backing away, teasingly. He crawls after me, forgetting how wealthy he is, how much that suit cost, and how easy it is for him to have me, any time he wants, forgetting everything except how much he wants me, and I sprawl laughing on the bed and let him trap me, climb up over me and kiss me again.
While he’s kissing me and working his way down to my nipples, I work on getting his trousers open and getting my hands on his prick. It’s quite lovely and I enjoy petting it; Beal likes to be stroked with two hands, to be coaxed forward like a shy kitten. He laps at my nipples; I rub my thumb just under the head and wonder what his prick wants tonight, to be sucked, to fuck me, or to surge helplessly in my hand while I fuck Beal until he weeps.
He often does weep, afterward. I don’t know why.
He surprises me by pulling back. He’s drunk enough tonight that words spill from his lips, angry, filthy words, whore, catamite, hole, pussy, slut. They wash right over me; I have his payment already, and in return, I have something he needs. I am willing to give it.
He rolls me onto my belly–his hands are rough, but still shaking. I don’t look back at him, I hide my face, but I hear the slithering sounds of his clothes falling away or dropping, and then the rattle of his fumbling at the bedside. Will he lubricate me, or just himself? It doesn’t matter; I used a probe to stretch myself and applied lubricant earlier, as a matter of routine. Sometimes patrons want or need to be rough, to fuck in haste. It won’t hurt me, no matter what he does–and if he did lose control, I could get security here in less than two minutes. But he won’t.
There’s a thud that must be the tube of lubricant hitting the rug, and then he’s right between my legs, spreading my cheeks with cold hands. He’s still muttering empty insults, faggot, sissy, cunt. He shoves in fast and deep, glides across my prostate, and I moan with unfeigned pleasure.
“You want to get fucked? You want me to fuck you?”
His accent slips at times like this, just as Fionn’s does–from the high towers of sophistication into some nameless gutter he got out of, some colony he’ll never name. I twist and moan and give him a good show, “Yes, oh, yes, please fuck me, fuck, fuck, fuck,” and actually, I do want it–it feels good. If I didn’t like anal intercourse, I doubt I’d still be in this business. I like fucking, I like being fucked, I like women, I like men–it’s why I’m the toast of Nouveau Montmartre, the most famous Courtesy of my age, I love sex and I do it for pay and it’s why men like Beal come from lightyears away to call me dirty names.
I can’t describe the noise he makes when he comes. It has no words, and it breaks off suddenly as though– He withdraws, and staggers off to the washroom. I clean myself up and arrange myself elegantly on the bed, waiting for him to come back.
He doesn’t come back right away.
When he does, he’s wearing the complimentary patron’s robe. I can smell soap on him. He picks up his suit jacket, shakes it out, and smiles.
“Feel like going out for dinner?”
I smile back. “I’d love to.”
A Tale of Nouveau Montmartre
“That’s all I have to do? wank in front of you?”
The calm and reasonable tone hid how excited Fionn himself was. “Bring yourself to orgasm, yes, here in front of the mirror. Where I can see you, and you can see yourself.” He made himself frown a little. “And Courtesies don’t call it ‘wanking’. We call it ‘fingerdreaming’.”
When he was the boy’s age, he’d have laughed at a poetic euphemism like “fingerdreaming”. Masturbation was a quick rough jerk in a corner, a break between rougher times that lasted longer. Not an artform. But Jerome nodded, obviously enthralled with every little scrap of knowledge, every detail of the Courtesy’s life. He gulped it down and opened his mouth for more, always, like a hungry nestling.
They were sprawled at either end of a couch–or at least Jerome was sprawled, his legs already spread. Fionn was trying to maintain his dignity as the boy curled deft fingers around his outsized cock. Think about something else–think about the couch. Fionn had a peculiar fondness for this old broken couch, covered in rose velvet. The upholstery was stained and the frame was too wobbly to stand a fucking, but it made a lovely spot to lie and dream, to jerk off thinking of the boy when they weren’t training, to take naps between patrons. Lady Willow had given it to him for his first studio, on the day he took the Courtesy’s Vows.
Jerome was stroking himself slowly up and down, watching his hand on his cock in the mirror rather than in the flesh, or closing his eyes. How many times had Fionn been told to open his eyes during this exercise, or to slow down? Slow and not quite rhythmical, Jerome fondled his stiffening prick. The lad was a natural, really–a natural-born show-off, a trait every Courtesy needed. It remained to be seen whether he had the heart and the mind for the work, too.
“That’s good, lad. Very good. Touch yourself just as you like….” Fionn heard his own voice sink to a purr, saw his eyelids growing heavy in the mirror. Wasn’t he supposed to be soothing his student, not hypnotizing himself? But there was no hiding what watching the boy was doing to him, not when his prick was a ridge in his jeans visible even in his reflection. Well, and self-control was part of his job, as a teacher and and as a Courtesy. He could wait. He could wait till later, and spill his spunk on this funky old couch.
Jerome was whimpering now and biting his lip, the hand on his cock moving faster, his other hand shifting restlessly. He smoothed back his hair on one side, pinched one nipple and then the other, cupped his balls, and pushed up his hips. Jesus, the boy was taking so long. How had he got this much stamina already? Little beads of sweat were starting to well up at Fionn’s hairline.
With a high, girlish cry, Jerome came. His back arched, and semen spattered everywhere–on his belly and his thighs, on the long-suffering couch, on Fionn’s knee. He sank back down among the cushions with a ridiculous grin on his face.
“Are you going to get an orgasm, too?”
Fionn managed to reply without stammering or choking. “That’s for another session, lad. Time for you to go wash up and get your weekly massage.”
A Tale of Nouveau Montmartre
“Just stand in front of the mirror.”
The boy pouted and cocked his hip. The line of his back deserved to be sculpted by Praxiteles, or painted by Michelangelo. “I’ve done this before, you know.”
Fionn kept his voice calm and reasonable, the way Xan used to when dealing with unarmed idiots. “Yes, but not with a teacher. That’s different. If you don’t think there’s anything I can teach you, you can just go back to classes with everyone else, right?”
The boy straightened up, his face flushing quickly. Precocious little brat, he was, and so transparent that Fionn couldn’t even feel proud of himself for sussing out that the best way to manage young Jerome McFarlane was to flatter his vanity. The brat thought he was special, so he did. The trouble is that he was likely right.
Fionn gave his new apprentice a minute to look at himself in the mirror. He could catch over the boy’s shoulder the quizzical expression on his face. What am I looking for? The same look that was on every new student’s face at first, sometimes for a long while. He remembered seeing that same look on his own face, young and unfinished and yet already battered and nearly broken. He remembered seeing Lady Willow standing behind him, looking into the mirror with him and not flinching.
He got up and stood behind Jerome. “Relax your shoulders.” He took hold of those slim pale shoulders, felt them ease under the weight of his hands. “Good. Feel that looseness go all the way down your arms, into your wrists, your thumbs. Not too soft, though. There’s tension, and then there’s flab. You don’t want either one. What you want is poise. Good.” Jerome’s hands had come to rest on his thighs.
“Now look at your face. Not just at yourself, but into yourself. Can you stand to look into your own eyes?”
Fionn had not been able to, not for weeks. He and Lady Willow had done this every day, together, until he’d been able to meet his own face, and then her reflection, watching. It wasn’t going to take this boy that long, and he wouldn’t need the treatment in between mirror sessions that Fionn had had, waiting on the Lady as her houseboy and learning pain from her hands, her whip. Young Jerome was an innocent, precociously erotic but emotionally untouched. He was so pure, in some way, that Fionn almost felt guilty about touching him.
Jerome raised his head and looked into his own face, his own eyes. His eyes changed color, Fionn had noticed, depending on how he felt, what he was wearing, what other colors were nearby. At the moment they were distinctly green, like leaves in midsummer. A few very small freckles sprinkled his cheekbones–inevitable, with that red hair and white skin, and all part of the charm. His hair was the color of polished copper, hanging loose and straight not quite to his collarbone. After a moment the puzzled little pucker of his lips and forehead went away, and he seemed to be looking into the glass as if he expected a lover to come forth.
He took Fionn’s breath away.
When the phone rang last night, I knew who it was even before I picked it up.
“Jerome? It’s Martin.”
As if I wouldn’t recognize that those crisp Nordic angles in his voice, just from his saying my name. Even if I didn’t already know he was calling before I picked up, before the phone rang.
“Martin.” I didn’t say anything else, but I didn’t have to.
“I am leaving in about an hour to fly over to the States. I’m coming into Kennedy, but I can be at Friendship by the evening. I want to see you, Jerome. Dinner? Are you free?”
Am I free? That’s a good question. Do I want to see Martin? Do I want to have dinner with him? Can I be available for dinner tomorrow night?
“Yes, I will be.”
“Meet me at the airport, then? There are some new restaurants there I’d like to try.” Only Martin would get a thrill out of dining in an airport mall.
“All right. Call me when you get to Kennedy, can you? and give me an estimate.”
“Of course.” Martin was silent for a moment. I didn’t offer anything. “I’ve missed you, Hieronymus. I’ll call you from New York.”
He hung up. I stood by the phone like I was waiting. For something. I stood there for a while.
This evening I’m riding the light rail to the airport to pick up Martin and have dinner.
Right. Have dinner.
Loneliness Is Stronger
A Tale of Nouveau Montmartre
by Danae Klimt
“Loneliness is the spell, loneliness is stronger….”
–“April in Paris,” Ursula K. LeGuin
Daniel did not like working in the Salon. He
preferred to arrange appointments with patrons who had
read his profile on the nexus and knew something about
him ahead of time, patrons who had the courtesy to
fill out the survey so that he could know something
about them in return. But spending so many hours a
decan in the Salon, available to whomever walked
through the door, was part of the job. Most of the
time, he got a drink and lingered in a corner, or near
the piano if someone he liked was playing. His
contract required him to be there. It did not require
him to tryst with a patron.
It was near the end of his shift and he was inching
toward the exit when he spotted the little man.
A Tale of the Founders of Nouveau Montmartre
George hated Manhattan. Hated it. Hated the scale of it, the streets merely canyons between buildings that shot up over one hundred storeys, their tops bristling with communications hardware. Hated its shiny newness, the bright opaque windows of its skyscrapers, and its fake oldness, the carriage horses plodding through Central Park. The only good thing about Manhattan was that bloody park. He hated it, every inch of it, and all its boroughs, too.
But he needed work, and at the moment he hated the West End more. So he was sitting in one of Manhattan’s innumerable coffee shops, working his way slowly through a stack of papers and flyers in hope of finding something worth auditioning for, and drinking their tolerable espresso, wondering if it was going to snow.
A Tale of Nouveau Montmartre
The breakup was common knowledge, of course. Everything is common knowledge here in our little cloister of harlots. There really aren’t so many of us Courtesies, in proportion to the general populace, and there isn’t much emotional space here, for all the physical space of a hundred storeys. I can’t sneeze without someone on the other side of the tower saying, “Bless you,” even though no one knows any longer why people say that when someone sneezes.
The day I ran into Daniel in the staff dining room, (more…)