Ray Shea is a New Orleanian currently residing in Austin. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Northville Review, Ghoti Magazine, The Rumpus, The Whistling Fire, and the anthologies Where We Know: New Orleans as Home, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans, and A Howling in the Wires. He writes fiction and non-fiction, though lately he has been trying not to worry so much about the distinction between the two.
I don’t honestly remember how it started. I guess I only really called her because she was a redhead. Yeah, it was that shallow.
She hid behind the door when she let me in. I could see the curtains drawn, the room lit by candles even though it was the middle of the afternoon. She reached out, pulled me in by the shirt with one hand and closed the door with the other. “C’mere,” she said, and I slipped, fell, melted into her, my hand in her hair, both of us all lips and biting til her head hit the wall, my fingers in her waistband, no belt and her shorts slipped right down to her ankles.
We pulled off each other’s clothes, frantic. I managed to empty my pockets in the process. Phone, keys, wallet, money. The money right out in plain sight, like it was just something I had with me, like it had nothing to do with why I was there.
It didn’t take long for us to destroy the bed, to slide off and crash on the floor. She wanted me to do things. She wanted me to pull her hair. She wanted me to slap her. She wanted to be upside down while I fucked her mouth. Most of all she wanted me to choke her, hard, with both hands, til her face went scarlet and her eyes bulged and her breath rasped in her throat. It scared the fuck out of me, at first. But I did it.
We talked for a long time afterwards, sitting naked on the love seat by the window. We discovered we were both in recovery, me for ages, her for a couple of years. I told her about being a meth addict in San Francisco in the eighties, about losing my kids because of my drinking. She told me about the time she smoked crack in New Orleans, about the road trip to Los Angeles that only made it as far as El Paso, about being stuck there in a Motel 6 snorting heroin with her boyfriend, about losing her kids because of her drinking.
I told her that my parents were alcoholics, which meant I had a fear of abandonment and a compulsion to try to save broken people. She giggled, rubbed the tip of my nose with her finger and said that was the most adorable thing she’d ever heard. And she wrapped her arms around my neck and climbed into my lap and we fucked again, right there on the chair, and she only made me choke her a little bit. It didn’t scare me as much this time.
When I dressed, I put my things back in my pockets. Phone, keys, wallet. The money was gone. I never saw her take it.
I saw her as much as I could after that, not as often as I would have liked but as often as I could afford. Usually we’d meet at a hotel, a different one every time, or maybe at her apartment once in a while when her roommate wasn’t home.
Sometimes she’d call me outside of a regular appointment, just to talk. Her sponsor was a lesbian, and a control freak, so she had to fire her. She was still trying to get her kids back from their dad, and still dealing with probation from an old drug charge. Sometimes I gave her advice, sometimes I just listened. I told her she was beautiful, and smart, and worthy of love. And I thought if I could fix all of her problems, she’d love me back.
The sex settled down from that first day, growing into something passionate yet comfortable, as we learned each other’s tricks and weaknesses. We didn’t break the furniture any more, we didn’t need to. But she always wanted me to choke her. Every time. And I always left the money out in plain sight, and she always took it when I wasn’t looking.
She wasn’t sad the day I told her I was moving away. There was a lot starting to go right in her life. She had her kids back part of the time. She was thinking of getting out of the business. I rubbed my nose on her freckled shoulders, ran my fingers over the peach fuzz at the small of her back, and I lied and told her I wasn’t sad either. I would miss her, but the move was too good of a thing to pass up. We’d keep in touch.
Of course we didn’t keep in touch.
I lost her for a few years, until I moved back home and had a chance to look her up.
When she came to my house, I almost didn’t recognize her. Her hair was buzzed short and bleached white. Our hug was stiff, like strangers being introduced for the first time. She hadn’t brought condoms and told me she could do me bareback for fifty dollars extra. In advance. I shouldn’t have thought that was OK, but I did it all the same. She wouldn’t take off her shirt, her long sleeves held down to her wrists even though it was summer. I didn’t try to choke her, and she didn’t ask.
When we were finished, we laid together in my bed. I tried to snuggle but she kept checking her text messages, only looking me in the eye one time, her pupils vast inky pools blotting out any remnants of blue. I rubbed my nose on her shoulder, ran my fingers up her back and traced the purple outlines on her neck, the bruised handholds of another man.