Vapor, page 20
“Ben then put me under anesthesia, and I woke up in my house, sitting in a wheelchair, by the phone, my legs missing. Damon was slumped in an easy chair next to me, unconscious. Tagged to his clothing was a note: ‘Don’t know why he hasn’t come to, yet, the wimp.’
“I sat there, in a trance, remembering what had happened to my daughter and unable to move. Finally I called an ambulance for Damon. We were rushed to the hospital. They informed me that I was fine, that the amputation had been done very well. Damon was kept at the hospital, on life support.
“The police tried to find Ben, but he had disappeared and to this day has never been caught. When Damon came out of his coma a month later, he wanted to find Ben, of course. He said his purpose in life would now be to find Ben and kill him. I told him I didn’t want him to. Through much persuasion, I made him promise me to never look for Ben, never go near him. I didn’t want to worry about Damon’s safety. He then said that he would devote his life to helping me. I refused this offer as well, saying I preferred we didn’t see each other, because the sight of him would constantly bring back the tragedy. I told him I would contact him when the memory of what had happened had become less vivid and painful. He left, very upset. It’s been eight years. That was the last time we spoke.”
“And there was never any trace of Ben?”
“No. I’ve been afraid, over the years, that Ben would find out that Damon was the one who turned him in, and that he would again seek revenge. The police and hospital personnel, at the time, agreed not to reveal to the press that Damon had written the letter. But three years ago, a journalist wrote a big piece on me for Soap Opera magazine. He was fascinated with my story, and delved deeply into the case. He spoke to doctors, nurses, and the police. Somehow, he found out that Damon had written the letter, and he mentioned it in the piece. I was worried that Ben would see it and go after Damon. I actually wrote to Damon then, telling him to be careful. He sent me back a postcard saying he was fine, and has continued doing so once a month, ever since.”
Philip and I finished talking in the early hours of the morning. I was to sleep in the guest room, but ended up unable to sleep much at all and wishing I could take a plane back to New York immediately. I was scheduled to leave later in the morning, right after breakfast.
My departure had to be slightly postponed, however, because while we were having breakfast, Philip said, “There’s something I hesitate to bring up.”
“I really hesitate to bring it up, because you’ll think it’s very strange of me.”
“What is it?”
“Well, it’s a favor I’m tempted to ask of you, but if I do ask it, you must absolutely refuse if it’s at all distasteful to you.”
I started feeling tense. “Okay. What is it?”
“I don’t know if I should ask it. It’s embarrassing.”
I wasn’t sure he should ask it either, whatever it was. “Does it have anything to do with Damon or anything we talked about?”
I grew more worried. I picked up my teacup and mumbled into it, “Well, it’s up to you if you want to ask it.”
“Okay, I will ask it, but only if you promise not to let it destroy your opinion of me.”
Beads of sweat formed on my forehead.
“Oh, I’m sorry, you look so uncomfortable,” he said. “Forget I said anything. It’s not important.”
“But just so you don’t imagine terribly perverted things, all I was going to ask is if you wouldn’t mind throwing me off a diving board. That was all. There are so few women I meet who give me the urge to be thrown by them. But it doesn’t matter. Did you inquire about the flights back to New York?”
I felt I had to be polite. Meekly and hesitantly, I said, “I wouldn’t mind throwing you off a diving board.”
“Yeah. But why? What does it mean?”
“I don’t know. And I prefer not to think about it too deeply. It depresses me.”
He got on the phone, and I heard him say, “I met a woman I want to be thrown by. She said she’ll do it. Do you mind if we come over?”
We took a cab to the house of a friend of his, who had a pool. The friend turned out to be Philip’s very good-looking costar, Ron Moss, who played Ridge on The Bold and the Beautiful.
It was a strange sensation to lift half a man. Philip was of course lighter than a whole man. I carried him in my arms and climbed onto the diving board. I felt doubly nervous with Ridge looking on.
I asked Philip, “Do you want to be thrown in head first or—” I was going to say “feet first,” but stopped myself in time. I couldn’t very well say “stump first.” Nor could I say, “genitals first,” even though that’s where he ended. And I couldn’t get myself to say “butt first” either. So I left my question unfinished, which turned out to be fine.
He said he wanted me to choose which end of him I would throw in first, that that was part of the pleasure for him.
So I decided to throw him butt first, which I thought would minimize the damage, in case of a bad throw.
As he fell in, he seemed to relish the moment; he opened his arms wide, as if doing an inverted swan dive.
He then swam toward the edge. Ridge pulled him out of the water and placed him back in his wheelchair.
I flew home having made a decision.
I decided I would set Damon free. Worse than that, I would enter Damon’s cage, to prove to myself that I finally understood him and that he wouldn’t hurt me, kill me, or lock me in the cage. It was also to show him that I trusted him. I wanted us to be friends if possible. I wanted us to be normal people, standing in front of each other out of our own free will. What an interesting sensation it would be, to have a conversation with Damon without one of us being the other’s captive.
When I arrived home, I peeked through the one-way mirror. Damon was jogging in place in his cage. I donned my fencing armor. Before going in, I peeked again through the mirror. Damon was on the floor, doing pushups.
As soon as I entered the room, he got up, panting, and clapped the floor dust from his hands. He glanced around his cage, grabbed some tuna cans and threw them at me. They bounced off my mask. He threw every object he had, including the can opener. Then he plopped down on his bed, tired, and said, “How was your trip?”
“And what aspect of life did it enlighten?” he asked, his hand encountering something hard in his sheets. He uncovered the object: another unopened can of tuna. He threw it at me.
“The aspect I couldn’t understand,” I said.
“That goes without saying. What aspect was that?”
“I’m not in the mood to talk about it right now.”
“Oh? And what mood are you in?”
“I think … I’m in an insane mood.”
I approached the door of his cage and unlocked it. I stepped inside, holding on to the bars to make sure I wouldn’t fall down from fright.
We stared at each other, barely breathing. He looked frozen, and I wondered if he was afraid of me. The possibility made me laugh. Just one laugh: one loud, awkward, nervous, “Ha!” The sound of it was so funny and silly that two more came out of me, equally funny and silly. I held my breath to block the others.
Damon got up and approached me. His hands reached toward my face, and he pulled off my mask.
He gazed into my eyes for a long moment and kissed me.
I didn’t care how insane it was; how sick and embarrassing—not to mention banal and unoriginal, not to mention dangerous—to be kissing your assailant. The only two things that made it slightly less objectionable were that he was my ex-assailant and that I had been his assailant too, since then.
We kissed passionately, and astonishingly lovingly, for two mutual assailants. I was able to forget, for a few moments at a t
Slowly, gradually, we started making love. But we had barely just begun, when I jumped off the bed, grabbed my clothes, and ran out of the cage. He grabbed his clothes and ran after me at a phenomenal rate. I rushed down the stairs and out of my building. He followed me. When we were in the street, we stopped running, got dressed, and I said, “Why are you running after me?”
“I’m not running after you. I was running out of that cage, that room, and your apartment before you had a chance to lock me in again. Why were you running?”
“For the same reason.”
“That doesn’t make sense. I couldn’t have kept you locked in, while going in and out of your building as I pleased. As soon as people found you missing, the first place they would check is your apartment.”
“That’s true,” I said, and was tempted to suggest that we go back upstairs and continue where we left off. But then I came to my senses. “No, actually, you’re wrong. You could find a way to sneak me out of the building and take me back to a cage in some house in the country.”
“Huh, I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Is that supposed to mean you wish you had thought of it because you think it’s a good idea?”
“No. I just meant: huh, I hadn’t thought of that legitimate reason you could have to be afraid of me in your apartment, the same way I’m afraid of you.”
I nodded. We kissed again. Between kisses, I mumbled, “What are we going to do?”
“The options are limited. We could wait till we’re no longer afraid.”
“No! That would take too long. It could take days, or months, or years, or never happen.”
“I know. Even hours would be long,” he said.
It was too cold to stay outside, especially for Damon, who could not wear opaque clothing. So we decided to go to a movie theater. We sat in the back row and continued kissing, never looking at the screen. I felt as if I should be wearing a seat belt.
Amid the kisses, we had a brief exchange.
“Why did you walk into my cage?” asked Damon.
“I had an urge.”
“What brought it on?”
“I always had it, I think.”
“What made you act on it?”
“I’ll tell you one day.”
He kissed me again and slid his hand under the elastic waistband of my skirt. This was not tolerable. Our pitch of frustration became simply cruel. Halfway through the movie, we went to a nearby diner and locked ourselves in the ladies’ room. We did not let ourselves be influenced by movies: we did not make love standing up. We did it on the floor, which was more exciting. The floor of a public bathroom, just large enough to accommodate our horizontal bodies. It was not excessively dirty. It had just the right amount of dirt to add grit to our sex.
We spent a few more hours together that day, during which we mostly rode up and down the city on a bus, because a bus was warm, safely public, economical, and offered varied scenery. On that bus, Damon confessed to having been in love with me from the beginning, but having not wanted to tell me for fear of ruining the effectiveness of his training. I became gloomy at this reminder of my days as a kidnapped person.
He said, “I’m sorry I kidnapped you to make you happy. I know you feel it wasn’t worth it.”
“Even if it was worth it, you had no right to do it,” I said.
We spoke in earnest whispers, so as not to be overheard by the other passengers.
“I know,” he said. “But I wanted to make you happy in a completely selfless way. Beginning a romance with you would not have been selfless. It might have made you happy, but it would have made me happy too.”
“What about when you were in the cage? How did you feel about me then?”
“I loved you at all times. In the cage, I loved you. When I threw cans at you—” He lowered his voice, because an old woman who was within earshot was staring at us with what appeared to be either shock or disapproval. “I loved you.”
“Then why did you throw them at me?” I asked.
“To put on a good show of wanting to be let out. And because part of me did want to be let out.”
“Then why didn’t you just let me know how you felt about me?”
“I didn’t want to impose myself on you. I didn’t want to offer you anything that you didn’t want. On top of it, it’s hard to think of smooth moves to perform from behind bars.” He paused. “Remember, my plan had been to give you what you wanted; not my version of what I thought or hoped you wanted.”
When Damon and I parted that first night, he said he would be sleeping in a hotel, thinking of me, and that he would call me the next morning. We were still afraid of each other.
I hadn’t told him about my visit to his brother Philip’s or about Philip’s desire to see him again. I thought it might cause turmoil or agitation within him, and I didn’t want that to happen; not before finding out how this strange new twist in our relationship would evolve.
That night, it felt lonely to no longer have my pet in his cage. The sight of the empty cage was disturbing, like a fish tank whose occupant had passed away and been flushed down the toilet.
I walked into the cage and touched the things he had touched. I touched the edge of his bathtub. I used his toilet to see what it had been like for him, for weeks, to use that toilet. I took a bath in his tub. I turned on the TV and watched it while sitting on the floor, the way he had. I turned on his cherished cello music with the remote control, and I listened to my ex’s compositions, wondering if listening to them from behind the bars would help them move me the way they had moved Damon. Not really, as it turned out.
I slept in his bed that night.
Damon did call me the next day. We spent it together, again in the safety of publicness, and in bliss. We had sex in three different public places: a fitting room in the men’s section of a department store, a church, and, late at night, between two moving subway cars. A hotel room would have been too risky, not public enough: he could knock me unconscious and sneak me out in a big bag or something. And I could do the same to him, of course, from his point of view.
We saw each other again the next day, and for a while almost every day after that. Always in public. We were extremely demonstrative by necessity; the city was our bedroom.
He would watch me while I finished starring in the big-budget movie, whose last few scenes were being shot in town. We gazed at each other between takes, he standing a ways off, out of the way. It was unsettling to see Damon—my trainer—right there, watching what he had taught me, or rather, what he had forced me to teach myself.
After that first day, we never mentioned our imprisonment of each other. We acted as if it never happened. Understandably, it was a touchy subject.
When our lifestyle seemed too impractical, we tried to reason with each other about our mutual distrust. I tried to persuade him that he had nothing to fear from me.
“I’m the one who opened the door of your cage. Why would I now want to harm you or imprison you again?”
“I can say the same to you. I came into your apartment to find out why you were unhappy, yet knowing it was probably a trap. Why would I want to harm you or imprison you again?”
“Because it was a trap and you might want revenge.”
“Then why did I kiss you when you came in the cage? Why didn’t I just yank you in and lock the door?”
Sometimes we got to a stage in our convoluted conversations where the whole thing felt silly to both of us and it seemed obvious we could trust each other. We would then gingerly head for my apartment, with the intention of taming privacy, but as we got closer, we became more quiet, more anxious, and our steps slowed.
“It doesn’t feel okay,” I would finally say.
“I’m relieved you said it first.”
“And that is precisely why I don’t feel at ease going to your apartment.”
Our discussions on the topic went in infinite circles. And yet we kept having them every time it felt uncomfortable, or seemed like a shame, to lock ourselves in a rest room somewhere.
I still hadn’t told Damon that I knew about his past and had met his brother. I felt guilty about not having told him, and I often had the urge to tell him, and sometimes I was on the verge of my urge, but then I never did, always coming up with some excuse or other: the present excuse was that I wanted to wait until we’d figured out how to tolerate privacy together. Our relationship would then be more solid and more likely to withstand any damage my confession might cause. So I waited.
Progress on the privacy issue only really got going one day when I caught a cold from lying with Damon in the cool spring grass in Central Park. I decided the time had come for things to change.
While Damon was nursing my cold in a deli, making sure I drank my herb tea and ate my chicken soup, I said, “I wish you could nurse me in my apartment.”
“It would be so nice. You could take care of me in my own bed. We could rent movies. You could take advantage of me while I have my fever.”
“Maybe we should try it again, try walking to your apartment and see if we can actually make it upstairs this time.”
“No, we won’t try, because when we try we don’t succeed. We will actually do it this time. But after some preparations. I’ll take down the cage; have it removed. I’ll take the lock off the door to my bedroom. And then we’ll force ourselves to go up, and we’ll stay there, no matter how unpleasant or scary it is to be alone with each other. We’ll stay there until the discomfort wears off. It’ll have to, eventually. Don’t you think?”
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