I’m the one you never see in your daily grind. Coming and going, you pause to notice so many others, but perhaps that’s as it’s meant to be, for I am no one special in the scheme of things. If I told you my name, you would quickly forget. My whole existence would become a fleeting, forgotten shutter-snap in your life’s history of insignificant things. But I am at peace with being a secret, one I keep even from myself, it often seems. Yet there’s a vein of blinding fire that flashes through the center of my being like a bolt of lightning striking down. In my mind’s eye, my footprints leave scorch marks on the ground.
Abel laid the first note on the table beside the second. After four days, the scent of the first had begun to fade and it made him feel like something small had been scraped out from inside him. He’d inhaled the scent deeply – often as he could – in the privacy of his loft at night. The second one had only come the morning before. It was still redolent with a perfume he couldn’t name. He thought the finer something was the less it needed a name. He made a mental note to store the notes in a little, plastic sandwich bag with a zip top.
The envelope had been sitting on his desk, and he’d opened it assuming it had something to do with his job. He’d sat there puzzled…and not a little intrigued…and spent the rest of the day studying women’s faces. Not the beautiful ones he noticed every day, as the note suggested, but the quiet, simple, unassuming women he’d barely realized existed on his daily horizon.
There was the clerk at the convenience store where he snuck out to pick up protein bars. She was tall and almost pretty, but she had this kind of lazy sweetness that turned her into something vaguely ethereal. There was the Congolese girl who worked the newsstand near the entrance to the building. She was dark as midnight and just as stunning. Now and then hints of the scars left by the war she’d survived showed at the edges of her clothes. She was anything but the kind of woman you didn’t notice.
Abel drew blank upon blank and finally gave up.
The second one had been waiting on his desk that morning. As soon as he spotted the envelope he knew what it was. Despite his curiosity, he hadn’t wanted to read it at work, so he tucked it away and brought it home. It was the same perfume. The same loosely extravagant handwriting. While I am nothing much to see on the surface, I have a strange faith this shining vein of gold inside me is something no one who sees could ever forget. I have no reason to believe such a thing of myself, but I do. I am quite plain, which is a far greater curse than sheer ugliness. At least then one exists. Sometimes I think I am like fireflies in an opaque jar where no one ever sees their spark. Someone must open the lid and set them free. You yourself are a pretty enough thing, but it seems you don’t see this, and that is why I have chosen you. That, and something I overheard you say.
Abel set the note on the table by his chair and got up to look out the bank of windows. Street lights flickered at each end of the quiet block. The city was a diaphanous ghost, living in the shadow of its own shadow. On nights like this, houses lined somber streets like tiny cathedrals of heartbreak and failure, the faithful coming and going out of habitual brainwash.
Now, as the scent of anonymous perfume continually faded from the handwritten note sitting on the table somewhere behind him, he realized he was only one more lamb in the flock. Unrefined desire for a woman who had yet to even exist in his world staggered blind through his veins.
Chosen by a shadow. For what was anybody’s guess.
The loft, a converted factory with its red brick walls, broad rows of windows and yellow pine floors, suddenly felt hollow and cold.
She was nothing much to see, by her own account. A ghost with a passionate voice.
The thing about fires was someone was always trying to put them out.
Abel turned away from the window. With an open kitchen and dining area at the end of the space near the main entrance, there was a walled off area with a bathroom on the floor level and a bedroom above, a stairway leading up to it built onto the outer wall. The rest of the space was open and sparsely furnished. There were a couple of old, overstuffed easy chairs and a matching sofa he’d inherited. A desk with a computer. Couple of book shelves. No television.
He dragged his feet up the stairs to the sleeping loft and sat down on his bed. He toed off each of his shoes onto the floor and lay back on top of the bedclothes, fully dressed.
He stared up at the ceiling and relived the river of human faces the flowed by him every day, trying to see the ones he hadn’t when he had the chance. It nearly shocked him to realize how much he didn’t see. Like the way June, the receptionist on the floor he worked on, had a nervous habit of fingering her mousy, brown hair behind her ear and exposing the side of her neck as she arched her head and looked away from him. There was a little, framed picture of two kids slightly beside and behind her computer screen. He’d never seen it standing in front of her, but he could see it clearly now.
A parade of women’s faces floated by him, but they were all unfinished somehow, missing eyes or ears or lips. He closed his eyes and leaned toward them as they passed, inhaling, trying to catch a whiff of familiar perfume.
He reminded himself again to slip those notes into one of those little, plastic sandwich bags with the zip top.
Somewhere between that thought and his next breath, it became morning again. I need to be held by someone who will at least pretend to love me for a while. I need to feel the vibrant heat of a man’s life pulsing inside my body. I just want to go down in the flood. Is it so much to ask? Has your soul ever melted in the fire of wishing that flares alive in the brushing of lips? I myself have never felt such things, but I know they must exist. It’s as if I have this knowledge in my cells. But I am always forgotten and never desired. I have accepted this without regret. Once, in a crowded elevator, your hand brushed my bare arm. You didn’t mean to. I’m not even sure you knew you’d done it. Most certainly you never felt the shiver. Tonight, if you leave the light on above your door, I’ll come inside and find you, but you must promise to sit and wait with your back to the door. If you look at me I will only run away in shame. I must ask you to put on a blindfold, if you would – you can be dressed or not, as you wish, but if you agree to these odd requirements, I will make you feel.
Abel sat on a hard, wooden chair in the middle of the loft with his back to the door. He’d cut a strip of fabric from an old, black T shirt that served well enough as a blindfold, and he was wearing it as requested. He was wearing a T shirt and drawstring pants that would be easy to remove. He couldn’t see himself sitting there blindfolded and naked, but he would never forgive himself if he’d ignored the notes that had affected him.
The doors were unlocked. She would have full access. As she entered the building, she would find a note on the stairs to lock the door behind her.
The note had been waiting that morning. He read it sitting in his car in the parking garage before driving home. He’d spent another day trying to notice the unnoticeable strangers who crossed his path.
Nothing but more blanks. Blank ideas. Blank, unfinished faces.
When the door opened and closed, it felt like the room had suddenly changed. It was nothing he could see, only feel. Hard shoes slowly crossed the floor, but they didn’t approach him directly. It sounded as if they walked along by the bank of windows first and then circled around toward him. From where the sound stopped, he guessed she was probably standing about halfway between him and the far wall, beyond the bedroom wall.
She spoke softly, as if she hoped he wouldn’t hear. There was the strain of accent he couldn’t place, like she’d been born somewhere else but been here a long time. He wanted her to talk again. But even more, he wanted to rip off the blindfold and see her.
“You offered a choice,” he said.
The shoes tapped closer, until she was close enough he could smell the perfume he knew from her notes. It was something like flowers but not flowers. She stepped around behind his chair, and this time her voice came from very close.
“If we’re going to proceed, you need to put your hands back here.”
He was sure he knew what she had in mind. He hated the idea, but he needed her to stay and go on.
“You’re afraid I’ll lose myself and suddenly rip off my blindfold,” he pointed out as he put his wrists together behind the chair.
“Most certainly,” she said.
She was already wrapping something soft and flexible around his wrists, binding them together behind the chair. The bond was firm, but whatever it was had enough give he could pull free without too much effort. But he promised himself he wouldn’t, silently promising her at the same time.
“Why so important to remain anonymous?” he asked as the tap and click of her shoes moved back to the front of his chair. Then there was the sound of her shoes being dropped on the floor from a low height. A rustling of something. Was she laying something down on the floor?
“Only the surface,” she said. “But inside, I’ve opened the curtain for the very first time. To you. Trusting you with the feelings I expressed. It is a risk, I know, but now you’re taking a risk, too, so perhaps that makes us equal.”
“I assume you know my name. You know where I work and live. This hardly puts us on equal ground.”
There was the muted whiz of a nylon zipper, then the rustle of fabric hitting the floor.
“You’re going to feel my hands on you now. I didn’t want you to be surprised.” She touched his legs. Her hands felt tentative, touching briefly, then touching again – briefly – then her palms and fingers came to rest on his thighs. “The way things look from inside this shell that houses me, my confessions to you are no small thing. You are the only one I have ever told such things.”
Her hands felt smallish and slender. Her touch made his blood run faster, but he still paused to absorb what she said. It made her hands feel less like the touch of an unseen stranger. He focused on everything she’d written up to now.
Part of her body pressed against his shin. He was sure she had to be sitting on the floor between his feet, and that the next thing that pressed warm and softly onto his thigh near her hand had to be the side of her face. The heat of her breath seeped through the muslin fabric of his pants and warmed his skin. Despite the questions swirling through his mind, his cock was already beginning to thicken. He should have been touching her face at that moment instead of fighting to keep from yanking his wrists free.
Her fingers began to worry at the flesh of his thigh.
“I can’t believe you’re someone I never noticed.”
“You look through me as if I’m not there.” Her tone was without judgment. Her fingers moved along his thigh in random patterns.
“Let me take off the blindfold and see you. I’m sure I’ll recognize you. It just feels too impossible.”
“Who I appear to be on the surface doesn’t matter. But the look of disappointment in your eyes if you look at me is something I don’t want to leave here with.”
“There’s no way I’d look at you like that.”
Her hand slid up his thigh to his crotch, lightly exploring the growing shape of his cock underneath. Abel drew in a deep breath. He had no idea who was touching him. Didn’t even know what she looked like. It was nothing like times when he’d been buried deep inside a woman whose name he didn’t know and never bothered to ask. He knew her, briefly, sketchy, yet there was something profound in every carefully dropped word and curious stroke. The light, exploratory graze of her fingers over his cock was nothing he could reference to any other moment of his life.
“Maybe.” Her hands moved to the waistband of his pants and started to pull. “Help me.”
With his hands bound behind him, Abel had to rock his weight back and forth on the chair so she could pull his pants down. Then he was naked from the waist down, aware of his semi-erect cock against his thigh as she finished pulling his pants from his feet and shuffling them aside somewhere.
She settled back between his parted legs. He felt her skin touching his and assumed she was naked. Kisses blossomed on the skin of his thighs. Fumbling, almost hesitant, but warm and soft and hotter than his blood.
“God, please untie my hands. Let me touch you back.”
Hard fingernails scored along his thighs while her kisses floated onto his cock. His flesh seemed to become a story she was reading with her lips, punctuating each turn with a quick, tentative swipe of her tongue. Then she caught the tip with her mouth, scooping the head inside with her tongue.
Abundant hair and soft cheek touched the inside his thigh as the head of his cock drowned in the wet swirl of her mouth. Blood mainlined from his heart straight to the hardening core of cock. She touched his balls and he held his legs open wider. Breathing.
Everything was blackness and the whisper of rushing breath. The chair might have been lifting off the floor, but he was tethered to the roiling, wet silence of her mouth. Her hand slipped from his balls to the side of his shaft, trapped now against the side of his leg as she sucked the tip with her cheek pressed against his thigh. There was a clumsiness to her hunger. Her lips pushed and pulled against his flesh like a young horse anxious to jump the starting bell.
But there was a patience in her, too. She held his cock in her mouth as if she were planning to keep him there for a while. Tasting him. Exploring the texture and contour of his head.
“This not touching you is fucking impossible,” he said, aching for breath.
After long moments, her lips made an agonizingly slow retreat. A kiss fluttered moist on his thigh. The heat of breath escaping her lips. The slow, patient graze of her tongue.
“It’s not a game. Not some kink or fetish that binds your wrists. If you touch me, your hands will know me. Like reading Braille. I can’t risk you recognizing me when this is all over.”
“And that would be so bad?”
Her hand began exploring his cock, smearing saliva and precum over his shaft. “I already know you’re probably about average height or a little less, maybe, from the way you’re sitting on the floor with your arm on my leg. Five-four or thereabouts. You’re slender. Probably skinny. I can practically feel your ribs the way you’re leaning against me. Your hair is only medium long. It’s curly. Or frizzy, kind of. At least tell me your name. Any name. Something to call you.”
She stroked his cock through a moment of silence, punctuating beats with swipes of her tongue underneath his sap oozing dome. Another hand began caressing his balls.
“You’re burning up,” she said. “So hard. Are other men like this?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s not like in pictures.”
“Not much ever is.”
Suddenly she was holding his stalk upright and the tip of her tongue slapped his balls and trailed up the belly of his shaft.
“You choose a name for me,” she said. “We’re not meant to choose our own names. It’s always up to someone else.”
He tried to think while her hand traced the shape of his cock and the other slid over his thighs, then up beneath his T shirt, palming circles over the trunk of his body.
Suddenly her hands left his body. He followed the muted sound of her bare feet across the floor. The clatter of utensils confirmed she was at the kitchen counter.
“Well,” she said a moment later, back in front of him. But standing now.
“What I’ll call you. She was the goddess of night. Beautiful but rarely seen. She lived in darkness and shadows.”
“Okay. Then I am your Nyx.”
Then she was pulling at the fabric of his T shirt. It stretched and pulled at him until there was a ripping sound. When she started cutting at the sleeves he knew she was using a knife she found in the kitchen. She was hacking at the cloth until she could pull it off him with asking him to stand or untie his hands. Then there was a sharp thud in the wooden floor. The knife?
He pulled his legs closer together as she stepped across and straddled them. She touched his chest, her palms worrying across his nipples. Smooth breasts floated back and forth across his face. He chased after them with his mouth, trying to catch her nipples with his lips. They felt smallish, maybe, but with a palpable sense of shape. A taut pliancy. Hard nipples felt unusually thick across his face. She finally allowed one to fall into his mouth and he sucked at her hungrily, straining against the grip of her downthrust hand around his cock, pulling the tip to the honey slick flesh of her slit.
“God,” she sighed. “God. Yes.”
Long moments passed while she fed him her nipples each in turn. Back and forth. He caught them in his mouth and sucked, rolling his tongue over them as long as she allowed. At the same time she was rubbing the dome of his cock along her slit. Massaging herself with him. Wetting him with herself. Mewling whimpers skittering out of her throat in wisps of sound.
“I wanted to burn you down,” she said, half out of breath. “But I don’t think I can. I just…”
Then his cock bowed under the weight of her descending body, the hot, wet sleeve of her pussy grinding down over his shaft. In the darkness of his blindfold, it felt like she was melting onto his cock. The lower her body sank down, the more she was dripping heat around his rigid, unyielding flesh.
“Just give me your mouth,” he moaned.
Her hands lit on his shoulders and her pussy lifted and rolled, sinking back down, lifting and rolling again.
“Give me your mouth. I’ll fucking beg if you make me.”
Wet velvet of feverish woman rose and fell – rose and fell – gripping and rolling – hips twirling his shaft as she stirred herself with his flesh. Every cell of his skin felt scraped by the melting walls of heaven and hell.
Finally, her lips closed on his. Their mouths opened, and as her tongue shoved into his mouth she took him like a stumbling angel, pushing his head back while her hips seemed to lose control of their own grace. She felt like two, separate bodies falling in opposite directions.
She was saying something into his mouth, but the words evaporated on his tongue. Her lips moved away and his head snapped back upright. She was riding him with grinding hip thrusts.
“You know…what this is?” she sputtered between breaths.
After a few more moments, the grace seemed to settle back into her body’s movements. Her arms went around his neck while his face went smothered between her taut breasts. Her hips rose and fell and ground and twisted all at the same time. She was rippling while he surged, thrusting back at her as much as he could in his unforgiving position.
Someone exploded first, but it was impossible to know whether it was him or her. Everything was melting honey and hot cream gushing through his cock in electric surges.
She settled back onto him. Breathing. Her arms around his neck, face resting against his broad shoulder.
He searched for her neck in the darkness and kissed damp skin. “Untie me and stay,” he said.
Her face turned and he felt her lips against the side of his mouth. “Thank you for honoring my wishes. I know it probably wasn’t easy.”
She disentangled herself and stood. She didn’t speak again while he listened to the sounds of her rustling back into whatever clothes she was wearing. Then the tapping of her shoes rushing toward the door.
“Don’t,” he called.
Then the door opened and closed.
It took him about fifteen or twenty seconds to squirm his wrists free of whatever she tied him with. He pulled off the blindfold. She’d tied up his wrists with black pantyhose. They were soft and full of her scent. He held them to the side of his face a moment, then noticed his ruined T shirt nearby on the floor. Beside it, the knife she’d used to cut it off him was sticking up out of the floor. The tip was deeply embedded in the wood while a scant pair of lacy, black panties dangled from the handle.
He picked up the panties and held those to his face as well. They, too, held the scent of her natural perfume. He felt an unrelenting wave of sadness pour over him as he thought of how the scent would fade from her garments just as the scent of another perfume had faded from the notes she wrote him.
Everywhere he went that weekend, Abel was looking over his shoulder as if he expected to find someone following him. He strained to notice the unnoticeable, but it was an empty exercise. He knew Nyx was anything but unnoticeable.
On Monday, he purposely ignored strangers as he went to work, walking from the parking garage to the deli where he bought coffee. The street. The Congolese woman at the newsstand. People coming and going in the building. Ghosts crowding around him in the elevator.
Another note was waiting on his desk. Apparently I was never the fire but the ashes all along. Maybe we think on things too long and become blinded by the flash of the real. I had seen the moment in my mind a hundred times. No
. A thousand. But then you were inside me. My god, inside me! And everything changed. Everything went haywire. You wore the blindfold, but it was I who went blind. As much as this will strike you absurd, I will always love you for the way you were, and how you respected my wishes. And I’m sure it will strike you funny to think of a woman reaching my age with…well, you understand. But maybe you were right what you said that night. Nothing matters.
Abel wanted to crumple the note in his fist and whip it at the wall. But it smelled of her perfume. He would have a few more days of that scent. Even more, he wanted to pick up a chair and hurl it at the window to watch the shards rain twenty floors down to the pavement.
He went through the motions of working. He didn’t everything he was supposed to through a hazy curtain of detachment. At the end of the day, he rode the elevator down and left for home.
It all felt like the same day.
On Thursday, he got on the elevator at the end of the day and caught her eye. She tried to look away, but it was too late. He’d seen it in her eyes. She looked around the cramped space, looking at the door as if she had a chance to escape, but there were too many people in the way.
He’d seen her before. Skin the color of almonds. A slim body under clothes that always seemed stylish yet somehow a little shapeless. She wore gold wire framed glasses, with her hair in loose ringlets tied into a fall at the base of her neck.
Abel squeezed through the people and sidled up beside her in the rear corner of the elevator.
“Hello Nyx,” he said, taking her hand. “I’m glad I caught you. There’re a few items from that correspondence we need to go over.”
In the crowded elevator, it was all last minute business on its way out the door. No one noticed either of them. Abel drew his finger across her palm. She felt stiff. She looked everywhere but at his face, but she held back at his hand as tight as he was holding hers.
Leaning toward her, he cupped the side of her face and kissed the fine curl of her jaw where it tapered into her neck. He whispered something to her. She gave a barely perceptible nod of her head.
The elevator stopped on the ground floor. The doors opened and everyone filtered out, taking off in different directions.
It was time to go home.
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