By Lisabet Sarai
“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” ~ Cesar A. Cruz
I saw the above quotation on a bag at the Strand Bookstore last week. To be honest, I’m not sure my writing deserves the label “art”. For the most part, I write to explore my own fantasies and to entertain my readers (and myself), not to either comfort or to disturb.
The majority of my stories reflect the fact that I’m a sex-positive optimist and an incurable romantic. My characters tend to enjoy themselves and each other. In my tales, erotic pleasure often morphs into love. Even when it does not, sexual experience rarely leaves a bitter aftertaste. I don’t always write unambiguously happy endings, but my protagonists usually learn something valuable about themselves and the world.
Every so often, though, I get the urge to write something darker—a story fueled by the disruptive power of intense desire. I’ll create a scenario full of risks, with characters who have unacceptable but irresistible needs. In these stories, sexual obsession leads to blind desperation. The raw force of the libido overwhelms rationality and morality.
These occasional dark stories that emerge from my unconscious definitely do disturb readers—to the point that the tales are almost impossible to publish. A case in point is my short piece Unforgivable, originally written for the Grip on the theme of “Confession”. I included this dark story, which features rape and worse, in the manuscript for my lesbian collection Her Own Devices. The publisher politely asked me to remove it.
Then there’s “Renfield’s Lament”, about a henchman so overcome with desire for his vampiric master and mistress that he arranges for his own murder in order to attract their attention. I eventually self-published this bloody tale, as part of my paranormal collection Fourth World. Nobody else would touch it.
“Fleshpot” also fits into this mold. That horrific story of sexual addiction did make it into an anthology—a collection of tentacle porn! I guarantee it will make you squirm.
Now I’m sitting on a new piece that seems too edgy to be publishable. “Countertransference”, a story about a psychiatrist who’s erotically obsessed with her teenage patient, has so far been rejected three times.
Here’s a snippet from this unpopular work:
Watching Alisha Al-Maghribi is not part of my job.
True, her chart reads “Under observation; potentially dangerous to herself and to others”, an appropriate notation given that she slashed her father’s (thankfully empty) mattress to ribbons with a butcher knife, then set fire to his multi-million dollar beach house. However, the orderlies and shift nurses are responsible for monitoring her, not I. It’s assumed the clinical director of a prestigious psychiatric facility like The Elms will have more important tasks than keeping an eye on one particular “guest”.
As indeed I do. I should be reviewing my notes for this afternoon’s therapy sessions, tackling the endless paperwork my job entails, or perusing the clinical journals stacked neatly on the corner of my desk. Instead I spend my time riveted to the computer screen, unable to resist my fascination with my exquisite and disturbed patient.
She’s calm today. Her back to the me, she hums to herself as she bends over her drawing. Her honey-colored curls are clipped into a casual knot atop her skull, exposing her slender neck. The high resolution surveillance camera—best on the market, like everything at The Elms—reveal tiny blond hairs that dust the tawny skin of her nape. An undeniable heaviness settles in my pelvis as I gaze at that graceful, vulnerable curve. I swallow the saliva pooling in my mouth. It’s easy to imagine stepping up behind her, clasping those smooth, bare shoulders in my palms and running my tongue up her spine. I can taste the salt I’d lick from her downy flesh, sense the shiver that runs through her at my touch. She’s taut, fragile, ready to bolt like a frightened fawn, but there’s a melting in her, too, a tiny core of trust in me, her doctor.
Gradual, gentle, careful not to startle her, I trail my fingers down her sides and across her rib cage, then reach forward to cup her girlish tits. Alisha sighs and lets her head fall back against my more ample breasts. I fill my lungs with her scent of cinnamon and roses. A slick tightness coils between my legs, urging me to move faster, to take her before I lose my nerve. I bury that urgency, willing myself to a slow but inexorable advance, like an incoming tide claiming the beach.
A knock on my office door drags me back to the present. “Dr. Gardner? Are you there?”
I stab the off button on my monitor, shaking my head to dispel my lustful fantasies. The images scatter, but the shame and the wetness remain.
~ ~ ~
I’m not really surprised this tale has been so difficult to place. I knew when the premise occurred to me that it would be a hard sell. It violates all sorts of taboos, including the trust inherent in the doctor-patient relationship. Technically Alisha is of age, but any reader can tell how much of the attraction lies in her youth. Finally, the ending is anything but happy. Perhaps there are lessons learned, but there is also irremediable damage done.
Despite the knowledge that this story might be unpublishable, I couldn’t stop myself from creating it. When I feel the temptation to write along the edges of what’s acceptable, I almost always give in, partly as an antidote to the sunny perspective in most of my work. Everyone needs a change, right?
Sometimes I feel that these shadow-drenched tales are better written than my more popular fiction, if only because they explore more intense emotions. I guess that in some sense, they are closer to being art.