I've never had a birthday as dramatic as the ones I can imagine. Here is the opening scene (and some backstory) from "Update," a birthday story that appears in my first single-author collection of erotic stories, Obsession (Eternal Press, 2008). This book is currently out-of-print, alas.
The image on my computer screen was disturbing in a way I couldn’t pin down. The cartoon woman was proudly naked, showing off her round but perky breasts and her full hips as she leaned forward, crouched, planted a sassy hand on one hip and even turned
around and bent over, offering the two half-moons of her ass to whoever might be looking. Perhaps it was the self-conscious way she moved that unnerved me, as though she could watch me watching her. Or perhaps it was her kewpie-doll face framed in dark, bobbed hair, that suggested the archaic naughtiness of the double-entendres in jazz songs from the 1920s.
She could even sing. To the tinkling sound of a piano, she moved her red, cupid’s-bow lips and sang: “Hap-py birth-day to you, hap-py birth-day to you. Hap-py birth-day, dear Dolly, happy birth-day to you.” Then she winked slowly, and cooed, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” She laughed in a way that seemed intended to be flirtatious but which came across as creepy. Then she stayed frozen for a heartbeat, and the sequence of movements began again.
After I opened the message, clicked on the URL and watched the performance, my first thought was that Ms. Raunchy Birthday was a version of Typhoid Mary, a virus-carrier sent to eat up all my files or turn them into meaningless symbols. I was relieved when it didn’t happen. But who had sent her to me, and why?
The cartoon was e-mailed to me three days before my fiftieth birthday. After my friends and employees had denied knowing anything about it, I realized that it must be someone’s idea of a joke, and that the mature way for me to react was to delete and
forget. But the image stayed on my mind.
Whoever had sent it seemed to know that my family called me Dolly before I left home for college, even though I’ve been calling myself Dorothy ever since.
Now here’s the thing that probably makes me sound completely unhinged: after seeing that cartoon image, I saw myself differently when I looked in the mirror. My short, dyed-
dark hair looked sassier to me than it had before, and my face looked attractively mysterious, as though it hid a lifetime of secrets. My body looked curvy to me, not
bordering on fat or gone to seed.
The day after the cartoon arrived in my in-box, I got another message from the same address. It read: “Celebrate the day of your birth, even if . . .”
The dots dripped down the screen to another statement that made me gasp and then groan. It read: “. . . your arrival wasn’t planned. . . your parents told you they would have preferred a puppy . . . you feel you’ve been on the road a long time and still don’t know where you’re headed . . .”
The dots led down, down, down, like a trail of pebbles leading to hell. And then the punch line: “You are beautiful!!! And you’re getting better every day.”
There was no name or clue to the identity of the sender.
The day before my birthday, I found a strange message in my voice mail when I came home from work. “Dolly!” chirped a hearty tenor voice. “You might not remember me, but I had such a crush on you in high school! Don’t worry, I don’t bite. All I want to do is
take you out for dinner on your birthday, or whenever you have the time. I’m serious. I would love to see you and talk about old times. Or new times, if you’d prefer. Oh, I’m Alan Worth. I’ll try phoning again later.”
None of this made any sense. I had attended an overcrowded high school in an eastern city whose name I didn’t even want to remember. I had been a thin, awkward day-dreamer who didn’t attract much notice until a popular boy on the basketball team had
invited me out. At sixteen, I was secretly thrilled by the attention of such an envied hunk of manhood. Maybe I was more attractive than I knew! Maybe he had a hidden sensitive,
creative or intellectual side that he would show to me alone!
On the fateful evening, I dressed to look older and more daring than I was. He and his best friend picked me up in his car and drove me to an apartment where they both raped me. After they let me put my clothes back on, I ran out the door and found my way home, dodging men who asked if I wanted a ride.
I couldn’t stand the idea of going to the police. I thought I would have to explain everything to male cops who would physically examine me, and then I would have to face the guys from my school in a public trial. I would rather have died, and that was not
a figure of speech.
My parents agreed that I should keep a low profile. They talked to the principal of my school, and I was allowed to finish high school by correspondence. I stayed home, studied, and earned my high school diploma on schedule. At eighteen, I moved to a
smaller town to go to university.
In the following years, I learned over and over again that books were more reliable than people. With a degree in Library Science as my passport to faraway places, I had moved to the clear mountain air of the West, and I had worked my way up in the book
business. Now I owned Fresh Thoughts, a bookstore with coffee bar.
I had been Dorothy for a long time. I had survived for almost half a century. I had a life. Who the hell was Alan Worth and what did he want from me, besides the obvious?
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