by Jean Roberta
This is embarrassing. The only publications I’ve read in the past month or so are periodicals I subscribe to: The New Yorker, The Times Literary Supplement, and BBC History.
I was immersed in student assignments until April 30, then I plunged into writing two very different historical stories after persuading the editors to give me deadline extensions. Story #1 is a short vignette of an imaginary secret tryst between Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas Wyatt (a poet) in 1536 (the year of her execution), which I sent to The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty Thirty, Volume 3. (The emphasis in the “Sexy Librarian” series is on audio appeal: writing meant to be read aloud. I hope mine works in that sense.)
Story #2 was meant to be a much longer saga of an illicit gay-male romance in England, some time shortly after an immense statue of Pharaoh Ramses II was discovered and removed from Egypt in 1816. This story was sent to Steve Berman of Lethe Press for an anthology on “Decadence.” I’m not sure I nailed the necessary opium-laced flavour of the thing. If/when the story gets rejected, I’ll have more time to tweak it further.
In any case, all this rushed activity prevented me from reading any new books.
I’ll discuss Truth, the anthology of erotic fiction and non-fiction which was produced in connection with Eroticon in March 2018, edited by Zak Jane Keir, and published by Resonance Press of the UK. I have a story in the book, and normally, I feel squeamish about reviewing any collection that includes my own work. I have done this a few times when someone has asked for a review, and no other reviewer seems to be available.
As the title suggests, the theme of this collection is sexual truth vs. sexual deceit. The pieces are all short, on-theme, and diverse. Most of them are cheeky, some are slyly ironic, and all reveal some aspect of sexual attraction that isn’t glaringly obvious. Of course, some are about the “truth” of discovering one’s own and someone else’s true sexual orientation.
Pen names abound in this book. A writer called “The Other Livvy” wrote the opening story, “What Will Happen If I Tell You This Truth?” It is short enough to quote from beginning to end:
“Sorry, I’m too busy. My work is running late. I’ll have to bail. I’m having dinner with friends that evening. My phone battery died. When did you send that message? Oh, did you mean today? I thought you meant tomorrow! I need to feed my cats. I have to wash my hair?
No. No, that’s not the truth. That’s an excuse; a mistake.
I really want to see you, but my week is looking crazy and there’s no time. I’m free for lunch next Thursday, if that’s any good? Or Friday?
I think that restaurant is closed on Mondays, and I can’t on Tuesday.
No, I’m not avoiding you. I’m really not.
I want to see you again, but I don’t know if I have time.
Mmm, no. Not the truth either. Shit. . .
I want to see you again, but I don’t know if I can. I want to see you again but. . .
I want to see you again, but I’m scared.
I’m scared of what you make me feel; I’m scared of what you make me want.
You make me want to kiss you and hold you and bite you and hurt you. You make me want to grip your arms so tightly that my fingers leave bruises; you make me want to mark you, want to own you. You make me want to pour myself all over you, staining your skin as our sweat and bodies merge, and I don’t want to stop.
I can’t look at you without wanting to claw the clothes off your back, revealing more of the skin that teases me as you sit, so perfectly dressed, across from me. I can’t look at you without imagining your nipples beneath that shirt, and how they’ll harden under my gaze as I stare at your body, bared before me.
The way you looked at me over that bitter cocktail, with a sly, lazy smile pulling at your hot, flushed lips, made me want to slap that smile off your face. I wanted to slap you until you gasped and begged for more. The way your fingers played with your glass, sliding in the condensation and shining in the cold moisture, made me want to lick your fingertips and push them deeper into my mouth. I wanted to drag you to the floor and kneel over you and grip your hair in my fingers and force your face into my body, so you could feel and smell and taste how much I wanted you. In that dark bar, on that dark night, I wanted to dominate you.
I don’t know what made me want to hurt you, or what made me think you’d like it. Was it the exact way you deferred to me when choosing that bar? Or your defiant tone of voice? Was it the way you maintained eye contact, just too long, and the cocky* stare that went with it? Maybe it was all your bravado, your talk of danger and fear and adrenaline, although I wanted to fuck you long before you mentioned that.
But what will happen if I tell you this truth?
If you don’t want what I want, I’m not the one for you. If you’re hoping for everyday sex or an everyday life, I can’t pretend; I won’t hide. But what if you do? What if you’ll trust me and kneel before me and take whatever blows I throw at you? Am I ready for that responsibility? Can I maintain control, when just the sight of you makes me feel stronger and more powerful? Can I maintain control, when I see and feel your willing submission?
What will happen if I tell you this truth?”
Being stood up for a date of any kind (even if it’s with an assumed friend) is one of my pet peeves because it’s been done to me too often, IMO. I have to admit, though, that this story would serve as a hell of an excuse. It seems likely to surprise the person who feels brushed off.
Other pieces in the collection have more conventional plots. A story by Molly Moore, one of the organizers of Eroticon, is about a fairy named Verity who “delivers” various truths to people who need them. In this way, she serves as a supernatural matchmaker.
This book lends itself to being read in installments, but it’s not safe for work.