Friday, November 2, 2018

Strangers on a Bus

The first story I had published, and actually got paid for, was a fictionalization of my one and only anonymous erotic encounter. I wrote it for the now-defunct British magazine, Scarlet. Back in the day, Scarlet had a section called Clitorature, which had an open call for submissions of very short, erotic fiction. Since then I’ve written a lot of anonymous erotic tales, and all of them, along with much of my other writing, were to some degree inspired by my encounter with a stranger on the bus. 

I was living in Croatia at the time, travelling from a small Croatian village near the Austrian boarder to Zagreb. This was ages ago back when Croatia was a part of Yugoslavia. I’d had a crazy weekend with some friends who owned a small vineyard and were very generous with the fermented fruits of their labor. There had been a birthday party, plenty of wine and not much sleep.

At the time, the Croatian buses were not the best in the world. I wrote a very filthy poem dedicated to my appreciation for the vibration of the seatsI had been on the bus perhaps thirty minutes when it happened. I was half dozing with my head against the window and half enjoying the good vibrations. Because of the way I was sitting and the way the seats were designed, it was easy for someone resting their head on the back of my seat to reach around between the window and the seat for a good grope. Strangely enough in my under slept, half dreamlike state, I had just been fantasizing about such a thing when, sure enough, I felt a hand snake around from behind. The movement was slow at first, as though someone sleeping against my seat back had simply rested their arm in that little space. But then the hand began to migrate. I didn’t move. I was certain whoever it was would realize they were now touching my person. When they did, surely they’d move their hand and sit back. They didn’t. The hand inched its way forward until there could no longer be any doubt the person it belonged to knew exactly what he was doing. Still I didn’t move. The bus was vibrating, I was somewhere in between sleep and wakefulness thinking this guy is about to grab my breast. And when he did. I let him. I pretended I was so asleep I didn’t notice. 

It was the first serious cold snap of Autumn, so I was in a warm sweater, way too bundled for skin against skin, but it was the act itself in its anonymity, its brazenness that was arousing, even as it was disturbing. It was a violation. I could have reached around so easily and broken fingers. I could have made a scene. I could have simply moved my arm to a position from which gropage wasn’t possible. I did none of those things. I sat there, head against the window, heart racing, letting the man behind me fondle and explore my breast. It was only when I realized just how close to coming I was that I pulled away, repositioned and moved so that I was out of reach. It sounds crazy now, but in my mind, crossing that bridge into orgasm would have somehow made me complicit, it would have met I had acted, rather than passively been acted upon.

At the next stop, the man behind me got off. I watched him exit the bus, and when he was standing on the sidewalk, he turned and met my gaze. He was a young man, maybe in his twenties, tall with dark hair – not a drunk, nor a geezer, not even a pervert in a trench coat. I don’t know what I expected, but he wasn’t it. I stared him down as the bus pulled away. I wanted him to know that I knew what he’d done and that I was angry. 

And I was angry. I was disturbed. I was confused. I felt guilty for allowing it to happen, and even more guilty for enjoying it. For a long time that guilt would sharpen just a smidge when I would fantasize about what might have happened, or when I found myself regretting that I hadn’t at least let the exploration go on until I had come. 

No other experience I’ve had has so profoundly affected me as an erotic writer. At the time I was religious enough to feel guilty that I enjoyed it. Later as I came to understand myself a little better, as I fictionalized that experience in a hundred different ways in a hundred different stories, I realized that the situation was as much about me choosing to allow the experience as it was about the transgressive behavior. 

The opening of my first novel, The Initiation of Ms Holly, takes place when two strangers meet on a dark, malfunctioning train. The heroine of the story never sees her lover’s face until the end of the novel. The tale is a modern retelling of a very ancient anonymous encounter, the Psyche and Eros myth. 

In my novel, The Pet Shop, a human pet known only as Tino, is sent for a weekend to a young executive by her boss, a reward for a job well done. While pets are for sex and pleasure, they are never allowed to speak – a different kind of anonymity. The heroine is so taken by the pet that she becomes obsessed with learning who he really is.

For me, sometimes the anonymous fictional encounter takes the shape of a secret identity, sometimes it takes the shape of sex in the dark with a stranger, sometimes it takes the shape of a demon lover who is never visible, but always dangerous. Almost always it roughly follows the motif of identity concealed, transgressive behavior with all the resulting
emotions, identity revealed. In shorter fiction, of course, it’s often more like the reality of my experience, a brief encounter with a stranger one never actually meets. 

I’ve analyzed my experience and my feelings a million different ways a million different times. Make that a million and one. The act was transgressive, impersonal, a one-off. It was an intimate act happening in a public place between two strangers. While it wasn’t dangerous, it felt that way, which was a part of the excitement. And it certainly could have been very dangerous if the variables had been changed up just a bit. 

For me that one small experience and my reaction to it, during and after, even long after, contained a whole treasure trove of erotic inspiration and a raw, honest slice of my own inner workings that I might not have uncovered any other way. 


  1. I remember vividly the first scene in The Initiation of Ms Holly. (That's one of my all time favorite erotic books, btw.) The intensity was staggering. Now I know why.

    Your comment about having that one experience fuel a hundred fictionalized recreations is also so familiar. I've done the same thing with my initiation into BDSM. Anyone who's read more than a few of my stories will find some of the scenes rather familiar.

  2. Without any comparable experience of anonymous sex, I still have a thing for the invisible demon lover trope, and used it in my very first unquestionably erotic story. I did let the demon appear in the flesh eventually, powered by the sex (and by eating up the truly bad guys in the story.) Wherever the ancient concept of demons originated, sex was clearly part of the package.

  3. You've made good use of that encounter! I suspect such events are haunting because of the "what-if" factor -- what if you had introduced yourselves and agreed to go somewhere more private? What if you had met him again? Where could a brief attraction have led? Apparently it led to many a published story. :)


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