Christopher Brownsword is the author of 2 novels Blind-Worm Cycle (Oneiros Books 2013) and The Scorched Highway (Oneiros Books 2013) and a collection of poetry Icarus was Right! (Shearsman Books 2010).
Excerpts from “The Scorched Highway”
Sometime before dawn the Greyhound arrived in San Francisco. Trent was continuing to Oregon to meet the author of The Origin of Skin, who had a ranch or suchlike out there. He asked if I wanted to join him. I said no. I slept for a couple of hours on the cold tiled floor, using my rucksack and jacket as a pillow. With the first light, and on a sudden impulse, I boarded a bus for Santa Cruz. I wasn’t meeting Dillon in San Francisco until the next day. He’s probably still in the Grand Canyon, I thought. I had no way of knowing he’d been arrested on the outskirts of Las Vegas following a high-speed pursuit with the cops in a stolen car!
A dense fog bank obscured the peninsula until we approached Los Gatos and continued along roads that sliced through patches of redwood forest. I guess it was pretty if you liked that kind of thing. The girl next to me liked it. ‘I would be pleased very much to live in the forest among these trees and walk barefoot upon the grass,’ she said.
Lorna came from Sweden. She told me she was studying biology in Santa Cruz ‘for the one year’ and was on her way back from Sacramento where she’d been visiting her boyfriend, Drake. ‘Since but an hour ago,’ she said, ‘he is my boyfriend no longer. As soon as the sun rose this morning, I am telling him he does not satisfy me sexually, and then I am gone. This is the main thing, I feel, for lovers to be sexually compatible. Drake did not like to explore the body. For me, it is fascinating. I am student of biology, er, two years Gothenburg and then one year in Santa Cruz. The clitoris is my field of interest…please, do help yourself to some of these, they are very nice.’
Lorna held out a bag of sweets. I took a handful, stuffed them into my mouth and thanked her. She didn’t exactly fit the typecast image of the Swedish woman: tall with blonde hair and big tits. Lorna’s long brown hair had been twisted into thick dreadlocks like brachial appendages growing through her scalp, and florets of acne came into bud on her face.
‘The clitoris,’ Lorna said, reciting from a red notebook she took from her rucksack, and that seemed to improve her enunciation the more she read of it, ‘is the secret to the soul, it is – in my opinion, and that of my colleagues also – what mystics once referred to as the Third Eye. It serves no discernible reproductive function whatsoever. A woman can go her entire life without even touching her clitoris and still conceive children perfectly well. A woman can even have her clitoris removed and still conceive children. So if the clitoris serves no evolutionary purpose, OK, why do women still have one,’ Lorna continued rhetorically; ‘why hasn’t it simply vanished out of existence over the generations as an unnecessary finger on the hand might vanish due to its lack of use? This is my line of enquiry in Santa Cruz. I believe the clitoris is the direct pathway to the Goddess. Through stimulation of the clitoris the woman becomes an oracle; she communicates the joy innate to life.’
(‘Santa Cruz is the granola capital of America,’ a guy named Mackey told me a couple of days afterwards in San Francisco; ‘it’s full of flakes, fruits, and nuts! You never heard that before? Sounds to me like you met one of the nuts!’)
We talked for a while about the human body. Lorna did most of the talking. I chipped in here and there. ‘You understand biology a little bit, I am seeing,’ Lorna said. ‘My ex-girlfriend, Donna, was studying to be a nurse,’ I told her.
‘An ex-girlfriend is too bad. I have felt this with ex-boyfriends; the hot kisses like melted steel that lovers leave across one another’s bodies,’ Lorna smiled, popping a sweet into her mouth and reading from the back pages of her notebook, ‘are fashioned into knives after they’ve cooled, and ones that sink so willingly into our skin!’
Again Lorna’s accent seemed less pronounced than it had done before. ‘You’re already picking up a Yankee twang,’ I said. She looked away; I figured I’d insulted her. It wasn’t until later that I…oh, wait, I’ll get to that soon enough.
When the Greyhound pulled into the bus terminal around 8 a.m., Lorna jotted down the address of a café a couple of blocks north called The Rebel Lounge and suggested we meet there later in the afternoon. I put the address in my pocket with little intention of using it. I wanted only to sleep…only to eat. I was too burnt out to desire anything else.
From the bus terminal I followed the street signs towards the beach where I ordered an omelette with mushrooms and fried potatoes in a small eatery overlooking the sea. A procession of bums crept out from beneath the boardwalk and made their way into town to hit up the commuters en route to work for change. Tanned young women in miniskirts walked their dogs along the promenade, wiggling their arses, advertising their wombs to potential buyers, and carrying bags filled with dog shit.
Breakfast done, I took a room overnight in a downtown motel. I showered before applying ointment to my haemorrhoids. Then I lay on the bed and tried to sleep. Time went by – I was still wide-awake, though fatigue stung my eyes. The clock in the motel read 2:45 p.m. Lorna was expecting me to meet her in The Rebel Lounge at 3. Prior to checking into the motel I’d bought two lumberjack shirts from a Salvation Army store to keep me warm on the Greyhound next time I travelled overnight, and also because they were padded out and so disguised the weight I’d lost. I dressed in one of the shirts and set off to the café.
The Rebel Lounge was filled with hippies and bohemians. I felt comfortable and relaxed in there on account of the patrons appearing weak and harmless. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, I had to remind myself, is still a wolf!
Lorna waved me over to a table near the back. She was wearing a short yellow dress; the sun came through it. Since that morning on the bus she’d applied some type of cream to her face to cover up her acne. She needn’t have bothered for my sake. I didn’t give a fuck about that kind of thing…but, sure, I was flattered she’d made the effort, flattered she’d come at all, even if it was all part of a game, a vanity show, to make me desire her so as to gratify her ego.
We drank coffee and related our diffuse experiences of being foreigners in America to each other. I told Lorna about the rain in New York, the Hotel Saint Paul in New Orleans, the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, hitchhiking with Dillon through the desert, the casinos in Las Vegas. I didn’t tell her about Jennifer…how I’d run out on her in Atlanta. No, I didn’t want Lorna to see me as I really was.
An hour or two elapsed. Lorna bought all the coffees. Finally she reached under the table for her rucksack, unzipped it and, smiling, pulled out a bottle of cheap red wine.
‘I would like very much that we go to the beach and drink wine and watch the sunset. The wine is the same colour as the sunset. This will be nice fun for us, do you see?’
Sure, I saw all right…
The wine, like the sunset Lorna believed it to resemble, was quickly gone. We sat on the beach in the dreary twilight; facing the tide, with Lorna huddled in my arms, holding a bouquet of flowers I’d stolen for her on the way to the beach from outside a wedding store. A smell of ammonia came off the sea. I put my hand on the carotid artery in Lorna’s throat and felt blood pulsing through it against my palm. Emboldened by the wine, and encouraged by the increasing speed with which the blood was flowing through Lorna’s capillaries, I pushed her dreadlocks aside and kissed the back of her neck. Next I let my hand roam the contours of her breasts, slide up her legs and come to rest in her crotch. Through her panties I could feel she was wet.
Lorna undressed in front of the blank TV screen in the motel. She made a show of it for me, removing each of her garments as the routine progressed until at last she was naked. There was a natural ease to her gestures. You could tell she’d done this many times before. And yet she wasn’t as attractive as she imagined or wished herself to be. I ran my hands across her belly and onwards into the declivity of her pubic mound. I’d always liked the way Donna’s pubic hair felt: thick with currents and charges. I ran my index digit along the outer lips of Lorna’s labia and along the slit, which was so well greased by now my finger squelched into it.
Soon it was my turn to undress. I felt uncomfortable exposing my body to Lorna, who’d positioned herself on the edge of the bed. She encouraged me by rubbing her nipples as I took off my shirt. I looked down and could see my ribs poking through the skin; but Lorna had become distracted by my arms, sleeved in tattoos. She began to trace each design with her tongue before moving across to the tattoos on my stomach and chest.
Suddenly, without advance warning, Lorna bit my stomach. I stared at the faint imprint of her teeth on my skin. Reclining on the bed, Lorna pointed to a space on her left inner thigh. ‘Here,’ she instructed; ‘now you shall bite me.’
I did as Lorna asked. Her hands locked around my skull and yanked my head into her cunt. ‘Commune with the Goddess,’ that’s exactly what she said! It smelt like she’d sprayed her cunt with perfume; only the perfume was blended with her oily, fishy discharge. I imagined I was back in England with Donna. I darted my tongue in and out of Lorna’s shaft and made spirals upon her clit, alternating in pressure and speed like Donna had shown me…the heat given off by Lorna’s cunt smouldering in my face.
A rivulet of piss came out of Lorna’s urethra…bitter on my tongue! She pulled me up so my face was level with hers and licked the secretions from my chin. I slid two fingers into her cunt…muscles contracted around it…she made noises of rapture…fake or otherwise…ooh, yeah…right there!
Donna had taught me that a woman’s G-spot is located behind the pubis in the spongy tissue running in waves along the roof of the cunt. By placing my hand palm up and moving my fingers in a kind of beckoning motion, I was able to locate it in Lorna’s too. Her breathing quickened. She folded her legs around my arm, pushing out the adductor muscles as her thighs tightened and she began to writhe. Two or three minutes later, Lorna’s body tensed before shuddering in orgasm or simulation of the same (I was disappointed she didn’t squirt cunt water like Donna used to, spraying the sheets and even the wall next to the bed).
As I leaned my head towards Lorna to kiss her, she drew away from me and began crying into the pillow. Confounded, I placed my hand on her pelvis, covered in acne.
‘Did I hurt you?’
Lorna shook her head no and buried her face in her hands.
‘Well, what’s the trouble?’
‘I can’t tell you!’
‘Come on, what the hell…’
‘I don’t want you to be angry with me.’
‘Why would I be angry with you?’
‘I’m not Swedish!’ Lorna wept. ‘I’m from Gothenburg, Nebraska. And my name’s Laura, not Lorna. You’re going to hate me now. I know you are!’
I didn’t hate Lorna…or Laura, whichever. I wasn’t even surprised by her revelation. Not that I suspected it…I just didn’t care. It was merely one extra lie in a world filled with them. And more to the point, a part of me was actually relieved because my state of physical and mental disintegration had become such that I was scared I’d be unable to get a hard-on and therefore Lorna would laugh at me.
‘What about Drake; is he real?’
‘Drake’s real. He lives in Sacramento, just like I told you.’
‘And did you really break up with him this morning as well?’
‘I don’t know…maybe…we had a fight…I’m sorry…’
‘Is it true you’re a biology student?’
‘That’s true, yes, yes, honestly it is; I’m a sophomore.’
‘At least that’s something, I suppose.’
‘I’m sorry. You must think I’m a real bitch, huh? I don’t blame you. I…’
Lorna’s sentence was truncated by sobs. I drew her closer towards me and put my cunt-wet hand beneath her chin.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ I said. ‘I don’t hate you.’
‘Do you want me to go?’
‘You can stay here tonight if you want. It’s nothing to get upset about. I’ll call you Lorna and you can be Swedish still. Who gives a fuck? We’ll just sleep in each other’s arms.’
‘You’re not angry? Most guys would be. I knew you were different as soon as we started talking on the bus. That’s why I sat next to you. I knew from the start…I can always tell about these things.’
‘I’m too tired to be angry. That’s the only difference, OK?’
Lorna nodded, inflating her snotty nostrils and sniffing the mucus into her throat. Her head rested in my lap. Even as her fingers worked at the fly of my jeans, she continued weeping. I did nothing to discourage her. I just lay back as her mouth closed around the shaft of my cock, her tears mingled with saliva and snot to lubricate the foreskin. I thought about the young Mexican in the restroom in LA and what I might have said to lessen his pain and suffering…I thought about Donna…all that was still unsaid between us, all that would never be resolved…what the world forces us to become…what we allow ourselves to become…what we always have been. And then I began to cry too, but I held Lorna’s head down so she couldn’t see me.