Kelly Marie Johnston
woman who ran the Pleasure Chest was short, blonde and cynical.
She was married to a tall, thick, hairy guy who owned the place.
There was a 38 behind the counter; she forced me once to hold
it. It made me tremble so I almost dropped it. She laughed at
me and told me I better get used to it. The woman had a stepson
who made her crazy with his stunts. He was missing something,
one synapse or a couple receptors, it's hard to say. She mentioned
once with her eyes big and her cigarette close to her face that
the stepson had taken to murdering small animals for fun.
you tried taking him to see someone? A psychologist or something?"
I asked her.
needs a good ass whoopin', that's what he needs. His father is
too goddamn easy on the brat." She was convincing herself
to be angry when she said it. But I saw it in her face just before,
with the smoke curling around her fingers, she was scared.
needs to get LAID." Spat Gary.
had been working for the woman for years. Imagine, spending years
of your life working in a basement shop that sells accessories
for kinky sex. Don't get me wrong - I'm no prude and I'd say there's
nothing at all wrong with kinky sex like the Kama Sutra - but
this was dirty kinky sex. To live surrounded by it day in and
day out for years, to live and breathe it non-stop; that is a
sickness. You could see the deficiency in Gary's face, too. His
skin was prematurely gray and his eyes were desperate. He pulled
on his cigarette angrily, violently, inhaling hard and fast with
his eyes cast down and on an angle. He never looked straight and
he bragged about his addiction to speed.
insisted that he was an artist; photography his medium. I imagined
all his pictures depicted the bottom corner, taken on a slant
and jerky. What is there to say, there are lots of people out
there talking about 'I'm an artist.' If you look close though,
you'll notice, they have no vision. You might say Gary could show
the rest of the world what it looks like from his sped up basement
bedroom slash workplace but the thing is - though his eyes were
bugged-out wide-open with whatever it was he was poppin', he was
blinded by his illness. It's always the same problem with people
- they never take themselves anywhere - they just follow invisible
woman loved Gary - she called him the son she wished she had.
They stood close hunkered behind the counter and smoked. They
cackled into their bad postures and gossiped bitterly. Occasionally,
I tried to join them in this - but they made it clear that this
was a private club and no one - and I mean no one - new would
be granted admittance. I was young so it lit in me that sting
of alienation; thank god for my failure to fit in. I understand
now why it worked this way. This Gold Medal talent of mine has
kept me from joining too many seedy operations. More than that,
it has kept me on the periphery, outside the sphere of invisible
influence. I have watched people marching around on there land
maps, staging all kinds of crazy theatre. I have learned a lot
about the forces of darkness and the sick ways of human beings.
Sometimes I jot down notes- but usually I just watch.
wore a black leather vest to work everyday. He wore it in spring
when it was 75 degrees and breezy, he wore it in the dead of the
Pittsburgh summer, under the blaring sun. The vest came over a
T-shirt in the summer and a button down cotton shirt for the rest
of the year. I preferred the button downs - the less skin Gary
exposed the better my mood. Even his arms spoke of a vitamin deficiency;
they were clammy and the hair was matted. He was just gross; like
all Garys. He had a substantial gut - perhaps better described
as a cheese steak vault. The man ate a cheese steak for lunch
every day. He talked about his lover as he shoved the torpedo
into his mouth, the grease dripping into his whiskers.
looks fantastic in his new cock ring." He said with food
in his mouth. I stared at the grease around his lips and a small
piece of steak hanging off his chin. "Did I show you the
one I got him? It's so hot." I didn't answer but looked up
for a second from my magazine to notice the food still suspended
in his half-ass goatee. The bells on the front door rang. I pushed
myself off the stool and peered over the counter. Two Italian-American
women, mid-thirties. One looked recently divorced and nervous.
The other appeared to be guiding her without a compass or road
map. The women moved down the steps as one might take a steep
drop into a snake pit. Slow and horrified. The divorcee was in
front with her friend 'helping' her along, pushing at her shoulder
nervously whispering 'Go on Angela, go on willya?'
Angela. She was shaking on the cusp. The two women walked off
the last step and into the store. Angela looked up and spotted
me moving around the glass counter, which was filled with about
thirty dildos and a mega-vibrator called the White Knight; it
squirmed, vibrated and provided clitoral stimulation. I don't
think Angela is ready for the Knight. I took a step toward the
two women. The friend spoke up.
just got divorced and her husband…" Angela elbowed
the friend. "Sorry hon," she said to Angela, then looked
back at me, "Her EX-husband never did the job right, if you
know what I'm saying." They both looked at me and waited.
I looked back at them and listened.
wants something to… you know…" said the friend.
looking for a vibrator." I told the women.
Angela said fast. I looked at her and smiled. Thank God Gary had
no interest in helping anyone who wasn't a prostitute or a leather
fiend. I led the two women to the vibrator section: five shelves
filled with little rockets intended to bring pleasure to the handler.
Angela and her friend were talking quickly in whispers; I couldn't
really make out what they were saying. I stopped at the shelves
and turned to face the women, they stopped their conversation
you ready?" I asked.
The friend's face filled with shadows.
there something the matter?" I asked.
Angela and I are Catholic and we go to church and all and Angela
is worried about confession. Now, I told her this ain't no sin-
it ain't no sin for a girl to have a … ya know. Do you think
it's a sin, to use something other than a husband?" Both
women looked to me for advice.
I'm not sure. I mean, I'm not Catholic and I've never been married.
I don't know much about confession but I can tell you about vibrators."
I could hear Gary choking on his cigarette in the back room.
okay, let's hear it." said the friend. "Angela,"
she said raising her voice like a school teacher, "Stop thinking
about the friggin' Pope. He don't know nothin' about divorce.
Okay Hon?" Angela had her chin tucked into her neck. She
lifted her face a bit and smiled at her friend.
are four things to keep in mind when you are buying a vibrator.
Four questions you ought to ask yourself. First is size. How big
do you want it? Second is texture- do you want something smooth,
shiny and hard plastic, or do you want something made of soft
that Ang, YOU get to decide how big? Huh? This sounds better already!"
The friend was eager to hear more. They both looked to me again.
you want to consider the vibration, do you want something very
powerful or just a little buzzing." I picked up a small,
red shiny one and flipped the switch on. Bzzzzzz. Angela jumped
back a bit. "And finally, do you want the vibrator to be
representational or not."
mean?" Angela asked.
you want it to look like a penis or not."
about I let you ladies think about it on your own. I'll be right
over there if you have any questions." I pointed to the case
of dildos. "Oh my God!" shrieked the friend, grabbing
Angela's arm. But Angela had relaxed a bit and was seriously considering
Ang, look at that willya?" Angela pushed her friend away.
are you gonna help or are ya gonna drive me crazy?" she said.
walked behind the counter, found my cigarettes and lit up. Gary
was on the phone. He looked at me and raised his eyebrows, grimaced
and then turned his back. I rolled my eyes at his fat back and
inhaled deeply. What a jackass, I thought. His back hair was pushing
out of his button down, crawling onto his neck. He turned around
and hung up the phone.
was her." Gary never called the boss by her name, at least
not when he was talking to me. It was as if I didn't get to say
her name- like it was some magic chant only for initiates.
giving the brat a driving lesson. They're coming into the city
so we might actually see the little misfit. I still say he needs
to get laid. Whatta you think?"
shrugged my shoulders. "The kid's sixteen Gary. He's just
Please, honey. He needs to get laid. I've been doin' it since
I was 12."
I forgot." I said, not listening to Gary. Jesus Christ, I
thought. The kid is executing squirrels and bunnies and she wants
to put him behind the wheel? My spine went cold at the thought.
HONN." Rose was talking to me. "Boy, you was really
sorry. What can I help you with?" I asked her.
Angela thinks she's got the one she wants. Can you tell us, is
this a good one?"
Gary was putting on his leather jacket. It had steel cock rings
on the shoulder straps. He looked at me bug-eyed. "I'm going
to run some errands before she gets here." He said.
need to pick up my pictures and some cigarettes, maybe a coffee."
okay Gary." I looked back at Rose. Angela was now standing
next to her.
think this is a good one." Angela said. "And maybe this
one too." She put two vibrators on the glass counter and
stepped back. She looked at Gary who was fiddling with something
in his pocket, counting money.
these two look just fine." I said, smiling at the two women.
walked around the counter. "Excuse me," he said to the
women. I was writing down the stock numbers on the vibrators and
figuring out the tax with a calculator. Angela had her wallet
on the counter, waiting for the total.
outta here!" yelled Gary from the stairs.
will be twenty-one dollars and forty-two cents." Angela reached
into her wallet for money. Gary slammed the door and the bells
rang loud. She handed me twenty-two.
Mary and Joseph! My holy cards!" she cried.
What! Angela, what are you doing bringing your holy cards into
a place like this?" Rose sounded desperate.
I looked away from the bells hanging on the door and back at the
counter. Three holy cards were spread like triple aces for high
stakes. Angela stood frozen, staring at them, crossing herself
just stand there Angela, pick em UP." Said Rose, reaching
over and scooping the holy cards into her palm and then shoving
them back into Angela's wallet. I had put the vibrators in a bag
and counted her change, while she stood there stupidly. I pushed
the bag across the counter and placed the change in her hand.
you." I said quietly.
Hon," Said Rose with her arm around Angela's shoulder. "Come
on Hon," she said to her friend, "Let's get outta here."
I listened to the bell ring again behind the two women leaving.
The store was empty and quiet. I climbed back up onto the stool
and lit another cigarette. I reached for the magazine, bored,
and flipped to my horoscope. Pisces, Pisces. You must think it's
hokey. I'm the first to agree that most horoscopes are shit but
when I read Lou Shining, it seems as if he is talking directly
to me. Everyone wants a friend with vision into the future. Hell,
vision into the moment is enough. People sure do lack vision these
days. If I went to college, I often thought to myself, I'd study
history. I'd think about the Dark Ages and how they match the
PISCES ( February 19 - March 20th) This week, dear fish, you
must trust your famous intuition. Being one of the most sensitive
signs, it is always imperative that you take care to surround
yourself with kind and nurturing souls. Now, this is especially
crucial Pisces. You will find yourself in the proximity of the
age-old showdown: the forces of darkness will challenge the forces
of light to yet another duel. Listen to your instinct and have
faith in your uncanny talent to serve as a conduit for light.
I closed the magazine and gave it a hug. Everyone should have
a friend like this. Let the bastards bring it on. I'm ready to
climb into the ring and fight, I thought. The Holy Cards! Of course!
A sign! They fell just as that gluttonous demon left this dungeon.
Who brings Holy Cards into a place like this! Just like Rose said.
She's a smart one, that Rose. I bet she understands signs, too.
fingers were buzzing and I couldn't sit still. I jumped off the
stool and walked onto the sales floor. I looked at the wall of
leather, disgusted. The shelves lined with blow-up dolls, gag-gifts
and penis enlargers. This place is repulsive. And Gary, the thought
of him turns my stomach. He and that woman with all their sex
talk and inside jokes make me nauseous. Poor kid. Who could stand
to have that wench as a step-mother? No wonder he's so sick.
walked toward the front of the store, up the steps and to the
door. Even in high afternoon, in the middle of Spring this place
is dark and claustrophobic. I stepped outside and the light burned
my eyes. I used my hand to shield my eyes until they adapted to
the light. Gary was making his way down the street, dressed in
black. His leather jacket, black jeans, and motorcycle boots.
He was a dash of night marking the bright noon. I scowled at him,
grinding my teeth. I thought of the 38 behind the counter.
horn called and then the woman shouted Gary's name. He turned
to look. She was in the passenger seat of her fancy SUV with the
kid behind the wheel. "Hey Gar!" she yelled. "Michael
wants you to watch him parallel park!" Gary's step took on
a bounce as he headed toward the vehicle. "Hey save that
spot!" she yelled to Gary, pointing up the block. Gary pushed
his fat ass into a trot and huffed up the block. He stepped into
a large enough space between two cars, and stood waiting. He waved
to her and she waved back saying "Thanks Gar!"
kid slowed down. The traffic ahead of the SUV continued to move
forward, the kid came to a complete stop and stared ahead into
the half-block of open road. I saw her turn her head to face him.
She was talking. Giving him directions maybe. She began waving
her hands emphatically. I could see the kids face from where I
was standing. She didn't notice me there, although they were almost
directly in front of the store. I looked up the street again,
Gary was still waiting stupidly, taking up space. I looked back
at the car, she was yelling now, I could hear her through the
open window. "Move it! What are you stupid? Why'd you stop!
There's the space you dummy! Put your foot on the fuckin' pedal
already!" she shrieked.
saw the rage flash into the boys face just as I heard the wheels
screech. He must have pushed it to the floor. The truck lurched
forward fast, it screeched again as he turned sharp into the space
and head on into Gary. That fat ass, stunned stupid, didn't have
a chance in hell to clear the area. I heard a crack and then a
wet scream. Gary was a black stripe pinned between the truck and
a red Sedan. He was straight for a second and then he crumpled
in half- his head hit the hood of the SUV hard. He laid there
still, the cock rings on his shoulder straps deflecting a few
rays of sun. The light bounced away from him without reaching
inside his coat.
turned my back on Gary and the woman. I didn't look again at the
truck. The store was still empty and it would stay that way as
far as I was concerned. I walked away from the accident in the
early afternoon and I felt happy.
currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, where she often wonders to herself
while staring into the empty shoes on the subway platform, "Why
do Japanese people take off their shoes before jumping in front
of an oncoming rush-hour train?" According to some locals
the Japanese like a poetic death. Before moving to Japan Kelly
suffered through three years in Cairo, Egypt. There, she was assaulted
by many stories that she is only now beginning to tell. Pleasure
Chest is based on real experiences.
2007 by Kelly Marie Johnston