Pleasure Chest

by Kelly Marie Johnston

The 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.

"Have you tried taking him to see someone? A psychologist or something?" I asked her.

"He 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.

"He needs to get LAID." Spat Gary.

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.

Gary 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 feelings.

The 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.

Gary 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.

"Mick 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?'

Poor 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.

"Angela 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.

"She wants something to… you know…" said the friend.

"You're looking for a vibrator." I told the women.

"Yes." 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 mid-sentence.

"Are you ready?" I asked.

"Well…" The friend's face filled with shadows.

"Is there something the matter?" I asked.

"See, 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.

"Well, 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, 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.

"There 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 rubber."

"See 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.

"Next, 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."

"Wuddaya mean?" Angela asked.

"Do you want it to look like a penis or not."

"Oh!" she said.

"How 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 her options.

"Ang, Ang, look at that willya?" Angela pushed her friend away.

"Rose, are you gonna help or are ya gonna drive me crazy?" she said.

I 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.

"That 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.

"She's 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?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "The kid's sixteen Gary. He's just a kid."

"Sixteen! Please, honey. He needs to get laid. I've been doin' it since I was 12."

"Right, 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.

"Hon, HONN." Rose was talking to me. "Boy, you was really day-dreaming!"

"I'm sorry. What can I help you with?" I asked her.

"Well, 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.

"Oh yeah?"

"I need to pick up my pictures and some cigarettes, maybe a coffee."

"Yeah, okay Gary." I looked back at Rose. Angela was now standing next to her.

"I 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.

"Yeah, these two look just fine." I said, smiling at the two women.

Gary 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.

"I'm outta here!" yelled Gary from the stairs.

"That 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.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph! My holy cards!" she cried.

"What? 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 wildly.

"Don't 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.

"Thank you." I said quietly.

"Thanks 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 now-a-days.

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.

My 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.

I 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.

A 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!"

The 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.

I 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.

I 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.


Kelly Marie Johnston 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.

Pleasure Chest
© 2007 by Kelly Marie Johnston






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