Sport 27: Spring 2001
Tim Wilson — Private Beach Bitches
The couple stood and dusted off the coarse beach sand that had collected, respectively, on his knees and her buttocks. They had no names. From cold space, the sun beamed messages of hate. Waves foamed like horses; the pair blinked, then smiled. They were naked, well endowed and beautiful. Even their feet, from which moments before their toes had curled fiercely, were beautiful. She shook her hair of sand. He wore a graceful thin necklace.
As they set off down the beach, his arm fell to her shoulder.
The screen went blue. Allen Coe put down the remote. He loved that friendly unnecessary arm. Some men would find eroticism in a woman being clubbed like a baby seal. Allen wasn't one of those guys.
He checked the clock. Oh-oh. He visited the bathroom then pulled back his curtains. Cloud hovered over the city. Allen felt like a criminal. It was 7.46 am, an hour when you should be washing breakfast dishes, not your torso.
The weather forecast had exacerbated the traffic. People nowadays took cars like umbrellas. Allen decided against sneaking through the green bus lane. The ethical choice cheered him. Buses deserved unimpeded right of way.
A motorbike cop intercepted an offending taxi, but Allen cautioned himself against smugness.
Allen telemarketed for the United Missionary Congress. Though the UMC was staffed largely with Christians, Allen's mild temperament disguised his atheism. He ate the same lunch each day: two cheese and ham sandwiches.
‘You're late,’ said Katrina. When Katrina laughed, she sounded stupid and fearful. Each morning she asked him if he had seen this or that television programme. He would say no, and she would recite snippets of dialogue. Since drama often involved sexual scenarios, these tended to be from reality shows.page 137
Allen took one of many seats. A competing charity had recently begun an advertising campaign featuring a landmine victim and a celebrity. Plus, the UMC's evangelical support church had withdrawn its Prayerful Payer scheme. So Shelly, the office manager, fired most of the phone workers. They went, dazed and sacrificial. Allen felt sorry for them, for himself too. A genuine team spirit had filled the phone room. His co-workers were kind; they cherished each other's company through a shared sense of mission. Also Allen's pay had failed to go through last week, though Shelly assured him this was ‘a hiccup’.
Katrina related how a duck had last night been thought to be loose in Swansea, Wales.
The woman's skin in the video had been so tanned. Romantically, the couple had tried on the water's edge. But the tide interfered. So they supported themselves against a palm tree. Allen daydreamed of a less prosaic life, one in which chance impediments provoked thrilling outcomes.
The duck turned out to be a piece of metal lodged in an underground pipe. Water flowed, producing quack noises. The animal welfare officers were extraordinarily relieved.
Shelly called Allen and Katrina to her office. She assured them that the UMC's fortunes were about to turn around. She gave her regular speech about sticking to The Speech, a printed card that sat before every phone. Briskly, she detailed ‘recalibrated duties’.
If she had been so intent on saving money, Allen wondered, why didn't she fire herself? But Shelly flirted with him, so he kept Mum.
Shelly's hands made a professional clasp. Allen noticed that one of Shelly's nails appeared to have been bitten ragged. This surprised him. Everything else about her was so produced. ‘OK,’ she said, ‘it's time to help the hungry,’ and the meeting ended.
Ordinarily, Allen wouldn't watch such videos. Sure, he had seen them in his teens, when viewing was a group rite. His situation was now solitary and desperate. Each morning he woke with a hardon, but his last sexual contact was so long ago that even his recollected exes were no help. They had been uncompliant girls, and their truculence invaded his imagination. He tried and failed to imagine Shelly without her clothes.page 138
Allen had found himself being short with his co-workers. His driving deteriorated to the point where he had become a threat to the wider community. Actually, this wasn't quite true, but having resolved that he would visit his local video shop, he produced that reason retrospectively. People often made decisions thus: they felt their way to them, allowing rationality to map the path they had taken.
Allen really needed to jerk off.
He was pleased to find the adult tapes housed in a separate room, away from the prying eyes and hands of children. The covers resembled menus, with themes being played out through up to five numbered variations. Were men more classification oriented? Or perhaps a successful formula merited repeating? Allen had heard what stimulated you was programmed from a very young age. Those scenes, those configurations would continue their work unhindered until desire, presaging life, departed. This thought made him sad.
The choice and compactness of the room bewildered Allen. Here he stood, choosing smaller rooms to enter. Older tapes satirised mainstream movies.Beverley Hills Cock did not appeal. Another was titled, alarmingly, Masturbation. Allen thought of the woman at the front desk and knew he wouldn't be getting that one.
The morning after that night, everything was perfect. Two girls kissed. A guy came bounding out of the surf. Everyone giggled shyly. Allen was falling in love with the girls and the moments. It was like when he was young, when sex was brief, intense and astute. Grownup sex went on and on until you felt ludicrous.
He panted like a dog that, following an enforced period indoors, has suddenly been released onto a wide fragrant meadow.
At UMC the empty chairs and tables were gone, along with the desks and some computers. Katrina said that Shelly had sold them. A young man wearing a pinstriped suit stood in Shelly's glass-walled office, his hair cut fashionably short. First the guy gesticulated, then Shelly gesticulated. It was like watching tennis on mute.
Some time elapsed before he realised that Katrina had not replayed last night's television.
During his 20s and early 30s, Allen was successful with women. Neither handsome nor ugly, and earning what then was good money, page 139 he had happily participated in a game of musical chairs in which girls were chairs. The girls swapped too. No matter what happened, you kept smiling. Last person standing won.
Then the operating system that was his speciality lost favour, and he was forced to take jobs at diminishing rates in second-rate companies. He had panicked professionally and personally, becoming erratic, hurting others. In fact he had been seeking surety.
Now woman looked at him, at his clothes, and the skin around his eyes. Their expressions told him they were performing a calculation. Five years hence they might not even take this trouble.
Allen had selected his video in part because the cover depicted a variety of ethnic types and he had only ever slept with Caucasians. Once, he had slept with an Australian, but so has half the world. He also chose it because the cover showed really nice weather. Sunshine would buck him up. The tape was called Private Beach Bitches.
That night, accidentally, in a humiliating and proud outburst, Allen ejaculated over his face.
Allen had a talent for phone sales; at UMC he was convinced his labour produced positive results. The tiniest percentage of each pledge was spent on administration. He communicated this through the receiver, working up nifty riffs on The Speech. The feedback was so good that he sometimes wished he could voyage back to his youth, and replace the money and frivolity with the durable values he had since found. What these were he could not specify, except that they seemed more broadly fulfilling.
Once the fashionable dude left, Allen entered Shelly's office. Everything was fine, she said. Her bitten fingertips looked dubious.
Shelly saw what he was looking at, and crossed her arms. She admitted there might be some trouble, but she could handle it.
‘I need you to be the mature one here,’ she said. Allen was light years older than Shelly. Without her hands, the suit regained its power to coerce. ‘It's time…’ she said.
It was time to be settled, to have a partner rather than a girlfriend. Allen's last girl had been a married woman. He liked sleeping with her, the impersonality and excitement of motels. She swore at him in bed and bit his shoulder. When her husband came to his apartment, page 140 Allen jumped back, tense, ready to fight. The husband collapsed. ‘I love her so much,’ he cried, ‘I lie awake at night listening to her breathing, hoping she won't die.’ Allen made him a cup of tea. He vowed to avoid relationships with people in relationships.
That night's viewing disappointed Allen. The second sordor featured a defeated looking girl and three inert bodybuilders. The light too was poor. The camera lingered too long on genitals. Also the women had trimmed themselves with such severity. It made the action look like Adolf Hitler was smoking a cigar at high speed. And the dialogue! One man said, ‘You're very special to me,’ twice, like a sample, before having aggressive sex with a very thin brunette. Her full breasts hardly bounced. In the darkness, semi-clothed, Allen wondered what language they were thinking in. Croatian maybe. He used the fast forward button to synchronise his climax with those on screen. Dozing, he startled to find a reptile perched on his chest. It was his hand.
Katrina wasn't there when Allen arrived at UMC. He went to Shelly's office.
‘Pay night tonight?’ he said.
Shelly put down her pen and looked at him. ‘Right.’ She apologised again. She classified the ‘cash flow thing’ as temporary. His life hadn't been too disrupted, she hoped. This morning she wore a beautiful woollen two-piece.
Allen had his best day ever. Each number he dialled produced ordinary people who wanted to help out: time and money, mostly money. And all the collectors picked up. Katrina bought him a Coke from the machine downstairs. The sugary liquid fizzed in his throat. ‘Maybe Shelly's right,’ said Allen, ‘and better times are just around the corner.’
‘Evidently,’ said Katrina.
Opening his door that night, Allen saw how the television was set up above the bed, the video plugged in beside it. Beyond that fast-food wrappers crowded the bench. When he was young, takeout had been more expensive than home cooking. What had changed?
This time two men serviced five girls. Sheer logistics suggested this might be a climactic event. It was. Allen went to the bathroom. Wearing a fresh pair of boxer shorts, he watched a late comedy show.page 141
He pushed rewind. He wondered if the porn girls would ever become mothers. What would they say to their kids? Or would they be open about it? Nothing was shameful any more. Hiding was shameful.
The next morning the garage declined Allen's card. He ran to the cashflow machine. The tension of being late for work collected within him. It turned to rage. He was a rube, and Shelly had understood this from the outset.
Above, the endless weave of cloud resembled a jumper knitted by God's mad auntie.
Katrina seemed to have been crying. Allen walked into Shelly's office. They argued, that is he argued with himself, expressing pros and cons. On the way over he had been rehearsing what she would say and his own ripostes. It all poured out.
Shelly had bitten her finger so closely that it was bleeding. She did not hide, but sucked at it. She told him to shut the door. ‘We need to talk about this. Two people. No Katrina. She's, well, I think she's on drugs or something. Will you have a drink with me tonight?’
Shelly had to ask a second time with her mouth unobstructed before Allen understood.
His hand shook as he wrote down his home number.
That night, Allen put the tape in a drawer. He turned the TV away from the bed and scolded himself for staring at the phone. He bought two burgers, only eating one. He felt sick with nerves.
If anything happened (and he wasn't expecting anything, he had no expectations at all), he hoped they'd go back to her place. He couldn't even begin to imagine how nice her place was.
Allen sat in a chair, switching from channel to channel. Twice, he checked that the ringer was switched on. He checked to see if there were massages, even though he hadn't gone out.
By ten, he was masturbating. But the beach couple and the arm failed to provide their customary frisson. He fast-forwarded. A small Asian girl lay between two weight lifters. Where possible, Allen avoided the males' groins. What if they aroused him? He had enough problems! The girl's features contracted then relaxed. She reminded him of a child performing a dance for adults. Allen admired that. His forearm page 142 started to burn. He swapped hands. The phone rang through the darkness, an insistent mechanical complaint. He jumped up. Even with pants and no erection, a running male looks absurd.
Bar sounds and coarse female laughter played in his ear. Shelly? ‘Hello,’ said Allen, ‘Hello.’ Behind him the Asian woman gasped and squealed. Inside the receiver, a male laughed, the voice of a man, Allen was sure, who had a pinstriped suit and excellent hair.
Allen arrived at UMC very early. All the phones and computers were packed into Shelly's transparent office. Katrina and Shelly wouldn't come out. Allen kicked the door. Hopeless. He picked up a wastepaper bin and threw it at the glass. Carefully, he enlarged the hole with kicks, then walked through.
Shelly was already on the phone. ‘A security guard will be here in five minutes, Allen.’
Allen ripped the phone cord from the wall. He closed Shelly's laptop and put it under his arm. She started shouting. Allen went behind her and opened the drawers of her desk. Five of her fingers wore band-aids. He found a tin containing $35. He took the cash. Looking up he saw through the jagged glass into the phone room, the graphs of monthly totals and the posters of starving children. Shelly must've observed this view every day for the last year. She must've smiled, perhaps even marvelled that trust should flourish at a time when scepticism was seen as almost virtuous.
Allen turned to Katrina. ‘Are you just going to stand there?’
Katrina took a step forward.
‘I thought we had an understanding, Katrina,’ said Shelly.
Katrina started gathering gear. Then she held the doors while Allen piled junk into the elevator. Elevators were like a room that travelled. They stood together, cramped by their spoils, facing outwards. Allen wished Katrina smelled foxy, like the tear-away perfume ads in old magazines, the ovals of gum that had curdled, but still held the memory of the first reader ripping the page, the seal of ownership. He wanted to put his hand over her shoulder, as he had seen, but he knew it would be wrong. He had been wrong about so many things. The doors opened.