Bunny greased me in body lotion, worrying my arm like she wanted to jack it off. Her girlfriend helped, allotting my other arm half-hearted pats, her face tidy as a bone button. We, abreast on her bed like pigeons, were to plan a threesome together, which I had said yes to because I wanted to have sex with the girlfriend and figured I could tolerate a middleman. Bunny had made chocolate truffles for the occasion, as if for a book club.
In my lap sprawled Bunny’s three-ring binder from her dungeon dominatrix job, a catalogue of positions, props, fantasies, one-acts cast with role-play avatars from cougar and jock to slave-girl and sea captain. “We could ball-gag you so you drool, Tina, or all be little gay boys in strap-ons,” Bunny told me thoughtfully, twirling her alpine braids. She moonlighted as a bratty rich girl on a phone sex hotline. I didn’t get the braids, or her corset top, since her clients couldn’t see her. Maybe she needed the look to get into character.
“Or,” she continued, “prop your legs open,” and, rifling through what looked like a pirate chest, produced an iron bar.
Jill, the girlfriend, just smiled with owlish blinks, her pats on my arm petering out as if she waited to be told to stop. She worked at an expensive florist’s. I had visited her there once, her arms overloaded with roses. She seemed too tall for herself, heavy-hipped, swaying a bit with an uncertainty I found moving. She hunched down to speak quietly to me. Eye-level with her breasts peeping from the rose stalks like rabbits, I felt petite, even though I’m what people have tactfully called “solid” and rudely called “Tina the Tank Engine,” linebacker-wide. Unsuccessfully, I now tried to imagine her waggling a dildo.
“Would you like to be slapped? Does it turn you on to be insulted?” Bunny’s glitter eggshell eye-shadow shimmered, a hint of customer service in her voice.
“I don’t think it turns me on to be insulted,” I said. I was not turned on at all and felt guilty about it, seeing as Bunny only wanted us all to be comfortable. What was it people called sex, “exploring each other’s bodies”? Then with a cartographer’s rigor, she would have drawn out the lines of our desires before such an expedition, before the jumble of six legs, six arms, the “Here be dragons” murk of each Torrid Zone. This was very progressive of us, I reminded myself.
I said helpfully, “So will we take turns kissing each other, or all just sort of kiss at once? Or is that something we should play by ear?”
“What would you like best?” Jill asked.
“Whatever feels the most natural. I mean, I wouldn’t mind watching you two kiss for a while and then joining in. Unless that would be awkward.”
Bunny jumped in, “We don’t want you to feel awkward about anything! It should all be natural and fun. You can have whatever you want.” She slid a truffle through my lips. Her fingers lingered a moment, then withdrew as I realized too late I was supposed to suck the chocolate from them.
“Well,” I said, swallowing with difficulty, “maybe you could both kiss and meanwhile, I could, like, go down on Jill or something.”
Jill blushed, a blotch of pink spreading even on her collar bone. This sudden prettiness encouraged me, and I rushed on, “If you would be OK with that, Jill, of course. Or maybe I could just suck on your nipples?”
I felt at once how overheated the room was, how I smelled like the mall shops moms like. The girls exchanged a look over my head and murmured some non-committal phrases. I figured, in showing too much preference for Jill, I’d violated some convention of the pre-threesome prep session. I had hoped this preparation would spare me the embarrassment of fucking the girls, wedging myself, bulky and ungainly, between their silky bodies. It would have been useful, I thought now, had I undertaken some preparation for the meeting itself, like an online tutorial.
But I knew what I wanted, and I wanted to do it, not talk about it. The talk made it cartoonish, hilarious, and so more obscene than any acrobatics we could have strained to enjoy. Just as no one really ever wants to hear each other’s dreams, neither do they want to hear each other’s fantasies. Lucky for me, my dreams are too boring and stressful to tell, like waking life: I am late and can’t find my hat, or I can’t understand the train schedule. The most frequent dream is the one in which I walk impossibly slowly, like someone in a lake, like someone drunk and trying not to look it.
Some years later, exhausted with women’s intricacies, I’ll go out with a man, not the first man I’ll sleep with but the first somnambulist. I’ll wake to find him standing on a chair in the living room as if on a scaffold. I take his hand and he says something about a bag full of teeth. At three a.m., in the middle of winter and sleep, he’ll mill around the corner, trying to catch the bus to Milwaukee Avenue. It is very important not to wake him when he sleepwalks, he tells me, because an immediate feeling of shame will overwhelm him, but he never remembers any of his dreams, or maybe he doesn’t dream at all.
I will text him once from a commuter train, the kind that lets you drink little bottles of wine from paper bags. Tipsy, I’ll write what I want him to do to me in bed. Resting my head on the green window full of boxcar yards, I send him a series of highly detailed texts, then watch his “…” bubble with growing anxiety, unsure if my language is too clinical, too pushy, too adjective-heavy, too much. He will respond with a description of the rape fantasy he’s harbored for me. When I ask him to stop telling me stuff like that, right before I stop talking to him for good, he will text back, “But I love you!”
I’d killed the conversation at Bunny’s, so she got up to put on a CD of girls scream-singing. She screamed along, shimmying her hips. She’d pulled her corset so tight, she could have rested her chin on her breasts like a shelf. Bunny picked up a toy gun and playfully fired into the air. It shot out tiny plastic pigs. She turned the gun on us with a duck-faced pout, and a pig nicked my cheek stretching in a forced smile. I felt like a child about to bawl at her own birthday party after too much sugar and forced fun.
Jill, laughing lightly, bobbed her head and tried to sing along, but no sound came out. What she was doing with Bunny, I had no idea, though Bunny wouldn’t be the first abrasive extrovert to collect a so-called straight-man sidekick for a lover, the way an anglerfish’s tiny consort fuses to her belly. I wondered whether they didn’t want me so much after all. Unbalanced in their contrasts, they simply needed a buffer.
I never did sleep with them. Lately, I sleep alone. But last week in a dream, a tiger padded over to me across a summer lawn where I lay naked in blown-off dandelions. When it climbed on top of me, the tiger licked my breasts and my sex. I was so fucking gorgeous, linebacker shoulders and all, I arched my throat and let the tiger’s warm weight close on me, like a prima donna’s cloak made from yellow velvet. When I woke up, I had no one beside me to tell the dream to, and so thank God, I kept the tiger for myself.
The phone interrupted Bunny’s chanteuse act and she fluttered to the kitchen, braids flying. I looked at Jill, a last cough of longing rattling around my bowels. Her nostrils twitched as she, I guessed, yawned with her mouth closed. I put a hand on her thigh. It was surprisingly cool, like a waxy leaf. She smiled at me politely. Not knowing now what to do with the hand, I hoped I might just rest it there, as if it, and not me, lacked the courage to crawl up under her skirt. We listened to Bunny an octave higher: “Spoil me, daddy! I’m so spoiled!”
Ashley Keyser lives in Chicago. She graduated from Northwestern University and the University of Florida, and she volunteered with the Peace Corps in Ukraine for several years. Her work has appeared in Copper Nickel, Pleiades, The Cincinnati Review, The Journal, Best New Poets 2015, and elsewhere.