Cameron stood on the roof of the Ivory building. He came here to think, bent against the cold. London was not a good city for rooftop dwellers. The buildings were blanketed in mist and fog. Modern glass structures pointed up, electrified over the dark cathedrals.
He would never be one of the men in crisp blue suits working for ad agencies. He hated them, hated their smug leftism, and he found immense pleasure in fantasies of them being tortured. He would finish his engineering degree soon, and what then? He heard the metal door behind him open. Maybe it was a copper. He turned to see Abby and Connecticut walking to him. They were laughing about something.
Connecticut was his girlfriend. They met Abby, an attractive girl from Belfast with pink acrylic earrings, at a pub the night before. They fucked all night and all morning and now she had grown tiresome, this chubby girl from Belfast. Connecticut, in contrast, was all skin and ice, narrow shoulders, sharp hips.
The first time Connecticut came to London, she noticed the faces. There was always a carved face, a cherub or saint. Soldiers on horses, Madonna and child. She enjoyed the sight of the city. She didn’t have much money and wasn’t sure how long she would be able to stay.
The word sounded important to her. London. It was heavy and hollow, like a church bell, two deep rings. The word tasted metallic. She thought of the pewter plates her father warmed with hot water in the sink before dinner. Those plates belonged here, with their beautifully cold, bitter-tasting edges. They sat in a cabinet in a white house on a stretch of forgotten road in Alabama. Weeds grew up the side of the house. From the road, you might think it abandoned, but it wasn't.
She used to eat corn on the cob. Now she ate small pieces of chicken, the little wing folded in. She wondered at what point did they cut off the beak, what the beak must look like, sitting there, steamed, shriveled, still parted.
London streets leaned into each other. She ran her fingers over a black iron gate. The patisserie windows were yellow and bursting with life. Filled buns and croissants, eclairs and tarts. She scraped along them, looking in, a brass ring on her finger, a gift from her grandmother, who was dead.
It was freezing the night she first stepped out of the airport. She was 22 years old and pale, with short, black hair. Gone were the dirt roads. She got lost in Piccadilly Circus, wandered down Regent Street, then Strand, found a gay leather bar and went in. It was so dark, she could barely see anything. A blue light flashed over a roaring, dizzying room. Bodies swayed in dark and sweat. She was pushed into a corner. It must have been an accident. Her attacker grunted, stumbled on.
Men in leather jockstraps were fucking in a corner by the bathroom. She went downstairs and saw someone getting fisted on a black table. A solitary overhead bulb illuminated a bicep disappearing into what must be an anus. The man being fisted was drenched in sweat and moaning an otherworldly howl. She found a door marked with a yellow sign, a fire exit. It opened into a back alley. She stepped outside. Where now?
She was very tired of death. It smelled like flannel shirts in a dusty closet, like the women praying, the ones from church, murmuring, their voices coming up the stairs. They sounded like witches. Those voices could not follow her here.
Three hours later, she sat in a bar on Southwark, homeless, drinking a martini an old man bought for her. A young man sat down beside her and asked what her name was.
She said, "I’m nobody."
He asked where she was from. She said, "Connecticut."
Seven months later, Connecticut was in the kitchen at the bakery, watching Mrs. Ruth gently place an apple pie on the table.
"Are you hungry?" the old woman asked. "Have you eaten?"
"Yes," Connecticut said. "But I still want a piece if you’re offering."
Mrs. Ruth cut her a piece, handed it to her on a blue plate.
Connecticut asked, "Want to buy some coke?"
"Connecticut. You know I don’t do that."
"I know. No one does. It’s been slow."
"Thank heaven. Maybe the youth will survive. Have some tea."
Connecticut thought about it and said, "We’re becoming a thing, I suppose." She couldn't say Cameron was dangerous. Not to Mrs. Ruth.
"The boys I had were fat," the woman said. "I like the ones who jiggle."
"I don't," Connecticut said.
Mrs. Ruth gathered a fistful of silver spoons from the drawer. "Anyway, I’m glad you’re here. It's time to start the tea cakes."
Somewhere else, Cameron’s professor was telling the class that the higher-level consciousness of humans evolved later, after the mammalian brain had long established our baser instincts. And that's why we have ethics.
Cameron lost focus. The sun rolled over. The first animals woke up from the sea. The wildebeests dug themselves up in the north, and over the mountains came giraffes, all of them, Noah standing there like stone, glorified, his bright horns like twin pyres in the new desert. The world was wet and undivided. Cameron thought about these things, about life as a creation myth, life as a violent action. He had been reading Camus.
He migrated out of the classroom with the rest of them, a congregation of coats and hats. Everyone was talking. He passed two girls in a doorway and overheard one of them saying that she got her period. He thought of a video he saw once of a girl putting a live snake up her vagina. He loved shit like that.
Connecticut opened the door. The kitchen was very quiet. The called out, "Mrs. Ruth!" It was very early, but she knew something was wrong. There was no coffee smell. Connecticut called again, "Mrs. Ruth!"
On the counter, nothing. It was layered in flour from the day before. The mop was in its bucket, its handle resting on the stove. The mop was not in the storage closet where Connecticut left it last night. Mrs. Ruth had been here. She shouted, "Mrs. Ruth!"
The bathroom door was open. Oh god oh god oh god.
Mrs. Ruth was on the floor, her pants at her ankles. Connecticut did not move. She held her breath. She stepped forward and knelt beside the woman. The side of her face was bleeding. There was a pulse.
Oh god oh god oh god. Oh god don’t let her die. Oh god please.
Connecticut realized she was praying. She ran to the telephone.
It was noon. Cameron’s phone rang. It was Connecticut.
"Mrs. Ruth is in the hospital. I think she fell. I found her on the floor this morning."
Cameron took a deep breath. He had arranged Connecticut's job at the bakery. Mrs. Ruth was an old family friend. She needed a helper with the shop after her daughter got married and moved to Stockholm.
"You probably saved her life, Connecticut."
"If she lives. It’s been a fucking awful day."
Connecticut didn’t hear Cameron when he started speaking. She thought about how easy it would be to leave. Just get on a train.
Cameron was saying something. She said, "What? Sorry, I wasn't listening."
"What are you doing later?"
"I don’t know. What are you doing now?"
He was walking back from Amy’s house, a friend who gave amazing head. He said, "I’m just running errands."
"Okay," she said. "Can we meet up?"
"Sure. Two hours?"
Cameron hung up and walked home. The poor needed him most, he thought. Not the academics, not the executives or CEOs. He remembered the day he first saw his father on a prayer rug, facing Mecca. His father had recently converted to Islam. Every time his father tried to talk to him about it, Cameron told him to fuck right off. Maybe this is what happens to rich, lonely men. Cameron's father ran an enormously successful oil and gas corporation based in India. And here he was, kneeling and bowing, bowing and reciting.
Cameron had a box of toys. Some of them were really twisted things he had ordered on the internet. He met Connecticut on the rooftop of the James building. No one ever came up here. Sometimes they found sleeping bags and trash from homeless people, but for the most part, it was always deserted.
She said, "Cameron, I’m leaving. It’s time for me to go."
"I’ve run out of money, and with Mrs. Ruth in the hospital for god knows how long, I don’t know what’s going to happen with the bakery."
"We could find you another job."
He looked at her. Her mind was already made up. He had once made the mistake of asking her why she left. He didn't see her for three days after that. When the deigned to see him again, she told him he had to accept her as she was, as one who had simply left, and that was it. "That is all there is to know," she told him.
She was made to be forgotten. She was built that way. One of those people who haunt you for years later, after they drop off the face of the earth, and you never hear from them again. What kind of a name is Connecticut anyway? She wasn’t even trying to hide it, he realized. Her complete apathy, her betrayal. Who knows what place she’d call herself next.
It was so obvious how little she cared about him, and it hurt. He asked, "Where will you go?"
"I don't know."
"OK." He looked at his feet. He said, "I brought something. If you want to fuck."
She said, "OK."
He took two toys out of the black gym back. He said, "I found this on the internet. It’s a dildo made from a severed horse hoof. When it’s in you, it looks like the horse leg is coming out of your arse. It’s this, or an electric shock butt plug. Like the one we used before, but stronger. I bought a new power box that has double the charge."
Connecticut chose the butt plug and dropped her pants. She asked, "You brought lube, right?"
She said, "I didn’t prepare for anal. That OK?"
"Yeah," he said. "I like it when you’re a little messy."
She asked, "Where did you get the horse hoof?" Connecticut wondered if it belonged to her old palomino, Daisy. She would never know if Daisy was dead or not.
Cameron said, "I found it online. It was pretty easy to get. You have coke?"
They rolled a fiver and snorted it. With her pants at her ankles, Connecticut knelt, arched her back, stuck her butt out, and braced her palms against the cement wall. It was so cold. She was shivering. Cameron slapped her once, hard, on the butt. She knew without looking that it left a mark, a pink hand print. She felt the cold lube drizzle on her butt.
He said, "Push your butt up a little bit more. That’s it. Like a naughty kitten."
The rounded tip of the plug was so cold. It was metal. Cameron breathed on it to warm it up. "Relax," he told her. "Relax."
God, it was big. She said, "Slow down. Jesus, it’s big."
She took another bump of coke off her hand, closed her eyes, and bent over. She said, "Push it in."
The rounded bulb slid in and she let out a yelp.
"I’ll give you a minute to get comfortable with it," he said. "But get ready. I’m not going easy on you. I want you to feel it."
On the base of the plug, a black wire ran out, connected to a heavy black power box with dials. Cameron pressed a button and started the electric shock on a low setting.
He asked, Do you feel it yet?
"No," she said. He turned it up and she screamed.
He said, "There we go."
It felt like a knife going into her spine. Cameron toyed with the dial, turning it up and down. There were small dull pains, a trembling, throbbing sting in her anus. He cranked it up and she screamed again. She started crying. She beat the wall with her fists.
She said, "Oh god baby. I feel it here." She touched her hand to her abdomen.
He said, "That’s good. That’s it baby. You got it."
It felt like a fire in her stomach. She wondered if this is what childbirth felt like, but she never wanted children, so she would never know. She wondered if anyone could hear her screaming, if anyone would come find them if she screamed loud enough.
Cameron was worried they would get caught. He said, "We should wrap this up."
"No," she said. "Just a little bit longer. Give me more."
Connecticut stretched out her arms. He turned the dial up, one notch away from the max. For a moment, she thought that if she had been with Christ on that hill, nailed into the cross beside him, she would have turned her head, looked at his wretched body and said, "I believe in you, Lord. I believe in you."