Fiction - The Grey Area, Absinthe Literary Review
 

Nomen Catcher a short story by Charlie Anders

Call me Peacock.

It’s the only name I’ve known, though not my real one. I’ve ransacked my earliest memories to listen for my parents’ voices speaking my true name, but the sounds come out befogged no matter how I strain. The nickname came from a favorite sweater when I was three. Too young for angora, I nevertheless demanded the turtleneck with dozens of blue-green eyes faking iridescence. I wore it every day one Fall, until a bully tossed me in a puddle and my parents sat me down and explained dry cleaning. They taught me about fabric care, including permanent press and delicates, and where silks and yarns come from. But they never told me my real name.

I liked the name Peacock but not the teasing that came with it. Nicknames piled on my nickname: peepee and peabrain when I was younger; then variations involving the word cock when I was older. Try registering to vote, to drive, or for the draft with a fake name.

My parents moved around a lot when I was little, so I don’t know which state I was born in or even which country. And my parents both disappeared when I turned seventeen. My last memory of them involves a graduation ceremony. My father had received his MBA, with which he hoped to take the natural fiber insulation business my parents had started in a Vermont commune to the “next level.” I’d ineptly satirized the hippie with his new diploma in free market economics, until my mother gave me a look that told me to shut up if I valued my vocal chords. She and my father had been fighting constantly since he started the course. He’d bounced home every weeknight on the balls of his feet, full of ideas for transforming the way they did everything.

Now they weren’t fighting, just looking at each other. We’d all gone to an all-you-can eat couscous restaurant to celebrate after the ceremony. I’d listened to the oud player to distract me from my parents’ silence. When my mom visited the women’s room, my dad leaned across the table and said, “Peacock, it’s bad. It’s come to our business or our marriage. And I know which of those comes first. I’m handing things over to George. We’re going to split for a while. You take care of yourself, okay?” Then they’d gone away together. I was still a year shy of awareness of how important it is to know your real name, so I hadn’t even thought to ask.

None of which exactly explains that guy, and his penis down my throat. It was the first cock I ever sucked, and it tasted very faintly of persimmons. It twitched epileptically as I got it as far down as possible, smacking my lips and nuzzling it with my tongue the way I’d seen a woman porn star do. Then I sucked for all I was worth, feeling a tremor start in my balls and work its way up to my lungs, so every outward breath through my nostrils felt hot. I can describe that guy’s penis in great detail: Circumcised, it had a really thick head. I felt that velveteen quality I associate with dicks, but bumpier than my own cock, I think. I smelled sweat. He had dark glasses and long red hair. That’s all I remember.

I hadn’t planned to give a blow job in the men’s room. I’d gone in to wash some beer foam off my hands, because the Lucky Dog always overpours its beers. Then this guy walked up to me at the sink and said casually, “I know your real name.”

“Really?” I splashed water all over myself.

“Really.” He leaned over and whispered something in my ear. It had an S sound, that’s all I remember. Then he said aloud, “Now suck my cock. And make it good.”

I sank to my knees, suddenly eager to do whatever he told me. It seemed the most important thing I’d ever done. I soon had an erection of my own, but I barely noticed. When I was done, he told me to thank him. And I did. He decided that wasn’t thanks enough— I should kiss his boots. And I did. Then he laughed and brandished a quill. “I’ve written your name on the bathroom wall. Have fun.”

I knelt on the floor of the bathroom for a long time, watching the water slosh from the tap I’d left running. My immobility wasn’t just due to the shock of my two discoveries—my real name and my uncontrollable desire to obey. I felt I was awaiting orders, on the off chance that he might come back. My mind wanted to buzz, but I felt too emptied by expectation. When I regained the presence of mind to stand, I rushed to the bathroom and scanned the walls. I searched through political graffiti and poems without finding my name. I must have searched every inch twice. Finally, I heard a knocking at the front door of the men’s room. My girlfriend Stef.

“Are you OK, PC? I’m going to send the fire department in there.” I came out, apologizing for constipation.

I sat out in the bar with my back to the big-screen TV for an hour, while Stef made going-home noises. I stared at the bathroom, unable to believe my biggest secret waited on one of its walls, seemingly so attainable. Finally, I excused myself again and headed back in. I rushed up to the stall with such urgency that I didn’t see the man standing behind the open door until I almost collided with him. He stopped reading the walls and turned, grinning as if in recognition. Shorter than me and chubby, he sported a big mustache.  No hair showed under his big beret. “You must be Peacock. Or should I say...” He said the name again. It definitely had an S sound. That’s all I can dredge up. He hadn’t even finished it before I was on my knees, awaiting instructions.

“Good boy.”

The big man sat on the toilet. He gestured for me to get off my knees and lay face down across his lap. My head nuzzled the side of the stall. The man reached around my waist and undid my fly and belt. I lay motionless, waiting for the word. Then he brought his fleshy hand down onto my ass, just below the delta of my crack. The tomblike men’s room lent each swat an echo like a racquetball game. Whatever pain I felt boosted my excitement, along with my own involuntary flops. “I can’t stand the language of penitence that goes along with corporal punishment,” the man said through a layer of phlegm. “So after each spank, you say ‘I’m a good boy,’ as loud as you can.” After that, the blows got harder.

“I’m a good boy.” Smack. “I’m a good boy!”

“Louder!” Smack.

“I’m a good—” Smack. “—boy I’m a good boy!”

The pain crept up on me. By the end, I was proclaiming my goodness not just loudly but in strained yelps. I knew the spanking was done when his palm rubbed gently across both cheeks.

“There. You are a good boy, aren’t you?”

He reached for the toilet brush and coated it with canola oil from a small bottle in his pocket. In Europe, they call canola oil rapeseed oil. It actually comes from a plant called rape, did you know that? Supermarkets changed the name to placate American consumers.

My anus had way more nerve endings than I’d realized, for both pleasure and discomfort. I heard myself gasp as the handle of the brush worked in and out. I came all over the big man’s lap, but hardly noticed until he pushed me off. Then I knelt once again, peering up like the HMV dog.

“First you can lick your sperm off my lap,” he grunted. I couldn’t really taste much on his jeans, but the denim scoured my tongue. The bundle behind his zipper started dormant, but stirred as I licked slowly up and down. When the cock prodded against the seam, the man reached down and released it with a flick of his zipper. No underwear stopped the uncoiling. Then I wrapped my lips around it and began running them along the shaft as fast as I could. He chose to pull out at the last moment, spattering my face.

“That’s for my jeans. Good boy.”

Then he left me kneeling, this time with a messy face that I barely remembered to wash before I left the bathroom. The water on my face seemed to wake me up, and I ran out of the bathroom, heaving sperm-flavored breaths.

“I want to stay as far away from that bathroom as possible,” I told Stef on my way out the door of the Lucky Dog.

“Really? You seemed to like it in there a lot.”

“I can’t explain.” I didn’t talk the whole drive home. I sat in the passenger seat of our tiny hatchback and tried to picture myself as the sort of person whose heart skipped at the thought of kneeling before strangers. It felt as though I’d awakened from a vivid dream to find I’d killed Stef in my sleep.

“What’s up with you, PC?” She glanced away from the road, her concerned eyes tinged dashboard green. “What were you doing in there? I heard weird noises. Is there something I should know?”

I couldn’t answer her.

For a day, my usual Peacock persona hibernated. I spent Sunday sitting around the apartment, staring at the walls and watching golf on television, despite loathing golf. Stef tried to draw me out a few times. She was obviously frustrated by my silence but didn’t blow up at me. She ended up going out with her friends in the afternoon and didn’t get home until late. I sat where she’d left me, on the bean bag facing the tiny black and white TV she balked at replacing. She pulled up a lawn chair and sat blocking my view of the set.

“Peacock, I hate to pressure you when you’re obviously having a hard time with something. But this secrecy is driving me nuts. Marshmallow and two of the other cats have complained of receiving cold pricklies from you. I’ve felt like a ghost. So I guess if you can’t talk to me, you’ll have to get counseling. Or if you won’t, I’m moving out.” She took a breath, the rehearsed spiel over.

“This isn’t going to be easy to explain,” I said, trying to look past her at the Carol Burnett rerun. “But something weird happened last night.”

~

 

An ascetic in most areas, Stef luxuriated in the presence of animals. She wouldn’t buy a second frying pan, any food item costing more than $1.49, or a dress not on final clearance. But she spent a good third of her salary on bulk cat and dog foods at the pet superstore. Once we moved out of our apartment into something with a yard, she wanted a small goat and maybe some chickens. With her zinfandel hair and long legs, she regularly had to turn away men who’d become pet owners to impress her. I didn’t buy an animal before I asked her out; I think the name Peacock tagged me as an exotic breed to collect. She occasionally bought bargain-pack porn mags at the gas station, cut out the faces of the models, and superimposed them over our holiday snaps to show us fucking in improbable poses.

When I first told her I thought I might be bisexual, Stef shrugged. “Who isn’t?” was all she said. That was about three months before the Lucky Dog incident. I would have called myself het-leaning anyway, since for every nice ass I saw on a guy I noticed ten breasts. Stef seemed to consider the ability to be shocked just one more unaffordable luxury. As a school guidance counselor, she’d seen it all at one point or another. But the story of my bathroom follies pushed the envelope. At first, she seemed to take it really well.

“O ... kay.” She sat, index fingers clasped under her nose, knees together, bare feet apart. “So you’re suffering from rape trauma. Those men assaulted you, and you’re still dissociating. It’s normal. We’ll get you counseling right after we go to the police.”

“Stef, it was totally consensual. That’s the weird thing. I was into it.”

“Were you drugged? Hypnotized?”

“I remember the whole thing vividly. And I felt normal right afterwards.”

I got up to turn the TV off—it was driving me crazy to have it on and not be able to watch. Just talking about my experience with Stef was making me feel more like my normal self.

“I’m afraid you’re stuck with a sicko.”

“And the trigger for all this was your real name, which you can’t remember.”

“Right. That’s what makes it so weird.”

A tabby jumped into Stef’s lap. She stroked him without looking away from me. “That still leaves us with option A: counseling. We need to figure out what happened. The name thing is weird, though. You know my name, right?”

“Sure. You’re Stef.”

“Stephanie Margaret Colson. And the only one who calls me the full spiel is my mom, usually when she’s about to put me majorly in my place.”

“That guy looked too young to be my dad.”

“Not the point, PC. Think about it.”

Like I said, Stef seemed to be taking it really well. Later I heard sobbing while I brushed my teeth. She lay on the bed with her face on a pillow. I sat on the edge and put my hand lightly on her shoulder.

 “Uh, PC ...” she said. “I’d rather you didn’t touch me right now.”

 I went back to brushing my teeth.

For about a week, things resembled normality. No men approached and enslaved me, though I felt weird every time I went into a public bathroom. I watched other men urinate and imagined that at any moment one of them might turn to me and issue a command. I dreamt about the long-haired man who’d written my name on the bathroom wall. In the dreams, I looked under my bed to find him writing there.

“Your name in runes,” he said. “A Norse tradition: write it under a man’s bed to make him sick. You’re incurable now.” His copper hair shone in the moonlight.

Stef seemed to relax around me over that week. Of course, I made an appointment with a counselor whose ad on the back of the free weekly paper promised non-judgmental sex therapy. John Bergman’s next opening was a week away. In the meantime, I walked around downtown Raleigh watching shaggy college students rub shoulders with the ultra-conservative John Locke foundation. I ran into friends and joked around with confidence. But occasionally I'd see a man cross the street and imagine crawling at his heel on an imaginary leash. I passed by Raleigh’s only gay leather bar on Monday, and stared at its door for a few minutes before rushing back to the office where I sys-admined.

“Who am I kidding?” I muttered. “I don’t even like leather. And Stef would never forgive my wearing dead cows.”

An image came to mind: me on my hands and knees, mooing for all I was worth while laughing men brought a branding iron up to my buttocks.

~

 

Naked on my back, I waited for the thread of urine to travel from my navel to my open mouth. The bladder capacity of the man standing over me may have seemed endless, but my patience matched it. His looming belly obscured his face. Outside the bathroom, I heard bar patrons talking and laughing. I was an hour late to meet Stef, but my mind fixed on the spray on my abdomen. I smelled beer, piss and spunk. Finally, the spray landed in my mouth and I struggled to swallow. The spray tapered. I waited, until the man handed me rough brown paper towels.

“Clean yourself up.”

 I didn’t make it out of the bar before someone spotted me and called out. I crawled obediently. I saw high-heeled shiny boots and looked up furtively at a middle-aged woman’s face.

“Hello,” she said, and then my name. “I never would have heard about you if I hadn’t used the men’s room.” She laughed, patted my head. “You’re cute. Come on. I want to take you to a party.”

I crawled until she told me I could walk. She led me to a Mercedes, then paused to consider “the back seat or the trunk?”

She chose the back seat. “That way I can watch you strip and play with yourself in the rearview. But don’t come.” She stopped to pick up two other latex-clad women and introduced me, saying: “He’ll do anything you tell him. I found him in a bar.”

I sat and stroked myself while they talked about Alan Greenspan, until the woman next to me told me to lick her boots instead. The warehouse district south of Hargett Street burgeons with clubs and restaurants, but the dark street we drove to lay beyond the trendy zone. The warehouse we parked in front of looked deserted from the outside.

“Here it is,” the driver said. “Let’s hope they capped attendance at 200 this time. It was a zoo in March. Heel, boy.”

I crawled just behind the woman’s left stiletto into the crowded warehouse. Red and green spotlights arced and a strobe went off occasionally. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw women tied to crosses and bars at one end of the warehouse. Men flogged them with single tails. The woman led me around, telling people the name I wasn’t privy to. She must have introduced me to a hundred people as I crawled behind her, and each time the name got a little clearer. It had an S sound and a hard K as well.

One woman giggled. “Is there anything he won’t do?”

“We really ought to find out,” my captor said.

A series of staccato commands followed, each while I tried to obey the last. “Stand on your head. Sing the Barney theme song. Try to suck your own cock. Pretend to be Mariah Carey. Lick up that vomit. No, don’t do that, that’s gross. Lick this dildo instead. Now bend over.” I felt something cool and much smoother than the toilet brush enter my ass. By now, a crowd watched us. “He’d probably make a pretty good pony,” one woman called out. So they taught me the basics of acting like a horse with a woman perched on my back. They tied me in various positions, including hanging from my bent knees, and whipped me. The party ended, and still they kept experimenting.

“Can we get his cock through your Mercedes symbol? No, from the other side. That’s right, lay him down on the hood of your car. I’ll tie his feet to the grille, you tie his hands to the wipers. You got yourself a new hood ornament, sweetie. Come on, boy, see if you can fuck that Mercedes symbol.”

 I couldn’t get all the way hard in that pose. The woman who’d found me originally drove around Raleigh with me on her hood. Familiar landmarks blurred in the corner of my eye. In front of me, I saw her a red light loom and then disappear behind us in seconds. The motor under me trembled and burned. I prayed we wouldn’t get pulled over. Or crash. A whooping came from the open windows behind me, muffled by the wind in my ears.

When we reached downtown Raleigh, she stopped. It took her and her friends a few minutes to extricate my cock from the Mercedes symbol without breaking either one. Then they tossed me my clothes in a bundle and drove off. I looked down at my dirty weal-covered body. I dressed as quickly as possible, found my car, and drove home.

I felt totally drained but wanted a shower. When I opened the apartment door, I saw Stef sitting on our sofa, phone in hand.

“Never mind, officer. He’s here,” she said, then hung up. She took in my bedraggled state. “It happened again, huh?”

I nodded.

“PC, what are we going to do? How many people know your real name, anyway?” She didn’t pause for me to answer. “I can’t go on like this. I could stay with my friends while I look for another place. I just can’t be with you if you’re going to come home in this state.”

Tears ran down her face, reminding me of the fat man’s urine on my face earlier.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m tired.”

I slept on the beanbag. The next day around noon, Stef nudged me with a riding crop. I opened my eyes to see tall black boots at eye level. Above them, her naked crotch and breasts, then a domineering pout.

“Get on your knees, boy. Kiss my boots.”

 I obeyed, but I wanted to stay on the beanbag.

“You can do better than that,” she growled.

“No I can’t,” I muttered. “I’m really tired. I can’t do this.”

 I felt as though I’d drunk a dozen milkshakes and then run a marathon. And now somebody was offering me dessert. I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

I must have been leaning against Stef’s boot, because when she stomped away I fell over. The floor shook under the kinky boots, even through the carpet. I lay on the floor a while. One of the cats bit my nose to experiment. I saw a boot step near my face.

“I don’t understand you,” Stef said. “I’m trying really hard to do what you want so you don’t have to go to weird bathrooms to get dominated. I actually wouldn’t mind trying some of this stuff. But you ...” The sentence went unfinished.

“Maybe I’ll feel more up to it later. I’m sorry, Stef. Maybe the counseling can help, too. Please hang in there. I just feel as though the part of me that likes that kind of thing just isn’t here right now. For whatever reason.”

More stomping. Then the sounds of luggage being pulled out of our crammed storage closet.

“I’m going to stay with Marcia for a few days. Feed the cats. Get help. Do those two things, and I’ll be back. I just can’t hang around knowing what you really want is rough sex with the Tidy Bowl Man.” She lugged a full suitcase out of the apartment while I lay on the floor, crying into my sleeve.

Bergman’s office actually had a view of the warehouse where I’d performed. He had a couple of abstract paintings and the obligatory diplomas but no couch. I perched on the edge of an ergonomic stool, looking across the big desk at the red-haired man in a suit. His hair was short, but he still reminded me of the man who’d first spoken my name over a week before. I told him about my situation, and then he held forth for what seemed like hours.

I am that I am,” Bergman mused. “The only name for Yahweh that Moses was allowed to know. You’ve managed to reverse the traditional balance, where the mystic finds his true name and tells it to no-one. The mystic gains that name in a spiritual transformation. Signifiers unknown to the unwashed. The Kabbalists seek the secret name of God, while physicists seek the theory of everything. ‘The Deep Ones knoweth Thy secret Name/The Hydra knoweth Thy lair.’ Necronomicon. The Island of Blue Dolphins talks about...”

I stopped hearing what he was saying and stared at him. He looked so much like my tormentor. I rubbed my eyes. “Muhammed Ali and Siddhartha Gautama. The Smothers Brothers and the Family Stone. The Artist Formerly Known—”

“You’re him!” I blurted, standing up and leaning over the desk.

He stopped in mid ramble and squinted. His ears twitched. “I’m who?”

“The guy from the bathroom! The bastard who wrote my name on the wall!”

“What was his name?”

“I don’t know.”

“If you don’t know his name then how do you know I’m him?”

“You look the same, except for the haircut. I mean, you seem...”

He leaned back in his recliner and sighed theatrically. “You haven’t been listening to anything I’ve said for the past half hour, have you? Signifiers. Identity. A equals A. I’m Dr. Bergstrom.”

“Bergman. It says Bergman on the door.”

“ I should fire that signmaker. I’m Dr. Bergstrom, the man you’re paying a hundred and fifty dollars an hour to sort out your shit. Now crawl under this desk and suck on my nuts.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I haven’t had a good nut-sucking since breakfast.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Exactly! You don’t want to. That’s my whole point. But if I were to say, ‘Jackson, crawl under my desk and gently take my balls in your mouth,’ you’d do it, wouldn’t you? Because Jackson does that sort of thing. Jackson loves to obey orders.”

I couldn’t answer at that point, since I had crawled under his desk and was in the process of unzipping his fly so I could raise my open mouth to engulf his scrotum.

“Am I right?”

“Hm-hmm.”I had fished the sac out of his boxer shorts and was bringing it into my mouth.

“That feels good. A little tongue action never hurts too. I want to talk to Jackson for a while. By now of course, you should be hearing the name consciously. You’ll learn it, integrate it, make it a part of the overall dog-and-pony of your identity. But don’t trivialize it or you’ll be right back where you started. Jackson, you have a serious desire for sexual subjugation. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Hm-hmm.”

“I’m going to write your name on an index card so you can memorize it. And I’m going to give you a list of books to track down. You probably won’t want to see me again, so I want you to get the most out of this session. You can take me out of your mouth and talk if you like.”

We sat in silence for a moment while my Peacock side struggled to the surface. “I still have some questions, um, sir. Why did you ...  I mean, why did that guy write my name on the wall? And how’d he find me?”

“He was probably a chaot. Some chaotic magic requires sacrifices, bringing chaos to one person’s life to generate power. There are spells to find someone like you—your ignorance about yourself was a chaos battery waiting to be tapped. Another spell probably hindered your conscious mind learning your name for a while.” Bergstrom sighed. “It used to be much easier to find chaos batteries before the whole gay movement took off and everybody came out.”

“So is there any way to, like, get rid of this part of me? I’m not thrilled at kneeling to strangers all the time. Sir.”

“Get rid of it, no. But now that you know your own name, you’ll only submit to those you choose. Like your girlfriend, if she’s still in the picture.” I zipped up his fly, thanked him and paid him. Then I got the Hell out of there as fast as my cramped legs could manage.

I found Stef sitting at the card table in our kitchenette, staring at a love poem I’d composed to her out of fridge magnets.

“Hi. I’m cured,” I said.

“Don’t joke,” she said. She didn’t look at me. “Nobody gets cured in one session. Whose boots are you going to lick tonight?”

“Yours. If you want me to.”

“But I thought you said—”

I held out my hand. “Jackson Fray, part-time submissive, at your service.”

She took it warily. “Pleased to meet you. So you know your name now?”

“That’s right. And supposedly that means I get more control over that side of me. It helps to give it a good workout every now and then, though.”

 “So no more anonymous gangbangs?”

“Nope. I think.”

“You’ll have to get tested at a clinic in a few months.”

I nodded.

She stood up, looked at me. Her eyes still had moisture in the corners. She slowly conjured a smile. “Well, then. On your knees, Jackson. I want to take you for a test drive.”

I knelt before her, eyes on her tennis shoes. She had me stay put while she closed the curtains. Then she leaned me over the kitchen table and pulled down my pants and briefs. The riding crop gently swished my butt, then stung harder as she found her groove. I stared at the refrigerator as the blows landed one after another. The past ten days’ frustration seemed to channel into her arm. I jerked and twitched as much as I had hanging from the warehouse ceiling. Slowly my mind emptied. I felt myself opening, receptive to whatever she wanted to do to me, whatever she wanted me to do for her.

“I am yours,” I whispered over the hum of the fridge and the rhythmic thrashing of the riding crop, just before language fled and I felt my mind return to a place called Jackson.

  

© 2003 Charlie Anders

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