. A man decides to explore an empty city. He is a gruff man, impatient with niceties. For the purpose of this essay we shall call him John. He enters through the eastern gate. Although the city is empty it is populated by wraiths. Some of these wraiths are given names and dimensions. One is called Speke, another Lotus. Speke wears a tight black suit. The shoes on his little feet are highly polished. Lotus is a thin creature. Smeared lipstick gives her mouth a petulant look. John sees them on India Street, at the edge of the Arab Quarter. It is night, of course. Shall we say this is his first night within the empty city? In any case it is his first serious exploration. He carries with him a notebook, a Nikon F with three lenses, a small burner on which he can heat tea, a flask of mescal, and a Swiss army knife. He walks with some care along rubbled streets, past buildings whose aspect is mordant, past hulks of burned-out cars, etc. He stops when he sees Speke and Lotus. Lotus has taken a seat on the curb. After a moment she reaches under her skirt and begins to roll stockings down her legs. She talks to Speke as she does this, although—and this is a characteristic of wraiths—her words are seldom distinguishable. While she rolls down her stockings, her voice changes. It becomes deeper. When her stockings are rolled to her ankles, she takes her shoes off and places them beside her in the gutter. Then she turns and looks in the direction of John. It is not clear if she sees him or not, although we understand the preternatural nature of wraiths, especially the keenness of their vision. In any case a streetlamp illuminates her. On her face are visible lines—the kinds of lines, furrows around lips and eyes, that one sees on men. Perhaps there is also a pallor to her cheeks, as though a nascent beard has been heavily powdered. Then Lotus begins unrolling her stockings—unrolling them back up her legs. As she does this she continues talking. Gradually her voice becomes higher. She slips her feet back into her high-heeled shoes. She shakes herself, charmingly, as a girl would shake herself. Then she takes Speke's hand, and the two of them continue down India Street.
. Speke lives in a small room over his bookstore. The store has a name: Phosphorescent Books. The books are mostly pornographic, although a few other titles have crept in—A History of the Prussian Wars,
for instance, and Eugene Sue's The Wandering Jew
in four volumes. More common is a book called Red French Heels.
It begins like this: "She crossed her silk-clad legs. Alex, trembling, knelt at her feet. He took into his mouth the six-inch stiletto heel of her red leather shoe. 'Ahh,' she purred. 'Lick it, Alex. Lick it clean.'" The book is unsigned, but always prominently displayed. The deluxe edition is bound in red leather. Elsewhere are cheap paperbacks: Savage Heels, Slave for a Day,
and Confessions of a Hosiery Salesman
are typical titles. The latter is the tale of Mack, who sold stockings—mostly black, and backseamed—to bored housewives in Salt Lake City, Utah. Next to the books are rows of magazines. Here one could peruse Polaroids, submitted by readers, displaying buxom wives and well-hung husbands, and pages filled with high-heeled shoes, stockinged legs, and black lingerie. As John enters the bookstore, Speke and Lotus are in a back room. Lotus is nude. Speke is dusting her. She has a small penis, about the size of her little finger, uncircumcised. Below this penis is her vaginal opening, which gapes like a wound. There are no testes. Her entire body is hairless, even her skull, over which she usually wears a wig or a hat. Speke hands her garments to wear. Each garment is checked off a list he holds in his hand. On one wall are tiers of shoes. Speke inspects them. He takes a pair down. They are red-lacquered. The soles are built up with a four-inch platform, and the heels, thin as rapiers, are ten inches long. When she puts these on she is immediately disproportionate: from the waist down she seems long, strung out, skinny; but from the waist up she is as small as a child. Speke does not put a wig on her. Instead he polishes her pate. Her face likewise is naked—her eyes, lips, and cheeks colorless, similarly waxen. He nods—he voices approval. Speke speaks rather well. Then they turn towards the doorway, where John appears.
"She tightened the strings of his corset. Poor Alex! He struggled within the leather confines. His flesh bulged over the top—like breasts. He knew then there were no limits to her cruelty. Afraid, he lowered his head. 'Now,' she said, 'you will obey me forever.' His eyes widened. She held in her taloned hand a red-lacquered shoe. Its heel was ten inches long, thin and pointed like a rapier. Alex blanched. 'Yes, Alex,' she said. She reached down and stroked his nylon-clad legs. 'Yes, Alex. For you!'" John puts down the book, which is titled Red French Heels,
and picks up a magazine. It features a model named Suzie. Beneath her photograph is a caption: "I love the feel of the wind on my bare thighs, above my stocking tops. And when my boyfriend strokes my slick-nyloned legs, I become a pussycat in his hands!" In the photo she is looking over her shoulder at the viewer. A wind has lifted her skirt, revealing black-nyloned legs, white thighs, and the bare moons of her buttocks. "I always tease my men," Suzie adds. "I sit so people can see 'accidentally' up my dress. I love to feel their eyes going up my legs!" In another magazine Rachel boasts of her collection of shoes. "I have more than any of my friends," Rachel insists, "and all the shoes have high, spiky heels and pointed toes. I just love the way they feel when I go prancing down the street—and the way men look at me when I do!" There are pictures of Rachel in black shoes, red shoes, white ones, shoes with ankle straps and no straps, cutaway pumps and slingbacks. All have spindly towering heels. "My men love my shoes," says Rachel, "especially with my black nylon stockings! I never leave home without them!" When John puts the magazine down he looks up at the doorway to the back room. Speke is there, and the creature called Lotus. "Yes?" Speke says. "Do you see something you like?
A photography session is arranged at once. John loads film into his Nikon F. The model, who is introduced to him as Lotus, seems agreeably listless. The lighting is primitive: four two-hundred watt bulbs in aluminum reflectors. If the film is color, John realizes, and the light temperature not compensated for with filters, there will be a shift in hue. Speke waves away the problem. He straightens the lapels of his black suit. In the book, he notes, every garment is carefully described. He shows John the list. The sequence is to be followed exactly. Thus we see the model, Lotus, in black leather. Above the black leather bodice is the tiny, bald face. Beneath the black leather skirt are skinny legs and the red-lacquered shoes. The arms stick out at angles. All this is visible in the photographs. These pictures cannot be said to be attractive. Lotus pokes out of the garments, all bone and skin. Her face resembles the mug shots of criminals. Perhaps Lotus is a criminal. Her face is crafty, or her expression suggests, somehow, the craftiness of a criminal mind. When her nipple is in John's mouth—the nipple protrudes from a cut-out leather bra—her lips are drawn into a gesture which suggests craftiness, smugness, and scorn. John's mouth leaves saliva on her skin. This is quite visible, although the over-exposed highlights tend to eliminate details. Then the woman's belly, pallid as a worm, swells into his face. Her little penis flips into his mouth, in the same way her nipple flipped into his mouth. He seems to suck, while beneath his mouth the thin vaginal lips flap about. Liquids drip, liquids other than his copious saliva. Under the 800 watts her black-nyloned legs shine. Highlights dance all over her red-lacquered shoes and sparkle at the tips of her ten-inch heels. It is at this point that an alteration in content occurs. We see it in the hunched, nude form of Lotus, whose back is now angled towards us. Stockinged legs appear over her shoulders. Beneath the sheer nylon is matted hair. A man's face is visible to us: sweat, saliva, and other, thicker liquids, obscure his expression. A black leather garterbelt cuts into his waist: he seems embraced by a spider. Meanwhile Lotus' face is buried in his groin. Her tongue, we remember, is capable of extending for some distance. Red shoes with ten-inch heels are brought into the picture. They are forced onto his feet. We see him standing on them—knees bent and splayed outwards, belly sucked in, his penis half-risen from its nest of hair. Lotus strokes his penis, as though giving it comfort, but her face, turned to the camera, is crafty, smug, scornful. This picture is printed with care.
THE MALTESE FLOWER.
It is not always clear, in the empty city, the difference between waking and dreaming. Perhaps there is no difference. In any case the explorer John wakens upon—or finds himself dreaming upon—a stairway. It is marble, and has that fin-de-siecle elegance that stairways often have in the empty city. He tap-tap-taps down this stairway. This tapping noise alerts him. He is wearing black patent pumps with six-inch heels. His ankles are sheathed in what appears to be silk, perhaps nylon. He is descending into a ballroom decorated with rubber plants, plaster cupids, and blue lace curtains. At the bottom of the stairs await five women. They are Jetta, Alfetta, the Maltese Flower, the Wife of Seymour, and a woman known only as "R." John looks striking as a woman, just as the women below, each in her own way, looks striking. He wears a white silk dress, which tightens across his hips with each step. He steps among the five women as though he were their equal. Does walking in these shoes arouse him? He can feel—we are sure of this—the garterbelt which holds up his stockings, and the stockings themselves, which shift minutely but tangibly with each step. At his groin is something, perhaps panties, perhaps something else. One of the women comes forward. She is the Maltese Flower. She and Jetta are mulattos. The Maltese Flower has black shining hair. She leans forward. Perhaps John thinks she is about to whisper into his ear. Instead she bites him.
Immediately the "dream" changes. Although our explorer is still a woman, or at least dressed as a woman, he is now in a garden. In the moonlight he sees flowers and small trees. Jetta, standing next to him, takes his arm. She wears a black bikini and spike-heeled shoes. They walk together down a path. Speke is waiting. He takes a photograph of them, using a box camera with an attached flash. Jetta begins to fondle John. For a moment he stands there confused. He wants to fondle in return—to handle Jetta's magnificent black breasts. But he is a woman now, not a man, or at least he cannot be sure that he is a man or a woman. Jetta's dark hands with their white-painted nails slip over his breasts and up his throat. He feels Jetta's lips touch his. All this time the man, Speke, is taking pictures. Sweat rolls down the explorer's body. His thighs are moist. Jetta slips her hand up his nyloned leg, under the skirt. John, terrified, turns away. If this black woman discovers balls and cock, what will she do? Such a discovery might infuriate her. Jetta pinches his thigh. John falls backward. He sees his stockinged legs fly into the air. He has to admit they are shapely. He admires his narrow ankles, the swell of his calves. The black patent shoes catch the moonlight and the flashbulb as it pops nearby. He sees Jetta's face, grinning. She has an enormous mouth, filled with white teeth. Beyond her a gardener is working. He plucks weeds from the earth. After a moment he plucks weeds from around John. He uses shears to snip at the grass. Jetta is gone. So is Speke. John realizes he is still lying on his back, legs in the air, skirt pulled to his hips. He leaps to his feet. The gardener snips and plucks. He is wearing a straw hat. Not once does he look at John.
ALFETTA AND THE WIFE OF SEYMOUR.
John drifts down the street. His spike-heeled, pointy-toed shoes barely touch the sidewalk. He loves the feel of the wind on his bare thighs, above the stocking tops. His dress is a flimsy thing, scarcely there. How lovely I must look! he says tapping-tripping-prancing down the street. For a moment he thinks of the moustache on his upper lip; he dismisses the thought. He dismisses, in sequence, his cock, both his balls, the hair on his chest, the defined muscles of his arms, the visible pores on his nose, and the remembered boniness of his feet. He longs to practice sitting and standing and swinging his legs out of cars. He imagines glimpsing his own creamy thighs above the stocking tops. He imagines a cloud of perfume. He imagines his sleekness, his soft roundness. He gasps with the audacity of his vision. After a moment he sees he is standing with Alfetta and the Wife of Seymour. Speke and Lotus join them. Bald Lotus wears a black tuxedo and a bowler hat. Her shoes are as brightly polished as Speke's. She opens her pants and brings out an erect penis. It is thin, but very long. Her tongue comes out of her mouth just as the penis comes out of her pants. Alfetta takes John's left hand. He sees with pleasure that his hand is as carefully manicured as hers. The Wife of Seymour takes his right hand. They bend him over. He feels something licking at his nyloned legs. Speke, nearby, makes ruminative noises, the sort of noises a man might make while contemplating handiwork of which he is proud. Meanwhile, Lotus' long, thin tongue has moved from stockinged leg and bare-fleshed thigh to nape of neck. John becomes aware of this too late to effect resistance. The tongue flicks at his naked nape. Events cannot be erased, even in the empty city. Her tongue has caught his neck, and truly it is no use to pretend otherwise. Meanwhile, her pale penis has risen even higher. Perhaps it has become longer. It may be even whiter, slicker. Such judgements are subjective. In any case, this penis—this artifact—slides into an orifice. It slides into an orifice of the explorer. The artifact is cold, slick, and long, and thus travels for some distance into the orifice before stopping. It is at this point that John, bent between Alfetta and the Wife of Seymour, becomes paralyzed. He is utterly transfixed. His movements are all internal: interior tremors, interior convulsions, interior contractions of muscles seldom exercised and hardly known. Hah! says Lotus—not a laugh, perhaps an explosion of breath. The slick, thin artifact partially withdraws, then jabs forward. Hah! she says, or explodes, just as a flashbulb explodes. Convincing, says Speke, the word forming in the air around his head. The word pops away like the flashbulb. Hah! pops the air around them all. Discretely we withdraw.
Some distance away a goddess, who has masqueraded as "R," watches. We nod, of course, in her direction. We must make an effort, some day, to describe her dress, and the particularly delicate shoes she wears. Does she listen to the grunts and petulant cries rising from the encoupled pair? Perhaps she finds the tableau amusing. Who can say what a goddess likes? We ourselves wander off down streets which become increasingly narrow. A few fires burn: wraiths huddle there, their eyes sunk deeply into malformed skulls. The tapping of our feet becomes visible in the air, like musical notes. The music swirls behind us. What does it mean, any of it? An animal, part lion, part eagle, part snake, hisses at us from an aperture, and a window—like a giant eye—closes in a caricature of a wink. Ah, we sigh, there is no meaning, no meaning at all. We move on, slowly, like a humped dowager approaching the end.
NOTES:The date of this story (and its companion, "In the Lair of the Goddess") is ambiguous. I began it as a novel in the late 1970s, while living in California. It is one of several novels that I began, but which slammed to a halt after just a few chapters. I fretted and stewed over the manuscript for years. Finally, in Mexico, I tore it apart and found a way to make it into a couple of stories. I may add another piece later; and, arguably, my new novel, Evidence of a Lost City, is a descendent of this aborted novel.
This work was an attempt to combine Jungian archetypes, dreams, and myth into a modern story. As my new novel will attest, this remains a fascinating topic for me.