excerpt from Up There
by Lilly James
His nose and his dick are both hard, and Paul is on the roof on top of the skylight looking down. With his face pressing down and his dick straight, the nose and dick are pressing up on his head and hips, but not uncomfortably. His arms and legs are stretched out as far as they'll go, and now his stomach isflat because the window is arched up toward him and shapes the stomach. In this light you can tell he's not tan except for around his wrists and his face. He's about forty-five. When his eyelashes brush on the window it makes him shiver and he doesn't like it, you see that, but he has to keep his eyes open and looking, so he can see down below where there are things going on he has to watch. You see him try to shift around and is it that his skin is stuck with some kind of glue or is gravity so much that he can't lift his head away? His hair seems limp with the snow falling in it, and too long for how curly it is. When he tries to lift his head up to blink the hair pulls down around the glass and sticks to it. His fingers uncurl, curl, his toes clench in a rhythm or he just kind of presses down on his hips or what's there.
In a room below are four men who can't get it up at all. The shrink's office has some electrical wires falling in the ceiling from under one plaster looking styrofoam tile in the corner. The light doesn't quite get back there. One of the men looks up at these wires, while the others sit in their chairs and wait for the shrink to come in. She wears neutral colors for the same reason that the room's paneling isn't too dark, but it still depresses some patients, or it calms them. When she comes in she acts like she doesn't know one of them is missing, but the short one with dark hair and a mustache points it out.
"Where's Paul?" he asks with a smirk.
"Sidney, Paul is not coming back," she answers, putting her notebook under her folding chair. She sits in on the circle, but five isn't enough to make it a real circle. Six would be enough.
One of the men, the one in the nicest suit, leans forward to take his back off the folding chair, and rests his elbows on his knees. He seems calm enough, but the one who looks the least nervous is also the youngest, wearing jeans and a burgundy silk shirt. His hair is very short and he has blue color contacts. The last one is still staring at the ceiling, now at the skylight. He has short boots on that could be riding boots, and grey pants that could be for work, or for warmth. Outside the snow is pretty bad.
"Probably got laid," Sidney says. Sidney also wears a suit but his body isn't made for that, so it bunches at his waist. Todd's body is made for nice suits. Todd's fingers cross and uncross and he has a pretty bone structure in his face.
"Do you think that would make you stop coming here, if you had sex one time?" asks the shrink, not of Sidney but of whoever.
"Hell yeah," says the youngest one, whose mouth moves nastily when he talks, "It'd take me about a minute to figure that one out."
"It was probably that woman he was talking about last week. Geneva. She probably had sex with him," offers Todd, not looking up.
"If I had a woman..." begins the younger one, Joe.
"If you had my wife you'd know that a woman's not the first thing you want."
"Have you been able to get an erection this week, or have you tried?" asks the shrink, not directing it at anyone certain.
"Christ," mutters Rick at the ceiling.
"I'll tell you at home with my wife I don't get a moment to myself, even if I could get it up for a wank, you know what I mean?" Sidney raises his eyebrows several times at the group.
"Yeah, I got an erection, right in the middle of the stupid night," says Joe. His silk shirt is buttoned open enough to see a downy bit of fuzz on his dark chest. He has always talked about high school and standing in front of the class with a 'big-ass woody', as if it had been great. Todd has talked about dating women who ask too much, or else they expect too much, or they know too much. Sidney says his wife coddles him, and he always wonders to the group if he forgot how to have sex, like maybe if he could just remember the proper order of steps? Rick doesn't talk about anything and nobody can find out who made him come to this therapy. Nobody knows.
"You know," the shrink starts in, "Paul was always talking about how impotence of this sort, of the sort you have, was sure to be caused by a strictly physical problem. Perhaps he found out that he was dealing with a psychological issue after all."
"With a woman like Geneva, it doesn't make a hell of a lot of difference, now does it?" Joe laughs, pulling his mouth down, and his big lips down.
"How would you know?" Sidney asks.
"I saw her, you know, hello, she was a babe of paradise."
"Big girl or little?"
Geneva paints houses not with big heavy strokes but little short ones up and down even if the paneling runs side to side - she'll fix it up later - Geneva wears painting overalls because she's so thin or because she can get them ruined with paint God damn it there goes another glob of peach paint down on the petunias and them striped red and white -- it'll look awful -- she always eats her lunch on the ladder because why go down but then sometimes she bumps the paint can with her butt and spills it the window opens beside her and there's a head of an old woman telling her don't mind the flowers but in a very sarcastic way so she says okay as if she didn't notice the sarcasm and tries to look down sideways to see how much paint actually got down there -- and it's a lot -- so she does try to appear apologetic but the old woman is raising one eyebrow and maybe she's funny -- maybe she's okay -- Geneva half smiles as an experiment and the old woman grabs her arm as if she were about to fall and laughs hysterically she's not an old woman with red rimmed eyes or messy lips with caked up lipstick in fact no makeup at all and pretty nice eyes I'm almost done eating says Geneva maybe to make the woman feel bad about razzing her because she knows old people don't like thin young girls not to eat and the woman props her elbows in the window and props up her chin and squints in the sun which has made Geneva all blonde and brown.
"Big girl," continues Joe, "but not too big on the tits or butt. She doesn't need them believe me."
"Is that the girl who picked him up from the bar last week?" asks Todd.
"Yeah, after... thing. Did you see her?"
"She's great. She's like a model, if they didn't want models to be such freaks. You remember Christie Brinkley? Now there."
They just can't go ahead and say Hold me back, or Easy Willie, so nobody says anything to agree or disagree. In the bar later maybe they will bring this point up again, and make some comments.
"Is that what she looked like?," asks Sidney, "Hey if my wife looked like that I'd have no problems. I mean none. You know what I'm saying?"
Joe doesn't have a girlfriend and neither does Todd. Rick has an ex-wife.
"If I had Geneva for a girlfriend... She probably sucked his dick, or something. If I had a face like that in my crotch--"
The shrink has told them to forget she is there, and sometimes they do.
"What's it got to do with her face," says Rick, "When it's not the face that counts."
He has a little bit of beard and a crisp white shirt tucked into those heavy pants. His hands are tough, not puffy like Sidney's or smooth like Todd's. Joe's hands are small and have hair on them in tufts.
"Would you be happy with a perfect woman?" the shrink sits up straight in her chair with her legs crossed all the time, and never switches legs.
"Hell yes," Joe jumps in, "I'd be so happy then, perfectly happy."
"This is different from some of the things that you've said in other sessions," the shrink smiles a small smile without crinkling her eyes, "I wonder if you are feeling betrayed because Paul isn't here anymore and because he feels he no longer has a problem with sex."
"I'm just glad somebody's getting it," says Sidney.
"I don't feel betrayed," says Todd.
"Gee," says Rick, "I guess we all could be getting it, if we could fucking take it."
The shrink nods at Rick as if she wants them to get back on track like before Paul left and got better but he's done talking again.
"Listen," says Todd, "This just goes a long way to prove that if you had the right woman, there wouldn't be a problem. She probably doesn't make him undress in front of her, and she probably doesn't make him turn the lights out until he's ready and she probably says 'Paul, Paul' instead of 'God, God'."
"She probably does."
Maybe the rules in this city are that the bus driver gets to have sex with the very last person on the bus if it is a woman and the bus driver is a man so Geneva gets off the bus one stop early all the time and she would rather take the van everywhere that she drives at work but it's not her van and anyway she can't parallel park -- not very well -- so what would she do with it she is wearing black pants because she is ovulating and it leaves a spot on her panties every time which smells like the balls of whoever she sucked off last so that's why she keeps going back to her ex-boyfriend because she doesn't want her pussy smelling like some stranger the man at the corner store gives her extra lemon in her iced tea that she is buying and she says thanks and he doesn't let on like he knows she knows -- who's looking over his shoulder -- by the time she gets home her iced tea is only half gone and she puts it in the refrigerator for later where it can get tasting like the wax on the outside of the paper cup -- does it seep through there -- and she calls up the guy from the club which the napkin says Paul and then the number.
"What I want to know is," says Sidney with one finger held up in the air for silence, "Who here has ever gotten a real blow job, a good one, like Geneva gives?"
The shrink's eyes don't change but she looks at Rick.
"I think the kind Geneva gives is pretty rare. She uses all kinds of tricks," says Todd, finally leaning back against his chair.
"When Geneva gives head she uses just enough teeth that you know they're there."
"And dangles her boobs down there."
"And she doesn't let you come right away."
Joe laughs and shows he has a good smile.
"Maybe she doesn't let you come for a long time," he says, "until you think you never will."
His tone has taken on a slow and mysterious tone but relaxed like telling stories around a fire at night, when you have everyone's attention. His skin is dark and smooth. He is the only one in the room without a few wrinkles.
"Now Todd here," he says, "Can make her let him come when he's ready. He might use his hand or he might not, but he's going to come when he's ready."
The men chuckle a little, and don't take offense. Todd doesn't appear to feel offended at all in fact he holds up his hand and motions them to wait as if he has a better one.
"When she goes down on me," he says, "I've got my hand on the back of her head. But I don't push," he glances around for effect, "I just feel her hair."
"Her blond hair."
"And the beauty of it is that I don't even think she realizes I could be pushing. I don't think it enters her mind."
The shrink shifts but doesn't uncross her legs. The men are accustomed to the way she looks at her watch sideways. It's not really meant to be that subtle. After a long pause the men realize that Joe has an erection.
She can taste what he has been drinking and it's good when he pulls her around the corner to try out her kissing at the same club they were at before, she can taste what he has been drinking and it tastes different and he's not making any noise, feeling her up, and his dick isn't hard thank god for her friend that came with her -- to meet him here -- and is waiting with the car around front for her to get done with him so this leaves it much less complicated if he doesn't even want her but why is he kissing her still and pushing down the back of her top which is a sleeveless black slutty thing -- sweat on his fingers -- there goes his hand again up in her hair well okay if it gets a little messy now but really she is strong and could stop him nice tan he says finally pulling away to look at her with her t-shirt line around her arm and she thinks is this humiliating or should I grab his limp dick and that would show him I could suck this until it comes off in my mouth she says for no reason but that he's still looking at her arms and he says You have my number -- inching back away from her -- and she pulls him back and bites his lips and now feels a little rise in his zipper.
"Joe, you seem to have become aroused," says the shrink.
Joe pinches his knees together and no one will look at him. His face is pinched up around the cheekbones like the erection hurts him, or like it's making his balls uncomfortable and twisted in his underwear. He looks like he wants to adjust his pants, but his hands are down by his knees.
"It would be good," she goes on, "If you could talk about what made you feel stimulated. Maybe you --"
"Hey," Sidney smiles broadly and tilts his head as if to show he understands, "Why not? He's a boy and he's thinking about a girl. He's a boy."
"Have you ever had an erection in public, Sidney?" asks the shrink.
"I think," Todd's eyes don't swing around toward Joe, but he talks to Joe anyway, "Maybe you feel okay here, but when you get to where someone's all over you, you know you're going to have to make something happen."
"I think that's a good observation, Todd," says the shrink, "Could you go on? What do you mean by safe, safe from what?"
Joe stands up and is walking out of the room, and then they all look around.
"You think he's slapping off?" asked Sidney quickly.
"Hey, it's not like he's making a finger painting. You're not going to hang it on the fucking refrigerator."
Everyone looks at Rick and even the shrink seems surprised. Rick's legs are spread apart, obviously he's not hard, and his pants are loose in the hips. He has small hips, but he has big shoulders.
"That's sick, is all I can say," he says, "That guy is sick."
"Just because he got a hard on?" asks Todd quietly.
"That's not what happened. He didn't get hard for a woman."
"Geneva has a strange effect on men, you don't understand."
Rick raises one side of his lip, "When I had Geneva she didn't make me strange. She didn't make me act like a fool."
Sidney pushes his chin down into his neck, incredulous.
"What'd you do to her then?"
"I'll tell you," says Rick, sitting up straight. His light brown eyes are getting them one by one so they won't look away. "I met her at a hotel restaurant. She came in a dress, but tight all the way down to her feet and green. But there was a slit up the side. And I didn't even have to say anything. There were four buttons up at her neck and they just came undone, she took that off and underneath that was a -- what looked like all messed up skin and bruises. Big bruises up here on her shoulders and fucked up down at her hips like somebody cut her, but she was smiling, and put her finger in her ear and started peeling an edge. She scratched up an edge and peeled it down, and it unwrapped over her nose and her face, down, left it so clean, cleaner than you could ever wash it. She had to peel in a few pieces, like four, but then it was all off and she had no hair and no bruises and no dirt."
Todd pulls his jacket around and buttons it, but can't sit down like that. He unbuttons it. Sidney has his face in a shocked expression and the shrink is placidly tracing the leg of her folding chair with one finger.
"When you had sex with Geneva," she says slowly, "were you able to sustain an erection?"
Rick sucks on the inside of his bottom lip and widens his eyes. He nods.
"Did you become aroused after the bruises came off?" asks the shrink.
"Then I --"
"Did you stop there or did you go on and have sex with her?"
"I had sex with her."
"He did not," Sidney jumps in, "He got right up to her and his dick went like a wet spaghetti noodle."
"Hey," says Todd, "Easy there."
The toilet flushes in the bathroom next to them but since Joe doesn't immediately come back in, Sidney says, "He must have used the one down the hall. Or downstairs."
"He probably left," says Todd.
"Are you tired?" asks the shrink, "We're just about out of time."
You see that Paul's skin will be dried out from this weather, and he is watching the men go out different doors as if he is sad to see it is over with. The snow blows around him and catches on him then blows away or makes drifts in the crevices, clinging piles around the hair. He shifts the weight with great effort off of his penis and onto one hipbone, but it quickly becomes to difficult to keep his other hipbone up so he drops back down. Inch by inch hecreeps his right hand toward his face to scratch his eye, and then creeps it back out so it is extended again. Todd and the shrink are talking about something, but you see Paul is not interested in that conversation, his eyes are on Joe who has come back in the room to get his coat. Paul's forehead is so cold it must send aching pain into his head, that brittle solid cold pain. You see him close his eyes for a second after Joe leaves and then look back at Todd and the shrink. He squints his eyes from the wind and then starts creeping his hand back up again to push the hair out of his face so he can see.
She can see that the paint isn't mixed enough and stirs it with her wooden flat stick and it still has swirls of unmixed paint it's not a great brand either -- today is not so sunny -- the old woman has a friend over at her house Geneva can see who has thin hips and a boy about twelve who comes to the window Can I help with that he asks No says Geneva if you fell off this ladder your grandma'd be mad at me the boy looks down to the ground from inside the house -- bending his neck over -- and Geneva shifts on the ladder to show how creaky it is she's pretty high and the boy looking out is impressed and sits down so he can look out the window -- the back of the house -- the old woman's dog is tired on the back porch the dog has his legs around his food dish and is asleep in it but it's empty when Geneva looks down she likes the kind of scared feeling because she has both hands wrapped around the ladder whenever she looks down and she never extends it until the doubled up part is shorter than the single part -- you can die -- she never wants to shock anyone by falling who might be in the house at the time and anyway she used to stretch a tightrope across trees about ten feet up for the neighborhood kids when she was young and the only one who would stand up there.