The Old Familiar by Sarah Fonseca
With fifteen minutes to spare, James_Z_Smith@aol.com grew limp against Aggie. They were on the floor, and her knees itched with rugburn. He rose soon after, handing her three tissues to manage the mess on her abdomen, eyes flickering with shy gratitude. On the other side of the office door, Aggie could hear his colleagues trickling back from their lunches. The subordinates used the hour to fill their bodies; the executive, to empty.
The subordinates used the hour to fill their bodies; the executive, to empty.
She reapplied her mascara as he unfurled green bills from his wallet; all hers. Spoolie brush three-quarters of the way through her right eye’s lashes, she glanced at the New York State driver’s license in his billfold’s transparent pocket. It was only a matter of time before he’d grow lazy and she would learn his true name. And there it was, in block letters: MICHAEL DELLA-ROTHMAN. His hair had been slicked back with a moist comb in the DMV photo; his jaw, as square as a sailor’s in a World War II snapshot. He looked so respectable. But they all did. These men who couldn’t bring themselves to behave as themselves––as beasts––atop their own wives.
She had no moral qualms with men outsourcing their desires to her. Yet the question of whether or not Della-Rothman and his wife still made love clawed at the back of her throat. They were six encounters into their arrangement, she reasoned. Double the number of respectable dates that it takes the average American woman to consummate a relationship. She could ask this. “You don’t have to dignify me with a response; it’s none of my business,” she added. “But perhaps that’s even more of a reason to share. I’ve got no stake in the matter.” Aggie wished they were smoking. She felt an urge to fetch the cigarettes from her purse and invite him onto his own fire escape as she sometimes did Marquez, Trinity, or Daniel. Remembering Della-Rothman’s inaugural response to Kera’s online classified, she refrained. He’d sought out:
- A natural brunette
- In her 20s
- Possessing a co-ed’s physique
- Who did not smoke
Three out of four wasn’t bad. For an hour at a time, she could feign the last easily enough.
“She doesn’t like my cum. I don’t think she even likes my dick anymore. Or me. She always does this thing,” he demonstrated. Trousers now up and belted, Della-Rothman allowed himself to fall theatrically back into his leather desk chair. He lifted his legs from the floor and clamped them together, as coquettishly as a Radio City Rockette. Aggie wondered how he avoided maiming his testes. “Without fail. Every time I try to touch her. Regardless of what I want. Half the time, I want nothing at all.”
Ah-ha. And the other half of the time? That would explain it, Aggie thought. Della-Rothman’s fixation with fucking her in every orifice, varying the site of his climax: so far, he’d ejaculated into not only her cunt, ass, and mouth, but onto her cheeks, her hair, her feet, even her armpits.
There were Johns who were emotionally stoic and sexually domineering, and there were Johns who were sheepish and gentle. While they involved far less clean-up, Aggie loathed the latter––with them, time was a far more vicious and absinthian substance than semen. Sixty minutes never failed to feel like six hundred, and they always wanted to talk as lovers. Struggling to keep up the pretense, she’d catch Kera’s voice dropping down to Aggie’s register. Bored, Kera’s green eyes would wander the room as Aggie’s, focusing on the spine of a Mary Gaitskill memoir resting on the bed’s headboard. The final nail in the coffin would be the fleeting thought of a woman she’d passed on the street earlier that day. One with graying hair and a tattooed vine of English ivy spiraling delicately about her wrist, or one wearing a shade of lipstick that matched the leather belt cinched to Aggie’s own waist. Despite the rawness of having just been grazed there by rough, unversed fingers, those thoughts would make her clitoris swell, the organ urging her hips forward into the most delicate of thrusts. It was in that moment that she ceased being Kera and became Aggie again. Pretending to prefer sex with men was easy. It was pretending to fancy everything else about them that proved challenging.
Pretending to prefer sex with men was easy. It was pretending to fancy everything else about them that proved challenging.
Fortunately for her, Della-Rothman was a hybrid. A predator who was rendered domesticated and conversational once satiated. “I know it sounds pitiful, Kera,” he sighed. “But imagine going home to your boyfriend and desperately longing for him to lick you, deliberately. At though he’s polishing you. Like a housekeeper in an old movie who is shining the family’s heirloom silverware. In that moment, you anticipate total subservience and devotion. But instead, he grimaces and clasps your knees back together.” Della-Rothman inhaled deeply through his nostrils, his defined chest swelling to an impossible breadth. “Imagine that,” he exhaled.
“I don’t have a boyfriend,” she said, wanting that smoke all the more. “I told you that already, I believe.”
“Then why insist on only seeing me in the afternoons?”
“I like my nights quiet,” Aggie prickled.
“I’ll believe you don’t have a boyfriend when you show up at dusk, Kera. Like a proper call girl.” Just like Della-Rothman would never bring himself to put his full body’s weight onto his wife, he’d never be able to call her a whore.
~ ~ ~
After Thursdays in the city with Della-Rothman, Aggie went home to 3rd and 9th in Brooklyn, where she dwelled in an apartment above the restless conversation and aromas of an all-hours Mexican restaurant. She took the hottest shower the plumbing would permit. The G and F Trains, arriving and departing from the 4th and 9th station, shook the bathroom windows’ fogged glass panes.
That day, she lay in bed afterward, sheet messily doubling as a towel. Water seeped from her hair through the pillowcase. Aggie took her right inner thigh in her left hand and squeezed, just above the knee, soliciting a flutter of pain. Moving her hand further up, she repeated the motion until her hand rested beside her vulva. Aggie idled, considering the moment’s subject. She ran her middle finger through her labia, separating the outer folds, not yet daring to disturb the dripping heat that grew beneath those smaller, redder lips.
One of the theaters in the city was hosting a retrospective on some actress named Anna Magnani. Aggie had never heard of the woman before, but that wide face on those wheat paste posters near the West Fourth basketball courts lured Aggie into an evening showing of one of her movies. It was called The Rose Tattoo. She felt like a sucker as she slapped fifteen dollars onto the box office’s countertop, all too aware that she was paying to access this woman, one who seemed to be a mix of her own generation’s warrior princess, Xena, and Monica Bellucci; a feral other. Just like a fucking John, she laughed to herself.
In the movie, Magnani played Serafina Delle Rose, an Italian immigrant living in the Deep South. Her husband was cheating on her with someone younger. The husband died in a freak accident and insult was compounded by injury as the widow discovered the infidelity. Aggie, enraptured, picked a popcorn husk from under her gum line as Serafina pleaded with her priest for guidance. The man merely straightened his spine and ordered her to go home and get her act together: run a brush through her wild hair, sew herself a flattering dress, bathe her broad, feminine body from top to bottom. But grief continued to intermingle with rage, nearly driving Serafina mad. It was only when she learned the identity of “the other woman” that Serafina had closure, and could make love again.
From her bed, Aggie revised Tennessee Williams’ plot, imagining the sad woman using her for pleasure in the midst of devastation. She imagined touching Serafina in those moments when her raven hair was most disheveled, her eyes most crazed. Aggie spread her legs further apart, dipping into her cunt before holding her clitoris between two fingers like the slippery stem of a springtime peony. Oh, Serafina Della––no, Serafina Delle. Aggie stroked herself, the back of her other palm thrown over her mouth, not to mute but to enhance.
Aggie stroked herself, the back of her other palm thrown over her mouth, not to mute but to enhance.
She sucked at the flesh of her wrist like she longed to suck at Magnani’s thighs. She thought about the woman riding her face, thighs chafing her cheeks, pubic bone crushing her nose. Aggie felt herself swelling against her index finger and squeezed herself as the tell-tale heat of climax loomed. And then, she was there––no, way past there, transcending it. Aggie came, hips lifting from the carnation red sheets in spasm, groaning through gritted teeth. It was almost painful, too concentrated, her pulse surging into her groin, as embraced by her own hand. It left her feeling cleaner than any shower. Aggie continued to jerk off after her climax subsided, clitoris descending, labia closing. An Academy Award-winning orgasm.
It was now evening, the room having grown dark on her. Aggie knew, were she to lay there as she enjoyed doing, continuing to touch herself until she ceased being wet, she’d be in bed for hours. She cleaned her body once more and dressed, drawing her hair into a ponytail and ballcap as the women in her neighborhood seemed fond of doing, and went on the hunt for food. At a Greek diner, she ate feverishly, appetite elevated by climax. Every bite into a triangle of feta brought forth a supplementary surge of pleasure. “Thank you,” she said as the server slid the check in front of her. She continued to scrape the bottom of her chili bowl with her spoon. “And thank you, Anna Magnani.”
~ ~ ~
She’d known Della-Rothman had a wife since their first meeting when he’d recklessly invited her to his home on West End Avenue. ‘Home’ was a building with a doorman, tall enough that one could view the Hudson River to the west and Central Park to the east. Della-Rothman shielded her with the broad of his back as he nodded at his neighbors that morning, introducing her to one elderly woman as his “new dogsitter.”
I guess that makes you the bitch, she’d wanted so desperately to quip, biting her tongue. Were there to be repeat visits, perhaps there would be room for such banter. A small dog yipped from somewhere in the 32nd-floor apartment, unseen for the duration of her visit.
“Are those all yours?” she’d asked upon entry, nodding to several wall-mounted shadow boxes containing triathlon medals. “The wife’s,” he said, undoing his shirt’s buttons.
That first time, Della-Rothman was as quick as a teenager, pulling out, tugging off the rubber with an elastic snap, and ejaculating onto her waxed cleft of Venus within minutes. Afterwards, Aggie watched him from the hallway as he furiously scrubbed his cock with rubbing alcohol in the bathroom sink to destroy the scent of his latex and her Listerine. His member had turned soft, rounding over itself like a large knuckle. Afterwards, he asked that Aggie check him for traces of her own hair.
That night, he texted her:
So...condom didn’t flush. Wife noticed.
Ad-libbed something about it being “more hygienic.” :)
Would love to see you again. Soon!
After that, they kept to his office on Columbus Circle.
Eyes blearing from aimless web browsing after dinner, Aggie remembered to search Della-Rothman’s name on Facebook. There he was, at the top of the results. In his profile photo, two healthy teenagers, one boy and one girl, knelt in front of him. His arm was around a woman who stood at his side. Cum dissenter or not, the wife seemed to enjoy the fruits of its labor. She was tagged in the photo; Aggie followed the link. As she scrolled through the endless candids from holiday feasts, birthday celebrations, and family rituals, she felt a bit like God. A few clicks on her laptop and she could ruin everything Della-Rothman held sacred.
The woman bore the Della-Rothman surname and a first name––Karen or Kristen or Kristina––that Aggie knew she’d forget within the hour. But she’d certainly remember the wife’s arms. One coiled snugly about Della-Rothman’s waist in the photo. The other hung freely at her side, the soft, convex bicep straining at the sleeve of her lavender cardigan. Aggie’s body rattled appreciatively in response.
Eyesight failing, she closed the computer and placed it on her nightstand. How unfair it all was. She couldn’t allow herself to keep digging about like this, like some know-it-all child; the revelations only made her ache with selfishness. She missed being with women, a certain type in particular: those who were her sexual antitheses; the ones who enjoyed their orgasms from within and who were eager to let her take them there. That deep fucking with her hand, leveraged by the drive of her hips, the closest she figured she’d ever come to relating to the male body. As she began to drift, it hit her: Perhaps the longing wasn’t all wrong. To sustain Kera, to truly succeed at the whole damned farce, Aggie must first nourish herself.
~ ~ ~
Aggie enjoyed the routine of it all, the sartorial masculinity of being intricately measured for lingerie. Grace was circling her measuring tape around Aggie’s inner thighs. It was beyond her why––the girl knew her measurements, her body, by heart. As their quietly symbiotic relationship neared its first anniversary, they established something of a rapport. While no older than 22, Grace was committed to truth-telling. She would not hesitate to inform her patron when a pair of low-rise panties gave her a stocky appearance, or when a mesh bandeau bra made her look fashionable, yet awfully prepubescent.
“This Jolidon hosiery is fairly new stock for us,” Grace explained, running the cool plastic from Aggie’s heel to her inner thigh. “We haven’t sold enough sets to get a true sense of what works well for which women or their admirers. And the fucking Romanians, for some reason, are so fickle in their size conversions.”
“Fucking Romanians. Say that three times in the mirror and Lauren Bacall’s ghost will appear,” Aggie winked. “I bet. Looking immortal and dressed in fucking Romanian stockings that fit perfectly. No measuring needed.”
The girl only darted about her body for a moment, but Aggie savored the feeling, closing her eyes. The canvas apron tied to Grace’s waist dragged against the sharp bones at the backs of Aggie’s feet. As she bent to scrutinize a measurement to the nearest tenth-an-inch, Grace’s short head of hair dusted the back of Aggie’s knee, who stifled a shudder. The boutique was empty except for the three women who manned it. No normal ladies, Aggie realized early on, desired new garters or a push-up bra on Mondays. Particularly that one. The one following Valentine’s Day.
“I just don’t want you to waste your time trying on all four sizes,” Grace said, throwing her tape around her neck. “I’m sure you have more important things to do than spend your evening with me. Here,” she said, handing Aggie a pair of the stockings. “Try these. They should fit. Bacall’s honor.”
Grace, carrying Aggie’s abandoned outerwear, unlocked a fitting room and held the door open for the woman to slip inside. Yet she stood in the doorframe, hesitating. Aggie held her eye contact expressionlessly, pressuring the other to make the next move.
“Do you want me in or out?” Grace finally asked.
Aggie sat on the room’s small fainting chair and began rolling one of the stockings. “In would be nice. Stay with me. Grace stood in front of her and watched as Aggie rolled the dark Cuban stocking up her calf, then the breadth of her thigh, repeating with the other leg. She too rose, snapped the material into place with her thumbs, and scrutinized herself in the mirror. Grace smiled at the woman’s reflection. “These are perfect.”
“Welcome. As always.”
Aggie eyed the measuring tape around Grace’s neck thoughtfully. She pulled it from her, rolling it into a tiny circle, and placing it into her helpful friend’s canvas apron. Dipping her hand further still, her fingers explored the miscellany of Grace’s trade: store keys, a packet of Advil, a ballpoint pen, the customized cards on which she scribbled measurements, and, through those layers of fabric, a warm pubic bone. The girl sighed. Aggie longed to leave her hand there long enough to feel Grace become wet, seeping through satin and denim and cotton and paper and... Instead, she took the girl in an embrace and untied her apron, dropping it onto the plush bench. Grace smiled, mouth opening, eyelids drooping. She wants it. It is happening. Encouraged, Aggie’s fingers found the pearlescent buttons of Grace’s blouse and twisted them undone. Her breasts swelled against a cream-colored Valisere brassiere, identical to the one she’d sold Aggie months prior. Must’ve taken her months of saving to purchase, Aggie thought. She was likely still scrimping for the matching panties. Aggie thumbed her nipples. She was already hard.
Aggie leaned in, closed her eyes, and sighed into Grace’s mouth. The girl cleared her throat. “Mm. It would be very bad for me if we’re checked in on and I’m the one who is wearing nothing.” She took a step back. “I can’t do this. You probably can’t either, can you?”
“I don’t have a boyfriend, if that’s what you’re asking,” Aggie chuckled.
“It’s not as though I don’t see what you buy. You probably have twenty... not-boyfriends.” After she’d dressed, paid, and exited the boutique, the other shopkeepers oblivious to goings-on, the girl’s words continued to sit on Aggie’s skin like a bruise.
~ ~ ~
They migrated yet again, from Columbus Circle to a hotel several blocks away on West 56th. Days after their thirteenth encounter, Mrs. Della-Rothman began making office cameos during lunchtime. “If she can appear on a Wednesday, nothing will prevent her from appearing on a Thursday,” he’d told Aggie. She imagined Mrs. Della-Rothman in her loud heels, arriving to her husband’s empty office and being informed by the receptionist that he was at a business luncheon for which, curiously, no one seemed to know the location.
Once finished with her, he’d treat the room as a strange gift, pressing the key card into her palm along with the expected compensation. “It’s not a bad hotel. Feel free to spend the night, Kera.” She accepted with gratitude, though she wondered: Was this his way of acknowledging that there were other men, and his “chill” with the whole thing? Or was it a noble gesture, him assuming that the quality of the suite’s Tempurpedic mattress––and everything else within it, for that matter––vastly exceeded that of her own possessions in Gowanus? Why was he playing Woolf?
It was the day of their sixteenth visit. She wore the deep red lipstick and wristwatch that Della-Rothman had given her for Christmas. “So, maybe one day, you’ll know what time a true lady of the night should arrive,” he’d told her as she’d opened the jewelry box.
Della-Rothman departed by way of a back stairwell, pulling his trenchcoat’s lapels up around his throat. Usually, Aggie killed time by making the bed and flattening out the duvet’s wrinkles, departing a short spell later. That afternoon, however, the sky’s bottom fell out, gushes of rain slapping the window, entirely obscuring her view of Broadway.
Electing to wait it out, Aggie slipped the keycard into her pocket and journeyed down to the lobby. A guest spoke to a concierge about the inevitability of sleet. Never breaking eye contact with her paperwork, the employee divulged that her uncle told her the approaching storm would grow to rival the 1969 nor’easter.
She watched the waterlogged enter and exit the hotel’s automated doors, mangled umbrella casualties in tow. The people made her bones ache with cold, as though it had been she who was caught in the wind and rain. Craving a warm drink, she took the elevator up to the bar on the top floor.
While the hotel seemed to hold itself to a certain degree of decorum, its watering hole remained forgotten by everyone but those who desperately needed it most. A film of dust covered half the liquor bottles. Someone had neglected to change the playlist after Thanksgiving; Billie Holiday’s “Autumn in New York” emitted from the sound system, somehow still playing nicely with the thunder, the sad men of commerce, and the hard liquors before them.
She nodded at the only other woman at the bar and claimed the seat beside her. Aggie felt fortunate to not only discover a lady in such a direly male space, but one who was drinking an old fashioned at such a young hour. She wished there was a word for those moments when one thinks a word or phrase and it immediately appears on a billboard or someone in the room utters it. This time, it was old––Aggie was thinking of the aging woman and her reliable beverage when the unknown singer in the speakers crooned away about seeing a lover in “all the old familiar places.”
“Rain foil your plans for sight-seeing?” Aggie asked, regretting the words the moment they emptied from her mouth. The woman was no tourist; she was pure, unadulterated Upper West Side. Had, in addition to seduction, she forgotten how to look at women? If anything, she looked familiar. But all Columbia undergraduates turned physician’s wives bore the same paradoxical look; one of bored anxiety, cloaked from head to toe in Ann Taylor .
“You could say that,” the woman said gingerly, much to Aggie’s relief. Despite her weariness, she sat up straight, occasionally tucking her shoulder-length brown hair behind a be-pearled ear. “I came here to find someone. But he wasn’t here, leading me to think I might be following nothing at all. I was so certain I was right…”
“Did you try to phone him?”
“No, it was meant to be a surprise of sorts. For both of us.” Aggie thought she heard the woman mutter sixteen years... under her breath. She didn’t ask for clarification.
“I’m sorry.” The bartender passed Aggie her bourbon. “To your troubles,” she said, clinking her highball glass to the woman’s. Holding the beverage as an altar boy does a candle, Aggie gulped down a warming mouthful. “If I tell you that men are dogs, regardless of whether it’s true or not, would it help?”
“Yes. It would.” She offered Aggie her hand. “Karolina.”
“You mentioned looking for something. It’s funny. I’m not wise. But lately, I’ve been trying to see less, allow more things that I can’t fix fall through the cracks. It’s been useful.”
“What’s the old saying ... curiosity killed the cat?”
“Yes. All nine times,” Aggie chuckled.
“What a rotten day to be an alley cat, huh,” Karolina said, looking out a window into the grayness.
“Those days are over for me. I’m sleeping better because of it.”
“I’d do anything for a nap right now.” Aggie looked at Karolina’s mouth. They wore the same color.
“Don’t tell anyone,” the older woman whispered, clearly amused with the absurdity of her situation. “But I don’t actually have a room.”
“Would you like to come to mine? I’ll likely be leaving soon. You can use it through the night, if you wish.”
“That would be nice.”
As they took the lift down ten stories, Aggie noticed a sway in Karolina’s gait, one indicating she’d consumed more than one Old Fashioned. She opened the door and welcomed Karolina in, who promptly disposed of her her wool coat and shoes and fell backwards onto the queen bed with a sigh. “Thank you. You’re a freak of nature, being this kind to someone you’ve only just met.”
“I’ve been told it’s my strong suit,” Aggie said, relieved that the room only smelled like fresh linens. She pulled a blanket from the arm of the suite’s loveseat and fanned it out over Karolina. As she tucking the fleece beneath the the woman’s arms, she realized that what she’d initially mistook for muscle tension was merely her body in its natural state. Karolina sobbed.
“Is something the matter?” Aggie paused, tilting her head, becoming more and more aware of the fact that she was almost sitting atop this sad stranger.
“No. Oh, it’s so silly! It’s just that I can’t remember the last time someone tucked me into bed so gently, I...thank you.”
Unable to help herself, she kissed Karolina’s forehead, quickly pulling back to look the woman in the eyes; something within them both seemed to turn incandescent. Aggie had never witnessed someone surge from catatonic to lucid so quickly. The older woman pulled the full of Aggie’s bodyweight onto her, finding her mouth with her fingertips, then the tip of her tongue. Together, their legs shoved the covers to the foot of the bed, and Aggie was atop her, body humming, scrambling to remove both of their blouses at the same time, then their brassieres.
“It’s quicker if I do them. Take off your own,” Karolina urged, slapping away Aggie’s hands from her trouser zipper. There was so little worth saying, no point in telling one another how long it had been. Aggie took a breast into her mouth as she snatched off all of her own bottoms with a sturdy tug, the sharp movement causing her to bite down on the firm bud in a way that Karolina, much to her relief, found pleasurable. She felt a string of her own arousal land on her inner thigh.
Aggie took a breast into her mouth as she snatched off all of her own bottoms with a sturdy tug, the sharp movement causing her to bite down on the firm bud in a way that Karolina, much to her relief, found pleasurable.
Attempts at any sort of delicacy were quickly abandoned. Karolina was grabbing Aggie’s hand, pressing it between her folds with a whispered, Here. Her pussy was so wet, so warm, that it took Aggie a moment to escape her own thought of finally; and then, the task of discerning fluid from flesh. For the briefest of moments, they felt so one and the same.
She penetrated the woman arching beneath her with three fingers, then four, rolling her thumb across the hood of her clitoris, allowing Karolina the opportunity to arch into the pressure from below, which she seized again, and again, and again. Aggie dragged her own cunt across Karolina’s thigh, the limb convulsing up and against her each time Aggie thrust deeper. One’s delight was the other’s. Aggie tried to inhale long and hard to sustain herself, but she had hit her limit; face flushed and panting, she came against Karolina’s leg, in a pool of her own juices. Yet she remained devoted, thrusting until the woman beneath her buckled with such force that Aggie worried she’d wounded her, had broken something in a manner akin to a rubber band; Karolina’s cry of climax, so animalistic, obscured the thunder’s fading booms.
“Do you know what time is it?” Karolina asked hours later as she found her way back into her clothing, one piece at a time. “Half past six,” Aggie responded from the bed from which she had no immediate plans to leave, eyeing the slender wristwatch. Time for a true lady of the night to arrive, I’ve heard.”
“I’ll have to use that the next time I’m running late for dinner,” she said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “Where is it…” Karolina muttered, digging through her wallet for her MetroCard. Aggie watched the woman shuffle through the tiny pieces of plastic, one of which was a New York State ID. Idly running a hand up and down Karolina’s back, she began to grasp the identification card’s details before her brain could stop her. KAROLINA DE––she shut her eyes to the rest.
“Ah-ha! There it is,” her lover said victoriously, fanning herself with the black and yellow card. With one last garnet kiss to Aggie’s temple, Mrs. Della-Rothman opened the door with a strong arm and departed into the old familiar.
Sarah Fonseca's essays, criticism, filthy ideas, and overlapping iterations have appeared or are forthcoming in A Quiet Courage, Autostraddle, Buzzfeed, Best Lesbian Erotica 2018, The Lambda Literary Review, NYLON Magazine, and Wussy Mag.
Sophie Gertrude Strohmeier is a bilingual author and illustrator from Vienna, Austria and Pennsylvania. She is currently an MFA candidate in creative writing at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.