Arriving in the business district, David Nunley walked two blocks, then caught an elevator to the fourth floor of a glassed-in high-rise. Exiting the elevator, he passed by a plaque announcing the Western Area Office of the Veterans Administration and entered a vast room filled with a labyrinth of cubicles.
The office’s mission was the processing of records and papers the VA used in disbursing its billions in veterans’ benefits. David hadn’t had much trouble getting the job of correspondence clerk, considering his test scores and veteran’s preference. “It’s a secure job–the pay’s decent,” he would reply when asked what he did for a living. As for the women in his department, though, he had to admit that the majority were of the plump, fading and married variety. There were only five single young women in room 420A–and one of them knew more about him than he liked.
A businesslike glance and a good morning from his supervisor greeted David as he walked into his section. Everything about Vince Grasso was brisk. He had the aggressiveness often seen in short men, coupled with a pleasantly ingratiating manner. Vince didn’t bother workers who worked reasonably well, reported on time, and seemed busy. He didn’t seem to notice when they were typing letters to cousin Joanne or duplicating pornographic cartoons.
It was the second look the supervisor gave David that made him think twice. He felt obligated to return a “Good Morning!” What often bothered David was the fact that Vince was about the same age as himself–twenty-six–yet David felt younger and inferior. Maybe it was the suits Vince wore or the mature cookie-duster mustache he affected.
As David moved down the aisle to his cubicle he tried to look at each worker in turn. Some were just settling in at their desks with steaming cups of coffee, including older women with their shapeless dresses and conservative hairdos. Here and there were the men, only one of which David knew well–a young guy called The Jock who followed football.
David passed Corky’s cubicle. She evidently hadn’t arrived yet. He had expected his heart to leap as he rounded her corner, but there was no Corky. Somehow he couldn’t seem to get to work at his desk not having seen her. He looked at the smudgy, obscure Monet print on the wall of his space. He had wanted to replace it with something more exciting but hadn’t gotten around to it.
No Corky this morning! David was unsettled. He thought again about the panties he was wearing. His imagination was vivid enough. It took the voice of Mrs. Johnson, the personable black clerk, to dissolve his small arousal with a question about a record he’d handled. She dressed better than most of the women, wore heels and had a contagious smile. After watching her move her sexy hips down the isle, David finally got down to work. His telephone began to ring and his typewriter wrapped him in its arms and lulled him into a work routine.
In the afternoon when he noticed that Corky still wasn’t there, he sidled up to Vince. “Where’s Corky? Did she call in sick or what?”
His boss looked up from his neat desk with a look of concern. Vince seemed to invest every movement with importance.
“AWOL,” he pronounced. “And this is it, Corky’s gone too far. I’m getting her canned, fired, whatever you want to call it.”
David knew how hard it was to fire someone from a government job, yet Corky had pretty much gone beyond the pale in her flights of freedom. She’d gotten more and more rebellious. David walked back to his desk to face a waiting stack of memos and papers.
After work and a bus ride home, David made his way up the long stairway of his apartment building and opened the leftmost of four identical apartment doors. After having been a poor student rooming with others, David’s job had finally allowed him the luxury of his own place.
Inside was a long flat that began with a kitchen, transitioned into a bedroom, and ended in a living room. The apartment was furnished throughout with completely unmatched furniture and thrift store rugs.
David’s kitchen was notable for being half a photographic darkroom. A single window had been light-blocked, and yellow-labeled bottles of chemicals shared space with yellow boxes of enlarging paper and stained developing trays. The next room, the bedroom, contained a low Japanese-style dining table surrounded by cushions, with a TV at one end. The bed was simply a mattress and box spring on the floor in one corner, and was never completely made. Stood against a wall was a full-length mirror and an old chest of drawers, with the bottom drawer devoted to women’s lingerie and accessories.
Most of David’s presence was expressed in the furthermost living room, with its bay windows overlooking a quiet intersection and providing an abundance of daylight.
There were tall bookcases full of photographic books, LP records, and diaries. Pinned on the walls were his own mostly black-and-white photographs of nature, women and political protests. In a place of honor among those was a classy Ansel Adams photo poster of Aspen trees. Scattered about in no particular order were all kinds of photographic gear. Finally, a simple table made from a door supported a typewriter, a serviceable stereo and an aquarium.
On the floor near the bay windows were several flower pots containing eucalyptus trees he’d grown from seed gathered in a nearby park. Without any wind or adversity, they had grown very fast, with very slender stems–just like Ansel Adams’ Aspens.
A long hallway offered access to a bathroom and the apartment’s only closet, with the extreme left side–out of sight–holding women’s things.
In his diaries, David sometimes called this place his ship, where he could be captain, cook, and stowaway woman.
David threw himself and his briefcase on his bed and rested. After dozing briefly, he sat up and looked listlessly out the window. Blank housefronts across the street looked back. He finally stripped down to his panties and searched through his female clothing. Slipping into a lacy white bra and faux breasts, David put his plain white work shirt back on, tucked it into Levi’s, and stepped into the living room. He sat down in a plain wooden chair, absentmindedly rubbed his day’s beard growth, and thought about calling Corky. When he finally dialed, his heart began to race. He wondered why he had so little control over himself.
Corky’s roommate answered. Corky was taking a bath–could she call back? Several hours later, when in the staleness of the evening she still hadn’t called, David tried again. Corky came on reluctantly. She had been on her way out the door. “Oh, the job? Tell Vince I think I’ve quit.”
David adopted a somber attitude and reminded her that some people would jump at the chance to have her job.
“I’m really tired of that hole. I can’t stand it any more.”
“So, what’re you going to do now?”
“I suppose I’ll get another job. But I’m going to take some time off, a couple weeks. Just float with my friends.”
David cringed. Some of her friends scared him. “Well, I’ll miss you down there.”
“That’s the way it is.” Then, in a mischievous voice–”Are you wearing panties, Davie?”
“Yes, I am . . .” His voice became squeaky-childlike as though he was in front of a demanding mother. Perversely, there was something thrilling in it all.
“You know, that’s how I can handle that office shit. I can come home and wear my goodies.” He wished that she was there to share in the wickedness.
After good-byes, he lay back on his carelessly-made bed, closed his eyes and threw one leg over the other. Ah, Corky was becoming so elusive. She really wanted him out of her life.
Lying on his bed, David recalled how she’d moseyed up to him in the office after she’d transferred in from another department. He hadn’t liked her much at first. She was short and she seemed cheap and inconsequential.
He remembered her messy desk, her deprecatory remarks about Grasso and the office, her playful, knowing smile and the sexy bras he’d glimpsed beneath her generous necklines. There had been something undernourished about her–a slightly sallow look to her face. On the other hand, she’d always kept her hair nicely done, brassy blonde and very curly. There had been something too about the shape of her pert lips.
He know it wasn’t quite right, but after she asked him casually if he wanted to visit her apartment, one lonely evening he did. They took a marvelously sudsy bath together and later, after some time in bed, he shyly asked if he could wear a pair of her panties. She had played soul music and there were posters of black musicians and actors on the walls.
David lay on his softly lumpy bed and projected the newsreel further. There had been the time when Corky for some mysterious reason–she wouldn’t say why–had to vacate her apartment. Could she stay with him? David remembered how bowled over he’d been. He wasn’t in love–he’d just never lived with a woman. He remembered how he’d looked forward to just being in the same bed with a woman on a regular basis. He’d never imagined that finding a woman could be so easy.
After she moved in, they would play little touch games at work and go out to lunch together–except for those times when she said she had to meet someone. No, she couldn’t say who. Then there were the times when he went off to see a movie by himself in the evening and phoned back to see if everything was OK, just like calling a wife. Corky had seemed bothered.
They had about two good weeks of sex before she began to slip away. David would see her in the office but she spent more and more nights away from the apartment, giving him time to wear her things. Black men dropped her off after midnight. Sometimes he heard them talking at the door before she came in, and one of the men even had the gall to go into the kitchen and have a beer before he left. David had lain riveted to his bed, listening.
Confronted with all this, Corky had merely said, “You and me are just roommates and I’m not making any other promises.”
In retaliation David felt less obliged to restrain his dressing when around her. Several nights when she returned to the apartment late she found him partially dressed as a woman, and didn’t seem shocked or even embarrassed.
One evening–a rare one–when she was home, David managed to corner her and make her tell about the shadowy part of her life.
“I don’t know if you’re ready for this. I mean, I wanted to tell you at first but I was afraid you wouldn’t want me to stay. You’re such a nice guy.”
David assured her that he could handle it.
“Well . . . I’ve been a part-time hooker since even before I met you. So there you have it.” She said she’d been hanging around with some guys on the fringes of the music scene and that she did it to get bucks for clothes and partying.
“When you first moved in was I sharing you with a lot of men?”
Corky laughed a little, then threw her head back to gain composure. “Look, you might not believe it, but I was leaving the scene when I left my apartment.”
“Then I met some new dudes–like Maxwell, remember, the guy who came in and got a beer?–who weren’t heavy. Pimping was kind of a sport with them. They had money coming in from other places too.”
David imagined svelte black men in furs and leathers hunting with falcons.
“So about that time our love life came apart. I had always thought it was because my panties and stuff turned you off.”
“Well, David, I’ve always liked you as a person. But you didn’t turn me on too much if you know what I mean. I guess I’m mostly into black guys and discos and all that.”
“I’m sorry, but I really keep thinking that my dressing turned you off. I mean, I know that sometimes I look ridiculous.”
“It’s no big deal–once in awhile a trick is into it. But I don’t think you realize how guilty you look when you’re wearing women’s things. You look like a kid caught jerking off or something.”
David looked away.
Resigned to the fact that Corky was lost to the subculture, that she’d found her own brand of addiction like his, he’d thought it best to use her in some other way. With her reluctant approval he followed her downtown a half-dozen times and photographed her from a distance as she picked up tricks near Union Square. It was the matter-of-fact way she approached the whole thing, the way she dressed to provoke men, that interested him. Also, there was the challenge of operating stealthily to avoid an incident with a customer.
It began to bother him more and more that he’d failed with her. She’d become a sex goddess and he just another john. The few times he found her back at the apartment he peppered her with questions– “How could I turn you on? . . . Why do you like black men more than me?”
He had finally reached the hazy conclusion that he should see other women.
David snapped back to the reality of his bedroom and listened to rain hitting his darkened window. The clear, strong wet darkness on the other side of the pane seemed refreshing. Inside, though, his weak room-light cast a yellowish pall over everything. He closed his eyes and began to fantasize. He thought of playing a game with Corky where she would pick him up off the street. As they entered her hotel room, she would know exactly what to do. She would make him disrobe and tie him down to a bed with black leather thongs. Then she’d wrap a thin whip around his penis and pull on it.
David’s hand work eventually brought him to a strong orgasm and he lay for a few seconds with sperm resting in his palm. He basked in the contentment and warmth of his body for long minutes, then held up his sperm. For a moment it seemed to have religious significance–after all, there was the feeling that he had leaped aboard something greater than himself. Then the sperm began to look slightly repulsive. He was so evil now and he was all alone like a little boy in the middle of a dark gymnasium. He took off his bra and panties and slowly, creaking at the joints, got up to straighten things and make himself a late evening snack.
Munching on his cheese-melts, he walked over to look at his favorite photo of Corky, a blowup of her wearing pin curlers and and one of her sexy push-up bras. He’d shot it through her nylons, giving the photo a soft glow.
Now she was pushing him away after he’d asked her to move. There had been too many men dropping her off who might have ripped off his camera equipment, and too many times when she went AWOL for days at a stretch, calling in sick to work and later telling him, “Oh, I was in LA!” She had finally moved in with a woman roommate somewhere across the Bay without giving him her address.
Perhaps the only lasting negative fallout had been when he wrote his parents in Ohio about his living with a woman. Not unexpectedly, a damning letter arrived from his father and a softer-toned letter from his mother. His father’s choice of words was unfortunate. David had become angry himself, so angry that he’d replied, “There is the fact that I’m much worse a boy than you imagine. I dress up as a woman whenever I can.”
David switched on his dusty and scratched TV. He felt both very free and very lonely. After watching nothing memorable for an hour he put on a nightgown and went to sleep. Halfway through the night when the slippery material began to ride up around his waist, he took it off and pushed it off onto the floor.