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James Penha

February 2, 2015



            Hi, I’m Ted.

            From the agency?

            Right. Where do you want me?

            Maybe on that chair? No, no maybe. I put the chair there for you.

            The one by the window?


            Shall I take off my clothes?

Clay sat down at the kitchen table without my asking him to do so. He made to stretch his legs but clonked them into the porcelain like a clapper to a steeple bell.

“What’s that?”

“The tub.”

“The bathtub?”

“Yes, this is a very efficient efficiency apartment.”

Clay examined the tabletop and realized it was just a butcher block. “Mmm. But, wait, you mean you take your bath in the kitchen?”

“Or a shower. There’s a hose attached to the faucet.”

“And the toilet?”

“There’s a little bathroom over there in the corner. Of course, it’s not really a bathroom. It’s the toilet. This,” I spread my arms, “is the bath-and-kitchen-and-just about everything-else-room. It’s a really old studio apartment. Still rent-controlled. And, c’mon, it’s on 14th Street, Union Square, a ten-minute walk to the Chelsea Hotel.”

“The Chelsea Hotel is being renovated.”

“If I owned this building, if I had any money, I’d renovate too.”

“So,” said Clay, “shall we take a bath? Or cook?”

Even though I had thought about little else but Clay since meeting him at a design show at the New School the previous evening, I looked at him now, smiling through his five o’clock shadow, as if I had never seen him. I wanted to linger a bit, to study him: those luminous green, not hazel but green, eyes; his tousled dirty blond hair, mercifully natural and ungelled; the red and black plaid Guess shirt, sleeves rolled to reveal on his right forearm, the end of a row of Chinese characters; another tat, more figurative, perhaps bestial, peeking out from beneath his collar. There was more, but I needed to answer his question.

“Maybe both?”

            Okay, you can take off your shirt now. Just your shirt for now. You can hang it on that coatrack there.

            Right. So are you sketching on your iPad? I haven’t seen you take any photos. Are you sketching with a finger on one of those apps? I’ve never had a client work that way before.

            Actually, I’m writing.

            Writing? Like descriptive writing? I’ve never had someone do that before either.

            It doesn’t matter really, does it? I mean you just need to do what you always do.

            Right. Absolutely right. I only do what I do.

            Clay unbuttoned his shirt studiously as if he had to think about it. Or wanted me to think about it. Only when he had revealed his naval, a buoy separating the calm tan of his torso from the darker fan of fur below, did he pull the shirt from his jeans, undo the lowest button of the shirt, and remove it. He looked around for a place to stow it. I pointed to the coatrack. He hung his shirt there, flipped off each Nike with the toes of the other foot, and slipped off his jeans, hanging them atop his shirt.

He returned to where I was sitting, pulled me to my feet, and removed my clothes as slowly as his tongue found mine.

            What are you wearing underneath your pants?

            Nothing. So I should take off my pants?

            No, not yet.

            Do you want me stand or remain sitting?


“I want to see the tub,” said Clay.

“It’s a two-man job.”
“I’m counting on it.”

One to a side, we heaved the butcher block, and I motioned with my chin for us to carry it to the wall where a deep scratch in the paint indicated just where it should lean. After setting it down, I traced the bird tattooed on Clay’s chest. “It’s a Garuda, right?”

“Everyone thinks it’s an eagle.”

“The face is an eagle’s, but it wears a crown.”

“You noticed.”

“A Garuda has the body of a man. That would . . . ”

            Okay, Ted, you can take your pants off now and hang them on the rack.

            I spread my fingers across his nipples, taut now, and moved my hands down beyond his belly until they slipped between the band of his Papis and his hips. I slid the shorts down to his feet, and Clay stepped out of them as I sat looking up at him and said, “. . . be yours.”

His dick was bigger than I expected and uncut; his balls were ponderous oysters and clean-shaven. I eeled beneath his legs.

            Would you turn around? Yes, just there. And bend forward? More. Yes, perfect.

His ass was as firm as his chest; hairless cheeks enclosed swirls of blond emanating from the crevice between. I raised a finger.

    Okay, Ted, turn back to me. I’m wondering if you would mind getting yourself a little hard.

            You mean, stroke myself?


            No, sorry, stuff like that confuses a job. Confuses the client as to what my job is. So I never do that. It’s a rule. If I get an erection accidentally–


            If my penis gets hard by itself, that’s different. It just does what it does.

            Does that happen often?

            No, but sometimes.

            Are you often asked to get hard?

            You mean on the job?

            Yes, on the job.

            No, but it happens.

            And today?

            I was asked.

            I know. But will you get hard?

            Maybe if we keep talking about it.

He seemed to like my finger. His dick hardened, foreskin tight against the shaft, into an arc. I had to stand with my head upside down to take it in my mouth.

I guess this is just one of those days.

            I guess.

            Are you describing all this?

            Some, not all. A little narrative too.

            Ted’s not my real name.

            That’s okay. I’m not using it anyway.

            Is it a story?

            A sketch.

            In words.

            That’s right.

            You’re gay.

            Why do you say so?

            Well, you didn’t send for a woman.

            Maybe tomorrow.


            Are you gay?

            Maybe tomorrow.

            Not today?

            Not while I’m working. It’s confusing.

            But you’re hard.

            It was the talk.

            With me.

            That I’m going to be in a story.

            How about tomorrow?

            What about it?

            Want to come for dinner?

            A date?

            Sort of.

            Not a job.

            Not tomorrow, no.

            Let’s finish the job first. I don’t want to confuse things.

            No, I can see that. We’ll wait. Could you sit on the floor and fold your knees up a bit. Maybe lean your back on the chair.

            Like this?

            Fold your knees a bit more so you take up less floor space. Yes, yes, that’s it. Can you hold that for a while.


“I can’t believe we both fit in this tub,” Clay said. I was washing the semen from the folds of his foreskin.

“It’s deep. And you know it has feet. Like your Garuda.’

Clay leaned back. I held his calves and moved his legs to either side of me. I washed them and then each of his feet.

“Did you come? I have to admit I didn’t notice much beside your mouth. I don’t think I was a very good guest.”

“I like being the host.”

“Are we actually going to eat on the tub?”

“Where else?”

“I can take you out . .  . Shoolbred’s?

“Lamb slider. Perfect. Let me get you a towel.”

            Mind if I shower here?

            Let me get you a towel.



A native New Yorker, James Penha <>has lived for the past two decades in Indonesia. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and in poetry. Snakes and Angels, a collection of his adaptations of classic Indonesian folk tales, won the 2009 Cervena Barva Press fiction chapbook contest; No Bones to Carry, a volume of his poetry, earned the 2007 New Sins Press Editors’ Choice Award. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry at



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