I climb the library stairs and stop abruptly, my right leg hitched over the next step like a comma. I stand there, entranced. I know I will replay this scene in bed tonight, trying to recapture its exquisiteness, staring at the cracks in my ceiling while I slap my cock into remembrance.
A body presses by mine and I shove my knapsack over on the step to let the woman pass. I watch the broad denimed ass of the woman climb the stairs, her grey ponytail bouncing at each step. She turns left at the top of the stairs and disappears.
I return to the view. There are twelve desks on the second floor of the library that overlook the staircase between the first and second floor. Nailed to the back of each carrel is a plywood modesty panel that begins eight inches off the floor. From my position halfway up the staircase, I can see the enclosed back of the desks and a dirty gold-beige carpet spotted with balled tissues and the hunched backs of gum wrappers. I scan the bottom of the desks, ignoring the scuffed leather Nikes and the scruffy men’s loafers and look for the flesh that I had seen moments before. I spy the edge of a black nylon purse, the tan crease of a leather knapsack, and feet.
My nails dig into my palms...the girls, the women, are so exquisite, as if they have decided to embrace this last breath of summer by exposing their feet to the sun, the air, the world.
Under a desk at the far end, two strands of hemp string emerge from a pair of sandals, the rope criss-crossing a smooth brown calf to tie in a bow under the knee, as if her leg were a gift. Two desks over I see the side profile of one baby-blue platform sandal, the toenails splashing artery red against the pastel innocence, pointing me to the adjacent desk where ankles cross demurely above flat-soled thongs, the white leather noosed around the big toe like an embrace, the skin lightly freckled with September sun. To the right I spy black wedge sandals pressed tightly together like soldiers in formation, the green vine of a tattoo curling gently around an ankle.
So much flesh—a cancan of heels, toes, tender nubs, and arches. Calling to me. Inviting my glance. Asking me. Demanding me.
To admire. To cherish. To adore. And I do. I do. I do.
I can’t remember the last time I was so intoxicated.
At the beginning, all of it was intoxicating. Five years ago, all it would take was a stroll through a mall and I would have to hurry back home and jump in the shower, sometimes coming three times in an hour, remembering the inviting smoothness of a cream Italian slingback or the pebbled allure of a snakeskin pump. And the women. Sashaying up and down the narrow aisles of the shoe store, arching their backs as they peered at the angled mirrors on the floor, pivoting in front of me, for me, as I watched their feet hungrily from behind a rack of last season’s boots, my face partially hidden by the blue nylon collar of my Centennial Secondary School jacket.
I would save the department store flyers and stash them under my mattress until my parents finished watching Lloyd Robertson and the house assumed its night stillness. I would slide my face against the image of a Browns strappy dress shoe, the butter-soft blackness like a mask against the shocking innocence of white, taking little licks with my tongue, leaving damp teeth marks on the newsprint. Or I’d place the inked outline of a Kenneth Cole thigh-high boot against my cock and crinkle my way to orgasm, leaving oily smudges on my cock and sheets, sometimes having to wash whole words and phrases off my dick.
I even bought a pair of women’s shoes once. Red stilettos. I kept tissue balled inside so that when I took a shoe to bed with me, I could ejaculate right into the crinkly stuffing. I would grab them, my bookend lovers, and roll them over my chest, my legs, my groin, rubbing them like breasts until I felt one loving me back.
Today seeing so much flesh, so much splendour, washes me with my adolescent fervour, my cock wagging awake, snaking up my underwear in applause. The view of the naked feet is so unexpected, so pure, without the distraction of torso or face, that I can’t tear myself away. Patrons ascend and descend the stairs in clots of friends or trios of mothers herding children while I move up and down the steps, drowning in the intimacy of the exposed feet.
I pause on the landing in the middle of the staircase and look around. No one is watching. I turn my back to the desks, lean into the stair railing, and scan the bulletin board in front of me while my hips begin to rock back and forth. I slide my hand over my crotch, my fingernails scratching lightly against my zipper, and lean into my hand.
There is a sign: “BE ON ALERT—WATCH YOUR BELONGINGS.” And below it: “PURSES AND WALLETS HAVE BEEN STOLEN FROM THIS LIBRARY.” I think about the feet by these purses: innocent, guileless witnesses. I move my fingertips down an inch or so. “GIVE BLOOD. IT’S IN YOU TO GIVE.” The computer clip art of a nurse and donor begins to blur, the red of the man’s tie bleeding into the metal blue of his suit as I try to contain my grunts. On Thursday night is a talk about “MANAGING GESTATIONAL DIABETES.”
I am about to come. I squat, trying to contain myself.
I look up, trying to locate the voice.
“What are you doing? ”
I move my hand away from my crotch. I crouch on the landing, unmoving, while inside my head, photo images explode before my eyes: my parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary, my sister receiving the Grade 11 English award, playing ping-pong in the common room with my arts and science buddies.
“You O.K.? ”
I focus on the gunmetal grey of the security guy’s pants. I follow the grey, my neck arching painfully as I finally reach the round face, pouchy and wrinkled but calm. The brown eyes under the wispy balding crown observe me.
Probably his son is not masturbating in a library, I think. He’s probably in medical school, making his dad proud, validating his father’s toil in a string of underpaid and tedious jobs.
He continues to observe. I know what I look like. My face is flushed, sweating, my eyes dilated—the look I’ve watched on my own face as I masturbate in front of the bathroom mirror.
“Not really.” I am relieved when I hear my own voice coughing out a reply.
“Do you need help? ”
“I think I’ll be O.K.”
“Are you sure? ”
I nod. “I’m...uh...I’m...diabetic.”
“Maybe I should call an ambulance.” He reaches for the black leather holster on his hip that contains his walkie-talkie.
“No.” I straighten up, reaching for the railing for support.
“You going to pass out? ”
I shake my head.
“You need to sit down.”
He helps me to my feet. I read the name on the pin on his lapel as I walk beside him, slightly crouching, covering my diminishing penis. Ali Murugiah.
Ali. My god. My saviour.
We walk down the steps to the first floor and Ali settles me in a chair near the magazines. I smile weakly at him while he walks away, still looking at me. I wait there until he is out of view, then go to the men’s room and wash my face, standing bent over the basin for a long time with the water dripping from my chin. I plan to leave quickly through the library’s front doors.
As I exit the bathroom and pass by the bottom of the stairs, I pause to shift my knapsack onto my back, feeling the heavy weight of my university textbooks. I think about my comparative religions test tomorrow. I have over two hundred pages of readings to get through and I can study better at the library than I can at home. All I need to do is find a stuffy carrel on the second floor and get down to work.
I shuffle up the stairs slowly, not wanting to be drawn in, trying to resist, yet achingly arched toward them. I’m almost at the top of the stairs when I see, like a poppy peeking through the snow, one courageous display of abandon.
I lick my lips, my tongue sticking on the chapped edge of my mouth. The silver and red strands of her sandal lie in a band across the top of her foot like gossamer netting, like gift wrapping. Her feet look so soft, so smooth, so touchable, the velvet toes calling me to pay homage to them, to give them the gift of my touch, my lips, my tongue. Her toes are spread slightly apart in a come-hither pose, nails painted a frosted pearl, so cool yet so inviting, asking to be kissed, to be warmed by my mouth.
The feet shift away from view. All I can see is the sole of one shoe, half in shadow.
“Please come out. Pretty please.” I stare at the bottom of her shoe and the edge of flesh extending over the side, admiring the curve of foot, the oval heel suggesting internal health, the hint of baby toe. She shifts. Now I can see her entire foot, its lovely outline, pink and smooth and alive, the second toe long and curvy, an omen of fertility.
I walk across the step until I am three inches from the back of her desk, my head level with the carpeted floor.
Her feet provoke, daring me to touch, to love, to risk. The delicate bones surrounded by flesh, encased in silver, like fairy-tale feet.
I slide my right hand along the carpet under the desk, feeling my way past wads of discarded paper, until I feel something smooth and soft and square. Her purse. My fingers shuffle sideways until I feel the heel of her sandal.
She doesn’t move.
I can tell she feels my presence. She is absorbing it. Embracing it.
I open my hand and place it lightly over the entire sole. I shudder with the intensity of our communion.
I feel something plunk down on my shoulder at the same time I feel a kick from the sandalled foot. I crouch there half kneeling, like Christ on his way to Calvary, my hand grabbing the lip of the carpet for support.
“What are you doing? ” Ali, the security guard, says as his hand clamps my shoulder.
“Not feeling well,” I mumble, trying to slither out from under his grasp.
“I remember.” The skin around Ali’s brown eyes wrinkles into a web of suspicion. Still staring at me, he grabs his walkie-talkie and calls loudly on the radio for security backup. I feel curious glances from three girls walking down the stairs.
“What are you doing? ” I ask, straightening up.
“You know,” he says, looking over my shoulder, moving slightly to the right to block my way down the stairs.
After a pause, I sputter, “No. No...I don’t.”
His walkie-talkie crackles again. Ali picks it up and says, “I think I got the purse snatcher. Call it in.”
A young man in an identical security suit appears at the top of the stairs. Ali motions with his head to the desk beside us on the stairwell and his co-worker disappears. A minute later he reappears with two young Asian women. Out of the corner of my eye I see the library lights glint off the silver threads in the shoes of the girl on the left. She looks at me and looks away. The security guard talks with her and the friend puts her arm around her waist. After a minute, the two women walk away from the top of the staircase, faces averted, hands clutching their purses. The guard loudly pounds down the stairs to where the two of us are standing. Several people watch us from the bottom of the stairs.
“No,” I say as each man takes a position on either side of me.
Ali asks, “Did you call the police? ”
The young guard nods.
“I didn’t...,” I begin to say. The young security guard looks at me and my voice falters.
“You didn’t what? ” With his crewcut he looks like he should be in the army. Or the police.
“I...I didn’t steal anything,” I manage.
“So what were you doing underneath the desk? ” he asks, his slate-grey eyes returning to mine. “She felt you.”
“I was...just...,” my voice trails into a whisper.
He stares at me and then looks away. We walk like a trinity down the stairs, Ali’s profile blocking the feet from my lingering view, and I hear a siren wail in the distance.