If you don’t understand punctuation, you might find this story hot. If you understand and appreciate punctuation, you might find it hot and funny.
As always, the parking lot at the Berkeley Bowl was a cluster fuck.
Since I’m not a fan of parking garages, I circled several times before a space opened up on the far side, near the street. I pulled in next to a black Lexus with tinted windows just as the passenger door was opening.
A young woman emerged, quickly smoothing down her short cotton dress and composing herself. She reached for the passenger door and opened it, wedging herself between the two cars. There was an edge of formality to her action and she stood still, eyes forward, until the driver unfolded herself from the car, clearly taking her time. The driver was tall and masculine in presentation, her hair cropped close around the sides and fading smoothly into her honey-colored skin. She wore a pressed white button-down shirt, and heavy silver loops in her ears. After the door had closed gently, and the driver had set the locks, she handed the girl her leather jacket, and the girl stood on tip-toe to slide it onto the driver’s shoulders. As her hem of her dress lifted with her efforts, the red welts of a recent caning showed on the backs of her thighs. They started toward the store, the driver leading the way.
The brief drama that played out beside my car window had certainly added intrigue to my otherwise routine trip to the store. I found I had to check my desire to hurry and follow them.
Entering the store, I kept my cart to the right, avoiding the pile-up at the cheese counter. A clerk was handing out samples and shoppers had gathered three deep. I swerved neatly around the edge of the knot and headed back toward the produce department.
I picked up some bananas and then, consulting my list, added some pears to my cart. The green racks in the back of the department held a dizzying array of herbs and vegetables and I spent some time there, picking out a week’s worth of veggies, trying make sure I had salad materials as well as things that could be steamed and stir-fried.
I saw them again when I turned to get some avocados. They were on the opposite side of the display from me, so I could only see them from the waist up, through the divider. The girl’s brow was furrowed in concentration as she sorted through a pile of fruit. I realized that she was older than I had first thought, maybe even 35. The driver stood watching her and I heard her low voice, almost a whisper. “Make sure each one is perfect, but you’ll need to move more quickly than that. I don’t have all day.” Her hand darted out and cruelly pinched the girl’s nipple through the thin cotton of her dress. The girl winced, but continued her work. I dropped my eyes to the avocados, but immediately felt the driver’s eyes on me and my cheeks grew hot.
I knew in that moment I should have walked away. It would have been the most appropriate thing to do, but my feet were cemented to the floor as I watched their interaction.
“Hurry,” the driver hissed at the girl. “Make sure you have exactly 23 of them.”
The girl held the bag out for inspection and the driver nodded. It was then that I noticed that the girl wore a thin collar of pale leather that almost exactly matched her skin. There was a silver loop on the front that marked it as more than a fashion accessory, and I knew that under the fall of her straight hair, a buckle and lock pressed against the back of her neck.
In that moment, I could feel the coolness of the steel against the back of my own neck and my belly flipped at the thought.
The driver reached up and gave the loop a yank. “Come on.” As they left for a middle aisle, the girl carrying the store’s plastic basket, I followed them. Although I’m embarrassed now to admit this, I was entranced. It was as though I had no agency of my own.
I watched the driver select items from the shelf and gesture to the girl, who would then place the item in her basket. I tried to keep a casual distance between us, as though we just happened to be shopping on the same path. I feigned interest in my now-abandoned list and items on the shelves. They stopped in front of a display of organic baby food, and the driver selected a few jars. She asked the girl a low question, and I heard her soft answer, “Yes, sir.” It was clear the baby food was for her. My mind raced with possibilities. Would it be spoon-fed to her? Or would she eat it on all fours from a pet dish on the floor? Perhaps she was meant to eat it naked at the table with her arms bound behind her back. My breath came fast and shallow at the possible scenarios and I found that I was clenching and un-clenching my thighs, seeking the slight friction I could find against the seam of my jeans.
The driver spent some time choosing a jar of mustard, reading each label carefully before placing the jars back on the shelf. Finally, she gestured to a crock of stone-ground mustard, flavored with ale, that met with her approval. The girl placed it in her basket, now heavy with food. As they headed to the check-out, I grabbed some of it for myself.
The front of the store was packed.
I stood in line behind them, thumbing through a copy of Sunset magazine as though interested.
Although shoppers around us had placed their baskets on the floor, the girl held theirs in both hands in front of her, her knuckles white with the exertion. The line was barely moving. The driver walked away and came back with two bottles of wine and a half-gallon of orange juice, which she dumped into the basket. The girl continued to stand straight and still. “You’re doing a good job,” I heard the driver whisper, and she began to pet the girl’s hair with the heavy deliberate strokes one would use to calm a restless dog. The girl appeared in a reverie, her eyes looking forward, unfocused. She didn’t notice when it was her turn to step up to the counter. The driver grabbed the loop on her collar and yanked, causing her to stumble forward a step. She immediately started trying to balance the heavy basket and place the items on the belt in a quick and tidy fashion. Her hand slipped on the mustard jar, bobbled it, and it crashed to the floor, the heavy pottery cracking and mustard splashing across one toe of the driver’s heavily polished black boots.
“Now look what you’ve done,” the driver said, gesturing to the mess. “Now all these people will have to wait while it’s cleaned up.” Her eyes met mine and I glanced back to my magazine.
The clerk called for a clean-up and another crock of mustard appeared. She offered a napkin to the driver for her boot, but she motioned it away. The girl’s lips quivered.
The driver ran her card through the machine, collected the receipt, and left the store. The girl followed behind, a bag of groceries in each hand.
I distractedly paid for my own groceries. As I emerged into the sunlight, I could see them across the parking lot, between our two cars. The girl placed the groceries in the open trunk and then I watched the driver walk away, closer to the fence that separated the lot from the street. She motioned to the girl, who pulled away reluctantly. I stood there, outside the door, not believing – and yet knowing – what would happen next. The driver grabbed the girl’s collar, pulling her close, and then pushed her downward with a heavy hand on each shoulder. As the driver’s eyes locked on mine, she stood with crossed arms and a smirk of pride, the girl kneeling on the hot asphalt, using her mouth and tongue to clean the mustard off the toe of her master’s boot, her panties flashing white in the sunlight. Satisfied, the driver grabbed a fistful of the girl’s hair and pulled her upright. She kissed her long and deep and then shoved her in the back of the car, closing the door definitively. Then, she pulled a tiny leather-covered pad out of her pocket, wrote something on a piece of paper, and placed it under my windshield wiper. She never looked back, although I’m sure she knew I was still watching.
They drove away.
When I reached my car, the paper fluttered in the breeze. I put my groceries in the trunk and then reached across the hood to grab it.
I’m sure the noise I made when I read it was somewhere between a giggle and sigh.
In an assertive hand, it said: “Your next”. Under that was a phone number.
Needless to say, I never called.
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