Bizzy Coy — Clockwork
by Bizzy Coy
These are the kinds of things that keep Miranda up at night, these thoughts of getting older and having nothing to show for it, seven dollars in her wallet, no boyfriend, certainly no husband (the thought of it seems positively ridiculous), maybe one prospect, a neighbor who is a full six inches shorter than her and has an even sadder job than she, if that’s possible. The forty-five minute commute each way to a part-time desk where she is still called a temp even though she has been there going on three years, where she manages to get her work done well and be on pleasant terms with the others but rarely goes along to happy hour. That time she had put a can of soda in the communal freezer to cool it down, then had forgotten about it, and it exploded all over, prompting two shameful company-wide emails.
Her friends, how has she kept their affection past college? Their lives are like TV shows, full of parties and new jobs and lovers with funny nicknames, everything sparkling with wit and recurring innuendos. Even their hard times are interesting: an emergency appendectomy, an unwinnable audition, a parent succumbing to a lingering illness (leaving an eleven thousand dollar inheritance, of course), a wallet lost in a cab. She gets the feeling they like that she is the boring one, the one they can measure themselves against, always delighted to marvel at their exploits, a constant when they themselves are swept up every day in a glittery metropolitan whirlwind that leaves them out of breath.
Miranda does not know why she came here in the first place, why she continues to stay, or where else she would go. The city taunts her, humming with the urging of every teacher, family member and magazine telling her to go do big things in the world. Always those voices, that noise.
At brunch, someone mentions Mira, a mutual acquaintance who performs at burlesque shows. According to the girls, her new piece is more interesting than usual. Mira lays on her back on the stage, spread eagle, and squeezes a hidden bottle of ketchup upstage towards a blank canvas in a violent motion. After the performance she autographs the splattered canvas and sells it to a stranger at the bar. Miranda is jealous of the commotion this causes at brunch, but rolls her eyes and half-laughs to indicate it doesn’t sound very erotic at all. This is a lie.
The next lie occurs the following week. Miranda’s friend Sarah, back after a wedding in Barbados, messages her about after-work drinks. Most every weeknight (except Fridays, when the grocery store lines are shorter than usual), Miranda leaves work and goes home to her studio apartment that is really the basement of an aluminum sided house, where the landlord is happy to have such a quiet tenant who lives like clockwork. Miranda declines Sarah’s invitation, citing that she has plans already, and will be out “living it up!” This is the most ridiculous thing she has ever said to another person and she is sure Sarah does not buy it. There is a squirm of pleasure in her gut.
The lie continues to take shape in Miranda’s mind. At the lingerie store downtown, she tells the kind older gentleman at the ancient glass counter that she needs to be fitted for something “intimidating.” She tries out a wink on him but he has already disappeared behind the stock room curtain, pulling down white paperboard boxes with samples in her size. In the dressing room she leaves on her jeans, posing with arms akimbo in eight different corsets and bustiers, denim and protruding pinches of flesh ruining the intended effect. She takes note of the price tags and leaves without buying anything.
Then Amy visits town for the weekend and Miranda can’t hold it in any longer. Amy comes filled with stories of California antics, workplace shenanigans, boozy sports leagues, one night stands, breezy beachy road trips up and down the coast. Their entrees arrive and Amy asks Miranda what is new with her. For a moment Miranda is looking at their table from outside herself. Amy has to promise not to tell anyone, because she is the first person Miranda has told. Nobody knows what she is about to say. Amy’s face perks up and she promises, anything for this scoop.
Miranda blurts it all out, this story she has concocted, and instead of feeling the regret she has anticipated, she instead feels a kind of relaxed, post-orgasmic high. She tells Amy all about the place, the dungeon, they call it, how a friend, well, more of an acquaintance of hers had told her about it, how she had done a couple of sessions with the friend to “try it out,” so to speak, and all she really had to do was sit there and watch the action, sometimes look disdainful or sigh loudly as if she was bored, how she had never experienced anything like it, and the men – oh, the men, they were so incredibly grateful and turned on by something as small as eye contact, they would thank her so profusely even if she had done nothing at all, and she had not yet been allowed to use nipple clamps or tie any knots, but her friend is going to teach her next week, and she is already getting paid – not a lot, but enough to make it worth her while, and of course they don’t have sex with the men, that is strictly forbidden, although some of the girls probably make after-hours arrangements, and she has never felt so beautiful or powerful or anything in her life before, it is just so different from anything she’s ever done or anywhere she’s ever been.
Amy is eating her burger and trying to follow the details. Miranda can tell she is confused, shocked and impressed and that sends Miranda over the moon as she speaks more than she has all week.
Miranda would love if Amy told all of their mutual friends immediately, threw this news out a twelve story window for everyone to see glide by in an updraft. She predicts that is what will happen. There are no real secrets between city friends, anyway, no privacy because no one can be bothered to keep track of what is shared and what is not. Once someone has said something out loud, it’s assumed to be common knowledge. With all of these mysteries public, there are no mysteries at all.
As expected, the word is quickly out. Miranda is surprised at how easy it is to maintain this ruse, how many stories she has already woven in her mind that come unspooled as soon as anyone asks her what’s new. She realizes they all must be gossiping about her, gauging each other’s reactions, their poor mousey little Miranda who tries so little and gets nowhere but is sweet and lovely and almost makes you want to take care of her. She likes being the main topic of conversation, although she doesn’t dare flaunt it. She makes it a point to demur, putting on her facade of self-deprecation anytime someone starts to make a fuss about her sexy new scene.
Enough people have heard by now that Miranda needs a system to keep her storylines straight. She types up all the incidents and characters she has introduced in a series of spreadsheets, noting who she has told what, and when. Recurring stories include her very first time watching a session in plainclothes, her first time dressed and made up but purely there to hand out props when called upon (and although she momentarily forgot the difference between the whip and the riding crop, she still handled herself well), and the time she shouted “Dad bog!” instead of “Bad dog!” at a man who likes to pretend he is a puppy.
Then, on her couch in her new high heels, she begins typing up new incidents that she can have at hand for future conversations. It is not hard to do. Miranda passes men on the street and drops them into imagined situations. The man in the blue suit on 52nd Street wants to lie prone on the ground as she grinds into his soft body with her pointed stilettos. The man wearing shorts in February wants to wash her feet and paint her toenails as she describes to him what a vile human being he is. The man on the bike in the fedora wants her to burn him with cigarettes, or tap the ashes into his mouth, depending on whether it is a Tuesday or a Thursday. She coins him “Ash Wednesday” which her friends will find uncharacteristically clever.
Everything is lovely now. With friends, she is the savior of dead-end conversations. When she wants to turn down an invitation, which is still often, she smirks and says “I have to work that night.” Sarah, who is having money trouble, inquires if there might be an opening for another woman at the dungeon. Miranda promises she will ask but cannot guarantee anything. They are very private and very selective. One girl had talked too much and the police came and raided the place in the middle of a session with a prominent client who liked to be forced to dress as a woman. In his fury he threatened some kind of extortion, and the dungeon was shut down for a period of months and then re-opened in a top secret location. Miranda is not allowed to tell anyone the address or even its name. Sarah says she understands.
Miranda is at a birthday gathering for her friend Eric. She is wearing her high heels in public for the first time. Her feet swell and sweat with pain. Her posture is proud, the shoes forcing her body to jut at new angles. A few people have said out loud to her she looks good tonight. It’s dark in the bar and the air is becoming humid with so much breath. Miranda turns in a slow circle to survey the acquaintances and familiar looking strangers. Mira, the burlesque dancer, sips a beer at the bar in a droopy backless outfit. Miranda feels shy. She has not seen Mira in a while but assumes she has heard about her perverse exploits. It has become so easy to continue the lie and so delicious to harbor the secret behind it. She does not want Mira to ruin it with industry questions, like which dungeon, and which girls, and what shifts.
She sucks her nine-dollar glass of rum and Coke through its thin red cocktail straws, and the shyness dissipates, replaced with warmth and boldness. Why stop now? She teeters through the crowd and stretches herself up onto the barstool next to Mira. They say hello and hug, tapping each other’s backs with their fingertips. Miranda acts excited to hear about the new act Mira is workshopping, which includes a papier-mache pig head that is lightweight but difficult to see out of. She is disappointed when Mira doesn’t ask about her new hobby, and in a pause in conversation she waves down the bartender to order them both another drink. She is adamant to prove that she can win over Mira but refuses to do it blatantly, to brag, to come across as an attention-grabbing amateur. That is not how her game is played.
Then Mira asks Miranda how things are going at work, a clear opening that Miranda realizes she could grab and redirect to become about her second job, but she responds instead that things are same old at work, and you? Over the next few minutes of chitchat Miranda studies Mira’s perfect pin-up lipstick, so shiny she can see her face in it. Then Mira spots a burlesque friend near the door, kissing Miranda on the cheek before she shimmies off the barstool and into the crowd.
Currently, Bizzy Coy is procrastinating on her first novel by writing short stories. She is the founder of the women’s outdoor lifestyle blog The Rugged Babe, which celebrates being the first result when you Google “camping sex.” Her editorial writing appears across the Internet and her advertising copy may have tricked you into buying something. For that, she deeply apologizes. Previously, she has worked at global performance art phenomenon Blue Man Group and the award-winning digital advertising agency Situation Interactive.