:: Article

The complexity of touch

By Alan Cunningham.

She sensed a look, directed toward her.

She could not explain how it was that she sensed it, nor, even, whether she did so with any accuracy, but she knew, somehow, that someone was looking at her; that someone had been looking at her, in fact, since she had first walked in.

She now felt she looked ridiculous in the clothes that she had decided to wear out. She had wanted to drink, to unwind, to be amongst people; she had not necessarily been desirous to be with them. She had chosen her clothes accordingly. Now, thinking that she was being looked at, and reacting to that – wanting and not wanting to – she wanted the look to last. She did not want to take off her coat. Her arms were bare underneath. There was nothing further to hide behind.

She took a sip of her whiskey. She held the glass tightly in her hand as she swallowed. Then, stepping down from the stool so that her feet touched the floor, but leaving her ass perched on the edge of the round seat, she moved, slowly, to the right.

Give her the look, he thinks: the look. Women like the look, initially, because it is an attempt at illustrating power, whereas it admits of no power, or, rather, another power, one of gentle subtlety and of beauty: their own.

He first constructs this sentence in his mind, using words he has learned over the duration of his short life to give some logic to his experience. Satisfied, he then lifts up his pencil and then he opens his notebook, and he writes the sentence down. He takes his time while writing, careful to replicate the thought exactly as he first thought it. He is aware of some necessity for it to be remembered exactly as it was first constructed in his mind.

Then, finished, he puts his pen down, and he looks up and he looks at her.

She had turned around. She gave, as she looked out at the bar crowd from the comfort and elevation of her bar stool, a certain type of gaze to them all, new and frightening in its coolness. She had not prepared, nor been prepared for, such ability. If she caught the eye of someone, whether man or woman, she held their eye. There was no discomfort felt by her, nor, she thought, by the other. Instead she felt there was a mutual understanding between herself and those she looked at. Not that many of them were looking at her; only a few did so and the rest continued in their conversation. Between herself and those that did look back, however, there was an unspoken agreement, she thought: things can be done to you and by me, to me, by you, if you are willing as I am willing. If you indicate your willingness further. For the gaze was already a show of willingness, of a sort: of an understanding of where things could go. None of those that held her gaze, however, were in any way attractive to her.

She gets ready to turn back around and face the bar again. As she starts to turn, however, a man who had been writing throughout puts his pen down, looks up and looks at her. She stops. She holds his gaze, but is not prepared for – or has, perhaps, always been awaiting – him, looking at her, like this.

Appropriate, that, she thinks to herself, (although if asked she could not have said why she thought so) the music that had been playing – guitar charged asinine pop – changing to become a series of repetitive, pulse stimulating beats played out over the plaintive, faintly spoken words of what she imagined to be a young and blond English boy. She held the gaze of her admirer with one equally lustful and accepting, although not quite so convinced of the character of its giver. She smiled at her observer, as he smiled at his. He understood – rightly – her smile and look as an invitation to join her, placing his pencil and notebook in a small holdall by his feet, and she relaxes: he understands something of what is meant by her look. She is worried that she does not yet fully understand his look or her own. She feels that she has been emboldened by something, however, and puts worry to the back of her mind. She understands, looking at him stand up, pick up his drink and bag and walk toward her that this meeting might lead to nothing, everything, or something traumatic. She understands that and she looks at his eyes with that knowledge in her mind, and he continues to walk toward her and to look back.

She is less fearful now, she thinks, than before, the potential for rejection based on what is seen having diminished. Something in the manner of his approach makes it so. Anyway, she thinks: I’ve got my coat on. Nothing might happen yet.

He arrives at the bar, drops his holdall to the ground and takes the seat beside her. She turns the stool around to face the bar. He looks away from her, momentarily, to catch the eye of the barman, and her sense of comfort leaves her for a second. She thinks he has played a joke on her and curses her stupid arrogance. But, his task completed, he looks back at her; at her eyes, still looking at his. Nothing is said between them.

‘Ja?’ asks the barman.

‘Same again?’ he asks her.

‘Why not?’ she says.

Smiling, as he is smiling.

‘Same again.’

‘What were you writing about just then?’

‘Ha. That. Well. I was writing about looking. How I should look at you.’

‘You’re a writer?’

She was happy to give him room to speak. She felt that she had nothing interesting to say to anyone.

‘Not really. I write. Like you saw. That’s all. I write, sometimes, to think. To clear my thoughts.’

‘And you were thinking about how to look at me?’

‘Yes’, he says, taking a note out from his jean pocket and handing it to the barman.

‘Why did you need to think about it? Why not just look?’

‘Like now?’, he says, smiling.

He takes a sip from his drink.

‘What’s that you’re drinking?’ she says, holding his gaze, stifling her desire to smile, as he is now smiling.

‘Rum and coke. Would you like to try some?’

He moves the glass over the surface of the bar toward her.

‘No, thanks.’

‘So, you didn’t answer. Am I just looking now?’

She smiles.

‘That depends. What’s just looking? And what’s looking?’

There is an ease to his manner that makes his arrogance tolerable. He knows.

‘Well, I gotta go.’

‘I’ll go with you. I only came out for a couple.’

They leave the bar together.

And at some point during the walk after, he, or she, pulls him, or her, into the entrance doorway of the apartment building and pulls up, or lifts, the jumper, or blouse she or he is wearing and looks with admiration and he with function and with lust at the mass of others torso.

Did he or she really want to fuck her, or him, to have sex, to feel a pleasure swell up from the center of some gravity as a confluence of matter then occurred, to feel a pleasure from that? No, he or she wanted to see him or her feel pleasure in another way, a type of pleasure uncommon in everyday matters, of, a kind of animal squeal of joy that he or she was responsible for. It was the responsibility for action and for joy that excited. That, or he or she wanted to be fucked, to turn all moderation off and genuflect upon a bed or floor of matter.

and shhe also wanted to see herim look upon that pleaszzure, and be pleassszzzured b tht.

‘I want to put my cock in you.’

‘Do you have a condom on you?’

‘No. No condoms. Natural, like.’

He laughed.

‘As nature intended.’

He laughed again.

Something in this phrase excited Jessie. She wanted to be fucked – she wanted to fuck – in a way, like he had said, intended by nature. She wanted to feel natural. She wanted to be touched by him and to be held. She wanted to feel free to touch.

‘I want you to make me cum inside you. I don’t want to cum on your face, or in your mouth. I don’t want to cum in your ass or on your tits or stomach. I want to cum inside you. I want you to lie back and I want you to spread your legs and I want you to watch me fuck you.’

‘Can I move?’

‘I’d prefer if you didn’t. I don’t want you climbing on top of me. This isn’t going to be about pleasure. I want you to perform for me, all right? This is what I want. What do you think?’

Something in her was excited. It may have been the way he talked about the sex; the way he viewed her as an instrument in this performance. The fact that he thought she was suitable to perform the role he wanted someone to excited her. She wanted to perform; or, rather, to be thought of as being able to.

She can see that he is attracted by deficiency, or, rather, emboldened by it, and allowed to feel alive. She is happy to be an instrument for his pleasure, being not quite ready enough to know how, or even why, to take her own. She lies back on the brown leather sofa, taking some comfort in the weight and substance of her body. She can see how much he likes it, how much he is ignoring what remains. She is ignoring it also, and they focus, instead, on the elements within and around them that are still powerful and not at all frightening. They speak, without words, of the power of each other and recognise the limit of what is being said in their movement and their peace. She does not mind. He has taken off his trousers and his briefs and now holds, proudly, his cock in his hand. He walks over to where she lies and, kneeling on the sofa, pats the head of it on her lips; an introduction. She is perfectly still and has retained the cool, welcoming gaze she fostered in the bar. He looks at his cock. She worries about not being wet enough for him and about being too wet. She wants to be perfectly wet. He wants her to be wet. He knows that to be an indication of something. Everything else he is not convinced by, but that, that wetness, like his hardness, tells him something, tells him he is doing something right, or, at least, something is happening or has happened to provoke a response within her. He likes the absence of her left hand, he decides, although to look at what remains disgusts him slightly. He thinks about the absence, instead, and constructs another sentence in his mind, although he will later forget it. It is the lack of something he has, in another, that brings him joy; that, and the fact that she is sufficiently wet and looks pained and his cock is now inside her.

He places his lips down upon hers and they kiss, messily, the taste of each other’s saliva a necessary and successful combinant for their activity.

The taste of this, each one then thinks.


After sex, he texts his former girlfriend. They separated after she told him: one night while out drunk with my friends and you were away for work I ended the night having sex with someone else I met.

‘Just had sex with a new girl. Her body is more beautiful than yours has ever been. She is younger than you.’

Alan Cunningham was born in Newry. He currently lives in London. His debut novella will be published by Penned in the Margins in January 2013.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, August 14th, 2012.