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Invisible Lines (Novella)

Port Said
by William S. Dean © 2005

Like a turtle on its back, flailing, trapped, and slightly dazed, the underbelly of the city of Port Said looked harmless and amusing to Thomas Digit.  Down in the rank exotic atmosphere, just below the hanging orange-dust haze, cleaving his way through the riotous calls of "Yallah!" and "Gold!  Best price!" Digit smirked at the chaos and poverty, the shills and scams, the needy and the greedy.  His cool Ray Bans encased his eyes from the stinging sand, smoke, and small drifting fogs of tobacco and hashish.  His earphones shielded him from all but the loudest shouts as he made his way along the Shiraz to the shakedown palaces and the lowdown clubs.  His backpack and scuffed boots marked him as a poor candidate for the beggars and traders.  He only had to push a few entreating or aggressive hands away.

The ragged man standing in front of the Club Alexandria sneered as Digit approached and waved his dark brown hands. "No tourists!" he shouted.  "Go back!"

Tom Digit grinned and with what he thought as clever sleigh-of-hand produced a five pound note. He slapped it into the man's open palm.  If he expected anything but a humid shrug...but he didn't.  The man jerked a thumb at the doorway and turned away, lighting what was left of a cigarette butt.  Digit marched inside.

At the head of the Suez—founded by the French—Port Said is famous for its descents.  Ships of all nations pass by on their way through the canal; sailors and captains fall through the uncaulked parts of their lives.  Some disappear forever, a few surface, like overcooked corks, gnawed and raw from the notorious back streets.  Most never dare to cross the lines between touristland and the undertow of Port Said.  Tom Digit was here to dive and to believe in survival.

If anywhere divines the blurry borderland between the desert jinn, the archangels of Sinai, and the ancient gods of Egypt, it is Port Said. Alexandria still clings to its Greekness with an overlay of khaki Britishdom.  Cairo is chockablock with inshallah and the sacrifice of goats mingling with KFCs and MickeyDs.  The skirl of droning ouds, the staccato flurry of drum, and the sinuous dance of women in Said can be demonic, addictive, and lethal.  Men come here seeking the houri and the jini, the goddess and the whore.  And find them.

What did Tom Digit seek?  He knew even less than the bartender who at least winked with possibility.  A glass of tepid and cheap Egyptian whiskey greeted Tom's thirst like a smoldering smudge of shadow, peeled off a crude lump of coal and poured, liquid, down the throat of a slavering fool.  The cool, sleek, patina of wasted leisure skimmed off Digit as he drank.  The rattle in the darkest corner was followed by the bang of a taut goatskin, and the sour pluck of strings.  Then, serpentine—arms and legs akimbo, pale, and faintly reminiscent of dusty hieroglyphs—she stepped into a puddle of dim bulblight.  And Tom Digit felt his gut shrink until it collided with his spine and a bolt of old lightning course down between his rubbery thighs.

The teeth of the bartender—yellow as old tobacco—flashed as he poured a double shot of whiskey in Tom's glass.  He nodded toward the dancing woman.  "The goddess of the unholy," he whispered hoarsely.

Facing forward, poised with her arms at her sides, palms toward the floor, the woman's left hip shot forward and retreated.  Her right followed at the rhythm of the drumbeat.   While holding her place, she seemed to be stepping forward, legs moving high like a prancing beast, feet arched in the descent. Digit had never seen any woman move that way.

Now she swayed, sidestepping, spun.  Half-turned to profile, one arm high, her body seemed made of wind or scales or river reed—head out, back. Torso out, back.  Hips out, back.  All in one rippling wave.  Digit's shoulders grew chill and he trembled.  "Jesus," he muttered, slamming down a wad of money, and ran out of the bar.  The echo of the bartender's wheezing laughter followed him.

Tom Digit stood sweating and clammy in the alley.  A kaleidoscopic re-run played through his thoughts.  Every memory of every stripper, lap-dance, and sexshow spiraled around the linchpin of what he had just seen, just felt in the dingy club.  Fuck!  How could one woman—any woman—erase the powerful lure of every other he'd seen in just a minute or two of dancing. She hadn't even taken off any clothes.  It wasn't possible, he argued with himself.  A hallucination, a mirage, a heat-illusion.  It couldn't have been real, he assured himself.  Numbed, he looked down to the surprise that his fingers were knotted at his crotch and paralyzed.  "This is stupid," he thought.  Goddamnit, I'm Tom Digit!  Bad boy.  Chick magnet.  Stud.  Pussy hound and bird dog.  His knees sagged and droplets of sweat stung his eyes. After five minutes, he'd almost convinced himself it was the bad whiskey on an empty stomach.  Or malaria.

"Fuck this!" he silently shouted.  It was probably some old skanky bitch or maybe even some skinny, kohl-eyed bastard in drag.  You couldn't trust anything here.

He walked, slowly now, back to the hotel.  Tomorrow, he said, after some decent food, I'll come back.  Find out for sure, get my head clear and then...yeah.

He showered, shaved, went down to the hotel's restaurant.  He ate a brace of stuffed pigeons and a pyramid of couscous, drank cold beer.  By ten o'clock, he lay half-naked on his bed, watching the lazy spin of the fan blades.  It might have been a minute later or an hour, but he suddenly sensed another presence in the room.  The scents of patchouli and jasmine slammed his face against the pillow.  His belly churned, arms limp and still.  "Oh, shit," he managed to murmur.  Or thought he did.

"Are you a fool, Thomas Digit?" she asked, voice as slow and hushed as sand blown over a dune.


He waited for laughter, but there was only silence.  And then the faint ching of finger cymbals, the fainter tinkle of anklet bells as she stepped closer to the bed.

He wanted words then.  Wanted them so badly that he would have begged, even if they scalded his throat.  He clutched at them, broke through the paralytic sheen of his own sweat, and half rose on the bed.  "This is a scam, right?  You work with the fucking hotel?  A little extra service for the guests, is that it?"

Ching and ka-ching.  She turned her profile to him and extended an arm one way, a hip the opposite.

"Oh, yeah."  Digit tried a dry laugh, but it came out choked.  "I get it. Private dancer.  Then maybe, a little nookie on the side?"

She swayed, eyes half-closed.  Spun, dipped slightly; ass and hips twitching, rotating.  Making his eyes water.

"Come on.  Let's skip the prelude and get to the main event, honey.  The Digit man is always ready for it."  He cleared his throat, which suddenly had turned into an hour glass, grit of sand trickling down moment to moment, filling his belly with a weight that pulled him back down on the bed.

"Are you a fool, Thomas Digit?" she asked again.

"Yes.  No.  I don't fucking know.  What's the point of all this shit? What's it matter what I am?"

"Matters," she said with a nod.

"This is just crazy shit."  He shook his head.  "I think I might be sick. Bad whiskey or..."

He almost jolted out of his skin when her finger touched his lips.

"Shhhh.  It is not sickness.  Not crazy.  Not shit.  It is this..."

As Tom Digit felt her fingers curl around the shaft of his cock, he felt himself being pulled inside out.  As if his brain were being tugged down his skull, through his shaking body, and out the hole in his cock.  Her hand squeezed and he was hard almost before being aware of it.  He was drenched in sticky, salty sweat now, his thighs quaking.

"Oh, don't," he said in the smallest voice he'd ever heard.

She straddled him, hovering above him on her knees.  And began the snake-like dance again.  Her hips rolled, and seemed to roll endlessly after, as she fed him, inch by inch, inside her.  The finger cymbals on her fingers nipped at the taut skin of his ball sac, crimped his nipples, rang in front of his staring eyes.  He'd never thought of gazing before, but now he gazed: at her nipples which became lips, became dark, became the ancient, strange eye symbols of Old Egypt, became flame.  As she rocked on him, taking him ever deeper, her perfume, the scent of her body, rose in wafting trails of smoke which made him dizzy and faint.

"I don't..." he struggled to work his mouth.  "I can't..."

She grazed her fingertip over his lips, flicked her cymbals and pinched his lower lip until it burned.  She gathered up his hands and rubbed them across her full breasts.  A spasm wracked him, eyes shooting open, and for an instant—only—he saw something, someone terribly old, withered, sere, shadowy fucking him.  So dim and vague he could see the fluttering curtains through it and the blurring red glow of the neon hotel sign through the blinds.

"Yesssss," she hissed above him.  A sharp pain pulled his hips off the bed, as if his spine had exploded, and he felt the flood of himself wash up into her as she arched her back incredibly far, her hair brushing his shins.

"All for this..." she whispered, sliding off his hips, wrapping her fingers once more around his softening cock.  Tom Digit groaned, closed his eyes, slept.

In the morning, the hotel desk clerk plead utter innocence.  "No one came to your room that I know of, sir.  The hotel does not allow overnight visitors. Perhaps it was..."  The shrug was as eloquent and noncommittal as a French maitre d's.

He never found the club again.  Nor even the street where he thought it might have been.  For a week, Tom Digit sat on the edge of the docks, watching the big ships pass by and head into the Canal, his eyes on the water and on the useless hulks that shifted and sank deeper out beyond the harbor.  He wondered if he was more a man or less, whether he'd been sick, a fool, or simply dreaming.  And then he went away, not knowing.

© 2005 William S. Dean. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Bio:  Who is William S. Dean? Read his bio on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association website.

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