UNITED STATES—The boy was frantic.

“Help me pick up all the money before the boss gets here… And then get out. You can’t be here.”

His youth and inexperience did not make him the most logical of victims. Mary pitched in, like the good soul she was. It seemed like the first time in three years any non-street person had told her anything other then thinly veiled versions of, “Get out… you shouldn’t exist.”

At one point they butted heads as Mary leaned down for a crinkly dollar and then stretched for a stray nickel. At precisely the same moment the boy lunged for a five-dollar bill. He beheld the opulence beyond the grime and stench.

Alas, what is desired is not always appetizing. The animal can rise up an overtake the man at any time, and it could overtake the boy who was not yet a man. This was especially true in the case of the boy who had been rudely interrupted in the back room in the midst of his own lewd private games to bide the time in this customer-less cafe that was somebody’s tax write-off.

There in Mary’s deshabile, the boy was seeing a bit more of a live woman than he had ever seen. The sweat from his last postponed adventure in self-pleasure was coolly refreshing as it dried into a film. After some murmured sweet nothings, his pale olive hands squeezed and caressed. He was living proof that there was no better aphrodesiac than a well-hated job.

The boy was seeing a goddess. He was not seeing or smelling what an ordinary bystander would have seen. Sirens passed by in a flock, outdoors. It was a sensory event completely removed from what was going on in the empty shop.

For Mary the touch was medicine; it was narcotic. Like a field of anemones, each cell craved in unison, “Go there… let it happen.” He sank his face into her overripe breasts. Mary was rolling down a hill under a blanket of blue sky, luminously on the edge of blackness. She floated as on wheels faster and faster and was afraid to collide with giant boulders on the side of the incline. As the angle of the drop became steeper and steeper, crashing into one of the boulders was unavoidable.

Prey to desire, the boy did not take the precaution of locking the door. Somebody could walk in at any moment. And if they did, they would immediately detect the swampy atmosphere that invaded the atmosphere.

The sense of risk and danger made this moment all the more exciting.

Now, in fact, the old man in a white shirt walked into the store. This was the guy who always had a bagel and a cup of black coffee with a single sugar packet. The customer thrust his hands into his pockets, and still made a show of going over the menu, as he always did invariably before coming up with the same order.

Taking one step forward and one step backward. Speaking at last, “Xander, I’ll have a toasted bagel and a small coffee with one sugar.”

“Coming right up, Charlie,” the boy said.

The boy shivered and almost giggled with shame. His face went hot with shame. Below the counter and out of sight Mary’s hands and tongue were doing things. Miraculously, the configuration of the store allowed the boy the comfort of filling the order without having to step away from his post. The bell tinkled, and Charlie left with a parting comment:

“Xander, you look like you’ve been to the beach.”

“As a matter of fact… I, uh… went hiking yesterday.”

“You should wear sunscreen.”

“I’ll remember that, sir. Yes sir. Thank you sir.”

At last the old man was gone and the boy sighed relief.

To be continued…

Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)