Hope for the Future
By James R. Silvestri
Gus felt ashamed when he realized that he wasn’t wearing any pants.
He was seated in his messy bedroom in front of the new desktop, a sleek contraption with a monitor screen as thin as a magazine. He thought of it as “new,” but it had been sitting in a cross-wired heap on this already-cluttered desk for some four months after previously sitting in a taped-up factory box for the better half of a year. A useless birthday gift from Freddy, if a stolen bit of office overstock could ever be considered a “gift”. So you can finally find yourself a real woman, he had said, a snarky bit of sincerity wrapped in a half-assed attempt at a jibe. What a dick. But, not so useless after all, as it turned out.
Gus plugged the URL code into the address bar, a slow and arduous process for a man who only quite recently fell back into typing after a near-twenty year reprieve from the soulless world of keyboards. The last time was for the assistant manager gig at that warehouse in Secaucus. That no-frills, barely serviceable word processor was a hulking, smoke-stained clump of shit, with a typeface greener then a leprechaun’s cum shot. It was slow and loud and that damn throbbing, putrid green electromagnetic pulse had deep-fried important parts of Gus’s brain, parts that never regenerated. He gave that place nine months and he was outta there, pension and dental insurance and W-2’s be damned. He’d take an honest day re-glazing bathtubs for three times the cash anytime, cash that was off the books and swaddled down his deep pockets as soon as the work day was over. It was a living, and a good one.
The No-Pants revelation came to him as the webcam site flared up onto the monitor. The tiny eyes of the thumbnailed harem of cam girls bore through him and exposed his underdressed state. It wasn’t intentional—it’s not like anyone was gonna walk in on him; he hadn’t lived with a woman since Marla, sweet Marla, a lifetime ago. And not wearing pants was comfortable. But those probing eyes reminded him to check the state of his boxer fly. He was relieved that the flaccid glob of his middle-aged manhood was safely concealed under the plaid folds of the cheap, age-worn undergarment. Stupidly relieved, he conceded. (It was also no small comfort that his belly, a paunchy and bear-hairy mound, was hidden by the over-sized blue K-Mart tee that he’d worn to bed every night for the past three weeks.) This activity he was now about to partake in brought to mind a popular image of a certain man of a certain age in a certain state, and Gus wanted desperately to defy that, if for no one else than himself.
“You’re gonna love these girls, Buddy O’Mine…” Freddy Oslavsky had cooed to Gus tauntingly a few weeks back, writing the complicated URL on a scrap of napkin during a weekend round of drinks at The Thirsty Cat. Freddy, the ultimate pervert, a lifelong friend from the neighborhood and a permanent pain in Gus’s fat ass nonetheless. Freddy, who’s obsession with finding strategically-placed windows and peepholes into the private, nude worlds of women and girls showed no sign of dissipating as teenaged horniness slowly gave way to a pathetic middle-aged lechery. URL, thumbnail… these were computer words that Freddy—who worked at a software company, perhaps mainly to learn innovative ways to unearth new windows and peepholes— had taught Gus recently. Gus was stubborn, but always prided himself on learning fast when he had to.
Gus entered his login and password when prompted. Twenty-five dollars the first half-hour, two dollars each additional minute. Gus was indifferent; the bill went to Freddy, whom in turn collected in full, every two weeks. Nothing would ever trace back to Gus. Freddy was good that way; he seemed to get his rocks off on the notion that he finally had a companion to drag down with him into the depths of his sneaky perversions.
Gus gave a passing glance to the lot of the thumbnailed girls whose webcams were linked to the site. The usual suspects: Cora, Summer, Carolyn, Breane, Tiffany, and half a dozen or so indistinguishable others. Most were Caucasian in the loosest sense of the type: day-glow orange was the most common skin color between them. Their personalities, as summarized in brief bios attached to their online “profiles,” seemed to stem from their hair color: sultry brunettes, fiery redheads, wild blondes; but it all more or less amounted to the same displays of exhibitionism from each of them. Or so Gus assumed, because he really only watched Lola. Lola was one of these girls.
“You’re gonna love these girls, Buddy O’Mine. But I think you’d be particularly interested in a certain little number named Lola–”
Gus clicked on the Lola thumbnail, and there she was, live feed in a small, scratchy, pixilated window—here at her scheduled hour. Not as orange or buxom as the other girls appeared to be, the streaming image of Lola nonetheless percolated with eroticism. Dressed in a tight pink sleeveless tee and what seemed to be some sort of denim shorts or pants (full legs invisible, as she was seated close in front of her webcam), her hair was short and choppy and bottle blonde, dark roots aplenty. It was a coif that screamed artifice as opposed to a ploy for naturalism. The short hairstyle suited the small pearl shape of her face and the brightness of her sapphire eyes. The eyes were knowing and inviting, and it didn’t take a mind keener than Gus’s to behold a shudder of thrill behind that cool sea of calm. She appeared to be typing something on her unseen keyboard, and in a long series of seconds that belied the “real time” attraction to the scene, her message was made visible as text in a separate window on the screen:
Lola: “Hey boys. Howz everybody feeling 2nite? I’m kinda horny, as usual ;)”
Gus’s digitized identity was not alone in this corner of cyberspace; as if that were possible. An ever-multiplying counter on the web page informed him how many other users across the globe were logging in for some quality time with Lola. Twelve. Fifty-three. One hundred sixty-seven. A hill of beans in the world of cyberporn aficionados, according to Freddy, but then again this site was not exactly widely-promoted. Or legal, for that matter.
XPozedCok4U: “hey sugar”
Frank09432179: “baby youve been runnin thru my dreams all nite”
YurMyBitch69: “hey honey you gonna take it off or what”
FukMeHardd69: “hello lola r u gonna be a bad girl 2nite?”
BigggDaddy was the login that Freddy created for Gus. Aside from being a pervert, Freddy also thought himself funny. BigggDaddy never typed any messages to Lola. He hoped it would stay that way, but with each passing week the urge to communicate with her was intensifying.
Lola: “It’s getting hot in here, boyz ;)” But before this delayed admission appeared, she was already up off her chair and standing in the center of her environment—a standard bedroom decorated for a girl of twelve or thirteen. Lola was clearly young, but not even she could pass for thirteen. Again, artifice maximized for primal titillation.
She was now in full frame. Acid-washed jeans, bare feet with red-painted toenails. She stood there for a moment, as if in a daze. There was, for more than a fleeting moment, a ghostly daze in her expression as she stared at—stared through—the lens of her computer camera. It was a look of hopeless nihilism, a calm before a storm of self-destruction. It was the look of a girl who, standing on the rickety precipice of a mouton volcano, comes to a sudden, desperate decision. Gus’s heart twisted into a pounding knot. He felt his own eyes itch and he knew his jaw was gaping. He knew he was witnessing the process of a solid human being fading into a bloodless ghost. Were the other men seeing this, the faceless porn-crazy reprobates from all corners of the universe that were convening right here and now? Of course not. They wanted tits, and pussy, and more, but not that much more. They were gonna get more tonight, Gus knew. Something was up with Lola tonight. His Lola.
Gradually and subtly, her expression changed. Now there was rapture, abandon, a half-smile, a lidless wink. The line between artifice and naturalism had finally blurred in the disposition of Lola. The fingers of one of her small hands ran through her choppy yellow hair. Her eyes closed, her lips visibly quivered, her head thrown back, and her hips took to swaying, and so it began.
SilverFoxxMan: “yeah baby i want it take it off”
HarryBallz69: “lola sweetie take yur shirt off”
FukMeHardd69: “take it off fuck me”
YurMyBitch69: “dance 4 me bitch”
And Lola danced with more intensity to the unheard music, and her hands lowered to the collar of her shirt, which she pulled up over her head and brushed the disgarded garment across her shoulders before tossing it off frame her smallish breasts concealed in a shiny black bra. Gus wanted to look away, but could not. Hands down to her jeans, unzipping, smooth tanned legs and thighs and a matching black thong exposed. Ooohs and Aaahs and other messages of encouragement were typed furiously into the text window by the invisible peanut gallery. A quick gesture, and the bra was unhooked from the back, held loosely to the breasts before following the shirt and jeans. The dance continued, with sharper dips and sways, and hands and arms hid the breasts for some minutes, much to the charged furor of the typists, whose demands began to manifest solely in caps. Finally the fingers were back into the hair and the small, round tits were exposed, miniscule flesh-colored nipples like pinpoints. There was a calm in the text box at this, giving way to satisfied appraisal, but as her thumbs went for the straps of her thong, sliding them down her thighs as low as they could go without showing her bush, leaving the loose bit of garment at that point for her continued dance, the uproar commenced with even more heat.
“take it off show me that pussy stick your fingers in it o god I wanna see it show me that pussy I wanna see it better not be shaved your killing me take that shit OFF OFF OFF TAKE IT OFF TAKE IT OFF”
It came off, and Gus did have to look away. There was a lump in his shorts and he wanted to vomit because of it. He nervously sized up his bedroom, looking for a new source of focus.
Sunglasses. A woman’s sunglasses folded on the nightstand, as they had been for a great many years, the first thing taken out of the box when Gus moved into this shithole Jersey City one-bedroom, some eleven years ago. The only item that Marla had left behind before vanishing from his life forever. A twenty-year marriage, and every last piece of her, every last scrap of evidence that she had ever been in his life had completely disappeared All save a few tattered Polaroids and this cheap plastic pair of shades, the handles of which still smelt like her flowery hair and the lenses worn with the warm fire of dark, wise gaze. Gus was strangely consumed with the idea of grabbing the dark glasses and wearing them to hide his own wandering eyes from those of pixilated Lola. He could not look at her private area full on, couldn’t feel her return stare as he gawked at it. A positively terrifying idea. Although he’d seen it before, and reacted this same way before, and wound up looking again, turning away, sneaking another peek, wanting to die. And so the process would now repeat itself.
Lola was naked with knees in the air on the pink mattress of a bed, back propped to the wall and the camera now obviously swiveled in a new direction. Her fingers thrust wildly into the small slit of her shaved pussy, her head back and her mouth gaping in an exaggerated display of ecstasy. The commentators were becoming unhinged, their crude banter bordering on illegibility. The visitor counter was creeping up to a thousand.
What was this room? Freddy had theories about the nature of the setup based on research and inside info with participants of similar outfits. An abandoned motel, perhaps, in the middle of some desperate, impoverished, clueless middle-American township, where welfare checks and crystal meth distracted folks from such clandestine activities as illegal, underage pornography. Some lousy city-bred fuck with a truckload of fancy computer gear and a network of pussy farmers could make a bundle in a town like that. Some miserable rotten lousy little fuck.
Lola took a break from masturbating and lazily settled for a moment with playing with her tits and panting. But soon she was staring into that camera again blankly, trying to find an expression to match her mood, to match what her audience wanted or needed, to match the faces that the other cam girls would be wearing after such a display.
She settled on something wholly and indescribably original, and unsettling, as her hand went for the crevice between the mattress and bedspring. It was only a pack of cigarettes that she pulled out, thank God, with a match book wedged in the cellophane. She lit one and took a drag; the cloud of smoke was slow in coming, but when it finally tumbled out of her mouth it was heavy and unceasing. The perverted commentary tethered off a bit, as if the spectators were sharing the smoke break with her (two dollars each additional minute). But suddenly Lola’s big blue eyes flashed with wild fury and her lips curled into a grimace. Gus immediately sensed that something was up tonight. Something was wrong here.
She thrust forward a down-turned fist, the soft-looking underside of arm fully exposed. With her other hand she whipped the cigarette out of her mouth and thrust the red amber tip of it into the protruding arm, throwing back another silent howl. A small string of smoke spiraled from the point of contact as she rubbed the thing deeper into her flesh, her face contorting with the pain and fury and oblivious euphoria of a rabid dog. When Lola appeared satisfied with this display she tossed the smoking pellet aside, revealing a black little marble of a swelling in it’s wake, and on a dime’s turn began contorting wildly on the mattress as if reenacting The Exorcist. Her hands clenched into gnarled claws and she began to tear at her own torso as if trying to rip herself open. Her teeth were gnashing and the heat of those big blue eyes could not be quenched by her newly-falling tears.
Gus cried out at the sudden horror of this turn of events. He shot up from his rickety chair, desperate, wanting to grab a phone or a gun or anything to stop this. He heard himself muttering, “Marla, help me Marla…” Not as if Marla would be of any help in a situation as odd and sordid as this particular one. But, for a while there at least, Marla’s level head, near-bottomless well of patience and calm acquisition of command over a whole set of messes got them through the worst of things, by the skin of their teeth, or sometimes even better off in the end. It got her through the end of her own darkest days, those final years of her marriage to Gus, when the drink and the coke got the best of him. But his own fall from grace, so he told himself back then, was merely in response to the festering, debilitating depression that had suddenly begun to consume her, and likewise consume their happiness together. Marla’s overnight burst of higher purpose, which led to the filing of police charges and the drafting of divorce papers and a restraining order (“I never meant to hit you that time Marla, but you would just lie there for hours and cry and cry, and the kid would be crying too and you wouldn’t go to her and I was so goddamn high and all the crying was so loud and I just wanted it to stop stop STOP…) was enough to sever her from his life forever, and legally to boot. Might as well still be in jail, still in mandatory rehab, still plugging away at that brain-sucking shitbox warehouse word processor for all the world of guilt and loneliness and despair that has been handed down to Gus as a life sentence since Marla left him.
Since Marla took Chrissy from him. Five years-old when she went out the door with her mother, and gone forever, to God knows where. Best thing he ever did was make that little girl with Marla. His hope for the future. No hope now. To hold her in his arms one more time, to run his fingers through that mousy brown hair…
But now there was this Lola to contend with. Gus dug in deep for composure and found a feeling that at least passed for it. Lola had risen from the bed and began staggering towards the camera as if drunk, getting closer and larger.
During this whole violent episode, a noticeable change seemed to have come over the posts of the witnesses. It was as if a cue was given for the men to throw modern linguistic conventions out the window and resume some archaic, coded language that was once spoken and understood in a darker, more savage era. Lola’s descent into self-mutilation triggered the primitiveness, invited it. The login counter did lower somewhat, and Gus assumed that those who departed were the handful of tits-and-ass seeking commoners who stumbled onto this place by accident and were violently steered from their purpose by the cigarette and the scratching. But only a few dozen had left, and the heavy pulp of energy that emanated from the computer screen was a communal feeling that transcended mere lust. Here was a ritual to please the gods, and here was the metaphorical virgin on a march to the sacrificial alter.
GrandWiz666: “That was real, good, Lola girl.”
ScepterKing: “You’re not done quite yet. You have to let it all out for us.”
GodSlayer4040: “The pain won’t go away that easily, sweet one. Not with a just a few scratches and burns. You have to turn yourself inside out to release all the badness.”
GhostInDaMachine6: “Your sacrifice will redeem us all. There is badness in all of us. You must save us, Lola.”
ShadowDancer: “Baptize yourself. Holy water.”
There was a long pause as the space-time delay of the delivery of these sentiments was followed by what had to have been a grave comprehension on part of the performer. Gus thought he was supposed to have known her face well, but Lola was unreadable in her icy stillness as she stared back down at the little universe of her own making (was she the sacrifice after all, or the god? Who was really in charge here, anyway? Two dollars each additional minute…) There were red, scratchy lines traced outlandishly about her body, the tracks of her deep, dull scratching. Not deep enough to scar or leave even an overnight mark—her body would be a clean slate for next week’s performance—but ugly enough to embody her trauma. Her eyes were blue on pink and her expression was one of deep thought, coldness, and… resentment? Of course resentment, what else would it be? Her shaking hands moved for the keyboard.
Lola: “Ive been a real bad girl today, boyz, and I’m gonna baptize myself for you now.”
Her hand reached off camera to her left and remerged with a plain drinking glass. A prop, Gus figured, as opposed to a found object. No new messages were scrolling down in the text field, but the “silence” spoke volumes. Glass in hand, Lola once again ascended from her station and backed into full frame. Her small, ravaged nude form now seemed more like the husk of a dead thing than a nubile pornographic image, and the glass was held out in her two small hands in front of her, a ghostly chalice for what would have to be a dreadful ritual. Lola then rested the glass on the colorless carpet of her stage set, flashed one quick look of unprecedented malice towards the camera—towards Gus—and down she went in a squat.
The urine that poured out of her ran down either edge of the glass, filling it with translucent yellow and running in several spiraling rivers across the rug. Lola’s porn mug remerged onto her face, but it was not quite so much a return to artifice as it was an acceptance of a preordained role. Her silent moan echoed throughout Gus’s apartment.
“You’re gonna love these girls, Buddy O’Mine. But I think you’d be particularly interested in a certain little number named Lola. I found her, Gus, I’m giving you now what no shady-ass PI worth a dishonest dime in this city could ever give you. You know I got connections, Gussy-boy. Sure, we’re all connected, but I’ve got more lines to the ugly places plugged up my ass then a CIA switchboard. So I found what you’ve been missing, buddy-boy. Your hope for the future. ”
When she appeared to be done, Lola raised the glass to Gus as and mouthed a toast for the deaf, and in a drawn out display of movement she poured its shimmering contents onto her hair and shoulders. She violently rubbed the spilt fluid across the scratches on her torso, and she was now openly weeping. How the ammonia must’ve stung her bruised body was something that Gus could not process, because he was bawling and shouting as well. He was utterly helpless. He was strictly forbidden by the laws of state, decency and physics to intervene in any way. He was a sinner in Hell.
ShadowDancer: “A holy baptism if there ever was one, child.”
GodSlayer4040: “You are ready for the next step now, Lola. It is time to relieve yourself of the pain inside of you.”
GhostInDaMachine6: “It is time for you to bleed for us.”
GrandWiz666: ‘We wanna see you bleed like the fucking little stuck pig you are, you cunt.”
Gus’s vision was too cloudy to see where the knife had come from when Lola returned after a flutter of movement from off-camera, but there it now was, in her right hand. A cartoonishly huge kitchen weapon, the type that a horror movie psychopath should wield. Had she actually been keeping this somewhere in this room, just waiting for the invitation? What had happened to her today to bring her to this moment? How awful was this life of hers that such a thing was about to played out for all of these festering invisible sadists? Gus was in hell.
ScepterKing: “We’re gonna have to see your blood now, girlie-girl. It was meant to be.”
GhostInDaMachine6: “For all of our sakes.”
ShadowDancer: “Start with your arms, then your chest.”
Lola’s cold trance was an awful thing to behold, wet and naked, burned and near-bloody, and all adding up to little more then a series of pixels and tints on a computer screen no wider than a magazine. But no, she was real, if not entirely flesh and blood. And she was about to do this thing. Her head did not move, but her full red-blue eyes tilted down and took in the knife. The sharp-looking edge poked at the cigarette burn on the underside of her left arm. She was building towards an action. She was not a god not a sacrificial virgin; she was a puppet on strings.
ShadowDancer: “The arm.”
GrandWiz666: “ o shit gonna cum”
GodSlayer4040: “Soon all the pain will melt away, sweet Lola. And we will all be your witnesses.”
ScepterKing: “God bless us everyone.”
ShadowDancer: “The ARM.”
BigggDaddy: “chrissy no”
Typing was now coming fast for Gus. He was stubborn, but a quick learner.
BigggDaddy: “no chrissy. i love you. this isnt for you chrissy. dont listen to these people chrissy. i can see you. i am hear for you. i love you chrissy.”
He was sort of too late, because there was now a straight crimson line running halfway down Lola’s left underarm, ending midway at the cigarette burn like a line of highway on a map. But her eyes eventually took notice of the time-delayed plea, and they narrowed introspectively. Her mouth gaped and she began to subtly shake her head in bewilderment. She had awoken from one trance and was falling under a new one.
GrandWiz666: “mutherfuck who is this fuckin fuck get the fuck outa here”
GhostInDaMachine6: “Here’s to your hope for the future, Buddy O’Mine. See how ugly the world is? Go re-glaze a tub or something. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.”
ShadowDancer: “Chrissie? Is that your real name, Lola?”
Lola: “Boys, it’s been a long night, but a girl’s gotta sleep. I’ll be dreaming of you all tonight. Goodnite.
The webcam window went black, and the counter plummeted rapidly towards single digits. Gus wondered where they were all going, and if they would be any different when they all came back next week. He doubted that latter possibility.
Gus was spread out on his sweat-soaked twin bed. In one hand he held Marla’s sunglasses. In the other head, pressed tightly against his fat gut, was one of the few remaining photographs of the happy family that was once his. Happy, before he fucked everything up, and doomed them all to their own private Hells. Gus always thought Chrissy’s giant, oceanic eyes would one day know proportion in the full canvas of a woman’s face. But he was wrong, They were as wild and full of passion as ever, but no longer the passion of hope. Now they burned like an all-consuming fire from the inside of her.
He could never attempt to contact her again. No good would come of it. The opinion he once held, was convinced to abandon, and was now once again forced to face, was that little good ever came from him. All he could do now was hope for the best—hope that Marla was still out there watching over Chrissy in some way, hope that Chrissy was more of a pandering showgirl and less of a lonely, desperate latchkey then he feared, and that maybe someday this Hell would be over. A fool’s hope.
He would have a few choice words for Freddy tomorrow.
And until then, all he could do was count the seconds until he could have some more quality time with Lola.