Icing, Short story published in Mississippi Review


Because I am lying on the bed waiting for a long time for him to arrive, I start to remember things from my childhood that I had forgotten. Not the small, certain things like the shape of my mother’s body, the pine tree outside my window that watched over me as I slept, but feelings I need to sift through more to remember: how I waited for my breasts to change and they never did in the way I expected, expecting the nipples to become less oval and more conical; how my mother said she loved me more than all the tea in China and as she said this I saw the tea expanding, imagining the infinite Chinese with their cups of tea and their packages of tea and their boats and boats of tea, and I was contained within that ocean. I remember also the vague boredom of my adolescence, never understanding what anyone was doing in that town. Why would anyone who could leave stay? What was inside their heads? Every afternoon, pulling my hands out of the mailbox, always expecting something. Some magic ticket out.

In adolescence a terrible unease with everything set in. I swam forward into sex on the back of a wilder friend, Bee, sweet Bee who everyone said was a slut (it didn’t take much to be a slut at 13). Bee was beautiful to me and effortless in her actions ¾ without the flawed markings of intellectual indecision, wanting things and urging towards them: boys, alcohol, excitement. We befriended each other in junior high and she gave me an excuse to be wild. One day some boys picked us up at the Seven-Eleven, and we brought them home to her house to make out. We drank some beers and paired off to kiss. Suddenly Bee made a strange noise. I looked up from my kissing. She looked slightly dizzy and then her face went suddenly backwards and came forward in a heave of vomit on the chest of her boy. We convinced the boy to wear Bee’s stepfather’s overalls while we washed and dried his clothes. The excitement ended there and turned into its close cousin, anxiety, as the three of us sat in the kitchen and waited for the clothes to dry. My boy had left, without a phone number, saying he would wait in the car. With every passing car, our eyes would dart to the door, fearing how this scene would look to Bee’s family. The boy, who moments ago had seemed so old and wild, now looked kind of small in her stepfather’s overalls.

I am waiting and there is a breeze through the window and I wonder how he will play the role when he gets here. I have allowed him to shape the role, mainly, since I have so little to go on. He can be what he wants within limits. The limits of what I remember or think I remember. Something that has been held in my brain so long and in so many ways that it reshapes a bit, but of a few things I am absolutely clear.

I was working at the junior high radio station when the story came in. I’m not sure why we had a radio station at my school. My school wasn’t a fancy art school. It was the only public school in my small Ohio town. I suppose the radio station was the brainchild of one person, as most projects in small towns seem to be. One to love it and then the others to decide it’s “good for the community” and support it.

I was officially a DJ, but I didn’t talk much and my selection of music was bad. You didn’t have to worry about your Harry Chapin or Al Stewart or Prince being interrupted by too many live cut-ins. I played whole albums rather than insert my timid voice into the mix. What was I supposed to say about the music? I still thought I had to describe it or elucidate is in some way.

I hear a car noise outside and footsteps. Is it him? No, they pass by, it’s a neighbor. There is a chance that he won’t go through with this. He doesn’t have much air for the dramatic. When playing roles it’s hard to get him to improvise. If I say, go inside the head of the person and be him, that’s too theatrical for him. If I say, just act the lines in a way that I can’t slip out of my role, that might work. He doesn’t have to be him, just be him enough that I can stop being me in this situation. But I am not being me at all. I am being me at 13, me when I first started to think like this.

What I really loved about the radio station was when the news stories came in. We got our news from the AP wire service and they would come in on a typing machine that printed it out line by line as it came in—fresh off the wire. To me the news seemed to be created at the moment they were printed out, as I read the words.

I kept the wrinkled, yellowed story for years. I don’t know when I lost it, but I remember having it all through college in that pile of papers I carried with me everywhere.

The story was this: the police were looking for a man who had held a woman at knifepoint as he spread icing over her body. The woman said that she didn’t scream for help because her baby was asleep in the next room and she didn’t want the man to hurt the baby.  I don’t remember where it happened, but I always picture it as a beach town.

And now I have asked my boyfriend, Brian, to play this part for me, to be the intruder while I am the woman. It is only now that I trust someone to do this. Trust that he won’t abuse me in this role. Or, more honestly, trust him enough to tell him this strange story and admit how it turns me on. How juvenile it is and silly—icing, a knife, an intruder. That it’s a real news story seems suspicious even, and if I hadn’t seen it myself from the AP, I might not believe it.  If I had only heard it, I might think my mind was fooling me. But I read the story a thousand times. It was so strange. I didn’t understand the actions. I understood some things about sex and violence, but this was different. It didn’t even seem like a crime really. What was it? I’m still unsure why a sexual predator would choose such an action. Did he know her? Did he rape her too? Perhaps it was because there was no mention of sex in the usual way that the story caught my attention so much. This could be sex, I thought. If this could be sex, then what else could?

He asked me what flavor icing I wanted. I told him it’s not about flavor. I don’t get to taste it. He doesn’t get to taste it, or does he? Did the intruder lick it off her body too? I don’t remember now. Surely that would seem an obvious part of the crime. I tell him it just has to be white. I always see it as white.

What matters it the white covering my body. Layers and layers of white folds as I feel the cold of the knife sailing over my body and don’t move out of fear for my baby. I am paralyzed with fear. There is nothing I can do, which was the only way I could picture sex as possible at that age, wedged between desires and my mother’s strong commands for moral decency. Her motto that she humiliatingly told my boyfriends: KYPO (Keep your pants on).

I fear that he won’t come or that he will do something so wrong that I can’t play my part, but I want him to come. He might not be the perfect one to play the part; he might be too soft and not firm enough, and I might see in his eyes that he is still himself and not someone overcome with a passion. Still, he’s the one I chose for the part.  Maybe I made the wrong choice. I remember his first reaction when I told him the story. He laughed. That hurt me for some reason. Don’t laugh at this, I said. It’s important to me. I was afraid that he would misunderstand this as something purely sexual and not understand how it is twisted in with memories and feelings from that age that I can only go back to this way. Later he became serious and told me that first fantasies are very important. The comment was a bit stiff and Freudian, but true.

Am I pushing him too far? I wonder how he’ll dress. What kind of knife will he bring? Will he break in through the window? Did he leave a door or latch unlocked?

And as I wait here, wait for him to come, break into the house, threaten me with a knife, tie me up, spread icing on my body, I suddenly see him as the vulnerable one. He is the one who must overcome his shyness to play this strange character. I feel compassion for him as I picture him struggling with his awkwardness, his feeling that he is not this kind of man—not someone who commands women and forces them.

How many times have I pretended to be dead? At that age of thirteen I always imagined there were men outside my window. My room was in the back of the house and there were a few pine trees outside. When I was a child I thought they were the woods and I had never finally let go of this idea of these eleven or twelve trees as a small wood. Nightly I would have these fears of men breaking into my room and attacking me. I thought the only way to stay alive was to pretend to be dead.

The phone rings. I don’t want to answer it. What if it’s someone else and then he comes while I’m on the phone? But what if it’s him?

I answer. It’s Brian.

“Sorry to bother you,” he says. He sounds a little jumpy.

“Are you coming?” I try not to sound annoyed.

“Yeah, it’s just I can’t find any rope. I found some rope but it’s really scratchy like burlap or something. I don’t know if it’ll be comfortable.”

“Oh-OK.” I say.

“I’m sorry. I don’t want to spoil it.” His voice sounds nervous.

“Baby, It’s OK.”
“So you want the scratchy kind or should I run to Target?”

“I’m thinking. Why don’t you use some nylons from my drawer? Rummage through my dresser when you get here.”

“OK.  Nylons. I don’t think of that. Sorry, I know you want spontaneous.”

“It’s OK. When will you be here?”

“I thought that was part of the surprise, the break in thing.”

“Yes, but…”


“OK, bye.”

I’m a little angry with him for not pulling this off smoother. Here it is, my favorite fantasy, and he’s kind of blowing it, but I try to relax and not ruin it myself with all my thoughts. Breathing in I dwell in the present moment. Breathing out I see it’s a perfect moment.

And so here I am lying on the bed waiting for it to happen just like at thirteen, waiting for the world to come to me and start wanting. Waiting for lust or strange forces, or icing intruders to find me. After the AP article, there was a sex book that I remember clearly, my introduction to eroticism. Steps by Jerzy Kosinski. I found it at a library book sale and it was like no other book I’d ever read. It was about sex, but not like Judy Blume books. There was a story where a man in a foreign country watches a woman having sex with an animal and one about a man having sex with a woman dying of tuberculosis. They were dark and twisted. Each story was like a seed in my young brain. They had nothing to do with the life that I saw around me, but were set in another world that might be living under the surface of this world. At any time, a small scratch, a secret door or a curious look from a stranger might uncover that world.

Funny how when you’re waiting every sound becomes amplified. I hear the neighbors talking, or hear the rise of their words, a slight annoyed tone. How quickly lovers switch to this.

The phone rings again. My body tightens. I look at the clock. It’s been twenty minutes since the last call. Should I be doing this myself? Can’t he just do it?


“Lois.” It’s my mom. For a second I feel caught, guilty. Then I realize my mother’s voice sounds strange. There is something wrong and I feel the immediate clench in my stomach. The fear that it’s my Dad. Another heart attack.

“Mom. Are you ok? What’s wrong?”

“Honey, it’s Aunt Rose. She had a stroke this afternoon.”  I can tell my mother is modulating her voice to sound comforting.

“How bad?” I ask.  “Is she ok?” I’m thinking maybe it’s a small stroke, a mini-stroke.

“It doesn’t look so good baby. She’s very weak.” My mother’s voice sounds sad and she is on the verge of tears. Aunt Rose is her closest sister. They live in the same town and have dinner together every Wednesday night.

“Are you with her?”

“I just left the hospital. I’m going to go back in the morning, or if they call.” She sounds so tired. I want to hold her. I should be there.

“I’ll come home,” I say, thinking it’s an eight-hour trip; will I make it in time? I wish I could be there now, just snap my fingers.

“Can you get off work?” she asks.

“Sure mom. The job doesn’t matter. I can come.”

“OK, as long as you can afford it.”

“Mom, I’m coming home.”

“Sometimes these airlines have special last minute fares for emergencies. See if you can get that.”

“I know. I’ll see.”

“I’m glad you’re coming. She may not make it honey.”

“I’m sorry Mom. I’ll come home tomorrow.” I think of the phone calls I need to make to work, the airline, Brian.

“OK. She loves you, you know. She really loves you girls.”

“Yes, I love her too Mom. How are you?” My mother has been through so many deaths of friends in the past few years that it has become almost ordinary, but this is her sister.

“I’m ok. I’m tired now.”

“OK, I’ll call you in the morning and tell you when I’m arriving.”

“I love you mom.”

“I love you too, Lois.”

I lie in the bed wondering what I’m doing here, so far way from home. What made me leave Ohio and come to the West coast? Fleeing, rebelling?  Maybe I’m not a good enough daughter. I should be there in Ohio holding my mother’s hand. I should get up and call the travel agency and see how soon I can get there. Then I remember him.  I remember that while my aunt is dying, I’m waiting for Brian to come and spread icing on me.

I pull the covers over my head like a tent.  I go into a quiet, alone space where the only thing is me. The thing is, I am not thinking about my Aunt so much. I love her and I don’t want her to die. But instead I am thinking of my mother and how this will be her someday. When I think of life without my mother, I think I will become nothing.  There will be this moment when I am in pain and the only salve for my pain is my mother’s kind words and that will be gone. I have always had a deep pain that never filled up and I fear falling into that dark pit of that pain, but my mother has always kept me out of that pit, been there when my heart gets cut open by love and I crumble. Everyone except my mother has always said that I’m too emotional. She just holds me when I cry.

I hear a noise at the window. Slowly the window opens and it is Brian. Awaking from my thoughts, I am surprised to see him. He is in another world now. He is dressed like an intruder in black. I recognize all of the clothes, but he has put then together in a different order, so he doesn’t look quite like himself and he’s wearing a black knit cap.

I am crying. He doesn’t notice or perhaps thinks it’s part of the act. “Lie still” he says. “I have a knife.” He places the knife at my neck. It’s cold and feels frightening even though I know it is just a prop. A knife is a knife. My heart beats faster.

I look at him and I know that I should stop this now. That this is bad timing, and there is something fucked-up about me if I continue this now, but he is an intruder and he is telling me to be quiet. There is a knife at my neck and the baby is in the next room sleeping.

He rummages through my drawer looking for nylons. He gets out the nylons. When he takes my hands, he holds them firmly, impersonally, as he binds them to the bed posts. He ties them tight. It hurts a little, but I feel comforted knowing that I can’t move.

I am silent. I don’t move. I could tell him about my Aunt and get him to stop. I should do that, but my mouth doesn’t open. Somehow talking seems like so much work.

“Lie still,” he says and pulls my nightgown up. I see a spark of warmth in his eyes that he is trying to make cold and steely. He’s playing the part well. I love him for that.

“I want to see what your body looks like with icing on it,” he says. This is dialogue that he created. It’s pretty good. I think I can see him slightly through the words, can still see him behind the intruder, but it’s not so strong. If my imagination lets it, he can become a stranger wanting to do something to me. Slightly possesed.

A stranger wanting this strange request: my body in icing. He opens the can of icing with a pop. I remember this kind of icing as the sweet wedding cake kind, pure sugar and vanilla. He has a butter knife and he starts spreading the icing on my stomach and my legs. It feels slightly itchy; the knife feels a little cold. Now Brian is spreading icing on my legs and inner thighs.  I don’t move. It’s cold a little. He is becoming aroused and he starts rubbing his penis against me through his pants. I am not in my body. I am dead. I am afraid to do anything because of my baby in the next room. I must lie still. I can’t stop it. I can’t make a noise or he might hurt the baby. I must lie perfectly still and let him cover me. How pleasant it is to be dead like this. Almost floating on a sea of white icing.  Nothing to do but lie still and let things happen.

He is covering my body in white. I relax. I feel like I am back to being thirteen, lying motionless in my bed in fear that an intruder would enter, playing dead so that nothing bad would happen to me. It seemed to be the answer ¾  pretend that I don’t exist.  If I pretend to be dead, then he wouldn’t kill me, or he wouldn’t see me seeing him and have to kill me. If I look then he would know that I saw him and he’ll have to kill me. As long as I lie perfectly still, I’m safe.

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One Response to Icing, Short story published in Mississippi Review

  1. Cathleen says:

    Tip top stuff. I’ll excpet more now.

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