Winfield Payton awoke to a mother’s voice. Not his mother—but
someone’s mother. It was the commanding yet compassionate voice
mothers develop, stern but apprehen-sive. It was a voice rarely heard
in Downer Estates, a brick apartment complex housing the usual
collection of upscale “singles” who live within Frisbee range of
urban univer-sities, attend jazz concerts in the park, practice safe
sex, drive alphabet cars (BMWs, SUVs, VWs), cybersex on company laptops,
faithfully recycle Perrier bottles, and sip low-cal cappuccino in
Starbuckswhile checking the fates of their mutual funds.
It was a suburban voice, a beach voice, a picnic voice. The voice of a
concerned mother directing her brood. “Now, look, Brandy, I told you
before. Mommy will be home in just a little while. You can have
cereal. Where is Heather? OK, tell Heather togive you some raisin
bran. Take your vitamin. And don’t go near the pool until I get
back. Do you understand? Don’t go swimming until Mom-my comes home.”
As yet Win had not opened his eyes; he was too ex-hausted. Confronting
daylight would be painful. Feeling the sun warm his naked back, he
buried his face in the pillows. For a moment he imagined he was at
Bradford Beach, snoozing while mommies and kiddies trooped over him,
sprinkling his blanket with sand and popsicle drippings.
But no, he was in bed. His bed. His fingers felt the familiar smooth
lacquered headboard. The pillow bore the scent of Old Spice, his
cologne—mundane but reliable.
Home. He turned his aching neck. This simple move-ment triggered
intracranial alarms. Now everything hurt. His head throbbed. His neck
tightened. His back ached. Streaks of raw flesh burned across his chest
Oh! His body bore the imprint of what his clouded mind failed to
recall. Opening an eye to the sun, he saw a gleaming bottle of Absolut
on the bedside table. The bottle was nearly empty. Oh! A ceramic
ashtray held the twisted remains of weedy joints. Oh! Two broken
poppers lay on the carpet. Oh! Leaning over, he saw—amid the tangled
debris of his clothes—three lipstick-stained balls of Kleen-ex, each
containing a spent condom. Oh!
Rolling over, Win groaned, feeling like a crash victim. The female
voice in the other room called out to him. No longer the mommy voice,
it was the supportive, deferential, eager-to-please voice of a Sixties
sitcom wife. Mary Tyler Moore exuding “Oh, Rob!” compassion. “Do
you want Motrin?” she asked, “I’m making coffee.” He heard the
sounds of housewife bustling in his bachelor kitchen.
“Motrin,” he croaked, like a wounded GI begging for morphine.
Motrin, hell. He needed intensive care. IV’s. Oxygen. And Band-Aids.
Sitting up, blinking in the sun-light, Win noted the thin, blood-lined
scratches and nicks across his chest and thighs.Steve McQueen tangled by
barbed wire in The Great Escape.
The woman standing in the doorway bore no relation to the voice flowing
with flight attendant charm. Despite the black eye makeup, false
eyelashes, and hooker-red lipstick, she was clearly pretty. Her sensibly
short blonde hair was cutely, boyishly cut. It complemented the
husband-bought Mother’s Day earrings. No doubt she had been trying to
look like Debra Harry since fifth grade.
Below the chin she was decidedly dissimilar. Her neck was gripped by a
two-inch leather choker studded with steel points. Metal chains led to a
leather corset which maxi-mized her cleavage and girdled her waist with
tight belts and more chains. Handcuffs dangled over a thigh encased in
torn fishnet. Her wrists and ankles sported matching leather cuffs.
Instinctively, Win drew back. Only her soft voice re-minded him that he
was not in mortal danger.
“Oh, baby, look at those scratches. I’m so sorry! I for-get about
these nails.” She wiggled the fingers of her right hand, their
dagger-like points flashing blood-red in the sun-light. Her left palm
cupped three red caplets.
He took the pills, then, reaching for a water glass accidentally gulped
three and half ounces of Absolut. God!
Sitting up, Win rubbed his eyes and brushed his unruly hair. The woman
sat on the edge of the bed and began un-buckling her cuffs, dropping
them into a black leather shoulder bag.
“Mind if I take a quick shower? I have to get home to the kids.”
“Go ahead, Barbie.” Barbie. Gratefully her name came back to him.
She disappeared into the guest bath. The architects of Downer Estates
had thoughtfullyequipped each two-bedroom apartment with two full baths.
Single tenants and their partners of choice could shower at the same
time, going through their customary after-sex hygienic rituals in
private. Alone in the main bath, Win gargled with Scope, doused his
sore member with hydrogen peroxide, then drew a bath.
Sitting in the steaming water, he felt his muscles un-wind. Since his
thirty-seventh birthday, a loosening morn-ing bath had become a
necessity before he could take a shower and actually wash. Rubbing his
neck, Win heard water running in the next room. The grip of alcohol
fading, the night’s events played over in his mind.
Win had naively assumed that one had to call an escort service, troll
BDSM dating sites, or stalk FetLife profiles to locate someone like
Barbie Monreal. It seemed highly un-likely to run into a woman with her
tastes at a real estate seminar.
Normally, Win avoided attractive professional women with wedding
rings—unless he met them in a singles bar. A real estate seminar held
in the student union of his own college was an improbable place to get
lucky. Money rather than lust was on his mind that afternoon. He
accepted Barbie’s Century 21 card gracefully enough and was pre-pared
to move onto the next booth when she suggested a rendezvous at Henri’s
Barbie Monreal reminded him of Doris Day in Please Don’t Eat the
Daisies. Attractive. Cute. But too domes-ticated to arouse any
libidinous interests—until her third white wine spritzer, when,
suitably lubricated, she calmly announced her motives.
“Now that the kids are older, and I have some time, I’d like to get
back into psychodrama.”
“Acting?” Win asked naively.
“In a way,” she smiled, giving him a patronizing nod. “Role play.
Fantasy. I like the tension, the intimacy. I like power. Both
asserting and receiving. Strength and sub-mission. It’s like sexual I
Ching. Give. Take. Dominate. Submit. But nothing violent, you
understand. I play it safe, sane, and consensual,” she said as if
repeating radio jingle. “Nothing too perverse.”
“Nothing too perverse?”
“Consider it a hard massage. I like it both ways, but nothing
“Nothing painful,” Win repeated, recalling his dentist’s
reassuring lie about the easeof root canal.
“Not at all. I mostly like the costumes. It’s like adult
“Sure. Like playing dress up. Gives you a chance to let your mind go,
explore the dark side. It’s the ultimate safe sex. You can’t even
consider it cheating. Not really. I never do straight. Well, maybe
oral,” she added quietly, sounding like a dieter surrendering to a
Weight Watcher sundae.
“I have the rest of the afternoon off,” she said, fixing her eyes on
him with Nancy Reagan admiration.
Thus began the first of many encounters, most of which Win could only
perform or endure under the influence of alcohol.
Lying in the tub, Win rubbed his temples, then forced himself out of the
warm embryonic water to shower and, more tentatively, shave.
Clad in a bathrobe, Barbie was making his bed when he returned. She
fluffed the pillows, smoothed the comforter, then collected the
accouterments of modern romance—body oil, vibrator, adult DVDs, and
five-inch spike heels.
“Honey, you really shouldn’t drink so much.” She smiled, offering
He nodded, taking burning gulps of Eight O’Clock French Roast.
As Winfield dressed, he watched Barbie slip into white pantyhose, cream
skirt, white blouse, sensible heels, and gold Century 21 blazer.
“I’ve got to buzz home to check on the kids,” she said, consulting
her smart phone. “I’ve got appointments the rest of the day. Do you
want to get together Thursday? Around two?”
“Sure,” Win agreed, feeling like a casual user sliding in-to
The July morning was cool. He walked Barbie to her car. “You know, I
lived in New York right after college,” she said. “West
Seventy-Second. I love that town. Went to Hellfire once. Didn’t like
it.” She wrinkled her nose as if recalling a disappointing dessert at
Still the neophyte, Win volunteered an apology, “I hope I didn’t
hurt your wrist.”
“Oh, this?” She pulled back her sleeve, revealing a circle of
darkened flesh. “My bruises fade. I tell Jerry they come from
They reached her car, a dark blue Volvo bearing a “Have You Hugged
Your Kids Today?” bumper sticker. She opened the trunk and dropped in
the black shoulder bag with a heavy thud.
Donning sunglasses, she smiled at Win. “Until Thurs-day. If something
comes up, text me.”
Win nodded, the fresh air reviving his headache.
“Look, Win, I’ve just gotten to know you. I realize I shouldn’t
make any judgments or tell you how to live your life, but I am beginning
to care about you. As a special friend.” She paused, grating the
steel tip of her heel against the curb. “Win, I think you should
seriously consider going condo.”
Excerpted from "Wanna-Be's" by Mark Connelly. Copyright © 2016 by Mark Connelly. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.