BY MICHAEL B. TAGER
Welcome to Spec Script, where author Michael B. Tager delves into the unexplored from your (or his) favorite television shows.
He found it on a spirit quest in Ecuador, in a small town in the heart of the jungle. Made of fine, hand-woven linen, stitched with care, colored with lemurs’ blood, it shone when the sun touched it. The belt was a thing of beauty. If he put it on now, it would complement his pristine white tank top, his jaunty newsboy hat, his tight jeans, his polished black boots. But he didn’t wear it. The belt wasn’t for wearing. Never wearing.
Corduroy Jackson Jackson breathed deeply when he removed it from its white, velvet case, the one he kept under the bed. He shivered, stroking its raised braids, its polished steel buckle. It smelled of oil and perspiration. His perspiration.
The front door to his apartment opened and closed. The clicking of high heels on hardwood floors sounded through the condo. Corduroy’s condo. The condo he’d earned through his modeling, his acting, his careful budgeting. His mother, Jackie Jackson hadn’t raised him to be stupid with his money. She’d raised him to be smart with his money, smart with everything. But his mother wasn’t here now. Only his girlfriend was, and she approached his studio, and the belt, the click-clicking on the floor raising hackles.
For a moment, he had Persephone in his hand (for that was the belt’s name), ready to shove her back in the box, back under his bed. But he stilled his hand. He stilled his heart. It was time. “Baby?” he called.
“Hey baby,” Jasmine called, her voice a treble bell. She was near. He could sense her. She was the light of his life, the only one who saw beyond his pretty face and chiseled muscles. She saw the mess of guts inside of him.
His father, Jay Jackson, had told him to, “hold on to this one, son. A woman like Jasmine? She’ll take you to the moon and back. You know. Your mother and I know it.”
Corduroy had known his father spoke the truth. Jasmine was the one for him. And when she came into the room, her smile as bright as a full moon, her fur deep auburn waves, her skin claws sharp and full of life, his chest lightened and he forgot all about Persephone, forgot all about the shame and fear every time she touched him.
Jasmine was his world. Jasmine would save him.
She slid across from Corduroy at the square glass table, into one of the oblong white chairs he’d bought from an overpriced designer in the Hills. It looked so uncomfortable that it actually surprised a body with its soft luxuriousness. His whole condo was fitted with such designs. He liked the post-modern utility of new French constructionism. He’d put himself through graduate school with his modeling. When he finally aged out of it, he already had an interior design consulting business.
Jasmine leaned over the table and kissed him, grabbed his hands and squeezed. Her paws were soft and strong. “What up baby? You sounded weird on the phone. Did Arnold get loose again?” Arnold was his most recent rescue cat. When they got him, Jasmine promised to never eat him. Foxes, she said, don’t eat pets.
“No, Arnold is chilling. It’s something else. It’s about us.”
Jasmine’s brilliant green-yellow eyes widened. Her breathe hitched and her breasts hitched with it. “Us? You’re breaking up with me? Why?”
Corduroy leapt from his seat and rushed to her, holding her in his arms. “Oh gosh, no, baby. I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s about us, but it’s really about me. And…Persephone.”
With a rigid arm, Jasmine shoved him and he fell to the floor. He groaned and she stood to her full height, her tufted, pointed ears outlined by the subtle, tasteful track lighting he’d installed from his first Dior paycheck. From where he was, she looked like a fiery goddess of wrath, an earth spirit, a golem of righteousness. God, she was beautiful. He collected himself and said, “No. Before you say anything, Persephone isn’t a person.”
A hint of doubt and confusion touched her unwrinkled brow and she smoothed her features. She rarely showed emotion, except when they made love. She was successful, a lawyer, a successful lawyer, brilliant and ambitious and she didn’t take no shit from anyone, much less a feckless model five years her junior. Every day he thanked his stars that she’d deigned to talk to him. They’d met at the opening of a Kosher deli, beautiful plants in the aisles, chum to attract base clientele. It had felt like fate though neither were Jewish. She had a touch of the tribe in her blood, he’d taken some Kabbalah classes. Close enough.
“Ok, Corduroy Jackson Jackson. You have five minutes.” When he gestured her to sit, she did. And he sat across from her. His tank top, pristine only a few moments ago, now glistened with his fear and his discomfort.
He wondered how to proceed and while he wondered, the belt caught Jasmine’s attention. A lacquered fingernail reached out to stroke it. Time slowed and the sun coming through the polished glass floor-to-ceiling windows refracted and reflected what he could see in that moment as his own cowardice and his own deep-seated insecurities. The light was a mirror and his soul was the image and he didn’t like what he saw.
“No, don’t touch her,” he yelped, his voice breaking as it hadn’t since he’d been 13, losing his virginity to the prom queen and the homecoming queen at the same time, even though he hadn’t wanted to, not really, it was just what you did when you were young and beautiful and older people said you were supposed to be a certain way and your friends pushed you to be awesome and for a second, he was back there, the two girls laying on each side of him and with every buck and thrust and moan, he knew something was wrong and one of the girls’ arm was across his neck and when she squealed, she constricted and he couldn’t breathe and he was close to coming and something was wrong and after that, he didn’t touch a woman for years, while he healed, even though his friends all said he was the man, he felt broken.
Jasmine’s paw shook. “Her?”
Corduroy looked helplessly at the belt, at the floor. “I use the belt when you aren’t around. Sometimes when you’re asleep. I’ve been wrapping Persephone around my neck every night for the past four years, since I discovered it’s my thing, it’s my kink and it’s been squeezing the life out of me slowly and I’m scared, baby, I’m scared it’s going too far and I don’t want to lose you.”
She blinked and breathed and he waited, his head hung in shame, but his chest lighter, his shoulders unburdened. If nothing else, he’d said it. He’d finally admitted it. It didn’t matter what happened, he knew. He could at least face the void in the world.
Finally, after an eternity, Jasmine reached out and cupped his cheek. “Thank you for telling me baby. God, it’s going to be ok.”
“What? You mean, you aren’t going to leave me?” Tears came to Corduroy’s eyes. He blinked them away and one escaped and fell down his cheek. Jasmine moved to his lap and sat on his knees, her tiny weight bearing him down, rooting him to the earth.
“For this? No. I’m here for you, darling. We’re a team.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you so much.”
“I won’t ever leave you, Corduroy Jackson Jackson. I couldn’t leave you. But you know you have to stop this. You know you have to, or you wouldn’t have told me.”
“I know. I know.”
She licked her lips. “But. Why is this the day you chose to tell me?”
And with a rushing of energy and the need to unburden himself, he told her everything. How in Ecuador, coming down from the drugs, in a hut filled with rich people like him who were searching for their souls, a mad orgy had broken out and someone had asked if they could choke him lightly and he’d said yes and he’d never felt anything like it before, the rush of death and life all at once. He’d remembered then—and only re-remembered now—how it had been the first time, how all those feelings got wrapped up in one another. And the next morning, the first thing he’d seen was that belt lying on the floor, detritus from someone else’s life and he’d taken it and gone into the still-dim woods and tied it to a tree and then around his neck and he’d pulled and it had never felt so good. So he’d taken it home and whenever things got stressful, he’d take Persephone (and no, he didn’t remember when he’d named her; it had felt like it had always been her name) out of her box and he’d wrap it around his neck and just pull. But it had taken more pull every time, and his life was getting more stressful, not less and he was using Persephone every day now, now that he was up for the role in the Secretariat movie with Bojack Horseman himself, and he was getting scared of what was happening. Just last night, while Jasmine had been sleeping, he’d tied Persephone to the bathroom door, the bathroom filled with marble and gold gilt and he’d slammed the door shut and his throat had constricted so hard and so quickly he couldn’t rectify the situation and he’d fallen to the floor, his knees bruised from the white and black tile and he’d only barely been able to crawl to the door and open it before he’d have died gasping. And he knew he’d hit rock bottom.
“Baby,” he cried, “I can’t lose you. I can’t lose my life. I have so much to live for.”
Her eyes were filled with tears too. “I’ll help you,” she said. “Thank you for trusting me. We’ll get through this together, like we get through everything.”
Before he could lose his nerve, he swept Persephone into the velvet box at his feet and closed it. Corduroy Jackson Jackson thrust it into her arms. She crushed it to her and nodded. “I’m going to take this to my car and I’m going to dump it away from you. And then I’ll come back and we’ll talk until we figure this all out.”
He nodded. “Yes. I love you.”
She was already halfway out the door. She stopped and turned. “I love you, Corduroy Jackson Jackson. You’re the love of my life.”
Corduroy listened to her leave his condo, his immaculately laid out, comfortable condo, he listened to the click-click-clicking. When the door opened and closed, he sighed and collapsed into himself, his head falling between his knees. He breathed and breathed and breathed. When his heartbeat slowed and the rushing in his ears died, he stood and stretched, walked to the bar next to the kitchen with the crystal bottles and unstopped the Jack Daniels Special Vault and poured himself just a shot. He put it back. He looked out the windows.
The sun shone. A bluebird flew in the distance. California’s hills and valleys beckoned to him. Corduroy smiled. Everything would be all right.
Michael B Tager is a Baltimore-based writer and editor. More of his work can be found at michaelbtager.com. Likes include garden gnomes, cats, tacos and Prince.