You watch the clerk dig out a spoonful of SpaghettiOs from the can he holds in his hand. You cough a two-syllable, sarcastic cough to make sure he knows you’re there. He knows you’re there; this is how queers sometimes treat each other. You’re just learning those ropes. The young man next to you, whose hand has been tucked snuggly in your back pocket since you exited the cab, pinches your ass as if to say good job.
“It’s fifteen quid each,” the clerk says and puts the spoonful of SpaghettiOs in his mouth. “Towels and showers are included,” he says while chewing.
You hand him your credit card as the trance music pulses from speakers you still can’t find. It sounds like what you imagine the inside of a body sounds like, maybe the susurration of the blood. The clerk swipes your card, the modem sputters, it spins, connects, and launches the transaction into the air. You imagine it darting above the dark waters of the Atlantic, like a wicked static electricity smiling with pride at the message it carries. Your heart beats to the rhythm pulsing from those speakers.
You are nervous.
You look over at the young man next to you, a boy really, maybe in his mid-twenties, toying with your ass cheek from inside that back pocket. It’s worth it, you think. You feel those fingers move. You feel the blood pulsing in your neck. You feel it in your own fingertips. In your groin. Your wife is likely waking up now on the other side of that ocean. She is on another continent. She is from another time.
The clerk puts the receipt on the counter, clicks open a pen, and places it across the curling paper.
The boy had been only a silhouette in the dark nightclub where you two danced until two a.m. on the sticky floor before he suggested you go to a bathhouse. You didn’t even know bathhouses existed. Everything you’ve known about gay culture before you walked into that club tonight has been from fantasy. Dream extensions of male bodies from TV commercials or men on grocery lane magazine covers. A peek at the neighbor mowing his lawn shirtless. Four decades of fantasy. Four decades of never opening that magazine or walking into the sun yourself, your own shirt lying on the kitchen counter.
But the boy next to you is real, and he is even more beautiful here in the warm, yellow lights that buzz like they are just another instrument in the music, another function of the body of this place.
The walls are made of stone, strong, age-stained, and glistening with condensation. The boy’s neck glistens too, from sweat, and there is small ring of dampness around the neck of his T-shirt. You pull at the damp fabric and it stretches, puckers a little, reveals the hollow under his small Adam’s apple. You will kiss that spot first, you think. You kissed that spot first on your wife’s neck thirty years ago when you pretended she had an Adam’s apple.
The clerk mimics your earlier cough. He has seen more than enough of this foreplay through the years in front of his counter and wishes you’d save it for the darkness. “Are you going to sign, or not?” he says and scribbles on the corner of the receipt to show you that the pen works. The ink is blue.
Normally you would convert British pounds into dollars while on a business trip. You would save the receipt—restaurants, newsstands, drugstores—boring business expenses. But tonight you study the words of the transaction. Pleasure Dome. You feel more throbbing. You know your wife checks all credit card transactions online, and you wonder if you could tell her it’s the name of a convenience store? A movie theater? Maybe miniature golf? You laugh.
The boy next to you nods approval as if he can hear your thoughts and you sign the receipt with a full, robust signature.
“Head down that hall,” the clerk says. “Showers are on the right. You can pick any cave with open doors. Spray the mats down before and after.” You love every word of what he has just said. He scoops out another spoonful of SpaghettiOs. “Condoms?” he asks with a full mouth, nodding to a fishbowl of them on the counter.
The boy reaches out and grabs a handful of them like they are candies. And the throbbing never stops as you walk down the dark hallway. It increases beyond pain, beyond ecstasy. It echoes in dome-like hollows, everywhere. And you let the static of the transaction seep into every part of your body and the name Pleasure Dome prints itself over and over again on your skin.
Jeremy Schnotala has an MFA from WMU and teaches English, creative writing, and theater in the public schools. He recently won first prize in the Saints and Sinners 2018 Literary Festival fiction contest. His recent work can be seen in Temenos Literary Journal, Beecher’s Magazine, and Chagrin River Review.