Daniel Alarcón is Associate Editor of Etiqueta Negra, and author of two works of fiction, War by Candlelight
Daniel Alarcon, War by Candlelight
© HarperCollins

and Lost City Radio.
Daniel Alarcon, Lost City Radio
© HarperCollins

The Vibrator

posted Jul 30, 2007

A few years ago, the woman I was dating at the time was offered a job in another city. I suppose we thought we were in love, and so with great optimism, we set about figuring ways to stay together. We took long walks in the hills of Oakland. We read each other poetry on sun-splashed afternoons, and made promises we had no intention of keeping. In this spirit, we found ourselves one afternoon at a famous sex shop in San Francisco, shopping for vibrators to keep her company on those nights we’d be apart. Though I’d always been curious, I’d felt there was something undignified about a man alone in a sex shop, so I’d never really been. But in the company of a beautiful woman, it was something else entirely: we browsed the impressive selection of mechanized penises, inspecting each as one might a work of art; we commented on its shape, its size, and speculated as to the kinds of pleasure it might provide. It was a joyful experience, full of cheerful, buoyant laughter and titillating insinuations. Soft music played in the background, while we held hands and kissed. We couldn’t stop touching each other. We felt like the very center of the world.

When we had been there awhile, I noticed a man about my age, shadowing us through the store. At first I thought nothing of it, but he kept looking at me, and finally, he approached, and asked me, in Spanish, if he could speak to me alone. Un asunto de hombres, he said. My then-girlfriend spoke enough Spanish to understand, and so she smiled and sauntered away, a dildo in hand, while I turned to the stranger. He had a worried, sheepish look to him. He was having a problem, he said, and before I could say anything, he shook his head. “Not that problem. Another one.” I nodded. He explained that there was a woman he liked—in fact, he liked her a lot—but she was a virgin, and she was afraid. Before she would sleep with him, she wanted to try it herself. Alone. She had sent him here to get her a toy so she could practice. He wanted my advice: what should he get her?

I began to tell him that it was my first time in a store like this, but then I stopped. There was something in the way he addressed me—a tone of respect—that I felt unable or unwilling to betray. I nodded thoughtfully, as if I’d dealt with a problem just like his before. “A virgin?” I asked. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” he said.

We wandered a bit. Before us was an entire wall of sex toys—cocks with rotating tips, gigantic rubber penises in alarming colors, mechanized wonders that looked like nothing one would ever find on a man’s body. These were marvels of technology, size, flexibility, machines specially designed to service the clitoris with punctuated vibrations. We stopped in front of one toy that had received especially good reviews from the store employees. Five stars. It was the size of a French baguette, curved like a crossbow, adorned with a line of tiny metal balls running its length. The stranger reached for it. He gave me a look of bewilderment, then flicked the switch. The baguette’s circumcised end swirled in rhythmic figure eights, and the metal balls throbbed gently.

“What will she think of mine, if I give her this?” he asked.

I turned to see my girlfriend watching us. She looked at the baguette and smiled with raised eyebrows.

“Think simple,” I said. He should give her something he could compete with. Nothing fancy. Nothing with batteries. Something discrete enough to fit in a woman’s purse. “Has she seen yours?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Make sure it looks wonderful by comparison.” What else could I say? I offered him some general words of encouragement, and excused myself.

Eventually he selected a small purple dildo, and which he waved at me as he left.

I told my girlfriend about it. We bought something similar, though battery-powered, and headed off to a party, still believing we were in love. I told her about the man’s concerns, and somehow none of it resonated with me. Somehow, as she and I walked out holding hands, it didn’t occur to me that world—that her new city—was full of penises, mechanical or otherwise, better or larger or more agile than my own. In the car, she unwrapped her new machine, and inserted the batteries. As I drove, she smiled and raised her skirt. Her toy buzzed to life. I turned off the radio so she could concentrate. “Oh wow,” she said moments later, “Oh fuck,” and I drove faster and faster through the city streets, up and down the hills of San Francisco, and though she kept exclaiming, and the machine kept buzzing, at some point I realized I was in the car all alone. Her eyes were closed, her lips moved, but there was no sound. At the party I stayed close to her, and that night I made love to her, jealously.
A few weeks later, she left for her new city. We talked on the phone, but it wasn’t the same, and so I bought a ticket to visit her. Of course, everything had changed between us, and it had happened very fast. I asked her about the toy. She told me the batteries had died.

“Already?” I asked. “I guess that means you’ve been missing me.”

She offered a weak smile, but didn’t answer.

“Okay,” I said, and I never went to see her again.