A Short Story
By Ben D’Alessio
(*Not to be confused with the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw*)
His outstretched palm glided across the unprotected asses of his assistants with the ease of an oar lapping at the lake water. When the women refused to acknowledge his advances, looking dead-ahead as they waited for their taxi to pull up in the pounding rain and spirit them away to their studio apartments, John would tug at himself through the pants of his crisp gray suit and make deep, guttural noises only inches from their ears.
Leaned up against a marble pillar, her hat fashioned at a tilt to cover her stare, Dr. Henrietta Higgins observed the man bounce from young assistant to young assistant like a bumblebee pollinating an open field.
He almost nabbed one, rubbing his hands up and down her arms from behind, but a taxi screeched to the curb and the girl took off, yelling over her shoulder “I’ll have that report for you by tomorrow morning, Mr. Smith!”
Dr. Higgins approached the man and without introducing herself stated “Advertising Executive,” as cold and piercing as the arriving evening.
“What?” He spun around, annoyed that his concentration had been severed.
“Advertising Executive. Smith and Moore? Or Weinstein, Lauer, and Smith? Twenty-eighth and thirty-fourth floors, respectively.”
“The first one. So what?” He wind-mill smacked the ass of a passing intern who jogged down the street.
“Mr. Smith, John Smith, if I’m not mistaken? Mr. Smith my name is Dr. Henrietta Higgins and I’m a psychiatrist with the Reform Man Project or RMP. Are you familiar with the group?”
John didn’t even dignify the question with a response.
“Well Mr. Smith, I have spearheaded a campaign to reform men in power, like yourself, to join the twenty-first century.” She handed him her card. “I have a high success rate and have worked with Hollywood producers, politicians, fashion moguls, and even ad-men like… “
“That’s right, Ad-Men,” he said, yanking at his crotch, his face contorting this way and that.
“Yes, precisely, Mr. Smith. If you would be willing to waive the doctor-patient privilege and permit me to disclose our procedures, I would not charge for your results. I could even accommodate you for your time.”
“You have a sweet little mouth. What if I… “
“How could you let him talk to you like that?” said Anna as she appeared from behind the pillar, the raindrops falling from her red trenchcoat.
“Mr. Smith, I’d like you to meet my dear friend, Anna Peckering. Anna, this is Mr. John Smith. An ad-man who is strongly considering taking part in the RMP.”
“A pleasure.” She offered her hand for a shake, but John gripped it by the fingers and licked across the knuckles. “Oh Jesus!” she said, flicking her wrist and pulling out a tissue to remove the saliva. “You’ve got your hands full with this one,” she said under her breath,
A black car pulled up to the curb and the driver popped out and guided Mr. Smith to the backseat. Dr. Higgins rushed her card into his hand — and pulled it away before he could lick her knuckles — before the driver shut the door. “Please Mr. Smith, feel free to call me at any time.” John rolled down the window and made puckering kiss noises as the car pulled away down the main thoroughfare. “Night or day, Mr. Smith!” She called into the rush-hour fray. “Night or day!”
Dr. Higgins and Anna Peckering split a bottle of luscious, deep-garnet Barolo in the fire-lit study of the Higgins Estate. When their glasses got low, Franklin, a stoic butler Dr. Higgins plucked off the streets of London years ago when she had given a speech concerning the infant stages of RMP at Imperial College, was prompt to fill them.
“Thank you, Franklin,” said Dr. Higgins, her eyes unmoving from the flames that lapped at the wood as Franklin let the wine drop into the glass. “Anna, how was your trial, dear?”
“Oh we got ‘em,” she said, scrolling through her phone. “Real piece of shit… “
“Anna, please do find a better word.”
“Sorry, Henrietta, you know how they get to me. Holding the girls hostage, so to speak. They ask and ask and ask for a topless photo and then the moment she loses interest or moves on, he holds it over her head and uploads it to pornacopia or something.”
“‘Pornacopia’? Not the worst I’ve heard, I suppose. I am delighted to hear you have really carved out a niche area of law for yourself. This ‘Revenge Porn’ is just another symptom of the rapidly outdating concept of Manhood. I do hope that my experiments do not dry up your lucrative practice, my dear. You know that it is not my intent.”
“Oh please, I know you’re brilliant and all but these are men we’re talking about. They’ve been pulling this crap” — Anna waited a moment to see if Henrietta would reprimand her for the language — “for thousands of years. Back then they would just bop us on the head with a club and drag us into a cave. Now they use photos and text messages. I tell my friends and clients, I don’t even know how many times, I tell them ‘put everything in writing, except for your sexual fantasies.’ God forbid they call their boyfriend to disclose how ‘wet they are.’”
“Well you remember when Franklin here started his regimen. Franklin, dear!” She called over her shoulder. Franklin grabbed the bottle of wine from the tray by the door and hustled to Dr. Higgins’ side. “Oh, I’m fine with the wine, thank you, dear. Franklin, what was it you said to me? When I passed you on Queen’s Gate road all those years ago?”
“Madame Higgins, I am embarrassed of the person I was back then. To repeat myself, especially in front of Ms. Peckering, would keep me up tonight.”
“Oh Franklin, please. You’re a new man! Your prior conduct only demonstrates the progress you have made. Please, please, don’t be shy. Ms. Peckering is a Pornographic Revenge… am I saying that right?”
“Revenge Porn,” Anna corrected.
“Ahh, ‘Revenge Porn’ attorney. She has heard the worst of it. Please, go ahead.”
The butler cleared his throat and couldn’t look either of the women in the eyes. “Well, I believe I said that… that… “ Dr. Higgins nodded with approval. “That you should spread your legs so I could… lick you into next week.”
“Ha! Do you hear this? He said that to me right out in the open.” Franklin, rouged with embarrassment, topped off each of the women’s glasses and returned to the foyer. “You are a modern man, my dear Franklin!” Dr. Higgins called after him. “Never be ashamed of progress!”
Dr. Higgins swirled the wine in the glass and took a long, eyes-closed sip.
“I know that your process has been effective for many clients,” Anna started. “Heck, I’ve even heard that groups of women have met in solidarity to implement your methodology themselves, but men like the one this morning… they are just… they seem beyond repair.”
“Oh, we mustn’t give up on them, Anna. Far from a justification, however, their conduct is merely natural reactions to a changing world. Are you familiar with the social workings of the Tuareg culture?”
“I can’t say that I am.”
“Well, as you may recall, I spent some time in the Sahara and was welcomed to travel with a Tuareg tribe as they trekked across northern Mali. While their gender progressivism has been internationally revered, critics claim it is often an effect of Westerners romanticizing the ideals of a foreign culture. I’ll spare you the details, as it is getting late and I am meeting with a colleague tomorrow morning for brunch, but I will share my most fascinating discovery.”
“And what’s that?”
“Men are delicate creatures, Anna.”
“I have never been so certain of anything in my life. I shared a tent with the tribe’s matriarch and was stunned with her grace and the respect with which she governed. It completely changed my approach to the RMP. Once their slate is completely wiped clean, then you… “
Before Dr. Higgins could finish, Franklin came into the study resting a rotary phone on a cordovan red pillow. “Pardon me, Madame, but a man has called who asserts you two are to meet for a drink? He is a complete brute, and I would have hung up on him, but he claims to have received your card this afternoon?”
“Mr. Smith?! Excellent. I was afraid he wouldn’t call.”
“Madame, if I may, he has the foulest mouth… honestly, it turns my stomach to repeat some of the things he… “
“Oh Franklin, don’t be hyperbolic. I did not subject you to some sort of regimen straight out of A Clockwork Orange. I’m sure anything he is saying I have also heard from you.”
“Of course, Madame. What should I tell him?”
“Tell him to come as early as he can tomorrow morning. I am sure he will think the invite a way of cutting out the middle-man.” Dr. Higgins turned toward Anna. “Anna, dear, will you stay and help me carve this man from ivory?”
“Yeah, I’ll stay.”
“But I really think he’s a lost cause.”
“Nonsense! When we’re finished with him he’ll be the paragon of the Reform Man Project. Franklin, dear, make-up the guest suite for Anna, call Priscilla and tell her I must cancel our brunch appointment as a work emergency has arisen, and brew two cups of that Sumatran black, we have a long night ahead of us.”
Anna and Dr. Higgins worked on John Smith’s RMP plan deep into the night, refining each and every detail until it was completely personalized to his exact specifications. Crumpled-up pieces of paper containing jettisoned plans surrounded the trashcan like a minefield. The twenty-four-hour news cycle that covered world events became nothing but a perpetual stream of sexual allegations, accusations, apologies, and denials. Anna, who was falling asleep in her chair despite the third cup of coffee, popped out of a dream: “I sincerely deny this baseless apology!”
“I think you have it mixed up, dear. Why don’t you get some rest,” said Dr. Higgins, crossing out a sentence from one edge of the paper to the other. “Franklin has made-up the guest suite for you.”
“Will we be ready for tomorrow?”
A headline zoomed across the bottom of the screen, so quickly it was barely legible, to make room for the next incoming lot: Producer Larry Johnson Vehemently Denies Sexual Advances Allegations Despite String of Unsolicited Dick-Pics to Secretaries Dating Back to 2013.
“We’ll be ready. I have completely deconstructed this John Smith and have put together the most comprehensive RMP plan to date.”
“If anyone can mold him into a respectable member of society, it’s you,” and Dr. Higgins nodded to her friend, who returned the gesture.
Dr. Higgins was already adding the finishing touches, her Implementation Day red lipstick to her outfit when Anna moseyed into the kitchen where Franklin’s breakfast was emitting an intoxicating aroma that had a magnetic pull.
“What are you making?” Anna asked, but Franklin didn’t hear the question.
“I’m always so nervous on Implementation Day,” he said, lowering a burner flame as the sunnysided eggs’ translucence turned milky white. “She won’t tell you… “ he peaked out into the hall, “But the last one didn’t go so well.”
Anna put down her coffee mug. “What? I didn’t hear anything about that? Who was it? What happened?”
“Oh yes, it was a disaster. A terrible, terrible relapse.” Again, he checked the hallway, this time stepping out of the kitchen and lowering his voice. “She had been so certain it would stick, too.”
“Franklin, who was it?”
“Oh, you know, some executive or producer or politician, they all start to look the same after a while.”
“Well, I remember the man leaving and appearing completely reformed, another job well-done by Dr. Higgins, until the very next day… I opened the door to the study and found him standing atop the Doctor’s desk, pants around his ankles, pulling at himself most vigorously… “
“Where was Henrietta?”
“She was out for lunch. I had to escort the man and deliver to her the bad news to her.”
The clanking of the iron knocker rapped at the front door.
“My goodness! He’s early! I told the bloody… “ Franklin trailed off as he went to the door.
Anna slurped down the last of her coffee and rushed to the stairs, but Dr. Higgins was already sauntering down the curling staircase that lined the wall, tight black dress, cigarette in hand, lips electric red.
“You look like a movie star,” Anna said, becoming awfully aware of herself in the bathrobe and slippers.
“I want him at his worst,” she said, and continued on to the study.
Anna washed up and dressed in her clothes from the day before, and could hear thunderous demands coming from the study as she reached the bottom of the staircase.
John Smith was in a white robe that barely covered his knees. Anna was relieved that the implementation process had not yet started, as she wanted to view her friend’s work from start to finish, and the subject was still pestering Dr. Higgins about a massage.
But Henrietta didn’t move. She sat in her chair in front of the fireplace and smoked a cigarette, and didn’t appear to take notice when John Smith dropped the robe, exposing a collage of ill-maintained hair and white blotchy nakedness.
Franklin was about to step forward from the doorway threshold when Dr. Higgins stopped him by merely putting up a hand. She didn’t say a word.
“Come on, come on, you’ve got a hot little mouth,” John said, tugging at himself in an attempt to get erect. When he saw Anna enter the room, he rushed over to Dr. Higgins’ desk and ran his hand underneath the top, searching for a button that would lock the door. “You don’t know what this will do for your career,” he repeated as he frantically searched for the button, taking breaks to tug at himself and bite his lower lip. “That hot little… help your career if you give me a… I deny all accusations! She was asking for it with that little… fuck that little… “ Mid-sentence, as if catching a whiff of wounded prey, he locked eyes with Anna, hopped up on the desk, and lunged across the study.
Franklin stepped up to parry his attempt, but like a blur of black mass, Dr. Higgins struck John across the chin. The man tumbled to the ground unable to break his fall. She pulled him to his feet and smacked him across the face, which erupted with a pop!
“What the hell is the matter with you?! You pig!” Her backhand knuckles connected beautifully with the cheek. “What makes you think you can treat women this way?! Don’t you have a mother?!” Her knee crunched into his groin. “A sister? A daughter?!” His naked body went tumbling around the room, knocking into bookshelves and end tables and stumbling over an ottoman. “No one asked to see your penis or offered you a massage!” She kicked him in the rear, then again in the groin when it was uncovered. “You don’t act this way! Why can’t you behave better?!”
Anna watched as her friend implemented the RMP plan perfectly, and she could only imagine it was like watching Picasso add the finishing stroke to Guernica, like Michelangelo making the final tap of his hammer on David’s chiseled hand, and a tear came to her eye.
Ben D’Alessio is the author of the novels Binge Until Tragedy, Lunchmeat, and The Neon God. For a free e-book of The Neon God, subscribe to his mailing list on his website. 15% of book sale royalties are donated to the The Kitty Krusade. Follow him on facebook, twitter, and instagram..