Smoked Oyster, Thunderhead
By Alicia Gifford, Jun 30, 2009

Helena turns on the news and there’s Alex DeCortez’s face grimacing in a mug shot. Popular salsa teacher being held for rape. Her mouth shoots open and a brand new wad of gum flies to the floor.

She took salsa lessons from him! For months, twice a week at the dance studio in North Hollywood with its mildewed smell and buckled floors. She lost weight, got toned. She got damn good. Sometimes she’d go by herself to The Aztec on Saturday night, hoping to see him, and sometimes she would and sometimes he danced with her. She smoked cigarettes, drank mojitos and danced her ass off, her little dresses stiff the next day from sweat.

Alex. He began to pick her to demonstrate moves while his assistant danced with someone else, a guy student. He held her close, pressed his hand low on her back, cupping her ass so she thought she would one-two-three come. She inhaled his breath as it filtered through his nose hairs, their chests pressed together, his damp heat making her one-two-three wet.

Three women have accused Alex. They say he lured them to his bedroom. They say he brutally raped them. Brutally.

Alex. His face on TV like a bowling ball pitched at her solar plexus. She leans on the wall a second. She staggers to the freezer for a frozen Snickers bar and an iced flask of Southern Comfort. She collapses on the sofa. It’s been three years since she’s salsaed. She’s lost a lot of tone.

Lured to his bedroom. She finagled her way into his bedroom. She connived for it. He’d been brooding over what color to paint it, a deck of paint chips in hand, and she’d seized opportunity by the ears to offer her acclaimed eye for color and design. Once there, it was Smoked Oyster walls and Thunderhead trim. Then he’d slammed her in the doorway and kissed her hard, all tongue and teeth while her heart pounded like a conga.

She’d thought: coffee, dinner maybe, drinks. Talking and finding they had a lot in common despite their different backgrounds. Slow, tense seduction.

Instead he kneaded her breasts and tore off her clothes. She tripped between ardor and alarm, passion and prudence. He threw her on the bed.

Wait, she said. Wait a second.

He pried her apart, crushing down, thrusting in. Even as she protested her pelvis tilted up receptively. Unwillingly willing. She gave into it and then he flipped her over.

No, she said, I—

But then a center of pain, all energy devoted to coping until it eased a bit and became just as tolerable as a violent urge to shit. Okay something to this or it wouldn’t be so—

Next, flipped again, on her back, he straddled up her body until his knees pinned her arms, until his nut sack dangled on her chin, and off he jacked—one two three pop!—onto her face, her eyes blurred and stinging with his jizz.

Tenderly, he wiped her off with her underwear. You are hot mami, he said. You are one luscious bitch—and the words—helped, because passion was something she could get behind. She longed for some caliente in her life. Some outrage, some dark cheap thrills. She needed to shed her provincial/conventional ideas, so she was okay with this except her throat had closed involuntarily in something like a sob.

I have to get to work yo, he said. You gotta go now baby.

Helena flips the channel, feeling the love of the Southern Comfort. With her tongue she wheedles peanuts and caramel from the crevices of her teeth. There he is again, mug shot, scowling. There may be more victims and L.A.P.D. officials are asking for your help. If you have been a victim or have any information about other possible victims of Alex DeCortez, please call....

After that he never picked her anymore. If she saw him at The Aztec, he gave her see-right-through-you eyes. Another girl became his demo student and Helena imagined the others in the class all knew and laughed at her behind her back. She stopped dancing.

Alex. She spreads her toes and flexes them. She imagines Emerald City Green on her toenails. Silver toe rings. She imagines piercing her labia. She picks up the phone.

Alicia Gifford is a short fiction writer who divides her time between the Los Angeles area and Mammoth Lakes. Her stories have been published by Alaska Quarterly Review, Narrative Magazine, Confrontation, Best American Erotica and many more swell journals and anthologies. She is Fiction Editor for the online literary journal Night Train, and is working on a novel-in-stories. Catch her rare and meaningless blog posts at