Ingrid stood in front of the store, her hand resting on the cool knob. She couldn’t bring herself to go in. The sidewalk was deserted. It was almost noon.
“Good Vibrations,” the sign said.
“Featuring a Wide Selection of Adult Toys and Novelties.”
“Novelties…” She wondered aloud, imagining waxy figurines and Star Wars collectibles.
Her friend Eda worked at one of these places back home. She’d always wear glamorous layers of makeup, her cheeks bubble gum pink and eyelashes like plump spider’s legs. Eda had these hulking breasts you had to look at all the time and liked to share facts about vibrators.
“The first electric vibrator was officially patented in 1902.”
“Really? That seems so early—”
“And it’s illegal to own more than six dildos in Texas.”
Eda knew everything.
Ingrid loitered outside the store, trying to catch a peek inside if someone came out the door. She sprung away from the entrance when she heard a car creep up the street, its muffler rumbling noisily. She turned and made the walk to work.
When Ingrid was young, she bumbled through the junior high hallways like she had never quite figured out where everything was in the building.
At 13, when girls are the dewiest, trusting in unicorns and horoscopes, Ingrid was going through puberty like a caterpillar molting its skin. She was afraid of her body. Her breasts were gala apples, her armpits these incredible steamed clams, dank and sweaty almost immediately upon leaving the house.
She was shy, too. When boys spoke to her, she whispered back, wearing shame like a nametag.
Her hair was long and wild, like a sad, abandoned castaway’s and was the strange piss color of cream soda. She wasn’t all that pretty, really, but very wholesome, like your childhood babysitter that lived down the street.
Her mom, however, was elegant; she wore small drops of estée lauder’s Beautiful on her neck and wrists and took two showers every day. She drove a sleek, tan Camry, the color of chardonnay wine, to pick Ingrid up after school. It had big wheel wells and fuzzy cream seats that smelled of light, fresh linen. Next, to her, Ingrid was relentlessly dirty.
She remembered sitting in the passenger side on their way home one day, staring out the window, watching the trees flutter past in quick, green blurs. She was tired and had been a minute away from crying all afternoon. The sun was out, hot and high above everything, making her squint. She tightly scrunched up her face to look even uglier than she felt. When they slowed to a stop at a red light, she met the eyes of a man standing on the sidewalk, waiting to cross the street.
He was smiling at her, wide, and had one white cigarette tucked behind a tanned, freckly ear. He looked like he had too many teeth in his mouth. She could see a tangle of dark brown, almost black hair growing up his arms and into his shirt.
“Hello,” he mouthed.
The light turned green, and her mom jerked the car forward. Ingrid looked back and saw the man had lit the cigarette, holding it between the first two fingers of his right hand, taking long, slow drags.
The boys at school were perfectly nice, demonstrating their feelings by placing packages of strawberry licorice in her band locker and math programs on her T.I. 89. This man, however, had such a knowing look in his eyes. It was so foreign to her, indecent.
She was trying to read at work, her thumb straining to hold her place between the pages, the two halves of the book flopping around on either side of her finger like sloppy dog tongues.
After being there all day, the bookstore begins to feel like the stuffy archives of a library, reminiscent of stale coffee and rotting paper. They had bookshelves filled with big, musty novels with gilded edges like bibles and chalky pages that would crumble if anybody ever touched them. The ladybugs and box elders had come, too, searching for a winter home. They were everywhere, dotting the walls, scurrying across the counter. The shelves were teeming with their tiny, crawling bodies.
Her coworker Shannon had left the romance novel she’d been flipping through earlier on the counter. It was called “Coming Undone” and had a man posing against a red Ferrari on the front. He was wearing nothing but a black leather vest and pants held up with a sparkly belt buckle.
“One in three women in America owns a vibrator,” Eda would say.
Ingrid picked it up and read the first paragraph on the first page:
“He’d kiss her slow, like honey dripping off a spoon, the little tree air freshener failing to mask the ripe smell of chew that sat fermenting in his greenhouse of a car.”
“Jesus.” Turning up her wrist, she checked her watch: 5:57. She could leave.
Standing, Ingrid pulled up her jacket, flipping down the collar. She flicked off the lights and walked out the door. Hearing the zip as she pushed the key in the lock, she twisted it, the dead bolt sliding home, the sound like someone dropping a marble on a hardwood floor.
It wasn’t yet late but was getting darker, the sky a dull, muted color above everything, like clean black chalkboard.
She walked past Good Vibrations again and watched as its neon sign restlessly flickered. She could hear the gentle humming from across the empty street.
“The sex toy market boomed during the recent recession,” Ingrid thought.
She ran across the empty street, glancing both ways as she did.
She went in, immediately catching the wet smell of latex, damp and synthetic like the inside of a party balloon.She imagined that she’d enter to a shower of condoms like confetti, a table dancer gyrating on the counter, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, the first thing she saw was a bald man in the back studying the wall of porn with a seriousness Ingrid didn’t feel was right. It would be better, she thought, if he was shaking uncontrollably, eyes twitching, grabbing videos at random. The whole place was very dark and plastic-looking, sporting a few sad aisles of mysterious beads and blow-up dolls, black leather bustiers with lace all up the back.
Wandering the first few rows, she tried to act natural, as if she perused such stores all the time. She thought of her parents, who did their best to raise her normally. It was okay, she thought. She was dirty; it was fine.
The kid at the register looked tired. He didn’t say hello, thankfully, or ask what she was looking for today. It was the kind of place where no one should ever speak to each other or make eye contact to preserve personal dignity.
She casually moved to the aisle of sex toys. Each one was strange in its own way, creatively shaped, with a wide variety of colors to choose from like in an actual toy store.
“52.5% of women have used a vibrator before,” Eda would say.
And then Ingrid, in front of the bald man with the porn and the tired cashier, proudly picked up a bright purple vibrator and brought it to the register.
“Did you find what you were looking for today?” The kid asked.
“Yes. Yes I did,” Ingrid said.
Deep in her pocket, she held the fake penis in her hand all the way home.