Porn

The first time it happens, his body reacts in a way he’d never imagined.

He works in the bookshop every Saturday morning, has done for several weeks now. His job is to unpack the boxes of second-hand books, deceased estates usually, and classify them by genre, little piles of Crime Fiction, Romance, Literature, History, and Autobiography.

He notes there are a disproportionate number of Mills & Boon romance novels and thinks about the dead old women who once pored over these pages filled with flowery and unrealistic depictions of romantic love, wonders if they had ever felt something like romantic love in their lives.

Sometimes, he’s allowed to take a book for himself, a small reward for his work in the bookshop. He usually takes a crime novel. Or something to do with war. He never takes romance. At home, his library grows.

One Saturday morning, after he’s finished unpacking the boxes and creating genres, The Man points to another box sitting off to one side of the little backroom where he does his work and asks him to go through that one too.

He unfolds the cardboard flaps and is greeted by luridly-coloured and graphic depictions of sex. Pornography. It’s the first time he’s seen anything like this, his knowledge limited to glossy magazines inside plastic covers at the newsagent with semi-naked women on the cover that made him feel a little funny. But this, this is something else again.

He looks at The Man who’s watching him from the doorway that separates the shop from the backroom, saying nothing, eyes concentrated behind glasses.

The feeling in his tummy gets worse, a mixture of fear and awe in equal measure. He looks back at the dirty magazines, throat dry, and his little willy getting bigger. The Man doesn’t move, simply stares, saying nothing.

Carefully, he folds the cardboard flaps closed again, making sure to tuck the corners in so the lid doesn’t fly open and says, ‘I don’t think I was meant to see these’.

‘Do you like what you see?’ asks The Man.

He doesn’t know how to respond, can feel his face reddening. He wants to run out of the storeroom into the shop, out of the front door and onto the bus that will take him home. Instead, he stands there, confused and ashamed. And a little excited by what he’d just seen.

He can hear the front door of the shop opening, sounding the soft tinkle of the bell that hands just over the jamb, and The Man heads back out to help customers. He lifts the flap of the cardboard box, looks down at photos of naked people with their naughty bits doing things. He feels awkward, but also a little bit nice.

He looks at his watch, a cheap Timex his Oma bought for him back in Germany. It’s almost 12 o’clock, he notes, picking up his canvas rucksack and stuffing his free book into it – a Robert Ludlum thriller about spies – and heads for the front door of the shop.

The Man smirks at him with hooded eyes as he leaves. ‘See you next week.’

He thumbs through his new book on the bus and when he gets home, adds it to the burgeoning collection housed in his solid timber bookcase his grandfather made for him.

His Mum isn’t home, so he makes himself a sandwich – Peck’s Paste – and starts reading his book while the lurid images from the mysterious cardboard box dance inside his head.

Later, he masturbates for the first time and when he comes, he thinks he’s about to die.

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