I’ve never seen so many dildos up close before. They are glass, glittering like the Christmas lights my family and I used to see on drives through our neighborhood in the winter. The walls are lime and bright pink, feather boas strung across the ceiling in X’s. A speaker system is rigged between the legs of a floating mannequin wearing a blonde wig — instrumental jazz floats through fishnet stockings, the soft French of a husky female singer.
There is a bowl of dog collars on the front desk counter. I think about buying a pair of collars for the Portuguese lovers that just moved into my apartment but am afraid that they won’t know that I’m joking and that they’ll think that I’m crazy and that I’ll lose the only non-American friends that I’ve made in this city.
The shop is located near Fuencarral, a vibrant street with popular tapas restaurants and clothing stores near the neighborhood, Malasaña. The street bursts turquoise and tangerine, is loud with the clicks of chic stilettos on surer feet than my own.
I should be meeting with my school’s director, Patricia, right now. I set off in the morning with half a croissant and a hangover, relying on the scrambled memories of the colors of cathedral doors and the shapes of street lamps to mark the path to school. The walk should have taken me twenty minutes, but I have been losing myself in circles for the past hour and a half, which is how I ended up in this sex-toy-shop — equal parts exhaustion and desperation.
If I had known this unmarked door would take me into a sex-toy-shop, I would not have entered. I would have kept walking, searching for an internet café or a kind stranger. But something captivated me about the whimsically shaped doorknob and the cool air pressing against its cracks.
I am alone, save the husky bodiless voice and the whips strewn on shelves next to chains and leather mouth guards. There’s a purple velvet chair in the corner. I sink into its softness. It welcomes my sweaty limbs as if I am the first person who has ever bothered to sit in it, as if no one has paid it much attention. And then a wave of peace as my sun-soaked-fever breaks and my heart’s beat slows and evens. This is the first time since moving to Madrid that I feel at one with myself — in this shop, time moves or doesn’t move and it doesn’t seem to matter much either way.
After a few moments, a man emerges from the back of the store. He is small and pale, an orchid of a man with ribs that protrude against his skin. His are the first pair of blue eyes that I have seen in this city a part from my own. I wonder if he notices my eyes and if they give him the same shock that his do for me. I find myself hoping that he’s American, anything but the smoke-voiced, fast-talking madrileños that live in my building and push past me in the streets.
I stand up as he asks me in perfect English if I need any help finding anything. I feel rude and awkward for having been sitting in his shop without browsing, so I stand up and study the glass dildos against his wall. I tell him that I’ve never purchased a dildo before and ask him how he knows which ones to recommend people.
You just… get a feeling about certain people.
He comes to stand next to my side. He wears a small feather earring in his left ear and a purple ring on his right thumb. I think about asking him what kind of dildo he would purchase for me but hesitate. Instead, I ask him if he knows where la calle Prim is located. He shakes his head no but tells me I can use his computer if I’d like in order to find my school. He presses his fingers to my elbow and leads me to a small computer station behind a purple-leopard curtain near the rear of the store.
I follow him without pausing to think about whether or not he is a man worth following. I trust him because he owns a shop and lives in a city that I cannot navigate. More than simply trusting him, I want to trust him, want him to speak English and never stop speaking English and invite me out for drinks with his friends who I imagine all own shops in this neighborhood and I want to hear him talk about what it’s like to sell pleasure to people and I want to know whether or not he thinks about his blue eyes and if they remind him of home.
An orgasm sounds.
Someone has opened the door, a woman wearing red leather pants. She plays the part of the dildo buyer more convincingly than I ever could. The man with a feathered ear and fragile wrists pardons himself to help the new customer. I find the street and realize that I’ve been three minutes away from it for nearly two hours, circling and circling and recircling above and below it without ever quite landing where I needed to be.
The owner is still busy with the customer and I wonder whether or not it would be rude to get up and leave without saying goodbye. They speak spitfire Spanish. I can make out that they are having a conversation about buying handcuffs for her boyfriend or maybe her husband or maybe for herself. She stands with her back to the wall of dildos, feet planted firmly below the floating mannequin.
She purchases a pair of handcuffs and leaves. The owner moves back to where I am sitting behind the purple curtain and asks if I found what I was looking for. I tell him I think so. He laughs and grabs a piece of scrap paper and a pen from his pocket. He writes down his name and number and tells me that if I’m ever lost again that I should give him a call. His voice is warm and unplaceable, a voice I could fall in love with. I think about asking him to lunch or returning to the velvet chair to watch him work but there is a life of meetings and responsibilities that waits for me on a small street somewhere to the left of this shop. I grab his hand and thank him for his kindness. He offers me a package of strawberry flavored condoms, but I say no thanks, reaching for the door, entering the world to the tune of instrumental jazz and the sex-toy-shop’s deep, electric moan.