Barry Hoffman's HUNGRY EYES

Chapter Eleven

Every Saturday, Robert Chattaway visited his mother for a late-morning brunch. The two bedroom rowhouse was the only thing of substance his mother owned. The mortgage had been paid off with an out-of-court settlement; the result of a wrongful death suit filed against the city. Robert hadn't had much use for his stepfather, but his untimely death had had a definite upside. The two bedroom house, which had once seemed to be cramped was now spacious, as his mother was its only inhabitant.

Although he never slept there, his mother had kept one of the bedrooms solely for him, just in case he changed his mind. Robert didn't visit his mother for companionship, nor out of a sense of duty, nor for a good home-cooked meal. The brunch she cooked was little better than he could get at a greasy spoon or fast food restaurant. He visited for the pictures, hidden in an envelope beneath a floor board he had pried loose when he was fifteen.

In his room, after a mostly silent meal, he looked at his pictures, knowing his mother would never invade his privacy. He needn't worry about his mother coming in to dust or clean either, during the week; not that she'd find anything amiss. The house, as always, was filthy. Had been so ever since his half-sister had left.

The photos were in chronological order. He'd shared the bedroom with his stepsister, and the first dozen were of her, starting from when she was eight until she was ten, the expressions on here face showing she'd been caught by surprise. He'd caught her in the shower several times, made easier by the fact they'd had no shower curtain. His stepsister would dutifully lock the bathroom door whenever she went in, but it made no difference. All the doors in the house opened by the same old-fashioned skeleton key. Robert would wait until she'd been in the shower five minutes, slip in and snap photos as she glowered at him in anger.

She had finally resorted to baths, covering herself in suds so there was nothing to see. What she didn't comprehend was he could have cared less about her body. Even at ten, she was a skinny little thing. It was the expression on her face he'd scrutinize for days after he'd developed the black and white pictures in a darkroom at school.

Surprise, embarrassment, anger, hatred. Her body had become a distraction, so eventually he'd blown up only her face with its raw emotion. He marveled at how self-conscious women, in particular, were when caught naked. With three places to cover and only two hands, there were the awkward attempts to hide everything, which often resulted in one part of their anatomy sticking out like a sore thumb. What they didn't understand was, at least as Robert was concerned, if they just stood there staring at him impassively, he would have turned on his heels in disappointment. For, along with the attempt to cover up, there were the many shades of emotion that quickly passed over their faces. It was these Robert craved, and with few exceptions the women he photographed obliged him with a wide range of moments to savor.

He had a second set of photos of his half-sister that he prized even more; photos he'd taken of her over a short period of time when she was ten. She was not only aware of his presence, but both her body language and facial expression challenged him. She was a captive audience, but to her credit she'd confronted him head on. These were full body shots, for in these her body spoke volumes. With these, the face alone would not do. Oddly enough, she was the only girl he'd photographed whose body had spoken as loudly as her face. There were times he wished to recreate such a scene, but -- tied down -- the girls he photographed now didn't communicate with their bodies.

At one time he'd visited clubs with naked dancers, but they never satisfied his need. Their bodies indeed spoke to him, but these were jaded women and the body language was fabricated. It was only the young, the inexperienced, the innocent that moved him, and he'd never found it at any strip joint.

He leafed through the next set quickly. Photos of girls he'd taken while in the army. They were full body shots of young teenage girls that had gotten him in trouble. As he'd never touched the girls, never had sex with them, it wasn't until just a year-and-a-half before that he'd gone too far and been drummed out of the service.

"Going too far" had been going after the thirteen-year old daughter of a senior officer. While by this time he'd taken only facial shots, her father had enough pull to insure he'd no longer wear the colors of his country.

The last stack consisted of photos he'd taken since his return. Facial shots documenting innocence lost, as he threatened unimaginable sexual and physical acts of violence on young girls who wanted a taste of what adolescence had in store. He'd offered them a look at the dark side of sexuality, and their faces betrayed a naked emotion that would be dulled and muted when they actually engaged in sexual intercourse.

Robert took all of the photos home with him each Saturday, after brunch. He'd gaze upon them most of the afternoon, then hide them beneath a floorboard in his efficiency. There was the added thrill of having the photos within his grasp when he brought a girl home most Saturdays. If he miscalculated, and the police found the pictures he was in deep shit. But life devoid of danger had no appeal for him. He almost wanted the police to demand a search. Would they find his hidden hoard of incriminating evidence? He doubted it. And, being no fool, he returned them to his mother's house Sunday morning while she was at church; with her chronic arthritis one of the few times she left the house.

If shrinks ever got ahold of him, he wondered what they'd make of his perversion, for he didn't lead a normal life. He'd never been abused as a child, though a case could be made he'd been neglected. Actually, from the time he could get around he'd been left to fend for himself. That in and of itself, though, was no reason for his desire not to have physical or emotional contact with others.

One of his earliest memories was listening to his mother and one her innumerable boyfriends screwing. His father had long since tired of his mother, and had left for parts unknown. Afterwards a steady flow of "uncles" had visited, some staying just a night, others returning over a period of weeks or months, even one or two hanging around for a short period of time.

At eight, two years after the birth of his half-sister, his mother had ballooned into a blimp. While he didn't comprehend it at the time, the only way she could attract men was offering herself to them. At the time, she'd craved companionship. He recalled how she would cry when one of his "uncles," who'd been around for a while tired of his mother and left. He knew it was best, at those times, to steer clear of her. While she wasn't physically abusive, she had an acid tongue and would lash him with it whenever she was alone. It was his fault, and the little "bitch" whom he shared his room with who were the cause of her inability to keep a man around.

With his room just across from that of his mother, and the walls no thicker than cardboard, he often overheard his mother's lovemaking. There were times when he thought she was being physically abused, so loud were her cries. But he'd never considered bursting in and saving her. Hell, if he had to navigate childhood without her guidance, much less her love, he wasn't about to have his ass handed to him by some man being rough with her. She'd taught him the law of the jungle, after all, and he didn't believe in double standards.

Moreover he was often confused by her rantings, which after a few minutes changed to grunts and groans, and at times he clearly heard her asking for more. At these times he knew she wasn't protesting or in need of his help. For some reason she was actually enjoying herself.

Out of morbid curiosity, he'd borrowed a copy of Penthouse from another kid in school, and learned what he'd heard was commonplace. His mother's lovemaking ritual that sounded so painful, were actually utterances of joy. At what point that joy turned to pain would become his obsession.

He'd only been with girls a few times in his life, and had found it wholly unsatisfying. What he found most repulsive were the sounds they made as he fondled and then screwed them. Rather than hearing Jessica, Valerie, or Carla, deep into foreplay he heard his mother's sexual bleatings. More than once he'd gone flaccid when her voice became overpowering. While some of the girls were understanding, others belittled him, as if it were his fault.

It also upset him that with their constant demands he never really got a chance to look at these girls, to differentiate what might be pain from ecstasy.

He'd gotten that chance solely by accident. At fourteen he'd gone out with a girl several years older than he was. After a few dates, she'd told him she wanted him to make love to her. At a motel she'd cajoled him to allow her to tie his hands to a bedpost. She'd then toyed with him, and had him totally under her control. She'd said vile things to him. Worst of all she'd even threatened to leave him there after she was done to be found the next morning by a cleaning woman. As she untied him, she told him it was all part of the game. Told him how much she'd enjoyed seeing him squirm at her taunts and threats. Though apologetic, she told him that was how she got off.

He'd asked if he could tie her up, and she'd acquiesced. When he was finished, he couldn't remember all he'd done, but he'd somehow terrified her. He remembered hitting her in anger over his own imprisonment earlier. He remembered the rough sex, and her pleas for him to stop because he was hurting her. Most of all he remembered being able to watch her face, and seeing the flow of emotions. At one point, when he threatened to leave her, as she had told him, she had laughed. Furious, he had left, though only for an hour.

When he returned the look of anguish on her face turned him on more than any lovemaking he'd ever experienced. She'd believed him, he thought, and all the while had been conjuring up images of being found in the morning, her parents being contacted, and the humiliation that would follow. She told him as much, as tears cascaded down her cheeks in gratitude at his return. Fascinated, he immediately left again, this time staying away for two hours. Again, upon his return he focused on the expression on her face. Now tinged with relief was fear and confusion. Would he leave again? And, if he did, would he ever return?

He'd never felt so horny, though he had no desire to relieve his needs by making love with her. He'd untied her, and again watched her face as she hastily dressed, obviously fearful he'd change his mind and tie her up again.

It was the beginning, he knew, of his lifelong obsession. Physical contact with another was unnecessary. The few times he'd had sex again were only preludes to getting his partner to acquiesce to allowing him to tie her up, so he could study her.

It was also at that time that he'd first began taking pictures of his half-sister. With a camera he was able to relive the mood swings, and naked emotion he could never hold in his mind. He soon found that he didn't even have to have sex to achieve his goals. Sex itself became a distraction.

Through deception he was able entrap others and photograph them without having to touch them. And oddly enough, some, after the terror wore off, found the experience to be more exhilarating than sex itself. Some girls wanted -- some even begged -- to go out with him again. But it was never the same as the first time. Knowing he wouldn't harm them, it became a game to them, and their reactions were transparent and false.

It was also at this time that he found that there was a much more intense reaction from girls who had never actually had sex than those who were experienced. As he turned sixteen, he felt the need to date girls younger than himself. And, in fact, he found it much easier to date girls thirteen or fourteen. To be asked out by an older boy was a compliment of the highest order. "I'm too mature for boys my age," he recalled some girls telling him, when he asked them out.

The pattern established, over the years it would be fine-tuned. He'd had his brushes with near disaster in the army, but now he'd established a routine that was all but failsafe.

Now with the pictures that chronicled his secret life in an envelope under his arm, he made his way home. On the way he stopped by a playground, took out some biscuits his mother had forced upon him, and let his eyes wander.

The kids here were too young for his tastes; most with mother and fathers hovering over them, as they played on the playground apparatus.

But a few youngsters were accompanied by their teenage sisters, and he stared at them, fantasizing their altered expression if they were in his apartment instead of the safety the crowded playground afforded. A few even flirted with him from afar; their eyes betraying non-too-innocent thoughts.

He looked at his watch and saw an hour had passed. How he loved the weekends. With no obligations, he could have spent the day ogling at those ogling him, if he were so inclined, without feeling any guilt or remorse later.

Then he thought of the laundry. A cloud passed over his eyes. It was the one thing he had to do before he prepared for the evening. Then a smile replaced the frown. Tina Campanelli's daughter, Roberta, was working at the laundromat. At thirteen-and-a-half, she'd given up her jeans and overlarge Phillies t-shirts a month before, in favor of skirts that hugged her pert ass and blouses with two, sometimes three buttons undone that had neighborhood boys salivating. All of a sudden a hell-of-a-lot of boys were volunteering to do the wash.

Roberta thought they were immature, and all but ignored them when Robert came to do his wash. He liked her; wanted more than anything to expose her to his camera, but that wouldn't be prudent.

Still, no one seemed bothered that she flirted with him shamelessly. He was a known commodity, after all. Polite, good-natured, someone who pitched in during the infrequent snowstorms that all but paralyzed the city. Someone who'd fix a minor problem with their car in the evening without charge. He even refused to take a tip. Better she come on to dependable Robert than some teeny bopper who had serious desires to get into her pants.

Robert left the playground to get his dirty laundry, a bounce to his step as he stripped Roberta bare in his mind, wiping that flirtatious smile from her face forever.

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