“Madrid Sex Shop” by Ben Sutherland

I’ve lived above Bits and Pieces for almost a year now and have never had occasion to go inside.

There’s a distinctive kind of loneliness to passing a specialty sex shop each time you come and go from your home.

There’s a distinctive kind of loneliness to everything when I think about it, but Bits and Pieces has that obvious subtext to it, really cuts to the quick of everything one doesn’t have and isn’t doing.

The store itself is cheerful and welcoming, its name spelled out in soft pink neon in the front window. At a glance, you would guess they sold knitting supplies or pottery. The items on display, usually nestled in cotton ball clouds, do not make their functions immediately clear. You could be looking at an Easter egg hunt, a candy convention in heaven, possibly a new type of digital microphone favored by podcasters. Then you take a second look. Oh wait. I wonder what that one does. Finally, you get carried away by dissatisfaction and, feeling uncomfortable with yourself—uncomfortable most of all with the fact that you’re not comfortable—you shuffle along to buy your bagel a couple doors down, to refill your MetroCard, to hop along to the next part of your day.

I’m sad, by the way. I might as well just put it out on Front Street. I’m very, very sad.


Like Bits and Pieces, all the businesses on this block are boutiques, or at least boutique aspirationals. There’s a bar approximating a honky-tonk tavern, an actual yarn and pottery shop, and my personal favorite place to fill the void, an indie comics nook called Panels. Even the bagel store recently replaced its awning, tossed up some posters of smiling pastries dancing around puns: holy rollers, Darwin’s Bagel Voyage. I overpay for another bacon, egg, and cheese, wondering if this is going to be the one that kills me. The L-train rumbles below the sidewalk.


It’s not that I’ve never been in love, although now I’m approaching an age where it’s hard to admit that’s what it was. Old partners have become so distant they appear to me like nonspecific Shakespearian ghosts. Their entities are preserved in amber. I’m a realist, so I know that’s not how they are anymore. The most recent woman I loved went to Italy for graduate school. We had the requisite series of chats about it. The program was only a year. This was a hurdle we could overcome.

She cut off communication almost instantly. I tried a couple of emails before I started to feel stupid. I sat around the apartment all day. I went out and bought a bagel, an indie comic book, a bag of organic coffee.


The clientele at Bits and Pieces appears to be almost exclusively happy people in love. That’s true for most of the business on the block. It should be understood that this neighborhood recently became a bastion of youth and prettiness, absolutely wall-to-wall with bangs, sundresses, stubbly jaw lines, vintage band T-shirts, high-waisted jeans, and handholding both palm-to-palm or with fingers interlocked. Often, I feel like the only one with flab and too much body hair. Do any of these people get canker sores?

To shop at Bits and Pieces with your partner—your boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other, fuck buddy, pillow pal, fiancé, spouse, mutual, special one, your love, your best friend, your passion-bone—must require trust and comfort. I’m making this guess from the outside looking in, shyly, pretending not to be looking in as I leave my apartment in my ratty coat and return fifteen minutes later with Chinese food. But imagine browsing the spare, whitewashed shelves under the soft overhead lights. Would you like me to put this on you? In you? That’s a good scent. We could try it. I might not like it, but we could try it.

Since I’m being honest: I’m terrified of sex.


My friends don’t have this problem, least of all Ruby Apathy who I have drinks with once a week at the approximation honky-tonk bar. Ruby has murky blonde hair and a perpetual sniffle. Her front teeth overlap slightly and it’s tough to make her laugh. She spends ten hours a day drawing cartoons. Apathy is a penname. It’s a joke, I guess, because she’s constantly jittery with caffeine or sodden with alcohol. Ruby is not afraid of anyone. I ask her if she has experience with Bits and Pieces.

Yeah, duh, she says. She takes women there all the time, she says. They find it romantic.

But, like, I have to know. Do you buy things?

Sometimes. Or we just get ideas.

Ruby finishes her tall can of Pabst. She buys two more. There are always four or five bro-types at this bar, and we have a standing bet as to how long it will take them to play Ring of Fire on the jukebox. The song is starting now, so she bought me a beer. She squints at me, cartoonist eyes like X-ray specs.

Do you want me to take you on a friend-date to Bits and Pieces?

Flustered, I decline the offer and this makes Ruby cackle, mouth full of teeth.


Soggy with cheap beer, I head home. The bagel store is shuttered. The lights are off in Panels. There’s a hardcover in the window I’ll have to pick up tomorrow.

Of course, the neon Bits and Pieces sign still glows in the night. A woman reads a book of poems at the counter, her cheek on her palm. The L-train passes below, and I realize it’s my responsibility to yank this sweater of gloomy narcissism up over my head. The ghosts of lost lovers are not going to rematerialize. At no point was there a bottle of scented lubricant or a vibrating rubber animal that could have saved the partnership. Let unanswered emails lie. Gradually the sting will fade.

And, for now, the bodega on the corner – the dirty one without a hint of prestige – is open for my business, fortifying icy cans of Yoo-hoo nestled like elixirs within.

Michael Giddings

Michael Giddings is a writer, cartoonist, and musician from Brooklyn. His work can be found in HASH Journal, Reservoir Road Review, and Scribble Lit, and is forthcoming from Pidgeonholes and The Minnesota Review. He works as a preschool teacher and reads for the literary magazine Fatal Flaw.

Michael Giddings is a writer, cartoonist, and musician from Brooklyn. His work can be found in HASH Journal, Reservoir Road Review, and Scribble Lit, and is forthcoming from Pidgeonholes and The Minnesota Review. He works as a preschool teacher and reads for the literary magazine Fatal Flaw.

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