I’ve started to hang out with Lucy and that lot more. It took a while before I got the nerve to ask if I could sit down with them. It was like a school kid wanting to sit with the seniors. When I finally did, Matt and Damian were really cool about it and Lucy didn’t object, even though I can’t stop looking at her boobs and she keeps having to tell me off for it.
We tend to hang out in the forward lounge – there’s a lot of big sofas there, or up on deck, on the deck chairs. The weather is a lot brighter now, but still a bit fresh for sun bathing if you ask me. Damian is really skinny and pale, but he takes his shirt off and lies there with his sunglasses on nevertheless. I did him in charcoal a while back and Lucy thought it was hilarious – black spikes, white forehead, black shades, white nose, black choker, white ribs, black drainpipes, white ankles, black plimsolls. I don’t think it’s possible to get a tan here. You either have one or you don’t. You don’t have to cut your hair or trim your nails either
I talk quite a lot more with Lucy. She seems impressed that I know who George Elliot and Nina Simone were. We discuss all sorts of things – university, feminism, travel, and sex. We talk a lot about sex. My whole sex education has been my Dad’s Mayfairs and there’s quite a lot they don’t cover. She told me about the clitoris and the female orgasm. She even drew diagrams. I think I’m obsessed with sex, which is funny for a person who is still a virgin at nearly nineteen. All I could think was how I wanted to have a practice on her, and it almost seemed like it might be worth asking but I didn’t. I’d heard of oral sex but I’d never realised what we were aiming for, if you see what I mean, or that there was a thing, exactly, to aim for. I guess I thought you just sort of, I don’t know, licked it, generally.
I think I really envy women now because they have all these different sorts of orgasms that can apparently go on for hours and we just have this one quick spurt and that’s it.
‘A man is just totally fixated on his penis’ she said. ‘All he wants is to get in there as quickly as possible and...’ (She makes this rhythmical grunting noise in my ear – ‘Uh uh uh uh...’ over and over until it’s really beginning to bother me. ‘That’s what it’s like’ she says eventually) ‘and then it’s all over and you’re left with the washing up, as usual. Or, which is worse, you get a guy who thinks he knows all about foreplay, but he just thinks it’s about going on and on and on until you’re both rubbed raw and wondering what's on the telly. You men – it’s just like you haven’t got a clue.’
She’s right, I haven’t. I don’t even really know what foreplay is but I don’t like to ask.
One of her favourite topics is pornography (It’s one of mine too, but in a different way and I keep quiet). The way she talks about it though it’s as if it’s nothing but violence, like it’s all under-age girls being forced to have horrible things done to them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. Well there was that one thing I found in the lorry park. That was horrible, so I do know it goes on. I suppose it never occurred to me to wonder who all these women are, having their photos taken, or how they feel about it. Most of them just look bored to be honest – just smiling woodenly for the camera and holding their vaginas open. It’s pretty crass. But then sometimes, the ones I like, they look like they’re normal women having a laugh, or maybe even actually enjoying it. I don’t know. I can’t believe they all hate what they do. They must be bloody good actresses. Lucy says you can tell it’s really all about child pornography because they force the women to shave but I always thought that was just because you could see everything better. And anyway pubic hair can be a bit off-putting. I never liked mine. I used to shave it off sometimes and then the stubble got bad so I didn’t do it any more. I know for a fact she can’t stand men with beards anyway so she can’t talk. Maybe she likes young boys, which would be good news for me.
Another time I remember having this heated debate with her about breasts, because she’d noticed me looking – again. Well, hers were quite hard to miss to be honest. I’d find my eyes homing in on them in the middle of a conversation and it was very off-putting. All the blokes commented. She wore these tight, low cut tops too, which didn’t help.
‘My god! What is it with you people?’ she said, amazed, aggrieved and amused at the same time. ‘It’s just a pair of breasts for god’s sake. Men! You’re just like children, just transfixed...’
I looked at my book, embarrassed. We were in the lounge. People were listening. She was talking quite loud.
‘What is it? Tell me, what is so fascinating? They’re just big blobs of fat for feeding babies. Look’ she said and took hold of them and wobbled them about in my face. ‘Fat’ she said again, grinning. She evidently thought it was amusing, making me embarrassed.
I gave my usual considered opinion, that is, I shrugged and said ‘I don’t know.’
‘Look at them’ she said.
‘Look. Get an eye full’ and she pulled her shoulders back and thrust them at me. I still thought they were fantastic.
‘Tell me what you're thinking’ she said, challengingly.
I was struggling to say anything at all. ‘I just...’ and I tailed off, shrugging again. I looked around. Nobody was overtly listening but I knew they could hear.
‘I don’t know why I like them. I just...’ I said finally.
‘Doesn’t it bother you that you’re just automatically adopting this crass stereotypical male behaviour? (She does a thick voice) “Ooh, look, there’s some tits” you say to yourself. “This woman is clearly in need of some ogling.”’
‘I’d never say anything like that.’
She pauses and looks away. She’s taking time to think.
‘Ok. You see a woman in the street and you don’t know anything about her, except she’s got these huge breasts. So obviously you’re interested, but you don’t think “Maybe she’s got a Phd in psychology – I’d love to go and talk to her.” do you?’
‘Well I can’t tell if she’s got a Phd in psychology just by looking at her can I? And any way, I wouldn’t fancy her just because she has big boobs.’
‘No?’ she looks sceptical ‘What else?’
‘Eyes?’ I say, without much conviction.
‘Oh give me strength. You want me to believe that? I’ve never met a man who’s attention extended anywhere above the neck for longer than it takes to – I don’t know – light a cigarette.’
I’m silenced again. But I do like women's eyes. Always have. I loved Camille's eyes. They were a gorgeous olive green colour and they really sparkled. Lucy’s eyes are lovely too but it’s hard to ignore that cleavage for long. In all the excitement her breasts seem to have swelled even more than usual.
‘I do like eyes’ I say, finally, quietly, ‘and hair. I love long hair.’ She appraises me suspiciously, ‘and she wouldn’t need to have big breasts, necessarily, just... nice breasts.’
‘What about no breasts?’
I think about that. ‘Not really.’
‘So you would dismiss a woman completely on the grounds of being flat-chested, no matter what else she may have to offer?’
Actually I think I might. It’s a bit too masculine or something. It’s just sort of weird.
‘I don’t think it’s like that really’ I say after a while.
‘Attraction. It’s not just about physical stuff. It’s the whole look of her. I don’t know – it’s like the way she dresses or the way she moves. Subtle things. Like the expression on her face...’ I go off into a bit of a dream, thinking how that feels, to see a woman like that.
‘You’re still just working out how to get into her knickers Gabriel’ says Lucy, laughing sarcastically.
I study her face as she shakes her head and goes back to her book. My feelings for her shift slightly. Sometimes she’s not very attractive at all.
‘So why bother to ask me at all if you’re not going to believe me?’
She turns her head and looks hard at me. ‘I thought you’d at least be honest about it’ she says.
‘I am being honest’ I say. She goes back to her book, still smiling slightly. Why is she being like this? What can I say to convince her?
‘We could be friends’ I suggest hopefully. ‘I wouldn’t just dismiss her completely. I just might not want to have sex with her.’
‘I don’t think men and women can be “just friends”‘ she says, which seems a bit sad. ‘There’s always something else.’
‘But if he doesn’t fancy her at all...’
‘Still. There’s always something, sooner or later. Trust me.’ and she looks a little sad. I didn’t really fully realise until much later that she was talking about herself, about her life, about how men had looked at her – her and her breasts and how they’d never really wanted to be “just friends” with her. No, I didn’t realise this until I was at the retreat, but I got my first inkling of it at this moment. She wore her breasts like that, as a challenge – gawp if you dare, fantasise at your peril.
‘I just like looking at breasts. I don’t know why’ I said finally, not looking at her. ‘I mean, why do people like looking at flowers? It doesn't have to be logical.’
Anyway she seems to like my work – I showed her some of my pictures and she seemed really interested. I want to do one of her soon. She said she’ll pose nude for me... I think she said that. Probably she was having me on. Anyway, a few days ago we were all sitting around talking about what we’d do different next time – it’s a common subject with us. Nobody else I’ve met seems to want to talk much about their past life or their next, just stay in the present, but Damian especially can’t shut up about it. He’s got this idea about getting a punk band together by 1974 so he can “be there” when it starts. He wants to call them The Sex Objects. We all think that’s very funny, all except Lucy that is.
He’s a good musician too. He does these really funny rip-offs of old Sabbath and Zeppelin numbers on his guitar, like using the sound but faster and furious-er. It’s ridiculous and really cool at the same time. I asked him if he could do Purple Haze but nobody messes with Hendrix apparently. I think he was impressed by the fact that I knew about Hendrix at all.
Anyhow, I was saying that next time, I would try to lose my virginity a bit sooner, and Lucy just looked coldly at me. Damian said he’d want to fuck a lot more women next time. Lucy said to me ‘What else?’
‘Go to more parties, and gigs’ I said, doubtfully.
‘But you’ll still be the same person’ she said, as if that was a real problem.
‘Yeah, you gotta handle it different next time man’ said Marcus, another guy who was hanging out with us. ‘I mean, you can’t just be your same wimpy self all over again, you know what I mean? Women want you to stand up, make a move for yourself man, not all this hiding in the back.’
‘You’d think some girls would go for such a quiet, sensitive chap as yourself, wouldn’t you Gabriel?’ says Lucy looking at me. I don’t know if she means it but I love the way she says my name, curving her lips around the ‘B’.
‘Nah, that’s crap’ says Damian ‘except for your “Mad Bitch” of course. They’re always on the lookout for the confused and vulnerable.’
‘Damian, you’re a disgrace’ says Lucy sexily.
‘Well if all else fails, your mad bitch’s a distinct possibility. She’s a bit desperate, grateful for whatever’s going, willing to do the leg work...’ Everyone laughs. ‘I mean, she’s the one’ll get off her arse and come to grab you – none of this you plucking up the courage shit – she’ll nag you onto the dance floor and bingo, you’ve scored.’
‘Plus you’ll be up all night with her. She really goes, your average mad bitch...’
‘On the other hand she’ll literally have your nuts nailed to the bed if you try to make a run for it.’
‘Literally?’ says Lucy.
‘Literally. These are not my original pair. These are in fact made of pure new wool. My mum knitted them for me.’
‘I’ll take your word for it’ she says, pouting at him. I sometimes think something’s going on between them. I don’t know. Sometimes, she looks at me, I feel so amazingly light and free. Other times, I just want to drop into the ocean and sink.
‘You should learn to play guitar – be in a band. That’s always a good one’ says Matt. Damian looks doubtful.
‘I might get a car next time’ I say, although I can’t imagine how. I’d have to fork out for lessons first.
‘Nah.’ says Matt. ‘More trouble than they’re worth. You just end up giving everyone else a lift everywhere, so you end up not drinking...’
‘You could smoke.’
‘You could, if you’re a wanker.’ Everyone looks a bit awkward, recalling too late that Matt was killed by an intoxicated driver.
‘I don’t think it’s about what you have’ says Lucy finally. ‘If you want to know the one thing that a woman wants? – every time? – it’s a man who knows who he is and feels good about it.’
‘That’s cobblers’ says Damian ‘I fucking hated myself half the time – and I got plenty.’
‘Yeah, but your self-loathing was kind of like an art form – you really went for it – you did believe in yourself in a way’ observes Matt.
‘I believed in being bad news’ says Damian, nodding deeply.
‘You did. And a woman appreciates that in a man’ says Matt.
‘Some women’ says Lucy
‘Younger women’ says Damian, gleefully.
‘Masochistic women’ says Lucy.
‘Exactly’ agrees Damian ‘Same difference...’
‘Gabe’s not mean enough’ observes Marcus. ‘He’s one of the good guys.’
‘I’ll bet he’s not’ says Lucy, turning to face me. ‘I bet he could be a right bastard if he wanted to, if he had the motivation. If he had the nerve...’
I don’t know what it is – sometimes the way she looks at me. What is she thinking? Sometimes I feel like I’m nothing to her. Sometimes I feel like she wants me – both at the same time.
I look at her. The conversation among them heads elsewhere but I saw her wink at me, I swear.
Sitting beside me I can see her shoulder exposed, soft and milky where her top has slipped, then a smooth curve between her armpit and the start of her breast. The fabric hangs away from them and I can see where the curve goes down, concave to convex. I look up, as if surfacing from a deep dive and register the faces – did anyone see me looking? I can’t tell.
To continue reading, either go to Lulu to buy or download the book, or let me know when you want to read the next bit and I'll post it on the blog.
A life backwards
It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.
Thanks for your patience.