Thursday, 28 April 2011

Andrea IX – First moves

‘Ok’ she says as soon as I come in the door. ‘Let's cut to the chase.’
I wait to see what she will say next but she indicates my seat and I obediently go and sit down.
‘I’d have had you’ she says. ‘I’m not going to, in case you were wondering, but you’re a good looking bloke, funny and intelligent, or can be when the mood takes you, when you’re not being a pompous ass, and I for one, would have been only too happy, in life, to give you a damn good seeing to, probably.’
This is very odd, and I have to smile. Up until what seems like a few months ago I was a dodgy old geezer with a paunch, in a shed, taking pride in his parsnips.
‘The trouble is’ she continues, ‘you don’t ever seem to have realised this. You went through your life treating sex as if it was charity – like some caring soul might give you a shag if they felt sorry enough for you, and as I’m sure you realise, it ain’t like that, so...’ She sits heavily down in her arm chair. ‘What are we going to do about it?’
I love this woman. She is truly magnificent.
‘We could do it now’ I suggest. ‘That might help.’
‘No. That would be cheating.’
‘All’s fair and so forth...’
‘Whatever. I was thinking about what you said the other day and it seems to me that the moral of the story is not that you have to have the biggest cock, but that you have to be prepared to get it out and use it.’
‘But not in the middle of the road.’
‘No, but you know what I mean.’ I nod. I can see she means business now, so I settle down and pay attention.
‘So I’m over by the buffet as you will recall. You’re eyeing me up...’
‘You probably wouldn’t have noticed – I was very surreptitious.’
‘I’d have noticed. Trust me. But you, for your part, do nothing because A. you’re afraid of making a twat of yourself and B. I’m too good for you anyway. Yes?’
‘Guilty as charged.’
‘Ok, let’s tackle point B first’ and she gets up, comes over and shouts in my face ‘I am not too good for you! Ok?’
‘Maybe you know that, but I don’t’ I mumble.
‘You don’t know that.’ She’s still shouting a little, exasperatedly pacing around the room again, gesticulating. ‘You don’t know anything about me. You just assumed I would not be interested because of what you assumed I was like.’
‘But I know what I’m like, and I know how people tend to see me...’
‘I don’t think you do. It’s like those rants you entertained me with early on. Why did you do that?’ I start to reply but she cuts me off. ‘I know why. It was because you thought I was talking down to you, treating you like you were some naïve fool and so you had to go on the offensive and prove you did know what you were talking about, even if it meant hurting me, because (you reasoned) I hadn’t minded putting you down therefore it was ok for you to put me down. What you didn’t get, from the start, was that you were the one in charge, from the start. You were the one pointing out all this stuff I hadn’t really thought about, because you aren’t stupid, and you do have something to say, and it was me on the defensive, trying not to look stupid.’ She sits down heavily, out of breath. ‘Don’t you get that?’
‘But you went to Africa...’
‘And you were on the streets for years. So what? We all have our experiences Gabriel. One guy I knew, doing a sabbatical from Harley Street would you believe. Spent three years in Rwanda, right through the genocide and still went home at the end as big an upper class twit as he went in. It’s not what you do, Gabriel – it’s what you learn from it that counts.’ And she stops. We look at each other quietly for a while. She takes a sip of water.
‘I’m sorry about all that... ranting’ I say quietly after a while.
‘Nothing to apologise for’ she says. ‘What we’re here for.’
‘But you nearly swapped...’
‘Not really.’
We sit for a bit longer
‘I was still wearing my old school shirts until I was twenty one.’
‘Ah, ok. You’re right then. I wouldn’t have fancied you.’
‘Fair enough.’
She looks at me and shakes her head. ‘You really do think it would have mattered though, don’t you, the shirts and all that?’
‘Well what would you have been wearing. Honestly?’
‘Designer gear’ she admits. ‘Not all the time. I wore a lot of ethnic frocks later on, hippy stuff.’
‘Just my type.’
She smiles. ‘Ok, if I’m honest I probably wouldn’t have noticed you when I was twenty-two. You’d have been somewhat older than me anyhow I think. When were you born?’
‘I was born in ‘72. Oh well. I used to go in for older guys though, so there’s something. The point is, you don’t know what people are going to be attracted to. You can’t assume anything. I was all over the place when I was in my early twenties, I mean – who wasn’t? But later on I could have done with a bit of rough. What about that guy Vince somebody – used to be on that Dickhead show spinoff?’
‘Vincent Michaels.’
‘Aha! So you weren’t completely cut off from civilisation.’
‘Radio 4. They probably reviewed ‘Dickhead – The Movie’ at some point.’
‘Right. Anyway – did you see what he looked like?’
‘Not on the radio, no.’
‘Ok, well anyway – he’s a bloody mess. Really. Grubby shirts, bad teeth. Horrible toes...’
I shrug.
‘But women love him Gabriel. Think he’s fantastic, and you know why?’ I shake my head. ‘Because he doesn’t give a toss. That’s why. He’s overweight, hairy, short.’
‘Yeah, but they all have money over there – it’s Hollywood. But nobody picked the short straw – “Oh, Jennifer, your turn to go out with the short fat film star this week”. They love him. Honestly.’
‘Money is an issue though, you have to admit.’
‘Not now so much. I earned loads more than Graham. I didn’t care. I loved my work.’
‘What did he do?’
‘Very little, but to be honest that was more of a problem for him than for me. Depression, booze, computer games. You know the kind of thing.’
I can’t see her with someone like that. She deserves better. She deserves me. I’m better than that. Hey, that’s a revelation.
‘Ok’ I say, sitting up. ‘I’m up for it. You’re there, with the crudités, I’m across the room with my plastic cup of wine or whatever. What would you want me to say?’
‘Now you see that’s your trouble. What do you want to say to me? That’s the question.’
I think about it for a second. She’s absolutely right. What do I want to say? ‘Wanna fuck?’ I say, knowing how she’ll react but my mind genuinely has done a blank. Ok, I concentrate. ‘I want to say...errm...’ I sit and think, she waits, betraying no impatience. ‘Everything I can think of sounds so trite or ridiculous.’
‘Such as?’
‘You look beautiful...?’
She wobbles her head equivocally.
‘I saw an Irish guy walk up to a woman he’d pissed off at a party and say “You’re a fine looking woman you know...” and she was all over him after that.’
‘Better’ she agrees ‘but best with an Irish accent.’
I nod in agreement. ‘They can get away with such blandishments. Actually, that’s also true of the Spanish and French...’
‘And the Italians’ she says with appreciation.
‘Exactly. Being English is a not a good place to start.’
‘And yet here we are. You could do a Hugh Grant with it.’
‘True. But I’d rather not.’
‘No. Ok, go on, what else could you say? What do you want to say to me?’
I think for a while. ‘It all sounds so predictable – “What do you think of the music?” “Who do you know here?” “What do you do?” Oh God that sounds so feeble. I don’t know...’ and I slump back. I can’t think of anything worthwhile.
‘Or maybe “Hi, I’m Gabriel”‘ she suggests ‘or yes, questions are good. “How’s the buffet?” or “Where are you from?” et cetera et cetera. And listen. Don’t just be thinking what you want to say next. But the main thing is to walk up and say something for god’s sake. If she likes the look of you she’ll do the rest. If she doesn’t it won’t matter what you say. And if you thought those guys there chatting the women up were all being terribly witty and original I’m afraid you were sorely mistaken. Only in the movies Gabriel. Only in the movies.’
‘But everything I say comes out so weak...’ I whisper, hopeless again all of a sudden and as I’m saying it I’m eighteen again at that party, watching Gill. I can remember it all so bloody clearly. It’s true, I’m not an old man here, I’m thirteen at the school disco, watching the girls dance together, and I’m in my twenties on the streets of Brighton, watching the girls go by with their short skirts and their strappy tops and their high heels, and I’m in my thirties, at the festies, watching the women wooing fathers for their sticky kids and then I’m in my fifties having to avoid watching them with their children in case they get the wrong idea. And all the time it was the same – I’m there, watching them – not having a clue what I have to do to join in. How could this have happened? Andrea looks at me. I can see she doesn’t get it. I don’t get it. What did they know that I didn’t?
She sits up straight and looks at me closely. I brace myself for the judgement, the dismissal. But instead she says softly ‘It came out weakly because you thought that you were crap and that they were goddesses. You didn’t see yourself as worthy of them. Let me tell you Gabriel...’ she gets up and looks out the window. ‘I know a lot more shit-awful people than you that don’t die alone. I’m not saying I envy their relationships (but then I don’t envy a lot of people’s relationships), but still... Secondly...’ and I can suddenly see her as a doctor. She has a very cool authoritative presence once she gets going. ‘Chances are that somewhere out there, there are people who could love you, and who, just as importantly, you could love too, and you won’t have to impress them with your wit or the size of your knob. It’ll come more or less naturally. They’ll just want you more or less as you are and it’ll be easy – or relatively easy anyway. Thirdly... it’s a numbers game Gabriel. People come out with this “one true love” crap, like there’s just one ideal person in all the world for each of us and if you don’t find them, well, you’re stuffed... but actually I think there may be loads of people out there that you could love and be really happy with, in different ways, at different times. We generally consider ourselves lucky if we just meet one of them in a lifetime but I think that’s pessimistic. What you’ve got to do, Gabriel, is meet loads of people. It’s no good just meeting a few and trying to make them work. For instance, I know guys who just ask almost every woman they meet if she fancies going to bed, or some equivalent innuendo, and sooner or later, someone says “yes”. Which actually brings me to a subsidiary point...’
(Wow. “A subsidiary point” Crikey what a woman...)
‘Girls just wanna have fun Gabriel. Young girls especially just want to have a laugh, they want to look trendy, they want to go out and get pissed. Sometimes they want sex, but mostly they don’t want anything heavy, and they don’t want to have to dump someone who’ll be hurt by it, so nine times out of ten they choose a good looking moron they don’t care much about because it’s easier that way. Later on – late twenties, thirties – that’s when girls wanna have love and security and babies and candle-lit meals and flowers and all that, and actually, we want more sex too, and we’re better at it and we come easier. So go for a slightly older demographic Gabriel. Trust me on this.’
We sit quietly for a while. Part of me wants to argue. Why wasn’t I entitled to have a young woman like everyone else? But then again I never really was much fun was I? Oh hark at me – self-pitying old fool. I can’t really disagree with her on the main point.
‘It’s a bit sweeping though isn’t it?’ I observe, casually. ‘I imagine there’s a few young women might raise objections.’
‘Yes, but you have to remember Gabriel; men are much much worse. They won’t reach the love and security stage until well into their forties, if at all.’
She sits back, evidently finished. I grin at her. She is fabulous.
‘Come for a drink?’ I say.
‘No. But thanks’ she says, smiling warmly. ‘I would have done though, if you’d said it like that. You’re alright Gabriel. You just don’t know it yet.’

Friday, 22 April 2011

Journey X – With or without

I really wanted us to leave before the next winter set in and I wasn’t sure how long that would be. Sophie watched me, confused and apprehensive, as I paced around the room. I’d run out of ideas about how to convince her that something very horrible was going on around us. I was sure that everyone must have witnessed things but had somehow repressed the memory or explained them away, as Ian had. And then I had to ask myself if it was just me and if so, maybe there was something wrong with me. We didn’t seem to be able to talk to each other as easily as before, but I always went with her when she went out so neither of us would be alone. I thought maybe I could defend her somehow if they came for her. Meanwhile, despite her concern I could see she was losing patience with me.
I talked to some of our friends too, Aaron in particular, but he found it hard to take me seriously, or anything for that matter. Gina had disappeared not two nights before but he appeared unconcerned. He assumed she had just fancied a change of scenery. He was cool about it he said. I kept my fears to myself. The image of Gina, tall, elegant, funny Gina who I had grown very fond of over the months, tied up and cut to pieces left me panic-stricken but I couldn’t think of anything I could do. I’d tried taking Sophie and some of the others around, looking in windows, trying to find evidence. I’d tried asking around, to see if anybody else had seen what I’d seen. I got nowhere.
I don’t know what it was broke my spiral of anxiety. One day I was out in an open area with trees and a pond and I realised that even without the horror I couldn’t stay here forever. And I knew maybe Sophie would come with me if I gave her another reason. Maybe some of the others would too. Sometimes we had discussed our next lives, and what she would do next time around. I’d remind her of our date on the Palace Pier in the year 2000 (or on Devil’s Dyke at midnight, or Kensington Gardens for lunch, as the mood took us. We’d need to sort that out. It might actually happen and then we’d look very silly, waiting for each other in different places).
And then there was the question of how to get out. I decided the only way was to pick a direction and stick to it. I thought we should head east, or whatever the place where the sun appeared from was called in this place. I was sure we must come out eventually. We’d got in somehow. Views from the ship toward the end of the voyage had been of mountains and forests and farmland. It must be out there somewhere. I put all this to Sophie one morning in the kitchen after breakfast. She just huffed and shrugged but said she’d give it some thought. Then she stepped out of her knickers, leaving them in a white figure eight on the kitchen floor, and came and sat astride my lap. It was her way of changing the subject, and to be honest I was grateful for the distraction.

I also met James about that time. Sophie and I were at a party a little like the ones I’d been to before we met. We had been laughing at some skinny girls doing their routines in their underwear and the boys, shirtless, trying to look cool, watching them. I recognised James as one of the elusive lodgers from the hostel and I was surprised to find him being quite extrovert, dancing crazily to some raucous hip-hop. When he’d finished he slumped down beside me, flicked his floppy fringe out of his eyes and clinked bottles with me. I was watching Sophie doing her usual thing across the room, working the crowd. Actually I was bored with it all.
‘Hey dude’ he said.
‘Hey’ I said and I prepared myself for the usual half inaudible, half irrelevant twaddle these exchanges normally consisted of.
‘Torture’ he said in my ear. I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly. I looked at him quizzically.
‘You were asking people about torture. I’ve seen it too.’
‘When? Where?’
‘Several times. I thought I was tripping. Look, can we go somewhere, you know, quieter?’
‘I need to keep an eye on...’ and I pointed to Sophie and he nodded. We stood up and moved to the other end of the room.
‘I don’t want to leave her alone too long’ I shouted.
‘I can imagine’ he said, raising his eyebrows approvingly.
We stood for a time in the window bay, looking around, sipping from our bottles.
‘Anyway...’ he said, looking at the floor. Neither of us knew where to start.
‘Do you think it’s real?’ I say.
‘I thought so at first, when we first got here, I saw something you would not believe...’
My expression says ‘Wanna bet?’
‘Well anyway, nobody seemed much troubled by it, so I just let it go, but it happened a few times after that. I didn’t leave my room for weeks man – just ran down to the bathroom sometimes.’
‘I saw you.’
‘Yeah, well, then nothing happened for a while and I just got into what was going on. I put it out of my mind, you know? But it’s still in there.’ He taps his head with his finger. ‘It’s all still in there.’
‘I want to leave, leave town’ I say, ‘but I don’t want to go on my own.’
He nods, contemplatively, pushing his hair out of his eyes again, taking another swig. Sophie comes over and sits on me as usual. I kiss her affectionately and introduce her. They shake hands lightly.
‘What are you two talking about?’ she asks. I shrug - nothing much, as usual.
‘Didn’t look like nothing much from where I was standing’ she says. She’s been watching me and I’m crap at lying. James looks at his boots.
‘I do know what you’re doing you know’ she says, and abruptly gets up and stomps off. I’ve not seen this before. We never argue normally. I wonder whether to let her go and cool off or to follow her. Then I see she’s heading out to the entrance hall and I’m up in a second, after her.
And she’s gone. I stand in the hallway, I look in toward the stairs, and then run out into the front garden and look up and down the lane. It’s a narrow twitten, and it’s hard to see very far down it. She can’t have gone far – she’s got no shoes on. Hell, she’s got hardly anything on, as usual. I shout frantically up and down the lane, turning in panic circles in the middle of the path. All around are tall houses and rampant undergrowth. I can’t see anything but I am very aware that everything can see me. I look around at all the empty windows and they are like eyes, vacant yet observing, waiting. I am torn between rushing into these places and hunting for her - getting her back before they have a chance to really start on her, and staying where I am and shouting her name because I am so afraid of what they might do to me if I go in alone. I turn around and James is there, looking up and down the way. ‘I can’t see her’ I say, and I think of my beautiful girl and her soft, white body and how badly it would handle being cut and broken.
‘Will you come with me?’ I say to him.
‘Uh uh’ he says. ‘Sorry man. No way.’
I run back into the house and shout at people to come and help me find Sophie, because she’s disappeared into the dark, and I run over and turn off the music and plead with them to help. No one moves. I swivel around and look at their faces – especially the little group of guys she had been talking to only minutes before. I am close to breaking down in frantic tears. I run out again, barging into James on his way in. Then I run back in and half way up the stairs. I’m pretty sure she didn’t go that way. It’s light and there’s plenty of people up there anyway. I go back into the lounge. They’re all looking at me. I remember an episode back in Brighton like this when I had one of my minor freak-outs, everyone looking at me, embarrassed, a little fearful, somewhat pissed off. But no, it’s not like that here. They’re not embarrassed and angry, they’re scared and worried. They all know. They all know but they won’t do anything. I stand in the space that’s been made for me and they slowly turn and go back to their conversations and try to shut it out again. The music resumes quietly, respectfully.
I turn and look at James again. He shrugs. ‘Sorry man’ he says again. I walk outside again. He comes with me.
‘Just walk up and down with me will you?’ I say. ‘We don’t have to go in the houses. I don’t think I can anyway.’ I’m not proud of myself for this. Otherwise I’d do anything for her, I swear.
Another figure emerges from the house. A young lad, calls himself Liam. ‘Can I help?’ he says. A girl trails out after him.
Strength in numbers, we go up and down the lane, looking over fences, into gardens, calling her name. A couple of other people join us for a time, then Liam’s girl wants to go indoors. She's cold she says.
‘Do you think you'll be here in the morning?’ I say to him.
‘Probably’ he says, looking around. Where else would he be? His girl stands with her arms folded by the gate. She lurches toward the entrance and stumbles up the steps. Liam moves to follow but I catch his arm.
‘We can talk then’ I say.
‘Ok, I suppose...’ He heads in after her.

A cold dawn rises and there are five of us hunched on the steps by the front door, dozing or watching for movement. Someone’s brought out some cushions and blankets.
‘People disappear all the time man’ says James, trying to be comforting. It’s not.
‘Exactly’ I say, ‘that’s exactly my point. People do disappear all the time.’
‘You disappeared’ says another one I recognise from the hostel, one of the quiet girls from upstairs.
‘I didn’t’ I say defensively.
‘You did as far as we were concerned bro’ says James, and he actually sounds hurt about it. He’s got a huge mug of black coffee in his hands. I want to know where he got it from. I go in to look. They may be right about the disappearances, but then, maybe whoever these horrors are, maybe they rely on the fact that people come and go all the time here and no one pays much attention. I find the kitchen and the coffee machine and stew up a fresh batch. As I’m heading out into the hall again I see Sophie coming down the stairs followed by a dishevelled and confused looking boy, trying to work out which way his sweater goes on. I look at her, relieved and crushed at the same time. She looks guiltily at me from beneath her fringe. ‘Bye Gareth’ she mumbles as he passes disappearing out the door. ‘Nothing happened’ she says irritably to me, and slides past me into the kitchen, avoiding any sort of contact.

I tell the others not to worry about Sophie. She’s turned up, and they all give me the ‘I told you so’ look and make their goodbyes. I make another coffee and sit with Sophie in the lounge. We sit as close as we can, but it is not cosy. It is terribly cold.
‘Do you trust me?’ I say. She looks warily at me. ‘It’s not a trick question.’
She sits silently for very long time.
‘You think I’m mad don’t you’ I say.
‘Nobody’s mad here’ she says, still very cross. ‘It’s not possible to be mad, apparently’
‘Ok, gravely mistaken then.’
‘I don’t know’ she says at last, shaking her head. ‘Can we go home now?’ and I am relieved to say yes. I hunt around for her flip-flops and we get up to go. She looks so weak and sorry and I hold her all the way. At one point she makes a grab for my penis up the leg of my shorts, attempting to be playful but I can’t and she pulls away and walks on her own.
‘Now you don’t even want me any more’ she says, pretending to be a little girl sulking.
‘I’m just so tired babe’ I say.
‘It’s not possible to be tired here either, at least not physically’ she says and I know she’s just being pedantic to wind me up.
‘Ok, perhaps I'm not physically tired, but I have been up all night worrying about you.’
‘I never asked you to do that. You sound exactly like my mother.’
‘Look, I know you don’t think there’s anything to be scared of but I do, and I believe I have good reason. Can’t you at least respect that?’
‘Not if it means you thinking you can tell me what to do’she says, really angry now, striding ahead.
‘Oh look, I’m not your bloody mother. And I don’t think I’m mistaken. You can’t know what it was like, imagining your body, what they do to it. I couldn’t stand it. I was terrified for you. Ask the others. I was a mess.’
‘I heard you’ she says.
‘So why the hell didn’t you...?’
‘I didn’t feel like it. Why the hell should I?’
‘Well, because...’
I want to say ‘Because we’re together’ or ‘Because we’re in love’ or maybe ‘Because I want to spend all eternity with you’ but perhaps the truth is I’ve done it again - gone completely silly over a woman who just wants to have fun. Anyway, we walk in silence the rest of the way. She appears to take a casual interest in a flower, a cat, some wind chimes. I can’t take my mind off the argument. When we get back she goes through for a shower and I take my clothes off and lie on the bed. Now I want sex. I just want us to be together, at least physically.

She takes longer than I expect and so I go down to the kitchen to see if there’s some wine in the fridge. One of the other girls is down there and observes my de-tumescence coolly. I just don’t care any more. Half the town has seen me naked by now anyhow.
When she comes in I am sitting in a wicker chair by the window with a glass. She has her kimono on, a diaphanous purple silk thing.
‘Have I been a bad girl?’ she says in a small voice. Normally this would be the trigger for some soft and silly S&M games but today I take it as an apology. Anyway I never felt entirely comfortable with my role as authority figure (and never found it sexy to be in the submissive role). I think one has to have at least a trace of misogyny to really get off on it, and I’ve been glad to discover I don’t. I like her too much. Normally I go along with it though, and her response can be very exciting, but today I just can’t. Today I just want to... I suppose ‘make love’ is the phrase I’m looking for.
‘Come here’ I say, holding out my arms and she comes and curls up against me and I kiss the top of her head and we spend the day there, reading, watching old movies, eating fruit and eventually, carefully, tenderly, making love. It’s going to be our last time together. I think we both knew that, even as we were doing it.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Voyage VII – Redheads

Paul has been hanging around again. I think he got disillusioned with the other bunch he was hanging out with. A couple of them threw themselves over the side recently and he’s been somewhat quieter than usual ever since. He plays pool with Harvey and Trevor in the forward lounge quite often and gets to sit with us. We are usually reading, in between turns at the table. I can’t say I like him but he can be funny, in a crass sort of way. Quite often we’re laughing at him when he thinks we’re laughing at his jokes.
‘What do you call a good-looking Pakistani?’ he says for example. I don’t know.
‘As if’ he says. I look at him. ‘Assiv. Get it? It’s a Paki name. As...if.’
I observe this pale, pockmarked, rat-faced Englishman grinning at me, and I have to laugh. He doesn’t have a clue. There’s a little group of Asians tend to occupy a table near the bar not far from us. They’re all better looking than we are.
‘I’m not a racialist or anything’ he assures me.

He’s confirmed my suspicions about Fiona anyway, by way of telling me he ‘wouldn’t mind a poke’ himself. I look at him, incredulous. I hadn’t heard that expression for a while. ‘How old were you?’
‘Never you mind’ he said elbowing me in the side in faultless nudge-nudge, wink-wink style. ‘She’s definitely up for it. I bet she’s a grubby cow that one.’
I have an image of a Frisian standing in a field, chewing the cud, splattered with shit. I let it pass.
‘She’s a bit thin for me’ I say, trying to be tactful. She is a friend after all.
‘Very Patty Smith’ he says, narrowing his eyes at her. I look at him. He’s quite Patty Smith himself. I tell him they could be brother and sister and am a little disturbed by the lascivious leer that appears on his face before he realises what that implies.
‘Who do you fancy then? he says, sliding closer. I think for a while. For some stupid reason I don’t want him to think less of me. I’ve always had this weird need to impress your ‘typical bloke’ – even when I know he’s a complete jerk, like Paul. Cathy would be a safe choice but Andrea is gorgeous. I’ve never talked about her to anyone. I feel like a dirty old man even though we don’t actually look more than two or three years apart here. I decide to come clean.
‘What, the fat redhead?’ he says, clearly appalled.
‘Well. I don’t think she’s...’
‘Here, Trevor, guess what’ he calls over to them. Trevor is about to take an easy shot and puts it down hard before looking up. He leans against the table with the tip of the cue by his face. Harvey is half listening, lining up his shot. Trevor has left him in a hopeless position. ‘What?’ he says.
‘Gabe’s got the hots for the fat redhead.’ Harvey’s ball goes wildly off and he groans resignedly.
Evidently she’s been a topic of conversation before.
‘Fat?’ I mumble, lamely. ‘She isn’t...’
Trevor looks doubtful and chalks his tip. ‘If you say so’ he says and bends to the next shot.
Sod it, I think. I’m going to defend her. What the hell. Cathy and the others are listening now too. Bloody Paul and his bloody big mouth.
‘She’s boticellian’ I say ‘and that is a fabulous cleavage, you have to admit.’
Harvey nods appreciatively. ‘Oh yes’ he says with feeling. I nod back in fellowship.
‘Humungous arse to go with it though’ says Paul.
‘Oh...’ I say, affronted ‘Do you think so?’
‘Have you seen it lately?’ asks Paul.
‘Difficult to miss’ comments Harvey.
‘Not the way you’re playing’ says Trevor.
‘Well I like it’ I say. ‘She’s in proportion. She’s quite tall...’ but the conversation has moved on. I can’t believe they think she’s fat. She’s not a classic beauty I admit but she’s certainly got something. Oh who cares? This is why I don’t try to talk to men normally. Paul is talking about his taste in women and I hear him oozing on about a woman ‘with an arse like a ten year old boy’s.’ We all squirm a bit at that, but we’re used to it by now with Paul. He’s totally incorrigible. As far as I can tell he wants a woman with two (at least) enormous but not necessarily real breasts, various orifices (for the use of) and some sort of minimal frame to hang them on. He leers at Fiona, and I’m amused to see her enjoying it. Well at least that’s me off the hook where she’s concerned.

‘Redhead?’ says Cathy, distractedly a little later on.
‘What’s that love?’ says Paul, now in the middle of his game.
‘Why do men insist on categorising women by hair colour?’ she says. ‘It’s like in the paper – “Attractive blond mother of three....” or “Petite brunette, twenty two” blah blah blah.’
‘The personals do it too’ adds Fiona. ‘They always want to know if you’re a blonde.’
‘Have you done that then?’ asks Paul, smirking, ‘answered a personal ad in the paper?’
‘Online dating, you twat’ she says with a grin. ‘We all had a go, the girls from the shop.’
‘Any luck?’
‘We had a laugh.’
‘Did you meet many weirdos? Is that how come you’re here?’
‘Sicko’ she says but can’t hide her amusement. Weird.
‘Look at the porn site categories’ says Trevor unexpectedly and we all hush up. He laughs at our reaction. ‘Look. No, it’s true. It’s all done by hair colour. You go for a certain type, based on hair colour. I always go for blondes. I don’t know why.’
‘Blondes are soft and easy’ says Bryony, looking up from her book. ‘They don’t mind what you do to them whereas brunettes are sultry and mysterious and predatory.’
We all look at her with surprise and some new respect.
‘What about redheads?’ says Paul, winking at me.
‘They’re all perverts. They’ll do anything’ she says, matter-of-factly.
‘And what about me?’ says Cathy, challengingly. She has brownish hair. ‘What am I?’
Bryony shrugs. ‘I don’t make the rules.’
Harvey says ‘You’re just normal I suppose’ in a conciliatory way. Cathy does not look consoled.
‘What about black hair?’ says Fiona, grinning.
‘We’re just evil’ says Bryony ginning manically.
‘Does it matter if you’ve dyed it?’
‘Only if you have short spikey red or green hair’ I say tersely. ‘Means you’re insane...’ Nobody laughs.
‘It’s all crap of course...’ says Bryony, going back to her book.
‘How about men? How are we categorised?’ asks Harvey after we’ve had a chance to reflect. Paul stage-whispers something about penis size but Cathy simply says ‘Income’ which shuts us all up. Evidently that’s not so funny.

It frustrates me though, all this talk about women’s tits and arses. It’s all getting a little too much. I thought I’d left all this behind. It had been a relief when I started into my forties and realised I wasn’t as fit as I had been and nobody was likely to fancy me that much any more. Of course sometimes I missed that cool, sexual, wide-awake, slightly nauseas feeling I used to have, as I sensed something was in the air and my life seemed like it could so easily slip into a new and exciting direction. I’d been the perpetual teenager, perpetually waiting for my life to begin in earnest. In particular there had always been the prospect of a woman – the woman, intelligent and sexy, who would come along and take the trouble to see me as I really was and make everything complete. I never quite gave up on her.
And then one day when I was about fifty-three I realised I hadn’t had a wank in more than three months and I sat down on my step and looked at the autumn sun behind the trees on the embankment and I thought ‘Well thank God that’s all over’. What’s that quote – being a young man is like being chained to a maniac? My maniac had been in chains too, raging and thrashing pointlessly through four decades. No I wasn’t sad to see it go, my libido.
But now here he is, at it again, with no greater chance of satisfaction than before. Does she realise what she’s doing to me? Andrea I mean. I don’t think so. I can’t help feeling it’s more for her entertainment. All the other guides seem rather sex-less, buttoned all the way up the front of their smart grey tunics. Andrea seems to be almost completely unbuttoned most of the time, with that bright pink top on underneath, and the short skirt.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Journey IX – Worse than death

We spent more and more time at her place and by summer I’d all but moved in. Her room was a lot more spacious than mine, with big bright windows, a huge bed and a rich femininity. It all seemed very familiar somehow. Dusty blue glass bottles full of dried seed heads and paper flowers and peacock feathers stood in the window frames, tangled in old net curtains filtering the daylight. The threadbare and faded furniture was disguised with silk wraps and bits of tie-dyed and batiked cloth. A rail was crammed with a multi-layered array of apparel – a millefeuille of purple and turquoise and maroon and inky blue, silk, fur, leather and lace, skirts and capes and hats and stockings and god knows what else. Bent and faded shoes and boots were piled underneath, in and out of their boxes. A tangle of silver, wood and leather nik-naks lay among tiny bottles and trinkets and odds and ends of make-up on the dressing table. Everything was scented – of sandalwood and vetiver and some other scents I never tracked down. I have no idea where she got it all from, and my neat little backpack of essentials looked very humble beside it, but I thought her stuff was wonderful and just wanted to roll around naked amongst it.
A huge wooden wardrobe stood across from the foot of her bed - its full-length mirror duplicating all we got up to there. Comparing notes with the one on the dressing table I could observe us from other angles and it was only because of this that I finally realised I did not look utterly ridiculous when engaged in ‘the act’, which was something of a revelation. I'd always been somewhat self-conscious before.
And the sex was fabulous. We both had an appetite for doing it in the middle of the day wherever we happened to be. What’s more, she came quickly and easily – quicker than me more often than not, so I never felt I had to keep going and going for her sake, which, tantrism aside, I never found very sexy. One evening when Sophie had turned in early, Gina expressed some amused scepticism at this, sardonically reminding me that women fake orgasms all the time. She seemed oddly chuffed about this, as if it signified some occult power that women hold over men – to mislead us into thinking they’re having a great time when actually they’re not. (In order to avoid what? Saying something? Actually having a great time?) It seemed a bit petty to me anyway. I told her Sophie was certainly overdoing it if she was faking. Gina changed the subject.

There were two other women and another couple sharing what was quite a large old house with us, but we didn’t see much of them. There were sometimes noises coming from next door late at night but Sophie claimed not to hear them and told me she’d never seen anyone in there. One night in particular I was sure I heard a quiet sad hopeless weeping sound in the wall behind the wardrobe. Sophie slept right through it, but I couldn’t. Otherwise everything seemed very normal really. We settled into being a couple in a way undreamt of by me in life – we even had people round for dinner and found some old videos to watch. It was all very civilised - almost middle-class. We had candles and incense at night and sat out on the lawn in the day time and I picked flowers for her. The sex became more regular, but developed in subtle ways and became more satisfying. It was exactly what I had wanted more than anything, all my life.

Still, I could never totally ignore the nagging feeling that something was very wrong – not with us, but with our surroundings. I did my best to ignore the strange sounds and movements that occasionally woke me, and the fact that it felt bad to be out alone at night, but where everybody else seemed to just exist with it, I found myself getting jumpier.
One night I was certain I saw a face - no body - just a face, broad and pale with narrowed eyes, looking out of the upper windows of a house along the street. It wasn’t facing me and yet I could tell it was aware of me. I looked steadily at it for quite a while. Sophie was with me, I don’t know what she was looking at, but when I pointed it out to her the window was empty. I tried to describe it but she just looked blank or confused, as she always did when I tried to explain my concerns. It never seemed worth pursuing, but I found myself increasingly nervous at night, and even in the daytime, waiting for the next surprise. When we were out together at night I stayed close by her, and tried to be where other people were, with the lights on, and music playing. She thought it was odd, but endearing, and distracted me with even more sex and affection. For my part I treated it as something like a nightmare, to be put out of my mind as quickly as possible.

We didn’t live totally in each other’s pockets. I spent some days in my old room at the hostel and hung out, smoking and drinking, with some of the guys who still lived there. Nothing much had changed – some new faces. Ian (one of the original crowd) sometimes came with me on my walks when he felt like a breath of fresh air. It made a change. He tended to yammer on about things he’d done and people he knew and I just half listened. He liked the bits of random junk that were always about and ‘borrowed’ the various kiddie bikes and skateboards we came across, usually having a minor accident on one sooner or later which was always funny. I swear he only had accidents in order to have something to talk to girls about. Back in life he hadn’t been so funny – he’d been into booze and speed, and spent half his time in the slammer. Here he permanently had something of the same effect he’d got from the drugs without going to the trouble of having to score and talk to dealers and coppers and all the rest of it. Plus there were no horrible side effects. He was totally content, and quite entertaining into the bargain, as long as you didn’t expect to make a contribution to the conversation. Occasionally I’d ask him a question, like how had he died, and he cheerfully told me all about his blood poisoning.

One bright sunny afternoon he spots one of those ridiculous ‘90s scooters with tiny wheels in a front garden and he just has to fetch it and have a go on it although it will be useless on the cobbles.
As I loiter nervously in the garden waiting for him to finish mucking about, I glance down into the basement and there’s a boy in there, in the window, naked, gagged and strapped to a chair, looking sideways at me, and I can see where pieces of him have been sliced away and pulled out, blood everywhere. He looks at me, clearly in terrible distress, but not really expecting any help and I do nothing. I just stare. The room is brightly flourescently lit like a workshop and I can see there are other bodies around the room, alive but unable to move. Crouching down I notice with a shock that there's another figure, tall, pale and naked, standing at the far end of the room. The head is almost featureless, like a potato with holes burned in it, or a wet paper bag stuffed with black hair. The body looks like cold chicken meat. It turns toward me, holding up some sort of long metal implement. It seems a little taken-aback but not at all embarrassed or guilty about what it's been up to. It simply wasn’t expecting an audience. I can see it wants to get back to the boy in the chair, but it is interested in me. It wants me to come in and join them.
I tear my gaze away and turn to look at Ian, almost losing my balance and toppling down the basement steps in the process. I look down. There is a bulging bin bag and an old mattress on the wet green concrete below and everything is stained and putrid. The bin bag moves slightly. I steady myself on the rail. Ian looks expressionlessly at the scene in the basement. I hear a sound behind the front door above and to the right and I straighten and walk as briskly as I can out of the front gate and wait for Ian. I squat on the pavement, trying not to topple over or puke.
When he joins me he still looks as relaxed as usual but he sees my face and asks if I’m ok. I can’t say or do anything. He sits with me until I can stand, then we begin to walk. I need to get home now.
‘It’s not real’ he says after a little while. ‘It’s just a movie.’
I look at him and can’t work out why he thinks that. Then I focus straight ahead and walk, stumbling slightly over the cracks in the paving. I need to get to Sophie’s place. We need to leave.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Andrea VIII – Role-play

Andrea gives me a huge and cheeky grin as I enter the room next time, hugging my folder to her bosom.
‘You quite fancy me, don’t you?’ she says.
And I’m suddenly very flustered and splutter a bit as I sit down. This isn’t playing fair. ‘Well, I um...’ I say.
‘Ok, let’s do a little role-play. Chat me up.’ and she sits there, looking sideways at me, pouting provocatively and puffing her breasts out.
‘I can’t do this’ I say, giggling nervously.
‘Of course you can darling. Look at me. Nothing’s going to happen. I won’t let it.’
I look at her. She looks candidly back, her rich red hair flowing around her face and over her pale, almost blue-white cleavage.
‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you’ I say and she smiles evilly through her fringe.
‘Say you’re at a party,’ she says ‘and you spot me across the room. You think “Kworh!” or whatever and then what?’
‘And then nothing usually. Look, this is all a very long time ago.’
‘Think back’ she says, but I don’t need to. Since I’ve been here my whole life’s memories have been horribly fresh in my mind.
‘I wouldn’t have done anything.’
‘Why ever not?’ She pretends to be outraged. ‘Look at me for god’s sake. Check out my gorgeous hair, my luscious lips. Look at the size of my boobs for god's sake! You have to have me. Come and talk to me.’
‘It’s not as simple as that’ I say, laughing nervously.
‘Why not? Look, I’m alone. I’m over by the buffet, suggestively munching on the crudités. I’m just begging for someone to come over and say something for god’s sake. So say something. Anything.’
I look over at her for a time. I decide to turn the tables. ‘Did you actually do that? To meet men?’
‘What? Well, er... no... Of course not...’
Hah! Got her this time.
‘...sometimes, maybe. Not with the crudités. I don’t do celery.’
‘What did you think of the men you met that way?’ I say. ‘Not a very representative sampling method is it? I wonder how much this contributed to your “All men are wankers” hypothesis?’
‘I never said that’ she says, pretending to be aghast. ‘Not out loud anyway. Did I?’
‘I heard you, a few weeks ago, up on deck.’
‘Well, maybe I have a soft spot for wankers’ she says, slumping and grinning ruefully. We sit quietly for a bit. ‘I was a bit of a tart back then’ she admits. ‘But then that should have made it easier for you. I was up for it. Hello boys! Rrrr!’
‘I know, I know...’
‘So why not?’
I think about this. Several reasons jostle for position.
‘First, I’d have felt really self-conscious in front of a whole room full of onlookers. Plus, you wouldn't have been alone. You'd have had all your friends with you. Second, I know my mind would have gone completely blank and I’d have stood there like a squashed lemon. Thirdly...’ I have to think about how to explain this.
‘Well... frankly you’re fairly fabulous. I think I’d have had to assume it was a trick, or something...’ I tail off. It’s a pretty pathetic list, but it's all true. She looks at me, pondering.
‘Well, firstly, thank you’ she says quietly, bushing a little. I’m blushing too. ‘But did you actually ever seriously try to chat a girl up in your life?’
‘At school, quite a few times.’
‘Oh look, I was just such a nerd. It was embarrassing for all concerned.’
‘Who did you chat up?’
‘What? You want names?’
‘No, I mean, for example, were they the girls you really fancied, or just the girls you thought were less likely to say no?’
I nod, the memories coming back thick and fast. ‘Really fancied’ I say, somewhat wistfully.
‘So what made you give up?’
‘Well it was getting pretty humiliating by then. I think I knew deep down what they thought of me and what they’d say but I don’t think I realised until too late how ridiculous I looked, asking all the best looking girls in the class to go out with me. Nobody ever said anything. I just realised one day that everybody knew.’
‘Didn’t you ever talk to your friends about it?’
‘Not really. We didn’t really talk about stuff like that. Remember, they were even geekier than I was. And they seemed happy that way.’
‘Hmm... so when did all this begin? When do you remember first looking at the girls in that way?’
‘I don’t know really’ I say, but I do remember obsessing about Donna in Mr Philbert’s class. ‘I’d have been about nine’ I say at last.
‘Ok...’ she says as if suddenly realising something important. ‘So this all went on for quite some time.... I see. I don’t suppose you asked your dad for advice about it? No. Didn’t think so. What about your sisters? You had two older sisters, right?’
‘Amelia and Justine, yes. But no, not really. They were a lot older than me. They had a lot of other things to worry about, kids and stuff. I think I used to keep all this sex stuff fairly private. My dad was always hassling me to talk to girls at family dos. That was embarrassing in itself. I think he decided I was gay in the end. Mum would never have wanted to know.’
‘Did you talk to anybody about it? I thought young lads talked about nothing else. Don’t disappoint me on this.’
‘They do... I suppose... But it’s all for show.’
‘Oh, you know, ogling girls at the disco, making smutty comments, looking at fantasy art.’
She looks at me quizzically.
‘Sci-fi paperback covers? You must know what I’m on about. It’s all Swordsman and dragons and buxom girls with their negligees in tatters. You must know the kind of thing.’
She nods. ‘Actually I kinda liked all that stuff’ she says putting on a camp Bronx accent and squirming a little. I try to stay focussed. ‘My last boyfriend, Graham’ she adds, ‘he was a bit of a sci-fi geek - into some weird metal bands too. Of course he was a complete arse most of the time, but he had his moments.’
‘So, when were you in Africa?’ I ask, not entirely to change the subject. She goes quiet for a while.
‘Right up to the end, almost...’ she says sadly. ‘Look, I don’t want to talk about it right now. Do you mind?’
‘Not at all. Sorry’ I say and we sit and look at nothing for a while. I’ve noticed the sunlight getting stronger over the last few days and I want to ask what will happen next, after we get off the boat, but now is not the time. Our time is up for today and we get up to leave.
‘I am going to pursue this you know’ she says. ‘I have this theory that if you could just get laid when you’re about seventeen all the rest will slide into place... so to speak.’
I smile. I suspect it’s more complicated than that, but it’s got to be worth a try.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Journey VIII – Soul mates

The next few weeks were baffling but extraordinarily pleasurable. Mostly I just wanted as much sex as possible, and luckily Sophie was more than happy to oblige. We were both making up for lost time it turned out. As I looked around at this community of perpetual adolescent ennui and excess, our deliberate and intense sexuality stood in stark contrast to their absent-minded and passionless fornication. Whereas they just seemed to do it because they could and there didn’t seem to be anything better to do, we went at it with glee and gusto. I came to pity them, if this was what eternity was going to be like for them. I even felt smug.
A lot of the time I couldn’t understand why a sexy woman like Sophie would want to spend so much time with a sad old git like me. I was reassured when she told me she’d been very old when she died too (she wouldn’t tell me exactly how old) and I tried to remind myself what Andrea had said about not presuming to know what women want in a man but I couldn’t help being jealous and possessive sometimes – particularly when she insisted on chatting up absolutely everyone wherever we went and her natural manner was intimate and flirtatious. In truth, in the whole time we were together she never gave me one reason to doubt her and she accepted my insecurities as a compliment and was always reassuring. I know sometimes I was somewhat clingy and suspicious and frankly a bit of a drama queen, but in retrospect I think she must have genuinely liked me or she wouldn’t have put up with it.

‘I was married to the same man all my life’ she told me one morning. It was early that spring. We were in my room letting our coffees cool. I was sitting leaning against the window, feeling the cool glass on my skin. She had her head on my leg. ‘How boring is that?’ she added.
‘High school romance?’
‘Hardly. I went to a convent school, so no. We met at a family thing when I was about thirteen, started dating, and then as soon as we were eighteen we got married. We were big on going to church in our family.’
‘This place must seem a bit...wrong – if you believe in all that.’
‘Totally wrong. Oh everything was wrong.’ She gets up abruptly and wraps a sarong around herself. ‘Shan’t be a sec’ she says and heads along to the bathroom. When she gets back she hands me a plate with a jammy muffin on it. ‘They were doing them in the kitchen’ she says, licking her fingers. I think of her trotting along there with nothing but this thin piece of material around her – everyone eyeing her up. I feel proud and uncomfortable at the same time. Thankfully the discomfort is somehow erotic too and just makes me need to stake my claim again, which is always good.
After we’ve done that (just a quickie) I ask her about her married life.
‘Five kids would you believe...’
‘Bloody hell.’
‘Big house in Southampton – in jolly old Shirley – what a tip.’
‘Why did you stick with it? For the kids?’
‘Partly, but no, it was ok. He was good man. Not terribly bright...’
‘What did he do?’
‘Estate agent.’
‘Wow’ I say, surprised, but she thinks I’m impressed.
‘Don’t. It wasn’t me. I swear, if I ever go back my house will be a mass of random furniture and non-matching crockery and there’ll be stuff everywhere. And there will be one sweet child, and I shall dress like this...’ (She flashes her bottom.) ‘...all the time.’
‘Excellent. Where shall we meet?’
‘On the Palace Pier in Brighton. Midsummer’s day 2000, three in the afternoon.’
‘It’s a date. I’ll buy you a doughnut.’

Another day – an evening a few weeks later – we are in my room and she’s got out one of my magazines and is lying on her stomach, reading. I look at her back and wonder if Paul would have thought she was fat. Probably – she’s no stick insect. She has a very womanly belly and a nice plump bottom. I love looking at it. At the moment it’s got the pattern of the bedspread imprinted on it.
‘You’re in good shape for a mother of five’ I say, slapping her bum. It wobbles most satisfyingly.
‘Gardening’ she says and tenses and relaxes her buttocks at me a few times, making them wobble some more – tempting me to smack them again. ‘This is me just before I got married’ she adds, turning on her back, as if showing me a photograph from her family album. ‘Pretty wasn’t I?’
‘I think you’re very beautiful’ I say, stroking her belly.
‘Hmm...’ she says, smiling coyly and turning over again, but then adds, ‘I wasn’t very pretty later on.’
‘Well who ever is?’
‘Oh come of it. I bet you were quite a chiselled old dude in your later years.’
My turn to be bashful.

‘So... was he any good in bed?’ I enquire nonchalantly.
‘Why?’ she says, grinning at me. ‘Do you think I’m comparing?’
‘Of course. You know me.’
‘I don’t know... He smelt funny. I never got used to that. I don’t think he washed enough really. I don’t know, he had that soapy sweaty Old Spice smell, you know?’
‘Didn’t you say anything?’
She turns and sits up in front of me, then picks up a pillow and hugs it to herself. We’ve got some chocolates from somewhere and she reaches over to get one. I hold the box for her. She sits and chews for a while.
‘What you’ve got to understand’ she says, ‘is that I didn’t know any different. When you marry that young, you’ve just got nothing to compare it with. It’s all just the way it is.’ And she shrugs and lies back, still covering herself with the pillow. I don’t think I’ve seen her want to cover herself before. It bothers me slightly. We sit silently for some time – me wondering what to say next.
‘I’m sorry’ I say eventually, ‘I didn’t mean to pry.’
‘It’s ok, really. It’s sad more than anything. I did love him.’ and she chucks the pillow away and reaches out and pulls me to her and kisses me and we fuck ferociously again.
‘For the record, he was nowhere near as good in bed as you are’ she tells me afterwards but I can’t help feeling there’s something like regret in her voice.

Over the next few months she tells me a little more about her life.
‘I was the eldest of six would you believe.’
‘Didn’t they believe in contraception?’
She shakes her head and looks away. ‘Sex is for making babies’ she says. ‘Contraception is irrelevant. That’s what they said. I don’t know. I was home-schooled until I was eleven then they sent me to the church school. I didn’t really know anything else.’
‘Didn’t the other girls tell you anything?’
‘A bit. It was pretty shocking. They had pictures from a men’s magazine. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was a bit of an outsider to be honest.’
‘I can sympathise.’
She smiles and rolls over and lays her head on my leg. I stroke her hair away from her face. She takes a bite out of a plum and says. ‘It was pretty crazy. I went straight from looking after my brothers and sisters, straight into looking after Doug and then our kids. I never did anything else.’
‘Didn’t you want to get out, do something different, get a job, travel?’
It seems impossible to believe that she wouldn’t have, the way she is now.
‘Honestly it just didn’t seem realistic to me. I couldn’t imagine it. It’s just not the sort of thing people like us did.’
‘But you’re bright, independent...’
‘Now I am. I wasn’t then. You wouldn’t have known me back then. I failed all my exams, left school at sixteen... I don’t know.’
‘But you weren’t thick, surely?’
‘No. I just didn’t think that way. Oh look can we talk about something else?’
‘Sure. Sorry.’
‘What do you make of Gina and Aaron?’

And so it was. We left it at that, for the time being at any rate. Later I learned more, by little clues and hints. I felt she wanted to talk about it but wasn’t ready, or didn’t want to bore me, or put me off her perhaps. I have this image of her in a frock that would not have looked out of place in The Depression – grey and shapeless and with varying quantities of insulating and obscuring layers beneath, depending on the season. Her parents were not insanely religious but very old and extremely traditional – hard and judgemental and anti everything about the sixties. As with my parents, there would have been no point in making a fuss. You just had to put up with it. Sophie never went to work or took any courses but at the same time it was quite obvious that she was very well read (much more so than me.) She told me she used to go to the public library during shopping trips, hide the books under the baby’s things and then sneak them out to the allotment shed. Like me she’d gone down to the shed for her illicit pleasures, but hers were coffee and literature. The allotment was her haven. She took the children down there to play in the mud while she tended the vegetables and read her book. Doug apparently didn’t like his shoes getting dirty so never found out. He came over as being a fairly harmless but obsessive individual.
‘Couldn’t you see what you were missing?’ I asked on more than one occasion. She just shrugged.

She was good for me though. We mucked about and laughed a lot. She even laughed at my anxieties, but in a generous way, not in a cruel way and I didn’t mind. She told me I was gorgeous, and when we were alone, I almost believed her. She seemed to understand why I didn’t quite believe this could be happening to me.
‘I chose you, remember?’ she reminded me. ‘Don’t imagine I give that sort of performance every night. I knew you’d be worth it’.
I wondered sometimes how often she did ‘perform’ like that before she met me, but I sensed that it would not be a good thing to ask. She was with me, I told myself, and that’s what counted.

The spring slowly unfolds and the streets begin to wear the first tentative tendrils of their summer exuberance. The weather is still chilly but she comes with me on my explorations – usually dressed in jeans and tops like normal people but sometimes she surprises me – on one memorable occasion coming out in just a plastic mac and wellies. She loves to do it then and there, on the wet grass or bent over a wall. We’re not very discreet about it and we got caught a couple of times. But we never go into any of the houses. Sometimes I swear I see faces at the windows but I don’t let on.

We still go to quite a lot of parties too and, as I say, I spend a lot of time watching her. They’re a different sort of party to the ones I went to early on – more classy I suppose, more mature perhaps, and she wears somewhat more than she did the night we got together (underwear, for example), but there’s still a sense that she’s not really decent. I watch her being charming – everybody loves her and I can tell that when people talk to her she has a way of making them feel fascinating, and, as a result, they are. Plus they perhaps think they have a chance with her. I’m never entirely at ease at times like these, but then, from the middle of a conversation she’ll turn a little and, without directly looking at me or giving any obvious sign, she’ll let me know she is looking forward to coming over to me. Sometimes I go over and she introduces me and I join in the conversation. When they see we’re together you can see their disappointment, but it is always brief because she is just too lovely to be upset with and I feel very proud.
I ask her about the way she behaves one night in someone’s lounge. It’s been a session rather like that first time, except the lights are dimmed and nobody else in the room seems to be very awake. In retrospect our behaviour sounds appallingly decadent but we were far from being the only ones. Sometimes it seemed like no one was doing anything much else. In fact our monogamy came to be seen as rather sweet and old-fashioned.

She is still straddling my lap – I am softening inside her and, as usual, sitting in a puddle. She has no top on at all and her neat breasts catch the green light from the stereo. I ask her how she comes to be such an exhibitionist after such a blameless God-fearing life like hers.
‘Well, I just don’t have anything to worry about here do I? I mean – I can’t get pregnant. I can’t get AIDS. I can’t die of pneumonia from not wearing enough’ she adds with a wicked grin. ‘It’s just such a release. You weren’t married were you?’
She nods ‘I don’t blame you’ she says, pulling a shawl over her shoulders. ‘Oh don’t get me wrong’ she adds. ‘I’m glad I did it – got married I mean. I wouldn’t appreciate this half as much if I hadn’t, but I wouldn’t do it again. Been there, done that’ she says, and gets up to rearrange her skirt. She goes and gets us a drink to share, still topless, and then we snuggle down for the night on a huge cushion and covered in other people’s coats and things.
She tells me that her behaviour probably has something to do with the frustrations of sleeping with no one but the same boyish control freak all that time.
Later on I did get around to telling her that my single status had not been a matter of choice and that led on to me telling her a lot of other dreary crap about my life. I knew it was a risk but I wanted to be honest with her as much as possible. I was afraid perhaps her idea of me would be diminished by knowing about my failures but she just hugged me and kissed me and told me how impressed she was with how far I’d come since then and how great I was going to be next time around.

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.