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.

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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.