Authors: Levy, J.
‘Get the fuck away from me you sick bastard.’ Devon venomously spat thick, dank sperm onto the drenched and withered sheet. It landed in a foul discarded patch, resembling a huge decaying ball of snot.
The man’s heavy belly trembled as he heaved his weight up onto one dry, scaly elbow. Eyes glazed over with a rheumy, iridescent film and too much Modelo beer in his gut, he shoved his hairy fist down towards his weeping crotch and rubbed his globule of a fading penis.
‘What? What happened?’ Frantically, questioningly, he was scratching at himself with one hand, the other tied to the bedpost with a long black leather shoelace.
Devon was up, eager to get away, hurriedly climbing into her black combats, black vintage McQueen tee, very black Dolce boots. She crouched down, swiftly tying her long leather laces, her short black bob shining paradoxically in the grim surroundings.
‘Shut up you fat fucking sloth,’ her voice bitter, calm.
He pulled the sheet over his groin, squinting at her with the look of a confused dog. She stopped for a moment, looking down at him.
‘You’re pathetic, cheap and an easy lay.’ She spat the words at him, spitting on him. He lay there, wishing he weren’t. She added the final insult, amber eyes ablaze. ‘You taste like a fucking cow shed and I despise anything in my mouth that once drew breath.’ She flicked at her shoulders, as if swatting away something imaginary but vile. Then she was gone.
The sun was setting over Montana Avenue. Wooden houses with aching, broken porches basked in the last rays of the day. Clamoring for every moment of peace. Tree shadows, like long willowy models, stretched their anorexic limbs across the streets. On the main drag from 17th to 10th, stores were closing for the remainder of the day. Pseudo country-style stores. Stores selling dried, haggard roses. Silk, knitted throws. Painted wooden window boxes, with bits of ivy and broken mirror stuck to them. Scrubbed, scratched pine tables, with a single, sought after, drawer at one end. Stores, trying desperately to appear French or Italian, happy enough to be on a long, clean avenue near a Californian beach. Just not content. For this was no Europe.
A black Lexus 4 x 4 turned right onto 15th from Montana and eased into a vacant spot beneath the splayed branches of a sun-weary tree. Further west, the worn out sun traveled deeper into the horizon. A splatter of dappled sunlight surrounded the truck. As the door opened, long black-clad legs stepped into the road, followed by the rest of a lean, easy body. A short black wig and a wad of cash lay strewn on the back seat, half-hidden through the darkened windows. Leaning on the hood of the car, Devon lifted her small delicate face to the last rays of sun. Freckles on her nose, hints of gold dust. Up close she looked like a kid. Forty-two years old. Tiny tits. Body like that of a pre-pubescent boy. Great gene pool. Her long, damp hair, as black as Benedict Canyon in the dead of night, lay carelessly across her shoulders. Opening her eyes slightly, looking up into the sky, pupils almost indistinguishable in the bright light, her eyes gleamed like swollen topaz. She moved away from the truck, stepping quickly up the path and slipped into the porch, its pale, worn wooden door, at one with its earthy surroundings.
Devon Cage’s house. Small, one story, east side of the street. Her home. Alone. Her choice. Inside, Devon slipped a cold CD into the Bang & Olufsen, allowing Vivaldi to spill from the over-sized speakers. Suddenly surrounded by melodic strains of Four Seasons, she bent down in the middle of the living room, pulled off her boots, kicked them to one side and moved across the floor to the bathroom. Locking the door behind her with a silver key, she let the shower loose, a deep green mosaic haven, flecks of gold glinting amongst the forest of tiny emerald tiles with a huge rain shower head and shiny steam jets, half hidden in the curve of the wall. Steam encased the bathroom. Tearing off her clothes, she climbed into the shower and sat down on a desperately dark green marble ledge. Water tearing across her skin, steam enveloping her pores, she scrubbed at her skin with a fresh bar of Molten Brown exfoliating soap, lingering there until her skin began to crinkle and only then did she feel as if she were properly, if temporarily, clean, the burning water having eradicated the stench of her previous encounter, thoughts of which were pounding inside her head. She tried desperately to eradicate them from hermind, but still they came, venomously dragging her back to the past…..
Later, as the sun was wrapped snugly inside the night sky, Devon, wearing a white Hanro Tee and white cotton boxers, lay on her Persian rug, writing on a white legal pad,. The telephone rang and she snatched it from its cradle.
‘Devon, I’ve been trying you for hours, where were you?’
‘Who is this?’ She asked, even though she knew.
‘It’s me, Manny, who else?’
‘You could be any one of a number of people Manny.’
‘You know my voice by now!’
‘I think you do.’
‘Come on honey, quit screwing around!’
‘Never,’ Devon let out a deep throaty laugh, ‘and don’t call me honey.’
Manny grew more exasperated, ‘what are you doing?’
‘I want to see you.’
‘Not now, not this second, I know you’re in the middle of your book tour. How’s the weekend, maybe Saturday?’
‘Can’t commit to a weekend night yet honey?’
‘Don’t refer to me as food, I don’t like it,’ her voice had dropped to a whisper.
He hesitated. Hesitated again. ‘OK. Saturday?’
‘Not this Saturday.’ She dropped the telephone back on its cradle, switched off her iphone and Blackberry, threw down her notebook and went into the bedroom.
A faint glow warmed the room from three small cobalt blue slabs of glass with tiny lights embedded in the wall. She had never liked sleeping in complete darkness. Her bed. All white. Solid wooden headboard. A mattress, handmade in London, courtesy of Harrods, embedded with cashmere. Thick white creased cotton sheets. Marshmallow white duvet. A fan trembled, blowing white satin ribbons along its tiny gust. She slipped beneath the heavy counterpane. Closed her eyes. Slept. Sweet, innocent sleep. The only place where she could safely hide from herself.
Manny pulled up outside Devon’s house. His strong, rangy physique climbed out of his SL. Six litre. Black black. He ran his hand slowly along its gleaming body, stopping briefly to tend to a nondescript graze above the front right fender. Manny loved his cars, the SL being only one of a luxury range he awarded himself annually. They meant so much to him, gave him the pride and confidence to go anywhere. He walked towards the door, pressed the bell and listened to the soft chimes from within. He smiled. Confident. After all, he was a self-assured man of the world. He waited. No answer. Again, he pressed the bell, a slight shiver strolled through his body and he pulled his pale blue cotton Ralph Lauren collar up towards his ears. His nose and upper cheekbones were covered with a soft sprinkling of pale brown freckles, like a twelve year old who had been kissed by the sun, softening his features, almost at odds with large ears, one of which was almost at right angles to his head, but somehow almost completely concealed beneath his hair. Well, not really his hair, but cleverly woven-on locks, carefully French-knotted one hair at a time into a very thin membrane-like polyurethane base. It weighed next to nothing, cost him a fortune and was so worth it. He had thought of getting his ears pinned back, or rather, ear. Maybe one day. He hated pain. Meanwhile, every eight weeks he had the hair re-bonded. It looked so natural, he knew he had nothing to worry about. But he never let a woman put her arms around his neck or attempt to run her fingers through his hair, even though he probably could, his borderline obsession getting the better of him. He was careful about that. Manny was a careful man.
He pressed the doorbell again and again, there was no answer. He stepped back onto the earth, between the florid California poppies and peered through the window. Darkness. Walking back to his car, he tore a poppy from the ground with his handmade John Lobb shoe. ‘Shit!’ he hissed in the dark. It was unlike him to be careless. He spat on his finger and wiped the earth off of his beloved shoe, spat on his finger again and glanced back at the small, still house. Disappointed, he got into his car, reversed back into the road and slowly drove away.
Inside the car, Manny punched memory three into his cell. After two rings, an answer machine picked up. ‘Leave a message.’ Beep. ‘Devon, I just went to your place. Why wouldn’t you answer? I want to see you, I can’t wait until the weekend, call me, 555-6297. Bye. 310 area code. Um, it’s Manny.’ He ended the call with an embarrassed sigh. The confidence was crumbling. Luckily, he had a couple of back up plans.
Inside her house, tightly wrapped like a papoose inside the sanctity of her bed, Devon, oblivious to the world, slept on.
Morning seeped through the white wooden shutters, slanting into the bedroom. Opening her eyes, squinting into the rays of the sun, Devon felt between her legs. ‘Shit, another wet dream,’ she sighed. Swiftly swinging her long legs out of the bed she headed for the shower, not attempting for a moment to embrace that side of herself.
Century City Mall.Inside another Westfield resurrection, one of the movie theatre screens was packed to capacity to hold a book signing, filled to the brim with loyal readers and fans. A display adorned the entrance, with Devon’s bestseller staged as if it were a stairway disappearing into a cloud. A small table had been set up in front of the screen, with two books and two cans of Coca-Cola. Regular Coke. No Diet, Non-Caff, Zero or otherwise. People filled the seats. Others took to the floor. A short, shriveled man wearing a large red bow-tie stood beside the table, smiling nervously, every so often scratching and picking at a small crust behind his right ear. He couldn’t wait to get to a mirror to see what it was and as soon as he was able, he would race to the men’s room and use the tiny dentist’s mirror he carried everywhere to see the exact position of the unidentified crust, the thought of which was making him almost tremble with anticipation. Meanwhile he had to content himself with an occasional, surreptitious pick. He spoke in a voice that matched his tight, strained physicality perfectly.
‘It is our great pleasure to present to you, a fabulous new author, one whose work is soaring to the top of the bestseller lists, please welcome Ms. Devon Cage, who will read passages to us from her bestselling novel entitled, ‘Overthrown and Underdone’. He smiled broadly, his thin lips grasping the edges of little white teeth and held the chair out for Devon. The crowd clapped. Devon, looking as lazy and carefree as a melting ice-cream in a buttery silk sheath, sat down, smiling at the crowd.
‘I’m thrilled to be here today,’ her voice was husky, sounding as if she had just awoken from an erotic dream. ‘As you may know, I’ve been traveling across the States, promoting my book, and, it really feels good to be back in Los Angeles, my chosen home town.’ She smiled. Dazzled. Three young men in suits, just out of college, in the gestation period of fledging careers, had stopped by to check on movie times and pick up cycling magazines from the news stand. They stopped dead in their tracks when they heard Devon’s voice and were already in love.
Her voice mesmerizing. Slow. Deliberate.
‘I cried in the rainforest. The rain fell, and I was wet, from my tears and from the sky. And the sky was crying with me, shedding tears for the loss of the gardens of her world...’
Ten minutes later, an assorted, entranced crowd lined up for Devon to sign their own copies of her book. Anything that even vaguely resembled literacy or culture was a sure thing in the town of fallen angels.
‘I loved your reading Ms. Cage.’
‘Keep on writing Devon!’ chimed a small thin man dressed in a beige linen suit with a red rose in his buttonhole.
‘We can’t wait to read it!’ cried fuzzy-haired identical twins in unison. Obviously.
‘Could you please sign this to Melissa?’
‘I’m coming back to this very theatre to catch the very first screening!’ chortled an overly enthusiastic fan in an orange flowered muumuu.
‘My son will be sorry he missed this, sign it to Dwayne!’
‘I loved your reading, I’ll love your book.’
‘Thank you, Ms. Cage, you are awesome!’
‘Keep up the words!’
Devon looked up. Amber eyes locked with brown.
‘Adrian,’ she whispered.
Careful Manny Kofsberg sat at his desk by the window of his office on the fifteenth story of a glass and granite structure in Century City. His secretary buzzed through, her voice resembling a throttled cat, howling through the speaker phone.
‘Mr. Arthur on two!’
‘I’ll call him back.’
‘Right you are!’
Manny hated his secretary. He thought she was an annoying stupid bitch. He began to tug on the front of his woven masterpiece, then stopped himself and instead gazed through the window, watching a coating of yellow smog that had insidiously settled over the Pacific. It was great to be this high and have a view of the ocean. Then again, viewing the ocean from a high-rise in Los Angeles was a rarity, due to the smog distorting all in its gloomy, sallow path.
The three monitors on his desk flickered and hummed, almost groveling for attention, the markets changing every second, prices dropping, buyers bidding, New York in full throttle, London closing, Tokyo sleeping. Viewing the world in hazy saturation, Manny gazed on. The phone buzzed.
‘Mrs Moon on one, are you in or out?’
‘Right you are!’
Manny grabbed the phone and punched three on the memory bank. After two rings followed by a beep, he heard Devon’s voice: ‘Leave a message.’ Manny softly replaced the receiver as he looked out of the window at the bridge that lifted people over Avenue of the Stars. He counted five people on the bridge, two walking to the Westfield mall, three returning to their offices. Where did they have lunch? Food court? Salad bar at the market? Chicken, salad, blue cheese or ranch? Did they buy anything, maybe something special, something for a date? Did they look forward to going back to the office, or did they dread it? And most importantly, he thought, who cared? Who the fuck gave a fucking shit? He smashed a button on the phone.
‘Yes sir?’ howled the secretary.
‘Get Arthur on the phone!’ he barked, a pit bull to her pussy.
‘Right you are!’
Manny sighed as he waited for the call to connect. He really hated his secretary. He wondered what it would be like to fuck her. She would probably squeal out, ‘right you are!’ as she came.
‘Mr. Arthur on two, sir!’
Manny furiously jabbed the flashing green button on his phone.
‘Mr. Arthur, Manny Kofsberg here, sorry to have kept you, now about the Davenport stock, it’s still a tad weak but looking promising...’
Minutes later, having wrestled the doubts from Mr Arthur’s mind, Manny turned towards his desk, forcing himself to get on with business. If he had carried on watching the bridge below, he would have seen two more figures. A man and a woman. Of course, from this height he would not have been able to identify them. Devon. Adrian.
Meringue Pavlova was not her real name. The carefully chosen moniker was the name on her SEG, SAG and AFTRA union cards. It was the name she had PKA-ed onto her passport and in her kitten covered check book; the name on her driving license; social security card; library card; Blockbuster card; spa card; gym card. She thought her name sounded scrumptious and she wanted to sound like something everybody wanted to devour. Meringue cared about that, for she liked people to like her. She suffered from the If-You-Like-Me-I’ll-Like-You-Back syndrome. If anybody gave her the slightest compliment, she would be an instant loyal friend. She was tall, pretty and very white. She was also a meat-eater, a lifelong carnivore, a habit which she tried desperately to hide. She did not think that it went along with the image she was trying to cultivate, that of a fresh, healthy, all- American girl. Meringue had come to Los Angeles from a small town tucked away in a north-eastern corner of Florida. She had swapped palm trees for palm trees, sand for sand, an ocean for an ocean and had now been in Los Angeles for seventeen years. Through a variety of different but equally incompetent agents, she had worked on three guest spots on episodic TV (one as a dead bimbo and two under-fives), three commercials (none of which went national), a couple of good, but forgettable scenes in a would-be feature, that ended up on the cutting room floor but went straight to DVD anyway, and a three week stint in a play, in a so far off off Santa Monica theatre that it was practically in another state, she was still there. Still struggling. Still trying to get a ‘really good, really powerful’ agent. Still trying to perfect the perfect 8’ x 10’ head shot, the one that would catch the eye of a casting director instead of ending up lining the trash. It was hard, being rejected constantly and despite lashings of daily moisturising, you had to have the skin of a rhino to survive in Los Angeles. Even her infrequent forays into therapy had failed to prepare her for this constant mind beating, for
handling constant rejection was something in which Meringue had had way too much practice, something in which she had almost strangely begun to relish, trying to use it to her advantage. If ever she landed a part that called for ‘a pretty, white, tall girl who had spent years suffering from rejection’ she probably wouldn’t even have to research her character. She would be able to just slip right into the role, just like that, just like an oyster slipping easily down your throat. If you liked oysters. Which Meringue did not. She thought they looked as if someone with a really bad cold had sneezed into a shell. Boogers on the half-shell. Yum. But she kept that thought to herself, not wanting to make anybody feel uncomfortable. She could not afford to offend anyone in this town, for who knew if someone knew someone with clout. Everybody knew somebody who might know somebody powerful. So she kept her oyster musings and carnivorous dark side to herself.
Meringue dated men. She dated almost any man that asked her. So she dated a lot. She had lots of first dates, but refused to let anything interfere with her self-maintenance schedule. Gym, facial, Brazilians, Restylane in the lips, occasional bouts of liposuction, Botox, highlights, root definition, augmentation, jazz classes, Jujitsu (a girl must learn how to defend herself), Pilates (fashionable but incredibly boring and she already spent way too much time on her back). She had little jobs on the side. Working part time in a variety of trendy boutiques on Melrose. Waitressing in a beachside pizzeria, (unusual pizzas; sushi, matzo ball, chicken fried duck). She was also on the books of an agency that gave her appointments to accompany business men from out of town to dinner. Well, she thought that these men might be lonely in a strange town and again, you never knew who you might meet or who he would know. Although she had no control over casting herself in roles (good, meaty roles, character roles, roles for a serious actress), she was in control in the way she spent her own time: dressing, washing, eating, dating, she even had control over her bathroom habits, thanks to psyllium husks, colon cleanse and spirulina/aloe vera cocktails. There was only one thing over which Meringue had no control and as much as she tried there wasn’t anything she could do about it. Meringue was in love, deeply in love with a wonderful man, and whenever he wanted her, wherever he wanted her, she would be there for him. Because she loved him. How she adored Manny Kofsberg.
Devon and Adrian
The Park Hyatt sat on its perch on Avenue of the Stars, hanging over the violently busy Olympic Boulevard. Olympic was not so much of a treacherous route anymore, not since the torn up 10 freeway had been repaired from the destruction of the 7.8 back in ’94. Golden in the sunlight, amber in the shadows, the hotel awaited its guests, visitors, prey. For it was so easy to be seduced by its decadent shades and hues. Fox, the famous studio neighbor, was the only real ‘city’ in Los Angeles. Made up of giant boards with made to measure towns, murals and painted streets, shells of buildings, painted perspective, fronts. All front, all faux, Shallow Town.
Devon and Adrian entered the marble-clad, rug-clad, orchid-clad lobby of the Park Hyatt. Out of the heat of the sun, the light was easy on their eyes, the air cool on their flushed skin. Adrian headed to the reception desk. Devon stayed beside the gargantuan royal blue and lemon yellow ceramic tub of blooms posing unselfconsciously in the centre of the lobby. There was no place for self consciousness in Los Angeles. Devon momentarily lost herself in the sweet color and vision of the orchids. Gazing into the heart, into the most intimate place of an orchid, she understood why this particular flower had no fragrance; it was almost too beautiful, too sculptured, too incredible a vision to have any room left for scent. But she could hear its passion, heartbeat, it’s very breath.
Adrian’s hand lightly brushed her shoulder. She reached up and grabbed his forearm, taut, golden hairs spun menacingly across the protruding veins. Her heart began to pound as they headed for the elevator which damply spat them out onto the fourth floor.
Inside the room, taupe walls and gauzy curtains in shades of creamy coffee, shadows played across the silken walls. This was a pseudo-virginal room, a fresh experience to the people who entered. New to Adrian. He placed the signed copy of her book inside the bedside table next to the bible, took her bag, a stiff, chocolate Hermés envelope and placed it on the beige and taupe striped chenille chair. He moved to her, creating a circle around her throat with his hands, pulling her body gently towards him, inches apart, their breath combining, each feeling the heat from the other.
Beads of perspiration had formed along her upper lip, like a row of auditioning chorus girls, each one anxious to be chosen from the line-up. One was selected, the victor, leaving the others behind, slowly melting its eager, winning way across her flushed lips. Adrian bent his head, licking it away, ruining its success. He sucked on her mouth, her tongue fighting its way inside of him. She won, and they were lost inside their sweet, wet, blended breath.
Devon eased out of their embrace.
Smiling slyly, she whispered, ‘that was all very romantic and sweet but can we get real now?’
Adrian looked deep into her eyes, a quizzical furrow spanning a miniscule moment in time, swiftly flew from his brow. Their history was unspoken. Words of no necessity. Just the knowledge. A secret. Lodged deep within them.
Meringue and Manny
Seven o’clock. Friday night. Everybody had left the office to escape work on the week-end. Except the cleaners. Except the odd, unable-to-flee-work victim. Except Manny Kofsberg. A navy and gold-braided Uniform sat at his polished desk in the vast, gray marble lobby. In the dim light, the only visible movements were the twitching of the Uniform’s baggy nose and the slow hands of the oversize steel wall clock. One of the exterior large glass doors opened and Meringue Pavlova tripped inside, teetering across the marble floor in her pseudo Louboutins, soles she had painstakingly painted with long lasting Sephora red, hoping nobody would ever find out that her soles had no Louboutin soul.
‘Hi! How are you tonight? I’m going up to fifteen,’ she trilled to the Uniform. Meringue was pleasant to all, due to her monotonous ‘you never knew who was related to whom in this town’ mantra. Doorman on a Monday and the Next Big Thing by the end of the week.
‘He’s expecting you Miss, third bank of elevators on the right.’ The Uniform, nose twitching, nodded towards the elevator. She knew the way, having made this journey so many times before and the Doorman knew she knew, but they kept the formalities. She headed to the fifteenth floor, leaving the Uniform twitching in the dimming light.
Inside the elevator Meringue plumped her hair, (an array of silvery-blonde highlights) hauled up her cleavage, (she’d paid through the nose for it, inserted through her new shell-like belly button by the fabulous Dr. Rey, so she presented it in all its pink-skinned, luminescent glory at every opportunity), carefully re-glossed her pouting mouth with a Lancome juicy tube.
Manny lounged in his leather chair and unzipped his pants. A soft chair, almost an armchair, so over-sized it practically resembled a small bed. His feet, encased in another handmade production by John Lobb, were thrown carelessly across his desk. Lights out. Meringue entered, smiling at Manny, her handsome boy.
‘Babycakes!’ She squeaked rapturously, dropping to her knees to crawl beneath his desk. He lowered his feet to the floor.
‘Hello darling, you look divine.’ He barely looked at her and made no move. She did.
‘Cakes...’ she murmured, and went to him, kneeling in front of his chair and unzipping his pants. He stroked the top of her head. She purred, turning feline. Suddenly the woman had become a cat. He thought of feeding her a tin of tabby’s best and sending her home with a box of Scoop Away. Ugly thought. Wipe it from his mind.
He watched her at work, his eyes glazing over. Her head was bouncing back and forth, her blonde hair shuddering with every gentle jolt. He suddenly had a strange urge to laugh, but managed to stifle it.
‘You’re beautiful,’ the words fell without meaning from his experienced mouth. She purred some more, wriggled. Then his mind left the room, entering a momentary Utopia, as she swallowed him, sucking him dry.
‘So beautiful...’ he groaned, ‘Oh Dev…devil,’ catching his error before completion. Why was Devon foremost on his mind, even in the middle of a supreme blow job?
‘As long as you think so Cakesy,’ purred Meringue through her moistened mouth.
Silence. She, purring and stroking in the quiet. He, feeling the palpable shift from orgasmic to discomfort. Then...
‘Are we going out babycakes, you said we might go for Chinese food…?’ She whispered, barely audible.
‘No, of course not,’ he snapped. Subject closed and she was ushered out. They had never been on a proper date. And still Meringue waited patiently, hoping for the day when Manny would become her real boyfriend.
Devon and Adrian
The corrugated iron was pounding, breathing hard and fast beneath a slumping, slippery silver moon as Devon and Adrian slipped up the back staircase of the House of Blues. Beyond men in black, radios in hand, tiny microphones barely concealed in their ear, a short distance from their defensive tongues.
The Foundation Room beckoned, swathed in silk, red and orange flames of fabric draped menacingly, decadently, across the private room high above the city lights. Devon and Adrian loved playing this game, as if they were a real couple, just out on the town, nobody in the world but them knowing their real story.
Devon flopped down onto an enormous silken sofa that lounged smugly in an adjacent tiny room at the top of a few steps. Even more private. Just how she liked it. Sometimes. Adrian moved beside her and ran his long finger gently down her cheek ‘Stunning,’ he murmured. Tucking her long legs beneath her, she bit her bottom lip and whispered, ‘You Adrian, are as sensational as ever.’ He blushed slightly, the pink haze of his cheeks barely showing through his tanned skin. They gazed into each other, briefly traveling, silently searching through the longevity of their relationship.
A grinning waitress slyly mounted the steps.
‘Drinks?’ Adrian looked at Devon.
She smiled at the waitress. ‘Pellegrino, thanks.’
Over to Adrian. ‘Make that three.’
The waitress nodded through her static grin and too wide eyes, Botoxed up to the hilt and backed down the steps.
Adrian leaned back, legs apart, pushing up the linen sleeves of his Armani jacket. Devon put her hand softly between his legs. ‘Tell me what you’ve been doing since last time,’ moaned Adrian. She shook her head, removed her hand from the sharp right curve of his penis and gazed at him. Adrian shifted his weight. He was hard and uncomfortable. He studied her and stated rhetorically, ‘You really look amazing, you know.’
‘Men are so obvious,’ sighed Devon, rubbing the white, sun-free flesh of her throat, ‘We girls are so much more secretive with our body design.’ They gazed at each other without speaking, suspended in a different time. Her tongue began to feel its way along the corner of her lips. ‘You can’t tell just by looking at a woman if she is excited, can you?’
Adrian reached to her and with one hand, looking at her with genuine familiarity, and pulled her onto his lap. No resistance. He smiled slowly at her, so close that they were sharing molecules.
‘We have no clue,’ he smiled, lazily.
A throaty laugh erupted from her throat. ‘I know.’
‘Do you Devon?’
She nodded. Confident.
He ran his hand along the seam of her sheer black pants, felt the tiny string of her underwear as it barely nudged against her flesh.
‘No way of knowing?’
She shook her head. A snake-like curl looped itself onto an eyelash. He gently swept it aside, kissing her eyebrow. Looked into her eyes. Into her. Gently pushed her aside, back onto her space on the couch. This was a game they played. Over and over. Never tiring. Always new. Even if tainted. Slightly.
‘No way of knowing?’ Again he asked, again she shook her head. He looked down at his thigh. She followed his gaze. Beige linen pants, and a small wet patch near the top of his leg. He wiped it with his finger. Stuck it in his mouth. Licked his lips and suggested, ‘Yours I believe?’
In the early hours, with midnight almost a hazy memory, when an array of stars were looping themselves around the moon, each fighting for recognition in Hollywood, barely visible in the blacked out smog, Adrian followed Devon’s car home in a taxi. As she pulled her car to the kerb and stepped out he was already beside her. Their hearts were beating so hard they could feel each other through their clothes. She grew hot, hating their goodbyes. They clung to each other.
‘My flight leaves in less than an hour,’ he said, moving his lips across her face, tracing the contours in the dark. She looked up at him, their moist eyes locking in the moonlight. There was no need for words, but their history was such that they knew each other’s thoughts. He breathed into her mouth and she inhaled deeply. Then he moved slowly away, into the waiting taxi.
And was gone.
‘Um, what I really wanted, all I ever wanted, I guess, was to have a partner, in everything, someone on my side. I never had that until I met my wife. My ex-wife. I never got the girl. Never even had a girlfriend in college. Not for the entire two years of my Masters. I was totally alone. And I never needed to talk about it. Aloud. Like this. Not until my girlfriend, my current, well, previous one, dumped me. My ex-girlfriend. I hate saying that. I thought I was totally in love with her, umm, I told her. I knew she felt the same way, um, I mean I thought she did. She never said. But I thought I could tell from the look in her eyes. Looking back, I don’t think that was the look at all. I think it was pity or something. I guess maybe I thought too many things. If she had loved me back, I wouldn’t be here now, talking to you. I’m a clever guy, right? And I have a handsome face, don’t I? I look great in photos, I’m totally photogenic. But she said my features got lost in my face somehow, you know, when I gained the weight. See, so then I took off the weight. For her. Fifty pounds of the hard earned stuff. And then I got her back! She dug me then, when I was thinner! Then I started to gain it back and she hated me again. I actually thought that she was wrong to not want me despite of my weight. I’m still the same guy, right? Just a little heavier. Well, a lot heavier. I used to think that too, right at the start. But there was nothing else to do except lose the weight if I wanted to get physical, because the way it was back then, every time I used to try and get near her she used to back off. She went on at me about being heavy, that she liked me but she hated me being big, you know. Fat. Fat! I’ve said it. I hate saying that. But I was always truthful with her. I told her exactly how I felt. And I kept on telling her the truth. After I lost the weight we got close and started an intimate relationship, but I had to tell her that she didn’t do much of anything during sex. Wouldn’t you think a woman would appreciate that kind of honesty and want to change maybe? But after I said that she did even less. In fact she barely went near me again. I thought that was so wrong. I was in total shock. Turns out, and I find it hard to say this and even harder to understand it, but it turns out that she thought I was pathetic in bed which is why I didn’t get a reaction. She said that when I got on top of her my stomach kind of swirled around her, pinning her down and she couldn’t move. Can you believe this woman? I don’t know. I don’t get women. I mean, I just don’t get them, you know? What do they mean? What do they even mean when they say stuff like that? She said I made her uncomfortable. Like she was a performing seal or something! Can you believe her? Anyhow, she dumped me. I was getting fat again. Apparently. And she didn’t like it. That’s not how she put it though. She said she hated me not being in control of myself. I love to eat. I have to eat. You’ve got to eat to live, right? Plenty. I tried that Atkins diet anyway. I ate as much bacon and eggs and sausage as I could get in my face and I lost the weight. I lost near on sixty pounds! Then she said that I always smelt of the greasy spoon where I ate. So I bought a new coat. Then she told me I smelt bad.My ex-wife never said that about me. Maybe she had just gotten used to it. I’ve read stuff about this since. If you wear a sweater and put it back in the closet and then wear it again and get all sweaty, the old bacteria starts to liven up and that’s when you smell bad. So it’s not really my fault is it? It’s just science. Or chemistry. Or whatever. Biology is not my thing. I only know the law.’
‘My overwhelming desire for my whole life was to meet my soul mate. I had a special thing when I was a kid in school with one of my mates, but those things, they just happen while you’re growing up, right? It’s not like when you’re an adult and that was really when I knew. When I first saw her I knew she was it. From the first moment our eyes met. It was in an elevator in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was morning and I was inside coming down from the fourth floor, never mind the reason, and she walked in on the second. She was smiling. Some secret little half-smile. That was it for me, I was like jelly, or jello, whatever you want to call it. I think I always knew that she was too good for me, but the thing I have always excelled at is charm. I really can charm anyone. It’s what I do best. But with her, I just felt so completely given to her, right from the start that I knew of no other way. I totally surrendered to her. I felt as if we would be together. Always. In ten, twenty, thirty, sixty years from now. I wanted to take care of her and love her and cherish her. I handmade her earrings out of bits of old tin and junk. That was how strongly I felt. Going out to buy something wasn’t enough, that’s how much she meant to me. You need to know that at this stage we were merely friends. But I loved her. I always loved her. From the first moment. I told her too. That nobody could ever have what we had. I told her that from the second day we met. She only wanted friendship back then. That was OK. I knew she’d come around eventually. When a few more guys had hurt her or ditched her or she’d just get bored, I’d be there, waiting, and she’d cry on my shoulder. I used to break out in spots, you know, zits. Huge great red ones filled with yellow pus. All over my back. Just from thinking about her. My roommate, Paul, used to squeeze them out for me. She didn’t know they were there, she hated things like that and anyway, I don’t like people behind me anymore. She was my ecstasy. Sex was out of the question then. Of course. I could not perform easily. I never could with women. I think it had something to do with my music teacher. I was fifteen when he started giving piano lessons. He’s the one that taught me all about muscle memory. In my fingers. Supposedly. Should I carry on? Cool. He was proper English and had this amazing kind of stiff, prickly accent, not like the way we spoke back then. That was even different from the way I speak now, but I’ve been here so long my accent is hashed. Anyway, my music teacher, he used to invite me up to his rooms at school. My mate too, Ned. We were boarders for a while. My mother sent me to boarding school, briefly, after the whole farmer thing, before I was fostered. Anyway, my music teacher was the one that taught me what to call my thing. I never knew what to call it before, Fred never told me that. My father died before he could tell me and my mother never referred to it. Not once. Not ever. When I first became aware of peeing I was in total shock. I thought I had a leak and would crumple up on the floor and die. But my mother refused to discuss. She would say she had a headache and disappear to her room for hours, sometimes days or at least until I fell asleep. I couldn’t ask anyone else, it was too embarrassing. Not until the farmer who just called it his special friend, but that’s for another time. So, back to my music teacher. He told me, Ned too come to think of it, to call our things down there, our ‘bag of sweets’. Ha! So I did and I felt so good that finally it had a name. And then he asked me to show him my bag of sweets. So I did, you know it wasn’t like I hadn’t done it before, Ned and I had seen each other’s loads of times and I was so grateful to the music teacher for naming it. And he made this huge game out of which sweet to have next, and stuff happened, some of the same that happened with Fred and I think that’s also what ruined my physicality with women. But with her, the woman of my dreams, I thought that my emotional love was so strong it would overcome all the physical stuff. It didn’t. She tried so hard too. When I think of all the excuses I used to dredge up. I tried everything I could think of to hold on to her. I even feigned a heart attack thinking it might make her love me more, if she had to care for me. I worked myself into a frenzy trying to make the sweat come and begged her to take me to the hospital. She sat with me all night in the emergency room. I knew when she wandered off in search of the cubicle where Frank Sinatra died, that she had finally had enough. I was wired up to some fucking machine with pads stuck all over me and bits of chest hair shaved off and she was busy asking the staff about Sinatra and where was the room where he died? Fuck! What kind of a woman does that? The staff are busy, they’re supposed to be looking after sick people, not giving guided tours of who died where! I remember breaking out in a hot, icy cold sweat. Real sweat. That’s when the ER nurse thought that maybe there was something wrong with me. I think I very nearly had a heart attack right then. For real. And if I had, then it would have been her fault, the fucking bitch. I needed her! And she wasn’t there for me. She was in cubicle fucking fourteen!
August in New York and the city was drenched in a suffocating blanket of heat. The flight from JFK to Heathrow was late and despite the early morning hour it was stifling by the windows at the gate. Upon hearing a voice having a seemingly one sided conversation coming from behind her, the girl with the light blue eyes looked up from Page Six of the New York Post, brushing a bead of perspiration from her forehead as a flash of recognition passed swiftly through her mind. That voice was so familiar. Mesmeric. It had haunted her thoughts intermittently for six years, having been that long since she had last heard it. Yet there it was, all these years later, coming from somewhere behind her, getting louder, closer. Jezzy Arthur felt a secondary heat winding its way through her moistened skin as the voice grew louder. Fluffing her hair away from her hot neck, she fumbled in her bag for lip gloss and listened, half hidden beneath her newspaper camouflage.
‘Tell them I’m en route from LA, I’ll be in London for a few days and we’ll meet a week from Wednesday. The final pieces are being shipped to me from Hong Kong this week and yes, they’ll have them on time. Give them my sincerest of promises, thanks sweetie.’ He laughed, that same distinctive, charming, throaty laugh. She covered her face a little more with the Post as he came into view and watched him, her eyeline just visible above the headlines. He carelessly dropped his cell into his jacket pocket. Then, as if drawn to her by some invisible magnetic force, his eyes met hers.
Lightning bolts seemed to fire straight into her soul.
‘My god,’ he breathed, ‘is it really you?’
She looked up slowly, smiled even slower and whispered, ‘Hello Adrian.’
He had missed his flight from Los Angeles and had to take the later one, due to a traffic pile-up on the 405. She had been due to fly back to London the following day, but in the early hours of that morning she broke up with Nathan and in the heat of an argument, hastily grabbed her bag, flew out of the lobby of the W and grabbed a cab to take the first plane to London out of JFK. It all seemed so much more than coincidence. It was fate. Surely, this time it had to be fate?
They boarded the plane and Adrian charmingly hustled the tall, spindly lady in the striped red blouse out of her seat, urging her to please change places with him so that he could sit with his very dear long-lost friend. Of course the lady moved willingly. Adrian was a man who could charm the pants off of anything that drew breath.
As Jezzy took her seat and fastened her belt, memories came flooding back, showering her mind entirely with Adrian. As bitterly as they had parted six years earlier, she relished being beside him now. Maybe it was because a girl always finds some kind of reborn strength after initiating a break-up and leaving Nathan, mere hours ago, was still so very fresh and at the same time seemed so very long ago. Or maybe it was just because she and Adrian had been left unfinished. Undone. Now, here he was right in front of her face. Six feet tall. Rangy Body. Golden arms. Not much hair on his head. Baggy cheeks. But he looked at her in that way he always had, deep into her, in a way that still made her throb. And even though she had run from him all those years ago, now she wanted to run to him.
She thought about what had brought her here. Back to him. The journey back to Adrian had begun a few months ago. After a heady summer in London culminating in an impromptu long weekend in New York, she let her memory take her back to that hot night when she met Nathan. That rare hot, burning night…
Her lashes were smudged, her cheeks flushed, her lips swollen and hot. The summer air was so heavy that night she felt as if she were wearing a thick tweed overcoat. Another night in London Town. Another party at Home House in Portman Square. She fanned the tops of her fake-tanned, golden legs with the short, chiffon hem of her dress, the color of over-ripe damsons. A heavy guy with an incredibly broad chest and insanely neon orange hair lurched towards her.
‘Been checking you out all night,’ his breath smelt of cheap, aged beer and burnt onions and his accent came from somewhere in America’s deep south. Unravelling herself from her sticky hemline, she moved into his arms to inappropriately dance a slow dance to hip-hop. Running her fingers through his hair, which was thick, coarse and much too bright.
‘Fabulous color,’ she murmured, smiling into the almost palpable stench emanating from his mouth.
He smiled widely, revealing short, sharp teeth, densely packed with remnants of food. She almost heaved. He was not her type at all. Or maybe he was, as she had been on a rollercoaster of self-destruction over the last few years. She went with men that she knew in her gut were wrong for her right from the start, deliberately drawn to unappealing men ever since she ran away from Adrian. Why stop now? And so began her affair with Nathan…
Back on the flight, she carefully chose what to divulge to Adrian, so she picked and mixed, like a long lost sweet counter from a sadly extinct Woolworths.
‘Everything was great for a few months and then, I don’t know, I suppose I really knew he wasn’t the guy for me, you know, but then when he totally disregarded my birthday, I mean not even a lousy card! The trip was so last minute, he got the tickets from a friend who cancelled at the eleventh hour and all he managed was to have room service deliver a basket of stale crackers, two apples and a half bottle of cider all squashed into a wicker basket, which by the way cut my finger, look, what the hell was that all about?!’ She held up her finger to show him the graze that was left over from the wicker tussle of last night. Despite herself, she started to laugh. Whatever had happened with Nathan, it could not ruin her pleasure at being free and the strangely sensational strength it gave her. Adrian took her finger into his mouth, his warm tongue circling the cut and she thought of what she had seen earlier that morning through the taxi window on her ride to the airport, just as the sun was blossoming. A tiny sliver of a silver plane, its steamy trail carving a smoky heart through the sky, before dissolving into the blue. A sign, surely? It had to be.
Adrian cupped her face in his hand, his eyes penetrating hers… ‘Remember your 28th birthday?’
They smiled at each other, suddenly transported back to her twenty-eighth birthday in Los Angeles. Her mind sailing back in time to when she and Adrian had first met.
Jezzy had been in LA for a three week holiday with her friend, Frankie and they were staying in a tiny hotel called The Comstock, between Beverly Hills and Westwood. Frankie was insistent on seeing as much of Los Angeles as she could by bike, therefore the two of them had seen little of each other during the day.
Jezzy and Frankie had met Adrian and his friend, a little older man called Bernie, at La Scala in Beverly Hills where they were having chopped salads for dinner. The conversation across their neighboring red booths had been charming and light and they exchanged numbers.
Although Jezzy hadn’t too much money to spare, she had booked into the Beverly Hilton, one day and one night in a fabulous hotel, a luxurious birthday present to celebrate herself and the fact that she still didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, when the hotel was in its heyday, when Merv Griffin was in charge and old Hollywood would happen by at any given time. She had been lazing by the pool, on a succulent afternoon and for lunch she had ordered a cob salad, even though she was not one to eat bacon, or even turkey for that matter, but the cob at the Beverly Hilton was too divine to forego. So, a birthday lunch by the pool. One day and one night in a fabulous hotel. Even the air in Beverly Hills smelt rich, its sumptuous fragrance, usually of Giorgio back then, clinging to the oxygen. Jezzy had been lazing by the pool at the Beverly Hills hotel with a massive plate of fries, a Coke and a pile of crap magazines, when she heard the wanton, far off strains of a saxophone…and then there was Adrian, holding a cake and candles and wishes, a small saxophonist with rangy limbs and glossy brown skin, meandering beside him to serenade her. They sauntered towards her, drifting along on the melody, as she lay by the pool, feeding her mind and her soul care of Sammy Cahn and Gene DePaul.
Adrian took her hand and they followed the saxophonist into the empty ballroom, where a quartet dressed in black tie was playing a smoky rendition of Teach Me Tonight. Did you say I had a lot to learn? strained the blue, aching instrument. Well, don’t think I’m trying not to learn, since this is the perfect spot to learn, trying to find somebody to teach me tonight. The alluring lyrics played her across her mind as the saxophone groaned.
She wanted Adrian desperately then, the way he looked at her made her so wet, so quickly. The saxophone wrapped its notes around her mind and all she wanted was Adrian. A man she barely knew.
Back in her room, one over by the fountain across the drive for that was all she could afford, Adrian ran his large, strong hands along her swimsuit. The lycra grew damp, but he would not pull it away from her body. She longed for him. But still he would not submit. No surrender. He wove his intoxicating spell over her, under her, until finally he was, at last, inside her. She wanted any part of him inside her, it seemed that they had both longed for this moment for so long, his fingers, his slender, slightly bent cock, his warm tongue. All she could hear were the strains of the saxophone outside the room, as she rose and plummeted and rose again inside and outside of him. And her mind was lost and her body belonged only to him. To Adrian. To this strange and mystical man she had only just met, but who had already woven a permanent spell over her until they was bound. Her body and mind, tangled.
It turned out to be a magical couple of weeks, a hazy, sun-filled affair that seemed to stretch on and on. She thought she had what she wanted, all those years ago, but that was when her relationships all started to go wrong. It was the first time she had felt such overwhelming love which at the same time felt so very wrong. Their first time together had been fleeting, yet so powerful, it had been etched into her soul. And because of him, even though she was only in Los Angeles with Frankie for a three week holiday, after meeting Adrian she ended up staying in Los Angeles for a couple of months. Her visa was intact and she was between jobs, so she had the time and Frankie flew home to begin a training course as a nanny. Jezzy moved in with Adrian and their relationship was volatile and stupendous but her heart tore a little more each day. After a couple of months, she couldn’t take any more and was desperate to fly home to London, so she gathered her strength, prised herself away from Adrian’s spell and fled.
‘It’s as if I have this weird sort of hunger, or anger, or whatever you would call it, inside of me. Just like this ball of stuff that isn’t fulfilled unless I’m performing. I don’t even mean on the stage. I mean, I wish I was on the stage, constantly, but it’s not even that. Even if I’m up there seven nights a week, two shows a night, it’s not enough for me. It’s something else. Life Drama. That’s what I crave all the time, in everything I do. I can’t even date properly anymore. It’s like I always need something outrageous to happen for it to mean anything. I can’t be content with dinner and a movie. Dinner and a movie. Even the sound of it is so banal. Dinner and a movie? Dinner and a fucking movie! Where’s the thrill in that?! I don’t need to be with someone just to eat. To show off how I chew! What is eating anyway? Especially with someone you barely know. It’s pretty much defecating in front of them. Whatever you eat you’re going to shit out later anyway. Where’s the attraction in that? Whoever decided that sucking on king crab tails was a turn-on ought to be in analysis. If I date a guy, I need something mad crazy to happen. If it doesn’t happen organically, I genetically modify the situation to make it happen. I hate ordinariness. Is that a word? Tell me later, I’m paying you through the fucking teeth for this, but I know that they’re entering new words into the dictionary all the time, so if that’s not a word already, it ought to be. Looking back, like you made me do, like you practically forced me to do, I think it began when I started dating at, what, fourteen or so? I used to purposely pick a fight with the guy so I could make a huge issue of walking out on him in the middle of a date. Storming out of McDonalds or jumping cab mid-journey. That way I could go home feeling as if something meaningful had happened and what a shitty date it had been and what a total asshole the guy was. After some heavy analysis though, I’m thinking maybe it had something to do with me. That is so hard to admit, but I’m beginning to think it might be the truth. I thrive on life drama. And if I can’t get it by performing for an audience through my work, then I need to get it somewhere else. That’s how I ended up with you. Here on your couch. Which, by the way, reeks of stale emotion.’
Devon was browsing in the soft fruit section of Whole Foods when she decided that she needed to fuck a woman. Everything she had ever done with men had left her dissatisfied, apart from when she was in complete control. Their hairy, soggy dicks invariably left her with an aftertaste of repulsion and lately she had begun imagining she was with a woman again, with Mary,when she was with a man. Whether she was making love with a man or fucking a total shitty guy, the only way she could come was to imagine He was a She. It was possibly the only thing in her life she had fought against feeling and had tried to hold back for as long as she could. The trouble was since her one time experience, the one she dare not let herself think about too often, the women in her mind were completely fictitious. Which caused a problem, because she couldn’t have sex indefinitely with her mind. Could she?
It was a hot night and the cool of the store felt good beneath her vivid red silk sheath. She idly threw kiwi fruit and persimmons in her basket, which due to increasing heaviness, she was beginning to resent. Devon had chosen 2% milk, chai tea and four packets of cookies….some with chocolate cream, some with raspberry jam. She grabbed a box of sourdough pretzels and a tin of anchovies and headed to the hot counter for a takeout chicken, stuffed with garlic and chili peppers,
then sauntered to the checkout and waited in line. Hated it. She dumped her stuff on the conveyor belt and grabbed a copy of Family Circle magazine. Those magazines at the check-out got you every time. Bagged her shopping in a green turtle bag she had stuffed in the side pocket of her Prada. Paid. Headed home to watch The Bachelor on ABC and eatpre-roastedchicken and creme cookies. Devon was an oxymoron within her own existence. If only they knew.
‘First of all I must tell you that I hate my name. I have always wanted to change it but I’ve always been too scared, because what if I changed it and then began to hate what I had changed it to? Could I change it back again? Revert to the original? You have to pay every time to do that. I can’t be doing with that. My mom always called me Stuie. All my life I felt like a fucking duck. One girl I knew, she shortened it to Art. She just totally dropped the Stu part! She was crazy like that. We used to have some wild times. Her name was Maria, but I used to call her Ma. Ma and Art. We thought we sounded like some sort of drug store or something. Like we could rule the world. That was years ago. Minnie, my fiancée now, she calls me Stuart. My whole real name. Even when we’re in bed she calls me Stuart. Stuart she yells! It’s not the kind of name that a girl can groan is it? I wish she’d call me something else, something romantic or even whisper it maybe. But it’s the whole thing. There I am, trying my hardest to make her come, spending hours fiddling with her pussy, but then she calls out Stuart! in her high, tinny voice and it just breaks my concentration. Then she says things like, ‘Twiddle my thingy Stuart!’ and it puts me off. Thingy? What the fuck kind of name is that? It’s even worse than Stuart. I love her though. She’s got a good job with the postal service. She’s a postal worker. She comes up for promotion soon too. Sometimes she comes home with stuff like Christmas stamps with frayed edges or grubby Easter stamps. It’s OK though, we can use all that stuff. Once she came home with hundreds of air mail letters, those ones that you fold three times and then stick down. Remember those, you had to kind of turn the letter to read the last flap. They pretty much became exempt when e mailing took over. I bet you can’t remember the last time you even saw an aerogram. Then we realized we didn’t know anyone abroad we could write to, so Minnie found a website, a sort of regressive Facebook thing, and we got ourselves a few pen pals each and wrote and wrote every night until our arms felt like they were dangling off and the aerograms ran out. We made some great friends. Yeah, we thought they were friends for life but we haven’t heard from them since. When we get married and she takes my name, her name will change and then she’ll be called Mrs Wrecktom. She’ll be Minnie Wrecktom. Do you think she’ll get the piss taken with that name? Maybe I should forget about changing Stuart and just change Wrecktom. I don’t know what to do. I just got a good new job myself. I drive this gal around. I don’t know what she does, but she spends a lot of time with different men. She’s super thin. Not like Minnie. I’ll bet her pussy doesn’t droop the way Minnie’s does either. Do you think I should change my name to something simple, like Reeves or Sutherland or something?’
Frankie Bruce stood at the school gates on a dull, grey afternoon. Nothing unusual for London, but people would comment nonetheless, or rather the few people who were born and raised in the city would make mundane, civil conversation.
‘Enjoying the weather, that’s England for you isn’t it?!’ A rhetorical question from one born and bred Londoner to another, spoken with a thimbleful of jest, an occasional snigger or duplicitous snort, as if the weather were a conspiratorial and interesting statement. Frankie grimaced, slightly hiding it beneath the fake fur collar of her padded coatand pushing windswept tendrils of pale brown hair behind her ears. Made in China, even though she had paid what seemed like a small fortune for her outerwear. Her ‘Nanny’ pay was good and she liked to buy herself nice things. Sometimes she felt as though her years at Leedswere all for nothing. She hadgained a first in Media Studies, but had grown to think that soft degrees were a waste of time so had temped as a nanny while she looked for a more rewarding position. It was two years on and she was still with the same family. The money was great though and this coat she wore, this thing from an Italian designer was Made in China and didn’t even keep her warm. Her hips were slight and her ribcage jutted through her jumper. The mothers and other nannies stood in little groups, buzzing around each other like a temperamental flock of seagulls which had diverted en route to warmer climes. Their clothing combinations were strangely odd, combinations of designer items that possibly only a fool with money would purchase. Heliotrope, knitted coats with flecks of gold thread running through them. Boots adorned with so many Swarovski crystals that to wear them in the glare of sunlight could cause road rage. Elaborate bags that were entirely unnecessary. They nudged and twitched, gossiped and guffawed, moaned and griped. They made Frankie sick. But deep within the pit of her stomach, she had the stirrings of an adventure. Having found socializing exhausting and tired of the bar and club scene, she had decided to try out online dating sites. After months of endless twenty minute trysts in Starbucks or Costa and global virtual meetings, Frankie had met a man she liked. There really wasn’t any embarrassment attached because everybody was doing it, even though nobody admitted it, which she supposed meant that internet dating did still hold a soupçon of stigma. She had even met some of the fathers from school online, making them huge promises that she wouldn’t breathe a word of her discoveries at the school gates! This was her secret. But the man she had met, or rather e mailed and IM’d a million times, the one that she thought she liked (she dreamt about him!), this one she really wanted to meet. And she felt sure that she would. The only hindrance was that he lived practically on the other side of the world and she would have to wait for the school holidays because she couldn’t go off and let Sid down in the middle of a term. She loved the feeling of checking her e mail every morning looking for something from him! When she saw his name in her inbox or a red asterisk glinting at her from her Blackberry, her heart leapt. She sometimes felt a little like a story from The People’s Friend, that sweet, ancient, innocent weekly magazine containing pure, open-hearted romances between sweet women and respectable men, where nothing dastardly ever occurred. A weekly magazine from another time,that she sometimes bought and secretly read between the pages of Marie-Claire or Cosmo. Frankie wrote to her virtual man last thing at night and the feeling of going to bed with him on her mind was one that made her feel warm inside.
The sky began to spit and within a minute it was pouring. Her coat was incapable of keeping out the rain and Frankie could feel the wetness trickling through her clothes. The shower was swift and over by the time the kids were spilling out of school. They dragged themselves across the courtyard towards the gates, pulling gym bags behind them, laden down by the weight of their backpacks. Bunches were flying everywhere, caps at half mast. Grubby socks either up and down, but never equal. Hems undone. Coats akimbo. Buttonholes void of buttons. Little faces grubby and tired and stomachs growling. The rumbles could be heard across the courtyard as the huddle of very small people made their weary way to their delegated person. Their mums or nannies or friends mums or grandmasor occasional anachronistic dad-at-the-gates. A little light visible in their small faces as they alighted upon their own person. Sandwiches or cakes or rubbishy sweets were brought out of pockets or bags and thrust upon the kids, turning them into tiny vultures. Food at last. Sid lunged towards her. Herpale blue eyes smiled at the sight of him and theirhandsmetas she held outthe offering of a slightly mushy tuna and salad cream bagel. Tearing off the greaseproof wrapper, Sid sank his assortment of big and baby teeth, some wobbly, others firm, into the soggy bread. Feeling better immediately, he smiled at Frankie. She took his backpack. He took her hand. They walked off together without a word, only the silent understanding between a child and the one who cares.
Meringue sat at the bay window of her charming little apartment just south of Sunset, bored out of her skull. Today the sun was out (big deal in LA), the sky vibrantly blue(!) and she did not have a morsel of energy for anything. She had got in late by LA standards, almost midnight and she was shattered and fed up. She hadn’t heard from her agent in weeks, despite her constant ‘casual’ calls to him. ‘Hi Bruce, just checking in, anything going on, any calls, did you ever hear back from that casting director, oh you know the one, what’s his name again? The one who thought how terrific I…….’ To which Bruce would interrupt, hitting her with yet another charming response along the lines of, ‘Fuck off Meringue, I’ll call you when someone gives a shit.’
This town was downright nasty she thought to herself, gazing at the red tiled roof below and the tree with huge orange flowers that just reached to the edge of her balcony. She hated it here. Hated LA and everybody in it. Of course she would never say that aloud. Who knew who might hear her tirade? Disappointingly, Los Angeles was an insidious city. It drew you in and spat you out time after time. Like a cow with two stomachs; chewing you up; sucking you down; regurgitating you and swallowing you all over again. It took a very strong and stable girl to get up and get out and never come back. Meringue was unsure that she could do that, although she so much wanted to. She so much wanted to run back to Florida, into her mother’s arms, sit at her mother’s tiny kitchen table and be fed proper food. But that was impossible, at least partly. Just another six months she would tell herself. Just one more pilot season. Just until the leaves begin to change. But there were no seasons in Los Angeles. The leaves, devoid of color change, just stayed green and envious, like the people. Mindless, endless weeks that turned into months that turned into years. And here she was. Still here. Just like that waitress in IHOP, the one on the cusp of La Cienega and Santa Monica. The wrecked old girl with dusty, crispy, iodine tinted hair. Lipstick that began at the edges of her creased mouth, losing itself somewhere in the furrows of her rouged cheeks. The young, pretty thing who had come to LA some fifty years earlier, bringing big dreams from a small town and still hoping for her big break. Her biggest role to date was asking if you wanted syrup or sugar with your pancakes? Little did Meringue know that unless she found a bale of inner strength, that waitress wasgoing to be her in a few decades.
Jezzy and Adrian
Jezzy's heart was pounding on the entire flight from New York to London. She felt like she was in a Danielle Steel novel. Nobody ever gave those books their due. I mean come on, rugged handsome men who sweep women off their feet into Happy Ever After Land? That was exactly how a woman wants a man to make her feel! Then she felt like a schlemiel, a total fool for being so stupidly and awkwardly overly romantic. She had learnt a few Yiddish phrases from her maternal Grandmother, Eve.Jezzy’s middle name was Eve. She had loved her so much. Now she was getting choked up, as tears threatened to trickle down from the back of her eyes. This was most definitely not a time to be getting emotional. But here she was, sitting beside an unfinished love on a seven hour flight. Adrian leaned in and stroked her cheek. She felt sick. In a good way, if there were such a thing. She knew that she had to take him home. Or go somewhere with him. Or get under a blanket here and now. This was not like her. Was it? Jezzy Wanted Adrian. Again. She studied his baggy cheeks as he spoke to her. He had furrows in them and was a little jowly. He still looked at her that way though, the way he always had. Into her. As if he could see right into her depths.She suddenly had a fleeting vision of them in bed together, six, seven years before.His head was between her legs, his tongue lost somewhere inside of herandhis long, dark shiny hair was draped across her stomach. She remembered feeling close to explosion.Then and now. OK, this was not such a fleeting vision anymore. This mustn’t happen here, on a plane, in the front row! A lost longing fought its way back from jailed depths to the front of her heart. Hating the feeling due to its potency and controlover her, Jezzyrealized that she was lost to Adrian. Again.
Devon opened the Blackberry attachment from her agent with the itinerary of her forthcoming trip. Her book had been such a success stateside, six weeks on the New York Time bestseller list so far, three talk shows, a national book tour and now her publicist had told her that she was going to launch it on a book tour in London. London. It had been a long time but now she was going back. As a different person. Devon Cage was going back to London, the city she had leftmore thantwenty years ago. What was there for her? She had run so fast to get away, as soon as had been possible. She had left as a stupid, frightened creature and was going back a successful, confident woman. Her cellrang, pounding out the latest hit fromthe charts. Really not her thing at all, but part of being Devon. Devon Cage. Who was Devon Cage anyway?
It was Dorothy her publicist on the phone. Such an old-fashioned name, but Dorothy was convinced she had been a Munchkin in a former life. Dorothy repeated everything she had sent Devon by e mail.
‘Devon, honey you’re booked on Virgin Upper Class, LAX to Heathrow and you’ll be staying at The Berkeley for a week. You’ll love it, it’s the hottest shit hotel in London. You’ll be signing the book at Harrods, Selfridges and two malls. Westfield and Lakeside. They say Lakeside in pretty far, Essex or something, but worth it for the fans. What do you say Devon. You are such hot shit baby and you are off to Oz!’
‘Thanks Doro, just pulling up for gas, speak later.’
Devon didn’t pull in anywhere, she just wanted time to digest.
Perspiration had begun to form along her forehead and her heart began to pound heavily. Essex. Again.
The dark, dank hallway of the ‘apartmotel’ stank of old beer and piss. Furry red flock wallpaper peeled from the grimy, fadedwalls, revealing green flock paper beneath. Strains of Chopin were paradoxically playing from an ancient, griping hi-fi in room 204, the 4 tilting away from the other numbers, as if drunk.
Devon, encased in a sheer black chiffon sheath, her hair covered with a pert little blonde bob wig, strode along the hallway to room 210 and knocked. Three times.
‘Yeah, come on in,’ croaked a male voice, laden with cheap whisky and beer.
She pushed open the door, the stench of the airless room blasting at her senses. In a fraying armchair, the padding oozing out of the faded fabric, sat a man, another man,in a graying ‘wife beater’ with thick fresh yellow stains dripping down the front. His shiny, rheumatoid fingers were grasping something half hidden between his wallowing fat, hairless thighs. He smiled at Devon, revealing yellow stumpy shoots of decaying teeth.
‘You again,’ he croaked, more sweat forming on his greasy forehead as Devon swept over to him, dropping her dress as she dropped to her knees.
‘You bitch, you…’ he began to pant as Devon reached into his filthy underwear, pulling out a mound of fleshy globules. A used up prick and saggy balls. Crap.
She looked him in the eye, disgusted by what she saw and spat out, ‘Shut your fucking filthy mouth you piece of shit.’ She wrenched the mass from the open zipper, catching it along the jagged metal teeth.
‘Owee!’ screeched the man with the fatty dick.
Devon pulled harder, twisting it in her hand.
‘Shut your mouth shitface, don’t breathe a word or I’ll leave now.’ Her breath was hot and sweet.
He sucked in his lip, puffing out his cheeks as she bent down. Devon Cage then took his filthy dick between her perfectly glossed lips and $20,000 worth of veneers, sucked the life out of him, then spat his stinking come straight in his eye.
‘You disgusting, dirty, fucking sonofabitch,’ her voice seethed as she stood up, her eyes glaring down at the whimpering mass of a man.
She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand, snatched a wad of cash from the chipped, stained table, kicked him sharply in the balls with the toe of her red Louboutin and left, the strains of Chopin fluttering behind in her wake.
Manny and Meringue
Manny sat in his office chair; taupe leather; high-buttoned back; walnut wooden arms. To match his walnut wooden desk. He swiveled round and round, gaping ahead, until he made himself feel physically sick. He had a huge deal coming up which would jolt some of the markets into submission, but couldn’t wrap his mind around the job in hand. He kept thinking about Devon and as much as he tried to push the thoughts from his mind, they just kept flooding back, like an unstoppable raging torrent. She had really gotten to him. The woman had almost totally consumed him and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. He had to see her. Picking up his cell, he punched the speed dial to her phone and breathlessly, she answered.
‘Yes?’ Even the sound of her voice was enough to send shivers down his spine. Manny felt foolish and fell silent. All his life he had been in control. Until now. He thought he was actually surrounded by her scent, the sweet, heady fragrance of her flesh.
Click. She had hung up. He kicked himself in the ankle and pressed redial, but it bounced to voice mail. He furiously threw the phone across the desk, then ran around to pick it up, cradling it to make sure it was intact.
He had always been able to take his emotions and put them on the back burner, be in love with women for merely minutes until they were no more than out of sight. Clichés came to mind. Some of them so true. ‘Outa sight, outa mind’ had always been an apt description of his feelings with women, but now with Devon, it was undoubtedly ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. Manny sickened himself. He had become a cliché.
He stamped his feet on the floor like a child while he re-dialed again. Voice mail. Shit.
‘Devon, honey please I need to see you. I have something for you, call me as soon as you get this message. Bye hon.’
He put his cell down carefully, going over the message he had left, wishing that he had worded it another way, then transferred the phone to his pocket so that he could feel the vibration when it rang. Hopefully, when it rang. One of the secretaries knocked softly at the door, peeking her head around as she opened it a few inches. She was small and skinny and wore her jet black hair in a choppy, pixie cut with a white slashed highlight at the front. Faux pearls around her white throat, a starched white shirt with over-sized frilly cuffs and a knee-length black jersey skirt with a huge teal colored bow tied over her sharp, right hip.
‘Excuse me Mr. Kofsberg please, but there is a lady in reception who wants to see you. She has blonde hair and bright red eyes from crying I think. She sure seems pretty upset. Is she Russian? Her name is Miss Pavlova.’ Betty the secretary tapped her left foot around the back of her right ankle. Manny wondered if she was trying to trip herself up?
What on earth was Meringue doing here in the daytime? He felt sweat beads moistening his armpits. Shit, he would have to be wearing a silk shirt.
‘Ask her to come in Betty and you can take your lunch now.’
‘Ok, surely, thank you,’ smiled Betty, moving into the room and leaving a blue folder at the edge of Manny’s desk. As Betty left, Meringue was in her place in moments.
‘Close the door,’ hissed Manny, pulling at his tie. His neck began to flare up, leaving a ring of red blotches, tainting his skin. Meringue’s eyes were red raw.Their visual combinationlooked like a before ad for psoriasis.
‘What are you doing here? We never meet in the day?!’
‘I’m homesick!’ wailed Meringue.
‘So why are you telling me?’ Manny faced the window, his back to Meringue. She looked closely at the grey flannel of his Zegna jacket. His black shoes shone and she knew that his Armani boxers would be spotless and white, as usual.
Meringue leaned against the desk, wiping her eyes and nose with a used tissue from her pocket.
‘Why aren’t you ever nice to me? You’re never kind.’ She asked softly. ‘For months I have done exactly as you want, all on your terms. I’ve asked nothing of you. I’ve always come when you called. Why, I’m not even sure if you like me?’ A small choke knotted in her throat. She swallowed, all at once looking so vulnerable.
Manny turned to her. She looked up at him, lit beautifully by the natural light from the window and for a moment she took his breath away and he couldn’t speak. Her eyes were red rimmed, but there was no denying the intensity of color. They were the deepest shade of violet. Her skin was milky white and her lips looked as if she had been stung by a bee, they were so plump and moist and pink. But it was the color of her eyes that captivated him. He had never seen her in daylight before. He realized sadly that he had never even looked into her eyes before. He had only looked at the top of her head while she sucked his selfish dick. Now she was looking into his eyes. A girl from the south who was far from home and lonely and lovely. He felt stirrings of emotion inside him. It was new but not entirely unwelcome. He held open his arms and then Meringue was inside them. He encircled her as fresh, warm tears rolled down her cheeks and onto the collar of his jacket. He held her tighter, breathing in the scent of her peroxide blonde hair. It smelt of roses from a far away, faded garden. He looked down at her dark roots and saw a few specks of dandruff. He felt her heart beating just below his own. An emotional shift prompted him to ask her a personal question about herself, the first one ever.
‘What the fuck is your real name?’ he whispered gently into her hair.
She gazed up at him, her violet eyes melting into his.
‘Mary,’ she said, slightly embarrassed. ‘Mary Pierce.’*
Jezzy and Adrian
Shirley MacLaine was giving Jack Lemmon one of those looks, her face totally feline and her eyes twinkling like a minx. The look on Jack’s face was indescribably brilliant, one which had helped to make this movie a true classic. The light of the LCD screen lit up the living room as Jezzy and Adrian watched The Apartment for perhaps the twelfth time. It was close to 10pm. Jezzy wore bright red sweat pants, a white shoe string strap vest and no bra. She didn’t need one as her breasts were small and sat up nicely. Her hair fell in dark blonde clouds around her shoulders. She reached for the popcorn, thinking that it should come with a side of toothpicks because it always got stuck in your teeth and you always had to try to pick it out when the guy was looking the other way. Dating was so fucking stressful. You had to think about every little thing all the time. It made her tired. Physically.Mentally.
Adrian suddenly laughed at Jack. ‘I Love Jack, there’s never been anyone like him. He’s funny, sexy, charming, he’s just superb.’
Jezzythought that Adrian’s musings of Jack were a little tooovereager.
Adrian wore a green, stretched out, baggy T-shirt and jeans. He had a tiny butt, a slender waist and a very spotty back. Fuck, thought Jezzy, feeling as if she were clinging to the greasy rim of a well, from the inside. She was in way too deep now. His hand reached for hers. Large hands with fingers that were muscular from decades of piano playing. He began to stroke her stomach. Her body was taut and pale, but she’d always had a little rounded tummy. She hated it. Men seemed to like it. Adrian’s finger traced around her belly button, disappearing slowly beneath her waistband. Sweatpants were invented for this, thought Jezzy. She was already wet and had been since the start of the movie, just from watching him, a slight smile paying across his lips, watching the TV. The light from the screen flickered across his face, dark shadows disappearing into the furrows of his cheeks. As he laughed, his teeth seemed to glow. The credits began to roll as his middle finger slid inside her. She used her muscles to squeeze him from inside, already feeling full as she had always been small and tight and had been doing pelvic floor exercises for as long as she could remember. His other hand cupped her face and his warm tongue moistened her lips. Breathing her name, his breath smelt of coffee and popcorn. He lightly kissed her nose, around her mouth, down to her throat, as his finger probed inside her. She pulled at his T-shirt, wanting to see his flesh, reaching in for his small, hard nipples, like tiny ball bearings. The TV light sent beautiful shadows across his body. He had a row of three small moles on his chest, just beneath his left shoulder. She knew she would have to look at them every time they fucked face to face and the thought made her feel sick with familiarity. His tongue eased down her neck towards her breasts. Real, soft tits and deep pink swelling nipples. He took one between his teeth, letting it grow inside his mouth. Shit. She’d done it again, allowing herself to be bewitched by him. Could she ever get away like she had once before?
Sunshine streamed through the windows of the little apartment just below Sunset, east of Crescent Heights. The sky looked as crisp as a bright blue cracker, as if it had preened itself to be cast as The Big Blue in a new Paramount epic. Across Hollywood, casting directors were sifting through headshots, achingly perfect 8’ x 10’s were plunging into garbage cans by the dozen, some hitting the trash without having even met the eyeline of the Casting Director. Still, there was promise in the air, after all this was Los Angeles: unknown one minute; Queen of the Universe the next.
Beige linen vertical blinds trembled slightly as the breeze wafted past them. Meringue leaned against the French doors, her violet eyes glazed over. She was bored. And homesick. Today she felt low and needing to ease herself out of this feeling, decided she had to bake. She moved into her tiny kitchen, comprised of just a few cabinets, a refrigerator and a stove along the back of the living room wall. She took out the ingredients she needed: butter; eggs; sugar; salt; sour cream; flour; baking powder; cinnamon; baking soda and vanilla. Good vanilla. The butter needed to be at room temperature if she wanted light, fluffy buns but it was as hard as a rock. She sat it out on the balcony and in a few minutes the sun had obliged and the butter was ready to cream with the sugar. Meringue pre-heated the oven and set to work. Twisting the radio dial to a talk station, barely acknowledging the quipping host but just wanting the company of a voice, she began to sift and cream, mix and stir. She took an ice-cream scoop, lovingly wrapped in an old blue frayed tea towel, from the drawer and scooping the mixture, put an equal amount into each muffin case. Within twenty minutes the muffin tray was in the oven and a couple of minutes after that she could smell the comforting scents of baking. She felt a little better. Getting herself a small glass bottle of strawberry juice, she sat at the table by the window and opened the drawer, taking out a pad of thick cream writing paper and matching envelopes lined with apple green tissue paper. Pulling the top off of her violet fountain pen, she pointed the nib to the paper and began to write: Dear Mom…..
After a while the letter was finished, there were tears in her eyes and a couple of the words were smudged with damson ink. She sealed the envelope, wrote the address and then the muffins were ready. Meringue took the tray out of the oven, put them carefully on a wire rack to cool, prised one out of the tray even though it was too early and went out onto the balcony. The view from the third floor was quite incomplete, paralleling most lives in the City of Angels. Flat, sparse rooftops, a red tiled roof, two palms trees swaying absentmindedly in a barely there breeze, a glorious orange tree with Junoesque blooms, all encased in a fine layer of smog that had drifted aimlessly into Hollywood with nowhere to go.
LA in a nutshell: once you had arrived there was no way out and you were trapped between the city and your mind.
Meringue ate her muffin. It was as light as air and as she chewed slowly, another tear rolled down her cheek. She had thought she was feeling better, but the tastes of cinnamon and vanilla reminded her of home.
You couldn’t let them see you cry. Couldn’t say or do anything to offend them. Just had to roll with it, until the real thing came along. The Real Thing. She had had the real thing. Peace of mind anyway. When she lived at home in Florida and worked in the beauty parlor and had dinner with her mom twice a week. She had liked dating Joe too. Going to the movies, dances at the Small Town Supper Club and occasional dinners at Reggie’s Diner. She had been happy enough, even borderline contented. If only she hadn’t decided to try Los Angeles, but there was a constant nagging inside her head that kept asking her, what if, what if, what if you never try? And now that she was there, she couldn’t get away. Her mind felt lost, tormented, raped. Maybe she should see her shrink? Maybe she could make an extra appointment? It was only Monday, and she felt as if she couldn’t wait until Wednesday. That was it! That had to be the answer. She called the office and yes, of course he had time for her later on today. She went back to the view, her relief palpable as she sat on her tiny balcony, a glorious blonde, lost in the City of Angels.
Jezzy and Adrian
Montgomery Clift took Elizabeth Taylor in his arms, or rather George took Angie, and the world felt right. He gazed into her as she looked up at him with longing,their combined beauty almost too breathtaking tobelieve.
Zing! The microwave had finally succumbed to the frenzied popping of the corn. Jezzy pulled herself away from the seduction of the movie, pressed the pause button and looked over at Adrian. He was asleep. How could he sleep through a movie like this? It was so poignant. There was a small bubble of snot on the edge of his right nostril and his mouth hung open ever so slightly. Perplexity had planted itself between her eyebrows and she turned from him, searching for a more pleasing sight, to look out of the window. The rain fell incessantly on the grey rooftops, thumping down relentlessly across London and her mind. She eased herself off of the sofa and went into the kitchen to get the popcorn. Pulling the bag diagonally apart, the steam giving her a fleeting, buttery facial, she tipped the yellow misshapen bulbs of corn into a wicker basket lined with a square of kitchen roll decorated with pale green circles, placed it on the white formica counter top and went to the bathroom. She sat on the toilet and rested for a moment. All she could hear was the sound of her wee in the bowl. Relief seemed to drain from her body and she decided that she must stop feeling so uptight. Listening more acutely, she heard the rain outside and Adrian’s gentle snoring inside. She wiped herself, stood up and looked down at the bowl, thinking she saw her life in the toilet andthatshe was the only one who had the strength to stop herself flushing her existence away. Don’t be so dramatic, she thought silently scolding herself. She washed her hands with blue anti-bacterial soap, plunging the bottle to get more and more liquid, rubbing at her hands again and again to create more foam. Everything is good, she insisted, you have met him again after all these years, so of course it must be right. It’s fate! Can’t argue with fate.
Her hands were getting raw as she rubbed them. Drying them gently as they felt sore, she quickly slathered on some hand cream from a pink tube. Turning to leave, she remembered one more thing and grabbing the handle, she flushed her life down the toilet.
Two red and silver balloons tied with ribbons of the same colours breezed into the café...andJezzytumbled in behind them. All that could be seen of her were her legs,slim and golden within oiled appearance 7 denier tights. Balloonsatop faux tannedlegs. Falling into a plastic-seated booth, the balloons now trailing obediently behind her, she gasped, inhaling more than her fair portion of air and grinned widely at Frankie who was casually sipping a bottle of Perrier through a straw. It was a bendy straw with yellow stripes. Frankie yanked at the little accordion bit attempting to make it longer, causing it to splitasJezzy thrust the balloons toward her.
Frankie sat helplessly, holding the balloons and staring sullenly at her split straw. A man fighting with a tray piled high with steaming spaghetti bolognese and slices of pappy white bread tried moving past her and the balloons.
‘Could you move those out of the way?!’ he snapped.
Frankie wrapped the ribbons three times around her left hand to make them shorter, thinking that people like him should be silenced. Then she stared at him, imagining him trying to suck up his spaghetti through a steel muzzle. Suddenly she gave a little snort of laughter. She felt stupid and blushed, feeling like a fool holding two balloons that weren’t even hers and solitarily snorting.
Jezzyreturned with a tray bearing two cups of tea, two iced doughnuts (one pink, the other brown) and a fistful of straws. Frankie eyed the frosting and asked ‘Why do you always get one with pink icing and one with coffee icing when we both like the pink and hate the coffee?’
Jezzysank into the booth and pulled apart the coffee doughnut. ‘The coffee one always looks fresher than the pink. The icing looks crispier, don’t you think?’
‘People aren’t supposed to eat brown things on February the 14th,’ said Frankie, sticking her finger into the coffee frosting and licking it, her face developing into a mask of disdain. ‘It’s as horrid as always.’ She pulled down on the ribbons, jabbed at one of the balloons and handed them back toJezzy. ‘Very theme oriented these, who are they from?’
They gazed up at the heart-flecked balloons, floating near the ceiling, bobbing up and down suggestively, daring anybody to question their zaftig beauty.
‘Sorry, I forgot to say Happy Valentine’s Day!’ saidJezzy.
‘Go on then,’ smiled Frankie.
‘Happy Valentiny Day!’Jezzylaughed aloud, thinking herself to be very amusing, and continued, ‘I don’t know who they’re from.’
‘Happy Valentine’s Day,’ sighed Frankie. ‘Are they from Adrian?’
‘No. He wrote me a poem that made me cry and sent an assortment of Valentine-inspired Origami. Please don’t comment.’Theysmiled at each other, understanding without the need for explanation.
Frankie plunged her hand into her bamboo knapsack, pulled out a printede card and pushed it towardsJezzy. She studied it, then looked up at Frankie with wide eyes. ‘Oh, it’s beautiful, it says really lovely things.’
‘Who sent it?’
Frankie opened another straw, being very careful not to split its accordion. ‘Don’t know, it’s not signed.’
‘But you must have some idea!’Jezzywas showing the first signs of an onset of frantic behaviour.
Frankie shrugged and sipped, ‘Yeah, it’s the online guy, even though it’s not signed it came from his e mail address, duh!’
‘The guy you haven’t met?’
Frankie nodded and smiled up atJezzyfrom her icing.
‘You haven’t given him your real address have you, he could turn up on your doorstep or anything!’
‘I gave him your work address, I’m not completely mad!’ Frankie smiled, ‘I thought he might send something there.’
‘Thank you so much for telling me,’ gruntedJezzy. ‘I’ll be sure to check my post box for your mail.’
‘I only gave it to him a couple of days ago, just let me know if anything arrives for me please.’
They both stared up at the balloons as the realization dawned on them.
Frankie was feeling calm now, serene almost, for she had a transatlanticadmirer and balloons and she shared this with her best friend.
‘Jezzy,’ she whispered. ‘He wants me to fly out.’
Jezzyalmost choked on her doughnut, but knew better than to waste the icing. She inhaled, chewed, swallowed and then exclaimed, ‘Never!’
‘What about Sid?’ askedJezzy.
‘He’s six, he’ll get over me.’
‘No silly, it would be during school hols, I wouldn’t leave Sid in the middle of term.’
‘I quite like this Valentine’s Day,’ sighedJezzy.
‘Yeah, it’s alright actually.’
‘Did you know Saint Valentine was beheaded in 269 ACE?’Jezzyhad become extremely serious.
‘Well, don’t quote me, but I think it was just above the neck.’ Jezzybecame spontaneously hysterical.
Frankie fought to control her laughter, but couldn’t, so she sank her teeth into the pink doughnut, letting the dough absorb her snickering.
‘Maybe he’ll send flowers too,’ suggestedJezzy, reaching for the other half of her doughnut.
‘I don’t know, don’t you think they would have already been delivered, maybe he couldn’t do it with the time difference?’ ‘Stop making excuses for him! I didn’t get any either,’ grumbledJezzy, ‘and at least you got balloons!’
‘We could send them to each other, everybody does that these days, I heard it on LBC,’ offeredJezzyhelpfully.
‘Steve is so perfect, he’s the kind of guy you could really talk to isn’t he? I love listening to him before I get up and sometimes I podcast him and listen to him at the school gates. Anything to detract from the crummy mummies!’ Frankie began to slightly crease up.
‘Steve doesn’t take calls though does he, he’s the kind of bloke you can text a lot though.’
‘Yeah, let’s do it then, we should!’
‘Amazing really, not getting flowers on Valentine’s Day, it’s all so very anti-orgasmic,’ sighed Frankie.
‘Maybe,’Jezzystarted on the brown doughnut, then remembering she didn’t like it, put it down.
‘At least balloons don’t die quite so easily I suppose. I don’t expect exciting things anymore, if you don’t expect and don’t get, you won’t be disappointed. But I do love roses.’
‘And other negative clichés.’Jezzypoured the tea, milky for her and strong for Frankie. Strong stewed workmens tea. Bitter and brown. ‘This tea’s too brown for V. Day. Gosh, V. Day, sounds like V.D!’
‘Which ones do you want then?’ asked Frankie.
‘Are we talking the most preferable of STD’s?’
‘Oh, we can go to the stall outside and pick them,’Jezzywas faintly excited, ‘Sweet Peas maybe, if they’re in season.’
‘Does this mean we will be each other’s Valentiny?’ asked Frankie.
‘Great friends,’ shruggedJezzy. ‘Always.’
‘Then I think I would like something fragrant, something that smells of friendship.
‘Yes!’ You would think, from her reaction, thatJezzyhad just discovered a cure for Male-Pattern-Boredom. ‘Come on then, I have to get back to the surgery.’
‘And I have to get to school.’
‘Shall we take these with us or let them loose?’
‘Let’s release them.’
Jezzyjabbed the split point of Frankie’s straw at the balloons. One, two, pop, pop.
Through the window pressed up against clouds of grey, Devon gazed, glassy eyed, until she glimpsed Windsor Castle, studded into the green of Berkshire, moving further to the east, until her plane came to land at Heathrow. Everything was cloudy.
Dull. Nothing had changed then. Except her.
Devon trailed through the vast carpeted corridors to passport control, wondering if she should use her British or US passport? She decided it would be lot simpler to use her British one. No questions. No searching. Nothing. Just a bland entrance into what she thought of as a bland country. She summoned a Sky Cap towards baggage claim 5, where thankfully and quite astonishingly, her bags were already there. He heaved them onto the trolley and they headed for the green channel. Feeling the chill on the other side, she and her Sky Cap made their way to the taxi stand. As she approached the line of humming, familiar black cabs she could finally smell England. Her nose, despite being made in LA, twitched disdainfully and she climbed into the back seat, letting the cabbie and the Cap pile her bags inside. Bags never seemed to fit into the back flap of taxis and she had no idea why they were still pretty much the same design as when she left, all those years ago.
‘Where to love?’ chirped the typical taxi driver.
Did they really always think they were in a movie? Didn’t they realize that sometimes their ‘chirpy’ behaviour made people want to vomit?
‘Gotcha love, been anywhere nice?’
Devon pressed the heater button, allowing the noise to drown out the cabbie and his scratching, irritating curiosity.
She looked out of the window and ignored him. They drove past familiar sights. The houses were old and unkempt. The sky still looked so tired. Why was that? Was it really so very difficult having to hang over London? In Los Angeles, despite the smog, even the sky looked healthy. Here in England it looked as though it could do with a break. Jet-lag began to seep into her eyes and she closed them, just for a moment.
A smartly dressed doorman opened the taxi door. The Berkeley stood before her in all its stony-beige splendour. A London matriarch, situated regally on the cusp of Knightsbridge and Belgravia. There was no better location in this city, thought Devon as she eased herself out of the taxi. Had she forgotten all of the other places? Those places of long, long ago. The ones her mind dare not remember?
After mere moments at the reception, Devon found herself in her room with its sumptuous décor and enormous fluffy pillows on a bed that looked beyond inviting. She tipped the bellman ten pounds and had already stripped naked by the time he had closed the door behind him.
Shame, she thought. He was rather nice. Tall and dark, with an Eastern European accent and he smelt clean too.
She stood beneath the shower and let the water wash away that strange, indeterminable, almost acrid ‘plane smell’. The one everyone smells of after any flight. Luggage seems to temporarily take on that smell too. It’s a smell like no other. Horrible. She was glad to be rid of it. Slathering the hotel body lotion on her soft, still damp skin, Devon threw on the puffy white robe, flossed and brushed her teeth, tied her hair in a knot on top of her head, moisturized her face and almost fell down onto the bed, literally sinking into its comfort with a sigh. There really was nothing like the luxury of a good hotel room when you were clean and hungry. Scanning the menu, she punched the room service button and ordered.
‘Double fried egg and chips, not runny, not hard. White toast. Tea. Extra hot water. Biscuits. Please. And hurry please, I’m starving.’ It was not exactly Berkeley Fare, but they were obliging nonetheless.
‘Yes maam, that should be with you in 20-25 minutes.’
Devon popped the remote control and set the channel to Sky News. It was the weather report. Apparently, England was chilly. No kidding? Maybe rain tomorrow. This country was so predictable. Then they showed a sky cam pic filled with clouds so that you could barely make out what was beneath.
‘Three degrees overnight in town, dropping to minus two in Greater London…….’ A pretty, meteorologist with dark shiny hair and high heels droned on and on.
Greater London.Her mind began to travel back in time. Dropping down into the underground, boarding a train, lingering in the carriage as it jolted through the city, the eastern outskirtsof London, carrying herthrough stationson a red line, further and further,toEssex…
Knock, knock. Two loud raps at the door.
The waiter delivered and Devon devoured with gusto. Shetoreher toast intouneven rectangles,soldiersslightly askewand dunked them into the slightly mobile perfect yolks. She put salt on her chips and scoffed them down, chasing down mouthfuls with hot, burning slugs of tea with white sugar. She mopped up her plate with a waiting soldier, filled the teapot with hot water and dunked biscuits into the steaming dark brown drink. Bitter with sugar to sweeten.
Saited. Devon closed her eyes and escaped to dreamland.
She awoke three hours later with dried egg yolk across her bottom lip. Scraping it off with her teeth, she peeled herself off the bed, reached into her case and punched a text into her Blackberry, pulled out a silky black sheeth dress and a bright red wig styled into a chignon, held together with crystal-studdedchopsticks. She climbed into the dress, piled up her hair, fastening it with pins, pulled on the wig and slipped out of the room.
3am. Soho. Windmill Street.In a dingy alley that stank of piss and rotting food, Devon handed something over to a spindly tranvestite wearing a vibrant orange mini-skirt and a black velvet cape.
Withina short space of time,time seemingly devoid of minutes and secondsthat stretched like a heat sodden fog, despite the chilled night air, in a room rented by the hour above a sex shop, a man was grunting like a pig. His face was puce, his eyes bulging and his fat nose was drippingwith sweat. He was a pig.
‘Uuuugh, more, more,’ he grunted through yellow teeth. He shoved out his thick, coated tongue, reaching for her ear and jammed his tongue inside it like a thick, spongy arrow.
The room was dingy. Dank. Stale. Threadbare curtains hung limply across the window, but the red lights along the street glowed through. Impervious.
‘Uugh, let me shove it in, more, more…’
Devon flipped out from beneath him and before he knew what had happened had turned him face down and was astride him. She quickly pulled a chopstick from her updo and shoved it up his arse. He yelped, squealing like the stuck pig he was. She jammed it in further, as far as it would go. He was whimpering, pleading. Just how she liked it.
She leaned in very close, so he could feel her breath in his hairy ear.
‘Never stick your tongue in a lady’s ear,’ she whispered so quietly that she could barely be heard. ‘We hate it. It feels disgusting. Your breath is disgusting. Your saliva is disgusting. Your snorting is disgusting.’ With every other word she twisted the chopstick inside him until he began to go limp,contorted with thepainof twisted pleasure.
She yanked out the stick in a flash, brown and putrid, using it to spear a disheartened prawn that was hanging over the edge of a square plastic carton on the bedside table. He gaped at her, eyes wide, fearful, confused. Then she shoved the chopstick in his mouth.
Cramming the cash into her purse and sweeping away to the door she turned back and with a razor-like gleam in her eyes snarled, ‘Eat shit.’
Back at the Berkeley. Devon laid down on the ceramic floor of the bath, lifted her legs to the ceiling and let the hot water wash away the night. She didn’t know how long she was there, upside down with her legs wide open, it just had to be long enough to flush away the stench. Her face remained still, stoic, as tears mingled with water. Salt with soap. Sweetened tears. She rubbed furiously between her legs with the little bar of hotel soap, rubbing and rubbing, digging her fingers into it until it became a squidgy mass.
Her mind was a maze. Entangled and entwined. Intertwined. Mangled. Unravelling a little more each day.She couldn’t go on like this anymore, trying to avenge her past by demoralizing disgusting men. She knew she was reaching the end and that freedom was, at last, within her grasp.
She pulled herself out of the tub, wrapping two huge bath towels around her tired body and shattered mind, dragging them across the floor as she dragged her body to the bed. She climbed under the duvet, wrapping herself further into her feathery cocoon and escaped. To sleep. To a place where she would be safe. For a while at least. From herself.
In her dreams she was a child again. Running across a field brimming with buttercups and daisies, the grass kissed by the spring. There was laughter. Sunshine and fine, blue birds in the sky. A football on the glossy grass. Glorious trees to climb. Sandwiches made with pappy white bread,tangy salt and vinegarcrisps, crispy sausage rolls and sweet Jammie Dodgers, all tucked away in a red gingham-lined, wicker hamper. There was Mother. And Dad. And little brother Joe. Little sister Patsy with her favourite doll that she had named Diana Dors, because of her white blonde, luxurious hair. Devon loved that doll of Patsy’s. It was the best toy in the house. In the world. Better than anything else. Mother spread a blue and yellow checked blanket on the grass and they all sat down to feast upon their picnic. Bees buzzed around them and they laughed and squealed as they swatted them away. The sandwiches were delicious. Mother always made tasty sandwiches with thin ham and buttery lettuce and real thick yellow butter. A perfect day. Then, suddenly,anawareness of discomfort, of prickles ontheneck. The day had a dent in it. A wedge. A feeling had finally erupted that meant things would never be the same again.
‘I can’t stay long, I have to be back in LA by Wednesday.’ Adrian possessively wrapped his long arm aroundJezzy’s neck as they strolled along Upper Street in Islington on Sunday morning. The sun had been fighting hard all morning and had finally broken through the clouds. Momentarily. Rain was forecast for the afternoon. As uncertain as the weather,Jezzydidn’t know how she felt. She was so confused and desperately needed a coffee, something to give her mind a little lift. Miraculously a bakery appeared. Euphorium bakery, one of a handful in the area. There was a queue of people outside which meant that it must be good.
‘Shall we go here?’ she suggested, stopping abruptly behind a man with a pram.
‘Sure,’ smiled Adrian slowly.
A woman in front of the man with a pram started speaking to him, making idle, queuing conversation.
‘Could you hold my place for a mo? Must cadge that table,’ she asked him, thrusting her neck towards the vacant table against the wall. He nodded, attempting a half smile. His baby was so new and he was showing the effects. The woman flung her bags on both chairs, marking her territory and stood back in the queue.
‘Thanks, you don’t know what day it is anyway, do you!’ she exclaimed rhetorically to the new father.
Again, he summoned up a hint of a smile and nodded agreeably, somewhere in a faraway place, his mind milky and soft.
The queue diminished in front of them andJezzyand Adrian were in front of the counter which was crammed with sweet, intoxicating pastries. The smells wafted in from the back of the bakery.Jezzychose a pain au chocolat and a latte.
‘Black Americano for me,’ said Adrian to the dark, pretty girl behind the counter. He gave a little smirk as he spoke to her andJezzywondered why. The girl behind the counter looked up at Adrian and smiled, looking a little withdrawn. She repeated the order with a heavy Mediterranean accent and she had a scratch on the top of her right hand. There was still a long queue out onto the street and the sun still fought to shine. Taking the only vacant table, the one in the middle of the room,Jezzyfelt as though she had a deadline. She felt under pressure and didn’t know why.
Adrian took a sip of his coffee, licked his lips and gave a slight, almost imperceptible pout. ‘Jez, I’m leaving Tuesday.’
‘Yes, I know, you said you might.’Jezzytook a sip of her latte. It was too hot and she burnt her tongue.
‘I want to come back soon,’ Adrian said softly. ‘Now that I’ve found you again I don’t want to lose you. I won’t lose you, I can’t.’ His face grew tight as he bit down on his jaw.
Jezzysmiled at him. She felt as though she loved him or at least as if she should love him, as though she hadn’t ever got over him completely from all those years ago. There was something about him that charmed her completely, as if he wove some kind of mystical spell over her. What was that? Was that infatuation, true love or something else? So why did she feel unsure? Something just didn’t feel right, she knew that much. But she already in her thirties, never been married and wanted kids, desperately wanted kids. Was it all being put in front of her, handed to her on a long lost silver platter? Just then Adrian cupped her face gently in his large hands. Her face fitted perfectly. He tilted her chin very slightly and looked into her eyes.
‘I love youJez,’ he said very softly. ‘I never stopped loving you. I want to marry you and have children with you.’
She was lost in his deep brown eyes. All negative thoughts were instantly washed away.
All of them.
Almost. Apart from one little piece of jetsam caught at the edges of her mind.
Manny stood in his office beside the window, a couple of hundred feet above the ground. This is where he always stood to think. To contemplate. Only now, on this murky Sunday morning he had a flash of realization resulting in the knowledge that this position really did him no good at all. Despite himself, he missed Devon. She had been away for days and wasn’t due back for another week. He was so confused because his heart had seemed to open new chambers and one of the spaces could only be filled by Meringue and it really bothered him. Meringue! What a stupid name. He couldn’t call her that, not with a straight face and Mary seemed too archaic. But there was something about her that touched him. Something wanton and forlorn. She made him want to protect her. This was so new and unexpected that even she didn’t know. He was going to take her out on a real date. Not just stuck on her knees in his office. Somewhere real. He wanted to go to dinner and a movie like ordinary people did. He had felt out of control with Devon for so long and had taken advantage of Meringue’s feelings for him. She truly liked him, although he couldn’t understand why. Up until now, he’d only had a relationship with the top of her head. But that day, when she had looked up at him, warm tears in her incredible violet eyes, she had plucked at a string in his heart. He sat down heavily at his desk, letting out a long breath of suffocated air. Then there was the other problem, if you could call it a problem. He had met someone online, of all places! Months ago, when he was so frustrated with Devon and had yet to meet Meringue, he had joined a dating website. Even the sound of it made him flinch. He hadn’t bothered to contact anyone but the messages came flooding in. He deleted most of them but one in particular had caught his eye and he had begun a cyber-relationship, becoming slightly cast in the spell of an English girl. Thankfully she lived 6,000 miles away, but whereas he had once dismissed possibilities, due to being Geographically Undesirable, he now tended to carefully embrace them. At one point the wrong side of the 405 would have been GU. Only now the world was becoming smaller. He was caught in a triangle and didn’t know which girl would turn out to be his hypotenuse.
He knew Devon was really no good for him, despite her hypnotic, ineffable qualities and instead tried to focus more on the girl in London. The one he had met online but hadn't yet seen. Her emails were light and witty and charming and her thought he should make the effort to go and see her, to get away from Devon's close but unreachable proximity and Meringue's needy sweetness.
Pulling himself from his wiry, tangled thoughts, he broke free and buzzed his secretary; she with the scraggy neck.
‘Book me a return Virgin flight to London on Monday with two nights at the Halkin Hotel in Belgravia.’ He slammed the phone down before she answered and before he could rethink, picked up his cell and punched two numbers.
‘Hello?’ Meringue had a faux veil of expectancy across her tired voice.
‘I want to take you to the movies.’ Manny fumbled slightly. This was a new way of speaking between them.
Meringue’s heart leapt. ‘Really?’
‘Yes, Century City. Can you meet me now?’
‘Oh, OK.’‘See you there.’
His heart was pounding. Stupidly. He had been taking women to the movies for close to thirty years! Now he was trembling like a teenager on a first date, flying across the world to meet a woman he had never even seen and still obsessed with the unattainable Devon. What was wrong with him?
Meringue was excited. She had never been out with Manny during the day. She had never been out with him before, period. She had already showered, so she pulled off her bright blue acrylic house dress with multi-colored birds flying across it, the one that nobody in the world had ever seen or ever would, quickly patted a fragrant, whipped lotion on her body and pulled on white terry track pants and a candy pink Abercrombie T, the perfect ‘Sunday Afternoon Movie in LA’ outfit,despite the day. Her skin was good so she needed only minimal make-up. Touche éclat to hidethe dark shadows in her translucent skin. A sweep of Nars creamy peach blush with hints of sparkle. A touch of mascara, waterproof in case the movie was a weepie. Michael Kors for Estee Lauder nude gloss. She stepped into bright white keds, bought for $12 at the outlets, grabbed a pale grey cashmere cardigan in case it was chilly later, fluffed her hair forward and back and was ready to go. Her stomach was filled with butterflies and hope was brimming all around.
A date. With Manny. Maybe LA had something to offer after all?
Harrods. The grand dame of iconicBritishdepartment stores. Second floor. Book Department. The Signing.
Devon sat at acrystal clear glasstable, looking pristine in a candy apple green linen skirt suit. Her blouse was sheer silk chiffon, the colour of deep olives and she wore a silk jersey camisole beneath it, the colour of her skin. The queue was long as her PR had once again performed sublimely. After her introduction she gave one of her warm, throaty readings. It lasted mere minutes but the crowd was entranced. It is not often that a hush is thrown across Harrods, but this was the effect her warm, mesmeric voice had on people. Devon signed book after book after book, unflustered, unhurried, a warm smile for everyone. She was unflappable and nobody could have imagined where she had been or what she had been doing only hours before.
‘Please sign this to Fiona,’ requested a lanky girl dressed entirely in an array of patchwork.
‘Can you write my name, Philip, on here, sign it to me please, it’s mine? I’m Philip!’ grinned a tall, thin man with an anxious, elongated smile, as he excitedly thrust his book towards his heroine of fiction. Ignorant of the fact that she was, in reality,afictional heroine.
She looked up at him slowly, at his eager look, thinking that he resembled a donkey, with jutting yellow teeth and a hanging expression. He looked down on her, adoringly, his smile growing even wider, if that were possible. Maybe she could ride him on the beach, sucking on a red ice lolly as she had done on seaside trips as a child. She also thought what she could do with him, how she could torment him into a stupor. A shiver travelled down her spine, brought suddenly to a halt by his excitement, which resulted in a dab of saliva dripping from his lower lip onto the table. Devon shuddered, pulling herself out of her mangled thoughts. She forced her mind back to the moment. Not know, she silently scolded herself, not in these clothes. She was Devon Cage the author, not her other self, the Other Person. Not that filthy, dirty little whore she hated. Her thoughts were making her chest prickle and her neck hot, she looked down and saw a pink glow creeping through her blouse.
‘Are you alright Ms. Cage?’ an enquiry from one of the more alert staff. Devon squinted against the gold gleam from the girl’s name-tag, as it shone coldly in her eyes. The lights seemed all too bright, almost hallucinatory. The pen had gone rigid in her hand. She couldn’t breathe. The heat was enveloping her, suffocating, vivid, breathless and the world began to swirl uncontrollably before her eyes….
She was helped from the chair and quickly ushered into a back room, where she was seated in a soft armchair andhanded a glass of water. She tried to sip it, but misjudged where her mouth was and wet her blouse. For the first time in a long time, Devon felt vulnerable. She tried to laugh it off, make light of it.
‘It’s the jet lag I imagine, a total killer!’
‘Are you OK Ms. Cage, is there anything we can get you? Would you like some food?’
‘You know that would be great, I think I forgot to eat breakfast.’ She spoke with a smile, laced in charm.
Within a couple of minutes, a tray of croissants and Danish pastries filled with swollen, red fruits appeared, with a pot of strong English Breakfast tea, milk, sugar and honey. The tea was poured for her and she ate two croissants, thickly spread with butter and marmalade, eating quickly to quash her earlier thoughts. She would eat those thoughts away, gobbling them up to erase them with each bite of sweetness.
After her second cup of tea she was completely composed again and said, ‘I can go back now.’
‘If you’re sure Ms. Cage,’ said the alert girl.
‘I am. I’m sure.’
The crowd had been waiting patiently outside. Naturally they had, after all they were British and everyone knows that the Brits love to queue.
The crowd let out a small dignified yelp and a cheer when Devon reappeared. She smiled at them, ‘Sorry guys, jet lag and a lack of food, a dangerous combination!’ They laughed obligingly as she sat down and went back to signing their books. By now the queue was longer than ever, but she had recovered and spent the next hour autographing the books and charming the crowd. She was good at that. Had she learnt that particular kind of charm from Adrian, or was it she that had taught him?As she wrote her name on the first page on every unread book, throwingout disarming glancesto an adoring public, shebegan tolet part of her mind drift back to the past,wrenching it almost instantly back to the present, stoppingthe intense pain before it fish-hooked itself into a never ending spiral.
Adrian had left for Los Angelesthat evening with the promise that he would return soon, if Jezzy didn’t get to him first.Jezzywaslayingon a large bluemat on the floor of her gym,herright arm at right angles to her body, her head tothe leftand she noticed, in her peculiar position, that the mat had a glossysheen to it. A trainer called Baz, withhisperoxide blonde crew cut, small teeth as white as freshly laid snowand a slew of curved tattoos woven around his arms,was standing above her, bending her leg towards her head as far as it would go, which was incredibly uncomfortable but she tried to move beyond the pain, a little like she had been trying to move through the uncertainty in her mind to find out what was on the other side.Could it lead her toa fragrant stroll down the yellow brick road toOz or would she end upprostrate and whimperingin the cuckoo’s nest? She looked at the man lying next to her on the mat. His cheek was squashed into the floor and his complexion was bright and florid, seemingly growing redder before her eyes. Raging red, writhing on the floor. He was on his stomach and had a burly trainer on top of him, digging at his ribs. Every so often he grunted. Then he opened his eyes to findJezzystaring at him across the mat. His eyes were surprisingly bright and as blue as the mat beneath them.
‘Feel good?’ she asked, almost breathless as Baz was still pushing her leg as far as it would go.
The man with the blue eyes grunted.
‘What’s he doing to you?’ she enquired of the stranger’s trainer. The trainer answered for him, pushing the man’s cheek a little further into the floor. ‘Rib articulation,’ he offered.
Jezzythrust her chin towards Baz and asked, ‘Do you do that?’
Baz shook his head. She looked back at the man on his belly. ‘Still feeling good?’
He grunted again and there they lay. Two strangers being manipulated by two more strangers, grunts, puffs and heaves coming from four directions.
Baz had finished withJezzy. He looked down at heras he stroked his tattoosand said, ‘Do you want to book a bundle of sessions? Discount for five.’
She struggled to get up. ‘I might, if I can walk in the morning.’ She had been given a voucher for a free trial, but didn’t know if she wanted this to be a regular thing. What if she ended up in LA with Adrian? What if she bought a ‘bundle of sessions’ and never used them? What if every time she came here she would end up lying cheek to cheek with the same man on the mat? What if she never saw Adrian again? What if? If being the little word between life, according to her Grandmother. She could not waste her life by constantly contemplating about ifsand possibilities. Feeling the needto get away to live her life, she left the man on the floor, still grunting. Left Baz consumed by the appointment book. Left the gym.
On her way home she stopped at Tesco for a few things. Skimmed milk, which she usually took from the back of the fridge where the dates were always fresher, but this time grabbed the bottle at the front so as not to waste time, Weetabix, aboxof white sugar cubes,a crusty white roll,a bag of ready-to-go salad, two Granny Smith apples and a long, thin carrot. Her basket grew heavier so she made her way to the till. The queue was always too long in Tesco. She suddenly had a craving for avocado on melba toast with salt, so she went back to the fruit section and the cracker aisle. Adrian calledfrom Heathrowwhile she waiting in the queue but she couldn’t hold the phone and her basket and have a conversation and then her mobile began to get very hot against her ear and only the day before she had read something in the paper about not letting the phone get hot against your earbecause it was dangerous and it made her panic, so she said she would call him backbefore he boarded. She didn’t.
Her and TheRapist
‘See, the thing was that I don’t think I ever liked him that much at all. Not really. Not at all really, I don’t think. I mean, when we first met, you know the first time I saw him, I sort of bypassed mostly everything that was right in front of my face and just decided to think what really pretty eyes he had, you know, for a big guy. So then I didn’t look at him much, not properly. I mean, I did, but not so I’d notice. I tried to arrange every date in a dimly lit place and never meet him in the daylight. The daylight sucks. Everyone looks like they really look in the daytime. His features looked a bit lost in his face, if you know what I mean, even though he sometimes looked good. I suppose, looking back, I thought I should find the good in everyone and I’ve always been attracted to guys who had something weird about them. I mean, don’t all men have something, even just a little tiny thing about them that’s weird? I could go through the whole list of all of them, right from when I turned thirteen! Do you want me to? I could. I know it’s not what I’m paying you for, not what’s right there in my mind, but then I guess it must be because I’m talking about it. Do you think? I think I will go through them all with you. Just not this week. I just couldn’t believe that after all the men I’d had to choose from, I would end up with a guy I was barely attracted to! I mean, turn the lights out and hold my breath and it was doable, you know! But that’s not my dream. I still want that. My dream. My dream man. He was OK. Kind and sweet. But he was picky too. Let me tell you something. I’ve had no complaints from men. Nobody’s ever complained about me before, not in a physical way anyway. Some have said I didn’t have much of anything to talk about that was worth listening to, or that I wasn’t intellectual or anything, but nobody ever complained in the bedding department………listen, where I’m from that’s what it’s called. There was a department store called Fodgers and they had a big sign in their bedding department that said, ‘Bedding Department’, in huge orange letters, and so that’s where everybody got that saying from. You might have sex with hundreds of guys, but you don’t talk dirty about it. Certainly not in the daylight. Not to people you don’t know very well anyway. Like you, you know? I mean, I know you, I tell you everything don’t I! But it’s not as if we would meet for coffee or do a spinning class together or meet up to go paint a piece of crockery. Right? Shit. So you see what I mean? Hah! As if I have to ask! I am just so, so glad that I have you in my life to advise me and help me get things right and everything. Wow, is that the time already, well, OK, I’d better be going I guess, but thanks. Really, thank you so much. See you next week and I’ll start telling you about all the others too. Ciao!
Jezzysat at her deskat work, realizing that she felt more serene withoutAdrianthan with him, liking the thought of him being six thousand miles away and feeling quite content at being linked by spirit alone. Now he was gone she had time to think. Proper time, to really decide what she wanted. What should she do? Marry him and have kids? Marry. Marriage. Married. It was such a strange word when repeated over and over again. Tied. Bound. Constricted. Suffocated. She had a sudden vision of a chicken, its legs strung together with twine. Why was that? She had once heard on a cookery show that the legs of a chickenshould betrussed before roasting so that they didn’t open up, flap around and burn whilst in the oven. Would she? Did she need to be tied in order to be happy, to prevent her from being hurt? Was she akin to a chicken? Her mind was racing. Things didn’t seem quite so serene anymore. She needed a break. Some air. It was almost time for lunch. She hated being a temp. Her thoughts were broken by a voice. Receptionist interrupted. Temporarily, of course.
‘Where’s my one o’ clock?’ Spoken in the gruff tones of Dr. Kampf.
Jezzyshuffled in her seat. ‘She’s late Dr. Kampf.’
He leaned over the desk and looked into her eyes. ‘Hate that,’ he breathed. Old musty smells carried the words from his throat, landing right in the path ofJezzy’s nostrils. She flinched and moved her chair back, the legs catching along the scuffed carpet. She looked down at the ratty, faded coral wool. Two channels that had been carved into it by the same chair legs. Time and time again. The reason for the scuffing. Obviously.
‘Would you like me to call her again?’ offeredJezzy,leaning down to pick up a fictitious object from the floor, so as not to breathe in any more of her boss’sfoulbreath.
Dr. Kampf turned back to his office, thankfully breathing his fumes in front of himself and away from her.
‘No. Take your lunch. Be back by five to two.’ He slammed the door.Jezzythrew her small, black leather pouch bag across her chest, tapped a phone buttonto send the calls to the answer serviceand headed out the door towards Pret.
She managed to snag one of only six seats in the sandwich bar and looked down at the lunch she had chosen. A BLT. Cheese and onion crisps. Pomegranate juice. Maybe the juice would compensate for the rest of the lunch in terms of goodness. She wondered, if Adrian were here, what she would choose. Half a slim tuna or was that too smelly? Tuna may be deemed a healthy option but it stinks, lingeringhatefully on the breath. No spicy or interesting crisps, only the mundane ready salted. The pomegranate juice passed everytime. She looked at her watch. 5.15am in Los Angeles. Maybe Adrian would be getting up to go to the gym? Pret was bulging at its granary seams. She stuffed a handful of crisps into her mouth, too many really for one mouthful, when a man approached her tiny table.
‘Excuse me, is anyone sitting here or may I?’ He spoke with an American accent and was tall with dark skin and blue eyes that looked as though they had the consistency of ice cubes.
‘No, it’s fine.’ A small spray of cheese and onion flew from her lips, highlighted even more by the sunlight that at that moment had decided to shine through the window on Wigmore Street. She wiped her mouth. Why were serviettes in sandwich bars and coffee shops always rough and the colour of hay?
He sat opposite her with a fat sandwich stuffed with crayfish, a slice of lemon cake and a Diet Coke. She looked at him from behind the safety of the juice bottle. He had beautifully smooth skin but looked a little weary under the eyes. She had always thought that men looked their most attractive when a little worn and weary.
‘Jet lag,’ he offered, as if she wanted to know. Which she did. ‘Just flew in from LA and hoping to surprise a friend pretty soon, but that jet lag gets you every time.’
‘Irecentlygot back from New York. Are you from LA?’ She took a sip of juice and felt a little easier.
‘I am, but not many are,’ he smiled. ‘Mostpeople arejustbred there.Some would say Los Angeles is a breeding ground, for many things. Not for regular people like you and me.’
‘How do you know I’m regular?’ she asked.
‘I don’t, I was just hoping you were,’ his smile was slow and easy.
She realized that he was flirting with her, right in the middle of Pret for goodness sake! How can a good looking guy happen to even be in a place like this, let alone try and pick you up? How could she even contemplate another man with Adrian back in her life? What was wrong with her? Anything or everything?
‘Where are you meeting your friend?’ she asked, trying to navigate the conversation to a different direction.
‘At her office, but she doesn’t know I’m coming.’
Jezzycaught a crisp in her throat. She coughed it up, beyond embarrassed and disappointed, spluttering, ‘how nice.’
Back at work, the thoughts of her brief encounter pushed to the outskirts of her mind,Jezzywas at her desk, desperately trying to complete a Sudoku. It was driving her crazy. Why wouldn’t the numbers fit in properly? It was just a choice of nine numbers so why should it be so hard? She was so intent on finishing it, having yet to complete a single one. This had been going on for months. One square had only three spaces left to fill, but which one went where and why did she always have trouble with the 3’s!? The phone rang, breaking her concentration. ‘Dr. Kampf’s rooms, may I help you?’ She jotteddown a few notes, a phonenumber and gave helpful advice as to when he would return the call. Aware of a man entering the reception area, she looked up and almost dropped the phone. It was the gorgeous man from Pret he and was holding a bouquet of dusky pink roses that smelt divine. Happy Valentine’s Day, she said to herself excitedly. He looked even taller and more handsome and was looking right at her, somewhat quizzically, with his ice-cube eyes. She hurriedly finished with the call, ‘Yes Madam, the doctor will call you as soon as he returns,’ and crashed the phone down, probably in an impolite manner. ‘Hello again,’ She breathed through her teeth.
He looked down at her and smiled. ‘You’re not Frankie, are you?’ He spoke the rhetorical question with a husky American accent.
Jezzystraightened herself a little more in her chair. ‘No,’ she said slowly. ‘Oh, no!’ Realization set in and she knew then that the balloons hadn’t been for her. It couldn’t be, he couldn’t be. Could he?
‘My mother was a miserable woman. My father was a great man, but she never loved him. He loved me though, he would carry me on his back and kiss me goodnight. She never showed him love, no affection, not anything at all. Then he died and I was starved of emotion. That’s all I remember of him and those memories are so faded now. Things were never the same after that. I used to go to a small working farm after school. Amazing really, a farm in a busy town! I always thought it was there just for me. Every day I would escape there, just to get away from her and the stifling feeling that was in our house. Things were never the same after my father died. The house was stark and cold. It was always dark. There was no music, no TV. My mother hardly ever put the lights on. She always made the same things for dinner. Always white food. Potatoes, chicken, rice, turnips, parsnips. Always boiled. Everything always tasted of salt, which she used excessively because it was white. Just patches of white food on chippedLCCgreen plates. Ancient plates in that sickening green colour. Dinner never tasted of anything except salt. Even the occasional biscuit was white. She never let me drink anything except tap water and creamy milk. My childhood was tasteless and I was constantly thirsty and confused. So I used to spend time on this farm. A tiny farm with a farmer called Fred, on a small patch of land surrounded by semi’s. I always thought that was funny, Fred the farmer! I used to help Fred with the eggs and the cows, Errol and Flynn. We would brush the horse together, she was beautiful and her name was Sassy May. Sleek and brown with flies in her tail. Fred taught me how to take care of the animals. He would show me how to gently move the hens to collect the eggs without disturbing them. How to milk a cow the old fashioned way, by pulling on their udders. He really took the time with me. Have you ever felt an udder? It’s like a tiny soft dick. Even if you pull it really hard and rub it, it doesn’t get hard. Not like we do. Not like men do. Fred showed me that. He taught me the difference. After my father died, I didn’t have anybody to teach me about boy things. My mother wouldn’t tell me anything. The first time I got an erection I thought I was dying. I thought something had climbed inside of me to kill me. I was so scared. But Fred showed me what to do. He showed me how to make it explode in a good way so that you felt relief. I was so relieved. Fred told me that the reason it felt so good was because I realized I wasn’t dying. He was so good to me. I don’t know what I would have done without him? I would practice at night too, in my bed with a box of tissues. I would cover my face with a pillow so that my mother wouldn’t hear me scream. But one night she caught me. She opened the door just as I had thrown the blanket off because I was so hot and I was sweating and she caught me with it in my hands, just as it was exploding into the tissues. I will never forget the look of horror on her face. I could see her eyes because there was a streak of moonlight coming through from the landing window that was shining into my room, reflecting off my mirror. Her mouth looked like a gaping black hole,as if she had modeledfor Münch,but the light in her eyes showed pure horror. That was the first time I ever really saw real expression in her eyes. Never before. Never again. She never really looked at me again. Not properly, not right at me. Fred made me feel better though. Up in the barn, behind the haystacks, he showed me that wanking was a good thing and that if I didn’t want to do it at home anymore then I could always come to the farm and do it there, with him and that he would never make me feel bad. He was so understanding that it made me want to do something for him, to make him feel good. So then I would do it to Fred. He showed me just how to hold it and stroke it and then he would feel good too. Sometimes he would almost cry with joy. I learnt so much from Fred. How to milk a cow, brush a horse, fuck afarmer.
The Therapist was in a rotting world of his own, as thoughts trickled back, seeping from a hidden shell inside of his brain……as helay on the used bed. Weeping. His body shaking with the force of his tears, fat belly trembling, causing slight ripples in the damp, gray sheet. He felt used. Dirty. She had made him feel like a slut. And how many times in his life had he made a woman feel that way? How many times? How many women had he hurt, using them as nothing but a sperm-dumper? How many women had he fucked, shooting his crap into their bodies, treating the lovely, sacred flesh of a woman as nothing more than a vessel? Now he knew how they all felt, because she had come along and done the same to him. Used him like a trash can, then dumped him and his soft, useless cock. He felt an immense urge to tell someone, for somebody, anybody to make him feel better. He had spent years, decades, sitting on a chair in his office, listening to griping, lost clients. They came to him for help, but had he ever listened to them? Really listened? Or just sat there, twiddling his pen, rarely throwing out a monotonous statement, before arranging the next session? Had he ever given anyone true solace? Perhaps not. And now he felt as they must have in their desperation.
The stars fought to get through the heavy, black clouds. And he lay there. Naked. Crying. Ashamed.Back to work.
Devon was lying in a gianttub of bubbles at The Berkeley. The book tour was almost complete, havingdone signings, interviews with two nationals and an appearance on a morning TV show with two hosts: one a blousy, though pleasant woman with an endearing smile; and a man who resembled an ageing ferret. Devon had charmed and smiled and been a perfectly divine, if somewhat mysterious, guest. Her time in England was almost up. She would be back in LA in two days. She sank lower in the tub until the bubbles covered her chin. Her eyes began to glaze over as she realized that the time had come and that there was just one more thing she had to do. Needed to do. A place she had to go and someone she needed to see. Devon knew that she had to go back to her past in order to escape to her future.
Frankie looked out onto Wigmore Street from the sun-warmed window of Starbucks. The sky was so blue, as ripe as the palest delphiniums, the first promise of spring having finally sprung after a long, drawn out winter. She was so early for Sam today, but she had wanted to pop into town and have a look around for some new things to wear. The thought of meeting him, of possibly flying out to meet him, (what a thought!) made her feel bilious, a word she detested but couldn’t think of an alternative to describe her state of mind or stomach. She sipped her black tea, sweetened with a crumbly pack of brown sugar. She hadn’t found a thing she liked in the stores but she knew that she needed to pry herself out of her usual attire of baggy jeans and safe neutral T-shirts in beige and grey. There was just too much choice with everything whereclothes were concerned: colours, frills, soppy necklines, strange fabrics, awkward patterns,unsure sleeves. Those rails upon rails of everything conceivable item of clothing were, she pondered, breeding grounds for migraine. All she really wanted was sexy simplicity, but it was proving to be hard to find. A lot of work for a man she had never met. The Internet could be so seductive, but she really didn’t know very much about him at all? Would she even want to know him once she saw him in the flesh? Would she like the smell of him, the feel of him, the taste of him? The music in Starbucks piping through the scent ofcoffeewas jazzily drowning out all conversation. So Frankie sat, in a sea of white noise enhanced by Arabica beans. She was holding a little greaseproof bag bulging with Sam’s sandwiches and a chocolate biscuit that was slowly and unevenly melting against its wrapper. Frankie believed that all kids should have a biscuit after school to sweeten their day. She loved her job, loved Sam. She had been with him since he’d started nursery school and they were so close, but after devoting herself to him for the last few years she knew it was time to start thinking about herself and her own life. She couldn’t bear the thought of forgetting to have her own baby because she had been so involved with caring for someone else’s child. A good man would help of course, but at this stage she thought that it would be harder to meet the right guy than to have a baby. Still, she would hold off the trip to the sperm bank for a while longer. If that was to be the route she would one day have to take, then she would seriously consider choosing American sperm. Yanks seemed to do everything better. They had better sit-coms, better looking actors, better teeth, better governments, better parking spaces and definitely better shopping malls. The majority of men looked better on paper too, their education, self worth, bodies. Yes, if she ever had to go to the bank, she would have towithdrawher deposit from an American one. Maybe tonight she would e mail him a picture of her on a beach, no bikini shots, just one that she had from a couple of summers ago, a good one where she had been wearing an orange beaded kaftan on a moody lit beach at sunset in Italy. Her phone rang, a Billie Holiday ringtone serenading Starbucks, a welcome relief as her mind was beginning to feel as freshly ground as the java in her cup.
‘Frankie, get your lippy on, he’s here!’ whisperedJezzyfiercely.
‘What?’ Frankie had been lost in her dreams and was just trying to ease herself out.
‘The balloons were for you from him, he’s got a huge bouquet and he’s in the waiting room, quick!’Jezzyspoke in an insane whisper, spitting into the phone.
Frankie was puzzled. ‘I thought they were your balloons?’
‘Well, they’re not. They’re from him. Him! Your virtual man is no longer virtual. He’s here. Literally.’
‘My online man is in your office?’ Frankie spoke very slowly as if trying to comprehend a new language.
‘That’s the address you gave him right? Well baby, he’s here and he’s gorgeous. Come and get him.’
Frankie began to grow very hot. She felt as though she was a plant, wilting in the window of Starbucks. ‘I’ve got to get Sam, he’s due out in half an hour!’
‘Then get him and then come here, I’ll make him tea and leave him in the waiting room with a pile of Country Life and The Lady. Just hurry up, OK?’
Frankie couldn’t answer.
Frankie nodded. Which didn’t help.
‘Yes, OK.’ Frankie’s face had drained of colour and she suddenly had an onslaught of thoughts: that she hadn’t used body lotion or perfume that morning so she probably didn’t smell of anything at all, hadn’t washed her hair in two days so it was bordering on a hedge-do, wished she hadn’t worn her old baggy All Saints T-shirt and most of all, that she hadn’t eaten beefy crisps at lunchtime. Her dreams were suddenly coming true and she wasn’t dressed for it.
Devon stood in the crowd in front of two Edwardian houses. Similar houses. Narrow, tall, slightly stark, quite ordinary, almost bordering on indistinguishable, except for the brightly coloured tissue paper shapes stuck to the inside of an upper floor window and a hard, white plastic board with red writing above one of the front doors which read, ‘St. Fairfield Primary School.’ A bell rang and the sudden onslaught of small people stormed from the front door, all dressed in black and yellow uniforms. Black blazers with yellow braid trimming the edges. Yellow and black ties against graying-white crumpled shirts. Black shorts and skirts. Filthy white socks and scuffed black shoes. Typical. A typical assortment of English school kids. They rushed out to their mums or the mums of a friend with cries of ‘I’m starving mum!’ or ‘Can we get a Wimpy?!’ There were no nannies in a school like this. A few of the older kids walked to the bus stop at the end of the street and three kids walked off together, probably living only a few houses away, digging into their bags for a half eaten bag of crisps or a broken biscuit.
Devon was aware of a few sidelong glances. This was something she had always experienced though, being slim, good looking and elegant, with a slight, almost imperceptible air of danger about her, there were few crowds into which she fitted, outside of Beverly Hills. She smiled at the kids as they shuffled or skipped, eager to get away from school to play in the garden or the street.
Then it was quiet on the street. The school had emptied itself of pupils and Devon stood there, alone. The school was quiet, unlike her mind which was a raging torrent. Tears welled up in her eyes and her padlocked memories took her back to a time almost thirty years ago when she was a pupil here.When the playground was so hot one summer, it literally melted beneath scuffed shoes. Banned from volleyball because of fingernails that were too long. When a few of the kids would play a game called ‘Touch me!’ where they would fumble around on the outside of their shorts and skirts, touching each other fleetingly on their private bits. Didn’t like that game. Wouldn’t join in. Couldn’t.
Her mind stayed in the past as visions raged through her memories. Was she seeing herself…..or Adrian?
Emerging from the dark, musky school broom cupboard at the end of a lost corridor, anguish having been freshly etched in some ancient, unspoken language between furrowed brows, a slight, skinny teenager tugged at a damp, creased shirt with dry, dented nails, trembling hands hurriedly forcing buttons into holes as a trail of torment had begun its journey along the moist skin of a fragmented mind.
The lanky figure reluctantly ambled home through a small, strange field, bursting with misleading buttercups and softsprigs of dusty pink clover, crossing roads crammed tightly with proud semi-detached stepford houses, still trying to maintain their vigour from the 1930’s, but slowly being eased out of society by insidious developers. Strands of haymomentarily trapped on a loose thread of the worn, grey jumper struggled free, floating away upon the afternoon breeze, alone and adrift in suburbia.
Peroxide in a small town, turning black hair to blonde and back again.
Devouring night classes. Debating. Dictating. Desiring only the best.
At the lone cinema, stuck rudely at the end of a road lined with a Senior Service newsagents, an iced bun shop and a launderette, during a time before popcorn was edible and tiered seating just a pipe dream, amongst ribbons of smokespiraling up towards the towering screen. Gazing with damp starry-eyes at the stories as they unfolded, whisking you away to other worlds, sucking you in, before spitting you out through golden double doors that once beckoned so enticingly, yet now turned their tarnished backs to leave you wallowing beneath yellow lamplight on a cold, stark street, wistfully longing for love in another life.
Appearing suddenly, without warning, straight talking and sincere. A stile. A figment, a virtual oasis inside one’s mind, a mere tease? Or the suggestion of another pathway, a turnstile with which to purge the torment. A stile one could bravely use to climb across, in order to get to the other side.
Wherever that may be…
She was jolted back to the present as the winddrew its icy breath, skimming through the trees, biting at her collar. English weather. Sunny one moment, cold the next. At least the weather in Los Angeles was predictable, give or take the occasional earthquake, although they were even prepared for that. The Richter Scale was a friend to all. There were only six degrees of separation in California between you and a seismologist. She pulled up her collar and noticed the front door slowly opening. Athin,elderly man came shuffling out,wisps of grey hair around his temples that formed a frayed semi-circle from ear to ear. His glasses were small and round. He hadn’t changed much, still virtually the same, just older and possibly even more bent. Mr. Birdman the science teacher. He must be in his sixties now. Not the frightening, bullying teacher he had once been, but a much older, slightly wizened man. He peered over at Devon waiting beneath the tree, as he descended the stone steps and walked towards her. He smiled thinly at her with those same long, yellowing teeth. As he walked towards her, she surprisingly thought how small he seemed. Having only been a young teenager, the recollections has always been those of a tall overbearing teacher who used to hand out detentions ortakeyou intothe broom cupboard if you wereconsiderednaughty and now here he was, smaller than her, looking wiped out and weary. She could not take her eyes from his as he approached. He had no idea who she was. Or did he?
‘Can I help you, are you looking for someone?’ Still that curt, slightly high pitched voice.
She just stared at him, unable to speak, when there was a fleeting flash in his eyes, either that or something trembling in the deep recesses of his mind.
Frankie was clutching Sam’s hand a little too hard.
‘Ow, Frankie, you’re really grabbing at me.’
She loosened her grip, ‘sorry kid.’ She kissed his hand and handed him his snack and a pack of Rolo’s.
Sam looked at the pack and smiled, ‘it’s almost full!’ he declared, rather pleased with his acute perception.
Frankie looked at him fondly, ‘but you know I’d always give you my last one don’t you?’
Sam looked chuffed. He took a Rolo, then another. ‘Where are we going?’ he said, between mouthfuls of toffee.
‘To seeJezzy, just for a little while. Is that OK? I have a friend who’s visiting and he’s there now.’ Her heart leapt, banging palpably on the inside of her ribs. This really wasn’t the perfect time to meet him. Him! He could be the man of her dreams and she was meeting him for the first time at her friend’s office with Sam in tow and crisps in between her teeth. Still, was there ever a perfect time? She wished she could shower and change on the way, but the best she could do was pop into Starbucks to swish her hair around in the loo, put on some gloss and chew a couple of mints. Her skin was clear and her eyes bright. Hopefully he would just focus on that and maybe, if her conversation was witty enough, he wouldn’t even notice that she had a button missing on the back pocket of her jeans. She bought Sam a cupcake and milk and they headed toJezzy’s office.
Frankie crouched down just before they reached the building, beckoning Sam to her level. He thought it was a hilarious game, as the two of them crouched low, sidling along out of view of the window to reach the front door, despite the fact thatthe waiting room was internal and didn’t have a view of the street andJezzy’s office was the first door on the right in the building. Frankie and Sam crept in, her heart banging so hard she thought the whole practice might hear it.
Jezzy’s face lit up as they entered. ‘Hi Sam, come and sit with me and do your homework while Frankie says hi to her friend.’ She patted the chair next to her and pushed some files aside to make a space on the desk for him.
‘Is that OK Sam, I won’t be long,’ Frankie sounded nervous. He nodded, already digging in his bag for his tatty textbooks.
Jezzydipped her hand into her drawer and held up a spray. ‘Open,’ she whispered to Frankie and promptly sprayed something minty into her mouth.
They pulled a face at each other. Those faces that only friends can pull and that could mean a cornucopia of things, but are really and truly just little symbols of hope and trust. ‘Go on, he’s in there,’Jezzythrust her head in the direction of the waiting room, almost putting her neck into a spasm. Frankie took a deep minty breath, turned and went in.
Edie leaned her tired body against the faded yellow wallpaper, trying to hang her bony arm out of the window, but it would only open a crack, just enough for her to stick her wrist through, up to her protruding elbow. She grazed her thin, blue-tinged skin as she tried to edge her arm past the frame and through the window. Beads of blood appeared beneath her elbow, leaving a tiny trail of red speckles on the peeling wooden frame. She lifted her creased face to the sky, the sun glinting through the clouds making her wince so she closed her eyes, her lids transparent, shiny and blue. The feel of the sun on her face was nice, it took her back to a place lovingly stored in a deep recess inside her mind, a place where she had been happy and loved and young and free.For mere moments she was back there again, at a country club dance deep in the south when men were gentlemen and girls were treated like princesses, wearing a pink chiffon dress with roses at her wrists and a sparkle in her eyes, momentarily suspended in time.Then something rudely shifted in her mind, dislodging her dreams and she was back in the present. Herlonely, gloomy present. The past was so much more appealing, but she could never stay there for what seemed like more than a few precious moments. Her heart had been full back then, brimming with possibilities. Once upon a time her cup had runneth over, now it had been wickedly washed away. Edie could never seem to retrieve her memories for anything longer than a few precious momentsand those small flecks of treasured time were what kept her heart beating. Those glimpses of what had once been, but were no more. The memories were like salt sifting through her mind, and she was unable to catch more than a few grains.
The sun was burning into her eyelids. She squinted down through the crack in her first floor window and saw a powdery vision of a young woman walking a small, scruffy thing with a red leash. Edie clutched the glimmer of hope and called out in her thin, rarely used voice,
‘Please, help me, I’m imprisoned here…’. The woman with the dog looked up at her. Looked away. Carried on as if nothing had happened. Edie’s eyes welled with tears, warm drops spilling onto her gaunt cheeks, down to the unwashed flannelette nightgown. A warm trickle escaped from between her legs and even though she was alone it made her blush. She looked up at the sky again, forcing her eyes open to look beyond the clouds, to the promise of a world she could not yet see. A small creased face that barely filled the opening of the window. ‘John,’ she called thinly, ‘Come back to me John.’
Devon and Mr. Birdman
As the two starkly different figures stood there, in front of an empty school on a windy, empty afternoon, her thoughts began to race through the caverns of her mind. Could he know her? It had been years, decades, but still surely he knew. How could he forget? How could he possibly forget unless, unless there had been others, countless others who had been transfixed by his gaze, melting before him with intimidation? People, like her, like who she had been, too lacking in confidence to be able to fend off the insidious advances of seemingly apparent innocence between a teacher and pupil.Mr. Birdman had seemed to know everything, right from the start. From the first day in that school. Never fitting in, always standing out. Out of place. Until becoming out of mind. And now, here they were, lifetimes later, standing together once again. Only this time she was the more powerful one. In strength, knowledge and self protection. She was so capable of protecting herself from others. How different she was now to who she had been back then. Now the onlyperson Devon feared was herself, which stemmed fromThe fearofhaving her brain wrung out, time and time again. Mr. Birdman was one of those who had sent her to the mind mangle. One who had attributed to the cause. He had been there at the beginning, was the first to notice how her mind and body were at loggerheads. He knew even before she did. Her mind raced as she stood there, transfixed, looking into the beady eyes of Birdman. Her mind ran marathons at the speed of sound. Back to the past, into the present, never daring to even hint at the future. She felt as if the past were a vortex, climbing through her head, ready to swallow her whole, sucking her in and then she was spinning, round and round, deeper, down, back to a place where her fear began.