Monday, October 18, 2010

Plaything

"Spill! Who is he and why has he been kept a secret?" Amy whispers into her best friend's ear.

"Just someone I met, we've been seeing each other for a while but I've kept him under wraps." She says, looking away to avoid further inquisition and resumes a previous conversation. She is blase and unfazed by her attractive young escort but that's all her best friend is going to get for now.

She and her new companion have been together for months but even her best friend has no clue about their relationship. He is her beautiful secret and until tonight she has been happy to keep him as such.

It's no grand occasion, just another Friday and the perfect opportunity for them to make their couples debut. Drinks then dinner with the crowd, her crowd. The divorcees and the golfers, that odd man who just turns up now and then, the tennis crew, the neurotic nurse and the self-made men and the women who 'married well'. They're her age, her peers, her friends. She doesn't go often and is considered by them to be recluse. She's different. Her conversations are about art and travel, philosophy, experiences, feelings, loss and love. Theirs focus upon the latest Tennis comp, private schools and luxury cars, how their businesses are suffering since the GFC, talk-back radio and comparisons of photographs featuring their kids' weddings and graduations. She's a fish out of water with them most of the time but these are the people she calls friends. They like her, berate her for her absence and form the closest thing she has to a 'social circle'.

Lately he's become her social circle.  He's her confidante, her friend, her playmate, her constant companion. He's her world and she loves him. He loves her back. She knows it. They are a perfect pair who tease and laugh. They have common taste in music, plan their travels, sing together, read to each other, confide in each other and for hours remain absorbed within their own cocoon.

He oozes youth; clear skin, bright eyes and how his dark hair shines. He's fit and tight, casual and cool, attractive without being showy and that smile: She melted the first time she saw it and she melts each time it's levelled in her direction.

He's way outside her self-imposed age limit for a partner. "Twelve year's either side" she has always maintained but this one clears the ball park and makes her wonder what on earth she is doing. She feels embarrassed and conspicuous but he shrugs it off as his 'Helen Mirren' complex and laughs away her concerns. With him, she becomes young and beautiful even though her face and body have that 'lived-in look'. He tells her that he loves her and she's awesome, how he loves her shoulders and the way she plays with her hair. She tells him that he's beautiful and talented and the centre of her universe. They feed each other's egos and need for companionship. Yes this odd couple are causing gossip and much consternation in the camp.


He's absorbed in his own verbal exchange, introducing himself to her friends, surprising them with his acute and sometimes intimate knowledge of her. Clearly he knows her well, in many respects, better than they. He's in his element, talking the leg off a chair whilst passing her surreptitious sideways glances. He engages in a secret lover's semaphore as he tickles her palm with his index finger while outwardly focusing on the depth and meaning of his conversation.

They finish their drinks and file into cars, heading out to dine. He takes her hand and smiles, kisses her neck and wraps an arm around her shoulder before dispensing a playful headlock. The eyes in the back of her head can see them gesticulating and wondering.  Her inner ear can hear them whispering and cogitating.  He's pleased with the gossip and minor furor he's creating. It suits his sense of mischief to be embroiled in such controversy. He's thrilled and the fact that it allows him to be close to her just adds to its appeal. She's thinking 'mutton dressed as lamb' and feels she's taking the Mrs Robinson thing to a whole new level but it's oh so wicked and so much fun and both are aware of their effect.

The evening ends. Hands are shaken, cheeks are air-kissed and farewells dispensed. Through it all he does not release his grip. He's gracious and conversational, bids them adieu and thanks them for their hospitality. And so the mismatched lovers leave, hand in hand, playful and replete.

As tail lights fade, their bodies involuntarily quake, tears begin to well and insidious glances are exchanged. Their giggling escalating to hysterical laughter. They snigger like naughty children who've placed a paper bag of burning poo on some innocent's doorstep, mischievous then raucous and finally uncontrollable. So collapsing is their laughter that she persuades him to pull over because she's at risk of wetting her pants. Noses are blown, tears wiped, a congratulatory kiss is shared and and composure barely restored before continuing their drive home to a stereo cranked with Dan Black singing U+Me.

She knows there will be questions. Amy is not going to be brushed off and once she has her friend alone there'll be a torrent of enquiry, a waterfall of wanting and her thirst for more information on the young lover will need to be quenched. And so it comes - the inquisition.

Amy twitches uncomfortably in her seat. Clearly sidetracked and agitated, she's downing Chardy and building up Dutch courage.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Already did . . " her friend quips.

"No, I'm serious!" Amy scowls.

"Sure, fire away."


The questions spill uncontrollably from her lips in rapid succession. Where did you find him? How old is he? How long have you known him? What's the sex like? Are you self conscious? Is he a keeper? Does he make you happy? Are you heading for a fall? What do the kids think?

These two women are the best of friends, there will be no deceit between them.

"Well my darling" She steels herself for the truth . . . "I have a confession to make . . ."

"Yeh?" Amy responds, and draws her cafe chair noisily closer into the conversation as she poises for the revelation.

"He's not actually my lover . . ".

"What?" The astonishment on her friend's face proves that their 'prank' was convincing, "You're kidding! All that lovey dovey stuff the other night? Jesus, woman, he certainly looked the part! Did you pay him?"

"Amy, I'm not quite that desperate!" she retorts indignant that the thought.  "No I did not! Besides a Gigolo couldn't possibly know all those things about me. He's my friend, my closest friend, I've known him for ages. We were just fucking you up a bit. It's all so fucking hilarious! Should have seen your faces, should have heard the whispers and I won't pretend that I didn't like the attention!!"


"Oh bloody hell!" Amy chastises her friend before her expression of disapproval turns to abject disappointment, "I thought you looked so happy. I thought you were the real deal!"

She confesses all to her loyalest of friends and smiles a knowing smile, one tainted with sadness that he is indeed too young for any furtive affair.

But she is happy, very happy. He makes her so. She does loves him deeply and he loves her but they are not 'in love'.  She is left to treasure those moments of sweet deception when his breath warms her neck and his hand sweeps gently against her palm as they engage in a playful and unrequited faux romance.



Fiction posted for the Tenth Daughter of Memory "Confession"

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Retribution

She saw it all from five floors down . . one hundred spiralling steps above in a small Parisienne apartment with exposed beam ceiling and two large bay windows she could easily espy the apartments across and the street life below. Her obsession is the business of the street and among others, she watches him. He looks up at 6pm each night, loads an imaginary clip, pulls back an imaginary safety and flicks an imaginary softly-spoken bullet in her direction. They have an understanding. Watch but never tell.

All around are oblivious to their actions or do not care. It's a seedy street, a busy street, an arty street.  Stretching all the way from Raumier Sebastapol to the fashionable restaurants of Rue Monteguile is Rue St Denis.   Split by two intersections, the southern end of the street is all a clatter with clothing-laden trolleys rushed from truck to store by preter porter wholesalers. The northern end is more - diverse.

It's a tolerant neighbourhood, a multicultural neighbourhood where peep shows and prostitutes work and spruik whilst young mothers wheel their toddlers to the organic vegetable stand.  Arab men glare at passers by, drink tea and gamble on the horses, constantly drawing on their fruity tobacco-laden hookahs. Young singles gather after work for Apero and wine in the corner cafe, the smell of coffee and Asian food permeates the air and  beautifully braided black men animate and gesticulate noisily on street corners, their faux fighting and laughter echoing upwards, music to her ears.

She sees the artist on the third floor across the street. An eccentric and elderly man who shuffles from room to room wearing what looks like a woman's brunch coat, buttoned to the neck in baby blue.  Mad grey hair sweeps across his face like a creative cowl obscuring his view of reality as he adds colour to another work. She waves to the young couple on the fourth floor as they both take a cigarette, sitting on their window sill while watching the clamour of the street below. She envies the couple on the fifth floor with their petite boutique apartment and quiet yuppie soirees. She wonders what's on the photographs plastered on the apartment wall to the left or whether the two men across and to the right are gay or just good friends.

She sees it all from her fifth storey window. She watches people and the vibrance of the street. He watches her from the grimy crossroad below.

He leans against his scooter, obvious from above but blended at street level in his blue and white track suit and pimpin' shoes. He's tall, and black and wearing a little too much gold. A small glass 'roll-on' vial on a chain around his neck contains cologne which he liberally applies at regular intervals. His 'no back' hat displays the 'extra large' holographic label on its peak.  He is the Dauphin Frais, The Man. Pretty women stop to chat and flirt, younger men have a different motive. He leans casually against the bike, legs languishing like tree roots  descending lazily into the cobbles of the street,  his disposable lighter in hand and pockets full of death.  As each buyer approaches, the dealer's lips don't move, words unspoken yet expression crystal clear.  A sleight of hand between men and the deal is struck.  Euros exchanged for white cones of paper and a disposable lighter.  Rinse repeat . . rinse repeat . .the same thing every night. Same time, same punters, same process and she sees it all but says nothing.

She watches. The process is detailed. A cigarette withdrawn from behind the ear, its contents carefully emptied into the palm of the hand, black crystals lovingly blended then combined with tobacco to make the spliff. Contents painstakingly restored to their gossamer cigarette casing. Lit, with difficulty, the drug does not ignite easily but is relished, absorbed and its user sated.

Track suit man is there, every night, same time, same intersection.  As she observes from her window, dragging deep on her own cigarette, track suit man is approached by Germaine, one of his regulars. She likes Germaine. He's a tall and elegant Moroccan with a habit, a bad habit.  But he's handsome with blue-black skin  and a flashing smile. Dexterous fingers like those of a pianist. He is well-dressed  and clean and carries himself with a dignity that makes him stand out from the usual desperadoes. He retains a day job and rarely uses in the street but today he has the trademark cigarette behind his ear and cash secreted in his hand. He looks a little agitated and in need of a fix.

From above, she sees it all.  At street view, it's just some young black men rolling their own, laughing and joking but today, something is not right. Germaine prepares his spliff and takes a mighty drag. By the third, he begins to salivate. This elegant African king makes a throne of the gutter and fires abuse towards his invisible nemesis.  Saliva oozes from the corner of his beautiful mouth. Mucous drips uncontrollably from his aquiline nose. He is oblivious to the repulsive effects of the drug. Acid shots of verbal ammunition fire at  his invisible foe. He's off his face, maggoted, off tap, offline.  His conversation is fast and furious, sensible but targetted towards  some unknown ghost who cannot get a word in edgeways. She understands some of it but doesn't speak his language. She's seen it a hundred times before but never quite like this. He has taken too much, he is in peril, nobody knows or cares as he talks his way into oblivion, spits his life force into the gutter, argues his senseless  point literally to death  until degenerating into a salivatory mess, twitching and useless, waiting for the street cleaner to sweep him away with  the rest of the garbage. Germaine is dead and she watched it happen.

She is torn. Germaine is dead and nobody notices or cares but this is street life. She blows him an ethereal kiss. Track suit man makes a barrel of two fingers, pulls back the catch and clicks his imaginary trigger in her direction before pressing a bony index finger to his pursed lips gesticulating a need for her to remain silent about what she has seen.  She trembles and retreats, closing the shuttered window in her wake.

Her conscience screams to be heard above her knowledge and she thinks about calling the Gendarmerie despite the unspoken threats from track suit man.

He stealths upon her stairs, slithering and steady, making no intrusive noise on the ancient stairs as he ascends the hundred steps to the fifth floor apartment. Spiralling upwards breathless but resolute. Tired but purposeful he knocks gently upon  her door.

She peeks through the  peep hole and sees no one. He knocks once more but lays low. She grabs a shawl to protect against the winter chill and does the  unthinkable - unlatches the door. He springs and grapples. Two thirds her age and twice her strength he forces her frail form towards the wall, the ceiling barely six inches from their heads so antiquated is the apartment. She is speechless, breathless.

"I told you to keep quiet" he grimaces beneath clenched teeth, his black face shrouded by the darkness and yet unaware that she had retained his secret. "I told no-one!" she squeals beneath the force of his hand around her throat. "I swear, I told nobody! Trust me, I've never spoken of what I've seen, ever!".  He's not convinced and veins pulse along the ridge of his forehead and along his forearm and the back of his hand as if in bas relief. His blood pressure rises and his anger becomes uncontrollable. He thinks the jig is up, his days are  numbered thanks to the bitch  who sees it all from her 5th storey window.

He tears at her clothes, rage mounting with palpable lack of control.  His hand clasps tight across her mouth as she struggles with  silent  screams but she is frail and no match for this man in his physical prime. It's time to teach her a lesson. He spins her round to face the wall and pushes her forward, his hand strong in the small of her back limits upper body movement as she begins to cry and begs not to be hurt. His other hand begins to brutalise her lower body.  He lifts her skirt and tears at her underwear while she muffles screams, wide eyed and terrified, she pleads for mercy but he does not understand nor care for convesation no matter how desperate. He penetrates her hard, ruthless and drives home his message in no uncertain terms. This is not sex this is domination, abomination, punishment and retribution and he's well aware of the power he emits and the effect of his actions.

In 20 years of living on Rue St Denis, she had never told of the goings on.  A former addict, a once-prostitute, she understood the need, the push, the loss, the risk . . he just thought she was an old woman, a busy body, a pervert with little else to do than deal him strife while he dealt worse.

His  deed complete he turns her back against the wall and glares into her terrified eyes. She attempts to scream but lips emanate no sound as he pulls the knife and wedges it fist-firm between her ribs. It's harder than he thought to physically kill, as gristle grinds against bone, she fades. Black blood trickling like treacle down her side and leg and onto the floor in pretty pools of colour as she slides silently down the surface of the wall.

He leaves. Quick and quietly descending the spiral stairs and slipping silently through the carelessly unlatched gate into the night.

She is not dead. She bleeds, she feels, she is mortified and frightened and with her last vestige of strength  pulls her frail and battered  body together, navigates the agonising  stairwell with careful caution and strengthened resolve. The Gendarmerie will hear of this,   his greed, his cutting drugs with insane zeal, the death on the streets more accurate than a bullet delivered by a firing squad. She slips on the last three steps but lunges forward, pain overcome by a need to expose his lust, greed and cruelty. She's seen enough, it's time to end the charade.

She strides her bike, blood now  soaking her thigh and buttock. She is pale and tired and sore and weak as a kitten but has only a block to cycle to raise the alarm. Into the street she rages, peddling mad but with no strength. People stare but do not intervene. She's close, her target only a couple of hundred yards when a small Peugeot storms around the bend. Its driver wearing his trademark blue tracksuit slams hard into the bike forcing woman and metal 2 metres into the air and crashing down into a twisted heap.

A bicycle lies crumpled five floors down, front wheel bent, back still spinning. Her body limp and contorted, blood leaking slowly, down her side, across her thigh and calf dispersing prettily into the pre-dampened gutter. She lies crushed and lifeless beneath spinning spokes.

He leans against his scooter. His trademark blue tracksuit an invitation to the desperate who practice their slick palm dance and exchange their drugs of choice. From the street, it's two men passing, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries but from above, from the fifth floor, a young tourist perceives the trick and levels her Canon 400D to take a harmless holiday snap  . .  He looks up, loads an imaginary clip, pulls back an imaginary safety and flicks an imaginary softly spoken bullet in her direction.

Posted for 10th Daughter of Memory and Magpie Tales No. 36