Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Longing

It's a strange place. She'd have never known it was there, but Melbourne can be like that. A city with a soul and a sub-culture. On the surface it's the same as any other with a river running through it and a normal CBD. Venture beneath and above, and it's a city of secrets, revealing themselves but only if you know someone who lives there, or are adventurous enough to breach the graffiti donned steel doors. Flinders alleyways are filled with al fresco cafes in a town where it rains and the wind howls. A place where the heat can be so unbearable, you need shade to keep your beer cold. Wine bars buzz on the third level of office blocks, their little terraces visible only to those on floors above as they gaze on the cityscape.  Curiosity shops are hidden round corners and beyond reach of the average citysider.

This was one of those places. She'd have never found it had she not been bored and on a mission to get lost. The unremarkable steel security door opens into a cavern of the occult and strange. A maze of rooms and corridors filled with curios and candles aged volumes on religion, Wicca and some darker necromantic practices. The place is scented with the smoke of patchouli and reeks of risk and the mysterious. One of those shops with a curious back room hidden by a thick, dark velvet curtain. What goes on there she can only guess. Her imagination runs to ritual and orgies, Tarot readings and practices outside her middle-class experience, but she's as curious as the items displayed for sale and asks the man at the counter.

"What's beyond the curtain?"

He's a furled and wizened man. Wizardly looks and the stereotypical long grey hair with a not-so-stereotypical closely-cropped beard. He wears a hand-knitted grey cardigan and thick corduroy pants. He reminds her of her old history Professor, the one who called his Reformation 101's a 'bunch of fuckin' Charlies.' He peers at her over silver-rimmed reading glasses, the type with half a lens; tiny and rectangular. 

"What do you want to be beyond the curtain?"

"I dunno," she wasn't expecting him to answer a question with a question and it made her think. "Something different. Something outside my experience. Perhaps fortune telling or magic?" She refrains from any reference to dark practices or sexual deviance although she's already convinced it happens beyond the curtain.

He closes the volume he's reading. She's disappointed to see the cover reveals it to be a store-bought cash book, she was sure he'd be reading some occult manual or The Book of Shadows.

"Seriously young lady . . . that's where we hold our readings, incantations, hypnotherapy and casting sessions. Are you interested?"

She's not. She's only in the shop to browse while the torrential rain abates. This is Melbourne. The weather breaks eventually, and a warm shop with a fragrant ambianc is as good a place as any to seek refuge in a storm.

"Er, not really but I'm curious. Does that stuff work?" 

She's sworn off reading her horoscope and doesn't believe in God, so how could any other spirituality exist? She's open though, searching, sad. She needs a saviour of some kind, or magic in her life but remains skeptical and agnostic in her belief in anything.

"Well that depends," he strokes his beard thoughtfully.


She now has his full attention since she's the only customer in the place.


"If you believe, if you're psycho-suggestive or even if you let your will subside and take the time to relax, practice, listen; yes, it can work. The degree to which it works depends on what you need and how much you want it. What do you need?"

She did give up smoking listening to a self-hypnosis CD and she enjoys the power of yoga for relaxation. She knows what she needs. It's what she wants that remains elusive; a certain young man. One who's affections appear to be waning. His attention, once full-on, is now divided between her and work and selfish pursuits. She sees less of him and it makes her needy. She wants more of him and it makes her worse.

"A love spell? Or perhaps an out of love spell so that I don't need him any more. One that will help me move on." 


Immediately the embarrassment of even uttering the words washes over her and she feels like an idiot.

"Ah." He strokes his beard again. 


This is the most common of requests, and the unremarkable young woman standing before him becomes even more so. 


She's modestly dressed in a black trench coat, loosely pulled over a long sweater and leggings, short boots.  She's clearly a suburban girl trying to look a little alternative.  Made obvious by her glossy lips and pink pashmena and conservative pearl studs in each ear.  He can tell that she's safe, straight, not too adventurous, bored perhaps. Lonely? Definitely. Open to suggestion? Absolutely. He moves towards the heavy door and pushes the deadbolt. She's feeling trepidatious but for some reason trusts him. 

"Come," he reaches for her hand which takes her by surprise but he's warm and friendly and she allows herself to be led beyond the curtain.  The room's small, comfortable and cozy. It's draped with curtains and lined with red and gold flock wallpaper. It has the feel of her favourite barThe Alchemist in Brunswick Street; musty and faux Victorian.  Patchouli still permeating the air with it's sweet and musky fragrance. She's directed towards a chaise lounge before he motions for her to sit. She's a little anxious and perches erect and stiff,  "No, no, be comfortable," he gesticulates with an animated flourish of his arm, "Put your feet up, relax." She turns off her mobile phone and removes her boots; lies prone on the lounge as he tinkers in an old wooden cupboard. He retrieves and arranges red votive candles on the points of a pentacle drawn on the old parquet floor. He begins to light them slowly and deliberately. 

"So, which will it be? To make him love, or help you forget?"

She doesn't really believe in the remedy but it's still raining outside and she has nowhere else to be at this particular moment.

She adores Ricky. He's the light of her life but lately he seems ambivalent towards her. The first flush and crush of love and lust now past. He's not been attentive and she's yearning for a step backwards. She fears the relationship might not last for a number of reasons, the least of which provided by the tyranny of distance. Long distance romances never work despite having told herself the contrary. Commuting six hours each weekend wasn't pleasant and the time they had together brief and becoming more dispassionate for him, more anxious for her. She stopped running after him on weekends a fortnight ago, and now waits for him to come to her. He swore once this 'deal' was done, he'd move in with her but it's been taking too long and she fears estrangement.

"Make him love me," she says, "I don't want to forget him, not ever. He's the love of my life but I'm not the love of his."

The Wizard speaks soft and low to each of his burning candles. Bent and slowly circling the pentangle, arms outstretched,

"Imagine a door in the floor. Under the door is 'the longing' bathed in white light. The longing weeps as you do, the longing sobs waiting for the light. So may he wait, longing to see you, touch you, enjoy you. Without you he is nothing, without you he has nothing, he cannot eat nor drink. A fish without water, a babe without a mother. Neither under the sun by day nor under the moon by night. Gnaw the longing into his breast, into his heart that it may grow and increase with thirst for you."

He's immersed in his spell and doesn't see the smirk on her lips. "This should be good", she's thinking and begins to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the situation. She's holding back the giggles. 

He repeats the incantation over and over before he extinguishes the candles and turns on the light.


"That's it?" she asks. "Are we done?"

"Not quite," he replies, "You need to take one of these candles. Before the waxing moon, carve his name and yours into the side. Dress the candle with vaginal secretion, just once each night until the moon is full." 


She feels her jaw drop at the very idea of bodily secretions and thinks it hilarious, and ridiculous, but maintains a serious face as she sits up, feeling unusually relaxed and pulls on her boots and coat. 


"Burn the candle for 10 minutes each evening," 


She's skeptical once more but agrees.


"There's no charge for the casting, but the candle will be $25" 


He now has the cool persuasion of a used car salesman which reinforces her feeling of ridiculousness. It's a lot of trouble to go to just to flog a candle. She pays. Anything's worth a try.

***


He's busy. She doesn't believe him but he really is. There's a deadline to meet and the pressure on him is enormous. This is a make or break deal that could set him up for life or destroy a potentially lucrative career. He's told her as much and wonders why she's constantly emailing, constantly whining that he's absent in heart and mind. It's irritating him. Why can't she understand love isn't dependent upon pissing in each other's pocket 24/7. He told her he'd be preoccupied for a couple of weeks. She acknowledged it but still pesters him with her emotional outpourings of neglect. Two weeks! Two short weeks and it'll be alright. The deal will be done, their future assured. 


He's already bought the ring. She doesn't know of course. He's even thought about proposing over the phone to shut her up but no, he's got a special event planned and he wants it to be a surprise. 


He knew he loved her the minute he met her. She was honest, real, down to earth. They shared interests, a quirky sense of humour, the same taste in music. They talked until the cows came home. She was his companion, his friend, his lover. He just needs a little time. He just needs her to back off. Once this is done, he'll move to Melbourne and they'll be together, everything will work out.

The presentation goes well despite the growling in his stomach. He should have eaten beforehand but nerves got the better of him and he skipped breakfast. Strange really, he normally eats like a horse but couldn't face his muesli.  He calls her.

"Hey babe, all went well, I think they'll go for it. I'll know in a week or two. If it comes off, I'll be moving to Melbourne by the end of the month."

She's still not content.

"The end of the month? Rick, it's been six weeks since I've seen you. Four days since you called. I'm here hanging on Skype waiting for you, sending you texts and you barely reply. What's going on?"

He's taken aback. "Didn't realise it had been that long. Sorry, I'm flat out with this proposal. Been working six days and schmoozing with the corporates in the evenings. It's not been fun you know."

She's still not persuaded but swayed by the sound of his voice, his wonderful voice. Gentle, calming. Just seeing his face relaxes her, reassures her although the conversation is short.

"Anyway, gotta go. Some wrinkles to iron out before the next meeting. I'll call you Saturday and we'll talk for hours, promise."

"I love you," she says with less than full conviction in her voice.  He hangs up without saying anymore than "Goodnight"


***

She lights the candle, odd as it seems, and complies with all instructions, eyes focussed on the clock before extinguishing the flame.  Retrieving the required 'ingredients' has reminded her how long it's been since she and Rick have slept together, held each other, fucked each other. She dozes with her fingers caressing that which he should, but for now, it's good enough and she becomes lost in the moment before embracing fitful sleep.

She repeats the ritual as instructed until the full moon beams and the candle dwindles to a weeping waxy mess on the saucer on her bedstand. The job is done and she can 'feel' a difference, although what that 'feeling' is she can't identify.

"Hey Hun," he sounds tired. He's on Skype and she adjusts her webcam. He looks gaunt.

"Hey darling. You OK? You look knackered."

"I don't know what it is, I can't eat, sleep. I've been up for 36 hours, I can't focus. Even this bloody proposal just stares at me and I can't seem to get it finished."

"Take some multi-vitamins, go for a walk get some fresh air and new perspective," She's not really interested in giving advice but has a go at it anyway to try to cheer him up. Tired or not, he's called her every night, texted her every day. Sent flowers every week and soon she'll see him.  Everything is falling into place.

"I dunno, if I can't get this thing finished, we'll miss the boat. I miss you though. Can't stop thinking about you." 


He explodes in a tirade of desperate romance. "I'm horny all the time, it's embarrassing, look at this," he slides the camera down and she takes a gasp as the moisture builds on her own side of the lens.  Talk leads to lascivious conversation. Even cybersex is better than none as they masturbate in unison, listening to each other moan without the intimacy of contact.

After calls like this, her self-confidence is restored. He's hers, once again. Two weeks, it'll be sorted and he'll be hers always. She knows it.  Strangely, she feels it.

His calls continue but his webcam fails and it's been over a week since she's actually seen his face. He's still having trouble sleeping and can't keep down his food. He sounds exhausted, dejected and misses her beyond her comprehension.  One night he even bursts into tears saying he can't take it any more, the loneliness is killing him and he wants her in his arms. She wishes she could see his face and readjusts all her settings to try to make the camera work, to no avail. She just contents herself hearing him breathe and tells him she'll fly down for the weekend.

Tonight the call isn't from him, but it is from his Skype account. She's surprised when it's not his face in front of the camera, which now mysteriously works.

"John? Where's Rick?" 


It's his colleague's face now visible on a working webcam. Strange how it just suddenly decided to behave. She's unaware that Rick had turned it off so she wouldn't see him in such a state. He knew he looked like shit and she'd only worry; he didn't want her to worry. It would all soon be over. 

"Em, there's something you need to know." John's face is crestfallen, anxious.

"Rick's been admitted to the Alfred. He's not well. Something's happened over the past couple of weeks. He was well into his proposal. The original presentation went without a hitch and they were ready to sign once they had the detail. He stopped eating, stopped working, fell into some sort of depressive heap. He's lost a lot of weight, terribly dehydrated and collapsed in the boardroom this morning. We couldn't find his mobile to call you so I got his hotel room keys and he was still logged in."

She's shocked. This wasn't an outcome she'd anticipated. All should be well by now. He loves her, the presentation was almost finished, a romantic weekend planned. Just a few days and life as they'd known it would resume. The candle came immediately to mind. The words of the chant echoing in her head;


Without you he is nothing, without you he has nothing, he cannot eat nor drink. Gnaw the longing into his breast . . . 

"Shit! Tell him I'll be down tomorrow morning. I'll catch the earliest flight. Tell him I love him."


"Em . . " John's voice is grave, "I think you'd better hurry, he's in a bad way."

It's all unravelling. She didn't believe in the spell, the chant, the magic. She'd done it out of desperation, just in case. She didn't put any value on it for a moment. It gave her something to wish for, hope for. Jesus, it gave her something to occupy her mind before she slept. 


She grabs her coat and bag, still dressing as she runs down to the bus stop. Back into Flinders lanes and tries frantically to find the shop. He has to help her, he has to stop the spell. She needs an antidote to something she doesn't understand and never really believed. She's panicked and desperate and can't find the door - the iron, graffiti covered door that opens into the little shop of curios. It's gone. She collapses on the gutter as the rain begins to pelt and soaks her to the skin. Tears melding with the cloudburst until she can cry no more.


***
"I need to see Richard Malvern. " She's panicked and the station nurse is slow on the uptake. 


"Are you a relative?"


"No . . .well . . . yes. I'm his girlfriend."


"Are you Emily Wexford? He's been asking for you but I'd like you to see his doctor first."


"Shit, shit! . .I don't want to see his fucking doctor, I need to see him." 


The urgency in her voice makes the nurse reluctantly shadow her to Rick's room. 


"He's very ill Ms Wexford, gravely ill. We don't know what it is. His decline has been rapid, inexplicable, there's nothing more we can do."


She can't believe it. The private ward is beeping and buzzin. He's being tube fed and oxygenated. His eyes are lifeless and barely recognise her as she takes his withered hand, smoothes his sallow brow.  How could he look like this after just a couple of weeks. It's not possible. 


"Oh Ricky, what's happened? Look at you,"


He can't speak as a tear slips downwards across his temple and eyes wonder towards the small velvet covered box in the cabinet beside him. 

She averts her gaze and picks it up and gently lifts it's tiny lid. A ring. A beautiful ring.  A diamond ring. A solitaire of white light and purity.  "Oh fuck, oh fuck!"   The tears spontaneously erupt with the gravity of the situation.  "Oh God, Rick,  I've done something terrible! Something unforgivably wicked . . .I didn't think it would work! I didn't mean  .  .  "

He's beyond hearing the confession she wants to make. He wouldn't have believed it anyway, 


The monitor flatlines as he gurgles his last gaspm. He's emaciated, lovelorn, unable to tell her how deeply and unconditionally he loves her. How desperate these past weeks have been without her.  How the longing has gnawed at his body and soul. How wonderful she is, how he regrets neglecting her. How he did it all for her. How awesome their life together was supposed to be. 


Now she believes.










Published for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "A Better Ending"



Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Need for Intercourse

What do you do when there is no reply or answer - no verbal or social intercourse with the one person you need; no valid reason for the lack of communication? Assume the worst? She does. Always. Can't help it. He doesn't respond to her questions, he shrugs and says 'whatever' and she's supposed to know what's going on in his thick head. She's supposed to surmise the issues that keep him cool and distant. Is it her? Did she say something? Come on too strong? Look sideways, miss a subtle nuance? It must be her. Such is her self-doubt, lack of self-confidence. Such is her need for approval, friendship, companionship, love. She knows it's ridiculous. She knows his plate's full, his schedule stacked his life busy but he plays her - its a familiar tune. How busy can he be not to spare her a moment? She's hardly sitting on her thumb but still he's absent even when he's there. She's expected to wait, dance to his tune, acquiesce to his terms and it drives her crazy but she does and she will.

He knows what turns her on, turns her off, scares her, upsets her and tweaks nerves until the endings are raw and painfully twitch. He makes her nervous, makes her pressure rise. She loses sleep wondering what she did to shut him down. She hates her sycophancy but it's there. He snores like a Lord pretending he's oblivious but he knows, he just doesn't care.  He loves the magic of manipulation.   He's painfully pathetic at reassuring her otherwise.

Ah, the vanity of her assumptions. He's not even thinking about her, when he's all she thinks about. It's not about her. It's never about her. It's his selfishness masked as work, distraction, boredom or a need for solitude but it's like bad sex. He forces the issue, does what he wants, has his way. She thinks it's love, he climaxes thinking of another and she remains unsatisfied. Either that or she makes the play and he fobs her off and rolls away from her.

What do you do when he wants to talk and you're exhausted? You have no mental energy, feeling low, in need of a friend and he's prattling on about his project, his passion, his problems. Waxing lyrical about the hot chick in the bookshop or the price of steak. She never wants to say no. She doesn't want to let him go or shut him down because he's precious and she loves him and listening to his voice is better than no voice at all. She puts up with that side of him that irritates or bores or berates. She walks on eggshells so as not to upset him, avoids discussing her feelings because he'll think she's whining.  Against her better judgement, she makes herself available and listens. She smiles adoringly between invisible yawns and lets him tirade. She takes it in, then throws it out. Wishes he'd get deep and meaningful but he rarely does so she lies on her back and thinks of England because the foreplay's dull. She's less than aroused, not in the mood and the penetration is one-sided, forced and selfish. He lies replete, she cries into her pillow, disappointed, unsatisfied, unhappy.

What do you do when you both begin to listen to each other instead of talking at each other. There's attention and joy and an exchange of ideas. There's fun and flattery and genuine empathy, interest, love. Most times they have this awesome connection and both realise that friendship is deep, considered, forever.  He reads aloud and she's absorbed, they play games, they converse and argue in a good way. They exchange ideas, opinions - sometimes they say nothing and there's comfort in the silence because they're with each other. On these occasions, it's like great sex, awesome sex. Intercourse at its finest with a slow and rhythmic beginning, increasing stimulation mixed with variety and experimentation. All ends with a simultaneous climax; delicious and satisfying.  Both are calm, happy, sated and inextricably bound, comforted in each other's arms; no safer place than inside the tenderness of touch. where life and all it's complications are forgotten.

One day soon, they'll get it right. She needs to find balance. He needs to find empathy.

Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory "A Better Ending"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chasing the Dragon

He moulds the foil in the palm of a grimy hand. The lighter flickers blue flame into orange as its radiant breath blackens and burns. The irony that he's charring toxins from the foil before adding his own, doesn't escape him. Content with his handiwork, he wraps another rectangle of foil around his unlit cigarette, forming a neatly constructed cylinder. He crumbles the black tar and places a perfect tube to imperfect lips. Flame licks the foil bowl as tar boils. Releasing the dragon's breath he chases the euphoric smoke with his makeshift straw; sucked up, forced in, ingested, burned. He's reached the point of diminishing return. No euphoria just numb stasis. 

"Jesus Glenn, what's this shit?" Deshane has come to assess his client's eligibility for assisted care. Glenn's crashed and burned in his grubby and badly covered armchair. Around his feet three large woven tartan bags filled with belongings, largely rummaged from op-shop bins or donated by well-meaning philanthropic do-gooders. There are mouse droppings on the floor and the old iron bed is unmade with filthy sheets. Dishes are piled in the sink still coated with the remains of frozen dinners and the air is heavy with cigarette smoke. Curtains drawn. It's dim and dingy. Glenn stirs, his eyes bloodshot and pupils wide.

"Wha?" 

He straightens up as far as he's capable. His head still lolling sideways as if half severed. Badly cut hair falls across his right eye as he squints at the sunlight streaming through the open door. He hasn't seen sunlight for days.

"You're supposed to be getting ready to move!" 

Deshane's found his client alternative accommodation away from the filth and in a better neighbourhood. Too far to walk to 'drug corner' and waste his welfare funds on Afghan brown. But he knows too well that Glenn will find a way, if not here, somewhere else.  He's now trying to access mental health care for his hopeless charge. Years of heroin abuse combined with deep psychological problems has seen the decline of a once alert and creative man. Still only in his 30's he looks 50. He has moments of clarity and is articulate and creative then sinks into pools of depression or hallucination but more often drug-induced stupor.

"See the lizards on the wall?"

Glenn begins to giggle. He doesn't mind them there when he's stoned. Hates them when he's clean. They get messed up with the voices in his head, all growls and whispers. They hide under his bed waiting for an errant foot to dangle. A nicotine stained finger points to nothing as the addict's eyes widen observing invisible morphing beings escalating from the skirting board. His eyes trace their movement as they scamper across the ceiling.

"They're scared of you Deshane. They're running away.  . . fly . . fly my pretties."

He waves them off with a flourish and sinks back soporific in his chair.

"And the voices are back."

He begins to doze again and the tar-coated foil bowl falls from his grip. 

"You been using today?"

By 'using' Deshane means shooting up. That's usually what knocks him cold. His client has taken to smoking it rather than injecting. since the abscesses between his toes have prevented him from wearing shoes. There's nowhere else he can find a vein these days.

"Er, I dunno. I can't remember. Think I just had a smoke.  Dolly doesn't do anything."

He begins to rouse and a sadness falls like a cowl across lifeless eyes.

"You still taking your Methadone?"

Deshane knows he alternates between regular medication and binges on brown.

"The Dolly's not working man . . it's just not working. Smack doesn't work. Nothing works. I want to die."

He's resisted the program since he was placed on it but there's no high, just a dullness that keeps the voices quiet; the monsters still.  NA doesn't work. Just makes him want to use, listening to all those people and their experiences - what they felt, what they want. He hates the one upmanship between addicts. Who had the better gear, the closest shave. He just wants to be rid of it.  Deshane's seen it all before. This is just a routine trip in an unbroken cycle. A downward spiral through every level of Hell. All he can do is check that his client's OK, that the place is kept clean because 'clean' is something Glenn will never be.

"C'mon man, lets get you into the shower and clean this mess up."

It wasn't always his drug of choice. She was awesome, fun, witty and they had the time of their life in the 90's. Dancing from rave to rave, partying all night, sleeping all day. He had a life then. Began writing a book, even had a job as a librarian. Again he's aware of the irony of an intelligent, well-educated man sinking to the depths by rejecting the girl and embracing the dragon.  

She used to be more intoxicating than any substance. Black fingernails and orange hair, unconventional, uncomplicated. She was his world his epicentre of psychedelic light surrounded by flickering beams and booming base. Trance became life. Hyped and hot. High and heavenly. They saw the light. Such light.  It drew them to the flame. Tantric vibration in a psytrance dimension. Hypnotic arrangement of synthetic rhythms made magical by chemical enhancements.  He took it one step further and it scared her. 


Too late. The claws of the beast took hold. He knows what it's like to look into the eye of the universe and he wants to do it again and again but it eludes him.  She stayed for a while, put up with it, thought it wouldn't last. When she found him overdosed in the bathtub that was enough.   He flew, she fell. He let her go and chased the dragon; she was afraid of reptiles.

The flame beneath the foil licks blue and yellow as the sludge percolates and once again he traces the line of smoke with his home-made straw. This is his life now,chasing never slaying. No longer flying high, he's swimming the channel, barely keeping afloat. He speedballs but there's a drought. His dealer's got nothing but a bad bundle and is tapping the bags. Even the lizards have stopped crawling on his walls. Just the voices in his head and this is all that calms them.  The hit kicks in but it's not a high, simply a doorway to oblivion as he leans back on the cool stone, babbling, salivating; stupid grin on his face. Ignored by passers-by except one who takes his photograph because he belongs in a world so alien to hers.

He remembers the rush but it's long gone. Now it's a need, a poor choice made.  A life wasted, a woman lost. All that remains is a hungry beast continuing to devour and he's done being digested.



Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Woman or Dragon: The Ride of Your Life"

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Slayer

"Mark my words," she'd whispered to her sister at the wedding, "This one won't last and it breaks my heart." Her daughter not realising that her mothers tears of joy were really tears of desperation - she's married the wrong man.

She loves her daughter, beyond love, beyond truth but the hand she watches slipping a golden band on her child's fourth finger is not the hand she wants to guide her beautiful girl through life. He's  nice enough, he's always been nice enough. Good looking, great job, stable  . . . but he just isn't 'good' enough for her daughter. No. Nobody would refer to him as a great man or a good man. Not even a clever or manipulative man but he is.

When they first met, her mother knew that everything was wrong but the girl was in love, or thought she was in love.  How do you tell your kid that she's dating a manipulator, a smarmy weasel who could bend you to his will? She knew he was a 'try-hard' when he turned up with the wine after her promotion. When he chatted inanely about nothing, in an effort to impress. When he displayed fine table manners and faux friendship. Mothers are intuitive like that. She knew he could talk under water when he came up with excuses for not being around. Sure, he worked in another city for lengthy periods of time. Project Managers do. They go where the work is, where the company sends them, but usually when they come back - it's on. Good sex, catch up time, undivided attention. But it's not happening. Not for her Rebecca. And she hates to see her daughter so low.

It's accidental. She's Facebook stalking. Checking out her son-in-law's site. Clicking and curiously meddling. Perving on the beautiful women he seems to have 'friended' since he married Bec. Why does he need them? She's beautiful, she's everything. 'Curiosity killed the cat', she thinks,'Yeh but satisfaction brought it back'.  Sad satisfaction this time round.  She clicks on the face of a seductively posed brunette with  film-star  looks. This girl is beyond attractive. All smiles and slutty seduction, scantily clad, cleavage showing in the LBD. She goes further and clicks on her photos and there it is. Undeniable, 'in your face', irreversible proof that he's cheating.  The two of them. Brazen brunette and philandering son-in-law clinched in more than one embrace, given the time-stamp on the photos. The stupid Jezebel hadn't even made them private but had enough reserve not to tag the man. Lips locked, tongues engaged, arms entwined. This was no peck on the cheek, no casual engagement. This is a fully-blown betrayal. And she doesn't tolerate betrayal. Not on any level.

What to do? Tell her daughter that her husband's a dirty, lying cheat and risk disbelief? She knows the cad is capable of turning on the water-works, explaining away the inexplicable. Say nothing and risk her finding out?  Lie? If ever asked. Confront the dick? She anguishes  wondering what direction to take but more than anything she wants to punish the bastard without hurting her kid.  Her head swims with the conundrum and without careful thought,  she reaches for the phone.

"Jerve?"  He'd changed his name for reasons of his own.

 "Allo? Qui est ce? Savez-vous quelle heure il est?"

"It's me, Alice."

It's been ages since she'd seen her friend and her daughter's former lover. He'd been perfect for Bec but things hadn't worked out between them. Jerve, too idealistic, impoverished and romantic. Bec so pragmatic, practical and moneywise. She'd become tired of supporting him while he embarked on wild schemes and dreams, none of which came to fruition. They'd parted badly but mother and boy had remained friends. He'd been deployed shortly after the fall out. Life and war got in the way and he'd finally settled in France.  He'd always said he'd end up somewhere other than the States. She's only seen him twice in the past three years. They keep in touch via Skype on birthday's and at Christmas. Send each other postcards when travelling, but nothing more.  Still, they have history. They know each other well, very well and time doesn't kill that kind of friendship. Jerve knew things. He knew people. He'd help.

"Alice? Is that you?"

He's more surprised at being woken in the middle of the night than the fact that she's called from half-way across the world, "Is everything alright?"

"Yep everything's fine. Well no . . it's not, but I'm fine," she continues, "Remember that conversation we had ages ago about loyalty and trust and the betrayal of friends?"

" Oh for fuck's sakes Alice! You call me at 3am to reminisce. I thought someone had died!"


No. Listen will you? Just shut up for a minute."

The insistence in her voice piques his interest as he pulls himself up against the pillows oblivious to the naked woman lying next to him. She should have left by now and he resents her presence.

"I want you to 'arrange' something for me."

He's all ears. It's been a while since the intrigue of espionage.

 ***

Bec feels the loneliness when her husband's away. She has time to regret. Time to wonder if she did the right thing. She'd rather be backpacking in Argentina or climbing mountains in Nepal even in the arms of another but she's here, hanging in as homemaker waiting for a careless man to come and fulfill her life. He doesn't. He hasn't fulfilled anything for some time.

When he asked her to marry him, it seemed right despite her lingering doubts. She wasn't getting any younger and the biological clock was ticking.  Now it seems he's barely home at all and she'd have been better off alone in the long run. Perhaps two weekends in four  she sees him and rarely through the week. Building a bridge on the north coast has taken him away, left her deconstructed and trying to build bridges of her own.

Even when he's home, he's absent, exhausted, disinterested.   The spark is fading but she holds on to the flickering flame.  Her fantasies overtake reality as she imagines herself a maiden in distress, tied to the dragon's post waiting for her knight in shining armour to slay the ravenous, slavering beast and ravish her body. How she wants to be ravished.  Only the knight she is imagining, isn't him. It's someone from her past. The phone rings and jerks her back into reality.

"Hi darling.  Not coming home this weekend. Have to slip up to Ballina and review some drawings for Monday so I'll be in Wednesday night. Pick me up at the airport?"

Her heart sinks. She wants to cry, not out of sadness but frustration and anger. But he's heard enough over-the-phone tears and whines about his absence. Even their pillow talk these days is her complaining about the banality of her life and him telling her to stop, that everything's fine and it's just for the short term. She fears she's driving him away.  She wants to drive him away. Such is the dichotomy of an unhappy relationship. She clears her throat and adopts a warmer tone.

"That's fine sweetheart. Miss you like a limb but I guess it has to be done.  Love you!"

He doesn't register the shallowness in her voice.  Say 'Love You' too often and it has no meaning.

The truth is, she doesn't miss him at all anymore. It's someone else preoccupying her thoughts, someone else she's yearning for and doesn't know how to reconnect.


 ***

Bec's husband has led a double life since long before he met her. He and the other woman have had a tryst as long as he can remember but things are changing on that front. She's had four years waiting for him to arrive, waiting for him to come to bed, make it right. She knows he's married. He did it out of spite she's sure, during that six month hiatus when she'd called the whole jam off, sick of his philandering and absence. She'd told him to fuck off and never call her again but he couldn't. He'd come back begging, manipulating yet again. Tear-stained and remorseful and promising to leave his wife. His sincerity so convincing.

She is everything Bec is not.  Amazonian, bohemian, strong, awesome in the sack. Independent enough to thrive alone, dependent enough to be happy to see him when he arrives in town. She pulls him through the front door by the jacket sleeves and peels him naked while kissing him hard - that tongue makes him hard. She's forbidden, exciting, uninhibited. Wild hair draped across his chest and loins. Strong hands touch him, stronger legs wind around him.  He forgives that she's a lousy housekeeper and cook. She is the Yin to Bec's Yang. Complete opposites, each having parts which make the whole.  He has the best of both worlds. But he is getting careless with his exploits, comfortable in his skin. Photographs are taken and posted and he doesn't have a clue.

She's tiring of being the third wheel. Tiring of waiting. Tiring of his reluctance to finally leave the increasingly fragile Rebecca and begins demanding more of his time, his body, his money. Him.

"Leave her . . "

Still heady with the aftermath of sex, he's sleepy and not in the mood.

"I can't, it'll kill her."

"I'm sick of being the other woman. It' been 4 years on and off. It's time, leave her!"

He waves a hand over her perfect breasts and distracts her with a tweak of a nipple, she rolls into him and kisses  him long, hard, deep "Leave her . ." she whispers with quiet insistence, in that tone he finds so enticing. She glides onto him, sex her weapon, slippery and seductive and he murmurs, "I will, I will."

***

Jerve is a man of mystery in a world where people are no longer mysterious. What he does, where he goes, only the closest of his comrades know, never his family or friends. His language full of acronyms that no-one dares ask about. His life full of secrets and travels never exposed. He makes 'friends' around the world. He has contacts who owe him favours.  He's on a mission. Above all he values his friends. Betrayal, deceit, lies he  doesn't tolerate and if vigilante action is required to quell those flaws, he's your man. He may not sully his own hands with dirty deeds but he knows those who will, he owes and he's owed - Oh yes, time to call one in.

Alice had asked a favour. He owes her, he owes her big time. She's stuck with him. She's helped him financially. She's been his support emotionally. She's the conscience on his shoulder and the stability he needs and when he reaches the depths, she's there for him in every sense of the word. He loves her. He's loyal to her, as is she to him.  She is bound within his 'inner circle'.   Rebecca he just loves. Unconditionally, without regret, with a passion. Always has. He's never married after her rejection.  The women in his bed are transient. Vacuous receptacles for sex. They mean nothing. She's set the bar too high and no other woman comes close. The military is his mistress, intrigue his way of life. Subterfuge his talent. This is going to be easy. Cake. He makes the call.


***

Dressed in black, cool and methodical he waits for his moment. A shadow in the hallway, unseen, unheard but prepared.  They're on the bed. No surprises there. He can see them between the crack in the door jamb, clothes scattered as they fell.  She's going down on him and he's massaging the masses of dark hair cascading over her shoulders. Eyes closed, face clearly reflecting his preference for fellatio. She rises and licks from belly to beard before sinking onto him. Beads of sweat turning to trickles, slide down the hollow in her spine, dampening the tramp-stamp dragon at its base. Its fiery tongue lapping at the cleavage in her ass. It's a fine ass. The woman on top of him moves her hips in rhythmic motion as each moans approval of the pleasure being felt.  His hands on her breasts, her head flung back as she quickens her pace, one arm outstretched against the bed head, the other touching herself to ensure simultaneous orgasm.  No wonder he doesn't head home more often. He's having the ride of his life.

The watcher becomes voyeur and lets them come before he makes his move. They've barely collapsed into each other when he hits.  One bag, two exhausted heads. Amazing how easy it is when unexpected. He's nimble but heavy and straddles them both pushing her hard against her two-timing lover and slipping the bag over both. He's quiet and patient and holds the plastic snug while they sputter and flail. Large hands muffling their cries.  Cheeks squashed together in a grotesque last suck of life and how they suck, the crinkle of plastic fading with each breath. Fuck fellatio, this is the auto-eroticism neither were prepared to try.  It takes a long time to suffocate but not so long to subdue. Impatient, his fist hits her head, hard, several times.  Then, he has all the time in the world and takes it - just to make sure. He is nothing if not meticulous.

The silent assassin drags the woman from the man and twinges a little at her contorted face, her body still warm and shapely.  Shame to defile it but needs must. He takes his time and dresses the man before secreting him into the the company pick-up and covering him with a tarp.

First he deals with the house. The weatherboard cottage won't take long to ignite. He can't use fuel for fear of arson being detected but it's hot and dry this time of year and the Ballina home far enough from town to be well alight by the time anyone notices. He disables the fire alarms and closes the door on the fuming mass in the bedroom. The naked Amazon oblivious to her funeral pyre as the bed goes up in flames. He starts whistling "Beds are Burning" and chuckles to himself. Well pleased with a job well done. Twenty minutes and the den of iniquity will be little more than ash. She, little more than a face on a photograph, a memory.

Once again, Jerve answers the phone as sun rises elsewhere on the planet.

"Jerve il est fait. Je détruirai l'évidence"

"Good. Make sure they're not found together. And Jean?"

"Oui?"

"Merci.  Vous avez fait bien - Favour paid, in full."

Bec must never know. She mustn't learn of her husband's betrayal, the other woman, the double life. She must be allowed to mourn, believing she was loved, her heart unsullied, her reputation maintained. She must be free to 'move on'. Her happiness is everything. Jerve turns and pushes another vacuous object lying beside him.

"Sortez du lit et de rentrer à la maison. J'ai un avion à prendre."

She reluctantly gathers her belongings and slams the door. He doesn't notice, doesn't care, just reaches for the plane ticket on the night stand.

 ***

Bec holds back the tears. She's cried enough these past months and is all dried up.  The news doesn't devastate as much as she might have thought. Perhaps any tears cried are of relief.  He's been found in a narrow shaft beneath one of the bridge pylons. How the cover plate fell when he was the only one there is anyone's guess but there'll be no investigation.  He was found on Monday morning by one of his team, dressed in his work gear, hi-vis vest and hard hat. Face bruised, but they said he'd fallen and then suffocated in the heat. He must have been out there on the weekend and nobody would have heard his cries for help.  So typical of him. So thorough. So fucking anal.

"Darling I'm so sorry."

Alice has genuine concern in her voice. She hates to see her daughter widowed but knows it's for the best. She folds the love of her life in her arms and consoles her, not realising that consolation isn't necessary. Looking over Bec's shoulder into space, she imagines the familiar form that will once more grace her doorway, and smiles.

"It'll be alright sweetheart. Everything will be alright. I called Jerve, you could do with a friend, he's on his way."

Her daughter looks into her mother's eyes and wonders at the serendipity of mother's intuition and her own subdued desires. Yes, even an old flame could ignite the new.

She stays within the hold. It's warm and she's comforted. She begins to drift. Once again she's tied to the dragon's post although not in distress . . . this time its slayer is really on his way.


Published for the Tenth Daughter of Memory "Woman or Dragon: The Ride of Your Life