Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lilith (Part 2)


Theirs is a wedding different to anything she'd imagined.  Clean dress and suit are retrieved from an old leather chest. Women fuss over Emilie and tease her hair, hang her veil. Gueril wears his father's suit and a cummerbund of red silk, only the scuffs on his shoes stand testament to his poverty.

In the company of his parents, child and man swear to be faithful until death as the Vajda binds their hands with a scarf and pours sweet liquor into cupped palms. They sip the nectar from each other's hands and seal their union with a Tokay kiss.  She wonders where all the food came from and the cash pinned to her dress, but this is time to dance and drink, to feast before the famine of which she's unaware.

The celebration over, her fragrant hair's unbraided and his mother ties the Diklo scarf that marks a Gypsy wife. She will never be seen again in public with her head uncovered.

Their union that night so sweet in lust's delight. He is gentle, mindful of her youthful and unsullied body. Soft hands, warm lips as they lie swathed in fresh, perfumed sheets. It is the beginning of pure romance, love made physical. She learns how to please, he pleases in return. Emilie is in heaven. Everything is perfect with the man she wants, the life she craves.

Her tutors teach her well and she is sent to wash windows at busy intersections with other young women. Their chestnut hair, loose and shining, they are modern Eves, tantalising reluctant Adams with seductive smiles and disappointed pouts.

"Now smile, and don't take no for an answer," she's told.  "Lift your skirt, just to the knees and show your bare arms. Clean the screens and make them pay."

At first it's fun, prancing between the cars. Receiving wolf-whistles and admiration. The bevy of teenage beauties giggling and chattering between the lights, flirting with drivers and being blessed with coins. But in the rain, it's cold and miserable. Drivers ignore their smiles, won't wind down their windows and they return with paltry rewards only to be met with scorns and slaps.

"You're not trying hard enough," his mother scolds. "This won't even pay for bread! You'll have to go out onto the street." 

She's given a clipboard with a Fédération Nationale des Sourds de France sponsorship form and taught to point at her mouth and ears, pretending to be deaf. Tourists either wave her away, or take pity on her plight and sign the form before being suckered into parting with cash. This becomes far more lucrative than window washing, and puts her in her mother-in-law's favour. As the months go by, it does nothing however, to endear the fading attention of her husband.

Tired and cold, she prepares his meals, hand washes his clothes, serves his needs material and carnal. The gentleness of before giving way to grunts and ebbs in conversation, bad sex and poor attention. He begins to prefer the company of men, leaving her alone exhausted and dejected. 

"We need a baby," he demands of her as they share an evening meal.

"I'm barely fourteen years old!" She replies, shocked that this would be asked of her so soon.

"It doesn't matter, without children we're nothing a laughing stock, a disgrace to the family. They're lifeblood, essential. It's been a year Emilie and nothing."

The coolness in his voice a stark contrast to the heady nights they once spent watching the dancing beyond the thicket. He's never pressured her about children but she's been with them long enough to know it was expected. His slow withdrawal because she wasn't pregnant however, was not.

Lovemaking has no passion just a purpose. Delivered with mechanical precision, no foreplay, no romance. The aggressive stares resurface as she fails to produce a child. "Useless gadji" she hears them jibe. He drinks later into the evening, plays his violin, eyes the other girls. The ones with hair uncovered, still braided down their backs, brown arms and legs flashing beneath swirling skirts. His smile is rarely thrown in her direction.

Finally it comes. He tells her he's 'divorcing' her. He spends his nights drinking and flirting barely passing her a glance until he finally spits it out, venom from a viper's tongue, "I don't want you any more!"

She's seen it coming. She was petrified it might. Now the words slice her soul, stabbing repeatedly as she slumps on a small wooden chair; tears streaming through hands pressed to her face. He's chosen another. His mother, once so accepting, has shunned her and now braids another's hair - prepares another wedding bed. The despair she feels gives way to numb. What is she to do? All she knows is chicanery and tricks, pan-handling tourists, washing windscreens and pretending to be deaf. She's a long way from home, no money, no necklace. The pretty stones now dancing on his new love's neck.  A nuptial gift from the man who once showered her in softness and affection.
***
"Hey, you're soaked!" She looks up at him. An older man, greyed hair, conservatively dressed dons a quizzical look and a huge black umbrella.

"What the hell are you doing out here in this ?" He reaches down and puts a note into her cup. "What's your name?"

"Emilie" is all she whimpers. She's exhausted. Her knees hurt, feet are numb and her fingers tingling.

"Where are your people?"

"He's supposed to pick me up but it's 5:30. I don't think he's coming." The realisation that she might have been deserted hits like a hammer and she begins to cry. He feels the desperation in her voice.

The stranger helps her to her feet. She stinks. She's filthy. Odd for one whose race pride themselves on bodily cleanliness. Then he looks into her face. She's blue-eyed and fair - not Roma..."

"No, I mean where are your real family? You don't look like a Roma."

She's not in the mood to regale her life story so cuts things short, "...don't have a real family. Not any more. Just fallen on hard times."

He offers to buy her coffee to warm her up. She's ravenous and devours a plate of apero, pate and saussice with caucherons and dark Arabica. For the first time today, she's warm and beginning to dry.  He tells her he's from the south. He's in Paris on business and working with the Government to relocate Romany gypsies. He's sending them back to Romania. He exposes plans of how they're raiding a camp in Aubervilliers the following morning. It barely registers who's camp it is.

"Emilie? Would you leave the camp? Would you think about going home?"

Home?  She's forgotten what or where home is, but the thought of a clean bed and hot bath are so enticing, her resolve so weak, she admits to him that she would if she thought her parents would take her back. Although she fears they won't. Not this time, not after what she's done.

"I stole from them you know. I stole a bride price.  Their life savings and a family heirloom. A necklace. It was my Grandmother's I think.  I just took it and gave it to his mother." Her grubby face now lined with cleansing tearfall.

"Look," his voice softens as he thinks of his own daughter, about her age, "I'm sure they'll forget it if they have you back." He places a bent forefinger gently underneath her chin and lifts her face, "Come with me, let's clean you up, we can call them. You can talk to them."

His apartment is modest, rented in the short term while he conducts his affairs. She can barely make the 100 wooden spiral steps but once inside it's warm, compact and homely. A small table with two chairs against the wall is covered with papers. Papers filled with Roma names. The walls are painted sunshine yellow against which two sofa's lean, soft and inviting.

"The shower's in there, " he points. "I'll see what I've got that you can change into."

She's tempted to rob him and regain favour with the Gypsies, but he's slowly winning her over and there's nothing of value in the rental. Just a suitcase of clothes and modest fittings. Cheap crockery and glassware and a small TV bolted to a metal stand in the corner of the room.  Nothing worthy of theft, not even prized scrap metal in the kitchen drawers, which she checks scrupulously while he's scrummaging for clothes.

"Here," he emerges from one of the tiny bedrooms with a pair of track pants and a t-shirt. "These'll have to do for now."

The shower is bliss and warms her frozen extremities. Tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner, body wash and exfoliant are all experimented with as she washes her tangled hair. Foam gliding down her shapely form, a body always hidden, washes away the grime of the day and the disappointment of desertion from her skin. She emerges clean, sweet-smelling and for the first time, he sees her smile.

"Thank you, that felt fantastic." She's had little more than a body wash from a bucket of cold water for days.

He's made tea in large white cups and she curls on one of the sofas looking fragile and oh so young.

"Rest now, we have work to do tomorrow," he urges whilst throwing a blanket and a pillow in her direction - she sleeps. And he's gone when she wakes.
***
There's calamity in the air. Immigration officials and Gendarmes en masse interrogate the travellers.

"Papers? Where are your papers?"

Of course Guaril has none. His companions have none.  Their monthly check-in with the authorities had been abandoned long ago and to all intents and purposes, they're illegal aliens. They're escorted for 'processing' among the protestations of women who spit and plead, but it's no good. They've dodged a bullet once, it's not going to happen again.  Belongings are searched and the proceeds of theft seconded and thrown carelessly into plastic bags to be labelled and identified and returned where possible. Among them, a pretty antique necklace of marquisette and amethyst. He recognises it immediately.

The raid over, he returns to the apartment and Emilie, now awake, is devouring his last chocolate croissant and watching morning television - a band of gypsies being  herded into detention, being prepared for deportation.

"Time to call your family I think . . . and here . . "  he throws the necklace which drifts sparkling in mid air and makes its mark in a young girl's cupped palms. Again she smiles, a beautiful smile - sad but relieved.

He smiles back.and nods, "Now make the call!"

"Mamon?"

"Emilie? Cheri? Is that you?"

She can't believe the sweetness and forgiveness in her mother's voice.

"Oh my darling, we thought the worst. We thought we'd never hear from you again. We thought you were . . " Her mother is overwhelmed and can no longer speak.

Emilie's pleas are punctuated with a flood of emotion as she begins to let go and sob. "Can I come home? Please, can I come home now? I'm in Paris but I can be at Gare du Nord in minutes. I have enough money for the train. Please, can I come home?"

There's no imagining her relief when her mother says she'll meet her at the station. All is forgiven, she just wants her baby back.
***
She stands naked in front of the mirror adhered to her wardrobe door. Clean sheets on the bed, flowers on the sill.  Spring's morning sunshine shimmers on the whitewashed walls. A small cat winds between her ankles emulating the purr she feels inside.

She brushes sleep from her eyes and hands move through her hair,  down her naked body, smoothing her tiny but slightly distended belly. She turns from side to side and coos in Gitane to the life within.
"My sweet Lilith," she whispers, "everything's going to be alright."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lilith (Part 1)

She’s folded like some humectant origami frog, hands clasped in prayer amid the Prada shoes splashing today’s rain in her face. Locals ignore her. Tourists abhor her, enshrined in crystal armour of their own, they hurl their metaphorical missiles in her direction.

A slender shop assistant stands in the doorway of Sephora amid escaping fragrance. Chypre and musk waft over the motionless body as 'shop girl' gesticulates to a mounted Gendarme, “You should do something about this Gitane!” she snipes, “ . . . nothing but thieves and beggars, here to steal, annoy my customers. This is the Champs Elysees, not the backstreets of Montmartre! Merde . street scum.” The immaculate youngling is unimpressed that her rich clientele have to sidestep the motionless bundle in their midst. The Gendarme tips his hat and pushes his horse forward, he’s more interested in chasing the bag peddlers. Disgruntled, the young woman returns to the shimmer of a mirror-lined store adorned with cosmetics and perfumery, back into her shallow world of beauty and appearances, as the rain begins to torrent and shoppers rush to escape the deluge or spring open their designer umbrellas.

Emilie is soaked to the skin. This is nothing new but as she tentatively raises her scarved head, she sees the street become more deserted. The tiny paper cup in front of her prayer-clasped hands quarter-filled with mostly useless international coinage, and a five Euro note. It’s  4pm, she must stay here until he comes to pick her up and retrieve her takings before he’ll allow her home into the warmth of a dilapidated caravan. He won't sleep with her though. She's menstruating and deemed unclean. He doesn't care about the muddied hem of her dress or the numbness in her hands. He won't touch her when she's pregnant or bleeding.  In fact these days, he barely touches her at all. 
 ***
He's a musician, camped with family and a large troupe outside Saint-Aignan. She's a slip of a girl, mesmerised by the fantasy of running away with a gypsy, running away to the circus, running away with anyone really. She doesn't care.  She just wants to escape.  She can hear the Sinta music through the trees and creeps closer. Their caravans glowing in firelight in the warmth of a summer twilight as women prepare the evening meal. Men sit on upturned buckets or hand-hewn wooden stools, smoking, clapping, singing and counting their day's takings. The unique timbre of their song and the monochromatic strain of violin and clarinet make her soul dance. 

At 13 years of age, she is overrun with romantic notions. She's lying on her belly, elbows sinking into the warm grass, hands propped against her chin, eyes watching the shadows through the trees. This is a carefree life. No school mistress to scold. No overzealous parents to coddle her.  No rules or restrictions, or so she thinks. To her young, wild heart, the gypsies epitomise freedom and joy.

"What are you doing?"

She's startled and didn't notice him sneak up behind her. Rolling instinctively to face him, she finds herself lying on her back, staring up into his midnight eyes. His hair is rough and shoulder length. The  violin dangling from his left hand, it's bow pointing at her.

"Nothing. I was just watching," she springs to her feet.

"From here? What can you see from here?" 


He kneels down, his face close to her grass-stained knees and peers through her legs, through the gap in the thicket watching his own band of vagabonds revel in their tunes. 


"Ah good spot," he agrees.  He's relaxed on haunches and gently places the violin and bow on the ground, clearly intent on hanging around.

They exchange names and pleasantries.

"What's it like, being a gypsy?" She sits cross-legged on the grass, naive and quizzical. His eyes first drawn to the shadow made between her thighs by her skirt, before snapping to attention and focusing on her childish face.

"Well we're free. We don't have to work a steady job, or go to school but it's hard. People don't like us much."

He had her at 'free'. She hadn't been free for all of her short life.  "Wild child" her mother had called her. She didn't suit discipline and structure, and with her family, there was an overabundance of both.  She'd run away before but their long, constraining arms had found her hiding places and retrieved her. She'd been chastised and grounded. Sent to an aunt's for 'time out' but she'd always broken the invisible chain; she was indeed, a rebellious and disobedient child.

"My mother says you steal coal . . and children."


He laughs, flashing white, "We might. I might steal you," he chides.

Watching the Gypsies becomes a habit hard to break.  Nightly she escapes from her bedroom via the window and Wisteria covered overhang to watch them at play, sing, clap and flirt. After that first night, she never approaches the camp closer than her sanctuary in the thicket, but he always comes. His tanned and sinewed arms fold around her. Black pools for eyes that suck her in so deep she forgets who and where she is. It's weeks before he can cajole her to make a foray into camp.  She takes his hand, asks if he's sure. He is. 

At first she's greeted with caution, animosity and jealous gazes. She's called 'gadji' an outsider. But time wears them down. His mother, once frosty and unforgiving, hands her warm and spicy soup, even gives her a scarf to flaunt and flay while his arms wrap around her waist in the flurry of the dance. 
Gueril is older, much older, but flippant with her and exciting to be with.  They laugh and talk. He fingers her curls and strokes her face with the back of his hand. He brushes a kiss across her cheek and magically produces a gold ring from behind her ear as she squeals with delight and asks to see more. He knows card tricks and dice tricks and entertains her with sleight of hand.  He presses her against the dark side of his caravan while the others are distracted in their revelry. As black silhouettes dance, he'd pulls her into the shadows, presses against her, his intention clear. He speaks softly in a Gitane tongue. She doesn't understand the words but they are honey and she the flower. Expert hands glide gently against nubile breasts, slide effortlessly along adolescent thighs, his tongue like silk until that sweet euphoria takes hold.

"Come with us tomorrow." It's a statement rather than an invitation. Their presence in the small village is unwanted, and several of their kind are being threatened with a forced return to Romania. It's time to move on.

"I can't. My parents will kill  me if they find out I've been coming here. They'll kill you if I run away." Her objection is half-hearted. She wants desperately to be part his world, his life. To be included in the  bohemian troupe.  She wants desperately for him to sweep her away, take her in his arms and become her salvation. 

He kisses her softly, "Come into camp tomorrow . . ." and retreats with little more than a passing smile carelessly flung over his shoulder. She leans against the decrepit caravan, one hand against her belly, a finger to her lips, sealing in his touch. Wondering if she dares.

This night she'll bid silent farewell to the fading Wisteria arbour. She packs a small carpetbag with few belongings, leaves a note on her pillow and slips silently into the night without looking back. 


Tonight there is no music as man, woman and child busy themselves with preparations for departure.  The women securing caravans, men hitching them to clapped out cars and pickups and tinkering with ancient motors that have become too cantankerous to start. 

"You came!"  He startles her, wrapping arms around her waist from behind. "We're heading to Paris, easier to get lost there, easier to make a living. You really coming?"


She smiles and holds the loose bag high, "Yep, all packed and ready." 


Inside she's hesitant but willing. She wants to, she's always wanted to, but not until he laced those arms around her waist and pressed warm lips and tongue into hers, does she swoon and all sensibility is lost; all thought of consequence abandoned.  It's the kiss of fantasy and addles any common sense she's ever possessed.

She's bundled into a small van with his mother and three siblings, at least she thinks they're siblings despite being younger than her.  Children are everywhere, at least 10 per family, it's hard to tell who belongs to whom.


"Put these on," his mother thrusts discordant colours into Emilie's chest. A hand made skirt and embroidered blouse, pink cardigan and Spanish shawl.  His mother admires her handiwork as Emilie dons the gypsy garb, "There, you're one of us now. What did you bring?"


He'd told her to bring valuables. A bride price would be required even if her father was unaware of their elopement. Shit she was 13, what did she know of such things? She wants him, and if her mother's necklace and the money saved in the biscuit tin on the kitchen shelf is what it takes, then so be it.  She empties the carpet bag in the back of the van. Most of the booty is junk - mother of pearl  and costume jewellery. His mother sifts emeried hands through every piece. There's money of course, rolled tight and bound with a thick red rubber band - and the necklace. Twenty beautiful stones. She bites the chain to which they're tied. It's gold, as gold as the filling in her front incisor, but the stones are fake. It'll make an heirloom, 'something borrowed,' but there's little value in it on the street. She examines the blue/white stones with care and precision. "They'll do," is all she says.

For three days they travel, a motley crew of men, women, children, scrappy dogs, emaciated cats, even a canary in a cage with its sweet incessant song. She feels welcome and encouraged. During the trip she's shown their ways, enduring travel in the rear of a windowless carriage. She learns how they value virginity and purity which explains his fondling without intrusion.  How they are descendants of Lilith, Adam's first wife in the Garden of Eden, according to some versions of the Old Testament.  How Adam found Lilith too forthright and independent and asked God for a more pliant wife. After the expulsion, Lilith remained pure and never fell from grace - which is why the Gypsies are free to do as they like - free to take advantage of a sinful world, a fallen race.  "And that, little Emilie, is why if you want to stay, you have to learn the craft" his mother concludes.
 ***
August and Elaine Cornet are beside themselves but not surprised. Their only child was always one to cause trouble but had always come home. Perhaps they'd pushed too hard, cosseted to much , been to disciplinarian, but all was done out of love and not control. She'd been a difficult child. She once ran away for three days before the constabulary found her and dragged her kicking and screaming back into the arms of frantic, if not furious, parents.  

Her bed was empty that morning, never slept in. The note short, "I've gone for good this time, I'm free. Sorry about the money and the necklace." The alarm raised good and early, but past habits are hard to break and local Gendarmes show little enthusiasm for the chase. 

"August, she's done this before and more than once. We'll keep an eye out but she'll be home as usual."

Her father knows it's likely, but prepares newspaper advertisements to notify her as missing. Her mother just sits on her bed stroking the sheets and sobbing, blaming herself for being too strict, not understanding. By the time the authorities  show any real concern, she's long gone.  A covered passenger in a gypsy van, headed for one of the largest cities in the world. No better way to lose yourself than in a crowd, even at her tender age.
***
It's early morning when they arrive in the 'projects' of Aubervilliers on the outskirts of Paris. They assemble on a roadside, close but not part of the 'insertion village -  cabins home to Roma from Romania and Bulgaria where most wait to be reallocated to public housing.
 

Guaril opens the van door and takes her hand, "This'll be home for a while," he reassures. "We can earn some money here but we have to get our circulation records first." She's confused and has no idea that those with no trade or regular income need to report to the authorities each month, be granted the right to set  up camp or risk being moved on.  

His mother bustles between them, "Never mind that . . help me set up. You have things to learn and work to do, a wedding to plan. Gueril, you have business . . go to it!"

She's hastened away and fussed over by people she's never met as he disappears with half a dozen other men, slapping backs and shaking hands like old friends.

To her it's paradise, eyes blinded by adventure. Even in the early morning musicians gather with accordions and violins, fires burn in 44 gallon drums, women bustle in preparation of the day oblivious to the chilly dawn. Children barefoot and grubby, chase between the caravans their contagious laughter music to her once heavy heart. It's a shanty town, poor and shambled. To her it's palace grounds and he her Gypsy prince.


Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory " Two Glass Houses and Twenty Stones"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Only Good Girlfriend . . . .

She stood beneath the flames, tears streaming as the kindling caught, the increasing heat forcing repelling her from drawing close, the smoke stinging tear filled eyes.

The pyre had been built slowly over the preceding six months, the first branches of dried kindling added after Christmas and slowly accumulated through the summer months until now.  She never wanted her dead but she'd been an interfering bitch, turned up at inappropriate times, messaged, called and he was her man, no ex- girlfriend could be tolerated.

Her attitude could be regarded as neanderthal but he was her man and jealousy brought her back to primal roots, the competition had to be annihilated, this bitch had to go.  It wouldn't take the strength of a superhero to subdue this annoying germ that seemed to pervade her life and his. He didn't care, "she's nothing to me," he'd assured.

However, jealousy is a powerful emotion and she knew that Cara wouldn't be deterred, reinforced by the latest text message, "Henry, I still have feelings for you."

As the flames leap and the heat becomes intolerable, she can see the outline of the body in the centre of the fire. Regret? Nah, by morning there'd be little left but a femur bone fit for burying or feeding to the dog.

All was planned. Despite the jealousy and the dislike of his ex, she'd befriended the girl, betrayal on her mind. It wouldn't take 30 pieces of silver for her to cross this bitch. Months of liaisons, cafes, al fresco dining and staring into empty coffee mugs had secured Cara as a friend.

"Great that we get along so well . ." she'd said.
"Yeh," retorts Cara, "It's good that there's no hard feelings. After all, we've loved or love the same man."

Whilst she hated the incestuousness of the triangle she'd created, building such trust would lead to a successful entrapment. She just had to work out how. It happened when the three of them went to see Twisty Moose at the Hordern Pavilion. Cara was getting fresh, her hands all over Henry. Not in a lascivious way but with a flirtatiousness that sealed the deal. The three of them dancing close, him in the center, her gyrating against his buttocks was too much to bear.

In her head the odds were added up, a vote needed to be made, forgive and forget or make her pay no matter how illegitimate her reasoning, she had to pay. Rather than make a scene on the spot, she retreated modestly unnoticed by the gyrating boyfriend and his ex. She just hung by the bar with villainy on her mind. She wondered as the three of them left the club why he'd been so gallant as to offer the bitch a lift home let alone profer her a position in the passenger seat while she had to take her turn in the back like the mother in law.

The seething within became unbearable. How could he be so unfeeling, so unaware of his selfishness and lack of concern. Her mood exacerbated by the idiot bantering about Hill Top Hoods and the Herd, bands she hated beyond belief, bands he hated but seemed to take delight in promoting to his ex.

The base of the pyre now truly alight, the early blue flame gives way to white as the smell of burning flesh reminds her of the barbecue gathering, the moment that sealed both their fates. He'd taken the call even though he'd vowed he'd never talk to her again. She was in desperate need, her car had broken down, nobody else to help, no money to call a tow. He apologised and made haste to assist. She'd insisted on coming with.

"No that's fine," he'd said, "You stay and enjoy yourself."

The numbers didn't add up, there was no complex calculation required, just a pattern emerging as it does when you complete a Rubik's cube or solve a complex sudoku puzzle. She was going with him and that was it. Her stranded without her ID or phone. Him eager to assist, She gave him an ultimatum;

"This is it, I've had enough, this is your last chance to say goodbye, end it, finish it"

"But I thought you were friends?" he'd asked.

"Really? You that stupid Henry . . keep your enemies close." she'd replied.

In this instance, 1 and 1 did not add up to 2 so the third party had to go. If he thought he could maintaining the trio he had another thing coming, pigs will fly, jealous, green pigs at that.

She'd been as heavy as concrete to lug out of the ute, drugged and barely conscious, she almost hoped that Cara could resist, enough to plant legs firmly on the ground and assist but no, she had to be dragged, buried with the dried kindling and more piled on top.

Standing even further back now as the conflagration explodes into a Hellish flame, she wipes the tears, acknowledging that they were tears exacerbated by smoke whilst her head was really cool and her heart was actually singing. This was a thing of beauty, enemy ignited, problem solved.

Not quite, she needed to work on a getaway, disappearing with Henry of course - perhaps overseas, hiking in Patagonia or getting lost in Chile - people always get lost in Chile.

She was heartbroken as their plans simply fell apart. Distance between them became evident. No more Honeymooner's disease to remind her of constant sexual contact with Henry. Everything was crumbling.

The femur bones turned up as bulldozers cleared the block in preparation for a new suburb and questions were asked. He'd looked at her with suspicion in his eyes and wondered why the two girls had ceased to share lunch, share him.

Everything was decaying, walls falling, plans failing. Even if nothing came of the discovery there were questions, interviews and she was implicated, but they couldn't prove a thing. Henry on the other hand had made up his mind and left her.

She'd burned the candle at both ends, gone past midnight, burned her bridges. In fact, she'd proven to herself that the only good girlfriend might be a dead one, but the price had been too high.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dead and Alive

"Am I dead?"

She doesn't feel like she is . . she moves, she sees, she hears . .

"No, not yet . . "

Who answers, she can't tell but it's a clear and determined voice - comforting but distant.

"I'm dead aren't I?"

She examines her own body, which for some inexplicable reason looks and feels different.

"Feels strange doesn't it?"

She turns but isn't sure how, and he's there.

"Who are you? What's wrong with me?"

"Ah that's what they all ask," he says but offers no explanation,

"No really where am I? What's happening?"

He's different, hairless and almost transparent. Tall and imposing with perfect features, his eyebrows shaped his mouth inviting, his body girlish, sexless, muscled yet feminine. His voice indiscernible, unremarkable but irresistible. Angel? Ghost? Deity? Either way, he's there for a reason and the only one who can see her.


***

"You're not going out like that!" Her mother protests.

"Like what? . . . Mum this is what people wear these days, we're not in the dark ages you know!"

The matriarch's face changes from disparaging to sympathetic. She remembers being young, making a skirt from blackout curtains during the blitz, accepting the gift of stockings from American GI's. Being repremanded for dancing at the Odeon on Saturday night and being caught kissing a soldier she barely knew. True, it's no longer the Dark Ages but she has difficulty watching her baby girl leave the house dressed so provocatively.

Her daughter however, had a reason for tarting up. She'd met someone. Someone way outside her comfort zone. Someone alluring, sexy, older, more worldly. Someone who had finally pushed her buttons, lit that spark. Someone she couldn't bring home for fear her father would have a major outburst and her mother would ground her from seeing. 

Mick Raleigh wasn't a 'nice' boy from a good neighbourhood. He lived alone with his Grandma since his junkie parents had him taken from them by Department of Community Services. He'd been found in the corner of their living room at 4 years of age, playing with a filthy bong while his smacked out parents kissed the face of God in a psychedelic world created by the junk they allowed to flood their veins.

He was tattooed, pierced and had even spent a short stint in jail for shoplifting as a teenager. Now, in his 20's, he's stronger, educated, street wise. He's a self-made man with that aura of danger that women either love or hate.  She loved it.

She'd met him at a friend's party. He'd been one of 10 who arrived uninvited, late, inebriated and unannounced. Then trouble broke out. Fists were thrown and blood drawn and he'd grabbed her and pulled her from the frey. He wasn't like the others. He'd just got caught up in an unfortunate mistake by tagging along with the wrong company. He'd walked her home and apologised profusely for the melee, introduced himself and kissed her on the cheek before she went inside.

She remembers the flutter. The flush of lust and an overwhelming desire to see him again. Damaged and dangerous as he was, he was gorgeous.

Tonight was the first real date. After a plethora of texts and calls, he'd asked  her out and she was dressed to seduce. She's only living at home because college is so close and it allows her to save. It's really high time she was on her own and she resented being treated like a child. Still, it's 'their house - their rules' and she'd agreed to abide by them. She thought she'd manage to slip by unnoticed but nothing gets past her father. She should have known better.

"Young lady, sit!" Her father had come into the room and meant business. He bellows above her protestations.

"Kate you know it's a mad world out there, you didn't come down with the last shower so why do you do this?"

"Dad . . . I'm 22 for fuck's sake."

He ignores her profanity, points and demands, "Sit."

There's no arguing when he gets this way, serious and domineering.  He's a good man and a fair one. She's learned how to 'handle' him but she's also learned that when he gets one of his moods on, she'll have to listen to his diatribe before he'll let her go. But she's his baby, he'll let her go.

"Katie honey . . " She lifts her eyes but retains the pout.

"You look like a hooker. There's nothing wrong with a sexy little black dress and a splash of make-up but . . . you're a beautiful young woman and you look like you're asking for it. Life's not a rehearsal you know, you only get one go at it. One chance to get it right, make the right impression and dressing like a whore doesn't give the right impression." 

His voice is calming and she knows. She knows she's overdone it. She's deliberately done it. She just wanted to look 'dangerous' for him.

"Yeh I get it," the reluctance in her voice obvious. She wants to argue the women's view that dressing as she likes isn't an invitation for trouble and that a woman should have the freedom to dress as she likes, but bites her tongue knowing it will fall on deaf ears, "I'll change but I'm not going out looking like one of those Hillsong bitches . . I'm not a frump you know!"

Her demonstration of objection complete she sheds some of the makeup, packs the tiny tight skirt into her bag and walks out wearing a pair of jeans. Adolescent as it seems, the skirt and the seductive pout will be restored, the minute she can hit the ladies room.



It's a beautiful November night, balmy and star-ridden as they take the long route back to the car via Hyde Park, surrounded by trees sparkling with fairy lights and the sweet smell of Frangipani. Their hand-holding and intimate conversation interrupted only by the resident drunk who abuses them for not giving him money, then happily settles for a cigarette.  It's late, theirs is the only car left in the dimly lit street and he unlocks it remotely but walks to her side to open the passenger door. A gesture she finds charming and old fashioned from one so rough. He wraps an arm around her waist and plants a kiss, short and sweet but with a tenderness that makes her draw breath and cup his face in her hands. Everything's going to work out. She'll introduce him to her parents tomorrow, they'll understand.

It's then she hears the ear-splitting crack of metal upon metal. Something hard and menacing on the bonnet of the car. Three men, shrouded in shadow but clearly known to him emerge from the darkness. One holding a tyre iron and bearing an evil grin. The others flanking him, huge, menacing and waiting for instruction.

"Hey! What the fuck, Jimbo . . why'd you hit my car!"

"Shut it, you know why!"

A thug wearing little more than a wife basher and a pair of faded jeans emerges from the triad. Belting the tyre iron against an open palm and a sly smile across his ugly face. She scared, terrified but Mick stands in front of her and tells her to be quiet.

"It'll be OK Kate, let me handle this . . "

 "You owe me Rals . . You owe me big time. I've come to collect."

Who owed what and to whom, she never found out. The tyre jack came crashing across Mick's head and she remembers seeing him slump to his knees, blood gushing from the side of his cheek and ear as she arched forward to steady his fall. His silent trembling and slip into unconsciousness freezing her to the spot, legs reluctant to run, a heart fit to burst.

"He'll live baby, you might not be so lucky." He's staring at her and eyes her from breast to knees, her shapely legs now feeling naked in the tiny mini skirt as she tries to stretch the fabric lower towards her knees.

"Be a good girl and you might get lucky . . ." The three snigger and tyre iron man's finger traces along her neck and down to the cleavage visible beneath her blouse.

She spins in an attempt to run, but is blocked by the other two, each grabbing an arm and pinning her to the now dented bonnet of the car. Face down, she's pushed hard and sideways. She's spread crucifix across the hood, immobilised. Screams silenced by a huge hand across her mouth, another between her legs, another tearing at her clothes - and it begins.  They don't speak the only noise, her muffled expression of pain and their animalistic grunts as each forces themselves onto her, into her.  One lifting her head by the hair and thrusting her so hard into the duco that it loosens a tooth and the ferrous taste of blood oozes across her tongue mirroring the stream of red warmth she feels gliding down her thighs.  Darting pain beyond anything she can imagine in a place where only pleasure should reside. She fears as she's never feared before. As she's violated and beaten she wishes she'd kept the jeans on, she wishes she'd listened to her father, she wishes she were dead.

She's left, half naked, battered and broken. A bleeding, terrified rag doll with no dignity, no pride, until the cool of early morning renders her unconscious.

***

Something's wrong, yet strangely right.

She floats. Light and ethereal above the unrecognisable scene below. She sees a body, bloodied and broken being tended by desperate hands and surrounded by endless chatter, in a language she doesn't understand, among noises she's never heard before.  She can't feel her fingers but she sees them floating in front of her when she raises her arms, suspended as is her body, pale and clean - weightless.

She's confused but not frightened. She's strangely calm as she watches the body below being defibrillated. It's chest heaving under the shock, breasts that look like hers, exposed to strangers. The marks of a severe assault visible as they rush to revive, intubate, electrocute.

It's like gliding above a dolls house with the roof removed. She can 'swim' between rooms and corridors. She sees her parents below, anxious and embracing. Her mother's crying. Her father's face expressionless as if numbed by some apocalyptic event that he can't believe has taken place.  She sweeps white hands across his face but he doesn't see her or feel her.

"Dad, Dad! It's me, I'm OK. I'm here . .  . "

Where is she? This floating Queen of in-between places who can see and hear, but not feel or touch. 

There's a jolt and she fancies she feels pain but it isn't pain, it's recoil, as if someone's pushed her in the thorax. It feels like being shoved backwards by an invisible antagonist but there's no thought of animosity in her head.  Does she even have a head? She can see no reflection but she can feel her hair on her shoulders as iridescent hands run through it.

"Am I dead?"

"Not yet" the apparition speaks, "It's not your time."

"So what's this?"

"It's the in-between. The time between coming and going; the time between the lightning and the cracking sky. The time to dwell in doorways, crossroads and strange places. Time to see rather than look. Time to listen, not just hear. Time to learn, not just repeat what you know by rote. Time for the real deal. You're one of the lucky ones. You get a second bite at the cherry, just don't spit out the stone."

Another shove in her chest and he becomes a fading angel, god or ghost - could be the one Himself for all she knows.  She doesn't know what he is, but she wants to follow. With each pressure punch she remembers snippets of her life and they aren't pleasant. No sweet childhood memories or parental embrace. No laughter, dancing, warm rain on her face just the brutality of the night before.  Life's not  supposed to be a rehearsal, she doesn't want to go back on stage. She wants this to be her curtain call but she's falling and in the wrong direction. She's spiralling out of control. Listing in that place between wakefulness and sleep where the unfamiliar noises become louder and more real. Where the people in the room now tower over her rather than milling beneath.

"She's back!" One utters,

"Lucky girl that one," says another. "Damn lucky to be alive."

As consciousness returns, she begins to feel. It hurts, everything hurts and she remembers in vivid detail. She sees their faces, feels their hands, the violence of their sex. The monitor beside her evidence that her heart is beating. Proof perfect that she has a second chance. A second chance she doesn't want. Remembering is a lingering death and she wants to go with the voice. A broken heart beating, a body once again warm, she remembers. Alive in body but within she knows this time - she's dead.

Published for "The Tenth Daughter of Memory" Rehearsal with Gods

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Practiced Hand

Six teenage boys stand close, too close to be up to any good. Hands in their pockets. Low rider jeans baring the waistband of 'not quite' designer label boxer shorts. Their pimpin’ shoes 'not quite' tied with broad laces, and over-sized jackets keeping out the chilly autumn breeze. They're bragging about their sexual exploits and imaginings. How one has taken it all the way, the other fingered his girlfriend, those not speaking condemned as late bloomers. Terms such as 'tonguey',  'blow job' and 'finger fuck' bounce glibly like rubber balls against a brick wall from one to the other before being grounded by snickers and giggles. There are plans being hatched.

“You gonna do it? You really gonna do it?”
"Yeh, I'll have a crack" 
There's raucous laughter at the euphemism.

He’s not so sure. He wants to. It would be a sign of defeat having bragged about the possibility and not following through. Once stated, he’ll have to go through with it or confess he hasn’t got the guts. Confess he’s never done it before and that would be confessing too much.

'Where you gonna do it?'

He's too young to drive so the back seat isn't an option, and his parents would  have a Holy conniption if he did it in in his room. Take that back, his parents would have a Holy conniption if he did it at all, they're weird that way. He's never even had the 'sex' talk with the old man.

 "God will let you know when the time is right" was the only satisfaction he'd received for questions asked about that little issue.

“Dunno, back of Church maybe.”

The inner circle erupts as each steps away widening the gap between them, buckled forward in hysterical laughter.

“You’re fuckin’ crazy? You’re gonna do it in Church? On a Sunday? That's epic man!”
"Youre so gonna get pwned"
"Or is that pooned!"


So much laughter that they barely hear his declaration.

"Sure why not? They'll be on their knees prayin' or bored shitless listening to that idiot banging on about 'life isn't a rehearsal . . . God is good' crap."

He knows that he'll never get her alone any other way. She's not interested in him in 'that' way so he needs to get her in a position where she can't resist, can't speak, can't say 'no'. The mechanics of the 'how' yet to be thought through thoroughly. Then he's a pubescent teenager, nothing gets thought through thoroughly.

She was known as a bit of a saucy girl, and he knew she looked at him with more than a knowing glance. There was talk among the guys about her being 'up for it', having 'spread it around' but he didn't really understand what they meant. To make it worse, he was too embarrassed to ask lest his inexperience become a point of ridicule. 

She and he had shared a soda once or twice after Church. He'd felt her bare leg, warm and smooth, rub against his beneath the table, and had wondered if it was deliberate. It made his groin stir and his face flush to the point where he'd sit long after she'd gone before he could rise without his arousal being noticed. She was older, at least five years older and at his age that's a generation of difference. She'd lean forward and he'd gulp at the sight of cleavage and the darker pink of nipple as the filigree neckline of her dress slouched low against the table.

"Hey, kiddo," she'd whisper to get his attention, then shout, "Dom! Eyes up and front if you don't mind." She'd stroke him approvingly down the bridge of his nose with a painted nail. It drove him crazy.

He didn't mind the reprimand. He'd never seen anything so beautiful as those breasts, milky smooth and pert. Not even the women in the magazines beneath his mattress had tits like hers. Theirs just looked like poached eggs, hard and round. Then he hadn't stolen the magazines to look at their boobs. It was the mystery between their legs that had him harder than a Kalgoorlie diamond.

There was no doubt that Kat was a flirt, a tease, and definitely a possible conquest. He loved being toyed with. He'd never been with a girl. Never kissed with a tongue, never touched as much as a bare shoulder but he wanted to.

He saw his chance over a shared chocolate milkshake and took the plunge. 

"Sit next to me on Sunday?" 
"If you bring a blanket, my knees get cold."

She sees the adoration on his face. His beautiful young face. Unblemished like his mates' who's zits seem enduring and Emo pouts persistent. This one's a little different. Smooth complexioned with pleading eyes and cupid bow lips. Clean fingernails; she notices these things. Nice hands actually, aquiline and feminine. She's used to rough-house phalanges, all fumbling and faux. These were sweet and innocent, limber, gentle and delicate. Yes, he had lovely hands. 

Nate Cunningham had seen it all - done it all. Nate had been a primary source when it came to the wiles of women. At the ripe old age of 15 he'd pashed, and fingered - he'd gone to third base, seen a real woman's breasts and had a blow job from a girl who swallowed. He knew what lay above their thighs and below their waists. He spoke in a language alien to our wannabe. He was well-rehearsed, indeed well-practiced, in the art of pleasing the ladies and himself - he knew stuff.  Ashamed to admit he'd never been closer than sipping a soda with a woman, Dom Marsi relied on the tutelage and expertise of his far more experienced friend and listened to his exploits intently.

"Practice makes perfect my man!" Nate had told him with great confidence and surety, whilst explaining the finer nuances of foreplay and follow-through.  Truth be told, the closest Nate had ever got to 'pleasuring' was a quick wank during his morning shower and the only 'real' breast he'd seen, he can't remember, since he was four months old and suckling at the time. Nevertheless, Dom took his friend's advice on board.

It's cold and she's sitting on the back pew, arms crossed and hands rubbing warmth into her slender triceps. She's wearing a sweater, tight and v-necked, revealing those wondrous fun bags all fleshy and pink. Her skirt so short it could be confused for a belt. She's looking hot despite the cold and he's come prepared. He shimmies along the slippery, over-polished pew in the far back corner of the Church and squeezes next to her. They smile at each other, then sit po-faced as the faithful file in to cleanse their souls.

The Minister, a youngish and attractive man, is proving himself mature enough to provide comfort and compassion to this small community. His sermon is a little too eager to be earnest but he has his audience captivated as he begins his discourse on promiscuity and 'saving' one's self for the sanctity of marriage.  Children flagrantly pick their noses and eat it. Old men doze heavy-lidded until elbowed from the side and waking with a start. Middle-aged women hang longingly on every word, secretly imagining him wearing less than his white cassock.  The unmarried pay attention, hiding their indiscretions with looks of piety. A pack of teenage boys right up the back sit anxiously and giggle, their hands resting in their laps, heads bowed and turning sideways trying to catch a glimpse of what's about to happen as they mute their conversation.

Their knees are covered with his tartan picnic rug. He moves in close, sliding his left hand onto her thigh. She looks forward, ignoring the gesture as he slides fingers nervously higher towards that which is mysterious. He pauses momentarily as she lets out a murmur before he realises she's not wearing any underwear. This is good. This is very good. It means she's 'receptive' and the plan is going much better than expected. 

"The sanctity of sex should be preserved for Marriage . . . " The Minister nervously begins as the boy's fingers ascend that slippery slope and she moans once more. This time alerting an ancient woman on the pew in front, finger pursed against a snarling mouth.

"Shhhh!" she spits.

He's reprimanded and his hand slides back onto the top of her thigh beneath the rug.

Out of context he hears, "The satisfaction of the woman in the man is God’s glory . . " and completely misses the part about  ". . but within the precious gift of marriage and not before!" 

Lust rekindled, his fingers commence their perilous journey, sweet and warm. She closes her eyes and clenches her hands so tightly on the cold wooden bench that her knuckles whiten. He's religious in following his friend's instructions and she slides her hips slightly forward allowing him full access. The sniggers from the sideline ignored, he's in like Flynn. He can hear her breathing, muffled but increasing in speed and intensity. He can feel the warmth, the moistness, the ever-so-slight propulsion of her musculature as his fingers pick up speed. His  work is done . . .then the unthinkable happens.

She screams, "Oh . . . . . God!"  and releases a mighty groan as she slips full forward from the polished wood onto the floor, crashing unceremoniously into the "Shhh" woman's pew. She's all knickerless and legs akimbo and facing the downward glare of an incredulous looking crone.

The Crone yells "HUSSY!" Stands, and also screams, (if that's what you could call the guttural gurgle of shock uttered upon seeing a post-orgasmic teenager crumpled on the floor.)

Dom is victoriously holding up the offending fingers, still damp from their journey into paradise. Five other boys in the adjacent pew rise to their feet yelling and clapping.

The Minister rages from his pulpit with the speed of a Melbourne Cup winner and grabs the boy's wrist.

"This! This is what I'm talking about. Sexual perversion not only before marriage but in the house of God!"

A flush-faced mother screams along the tiny aisle and sideswipes the boy while Kat gathers herself, arranges her skirt and makes a quick exit. Dom now realising the impact of his victory begins to think about the previously unthought consequences, and assumes a sheepish posture. He's dragged unceremoniously from the back pew and into the back seat of a waiting car by a furious Banshee, but not before glancing back to his approving cheer squad and waving a victorious fist.

He's lying on his belly, prone on his bed and his butt's red raw. He's never copped such a beating, such a berating. His mother's in tears and his father's fuming. More from the embarrassment, the shame, the public humiliation, than the act itself.  How the pious have turned peevish.  They'll never be able to show their faces in that particular house of worship again. God might forgive but the Parishioners won't. 

But he's feeling no pain. It was a wonderful moment, an awesome feeling and he's proven himself more than a man for his guts and gall. He's now the one 'giving advice' since he's practised and knowledgeable about such things. Well-rehearsed in the art of love. The scent on his fingers long faded, the welts on his bum will heal. Even the Playstation will eventually be returned for a long overdue workout of Call of Duty after his six week grounding. More importantly, he will forever be remembered as the fresh-faced kid who finger-fucked Kat Schumann, right there in the back pew of St Matthews and lived to tell the tale.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Rehearsing with Gods"