Friday, 21 May 2010

Chapter Eight

Prayer lay in the bathtub of the empty house, watching the twilight through the window. The bathwater was an ugly greyish brown and she cleansed herself thoroughly apart from her hair. Her arms, her legs, her face, her torso, between her thighs. The mess was sucked away down the plug hole, and she found the tub was now lined with grime. Patiently she cleaned it away and ran another bath, sitting on its edge. This one was much more enjoyable and she washed her hair. The water turned a brownish pink from the dried blood in it.
In the phantom girl’s bedroom she searched the closet and found an assortment of what seemed like very fashionable, sexy clothes. A resplendent thrill shot through her. Beautiful tops of many colours and textures; crimson and burgundy, marine and sky blues, pale and forest greens, gold and black. Figure-hugging pre-faded jeans, black and red underwear. This was all fairly new to Prayer, she had only seen these clothes on television, and in magazines she’d glanced through at Ensler.
Like treasure, it felt. Like finding treasure.
She grinned, a flutter of excitement, when she realised these clothes would fit her, that this phantom girl was almost her exact shape and size. It was undoubtedly part of the destiny that was laid out before her. She tried on nearly all the clothes, modelling them in front of the closet mirror. This unknown girl; her garments seemed expensive, and Prayer wondered at the kind of wonderfully happy life she must lead. These clothes were hers now.
Eventually, nearly an hour later, she dressed in the black set of underwear. Then she settled on a pair of tight blue jeans that were cut low on her hips, and a tiny black t-shirt that accentuated her breasts and exposed her midriff. She could see the lower part of her belly, like the girls in the magazines. She smiled at herself.
She found a pair of new-looking trainers and put them on over a clean pair of socks. Searching under the bed, Prayer found a large black duffel bag, and filled it with her books and other clothes that she liked. There were three jackets hanging on hooks on the inside of the closet. A black leather jacket, a blue denim jacket, and a brown suede jacket without a collar. The suede one looked more fashionable than the others and so she pulled it on and appraised herself in the mirror. Yeah, she liked what she saw. She felt new and alive, almost electric.
But something was missing.
She searched the girl’s hope chest and found the cosmetics she was looking for. Amongst them was a photo. It was the phantom girl; she had on the suede jacket that Prayer was now wearing. She had her arms around a handsome young man and they were both smiling at the camera. Prayer felt a stab of some cold emotion, realising quickly that it was jealousy. She tore the photo in half. At the hope chest mirror she applied some red lipstick, and thought it contrasted well with her dark brown hair. She looked like a woman now. She smiled and kissed the mirror, pulling back to see a red imprint of her lips on it. She could kill, she could fuck, and Jobe Vesson would not deny her. Just one loose end to tie up before she could have him.
She smiled again, slung the duffel bag over her shoulder, and left the bedroom.
I’m ready now, daddy, ready to come back home. Touch me with those nimble fingers and I’ll show you a new world.

***

At the multiplex they watched a big-budget science-fiction movie called ‘Serpent Rising’; a race of shapeshifting reptilians who were secretly taking over the planet. Michael said the script was terrible but he enjoyed the special effects, the stunning cathedral-like spaceships. Serima thought it was a decent enough thing.
Echoes of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by way of ‘V’ or ‘The X Files’.
Sorry, Shakespeare, she thought to herself. Movies about evil aliens were more popular than movies about the unending monotony of everyday life.
It didn’t mean that she didn’t fantasise about living the pornographic, media-led vision of everyday life, where everyone was sexy and political, or sexy and edgy, or sexy and hysterically funny, as though the whole world lived inside a satanic imitation of a counterculture zeitgeist. Style was everything, and all the outcasts were beautiful. The ugly did not exist and the graceless probably deserved to die.
Though she was desirable, still filled with dark mirth as many people complimented her – rarely did Serima feel it on any profound level. She searched Michael’s eyes more than once for some understanding of her caginess. She wanted him to see her, and she wanted to feel desirable to him in her nakedness. It wasn’t the nakedness of flesh; she knew her flesh was beautiful, at least in the eyes of others.
You've sold out, you little heathen. As far as she could tell, Michael was ignorant to her unspoken need. She felt like a fraud, an ugly little secret hiding behind a pretty face. It was too damn hard to be like other people – ridiculously complicated, really not worth her while. An outsider playing an insider pretending to be an outsider.
Shit…she wasn’t even making sense anymore.
Ooh-la-la...
After the movie they had headed out, and it was an unusually cold evening. They wandered the roads beneath the twilight, sharing cigarettes between gloved hands, glad that the rain had stopped, if only briefly. Eventually they sat in Jared Square, a tiny secret place backed on to some plush housing. Michael liked it because the fountain was shaped like a small angel. Serima came here sometimes without him, just to think and meditate, or ‘chill quietly’ as she preferred to call it. She liked the angel too. She spoke to it sometimes, commending its deadpan sense of humour.
“What did you think of the aliens, Seri?” Michael asked her.
“Didn’t look like any aliens I’ve ever seen. Lithe, dolphin-baby-demon things. Very nice. I did like how they pretended they were healers. I liked how they abused us with our own love. Got to hand it to those alien-demon-dolphin-baby things, right? Experts in all forms of seduction and subterfuge.”
Michael stared, perplexed. “What?”
Serima just laughed and looked away, unable to take the earnest confusion in his pretty face. “I thought the aliens were a bit tacky,” she said.
“Exactly! Everything is CGI these days…digital effects. It’s nice for the spaceships and stuff, gives it an epic scale which you need for the exteriors, but the aliens should always be puppets of one kind or another, otherwise they just look two-dimensional. Like cartoons. Spend millions for shit effects in Hollywood. I could make something more realistic in my basement. And I actually could.”
Serima stared at the angel fountain, and then at her boyfriend.
“Michael, what the hell are you talking about, man? Can you actually hear the words coming out of your mouth? I don’t want to talk about this nonsense, okay? I wasn’t paid thirty million dollars to teach men about their dreams.”
He glared at her, with that same look he’d been giving her more and more since the dreams had started. He could obviously sense something was wrong.
“You do realise that you’ve been off-key all week? You can talk at me or you can talk with me. Just tell me what the hell is eating you.”
“Nothing,” she said with a half-smile, “I think that’s the problem.”
Michael arched an eyebrow, clearly unimpressed. “Oh, you terrible slut.”
“I think I just need to seriously unwind. I’m coming apart inside, thinking maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with this fucking play.”
After a while Michael put his arm around her. “We could go back to mine….my uncle won’t be home until early morning.”
Serima looked hard at him. “You got any coffee?”
He smiled, “Sure. Nescafe, as far as the eye can see.”
“Then lets do it.”

They had Nescafe sex with his bedroom door open, at Serima’s request, their jeans around their ankles, half listening for the sound of his uncle’s key in the front door.
Michael was athletic and had a beautiful body, not overly worked but toned and graceful. Though she adored boys, loved to look at them, gazing at the severity of the shapes that made their flesh, she’d questioned her sexuality many times. She wondered if it would be easier to make a life with a woman. In Michael that was what turned her on the most; the strange femaleness about him. The gentleness, the intuition. She guessed the only reason he hadn’t been snapped up by some hawk-eyed teenage starlet was because he was painfully shy.
It was a strangely desirable find; a boy who was so good-looking and yet so meek, and it brought out the sculptress in Serima. She’d given him some confidence and spontaneity but Michael, being an artist too, was hip to her game. He still let her take the lead; coaxing and teasing him. She liked the softness but she needed something hard. She didn’t really feel that in his mind, only in his well-proportioned body.
Or maybe all of that was just nonsense? Maybe she was deeply in love with Michael. Perhaps she was afraid, in serious denial. Sometimes, when they lay together and laughed together, it sure felt like it might be love. She was too damn young and tired and stupid for this, for love. How could she really know? Liar.
He seemed madly in love with her, an intensity that was sometimes uncomfortable. He always looked at her in that way that suggested ‘I know more than you think’, and he would cut his eyes at her in a way that asked ‘When are you going to be honest with me?’ And even when she was cruel to him, needlessly cruel, eventually he would hold her in a way that said, ‘I love you and I believe in you.’
Maybe she was just feckless, like her petulant older brother. Jobe was a coward, also too soft and noble. He did some sordid little things now and then, that he didn’t think she knew about. It didn’t really bother her. He had to get his kicks somehow and she wouldn’t begrudge him a little pleasure. Disgust was never an issue where her brother was concerned. Sometimes he was pompous and morbidly introverted. But he could also be compassionate, wickedly funny, almost telepathically perceptive. She hoped he would find someone special again, a girl that would treasure him like Emma had done at first; a girl that he allowed to hold him without making himself pay for that respite.
Serima knew her brother better than he realised, or so she liked to imagine.
She felt Michael inside her again, and this time she went with it. She held the back of his neck, breathing with his rhythm as he moved inside her, feeling the warmth and contact, an ache that was better than the ache of being alone. Thoughts of Jobe melted from her mind.
They moved together, Serima guiding him every now and then, Michael guiding her occasionally, and eventually, after many minutes, she felt him shudder, pressing his face into the curve of her neck. She listened to him breathing near her ear, the silver cross around his neck pressing coldly at her shoulder.
“Did you…?” he asked, a little breathless.
She wondered quickly whether to lie and say yes. “No,” she told him. He turned his face to her.
“I’m sorry…” There was look of vague guilt that nearly broke her heart.
“Relax…it’s still groovy. If you get my drift.”
He smiled in a way that made her realise the look of guilt was mostly fake. She could still feel him inside her, comforting. “I’ll make it up to you.”
Michael withdrew and then went down on her. He went slow and delicate at first, and Serima felt herself tense and settle simultaneously; a creative wave that made her arch her back slightly. This, she loved. This was perfect. Lazy tornadoes, slow whirlpools of release. Prose as purple as a bunch of blessed grapes. Angrier tornadoes and Dorothy’s house being blown all the way to Oz. Serima laughed out loud. Eventually she climaxed, grabbing the sheets in her fist, and for a moment she forgot who she was. For a moment, Michael was her soul-mate.

***

The rain had stopped for now. It might offer some brief pleasure, as Monica no doubt suspected. Jobe felt guilty but not guilty enough, like he was committing another small betrayal that Monica would simply mourn and accept because she loved him. He cruised in his red Escort, did three laps of Ephesia Road, watching carefully to see if he could spot Lisa. There were girls clustered on the corner, smoking cigarettes and jerking around restlessly on the pavement. They asked men that passed by if they were looking for business. Jobe could see the interest flicker across their faces before declining the girls services.
He needed something tonight, and this time he wasn’t going to work himself up into a state of shamefulness. He was simply going to take what he would pay for.
No intellectualising.
Two of the girls crossed the street, leaving the other one alone, who winked and called out to them. It was Claire. She was a blonde twenty-something, pretty but cruel-looking, worn down, dressed in a mismatched glittery mini-skirt and a black hooded-sweatshirt.
Jobe pulled up onto the curb. The girl recognised his car. She pulled up the hood on her sweatshirt, walked over and quickly climbed into the passenger seat. “Hey, Pete.”
Jobe lit a cigarette, glancing down the road for police cars. “Where’s Lisa?”
Claire followed his glance down the road. “Come on, don’t park here. Let’s drive.”
“Where’s Lisa?” Jobe asked again.
“Went back to Glasgow she said, to her sister’s funeral. Looked all torn up about it. Never said when she’ll be back.” She glared pointedly at him. “We gonna do this or what?”
Jobe pulled away from the curb and began driving down the street. There was silence in the car for a while.
“I really wanted to see Lisa tonight.”
Claire smiled and pulled on her cigarette. “Well, mate, you’re gonna have to settle. Or else drop me back where you found me.”
Jobe sighed, “No, it’s fine.”
“You sure?”
“Yeah.” They drove in silence again, for a while.
“Where’re we going, by the way?”
“My place.”
Claire nodded and smoked her cigarette.

At the flat, Jobe handed over the cash and poured them both a whiskey & Coke. She sat on the sofa, glancing around the living-room. He felt a little nervous but Claire seemed completely at ease. He’d only been with this girl once before. He’d never taken her here.
“It’s a nice place,” she said. “You live here alone?”
“With my sister.”
Claire smiled. “She isn’t gonna catch us is she?”
“Hope not.” He handed her the drink and she took it with a respectful nod.
“You ever bring Lisa back here?”
“Sometimes. Not a lot.”
He sat to her left and opened his chrome tin that was resting under the coffee table. He gestured at it. “Weed?” she asked and he nodded. “I wouldn’t say no to a spliff.”
He rolled one as she sipped at her drink. She was watching him, a vague smile on her lips. “Lisa keeps saying you’re a real gentleman. I can see why now. Most blokes that I know just get straight into it. But you’re not like the others, are you?” Jobe could hear the slight mocking in her tone.
“Actually, I’m just like the others. I just like a drink and a spliff first.”
“Lisa’s quite fond of you,” she said, smiling. “Did you know that?”
He lit the spliff and inhaled the spicy smoke. “Yeah, I knew that.” He took another pull and then handed it to her. Claire inhaled deeply on it, never taking her eyes off him.
“You’re a good-looking guy,” she said, closing her eyes finally and exhaling. “Not stunning or anything, but handsome, kind of intense. Why do you do this?”
“Do what?”
She laughed. “Do girls like me and Lisa.”
Jobe shrugged and answered too easily, “I don’t know. Shame, I guess. Never felt attractive or sexy. Never really fitted in as a kid, you know? I suppose I’m deeply insecure.”
“Yeah, that’s fine. But at the end of the day it’s bullshit, mate. It’s not much of an answer is it? Try a little harder.”
Jobe stared at her while she smoked the spliff. He took a sip of his drink and said, “It’s easier, and I suppose I kind of enjoy it.”
She nodded. “You like it a little dirty, a little dark.”
“Yeah, I suppose so.”
“Don’t worry, man. You’re not special.”
“Good.”
She handed him back the spliff. “You know, she talks a lot about you for a client. She really does like you, Pete. She says she thinks you’re better than all this.” She winked at him. “Me of course, I just think men are all the same.”
Jobe laughed at that, feeling a little more at ease. He liked the sparkle she put in her eyes for him, genuine or not.
Claire downed the last of her whiskey & Coke. “How do you want me?”
“Naked,” Jobe said. “Take your clothes off.”
She pulled her black sweatshirt up over her head and then unzipped the side fastening on her mini-skirt. She had on white underwear. Lisa always wore black. She stared expectantly at him.
“Take it all off,” he murmured.
She gave a smile and said, “You first.”
Jobe grinned, and began unbuckling the belt of his jeans. He was getting to like this girl.

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