"So many things flashed through my head, so many past hurts, so much damage and so much endless and congested aching that has never found a way out – all turning round and round like different coloured clothes in a washing machine, the groaning engine of its turning matching my own groans"
The ‘battle’ started with, of all things, a handshake.
Now, on the surface, this would seem so formal as to be irritating to any woman who was encountering the man who sends her pretty darn wild, as James did to me. But, under the circumstances – remembering my stupidity when he’d visited Mordan House, remembering how offended he’d been, remembering my own anguish at his failure to turn up at the cafe – a handshake was almost a romantic gesture. Certainly, to the outside viewer, it would definitely have appeared peacemaking.
As I stood outside the pub, the image of James was swimming slightly in my vision, floating on a gentle sea – so much so that I couldn’t quite focus on him. Alcohol was deadening every nerve-ending, making them all jarred and unsure of themselves. I could imagine them squabbling for ‘first rights’ on what reality actually meant and what it looked like. And there was me, in the middle of it all, just wanting some little thing that I could be sure of – and there were my senses and my intellect giving me nothing!
There were words spoken between us. I can’t remember any of them. The words didn’t seem important. It seemed more important that words were being exchanged and how they were being exchanged than what they said, and, at their heart, they were kind, sensitive, conciliatory words.
Although James was just a blur of darkness and light – darkly tumbling hair and white skin gently rocking before me – one thing that I couldn’t deny was the intuition that was beyond what my corrupted body was able to detect, and this inner sense told me that there was some warm feeling coming from him. It seemed right up against me, close and familiar, in both his words and presence.
I recall little droplets of words. Something about getting home. Something about my car. Something about alcohol. Then a look in his eye – the split-second of a particular look, and one of the few that my mind was able to capture, process and hold onto. I’m not sure what it said, but it was focused and complete like a ball. There was something in it that I liked, but at the same time made me shiver slightly.
Then I was walking and I think there was a flutter of hand on my arm as we walked towards his car. I was too drunk to drive so James was going to give me a lift back to Mordan House. I’d be in his car. I’d be in his company. He’d be in my house.
I’m sure that I glanced behind me at some point to see if I could see Kidman. Was there a hint of her pale dress somewhere in the distance, in the dark, ghosting our steps? I can’t be sure that this was the case. Did I feel her presence though? That unmistakable essence of Kidman, that fire, that bravura, that steeliness, that gentleness? Yes. Completely. All the time.
"I recall little droplets of words. Something about getting home. Something about my car. Something about alcohol. Then a look in his eye – the split-second of a particular look, and one of the few that my mind was able to capture, process and hold onto. I’m not sure what it said, but it was focused and complete like a ball. There was something in it that I liked, but at the same time made me shiver slightly"
But where exactly was she? Where was she, in amongst the time it took to drive to Mordan House and during the endless beck and call of conversation between me and James, and the constant sweep of stuff and nonsense that moved so quickly past the car windows? Where was she as we arrived at the house and I found James walking me to the front door? Where was the sound of her feet under the crunch-crunch of our two pairs of feet on the gravel? What space and time did we leave around us that might allow her to enter the house before we closed the door behind us, and, if time and space enough were left there, then did she make use of them? And if she did indeed follow us in, then where was she as we moved into my suite of rooms? Where was she when he kissed me? Where was she when I let him? Where was she when I kissed him back? Where was she when every pore of my skin opened for the sunlight of another’s touch? Where was she when two forces, unique and separate, succumbed to the allure of dropping weapons, removing armour, and allowing all the particles of each other to get mixed up forever, never to form quite the same two individual people again once they had finally regrouped? Where was her red hair when my red hair so completely nourished the needs of a man’s mouth and governed the movements of his fingers? Yes, where was Kidman?
To each other we were both made of just water and mouths, drinking with amazement at each other’s generosity, all the while a hot desert lay around us, spurring us on with its threats of drought. But where was my own giver of liquid, my refreshment, my sustenance? Kidman. Where was her body when my body felt a lightning conductor of hardness electrifying it, a dichotomy in amongst all the subtleties and softness? Where was she when my muscles flinched, creating another hardness, but this one of resistance, and where was she when I realised that my sudden tension indicated that I needed a breather?
"But where exactly was she? Where was she, in amongst the time it took to drive to Mordan House and within the endless beck and call of conversation between me and James, and the sweep of stuff and nonsense that moved so quickly by the car windows? Where was she as we arrived at the house and I found James walking me to the front door? Where was the sound of her feet under the crunch-crunch of our two pairs of feet on the gravel?"
I was aware of myself pulling away from James and the bed, and frivolously pressing down my hair as I stumbled for the door of the bathroom, but I don’t remember seeing Kidman. Yet I felt her to be somewhere, but I just couldn’t quite see her. Where was she?
I closed the bathroom door and gripped the wash hand basin tightly, breathing hard as I looked into the mirror above it and into my own face. At the very least, it bore some startling similarities to the face I held in my mind’s eye. But so markedly different in some respects too: my face looked so loose upon my bones, like an ill-fitting rubber mask containing great ghost-holes of eyes, haunted caverns with the most pathetic pools of dirty water way down there at the bottom and making the tiniest plash as pebbles from the outside world struck it. The adornments of hair and make-up, of preened eyebrows, of curled lashes, of purged pores, gave me a bandaged look, as if underneath there was some debilitating condition.
Then there was another face beside mine in the reflection of the mirror. This one wasn’t bandaged for life. This one was perfect.
“You like my present, don't you?” she asked.
I hesitated to answer and I hesitated to look her in the eye. I didn’t know how to answer.
She reached out and stroked my hair gently and spoke ever so soothingly. I felt myself consoled by the touch and I relaxed, feeling all of a sudden secure.
“What are you going to do when you get back in there? He’s waiting for you. Waiting to take you. To have you, Steph. Yes, that’s right, to have you! So what are you going to do?”
I didn’t know what answer she was looking for, but also I didn’t know what answer to give. I knew though what she was asking me. She knew why I’d stepped into the bathroom: to compose myself, to focus, to try and be sure of this, to know with what attitude I should approach it all.
Still gentle, still caressing, she continued: “Are you going to remove your clothes or have them removed? Have you not even decided that yet? No? Tell me, you worthless piece of nothing. What are you going to do?"
On hearing those words, my eyes opened wide but I didn’t look at her. My senses were instantly sharpened to her presence. Worthless? Nothing?
“I’ll tell you what you’re going to do, shall I? You’ll start to remove your clothes but you’ll be hesitant, you’ll go part of the way – maybe the top of your dress – but then you’ll go all hesitant again and you’ll stop and look down at the ground. You’ll be inert – just a little useless! – and you’ll need him to finish off removing them, as you sigh and shiver. And as he takes them off – feigning sensitivity, forcing himself to be slow! – you’ll still avoid his gaze, and your eyes will dart around, nibbling at the edges of his body, yet eating and tasting nothing. You won’t even sip at the experience, you’ll hold back and every taste will just be an imagined taste from very, very far away. At one point though, you’ll look up at him plaintively, looking for reassurance. He’ll smile and perhaps kiss you gently, but you’ll know what he’ll be thinking, don’t you? You useless piece of nothing!”
I gasped. Flinched. Tightened. Kidman tugged sharply at my hair and I winced.
There was a knock on the bathroom door and an enquiry as to whether everything was alright.
“Yes, lover! Everything’s fine! I’ll be back out shortly. Go and make yourself comfortable.” Not my voice. Kidman’s. I stared into her face, my mouth wide open, and I saw her start to move towards the door. I should be the one moving towards the door. Me. But, no, it was her.
"You’ll start to remove your clothes but you’ll be hesitant, you’ll go part of the way – maybe the top of your dress – but then you’ll go all hesitant again and you’ll stop and look down at the ground. You’ll be inert – just a little useless! – and you’ll need him to finish off removing them, as you sigh and shiver"
She turned back to me and looked hard into my face. Her eyebrows were raised and her eyes were sharp and fierce – every muscle of her face was poised like the body of a tiger. I shrank back a little and felt myself diminishing, diminishing in her presence.
“No man wants what you have to offer, Steph. No man wants it. Not ever! He doesn’t want your insecure shivering, your doe-eyed flinching, your uncertainty, your insipid coy glances, your jagged and pathetic girlish touches, your unlearned ways, your disgusting hesitancy, your pathetic faltering little sounds – so cheap and sad and infantile – your fumbling, your should-I shouldn’t-I stop-and-start meekness! Your hiding away, your crouched, tucked-in, sheepish sexuality. It makes a man sick! Sick, I tell you! Your head all cocked and bashful, and your eyes all sad and timid and recoiling – cowering! - and your hands all loose and weak and insubstantial and without conviction. Useless hands, useless folded up body, and eyes that should be gouged out of any real woman. Men lie for you! They lie! Every glance, every movement, every word! All lies! And they despise you for your nature! They despise you for making their bodies and minds have to lie so. Let me say it again: no man wants what you have to offer, you useless piece of nothing!”
Every word was spat at me, rapidly and venomously, and with every word she uttered something inside me lowered and contracted more and more. I folded up. I hid away. Diminishing, diminishing.
Kidman surveyed her destruction, then walked purposefully out of the bathroom door and headed in the direction of my bed and James. Slowly, I followed her, watching as her shape swirled along the corridor, all fire and bluster and drama.
I passed an umbrella, all in shade and all idle on the floor of the corridor. There was a shadow above me that stretched across the ceiling, shaped something like a kitchen bin. At the end of the corridor was the main door to my suite of rooms, locked and bleak and with nothing to do. There was an old scented candle on a unit, round like a ball. It reminded me of Philip’s words telling me that I was just a ball, and I should just let other people bounce me!
"Every word was spat at me, rapidly and venomously, and with every word she uttered something inside me lowered and contracted more and more. I folded up. I hid away. Diminishing, diminishing"
As I entered the main room where my bed lay, and entered its subdued lighting, I saw shadows on the wall that moved like dying animals that were eating each other alive. It was all violence and purpose, and I heard their brutal cries, shamelessly gorging, and almost filled with anger and agony. My stomach knotted and I felt sick.
I found myself sitting down on the floor underneath the window-sill. I folded my legs tightly into me, draughts descending on me from every direction, and I found myself starting to cry quietly to myself. So many things flashed through my head, so many past hurts, so much damage and so much endless and congested aching that has never found a way out – all turning round and round like different coloured clothes in a washing machine, the groaning engine of its turning matching my own groans.
All the while, Kidman fucked the man I loved. And all I could do was sit in the room, as their shadows and shouts taunted me, and cry over and over again, and without any sign of an end, in any moment or any day to come.
I don’t know when, but at some point I’m sure that a white light ghosted by on the other side of the window behind me. It didn't need to enter. It didn't need to even try. Emptiness was already feasting on me.
Next instalment: 53. Kidman's Gift - Part Four