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Chapter 4

She was the same woman. He was the same man. They had met before, he remembered clearly, and he knew she did too. It must have been years ago, he wanted to know how many, but she wouldn’t tell him, even pretended many times she didn’t remember. She had lived an orderly life, with the opportunity to count. That is, Ladethe assumed that, as he always assumed that problems he had, others had not.

Zhusah preferred to sustain doubt about their earlier acquaintance, she admitted he reminded her of a man she knew, but it might have been someone else. She looked different now, older, long less curly hair in a plait. Her sensual attraction was unaffected.

They did the obvious, and went to her house. She sat on a rug by the hearth. He on a smooth brick wall. He noticed she still wore a ring. It was impolite to ask about it, but equally impolite to be with her, with that ring on, while he wasn’t there, and ask nothing. So ask?

He did. He died. What killed him? Suddenly found dead, stroke, attack, something. Don’t wanna know, won’t bring him back to know exactly.

‘Although I knew him only briefly, I really got to like him. We could’ve been friends, real good friends.’

‘Didn’t you like me then?’

No answer. Ring. Busy. Pushing her button vehemently. Enjoy it, baby. No. Don’t call me baby. But he could see it in her face. Touched it right. Had a special muscle for this. But not well trained. They turned. She reinserted. What looked relatively small when packed was delightful to carry. ‘For safe sex,’ she raised, ‘we should both wear one of those heartbeat monitor belts, so we know when to slow down a bit, and when to accelerate. I tried that once, but the trouble is they transmit a signal to the wrist-watch, and they get mixed if you’re too close. You get a two-hearts-beat-as-one even if you don’t level.’

‘I’m not sure if I really like it like this,’ he thought to himself, or mumbled rather, while she was too busy to hear him, ‘it shouldn’t turn into some kinda match, with winners and losers, and medals and cheers.’ But when after a while she was temporarily exhausted and he took over playing engine, his vehemence comfortably matched hers. He pistoned her while she sat on her knees over him, and he absorbed the shocks with his hands like a tapered riverbed under them, making them proud.

The doorbell rang. He hoped she’d ignore it, but she sprang to her feet without delay, getting into a half-dressed fantasy-tickling state in passing. He held his breath to hear them, but it was hard to miss. He heard her whisper, then snigger and coo, and again with her mouth full. It was over soon, and the man left. She came back to him, and retook position and possession too. And although she had tried to hide it by spreading it out, he could not help but see: white drops dripping down, from both of them, and in between.

To his own surprise and dismay, it didn’t spoil his appetite, even on the contrary, hard and throbbing. She must have expected that, and struck while the iron was hot: ‘I used to have this boyfriend, when I was, what was it, eighteen or nineteen maybe, and we were really infatuated with one another, and so fond of kissing, the francophone kind, but with full lingual visibility, now think of the sight, can you imagine, when I do that?, and what really made me wild, was when I knew other boys were watching us, and I turned round a bit, so they could see what we were doing. I know it’s crazy, I was so much in love with just this one boy, but knowingly exciting those others too made it so much deeper, so much warmer, even so much more us.’ More white drops. They didn’t drip. Not yet.

For her, it was too soon to be the end of it. She sat up, resolved their misalignment by letting it slip out, because she knew what she needed and when she needed it, (he didn’t mind, too sensitised already), and gave herself what she wanted, digitally, repeatedly, blissfully being watched.

He let his eyes wander from one thigh to another, via her unmown meadow, up her breathing belly, whippetly ribs, pausing at the protruding splendour of her breasts, freckles, girlish clavicles, lips, nose of wordless beauty, great eyes most of the time closed in concentration, but occasionally smiling down into his.

He fell in love with her that same instant. Timeless instants. One long instant, climbing up that hill, noisily exploding when on top. Two shorter instants, easier now the way’s been paved already, exploding no less intemperately.

They both had that feeling, or so he assumed without seeking confirmation, that everything was fulfilled, that living on was okay, but dying too, for life was complete. The secret key almost or most likely or real soon at their disposal, that single number or word that could invalidate all wrongs that were, would even out all debts and guilt.

There is music, some of the rarer sequences of notes, impotent unless timed just right, sometimes capable of creating that feeling too: that all the previous makes no difference, that this alone makes life worth while, no matter how long the struggle has taken, no matter all that has been damaged or destroyed, no matter what can be repaired or repaid or reconciled, victory despite any of that, even the worst humiliation could not alter this dignity and fulfilment. They can’t win, even if they do win, I am the victor anyway, because this overrides whatever they do.

They laid down curled up together, ready to sleep, but the closeness of the flesh kept them awake. They stopped being commas and became virgules, and kept in touch only through his hand on her hip.

The next morning the moment he woke up he remembered all that had happened. He looked forward to a lovely day. Against his habit, he got out of bed without delay, wanted to watch her while still asleep, but she’d already left the bed too, without him noticing it. He didn’t have to look for her long, and tried to persuade her to take a shower together. It just seemed a wonderful thing to do. But no, that was out of the question, it was too narrow in there, and it wasn’t a good idea anyway. She just wanted to be left alone for a moment.

He was surprised that it was all so difficult now, he could not think of anything that could possibly have caused this. He decided they had to talk about it, that she should know how he felt. So when she reappeared he tried to open what he thought would become a long and relieving discussion, by saying ‘I think there’s a certain amount of distance between us now.’ She looked at him, with eyes that expressed nothing, and then didn’t speak a word for half an hour.

For lack of a better thing to do he took a shower. They hardly had breakfast, and certainly not together. They did have a coffee together. Then she suddenly said: ‘How on earth can you say a thing like that?’