He made little impression on me, at first glance. Not unusual, since I tend to avoid noticing what might progress to a distraction, when wrapped up in work. I compartmentalized – professional and personal do not happy bed-fellows make.
As it was, this man who stopped by my office space (a tiny corner of a conglomerate that could probably do better by its employees, but what the hell, we’re only data-fodder) and offered a cup of coffee, would become more than a colleague and confidante. He would be the nails on my blackboard, waking up a soul long thought dead with boredom. I hid at the back of the room, between grey and black panels, staring at one screen after another; computer, the faces of those around me, as we clicked and assimilated and downloaded and drank ourselves to death, fucking in the cleaners’ cupboard to stay awake, slathering ourselves in fake tan for the chill winter months, only to lose it all at the water fountain when brushing up against each other’s inexpensive suits. Lipstick traces on plastic cups, left on windowsills that peered out over a city full of blue and black shadows, squares of silver and gold, like the most beautiful checkerboard in the world.
I stood at that particular window for seconds too long, as my immediate boss would always catch me on the cusp of jumping out to fly over the cityscape. I wanted to see if it would be the same as taking that first dram of whiskey, the fire in the throat, the dull whump in the chest, the dead light in the eye and too-bright voice. And hiccups.
He – my boss – would often pass comment on the ladders running through my tights. I hadn’t the heart to tell him that this was due to my knotting them about my throat every other week, ready to do it, ready to leave. Far less messy than a jump off the platform, or indeed, out of an office window. I personally can’t stand people who hold up timetables and lives, ending their own in public. It diminishes the spin of the coin. It brings others down. It’s pointless.
If you’re going to die, or fuck, do it like an animal, in private and with meaning. Certainly don’t draw unnecessary attention, when the world will only roll its eyes anyway. We’re all on our way out, somehow; la petite mort, or the Big Sleep. One and the same.
This man, he handed me coffee and did the Lecter thing – his finger ran down mine, and in that fragile exchange I knew we’d end up as … what would you call it, fuck-buddies? Friends with benefits? I’m out of resources already, and can’t stand either. Partner is too loaded and layered up with His and Hers, toothbrushes in one bathroom, birthday presents etc. We met infrequently, whenever our schedules allowed – often, he’d pass me on the platform and poke my side, make me turn around to see the sort of grin that killed me a little more inside each time. I tried hard not to fall for him. It was difficult. He was already seeing someone, as the best ones always are; my previous life had seen me drift alone for long spaces of dark night. I wasn’t quite well, but he saw past that. We never spoke of it. It wasn’t part of the game.
He made that game apparent on the first night. It snowed; I wore boots to work, eased off to slip into office shoes that clicked and announced my presence in such a way that made me blush. I’m not a pencil-skirter, but the boss insisted on it, in that eye-slide way of his; the kind of old school bastard who would happily have sent all we ladies up onto the tables to open the windows in the skirts he asked – oh so politely – that we wear. And stockings, don’t forget those. I opted out. Tights.
But when He asked me to wear stockings to work, I acquiesced.
He told me I had killer legs, and I rolled my eyes. Try something else.
And he did, though not on the tack I’d imagined; it sent a shiver of something Real up my back.
No. You could wrap those around my neck and break it, if I made you cum hard enough.
That got my attention. I forgave him the bad cup of coffee; he laughed, took it from my hand and threw it in the bin, with the apple cores, tissue-wrapped condoms (so much evidence of office ennui, I really felt for the cleaning team) and loose staples.
He took me out to dinner, which was an event in itself, since I don’t generally eat out. But I was eaten out afterwards, which more than made up for the fact he insisted on paying for everything. I don’t allow this as a rule, either. Being indebted to anyone, is a bad idea. It hands them control on a plate. But when he gripped my hand under the street light’s orange flare, so bright on the snow that whipped icy teeth about us, I didn’t dare argue because it would go against my own gut instinct. For once, I listened beyond it.
He kept wine bottles lined up like pedestrians on the cold-cured streets. I laughed, asked him if he hoarded them like some men do notches on bed posts. He shrugged, asked me which I preferred inside and on me. I chose the Merlot, as ever. Can’t beat a decent Chilean.
He let it drip like blood through his teeth, all down my navel. One warm fluid to another, since I let him cum there too. Well, I had hardly a choice, being tied one limb to each bed post (unnotched, interestingly) with his work ties. Every time I saw him wear them thereafter, I had to hide my face, since the grin creeping over it and the slick heat between my legs, were only ever a giveaway.
He said he wanted to carry me around with him at work; to stare our mutual boss in the eye with that tongue between them, the one he used to smear my cum across his skin, over mine, before applying the real deal, in such a way that I bit right through my lip. I hate making excessive noise, but hey, sometimes we don’t get much choice in the matter. He wanted me to cry out. I saw it in the grin.
The one we shared, around that office space and in and out of the lean-to pubs we frequented before and after fucking, when the snow lay in shivering blankets across the streets that held a winter’s dream of silence and so-called sin. His partner … well, I never knew if she knew. It didn’t matter to me; I wasn’t the one with ties. As it were.
So I found myself unable to concentrate, at work and on the streets. Traffic, people, chatter, write-ups and numbers, all became the slow flap of moths with cheap-jewel eyes, veering towards me at the last second so I was constantly forced to sidestep or risk losing parts of myself that I wasn’t ready to give up.
Can you have this in …
Have you edited …
Are you coming to…
Do you want…
Where are you going…?
How the hell should I know?
Nothing made much sense when he wasn’t whispering something in my ear. It had got that bad. I had fooled myself into thinking that those ties were only for play. Then I started to let him buy me drinks. Dinner (again.) A book that had caught my eye.
And there we go, the tie becomes the knot.
Shit. Oh damn, oh no, oh hell. These, on a loop through my head whenever we were due to meet; glancing around corners, following human-shape shadows, in case they were Her. Not Him, for once, but the partner I would never meet but always felt the presence of, the light tickle of the point before the blade slides across the throat.
One clean slice, and that would be it for our … what would it even be called, a relationship that never went past first names? We rarely used those, either, as though to speak them aloud was to make a mockery of what time we had together. We were Those people in our everyday lives; but when I had him beneath me, my thighs tight about his shoulders and hands back to give him sweet living hell, we were Others. We were apart and together, separate entities who could walk away at any moment … except the pleasure outweighed the cost, the pain was more than enough to draw either one back. A candle burn on the finger hurts, sure, but smells positively sweet.
We never called each other, out on the street or on the phone. Email was the bare scratch of lines that made up correspondence; easily deleted and easily misconstrued by an outsider as something entirely innocent; meaningless office banter. The intranet worked its wonder for our survival. And I found myself checking it, click-click-click, nth times a day, or through the long evenings when working late became a necessity to see him on an opposing shift. Oh I loved those times the best. The office fuck, as lurid and cretinous as it was balefully true to life. The bedroom, the soft mattress, never felt as good as the slick sheen of the desk under my back, where – once I’d stood up – a sheen of sweat lay in twin gleaming patches. My angel wings; a wonderful inversion.
He would have me down on the desk as soon as the janitor had passed through, part of the cleaning team who more often than not spent his time lolling against the same window I enjoyed martyring the city with. He’d crack his gum and roll his eyes around to where He and I sat at our opposing desks, sharing an eyewhite flash every now and then when no one was looking …
Except the janitor, who saw everything. He was the one who cottoned on first. Luckily, he’d been on the take with a girl from the lower end of the city for the past fifteen years; a girl he’d knocked up (so he’d tell me over coffee, months later) and couldn’t let go of, though she walked the streets still, her little girl mostly grown and in foster care. I saw her only once, when he ran out to meet her in the snow – she wore a fleecy top and belt-skirt of some tight material pertaining to be leather, and her skin was noticeably riddled up with expensive needle punctures and bruises. She shivered and held onto him, under the orange-white glow. I watched them from that window, on an evening when the clock went backwards, for all that it would send Us out to be together.
He came to stand beside me, watching this desolate pair on the pavement full of broken dreams and lives beyond recall. Put his hand on my elbow, gripped it hard enough to raise goosebumps on my skin, even before his breath felt my collar.
We’re luckier than some.
I nodded, but he pressed the point – laying a single finger on the glass, to dot out their faces, which had joined in the sort of eternity you can’t really call a kiss, because it broke the clock.
That could be Us. No going back, no going forward. A child caught between, and lost. You realize that, don’t you?
When he lifted his finger away, the blur of faces in his print became even more watery in the tears that made my eyes hot, savage with anger.
We’d never get to that stage. I won’t let it happen.
He laughed. You won’t let it?
No and No.
Which was my first lie to him.
In the shivering darkness
It was us and the snow, in a world gone to silver and bronze with street lights. The wind clung to our skin as we clung to each other, all wet clothes. Running, laughing through slushy puddles and dirty car spray, for a train that would take us to a Nowhere of tomorrows. Don’t they always say these never come?
I’ll bet I can make yours come.
Oh shut up.
I shoved him, and he tottered off the kerb, in the good shoes that would soon be strewn across the plain hotel carpet, along with everything else that clung and creased in folds. We were washed in orange and black, a lamplight haven flecked with the chill. The night strained at the end of its leash; near to Christmas, the city was full of blue fairy lights in the trees. A gold vision for every pub window, and a song from behind every door, which opened to let out the warmth of a drinker’s night. Fairytale of New York never sounded so stark or so free. We heard tables thumping behind the walls, as people danced off their dinners.
The city seemed to be in the sort of mood where no one is a stranger. Their eyes shone and they drank outside, heedless of the hunched snow, the bells that tried to call their spirits back to God. Well, they knew where their souls lay, and as cars shushed up and down the slick streets, we waved back and laughed at their diamond eyes.
I’d never seen the grin reach his eyes before.
Work had let us out early, wonder of wonders. We’d taken the chance, one that would sit as a stone in my chest for weeks thereafter, but for the time sparkled like the falling snow. We left the building with ten minutes between our footfalls in the foyer, as always. He was down the street apace, silent and tall under the flicker-glow of the lamp. I slowed down to watch him, while he in turn watched the white-silver fall. It reamed his dark hair, feathered his cheeks until he was almost a boy again, until he was a carved deity. But I’d never tell him so. His ego was bad enough.
His fingers were cold, hard on mine, and nothing like how they would feel later when they entered me, on the bed which the receptionist had promised – with the look she obviously reserved for couples like us, footloose on a fancy-free time – was soundless. Well, we tested that theory. Turns out she was right.
He had me strip down until my underwear glowed under another lamplight, the soft gold puddle on the bedside stand. Aren’t they always such dear, antiquated things, the kind your Grandma would have in her house? That’s how I felt, which is why I took it off the table and stashed it under the bed, for some bemused maid to find, along with … well, everything else. We spent the weekend there, only breathing outside air when he flung open the window to let the chill air dry our skins. The snow made its way in too, landing on the carpet like sparks.
It was his choice not to wear protection. Said he wanted to feel every cell of me, aching for him. I said nothing, only unzipped his fly and took him in my hand, in my mouth, and made him Shut Up with a lack of breath. I don’t credit myself on much, especially nowadays, but I give good head when I want a guy’s attention. His fingers found my hair, the way I like it, and the world swam in tears. The room was small, bracketed in the bronze glow of the outside world, that lover’s lamplight haven. It calls to the wild people, to strangers like Us, like you and me; the ones who rarely use names, who fall back on endearments, because they’re so distancing.
He pushed me back from where I knelt before him, knees tangled up in covers he would twist about my wrists in intricate knots. But he left my feet free; hitched my knees up, hands beneath (and it always tickles, I have to bite my lip) and pressed his tongue down on me, in and around the pants he wouldn’t take off, because he preferred to let me feel them pulled aside. He let me work up towards wet heat, the binds twisting about my wrists. And just when I would cum, he stopped and untied me. I was made to stand, shaking and wet, dying with it, beside the bed. His fingers went twisting through my hair. More tears, but I shook with the wait, the wait …
And he was cruel. Leaned into my ear, made his breath hot there, as his hand came up between my legs, pushing in and letting me feel him there – stopping. I twisted my head, still in his hand – it wrenched my hair as I bit his wrist. Swore at him, and he laughed. Bent me over and fucked me so hard, I thought my back would break with my heart, even while I begged him not to stop. To never go.
The things we say before death, huh.
Before la petite mort, when we face down our own mortality and are reduced to what we deserve.
I bit my own hand, and his. Tried not to make a sound, but he wasn’t having that; flipped me over and hooked my legs up, made me look him in the eye.
But I didn’t go without a fight.
All those years of “intern-training” paid off. I clamped down on his cock from the inside, made him Know Me in a kamikaze blood-lust.
Made him speak my name in that way he’d always promised would never happen – because we’re not That – with the wry smile of one who knows a hard bargain when he deals it.
But I’ll never forget the way his eyes turned black. Or how I felt him inside me like thorns in the hand.
I guess that night made us both liars.
Lying in the shivering dark with the window open, the sweat and cum drying on us, he cradled my head on his chest and stroked out my hair. Kissed my ear. I listened to the sound of his chest going up and down, a heartbeat more pronounced than ever before. I wanted to tease him about getting on a bit; he was always checking his hair for the silver that marked his beard in the late afternoons and evenings, when we glanced at each other over desks that were our pseudo-home. Out here at least, fucking in a hotel no one would remember in ten years or twenty, we were alone in some kind of reality.
That’s when it hit me. What he meant, what he had become. My mind went numb on it. I didn’t dare turn to the streetlight, vivid as the night was black.
I still wonder if he felt my tears fall again, on a heart I couldn’t own.
Well, we knew it would come to this. The frozen end, the midwinter death of a love that wasn’t meant to be.
How cliched. Where do we stop and force ourselves to register truth in other aspects, other than those served to us on a plate by the world? We had each other, there was no denying that. In the months of ice-rimed pavements and deep blue nights, it was easy to forget everyone, everything else. I found myself in his eyes, and he found himself at home inside me, and what we sometimes lacked in words and tastes, we made up for in wavelength. There were moments, oh sure, moments … when I would’ve happily crushed his skull in my silly little hands. If only because he was endearing in the way of a hangnail, a bittersweet pain, day after night after Everything.
I wanted to pull him off, so many times. He was of no real use to me, couldn’t move me up the social ladder we were both stuck on, albeit at different levels; he couldn’t offer me protection from the world, or access to its sharp corners, its shining sides. To everyone else, we were faceless moons orbiting one another, too far and cold between, in the dense dark of work.
Or so we thought.
Turns out that eyes see more than telescopes, for they can pick out subtle, emotional nuances. Where I thought I’d been careful, I was lazy – in the eye, drifting his way once too often across the office; in my hand, sliding a few seconds too long across the crease at his elbow when we got into the lift together, trailing a fingertip past the tie he would have used the night before, to tie me down and string me up on his love. His version of it, that senseless sensory thing, which turn by turn has us captor and slave. Hate is its twin, and they are a mischievous pair – always changing faces and swapping dice, exchanging a tone of voice for that of the other, until it’s difficult to tell where you began to see the hairline cracks appear; where the blood running under the nails that drag over His back, was just a little too dark for comfort.
So many times, I tried to let him go. Nothing would ever change, and I refused to be the helpless mistress, whiling away my time while waiting for his own. I was grim and proper; ignored his emails and glances, telling myself it was for the best … until the pain in my chest got too much. A whitehot thing, burning me down to where he shouldn’t have reached. Where he didn’t belong, because we’d sworn it wouldn’t end up this way.
I think perhaps it was the near-miss that did it. 24 hours spent wandering the black-ice lakes of our fair city’s streets, trying to carve the stupid grin off my face with the north wind … while my heart hammered in my chest, and I tried to think up every plausible excuse to disappear. It wasn’t so much my reputation that would be hurt, after all.
He didn’t react to my ignoring him, didn’t look for some way to nail my palms and feet to a wall; didn’t kidnap me in a taxi or throw me down over his chair to give me the fucking of my life. No. He took it as he did most things he couldn’t understand – with a blank sheet for a face, his signature a scrawl that cut deep to the desk beneath. Nothing more.
I hated him then.
But the wonderful thing about this tight black wire is its ability to noose around your throat, and string you up for love.
And in my loud stares, tight lips, coffee trails that came too close to his desk – I paid the price of laying a trail some began to follow. I wasn’t so much careless, as they were too keen to find what might distract them from the grey spaces of the world, our office, our gum-tacky lives. People will make a dance around the shining bits of broken bottle, scattered careless to the sun’s face, his endless laugh.
Whisper whisper. Forest Fire.
Contained within the perimeters, the little embers would have been crumpled, robbed of their breath with closed windows against the shivering darkness and biting night winds, which carried fragmented words and the smell of white musk for miles …
The test came back negative, by the way.
But the feeling remained; a brand burnt into my chest.
I never told him.
He left when the snow had melted in the road, a dying slush of grey on black, with the cars whispering past in pity of my heart.
Or so I wanted to believe. In truth, the world went on, as oblivious as it ever was. Except perhaps for one tiny pocket of light in a window – his wife maybe, watching from some hotel or another, a library balcony.
Of our office, only he knew where I lived. I kept it so, to maintain a cool distance between working life and the slender comforts of home. But the handwriting wasn’t his. The words wouldn’t have fallen from his mouth, such bitter stones, like gravel tossed up beneath screeching car tyres, the headlights dipped into the dark.
One day he was there. The next, there was no coat hanging on the back of his office door; the desk lay as bare as my back had been, when he pushed me down on it to make angel wings of sweat. The chair he had forced me down into, so he could enter me with that keenest perplexity of depth, that I might cry out for his mouth to cover mine … that was gone, too. I will never know if he took it as a memento, or if top brass had it disposed of. The latter was a terrifying thought, and I crept around the office in the first week with my hair hung dark over my eyes, mouth a fragile line of ready excuses … until I realized that no whispers ran a forest fire around the water-cooler, no grins were slung my way at the vending machines. My computer didn’t rattle with memes, and no pixellated spatter of my face and cunt turned up on some tech geek’s laptop.
I was nothing. I became nothing, became Shadow. Black ice on the road outside, waiting for my heart’s lunging step. I almost followed him, almost tried to track him down. My hands shivered over the phone still on that sparse desk, still laced with his prints. Its beautiful lines curved like the smile on his face, when he had called me from across the lowlight office of a late-hour shift, full of dark windows, and the quiet hum of idling computers. We were the only two left, separated by a distance counted in squares of stained carpet. The phone’s blaring in the stillness had jumbled my nerves; it twitched in my hands, which had been enslaved to paperwork mounded up on my desk.
Our suits made a whisper in the black-gold night. The snow whirled outside, on and ever on, indifferent.
He pushed me into that chair and told me to keep still, so still, while he removed everything I wore. When my skin twitched, he bit my lip and kissed my chin, whispered something in my ear that made my heart
in that way it shouldn’t; when something you hoped for becomes reality, and it’s almost too good to believe in. You need another moment to catch his breath.
The paperwork of my toil made tiny incisions between my legs – my punishment, he said, for not working faster. He showed me the meaning of pain, the sweet-fire kind, and sucked it out like poison, until I died and came and died again. He wouldn’t let me go. His hands held me up, held me down, until I sobbed and asked, begged him to enter me, if only to make the fire something tangible, something I could know if not understand. One and the other, cut upon cut, little scarlet ribbons. They healed faster than my heart.
When tomorrow is another day, what is the night to a child who has only empty air to play in? When her hand reaches out to clutch for another, it’s a white will o’ the wisp, disappearing down a path she can’t follow.
I would have followed him anywhere. Would have walked by his side, as equal and conqueror and subservient fool. We realized (too late) that it was love which made the dividing line between what we did, and what we knew was right. Such a cobweb of a thing. Glistening amber strands in the lamplight. Hung with tears in the dawn.
He took the path I couldn’t follow, but which kept me safe. Left me shivering ankle-deep in the slush of the road, holding a letter that was mine and not mine, for it could never have come from his hand and thus was below my regard … and still. All things move towards their end.
I was a charcoal smudge against the grey eye of dawn, watching the ghost-lines of the faraway bridge appear. They were set against a horizon spiked with steeples and rooftops, burnt with an amber haze. The bells of the city tolled out a death stroke of the night.
I don’t know where he goes, who he speaks to or if he thinks of me at all.
But we were alive with the blue shadows and the silence of snow.