Saturday, 26 March 2011
THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT by Julie Morgan
The Birthday Present
She wasn't what he'd expected at all. When he rang the agency to book an evening with ‘Krystal’, he'd had visions of a living doll turning up on his doorstep, someone beautiful and voluptuous with immaculate hair and make-up. He'd pictured her in skyscraper heels and a stylish trench coat, which she would discard to reveal a basque worn with tiny lace panties, suspenders and seamed stockings. He had fantasised about the things he would do to her, the things he would instruct her to do to him, had seen her on her knees looking up at him, on all fours, peeking coquettishly over her shoulder, then underneath him, long, stockinged legs wrapped around his body, stiletto heels bobbing at the ceiling.
In his fantasies, the woman he ordered from 'East End Girls' had been variously blonde, auburn and brunette, but always beautiful and never in the slightest like this creature.
He looked again at the woman on his doorstep. She was an emaciated mouse with corned beef legs, shivering in an orange fanny pelmet, bubblegum pink fun-fur jacket and scuffed gold shoes. Her hair was in a scrunchy, her make-up made her face look like something a child had crayoned, and she both smoked and chewed gum. The ceaseless chomping made a vein in her temple crawl back and forth like a wayward snake. His breath caught in his throat: he’d saved up for her for weeks.
'Howay, man, let's in,' she demanded, hefting the huge shoulder bag she carried. 'It's fucking brass monkeys out here!'
Once inside, he ran to find a saucer for her to use as an ashtray. When he returned, he found her picking through his CDs, a scowl on her face.
'Have you not got nowt more poppy?' she asked, clearly unimpressed with his jazz collection. 'Birra Kylie?'
It was his birthday: she was his present to himself, the only one he would get. At thirty-five, having reached what his mother called middle-age, he thought it was time he had a woman in his life. Leaving work he had felt buoyant, excited, for once the first one out of the door.
He wiped his palms on his trousers, bought new from Matalan for the occasion, then shook his head.
'What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?' She gave up on the CDs, dropped the cigarette into the saucer and wriggled out of her jacket. It lay on the couch where she dropped it like a sulky, hairy, pink pig.
'Do you like me tits?' she asked, pushing them together and leaning forward. 'I got them for Christmas. Mint, aren't they?' He nodded, then noticed the scabs and bruises, the tracks on her arms. He swallowed, feeling queasy. 'I do hand relief, oral and full straight sex. Give us an extra twenty and you can have anal. I won't be tied up or slapped nor nowt, mind, and I don't perform with pets. Oh – and I don't do nowt without a condom, plus lubrication for penetration. Got that?' He nodded. The agency'll charge your card for whatever you have. Anal gets charged as a straight shag and I get to keep the twenty.'
He wanted her to leave. He wanted his first time to be special, couldn't imagine doing anything with this woman. He looked at her hands, rough little monkey paws, bitten nails coated in chipped purple lacquer, and felt he would rather die than have her touch him. He felt cheap and dirty, his fantasies sitting in the pit of his stomach like an indigestible meal.
'What's up?' She rummaged through the bag she'd dropped on the floor and pulled out a condom. 'First time?'
He swallowed. There had been moments, fumblings, when he was at school. Then magazines while he cared for his mother, films after she went into care. The nursing home ate his money like a gannet ate fish. She had meant first time paying for it. She had no idea.
She grinned. 'Don't worry, I'll soon get you warmed up, then you can tell us what you fancy.' She nodded at the bag. 'I've got all sorts in there if you like toys.'
He hadn’t wanted to pick up any of the girls who hung around the industrial estate after the workers went home. Besides, he didn’t drive, couldn’t afford a car. The care home costs…. He had been grateful when he heard someone at work talking about that particular agency: East End Girls, who came at east end prices. He wanted a girlfriend. He was lonely, had been lonely for as long as he could remember.
But this woman was not what he wanted. Not what he wanted at all.
‘N… no,’ he said.
She rolled her eyes and went to work, taking charge, leaving him no room to protest. Half an hour later, he felt much, much better about the whole situation, and after an hour, he no longer understood why he’d ever had reservations. He negotiated a price for her to stay the night, to hell with the expense, then let her handcuff him to his mother’s brass bedstead. Later still he fell asleep, wrists abraded despite the lining on the handcuffs, a strangely satisfying ache in his balls, and dreamed of trumpeting angels.
He awoke in the early hours, at first puzzled by the animal warmth of the small body at his side: then he remembered, and he smiled. He looked down at her, her features lit by the landing light shining in through the glass above the door. Mascara was smeared around her eyes, streaked on her cheeks, and her arm was thrown up above her head, her stubble-filled oxter a smudge, the track marks on her arm seeming to glow faintly in the artificial twilight. Her mouth hung open and she made little snorting sounds as she slept. He adored her. He decided her pet name would be ‘Piglet’. He could hardly wait to tell her.
Next morning, it being the weekend, he reckoned on a lie-in and a late, leisurely breakfast, but for her it was business as usual.
‘I have to get back,’ she told him, stepping into the orange skirt and pulling on her top. ‘Me mam’s got the bairns.’
He hadn’t reckoned on kids. ‘But it’s different now.’ They’d work it out. Maybe her mam could keep them all the time.
‘How’s that, like?’ she asked, picking up sex toys and throwing them in the huge shoulder bag.
‘Well, now we’ve ... you know.’
He winced at the coarse language. ‘Made love.’
She rolled her eyes and headed downstairs as he scampered along behind. ‘You paid for that, you daftie,’ she said over her shoulder. She shrugged into the pink, fun-fur jacket. ‘That’s me job.’ She hefted the shoulder bag and headed for the door. ‘And now it’s home time. Ta-ra, pet.’
Panic caused him to dance across the room and place himself between her and freedom. ‘Piglet!’ he exclaimed.
He shook his head. ‘Not anymore. You don’t do that anymore, we’re together now.’
‘Look, get it straight, we’re not together. You’re not the first to get mixed up about it, but I’m not your girlfriend. It’s just business. You’re a client.’ She popped a stick of gum and began to chew: the vein in her forehead kicked into life and recommenced its squirming. ‘If you want to see me again, ring the agency. They’ll book it in the diary.’
‘The diary! I need to make an appointment to see my own girlfriend?’
She sighed. ‘I’m not your girlfriend.’ She took a step toward the door. ‘Now let me past.’
She made to move around him and he grabbed at her arm. ‘Marry me!’
‘Marry me.’ He took her hand. ‘It’s not how I’d meant to ask, but I mean it.’ He clumped down onto one knee and gazed up at her. ‘Will you?’
‘Me? Marry you?’
He nodded, a smile beginning to form on his lips, hope for the future blossoming in his heart. He would buy her a ring, they could shop for it that afternoon.
She let out a derisive hoot of laughter. ‘Look at you!’ she exclaimed. ‘Sad, fat, borin’ ... not if you were the last man on earth!’ She shoved him backwards, knocked him off balance, and he toppled over. ‘Now get out of me way, you fuckin’ freak.’
When he thought about it afterwards, the memories came in a series of images, juddering, flickering, like an old film: her startled expression when he hit her; the bag flying off her shoulder and showering the room with sex toys; her eyes, then her tongue, bulging out of her face as his hands found themselves around her throat, squeezing and squeezing until she stopped trying to fight him. The next clear memory he had was of sitting on the floor, his back to the front door, her head cradled in his lap.
As the morning slipped by, her phone chirruped again and again as the people in her life tried to contact her. He ignored it. His girlfriend – fiancée, really – was dead and he felt justified in allowing his grief to take over.
Later in the afternoon, the thought of her starting to decompose stopped his hand as it stroked her hair. He sniffed. Could he detect a tang in the air? He thought so. He eased himself out from beneath her slight frame, trying not to shudder as he did so: she was still the love of his life, after all. He went upstairs to the bathroom and relieved himself, the stream of urine a blessed relief after holding it for so long. Then he washed and dried his hands, put the plug in the bath and turned on the hot tap. Nipping down to the kitchen, he seized the bottle of washing-up liquid from under the sink and jogged back up the stairs, panting as he reached the top. He squirted a generous amount into the streaming water and looked on in satisfaction as it frothed up and bubbles filled the bath. Then he turned off the hot tap and ran the cold: cold water was a much better idea, he decided.
Back downstairs once more, he picked her up. She felt stiff and cold, and, for such a small person, unnaturally heavy: a dead weight, he thought, and a strangled giggle escaped him. In the bathroom again, he turned off the tap and undressed her. He tried to slip her gently into the bath, but she was awkward to manoeuvre and he dropped her. She fell in with a splash and disappeared under the water completely. He hauled her up, then dipped his facecloth in the water, wrung it out and placed it over her face: the bulging eyes and protruding tongue had belied the image of her enjoying a restful bubble bath. He left her to it and went to change into dry clothes and make some sandwiches: after all his grief and trouble, he felt famished.
Later in the day the police knocked on his door. ‘Sorry to bother you, sir, but we’re looking for a missing woman,’ the one on the front step told him. He could see the copper’s female companion a few paces behind him on the path. ‘Ann Chilton. We understand she spent last night with you.’
He looked at the photograph the copper held out. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘she was here. But she left.’
‘When was that, sir?’
‘This morning, around nine o’clock.’
‘Did she say where she was going?’
He shrugged. ‘She said her mother was looking after her children.’
‘Do you mind if we take a look around inside?’
‘Do you have a warrant?’
‘We don’t need one if you give us permission.’
He thought of the sex toys strewn around his living room, the shoulder bag – her shoulder bag – lying on the floor, scuffed gold shoes at the bottom of the stairs. He swallowed, wiped his palms on his trousers. ‘Well, I don’t,’ he said.
‘Any reason why not, sir? After all, if you’ve nothing to hide …. ’ The policeman let that hang in the air.
He made to shut the front door on them, but the copper on the step was quick, got his boot in the way. His companion was already moving, making for the door, talking into her radio. Next thing he knew, the door was open and they were inside the house. They took one look at the state of the sitting room and there was shouting and the thudding of boots, one copper heading through to the back of the house, the other up the stairs. He heard the bathroom door slam open, the handle smacking against the wall.
‘She’s here!’ the woman copper shouted. ‘Oh god! Poor cow.’
He sat down on the step, looked out at the garden with its too-long grass and raggedy hedge. Beyond that, over the road, the curtains were twitching at number eleven. Mrs Todd. She missed nothing, nosy old bat, she was always gossiping with the neighbours. Well, he thought to himself, they’d all have something to talk about now.
Julie Morgan has stories in a variety of places, and is trying to corral them all here: http://gonebadonlinestories.blogspot.com/.