He could smell her perfume, sense her presence, even before he opened his apartment door. Bianca. Bianca with her own personal perfume that she obtained from an exclusive, little chemist in Cairo's Grand Bazaar. Once a year she would stay at the Sofitel, staring numbly at the pyramids from the safe perimeter of the glass window in the bar. She would leave with a suitcase full of bottles and soaps, the hieroglyphics for "Bianca" painstakingly drawn on their labels.
It was he who had first taken her to Cairo, introduced her to the delights of the chaotic, aromatic haze of humanity that lived at the cross-roads of medieval squalor and regal splendour. They had stayed in a tiny, two-star hotel near the train station where the owner invited them downstairs to the foyer every night to drink Stella and play peculiar gambling games. The owner himself did not drink, of course. Bianca had been nineteen. She wasn't so grand then. She quite happily wandered through the bustle of carts, donkeys, cars and open sewers outside the hotel, taking photographs, enticing passers-by to smile. She was gracious and charming, even without the benefit of the local language and they did so willingly. Gave up snapshots of their souls to the lanky English girl with the spiky, short, brown hair and brooding eyes. She hadn't developed the harsh beauty that sat before him now. He kept some copies of those photographs dotted on the apartment walls.
It had been Bianca who pleaded to come. She was in the second year of her creative arts course at university. It surprised him. As her stepfather, he had maintained a courteous but distant relationship. When she needed money she asked him for more. When he felt her music was too loud, he asked her to turn it down. When they sometimes met in the hall, which was rare given his hectic work schedule, there would be an awkward pause, like they were both guests about to leave.
The trip had been the start of his prosperity and the end of his heart. For twenty-one years he would rejoice in and regret Bianca's company on that trip. He had ultimately won the contract for the engineering project which had brought him to Cairo in the first place, taking his small company into the realms of the multinationals. His wife, for the first time ever, had not wished to accompany him. It was only later that he learned about the illness which would eventually sap away every vestige of the woman he loved.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Eric darling."
Her voice has become coarse to match her features. She raises her glass of wine. Probably her fifth judging by the way she slurs. Her body curves hard and perfect through her stretch, black dress. Too perfect for a woman of forty. It makes her appear desperate rather than sexy.
Eric coughs, moves towards the cabinet to pour himself a whiskey.
"What do you want this time Bianca? Surely not more money? Weren't the assets from your last marriage enough?"
"Oh no," she continues to slur. I just want you this time, stepdaddy daaarling."
When he took her to Cairo, she had enough experience to be attractive to men but not so much experience that she could not appear coquettish when the occasion demanded. Their room had consisted of two single beds, almost touching. A worn, yellowed mosquito net covered both beds so that they were trapped together in a gauze dream, the fan on a nearby table uselessly droning hot air upon them. Outside, the streets were never quiet, not even in the early morning. A constant hum, sometimes punctuated by a distinguishable sound like the shout of a man or the squeal of tyres.
They had slept fitfully. It made no difference whether they opened or closed the window. The heat and noise remained constant. For the first three nights, they had brought leftover Stella upstairs with them and lain on the thin sheets, drinking straight from the bottle. It relieved their thirst a little and allowed them a few hours of drunken, comatose sleep.
In addition, Eric was not unaware of Bianca beside him. Close and fresh, her body reeking of some cheap essence she had bought from a street vendor. This was how he wished he'd known her mother. Young and unjaded. No invisible scars. Instead, he had met his wife merely five years earlier. Striking but no longer beautiful. Cheery but no longer capable of complete happiness. Bianca was all that his wife could have been.
Eric would wait each night until Bianca's gentle snores filled the room, then quietly lie on his side catching glimpses of her as lights from passing cars swirled across her face. He would think about her mother, think about how it would have been to make love to her when she was nineteen. His cock would stir despite the fact that beer always lowered his libido considerably. Under the sheet, he would move his hand carefully, hold his breath, fear and exhilaration guiding him to a guilty climax.
On the fourth night, the owner had introduced them to the dubious delights of Zibiba. It initially promised crystal blue waters surrounding the Greek Islands, but a quick burning in the throat made it evident that this concoction lacked the subtlety of Ouzo. Its fire went directly to his brain and made him immediately daring. Bianca, he noticed, became a glowing flirt, winking at the owner and his sons as she lost game after game.
Every night, the owner would say, "Sir, I will swap your daughter for two camels."
Every night, Bianca would reply, "Not for a thousand camels."
On this night she had said, "I am available. There is no need for camels."
He never would, never could, justify it. The exquisite joy and shame of it became his burden. He could claim, however, and Bianca would never deny it, that she was complicit in their coupling. Nonetheless, he was a middle-aged man, old enough to be in control. If he had not been affected by the booze, he would never have contemplated it.
Their ritual had been broken. They could not lie quietly and drink Stella until a blessed stupor came upon them. They had overindulged, yet the Zibiba sought to keep them awake in a nether world of outside shadows that occasionally flitted across the room and the heavy, oppressive air.
"Would you like to see me naked? Perhaps then, you won't have to pump so long tonight."
At first, it was as though the words were imagined. Another voice. Somewhere distant in his past. Not Bianca who looked like her mother lying beside him.
"I'm sorry. You spoke?"
"Stepdaddies shouldn't play with themselves in front of their little girls."
Her voice had the menace and drunken lilt of the present, but it had been higher pitched and much sweeter then.
He let his apology hang in the air. He was too drunk and hot to deny it. Too embarrassed to say more.
Bianca had stood up then, on her bed, so that her head almost touched the top of the mosquito net. Each night she slept in a shapeless, baggy T-shirt. In his masturbatory imaginings, he had pretended she was naked beneath. On this night, he did not have to imagine.
The T-shirt removed, Bianca was a lithe, tanned Nefertiti towering over him. At no stage did he see all of her body at once, just segments of perfection as outside lights blessed the room with their momentary glow. Her perky, upturned left breast with nipple just a minuscule shade darker. Her jogger's trim stomach which fluttered with her uneven breaths. Long, red fingernails tugging the top of her pussy lips painfully high. Sparse patches of hair on her carelessly shaved pussy. Transparent, come hither eyes.
Eric reached his hand towards her, beckoned her over to his bed, and he saw little more. Most of the time, he kept his eyes closed, revelling in his other senses. The ones that allowed him to pretend to be in an uncomfortable, Egyptian hotel room with his wife.
He kissed her hard, breathing her aniseed passion. Bianca's skin was soft as the carpets sold at the Bazaar, their threads delicately woven by the deft hands of thirteen year old peasant girls. At sixteen, the girls would have to retire, their fingers no longer nimble enough to produce the fine weave. Three years. In three years time, Bianca would still have soft skin. There would however, be the occasional bump or rough patch, the signs of living. On this night, he found no imperfection. He indulged his hands, his fingers, as he explored every untarnished pore. Cobweb membranes between her toes. Silk folds behind her knees. Pliant ripples at the tips of her breasts. Moist labyrinth of her pussy lips.
She was less pleasant to taste than to touch. There was a bitterness on her skin, perhaps the result of poorly- filtered, Cairo water. Eric focused on her reactions to his tongue. The low growl in her throat. The tension in her legs as her calf muscles seized around him. Her pussy had the unwelcoming tang he remembered on young girls from long ago. Girls who were still unselfconscious about the bodies. Girls who did not yet disguise their natural aroma.
He had reached across and fumbled through the maze of netting till he found the fan. He held it between her legs, allowing the jet of air to caress her membranes. She had spread wider, held her legs tauter, growled like she might be about to leap.
The taste had been diluted by exposure to air and her juices were tinged with a cricket ground smell of excitement. He fanned her fervour with lips, teeth, tongue. He revelled in the joy of her slaving against his face, genuinely aching for the pleasure he could administer.
After that, it had all truly been an anticlimax. The endorphins that had driven him to make her pulse again and again against his mouth had begun to wane. The alcohol began to slow his reactions. Somewhere in the cloud surrounding him, the magnitude of his actions had begun to surface.
A resolution had to be reached. He had slid on top of her, oily as butter, his skin slick with sweat. Her welcoming tunnel had been warm and sopping around his cock but he moved as though in slow motion. Tiny grunts of exertion. Louder groans as he hovered on a precipice between needing to prove his manhood and admitting defeat. Shouts of triumph as he completed the deed, overcame the twin handicaps of alcohol and age. It had been a challenge rather than an act of pleasure to savour. He was relieved that it was done.
"Am I as pretty and clever as Mummy?" she had asked afterwards.
The resolution didn't come with the spilling of seed, of course. One night of misjudgement had become a lifetime of accusation and deceit with each of them equally manipulative and accusing. They would vehemently deny their desire. They would impose unbearable amounts of guilt on each other. They would find reasons to fuck.
While his wife was still alive, deteriorating daily, Bianca used blackmail as her excuse. She would demand money, threaten to reveal all, then fuck him in gratitude. He was too sad and too weak to ignore her threats or advances. It became a way to keep the memory of Bianca's mother alive. They would fuck. Talk about her. Sometimes look at photographs of happier times. It didn't matter whether Bianca was married or between marriages. Eventually she would appear, financially and emotionally bereft, to uplift and destroy him.
"It's been a long time, Bianca. I am seventy. I'm too old for this now."
There are words he knows he should say. Explanations. Apologies. He should just hold her. Stroke her hair. Tell her she is still in her prime. Be the father he should have been.
"So am I. It is Valentine's Day and I am alone. Come dance with me." Her face devoid of expression.
She chooses belly dance music, writhes awkwardly before him as he sways from side to side. He grabs her arm, not roughly, and pulls her near. In his head, he hums a waltz, slow steps to a tune not on the stereo, gently leads her around the living room. He has never danced with her before. She is wispy in his arms, light on her feet. A good dancer.
"You dance well, Bianca. You look very fine."
He cannot conjure the words he wants to say.
Their lips engage in the familiar battle. Citrus-flavoured gloss on his tongue. She never even used to wear lipstick. Her lips are less pliant, less easily moulded now. There is a certain tension in the way she holds her mouth, preventing his tongue from entwining with hers. Her body too, is more rigid than he can ever remember. A sequence of events that must be enacted. Slowly. Methodically. Without emotion. She looks a little like her mother as she gradually responds to his embrace. Without the soft edges.
They stand on opposite sides of the bed he had shared with his wife. This is the first time they have done it here. He feels strangely neutral. No particular remorse. They never undress each other, the act an admission of intimacy neither is prepared to adopt. Bianca folds her clothes neatly, always prepared for a hasty retreat. He, on the other hand, flings his towards the clothes basket near the door. They drape sullenly over the rim.
Once in bed, they lie naked on top of the white, hospital-corner linen, his housemaid has applied. Side by side. Touching hands. Staring at the ceiling, then at the large portrait of his wife that hangs on the wall directly opposite the bed. Her cheeks are rosy. Bianca has no flush of colour in her skin.
Their coupling has become an act of little ceremony over the years. He always turns off the lamp and lies obediently, waiting for Bianca's pussy lips to smother his mouth. They taste of lilac soap and forest-green personal deodorant. The lips sag across his face more than they used to but the nectar is still copious and intoxicating. Her breasts, which his hands dutifully circle have lost none of their firm appeal. If circumstances were different, he might ask to fuck them.
His mind is much more easily stimulated than his cock these days. He reaches for it, even as Bianca rides against his teeth, coaxing it to rigidity. It complies, reluctantly, but he knows that one day soon it will not. It still feels partly flaccid in his hand, but Bianca seems to notice nothing amiss as she powers onto the waiting pole. She doesn't growl any more. A controlled whine. A little mew. A quiet shiver.
Usually, she flings up and down on his cock frantically as though the mere speed of the act will negate that it happened. Today, she is excruciatingly slow. His cock is acutely aware of every vibration in her pussy. It feels like an oven. He is being baked in lava. It is painful and joyous. He hadn't realised he was still capable of such exquisite sensation. His body is trapped in a plaster cast. He cannot even twitch. Her calculated ascent, then gradual descent on his cock causes his brain to blur. There is Bianca and her mother. His body burns with the heat of Cairo. The airless hotel room stifles him. He cannot breathe. A tightness constricts him. His chest aches with needles.
Eric opens his mouth to protest but still Bianca continues her journey on his body. He feels the pressure now. The need to explode. If he summoned all his strength, he could push her off but the point of no return has been reached, the point where cock must be sated.
His come spurts into Bianca just as the tightness in his chest snaps. His mouth opens in a voiceless cry.
Bianca switches on the lamp, dresses meticulously. She fondly kisses his forehead, closes his sightless eyes, pulls a sheet over his nakedness. He would hate to be found exposed.
"Happy Valentine's Day darling. We have closure. At last we have closure."
Only the strains of Egyptian belly dance music and a unique, unidentifiable perfume waft through the apartment as Bianca shuts the door behind her.