tagRomanceAbigail Slaughter

Abigail Slaughter

bygauchecritic©

Abigail Slaughter was a woman of passion. Many of Abigail's co-workers thought she was temperamental, the more charitable amongst them said, fiery, those that had disliked her from the get go said psychotic. None of these people had ever noticed that Abigail's signature on any and all documentation carried an apostrophe after her given name and, that she never left a space between that and her family name. Most of Abigail's friends would not have been surprised at this open secret, because they knew too, that those faint silvery lines around her eyes (such a shame, and her only 34) had been, and were being, finely drawn as a living testament to her laughter. Abigail's laughter.

At six feet and two inches, in her toenail-polished, shapely, stockinged feet, Abigail (never Abi) stood head and shoulders above each of her workmates. In her sensible, expensively impressive, day shoes she barely cleared the lintel of the door to her office. Actually, she had chosen the shoes for exactly that reason. Every time Abigail walked through that doorway, head high, as her mother had taught her, the top of her red, ringletted hair, which cascaded down her shoulders, would brush, caressingly, the underside of the frame, sending electric Morse code through her readily charged nerves. The message was invariably sensual.

On rare occasions, if they had been observing, Abigail's staff would have noticed that when she entered her office, her stride would be markedly longer and they may even have noticed a definite droop in her shoulders. On these days, Abigail unconsciously, but deliberately avoided that usually welcome tingle from the doorframe. Those were the days when there was work to be done and her morning dalliance, under the guise of a protracted telephone discussion, punctuated visibly with swaying shoulders and a subdued finale of quivering locks would not take their course.

Today was not one of those days.

Abigail walked slowly across the bare, wooden, click-clack floor. As she passed the threshold of her office at the end of the room she paused, then turned as if she had just remembered something she'd left behind. But Abigail didn't take any steps out from under the doorway, she simply shrugged her shoulders, as if dismissing the annoying thought then turned on her heel and continued into the office. As the door closed behind her, a muscular ripple ran from her shoulders to the pit of her stomach making Abigail blink slowly and quirk the corners of her eyes into the beginning of a smile, which was too relaxed to make the effort of curving her mouth to complete itself.

Venita, Abigail's personal secretary, had passed on only two pieces of mail for that morning, efficiently consigning the bulk of it to the round filing cabinet under 'b1n'.

Following the maxim 'first things first' Abigail lifted her first cup of the day to her lips to pay homage to Earl Grey, bless him. The second and successive refreshments would be 'ordinary' sweetened tea from the same cup bearing the legend: 'shit happens is not Irony.' Then, following the inevitability of the original maxim, Abigail let her frame sink into the leather of the most comfortable chair she had ever had the good fortune to happen upon, in a garage sale no less, and began the 'second thing'; mail.

Venita Prasad was an industrious woman. The vast majority of her workday was concluded by 11.30 am, which gave her ample time, and opportunity, to indulge in her most favourite pastime: a long lunch break.

Abigail knew Venita's worth. (She works like a slave; you wouldn't catch me doing that.) Venita knew that Abigail was perfectly aware and proudly, yet discretely, luxuriated in her benign slavery.

Browsing. There's a soft word. Not a furtive word like glancing or peeking. It's not a hard word like staring or even just looking. Browsing. You can't browse if you have to be somewhere else in half-an-hour. Browsing is a leisurely occupation. Like grazing, you never see cows running for their next appointment. Venita was a browser; she was a big, fat, brown cow with nothing else to do but chew on greenery. Window-shopping. Who shops for windows? Young, enthusiastic couples with no time to spare, that's who. Venita was single and had all the time in the world.

Venita browsed. Often she would have to buy sandwiches on the way back to work because she had given no thought at all to the complaints of her growling abdomen, immersed as she was, in her browsing.

Weather permitting, Venita would spend the bulk of her long lunch break in seeking out new shops, stalls and stores to gaze, never longingly, at items for sale. "Oh that's nice" she would think to herself "I could use one of those." And if those secret service men were paying very close attention they would be very interested in the items that Venita, very occasionally, demurred to purchase. Perhaps a trilby or maybe a pair of gaudy red braces, to hold up a pair of Baggies. Gifts perhaps, for her boyfriend or father. How would they know? And if the C.I.D or MI6 were following Venita, they would be highly suspicious of the inordinate amount of time she spent gazing in shop windows. However circumspect the agents were, they would believe she was being evasive and that she had somehow discovered her covert surveillance. She was trying to put them off the scent by innocently window-shopping. They would never discover her secret life.

"Venita, look at you. You spend too much time in the sun. You should cover your head, look at that skin. How can you expect a boy to marry someone as dark as this?"

And, remembering, Venita would move out of the shade of the awnings to defy any boy who would take an interest. Then she would move down the street, to the open market to browse some more.

Today was not one of those days.

Ranjit Persaud was a man without history. If questioned he would provide a very detailed background to his life. His early years in Northern India (nowhere specific), his educational scholarship to Oxbridge (the contraction was sufficient) and his freelance work for many Bangladeshi publications in later years culminating in a small but profitable consultancy.

Ranji was proud of his boyish good looks and his excellent command of the English language, even though he had been unable to shake off the accent entirely, pronouncing his 'W's with his tongue instead of his lips and making his 'T's plosive instead of guttural. He was meticulous with his grooming, never a short black hair out of place and never a stubbly, shorter black hair on his face, excepting the mono-brow, which he had the habit of delicately stroking in the middle, in times of stress or meditation, as if to make sure it was still there.

Today, Ranji had a very important meeting, crucial even. He had managed to convince Slaughterhouse VI of their need for a radical but gifted and extraordinarily beautiful raft of illustrations for a forthcoming series and this interview would make him. There was no question of breaking him, because rejection would merely mean dissolution, to recombine at leisure.

A bluff and hearty exterior hid a sensitive and caring nature dwelling inside Ranji. Some would call it empathy; those less charitable would call him effete, though all would readily admit that Ranji could almost tell what a woman was thinking. This made him really quite popular with those ladies of his acquaintance, or at least those who weren't fully acquainted with the reality.

Ranji had enjoyed talking to Abigail just once, socially, in a down-market but increasingly popular wine bar, where he had delighted in mild flirtation, as had she, and he had convinced her to accept an interview to explore a proposition involving erotic art for erotic words.

The intercom on Venita's desk plainted her attention, and with barely a flick of her wrist, without pausing for a second on her keyboard, responded "Abigail?"

"Do you have a minute Ven?" Twin thrills of illicit secrets and ingrained (beaten in) shame vied to deepen Venita's complexion for a brief while at this use of the male diminutive. Use, which she encouraged in the workplace and shunned outside as one of her own open secrets.

With small, efficient movements, Venita poured boiled water into the tea-pot and made her way, with her own cup hanging carelessly from her little finger, to Abigail's door, across the carpeted space from her own desk.

"Oh, you're a life saver Ven, I'm gagging." Abigail slumped backwards in her chair, releasing a card bearing hearts and flowers to fall, slow-motion, onto the desk top, where it struggled briefly, flapping as if to regain its feet before giving in to gravity and abandonment. "Venita. You're an artist." Said Abigail in flat statement.

"I doodle." She denied, pouring hot tea into the two cups. "I'm not an artist."

"You forget, Venita Prasad, I've seen your work. You," Abigail sipped sweetness "are an artist."

"Ok. I'm an artist." Venita stirred her tea with nonchalance, or she hoped it looked that way, at least casual "So what?"

"So I need your opinion Ms Artist." Mocked Abigail

"You so do not need my opinion, you have a much better eye for composition than me."

"Alright, Petula Petulance, I would like your opinion." Abigail corrected. "Ven? Venita?"

With flared nostrils and half-lidded eyes, Venita succumbed to the... the... the fragrance, that's the only way she could describe it, that fragrance which permeated the immediate area around Abigail's desk, on mornings such as this. She was transported, completely unaware of the half smile on Abigail's lips, whose eyes were flickering between Venita's transfixed face and the hardening of her small nipples.

This was the part of the morning that Abigail enjoyed most, the very reason that she didn't stoop when she first walked in today. Knowing an employee had a crush on her was nothing new to Abigail; she was a very attractive woman, these days she was both amused and bemused. Teens, 'full growed men' and one memorable schoolboy had come and gone in Abigail's purview, but this was something fresh and gave Abigail pause. The first time was carved into both the women's' conscious and had sculpted their relationship.

* * *

On this morning, those few months ago, Abigail was late. Fucking stupid women in four by four's taking their little brats to block the roads outside the local school, plus temporary road works, with obligatory slow switching traffic lights had conspired to trap Abigail for a full 15 minutes outside St Bartholomew's C of E (aided) whilst a lollipop lady bravely attempted to lure a 'walking bus' full of the little bleeders decked in fluorescence across the road.

Abigail was not a patient driver. Beginning with drumming fingers and building up to a full blooded hammering of her fists on the steering wheel; Abigail's mood was being tempered by hot blood. (That's her red hair, causes those tantrums.) Checking the time once more on the dashboard clock she finally relaxed. She was sufficiently late to make any more hurry pointless. A bitten fingernail pushed a cassette into the player. As the familiar opening melodies of 'Born Slippy' filled the interior of the car, Abigail slumped down in defiance of her posture-nazi parents, slowly bobbing on the water of the swelling refrain, anticipating the thud, thud, thud of the kick bass.

Whipping red curls accompanied the release of the clutch as Abigail's car inched forwards out of that fucking nightmare and her head beat out the time.

Let your feeling slip boy But never your mask boy Random blonde bio high-density rhythm

Happiness surrounded Abigail and the stares of young mums followed as she sang along.

Energised by the 'Trance' (that's not music, it's just noise), Abigail slid her car between the white lines, leaving the bumper touching the wooden nameplate fixed there. Glancing across, as she entered the doorway to the building she smiled at the precision.

A one-story building has many advantages, architecturally and socially. The social side was Abigail's whole concern and a large part of the success of her publishing company. No single person at Slaughterhouse VI was 'above' any other person; to this end there was no 'upstairs' to which anyone could be responsible. Abigail managed by delegation. If someone didn't know precisely what he or she were supposed to be actually doing when given new responsibilities they did know that all they had to do was ask. If Abigail didn't know precisely, then they would sit down and learn together. Today, however badly it had started, was going to be a learning day.

"Good morning Venita, I'm sorry I'm late, has Carl been giving you the low down?" Abigail paused to allow an answer then continued; "I'm really sorry, but I'm going to be at least another half an hour before I have a clear desk. Carl, why don't you take Venita for some breakfast across the road? Yes? Well a cup of tea and some toast then, anything. Carl has a fund of stories and can last half an hour without drawing breath; he is a very amusing guy. So?"

Venita smiled "Yes that's fine. I was late waking myself this morning" the taught skin across her nose and cheekbones deepened in shade as she continued; "tea and toast would be perfect." With a large gesture, Carl indicated the exit, and unselfconsciously linked his arm with hers as he guided her towards the outside, patting her hand with friendly good humour.

Before they had taken a seat in the café across the road a purring voice asked from clouds of steam behind a formica work top; "And what is it to be this morning my little Carlito?"

Venita squinted, as she took a rattan chair behind a plastic covered table, to see the outline of someone busy with an expresso machine from the 50's. "Oh my!"

Carl stopped mid-way to the serving counter and glanced back enquiringly.

"This chair! It's... very comfortable. I can't believe it." She wiggled in delight at the touch of the natural fibre.

Carl smiled and turned back to the steam wreathed voice, engaging in unsophisticated backchat, and heavily laced flirtation. "Just look at what this place is doing to your hair." He spoke loudly so that Venita heard every syllable, painting a smile from eyes to lips. Holding a lock of the steamed hair in one hand, Carl stroked delicate fingers along the length, making the owner thrill with the physicality. With evident shock Carl cried "Grey. You're going grey. Carmencita don't be grey. Don't get old on me."

With loud laughter, the woman behind the counter pulled her head back and at the same time Carl away. Smiling hugely, he made his way to the opposite side of the table from Venita. "Tea and toast? Are you sure?" She nodded. His thighs resting on the edge of the chair, Carl brought his hand towards Venita's hair, causing her to pull back quickly from the impromptu contact.

"I know you don't I?" He prompted. Venita, pulling on the ends of her hair, in order to maintain a curtain of personal space, mutely shook her head in denial. "I know your face from somewhere."

"I don't think so." Venita demurred. I've only just moved here.

"Must be me then dear. Never mind. Now," he held her gaze "breakfast."

Carl sat languidly in his seat, pensive and amused, letting his eyes flicker over Venita's face, trying to put it in context of a place. For her part, Venita, gave profile; full and half, tilting her head this way and that and even turning around in her seat so that the scrutiny could be whole and entire. She challenged his memory.

"Still just tea and toast then?"

Venita was flustered at this return to such a seemingly mundane topic, when he should have been giving her 'the third degree' on where their respective paths had crossed previously. "Yes." She blurted. "Tea and toast. What's wrong with tea and toast?"

"Of themselves dear heart, nothing. But as breakfast? Oh no, no, no. Breakfast is the largest and most satisfying pleasure of the day." The voice from the steam cut across the room and Carl's words.

"Tea and toast for your lady Carlito."

"Mui bien." Carl kissed across the counter as payment and returned, hands filled with browned bread and a mug of hotness. "Here you are Tea-and-toast." Naming Venita for her choice of diet.

"What do you mean 'largest and most satisfying pleasure'?" Venita demanded immediately, curiosity spurring her onward.

"If you will give me a few moments" began Carl, "I shall demonstrate." Whereupon he reached across to Venita's plate and plucked up a piece of dry toast, between long and manicured fingers. "Poke your tongue out for me Tea-and-toast." Venita, unsure and quite delighted, poked out the tip of her tongue between white teeth and pink/brown lips. "Oh my." With feigned shock, "I don't think I've ever seen a tongue so pink. More girl, I need to see it all." Glancing around with vague discomfort and mild embarrassment, Venita stuck out the length of her tongue, and then withdrew it just as quickly when Carl almost screeched: "Oh my god."

"What? What's wrong?" Shrieked Venita behind horrified butterfly hands.

"Oh my god. What wouldn't I give to have a tongue like that? Show me again. Come on Tea-and-toast, show me."

"What's wrong with it?" demanded Venita, then stuck out her tongue for inspection once more.

"Wrong? There's nothing wrong dear heart. It's exquisite. I've never seen a tongue like it. And let me tell you, I've seen plenty of tongue in my time."

Venita giggled at this last, the depth of colour darkening her complexion, her embarrassment, evaporating along with the steam from her tea.

"Ok. Now we've got the silliness out of the way, we'll begin. Tongue?"

Venita obliged and Carl, quite deliberately, started to rasp the piece of dry toast across her tongue and upper lip. "That's your tea and toast, Tea-and-toast. Arid, and nasty. Nothing to taste, nothing to savour. Now this," he announced, as the steam wraith placed a 'Full English' on the table along with a fleeting pressure of lips to his forehead, "this, is breakfast."

Venita had witnessed 'full English' many times, but this halted her breath. This was FULL English. A red and orange ocean of beans with a shoal of plump tomatoes surrounded an island of white and yellow eggs; thoroughly cooked rashers of pink and brown with crozzled edging lay alongside deeply tanned torpedoes of sausage. A wreckage of sliced mushrooms littered the edges of the breakfast seascape and there, as a homage to food, stood the blood and fat monuments of black pudding.

Unwanted and unwelcome, saliva flooded Venita's palate. Her slightly parted lips slipped liquid want down the side of her sculpted chin. "Can I take it that you have no objections to meat then, Tea-and-toast?"

"Have a sip of water," Carl instructed, "then close your eyes, open your mouth, and lay out your delicious tongue." Never once taking his eyes from her face, Carl, by touch alone, took pieces and parts of the food from his plate to give sweet, salt and sour delight to Venita.

Venita, self-blind, sat waiting, expectantly and with a certain anticipation.

Eyes from the steam took in the whole episode as Carl tenderly led Venita's senses on a gourmet path of discovery. He dripped golden egg-yolk to the left of her extended tongue, which solidified where it fell and Venita tasted yellow. "Mmm" she crooned with concentration expanded taste momentarily defeating her senses.

"Don't swallow. Yet."

He lightly touched a finger-torn tomato to the right of her tongue and Venita felt quick burning fruit making her flick her tongue back between her lips and gasping "Oh", then segued into a small moan as the tang vied with the taste of egg yolk. A sliver of mushroom was placed centrally and meltingly, tantalisingly, gave up its flavour to all sides. A wordless exclamation escaped her lips.

Venita, with no small reluctance, felt herself being carried along with the taste and soon enough, the textures of this unusual adventure.

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