tagRomanceAmong the Ashes

Among the Ashes


Scene 1: Interior, Day.

Olim meminisse juvabit. The Latin tag swam lazily to the surface from the depth of his subconscious. One day we will look back and rejoice. He chuckled at the irony of that particular piece of Ovid coming to mind at this time. He was more used to quoting the 'dirty bits'. The doubtful benefits of a classical education. Reaching for the whisky, he reflected how his life was full of little ironies these days. It wasn't just a case of another marriage going sour; it was the timing of it.

At the very moment he believed he had finally arrived, climbed to the top of that greasy pole, the ceiling fell in. First the promotion, then the divorce; the twin impostors encountered sequentially. It brought to mind a cartoon that showed a satyr chasing a nymph and bore the caption 'It's just one fucking thing after another.' He sighed. "Well, there's nothing I can do about it now." The sound of his voice was loud in the empty house.

"Yah!!" He shouted into the silence. "Yah ARGHH!!!" The wordless bellow died and he felt a little better. "More scotch," he staggered to the sideboard to clutch the bottle like a lifeline. He pondered this image. 'I am drowning' he thought then aloud, "drowning my sorrows". This, too, he found ironic. He didn't usually drink. It was his wife - more accurately now his ex-wife - who liked to have her evening 'relaxer'. "Anything you can do, I can do better" His voice was cracked and harsh, redolent with pain. So he started to laugh but it sounded to him like sobbing.

Time passed. The shaft of sunlight falling into the room moved slowly to one side then disappeared. The streetlights came on and still he sat, sometimes mumbling but mostly silent. In his silence he remembered.

There was no fixed chronology. However hard he tried to impose some order, memories came at random. The last weeks, ten years ago, twenty. He gave up struggling and allowed his mind to wander where it would.

The party. He had first her met at the party. She had been eighteen. He called up images of that bright room, the dancing couples and the joyous music. Some spark had struck and quickly grown to flame. They danced extravagantly, eyes locked, oblivious of all others. It was like the mating ritual of cranes. The images of dance dissolved and now he saw them walking on beach. In Crete, he thought but wasn't sure. There had been many beaches. She was barefoot. Her sandals dangled from long fingers. His large, square hand held hers and he marvelled at her beauty as the sun set, suffusing everything with a soft, rose light.

The scene shifted. He saw their first home together. A Victorian terrace in a shabby side street. It had felt like a palace at the time. He saw himself coming through the front door and felt rather than saw her rushing to greet him, coltish, dizzy, in love. How happy she sounded recounting her day at the Estate Agents where she worked.

They had celebrated each little victory, each milepost on the road to his success. She gave up her job, toyed with education but lacked the perseverance. She adapted well to leisure.

He remembered them fighting, her face drawn mean and shrewish by anger, his own voice rising until cut off by the punctuation of her slap. He remembered when he discovered she was left-handed and how she said this was sign of superior intelligence. Then she had laughed, rich and full. She did nothing by halves; certainly not making love. And then he saw her again, sprawled across their bed; wild, wanton.

He could picture her body. Long legs smooth as satin, the clipped triangle of dark blonde hair. He remembered her breasts and how he would suckle for hours. She had loved that. He felt he could taste her now although his mouth was thick with the fumes of scotch. The ache inside him grew until he cried.

Scene 2: A Different Interior, Evening.

She sat at her dressing table draped in silk. She could hear her new lover singing in the shower but her thoughts kept slipping to that other, older love. 'The Square Man', as she thought of him. His frame, his hands, his face, all square. She thought, too, of his foibles. The endless quotations of Latin and Greek – as if anyone could understand these days! As if anyone cared! She snorted. It was typical of the man! He was so easy for others to lampoon. Everything by the book. He mastered anything he put his mind to in the same way.

A new craze, a new hobby and suddenly there would be a dozen, twenty new books. Like the way he learned French. Grammatically perfect, the Academie Francaise would have been delighted. The effect was totally ruined by the execrable English accent. If it was possible to learn something from a book, he could do it. Yet nothing was natural, somehow. All technical excellence but no originality. You can't learn that from a book, however good. Like his love-making. Always between twenty six and twenty eight minutes of foreplay. She could time him. And always the same pattern. Kisses to start followed by the cupping of her breast. A steady progression to sucking her nipples. Never less than eighteen minutes before any contact with her clitoris. Lovemaking must happen always with a minimum of two positions but these, too, appeared contrived, book-learned. She was to have three orgasms before he could let go.

Oh sure, he was gentle and considerate but where was the passion? Why didn't he understand that she didn't always need to come? She would have loved it if he had just once embraced the concept of a 'quickie', simply for the joy of difference. Sometimes she would have traded any number of climaxes for a touch of spontaneity. Her new lover, on the other hand, was entirely selfish. He took her with a passion bordering on violence. He didn't give a damn whether she came or not, frequently entered her before she was properly ready. He laughed at her protests, saying something about 'taking the rough with the smooth.' He was coarse, he was crude but it was exciting.

As a consequence, she responded with bigger, deeper orgasms that wracked her whole body and left her glowing. It had been years since the Square Man had made her glow.

She regarded herself in the mirror. Not bad for thirty-eight. The merest hint of lines around the eyes. No excess weight but she had found the odd grey hair lately and plucked it savagely. No children, of course. They had decided early on to wait and somehow.... She was grateful now. Nothing 'messy' to consider in the divorce. The Decree Nisi had arrived that morning. Uncontested, of course. Irredeemable breakdown,they had called it. He was too old-fashioned, too much the 'gentleman' to brand her an adulteress.

Scene 3: A Garden, Night.

He had wandered outside. The whisky bottle dangled from his fingers like a rosary. The garden lurched. 'Shouldn't do that' he thought. Aloud he said, " Christ, I'm pissed" and shuffled to the gazebo to slump on the ornamental bench. He stared at the house. They had chosen it together. Enough in the country to be quiet yet close enough to London to allow for the daily commute to the City. Tomorrow it would be gone for ever, the sale proceeds split as part of the settlement. He found he didn't mind. He had spent little enough time here. Geneva, Paris, Milan; the constant round of business trips that was the cause of all his problems.

Or was it? She had never complained. She accepted his absences as the price of their lifestyle. His company was traded for the beautiful house, the fine wines and the expensive wardrobe. He bought her a dog once but she hadn't liked it. "It smells," she said, "and it howls at night." The dog had been fonder of him but he got rid of it, nonetheless.

The scotch had had its effect. His mind was slow and the memories now mere fragments, like a snatch of a song, recognised but not identifiable. He tried to think about the coming day but it was impossible. He could not visualise the future at all. He knew it would be there. One moved inexorably from present to future like a hamster in a wheel. Minutes became hours and hours rolled into days. What was the name of that play? Or was it a film? ' Stop the World, I want to get off!' That was it. "I know just how you feel," he said, toasting the roses that climbed the gazebo, "I know just how you feel."

The bottle fell from loosening fingers and he slept.

Scene 4: A Bedroom, Night.

"Ah God, I'm going to come!" She increased her pace and his hand clamped her neck, forcing more of his cock into her mouth. She felt it butting her throat and she tried hard not to gag. Her mouth filled with that familiar alien shockingness as he gasped above her. She held on, eyes watering, until he began to wilt then, turning her head, spat silently into the waiting tissue. He didn't notice. Why were men so keen that you swallowed? What difference did it, could it make? He was lying back, one hairy arm shading his eyes, the other flung wide, like a man who'd been shot.

She eased herself up beside him. He raised his head and grinned at her. "For a fuckin' lady, you do that far too well." She was struck again by his coarseness, the 'Estuary English' accent, but the blue of his eyes and the readiness of his smile still cast a spell that caught her. "My turn now" he said and she gasped out loud as his fingers dusted her nipple and he started to trace slow kisses down her neck and on to her shoulder. Yes he could be crude and sometimes frightening with his fierce passion but he could also be unbelievably tender, like now. His mouth had reached her breasts and he teased her with flicks of his tongue, feather light on her areola. Her nipples hardened but still he circled, moving closer and further away. He alternated, left and right, almost but not quite touching and she groaned in disappointment when his lips trailed away. Then he pounced, capturing her nipple in his mouth and sucked hard, pinching it between his teeth. She cried out as he forced two fingers into her. He was rough and frantic in his movements.

It was over as suddenly and now he dived between her legs and began licking her delicately. He covered her sex entirely with his mouth and sucked so gently she was scarcely aware of it. Then he was flicking his tongue into her cleft with sharp, jabbing movements. Her hips were moving of their own accord. The alternating of sweet and savage engendered a whole new range of sensations. The tension was turning her on. So was the element of fear, she realised. She had never been afraid with the Square Man. She felt the urgency starting to rise. It coalesced slowly like a cloud forming in the blue of a summer heaven. She felt it building, gathering itself. She started to ride the wave, rushing towards, and concentrating in, one glorious, astonishing, wonderful explosion that rebounded and resounded and resolved into sated tranquility.

"All right are we? Thought I'd lost you there for a while!" The sound of his voice dragged her back and she smiled. He winked at her, cheeky now. "Good was it?"

She gave him a solemn look. " Terrible," she said. And they laughed.

Scene 5: Interior, Day.

He was huddled amid the packing cases. Nausea came and went and sweat started from his forehead. He could smell the stale whisky oozing from his pores. The removal men would arrive soon. He struggled to his feet. The last thing he could remember was the roses. His brain was dead. Everything hurt.

He moved through the empty house on trembling legs, searching for the embers of his life among the ashes.

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