– purple satin
– a flush of warmth in his chest
– washed polyester
– sweat clinging to his shirt
– gut loss
He had been dreaming that he was in a marathon. A triathlon actually; the one where they have to do all sorts, not just running. Bressie, the singer, had just done one for real. He watched him being interviewed on television and nodded along to his comments, imagining himself charging through the finish line to the same rapturous applause, having to catch his breath mid-sentence talking to reporters, having them reassure him he could take his time in answering their eager questions. In the dream he was running on the outside by the white ribbons marking the route, passing out all the rugby shouldered boys, showing them up. An old man showing them up.
But then he woke up. At 7am, before the alarm went off. He reached over to pre-emptively switch it off. It was dark outside. And it was cold, because it was that time of year. The mound beside him, a mountain in shadow, rose and fell, mouth slanted sideways, eyelids revealing a sliver of wet white eyeball. He acknowledged her, and then heaved himself back towards the bedside table. Darkness was all around him, pushing down around his face, giving him the sensation that things were a lot closer to him than they were. He blinked in the black air and focused on the neon lights of the radio alarm clock until he felt awake enough to push himself up and out of bed.
Downstairs he swallowed a cup of instant coffee and grabbed a plastic wrapped croissant going out the door. There was only one left, they never lasted long. She bought them in Lidl for €1.29 for a pack of eight. They had chocolate and nougat inside. She always knew what to buy on a shop, she always got his favourites.
The old Hyundai’s engine kept tripping up over itself in the driveway before shuddering reluctantly to life. It was an embarrassment to park it at work among the Audis and BMWs of his colleagues, so he usually tried to get in early and park it around the corner of the main entrance, next to the bike rack, because at least having a car, any car, was superior to having a bike. Although with the new fangled things he saw them zipping in on these days, he was becoming less sure of that. He and the car strained towards Dublin, the smoke from his cigarette being snapped away at the cracked open window. At the traffic lights he did his tie, swearing and manouvering himself around his seat trying to tuck his shirt in under his belly. The shiny plastic angel hanging from the rear-view mirror turned red, then back to silver, then red again as cars braked and accelerated, braked and accelerated ahead of him. It had been there since last Christmas, but there was something about her that he liked so he left her. And the fact that he’d used a cable tie to tie her on.
At work he sat in his black swivel chair, opened up his programs, opened up his files, poked around the internet, stared at the screen, accidentally kicked over his bin. He took a late coffee break at noon and stood at the automatic exit doors, holding his cardboard cup and smoking. There was a fake palm tree in a large white plastic container next to the door, a handful of fake gravel scattered around the shining green root. He tapped his ash into it. Lucy, one of the team leaders came out, holding her skinny arms and pretend shivering. Her yellow hair glowed like a fuzzy halo in the cold November sun, and her cardigan was too thin for outside, even for just having a smoke.
Should I offer her my jacket?
Don’t be stupid.
They stood there, together. She was looking around, back at the door, into the car park, up at the sky. Anywhere else. She sucked in the smoke and exhaled louder than necessary, shaking her head, making her little curls bounce.
‘It’s fucking freezing.‘ she said, because there was nothing else to say.
‘It is, yeah.’ He looked at her sideways and slurped on the sugary coffee sludge at the bottom of white styrofoam. He had finished his smoke. There was no reason for him to be there anymore. He leaned awkwardly back against the wall, feigning fatigue, and sighed.
‘You on your break, yeah?’
Fucking stupid question.
‘I am, thank God!’
She laughed in the way the post office girls laugh. She had a laugh that came out of her nose and trilled upwards into the air. He laughed too, for absolutely no reason.
Back at his desk he finally finished the data entry he had been working on for an unnecessarily long amount of time. Bit of time before a late lunch. He clicked about online until he found ‘JessieHot’ on www.escorts-in-dublin.net. She had long dark hair with a fringe, and a little waist and a blurred out face. She had all sorts of poses on there. She looked absolutely fucking deadly. And she was cheaper than most of the others; €80 for the half hour instead of the usual €100, or even €130 with some of them these days. And she’d take it up the jacksie – no extra cost. Some of them charge the earth for that. He’d never go below €80 for the half hour, he knew the signs of a scam at this stage. He read through the rest of her services and clicked into the reviews. His erection disappeared as he read other men’s words about this girl’s body and sexual prowess and how they found her and what they thought. All the good reviews had a pink heart beside them. The bad ones had a blue sad face. All of JessieHot’s reviews had a pink heart. He wanted to add his own pink heart. He wanted to have his say. His erection came back.
In the jacks he locked himself into a cubicle and took his spare SIM out of his wallet, switching it with the one in his phone, his fingers moving with surprising deftness, as though they too knew the importance of this. He dialed the mobile number he’d written down on a ‘Sallinger Dunne’ post it.
It rang out.
He hung up and waited in silence while someone used the urinal outside. They hummed a tune and took their time. When the door slammed shut he rang the number again. This time it was answered by a small voice asking yes? and his heart started beating into his brain. The girl didn’t have fluent English after all and was definitely not from Russia as was advertised. Fuck. He liked it when they could speak proper English and he also liked the sexy Russian accent. She sounded Spanish or something. Probably Romanian. They were all fucking Romanian. He gave her a fake name and asked for half an hour at five o’clock, no, wait, make that five thirty, that afternoon. He asked her if he could come on her tits. He asked her if he could come on her face. She said yes to the former, no to the latter. No extras, she said. Only what is on her ad, she said.
He got the address and hung up, wiped his wet palms down his shirt front. As he banged open the cubicle door and exited the toilets back into the clang of the flourescent office, a zing of intense pleasure ran through his body – a burst of warmth in his chest which bloomed low to settle in his gut, revolving into a hot anxious ball of anticipation.
He glanced at his watch. Only four and a half hours to go.
The rest of the day he couldn’t give a fuck. He ate his lunch at his desk, smearing dropped ketchup off his keyboard with a finger and contemplating that it was probably high time to try to lose a few pounds, maybe make a few changes. He heard Lucy before he saw her, laughing in that annoying nasal way at something the troll Miller shouted after her. She was getting closer, her big kind eyes on him.
What the fuck is she coming over here for?
He straightened up and pushed his lunch onto the empty desk beside him, shoved his shirt ends deeper into his trousers and organised a look on his face which said I’m up to my eyes and I’ve no time for this.
The office lighting vanished the yellow of her hair, and her curls didn’t bounce quite as nicely as before, but as she leant over the divider, he could smell her cheap perfume and her freshly washed polyester cardigan, and he inhaled her. He could see the material of her cardigan out of the corner of his eye and he wanted to touch it and see how it felt. The coil in his gut rotated, in remembrance of a place long deserted, a place that lived and died and where now no thing could thrive. He wanted to ask her questions. He wanted to know things about her. He wanted to be able to say:
‘My friend Lucy from work, she…’
Or, (maybe with a chuckle):
‘You know what Lucy in the office said today?’
But the words come up from his gullet, from that coil, and remain lodged at the place in his throat where he swallows. In that moment he resented her for making him feel like that. For reminding him. For showing him.
She had some invoice problem from a customer.
None of his concern.
He didn’t look away from his screen. He waved his hand at her.
‘I’m swamped here love, sorry.’
The image of JessieHot lying expectantly on her bed with her little waist and blurred out face floated and pinged in his mind’s eye and he relented, slightly, and patronisingly.
‘Ask Miller, hun. I’ve just got too much on today. Tell him I sent you, okay?’
Her narrow face broadened into a hint of a smile at the mention of Miller’s name, whether with distaste or with fondness, he wasn’t sure. He pictured JessieHot again. He pictured her smiling. He pictured her not smiling. Lucy’s pleading and please help me and you’re the only one who can do it and so on made the skin on the back of his neck tingle deliciously. And the way her eyes were trying to look into his, big and brown and dark, softened his own small grey ones. He sighed, leant back in his chair and made a big deal out of swivelling to face her.
‘Ah sure fuck it,’ he said. “I’ll see what I can do, alright?’
She was gone. Just like that. No fucking thank you or anything. He watched her disappear among the dividers. He watched the small of her back. Her beige top blended in with the beige walls of the office. She nearly became the wall, such was the perfect matching of tone. He looked back at his screen, coughing, pretending the entire encounter hadn’t happened.
(Sometimes he imagines them having lunch together in the canteen, on one of the big round tables, with the whole gang, passing round an open packet of crisps, giving out about supervisors. He even sometimes imagines going for a pint with Miller and the others. There’s a pub in the business park where everyone goes called Stanley’s. They do a deal on Fridays for platters. Sometimes he is asked to go and the words that’d be great, lodge in that swallowing place in his throat again, and all he can do is mumble something about having to get home even though she wouldn’t care if he went for a pint and some pub grub. Worse, sometimes he makes up a prior social engagement with imaginary friends from around his estate. Neighbours. Lads he plays darts with down the local boozer. Old school pals. These invitations don’t happen too often though, only when everyone is getting their jackets on at the end of the day and he happens to be there too, so it always takes him unawares. Anyway, if they wanted him to come they’d say ah c’mon! or something. If they wanted him to come it would feel like they wanted him to come.)
Finally four forty-five arrived and he fairly sprinted into one of the manager’s offices, skirting close to the walls to avoid being seen and roped into something. He did a combined knock-and-open to emphasise the urgency of the matter. She waved him in without looking up.
‘Hey, Lou, sorry, gotta head out, gotta pick the kids up today.’ He held his hands up in apology. ‘Sheena only called me now, really sorry….’ He trailed off, most of his body already retreating behind the door. The manager just shook her head in faux exasperation, eyes fixed on the screen.
He was focused. He grabbed his folders, shoved his phone into his pocket, legged it out to his car, jammed the keys into the ignition and drove into the city. His heart rate was up and his palms were slick on the steering wheel. The warm sensation in his chest was back, flooding through his upper body. The coil in his gut was wrenching tighter. Someone he used to love told him to breathe through this. Breathe through this. He tried to breathe through it. He fucking loved this feeling.
Early, he drove around the apartment block twice. He went to the Spar to take out the €80, and bought a packet of green Tic-Tacs as well. He smoked a cigarette. Then it was five fifteen. Perfect timing. George Hook was on the radio. He wondered if George Hook had ever paid for it. Probably.
He took off his tie and left it in the car, then jogged back and fumbled it on again, glancing around him. Have to look presentable. He was buzzed in and hopped into the lift and hummed a tune on the way up, trying to picture her face. One time he went to see a girl in Drimnagh and she looked just like the Polish one from the Centra opposite his house. It was fucking brilliant.
The door of 16A opened, a flash of dark hair, a click-clack of heels, and he followed the figure into another room.
The voice was quirky and gentle. Definitely not the voice from earlier. She was breezy. She laughed about the flat having thin walls. She looked around, down at the bed, at the table, towards the door. Maybe she was a bit embarrassed. Maybe she was only new to this. He smiled at her to reassure her that he was an old hand.
There was nothing in the place, it was like a holiday apartment. There was a book on the night stand but he couldn’t understand the title. She had olive skin that looked so fucking delicious he couldn’t believe he was actually going to get to touch it. His hard on pressed against his trousers.
She didn’t look like anyone he knew and he felt slightly disappointed. She smiled harder, sat
him on the bed and asked for the money. He made a show of being casual about handing it over and unashamedly stared at her. He was entitled to this. She was really small in a purple night dress. Even smaller than her pictures suggested. She sat beside him and he watched the material move over her legs as she talked about the things she would do and the things she wouldn’t do. She listed them off like a checklist, her eyes flicking around the room. He hated it when they gave it to you in a checklist. He put his hand on her leg to stop her talking and to inject a bit of much needed spontaneity into proceedings, and she smiled, one of those post-office girl smiles. She felt like velvet. He pulled up her dress a little, and touched her long straight hair. She was finally looking at him, completely still, her eyes black thumb tacks. He ran a finger over her cheek and brushed her fringe away to one side. She was so fucking beautiful he nearly came right there in his trousers. He told her this and laughed, and she laughed, and the ripple of total pleasure he felt after he had made the appointment was back. The coil in his gut had disappeared.
He thought he could sit there forever, touching her, coming over and over again in his boxers, but she climbed on top of him, pulling off his shirt and trousers. He lay back, enjoying the feeling of softness on his skin, of her hair falling against his neck. As she moved up his body with her own she threw a glance at the small plastic alarm clock on the bedside table, and nuzzled into his neck again.
Hate fucking clockwatchers.
Ten minutes had already gone. The coil in his gut reappeared, tighter, seething. Only another twenty minutes left. He was paying hard-earned cash for this. He pulled off her knickers. Time to get this show on the road.
Halfway through he put his hand over her eyes and pictured Lucy, then the Polish Centra girl, then his neighbour’s daughter Janine. At one point she made a noise and he playfully lowered more of his weight onto her, made a joke about being a bit overweight. He could take a joke. He had a good sense of humour. She tried to push him up a bit, to look at him, but she couldn’t. He was too heavy and anyway, he liked fucking them when he could feel all of their body against his. The guttural sounds she was making pleasantly surprised him. Usually the girls were either silent or annoying screamers. He preferred it when they were silent. At least it was real. He was paying for real sex, after all.
It became too much. He stopped and pulled the condom off. This was well worth the eighty quid. Not a fucking cent was wasted. He sat up, staring hard at her tits as he wanked himself off. She propped herself up on her elbows. Her beautiful skin her tiny face her jawline her fucking shiny hair her little tits jiggling her black eyes. He wanked furiously, and in a volley of swears and curses and giggles, came on them. He loved the sight of his come spread on breasts.
She hopped up straight away and went into the bathroom. Her hair was a bit of a mess and her eye makeup was fucked too, but he didn’t mind. He actually liked it. They always get little tears from giving head. It always happens.
He got back into his clothes and reclined on the bed, waiting for her to come back. The post orgasm haze made him blink, and he tried to fight the creeping deflated feeling that was grasping onto the area below his throat and above his heart.
Her phone vibrated around the bedside table. She came back, wordlessly grabbed it, disappeared again, and returned 20 seconds later, purple night-dress back on, hair calmed. Her eyes were still fucked up though.
‘Time’s up, I guess,’ he pouted, in a put-on sad voice. She nodded and grabbed a nearby cardigan. He went to give her a kiss goodbye but she expertly slipped her face past his while opening the door. He tried to make a joke about the thin walls, just like she had done earlier, but the little foreign face looked blankly back at him.
He thanked her and left. He noted with annoyance how the initial ascent was accompanied with a flush of pleasure and anticipation and excitement, and now the lift going down was aptly accompanied with the sensation of descending adrenaline, disappointment. He felt hollowed out from the inside, as if her vagina had sucked his soul out through his penis, as if it was still in there and it was hers now. He felt like crying and he didn’t know why. He played with the buttons on his shirt to distract himself. He sat in the car and took his time putting his seatbelt on and getting settled before igniting the hulk of a car. He wasn’t ready to leave yet.
A passing woman with a bulging plastic Super Value bag snapped reality back into focus. He was supposed to pick up the tea on the way home. He’d forgotten to switch SIM cards back. Five texts, all from the same number. He raced to the supermarket and raced home, packet of 12 Denny’s sausages and a sliced pan beside him on the passenger seat.
The kids were watching some shite on the telly. He threw the sausages on the kitchen table and made a cup of tea, watching his wife in with them in the living room. She was laughing at the screen. Her hair was all soft looking – she must have been to the salon.
She looked over at him, still half distracted by the TV. She saw the cup of tea in his hands and went to ask him to make her one too, except she didn’t. They looked at each other, her mouth half open. She had this look on her face, like she hadn’t seen him in months. This new regard poured through her eyes and down her round face and swirled through the waves of her bottle blonde hair, done at a discount by Sinead in the local place. He could not take his eyes off her. The TV blared on
with the two of them staring at each other like this.
Is this what it’s supposed to be like?
He thought a ridiculous thought.
The trance ended, she shook her head, looked at him expectantly. He was glad he was home. Everything was the same.
‘What was that, hun?’
She’d said it, but she was already turning back to the kids and the television; the tea and possible conversation forgotten. He emptied his cup and went upstairs into the computer room, accidentally stood on something sharp and colourful. The kids were taking the fuck over. No doubt about it.
He logged into his emails. One from some fishing newsletter. He could still hear the canned laughter from the TV below. He wondered what the problem was with letting people hear the real audience laughter. He wondered if it was that nobody was actually laughing. He sat motionless at the computer. The smell of sausages grilling snuck in under the door. Other things – his wife chiding their son about something, then her laughter blending into the canned laughter. Lucy’s atrocious laugh breezed in for a second.
He had nothing to do. He re-logged himself into the computer as ‘Guest’ and found JessieHot’s profile on the escort website. He went straight to the reviews and added his own, making it 76. He gave her a seven out of ten. Minus three for the clock-watching thing. She would still get a pink heart. The laughing downstairs turned into the News on RTE.