I looked at the woman, Olivia, lying next to me in her double bed, she was on her back asleep.
Half the room, not where we were, was bathed in a triangle of light from a street lamp beaming through the billowing curtains creating an eerie effect. I slid out of bed and walked to the open floor-to-ceiling balcony window feeling the muggy breeze on my body and slipped onto the balcony. I leant on the black, wrought iron balustrade overlooking the large, front garden and looked past the ancient, oak tree standing in front of the house, there was nobody around, not a sound to be heard, it was like we were the last two people alive.
Dawn was still a few hours away but in a cloudless and clear sky I could just about see in the distance, on the edge of town, the skeletal forms of an army of cranes emerging from a glowing sea of twinkling lights among the expelled plumes of chemical production from one of Germany’s industrial giants.
I heard Olivia stirring and watched her roll onto her side, kicking off the thin, summer sheet. Her naked figure was fuller now, but still attractive, although she’d said,
‘‘I’d like to shed a few pounds.’’
‘‘Leave it out!’’ I’d answered. ‘‘You look great!’’
‘‘For my age?’’
She’d liked that. She was a real live wire, bubbly, a motor mouth. I was the opposite. I enjoyed my own company. I took life as it came.
She was materialistic, into power shopping and taking expensive holidays. I told her once, ‘‘You only get a short-term high from all this shopping. You do know that. Don’t you?’’ ‘‘I know. But I can afford it.’’ She’d laughed. Her current husband, like his predecessors; husbands and partners, indulged her; she enjoyed a considerable reputation as a much sought-after partner; a form of a ‘not in the first flush of youth’ trophy wife. She, of course, reveled in it.
She said to me once, ‘‘You’re my anchor.’’ In comparison to Olivia, I was grounded. She needed me to bring her down to earth. She was easily seduced by the good things in life, prone to engaging in flights of fancy.
Olivia liked to be served, attended to, her desires fulfilled, passive but demanding. She’d always called the shots. Probably because she’d needed to. In fact, I’d needed her to. ‘‘You’re the only man who’s ever really satisfied me.’’
She’d said, on one of our most recent meetings, just before falling asleep.
She dyed her black hair, obviously, but it looked good; soft and feathery. She’d always had the same style, ears free, bit spiky, curling up at the nape of her neck, that had always been my favorite part of her body. It hadn’t changed in all our years together, it was still smooth like a young girl’s, and in my hand it felt like what it was, something fragile and precious.
It looked especially good when she was wearing a very thin chain around her neck. She wasn’t a jewelry person really, nor was I, but she knew what looked good on her.
She moved again. She was lying on her stomach, left leg straight, right knee bent, left arm at her side and the right curled above her head. I went back and crouched beside her, she was breathing softly and there was a sheen of sweat on her back. I licked it, but with the absolute tip of my tongue, from her neck down her spine until she stirred, interrupting me, but she didn’t wake up. On the floor beside the bed a frozen mass of clothes reared like a perfect surfing wave, a profusion of blue and white, a sparklingly clean pile of insubstantial, seductive whites, and faded, light denim blues, dismissively discarded.
I’d watched her undressing last night, not for the first time of course, but I’d never noticed before that when she undressed it was more like shedding, she just let her things fall where they may and there they lay all night; in the morning they would, of course, be crease-free.
She was the sort of person who didn’t spend hours fretting over what to wear. She just opened the wardrobe doors, let her eye alight on something, among the masses of stuff hanging there, and that was it.
She had an effortless style, if she wore a plastic bag it would look like a fashion statement.
In her twenties and thirties, she was all rock chic with skin-tight, threadbare jeans and short denim skirts with rock music related t-shirts, now she was more restrained and casually elegant. As long as I’d known her, she’d had this faint, sweet, honey smell. It wasn’t perfume. I’d never mentioned it to her. I didn’t even know if she was aware of it. I thought her body produced it naturally, just for me. It was intoxicating.
Her nose was a bit blocked, her breathing caught and she made a light snoring sound. She’d hate it if I told her. I got up and walked to the dressing table. I felt a brief gust of warm air caress my body as the curtains rippled like a mane of white hair.
In the dressing table mirror I looked like a ghost, pale and fleeting. I didn’t make a sound as I padded across the floor. Her beige, canvas duffle bag, was on the dressing table. It was open. I brought it back to the window, and sat on one of the old, cushioned, black metal chairs on the balcony. The bag was like a dead weight. I could feel the shapes of all the stuff crammed in there.
I’d often wanted to look in her bag, but had always felt it would have been a form of betrayal. Now I felt differently. I literally, at that moment, realized why: it would give me an insight, however limited, into her normal day-to-day life. I plunged my hand into the throat of the bag. I encountered something soft and smooth which turned out to be a packet of wet ones, she was big on hygiene; I carried on, there was a bottle of perfume, phallic in shape, it had a strange smell: strong, bitter, cloying it permeated the bag and everything in it; nail scissors, thoughtlessly tossed in; carrying on I came to her identity card; then an old, brown, leather, pouch smelling of tobacco, I pulled open the studded flap, it contained tobacco of course, and a pack of papers and a cheap, disposable lighter, this was very strange, she didn’t smoke, hated it, absolutely hated it, we shared that at least.
‘‘I don’t like to be in smelling distance of a lit fag.’’ She’d told me. In fact, I’d never smelt smoke on her. Next, my fingers detected a packet of condoms, curious, she made a big deal about preferring, ‘‘Skin to skin or nothing.’’ I carried on with my inventory; sunglasses, never without them; various feminine accessories; a notebook (the old fashioned type) I’d come back to that; mobile phone.
She moved again, she was on her back. I’d read somewhere, that was how contented babies slept, on their backs with their hands at the sides of their heads. I went over and eased myself slowly onto the bed beside her.
I traced my hand in the air above her breasts, as close as I could get without waking her, she moaned slightly and her tongue darted out and licked her lips, her nipples became erect and so did I. She had this lovely sort of olive colored skin, she didn’t wear or need much makeup.
‘‘That’s why I never get sunburnt.’’ She’d crowed. She was always jetting off somewhere, chasing the rays. She had bright green eyes, mocking I called them. Her mouth was a stern slit, like the grimace of an old-time, spinsterish, school headmistress. Her voice was interesting though; it had this lovely sing-song quality to it, so it was hard to tell if she was in a good or bad mood. She didn’t like to give anything away. To be honest she was very seldom in a bad mood. Her legs were a bit stumpy. She was short, too short, she felt. I knew she’d love to be tall, slender and graceful.
‘‘Willowy.’’ She’d said. It wasn’t warm in that room, it was bloody hot. We were right in the middle of a heat wave; strands of hair were stuck to her forehead. She had a long, pointy nose. She hated that as well. But she’d never have any form of corrective surgery to any part of her body. She was quite emphatic about that,
‘‘I may not like what I’ve got, some of it. But it’s me.’’ She’d said, a few years ago. That could have been the most telling thing she’d ever said.
Looking at her in repose, I’d say she looked, at least, fifteen years younger than she was. Her face was smooth and the lines under and around her eyes were not pronounced.
I had no idea what she did all day long. She had an army of ‘little women and men’ who attended to the mundanities of life for her. She’d never had a job in her life. Never needed one. From rich daddy’s little girl to sugar daddy’s girl, seamlessly.
I sometimes wondered whether I was one of her ‘little men’.
As for me, I’d a tidy sum of money at my disposal and I wasn’t extravagant. However, I now had to plan my downtime carefully, especially because since I’d recently retired all of my time was downtime.
I placed great store on my independence, it was important to me that I could get by, alone, if necessary.
Olivia knew, of course, that I’d retired but it made no difference to her.
I went more or less every day, if I wasn’t seeing Olivia, usually in the evening, to a local bar called Clint’s; it had become a major part of my life; the booze and the people, loners like me.
I went back to her bag. I started to rifle around again, mints; nail file; 2 pens; loose foreign coins; a parking ticket; a dentist’s appointment card. Her notebook, (the type you wrote in) had a Rolling Stones’ tongue sticker on the cover, although I knew she wasn’t a fan. The notebook was thick, large, black and crammed with bits of paper sticking out at the sides and top. I bet she knew exactly where everything was. I carefully placed the book on my knees and, with the care and patience of a bomb disposal expert, I turned the blank pages and looked at some of the yellow post-its, business cards, lists, phone numbers on scraps of paper, receipts, etc, crammed between the pages, all written in her trade mark scrawl, as though she’d written them while out jogging. Which she didn’t do, by the way. Any physical exercise, for that matter,
‘‘I don’t need to, I’m naturally fit.’’ She’d said. One thing she did do was walk and I mean walk, she could win gold medals for that. She strode along, her little legs pumping like pistons. Even I had a problem keeping up with her and, I liked to think, I was quite fit. I looked over, she seemed to be in a deep sleep. I could hear her breathing. I went over and squatted down beside her. I wasn’t surprised she was out, she’d put away quite a bit of plonk last night.
‘‘Do you need to be half-cut to have sex with me?’’ I’d chided her. She’d stared at me. I could have sworn her lip trembled and her eyes moistened.
‘‘You? Never.’’ Her voice had caught like a rag tearing and she’d swallowed a whole glass of rosé. Mind you, she could knock it back, probably drink me under the table, but she never lost it. Maybe she needed to. Maybe we both did. Too late now though. Where did that come from?
I tidied up the contents of the bag and brought it back to the dressing table.
She’d never know I’d looked. I wondered, was she really asleep? I stopped at the bed and looked at her intently. Her eyes were moving quite quickly and willy-nilly. Isn’t that what they called Rapid Eye Movement? Apropos REM, that song of theirs, ‘Nightswimming’? I didn’t know what it was about, but I felt that was how I lived my life. I just didn’t know where I was going or how I was getting there. I was just floating aimlessly through my existence. It was ironic, she called me her, ‘Anchor.’ I was anything but.
I put my ear to her mouth, her breath was wet, it was a nice feeling in my ear. I moved my hands all over her body, hardly touching, she responded: her back arched a little and something escaped her mouth, a moan or my name. I wasn’t sure which. Or maybe it was both. I sat up. I had to go soon.
She rolled onto her side again. Her back was facing me. ‘‘My bum’s too big!’’ She’d complained a while ago. ‘‘It’s something to grab hold of.’’ I’d answered. She’d feigned disgust, but I saw her smiling. She told me absolutely everything about her life; intimate details about doctors’ visits, her friends’ ailments and problems and about her ex-husbands and partners and their ailments and problems. I didn’t say much about my life. She asked me sometimes and I always answered honestly, but I seldom offered any information. We never really talked about the past, it was almost as though we had an unspoken agreement not to go there. I sometimes felt like her companion, in the old-fashioned sense, when ladies of a certain social standing were accompanied by a single woman, who read to them and such like.
I could tell she appreciated the attention I paid her. But we never talked about us, the core of our relationship. We didn’t go deep. I didn’t realize I realized it, but looking back, there had been a slow but steadily growing intensity between us over the last few years. Was that why she held back the tears?
It was a never-ending source of amazement to me, the number of years we’d been together. I sometimes felt as though we were inhabiting each other’s dreams and if we ever woke up, we’d cease to exist.
There was a sensation building up inside me, it was regret of missing out on something. She felt it too. I knew it. I returned to the bed and lay beside her.
Her flat, the word flat was actually an understatement, was a loft; one long, high room with two sealed-off sections for a kitchen and a large and luxurious bathroom.
It was actually a wedding present from her current husband or, as she’d joked once,
‘‘A bribe.’’ ‘‘You’re unbelievable.’’ I’d replied, shaking my head. She’d sent him off to a health farm by the way, he probably didn’t need it, but she liked time to do what she wanted, when she wanted and with whom she wanted. They did in fact live together sometimes, in a converted farmhouse outside town, but I wondered how much time she spent there; she had so much stuff here.
I knew she was really loaded. She had her head screwed on when it came to matters of finance as well as a ‘little man’ who advised her. She’d let that slip once, in a boastful manner.
That man was Ernst, who used to work for her father. He was somebody of whom she was very fond and he of her, somebody who was always there for her, whatever the hour.
She was especially proud of the fact that she hadn’t clapped eyes on him for decades, she liked a mystery, especially a man of mystery.
Anyway, her flat was expensively furnished. No surprise there. Its centre piece was a huge four-poster bed like something out of a film about Henry VIII; there were a couple of cupboards, the dressing table and a wardrobe in dark wood to match the floor, and several very colorful mats, handmade, she’d said, ‘‘By a little man I know in…. ’’ I couldn’t remember where this ‘little man’ was, it could have been literally anywhere on the planet. Anyway these mats all depicted weather phenomena: storms, floods, lightning etc.
In the living section she had the best music centre anybody’s money could buy. We both loved Tamla Motown and she would often move to it with complete abandonment, pausing only for a sip from her rosé while I, not blessed with a sense of rhythm, watched her from the comfort of one of her sofas.
The large sofas and armchairs were of a light beige material; so no messy visitors expected or desired.
I loved the area she lived in, it was on a hill, it was called ‘The Sugar Factory’. It was elegant and far too expensive for me; that was why she only had husbands and partners who were flush. She lived in a refurbished old building, on the top floor of three which used to be the old gatehouse and admin building at the entrance to a real sugar factory, long since moved to a nearby city.
I squatted down and kissed her hair.
There was something about leaving her in the early hours, when the memory of being in bed with her was still so fresh.
It had started raining, not heavily but a cleansing, refreshing, light pattering.
The atmosphere was just cooling down a bit now, almost chilly but you just knew the heat was going to fall again in a few hours like a thick, suffocating greatcoat.
As I walked I thought of the route that had brought me to Olivia: she’d been my first regular girlfriend and I her first regular boyfriend. She was like a firecracker, she couldn’t keep still or quiet.
Olivia and I had met at a renowned, private boarding school in the U.K. and clicked on sight. She was German and her father had been educated at the same school, so if it was good enough for him it was good enough for his little girl. Olivia was all for it. I had been sent there because the novelty of having a child had worn off for my antiquarian parents who longed for a return to their old cerebral lifestyle. After finishing school I had come to a vague understanding with my parents, and Olivia with hers, and followed her back to Germany and her parents’ house in Munich.
Then Olivia and I had just drifted into our current arrangement. We’d had a short discussion before I left Munich and come to a conclusion: we’d arranged to meet again in a year at her parents’ house. That was when our relationship gathered its own peculiar momentum. We’d seemed to know it would, as though it was preordained that we would stay together.
I’d drifted into laboring and one thing had lead to another and I’d ended up working in security, in a Middle Eastern country, specializing in problems caused by Brits; those visiting and those working there, and that’s where I’d stayed. Something Olivia had never really grasped.
Olivia took herself off to university to study languages. When she’d inevitably gained her degree, after congratulating her, I’d asked, ‘‘Well, what are your plans and ambitions now?’’ ‘‘I don’t have any, apart from devoting myself full time to lotus-eating.’’
After walking for about twenty-five minutes in a more or less straight line I entered an exclusively well-heeled area, its streets lined with the most desired new cars you could buy, as well as the obligatory timeless classics, all parked outside tall, elegant, several story townhouses, and eventually to where I lived, in the more modest part of town, beside the graveyard; carry on and you’d end up on the edge of town, through a warren of side streets containing boutiques, book shops, etc and then to the cobblestoned old Market Square which was surrounded on all sides by various businesses including an independent cinema, bars, cafés, a fast food emporium, food shops, a cheap tailor, a bridal gown shop, a translation bureau, a travel agent and Clint’s.
I'm British and have been living with my German born wife in s.w. Germany for 30 years. I've been writing short stories for many years and they have appeared on Fictionontheweb, Short FictionBreak, Literally Stories, Spillwords and other sites. I also have a story in the book The Best of Fiction On the Web.