“I’m not even going to ask how you can do this.” she sighed.
“You buy the keys... a good collection's fucking pricy, but I like to think it’s worth every cent Ed paid for it." He flipped through the various clavicles, reminded of their corresponding venues. "He’s got everything... Lichfield Arboretum, the Merchant Theatre, Modern Art basement access, the Weaver Building, the old library... et voilá, bot gardens...” he added, smiling around himself. “They’ve got a great kaiyu-shiki.”
She stood in the middle of the pebble lane with a bottle hanging from her right hand. The pearly, polished gravel glowed cooly white and clicked softly beneath her feet as she slipped off her shoes. The pale path swept away into an elderly stand of Amur cherries and tiered azaleas, but before them a black pond reposed around a strange, gnarled omphalum of planted stones, occupying the low ground at the foot of a bank of sloping velvet green. A maple stretched its spotted limbs over the grass like blown smoke; its leaves adorned the bank, minikin stellae in flat lacquer red arranged like the night sky that lay in cold, inverse perfection on the water of the pond. Susan stepped over the edge of the path onto the slope, tucking her dress beneath her and sitting down, loosely cross-legged. She handed the bottle to him when he joined her, shedding his jacket and reaching down to pluck the laces from his shoes so that he could shuck his feet free of their detested confines.
“It’s like going to the dentist every fucking day." he admitted.
"God... look at them..." she laughed, leaning over to examine his toes; grimacing, she picked up a little stick, then set it down in a concession to his dignity. “Why don’t you wear... I don’t know... really thick comfortable socks, or something?” She laughed again at the stroke of visible dread the suggestion inspired. William shuddered and took a long draught from the bottle and for a brief empathic moment she experienced the sense of fibrous stricture that so appalled him. “Everything must be so strange to you. Why do you live? You must get so sick of people... we’re everywhere.”
“I do get sick of myself. But... life is only given to you once, at least I always thought that, and I suppose it’s true for most of us... to live is to thank the fairies for all those things they left under the tree for you. When some miserable prick complains about their life we say so thii siith savih is’e... remember how you came by it. Not that it ever shuts anyone up.”
“So many questions.”
“You could at least be flattered that I’ve taken an interest in you.”
“Christabel... your interest is not something I take lightly, and in fact I’m well aware that it’s curiosity more than anything that gets you into my car alone at night, but there’s just something about your questions that makes me feel like I'm the stupidest débile ever to walk around Eurasia with their head up their arse in the last two thousand years.”
“Are you?” she chuckled, raising the bottle to her lips again.
“Why ask me?" he laughed. "One free shot. Come on.”
“What’s the most pr...”
“Merchant of Venice.”
Susan spluttered and wiped at the vodka that disappeared into the neck of her dress.
“Don’t be a dick. Just listen. What I want to know is... what is the most... profound, amazing thing you’ve learnt? About yourself.”
Lying back on the grass, William crossed his arms behind his head, clasping each pointed elbow and regarding the distant stars with a sigh.
“I’ve learnt that I’m a slow learner.” he confessed, turning his head to watch her chuckle at the admission, her hair falling in tendrils over her forehead to curl back toward her nose. Her dress puckered across her belly as she planted an elbow on her knee and rested her chin on her hand, arranging leaves into a circle on the grass before her.
“Do you have a birthday?” He shook his head against the ground. “Do you want one?” Stretching out his arms, he left them on the grass with palms upturned and she smiled at the subtle, persuasive disarmament implicit in their repose. “You can share mine if you like... if you don’t mind being an Aries.”
“I thought you were a Gemini.”
“I lied on the form.”
Susan leant forward and tucked up her dress, rising unsteadily to her feet and walking in a slow ellipse around him with the bottle under her arm, glancing down at his face as she negotiated the deceptive slope. Exhausting her circumscribed route she stepped over him and sat down on his stomach, leaning back against his knees as he drew them up for her. He watched her fumble with the buttons over his navel.
“What's an Aries?” he frowned.
“The ram. Don't ask to be a unicorn."
"I want to be an elephant."
"They never forget."
"I’m glad you have a belly button because I forgot to check." she laughed, tongue tucked into the corner of her mouth as she applied herself to the remainder of his shirt front, opening his collar and laying each half of the garment aside, sitting back to satisfy her gaze, then her desire for all that it enjoyed, her hands passing slowly from his neck to the bright skin of his stomach. “You could be an evil spirit... how do I even know this is your body? You should be much fatter." she sighed. "It's not fair..."
“I keep it tight with lots of booze and cigarettes and three hours of no pilates every day, no excuses.” he assured her. She attempted to work the garment from his arms until she gave it up and leant sideways to kick off her underwear, tossing it away over the grass, supporting herself on both elbows as she toured the peculiar symmetry of his features with her lips and fingers.
“What will I do if I can’t go back to my own kind?”
“You won't need to.”
She shook her head down at his smile.
“You'll regret that when I’m throwing chairs at you and pushing your new slapper down the stairs.” The length of his arms almost frustrated her second attempt to divest them of his shirt, but she tugged it from his wrists and passed her hands over his shoulders, delighted by their acquisition. “I don't have the faintest idea what you like...”
“I like everything.” he sighed, drawing the zip down the back of her dress, the panels falling away from the warmth of her body; she reached up to pull the pins from her hair, the small ruby leaves pressed to her arms where they had lain against the grass. He stroked the pliant length of her spine and the soft width of her hips while she opened his trousers, throwing his belt in the direction taken by her underwear, then bent to kiss him, but he turned his face toward the grass. "Susan... you can't fuck me until you trust me."
“William... that’s not even your name. And I trust you." she promised, leaning her hands on his chest as she availed herself of him slowly, descending into a breathless, senseless pleasure that redoubled as the same submersive luxury enclosed him, pressing his naked back into the grass and closing his eyes. From it he rose and folded his legs beneath her as she closed her own around him, her dress heaped like the smooth pelt of some shape she had discarded in her lap. She looked down into that plain within his gaze on which the secrets roamed, luminous and defiant in their liberty, and closed her arms about his neck. "If you tell me what you’re really called, will I have power over you?”
“I think that horse has bolted.”
Shaw killed the narrow jet of water in his left hand and stowed the pistol in his right, walking the garden hose back to the corner of the house. Taking the torch from between his teeth he played it over the wet drive and into the trees on the far side of the road, scanning them carefully. The sensor in his pocket sounded a discreet warning as a car drove by its station; crossing back over the grass, he unlocked the gate and walked back the panels, watching Edward's sedan slide by him without slowing.
By the time the Jaguar rolled in, the garden birds had already begun to chime from dripping branches in the heron-blue gloom. Shaw remained beneath the elms while William got back into his car and allowed it to ghost further down the drive. Sitting in his lap, Susan kissed him intemperately between smothered laughter, her dress hanging inside out from both elbows; he pushed open the door and pitched forward with her onto the lawn where she exclaimed at the dampness of the grass, cackling as he bore her to the porch. Struggling with the keys while she murmured against his ear, he abandoned the task, returning his mouth to hers and his hands to her body, their embrace once more overtaken by heat and urgency. They left the door ajar behind them in their immodest haste.
Having secured the gates Shaw leant over his torch in a last inspection of the driveway cobbles. The water had soaked away into the lawn, leaving them clean and gleaming and revealing a tangled hank of blonde hair snagged in one of the dark clefts. He took a pen from the pocket of his suit and teased it out from between the stones. A little piece of scalp and glistening fragment of bone caused it to swing from the end of the ball point.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce