|Oct/Nov 1998 Fiction|
He knew her, well, he knew of her, for a while before he fucked her. She had found the python, the one Hassim, the computer programmer had lost, and she'd been in the newspapers. And a few years back she'd had a thing, well everybody said she'd had a thing, with Van Morrison, and when he came to town, he stopped, well everyone said he stopped, at her place. And, well, she was a quickie, someone who didn't like to sleep alone and would fuck for company.
They didn't exactly know each other before he fucked her, but he had seen her around often enough. They were two bobbing corks in the whirling sea of the displaced-with-money, the divorcees, the new yuppies, the BMW drivers, owners of small but expensive two-bedroomed flats, interesting habits, a liking for drink, and an interest in chemicals.
The first time they had spoken was after Clare had moved out, and he was in an even worse mess than usual. He was in Armando's, eating alone, with a bottle of Tocai, moules meuniere, followed by baked turbot. Whenever he had no company, he sat towards one corner of the restaurant and pretended to be busy. He was scribbling into a notebook, nodding to the other corks floating by, managing to look as if he was comfortable.
Python Pat came in and sat at the next table. She was with a tiny, doll-like woman called Sue Pan, who turned out to be Thai. Sue Pan was tearful, and Python Pat said across the tables. "You're Jack Harvey, yeah? You know anyone who can put Sue Pan up for a few weeks? She's just lost her job, and the flat went with it."
"At a push, me," he said. He wondered if he might get to fuck a Thai girl.
Python Pat beamed. "You mean it?" and Jack thought her face wasn't that bad. He had heard she'd been a looker a few years back.
"Yeah, sure," he said. "I got one of the new places in Canton Street, plenty of room. The pair of you walk down later, I'll show you round."
Pat started to rise. "Mind if we share a table?"
Sue Pan moved in the following afternoon. Her belongings filled a single suitcase. Jack had been in Armando's for lunch and had downed a bottle of Chianti. He felt tall and was his version of gracious. When Sue Pan had put her case in his room, he made her a cup of tea and promised to take her out for dinner. She lowered her eyes. Later she said she would cook him a Thai meal if he would take her some place she could buy ingredients.
"I'd like that," Jack said, "but tonight we'll go up to Armando's."
Jack spent a little time then in the office at the back of the house. He tried to think of Sue Pan naked, her little light brown body, but she had seemed too sad when he had suggested dinner, and the memory of her sadness annoyed him. He snapped at a customer on the phone.
In Armando's that night, Jack ordered Brill, the catch of the day, and little Sue Pan said she would like a small omelette. Jack offered her wine, and at first she refused, but he insisted. Sue Pan looked sad again, but then she smiled and nodded, and Jack filled her glass. When he caught the waiter's eye Jack, raised a finger and shortly, another bottle of wine appeared.
When they went back to the house, Sue Pan was a little unsteady, and Jack took her arm. She seemed grateful, and Jack felt manly. Inside the house, Jack sat her on his sofa, made two drinks and then sat on the floor next to her. "Sometimes," he said, "I feel lonely. I hate to be alone or sleep alone."
Sue Pan put her tiny hand on his head. Jack looked up, but her eyes were unfocused, and he knew she was not there. He put his head into her lap.
"Sometimes," he said, "I just want to be with someone, to feel their warmth."
Sue Pan rubbed his scalp. "I will massage your hand," she said.
She took his hand and worked it as if she was rubbing oil into it, pulled the fingers, rolled them, squeezed, twisted. At some point he moved and put the other hand round her tiny hips, on her thigh. His head was in her lap and his mouth touched the cotton of her trousers. She squeezed his hand.
He tried to smell her. His hand felt odd, like someone else's.
"I just want to be with someone," he said.
Later, they went to bed. Sue Pan led him up the stairs. She was little more than half his height, a third of his weight. He could feel her sadness like a dark, flutterless bird, but he didn't want to sleep alone. If he had been brave enough, he would have said, "Just be with me," but Jack wasn't brave. Sue Pan had only massaged one hand, and he felt odd, out of balance. Before she turned out the light, he looked at his hand, and like a stroke victim, he wondered if it was his own. "I feel strange," he said.
Sue Pan did not speak.
In the street-lit bedroom, she touched his face, and then she undid his belt. And then Jack undressed himself, but the fingers of his left hand felt detached, and he fumbled. Then they were naked, and then they were in bed, and she was so tiny, and she knelt over him, touched her fingers to his lips and slipped onto him. And as she moved, so light that he could hardly sense her above him, only her circling womanhood, the growing tensions everywhere except his new hand, he wanted to cry but couldn't; it wasn't dark enough.
He had thought forty-five pounds a week. In the morning he said twenty-five, and that afternoon he took Sue Pan to the Chinese warehouse for ingredients. That night she prepared a meal, and she fed him. They drank some wine, and then she said, "Zhack, I should sleep in my bed. It is better."
"What about last night?" Jack said.
Sue Pan lowered her head. "Tomorrow, if you are kind, Zhack, I will massage your other hand."
"It's OK," he said.
"And I will try hard to leave when I can," Sue Pan said, "Soon."
In bed, in the light of the street, Jack looked at his hand. It still looked like it did not belong to him. He thought about getting up and going out to a casino, but he didn't want to leave Sue Pan unprotected. He lay still.
Sue Pan found a job nine days later, in a Thai restaurant, in a town fifty miles away. "You will drive me, perhaps?" she asked. Jack said yes. He took her there, driving very fast, and they shook hands at the door to her new flat.
"The owner is a good man," she said. "And his wife, she is a good person."
Jack drove home.
At Armando's that night, Jack scribbled in a notepad. An ancient pianist was in, playing and singing "My Way," murdering it.
Jack wrote, "I'm near to tears, and in my ears, are seagull's screams and witch's fears."
Then a voice said, "On your own, Jack?"
Jack looked up. "Pat," he said. She smiled. Not a bad face. "Yeah," he said.
"I heard you got Sue Pan a job."
"She said that?"
"She said you were a kind man."
"I took her there today."
"So what about tonight?" Pat said.
"I just want to be with someone, to feel their warmth."
"Me too," Pat said.