Jan/Feb 2007  •   Fiction  •   Special Feature

The Undressing of Ursula

by Michael J. Hulme

Artwork by Ira Joel Haber

Artwork by Ira Joel Haber

The results of your latest grand obsession: Ursula, another young woman, naked, in your bedroom, a sliver of moonlight across her body as she stands before you, tugging at the buckle of your belt. And yet what you feel most is not coursing blood, just a cold animal surge holding back a tide of—what?

It's not that she's a disappointment, far from it. Her body is warm and buffed—she says it has been seaweed wrapped—her skin the light bronze of models, her nipples small and perky. Each fingernail, each toenail, the dark red of sin. She is just as you wanted, just as you hoped each time you eyed her across the office, and yet—yet, she is not your savior.

Superstitiously, you looked for signs. You took her horse racing one afternoon, knowing she'd look great dressed up for the grandstand, and when you put 200 quid on the horse in the fifth race, the one she picked, and it came in by three lengths, you thought this might be it—she might be it—and then somewhere you realized no, she's not the one to save you.

You've pursued her anyway, but you don't know why. It's a dead end, and she bores you, and you know you're not going to see her again. You're going to take what you can get and then blow her out. The first buzz of love has gone. She's nice enough, she can on occasion be funny, but she's not going to turn your life around. She won't get you to stop smoking or drinking the nightly bottle of red; she won't get you out of the dead-end job you're in. If anything, you'll use work as pillow talk. She'll grind you deeper in.

You'll go through the motions, still—to get her here, you have spent 280 quid on three dinners, missed out on your mate's birthday, and you've been drinking in those overlit chrome bars which show up every flaw, the ones where the smug married men circle, wedding bands in pockets. Lay her down roughly, take what you want and don't, don't call it love.

Tomorrow morning, when you're asking if she takes sugar in her coffee and she's got the sheet pulled over her, answering to the floorboards, when the radio announcer breaks some terrible news and you're secretly glad because it gives you something to talk about, you'll realize what you've always known. She's just another girl, nothing more. As she brushes your cheek with barely a kiss and sets off on the clumsy heels of morning to the taxi rank, your list of magic people will have been diminished by one.

You'll need to find yourself another savior. It is clear to everyone, you cannot help yourself.