One second I was doing it, the next I’d let her go and she was coughing. The decision seemed to have been made for me. She, another she, was away for work, so the morning had been spent drinking at home and thinking about going out. I spent the afternoon in town going pub to pub, not finding anyone else and growing bitter. It was two weeks before Christmas, so the place was busier than normal and infected with a thwarted desperation towards cheer. Every song played on every jukebox came from the same repository everyone carried in their imagination and dug into once a year, every year. There was a semi-heated German market. Eventually five o’clock came around and I started trying to call Clubby for beak. Only reaching his voicemail and thinking it unwise to leave one I decided to leave it for a while and have a few more drinks.
The Chop House was open by then so I went in, sat at the bar and waited for Glen to come out of the back room. The pub, or rather the building, was built in the sixteenth century for the cutting of meat, and into some of the low, ancient beams someone had screwed new hooks to illustrate the point.
‘Alright Marc?’ Glen said, drying his hands with a towel as he walked up to the pumps. ‘What you having?’ His bald head shone with sweat under the lights, his eyes sat deep in dark-ringed surrounds.
‘I’m not bad mate. Rum and coke, no ice, please’
He took a glass and turned to the optics. There was no-one else in the place, and no music on the jukebox. He gave me my drink, took my money, gave me some back and I put some music on. When I got back to the bar he’d disappeared again. I didn’t mind this particularly, as I had nothing to say to him and had never been interested in a single thing he had ever said to me in casual conversation, despite having had these forced chats several times a week for months. I’d been spending lots of time in town, doing just this, for quite a while by then.
Eventually I started running low on money, so I stepped out. The night had set in, and the cobbles outside had been slicked by the sleet I’d seen landing like wet dandruff on the pub’s windows. I walked down the alley and went to the cash machine at the Royal Bank of Scotland. Sat beside it on the floor was a skeletal girl whose skin was so white as to be almost translucent, dressed in a black jacket over a black hoodie, with jeans and old trainers. She watched people pass under the peak of her hood, mumbling to them as though she had long ago given up hope of being heard.
As I got to the cash machine she looked up more hopefully at me, clearly realising that my wallet was in my hand and it would be impossible for me to claim that I had no money.
‘Can you spare any change, please?’ she said.
One of her front teeth was half rotten, and her gums receded. Around the corners of her mouth were the spots and scabs of the run-down.
‘Sorry love’ I said, and went back to pushing buttons.
I continued to watch her out of the corner of my eye. The hunger I had for more drinks, for beak, for anything to ameliorate the painfully dull passage of time seemed to open its net out wider. I withdrew sixty pounds, slid the three twenties into my wallet along with my card, and put the wallet back into my pocket. I looked back down at the girl.
‘How desperate are you?’ I said, immediately regretting it, immediately realising that there had been no mention of a transaction on her part; expecting her to jump up, outraged, and scream to the street what a filthy fucking pervert I was. She looked up at me, making calculations in her mind. Looking around, looking back at me, sizing me up.
‘How much to suck my dick?’ I asked, genuinely not knowing the going rate.
‘Twenty quid’ she said, her face changing as she said it, growing hopeful, as though maybe she didn’t know it either.
She stood, adjusting her jacket, adjusting her jeans, her head darting this way and that like every other smackhead. We started to walk back towards the pub and I began to hope that I wouldn’t be seen with her. Two nervous people trying to get somewhere secluded. She then broke off and went over to a woman sitting on the floor across the street, who I hadn’t seen. She looked similar to the girl but around fifteen years further down the drain. The girl whispered in her ear, and she looked up at me, that same analytical look. She whispered back to the girl who turned and walked back my way. I walked beside her as we went past the pub, up the hill past the council building, then down the hill past the library. We walked down past the old police station, the purple lights illuminating the front, the hotel sign hanging over the street. We walked past the court and out of the town centre to a canal towpath behind the old gas works. We walked in silence, both of us looking around, looking guilty. She knew where she was going. A minute or two down the towpath and we came to a section bordered by a patch of grass, with a thin line of trees on the other side. She started to cross the grass and I followed as she picked up speed, knowing that this section of the journey would be inexplicable to a passerby. We reached the trees and stepped through into a small clearing, a metal fence on the other side.
‘The money first. Please’ she said. I pulled out my wallet and fished out one of the crisp, new twenties. She looked briefly down at it before shoving it into her pocket, and then dropped to her knees. I unfastened my belt and jeans, and pulled out my flaccid dick. She put it in her mouth and began sucking, getting it hard in a matter of seconds. She was not particularly good at it, and with every collision of her teeth on the fragile skin the word ‘AIDS’ flashed before my eyes. After a couple of minutes I knew that I wasn’t going to come that way.
‘How much to fuck you?’ I said.
‘Another twenty’ she replied.
I pulled out my wallet again and handed her another twenty. She took it and stood, turned, dropped her pants and bent over. I put a hand on her back and guided my dick in with the other, feeling that she was slightly wet. As I entered her she let out a quiet groan and grabbed hold of one of the thin trees in front of her, holding her jeans up and out of the mud with the other. I started to fuck her, hearing her little groans with each stroke, raindrops falling on us as the tree she was holding swayed. After another couple of minutes I knew once again that I wouldn’t come. I had what I suppose could be called a moment of clarity, catching a glance of myself from outside, understanding for a moment the situation as it truly was and wishing I was at home with the one I loved and that it had never come to this and that I wasn’t who I was and finally that I’d never been born. I grabbed hold of her by the neck with both hands, squeezing as tightly as I could. As this registered in her mind she reared up and my dick slipped out of her. She struggled to turn and her hands came up to mine, desperately clawing at them, cutting the skin with her nails.
‘Don’t…please’ she croaked, thrashing wildly around, banging into the branches all around us. ‘You can have your money back…please’.
I held on and she dropped to her knees and I to mine, feeling them sink into the mud. I thought ‘I am doing this. I am going to kill her’. A week or so earlier I’d strangled one of our cats. I’d been at home alone all day drinking, and I have no explanation for having done so other than the fact that, when I drink, alone, and to a certain extent, I’m filled with hatred for everything, myself included. As I held the girl I thought briefly back to the cat, and the blood appearing in its eyes as I squeezed the last moments of life out of it. There was no blood at the girl’s eyes, only tears. It appeared that, the longer my life went on, the anger and hatred that only affected me while blind drunk was leaking out ever further into my everyday life. Suddenly I no longer had hold of her. She was gasping for air, still on all fours in front of me. Her legs trembling she struggled to her feet and I realised that I needed to get to mine. I stood, grabbing the fence and pulled my jean back up as she pulled hers.
‘The money’ I said, and held out my hand ‘Now’.
She pulled the two twenties out of her pocket and handed them to me, then sprinted out of the trees an across the grass. The thought occurred to me that, had anyone been walking past I’d have been fucked, but no-one was there. I heard her feet as she ran back along the towpath. I heard her desperate breaths. I fastened my belt and tried to make out how much mud had ended up on my clothes, but the only light was from the moon and the floodlights of the carpark on the other side of the canal. I looked out of the trees both ways to make sure no-one was coming, and then stepped out quickly, walking in the opposite direction to the girl.
This direction let me get of the canal into town as well, but this way I was further down, towards the way I would be walking home. I walked past Derby Wines and North Western station and heard a shout behind me. Initially I ignored it, but I heard footsteps running behind me. I turned to see the older woman, her face drawn back in anger. As I turned she pulled up short, around ten feet away from me.
‘I know what you just did. We’ll remember your face’ she said, as people walked past, going home to their families.
Two weeks later we were in bed. Christmas Eve, the house warmed by central heating all afternoon, full from the curry we’d just been out for with her father. We lay on our sides, her back against my chest.
‘I love you, you know’ she said to me, holding my hand near her mouth.
‘Love you too’ I said.
‘What time do we need to be at your mum’s for in the morning?’.
‘It doesn’t matter. I’m not sure’.
‘It feels so good to know that everything’s done. We can just relax, now. My feet are killing me. We’ll go to your mum’s first, then to mine, then to Caroline’s. Did I show you what I got for Caroline?’
‘Yeah, you showed me’
‘Are you alright?’
‘Yeah, just tired’
I was scared to breathe on her, so convinced was I that I was carrying disease, pestilence, bacteria, virus, cell-destroying bodies that coursed through my veins, degrading the walls. She pushed herself harder against me, her backside against my crotch.
‘Oh, what’s that?’ she said. We’d both been drinking. She reached behind her and grabbed my dick through my boxer shorts. ‘What’s this?’ she laughed. She turned herself round and began to pull them down.
‘Don’t, love, I’m too full. From the food. The curry. I’m stuffed’
She looked into my eyes in the lamplight and searched for something. Finding it she asked me, again with her eyes, why I would want to hurt her so much. The whole operation took one-third of a second. She released the elastic waistband and span around.
‘Emma, come on’ I said, ‘I’m just too full. I can’t move’
‘It’s fine’ she said, ‘it’s fine. It’s okay’. She began to cry. I lay on my back for a moment getting cold and trying to conjure up some words to say. Eventually I just took hold of her again.
‘Emma, please, listen. I love you, you know? Em?’
‘You don’t want to touch me anymore. You don’t fancy me anymore. Just leave me,
I’m going to sleep’
I held her tighter and she seemed to reciprocate, but I knew it wasn’t enough. I touched her hip and guided her onto her back. I pulled her knickers off and, never looking away from her eyes, moved my body between her legs. I touched her and felt her already wet, and guided myself in. It was Christmas Eve. I didn’t want her to cry.
*All work is the property of the author and is published with their permission