Dead, she lived on a while yet, in the question mark curl of a pube, glued to a miniature bar of soap, some jasmine-scented hotel freebie now cracked through disuse, a debauched monument to who we once were, cowering by the mould-blackened tile grouting on the side of the bath.
It was certainly hers, this pube. It was russet, see. I once described her fiery pubic bush as a rusty bucket full of oranges. Upshot? A burst of laughter upended into a burst of tears. I wasn’t poking fun at her when I said it, though. This was her most common complaint. I loved that ginger jungle of hers. When she wanted to get a bikini wax once – once? What am I talking about, that was only this summer, start of May, before we went to Greece – I said no fucking way. I’d miss it. So she kept it. Fat lot of good it did either of us in the end. It’s all dust now. I mean ashes.
I’m sure some sick bastard would enter it in the Turner Prize, calling it Russet’s Last Stand or something. Not me. No balls. That was another complaint of hers. No fucking balls. She even offered to buy me a pair once. For Christmas, she said.
Spoke her mind, she did. That’s why my mum couldn’t stand her. Still wept buckets at the funeral, though. They do, mothers, don’t they? Regardless of how they really felt. And how bitchy she was behind her back. To her face, even.They can always be relied on for a good fucking cry at a funeral. “A mother should never outlive her children” was the pious way she put it, choking up. I said nothing. She was right: no balls.
I shudder to look back on it, that day. August 30th. Hot and sweaty and still. Sky all hazed over. Fucking pollution. Not how you imagine a funeral to be, is it? Clammy. That’s how my dad put it. Only he could use a word like that. Clammy. It always makes me think of sweaty arse cracks and “spearing the bearded clam”. Did then, too. He drops out “clammy” as the corpse of my girlfriend of ten months pulls up in a hearse, with MILLY in big daisies visible through the window lined up against the coffin, and in my mind I’m thinking of arse cracks and some moronic euphemism from the Profani-bloody-saurus!
That was the first time her parents met me. I wonder whether they saw that smirk distorting my mouth as they pulled up behind the hearse. If they did, they didn’t let on. In any case, we hardly spoke. We traded clichés, taking our cues from long-running TV soap operas that squatted in our minds like a Jungian archetype – The Expression of Sorrow. I went with: “I’m so sorry for your loss.” They chose: “She seemed happy with you” Seemed – that was about right.
These awkward moments reached their crisis after the cremation, over egg and cress sandwiches – the crusts cut off, naturally, and the bread’s edges noticeably sharp from staleness – at a local village hall, when they opted for a bit of ad-libbing, diverging radically from the script: “Did you…did you love her?” Their tentative emphasis.
Did I love her? What, after six months? How could I know? The honest response was I Dunno. Or s’pose. Or it’s possible. Probably.
They wouldn’t have understood such honesty, though. They needed to hear that Milly was loveable and had known love, and, being a coward, I gave them what they wanted. I wasn’t true to the world, or true to myself, but I was true to the notion of what this world expects.
“Oh yes,” I said. “I loved Milly.”
I’ve been tempted to tweak out that pube, put it in something, some folded paper, probably, and then stick it in an old shoebox, like you see on those sickly-sweet American TV shows, along with the old love letters and cinema ticket stubs from the first date and the cocktail umbrellas from some quirky bar. I never do, though. We never sent love letters. I never kept the ticket stubs and there were never any cocktails. No, that pube stays put, to rub salt in the proverbial every fucking time I take a shower.
I’ll not lie to you. I’ve wanked over it. Not it exactly. More what it reminds me of. How she would wash herself with that little bar. Most girls would soap up their bush and rub the suds down through their legs, right? Not her. She’d take that little bar of soap between her finger and thumb, and slide it all along her slit. Did this for her audience of one, I like to think. Probably would’ve done it anyway. Took the shower head down, sprayed herself to climax. Yeah, Milly was a one-off. Too good for me. Too good for this life. Isn’t that what they say?
So today, when I came home, and found that Polly had thrown the soap out, and asked why, she returned with “fucking nasty, full of germs”, well, that’s when I finally felt something. If only for myself.