She had never seen a naked man before. She had glimpsed unclothed parts in isolation at the local pool, parties, the back seat of a car but never a fully assembled body, all parts only covered by skin and hair. Until that night, when she learned you never forget your first time.
Spotting an opening at the bar, she perched herself on a stool, relieved not to have to stand on those ridiculous heels that made every step an unsteady one.
The first one that comes in will do.
The thought was easy enough, the execution trickier, especially when the next man to enter filled all the negative space in the doorway with the corpulence of Jabba the Hutt, minus the greenish complexion. She grimaced at the idea of her small body disappearing under an avalanche of pink wobbly flesh.
She revised her plan. The next one. The next one that comes in.
She took another sip of her vodka cranberry; the imprint of her lips in a ‘Red Velvet’ shade stained the glass. Tasha was with her when she nicked the lipstick. Walking home from school they stopped by the chemist where her best friend kept a lookout. Eyes on the blurry make-up stand mirror, she pretended to try a berry shade. Confidence tilted her head back as she wiped a smudge at the corner of her lips, never looking down at her other hand liberating the lipstick and dropping it in the pocket of her jacket. They both smiled at the security guard on their way out.
For this special occasion, she also wore heavy hooded liner in an Amy Winehouse style, and had squeezed into a fitted dress she found at Petticoat Lane Market — rather the dress somehow found its way into her bag like a co-conspirator, a willing participant to her enterprise. The shoes she got from Tasha; she just didn’t tell her friend about borrowing them. All for the benefit of this place where she would find the crucial piece she was looking for.
She fidgeted on her stool, the fake leather stuck to her thighs and peeled off her skin like Sellotape. After taking another sip, she readjusted her top, extending the expanse of skin below her neck. She sat in the den where members of the pack didn’t embarrass themselves with several dates before showing you the inside of their bedroom.
You are not ready, Lapushka. Bad consequences with sex, her grandmother had repeated those words to her ever since she had written sanitary towels on the weekly shopping list for the first time.
She sneered at her drink. What did Babulya know about sex? She was ancient Russian institution, an Orthodox cathedral that hadn’t been entered for more than three decades. Not the kind of conversation to have with someone that old, things have changed a lot since she was fit enough for men to wolf-whistle at her, she didn’t know this world and the men that lived in it.
A spasm of guilt clenched her stomach at the lie she told Babulya about her whereabouts tonight. In the story, she was watching a film at the cinema, munching on salted popcorn, drinking spiked cola. Another dark place, but one where the only action safely took place on a giant screen, a place where she and her friends would natter and giggle at how fit the lead was, before the shush of disapproving adults. She drowned the lie with a gulp from her drink. In her mind, she would redeem herself the following day by bringing a pile of warm Pryanikis and liquorice tea to her grandmother.
She couldn’t ask her mother about sex. The woman — who pushed her out of her body, screaming — had swallowed sleeping pills, chasing a rainbow she could never reach. Her mother hadn’t been bothered about her enough to want to stick around. She had no feelings to drown for her.
The next one at the door distracted her from her thoughts. This time, taut muscles curved under the tight fabric of a black t-shirt, and a tighter pair of jeans. How he managed to tuck a phone and wallet into those back pockets defied logic. His ridiculous good look was a matter of fact uncontested across genders and sexual orientation. Hair slicked at the sides framing the quiff at the top, he stood arms crossed — a modern-day James Dean. His local status as a drug dealer and a small-to-medium-time gangster completed his rebel persona. Freddie prowled across the room as the other males nodded to him, in a show of respect.
All her friends had done it and openly spoke about their experiences, comparing them like battle scars. She had laughed and lied, pretending her virginity had been lost at a party. A ridiculous expression, it wasn’t something that you misplaced like your phone, or sunglasses. You gave it away, or a lot of time they took it away after they talked you into it, backed you into the corner of a bed, a car or of your mind so you just went along with it. Her virginity was still nicely tucked inside of her, but she had been cornered into a few hand jobs. The idea of something moving inside her, and even worse the possibility of something growing inside her, stretching and poking from within grossed her out. But recently, sex had become a constant nagging like a child pestering her for a sweet. A disturbance that had kept her warm, restless at night and dampened her sheets.
She downed the rest of her drink, and under the pretense of looking back at the dancefloor smelled the skin above her armpit. It was slight, but it was there, a musky scent so close it might be hers — the ripeness of a body left too long into summer heat — all at once familiar and alienating. A quick sniff, and she detected nothing more on her skin than the vanilla and peach fragrance from her deodorant.
Keeping her arms closed to her body, she carried four neon test tubes across the room. She teetered unsteady under the thin pillar of her heels. Her mind rehearsed the words she would say, trying out combinations to find the one that would make her sound cool and in control. She didn’t want to stumble on a jagged word. At the last minute, a man wedged himself between her and the rest of her night. He talked to Freddie who erupted in a sudden laughter so ferocious it sounded like a snarl. After they patted each other on the back, the man walked away, giving her an opening.
Hey Freddie. They gave me two extras, you want them? She spoke with a manufactured confidence. He turned around, looking down her top before he found her face.
Cheers, darling. The words escaped under the curl of his lips as he offered her a smile shaped like a warning smile.
Relieving her of two tubes, he clinked them with hers before they both knocked them back. The alcohol left a chemical flavour on her tongue and the back of her throat; she wondered if this was how a good night out was supposed to taste. After her offering, he invited her to sit at the table reserved for him. She had heard of the places that existed behind the rope of the VIP areas from other girls’ stories but had never been inside one. They slid into his lair — a semi-circular bench covered in a crimson velvet smooth under her thighs. Up close he was different; she could see the razor burn under his jaw and the flakes from the gel holding his hair into place.
I’ve seen you around, right? he said, reclining, legs open wide, his arms slithering along the back.
Yeah, I’m friends with Tasha, Mickey’s sister.
She here with you?
I’m on my own, she replied and watched her words curl the corners of his mouth again. Bad consequences, the words chimed in her mind in Babulya’s gravelly voice.
Drinks had materialised on the table in front of them, liquid impossible to identify under the low light, not that she cared. She grabbed one and downed it with a long swig that left her wincing. Jaeger. God that shit was nasty.
When she leaned back into the seat, she caught him staring with huge eyes at the curves beneath her dress and felt she had unknowingly made him a promise that she needed to fulfil now.
Wanna dance? she blurted out.
On the dancefloor they pressed against each other, amid a sea of bodies that closed around them until there was no way out. The bassline pulsed through the club and through their flesh as if they were dancing inside the belly of some great beast.
It was everywhere. The salty scent of fear and something else, something exciting. Warm and musky. Overpowering. The smell pushed her closer to his body, his hands taking ownership on her hips sent a chill under her skin. The beat filled her ears, this time coming from a place deep within. Bad consequences, the words were back, a low rumble on a loop. She pressed herself tight onto the hardness building in him. She looked up at his face, where a mayhem red and orange lights danced amid flashes of shadow.
Let’s get out of here, he told her with a smile full of teeth.
His bedroom was a makeshift forest, a wallpaper of tall charcoal trees on a pale grey background. The bed was a sparkling white expanse. She sat on it, leaning back on her hands, spread fingers, her nails bright blood drops against snow. She had imagined sitting on a cliché of black satin sheets, surrounded by high-tech, expensive electronics that had fallen off the back of a lorry. Not the fancy inside of middle-class homes, those places where everything matched. Something, something about appearances and how they could deceive.
Out the window, her tower block stretched in the distance, tall against the night sky, a slab of concrete pierced by tiny shards of lights. All the other buildings stood darkened as if already mourning the loss of her virginity.
Grabbing her under the armpits, he threw her deeper into the territory of his mattress. A thrill of apprehension shot through her, her body and mind pulling her in opposite directions. He shed his clothes, his nakedness morphing him into something else, revealing the solipsism knotted in the muscles that held him together. He climbed on the bed, advancing on all fours, the roll of his shoulders reminding her of a great cat. At his approach, her throat tightened. She moved back until she ran out of mattress and he engulfed her with his body.
Her physics class theories found their way into his bedroom, proving to her their relevance to every day life — for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: up went her skirt and down went her underwear. She lay exposed, a piece of meat on a butcher slab. Foreplay didn’t seem to be on the agenda for her first time. Teeth nibbled at her breasts, the bristle of his hair rubbing against hers as he felt his way in. She closed her eyes, trading a gasp for a sharp pain, when she opened them again, she was no longer a virgin.
The expanse of his white ceiling hung over her, smooth like the wall of room 2.13 where Mr. Finnegan had projected a video for biology class about the animal kingdom. The wall had glowed with the images of a Cheetah, newly released into the wild, pouncing on a gazelle for the first time, and the matter-of-fact voiceover explaining ‘once the predator has tasted fresh meat nothing else will do.’
The charcoal forest surrounding her danced to the rhythm he had set for them. She held on with fingers that kept slipping on his damp skin. She was quickly disappearing under the muscles of his body and the hunger of his needs. Crushing her shoulders, he pushed himself, forgetting the person she was. Gasping, she searched for a word to make him slow down.
Another sharp inhale. The scent of the beast had followed them from the club. It clung to every breath of air in the room, but it appeared to leave him unfazed. Eyes shut he was lost inside himself. She breathed deeply, dizzy from the musk. His ruthlessness was changing her from the inside, becoming something new from the pleasure twisting with pain he inflicted on her.
A growl came low and deep. Not from him, he grunted on top of her like a bull. Her eyes searched for the origin of the noise amid the chaos of his movements. She found it at the foot of the bed. The great wolf looked at her with amber eyes. She saw herself in them. The animal dropped its head, showing teeth, licking its lips. A wave of pleasure burnt through her, spine arched to breaking point and the beast growled.
He kissed her, his tongue meddling with hers, a teasing that unleashed her. She bit on it hard until the taste of metal flooded her mouth. He attempted to pull away, but she held him, winding her legs around his waist with a new strength that shattered him. Nails broke the thin barrier of his skin, digging crimson grooves deep into his flesh. He screamed inside her mouth and she ate that too, ate his fear. She ate the part of him that liked slapping his girlfriends around. She took him all in. When she was done, she abandoned on the bed a bag of skin filled with rattling bones.
She stood in her hallway, having no recollection of how she got home. Babulya stood at the other end in her usual tatty bathrobe, impassive at her dishevelled appearance and the blood that must be smeared on her face.
You take shower, and I make tea, her grandmother told her as she shuffled into the kitchen.
Twenty minutes after she did what she was told, she sat at the Formica table, a mug of steamy black tea in front of her. She could feel him inside her, swimming in her blood, his fear an after-taste lingering in the back of her throat. His thoughts buzzed under her skull like flies — his general contempt for women, his particular love for his mother. She knew the things he did, repeated in her head the price of a gram of coke, the lyrics of his favourite Artic Monkeys song, and despite a vigorous scrub, his smell was still there underneath the soap.
Drink, Lapushka. Drink, her grandmother told her.
Aren’t you gonna ask? she said.
Told you, bad consequences, Babulya muttered. Too impulsive. You should always listen to your Babulya.
Taking a long sip of her tea, she re-evaluated everything she believed she knew about her life, and where she stood in the predatory chain. Her mind explored the shapes of the new future unspooling in front of her — one with no corners — where she could walk at night, wear what she wanted without worry. A future where she was not asking for it or where her flesh was not a playground for entitled hands.
The air was cold with the stillness of the night. She zipped her jacket and pulled up the red hood over her head. Hands tucked in the pockets, she slipped between the rows of garages, stepping into islands of yellow light cast amid an asphalt sea. Any mothers from the neighbourhood would tell you a girl shouldn’t walk around these parts alone at night. Her footsteps echoed against the metallic doors until they were joined by a second set. She didn’t turn around. She pressed on, steady pace. She didn’t turn when an invisible hand pushed her into a wall.
Don’t move. The words came seasoned with the smell of lager and skewered lamb. She stood very still and smiled.
Laure Van Rensburg
Laure Van Rensburg is a French writer living in the UK. Her short stories have appeared in Across the Margin, Spelk Fiction, Barren Magazine, Storgy Reflex Fiction, and other places. She has been longlisted for the Bath Short Story Award, the 2018 Ink Tears Competition and shortlisted for TSS Publishing Quarterly Flash Competitions.
She is an accomplished librocubicularist.
You can find and follow Laure at:
Photo by Henryk Niestrój
This is the tale of a town on the fringes of fear, of ordinary people and everyday objects transformed by terror and madness, a microcosm of the world where nothing is ever quite what it seems. This is a world where the unreal is real, where the familiar and friendly lure and deceive. On the outskirts of civilisation sits this solitary town. Home to the unhinged. Oblivion to outsiders.
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