Mark was walking down Slater Street in the rain. Coming toward him was a girl struggling with an umbrella that was in tatters, completely crucified. As they passed, she smiled and he sent her a scowling, sidelong glance. Then he remembered who she was, Sean’s girlfriend, that one from the North, not far from where he was from. Cindy. He half turned to take another look. Cindy had also turned around. Now they were caught out looking at each other and had to back step and say hello. He saw she was wearing a smart coat and thought about the rip in the sleeve of his leather jacket. He’d noticed it on the bus. He felt scrawny, like a stray dog, and wondered what he was doing in this state again.
“Haven’t seen you in a while,” he said.
Cindy held her handful of metal prongs a little higher in an effort to shelter them both.
“I’ve not been going out.”
“Me neither,” he said, while thinking to himself he hadn’t been home for two days and had been dead drunk all week. “Except for last night.”
He noticed she had a direct way of looking at him, straight on, steady for a girl. She was probably evaluating his un-rested eyes and summing up his drinking habits. She was wearing high heel sandals and he was watching the rain dancing off her pink painted toenails when Cindy moved the umbrella to one side and stepped forward to kiss him on the mouth. His hands moved involuntarily to touch her waist but she had already stepped back. He dropped his arms. The only evidence of what had just happened was the warm smudge on his lips amid all the wetness.
“Did you just kiss me?”
Cindy smiled nervously and started to turn away.
“Wait. What did you do that for that for?”
“Sorry.” she said.
“You don’t need to apologise. Hey…” He gripped the handle of the brolly.“What about an explanation?”
Cindy’s gaze seemed to turn tide as she searched inwardly for an answer.
“I like you.”
He didn’t let go of the umbrella.
“Do you need another reason?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, although he might have settled for I like you in less disconcerting circumstances.
Then she was saying something else, he was watching her mouth move but she was speaking quickly and quietly and most of her words were lost in rain. Whenever I see you, sometimes you seem nervous and sometimes you’re full of bravado, and you remind me of someone.
A strong wind bucked around them, and suddenly they were being hammered to death on the front line of a deluge.
“Where do you live?” he shouted.
“Over there.” She pointed to side street.
“Shelter from the rain?”
They headed to her place. It was a misadventure; he knew that, but not totally out of line. They might just have a chat and then he’d be on his way home innocently, like before. He was going to ask about Sean and then realised it was just the sort of stupid thing he would normally say. He thought about mentioning the flimsy footwear she was wearing, which was interesting choice on a day like today, but as they arrived outside her building the conversation went elsewhere. “There are seventeen steps up to my flat and this building is number 17.” She said. “And today is the 17th of March.” “I just got the number 217 bus,” he joined in. She looked pleased and put her key in the door. They entered a typical East London hallway clogged with junk mail and with a smell of beer issuing from the carpet. They went up the stairs.
“Don’t say anything nice about my flat or I’ll know that you’re lying.” She said, “It’s only temporary.”
They arrived at her door and went inside. Cindy went straight over to the boiler to turn the heating on.
“Do you want a drink?” He hoped she meant booze.
“Tea or red wine. I don’t have any milk though.”
She had a full rack of it on top of the fridge. He noticed her heart-shaped bum as she reached up for a bottle and wondered how that dope Sean had got a girl like that. She had nice hair too. He remembered that from before, long and a natural colour, like his ex. And the flat wasn’t that bad. Small-scale but neat. It had those feminine touches that always highly impressed him. A flowery fringy scarf thrown over a storage unit, a bowl of oranges, an arrangement of candlesticks. No top layer of junk. One girlfriend had given him some fairy lights to put in his room once, but they had blown out ages ago and were now just part of the total shambles.
He became aware there wasn’t much talking going on. Cindy passed him a glass of wine and sat down behind a small table. He was left standing in the middle of the room feeling conspicuous. He made a fill-in comment about the weather but she only half-smiled and glanced out of the window. He raised his eyebrows to ride out the silence and then sat on the sofa, tossing his jacket onto a chair, but it slid off and hit the floor. Pratt. He sent her a dry look and she laughed. Cindy took off her sandals and began to dry her feet on a tea towel, which might have been off-putting if she didn’t have such cute feet. Then she came over to sit next to him on the sofa, looking around at her flat as if she’d never seen it before. Finally she asked if he would like to watch a movie with her. She had a film a friend had leant her about a girl who gets locked away underground by a psycho and she couldn’t watch it on her own, she got really scared about things like that.
“What scares you?” she asked.
He found himself telling the god’s honest truth, “Prison. Being locked up. If something happened and I was sent down, I think I’d have to kill myself first.”
He could see her thinking this over and he wondered if it sounded like he was presently running scared, having just committed armed robbery or had a girl tied up in a basement somewhere.
“You better not commit any crimes,” she said.
He looked at her suspiciously, wondering if she meant that as an innuendo. “So are you going to do it again?” he said. “The kissing thing?”
She didn’t answer. But she didn’t say no either. So he leaned over to kiss her. Cindy put the wine glass to her mouth as an obstruction. Annoying, until she lay the glass down on a side table and put her arms around his neck to kiss him properly. She had a very soft mouth; warm and satiny on the inside and she was comfortable to hold onto, not all joints and teeth like that other girl. She smelled nice too, clean. They didn’t go further than the kiss. He didn’t even feel her breasts. It wasn’t like she was going anywhere. Or maybe he was just knackered. And she hadn’t gone for his cock so she wasn’t a sex maniac. She had a healthy smile too, which made him think she wasn’t about to start un-liking him for some unforeseen reason.
The film wasn’t scary and they had both laughed in the end because it was pretty shit. Cindy put on a CD after, it was good, a band she liked from Manchester and listening to the music made it fine to stay quiet for a while. The flat was warming up and it was much cosier than his own place and he was glad he was here and not there. His flat mates would be clogging up that basement in Bethnal Green. Matt, a dirty bastard who used up every piece of crockery, never washed a pot and brought home girls whose outfits were already splattered with another bloke’s spunk. And Jed who talked too much, all the way through the only decent thing on T.V. On and on, words building up in your mind and blocking your own thought processes, when you were trying to come up with something for yourself. They were his best friends probably, except for the ones he had grown up with. Under heavy lids he saw a bunch of yellow flowers in a vase on the windowsill. Daffodils weren’t they? Bit blurry though. He fell asleep on the sofa.
While Mark was sleeping Cindy curled up in the space left on the couch and tried to read a book, but she didn’t get past the same page because she kept looking at Mark. He really did remind her of Joe. It wasn’t the way he looked; it was more the way he was. Tough and young at the same time. He even had a tattoo on his wrist, she leant over to read it; Sophie.
Joe had been her first love. She was sixteen when she met him and he was thirty-two. It wasn’t what people thought though. It wasn’t Joe who had chased her it had been the other way around. He had tried to ward her away, thinking that she was just an infatuated teenager, but she had been persistent and eventually he gave in because her pure young love was so convincing. He was what you would call down-and-out, drank too much. He used to drink himself into a deep furrow of gloom that he couldn’t get out of. And she didn’t help either, she didn’t know how to, she didn’t even know that she was supposed to. She just hadn’t been a grown-up girlfriend.
She remembered asking him what his good memories were. He said he didn’t have any. I’ve had an awful life. He had been born into a world of poverty and violence and she had grown up riding a carousel of dreams and chances. Her family was well off and she had always had opportunities. It’s strange, she didn’t remember feeling bad for Joe at the time, about his situation, it didn’t seem of consequence to the way things were, or would be, going forward. It doesn’t mean anything when you’re that young, when even hardship looks new and interesting. When you haven’t got a history of your own yet and you don’t know that all your failures build up behind you until one day, there’s an avalanche looming there and if you don’t keep moving, if there’s nowhere to go, then that avalanche is going to come crashing down and bury you. It was Joe who said that, those were his words, trying to make her understand. She thought she knew what he was talking about, but of course she didn’t. He always said that she was too young. She always said the age difference didn’t matter, but she hadn’t been looking at the problem in the right way.
She was watching Mark sleeping again. He had his arm crooked over his eyes like a kind of hideout. She wanted to touch his tattoo but didn’t want to be caught doing it. She looked at his leather jacket lying on the floor, also crashed out, or maybe beaten up and left unconscious because there was a rip in the sleeve and it looked fairly destitute. She looked back at Mark and noticed for the first time that he bit his fingernails. This was amazing. She hadn’t remembered until now; Joe had bitten his fingernails. She felt a surge of warm revelation erupt inside her and had the urge to do something for Mark. Stitch up the hole in his jacket. Give him something. A present for coming round and passing out on her sofa, a ticket to the Bahamas or a cheque for a thousand pounds.
She started thinking about Joe again. She had left him without an explanation one day and had never looked back, not until years later when she started to understand some of things he said. You don’t fall in love like this every day, Cindy. Well that was true. She hadn’t known that you didn’t fall in love a hundred times in your life. She hadn’t known that the meaning of the word love and the name Joe had originated as the same thing.
Mark woke up and saw Cindy pulling out pans from cupboards and preparing to cook something. She said it would be terrible because she was hopeless in the kitchen but she was giving it a go. Pasta with a medley of what was left in the fridge. He peeled himself off the sofa and came to stand by her. Still sleep-dazed he ate half a packet of digestives in about seventeen seconds. He watched Cindy rip the top off a tin of tomatoes and the juice splatter everywhere. He sniggered.
“You can take a shower or have a bath, if you want to,” she said.
He could see she was getting a bit hot and bothered with the cooking scenario. Though slightly offended, he accepted her suggestion as a good idea.
Mark investigated Cindy’s bathroom, nosey about her girl’s stuff. He opened the cabinet; a citadel of products. The only thing he recognised was the Colegate toothpaste. He tried to get the water going in the tub but it wasn’t hot enough and he had to get Cindy to come in and supervise. He was stood there in his boxer shorts while she showed him how to gauge the taps wishing they had already had sex because he was starting to feel pretty useless, half naked and hanging around in this girl’s flat. To feel more proactive he started to imagine fucking her from behind while she was bending over the bathtub. Then she was setting him up with shampoos and soap and so on and he had to subdue the beginning of his erection by recalling all the players in the Man U. football team. “Your hair is going to smell of flowers,” she said.
When the bath was done and he had managed to drag his jeans on over frictionally wet legs he went to see what was happening in the kitchen. Things did not look good. Cindy tried to block his view of the inside of pans. He grappled one of them from behind her and saw the evidence; the pasta shells had gone gigantic. They were like big blubbery jellyfish.
“You really can’t cook, can you?”
Cindy looked genuinely shamefaced and dispirited so he picked up a piece of pasta and waggled it in her face. She laughed, her eyes crying a little bit. He followed her around the room with the floppy pasta creature until she collapsed on the sofa with no will left to defend herself. He flapped the thing in her ear before sticking his tongue in, then pulled her legs straight to lie on top of her, helping her get her top off to feel her breasts, which were snug and velvety against his squeaky-clean chest. He flicked at her nipple with his tongue, and then made little suctioning sounds in an annoying way on purpose, like another pesky sea creature. She giggled and hid her face in his shoulder. Her cheeks were flushed, she was really hot, he could feel the heat rising out of her.
“Cindy’s burning,” he said, and took her hand and rubbed it over his erection inside his jeans. “So you like me, do you?”
“I just like you.”
“I want seventeen reasons way you like me.”
“I like your body.”
“Which part? This part?”
“Your bitten fingernails.”
“You’re flirting with me, aren’t you?”
She pressed her mouth against his shoulder again, to stifle another giggle.
He didn’t have a condom and was always reluctant to ask a girl if she was on the pill, it didn’t seem like his subject. Then some girls got really annoyed if you took the withdrawal course of action without saying anything, made you feel like you were the class retard and they were human biology experts. He didn’t know Cindy, he only knew she was cute, hot, that she couldn’t cook and that he wanted to fuck her without any more delay.
“Do you want to?”
She didn’t say anything.
He stood up and unfastened his pants and since his crotch was in line with her mouth he hesitated. Would she? She kept her head tilted back so that her hair was out of her face and he could watch her doing it. It felt like heaven, like he was putting his cock in the mouth of an angel, an angel who had gone off the rails for a lucky second.
He might have come like that with another girl but there were other things he’d like to do with Cindy. He pulled her jeans off. Her knickers were bright red and see-through, they looked great so he left them on. He tried to turn her around to see her lovely ass, but she was suddenly shy. To test the level of her shyness he put his hand roughly between her legs. She squirmed away.
“What’s the matter?”
“Think of another reason why you like me.”
He put his hand back between her legs and pulled the knickers aside to feel her properly. Then he wanted to see her completely naked and helped her take everything off, discovering her body exactly suited her personality. Responsive, inviting, her skin, her taste, her name, all the same thing. He was taken by a valiant of surge of horniness and was going to go down on her but she pulled him back to kiss his mouth. She kept her eyes open and he found himself looking right into her gaze, which seemed to lead somewhere, like a starry river running right through her and back into him.
“You okay?” he said.
“I’m going to fuck you now.”
Underneath him Cindy’s body seemed to soften, ready to absorb the energy he was about to exert on her. And those little sounds she made, soft and dusky, made him fuck her harder. He even made her say they would do it again later, before he came over her breasts.
On the way home the next day on the bus, he was going over the incident in his mind and realised he felt really good about it, the shit movie, the rubbish cookery, the brilliant blowjob. He wondered what the situation was with Sean. He wanted to see her again. There was something warm about Cindy.
illustration by Sylvie Jones