I had a present for you, he said, but I can’t give it to you now.
Because it’s a present for lovers and now we’re not.
I didn’t come here knowing, I just came like I usually do and when I got here I just knew I couldn’t do it any more.
I’m sorry too.
Give it to me anyway, give it to me so I can remember how we were today.
It’s not that kind of present, it’s not a keepsake, I’d have got something else, no I wouldn’t, why should I give you a present to remember me by?
Don’t be angry. Please.
Easy for you to say.
It’s not easy you pig, it’s not easy, how can you say that, you’re the one it’s easy for, I have to go home every time, I can’t do it anymore, it’s like I’m two people, it isn’t fair to say it’s easy, you don’t have to be two people you bastard, what do you know about it.
I’m sorry, look I’m sorry, it’s just all so sudden, I don’t know where I’m at.
Exhausted, for a while neither of them spoke or moved. What they’d said lay over them, made breathing effortful, movement unlikely, and what was left to be said and done impossible. She slid off the couch and curled herself on the floor, eyes closed. In time he slid to the floor also, and rested a hand on her rump. Eventually some of the weight lifted and soon he was able to pick himself up, cross the room, pour two glasses of wine and, still unspeaking, coax her upright. She sipped, cupped the glass in her hands. While she drank he crossed the room again, rootled in a drawer, returned with a small box neatly wrapped.
Don’t open it. Take it with you. You’ll see why when you do open it, just don’t ever tell anyone what I gave you to remember me by, that’s all.
She clambered to her feet. Her knees poked at the fabric of her dress, she trod on the hem, stumbled, for a moment she was graceless. Watching her he swore silently as the numb feeling in him evaporated. Somewhere in the middle of hearing it was over he’d stopped wanting her. Now the ache flooded back. I need a pee, she said, and sniffed. She stood briefly while her hair hung thick and dark around her face, then she pushed it back abruptly, scrubbed her nose on the back of her wrist and left the room. Trapped, he heard the cistern flush and the tap run briskly and knew she’d moved ahead of him once more. The misery they’d sat through had been intolerable but so long as they were in it they were still within the envelope of what they’d meant to one another, and whatever she’d said about the end, he went on hungry for her words, incapable of moving.
But when she came back something shifted, he too began to return to himself at last and he knew it really was over. She climbed back on the couch and leaned against him and he felt the familiar unexpected weight of her relaxing. From a distance she was small, demure, girlish. Close enough to touch however, she would grow womanly under his hands, her breasts full and sleepy, generous planes at waist and hips, the bush of hair bold between her legs where she opened to him always sooner than he guessed. He would carry with him into bed the image of her dressed and decorous, losing it only when she whispered to him, urgent, obscene, and he forgot all else but loving her.
Do you want to go now?
Soon. Not now.
They sat quietly, but the awful stasis had gone. From nowhere he wanted to laugh, held it down, snorted, and gave in.
I’m sorry, can’t help it, you looked so tragic till you fell over.
Well you did. If you want tragedy tuck your bum in and watch where you put your feet.
That’s your job not mine, I’m staying put.
She said nothing, resting her head under his chin, holding the little parcel in her hands, turning it over.
There’s more in there than you think.
Give me a clue.
They’ll fit you. I checked.
They? Well, they’re much too heavy to wear.
You’re wrong there.
I don’t believe you. Give me a real clue.
Your mother won’t like them.
She doesn’t like anything of mine damn you.
Only because you’re outrageous. Telling her she’s got sweet legs, sweet legs, don’t know how you get away with it, no-one says things like that.
Well these are outrageous and she won’t like them.
Let me peek.
When she was demure he was terse, commanding. They played these games in bed also, but the truth of it was he was in her hands, however humbled she allowed herself to be. She loved herself as much as she loved him, this was what enchanted him, and kept him subject even when he took her rough and quick or bound her blindfolded to the bed and lingered at his whim over every open secret of her body. She had the affair begin, just as she was choosing now to end it.
Just a tiny look.
She sat up and began unwrapping, teasing out a corner and then, bent over the parcel and ignoring him, she stripped the paper off. Inside was a plain white card box, well-made, with a sliding tray. She shook it, still puzzled.
It moves around.
I think that’s the whole idea.
Frowning, she poked out the tray. Nestled in tissue were a pair of ivory spheres, about the size of table-tennis balls, linked with a silver chain. Another short chain, attached to one of the two, ended in a slender ring barely large enough for the finger she pushed through it, lifting them onto her palm.
Like I said, it’s the whole idea, they’re hollow, there’s another ball, steel, inside each of them.
What am I supposed to do with them?
He grinned, and she looked at him warily, beginning to understand.
You put them somewhere safe, somewhere no-one else but me would think of looking for them, I told you, it’s a lover’s present, you wouldn’t listen would you.
God, she said and, to his pleasure went pink and did what blushing girls are supposed to do and held her cheeks. For a minute they sat still again while she looked at his gift in her lap then he twisted, brushed her hands away, kissed her, kissed her while she mumbled and slipped sideways on the couch, spilling everything, reaching to clasp his neck, eyes shut tight while he rucked up her top to reach her breasts, his teeth ungentle there and on the lobe of her ear, her tongue teasing his to chase, his hands already moving down leaving her nipples to rise in protest and not until she lay rumpled, legs thrown wide and his hand squeezed over her cunt, giving up nothing, not till then would he slow down. You sod, she said.
Let me put them in.
When he took his hand away she turned her head aside and left her thighs apart. Her hair fell forward, hiding her face. The spheres were cool in his unsteady fingers, cool against the wet petals of her vulva, cool against the hooded bump of clitoris. God she said again when he pushed them into her, Oh God. They lay quiet for a moment, uncertain. Then she giggled.
Well, what now?
Buggered if I know. I think you’re s’posed to walk around with them inside you.
They’ll fall out, you dick.
No they won’t.
Yes they will. I should know.
He fumbled there, found the little chain, pulled steadily. One glistening sphere reluctantly popped out. He eased it back in, stretched himself beside her and held her face as she herself had held it when she blushed. His thigh lay between hers. Cautiously she moved against him.
What’s it feel like?
Shut up. Kiss me.
She began to find a rhythm, a body-long ripple against his body, her pubis grinding at his hip tentatively, then quickening, while he struggled to shed what clothes they had left, his tongue wandering now in the liquid spaces of her mouth, then his hands clutching her behind as it rose and fell against him closer and harder, his own hardness poking at her belly. She pulled his head down into her shoulder and her breath quickened on the nape of her neck, fuck, oh fuck me now, her nails in the ridges of his back, fuck me now, and he arched away from her, reaching for the silver ring among the folds of her cunt, no she said, not like that, leave them just leave them as she turned over onto all fours and pushed her face into the cushions, fuck me, and when he hesitated she caught hold of his prick and led him to her anus, closed like a dark anemone between the globes of her behind. Wetness from the spheres had run down there and, as he leaned over her his tip, butting at the tight ring, slipped in. She froze, and moaned, and he leaned further, pushed, and pushed again, the length of him working its way in inch my inch. Oh God he said in turn, his head falling beside hers, and lunged twice, and spurted deep inside her.
Before she left he ran a bath, brimful of bubbles and steaming. He perched on a stool, while she lowered herself delicately in and grimaced. Pig, she said.
You are repeating yourself.
Well you are. I was a virgin.
Then you should weep and cling to my knees and beg me not to leave you and tell me I promised on my heart to marry you.
She patted the foam, lifted some on a finger and stuck it to her nose. I’m already married, she said, remember?