The Ride Home
It came between cunnilingus and orgasm. Does it matter if he tastes a little wee? Does my partner have to scream? And I just threw up the fader on music – REM, Everybody Hurts – and sagged in a heap in my swivel chair.
Was there any chance they’d give me the books programme? The dork who was doing that must be bored by now too.
‘Well, does she have to scream?’ I put the question to our resident sexpert, that is to myself. ‘Well, I am sure we all remember the teenage days of furtive sex, when it was a matter of survival that you wouldn’t be heard. And surely, if anything, it was even more exciting. So, no; she doesn’t have to scream. But why does it bother you? Perhaps that’s the question we should be asking.’
I knew exactly where to take this, on a meandering course through cheap psychology past every embarrassing consideration.
‘Some women squelch or fart during sex, and some men don’t like that either, but if you are not completely free to express your physical self, then you are not all there. That’s what I think and I am Dr Malcolm McTeggart, wishing you a very good night and handing over to the newsroom.’
I can’t believe I said that. ‘Some women squelch during sex.’ Was I playing with danger; inviting them to sack me? No, upstairs they love this stuff.
I turned on my phone, checked Twitter for #drsex. The comments were pouring in.
‘Your taxi has arrived,’ said Malice.
‘He’s early. He can bloody wait.’
But actually I was glad to get out of there.
And that’s how I met Arlene. At first she said nothing. I made few mental notes about her beyond that she had a bony hand on the steering wheel, wasn’t fussy about her roots and was thinner than most taxi drivers. I just handed her the docket, which had my address on it and she steered out into the thin night traffic and headed for the motorway. She had the radio tuned to our station, so she had probably heard. Taxi drivers were a big part of our target audience.
So I was on my guard against her saying sarcastically that she didn’t scream and she didn’t squelch and that she didn’t taste of wee. Some women think that if you talk about sex at all you are only doing women down.
‘Don’t you think they are actually squelching together?’ said the bad angel feminist in my head, who had the voice, I just noticed, of Malice.
If you are on radio a lot of people think they have an advantage over you. They know you better than you know them. It gives them the right to be personal, or they think it does. And I was used to the questions: ‘What does your wife think of the job you do? Do you have to have sex on the brain to do that work? Does hearing so much about other people’s sex lives not get in the way of your own?’
Or they want to tell you about their own problems and adventures. ‘I had never seen flaps that size before. I could have got smothered.’
All she said was, ‘Maybe you’d rather have music.’
‘I’m OK.’ I yawned and stretched.
And the next thing I knew she was nudging me awake outside my flat, in the middle of a horny dream about – Malice? God knows what it was about. She was standing over me, her thighs like tree trunks and her vagina like the interlocking branches and foliage above and her voice was absorbing and rejecting me at the same time, making me feel helpless but filled with unutterable sexual need. I was at the pulsing stage when I awoke. She can’t have missed that.
‘We have arrived.’
‘I don’t usually have that effect on passengers,’ she said.
I shoved my hand into my pocket, straightened the protrusion behind the zip while I was in there and took out my wallet.
‘The docket covers it.’
‘But – ‘ and I offered her a tenner.
‘What exactly are you paying me for?’
I took the docket and wrote ‘2 hrs’ under Waiting Time.
She thanked me and I scrambled out like a drunk in a hurry.
We’d done wet dreams on the programme before but not from this angle: man dozes off; man dreams about having sex in mischievous forbidden context; man wakes up with horrific boner disgorging into his undies at board meeting or while passenger beside him is urging him to get out of his seat and make way.
‘So what about it, guys? Have you been ambushed by your body taking a shot in the dark? You can phone the programme now and tell us all about it.’
And we had a good show that night.
There was Bill the lorry driver. ‘The worst of it is when you wake up to find yourself humping your mate.’
‘And imagine how he feels.’
‘I think he slept through. Either that or he was pretending.’
‘Maybe he was dreaming too.’
‘Maybe he thought that if honour obliged him to put a knuckle in my nose I would deck him.’
‘And did you come in his shorts?’
‘I got my hand to it in time.’
‘So, the time on Dr Sex is 1.45 am and we’re talking boners and the bother they get you into. John?’
‘Dr, my problem is I actually wank in my sleep.’
‘But who minds?’
‘My partner does. It wakes her up. I’m a humper, you see. I bounce.’
‘Well, that can be bloody annoying, I tell you.’
‘And I shout.’
‘What do you shout?’
‘I think you’re having me on.’
‘No, that’s Bill you’re thinking of. But seriously, Doc; what got you on this track. Had an accident yourself?’
‘Time for a song’, I said, and threw the fader on Dylan staying in Mississippi a day too long.
But the knowing look I got from the taxi driver, the same woman as the night before, told me there was no song that would change her mind about what she had seen and heard.
‘You had a good programme tonight’, she said when we were on our way.
And neither of us spoke for several minutes. I didn’t feel the initiative was mine.
‘But you only talked to men.’
‘Well, it was a man’s issue, wasn’t it.’
‘Women don’t come at inconvenient times?’
‘Not that I ever heard.’
‘I see. And what are you going to talk about next week?’
‘I don’t know yet. Size matters, maybe, or the shoe fetish. What do you think?’
‘You’ve already done those.’
‘What about one on why men like lesbian porn?’
‘Obvious, really. Where’s the joy for a heterosexual man in watching a penis at work. He only has to look down to see that any time he wants.’
‘So, do you think horn porn has gay appeal?’
‘How would I know?’ she said.
Outside my flat I signed her docket and gave her another two hours waiting time.’
‘See you next week,’ she said.
And I did, after a riveting programme on why men watch porn that always gives them shots of other men shooting cum onto women’s bellies, which is not what any of them do in real life.
‘Size,’ she said. ‘Ask about size.’
‘What’s the issue?’
‘Obvious. Take a woman of twenty. She has a pert wee pussy that could pinch your finger. Twenty years later, after she’s fattened up a bit and had a couple of kids she has gone all rubbery and you could put your whole hand up into her. Look at the vibrators that women buy; no man has a cock that size.’
‘Yeah.’ I could see me getting shouted off air if I said that.
‘But where’s the fightback? When women say size matters and sneer at the lesser endowed man, where’s the man with the gumption to say, hang on; size isn’t our issue, it’s yours?’
‘I should put you on contract’, I said.
‘Just talk a bit more sense on your programme so I’m not shouting at the radio. The night is long enough as it is.’
But next week Malice wanted a chat before I went on air.
‘When are you ever going to have something on your programme that a woman would want to listen to?’
I said, ‘Women do listen. I know women who listen.’
‘And I know women who cringe.’
‘Well, suggest an item. What about, why do women love men who are bastards?’
‘You’re doing it again, making the woman the victim.’
OK, I thought. We’ll give it a shot.
‘This is Dr Sex, Malcolm McTeggart. And on tonight’s programme, Is Vaginal Orgasm a myth?’ That would keep Malice happy, I thought.
‘It’s time to come clean, ladies and let guys know the truth. Are they doing it right or aren’t they?’
And I threw the fader and watched for calls pouring in as the music played.
There weren’t a lot. If women were faking their orgasms they were going to go on faking; they weren’t going to blow their own cover on my show.
Then Malice came on talkback and told me there was a call on line one. Her notes on the screen said: ‘says she is happy to fake.’
‘I think there is no real issue here.’
I knew the voice. It was my taxi driver.’
I said, ‘Well there is an issue all right if a lot of sexually unfulfilled women are pretending things are fine when they are not, letting the man think he’s doing a good job when all he’s doing is drilling her.’
‘I fake the odd time. I think that’s a decent enough thing to do for a guy if you’re not really in the mood.’
‘You don’t think that’s dishonest?’
‘And when he’s going “Oh my God, oh my God”, should I presume he’s found religion?’
‘The difference is, he’s genuinely caught up in it and you’re not.’
‘Really, mightn’t he be laying it on a bit thick to flatter me too? You never did that? Let people be nice to each other. Faking an orgasm is a bit like making him a nice dinner when you’d rather call a pizza, and it’s a lot less trouble.’
Malice was livid. ‘I don’t know why you let her away with that.’
I said, ‘I don’t know why other women didn’t phone in and tell her she was talking tripe if it was so offensive.’
And there she was parked at the door with my docket again to drive me home.
‘Tell me something’, I said, ‘are you into sex?’
‘Why do you doubt it?’
‘You’re too sensible about it really have an investment. Other people get rattled or embarrassed because they are committed in some way.’
‘..to an illusion.’
‘To hopes and dreams of love.’
‘I just believe in being honest.’
And that’s how it started. She became a presenter’s friend, a regular on the show to knock ideas about with.
The ratings went up. We had the frankest discussions ever about sex. We had the intelligent but unpredictable insights of a woman who had thought a lot about men and women and their bodies and how they interacted and who could talk about anal dildoes with a little more relish than a doctor would but with the same understanding.
Malice hated her. A lot of women hated her.
‘It changes the show. It’s now just a man and a woman talking dirty to each other.’
Dirk Kennedy, the station manager, was taking this in, crouched over his desk like someone ready to bounce when he had worked out which of us he was going to heed and which to feed on.
‘The ratings are up,’ I said.
‘How many of the callers are women?’ said Dirk.
‘Doesn’t matter,’ I said. ‘Market research says women are listening. Hey, we are lucky if we get twenty callers in a night but we have twenty thousand listeners. Don’t confuse the two and don’t forget which is more important. An easy mistake.’
Malice said, ‘I devised this programme as a late night advice show. The whole idea was that somebody who was worried about whether he should get circumcised or whether her labia were too meaty could talk to an expert and be reassured. It was always a good idea. It was to be affirmative, helpful. Now we have smutty minded creeps competing to try and shock Arlene, who is unshockable. The guy on about faeces. What was that about? We don’t need faeces. Or necrophilia. That guy who talked about his grannie; I didn’t believe a word of that.’
‘Fair enough. Set boundaries. Filter the calls. I don’t mind. I don’t want to talk about faeces either.’
‘Well, Alice?’ said Dirk.
‘She’s letting women down.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’ve never met a woman who talks like her; have you?’
‘That’s what’s amazing about her,’ I said.
And it was to Arlene I turned for some advice on how to deal with Malice. There was no one else.
By now we were sharing a taxi home. The drivers all knew her and congratulated her on her new sideline. Four other nights of the week she worked alongside them still.
I was careful not to give them anything to gossip about, any hint that we were involved with each other, for we weren’t. Arlene might be an expert on the mechanics and psychology of sexual relationships but she made no more impression on me that way than a man would have done. Indeed, some men were more appealing than she was.
‘Do you want me to come in?’ she said, when the car stopped at my flat.
‘Fine, I was going to phone you later anyway.’ To fill her in on the crisis meeting with Malice and Dirk.
The driver was happy since he got two dockets.
My flat is at the top of a late Victorian terrace and I keep it nice with paintings I like and have a cleaning guy come in once a week, but it is, by now, a man’s pad. It’s a long time since there was another toothbrush in my bathroom, let alone a tampax box or a herb shampoo. I didn’t even have the sort of drinks I’d expect a woman to want but I had some nice single malts.
We chinked crystal glasses, I turned on some soft jazz – Branford Marsalis – and we sat on the floor, facing each other, because sitting in deep armchairs would have been impersonal and the sofa would have brought us too close.
We were happy.
She said, ‘Who let Alice know how much you dislike her?’
It was a lawyerly sort of question that would take us to the heart of the issue.
‘Myself,’ I suppose.
‘Not good tactics, was it?’
Malice had devised the programme and even recruited me to present it and then she felt that I had stolen it away from her.
‘I suppose I could buy her flowers.’
‘It wouldn’t do any harm.’
I said, ‘How did you acquire your insight into sexual relationships?’
‘Through having had a lot of sex with a lot of people and then losing interest.’
‘Yes, I’d much rather have a nice scotch than a shag, and no matter how hung over we are in the morning we will still have a better chance of being friends if we keep our hands off each other.’
‘I wasn’t planning.’
‘It would have been flattering to think the notion had crossed your mind, but I’m just generalising.’
‘I’m not the type you went for?’
‘I went for every type. I would say I have plumbed the depths of human sexual interest and got bored. No one can surprise me any more.’
‘Not even the necrophiliac?’
‘Anything the mind can conceive of in the darkest dream, someone somewhere is doing right now.’
‘Would you say then that you are broken hearted?’
‘Yes, if a functioning heart is supposed to get excited by sexual opportunity. What about you? When was the last time you got laid?’
‘I pay for it occasionally.’
‘So you’re not inclined to trade your whole life for sex either?’
‘And what’s Alice’s story?’
‘Single and regretting it, I should think. Lost opportunities by working too hard. In dire need.’
‘You are hard on her. Thank her for her work, send her the occasional card. If she really is bitter and twisted, she’ll take it out on someone else. But you are in her sights. She wants you out of that job. She’ll get her way eventually.’
It was late and I filled our glasses and must have dozed off.
I woke up in daylight, stretched on the floor with my duvet over me. I assumed at first that she had left. As soon as I moved I had something else to think about, a ripping headache and a stiff neck.
She came into the room wrapped in one of my large towels with a smaller one round her head like a turban. ‘That was good whiskey’, she said.
And I was looking up at her bare legs and arms, and her trim body tightly wrapped in that towel and the freshness of morning humour on her and, despite my discomfort wondered if I had been overlooking something obvious now about this woman, that she would be lovely in the skin.
‘You’re looking at me like you’ve never seen a naked woman before.’
‘I’ve never seen you naked.’
On a whim she turned and dropped the large towel. In my delicate state I reeled with the shock, first at the boldness of the gesture and then at the sudden freedom to survey her. The wild bush of her pubic hair, the smooth forward sag of her little belly, rhyming with her thighs. Breasts that you could have hung your hats and keys on.
‘Just remember the trouble it gets you into’, she said as she picked up her clothes from the sofa, where she had set them, and started to dress.
The next show we did was on why some people give up on sex.
‘Have you had enough of love? Phone us and tell us all about it. This is Arlene and Dr Sex, waiting for your call.’
‘Yes,’ said Arlene in to the mic. ‘Disillusion or just had your fill, or maybe a little scared, but there are a lot of people who are not playing and if you’re one of them, phone and tell us why.’
‘I’ve got a feeling,’ I said ‘that after disappointment and the first divorce there are more women than men out there looking for a partner, that it’s men who give up first.’
‘That may be true’, said Arlene, ‘but it is women who leave first too; they’re usually the ones who initiate divorce. Maybe that’s because they expect more than they are getting and think they’ll get it if they look elsewhere.’
‘But often they don’t. Tell us your story on Sextalk Tonight. This is Arlene and Dr Sex and we’re here to listen.’
I looked up through the glass and Malice was filtering calls in an eager frenzy. ‘Number one,’ she said into my ear.
‘Caller on one. Madeleine. Hello Madeleine.’
A soft spoken woman said, ‘I think you guys are on to something tonight. I was married for 7 years to a decent enough bloke but I got sick looking at him. He didn’t do anything wrong, he just didn’t do much right either. Now, here’s my question: should I have waited until I had someone else lined up before dumping him, for now I have no one?’
‘Arlene,’ I said, ‘do you want to take this one.’
‘It’s a bummer’, said Arlene. ‘If you get yourself sorted with another guy first, then you are the one in the wrong. Right? But if you jump out of a relationship with no one to go to, thinking that it’s bound to work out better than what you had – well, you might end up alone.’
Madeleine said, ‘I am 37 years old and I haven’t had sex in five years and I’m afraid I’ll never have sex again.’
‘There must be some men who want you.’
‘Not really. I go to night classes hoping to meet someone. I go to arts festivals. All the other people there are other women looking for men. I think men drop out of the game, as you say, because they lose their sexual confidence. They think that they’ll come too soon or not get it up and that we will laugh at them; they don’t realise that a lot of women would settle for a hug. I’d settle for a hug.’
‘Caller on line 2,’ said Malice.
‘Hello George. What have you to say for yourself?’
‘I just want to call and tell you things are just as you say and I wouldn’t change them.’
‘Because it leaves the field clear for a man like me who can still get it up and wants to put it about. I get laid more now at fifty than I did at 25. There are hungry women everywhere you turn and I’m not scared of them. I love them.’
‘But why haven’t you settled with one?’ said Madeleine. ‘Guys like you ruin everything because you use us and discard us and when we’re not feeling too good about ourselves already, you make it worse.’
Arlene chipped in, ‘I’m always hoping to meet a man like you, George.’
‘See,’ said George, ‘what did I tell you?’
‘And when I find him I’ll cut his balls off.’
Which was a cue to throw the fader and have a song.
‘Oops,’ I said.
But we had a good show that night.
The next week Malice met me in reception for a chat. ‘Arlene’s off the show. Dirk’s decision.’
‘Because she said she wanted to cut some guy’s balls off?’
‘There’s more. Don’t ask me what it is. The Sunday Gazette was going to do a story on her. Seedy past apparently.’
‘Any other changes?’
‘Yes, you’re going to books, if you want it.’
‘And who’ll do Dr Sex?’
‘I will. I have clear ideas about where it was going wrong and how to fix it.’
‘And the books guy?’
‘Out the door. Very tired. It’s your job to give the show a lift.’
That night we got seven calls asking where Arlene was and I had to bat them diplomatically or lose my job.
‘On tonight’s show, does reputation matter? When I was a young lad a lot of girls were afraid to put it out for guys who might talk about them. Good name was everything. Has that changed?’
I took calls from a young woman who said she didn’t think this was a concern any more. ‘It belongs to a day when a girl might not get a husband if people thought she wasn’t a virgin. Nobody expects a bride to be a virgin any more.’
‘But what is the worst that a guy could say about you then?’
‘That I was a cock teaser, I suppose; that I got his hopes up and then let him down.’
‘I remember,’ I said, ‘when I was at school, a rumour went round that one of the guys had taken a girl’s bra off and found her wearing falsies. It was cruel, but we all laughed.’
‘Sure everyone I know has falsies now, though they are under the skin; that’s the only difference.’
‘Call on line 2.’
‘It’s not what men know about women that counts; it’s what women know about men. A man mocks a woman to play down his fear that she already knows the child inside him.’
I affected not to recognise the voice.
‘Take when you are on the game and you are riding a lot of men. For each of them, you are the only woman in their eyes. And some of them want a quick shag. Some want to poo on the floor. Some want to weep. You learn every conceivable desire a man might have. Then you pass those men on the street; or you see them in the workplace later on, if you settle into a job. And he sees you and it’s not like seeing a student he once had a holiday romance with, it’s like seeing the one person who knows all the secrets, and he can’t bear that.
‘You should do a show on the working girl and what chance she has of going straight when the man she sucked off, the man whose bottom she wiped, the man who couldn’t get it up, when all of those men have big jobs, can’t bear to look at her and can block her way.’
‘Thank you for that,’ I said.
Malice could have cut her off as soon as she’d recognised the voice but she didn’t.
But she waited for me afterwards.
‘I think you can forget about the book show.’
Arlene drove me home. We said nothing to each other. There wasn’t anything to say. When she handed me the docket I changed the mileage to 75 with 10 hours waiting time and kissed her goodnight.