Sunday, 31 August 2014

87. When my thighs go numb

I always feel the first effects of alcohol in my thighs. They get warmer, feel almost liquid. When I smoke weed, I know I'm starting to get stoned when my thighs go numb.

How strange it is. Why do people always say “That drink went to my head”? I look around the table. Jena, Suzy, Michelle.
“That drink went to my thighs,” I say.
“You what?” says Michelle.
It's shaping up to be a strange evening, full of awkward silences and jokes going flat. I'm tired. I don't want to be here, but I want to connect with Jena. I haven't seen her for a little while. After the incident with Chris, I'm concerned about her.

You should have told her the truth when she first asked you about him, Alice, I think.

Yes. I should have done. I let her down. She wouldn't have listened, but that's not the point.

I look at Jena. She's cut her hair. It's gone from elbow-length blonde curls to a chin-length wavy bob.

She's lost weight. She's wearing a beautiful burgundy lace dress, but it's not something I would have thought she'd buy; the high neckline and knee-length skirt is not to her usual taste. She's wearing less makeup, but the colours are much better on her skin. 

She's changed her style, I realise, from sexy to elegant. It's an unnervingly quick transformation. A matter of weeks.

But she really does look amazing. She's always been a pretty woman, but her sense of style was basic; she dressed and did her hair like everyone else in the bar. Now she's genuinely striking. A proper blonde femme fatale. When she went to the bathroom I noticed people – both men and women - staring after her as she walked across the room.

You look great,” I say. “I love this whole new look,”

Thanks,” she says, and gives me a quick smile.

What brought on the change?” I ask.

She shrugs. “I don't know. Bored with myself, I guess.”

There's something...some imperceptible change in her manner to me that I don't like. There's a chill on her friendliness. She's being polite, rather than pleased to see me. No “I haven't seen you for ages! It's been too long! How are you?”

I remember that Michelle texted me about tonight, not Jena. Jena hasn't texted me for weeks. There was a time I couldn't get her off my phone.

It's nothing I can put my finger on, but it's there. She's closed off to me. And she hasn't mentioned Chris once. Suzy asked how it was going with him and she said: “It's great,” without any detail. That is not Jena. I knew everything about her last boyfriend, from his habit of eating Pop Tarts at 3am to the “weird” bend in his penis. I knew when he took her out to dinner and what they had to eat. I knew his brand of shower gel.

I have a sudden thought. I feel my stomach drop. If I was Chris....I might not want us talking so much. After all, I could tell Jena about our relationship, such as it was, and I have – or had – some influence with her. If I was Chris, I might tell Jena some things about me. Get in first, so to speak. It would be a win on several levels; she would end up more isolated and under his thumb, he'd discredit anything I said to her about him, and he'd have the pleasure of destroying one of my close relationships into the bargain. It's the obvious move for the up-to-date modern abuser. Of course it is.


There is no way of knowing for sure that Chris has said something to Jena. Could have done. Or, as Matthew has just observed, she could be pissed off with me about something else. But either way I don't think this new Jena likes me any more. I can feel the chill rolling off her in waves.

My body rebels when I'm in a situation I find emotionally stressful. I get severe stomach cramps and sometimes diarrhoea. I can feel the nausea beginning now as I look at the way Jena's eyes are not meeting mine. This is not conducive to relaxation, nor to thinking about how I can possibly resolve this with her. “Are you pissed off with me?” sounds whiny. “Has Chris said something about me?” is obviously completely fucking impossible.

You all right?” I ask. It's a feeble opening, but I'm hoping she'll take it and talk to me.

Fine,” she says. “I'm absolutely fine.”

Sunday, 24 August 2014

86. A silence has fallen

 I am in Derek's office. This is the first time I have seen him since what Amanda has taken to calling his “indecent proposal”. I think he has been avoiding me, but in the end I'm his PR officer and he can't do it forever.

We have talked about current and future media issues in his department, and now a silence has fallen. He has not apologised for his completely inappropriate invitation, but neither has he pressed the issue. This surprises me. I was expecting that he would.

I realise there is a picture of his wife pinned to the cork-board by his desk. She looks much younger. She is outside. She is grinning at the camera, her blonde hair blowing across her face. Her arms are around two toddlers.

"Alice," he says, without looking at me, "I think that we work together well. It would be a shame if anything was to cause a problem in that relationship."

He is fiddling with some paper on his desk, shuffling and reshuffling it. I suddenly realise he is embarrassed, or doing a very good imitation of it.

"I believe there's a distinction between a professional relationship and a personal one," I say. "We do work well together."

And it's true, we do. I've noticed Derek has an instinct for PR - what is a good story, what is a bad story, what would interest the public. He's capable of handling reporters very well and needs little in the way of media training or hand-holding. He might, in another life, have made a very good reporter himself. 

His adroitness at working with the media doesn't change the fact that I dislike and fear him, but as I have just said the professional and the personal can be kept separate. Some of the people I like best at work are people I would never let near a journalist. On a personal level I hate being around Derek; on a professional level he is an asset.

Sometimes it just is that way.

Today Derek is wearing a blue tie over a white shirt. I can see he's put on weight since he bought it; it's cruelly tight around the neck. There are sweat stains under his arms. I wonder why. It's not especially warm.

He leans back in the chair, stares at me.

I don't understand you. What's it like in your world?” he says.

Every day is Hallowe'en,” I say. He laughs.

That's what I like about you. You're so funny,” he says. “So different and quirky.”

And for a second I see, not his life, but my own. And I recognise just how far I am from anything most people would recognise as “normal”, and it terrifies me. I'm not quirky; that's Zooey Deschanel doing her rom-com thing. I've been told I look like her, and I can sort of see it. We're both pale-skinned brunettes with long curly hair and thick fringes, except my eyes are light brown where hers are blue. But for all my long hair and pretty dresses, and my habit of saying whatever comes into my head, I'm not her, I can't fix your life through the power of cuteness, and when I say every day is Hallowe'en it's not a joke and I don't mean candy and dressing up. I mean the dark.

And I could pretend for a while, to be that cute girl, and I'm happy to do it if it makes other people happy. But I'm not cute. I'm alive and awake, with everything that entails and, Derek, you could take me back to your house with the huge TV and no books and no art, all your friends who are sleepwalking through their lives, and I'd be suicidal within days. I wish it was different. It would be so much easier if I could just...delude myself. Fall asleep again, forget my life is ending one minute at a time, and make visiting the mall the highlight of my week. Stop fighting, stop talking, stop trying to understand. Just exist. But once you start asking questions – once you wake up – you can't go back.

The truth is that, no matter how badly it hurts, you don't want to fall asleep again. Knowledge is better than ignorance, even if it's knowledge you'd rather not have.

Derek is still staring at me with his round owl eyes. He openly looks at my breasts, my legs, then back to my face. Incredibly, he says: “I've been married a long time. My wife doesn't understand me any more. We were in love once, but we've grown apart - ”

Come on,” I say. “If you can't be good, at least try and be original.”

He blinks twice, looks hurt. Oh dear. Not cute, Alice. 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

85. It's only a minor fetish

****No Contact for the next two weeks as I am on holiday****

I walk down the corridor towards my office. I'm safe for now, and I know it; Chris isn't going to tell on me just yet. That wouldn't be any fun at all. No. He'll want to play with me a bit first.

I was at Martin's house last night. It was the first time I had been over. We went to the pub and then I went back to his flat and he got some vinyl on the decks.

I watched the concentration on Martin's face as he pulled off some impressively tricky scratching, which I knew was intended to let me know he wasn't just an amateur. I've known him for years. I had no idea he could do this. I had no idea he was even interested in it.

He was trying to impress me and he succeeded. I wasn't sure how I felt about that, and I was feeling disturbingly sexed-up and I wasn't sure how I felt about that either. So I said goodnight to him and went home. I wondered afterwards whether I should have done anything about it. I probably should have done something about it.

Is there ever a “should” about sex?

I've always found DJs sexy. It's something about the way they flick the buttons and rub the records with their fingers. Makes me wonder what else they can do with their hands.

All that scratching is making me itch.

I have the same reaction to guitarists, drummers, piano players. Physical dexterity combined with intense concentration, the creativity, the beautiful noise. There are men who I wouldn't usually look twice at in the normal way of things. Then they start fiddling about on the piano, or pick up a guitar, and I fall in love with them.

I mean, it's only a minor fetish. And as fetishes go, musicians are pretty socially acceptable. Not quite as socially acceptable as the big tit fetish which is so common no-one even believes it is one (but it is; if you require a woman to have large breasts in order to get turned on, you have a fetish. Sorry, that's the way it is. Same goes if there's anything else which automatically gets your motor running. Fetishism is normal; the people society thinks of as “fetishists” are actually just people whose sexuality is attached to something different from boobs or abs).

Martin's going to get fired. He's been targeted because of me. It's quite possible I will get fired as well, once Chris has extracted whatever humiliation he requires.

I wonder what I did to deserve Chris. What I did to deserve Matthew. Why these people keep cropping up in my life. Whoa, not these niggas again, these grown-ass ignorant men with hair-triggers again....if I was Dr Dre, I'd deal with Chris and Chris would stay dealt with. I wish I was Dr Dre. I wish I was anyone else. I wish I was a big motherfucker with biceps you couldn't get your hand around and terrifying tattoos, with a samurai sword strapped to my back. I wish I could grab his neck and pin him up against the wall and talk to him in a language he would understand. I wish I was someone not to be fucked with.

But I'm only Alice, five foot five and out of shape, with a habit of looking at the floor when I meet someone intimidating. I look like a fucking mark, like a big fat “come on over and screw me up” victim, and I know it.

I sometimes have a fantasy about Matthew. How he might turn up in my life again, asking for my forgiveness. People find God, get raped in prison and realise the error of their ways, get therapy, get counselling, it happens. I know exactly what I would ask him for. An simple apology just won't do it. Money? There isn't enough in the world.

No, I want the little finger off his left hand. I want him to cut it off himself. I want to see him fucking bleed. Then maybe I can say he's paid.

What the fuck am I going to do?