Story from Februs 31.
Jackie Oh! Oh! Oh!
A Short Story by Tim Starfield
IF I HAD KNOWN, WOULD I HAVE GONE TO THAT DINNER PARTY?
If I had known, would I have worn that white cotton blouse over the black wonderbra, and the leather jeans that I bought when I was still a size 10, and now, especially just after Christmas, seemed maybe a little bit too tight round the hips and the seat?
If I had known, would I have had at the very least one too many of Kate's lethal margaritas (equal parts lime juice, ice, and tequila)?
There were seven of us. Me, Kate and Jane, old school-friends who never lost touch, used to go on holidays together, and to the ballet once a month, until Kate married and Jane moved to Liverpool; Kate's husband, Mark; Jane's current bloke, Stefan, the latest in a long line of 'Jane's lost causes' – a bearded poet whom she met at a reading in a pub in Speke and took under her wing, my ex, Brian, with whom I had broken up five months back but still used to go around with when either of us needed a partner (neither of us had found anyone new, and although in my mind we were clearly past history, I always secretly suspected that Brian still carried a torch for me and would secretly love for us to get back together – or so I flattered myself). And an American guy, a historian from Boston who was teaching for a term at the L.S.E. and simultaneously working on a T.V. documentary about the American Civil War with Mark, who's a producer at the Beeb (which is how he met Kate, when she was an A.F.M., or Assistant Floor Manager, before she left to have Michael and the twins).
I suppose I was dressed a bit tartily. And I suppose I did allow myself to get drunk a bit too quickly. What the hell? Brian would be only too happy to drive me home. I suppose I was bored, or frustrated, call it what you like. Ready for excitement in the middle of a dull winter, after a particularly dull Christmas. We all agreed that it was a dull time of year. Stefan and Jane said they were seriously thinking of a spur of the moment fortnight in the Caribbean, although Stefan seemed to regard the idea as something of a class betrayal, and Jane wondered if her overdraft was up to it. Obviously Stefan wouldn't be paying.
The kids were in bed, the margaritas were drunk, and so was I, and then the food was on the table (something wonderful from Delia's latest oeuvre) and the red wine was flowing. In the glow from a wrought-iron Habitat candelabra, everyone relaxed and forgot the rain battering on the windows and the cold unforgiving January wind howling outside in Muswell Hill.
After we'd polished off the ginger and coconut sorbet, Kate made cappuccinos in the coffee machine Brian and I gave them for a wedding present. Stefan dragged Mark into the study to buttonhole him about a six part series he wanted him to do on Polish underground literature, and the rest of us settled back, tongues loosened, to gossip about anything under the sun.
Well, somehow we got onto sexual fantasies, I don't know why. I now have the impression that Richard Clements (the Professor or whatever from M.I.T.) was egging us on, in a quiet but insidious way, but at the time, he hardly seemed to be taking part in the discussion at all, just leaning back in his chair, tall and rangy, with a wry smile on his thin lips, and a twinkle in his grey eyes, or was that just the glow of candlelight on his spectacles? Anyway, Jane was going on and on about covering some hapless stud (probably one of the Gladiators, anyway, nothing like Stefan, who was thin and weedy) in molten Belgian chocolate and slowly, slowly, licking it off, and Kate was saying, yes, but that's so fattening! and we asked Brian if he had a special fantasy, and he said, no, not really, and we all shrieked, aha, just as we thought! and Brian looked hurt, and clammed up, and so, to cover an awkward gap, I said:
'My sexual fantasy has always been Nude Snooker.'
Everyone laughed, except Brian, and Richard said, what the hell is snooker? and Jane said it was like a British version of pool, but with more balls, and then she and Kate nearly had hysterics at the unintentional double-entendre, and meanwhile Brian had to be almost physically restrained from explaining virtually the whole history of the game and all the rules from scratch, and how many points you lose for going in off the blue, and...
'So why do you want to play this ridiculous game?' asked Richard. 'And why in the nude?' He pronounced it 'nood', which made the whole thing seem even sillier.
Face flushed, fuelled, as I say, by one drink too many, made reckless with a good meal inside me and an odd desire to really needle Brian, who could be a bit of a prude at times, I spilled out the whole idea. Maybe I embellished a bit for hopefully comic effect, but the backbone of this fantasy had been with me a long time, and had always turned me on when I was most desperate for something, anything, to do so. Like in bed with Brian, for example, on more than one occasion.
'Right, well, there's this rich Arab, or something, anyway he's tall, dark, and devilish, and he's captured me and this other girl, and we have to compete for our freedom. We have to play snooker. In the nude, well, wearing g-strings, stockings and high-heeled shoes, or maybe thigh-boots with spike heels, it doesn't matter, on a full-size table, like they have at the Crucible, shut up Brian, he doesn't care where Sheffield is, anyway, a full-size table, spotlit in the centre of a big room. The Arab stands there in just a pair of tight blue denim jeans, with a really thick leather belt with a silver buckle, and he fingers this belt and smiles a cruel smile as he explains the rules. We are to play one frame only. Whoever wins can go free and she will receive a cheque for on thousand pounds for every point she scores. Whoever loses will be his captive, and she will receive one stroke of his wicked belt across her bare arse for every point difference between the winning and losing scores. And we start playing, and this other girl is not brilliant at the game, O.K., but she's not bad, and I'm really crap at it...'
'She is, too.' Brian, unnecessarily pedantic as ever.
'Thank you Sir Galahad... anyway, I'm getting further and further behind, and my glasses are steaming up, and I'm almost crying with frustration because I can barely see the balls, let alone hit them, and my shots are all going wrong, and I'm missing the reds and fouling the pink and going in off the black all the time. And my tits keep wobbling about and getting in the way of the cue and I'm embarrassed to spend enough time lining up my shots properly because every time I bend over I can feel the Arab's dark eyes boring lustfully into my quivering rump thinking how much he's looking forward to lashing it to ribbons with his belt, and the other girl is coolly potting away, one ball here, one ball there, occasionally a little break of ten or fifteen points, and I'm going to pieces...'
Should I have noticed Brian, red-faced and thunderously silent? Or Kate, open-mouthed in seeming horror? I didn't. I was lost in my own private world.
'And?' said Richard Clements quietly.
'And I lose, by about sixty two points to twenty four, and he gives the other girl a cheque and a peck on the cheek, and she puts on her clothes and leaves, smiling scornfully. And then he unbuckles his belt, and makes me put down my cue, and bend over the table with my arms outstretched, face buried in the green baize, and then he rips off my g-string and lets me have it good and proper with the belt.
'And do you count all thirty eight strokes?' asked Jane.
'I don't think I even get as far as one,' I said. 'I'm so turned on I've usually come by then. Otherwise the fantasy isn't working properly.'
'It's not a fantasy, it's sick,' said Kate. 'Honestly, Jackie, you should see a therapist or someone. Being assaulted by nasty Arabs. It's deviant, is what it is. This is the nineties, for God's sake.'
'I think it's wonderful.' Jane again. 'Jackie, you make me feel happy that there's someone out there who's more kinky than I am.'
'Who's more kinky than who?' said Mark, as he and Stefan arrived back in the kitchen. 'What have we been missing?'
'Nothing. Just a lot of silly girl-talk,' said Kate, covering up, I thought.
'I hope they haven't been boring you?' said Mark to Richard Clements.
'On the contrary,' said the quiet American. 'It's been truly fascinating.'
A bit of a silence.
'Anyone for more coffee?' said Kate, breaking it.
'Or brandy, or port, if you prefer?' said Mark. 'I mustn't, because I've got an early start tomorrow at T.V. Centre, but anyone else is welcome.'
'Thanks but no. We'd better go,' said Brian, rising abruptly from his chair.
And he practically dragged me from the house without properly saying goodbye to anybody, and before I knew it we were in his Toyota Corolla and we were driving in grim silence around the rain-slicked North Circular. He dropped me at my door in Wembley, refused to kiss the proffered cheek, and still without saying a word, sped off with a furious squeal of tyres back towards his mother's house in Putney, before I'd even fished my keys from my handbag.
* * *
The next day I had a real humdinger of a hangover, a thumping headache and an uneasy feeling that I might be sick at any moment, so I made the easy and instant decision not to go into work. Dealing with the vague sense of shame, that I had in some ways gone beyond the bounds of normal decency on the previous evening, was harder, but with great reluctance I managed to make myself dial Kate's number in order to apologise. But instead of Kate, I got Jane's voice on the other end of the phone.
'Stefan and I ended up taking on board far too much of Mark's vintage port, so we crashed on the sofa,' she explained.
I told her why I was ringing.
'Hell no, you didn't embarrass anyone,' she laughed. 'Except maybe dear Brian. I shouldn't think you'll be seeing him for a while. Which is no bad thing. He doesn't deserve you, the little wimp. Way out of his depth. No, me and Stefan turned out to be the really embarrassing ones,' she went on. 'Or at least we will be if I can't work out how to get certain tell-tale stains off Kate's tapestry cushions before she gets back. She's gone out somewhere with the children, I think. I'll tell her you called. Boy, was I randy last night. God knows why.'
* * *
A week later. Back at work. A phone call.
'Jackie? Hi, this is Richard Clements, we met the other evening at the Hathaways?'
'Oh yes. Right. Um, hi Richard, er, what can I do for you?'
'I just wanted to thank you. You've given me a whole new perspective on the British psyche. I used to think there was nothing worth watching on T.V. in the small hours of the night, but now I've discovered that they show hours and hours of this ridiculous snooker game. I should be bored solid by it, but I'm not, I'm fascinated. I can't help thinking of you, you see. And now I think maybe I understand why my students spend all their free time chasing coloured balls round a table in the bar when they should be producing essays for me. You've opened my eyes.'
I ought to slam this phone down right now. But I don't. I don't say anything, however.
'I'm sorry.' He laughs. 'I'm embarrassing you. I have no right to intrude on your private life.'
'Hey, it's hardly your fault it's not very private. I'm the one who's to blame, blurting things out like that.'
'Listen, I don't mean to be forward, well I do, actually, but how about you having dinner with me tonight? Kate and Mark have another engagement, and they have the baby-sitter from Hell coming over with her boyfriend so I've no desire to spend the evening at home.'
'...I don't know...'
'Oh say you will. Terrific. I'll pick you up at your office, six o-clock, and then you're in charge. You can take me to a typical London restaurant, show me what the idiot tourists are missing. Your choice, but my treat. O.K.?'
'Perfect. Six o-clock then. Got to go. Till later.'
'Bye...' But he's already hung up.
All afternoon I wrestled with my conscience, weighing up the pros and cons of going out to dinner with a man I hardly knew, but who knew a hell of a lot, maybe too much, about me.
Pro: Going out to dinner with a man I hardly knew, etc.
Con: Hardly dressed for it, only my boring business suit. Still he can't expect me to rush home and change, can he?
Pro: He seemed nice enough. Quite dishy, really, in a younger-version-of-Harrison-Ford kind of a way.
Con: He was scandalously privy to some of my most intimate and embarrassing thoughts.
Pro: What the hell? Better any kind of adventure than just another tedious night in with the telly.
Con: I'll miss 'E.R....' Wish I'd programmed the vid.
Somehow the pros seemed to outweigh the cons, and anyway, come six o-clock, there was Richard, clearly not about to brook any opposition to his plans.
The typical London restaurant of which I am most fond is, in a typical London way, Malaysian, but the food was excellent, and Richard turned out to be exhilarating company. Only about four years older than me, and astonishingly still single, but he'd travelled all over the world, was frighteningly well-read, and had wise and dryly expressed opinions on all topics of conversation. He was particularly adept at drawing me out while making me feel at home, leading me on to tell him more and more of my fears and secrets and to babble on uncontrollably about my frustrating childhood and non-existent love life, while all the time giving me a wondrously relaxed feeling of security and warmth.
The evening passed in a flash. Richard settled the bill with a gold card and a generous tip, and then drove me home in his surprisingly swanky and sporty hired car. As I was getting out, I suddenly felt emboldened, and leaned across to kiss him on the lips, and to my happy astonishment we indulged in a long and very satisfying session of what Jane would call 'tonsil hockey'. I hadn't necked as passionately as that since I was sixteen. I invited him in, for 'coffee' of course (God, I thought the days of doing that on a first date were long gone!), but to my disappointment he declined politely and drove off with a promise to ring me.
I couldn't sleep that night. What was it that made me so attracted to him? I came to the conclusion that it had to be his gentle sardonic smile – he had a way of looking right through you with a quizzical expression in his eyes, as though he understood your weaknesses, and simultaneously censured but forgave all your faults. I lay awake all night, with the memory of that wonderful smile burning itself into the back of my brain, trying to scheme up fool-proof ways to get him to share my bed, or my life, on a regular basis, and tormenting myself with the awful thought that the task might be beyond me.
* * *
To my amazement, he phoned the very next day. Even better, to my delight, he invited me to spend the weekend with him at a cottage he was planning to borrow from a fellow academic, in Oxfordshire somewhere.
'Need to get out of the city for a while,' he said. 'Spot of country air, what? Does that sound English to you? Do us both the world of good.'
I giggled and gushed and waffled about how much I'd love to spend the weekend with him.
'Listen.' There was a new sharpness in his voice. 'We can have a great time, you and I. I think I know a bit about what makes you tick, and if you're honest, I think you'll have a pretty good inkling about me. So there's only one condition to this jaunt. My rules, O.K.? Whatever I say, goes, whatever I tell you to do, you do it. Get that straight and you won't get hurt. Well, you won't go far wrong, in any case. I'll see you Friday.'
I couldn't sleep that night, either. My conscious mind told me I didn't know what on earth he meant by all that cryptic stuff. My subconscious obviously knew exactly what he was on about. I became wet and excited at the merest recollection of his strange tone of voice, and every time I ran over his words in my head I got randier and more turned on than ever. What on earth was I letting myself in for, I asked myself. And I sort of knew, and I sort of didn't, and I was a little bit afraid, but mostly horribly eager to find out what it was I was waiting for, and desperately keen for the weekend to come. And I thought, and thought, and dreamed, and dreamed, and I couldn't stop my fingers from seeking out my wet pussy again and again and again, and I came and came and came, until eventually I drifted into a fitful doze.
* * *
So that's how I wound up here.
I'm standing in the front room of a charming eighteenth century cottage near Woodstock, my skin and hair lustrous in the glow of a real fire. I can hear Richard busying himself in the kitchen, somewhere behind me. I can't turn my head to see him, though, and I can't speak to him either. I'm obeying my orders, like I was told. I'm a good girl, I am. I'm still wearing the bottom half of my swish suit, which I bought in a tearing hurry and a teeming throng of late-night sale shoppers on Thursday evening, from one of London's most exclusive, and expensive, designer shops. Had to have it, despite it not being reduced, and frighteningly dear, because it was perfect, for one thing, and because I managed to convince myself I had absolutely nothing else to wear, for another. Perfect for a sophisticated but romantic weekend, I thought. The shoes are also an emergency last-minute purchase, understated, practically flatties, which is rare for me, but then I wanted to ooze elegance, not look too predatory. Hold-up stockings, too, in one of the least aggressive patterns I've ever worn. Skirt full, just past the knee, very conservative for me, but very chic nonetheless, in a dark nondescript blue-black motif, which perfectly set off the blouse I wore with the classic and very flattering suit-top. Oh yes, the blouse and suit-top. No idea where they ended up. My unwonted elegance didn't seem to last long. As soon as we got in the door I was told to strip to the waist. I did put up a token resistance, credit me at least with that.
'Pity,' said Richard, climbing back into his raincoat. 'Such a long drive for nothing. Hey-ho, back to the big city then...'
And I was already tearing off my clothes, assuring him I wouldn't disobey again, pleading, practically begging him to let us stay.
'Very well. Last chance, though. I'm serious. One more peep out of you and it's London here we come. Now then. Stand here please. Hands on head, if you don't mind, and for God's sake shut up.'
* * *
So here I am. Shut up. Hands on head. Nude, or rather 'nood', to the waist. Apart from my best necklace, the antique silver one with the inset rubies ('matches your eyes', said Brian when I bought it), and of course my hair-grips. Well I always put my hair up when I want to appear sophisticated, don't you? Also gives you more opportunity to smother your neck in the most expensive and hopefully alluring perfume you've got. Although I fear I may just have overdone it a trifle today. At least my underarms are thoroughly shaved and deodorised, which is good news for me, if for no-one else, because when your hands are clasped tightly at the top of your head, your armpits start to play quite a central role in your perception of the world.
Thank God it's not cold, with the fire blazing merrily in the grate. Although you'd think it was minus ten if you saw my nipples. They're 'standing out like wheel-nuts' (one of Brian's less felicitous similes). They always do when I'm excited. And I'm perspiring gently. I'm desperately aroused. Curious, no, agog to know what'll happen next. Confused as to how I got here. I mean, how I let this happen. Let what happen? Well, this. Me standing here like a dumb statue. Me, the picture of obedience and submission. Submission! Christ, I only have to think the word and my knickers are sopping again. That's what it is, though, submission (tingle factor goes through the roof again), and I'm loving it. If I could wish for anything, it might be a cup of tea... no it wouldn't. I'm lying. It would be to stand here forever, if it will please Richard. To obey my instructions. To follow him wherever he may lead. To be the unthinking instrument of his will, whatever that may be.
Sssh... he's back.
'Here we are, Jackie. Sorry to have left you. I was just organising things so we can have a bite to eat later. Now, I have something to show you.'
From behind his back he brings out a belt, no it's not a belt, it's thicker and shorter than a belt, it's a strip of leather about eighteen inches long and three inches wide, split into two parallel ends. My God, it's a strap, designed with only one purpose in mind. A shiver runs right through me. I thought that only happened in books, but no, a shiver really does run right through me, an involuntary ripple of my whole body. Does my face betray horror, or eager, lustful anticipation? I'm feeling both, in about equal measure.
'It's called a tawse. It's for... well you know what it's for, don't you. I'm going to beat you with it. That's what you want, isn't it? It's what you've always wanted. Tell me, have you ever been beaten before?'
Dumbly, because I couldn't possibly speak, even if I hadn't been told not to, I shake my head.
'Then you're even more of a fool than I thought. You're a romantic fool, and I love and admire you for it. It hurts, you know, probably more than you can imagine. Though God alone knows what you've imagined, in that mixed-up mind of yours. Where did you get the idea from? Books, I suppose. Stupid stories.'
'Yes. Well, it's even worse than they say it is. But better too, at the same time. It's one of the great unsolved mysteries. A strange paradox. But if you're sure it's what you want?'
What I want?! What I've dreamed of, feared, dreaded, but hoped for since before I can remember. My deepest secret, buried inside every erotic thought I ever had. Dumbly, I nod again.
'Good. It happens to be what I want, too. Now, skirt off, please.'
No sooner said than done.
'No, you can leave the stockings on. They won't get in the way. What an unusual design.'
And before I know it, he's got me kneeling on the long low wooden coffee table, nude except for stockings, shoes and knickers, knees apart, and I'm bending forward, arching my back, taking my weight on my hands which are buried to the wrist in the thick pile of the soft sheepskin rug in front of the fire. With a deft movement, he removes my glasses. Now I'm helpless, practically blind. I can barely see the rug, it's just an off-white blur.
There is the click of a disc entering the C.D. player. Music starts to throb through the room, wonderful mellow music, but dark and soul-searching underneath.
'This is Schubert. String Quintet in C,' he says. 'Greatest piece of all time. My favourite, anyway. I want you to love it too. It's in four movements. When they finish, we get down to the business in hand. Enjoy.'
Aware of nothing outside my own body, naked and vulnerable, alone as I am, the music seems to flood through me, the soft and ever-changing sonority of the strings penetrating the very depths of my being. It seems that I am part of some eternal moment, stretched out here, outside myself, strangely detached, yet scared and excited, more clearly inside my own feelings, my own skin, than ever before.
A shattering Adagio is followed by a searing Scherzo, and then a finale of such profound gentleness and yet sorrow, that it seems it will never end. And as the music progresses on its inexorable way, there is a rough warm hand gently easing down my knickers, baring my bum, gently but insistently stroking my exposed cheeks, while another handful of sensitive, sensitising fingers are kneading my freely swinging breasts, tweaking and flicking and pinching at my nipples, and then smoothing the downy hair of my belly. My whole body has become a conduit for his electric charge, his current, tense and relaxed, taut yet secure, breathing, existing in time with the marvellous music that flows through me. Suspended in time in the magical glow of the fire and the music. Until the fire and the music are one, conducted, like me, by the electrical charge of his magical fingertips. And suddenly, one long finger is probing the moist and willing channel of my most intimate honeypot, rubbing and chafing, teasing the secret treasure of my clitoris, using my own wetness and the atomic power of my love button to turn me on, on, on...
And as the music climaxes, so do I, strung out like a taut viola string under the expert bow of a virtuoso, gasping for breath, blood pounding in my ears, all the outside world blocked out as I indulge in the shattering luxury of orgasm.
It comes as desperate shock when the music suddenly stops. The silence is as deafening as the explosion of a thousand guns. He barely gives me a split second to wallow in my pleasure. The fabulous fingers depart, the cosmic warmth forsakes me, and I am alone, alone with myself, alone with my body, stretched out here in the silence for his pleasure, my buttocks arching upwards to meet his lash.
The first stroke doesn't so much knock me for six as for six hundred and sixty six. It hurts! I never knew anything could be so intensely painful. My whole body starts to shake in an effort to dispel the searing agony of that first stroke. Suddenly, the perfect communion of that wonderful orgasm seems years ago. Suddenly, I am very alone, I am very hurt, and I am very frightened. Tears prick into the corner of my eyes, and trickle down my nose towards the sheepskin rug. I want to shout out 'Stop! This isn't what I wanted! This isn't what I imagined!' but my throat will make no sound other than a sort of involuntary gurgle. I am a snivelling wretch, and I feel ashamed, I feel stupid. I want to go home. I want my clothes. I want my Mum. Stop now, before you damage me beyond repair, both physically and mentally. No, don't stop, I don't want you to stop. I don't know what I want. I don't know anything.
Even if Richard were privy to the turmoil of my innermost thoughts, which he may very well be, wouldn't surprise me if he was psychic, he shows no intention of stopping. Stroke upon relentless stroke thuds into my poor quivering rump, my poor defenceless bottom must be glowing hotter than the fire by now, but stroke after stroke lands, one after the other, and I find that although my knees won't stop sliding about on the table, and my elbows soon give up supporting me, so that I end up with my torso sprawled inelegantly into the rug, hands cradling my head, and although I can't seem to stop myself from crying, quietly on the whole, but often out loud at some particularly outrageous assault with the tawse, my buttocks seem to be getting better at absorbing the awful searing pain, and my whole body seems to relax, well, not relax, exactly, but accept, yes that's the word, to accept what is happening to it, and after all there is a kind of rhythm to it, in some ways it's like a different sort of music, more personal, more intimate, more violent, for sure, but wonderful in its own way, yes this is a new rhythm, a new music, this is a wonderful song and I'm learning to sing it, to breathe with it, to flow with the music, to dance and sing along with the singing and dancing tawse, and my dancing bottom is now dancing in time with the dancing lash, rising to meet it, and relishing each stroke, and the fire is now within me, I am on fire, I am the fire, I am the fire, and the fire and the music are becoming one again...
And the tawse rises and falls, and I squirm and dance the age-old dance, and cry, and snivel, but I begin to love it. Yes, I know you'll say I'm mad, but I really do start to love the feeling, this wonderful, dancing, fire and music feeling. And the fire and the music become so intense, so searing, so wonderful the pain and the fire and the tawse and the dance, that I think I can bear it no longer, and I start to make a low growling sound in my throat, and I am lifting my head, and arching my back even further, and straining against every lash of the strap, willing it to end, yet not to end, pushing myself to endure to the last stroke, taut and perfectly in tune again, like a live string beneath a dancing bow, an instrument of ecstasy.
* * *
And the tawse is thrown aside, and the onslaught has ceased, and my eyes are wet with my tears, but bright with my pride, bright with the fear that I have conquered, with the freedom I have won... and the fingers are back, more urgent than ever, and Richard's strong hands are easing me down onto the rug, and simultaneously rubbing my boiling bottom, and tearing off his own clothes, and he is naked beside me, stroking me, holding me, kissing me, caressing me. And now he is entering me. It is time for the last movement, Allegro Apassionata, and now we are in perfect synch, perfect harmony, his every thrust is mirrored by my taut and urgent need for him.
If I had known, would I have gone to that dinner party?
Jesus, what a bloody stupid question.