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Tony meets me from the bus station and drives. His arms bulge in the sleeves of his polo shirt. He smells of the day, of work. Proper work. Metal and machinery. Coal. He clears his throat. Rolls down the window. Spits. Doesn’t speak much. If at all.
Here, drink this. It’s hot.
I watch the streets and the traffic. I watch the night roll in and out like a wave. Then I turn to Tony. He has tribal markings up his left hand side and kanji on both of his shoulders. He tells me they mean strength and power, but he doesn’t know which is which. Another thing he doesn’t know is that I can read Japanese and they say:
He drives fast, takes sharp corners with ease. He’s always in a rush. Nice night, I say, but I see it in his face, he already wants it to be over. I feel small in Tony’s car. It’s always dark and we pass under countless dimly lit lampposts before we get to the central retail park. This is where it happens with Tony.
It’s dismal in the day, a row of boarded up shops sprayed with graffiti, broken windows. But at night it’s almost romantic, how the little light we have shows only what it wants. There is no talking. He pulls up. He leaves the engine running, the handbrake on, the lights turned down. He takes me by the back of the neck and pushes me down. He likes to hold me there in his lap. He likes it when I gag. Do that again, he says. Again. Slower. This is the only time he talks. I never even notice him unzip his pants to take out his cock. Maybe it is always out. I don’t know.
One of these days, I’ll look before I get in.
David doesn’t like it when I talk, either. For a long time I didn’t know whether he was mute or even spoke any English. Then he called me a fucking pervert for trying to slip a finger into his arse. He meets me at the library, most Mondays, if it’s raining – which it almost always is. Not the big one. Not the one in town. The one on the high street, just down from the cheese hamlet, near the church, that one. Bunting all about it. Heart-shaped. February. Valentine.
First time I met David, there was this kid, two or three, screaming hungry. His mam outside having a fag. Librarian gives her a go. This isn’t a crèche, she says. Mam sticks her middle finger up and drags the last of her smoke. I watch it all from the window. Kid still screaming murder.
Then this guy is going from person to person, telling them how he’s overslept, needs to do his weekly shop, blah blah blah – oh – glass of milk in his hand as well. And everyone is watching him and listening to the kid. The librarian, David, me, everyone. Sh-sh-shhing. Then, listen to this, the kids sees the man and just stares at him like he’s Big Bird or Zippy or something. So the man kneels down, tells the kid the same shit that he’s been telling everyone else, that he’s got up late and still needs to do his weekly, hands the kid the glass of milk and watches him drink it. And then there’s this weird thing going about the room, everyone shooting each other weird glances, like, should we clap? He might be a bit nutty but he shut the kid up. Like magic.
That’s when I met David. We locked eyes. Curled our smiles. He walked outside. I gave it a minute before following him. As long as I could bear it. I don’t know what it was. The silence, maybe. The way he flicked the pages of his Gardeners Weekly with fun-loving fingers. How he looked like any other guy you could find down the precinct. Nothing special. What dad would call a meat-head.
He took me around the back. Tall. Towering. He let out a laugh, shoved me against the wall by my shoulders. Unzipped his fly. Turned me around. Pushed my face into the brick. Laughed in my ear.
Afterwards, he kept himself inside me. I tried to slide away. He grabbed me by my side. His finger dug into my hipbone. Not done, he said. He wanted every last drop of him to be in me. I told him I had to leave. It’s dangerous, I said. We’re outside, in the open, I said. He clipped me round the ear. Thrust into me again. And again. Holding me tighter this time. He knew I wanted to get away. Keeping me still, keeping me there was all he wanted. He came again, pulled himself out of me, and disappeared onto the high street.
After he left, I stood there for a while, knees bent, back arched, hand covering my face. I wanted to run after him. I wanted to squeeze every last drop of him out of me and smear it across his face. I wanted to punch him, I wanted to feel his skull crack and buckle under the weight of my fist. I thought about pushing him into traffic, then throwing myself in front of a bus, too. But I couldn’t move. The pain was crushing. I wanted to stay in that moment forever. I wanted to feel that crush forever. But it only got worse.
Now, David takes me out back or down by the canal. We’ve been caught in the past. He’s left me on the roadside in rain and wind without paying full. In sleet without even saying bye. When I’m with David, he holds so hard you think he’s being swallowed by the earth, drowning, falling into the centre of it – clinging on to any last living thing. There’s nothing to be done about it. You can’t tell him no. You can’t shrug him off. You can’t run or hide, because David follows. You’re not done with David until David’s done with you.
Nobody holds me like Donal does.
At a glance you see not much. Small man wanting his fill. A small man with small arms and smaller legs, a small head covered in a thick thatch of white hair. So thick you might mistake him for having no head at all. He has a warm face though, when you really look for it. Not the best looking, no. But they never are, are they? Scottish. He sung to me, that first time we met.
And then he held me, and when he held me I felt it, no, not that – I mean I felt what I always feel – but with added it. He’s got so much love for such a small man. It’s like a dam breaking, when I’m with him. A big wave sending a tiny town or village under torrents of water. I said that to him you know, I said: let me be your tiny town or village, flood me Donal, flood me.
He let out a laugh. Why is it they always do that? Laugh? We’re so hilarious to them. But this wasn’t a laugh of derision. It was a real belly laugh. He held up his hand. I held mine up next to it, so that they were barely touching. The fingertips, the bones, the fleshy palms, all against each other. His hands are smaller than mine. Hairier. Fatter. Rougher. We need to feed you up, he said. We stayed like that for a moment or two, barely touching, thinking about feeding up and being fed up, and I knew. I knew we both wanted to flood and be flooded. To destroy every last living thing and obliterate ourselves. I could see it in his watery eyes.
What’s it like, doing this day in, day out? he asked afterwards, when our bodies were licking against each other with a soft sinewy stickiness.
I said it was like breaking and re-breaking your foot, or dislocating your kneecap. You take a while to recover, I said. You take it easy, I said. You get your friends to help you with the shopping. If it’s a particularly bad break, you tell them where you’re going, I said. They nod and smile and wish you well. Then when the ice comes, you slip, I said. No matter how easy you take it, no matter how tight you hold on to the railings. You slip on the ice and break the same bone or dislocate the same kneecap as before. Because what was once there is never the same again. All bodily integrity is lost. That’s what it’s like, I said.
He rolled me over so that I was on top of him. He told me to take the reins. Me. He stroked my neck. He prodded my bruises. He massaged the palms of my feet. He tutted. Everything with Donal is a motion. A wave, a tsunami.
This is no life for you, he said.
Even when he’s asleep he has his arm around me, tight. Even when he’s asleep he’s saying YOU ARE BEING HELD. That’s all anyone wants, isn’t it? To be held. Not just fucked like a sack. There’s not enough Donal in this world, and he’s all I want. Tell me, don’t you want that?
He talks a lot about plans. Plans and the radio. He goes to this place, Eastbourne. I’ve never been. He said he’d take me when he’s better. No, no, he’s fine, just a bit of a cold, not like the rest, no. Me and him on the beach.
I don’t even care if it’s raining or if people look. I’d rather it rain, so we’d have the whole pissing beach to ourselves. I can dig my toes into the sand. Furl and unfurl. We’ll order a tub of mussels and three portions of chips. I will feel every grain on the beach and learn how to do a cartwheel. He will sit back and watch me. He will tell me my love for him keeps him young. He will smile a gap-ridden smile, let out a long sigh and say: ah, yes. This is it.
He says I’m too smart for this. Too smart to be doing this for the rest of my life.
And I’ve always felt I’m running out of time. But with Donal it’s different, we have two hours that turn into days and weeks and I forget about the others, and I have all the time in the world. All the time in the world to flood and be flooded. No, Donal will take care of me, I know it. He’ll make me forget about the Tonys and the Davids and the rest, once he’s back on his feet.