© Copyright 2011 - Ludwig - Used by permission
Storycodes: MFFF; F/f; outdoors; tease; mast; oral; climax; cons; X
Chapter 11: The Russian Doll
Walking down the old, wooden stairs quietly enough not to wake up Alex was difficult, even though she kept close to the wall and put her weight on the handrail. Even the floorboards outside the room where she thought she could hear Theresa snoring, sounded like they were designed to creak as much as possible.
The grandfather clock down the hall struck eight, and she hurried past it towards the kitchen. It was empty, but there was a wonderful smell her belly immediately interpreted as Festive Breakfast. A door was gently shut, and two large flowerpots entered the room closely followed by their carrier.
“Aha! Good morning, dark stranger. It’s really too cold outside now. At least for these...”
“Top o’ the feckin’ morning to you, André. Did you ever go to bed last night?”
“I did.” André carefully put down the swaying plants. “Mais ça, c’est bizarre; I always wake up early after a night like...Well, of course it depends, but...”
“I’m like that too.” Niamh coughed twice. “I just can’t stay in bed, and no matter what, I drive Alex crazy if I wake her up too early. I feel like a tooth fairy sneaking round like this.”
“Or a burglar. You’d make a fine Irma Vep, I think.”
“Caffeine before humorous flattery works best, Pandy.”
“Oh, you’ll get much more than prosaic caffeine- don’t insult me like that- if you join me for a petit déjeuner before the Britons awake and want deep fried leftovers for brunch.”
“Well, early pastryvores get the best bits, don’t they?”
Niamh felt strangely at home after being here such a short while, but there was something very sympathetic about André that made her relax completely. She was sitting at the old, sturdy table probably looking like a recently shot blackbird, and she didn’t really care.
After the session the other night she had left Alex and Theresa after a wonderful sauna and long shower. Theresa had seemed utterly pleased and relieved, as if she had gone through a cathartic therapy session. As soon as they had managed to get her out of the butterfly suit, she had hugged and kissed Niamh, thanking her with tears in her eyes. She didn’t show a single sign of the Theresa from upstairs any longer, and the difference in her behaviour was nearly startling. It was hard to keep up with things around here, Niamh thought, and the only place that didn’t turn upside down at the blink of an eye was where André was.
She had decided to help him clean up a little in the loft, since she felt rather all right after a moment’s rest and didn’t want to ruin the ladies’ cigars by choking in an inappropriate way. She’d brought cigars. Niamh rolled her eyes. Just for the sheer hell of it. Besides, why was he supposed to take care of all the ground service when they- Alex at least- had all the fun?
André had made a little fun of her as she came scuttling in her miniscule silk bathrobe without any knickers underneath, but he hadn’t turned down the offer of an extra pair of hands. There really wasn’t that much to do, but that meant they had lots of time to talk, which they did.
“I can’t really stop thinking about what you said yesterday.” Said Niamh, watching with great interest how André put a couple of tasty-looking pieces of bread in the little oven. “Was it that important to her that we came to visit...to...?”
“To her, it wasn’t just a simple playdate, like I said.” André sighed, unwrapping a little packet of butter. “Didn’t you noticed how she, how should I say, blossomed yesterday?”
“I didn’t know what happened, to be honest.”
André tapped his chin with a finger and took a deep breath.
“What you saw, chèrie, was how she was taken apart and rebuilt. Reassembled. Repaired, if you like.”
“Coffee or plain text, man.”
“It’s simply her way of coping with herself, I think. You know, she hasn’t got many dear friends... or even people to visit, not out here at least... No real lovers, either.” André continued, “Her brother adds to the sheer kookiness of this, how do you say, spin-bin... She can’t stand the rest of her family, and she has this...” He waved his hands frantically around his head. “All her creativity and frustration has to go somewhere, non? Who does she have to turn to if she wants to make a little fantasy come true, if not you?”
“All right.” Niamh rubbed her eyes. Somehow, it made perfect sense to her when she recalled how Theresa seemed to change in a way she had rarely seen what she would have called a normal person do before. She decided not to pry further into it right then. “The whole seduction bit and all was just... nothing, then?”
“Bof! It’s true that she actually prefers men but she’s very attracted to you both, and if she had no concept of respect and understanding, then who knows where we would have ended up? Besides, and this is important, this way she gets close to you both without...” André rubbed his knuckles together making a sharp, bony sound. “You know, you let madame DeVries run the show with her expertise and everyone goes home happy. No hard feelings. A few bruises. If you like it to be a bit brutal, well, so much the better...”
“If you can see the rat I’m smelling, please scream. You say that Theresa knew Alex would take the whole thing over and, when she did, Theresa was in on it. The whole thing? Naah, you had a big part in it, old boy.”
There was a ding from the oven, and a heavenly smell hit Niamh’s nostrils as André quickly served the brioches in a single, dancing movement. He hummed slightly as he poured coffee into two overly ornate cups and carried them to the table.
“Bin, she wanted so desperately to have something... extraordinary to, you know, play with, so she went in a little over her head. I sorted it out. I wanted her to have a good time as well, so we... you-know-who and me, kept her a little out of the light to make it more exciting for her once you were here.”
“I’ll ask Alex about that later. I mean, the whole deal with the gas gear, the photos, toys and all the rest. Lots of time and money spent there, I’d say. Did I call you a resourceful gentleman the other night, by the way? If not the mastermind, then the engineer.”
“Everything I make, all things I put together,” André put in, suddenly looking business-minded, “I can sell for a very high price since people know I stand for quality and, comment s’appelle, ingenuity. It’s all being tested first, you see. Bada-bing-bada-boom, there you have the answer.”
“I’m still being thick, as it seems.” Niamh munched hungrily on her brioche. “You say you put the whole circus together based on the ideas of two crazed women and you, just for a test run and while doing so, making Theresa feel better again? That’s fucking marvellous.”
“Isn’t it? And, might I add, it was fun too, wasn’t it? Now she has her own publicity material as well- only featuring her and a few selected of course- which will help the sales of the more curious goods to discerning customers, predominantly female of a very special kind. Quod erat demonstrandum. Would you like to try my marmalade?”
A few hours later Niamh wondered why she had thought it would be a good idea to take a really long walk across the fields in the bleak sunlight. The wind bit through her jacket and made her lower back ache ominously, and her left shoe had taken on a suspicious brown tone. She decided to take a shortcut back, and climbed the fence near the southwest end of the old farm. Someone had dumped a crate of empty bottles on the other side, so she had to think twice where to put her feet. It was not a good idea to step into more nasty stuff now.
When she brushed the dust off her sleeves, she heard a high-pitched grinding noise followed by a brief snarl, and then silence. She wondered what kind of tractors they had in these parts, remembering the monsters she had seen on the way there. When she got closer to the barns, she could hear a woman’s voice.
“Bastard! One more try, then.”
Niamh recognised Theresa’s snappiness right away, and rounded the corner not knowing what she was about to see.
Instead of some kind of monster, she saw a fairly large trailer carrying a black sports car. It was rather small, round and more endearing than beautiful with its funny proportions, Niamh thought. Inside, she could see Theresa making brave attempts to start it. She waved as she spotted Niamh.
“Come and have a look, will you. It won’t do as I say.”
“What is this thing, then?” Niamh asked as she circled the trailer. She liked the front of the car. It looked a little bit like the face of a newt. “Is it yours?”
“Latest addition to Jonno’s collection, not mine. Promised to get it off of the trailer and into the barn before Sunday, but I can’t seem to get the hang of this motor.”
“You think I’ll do better? I haven’t even seen one of these before.”
“It’s a... and listen to this ‘cause I won’t repeat it without laughing...” Theresa picked up a piece of paper from the passenger seat, “TVR Griffith 400 replica based on a 1971(J reg.) Tuscan, five-point-oh litre Ford SVO crate engine, five speed T-5 gearbox and What the hell possessed my brother to put this thing in my hands? Help!”
Niamh hesitated a little. Theresa actually fitted the car perfectly, she thought, the way she was dressed. Rather fetchingly attired with a fiery red polo jumper and ostentatiously tight black leather trousers, she looked very much the part. She was actually looking more attractive today than yesterday, but that extra special something seemed to come from within her. If her mind’s still on holiday, well...
“You have a bike, haven’t you? I bet you know a thing or two about vintage cars, and how to make ‘em move.” Theresa grunted. “Hop in, won’t you?”
Somehow it didn’t feel awkward to take place in the driver’s seat in a car that wasn’t old Major Tom again, which made Niamh feel slightly relieved. Perhaps it wasn’t such a big deal to get the thing started, get it down from the trailer and perhaps let someone else do the rest if she started feeling jittery again. She tried the key and watched a few lamps go on. Starter button? Fuel pumps? Ah, I get it.
Niamh flipped two switches and listened to the ticking of the pumps until they stopped. Then, she pressed the chrome button next to the switches. The result was something she really hadn’t expected. Her right hand holding the steering wheel received a good shake, and something big and angry came to life under the bonnet.
After the initial growl, the engine settled down to a throaty, gurgling rumble that Niamh felt rather than heard. It climbed up her spine and rattled her head, making her dip her toes both once and twice, just to feel the voice speak up as the rev counter before her jumped.
“Jesus, Mary and the hired help from Berkshire.” she whispered.
“Yay! You got it started! Now, can you find the reverse?” Theresa cheered nervously, carefully buckling her seat belt.
Depress clutch, bloody heavy... Far right, force down. Click. Here we go, then...
The car took a short leap backwards before she got the hang of how the race clutch worked, and managed to get the four wheels on solid ground without a single hitch. She almost didn’t dare nudging the accelerator with her toe.
“That’s it. Now...” Theresa fumbled with another note, crumpled and badly pencilled this time. “Jon says that I can’t chuck it straight in the barn after starting up. It says here that... er...’run until gauge shows eighty degrees centigrade and turning’. Turning?”
“He means that we must get it warm before we shut it off. I guess it won’t start later otherwise, or something like that.” Niamh said, and a kangaroo had suddenly picked her heart up in the pouch. Her whole chest seemed to bounce expectantly.
“All right, I reckon we’ll take her for a spin, then? You be careful, ‘cause this thing costs a bomb, right?”
Starting in second gear to avoid digging trenches in the gravel, Niamh gave the cast iron some encouragement and they took off fairly smoothly. She immediately headed for the gate, anxious to try the open road just for a short while. She couldn’t understand why it seemed to work out now, when it had felt so hard only weeks before.
There was no power steering, so she had to use a firm grip to get the surprisingly nose-heavy vehicle to turn when it should, and the brakes were nice and tight once she learned to use the whole foot to make it slow down. Hello, tarmac. Here I come.
“Have you ever driven a car like this before?” Theresa asked, becoming a little wide-eyed as they passed through the old gate and made a sharp left turn.
“No.” Niamh inhaled the mysterious-smelling fumes. Jonno had a green mind, as it seemed. It wasn’t burning regular pump petrol, and the smell revealed that it was a rather potent alcohol blend. “But it isn’t that hard, really.”
“I couldn’t even get it started.” Theresa grumbled.
Carefully overtaking a grimy, old Sierra with an elderly man at the wheel, Niamh finally felt a bit more certain about what they were sitting in. They were doing nearly sixty in fifth gear, and the rev counter barely rose above the horizon. The gurgling hum from up front had a strangely appealing resonance to it, and Niamh felt a big grin creep up on her face. Last summer she had tried a bike belonging to a friend of Tim’s, a Triumph Speed Triple, and that had put the same silly grin there for a whole evening. A bit too brutal at first, a bit too scary; but then...
She took the opportunity to get acquainted with the interior as well. There really wasn’t much to see, but it had a cosy, very purposeful feel to it. A bit of leather, vinyl, metal and glass. All black or chrome. A driver with a straw hat would be the quintessence of Royal Wrongness in all this. Theresa didn’t look right either apart from her outfit, but rather very anxious. Nothing to do about that, Niamh thought. She could stay under thirtyfive and would still get the same doe-a-deer-look from her, so why bother?
In the single rear view mirror, quite unstable at any speed as well as the rest of the package, Niamh noticed a car approaching from behind. She recognized the familiar front of a larger BMW on crossover steroids, and slowed down, veering only slightly to the left to leave a little extra room. It passed with a whistling sound, and Niamh instantly categorised as a typical wagmobile, even if the woman behind the wheel appeared a little bit too old for a spoiled footballer.
The unusual in this moment, which she didn’t fail to notice, was that the road now stretched straight ahead like an arrow for the next few miles, and that there nearly wasn’t any traffic at all.
“Hold tight now.” she hummed, and Theresa wordlessly shrunk in her seat, clutching the strap above the passenger door.
A nifty flick with her fingers sent the lever into fourth gear, and Niamh could almost feel the expectant tone rising with the revs. This is not a good idea if I lose it again. Not a good idea at all. She stretched her leg slowly, and the car squatted on its haunches.
First, not much seemed to happen at all except a rapid increase of speed accompanied by wind noise from the side windows, but suddenly the whole car started to tremble. The engine dropped its bass note and started hammering away really loudly. Niamh slammed in fifth before the needle had passed the large, white four on the rev counter, but it didn’t make any difference at all. Still brutally accelerating, they flew past the woman in the BMW, who wasn’t prepared at all for something like that to come out of nowhere. Niamh could see how the large vehicle swerved all over the road behind them.
“Slowdownslowdownnow Niamh! We’re doing hundred and ten!” Theresa squealed beside her.
“Yeah, all right.” From forty-five to a hundred in... fourteen seconds? Without flooring it.
The kangaroo in her chest was having a party. She discreetly turned onto a little gravel road to get out of sight and cool off for a few minutes. Very reluctantly, Theresa unbuckled her seat belt and slid open the window hatch, still holding on to the roll cage bar next to her seat.
“Don’t take this the wrong way now, but you must get your head checked. Pronto.”
“I will. Don’t you worry about that. Week after next.” Niamh chuckled. “I’ll ring if they find anything funny. Maybe I’ll get a ‘deranged driver’ sticker.”
“Do you know who we passed back there?”
“Wagstress Bitchy? How should I know, do you reckon?”
“Our local Tory MP, that was.”
“I thought she had a bit of Boris Johnson in her, come to think of it. Does she wear a wig?”
“You really are an effing piece of work, I’ll tell you that much.” Theresa groaned. “Give me a minute before we get back on the road. And stay off that pedal.”
Feeling confident that the local police would look for them way down the road, if they would look at all, Niamh backed up on the road and rumbled off towards the farm again. She really didn’t like the thought of leaving the driving seat so soon. She had felt next to nothing of the paralysing, sickening fear even at high speed on this country road, and even if she realised that things would probably be a bit different in denser traffic, she felt almost religiously relieved.
Niamh guessed that the cute little monster had something to do with it. There was nothing ordinary about it, and handling it sharpened all her senses like... like riding a motorbike or... Is that it? She blushed deeply behind the wheel as they reached the end of the straight stretch. Oh yes, there was something ridiculously, mindlessly erotic about the whole experience, she realised. She couldn’t understand why she reacted like this, and she felt a little ashamed.
On the other hand, it was really hard to disregard the raw, unconcealed throbbing of the engine and the very direct sense of neck-breaking speed. It was more like riding a bike again, only with an extra set of wheels and less weather. The monster made no secret of the fact that it was a cornucopia of fun up until the moment you lost control of it, and you could never know where or when until it was too late. Niamh thought she could feel that she and the monster got along pretty well so far, even if it was a deceitful notion. She fought the urge to push on a little harder, put it in third gear and let it rip through the sharp bends. It would be a blast to tease it just a little bit.
Niamh swallowed loudly. She imagined that the crescendo very near the red line at an impressive 8000 rpm. would be something to... perhaps not to die for even if she suspected that would be the case if she tried, but it would certainly be something that would linger in her mind.
She caught herself thinking how it would be like to add a little something to the fun. A sheer and supple body suit under regular street clothes, or perhaps just full rubber through and through. Nothing too bulky, though, and something that felt nice for an extended period of time. Niamh writhed with delight in her seat and got strange looks from her passenger. It would be a bit better than sporting a cool outfit on horseback since she still rode like an Eskimo, and she was still in two minds if she ever would try it when riding a motorbike, plus there could be toys as well.
However, there was a little snag. Having little-or big- buzzing and tickling things working away on her would perhaps be a fatal distraction when things got a bit agitated. I wouldn’t need much else than a little vibe and a really wide airfield landing strip. She looked at Theresa and thought about having her kitted out with every nasty accessory available, secured in the passenger seat and with herself at the wheel. That I would like. Are we there yet, Teabag?
Niamh blamed the TVR for her nearly-adulterous thoughts, innocent as they were in their own bizarre fashion. She bit her lip, sucking it with a curious little sound as she braked hard to avoid slamming into the rear end of a jumbo jet-sized tractor. Unable and totally unwilling to stop herself, she quickly thrust in a lower gear and dipped her foot quite smoothly. Again, without much ado, the little car did its best to scare the hell out of poor Theresa, who tried to brake with her whole body simultaneously. Saucer-eyed, she gave Niamh an incredulous stare as she heard her moaning deep down her throat.
Alex was waiting for them as they returned, rolling onto the gravel with the grace and sound of a well-fed black panther. Another cat, very much real albeit quite smaller, sat a few yards away from her and refused to make physical contact even though she tried to be sweet to it. Instead, it trotted off following the TVR as Niamh headed for the barn. Niamh smiled a little to herself, thinking that some things would probably never change.
“This is another love affair bound to end in tears.” she sighed.
“What?” Theresa shrilled, still trying to make dents in the floor with her feet.
“Tell your brother to take good care of her.” Niamh said as they entered the barn with the throbbing engine noise echoing in the dark. “She’ll only break my heart. Or bones.”
She inhaled deeply as she clapped the door shut. Hell, it even smelled of sex. Luckily, she thought, it was probably mostly her own mind taking her for a spin again. Theresa, on the other hand, would forever connect the distinct chemical whiff with fear of dying, judging from the way she waddled unsteadily into the daylight.
“I can’t think of a way to pose a good question about that little test drive,” said Alex as they were heading back indoors, hiding from an icy shower suddenly coming in from the east. “but I was amazed to see a different Niamh stepping out of that barn.”
Niamh wondered exactly how much Alex knew about her strange post-traumatic quirks, since she hadn’t been too open about them. She shrugged, accepting the fact that she obviously still was very easily read, at least to some very special people.
“How do you mean, different?”
“Two feet taller, straight as a ramrod with a face telling the world to kiss the muck off your boots...” Alex chuckled, wiping her nose on her sleeve. “I wasn’t really expecting that, but it made me think of how worried I’ve been about you. Suddenly you show up looking healthier than ever, and I start wondering how I... what I could do to make you feel like that, not just today, but every day. It was a good feeling.”
The before-and-after image of Theresa flickered past her eyes. Bloody peculiar. Well, while the ride had taken Terry down a peg or two until she got herself a steady drink, Niamh had chased a few demons away behind the wheel. I just hope they’ll stay away.
“You do that every day already, as it is.” Niamh retorted. “Don’t you try to make me feel guilty by saying I don’t show any appreciation, ‘cause I bloody well do, don’t you think?”
“Don’t bite my head off.” Alex sneezed. “You might catch what I have. No, I just wish I could snap my fingers and heal all wounds just like that little joyride seemed to do- if only for a while- just to... you know...”
“Where do I put my kiss to make you listen better?” Niamh groaned, watching Theresa hurrying through the door followed by the hopeful cat. “I don’t think there’s anything else I could ask of you.”
“It was fun, wasn’t it? I could hear those ball bearings hitting the tin bucket when you came pelting down the road. That’s some piece of machinery, isn’t it?”
“Proper motor. Too snug for snogging, though.”
“That, my dear, is something that surely wouldn’t keep you from trying by fair means or foul, now, would it?”
“I wouldn’t let you drive anyway. We have an understanding, that thing and me.”
An hour and a half later, they all came to an understanding about putting the games on hold until Sunday morning. Theresa was feeling much better after having two large mugs of tea smelling suspiciously like something you put umbrellas and sparklers in, but Alex was looking forward to dinner after having spied on André all morning, and was dead set against having to settle for a light meal again. Niamh knew much better than trying to argue at that moment, and Theresa suggested they would visit the village pub afterwards, which sounded like some sort of fun, at least. She explained that a couple of local yobs had torn down their humongous flatscreen telly the week before, so they would probably be the only guests under the age of 65 that night. She hastened to add that she occasionally enjoyed chatting up a few locals and having a laugh with the woman running the place. Niamh recalled the few locals from her childhood, smelling of horse blankets, peat and stout. Oh, hooray.
The lights were on in the little upstairs den above the old workshop, where all the action was supposed to take place once again the next morning. Niamh silently walked up the wooden steps, eager to find out at least some of the things Alex had in mind for them, if it was possible. She could hear André whistling somewhere behind the grey sheets covering things he had been working on, and found him unpacking some glossy, thin white rope.
“I knew it was you.” he suddenly said without looking up, still humming a little. “You move like a geisha. Only your little shadow betrayed you.”
“So, ve meet again.” Niamh responded haughtily. “If you choose not to veweal ze plans for tomorrow, I vill veevee in your potage.”
“She’s still watching the duck, yes?” André anxiously put in. “I hope it wasn’t a mistake to let her into my kitchen.”
“You couldn’t have kept her out without risking an ear or so. I think you should go down and take over in half an hour, forty minutes tops; but if you ask me, she’s mast... mistressing the art of ogling broiling poultry as well as other chores with flying coloured chopsticks- in other words, don’t fret,” Niamh said, tugging at a piece of the rope. “you have plenty of time to spill the beans yourselves.”
“What do you want to happen?”
“Wrong kind of question to use as an answer, Pandy.”
“No, seriously. Let me finish this, take a look around and ask yourself what could be done with the stuff that you can see then.”
He really looked profoundly serious, Niamh thought. She watched a real craftsman at work here, and Alex had been captured by the same magic in the kitchen, as it appeared. He lifted up a heavy, black bundle and carried it to the previously emptied stage, where new props were now waiting to be unpacked.
“I just provide the figures like always, Nini. Someone else...” he grunted as the parcel thumped down heavily onto the canvas-covered floorboards. “...always does the maths.”
Niamh sighed and leaned against a covered contraption on wheels. It was the cabinet. She pulled off the grey sheet to take a closer look at how it worked, but were a little surprised to find that the secondary circuit was disconnected. The nitrous, oxygen and Entonox cylinders were gone, and only some of the tubing and gauges remained. It was a little disappointing, she thought, even if it wouldn’t have been such a good idea to crank it all up and have a quick blast right there. You miss the high, don’t you. That shit really is addictive.
“Safety first, you know.” she heard André say matter-of-factly, with a little touch of sardonic humour. “Thank God this is a ventilated space. You nearly set off the gas alarm yesterday, you know. And all the electric toys giving off sparks, oh my. Best to keep it stored where it can go boom without taking anyone with it, should something go wrong.”
Niamh unhinged the anaesthesia mask and thought of turning on the compressed air as a little reminder, at least, but decided not to. She traced the outline of the soft rubber with her fingers down the length of the corrugated tubing. I went boom.
It was a bit of a shame that she didn’t get the opportunity to try it again for a while, or test the equipment on Alex, she mused. It would have been fun to see how she responded to that treatment. Niamh instantly thought of more surprises to add to the already elaborate gear. So this is how it works. She ran a lazy finger along the rebreathing bag, dangling flaccidly from its hook. Tickle the punters with a whiff of danger and they’ll bring the circus home with them.
She returned to watch André setting the stage. There really wasn’t much in there yet, but the unravelled bundle on the floor turned out to be one of the infamous body bags of his, looking like an intimidating cocoon. There were lengths of the silky rope, straps and a variety of other bondage gear that didn’t seem to be of the ‘novelty item’ standard either. These, Niamh thought, were meant to immobilise you, period. The absence of pink and furry was striking, but in a sense liberating as well. She refrained from including power tools, high voltage prods and the Spanish inquisition in that notion, but she found herself sneering at everything that didn’t seem good enough- serious enough- when it came to choosing outfits and toys. A few months down the road, and look what I’ve become.
“I really don’t know if I ought to tell you like this,” André breathed, slumping down on the only remaining chair on the set. “but since you’re already aware that strange things have a tendency to happen around here...”
“Why, thanks. Tell that to my sore trumpet.”
“Ha ha. Anyway, Terry has perhaps already told you a little about our customers. By little I mean next to nothing, other than the fact that some are...”
“Extra terrestrial? Welsh?”
“I honestly don’t know if there is a better English expression than quirky. Eccentric, not extravagant or extraordinaire. Odd, not unpleasantly so, but entertaining. Surprisingly many are highly ordinary people like me and you- less glamorous, though- and they are very open about themselves once they have grown accustomed to coming here to meet us.”
“Why, that must be nice.”
“It can be a bit of fun.” André wiped his face slowly. “This spring we had a couple coming here for... I think it was their fourth time. Both in their late fifties. You’d never notice them in a crowd of, say, five people.”
“Yeah?” Niamh folded herself gently down on the floor, carefully avoiding the dried stain that she suspected was Theresa’s doing. This was beginning to sound interesting.
“I could go on forever about what they spend their money on, but that’s not the point. This little lady, looking like bingo is the most excitement she’s had for years, starts talking to me about how hard it has become for her husband to get it to stay up without vicious encouragement, while she still is... fully functioning.”
“Ooh, don’t know if I like to know where this is going.”
“Ah, but she has found solutions, see? She describes, to me, in great detail how she gets him up in his heavy suits and gives him these long, long handjobs. With rubber gloves, aprons, the lot. She thinks it’s very nice.” André shrugged. “You should have seen how she described how he still was able to spurt all over the place. Then she thanked Theresa for tipping her off about our latest vibromasseur, which she enjoyed on her own or while she was occupied with her marital handiwork.”
“Are you able to shut off parts of your imagination at will, Andy?”
“Don’t be silly. They were a sweet couple, and we do have customers from the age of twentyfive-something and up. They’re not all old. I only wish we had more customers as happy as they seemed to be.” André unwrapped a familiar-looking yellowish sweet and put it in his mouth. “You see, sometimes their stories are quite tragic, and you find yourself wishing that they’d never confided in you.”
Niamh gave him a few moments without opening her mouth. This was obviously a bit sensitive. André looked around as if to see if anyone, against all conceivable odds, would be listening.
“For quite some time ago, I got to know a very special woman when she turned to us for... well, I don’t really remember the business bit, you see. Anyway, for forty years she had lived in a marriage with a man who refused to recognise and understand her special needs.” André paused, and Niamh noticed his eyes narrowing. “At first he just ignored and shunned her little fetish, but the years passed and it got only worse. By the time she got to us, she had begun to question her own sanity because her hubby did just that. She still loved him, even if I doubt the feelings were ever mutual, fetish or not; but it was really wearing her down. She had written to those ‘experts’ in magazines about it and... well. That was a heavy load.”
“Was there anything you could say or do?”
“I began with what I think no one had ever done for her in years, and so did Terry. We tried to listen. I mean, she knew deep within her that there was nothing wrong with loving rubber the way she did. Everyone else she’d met- even if she kept fairly conventional on those occasions, I suppose- had been curious about her garb and had seemed pretty positive to wearing it as well. I think she very much looked for support and guidance.”
“How did it all end?” Niamh asked, catching herself with biting her thumbnail until it cracked. “Did she divorce him, or what? Did you ever find out?”
“She visited us a couple of more times when we were still having a little shop in Reading- Terry has probably not told you about how that venture ended- and wouldn’t you know it, she had brought some of her wardrobe for us to alter and... well, just to show us some of it, I think. Pictures as well, you know. She was proud of her collection, which was quite extensive. Not very daring as such, but...”
“Quite an interesting old bird, eh?”
“Terry gave her the chance to try on some new things out here, and she really seemed to appreciate it. A few days away from all the dreary... Ah,to her it was much more than just something erotic. She couldn’t feel whole without having the opportunity to feel rubber on her skin at least on some occasion. When she left the last time we saw her, I think it was last September, she seemed satisfied and, yes, happy. Then, we only received a Christmas card. There hasn’t been another word from her since.”
“I’d like to meet her. A person like that you don’t bump into every day, do you? Would you please tell me or Alex if you get any word from her?”
“Don’t get your hopes up, chèrie, but of course I will. The tragic thing is that she is far, far from alone among our customers, and people in general, in having so much trouble leading the life she really wants. That’s nothing new either, eh? Here, we are finally getting to my point.”
Niamh was taken aback by André’s unusual fervour. She only looked questioningly at him as he swallowed the last of the melting ginger bonbon. If her eyes began to water just by looking at him doing that without as much as a frown on his face, or if it was the touching story, she didn’t really know.
“I’d very much like to have another story to tell someone, perhaps in a distant future. One with a happy ending.” He shifted slightly. “Many years ago we had the great fortune to meet a really special lady. We became good friends, and I’d like to believe that we still are, but nothing more than that. Despite the fact that her whole appearance was truly magnificent, there was also a certain sombreness telling that she had experienced great loss. It was as if she bore this black hole in her chest, you see? There really was no one to fill that void, and even if she was that kind of person who just keeps going regardless, you never really saw her happy. Not like it should be, and really heartbreaking. Until...”
By now, Niamh felt the heat radiate from her face.
“Elle est retournée; toute differente. Everything’s changed. A new love has entered her life and suddenly she appears to have found herself as well. Admittedly, she is a bit worried about the age difference and probably a million other things, but I have never seen a person so certain about her decision to finally allow herself to feel happy again. But here you have me with this story I don’t know where and how it will end, or even continue. I’m only hoping for the very best.”
“I shouldn’t... I don’t think...” she tried to get herself together. It was a melodramatic way of telling her all that, she thought. Very silly. So why did it kick her in the ribs, then? “I’ll try my best to get it to work out, but who knows for certain? I mean...”
“Your best is all you can do, Nini. If I may say so, it looks very promising so far.”
Alex was already in bed when Niamh entered the room, stubbing her toe rather badly on the high threshold. Two pints of the black stuff was suddenly enough for her to lose her night vision, and that annoyed her. She hoped that she wouldn’t have to visit the chilly lavatory too many more times during the night.
The little trip to the village pub had been an absolute success, but a very strange experience as well. Theresa had lent them bikes, neither of which really worked the way they should, and Alex nearly managed to dock with an ancient lamppost when she tested the brakes in the long slope before the village. That was only the beginning.
Of course, Niamh couldn’t complain about the fine stout they served; and it really was a quite nice place after all. Terry and André told stories about their adventures; Alex contributed with a few anecdotes from Holland, which became increasingly gruesome as the evening passed. She had found out that they had her favourite gin.
The only thing bothering her was the feeling that they were the straw hats in the sports car. The only people around except them and the barmaid were an old couple and a few other elderly farmers judging by the look of them. They weren’t unfriendly, but unusually quiet. The whole village was quiet. Niamh expected, at least by the time she had downed her first pint, that someone in the place would start chanting ‘spam’, and the rest would join in the chorus. Nothing happened, but the feeling of being part of a skit wouldn’t fade. She suspected that the locals currently occupying the few seats next to the bar had earlier experience of Theresa et al. visiting the place.
As they pedalled away up the road after the last round, the village closed its half-opened eye again, without leaving its dormant state. Niamh was glad that there was a warm bed waiting for her.
“Don’t bother with the t-shirt.” Alex voice crept out of the dark like a serpent. “It’s warm enough as it is.”
Niamh felt fingers touching the small of her back. She realised that sleep was put on hold for a little while.
“Did you have a good time tonight?” she asked. Her toe still hurt, and it was hard to think about anything else until it had stopped bugging her so intensely.
“Food, wine, good friends. Then that place finally discouraging me from buying an establishment like that, and a girl to follow me home to bed.” Alex counted on her fingers. “Who could really ask for more? I didn’t eat and talk too much, did I?”
“Ask me again in about three hours. About the talking; I simply love your way of telling stories.”
Strong hands pulled her back into bed, and Alex rolled over her, weighing her down. The dark glint in her eyes revealed that she wasn’t interested in further conversation for much longer. Niamh inadvertently tried to turn herself into a ball when icy cold toes nudged her shins, and impatient fingers suddenly were all over her, but she was unsuccessful. A beefy thigh was pushed in between her legs, and she felt the moist touch of Alex delicate parts as she locked herself onto her right leg.
“Easy now.” Niamh whispered. “The barley plays havoc with my guts.”
“This is easy.”
“No, seriously, I fart. You won’t like it.”
Alex giggled, but slowed down until she felt Niamh relax under her even if she seemed to have some difficulty containing herself. Her fingers were still everywhere; pushing, stroking and tickling.
“I’ve been longing for this all evening.” she sighed. “I absolutely love being here, having fun... eating, of course, but there is something about this place that makes you feel like huddling up under a duvet with someone...”
“Not looking out the window to see what made that sound.” groaned Niamh, as a few fingertips found what they were looking for. “Yeah. Oh, for God’s sake don’t pinch me like that.”
“Sourpuss. Let me have a little taste, and then I’ll promise to be nice.”
Alex slid down like a mermaid, and buried her head right where her thigh had been a few moments before. Niamh instantly grappled the linen sheet and held on tight, as the first tentative touches flipped her switches, chasing away the weariness. Alex paused, and her whisper was barely audible in the silent room.
“I hope you’ll be able to stay awake a little while longer, dear. I have a few things I’d like to say... but not right now.”
The only thing left to do was to try to leave the thinking behind a few moments, and try to follow where Alex was leading her. Niamh held her breath as her back arched, nearly bouncing off the mattress. This was indeed not going to take very long.
In the warm darkness, she silently wondered if the was such a thing as a tactile memory. She could recall the feeling of Alex’ skin on her fingertips whenever she thought of her, the silky fuzziness right below her navel, and the scar tissue a few inches from her left breast. Each one of her senses provided bits and pieces to help her picture the woman in her absence, but the memory of the touch always was the most vivid.
What puzzled her even more was that her own body appeared to remember what to expect each time it recognised Alex’ hands, and in situations like this, her mouth and tongue as well. Not even John Cleland could probably have found the suitable words to describe how she virtually opened up like a little orchid at the very first touch.
When she closed her eyes, she was back in the chair again. Her arms seemed to lock themselves into position across her chest by themselves, and somewhere in the background, she thought she could hear the familiar mechanical hissing of the machine. This time, she could clearly imagine both Alex and Theresa giving her the works, and quickly abandoned any plan of trying to hold back to make it last a bit longer. Already, she was too far gone to stay on the ground.
Niamh came twice, softly, almost without a sound. She had barely begun to enjoy herself for real before a heavy, soft down pillow hit her in the chest and released all the tension built up during the night. The eerie feeling from the village was now long gone.
Alex resurfaced slowly, following her curves like a boa seeking heat. She could see her eyes glistening in the dark, and wondered what was on her mind.
“Have I told you how absolutely wonderful you were last night, sweetie?” Alex whispered next to her ear, as if she wanted to share a naughty secret. “I wonder if we’ll ever have the chance to do that again sometime. I hope so.”
“I’m afraid nothing’s going to stop you from trying.”
Niamh sensed a change in the atmosphere, and Alex tightened her embrace.
“I know it really is difficult for you to make any definite decisions right now, but I would really want you to come with me to Paris when you return.”
“New Year’s eve. Then maybe, God provide that everything is all right with us both, Holland. I’d very much like to show you what is home for me. It’s been nearly ten years since I... I haven’t been...”
Alex’ voice faded away in the darkness, and she sighed deeply. Niamh found a stray lock of hair to play with, which seemed to be of some comfort since there was another, much lighter, sigh followed by a slight chuckle.
“You’ve been on about Paris for ages.” Niamh tried. “About time that we got there, then.”
“About time, indeed.”
The familiar, icy clarity of the notion of having nothing left to lose rushed through Niamh’s mind again. There was no void in front of her to step into, and who really cared about getting all the pieces of the puzzle together? It never matched the picture on the box anyway, and there was always a piece missing. Time to add a few colourful ones to fit into it, then.
“That ring. Yesterday. You made sure that at least I saw it on your finger. I guess it meant something.”
“Can you guess what it was, then?”
Niamh sighed. It was hard enough to find out everything Alex put in fine print under regular circumstances, and now she had to solve riddles under duress; still tipsy, fagged out and freshly fucked. To her amazement, her brains were still moderately cooperative.
“I think you wanted to make a little statement.”
Aw, it’s late! Leave it! Now, she had to get the words right once again.
“Like, ‘remember we’re an item though we left Kansas two stations ago’ or...”
“Kansas?” Alex wheezed next to her. “Oh,oh! The Wizard of Oz! Brilliant. Did I detect a Bowie reference as well, dear?”
“It’s half past dead and gone, and I clocked out hours ago. There was if you say so, Alex. Well?”
“Well, perhaps you’re right.”
“Quit being bloody mysterious about everything. You know I really appreciate what this...” Niamh thumbed the golden ring, creating a slight metal clicking with her nail. “...what this means. It doesn’t turn less real just like that.”
“I didn’t mean to upset you, driftkop. Besides, you’re as much a romantic as I’ll ever be, and I wouldn’t even have considered any kind of engagement if you weren’t taking this seriously.”
“Once you’ve showed me home, will you propose to me for real, then?”
There was a silent moment when Niamh thought she could hear Alex trying to digest what had just been said, and only the sudden, hot puff of air brushing past her ear revealed how taken aback she was. When she spoke again, she sounded motherly composed.
“Are you saying that...”
“I thought that was what you wanted when you gave me the ring.” Now, Niamh felt as if she leaped. “I’m tired of being such a waverer, and I’ll never get a chance like this again. If you want to, so let’s do it.”
She could only hear a muffled ‘lieveling’ before trembling lips met hers and the soft weight once again gently pressed her further down in the comfortable mattress. So, that was that. Let’s keep dancing, shall we?
* * *