I don’t believe in epiphanies. Road to Damascus moments, the voice of an angel ordering someone to repent, recite some new scripture, found a church or temple, go out and convert unbelievers — these exist only in holy books and other fairytales. They depend on the curious binary notion that one can be bad before a certain event, and suddenly good after it. They’re the crassest form of wishful thinking, disproved by all human experience, and they depend on a deluded desire to deny that very experience in favour of some idealised philosophy that never arises independently but is always adopted from the outside as the price for membership of some group or other that believes it knows better than anybody else.
If ever I was to have such a life-changing experience, then surely it would have been Alana’s suicide. It shook me to my core, and for a while I wanted to believe that I could have done something differently that would have led to a different outcome, that perhaps something about me had been bad and had contributed to her death, that if I could identify what it was then I could atone. Yadda yadda yadda. But I knew that this would be to turn her into a cipher, a symbol for something I needed to prove that I could be ‘good’, a posthumous sacrifice to my own future self-righteousness. It would take away her own humanity, her own desires, her own willingness to be with me in the way we had been. In short, her love. It would purport to prove that we had both been wrong, in order that I could, without her, be right. Fuck that.
Camus says “A suicide prepares itself in the heart’s silence.” Acknowledging that is the best I can do for her. Respecting our shared, brief passion and the way we both instinctively chose to express it was the only monument to anyone’s ‘goodness’ that made any sense. To try to change, and thus negate it, would have been the worst betrayal.
I drank beer on the cross-Channel ferry from Calais, and meditated on this. I had my diary open on my knee and was attempting to bring it up to date. Work and sex in Blois had taken up most of my time there, and the entries for that period were sketchy. Of Paris there was, as yet, nothing. I was, though, determined to maintain my account of what had happened on my journey, delineate each episode in as much pertinent detail as I could remember, and salvage what I could of the reasons I had originally set out and the experiences I’d had, disjointed and unexpected though they might have been. The diary itself — the physical, brown leather-bound book given me by Alana’s mother — was a monument to her in itself. My life in writing was not going to end there.
I did, however, keep getting distracted by what I imagined I’d do when I got home. There was a chance I’d get into London in time to pick up my connection from Euston (no Channel Tunnel or Eurostar in those days), and if I didn’t I could sleep in the waiting room until the milk train in the morning. Not much of a challenge for someone who’d set himself the task of hitching round Europe, albeit I’d failed at that. First, of course, I’d have get through UK Customs.
These officials were known to be bastards to single, scruffy young men, whom they always made a point of searching for drugs, more to generally inconvenience them than in the hope of seriously hampering the world narcotics trade. I had no drugs — if there were any of the previous night’s Parisian hash left, then Joe and Scylla still had it, and I didn’t grudge them it, even though it’d been bought with my money. But there was one potentially suspicious item in my canvas bag among the books and the crumpled clothes.
Apart from being the site of my first encounter with Therese — an impromptu affair that had led to her cumming wetly over my face — the cool store in the kitchen of the Etoile du Nord restaurant in Blois had also provided me with the solution to a problem that had perplexed me since a few weeks after Emma provided me, all those years ago, with a pair of her dirty knickers which, sadly, soon began to lose their smell simply due to natural processes of chemical decomposition. In the Etoile’s store, which was cold but not refrigerated, fresh herbs were stored in sealable plastic bags so they didn’t dry out. An empty one of these proved the perfect receptacle for the black lace pants, soaked in the scent of her cunt and piss, which Marielle had given me as a keepsake a mere twenty-four hours hours before I’d found myself licking Therese out and in the room where I made the discovery.
So immediate and continuous had been the sex between Therese and myself after that that I didn’t have the need or opportunity to wank to the scent of Marielle.But this was all the more reason to preserve the ability to do so if needed in the future. Therese liked sometimes to have me sniff her own stained pants while she sucked me and masturbated herself with whatever came to hand, but I held back on introducing another woman’s used underwear into the discussion, out of caution, or respect, bahis siteleri or some other vague reticence. On the day Therese publicly announced her desire to piss on and fuck her friend Natacha — the same day she pissed in my mouth, made Natacha suck my cock, induced Jean-Luc to rear-end Natacha in front of us both, and came messily and publicly over an empty wine bottle with which she was vigorously penetrating herself — I realised she probably would have enjoyed Marielle’s pants and hearing me tell her what we’d done with each other. But by then it was too late. When we finally parted company and I got on a train for Paris the black lace fetish was still safely preserved in sealed plastic against my future need.
I’d given Emma’s underwear a fiery send off just before I came out to France. It seemed to me the best way at this stage to dispose of Marielle’s would be to bury it at sea.
At the period, with numerous terrorist groups operating on both sides of the English Channel — though not yet, so far as I was aware, in the middle of it — I decided it would be imprudent to leave my bag lying unattended to cause panic and get me arrested when what I was trying to do was avoid the attentions of the authorities. I hauled it out of the bar and up the stairs, through a sliding door onto a windy outside observation deck. It was dark, the sea rough, and snow was beginning to fall. I bent to find the sealed plastic by touch, and held it out in the dim light of a wall-mounted external electric bulb heavily enclosed against the elements in thick ridged plastic.
“What’ve you got there then, darling?” A deep drawling English voice, unmistakably female. Then the wind gusted tobacco smoke toward me from the same direction.
I turned guiltily and beheld what I can only describe, from that first viewing, as an apparition. It was dressed in a man’s tweed jacket — arguably green and black checked under the dim yellowish light — with some kind of grainily printed round-necked shirt under it, a tight black leather skirt, fishnet stockings, and black men’s brogues. Her hair was black, parted to one side, and viciously shaved up the sides in front of her ears. She wore round steel-rimmed spectacles and was smoking through a black cigarette holder. It was impossible to say how old she was, since she looked like she came from the 1920s or -30s.
“Bloody hell!” I said, too surprised to do anything than react honestly. “You look…”
“Like a Weimar dyke, dear? Yes, I know. Everyone says that.”
“I was going to say ‘amazing.'”
“Very sweet of you, dear. You look like crap, but nothing that can’t be sorted. Now, what’s that you’re holding.”
Meekly, I passed her the plastic bag.
“Dior. Lace.” She arched her savagely plucked eyebrows. “You have good taste. So what were you planning to do with these?”
I didn’t really have any choice but to tell her. Of course, there was a great deal of detail — most of it sounding improbable even to me by now — that I omitted, but my night with Marielle, her souvenir gift, and my current nervousness about HM Customs and Excise all fitted together reasonably coherently.
“Well, of course, darling, you’re right to mistrust those philistine swine. But no need to throw your girlie’s knickers out with the saltwater. I’ll look after them for you till we get through the border post. How about that? Now, as long as you agree I’ll buy you a drink before this tub reaches its destination and we can tell each other our life stories. Agreed?”
“What were you writing back there in the bar, by the way?”
“You saw me?” Stupid question. “Thoughts. Ideas. A journal.”
“Of course I saw you. It’s what I do. I lurk and observe. It’s my job as an artist. I was pretty sure you’d be keeping a notebook. I never met one of you Lonesome Traveller types who didn’t.”
She was, of course, Louise Stearman. I’d never heard of her at the time, and nor had anybody outside the London art schools. But her reputation was growing, and I pride myself that I played a significant part in the growth of her reputation over the ensuing twenty years. Not only as critic, which came later, but as subject. Right now, though, she looked just like an oddball who, for no apparent reason, had taken a liking to me.
As I said, she was ageless, although as we sat in the beige bar of the Sealink ferry sipping badly-cooled beer I got the impression that our ages were pretty much irrelevant. She may have been five or ten years older than me, but it made no difference to her estimation of me or mine if her. It was odd. I felt perfectly comfortable with this strange, oddly-dressed, opinionated woman whose very face was lightly concealed by a layer of white foundation and obscured in cigarette smoke. In fact, her very strangeness was a comfort.
I gave her the edit of my last two months, Marielle’s knickers included, and then, in a fit of honesty, a version of Alana that stopped just short of suicide.
“I knew canlı bahis siteleri you weren’t boring” Louise said. “I have a sort of nose for it.”
She was, herself, devoted to not being boring. She smoked filterless Chesterfields which she jammed into her onyx cigarette holder. Her own reason for being in France, she said, was to visit a sex club recommended by a friend where she’d hoped to obtain material for an artwork she was planning, and succeeded in a slightly different way to the one she’d anticipated.
“Got the bastards” she said. “Pride themselves on being liberated, but their idea of sex is just as limited and bourgeois as the denial they claim to oppose. Won’t fuck you in the arse unless you’ve had a nice clean enema. And Heaven forfend a girl should be on her period. It’s not quite as bad as mandatory vaginal deodorant, but it’s not far short. Posturing wankers!”
She chucked back her pint of lager, winked at me. As if she’d timed it, the intercom in the bar invited foot passengers to make their way to a particular exit.
“Come on. Let’s give Customs hell.”
We got off the boat before the motorists, actually having to descend a gangplank to get onto dry land. The snow had started to settle on the quayside, glowing in the lights from the boat, our footsteps leaving dark prints as we walked toward the Customs shed. Louise trailed behind her a wheeled tartan suitcase that looked incongruously like an old lady’s shopping bag.
“Fucking cold” she said in that posh drawl. “My nipples are standing up like hatpegs.”
There were only about two dozen unvehicled travellers. We followed the others into the harsh fluorescent lights of the Customs post. Everyone else was waved quickly through. We were the last to arrive.
“Here we go” Louise hissed out of the corner of her mouth.
There were two male officers behind the Customs desk, more a long table, really. One was grey, bored-looking, nicotine-fingered. The other was plainly a trainee, no older than me. Louise knew what to expect, hauling her tartan bag up onto the scuffed top as the senior officer nodded to his junior to begin.
“Evening, Madam” he wavered, trying his best to patronise someone who obviously terrified him. “Been to a fancy dress party, have we?”
“Fuck off” Louise said.
The young man flushed red. As he squirmed I noticed his boss trying not to laugh.
“You can’t talk to me like that” the young man said, his voice rising by a couple of tones. “I’m an officer of Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise.”
“And I’m the Empress of All the Russias” said Louise. “Now do you want to search my fucking bag or can I go on my way?”
The young man was staring intently at her passport, trying to focus on something that would enable him to regain his composure.
“It says here you’re an artist.”
“So it bloody should. Do you want to search my bag or not?”
The older man took pity on his charge and handed him a laminated printed card. The boy sighed audibly with relief as he began reading from it.
“Have you got any prohibited drugs, firearms, explosives, gold, silver, foreign currency, publications or other items banned in the United Kingdom, seeds or tubers of foreign invasive plants, Colorado beetles, items liable to cause a breach of the peace or to outrage public morality, unlicensed artworks or antiquities, or any other object, substance or concept which you know or suspect to be unlawful according to legislation currently in force in the UK?”
“Probably” said Louise. “Look, why don’t you just search the fucking bag and have done with it?”
“What’s in it?”
It was her turn to sigh.
“Let’s see. A cassette recorder, a couple of T-shirts, some soap, a toothbrush, make-up, cigarettes, a rather trashy bondage magazine, tampons and some very dirty knickers.”
The boy’s eyes lit up.
“Would you open the bag please, Madam.”
He leaned over to scrutinise the contents, picking up the bag containing Marielle’s lace pants between thumb and forefinger as though fearful of contamination.
“Why do you keep your, er, underwear under plastic?” he said, looking like he didn’t really want to know the answer.
“Do you really want to know the answer?” Louise said.
He set the packet aside, lifting out a square, clunky plastic portable tape machine and turning it round in his hands, interrogating it for suspicious signs.
“Field recording” Louise pre-empted him. “Research. For an art piece.”
She clicked the ‘Play’ button.
“No, Madam, that’s unacceptable. We can’t entertain ladies at that point in the month” a muffled male voice said in French over background hiss and a bass thump of disco music somewhere behind him. “It’s not possible. It’s a little disgusting.”
The Customs officers looked at each other and shrugged. They hadn’t understood a word. Louise clicked the machine off.
“Aha!” the trainee proclaimed in triumph as he lifted what did indeed look like a very trashy bondage canlı bahis magazine from the next layer of the bag’s contents. “More ‘research’?”
“You’re getting the hang of this” said Louise.
The young man leafed through the garishly-printed pages, showing one photospread to his supervisor, who affected disgust at what was almost certainly milder material than he was used to at home.
“Well, you can’t bring this into the UK” the young man said. “This is an Obscene Publication. It’s hereby confiscated.”
“Make good use of it” Louise waved it away. “You look like you could do with a decent wank when you get off work.”
The young man looked like he was about to stand on his presumed authority, then thought better of it. Rooting around at the bottom of the bag his fingers hit the cardboard of a Tampax packet. Seeing what it was he glanced at his boss for permission and, receiving a nod, said: “All right, that’s it. I won’t fine you for the obscene material. You can go.”
“What? No strip search?” said Louise, affecting outrage. She started peeling off her jacket. Both Customs men stood speechless, mouths wide open in terror.
Under the tweed Louise was wearing a long-sleeved white sweatshirt. Over her own breasts, whose nipples were indeed standing out like hatpegs, was printed in grainy monochrome a photograph of another pair of tits, large, lifesize.
“I suppose you’ll want to confiscate this disgusting article too” she said, and began lifting the hem up her torso.
“No… no! Put your coat back on and bugger off!” said the older man. “Take your perversions and your boyfriend with you!”
“Boyfriend?” She looked over her shoulder at me and winked. “I’ve never seen him before in my life. Anyway, I’m a notorious lesbian, come to corrupt the innocent maidens of the United Kingdom. What use would I have with a boyfriend?”
“Please, just get dressed and go away. Both of you. You’ll miss your train otherwise, and I really don’t want you hanging around here all night.”
I didn’t stop laughing until we reached the train, a dirty four-carriage suburban electric ticking over on a bleak snow-covered platform the other side of the Customs point from the boat.
As far as I could make out we had the end carriage to ourselves. We threw ourselves, still tittering, into a compartment and chucked our bags onto empty seats. The train lurched slightly, then began to tick away from the platform, gathering speed through the whited-out anonymous concrete of lorry parks and container depots. Eventually it shook off the port and town and clattered into rural, frosted darkness.
Louise rustled around inside her bag and put something in her jacket pocket.
“Right, I need a piss, and I expect you’d like me to fuck you” she said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “C’mon. The bog’s this way.”
I was too surprised not to follow her. Curiously, her cartoonishly exaggerated sexuality and the way she’d used it to intimidate the Customs men had pushed any thought of actual sexual contact with her way back in my mind. Following her down the narrow, unlit corridor I now began to pick up the cues of her scent, that indefinable ground bass of cunt under the cigarette smoke and damp woollen fabric of her jacket.
“I could do with a piss too” I said as we arrived at the narrow door at the end of the carriage.
“Good” she said, opening the door and standing aside. “You go first. I’ll watch you.”
The tiny space was necessarily intimate, even without the intention that had brought us there. It smelt of other people’s urine and, like all public spaces of the era, years of exposure to tobacco smoke. Close up to Louise now I could also taste her sweat at the back of my throat.
I unzipped my jeans. Surprising me, she slipped off the tweed coat and hung it on the empty handtowel dispenser, taking off her glasses and pushing them into the breast pocket.
“Pull them right down” she said, manoeuvring herself to stand close behind me, her nipples poking in my back, her slightly acrid armpit odour rising through the fabric of what I later found out was a Vivienne Westwood top. “And your shorts.”
She slid her arms around me, holding the tip of my cock in one hand, cupping my balls in the other. I could definitely smell her cunt now, combined with the warming leather of her skirt.
“Keep doing that and I won’t be able to piss” I warned her.
“Yes you will” she breathed close by my ear. “I saw how much beer you knocked back on the ferry.”
It was true. I’d never knowingly fought an erection before, but three pints of export-strength lager since I’d met Louise on the boat meant I didn’t really have to. Even though she had her thumb and forefinger round the base of my glans I began first to trickle, then to run, then to gush.
I looked down at her long white hand playing in my stream of piss. The other hand she moved up my ribs to my chest, finding a nipple through my plaid shirt and squeezing it.
One final spurt of pee and she was masturbating me with her wet hand into a preposterously hard erection.
“Now turn round and sit on the seat” she said.
“I thought you needed to go?”
“I do. I’m going to piss on that cock.”