Homecoming

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I saw you one night. You didn’t see me. I wasn’t spying on you. I wouldn’t do that, unless you’d asked me to. If you said, ‘Look, I’m going to have a bath. I’ll leave the door slightly open; just enough for you to see what I’m doing. I’d like you to watch me undressing. Why don’t you spy on me in the bath. I’ll pretend I don’t know you’re there’, I’d do that, but it wouldn’t be spying then, would it? Not if you’d asked me to do it.

It was dark when I got back after a long cross-country drive. It was cold, too. I was expecting the apartment to be dark and cold, but it wasn’t. A light was on in the room at the end of the hall, and the heaters were on. I could hear music.

I was nervous; someone was in my apartment. I hadn’t invited anyone. I had the only key. This could be serious. I could be in danger.

I took a few steps along the hall, stopped and said, ‘Hello. Who’s in there?’ I tried to sound firm and unafraid, but I was frightened.

Taking a few more steps I passed the bathroom. The door was open. It was closed when I left. I looked in. It had been used. The towel I’d left hanging on the door handle was draped over the side of the bath. There was a white blouse with a lace collar hanging from the handle. A roll of lavatory paper was on the shelf below the window. That’s not where I put it. The bathroom had been warmed by steam, and I could smell perfume; the perfume you wear.

Turning towards the living room door, I spoke again.

‘Hello. Who’s there?’ There was no reply. There was just the music; a Bach violin concerto.

I held the door handle for a moment, and then turned it and pushed and saw you sitting in the armchair beneath the lamp. You were resting back in the chair and holding a book. You were reading. You didn’t look up as I came in.

‘It’s you.’

You didn’t look up when I spoke and you didn’t look up when I walked across and bent down to kiss you. You turned a page and read on and you read on when I touched your ear and said, ‘Hi, it’s me. How did you get in?’

You didn’t appear to be ill. You were turning pages. You crossed and un-crossed your legs. You took a tissue from your bag and blew your nose. You took off your jacket, a velvet one, and undid the button at the collar of your white blouse. There was nothing wrong with you. You were a woman sitting in a chair, reading a book and listening to music.

I had an idea: I’ll stop the music. You’d notice that. The stop button didn’t work. It seemed to be stuck. Turning the volume control didn’t make any difference. I walked back across the room to the reading light. The switch wouldn’t move.

It was then that I heard him; a man calling from the hall, just outside the open door.

‘Tea, coffee, something stronger, me?’

It was this voice that lifted your face from the book. You looked up, smiled and answered.

‘Something stronger, and then, perhaps, you.’

The man’s voice was mine.

I turned and saw that the man with my voice also had my face — and my hair, body and clothes. He was wearing my glasses — or, anyway, glasses identical to mine. He was so identical that I could have been looking at a mirror.

There is a problem now. Not the problem of what was happening in the room — that was not a problem, it was a disaster — but in this narrative. How, in telling this story, can I distinguish between me — the man who has become an intruder in his own apartment — and the man who seems to have stolen my identity?

There is no obvious explanation that would let me give this man another name. I don’t have an identical twin brother. I have a half-brother, and we share no physical characteristics. He is fatter than I am, and bearded. He’s not the sort of man who would say to his lover, ‘Tea, coffee, something stronger, me?’ He’s never seemed to me to be the sort of man who would have a lover, though I don’t doubt he’s thought about it. I don’t doubt a day has passed during his two marriages when he hasn’t wanted a lover, a woman more attractive, more mysterious and daring than either of his wives.

But you see the problem, don’t you? It’s a clarity problem; a language problem. I have to make clear who’s who in this story. It’s clear who you are. You are a woman in my apartment — and there it is straight away. Is it my apartment or his? How can I describe what he and I do and say in such a way as to avoid confusion? The danger is that when I describe him fixing a drink in the kitchen or, as is certain to happen, kissing and fucking you, you’ll think it’s me doing these things. You’ll think that he and I are the same person; that this is a fantasy or a symptom of a severe mental collapse. It isn’t. It’s happening.

I can’t see an answer, so I’ll — that’s me, the intruder — have to play it by ear; see how it goes. For now, I’ll be I and he — the man who’s in my kitchen fixing drinks and wondering if he and you will make love on the sofa or in my, or his, bed — he’ll be him. And I’ll try to be an objective, emotionally neutral observer. That will be difficult. He’s on my territory, in my apartment casino oyna and behaving as if he owned it. And it’s pretty clear he plans to sleep with you. To where else would their evening be heading? I don’t own you. It’s your body and you can do what you want with it; who you sleep with is your business. But I’m upset because I want to be with you tonight and it’s obvious that you are going to bed with him. Nothing I can do or say can change that.

What I can do is leave, because watching this other man fuck you, looking on as you fuck him, would be intolerable. I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to see you with another man. Would you undress him? Would you move in a different way, make different sounds, do different things? Touch him differently, in different places? Would you come quickly? These were tantalizing fantasies. I knew I wouldn’t be able to endure the reality, even when the other man was me, or appeared to be me.

I turned and walked to the front door — I had to get out — but the catch wouldn’t move. I turned it furiously, but it wouldn’t open. The kitchen has a door that opens on to a fire escape. I could get out that way, surely? I couldn’t. The lock wouldn’t shift. I tried the light switch, which wouldn’t move. Nothing I touched worked. There was no way out.

What could I do? I could have sat in the large kitchen cupboard. Its door opened easily. That’s what I did for a while. I sat in the dark cupboard. There was plenty of room for a crouching man. I listened for sounds. I wondered how long I would have to stay in that cold black hole while this other man enjoyed the comfort of my apartment — and you. I stayed there for as long as I could, but it became intolerable. Why should I be treated like this? I got up and went back along the hall.

In the sitting room, you were in the armchair, sipping a drink and reading. He was sitting on the floor by the side of the chair. He had a glass, too. There was music; Chopin now. You didn’t move, didn’t respond, when he took your shoes off and pushed your scarlet skirt up your legs. He stopped when the hem of the skirt reached your knees. He stroked your feet and your calves; long, slow strokes; up and down, up and down. This went on for a long time. You reading, sipping your drink; him stroking your legs through your black tights.

‘This is ridiculous,’ you said, closing the book and dropping it on the floor.

‘What is?’

‘This book is; it’s stupid.’

‘Why?’ he asked, still stroking your legs and gazing around the room. ‘What’s it about?’

‘It’s a novel about a man who leaves his wife and children because he’s fallen in love with a tree. He thinks the tree is a woman, but it’s not, it’s a tree.’

‘What sort of tree?’

‘Not sure. It doesn’t say. Just a bloody big tree. Does it matter?’

‘Don’t know. There might be something about the tree that attracts him in the way a woman might. Is it a woman-shaped tree? Are there women-shaped trees?’

‘I don’t know anything about trees. It’s a Swedish novel; that might explain it.’

‘It might be something unhappy men do in Sweden and places like that; fall in love with snow-covered, women-like trees and leave their wives to the comforts of their Agas, Volvos and lonely saunas.’

‘I haven’t heard of it,’ you said.

‘It’s not something a country would want to boast about, is it?’ he said. ‘Especially a civilized place like Sweden, with all their clean streets and state-of-the-art interior décor. A country which is known for its advanced welfare state and liberal values won’t want to tell the world that its middle-class, middle-aged men are prone in middle-marriage to leave their sturdy blond wives and their Agas, flee into the dark forests and fuck trees. People would change the way they saw Sweden, wouldn’t they? Sort of lose respect for it. Don’t know why, but we respect Sweden, don’t we? In the way we don’t respect France or, oh, I don’t know, Bulgaria, Belgium, places like that. Well, I don’t respect France, anyway; don’t really take it seriously.’

‘I said he fell in love with the tree. There’s nothing about him fucking it. Why do you always have to turn everything into something about fucking? Why do you have to be so coarse?’

‘Have you finished the book?’

‘What’s that got to do with it?’

‘You haven’t finished it, have you?’ he said, picking it up. ‘You’ve got half-way through. You don’t know what happens in the end.’

He waved the book at you, challenging you. You stared at him.

‘What does this man do?’

‘What does he do?’

‘For a living. Even in Sweden men have to work for a living.’

‘He’s a professor. What’s that got to do with it?’

‘A professor of what?’

‘It isn’t clear. Twentieth-century film and philosophy, something like that. I don’t think his work is relevant.’

‘So he’s a middle-aged professor of twentieth-century dirty films and philosophy at a university nobody’s ever heard of, sharing a luxuriously equipped wooden shed within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle with a bossy slot oyna blond who wants to be Prime Minister of Sweden and two moody over-educated and deeply depressed teenagers? Sooner or later, he’ll by fucking that unfortunate tree, or trying to.’ You grabbed the book from his hand and threw it in his face.

‘You read the bloody book if you’re so sure.’

‘No,’ he said. ‘I’ve got a better idea. Take your tights off.’

You pulled your skirt up to your waist and was about take the tights off when you stopped.

‘No, I don’t want to. I’ve got a better idea. Get a pair of scissors from the kitchen.’

He walked past me and came back with the scissors.

‘Now what?’

‘Cut a hole in them, but be careful.’

‘OK. If that’s what you want.’

‘Why else would I ask. Just do it.’

Tucking your skirt up further, he pulled the tights away from your belly and began cutting a hole in them.

You looked down at the steel slicing through the nylon.

‘You’re doing it too fast. Do be careful.’

He stopped and pointed to the black lace uncovered by the growing tear in the tights.

‘Why are you wearing those?’ I asked you not to wear them tonight.’

‘I don’t have to do what you want. I don’t like leaving them off. Besides, it’s cold. It’s bloody January. I’m not going to freeze just to provide you with your erotic entertainment.’

‘That’s unfair. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s being entertained.’

‘What’s fair?’ you said, pulling at the gaping nylon. ‘The hole isn’t big enough. Cut some more, can you? Make it bigger and go lower. It’s too high. You won’t reach me easily.’

You parted your thighs and lifted your back off the chair to let him cut as you’d asked. You stroked his hair while the scissors snipped slowly at the tights, cutting out the front and the crotch. He threw the nylon he’d cut out and the scissors on the floor, alongside the novel about the Swedish tree-lover.

‘Shall I do the same with these?’ he asked, pointing to your panties. He saw a curl of straggling brown hair and before she could say anything he’d picked up the scissors and cut it away.

‘Don’t you dare. They’re bloody expensive. And leave my hair alone. How would you like it if I shaved you down there?’

‘I wouldn’t. I don’t think I would.’

‘So leave mine alone. Do something useful. Touch me.’

I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch this. But I couldn’t leave the apartment and I if I went back into the kitchen cupboard I’d still know what was happening just a few yards away. So I stood in the doorway and watched you. I had a clear view. It’s not a very large room.

He touched you, as you asked; through the black lace. I could see him stretching his hand over your sex, cupping it in his palm and pushing the lace into you. You stroked his hair and pulled it as your excitement grew, but when he slid a finger into the v of the lace and tugged it away you pushed his head back.

‘I was going to kiss you,’ he told you.

‘Yes, I know. That was very good. I enjoyed it, but that’s enough for now. Get up. Stand in front of me.’

You slumped in the chair, stretched your legs and picked up your drink. Your skirt was still around your waist, so I could see, back in its place, the triangle of lace.

‘Stand in between my legs. Closer. I’m not going to bite.’

You reached out to press your hand against the front of his trousers, gently at first and then with some pressure. You smiled, took your hand away, picked up your drink and pulled your skirt back down over your knees.

‘Will you do what I ask?’, you said, staring into her glass. You looked up at him. Anything I ask?’

‘No, not anything. Of course, not anything.’

‘I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I know you wouldn’t really want to do. That’s not what it’s about. Nothing like jumping out of the window or running down the street naked. Nothing scary or stupid. So will you do anything I ask?’

‘No. It might not be dangerous or scary, but I might think it’s morally or physically repulsive. Might be a barrier I can’t cross, not even for you.’

You finished your drink and put the glass on the low table by the chair.

‘This is getting boring. If you’re not going to entertain me I’m going.’

‘What is it then? What do you want me to do?’

‘Come a bit closer to me. Take your hands out of your pockets and stand with your legs apart. That’s right. OK so far?’

He didn’t answer.

‘Good. Now, Undo your trousers. Drop them to the floor. They’re not very expensive, are they? They don’t look it.’

He hesitated and for a while it seemed as if he was going to say no to this, but he did as you asked.

‘Pull your shirt up. No, unbutton it. You’ll look stupid standing there like that, holding your shirt up around your waist. Just open it so I can get a good look at you. Don’t do anything. Just stand still.’

He did. He didn’t move. With his arms by his side, he stood still, and seemingly quite relaxed as she looked at him for a minute or so. She picked up her glass canlı casino siteleri and held it out to him.

‘Could I have another drink?’

He took it and started to turn but almost fell. He’d forgotten his trousers were around his ankles.

‘Better take those off, hadn’t you? Don’t want you breaking something on my account.’

He took the glass to the kitchen, walking within a few inches of me. I was invisible. When he came back I swung my fist out at the replenished glass and screamed, but my punch had to impact and I wasn’t heard.

He made to sit down on the floor when you took the glass from him, but you stopped him. ‘No. Stand where you were.’

‘I’m want to ask you some questions. You don’t have to answer. You don’t have to answer truthfully, but if you did it would please me. Is that OK?’ ‘Depends what they are.’

‘OK. Try this. When we’re making love, what’s uppermost in your mind? My pleasure or yours?’

‘That’s impossible to answer, you know that. What would be your answer?’

‘I don’t have to have one, do I? I’m asking the question. I’m the question mistress on tonight’s show. What is it? Mine or yours?’

‘Both.’

‘Oh, come on. That’s too easy. It has to be one or the other.’

‘No it doesn’t. Your pleasure fuels mine. Perhaps mine fires yours. Isn’t that how it works? It’s seamless, isn’t it?’

‘Sometimes, yes. But not always. OK. When we’re making love, do you sometimes imagine I’m some-one else? Another woman, to make it more exciting for you?’

‘Who?’

‘How do I know? A move star? A model? A woman you’ve seen in a bar? A lover from way back?’

‘No. Never done that. Honest.’

‘I don’t believe you. It doesn’t matter. Now this is hypothetical. I’m having a bath and you’re desperate to relieve yourself. You come in and tell me and ask me to get out of this soapy bath and wait outside. I say no, I’m not getting out, you go ahead, I’ll close my eyes. What would you do?’

‘What do you mean, relieve myself?’

‘Oh, I see. Let’s be English about this. How can I put it? Nothing foul. Nothing requiring loo paper. Not for men, anyway. Is that clear enough?’

‘Yes, but I still couldn’t do that.’

‘But I’m refusing to get out of the bath.’

‘I’d have to go somewhere else, I don’t know.’

‘But supposing I said I wanted you do it in front of me, that I might not even close my eyes. That it would please me. What then?’

‘What if it was the other way around? What would you do?’

‘Like I said, it’s hypothetical. It’s no big deal. I might do. I might not. Anyway, I think you’d want to watch me doing it. But I’m asking the questions. If you don’t like it, I’ll go.’

‘No, don’t go. Go on.’

‘OK, but I’ll have some of this drink first. And I need to think about the next question. You didn’t do very well in that round. Just stand there for a while. Let me look at you while I think.’

You looked him up and down, from his face to his feet and up again.

Watching this charade was torturing me, but I have to admit that it was compelling and that even if I had been able to get out of the apartment I might have left reluctantly. I had no idea what was going to happen next in the scene you were directing. I was sure you and he would make love by the end of the night and I hated that idea, but I wanted to know what you were going to do to him before that. I wanted to know how you were going to make him pay for having you. That’s what you were doing, it seemed to me.

‘I know,’ you said pointing to his briefs. ‘Why are you wearing those. I don’t like that type. You’ve got some shorts, haven’t you? The ones with an open gap at the front? I know you have. Why don’t you put those on?’

He turned to leave, but you stopped him.

‘You can take those of now. Leave them here.’

He pushed the briefs down his legs and dropped them on the floor. As he began to walk away you stopped him again.

‘Just a minute. Come here. A bit closer.’

You edged forward in the chair and reached out to his penis. It thickened as you touched it.

‘A bit closer. Let me see.’

You pushed the foreskin back along the shaft, prized apart the tiny lips at the tip and peered into the hole. His penis stiffened and grew as you ran your fingers around the balls in the tightening sac below. Your thumb stroked its head and when it began to leak you let him go.

‘Thanks. Why don’t you get those shorts? Can you put them on in here? I want to see how you put them on.’

I was amazed by his docility. He was doing everything you asked. I wanted to see what you had in mind for him and how he’s be pushed. At what point would he refuse you? What was the fence he wouldn’t jump? I wondered if you wanted his servile compliance, or if you were hoping for defiance. Did you want him to say no?

When he walked past me to get the shorts I couldn’t help but try to get a close look at his genitals, to see if they were mine. He had everything else of mine: voice, face, hair. His clothes were mine. He had my apartment and my lover. I don’t know how penises differ, but I suppose they must do, just like women’s breasts and vaginas, but he rushed by too quickly for me to look and compare. I saw, though, that the erection that had started when you touched him had gone.

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