Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Shark Does Not Swim Backwards

I've always found Thai food to be a winner for dates. It's got that touch of the exotic, while appearing much more upmarket than Chinese or Indian, and the restaurant service is usually immaculate. And, it's not too spicy (you don't want an overpowering after-taste when it's time to move onto kissing), while still offering plenty of those dishes which invite sharing and intimacy.

Dinner with Jenny was going well, despite the extended trek back from Sarah's to the restaurant. I had suggested calling a cab, but Jenny dismissed the idea: not willing to admit, I think, that where Sarah lived was not “just round the corner” at all. Pugsly, thank God, had been left behind, despite his plaintive yelps, and had been assured that “Auntie Sarah” would look after him (was the creature ever actually left alone, I wondered).

It seemed Jenny had known Sarah for less than a year, but the two clearly shared a mutual interest in dogs – pugs in particular. Jenny also confirmed what had been my growing suspicion since meeting Sarah – that she was not entirely what might be termed “the full quid”.

“Sarah's had a few problems,” Jenny admitted, “but she's been out of hospital for quite a while now, and just has a care worker popping round once a week or so, to make sure she's taking her medication and keeping on top of things. Her father was a High Court judge, you know – he bought her that house so she would always have somewhere to stay”.

Ah, so now the fabulous town-house made sense. It seemed that Sarah took in lodgers – she was obviously incapable of working – so I guessed it was through a combination of their rent, the welfare state, and whatever trust fund her late daddy had left her that she was able to support herself. I felt sorry for her now, although I thought she made an odd choice of friend for Jenny – nothing like the much younger girls she used to hang out with.

Although, the flap we had experienced just before leaving Sarah's had been some indication. Jenny suddenly announced with horror that she didn't know where she'd left her handbag, and both women worked themselves up into a near frenzy of mutual self-recrimination. “Oh, I don't see it anywhere in the kitchen, Jenny,” said Sarah, “That's why I use one of those belts with the pouches – if I have a bag I know I'll put it down and forget about it.”

“Yes,” said Jenny, “I am getting a bit absent-minded these days. Oooh, I hope I haven't left it in The George … Ben, did you see me bring it back from The George? Oooh, where is it now? How silly of me ...”

Eventually, I was forced to do the obvious thing and look in the hallway by the door, where of course Jenny's bag was to be found. I don't think I'd have received a more rapturous response if I'd discovered Maddie McCann alive and well.

But, now I had left my overnight bag in one of the bedrooms on Sarah's top floor, and Jenny and I were enjoying our Thai meal, while I attempted to get as much Pinot Grigio down her neck as was humanly possible.

The conversation was flowing easily, and was moving onto old times and past mutual friends. Jenny was surprised to learn that Bernie was married, and had recently become a father: “Wow! I thought he was the eternal bachelor. And what about little Sabrina, then – what's she doing these days?”

“Oh, she's married as well, now – to Gareth. They've got two daughters and live in the West Country.”

“Sabrina and Gareth? They got back together then?”

“Yes.” I tried to ensure my voice betrayed no hint of emotion. I think I got away with it – fifteen years, after all.

“Gosh, I remember they split up just before we did.”

Yes, Jenny, do the math, as the Americans say. But, either Jenny had never put two and two together, or she had learned to be almost as good a liar as me.

“I am so sorry, you know, Jenny,” I judged it was time for the big apology, “You never did … anything to deserve what happened. I was … I don't know what I was … But I've only ever thought of you with the greatest of affection, and the greatest of regret about … how we ended ...”

“Thank you for saying that, Ben. I was really upset, you know. For a while things … were a bit of a mess. You were the love of my life ...”

And now I really did feel lower than dog dirt. But, still, needs must. I reached out and held her hand.

“I'm lucky that Mum was there for me,” Jenny continued, “It was a difficult time. But, you know,” she smiled with genuine warmth, “life goes on, and I did get over it eventually. Then there was Steve, who was bit immature, really, and Dave, who was a bit of a wet blanket. I did really like Keith, but he turned out to be a boozer ...”

The list of Jenny's post-me men turned out to be long and unedifying, and I began to feel a lot less guilty. She'd certainly made a determined effort to get over the “love of her life”. Damn' her for not joining a convent instead!

“Well, I can't say that my relationships after you have worked out very well,” I said. Confession time – up to a point. “I did start seeing someone after you, but it only lasted a short time, then after that I met my ex-wife. I don't know what I was thinking about there ...”

“That must have been quite soon after me, then?” Was Jenny probing? I back-tracked.

“It was a few months later,” I continued. Tell me no secrets, tell me some lies … “As I say, it didn't last long, and then I met my ex-wife almost immediately after. I think with her it was a case of both seeming to want the same things - to settle down, start a family - but the problem was we were really two completely different people.”

Had that worked? Deflecting attention away from you-know-who to the Screaming Banshee? Who I didn't want to slate too much at this stage – you get nowhere with women by sounding bitter and twisted.

“I'm sorry about that, Ben. You seemed so happy in your wedding photos.” Happy? More a case of the Stockholm Syndrome, I'd say. But I seem to have performed a successful segue over certain unpleasant facts.

“Well, I tried everything I could. That's why I moved out of London – to be nearer her family, as I thought it would make her happy. But nothing worked, in the end. I've been on quite a few dates, since my divorce – even saw this one girl for a while last year – but ultimately that didn't work either.”

“Aw, why not?”

“Too big an age gap, I think – she was twenty years younger than me, and I think that got to her in the end.” Was that too cruel, given Jenny's advancing years? Or was Charlotte an appropriate demonstration of value?

It didn't seem to do me any harm. The conversation continued to flow throughout the rest of dinner, as we caught up with our lives, expressed our regrets, and made our vows of friendship. More importantly, we managed to get through two bottles of Pinot Grigio, and I ensured that Jenny's glass was always well-filled.

And, then the meal was over, and what were we to do? It was Jenny who suggested another drink at The George. I'd have preferred to have gone straight back to her flat, but, if more alcohol was required, who was I to argue? I paid the bill and we moved on.

It was swing night at The George, and well-attended by a mixed crowd of 1940's throw-backs. I found it hard to believe that any of them could have been part of The George's original clientèle. A DJ was playing a constant stream of jazz and big band numbers, and the brylcreamed guys and girls were jiving and lindy hopping across the wooden floor, now cleared of tables to become a dance venue.

Neither Jenny or I could actually dance – at least, not the sort of dancing which involved prescribed steps, physical co-ordination and practice. So, we took our position next to the bar, and it seemed only natural that my arm should slip around her waist. Jenny not only did not object, but moved her body closer to mine, so that we moulded together. I could smell her hair, and her perfume, and feel the rising intoxication of arousal.

I took a chance, and kissed her softly on the side of the neck. Jenny swayed closer to me – was that an intake of breath? I pushed further, and kissed her on the lips.

No objection, but no tongues, either. No words were spoken – well, it would have been difficult to hear over the blaring jazz. But we'd already said enough that evening; it was time to hold each other close, to rediscover the old, familiar feel of each others bodies, and watch the dancers spin and gyrate.

It was nearing midnight when I suggested that we leave. Jenny agreed readily – she had to be up early, she claimed, to take Pugsly for his morning walk. We stepped outside, and I told Jenny I would walk her home.

“No,” she replied, “We have to go to Sarah's. I need to get Pugsly and take him home – and I need to show you the way. Bet you can't remember.”

It would have taken me a while to find it, that was true. And, I could tell that Jenny was rather drunk. Ok, then, let's go and get Pugsly – then I can insist on escorting you back home again.

The long trek back to Sarah's was mostly spent supporting Jenny, who was no longer very sure of foot. At one point, I found it easier to carry her – no great feat considering how tiny she was. The afternoon's charade was repeated – a ring of the bell, a tirade of furious barking, Sarah's ineffectual attempts to calm the yapping beasts, and then the door finally opened. God only knows what the neighbours thought.

Once more, Jenny's attention was totally absorbed by Pugsly, rearing up with joy at her return. His rampant pink appendage glistened revoltingly under the streetlights. My patience was at an end.

“Let's get inside, shall we?” I said, taking Jenny's arm.

Something approaching calm eventually prevailed in the kitchen. I sat down in a chair, while Jenny first leaned back against the wall, then slipped slowly to the floor. She sat there beside Pugsly, who began compliantly licking her hand. She was very, very drunk.

Sarah fussed around offering unnecessary coffees, which I eventually accepted just to shut her up. Christ only knows what she made it with – it was the foulest, bitterest cup of undrinkable sludge I have ever been presented with. I pretended to sip at it, while the situation resolved itself.

“Right, then,” slurred Jenny, “I shuppose I'd better be heading home ...”

“Oh, no,” said Sarah, “Jenny, you've had far too much to drink. Why don't you stay here and go home in the morning? You're quite welcome to the sofa.”

“No, I should go home now,” Jenny murmured, her eyes already closed.

“Look,” I said, “There's no way you can go home alone. I'll take you, if you want to go ...”

“Yesh,” said Jenny, “But then you'll never find your way back here … can't have you wandering the streets all night, Ben ...”

Well, that's certainly what I was hoping. Let me do the chivalrous thing and escort Jenny back home, then it would seem like cruel and unusual punishment to turf me out into the night once more.

But, it seemed Jenny was resolved not to allow me across the threshold.

“It'sh alright, I'll be fine,” she said, “It'sh only a couple of minutes away. I'll have Pugsly with me ...”

Yes, that little yapping penis-with-legs would certainly deter any assailant, I thought. Jenny tried to rise, pushing her back half-way up the wall, but then abandoned the unequal struggle and sank once more to the floor.

“Maybe I will shtay here, then, if that'sh all right Sarah ...”

“Of course it is, you know that,” said Sarah, apparently relishing the prospect of someone else to fuss over in the morning. “I'll go and make up the sofa.”

“It'sh fine, don't bother,” Jenny continued, “I'll jusht shleep upshtairs with Ben ...”

Game on! Result! It looked as though Jenny had already made her mind up, and further seduction moves were no longer required. I felt my blood begin to rise. Time to press the advantage home.

“Right, I don't know about anyone else, but I'm ready for my bed,” I said decisively.

There was a flurry of thanks and goodnights, then Jenny and I headed upstairs. We entered what was now our room, and Jenny immediately slumped in the one chair and closed her eyes once more. I debated internally for a second, and then decided that brushing my teeth would be a good move.

When I returned from the bathroom, Jenny was no longer alone. Pugsly had found her, and was curled up beneath her chair. He remained silent, but regarded me with a baleful stare that spoke of pure venom.

I sat on the bed. It was only a single, but surely that was even better, if I could just get Jenny into it. Or did she intend to spend all night in that bloody chair? I was at a loss how to proceed. If I went anywhere near her, the fucking dog was bound to kick off, and waking everyone in the house was the last thing I needed.

The best I could do was leave her to it. The chair did not look very comfortable, and was also directly under the ceiling light, which I had no intention of switching off. Not until Jenny had done the sensible thing and gotten into bed with me. I just had to hope that she wasn't so drunk that she could actually sleep as she was.

I was proven correct after a few minutes. Jenny's eyes suddenly snapped open. “Think I'd better lie down,” she said, “Can I go on the inside, next to the wall?”

Naturally, I was only too happy to oblige. I stood up, to allow her access, and Jenny slipped off her leather jacket and high heels. The rest of her clothes, however, she left on, and she then slipped under the duvet.

I snapped off the light, plunging the little room into darkness, and quickly slipped out of my clothes. I didn't want to leave her in any doubt as to my intentions, and remembered how she had thrilled to my naked body in the past. I slid under the duvet beside her, necessarily close in the narrow cot. Pugsly seemed to have settled, thank God, so it was finally time to proceed.

Jenny had her back to me, but instinctively moulded her body into mine, so that we spooned together. Her gorgeous little arse was pushed against my crotch, and the effect was electric. She always knew how that turned me on. But, clearly, another round of seduction was expected.

I kissed the back of her neck softly, while caressing her thigh through her jeans. Jenny murmured, and wriggled slightly so that she moved against my erection. I leaned over and kissed her on the lips, feeling her yielding softly, but still not allowing me to explore her mouth with my tongue. More work required.

I slid my hand up the front of her t-shirt, feeling her small but beautifully-formed breasts. Her right nipple hardened to my touch; I played with it for a while, then slid my hand down her stomach towards her crotch, all the while planting little kisses along the line of her neck. In a moment, I expected, she'd turn around and take me in her arms.

But, she didn't. Jenny remained resolutely in the spooning position, occasionally moving slightly against me, but at no point did she attempt to touch me anywhere. Nor would she kiss me properly. She wasn't stopping me, but she was definitely drawing a line as to what was permitted.

I pressed further, remembering Jenny from the past as a submissive who needed to be led, but who once aroused was prepared to do just about any filthy thing my mind could come up with. I undid the fastening of her jeans and pushed my hand inside, confident that I was good at that sort of thing. After all, even in our current lets-just-be-friends relationship, Charlotte still reckoned I should be giving lessons to other men. And she had certainly had plenty to compare me against.

I took my time, gently massaging Jenny's pussy through her knickers, building a teasing tension that should have had her gagging for it by the time I made my next move. If history was any guide, she should have been dripping wet by the time I actually got around to touching the bare flesh.

But, when I finally did slip my hand inside, there was nothing doing. No sign of arousal at all. Christ, was this the same girl I knew fifteen years ago?

Ok, then, time for stronger measures. If it's oral action she needs …

I undid her jeans further, and started to pull them down her hips. But, then, Jenny grunted and pulled away from me. Clearly, I was going a step too far.

And you know what, Jenny, I suddenly thought. Fuck you. Fuck you and your bloody so-far-and-no-further, fuck your bloody dog, your mad friend, your absent-mindedness and your big long treks that are “just around the corner”. Fuck your “let's get old Ben to stand for an expensive dinner”, fuck your mixed-up life, fuck your bloody cow of a mother, and fuck this whole bloody waste of a weekend. Because I don't want you back, I never really loved you in the first place, and you irritated the hell out of me all the time that we lived together.

And there's absolutely no fucking way was I going to jump through whatever hoops she intended to set out for me, just so that I could get a shag. It was the 21st century, for Christ's sake, and she had to be pushing sixty years old. Wasn't it about time we got away from the whole idea of sex being something women reluctantly give to men, in return for their supplication, commitment and material expenditure?

It's not that I was entirely against the idea of supplication, commitment and material expenditure (God knows, I had promised Charlotte anything), but certainly not with Jenny. I'd been hoping for something mutually pleasurable but with no strings - perhaps just the once for old times sake – but it was clear that was not on her agenda. Perhaps nothing was, other than leading me on and then knocking me back. Perhaps that was Jenny's revenge.

In which case, fair enough – I suppose I deserved it. But, the past is a foreign country. And, there's a reason why sharks do not swim backwards.