Happy uncertain-saint-co-opted-marketing-companies day. Or Happy Valentine’s Day for the non cynics. Me, I’m more in favour of the V-Day when we’re loving to our partners every day. And remember that single friends live in a world that madly over-rates coupledom all the time.
Here’s a short short story for your love pleasure-pains. First published in 2003, I still like it.
(First met the wife in 1990. I still like her too. Lucky.)
We haven’t seen each other for over two years but we know what to do. We remember the rules. The promise. The vows of silk.
She has prepared herself for this moment. She wears a red silk camisole covered by lush black velvet and topped with sharp red lipstick Her hair is long and newly dyed dark and covers the nape of her cool neck. She has readied both her own body and the room for his arrival. She has waited twenty-six months for him, she will not spoil this moment by even the most delicate scent of imperfection. There are red rose petals poured before the fireplace. The flames burn high and the petals will be dry before the night is over. The glasses of soft red wine are ready, there is a tiny table holding fingernail size savouries and miniature cream chocolates.
When he arrives, he too is beautiful. Still too beautiful. Still more beautiful than her. He laughs, knowing how hard she has tried, knowing how easy it is for him. He has thrown himself together and, as always, his easy charm discomforts her. He has packed a small bag with all the tools they will need. The tools have not been used for over two years. Still, they are pristine and perfect. As he is.
A sip of wine, refuses chocolate, refuses food and then he is ready. She has no problem following his commands, they flow back like a catechism. He puts the handcuffs on her. They are made of thin paper, almost tissue but even more thin. And smooth.
“Don’t rip them, now.” he whispers.
She is led to the chair, her hands cuffed in her lap. Nearly naked.
I continued with the plan even though there was so much else to occupy my time. Watching you. Watching you with her. Watching you watching her. How could you forget to watch me?
She is so careful not to move, not to rip the tiny fibre threads that hold her hands together. The paper immobilises her more effectively than steel. It catches her breath as well as her skin. He places on the blindfold. It is made of thin silk, a single layer and white. Thin enough for her to see through.
She has seen through his deceit too. Though only after he showed it to her. Then it became transparent. She had not known where to look at first.
He undresses himself, to one side, where through the white silk his burnished bronze body is milk chocolate matt brown. He places scissors close by and stands the paper-cuffed woman in front of him. He takes the threads of silk – real silkworm silk they have been saving for this time – and slowly winds the threads between them. His feet to hers. Her legs to his. Their thighs to each other. There were thousands of tiny worms died for this union. Each one softly ripped from its silk and re-laid in a fake cocoon of cotton wool so they could plait themselves together, solder their union.
I left the worms making their silk. I knew we would need it. Eventually.
She receives his body, silk of their skin wound round in silk. This is a winding not a wounding. Not yet. Two smooth bodies stretch, one up, one down to create face-to-face Siamese, twinning themselves in firelit melting. Paul hands her the scissors which she holds in her softly cuffed hands. Her arms in front of him and in front of her, her bare arms and the stainless steel against the small swelling of her stomach. The tiny flesh swelling that warms and covers those eggs, holds safe her generations to come.
This shroud is softer even than the skin shroud I have lived in for two years.
There comes a point where the bodies are joined, his arms against her torso, their chests together. His free arms work above and behind her and now they wind their heads together, faces cheek to cheek. She sways, dizzy with looking into his eyes and breathing his breath and is gravity held by his stronger passion.
He always said his was the stronger passion. Not a stronger skin though, I think.
This is not a thought I say out loud.
Now she and he are one, his arms free for a moment until he digs his thumbs, fingers, hands into and under the threads across her back. He is tied to her. She who is returned to him so they can do this thing. This thing they are committed to. This thing that will set him free of her longing, needing. Her disappointment. They spin. Twisting, four feet too close for purchase, rotating on the axis of what they have promised to do, what they bred the worms for, what she has promised to do.
– Yes, I will. If you ever leave me, I will kill myself.
– I promise.
– Good girl. Now go to sleep.
Difficult to move her hands, thin tissue cuffed inside the tiny convexed opening of their two stomachs, so gently to lift one hand above the other where the mingled running sweat has melted her paper bonds. She holds the criss crossing steel blades and in the moment they fall, in the moment he goes, in the moment the steel meets the narrow resistance of skin and a then little sinew she finds herself worrying about the stain on the silk. The steel travels further in and catches – on an organ. Stomach? Spleen? A lung? She is not clear about the location of these secret parts. Both of them hear a small hiss but they do not know if it is his or hers. A hiss of escaping breath or hiss of escaping venom. They always were too close.
And she need not have bothered about the stains. She caught his blood herself. More full of blood than usual but not especially unpleasant.
When he left me I told him he really shouldn’t.
His eyes were very near and she could see he was surprised. It was a look of horror and terror and sex and fucking and then bliss and then – nothing.
He was surprised by the steel, she was surprised by the nothing. She had expected more. Peace perhaps. Or a transcendental awareness. But no, he gave her nothing.
She took the silk to a weaver and then to a dressmaker. The dressmaker made a thin band of cloth. Mary kept it. It would have made a lovely blindfold but that the red stains dried ochre and she could no longer see through it.
And there is no point in a blindfold that actually blinds.
You might as well close your eyes.