VINTAGE GEMS Crystal JeansNWR Issue 109
There’s this guy. He must be around fifty, maybe fifty-five. I don’t know if he’s homeless or what. He hangs out in the lanes behind Whitchurch Road, by the allotments. He’s always wearing a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. He has light red hair, turning grey; a beard. Old scars and pits on his face. Skin rough and red from sun exposure. Dirty. He looks really dirty. I see him when I’m walking my dog. He’s always got a flagon of cider. Sometimes he’s sitting on the floor outside someone’s garage, other times he’s just ambling along. He nods at me, tips his head, a silent hi.
There’s something in his eyes that I like.
The first time I saw him I was walking the dog with my ten-year-old daughter. We passed through the allotments, her running ahead, the dog pulling like crazy. We crossed the bridge by the hospital and got onto the lane that runs along the dual carriageway, and there he was. Slumped against a tree trunk. My daughter stopped running and looked at him. He was out of it. His cider bottle – Country Choice – almost empty. His dirty hands cupped it loosely. He had pissed himself. Crotch like a dark continent.
My daughter looked at me, confused. ‘Is he asleep?’ she whispered. ‘Yes.’
‘He’s peed himself.’
I would have left him normally but it was winter. Around two degrees that morning. I kicked his boot and he opened his eyes.
‘You’re going to freeze,’ I said.
He nodded and slowly stood up. Kept nodding. Looked at his bottle. Squinted at my dog, then bunched up his scarred cheeks with a smile. His teeth looked clean compared to the rest of him.
‘Take care,’ I said, walking off with my daughter. After a few seconds I looked back and he was gone.
It first happens a month or so later. I’m on all fours, palms and knees sinking into the soft duvet. My husband is doing me from behind. Hands on my pelvic bones, thick pubic fuzz tickling my arse. Pounding away. And I suddenly imagine that it’s him. Him. Ramming his grimy dick inside me. My husband speeds up and says, ‘Yeah. Yeah,’ through clenched teeth and I imagine that they’re his words. The hands cupping my pelvis are his hands with the black finger creases.
And well, I come like crazy.
Afterwards, me and the husband hug. He smiles, says, ‘You seemed to enjoy yourself.’ I snuggle into his neck and imagine the smell of alcohol, old sweat and cigarettes infused in a leather jacket.
Associations. I’ve been making associations. Tramp equals filth. I want some filth. Germs, grime, bad smells. Because it is wrong and impure and abnormal. Rebellion? But aren’t I rebelling enough, with the occasional threeways and the husband who likes piss-play?
No, it’s not rebellion. Low self esteem? No, certainly not. Something from my childhood? Like, maybe once I saw my mum blowing my dad in the kitchen while I hid next to the overflowing bin, except I pushed it down deep and only now my psyche has decided to retch it up.
A simple fetish? Maybe I am like Napoleon, who apparently sent a letter to his wife saying, ‘Dear Josephine, I will be arriving home in three days. Don’t bathe.’
I just don’t know.
After a few months it goes away. I think about his pungent skin slid- ing against my own and nothing happens. Filth doesn’t turn me on anymore. A strange craving – pickled eggs from the jar – that was all.
But I still think of him. And when I see him sat against the allotment fence, knees up, flagon at the hip, smoking a roll-up, I get excited. Curious-excited. He gives me the same nod and smile, meeting my eyes, and I smile dumbly and walk on.
That look in his eyes, it’s a sort of charm. A confidence. He looks at me like he could have me.
My little girl is arranging the bookcase alphabetically. It’s something she got into recently – the DVDs, the CDs, now the books. I swear she’s going to grow up to be Obsessive–Compulsive. Or a librarian. She’s twenty minutes in and then she brings a book over to me. Women, by Charles Bukowski.
‘It’s all broken,’ she says. ‘Look.’ She opens it up. A bunch of pages fall out. ‘You should throw it away, Mum.’
‘Pass it here.’
I pick up the fallen pages and slot them back in. I notice a black-and-white profile shot of the author on the inside cover and ping! goes the lightbulb.
Here it is. I’ve always had this thing for Bukowski. I started out reading his stories for an essay I had to write. The usual feminist shtick about his objectification of women. I mean, I was supposed to hate this man. He writes about his alter-ego, Hank Chinaski, who’s mostly based on himself. In his earlier books he’s a down-and-out bum, a low-life, who drifts from menial job to menial job and spends his nights drinking and fighting, sometimes sleeping on park benches. At the time of Women, he’s a misanthropic old writer who likes drinking whiskey, gambling and fucking women. Woman after woman – many of them young and pretty. He’s an ugly old bastard too – lumpy, acne-blasted face, monkey mouth,
Neanderthal brow, eyes like slits.But I didn’t hate him. I wanted to be one of his women, to go over to his cheap LA apartment in a short dress and drink Old Granddad and have him scooch up to me on the couch and run his gorilla hands up my bare legs and breathe his whisky-stink into my face. To fuck me, badly. It couldn’t be good. Tongue like a soggy turtlehead, premature ejaculation, no oral. Maybe he’d piss the bed in the night. But I’d still go back for more. I’d make him love me. He’d write poems about me.
But Bukowski had been dead eight years when I discovered him. And anyway, I live in Wales.
My daughter goes back to the bookcase and gets back to work. I flip the pages of Women
and read random pages, smiling. And I look at the picture again.
Lately I’ve been avoiding the lanes by the allotments because the crazy old Irish bitch who feeds the stray cats has started throwing small apples at my dog. But I want to see my Bukowski. Twice a day I make the walk. Once in the morning, after my daughter leaves for school, once in the evening, after dinner. A whole week and I don’t see him. Or the crazy cat lady.
The second week I see them both. Half nine in the morning. Crazy Cat Lady’s pouring dry cat food into an old margarine tub. Four cats sit around watching her. One of them’s only got one ear. They see my lolloping beagle and run like hell. Crazy Cat Lady looks up, eyes scrunched like evil lemon slices.
‘Get dat dog away from here!’
‘It’s a lane,’ I say. ‘It’s public proper’
‘You shut yer mouth and keep movin’.’
Mouth shuts. I know she’s unhinged so I move on.
‘Dat’s roight,’ she yells, ‘Keep on walkin’. Do not pass Go, do not collect two haundred pounds.’
And then I hear another voice. ‘Oh no you don’t.’ A man’s voice.
Scratchy and smoke-grazed.My heart twists like a cold flannel. He’s stood there, swaying and glaring at Crazy Cat Lady, who is on tiptoes picking a small red apple from the tree that overhangs the allotment fence.
‘Don’t you throw any more apples.’
Crazy Cat Lady scowls out of her lemony eyes. ‘Oh, geddaway widja, ya vagrant.’
He shows her his flagon of cider. ‘You throw that at her, I’ll throw this over you.’ He tries to fix his bleary eyes on hers. ‘Understand?’
‘You wanna get a job, ya worthless fool.’
He takes a step forward and lifts the flagon.
‘No, it’s OK,’ I say, rushing forward. ‘Her aim’s not very good. Honestly, it’s fine.’
He looks at me. ‘She threw one at me yesterday.’
‘Just ignore her. She’s mental.’
‘You wanna get yerself an education!’ she shouts at me. But she drops the apple. It lands on the floor and rolls toward his boot. He stamps on it. Smoush. Almost falls over. Cider sloshes out of his bottle. Crazy Cat Lady tuts with disgust and goes back into her garden.
I’m left alone with my Bukowski.
He smiles. That confidence curling his mouth. Eyes kind of knowing.
‘Thanks,’ I say. ‘For sticking up for me. Thanks.’
He waves a hand. Black crescent moons under his nails. ‘No worries, love. She’s a fucking nutjob though, ainshe?’ I nod. He pulls a half-smoked roll-up out of his jacket pocket. Coughs. Stuffs it in his mouth. Looks at me. ‘Gotta light?’
Nodding, I pull a lighter out of my back pocket. I lean in and light it for him. He cups his grainy hands around my own and sucks until the black ash frazzles red. Up close I see his eyes are a light golden brown. Almost amber. I smell leather and a perfumey tang of ethanol, ashtrays and mouthwash. A pub smell.
‘Ta,’ he says. He holds his flagon out to me. ‘Want some?’
I laugh. He keeps his arm extended. Shakes the bottle. ‘A drink’s a drink,’ he says. I look around. There’s no one else in the lane. ‘Why not?’ I say.
I drink some of his Special Vat. It’s warm and disgusting. ‘Thank you.’ I hand the bottle back. He takes a glug himself. Then he gets on his knees and scratches my dog behind the ears. ‘Hello, little fella, what’s yername?’
‘Hank,’ I say.
‘Hank! That’s a good, strong name.’ He stands back up, almost falls over. I catch his elbow.
‘Fuck me!’ he says.
I stand there for a bit, watching him smoke and cough. ‘Well I should be getting home,’ I say. He winks. ‘Be seein’ you.’
I smile. Walk away. I hope he’s checking out my arse, Bukowski style.
We’ve argued, me and the husband. Because he wants to open up our relationship beyond the odd threesome and maybe sleep with other people. Separately. Him and some woman I’ve never met, just the two of them; me and some man he’s never met, just the two of us. As if he could handle that. As if I could.
I kicked him out of the house and he went to stay with his mother in Pontcanna, taking the dog with him. That was last Monday. Now it’s Thursday. I’ve been pacing the house, chain-smoking, thinking. Listening to Fleetwood Mac over and over.
It’s around eleven in the morning. The daughter’s in school. I decide I want a drink. A red wine. I pour myself a glass of some Fairtrade stuff my husband likes. Pinot Noir. The arsehole can’t even pronounce it properly. Peenoh noor, he says. Arsehole. I sit in the kitchen, drinking and smoking. He’s already got some woman lined up for himself, I think. That’s why he’s doing this. The arsehole. I get through the bottle pretty quickly. On an empty stomach. But for some reason it doesn’t hit me that hard. I open another bottle, same variety.
You know where this is going.
By lunchtime I’m hunting the lanes behind Whitchurch Road. It’s a whim. Crazy. He won’t be around and I’ll go home, stopping off at the off-licence for some cigarettes. But I find him. Standing by the bridge with his flagon, leaning against the yellow railing. He sees me and smiles.
‘Hey, how’s Hank?’ he says.
He nods. Holds his hand out as if indicating a short child. ‘Little brown and white fucker, this high.’
I nod a smile. Pull two cigarettes out of my packet, hold one out to him.
‘How kind,’ he says.
I lay my hand on his forearm – I can be a vicious flirt – and ask him for a light.
Ten minutes later he’s in my lounge, sitting on my buttercream leather settee. Leaning back, legs open, bottle of my husband’s beer on his thigh. Relaxed. The old dog.
I’ve put on some classical. Chopin. Bukowski liked classical musical. My Bukowski doesn’t seem to notice it. He takes regular hits on his beer and looks around the room with drunken eyes. Sometimes they settle on my bare legs. Which is how it’s supposed to go. I’m sat on a chair opposite him, legs crossed lazily like some femme fatale. I’m wearing a small yellow dress. There’s red wine down the front.
‘Do you ever get into fights?’ I ask him.
‘Do I ever get into fights?’
‘No I don’t. I keep away from fights. People hit me sometimes.’
‘Yeah. Teenagers. When I’ve taken too much drink.’
‘Can you take a punch?’
‘I’m alive, aren’t I?’ He knocks back some beer. I throw him a cigarette.
‘Can I do your hair?’ I say.
‘Let me do your hair. Let me comb it.’
‘You do whatever you like!’ He shakes his head, amused.
I go get my comb. Sit on his lap. His hair is all raggy around his face. Centre-parted, receding slightly. I comb it back. He squints up at me, smoke drifting out of his nose. He smells bad. I don’t mind. I push some stray hairs behind his ears. ‘That’s better.’ He has a scruffy widow’s peak now. Hair pushed back, a little wavy at the rear. Like you-know-who.
‘Can I have another beer?’ he says.
He’s in his off-white boxers. Beige socks with a brown tartan pattern at the top. Gangly limbs, small hairy pot belly. Teeny-tiny nipples. Standing on the bed. He’s got a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, a copy of Bukowski’s poetry in one hand, a bottle of beer in the other.
‘I got in the shower and burned my balls last Wednesday.’
‘No,’ I say, splashing wine all over my thighs. ‘Do an American accent.’ He sucks on his cigarette and starts again.
‘I got in the shower –’
‘Yes, like that. That’s good. But more gritty. More tired. You’re tired of life, you hate people. Slow it down.’
‘I got in the shower –’ he glances at me, I nod ‘– and burned my balls last Wednesday.’
He takes a swig of beer. Sniffs. ‘Met this painter called Spain.’ He smokes his cigarette. Ash falls onto the bed. ‘No, he was a cartoonist, well, I met him at a party.’ He goes on reading nice and slow, smoking and drinking between lines and stanzas. The American accent comes and goes. I’m on the beanbag, chin on my hands. Aroused.
He reaches the last verse. ‘I not only burnt my balls in that shower last Wednesday, I spun around to get out of the burning water and burnt my bunghole too.’
He looks down at me, swaying. ‘That isn’t poetry. What kind of poetry is that?’
‘That’s a good attitude to have,’ I say. ‘But you’re wrong. He’s a genius.’
I wave his comment away. ‘Come down from there.’ I finish my wine. ‘I want you to take your shorts off and mount me, you dirty old tramp.’
‘I can do that.’ He balls his lit fag-end up between his thumb and fingers like it’s a wad of bubblegum and aims it at the bin. Misses.
I lean over to my knicker drawer and pull out a condom. Bukowski wouldn’t use a condom. Or he would, but right at the end he’d yank it off, sink his dick back in and say, ‘You can have my seed and like it, you whore.’
But you can take something too far.
I don’t like his kisses. In fact, they’re horrible. But in spite of this, or maybe because of this, I’m turned on. We roll around on my Habitat bedspread, two drunken things, shedding layers. His penis is disgusting – it smells like cheese and it’s an angry purplish-red colour. But in spite of this, or maybe because of this, I want it in me. I hook my legs around him and we roll and grope. The clock in the hallway chimes three times. The daughter will be home in forty minutes. Time enough.
But he can’t keep it up. His dick, that is. It’s like a long, uncooked sausage, flopping all over the place, the condom like a stupid baggy hat. I give up and push him off me. We lie there, breathing through our mouths. I have my forearm over my eyes.
‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘I’m too drunk.’
‘It’s OK,’ I say.
‘Can I bum another cigarette?’ he says.
I see him off. I give him a couple of cigarettes, a few clean pairs of my husband’s boxer shorts, a tuna sandwich and a dusty bottle of Drambuie left over from two Christmases ago. I don’t hug him or kiss him. Instead I say this: ‘You need to wash your willy sometimes.’
‘Thank you for your advice,’ he says. ‘Having a clean penis shall now be on the top of my priority list. Before finding a permanent home and a desirable income even.’ He grins then hobbles off my doorstep and goes down the garden path. ‘Till next time,’ he calls, opening the small gate.
I don’t say anything. I watch him turn right – towards the lanes probably. And then he’s gone.
And two seconds later my daughter is turning in, her eyes on his retreating figure. She walks up the path in her blue school uniform, bag over her shoulder.
‘Mum?’ she says, big eyes. ‘That was the man who peed himself in the lane.’
I down the rest of my wine and stuff the empty bottle in the privet hedge. ‘Yes, it was. The very man.’
story, ‘Split Me in Two, Gareth Moon’, appeared in New Welsh Review 103
, spring 2014; her poetry pamphlet, Just Like That
, was published by Mulfran in 2011.
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