A magnificently dark tale of obsession. By Vhairi Slaven
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I had never done this kind of thing before, going on a date with a man I had never met. Usually the guys I went out with were friends, or friends of friends, not strangers. We had been messaging each other for weeks, flirting and playing little games, and I felt it was time to take things further. I was sharing a house with two guys at the time and of course, they had encouraged it. I was in the prime of my life, no longer in my youth, but physically fit and I had learned to appreciate the way I looked. Unlike most of my friends I was not looking for a husband or a family. I am not the settling down type. My worst fear was being normal, of looking back in twenty years time and regretting all the things I hadn’t done. It was not what I should have been afraid of.
I took time getting ready, styling my hair in large loose waves, highlighting the right places on my cheeks, and shading the corners of my eyes a deep purple. I put on black leggings that skimmed the curves of my legs and a baggy top that looked casual but was short enough to show my waist. The only visible flesh was on my neck and arms, but if a man looked, he would see every curve on my body.
He was waiting for me outside the coffee shop where we had arranged to meet. The air was clear and cold, the kind that burns your cheeks and makes your breath look like smoke. He was dressed in a double-breasted coat, smart shoes, and a navy woollen jumper. He was tall but smaller than I had imagined. As I approached, he looked at me with his dark eyes and blood rushed to my cheeks.
“Hey, how are you? S’gonna close, you wanna go to a bar instead?” he said in a Spanish accent.
“Yeah. Why not?” I felt younger than I should.
We went to a bar around the corner and sat facing each other, our knees almost touching. When he took his jacket off, I saw that his torso was very narrow and he had delicate hands. His hair was black, thick and wavy, his eyes darker than I had first thought. At times I had to look away. I wasn’t sure whether it was because I found him so handsome, or because his eyes, full of intent, made me feel uneasy. His skin looked soft beneath his stubble, not quite a beard, but overgrown. His angular face was not friendly, but pointed. He had full red lips, but his smile was not warm; it was the kind that comes with an arched eyebrow or a raised lip.
We had no trouble finding things to talk about. He even knew some of the more obscure films and musicians I liked, in which most people I knew had no interest. He read books in English as well as Spanish. I could have listened to his deep accent for hours. He was manly, but there was something very boyish about him, and I have always liked that. If I had written him on paper I couldn’t have described a more desirable man.
We talked for a couple of hours, and after several glasses of wine, he suggested we go to a cellar bar he knew with a real fire. Although I had decided to be confident before I left home, I was unprepared for this type of attraction and unsure what to say. Looking at him created such a commotion inside of me.
“Where in Spain are you from?” I asked.
“The north. Just south of the Pyrenees.”
“So you are used to living in the country?”
“Yeah, I much prefer the country, much more attractive.” He smiled. Everything he said seemed heavy with meaning.
He went to the bar and while he was waiting for our drinks, I noticed him looking at me again, taking in my lips, my flushed cheeks, my grey eyes, and the bare skin available to him from my collarbone to my neck.
He sat down next to me. “I’m really glad I came, actually.”
“Me too,” I managed, blushing, unused to being studied like that. “Let’s play another game,” I suggested.
“Instead of asking the usual questions, let’s ask each other what we really want to know.”
“Sounds interesting.” He laughed. “You start.”
“Have you met anyone like this before?”
“Yeah I met a couple of girls like this.” He shrugged. “What is it you are looking for?”
“In terms of a relationship?” He nodded. “I don’t know, a handsome guy with nice arms who I could spend some time with.” It felt like a pathetic thing to say, but it was honest.
“Nice arms? Ha. You like these arms?”
He offered one to me. It was a small seat, and we were side by side. I gave it a quick squeeze, pretending the contact didn’t give me as much pleasure at it did.
“Yeah, they’re alright,” I flashed a smile at him. “What do you look for in a woman?”
“Beautiful eyes. An innocence about her, but she likes to take risks. Do you like to take risks?”
“I like to take risks.” I answered as confidently as I could. My heart was thumping.
We continued talking until midnight. When he walked me back to my car we laughed to see we had parked next to each other.
“Thank you.” I smiled.
He stepped forward, looked at me silently for a few seconds, and kissed me. It was powerful, but short. He got into his car and drove away.
Now, the way things have turned out, I do wonder at myself for asking for him into my life. That is the thing about asking; you have to make sure you don’t leave certain things out. I asked for a handsome man who made my insides burn, an intelligent man who would challenge me. He is all of those things, but that is not all that he is. I got exactly what I wanted, but Heaven knows I simply did not consider what he could be. God help my soul, I wanted to burn.
Before I met him, I was bored. Normality feels like being stuck in a closed room with the heating turned on, waiting for bad news. I cannot suffer waiting. I want to happen. I want to surprise the very air around me, to shake my heart around a little, to feel alive. Other people think things happen to them, but they don’t. You invite them, the way I invited him.
We went out another few times the way normal people do, but I had no patience. Our messages to each other became more and more suggestive, and our games less subtle. It wasn’t long before I invited him to my house. We pretended that he was there to watch a film. After a few minutes he turned to me and said, “I’m bored with the movie now,” before taking the laptop, sitting it on the floor and leaning over me to kiss me. Without a word, I obeyed his every touch. He was not tender, but he was passionate. His arms squeezed mine in exactly the way I wanted them to. His eyes had intent, as if the only thing that existed for him was my body and his desire to touch it in as many ways as he could. It was this thirst in his eyes that turned me on, made me forget everything else, the usual insecurities and random thoughts that can disturb concentration gone. My only awareness was of what we were doing, of skin touching skin, lips pressing against lips, hands and bodies moving and intertwining. Then he stopped, hovered over me, and began to touch me. He watched me all the time, his craving growing, but did not stop until I abandoned myself completely and then he entered my bloodstream.
He stayed the night, but we did not fall into a loving slumber wrapped in each other’s arms. He lay there and pretended to sleep. Try as I could, sleep would not come to me either. I was so aware of him, of his breathing, of the weight of his body on my bed. When he was lying there I wanted him gone, but I couldn’t ask him to leave. He left in the early morning before the light came up, saying, simply, “Go to sleep.”
I didn’t hear from him for days. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t care, tried to teach myself to stop thinking about him, and then he appeared at my door. All he had to do was give me a quick excuse and say how much he wanted me in that husky Spanish voice and I let him back into my bed and it all began again. His hands touching me, his muscular arms squeezing mine. It was an insatiable need. But those dark eyes penetrating me not only excited me, they made my guts churn, as if I was remembering an awful deed for which I couldn’t quite forgive myself.
He went away for Christmas and when he came back he spent more time with me. Took me out to restaurants, bars and hotels. Always expensive places I had never been before. I knew very quickly that it was not love or fondness we felt for each other. It was as though we were having an affair, even though I knew he didn’t have a girlfriend. I never asked him if he saw other women. I don’t know why. I didn’t want to show any kind of weakness. I didn’t want him to think that I cared if I was the only one. I didn’t want to let myself care. I hated the thought that he or any man had any kind of control over me.
He had this way of charming people, not only women, but men too, he told me. He never seemed to turn it off. He knew things. How to plant messages in peoples’ minds, how to use his body language and eye contact, how to flirt and flatter. Then he would make suggestions, and before they knew it, they had decided to take a risk they would never have considered. Afterwards, they were never quite sure how it had all happened.
“You mean manipulation?” I asked him one night we were out in a bar in the West End of the city.
“Nah, s’much more subtle than that. Much more fun. Maybe I encourage them to do things, but the desire’s always there. I give them something of what they desire, or a means to get it. It just so happens that it is often something I want also. Only weak people, call it manipulation, ‘cause they feel manipulated. Strong people don’t feel manipulated. They can handle it. Like you.”
He smiled knowingly. I felt a flush of shame, but pushed it away.
“I’m not like you. I couldn’t do the things you do.” I thought I meant it, but my voice sounded small.
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe you are one of the weak ones after all. You need to have balls to take risks.” He was sitting back on his chair in that way only men can pull off, legs spread out wide, elbows hanging over the arm rests, taking up as much space as he could. He looked as handsome as he ever had.
My face burned with indignation. “I do have balls.”
“Not the kind of balls I have. You’re a woman.” He continued to smirk.
I had an urge to push the chair over with my foot, but I fought it. “I have balls just as big as yours, woman or not.”
I’d had a few glasses of wine and the alcohol had created that dangerous mixture of increased bravery and reduced reason. Before I knew it, I was showing him just how capable a woman I was. I pulled myself up even taller than usual and walked over to the wealthiest-looking guy in the bar, whom we had been discussing earlier. I enjoyed walking towards him on the way to the ladies’ room, not looking at him until I was just about to step past, throwing him a look knowing he had been watching me all the time. On the way back I bumped into his chair, instigating a conversation. He didn’t care that I was in the bar with another man, or that I was flirting with him despite that. When he eventually brought it up, I said that I was with my business partner, creating an interest in what I did. I don’t know where the lies came from, but they flowed from my mouth like the tap in the bathroom. He must have known that I had some kind of motive for speaking to him, even if it was simply that I wanted to date a rich man. It made me feel contempt for him. He didn’t care. He would have taken me anyway and probably left me for someone else to clean up like a dirty shirt. I told myself he deserved anything I decided to do to him. I found out what kind of business he was in and pretended that I had a deal he might be interested in. I arranged a meeting with him later in the week.
The shame was lurking there, but also the empowering feeling that comes with breaking the rules. I had always enjoyed breaking the rules. I thought about the expression, “You have to grab life by the horns.” I wanted to sink my teeth into life and tear out its flesh, to violently tear it apart and swallow it. When I returned to our table, I could see the pleasure he got out of watching me play it. His game.
Afterwards I told myself I would not meet the wealthy guy. I made excuses, but he kept bringing it up and using it against me. I protested that I didn’t know what to say to the guy, that I didn’t have the knowledge to seriously do a deal with him. I didn’t even have a deal.
“Find one.” He said from the chair in my kitchen. The one he always sat on, the one on the corner that gave him the full view of the kitchen, and me wherever I went in it.
“I can’t just make one up.” I was standing at the counter, trying to keep some distance.
“Of course you can.” He stood up.
“He would never believe a thing I said.”
“Just research the guy, research a deal, get him to pay for it and you take a profit without putting any money in.” He walked towards me slowly, looking at me as thought he had just suggested something very different,
“If the guy is a businessman, he will be too smart to fall for that.”
“Depends how you pitch it to him, and it depends what it is he really wants. If he’s doing a deal with you, it is not simply because he wants the money.” He walked right into my space as he said this, took my hand in his gently, and took the wine glass out of it. He placed it on the counter, refilled my glass and placed my fingers back around it.
“What are you suggesting?” I snatched my hand away, spilling the wine.
“What’s the point in pretending it’s a deal then, why don’t I just say this is how much it costs and be done with it?”
“You think that is all he wants with someone like you? Well, perhaps at first, but not once he sees that fire in your eyes. Besides, you can get more out of him this way.” He moved a further step forward making me lean back into the corner of the worktop.
“What are you talking about?”
“He doesn’t just want to have sex with you. He wants that part of you that is unattainable, that wild look in your eyes that no man has. You are something he could have again and again and never own. No amount of money could buy the feeling you give a man. A woman like you.”
His brown eyes held me there.
“What does that even mean? What are you saying? What are you suggesting that I do?” I put my hands flat against his chest as he leaned closer.
“I am suggesting you be aware of what I just told you, and you play with him knowing that he would break you if he could.” He was stronger than me and managed to get close enough to kiss me. I was unable to make myself stop him. I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
“You play with him like you are not aware of what I just told you and you will have him in the palm of your hand, you will be able to get him to do things I would never be able to get him to do”. He kissed me again, longer this time, as he stroked my free hand.
I pulled back eventually. “I don’t want to do that. Why would I want to? I don’t want to break anyone. Not even someone as fickle as he is. What would I get from it?”
“Look you don’t have to break him, although you could. Just play with him a little, just meet him for lunch and try out what I am telling you and see how you like it. You’ll enjoy it. I know you will. You said you don’t want to work nine to five, you hate your job, you can think of nothing worse than staying in the same job forever and settling down. You want to travel. You want to live an extraordinary life. You need money to do that, and lots of it. This guy has so much money, he’s not gonna miss the little that you get out of him. Do the deal I told you about and you won’t need to work.”
He turned away quietly and sat back down at his seat at the table, as though we were having a perfectly innocent conversation. He smiled that lopsided smile when he faced me again.
Our conversations were relentless debates that I never won. He lured me down awful corridors, places I had always known but rarely went. There his voice echoed.
I could feel my morality slipping away. I was still aware of right and wrong, but the raw experience of what I was doing was so intense that I no longer cared. Reason was losing the fight with my yearning to feel. Like when you cannot stop yourself from scratching an itch, and get so frantic doing it that you almost feel aroused. Until you draw blood.
I had the strangest nightmares when he was not with me. In one I lifted a glass of wine to my lips, but instead of drinking, I found myself eating the glass instead. The glass cracked on my teeth, the sharp shards sliced my lips and my tongue. The glass scraped and crunched against my teeth making me nauseous.
In another I was in a large white room filled with people who were walking into a dark hole, to death or something worse. I was the only one running around trying to escape, but there were no doors. I could not see his face, but I could feel him standing over me, his eyes searching for me. I could feel the enormous presence of his shadow, which filled the entire room, and his dark eyes flitting around. I woke up sweating just as those eyes found mine.
I drank wine with lunch to calm my nerves before I went to meet the businessman. I was worried that he would see me for what I really was and would laugh at me as though I was back in school. I did what I was told. I told myself that I had something this man wanted.
I dressed expensively in some of the new designer clothes I had bought and asked him to meet me in a new restaurant that had recently opened. I knew the owners. The building was of beautiful red sandstone, and had once been an old hospital in the Merchant City. The ceilings were high and chandeliers hung from them. When I arrived, I walked tall and smiled as though everyone in the room were watching me, like he told me to. The waiter wore a suit and introduced himself. The restaurant was like a memory of an age when wealth was something that was performed, and I played the part.
“I’ll have an Old Fashioned please, James,” I stated when he addressed me by my name.
“What’s that?” My companion asked, intrigued.
“It’s a whiskey with sugar, bitters and orange. You should try it. It’s a wonderful mix of contradictions”.
“Like a woman.” He smiled.
I smiled back. “Perhaps. Why not try it?”
We had several. We flirted and I gave him my proposal. The money he would be handing over to us was obscene, we had put together a proposal with incredible projections, but it was lies. I couldn’t understand how someone like him would fall for it. He said he was interested but that he would have to consider for a few days. I thought he must just have been stringing me along before he exposed me. At least that would have been an end to it.
A few days later, he called and we arranged to meet again. He came back with his own terms, one stipulating that he would only deal with me regarding any correspondence. I told him I would need to take the time to consider his terms with my partners. This time he was overly friendly. He touched my arm several times and I wanted to smack him in the face with it. He kept making comments about how closely we would be working together. I started to panic. I knew what he wanted but I didn’t know how far I would let things go. I made an excuse and left.
I feel myself changing. I feel a deep loathing for everyone around me. I see right through people. I see their weakness and ugliness and know that I cannot trust any of them. They all deserve it. This is what he tells me, and I believe him. They all let you down in the end. I don’t feel like myself around my friends anymore. I feel like an imposter, and that they know it. They invite me to their houses and they ask about him, but it is as though they are trying to trip me up and prove that I am not who I say I am, not myself, their friend, but some awful person hiding in her skin. Their dull lives are like a completely different world to mine. Their bungalows, their routines, and their children’s cotton clothes suffocate me. Even my best friend, who never judges me, seems like she is looking right into me, searching for the real me and finding only a blank space behind my eyes. I see her sadness when she looks at me, and I can’t bear it.
I constantly feel people looking at me. It makes me want to sew my eyes shut, but I know that if I did I would still feel them looking. If anyone else touches me, it makes me want to peel my own skin off. My appetite for anything other than intoxication is gone. Whenever he goes away again, I detest myself, I lock myself away in my room and the full extent of the mess I am in makes me heavy. I bury my head in my pillow and I promise myself that the next time I will not let him back in, I will ask for help. I never do.
I have quit my job. I have given up on all my creative projects. I haven’t looked at my bank account in months. I am missing payments on my loan and the numerous credit cards I have taken out. My guitar sits untouched and neglected in the corner. I cannot see any hope in anything anymore. It seems like everything is draining away from my life and I cannot stop it.
My sister came to see me. She wanted to know what I was doing with him and with my life. She said my parents were worried about me. They didn’t like the way I looked, the way I was talking. We had an argument and I said such things to her. Despicable words escaped my mouth. I don’t know where they came from. I did not mean a word, but now she won’t talk to me and I am utterly alone. The one person who I thought would always be on my side has left me.
He is here again tonight. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve again. I feel like I have aged a lifetime since I met him on that first date last year. I was light then, full of anticipation, full of hope. Now I carry a weight far, far down a dark path, miles in the wrong direction. Last year I felt full of Christmas spirit, but tonight I feel like my house exists in some other world where the twinkling lights of Christmas have never been lit. This is a cold, adult place where children are not allowed. It is just the two of us. He sits at my kitchen table, lounging with a glass of red wine in his hand, stroking it with his fingers as he watches me stand at the counter, holding my own glass.
“I am calling it all off. I don’t want any more to do with this. I want you to leave.” I try to sound convincing, but the words are like the glass in my dream. Spitting them out is painful.
He shrugs. I look away, to the bowl of Christmas confetti on the kitchen table. It looks so red compared to the rest of the kitchen. Blood on pale skin. His other hand touches the bowl. He has this look in his eyes, a smug gleam, and there is nothing good about it. He is admiring his work. He can sense my fear and the fire that has been lit within me. His eyes are so dark I cannot make out the pupils. His lips are too red. His eyebrows meet in the middle. A line comes into my head and spins there. “He comes as everything you’ve ever wished for.”
He notices that I have finally recognised him and grins, showing small white teeth. My fear is replaced by horror, not at what he will do to me, but at what he will make me do. I look away and my eyes fall on an image of myself in the window. The distance and the glass have distorted the reflection. Instead of eyes, I see two hollow, dark holes; instead of myself, I see a fiend. Me. I invited him.
Vhairi Slaven is a writer from Ayrshire who loves devilish and thought-provoking stories.