By Hannah Sutherland
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There he is. Jude’s mouth tightens into a thin line, a grimace, as he walks back to me. The plastic cup is half empty and looks disproportionately tiny in his sizeable hand. The waiting area is stuffy with entirely too many bodies in it; he sits down next to me, smelling of freshly laundered clothes, cigarettes and cologne, and passes me the cup. I sip gratefully. Chipped magnolia walls, bashed by trolleys, close in on me, suffocating; I can see a glimpse of the outside world behind the limp curtain, but it is out of reach.
I hear him sigh and rub the back of his neck with his left hand which has veins protruding that run outwardly up his arm. The type of veins you get when you eat too much protein and work out incessantly. I take a deep breath and exhale; his proximity to me makes it hard to concentrate on anything so I focus on the clock ticking on the wall ahead of us. Failing to count the passing seconds, I look up at his face and note the new thin lines like a spider’s web weaved across his forehead. Aged a decade in the space of a few days with the worry I am causing him.
He glances at his watch and starts tapping his foot on the ground but it’s out of time with the clock. I want to scream at him to just leave and go home but the sensation of needing him is more overwhelming than my irritation. He moans about the discomfort he feels with the hard, plastic seats then instantly apologises for complaining. I tell him it’s okay and he nods, his face flushes and he scratches his neck. I wonder if the others around us know what’s happening to us, if it is displayed on my face, obvious for all to see.
He makes a slight ahem, clearing his throat as the midwife shouts for Summer Greene. That’s my name. It gives connotations that I am a carefree joyful person who exudes warmth.
Reluctantly I stand up. I already know our fate; we are just confirming it. A formality. Jude asks if he should come in with me. I shrug, pretending I’m not bothered a great deal either way although I am. He decides he should. We walk together towards the room at the end of the narrow corridor with the white door which creaks when we enter.
But we are not together.
His house was beside the harbour and his bedroom was always stiflingly hot. He opened a window and the gulls squawked; the salty air invaded my nostrils. He had a double bed with silk pillowcases in a neutral colour. His bedroom was decorated much the same, in nudes and beige. Clean and controlled.
I ran my finger over the rim of the wine glass as I reclined on the silk, sucking in my stomach further as though attempting to get my belly button to touch my spine, trying to make myself irresistible to him. I know I have an appealing feline face with soft features and full lips. My body is adequate; I don’t dislike it majorly. I know how to make myself appear pretty, but I do not radiate natural beauty like his ex-wife. I hate her, I told myself and my mood lifted instantly.
He looked divine as the fading light from outside covered his body and illuminated him. We had been meeting like this for sex for approximately the last six months. Before that, I didn’t particularly like him much as a person with the air of arrogance which followed him around. When he was in work, he was outspoken and bold; in private he was the opposite.
Our tryst began one night at the bustling pub, which was overcrowded with loud conversations, where we went ritualistically after work every Friday. It marked the weekend which was followed by raging hangovers for the entirety of Saturday. A futile venture, when you consider it, but I didn’t think very deeply back then.
It was unusual for Jude to join us at the pub and he wasn’t made to feel welcome. Our colleagues shot him unwavering looks of disdain; he was normally the topic of conversation. After a few beers, he joined me for a cigarette where I was careful not to blow smoke directly at his face. I said something about how rare it was for him to join us and I was pleased he had. He smiled shyly and said I must have been the only one to think that.
After some casual chit-chat, he brought his hand to my cheek and brushed it gently but enough for me to want him. I kissed him, underneath the dark sky christened with stars as people carried on around us. We pulled apart after a moment and he bit his lip and started to laugh slightly, putting his hand to his mouth as though tracing where my lips had been. A bashful smile etched on his mouth as he shook his head.
What would someone like you want with someone like me anyway? he said.
I laughed loudly into his face as though it was the most ridiculous thing anyone had ever said to me. It had never struck me that he may have been as full of self-doubt as I was. After we kissed some more, I told him he should come back to mine.
It’s um, it’s been a long time since I’ve been intimate with anyone, he said as we lay beneath the sheets, limbs entangled.He seemed vulnerable in that moment, far removed from the façade of the steely professional with the stern expression and expensive clothes.
I am told to unbutton my jeans and lie on my back, my top curled upwards. The midwife squeezes the cold gel onto my stomach; the well-lubricated ultrasound wand examines me. I glance at Jude who is frowning, peering at the screen and I know it’s only a matter of seconds before we know. I close my eyes and hold onto what could have been, already grieving for the loss of what once was ours.
Sometimes I was entirely nasty to him when we were intimate, and I enjoyed it. I look back on this now and fail to recognise myself. It was as though he didn’t value himself enough as a person to tell me to stop. I read to him what was said about him in the work What’s App group, finding it fascinating to see the chips in his stone exterior appear. Does that mean I am being served karma now and I am deserving?
Is that so? Is that what they’re saying about me then? he said.
His jaw was in a tight grimace as he rubbed his forehead. It turned white momentarily before returning to its natural colour.
Do you like it when I’m cruel to you? I asked.
No. Not as such, he said.
I hurt him because I liked it. And he let me.
I think of how lonely my womb looks without our tenant residing inside. The midwife says she’s sorry. Jude even reaches over and holds my hand in a feigned attempt at solidarity. He holds me for a moment, skin upon skin, hearts beating quickly but not together. In all our months of intimacy, I’ve felt more alone. I withdraw from him. I think I may vomit, bile threatening to spill from my mouth, but I swallow it back down and sit up like a puppet whose thoughts are no longer my own.
A ceaseless buzz of chatter and laughter filled the school playground filled with stalls stacked with delectable sweeties and prizes and a row full of inflatables. Jude looked directly at me with his cool grey eyes. My mind bent like a spoon and I couldn’t form thoughts. I swallowed then I briskly walked past the pupils who were shoving cloud-like candy floss and sugary drinks down their throats or in contrast, biting apples in a bid to resemble healthy eating.
The sun was blistering hot and I was almost certain my milky Scottish skin would turn crimson and my nose would peel and curl up like bacon. My colleagues muttered that Jude was an arsehole for making us work a Saturday. I found myself unusually defensive; wishing to stick up for the man I was secretly fucking yet unable to do so. It felt immeasurably wrong to admit to anyone else our intimacy. I wondered if the secrecy was what excited me; would I have even been attracted to this older man at all if we had met conventionally at a bar?
At that moment, a little girl with mousey blonde hair and teeth too large for her mouth ran up to him and his demeanour changed. He was animated as he threw her in the air. I found myself strangely jealous of this little girl with the overbearing mouth and instantly wanted to cry.
I bit the inside of my mouth relentlessly until I tasted metallic.
Right. That’s that then, Jude says.
He is flushed. I pull my top down after cleaning off the lubrication with a blue paper towel which scratches my bare stomach. The low yellow light flickers irregularly and I feel dizzy, like I’m watching a scene from fiction, removed from reality.
I wonder for a moment if Jude may cry but instead his mouth moves into a firm line. He nods at the midwife and stands up.
That’s that then, he repeats.
I asked him about the little girl when we were together the night after the fayre. He was soaking wet as he came out of the bathroom; his towel hung securely on his narrow hips.
She’s my daughter, Jude said matter of fact, you know I’m divorced.
I suddenly felt like I was ten years old, a foolish child being told off by the headmaster.
I didn’t know you had a daughter: I said quietly.
Does it make a difference? he asked.
I shrugged impassively, not placing the feeling of jealousy at the time. Sadness settled in my stomach and took permanent residency when I imagined this whole other life he had before me. I was in the mood for arguing, desperate not to feel anything. I told him we use each other for our own sexual gratification and nothing more and even then, he didn’t fulfil me. When I’d finished, I felt better about myself, but he looked hurt.
In reality, I don’t really believe this about our tryst. I’m quite fond of him now. I longed to run my finger over the scattering of freckles splayed over his nose. I adored those curly eyelashes. He was sensitive and delicate and too good for me. I think I might have even loved him a little.
I don’t think we should see each other again, he said.
If you’d prefer that, I told him.
Yes, I would, he told me.
I left and did not return.
I tell him I don’t need a lift home. He looks at me with his cool grey eyes for a moment too long and I think my legs may collapse. My head may hit the cold pavement below us, spraying crimson blood and I may never get up again. I may die today too. He opens his mouth to speak but he changes his mind and closes it. I thank him for coming and he tells me no problem.
All the best then Summer, he says, goodbye. Then he walks away.