The only good thing you can say about January is that its arrival proves that the festive season is behind us. That’s not much consolation though as the cruel wind howls down the Hackney Road, a bleak knife slash through council estates, sweat shops and the occasional mosque. My mobile rings. It’s Sasha. Well, we have been apart for at least two minutes.
“Williamson has booked more foxy boxing!”
He needs his head examining . At least he will by the time he has done a few rounds with Slasher Sasha.
“That’s quick work, kid,” I tell her. Sometimes it’s appropriate for me to offer paternal encouragement. She does love her adorable old Daddy. And I’m good at it, also looking the part these days. And I never had to act much to be a grumpy old git. I have been preparing for this part for decades. A mooch round some charity shops gets me a splendid East German greatcoat, stuff for Sasha and a dull but functional white fan heater. Once inside this tough yet elegant double breasted coat I am ready for whatever Sasha will throw at me on my return. Although it turns out the storm has passed.
“Like the coat,” says Sasha, perking up instantly, as the thick flaring lapels have given me a surrogate barrel chest. The top half flatters your shoulders while the lower half flares gracefully down to the mid shin bone. When I put it on Sasha stands on tip toe to brush some imaginary fluff off my shoulders. Something inside her has melted just at the sight of a man in uniform. It’s worth remembering that this is the easiest way for men to look good, certainly a better bet than showing up at an orgy looking like a rubber mutant. It is a tribute to the power of the overcoat that it prevented Sasha from looking at the stuff I bought for her. For about twenty seconds. One fond peck on my cheek and she scampers off to where some plastic bags are full of girl clothes. She once would have chided me for not taking a cloth carrier bag with me but I think even she’s given up saving the planet now. And nothing is as important as dressing up and showing off. For a while she is genuinely happy – parading up and down in front of the mirror in several pairs of new shoes.
Then she notices a musty old hardback book with a stained, faded cover. ‘Slightly foxed’ they say in the antiquarian book trade. ‘Completely fucked’ would be a more accurate description of this edition of The Oxford Book of English verse 1250 –1900. There are also pressed flowers inside and newspaper clippings which have turned brown. Many of these clippings relate to one family’s history, which I found poignant, not having one of my own to play with any more.
“What did you get this for?” asks Sasha, pointing at the dusty tome, as horrified as if I had bought a guide to shedmaking or radio-controlled model aeroplanes. I wanted quite a lot of the poetry anyway but if I tell her that I bought an old book mostly because there’s a dedication to Betty from her Dad, (Xmas 1925), yes, I am an orphan, she would be ringing for someone to take me away. But I found the dedication moving, also the idea that something might survive after we have die (probably next Sunday, the way Sasha’s planned it…). Piecing together the family history from the brown newspaper clippings inside the book also got to me. Until I decided that weeping more than two tears in a charity shop would be unseemly.
Maybe the mini-weep was because we would all like to keep a family together somehow. Despite what we all know about the likelihood of that happening. And there are less stressful pastimes. Such as Sasha’s hobby: getting away with murder.
“I’ve been digging out old stuff too,” she says. “I want to do a retrospective.”
You would never know we have enemies. Some of whom might be looking for us. Now that Sasha’s type of art is quite popular – twenty years after she started doing it – there might even be some interest in her used tampon collages and all the rest of it. But it’s only popular because any fool can do it and shock tactics are always worth a paragraph in the paper. It is never quite the right moment to tell Sasha that. And we have been together far too long for rational debate in any case. We start at boiling point now.
“An exhibition? You’re out of your fucking mind!” I tell her, superfluously. “You’re insane! You can’t…”
“”I’ll show you…”
“Look, you little…” The debate degenerates here almost to the level of our elected representatives. After some shouting and swearing and Sasha’s usual recourse to tears (well, she is a girl) there is a pause in which I wonder why I don’t kill myself. I have no children – except Sasha. What I am hanging about here for?
A deep eternal silence seems to descend as I contemplate the answer to that question. I sit head in hands for a while, while Sasha keeps up a barrage of self-pitying and manipulative weeping. Such tactics used to rip my insides up till I noticed she tended to win arguments by bursting into tears at strategic moments. Something the supposedly superior sex is quite good at.
“Sasha, Sasha, Sasha,” I say, exhaling deeply afterwards. She smiles, perhaps recognizing that I am praying, slowly intoning the name of the Divine One. If you kept on doing that – slowly intoning the name of God while giving your brain a good oxygen wash – you are likely to feel closer to the great mystery. Almost as good as actually hanging yourself, another way to soar through the extra-terrestial world. But I’m not quite ready for all that serenity. All that death time. Not just yet. I still like pointless bickering and the occasional laugh. I still want to see the moon through another few cycles. And I still like telling Sasha stories that make her happy. Little legends that keep us afloat just that little while longer. I take a deep breath. And swim out to sea.
“You are, quite literally, divine,” I tell her. She’s stops sniffling and wipes her nose. Someone has finally got where she’s coming from. “But you dwell in the darkness. Your mystery can never be revealed. It should never be revealed. Your art was its own statement. You should not worry about applause”.
Her face morphs back into wildcat mode.
“You’re just a coward!” she says. “I want to exhibit my work! Do you really think the FBI follow the artworld? Nothing will happen. We’re free. Home dry.”
“If you step into the light you will become human,” I tell her. “All too human perhaps. You will be one of us. The seekers, the worshippers, the congregation. Isn’t it better to be worshipped?”
There is no answer. Perhaps she really is divine now. For you never get so much as a peep out of you know who these days. Correct me If I’m wrong – I like a bit of that – but it’s not often you get a message from our creator. You would think that the least he could do would apologize. Whereas his jealous child – My Lord Lucifer, The Petulant Prince – he seems to have no trouble getting his message across.
“Look, babe,” I tell her. “You’ve probably obsessed some real cop somewhere. They would have left Howard Marks alone if he hadn’t have written a book helpfully explaining that he was a mastermind and the Police are a bunch of idiots. They don’t seem to like that very much. Same thing with the Kray Brothers. ‘Look at us we’re master criminals.’ ‘So you are,’ says the law. ‘Here’s thirty years’.”
She lets me prattle but I can tell she is not convinced. After several decades of wrapping men around her little finger, and grinding them underneath her six inch heels, she just knows she can get away with whatever lunacy she is planning next.
But I am not going to jail to satisfy her insatiable, and childish, desire for approval. I can’t kill her – well I can’t, can I? It wouldn’t be right. It might be convenient.
But it wouldn’t be right. And it’s nearly time for tea. Brewing up should keep me from justifiable homicide – until we run out of Twinings Assam anyway.
“What happened to the television project?” I say, as you would throw a kitten a ball of string to keep it busy.
“It’s called Queen Bee,“ says Sasha. “We get three hunky guys who have to compete for my affection.”
“Sounds like last Wednesday night,” I tell her, still slightly miffed at having to share her with two other thrusting young blades.
“You’re not hunky,” she said. She sees something flicker across my face. “You’re deep, dark, dangerous. And you are everything to me. Hunky means a male bimbo.”
I nod, somewhat mollified by this complete and utter lie. Which at least proves she can still be bothered to make stories up for me – not always a given after eight years together.
“And anyway, these guys should need to lose a little weight. It’s a diet show you see.“
My head is starting to fog up but I keep nodding at her. At least this is still just a theory. And not the actually suicidal mission she has set her heart on.
“The guys compete to make me happy,” she says, beaming like the little girl she still is, in age as well as inches. “I feed them just what they need to survive. We weigh them before and afterwards and whoever loses the most weight is the winner“. She holds her hands out on either side of her waist. She has a winning smile.
“That’s great!” I tell her. Because it actually is. And also because she needs more applause and reassurance than a thirty nine year old actress.
“We should pitch that,” she says.
Yes. If I ever get out of this chair. What the money men are likely to say is another story, of course. But Queen Bitch might sell to women eager to see men humiliate themselves. That large audience of frustrated wives and angry singletons desperate for validation, hungry for revenge for relationships that went wrong and angry about their childhood. Actually, that’s all me and I’m a bloke.
“We could use your music,” she says brightly, although she is aware it contains knobbly bits that might jolt the listener awake. ‘Listener’ is probably not right in this context. And my stuff doesn’t fit well with pictures so it’s useless. So they say, although it still sells all over the world in many formats. And the chances of getting the money for its use are about as good as they ever were – slim, no chance and, ‘I’m sorry. He’s in a meeting’.
“Queen Bee,” I say, nodding and grinning inanely. “It’s got something.”
“Do you think so?” she says, suddenly prepared to accept my advice. After a grim few days of endless bitching.
“It can’t fail. Except that we need to actually do it. Not just talk about it“.
“Well you can talk…” she starts, before the bossy madam who is the voice of AOL tells Sasha she has mail.
“The Black Order have sent that money!” says Sasha, whooping in delight. Her fingers blurr over the keys as she writes another email. The beauty of the internet is that she is able to tell other people what to do at any time of the day or night, at any location anywhere in the known universe. And there is such a lot to do, as she is now head of the Black Order, although pretending she isn’t – perhaps for the purpose of keeping our marriage going. I was hoping that the bad boys we played with over Xmas might have reconsidered their decision to let her run things. Nazis don’t really like women in charge of anything, except kitchens and families. Although some of them prefer female authority during certain intimate therapeutic procedures that once made Sasha and I a good living. And now we are setting up shop once more. We need the money, and our clients most certainly need the therapy. I think a full appointment book will be good for her. And it will certainly stop her mounting any more expeditions into the dark heart of the English countryside – where Miller and his creepy mates reside.
“Williamson is coming soon,” she says, thrilled at meeting one of her old slaves again, one she inherited from Ruby. As it happens. She really does care about her clients and the therapy they receive – far more so than some Freudian charlatan who cares about nothing other than his fee and how itchy his beard is. (Incidentally I always thought that the facial hair adapted by many of these frauds is a cover up. Even they are ashamed of what they do for a living. ‘How do you feel about that?’, they sometimes say. Overcharged, mate. That’s how I feel about it.
At least Sasha gives value for money. If you can afford her she offers psycho-drama, role-play, extremes of mental and physical torment, supervised volcanic releases and hot sweet tea afterwards. You can have cuddles and comfort too – if you’re that way inclined. We don’t turn people away. We don’t judge. There’s just one thing puzzling me about her new advert, which offers a comprehensive range of services.
“What’s Roman Showers?” I ask, always eager to learn.
“Are you quite sure about that?”
I’m not worried about the clientele, who should be proud to receive such an offering, but the therapist herself should not be returning to the binge and puke tactics that nearly killed her as a teenager.
“You worry too much,” she says. Which even I couldn’t dispute.
“Have you rung a repairman?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say, gloomily. We might have got away with murder, now and again. It doesn’t mean we can get a boiler fixed in January.
“How did Ruby get her boiler fixed?” I ask, mentioning our landlord, a lovely big West Country lass. Although a professional dominatrix she likes pretending to be a simpering girlie in civilian life, a strategy Sasha finds contemptible.
“Oh Ruby. The mad Catwoman,” says Sasha, rather cattily herself, “She just seduces them. ‘You’ve got to wear a low cut dress to get anything done these days.” she says, putting on a breathless girly voice that cracks my frozen face. I am smiling broadly, thinking of Ruby’s big blonde hair. Her shy princess smile. Her squeaky cartoon voice with its Somerset burr. It’s a little girl’s voice. Which doesn’t quite chime with her cavernous cleavage. Or her outlandish red velvet corset. Once she has bunched up her formidable breasts into a humungous wedge of creamy white flesh all she ever sees is the top of men’s heads. They know they are not supposed to be behaving like that but they just can’t stop themselves. I stop daydreaming about Ruby and awake to see Sasha’s cold, suspicious, critical face.
“They used to train women to speak like that,” she says. “So men would find them helpful and accommodating!” Evil, isn’t it? When they really should be spitting venom at men, the hated army of occupation.
Ruby is not a serious rival to Sasha, no-one human could be. But she’s all smiley and nice. And most people you’ve lived with for this long aren’t. Not any more. Ruby brings out the noble knight in me. He who would serve women, regardless of whether there might be a spot of slap and tickle later. Although it may help that Ruby is an adept at all known forms of Dressing Up and Mucking About – my new term for s/m. I am tired of our hobby being named after a French maniac and a shy Polish doormat. (The sick De Sade and the sickly sweet Sacher-Masoch.)
“I want to do my stuff when you’ve finished with the computer,” I say, somewhat optimistically, perhaps. Her fingers flick fleetly over the keys. Clickety-clack. Zippety-zap.
“Use the laptop,” she says, condemning me to a horrid grey box, stuffed with old junk and about to crash for the very last time.
But I fire it up anyway and set to work on my website. Like any kept partner I need a gig. To prove I’m not just a pretty face and a dedicated homemaker. Besides, as this is to promote a dance track Sasha is singing on, it might keep her away from going after Miller.
“You could do past life therapy again,” says Sasha, unintentionally eliciting a wince, as I remember when New Age nonsense filled the gaping hole left by giving up alcohol. Beware getting off drugs or drink – some catch Scientology in the process. I escaped with a passionate attachment to astrology – which is at least a sort of karaoke poetry we can all do. Staring up at the silvery moon, catching a little of its lustre.
“I’ll stick with music, dear,” I tell her. “I’m not listening to a bunch of blokes all telling me they were Nazi generals in their last lives again. I blame the History channel myself. ”
‘”The Hitler channel’, remarks Sasha, honouring this old gag of ours. But is it a gag? Why not grasp the nettle and actually call it that? As this cable channel never seems to run anything else.
We clear a space in the living room and hang up some sporting looking regalia – towels, a bucket to spit teeth into, and some ropes on stanchions which can look like a boxing ring. If you are willing enough to suspend disbelief.
“Shall we get Ruby to referee?” I ask.
“No!” says Sasha, with unnecessary force.
“I only asked…”
“If you want Ruby . Go and get her. Otherwise shut the fuck up.”
That seems to cover that. I used to referee foxy boxing myself – but I found the white shirt and bow tie fitted me all too well. It is the role I’m usually playing – standing in between Sasha and the rest of world. Trying to call her off before she kills someone. At two p.m. precisely Mr Williamson arrives. His woeful demeanour proving that the meek do not inherit the earth. They just get a bit grumpy as their bodies start to wear out.Once he is stripped down to a pair of comical knee length football shorts – retro kit that is probably worth a fortune to some demented collector – I leave them to it. It’s tempting to shout ‘Oi, tin ribs!’ at Williamson but it’s Sasha’s job to demolish his ego.
He looks at me with a mixture of contempt and fear – old people like him see guys like me as ‘pimps’. And not as therapists’ personal therapists, as we actually are. Mr Williamson might look inoffensive, if you are not offended by brown shoes and an off-white gentlemen’s raincoat but there is a sleeping beast inside such men. My job is to shoot the poison darts should it ever awake. I retire to the bedroom where I can edit Sasha’s dance track ‘The Dark Goddess’, in other words, my dance track to which Sasha has contributed a few words. The laptop is groaning under the weight of the unreasonable demands Sasha and I make on it, just like our slaves do. Our digital maid is burdened with music and art programmes and about one trillion of Sasha’s e-mails. I keep the volume down, partly because my nerves can’t take it loud any more and partly because I need to hear a call of distress should there be one. I’m still nudging samples of Sasha’s voice around the track when I hear the call.
My real name. Not to be used in front of clients. As we are fugitives. As I keep telling her.
Louder and more urgent. It sounds like something bad has happened. Or is happening. I reach for my medicine kit; amyl nitrate and a lead-weighted cosh. Something to waken the dead; and something to deaden those who are a little bit too awake. I knew something bad might happen with a high risk contact sport like foxy boxing. Extreme submissives are also extremely volatile. The worm sometimes turns. It might be time to stamp on one of them. I don’t have to fake the murderous rage I feel as I kick the living room door open.
Mr Williamson is face down, flat out.
“I told you this would happen!” I tell her, uselessly. It doesn’t help. And neither does slapping him around the face for a while.
“You might have killed him!” I tell her. I can’t feel a pulse. He seems very cold. But then these old gits often are a bit chilly. It’s hard to tell whether they’re actually alive or dead, some of them.
“Don’t you ever get tired of killing people?” I say.
“You can talk,” she says. “You’ve done it with one punch.”
This is a reference to a drunken brawl I once had, a bit of a mismatch really. I will never know what happened but the other guy started it anyway. He did. The fight consisted of one killer punch; he didn’t fall well, he may have been genetically predisposed to some sort of blood clot; he was very drunk and very unfit. None of these memories are comforting. Not while trying to slap some life into a scrawny old man who is out cold.
We had to leave the country that time, not wishing to hang around to discuss whether the deceased had had a weak neck, whether I had been provoked or whether the landlord should take responsibility for having a poorly designed pub. It was obvious that you shouldn’t have hard walls or concrete floors anywhere fist fights are likely to take place. With that sort of clientele he should have had rubber walls and fluffy cushions scattered around. A padded cell would have been preferable.
“Do something!” says Sasha. She is frightened. As well she might be. Mr Williamson is married. We can’t just bundle him into some bin bags and stick him down the rubbish chute. Or can we? I put the bottle of amyl under his nose and lean on his chest a few times.
“That’s way too dangerous,” says Sasha, stamping around in her shiny red boots. It would be easy to get distracted by this view, her perky breasts rising and falling with each excited breath.
“This could be much worse than those slave reparations,” I say. Although it’s not an appropriate moment for a jest. This little gag of ours has been running ever since some African nations decided to ask for compensation for the slave trade. Which was practised well before Western nations got involved and is still practised today – mostly in Africa, as it happens. Without the help of the evil white devils. Perhaps descendants of those English and Americans who laid down their lives to stop this barbaric practice might expect a cheque from certain African nations. Perhaps not. We once calculated the sum Sasha might have to pay to her slaves should they all demand compensation for her rigorous but invigorating therapy. Another reason to flee the country. I clump off to the bathroom in my heavy boots, restraining myself somehow from giving the prone Williamson a good kicking.
A bucket of freezing cold water might do the trick. Or at any rate dousing the old fool would certainly do me some good. Although some of the water goes in Ruby’s stereo, whoops, the shock of it does revive him.
“Hallelujah!” I say, and then wonder if we will ever be free of our childhood Xtian conditioning. I slap him around the face a couple of times. More for my benefit than to complete his resurrection.
Sasha says some soothing words while I grind up some dark demonic coffee beans. Bolivian High, they call it. And it’s almost as bad for you as cocaine.
“There’s a party tonight,” says Sasha, once we are slumped on the floor cushions with the bitter brew. Williamson gets supermarket own brand tea, without the milk he requested as neither of us use it.
Apart from the unacceptably high level of calories in milk Sasha sees it as evidence of the exploitation of cattle. She is fanatical about animal welfare. It’s just human beings she doesn’t mind disposing of. She just likes a scrap really, whatever the cause.
I sometimes think she should have a job in one of those boxing booths at the fair. Come and have a scrap with Slasher Sasha, the little beauty with the big, big punch. She thinks I find this endearing. I don’t actually. And it’s hard to remember why I ever did.
Something’s changed. Is this the personal growth that Sasha’s always demanding? Have I finally tired of bombastic little Americans who know everything better than we do? But we have a more valid reason than most to stick together. She can testify against me for the crimes we have committed.
As she is pleasing to look at, the only possible measure of worth right now, no jury will convict. Added to which, I am a man, so it must automatically be my fault, whatever it is.
“But you killed that guy when you were drunk,” Sasha sometimes says at this point. This was the unlucky punch that took us underground, many moons ago now. We ran to New York where we set up a Satanic sect to make money. And then a lot of other bad things happened. Which is almost enough to make you superstitious.
“I think we deserve a celebration,” says Sasha.
So we do. We have pure ecstasy in powder form and this might be just the time to take it. To affirm the miracle of life. The power of love. And a bit of a knees-up somewhere the sex-positive go. Preferably somewhere without Williamson and his kind.
“Where is it?”
“Hades,” she says. A club where sad submissives are all too prevalent. Oh well. Ruby will be there. We listen to Williamson babble for a while. He loves his Sasha. Perhaps even more now. I despise him for a while, thinking of how dumb he is for letting himself depend on someone like her. And then I catch sight myself in the mirror. And wonder who the real sucker is.