by David Thrussell
The tubercular hiss of the aircraft filled my ears. In every direction my gaze bounced off textured moulded plastic, aluminium and sad beige carpet. The plane was full, its departure delayed by a handful of final, anonymous, straggling passengers. Inside the cabin I felt a peculiar lifelessness. Though apparently of the same species, we were like different organisms from different universes; a void of empathy or interest. It always felt like this.
Though touched by melancholy I was also touched by the absurdity of it. We all had lives perhaps rich with laughter or perhaps clouded by tears but the urge to confide or converse was gone. Robots from opposite ends of the galaxy trapped for a time like insects in some mischievous child’s jar. It was that exceptional … and that ordinary. Somewhat liberated by the knowledge that no one would dare talk to me, I decided to pace the aisle, study my fellow exhibits and kill some time.
How had I missed her?
She was sitting in the row just behind me. As I rose she caught my eye and smiled. Not the sad-arsed smile one of the living dead might have attempted, but the real thing. Like a breeze from a tenderly stoked furnace it brought my skin to life. Her face playfully mimicked my blush as she broke into another wide smile and her head bobbed from shoulder to shoulder. Gripped by a momentary wave of panic I turned away to study my tight passage past the person next to me. I gathered myself and turned back to her, eyes still fixed on me. We laughed warmly at each other.
My god. Does she have any idea how beautiful she is? Not the vapid looks of some photo model waif, nor the manicured preening of some credit-carded fashion vulture. Her beauty radiated from body and soul. Her eyes danced across the room with an intoxicating brew of joy and disdain.
She was young. Well, at least young to me – nineteen, twenty, maybe twenty-one – like a rose just bloomed, succulent, confident and curious. I lost my nerve, broke my eyes from her and headed down the central passageway to the rear of the aircraft. You idiot, I scolded myself. The girl is half your age, you’ve never laid eyes on her before and you’re like putty in her hands. If she asked you to jump out of the plane right now your only question would be, “which exit would you prefer me to force open?” Fool.
I puttered about in the bathroom washing my face and filling in time enjoying the cool water against my rough skin. After some time I exited the bathroom and there she stood, defiant and cheeky.
“Hey”, came her casual greeting as she tilted her head and rocked against the wall. Her body was firm and gently exploding into womanhood like the bud of some exotic flower about to greet the sun. “What’s happening old man?”
“Oh, I left my walking frame around here somewhere but I just can’t seem to find it”.
She was glad I took her jibe well and sniffed a faint laugh.
“I’ve always thought senility could be kind of fun”, she said convincingly.
“I’ll let you know.”
“You’re alright pops. Your first time to Hobart?”
“Oh, yeah,” I arched my eyebrows exaggeratedly.
“We should hang out, you know, take in all the sights this fine city has to offer. That is unless you’re otherwise engaged?”
I shook my head and let out a breathy chuckle.
“After a few minor business requirements I’m at the mercy of this renowned metropolis”.
She smiled easily and headed toward the bathroom. As she closed the door I realised my heart was pounding. She had done it. She had closed the vast void that separates strangers as carelessly as if it was never there to begin with; so different to all the people my age, with their baggage and issues and all the rest of it; confident and secure in her knowledge that the universe was essentially some kind of joke. Life had trampled that out of me long ago, and I knew instinctively to head back to my seat before I blew it.
She returned after a while and we chatted back and forth over and around my seat. I was careful to strike that balance between warmth and distance, to show my interest, yet not reveal its full extent lest she change her mind and I mope like a wet puppy.
The plane landed, and after the usual procedures we disembarked down a long blandly carpeted corridor. I was careful not to follow her progress too closely and allowed myself just one glance in her direction as she bobbed along with a small pink backpack. God she was beautiful. Picking up on my gaze she scooted cheerfully in my direction.
“Ok pops. Should I meet you later on at your hospice?”
I blanched for a moment, but the truth was an insult from her was like a delicate tongue kiss from any other woman. I recovered as quickly as I could. “The orderlies should have me bathed and sedated by seven.”
“Cool. And if you’re thinking of lavishing some expensive dinner on me I like Thai.”
I smiled sweetly from her prickly charm, and an utter lack of meaningful words at my disposal. “Thai it is.”
Her path peeled away from mine as she prepared to head in a different direction out the automated exit gates.
“Hold on. What’s your name?”
I laughed awkwardly. She tilted her head as if to say, ‘what gives, old man?’
“It can’t be,” I replied.
“It’s so strikingly … suitable.”
“Why? It’s just a name.”
“You’re so … so alive.”
For the briefest moment a glimmer of embarrassment flashed across her face. “Save it up for tonight, old man,” she laughed, but without cruelty.
I smiled back and kept smiling as she headed toward the city bus stop.
Rose presented herself at my hotel just after seven. Her incandescence lit the drab foyer and the concierge and a handful of other staff struggled not to glare as she strolled toward where I sat at the bar.
Dutifully I had arranged a table at a Thai restaurant just a few minutes away. In the hours since I had seen her she had not left my mind once. As I entertained clients and prospective clients, stroking their egos and caressing their pocketbooks, I thought of her fresh skin and taut shoulders. If anything, it made it easier. While they thought I spoke of dividends and the bottom line, in my heart I spoke to Rose.
And in my hours without Rose I thought as clearly and calmly as I could. She was everything that I was desperate for in my life … youthful, enthusiastic and undamaged. And I was, of course, a fool for thinking that I could offer her anything in return. While she did indeed toy with a sad, older man, I was, in theory, free to say no at any stage.
So I came to be at ease with our bargain. She would while away an evening at dinner in a foreign city with some strange businessman and I would have a glimpse of her vitality. Nothing I could keep or hold, but a glimpse of beauty is better than no beauty at all. And I would be thankful for this, for it was far more than, in truth, I deserved.
We walked to the restaurant and I felt solid and strong with my resolution behind me, as her quips and cheer set the air around me alight. Rose was to spend three weeks in Hobart finishing a commission to paint a large urban mural for the city council. She regaled me with daring tales of her mostly fabricated resume to attain the job and how people in those kinds of positions will believe anything, if it is the thing they want to believe.
We ate and she told me more, and like a gentle slap on the face it dawned on me that I was happy. So unfamiliar was the sensation that at first I was anxious about it, but then it washed over me. Not pondering some other engagement or situation, nor rehearsing a pitch or placation; just here, now and alive.
“But what about you, old man?” she tilted her head and smiled.
“Nothing to tell. I want to be a clean slate and start again. No past, just a future.”
“Are you having a mid-life crisis?” she seemed excited by the idea.
“Probably. Probably have been for a while. Things just creep up on you. You’ll understand one day.”
She clapped her hands together and chuckled. “Cool … I love your air of melancholy … you carry it around with you wherever you go … you really do think you’re just some faceless cog in some vast machine, don’t you?”
I mustered up a weak and mocking salute. “Cog 607/ b11 reporting for duty.”
“I find resignation strangely romantic.”
“Speaking from the cog’s point of view I would say that is indeed strange.”
We ordered up dessert and soon over mango and sticky rice our playful conversation continued.
“So, they’ve put me up in this warehouse place. It’s arty but kinda creepy. You should come check it out.”
Toying with me again, but I forgave her. Her kind is almost born for it.
“Sure”, I weighted the word with warmth and distance. I would have one cup of tea and a chat before leaving her in her Spartan, exposed floorboard loft. I would do nothing to betray my profound longing for her and when it came time to leave I would do so perfunctorily and with good cheer. I desired her but would never have her. The pleasure of her company was more than I could expect on a cold night in this cold town.
I paid and we took a cab to an industrial part of the outer city. I felt comfortable as Rose directed the driver through dark streets and narrow laneways behind abandoned wool stores and crumbling factory sites. There would be no rejection coming my way. Protect my fragile self and enjoy what fate throws in my direction.
The driver eyed me warily as I handed over some bills. It had started to rain a short while before and Rose led me across the slippery cobbles toward a haphazard metal sheet sliding door that faced the laneway. The door rattled open and Rose stood proud of its musty and dark interior.
“Freaky hey?” she clasped my hand tightly and pulled me enthusiastically up the wide wooden stairs. “Come on old man, live a little,” she exhorted as her face disappeared in shadow. Her hand was warm, vital and bold and the air around me was dank with the aroma of old grease and labour.
We reached the top of the stairs and stood momentarily in the pitch black while she fiddled with the door. After a few moments it opened and all I could make out was a small lamp lighting a corner of what felt like a large space. Rose stood in the open doorway and curled her arm around my waist. Breathlessly she hissed, “kiss me old man,” and her moist, extraordinary lips buckled around mine, and her youthful tongue pushed it’s way excitedly into my mouth. With relief and love my body collapsed into hers. I cupped her firm breast in my hand as her tongue pushed inward, harder and harder.
She broke away and led me urgently to a makeshift bed far from the solitary lamp and barely visible.
“You … here,” she pushed me hard on the bed and whispered, “I’m off to the bathroom … back in a jiffy.”
I flattened myself on the bed in a daze. I longed for her so much and exhilarated I peered after her into the night. The light went out and the door opened again. After some time in the darkness she clunked her way in my direction and I felt her sidle up beside me.
Stunned, I had so much to say to her, “Rose, I…”
“Sssh,” her voice had changed and she sounded efficient and quiet.
With surprising strength she tore some of my clothes aside and pressed herself hard against me. Again her lips joined mine but this time they were more determined and almost brutal.
Her body was hard, harder than I would have imagined and it rocked against me in a slow spasm as her tongue lashed my neck. The last of my clothes were briskly removed and within moments she had forced me inside her. I felt one hand pressed hard into my chest as she pounded me from above. I could make nothing out in the inky blackness, but her grinding against me spoke of joy and unrestrained enthusiasm. I grasped her forcefully and pushed as deep inside her as I could.
‘Oh Rose, it feels so beautiful to be inside you and you are so kind to give this gift. A gift I shall never forget,’ I thought. Within minutes my passion buckled up inside me and I held her closer and closer still. My mind flashed to whether it was alright to come inside her, but as I groaned and sighed she held me with such a vice-like grip that I couldn’t remove myself, and so I pounded and pounded and filled her with my seed and howled like a wild beast.
And still she did not release her grip. Though exhausted, minutes later my semen splashed inside her again. After some time she silently coaxed me back into action and our lovemaking continued until, delirious, I fell into a happy and deep sleep.
I could not be sure of the time when I awoke, but it was morning and dust danced in the beams of sunlight that pierced the dilapidated building. I was naked and alone in the ramshackle bed, an ancient mattress and well worn bedclothes low upon the ground. There was no sign of Rose and somehow I knew that she had been absent for a while.
And then I saw it.
As if discarded, it lay splayed at the base of the bed.
Its shape was roughly that of a woman, yet fashioned out of black leather and moulded latex. In the harsh light of day the device was notable for its primitive construction: gears, levers and pulleys bristled under its patchwork fake skin and led to a central area at the base of the back. A small metallic hatch was open and strange controls and an unbuckled brace lay inside the tiny area; the machine was not operated by a normal human being. Not normal by any definition. The control compartment could accommodate only the smallest infant or a horribly mutated or deformed person.
And then the waves of revulsion undulated through me.
I had fucked this thing, this ugly machine, over and over again.
Violated and abused I dry retched on the dank pillow. My head swam with nausea. Whatever foul creature had operated this machine, I had communed with it and it had used me for its hideous pleasure.
Wounded beyond description, I gathered my things and hurried out of the empty building. Out again, into the cold city.