We are continuing on here with George’s first-person narration as he details his relationship with Justine following Ada and Sidney’s deaths and after Justine’s return from St. Anne’s in Portsmouth where, at Harold Clarke’s suggestion, she’d gone to grieve in private.
The day after I’d spoken intimately to Justine, she came around but things were tense. She busied herself with light housework, then sat with me to smoke and play with the dominoes.
“I should go, George,” she said once the dominoes were put away.
“You don’t have to,” I said. “You could stay a while longer.”
“I could.” She spoke slowly, quietly. “But it’s best I go.”
We stood, walking to the coat rack in the foyer. Taking her cloak down from the rack, I placed it on her shoulders. Her nape was beautiful, identical to Sidney’s and I longed to kiss its length the way I had kissed his. She must have sensed my longing, for she didn’t turn around or move to leave. She stood there with her shoulder blades against my chest and dipped her head as if to ask me for my tongue.
“George,” she murmured. “Please –”
I didn’t know if she were asking me to kiss her or begging me to refrain.
I clamped her arms and felt the ache. Hers or mine? It didn’t matter; it was there between us, my groin against her tailbone, sending all the signals through her body.
“God – George,” she whispered. “I was afraid of this – I am afraid –”
“We’ve faced the worst that we could ever face.” My mouth was at her ear, my breath against her cheek. “There’s nothing more to fear, least of all each other.”
“I’m so afraid –”
She didn’t answer straight away, and in that silent interlude, I kissed the shadow behind her ear and brought my lips back to her nape.
“I’m afraid of what I’ll do to you,” she whispered, turning, cupping my face in her hands and searching my gaze for something she was trying to find or she’d already found. “I’m afraid of what I’m going to do – forgive me, George, I’m so afraid –”
And then –
The cape was off, pooling around her boots and she was tearing through my waistcoat, opening my trousers, pulling them agape. She had the lust force of her son. I felt that in the way she moved whilst she undressed me, pushing me toward the staircase, dragging me onto the landing, stripping me completely then urging me to sit against the wall inside her shadow. She towered before me, disrobing from the jet black fabric, untethering herself from thin black ribbons, plucking every button from its resting place until she stood with just her mourning jewellry draped over her naked body.
And suddenly, I realised.
The biology of ghosts was over in that moment. The unanticipated happened.
Sidney wasn’t there; Justine was in control of her own body.
She was a witch of touch, a wizard with her mouth, more skilled than Sid had ever been. She knelt between my knees, pressed her palms against my chest and sloped toward me, catching my first kisses on her tongue but going deep to find them. I pushed her arms away so I could feel the movement of her breasts against me. She was voluptuous and earnest, swollen and devoted in the way she hung above me, crushing close then lifting, divulging her arousal.
Never had I dreamed I’d crave a woman in that way.
But I was hard for her, the first few pearls of lust were coming to the surface.
“I don’t want to hurt you, George,” she groaned. “I fear I’m going to hurt you.”
“I’m already hurt,” I said. “It doesn’t matter. Hurt me.”
I closed my eyes as she descended upon me, opening her dark rose diamond, bringing me into its precious centre. That’s what it felt like – a gem stone melting all around me.
“Hurt me,” I whispered. “I want you to hurt me.”
“I’m afraid to hurt you – but I fear that I’m going to.”
Her hair slipped from her bun, descending in long tatters around us.
Little did I know that that was just the warm up.
It wasn’t going to be all gems and colours. Not with her.
Disimpaling herself from me, she grabbed onto the bannister and beckoned me toward her darkly. “Treat me roughy, George,” she said over her shoulder. “Make me break, George, Don’t be careful.”
Kneeling behind her, I did as she requested.
Such behaviour was a scandal for our time and place, as was our language.
In the shadows at the top of the stairs, we fornicated ruthlessly; she reared her head back as I dug into her body as if it were the earth in Cemetery Grove. Over and over again, I heard the shovel in her gasps, the same abrasive noise whilst she was saying “deeper – George – go deeper.”
Our rhythm was the echo of that harrowing noise and yet, it showed us our carnality, brought us to the edge of our humanity and kept us hot on its serrated blade, making us forget the very memory it brought back.
Never had I been so high on rapture as I was with her.
But then, I’d never had to be, for I’d had nothing dreadful to forget.
My hands were on her waist, but then I moved them to her breasts. And as I did, I felt the soil seeping through my fingers. It was sweet and it was dark, just like the earth inside my Sid and Ada’s mouths. I felt the her long black mourning necklace swinging on my hands, the small black beads, the jet black locket which held a lock of Sidney’s hair. And that – the accessories of death amok amidst our flesh aroused me to no end like some rhapsodic dirge, some erotic eulogy, things not-meant-to-be-together proving opposition perfect. Oxymorons showing off their mettle. The jewellry of death quivering over her sweet skin with every thrust I gave her . Our sex was life and death mixed up.
I saw her bones that night. Her skin was a thin veil.
Shoulderblades – hipbones – tailbone – spine.
Her skeleton was jerking so pristinely.
“Deeper – God, go deeper,” she pleaded.
And I saw her hands on top of one another, curled around the last rod of the bannister.
Hand bones. Knuckles. Wrist bones. Foreshadowing our stone-cold future.
“I need you to be rougher,” she was gasping. “Don’t hold back – don’t be careful.”
The pain of it came next: it was a pain I hadn’t expected.
Had she been measuring my breath?
For just as I was going to break, she wrenched away and forced what could have been one moment joined into two solitary moments separate. In the glimmer of the lamplight from the hall, we came apart and shuddered into our own hands. The loneliness was overwhelming; our cries fell short of what they could’ve been. Her cruelty was profound; she’d done what she had feared: she’d hurt me. And yet, in doing so, she had unleashed not just my hunger for her body, but an insatiable addiction. From then on in, I’d crave her like I’d craved no other.
“Have you been that cruel before?” I asked Justine when we’d recovered from the episode and were back before the fire in the drawing room.
“Once before,” she answered. “I knew what I was capable of. I have that streak.”
“Why did you do what you did?”
“To feel the pain of it.”
“And to make me feel that pain as well?”
“I was afraid I’d hurt you – and I did,” she said, not with triumph, but as if the cruelty had surged against her will, erupted of its own accord.
I looked at her.
And she was lovely in her shamelessness.
She sat there with the bodice of her mourning dress agape, without her black chemise and with her corset pulled asunder. The necklace with the locket plunged between the breasts concealed behind the panels of her undone fabric. Her hair was loose in flames over her shoulders and her eyes were filled with firelight. And she was smoking, as she always did these days. I watched her breastbone rise and fall with every soft grey breath she took.
“It’s made me want you even more than I already did,” I said. “Cruelty in someone who’s as kind as you are reminds me of the narrow lines that run through marble.”
“Truly?” She looked surprised. “How so?”
“Without those thin dark lines, the marble would be void of character.”
“I wish I didn’t have those dark streaks, George. But I feel them in me, so much stronger since my Sidney died. It’s harrowing.”
“So why do I still want you then?”
“Because you need one pain to kill the other just like I do.”
I felt her words inside me. They were true. The imagery was still too much. I still saw Sid and Ada lying in the morgue – and Ada’s coffin in the parlour – and Sidney’s body in the ground. I still imagined them in post-mortem decline, their layers melting to the bone. Their indoctrination of me into the macabre had made the sex more pleasurable. Because they’d made me see my body as my own scarce resource, delivering a short-sweet hit with knowledge of its brevity built-in. But not just that. Even looking at Justine accessorized with death, her mourning clothes ajar, her cleavage, with its lovely shadow, rising from behind the lace horizon of her open corset, I was beyond aroused.
“You said I was kind?” she confirmed through a line of smoke.
“More than kind,” I said. “You’re generous and hard-working, deep and understanding. The way in which you put up with my mother when you were young. The way in which you were with Sid. The way in which you’ve been with me since Sid and Ada died. You can’t convince me that you’re wicked. Like I said, the dark streak brings a sensual edge. I like that edge.”
“I don’t know, George,” she murmured. “This tragedy has changed me.”
“It’s changed me too.”
We sat in silence for a little while and then I said, “I want you to be cruel again.”
“How cruel?” she asked, lowering her gaze.
“Crueller than you were before.”
Setting down her pipe, she came to me, gripping the arms of my chair as she leant down and kissed me ever-so-gently on the mouth.
“Kiss me hard,” I begged. “Don’t kiss me softly.”
Ignoring me, again she barely kissed me, brushing her lips on mine.
My tongue began to long for hers, but she withdrew her kiss and moved her lips onto my throat. As she did, the locket containing Sidney’s hair dropped onto my lap, swerving slightly as she moved. So, he was there as a reminder. On my groin while his sweet mother’s breasts fell onto me and I reached up to catch them. Guilt came then. Because I wanted her, not him – even with the bittersweet desire of wanting what you cannot have, I wanted her, the living, breathing woman in my presence. I was being unfaithful to a ghost. But that was me, a serial adulterer. I wasn’t going to change.
“You’re being too soft,” I groaned. “I need you forceful.”
And then she stood – abruptly. Her skirt, which had been hanging to her hips, slid off with that one motion. One brisk shake more and her corset slipped onto the floor. There she was again, some firelit Venus draped in jewellry, wearing nothing more than black silk stockings tied above the knee, but too the leather boots, their ribbon laces criss-crossed halfway up the ridge of each exquisite shin.
Gripping the arms of the chair, I beheld the vision before me.
“Do it again,” I whispered. “Do what you did before. Give whilst you deny me.”
“And I will be so kind to you,” she whispered back, “To prove that kindness hurts as well.”
“I don’t want kindness,” I responded.
“Then kindness is exactly what I’ll give you.”
As gently as she could, she sheathed me, closing my eyes with kisses, pressing against me softly shifting veiled by her long hair which swung dark red around us. The only way to write this is to give you one hypnotic run-on sentence in which she tortures me with sexual philanthropy—when I hunger for the opposite and she keeps hitting me with featherlight caresses the deep-soft back-and-forthing of Sid’s birth canal and yet the fact that she’s his mother no longer—ever—matters and I just need her to jar me roughly but she’s lavishing me with excess warmth as if to suffocate me as I climax – please deny me this and I don’t know if I am thinking it or speaking –
“This time, I won’t leave you, George,” she whispers through her kisses.
“Deny me—please—Jus—God—please—let me go—”
“Until the end, George,” she gasped back.
It was so painful to be at odds with my own body.
To feel the restriction of the softest lust –
To feel the way her kindness hurt, answering to my phallus only.
Pornography so sweet, it spun like sugar into candy floss around me.
To have her torture me with sex which came around like love in meadowmists –
And moonlit corners of erotic daydreams.
I was having difficulty holding onto any sense of reason; she was turning everything to poetry around me. I didn’t want her candied touch, but rather some harsh hit of human nature –
But she didn’t care.
She nursed me cradled in her tender grip and lulled me to the deepest reaches of her blossoming chamber where I was greeted with unwanted glorious nudge—after—nudge of sensual generosity.
And the poetry happens every time I write it –
The memory can’t exist without the tantalizing lapping of her body on my porous edges that have no choice but to take her in.
There are nights when I relive the way she violated me with sweetness.
It was the hottest cold and wildest calm I’d ever known.
And of course –
Justine, my lover swaying in her mourning beads, gave me no way out.
She smothered me with pure delight. Until –
Gripping her boots, my fingertips against the ridges in their leather,
I surged with such abandon, I might’ve died.
I more than came; I went through hell and entered heaven –
Murmuring “Amen” against the will she’d stolen.