Clear, warm waters and azure skies did nothing for her.
There had been a holiday, once, where she had sat on one of those white sanded beaches whilst grinning Caribbean boys brought her drinks under a “made in china” palm parasol.
The heat, even in the shade, was sapping.
Slipping into the artificially clean water did nothing to alleviate it. Rather, it only compounded the problem. She’d felt her pores closing in protest.
Warm water was no great thing, she discovered, when the humidity was so very oppressive.
She’d sat, miserably, in her room for two weeks, the ceiling fan creaking and moaning on its highest setting, reading book after book and not remembering a single word of any of them. All she remembered was the way the pages started to stick together, the paper soaking up sweaty thumb prints and sealing the words away.
Spray hit her lightly in the face and she screwed up her eyes and nose, grinning in delight, opening her mouth a little to taste the salt.
This was the sea she needed.
The blue, black beast swelled and rose before her, white horses colliding, falling over each other, racing to be the first to hit the sharp shingle, tear across the glossy stones to lie prone at her feet before being pulled out into the depth again.
Each time they came a little closer, until they finally began to nip at her toes.
She balanced, barefoot on a large grey rock and let the water come to her.
Under her breath she mumbled to herself. Half lyrics, snatches of poetry, words she’d forgotten she knew.
“Congenial, congenial, con…geen…ee…aaaal…” She tasted the word, on her tongue, her lips, set it free past her teeth then said it again just because she liked the way it felt in her mouth.
The sea was lapping at her ankles now and although the water was frigid, it was still only early spring, she stayed perfectly still, just letting sensation wash over her.
The spray on her skin, the salt on her lips, the wind that tore at her hair and pulled tendrils loose so they whipped around her face, the numbing of her toes so that she could barely feel the smoothness of the rock under her.
She felt his breath on her neck and started ever so slightly.
“You’re muttering to yourself again.”
“You know…. In Japan they’d hate you for this. Staring at the sea, muttering, they’d say you were bringing bad luck to the fishermen.”
She laughs a little and he puts his arms around her, pulling her to rest her back against his chest.
“Good job I’m not in Japan then.”
They say nothing for a while, only stand as though fused together, watching the waves move in, the sky turn a violent shade of pink as the setting sun hit the dark clouds on the horizon.
“Dark soon.” She sighed. One part of her was upset, the other grateful for the small house they had to go back to, just a few steps from here.
Closing her eyes she thought of the little log burner that would be flickering away in the darkness of the kitchen, of the tiny bedroom, barely enough room for the bed, the window there that was always splattered with salt crystals.
She shivers a little in the cooling air and he holds her tighter.
“Want to go back?”
She shrugs lightly and leans her head back on his shoulder.
His lips, grazing her neck, make her skin break out in goose bumps, as though his mouth commanded it to rise, to meet his touch.
“Want to go back?”
She shakes her head a little, eyes fixed on the waves before her, body slowly tingling at his kisses, his tongue, his teeth, and still only on her neck. The chilled air makes it feel like all her body heat has abandoned her and now only comes to the surface where he touches.
His hand moves up her chest and runs up and down her throat, finally tightening just under her jaw.
“If you don’t want to go back we’ll have to stay here.”
He bites her neck gently and a tiny moan crawls from between her lips in response.
While his teeth graze her skin he pushes his fingers into her mouth, just the tips to the first joints. She runs her tongue over them and tastes the bitter chemical of white spirit, soap and paint.
Pulling round to face him she brings his hands to her face again and kisses them.
“You’ve finished working?”
He nods, looking past her into the gathering dark at the edges of the horizon.
“Then its over.” He glances sharply at her but his expression softens, all the hard edges seem to slide from his face and she can’t bare it.
Instead of speaking she stands up on tiptoe and twines her arms around his neck, pulling him close for a kiss.
Nothing matters now.
She loses herself to the elements, the spray of the surf, the bite of the wind, his tongue probing her mouth like he wanted to devour her, eat her from the inside out until she was nothing.
Not even a husk, a shell.
Just a suggestion of a ghost
Nothing at all.
Her lips were crushed against his teeth painfully and she thought she tasted blood, but only pushed her own mouth harder against his.
She wasn’t crying.
It was only the salt on her face that stung her eyes.
He pulled away a little and cupped her face in his hands. They surprised her as always, these hands. Large, clumsy looking, but she’d watched him command them into creating beauty from the chaos of paint and canvas.
He ran the pad of his thumb under her eye and she took a deep breath and smiled.
“I want to go in now.”
He said nothing, only pulled her to him so that their walk across the beach and back to the cottage was awkward. If observed, they would have looked like two invalids helping each other across the slippery rocks.
The cottage, tiny and defiant, its walls stained with salt, its wood work rotting.
They’d worked here, he at one end, her at the other.
But now it was over.
He didn’t turn on the lights, only the glow from the log burner kept full dark away. She stood in the middle of the room as he left her to pour a drink.
Under her feet the bare stone of the floor felt clammy, almost living, like at any moment she might feel a dull pulse under her arches.
Hopping from one foot to another at the thought, she glanced over and saw him watching her..
“Are you cold?”
She shook her head and took the glass he offered from his hand.
He hesitated then raised his.
“The cottage” She whispered back, then added, “Serendipity.”
He nodded, his head nothing more than a dark shadow before her in the weak light. Reaching for her, his hand gently stroked her face, she closed her eyes and leant into his touch.
She thought his hand trembled lightly.
Her own hand came to cover his and hold it firm.
“Serendipity.” He whispered in her ear, making her shiver.
Draining glasses they set them aside and stood facing each other. “Do you remember?”
“Remember how we tried to stay away, tried to deny it. The cottage took the decision away from us.”
Part of her wanted to say it hadn’t, that they could go somewhere else, that what they had could continue elsewhere.
She didn’t though.
Away from the cottage it might become something else. Something dangerous, something solid and consuming.
The cottage existed in another dimension, acted like a buffer between real life and the ethereal. No matter how much they wanted to they couldn’t be together, not away from these damp and swollen walls, the leaky roof, the mildew on the book shelves.
She took his palm and pressed it to her lips before placing it back on her face.
“I still haven’t seen what you’ve painted.”
Neither of them vocalised it. That there wouldn’t be a tomorrow for her to view the painting.
It had been a ritual of theirs for five years.
He’d labour away in his room, she in hers. In the end he would invite her in to view his work.
He painted huge landscapes under skies that made you afraid to stand too close. Brooding clouds that seemed to swell away from the canvas, harsh sick sunsets of pink and black, the land below them washed out in safe greys and greens, browns and blues. She imagined herself torn between clinging to the bare earth and letting go, being hurled up into that terrible sky and burned away as she hit the first harsh ray of sun that forced its way through.
She both loved and feared those paintings, but couldn’t imagine looking at them anywhere else but here.
Standing back from her he placed her arms down by her sides and started to unbutton her shirt.
The first time they slept together was a fumbled and guilt ridden affair.
After, they had lay in the bed together awkwardly, hardly touching. Her face was flushed with embarrassment and shame.
He’d lent over her to get his cigarettes and she’d almost recoiled.
“We shouldn’t have done that.” He said, lying back and blowing smoke away from her considerately. “The biggest mistake you can make is to try and replicate what you already have.”
“What?” She took the cigarette from him and inhaled, making the tip glow furiously.
Smiling he traced the outline of her jaw with his finger, then over her lips, making the frown twitch into a small smile.
“You and I are not meant to fuck like this.” He took the cigarette back from her, one more drag, then crushed it out on the saucer he’d put on the bedside table for that purpose. “That was how you’d fuck your husband. It was …. Nice.”
She was torn between irritation and a creeping thrill.
“Don’t talk about my husband.” She went to get up and he grabbed her elbow, pulling her back to the bed.
They looked at each other, her scowling, him smiling, his gaze amused but stern.
She’d not seen this in him before, this stare that implied he knew what he wanted and meant to take it. For long seconds she took this in and she knew. She knew what he was doing.
He wouldn’t take it. Take her.
If she yelled at him to let her go he would, he’d let go and they’d get dressed and he’d go back to his room and she’d go back to hers, and for the remainder of the lease they’d work and stay out of each others way. Chalk it up to momentary madness and find a new space to come to next time they needed to retreat from the world to create.
She saw then what he was asking.
He wanted permission to take her.
It was like facing the vampire outside the threshold.
Powerless to act unless invited in, then free to plunder its host.
Something squirmed in her belly at the thought.
“This cottage does things to me.” She murmured.
He let go of her elbow.
She didn’t go to move away.
“It allows us to be free for a few weeks.”
It was true.
Nothing else existed .
She did. Without hesitation.
This time it was different. This time he took her and didn’t seek consent, didn’t try to love her, didn’t treat her like a Goddess. This time he claimed her like he owned her. This time, with his fists buried in her hair and his teeth marking her shoulder blades, she cried out and let it mingle with the screech of gulls that wheeled before the waves beyond the windows.
He let her shirt fall to the floor and stood back to look at her. His back was to the fire so she could hardly see him, but he could watch the reflection of flames dance around her, across her, like she was lit from within.
“Take off your shorts.”
The denim was old and the waist lose now, a twist of the hips and she pulled them off, stepping out of them and picking them up to place over the chair.
“Turn for me.”
Rising up on the balls of her feet she slowly turned.
Once she had been ashamed, frightened of the thought of a negative reaction to her nakedness. He’d taught her though, allowed her to be proud of the skin she inhabited, hadn’t used cheap placations, hadn’t verbalised that he thought her beautiful or even pretty. His actions had made her this bold.
If she had blushed, or looked away, or covered herself he would grab her chin and make her look at him.
“Acting like this makes me feel you think I’m stupid. That I’m the sort of man who’d settle for anything less than what he wanted. Do you think I’m that man?”
He might pinch at her nipple while saying this, he might push his fingers between her legs, he might bare his teeth and bite long and hard at her neck.
All these things answered the question and all she had to go was give herself.
Now though he didn’t come to her straight away, like he always had before, and a twist of fear coiled inside her, a catch in her throat, a burning behind her eyes.
Instead, he walked over to the arm chair and sat down quietly.
Outside the waves made the shingle and stone hiss and whisper to each other. Inside the fire cracked and spat as it tried to consume the damp wood in its belly.
“Come here.” She thought she heard a tremor in his voice, but it was gone when he cleared his throat and added, “On your hands and knees.”
Lightly she sunk to her knees, then crawled slowly over to the chair, hating the way everything was stained with the knowledge that this was the last time.
She rose up between his legs and nuzzled at the inside of his thighs, the roughness of his jeans against her cheek, the tiny flecks of paint splattered there and long dried, now part of the fabric that scratched at her skin.
She went from thigh to thigh, letting her cheek rest for a heart beat on the centre of him, feeling him grow even in that short time, sensing the heat rising, seeking her blindly as she moved away again.
His hand rested on her head lightly, stroked at her hair and she thought she would die. Just curl up at his feet and stop living.
What was the point.
As if reading her mind he pulled her up so she was stood before him, grabbed her waist and pulled her over his knee in one swift movement.
He let her rest there for a moment then lazily started to stroke down her back, caressing her cheeks firmly, grabbing the flesh as though appraising her.
“The first time I did this to you, I thought you might leave. Break free and run from the cottage. Call the police and have me arrested for assault.”
She smiled into her arms at the memory and he chuckled and slapped one cheek smartly before rubbing the sting away.
“I want to you to know…” He struck the other cheek, again, soothing the skin with a gentle touch after. “I want you to know that this isn’t only the last time I do this to you.”
She wiggled in his lap and bit her lip.
“.. it’s the last time I’ll ever do this.”
She tried to twist round to look at him but he grabbed at her wrists with his left hand and pushed his elbow into her shoulders, pinning her to him.
He hooked a leg over hers and she was trapped.
One part of her brain flashed in panic at being immobilised like this, her rational side took a deep breath and waited for that quiet calm to wash over her.
The palm of his hand came down rhythmically, gradually increasing in speed and harshness. Every time she thought she couldn’t take it he seemed to know, would back off for a moment, knead at her stinging flesh, stroke her hair, then start again.
Tears welled at the corner of her eyes by the time he’d decided to stop, as he pulled her up and to her feet.
He stood before her and took her face in his hands, drawing her close he delicately licked the thin skin below her eyes, tasting her tears even as she bit down on her lip to stop.
“Don’t cry. We don’t deserve tears.” There was that edge to his voice again. That hush that frightened her, made her shudder and press against him.
She dropped smartly to her knees and found his fly already open, his fingers pressing into her hair, she looked up at him as she took him in her mouth and she ached as he closed his eyes and sighed softly at her touch.
Closing her own she concentrated on him, using her tongue, her lips, her throat, switching when she felt him tense, backing off when he seemed to grow in her mouth, becoming passive as he finally took control and she put her hands behind her back, became a vessel for him to thrust into, holding her upright by her hair.
She opened her throat and snatched breath where she could until he suddenly pulled out and dragged her up into his arms and kissed her hard, pushing his tongue into her mouth so violently that her own had to fight past and into his.
He crushed her to him and all the while she willed him to hear her thoughts ,
Don’t leave me, don’t leave me, please don’t leave me …..
He pulled away with a low growl, grabbed at her wrist and led her into the bedroom.
She turned away from him and he bound her wrists behind her, pulling her shoulders back.
As she sat on the edge of the bed he pushed her back so she was lying on her hands, then knelt between her knees and parted them.
A whimper escaped her lips as his tongue lazily licked the whole length of her, pausing to push firmly against her as he reached the top, her legs jerked off the bed involuntarily as he smiled into her.
“You’re so wet.” He whispered, sucking her into his mouth so she squirmed against him.
He pushed his hand under her and drew her to him, burying his face into her, working his tongue against her, flat then sharp, then fast then slow till she was uttering little cries of frustration as he built her up and let her down, taking the pressure away until her hips stilled again then devouring her and making her gasp and plead to let her come, please let her come.
Her shoulders burned and numbed under her, her buttocks stung every time she moved against the bed, every time he dug his fingers into the flesh, her legs trembled and her cunt ached, painfully.
Please, please, please.
He came up, snaking his tongue up her body, treating each nipple to a sharp suck and not so gentle bite, he let his lips rest against hers and her tongue flicked out to lick his lips, taste herself on him.
Lying across her, his weight on his arms he looked at her sternly.
“What are you?”
“When are you mine?”
“Here. In the cottage. In the cottage I belong to you.”
“No one else?”
“No one else.”
And it was true.
Within the boundaries they’d made, the cottage, the beach, the rough track that led to the outside world, nothing else existed but them.
Not her husband, not her friends, not her children…. Not his.
His teeth met her throat and he bit and sucked at the skin as she writhed and mewled and cried. He drew away and kissed the bruise that started to form before his eyes, ran his tongue over her collarbones and proceeded to maul the other side of her neck.
Lying himself to the side of her he ran his hands over her breasts and stomach as she gathered her breath. His fingers pushed into her and she moaned and brought her hips up to meet him.
He worked them slowly in and out, using his thumb to barely touch her clitoris, almost grazing it, never quite using enough pressure.
Almost crying, her voice cracking as she tried to speak, her whole body aching for release and still he wouldn’t let her.
“You want to come?”
“Should I let you?”
“Yes! Oh God….” She tailed off, shuddering as he took his hand away.
“All you have to do is ask.”
His tone is maddeningly even, conversational almost, and its these moments, when he breaks down her barriers and acts like this is all just business, that she hates him.
She hates him with a primeval passion that borders on animalistic.
He won’t give her what she wants.
Now though, what she wants becomes what she needs.
Her body shakes as she’s denied.
“Please. Let me come for you. Let me come, Sir.”
He smiles affectionately.
“You ask so nicely. I could however, keep you simmering like this for as long as I wanted.”
She groans and pushes her hips up, but he moves his hand away so he still just grazes at her.
“Please, please, please, Sir, please….”
He leans forwards and kisses her gently, wraps a large hand around her throat, then pushes his fingers in hard and fast making her grunt and cry. The build ups been so long and now he’s relentless, he’s biting her shoulder and she doesn’t even notice, just builds up to a crisis that scares her, leaves her wordless, only able to utter bestial sounds and still he’s pushing at her even as her orgasm subsides and she tries to squirm away from his touch as she becomes sensitive, almost painfully so.
Now she was chanting, please, please… to make him stop.
He chuckled throatily and took her face in his hand, brushed away a lock of hair that stuck to the sweat on her brow.
“I just can’t please you can I?” He mocked gently.
She tried to answer but only managed a short huff of a laugh instead.
He brought his wet fingers to her lips and she sighed, relaxing back and parting her teeth so he could slide his fingers into her mouth.
She moved her tongue around his fingers as he pushed them deeper, felt him move them out a touch before she gagged, and for a moment they lay there, still, peaceful.
Her wrists still bound, her eyes closed, her mouth full of his fingers, her nostrils breathing in her own scent.
He stroked her hair and whispered, “Good girl.”
Drawing his fingers out slowly she tried to hold onto him, playfully nipped at him and stuck her lower lip out when her mouth was no longer full.
“Pouting gets you fucked.”
She said nothing.
“You want me to fuck you.” He didn’t phrase it as a question, but instead stood up and deftly flipped her over, arranging her at his leisure so that her rump was in the air, her chest pressed against the bed, her head to one side.
She complained as her shoulders protested against the sudden lack on weight on them, numbness now replaced with burning pins and needles.
Grabbing her cheeks he slapped her hard making her yelp in surprise. She’d almost forgotten how sore she was.
She felt him against her, pressing into her and she shook, need rising up in her again, but as she pushed against him he drew back.
“Please” She whispered.
Deliberately he twisted her hair around his hand and slowly pulled her head back so that only her chest and knees where in contact with the bed.
Maddeningly slowly, he slid into her until he was pressed against her, buried inside. He leant forwards and whispered in her ear.
“The last fuck.” And pulled almost all the way out before slamming into her.
She cried as he fucked her, almost hurting her, this wasn’t for her pleasure, this was his need, his frustration, his rage, his sorrow and he rallied against it the only way he knew how.
“Come for me again.” He growled.
She half sobbed. “I can’t!”
“Yes. You. Can.”
And she was.
It crept up on her, built up without her knowing and now she realised she was helpless, her own body had betrayed her and as it hit all she could do was stop breathing and silently scream as it felt like her whole body contracted then let go in a glorious shudder.
She barely noticed his own climax. Registered that he pushed harder into her, seemed to swell inside her then he was panting, sobbing into the back of her neck, breathlessly whispering her name again and again like a charm against the evils that waited outside for them.
She’d cried when he untied her wrists. Her shoulders protested at being freed and he pulled her into his lap and let her sob into his chest and soothed her with words and soft touches.
After, they had lay together in the dark, wakeful, but silent.
She wondered if he was thinking what she was.
That if the cottage wasn’t to be demolished next month would they have carried on like this forever?
In the morning he was gone.
For a moment she let her hand rest on the empty space in bed, then she pulled herself up, wincing at the pain in her shoulders.
Padding through to the kitchen she found her shorts and shirt, pulled them on and stood in the cold silence.
The cottage held its breath.
She opened the door into his work room and stopped.
The walls had been painted.
It was as though the sea had come through the window and filled the room. It swelled into the corners and washed against the window frames.
The sky rose above it and carried on to the ceiling so she had to look up to see the full extent of the work he’d done.
She put her hand to her mouth and stifled a sob.
Written on the ceiling, in angry slashes of blue.
“I mixed tears with my paint, knowing you’d be the only one who ever saw it. I’ll be forever half hidden from all but you.”