Metallic grey skies had hung over London for days before finally bursting into hours of torrential rain. Tom felt his spirits dampen beyond retrieval. He had been walking in Regent’s Park, the grim weather keeping it almost empty; now he needed some resolution to his mood. It was either Mozart on the South Bank or the whores out East.
He called a cab but by the time he reached Hungerford Bridge he realised that even Mozart’s sublime genius could not rescue him to-night. He gave the driver new directions and they snaked along Embankment for a rendezvous with the hookers instead. It was Friday night and the bright young bucks from the City would be keeping them busy.
He knew a small wine bar off the main streets that sold passable Italian wine, had enough customers to allow you to feel inconspicuous, not too many to feel oppressive and stayed open longer than the law allowed.
Three quarters of the way through a bottle of Sicilian red, his spirits lifted slightly and he was starting to contemplate the entertainment that had brought him there in the first place. He knew the best place to find the kind of whore he needed tonight. Soon he was walking through one of those numerous, small, dark churchyards that populate east London. Before reaching the exit he was startled to hear, and then see, a young woman sitting on one of the seats, sobbing loudly.
Like all city dwellers he was conditioned to ignore human suffering and walked on but something stopped him and he went back. He was still miserable and he did not need this diversion but he went up to her anyway.
“Can I help you at all?”
She shook her head and said nothing and he was about to move on but having spoken to her and seen the distress in her eyes it was even harder to move away a second time. He was annoyed with her for making him care about her.
“Look, I can’t just…leave you here.”
“Why?” she sobbed.
“What’s the problem?”
She answered him just to get rid of him, although what she said was true. “Earlier today I had a blazing row with my boyfriend and he threw me out of the car and drove off with my bag, money, phone, the lot. And in the last twenty minutes I’ve been fired from by job. No job, no money, no means of getting any money. Happy now?”
The rain suddenly increased. She was a desperately sad sight. He could not leave her there.
They had been in his apartment for nearly two hours and were making inroads into one of Tom’s expensive bottles of South African wine. She had finally dried out. She had calmed own. He suddenly realised how young she looked and that she was extremely pretty.
She was in the middle of explaining how she came to be in a churchyard, all alone in the early hours of the morning crying the tears of Niobe.
“…..so, whatever way you look at it, the whole thing was my fault. I liked him, sure enough, in the first place but never intended it to become serious; never ‘settling down’ stuff. But he was in love with me, big time. That’s when I knew I had to leave: at the moment when his love seemed the greatest; when his parents were all but planning the wedding. He was shattered when I told him. He literally crumpled at my feet and sobbed like a baby, begged, pleaded with me to change my mind.”
She covered her face at the horror of the memory. “Oh God, it was horrible, really horrible. For weeks afterwards he followed me everywhere. Wherever I was, he turned up. I tried to be rational and talk to him but he just saw that as I sign that I wanted still to be with him. Either way I couldn’t win. Then he bombarded me with emails, text messages, telephone messages. Then his parents waded in and started doing the same thing. They said he was ‘wasting away’, was a ‘broken man’ and today when I saw him, I realised to my horror that they weren’t exaggerating. And I am responsible for it all.”
She paused. Tom said nothing and allowed her to finish her story.
“And I am overwhelmed with guilt. Guilt that I don’t know what to do with. Except that I must do something with it. I have to exorcise it because it’s eating away at me.”
A few verbal palliatives formed on the tip of Tom’s tongue but the woman spoke from the heart and he would not insult her with banalities.
Instead he said, “How do you go about exorcising guilt?”
She took one more long sip of her wine, laid her head back on the chair and prepared an explanation that she feared he would not understand.
“I think that sometimes you just have to go right down. All the way, to the Darkest part of the Night, that part of your being that you don’t really want to recognise; then just live it, let it happen and after that you can be released and get back to the Day and to Life. But you have to go all the way down first before you can get release.”
Tom listened intensely to this young woman; astonished at the maturity of her words from someone apparently so young; or astonished that she should say so much of what he himself believed but which had taken him so much longer to understand.
There was a long silence. “You’re very quiet,” she offered, “you don’t agree.”
He took a long sip of wine. “On the contrary, I agree entirely. Only it’s disarming to hear one’s own innermost thoughts spoken by another, especially someone so young.”
“I’m only young in years. So you go down into the Dark as well, yes?”
“Well, nice to meet you.”
They both smiled.
“Don’t you sometimes wish you could go down into the Dark with someone? Share it, I mean. Just for a short time. Have a contract that none of the world, with all its ways, exists and for the moment there is only the Dark and nothing else. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
The intelligence and maturity of this young woman was beginning to fascinate and threaten him in equal measures.
“You know, no names, no biographies,” she continued.
“You mean like now?”
“Of course. After all, I don’t even know your name.”
Tom now realised that something profoundly important could be happening and so picked his words with great care.
“Share the Dark?” he queried.
Tom took a long sip of his wine. This was not what he had planned for the evening. Finally he asked, “So tell me then, what is the Night and the Dark for you?”
“Well,” now she was choosing her words meticulously, “to-night, just before you came along to rescue me, there were some whores at the end of the road plying their trade. I have always been fascinated by whores. I used to look out of my bedroom window when I was a kid and watch them up our street. I don’t really know what it is about them that fascinates me but it does. So, in the Dark and the Night, which we’re talking about, I’d like to be one of them.
“A whore? You?” he interrupted.
“Yes, why not? But it has to be on the streets, you see. I don’t want to be some kind of classy hooker going to five star hotels, eating fresh lobster and drinking champagne at £100 a bottle then getting fucked in a four poster bed and walking off with my pockets stuffed with twenty pound notes. It would be a good way of earning money but that’s not what I mean by the Night. I want to stand on streets corners in the rain, with a skirt up around my arse and my tits hanging out and then be picked up and fucked my a tired, middle aged travelling salesman whose wife is at home ironing his shirts. It’s the degradation, you see, that is the true habitat of the Night.”
Tom listened to this spellbound. Who was this young woman: educated, intelligent, articulate, in pursuit of whoring and degradation who he found one night in a churchyard in London? He wanted to know all about her. How old was she? But she had virtually drawn up the contract by now and those things were forbidden. A short time ago he had used his authority, composure, money and age to rescue her from the streets, now she had wrested control and he could not resist her.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“So, what is the Dark for you?”
“Well, this may surprise you and I’m not making it up in the light of what you have just told me about whores, but that is exactly the reason I was where I was when I found you.”
“Looking for a whore?”
“Yes. Sometimes, like you, I need the Dark and that is where I go.”
“Really? How strange, I mean what a coincidence. Because, you’ve obviously got money so you don’t need to pick them off the streets but, like me, that’s where you go. And then do you go off to some grotty hovel and do it?”
“No, I bring them here.”
“You fuck them here?”
“No, I don’t fuck them at all.”
“What do you do then? The Times crossword?”
They both laughed at this witticism and the accord between them strengthened a little more. He now saw that she had a sense of humour and was beginning to wonder whether there was anything this young woman did not have. He began to wish he had kept walking when he first saw her because was she was beginning to hold him in thrall.
“What do I do? Well, follow me,” he replied.
Tom got up and the woman followed him into a large room. When the lights were put on she gasped at the size of the room and its acres of book covered walls. Tom walked up to a cupboard and inserted a key.
She stood immediately behind him as he opened its double doors and put on a small light. She took in its contents for a fraction of a second and exhaled loudly.
The cupboard was full of canes.
She looked at him searching for some kind of explanation. He just smiled back at her. She put out her hand delicately and touched one.
“They’re canes, aren’t they? Punishment canes?”
“About twenty. Different kinds: length, width, suppleness.”
“And this is what you use on your whores?”
“No, this is what they use on me.”
“On you? They cane you?”
“That’s right. It’s the benefit of an English, boarding school education. The only thing the English education system has ever done successfully.”
“And this is your Night?”
“But it’s pleasure?”
“Oh no. It’s not pleasure, just something I was brought up with and can no longer do without. In the Night of course. The Night that we are talking about.”
She became pensive. “And the whores, you don’t fuck them at all?”
“God no, I pay them to cane me then they leave.”
She paused again to think about this and then turned and removed one of the canes from the cupboard.
“So, you came looking for a whore and you found….me.. You picked me up and brought me here.”
He watched her intently, aware of what she was implying. The cane she had chosen was a particularly long, pliable one and she swished it noisily in the air to emphasise her point. She walked up to him and stood so closely their bodies were almost touching. He was reminded just how much the smell of a woman aroused him. Not the purchased smell of perfume but the unmistakable smell of female sexuality. When she spoke she was close enough to kiss him. She spoke with calculated precision.
“So, if you pay my fare home, as you said you would, and if I cane you, does that make me your whore?”
This was a question he could not easily answer so he turned away and sat down in another part of the room but she would not leave him alone.
“If that is how you wish to see it, yes. Is that what you want?”
She stared intently at him waiting for an answer.
“Yes. Is that what you want?”
He walked to the other side of the room and collected two chairs from around the dinner table and placed them back-to-back next to where the woman was standing. She did not say a word but watched him closely. He moved across to the cupboard and moved his hand among the canes to select the one most appropriate for the occasion. He looked at them with great care, ran his hand down the length of them, considered thickness, suppleness and her ability to wield it effectively. He made his selection.
“This one I think, for this evening.”
She took it without speaking.
“So,” he proceeded, trying to recapture some of the power over the woman that he had just lost, “whores only get paid if they do the job properly. Six strokes as hard as you can. Anything less and you go home empty handed. Clear?”
She nodded. “Clear.”
“OK, take off your blouse and bra.”
For a moment she hesitated but knew that whores were paid to do as they are told. She undid the buttons on her blouse and removed it. She unfastened and slipped off her bra and revealed beautiful, small, firm, sharply pointed breasts.
She was standing now, in this pose, with the handle of the cane in her right hand. Suddenly he recalled, down the tunnel of years, the most erotic image he had ever seen. He quickly moved to recreate it; took her left hand and placed it on the other end of the cane. He then held both her hands, that were now clasping the cane at each end, lifted it and gently placed it underneath her breasts so that it gave the impression the cane was supporting them.
He went back a few steps and gorged on the profoundly erotic image in front of him: a beautiful young woman, naked to the waist, holding a cane underneath her breasts. It seemed to define every atom of his sexuality.
“Thank you,” he said.
He then walked to the chairs and knelt on one of them, unbuckled his belt, pulled down trousers and pants and bent over the backs of the two chairs, holding the struts below him very tightly.
The woman walked back a number of paces and held the cane in the air, unsure whether she would be able to command the force he needed. She need not have worried. The first stroke was ferocious, right across the centre of both buttocks. His gasp suggested he was as surprised as well.
She walked back a few steps further and landed the second one in the same place.
The third followed almost identically. One thick red welt arose rather than three separate ones. The pain of three powerful strokes landing on almost the same place was acute. He gasped loudly and held the struts of the chair so tightly his knuckles turned white. She was not prepared to back off; he had made a whore out of her and she was not going to forgive him.
The fourth stroke surprised both of them, landing on the top of the legs.
The top of the buttocks were still milky white; she stood to the side of him this time and brought the fifth stroke downwards to break up that virgin space.
This caused him to hold his breath, which he held until, with her final act of malice, she walked back and landed the sixth and final stroke on the huge red welt where she had started. He exhaled a piercing cry. He was now breathing rapidly but otherwise did not move.
She carefully returned the cane to the cupboard and then bent her face towards his and asked quietly, “Are you all right?”
Breathing quickly he replied, “Yes, yes, I’m all right.”
She stood up straight, took a step backwards and saw the damage. Bright red lines cut across his buttocks broken only by the cleft of his arse. She gently put her fingers on the damage and felt the ridges that were already prominent. He remained still whilst she felt him in this way, conscious that it resembled some kind of ceremony.
I did this, she reminded herself, and soon he will pay me for it and I will join the realms of whoredom where I belong. In chastening him, she further reflected, I am chastened also. His Night and mine too.
She picked up her blouse and bra and walked to the bathroom.
Thirty minutes later the taxi he had called for her, arrived. Just before she left he put into her hand a wad of twenty pound notes.
She looked him in the eyes and asked, “Taxi fare home or services rendered?”
“Whatever you choose.”
“Well, services rendered, then.”
He smiled in return.
They walked out into the street together and he opened the door of the taxi for her. When the door was closed she stared at him without any expression, any gesture, any hint of what she was thinking or feeling: nothing. The cab moved away and glided down the road, turned left at the river and disappeared. The lady of the Night was gone forever.
As he turned to go back inside he saw in the distance a narrow shaft of light breaking over St Paul’s. The Night was, indeed, truly over. It was now the turn of the Day and Life.