Reply To: Red (short story – 2,600 words)

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#2586
Elle
Participant

So I have been working on this story on and off trying to improve and refine it and I am keen to get some feedback on the latest version of it.

Also it has gone through a change of title and is now called ‘Bad Consequences’

Thanks!

———

She had never seen a naked man before. She had glimpsed unclothed parts in isolation at the local pool, at parties, in the back seat of a car but never a fully assembled body, all parts only covered by skin and hair. Until that night when she learned you never forget your first one. Spotting an opening at the bar, she perched herself on a stool, relieved not to have to stand on those ridiculous heels that made every step an unsteady one.

The first one that comes in will do.

The thought was easy enough, the execution trickier, especially when the next man to enter filled all the negative space in the doorway — Jabba the Hutt, minus the greenish complexion. She grimaced at the idea of her small body disappearing under an avalanche of pink wobbly flesh. She revised her plan. The next one. The next one that comes in.

She took another sip of her vodka cranberry; the imprint of her lips in a ‘Red Velvet’ shade stained the glass. Tasha and she nicked the lipstick last week on their way back from school. For this special occasion, she also wore heavy hooded liner in an Amy Winehouse style, and had squeezed into a fitted dress she found at Petticoat Lane Market — rather the dress somehow found its way into her bag like a co-conspirator, a willing participant to her enterprise. The shoes, she got from Tasha, she just didn’t tell her friend about borrowing them. The money she saved being creative would buy her drinks at the club. The place she would find the crucial piece she was looking for.

She sat there, hiding her inexperience under provocative clothing. After taking another sip, she readjusted her top, extending the expanse of skin below her neck. In the semi-darkness the glint of male attention shone onto her. She sat in the den where members of the pack didn’t embarrass themselves with several dates before showing you the inside of their bedroom.

You are not ready, Lapushka. Bad consequences with sex, her grandmother had repeated those words to her ever since she had written sanitary towels on the weekly shopping list for the first time.

She sneered at her drink. What did Babulya know about sex? She was ancient, an Orthodox cathedral that hadn’t been entered for more than three decades. Not the kind of conversation to have with someone that old, things have changed a lot since she was fit enough for men to wolf-whistle at her, she didn’t know this world and the men in it.

A spasm of guilt clenched her stomach at the lie she told Babulya about her whereabouts tonight. In the story she made up, she was watching a film at the cinema, munching on salted popcorn, gulping through a stripy straw spiked with vodka cola. Another dark place, but one where the only action safely took place on a giant screen, where she and her friends would natter and giggle at how fit the lead was, before the shush of disapproving adults reminded them that they were not alone. She drowned the lie with a gulp from her drink. In her mind, she already made it up to her grandmother with a pile of warm Pryanikis and liquorice tea that she would bring her in the morning.

She couldn’t ask her mother about sex. The woman — who pushed her out of her body, screaming — had swallowed sleeping pills like they were skittles one night, chasing a rainbow she would never reach. Her mother hadn’t been bothered about her enough to want to stick around. She had no feelings to drown for her.

The next one at the door distracted her from her thoughts. This time, taunt muscles curved under the tight fabric of a black t-shirt, and a tighter pair of jeans. How he managed to tuck a phone and wallet into those back pockets defied the laws of Physics. Jezza’s ridiculous good look was not the kind of beauty open to discussion or interpretation, it was a fact that made other men envious and made girls want to open themselves to him. Hair slicked at the side framing the quiff at the top, he stood arms crossed, and hands tucked under his armpits. His status as a drug dealer and a small-to-medium-time gangster completed his rebel persona. He prowled across the room as the other males nodded to him, showing respect.

All her friends had done it and openly spoke about their experiences, comparing them like battle scars. She had laughed and lied, pretending her virginity had been lost at a party. That was a ridiculous expression. Her virginity wasn’t lost, it wasn’t something that you misplaced like your phone, or sunglasses. You gave it away, or a lot of time they took it away after they talked you into it, backed you into the corner of a bed, a car or of your mind so you just went along with it. Her virginity was still nicely tucked inside of her, but she had been cornered into a few hand jobs. The idea of something moving inside her, and even worse the possibility of something growing inside her, stretching and poking from within grossed her out. But recently, sex had become a constant nagging like a child pestering her for a sweet. A disturbance that had kept her warm, restless at night and dampened her sheets.

She downed the rest of her drink, and under the pretense of looking back at the dancefloor smelled the skin above her armpit. It was slight, but it was there, a musky scent so close it might be hers. The scent of a body left too long into summer heat, caught in the hair pooling into the folds of skin, a smell of taking and giving and losing over and over again. After a quick sniff she detected nothing more than the vanilla and peach fragrance from her deodorant. Keeping her arms closed to her body just to be safe, she carried four neon test tubes across the room. She teetered unsteady under the thin pillar of her heels. Her mind rehearsed the words she would say, trying out combinations to find the one that would make her sound cool and in control. She didn’t want to stumble on a jagged word, and for her confidence to dive. Only a few feet away when a man wedged himself between her and the rest of her night. He talked to Jezza who erupted in a sudden laughter so ferocious it sounded like a snarl. After they patted each other on the back, the man walked away, giving her an opening.

Hey Jezza. They gave me two extras, you want them? She spoke with a manufactured confidence. He turned around, looking down her top before he found her face.

Cheers, darling. The words escaped under the curl of his lips. Under the black light, his teeth glowed white.

Relieving her of two tubes, he clinked them with hers before they both knocked them back. The alcohol left a chemical tasted on her tongue and the back of her throat; she wondered if this was how a good night out was supposed to taste. After her offering, he invited her to sit at the table that was reserved for him. She had never been behind the rope of the VIP area. They slid into his lair — a semi-circular bench covered in a crimson velvet. Up close he was different; she could see the razor burn under his jaw and the flakes from the gel holding his hair into place.

I’ve seen you around, right? he said, reclining on the seat, legs open wide, his arms slithering along the back.

Yeah, I’m friend with Tasha, Mickey’s sister.

She here with you?

I’m on my own, she replied and watched her words curl the corners of his mouth again. Bad consequences, the words chimed in her mind wrapped in Babulya’s gravelly voice. Drinks had materialised on the table in front of them, liquid impossible to identify under the low light, not that she cared. She just grabbed one and downed it with a long swig that left her wincing. Jaeger. God that shit was nasty.

When she leaned back into the seat, she caught him, staring with huge eyes at the curves beneath her dress.

Wanna dance? she asked.

On the dancefloor their bodies pressed against each other, amid a sea of other bodies, all swaying to the music. The bassline pulsed through the club and through their flesh as if they were dancing inside the belly of a great beast. She smelt it too. Warm and musky. Overpowering. The salty scent of sweaty skin trapped in every pore or every bead of perspiration. The smell pushed her closer to his body, his hands resting on her hips sent a chill under her skin. The beat filled her ears, this time it came from a place deep within. Bad consequences, the words were back inside her head, a low rumble on a loop. She shut it all out by pressing herself tight onto the hardness building in him. She looked up at his face, where a mayhem red and orange lights danced amid flashes of shadow.

Let’s get out of here, he told her with a smile full of teeth.

His bedroom was a makeshift forest, a wallpaper of tall charcoal trees on a pale grey background. The bed was a sparkling white expanse. She sat on it, leaning back on her hands, spread fingers, her nails bright blood drops against the snow of the duvet. The choice of décor didn’t match her expectations, she had anticipated to sit on a cliché of black satin sheets, surrounded by high-tech and expensive electronics that had fallen off the back of a lorry. Not the fancy inside of middle-class homes, those places where everything matched. Something, something about appearances and how they could deceive.

***

Out of the window, her tower block stretched in the distance, tall against the night sky, a slab of concrete pierced by tiny shards of lights. All the other buildings stood darkened as if already mourning the loss of her virginity.

Grabbing her under the armpits, he threw her deeper into the territory of his mattress. A thrill of apprehension shot through her, her body and mind pulling her into opposite directions. He shed his clothes, leaving on the floor the Jezza she had known until now, his nakedness morphing him into something else. He climbed on the bed, advancing on all fours, the roll of his shoulders reminding her of a great cat. At his approach, the muscles in her throat tightened. She moved back until she ran out of mattress and he engulfed her with his body.

Physics class theories that have their usefulness in every day life — for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: up went her skirt and down went her underwear. She lay exposed, a pink piece of meat on the alabaster of a butcher slab. Foreplay didn’t seem to be on the agenda for her first time. Teeth nibbled at her breasts, his skin rubbing against hers as he felt his way in. She closed her eyes and trading a gasp for a sharp pain, when she opened them again, she was no longer a virgin.
The expanse of his white ceiling hung over her, smooth like the wall of room 2.13 where Mr. Finnegan had projected a video for biology class about the animal kingdom. The wall had glowed with the images of a Cheetah, newly released into the wild, pouncing on a gazelle for the first time, and the matter-of-fact voiceover explaining ‘once the predator has tasted fresh meat nothing else will do.’

The charcoal forest surrounding her danced to the rhythm he had set for them. She held on with fingers that kept slipping on his damp skin. She was quickly disappearing under the muscles of his body and the hunger of his needs. Crushing her shoulders, he pushed himself, forgetting the person she was. Gasping, she searched for a word to make him slow down.

The scent of the beast had followed them from the club. It clung to every breath of air in the room, but it appeared to leave him unfazed. Eyes shut, he was too lost in his own lust. But it found its way in, she inhaled deeply, dizzy from the musk. His ruthlessness was changing her from the inside, becoming something new from the pleasure twisting with pain he inflicted on her, all for his self-gratification.

A growl came low and deep. Not from him, he grunted on top of her like a bull. Her eyes searched for the origin of the noise amid the chaos of his movements. She found it at the foot of the bed. The great wolf looked at her with amber eyes. She saw herself in them. The animal dropped its head, showing teeth, licking its lips. A wave of pleasure burnt through her, spine arched to breaking point and the beast growled.

He kissed her, his tongue meddling with hers, a teasing that unleashed her. She bit on it hard until the taste of metal flooded her mouth. He attempted to pull away, but she held him, winding her legs around his waist with a new strength that shattered him. Nails broke the thin barrier of his skin, digging crimson grooves deep into his flesh. He screamed inside her mouth and she ate that too, ate his fear. She ate the part of him that liked slapping his girlfriend around. She took him all in. When she was done, she abandoned on the bed a bag of skin filled with rattling bones.

***

She stood in her hallway, having no recollection of how she got home. Babulya stood at the other end in her usual tatty bathrobe, impassive at the view of her dishevelled appearance and the blood that must be smeared on her face.

“You take shower, and I make tea,” her grandmother told her as she shuffled into the kitchen.

Twenty minutes after she did what she was told, she sat at the Formica table, a mug of steamy black tea in front of her. She could feel him inside her, swimming in her blood, his fear an after-taste lingering in the back of her throat. His thoughts buzzed under her skull like flies — his general contempt for women, his particular love for his mother. She knew the things he did, repeated in her head the price of a gram of coke, the lyrics of his favourite Artic Monkey song.

Drink, Lapushka. Drink, her grandmother told her.

Aren’t you gonna ask? she said.

Told you, bad consequences, Babulya muttered. Too impulsive. You should always listen to your Babulya.

Taking a long sip of her tea, she re-evaluated everything she believed she knew about her life, and where she stood as a girl in the predatory chain. Her mind explored the shapes of the new future unspooling in front of her. One with no corners. One where she could walk at night, wear what she wanted without worry. A future where she was not asking for it or where her flesh was not a playground for entitled hands. A future where no was not open to interpretation.

***

The air was cold with the stillness of the night. She zipped her hoodie and pulled the red hood over her head. Hands tucked in the pockets, she slipped between the rows of garages, stepping into pools of yellow lights from the lamp posts. Any mothers around here would tell you that it wasn’t safe for a little girl to walk around these parts alone at night. Her footsteps echoed against the metallic doors until they were joined by a second set. She didn’t turn around. She pressed on, steady pace. She still didn’t turn when an invisible hand pushed her into a wall. The breath of a switchblade hissed by her ear.

Don’t move. The words came seasoned with the smell of larger and skewered lamb. She stood very still and smiled.