Perilous Adventures
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The Mirror's Kiss

by Caroline Fletcher

Magic Mirror by M C EscherHe is an army major: tall, blond, Nordic looking - more like a sea captain than a serviceman. I like the way he walks despite the heavy suit and the hat that hides the fair hair and accentuates his straight nose. He is beautiful, but wearing these things, ugly and organised, conforming to a code.

I have driven my sister, a lieutenant, back to barracks. We’ve been shopping. She likes me to take her out of there. On the way through we stop at the officers’ mess; she has to see someone who might be there, a man I suppose.

I pass him in the hall but he doesn’t notice me; skinny, messy hair, my mouth slightly open, top lip pushed a little forward – my look. Flushed from the summer heat, I’m sweaty, sexy, dishevelled. He is perfectly groomed, uniformed and gift wrapped in authority.

When we leave I ask my sister about him. Major Sorrenson. She says his first name is Bryce but it should be Hans or Johann, and he might be gay because she hasn’t seen him go after any of the girls on the base. Why would he, they’re scrubbers? She’s tried it with him herself. My sister, like me, is pretty stunning.

We see him again outside and Claudia stops him, introduces me. He smiles and says it is obvious we are sisters. This always flatters; it’s nice to have my looks indirectly or maybe unintentionally admired.

I should have joined the army with Claudy when she asked me, purely for the men; but I didn’t like the idea - I’m a nurse - of being posted somewhere I didn’t want to go, and instead took a job in the biggest hospital. Plenty of places to go there without leaving town or being shot at.

I have now screwed my fair share of doctors, being young, and I have that look, that silent yes. There’s money to be made too, selling the drugs I steal, mainly downers, morphine, which has become for me like the earned glass of wine after a hard day’s healing. I haven’t slept with the right doctors yet, the ones who have access to the pethidine stores, the horse pills. I am an unethical slut.

Oh doctor, your instruments are so warm. My, that’s a big thermometer you’ve got. This sort of thing goes on all the time. There is sex to be had if you have a spare minute. On the other hand, nothing like the sight of a half-dead invalid to eliminate desire.

My boyfriend is a doctor in the same hospital. We fuck during the day in the old, closed down wards, the Dickensian death cells, dangerous and off-limits. We have recently started living together - one month - but it’s not working out, like I told him it wouldn’t. He has caught me twice so far, in our bed with other men. He objects to this and my argument is that he knew what I was like. I love him like I have loved all of them but I don’t care, other men want to have sex with me too and I don’t say no.
In the heat outside her quarters my sister holds her cheek out for my goodbye kiss, putting her tongue into it as I do so, pretending it is a penis then teasing me about being so obviously attracted to Major Sorrenson.

Three weeks later, my boyfriend Simon and I are at a party. Bryce, one easy syllable to draw out in a sexual hiss, is there with a woman. Together for five years someone informs me. So bloody what, doesn’t mean they love each other. I say hello, mentioning my sister, and he remembers. Shakes my hand authoritatively, an extension of the uniform he is now not wearing.
Later on everyone is very drunk. Simon is half conscious on the sofa, giggling, ogling other women, trying to stay awake so he can drink more.

Major Bryce Sorrenson takes my wrist, he has been looking at me all night; he did notice me the first time I saw him at the barracks. Simon is getting angry with him from a distance; likes me to look good only for him and gets angry with strange men who stare. Bryce pulls me downstairs and outside into the black, tissue paper air. Wears a blue shirt the colour of the Swedish flag that makes him look about five years younger, more even.

Every time I close my eyes, kissing, I see the army hat and the ugly serge. Is it serge? Do they still wear that these days? It’s not 1915. I assume they wear cooler fabric these days. He’s a good eight inches taller than I, and in the dark beside the house he is imposing, the walls of night either side of me are solid, his body a slab to which I press my face, his shirt’s silk. Tells me he knew I wanted him. He’s been talking to my sister. Says he thinks I’m cute. I hate that word. Sweet, he says, sassy, like an American college girl, half-virgin. His hair is white blond. Mine is gold, straw-like, getting long and flicky now after a short cut, brushes my jaw-line, sticks under my collar at the back of my neck. He is Thor, a god from the fjords, the big one from the German pornos who only says “Ja, oh ja, oh ja,” over and over again. German, Swedish, Dutch. I don’t care to know what his heritage is. Kisses savagely with a drunken confidence then pulls his cock out of his jeans. I suck it. Pretend his over-exaggerated army cock smell is juniper or spruce. We arrange for him to come to my house for the fuck: the beginning of it all.

Dash back upstairs to Simon. I return nonchalant and he makes me sit on his lap and uses his hands all the time when he talks, dropping them onto my thighs, too high up, making me flinch, squeezing my waist between sentences. Sniffs at my neck because I have a scent that he can smell under the perfume. He wants me in a bottle, in more ways than one. The magic genie/sex slave. When I mumble later on at home that I don’t think it’s a good idea to screw at work anymore, we’re pushing it too far, he’s angry. How can I - the one, he says that half the doctors in the country have fucked - reject such an opportunity. In bed all of him is forced hard into me. Drunk, not really interested in me. Still has to come so he can sleep despite being so lashed. We break the condom and he curses. “Shit. Oh, shit,” because he has come clean into the hospital slut. Passes out, still wearing it. A red one, split and frayed like burnt flesh. Lights off, I press my thigh to his, hot with Tequila. He curls up, nose against my bicep like a puppy. Now alone I don’t feel so drunk. Stopped drinking after I sucked Bryce off - had to remember it. Compared to him, Simon looks like a football hooligan. Cut all his hair off a week ago because he thought he was starting to look like a model from a menswear catalogue. I can’t wait until it grows again. Wouldn’t want anyone operating on me who looked like that.

Major Sorrenson pays his first house-call one day later. He pulls my hair so it falls over my nose and cheeks, half hides my eyes so I can glare at him and look sexy. Pounds me so hard that the shock of it leaves me thinking I am where I used to live, before Simon’s, the flat everybody knew. It taps me on the temple: we are in Simon’s bed. Bryce has to leave. Your country needs you, I joke.

Changing my shift on purpose is easy so that Simon and I are working half the time apart. Day/night. He goes to work early whereas my shift now starts at midday. Bryce comes over early, before he starts work, just after his girlfriend leaves. Both our partners leave, come to think of it.

Simon sees Bryce at the local shops one day and accuses me - of course he knows what I am - of fucking him. I deny this. I’m not sure why. I deny it because next to Bryce, Simon is ugly. Next to me, Major Bryce Sorrenson is ugly. Big. Thuggish. Tanned skin’s not that of a bronzed backpacker anymore, now like wax that covers cheese. Lying beside me his muscles don’t twist - the ones I pictured correctly under the serge. After sex he is diluted into Mr Average. I remain the same - the impenetrable beauty.

Simon again attacks, home early on a Saturday, which is odd because weekends are busiest at the hospital. Asks me again if I’m fucking Bryce. He can smell someone else on my neck, not the usual scum I screw whose odours, therefore personas, are not worth detecting by the one who counts. We fight. Simon tries to grab my neck but as I dodge it is more like an uppercut and I bite my tongue, taste red, spit it at him. He states the obvious, yells the obvious – I’m a nurse for Christ’s sake. I should know better. Can’t go spraying blood around the room. I get upset, crying over something Simon doesn’t know about; earlier, Bryce bit my neck and I hit him. There must be no marks. He slapped me back. Why twice I don’t understand, hard enough to make me hate him, then kissed me. His lips, their membrane has poisoned my skin and Simon can taste it, the bitter liquid of deceit. If it happens, it happens, it won’t be the first time he’s caught me.

With the offensive territorial mark of another man disintegrated by violence, Simon makes love to me, comes into me like a shot and whispers, “I love you.” I reply with the same words, squeezing him so he believes me.

Then he catches me. In bed with Major Bryce. Shit brick, Simon calls him and kicks at the marble effigy hidden under the sheet. I stand naked between the man and the genuflected figure now groping for his trousers on the floor. I don’t want Simon to see him naked. There must be no more comparison. I compare too many men already.

After a few months of this roundabout, Bryce’s girlfriend leaves the country for a job in London. Now I find him less attractive. Major Bryce Sorrenson asks me to move in with him and I do because he hasn’t experienced what Simon has. I have broken Simon’s heart and this causes problems at work. He makes a point, in front of me, of asking other pretty nurses to assist him with procedures. I tell him I don’t care, it means less pus and shit I have to deal with.

I can start afresh. Pretty soon, though, Bryce knows about the men. I am the rotten whore, his slutty bunny. I continue to kick away the men who fall at my feet. He stills knows, knows they have been there. Guesses that I cheat on him at work, too.
I change my shift so that I am there for him when he gets home. A present in a box. Sometimes when he comes home he is rough with me, always after we have wine or spirits. I say things I can’t help and trigger him off until he hits me, a white-headed fire. Because I am pretty I deserve to be treated this way. The awful things he screams at me – vicious little slut. Tells me to go back to my fucked-up fairyland. These things are true. I do live there. The aptness is so fitting I revel in it.

He is going away soon; 6 months in the Middle East. I picture Persian slaves, hairy camel drivers, terrorists screwing prostitutes, the same whores the army officers will pay to hear the same faked groans. He is leaving me. If he is no longer here I will love him forever. I will have won. He can’t stop me because he won’t know what I am doing. I have to try not to withdraw obviously from him, have to keep giving my all as his whatever-it-is-I-am.

There are days when he comes home in a bad mood and he is horrible, so austere it’s aging. He thinks he’s dignified. I’m not sympathetic and fights ensue. He punches me in the shoulder and I fall back over a kitchen chair, which scrapes about, fragile steel, as I try to steady myself. I feel safer on the floor and swear up at him. Prick. Don’t ever touch me again. I will kill you I snarl at him. What with? he dares, a 6’4’’ tower leaning over me, skin flushed orange in anger through the tan.

His ex, the one he cast off for me, sends obscene text messages to my mobile. All intermittent until one day I receive them continuously for an hour. It breaks me and I call her. It only serves to let her vent orally what has been written so far in liquid crystal. Parasitic whore. Nurse Fuckme. I text back bad puns. Major Bryce. Major orgasm. Major stroke me. I don’t tell Bryce. Who knows what the ex would do. Major minor and ‘head’ nurse. I love it when I have secrets from him.

At dinner I eat, apologising for being so skinny. I’m not sorry. Across from me he is a huge thing, a rock, chipped, only smooth when he wears his uniform. He is my bodyguard and will not leave my side. He chews his food as though his jaw is a piece of farm machinery, threshing, sorting. It’s a production line which works to clear the plate before the food gets cold. Still tastes the same. Bastard flavour. Naked or in serge.

His cock’s flopped out after we have more wine and proffered with demand. Suck it honey. I am drinking his blood. His come is formed of this and his money, blood, the alcohol we’ve drunk, how it contributed to the times he’s hit me. I am drinking it again.

Deep is a word I want to use to describe us. Not forest deep, not ocean deep. Not fecund, but as though I was already at the bottom of us because there was nowhere else to go. Incomprehensible and inscrutable, like the looks he gives me. There is a judgement in our relationship that has left the surface and incubates into what I must do to own him.

I pull away over the following days, go to see Simon and lie naked on his sofa to shed frustration. I don’t talk to him because if I open my mouth I will cry; he will have to fuck me. I will hurt him again.

On the way home I buy wine and beer. Bryce is there before me and I immediately pour him a glass then go into the bathroom. I look at my face in the mirror - as I am pretty, he is ugly. Unlike him I am not standard. I will need his body to be unmarked. Insulin is the way it must be done - to reduce his blood sugar and him to nothing. An overdose will cause hypoglycaemia and he will tremor, sweat and fail.

When he is in a numb, liquored slumber I insert the needle steadily with my trained hand, where the access mark will not be seen. Minutes later he sleeps differently, moving, murmuring, un-asleep. Presses against me and I feel his heart race - quick thuds like someone running on concrete. I move away from the perspiring chest and he wakes. Grips me, agitated. Says he can’t sleep, can’t remember the nightmares. He is sweating more now and clenches his hands a lot, wet, he wipes them on the sheets. Lies back down. I know his head is spinning and the imbalance will make him want to vomit. I ask him if he wants me to take him to a doctor. I refuse to hypothesise about what is wrong. I’m only a nurse, I tell him. I could be wrong. I tell him I’m scared. I know he is terrified and I am aroused. It hasn’t been enough. Next time I will double the units and get him drunker. The injection will hurt more.

He sits up quickly, slams his feet to the floor. Water, he demands. I’ll get it, I say and move slowly. He pushes past me, naked and primitive, running into the kitchen. Shaking and afraid, he leans over the sink, head under the tap, swallowing then standing up, breathing hard before he goes to the refrigerator. The door light flashes into his face, spotlights his confusion. He drinks the first thing he sees, soft drink from the bottle. Caffeine, I admonish, won’t help the heart palpitations. He pulls out cheese, crackers, rips open a packet of dried fruit with crunching teeth. Eats so fast he retches as he swallows. More drink. He drowns food unchewed. He sits on the floor. Sighs up at me. Lives. I won’t offer him morphine to help him sleep. I give him Rohypnol and fold him back into bed like an old man, shrivelled and shaky. Next time it will be enough.

There is something in my hair, fluid that has dried. I pull it out to the end past my nose. It’s Bryce’s spit or sweat. I roll the hair in my fingers and the strands separate, then I go back to sleep.

In the morning he goes to work earlier than usual to see the army doctor. Before he goes he wonders to me whether it was an asthma attack. No, I assure him, it wasn’t that. Mild psychosis caused by a bad dream, I suggest, is more likely, causing a sudden increase in adrenalins and body temperature. Panic attack. I throw him a medical term. Sympathoadrenal. You just freaked out, don’t worry about it. I try to calm him. He leaves, brow creased, fists closed, not the smooth god who has control over himself. That has passed to me.

When he arrives home I wear practically nothing, coddle him and am flung away. Slash, he says and heads to the toilet. He had a series of meetings today and informs me he is embarrassed because he kept having to leave to pee. He is nervous and edgy. I offer to make dinner. It will be about hour but he begins eating 2-minute noodles, fruit, tea and biscuits. In a temper I throw the vegetables I have already cut and the frying pan into the sink with the dirty dishes. I sulk in the lounge-room. When I creep back he has gone to bed. I go out. I find someone in a nightclub and I wake up in a strange bed. Why is it always on the other side of town?

I am ready to try again. We are at a party, intoxicated. I push drink after drink into him. I distract him and say his name over and over again, as I do in private. It is something that annoys other people, when we are at a party and I begin each sentence to him with his name followed by an aposiopetic pause. I say his name in a particular way, in a particular tone of voice, to show everybody that we are bound by sex and other things, unspoken, that lovers hide. I could show them the bruises but it would only lead to more.

When we get home, the fight starts because I made it so clear that I wanted to fuck half the men in the room. Can’t control myself in front of him. He is too drunk, huge and frightening. Tries to initiate sex but I say no, you need to go to bed and I move away.

I am standing near the stereo on the other side of the room. Bryce turns, whirls wild at me, swings a punch that I duck as I fly to the front door but he grabs me by the hair in efficient jerks and pulls me back. Drags me across the floor as I kick at him but he is too hard, too heavy. Away from the door-frame, I reach out at nothing, the stereo speakers, coffee table. He lets my hair loose and holds me by the neck, bites my arm when I try to hit him and holds it in his mouth, drinking me as I bleed, snorting, his nose pushed into my arm. The pain and pressure of his teeth is immense and I start to choke on my screams. My bottle of cola, dropped on the carpet nearby. He lets me go for a split second, a splinter of my life is given back to me, snatches the bottle, froth spills out, white sprays across the room as he smashes the bottle against the wall. He’s grabbed me, one huge arm my barricade, in the other hand the broken glass cold against my cheek. I can feel the edge ready to slice me. He puts it down, yanks me to my feet, and throws me onto the sofa. Walks from the room as I sob, still on tenterhooks. He brings a steak knife from the kitchen and I reach for a cushion to protect my chest as I scream no. It is only a ball of cotton he flicks away then stabs me in the breast plate, the middle, as though to vivisect me and see who I am. As I struggle he aims for the exposed parts, my upper back. The knife thrusts feel like punches, winding me as if I am not gasping for breath enough. Aims for my head and I raise my hands. The knife opens my palm and the blood gushes, escaped veins fleeing down my arm. My hands away from my body he stabs my side, my lower back in the soft part. Deep, hard, then it’s soft again when he retracts. Fast, it feels like an awl, like an accident happening over and over again. I have no time to get ready for it. This time he has broken the knife. The blade falls to the floor. He stops, sits on the carpet. Now, only now, do I think about my fear and that I must overcome it to stop him killing me. I say, come to bed with me, fuck me, I want you, while he sits there, panting, like a gladiator.

He leads me into the bedroom by the wrist, my shirt wet with all fluids except the only one that he has fed into me, the one that will not come out through my skin or veins. Lays me on the bed, puts his legs onto me, around me so that I can’t move. My heart is racing. I am dizzy, bloody. I think the cut on my hand is deepest. I hold it against the mattress, hot and throbbing. He is inside me, loving me, fucking to the pulse of my bleeding.

I faint, must have. He has let me sleep for a bit. Wakes me up and presses onto me. I can feel the blood now thick between the bed and the length of my back, clotted blackly into the sheets. My temples surge.

Cold I am, as he shudders into me.


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