Friday, 2 July
'Beautiful,' he whispered, watching himself slit-eyed in the tilted cheval glass. With one long forefinger he traced the wingspan of an eyebrow, then followed down the line of his nose from bridge to chiselled nostril. He knew whose features his own copied. She had been beautiful too. Before the accident.
He moaned and his image lurched at a surrealist angle, foreshortened, kneecaps enormous, chalky face elongated and planed like a Lucian Freud nude's.
The woman, face uppermost, curved limply over his splayed thighs. The pair of them made a pietà in white marble. Her eyes were shut now. He must have overdone it, but he couldn't remember how. Or quite when.
He'd left her for only a moment, bound. Bound to be bound - he smiled - because she was a wild thing, spitting like a llama at the zoo. So he'd taped her mouth, like her wrists, with the sticky-backed plastic used for sealing parcels.
When he got back, so few minutes later, the gag was torn off. She was different, older somehow. He wasn't even sure it was the same doll. Her unpinned hair seemed longer. He saw now it was tinted with henna. How could she have changed so much while he was gone for the stuff; more for himself and something for her. But she'd no longer need it; not like this.
He passed one hand over his eyes. Time was treacherous. Days passed in a moment, or were lost entirely. Things could happen twice over, making you think time had stopped and you were in a forever-now. Or in a dream dreaming you were waking from a dream, but instead you went on asleep dreaming you were waking, over and over again.
He leaned across, shifting his feet so that one thigh was accommodated by the hollow above her buttocks; the other nudging in between her scapulae. Admiring in the mirror his fine, long-fingered hands, he touched one pointed breast. There was no response.
She was no use this way, beautiful but spoiled. He frowned, peering closer. Her face - it seemed there were two faces, one (from memory) hovering like a transparency over this other which he did not care to stare at long. The wide rictus was an animal snarl, the purple tongue extruded. Her eyes - dear God! He closed them with his hand.
Anger roared through him like a fireball. That she should make herself so hideous! It was indecent. Cover her, cover her quickly. He groped about his feet for the dress, forced it over her head, laid her on the carpet to pull her arms through the fine shoulder straps.
He peered at her again. Suspicion hardened in him that there had been two dolls, one now and another some time ago. This was the false one. He was flooded with fury.
She did not deserve that lovely hair. It was wasted on her. He wound its ends around his left wrist. The kitchen knife he'd used to free her ankles slashed close against the scalp as he sheared. Bright blood like little scarlet beads sprang from her flesh but she made no protest. He did not want her.
If she comes again, he told himself, I shall know her that way. She cannot pretend then to be the other one. Chloë's hair will be loose about her shoulders. This one's, the imposter's, I shall keep. She must come begging for it back.
He had to conceal that face. Her party mask had fallen between the legs of the mirror stand. He crouched to reach through and met his own face aggressively thrust at him. Retrieving the mask, he bunched his other fist and beat at the glass. Shards fell tinkling from the frame and were silenced in the thick carpet.
It didn't hurt at first. He had fitted the bird-mask over her shaggy skull before he was aware of the ripped flesh on hisknuckles. From its black frame of cock's tail-feathers the cruel beak curved towards him as his own blood spurted. He whimpered.
'Plus becquetez d'oiseaulx que dez a couldre!' The words sang in his ears. That was François Villon's 'Ballade for the Hanged.' He closed his eyes to savour the sweet decadence and saw a body suspended from a gibbet. The birds' tearing beaks were pecking and pocking the dead flesh like any half-coconut hanging from a string in the garden.
First-year Uni French Lit returning to give him the shakes. But this black raven here was incapable of pecking. And people weren't hanged any more, whatever their crimes.
A burst of loud voices and party music signalled a door opening somewhere deep inside the house. There was a shout of wild laughter. A girl squealed with glee. People coming this way. He heard steps in the passage outside.
He couldn't be found like this. Nursing the hurt hand against his chest, he nudged the body aside with one foot, thrust the curtains apart and swung himself over the windowsill, dropping sixteen feet to the shrubbery below. A twiggy bush rasped painfully against his quivering flesh.
Cowering, he recalled that he was naked.
THE BODY OF A WOMAN. Copyright © 2002 by Clare Curzon. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.