WILFUL - RICHARD GODWIN
She’d known it for a long time, known it was coming like a freight train.
She could see it in her eyes when she looked in the mirror. The look, she called it, and it was the colour of open veins.
And, as Mary Jones, plain Mary Jones as her friends thought of her, sat down with her tea that morning, she stared out of her immaculate window onto the stretch of verdant lawn that sloped to the pond at the end and she knew. She knew this was her day.
The smell of bleach in the sink was overwhelming and she ran the tap until it faded.
Upstairs, she undressed and looked at herself in the mirror.
Then she donned her Agent Provocateur single string knickers and her Heaven’s Door dress, which offered a generous portion of cleavage to catch his eye.
She stood there admiring this new Mary in the mirror before reaching out a perfectly manicured hand and leaning on the edge of the dresser, as she slipped her delicately arched feet one after the other into her Minna Parikka lizard pink heels. Enough distraction for his roving eye.
Then she applied more lipstick, a deep Burgundy that invited penetration, pressing her lips between the tissue which she dropped to the floor. Suddenly, she stopped.
The fluttering white bird that landed on the carpet had summoned the rush of images and she felt a wave of nausea.
She ran to the bathroom and swallowed enough mouthwash to make her palate sting and remove that old brackish smell that was catching in her nostrils. She stood there and gripped the sterile sink with knuckles that were white with tension and looked at herself in the mirror until the odour was just a pale trace, like the contour of a dying bruise.
But it wasn’t enough.
Plain Mary was now sexy and desirable again, like a stolen object she had reclaimed but no longer wanted, and she hated it.
She reached into the bathroom cabinet and removed a small razor blade. Lifting her skirt, she pulled her knickers up to cut a deep and perfect centimetre of pain into her buttock. She watched the blood bead there a while and breathed deeply. Then she applied a plaster and turned out the light.
She knew what to do.
Over in the corner of her bedroom hung the black pleated skirt he raped her in.
She passed the boxes of newspaper cuttings and wholesale industrial bleach in the hallway and left the house.
It was a bright summer’s evening and the sun was dying when she got there, lost among the distant laughter of evening drinkers.
She could hear Rod Stewart croaking from inside. As she walked over to the bar, ‘the first cut is the deepest’ lacerated the air and stung her bruised heart. She ordered a gin and tonic which she took over to the corner where she sat in the gloom waiting for him, swirling the lemon and ice with her Pink Fever fingernail.
A few businessmen were coming in now, their laughter over-emphasised, their show of merriment the masquerade that held these men together.
They looked over in her direction and one of them said something which the others laughed at. She watched as he pulled his bulging wallet from his pocket and held it at the bar. The show of male hierarchy she had grown to accept like bad weather.
She removed a small mirror from her purse and checked her make-up.
‘He said I’m wilful,’ she said out loud. ‘Good. I look like a hooker, that should please him.’
She waited patiently and ordered another drink. It wasn’t long before he arrived as she knew he would, knowing his movements like a predator knows the smell of its quarry.
He sat at the table nearest to her and gave her the eye. She held his gaze long enough for him to think he knew what was on offer.
He sidled over.
‘Mind if I join you?’ he said, glass in hand.
‘Please, be my guest.’
He sat over from her and she saw his eyes drop and linger as he sipped his drink.
She crossed her legs.
‘Can I get you one?’
‘I’ve had enough. It’s too dark in here,’ she said.
She leaned forward. ‘Do you have somewhere in mind?’
He laughed, the creases breaking across his face like scars and she wanted to cut them, wanted to drag her nails into him until he bled.
‘Take me somewhere,’ she said.
He tilted his glass back and she unwillingly zoned in on the thick black hairs that sprouted from his fat fingers, their ends glistening like wire. A nest of spiders crawled into her mind and she shuddered briefly before her resident anger stilled their scuttling legs.
‘It depends what you want.’
He laughed again and she recalled how he laughed when he pulled out of her on the cold stone floor at the back of the offices, the semen dripping from him and landing on her thigh. She pressed her keys into her leg to stop herself giving it away.
‘I fancy something a little different.’
‘Massage?’ she said.
‘Yeah, I could do with a massage. I don’t even know your name.’
‘Wilful’, he said, ‘I like it.’
‘Yeah, I like bending a will.’
‘And what do you do when a will is broken?’
He stood up then and she followed him. He drove her in his car and she tuned his words out of her head and kept her hand firmly on her purse.
As he drove, a white bird flew past them and she was on her back again, the stone floor cold against her buttocks, some doves nestling on the shit-stained sill of a broken window overhead. A shard of glass pressing into her skin which she focused on to remove any consciousness of his lumbering above her in vile climax, like some actor in a film she was being forced to watch.
The sound of gentle cooing washed his voice away like a stain. And she saw again the spider lift its legs and feel its way across her skin as she tried to move, her frozen body pressed into the ground by his weight and become some corpse that she merely inhabited now like a broken tenant.
He pulled up at a small hotel and went in. She could smell that acrid smell again and she swallowed hard.
Inside the standard room, with its pleated curtains that made her feel angry, she watched and held her compulsion in her hand like a razor as he undressed without ceremony and lay on the bed.
‘Aren’t you gonna fix a price with me?’ he said. ‘First rule of business.’
‘I know you’ll pay me.’
‘Just let me get what I need.’
‘And what might that be?’
She went into her purse and tucked it into the back of her skirt and said ‘Roll over.’ She watched as he lay there on his stomach, an object of no deserving mercy that lacked all vulnerability.
‘You think I’m wilful?’ she said.
‘Do you think I’m wilful?’
‘What are you talking about?’
She began to rub his shoulders, quietening him, his flesh like leprosy in her hands.
Then she pulled his jockeys down and, as he turned, he saw it in her hand and reached up.
She kicked out, the tip of her stiletto catching him in the chest, drawing blood, and then she sliced that object of revulsion from him with the sharpened blade and held it before his face.
He moved his mouth in utter silence as she let fall his blood onto his flesh and she watched the drops splash him like some subversive desecration, this rape of him the mirror of what he was.
‘You think you can take and break a female employee who doesn’t do the job the way you say it should be done? You think the women who work for you are your fuck objects? That you can stick your prick in them when you feel like it? Now you remember, remember what you did all those years ago?’
Finally Mary let fall that part of him and she opened up his neck and saw the light ebb from his eyes and with it the squalid world he inhabited and she left the hotel.
At home, she removed her clothes and stood naked out of inured habit in the bathroom, hand on the shower tap until she realised she didn’t need to wash.
And Mary began to laugh.
BIO: Richard Godwin lives and writes in London, where his dark satire ‘The Cure-All’, about a group of confidence tricksters, has been produced on the stage. He has just finished writing a crime novel. His writing appears regularly at Disenthralled and Gloom Cupboard, among many other magazines. He has a Twitter account and can be found there under the User Name Stanzazone. He is in the process of setting up a blog. For right now, you can check out his portfolio here. His first crime novel will be published later this year.
The Irish Times’ Crime Fiction ‘Best Of’ 2018
2 hours ago