I think this needs a bit more work in places.
He’d never known a dog to be so crazy about having a bath, given half a chance she’d have one every day.
“I’m having the bath not you!” he called after her from the bottom of the stairs.
‘What’s this, your New Years Resolution?’ the voice jokingly said.
“No, I’m having a quick bath then I’m going out,” Ray replied curtly. He was still fuming and in no mood to exchange pleasantries.
“Yes, I was invited to Johns party remember, it’s only just started so I won’t have missed much.”
‘Well this is a turn up for the books, I’m not complaining don’t get me wrong, but…’
“I can be spontaneous when I want to be so just shut up and let me get on with it before I change my mind.”
Ray’s mood began to simmer down as he watched the water slowly edge it’s way up the sides of the bath. He poured in more bubble bath and became mesmerised by it’s reaction with the water, watching with fascination the way the bubbles appeared from out of nowhere and multiplied with organised precision to form a floating carpet of foam that steadily worked it’s way to the other end of the bath.
He awoke from his trance in time to grab Jenny as she was about to dive into the water from the ledge at the tap end of the bath.
“Stupid bloody dog!” he said as he carried her out onto the landing and set her carefully down on the floor where she immediately rolled onto her back and waited for him to rub her belly, “I haven’t got time to tickle your fat gut I’ve got to get ready.”
He did anyway, just long enough to let the bath fill up a bit more, relishing the look of ecstasy on her face,.
Ray was feeling a lot happier as he stepped into the foam. The temperature of the water was just as he expected it to be; not too hot but comfortable. About four years ago whilst on holiday in Wales he had burnt himself quite badly getting into a bath filled with near boiling water. He’d experienced terrifying visions when coming into contact with with hot water for eight months after that, and even now was very wary, making sure he tested the temperature before immersing any part of his body.
He quickly washed, spying Jenny sitting just inside the open door watching him hopefully, before laying back leaving just his head, and part of his belly, above the surface.
He listening to the silence; interrupted sporadically by household noises, Jenny’s farting and the distant sound of traffic both automated and human.
Although he was now totally relaxed, a part of him remained poised ready to reach for the phone he had left just within reach by the bath in case Alison, or for that matter anyone, should ring. He knew now though that at 12.45 the chances of her phoning were fading fast; not that that seemed to bother him at the moment.
Reluctantly, he decided it was time he should be getting out of the bath, dried and dressed. As the water drained away, Jenny reappeared, took one look in the near empty bath, and plodded out of the room in disgust, “I wish she could talk at times,” Ray said to himself, “I bet she’d give me a right mouthful.”
A quick rummage through his wardrobe produced the T-shirt, jeans and trainers that he had chosen to wear. He’d decided to go to the party in casual clothes partly knowing what John’s parties were like. If they didn’t end up with food fights and the compulsory ‘skinny dip’ in the swimming pool, they weren’t a party!
Not usually one to dress scruffily, Ray prided himself on always trying to look his best whenever he went out. He very rarely wore anything without it first having been washed, ironed and hung neatly in the wardrobe, and always washed whatever he had worn before wearing it again, even if he needed it the next day.
Finally dressed, he took one more look in the full length mirror that also doubled as a wardrobe door to check that he looked presentable. As his gaze took in the view of a slightly overweight, casually dressed, average looking, not ugly, but certainly not drop-dead gorgeous either, example of the male of the species, his eyes wandered to the reflection of the bed and the two people lying naked with bodies entwined in the advanced stages of love-making. He watched, stared, mesmerised by their writhing, fascinated at how they moved in complete unison. He could see the sheen of sweat that covered their flesh and almost hear their heavy, laboured breathing. As the man turned his head to watch the performance in the mirror, Ray felt an urgent compulsion to look away, try to hide. The voyeur in him wanted to stare, gawp, drool over the scene acted out just a few feet away, but he resisted the temptation; turning his head away as the blush started to burn his cheeks.
After a few seconds he sneaked a quick look out of the corner of his eye expecting to see the couple hastily covering their nakedness and a very angry man getting ready to confront this ‘pervert’ who had been spying on them. All he saw was an empty bed with the duvet positioned neatly and evenly and the pillows plumped ready to receive and cushion his head.
Realisation kicked in and Ray awoke to the fact that he had been watching himself and Alison having sex, or as he preferred to say ‘making love’, and strangely felt more voyeuristic than he did a moment ago. He felt an element of shame as well at having seen himself doing those things, not that he was ashamed of the sexual act. To Ray, sex was a thing to be treasured, savoured, the ultimate display of love and affection two people could give to each other. It wasn’t a two minute quickie in the back of a car or a one night stand fumble induced by flashing lights, thumping music and copious amounts of alcohol which all to often ended in regret and misery. It had to be right and with the right person. He freely admitted that he was an old romantic at heart and would always put the pleasure and satisfaction of his partner above that of his own.
He stared at the beds reflection for a few moments allowing some private memories to dance in and out of view before turning away and heading for the door. He couldn’t resist one more look as he switched off the light then purposefully emptied his mind of all thoughts of Alison and sex and made his way downstairs closely followed by Jenny.
He let Jenny out into the garden giving her the opportunity to empty her bladder or bowels, or both as was usually the case, whilst he quickly tidied up, “you never know, I might be bringing someone back” he thought to himself jokingly knowing that he had more chance of being run over by one of Santa’s Reindeer trying to find it’s way home after a boozy night on the town.
He had already decided to walk to Johns house in preference to taking the car on the pretext that the walk would do him good and also because the Police would be stopping practically everyone on the road by the time he left the party in pursuit of their annual crackdown on drink driving; he wasn’t concerned about that as he knew he wouldn’t be drinking, but couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of explaining where he had been, where he was going and having a plastic bag thrust in his face accompanied with the order to blow until he was told to stop. The only thing that would please him about the whole charade would be the look of disappointment on the face of the Constable, when the test proved negative and they had to apologize for bothering him.
He could think better when walking anyway, and as it was only about a mile and a half to Johns he reckoned that gave him enough time to clear his head and mull over a few things that needed sorting out
Jenny wandered in with a contented look upon her face, strolled over to her bed and lay down; arranging the blanket with her back legs until she was satisfied it was where she wanted it and that she was comfortable. She usually announced the fact that she was settled and comfy by emitting a salutary fart and certainly didn’t let herself down on this occasion, prompting a snort of disgust from Ray who was locking the back door and hiding the key in it’s secret hiding place where, he hoped, anyone who broke in wouldn’t dream of looking. This rational act was often opposed by the even more rational thought that, by the time a burglar had entered the house and reached the kitchen, the last thing on his mind would be where the back door key was hidden, so why bother?
Ray went through the motions of hiding it anyway if only to satisfy the ‘routine’ element of his mind and stop it nagging at him the whole time he was out.
Ray patted Jenny on the head, told her to tear to shreds anyone who entered the house apart from him and slipped on his jacket.
It had turned slightly cooler since he had stood at the back door earlier waiting for Jenny to do her business. There was still a light covering of cloud which threatened, albeit half-heartedly, to release a shower or two, but on the whole it was quite pleasant for January; no biting wind that penetrated every layer of clothing before attempting to peel the skin from your body, no icy, cold rain that tried to do the same but left you feeling damp and miserable instead.
He felt the breathe of a breeze on his face but paid no attention to it as he closed the garden gate behind him and set off towards the river which he would have to cross to join the path that led round the small housing estate to where John lived.
He figured it would probably take him about 30 minutes to walk the mile and a half from his house to John’s by which time the party would be in full swing. He had no idea who would be there and had begun to wonder if he really wanted to go.
He really needed a break away from this place, the house, the town and the relatively close proximity of Alison. He desperately needed to recharge his near spent batteries and the prospect of spending a few days at his parents was becoming more attractive each time he thought about it.
“Self-confidence,” he said disdainfully to himself, looking around to make sure nobody could hear him. It would be just his luck that an old drunk would suddenly appear and attack him because he thought, in his drunken haze, that Ray had aimed a derisory comment in his direction, “never really been one of my strong points has it?”
He was approaching the footbridge that spanned the river and connected the old town, in which Ray lived, to it’s brash, modern offspring with it’s monotonous, production line style housing, the shopping centre incorporating forty or so glass and pre-fabricated boxes whose only difference from the outside was their size and the amount of light used to illuminate them; there was a definite war being raged between the store owners to see who could cause the most damage to their customers retinas.
The new town, or blot, as in ‘blot on the landscape’, as it was affectionately known, had started to sprout and expand about 15 years ago, 5 years before Ray was transferred here as part of his employers relocation out of the over-developed inner city industrial estates to the unspoilt, wide-open spaces that were once fields, meadows, and an ancient wood that contained trees two to three hundred years old. The company closed down it’s offices and moved somewhere else just over a year ago leaving Ray, and a now derelict building, behind.
Three bridges joined the old and new towns like umbilical cords that had been left attached to the mother after giving birth to triplets. They were of the same construction; open plan with wooden framed sides. After a small child had managed to squeeze through the rails and fall into the water 20ft below last October, they had been encased in a wire mesh cage; fortunately she survived the ordeal much to the relief of her grandfather who had offered to take her to the park allowing her mother, his daughter, a single mum struggling to hold down a 7 day a week job as well as run a home and bring up her child in the best way possible, a well deserved break.
When they were officially opened amid a blaze of pomp and ceremony, the bridges were named not after celebrities or high ranking members of the local council, but simply North and South Bridges for those in the respective positions, and the highly imaginative, Middle Bridge. It was the South Bridge that Ray now approached.
He had slowed down significantly from the brisk pace he had started off at and was now just ambling along as if on a Sunday afternoon stroll. The sound of the river chattering away in it’s watery dialect reached Rays ears as the path neared the wall that acted as a defensive barrier between those that lived in the water and their land based counterparts; effective in preventing either from invading the others domains.
He tried to imagine the conversations taking place between the water and its animal and plant life. Were they discussing politics or the stresses of everyday life? Did they have a political system? Did they vote?
They didn’t seem stupid thoughts to Ray who was one of the growing army of people who actively believed that we were not the only living beings in the universe, that we had been visited on many occasions over the centuries and were probably living amongst aliens right now. Ray believed in the philosophy that what was good for humans applied to all other forms of life on earth and beyond; be it politics, hierarchy, class structure, love or war. Obviously things happened differently, you would never expect to see two herds of cows, for instance, lined up facing each other mooing noisily and stamping their feet whilst holding a heated debate in their version of the House of Commons at Prime Ministers questions. Maybe you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, but that’s besides the point.
Who says it doesn’t happen though? Next time you pass a field full of cows, or sheep for that matter, pay very close attention to what they ‘might’ be doing instead of dismissing them with nothing more than a cursory glance.
Ray’s thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of an elderly couple walking with arms entwined and being followed obediently by an equally elderly Labrador, on the far side of the bridge. As he lent against the wall and watched them tottering over the wooden span towards him he began to paint a picture in his mind of their lives. He guessed that they had been married for at least fifty years and were evidently still very much in love. They had both worked hard all their lives and were now enjoying retirement living relatively comfortably on the money they had religiously put by every week to see them through their twilight years.
Of course, he could be totally wrong, but something in the way they walked together, their voices and the way they smiled with contented pleasure suggested that they hadn’t resigned themselves to seeing out their days with someone towards whom love had given way to familiarity and habit, and, as is quite often the case, regret and resentment.
Ray could see a nervous cloud of tension pass across the old mans face as the couple exited the bridge and saw him leaning against the wall a few yards away. The woman stiffened visibly, gripping her husbands arm and moving her body closer to his. He could tell instantly, and with remorse, that the man thought he and his wife were in mortal danger from this young, probably drunk and drug-crazed, yob that he now saw before him. It had become a sign of the times world wide that everyone, not just the elderly, were a potential victim of mugging, physical/sexual attack and possible death, every time they left the security of their homes. The number of children being abducted whilst on their way home from school, or walking the short distance to the local shop for some sweets was on the increase. The horrific pictures seen on the front pages of the tabloid press of pensioners, some in their eighties, who had been beaten to near death for the sake of a few pounds, were becoming a regular occurrence and a grim warning to anyone approaching old age that no matter what they might have endured during World War 2, worse was yet to come.
Ray couldn’t blame the man for thinking the way he did, and in an effort to show the couple that not all people his side of forty were ignorant, foul-mouthed, trouble seeking thugs, he greeted them with his friendliest of smiles and a pleasant ‘Happy New Year’. With unfathomable relief, he saw the cloud lift and their bodies relax. The woman released her grip and replaced her arm lazily through her husbands again. She returned Rays’ smile and wished him a prosperous year, echoed by the man who shocked Ray by offering him his hand.
They stood for a moment shaking hands and looking into each others eyes. Ray noticed a sensuous feeling of understanding and mutual respect pass fleetingly between them. There was also a radiance he had never felt before and wouldn’t have been able to describe if his life had depended on it, which reached into his mind and flooded his body with something that couldn’t be likened to physical heat, but resembled that of an energy or force akin to that administered by aliens and the like in Sci-Fi films such as Mr Spock in Star Trek or Darth Vader from Star Wars; the difference being this was immensely pleasurable.
The energy flow ceased the second they let go of each other, and immediately Ray felt the urge to grasp the mans hand again before the passion was lost forever.
When he finally regained his composure the couple were walking away from him on the path that led to his house; the old Labrador still shuffling along about ten feet behind them, stopping every now and again to sniff at the ground or leave it’s mark on a tree.
Watching them melt into the darkness he could still hear the woman’s words ringing in his ears, ‘Let it go.’
She hadn’t said them as if giving an order, instead it sounded like a plea; she seemed to be willing him to make good use of whatever it was, to succeed not fail. He didn’t have the faintest idea what ‘it’ was and couldn’t begin to comprehend the magnitude of possibilities the three words conjured up. At this precise moment he didn’t much feel like searching for the elusive ‘it’, basking as he was in the tranquil afterglow of the oddest handshake he’d ever experienced.
They were gone now, the couple and their dog, all trace of them having merged with the inky blackness of the night. A darkness that was augmented by the absence of the moon due to the covering of cloud which, although thin, did just enough to hide it from view.
Ray turned away feeling an emptiness inside as if he had lost something dear to him and immediately thought of Alison.
“Shit!” he exploded rather forcefully and straight away fought to erase the thought from his mind. It hadn’t been a thought of major proportions just a picture of Alison in her favourite dress with Jenny lying at her feet, but it had been enough to unsettle him and nearly send his current buoyant mood hurtling back to the sullen, depressed state it was in before his bath.
Ray slowly wandered onto the bridge, halting as he reached the centre. A wry smile crept onto his lips. He felt pleased at the way he had sent the vision of Alison packing without the usual repercussions; there were no feelings of guilt or regret, no sentimentality or longing. Instead he felt triumph, satisfaction. Freedom? But how big was the price tag that came with this freedom? What would be the asking price? The right to choose or abstain? His sanity or his mind?
Ray’s mind had become a refuge for unanswerable questions again as he leant forward, rested his arms on the railing, and peered over the side of the bridge into the gloom. He knew there was water down there somewhere because he could here it gurgling and splashing as it travelled to the distant sea. If the moon had been able to pierce the clouds there would be a spectacular show in progress as the waves caught the light and bounced it around in a million directions, but tonight the ‘show cancelled’ notices were up and the shutters well and truly closed.
“I am so lonely,” he said slowly, purposely, into the night air, emphasising each word, , “so f…. lonely.” He bit down the desire to swear with a reluctant, resigned sigh.
He stared down into the void trying to cut through the dark and catch a glimpse of the water below. He noticed a change. The darkness seemed to be clearing, it wasn’t the flowing waters of the river he saw but an old girlfriend, gesticulating wildly and telling him he was going to end up a lonely old man as nobody could live up to his expectations or meet his requirements. She was replaced by a stream of friends and acquaintances, people he had known well, worked with, drank with, and in the case of a few of the women, would have liked to have slept with, but for some reason or other, usually his fault, he had lost contact with most of them over the years. Each one had something to say; ‘Get out more’, ‘Things won’t come to you, you have to go out and find them’, ‘The world doesn’t owe you a living, you know’. On and on they came like an endless conveyor belt full of good advice. The last in the line was Alison, who said nothing but stood scrutinising him with a look on her face that was half sympathy, half pity; with condemnation thrown in free as this weeks special offer.
“Don’t look at me like that, I didn’t want it to happen, remember?” he shouted at her. But she was gone and the ebony emptiness that yawned up at him seemed absolute.
“It wasn’t my choice.” He said quietly fighting back the anger and anguish that welled up inside, causing him to wring his hands together and attempt to hack chunks out of the wooden railing with his fingernails.
Ray considered continuing his walk to John’s house and joining the party, which would be reaching the ‘anything could happen’ stage. Usually at this point someone would end up in the pool to be quickly followed by all the other guests in assorted states of undress, mostly naked. After a short drying off period it would happen all over again, this time preceded by a frenzied food fight, and culminating in a visit from the local constabulary following up a complaint from the neighbours.
He thought of moving, tried to move, but his body wouldn’t respond. He didn’t fight it, having gone off the idea of the party since his encounter with the elderly couple a short while ago.
He knew the real reason was more to do with the phobia surrounding his lack of self-confidence and low self esteem; the anxiety he would suffer being amongst a crowd of people who would be staring at him, watching his every move. Feeling everybody’s eyes following him around; watching him eat, drink, talk, laugh, walk, sit. Their staring gradually weighing him down, stabbing and clawing. He would hear their laughter and know that it was directed at him.
There was probably a long-worded name for it, somethingorotherphobia he called it after spending half a day in the library searching through medical and psychology books in a vain attempt at finding a cure.
Whatever it was called it had plagued him for years, controlling his life and ruining it in one way or another; it had got to the point now where he was pretty pissed off. The time spent holding back, never allowing himself a share of the limelight, always being part of life’s background scenery had taken its toll. All in the name of shyness. The wonderful affliction that can prevent a gifted musician giving the performance of a lifetime, that renders an eloquent speaker dumb and takes a persons basic nature, locks it away in a glass cage allowing it to watch the freedom enjoyed by others, cruelly hauling it back from the brink of fulfilment.
“What did she mean, ‘Let it go’ ” Ray said, suddenly remembering the parting words of the old woman, “Let what go?”
The sound of a distant siren, an ambulance judging by it’s distinctive ‘American’ warble, pierced the night air, echoing off the river’s steep banks giving the impression there were a whole fleet rushing to or from a major disaster; a plane crash, a multiple pile-up on the motorway or the work of a machine-gun toting madman let loose in a packed night club.
“Shit, I hope Alison wasn’t there.” He realised how ridiculous this thought was as soon as it had entered his head and, not for the first time, felt a sharp tweak as his embarrassment jumped for joy.
With all thoughts of the party long departed and in no mood for returning to his empty house, Ray sub-consciously chose to stay where he was for a while and continued to stare into the emptiness below him hoping eventually to catch a glimpse of the elusive river.
The sound of softly approaching footsteps intruded on his concentration forcing him, with much reluctance, to wrench his eyes away from the voids hypnotic lure straight into a pair of equally hypnotic, velvety deep brown eyes that he instantly recognised.
“What…?” He could only manage the one bewildered word before his throat closed effectively strangling any further attempts at speech.
“I thought I’d find you here. I called at the house, Jenny’s on form tonight.” The woman joked but with a hint of awkwardness in her voice, “How are you?”