Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sour Milk, Cold Ash

Jude has ringlets of dyed blonde hair and big, sloping eyes rimmed in fashionable black eyeliner. Her long, lean body is sheathed in a peach skin-tight dress. These are the looks she uses to catch men. She’s not using them now, talking to her friend, Dale, but soon she’ll lower her head, drop her eyes demurely, and catch another one. It’s so easy.

‘You’ve got to hurt them,’ Jude is telling Dale. She fingers Dale’s fine blonde hair. ‘Look at this,’ she says, ‘look at this power, this beauty. You could kill men with this.’ She draws hard on a cigarette.

It’s Saturday night. They are sitting in a nightclub peppered by a sparse selection of neighbourhood locals. A band is screeching out a rhythm to which some are trying to dance. But The Wild Monkey is anything but wild, in a neighbourhood that has no night life to talk of. It’ll probably close down soon.

For now Jude and Dale are sitting watching the evening go by. Jude stops talking, and she shouts their orders to the bartender.

‘This place is so dull,’ she says, rolling her eyes.

Dale agrees, drinking cider, hoping to get in the mood for this place. It’s difficult. The dance floor is deserted.

‘We’ll get pissed,’ Jude decides. ‘We’ll get so pissed we won’t know where we are.’

It seems like a good plan. The trouble is, there is nowhere else to go. Both eighteen, they still haven’t got driver’s licences. Sometimes they get a ride with other friends, but tonight that has proved impossible. So they have ended up watching the evening dissolve in waiting.

Jude dances, high on rum and coke. She stands in the middle of the dance floor in the skin-tight dress that hugs her body and reaches her ankles. Standing there alone, she is spotlighted, only a few others are dancing.

Dale watches. Men’s eyes stare hungrily at Jude, taking in the body beneath the dress.

Jude dances slowly, curving her body around the cacophony of sounds, dancing slower and slower as the pace hots up. She can feel those eyes on her; the rum has made her head spin around. She wanders back to the counter where Dale is talking to a group of people who have just walked in, people Jude doesn’t know. Jude forgets their names after the introductions have been made. She orders another drink. Dale’s involved in her conversation. She won’t miss her.

Jude wanders off.

She walks into the toilet. The harsh fluorescent glow makes her skin look alabaster, her eyes stand out hollow and empty. She smears shadow around her them, picks at her lashes, coated thickly in mascara, smacks her lips in red.

There’s a rattle floating in one of the toilets. She wonders how it got there.

A girl is swallowing some pills by the basins. Jude watches as her throat moves once, twice, three times with every pill. The girl catches her eye, doesn’t even smile as she swallows again. Her eyes are dead.

The band is packing up. Dale’s been looking for her. ‘Listen, we’re all going to Club Ashtray, John’s got his dad’s minibus, there’s place for us. Let’s go. There’s nothing happening here.’
Jude nods.

It’s one in the morning as they drive through slumbering suburbia. She notices Dale talking to her friends. Jude doesn’t like them much. They all seem so stiff, so proper, so earnest. But she doesn’t care. They’ve got a ride, that’s what counts. She digs out comps for Club Ashtray. She has piles of them, each time she goes they give her more. She’ll never use them all. She looks at Dale, suddenly grateful to her, for knowing all these people.

Club Ashtray is packed as usual. Jude gets onto the dance floor and ignores the group. Now and again she smiles to let everyone know she’s there. It seems to reassure them. The music is loud, hard, pumping, it’s good. They’re playing all her favourite songs. Dale shouts in her ear that they’re going onto the outside balcony. Jude follows, distanced by a drink someone put in her hand, distanced by her want.

She had told Dale once, ‘I’ve done it in alley ways, in garden sheds, in a bakkie, in some guy’s bed high on speed, and in a room with Led Zeppelin on the walls and Metallica playing in the background.’

Dale had just looked at her, and asked when she had first had sex.

‘Fourteen,’ said Jude. ‘It was over so quickly. And it was sore.’

She watches Dale now, wondering why they are friends. Dale seems so much happier with these other people around her. She’s almost disregarding her, although she has tried now and again to include Jude in the conversation. Dale’s friends are so normal, it’s boring, Jude thinks, leaning her head against the railing. The night air is cold, the bars are hard. Conversations are starting and stopping around her. Others are silent, listening to the music, or high on something.

‘Don’t you ever worry about getting pregnant? Or getting Aids?’ Dale had often asked when they first met.

‘No. I know it’s stupid. But I just can’t help it. Sometimes the guy’s got a condom. But mostly not. I don’t know. I just never fall pregnant.’

She didn’t worry about Aids. She didn’t think she’d ever get it.

But she wouldn’t get it. That much she knew, somewhere inside of her.

Dale flicks her hair back, speaking to one of the guys in the group. She’s wearing her usual jeans. Suddenly, Jude wants to get up and shout at her, ask her why for once in her life she doesn’t wear something more sexy, a low top, shorts, a dress, anything. But Dale doesn’t dress like that. She could stuff men up if she wanted. Stuff them up and ignore them, till they wanted more and she wouldn’t give it.

Jude goes back to the dance floor. Her body aches as she scans the place.

She stands back for a while, watching, drinking rum, feeling it melt through her. A guy taps her on the shoulder, smiling. She smiles back. She thinks she met him two weeks ago. She had been with a friend of his, and vaguely remembers being introduced to him. She cannot remember his name.

‘Do you remember me?’ he asks.

‘Of course,’ she says. He gets her a drink, asks her to dance.

Jude asks where his friend is tonight. The guy just shrugs. He must be somewhere else. So she dances with him instead, discovers his name is Jack.

He slips his arm around her. Soon they are colliding as they move together. His breath is hot above her ears, she can feel him breathing, his chest against her, firm and strong. The club is hot, bodies sandwiched onto the dance floor. Sweat is pouring down the front of her dress and her face, making her forehead prickle. He’s sweating too. A slightly meaty smell.

He forces his tongue into her mouth. That familiar rubbery sensation of tongue against tongue, Jude’s head stretches back as they kiss and dance. His hand circles her buttocks, she slips hers around his, but feels nothing through the solid denim.

Chest to chest, she feels his shirt soaked with sweat, her dress is also wet. He keeps on probing with his tongue and hands. Jude’s head is far, far away from her body, she feels almost as though she could watch herself from above. But that’s never happened. She always manages to stay inside her body. She wishes he’d do something.

Eventually he leads her away from the grind of the dance floor. ‘Come home with me,’ he hisses into her ear. She shakes her head, Dale is still somewhere around, and might miss her.

‘My flat’s just around the corner, I promise,’ he says.

Jude looks for Dale, then decides to take a chance as she can’t see her anywhere.

Running through the cool night air, she finds he did tell her the truth. He lives around the corner. They go through a deserted alley, to the front door of a derelict building. It’s in darkness as they clatter through the silence up the staircase.

Jack is serious now. When he flings open the door, the dirty yellow bulbs illuminate the mattress on the floor, the Formica-topped table is surrounded by chairs, the sink is spilling over with dishes, the milk stands soured on the counter.

As usual it starts quickly. A speedy shooting off of clothes, those first few moments exploring bodies, when he says what a perfect little body she has, and how beautiful she is. These comments mean nothing. It’s just a way of them trying to make her feel good. They need not bother, this is when they have her where they want her, this is what she’s aimed for the entire evening.

He goes to work on her. She marvels at the uniformity in their difference. It’s like they’ve all gone to the same school to learn this. He cups her breasts. He licks at her, gently, then builds up quicker and quicker till she’s throbbing. He enters her, that familiar warmth. Like a drug.
Exactly what she’s needing.

Afterwards, they lie on his mattress.

He offers her coffee, if she wants. She doesn’t, and the milk is off anyway.

The journey back is less exhilarating. This time she’s cold, and the clinging sweat make her even colder. When she shivers, Jack just looks at her.

Back in the pulsating hot club, she’s still cold. Jack asks the bartender for paper, writes down her number, says he’ll call soon. Perhaps he will. She nods numbly as Dale comes toward her.

They’re leaving now.

She kisses Jack good-bye. Dale hadn’t even missed her.

Well, it had been better than she expected. It was always more comfortable doing it on a bed.

The need is urgent, impatient, desperate. It comes mostly at night, somehow the darkness makes everything more intense, more frightening. Body and mind are hungry, the bed is empty, the sheets are cold. Jude knows it’s when a warm hard cock can fill you up.

The warmth disappears by morning but Jude carries on, regardless. She wants more, she knows it, she would like these men to tell her she has a beautiful body because they love her, or think she’s special, but for now there’s this. The quickness that fills her up, rushing in to fill the cave of loneliness and hunger, it shuts away that great yawning emptiness that is every day. The fear of waking up and feeling the hard sunshine crush into your face, of walking through a house where aged parents are sleeping, getting old.

‘Who was that guy you were with?’ Dale asks.

‘Jack. I met him through a friend. He kisses well’.

‘Are you going to see him again?’

‘Maybe ... if he calls.’

(Published in In the Rapids, edited by Jakes Gerwel and Linda Rode, Kwela Books)

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