Notes; I want to say something before we begin. This is not meant to be an A to Z on men and women, nor are the ideas expressed definitive facts. Like all my stories, it's just me, sorting through ideas or feelings... in other words, if this comes across preachy, then I apologise. It was definitely not my intention.
With that said, let the consummation begin!
'and if I only could,
I'd make a deal with God,
And I'd get him to swap our places,
Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
Be running up that building.
If I only could, oh...'
-Running up that Hill, Kate Bush
I don't talk about it. You don't talk about it. No one will even mention it. But it's there—lurking with the junk in the back of your brain, stashed with all your social blunders and that one time your parents caught you milking the weasel in the bathroom.
But c'mon- you reason- it was only natural. You were only a kid. But you still burn like a British tourist in Spain each time it returns.
Because no matter how much you regret something, it won't go away on its own. I am a practitioner who believes in radical methods. I know that the more embarrassing, the more it lingers. Memories thrive on embarrassment. They have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even as the happy family holidays fade away, days playing in the park, days swimming at the beach, you'll always remember what happened on that one long, rainy afternoon.
No, no; calm down. It's actually quite common. One day, you got curious about what girls kept in their pants. Or what those weird things boys had. Or- and this is the clincher- why it felt so weird if you accidentally brushed a certain place. A friend is usually willing to help you out. Or a neighbour. A cousin. Or, inevitably, since you're around them so much, a brother or sister.
Yeah, it's all coming back, isn't it? Don't worry; get it all out. Lay back and tell me about it. You don't mind if I take notes, do you? Your confidence is safe with me. There's only us in this tree. You don't want to talk it out, no? Then please shut the door behind you. I prescribe a bullet to the head; that should sort out those unruly memories nicely, till you rise from the dead.
Because the nature of these things is always repressed. You forgot completely, didn't you? Then bam! Fifteen years of age. Spin the bottle. Ever fingered a girl?
The green glass swirls like a spinning top. Full of bristling, adolescent pride, Julian concocts a lie. Kerry Adams? Katie Roades? No, no. They knew her-
Oh shit. Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit.
"No, I haven't," he gasps.
No, I'm afraid there's not much hope. Stow it away, it'll always come back. A boomerang, knocking you unconscious each time. Eighteen. Her place. It's the sensation that sets the memory off… so familiar—
"Hey, what's wrong?" she demands, impatient.
"Nothing." He's glad the lights are off, so she can't see him blushing like a naughty child.
And then—there's now. Ten years of blissful ignorance, a few more blunders for the stack, and (or maybe including—he's begun to wonder,) a ring on his finger. He's got the job, he's got the house (okay, flat) and he's got the girl.
When he remembers, for no apparent reason, when making love to said girl. Watch closely; I'm about to go hands on.
It's a well known fact that during the winter solstice, at midday, an elephant's shadow becomes that of a mouse. The only way to deal with a problem, is to face it.
Up in the jungle treetops, Sally pulled away instantly, repelled. "Alexandra? Did you just moan your sister's name?"
"I-I thought I heard her slam the door."
"So what? We don't have to hide like schoolchildren behind the shed. We're married." She jabbed him in the chest.
"Oh yeah. I forgot." She jabbed him again, harder.
"It's very off-putting when your husband starts calling over women's name during sex. Especially his sister's."
"Sorry," he grinned the dopy bear grin she loves, the bear she's made him into. Crawling across the sheets towards him, Sally barred him with crossed arms.
"C—mon," he whined. "Don't leave me hanging, love."
"You're such an animal!" she exclaimed, but this idea seemed to please her. Smiling deviantly, she threw her arms around his neck. "Go on then, beast," she sighed. "Have your way with me. All men are the same."
"Well if you really don't want to-" he started, frowning.
"I do! I do!" she said quickly. A few more grunts and thrusts and they were finished, but Sally held fast when her husband tried to slide out and away.
"Stay," she commanded, and her pet dog, Julian stayed. He could never understand why she insisted on this, and the question always came afterward, like clockwork—
"Do you love me, Julian?" Laying on top of her, she bored into him with eyes, noses touching.
He pushed his head to the side. "Mnn," his mouth buried in a pillow.
Of course he loved her! Why else would he be here? But every time she asked him, with those demanding eyes, it just grated on his nerves. He didn't look at her. "Of course, baby."
"Then why do you always take so long to say it?"
Damn it. "Because you know I love you."
"How do I know?" she demanded.
"Julian? Are you here?" Alexandra's voice called from downstairs. He tried to slip away. Sally held on fast.
"Alexandra's here," he said.
"So?" she hissed, through closed teeth.
They struggled silently under the cover, too seriously to be playful, but at the same time, too scared to be serious.
He broke away from her. "You're such a man!" she said.
Only because you make me into one, he thought, but he couldn't say it.
He hated fighting with Sally. She wanted him to be an oaf so she could justify her feelings about men, seeming almost disappointed when he remembered their anniversary. But then that angry tigress, spitting on the bed would turn into putty, and she would beg him to say he loved her.
She meant everything to him, but when she acted like this, she drove him mad. Forget men- why were women so hard to understand? He buttoned up his shirt and threw a look back at Sally, who sat kneading the sheets like bread. He pecked her swiftly and she scowled.
"Go and see her then," she said petulantly.
"You know she's got it rough right now…"
"I know." Sally took a deep breath and dragged on a strained smile. "You shouldn't let her be alone then."
Julian smiled. "Thanks love."
But as he turned to the door, both their smiles vanished like dust.
Julian found Alexandra sitting in the cramped living room, wrapped up in her long skirts. Immediately, he regretted not staying with Sally. She just looked so innocent there, with her sad soft eyes and soft long hair. Innocent as she always seemed, and why she seemed to always attract strange men to her. And it made him feel worse, since he'd taken advantage of her too. But he was only a child, right? It didn't really count, right? It was only that, the boys at school had been talking about strange things. He'd been curious; and swinging his backpack onto the hook, he'd found her sitting there in the kitchen….
Alexandra looked up, startled. "Oh hey. I didn't realise anyone was home." She'd been staring at a bunch of carnations tossed onto the floor. When had they arrived?
"Had a nice walk?" he asked.
"Well, I just needed some fresh air." She took out her phone, checked it, put it away.
Julian looked pointedly at the flowers. "He still won't leave you alone?"
She sighed. "I keep hoping if I ignore them, it'll all go away." She slumped back into the settee, becoming a mass of cushions, cardigans, covers and blouses. An arm snaked from this sultan's harem and lit up a cigarette. Alexandra smoked it like a lifeline.
Sally drifted out of the bedroom, wearing her bathrobe. "Alexandra, could you smoke that outside?" she asked irritably.
"Oh sure. Sorry." She stood up and stumbled towards the sliding glass window, out onto the tiny balcony. Two plastic garden chairs were crammed into the box, overlooking the vast urban jungle. The old lady that lived next door had left out her ironing board again. Wilted hanging baskets dripped down windows; the hanging garden of Babylon had long since perished. In a metal tree seventy-four storeys high, the smog hugged Alexandra as tightly as a corset.
She leant over to her brother. "Is she mad at me?" she asked, nudging her head towards the flat.
"Well, we were…" he stopped himself before he could go any further. But somehow, Alexandra was always able to read him. A hand flew to her unpainted mouth. Her cheeks turned pink.
"I'm so sorry!" she gasped. She was so shocked she dropped her cigarette. She reached for it clumsily, and Julian picked it up for her.
"Thanks," she said, embarrassed.
As a child, Alexandra's nickname had been Two Left Feet. "Lefty Alex!" they had called her. She was clumsy in life, in love, clumsy even in her lovemaking. Her virginity renewed itself after every act; her partners, those selfish lovers who could never tolerate her ignorance, spoke of the ecstasy of sex; Alexandra only knew of knees and elbows. She longed for intimacy, and was barred from it by a prison of interlocked limbs.
But she hadn't always been clumsy. A precedent had been set when she was seven years old, one that set the rest of her life at a tilt, moved the world but left her still so that always, she had to move her head and look at the Earth from an angle. She was once a member of the after-school gymnastics team. The day after it happened, she fell from the bar and hurt her arm. Julian never spoke of it; she thought he must have forgotten. But Alexandra could never forget. When Julian had run his penis down her belly, the resonance had twanged her like a tuning fork. The ripples continued to spread, so that his body became the centre of her gravity. When puberty came, it shaped her to his image. Unaware, she became sexually attuned to him. So that if she had gone to him and offered herself- and he would have taken her, she knew it- they would have fitted together like long lost pieces of jigsaw. Born of the same womb, there would have been no elbows, no knees. Only the slide and slap of moised skin, curved together in a perfect arc. Hips rising and falling together, a Japanese picturesque picture of an ocean wave. Her budding red nipples, just the right shape for his mouth, as though he were her suckling baby. Tongues weaving together like snakes. And of course, her brother's penis would have fitted so perfectly, so harmoniously, into her vagina that it would have been like the slide of an eel back into his wet, ocean cave home.
No doubt it would have been the best sex either of them would have in their lives. However, the guilt would have destroyed them. And of course, Alexandra would never have even considered it. She was not, as they say, That Girl. She was the pinnacle of innocence, if such a thing as innocence really exists. Burning with lust, and completely unaware of it. Confused of what to do with it. A sweet Virgin Mary, whose brother had run a tuning fork down her stomach and tuned her to a wavelength she didn't know. Writhing against the sheets at night, burning, not knowing what to do. Terrified of sex, not really knowing what sex was- but always searching for that feeling. The shiver. The electricity. Yes, that feeling. Not lusting after her brother, but using him as a measuring stick, a springboard. However, too shy to seek out new experiences. So throughout her adolescence, while Julian had magazines, old pin-ups, girlfriends, all she had was a pillow shoved between her legs and the feeling of her brother's penis. And God- it was unbearable.
She exhaled a breath of dead ash into the dead air and thought, I wish I understood men.
Wind chimes clattered overhead, and a faded dream catcher that had never once caught dreams. Little touches by Sally to make a box of concrete and steel a home. Julian had always thought it was a waste of money, but Sally had exclaimed, "Don't you want this to be our home?" She always made it about herself… didn't she understand that wherever Sally was, that was his home? What use did they have for doormats, lampshades, knickknacks…?
I wish I understood women, he thought, in a sigh.
A brother and sister sat in a tall tree overlooking the jungle, eyes and ears full of the squeal of apes. The tiger and a lion lay entwined. The lion said, "I wonder what tiger tastes of," and the tiger; "What does lion taste like?" So, like any good friends, they helped each other, and ate one another!
Now Julian thought, Why are men so selfish?
Now Alexandra thought, Why do women need such reassurance?
Now they thought, What's happening to me?
Julian scratched his neck. Alexandra's neck was scratched. She touched it with her hand. A hand touched Julian. They looked at one another. She reached out an arm, fingers quivering like notes on the chimes. Julian's fingers resonated; the tips of their fingers touched.
It was too strange. Julian could feel her sadness, deep as a cavern pool. Alexandra, his tension. Drawn tight like a bow string; linear, a pressure gauge. When it reached red, it would explode out of him in anger, and he'd feel better. But Alexandra's sadness was a whirlpool; it didn't go anywhere. There was no plug. All she could do was eventually forget it.
He couldn't stand it. This soft, vulnerable femininity. What had she done to him? He felt like crying, even though he hadn't cried in years. How did she hold it in?
He stood up and ran inside, to put a wall between them. Desperately, trying not to think of that day when- no, think of something else, anything…
Slamming the bedroom door closed, Sally looked up from her dusting.
"Hey baby, are you okay?"
He rubbed his eyes with his hands, sitting down on the side of the bed. "Yeah." She knelt down behind him, knees sinking into the duvet. She put his arms around his neck.
"You're not crying, are you?" she seemed utterly puzzled. "What's wrong? C'mon, be a man!"
"Why is it wrong for men to cry, but not women?" The words hadn't been his. He clasped his hands over his mouth. Alexandra!
Sally rolled her eyes. "Because the men are supposed to be the ones to comfort women when they're crying. If the men cried too, nothing would ever get done!"
"And what do the women do for them in return?"
Alexandra, stop it!
"Well…" said Sally, as she dipped her head over his shoulder, her eyelashes lowering seductively. "If men didn't have women, they'd go mad from lust."
"But what about love?"
Sally frowned at him, the skin around her eyes wrinkling.
"You're one to talk. I think men must separate love and sex into two different boxes. Sometimes when we make love, I wonder if there's any love involved at all. Why are three words so hard to say?" Evidently, she still hadn't gotten over earlier.
Julian broke away from his sister's grip. "Because you know I love you!"
How does she know? asked Alexandra.
"How do I know?" asked Sally.
"Why else would I have married you?" he said, exasperated.
You could have stopped loving her since, said Alexandra.
"What if you've stopped loving me since then?" said Sally.
"You're choking me with your possessiveness," snapped Julian.
"You're driving me mad with your cruelty!" Suddenly, Sally burst into tears. Julian froze. She beat him weakly with her fists. "Why do you always do this? Why?" She scooped up a pillow and hugged it desperately, sobbing into it.
And men comfort women, Alexandra said, because men make them cry.
You shouldn't use your own bad experiences to brand all men, Julian said hotly.
And what differences are there? Just like your wife said, men only want one thing. Not even little sisters are safe.
Oh God… she remembered. I was just a kid… he started.
I know. He could feel her sighing. But that doesn't change the fact it happened, does it? As long as there are men and women in this world, there'll always be guys that make girls cry. And there's only one thing you can do.
"Sally baby, I'm sorry," Julian said, embracing her. "You know I never mean to hurt you."
"Then why do you always—"
"Listen honey, it's my fault. What do you say we go out tonight? That new seafood restaurant on Brook Street just opened up."
She smiled weakly. "That's kind of pricey."
"Nothing's too good for my baby."
Sally beamed. Like the sun coming out, she glowed. Then she wiped her eyes and jumped on him.
"You sure know how to spoil a girl," she whispered, and suddenly, stuck her tongue into Julian's ear. Out on the balcony, Alexandra jumped a mile high.
"Sally, maybe later…" Julian attempted to crawl away. She caught him by the ankle, pulling him in like a fisherman, flipping her hair over her shoulder and glaring daggers.
"You want to make it up to me, don't you?"
"O-of course." She shoved him down onto the bed, clambering on top of him to straddle him with her hips.
Oh shit, thought Alexandra, and Julian.
"C'mon big boy," Sally said, unzipping his trousers with one tug. "Be a man."
And Julian gave in. At that moment, gripping the iron railing, Alexandra was tipped first into a bucket of male lust. And of strong it was! How unrelenting! No wonder Derek had got so stressed, all those times she had played along, got bored, pleaded a headache. And even stranger- Julian experiencing her experience of it. Like waves on the breakers, constantly changing, depending on the levels of precipitation, atmospheric pressure and wind direction. Pulled by the moon, so much like their bodies. Waxing, waning, waxing. One unkind word and she'll vanish like a sea creature back into her shell. What is the point of sex, without love?
What's the point of love, without sex? Unbuttoning the seashell buttons on her blouse, Sally let it cascade down her back. The female body- so soft. Man's oasis. After a thirsty day of work, a man needs softness. Tenderness. Don't be unkind, darling. Let me drink from the font of your sweet, oyster lips. Ever since the beginning of time, man has been searching for woman's pearl. In 1200 AD, the Incas believed it was not gold, but family, that made a man rich.
Hands raking through golden grains of sand, Julian buried his fingers in Sally's hair. Lust gripping him, he turned the hourglass upside down, Alexandra sinking into the sofa. She tried to restrain herself, to stop that hand that was determined to creep like a crab down across her belly…
The monkeys shrieked and the apes howled as Julian and Sally pulled each other into different positions, a new form of twister, the object of the game to induce the most pleasure. And Julian penetrated her, and Alexandra called out, because in that moment she was both penetrator and penetrated. Julian, vice verso, the viewer to his sister's past experiences. And Sally, pioneer, the first woman have a bisexual experience from just one person.
And finally, Julian knew it. Knew that when a man had sex with a woman, he left himself, his masculinity, his identity, intact. But with a woman—or maybe, just his wife, just his sister—something was left behind. That it was not sex, but making love, because they were not just two cats on a fence, humping. That they were in symbiosis; she was giving him something, a tiny part of her personality that could not be returned. That on that rainy day, when he was eleven and she was eight, when he'd felt an itch that he'd wanted to scratch, Alexandra had given him something. She'd given up something, handed it to him in open palms like a trapped butterfly, and he had not even noticed.
Julian slumped down against the pillows, and the sensation, the bond between them shut closed as fast as it has come. Two separate elastic bands, snapping shut against the stuff of their souls.
Squeezed closed in pleasure, Sally now opened her eyes.
What had Sally given him?
Squeezing him tight, Sally kissed him again and again.
Squeezing her back, smothering her in kisses, Julian knew that she had given him her love, her trust, her whole self.
In the living room, Alexandra didn't hesitate. Decisively, she flipped out her phone, saw the three missed calls, and hit the green button.
"Derek? I don't want you to ever call this number again. No, you won't. And stop sending me flowers. I said no. Don't you understand?… No, no you listen to me. I don't love you. I've never loved you. You're selfish and you're cruel. I'm going home now, but if you come round again I'll call the police and get a restraining order. I'm hanging up now. Goodbye."
Alexandra strode across the room to the balcony; her step was firm; she didn't wobble. She put her hands on the railing, and breathed in a deep, aromatic mouthful of the jungle.