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In fiction? Always.

Madam Rosmerta has been looking out of her window. She has not joined the people of Hogsmeade, who have all run to Hogwarts to fight in the battle. She suddenly sees strange lights flashing from the now broken windows of the Shrieking Shack. Strangely, there are no shouts or indeed shrieks coming from it. There is, instead, an eerie silence.

She doesn’t know what is going on, whether the battle is lost or won. But she fears the worst. She decides that, after all, she does not want to live under Voldemort’s tyranny. If she has to die, the sooner the better, and better still to die fighting than cornered in her own house. There is no one shrieking in the Shack, so she knows Bellatrix and the Carrows aren’t there, but she cannot be sure who else might be. Whoever they are, she’d better be prepared. Wand, and of course, some healing remedies. What witch does not carry some magical herbs and potions about her?

There is no one left in the village, friend or foe. She walks to the Shack, unnoticed. The door is open, broken, and there is no sound at all. Just silence. She inspects the ruined rooms, treading carefully on the debris. There, lying on the floor, lies the body of a man. He is not moving at all, head fallen to one side.

“Lumos”.

She can see clearly now. The fallen man is the Headmaster of Hogwarts, the hated Death Eater, the man who killed Dumbledore. He’s dead now. Or maybe just half dead? Carefully, she approaches him, wand ready just in case he happens to be half dead – which would mean, of course, that he’s half alive. The man does not move.

Rosmerta checks carefully. The wound on his neck looks awful, there is still a trickle of blood gushing from it. She checks for a heartbeat. Nothing… wait, there is something. Faint, feeble, but unmistakable a heartbeat. The man is, after all, almost dead, but not quite. But he deserves to die, doesn’t he?

No. No one deserves to die like this, not even him. Dumbledore wouldn’t have left anyone to die like this, he wouldn’t.

Kneeling by his side, she examines his wounds. First thing first: the wound on his neck looks like a bite. Poisonous? Maybe. Poison… Dittany of Crete works with some poisonous bites and seals wounds. Yes, she’s got it. Star grass salve will also help. Every witch worth her wand knows about herbs and healing potions, or she isn’t a witch. She empties the small vial of Dittany on his neck, and applies the salve for good measure. She can’t leave him there, though, but Levitation charms aren’t that difficult. She takes him home as fast as she can. She picks up his wand as well. The streets are still deserted, the silence overwhelming.

She carries him to her room and lays him on her bed. Now she can remove his bloody clothes, and check for more injuries. There are none. His heart is still beating feebly. Rosmerta washes the dried blood from his face, his hands, his body. She looks at him. Too thin, too pale, mauve shadows under his long black lashes, white hands with long fingers immobile on her flowered bedspread. He doesn’t look dangerous at all. He looks as if no one has cared for him for a long, long time.

She can do no more. The silence has been broken. The battle has started again. She had not wished to join the battle before, and she has no wish to join it now. She focuses on the wounded man instead. She pulls off the now dirty, wet bedspread. She dresses him up in one of her husband’s old shirts, wraps a quilt around him, lights the fire. She must keep him warm, his skin had felt far too cold and clammy. She decides to stay and check that he is as comfortable a she can manage. The man sighs now and then, but does not regain consciousness.

The dawn brings her neighbours back, singing and exultant: You Know Who has been defeated, the Death Eaters are either dead or captured. She comes down, opens her door, and listens to the stories about the great victory. The prisoners will be sent to Azkaban, and the Ministry has decreed that Voldemort’s hardcore Death Eaters will receive the Dementor’s kiss. She has one of them upstairs in her room. She should turn him in and let him face Azkaban, with the rest of the rabble.

She goes up to her room and looks at the man. He is so pale that he seems to have no blood left in him. Yet he is still breathing, slowly, painfully, weakly. She decides to keep quiet, no one is looking for him. She shudders at the thought of a Dementor sucking up his soul. There is no way she is going to allow anyone, not even him, to receive a Dementor’s kiss.

But the wounded man still hasn’t moved, and his face is still deadly white. She needs… she needs healing magic, not homemade remedies, if she wants to help him. She realises, with a start, that she does want to help him. The easiest way to get what she wants is volunteering to help Madam Pomfrey take care of the wounded.

She makes sure her room is quite warm, double locks her door and goes to Madam Pomfrey, who is glad to get some help, and explains to Rosmerta what is needed for which wounds, side effects of curses, poisonous bites.

“That snake bit several of our students, Rosmerta. We are quite fortunate Dumbledore left with us a goblet filled with Phoenix’ tears. We have, of course, antidote for common poisons, but we wanted to make sure. Just two drops on every bite will be enough.

There are some who have lost a lot of blood, they have to take Blood Replenishing Potion. Two spoonfuls three times a day.

The ones on the left have suffered personal losses, they should rest. A measure of Dreamless Sleep Potion will suffice.

The ones on the far left have already been unconscious for too long; it’s better to give them a spoonful of Revive Potion.

The rest of the injured and wounded, I will take care of them myself”.

Rosmerta soon proves to be quite an asset, and she also proves to be quite deft at taking small quantities of what she thinks she needs without Madam Pomfrey’s noticing. A vial of Blood Replenishing Potion. A vial of Dreamless Sleep Potion. A small bottle of Revive Potion. And she also manages to get some drops of the very powerful, very rare and extremely valuable Phoenix tears.

Back home, everything is the same. The man is somewhat warmer, but his breathing seems worse than when she left. She quickly drops the Phoenix tears on the still not quite sealed wound. When she sees that the unhealthy look is vanishing, leaving only a very faint scar, she is overjoyed. Now she has to decide what to do next. The Revive Potion to awaken the unconscious man and then the Blood Replenishing Potion seem a good choice.

She holds him up and manages to pour some drops of Revive Potion into his mouth, praying that he is able to swallow it. Soon his fingers begin to twitch, and he opens his eyes. He looks around without curiosity or wonder. His black eyes have a weary, tired look. His back is resting against a woman’s warm body, a woman who is holding him tight, but he is too weak to move.

– Here, Professor Snape, you have to take this. Two spoonfuls. You have lost too much blood”.

Hs recognises the voice.

– “Ros..?” he says, hoarsely. Every word is an effort. “How?”

“I brought you home. Now take this. It’s Blood Replenishing Potion, I’m not trying to poison you, truly. You will feel better soon, and we’ll talk then. Later. I promise”.

The man swallows his two spoonfuls, and Rosmerta lays him back on the pillows. He soon falls asleep, but it’s a troubled sleep; Rosmerta is worried, she’s not sure how potions work together, and she can’t risk anything else; he doesn’t seem worse, though; he’s just thrashing and talking in his sleep. Rosmerta tries to restrain him, holding his hands, and then she realises what he’s saying. She listens with surprise first, then horror and repugnance. Not at what the man has done, but at what was done to him.

She dares not use the Awake Potion again, but there is something she can do. The remedy has worked for centuries. She takes off her clothes and slips into the bed. She holds him tightly, and speaks softly, trying to calm him down, brushing his hair off his face, tracing the lines of his eyebrows with her fingers. After a while, the man seems to relax, though he still mutters softly now and then. She, finally, falls asleep as well.

She opens her eyes when a wandering ray of sun touches her face. The man is still asleep, his breathing easier, his face still pale but his colour slightly better, the mauve shadows under his eyes are not as dark as they were. He is lying on his side, his face next to hers, one arm thrown carelessly over her waist, the other trapped between the pillow and her neck. She doesn’t want to wake him up. Instead, she lets her eyes wander over his white face, white chest, white shoulders. Black hair, black eyebrows, black lashes. Snow and midnight. A faint, zig-zagging scar can still be seen on the side of his neck.

The man finally wakes up. His eyes meet her gaze, and hold it. There is no hatred in Rosmerta’s warm, vibrant, brilliant blue eyes. He has seen nothing but hatred and derision for a long time, everywhere he looked. Then he realises that he is actually holding her body.

-“I’m… sorry”.

-“Don’t, Professor Snape. Everything’s all right. You’ve been very sick; I’ll bring you something to eat, and you’ll feel better. Oh, and you will need two more spoonfuls of the Blood Replenishing Potion, I think”.

She disentangles herself, throws a shawl over her body and returns with a bowl of the traditional remedy for people recovering from an illness, magical or not: chicken broth. She puts the tray on the bed, and makes sure he finishes it, then gives him two more spoonfuls of the Potion. He really has lost far too much blood, but he looks slightly better. At least he doesn’t look like death. Just very, very pale and very, very tired.

“Ros….? “

-“Yes?”

– “I need to know. Is the battle lost?”

-“We’ve won. He who must not be named is dead. Truly dead. The Death Eaters are being sent to Azkaban”.

-“Why am I here, then?”

-“I found you in the Shrieking Shack. I brought you home, and I’ve been taking care of you. You were badly hurt.”

-“But why? Why did you do it? I’m a Death Eater.”

-“At first, because I couldn’t let you die there, alone. I wouldn’t have let a dog die like that. Now, because I know all about you. You worked for Dumbledore. Yet he let them hate you, hit you, hurt you, kill you, they wanted to kill you. It was your nightmare, wasn’t it? A long nightmare”.

-“What do you mean?”

-“You talk in your dreams, didn’t you know? And I can listen. I know what you did, and I know who you really are.”

The man looks at the now empty tray and does not know what to say. He is so used to hide behind a mask that this is disconcerting. He looks up again. Pity is the last thing he wants. But there’s no trace of pity in her eyes; there is warmth, kindness, understanding. The whole universe is a brilliant, glowing blue.

Then he looks at himself.

-“What the hell am I wearing, Ros?”

-“It’s one of my husband’s old shirts. I had to burn your clothes. White suits you better than black, anyway.”

Rosmerta takes away the tray and returns to the room. She sits on the bed, and takes his hand in both of hers. Her touch is warm. Warmth. When has anyone shown him any warmth?  When has anyone given him everything, and demanded nothing in return?. Someone who has not criticised him, has not judged him, has not doubted him. No one.

-“Would you prefer to be alone?”

-“No, not really. Stay”.

They look at each other, and Rosmerta is slowly drawn towards the man who is reclining against the pillows, till there is no distance between them, their eyes still locked. Then she kisses his mouth, lightly, sweetly, almost expecting to be rejected. But there is no rejection. His free hand touches her hair and draws her nearer.

It takes several days more for the man to recover; physical wounds heal fast, but stress, anguish and trauma are not so easily healed. He has time to think when Rosmerta isn’t keeping him company, and he can see clearly he can’t stay, well, he does want to stay just a little bit longer, but he must go away, and soon. Damn. The Wizardly World is quite busy mourning their dead, judging and condemning, celebrating the victory of the Boy Who Lived Twice. No one has remembered him yet; no one but Potter knows what happened, and he knows very well the depth of the hatred Potter has always felt for him.

Anyway, it’s good to talk with someone. For once in his life he has nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of; there is no point, as Ros has seen both his naked body and his naked soul. She’s seen him as he is, and she accepts him as he is. And he truly enjoys her company, her stories about her life, the antics of her clients, a life he’s never been part of. It feels wonderful to be alive.

But nothing lasts forever, and he must go.

-“Ros, I can’t stay here, it’s dangerous for you. I won’t let you risk your life for me. I am a wanted man. I am tired of lying and I will always be surrounded by suspicion and hatred if I stay. It always tasted like poison. I don’t want to taste this poison ever again. I have to go”.

-“You don’t have to…”.

-“I do, Ros, can’t you see?”

-“I meant you don’t have to go alone. I will go with you.”

-“Ros… I can’t offer you anything, Ros.”

-“But I don’t want anything. Just you. If you want me.”

-“Want you? Want you? I do, don’t you know I do? But we can’t get married. No wizard can marry us, and no Muggle can marry us. Would you accept to live with me, as husband and wife, with no marriage vows?”

-“I would. We can write our own vows, and that will be enough.”

Soon after, in the middle of the night, a man silently Disapparates and Apparates again near Spinner’s End. The house is empty, the Ministry has been through it, and all his books and magical implements have been taken away. But the Ministry officers aren’t smart enough to find Muggle hidden places. His passport, his mother’s passport, his Muggle money, documents and clothes are still where he left them. Rosmerta, meanwhile, advertises that The Three Broomsticks is for sale.

Now he only needs a little magic to change his passport, and a little more magic to change his mother’s passport for Ros to use. They are leaving as Muggles. They need new names, because the old ones could be traced by the Ministry officers, damn that Big Brother is watching you thing.

They have to decide the names that will appear on their passports.

-“I quite like Ros, you know. But it’s not really a name. And Rosmerta is not a Muggle name, is it?”

-“What do you say to Rosemary? It means “remembrance”. Or Roxana, if you like to keep a witch’s name.”

-“Rosemary. I’d rather be remembered. Now you. You can’t keep Severus either. Are there Muggle names beginning with Sev? Rus?”

-“Not Sev. It was a name used by somebody that I used to know. Besides I can only think of Sebastian, which I don’t like much. Russell, though… Russ and Ros?

The both laugh at the idea, but it’s not really that bad. They’re Muggle enough, and similar enough to their original ones. Rosemary and Russell, and a new surname. It doesn’t take long. Prince is a Muggle surname as well as a magical surname. Ros finds quite funny the fact that the photo on her passport does not move.

The Three Broomsticks is sold; Ros has a week to pack her things and leave the premises. She has to say goodbye to her neighbours, and tells them that she’s going to live with some Irish cousins. Her neighbours and clients will miss her, or rather they will miss her mead, but understand her desire to go away.

And now… they only have to leave. Russell Prince has his few belongings packed in a backpack, including his wand, his Muggle money and both passports. He is leaving at midnight; he is catching  a bus from Dufftown to Aberdeen, and then a flight to London-Gatwick. Aurors know he can fly, but they lack imagination. A wizard wouldn’t choose leaving on a jet plane, surely? He looks like the average tourist. Jeans and trekking boots, hair in a ponytail, leather jacket.

Rosemary Prince will leave on the Knight Bus; she has to go to Diagon Alley to change all her galleons into Muggle money. Her bags are packed, but she’s not taking much, either.

-“Remember, Ros. I can’t be seen near the Leaky Cauldron. Muggle world is not that difficult; once you leave, just follow Charing Cross road till you find a taxi, and tell the driver to take you to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. I’ll be there, waiting for you.”

-“And I’ll be there, looking for you.”

Goblins don’t ask questions, so Ros has no trouble at all getting her money changed; she has no trouble either finding a taxi, they are clearly marked with a “TAXI” sign. At the entrance of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Russ is waiting for her. They leave their bags at the small Bed & Breakfast where Russ has already reserved a room, and they go back to the cathedral.

There, in the Chapel of St. Dunstan, quite deserted this early in the morning, holding hands, they make their quite unusual vows.

-“I, Severus, want to be in the warm hold of your loving mind. To feel you all around me, and to take your hand along my path. I want to hide behind your smile, and, anywhere I look your eyes find. I want you near me to kill my fears, to help me to leave all my blues behind. For standing in your heart is where I want to be, and long to be, forever.”

-“I, Rosmerta, will never leave you or turn back from following you; for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried, by your side, so not even Death can do us part.”

They return to the Bed & Breakfast, where there is indeed breakfast and a bed. They can rest for a while, even if some hanky-panky does take place. Mostly panky, to be frank. Their flight from Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle isn’t scheduled till early morning. Next day, they fly from Orly to Venice. Changing airports, changing airlines, and no magic. Ros is thrilled to discover a world she has never seen.

Honeymooning in Venice, they have to decide where to go, and where to live. It’s a hard decision, but they finally settle for a city filled with magic, and whose Ministry of Magic has had a quite strained relationship with the British Ministry of Magic over a matter of Flying Carpets.

They have, quite successfully, disappeared from the British Wizardly world. When the Aurors  decide to recover the Headmaster’s corpse from the Shrieking Shack, they find nothing except dried blood and rags. But no clues. He is nowhere to be found, and no one sees him again.

NINETEEN YEARS AFTER

Ginny and Ron convince their spouses to travel to Egypt, the land that had so impressed them so many years before, but that Harry and Hermione haven’t still visited. The children are in school, little Hugo is left with the Grangers, little Lily with the Weasleys, and September is a good time to visit Egypt.

They agree that Saqqara, the wizard Imhotep’s most celebrated work, is a must. They have just entered the site when they see a small boy jump from one of the columns, launch himself skywards, laughing, and instead of crumpling on the dusty road, soar like a trapeze artist through the air, quite literally flying, staying up far too long, and landing far too lightly just in front of them, still laughing.

Harry has the uncanny feeling that he has seen this before, somewhere. He looks carefully at the obviously magical little boy, who looks back with a smile so full of mischief and confidence that he has to smile back.

“Hello”, he says, tentatively, not sure if the child can understand English or not.

“Oh, hullo. Did you come to see the hero.. the hieroglyphs too?”

He has long black hair parted in curtains around a face that would have been white if it wasn’t covered in red dust, and startlingly brilliant blue eyes. His black Whitesnake tee shirt, jeans and trainers are as covered in dust as his face. Whatever he’s been doing, he seems to have been thoroughly enjoying himself.

– “Yes, we have. Did you see them all?”

– “Some. But I really want to see the mummies. Aydin said there are lots and lots of mummies at Tuna el-Gebel. I want to see them all. Mummies are cool”.

Ron joins in the conversation, highly amused, if slightly confused. He can’t recall anyone with a child like this, though he’s sure he’s seen him somewhere.

-“Hello, I’m Ron, this is Harry here, Hermione and Ginny. So, what’s your name?”

-“Julian. Mum wanted to name me after a Roman warl.. warrior, but dad said that one old warl… warrior name was more than enough in the family. She does call me Jules, though”.

The four tourists exchange a look.

“How old are you, Julian?”

-“Nine”

-“Shouldn’t you be at school?”

The boy looks horrified at the thought.

School? Who wants to be locked up in a filthy school?”

-“So, no school for you, then?”

– “Nah, my dad teaches us at home. Me and Nuriye and Aydin. History and herbs and mag… Maths. Yeah, Maths.” He looks quite satisfied, and brushes a black strand of hair off his eyes. “He knows loads of stuff, my dad”.

Hermione and Ginny exchange another look. Hermione is quite concerned because this boy has obviously been told about the International Statute of Secrecy, but the importance of “secrecy” has not been quite reinforced. Ginny is concerned that the child appears to be alone, and no one seems to have told him not to talk to strangers.

-“Is your father a teacher, then?”

-“He was, before we came home. It was a very old school, but he didn’t like it much. He says it was always cold there. I don’t like the cold, either. Do you?”.

-“Not much. So, do you live here now?”

-“Uh, no, we’re touristing a bit”. He points, quite accurately, to the North-East. “Our home’s up there. My dad says we live in the most magical city in the world”.

And there it is, clear as crystal. Magical. Hermione is getting really angry. This is against all rules and regulations. This child can be seen by Muggles, and is unafraid to speak freely with people. The Statute of Secrecy is International, for Merlin’s sake, no matter where he lives, his parents have to make sure he is not seen or heard. She steps in.

-“Why have your parents left you alone, Julian?”

The child, surprised, turns his brilliant blue eyes on her.

-“They haven’t. They’re over there”.

Hermione and the rest look past the columns. In the shade, not far away, there is a couple holding hands. The woman is wearing a deep red silk kaftan embroidered in gold, so beautiful that both Ginny and Hermione make a mental note to buy one of those as soon as they can. Her long, curly blond hair is tied with a gold and red scarf, and she has lost none of the beauty that had so bewitched Ron so many years before. The child has his mother’s eyes, and she is looking at them with defiance. Her tall, thin husband isn’t looking at them at all, he seems not to have noticed they’re there, or, if he has, he does not care. He has long black hair, a streak of silver on one side, parted in curtains around a slightly tanned face, and his black eyes never leave his son. He’s wearing a cotton white shirt over his jeans; only his trainers are the same black colour as his son’s.

Harry has trouble recognising the man he had hated for so long, so long ago. He has the same black eyes, the same hooked nose, the same… but… the eyes he remembers did not shine with love, pride and joy, the grimace he remembers  is actually a smile, and that smile is tender. Harry realises he had always looked at him through a veil of hatred, like Sirius, like James. Now he’s seeing him objectively for the first time.

-“Jules”, calls the mother. “We’re leaving. You need a really good bath before dinner:”

-“A bath? But I already had a bath yesterday! I’m clean!”

He looks at his clothes, at his hands, at Ginny.

-“Do I need a bath?”

-“You do, you don’t want to go to bed covered in dust, do you?”

-“I s’ppose not. I’d better go. Bye.”

The child waves and runs to his parents, his feet hardly touching the ground. He takes his father’s hand and begins to talk excitedly as they walk towards the exit.

The woman looks at them with her bright blue eyes. She has obviously recognised them. She stares at each one for an instant, pride and defiance in her gaze, nods and walks on. The man doesn’t look at them at all; He’s telling his son that he does have to take a bath because, if he doesn’t, the caretaker will take him for a mummy and lock him up in the cave with the rest of the mummies, and that he is sorely tempted to leave him there. They hear the child’s delighted laugh as they walk away.

They never look back.

 

 

.

 

 

 

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Temporary Secretary

I am the one who arrives home first. So it falls to me to get tea ready. Some sandwiches, scones, fruit and, of course, properly brewed black tea. I’ve just finished setting the table in the sitting room – the only table we have, when I hear Terry climbing the stairs at top speed. He sits on the sofa, throwing tie and jacket carelessly on the floor.

-“Lexie, my love, we have to talk”.

-“Well, yes, if we continue using that old kettle we’ll get electrocuted some day. We really need a new one”.

-“Forget the kettle. This is serious”.

-“More serious than being electrocuted?”

-“Mary’s pregnant”.

-“Mary? Mary who?”

-“Mary. You know her. My personal assistant”.

I know Mary. I’ve seen her, a perfectly groomed, perfectly coiffed, perfectly made up blonde with more curves than the Montecarlo rally. She’s been his assistant for six months.

-“You’ll need a new assistant, then, when she has her baby”.

-“The baby’s mine”. He isn’t looking at me, but at his cup of tea.

Whatever I expected, it is not this. Slowly an carefully I put my mug on the table. I don’t want him to see how badly my hands are shaking.

-“What are you going to do? Is she getting an abortion?”

-“No, it’s too late for an abortion. I’ll take care of the baby”.

-“Naturally. It’s your baby. You must”.

-“You still don’t get it, do you, Lexie?”

-“I do. You got your secretary pregnant, and you’re taking care of the baby. Is that it?”

-“Mary wants to get married. Church, wedding feast, bridesmaids, the lot”. This time he looks at me.

When Terry and I joined our lives, we had this discussion on contraception. He didn’t like condoms, the pill didn’t really suit me. He could always withdraw, he said, and we tried, but that proved to be highly unsatisfactory for both of us. I’ve been on the bloody pill for four years. Then, the full force of what he’s saying hits me.

-“For how long?”

-“What do you mean?”

-“For how long have you been doing this? A month? Two months? How long, Terry?”

-“She’s four months pregnant. You just don’t understand. She loved me since the first time she touched my hand, she told me so. She’s been waiting for me all her life.”

I can’t believe that he’s actually repeating that crap. I can’t believe he believes that crap. I’m feeling so sick I want to throw up.

-“You truly fucked me royally last night, didn’t you, Terry? What was that, a goodbye shag?”

-“Lexie, my love, there’s no need to be so crude.”

-“It’s the truth. If you’re going to marry her, if you’ve been making love to her, then it’s me the one you’ve been fucking. Fucking, fucking, fucking.”

-“You’re hysterical. We’ll sort this out tomorrow.”

-“I’m not hysterical, and there’s no tomorrow”.

-“All right, we need to discuss the flat, I’m paying the mortgage and…”

-“And I’m paying the rest; there’s no more to say, is there? She can have my sandwich as well. Why not, she’s having everything I fucking thought was mine. My fucking bed as well, for all I know”.

-“You’ve got a really filthy mouth, Lexie. Of course not our bed. It was at the office”.

I don’t want him to see how deeply he’s hurting me. He’s killing me with every word he says, and he doesn’t realise this is hurting me so badly that I really can’t stand the pain. It’s torture. Maybe he doesn’t want to see. Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he never cared.

He goes to our room, but returns some time later; I’m still sitting on the sofa, staring at the wall, feeling nothing but emptiness. He tells me I need some rest because I look like death, picks me up and carries me to our bed. He lays by my side, and falls asleep. I stare at the ceiling, watching the little stars that we stuck on it, thinking of the time we spent getting the constellations right. Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Orion’s Belt, Milky Way.

Terry turns in his sleep, trows his arm around me, and whispers. My name. My love. I never liked the way he called me my love, so casually. Now I loathe it. I can’t stand it no more. I leave our bed slowly and carefully, trying not to make any noise. I get some clothes, shoes, stuff them carelessly into my second-hand backpack (original owner some R.J. Smith), my passport and all the money I have. I climb the stairs up to our room for the last time. Terry’s still asleep. I’m looking at a stranger.

I go to the station, catch the first train to London. I finally break up when I arrive at Charing Cross. I don’t even realise the train’s stopped for good.

I phone my cousin.

-“John, pick me up. Pick me up. Pick me up”.

-“Lex? What’s wrong? Where are you? Where’s Terry?”

-“Charing Cross. Please pick me up, PICK ME UP”.

I can’t stay with John and his partner. I only want to leave, to put hundreds of miles between Terry and I. I’m taking the Interrail across Europe, I don’t care where I go as long as there is a whole continent between Terry and I.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________FIFTEEN YEARS LATER

I’m sitting on my favourite place on the verandah drinking my tea and reading my book. Unfortunately, my favourite place at the hotel has suffered an invasion. Right in front of me there is a woman with greasy, lanky brown hair plastered to her head, eating spaghetti bolognese and fried eggs and bacon at the same time. The woman is sweating copiously; she’s wearing a too small tee shirt that does nothing to conceal her enormous sagging breasts and bulging stomach; the tee-shirt has dark, wet stains under her armpits and her breasts. There is a baby by her side, it’s hard to say how old it is, but there’s something very wrong with it; its eyes are so widely set apart that it looks like a fish, green snot is hanging from its nose and falling on its food. The mother just pays no attention, and continues wolfing down her food – and smoking a cigarette at the same time. Even though they’re obviously British, I immediately think of banjos. There’s a teenage boy sitting at the table as well, pierced and tattooed and with a definite look that he’d rather be somewhere else, anywhere else. I can only see the man’s back.

I take a mental note. If those people are going to sit at that table from now on, I’m moving to the far end of the dinner room from now on.

The woman stubs her cigarette in the unfinished plate of spaghetti, eggs and bacon and asks the teenage boy to bring her some meat balls and chips. The kid refuses point blank. The woman lights another cigarette and complains that the fucking kid never does as he’s told.

-“Mary, my love, there’s no need to be so crude.”

I recognise the voice, the tone, the words. Surely this doesn’t happen in real life? It can’t be him, after all these years. I look at his back. His hair is short now, and almost grey, but there are still traces of the reddish golden hair I used to love when it was long and curly. His skin is still milky white and covered in freckles. It IS Terry. Unfuckingbelievable. I finish my tea, put my book in my handbag, but there’s no way to leave the room without crossing by their side.

-“Hi, Terry. Long time no see”.

He looks up and recognises me. He stares as if he was seeing a ghost, surprised and shocked. Mostly shocked.

-“Lexie… nice to see you… you haven’t… you haven’t changed a bit”…

I haven’t; my body is still as slim and lithe as it was fifteen years ago; my breasts are still beautiful, my skin is still smooth and tanned, I have no stretch marks, I haven’t put on any weight. I look, at thirty six, as I looked at twenty-one, when I left him. Or he left me, who cares. He looks at my body, his eyes lingering on the loosely tied sarong around my hips; too loosely tied, and too low; the top of my pants is showing. Victoria’s Secret, purple on black. Hungrily. He’s watching me hungrily, his eyes fixed on my hips, my belly. It’s lust. Hunger, desire, and lust. I don’t move. I’m actually enjoying the whole thing. If this is revenge, it feels damn good.

-“You… you remember Mary… my wife…”

Mary the Michelin woman is holding a fork with a dripping meatball in one hand and a cigarette in her other hand, radiating fury, sauce and ashes falling on her lap. Terry’s kept that hungry look of his for far too long.

– “Hi, Mary. It seems you finally graduated from fucking on the office table to fucking in a proper bed. I can’t say it’s been a pleasure.”

Mary’s face goes white, and Terry’s face goes red. I walk away, like a model on the catwalk. I can belly-dance, I can move provocatively when I want to.

-“YOU… YOU STILL HAVE A FILTHY MOUTH. I KEPT YOUR THINGS”.

I turn back with a sweet smile.

-“Frankly, my love, I don’t give a damn.”

CHECKMATED.

 

 

 

 

The Red Woman

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Grandmother’s velvet curtains, IKEA lamp, fake ruby heart. No power to resurrect anyone.

Memories

“Oh, did you live in Tunbridge Wells? Where?”

And suddenly I realize that I haven’t the foggiest idea where I lived at all. I remember very well the white apartment building, four stories high, every apartment empty but the attic. It was Terry’s den. I remember Terry, of course I do: no woman forgets the first man she ever lives with. He was tall, pale skinned, with lots of freckles and a flashing red moustache, light blue eyes and curly reddish hair. Yes, I remember.

We used to hang about Terry’s den, Roger, Whoopi, Lola, Huguette, Mark, myself. I didn’t think Terry fancied me; it was Roger, the Scottish guy, the one who wanted me in his bed. Terry had already a girlfriend, a Dutch girl, proud owner of a yellow parakeet. But one day Dutch girl and parakeet were gone.

Then one night, while we were classifying photographs on the floor,Terry asked out of nowhere:

– “Will you marry me, Lexie?”

It took me just a nanosecond to answer: “yes”.

– “Why?”

– “For fun”

And that was it. That night I graduated from the sleeping bag on the sitting room floor to the mattress and eider-down quilt in Terry’s room. From then on, I shared his bed, his home, and his life.

The parakeet girl returned once. Whe she arrived she said “I suppose Terry’s bed is still my bed”. It was Roger, the discarded Scot, who told her it wasn’t.

We climbed four steps to get to our front door, and four flights of stairs up to our place in the attic. We had pinned several notes to the wall to help visitors: “go up” “keep on going” “just a bit more” “you’re near” “almost here”. Then there was the landing, and the sitting room to the right, and the bathroom. To the left, the kitchen, and a little door which led to yet more stairs to our room. Small, panelled with wood, with a bow-window overlooking the roofs. Little pegs scattered on the wall, where my cotton Indian dresses and Terry’s shirts were hung; left side for me, right side for him. His trousers were neatly folded on top of an overturned wooden box, which we had painted burnt sienna. My side of the mattress was placed against the wall, so the alarm clock was on the floor on his side of the mattress.

-“Lexie, my love, wake up. You’re not going to make the bus”

-“Mmmmm. Just five minutes more”

I remember those summer nights when we opened the bow-window, and ate fish and chips sitting on the roof, laughing at the Salvation Army people who used to sing about sin and punishment five floors below. I remember breakfast, tea and Granola chocolate biscuits.

– “Terry, would you like sugar with your tea?”

– “Yes, my love, four lumps”

– “And would you like some tea with your sugar?” Four lumps, really!

We rolled Old Holborn tobacco in liquorice paper, and his lips and my lips tasted of liquor. We ate Granny Smith apples on the sitting room floor on rainy afternoons. We talked, laughed, disagreed.

– “When I die, and in my funeral, I want this song to be played”.

– “But Terry, My way? Frank Sinatra? I want Always look on the bright side of life”.

– “Monty Python? Lexie, my love, you know you’re crazy, don’t you?”

– “What’s your favourite number”?

– “I don’t have one, Terry. Numbers are just numbers. They mean nothing”.

He waited for me at the bus stop, all dressed up in blue suit, white shirt and tie, still holding his briefcase but with no shoes and no socks. We walked hand in hand to the park, and I read Thackeray while he checked his papers. We went to Scarborough Fair, we went to Brighton, we ran and laughed on the beach.

I loved him with teenage passion, but even then I knew that when my work permit expired, I would leave as the Dutch girl before me had left; Terry would walk me and my backpack to the train station, kiss me and wave goodbye, but he would not try to keep me by his side, as he hadn’t tried to keep the Dutch girl and her parakeet by his side.

– “Lexie, my love, can I borrow some of your cigarettes? I forgot mine at the office”.

– “Just take them, what’s mine is yours”.

I didn’t understand why he insisted on calling me “my love”.

– “Don’t you dare have your hair cut, my love. I quite like the way it falls when you’re on top”.

– “Don’t call me that. You should say “my love” only to the woman you love”

– “I know what I’m saying”.

I remember so many things… why can’t I remember my old address at all? Yes, that’s it, I can try Google Street View. A good option… if I remembered the street.

Let’s see… when I came home from work the bus left me near the War Memorial. That’s a beginning. Right on Mount Pleasant Road. And then we walked down the street… er… no, we couldn’t have walked that long, we were barefoot. Must have been up the street. No… the train station wasn’t near our home. I walk virtually down the street again. And up the street again.

It’s frustrating, I must have walked this road on my way home thousands of times. How can I have forgotten it?

And suddenly there it is. First turn left after the bus stop, first alley. The house is still standing, and is still white. There’s the brick house, and then the house that was once our home.IMG_20150529_204355

Google Street View stops right there; the street has no name.

I should have known better.

SAM_0820

Innocent, pure, virginal, beautiful and shy girl meets the richest, most handsome and most interesting man in the world. Of course she falls head over heels in love with him. Love at first sight. Most gorgeous man in the whole wide world decides that virtue is to be rewarded, marries Pamela and they live happily ever after. Sorry, wrong book. I mean Anastasia, but I’ve read all this before. Didn’t Barbara Cartland write this same book about seven hundred times? Oh yes, she did.

The pure, virginal etc. girl – whose intelligence is outstanding, or so she says –  gets drunk and her best friend tries to take advantage of her. Hold on, a friend who tries to rape you when you’re drunk is hardly a friend. Apparently she’s not that intelligent, because she still considers him his best friend, because oh my, what he tries to do is not rape. Then a knight in shining armour, or rather shining BMW, comes to rescue this damsel in distress. Hold on, I’ve read this before as well. It’s what knights in shining armour do as a rule since Tristram rescued Iseult. Though damsels in distress usually weren’t drunk after too many margaritas, cheap wine and beer.

Knight in shining BMW takes her to his castle/loft and fucks her. Virginal girl feels the most shattering orgasm a woman has ever felt in History, it takes her like seven pages to describe it. So shattering it is that as soon as he withdraws she immediately demands another, and knight in shining BMW complies. Hold on again, who’s fucking her? Bloody Superman?  Then the innocent inexperienced shy girl performs the best blow job a woman has ever performed, outdoing  Monika Lewinski at the first go. Very deep throat, semen swallowing and all, about seven pages. Is this romance or science fiction?

Anyway, the experience must have been shattering indeed, because the now ex-virgin suddenly becomes a hydra with three heads. There’s the Jiminy Cricket Victorian headmistress personality, the dancing queen/inner goddess personality and the ex-virgin who is deeply in love after a couple of shags personality. The three personalities are unable to decide if their lover fucker is Angel Clare, Fitzwilliam Darcy or Edward Rochester (literary references to remind us they are intelligent), but they all agree they’re being fucked by Michelangelo’s David reincarnated. The inner goddess, by the way, is always hot and wet and ready for sex, even when wearing a Tampax. In short: the Queen of Blow Jobs suffers from schizophrenia. Three split personalities? Get Dr. Freud here and fast.

Well, ex-virginal girl thinks about fifty ways to leave her lover after discovering that her knight is shining armour is the dark knight after all, but of course she doesn’t leave. Not everyone gets seven orgasms that last seven pages per chapter. It’s so very romantic, when she comes down the stairs and finds Richard Gere playing the piano and gets a seven page orgasm on the instrument – oh sorry, I’ve got the wrong story, that’s Pretty Woman. Then we get seven pages of sex and shattering orgasms (give it to me, baby) on the sofa, then seven pages of shattering sex in the lift, on the billiard table, against a wall, I don’t know, even up the chimney, who cares. It gets utterly boring. Yeah we know, pretty woman. You’re carried to infinity and beyond every time he fucks you. I wonder why the author didn’t copy Fanny Hill for the sex bits, after all, she copied the Twilight series all over the place, classical music Edward Cullen likes included. Meanwhile, the fourteen pages contract the Dark Knight carefully wrote stating which services he demands for his money is forgotten in the intelligent girl’s handbag. Intelligent girl apparently doesn’t realize that getting paid for sex is what prostitutes do.

Intelligent ex-virginal girl then gets a job as PA in a publishing house. Her duties, apparently, include getting pastrami sandwiches for her boss, and running to the next Starbucks to get coffee for aforesaid boss. The rest of Bridget Jones working hours are devoted to sending hot emails to Daniel Cleaver and er, I’ve got the wrong story again. Sorry. Well, as I was saying, Bridget – I mean Anastasia, works very hard sending hotmails – guess what, not from her Blackberry or her mobile, but from the company computer. Oh my, how intelligent she is. But America is the land of opportunities: in a week she has proved to be so invaluable to the company that she is immediately promoted to chief editor. I must move to the United States ASASP, because I can write really hot emails and apparently that’s all I need to become chief editor somewhere.

As for the Dark Knight, well, yes, he is twisted, but so very attractive, clever, interesting – no, it’s not for his money, even though he’s richer than Rupert Murdoch plus Bill Gates plus the whole Rockefeller family. What woman could resist him? All of us like Hannibal Lecter, after all. So elegant, so cultured, so impeccable a taste in music, food, wines…. oh my, I’ve got the wrong story again.  Hannibal… Christian Grey likes his women tied, manacled, lashed, spanked, humiliated, gagged, caged. He is able to pay, and pays very well, for what he wants. Several prostitutes accepted his terms and his money, or so he says. Oh my, I’m so sorry, they weren’t whores, they just fell for him, but as they were not as intelligent as Anastasia, they couldn’t keep him. As the very intelligent ex-virgin reminds us every two pages or so, every woman hungers for Christian Grey (she keeps repeating “he’s MINE, you slut”, just in case). Oh wait, lesbians don’t, that explains why his second-in-command hasn’t fallen for him, of course. But the rest, oh, the rest, all of us want him for ourselves, no matter how sadistic he is or how humiliating would be to be deprived of our own free will, to have someone monitoring every breath we take, to have even the freedom to choose our own food denied, to be unable to pee without a man watching us. Anastasia knows better: she knows all he needs is love, and because love is all he needs, the nymphomaniac (well, how would you call a woman who wants to be fucked when she’s pregnant, hurt and has an urinary catheter inserted into her bladder?) Anastasia gets a wedding ring – diamonds are, after all, a girl’s best friend.

Not to mention that she gets all his money as well. But it was never about money, or was it? Would she ever have considered moving in with him had he been living in a camper van and  bought her clothes at Wal-Mart instead of Neiman Marcus?

I kinda doubt it.

Elvira has been pestering me of late. She wants to know what happened to that book I wrote a long time ago:  Flying madness. It was a collection of short, funny stories  (mostly true, but somewhat embellished). I don’t know what happened to the book, and I couldn’t rewrite it even if I tried. I do remember some of the stories, and this is one of them. I don’t remember who told it to me, all those years ago. Some colleague from Ansett Australia or American Airlines. It’s probably all over the net by now; airport stories always end up somewhere on the net.

So, Elvira, this is for you.

John Gay,  airline employee, decided to go on holidays using the discount  tickets that airlines usually offer for staff. He got his standby boarding pass, and was fortunate enough to get a seat at the last-minute gate check. But when he tried to take his seat, he found  another passenger was already sitting there. Holders of freebee tickets do not make a fuss, so he simply chose another seat with no passenger sitting on it. Easy, as “free” passengers are usually last on board.

Unfortunately,  another  flight at the airport was having technical problems (all right, either the plane or the pilot were down). The passengers of this flight were being rerouted to various other flights, Mr Gay’s included. So every seat was needed and “free” passengers were being bumped.  The dispatcher, armed with a list of freebee ticket holders and their seat numbers, boarded the plane to tell them they had to give up their seats in favour of  fare paying passengers.

So, when the flight dispatcher approached the seat where our mate John Gay was supposed to be sitting, she asked him “Are you Gay?”. The man said that yes, he was, so she told him that he had to get off the plane.

John Gay, realizing what was happening (it’s a standard procedure), stood up and tried to clear up the situation: “I’m Gay, I’ll get off!”.

Then a passenger sitting a few rows back stood up as well and yelled “Hell, I’m gay too! They can’t kick us off!”. Then a fourth, and a fifth, and it was pandemonium as more and more passengers began yelling that the airline had no right to remove gays from their flights.

As far as I know, they’re still on the tarmac trying to sort out the mess.

 

Teach your children well

I don’t usually pay attention to the people who are sitting around me at a restaurant. Or anywhere else, to tell the truth. But yesterday my mate pointed to me a couple sitting at the table next to ours. “Look what their baby’s eating for dinner” – he said.

And I looked. The German (or possibly Austrian) couple Mr. Fat Belly and his wife Even Fatter had filled their daughter’s bowl with French fries – and filled it to the point that said fries were falling on the table, on the floor and onto the baby’s lap. The baby, she couldn’t be more than eighteen months old or so, was having nothing else.

We are staying at one of those super-beach resorts where people help themselves to food and drink as much as they like. The food display was impressive, from fast food (pizza, burritos, spaghetti bolognese, fish and chips, roasted chicken, ham, hamburgers) to vegan (bananas, pineapple, watermelon, mangoes, melon, cauliflower, peas, carrots). And yogurts, jellies, smoked salmon, cheeses, chocolate cake, strawberry shortcake, ice cream, meat balls, coleslaw, tempura, fried or boiled eggs…. any food anyone could think of. Yet Mr. Fat Belly and Mrs. Even Fatter just chose to fill their daughter’s plate with fried slices of potatoes.

Oh well, not our business.

Today we were coming back from a late show when we almost collided with something small in the darkness. It was the baby, wandering about the garden on her own. The beach resort is huge, with each hut surrounded with palm trees and bouganvillae shrubs, and pools scattered here and there – so as to give the impression that you’re spending your holidays in a wild place. The only way to find your way to your hut is to check the zone (A;B;C;D;E…) and the numbers (100,101, 217,324…). The child was all alone, there was no other adult around. My mate and I were utterly surprised. It was after midnight. What the hell was doing that baby, still wearing her beach clothes, wandering in the dark?

My mate went to try to locate either Mr. Fat Belly or Mrs. Even Fatter. We didn’t want to leave the little girl alone, but I was well aware that I would frighten her if I picked her up. Being German, or possibly Austrian, she wouldn’t understand a word I said. So I just kept following her and making sure she didn’t go near any of the pools. Given the size of the resort we agreed on a 40 minutes wait before I called the police.

35 minutes later my mate appeared followed by Mrs. Even Fatter, who was holding a beer that kept spilling as she walked, or rather waddled. She picked up her baby (but she held to her beer with the same care) and I was so angry that I shouted “do you know that there are paedophiles out there, or don’t you even care?” but she just shouted at us something that sounded like blutigen ainmischung auslander.

I wish the little girl all the luck in the world. With such a  mother, she’s going to need it.

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