UNDONE: The beginning
I can’t recall my first thought that morning: that I was in a strange bedroom; that an unfamiliar man was naked beside me; or that a woman was screaming somewhere in the distance.
The scream filtered into a hung-over dream so I couldn’t be sure if it was real or imagined.
‘You hear that?’ I asked him. My mouth was bone dry.
He said nothing, his slow, sleepy breath rattling in his throat. ‘Hey.’ I nudged him and he rolled on his side, the muscles in his back slipping and shifting as if his body were liquefying, man becoming river. He grunted as he turned, dragging the sheet so it twisted like a toga, flashing that distinctive tattoo.
His breath grew quiet. I tried to piece him together. Broad, bronzed shoulders. Scruffy dark hair. I looked at his back, as big and silent as a continent, his spine a groove swooping down to the furred cleft of his buttocks. What was his name? Hell, what had we done together? A solid thrum between my thighs responded before cognitive memory could answer.
I flopped away from him, squinting. The room was cream and gold, its walls slanted, the curtains glowing with light as pale as honeydew melons. I licked my teeth. Outside birds trilled and chattered, and I couldn’t hear even a murmur of cars. I must have imagined the scream, the noise an echo escaping from a dream I couldn’t recall. Dravendene Hall was too tranquil for drama. Even a bad dream seemed out of place.
Pleasure bubbled as snatches of the night before returned to me. Forty one years old and my first threesome. Go, Lana Greenwood, go! Work that bucket list! I smiled and stretched, feeling fucked, messy, glorious and alive. I tried to ignore the dull sense of disquiet threatening to upset my happiness. A forgotten nightmare, that was all. Beneath the bed sheet, I rubbed my foot against his, just making contact and saying ‘Hi there, relative stranger’. His foot edged away, avoiding mine. Ah, I thought. One of those. Shuns affection. Well, I could handle that for a one-night stand.
That’s when I realised a third person should have been in bed with us, Misha, the Russian guy. Oh boy, the things we’d done together. The things they had done. Images rushed in of bodies slamming, of sweat-damp hair, limbs entangling and mouths gaping. I’d watched them as if in a fog, my perception misted by thwarted desire. What was he called, this guy lying next to me? He had a freshly bust-up lip when I’d first met him. Damn. Embarrassing if I couldn’t recall his name. Should I rummage through his wallet?
Sol, that was it. Sol Something-or-other. Dangerously attractive and charmingly cocky. An ex-New Yorker with a dirty smile and an introductory handshake that had turned my knees to mush. It wasn’t one of those concerted, hefty handshakes taught in business schools to suggest sincerity. It was a grip from a man who liked to tease but didn’t know his own strength. There’s not a lot I wouldn’t do to bed someone like that. As I later demonstrated.
And Misha was a customer from The Blue Bar. Ack, I should not have fucked a customer and crossed that professional boundary. Jeez, but the guy was hung. How awkward was that going to be when he next stopped in for a drink? All I’d be able to think about was his ginormous schlong. Already I was itching to tell Katrina. I could picture her laughing as I relayed the highlights. ‘I swear, Kat, his cock was so huge he nearly passed out when he got hard! You could practically see the colour draining from his face! Couldn’t even form a sentence. No blood supply to his brain!’
I glanced around the room in search of water. I’d packed coconut water, good for rehydrating. Sensible me. The smooth beige carpet was littered with bondage gear, condoms, beer bottles and tissues. Well, maybe not so sensible. But oh, what a night.
Misha’s absence didn’t concern me until the scream rang out again.
‘We need help!’ yelled a male voice from far away. A door banged.
My heart speeded up, nausea clutching. Don’t ask why, but a gut instinct told me this was related to Misha. I stood and slipped on my dressing gown, a 1950s wrap in pistachio green silk and sprigged with dusky roses. Does it seem shallow of me to mention details of my clothing when a tragedy was unfolding? It’s an impulse I can’t resist. If I’m to tell my story to these pages, I need to visualise myself and how I acted, otherwise I risk vanishing into the words, disappearing in the slippage between my outsides and insides, between the sound of language and the meaning.
I parted the curtains, fingertips trembling on gold brocade. Far below, beyond the tiny, diamond-paned window, the calm of striped green lawns and orderly flowerbeds rolled towards surrounding woodland. I picture the scene now, and I’m a character in an Elizabeth Bowen novel, albeit without the youthful innocence.
We were high in the West Tower, having opted to use my room because I’d brought Clejuso handcuffs and a bottle of Belvedere Unfiltered to the party. The American had been impressed by the cuffs; the Russian by the vodka. Personally, I’d been impressed by their eagerness for a post-Cold War ménage but then neither guy had turned out to be as straight as I’d imagined.
The silk belt to my dressing gown lay on the cluttered floor. I grabbed it, picking hurriedly at knots as I remembered how Sol had used the silk to tie my legs to the chair. I threaded the smooth length through the loops of my gown, fastening a limp bow as I swished from the room, leaving Sol asleep. I descended the steep spiral staircase to the second floor of the west wing to find doors opening along the corridor. A pyjama-clad woman with bird’s nest hair and grumpy, kohl-smudged eyes glared at me, as if I were to blame for the disturbance. ‘What the fuck’s going on?’ she growled.
‘Search me.’ I strode quickly, holding my gown to my groin for decency’s sake, hung a left, then took the stairs down to the next level. I found myself on the balcony floor overlooking the oak-panelled entrance hall with its chequerboard floor, tall Chinese urns and trophy stag heads. Since my arrival the day before, I’d grown better at navigating the higgledy-piggledy gothic monstrosity that was Dravendene Hall.
Below, a guy stood in the centre of the tiled hallway, arms wide, appealing up to the balcony.
‘Swimming pool, anyone?’ he called. ‘Best way to the swimming pool? Didn’t even know there was one.’
I trotted down the staircase like a poor man’s Scarlett O’Hara, thinking the owners were crazy to allow random party-goers free rein in such spectacularly grand manor house. Their insurance must be sky high. Half-dressed people flitted and flowed, some alert to the sense of urgency, others bleary-eyed and reluctant. A lanky guy in droopy blue boxers descended one step at a time while rolling a cigarette. A woman with tears streaking her face ran in the opposite direction, elbowing people aside as she stumbled up the stairs. ‘He’s dead,’ she was sobbing. ‘He’s dead.’
People exchanged glances, some stopping in their tracks, others springing forward. ‘Who’s dead?’ ‘What’s happening?’ ‘Has anyone called an ambulance?’ ‘Oh fuck, keep calm.’
Two guys were having an animated discussion in the entrance hall, one pointing ahead, the other to the right. In the chaos, someone decided it was easiest to reach the pool via the gardens so I followed while others ran deeper into the house. Outside, the grass underfoot was cool and moist, and the morning sunlight hurt my eyes. I’m too pale and blonde for summer, even a British summer.
The pool was at the rear of the pointy, redbrick hall, housed in glass like a Victorian conservatory. Gravel pinched my feet as we hurried along a path flanked with regimented box hedge. Ahead, a huddle of people gathered on the poolside, some crouched low. A palm tree behind the conservatory glass obscured my view and it wasn’t until we were at the sliding patio doors that I saw the splayed bare feet and hairy shins of a figure on the marble floor. Two guys knelt over him, one pumping his chest.
A burly guy with a phone to his ear gazed down at the men, his crimson face filmy with sweat. ‘Anything?’ he asked.
To enter the pool house was to slam into a wall of tropical humidity. An acrid scent of chlorine tainted the heat, and silver reflections shimmered on the rectangle of blue water. Alabaster nymphs gazed impassively from slender plinths, their nipples round enough to pluck. The potted palms were lush and tranquil, and a faint mechanised hum hovered around us. My back was slick with sweat, the dressing gown sticking to my skin. I was panting, the air so dense I felt as if I were trying to inhale fabric. My legs quivered, my head booming, my skull like a vice. This sudden shortage of breath, damn it. I half-feared I might collapse. Too much late-night sex and alcohol.
‘No, nothing, mate. I think we should give up. There’s no pulse.’
A man kneeling by the body sat back on his heels.
A woman’s sob erupted as if from a trapped, primitive place.
People swung around to look at me.
The sound hung, a blood-curdling cry muffled and held by glasshouse echoes.
My hand was clamped to my mouth, my eyes fixed on his grey, bloated, froth-smeared face.
‘Lana.’ The voice was gentle. A woman moved towards me. She seemed to glide on the periphery of my vision then she clasped me in her arms, so strong and solid. ‘Hush babes.’ I let her hold me, hiding in the comfort of her hair, wanting to unsee what I’d just seen. ‘I think he must be a friend of Rose’s,’ she said. ‘Do you know him?’
Far away, coming from another world, the anguished wail of sirens slid over the countryside.
I nodded into the woman’s neck. Her hair smelled cold, like starlight and outer space. For a long time, I couldn’t form the words. Then, croakily, ‘Misha Morozov. A customer at The Blue Bar.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, rubbing my back. ‘Sweetheart, I’m so sorry. But I don’t think we can do anything else for him.’
I’m too raw. My head’s jangling with sex and death. I wish I could turn back the clock.
I can’t write any more today. I need to try and sleep.
Published September 11th, 2014
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