UNDONE: an excerpt (2)
I’m kicking off my month-long blog tour for Undone with an excerpt. The story starts when Lana Greenwood has a threesome with a couple of strangers at a swish manor-house party. On the morning after, one of the guys, Misha Morozov, is found dead in the swimming pool. The scene below occurs in the hours after the body is discovered. Lana and the second guy, Sol Miller, have escaped to the woods to discuss what they should tell the police. Lana has known Sol for less than a day. Although she’s deeply attracted to him, she’s starting to fear he may have something to do with Misha’s death.
The track narrowed, sloping gradually into denser woodland of beech trees, their smooth, grey trunks rising to a high mesh of green brilliance. Sol tramped up shallow steps edged by thick twigs. The forest floor was scattered with prickly husks of mast and dry, dun-brown leaf litter, friable and soft to walk on.
‘I’m in stupid sandals,’ I said irritably. ‘Will you please slow down?’
He stopped and turned. I read impatience in his silence but I may have been projecting.
‘I’m not dressed for this. Where are we going?’
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Somewhere quiet.’
‘If you ask me, this is pretty fucking quiet.’
‘A little further on, that’s all.’
He turned and continued marching along the low incline of the earthy, staggered path. I lagged behind, my breath quickening. Underfoot, the carpet of dead leaves muffled our tread and dulled the occasional crack of twigs. These makeshift steps hadn’t been used in some time.
‘You know that bit in 1984?’ I called. ‘Where Winston and Julia go to the countryside? Is this like that?’
‘Never read it.’ He spoke loudly, turning to shoot me a fleeting look. ‘I’m a Yank. We do Steinbeck. Why, what happens?’
I laughed, and the relief of doing so brought a wave of pleasure that made me laugh again. I felt feeble and giddy. My calf muscles ached.
‘They go on a sort of date,’ I yelled. ‘And they have to keep walking through woodland, not speaking until they’re … till they’re past all the hidden microphones and bugs and whatnot.’
‘Then what happens?’
I paused, panting for breath. The gathering hush blanketed our voices, our words seeming to linger in a realm unused to speech. I drew a deep breath and said, ‘Then they sit down on the grass and have a lovely picnic.’
Ahead of me, Sol laughed. ‘Get outta here!’
‘OK, I lied.’ I grinned as I strolled on. ‘They fuck each other’s brains out.’
Sol laughed again. ‘Then yeah,’ he hollered. ‘It is like that. Because I totally forgot the picnic.’
The steps ended as the forest floor levelled out, the ground a deep bed of old leaves reminiscent of crumbled cigar skins. Sol stopped walking and surveyed our surroundings.
‘Seriously, I can’t go much further.’ I stood downslope from him, gasping for breath. ‘These sandals are useless. I’ll break my ankle. Then you’ll be sorry because you’ll be the one carrying me.’
He smiled and began sauntering off the track towards a toppled beech. His trainers created small flurries of leaf litter when he picked up speed in a boyish scramble of pleasure. At the tree’s base, a lattice of roots matted with earth formed a ragged wall, and the vast spread of dead, bare branches lay tangled on higher ground. Narrow sunbeams pierced the thinned canopy and saplings rose towards the patches of blue sky. Sol slapped the fallen trunk in a gesture of satisfaction; then he turned and leaned his backside against it. A bird rattled overhead before flapping away with a desolate cry.
Sol patted for his cigarettes, smirking as he watched me struggle over lumpy terrain. I stopped a few feet from him, hands on hips, trying to catch my breath as I assessed our location. Ivy crawled over the horizontal trunk, the ground dipping in a small valley beneath the tree, thick with forest debris. Pale, filtered sunlight, dusty with forest air, gave the small clearing an atmosphere of reverence and myth.
Sol put a cigarette to his lips and tilted his chin. ‘Take your top off, Lana.’ The cigarette waggled as he spoke.
Lust slammed into my cunt. He cupped a hand to the cigarette tip, shielding his lighter. I laughed nervously, adoring his show of arrogance. A lock of his dark hair spilled forwards as he gazed at the flame. Smoke drifted up from his cigarette, swirling across shafts of light.
‘Here?’ I said. ‘Do you think we’re safe?’
He inhaled with long, luxurious pleasure, hard enough for me to hear the suck through his teeth.
‘I figure so.’ He released a slow trail of smoke, watching me steadily. ‘Haven’t seen any of those hidden microphones for a good while now.’
I laughed and caught a whiff of his cigarette. In the clean, fresh forest, it smelled illicitly industrial and modern. I could well believe we were the first to walk this way for years, that our voices were breaking an ancient silence. Secrets were secure here, the trees our only witness.
‘Well? I’m waiting,’ said Sol.
I faltered. Ordinarily, I’d have participated without a second thought. Sol and I had the hots for each other and seemed to be on the same wavelength. This was just a bit of fun, some casual sex at a weekend party. But we were fleeing a scene of death, so sex couldn’t be easy and meaningless anymore. Indulging in pleasure seemed disrespectful to Misha. I knew too that, although we concealed it well, emotions were running high.
All these doubts flitted through my mind. But Sol looked at me and I looked at him, and my cunt didn’t want to pay heed to my brain. And my overburdened brain, desperate for a break, wanted to relinquish control to my lust. I’m not sure what my heart was doing. Cowering in fear, most likely.
‘So?’ said Sol. ‘You don’t strike me as the shy type.’
He looked such a hot mess. Strong hips, worn jeans, cool way of smoking. I once read that women desire bad boys because they want to be the one who’ll fix him and make him good. What are we? Zookeepers? I’ve never wanted to tame a man in my life. On the contrary, I’ve welcomed the excuse to become more like him, to have a bad influence foisted upon me. In my youth, I longed to be swayed off the straight and narrow. I’d wanted the dangerous, corrupting guys because they legitimised me acting like an archetypal man, reckless, hedonistic and selfish. I’d wanted him, carefree, randy fool that he was, because he made me believe I could fuck it all to hell. I wanted to join him for the ride
But I learned the hard way that these are the guys who cause heartbreak and pain. I was quite certain I’d grown out of them. As an adult woman, I thought I preferred adult men who didn’t fuck you about; who were able to take responsibility for their own lives and treat fellow human beings with respect and decency.
I thought I had it sussed. And then all of a sudden here was Sol, wild, intriguing, pleasure-hungry, and quite possibly implicated in a man’s death. He was too much, way too much.
And at that moment, too much was what I craved.
Published September 11th, 2014
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