New Year Serenade Pt. 01
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“What sort of arrangement do you and your wife have, Jim?” said Janine, threading her arm through mine as if we were old family friends in need of extra warmth. In fact, we were acquaintances of less than two hours’ standing, now trudging through the bitter cold of a New Year’s Eve. The others had just parted from us, carrying on in their walk up to the Crags to see the firework display, while we had taken a turning to make our way to Janine and Rab’s flat.
“Well since I had to come up here at such an unusual time, Jill and Simon decided to come with me and stay over, check out the Scottish New Year, and make it part of the family holiday rather than an interruption.”
“Doh. Not that kind of arrangement. I mean in your marriage.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Aw, you know, the fires burn down a bit after a while, don’t they? So maybe you come to an understanding.”
“I could tell it just to look at the two of you together.” Her voice had descended to a throaty stage whisper and suddenly turned a hundred percent more Scots.” Let’s get to the bottom line: yer no doing it, are you? You’re not really a functioning couple any more.”
She tightened her grip on me. “Are you? Are you?” And her eyes flashed at me, wobbling in the Pinot Grigio.
It seemed quite a bullying tone to take and I was reminded of how she had behaved in the restaurant when the wine got spilt, letting the waitress clear it up without a hint of apology but with a filthy look on her face. In fact it was clear that it was Janine’s fault for suddenly reaching out across the aisle to grab Jill’s wrist; and just so she could pretend to look at her bracelet and start on about how fond she was of silver.
At that point, an hour or two before, she was merely a loud neighbour dominating an adjacent table in a restaurant. I didn’t think for a minute that she was really interested in the bracelet. Everything she had on was gold for starters.
Janine was probably five years or so older than my thirty seven; early forties anyway. She would never say. Just on the short side, she filled out her scarlet dress nicely. It went a little below the knee and flared over a black net petticoat and dark stockings which showed her nicely turned calves to some advantage. She had a fine cleavage decorated with tantalising glimpses of black lace. Some might describe her as dumpy or stout, but as her ample bosom and Junoesque hips were complemented by quite a slender waist, I think voluptuous would be the right answer. Her assisted blonde hair was short and she had one of those faces which naturally carry a little bit of fat, and which look young in consequence. There was something feline about it, like a leopard, and she had large green eyes which could be quite terrifying with some people’s idea of too much dark make-up. Her lips were a study of Marilyn Monroe’s: ready to pout; generous in extent; shrieking ‘kiss me’ in a pillar box red shout. Her lower lip pushed forward a bit, making for a slightly sulky look.
Earlier, I had been taken aback by the way that she stared at me when she arrived, the sheer persistence of it. Our eyes were always meeting, but not by my doing, and this in spite of the presence of Jill and Simon and their obvious relationship to me. Janine was sitting with Rab, her husband, and another couple called Maureen and Harry, who were further away from us. Rab was a man with an unkempt moustache and a mouth full of teeth that looked like the stones in an untended graveyard. There was something of the cartoon headmaster about him.
I found this staring quite unnerving and sought to avoid it. Jill seemed oblivious to it to the point where I wondered if I was imagining things. I was surprised that Janine continued in it, as she was in company, but they seemed to ignore her antics too. For all that, I was curious myself to have a discreet look at her and looked away and then drew my eyes back round in a slow arc. But as soon as they fell on her, there she was, staring at me again. And this time, there was a touch of a smug smile. She’d caught me. I’d shown my hand.
Once she’d penetrated our circle by talking to Jill about her jewellery it was quite easy for her to establish that we were here on account of my unexpected offer of work. So then it was easy for her to steer the conversation round to me.
I consider it a sensible precaution not to identify the town. Scotland’s North Sea Coast has an obvious connection with the North Sea oil industry. It has its share of the world’s hazards, and it might bring me more than my fair share of these if I did name it. Those hazards are not restricted to the industry itself. Much follows in its wake, and this includes illegal activities with dodgy people who follow them. It also includes perfectly honest people, in whom I presume to number myself, people who are simply following the work; in my case as an IT contractor.
One of the more bizarre incidents of my time there and my life generally, would halkalı escort turn out to be getting chased out of a pub with a rather eclectic clientèle, by the classic route of climbing out of the toilet window. Someone pointed me out as I went past, and said in a loud voice to someone else, the whole pub in general and anyone in particular, “Hoodlum. Guy belongs to that Coulter bitch. Hey pal, scare any old ladies today?” But that lay in the future and by then it would be true that I belonged to her, but not in that way.
“You’re in oil then Jim?” she said making sure I took the full force of her gaze.
“I’m in IT, but I’ve done a lot of work supporting GIS and remote imaging systems. I’d finished my last contract and I was cooling my heels when this came up.”
“Myself, I’m in the planning department and I’ve had to cross swords a few times with some a the guys you might be working for; onshore installations, stuff like that. Had to read the riot act on more than one occasion.” She paused for a change of subject. “It must be hard coming to strange towns and working away from home.”
“Read a book, watch a film, get home when I can.”
“I’m sure we can offer a bit more action for you than that here, Mr Buckley—music, drama, exhibitions… And if you want to get free of the town, there’s some very fine countryside less than an hour away.”
Food came and went, and I was thinking that we had spent as much time in the restaurant as we had intended. At the other table they were onto coffee. A member of staff, a man wearing a jacket, came to it and mumbled something confidential to Janine, who assumed a satisfied look. She fanned her hand out in gesture. It seemed, at one point, that she waved it in our direction. And indeed, when he had finished and was making to withdraw, it seemed that we were included in his smile.
“Can we have the bill?” I said.
“That will not be necessary. Mr Mustafi—who unfortunately cannot be here tonight—welcomes all of Mrs Coulter’s guests.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Can’t argue with that,” said Janine suavely and stared right at me again.
“We can’t let you do that,” said Jill. “It’s terribly kind but really—”
“Kind? My aunt Fanny,” Janine broke in. “It’s the owner who’s paying—a bit of corporate hospitality for a favour we did. Four of my people dropped out of the party ‘cos a the time of year. So it’s kind of going begging. But it’s all kosher.”
“Oh well, in that case—in that case we’re all really grateful. Aren’t we boys?”
I nodded and gave a token smile. “Thank you so much.”
After a nudge from Jill Simon raised his head from the game he was playing on his phone. “Oh. Thanks. Don’t really like Indian food, but thanks for the poppadoms. Your dress is funny… It looks like a lampshade. Mum?”
“Simon! If you don’t apologise to Janine I’m taking that thing off you.”
“Wheesht! Alright so it does look a bit like a lampshade, but that’s the style. Do you ever wear a dress?”
“Only for fancy dress parties. I like them though. I’m going to wear one to school, maybe on my last day. But not a lampshade.”
“Maybe I’ll buy you one sometime…”
“Thanks… Can I try your lipstick?”
“What’s wrong with your mum’s?”
“It’s not bright enough. Yours is really bright.” He turned again to Jill. “What does ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ mean?”
Never let it be said that kids learn nothing from a diet of gaming and gangster films.
Jill shook her head at him non-committally. Janine cut in:
“I don’t know Simon. You’ll have to ask your dad, but this is dinner. That’s different…”
Simon smiled at her with a screwed up face which he has reserved for bad jokes.
“Well I wish there was something we could give you,” Jill went on.
Janine turned to Rab, inclining her head so that she was looking up at him.
He sort of cleared his throat as if he was making an announcement. “Well there is. The pleasure has been ours and the simplest thing for you to do is to continue it. Seeing as you’re here in a strange town on Hogmanay, you’re very welcome to see in the New Year with us.”
That was it. The trap was well and truly sprung.
“Oh, that’s brilliant,” said Jill. “That is so kind of you.”
It would have been worth paying the bill and a surcharge on top to get away from Rab and Janine and co, but it was simply too late for anything. I was completely behind in the game. The fact is, I had been studying her foot. She had her legs crossed, and the vivid red point of one shoe was moving slowly back and forth like the warning swish of a cat’s tail. Then her hand dropped onto her knee below the table, and eased up the hem of her dress and the flounces of the petticoat, as if to make some adjustment. I caught sight of the dark bands of her stocking tops and was embarrassed at finding myself inadvertently peeking at her underwear. So I looked up. And there she was, still staring, only this time her eyebrows şişli escort rose in mock surprise.
Jill was delighted by this offer. Simon was just as bored as a ten year old can be away from his friends, and he continued to play a game on his phone. And I? I was thinking, What the hell are you trying to pull? Meanwhile Janine lifted the remains of a glass of wine, looked over again and drained it, using it to make the very slightest of salutes.
And so it was that we stumbled out into the night among the other revellers. Rab had proposed that we walk up to the Crags for the fireworks and Simon started to look interested for the first time that evening.
“I can’t go up there in these,” Janine said, pointing down at her spiky red heels. “I’ll have to go home and change or just wait in.”
“Do you want to go darling? I can keep Janine company,” said Jill.
“Come on now Jill. Don’t be doing that,” said Rab, “It only came to me because you were talking that much about the fireworks. What do you say then, Jim?”
“Fireworks? I can take ’em or leave them, but Jill loves fireworks. I’ll walk Janine home. Then we can try to phone and catch you up, if it suits.”
“You’ll be tired after baring your soul to Denver-Carrington,” said Janine.
And so, Janine and I turned off into a side street to go to their flat. While the rest continued to the Crags, I found myself being interrogated about my sex life and harangued by this awful woman.
“Ha ha. If you answer me I’ll stop. So you’re not doing it then. Are you?”
“Alright. It’s something that happens.”
“Aye. But you’re stepping different ways now. That’s plain for anyone to see. You should be free to explore other options, shouldn’t you?”
“No. It’s just a phase.” I said this in the corrective tone of a nursery teacher. She was annoying me. I’d just admitted that her hunch was right about the dormant state of my marriage. What if she had a point about the rest?
“A bloody long phase, if I know anything. That’s why—oh!” A sudden arctic gust tore into us from the east, taking our breath away. “Ohmigod. I’m freezing.”
She let go of my arm momentarily, then pushed her head under it while bringing her right arm round my waist. She then secured my left with hers and snuggled up to me, putting her head on my shoulder. If a third party were observing us they would probably say, ‘they were walking along with their arms round each other’.
And some were observing. I noticed a lot of men checking her out, some with very obvious interest. While I thought it was presumptuous of her to annex my body in this way, I cannot deny that I enjoy walking side by side on the street with a good-looking woman. Jill’s looks are probably better by a lot of standards: tall; slim; poised; yoga practising; with long hair, good skin and teeth… etc. But she doesn’t have Janine’s raw sex appeal, that something that turns heads, lifts cocks, and is there to read in the faces of passers-by.
“Mm… you’re nice and warm,” she said in a purring voice.
I was glad of the extra heat and the reduction in wind chill, and I pulled her tightly against me.
“Not as warm as you are. I’m just bare skin and bones: nothing to get hold of.”
“Aye, but the two of us are hotter than just the one.”
I had to admit that she fitted in remarkably neatly against my body; almost as if we had been designed to fit together. And our paces fell easily into a shared footfall. This ease of locomotion might suggest to a third party that we were lovers. None of this was accidental. By getting me to walk the walk of a lover, she was managing to make me feel like a lover. And if this locomotion came easily to us, then maybe so would other movements.
As another icy blast howled in our ears, I thought for a moment how delightful it would be to tumble into a warm bed and cuddle up to a hot, comfortable body like this one… But I’d seen enough of Janine already to be sure that if you got on the wrong side of her, she wasn’t going to be cuddly at all.
“So, have you?”
“So have I what?”
“Done it with someone else, of course?”
“And has she?”
“Jill? Well, no, as…”
“‘No’ as far as you know,” she cut in, in a flat sing-song.
“I’m not going to go there.”
“No. I mean you’re so far from her so often, it wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t be fair. Won’t be long though, if I know human nature. It’s cause and effect. Don’t you think?” she said and squeezed me for emphasis.
“I don’t follow.”
“You don’t follow?” Her voice was full of sarcasm and then started again as if to a simpleton. “Well if you carry on without full matrimonial relations well either you do something about it by working on it together or you end up working on it with someone else. I had a teacher at school who used to say, ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’. He was talking about schoolkids not handing in homework, but you get sarıyer escort the drift? Hope you don’t mind me doing my agony aunt bit?”
“No. Of course not. It’s err interesting.” Interesting as in ‘It’s a complete nuisance and I wish you’d mind your own business’.
“I’d give it three months—before one of you, you know? “
“Oh,” she said thoughtfully. “Perhaps not…”
The pace of our feet continued to beat on the pavement.
“No. One month, I guess.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I do. You and Jill are very attractive people.”
There was a moment, while I was processing all this nonsense (but was it nonsense?), a moment where I imagined adulterous penetration of another’s body. Then an involuntary pleasure at being described as ‘attractive’ in an off-hand comment. Once again, I imagined the delight of cuddling up to a hot comforting body in a warm bed.
“That’s why I asked you what your arrangement was,” she continued.
“Well what’s yours?”
“That’s just it. Rab and I actually have got an arrangement. I can. He can. I won’t stand in his way. I’ll even help him, like I did this evening.”
“What do you mean ‘like this evening’?”
“What on earth are you…”
“He took a bit of a shine to her, so I thought I’d better vamoose and get you to come with me.”
“Him? With my wife?”
“Why not? He may not be much to look at, but he has a ready charm, and a lot of the ladies find him quite irresistible.”
I said nothing. It was too preposterous for words. How did we allow ourselves to get involved with these nutters? I wondered.
“Is that so shocking? It wouldn’t be if you had an arrangement.”
“What about Simon?”
“As soon as the fireworks are over he’s going to want to go back to the hotel. He’s got some thing for playing video games on, hasn’t he? So that’s that taken care of. Don’t tell me you’re feeling a wee bitty jealous? You’re no doing it with her. Let someone else have a go. Why should she miss out just because you’re no up to it? “
“Not up…? Huh. Besides where would they go?”
“Aw, there’s some friends of ours who’ve gone away for the festive season and we’re keeping an eye on the flat for them. And speaking of flats. Here’s the entrance. Open Sesame! That’s the one,” she said pointing at a brass name plate: ‘COULTER’, at the street entrance to a posh looking tenement block built from honey coloured sandstone.
A couple of minutes later, I was in the spacious hall and central room of their second floor flat. It had an Art Nouveau look with floral stained glass on the flat door and its transom, as well as an internal window that gave onto the stairwell. Now minus my coat which was hanging up in a cupboard, I was standing near a gas fire clutching a glass of some whisky or other. Like many people who don’t drink it, I took it as a given that tradition requires that it be taken neat. Janine took water with hers. Janine Coulter, Janine Coulter, what are you going to do now? I found myself thinking.
So there I was alone in a strange flat with some strange rude woman who kept putting her nose into my business. It could only be minutes until midnight. And then it would be incumbent on me to give her some ritual show of affection. Would she mix it up, and get effusive and maudlin and tactile? Even unpleasant? Or would she stick to the limits of the script? And what was happening to Jill with that shifty looking husband of hers?
“Hope I didn’t offend you there. I mean saying you weren’t up to it. I know that’s not correct.”
“Oh… roaming eyes beget wandering hands. You were checking out every female in that joint.”
“No I wasn’t. I was only—only…” The words died in my throat as I realised I that I was on the point of admitting that I had been inspecting her in the restaurant.
She gave me a superior smile and a ‘well what about that?’ look, just like she had at the time.
“It’s just about midnight,” she said, taking and lifting my hands. She started to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, in a beautiful voice.
I mean a truly beautiful voice. I was quite astonished. Still and pure, it stood in deep contrast to her flashy clothes and make-up and it raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I didn’t join in. It just wouldn’t have been appropriate. At moments she would close her eyes, transported by the moment she was creating with her performance, then they would open, looking right into mine and holding my gaze magnetically. At the end, I held her away from me, standing to look at her for quite a few seconds in admiration, before we hugged each other and exchanged pecks on the cheeks. So that was New Year embraces done…
Then she said, “This one’s better.” and started to sing again. “Ae fond kiss and then we sever…”
I wasn’t familiar with this song but straight away I knew that it was better, as she had said. Again, she weaved the magic of song around me like a spell and I felt totally under its control—her control. But what and who was she?
Unfortunately she didn’t get to finish as my phone went off. It was Jill.
“The fireworks have been delayed,” she said. “We’re going to take Simon to the hotel afterwards, and then we’ll come to the flat. See you in a bit.”
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