MAKE DO AND MAKE MEND
I peered out from behind the heavy velvet curtains, my face in shadow, my head backlit by the low light burning in the corner of the room behind me. The quiet side street where I lived was in darkness, with the exception of the street lamp at the junction. I watched dry leaves, caught under the halo of light, dance in a sudden breeze before I satisfied myself that no-one was around and dropped the curtain back into position.
4.12 am. This night was endless. How much longer? I’d had a message to say he would be here after midnight.
I backed up, perched on my worn brocade sofa, my back tall and rigid, then sighed with nerves born of frustration. Slouched. Twiddled with a loose thread on the arm rest. Worried the thread until it came free, and stared down at it in accusatory disappointment. It would never be a part of my sofa again. I couldn’t fix it. Couldn’t make it right. Could I?
I fiddled. Weaved the thread back into the fraying edge. Pulled it as tight as I could with my fingers, smoothed it down and then tucked the edges out of sight. With a needle I could camouflage this, no problem. Make do and mend, my mother used to tell me, as my Grandmother, a teenager during the second world war, had instructed her. My grandmother, happy and positive, had lived a frugal life. My mother, austere and hard-wired, had been a profligate. I wavered between the two. Bursts of obscene consumerism, intermingled with periods of severe thrift. This had bemused my husband no end.
The doorbell chimed loudly in the darkness, and I bit back a shriek of shock. Heart pounding, intent only on stopping the noise and alerting the neighbours to my devious doings, I ran into the dark hall and stopped at the front door. I slid back the dead bolt and turned the key. A man in a filthy waxed jacket hurriedly stepped inside. He smelt of motorcycle oil and spoilt meat. I gagged and turned away. He closed the door behind himself, hefted his helmet and his ruck sack and then twisted towards me. His face, below his rheumy eyes, was covered by an old close-knit khaki scarf.
“Do you have the money?” his muffled voice was low, throaty.
“I do,” I stuttered, my voice seeming unnaturally high pitched in comparison to his, my heart in my mouth. We stood and regarded each other.
“Well hand it over, love. I haven’t got all night.” He was abrupt.
I scurried back into the living room. Got on my hands and knees and fished under the sofa. I panicked when I couldn’t find the wad of cash. Flailed my arm backwards and forwards, pushing my face as close to the dusty smelling upholstery as I could, shoulder jammed against the wood, my rump in the air.
My fingers brushed something. Plastic. Yes. I pushed against the heavy sofa so that it moved backwards, giving me the precious few inches I needed, and scrabbled for the small rectangular package. I drew it towards me, shook the dust away. Practically all of my savings in twenty pound notes were wrapped in a flimsy white pedal bin liner and taped securely.
I backed out and sat on my haunches, blowing my hair back from my face. When I turned the man was standing in the doorway looking at my backside. The skin around his eyes was crinkled. He was obviously smiling beneath the scarf.
I hurriedly stood up and offered him the package. “It’s all there. Twenty-eight.” I’d paid another two up front. A non-refundable deposit.
He nodded upstairs. “Want to give me a … tip? You know, for my trouble?” he asked and I heard the lust, thick in his throat.
I flushed to the roots of my hair and shook my head.
He laughed. It was loud and jolly. I worried again about the neighbours.
I fiddled with my wedding ring, afraid to look at him. His laughter died down.
“Right. So,” he sounded cheerful enough. He had his money. My money. I guess he had earned it. He opened his ruck sack and pulled out a brown paper package tied with string the old fashioned way, which he placed on the floor. He stuffed his money inside the vacuum he had created, then picked the parcel up and handed it to me. “We’re done then.”
I nodded, my throat dry. He let himself out of the front door. I stuffed the parcel under one arm, surprised by its heaviness, and carefully bolted the door after him. Alone again. Relief.
I stood for some time in the gloomy hall. The only light came from the muted lamp in the living room. I waited for the energy in the house to settle. It was unnerving for another person – and a man at that – to occupy this space which was now solely mine. It had been a while since I had entertained visitors.
My heart was still pounding. I looked at the door. Listened for the sound of a motorcycle roaring away into the distance but there was nothing. I thought of the man’s crinkled eyes. Remembered how he had been looking at me. I wondered what his face had looked like underneath the scarf. Had he really wanted to…?
Absurd. But the thought of a man desiring me again. It felt good.
Should I have? I ran the film in my head. Pictured him shedding his clothes in the hall. Following me upstairs, tearing at my clothes. Imagined a frantic, hard coupling. My legs wrapped around him, his big, filthy hands under my rump, pulling me to him, my breasts squashed against his chest, my teeth nipping at his shoulder. Him grunting, me gasping.
I shook my head clear. Breathed deeply. Too late now. He was gone. I didn’t want to see him again. And there was my husband to consider.
I took the parcel through to the kitchen, down a few steps at the back of the house. I needed to be careful in here. The kitchen was overlooked by the neighbours’ kitchen to my right. I moved easily in the dark, and located the cords to pull the blinds closed. I had years of familiarity with the layout of the house and everything within it. When I was certain I couldn’t be observed by any outsiders, I flicked the main kitchen lights on, and blinked in the sudden aggressive brightness. My eyes were far from ready for daylight and I felt momentarily displaced, as though I had been travelling long haul.
I picked out a sharp knife from the draining board and sliced through the string that bound the parcel together, then carefully peeled back the brown paper from its contents. A heavy duty green plastic bag formed the next layer. I unrolled the bag. ‘Boyles Butchers: Compleat Meat’ read the legend. Was that who had completed this order for me, I wondered. Boyles Butchers? There was no way of knowing. It had all been anonymous. Over the internet. Friend of a friend, kind of thing.
I reached into the bag and pulled the object out. Now I had a layer of bubble wrap to contend with. I picked the knife up again. Sliced the tape. Unrolled the object from the wrap, until at last there was just that one final layer. Tissue paper. Neatly folded. White. Unblemished. Pristine.
How could that be? Given what had to be done to the object?
I hadn’t expected such a professional finish, this … gift wrapping.
But it was a gift. It was special. To me.
I stared down at the discards on the table, trying not to focus on the shape of the object itself. My eyes were stinging and my limbs were heavy. I felt slightly nauseous. No sleep and too much caffeine. It was well after five in the morning. The soft light of dawn wouldn’t be far away. The snowy tissue paper reminded me that this was a moment to be cherished. I shouldn’t proceed until I warranted this gift, until I was worthy of the moment.
I cleared the rubbish away, picked up my expensive prize, and carried it carefully upstairs. First I would sleep, and then, suitably refreshed, I would open my parcel.
I awoke at around three in the afternoon. I liked to sleep with the window open and in the distance I could hear traffic, and a few birds twittering in the tree across the road. Light filtered through my curtains. I was disoriented for a moment. Asleep in the daytime? Then I remembered why and shivered.
I rolled onto my side and stared at the void that my husband Matthew had once occupied. Ten months since his accident. He had been knocked over on a crossing when he nipped out to buy a loaf of bread for me. He was brain dead the moment his head had smashed the windscreen of the car.
After twenty years of his constant companionship, it was tough to be alone. I had given permission for the hospital to use whatever organs of his body were deemed useful before we switched off his life support. The relatives had been profoundly grateful, I’d had letters thanking me, telling me what a difference he had made to their lives. That had been some consolation, but not much.
What about me? What about everything I had lost? Everything he had been to me? Friend, confidant, partner in crime, chief cook, bottle washer, lover.
Raw grief had slowly given way to an unbearable loneliness. And at 43, I was far from past it. Bold friends gently suggested me I might meet somebody new, but somebody new wasn’t him, was it? I missed him, missed every part of him, especially his touch. He had fulfilled me with just a gentle stroke, his hand on my skin. It was nothing and yet it was everything.
I sat up and swung myself out of bed with a renewed sense of purpose. Time to get busy. The object, still wrapped in its cotton fresh tissue paper was lying innocuously on my dressing table. I ran my fingers lightly across it.
A flurry of activity then. I stripped my bed and remade it with fresh linen. I ran a duster over the surfaces, tidied clothes away, bundled used underwear into the clothes basket. I took the bedside rug downstairs and shook it heartily out of the back door, returned to plump pillows, vacuum and spray a gloriously expensive bergamot fragranced room scent into the air.
Satisfied that the room was clean and welcoming, I considered myself. When had I last eaten? I didn’t feel particularly hungry, but it seemed like a good idea. I poked around, unenthusiastically, in the kitchen cupboards before settling on a tin of oxtail soup. If nothing else this would line my stomach and prevent any grumbles later.
I washed the pots and checked the doors and windows were all locked and bolted. I unplugged the house phone. I didn’t need to worry about my mobile, I never bothered charging it anymore. There was no-one I wanted to hear from.
It was time to tidy myself up. It had been a long while since I had bothered with anything more than a perfunctory shower and hair wash. Tonight was different however. Tonight, finally, I wanted to shine. I wanted to look and smell and feel the way that Matthew would expect.
I started with my feet, trimmed my toe nails, and exfoliated my heels. Then worked on my fingernails. They were short and functional. I tidied them up, my nail file rasping busily back and forth while I hummed to myself. Better.
Defuzzing was surprisingly fun. It had been so long I hadn’t realised I was so hairy everywhere. My legs and underarms were quickly seen to, but I took a small pair of scissors to my pubic hair before setting to with a razor. I didn’t like a complete absence of hair down there, and I wasn’t agile or creative enough to trim a landing strip, but I did like short and tidy. Matthew had appreciated this too. He had run his hands up and down my body, nuzzled me with his warm face, basked in my soft smoothness in comparison to his muscular coarseness.
I remained in the shower for an age. Washing my hair in apple scented shampoo, rinsing and then conditioning with a matching product. I massaged my scalp, enjoying the sensation of the small spiky hairs at the roots under my fingertips. I soaped myself all over with expensive bubbles and rubbed an exfoliating mitt across my skin, sloughing off the dead skin and rinsing it down the drain, wishing I could do that with my memories. When I was finished I was hot and pink. I perched on the edge of the bath to cool down, wrapped in a big towel, and carefully combed my hair through, before drying it with my curling tongs and styling myself pretty.
Back in my bedroom, I reverently lifted the package from the dressing table and placed it on the centre of my bed. I felt excited now as I moved around, naked, making last minute preparations. I lit a scented candle and positioned it on my bedside table. I rubbed body lotion into my skin, careful to make sure I kneaded it into every nook and cranny, every curve, every hollow, softening skin which had become pale and dry without anyone to appreciate it over the past long months alone.
I applied a little mascara. Only twenty-four hours ago my eyes had been swollen and dull, now they were wide open and sparkling. I added a little coloured lip gloss and pinched my cheeks to make them flush a little more.
I stood and looked at myself in the mirror, saw myself as a goddess, paying homage to the man she loved.
One final touch. Anointment. In the bottom of my bedside cabinet I kept a small bottle of oil that worked beautifully as a lube. I sat back on the bed, poured some onto my fingers and opened my legs. I rubbed the oil into the folds of my vagina. My lips were already swelling with anticipation. I felt an instant tingle of arousal as my fingers slipped and slid gently around. I’d forgotten what it was like. I lingered there, gently circling my clitoris. So good.
I rubbed the remaining oil into my breasts. I’d lost some weight but my breasts were still full, if not as firm as they had once been. I rolled my nipples between finger and thumb, the oil lending a lovely silkiness to the action. My nipples sprung to life, proud to the touch. I moaned softly, desire washing through me.
Shaking with anticipation, I reached across to the package, my fingers leaving oily fingerprints on the virgin tissue paper as I finally ripped the parcel open.
It had been so long. Too long. I hadn’t wanted to touch myself. It felt disloyal to Matthew somehow to engage in any sort of sexual activity without him. And so I had moved heaven and earth to bring Matthew back to me. I had met someone online who could farm body parts from the cadavers of those whose bodies had been donated to science, as Matthew had. £10,000 had brought me a body part easily enough. The extra £20,000 had been spent on mummification to my exact and specific requirements.
Hidden in the tissue paper was Matthew’s right arm, cut off below the elbow. Some faceless orderly or medical student had cut Matthew’s arm free from the rest of him, and delivered it to the next anonymous person in the chain, maybe Mr. Boyle the ‘compleat meat’ butcher. A modern pair of Burke and Hare’s. The flesh was dark now, a rich mahogany, thanks to the process it had been put through by my unnamed contact on the internet. The arm was solid, but with a little give. A kind of leather dildo perhaps. I’d asked particularly to have the middle finger set slightly out of line with the others and the little finger - surplus to my requirements – removed altogether. The thumb curved down and round slightly. It looked perfect in theory. I had known it would. It was time to put it into practice.
I lay back on the bed, parted my legs once more. Clasping Matthew’s arm above the wrist I gently stroked myself with his middle finger. It felt good. I moved the hand down. His finger slipped inside me, as easily as it ever had, the stiff fingers on either side stroked my labia, his thumb caressed my pubis. It was familiar. Home.
Closing my eyes, Matthew was with me again. I could feel his weight next to me as he shifted to kneeling. He always liked to look at me as my excitement grew. If I opened my eyes, his cock would be swaying slightly, just out of the grasp of my greedy mouth. I parted my lips, felt the warmth of him so close, flicked my tongue out to catch him. Deeper his finger explored inside me, my clitoris warm and swollen under his palm, my juices slick. His hand moved up and down, his middle finger in and out of me, rubbing, tormenting me. I ground myself against his hand. He pushed back. I cried out in ecstasy.
How I had missed his touch.
Issue #6 CONTENTS
MAKE DO AND MAKE MEND
STORM CLOUD RAIN, GRAVEYARD DIRT
THE BLUE BOY
MURDER AND CRUELTY FREE
S Van Sickel
A PROPER FOUNDATION
Betty Gabriel is a mildly eccentric tea drinking and biscuit munching Brit who has a penchant for Devonshire cream teas, pints of cider, curry and rock music. She has a PhD in modern and contemporary British social and cultural history, and various other bits of certification on posh card that she deems are no longer any use to woman or beast. Currently wrapping up her first novel, Betty has had success with several short stories. 'Gretel's Revenge' was published in the horror anthology Bones II, edited by James Ward Kirk, (January 2014). 'Managing Murder’ appeared in Slaughter House: The Serial Killer Edition - Volume 1 published by Siren’s Call Publications (2013) and 'The Installation', an erotic horror story was published in Infernal Ink Magazine (October 2014). Tending the Rose (2012) and Dog Ear (2013) have been published online and Autoerotic, a Betty Gabriel ‘short and saucy’ story is available on Amazon.
Jeannie @Thecushionlady (Twitter)