The Door by Erinna Mettler
He sauntered into my life in 1986, through the saloon doors of the King’s Head like a cowboy on acid. Silence reigned as the regulars took in his leather trousers and huge mirrored sunglasses.
‘Hello I love you,’ he purred, his accent Pontefract California ‘won’t you tell me your name?’
I couldn’t help but smile.
‘What can I get you?’ I asked.
‘Whiskey,’ he said pulling a fiver from his back pocket, ‘and a packet of cheese and onion.’
His name was Gary but they called him Liz (after The Lizard King). He was Jim Morrison in a Doors tribute act.
‘Where’s the rest of the band?’
‘So, you’re just a door then?’
He told me my arms were wicked and my legs were long. He had a lop-sided smile and no place to go so I took him home. When he finally took his shades off his eyes were violet. Touch me babe he said. He kissed me and said he could feel his mojo rising and I could feel it too. In fact his mojo rose very well and it stayed risen, for hours, so I let Liz stay – just for one night – but one night turned into nights and nights into weeks and, well, lust merged with love.
I worked at the pub by night and studied during the day. Liz had dropped out of art school and there wasn’t much call for a solo Jim Morrison in Ponte so he mainly lounged around the flat all day eating my food and drinking whisky. He painted enormous pictures of native Americans and read Aldous Huxley. As you might have gathered he was a bit Jim Morrison obsessed. Most of what he said had been previously uttered by Jimbo. I thought it was cute, funny even and I didn’t always get the references, sometimes I thought he was being original. I should have known. He said that one day, when the world woke up, he’d be famous but for now he seemed content with the dole.
It wasn’t exactly idyllic. One day as I was cleaning I found a pair of frilly knickers down the back of the sofa. ‘Who’s are these?’
Liz stopped strumming his guitar and took the pants from my hand gave them a sniff and said, ‘Sorry Babe, shoulda tidied up.’
I wasn’t happy but Liz just smirked, ‘it’s hard being here alone all day,’ he said,’ an outsider in a lonely city. People are strange when you’re a stranger. Women are wicked when you’re alone.’
‘If they’re so wicked why do you feel the need to shag them?’
Apparently. I was too hung up on monogamy. Apparently, he wouldn’t mind if I saw someone else. He stroked my cheek and then his mojo started to rise again and well, lust merged with love.
‘Love me two times baby,’ he said, and the second time he really did ‘break on through to the other side.’
I took Bill home with me on Friday night just to test out the open relationship thing. Liz chased him up the garden path in his undies shouting KILL KILL KILL!
After that we agreed to be true.
I had my suspicions, a whiff of perfume in the bedroom, a lipstick smeared cigarette in the ashtray. He was exploring his feminine side, apparently.
Then Liz got a booking. A week-long Doors convention in Rhyll. I wanted to go with him but he said he’d be nervous with me in the audience; the spirit of Jimbo wouldn’t be able to take full possession. Two days after he left I saw him in town with one of the strippers from the Pussy-cat Club. I think her name was Pamela. It was raining. It had rained all day. She stopped to put up an umbrella. I said Hello as I rushed past. Liz just stared ahead through his shades.
‘Who was that?’ she asked.
‘No-one Baby’ I heard him say, ‘no-one.’
He came home that night shamefaced offering flowers and lambrusco.
‘Sorry Babe,’ he said, ‘you’re my old lady. I’m never gonna stray again. I’m gonna love you till the heavens stop the rain.’
It was still raining. I could hear it beating a rhythm on the window. Don’t you listen don’t you listen don’t you listen.
He cried and held my hand.
‘Please Babe, I really need you.’
He almost had me, with his mojo and his razor wet cheekbones.
‘You can stay’ I said, ‘but no more bullshit.’
He held me tight.
‘Thank you babe. I’m not real enough without you,’ he whispered, ‘you make me real – you make me feel like lovers feel.’
‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘I can’t help myself.’
Poor Liz, he was looking for the doors of perception, but all I could do was show him mine.
This is the end.
UNDERNEATH by Erinna Mettler
Jack is eating cornflakes. An empty flat. A new pack. Perfect. He’s only taken one bite when he hears footsteps in the hall. Damn it. He chews quickly and swallows hard. He’s only half finished when Rosa walks into the kitchen and glares in his direction. She picks up the kettle, sighs heavily at its emptiness and carries it to the sink.
‘What are you wearing?’ he asks.
She looks over her shoulder, the flame silk of her hair flowing down her back.
‘It’s what I wear in bed.’
She frowns and faces the sink.
Cornflakes abandoned, he puts down his spoon and watches her glide around the room, making tea and looking in cupboards, seemingly unaware of his presence.
‘Since when did you wear that in bed?’
She doesn’t look at him.
‘When you were in my bed I didn’t wear anything. This is what I like to wear when I’m alone.’
‘Why would you wear that when you were alone? It’s not designed for just one person.’
‘There they are,’ she says, walking over to the table.
The camisole is silk, printed with red and pink roses and edged in red lace, it flows over her body like water; there are matching knickers that rest lightly on her thighs. Jack’s mouth is slack. As she reaches for the cornflakes he glances down between the lace. Her breasts are fully visible, small pink nipples mimicking the rosebuds on the silk. He waves a hand at her indignantl
‘You can’t wear that around the house – it’s not decent.’
She sits down, pours herself some cornflakes and gives him a Paddington stare
‘I’ll wear what I want, if you don’t like it – move out.’
She crunches loudly
‘So much nicer when they’re fresh, don’t you think?’
‘Oh, so that’s what this is about is it? There’s no way I’m moving out. It’s my flat – me and Spike found it. I’m not giving up my sea view for you. I did wrong – I’ll admit that – so I don’t mind sleeping on the couch ’til you find somewhere…’
‘But please, don’t walk around like that while you’re still here. You wouldn’t prance around like that in front of Spike – so don’t do it with me.’
She puts down her spoon and smiles sweetly at his stony face.
‘Firstly, I am not moving out. Yes you and Spike found the flat but we all moved in together so it’s not actually yours.’
He opens his mouth to protest.
‘I’m speaking now – and for your information Spike doesn’t care what I wear because, just like you and me since you decided you prefer Colleen, we are just friends.’
She stands up, pushing her chair across the lino with the back of her knees. Her chest lunges forward and one of the lace straps falls off her shoulder and hangs halfway down her arm. They lock each other with furious eyes. She said the C-word and it puts him in the wrong.
‘It was just once.
I was drunk.
It didn’t mean anything.’
‘So you said.’
She flicks back her hair and takes her bowl to the dishwasher. As she dips down to pull open the front her knickers ride up over her buttock, she straightens then bends again to put the bowl inside.
‘For God’s sake, can’t you put a dressing gown on or something?’
She snorts and turns to face him.
‘Why? I’m more covered up than I would be if I was wearing a bikini. If we were on the beach it wouldn’t bother you at all.’
‘That’s different and you know it. A bikini is more… solid. That thing you’ve got on is… It’s designed to turn men on – all that swooshing. I hope you don’t wear it front of Spike he’s not exactly known for his self-control.’
‘He has better self-control than you do.’
‘Does he? Well, he won’t if he’s presented with a series of titillating skimpies.’
A static silence drifts between them.
She takes a tube of lip balm from the kitchen counter and runs some over her bottom lip with her forefinger.
‘Do you remember what I was wearing the night we got together?’
He looks down at his cornflakes; they’ve gone mushy.
‘A black dress
‘Underneath? What was I wearing underneath?’
He swirls the pale flakes with his spoon then looks up at her.
‘I don’t remember.’
She arches an eyebrow.
He does remember. It had taken his breath away – a turquoise silk bra and pants finished with orange lace. She’d looked like a Hollywood starlet. The bra was old-fashioned and creaked as his fingers moved over it. She had to help him with the clasp because he was shaking so much. The memory moves over his face – and elsewhere.
‘See, you do remember.’
He nods, mouth open.
‘That night I wasn’t planning a seduction. I just like to wear that stuff. I like the feel of it. I like knowing that whatever I’ve got on, even paint-splattered overalls, there’s a bit of glamour underneath.’
She looks sad, as if she might cry again.
He never meant to make her cry.
‘Please, just go and put a dressing-gown on.’
She slams the dishwasher shut and strops out of the room.
Jack sighs and carries his bowl of cornflakes to the bin; he throws away the mush then makes another.
‘There’s no way I’m moving out.’
As he stands at the kitchen window watching rain clouds scuttle across the sky he thinks about what she said. It was true; she always had worn incredible underwear. In their first weeks together, when they’d spent most of their time taking each others clothes off, he’d been stunned by the array of unusual undergarments. Every day brought a new sensual experience. Roses. He remembered the roses, embroidered buds and leaves cupping creamy breasts, swirling prints on loose satin that bewitched his fingers.
Sometimes she’d model them for him, one after another, looking at herself in her full length mirror, lifting her hair and tilting her head. He’d sit on her bed in a room of perfumed candles and scarf-dimmed table lamps and marvel at how lucky he was. It was never trampy; never obvious. Rosa was pure class.
She didn’t even buy it in normal shops. He went shopping with her a few times and she took him to a series of tiny boutiques hidden down little streets he didn’t know existed. These trips where the only time in his life he truly enjoyed shopping. He remembered one afternoon in particular. Inside, the shop was draped with heavy velvet curtains and there was a table with a huge vase of obscenely gashed lilies next to a mirror which multiplied the effect of their blossoms. An immaculately dressed woman whisked Rosa away through gilded saloon doors leaving him to sit on an armchair and wait. As he listened to their pointy heeled footsteps echo across the pious tiles, he felt as though he’d snuck in to the inner sanctum; somewhere forbidden to clumsy smelly boys like himself.
He looked at the flimsy garments pegged onto padded hangers in every colour imaginable. The scent from the lilies drugged his senses; entranced he tip-toed across the floor to where the silk and lace were calling him. He checked to make sure he was really alone and then lifted a pair of chartreuse knickers to his face and inhaled deeply. Footsteps flickered; the saloon door swung open and he’d been caught red-nosed and laughed at. It was worth it.
Jack was surprised to learn that much of Rosa’s underwear was second hand. Initially this knowledge freaked him out, but then Rosa explained. She scoured vintage shops and antique markets to find pants that belonged to other people; people who were probably dead. She said there was something sexy in it, as if a little bit of their life-force had been left behind specifically for her. He remembered the delight on her face when she found something beautiful, like at the antique fair in the old Pentecostal church.
‘Look at this,’ she’d said, pulling some filigree out of a wooden barrel of rags. She’d shaken it out and held it up to the light filtering through the cloudy windows. It was a powder blue all-in-one; you could see the stitches down the seams.
‘I think it’s original.’ She gasped. ‘1930s or something – feel the silk, it’s like tissue paper.’
He stroked it softly; wary of rubbing it too much in case it dissolved, and thought how he’d like to feel the life-force in it when it was stretched over her body. He remembered now what it felt like when he did.
She never stopped wearing the stuff, never reverted to period pants and sports bras because she’d caught him and didn’t have to try anymore. He wondered when exactly in the last two years he’d got so used to it he stopped noticing.
Then there was Colleen and her legs, and Rosa’s unexpected return from a hen weekend because she missed him. She’d found them together in their bed, Colleen’s serviceable knickers flung onto Rosa’s armchair amongst Rosa’s special things.
A seagull steps from the rain-slicked roof tiles of the house opposite and flies gracefully into the grey skies. There are light footsteps in the hall and he turns to see her walk into the room. She’s wearing lipstick and her hair is mussed up. He hasn’t seen the ‘dressing-gown’ before – it’s miniscule, a kimono that barely covers her bottom – black satin printed with cosmic butterflies and embroidered cherry-blossoms. It’s tied loosely on her hips, open to her waist exposing the camisole beneath. They lock eyes again.
‘A dressing-gown. You asked me to cover up
‘Jesus Rosa, it doesn’t cover much up does it? And it’s all …swishy.’
‘Yeah – it’s worse – it just makes me think there are more layers to take off.’
‘Get over it,’ she says quietly and walks to the stereo. She presses play and an old song comes on; one of theirs, from another life. They danced to it together in their room, close behind the closed door. She hums and sways to the lilting rhythm. The kimono rustles as she moves.
He can’t take anymore. He walks up to her and grabs her waist, turning her in his arms, the satin slicks under his touch. He buries his face in her chest, his nose rests on a breast and he can smell the softness of the roses. She stiffens in his arms; a corpse against desire.
‘Please,’ he whispers, the word muffled by her flesh.
He moves away, tears in his eyes, and staggers towards the front door and out into the cold bright air of the street beyond.
He’s gone for hours. She’s in the hall when he gets back, about to go out, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with no hint of what might be underneath. He feels green, sweat beads prick his forehead and his heart beats double speed. She stares at him with a welcome hint of concern.
‘Are you feeling alright?’
‘I’m sorry,’ he says, ‘I never wanted Colleen. I just want you. I had this done for you.’
He pulls off his T-shirt wincing with pain, it hangs off his forearms like cotton handcuffs. On his chest is the blue/black outline of a full bloomed rose, complete with thorny stem and the word Rosa traced in a florid script. His skin is raw underneath.
‘I’m supposed to go back in a few days to get the red filled in but I don’t think I can do it without you.’
She laughs and touches her name with cold fingertips.
‘Take me back – please.’
She looks into his eyes.
The earth rushes from under him, and he falls, head first, into the scent of a million roses, placed at her feet by his longing.
A SPRING WEDDING
It’s not a warm as they hoped it would be. After the endless weeks of speculation and weather predictions, it’s merely muggy, a non-descript meteorological atmosphere but at least it’s not raining – yet. It’s early enough to walk to Lizzie’s. Lizzie is my sister and she has been planning this little celebration for weeks, no months!
‘Be here by ten,’ she said yesterday on the phone, ‘or you’ll miss the dress.’
The conversation then pretty much went like this,
Me: ‘As if I could– it’s going to be in the news for weeks .’
She dreamily: ‘I wonder what it will be like. How long do you think the train will be?’
Me: ‘Short – so she can do a runner and spare herself all those big-toothed bald children.’
I laughed at the future balcony scene that played out in my head – rows of mini-mes buck-toothed and chinless.
She, in her poshest accent: ‘Don’t be such a bitter old cynic Andrea, it’s a day of national pride.’
Mum phoned later just to make sure I was definitely going. (‘But don’t come if you’re going to sit there sniping at everything.’ She reprimanded in her natural cockney. ‘ It’s supposed to be a nice day. You might think you’re above it all but you’re just like everybody else.’)
Town is deserted. Marks & Spencer’s is shut for God’s sake! I miss the handwritten sign taped to the glass with masking tape and push and push at the doors, but they just don’t budge. Down the empty street Waitrose is heavenly, hardly a soul walking its shining isles. Cool and quiet and air-conditioned. It seems like it’s just me, an army of attentive smiling staff and an old lady wearing a fur coat who’s pushing a Chihuahua around in the baby seat of a squeaky trolley. I want to lie down in the dairy isle and breathe it all in, have a nap next to the Duchy Originals clotted cream… But it’s 9.45 and I’m under strict orders, so I grab a union-jack labelled bottle of Pimms, some Essentials diet lemonade and venison paté (not essential, but on special offer) and head for the tills.
Lizzie opens the door in her wedding dress, a slightly stained Princess Diana meringue and full veil, which she lifts with a perfectly manicured hand to slug from a plastic glass of pink champagne. She’s so excited she looks like she’s gonna pop.
‘Andrea Darling! You’re just in time – Will’s will be arriving any minute!’
She air-kisses me, so as not to smudge her flawless make-up, makes the required mwah mwah noises and turns on her heels, nearly tripping over her train.
‘Where’s Melissa?’ She asks over her shoulder.
‘Said she’d rather poke her eyes out with sharp sticks.’
Lizzie turns and fixes me with a concerned look.
‘You’re not going to spoil it are you just because it’ll never happen to you?’ Then she grins, a new idea boiling in her party-organiser brain.
‘Mind you, you can do that now can’t you? Do you know which one of you would wear the dress? Of course Melissa has the better figure. She can borrow this if she likes?’
She swishes her skirt and turns back up the hall.
Inside, the lounge is a picture of flags and bunting. A table against the wall is about to collapse under the weight of crustless sandwiches and fairy cakes topped in roses and rice paper royals.
All the family’s here. Aunty Sylvia and Mum sit on the sofa cradling handbags as big as dogs, each wearing the hat they bought for Lizzie’s nuptials last June. A bored looking Uncle Frank dressed in his best suit and Lizzie’s partner Toby are clutching flags and sitting on tri-colour bean bags on the floor. The kids are playing with plastic miniatures of the royal family on a bright new red white and blue rug. A tiny Queenie and Phil complete with crowns, wave at a bride in white with a tiara, sitting next to a prince in an elaborate horse-drawn coach, a horse guard, palace guard and a corgi stand by as printed crowds cheer from a cardboard viewing platform.
Everyone looks up at me.
‘Have you all gone mad?’ I ask.
‘Shut up Lindsey Lohan,’ says Toby, ‘it’s about to start.’
I’ve always hated Toby. We barely acknowledge each other’s presence these days. He just can’t cope with me having a girlfriend, told Lizzie it was a waste of two ‘reasonably attractive’ women – and then there’s the little matter of him jilting Lizzie at the altar. We all had to cope with the fall-out from that one and he was well aware of what we all thought about him. But somehow he’s still here.
‘Hello Andrea love,’ says Mum, ‘No Melissa?’
‘Champagne?’ Says Lizzie
I nod and hand her my offering. She peers in the bag and takes out the paté.
‘Ooh VENISON!’ She trills.
The TV, which is also encircled in flags, shows the crowded streets outside Westminster Abbey, a mass of red white and blue, hand scrawled banners, police vans and horses. Eamon Holmes voice booms out across live pictures of smiling children squashed against metal barricades, telling us that the princes will be leaving ‘any minute now’. The picture switches to the view outside Clarence House then shakily back to the Abbey as Samantha Cameron strides elegantly along the red carpet, a vision in green silk, with some bloke who looks like he got his suit at a jumble sale.
‘God – is that the Prime Minister?’
I take my champagne from Lizzie and down it in one.
‘Yeah – he’s done well for himself hasn’t he?’ leers Toby.
‘In your dreams.’ I reply.
‘And yours.’ He snarls.
I stick out my tongue and Uncle Frank splutters into his pint.
At 10.10, according to the perpetual clock at the bottom of the screen, Sky pans back to Clarence House but there’s no sign of anyone leaving to get into the Daimler parked outside. Eamon says something about there being ‘a short delay’. The foreign Royals start to arrive at the Abbey, including the king of Tonga and the Queen of Spain.
‘I don’t know why they have to invite all these foreigners,’ says Aunty Sylvia, wiping a stray bit of coronation chicken vol-au-vent from her bottom lip, ‘they could just have English people there.’
Lizzie and I exchange smiles.
‘Like you, you mean?’ says Mum, ’Your invite must have got lost in the post.’
There’s still nothing at Clarence House – Holmes is starting to get edgy. Thank God Kay Burley was startled by a horse – who knows what she’d be saying by now.
‘He’s chickening out,’ says Toby with a grin.
‘Not everyone is like you Toby,’ says Mum tersely.
Minor royals arrive at the Abbey in minibuses, clambering out onto the pavement and rearranging their hats and coats.
At 10.20 Sky flicks to the exterior of the Goring Hotel where Mrs Michael Middleton and Mr James Middleton are supposed to be getting into a car. Nothing.
Mum frowns. Aunty Sylvia takes a hankie from the jaws of her handbag and wafts it in front of her nose.
‘What is it? What’s going on?’
‘Cupcake?’ asks Lizzie parading a plate of cream-piped confectionary in front of us.
I take one and bite into its swoony lightness.
In a studio over-looking the Thames a panel of useless royal watchers sit twitching next to Eamon, stuttering about cars breaking down and stomach bugs, last minute nerves, what, what! I’m onto my third glass of champagne and I’m really starting to enjoy myself.
The inbreds leave Buckingham Palace, Ann and Andrew, Edward and Sophie, but there is still no movement from either the Goring or Clarence House.
Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice get out of their car.
We all blink in disbelief.
‘Good God. Look at that!’ says Sylvia. ‘That’s not good is it Andrea? You know about fashion – is that good?’
‘No Aunty it’s not good – she looks like Queen Amidala.’
Sylvia nods in agreement. ‘Is that one of those African royals?’
My nephews, Albert and Evan, having consumed several cupcakes and a vat of cherry cola, have moved from recreating the happy event into Godzilla crashes the wedding, using a plastic T-Rex to smash the cavalcade and stamp on Prince Philip. Godzilla now has access to explosives and the whole party goes up in a boom of tiny flying figures.
The real Queen and consort leave Buckingham Palace.
‘Ew, Yellow,’ says Mum, ‘she looks like an omelette.’
Eamon holds his ear piece, his eyes flicking from side to side like a startled toad. He nods tight-lipped. Everyone in the room stares at the TV. Very solemnly Eamon tells us that there is no sign of the Prince or his intended, both have disappeared since last officially seen at breakfast, no foul play is suspected and everything possible is being done to locate the couple.
Mouths drop open.
‘Told you he’d chickened out,’ says Toby smugly.
Lizzie downs her champagne.
‘Actually Toby,’ she says looking him calmly in the eye, ‘I don’t think I want you here anymore. I don’t really know why you’re here anyway – you don’t believe in marriage, remember?’
The rest of us look on in silence as they stare each other out. The stand-off seems to go on for hours as Eamon talks about ‘more details as they come in.’
Finally, the Queen arrives at Westminster Abbey and frowns as an official whispers something in her ear, then she follows him inside without turning to acknowledge the cheering crowds.
Toby looks away first. He bends to kiss the heads of his now quiet children, throws his plastic champagne flute onto the kitchen floor and slams the front door as he leaves. I gesture to Lizzie to sit beside me and give her a hug as she does so.
‘Prick,’ she says, drinking what’s left of my pink fizz, ‘I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive him.’
The kids resume their B-movie version of events.
Throughout the morning we watch the news unfold over vast amounts of Pimms and cucumber sandwiches; we hear how the couple spoke on their mobiles just after breakfast, and then both went out to get some air and never came back.
At 1.50 Sky flashes over to the old Blacksmith’s House in Gretna Green, where a man with an almost indecipherable Scottish accent, tells a reporter that he married a’ very happy and well-spoken young couple’ less than two hours before. The groom wore a baseball cap throughout and they were dressed in jeans and T-shirts printed with a picture of the Royal couple and the words Kate & Wills 8 Years of Fuck… there’s a loud beep as Sky blots out the inoffensive part of the word and Aunty Sylvia drops her cupcake into the mouth of her hand bag. He finishes the interview by saying that the groom gave him an envelope when the ceremony was over, ‘a little gift for his trouble’, but told him not to open it until they we’re gone.
‘I didnae put the names together until I opened it.’
‘What was inside it sir?’ asks the Sky reporter.
The Blacksmith holds a ring up for the camera. It’s an enormous dark blue sapphire attended by a circle of shining diamonds.
You can hear the cheers from miles around. The parties go on for hours. There is still singing outside as me and Lizzie snuggle down under a duvet with cheese on toast, like we did when we were kids, and watch it all again on Newsnight.
In London an old lady, alone at last, kicks off her satin shoes and rubs her toes through shredded support tights. Her little dog carries her sheepskin slipper s from beside her bed, and drops them at her feet. She sits at her dressing table and tickles the dog behind its ears. It sighs and drops its head to its paws. As she picks up her hairbrush she notices the note, propped against a jewellery box. She slices open the thick envelope with a silver knife kept handy for just such an occasion, and thinks how few letters she gets these days. In it is a single sheet crossed with her grandson’s spidery scrawl
Sorry Gran – talk when we get back, yeah?
All rights reserved Erinna Mettler
This story, and other better stories, is published in Rattle Tales The Anthology