by Eric Carwardine'Come in November. If you come to Australia, come in November. Our summers are unbearable. If you go outside you have to stand in a bucket. In case you melt.'
Soft white rope, around slender brown wrists. Her long arms, tanned under the Australian sun, reaching above her head. The lemon-yellow of the deck ply. The straw-yellow of the rattan. A sky so blue it must surely have been computer-generated. Her white shorts clinging to her knees, like a flag at half-mast. The dash of salt spray against her bare legs. The salty tang in her mouth. The boat beneath her bare feet, like a live thing. The sou'-wester full in her face, clawing at the neck of her navy-blue blouse. A seabird, seemingly on a collision course with her, that banks away at the last moment. Astonished faces crowding the rail of the passenger ferry, barely one hundred feet away. Their shouts and cheers of appreciation and encouragement.
But she feels only the soft caress of his lips on her face and on her neck, and on the inner whiteness of her upper arms. And she hears only his voice. She opens her eyes to a sky reflected in her dressing-table mirror; a sky so blue it must surely be computer-generated. Below the sky are the outrageous violet of the jacaranda, and the red, pink and white of the deadly oleander. Gardens are like that in Perth, in November. They patiently endure the heat of the morning, until the sea-breeze arrives with its waves of coolness, flaring the window curtains inwards and upwards, like the triumphal penant on a racing craft. 'It is good to be able to see the breeze' he had said. 'Curtains are better than blinds.'
She looks down, into the open dressing-table drawer. It contains her comb, and her cane. She takes out the comb, slides the drawer shut, and closes her eyes. Slowly, almost furtively, with her heart beginning to pound, she spreads the collar of her blouse. He will be here soon.
He always combed her hair while talking to her. With her head lowered she didn't have to keep her eyes open. That was better than facing each other across a table, he would say. She could just listen to him, while the white teeth of the comb slid through her auburn hair, like the white prow of a racing yacht. She could laugh, or she could cry. Only the soft shaking of her shoulders revealing that she was doing either. It was her special private world, but one in which she could still listen, and talk; for he expected her to respond whenever they got deep into some topic.
And they dived deep on many an occasion. He was the only person in her life with whom she could really talk. It wasn't a sexual intimacy, although she could recall more than one deep arousal. The time before his arrival was always the most potent. Even the pressure of sitting on the dressing-table stool could threaten to trigger an orgasm. 'Loneliness is the most powerful aphrodisiac we know' he had said, as she tried to explain her feelings. It was the sort of intimacy that probably once existed between a woman and her family doctor. The doctor was a part of the family, a respected elder relative. He could prescribe - and punish.
But he never called it 'punishment'. The nearest he would come to being the disciplinarian would be to gently ask 'Do you think the cane would help?' It was her decision, her informed choice. If her cane ever came out of the drawer it was because she wanted it to. It was more like dancing than caning. He would take her in his arms, turn her around, and with a deftness that she found breathtaking he would have bared the cheeks of her bottom. The delicious little muscle spasm, deep in her loins, as the rattan stroked her flesh. He would continue turning her to once again face him, her heart pounding, her face slightly flushed. Her eyes would be moist with desire.
The sea-breeze blew faster in her bedroom. In the window it came, clawed at the collar of her blouse, and then swept through the door which had just opened.
The sou'-wester reached gale-force. The dressing-table stool moved with the rhythm of the boat. He was here.