He’d scored his knife along ten parked cars before he neared the main road but the strength in his hand said he’d willingly scar a hundred others. His blade was ready to go long and hard and deep.
Reaching the kerb, he glared at the lorries grinding past. They contrasted with his mood, which cried out for speed and action. He ran between them and lurched into the welcome dark promise of Winston Churchill Gardens, the enormous park.
A woman hurried past him with a black Cairn terrier stressing its leather leash. She wasn’t much smaller than his own six foot but he was willing to bet that she was a damn sight weaker. He knelt and groped at his bootlaces, pretending to tie them, giving her the chance to go further into the shadowy core. All right for her, with her long coat and Kennel Club canine. She didn’t have to figure out where she was going to sleep.
He willed her to stop lingering by the entrance, to walk further on. There were closed-circuit cameras to their left but the area some distance ahead and close to the river wasn’t directly overlooked. He’d checked it out when he’d arrived here in Salisbury early that morning, also finding bushes where he could hide his bag and himself.
Nick’s right temple pulsed again. He plunged his hand into his jeans pocket for the strip of extra-strong painkillers and crunched two, sharpness overtaking staleness. There was a full packet in his bag and another in the knife-concealing money belt below his shirt.
The woman looked away as the dog lifted its leg against the fence. Nick stayed, crouching, looking like he was pulling up his socks. The backpack probably made him look less threatening, more like a tourist. It would never occur to her that it contained a blanket with which he’d doss down in the park.
Fuck that Claire – she’d be sleeping warmly in the flat as usual, probably with some new stud pushing all her middle-aged buttons. Screw her for telling him to get out when he was only doing his job. Keep a quiet club, she’d said, so he’d taken an over-loud clubber and made him quiet. And all of a sudden she wanted him out of her bed and out of Brighton until the uniforms fucked off.
Fifteen minutes until the painkillers kicked in. After that he’d jog round the park a few times then go back to Yurek’s and see if the old bastard was home yet. Either that or lift a bag and get enough money to take a taxi to one of the city’s hotels. Access to bed and breakfast and a shower would make him look presentable for tomorrow morning, make it easier to get a day pass to a new fitness club or gym.
Damn it, his access to cash wasn’t walking along the path. Instead she bent down and let her furball off the leash, then stood there and lit a cigarette as its blackness raced off into the darkness. Nick gave his bootlaces a final tug then straightened up.
She was too near the main road to mug, but there might be more like her in the vicinity. He’d seen two other girlishly small, bright cars in the camera-observed car park.
Park and ride. The twenty-eight-year-old made his way to the bushes and put down his bag then rubbed his shoulders and flexed his elbows. He’d overdone the arm work earlier in the week and now his pectorals felt bruised. They’d have to stay that way till he could afford to get more gym candy. He’d popped the last of it yesterday and needed more so that he could increase his reps.
Nick stood, staring through the bushes, on red alert for a source of cash. After a few minutes he heard a snuffling noise and the black Cairn terrier appeared and barked twice at him. ‘Fuck off, you.’ He lifted his right foot and aimed it at the animal’s exposed throat. The dog backed off and his toecap merely skimmed its chest, a grazing injury. Nevertheless it let out a satisfying yelp. Nick drew his foot back again, ready for the beast to launch at him a second time. ‘Come on, you bastard,’ he muttered. He’d heard that if you kicked a dog hard enough in the stomach it burst like a balloon.
The furball sneezed twice then raced off towards its owner and the entrance to the park. Nick brushed the leafmould away, sat down and quickly located a place where he could peer through the branches. He traced the handle of his knife over and over. Someone else would come along soon.
‘Take me, I’m yours,’ Ben said, rolling on to his back and trying to lift an equally naked Dawn on top of him. Somewhat to his surprise, he felt her arms stiffen in resistance then she flopped down at his side.
‘Don’t feel like it.’
‘Don’t feel like going on top?’ He slid his fingers between her legs but she wasn’t as flatteringly wet as she’d been on all their previous sessions. They’d been caressing each other for twenty minutes and it would be no hardship to caress her for twenty more.
‘We don’t always have to have sex, you know,’ Dawn muttered, moving fully onto her back and staring up at the ceiling. Ben noticed how her flushed cheeks made her grey eyes look even larger than they had before.
‘No, of course not.’ He felt a sense of loss as his erection sank and shrunk. Had he palmed her ineptly or was she tiring of him already? For the first time he felt truly aware of the fact that he was a callow twenty-four-year-old and she an experienced thirty-nine.
Going to bed tonight had been her idea – she’d suggested it as soon as they’d entered her small flat.
‘Want me to put the kettle on?’ he’d asked casually, not wanting to take over her kitchen without permission.
‘I can think of better things we could be doing,’ she’d murmured, pressing herself against him tightly and running her hands down his back. He’d been slightly surprised – when he’d taken her hand in the cinema a half hour before, she’d let it lie there limply for a moment then had pulled it away again. And on the way back she hadn’t laughed as much as usual at his jokes. In fact, he’d planned just to walk her to her door and arrange a date for later in the week: after all, they weren’t at the stage where they spent every single night together. But she’d said, ‘I’ll get you that book I promised,’ and when she’d added, ‘Make yourself at home,’ he’d asked if he should put the kettle on.
Now he lay there wishing they’d just had a cup of tea and discussed the film. If he got out of bed now it would seem like he’d only been after one thing and that he didn’t want to cuddle – but if he stayed in bed and tried to hold her she might misinterpret it and think he was a sex-mad beast.
Aim for a neutral topic, something about the art she did in her spare time. He searched around for a casual tone, one devoid of hurt or frustration.
‘So, were you working before you came out to meet me?’
She shook her head. ‘Uh uh. Didn’t have the time. There was a mix up at the bank about Vitor’s standing order so I went in and saw the manager.’ Vitor was a Guatemalan child she sponsored. Ben had seen his photograph and a drawing that he’d sent. Now she put her hands behind her head and sighed loudly. ‘If only more people sponsored, everything out there would be all right.’
The logical part of his brain said otherwise. ‘Not quite.’ He propped himself up on one elbow to look at her and felt incredibly grateful that she was his girlfriend. ‘I mean, they’ve got a population problem, a harsh climate and serious underdevelopment.’
He saw that her gaze was unnecessarily confrontational.
‘But with child sponsorship they could develop.’
‘Some – but it would take much more than that to make the entire country well.’
He watched as she pressed her lips closer together and hardened her gaze. ‘You’re saying that I’m wasting my time?’
‘No, of course not.’ She must see in his eyes how much he admired her. ‘I think that what you’re doing is great. It’s not a permanent cure, that’s all.’
To his amazement she muttered the illogical, ‘Go home to your permanent cure, then,’ and turned violently on her side.
‘Dawn?’ Ben stared down at her in astonishment and disbelief. How could his intelligent and easy-to-be-with new lover be behaving so strangely? ‘I think that your sponsorship is great,’ he said again.
‘You’re just saying that ’cause you want to get fucked.’
‘Now you’re being ridiculous.’ Ben swung his feet out of her bed and reached for his shirt. She’d started this session – he hadn’t been feeling particularly sexual. He’d have been happy to go home alone after the cinema and hit the sack.
He started to put on his clothes, going more slowly as he got closer to full dressing, hoping that she’d slide her arms apologetically around his waist.
‘Right, I’m ready to go,’ he said at last. There was no answer from the figure in the bed and she was still turned away from him. ‘Shall I phone you later this week?’ he asked tersely.
Fighting the urge to mutter that he wouldn’t bother then, he left the flat, closing the door with a controlled bang. He took the stairs two at a time, wanting to be outside in the relative sanity. Christ, these last few weeks had been perfect and he’d come close to saying that he loved her. Why the hell had she suddenly spoilt everything?
He walked quickly down the street until he came to the Southampton Road that bordered one side of the park. If he turned right and walked for a while he would reach his own house – well, the room in the shared house he was renting. If he walked to his left he’d eventually reach the 24-hour Tesco. It was quite a walk and might wear some of his anger out. There again, he might meet someone from work or from the art club where he’d originally met Dawn, and he didn’t want to talk to anyone yet.
No, he’d go to the park for a while, walk alongside the river and get his equilibrium back. There were mole hills in the grass and owls overhead and ducks sleeping in the grasses. He couldn’t feel completely bereft when breathing in the October freshness or looking at the improbable features of an adult duck.
It was 11pm now so the flow of cars was slowing down, though the lorries with their cargoes of supermarket fare were still cautiously active. Ben watched them as he waited to cross the road, and wondered what it must be like to travel all the time. He’d been brought up a few miles from here in the New Forest, had gone to university in Manchester, then had come back to Salisbury to work and live. He’d never been abroad but Dawn had said that he could come with her to an event she was exhibiting at in Brussels. He wondered if that was cancelled now, if she really didn’t want to see him again.
Damn it, he had to forget about the row or else he’d never get to sleep tonight and he’d wake up tomorrow with the start of a migraine. He hadn’t told Dawn about them yet, didn’t want to sound weak or not in control of his life. He could go for three or four months without an attack – and could even hide the milder ones from his colleagues – so there was no reason for her to know for a while.
Would she get to know all about him in time? Or was their relationship truly over? He crossed the road towards the park and wandered in. It was nice at this time of night, tranquil. It looked more like a wildlife sanctuary and less like what it was, an enormous suburban park.
Ben walked past the toilets, past the skateboarding rink. The skateboarders had a platform they could jump up on and skate off. He’d watched them a couple of times and marvelled at their agility. His own body was in pretty good shape, as he walked most places and cycled any really long journeys, but he didn’t have the superior suppleness or co-ordination these guys had.
He strolled on through the darkness until he reached the riverbank and stood staring down into the water’s depths. It had lost the organic scent it had in summer. In winter, the various stretches of water sometimes iced over for a little while and then he and his current girlfriend would bring the swans and ducks lots of bread.
Twigs crackled behind him. He turned, half hoping Dawn had followed him here. A tall man stood closer than was strictly necessary. If Ben stepped backwards he would fall into the river. Instead he took a tentative step to his left.
‘Got a light, mate?’
‘No, sorry. I don’t smoke.’ He noticed the man’s skin looked slightly yellow and wondered if it was just an illusion caused by the moonlight.
‘Got any money for fags, then?’
Ben hesitated, then decided it was better to say yes. The guy was over six feet and he himself was only five-foot seven. And the stranger might be a combat-trained soldier from the local army base. There were a couple of soldiers who were famous for coming into Salisbury and drunkenly challenging any passerby to a fight.
Ben started to reach for his wallet then realised that wasn’t the brightest thing to do. The man might grab it and its contents of eighty pounds plus his credit card. His mind started to work faster. He’d paid for the cinema with a twenty-pound note and had put his change into his jeans back pocket, so… He reached in there instead and brought out three pound coins.
‘There you go, mate.’ He tried to sound like the older man in the hope that he’d identify with him and wouldn’t start punching. It wasn’t that he was particularly cowardly, but – like any sane person – he didn’t relish being badly hurt.
‘Take your jacket off.’
Ben felt his heart start to speed up. The man’s eyes were frighteningly devoid of feeling. He stalled for time, said, ‘You what?’
‘Take your jacket off now.’
Ben looked around for help, but the park was silent. He was too far away to be heard by the occupants of the nearest houses – and by now most parkside dog walkers would be preparing for bed.
‘Look, what’s this about?’ His voice sounded thin and scared and seemed to echo in his ears. If he tried to run, this guy could just reach out one long arm and grab him. And if he fell he’d go into the river and the yellow-tinged man could just hold his face down in the water’s depths. Ben reached into every logical part of his being and each logical part said that, for now, he should do what he was told.
‘Just take your jacket off.’
‘All right.’ He tried to sound indifferent to the idea, like a child trying to maintain some dignity when losing an argument with a parent. His arms shook slightly as he pulled them from the sleeves. It was his leather jacket, his newest jacket, bought three weeks into his relationship with Dawn.
He couldn’t bring himself to hand it to the mugger, so just dropped it on the ground. As he did so, the man reached out swiftly and grabbed him by the front of his collar and swung him sideways. Ben instinctively reached up to pull the attacker’s hands away, but before he could do so the man turned him around again and threw him so that he battered into one of the long riverside seats.
Cannoning into the bench took all of the air from his lungs. Ben slumped, gazing dazed over the back of the wooden chair, one of his feet on the ground and the other slammed awkwardly into the sitting section. He could feel sharp pains shooting up the bent knee and knew that it was either fractured or bruised. He heard noises behind him and figured that the guy must be picking up the discarded jacket. Any second now he’d leave and Ben could run off the opposite way.
‘Take off your jeans.’ The words were accompanied by a knife pressing against his throat. Ben stilled, kept staring straight ahead. He wanted to look down but knew that the movement would send the blade slicing into his jugular. He could smell the man’s breath now and it was tainted with something chemical, some catalyst for rage. The man’s long forearm was pressing into his chest, crushing so hard that the fingers felt embedded in Ben’s flesh.
There was no point in stalling when he had a knife at his throat. He was just going to have to give the thief his favourite Levis. He’d read of this once, a young man being accosted in a big English city and robbed of his designer clothes. This man didn’t have a jacket of his own, and presumably only had the jeans he was wearing. It must be worth mugging someone like himself to get a new set of gear.
His fingers floundered against the buckle, then he managed to undo his belt. The button and zip proved equally difficult. He and Dawn had been eating out a lot during their six-week relationship and he’d gained a couple of pounds.
‘Can I stand up now?’
‘No.’ The blade pressed a little harder. Ben winced and started to edge down the denim, feeling ridiculously stupid. He’d have to take his shirt off and tie it around his waist to hide his underpants, then flag down a taxi on the main road to take him home.
He got his jeans down to his knees, but as one knee was still slammed into the bench he couldn’t get his trousers down any further. ‘You’ll have to let me move my knee,’ he said.
‘Lie down longways, then,’ said the man. He sounded very calm, must know that his knife blade was sharp and that no one was going to come to Ben’s rescue. Ben backed up carefully, hellishly aware of the cold cutting metal at his throat. One pull and the big vein would slice open, spurting his life force skywards. Within a few seconds he’d be dying and they wouldn’t find his corpse till the following day.
He flexed his injured leg for a second as he got to his feet and the man manhandled him along to the edge of the bench and pushed him over it. Now he was lying along its full length, his jeans bunched at his feet. Ben waited for the mugger to pull them all the way off and run away with them. Instead he felt the man’s fingers grazing just below his waist as they grabbed at his Y-fronts and pulled them down.
Christ, was he going to leave him without a stitch to wear? He could ask to keep his underwear, but it sounded so pathetic. Best not to say anything. At least the bastard had removed the knife from his throat. He couldn’t get up, though, with the man and his steel blade just behind him. It would be so easy for his attacker to stab him in the lungs.
He stiffened as a new weight fell across his legs. Jesus, what was he doing? Ben started to twist his head back but the man’s full weight was suddenly upon him, forcing him fully down. He felt something – someone – parting his buttocks, pulling roughly at both naked cheeks. The man was exposing his anus. Oh God no, he said inside his head then realised that he’d said the words out loud.
‘You know you want it really,’ said the man in an oddly cultured voice with an underlying rough trace. His tone had changed so that it sounded like a boy from the wildest side of town after a few elocution lessons. Ben tried to remember the voice so that when he went to the police…
Something nudged against his anus then pushed and pushed. ‘Please don’t.’ The object was withdrawn and Ben untensed ever so slightly. His heartbeat speeded again as he heard the man spitting three times, presumably on his own hand. He felt some of the wetness being spread between his buttocks and tried to squirm to one side but the tall man’s weight overpoweringly held him in situ.
‘Christ, mate, don’t do this,’ he said.
‘You my mate, are you?’
The man nudged what must be his erection between Ben’s cheeks again. Ben felt like he had done when he was at primary school, being bullied in the playground. He’d tried to find the words that would bring about fair treatment but had seen only an inhumane glee in the bully’s eyes.
‘You can take all my cash, my leather jacket.’
‘And now you’re about to give up your tight little hole.’
‘No,’ He realised belatedly that the man must think he was gay. ‘I’m not like that. I have a girlfriend.’
The man was trying to push into him. ‘And does she shove her fingers up your arse?’
Dawn and he had done most things together, but she hadn’t done that. He hadn’t even considered the possibility. He’d never had – or wanted to have – anything invade him like this.
‘No, and I don’t want her to.’ He never talked about his sex life with the men at work so it was surreal having this conversation with a stranger. A stranger who was lying heavily on top of him and breathing out chemicals and who had a knife.
‘But you want this, flaunting your backside in the park.’
‘No, I don’t.’ He couldn’t say no often enough. Every cell in his body and brain was screaming it. ‘I’d had a row with my girlfriend, Dawn. I just wanted to think…’
Maybe if he could just keep the guy talking someone would come along eventually. This man was strange but he’d surely run off at the sight of witnesses.
‘No, your arse wants it and your arse is getting it.’ There was a gloating edge to the mugger’s voice. Ben felt the appendage push against his opening again – and suddenly his body opened up a little and he felt the man start to enter him. He cried out in revulsion and denial and pain and it seemed to act as a signal for the man to push harder. Ben felt something give deep inside him and then his assailant was in the full, appalling way. He heard the mugger’s grunt of satisfaction mingling with his own agonised cry.
‘Oh please, take it out, take it out.’ Like a child being vaccinated with an immunisation needle.
‘You love it really.’
‘If you stop now, I won’t tell the police.’ He didn’t know if that was the right thing to say. His mind was going blurred with the burning and his shame was increasing. How the hell had he let himself be reduced to this?
‘Not tell the cops that you took it up the backside? Oh, they’d like to know, pretty boy. I’ll tell them you begged for it. I’ll tell them you were wriggling your ass like it was a fly on a fishing rod, that you offered me three quid to fuck you hard.’
At the end of the man’s speech he thrust forward, pulled back, plunged deeper in. Ben screamed again. He wondered briefly if the mugger was putting the knife rather than an erection inside his sphincter. Then he felt the blade pressing with renewed threat into his shirted back.
‘Tell me you love it.’ Ben closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He wouldn’t say it. He whimpered as he felt the blade being pulled across his cotton-clad shoulder blades. ‘Want me to slit further down, punk? Want me to punch holes in your lungs so you breathe in your own blood? Want me to cut off your balls?’
‘No.’ He had so little breath left that the word sounded air-starved and vanquished.
‘Then say what I tell you to say.’
He could feel the metal tip digging into his flesh. His heartbeat pounded in his ears and his chest at the same time, racing so fast that he expected it to break free of its moorings.
‘I love it,’ he said brokenly.
‘Say it like you mean it. Tell me you want it hard up your arse.’
He said the words. He said everything that the bastard wanted him to – the alternative was bleeding to death in a deserted setting. For what seemed like hours, he echoed back words that he never thought he’d say.
At last the mugger withdrew from his body though the pain went on. Ben felt the man’s weight lift off him. He lay there, trembling, his core so open that he wondered if he was internally split. He tried to flex his thighs but they’d virtually merged with the bench, were prostrate. His rapid heartbeat went into further overdrive as he felt still-angry hands in his hair, lifting up his head.
‘Lick it,’ said the man. Ben clenched his teeth as the mugger tried to force himself between his lips. ‘Do it, you little punk.’ Ben kept his lips tight-closed but the man pushed harder. Suddenly he gagged twice then vomited over his attacker and the bench.
‘You dirty little fucker.’ The man stepped back then slapped angrily at the side of Ben’s head but his thick hair softened the trauma. As he watched, dazed, his attacker dressed then walked over to the jacket still lying beside the reeds. He took out the wallet, counted the cash and pocketed it, slung the garment over his shoulder then walked stiltedly away.
He, Ben, might never walk again. For an unknown time he lay there, his eyes blurred with tears and his lips smeared with blood, and the overwhelming heat in his sphincter an ongoing memorial to what had just happened. Was he haemorrhaging? Other than the terrible pain in his anus he felt numb below the waist. He briefly wondered what time it was but couldn’t find the strength to lift his head and look at his wristwatch. As long as he managed to leave here before light…
Gradually the increasing heaviness in his bladder asserted itself and he moved carefully on to his side, whimpering slightly as the movement sent new needles through him. He hadn’t felt this vulnerable since being hit by a car as a ten-year-old kid. He’d crossed near a corner and the car had come round and tossed him up into the air: for a time he’d felt he was flying. Then he’d crashed back on to the road, smashing his glasses and losing the ability to breathe.
He could remember a blurred bending man with a trembling voice saying, ‘It’s all right, son, my wife’s phoning an ambulance.’ He’d wanted to smile his forgiveness but he had no breath. Until a few moments ago he’d forgotten how strange it felt to be completely robbed of air.
Time stayed suspended whilst you urged your lungs to catch the breeze, whilst you tried – and failed – to work out exactly where you’d been injured. He could remember thinking that his mum wouldn’t be pleased.
He mustn’t think of his mum now. She was just a few miles away in one of the villages that survived mainly on American tourists’ money. Her world was a nice, safe one in which she worked and shopped and socialised at the same grocer’s shop. She didn’t know that a young man walking in the park could be accosted by another, that the older man would…
Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think. After he’d been lying on his side for a moment he swung his legs slowly outwards, keeping them as close together as possible. He felt very torn and open, as if some part of his anatomy might fall out. Keeping his movements small and crabbed, he brought his feet down and his body upright till he was sitting normally on the bench.
Normally. He forced back a cynical snort, afraid that if he started to make noises he would never stop, that he’d turn into a child who was crying so hard that he merged his half-phrases. He was a grown-up now so had to deal with this. He got carefully to his feet and shuffled behind the bench and urinated copiously. The warmth of the liquid made him realise that he was very cold. He massaged his upper arms, noting that his shirt was ripped and sticking slightly to his shoulders. He knew that his attacker had grazed the knife along that path.
Wincing, Ben edged his underpants up to his knees, then had to lean against the back of the bench as a wave of dizziness rolled lushly through him. After a moment the faintness passed and he was able to edge the garment over his injuries. He did the same with his jeans and managed to zip them up but his numbed fingers couldn’t push the metal button through the buttonhole or fasten his belt. Exhausted, he pulled his shirt-tail over his waist.
Go home. He started to shuffle through the park, getting as near to the main road as he dared without being picked up by the passing lorries’ headlights. He prayed that there wouldn’t be any witnesses to his dishevelled shame. As he walked he kept the distance constant between himself and the relative light of the pavement so that he could rush towards safety if his attacker appeared again.
When he reached the end of the park he squinted out into the street. There was no one on the pavement. Do it, do it, do it. He felt more vulnerable when he stepped beneath the street lights so broke into a pained half-jog. Every fibre of his being wanted to be double-locked in the house he shared with three others. He wanted to bathe away all the sweat and blood from his body, knew that he’d never wear these particular clothes again.
He could pour himself an almost neat vodka when he got in. He could have the entire half-bottle. Each comforting image that he fed himself helped him jog on, on, on. He could feel the increasing clamminess of his skin and wondered if he was running a fever, if infection could set in this quickly. Did anyone have a bottle of antiseptic in the house? He stumbled around the corner, heard an odd little sound and looked up to see that he was about to flail into a very large girl.
Well, a woman. She had dark grey circles beneath her eyes and they were red at the sides, as if she was allergic to something or had been crying. As he cannoned towards her, she moved her mouth into a frightened ‘oh’, and put her forearm across her chest. Damn. Ben halted then flailed with most of his weight on his toes for a ridiculous cartoon-like moment until he regained his balance. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled, stepping awkwardly to one side. Dipping his head again he continued on his stumbling journey, his heart beating even faster than before.
At least the pedestrian wasn’t someone he knew. He’d never see her again. He kept telling himself more hollow words of comfort. Inadequate as they were, they fuelled him till he reached his home.
It was a Tuesday night – or rather, the early hours of a Wednesday morning – so there was a very good chance that the others had been sleeping for some time.
Stay asleep, asleep, asleep. His wishes reverberated like a mantra in his head as he tiptoed up the path towards the front door. The house was in welcome darkness. He reached into the side pocket of his jeans and brought out his keys. As he slid the yale into the door he half expected it not to work or to break in the lock, denying him entry. The world felt a hostile and shock-producing place.
His key turned as it always turned. Within seconds he’d stepped into the hall and double-locked the main door from the inside, then hurried to the stairwell and tiptoed up it. Once in the large bathroom, with the door snibbed, he started to feel safe. He stepped under the shower and turned the temperature to medium hot: the first bursts of water both cleansed and hurt him. Hoping to blast away every fleck of dirt, he put the pressure onto full.
There was a carton of shower soap hanging from a hook and he filled his palms with it and started to soap gently at his violated parts. He soaped every hair on his head, every crevice of his flesh – and then he started over. He soaped and rinsed and soaped until the carton refused to yield any more gel.
Only then did Ben leave the wonderful hot spray and dry himself, patting carefully at the unseen hurting. When he took the towel away it was pink with diluted blood. He caught a glimpse of himself in the little mirrored wall cabinet and moved closer, wondering if the man had marked him. He could vaguely remember the bastard cuffing him about the head.
The face that stared back at him was as white as it had ever been, despite the steam from the shower. He looked at himself and tried to feel less traumatised.
Picking up his shirt, he saw the rent that the blade had made. It reminded him to take a look at his shoulders. He turned his back to the mirror then twisted his head around, noting the long, red – but thankfully superficial – scar. Was there some TCP in here? Ralph, the hypochondriacal tenant, was always buying fluoride mouthwashes and antibacterial bubble baths and taking up so much room on the bathroom shelf that none of them had space for their razor blades.
He checked, finding a bottle of liquid antiseptic in the cupboard under the sink. Ben poured some of it onto a tissue then wiped it across the scar. The open tissues burned slightly, but weren’t exactly war-wound territory. He hesitated before taking a clean tissue, soaking it with the liquid then pressing it along his buttock crease. Jesus. The sensation was so fierce that he grunted and let his legs take him down and forward till he was kneeling on the floor.
After a few minutes he got new tissues and repeated the process. Each time the tissues came away wet with blood. But at least he was clean now, cleansed of any germs that bastard might have had on his… that that bastard might have had.
Scooping up his clothes and the bloodied towel, Ben left the bathroom and tiptoed to his room, closing the door gratefully behind him. He threw his clothes and the towel under his bed, knowing that he could put them into the garden dustbin tomorrow whilst his housemates – who all worked for the same estate agency – were still at work. He tended to get home before them in the evenings, had a much-valued hour to himself.
He was going to be all right. Shakily, Ben put on his light cotton dressing gown and tied it tightly then reached to the shelf above his desk for his vodka and juice bottles and a tumbler. He sat on the bed then swiftly stood up again. God, that hurt. The twenty-four-year-old got carefully onto his stomach and lay there, gulping the throat-warming liquid. Having drained his glass quickly, he poured himself a second vodka and a third. His anus burned and pulsed: it was such a stupid, unseemly place to be injured. The stabbing pains went alarmingly deep inside.
The fourth vodka seemed to go straight to his eyelids, making them feel encouragingly heavy. Ben put his glass onto the floor and let his head drop down on the top of the duvet. Going, going… He heard a noise and was suddenly and totally alert. Was his window locked? His attacker could have followed him home, might have other plans for his body. He got stiff-leggedly off the bed and checked that the window latch was on. He locked his door and pulled his little tea table in front of it. If anyone forced the lock and entered he’d wake up hearing the crash.
Sleep, sleep. He looked at his alarm clock. It was 5am. It was set to go off at seven-thirty. Surely even a couple of hours kip would help?
But sleep usually deserts the minds that need it most. After a few minutes of lying under the duvet on his stomach, Ben felt too much like an offering. Holding his breath, he moved slowly and carefully onto his side. Oh, Christ, what was happening to his innards? He could feel liquid trickling down the backs of his thighs.
He had to staunch this or he’d be sticking to the bedclothes all night. With effort he got up again and put on his bedside light, winced into a new pair of underpants and pressed them firmly against the injured area. As he got back into bed he saw blood smeared on the duvet and the undersheet.
Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks. He fought back new waves of panic. The health reports in Ralph’s lifestyle magazines told you how to recover from flu or recognise the signs of meningitis – but no one told you how to get over this.
Sleep, sleep. He curled on his side and closed his eyes and immediately saw the man’s yellow face leering at him. Sleep, sleep. He could remember the bastard’s every angry gesture and mocking word. Had he somehow seemed effeminate as he stood there by the river, thinking about his girlfriend? And was he the first person this man had raped?
Read details of Kiss It Away
About Carol Anne Davis
Books by Carol Anne Davis (published by The Do-Not Press)
Safe As Houses (1999)
Noise Abatement (2000)
Safe As Houses (2003) New Edition with author’s introduction
Kiss It Away (2003)