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Final Truce

    Week five, Jillian thought, as she walked back with the paper, on Monday morning before breakfast. Am I always going to think of time as measured from the weekend of the accident? Or will I think of it as time left to serve? Now forty-nine years and forty-seven weeks.
   There's nothing in the paper about it. Never will be. I feel so old. A month ago I was twenty-two. Felt about twelve, actually. Now I feel fifty. I wonder how I will feel when I really am that age.
   Despite herself, she looked forward to her next Keith meeting. Not for the meeting itself, as much as to satisfy her curiosity. What will he come up with next? She considered that he was certainly inventive enough.
   Time moved slowly for the rest of the week. Sunday seemed forever out of reach. Each day was busy, however. Her changed study habits had now settled into place, and she was absorbing much more in the time she allotted herself, seeing now what lay behind the facts, what other directions were revealed by the material that she learnt.
   This was the week in which she first beat her father at chess. She suddenly realised that she well knew his habits, and the strategies he would use, and could predict what he would generally do when forced into various corners. She tested her understanding when he gave her an opportunity in the very next game after she had that insight. And eventually won. He said it was a fluke, until she proved it otherwise by winning the next two in a row.
   It was also the week in which, for the very first time ever, Christopher got off his bus at the same time, saw her, and turned and walked quickly away without greeting her. She felt it like a blow to the stomach, was very quiet at dinner, and went straight up to her room after. No chess for dad or chat for mum, that night.
   Her lunchtime reading continued, though, every day. She wished she had known some of this, years ago. She might have understood herself a lot better. She would have been able to handle Keith better. But really, until she had a major catastrophe to deal with, and found her back against the wall, there was no compelling reason to broaden her knowledge that way. Now she was almost glad that Keith was blackmailing her. He was right, it was forcing her to learn new things. Not, perhaps, what he had in mind for her..
   A library was a marvellous thing, she thought. You could learn so many useful things there.
   On Saturday Jillian and her parents went to the Ideal Homes Exhibition together. This was another first since her primary school days. In secondary school it was quite unthinkable to spend time with mere parents except when it completely unavoidable. Now that she wasn't forced at all, and felt old enough to be an equal, she found it most enjoyable.
   Her mother asked her what sort of home she would like for herself, and the three of them spent a few happy hours strolling among the exhibits, while she described to her parents how her own home might differ from the ones she had known with them. As she thought about her choices for rooms and furnishings, she discovered a Keith appearing in her visualisations. She couldn't get him out. Tomorrow will be a problem, she thought.
    Sunday saw her back at the wharf, walking towards the cafe, dressed as demurely as she could get away with, but over the red underwear and a matching suspender belt that she had bought after her classes one day during the week. She had no idea why she had chosen to wear those clothes, or if she did know, she didn't like what it implied. For some reason she hadn't pulled hair back into her pony-tail style, but had blow-dried it, and left it out, the auburn cloud framing her face, its boldness denying the timidity of her dress. She felt her face warm, and hoped its redness would have faded by the time she was in the cafe and sitting with Keith again.
   He was at the same table as the previous week, stood up as she approached, and helped her into her place beside him on the bench. "You dress differently every time I see you."
   "I wouldn't want you to be bored. Oh, stupid, stupid, stupid."
   "Now what have I done?"
   "Not you, Keith, not this time, for once. Me. Me, me, me. Stupid, stupid, stupid."
   "What about?"
   "Every time I try to be smart, it backfires on me. I've only been such a smart-ass for a few weeks, that's my excuse to myself, but you'd think I would know better.
   "What did you do wrong just then?"
   "I said that I wouldn't want you to be bored - how stupid can I get? You are my captor. I sounded as if you were my suitor."
   "That's fine by me. It's what I want."
   "Fine by you, but not by me. I'm in this under duress. But it's starting to become customary, and sooner or later unless you screw up I'll start feeling safe with you, and liking you. I'll get institutionalised, like an old lag who breaks a window to get sent back to jail because he can't cope without it. That's no life for a sane adult. Certainly not for a doctor."
   "You might start liking me? Really?"
   "Damn your eyes, I like you just fine right now. Oh, don't look so happy. You're likeable enough, if you weren't such a dreadful shit in so many little ways. But I hate you at the same time, and that's the way it's got to be, because you are blackmailing me."
   "But if I promise not to tell, and let you go your way?"
   "Oh, that understanding was how this all started, Keith. No. Once bitten...."
   "But if there had never been an accident? If you had just driven up the Parkway and dropped me off at the station. How might we be then?"
   "Keith, it's a lovely dream for you, but impossible. Stop it. Now. Firstly, there was an accident. Secondly, if there hadn't been I wouldn't now know you as I do for I surely wouldn't have agreed to see you again. Thirdly, you blew it for ever, blackmailing me over it."
   "But what if there wasn't an accident. That I just pretended that, as a way of getting some time with you?" He was pleading, she noticed.
   "It won't wash Keith. You would say that, now. Wouldn't you? Now that you see it might be a useful move to play. But we both know that as soon as you were frustrated in your aims, any time in the future, we would be back to the truth again, and I would be back in jeopardy. No."
   "But it's true."
   "God, you disgust me sometimes. Where's that waiter?" She caught the eye of the barman and a waiter came and took their order.
   They sat on in silence, while they waited for the food, and then as they were eating, until, part-way through her meal, she put down her knife and fork.
   We're eating in silence like an old married couple after an argument, she thought. But not me, not married to this idiot. No way. "Give me the key." He did so. "Have you put the flat back together?"
   Still chewing, he nodded.
   "Good. And the gun is safely away? I won't go looking for it, but I don't want to be confronted by it, either."
   "You take your time here. I'm going ahead." She put her face close to his. He looked straight ahead. Her lips were almost against his ear. "I couldn't stand being seen in public with you right now. You needn't worry, I'll be there. I know you can yank my chain any time."
   She got up and walked off, quickly.
   , Inside the flat she latched the lock open for him to follow her in, found a glass and poured herself another drink from the half bottle of wine still in the refrigerator. So he doesn't drink alone. How virtuous. She sat in one of the chairs, turned it toward the window. It really is a lovely view. Shame about the new construction. I don't suppose it matters if the drapes are open. Unless you stand right up against the glass you can only be seen from the other side of the harbour, and that must be at least two kilometres away.
   She heard the lift and then his key in the door. "Come, in," she said, "it's open."
   He came in, latched the door so it would once more be locked against the outside. He saw that she was drinking, poured himself a glass, turned the other chair so that it, too, faced the harbour, and sat down. "That was stupid, Jilly. Leaving the door off the latch. You know, stupid, stupid, stupid. This is not a security building. You don't know who might come in."
   "What, and join the killer and blackmailer who are here already? With their loaded automatic? We are the dangerous ones here, not the other way about, Keith."
   "Oh, yes. I guess I don't think about us that way."
   "That's because you live in a dream world. There is a big gap, between you and reality, that the harbour bridge wouldn't span. We are criminals, both of us, and rapidly becoming equally unprincipled. Now tell me what to do to get my rape over and done with. I'm fed up with the pussyfooting. You've proved I can delay you slightly but not stop you. You've finally destroyed my scruples. Just give me orders. Unless you get too kinky I'll do whatever you say."
   "I have huge respect for you, Jillian."
   "No, seriously. And I have come to know just how resourceful you are. I don't believe that you are going to do as I say, without argument."
   "There is one condition, Keith, now that you've got me thinking that way."
   "What's that?"
   "Just to make it clear-cut, you must reaffirm the duress. Threaten to kill yourself and thus have my secret disclosed. Hold the loaded gun to your head."
   "You're the sick one, Jillian."
   "What, who, me? Who's the blackmailer, rapist, extortionist. I'm just a simple killer, sane as they come." She stood up, moved toward the bedroom. Opened the door, went in and sat on the bed. "I'm glad to see the door knobs are back on. The door looked naked with just a hole where the lock should have been. Naked. Huh! Now, get the gun and come and have your shower."
   "Shower? I had a shower this morning."
   " Heard of hygiene, Keith? This, here, is an unsullied vessel. Virgin. Unspoilt. Let's keep it that way, shall we? Into the shower, and give your little-willy and ass-hole, if you will excuse the terms, a good scrub as well, for a condom doesn't cover everything. I'll be inspecting you, too, before we start."
   "What do you mean, inspecting?"
   She opened her purse, pulled out a magnifying glass and a small pack of rubber gloves, laid them all neatly on the bedside table, which was now back where it belonged.
   "What do think you are going to do with those?"
   "Nothing to hurt you Keith. Just a simple visual check, front and back, for disease symptoms. No knowing what sort of women you've been with before, nor what they might have got up to before you had your turn with them. Me, I'm no danger. You, on the other hand..."
   "You are a gross, coarse woman."
   "No Keith, merely a cautious one." She reached into her purse and took out a packet of condoms, placed them beside the rubber gloves.
   "What are they for? I told you I'd get them."
   "Oh, you might have forgotten. And I doubt you would have done careful research as to which are best. Yes? No?"
   She watched his face. "No. I thought not. But I did. These are the most reliable. And they are pre-lubricated. Under the circumstances I might not be, and I gather we are agreed that you don't want me showing signs of being forced. Right?"
    She waited until he nodded. "And I don't actually fancy pain, myself. I am coming to realise that's not likely to be my style. So whatever you bought.." he nodded again, "we will be using these. Okay, get the gear off, into the shower. I'm coming in to supervise. And I want to see the scalp shampooed and scraped and scrubbed too. I don't want cooties and dandruff. Clean sheets?"
   He nodded once more, speechless. "Good boy. Well, don't just stand there, do you want my virgin body or don't you? Chop-chop."
   "You've taken all the romance out." He sounded close to tears.
   "There was never any in there. That was due to you, you smutty little bugger, when you put rape on the agenda. I'm glad you are starting to get some reality into your head. About bloody time! And where's the gun. I told you to get it."
   "I'll get it after the shower."
   "Can we have the drapes closed? Please?"
   "Why? You thought it was a great idea to have them open."
   "I agreed to close them for you."
   "Unwillingly. No, they stay open. Firstly because I want you to have things the way you asked, and you asked for them open and you're not a girl. Only girls change their minds. Secondly I need good, strong light for the inspection, and the sun, full onto the bed like this, that's perfect. Get used to it."
   "You're a hard bitch."
   "Your creation, buster. Only hard-hearted with you, actually. The family think I'm a little less self-conscious, that's all. You're the only one I favour with the full frontal disclosure, and that was because you insisted. No lies between us, remember? I guess I'm lying to everyone else, though. They still think I'm a nice girl. I'm not sure about Chris, however. I don't know what he thinks. He avoids me these days."
   "Margaret has got him between the sheets."
   "Yes, I thought that might be it. She must have dropped her big guns onto him. Nice of her to have held off while she thought I had a claim. Or maybe he held her off as second-best until I removed myself from the top of his list. Who cares. History. Why aren't you in the shower yet?" She went into the bathroom, turned on the taps, adjusted the temperature. "Come on in, the water's fine."
   He came in from the bedroom. holding his robe around him.
   "Would you like me to take that?" She held out her arms to help him out of it.
   "I can manage fine from here, thank you."
   "Good-oh." She sat on the side of the bath.
   "You can't sit there. I'm having a shower."
   "So it's a glass shower screen. I won't have any privacy."
   "I told you, I'm supervising. You are going to be clean as never before. Your children will thank you in years to come. You could have some you know. They just won't be mine. You can put money on that one."
   "No way am I showering with you here."
   "Get that robe off and into the nice glass exhibit case, big boy. If you are going to rape me with the thoroughness your lusty ego demands, I will see everything you've got on offer, unless you intend to use a pierced sheet and play out the wedding scene from 'Like Water For Chocolate.' Is that your plan?"
   "Then I'm waiting. Do you want me to say 'Too late, I'm going, see you next week', perhaps? I can, you know." He looked at her, his face blank, then he grinned, stuck his tongue out at her, took off his robe and hung it up, slid the shower door open, stepped in, and slid it shut behind him.
   She watched as he shampooed his hair. There wasn't much lather. He rinsed it away.
   "Do it again, please?"
   "It's not clean. It didn't lather up well. And this time, with your nails please scratch gently all over your scalp. In an orderly pattern. So you scrape off every last little flake of loose skin." It didn't lather well that time, either.
   "I just did."
   "True, but there was so much scalp crud that it overpowered the foam. You're not clean yet. Again."
   By the time she was finished with him, almost his whole body was glowing pink. From the very top to down between his toes.
   "Now your anus."
   "Scrub your anus. Good soapy flannel. Do it again and again until the foam lasts, then hold you cheeks open with your hands to let the water run in from your back and sluice the foam away."
   "That's the lot, I take it?"
   "We've done up as far as possible, and down as far as possible..."
   "Oh, I know the rest. 'Then you wash possible.' All right. What do you want done?"
   "Good lather on your hands. Stretch the wrinkles out of the scrotum with one hand, and soap the smoothed-out skin with the other. Soap the shaft of the penis until there is a good lather. As if you were milking a cow. Good. Now roll the foreskin back with one hand and repeat the exercise on the surface so exposed."
   "How do you know all this? You sound like a bloody text book."
   "Excellent observation. Elementary, My Dear Watson. Top marks. Memory, though, failed. I already told you, Sexual Hygiene and Pathology. Somewhere around page two hundred and fifty, as I recall. As modified by me for your particular circumstances. We've only covered part of that section, so far. The rest comes soon, though, don't fret. Oh, and we need a clean mat and towel. I forgot. Have you got them? Otherwise we lose another week."
   "Linen cupboard. Third shelf."
   "Good. Stay there in the wet warm. We don't want you getting a chill, or re-infected." She laughed and left the room, back in a few seconds. "You really are quite a good housekeeper. You'll make someone a lovely wife, one of these days. Now, turn it all off. Out you come, onto the clean mat. Dry yourself all over. Penis and anus last, each with a different corner of the towel. Good lad."
   "I wish you wouldn't talk to me like that."
   "I wish I wasn't here at all. You're very much nearer your wish than I am, right now. So stop whining. Good. Nice and clean. No, don't touch the robe. If I had a clean one I would put you into it. The dirty one is a no-no. Come through into the sun. That will keep you warm enough, I hope." She led the way into the bedroom, turned the bed down. "Lie down there in the sun, please. Good."
   She took a pair of rubber gloves from the pack, pulled them on. He winced when she snapped their wrist rubbers into place. "You sound like Madame Lash."
   "You should be so lucky. On your back please. Swing round so your feet point at the sun."
   "Why, for goodness' sake?"
   "Exactly. For goodness' sake. So that I can get the best possible light on checking that you are a healthy little beast. That's fine, thank you. Sunlight is such a good illumination, don't you agree?"
   He said nothing.
   With the magnifying glass she looked all over what was visible of his penis. "Lift it up, please. I want to see underneath. Good. And now lift the scrotum. Clean as a whistle, as far as I can see. Now peel the foreskin back and hold it for me, please. Excellent. And while it's peeled, lift it so I can see the bottom side, too. Fine. You've been lucky in love, so far."
   "You sound like a bloody doctor. A public health doctor, at that."
   "I was going to be one once."
   "But now you favour psychiatry, right?"
   "What a good memory, sometimes. No, don't get up, we aren't quite finished."
   "What more is there left to look at. I've got no more privacy for you to invade."
   "Ah, but you have. You can let the foreskin go, now, by the way. You didn't look as if it was giving you much pleasure, anyhow. Now, if you would kindly draw your knees up to your chest, try to pull them up to your shoulders? Excellent. Just one more thing."
   "Knees as far apart as you can, and feet up toward the ceiling. Excellent."
   "Why am I in this inelegant position?"
   "Several reasons. Firstly, so that I can look at your bum-end, as the latest medical jargon might have it."
   "Why are you doing that?"
   "Inspecting for papillomavirus."
   "What in the name of anything is that?"
   "Genital warts. They can get to the back. Then they are called anal warts. Same thing, though. If you had them, and if they itched at some point, and you scratched, probably without even noticing you had done so, you could immediately infect me. Impossible to get rid of. Nasty little buggers."
   "How do you know all this?"
   "I told you, I read the book. Anyhow, Even with this magnifying glass I can't see anything. You seem clean."
   "Ouch, that burns."
   "What? Oh, I see. Sorry, I had forgotten that this thing concentrates the sun. They used to call it a burning glass, didn't they? I'll bet you're the only man in Sydney with a small burnt patch between his cheeks. You really are quite a fun toy, you know. I wish you hadn't stuffed us up with your stupid behaviour. We could be having quite a nice time, together. Actually, we couldn't. You need to make some repairs to how your brain works, first."
   "Can I straighten out, yet?"
   "Oh, why not?"
   "My second reason."
   "Yes, you said there was more than one. What is it?"
   "You've had me in that position once already. Soon you are likely to want me so again. I though you should know beforehand whether it is comfortable or not. No, stay there, there is another reason, too."
   "What's that? Be quick, this is getting very uncomfortable."
   "Be quick - please?"
   "Be quick, please."
   "Better. The third reason is that I want you to experience the great sense of vulnerability one feels in that position, in the hope that you might have some care for my sensitivity and help me maintain may dignity at such time as it is my turn there. I am, after all, still a blushing virgin. Unlike you, you bloody cad."
   Still wearing the rubber gloves, she slapped him hard across the exposed buttocks. He yelped. She laughed. "Sorry, the temptation was too much for me. All done now. Your turn. Where do you want me? Oh, no, sorry. One more thing. Clean your teeth, please. Twice. Second time with a new tooth brush, if you happen to have one. I'll wait. You know what I mean by thorough, now."
   When he returned from the bathroom, she had him lie with his head in the sun, and turned his head this way and that as she looked around the inside of his mouth, using her gloved hands to turns his lips down and to invert his cheeks to see inside them better. She looked at his tongue, and under it, then held it by the tip, pulled it forward and looked down his throat. He gagged.
   She let go of his tongue. "Yes, you actually are quite a healthy little animal. Pay the nurse on the way out. Now, go and get the gun. Your turn. Where do you want me? Oh, and you might want another clean towel. There could be a bit of blood."
   "I'm not so sure I want to do this any more."
   "Oh, no. You don't back out. Not after I've gone to all this trouble getting you ready. Not to say all the bulk-billed examination you've enjoyed for zero fee. Plus the odd brief masochism and humiliation. Those I throw gratis, as they were fun for me too. No they weren't. I was being ironic."
    He just sat on the side of the bed, still naked, obviously dejected. She sat down beside him, still clothed, still wearing the rubber gloves. She looked at him. He didn't look back.
   "You said you wanted my body, didn't you?"
   He nodded.
   "You don't right now, but if it hadn't been so clinical you might have?"
   Another nod.
   "Okay, it's simple. I can't be bothered getting my nerve up all over again. It's now or never. I'm not up for yet another week of this. If you can't do it now, you never will. Stop fooling yourself. Do you need me to tie you down and rape you? Forget it! Go and get the bloody gun. Wuss!" She stood up, grabbed him by an ear and pulled.
   "Ouch. That hurts."
   "We both know that. Where's the gun?"
   "In the kitchen."
   "Good. Now, on your feet and we'll go get the gun and towel, or the ear will be going out to the kitchen to look for it without the rest of the Keith keeping it company."
   He held her wrist in both his hands, taking the strain from his ear, and stood up. "Please. Let go. I'll do it. Please." She released the ear and he went into the kitchen. She sat down again. He came back in, holding the gun and a small towel. He looked confused, uncertain.
   "Oh, put it down on the side table for the moment, and the towel in the bed where our bottoms will be, then come here, do."
   He did as she asked. Naked. Stopped before her. She stood up. "Undo my dress." Her face was calm.
   When he had undone the buttons she walked around the bed to the wardrobe, opened it, took down a coat-hanger, then, turned her back to him. Her face changed. He couldn't see it. She looked disgusted. With her back still towards him, she slipped off the dress. Keith gasped. Yes, she thought, the red underwear, suspenders and dark stockings are doing their job. If you're feeling overwhelmed now, she thought, just wait until you see the front view. She hung up the dress, closed the wardrobe, turned around, face now demure, with lowered eyes.
   "Oh, dear god. Oh, Jillian. Oh, my word."
   "Yes, Keith. Yes. Now, tell me what you've decided."
   "I'm going to lie on the bed. On my back. With the gun to my head. It's weight won't be a problem. The pillow will support my hand. You will be on top. Under duress. If you don't, I'll shoot myself and my note will be found and you will go to jail. Okay?"
   "Okay. Now, would you like to undress me, or would you rather I did it?"
   "You had better. I'll get on the bed and hold the gun to my head, so that you are under duress to do it." He lay down and arranged the gun as he had described. "Go on, undress, now, or I'll kill myself."
   She reached behind her, undid her brassiere, eased it off. Slid off her pants. Stepped out of them. Sat on the edge of the bed. Unclipped the stocking tops, slid each of them off in turn. Stood up, undid the suspender belt. Dropped it on the stockings. Turned to face him. He lay on his back, the gun still to his head, his penis flaccid. She still wore the rubber gloves. "What must I do, Keith?"
   "I don't know. I should be excited. You're lovely, beautiful, glorious. It makes my heart stand still, just looking at you. I love the smell of you. With your clothes off there is the perfume of your skin about you. I can smell it from here. I don't know what to do. Stroke me. Something. Anything."
   She tried a few half-hearted strokes at his body, still wearing the gloves, then suddenly tore them off and flung them at the wall. They slid to the floor.
   Then she put her hands on his shoulders, slid them down so that they were flat on his chest, fingers spread wide. Slowly she drew her hands down his length, fingering his nipples, feeling him shudder as she passed down over the concave curve of his belly, down over his hips, her thumbs almost touching each other as they slid across his pubic hair, down his thighs, their inside surface teased by those thumbs, over his knees, along the length of his shins, thumbs kneading the calf muscles, then squeezing his ankles, then embracing his feet, her fingers pressed across his instep while her thumbs probed for tendons under his arches, maintaining a firm pressure as she slowly tugged the feet while her hands slid right down to his toes. His chest rose and fell with a huge sigh. His eyes were closed. She grimaced, a look of repugnance.
   As she began a second stroke, the same, he spoke, as if in a dream, from far away. "I think I've died, and gone to heaven."
   "You better keep your finger clear of that trigger, or you will, and very quickly. Then I'd be in more trouble than I could cope with. Please."
   He took has hand from the gun, left it on the pillow, the muzzle still against his head. "Is that all right?"
   "Yes. Thank you." She continued to stroke him. His breathing deepened. She could see the pulse at his neck become more pronounced, faster. She kept stroking. "Is this what you wanted me to do?"
   "I didn't know that I wanted this. but I do now. Oh yes." He was still flaccid.
   "You aren't likely to rape me, though, in your present state. Neither by force nor by duress."
   "What? Oh, no, I guess not. But I do want your body. Oh I do."
   "You only think you do." She kept up the stroking.
   "I do. I really do." His eyelids fluttered. Her face became composed again. He opened his eyes, looked at her, his gaze travelling over her body as she leaned over him. "Caress my penis. Now. Or I'll shoot myself." He blushed. Closed his eyes. Opened them again.
   She stopped stroking, and sat on the edge of the bed, half turned toward him. With one hand she gently lifted the flaccid penis from between his thighs, cupped the other hand and laid the penis on it. She closed the hand around the shaft and tip together, and began to squeeze rhythmically.
   "Oh God," he breathed, "that is so marvellous. So lovely. Please don't stop. Please."
   "Don't worry, you're the boss. I'm just the slave. Whatever you want." Her voice was soothing, her face gentle. His eyes closed again. Now she looked merely resigned. "You don't want me Keith. Not me. The experience, perhaps, but not me personally. Whatever, whoever you love, it isn't me. Not me as a person. If anything, you've got even softer since I began caressing you. You're not a homosexual, perhaps?"
   His eyes flew open. "No, of course not."
   "No, I didn't think you were. But there must be something." She continued the rhythmic squeezing. "Were you abused, as a child, do you remember?" Yes, she thought, I'm going to do psychiatry for sure. But without this massage component, that's a certainty.
   "Not that I recall."
   "Keith, I want to stop this now. I think the whole thing is a failure. You don't want me. You don't have enough erection even to start a condom onto, let alone to deal to with my virginity. With or without my agreement."
   "Oh, but I do, I do."
   "There's no need to make a noise like a wedding ceremony."
   "What can I do? I know, suck me. Lick me."
   "My penis, of course."
   "No way."
   "I'll kill myself."
   "Good. I'll hold the gun steady for you. That's not rape."
   "Yes, it is."
   "I've just written it out of the contract. I'd rather do time than do that for you. To you."
   "Sit on me then."
   "Kneel astride me, your knees near my waist, your feet by my thighs."
   "Like this?"
   "Yes. Now rub my penis with your body."
   "I can't. It's fallen down between your legs again."
   "Well, reach it up and lay it on my belly, then sandwich it between us and sort of roll it around by wriggling on it."
   "Like this?"
   "No. Move further up my body. Yes, more like that. But wriggle a bit more. More side to side."
   "You don't want any ordinary woman, you need a belly dancer, a contortionist."
   "Oh, you're just trying to find excuses to welch on the deal."
   "Me? And who's the one with the unwilling willy, then? Look at it, it's just slipped down between your legs again. I'm a total beginner. You tell me. What do other women do when they're faced with this?"
   "I don't know."
   "What do you mean, you don't know? They were the other ones there when it happened. Tell me what they do."
   "I can't."
   "I know you can't, you poor dick. I want you to tell me what other women do."
   "That's what I mean. I can't tell you."
   "Just how many other women have you had."
   "None, actually."
   "You mean, this is what always happens? How many times has it been like this?"
   "This is the first."
   "Oh. I see. Oh, My. Oh dear lord. You don't know any more than I do. You're a virgin too. The blind leading the bloody blind. That's it. Over. Done. No rape. What ever else you might ask is another matter, but you're wasting both our times and making us both frustrated and miserable pretending at something you clearly won't manage in a month of Sundays. We've been trying for exactly that long. haven't we?"
   "To no avail?"
   "No. Yes."
   "It's time to give this ludicrous attempt away?"
   "Oh, all right."
   "Good. Now, put that gun away, please. You know I've done my best. We can do without the risk of that thing sitting there pointed at your head. Unload it or whatever you do to make sure it can't go off."
   "Oh, it's not loaded."
   "There might be one up the spout. Isn't that what they say? If heard of accidents that way, though it might only have been in the movies. Show me."
   "It can't go off. It couldn't hurt a fly, anyway. It's a starter's gun."
   "What do you mean?"
   "It's just a noise maker. For starting races. It hasn't got a hole for a bullet to come out, Look." He held it for her to look at. She had never looked at it carefully before. The muzzle end was blank. No hole. There was a black circle painted on the metal. Once you knew to look, there was no hole at all. He put it back on the table. "That's how I knew you weren't holding, when you said you were, it in the bathroom."
   "You mean, I've done all this, been put through all this, with no practical experience myself, to be raped by someone who not only can't get it up, but he's an ignorant virgin too? At the point of an unloaded bloody TOY!"
   He grinned sheepishly.
   Suddenly, before he could even guess what might be about to happen, she yelled at him, slapping his face in time with her words, both hands, both cheeks, left-right, left-right "You-nasty, little-shit."
   He finally grabbed her hands. Stopped the slapping. She tried to pull away. He intertwined their fingers, holding her firmly, and began to laugh. Once he started he seemed unable to stop. "I got you going that time, didn't I? Didn't I?"
   She forced his hands down beside his shoulders, using the intertwined fingers to hold his hands securely. He continued to laugh. Leaning over him, speechless with anger, she spat in his face. That got him laughing all the more. Suddenly he went quiet. His face went calm, as if his thoughts had turned inward, into himself.
    The unexpected silence calmed her. She looked at his expression, wondered what he might be thinking. Then she understood. "Oh no you don't. No way." He held her hands tighter. She felt his penis start to rise beneath her from where it had lain flaccid between his legs. She yelled at him, shocking him out his reverie, "Not without condoms, you don't!"
   She heaved herself off him, still caught by the intertwined fingers, and ended up half standing beside the bed, half kneeling on it. He held her hands tightly, trying to drag her back against himself, against the huge erection that had finally arrived. She resisted him, fought to get free. Either to flee him or get a condom onto him, she wasn't sure which. She braced a foot against the side of the bed, and heaved as hard as she could, trying to shake her hands free of his.
   She hoped he would pull back, which she knew would increase the strain on their fingers, and help her break his grip. But he sat up, putting her off balance, and using the momentum of her tug, stood up, sending her stumbling backwards. Before she could recover he was standing with her. Now he attempted to free his hands, so he could get his arms around her, lift her from the floor, be able to throw her down. She felt the change and quickly increased her grip on his fingers, knowing she had to stay on her feet. Without any warning, using the combined strength of their arms and linked hands, he swung her around as if they were square-dancing, and stepped firmly forward.
   She felt the edge of the bed behind her knees, and then his legs pushing between hers, as she started to fall onto her back, him falling forward onto her, their hands still locked together. As she fell, she willed more strength into her legs, braced them and, even as they both fell, threw herself even further backward, as far as possible, adding to her effort with the power of her arms braced against his oncoming momentum.
   When they landed, she was further across the bed than he had expected, and he, his impetus destroyed by her unexpected manoeuvre, had fallen short. He lay with his hips between her knees, rather than on top of hers, which she was sure is what he had intended. His penis was some way from her crotch. Close, she thought, but fortunately still off-target. neither of them was fit. They were both gasping, damp and slippery with their brief exertion in the Sydney humidity.
   He lay with his head on her chest, his face to one side. She could smell his hair, the perfume of the shampoo now overlaid with the pleasant edge of his musk. He wasn't too heavy for her. If only her weren't such a grot. It could be a satisfying pressure. Comforting. Reassuring. If he were different. She wished that he was. Different. More honest, at least. Somebody else, better still.
   He liked the feeling of her, the movement of her breathing, beneath him. He rolled his head slightly, so his nose could feel the softness, the texture, of her breast, and he could the better smell her skin.
   She had certainly changed since the night of the party, he realised. She had been shy and demure then. If she had still been like that, this afternoon would have gone very differently, he thought. But this virago, she was another matter altogether. If it had been this new Jillian driving, that night, he wouldn't have bothered with any of this. This woman was bad news. Too much hassle. Not worth the candle.
   He thought of her, now, as a different woman. There were two of them, the old and the new. the demure and the bold. They smelt the same, and had the same address, but that was about all they had in common. This one dressed demurely sometimes, but it was just an act, beneath the dirndl lurked the fiery underwear of a she-devil. The she-devil was the more fascinating by far, but also by far the less accessible.
   He felt that his erection had softened and died. Dismayed, he wanted comforting. "Let me suck."
   "You're not my lover." She realised that she had begun to enjoy lying there with his weight on her, the smell of his clean hair in her nostrils. She struggled to move him off her. He held her tightly.
   "I want to be your lover."
   "Forget it. Get off me. Rapist! Despoiler! Swindler! Larcenist!" She spat the words out, still breathing in the perfume of his hair. This can't go on, she thought. The struggle had been invigorating, and she knew that it released many of the same hormones as sexual arousal. The comfort of his body and the rightness of his smell could, until she had calmed herself, all too easily deceive her body into the lovely pressure of lust.
   He didn't deserve the gift of her desire. He had taught her what is was like to feel the pressure, the mass, the solidity, smell, and the vulnerability and strength of a man. But he had thrust that knowledge upon her, with her agreement obtained by duress, at a time of her choosing perhaps, but dishonourably, regardless.
   Knowledge was power, all the same. She had more knowledge now, and so more power. She understood finally, what she had been denying for too long; the extent, the depth, the tenacity of her own sexual power.
   This man might smell right, she reasoned, and fleetingly feel right as he lay upon her. But he was also flawed, inadequate, unsuitable, insincere, ignorant and dangerous. Above all, she had now come to the ultimate acceptance of herself. She felt within her body the needs he had for weeks been trying to quarry from her for his own gratification. He had uncovered them, stripped off the overburden, and now wrongfully sought the pure ore which had until then been so completely buried.
   No! She would not succumb. He was a claim-jumper, an impostor. He had no right to, and certainly didn't deserve, the generosity she now realised she would confer on whoever she chose to partner her, when she finally submitted to what she now knew, with absolute certainty, would be her own life-long, frenzied demands for fulfilment. Regularly, frequently, and exquisitely.
   She pushed him away. He no longer resisted. "Get off, Keith. Get dressed."
    Silently, eyes averted, Keith began putting on his clothes. Jillian pulled the covers over herself, and sat up, tucking them under her chin. "Make us some coffee and biscuits or something. Bring them in here. We have some talking to do, then I'm going to get up and have a shower and go home."
   Standing there, wan, he looked like a lost child.
   "Keith, get a grip. Food and drink into lady. Some into yourself. In that order. Easy."
   "Oh. Yes. right." He soon had coffee and biscuits on the side table.
   Patting the bed beside her, Jillian gestured for him to sit down. Hesitantly, he did so.
   "This has got to stop."
   "I don't want to. I love what we are doing. I've never lived with a woman before. It's lovely. Why can't we keep going? Even just one afternoon a week. You're beautiful. The place lights up when you're here. I feel myself light up when you're with me. I don't mind not having sex. I'll stop grabbing at you. I'm polite, aren't I? It's interesting being with me?"
   She tried to interrupt him, before he put himself in an untenable position. "Keith. Stop." He finally ran down. "Fine. Now listen. This is very important. Okay?"
   "Good. Take a bite of biscuit. I want your mouth too full to cut in for a minute. Good. This is the last time you will see me. You've progressively lost your self-respect. You've changed in this last month from being in control, supportive, criminal maybe, but relatively mature, to being a supplicant, obedient, almost a lap-dog. Nod if I'm right. Don't speak yet. Take another mouthful of biscuit."
   He nodded. She took a sip of coffee. He took another biscuit. Started to eat it.
   "I'm not good for you. Not any more. I've changed. I had to. You helped. I thank you for that. It had to be done. I was about to start failing at my studies. Medicine becomes progressively more confronting and a wuss can't take it. I was a wuss. I'm not now. Along the way I've also settled on psychiatry as my eventual specialisation. I'll be good at it. I've got you to thank for all that. I mean it. You toughened me, gave me a challenge and the privacy to practice how to rise to it. You didn't mean to help me that way, but it's how it turned out. Understand?"
   He nodded.
   "Good. Thank you for listening. There is more, but it will keep for a moment. How about you. Any comment? How are you feeling? My turn to eat." She took a biscuit, started chewing, watching him.
   "I feel dreadful. Empty. You want to leave me. I'll be alone again. How will I manage? My whole week, these days, I think about our last meeting, and plan for the next one. It's at the back of my life as I work. I'll miss you so much. But you've changed. So very much. I was the boss in the beginning. That was interesting, but easy. You were so easy to manipulate. I was sure I could easily force you to let me have sex with you, but you always managed somehow to stay one move ahead. I'm right, aren't I?"
   Jillian nodded. "Go on."
   "You said we had years. That was to make me slow down, so you could catch up?"
   She nodded again.
   He continued. "I didn't notice that. I see it now. You kept giving me little treats, almost invisible some of them, just a smile sometimes, when I least expected it, but you made me earn them, even in such small ways, like giving you my arm when we walked?"
   She nodded again.
   "You offered to see me, before I had to threaten you. But you made it somewhere public. Private enough for any conversation, but where you had protection. And you would make the next date and be gone on the bus, when I was stuck there with the bill to pay. You gradually got me into the habit of doing things the way you wanted. But you left me with my main aim intact, though still at least a kiss and a promise away. Is that right?"
   "Yes, Keith. You see it now. What else?"
   "You humiliated me, sexually, with that bump and grind. I offered you love and you made it look horribly cheap. But it always was, wasn't it, because you could never freely return my love if I'd got you over a barrel? Have I got that right?"
   She nodded.
   "And then you did it again, the next week, today, with all that scrubbing and the examinations, and insisting on me having the gun. That was all play-acting, wasn't it?"
   "Not the cleanliness. That really is the standard I would demand of my man. It's the one I set for myself. You'll know that soon. I'll let you watch me shower, if you're good."
   A smile washed across his facelike a benediction. "That would be so lovely. To watch you in the shower, and drying, and dressing, you know?"
   "Yes, Keith, I can imagine. But only once, and only if I have your unbreakable word that this is the end of all the games. That we will go our own way and never meet again. No more threats of disclosure. No more of any of it."
   "Just this shower, and then nothing any more?"
   "After this, watching me shower will only be for the man I love, when I find out who that is going to be. It won't be you or Chris, make no mistake."
   "Yes, Chris has rather shot himself in the foot there, hasn't he."
   "Oh, Keith, you would become such a nice guy if only you could straighten out your bent morality. I think I can trust that you will keep your word on what we have agreed. But I also feel there is somwthing you are not telling me, that you should. That might be damaging to me? Am I right?"
   "No, Jillian. Nothing to tell that might be damaging to you."
   "I actually believe you, but I suspect I'm asking the wrong questions. There is some big guilty secret that you need to do penance or find redemption for. One more thing. For your own sake, please, please stop your criminal activity, right now, and never, ever do it again, or I fear it will bring you down, and probably sooner than later. Okay?"
   "I understand. But I think I could only do it with your help. You've gradually trained me, haven't you, like a dog, with little treats, to be obedient to you. To need you. To need your approval. I need you, Jillian. I do."
   "Keith, I'm an amateur. Just been protecting myself. But this sick thing of yours has changed us both. Somewhat for the better. Just dumb luck. Now I've got years of study, to do the job I want. You can't wait years. You need serous help, right bloody now. Get a referral from your doctor. Tell him you have sexual anxiety."
   "I can't say that."
   "You could, to me. Close your eyes and pretend It's me. It gets easier with practice. That's something I've learnt through you."
   "You had this all planned out from the beginning."
   "Not at all, Keith. I have been playing it by ear, learning as I went, day by day, and making some huge mistakes along the way. Luckily for me, you made bigger ones, sometimes."
   "What now, Jillian?"
   "As soon as I have had a shower and done my hair, I'm off. We probably won't see each other again. Our games are getting too dangerous. One of us would get killed. I seriously thought of puttng a knife into you, if I could have found one when the gun came into it. It would have turned into a tragedy, for us both, before I discovered that it was just an inspired little joke. Luckily, you turned it into a threat against yourself before you had driven me too far."
   "Yes, I felt you were getting close to something - pulling out, or getting violent, or something. that was why I turned it round."
   "You're not stupid, Keith, far from it. But you are sick. An excessive risk taker. Pathologically so. Under critical circumstances probably a danger to yourself and society. You urgently need help. I beg you, as a friend if you like, to get help urgently, before you, too, kill someone. But that's only my personal opinion, as an amateur. However, having killed someone myself, despite it being pure accident, I can tell you. I know what it's like. And it's dreadful."
   "I'll be fine."
   "Good, but without me. After some years I will destroy my insurance letter. I won't tell you when. In the meantime, just hope I stay healthy. You can do what you like, but you won't be dobbing me in. Perhaps you never were. Am I right?"
   "Yes. Yes, you are."
   "It hasn't been boring, Keith. Far from it. It's been fascinating. You're not a boring person. And you need love. But I've become tough meat, no longer for you. Isn't that right?"
   "Yes. I couldn't live with you, I'd be miserable. I realise that now. At one point I had the thought of forcing you to marry me. Not one of my brightest ideas, perhaps."
   "Oh, at the time I was probably malleable enough for it to have worked. Except that you kept upping the ante on me, so I had to keep changing, too. It was you, yourself, who ensured the failure of that option."
   "You're saying that I do it to myself?"
   "We all do Keith. Now, quits?"
   "Yes. Quits. Shake?"
   "Shake." They shake hands. "And Keith?"
   "For some reason, I really feel I can trust you on this one."
   "Yes. Yes, that's right."
    "Now I'm going to have a shower. God knows I deserve it, and I want it, and I need it. Get me a clean towel, please, and bring it in to me. You won't have to break down the door. I won't lock it. I don't think we have much left to hide from each other, have we?
   She had walked into the bathroom as she had talked, and turned on the shower. When the water had warmed she made sure that she had everything she needed, to hand, except the towel which Keith was bringing her, stepped in, put her hands above her head and stretched. Standing on tiptoe, she pushed her hands up higher, higher, higher still, until she felt every muscle in her body tell her of its existence, its fitness for its purpose, its readiness to do her bidding and look after her. She held the strain, still stretched tall, closed her eyes against the water and slowly turned under the spray until every part of her body had been warmed and rinsed. She felt marvellous.
   Then she lowered her arms, relaxed back onto the soles of her feet, and opened her eyes. She was looking straight at Keith, his face only inches away, on the other side of the glass, standing stock-still, watching, spellbound. He held a folded towel.
   Turning the nozzle away from the door, she slid the glass back. "Oh, Keith. I didn't see you there for a moment." He continued to stare at her, his eyes focussed somewhere just above her navel, she thought. "Keith? Hey. Keith." She could almost see him shake himself back into the present. He may not love me, she thought, but he is certainly fascinated.
   "Oh? Yes? Sorry, I was thinking."
   "Yes, I noticed. You were thinking at my body, with both your eyes, and with rapt attention. Now, the towel. Towel? That thing you are holding?"
   "Oh. Yes. Sorry." He held the bundle out to her."
   "Just hang it on the rail there, where I can reach it. And one more thing. Where do you keep the hair-drier?"
   "Hair-drier. Blower thingy. Noisy. Plug it in, makes hot wind? Dries your hair?"
   "I don't have one. You can use the towel."
   "Styling, my little friend. I may as well give you a lesson. One of the few you will get from me, so pay attention. Okay?" She continued to stand before him, the warm water running over her, naked, and feeling just fine about it.
   "Yes. Yes, please."
   "When a woman's hair is wet, she uses the drier to shape her hair as much as to dry it. I came out with my hair blow dried. I either go home with it done the same or my parents will know what has happened. Well, my mother would know. My dad probably wouldn't notice. That's men for you. But he's a nice one, not like you."
   "But I don't have a drier. I use a towel."
   "You must be a man. despite the evidence to the contrary. Get me a drier. Please. Go and buy one. The cheapest you can find. It only has to work the once. Supermarket. Or convenience stores. Or pharmacies. You'll find something open on a Sunday up at The Cross. About twenty or thirty dollars will do it. Chop-chop."
   He stood there. continued to watch her.
   "What are you standing there for? I'll need it when I come out of the shower. I like a long shower, but not so long that you can hang around here purving all day. Go! Do you need money?"
   "No, I'm fine. I'll get it for myself. I might need to have one around for some other time, anyhow. See you soon." He went through into the bedroom, out into the lounge, closing the door behind him.
   Jillian continued showering, enjoying the warmth, acutely aware of her nakedness, of her body, and its fatigue. She knew, without any room for doubt, how she would feel that other fatigue, that would come every time she bestowed herself on the man of her choice. A fatigue that would slide through her veins like warm honey, leaving her permeated with a rosy glow, every part of her being tingling with the joyous effervescence that would fade, slowly, so slowly. So slowly, in fact, that she would still be luxuriating in its aftershocks until she and her love made their next mutual trip to that same ever-filling cup from which they would nurture each other for the rest of their lives.
   Still lost in that glow, she turned off the water, reached for the towel, used it to dry herself, then wound it round her hair, went into the bedroom, and picked up her clothes. There was no sound from Keith. He should be well on his way to getting a drier by now.
   The sound of his voice in the next room, just as she was putting on her panties, surprised her. That was quick, she thought. "I'm still in here," she called.
   Bu he didn't answer. He sounded agitated. He was phoning, his voice muffled by the door. Something to do with his car. Opening the door slightly, she was able to hear.
   ".. No, I couldn't see the driver, not from this position... Of course I hadn't left the keys in it. Except, perhaps, he might have found the one I hid in the magnetic holder, underneath the car... That's true, it could have been a woman, but I told you, I didn't see the driver... Well, I didn't know they always look there. I'm not a car thief, I'm in computers... Yes, I'll go down and look round the district, I didn't know they were often abandoned quite nearby.. Yes, thank you, goodbye."

Copyright © 2003 Peter Leon Collins
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