She pulled the dress beyond the apex of her hips. It hit the floor, kicking up a gust of warm lavender. I watched her from across the room. She reeled herself towards me: lips wet, hips carving long sensual eights, the loose skin below her chin flushed red with anticipation.
‘So, do you like the flat?’ When she spoke, her lips held a tight pout which slurred her words a little. ‘Three-eighty a month. Gas and electricity included. Nine month contract. And have you seen this view?’ She went to the window; she pretended this was a spontaneous decision. ’It’s the best in St Andrews. Come see for yourself.’ On her instruction, I pressed my forehead to the glass to experience the full panorama. The spires of the cathedral were embossed against the blue horizon; sparkling waves massaged the estuary. In the distance a sailing boat the width of my thumb tacked starboard.
A pink fingernail arced down the small of my back. The tang of artificial lavender grew hot and tart and stung my nostrils. She whispered, ‘I’m sure your friends would love to get this flat. You’re not going to let them down, are you?’ I stared out to the horizon, imagining myself at the cathedral, or ducking under the sailing boat’s mast, anywhere out of range of her roaming hands. The fingernail slid lower. A thumb introduced itself brashly. Her tongue whipped the words against my neck: ‘Are you going to show me how much you want this flat?’ The line was too slick, too well rehearsed. You could tell she played this same routine every flat hunting season. I had been written into her calendar since last March.
She unhooked my final shirt button and stroked the fabric off my shoulders. At this point, her script called for the stooge to blush, stumble back a few steps, mumble some excuse to leave, and for her to insist, ‘Shhh shh shh. Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.’ Her finger went to hush my lips, but I didn’t give her the chance. I wasn’t about to be anyone’s stooge. I threw her back into a tango pose and kissed her, hard. I wanted the flat, but I wanted it on my terms. We grappled onto the double mattress. I ripped off the last of her clothes and submitted my application.
She glared at me with a mix of shock and excitement. Her breath escaped her. The look demanded answers: what had happened to the coy little Mancunian? I didn’t give an answer. I gave a demand. ‘I want no security deposit and broadband included in the rent.’
She gasped as another spasm jolted her spine. ‘Deal.’
Suddenly, impossibly fast, she was on top of me. She nuzzled and dug in her claws. The landlady’s sighs rang with the smell of chicken and tuna in jelly. The hair on her chest tickled me, and her tail did amazing, gymnastic things. I opened my eyes. Two big black disks set in yellow stared back at me. I looked across my room to where ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson sat against the half open door — not heavy enough. This was the worst part about being home for the holidays. The showers may not be hot in Andrew Melville, but at least the rooms have locks.
The cat perched on my chest. Between its teeth a field mouse kicked the air and squealed. Maisey made a muffled meow and awaited recognition of her triumph. I rocked myself side to side to try and shake her off, but the cat hung on. Even when I threw her to the floor, she jumped straight back up and shoved her catch against my face, as if disbelieving that I couldn’t appreciate the magnitude her achievement.
Back in the world of fantasy, a frustrated landlady called to me. ‘James, where are you? Don’t you want the flat?’
The cat clambered back aboard and dug in. The landlady, the bed, the view — they all began to fade with the cat’s breath. In washed the burning ache of unfinished business. It would only take another minute though, I thought. I could do it. Hell, I had to do it. The claws in my stomach almost broke skin. The mouse screamed mercy. The smell of Sheba gagged me. But it was too late to back out now. The translucent landlady hung on. The cat complained. I shut my eyes tight and tried to focus on nipples.