This morning I finished writing Fifty Shades of Neigh, which is weird considering the last book I wrote took me eighteen months and three years of research. Time apparently means nothing when you’re dicking about with other people’s characters, although I honestly couldn’t tell you whose characters they’re supposed to be at this point. They’ve been through so many layers of meta it’s enough to give you a headache.
But yes – it’s done in under two months. I’m surprised at myself, and strangely sad to finish actually. Now I’ll have to do some proper writing.
After breakfast my mother suggests a walk down by the ocean. I wouldn’t usually go but Uncle Bob has taken his apron off and hasn’t put anything on, so I follow her along the marinas, where the yachts are moored – huge, sleek and expensive. They remind me of Crispian. He hasn’t e-mailed this morning. I hope he’s still asleep and not sitting up moodily doodling unicorns on his drawing board. Or fat, busty dwarf maidens. Especially not fat, busty unicorns. Ew.
“Did you hear Professor Jarrett got deported?” says my mother.
I stiffen and stare at my shoes. “Um…no.”
“You didn’t? Hanna, have you been paying attention to school at all or is it all about this boy?”
I blush. “Boy,” I confess. “And he’s a man. A fascinating, complicated, intriguing man.”
My mother sighs and adjusts her sunhat. “I thought the same thing about your father,” she says.
“You did?” I don’t remember my real father. He died in a bizarre balloon huffing accident when I was two.
“Oh yes. He seemed very intense. He would stare into the middle distance for minutes at a time, as if he was on the verge of some great philosophical revelation – some fierce moment of clarity.” She smiles at the memory. “Turned out he was just trying to remember his left from his right. And other times I think it was probably gas. Helium, mostly.”
“Am I like him?” I ask, breathlessly.
She looks at me and nods poignantly. “Yes. You are, baby.” She sighs again. “It’s a good thing he was pretty.”
We walk a few more yards down the jetty. “I’m glad you’re finally having sex, Hanna,” she says, at a volume I’m sure can be heard in Cuba.
“Don’t be prudish. It’s only sex. None of us would be here without it – and you’re twenty-one and beautiful. You should be experimenting with what turns you on. I just…I just worry.”
“It’s not only sex,” I hiss. “It’s deep. It’s a connection.”
“Right – is that why you’ve been drunk, crying or both all the time lately?” She folds her arms and glares at me. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Hanna. Kate told me everything.”
She sold me out, the bitch. I should have known. She lulled me into a false sense of security, but at the end of the day she is still a blonde.
“You don’t understand,” I say. “Okay, so he’s a little bit…strange in his habits, but he really, really likes me. And I think I really, really like him.”
“You think?” She removes her wide-brimmed hat and runs her fingers through her sweaty hat-hair. “Hanna, listen to me – I don’t know how much clearer I can make this…”
There is a pony behind my mother. For a moment I think I’m going crazy, but I blink and there it is again – a blue pony decal on the side of the big white yacht behind her. She doesn’t realise – she’s still droning on.
“…there is no point trying to have a relationship with someone if you don’t like what he does, what he is. You think ‘I can change him’ – you can’t. There is nothing to be gained from banging your head against that particular wall. Didn’t you learn anything from literature? Isabella Linton and Heathcliff, Dorothea and Casaubon…”
I gaze upwards. Holy crap – he’s here. He’s staring down at us from the deck of his yacht. He removes his hat and smiles at me, and my heart skips a beat.
“…Hanna, close your mouth. Are you even listening to me?”
I point and my mother turns around. Crispian grins – a child with an exciting toy. “Care to come aboard, ladies?” he says. “I promise not to plunder your booty. Much.”
My mother arches an eyebrow and stares at me for a moment. “Really?” she says.
“Hey toots,” says Crispian. “Miss me?”
I’m speechless. It’s so romantic. Stalky, but romantic. “I don’t believe this,” I say. “You sailed all the way from Seattle, just for me?”
My mother and Crispian exchange weird, glassy looks. “Gets it from her father,” my mother explains, apologetically. “He was…directionally challenged. Amongst other things.”
“I flew, Hanna,” he says.
“Ohhh…” I nod. Of course. Silly me. Why would he sail to from Seattle to Florida when he could take his helicopter? “Crispian has his own helicopter,” I tell my mother. She might have three men and a pile of feminist books to her name, but have any of her boyfriends got a helicopter? I think not somehow.
“His carbon footprint must be enormous,” she murmurs, as Crispian welcomes us up the gangplank.
She would bring that up, wouldn’t she? Thanks to Uncle Bob’s nudey habits I now know what enormous looks like. “It’s about average,” I say, defensive. “But how many inches do you actually need?”
My mother shakes her head. “Oh Hanna,” she sighs. “Right now I think the only number you need worry about is his I.Q.”
Crispian, his hat thrown back and his hands on his hips, smiles broadly at us across the deck. “Welcome aboard my humble luxury yacht, mateys, ” he says, doing a pirate voice. “Perhaps you bountiful wenches would care to join me in talking like a pirate for the duration of the voy-age?”
“Perhaps not,” says my mother. She has what I call her ‘manhater’ face on, but Crispian is not intimidated. He approaches, takes her hand and kisses it.
“Arrrrgh I’m charmed to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Squeal, so I am.”
“It’s Ms,” says my mother. “Ms. West.” She doesn’t ask him to call her Teresa. “And could we please lay off the piratese?”
“I think it’s fun,” I say. He sounds kind of British when he does a pirate voice, and that’s sexy. “I can’t believe you came all this way to see me.”
“Neither can I,” says my mother, turning bitchier by the second. “Especially when you called me in tears saying you were coming to get some ‘space’ and ‘time to think.'”
“Arrrrgh…” Crispian begins, but my mother stops him short with a look. “…you wanna come see the lounge?” he finishes, in a normal, if nervous voice. Sometimes I think my mother’s floaty hippy act is there to hide the fact that she’s actually a stone-cold ball-breaker.
He gestures towards a flight of steps. “Do not get pregnant by this man,” my mother whispers urgently. “Are you seeing a gynecologist?”
“No he’s an internet billionaire, Mom,” I whisper back, confused.
“Goddess help us…” she moans, rolling her eyes.
The lounge is like a full-sized living room – on a boat! There are helium filled balloons and my favourite pink roses and champagne on ice. I think I might be ready to forgive him for stalking me on my private alone-time vacation. One of the balloons twirls lazily in the air, revealing the picture on the other side. It’s Pinkie Pie. He loves Pinkie Pie almost as much as he loves Rarity – Rarity is classy and beautiful but Pinkie Pie is the party pony.
I fucking hate Pinkie Pie.
“Excuse me a moment ladies,” he says. “I’ve been having some trouble flushing the head – that’s boat-speak for crapper.” He gathers up my hair and kisses the side of my neck. “I should get Hanna to do it, right Ms. West? She flushes often enough – am I right?”
“Shesuffersfromacutesocialanxietydon’ttouchmydaughter,” says my mother, drawing me away from him.
As soon as we’re alone I round on her. “What is wrong with you? You don’t like him, do you?”
She sighs. “Poopkin, it’s not that I don’t like him – I just…find him repellent.”
“Repellent? In what way?”
“I can probably think of at least fifty different ways. And that’s just off the top of my head.”
“Like what? Name one.”
“Okay. He belittles you, he follows you, he invades your personal space, he demands your hands-on participation in his hobbies and interests but never once asks you what you want out of a relationship. He manipulates you with expensive gifts and grandiose gestures. He calls you ‘toots’ when your name is Hanna. He makes you cry all the time. He doesn’t want to spend time getting to know your friends and he masturbates to My Little Pony…”
“…Mom, I get it. I’m your only child, and I understand that I’m your special little girl…”
She grabs my shoulders. “You’re damn right, Hanna. You are my special girl. Real special. And that’s exactly why you should not be in a relationship with an emotionally stunted manchild who is going to spend your time together working out new ways to make you do his bidding.”
The world melts away in that moment. I see her lips moving but the sounds coming out of them make no sense. It hits me like a truck, a glorious, rose-festooned truck that’s full of bluebirds and doves and champagne. A truck of love. I am in love. Oh God, I am in love with Crispian Neigh!
“I don’t care,” I say, my eyes filling with tears of joy. “I love him!”
My mother sighs. “Okay sweetie. Invite him over for dinner tomorrow night. And don’t go sailing off in this thing – I’m making you an appointment with my gynecologist.”
“You’re not mad at me?”
She sighs again. “I don’t know any more, Hanna. You’re a woman now. You have to make your own mistakes. Just remember that whatever happens, I love you very much, okay?”
“Okay. Do you want to stay and have champagne with me and Crispian?”
“I would, baby, but just looking at him makes me itch.”
“He does that to me too,” I say. “Itchy and tingles.”
“Oh crap,” says my mother, and leaves.
After a few moments of meaningless introspection, I am joined by my beloved. He is clutching a wire coathanger and wears a frustrated expression. “Hanna, I know this a stretch…” he falters. “But do you know anything about plumbing?”
I shake my head. I know nothing but him in that moment. “I love you!” I gasp.
He drops the coathanger. “You’re not mad at me for stalking you across country and putting GPS trackers in your computer, your Blackberry, your car and several items of your underwear?”
Once again I shake my head, my heart aflame and my you-know-what aquiver.
“Wow,” he says, taking me in his arms. “I guess all the nice girls really do love a sailor, huh?”
His kiss is fierce and passionate. He pulls my t-shirt up and kisses the tops of my breasts, his tongue lashing back and forth over my skin like a delicious fleshy scourge. My Inner Goddess is being noisily sick into a fire-bucket.
– Seriously, what is your problem?
His hands fumble up under my skirt and he drops to his knees. “I’m going to love you with my lips, Hanna,” he says.
…bleeeeeuuuuuugh oh God this is worse than the night you did the thing with the avocado, the electric toothbrush and the family sized tub of raspberry yoghurt…
I ignore her and surrender to bliss. Crispian pulls down my panties and then I remember – I’m still wearing that gross smelly ‘Goddess Pad’ that my mother gave me. Crispian takes one look at my red-stained root-chakra and falls to the floor in a dead faint.
And this is why you should never date manchildren. What are you going to do now, Hanna?
– Up yours. If there’s one thing a grounding in Nineteeth Century literature teaches a woman, it’s how to revive people who have fainted.
Cool. So where does he keep the smelling salts?
– Idiot. It doesn’t have to be smelling salts. It can be any strong, bad smell.
Ah. Then I recommend the coathanger.
He comes to. “Oh hey,” he says, and closes his eyes. “Oh God.”
It’s then I realise I’m standing over him with my skirt on the floor and my panties around my knees. “Sorry,” I say, and pull up my underwear.
He doesn’t open his eyes but shakes his head. “Yeah, that view of your…GPS tracker is kind of gory.” He takes a deep breath and murmurs, “Don’t throw up don’t throw up don’t throw up…toilet’s blocked so don’t throw up…”
“I’m so sorry,” I apologise. “I completely forgot that I was on my period. Are you okay?”
He sits up slowly. “Can you get me a glass of water?”
“Still or sparkling?”
“Hanna, what the hell does it matter? So long as it’s cold and it’s wet.”
I pour him a glass from the jug on the table. “It’s amazing,” I say, kneeling beside him. “I like water too. And ‘cold’ and ‘wet’ are two of the exact same reasons why I like it so much. It’s like we’re in sync with one another.”
“Synergy,” he whispers, and kisses me again.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I ask, stroking his fingers with their touching, cheeto-stained nails. “Your fear of blood? Is it something dark and damaging in your past that I can fix?”
Crispian frowns. “Uh…well, there was this one time when I had this insane dentist. He tried to take my lower wisdom teeth out under local anaesthesia – that wasn’t good.”
I picture him, vulnerable, mouth-gaping, making small, helpless aaaaaaargh sounds as the cruel dentist goes to town on his tender gums. Oh my darling – what did they do to you? I press him to my breasts, vowing that the world will never hurt him again as long as he is mine.
My Inner Goddess pushes the bucket away with her foot and adjusts the ice pack on her forehead. I take back what I said about your relationship being boring, she says. At this point it’s strangely fascinating, sort of like a nasty accident or those terrible Child Called It books.
– You shut your hole. He’s damaged and complicated and my mother hates him. I have never loved him more.
The heat has made my hair frizz. I try to beat it into submission with the hairbrush, but it springs back up and I sigh and roll my eyes at it. I wish it would behave. All I want to do is look pretty for Crispian – it’s not that much to ask. Just one night as belle of the ball before I go back to being my usual large-eyed, pert-breasted and yet impossibly mousy self.
But no. It’s enough of an insult to have bad hair, without piling it on top of the indignity of having a withered hag of an inner goddess bitching it up inside my head…
I can hear you, you know.
– You’re so fired.
That’s not happening without heavy medication or possibly a lobotomy. Actually, if you could spring for the latter I’d be extremely grateful – it’s not that your skull isn’t roomy, but if you could see your way to having a bit snicked off a frontal lobe I could dust off those plans for an office-extension.
– You’re not funny. In case you hadn’t noticed, you are contractually obliged to provide some kind of commentary on my sexuality.
I did. What did you think the bucket was for?
– Look, I don’t care what kind of weird, Victorian prude you are…
She snorts. How the hell do you get a degree in Literature without learning that the late nineteenth century was the golden age of dirty books? Oh, wait…I know this one. You find a billionaire to deport your English professor and buy your way to the top of th…
– You shut your whore mouth!
No, but you did, didn’t you?
– I did nothing of the sort. You’re just jealous because I’m having some of the hottest sex in literature and you’re too busy clutching your pearls to provide commentary.
Oh please. It’s positively tepid.
– Compared to what?
D.H. Lawrence. Anais Nin. One Hundred and One Days of Sodom. The Story of O. Emmanuelle Arsan. The dirty bits of Catullus, the Decameron, Aretino, Fanny Hill, Grub Street, print shops, libelles, Henry Miller, Nexus, Plexus, Fexus and fucking Texas, however many of the fucking things he wrote – both Tropics – Cancer and Capricorn. Snuff porn by William Burroughs. Fart porn by James Joyce. Fucked up Victorian sex diaries featuring incest, rape, pedophilia, necro, scat, and bestiality. Holywell Street. Portnoy’s Complaint, Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, that Shirley Conran one with the goldfish up the hooey. Anne Rice giving a horrible new twist to the phrase ‘eating pussy’ and don’t even get me started on the maxi-pad incident. Good sex, bad sex, that German one where some girl’s taint gets infected and she hangs around the hospital telling gross-out stories and stuffing avocado pits up her cooze. Nancy Friday, Kindle porn, Black Lace, Olympia Press, Harlequin Spice and Bill O’Fucking Reilly.
People have been writing about sex since shortly after writing was invented – that’s what we humans do. We invent something and then five seconds later we look at it and think ‘How can I masturbate to this?’ Look what happened to the internet. Same thing probably happened with the Gutenberg Press. Same thing probably happened with fucking cuneiform. So feel free to stop acting like you invented written pornography any time soon, okay?
– Oh dear. Is it that time of the month?
Two words – unmedicated schizophrenia.
She doesn’t seem like she’s going to get any nicer any time soon. I put on my purple shift dress, tie my recalcitrant hair back with a clip and put on a pair of black, high-heeled pumps I bought back in Seattle. The effect is not too bad, even if I am too skinny and my eyes are too big. I wonder if I’m wearing enough make-up. I don’t like using make-up – I think it’s generally for people who are a lot shallower than me. Also Kate says I don’t know when to stop with blusher and come out looking like a burn victim, although she can talk. In Junior year she was using so much bronzer she looked like an oompa-loompa.
When I leave the room I bump into Uncle Tate on the landing. He takes one look at me and whistles. “Heels, Hanna?” he says. “Are you sure?”
“Honey, there is no such thing as too slutty. It’s not your hymen I’m worried about you breaking – you’re unstable enough in your Converse.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I say. “I’m much better now.”
I go downstairs, where something is cooking. I don’t know what and I don’t know if I care to find out. It smells like beans.
“You look pretty, sweetie,” says my mother, who is polishing wine glasses.
I squint at her and pour myself a glass of Chardonnay. I know what she’s playing at. She thinks I don’t know, but I do. Still, at least Uncle Bob is wearing pants tonight. I should be grateful for small mercies.
“Are you wearing heels?” he asks.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?”
Uncle Chet sticks his head up over the back of the armchair where he is sitting. “You finally saw a doctor about that thing, huh?”
“The dizzies,” says Uncle Chet, as Uncle Tate comes back into the room. “The constant faceplanting. So what was it? I had fifty bucks on Ménière’s disease.”
“Brain tumour,” says Uncle Tate, triumphantly, holding out his hand for money. “Told you. Hand it over.”
“You guys are assholes sometimes,” says my mother.
Uncle Tate squeezes my mother’s boob in full view of everyone and kisses her on the mouth. “I know. We’re terrible and we’re sorry.” He wanders back to the living area and dumps himself on Uncle Chet’s lap. “No, seriously – what did the doctor say it was, Hanna?”
“I didn’t see a doctor.”
My mother frowns. “It just cleared up on its own?”
“Huh. That’s odd. I thought it was a minor character trait.”
I shrug and drain my glass. “Just goes away sometimes, I guess.”
“Maybe finally having a penis inside you reset your centre of gravity,” suggests Uncle Tate.
“I don’t think it works like that,” says Uncle Chet.
“I dunno. I think your tennis game has improved significantly since we…reevaluated our physical relationship.”
“You think so?”
“Oh yeah. Your balance is so much better.”
“I practised. That’s all. It had nothing to do with your dick…”
I slam the fridge door, spilling my fresh glass of wine. “Okay,” I say. “Can we please lay down some ground rules for tonight? Please?”
Somewhere behind the depths of his enormous beard, Uncle Bob is chewing his lip. “We’re not really ‘rules’ people, Hanna…”
“Mom…” I appeal.
My mother looks up from the cheese grater. “No, I agree with Hanna. Let’s try not to embarrass her into a coma, guys. This is the first time she’s ever brought a young man home, after all.”
Brought a young man home. Where did she pick up this wonderbread vocabulary? She sounds like some kind of Stepford Wife. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing, Mom,” I say. “Because I totally do.”
“Okay, Hanna. What am I doing?”
“You’re going to go out of your way to be nice to Crispian so that I think you approve of him and therefore find him less interesting.”
“Well I never,” murmurs Uncle Tate. “She really is smarter than she looks.”
I turn on my three-inch heels and point at him. “You,” I command. “Do not say ‘penis’. All night. Do you understand?”
I hear the door and march towards it, glass in hand. “Our little girl is all grown up,” Uncle Bob mutters, as I walk out.
“Yeah, and rapidly morphing into Lucille Bluth,” adds Uncle Tate.
I take a deep breath and open the front door. Crispian is standing there with a dozen pink and white roses and another pony balloon. Applejack, I think. “I was going to bring a bottle,” he says. “But wine glasses are so goddamn huge these days.” He whistles and Naylor appears from round a corner, wheeling a trolley with a huge wooden case parked on top.
“Mind if I bring this in?” he asks.
Everyone stares at the crate. “Holy shit,” says Uncle Tate. “Don’t let any Nazis open that thing or you’ll be rinsing melted face off the soft-furnishings for weeks.”
Crispian stares at him for a moment and then bursts out laughing. “Ha! Movie reference! Awesome!”
“Um…yeah?” says Uncle Tate. “That’s the joke? Wow. So young and yet so nerdy.”
Crispian throws up both hands. “Guil-ty,” he singsongs. “You don’t even know. I am such a nerd. I’m like King Nerd of NerdMountain. Seriously.”
“Good for you,” murmurs Uncle Tate, holding out a hand. “I’m Hanna’s uncle Tate, this is Uncle Chet, the big Daddy in the chaps and apron over there is Big Uncle Bob – and I do mean big…and I guess you’ve met Mother Teresa and she hasn’t eaten your head off yet, so well done on that score, I guess.”
“Nice to see you again, Crispian,” lies my mother, coming out of the kitchen area.
“Can we ask what’s in the box?” asks Uncle Bob, through a cloud of steam.
“Knowing him it probably is the fucking Ark of the Covenant,” mutters my mother. I attempt to skewer her Birkenstock with my heel, but she sidesteps in time.
“Well, you know,” says Crispian. “I was going to bring champagne but a bottle doesn’t go very far among six people. So I bought a case instead. It’s a good year and only five hundred dollars a bottle.”
“How very thoughtful and not at all tacky of you,” says my mother. “Should I fetch glasses or a crowbar?”
Thankfully at that moment Uncle Bob calls us all to the table by banging a ‘dinner gong’ my mother made using more macrame and an old trash-can lid. Unlike her other art she has made no attempt to sell it – she says it has sentimental value, or at least that’s her story. It goes ‘clunk’ when banged with a wooden spoon.
“Dinner is served,” says Uncle Bob.
“You’re very privileged,” Uncle Tate tells Crispian. “It’s Uncle Bob’s Tofu Surprise.”
“What’s the surprise?” asks Crispian.