The Dinner Party
December 6, 2012

Christmas ain’t Christmas without a bit of a spooky tale, so here’s mine …

tableware for dinner party‘A dinner party? Can I bring a plus one?’ A frisson of something trembled in my soul.

‘Of course – do we know them?’ He just laughed. We were on the phone so I couldn’t see his expression.

‘See you later then.’ He sounded happy – certainly not how I’d expected him to be after Clem, but he’d gone and I was left wondering.

‘Was that who I thought it was?’ The voice was muffled from under the table. The owner’s prone legs were splayed across the floor, extending oddly from under the table cloth, as if a murder victim had just been hastily stuffed out of sight.

‘Yes, and he’s coming tonight.’

‘That’ll be interesting after all this time.’ The tone was sarcastic.

‘With someone.’

‘Oh.’ Silence, then more curiously, ‘who?’

‘He didn’t say.’

‘In that case it’s going to be really interesting.’ The table shook as if the murder victim’s spirit was attacking it and then both table and legs settled into stillness. I waited for the body to rise from its last resting place, but table and legs remained motionless. It made me feel queasy but I didn’t know why.

‘Are you ok under there Alex?’ I asked, suddenly worried.

‘Yeah, just thinking.’

‘Thinking?’

‘About Jay and Clem and the way they just went – you know.’ Alex didn’t need to say any more. I did know. More than Alex did, in fact; but I was keeping that to myself.

‘Yes, well if you’re done under there, we should lay up now.’

‘Yep, all done, I’ve tightened up all the screws so it shouldn’t collapse under the weight of the food – or the conversation.’ The comment ended in muffled laughter and the table shook again. The legs wriggled out from underneath it, bringing the rest of the body with them.

‘Haha! Very funny.’ I turned away and went back to the kitchen to find the wine. Tuneless whistling floated in from the dining room and I guessed the table top was being transformed for the dinner party now it was safe to sit at again. I ignored the annoying whistling and turned my attention to the wine rack. I usually relished choosing exactly the right wine but my head wasn’t on it tonight. All I could think about was the plus one Jay was bringing – and what about Clem? I checked the clock. It was already seven-thirty. They were all due at eight. I called to the table and its legs.

‘If you’re done there, can you check the oven? I’m sorting the wine.’

‘OK.’ It was louder than expected and I turned in surprise as Alex appeared in the kitchen doorway, flushed and dishevelled from the table wrestling.

‘Maybe have a bit of a tidy up too?’ I added pointedly. Good humoured laughter bubbled around the hallway.

‘Um, I see what you mean.’ The reappearing vision was sleek and immaculate. I felt imperfect and uneasy. I pushed past into the cool of the hallway, assessing which me I saw in the mirror. I wondered what Jay would make of me, five years on. Five years – had it really been so long; since Clem had happened? I was startled out of my reverie by the doorbell jangling insistently.

‘It’s for you-oo,’ came light-heartedly from the kitchen, along with the smell of perfectly cooked Beef Wellington.

‘I’ve got it,’ I called back impatiently. I opened the door, the angry angst-ridden me well hidden under the hosts charming bonhomie. ‘Ange, Mike – how are you?  Ange enveloped me in a cloud of too-strong perfume and billowing chiffon.

‘Darrrling, how are you – it’s been ages.’ She was right – for all the overdone lovey-ness, it had been the same five years of ages as since I’d seen Jay or Clem.

‘We’re good, thanks Ange.’ I disentangled myself and Mike’s less flowery and more business-like hug was a relief. ‘Come on in.’ I turned to call out to the kitchen, but Alex arrived with drinks right on cue. Eventually the storm of hello’s, hugs and darrrrlings dissipated and we moved into the warmth of the lounge, warily convivial. The bell went again and I rushed to answer it, trying to quell the jitters that it would be Jay this time. It wasn’t. Agitation overcame courtesy with the Betterware woman collecting the catalogue she’d left earlier. I flung the unwanted package at her and slammed the door in her face. Belatedly a wave of shame made me redden. I re-joined the forced conversation in the lounge, knowing the only conversationalist I wanted to bandy words with was yet to arrive, but God knew who with. Unbidden, the old jealousy consumed me. I wondered if I could even be civil to Jay’s plus one. Trying too hard to concentrate on Ange’s gushing, I almost missed the third ring, but in the visceral depths of my gut, I heard it instinctively. I was beaten to the door. Momentarily I hated Alex with a hatred I’d felt only once before but I didn’t have time to dwell on when. The lounge door burst open and before I could prepare myself, Jay was standing in front of me.

‘Hey,’ he was embracing me and I was drowning in his sharp-spiced smell, his proximity, his warmth and the desperate yearning I still felt for him. My head spun and I held onto him tightly. ‘Such a long time.’ He breathed the words into my ear and they spiralled round my head like a tornado funnelling into oblivion. In the eye of the storm, was his plus one. As my head cleared and my vision settled, she stood quietly and ominously behind him in the dark hallway. I pulled away sharply, waves of fear travelling up and down my body like electricity, sparking, shorting, sparking; killing.  Clem from Dinner party

‘Clem!’ My exclamation killed all talk in the lounge. I sensed something behind me and found the lounge conversationalists had clustered there, mixing their sweat and perfume with my dismay. Jay smiled at Clem and beckoned her in. The clamouring bodies behind me parted like the red sea for the unexpected, and mysteriously, very alive, plus one.

She passed through us, as if we didn’t exist; or maybe she didn’t exist? I was starting to doubt my own senses and sanity now. Jay just smiled enigmatically, and followed her. From my vantage point obliquely opposite I observed her apprehensively. Exactly the same as the last time I’d seen that elongated bony face, with its too large eyes, black, black hair and white skin. Now if possible, the pale complexion had become almost translucent; unhealthily waxen, as if she really wasn’t there at all – the way I’d thought it was.

‘Who’s hungry? Shall we sit for dinner?’ The jovial enquiry broke the tense silence, and the buzz of who was sitting where eased us round the table. Legs sticking angularly out from a lifeless body as it sprawled out from under the table. I found myself directly opposite Clem and Jay; the last place I wanted to be.

‘Clemmie, darrrling; where have you been hiding yourself?’ Ange didn’t wait for a reply. She rounded straight on Jay. ‘We thought it must have been a crime passionelle when she just disappeared and then you went persona non grata too.’ I watched Ange preen herself for what she considered wit. Mike wriggled further back in his seat beside her, face closed, but body expressing his discomfort. I knew what was going on behind those blank grey eyes. I’d heard him explode at her once after she’d been particularly pretentious at one of our dinner parties long ago – Christ why were we having this one?

‘Crime passionelle and Jay? Oh, Jay would never hurt a fly. He wouldn’t be the one to be involved in a crime passionelle.’ Clem smiled icily and everyone froze a degree colder. Her eyes slid back to me. Jay interjected quickly.

‘We’ve been on a bit of a tour.’ Four pairs of eyes trained on Jay and waited for more. Clem remained supremely aloof, face shadowed, tensed, dangerous; in control. ‘Clem was a little unwell so we went some places to make her better.’ He flashed a brilliant smile at her and then at me, as if including me in the secret of the places they’d been to make Clem better. That last time, I’d left her, the skin had been pale as death, the face a mask, blood pooling stickily under her head.

‘You’re looking well now.’ Mike offered it up dubiously, and Clem nodded graciously at him. Ange looked at him as if he was mad – a green-eyed stare like a cat would give its enemy. Clem looked quiet and serious. A far cry from the lascivious woman who’d tried to steal greedy kisses from me just before I’d left her broken and lifeless.

‘The starter’s mushroom pate. I hope you all like mushrooms?’ Alex was valiantly trying to break the ice patina rapidly spreading over us.

‘Magic mushrooms, darrrling?’ Ange’s trill made the rest of us cringe.

‘Oh Ange, really …’ Jay patted her arm as if she was a naughty but delightful child. She tittered and combed her hair flirtatiously at him. Clem’s eyes swivelled back to her and the dark lights in their depths terrified me. Where had they been to make her better? How could you make a dead body better? 

‘How’s things in the psycho industry then Maz?’ He was talking directly to me. I pulled myself together enough to reply.

‘Oh, mad as ever.’ The laughter was appreciative and I breathed out, avoiding Clem’s black-eyed stare, wishing I’d never visited their house that day. ‘I dream about you day and night, Maz. I want you. I know why you are always round here, always offering to help, always checking in on Jay … ’ Her hands were clawing at me, grasping, squeezing, her mouth almost on mine, her heavy breath hot on my face, stealing my own away from me… ‘You know what they say about psychiatrists don’t you?’ I might as well play my audience for all I could if it would deflect that hateful stare from me. ‘You can’t tell them from the patients …’ Raucous laughter showed it had been well received and the wine choice I’d made had been a good one – one of the highest alcohol volumes I had, and chosen specifically for that reason, but not to promote gaiety, to promote softening. Jay’s softening, Jay staying, Jay, Jay, Jay. I tried to shut down the insistent voice in my head, but it was replaced instead by Clem’s,‘Maz, Maz, Maz.’ …

The memory of that last time I’d seen her couldn’t be ejected from my thoughts now. It had taken me over body and soul. She wouldn’t leave me alone; I couldn’t wipe the slimy disgust of her saliva from my lips or escape from her burning eyes, or the threat she posed … ‘Maz, Maz, Maz.’ … ‘Get off me you stupid bitch. It’s not you I come here for, but Jay.’ I flung her forcefully away from me and her head cracked against the table edge…

‘Do psychiatrists live in the real world, or their imagination, do you think, Maz?’ Clem was coolly vicious. The conversation around us flowed on, witticism, quip, joke, flirt, ‘more wine?’ No-one else heard her low-voiced question. They weren’t meant to. Only she and I were in this discussion.

‘This is real, so of course the real world.’

‘Is it?’

‘Is it what?’

‘Is it real?’

‘Of course it is.’ I looked at the exaggerated expressions on the other dinner party guests; wide-eyed, laughing, bored, polite, exasperated. I realised they weren’t talking to us and we weren’t talking to them. There was an invisible barrier between us – like we were in another world, alongside but not touching. Clem smiled mysteriously. ‘Are you dead, or alive?’ She tilted her head quizzically and my mind rushed back to that day again. Her face collapsed in on itself as if life had imploded as her head struck the table; first the surprised look, then the blankness of death. She tumbled awkwardly to the floor and lay there. The table wobbled and then was still. Her legs stuck out angularly from the lifeless body as it sprawled half under the table. Shock turned to nausea as I turned to see Jay coming through the door to the room. Could he forgive me?

‘What do you want me to be?’ I considered the question. The real answer was neither. Alive meant either I was going insane or she was some awful thing from beyond the grave. Dead meant she was some awful thing from beyond the grave or I was already insane. ‘Or more to the point, why am I here with you, and they can’t see me?’ I looked around at the four other faces. They seemed even more distant than before.

‘What is going on?’ I hated her. Now I remembered that hatred in fine detail where I’d only remembered it dimly earlier. I wanted to address Jay, but he was across the divide with the other dinner guests. It was only Clem and me here.

‘It’s confession time, my dear. Just tell them what really happened and we’ll leave you in peace.’ I didn’t want Jay to go, but I wanted Clem to. Greedy, demanding, disgusting, hateful Clem, who’d taken my Jay and made him infatuated with her. Greedy, demanding, disgusting, hateful Clem, who’d tried to kiss and paw me when the only one I wanted to do that was Jay. Greedy, demanding, disgusting, hateful Clem, who had Jay, and didn’t even want him. ‘I won’t go away until you admit you killed me.’

‘You fell.’

‘Fell?’ Clem’s voice was sinuous like a python coiling round me.

‘You fell.’

‘Why did I fall?’

‘You just fell.’

‘I didn’t just fall. Tell them, tell them!’ Her voice rose from its soft sibilance to a harpies’ shriek. I covered my ears in agony as her banshee wail made my head split apart and the blood pooled stickily under it.

‘I pushed you, OK? I pushed you off of me, you slut, and you hit your head on the table.’ My voice reverberated around the room as the dinner party froze, forks in mid-air, glasses poised to clink, heads’ thrown back in surprise. I catapulted back through the eerie barrier from Clem’s world to my own.

‘We said to absent friends, Maz.’ Alex touched me lightly on the arm, ‘and how sad it is Clem isn’t here anymore, but we’ll toast her anyway – across the ether.’ She turned to the rest of faces round the table, all looking oddly at me, and added, ‘to Clem – RIP.’ I breathed in the smell of fruity red wine and Beef Wellington, over-perfumed women and after-shaved men. Maz from the dinner party

I looked gratefully at my wife Alex. Jay and his new girlfriend looked back.

To me she still looked exactly like Clem.

Enjoy.

I’m @StorytellerDeb on Twitter

and http://www.facebook.com/DebbieMartin.Author on Facebook.

Chained melody final cover

If you fancy longer reading in 2013, my new novel ‘Chained Melody is out on 18th January and will be available then on Amazon.

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Beyond the page – Sandra’s revenge
July 12, 2012

… She’d joined a class, you see. The lure had been too much and once she’d started thinking about it, she couldn’t put the thought aside, no matter how hard she tried. She’d gone during the day when he was at work or on a Saturday morning when he thought she was doing the shopping. She’d practiced hard. She’d mastered the dips and the drops, the shimmering vibrations of the body layered ontostaccatomovements of the hips as they flicked and twitched in a wicked invitation to touch, no don’t touch! The fluid undulations and rotations, mimicking the impression of riding a camel, or some other beast, as her body circled and enticed, come here, join, entwine…Slow and tantalising, wild and whirling, graceful and floating, with a myriad of veils divested, one by one as the various layers of the human psyche are divested from the loftiest and most philosophical thoughts – the cool blue veil – to the earthiness of physical desire and need – the red veil . . .

She dropped the blood red veil to the floor in a swirl. The dance had finished. She breathed heavily. Yes, she would perform well tomorrow evening.

The whole secret gave Sandra such satisfaction. And it had insidiously changed so much for her too. Just the exercise itself had made her slim down, and that weight problem that he thought she had? Well it had simply melted away, replacing her low self-esteem with a sense of admiration, for her now sleek but voluptuous body, but also for having been able to master the subtle arts of the dance. Of course he didn’t even notice the change. He saw nothing but what he expected to see in front of him and she kept up the persona for him, refusing to share even the smallest part of her new self with him. He might share the same bed with her, but his hands never touched even the top layer of the shapeless old nightie she wore so even the most intimate moment they might share didn’t betray her.

The mantra of ‘stupid , fat and useless’ which he’d instilled in her over the years was replaced with ‘lithe, skilled and able.’ So, what else could she do?  Maybe she wasn’t so useless after all. She’d looked in the ‘sits vac’ column, something she hadn’t done in years. She’d ringed the ones she tentatively wondered if she could manage and been amazedly delighted when she’d been offered a job.  She started it next week.

The next evening she had to wait for him to go out before she could leave herself. She’d already carefully packed her costume in a bag and hidden it behind the shabby brown suitcase in the wardrobe. When she arrived at the venue, the other dancers were bustling around in the dressing rooms. Marie, the class teacher fell on her breathlessly,

‘Oh Sandy, thank goodness you’re here now. I was starting to worry…You’re our star… Everything is alright, isn’t it?

Sandra smiled at her. ‘Just a little delayed.’

She slid into her costume and swiftly completed the transformation. Looking in the full length mirror, she barely recognised herself. Not fifty, fat and frumpy as she’d used to joke ruefully to her friends, but a sibilant siren, skirts slipping softly to her ankles, swishing as she slid gracefully onto the dance floor. It was a ‘hafla’, a Turkish dance party, with other troupes and classes joining in the demonstrations and the audience made up of the class members, their friends and partners. Her class was hosting it. The audience sat at tables around the dance floor, cabaret style.

As soon as she was on the dance floor she spotted him. He was sitting on the far side of a table towards one side, trying to be insignificant, yet watching the movements of the dancers with hard, hungry eyes. She felt a moment of panic as she felt his eyes slide over her. Not yet, not now, she silently prayed. The eyes stayed on her, but not out of recognition, out of desire. He shifted his position, straining forward to get a better look from his deliberately slightly obstructed view – probably cursing he’d chosen this half-hidden seat now.

She stood in position, shrouded in the seven veils of her dance, eyes masked with vibrant, sumptuous sequins and feathers so only her full mouth could be seen, curved slightly in a mysterious smile. Cool spiritual blue was the top layer, peeling down through turquoise, green, yellow, orange, cerise to deep pulsating red; the red of blood coursing through a body that was revealed in its transformation from spiritual to sensual as each layer enveloping her unfurled, coloured the room and dropped like shimmering pool to the floor; another layer of herself had been discarded. All restrictions removed. Sandra whirled and  gyrated, entreated and enticed, withdrew – and the metamorphosis happened  in front of their eyes – from a cool blue nymph to a scarlet siren, climaxing by throwing herself in abandon across the floor with a gesture that flung her body open in its’ entirety to any would be possessor – ‘take me . . .’

The room was transfixed, and so was he.

M/F

Sandra escaped to the dressing room, exhausted with the effort of portraying the emotions as much as following the right choreography. The class crowded round her, congratulating her, expressing their delight in her, and the class teacher was enraptured, holding onto her hand and grinning like a clown. The bustle swathed her in a sense of having finally arrived. Her exhaustion dissipated as their energy and enthusiasm trickled into her, until all of a sudden, the moment was now. Now was right. She allowed them to lead her back into the dance arena for a general round of applause for the whole class for having put on the show, and then she was being whisked into the crowds to say hello here, have her hand shook there, be introduced to this person or that.

‘I must introduce you to Frank,’ Mandy said, ‘you know my . . .’ Her voice trailed off, as she made a coy gesture indicating ‘my lover’ but not actually saying it. ‘He’s always a bit derogatory about belly dancing, but he won’t be able to be now he’s seen you dance.’

Sandra smiled and turned to look into the ashen face of Frank.

The chapter ended there, and Mary rested the book back into her lap. Frank – father’s name was Frank. Was the book telling her something? Had father treated mother this way? She concentrated hard on reviving the sense of her father in her mind. The way he’d stood – the sag of his shoulders mimicking the droop of his moustache, eyes dulled and defeated. Then by contrast mother sitting in her chair – this chair – ram-rod straight, cold, brushing Mary’s hair so hard she felt sore afterwards; not a soft atom in mother’s body, ever. No, fathers’ whole demeanour told her that he was unlikely to have been the aggressor. Mother on the other hand . . .

More to follow next week …

Follow me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Debbie-Martin-author-and-writer/290947497649847

and on my website:

www.debbie@debbiemartin.co.uk

where you’ll find lots more to read and information when my books are going to be published.

Debbie Martin

Marys story continues – Beyond the page …
June 14, 2012

Now it all gets a little more curious as Marys’ little story turns into a big one. Now I’ve written the first bit but eventually I’m going to ask for your assistance as you decide what might happen to Mary as her story unfolds – and I will write it!

Here’s how her story continues into Chapter 2 …

Chapter 2: Mary

The tumult of emotions still resonated within her – emotions she’d never even imagined before; the yearning of unrequited love twisted her heart uncomfortably and yet the humiliation made her shrivel  until the throb of revenge blended all the emotions into that one action –t he thrust of the knife. That had felt so good: so satisfying even as paradoxically she’d simultaneously felt the thrust of the bitter-sweet sadness of loss cut into her soul.

Nobody asked Mary questions about herself. They assumed she’d have nothing much to add to their experiences. Mary: plain, thirty-two and looking more like fifty-two. Life was a routine for Mary -it had been from the very first moments she could remember.  Mother’s routine then, but mother’s routine had become her routine as the years revolving round her mother had ingrained it in her too.

Mary stayed in her chair for a while, unsteady from the aftershocks of the first-time emotions.  Her world was unsettled. The surge of anger and the throb of passion had no place in the plod of her routine. Her stomach still churned from the anxious fear they’d instilled in her. She sat silently and still, waiting for the rolling waves in her stomach to settle, but they didn’t, and out of seemingly nowhere – just like the scene from the book had become solid around her, the unease turned dramatically into nausea, and she rushed to the bathroom, flinging the door wide as she made for the toilet, grabbing it’s rolled edge and hanging over the bowl, retching.

It reminded her of childhood tummy upsets. She’d always hated the thought of hanging her head over the toilet bowl when she felt sick as a child. Mother had issued dire warnings about touching toilet seats,

‘…covered in germs and they’ll get all over you…’ in that prim, I told you so voice that ordered Mary’s life.

She’d imagined the little army of germs mother said lived in toilets and on toilet seats – that was why you never touched them –  stomping up the incline of the bowl and swarming all over her head and face  and hands as she gripped the bowl and she was in turn gripped with the overpowering heaving of vomiting. Even as the rhythmic convulsions of her stomach resulted in of her stomach spewing  its’ contents out of her mouth, burning the back of her throat and making her eyes and nose run, so she imagined the germ army swarming over her microscopically – like a thin layer of iron filings bristling all over a magnet. After she’d been sick like that she’d always felt she wanted to scrub herself off to try to dislodge the germ fur all over her from the toilet bowl. It was no different this time even though there was no mother there to remind her…

At thirty-two she felt the same as she had at twelve, or even five, four – how young could she remember back to? The heaving sensation settled down and she sat back on her heels, away from the toilet bowl, yet still close enough to revert to hanging over it if the nausea returned. She swallowed hard, trying to soothe the rough soreness of her throat with her saliva, and swill away the acid taste left in her mouth by the vomit. She shivered with distaste but the nausea didn’t seem to be returning so she shakily stood up, flushed the toilet and held her hands under the running water from the hot tap. She squirted several sprays of liquid soap onto them and scrubbed, lathering the soap to a foaming froth, before rinsing it away, imagining a layer of germ army funnelling down the plughole, protesting and flailing as they tried to stop themselves being washed away. The incongruous picture she conjured up for herself made her giggle, but then she stifled it in mid-ripple, thinking ‘am I going mad?’  Why was she imagining armies of germs, like she had as a child? More to the point how and why had she imagined being a burlesque dancer stabbing a lover?

Mary carefully dried her hands on the rough white hand towel hanging over the edge of the bath, and cleaned her teeth. She felt better once she’d rinsed the vile after taste of the vomit from her mouth and the fresh spearmint of the toothpaste cleared her palate. She still felt unsteady so she returned to her armchair and sat down, confused and disturbed by what had engulfed her so totally for what seemed like hours, but from the time on the clock and the progress of the early evening shadows, had been no more than thirty minutes or so – only enough time to dive into a chapter in the book but no more.

She picked up the book from where it had tumbled from her lap onto the floor as she’d bolted for the bathroom. It was just as it had been when she’d settled it into the hollow of her lap and flipped the pages open – old worn leather, rough gilt edged pages, with a pattern chased just lightly into its’ leather binding. Then she remembered the knife – where was the knife that she’d been clutching? A tremor of fear fluttered through her chest – the knife that had pierced the man’s heart, and was smeared with his blood, deep red and sticky.

More next week – will she find the knife, do you think?

Follow me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Debbie-Martin-author-and-writer/290947497649847

and on my website:

www.debbie@debbiemartin.co.uk

where you’ll find lots more to read and information when my books are published.

Debbie Martin