MIKE SMITH – (FEBRUARY, 2018)
My ex-boyfriend used to masturbate during the middle of the night. It was after the so-called honeymoon period, when we were both drunk off each other’s scent, taste and touch, that I noticed the habit. At first I offered to help, but he just pushed my hands away, his eyes fixed on his phone, his hand pumping away under the duvet, as if trying to inflate a football. I never offered again. Neither did he. And so each evening, we said good night, rolled onto our separate sides of the bed and closed our eyes. Yet in the early hours, a light would pierce the darkness and I’d listen as Damien brought himself to orgasm. Sometimes, I’d roll over, sneak a glance at what he was watching, threesomes were his favourite, and join him in his habit. Yet I soon tired of the same repetitious content, two men thrusting away at some faceless blonde or brunette, her body a bridge linking two often alternately coloured pillars. Damien never tired of it. Night after night I’d wake to the sound of his heavy breathing and the muffled moans of the woman in the film coming from underneath his headphones.
One time I waited for Damien to fall asleep and then stole his phone and headphones from his bedside table and hid them underneath the chest of the drawers. Later that night, I woke and found him leant over me.
‘What’re you doing?’ I asked and then rubbed my eyes.
‘Shhh, go back to sleep, babe,’ he replied.
His body moved closer. I could feel his warm breath on my cheeks.
‘Damien, get off,’ I said, then tried to push him back onto his side of the bed.
‘Hang on, one sec.’
‘Got it now, sorry,’ he said, then moved back over. A light flared. ‘What’s your passcode?’ he asked.
‘For fuck’s sake, Damien, use your own phone.’
‘I must’ve left it in the kitchen and I can’t be arsed to get it now. Go on, what’s your passcode.’
‘Ninety-nine, eleven,’ I replied then rolled onto my stomach, facing away from the light.
I closed my eyes. Just then, a high-pitched wail escaped from the speakers on my phone. ‘Sorry, I’ll turn it down,’ Damien said, and then started to grope himself under the duvet. The moans were now barely audible. Yet, in the darkness my ears searched for them, zeroed in on the gasps, and held them there, until Damien, and both actors in the film, were finished.
Damien’s apartment was on an upper floor of a recently built residential tower. Grey and black square panels’ cladded the building. These were interspersed by shimmering veins of glass. From a distance, the tower resembled a games board, where giant counters might be placed on their way to win the race to the top of the building. The tower’s elevator played soft jazz, as it took you to your floor. The computerised voice always remembered its manners – ‘please exit carefully through the elevator doors.’ A window stretched the length of the open plan living area of Damien’s apartment, offering views of the harbour below. The kitchen was modern and had granite work surfaces. The apartment was, in truth, the only reason I stayed with Damien for as long as I did.
The porn was a quirk I was willing to let slide. It was a growth on the skin of our relationship, harmless, benign. The best thing to do, I thought, was to let it go, to ignore it. Prodding and poking would have only turned it into something more sinister than it really was. Yet, as the months went by, my sleep became locked in with Damien’s habit. Every night, I’d wake in the quiet moments before he’d reach for his phone. It was as if my body could sense what he was about to do. Then the screen would light up, causing my eyes to open. Only after Damien had finished, wiped his hand on the top of the duvet, and rolled back onto his side, facing away from me, would I be able to return to sleep.
Four months into our relationship, I came home late from work one night to find Damien in our kitchen with another man. The other man was black and was wearing a dark grey suite. His hair was close shaved. Stubble grew across his cheeks. Damien and he were sharing a bottle of wine. As I opened the kitchen door, they both turned to face me.
‘Honey, this is Marcus. He’s a friend from work,’ Damien said.
I smiled, slipped off my bag and placed it on the work surface. ‘Nice to meet you.’
‘Nice to meet you to,’ Marcus said, then flashed a smile. His voice was deeper than Damien’s and was tinged with a Birmingham accent. ‘It’s a lovely place, you both have here.’ Marcus revolved his head in a circular motion, as if stretching his neck, and then flashed another smile.
‘Honey, can I have a quick chat?’ Damien said. He placed his beer down on the work surface and patted Marcus’s shoulder. ‘We’ll be two secs,’ he said.
I followed Damien out of the room and into the bedroom.
‘What’s up?’ I said.
‘Honey… I don’t really know how to put this.’ Damien sat down on the edge of the bed and crossed his legs.
‘Well, whatever it is, just say it.’
‘I invited Marcus over tonight because, well, you know my fantasy right?’
I laughed. ‘You’ve got to be joking?’
Damien stood up and took hold of my hands. ‘No, no, just listen. It won’t be weird, and I know you like the thought of it too. We used to enjoy the idea together.’
I pulled my hands away and took a step back. ‘Okay, you’re actually being serious.’
‘Honey, just take a minute to consider. I’ve got some wine in, your favourite, and Marcus is a really good bloke.’
I turned around and opened the bedroom door. When I entered the kitchen, Marcus looked up, took a sip of wine, and stood. ‘So, has Damien spoken to… ah.’ He stopped, as Damien entered the kitchen behind me.
‘Honey, come on, you don’t have to leave. Let’s just talk. That’s all.’
I grabbed my bag from the table and slung it over my shoulder. ‘Why don’t you fuck each other instead?’ I turned to Marcus. ‘You’ll have to remove his head from his arse before you can start of course.’
Soft jazz began to play as the lift made its decent.
I awoke in the middle of the night. The sound of cars and drunken laughter seeped in through my hotel room window. Streetlights shone in through the dark blue curtains, blotches of amber marking the spots where the light was strongest. I moved from one side of the bed to the other, laid on my back, then on my stomach, and on my back again. Then I thought of Damien. I knew he was awake. He was probably already reaching for his phone, already typing in the address, already searching for the right video. I reached for my own phone. I knew the address, knew the videos I wanted to watch. I turned the volume down low. Afterwards, I placed my phone back on the bedside table, laid on my back, and thought of Damien. He was probably already asleep. I closed my eyes.