I told my sister, Jenben, I was going to The Clown’s flat so there’d be a witness should I never return.
There’d been too many Crimewatch reconstructions where I’d shout at the screen ‘don’t go down that alley! Of course there’s a murderer there!’ I could just see my Clown demise re-enacted on the BBC with people discussing it on Twitter the next day: So she met this evil Clown online, yet still went willingly to his flat? Was she mad?
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I was due at his flat for dinner at 8. At 8.35 I was still pacing the floorboards at home, knitting my fingers together. I texted Jenben, I can’t go.
She texted back right away, Julie you’re going to ruin this.
She’s right but I can’t phone a taxi. I can’t leave the safety of my warm flat to venture into his heartless territory. My phone goes again. It’s him. Have you left yet? I feel a snarl of anger. He’s kept me waiting for months, so he can wait just a bit longer.
In the taxi at last. I’m trembling on the back seat. I pull my coat around me and tell myself I’m just cold.
‘Three seventy, hen,’ says the driver. I shove a tenner at him and tell him to keep the change. I can’t be calculating tips at a time like this!
I gather my velvety coat round me and climb out of the car. Finally, I’m here, on the street where he lives. My knees won’t hold me up. I shut the taxi door and, suddenly, a great calm descends on me. It’s like my body said ‘you’ll faint if this carries on’ and lifted all the terror off me. At this point I am of great interest to physiologists: my heart has stilled and I don’t take a breath. I press the buzzer and say lightly ‘it’s me’, cool and easy as you like. He releases the door and I step into the close. Floating in my nice calm bubble, I climb up and up. There’s a twisting staircase and I go up one step, two steps, three, feeling so pleasantly calm. First floor, the second, climbing up to his lair at the top. I hear him open the door above me and his dog gallops out into the close. Its wee claws skitter on the floor and my peace shatters. He’s there. The ogre lying in wait. He’s right there, at the turn of the stair.
I step over the threshold.
I feel that I’ve shrunk. Previously, I was the war-like female marching forth to sort out unfinished business with my tormentor but now, at first sight of him, I’m tiny and terrified. I have always, always been in awe of this man.
He takes my coat and goes into the kitchen to pour some gin. I know I should follow him and lean my hip casually against the table and say ‘so, how’ve you been?’ but I can’t. Instead, I crouch in the hall and pat the dog’s head. I remember the feel of his bony wee skull clasped between my hands and just hoping the Clown would never come out of the kitchen. Oh, I don’t want to be on Crimewatch!
He re-appears, holding two drinks. I scramble to my feet.
‘Living room or bedroom?’ he asks.
‘Living room,’ I squeak.
There’s no music playing and the overhead light is full on. I know it’s girly to have expected music and dim lighting but there’s something very clinical about this. Inhospitable. And he’d said he’d cook me dinner but there’s nothing. Seems he just wants to hurry me in, get the sex done, and bundle me out into a taxi. Grimly, I tell myself I’m fine with that, as I take my drink from him. I’m not here for a love affair. I’m here to see him as he really is and finally dash him from his pedestal.
I sit on the edge of the couch. He leans back and gets comfortable, whereas I’m poised as if for an interview. He takes me by the shoulders, shoving me back, trying to force me to be at ease. (Oh, he’s a charmer.)
But after another gin, and his horrible joke about necrophilia, I start to relax.
He grabs my legs and swings them up across his lap but the wee dog gets jealous and burrows in between us. The Clown holds court with two adoring helpless creatures on his knee.
All my hardness dissolves. I forget that he’s no good. I am here with him, at last. There has never been anyone else. I want to burrow into his chest and rage how I adore him. I want to grab his shirt and rattle him back and forth shouting ‘why don’t you care?’ I want to throw myself on the carpet in a temper tantrum because it is not fair that I am so utterly infatuated with him whereas he feels nothing for me. But if I did that he’d just raise an eyebrow and say ‘By criminy! What a funny little thing you are.’
My heart is bleeding. I hate poets for having made that phrase banal because it’s true. My heart must be bleeding all over the cushions. I am sick. I am sick with love of him. I steal glances and it sears me. I want to tell him everything. I’ll never get another chance. I know perfectly well I’ll never see him again after tonight. But how do I even start to begin? I must hide it. Must match his indifference. Coolly sip my gin and swirl the lemon slice. Make the small talk till bed comes.
He vanishes to pour me another drink. I gape at the room, taking it all in as I know I’ll never be back. Tatty mismatched furniture, mustard yellow walls, rickety bookcases and dried-up plants. A drab and neglected room but filled to the brim with Clown and, so, beautiful nonetheless.
He re-appears in the doorway with more drinks, and jerks his head at me before disappearing again. Oh dear, it’s going to happen. ‘No,’ I want to say, ‘can’t we just stay here and pat the dog?’ I go out into the hall but he’s nowhere. I feel like Alice in Wonderland and I need to call out and ask where he is.
His bedroom is huge, and done in a watery mint colour. (You can tell he’s colour blind, I think.)
I sit on the edge of the bed. Oh god, what’s wrong with me? I’ve dreamed and lusted and screamed for this night and now it’s here and I’m stricken. He stands over me with a glass of gin. I can’t look up at him. I’ll die if I look at him. I glance up in the direction of his face, avoiding his blue eyes, and reach for the gin but he lifts it away and leans down. He’ll feed it to me. He tilts the glass to my lips and I look at him. I sip at the gin and am finally overwhelmed. Huge hot tears gather in my eyes. I jerk my head away and some of the gin dashes down onto my chest. I jump up to dry it and, turning my back on him, wipe my tears away.
Maybe he knows I’m crying because, for the first time, he does something tender. He comes over and scoops me up into a crushing hug. I still have my back to him so I stand in the embrace till I’m sure I’ve blinked the tears away and then I turn and clasp him round his neck. I want to grip him so tight that time can’t take him away. Everything is happening for the first and last time and I want to never let him go. Tomorrow I go to work and re-enter my miserable plodding life, but tonight I am with The Clown.