The Woman He Woke Up With
Euphoria was immediately clouded with boredom, followed by a profound sense of hollowness. Nothing thrilled him, especially not in the post-coital thrall of Dionysus.
He had forgotten her name with the dousing of the fireplace, the sallow fade of the wine. Another woman, blurred beneath the low sweetness of chardonnay and the piercing sharp of Dom Perignon's dexterous hand.
To say he remembered her as loud, arrogant and over confident would have been kind. She was the kind of woman who imagined herself to be beautiful, desired, intelligent, when all that ripped through the room was her gauche perfume and cheaper talk. No, to say he remembered her at all would be a generous overstatement. Another dull moth fluttering into the bright light of his cavernous capitalism.
Tin soldiers lined his life with pretty dolls, each one forgotten with the arrival of a new gift, a new high, a new experience. It wasn't that he didn't care. It was that he didn't have to. The monstrous flood of bodies, beautiful carcasses and burning skies and stars left everything meaningless, valueless, pointless.
Her presence after her outing into the moonbeams of his decadence irritated him in the harsh light of day. The nameless woman beamed down at him, her mouth too wide, her face too raw. He closed his eyes again, praying for her to disappear into the white cold sunlight. He open his eyes, but she was still there, watching.
"Natalia, Jeremy." She said, with a fake brightness that did little to hide her disappointment. "Natalia Charami." The sound of her voice stung his neo cortex.
"Natalia, can you leave? Please?"
She stared at him, her mouth relaxed to an ugly open wound, tears slowly filling her eyes. God, she disgusted him. Another woman convinced that she was entitled to his wealth, his love, his compassion, that she had made a conquest in his vulnerable state. He waved his hand apologetically. "I'm sorry. I think we were both a bit drunk last night. This was a mistake."
He watched as the crush of all her childish fantasies of wealth and comfort crashed around her in long shards of ugly humiliation. Usually he would pity her, but today the thud of his hangover left him cruel.
“Christ, what now?” he said mockingly, as wide hot tears streamed down her face. “Did you think I was going to buy you a pony? Diamonds? Or are you going to tell me that you’re in love me?”
She sobbed, rubbing her wrists against her cheeks. “You called me beautiful last night.”
“I was drunk. Please just leave.”
“Sure,” she said bitterly. “If I can find your butler to show me the door.”
“Sorry. Sorry again.”
She said the words meaningfully, picking up her dress and shoes from the floor, and slamming the door so hard he almost deserved the ringing in his ears.
Nice was beautiful at this time of year.
End of the season, the tourists leaving the stony banks that mounted the grey blue waters glittering with small silver fish. The ochre leaves blew up from the orchards and gathered at the feet of the prostitutes smoking beneath the neon lamp light. Soon, after an americano and cigar, Mr Jeremy Hillard would forget all about Natalia Charami, and the thousand other hopeful, stupid women, delirious at the intoxicating specimen of a very wealthy man.
There was only one woman that meant anything to him. As if there could ever be any other.
He drank in the hot smoke and steam and stared out at the bay where the grey clouds met the palms. She was always there, with him immaculate, silent, impossibly slim. Black fine cotton and white satin. Grey tulle the colour of Vermeer’s storms. Black hair fastened behind her head with pins. Clipped earrings that left a small red mark on each ear. An essay in voyeurism, an image stolen from time, lost too soon, too fast through the dark on a night train to Munich.
She would say nothing, for hours, watching over a coffee cup, a book, a magazine. For nothing needed to be said. She never needed to impress him, to reel off Chaucer or prove she knew who Rembrandt was. She never needed to display her beauty, her worth, her wealth, her wit. To him, she was the purest kind of love, the love that never expected a word of praise in return. A love that said it all in a lingering smile and the low rise of a lip. It never mattered to her whether he stayed, whether he wanted her, whether he found her beautiful. Her confidence burnt inwardly, with no need of verification and luxury.
“What’s your name?” He had whispered to her in the low sacrilege of waking her. They had been in a bed in the backstreets of Pigalle, the neon streaks of magenta illuminating her cupid’s bow like a Dietrich still. She had gazed up at him, unreadable. “Does it make any difference if you know or not?”
“Of course,” he had replied, confused. “I want to get you out of here. Tell me your name.” And she had laughed, a long soft laugh that sounded like a joke had been made too many times.
“Don’t you know who I am?” He had whispered to the small goddess beneath him. “I can help you. I love you.”
“You don’t need to help me. I don’t need saving.”
The silence was deafening. Eventually, she sighed, closing her eyes. “Stephanie. But I don’t need saving, Jeremy.”