Love secrets of don juan, p.21
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       Love Secrets of Don Juan, p.21

           Tim Lott
 
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As a matter of fact, I do. Very much. That really isn’t the point.

  I know it’s the truth. Everything she says is reasonable. Why should an attractive, desirable woman like her take on all these problems? There are plenty of single men out there who are unencumbered. And successful. Wealthy, even. Life’s difficult enough. God knows, I see her point.

  All the same, it hurts more than I know how to say.

  We fall into silence. We have run out of words. Or things that we’re prepared to say. Or prepared to hear. But the silence becomes too much. In the end I speak the words heavily, not wanting to know the answer. Already knowing the answer.

  Are you going back to him?

  Alice’s eyes fill with tears, and she presses her lips together to hold back the sobs. It’s enough.

  You’re a fucking idiot, Alice.

  I expect you re right.

  Now I fall to my knees, prostrate myself in front of her. I feel my world dissolving.

  I’ll marry you. You’re all I want, Alice. Please. I …

  She shakes her head. I’m crying too now. The third great woman. The last one. And I’ve lost her. Whatever happens I’ve lost her. Even though I don’t think it’s going to work out between them, whether Martin loves her or not. After this moment – too much damage between us. Her blowing it all to pieces, and for nothing. And I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve learned all my lessons. I’ve been good.

  But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Martin has never bothered with being good. That’s how he gets results.

  Then, another thought strikes me. Amazingly, it has not occurred to me before. I feel a terrible hot ball of rage form inside me. I get up, stand accusingly over Alice who is still at the table, cradling her cup of tea. When I speak, my mouth is curled with contempt.

  You set me up.

  She looks up sharply.

  You knew Martin would come back to you if you slept with me. You knew. You knew I’d tell him. You had it all worked out.

  Alice’s expression becomes blank.

  And you didn’t care. You were prepared to do it.

  Prepared to hurt me, prepared to hurt Poppy, prepared to do anything to get what you wanted. Weren’t you?

  I love you, Danny.

  I know you love me. I’m not wrong about that. That’s where your plan went wrong, isn’t it? That’s one of several reasons why it’s not going to work out with Martin, the other being that, metaphorically speaking, Martin is much more interested in fucking me than he is you. But it was a dirty little plan none the less. God, women are ruthless.

  Alice is silent for maybe fifteen seconds. When she speaks again her voice is a whisper.

  We’re all ruthless when we’re trying to get what we need, Danny. You know that. You’d have done the same.

  You know something, Alice, I say, dead calmly. I wouldn’t. I really wouldn’t.

  I’m sorry, Danny. I’m truly sorry.

  Get the fuck out of my flat.

  What?

  Get. The Fuck. Out of. My flat.

  Oh.

  She is trembling as she picks up her gear, and I can see her pain, and the struggle she’s going through, and I know then that she really does love me, that she’s torn in two. But that doesn’t make it forgivable. She’s hurt me, she’s hurt Poppy, and now I’m going to lose both my best friend and my lover.

  Just like that, my life is garbage again.

  When Alice is gone, I sit there for a while, thinking of nothing, just staring. Then I look at the flip-chart again. Mutely, like a robot, I walk over and pick up the marker-pen. Because the thing I’ve forgotten, the final Love Secret of Don Juan, Problem X, has come back to me, and I need to add it somewhere to the list. Right at the very top.

  Problem: Women plot and women scheme. In the sex war, they are the guerrillas – cunning, fleet of foot and deadly. Result: You can’t trust them. Solution:

  I pause. Finally the answer comes flashing up in bright cold blue neon.

  Don’t love them.

  Never love them.

  Never love them again.

  Two days later, I’m sitting in the office of the marketing department of a medium-sized manufacturer of chocolate products. It’s not going well.

  Three men and two women are sitting in front of me, the clients. The men look uncomfortable. One of the two women, the younger one, with tightly pulled-back hair and pale pink lipstick, seems angry. The older one, who has a seen-it-all-done-it-all look on her face, seems sceptical and amused. I am standing in front of a flip-chart, having just outlined my idea of what will sell their new chocolate-and-crushed-mixed-nut product, the krusha Bar™. Lower case k. Upper case B. Cute.

  The flip-chart comprises a series of diagrams, figures and strap-lines. I am looking cool and unflappable in a three-piece bespoke suit – which, I discover later, has a large egg stain on the waistcoat that Poppy made while I was wrestling her shoes on to get her to school.

  There is a somewhat protracted silence as I finish my pitch. The younger woman with the scraped-back hair speaks first. Her voice is contained, but with an edge of hostility.

  So, you genuinely think this campaign is appropriate for a middle-market, teen-to-young-adult product like krusha?

  I do. This campaign says young, it says sexy. It’s ironic. It confronts the problem of time famine. And it addresses the empowerment of women.

  It does?

  Of course. It’s all about how women are strong now. How it’s they who call the shots.

  She nods, makes a few notes. When she speaks again, her voice is sharper, more glacial: I don’t get it.

  You don’t?

  The ad specifically features a woman being put into an iron maiden – a medieval torture device – and the door closing on her. Is this really the image we want for a chocolate bar? It seems more in the realm of extreme misogyny than the empowerment of women.

  We’re in a post-feminist era now. I think sensitivities like that are very… well, last-century frankly. Also, it’s other women, not men, who force her into the iron maiden.

  Implying that women are both torturers and victims.

  I think you’re overstating the political content. It’s just another chocolate bar.

  We see it as being rather special, actually.

  Well, of course, yes, it is special – and delicious. A terrific product.

  And I’m not sure that post-feminism means that we have to abandon all attempts to avoid the degradation and abuse of women on camera.

  It’s obviously ironic. She takes her krusha Bar™ into the iron maiden, and when the spikes begin to pierce her –

  One of the men coughs.

  The what?

  The… spikes. In the iron maiden.

  The younger woman takes off her spectacles, cleans them and puts them on again.

  Do we actually see this penetration? It is the older woman who speaks this time.

  I turn to her and become aware of a note of slight desperation in my voice. No. Of course not. It’s implied in the woman’s expression. She registers pain. But the pleasure wipes out the pain. There’s an obvious S and M reference, of course, but that’s good, that’s dangerous advertising, cutting-edge.

  Is there some reason why she needs to be naked?

  Well, she doesn’t have to be naked. But it’s more controversial that way. You said you wanted controversial.

  Another long silence. The younger woman is now tapping her pencil impatiently on the table. And you think that this is going to deliver to us a young female market?

  I look at her face. A shrewd businesswoman, a tough cookie, someone who knows what she’s doing. Why is she giving me such a hard time? Of course it will deliver a large female market. That’s what all the manufacturers want. Because women just want to fucking shop all the time. As Marx might have been reluctant to put it, shopping is the ideological superstructure that defines the economic substructure: the spending power of women, their unique thrall to the gewgaws of twenty-first-century capital
ism. Shopping: it’s what they do when they’re not torturing. And pretending to be victims. The whole lying, cheating, impossible, ungraspable horde of them, the whole nightmare fucking brigade of…

  I stop. Blink. I hope the double-take I am experiencing is not transparent to my audience. The ludicrousness – the sheer offensiveness of what I have been presenting to these people! I want the ground to open and swallow me. I’m confusing the deployment of irony with being a complete arsehole. My throat dries. I need this gig, and unless I buck my ideas up, I’ll be lucky if I don’t get escorted from the premises by security guards. Well. I… I… that is to say…

  I look around the room as if for help. Only five blank faces.

  Well. I hear what you re saying. But on the other hand…

  On the other hand what? says the younger woman.

  Men are going to fucking love it.

  Not the right thing to say, it turns out. The young woman groans. The older woman, however, appears to have some sympathy for me. She smiles.

  Have you brought along any alternative ideas for the campaign, Mr Savage?

  I blink again. As it happens, I have. Some part of me knew that the iron-maiden concept was going to go down like a seven-ton boulder off the North Face of the Eiger. Of course. OK, how about this?

  I turn the pages of the flip-chart a few times. So, the protagonist in this concept is a young woman, fashionable but not too much so. The coolest girl in a not very cool school, perhaps. She’s clever, knowing, grown-up. Now, she has a boyfriend but he’s really not a grown-up at all. He’s more like a kid. And he wants his krusha Bar™, and he wants it NOW. When she says, ‘No,’ he gradually morphs into a screaming baby. So she puts him over her knee…

  The exposition comes out simple, powerful, clichéd. Clever strong woman, helpless man-baby. I look at the five faces and they’ve changed. They’re warm, interested, engaged. It’s in the bag.

  So the ‘If You Want Him To Hush-a Give Him A krush-a’ entered into the lexicon of confectionery history. Sales went up by ten per cent. Of course. Of course they did.

  10

  Natasha Bliss. Natasha, Natasha, Natasha. Bliss, Bliss, Bliss. If you wanted someone diametrically different from Kelly Cornelius, Natasha was your woman. I bumped into her at the agency two weeks after Kelly abandoned me for Hugo Bunce. She was an accounts director, ambitious, sexy, modern.

  This was the late eighties and Natasha was of a new breed, an über-woman, at least in my hitherto circumscribed sexual universe. She was absolutely terrific; she was the second great woman of my life. Sexually upfront, funny, tough, fully made up and totally into fashion, but also totally into power and living it large. She didn’t appear to need a man.

  Why was she attracted to me? Who can say? As I’ve already mentioned, love isn’t personal. It’s about the strangest of needs and hidden desires. Perhaps like an old-style Alpha male needed a passive partner, an Alpha woman like Natasha needed a passive man. The débâcle with Kelly had left me heartbroken, lost. I tried to hide it, but my vulnerability was sometimes difficult to conceal.

  Natasha first noticed me when I burst into tears during a meeting she was attending. I tried to pass it off as a coughing fit, covered my face with a handkerchief, made my excuses and headed for the water-cooler. I was just dampening my handkerchief with some Mountain Cool spring water to wash off the tearstains, when I saw Natasha approach, a concerned expression on her face. Such a display of empathy was unusual for her: normally, she seemed to think that to show compassion demonstrated a softness that women in the career jungle couldn’t afford. I felt humiliated. Men still feel ashamed to cry. At that point in history it felt like an agonizing loss of face.

  Are you all right, Danny?

  A touch of hay fever is all. I’ll be fine.

  I didn’t sound fine. My voice was breaking, croaky, hoarse. I swabbed my face with the handkerchief before looking up at her. Christ, she was sexy – groomed, scarlet lipstick, power-dressed, but not in that researched and marketed way of the New York robo-chick: there was soul in it somewhere. She was tall, willowy, with (of course) pale yellowy hair that kinked about half-way down into tiny spirals. I couldn’t imagine that she would ever be interested in someone like me, and certainly not this particular me in this particular state.

  But I was wrong. Unfortunately for us both.

  In October? You’re not fine, are you?

  I looked up at her. She put her hand on my arm.

  I’m having a bit of a tough time at the moment.

  Women problems?

  I nodded. Her hand was still on my arm. How did you know?

  Men don’t deal with relationship break-ups very well, do they?

  How do you know I’ve had a ‘relationship break-up’? I was getting hold of myself now, growing curious.

  You hear things. Kelly – that was her name, wasn’t it? She’s shacked up with…

  Hugo Bunce. That’s right. I’ll get over it.

  She looked at me carefully, as if assessing my sincerity. A woman who looks like Natasha Bliss probably has to listen to a lot of nonsense. It was written all over her face, the way she carried herself – not unfriendly, but a distance, a soft sheath of haughtiness. Look – don’t touch. The sort of woman I’d always thought was out of my league. It was perhaps because of this that she took to me – that I was not flirting with her, had never flirted with her: I’d considered it a waste of time, like betting on a 100-1 outsider in the Grand National.

  Then, 100-1 outsiders sometimes come in.

  She offered to cover for me in the meeting, and I accepted. When she took her hand away she seemed to do it slowly, almost as if it was a caress.

  Nothing happened for another month. We bumped into each other at meetings, we had brief, meaningless chats at the water-cooler. I was powerfully attracted to her, but I thought I had no chance. Also, I was still in love with Kelly and hoping to win her back.

  Kelly was wavering a bit over Hugo. I had had one or two letters from her expressing doubts about what she was doing, hoping that I might not ‘write us off just yet’.

  She was just trying to keep her options open, trying to do to me what I had tried to do with Helen. Doubtless she missed me, but primarily I was an insurance policy in case she’d made a wrong call with Hugo. I still hadn’t grasped that to hold on to an old relationship is paying unnecessary interest on an overdraft of pain. I plotted to win her back. My sexual fantasies about Natasha came a poor second to my romantic fantasies about the only kind of true love – the unrequited kind.

  So, it was a huge surprise to me that at the office Christmas party, at Beaufoy’s wine bar, Waterloo, Natasha, in a backless and virtually frontless skin-tight silver dress, walked up to me while I was standing alone, pushed me against a wall and began to kiss me. I allowed the sheer improbability of it all to register, then kissed her back.

  It was heaven. Not only was Natasha kissing me, she was kissing me in front of every other man in the office, and they had all dreamed of just such a moment as this. My imaginative horizons expanded as did my unimaginative cock. Natasha Bliss was kissing me.

  The rest of that evening came and went in a perfect blur of libidinous happiness. I vaguely remember asking her if she was doing this because (a) she was pissed and (b) she was sorry for me. She whispered in my ear that it was both of these things to some extent but mainly because she wanted to go to bed with me. I nodded sagely as if she had asked for a cup of tea, then carried on kissing her. We ended up at my place.

  Even knowing Natasha’s reputation, even guessing from her body language and demeanour that she was unlikely to be uncertain of herself in bed, I was taken aback. I was fully aware that women were capable of intense sexual desire. I had known that ever since Helen. But, even so, they remained pink-tinted, soft-focused in my imagination. Most of the women I had been out with still wanted to be seduced, toyed with and teased into arousal, wanted some remnant of the ancient courtly love play to be re-enacted. There was a
sense that they were giving, the man was taking. However enthusiastic a woman might have been, she had always tended towards the responsive.

  Natasha knew what she wanted and she took it. She didn’t make love to me, she didn’t consent to have sex with me. She fucked me. In that sense, she was a male fantasy. She liked big mirrors and hard-core porn. She was Samantha from Sex and the City years before anyone had thought of Sex and the City. She was fantastic, a revelation.

  And she scared me.

  All the time sex was taking place – and it seemed to go on for a long time – part of me was standing back, split from my sweating, arching body, watching all this go on, and some unreconstructed primitive caveman part of me was thinking…

  This can’t be right.

  After generations of the myth of the passive woman, an encounter with the next evolutionary step was seismic. I did everything I was meant to do, and Natasha seemed pretty satisfied. But I hadn’t been that involved. Some part of me was still in shock.

  A still larger part was wishing she was Kelly.

  Once again, had I known what I know now, I would have told Natasha I wasn’t ready for this, I wasn’t ready for anything like her power and passion, I wasn’t ready for life. But I was broken-hearted, and I was looking for a salve.

  When I woke up the next morning, I half expected to find Natasha gone, that I would turn up in the office in the new year, and that she would pretend nothing had happened. But she was still there. Not only was she still there, but she was looking at me with eyes that were quite different from the eyes she used in the office. A haze around the cornea; soft, I suppose. Smiling, even.

  In this way at least, Natasha wasn’t as evolved – if evolved is the right word and I’m not sure it is – as Samantha from Sex and the City. She hadn’t learned to strip the emotion out of sex.

  Over that Christmas period we saw each other five or six times. It emerged that Natasha’s reputation at the office as a man-eater, a bit of a slag, to use the schoolboy vernacular -and you’re never that far from the playground when you’re in an office – was wildly inaccurate. That was just men’s fantasy. It was no different from what the boys used to imagine about Sharon Smith when I was thirteen.

 
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