The next post will be on or before Wednesday June 7th
BUNNY AND TRUDI (a short story)
Bunny and Trudi have now become fused in my memory as just one unforgettable woman rather than two, even though they were extremely different in every way. Bunny’s favourite musicians were Barry Manilow the American crooner and Neil Diamond ditto, who is also of course a prolific composer. If you have ever heard Manilow’s Christmas Favourites album and especially his faithful rendering of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, you will have experienced the apogee of something or other, transcendental cachexia perhaps. Trudi on the other hand was an expert on opera and also being from Hamburg knew of such obscurities as the Minor Baroque composers. I have an old 1965 compilation album on a German label with the beautiful music of Samuel Capricornus, the Pla Brothers, Ritter and the most attractively named Fux, and Trudi was the only person I had ever met who had independently discovered them and venerated them as I did. The pair of us in emails would vehemently mock the inane designation of Minor, for the likes of Capricornus at any rate. Very well, we agreed, assuming a giant like JS Bach might be the musical equivalent of Shakespeare, no one in their right mind would therefore assert that Ibsen was a Minor Dramatist just because he wasn’t on the cosmic scale of the Bard. We also talked about our children (she had a son called Paulus who was a gifted jazz bassist with a group recently signed up by ECM) and we talked endlessly about food and drink, and Trudi is one of the few women I know who can knock back ouzos till the island goats come home, and with but few ill effects other than smelling strongly of aniseed the following day. She worked in Athens as a freelance translator and like most immigrant Germans had excellent Greek and well-nigh flawless English. Indeed, she spoke the lingua franca much better than Bunny for example, who I got to know via emails and a few phone calls, those in which she innocently failed to tell me about her musical preferences and one or two other rather vital considerations, or there is a fair chance we would never have met…
“Yes, this is Bunny Shotover speaking. Is it sunny there with you on your teeny little island? It’s melting the flipping pavement here in Halkidiki, and it’s the end of blinking October. Good old Greece, eh, that’s why we’re all assembled here, let’s face it.”
Bunny sounded warm and wholesome over the phone, friendly and confiding and pleasant and comforting to chat to. Her photo showed her to be decidedly homely, and in the right light reasonably attractive, though hard as I tried I couldn’t stop thinking of her as looking ever so slightly like a whimsical little owl (interestingly the French for ‘female owl’ is schouette which also means ‘lovely’. It’s a pity it doesn’t mean ‘homely’). You would have thought her the last person in the world to be an expat dwelling in Halkidiki as she had about 6 words of Greek, but then I suppose that is true of many expats or at least the ones who consort exclusively with other Brits, or only with those locals, particularly friendly bar and taverna owners, who have the obligatory English. Her marriage to Dennis an electrician had broken up twenty years ago, back in Birmingham, though she originated from rural Norfolk and still had the accent. After a decade, she met Reg who was a builder and who was planning to emigrate to Greece where the weather was better and where there would be building opportunities galore. She and Reg stayed very amiably together for five years, relishing the sun and the sea and the great grub and the cheap booze, and then one boiling day he decamped to live two miles up the road in a luxury villa with a woman twenty years his junior called Gloire (Bunny invariably called her Glaw, and sometimes even Gaw) from Swanage. Bunny had been cruelly devastated by that, and was still subject to fits of intense melancholy, effectively stranded as she was alone in Halkidiki, because the thought of returning to noisy and lacklustre Birmingham, much less the flat and featureless Norfolk countryside aged 67 and without a partner, just seemed too bleak to contemplate. She and Reg stayed friends nonetheless, and by way of amends he did much gratis work on her house with its lovely harbour view. Bunny took hundreds of photos on her phone of Reg’s masterly renovations, at every possible stage, and put them on her little laptop notebook and showed them to everyone she met, total strangers included, who might or might not be interested, including myself for that remarkably protracted weekend at the tail end of 2013.
“See here,” she said, quite possibly for the fourth time that Sunday afternoon. “Where he put in these lovely new windows for me. I’ve never seen such patience and such perfectionism. I expect that’s why I followed him all the way to Greece, because he was so patient and because he was always trying to be so blinking perfect.”
Home movies so to speak, weren’t Bunny’s only abiding passion. She was obsessed with her health as she had been diagnosed as diabetic, and so she had obtained a little machine for measuring her blood sugar that she took everywhere and employed ceaselessly. Just as I confuse Trudi with Bunny, in part because they visited me in successive weekends, in part because they had rather similar and disabling health issues, so I also helplessly confuse Bunny’s little notebook laptop containing Reg’s wonderful patios and doors and windows, with her charming little blood sugar reader. She needed to make a minute prick on her finger for the blood sample, and as she measured her glucose levels about every hour of wakefulness, that meant she was fearlessly lancing herself around sixteen times a day and dolefully informing me of the awesome reading.
“Gor, look at that,” she sighed. “Just look at that! And it wasn’t anything like that an hour ago. Tell you what, let’s test it again in half an hour and see if there’s any change, should we? It’s one way of us getting close I suppose, you taking an interest in my health. That’s why regular monitoring is so crucial you see? My doctor in Halkidiki is so impressed by my reams and reams of figures.”
It was never a wholly reassuring glucose reading, the best it could be was better than bad, and quite often it was just plain bad, and she needed to swallow some expensive medication. To take her and no doubt my mind off her affliction, she would switch seamlessly to gizmo 2 and whizz on to photo 209 which indicated Reg taking a break from his arduous labours and drinking a can of Alfa beer. He was surrounded by a ton of shattered masonry and the words Barney Rubble went irrelevantly and irreverently through my head. I could almost hear Barry Manilow crooning I Did It My Way in the background.
Unlike the chatty and inevitably forgettable emails that Bunny and I exchanged, Trudi and I swapped increasingly passionate ones in the month before she arrived. She was divorced from a Hamburg architect called Dietrich who she described as the last word in glacial calm and emotionless ultra-rationality, a case of borderline autism as she saw it now in retrospect. Perhaps, she reflected, she had married her mother, another unbelievably unfeeling soul, who had dispatched her to a Swiss boarding school not so much for its educational excellence but because she had no time for children and especially not for Trudi. In the school holidays, she was regarded simply as an unwelcome nuisance, and her mother tirelessly belittled her, mocking her adolescent puppy fat especially, and she was also prone to sullen rages and even to hitting her daughter painfully when it suited her. Her Dad never touched her but he was weak and feebly imitative, so that although he was very fond of his only child, he somehow thought he had to join in the parental teasing, or if he didn’t he might have been betraying his redoubtable wife. The mockery was facetious in his case, whereas his wife would talk about stitching Trudi’s mouth up to stop her pigging herself and thereby turning into a literal pig. Instead her Dad would tell her gleefully that her teenage backside was way too big, like a kind of outsize wienerschniztel, and neither parent seemed to note the irony that they were both patently overweight themselves, with shapeless and virtually indistinguishable bourgeois and bone idle Sitzfleisch.
When Trudi arrived off the boat I was impressed by her striking height and subtly mobile shoulders of all things, and what I associated with them, as her humorous directness, easy friendliness and natural confidence. She was a sturdy and effortlessly imposing woman, and she was also very attractive. That said, she looked much more French than German, with vivid red lipstick and a generous and quaintly forgiving sort of smile. She could have been a zestful Parisian café manager or a bohemian fashion magnate, and I led her to my favourite café where she took an ouzo and the fishermen and labourers were impressed by her very good Greek and her unfussy and unforeign ways. She had another two ouzos and looked as if she would have happily sat there all night, but I had made her an elaborate dinner of South Indian cuisine: banana curry with coriander, dhal with nutmeg, raita with dates and mangos, beetroot rice with chilis and curry leaves. She tucked into it with great relish and we drank white wine and afterwards I could not restrain myself but walked round the table and hugged her tenderly and possessively. At that she started and looked oddly askance, at which precise point the vivid crimson lipstick made her seem oddly and hallucinatingly malign. She did not put it into words but I sensed in a trice that she found manifest tenderness a very awkward motif and even mildly contemptible. There was the nightmare sadistic mother who had scorned her and frequently beaten her, and the nigh autistic husband who had continually frozen her, and thus open and demonstrative affection for Trudi was something almost lethal in its strangeness.
A couple of hours later we were sat there in bed, when she cleared her throat and announced:
“There is something that you need to know.”
Her voice was calm enough, effectively sage and resigned, and I did not feel alarmed.
“I’m sorry to say I have chronic, severe and seemingly permanent cystitis. There, I’ve told you, and that’s it in a nutshell. I’ve had it for years, in fact a decade now. The Athens doctor says it is incurable, though that could be just his autopilot Greek pessimism.”
I mused, then frowned, and finally stroked her fine brown hair protectively.
“That’s a bastard. My poor wife had cystitis in her early thirties and it was always hell for her. She had to drink gallons and gallons of water.”
Trudi sniffed with a kind of resentful fatigue.
“It makes any kind of lovemaking far from easy. If it was just an occasional affliction it would be very different, but as it is permanent it is like a plague or a curse.”
I stared at the pair of us in the mirror opposite. We both looked the picture of radiant health so that her cystitis sounded like a joke or a fantasy, and not an overwhelming fact.
After a long meditation, I said, “I’m trying to think through the options. Ordinary lovemaking is painful obviously. And does that also apply to any intimate caresses administered in the area of…?”
She nodded bleakly. “I’m afraid so. It drives me bloody crazy, because I have all the desire and I want to make love like a fucking demon.”
I stared at myself, and especially at my reflected nipples, with a certain amount of incredulity, as I tried to ruminate with a more cogent focus.
“There’s one thing I can think of that doesn’t involve the usual area, but another and perhaps a rather controversial area. You might not like it, and I’ve never tried it myself, and indeed I might not like it either…”
She snorted: “You’re right, I wouldn’t like that. I’m completely open minded in principle, but in practice I’m an uptight, middle class and super-hygienic gnadiges Fraulein.”
I confided in a neutral anecdotal tone, “The Greeks call it storming the castle.”
“They would the dirty bastards! They bloody well would! Castle my arse.”
I sighed and concurred. “Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head. So then Trudi, what are the working options from your point of view?”
She smiled triumphantly and said that there was massage oil and she had brought a large bottle along, just in case it was unobtainable on the island. I perked up at that, rather like a hopeful terrier, and she looked at me sternly and laid down the specialist ground rules pertaining to one like her who had her singular Gothic developmental history and now its obvious somatic manifestation of a permanent urinary infection. First of all, the massage must be done in total darkness as she did not like to seen naked for any length of time. When I protested that she looked beautiful and her sumptuous nudity was a joy to behold, she scowled sure, sure, but that is not what I was brought up to feel or to know or to live in the flesh that is mine.
“Point taken. And I think I’m following you so far.”
But she sounded like a petulant headmistress or a no nonsense nurse as she went on:
“You must concentrate exclusively on one very small place only!”
I could, she expatiated tersely, have massaged every part of her body if I was that way inclined, and had all the time in the world. But that was a blatant waste of energy and resources, as a single square centimetre at the base of the spine and just above the cleft of her bottom, right here, right here, you see, was where all her most potent and voluptuous ecstasy was sited. She took my finger and placed it at that tiny and precise point, and said it must be connected to symbolic Chinese energy centres as in acupuncture, or maybe there was some significant Tantric yoga analogy.
I invite you now as paradigm neutral observer to use your imagination and consider my extraordinary position. You are in bed with a German woman with big and beautiful and powerful shoulders and blazing red lipstick, and she has told you that you have to apply some sticky oil in the overwhelming pitch dark to only one square centimetre of her body and to that alone. With the light on it would have been a piece of cake, but Trudi would not even permit a candle, not even the tiniest one with the feeble glimmer of the birthday kind. And of course, I couldn’t see a damn thing inside the bedroom as there was no street lighting outside, and I kept missing the target and splattering dabs of oil all over her back and her behind and her delectable thighs, and not getting anywhere near that magical square centimetre.
No! No no! Not there. No. Doh!
Yes yes, that’s it! That’s wonderful! Now I really want you inside of me. But I can’t fucking have you inside of me, because of the cys-fucking- titis! I want you inside of me so much, but I can’t because it’s too painful Because it’s always bloody agony.
A week later Bunny Shotover, who as she walked off the boat looked exactly like a shy little glum little English owl that was palpably out of place being well away from its nesting grounds here in sultry Mediterranean Greece, turned to me in the bedroom and said:
“Listen to me. There’s something I have to tell you.”
I almost thought she was an ouzo loving German translator and a fan of great operas.
“What is it you have you to tell me, Bunny?”
“Ah well. It’s me and my blooming old health again! Six months ago I had a major operation for a prolapsed womb.”
“Oh my God,” I choked, then. “Oh dear me. That doesn’t sound very nice, Bunny.”
“The overall upshot,” she said as if she were talking about the accelerating price of new potatoes, “is that I now have no sex drive whatever. Not a flicker of interest at all. None whatsoever. Mm. That’s me for you.”
I blurted helplessly, oh my steaming fu, and then came to an expert halt.
“Do you mind about that? Do you? It’s not that important, is it?”
“Isn’t it? I thought…”
“Nah. Not at our age. Me 67, you 63. Lots of other things to enjoy at our age.”
“Oh yes. For example, all that great music you get 24/7 on the radio. Not blooming clanky Greek stuff, but Radio 2 online, it’s a true godsend, it keeps me sane and away from the brink. Then there’s the challenge of jigsaws, another life saver, the harder the better. Then there’s good old Scrabble. Then dear old patience. Then nice old puzzle books. Then crosswords as long as they ain’t those cryptic blighters.”
“I can see where you’re coming from. Jigsaws are better than sex?”
Suddenly she looked comically perturbed and owllike hooted. “Look at us two! Just look. Cor.”
I said that in fact I was looking, for I was gawking at us with some pained disbelief in the mirror opposite. There, I observed, I was sat up in bed with an old and blinking Barn Owl who was contentedly doing without sex and who loved Sir Terry Wogan on Radio 2 and who relished joining all the five hundred enigmatic little cardboard bits of Holyrood Palace or of Lake Windermere or of the Taj Mahal or and most taxing of all, of Battersea Power Station.
“I don’t mean look at us in the mirror. I mean look at the pair of us not taking my blood sugar for a least an hour! What are we like, you and me?”
“As long as that? Doesn’t time fl…”
Bunny smirked and looked at me then, as if she were about to offer something far more precious than even the most tantalising part of her fetching body. She smiled at me seductively and coyly lisped:
“How about this? For a change would you like to take this little implement here, and would you like to do the pricking?”