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Black Rubber Dress: A Sam Jones Novelby Lauren Henderson
From Chapter 1
"I can't do this any more," Hawkins said with an air of manly resolution. He was sitting on the end of the futon, his back to me, pulling on his shoes. One of the shoelaces was in a tangle and he dragged on it as viciously as if he were garrotting me.
"Well, my cervix'll be glad to hear that," I said from a semi-recumbent position on a pile of pillows. "It's not what it was. I think it needs a rest cure."
He turned a look of loathing on me, his jaw set. "Why do you always have to make a joke of everything?"
"Please. I hate rhetorical questions."
He tied the other shoelace and stood up.
"I mean it, Sam," he said seriously. "I can't do this any more."
"Is Daphne beginning to suspect?" I found the name of Hawkins' girlfriend exquisitely amusing for some perverse reason.
"It's not that so much as the guilt." He was looking around for his jacket.
"Maybe you should try not to enjoy it so much. Then you'd feel less remorse."
The glance of loathing returned. "If that's all you can think of to say. . . ."
He started rummaging around on the bed, presumably hoping to find his jacket buried in the mess of duvet and blankets. Instead he uncovered a part of me by mistake; he stared at it, unwillingly fascinated, for several moments before throwing the covers back over it as heavily as if he were attempting to tamp out a fire.
"One of the reasons I like you is that you make me feel such a scarlet woman," I observed. "A temptation to be resisted as long as you can possibly bear it."
"That's because you are," he snapped. He had now found his jacket, which was a shame, because it was a nasty brown leather blouson which did nothing for him whatsoever. "And this is positively the last time I give in to it. You."
"That's what you always say."
His eyes narrowed with rage. Hawkins' blue eyes were his one claim to handsomeness. Around them was one of those solid, unpretentious faces, Spencer Tracy crossed with a knocked-about prizefighter, which would be craggy in later life and gave you the impression of total reliability. Which was ironic, considering his profession.
"Well, this time I mean it." Despite himself, his voice softened. "Can't you just try to understand how difficult it is for me, Sam? I've been living with Daphne for four years now. And it's not as if you'd take me in if I left her."
"God, no. I'm not cut out for domesticity. Besides, it would ruin both our careers at one go."
"Exactly." He looked very hangdog.
"Oh, piss off, Hawkins," I said impatiently. "Most men would be bloody grateful for what you've got. You can try to shag what's left of my brains out when the mood takes you and then pop home to Daphne and a nice home-cooked shepherd's pie--"
"How the hell do you know what Daphne cooks?"
"Anyone called Daphne knows how to do shepherd's pie. It wasn't even a guess."
"God, you piss me off!" Hawkins glared at me, arms folded across his broad chest in best macho style. For a moment I thought he was going to have his way with me again, and I braced myself against the headboard in anticipation; but he limited himself to swearing violently and then swung over the side of my sleeping platform, on to the ladder which led down to the main studio. I scrambled out of bed and hung over the edge, shouting:
"It was you who came round here, remember? I didn't even ask you!"
"I wouldn't come back even if you begged me!"
"Yeah, yeah. Same time next week, then?" I yelled vindictively.
He made what sounded like a snarl and slammed the door behind him. It would have rocked on its hinges if I hadn't put on the extra-strong ones. Men often seemed to leave me this way. I attributed the phenomenon to my winning charm.
Well, I was awake now. I should be; it was three in the afternoon. I got out of bed without bothering to huddle under the covers first. There were only a few months of the year warm enough for me to wander naked round my studio--a tacked-on warehouse extension in Holloway, and even less glamorous than that description makes it sound--so I might as well make the most of it. Pushing aside the big screen, painted with colourful and rather rudely cavorting people, which stood at the foot of my bed, I rifled through the contents of my clothes rail, pausing for a moment at my little blue linen suit: it would be perfect for this evening, which was precisely why I wasn't going to wear it. People might take me for an off-duty merchant banker.
I looked across the platform for a moment at the Thing, a large silvery mobile which hung smugly from the central steel joist in the ceiling. Attempts had been made by Duggie, my agent, to call it something more saleable, but I had resisted them. To me it would always be the Thing; its personality wasn't good enough for it to deserve a more poetic moniker. It was demanding, pushy and it positively revelled in attention, which was why it had become a mobile in the first place. It loved hanging above people's heads, in the most literal sense being looked up to, while it basked happily, feeling admired and superior.
It was because of the admiration provoked by the Thing that I was now facing a clothes decision. An American couple had commissioned one like it, but on a larger scale. I had wanted to call the second one Thing II, but this time Duggie had stood firm, and it now answered to "Undiscovered Planet." The husband of the couple was otherwise known as Mr. Big of Consolidated Drilling; he had shown the mobile to a mate of his, a.k.a. Mr. Big at an investment bank called Mowbray Steiner, who happened to be looking for something to hang in the bank's front hall and wanted this to be slightly more original than ceramic flying ducks. So he placed an order for "Floating Planet," which he had requested on a scale that made its forebears look the size of ball bearings. Duggie predicted that all the smartest five-mile-high marble atria would be wearing one next season.
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