For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.
Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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Chapter 7: Words, Wide Night[i]
As Morien packed a bag, Striker had salvaged the coffee. She had wanted something stronger, but whisky didnt seem to be Moriens drink, and there was no beer, no wine... no alcohol whatsoever.
She opened the window to light a cigarette, leaning into the damp air. She could feel drizzle against her skin, but the nicotine felt good in her blood.
"I wish you wouldnt smoke," Morien said behind her.
Striker looked over her shoulder, carefully leaving the burning cigarette outside. "You want me to put this out?"
"Its bad for you. You can get all sorts of nasty things through smoking."
"I know." She leaned back outside, taking another couple of puffs and watching sparks disappear into the dark.
"So why do you smoke?"
"Habit. Bad habit." She stubbed the cigarette out on the brickwork by the window and flicked it into the night. "So why did you call me?"
There was a sigh from behind her. "Not habit."
Morien had a small holdall at her feet, and her fingers tangled with the handles of her tapestry bag, tossed over her shoulder. "I couldnt get hold of anyone else."
Striker nodded, her face clouded, and Morien immediately regretted lying. "No, thats not true. I mean... I ... I wanted to call you," she finished simply.
Strikers expression didnt change, but Morien noticed the tiniest relaxation of her jaw and that ball of tension that shed felt bloom inside her since Sunday morning, finally burst like dandelion seeds in a puff of wind.
Striker closed and locked the window. "Come on," she said. "I feel like I could sleep for a week, so fuck knows how you must be feeling."
* * * * *
Approaching <st1:time Hour="0" Minute="0"midnight</st1:time, and she had led Morien across the dark, shadow abstract that was the Bronte Estate and up the grimy concrete stairs to her apartment - not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that the urine-scented lift was out of order. "Please keep in mind," she said as she opened the door, "that I live in pigsty." She flicked on a light.
"Please bear in mind where weve just come from," Morien replied. "Your..." she searched for the word unsuccessfully, "...isnt in?"
"Apparently not. And I dont know if hell be back tonight. Danny comes and goes as he pleases. In all sorts of ways." She lifted and eyebrow and smiled. "I would offer you his bed... but Id hate for you to get a surprise in the early hours. Have my bed... Ill take the couch."
Striker pushed open her bedroom door and flicked the light switch. It was a good sized room, bigger than the bedroom that Morien shared with Sophie, but it was strangely devoid of personality. There was a plain wardrobe and a battered chest of drawers, the walls were a bland off-white, there were no pictures. The threadbare carpet was dark grey and needed vacuuming. There was a toppling pile of un-ironed clothes on the floor by the chest of drawers. There was a lamp on the floor by the bed, and a large old-fashioned alarm clock. The bedclothes were plain blue. The bed was enormous.
"Its huge, Ill get lost in that thing," Morien said.
"Well, that means youll be comfortable. The bathrooms next door." Striker turned to go.
Morien envisioned her closing the door, leaving her on her own. The room was empty, alien. Suddenly, being alone felt like the worst thing in the world. "Striker, you cant sleep on the couch all night."
"Ill be fine."
"What if Danny comes home? Wont he wake you up out there?"
Striker smiled. "Probably, but better me than you."
"Striker..." Morien caught her bottom lip in her mouth. Striker found herself staring at the gesture. "Striker, I dont want to be on my own." Moriens words came out in a rush, but her eyes dragged their way up Strikers body, until she felt she could meet her eyes.
Strikers heart sank. She didnt know what gods were doing this too her, but she felt taunted, manipulated, hung out to dry. It felt like a test... a test for a ladys hand... except this ladys hand belonged to another. I cant do this....
"Striker, its a huge bed. Please stay with me."
"I cant...." She didnt know how to finish that sentence.
Morien stared at her. Her brow suddenly wrinkled. "Do you have a problem with me being gay?"
Fuck no!... Yes! I have a problem with you having a girlfriend, but thats not the same thing... Striker felt herself goldfishing. "No, no of course I dont."
"Look... Im a quiet sleeper, or so Im told. I promise I wont touch you, if it worries you. I... After all thats happened...." Morien was momentarily reminded of the first time shed seen Striker on the station platform. It was the same expression: a rabbit caught in headlights. "Im sorry. This is wrong of me. If youd prefer the couch, I do understand."
"No... Ill stay."
* * * * *
Self-consciously, shed changed in the bathroom. She didnt usually wear clothes in bed, so had picked an old, baggy t-shirt and a pair of Dannys hipsters which had been mixed up with her laundry. She hoped she wouldnt get too hot... in all sorts of ways.
She now sat on the side of the bath, staring into the mirror and steeling herself for the night. This was her first time.
The first time.
She was thirty-two years old and she felt like an inexperienced teenager out for her first grope. Except the groping wasnt the problem. If groping had been part of this package she wouldnt be hiding in the bathroom. Sex was definitely no problem. The rest of it was.
This was the first time shed shared a bed with someone she was actually, honest-to-goodness, head-over-heels in love with.
Her blue eyes stared back at her from the mirror. Her face was pale. There were dark patches under her eyes. She wanted a cigarette, but didnt want to bring the smell of smoke into the bedroom. Her hands were shaking.
Fuck, youre pathetic.
She braced herself, opened the bathroom door and doggedly made her way to the bedroom.
In the light of the lamp, Morien sat on the far side of the bed, her face in shadow. She was wearing a short-sleeved nightshirt covered in a delicate embroidered floral design. It toned with the bed.
She still wore her headscarf.
"Hi," Striker said from the door.
Morien looked round. "Hi," she said, shyly.
Striker, amazed at her own boldness, shut the door and crossed to the bed, slipping herself under the covers. Damn, maybe I can do this....
Morien didnt move.
"Are you okay? Can I get you anything?"
"Im fine, really," she said, then slowly slid her hand up and tugged away her headscarf.
Her auburn hair was growing longer at her forehead, round behind her ears, and down the back of her neck, but the large patch of newly grown stubble at the back of her head couldnt disguise the vivid, angry scar that tore across her scalp.
"I couldnt bear to get it all cut off," she said, without looking at Striker. "It would be like admitting defeat... you know? Everyone says it will grow back... eventually, but...."
She finally looked round, terrified at the expression of horror that would be sure to grace her new friends face. But found herself gazing at acceptance.
Striker resisted the temptation to run her fingers across the patch of dark red fuzz. The dim light shimmered across the strands, turning them to flame. "You have beautiful hair," she said. "Never believe otherwise."
Moriens relief was tangible, but Striker simply smiled and pulled at the covers. Morien slid under them and settled down. Striker switched out the light and the two of them lay in darkness.
"You know something...," Striker said. "I still owe you that apology."
A heartbeat. Another. Then, "I think youve put up with enough from me this evening to warrant any apology completely unnecessary."
The word seemed to resound.
"Can I ask you a question?"
A moment of hesitation.
"Why did you follow me?"
That was a question Striker didnt want to answer, mostly because there were so many possible answers and she had no idea which one was true. Or if they were all true. She had followed Morien because she genuinely cared about her, because she was very attracted to her, because she was curious, because she was scared of her, because she was scared of herself.... She could go on and on. But Morien was waiting.
"I followed you because I... wanted to make sure you were all right. I... I wanted to make sure that you were being looked after."
"You could have asked. You could have come up and asked me."
"I know, but..."
"I didnt want to intrude. You had so many people around you, anyway, why would you want some stranger prying?"
Striker sensed Moriens smile. "Im glad... were not strangers now."
Striker felt warm at the comment. She glowed with it, enjoying the resonance of the words in her mind and in her body. It would be so easy just to reach out and touch her. Just touch her, nothing else....
Only, to be interrupted by Moriens voice. "So, what did you find out about me, stalker?" Again, there was a smile in the words.
"I found out where you lived. I found out you have a family who love you very much. I found out where you worked, though I didnt know what you did there..."
"You really didnt found out that much, did you?"
"Hey, I couldnt stalk you 24/7. I have a job to do, I have hospital management to freak out. I have patients to scare. Tell you what, Ill do the job properly. Ill take some leave next month and Ill stalk you full time for a couple of weeks. Is that good for you?"
Moriens laugh echoed round the bedroom and made Striker tingle with delight.
"How come you get all the fun?" she returned, her voice rippling with joy. "How about if I take leave and stalk you for a couple of weeks?"
"Dont know what youd get out of it," Striker replied. "You know where I work, you know where I live...."
"I can wheedle out all those little details of your life..."
"...I like baseball, I dont have a favourite colour, I sleep weird hours..."
"I can find out about the family who love you...."
And the conversation hit a brick wall at high speed.
There was a long, long silence.
And then something moved in the wreckage. The flailing limb of life. "My familys out picking up women right now."
Morien didnt know how to respond. She was going to open her mouth and say something placatory, something shallow and uncontroversial, but there was a mumble from beside her: "Might be more interesting if we both stalked Danny."
This time, the lull in the conversation was more relaxed, like a natural break between stanzas, yet still full of expectation and uncertainty. Then the next line.
"Tell me about your family," Striker asked.
"Tell me about your family..."
"All of them?"
"How about your brother... your dad...."
"Because Im interested. You seem like a nice family. What does your dad do?"
"Hes a teacher."
"What does he teach?"
"Big surprise there."
Morien could feel a warm buzz of amusement through the bedclothes. She returned the smile in the dark. "Hes good at it too. Makes all the difference when your father happens to be one of the most popular teachers at your school."
"He taught you?"
"Mmm hmm. Me and Drake."
"And what does Drake do, apart from fussing over his sister?"
"Oh, he doesnt just fuss over me, he fusses over his students..."
"He teaches too?"
"Yup, and he fusses over his wife and children as well."
"Your brothers got kids? Hes twelve!"
"Hes twenty four."
"I was close!"
Morien giggled. She was enjoying this.
"So, you gonna tell me hes got eight kids with green eyes and red hair?"
"No, two, both boys. Macsen and Toby."
"Toby? Poor kid!"
"Couldve been far worse. Drake wanted to call him Taliesin."
"Poor kid!! Your brother is weird!"
"My brother is a good brother and a good father."
Striker felt the purr of affection in Moriens voice and bathed in that sound. There was a comfortable silence which was eventually broken by the American. "What about your mother?"
The words were accompanied by a sigh. "She died when I was eight. Leukaemia"
Morien paused for a moment. There was something different. This was a new variation on the many condolences shed heard in her life. Somewhere, buried underneath the familiar phrase and the genuine sentiment, was a strange... longing.
She felt a question on her lips and felt bound to ask it. "Striker...." She felt a tremor of expectation next to her. Striker knew what was coming. "What about your mother?"
There was a silence, then, "My mother?"
"You said youd come over to England to see your mother."
Another silence, and then came a simple statement. "I lied."
"You lied?" It wasnt an accusation, and there was no anger in the words. It was a question, plain and simple.
Striker turned over, her back now to Morien. She didnt tell this story to anyone. It hurt too much. There were those that knew... bits and pieces. Danny knew the basics - she had to explain the phone bill somehow - but he didnt push it. But Striker had a feeling that if she started to tell Morien, she wouldnt be able to stop. She loved Morien, she knew that - she loved her even more since shed actually met her - but did she trust her?
Morien kicked herself. Shed been aware of Strikers movement - and the other woman was now curled on her side, facing away from her, every syllable of her bodys language crying Keep Out. She had upset her, and Morien was shocked by how much that hurt.
But then she heard Striker let out a sigh and she started to speak. Her voice seemed distant. "I came to England to find my mother." Morien found herself edging closer to be able to hear Strikers quiet voice, and to be able to offer support by her presence. She was careful not to touch her.
Striker swallowed and continued. "I havent seen her for twenty two years. She walked out when I was ten."
Morien wanted to reach out a hand, just to touch her shoulder, but was scared that she might frighten Striker, might stop her from talking. This was a story that was rusty from neglect and it was aching and hesitant in its telling.
"It makes my mother sound like a bitch, doesnt it? She wasnt. My father stifled her. He wanted to own her, control her and she couldnt live with that. She was desperate. They were such different people. It was amazing how long she did stay and put up with it. It was amazing they got married in the first place. Anyway, she came back to England."
A chapter had closed, but Morien wondered if there was more to come. Her hand inched closer to Striker, but it was her voice that reached her first. "She didnt keep in touch?"
Again, a pause, and again Morien wondered if shed pushed too far.
Striker suddenly shifted again. She was back on her back. It had been surprisingly easy to force the words past the lump in her throat and now it was just as easy to keep going... to follow the flood to the safe harbour of Morien.
"She kept in touch. She wrote all the time: long letters every week, postcards and cards almost every day, sometimes two in a day. She sent candy and toys, bits and pieces she thought I might like, books, lots of books.... And she called too. But it was tough for her. She had to get past my dad. When she called he would answer and more often than not theyd end up fighting. Dad was so angry with her for leaving. He was so angry with her."
Striker swallowed. She had closed her eyes, storytelling to the dark. Seeing the pictures in her head. Seeing her fathers livid face, hearing his furious words, and the bang as the phone receiver was crashed into its cradle. She felt all over again the cutting disappointment that that noise had meant: at not being able to talk to her mother again, hear her voice.
She wanted so badly to hear her mothers voice.
"But she kept in touch, one way or another, for five months. She told me that shed got a job, that she had somewhere to live. And always... always... shed tell me how much she wanted to see me, how much she missed me... loved me...." There was a long sigh. "She talked about me coming over to visit... maybe even to live with her. Thats what she wanted... thats what I wanted...."
And now another pause, longer than the rest.
Moriens eyes were getting used to the gloom. A faint glimmer of London night penetrated the heavy curtains. She could see the shape that was Striker lying next to her in the big bed. She could hear her soft breaths, slow and even. There was no other sound. Even London was waiting.
"What happened?" she finally asked.
"I dont know," Striker replied, abruptly. "She stopped writing."
Striker turned over, her back to Morien.
And the story ended.
The muffled buzz of the city slowly buried its way into Moriens consciousness.
Then there was a loud click and the sound of voices from the sitting room. Morien found herself silently smiling at the hypothetical situation of her being joined in Dannys bed by the man himself and his guest. Would he have minded?
Then came the humming of mutual gratification, and a giggle, and the click of a light switch. A glow of light appeared under from under the bedroom door, and she could see Strikers face, turned away from her. Her skin seemed to glow from within.
The bedroom door opened a crack and a quiet voice heavy with drink, and flirting both with south London and the West Indies said, "Hey, sis, you got any fags?"
There was a kind of rumble from the other side of the bed and a husky voice said, "Drawer... kitchen table...." The door began to close and Striker called louder, "Dont smoke them all."
The door shut.
There was a silence.
"He always smokes my cigarettes," the muffled explanation came from under the duvet.
"Then dont smoke," Morien replied from her side of the bed.
There was a chuckle.
The tension broke.
A warm, comfortable ambience descended. Moriens thoughts turned to the woman beside her: her kindness, her generosity, the blood on her hands, her voyeurism, the faith in her that Morien seemed to feel intrinsically. Striker had read to her like a mother does a child. And shed stalked her. Morien didnt understand her. She didnt know her. She had said that they werent strangers, but she didnt even know her name.
What kind of a name was Striker anyway?
What the hell am I doing?
Every logical bone in her body was screaming questions at her, screaming danger.
And her heart whispered trust.
Morien had craved her friendship before she even knew who she was. There had been a pull of need since shed first heard her voice - like the need for her mothers memory - which had only increased since their meeting on the station platform. She had known that this stunning woman, with the impossibly blue eyes, was going to be important in her life: one way or another.
But what way did Morien want?
Striker had quickly become a friend, perhaps some kind of surrogate sister. She moved her head so she could once again make out the curves beneath the bedclothes.
She could smell Strikers skin. It was warm, a mixture of rich masculine and flowery feminine, and unsurprisingly smoky. It made her wonder if it tasted the same way, and her tongue tingled with an unexpected anticipation.
And her mind turned to Sophie and a bolt of guilt ripped through her.
It had been so easy to love Sophie. She was sweet and kind and supportive and enthusiastic about everything around her. She was enthusiastic about her charity work and enthusiastic about going to Peru and her enthusiasm shone in the letters she wrote to Morien, about the work she was doing and the South American landscape and the culture and the people she was working with.
It had been so easy to let Sophie go, and be quiet and on her own. Even after the attack she hadnt needed Sophie to come home. Sophie had cried on the phone - trying to find a way to come home and be with her girlfriend. Morien had been genuinely sorry when no way could be found. But now she realised, she hadnt needed her to come home. Despite everything, she hadnt needed her.
It had been so very easy to love Sophie.
She did love Sophie. Very much.
The first doubt. The first conscious doubt.
Morien felt a lump in her throat.
She would have to tell Sophie about the flat. She really didnt want to tell Sophie about the flat. She wanted to tell Sophie that everything was fine, that work was fine, that home was fine, that she wasnt being terrorised by mystery phone calls. That she wasnt currently in another womans bed.
Maybe she should have stayed at home, but the thought of her possessions strewn across her floor and the thought of the phone ringing....
She started to cry.
It was the slightest of noises that alerted Striker. She had almost been asleep, lulled by the sound of Moriens breathing and the exhaustion of the evening: thoughts of her mother once again tucked safely behind the walls of denial. But then there was a hitch - the tiniest change in the air.
Morien felt Strikers body warm against her back; felt rather than heard the words Come on. An arm slipped over her and a gentle hand settled against her stomach. She shifted back, her breath catching in her throat, and found a willing berth on Strikers shoulder, as another arm moved under her body to cradle her.
Striker felt the smooth velvet of Moriens short hair beneath her cheek. Briefly, she allowed herself to nuzzle it, cherishing the feeling on her skin.
Moriens quiet sobs faded into the dark and her breathing quietened.
They lay like that until the London night claimed them.
[i] The title of a love poem by Carol Ann Duffy.