I stared up at the top of what had been Eric’s apartment block, one of four identical monoliths marking the corners of a ragged patch of weedstrewn concrete wasteground punctuated by dead trees and a heap of smouldering garbage. A few metres away a couple of longhaired kids in jeans and T-shirts surely too thin for the season were executing desultory jumps on skateboards.
‘Bloody Le Corbusier again’ I thought. Seven years ago when I’d stayed here with Eric and his family the block had been white, light-filled, the park beneath it green, its trees still living. In the early days of its existence the estate had managed to preserve something of the optimism of the architect’s maquette which doubtless had persuaded the municipal council of this Parisian suburb that Cities In The Sky were indeed the way to go when creating ‘habitations à loyer modéré’ — homes at reasonable rents — for its blue collar residents. Even then, though, I’d noticed something sulphurous about the atmosphere of the landings, which Eric told me was the reek of inefficient waste-disposal chutes and overcomplex plumbing which was constantly in need of maintenance it didn’t receive. The lifts served all too often as impromptu lavatories for local vagrants and, he hinted, fellow occupants who just didn’t care.
Seven years had wiped away any illusion that this kind of high-rise battery living held any advantage other than low rents. The outsides of the blocks had been eroded grey by weather and traffic fumes from the Paris ring road, the Périphérique, next to which they stood. No one having taken responsibility for it, the communal green space had deteriorated into the dilapidated skate park from which I was surveying the decline. I didn’t know if Eric or his family even lived here any more. If they’d had the opportunity or any sense, I thought, they’d have moved out long ago.
Across the wire-reinforced glass of the entrance lobby someone had spraycanned ‘Lasciate ogni speranze, voi ch’entrate’ — the inscription on the gates of Hell in Dante’s ‘Inferno’: ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here.’
I’d caught the train from Blois just after midday, a stopping service that was supposed to get me into the Gare d’Austerlitz about three hours later. It was drizzling as we pulled out of the station, and my memory of the entire journey is in monochrome, like one of those stylish old films Jean-Luc was so fond of, Jean-Louis Trintignant or Alain Delon travelling moodily to some assignation or crime backed by a cool jazz soundtrack. Light rain streaked on the compartment windows, refracting and distorting the yellow of prematurely illuminated car headlights at level crossings.
My mood is best described by that old word ‘melancholy.’ I’d had a good time with Jean-Luc, Thérèse and Natacha, but it was the right point to move on and I didn’t regret leaving. The fact that I’d promised Henri to look in on his nieces Diane (Doudou) and Zoë (Zaza) had given some structure to my planned wanderings when I’d originally made it, but that was before I fell in love with Alana, then had her taken away from me, then spent the next six weeks trying to pretend it didn’t matter. Before I’d left England on this road trip I’d seen it as a way of finding what it was that I really wanted to do with my life before I went off to university, as well as have sex with a broad range and variety of women. I’d certainly managed the latter, but somehow, remembering Alana, it seemed a hollow kind of achievement. As to the former intention, I still had no idea.
I think I wanted to go home.
A promise was a promise, though. I’d call and see the girls in Choisy, and might even, I thought with a sudden burst of excitement, be able there to find an excuse to phone their uncle to see if he had any news of Alana. The visit to Eric was more tendentious, but I’ve always had this desire to know what happens to people. Life is pretty chaotic, despite the lies we tell ourselves and each other and the pathetic structures we construct to try and contain and predict our fates, and I’ve often found it comforting to discover that I’m not the only one to whom unexpected shit happens. What that might have been in his case I had no idea.
I didn’t intend to spend any longer at either place than I could help, though. I stowed my canvas bag in a left luggage locker at Austerlitz, taking with me only my passport, the remaining traveller’s cheques, and about 200 francs I had left in cash. I got on the Metro for the Porte d’Ivry.
When I saw the state of Eric’s old home, the closed-down row of shops on the street next to the devastated park, the nervous-looking Arabs and hollow-eyed skinheads inscribed with tattoos declaring affiliation to the neo-fascist Front National party, I congratulated myself on the right decision. Not that I had anything worth stealing, but that wouldn’t have deterred them from checking, and baggage draws attention.
What the fuck was I doing here?
“Like it?” a girl’s voice interrupted my contemplation of the quotation from Dante. “I did that. It’s from the ‘Inferno.’ It means…”
I told her what it meant.
“Clever” she said. “Got a cig?”
She looked about fourteen. batıkent escort She was very small, thin, pale, her chopped-up hair peroxide blonde, blue eyes heavily mascara’d, baggy camo combat trousers at least two sizes too big so she had to keep hoisting them up to cover a grubby knicker waistband. A torn Métal Urbain T-shirt rose above a tiny, vulnerable-looking navel in the delicate white curve of her stomach. It had a silver ring through it, matching an array of ironmongery in both her ears and nose. She held a plastic carrier bag that obviously contained a bottle.
I fumbled in my pocket for the pack of Gauloises the traffic cop had given me all those weeks ago in Laval. There were still a few left.
“French?” she said disdainfully. “You sound American. Thought you’d at least have some Marlboros.”
“English. Take it or leave it.”
She took the cigarette and let me light it for her from the matchbook Marielle had given me a thousand years ago.
“You might have got a blowjob for a Marlboro. Coming in?” she said.
I followed her through the door into the crepuscular lobby. She pressed the lift button, then struck it four more times with increasing force.
“Violence is the only language it understands.”
“What’s in the bag?” I said as the downward arrow above the lift door finally came on.
“You a cop? Nah, your hair’s too long”
It had grown out a bit since I arrived in Blois. I wasn’t likely to be mistaken for a soldier now, any more than a policeman.
“Wine and chocolate” she continued. “You coming up for a drink?”
“It was a blowjob a minute ago. You don’t look old enough for either.”
“Arsehole. I’m eighteen. I’ve got ID” she sneered.
The lift must have recently been cleaned, as it smelt of disinfectant as well as cigarette smoke and stale urine. As well, oddly, as cabbage.
“What’s your name?” I asked the girl as we stepped in.
“Sure you’re not a cop?”
“Joe. Which floor?”
“Me too. Short for Joseph in my case. Are you a Joséphine, a Joanne, or what?”
“Strummer” she said “After the singer of The Clash. My parents called me Carice. Do I look like a Carice? Which floor?”
“I suppose not. Seventh.”
“Same here.” She pressed the button. The door creaked slowly shut.
“Which flat do you live in? I haven’t seen you before.”
“Fuck! You are a fucking cop!”
I explained about Eric. She glared at me suspiciously. I fancied she was planning to hit me with the wine bottle if I didn’t convince her.
“Well, he doesn’t live here any more. We’ve been squatting the place for the last three months.”
“Shit. Who’s ‘we’?”
“Me and my mate.”
“Fuck. Have you got a phone?”
If I wasn’t going to stay here I needed to call Henri’s sister as soon as possible. I spilled out the convoluted tale of my travels, leaving out as much as I could while still making sense.
The lift rattled to a halt and after two unsuccessful attempts the door grated open.
“Even a cop wouldn’t make up such a stupid story. Sure, you can use our phone. It was there when we first broke in and still works. No idea who’s paying for it.”
Unsurprisingly, the seventh floor landing was narrower and darker than I remembered it. The door of Flat 17 may have been the same colour as it had in Eric’s day, but now it was stained and scuffed with thousands of knocks and openings.
Joe/Carice hammered on it with her fist.
“No keys” she said. “Scylla has to open it from inside. And the stupid bitch is probably rocking out and can’t hear us.” She attacked the door again.
The latch clicked. Sure enough, as the door swung inward the sound of The Clash rolled out. ‘Gates of the West’ from the ‘Cost of Living’ EP.
Scylla scrutinised me. She was taller and healthier-looking than her friend, her skin a cinnamon brown, eyes deep and dark, hair black, straight and evidently once expensively cut in a long bob, grown out now and spattered with various bright shades of paint. She was wearing an oversized man’s shirt — also paintsplashed — with the top three buttons undone, the hem hanging a third of the way down her thighs. She did look eighteen.
“You were supposed to be getting the groceries” she said, “Not going on the pull. Are you planning on fucking him now, because if you want me to join in I’m going to have to clean my brushes first.”
“He wants to use the phone” Joe said, pushing past her, adding over her shoulder “You explain to her. I can’t remember that daft fucking tale you just told me. And I did get the fucking groceries.”
In the middle of what I vaguely recalled had been Eric’s living room — now bare — there was scratched and abraded old leather-upholstered armchair, into which she tipped the litre bottle of red wine and two bars of chocolate. Then she let the combat trousers drop to the floor and stepped out of them.
I stood with my mouth open. To Scylla this was, apparently, quite normal.
Joe bent down so that her off-white knickers stretched across her bum and gave a tantalising hint of concealed slit. She began pulling beşevler escort small items of foodstuffs out of the crumpled combats.
“Those are the shopping trousers” Scylla explained to me, noting my confusion. “We sewed a load of pockets on the inside to make shoplifting easier. No one would dare strip search her, and she frightens the shit out of all those repressed Arabs who run the store anyway.”
Two cans of chopped tomatoes, a small bottle of olive oil, a shrink-pack of chicken legs, a small loaf of bread, an onion, tubs of black pepper and paprika, and a dried sausage joined the wine and chocolate on the chair.
“And the pièce de resistance” said Joe, fumbling inside her knickers, “There!”
She produced a large bulb of garlic and held it up for our inspection.
“Warmed and seasoned!”
“Did you get cigs?” Scylla was evidently less impressed by her resourcefulness than I was.
“How could I steal those? They keep them behind the counter.”
“You had some cash!”
“And I had to spend that on stuff I could pick up from the shelves while I was nicking the rest, twat. That’s what the wine and chocolate are for.”
“Here” I passed the crumpled Gauloises pack to Scylla. “There are three left. Take them.”
“Fucking hell — I thought I was gonna have to give him a blowjob for just one!” Joe said. “He’ll be expecting to fuck you in all three holes and piss over you for that!”
I wouldn’t have minded that.
I looked around the room as both girls lit up. The walls were mainly white, obviously quite recently painted, but one of them bore also what I now know to be a parody of the classic Robert Indiana ‘LOVE’ motif. In the original the the four letters are arranged in a square with the ‘o’ at an angle. In this version the square read ‘HATE’, the ‘a’ inverted.
“You the artist?” I said to Scylla.
“Well spotted” she gestured at the paint-spattered shirt.
I remembered the view out of the window over the Périphérique, but looking out over the speeding traffic, police car lights, the navigation beacons on planes turning in to land at Orly, I realised it was rapidly becoming dark and I had nowhere to stay for the night, unless I could get hold of Marie-France and persuade her and the girls’ dad to let me kip on their floor.
Joe showed me to the phone. I took the folded slip of paper out of my wallet, where it had lived all these months next to the label from Emma’s cremated knickers, and dialled.
“Oh, Joseph! We were expecting to hear from you before now. Henri called six weeks ago to say you had to ring him immediately. There was something he needed to tell you. Are you still coming to see us?”
I explained my situation.
“Sorry, you can’t stay here. The flat’s very small, there are no spare rooms, and… well, Michel’s very wary about the girls and men he doesn’t know. He’s working tonight, and if he found out I’d let you stay, well, you know.”
There wasn’t anything I could do about it. I arranged to go round the following morning. It was only when I’d hung up that I realised I hadn’t got Henri’s number. Still, it was Saturday night so he’d likely be busy. I could call from the sister’s tomorrow.
What could he want to tell me that was so important? It must be something to do with Alana. Perhaps her parents had contrived to ship her off somewhere inaccessible, as Emma’s had years back.
“What are we going to do with that?” Scylla was pointing at the miscellaneous comestibles heaped on the chair.
“Eat it. You didn’t think of telling me to steal a recipe book, did you? It’s not my fault you don’t know how to cook, rich girl. I never had servants. All we had to eat at home was pasta and chips.”
An idea lit up my situation.
“I can make you something with it. Something flavoursome and nourishing.”
It was worth a try. They looked interested.
“In exchange you could let me sleep on your floor.”
Joe and Scylla looked at each other, as though attempting to discuss my proposal telepathically.
“What will you cook?” Scylla said.
“‘Sopa de ajo.’ Spanish garlic soup.”
“OK. But it really will have to be the floor. There aren’t any beds.”
Joe agreed. In fact, for a few seconds she looked quite excited. I imagined she hadn’t eaten well for some time.
“Have you got any eggs? Oh, and white wine?”
They hadn’t. I could feel my scheme collapsing when, of course, I remembered I had money. It was as though the girls’ obvious impecunity had rubbed off on me for the few minutes I’d known them. I brandished my 200-franc note.
“If one of you wants to go to the store you won’t have to steal this time. Eggs, white wine — and get some more red and cigarettes. Marlboros.”
Joe snatched the bill, as though afraid it might disappear. She shoved it down the front of her knickers and went to find some non-shoplifting trousers.
“I think she likes you” Scylla said.
“Are you two together?” I said. “I mean, lesbians?”
Joe left to do the shopping. Scylla showed me round the flat. The room I’d slept in when I’d stayed there before was little bigger beypazarı escort than a broom cupboard. There was no electric light and it was dark outside now, but I recalled acutely staring out of the window on my first morning at the simultaneous mundanity and utter strangeness of a foreign country, in a period when France and England really did look and feel very different from each other. Aged just thirteen I was facing the prospect of a month with strangers, trying to communicate in a language I’d only been learning for two years.
Well, I’d managed. In fact, I’d come a long way. Even through the built-in arrogance and assumed worldweariness of a twenty-year-old that experience could teach me it was possible to cope with anything. It was a lesson I’d need. One I’ve carried with me for another forty years.
The master bedroom, which I’d never seen before, did have a light in it, although when Scylla switched it on my eyes had to adjust to the fact that all but one of the walls was painted matt black. The floor, and a mattress in the middle of it, was covered in plastic sheeting, splattered with paint like Scylla’s shirt and hair and held down at one side by four or five cans of paint with brushes poking out of them, at another by a cheap little stereo with the Clash record still attached.
On one wall was stencilled, neatly, in blood crimson: ‘Kill The Masters.’ Opposite, the entire space comprised a polychrome mural, still dominated by reds, of a young woman in a leather jacket and fishnets — plainly Scylla herself — squatting in front of a wall covered in gig posters next to a bin full of empty bottles, holding a raised gun in her left hand while her right is pulling aside the crotch of her pants under a short, striped dress. She is pissing on the dirty floor.
“Wow!” I said. “That is really good.”
“Execution or subject?” Scylla said.
We locked glances, and as so often in my life when a new sexual experience is about to happen, I could smell the heat of her cunt and armpits, the tiniest residue of piss escaping her, the sudden inevitability of it all.
“I did it for Joe.” She put her hands on my shoulders. “She likes to watch me pissing. I like to be watched, and I love pissing on her.”
We kissed. Her mouth tasted amazingly sweet and clean, by contrast with what I was hoping we were going to do to each other.
“That’s my thing too” I said.
“Giving or receiving?”
“Both. Receiving, if I have to choose.”
“Good.” She pulled back and in one motion swept the shirt up and over her head. Her breasts, round, brown and dark-nippled, pointed at me. I sucked at each in turn while she removed her knickers. She had a tuft of black hair under each arm, and her bush was trimmed into a neat triangle, somehow reminding me of the stencilled slogan on the wall behind her.
“If we’re going to do it in here you have to try and swallow as much as you can” she said. “Just leave a little puddle to get Joe excited.”
I’d already stripped off all my clothes.
“Sixty-nine, I think” said Scylla. I lay on my back, erection swaying in front of me. She lowered her hot cunt onto my mouth, her topiarised bush tickling the end of my nose, letting me penetrate her soft, dank inside with my tongue, finding her clit and her peehole. She let go with her gush, shooting in spurts to enable me to swallow her. Warm trickles escaped each side of my mouth, arousing me still further at what she’d said about getting her girlfriend excited. She licked the end of my cock, pumping it softly with hands that were unexpectedly rough, taking its head into her mouth and sucking it. Finally, as her piss trickled to an end and I started seriously massaging her clitoris with my tongue, she took it all the way.
As she came into my mouth she came up for air.
“Cum in my face!” she said.
She rolled off me, and lay on her back in the little lake of her escaped urine which had pooled in the folds of the plastic sheet. I straddled her face and brought myself to a trembling ejaculation with my hand, my cum covering her forehead, nose, mouth, and chin.
As she had doubtless planned it, at that moment Joe started hammering on the door to be let in. Scylla jumped to her feet, face dripping spunk, patches of piss glinting on her smooth brown back. She marched to the door stark naked and opened it.
“Holy shit — that was quick!” Joe said, as I noticed that there were no blinds on the window and we’d effectively been giving the residents of the block opposite a free sex show.
Scylla walked in drying her face on a towel.
“Better get up and start cooking” she said. “Joe’s got the hots for you, so you’ll need all your strength for tonight. She fucks like a machine, that girl.”
Scylla was Greek, hence the unusual name. And Joe told the truth when she called her ‘rich girl’ — her parents were diplomats with a house in the eighth arrondissement, the one where the President lives. Joe herself — Carice — came from somewhere not unlike the ‘cité’ where they were currently holed up. She’d absconded from reform school some years previously and had gone from squat to squat across Paris, convinced the police were after her although, as Scylla said, they almost certainly had better things to do. Scylla had dropped out of art school — full of arseholes, pretentious twats, and other rich kids, she said. The pair had met at a punk gig two years before and been inseparable since.