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Author Bio | Spanish Translation

TRUSSED by Nicholas Royle

was Caroline who told me that once past thirty-five, there's no way you will meet any more people who could come to mean something to you. Thirty-five is arbitrary, of course: just because it was thirty-five for Caroline, doesn't mean it'll be thirty-five for you or me. It might be thirty- six or forty, but it's around that age. The reason Caroline formulated this theory was she'd just (barely) survived a run of disastrous relationships and really thought she'd found the right guy in Graham whom she met at a dinner party in the week following her thirty-sixth birthday. Pleasant, considerate, he was even talented and apparently trustworthy, but he turned out to be worse for her than any of them and she ditched him. The mutual friend who had invited them both to his dinner party forwarded an e-mail which allowed Caroline to discover that Graham had done a bulk mailing to all his friends saying that Caroline had got rid of him because 'he didn't go with her furniture'. Underneath which he'd added: 'Fuck the middle classes.'
      'He's more middle-class than I am,' Caroline said to me. 'And to think I trusted him.'
       Just before Christmas, something happened that made me wonder about Caroline's theory.
       Since I only work part-time, I have plenty of spare time to myself When it comes round to Christmas and I have a sack load of cards to post, rather than spend a small fortune on stamps, I hand-deliver any that are within reach of my Tube pass. Being a part-time worker, I welcome the saving this represents.
      Judging by some of the cards I receive year after year from names that become increasingly hard to decipher (or do they just mean less to me with the passing of time?), everyone operates the same rules as I do with regard to Christmas cards. Which is this: I continue to send cards to certain people year in year out, whether or not I've heard from them in the intervening twelve months. They may not have sent me a card in recent memory. They may never have sent me a card. But it becomes a point of honour. I imagine them opening their card from me and smiling a sly little smile, thinking to themselves: So he's still out there, still sending cards.
       One of the people I always send a card to is ChloŽ. I make a point of including the umlaut on her card because I remember how she was always a stickler for it. ChloŽ lives in an art deco block of flats on a busy road in WC1. I arrived there on a chill, bright afternoon in the first week of December. I looked down the ranks of names by the bell-pushes and found ChloŽ's. I pressed the buzzer and waited for a reply, but none came. I pressed again, then waited a couple of minutes before trying a third time. There was still no answer. This was not especially surprising; no doubt she was at work.
       There was no general letter box for the building, and the glass doors could not be opened from the outside. Nor could a card be slipped between the gap between the doors, as a brass plate covered the join from the top to the bottom. I stepped back on to the pavement, the traffic roaring by just inches behind me. I wondered how agreeable it might be to live so close to such a large volume of cars, buses, lorries and motorcycle couriers. This is the price you pay for living in town.
       Possibly at this point I should have withdrawn and added ChloŽ's card to the pile that required posting, but it seemed silly to be this close and not be able to find a way to gain entrance. I noticed an elderly man in a thick overcoat and knotted scarf approaching the doors from the inside. I quickly ran up the steps and smiled at the man as he crossed the threshold. He didn't return the smile but he did hold the door open for me. Once inside, I pulled back the concertina doors to the lift. I rode the antique lift to the top floor and walked down the shiny linoleumed corridor to the door to ChloŽ's flat.
       I hesitated, unsure whether to knock or simply slip the card through the letter box. Affixed to the door there was a small brass plaque bearing Chioe's name, which I found quite charming. An indication of a strong personality. ChloŽ Thomson lives here, whether you like it or not. She's even got her name on her door.
       I first got to know ChloŽ when we were students living in the same halls of residence. Most of the male students considered her unapproachable simply because she was so beautiful. There was something about her manner as well that discouraged close contact. But that was fine with me, since I wasn't immediately sexually attracted to her and the slight distance allowed us to get on as friends.
       Instead of either knocking or posting the card, I squatted, bending my legs at the knees, and gently pushed open the flap. I was suddenly glad I had neither knocked nor roughly pushed the card through.
       ChloŽ was trussed up in a sheet or a straitjacket and was hanging upside down from the ceiling by a rope attached to a substantial-looking hook. She was in the main room which was located at the end of a narrow hallway. Other doors stood half open off the hallway. ChloŽ's body swung lightly from side to side. All I could hear was the faint creaking of the rope as it swung against the hook. I laid ChloŽ's card on the mat for a moment as I contorted my body to try to read the expression on her face.
       I heard a sound from behind me. With care I swiftly reinverted my body so that I was crouching on my toes on the doormat.
       One of the doors behind me, on the opposite side of the corridor, was being unlocked from the inside. Tumblers retracting, bolts rumbling through their housings, chain rattling back. I didn't wait. Only at the end of the corridor did I remember, flushed with adrenalin and feelings of guilt, the card which I had left lying on the mat. It was too late now. I saw a figure emerge from the flat opposite ChloŽ's and turn to lock the door. I could have hidden and waited, then gone back to have another look, but I don't mind admitting the whole episode had spooked me. I didn't know whether what I had witnessed was sex or torture or both, whether ChloŽ was alone or accompanied by someone I had not been able to see, and until I knew that, I didn't know how to feel about it.
       That evening the telephone rang.
       'Hello. Guess who this is.' It was ChloŽ, sounding eerily bright and cheerful.
       'Well, well,' I stalled. 'Long time no hear. How are you?'
       'Great.' I remembered then, she always said things were 'great' when I'd first known her. She said they were 'great' when they clearly weren't. When they were anything but. And she always said it in that automatic, falsely cheerful manner. 'Great.'
       'Good,' I said.
       'Thank you for your card.'
       'You got it then?'
       'Of course.' She didn't make any reference to where she had presumably found it, though I'd worked out what I would say if necessary: that I had given the card to someone who was entering the building, asking them if they wouldn't mind delivering it. 'Of course I got it,' she added. There was a moment's silence and suddenly I felt certain she knew I had been there and had seen her. I didn't know what to say.
       'So how's life?' ChloŽ asked, which I hadn't been expecting.
       'Fine. OK. How about yourself?' I added.
       'Oh, this and that.'
       I sensed another pause. Pauses in conversations with women like ChloŽ worry me. I sought to head the pause off at the pass by babbling. 'You must be terribly busy. We all are, these days, aren't we? Seems impossible ever to stop for breath, never mind find the time to get together, have a drink, talk about old times. You know...'
       I was appalled at myself.
       'I'll get my diary,' ChloŽ said.
       What had I done? Before my visit to ChloŽ's building, I might have quite fancied meeting up for a drink. Now, I felt anxious. I didn't want to get mixed up in anything unpleasant.
       We agreed a lunchtime the following week.
       I got to wondering why I had continued to send ChloŽ a card, and was forced to admit the possibility that it was because I saw her as a potential partner, as long as she and I both remained single. There was nothing to be gained by jumping to conclusions: either ChloŽ was a would-be Houdini getting in some training, or I could be about to find myself needing an escape route of my own.
I suppose I should have known better than to accept an invitation to go out for a drink with a man who downloads pictures from And who admits it to a female colleague just as he's opening the refrigerator to get the milk to make her a cup of tea.
       Patrick opened the giant fridge door and took out a TetraPak pint of milk that had already been opened. I tried not to think about the other contents of the fridge, though I had presumably seen some of them on previous visits to the mortuary. He poured the milk into the china mug his concession to delicacy and because of the inexpertly opened carton, a trickle of milk ran down the outside of the mug on to the stainless steel table. It was funny that Patrick spent his working hours cutting open bodies, yet was no more skilled than the rest of us when it came to opening a pint of milk. I watched him squeeze the teabag with an unidentified instrument, then remove it and pass me the mug with the handle pointing towards me. He was polite: I'd give him that. Some men didn't even get above zero on politeness. In which case, they would never get above zero with me.
       Of course, I was assuming Patrick was interested in me. That he fancied me. I never make such assumptions rashly. The cups of tea, the shy little smiles, the bouquets he gave me to take home on the Tube. The looks other people gave me when they saw the purple ribbon. Flowers were flowers to me then: my flat needed brightening up. I'm on the top floor of an art deco block facing front, with the gardens at the rear, so if I want flowers I have to fetch them myself.
       To be honest, I could have done without the trips to the morgue, but the ash cash came in handy. Some doctors choose not to do it. Others, in the case of our hospital, lack enthusiasm for the subterranean corridors, the dripping pipes, the condensation on the distempered walls. You just have to check the body, make sure there's nothing suspicious and sign a form. There's not much to it. But on my first visit the combined effects of the hike through the sweaty underground corridors and the sudden chill in the morgue itself made me feel slightly faint. Plus the sight of Patrick surrounded by several gurneyed bodies and one lying right there on the table, chest splayed.
       He offered me a hot drink and suggested I sit down. It became a feature of subsequent visits: we'd sit and chat while the body I'd come down to check lay waiting. Patrick seemed completely unaffected by the banal juxtaposition of life and death and I contrived to appear blase' in order not to give offence. He asked me about life on the wards, questioned me about internal affairs, so that I formed an impression of him leading a hermetic existence down here in the bowels of the hospital. I wondered if he were frightened to come up and mingle with the rest of the staff and the patients. Did he worry that he would somehow taint them by his mere presence? I doubt it.
       In his late thirties or early forties with thin sandy hair and somewhat old-fashioned imitation horn-rims, Patrick wore a grey coat not unlike a village grocer's. There were unpleasant stains on it. I tried not to think of Patrick as a lower form of life just because he worked in the morgue; there is a tendency among doctors to think like this. The mortuary attendants are rarely great socializers, not known for their interpersonal skills, and you can understand why. Patrick was also an only child. Our conversations covered some diverse areas after a while. I examined my motives for continuing to go down there after it became clear that Patrick was attracted to me.
       I was not short of the attentions of men. There were one or two half-hearted suitors stumbling about the foothills of possible courtships. Had I been especially interested in either of them, I would have given some encouragement where appropriate. At the hospital there was another doctor, a senior registrar like me although in a completely different department, who had asked me out a couple of times. Had he pressed just a little harder, showed a tiny bit more resolve, we could have been a few months into some kind of relationship. But he, like the fellow outside work, seemed weak. Possibly they were even a little frightened of me, which is silly really, when you know me. I'm a pussy cat. I rather like to be dominated.
       Patrick, too, was shy. Some of his shyness I put down to the difference in our status and Patrick's acute sense of that. Some of it was natural reserve, not unexpected in a man with his social contacts. He wasn't the sort of man who needed an address book. Lots of name-tags, not many telephone numbers. But his very persistence in the face of such odds charmed me. I could see him trying to reach me, slowly over a period of months. The sound of his voice on the phone - 'Would you like to come down and do a part two?' - brightened up the odd afternoon. As I said, I could use the ash cash, and at £33 for a once-over and a signature, it was easy money.
       Even his gaffe, when he boasted about downloading pictures of double amputees, failed to put me off Mainly because it came only a couple of minutes after I saw his eyes blaze with life for the first time since I had been going down there. Just as I was preparing to sit down, my heel slipped in something wet on the floor, causing me to teeter spectacularly for a moment, bent double in front of Patrick. I know from seeing myself in the mirror how much of my cleavage would have been revealed to Patrick at that moment. In fact, I knew from the look on his face just how much was revealed. Pretty much everything. My life used to be punctuated with promises to myself that I would visit Rigby & Peller and get measured up for a fitted bra, but I never quite got round to it, and most of my bras had been ill-fitting since I put on a bit of weight after giving up smoking to celebrate getting my first house job.
       Patrick looked away, but I had seen the flare of excitement in his eyes, confirming my suspicions. The body I had gone down to check was that of an amputee and I think Patrick was only searching for a way out of his embarrassment when he joked about my balance being worse than hers, and then sought to make amends by talking about the pictures you could download from the Internet.
       It was just a couple of days later, when I was next down in the morgue doing a part two, that Patrick asked me if I would go for a drink with him after work a real drink out in the real world. Yes, I said, why not.
       In the pub we sat in a far corner, away from other drinkers. Patrick had never told me anything about his domestic situation, past or present, and I never asked. Looking down at my hands, which were folded on the table in front of me, he told me I was a beautiful woman. A very beautiful woman. In an attempt to cover his nerves, he immediately raised his pint glass. I took his other hand in mine and squeezed it. Awkwardly he swallowed a mouthful of beer, spilling a thin trickle out of the corner of his mouth, and set his glass down. I caught his left knee between my two legs beneath the table and pressed them together. Then I released his leg, swept a beer mat on to the floor and bent down to pick it up. I did this as slowly as I could, even checking for myself that he had a good view, and when I returned to an upright position he was flushed and smiling.
       We took a cab to my flat and, for the next seven hours, had sex, made love, whatever - virtually non-stop. In the early hours of the morning, returning from a visit to the kitchen for more orange juice, I teased him about his references to the amputee pictures and clasped my hands behind my back, dropping to my knees on the bedside rug. He leapt out of bed, his engorged cock bouncing comically, and fucked me right there on the rug. I played along by not using my hands. My faked helplessness clearly excited him more than anything.
       It was not long before we were experimenting with bondage - ties and dressing-gown cords and leather belts. Patrick was curious about the hook in the living-room ceiling. The flat's previous owner had had it inserted into the steel joist when he needed to get his piano in through the window, so the estate agent had told me. For the next three weeks we slept together four or five nights a week, invariably at my flat. We were always either having sex or going to work shortly after having had sex; half the time I was light-headed and completely scatty. I wasn't in love, I knew that, but I was in lust. I caught myself wondering once or twice if what we were doing was wise, given... well, everything. But I swept these thoughts aside. Looking back now, I realize there was an undercurrent of anxiety which I wouldn't acknowledge at the time. I gently resisted Patrick's moves to tie me more and more tightly each time, but I never resisted them firmly enough. I gave off all the wrong signals and he perceived nothing but encouragement.
       When he produced a length of sturdy rope I grew agitated.
       'I don't think so,' I said when he pointed to the hook in the ceiling.
       He dropped the rope and unzipped his fly, taking out his cock, and began to masturbate. I could never watch him doing this without wanting to do it for him, so I knelt down in front of him and took him in my mouth. He bent down and pulled my top up over my head then slipped the straps of my bra off my shoulders. I reached back and undid the catch. He placed his warm palm over my left breast and gently squeezed the nipple. I continued with long strokes up and down, up and down. Reaching round with one arm - Patrick had developed some muscles down in the morgue - he picked me up and laid me on the bed.
       After we had both come, we lay side by side, looking out of the bedroom, across the landing, at the hook in the living- room ceiling.
       'Please,' he urged one final time and I just shrugged.
       The boyish excitement he displayed as he trussed me up was endearing.
       'Trust me,' he said.
       He was careful tying the rope to the hook and only let go of me once he was sure it was going to take my weight.
       Maybe it was being upside down that completed the change in the way I saw things. Patrick sat in the corner of the room masturbating while I swung gently from side to side unable to move my arms or legs, a double amputee. He just watched and wanked, which I decided was not on. I wasn't happy. I no longer did trust him.
       So later, after Patrick had let me down and I had said I wanted to spend the night alone, and I found the Christmas card on the mat in the corridor, I called Ben and we chatted. He asked me out for a drink and I thought I could probably do with a reality check, so I accepted.

The incident with the hook changed everything. ChloŽ told me she didn't want me to come to the flat any more. She sounded as if she meant it. I thought she might cry, but she didn't. At least, not on the phone.
       Nor did she want to do any more part twos, she said.
       I tried to talk to her, but she wouldn't discuss it.
       Most of the ash cash now went to a senior reg in A&E, a rosy-cheeked rugger type called Bryan Demeter. I didn't offer to make him any tea and the part twos were ticked off and signed for as fast as the undertakers could wheel them away.
       I took up smoking. I heard that ChloŽ applied for a consultant's job in Aberdeen. I tried to contact her but she was always in a meeting. I could have gone upstairs to look for her myself, but I didn't. The nearest I got was the first staircase. There was a door at the foot of the stairs to which I had a key. It led out to the bottom of an interior well in the great old building, with blue sky at the top. I went there for a cigarette, as smoking was forbidden in the mortuary. I craned my neck and stared at the upper floors. Somewhere up there was ChloŽ. I wondered sometimes if I would ever see her again.
       About sixty feet up was a swathe of safety netting stretching right across the well. I noticed a bird that had got its feet entangled in the netting and been unable to escape. It had died there, starved of food and water, hanging upside down by its feet.
       I dropped my cigarette on the ground and extinguished it with my toe, then locked the door behind me and went back down to my bodies. Among them was the body of a young woman who had been brought down from A&E that morning. Bryan Demeter had done the part one and told me about her; I don't know what made him think I would be interested. Her name was Caroline and she had been viciously beaten about the head with one of her own Philippe Starck dining-chairs. Scrawled across her dressing- table mirror in red lipstick were the words 'Fuck the middle classes'. Detectives found the lipstick at the rented flat of her boyfriend, Graham. He went quietly, apparently.

© 1997 Nicholas Royle

Author Bio | Spanish Translation

"Trussed" was first published in the anthology Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll, edited by Sarah LeFanu, published by Serpent's Tail, 1997. Book ordering: Internet Bookshop

This electronic version of "Trussed" is published by The Barcelona Review by arrangement with the author and Sarah LeFanu.

This excerpt may not be archived or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

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