An observation of romantic relationships.
Have you ever looked at the person you’re married to and, even if just for a moment, like a hot flush spreading through the body or a sharp second of piercing pain, just questioned why you wear the glorified circle of earth on your finger? To Martha, this piece of jewellery is just a reminder that she’s stuck in a rut with a man she doesn’t love. It’s a reminder that she’ll always be alone, and that the choices she made in life were never the right ones in the end.
To Martha, this eternal promise had just inclined her to be unfaithful.
To Martha, marriage was no longer a supplement.
She had been readying herself all evening to accompany her disengaged husband at their favourite entertainment venue, Barbie Moore’s. It was a unique place in the heart of London, and expensive to get in to, so only the rich would see past the doors. To the couple however, money had never been an issue. Martha Hodgeson was a name known by many in the fashion capitals, a credited founder of an exquisite designer brand for women – L’amour. The name, she did not pride herself on so much, but the beauty of her accessories is what she thrived on. That and nicotine, guilt and the musky taste of mulled red wine.
Michael Hodgeson however was a name that created a wave of raised eyebrows. At a tender age of fifteen, Michael became an entrepreneur. Another fifteen years later and he’s one of the most sought after business men in town. Luckily still more respected than feared, he would probably guarantee you a seat in a crowded restaurant at the drop of his name.
One the surface, together they were an impeccable couple. Nobody outside of the tight social group that Martha kept could possibly be aware of their difficulties, although tonight would be the night that an unavoidable avalanche would begin to unsettle, and not just for this dishonest marriage, but for a chain of thought provoking characters.
Arriving at the club followed the usual routine for the pair of pretending to be amazed by the building’s architecture to please the doormen, refusing the complimentary mints at the entrance in fear of who’d been tainting them with their unwashed hands, thanking the dazzling waiter that escorted them to their table, and taking their parallel seats aside each other, head on at the stage at all times. Martha was dressed in a design of her own; a short, sequined and black shapely number with a risqué plunging neck line. She was also sporting a sister brand’s new season pair of chandelier earrings that glistened alongside her Jimmy Choos. The bored expression on her face was noticeable across the room to a lonely Javier Flores, the small time independent painter of decadent landscapes and kept-man of Martha’s. Though it pleasantly surprised Javier to unexpectedly see her, Martha’s tongue sunk to her stomach as she gazed through the crowd of conservatively dressed men to see him sprawled across a sofa, baring chest and all. Their eyes locked in an intense stare out.
The first words she’d uttered since being sat down, “Excuse me for a moment, Michael.”
She made a diverted approach to Javier’s table where he sat in oozing charisma, dressed in a tight, crisp white shirt that split down the front. His aging hair was slicked back using the palms of his hand, and a shadow of stubble had already begun forming since he shaved at lunch. It wasn’t unexpected of any woman to be attracted to such a chiselled, artistic and physically fit man. As she stood patiently and silent ahead of him against his table, he followed her figure up and down with his tinted green eyes and it secretly pleased Martha, as always, to know he still found her attractive. Most of the time, you’ll find that’s all Javier could do for Martha. It was enough to cause an affair of great intensity, but not enough to reassure, let alone capture, her flaking heart.
“I see you are unimpressed by the dancers,” Javier referred to the scantily clad women parading around on stage to obnoxious fruitful music in their gold shimmering outfits. He relaxed his arm on the back of the chair and gestured for Martha to join him.
She denied his proposal in fear of being caught and dismissed his comment, “I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than what they were wearing, actually.”
“Ah, always thinking about fashion, Martha.”
She turned her nose up at the youthful glow on his smiling face, resisting admiring the colour in his skin, “Have you been on holiday?”
“You only saw me yesterday, Bello. It’s my inherited Spanish colouring.”
She glared at him with the loud sound of glass clinking and laughter surrounding them. With a slight sneer in her face, she turned and walked away from Javier, who could no longer do anything but appreciate her buoyant backside in that tightly fit dress.
She came back to her table and it was as if she’d only been gone for a millisecond. Michael was unfazed by her disappearance and still had his beady blue eyes encaptured on the hips of the young dancers before them. Martha was unaware of it, but the blood boiling feeling that aroused in her stomach as he unpurposely did not acknowledge her return, was jealousy.
For a good few years, Martha had been incapable of defining her emotions.
One of the dancers on stage was performing in front of a live audience for the first time. Her name was Louise, and she had an alluring aura of innocence about her, a quality that triggered various kinds of attention from older men with a taste for control. Louise was only eighteen, the youngest in her family, and a family that consisted of Broadway actors and jazz singers. Her brother however, Damian, was the only one to break the tradition. When he left school, unlike the rest, he took the opportunity to further his education, and in this he made the decision to attend university and study journalism. Louise would always be proud of her brother though no matter what he did, because that’s the kind of person she was. She was easily the most talented in her family as of yet with an array of skills in her pocket. She could dance, and as good as the best; she could act, but didn’t really want to; and by goodness she had the voice of a million angels singing in harmony at the gates of Heaven, a voice that would allow a hundred men to pause in awe. It was never in her interest to make money from her talents, but she had every intention of enjoying them.
As she moved about on stage, every limb on her body toned to satisfaction, every smile on her face wide enough to light up a rainy day, Martha could not help but single out the young girl and declare a vigorous hatred for her. It played on her mind that she was no longer young enough to look that special in shimmering gold.
Backstage, once her performance was over, Louise was free to mingle with the crowd in the club. She’d made many friends with the locals already on arrival, but she’d not yet had the experience of meeting well known regular and keen investor, Michael. She caught a glimpse of Javier as she danced, but nothing about Spanish heat, Italian charm or French class had ever interested her. She was much more of an English rose, attracted to warmth, and the kindness of others.
“That was the best time of my life, I want to do it all again!” she exclaimed to Jack, the choreographer. The rest of the girls had begun to undress and remove their makeup, but Louise stayed dressed as she exited the changing rooms for the bar.
Michael had his eye on her like a possession, and both she and Martha had begun to notice. It was Louise’s initial reaction to steer away from his direction, she felt intimidated by domineering people, but he was confident enough to leave the icy cold tension at his table and attempt to pursue her in conversation. Martha watched his tongue wag as she allowed him to stray, and wasting no time at all, Javier stole the empty seat beside her with a ferocious grin on his handsome face. She placed a Camel in her cigarette holder, lighting up and seductively inhaling.
“Smoking is a terrible, ugly habit,” he scorned. Though Javier was an artist, unlike most inspiring talents, he did not need any kind of kick to explore his possibilities. Not like your famous artists who have to take acid to produce a colourful caricature, or the lyricists who have to get drunk to write brutal honesty that people can relate to. Javier was antismoking, rarely drank and intolerant of all drugs.
“I bite my nails too,” she grimaced, flashing a sight of the tips of her fingers.
“I have noticed. That may be worse!”
“I love smoking and I’ll never quit. I think it’s beautiful and interesting.”
“It’s crazy bad for you, Martha, what’s beautiful about something that kills you?”
“Oh okay,” she disparaged, “So a tiger is not beautiful because getting too close will mean the loss of a limb? I saw a woman give birth once, and she died once the baby was born. You think the gift of life is not beautiful?” Javier was not prepared for a lecture, and as he tried to direct her away from the conversation, she continued with angst, “Watching somebody inhale a cigarette makes me feel all warm inside. And then when they exhale, I watch that pretty cloud of a diluted lilac smoke flutter from their lips. I mean, it’s bad for you and it hurts a lot of people, kills some, but the best things in life will always end up killing you. I’m not one of those people that tries to prevent the inevitable. I’m going to die; I may as well die doing something I love.”
He looked in to her clarified cyan eyes and could not help but gleam. Martha was difficult not to fall in love with, she was like a natural lover, and some people are. There are others who are natural born swimmers or natural with animals. Some people are also unwillingly terrible at some things. We’re allowed to be varied, our human race, it’s what differentiates us from the apes.
That, and the need to want.
Meanwhile, Michael had caught up with a joyful Louise at the bar, still bouncing on the energy from her performance. She’d found herself surrounded by gawping men, but Michael’s interjection distracted her.
“You were the only girl I noticed up there. You knocked the rest of them out with your talent. You could go to bigger, better places than these entertainment clubs.”
She was slightly nervous to speak to him as she had not got a lot to say for herself just yet, but she’d heard that speech a thousand times. He didn’t help by leaning over her like a mindless hungry vulture to its prey.
Biting her full lips, she spoke the only words she could think of, “I like them girls. They’re always so good to me.”
Her angled, English accent astounded Michael. He was expecting a delicate, fairy-like flow of words, but she had a voice as big as her eyes; and those eyes were unmissable. He had no interest in anything else in the room, not even in Martha and the stranger he’d not even noticed beside her.
“Your accent is...mature, for your exterior. It’s like a knock in the teeth.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be talking me in to sleeping with you?” she blurted, awkwardly. Louise was used to men trying to engage in coitus with her, but no man had ever been as dashing as Michael. He was causing her to speak without thinking. Though thirty years old, and though his looks may have been retired to his wife, he definitely had a striking feature about him; it may have been his piercing stare, or it could have been his structured jaw line. Either way, there was something about him that made her blink twice every time.
“You’re very aware of every straight man’s intentions when approaching a girl in a crowded bar, then?” he kidded, picking up his sour whiskey and following her like a lost dog to a table where it was just the two of them, “I’m going to take a seat, my love – oh sorry, if you don’t mind, I don’t actually know your name yet.”
Like uncontrollable word vomit, she spilt, “Do you care?” immediately regretting it.
He looked surprised, “I’m Michael Hodgeson, and I’m an entrepreneur.” Michael reached out for a shake of hand, to which she paused, then lightly limped her wrist and grazed his palm with her fingers. She had the devilish interest of Martha, but clearly much less aware of her power. In a number of years time, she had the potential of being just as poisonous and lost if a man like Michael got his corruptive hands on her.
Another noticeable difference between Lou and Martha was that the adolescent and charismatic blonde could blow people away without trying. She definitely did not try, because she was so lacking in vanity, she had not the courage to seduce a man. Martha was undeniably seductive, provocative and daringly voluptuous, but always at knowledge. Her excuse may have been that she used it with contemptment, but the truth was that she’d just gotten older and her innocence was no longer abundant. A flutter of her eyelashes could no longer alone bring a man to his knees, she had to try harder.
However, once she did...
“My name is Louise. I’m only doing this club tonight because I’m visiting my brother.”
“He lives down here?” Michael asked, pretending to take an interest though only concentrating on her youthful skin.
“He’s at university, my Damian. He’s got so much intelligence. He’s not interested in the entertainment business like the rest of my family.” Lou went on to him in depth about her background, and how much she adored her brother, much use of the word ‘proud’, but he did little to focus on her words and a lot to focus on her body. Michael nodded to convince her he was taking in what she was saying, and the disadvantage of her rigid vindication was she had no clue otherwise.
As she stopped talking, allowing Michael to respond, he changed the subject entirely by offering her a cigar. She looked wide eyed at the beastly toxin he pulled from his jacket pocket and waved her fingers at it, “No, no. I’m not a smoker,” she insisted.
“Well I wasn’t offering you one. I was going to ask if you thought it was pretty.”
Lou was a wild fan of funny men. She was a firm believer in the ability to laugh a woman in to bed, though she’d never been laughed in to bed herself, nor bedded in any general term. She was keen to discover what she was missing though, and she’d been looking for someone reliable to do the job, as if it were a problem that needed fixing. She was completely unaware of the beauty of two bodies entwining, in one of their most animalistic states, fragile and so exposed. She failed to imagine the scent in the walls that gets left behind, or the texture of the bed sheets against your naked skin. You can make love, or you can fuck, and in all honesty, either one is as intimate as the other. She didn’t know the difference. It’s the perfect example of human beings being human in an environment that has more invisible control over you than possibly imaginable.
“So, what made you approach me?” she questioned, sipping her vodka and coke through a flimsy straw, obtaining direct eye contact with Michael.
He barked, “I told you.”
“Well,” she hesitated, “Not entirely.”
“You weren’t listening attentively, were you, Louise?” he teased.
He came closer and she felt the brush of his shoulder against hers, exciting her slightly. She glided her eyes down to his hands and spotted the dreaded wedding ring on his finger.
Biting her tongue, she said, “What’s your wife’s name?”
Beaten with rejection, Michael swallowed his pride and attempted to be honest with her, but his dry heart began to seep through, “My wife and I are divorced,” he lied.
“That’s quite common these days, isn’t it? Why do you still wear the ring?”
Once Michael clocked on to how easily she was convinced, he made no effort in creating an incredibly clever lie to convince her, “I just think it’s a nice ring.”
Across the room, behind a wall division, Martha sat on Javier’s lap, getting drunk and spoiling her appetite. Javier would later go home and paint the vision of her sprawled across him, exactly as he pictured it to be seen from an on goer. He’d pay extra attention to the strands of her hair, each strand painted in a slightly different shade or colour, just like he noticed on the real head of hair. Martha was Javier’s muse. Anyone as broken as her is like a rollercoaster of inspiration because they’ve dealt with things and seen things you can’t imagine, only interpret.
“Where do you think your husband has gone?”
“He’s chasing round some whore dancer. Is dancing attractive, Javier? Does it make you go all goo-eyed and slithery?”
The alcohol was corrupting Martha’s insides and the room was already beginning to spin for her. As she stood up to dance a twirl for him, she tilted to one side and fell. There were groups of people all around her that pitied her behaviour. They laughed and she realised what a fool she was being.
“Are you okay, Martha?” Javier crawled to her level, holding her face in his hands.
“I want to go home,” she insisted. Getting up and grabbing her coat, she stormed through the heavy crowds of men, yelling at Javier to back off.
“I’ll take you back to mine,” he suggested, desperate to keep her for the night. Martha looked back at him as if he’d recited a curse upon her, telling him it’s a stupid idea and to be gone before she found her husband. Javier did just that, reluctantly, but he did it, because he always did as she would say.
She searched for him to find him gawping over Lou and clicked her fingers for him to follow. Not before taking Lou’s number, Michael departed a percentage giddier and more hopeful.
“She was one of the dancers, she was asking me about my business adventures,” Michael said as he got in to the car. Martha was fully conscious that Michael fancied the young girl, but she was also aware she had absolutely no right to argue with him for it as she would have been the world’s most tasteless hypocrite.
The couple drove home without another word spoken or a simple glance of eye contact, not a graze of the skin or share of personal space. Martha’s embarrassment was still all too raw and Michael’s nerves were still all too bare. As the seconds decayed, so did their souls. And though some may say that’s natural with age, I assure you it’s not. It’s never natural.
Louise remained on Michael’s mind as he walked through their front door, and she was even crossing by when he rested for bed. Javier on the other hand was not on Martha’s mind. All that remained was the slumping feeling of hopelessness and lost emotion. This heavy baggage on her shoulders made it difficult to sleep. She remained up for the half the night as Michael sprawled across the mattress, snoring away, dreaming about some kind of expensive adventure.
She had nothing else to do other than pour herself a glass of wine; an irresponsible idea, but one that would indulge her for long enough to push the anguish aside. She took a seat in the armchair of the lounge, a sophistically decorated room, patterned in lilacs and off-whites. There was a replica art piece in every corner of the room. Placed on each coffee table, at every arm chair, was an eccentric ash tray, and not a single one lacking in snow-like mountainous ash.
The colour of a lot of the ash remains had turned an umber sort of colour, clumped in segments like pieces of rock, but still so easily blown away. Martha stared in to the ash of her own tray, and she made pictures in the specks. She saw little boys, and some girls, kicking stones on the road. The thought made her smile to herself, but the smile turned in to a hurricanous cry, and she wept, dampening her cheeks and continuing until the cigarette she was smoking burnt out. Martha was unhappy and it was dawning on her, finally, that things are allowed to be different.
But Martha suffers chronic dissatisfaction. She never wants something enough, or when she does and she gets it, the want quickly runs dry. She knows in her heart that nothing will ever be good enough. Chronic dissatisfaction is truly a plague; one she’d never even wish upon the home of a friend or a foe.
She wished that Michael would feel her absence in his sleep and the light would turn on, he’d be standing there in his nightwear, dopey eyed and begging her to come back to bed. And that she’d laugh, hug him and kiss him, and they’d go back to bed together and she could sleep like that. Michael did not need Martha anymore. A rich man sees a woman as an accessory, and once that accessory is dibbed last season, he’s after a new one. How could she ever pick him apart for that kind of behaviour, though? She’s a Madame herself, she certainly once had her cake and ate it.
Meanwhile, whilst it was a restless night for Martha, Louise had the excitement of a child on Christmas Eve bubbling away inside of her as she tucked in to bed. Her brother was coming to visit in the morning; Damian Montart, a student at Cambridge university. The only member of her family to choose a life that didn’t entertain on a revolving stage. Damian’s a young hearted spirit with immense intelligence and quick wit. He’s a very adorable young man, and by no doubt would he be a catch for any woman.
Louise was ecstatic to be seeing her brother. She had the most respect for him in the world. However there would always be distance between them; two great minds who do not think alike. That would not immediately get in the way of their relationship though. It would continue to stay the same, until innocence was lost in either or both.
That is what it would take. For one of the siblings to experience life, to truly live and blindly love. Being so young, Lou was still a naive image of youth. Damian was much closer to tipping the edge, but his kindness stalled his leap. At breakfast tomorrow, Damian will have news for Lou that would affect things permanently.
They met at a bistro in the centre of town. It was a nice place, new to Louise but Damian had grown fond of it. It was the centre of his life at the present time, the place he’d go to meet up with a woman who kept a firm grasp of his heart. Who the woman was is the ironic thing.
Lou came in and embraced her brother in a welcoming hug. They then sat down to a coffee. Lou told him of her escapades whilst in this part of country.
“I performed for the first time at Barbie Moore’s last night. They loved me there. Barbie called me in to her office after hours to discuss a permanent place at the club! I couldn’t be happier, Damian. She thinks I could be heading places.”
“My gosh, Lou. That’s fantastic, Mum would be so proud.”
He was ever so keen to discover the adventures that his precious sister had embarked upon, but whilst half way through her stories, a familiar face entered the bistro. It was none other than Michael, and Lou had a clear memory of him from last night. She was stunned in to position, causing Damian suspiciously peak round for a sight of the face that froze her.
Michael walked over to the counter and ordered a coffee as if he were signing an autograph for an adoring fan. Egotistical, was all that ran through Damian’s mind, but Louise thought of better things. He pulled out his men’s designer label wallet and neatly whipped a wad of cash on to the counter. The female behind the till smiled pleasantly as he placed ten pounds in the tip jar. With his coffee in his hand, he turned round to scope the room, quickly noticing a blonde bombshell, just as he did before. She was as radiant in the morning as dazzling in the night, which he loved.
Completely unthreatened by her male company, Michael strolled over with a smile on his face. Silent, he awaited his hello.
“Oh, Michael, you remember me then?” she said coyly.
“How could I forget?” Marking his territory, he introduced himself right away to Damian, “Hello young man, my name is Michael. I met your...”
“...sister!” Lou proclaimed.
“Sister, last night. She was dancing away on stage, knocking everyone out with her gleam.”
“That’s also her talent. One of her many talents,” Damian awkwardly intervened.
Holding his breath, Michael continued, “Right I’ll leave you kids to it. It was lovely to see you again, Louise. And I hope it won’t be the last time either.”
She nodded in a hideously happy agreement, shaking his hand and trying desperately hard not to burst. As the pair of them watched him leave, Damian had to ask.
“How old is he?”
“Well, I’m not sure entirely. He’s divorced from his wife, but they still live together because they both love the house and couldn’t agree on leaving. He’s a very successful business man though, and he was talking about all sorts of things he’d love to see me doing, including all the right circuits and clubs, and towns and even countries. He said they’d love me in Paris, Damian!”
“He seems alluring, and not in the endearing way, much more the paedophilic way.”
“Oh Damian, don’t be so cruel!”
“Anyway, that’s all very great, but I have to tell you about this woman I’ve met.”
“You’ve met a woman?” Lou shrieked.
“Yes! Yes I have, and she’s beautiful. Her name is Victoria Flores. She’s a successful Spanish photographer, and she’s got this thick luscious black hair that falls to her waist, and these equally dark and entrancing puppy dog eyes that make you want to cry. Oh and her skin, it’s got the Spanish colouring you’d expect, but she has these darker freckles on her shoulder that she hides away because she thinks they’re ugly, but I think they’re beautiful. And all of that is only her looks. She’s also got a great mind, a mind for literature and art. She wishes she could take photographs with her eyes because she thinks things that are seen with your eye are much more beautiful than a photograph can ever capture, and you might ask why she’s a photographer then, but she knows that it’s also the closest thing to making a memory permanent. She reads up about the world, has a true interest in the way Britain works. She’s very geographical and historical too with a fine interest for good food and fine wines. It’s a shame she won’t be here forever because I panic on how I’m going to cope once she’s back in Spain, y’know? She’s just...frightfully angelic.”
“That’s incredible. I’ve never heard anybody speak so fondly of someone before.”
“Well, truthfully sis, she’s phenomenal.”
Little did Damian know, but Victoria could not be as generous with her words about him as he could for her. Though Victoria was fond of Damian, she believed she’s out of luck with love and could no longer have faith in any person with her heart, unlike her brother.
It’s a small world in a big, unknown universe, so to be shocked that Victoria’s brother is none other than brooding artist Javier Flores would be inane. The only reason she had been able to spend time with Damian was because she was in the country to visit her brother. Victoria was wealthy in Spain, known for her profession, so she’s able to afford her own apartment in the busy London life, a place that Damian had become used to. And it was a flash apartment, as flash as they came.
Lou was keen to meet her, “When can I be introduced to this lady then?”
Damian stammered, “Well, I – she isn’t that great with this whole situation. I mean, what we have isn’t really anything at the moment, and it would frighten her to be introduced to anyone important to me as anything substantial in my life. I think it’s best to just be aware of her for now, rather than gossiping over cups of coffee.”
“Are you trying to say she’s embarrassed?” Lou became cynical.
“No! No, I’m not, and she’s not embarrassed. She’s just...fragile.”
“Are you okay with that, Dame?”
Damian remained hushed for a moment as he thought about the question he’d been avoiding asking himself. He weighed up the choices of answering the question and changing his feelings for good, or continuing to push it aside with an assumption.
He groused, “Obviously, I mean it’s not serious. Let’s just stop talking about it. Tell me more about the club you’ve been working at and the success you’ve been having.”
As her ears burned, Victoria was busy bent over a blank canvas in the middle of her newly built studio, freshly painted in her flash apartment, staring out of her enormous window on to the busy roads of flushed vermin scattering about. The studio had been built specifically for her photography, however Victoria was always looking for something to be addicted to, and she had always been jealous of Javier’s unique painting skills. So Victoria had promised herself to try to learn her hand at drawing, something she’d forgotten she didn’t do for a reason.
She struggled with setting up her easel and muttered to herself under her chamomile tea breath, “Ey! This fucking piece of wooden shit,” desperately pressing a blunt nail in to thick, damp wood. Once realising it wasn’t going to work, she paused, let down her hair and slumped backwards in to her memory foam cushion. Still able to look out on to the world, she gazed through the shop windows, examining the types of people. Victoria was used to meeting people in her career and she knew a lot about them from first impressions.
Examining a clothing shop in particular, she noticed a woman, a gaunt face with bulging bug like blue eyes that fell from their sockets. She thought to herself, “She’d make a beautiful photograph if she were shedding a tear.”
Scanning through more windows, she came to a halt at the coffee shop Lou and Damian were sat in, and noticed the pair of them outside waving each other off. She kept her eye on Damian, and followed him as he crossed the road, heading for her apartment.
She jumped up, wearing nothing but a pair of white knickers and a white vest top; she threw on a woolly purple jumper and some paint splattered shorts. It would do for the mean time, she was aware she probably wouldn’t be wearing them for very long anyway.
Victoria had lent him a key for the remainder of her stay, so he could come and go as he pleased. To Damian, this was a signal of commitment, but to Victoria it was just practicality.
He entered by himself to a steaming coffee Victoria had prepared him. From behind he hugged her waist and kissed her neck, she felt warm and passionate. And though she did, she still intended to keep her walls up, and that their relationship would end as soon as she left, and that no hearts were to be broken.
“Come on then,” he smiled, “Show me the new studio. I’ve been dying to see it.”
On paper, besides being younger than her, Damian was everything Victoria could have asked for. He was interested in her, for starters, and in time, he could love her more than he loved himself. He was handsome, intelligent, well earning and charming. Most importantly, he would be willing to throw himself in to the deep end because she just meant that much to him. Though, Victoria had been hurt so much in the past by rats and cheaters, she just could not take the risk. It was implanted in her mind that pain was inevitable, and there was already enough of it flying around in life without forcing upon yourself.
You could say Victoria no longer believed in a little thing called love.