“Right, I’m off, now,” said Manda’s husband.
“Do you have to go?” she asked. “Can’t your little tarts find someone else to play with for an hour or two?”
“I’m not seeing any ‘tarts’ as you call them.”
“Oh, sorry, darling. I’m just feeling a bit… depressed.”
“Oh,” said Josso, pausing for a bit, clearly trying to think of a good answer to that.
“Well, snap out of it, then,” he said. Satisfied with this retort he hurried down the stairs and out to the waiting helicopter.
Manda poured herself a banana-vodka smoothie and started to sip it as she heard the rotor blades picking up speed and contemplated another evening lying here alone.
She wanted to get up but knew that the pain would be too great. Anyway the doctor had ordered complete rest.
Hardly surprising, really. Of course Manda had driven drunk before on many occasions and of course there had been accidents before but this had been the worst yet. The Merc had been written off and, at first, it looked to everyone (including Manda) as though she had been as well. She still felt annoyed that that pub in the West Bay had used concrete in their fencing. Of course if they’d used wood like any other normal person on Sharp Holme, the accident wouldn’t have been nearly so bad. She had been persuaded not to sue by her husband. Indeed he’d even paid the absentee landlord of the pub a substantial sum of money! Presumably he could now make the whole thing like a fortress so that if her car became difficult to handle again, this time his precious pub would receive no damage whatsoever meanwhile the world would be rid of Manda Josso for good. And everyone would presumably think he was in the right. And what was his pub for if not to serve alcohol? What did he think alcohol did to people? He ought to expect his place to take the odd knock – that made sense to Manda. But not to anyone else, of course. There was no justice in the world.
Manda took another sip of her delicious beverage. It must practically be a health drink, she thought. It was full of vitamins.
Manda’s thoughts drifted back, as they always did when she was down, to her heyday. It was the tail end of the 1970s and she was one of the four singers in the Shocking Mansion Stairsteps. She didn’t drink so much then – back in the day it was all drinking coffee, taking flash and just living on pure adrenaline. She remembered the buzz of being on stage with all those gorgeous guys wolf whistling and shouting obscene things out. The other girls had hated all that but she had just lapped it up. She could date anyone she wanted and then dump them when she decided that they were just nowhere and there was a new dog in town.
Most of them didn’t let her spank them which was simply too yagalistic of them.
But one of them did. She tried not to think about him and to turn her thoughts back to the free spirity bit when she was just going through guys one after the other. But he wouldn’t leave her thoughts today for some reason.
She thought about how she had first become aroused by a spanking. It had been a few years before the Stairsteps. She had been invited over to the States to stay with her cousins and her aunt. Her two young cousins kept on playing “Battle of New Orleans” at her because she was British. She didn’t actually care but her aunt used to be very embarrassed and told them not to do it. One day Auntie Nuta had returned from the store to hear a familiar song being sung.
“We fired once more and the British started running, down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico…”
Manda remembered the boys’ faces falling when they realised their mother was in the room standing right behind them.
“What did I say about making your cousin feel welcome?” Nuta had asked her sons. “Right now you’re making that poor girly girl feel about as welcome as a fruit bat at a cranberry convention. Get over here, boys. NOW!!”
And a smile came to Manda’s face even all these years later as she thought of their humiliation as they’d had to bend over Nuta’s knees one after the other with their pants and trousers down and their howls of pain as they’d been spanked and the red hand prints that had appeared on their bottoms.
“How deliciously evil!” smiled Manda at the memory. She took another swig of her drink It was almost finished and she wasn’t nearly drunk enough. And she must stop memories of… him coming into her thoughts.
To her amazement she could hear a door key in the lock. The cleaner wasn’t due today. Nor was the wine co-ordinator. And Mr. Josso had gone out. She could hear the person coming up the stairs. There was a knock at her door.
“It’s Charles?” came the voice from the other side.
Manda couldn’t believe it! Charles was a student at the island’s university. He was young and handsome but unbelievably shy to the point that Manda assumed he had some kind of mental problem. Every sentence (if you could get him to speak) always sounded like a question as if he were unsure that he had the right to say anything at all. She had invited him for dinner at the island’s best restaurant and offered him amazing food (which he’d refused) and some spankings (which he hadn’t enjoyed at all) to annoy her husband. Her husband had taken great pleasure in intimidating the boy for a bit and had then quickly lost interest – particularly when he’d found out that Charles fancied foxes more than human beings and that he’d just been one of Manda’s ruses. Charles had later e-mailed Mr. Josso to say he didn’t want to see either of them again as he’d told his mother about them and she’d thought they were both a bit nutty and that he should stay away.
“Come in,” said Manda.
“Erm,” said Charles as he entered and just stood there staring at the floor.
“Well, don’t stand over there. Come closer! I’m not going to spank you, you know!” she said.
Cautiously he came over. She could see that he had his little computer under his arm. He never went anywhere without it.
“This is a pleasant surprise! I thought you hated me and Josso? I thought your mother said we were the most evil people on God’s clean Earth and you were under no circumstances to communicate with us again? Cheers,” she said, draining her glass.
“Erm, no?” he said with an embarrassed laugh.
“My glass seems to be empty. Could you be an absolute sweetie and go and get me another? Get yourself something while you’re there. You’ll find the wine in the second room on the right – oh and also in the cellar. Come to think of it there’s some vodka in the…”
“It’s all right. I know. Back soon?”
And he disappeared. How did he know where everything was? Of course, Manda realised: Josso had paid him to keep her company and to cheer her up a bit. He knew he didn’t have to worry about this idiot interfering with his wife. All things could be solved by money, of course – Josso never tired of telling his wife that; he never tired of proving it either. And he’d even bought little Charles here. Presumably Charles’ mother wouldn’t be upset when she saw her son come home from college with less of a student loan to pay off than he’d had at the beginning of term. Or maybe no student loan – who knew how much Josso had given the little retard? She wondered what Charles’ mother was like. Maybe she sat there like a moron staring at a computer screen all day as well. And she’d never heard anything about the boy’s father. Maybe he’d run out screaming into the night when the silence had driven him completely mad? Manda realised she was being a bitch. It was time to stop. She had a visitor and it was very nice to have him. Even if he was a bit weird. She knew Charles didn’t like her or her husband really. But she was glad of his company.
Charles came back with two bottles of wine, some Coca-Cola (where had he got that? Oh, of course – Josso must have bought it as part of the bribe!) and two Champagne glasses.
“Actually, Charles, these are for drinking Champagne out of – they’re not for wine and they’re certainly not for Coke.”
Charles’ head went down.
“Oh, erm. Erm. Sorry?”
“Oh, look, I’m sorry, Charles. It was so nice of you to rush and see me once you heard I was ill. That was very thoughtful of you. I think it would be a great honour to sit up with you and we can both drink what we want to drink from our Champagne glasses. Deal?”
“OK, matey – get pouring. And every time one of us reaches the bottom of the glass, just fill it up again. OK?”
And Manda found herself having a surprisingly nice time drinking wine from the wrong glass and smiling with amusement at her young companion drinking Coke and typing away on his computer.
“What do you actually do on that thing?” she asked.
Suddenly Charles’ eyes came to life in a way that she’d never seen before and he started to tell her about his college work and his leisure activities and how they were all here in that little machine and how great the Internet was. He told her about Youtube and what fun it was to get into rows with people about the videos that various people had uploaded. He told her about the Lamppost Forum and how he was winning his latest battle. It was so wonderfully, bizarrely different from anything that Manda had ever come across before. Whereas Manda needed company – genuine, human company – Charles’ company was people whom he couldn’t see on the Internet. He actually preferred being by himself just mucking about on that machine all day.
“So, which other sites do you look at on that thing?”
And it was then he showed her the Ghost Forum. Manda couldn’t stop thinking about it. There was a woman with a long dark dress with cloth hanging down from her arms. She walked around with candles and went to allegedly haunted places and stated that a team should join her and none must drink any alcohol before so that their testimony would be trusted and people should always walk in twos so if one person saw something, the other could verify it and they had to watch out for each others’ safety – et c., et c.. People would argue with each other about the videos she posted and then share supernatural experiences. It was all bullshit, of course, but Manda was a performer. She wanted to see more and more videos and join in the forum discussions. Charles seemed delighted. Manda decided that when she was better, she would go back to being a performer. But not the Stairsteps this time. She could be young again and in the centre of attention.
Josso wouldn’t mind. He was always game for a laugh. That was how they’d met. He’d needed to make an urgent ‘phone call to clinch some business deal. He hadn’t had enough small change for the telephone box. He’d stopped the nearest passer-by – whom the gods had decided should be Manda – to ask to borrow some money. She’d gone beyond that: the ’phone box had stunk of piss and she’d insisted on spraying some of her Yves Saint Laurent in it to improve the air quality and putting some of her Lavender Oil in it as well to make him chill before the big call. As it happened the call had made him more money than any call before or since in his life. He’d come out of the ’phone box, sat on a wall and got himself and Manda stoned and asked her to marry him. She was so high she’d said “yes”. She remembered how much laughing they’d done at the idea of marriage.
She remembered going back to his place and having a whole lot more weed and some Champagne. He’d also opened up the canister of laughing gas that he’d “borrowed” from his dentist father. Josso’d kept on showing her a contract that had been signed the previous day that was the beginning of the process that the call from the ’phone box had finished off.
“Look – he’s signed the contract! Ha ha ha ha! And there’s his name on it – look, he’s written his name! Ha ha ha!” he’d laughed.
That night they’d taken LSD, snuff – the whole works. And the laughing – she’d never had a day like it before or since. Laughing at the wedding they were going to have; laughing at all the money they were going to have; laughing at Josso’s first name (which he almost never used – everyone always called him “Josso”).
“You’ll never guess it,” he’d giggled hysterically. “My name… ha ha ha! My name… ha ha ha! My name is.. is.. Barkilphedro!”
Manda laughed even now when she remembered hearing Josso say his own first name.
“Barkilphedro! Ha ha ha!” she’d laughed.
They’d laughed and laughed and laughed some more – about the wedding (again) and “Look, he’s signed the contract – ha ha ha!” (again) and his name being Barkilphedro (again) and the fact she’d have to dump her current boyfriend and they each did imitations of what his face would look like when he received the news…
But she didn’t want to think about him – that wasn’t an easy memory to think about. The one man who had always said “yes” to everything that Manda had wanted. He’d been a fantastic cook. Of course he’d smoked and drunk too much but what a great cook… and what a great lover! She’d found him more attractive than any other man she’d known before or since. And he’d loved it when she’d spanked him! He’d loved her singing – really loved it. Really encouraged it. They both liked the same songs: they both liked “Dream a Little Dream of Me”; she’d got him into “The Girl from Ipanema”; he’d got her into “Alone Again (Naturally)” and they’d both loved anything by John Denver. He was perfect… but he didn’t have money and Josso did so that was that. Anyway, enough of Darcy Ross! He always appeared in her mind at the wrong time and spoiled things. Let him lie peacefully. And let her move on and think of other, happier things.