Monday, 6 February 2012

The Professor

I called out to the Professor but he did not hear, and as he went to cross the road he seemed unaware of the double-decker that so nearly winged him.  When he stepped onto the pavement I could see that he was not himself.  He looked distracted, pained.
I placed myself in front of the Professor and waved; he nearly passed me but I caught his eye just in time.  Turning, he smiled and offered his hand.

‘Ah, my dear friend, how good to see you!’ he exclaimed cried; too loud, even, for the bustling high street.  The Professor’s voice carried the story of his life within its layers of acquired accents.  A thin sediment of California covering a thicker French crust that itself sat upon a core of what?  Polish?  German?  The Professor’s earliest years were a mystery of wartime migration to which he had never cared to provide any clear solution, his unusual name offering little clue.  The Hitler Youth was a whispered secret that had followed him throughout his career.

‘I’m fine, thank you,’ I replied.  ‘I’m glad I caught you actually, because I was meaning to ask –’

The Professor paused me with a raised hand.  ‘Wait a minute please, I just have to –’  He fumbled in the pocket of his winter coat.  ‘Ah, that’s it, no wait a minute…  Ah, yes, that’s it!’

 ‘Yes, well, I’m glad I bumped into you because –‘

‘You must forgive me,’ interrupted the Professor.  ‘I have this new gadget in my pocket which I am still getting used to.  It is making me a little disoriented!’  He laughed.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘It is one of these new, what do you call them, M, 3… E players?  No, that is not right…’

‘MP3 players,’ I corrected.

‘Yes, yes,’ he said.  I could see now that poking out from under his scarf was a wire that led to a pair of headphones, lodged in his elderly ears, hairs escaping out from behind them.

 The Professor retrieved the player from his pocket.  Smooth and rounded like a pebble, its LCD screen declared ‘RANDOM PLAY’ in flashing letters.

 ‘I never thought that you’d join the digital revolution,’ I said.  It seemed such a funny thing for an aging academic to want to buy, back then, when the product had not been long on the market.  But then, I was forgetting the Professor’s specialised area of research.

 ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘I need it to understand the Dome.  Oh, excuse me…’  Harsh-sounding music was again pouring out of the pebble.  He fumbled with his headphones, getting them entangled with his scarf, while the pebble went spinning out of his hand, dangling from his coat pocket by the wire and swinging against his leg. 

The Dome.  Of course.  The Dome was the theory that had made the Professor’s name back in the 1970s.  In his seminal text, The Electric Sky, the Professor proposed that in our compulsion to create and transmit replicas of ourselves through technology such as photography, television, telephones and the like, we had inadvertently created a metaphorical prison around each of us - a dome, on which our electronic replica ‘selves’ were projected.  Just as others could now only see the real ‘us’ but dimly, if at all, through the barrier of our projected representations, so our comprehension of others and the world around us was filtered through the images of ourselves we perceived within the Dome.  The Dome not only controlled how we were seen, but also how we saw and, therefore, how we acted. 

The theory was derided by many as being an absurd and imprecise fantasy that had little to offer in regards to any sensible analysis of the world, but for some, especially younger academics and art students, who saw poetry and beauty in the theory’s many contradictions, it was compelling.  It was, for a time, hugely influential: a key text of post-modernity, its ripples felt in art, architecture, design and fashion, film and pop music.  The Professor became something of a celebrity in France, appearing often on talk shows to discuss how ‘Dome Theory’ could be used to understand the latest political scandal and entertainment news from Hollywood.

As technology progressed throughout the Seventies and Eighties, the Professor updated his theory in subsequent volumes Fax Machine Communion and The Polaroid Soul.  And then, save for the chat show appearances, there was silence.  A long-awaited fourth volume that was rumoured to deal with the communications explosion of the past decade - particularly the Internet, which was seen by some as the absolute vindication of the Professor’s ideas – had been scheduled for publication two years before I first met the man.  It had yet to appear.

This was at least in part due to the fact that n between the announcement of the publication date and our meeting, the Professor had run into a spot of bother.  Long ensconced in the Sorbonne, where he had sat out both the Summer of Love and the riots of ’68 - disapproving of the former because of the hippies’ lack of a coherent Marxist critique of capitalism, and paradoxically also of the latter due to the rioters’ possession of one – he had by the late 90s accepted a post at a mega-university on the West Coast of the USA where, in exchange for the very occasional tutorial for post-grad students, he would be given the time and resources to research, develop and revamp Dome Theory for the post-post modern, post-theory and soon-to-be post-Millennial age.

Five years passed.  The Professor published the odd ‘teaser’ article for his new work in journals, but they revealed little, and its actual content remained unconfirmed.  But then, along with the tentative date of publication, a title, The Electric Sky Has Fallen, was announced.  There was an instant buzz in the intellectual press.  An instant, but cautious buzz.  Was the Professor still relevant, they asked?  Would his new work define the contemporary moment, or merely be a sad repetition of ideas designed to analyse a far more technologically primitive world?  Commentators could not quite decide as to whether they should be excited or not.

The Professor was reportedly nearly ready to submit his finished manuscript to the publisher.  Only some footnotes, the first time he had ever used them (and perhaps an indication of an uncharacteristic rigour with which the Professor was rumoured to have approached this definitive, probably final, volume), had to be checked.  And it was his actions in regards to the post-grad student that was assigned to him in order to help with this task that ensured the project’s indefinite suspension.

First it was e-mails.  Then it was texts.  Then it was photo messages of himself.  Naked.  Erect.  Smiling.  Upon being presented with the said image, the Board of Governors immediately demanded the Professor’s resignation, or else face dismissal and possible criminal charges.  The Professor refused to go, and attempted to use Dome Theory to escape penalisation, claiming that as the research assistant had only been distressed by electronic representations of himself, then it was these, and not he – who, in any case, thanks to the images’ influence, was no longer fully in control of his actions - that was at fault.

So he ended up here, in this small town with its little university that was once a polytechnic.  There was little intellectual companionship for him in these parts: just me and a few others.  His students did not appreciate or often even know who he was, and his fellow members of staff did not respect him.  Indeed, for some, he was the father figure that they had slain in their own intellectual journey while writing their doctoral theses.  The Professor would have been better off retiring, and in fact his post at the university was essentially honorary.  Nevertheless, it meant that the book, his last great book, would finally come out, as the first publication of the university’s new press.

I would see him often in the high street, on the way to the university or the bookshop where we, the town’s self-proclaimed intellectual elite, would spend many an afternoon, creasing the spines of books we would one day surely buy.  And there, on that winter day, the Professor fiddled with the MP3 pebble in his gloved hand and finally managed to stop suspiciously modern-sounding music pumping out of it.

‘So what have MP3 players got to do with the Dome?’ I asked him.

 ‘Everything, my friend, everything!  They are the latest form of invasion on each of our individual identities from the Dome itself.  No longer content to dictate to us through our means of self-representation, the Dome now controls us through our leisure devices, such as this MP, ah....’

‘I don’t follow.’

‘Here, let me show you.’  The Professor thrust the pebble into my hand.  ‘You see what it says here: “RANDOM PLAY”.  Now, when these players were first put on the market, they were surely intended so that a person controlled entirely what music they wished to listen to while mobile, yes?  You would put the music in your computer, pick one piece off of one CD, two or three off another.  And then you could decide in what order precisely you wanted to hear them.  But look what happened.  Nobody had the time to programme an order for all those hours of music.  Instead, they asked their computer to select a whole load of pieces at random from a big list of all the music they liked or might like if they ever had time to listen to it.  And that is not all.  The Dome must have worked some of its little evil magic in the design stages, because these devices have this button, “RANDOM PLAY”.  The pieces of music that have already been selected at random by the computer are thereby further randomised, and instead of having complete control as intended, the listener gives it up not once, but twice: first to the computer, and then to this device. 

‘We have become slaves, but not to a greater will, but to no will at all. We are in the thrall of pure random sequences, generated by computer programmes. Cause and effect is over. Meaning has ended.  It is the Dome, in a new form: the Net!  Not just the Internet, although that is part of it, of course.  But why did we not realise, that when you find yourself under a net, you are not linked, but trapped! And this wider Net that was once the Dome has trapped us: controlling our taste, our moods - everything that makes us ‘us’! Enslaving us to a purely arbitrary existence! The new world order is random order. We will all be caught in the Shuffle.  No more choice, no more discernment, no more morality.  No more right and no more wrong.  And it all begins with this little pebble…’

‘But surely it is the listener’s choice to give up control,’ I interjected.  ‘Nobody is made to do that.  I doubt many people even use them like that.  Nobody even has to own one.’

‘Oh, they do,’ said the Professor, proceeding to neatly ignore my first point, as was his way, ‘it is a biological imperative.  For what young person will find a mate and pass on their genes if they are seen now with an old-fashioned CD player strapped to them?  The Dome is clever.  It knows that when it comes to sex all free will is an illusion.’

Although I thought that the Professor’s argument was certainly interesting, it struck me as being as intellectually dubious as his earlier writings.  The rumours of the sharpening of his methodology were clearly unfounded.  Not only that, I found myself troubled by the thought of looking for conspiracy theories in an MP3 player now that the world had experienced events such as 9/11 and Iraq.  No doubt if I had thought to ask him, the Professor would have told me how he saw them to be connected.  Yet, in a way, that seemed worse.  Ideas that felt radical and subversive when conceived in a Cold War thaw now left a sour taste in the mouth.  The forces of evil had revealed themselves to be real people, operating through armies, governments, terrorist cells and multinationals.  To pretend that evil was an invisible current that flowed through the design process of MP3 players was quaint, silly - decadent, even.

He went on talking, there on the high street on that day, in the cold.  He explained how multi-channel digital televisions meant that nobody now ever watched the programme they had intended to watch when they sat down, and the internet was a complex but failsafe system for hiding all information from whoever was looking for it.  How global warming was subconsciously willed into existence by the patrons of tanning salons.  I never did get round to asking him about the thing I had wanted to when I stopped him.

‘Well, my friend,’ he said, finally, ‘now I must leave you.  There are many, many things I must think about.  I have decided my book is not nearly finished, and maybe it will never be, if the Dome keeps up its mischief at this rate!  Adieu, my friend.’

He clasped my shoulder in farewell and turned.  As he went I could hear that his pebble was playing him the very newest form of urban music, very loudly.  How did he get hold of any and why?  I knew he liked chamber music, mostly.  My only thought was that he must have found some way of selecting it at random from all possible music, no doubt involving a system of his own devising, and the assistance of a female post-graduate student.

In The Polaroid Soul, the Professor stated: ‘The only form of defence against the Dome is surrender.  Only by submitting ourselves to its every whim, only by riding its newest wave, can we comprehend its evil.  And only then can we begin to harbour the hope of breaking free.’

The idea has elegance, even if in today’s political climate it seems a little naïve, even dangerous.  Despite this, I like to say it to myself sometimes, when I think of the Professor.  For he is no more.  He died: killed by the Dome, or was it the Net, as he planned his counter-attack.  Stepping out onto the road, music blaring in his ears, I saw him, and I called out, but could not make myself heard, as the double-decker bus returned on its route, and did not stop as he disappeared under its wheels.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


Kyle, come here now.  I said, come here.  Come here or there’ll be trouble.  Come here now, or you’ll get a smack.  I mean it.  Kyle, come here now and stop being silly.  Kyle, come here, or I’ll hurt you.  Right, that’s it.  I said, didn’t I?  When we get home, I’m going to slam your fingers in the drawer.  I mean it.  Just do as you’re told, Kyle.  Do as your told or – right, that’s it.  When we get back home, I’m stapling your face.  Going to staple your face because you’re being naughty.  I don’t care.  No, I don’t care.  Come here, now, we’re going.  Kyle, put that down.  No, we’re not getting that, put that down, now.  Kyle, put it down or I’ll cut you.  I mean it.  I’ll cut a hole in you.  Kyle.  I said – now look what you’ve done.  Now look what you’ve done.  No, I don’t want to hear it.  Say you’re sorry.  Say you’re sorry.  Say you’re sorry or I’ll glue your eyes shut.  I mean it.  I’ll glue them.  Ok, darling, ok.  You don’t need to cry.  Mummy’s not angry with you anymore.  There we go.  Now give us a cuddle.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

A Little Death

One of the many interesting things Melissa said before she dumped me and moved out, going back to university to learn more interesting things of little practical value, was that a French term for ‘orgasm’ is ‘le petit mort’.  Literally translates as ‘the little death’.  I didn’t understand it when she said it, as up until then I’d found the act of ejaculation to be positively life affirming, but now, after recent events, I know what it means only too well.  I wish to God I didn’t.

It all started the week after Melissa packed up and left.  The flat was quite bare now, with only my things in it, and also quite lonely too.  Of course, I knew she’d go eventually, long before she made the announcement.  It wasn’t that we lacked commitment; at least, we were both good at creating the appearance of being serious to the outside world.  It’s just that whenever we discussed the future, regardless of what she said, I knew that she had no intention of seeing it through.

She was a rotten liar, although she did it often.  I guess intelligence can make you cold that way.  And love can make you spineless, like I was: not believing her but pretending anyway, just in case she’d come to believe her own lies one day.  Not only that, but I’d got so wrapped up in her that I had let nearly all my friendships wither and die, even old ones.  Now she was gone, all I had when I came home from work was a half-empty flat, a television, a pile of washing-up, some wine, and masturbation.

Yes, masturbation.  The irresistible habit that manages to simultaneously console and mock the lonely bachelor in the very moment they engage in it.  You might think its lingering after-effect of emptiness and self-hatred would put anyone off ever trying it more than once, but soon enough you can feel its inevitable approach, and you know, that soon you will be answering its siren call with the palm of your spittled hand.

I was answering it nearly every night, all the easier now with the internet transforming my home computer into an electronic version of the dirty shops I’d never had the courage to enter in my younger years: featuring a bigger selection of products than one shop could ever stock, and no risk of anybody seeing you enter or leave.  The ease, convenience and anonymity of it all were nearly enough to assuage the guilt.  Nearly enough, mind you.

After a week of this self-abuse, my body was beginning to tire.  Nevertheless, the compulsion carried me through until, on that first lonely, silent Saturday night, I found myself caressing a member that just refused to maintain rigidity, let alone produce an outpouring of semen.  It was a fight between the limits of the flesh and the desires of the mind, and however tightly I clenched, or however much I lubricated, it would not abandon its flaccid retreat.  The flesh had won, it seemed.  Sadly, I wiped my palm and looked for my pants.

And then the noise started.  A moaning.  Unmistakable.  The moan of a woman.  Foreplay.  Voices.  A woman and a man, talking quietly, too quiet for me to hear what they were saying, but the woman’s voice was eager, directing the man over her body.  It was obvious.  She moaned again, then once more, rising in pitch.  Now rhythmically.  He must be inside her.  I could hear the creak of a mattress spring, synchronised with the sound of the woman.  And now I could also hear the man, low, quieter, but there.

Moans became grunts.  Her grunts became shrieks.  I looked down.  My exhausted soldier had found its strength and stood proud.  Furiously I leapt to action, two of my down-strokes to one of their thrusts.  The shrieking became yelping before lowering for a moment back to a moan.  Then it began to build.  She was about to come, I knew.  And as she did, and he did, so did I. 

Little did they know that they had just had a threesome with their new next-door neighbour.  Until that moment, I had not realised anyone had moved in.  The flat on that side had been empty as long as I had lived there. 

It was Sunday morning.  I lay in bed, strangely at peace.  For some reason, the despair brought on by my excessive masturbation no longer afflicted me.  In fact, memories of the night before filled me only with delight.  Rather than feeling ashamed of my invasion of their personal moment, I felt happy to have been included, albeit unknown to them.

And then I heard them again.  It was less than eight hours later, but they had more than enough energy to go through it all again, harder, louder, faster, longer.  And again, I reached inside the bedclothes and joined them.

There was a further engagement between the three of us at quarter past five that day, then again, six o’clock the following morning.  But when I heard their sudden grunting coming from a part of their flat that could only have been their kitchen at half-six that evening, shortly after I came home from work, I had to admit defeat.  I could not keep up with them.  They were simply having more sex than I was physically capable of engaging in, even at one remove.

The next evening I was back on track, however.  As I had done on the previous occasions, I imagined what they looked like and precisely what they were doing.  I liked to think they were young and attractive, of course, although their physical qualities changed continuously in my mind.  As to positions, the laws of biology and physics did not apply to this invisible couple.  They could bend round each other as if, rather than a skeleton, they merely had a wire inside them, like pipe-cleaner figures.  Now I was thinking of them up against a wall, her body miraculously spinning round without interruption, wrapping her legs round his torso.  He was an olive-skinned man from the Mediterranean, although he never gained more than a vague form in my mind; she an oriental, her hair black and long, her brown nipples peaking out between the strands.

It was a particularly intense session that night.  Like the night before, there had been no foreplay, just the brutal outburst from a sudden penetration.  The cries were louder, as if, it seemed, she was gasping for breath.  He too, was crying out.  It made me all the more excited.  I was worried, in fact, that I would not be able to hold on for them and come too soon.  Somehow I thought that they would be disappointed.

 I was close to coming, as the rush of semen gave its first tingle, when it happened.  My eyes were shut tight in concentration.  And then, strangely, I could see.  I tried to close my eyes again, but I could not.  In front of me were the books on the shelf that ran above my computer.  I must be standing up, I thought, but why would I be doing that?  Not only that, I saw that I was rising, and that I could see the ceiling.  I looked down.  There, to my horror, was myself.  Sat in my computer chair, eyes scrunched up, still furiously pumping away.  In defiance of everything I had previously thought to be possible, I was outside my own body.

How had this happened?  The only thing I could think of was that my masturbation had achieved the level of some sort of meditative ritual, and through it I had accidentally freed myself from my physical form.  At first I panicked, and desperately tried to get back down, but my astral being did not want to comply with my wishes.  Instead, it stayed where it was, bobbing about near the ceiling, before I sensed a soft, gentle movement forward, towards the wall.  I was heading straight for it and I could not stop. 

I prepared myself to be knocked back, trying and failing to protect my astral head with my similarly astral arms.  Surely a nasty knock was about to come my way.  But it did not.  Instead, I found myself actually inside the wall.  I could see insulation, wires, plaster.  And then I was somewhere I had never been before.  And underneath me were my neighbours, naked, intertwined, fucking.

 I was so embarrassed I found myself looking round their room, at anything and everything that wasn’t them.  Nice furnishings, quite minimal.  Browns and creams.  A set of weights sat in the corner.  A full-length mirror formed the door of a cupboard.  On the floor were clothes, undergarments.  A pair of women’s knickers, torn apart.  The sheets of the bed had been pulled off and covered much of the carpet.  And the sight of the sheets led me back to the bed.  I could not help it.  I had to look.

The man was, I would say, in his forties, although his body was in excellent condition.  Gym-toned, nearly hairless.  A tattoo of some oriental writing was on his left breast.  His face was handsome: strong cheekbones, a dimple chiselled into his chin.  Head closely shaven, no doubt to disguise hair loss.  Nevertheless, you could still see that it was flecked with grey, as was the little wisp of pubic hair above what was a frankly impressive cock.  Thick.  Long.  Guaranteed to please but not to hurt.

And it certainly was pleasing his partner as she pushed herself down on it with ever more forceful movements.  She was much younger, in her twenties most likely.   Petite, her breasts small and rounded.  Beautiful and elfin, her nose running to a little point; her lips were full, her mouth a little round hole from which her yelps were sent skyward.  Eyes closed as tight as mine: my body’s eyes that is, on the other side of the wall.  Her hair was dyed a deep red, pubic hair shaved into a tiny runway of a line.  She too, had a tattoo: a mandala on her thigh.  There was another mark, also, on her neck: a fat, brown bruise that ran most of the way round.

She came.  And as she did so, her eyes opened wide and she looked straight at me.  Oh my god, I thought, how can I account for my presence here, hovering above them in this most intimate moment?  I tried to form an apologetic sentence but found that I had no mouth.  But then she lowered her head and closed her eyes as she rode out the ripples of the orgasm.  She had not seen me.  I was invisible.

The man lowered her onto her back, preparing her for his own orgasm.  What would it be like to come inside a woman that beautiful, I mused, for indeed, she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen.  At that thought, I sensed I was getting lower, and there was nothing I could do to stop myself.  The pair of them became ever closer, their grunts and groans louder.  Soon I would be on top of them.  If they couldn’t see me, would they be able to feel me?  I was about to find out, as I was now just centimetres from the man’s hairless back, which rose and fell as he came closer to release.

 He came, as did I - a fantastic rush that spread throughout my body in a way that I had never experienced before.  Now I knew I once again had eyes, real eyes in a body. for they were shut.  Once the last tremor had past, my eyes opened, not so much by me, but for me.  I saw her face smiling up at mine.  Then, I found myself lowering myself down and kissing her passionately, my tongue sliding against hers.  My arms wrapped around her.  It must have been because my desire to do these things was so strong that it was not until some minutes later that I fully realised I was not in control of these movements.  Indeed, a sudden, dizzy and sickening sense of what I can only call alienness left me with no doubt.  This body was not mine. 

The body removed itself from between her legs and got up.  In the mirror on the wardrobe opposite, I saw it: muscular, nearly hairless, well endowed, tattooed.  I was none of these things.  But now I was he, it was clear.  At least, I was looking out of his eyes.  I could physically feel what he was feeling.  Panicking, I summoned all my willpower to get myself away, but it was no use.  I was now trapped inside the body of my next-door neighbour.

That night the body I was in did mundane things.  Made some food, performed some household tasks, watched a bit of telly.  Every so often, it would say the odd thing or two to the woman, and it was very strange to feel my mouth moving in speech but not knowing what words were going to come out.  Likewise, the minutiae of the body were disturbing.  Itches I could feel, but could not dictate when or even if they were scratched.  Little habits like the drumming of fingers that I literally could not stop.  Bowel movements.  All these things I felt as if they were my own, but had no say over how they were dealt with.  I was paralysed, and yet invaded by sensation.

Strangely, I had soon stopped panicking.  Even though I was worried about what was happening to my body next door, surrendering control of the physical brought with it a new calm, as if a weight had been lifted which, I suppose, in a sense, it had been.

When he slept, I slept.  Strange dreams where people I knew intermingled with people I had never met.  Maybe I imagined them, or maybe they were from his past.  All the dreams turned out the same.  Everybody, my old friends, relatives, strangers, wherever they were, whatever they were doing, would end up fucking.  In corners, in cars, up against walls, under tables.  And I, or he, or we, would stand in the midst of it all, masturbating our impressive manhood, while always, inevitably, man after man, sometimes a woman, would screw his red-headed partner in front of us as she laughed.

We woke up at six o’clock, aroused.  The woman was awake also, and was idly stroking our shared cock.  She put it in her mouth and sucked for the longest time.  Although he could have come straight away, he held on to it until he could do so no more.  She let it jet over her, then raised herself up over us, and I felt his tongue as it worked to return the kindness.

He got up and did his weights.  Strange to feel the strain on muscles I never had, along with the exertion of strength I had not previously possessed.  He showered, ate a healthy breakfast, sprayed himself with deodorants and scents, moisturised, and dressed smartly for work.  She was still in her dressing gown when she kissed him goodbye as he made his way out the door to the car park.

We drove for nearly an hour.  I had never driven before, and now found myself to be both the driver and the passenger.  We were on the outskirts of London.  There, we made our way slowly in the rush-hour clog until we took a left into a business park.  Futuristic, spacious, expensive.  He parked the car, entered a building with the swipe of a security pass, said hello to the people in the lift, and entered an office.  From people’s reactions, it seemed to me that this open-plan space was his domain.

The morning disappeared behind a desk in a private office, with a see-through wall through which his kingdom could be observed.  He worked his way through an avalanche of paperwork and telephone calls I could not comprehend.  Every so often he would pop his head round the door and a work colleague would be called over to discuss something, or there would be a knock on his transparent door from someone with a printout in their hand, requiring his attention.

All the staff were smart, confident, professional.  The men wore suits or neatly ironed shirts, and the women wore blouses, skirts and tights. Even the older members radiated a youthful aura, their age disguised by careful attention to hair, clothes and bodily maintenance.

There was a knock on the door.  A woman - young, blonde, hard-faced but coldly attractive, her hair pinned back - put her head round.  She was going to e-mail the spreadsheet, she said.  Did he want to check it before she did so.  He said he did want to, and would look at it in five minutes.

Ten minutes later he walked out of his office, through the open-plan space and into a corridor.  He followed it and took a right.  There he came to a door, which, after he checked he was not observed, he pushed open.  She was waiting for him inside.  It was a storeroom, full of boxes of hand-towels and the like.  He pushed a stack of boxes in front of the door as she pulled down her tights and her underwear.  She stood with her back to him, resting her hands on boxes of photocopier paper as he put himself inside, moving quickly, vigorously.  The anticipation of the extra five minutes had made her wet it seemed, and it was not long before they - we, came together, almost silently.

He left first, leaving her to dab herself with a tissue.  He washed his cock and his hands in the toilet and returned to work.  Two hours later he would return to these toilets and masturbate furiously.

He fucked his partner on the kitchen table as soon as he came in from work that night, the pair of them assuming the same position as he had with his work colleague not seven hours before.  He took her again, gentler this time, later that evening, then again, first thing in the morning.

At work the next day, his colleague did not request his attention, but when he got home, his partner was waiting for him: her face made-up, her skirt tiny, her top low, smelling of sex.  She told him that she had just got back from the red-light district of town, and that she had stood on the street corner as if she were a prostitute, and had taken four men down an alleyway one after the other and gave it to them for free.  She laughed at him and said that even the pathetic, pitiful kerb-crawlers were better at fucking her than he was.

He pushed her to the floor and put his hand round her neck and squeezed.  With his other hand he unzipped himself and he slid inside her.  There was no underwear to get in the way.  Furiously he thrust until he came, all the while squeezing her neck.  He lay on top of her shuddering as she gasped for air.  Finally, just as I feared he might have killed her, he let go.  He got up, zipped himself, and left the room.  After he had a shower he came back in.  She was in a dressing gown, still smelling of his and other men’s semen.  They talked as if nothing had happened.

Days became weeks and I was still trapped in the man’s body.  During that time, he would have numerous appointments in the storeroom at work, as well as two liaisons in his car with a temporary admin assistant.  Often he would go to a bar on the way home and pick someone up there, using no chat-up line or even overt body language, just dull conversation about traffic or atmospheric conditions, that would nevertheless be almost immediately followed by fucking in the toilets or a side-street.  When in town at the weekend, he would, without fail, find a fellow shopper, or a waitress in a café or, on one occasion, a traffic warden, to frantically take up against the back door of a shop where they could so easily be seen.

It was a secret world that I never knew existed: a network of men and women who shared this strange lifestyle, most of them in their thirties or forties, although some were certainly older, albeit as well-preserved as the man’s more senior colleagues.  In any case, none were ever turned away. They somehow all knew how to recognise each other, as if the very banality of the brief conversation that they engaged in acted as a code for what they did and where to do it: out of sight and earshot, but only just. And though the man whose body I inhabited might keep each encounter a secret for a couple of days, it was only a matter of time before he would be on top of her, telling her exactly how he had betrayed her, while they fucked. And then the next day, the situation would be reversed, with her mocking him as she sat on the couch, touching herself as she recounted how she had been spending the time that he had been at work. 

Contraception did not seem to be an issue for them. I picked up from their only very occasional exchanges that the man's partner had had abortions in the past, but she was not on the pill.  I considered that maybe she could no longer conceive. Nevertheless, the risk of STDs must have been enormous. In fact, I could not shake off the sensation that some of the people we came into contact with were dying. There was just something in their eyes.

As for me, I was getting used to being in his skin.  As I got to know him, I began to be able to guess his next move, and it became less strange to be trapped in another’s body, even though I had no control over it.  After a while, his desires became mine, and I became as excited as he was when a new conquest was on the horizon.  There was a disturbing moment when I discovered he did not limit his partners to women, and at first I felt revolted by the cock I could feel in his mouth and the movement of the tongue on it that I was powerless to stop.  But that had faded by the third encounter with a man.  As he went down on me - us, in the multi-story car park, I was as turned on as if it were a woman.

For those first weeks it was as if I were in a state of delirium, lost in this other man’s life and the intensity of his sexual existence.  Yet, every so often, a thought would occur to me in the gaps between encounters.  What had happened to my body?  I began to worry about it more and more.  And as I did so, I found that I could no longer disappear in the wave of the inevitable orgasm.  Indeed, the sex began to slightly bore me.  The third ejaculation of the day started to feel very much like the first.  I wanted a break.  I wanted my own body back.

I had been trapped a month before we noticed the smell.  We left for work that morning, and there it was, an unpleasant sickly odour in the corridor.  I knew that he had registered it from the way he sniffed the air and made a face.  It was there again, stronger, when we came back, as we passed a flushed-looking man in a boiler suit with a clipboard in the hall.  Our partner was waiting for us inside.  She was lying naked on the bed, her legs apart.  She said that not two minutes ago a man had just left.  He had come round to persuade her to change electricity suppliers, but she had started to suck him off when he tried to get her to sign the contract.  He had fucked her on the bed, and she said it was the best orgasm she had ever had.   His semen was still dripping from her, still not entirely cold as our cock passed through it.  Once we had come, as our partner ruffled our hair and smiled, the man sniffed.  The smell had entered the room.

He got dressed and went into the corridor.  It was coming from my flat.  He knocked on the door, but of course nobody answered.  When still nobody was answering his manly, authoritative demands for entry several hours later, he broke the door down with a few deft blows of his muscled shoulder.  We walked in my flat.  He looked in the living room first, then the kitchen, but I was not there.  Neither was I in the bathroom.  He found me in the bedroom, sitting in my computer chair, my trousers round my ankles, hand clasped around my withered penis.  An arc of dried, crystal semen marked the carpet in front of me.  My body was dead, rotting.  Flies had begun to hatch out of it.

Our partner was waiting in the doorway of my flat.  He rushed out and closed the door, commanding her to call the police.  When they arrived, a WPC stepped into our flat to interview us while their colleagues investigated the body.  She was about thirty-five, dark skinned, mixed race.  She looked at us.  We looked at her and mentioned something about a slight drop in temperature that morning.  She nodded.  She hitched up her skirt and we slid our fingers under her underwear, while our partner kissed her and slipped her hand into her bra.  The policewoman dropped to her knees and we took her from behind, while our partner let her lick her.  As we all came together, in one unholy, terrible orgasm, another piece of me died a little death.