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.