An extract from Paula Cocozza’s new novel, SPEAK TO ME, published by Tinder Press on 6 July 2023.
It has become clear to me that I will have to take serious action in regard to Wendy. Ten minutes ago, when Kurt’s telephone vibrated with a wooden judder on the bedside table, his penis – there may be a more up-to-date word for it – winced. I received one small, sympathetic throb. Like a reply. I beg your pardon. I realise this may be too much intimacy when we’ve only just met, but the Forum is shut or empty, and there’s nowhere else to go.
Kurt lay still. I lay still. The vibration stopped. A faint bluish patch landed on the ceiling above Kurt’s back. His head cocked towards the bedside table, where a corresponding blue box lit Wendy’s little screen. I pushed at his shoulders and unstuck my back from the sheet. This is exactly how last month’s incident started too.
It makes my blood boil to think that earlier this evening I was the one who felt guilty. I carried my present from Kurt upstairs and hid it under the bed, where it would not bother me. Then I opened the window as wide as possible. I made sure it was fast. The street light flickered to life. Nothing else moved out there. No show at The Close this Sunday evening. I looked down on the front garden, on the crab apple and the borders of perfect, unpitted pebbles that edged the lawn, and my guilt grew. I wish I could shake this feeling, which is habitual with me. After all, tonight’s debacle has proved my fears about Kurt and justified my preparations. Even when I drummed my heels on his calves to remind him where he was (inside me, Kurt), he did not recommence his movements but continued to stare at the bedside table. I do resent being incapacitated to no purpose. I clamped my hands on his ears and swivelled his head to face me. ‘Look at me,’ I breathed. Bear in mind that today is my fiftieth birthday. Happy birthday, dear me.
Kurt’s head dropped. Sweat silvered the folds of his forehead, the tight pleats that puckered his eyelids. Outside air, I won’t say fresh, slipped in through the window, a warm whiffle that blew on my toes, slinked up my shins and roused a few hairs I’d missed with the razor. That breeze was my call to action. Up bumped my hips, to jolt Kurt back – to me, in our master suite, at the front of the Beaufort, here in The Close. Third exit at the mini roundabout. You can drive straight over it. There’s never anyone coming the other way.
Kurt picked up speed. I believe he wished to hasten to the end of our lovemaking. I squeezed my pelvis for all I was worth, to slow him, and to teach him the importance of being fully present during in-person communication. He cried out, his head swaying wildly from phone to me to phone. I found it especially injurious that Wendy and I lay parallel, both on our backs. Might, be, ur, gent, Kurt puffed.
I am urgent, Kurt, I thought. My urges are competing.
He glanced askance from beneath his russet lashes. His right eyelid pulsed, and I knew what he meant to do. He propped himself on one forearm, and as he adjusted his weight, I went for it. I got there first. I handed Wendy over his back, to my right hand. Like ninety per cent of humans, I’m right-handed. Alas, I had not allowed for the challenge of being horizontal. The phone bounced off the window frame, hit the sisal flooring – which I still think abrasive for a bedroom – and cracked apart.
Kurt spluttered, a guttural choke; I felt it spatter my forehead. He shrank, backed away from me on his hands and knees, then wordlessly dropped off the end of the bed. Crouching naked on his haunches, he began to reassemble that dreadful Wendy as intently as a troglodyte sharpening a flint. His oblivious buttocks and the sole of his supporting foot glowed amber in the street light. A head-to-heel rear view of sad, naked man. I wanted to visit the Forum right then, but that would have made me as dependent as Kurt. So I got up and came in here to the family bathroom to sit peacefully on the toilet. Just jotting down these thoughts is a comfort – as if someone else is out there listening. And, who knows, may one day answer.
Anyway, I don’t need the Forum. I can recite their replies.
– Honey, you tried talking to him?
– Yawn in his goddam face.
– He’s probably just bored. (!)
– When my gf did this I threw her phone out the window and said she gotta pick me or it.
– Break up if he does it a third time.
See, this is the problem, because tonight is the third time. When did it become not-OK to expect a person’s full attention on a special occasion? I didn’t get that memo. I know. Nobody sends memoranda nowadays. I didn’t see the post, then. I wasn’t in the right chat. And while we’re at it, what sort of fiftieth birthday present is a briefcase? I know the leather is flawless, and Kurt has paid extra to have my own initials embossed on the lid. But when he slid the parcel across the kitchen table to me this morning, for a moment I thought . . . It was the right sort of shape. But it was too small, and too much, far too much, to hope for. And this is where I start to feel angry, because Kurt and I were fine. We were happy once upon a time, before the boys, before we moved here, before he became obsessed with his Wendys. Before I lost something I wanted to find. Oh, nothing major! Just an object I used to share my life with, which Kurt hates me to mention. I would like to discuss this with Kurt but as you can see, he is very busy and he ‘can’t not have a phone’. That’s a quote. Well, we shall see about that. Kurt, I need to talk to you.
Too bad. His throaty snores drift evenly along the landing from our bedroom. Being holed up in the bathroom suits the occasion. I shall linger on the toilet and make the most of this chance to unpack my thoughts. It frightens me to think that we may have gone too far along our separate paths to get ourselves back to a good place together. I must recover my losses and find a way to free Kurt and me from Wendy.
How did we end up here?