I WASN’T SURE WHAT TO DO for a kick-off and decided in the end to just let things simmer for a while, hoping that an idea would spill into my forebrain before it was too late. I read Scarlet and May’s very personal pieces and Cy’s enticingly frank steel g-spot dildo review which gave me the hunger, I must admit. There are a lot of fine pieces I haven’t yet managed to read but will, but I was struck by how personal they are, how confessional, and that – that’s not really how I feel at the moment. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely sure how that is. Tired and a bit stressed and stary mainly. I think it’s because my Mother is going out hard, and we’re all in this strange bubble of bereavement that keeps on growing and hasn’t yet burst.
Thankfully, this does not mean that my (sweet, caring, smart, beautiful, loving and leg-shakingly sexy) wife and I aren’t enjoying ourselves. In fact, last night was absolutely incredible, and I’m still feeling a bit swimmy as a result. Sometime, I may tell you all about it, just not today.
What to do? Clearly there’s a fairly serious self-care requirement. Well, yesterday I took my befuddled and weary and perpetually-on-the-edge-of-tears self down to the Quack and I’ve been signed off for a month. So that’s a start.
Don’t ignore your head, kids. If you’re not looking after yourself, there’s no way you can look after your people.
What other things? Well – on topic – wanking is always good. And a close second is drawing. So what we have here is a favourite, a go-to memory, straight out of my wank-bank and perfected by repetition and polished up nice for #Summer100, accompanied by a couple of sketches which I hope you might like. This is:
A Thirst For Knowledge. Part 1.
It seems my memories of Marjolein are forever bound up in script and ink and the sharp strokes of a pen. Our time together in the lowlands and along the mighty rivers seem now like the feathered silky marks down the margin of a painting. Something Japanese, perhaps, with an image of startling eroticism hidden in the careful camouflage of line and sheeted colour. This memory is smaller, nearer. No less hidden as you will see, but an episode, an episode of old lovers, passing in the night.
It was long after the war and I could stand fireworks again – though I’d never like them entirely – and the whine of tram-motors or car transmissions or any of the many things that start up with the same low note as a hand-cranked siren, those things no longer bothered me at all.
The last time I’d been in Amsterdam none of those things were true, added to which it had been summer and the twitchiness and the sheer overload of femininity after four months of no women seen except as black redacted cutouts had lead me to hole up in the flat of a hungry German woman called Karla, a woman with a penchant for nakedness, swiss cheese, young wine and love-making that might last for days.
Again, it wasn’t like that this time. This time, in the gap between Christmas and New Year it was bitterly bloody cold, and the wind blew along the narrows of the Grimburgwal as if it contained chips of struck flint. I was making a stop-off on my way southward to a nice little winter gig in Barcelona, and wondering if it was a good idea. Marjolein was in the final throes of a PhD in some arcane palaeolinguistic deal which involved taking back-bearings through the haze of cuneiform in an attempt to shine some kind of light on the harrapan script. At least I think that’s what she meant. I hadn’t seen her for probably six or seven years by then, and was both thrilled and apprehensive.
The Allard Pierson Museum is a great grey blockhouse of a place, lightly styled in a way best described as Stalinist Ancient Egypt. Across the expanse of the Rokin – today just as grey and as cold as charity – across the water the stately tottering houses of the grand old city look back at it in bewildered astonishment, their tall windows like a hundred raised eyebrows and startled mouths.
Inside it is far less forbidding. As good a treasure-house of looted antiquities as you could hope for, and better than some. Great airy marble halls piled with statuary and gold, glass cases, old bones and the many, weathered, leathery faces of a small host of mummies.
I however, was going below, into the belly of this guild of thieves, to where they kept the lesser pieces. The broken, the limbless, the mutilated. The minor deities and imperfect shabti, the heaps upon heaps of old pots and old coins and the fragments of things that would never see the light of day. And drawer upon drawer and box upon box of tablets of clay and of stone smothered in what looked like the incontinent scrabbling of spiders. And their keeper, Dr Marjolein Hilde Raffäela Jacott. The prospect was equal parts apprehension and anticipation. My mouth was dry and my heart a little light and fast, like a trapped bird, while behind my belt a slow uncurling was taking place.
Bottom of the stairs was a small security cubby and a large man in a blue v-neck sweater and a peaked cap too small for his large pink head. The sweater was pilled and bobbled with use and bore a light dusting of pastry fragments. The wearer bore a light dusting of pained boredom and feigned interest. I made my requests.
“Dr Jacott?” a small upheaval seemed to pass across the shiny face and the tiny mouth pursed a little, seemed to writhe, a very small, very male smile.
“Yes Sir. Down the corridor past the feet ’til you get to the bull, turn left, second right past the fire door. If you get to the coffins, you’ve gone too far.”
I nodded my thanks and proceeded into the crypts beneath the museum. Cellars seem too mundane for what this warren of vaults represented. Ahead serried ranks of shelving led away into the depths. It was freezing down here and my breath smoked and the ancient lightbulbs flickered, struggling in the cold, casting intermittent pools of yellow light that barely chased away the sour, earthy darkness of underground. The shelving was stuffed with boxes and trays and whole lumps of statuary, labelled and strung up with old string, in curated sections. As the guard had said, the first section was feet. Huge Ozymandian feet, sandalled feet, hooves, claws and Satyr’s trotters and the slender, bony feet of long-vanished goddesses, like the trophy cabinet of a particularly organised serial killer. Feet one side, hands the other, until as advertised, I got to the bull.
Oh that poor thing. Once he had lain forgotten, dreaming in the mud by some mesopotamian stream, his wounds of no consequence, his time long past. Then a hundred years or so ago, levered and dragged broken into the sunlight and by ropes and by crates heaved onto a ship and brought here to the damp and cold north, here to be judged and found wanting and discarded in this corridor, to be used as a signpost.
His wings and his legs were gone, the length of his beard smashed back to his chin, and he was propped on his uneven stumps and staring with blank eyes down the opposite tunnel, his only view more stone body parts and the blank face of a fire door. I paid him my respects and moved on.
Next came a selection of breasts, paired and single, heaped in sizes from apples to cannonballs, then fragments of faces. Cheeks, lips and eyes and patches of hair, noses, chins. I stepped through the fire door into a tunnel of cocks. Both sides of the corridor, in shallow trays from floor to ceiling, neatly arranged, with business ends outward. Small cocks, sleeping cocks. Cocks curled and rampant, cocks davidian to priapic. Long straight ones, and those curved like tusks, some as thick as my arm with heads like pomegranates, some broken off, some still attached to nests of hair or foliage and tightly carved scrotums. A single proud member, scimitar-curved, stood out proudly, still attached to the arse and upper thighs of its owner, like a pair of shorts with a strap-on. This, and all others that occupied the mid-range of shelving, those between knee and shoulder height, were polished. Their heads gleamed almost wetly in the half-light, rubbed and polished by generations of passing hands and academic tweeds. Here, too, I paid my respects and, while handling a particularly impressive specimen, I wondered whether somewhere was a similar department of dildos and, inevitably, then thought of a tunnel of twats, a corridor of cunts, a catacomb of quim. I put my favourite cock down, not without reverence. Polished his tip a little with my thumb, and moved on.
Through the fire door I passed beyond the realm of the dismembered and forgotten and into the domain of my former lover. Here, the shelves were stacked with neat brown boxes and broad plastic trays, the one holding index cards full of transcriptions, the other rack upon rack of clay cuneiform tablets with slipcovers in onionskin and acid free tissue. The first door was brown and dusty and bore the ritual imprecations against disturbing the Electric Beast within. The air smelt strangely of heat, although it was still bitterly cold. Marjolein’s door was next. Unlabelled, but with a mesh-wired glass panel, through which shone a homely and welcoming yellow light. I knocked, to a flutter of absent-minded words which seemed to suggest I come in.
I opened the door to a thick blanket of heat, the strange television-smell of big monitors, the flattening racket of computer fans, the yellow/orange spectrum of four mismatched lamps, the deep smell of paper and clay and stone and Marjolein.
She was sat on a spin-stool in a sort of cockpit constructed of a huge drawing table, two big monitor screens, a few of those anglepoise things that secretaries use for transcribing from documents (each one carrying a selection of clay tablets), a wraparound desk made of pallets and tea-chests, and two oil radiators plugged into a hectic mess of cables and extensions which covered the floor like the roots of some strangling fruit-vine. Behind and beyond her, the barrel vault wall was covered in pigeonholes stuffed with rolled papers, while on either side were teetering stacks of old cardboard boxes with arabesque letters and neat handwritten labels saying things like “Lachish”, “Nineveh”, “Babylon” and so forth.
She was hunched over a vast sheet of high-weight paper spread out on the drawing table and copying the spider scrabble script from a tablet hung before her face.
That face. I knew every plane and notch and curve. How it could be at once an axe-blade, or an unfolding flower. The sharp aris of jaw and the ripple of lip, the liquid dark eyes which could dash from molasses temptation to stormy fuck-off in an instant. Just as those old desert places could flash from ancient to oh-shit modern on the tone of an uneasy laugh.
A fitted white shirt, and her thick, dark hair clutched up in a bun with an elastic band. A tweed pencil skirt. Tights patterned with angular flowers. Toes hooked around the foot-stay of the stool. No shoes. A heap of discarded outerwear by the nearest pile of boxes. A poloneck sweater in dark chocolate and a short leather jacket, a fur hat and big boots. Tall narrow boots, glossy brown, lined with fur. She still hadn’t turned.
It was a strange feeling. There was comfort and memory in the clutter of stuff. She’d been all easels and brushes and tinkery things. When I knew her, when we loved. But that was a summer thing, and, let’s face it, there’d been very few clothes. And eventually, seldom any. This great pile of cloth and canvas and leather and fur seemed strangely at odds with my memory of her. But was her. Made me realise; she hadn’t dumped me, she’d just moved on. She wasn’t mine. She wasn’t only a startling woman who’d happened to fancy me, but a whole creature, too, with things to do, and needs and fancies beyond a few electric weeks alongside the rivers, and splendour in the grass.
I heard a squeak and a rustle and an intake of breath, and in a voice of molasses she said my name. Her name. The name she had made for me:
She came towards me like she always had and I to her. The awkwardness only came as we felt our bodies move with such well learned ease, and from then on the embrace was clumsy. Cheek kisses and hips far apart, hands on unfamiliar bits. An arm, a shoulder. When all they wanted was hips and waist. Through the white shirt I could see black lace and ribbon in and on curves as liquid as the arab script on the boxes, a hint of scalloped eyelash lace. I tried not to breathe in and we parted quickly, she tidying hair and looking down. Straightening her skirt, I clearing my throat and fussing with my jacket. My voice was rough, and its pitch was off, like a busted radio.
“Nice office. How many doctors are you now?”
“Three? I don’t remember..” a small, embarassed laugh and she took her stool again, tucking her skirt under and her legs in tight, tidily, like a convent schoolgirl.
“This will be the important one though! I’ve made some progress, I really do think..” and she showed me the two monitors, the sheets of scanned notation and glyphs. She talked about it, showed me how the rump of such and such harappan cow was echoed in the arrangement of scratches denoting “remnant” in – and there she lost me in a blizzard of typology and catalogue detail. And I was lost by then anyway, far too aware of her and the tightening strand that I could feel running from my navel to hers, reeling us both together. I flashed then on our two bellies pressed together, slick with heat and sweat, the kissing noises our navels had made together and felt myself uncurl. By then she was hunched over her screens and I leaning above her, my belt an inch from the curve of her spine and my mouth no more than that from her glossy hair. I was breathing her air, a smell I knew particularly well, with new accents of age and experience and a hint of masking soap. Detergent on the shirt, damp wool in the tweed. But still, underneath all that was the core of Marjolein, the deep sunbaked earthy smell of the marshes, the tang of indian ink, sunripened fruit and fresh run spring salmon.
She had long ago stopped talking and had pressed her hands between her thighs and had dropped her head a little and our breathing patterns, shallow, fast, needy, had combined. We stood like that, two spoons just too far apart to touch, and listened to our treacherous metabolisms slowly syncing up. She was slowly turning her head and I mine, my breath lightly tracking along her cheek, an instant, maybe two, or three, from mingled breath and kissing, when we were snapped out of our trance by a firm prod from the tip of my cock on the skin just above her kidney. We sprang apart like cats, she retreating deeper into her cockpit, I turning slightly and trying to conceal the.. the tusk that had appeared behind my flies. Which of course merely silhouetted my discomfort and provoked in her a laugh.
“Well, OUCH, Quill!”
She giggled ruefully and massaged the spot I’d stabbed.
“I see that thing still gets pretty hard.”
She had colour in her cheeks, a light dusting of bloody eagerness along her cheekbones and her eyes were flashing, dark, and full.
“Does that mean I’ve still got it, huh?”
Still got it? She was leaning her fine tweedy hips on the desk, with hands behind her and bosoms pressed a little forward, and her breath was moving fast. An assymetric sprawl of flush had bloomed between them and was spreading up her throat, sending tiny tendrils up towards her ears. Of course she did. But we were wise now to the temptations in our guts and kept apart until, with my arousal dampened and our breath once more our own and the flush diminished in her cheeks and throat, Marjolein suggested a look further along the catacombs at the Coffin Room. And so we passed out of the cocoon of warmth and back into the corridor and its atmosphere of chilled earth and its strange collections of body parts.
The catacomb led on under the Museum, through another pair of fire doors and under vines of bundled cables and past truncated statuary and more boxes of bunched ancient words, to a large open junction between five splayed corridors with an arched ceiling lost in darkness overhead and a floor crammed with a stony maze of sarcophagi. Here, only one wall was clogged and matted with shelving and pigeon holes, containing regiments of shabti and upright stone cylinders with carved divine heads and clutches of tiny figurines, forests of genius loci from a hundred long-dead worlds. The other walls of the pentagram were obscured by the upright serried ranks of coffins. Coffins in wood, sheathed in metal and cloth, plain and decorated and in a profusion of styles. Above them and disappearing into the dark of the vault overhead were tesselated portraits, the faces of centuries of the forgotten dead. There were coffin-lid paintings and plaster-cast masks, sculptures in wood and in lead and in gold. A thousand eyes gazed down, staring across the past in glares of paint, blank plaster, glass and jewels and mirrors and stones.
The focus of all this glittering regard was in the centre of the subterranean plaza itself. Here the maze of stone coffins circled a single, massive sarcophagus. It was gigantic. A catafalque carved from a single piece of dark limestone banded with black seams full of the brilliant white arrowheads of fossilised squid. It rippled in the dim, pooled light, the squid still seeming to swim in the black petrified water. It stood a full meter above the encircling tombs. It was carved in a startling array of Vedic sculpture of enthusiastic sensuality.
Marjolein performed a slow pirouette, raising her hands at the encircling faces.
“So, what do you think?”
“Pretty cool, frankly”
It was breathtaking. A work of love, really. I imagined a frustrated store tech who longed to be curator, selecting these damaged, sub-standard pieces – for as I looked closely at each, I could see the tears and the breaks, the misshapes and mistakes – and building this tiny grotto, this little church.
“They’re not all broken, Quill. Some just can’t be shown….”
And she produced a small torch from a skirt pocket and probed the vault overhead. The first piece she illuminated was a slab showing a prone naked figure with the head of a boar penetrating a straddling male figure, whose hairy backside was both fucked and bitten by some mythic dog while trapped between them was a fiersome bird. Others followed. A tiny ithyphallic saint in gold, the head of his engorgement represented in a ruby. Around the apex of the ceiling, where the arced vaults conjoined in a nest of tight little Vs were a circuit of sheelas-na-gig, comparing vaginas thoughtfully in the unseen dark. Marjolein explored these ancient stone women and their contemplations with something akin to reverence, and then she grew solemn, and she turned to me and she took my hand and drew me through the maze to a piece at the base of the far wall. she shone the torch on it, still holding my hand.
“This one reminds me of us. I come and look at it sometimes, just because.”
And the pale fingers of her torch illuminated a fragment of wallplaster, set in iron clasps and fixed to the brick. It was almost certainly a doom-painting fragment. It showed a naked woman on hands and knees, with a devil behind her with red-hot tongs and a branding iron. Her body was covered in scribbles of fire and the triangular brands from the iron. Her backside was a deep carmine pink. It would have been horrid but for the fact that their faces were blissful. Her smile happy, his grin delighted. Her free hand, which might have been warding him off, instead reached for the modest cock-nub that protruded from his scaly thighs.
She turned towards me and her mouth was slightly parted. Our hands still entwined. Her eyes were huge in the dim ripples of underground light. Some dust seemed to have got into mine. Certainly into my throat.
Yes. Of course we kissed. Long and slow and a little bit shakily, there under the thousand faces of the dead and next to the kinky devil and his eager mate, until she drew away slowly, with bitten lip and hair-shrouded gaze and giggled like rainwater filling a summer stream. She let go my hand and backed away and I felt my heart and my other organs fill.
“We mustn’t.” She whispered. She moved away more. Her thighs brushed against the upright lip of a tomb, and she stopped.
I moved towards her and she stayed there, jaw up proudly, defiant. A foot apart she said it again. Husky.
“We mustn’t.” I moved, and she scuttled. And so it went on, I moved and she scuttled, and our breath grew intense again, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. A giggling dance around the maze, with always a coffin between us, while the crowd watched, impassively, and we spiralled inward towards the catafalque and its long, abandoned friezes.
To be continued…
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