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Vanilla Sensibilities

I don’t remember the affair that we had when we were co-workers, and I was 19, and you were 33.

If I did remember, would it be the silk-stone of your cock in my hand? Would it be your eyes, crinkly and beautifully, desperately blue? Eyes full of guilt and regret after we did the things you didn’t think you wanted to do, knew you shouldn’t want to do but did anyway. Would I remember your hands, easily twice the size of mine, your long, elegant fingers — the natural half moons of your nails — your soft, cool skin on me? Which version of your voice would I hear, neutral and professional, your gravelly Welsh accent strong and matter-of-fact as you taught me how to manipulate spreadsheets and reconcile balance sheet accounts? Or would it be your other voice, your secret voice — guttural with emotion and lust, reserved for one person but shared with me too? If I think hard enough, I could almost remember your weak protestations, your soft no’s undermined by the rising tent in your trousers.

I don’t remember the weight of our engagement rings — how we noticed each other’s at the same time, the heaviness of promises we’d made to other people, mortgages around the fourth fingers of our left hands. I don’t remember asking about your ring, unusual for a man, but you must have volunteered the information anyway — you’d been the proposee, not the er. I don’t remember how that made me feel.

I don’t remember your name, but I still Google you on occasion, LinkedInning you with my profile unrestricted if I’m feeling brazen, wanting you to know I still think about you. It’s rare, but it happens; even though 2004 is ancient history, I’m no longer straight, and you’re in your fifties.

When I Google your forgotten name, I inevitably uncover photographs from your now-long-ago semi-professional footballer career — action shots of your long, lean physique, athletic legs and intense expressions. You were a runner; you’d run during lunch breaks coming back sweaty and pungent. Your shirt soaked through. I don’t remember waiting in your office for you, but I did. Peeling the second-skin-shirt from you, scraping my nails through sweat-soaked chest hair, inhaling you, drawing your wet shorts to your ankles, and enveloping your slippery erection in my mouth. You were tall; you looked impossibly huge when I was on my knees, craning my neck to fit all of you in. I don’t remember precisely how tall you were, but your nickname in the office was “Big ____”.

I don’t remember your wedding, my own never happened.

I don’t remember the conversation that preceded my sacking; it’s likely that my promiscuity — very much misaligned with the values of a Christian publishing house —  was mentioned. I imagine you received your own dressing down for the indiscretions we capitulated to, yet seemingly you came through unscathed — integrity, marriage and employment intact. While I was cast out, castigated, branded a whore and a slut. 

I don’t remember the value of my settlement cheque, but I do recall frittering it away on a Buffy the Vampire Slayer box set and CDs: Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads and the whole back catalogue of Belle & Sebastian — Dirty Dream #2 on endless repeat. “Why is this happening to you? You’re not a child”, the most poignant line — I copied this out over and over in a notebook, a litany of bad choices. I don’t remember almost getting this line tattooed on me; I don’t remember why I didn’t. Perhaps, not wanting a reminder of yet another way I’d failed at being a decent human being, giving in to the basest of urges. Not a child, in control of my choices, and yet…

I don’t remember you being a bad guy, probably because you weren’t, just easily led astray, lacking willpower. At your core, you were good. You couldn’t hurt me like I wanted, in other ways, yes, but the physical pain I needed was outside the realm of possibility for you — your vanilla sensibilities preventing you from leaving the bruises I needed to feel real, to feel like we were real, that it didn’t exist just in my head. I don’t remember being particularly fond of pain, and yet it became a sensation I craved – a firm hand around my neck, a strategically placed pinch or twist. Anything that would leave a mark, my own special version of a scarlet letter, there in the world for my fiancé to see, acknowledge, and punish me for. He didn’t. Choosing instead to willfully ignore my infidelities, our relationship limping along for torturous months – both of us too stupid or too stubborn to realise there was more to life than what we had. I don’t remember the simmering resentment and bitterness, the loss of a baby we never discussed but he blamed me for, my spiralling mental health a challenge he didn’t want to deal with — I do remember a distinct lack of joy; the only thing keeping me sane: the clandestine sessions in the unisex toilet, where I urged you  to “Bite me just a little bit harder, please?”

You must have come to your senses; I just don’t remember, some days I’m still drowning in mine, the ghost of a memory, the whisper of a touch — almost, but not quite tangible. A voice that could be yours but isn’t. I don’t remember the aftershave you wore, but sometimes I’ll scent it on a man of a certain age on the street and wonder briefly if you still smell the same. One of my co-workers will come back from a run, lift their top to rub the sweat from their face, I’ll catch a glimpse of bare torso, and I’ll be nineteen again – perpetually aroused and desperate for affection, not that I remember what that feels like.

I don’t remember you, not really; too many years have passed, and my recollections are untrustworthy and prone to wildly inaccurate fantasies. So instead, you’re a collection of threadbare memories, a composite of all the men who went before and came after — men who used me and were used by me. Those men who left my body a little more sullied and my mind a little more bruised and those who were just there, their constant presence woven into the fabric of my life. Your beautiful, crinkly blue eyes belong to my boss, your cock to a boy I met on a bus, your hands to a barista who makes the most perfect flat white. 

Based in Bristol, UK, Rebecca Cawley-Hassall works in corporate finance and has recently discovered she’s a writer. Vanilla Sensibilities is her debut publication.