‘What are you drinking?’ I have never known him to drink anything but beer.

‘Brandy.’

He sits on the same sofa, but there is at least a foot between us. One lousy foot. I can scale that. I bring the drink to my lips, aware that he is now watching me, and take a small sip. Shit. It tastes like cough medicine. I cradle the glass in the palm of my hand.

‘Why did you buy it?’

‘I don’t know. I saw it on the shelf of a shop and I just had to.’

‘Just had to?’

He sighs. ‘Just had to. Do you like it?’

I wrinkle my nose. ‘No.’

He laughs softly. Not the beautiful, irresistible rumble that comes from his abdomen, but I rejoice anyway—it’s the first since I confronted him. ‘It’s OK. You have to be ninety to enjoy it.’

The moment of lightness passes very quickly.

‘Finish your brandy. I want to have a quick shower and change into something more appropriate,’ I say, standing up.

He simply looks up at me with darkened eyes. For a moment I stand looking down on him. Someone once said, love is like wearing shoes that fit perfectly. He fitted. Perfectly. From the first moment I tried him on. But by mistake I took him off and someone has accidentally put him back into the shop window and now I’m terrified someone else might come along and take him.

I reach down and touch his lower lip. He belongs to me. Mine and only mine. Another day he might have sucked my finger. This night he does nothing, simply stares at me. I feel my loss. A sense of vertigo. I straighten. I’m not beat. I haven’t even started yet. He will forgive me. I will dance and crawl for him. Tonight I will be Yehonala.

My legs begin moving. The click of my heels is loud in the silence of us. I feel his unreadable eyes on my back until I am swallowed by the angle of the wall. I will use tonight the way it is meant to be used.

I take off the sexy little strappy dress that Lana and I chose together and hang it behind the door. Then I shower and dry my body so briskly it glows. I look at myself briefly in the mirror. My tummy is still toned and flat, but now there are curves, lush curves. I shimmy my shoulders and my br**sts dance prettily. I turn and look at my rounded bottom. It’s become a handful. I remember that day he kissed it and declared it sinfully sexy.

‘It makes my c**k throb like mad,’ he said. The memory is clear. But to be honest, I am not obsessed by what I look like anymore. I had nothing in those days. So I obsessed about my looks and Jack. Tonight I only care that Vann will like what he sees. Tonight I am a vase. To be filled and used.

I brush my hair and leave the glossy curls carelessly tumbling down my back. Tonight will see me painting my body…for you. First, I adorn my mouth with scarlet, bracelet my body in a red bikini, and then I tie a red velvet ribbon around my neck, tight enough so it constricts my throat slightly. With a brush and black eyeliner I draw a mole to bewitch just above my top lip.

But when I look at myself in the mirror, I see nothing but the too tight ribbon, a strangely erotic gash of red. It tells its own story: the tale of a selfish, shallow girl who became a woman at the hands of a selfless man—a man who put her pleasure before his own.

I pull on the new thigh-length black boots that I picked up from Camden Town and tie the black ribbons that hold them in place.

Now we will see if what he has taught me is enough to seduce the man I want.

I slip on a toweling robe and cross the silent flat.

Thirty-three

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. —Matthew, 3:19

I stand in front of the door of the master bedroom, left slightly ajar. Take a deep breath and push it open. The lights are dimmed. He has taken off his bow tie, opened some buttons, and is lying in bed waiting for me. He turns his face to watch me. For a moment I am floored. He has made the bed with the red satin sheets that I ordered.

I close the door and flick on the fourth switch from the left. A spotlight illuminates the pole. His eyes swing to the pole then back to me as I walk to the stereo system. My CD is still there, on top, untouched. I slip it in and walk towards the bed. His gaze is locked on me. I was sleeping before he came. I am awake now. Unsmiling, I let my robe slip from me and fall around my boots.

There: there: that leap of desire. He wants me. That is what I needed to see. That live ember in the dying ashes.

The music comes on. El tango de Roxanne.

First the piano then the dramatic wails of the violin. A loud clap. More melodious violins. Then the voice, more raspy than sandpaper snarls: The man who falls in love with her. First there is desire. Then. Suspicion. Then. Anger. Betrayal. Jealousy, yes, jealousy will drive you, will drive you, will drive you MAD! I begin to walk towards the pole, my stride as strong and sleek as a Spanish dancer. A temptress.

I reach the pole and, as the throaty rasp roars Rooxannnnne I execute a perfect cartwheel and grasping the pole hard, throw myself into such an energetic low spin that it makes my hair fly into my face. I land on my legs open wide, almost in a crawl and facing the pole. Flipping backwards, the palms of my hands flat on the floor, I use my legs shaped into a V to hook and pull myself back onto the pole. With both hands I begin to climb it.

You don’t have to put on that red light.

Every time my hands move up to grasp the pole and pull myself upwards, my head and neck dip downwards like a ripened stalk of wheat in the wind. The movement, I know, I have seen, is elegant and full of beauty. It is like ballroom dancing—all the grace comes from the dips the dancer makes before he takes his next step.

You don’t have to wear that dress tonight.

I get to the top as the singer’s scratchy howl fills the air…Roxannne. I squeeze the steel between my thighs, the cold metal pushed into my pu**y, and high in the air above him, I fling my hands out and let my body fall backwards into the air, my spine straight, my head upside down, my hair a waterfall of curls.

You don’t have to sell your body to the night.

For the first time since I began on the pole our eyes meet, lock. It is dark where he is, but what I see makes the breath leave my chest. There is a look in the rebellious Barrington’s eyes that is starving hungry, but something else too. Something dark and raw. An intense desire blazes forth that cannot be resisted and refuses all attempts to rein it. Any effort to do so will bring insanity.

His eyes tell me I am a goddess. That he had not expected such intensity, such strength or such skill. His eyes move away from mine, boldly roam my body. Slowly, deliberately I pull my body upwards and I stop thinking about him. I concentrate only on the music while I make love to the pole.

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