Over at the Screaming Ink website, the groovy Mark Farrugia, co-editor of the upcoming Midnight Echo #8, has posted a list of short stories that have made an impact upon him due to their offbeat and disturbing nature. The entire post, entitled Fiction That Has Stayed With Me, is a nice little run-down of one man’s reading tastes.
If you pop down to number 46, you’ll see my beloved Luscious
‘ story As We Know It
. It’s a nasty, unsettling little gem of a type she does superbly: short vignettes starring a woman who says all the ‘right’ things and does all the ‘right’ things, but still ends up disturbing the living buggery out of you– femininity inverted, revealing all the rages and injustices that are subsumed beneath convention and ‘obedience’.
As We Know It first appeared in issue 10 of Borderlands magazine, back in 2008. The magazine has gone the way off all things, which is a pity as it was a classy little unit, but Lyn has kindly agreed to let me reprint it here in its entirety. So, for your entertainment, and in the hope that it will leave as lasting in impression upon you as it did Mark:
As We Know It
by Lyn Battersby
First printed in Borderlands 10, March 2008, Borderlands Publications.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you like the sex. You enjoy the way he paws at your breasts, tweaks your nipples and runs his hands over your butt as he whispers eternal love in your ear. You’re even partial to the odd slap on the thigh as he grabs your hips and grinds himself into you, the rhythmic thwack, thwack, thwack of flesh assaulting flesh as you thrust against one another, him grunting, you panting, thrusting and grunting, panting and thrusting, panting, grunting, grunting, grunting, moaning, faster, faster, faster,
And he’s come, and you’ve faked it, and you’re lying on the bed, on the grass, on the stairwell leading to the Humanities building and you recall the acrid tang of that one cigarette you had four years ago and wonder whether it’s too late to take up the habit.
No, it’s the responsibility you’re avoiding. He doesn’t have to worry about words like breech or caesarean or placenta praevia or any of the hundreds of medical terms that share just one meaning: death.
You search the campus surgery, ransacking the cupboards, searching for samples. You have your preferred brand, the one that doesn’t make you feel bloated or teary or furious, the one that acts as it should, regulating your cycle and preventing his little soldiers from invading your ovum.
You find a packet in the nurse’s station, enough to cover two months, but you’re always aware, always aware: the stocks are finite. Sperm isn’t.
Once upon a lifetime ago, you were not alone. People milled through your life with their bad breath and sweat and the endless chatter of mobile phones and you barely noticed them, noticed him, failed to perceive the ebb and flow of one person after another.
People were unimportant.
Once upon a time.
And now, you’re at the happily ever after and it’s just you and him and you can’t help but notice him because he is all there is and he wants more, many more, a world of more and you
“Maybe this month,” he says as he pushes you onto the table and opens you up with sex-stained fingers.
You nod and agree, that it’s your responsibility, but all the while you’re aware of the sugar bowl, the tomato sauce bottle, the serviette dispenser as they bounce against your head and you try to distance yourself–
Bristol, Devonshire, London, York–
“What are you thinking about?”
Lying back and thinking of England.
“Maybe this time,” you say.
–Stratford Upon Avon, Ferry Across the Mersey–
His face screws up into a frown. Sweat drips onto your breasts, into the dip of your cleavage–
— Eastenders, Dr Who–
Then it’s over and you sneak off to the bathroom to flush away his semen. You pop out another pill and swallow it with a mouthful of tepid water from the basin.
You are the only woman for him, he tells you and you buy into it because it makes you special. You don’t know why you were chosen, it’s his mission not yours, but you continue on with your quest and take long walks off campus and one day you find it, the Promised Land. A chemist, unopened, unexplored, and it’s a simple matter to find a brick and aim for the window and an alarm shrieks its outraged cry while you head for Mecca, and there it lies, the Holy Grail, hundreds and hundreds of little tan tablets in their foil packets beckoning to you, promising years of infertility.
Your lover doesn’t suspect a thing, him with his self-appointed assignment and need to repopulate the Earth in his image. You’ve seen behind the mask to the devil within and you know, you know there’ll never be one last hurrah, no last moment of giving fate the finger.
For you, for all of you, this is the end of the line.
Because he is the last man on Earth.
And you still don’t want him.