Knight in Shining Armour

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
DARK FANTASY
Dani invites Chantal to stay with her in her beach house - as her model.
Dani invites Faith to stay with her in her beach house - as her muse.
Dani is dangerous..

Submitted: June 12, 2019

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Submitted: June 12, 2019

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Knight in Shining Armour

Chantal strutted out onto the patio, glided down the stone steps, threw her lady-bundle onto the sun lounger, and turned to face the camera. The sun lit up her burnt sienna hair, accentuating her crème caramel hair extensions. She touched her forehead and drew back a wisp of gold: a stray kiss-curl which brushed her pouting rose lips.

She raised a brow, fluttered her eyelashes, and let her free arm hang around the full curve of her bum, her slim fingers scratched the back of her greatest assets, her super-tanned thighs. She was modelling a figure-hugging swimsuit, the classic onesie: a black halter-neck strap with a patterned rainbow body: a lemon sherbet bust, blue mouth rinse waist, sunset-blue sash round her hips, limoncello droplets splashed over her belly, primrose petals, falling on her night sky.

‘What do you think, Dani, good?’ she purred.

‘Very good, Chantal. Can you just turn to face me? That’s it. Legs slightly apart. Lovely.’

Dani took five consecutive shots of her muse, nodded, and watched her strip in front of her. Beautiful, quite beautiful. Chantal squatted on her tummy so that she could feel her smooth skin. Dani reclined on the sun lounger, sipping her pink gin, and closed her teak eyes, gently caressing her muse until she found the girl's intimacy overwhelming. Barely able to contain her excitement, the prospect of Chantal's naked body roasting for her in the heat of the afternoon.

She wiped the sun-tears from her eyes. The sea’s glare made her cry. Her beauty raked her shock of caramel in a thick drape, so that the bulk hung down one side of her blushing face. Fascinating, the way Chantal’s act of facial exposure made her blush, in a rash, over her cheeks, neck, chest, breasts, tummy, thighs, heightening the delicate fawn in her feint freckles.

Fascinating, how her intimate exposé gave her face, her thin neck, the gilded look of a swan. Dani fantasized, feeling her muse's tongue in her mouth, gagging her with an obscene desire. Chantal stopped rubbing herself on her lady's tummy, stood up, and put on the next swimsuit. 

The hooped bullring, crudely torn through her left earlobe, gave her the appearance of a gypsy, a sultry private dancer in the closed court of her lady. She bared her teeth, her cheeky gap, gave Dani a fierce snarl, breathed in at the midriff, let her arms hang freely, flaunted her bold egg yolk yellow swimsuit, its plunging neckline, swivelled her hips to the left, said, ‘Chanteuse!’ and heard the camera click.

‘How was that, Dani?’ she cooed, knowing full well she was picture-perfect, an undiscovered talent about to go viral.

Picardie had her fame arranged: the grand internet auction of Chantal Merlin to fashion houses, modelling agencies, journals, magazines, webcams, and individual clients around the world. Such was the promise of stardom, the share of the spoils, that Chantal never thought to question Dani’s background, or her motives.

The cot was an insult, her room was tiny, but she could live with minor discomforts in the pursuit of wealth. There was little else for her to do at the beach house: clean, launder, serve food, drinks, shop. Other than please her.

‘Perfect!’ Dani affirmed, ‘Have you prepared our picnic for this afternoon?’

Chantal crossed her arms behind her back and counted her fingers: ham, brie, fromage bleu, pâte, anchovies, eggs, baguette, olives, vine tomatoes, grapes. Oh, and champagne! Mustn’t forget the champagne!

‘Yes!’ she confirmed brightly, ‘Everything is ready.’

‘I think I shall wear a dress today, Dani,’ she added, pronouncing the name ‘darn-e’, as in the curse or a mend in a holed sock, ‘If I may? Please? It would be so lovely to wear my dress.’

Dani’s cheeks sagged, like the cheeks of a face struck with severe Bell’s Palsy.

‘Of course, Chantal,’ she hissed, ‘Be careful not to get your hem wet when we go rowing.’

*****

‘I think I may have drunk a little too much champagne,’ she said dreamily, ‘It is so calm and peaceful, out here on the lake, don’t you think so Dani?’

‘I do Chantal. The glare of the sun off the water, the slop of water against our little boat, the stir of my oars in the cool, clear water. I find it all so soporific. See how clear the water is! You can see the carp, grazing in the streamer weeds.’

Dani stopped rowing, letting the boat glide to a halt in one of the secluded bays that gave the grand lake its irregular shape. It was impossible to see all of the bays from one vantage point, or, indeed, to be seen.

They were alone where no-one would find them. Dani had planned the day, Wednesday, and the time, 2pm, siesta time, to perfection. There were no other boaters. They wouldn’t be disturbed.

Chantal leaned against the side of the boat, peering into the crystal-clear water. She could see right down to the streamer weed, the huge fish grazing, heads down. The view reminded her of an aquarium, seen from above. She blinked her stiffened eyelashes and turned her head away, the transparency making her feel queasy, making her head spin. The water must be at least five metres deep here, she estimated. 

‘You must be tired, after your labours this morning,’ Dani observed, ‘Why don’t you have a cat nap, dear? I am happy to stay here, and rest awhile, to sit and dream.’

‘Mmmn!’ Chantal stretched her arms and sighed. ‘You make the lake sound so romantic! I shall! I shall sleep, while you rest on the lake, watching over me.’ She closed her eyes, bowed her head, so that her chin rested on her chest, and fell asleep.

‘Sweet dreams, Chantal,’ whispered Dani, ‘Sweet dreams.’

*****

After she had changed out of her swimsuit, Chantal assembled the picnic hamper and loaded it into the boot of the artist’s splendid pea-green, yellow-wheeled, Citroën 2CV. They set off in high spirits, Dani driving carefully round the hairpin bends, taking the narrow, winding track, high up into the mountainous no-man’s land.

Every so often, they spotted a memorial headstone amidst the straw-dry grass by the roadside; marking the place where an unsuspecting driver inadvertently motored too close to the edge, and tumbled down the steep slope. Occasionally, where the road veered to the right, Chantal caught sight of the acres of charcoaled trees, decimated by the frequent forest fires. She thought of the flume which Dani had pointed out to her, burning on the inaccessible mountainside, their eternal burning flame.

After half an hour, the road widened and wound downhill, thru shady olive and lemon groves, to a line of pine trees. Dani pulled over, drove down a dusty track and parked the 2CV in the shade. Chantal carried the hamper down to a short strip of brown sand, punctuated with dead cones, and spread her blanket. They picnicked under the pines, dressed in wide-brim straw hats to keep the sun out of their eyes.

The artist didn’t drink: ‘Drinking, rowing and driving don’t mix,’ she had opined, and only ate sparingly: a few vine tomatoes, some olives, a sprig of grapes. It was left to Chantal to eat the lion’s share. Her hostess showed her the dregs of the champagne.

‘Come on, dear,’ she said, ‘Such a shame to waste it.’

After Chantal had finished quaffing, she packed the hamper, and they went to find the boat.

*****

Dani couldn’t take her eyes off her muse, sitting facing her, dozing in the boat. The sun lit up her burnt sienna hair, lightening her crème caramel hair extensions. She caressed a wisp of gold off her brow, letting her fingers brush her pouting lips.

Chantal smiled, resting her arm on her leg, her slim fingers slowly drawing up the hem of her navy floral print dress, revealing her super-tanned thighs, her legs held slightly apart.

Dani gasped at the sight of the blueberry-patterned cotton panties, their moulded shape. She reached forward and pushed her hand firmly up the soft inside of Chantal’s thigh, her fingertips placed within touching distance. 

‘What do you think, Dani, good?’ her muse murmured.

‘Very good. Can you just come a little closer, dear? That’s it. Legs apart. Lovely.’

The artist leaned forward and slipped her fingers inside the girl's panties, which were damp, relishing the feel of her hairy tuft. Chantal gasped with pleasure, as if surprised by the intimacy of her lady’s inspection.

‘Perhaps I should take off my dress for you,’ she murmured, ‘Would you like me to take off my dress?’

Dani inhaled deeply and nodded, watched her stand unsteadily, and strip off in front of her. Beautiful, quite beautiful. Chantal gave her a fierce snarl, let her arms hang freely, drunkenly flaunting her small breasts, swivelling her bare hips to the left.

She brushed herself against her lady's face relishing the sensation of her tingle-touch, her lambent tongue licking her as if she were the residue of a pink ice cream coupe glace, until she felt the boat rock. Felt the boat tilt.

‘Chantal!’ 

Then she was floating in the ice-cold water, the crystal-clear water. Staring at the carp. Kicking and screaming. Her burnt sienna hair, splayed, her liquid mane of caramel wrapped around her frozen face. Beautiful, quite beautiful. Floating, like a freefall foetus, drifting in its full womb.

Dani relaxed, closing her eyes, barely able to contain her excitement at Chantal, drowning in the ice-cold water. In the scalding heat of the afternoon. Her muse, rolling onto her front, a Nyad, a nude mermaid without a tail. Turning barrel-shapes, a pared woman-carrot, for her, in the water. Look at the froth coming out of her pink mouth! See her body, roll, wash and tumble!

‘Oh, my dear, you can doggy-paddle, can you.’ she remarked, ‘swim to me, that’s a good girl.’

‘Huurgh! Help me! I can’t swim! Huurgh!’

‘What a shame, dear. Neither can I.’

Desperate to stay alive, Chantal clawed the rim of Dani’s little rowing boat. Gripping the side with her white fingers. Breaking her fingernails! Chantal tipped her little boat! Can’t have that!

‘Huurgh! Help me into the boat!’

‘I’m sorry, dear. I can’t help you. You’ll tip the boat. Then what’ll I do?’

Chantal stared in horror as her fingers were prised off the rim of the boat. As Dani pushed her startled head under the water with her bare hands, launching her like the world’s first human torpedo. Her blue head bobbed up, barely an oar’s length out.

An oar’s length?

Dani wielded, brandished the oar like a sword, like King Slayer on Game of Thrones! Chantal’s eyes bulged, salted, red with horror. Her mouth, frothed and screamed. Dani pushed the blade of the oar into her navel, the sexy bull's eye in Chantal's slim tummy, forcing her arms and legs to pump like a jellyfish.

Chantal wouldn't drown. Pumping and pulsing like a jellyfish in the clear water. Dani freed her, let her blurt and spurt and spew out water so that she could scream. On the grand lake no-one can hear you scream!  

'Huurgh! No!'

Dani raised the blade of the oar and sliced off her muse’s beautiful head. ‘Au Revoir Chantal!’

*****

Picardie was completely wasted. The illness had overwhelmed her. She entered the critically dangerous, degeneration phase.

Her psychiatrist, Menten, felt that her bodily degeneration was due to self-induced psychosomatic trauma.

Her physicians, Haile and Maigre, disagreed, saying her decays were clinical. Picardie was highly unstable and distrait. The desiccations decimated her, pulverising her mind and body into abject submission. Quite simply, she had lost the will to live. The woman hated water. Menten described her negative reaction when he offered her a beaker of mineral water, as ‘like an amoeba in a desert’. His mind stretched. Supposing Picardie suffered from a severe allergic reaction to water, hydrophobia even?

*****

Faith’s fuzzy features appeared behind the frosted partition to the bedroom. It was her first day as Dani’s companion and she was reluctant to disturb her. She tapped sharply on the rough plate glass.

‘It’s only me, Faith? Please may I come in?’

Dani looked up from her painting. She had difficulty with the cloudy grey sky. Grey skies presented her with turmoil, a conflict between dark and light. It was raining heavily outside, tiny meteorites of distilled water splashed and fractured on the four stone steps that led to the churning sea.

She had set her easel on a spattered groundsheet in front of the window on the pink tiled floor, not wishing to soil her bobble rug. The art was her landscape: the sky, the mountains, the sea, her patio, her grey divan.

Faith arrived in the middle of the night bedraggled after a lengthy hike from the nearest village, unable to find a taxi. Dani had undressed her, put her to bed, and let her sleep on in the morning, before she officially became her companion. It was lunch time.

‘Of course, you can come in. You don’t have to ask. My poor girl, you must be exhausted.’

Faith slid the door open, padded barefoot up to the artist, and stood at her shoulder, admiring the watercolour, its drab, dull scene matching perfectly the gloomy vista outside.

‘I am exhausted,’ she stated, throwing an arm, ‘A joker launched a drone over Stansted.’

‘Oh dear! Well, you’re here with me now, and that’s all that matters. Did you sleep well in your cot?’

‘Yes, thank you. I made you a tuna fish salad, and freshly baked cob with iced mineral water.’

Dani glanced over her shoulder. ‘You have it Faith.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘I said: you have it. I seldom eat.’

You must eat, Faith thought but didn’t say, you’ll fade away. ‘At least drink some water?’

Dani carefully placed her brush on the palette and twisted on her pow wow to face her.

‘I never drink water. It makes me ill. Please, take it away.’

Faith tutted, turned on her heels, and marched off to the kitchen. When she returned, the artist was painting olive green mountains. She spotted a void at the centre of the canvas.

‘You haven’t painted in the sea?’ she said.

Dani shied away from her. ‘I never do. The thought of water appals me.’

‘I’ve cleaned the bath, the toilet, hall and kitchen,’ Faith stated, ‘I think I’ll go and rest in my cot now, and read my book if that’s alright?’

Dani leered at her, ‘Of course, dear, mustn’t let those bleary eyes spoil your looks, must we?’

Faith nodded, curtsied, tried to think of something to say, couldn’t, and left the room. The hall was dark and dingy, lit only by the half-light dulling through the frosted front door.

A whole wall was devoted to paintings of rainy scenes in Paris: a drab street in Montmartre, a crowded flea market near Notre Dame, a packed river boat gliding under Pont Neuf, shoppers braving the rain outside the Moulin Rouge.

She studied the prints more carefully, a restaurant: Le Consulat, a patisserie, a brasserie: Le Palmier. An artists’ market closing down, the artists covering their art, folding their wooden easels, scurrying to the nearest shelter. The art came to life before her eyes.

Faith heard mothers scold their children for splashing in puddles, shoppers groan as their brollies were blown inside-out by gusty winds, old men greet each other in rain-soaked streets, everyone huddled, fleeing the pouring, driving rain, the seeping spouts of water.

The prints were framed in olive-green, the colour of the mountains, or flame-red, the burning flume, the eternal flame. She thought of the woman: fading, shrinking, dying. The urgent message:

You must come now, Faith.

Paris: Il va pleuvoir! Daniela Picardie.

There was no upstairs at the beach house. Other than the entrance, which opened out onto a narrow country lane, and the door to her lady’s boudoir, the hall had two solid oak doors with wrought-iron handles.

The door on the right led to the kitchen, a throwback to the Fifties with an enamelled cooker, deep marbled sink, draining board, and an old-fashioned larder, no mod cons. Propped up against one white-washed wall was a wonky wooden chair and pine table, a table for one: Faith.

The kitchen ended with a dark cubby-hole crammed with pails, mops, bric-a-brac from the patio, pots, pans, more paintings of Paris in the rain. Daniela’s obsession with water: negative, depressing images of water, bordered on the bizarre.

Faith shook herself out of her daze. To the left of the hall, a half-sized door led to her room. She stooped, bent double at the waist, and stumbled inside. Her bedroom was a cupboard. There was barely enough room for the small chest of drawers, a little basket-weave corner chair, and the cot.

She slid down the wooden frame, climbed atop the mattress, snuggled her head in the soft child’s pillow, curled up in the foetal position, and fell asleep. She dreamed of her knight in shining armour, galloping up to her side on his gleaming white charger, gathering her up in his arms and rescuing her.

Faith felt her body lift, towards a distant beacon of white light, read the kindly look on the knight’s face.

She woke with a shock, pouring with sweat, checking the Tom & Jerry clock on her pillow. No time had passed at all. Faith rolled her head to the left, saw her phone by her face. She had a new message from him. He’d be here, for her, to rescue her, one fine day in time. She fell into a dreamless sleep.

*****

Falling asleep, hunched up in a baby’s cot inside a hot cupboard, dressed in tee-shirt and shorts had been a daft idea. Faith woke up drenched in sweat. They say that men sweat and women perspire. Faith sweated because she had the physique of a man built through her own sheer bloody graft and persistence into the body of an 18-year old woman gymnast, the antithesis of the debilitated Dani.

She swung her muscly legs out of the bed and tried to stand up straight, feeling the warmth of the bare wooden floor percolating through the soles of her feet, and found she couldn’t; the white-washed ceiling was too low. To her intense irritation she realised she would have to dress in the hall or kitchen.

Her clothing was still strewn over the basket-chair after her stressful arrival. She had literally crashed out in the cot, woken up, and started her unusual role as an artist’s companion, a muse. She reflected on how far she had come in her troubled life:

Faith Geatish was abandoned as a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and dumped next to the food bank behind Haughton supermarket. She never did trace her mum, or her dad: who was rumoured by the locals to have run off with a part-time cleaning supervisor from Aigburth. In her heart she knew, call it women’s intuition, her mum died that snowy night in January, by her own hand.

Her loving foster parents, Esther and Jonas, raised their little girl like their real daughter, Claire. The two girls attended the local infant, junior and secondary modern schools. Claire was the bright spark, always top of the class at maths, physics, chemistry and biology – subjects Faith couldn’t understand. She preferred sports, won the school cross country three years running, excelled at field and track events, joined a local running club, Myrtlesham AC.

Opposites attract and the teenage girls became lifelong friends, or so Faith thought. At the age of sixteen, Claire won an academic scholarship to a public school, East Dene High in Sussex. They drifted apart.

Claire changed, became distant, aloof, mixed with a different social clique, dare she say it, a different class of girl. Her life was transformed. She rarely came home to see her mum and dad, preferring to while her life away at all-nighters, festivals, wild high-class parties.

Faith became confused, insecure, felt worthless, began to binge eat, put on excessive weight, hated herself for it. Looked in the bedroom mirror, at the folds of flab, the droopy boobs and bum, the bloated tummy, her chef’s arms, and pig’s thighs.

The atomic bomb dropped on her seventeenth birthday when Esther and Jonas sat down with her on the threadbare brown sofa and broke the news. She was not their daughter. Faith burst into tears, fled the room, went upstairs, locked herself in and stayed there, refusing food or drink, swearing at her false mum, making her crazy world go away.

On the third night, she self-harmed and tried to cut out her puppy fat with a carpet knife. Jonas burst in just in time to save his beloved daughter’s life. There was blood everywhere: thick, congealing, soaking, steaming blood, saturating the candy-striped duvet, the bedsheet, pillows.

Need-to-buy-my-princess-new-bed, Jonas’s brain check-listed, his mind’s default method for coping with the abject bloody horror. He swept up his blonde-haired girl, patched her up as best he could with torn strips of bloodied sheet, gathered her in his loving arms, and ran past Esther, as she stood screaming, dialling 999. Bundled his Faith’s limp body into his sidecar. Shot off down the A414 towards Princess Alexandra Hospital on his Harley motorcycle like a bat out of hell.

Dad, guardian dad, who cares who he was, or what he was. Jonas saved his just-as-loved, just-as-precious-as-Claire, just-as: ‘I love you, kid, now don’t you die on me, kid, hold on, kid-as Claire. He and the A&E Superstars saved Faith’s life that night.

The wasted young adult spent the next six months in and out of a psychiatric ward. Some bright spark had the common sense, the human decency, to keep the poor kid off Lithium, off ECT, off Risperidone, to give her half a chance to rehabilitate, to start afresh.

Claire came home, fuck her academic career, she came home, to be with her kid sister. Esther taught Faith a funny song, which cheered her immensely when they came back, and they did, those black dogs:

Wait a minute, it’s stopped raining, girls are swimming, girls are sailing, sun is shining, gee that’s better! Mother, Father, kindly disregard this letter!

Aged 17 years and 9 months, Faith Geatish accompanied Jonas, her doting dad, to the gym and met a stunning brunette with a big heart and can-do attitude, who burned her out till her bones ached. Who worked those gross slabs of fat off her gym-flailed body until muscles bled out of her torso! They became best friends, and fell in love.

From the day she met Kirsty, Faith Geatish never looked back.

*****

The beach house was stifling hot, humid. The rain stopped falling. Images of wisps of steam, rising off a warm patio, came to mind. Faith scooped up her sports bra, red fitness pants, towel, postcards and pen, and bolted for the kitchen.

There was no sign of Dani, she must be having a cat-nap. The wasting caused intense wearying in the artist’s joints. She routinely took three hours sleep in the morning on her divan or bed, four hours siesta in the afternoon, and liked to be in bed by dusk.

Faith suddenly felt guilty, arriving in the early hours: the drone at Stansted: her feeble excuse for missing the flight. She had been in the gym pumping iron, and forgotten the time. Dani’s face was a picture, drained of colour, blanc, like the sea in her paintings, when she arrived. What was that all about?

Faith changed and left her dirty clothes in a neat pile on the floor for hand-washing after the lady retired for the night. There was no washing powder under the sink, no linen basket, or pegs. Even the stale, damp atmosphere felt temporary, as if time was running out.

Her informal au pair agreement expired in mid-September, when she hoped to return home and commence training as a PE instructor with Kirsty. She doubted Dani would last that long, the poor woman hardly ate or drank. Faith went to the larder, took out a beaker, and poured herself some water.

The gymnast sat down at the kitchen table and stared at the picture on the first postcard: a panoramic beach scene from Port Grimaud. She had camped in a tent a shell’s throw from the sandy beach when she was sixteen with Claire, Esther and Jonas. Her first and only holiday abroad. The happiest time of her life.

She recognised the grade II listed players, as Esther laughingly called them, at leisure. The Germans in their power boats. The French on water skis, jet-skis, wind-surfing. Les Anglais squatting in the sand, basting their roasted fat, stuffing their faces: beignets de pommes, glâces de citron, frites, succumbing to the charms, necklaces and bracelets of the tall, lookie-lookie men who arrived in droves from northern Africa to sell their wares.

The jet-set on the other hand, Esther elaborated, lived on floating gin palaces off St Tropez, danced the nights away in exclusive clubs, dined in the Michelin-starred restaurants, scattered around the harbour. Faith turned the card over, filled in the address, and wrote:

Dear Esther, Jonas and Claire, arrived late last night, my fault! Beach house is beautiful, overlooks a pretty bay, surrounded by mountains? Room’s a bit small. I’ll get used to it! Guess what? It rained today! Mme Picardie seems a nice lady. Think I’ll enjoy my stay. Wish you were here? Ha! Ha! Miss you lots. Faith x

Faith made a note to visit the village in the morning, to buy baguettes, brie, pâte, olives, wine, and stamps. She checked her phone: there was 2% power remaining, and she hadn’t brought a charger. Perhaps she would find one in the village.

Dani didn’t appear to communicate. There was no telephone or tv set, not even a radio in the kitchen. She picked up the other card, a seedy-looking print of a mermaid, and wrote:

Darling Kirsty, dreamed of you last night, lying in my arms. Miss you! Beyond words! Beach house is beautiful, overlooks a pretty bay, surrounded by mountains. Room’s a shit-hole. I’ll get used to it. Guess what? It rained, yay! Picardie’s weird, clingy, makes my flesh creep. Still, I haven’t been forced to pose yet. Miss you so much, you’re in my heart, I love you, Faith xxx

Faith left the postcards on the kitchen table, took her towel, and padded over to the larder. One of the cold stone shelves was filled with stoppered bottles of mineral water. She grabbed a neck and entered the hall, surprised to see a framed picture of a young woman, resting against a beige stone wall in the shade of an olive tree, amongst the paintings.

She inspected the photo. The hair was definitely different: a cascade of lush burnt sienna flowed from her harsh central rift, over her shoulders, and kissed her pancake-flat chest. But there was no mistaking the gaunt facial features: the pallid complexion, hollow cheeks, dry-chapped lips, or the tiny head.

Her arms and legs were bone-thin, her joints jutted through the parchment skin of her elbows and knees. The unflattering iris print dress, its tight red sash and knee-length hem, bore testimony to the skeletal figure that barely lived inside.

Faith gasped at the signature scrawled, recklessly, across the portrait: Dani, June 2018. Last month! The inked-in irises, gouged black with the tip of a biro? What kind of mind did that? She shuddered as she approached the door.

‘Dani?’ she muttered, ‘May I come in, please? It’s only me?’

There was no answer.

She let out a long sigh of relief and slid back the frosted partition. The artist was lying huddled on one side of the Joelle facing the mirror. Faith made out her tiny face, hooked nose, sleeping eyes.

Ah, she’s away with the fairies! You sleep on, Dani!

She tip-toed to the sliding glass, inched it open, held her breath, prayed she wouldn’t conjure a draught, and glanced backwards. The skeleton stirred, rolled over, and went back to sleep.

Faith exhaled as her feet hit the hot flagstones chiding herself for her own stupidity: Geatish! What got into you? She examined her nails, chewed to the quick, carefully slid the door closed, sat on the divan, and guzzled down half a litre of water.

Her left eye wandered, squinting to the right, she was nervous, she brought it under control. She slid her fingers inside her fitness pants and scratched an irritating itch in her groin.

Stop it Faith! Pull yourself together. Why the stress all of a sudden? She looked out across the bay, the sea was royal blue, spattered with olive green where trees reflected off the clear water. Far in the distance she saw a yacht in full sail. Her knight in shining armour, come to save her?

She snapped out of it, hit the deck, and worked her body to the limit. Faith did 100 press-ups, squat thrusts, cobras, planks, half-planks, pelvic thrusts, more press-ups, jogging-on the spot, pushing her muscles until they ached, thrilling to the rush of adrenalin under the hazy sun. She collapsed on the divan, exhausted, mopping off her slick body sweat with her towel, sipping lukewarm water until she relaxed, and felt herself cool slightly.

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Faith felt her scalp burning under her thin blonde hair, her pale beige skin blistering, a sore, blood-blush red. Hot, sticky, sweaty and sunburnt, she crept as far as the glass and looked inside.

Dani was still asleep.

Relieved, she crossed the bedroom, turned the ceramic door knob, stepped inside, and locked the door securely shut behind her.

If her cot room was small, the toilet-come-washroom was miniscule. Its white-washed roof, complete with dusty cobwebs and garden spiders, sloped in a similar manner to Faith’s cage, making it impossible for her to stand up. There was a grubby portal, high up on the outer wall, covered in mould, no daylight, a snarled-up wall fan, no air.

She switched on the light to the doll’s house room, and was instantly struck by the stench of stale sweat, urine and faeces. The previous occupant, none other than the charming Dani, hadn’t bothered to flush the loo which gaped like a black hole in front of her. The left wall was bare, devoid of features. To the right, a dirty wash basin with a pine shelf hung beneath a smeared, cracked glass mirror. Cracked! Seven years bad luck!

Coo, sarked Faith, this is nice! She flushed the toilet. Ugh! Turned to study the fascinating collection of face flannels, her host had laid on for her to cats lick herself clean with. Picked them up, one at a time, inspected them, sniffed them, even came up with a rhyme to describe them:

‘This little flannel has curled hairs, this little flannel has one, this little flannel has stale sweat, this little flannel has none, and this little flannel went wee, wee, wee, wee, all the way home.’ Faith giggled.

On the pine shelf, between the pink toothbrush and the red toothbrush, was a sensitive male roll-on deodorant. No way! Other than a rolled-up tube of toothpaste, that was the washroom. The shit-hole from hell, Faith opined. She had come across worse, not.

She struggled for breath, dreading the approaching wad of claustrophobia pressing at her nostrils. Her hair was soaking wet, her head and body bubbled, oozed, gushed with sweat. She felt heavy, felt the urge, pulled down her fitness pants and undies, crouched and peed, sighing with relief as she emptied her bladder.

Faith fumbled with the empty cardboard tube, gave up, and waddled to the wash basin. Now, which flannel? Her ears popped at the sound of a gentle knock on the door. She heard a mouth rasp against the door.

Dani!

‘Are you alright in there, dear?’

Faith squirmed, ‘I’ll be fine, thank you.’ If I can find a clean flannel to wipe myself with, she fumed, ‘Why?’

‘It’s just that you’ve been in there for ages and I wanted to tell you about tomorrow.’

‘What about tomorrow?’ the muse snapped, grabbing any flannel, the first, red one, any one.

‘I’d like you to pose for me. Can I interest you in my garden furniture?’

Faith turned on the tap: rusty, lukewarm water, took off her sports bra, washed herself clean, down there, grabbed the second flannel, cats-licked herself, from head to toe. ‘Sorry?’ she said.

‘My little joke,’ Dani sneered, ‘Once you’ve visited the village shop and stocked up on toilet tissue…’ she paused for effect, ‘I’d like you to pose for me. You will pose for me, won’t you?’

Pouring with sweat, Faith gathered her things and prepared to make a dash for it. ‘Of course.’

‘Good! Then I thought we might go for a picnic. I keep a little rowing boat on a lake near here.’

‘Sounds good to me,’ Faith rushed, ‘Dani?’

‘Yes, dear?’

‘Would you mind looking the other way, please?’

Faith streaked past the artist, clutching her gear to her chest, went to collect the postcards…

… only to find they had disappeared.

*****

She was floating in the ice-cold, crystal-clear water like a foetus in a womb. Froth coming out of her pink mouth. Clawing for the rim. Gripping the side. White fingers. Broken nails. Staring in horror as it prised her fingers off the rim. As it pushed her startled head underwater with its bare hands. Her blue head, bobbing, barely an oar’s length out. Dani wielded, brandished, the oar, like a sword, like King Slayer, her eyes bulging, blood red with fury. She screamed, then:

Faith woke up, dripping with sweat, clasping the clock in her hands. She unfurled herself from the foetal position and sat up in her cot. Felt the warm jet of liquid, rinsing her cleft, her buttocks. She’d wet the bed. She’d wet the bed for the first time since she was a child. Faith heard Esther’s voice scolding her, ‘Naughty girl! You wet the bed. Naughty girl! You mustn’t wet the bed!’ Feeling miserable, a child once more, sitting up in her cot, wondering about her.

A light came on in Faith’s mind. She cast her mind back to the night the girls sat on her bed, laughing and playing around as if they were pre-pubescent girls.

‘I put this finger here,’ she giggled, tracing her slim forefinger across the creased paper map.

‘I put this finger… there!’

‘Oh, stop it, stop it!’ Faith howled, ‘You know I don’t like it when you play games with me.’

The young woman smiled benignly at her. She loved her dearly. She was going to miss her.

‘I found this advert on the ’net,’ she fessed.

Faith was busy painting her toenails lurid tangerine. ‘What kind of an advert?’

‘An advert for a holiday job.’ Her sister struggled to conceal the thrill in her voice.

‘A modelling assignment,’ she added, eagerly.

Faith stopped painting and looked at her face. Beautiful, quite beautiful. She watched her rake her shock of caramel in a thick drape, over her ear, so that her hair hung down one side of her face. Fascinating, the way her act of exposure made her blush, heightening the fawn in her feint freckles. She bared her teeth, her cheeky gap, gave her a loving smile - and gripped her wrist.

‘I’m going to model swimsuits, Faith! This could be my big break!’

‘I’m so excited for you! Where?’

Claire pointed at the old Michelin Carte Routière et Touristique, spread out over Faith’s bed.

‘I put this finger… here!’

*****

Faith climbed out of her tiny cot and felt the bedding. It was sopping wet. Her manger would have to be stripped and all her swaddling hand-washed. She stared at her Tom and Jerry clock. The time was 3am. The dreams always came to her at 3am. Dreams of her beloved Claire, and darling Kirsty. How she missed her tender embrace. Her divine touch. Her kiss. Their intimacy. She began to envy the girls their freedom, yearning for a return to the mundane routine of life at home, away from the luxury that was the beach house.

Away from Dani, the artist who would finally paint her nude, spread, no draped, over her luxury divan in the glary sunshine, her honey bee, her flapping butterfly, her Pink Lady. Today. Dani would expect her to spread her wings.

Increasingly, Faith felt the woman with the tiny head, wasted figure, and big hairdo was sick in the head, not just her decrepit body. The way she treated her, like a child, her little girl, her dear. Then there was the cupboard she lived in, her disgusting cot. She’d seen stray dogs kennelled in more sanitary conditions. And the male deodorant in the dirty toilet. What was that all about?

She wondered if Claire finished her modelling assignment, furious with herself for forgetting her phone charger. She hoped her big sister, her best friend, was happy, successful. Claire, who gave up her brilliant academic career, left university to be at her side in her darkest hour, who suggested she took this bizarre holiday job in the South of France.

Had she known Dani’s requirements, written into contract, with the benefit of hindsight she wouldn’t have touched Picardie with a barge pole. The thought of her lying naked in front of it, her eternal flame, disturbed her. But there was no easy way out: no homeward flight booked or money in the bank, at least until Dani deigned to pay her. Faith was trapped, a beautiful Pink Lady butterfly, caught in the artists net, waiting to have her wings pinned.

She gathered her soiled bed linen and crept out into the hall, the half-light of dawn, leaving the mess in an unsightly pile on the kitchen floor, then tiptoed her way, silently, to the sliding door, inching it aside.

Dani was huddled on the Joelle, facing the mirror. Faith gasped at the sight of her bald head, the port wine stain discernible on her lady’s pate, and hurried into the black hole, to wash herself with one of the artist’s putrid, smelly old flannels. Once inside the lavatory room, she purged herself clean, like the nun who sinned and sought redemption.

Her only ticket to temporary reprieve, her only escape, was the shopping list indelibly printed in her mind: ham, brie, fromage bleu, pâte, anchovies, eggs, baguette, olives, vine tomatoes, grapes, and champagne.

Outside the beach house was a bumpy, stony track, bordered by flagstone walls. The air was fresh. The morning sun rose casting its rays across the land. Faith dressed in a fresh black sports bra, red fitness pants, trainers, eased the frosted glass door closed, took to her heels, then ran.

Invigorated by her release from captivity, thrilled to stretch her cramped muscles, she ran her heart out, up the long winding track, past olive groves, vineyards, farmyards and white-stone cottages with red-tiled rooves, sleeping villagers she ran. There wasn’t a soul in sight.

Reaching the centre of the village, she found the square, a sun-warmed wooden bench beside the sandy boules pitch, checked her watch: 5am, curled up and fell asleep. Faith dreamed of him, her knight in shining armour, the white sails of the yacht, set against the azure blue sea, a delicious smile of satisfaction creeping, like wildfire, across her becalmed face.

Refreshed by her catnap, she walked into the village store, amazed by the fruit and vegetables on display, twice the size of the produce in her local supermarket. With joy in her soul, she entered the shop. The whole cheeses on the counter and netted hams swinging from the ceiling reminded her of a delicatessen that Esther took her and Claire to in Spitalfields when they were infants. Only everything was larger than life here, the air filled with pungent aromas, the array of groceries bewildering.

A portly lady with greying hair in a bun and rosy-peach soft cheeks gently tapped her on the shoulder.

‘Like some help?’ she smiled.

Faith’s heart leapt to her throat, at the sound of English spoken crisply with a French inflection, none of the sickly guttural drone that characterized Dani’s lazy elocution. ‘You speak English!’

‘Un peu, madam!’ the woman laughed, ‘Et vous?’

Faith shook her head, ‘Rien!’

‘Rien!’ the lady repeated, ‘Good! I own this shop. Now, let me help you with your shopping.’

It wasn’t until she went to pay, cramming her paniers with picnic, that Faith noticed the local paper, lying open on the counter. Naturally, the news report was written in French. There was a black-and-white photograph of the dead girl’s face.

Reeling from shock, she asked if the lady would translate for her. François Gourd shivered as she explained. A badly decomposed body had been recovered from the great lake. The young woman had been identified as Chantal Merlin by the name tattooed in italics on her left wrist.

Police were urgently seeking more information. The woman didn’t appear to have any relatives living in France. Her identity was being circulated to all EU member states, including the UK. Faith collapsed into François’ open arms, mothered so lovingly as she tried to choke back the tears and speak, and explain to her friend - that the dead woman was...

Her beloved sister Claire.

*****

Can I interest you in my luxury outside furniture? Well, as an ice-breaker, a chat-up line, an invitation to love her, the phrase sounded original. She’d had worse propositions and today, on the most important day of her life, she needed love and compassion more than ever.

Dani was lonely without her muse to love and care for her. Faith’s sudden disappearance had left a gaping hole in her heart. She sat in her room, on her pink pow wow, pining, for her.

The bedroom was her centre of activity in the beach house, looking out, as it did, on her red sand-covered promontory, the rocky high point of her stretch of coast, that jutted out into the turquoise sea. A short flight of stone steps led to her small, private sandy beach. Dani never visited the beach.

Her bedroom was sparsely furnished. In the middle lay her statement piece, the Joelle double bed with a rose quartz headboard in clever deep velvet. The bed, with its matching scattered cushions, lazy daze bed linen, and grey-stripe blanket, were her creature comforts. Until her knight arrived to put her out of her misery.

To the left of the bed, her sleeping side, stood the Mimi bedside table, where she stored the medications, lotions and ointments, she took every evening in a vain bid to sustain her life. The bed stood upon a pink bobble rug, facing a full-wall glass partition. From her bed she could see the sandy patio, its luxury garden furniture, and further afield, the rippling turquoise sea.

Dani rarely slept in her Joelle, for fear of rekindling memories of their last night together. During the hot summer months, she slept under the stars, wrapped in her tasselled blanket to keep her warm, snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug.

Dani loved to recline on her luxury padded divan and watch the flume spout from the mountainside where lightning set a large patch of dry scrub on fire. Unlike her life, the flume was inaccessible and could not be extinguished. Its flame would burn for many nights. Her flame would soon flicker, fade, and go out, like a candle in the wind.

To the left of the bedside table was a tall flotsam mirror. She stood in front of her looking glass and appraised herself. If anything, her tiny head had shrunken even smaller. Her shock of peroxide-blonde hair sat uncomfortably on top of her scalp, hanging in unkempt drapes as far as her shoulders. Her sad brown eyes were still red and sore from where she’d been crying.

The shiny skin over her high cheekbones was drawn taut in an upset masque, only relieved by her beautiful hooked nose. Beneath her set-square jaw sagged a scraggy turkey neck, stretched, and pulled with age.

Dani raised her weary arms and locked her fingers above her head, hating the hairy growths sprouting from her armpits, her boyish flat chest, the teak curls growing out of her pink, pinched rosebuds. Her skin was dry, cracked and sore.

She lightly dabbed herself with soothing balm, massaging her skin until she felt supple, wiping her fingertips on the coarse blanket. Her hand slid down over her exposed rib cage, her hollow stomach, rubbing her shallow navel, tinkering with the flaps of loose skin under her baby-knot.

She collapsed onto the Joelle, sinking her head into the pile of soft pillows until her face was smothered with scent. Drew her knees up to her chest and imagined Faith’s ruby red lips, her wonderful body. Closed her eyes and concentrated on her features. The face was blurred. Dani had forgotten her muse’s face.

‘Oh God!’ she cried, ‘Oh God, no!’

Her breasts, hips and buttocks were completely wasted by the onset of a full-blown illness that devoured her lady fat, not dislike invasive liposuction, but more degenerative. Her specialists were at a loss to explain the root cause. The only certainty was that the process was progressive, starting with a loss of appetite, followed by weakness as the disease overwhelmed her head and body, ending with her complete degeneration.

She was in no doubt that she entered the critical degeneration phase when Faith left her, and broke her heart. Her psychiatrist, M. Menten, felt her wasting wasn’t an illness, her bodily degeneration was self-induced psychosomatic trauma. M. Haile and M. Maigre disagreed; the cause of the wasting, lay in her unique cell structure.

The problem with theories was that they did nothing to alleviate her mental scars or her physical suffering. Picardie was emotional, distraught. Outwardly, the wasting decimated her, leaving her in permanent lassitude, shattered, pulverised into submission. Inside her head a morbid stone of despair fell, a sad cushion of hopelessness, pressing upon her actual will to live.

Life without Faith, had lost all sense of purpose, her sole raison d’être had been callously removed, despatched, like an unwanted tumour, into a bin of wasted love. To think, they’d connected so closely, she’d befriended her muse, fallen in love with her, only for her to vanish on a shopping outing, leaving her to endure her torment. What possessed her to do such a thing? By leaving her like that, could Faith conceivably have made her final hours any worse?

Since she entered the final phase of her illness, the weather had turned increasingly oppressive: a sordid mixture of sweltering humid days, cooler, breezy, evenings and thundery nights. The dark night of death was about to descend on her.

Such a release from pain, a blissful end to a life filled with greed, deceit, envy, lust, and murder.

*****

Dani pulled on her red y-fronts, drew the blanket round her emaciated body and went outside to lie on the luxury divan, waiting for her knight in shining armour to arrive and set her free.

He came for her at twilight. He was nervous, his hands trembled with fear and apprehension at the daunting task that awaited him. He dropped anchor, pulled down the sails, wrapped the mainsail round the boom, and tried to stay focused.

The ropes seemed to wind themselves round the cleats, such was the depth of his remorse. He wailed, a deep animal wail of grief, as he stood at the bow of his white charger, then took a deep breath, and dived into the cold water.

Her, he thought of her, fighting for her life, in the crystal-clear water of the lake. Thinking of her gave him strength. Steadily, he swam to the tiny beach, his face set like granite, determined, confident, strong. He hauled himself out of the water. She was waiting for him, lying on her luxury divan, glowing in the twilight.

She spoke first:

‘Hello. My name is Dani. I am 65-years old, and very lonely. I am flat-chested, but that doesn’t make me less of a woman, does it? As you can see, I have beautiful blonde hair which tumbles down my back, high cheekbones and a lovely Roman nose. I have no breasts, but my sun-tanned body is slim, tender to touch, and my legs are deliciously long and slender. I’m wearing a chain, see?’ she reached down and touched her ankle, ‘It means, I am available to you, tonight.’ 

He watched revolted, as she took a slurp of gin and tonic from a crystal-cut glass tumbler, throwing open the blanket: her wasted breasts, chicken legs, her scrawny neck and knock knees.

‘Take it off!’ he cried.

Dani took off her wig, revealing the glowing, spattered-egg-yolk-shaped port wine stain,

‘Won’t be needing that where I’m going,’ she hissed, ‘Make love to me under the stars, won’t you, make an old bird happy, before she dies.’

Shaking with fury, the knight lifted his lady out of her tasselled blanket, and carried her to the water’s edge, cradled in his arms. Slowly, with a determined, measured stride, he strode into the rippling surf, until the waters lapped at his stomach. He stared at the flume, burning in the night, his eternal flame, the flame they created in her memory.

He lowered Dani into the water.

She squirmed and spurted, squirted jets of water into his face:

‘From the waters of my mother’s womb…’ she leered.

‘Die!’ the knight cried, pushing down on the chest as she flailed her arms and legs.

‘… I was born…’

He felt a thrill akin to sexual arousal as he pushed down on her stomach, her hairy groin, making her arms and legs pulse out like a jelly fish. Dani resurfaced, momentarily, and gasped for air:

‘And to the waters… of my mummy’s womb… shall I return…’

Then Faith was standing at his side in her best navy swimsuit, standing over Dani as her red-salty eyes bulged with horror. As her muse raised the blade, its steel gleaming in the moonlight, and sliced off the artist’s ugly head.

Together, Jonas and his beloved daughter clasped their hands in prayer and gazed at the starry night sky, their faces streaming tears as Daniel’s evil blood spread in a crimson bloom through the water:

In Loving Memory of Claire Geatish

 

 


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