Vain Shadow
Author: Steven Wyatt

Chapter 10
This Is Yours


He thought the old woman would never go to bed. She and Ruth seemed to be sharing some private joke over the scones and damson jam, darting knowing glances at each other and laughing a lot. Grandma seemed almost girlish in her gaiety, almost coquettish with him, puffing away at her pipe with a twinkle in her eye.

 She had known his father. ‘My Jed took to him, said Bert had salt. Funny that, seeing as your dad was a sailor.’ Grandma Oldham’s husband Jedediah, Ruth’s maternal grandfather, had died of a seizure on his own doorstep in 1899 after a moonless night out poaching pheasant on his lordship’s estate up by the Edge. ‘We ate them at the wake. They were hung just right by then. The men wore the feathers in their hats.’

Tolly felt she couldn’t be a witch, whatever the rumours. There was a picture of the Virgin Mary on the dresser, next to a vase of spring wildflowers.

Eventually, as the afternoon faded into evening and the fire was lit for night, the moment came.

‘Well, you two will have a lot to talk about,’ the old woman said. ‘I’ll be going up. Goodnight and God bless.’

She stood, surprisingly tall and straight, her white hair gleaming in the lamplight, took a lit candle from the mantelpiece and left the room.

‘Give her a while,’ said Ruth.

They sat either end of the horsehair sofa opposite the fire. Tolly leaned forward, took a shovelful of coal from the black-leaded scuttle and fed it on to the fire with a clanking rattle. They watched as thick whorls of dun smoke began chasing up the chimney.

The couple waited, musing and nervous in a settling silence.

To Tolly, the Ruth next to him seemed older, more real, as if she had crossed some line from girlhood, from the friend’s-little-sister-turned-sweetheart of before the war into another state of being, a burgeoning. He was conscious of her body in a way he had never been before. There was something different about the way she held herself that promised dark new delights. She had always had that sober air of determination but now it had direction and purpose. She had made her decision. She had chosen him.

This was disturbing. This was grown up. This was no barrack room bawdiness, this was real. This meant responsibility. There was a depth in the grey-blue eyes as she looked at him. He was afraid of letting her down; of failing to be the person she seemed to have decided he was. He caught a breath of her buttery scent, an unfamiliar and intoxicating mix of musk in it.

For herself, Ruth felt she was putting a claim on her chosen partner. Consummation was key to that. Until they were one, her love for him – the way he filled her thoughts day and night, never more so than since last August, under the shadow of a war that might take him from her – was no more than an unfulfilled potential. A strong and almost inevitable potential, certainly, but not the actuality, not an accomplished fact.

In the physical act of love she would envelop him, enclose him, take him deep within herself and there keep him, her man. In doing so she would become his woman. They would complete each other. They would grow.

Tolly reached for Ruth’s hand, laid it upside-down on his own and stroked the open palm, feeling the skin, exploring its contours. Ruth sighed and stretched herself longer, laying her head on the leather back of the sofa and gazing at Tolly. His eyes held both heat and doubt. She sensed that he was holding back, containing himself.

She could hardly believe this was happening. Just like a married couple, they were, like an old married couple.

He was concentrating on her hand as a blind man might, musing over it as if seeking to create and retain a memory-shape. She reached her other hand to his head, drew it forward. Their faces were inches apart. She looked at his mouth, at the curve in the corner. She took in the line of his jaw, noting it, storing it.

Gases in the coal ignited with a dull flaring, and the light in the room glowed redder as the new flames took hold, hissing and fizzing. They kissed.

It was a deeper kind of kiss than Tolly had known, a kiss that was leading to something. It held meaning. A murmur escaped from Ruth. She smoothed his head, feeling the peach-fuzz left from the severe military haircut. She slid her hand down the back of his neck, discerning the play of tendon and muscle.

Tolly took a gulping breath, feeling himself all breathlessness and impatient cock, ramrod-hard. One nervous hand moved to Ruth’s breast. Ruth wriggled back from him, unbuttoned the high-necked white cotton blouse, shrugged out of it and tossed it aside. He pulled the straps of her slip down her arms. She worked her arms in and up, twisting, and the slip fell to her waist. She was starting to breathe hard, her face flushing.

He had never seen Ruth’s breasts before. He had never seen any woman’s breasts before. He could not stop himself staring. Ruth wanted him to stare, to remember her. She wanted to burn images of herself into his brain. Inhibitions melted like snow in her mouth, leaving her clean and ready. If they were going to do this, they were going to do all of it. Look at me. This is yours.

Tolly reached out with both hands to feel her breasts, twin tipped miracles of mysterious weight, silken white, offered to him. She leaned back, her eyes closed, lips parted. Her wine-coloured nipples were hard. She shivered as he touched them. The unanticipated response checked him: ‘Is that all right?’ – ‘Oh, yes.’ Their mouths came together again, seeking each other. Tolly squeezed and she groaned.

Her hand burrowed down to the front of his trousers, fumbling and exploring and finally grasping through the cloth. Oh God, how was she going to take all that inside her? Everything about him – especially that – was hardness against her softness.

She squeezed and it was Tolly’s turn to groan. A flash of panic went through him. He couldn’t explode now, not yet, he couldn’t let her down and disgrace himself. Intuiting the moment, Ruth pulled away and said: ‘Now, Tolly, it has to be now. Take off those clothes.’

Urgency and impatience gripped them both. In a whirling flurry of garments they stripped, hands trembling, each tempted to giggle. This was all so strange, so urgent, so hot. Was this what it was all about? This heart-hammering tumult?

He saw her fully naked, the brushstroke of pale down between her legs, the stomach with its punctuating navel, paradoxically flat and round at the same time, her eyes deep, her arms reaching for him. The sight seared itself into his memory forever. His knees felt weak.

She saw his cock released and thought again: oh God, it’s impossible. She took it in her hand – rock and satin, astonishing.

There. Like this. Push.

The pressure for both of them mounted towards the intolerable before there was a sudden burst of something, a sharp gush of heated fluid, and he was inside her. Inside her. She tugged at his backside, forcing him deeper, taking him, taking him there.

Tolly had never known a sensation like it, to be so surrounded, so enfolded, to be gripped and held so tightly yet so softly. The enormity of it, to be putting his cock inside a woman, fucking her. This was it, this was really it, this was doing it.

They moved together, deep instinct taking charge. The fire flickered. Ruth shuddered below Tolly. He felt all-powerful. Ruth’s arms went around his neck, hugging him in. ‘Tolly,’ she gasped, ‘I love you!’ – ‘I love you too, Ruth.’ It came out as a growl.

They started bucking at each other in the firelight, balanced between blind lust and terrified self-consciousness. They were, at the same time, animals rutting and two young humans astonished at their own daring and their own urgency. They clutched, clung, thrust. Sweat sprang from their skin and ran between them, slippery. Their motion became quicker, more desperate, each taking the cue from each other, unheeding, blind to everything but themselves as one.

A roaring noise came into Tolly’s ears and brilliant white light detonated in every nerve cell. He made a choking sound and came, jetting every drop deep inside her, the ejaculation draining him in a spasm of pulsing, almost painful release. It seemed to last an eternity.

Her body responded in a crushing flash of incandescence. She wrapped her legs around him, straining, pulling him in, locking him there. Their hearts thudded and they hung together as if suspended, free of gravity, squeezing each other close. Then Tolly toppled forward, his full weight on Ruth, and she felt it and carried it, strong girl.

He lifted his head after a moment and they stared at each other, mouths open, amazed, breathless, half-laughing. There was a patch of red spreading downwards from the hollow of Ruth’s throat.

They had done it, really done it. She was his. He was hers. No one had said it would be like this.



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