Hex Love by Phil Latham (June's Strictly Writing Award competition shortlisted story)

Sixteen women, 16 lovers. One life.

My first sexual experience terrified me, but then I was alone.

Melanie ravished me when I was 17. She taught me female anatomy and foreplay. I taught her how teenage boys are selfish specimens ruled by their testicles. Melanie was the first woman I loved yet we were together for just one week. My next relationship lasted even longer.

Each of my lovers gave me emotional or physical fulfilment. One gave me volcanic love I had never before experienced. Two gave me chlamydia.

Three of the 16 were black and proud. A further two were black and should have been.
One woman wore her school uniform to bed and demanded impish detention. A second whispered how she was an imaginative Piscean who wished to float away to a world of dreamy consciousness. I suggested chloroform. A third restrained me and shouted she was a sex-strong Scorpio determined to use my ‘pathetic flesh’ until I begged her to stop. And she did. And I did. Then I passed out.

Five fancied themselves as models. Two fancied themselves. One fancied Florida the last time I suggested we made love.

Four women announced their bisexuality, yet I’m not sure why. Did they seek a scorecard or expect me to help them double their chances on a Saturday night? I never asked. They never told.

One lover clucked like a pair of mad chickens whenever an orgasm flooded her twitching body. I suspect several others faked them (the orgasms, not the mad chickens).

None was married. None was disabled.

One was ginger. Three boasted natural blonde hair and five were bottle-fed. None was bald (on top).

Nine blinked their blue eyes at me in the bedroom. Two wept hidden eyes into my pillow after sunset. Four of the 16 timeshared the same green-eyed monster as a pet, so I tried not to feed it anything other than oversized portions of love and trust.

Six of the women vowed they were church-going Christians. Two defined themselves as ‘orthodox Jewish’. Four claimed to be lapsed Catholics. One was a fellow atheist who described God as a ‘sadistic little bastard’. I don’t think she’s still alive.

Three of the 16 were left-handed. I didn’t notice the difference.

Each woman carried emotional baggage. Some stored it in their TARDIS purse, others in matching six-piece luggage. Some felt so burdensome I left it behind. And them. I sometimes still feel like that selfish teenage boy.

On our wedding day the sunshine drips across the sky, the speeches sound entertaining and no other woman wears the same dress as Louise.

It’s five past three on a September afternoon. I’m late. I march through the graveyard and try not to visualise hundreds of sunbathing skeletons. Inside, the church breathes damp expectation.

Louise is the one who wants a church wedding so I acquiesce. I’ve polished my shoes so much they reflect everything, including hypocrisy and temptation.

My shoes clatter down the stone aisle and people turn around and smile. One man sticks out his sleeve and taps his watch. I install myself in the front pew in a top hat, tails and bottle-green waistcoat.

Best man Dave lurks next to me, but with his beard, shoulder-length hair and silver ring etched with a skull, he looks less like a best man and more like a roadie. In a top hat, tails and bottle-green waistcoat.

I ask to see the ring.

He shrugs.

My body re-routes moisture from my tongue to my armpits.

Old women with false teeth and wet rot materialise at the back of the church as if they’ve forged a day-pass to our galaxy. Others blink beneath hats shaped like pylons.

I pull up my socks. My shoes still function as mirrors.

Dave digs out a scrap of paper containing a grid of nine squares. He draws a circle in one of the squares and hands me the paper. I am seconds away from being married on the most important day of my life and all Dave can contemplate is a game of noughts and crosses. I snatch his pencil and strike through the grid to show my anger. He nods. Then below my cross draws a nought.

I adjust my collar. I straighten my waistcoat for the seventh time. I breathe on my palm.
An organ in one corner floods the church with the ‘Wedding March’.

People turn and stare.

My bride stands in the entrance.

I smile. I ask Dave for the ring.

Dave fishes out a POLO. Is he joking or does he really expect me to play noughts and crosses with confectionery?

I gulp and my tongue turns to gravel. I ask Dave for the ring again. If he doesn’t show me the ring I will punch his beard off his chin.

Dave shows me the ring.

I don’t punch his beard off his chin.

Mirror shoes, check. Waistcoat straightened for the eighth time, check. Collar readjusted, check. Paranoia there’s one item I haven’t checked pulses through my body.

My bride strolls up the aisle with her father.

I clamber out from the pew. Louise is veiled in white as a snow queen in the fog.
Dave stands beside me, my ring in standby mode.

A vicar older than dust reads the vows and ‘till death us do part’ swirls across the altar.

I say, ‘I will.’

What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

We sign the register and face the congregation as husband and wife. I beam at everyone until the onset of lockjaw. The congregation beams back elation and hope and false teeth. We navigate down the aisle through shaking hands. Small children point. Women kiss me with the fervour of my dreams. A hat pylon almost prises out my eyeball.

The man who tapped his watch jabs a finger at my flies. Open. Curse that one item.
I zip myself up at the end of the aisle, before leaving the church. Even God must have a sense of humour.

I meander past gravestones crooked with moss and memories. The church bells ring. Our guests wave as camera flashes explode the horizon. I stand with Louise and our photographer coordinates the poses pre- and post-confetti until my ability to smile matches the skeleton’s.

We scamper into the back of our chauffeur-driven car.

We kiss.

I am so tall I tickle the clouds.

At the reception, the evening slot passes without major incident, excluding the accidental swallowing of two mysteriously cake-shaped disposable cameras. Louise’s choice of a 1980s retro theme satisfies: the DJ’s speakers shudder beside rows of pulsating rainbow lights while ‘Agadoo’, ‘YMCA’ and ‘The Birdie Song’ never sound so fresh (for the intoxicated). Little children slide across the wooden disco floor on their knees. Big in-laws drink too much and become outlaws for the night. The man who tapped his watch is one of Louise’s cousins and he ends the night with his face buried in the toilet bowl.
I begin to doubt my atheism.

My wife and I fly to America for our honeymoon. We land in Las Vegas on a 9/11 anniversary and security frisks my bride. Louise isn’t a terrorist, she just enjoys it. We spend one night sauntering along the Strip where giant domino hotels pierce the sky. People wander past in shorts and shirts as an electronic billboard reveals 11.45pm and 85ºF. Vegas by night offers a carnival of neon yet a drab mediocrity cloaks the city by day.

We hire the obligatory gas blazing V8 and scratch west through the grit of Death Valley: yee - and indeed - haw. Yosemite National Park presents a wilderness of granite and waterfalls. San Francisco wafts an ambience of European relaxation. I enjoy the tourist clichés of Chinatown and the cable cars, though the rusting prison on Alcatraz Island stinks like a can of sardines. We lasso Monterey, Hollywood, Lake Havasu and the Hoover Dam. I love the Grand Canyon the most. So does Louise. My bride says it is huge and almost too vast to take in, which I think is a terrific compliment on a honeymoon night.

Five of my lovers acted like rabid Conservatives. Nine declared themselves as conservatives with a small ‘C’. Several behaved as the rude word beginning with ‘C’. One drowned at sea. She wasn’t the atheist.

All 16 women suffered the twenty-first-century disease of insisting they were overweight. None was physically. At least three were obese from their intake of scarred memories, yet who isn’t?

Six women loved cooking. One detested my gastronomic attempts and hovered in the kitchen to criticise. I once asked where I could be of most use and she said Pluto.
Eleven adored milk chocolate. Five preferred their chocolate dark. Like their men, I later discovered from Facebook.

Only one never dieted. The others despised her whenever I mentioned her name (Sienna).
Three lovers were lawyers. Two were doctors. One was a nurse. Several more nursed nothing but grievances. Each day I hope they are healing.

Five of the women told me they loved me. One evening it hurt so much I wanted to cry, so instead I suggested the much less painful missionary position.
Ten of my 16 adored wearing lingerie in the bedroom. I wore nothing other than a smile and my birthday suit. And handcuffs, thanks to the sex-strong Scorpio.

One of our marathon love-making sessions lasted a whole nine minutes, though that included the time it took to butter the toast.

Two lovers scored me eight point five out of 10 for my bedroom antics. I often contemplate if the half point was personal. One lover even awarded me a minus score for my sexual prowess. A couple demanded their money back. One woman’s camcorder failed under warranty and she submitted an insurance claim of ‘mechanical failure owing to the ingress of chocolate sauce’.

Only one lover asked me to reveal my favourite sex games. At midnight - after a bottle of Chilean red - she insisted she’d try anything to please me and kept asking me what games I liked. I said Scrabble.

No one suggested using sheep in our love-making. Was I the animal in the bedroom?
Five lovers wanted children with me. One lover wanted five children with me. I wanted the exit.

All 16 insisted they were honest and conviction-free. I believed them. As far as I know none were psychopaths or mentally deranged.

One was Welsh. One woman was Swedish. I did notice the difference. Two of my lovers were Italian, two were French. One boasted she was from Brazil. Another boasted how she had a Brazilian. She showed me and I was so shocked I fell over my tripod. One lover was born in San Francisco, though she insisted she wasn’t conceived in Nob Hill.
Six drank tea. Eight drank coffee. The other two just drank.

Three adored watching waves bubble along a deserted beach. Two adored watching hailstones jitter against tarmac. The sex-strong Scorpio adored watching me do naked press-ups over a candle.

Only one lover was a twin, which was surprising.

I hungered to marry four of them, though not all at once. One cracked soul did agree to my proposal, yet kept the engagement ring. And vanished. She wasn’t the atheist.
How many wished I’d never been born?

Amy, Carrie (not a Stephen King fan), Claire, Davina, Emmanuelle, Florence (I preferred the city), Giovanna, Luxana, Melanie, Michelle (two of them), Penny, Roberta, Samantha, Sienna (the non-dieter) and Sophia (the multiple chicken clucker).

Each lover taught me about life, about the magnificence of women. I now realise how to make a woman laugh. And cry. I now understand the female erogenous zones are nowhere near Gibraltar.
We shared memories and sweat and toothbrushes. Should I have grappled with my conscience or just the handcuffs?

How we love is not important. It matters only that we do.

Sixteen women, 16 lovers. One ex-wife.


coffeeaddict said...

Funny and quite beautiful at the same time. I really enjoyed reading it.

Keith Havers said...

VERY funny.
Brilliant images.
I really did laugh out loud.

Gillian McDade said...

It was a hard decision but we loved this story. Remember keep your entries coming in! You could be our July winner. Details on front page.

Caroline Green said...

Very funny and well written. Well done Phil!

Helen Black said...

This one is great. It really set the bar high.
HB x

Anonymous said...

A work of genius. Comic timing. Exquisite description. No flabby padding (the story, not the lovers). Brilliant!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Very clever, original story with a twist. Some great lines! This story will stay with me for a long time.

Debs Riccio said...

Yup - this story totally stood out for me - loved the way it just swept me along, so eager to read on - well done Phil!

Words A Day said...

A great read! Funny and sharp, and some great lines that I read twice. It also kept its pace and despite being so funny, was kind.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

A very telling commentary and beautifully written.

DT said...

A great sense of rhythm.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant - as in like a diamond - shiny bright. Congrats!

Janie said...

excellent writing....really enjoyed reading.

Pongo said...

Have read and reread.
Am not amused.
No structure, no point, not a story.
Just a ramble.
NOT what writing is about.
Bit of a laugh but not 'writing'

Phil Latham said...

Thanks for all the positive comments!

This is more or less the opening chapter of a book I'm working on and it's supposed to be a black comedy - can we use that phrase or does the PC brigade consider it racist? Anyway, it's supposed to be humorous and its relevance as the opening chapter is more apparent if you read the book - which I'm still working on!

But thanks to all the people who like it. Pongo - sorry you didn't think it much of a story. I will try better for you next time.

Phil Latham
12 July 2010

Phil's Dad said...

What about the one who who sucked pear drops all the time Phil?

Phil's Dad

Pongo said...

Would have been more favourable if had heard about the pear drop girl.
Pear drops (the genuine ones) are my weakness but unobtainable where I live. Wow, the thought of it!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Phil.You should be on stage,or in a cage?

Ginger Paul said...

Berserk Latham humour at its most diabolical! "Old ladies with wet rot.." It really is time you are taken from the streets before Philism strikes folk down in belly laughing heaps.
Good show old chap,keep it coming..

Karen said...

Wonderful roller-coaster of a story! So many brilliant lines but *Only one never dieted. The others despised her whenever I mentioned her name (Sienna).* made me laugh.

Really well done :o)