First of all, my name is Marshanda.
But he insisted on calling me Louise after a star of the silent movies whom, he told me, he admired. And so it was Louise
a wounded quarry
hunched against the force
he exerted, the wind
of his person
Our love began on a cruise through the Indonesian islands. I worked as a tour guide pointing out the loveliness of Sumatera and Java and Flores, and tiny, little islands that have never quite made it to the cartographers’ tables. He asked me what my name meant and I said bold girl. He shook his head, “No. I want you to be Louise”.
Oh the beautiful, brutal wickedness of it all.
He taught me how to cook – mainly by telling me what he didn’t like about my cooking. If the peanut sauce was not ‘savagely spicy’, then the flat bread was hard enough to be a weapon of assault. My accent was wrong, my legs too short and my eyes too narrow. “You could really do with a little more height.” He also taught me how to walk, talk and dress. I was a hopeless pupil, by all accounts.
But he was giving me a life, “You ought to be grateful, you know. What would you be? They’d have no more use for the thirty-year-old that you are now on their cruise ships with lovely, young women tripping along all the time…”
His assignment in the Far East was completed, and we returned to England in the middle of a winter that slouched over the lonely farmlands like an implacable foe.
“What are you?” he asked me as I sat huddled by the hearth, “you have about as much colour in you as …”
a mote of dust
a swirling brown,
with a pencil of winter sunlight
The girl at the village store spooned peppermint chews into a brown paper bag. She was dressed in black and white and chattered like a nesting magpie, “You’re new around here, I gather?”
“Yes. We’ve just moved into ‘Tall Trees’….”
“You the au pair?”
“Oh! The Masons’ place? How ever did I get the impression that George Mason’s wife was leggy and blonde? Oops, must be mistaken! Here”, she pushed the bag towards me, “that’s for free. No, please don’t. Really, it’s for free.”
That night, for the first time, I suggested the massages with my native oils and liniments of which I had brought a store back with me in a chest. It was also the first time he liked something I did. He actually approved.
Then he asked for one, again: for his hands and feet and readily agreed when I suggested his head, neck, and shoulders. He liked them. He loved them. In time, he
raved about them
craved a massage
that turned from pearl and
pink to peeling
yellow to a stiff
and ancient bitumen
He stopped carping about my cooking, my hair and eyes and accent. There were no more long calls; no interminable evenings away with clients; no late, late business dinners which he’d attended alone.
Only the massages.
It was a night in January: nothing for miles around but snow and stuttering moonlight He held his bowl in his palms. (In the wooden chest there were ten withered fingers. I’d harvested them off the carpet, the bedclothes and the lawn outside over the weeks: one, two, three, four….)
Now he said, meek as milk, “I’d like the peas please, Louise.”
I got up and walked into the kitchen behind him. I returned.
My ancestors, the headhunters of Sarawak, would have more than approved of the Final Trophy!