The Rules – Jane Flett
He makes me call him Daddy. Well, maybe not makes. But he likes it when I call him Daddy, it makes his cock twitch like a cowboy’s steed, bucking on its heels. Or softer than that—like the Queen’s wave. I say “sorry, Daddy” and he closes his eyes and presses his lips together and his cock twitches. It’s almost magic. I don’t even have to undress, although he likes when I do that too. He likes to look at our bodies next to each other. His thick forearms mottled with wiry grey hairs; mine thin and white and shadowed with blue. His wide feet and ridged yellow toenails; my high arches and snake veins. My cock, soft and slim against my leg; his, papery, sheathed in loose skin. It makes me feel a wee bit sick, but I guess I like that too, because I keep coming back.
I sit on the floor. I cross my legs. This carpet is thicker and softer and cleaner than my duvet. The toilet’s bigger than my bedroom. I like to run the details of the hotel over in my mind, because otherwise the moment I leave, I forget everything. Here? It’s not a real place. It’s transient. Slip-on. A paper hospital gown we’ll shed after surgery.
I met Daddy when he came into the shop. It should have been Ryan that served him, but Ryan was on another buckfast and eccy comedown, and he told me one more posh cunt and he’d snap. So I stood behind the desk and rang up Daddy’s stuff, and we made small talk about April weather and the traffic wardens in Stockbridge. Telling it like this, I guess it’s true from the start he was a customer. But it’s not like that, not really. It’s not like that at all.
The gunk beneath my toenails is thick and black, and I’m picking it out with my thumbnail when Daddy comes over and places his hands on my shoulders.
“Must you?” he says.
I must. The stuff is so gross. It’s almost putty. So satisfying to squash between my fingertips. I feel him watch me and his own fingers recoil, just slightly in spasm, as I flick a perfectly round black ball across the floor. His frustration fills the room like hot breath. I wait for him to wrap his hands around my throat and slowly strangle me—I wish for a second he would—but then the moment passes.
“Why don’t you do something nice for me?” he says.
“What would you like?” I reply.
When we get together, we play games. The rules aren’t complicated. He asks for things and I give them to him. All of them. Whatever he wants. It’s funny, because you wouldn’t think it to look at us. It’s a joke, because I’m the one with the pretty face. I’m not being vain when I say that. Daddy looks like the one in the sticky overcoat, the one you’d avoid sitting next to on the bus. Except he wouldn’t be seen dead on public transport, of course.
He’s the first man I’ve ever slept with. I think if I could kill him silently in his sleep, I would.
We have another rule, which is: this room’s not the real world. That is, we don’t talk about our jobs or the news or his family. There’s what happens here, and it’s enough to be getting on with. I mean, he knows where I work, though he hasn’t been back since that first time. I reckon if we ever touched on politics, I’d gag. And though he’s never said it, I’m sure he does have a family. When he gets to talking, it’s like a man who’s used to people listening.
I don’t have his phone number and he doesn’t have mine. When we leave the room, he says, “Same time next week,” and there’s no rise in his voice. No inflection. More and more lately, I’ve been thinking about moving my hand out of the way and letting the glass drop to the floor. “Ach, next week?” I’d say. “I can’t next week.” “My girlfriend’s family’s in town.” “But we’re all good.” “I’ll see you…soon.”
But I don’t. I try to shape the words, and somewhere between my intent and my throat they get stuck. He’s still looking at me when I nod: sure, of course, I’ll be back.
I’m on my knees in front of Daddy. Here, I’m loads of things: Roman slave, ready to be traded. Test subject for filthy science plans. School boy done wrong. He doesn’t play the mirror roles though. Daddy’s just himself, and I fill in the gaps.
I rest the backs of my wrists on my ankles, drop my shoulders, and tilt my chin up. Press my cheek against the fabric of his crotch. I’m sure it’s got a fuck-ton of thread count, but when I close my eyes there’s a brittleness—a crustiness—that doesn’t want thinking about. And no amount of dry cleaning can purge that smell of sour metal, yogurt on the turn.
He unzips and puts it in my mouth, and I go docile, trying not to flinch when the liquid pricks at the corners of my eyes. They’re not tears, not as such. It’s just some involuntary reaction between the gag reflex and the ducts. I don’t cry, and when he’s done I say, “Thank you, Daddy.”
The sudden throb of my cock isn’t desire, not as such. It’s just a short circuit in the way that I’m wired.
I haven’t told anyone about us yet. It’s hard to explain. There are terms like “father issues” and “power differentials” and “degradation”, but they’ve got fuck all to do with what we’ve got going on. This isn’t theory, any more than shooting a rabid dog is theory. Sometimes the world lunges at you and you have to react before you lose your throat.
Truth is, I’m carting around a bucket of liquid shit and it’s just this close to slopping over. Thursday nights, I forget about it. Leave it outside the hotel elevator. Daddy’s brings his own shit (and sure, it stinks too), but one a day a week, I can deal with that. What I can’t deal with: another phone call from the landlord, asking Mum for a loan, potato surprise for dinner again.
When everything else is going on, there’s this: the sharp defined angles of categorisation. The relief of knowing the thing that you are. When everything else rises up, this is a box to sit in. Right in the bottom. Sometimes it’s easy to be easy, to do what you’re told.
Besides, when I see myself in his stare, I almost know that I’m pretty.
As he finishes, he rocks back and forth on his heels, moaning, like one of those weeble wobbles that you can push all the way over and they’ll still bob back up. That’s his kind actually. The ones with a centre of gravity setting them up for life’s shakes. Or, when I say a centre of gravity, I mean a fat wad of cash. It’s got to be nice having a cushion, to sort you out when you slip.
Maybe it’s because I’m thinking about this that I notice it. And when I do, I can’t stop staring at the wallet. It’s swollen with notes; Daddy trusts me, he doesn’t try to hide it at all. So when he goes to piss, it only takes a moment to slip it into my boot. Right down past the ankle, to where it’s snug and cosy.
It takes a moment to stuff it there and then he’s done pissing and back in the room and it’s a moment too late to put it back.
I slump on the floor and look up at Daddy with saucer eyes, my lower lip slack.
“Come here,” he says. “Come rub my shoulders.”
I lift one knee to get up and then I pause, wipe the corner of my mouth, and slump back down.
“Actually,” I say. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”
The thing about the game is that it only works so long as you pretend the rules are real. It’s like the stock market: the moment you stop believing what you’ve got is worth something, the whole thing collapses. It’s over. I can’t meet Daddy’s eyes, and for a moment, we’re both still, waiting for the bodies to start leaping from skyscraper windows.
And then his voice slathers across the room like warm, wet butter:
“Oh yes,” he says. “You will, won’t you?”
I sit on the floor, while Daddy drums a hand against his thigh.
“Yes, come to bed,” he smiles. “Get over here, you.”
If it was more than once a week, I don’t think I could hack it. Not because of the sex, but the staying over. Trying to sleep next to Daddy, I wake up knackered. He likes to hold me tight against his chest as we fall asleep (as he does, anyway)—against the shake of his breath and the twitches of his heart. He sweats. I lie still and feel the wetness seeping from his skin into mine. Together, we sink into a cavern in the centre of the mattress like a whale carcass collapsing into sand.
Every muscle in my body is tense until the point where I’m convinced he’s asleep. I feel like the cat-gut string of a tennis racket, waiting for the ball to hit. When his breath catches in the back of his throat, it’s thick and wet, and it’s not that I wish he’d stop breathing, not exactly. It’s just the noise. If the noise would stop, that would be enough.
At some point in the grey-blue muffle of night, I extricate myself. I slip out of bed, feeling like a safe-breaker in fitted silk gloves. Although Daddy sleeps sound—I bet I could smack him, and he’d still only grunt. I pad to the bathroom in the dark, close the door, flick the switch, and wince as it leaps into echoing white. It’s only when I start going that I realise how desperate I was.
Standing here, I suddenly feel like a twat. I think about Daddy waking and finding the wallet gone, about expectation, disappointment, the tut and the shake of his head.
I am so sick of being exactly the thing that I am.
On my way back to bed, I take the wallet from my boot and place it on my bedside table. I slip under the covers softly, and rest my face back against his chest. He doesn’t stir.
Daddy’s ordered room service. The full greasy spoon, which I guess is some kind of holiday from eggs benedict and crepes. The slumming-it experience. I pretended to be asleep while he spoke on the phone:
“With the baked beans, yes. And no tomatoes on one.”
“Yes, I’ll pay it when…. No, actually, put it on the room.”
“I’ll settle later.”
“That’s all, yes. Goodbye.”
I pretended all the way until the food arrived, and now we’re sitting propped up in bed. Dripping sauce on the bed sheets. It smells so good: hot and fried and hearty, but I’m having trouble getting into it. Actually, I feel a little sick.
We eat in silence. He doesn’t mention that the wallet’s moved, but I can feel it next to me, bloated and engorged on the bedside. A fat carp floating on the surface of a radioactive pond. He chews a mouthful of egg and smiles indulgently. That’s how it looks, anyway. Pleased with me and pleased with himself.
I don’t glower, but it’s an effort. I swallow my inner brat. No smirking. But I can’t help thinking, how good would it feel? To spit in his face and say see you later? To grab his last bit of bacon with my fingers and shove it in mouth and fuck off out of here, out the door with the cash, sucker.
I do none of these things. I look him right in the eye. “Oh by the way,” I say, picking up the wallet and handing it over, “this was down the side of the bed. You ought to be more careful with your things.”
Daddy likes it when I speak properly, when I say things like “ought”.
He opens it and flicks through the notes and I think for a moment he might peel one off and hand it to me. He doesn’t. He just nods in a smug kind of a way and puts it on his own bedside table. Ryan always says it’s the posh cunts that are the tightest.
Daddy stretches and turns to me. The sheet slips down a little; his chest hairs prickling against it. “So what shall we do now?”
I let my face fold into a smile. “What would you like?” I say.