Bed of Nails


Your girlfriend is some kind of sexual deviant, but it is not as much fun as you first thought.

You’re that one lad in your year who grew about four inches between the last day of spring term and the first day of autumn term. Ever since, the girls at school can’t get enough of you. Again, you thought this would be more fun than it actually turned out to be.

They come and sit next to you when you just want to eat your sandwiches in the courtyard in peace, listen to music and think about your favourite WWE wrestlers. Suddenly one of them will yank your earphone out and say through a mouthful of chewing gum, Watcha listening to, handsome? Or a girl will kiss you on one of your premature sideburns and you’ll be dimly aware of her saliva for the rest of the day. It’s nothing to do with you; they are just programmed to like tall men. Something to do with the caveman times, and who can slay the biggest wild pig. You’re starting to notice that everything in the world boils down to meat, blood and bones – evolution is all on the surface. The truth is, despite appearances, you’d rather be killed than kill. Your mate Dave said if you picked one of them to go out with, the rest might leave you alone.

Your girlfriend isn’t like other girls, which is why you asked her to go out with you in the first place, when you freed her 20p from the vending machine in the dinner hall, and she turned her watery eyes towards you and looked at you like a brain-damaged bird. That’s what you thought of: a baby bird you’d once seen dying in a splat on the ground after presumably falling out of its nest. Huge, wet eyeballs, and its chest rising raggedly, up, down, up, down. You knew you should’ve done something but you left it there. It was a hot sunny day and some parts of it – the bones in its neck, the tips of its wings – were already drying out, turning plasticky. You figured it wouldn’t be long until nature took its course, or for somebody braver than you to come along and drop a brick on its head.

In front of the vending machine, your future girlfriend held out her beaded purse. You dropped the silver coin in, and she zipped it closed and put it in her satchel without thanking you. Everyone at school carries a rucksack: Nike, Adidas, Rip Curl; decorated with pin badges and Tipp-Ex expletives. Yours is Animal and covered in cool S’s. She had a brown leather messenger that closed with a flap and a magnet. Not a spot of graffiti.

Do you want to get some chips or something after school? You said it too quickly. It wasn’t like you to be shy. She just shrugged. Her expression hadn’t altered throughout the exchange, and you found that oddly charming. It was boring always knowing what people were thinking; it was annoying. You couldn’t imagine this girl chewing your ear off, laughing like a hyena, flirting with your mates. It was as if you’d discovered a new land or species, and now all you had to do was stick your flag in it before somebody else noticed. By rights you were out of her league, but you didn’t know until you saw her waiting under the cherry tree by the gates whether her shrug had meant yes or no. You guessed that gave her back some power.

It was the unbranded chicken shop where everyone went on dates. It was the cheapest place in town. The strip lights flickered and the ketchup was watered down with vinegar. Sometimes the chicken was still frozen in the middle. You bought her chips and she surprised you by eating them very fast. You were too nervous to be hungry. Besides, it was a Thursday and you didn’t want to spoil your mum’s meatballs. You pushed your chips towards her, and she ate those too.

I should warn you, she said, ketchup on her chin, on the back of her hand. I like to have sex a lot. It was the first proper thing she’d said to you. You slid some napkins over which she ignored. You asked her if she wanted ice cream, and she shrugged, which you were learning to take as consent. You bought her a strawberry dream: three shades of pink layered in a plastic vase.

I like to do it in uncomfortable places, she said, cream running down her forearm.

If there’s a patch of slimy mud or some coarse gravel or some freshly fallen snow, and nobody’s around, your girlfriend is going to take off her panties and lie in it. Her skin is like British Museum marble, and she’s got this incredibly pink pussy that always looks sore. You were fascinated by it at first, but now watching yourself go in and out of it turns your stomach, like seeing a shoe rub a blister.

Your girlfriend has long red hair and maybe this is why you thought she was attractive. Red hair is like a trick played on lads’ minds. Sometimes you wonder if she’d be pretty at all if she shaved her head. The hair on her pussy is ginger and her eyelashes are very pale. If you asked her to shave her head she would. Her obedience frightens you, and you’re increasingly careful not to ask for anything.

At first, doing it with her was satisfying, if a little strange. Lately, she’s not letting you finish. It’s like she reaches a point of maximum discomfort, and therefore satisfaction, and then gets up and starts getting dressed, leaving you there flailing. Come on, she says. And you follow her home with it tucked into your waistband, waiting for the moment you can lock yourself in your parents’ downstairs loo and finish the job over the bowl. Your girlfriend is turning you into a deviant, and it isn’t even your fault.

All you really want to do is fuck her in a bed. Take your time; look at her instead of over your shoulder. Catch your breath and decide if you even like her. She lives in a caravan with her step-dad: in her bedroom with the door closed and music playing, you can still hear her dad opening lagers in the lounge and coughing. Your parents are religious, which means when your girlfriend is over you have to leave the door wide open. You have had sex with your girlfriend 114 times so far, and not once did you have it in your own bed. Not once did you feel safe and unhurried.

I’m getting into strangulation, she tells you one afternoon over chips. Her ceaseless list of fetishes distracts from the distracted way you have to be with her. Your time together is always just beginning or about to end. I like the feeling that at any moment I might die, she says. Here, you try. She stretches over the table and blindsides you by putting her hands around your neck. She is stronger than she looks, much stronger. You choke and make a girlish sound. You can feel half-chewed chips climbing your oesophagus. You knock over your Coke, panicking. The family in the next booth are craning. With your larger hands you snatch at her bony fingers.

You should’ve said if you didn’t like it, she says.

She has retracted back to her side of the booth, and slumps over her chips. Your crotch is soaked with Coke; you know you should be angry but you’re not. She chews with her mouth open, not taking her eyes off you; walks her fingers up to your cup of barbeque sauce.

 

One of the things your mother says is to always have a plan. You plan to build a bed of nails and fuck your girlfriend on it. Your girlfriend doesn’t make you happy, exactly, and you have very little in common. She isn’t interested in wrestling. But lately you’ve spent so much time together it’s getting difficult to remember what you did before. There’s an intensity to the way you are with her that you’re afraid you won’t find anywhere else – something between fear and protectiveness; excitement and shame. Perhaps your bed of nails will cure her deviancy, like Miss Jameson says prayer will cure the homos. It will be a grand gesture designed to bring you closer. You’ll tend her wounds. You’ll find a different way to be with one another. Perhaps she’ll swear chastity and you’ll gallantly join her, pretending to mind, secretly not minding. You’re tired of feeling dirty. The lads at school buy their girlfriends miniature teddy bears with plush red hearts over their bellies. The same lads call the girls sluts and make them cry on purpose. The girls attach the teddy bears to the zippers of their school bags, like proof of something. The only thing you can be sure of is that cuddly toys aren’t reflective of whatever it is you have with your girlfriend. You’ll make a bed of nails, because your girlfriend proclaims to love pain, and it’s about time you gave her something real.

Miss Allingham-Mills is excited by your bed of nails proposal and says not enough young people are interested in meditation these days. She wants you to make a Design Folder charting your project from conception to completion, highlighting any pitfalls along the way and offering suggestions on how they could be avoided if you were to undertake the project a second time. You say you only want to make a bed of nails, not go on and on about making it. She wishes you luck in finding another fully stocked workshop. You make the folder.

Your girlfriend comes to watch you work at lunchtimes and after school. One evening, walking her home across the fields, you find a rabbit lying on its side under a hedgerow. Its eyes are swollen to double the normal size. Flies hover. You think it’s dead, then one of its legs starts to jerk. Ergh, you say. Come on. She shakes your hand off. It’s mixy, she says. We have to find a rock. You look around until you find a big enough rock and she says, Ready? You say yes, but soon realise you can’t do it. Fine, she says. She takes the rock and you turn your back. You will never forget the sound.

It turns out that a bed of nails is a very easy thing to make. You could probably have done it in a day or two, if you didn’t have to do it around your other lessons. After a week, the nails are in place, though they are all wobbly in their holes. You need to put more screws in to get some pressure, says your girlfriend, swinging her legs from one of the work benches. You tell her you know that already. Just fill in the folder, you say. What do you want me to write? she says. Anything, you say.

Miss Allingham-Mills tests the tension in the nails by pinging them at random with her fingers. They make a twanging sound. Nice finish, she says, stroking its smooth edges. How about showing it in assembly? She asks to see your folder and your girlfriend hands it over. Miss Allingham-Mills flicks through it, nodding and hmm-hemming, apparently satisfied.

The night you finish it, you have a dream that an animal is sitting on your chest – its breath is sweet and rank like junk food. You wake up fighting for breath, your heart hammering, and realise you have orgasmed in your sleep.

 

A bed of nails isn’t especially heavy but it is an awkward thing to carry. You didn’t think this far ahead. You ask Dave to help you carry it along the old tramway to the bridge where you’ve been a couple of times already with your girlfriend. He says he will do it for a Mars bar and a look at your girlfriend’s tits. You ask her and she shrugs. You buy a Mars bar from the vending machine where you first met her. Dog walkers pretend not to stare as you and Dave pass with the bed of nails. You have secured two leather straps to help carry it. Walking behind, your girlfriend pets the dogs. At no point does she offer to help.

The path continues over the bridge, while a smaller track forks off, leading to the water. You tell Dave it’s just down this way. He insists you are the one to walk backwards down the slippery mud. As you’re the one getting laid, he says. Fair enough, you say. You huff and skid and swear, tread carefully as you can. You focus on your girlfriend waiting on the main path to try to incentivise yourself. You do not feel remotely horny.

Timber! says Dave, and the bed of nails smacks into the mud under the bridge, splattering you both. There is graffiti on the domed ceiling. There is some white dog shit in the far corner. This is the closest you’ve ever got to fucking your girlfriend indoors. Go on, then, says Dave. And you give him the Mars bar. And the rest, he says. You call your girlfriend down and a moment later she appears, with the light and the water behind her. Her hair burns like sodium in the last of the day’s sun.

Go on, says Dave.

Your girlfriend looks at you. You shrug.

She turns her face to the side and down, as though something in the mud of the riverbank has caught her eye, and lifts up her T-shirt and fleece in one.

 

It is less than an hour later and you and Dave are walking back along the old tramway and both of your backs are bleeding, 200 tiny holes. Dave takes out his Mars bar and opens the wrapper, and drops the wrapper on the ground. You walk in silence. Everything hurts. You put your hand up your sweater and wince when you feel the damage. Your hand comes away bloody. A dog walker passes, going in the direction of the bridge and says, Good evening. You both say, Good evening. And then your friend takes a ragged sob.

Do you want this, Dave says. You tell him you don’t especially like Mars bars, but you’ll have it if it’s going free. Have it, he says, and gives it to you. When you reach the car park, you feel sick. All you can taste is chocolate. All you can feel is a wet, unhygienic pain.

I’m going this way, says Dave. Though of course you know where he lives.

 

You’re not really sure how it happened but your girlfriend told you to lie on the bed of nails and you found you wanted to. What’s my name, she said, pulling your jeans off while Dave stood frozen against the wall, a smirk dying on his lips. Elenore, you said. What’s my fucking name, she said. Elenore! A dozen birds erupted from a nearby blackthorn. Say my name say my say it say it. Elenore! You were crying. Elenore! You were bleeding. Elenore, Elenore. You were so in love.

 

You look back at where Dave has disappeared. He broke much sooner than you, and you hope he’s okay, though if you’re honest, you don’t care very much. He didn’t have to be such a pussy. You had planned on walking home yourself. Everything is suddenly so new, so confusing. You thought you needed to be alone for a while. To look at yourself long and hard in the bathroom mirror. But you surprise yourself by turning around. Hello again, says the same dog walker from earlier, returning to her car. A bag of shit swings merrily from her belt. The dog is leashed now, so close to the road.

I left something, you tell her.

You’d better run, says the dog walker. It’ll be pitch dark soon enough.

 

Image © Barthelemy de Mazenosexua



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