Queen of Love
It had never
occurred to me that I would make old
bones, but now that I’m here, at rest, with all the years mounted up
it has turned out to be more refreshing than I ever imagined. Here I
years old, a survivor of the holocausts of this distraught century,
and kept warm like a baby, nodding off into my private daydreams
spirit moves me. It is more like a state of grace than anything.
There are few
distractions in this friendly house of death, with its scent of
floor wax, the murmur of television in the drawing room where all the
full of mumblings from the past, are staring at the screen, stranded on
seats like old rumpled seals.
I sit in the room
watching the days come and go, and find a shapely pleasure in
past desires, going over them in my mind until I am word-perfect. I am
ancient librarian holding my dusty photographs up to the light.
I have never been
sort of woman who lived through a man, or my children for that matter;
my thoughts has taken up a lot of my time. The great slow tracking of
wheeling through the world is a happiness I share with no-one.
Even now I am
same, but there has been one change which surprised me, although like
revelations it is quite likely I knew about it all along. The memories
keep my bones warm and make me smile are all of lovers long-dead, their
and the power of their loving.
People could say
was grotesque of course. In the ordinary course of events, a
myself, sitting in this expensive nursing home paid for by a loving
would be thinking of religion, or family, or her health. With my
aristocratic face, flyaway hair soft as duck down, perfumed as I am
and baby oil, I am no sex at all, I am simply an object of veneration
visitors. I receive them with genuine if absent-minded love. My
come so dutifully washed and dressed and brushed in my honour, their
faces overawed by the purity of age, the serenity of my surroundings.
time, my mind circles lazily around old delights, day after day, hour
But I do not feel
shame, because to me this state of affairs is not grotesque. If the
known, and that is, after all, what I am most interested in at this
time in my
life, it would be simpler to say that I feel very privileged. Most
women I know
are only too happy to close their legs and hearts forever against a
men tearing into their soft flesh with or without the invitation. They
their old age in thankful release, healing up their fearful wounds. All
love and pleasure has been burnt out of their most intimate centres.I,
lover that I am, still bathe in the afterglow, my papery skin is still
from decades of well-placed caresses and consummated delights. And it
only natural that I dwell on these past pleasures while I am slipping
death. Loving was not only a great delight to me always, I believe now
the wheel that turned my life over and kept me alive all these long
There are many other things of importance to me, but sex has always
deep and delicious undercurrent flowing beneath my life and thoughts,
occupation as real as anything else I did.
It seems to me
humans have done justice to the beauty of it or even admitted its true
spiritual worth, as a source of life, of miraculous rejuvenation. This
so with love between the same sexes, blessed as it is. Hucksters,
and all religions have trampled and sullied it — the word ‘sex’ itself,
short and medical as it is, is proof of the common currency of their
views. Even my favourite poet Yeats,
who wrote some painfully honest poems about sex in his last years, was
ashamed and disgusted at of his own late-developing raptures. Of course
I am no
match for the seedy greatness of those late poems, even in my thoughts,
least there was never a time when I did not appreciate the beauty of a
man, nor did I ever regret any longings
For me sex is a great richness, a transformation of every
facet of existence. A trick of light,
the way a man holds his head, a sudden rush of recognition, an ache for
male beauty forever unattainable. A dance, fleshed out by smouldering
a heartbeat of time so intense it is almost unbearable, wallowing in
soft you can feel each hair brushing against your skin. Even a friendly
miscalculation when all the grandeur of it suddenly goes out of kilter
bumps and pimples of mortal flesh are laid bare to the light in one
I was never a
promiscuous woman, more the reverse, because there were only very few
touched the nerve lying so close to my surfaces. But once they did
there was a
permanent change made somewhere in my cell-structure and that was that.
as if each lover imprinted himself forever.
That was the
it to me, the fact that a man, beautiful, moving against my skin like a
animal, delighting me with his fine arts, could leave his trace, a
scent that I would carry through life.
Of course, I made
starts, watching men sigh and groan and plead under the spell of a
girl who didn’t know any better. But my own intelligence and meeting
me from all the fabrications of tragic romance and coy falsities in one
blast, and the two of us looked set for eternity.
My body has
responded only to certain cues, very precise and divine indications of
Those qualities in men which stirred me most deeply are difficult to
it is like trying to dissect a butterfly. But I know them by heart.
There is nearly
brown hair, curls, an ebullience matched with grace, a face both
tender, qualities of self-containment, intelligence, a dry wit,
solid body with that bloom to the skin, competent hands, a touch of
wisdom. I knew that rare mixture whenever I saw it, and for all my
background, it was rarely ‘gentlemen’ who set my heart beating.
working men, were the ones that had that irresistible flash, that
life as they walked past me like warriors.
My beloved Mick
these virtues and more, and so I was prepared to give up my class, my
my family if need be to have him. It didn’t have to come to that of
parents being too good as judges of character, and untainted by the
I can still see
the day we met. He had a strong body, hair curling down his neck, he
spoke in a
quiet voice. He was brown from the sun, his pants work-stained, his
eyes alight when he caught sight of me. You could see he wasn’t slow,
alive with considering as he noticed my best white dress and my hair
down my back. The instant we met and looked at each other I wanted him
bed. Eighteen and virgin as I was, I knew instinctively what sort of
in the big quiet body as he stood there in my father’s yard.
In our wedding
photograph we looked sly and merry and knowing, there was nothing of
shrinking violet about either of us. For all the world, as my eldest
as if we couldn’t wait.
There was that
stance of his, his tender eyes brimming with vitality, and as for me, I
none of the child-bride’s usual shyness. I was smiling and every inch
of me was
willing. Young as we were, we were full of the pleasures of our new
There was nothing
misleading about our innocent lust either, for we were equally matched
turned out, although we both had our low times. The tensions and
came between us were just more fuel for our night-time fires. And
end, when we were both more peaceful with one another, we knew,
that even with all the joy and tumult of the world raging past us, we
always have each other.
He would come
work with that soft bloom of dust and weariness on him, so tired he
hardly speak, but he seemed to draw sustenance from me. His eyes lit up
beautifully when he saw me that he glowed and looked startlingly alive.
I would kiss my beautiful husband, sit on his warm thigh, his delicious mouth on my neck, ride astride his knee, leaving a round of secret moisture there, glistening like a kiss. That was our private joy, the eroticism of married life, our licence for the unlimited pleasure of monogamy. While the children were sleeping like little dolls in their dark beds, mouths open, dreaming of horses galloping, we had our own supple fantasies, we were lost in our own trance.
In the dark when
above me, his shoulders gleaming in the shadows, breath rasping on my
his hard warm body moved against me, his eyes closed with the sweetness
damp curls on his neck, smelling of clean sweat, I knew that was my
my religion, the secret engine which pulled me through the world.
After he died,
could come near me for years. It wasn’t as if I was living in purdah
convention or necessity either, because there were plenty of suitors.
simply a physical imperative — I could not let another man touch my
When it finally
and I met someone, he was so unsuitable that even my dear children were
scandalised. I was a disgrace and an embarrassment because of course
in the dead fifties when women sleepwalked through their days in those
uplift bras and frilly aprons, while children lived their lives as
buttons with no-one to give them an underview.
Neither of us was
interested in love at that time of our lives — but there was his white
skin, his decadent mouth, that sly look from under his eyelids which
straight to the hair at the back of my neck. Pat was a young
of grace and ease in himself; he took his time over everything, shrewd,
his lovely attentions lasted for hours.
day we met, he a builder’s labourer in work pants and bare white chest,
tattooed; me an older woman, barefoot, perfumed, scarlet nails, moving
with the heavy summer afternoon.
After the first
remember vividly how he lay back on the pillows like a lord. His eyes
against the smoke of his cigarette and he gave me that lazy half-smile
well-being. Lying there, his pale body glimmering in the shadow,
looking at me
with his hooded, blue Irish eyes, lovely as an angel — that was
was nourishment after all my days of loneliness. Our love-making was
creamy and relentless; they were times of intensity, drowning in the
the long afternoons. He would always want more, pirate that he was,
smile of his, his expert hands stroking me, unwilling at first, back
When he left our
was sad but not shattered, for unlike the breakup of many love affairs
seen, there were no sour memories or recriminations. There were images
in my mind’s eye — his mouth, swollen after I’d kissed it, a certain
smell of male sweat, dust, apple-scented soap, the supple line of his
back as he bent over in the half-light to undress me.
And of course
my next lover — blond, troubled, closed —infinitely attractive to women
his elegance and sombre blue eyes, an actor, very clever, always full
calculations. He was a lost soul as well, a male siren, a cruel despot
taught all the women in his life lethal games. Our time together went
as cream on the surface with the money, theatre parties, my job as
tutor at the
university, but all the time there was this deadly subterranean river
between us. I was always on the edge of drowning in it, in the aching
of total submission to him, and its twin — rage at my self-annihilation.
I remember nights
was so slippery wet he could not hold me, he called me his child, his
I could not answer my mouth was so dry after our perverse games. He
whisper all his mockeries and commands softly in my ear as we made
me about his other women in that deep cultured voice of his, and
whatever he did, I was his whenever he wanted me, weeping, liquid, open
I was his
assured woman during the day, and at nights a begging waif, his own
enmeshed in his ferocious needs. The voluptuousness of loving like that
me out to an impossible pitch, and I became heartsick, a fool, my
drained. I was a grandmother by then and could have been living in
of chasing this man, undignified, my clothes too young, my face anxious
the sugary parties we went to.
When he took up
younger woman and began to teach her all his little scorching tricks I
with desire. I tried to lure him back, to compete with that lovely
girl, pleading with him to kiss me even when her scent was still fresh
skin. Then one humiliating night I knew I had had enough. It was as if
off from this whole new frequency he’d tuned me into, and those sounds
distress, ecstasy and disgust ceased entirely.
No-one has ever
to me about deep and private places like this in their lives; there is
something too aching and ruttish about such behaviour for comfort. But
I have a
feeling that most people have experienced that hot shiver at some time,
sensation occasionally more delicious, certainly more terrible, than
loving. He was a dark angel, this man, with his magnificent obsession
power and cruelty, his only means of showing love.
It would be boorish of me, not to say false, to deny his gifts, the exquisite pain and pleasure he provided and the dangerous territories he took me across, but I am glad I emerged safe, with only a few tender spots to keep me company when I have need of a little stimulant. Now that I am old I can say this about myself with just enough kindness and irony to keep it in perspective.
My second husband
pure sunshine after those dank delights. He was a giant of a fellow,
woolly, talented, kind — a comely man. We had no need of passion after
respective roller-coaster lifetimes. The sensual seep of our enjoyment
was more subtle, and slower, like luxuriating in a still, warm pond. I
such a loving memory of the two of us walking everywhere hand in hand.
like those moth-eaten lions you see basking at the zoo. They are way
prime, too experienced to make any unnecessary movement, but they are
observing the world closely from the sleepy slits of their wicked
We gave each
comfort, and dignity and all the kindness we had. When he died, I
time was up as well, that I had had enough love to last me for the rest
Thus it is that the wheel keeps turning in our lives. It still seems strange to me that I am sitting here, an old woman, dreaming of these past loves, my limbs once so tender, now weighted down by age and infirmity.
But there is no real end to things, another discovery I have made recently. Even now sometimes I still catch myself thinking like a young girl, as I lie in my single monastic bed in the nursing home, my old heart beating strongly in my breast. I dream of pleasures that might still be, and then the power of love in me is like a fire, leaping out and lighting up the world.