In due time, she knew, he would get over her. They all managed to, despite initial protests to the contrary. For it was time, always time, that dulled the senses memory could never fully recapture. Madeleine fumes or not, it all boiled down to out of sight, out of mind in relationships. Or rather, simulacrums of the relationships we were conditioned to believe in during our youth, at the height of monogamy-oriented Hollywood propaganda. And that’s what she was to him for the foreseeable future: out of sight. An irony in terms it was–foreseeably out of sight. Unless one counted the internet, but that wasn’t real. That was merely a projection, a spectral presence.
Their separation was a combination of faults, really. But, if one was to be totally honest, it was his. His quagmire of complications and emotional ties to a certain city, specifically London, where he had made the mistake of settling too soon and too easily with a woman he thought was as adequate as he could get. Someone who was his aesthetic equal. As a result of this settling, two children were born, a boy and a girl–Claudia wouldn’t be able to tell you how old (only that they were still decidedly in the “snot-nosed” phase) as it was of no interest to her. Particularly in her desperate need to compartmentalize this aspect of his life away from the one he ephemerally had with her. It was in this way that their rapport, in fits and starts, began, and how with one cataclysmic bang (take that to mean sexually, if you want), it would end. Resulting from Claudia’s inability to compromise and Harrison’s ultimate inability to abandon the existence he had thoughtlessly created when he was not–could not–be aware that he didn’t have to simply “go through the motions” of life because there was nothing–no one–else better that seemed even anywhere remotely on the horizon.
But lo and behold, there, one night, was Claudia, slumped over at a party on his couch, utterly unaware of who he was or whose house in the English countryside she was in. Or, to be completely candid, who she had even come to the English countryside with in the first place. Last she remembered, she had been in London, staying at some chap’s flat in Mayfair. It was in her nature to go where the money was, for gold digging purposes, that is. And the money was, these days, more free-flowing in London than it had been in New York. For you truly did have to be a different kind of obscene rich to afford any part of not so Dear Old Blighty. There were no “average citizen” loopholes other than to live in the so-called “outskirts” or “suburbs,” and who really wanted that? What was the point, in all frankness, of living in London without actually living in London? Though Claudia wasn’t technically living there, she certainly had been living large with Clem, a Southern investment banker who was enough of a hayseed to genuinely believe her British accent was real. That’s what he wanted, after all, someone who could make him seem more legitimate at dinner parties and social business gatherings. Someone that could grey him out enough to make him appear slightly more refined, slightly less bumpkin. Claudia was more than happy to oblige this unspoken request when she responded to his vague yet telling Craig’s List ad. Yes, she had been reading the arcane “escort wanted” language of Craig’s List ads for years, a language increasingly hieroglyphics-like as the website continued to crack down on prostitution. She resented the double standard of this word. For all jobs were a form of prostituting. Just because sex wasn’t involved in some of these titles didn’t make the profession any less whorish.
In any case, because most whores were stupid in terms of reading between the lines of these increasingly sparse ads, Claudia had become one of the only frontrunners in her field in London. And soon, she didn’t even need to pore over the internet to fish out these shy, wealthy married men craving more attractive companionship–the word of mouth all over the right parts of town was enough to keep her swimming in the furs and diamonds that would never be socially acceptable in present day New York. She chortled at herself as she stared into the vanity she had made Clem buy for her when she quickly moved in. New York, what a fucking joke. How could I have ever believed it was the place for talents like mine? Sure, it might have been “back in the day,” when conning and hustling were still lucrative skills in that city, but now, all the conning was done on the residents still clinging to living there instead of vice versa, as it should be, and was in the 70s, 80s and 90s. No matter, Claudia reasoned, she was still young enough to bounce back from her wasted time there. At twenty-eight, she had at least eight more years in the game if she made her charges purchase her the correct moisturizer and weekly facial treatments. The inevitable tit job and tummy tuck would have to be done quietly, on their dime but off their watch.
She lightly jostled her black lace bra-clad breasts as Clem walked into the room in his underwear. The blond tufts of hair that only served to somehow accentuate his beer gut no longer made Claudia flinch. She could add that to her list of geisha-like skills: the gift of ignoring a vomit-inducing physical appearance sloshing itself all over her pristine alabaster body. No one ever said that making money was pretty, it’s only what it can get you that is.
In any event, as Claudia grew drunker and drunker over the course of the evening in direct proportion with her present disgust and disdain for Clem (who she had only been milking for three months at this point while his wife “minded the ranch”–the literal fucking ranch–in Georgia), it seemed she took up with another richie at the party, one who was just as, if not even more, interested in having a good time as she was. One that led them on an alcohol and coke binge fueled by the perpetually insatiable need to move on to the the next later, therefore better, party. How they came to be in Essex would forever be a mystery to Claudia. No matter, happenstance was always her friend. Could always be wielded to her advantage.
That advantage was a real estate investor, the aforementioned Harrison, who was to be the next shark in the laughably small pond of London that Claudia wanted to hook, line and sink. She knew that much when she awoke in his guest room, adorned with silk tapestries, recognizable pieces of original art and furniture that would make a modern Marie Antoinette smile. Forget about Clem, she had a newer, better mark.
That the two of them were, she soon found, all alone in that medievally large castle made it a cinch for her to work her magic rapidly and effectively. Touching his arm, insisting that she cook breakfast for him instead of the other way around–it was all leading up to something big, Claudia told herself, something that would fortify her nest egg for a very relaxing early retirement indeed.
As the two continued to talk and, in Harrison’s mind, connect, Claudia was struck with the anvil that was a giant, and might she add, extremely tacky in contrast to the rest of the decor, framed family portrait. A portly wife and two kids with missing teeth and curly hair beaming out at her like something far more sinister than the Grady twins in The Shining. While Claudia knew that dealing with a man in the unfortunate possession of a family was nothing new, this was such an unexpected disappointment to the ease with which she believed she would be able to handle Harrison that she could almost feel tears forming in her eyes. Now everything was going to be so much messier. The feelings of more than one party were going to be fucked with. Claudia sighed heavily and rolled her eyes at the portrait. Oh Jesus, calm down. This is a challenge. You’ve had it too fucking simple this past year with the type of men that have fallen into your lap. With that, she took a deep breath and told Harrison that she ought to be going, that she would see herself out.
Knowing that this casual attitude would drive him crazy with desire, she was not surprised when, at the door, Harrison asked if she wouldn’t mind giving him her number. It was here she began to pull at the invisible strings coming out of his back that she was controlling. “Um, no offense Harrison, but wouldn’t that be a little inappropriate considering…your family.” She glanced in the direction of the portrait as she said this. Harrison looked back at it. “Yes, you saw that, huh?”
“Hard not to,” she responded, biting her lip.
“Yes, well. I’m fine with it if you are.”
Oh, of course she was. But there was something she enjoyed in actually prying it out of a man. Or, more accurately, getting him to shamelessly admit that he was a piece of shit with no issue philandering if it meant the health and well-being of his dick, ergo ego.
It didn’t take more than two days for Harrison to call her and make arrangements, which, for Claudia, was already two days too long as she had been slumming it in the apartment of a web developer in Shoreditch after making a vague cuckold out of Clem. She didn’t care, she would sacrifice all the acquisitions she had made under his care knowing that Harrison could offer her more. And, as the rule went, the uglier the mark, the more lucrative the come-up. And Harrison was nothing if not swinish. No wonder he had been so eager to turn to her in his time of emotional upheaval–surely no one else of her caliber was making any advances.
As he told her candidly that night at dinner, he had been reconsidering every decision he had ever made in life–all of which had yielded irrevocable results. Mainly the child aspect of it. “I think if I had it do over again, I would get a vasectomy behind my wife’s back. It would have been better for us all I reckon.”
Claudia licked the salt off her martini glass seductively and rotely cooed, “Oh? What else would you do?”
He eyed her cautiously. “Well…I perhaps, um, mightn’t have been so cowardly about trying to pursue a woman like you.”
“Yes. I’m sure you’re very aware that you’re beautiful, Claudia, don’t act so modest.”
“Ah, not your kind. Yours will stand the test of time, I’m sure of it.”
Claudia was pleased with his pretty words. She could take all of these pretty words and fuck a sentence with far more glee than she could any bloke. One supposes that, looking back now, she probably fell in love with him (as much as a woman like her could fall in love) that very night. His genuineness moved her, for it wasn’t a quality she came across often in her line of work. It was, in fact, tacitly expected that all her relationships were predicated on a lie–the lie of having a good time, of being interested and attentive. But here, in the hourglass shape of Claudia (for everything with her was tick tick tick tock, after all), Harrison had thought he truly found someone who liked him for who he was. Could “see” him in a light that his wife and children would never be capable of. Claudia almost pitied him in her realization of this as she watched his warm, watery brown eyes while he poured his heart out to her as the waiter poured her another margarita (and another and another). By the time they got back to his apartment in Kensington, she was well ready to open her legs for him. And he was well ready to open them for her. After that consummation, it was, of course, game over for Harrison, who was already going to make inquiries with divorce lawyers the same week.
If this is how he could feel all the time with Claudia at his side and in his bed, then he had to do whatever necessary to secure that sentiment on a regular basis. The thought of going back to Tabitha and the children that weekend was almost totally unbearable. Playing the part of dutiful dad and heroic husband were roles that he had not only outgrown, but ones he never even fully believed he was suited for in the first place. It was simply what someone of “good breeding” did–continue the family lineage, therefore legacy. He could finally, after all these years, understand that about himself now–and it was something that Claudia understood about him immediately.
As the two escalated their whirlwind romance, Claudia’s implied move into his Kensington flat occurred, almost in the blink of an eye. And it didn’t take long for Harrison to start showing all the classic signs of infidelity as he soon started spending many more evenings “working late” to the point of not coming home at all. Tabitha, poor portly Tabitha who always assumed Harrison would never have it in him to engage in an affair, was careful in her approach to mentioning the topic to her husband, some shrewd part of her knowing that rocking the apple cart could shake up her entire world in a way she did not want to.
So it was that one night, one of the rare ones of late that had found Harrison in the same bed as her, she offered herself meekly by asking, “Harrison, would you like a little blow job?”
Harrison burst out laughing to the point of near tears. Tabitha knew she had not been alluring to Harrison in quite some time, but this was more than she bargained for in attempting to sing for her supper. “Well you don’t have to be an absolute twat about it,” she seethed, turning over.
Harrison collected himself long enough to respond, “Oh my, I’m sorry, it’s just–what on earth has gotten hold of you?”
She turned back over to glare at him. “Is that so out of the question? That a wife should want to be sexual with her husband?” She paused for dramatic effect to conclude, “Or should I start getting my jollies from someone else as well?”
This stung Harrison, who had been far too naive in believing that Tabitha was too frivolous to suspect him. Then, all at once, he was overcome with rage. “As if you could find someone who would give you any such jollies, you sad old bag.” The second he said it, he felt like he might cum from the thrill it gave him to, once and for all, put this castrating cunt in her place. Who did she think she was? Who did she think was paying for everything?
Tabitha looked absolutely gobsmacked as she watched Harrison exit from the bed and announce, “I am getting the fuck out of this stale place. If you need to reach me, do so through my lawyer.”
And there it was: twenty-three years of “love and devotion” tossed in the trash in less than a minute. Harrison no longer had to put on airs or pretend. And he owed it all to Claudia. Gorgeous, uncomplicated Claudia. He had to go to her immediately. To tell her this wonderful news.
When he got to the flat (red roses in tow for an added element to accentuate just how much of a fool he didn’t know he was), however, the sight of Claudia packing things into a medium-size suitcase stopped him cold.
“Claudia? What’s going on?”
Though she was surprised to see him there, she didn’t let on. Of course, she would have preferred not for him to catch her in the act of absconding from London, from the unwanted emotions it had awakened in her, but so be it.
She set down the white satin thong she was in the midst of folding and went closer to him. “I have to go Harrison. I can’t say why or for what. But just know that, after tonight, I’m gone.”
He looked at her imploringly. “But you can’t go. I need you. I’m in love with you.”
“Oh Harrison. Maybe that’s partly true. Maybe it’s partly your own selfish need to invent some of the meaning you feel you’ve lost out on for so much of your life.” She touched his cheek and then pressed herself against him. “You’re most definitely better off without me tampering with the delicate threads of your life right now.”
Harrison shook his head violently as she continued to embrace him. “You have to accept that it’s over now. You’ll move on eventually.”
He broke himself free of her grasp and roared, “Claudia, I’m not going to forget about you, about us. No matter how much time passes. I can outwait any amount of time.”
She clucked at him in an empathetic sort of tsk. “How pretty that you think so,” she said, taking a single red rose out of his bouquet to prick her finger with. Rubbing her blood on one of the petals, she smeared it over his lips and then kissed them. “Whatever you hear about me, I want you to know the love was real.”
Back in the less glamorous dreariness of New York, Claudia hung up her con artist act and went back into the more honest work she had been performing before she thought she was too good for it: stripping. She was still young, she maintained. She could keep doing it for three, maybe five more years with the right psychological blinders put into place by her strong-willed brain.
As for Harrison, he never could track Claudia down again. It was as though she was nothing more than a mirage. A brief phantasm of what Tabitha told him was the momentary psychotic break with reality that almost caused him to destroy their family.