Miriam arrived early at the workshop venue, a fashionable North London shop that, by day, sold books with titles like ‘Bondage for Bashful Beginners’ and card-sets that promised ‘101 Questions to Unleash Your Inner Pervert’. She was so early, in fact, that, fearing that she would be the first there and be obliged to make polite conversation with the organisers (who would undoubtedly be wildly-extroverted peacocks of self-consciously indeterminate gender), she veered away just as she was about to open the door and enter.
‘What if they saw me?’, she asked herself, ‘What if, when I finally do go in, they laugh amongst themselves and shriek, “See, I told you she was one of ours!” … oh, Lord…’
After walking on sufficiently far, so that she wouldn’t be seen crossing the road and heading back in the direction of Euston Road, she stopped and feigned an interest in the window display of the Christian Science Reading Room that, awkwardly, was directly opposite ‘London’s Home of Sex Positivity and Ethical Porn’. In the reflection in the window, she observed a couple approach the shop across the road.
‘Oh God, everyone’s going to be in couples! And young and beautiful… shit, shit, shit!’
She examined her outfit. She still thought of it as her ‘Sexy Student Teacher’ outfit even though it was decades since she’d been able to think of herself in that way. Brown boots, brown tights, the white edging of a broderie anglaise cotton slip showing beneath a brown suede below-the-knee skirt, a white blouse under a blazer-style jacket… brown.
‘Argh! Why I am so fucking brown? And where did I get the idea that this is a sexy look?… No, seriously, where did I get that idea? It was from watching ‘A Bouquet of Barbed Wire’, wasn’t it, or from a cover of a 1970s Penguin edition of an Edna O’Brien novel!’
She laughed at herself, out loud. How many times she had talked herself out of things this way? How many times since Pete’s death had she committed herself to a ‘new life’ before running back home to a glass of red and her pyjamas in front of the telly? She looked at her own reflection in the window and was surprised to find that she looked so much younger than she felt. She noticed that the lace of her bra was showing and instinctively went to fasten another button. But she stopped herself. She took a deep breath, turned and crossed the road.
She’d been right; everyone was in couples – if not, ‘a couple’, they’d come with a friend. And, from Miriam’s perspective, they all looked young and, mostly, beautiful. But she was relieved to find that they were not at all exotic.
‘They’re ordinary, thought Miriam, ‘They are ordinary people who, like me just want to be more… What do I want?… I just want to be more me!’
With her complimentary glass of wine in hand, Miriam had taken a seat in the basement room and was exchanging pleasantries with the over-excited bright-faced couple next to her (who were literally half her age) when the workshop leader, Seán, began to speak.
‘Welcome. Welcome to tonight’s workshop, ‘Let Your Erotic Imagination Run Wild.’
He paused and, slowly and deliberately, cast his gaze around the room. There were a few embarrassed giggles. Little Miss Brightface gave a little ‘Yay’, half-raised a fist, and blushed. When Seán’s dark eyes met Miriam’s, they lingered and remained fixed on her as he continued talking.
‘Tonight, you are going be fabulous. You are going to be literally fabulous – mythical, celebrated in fable; fable, the Latin word for story. Here’s another word for you – courage. Courage; from the Latin cor and the French coeur, meaning heart. Tonight, let yourself be led by your heart.’
When she looked back on the events of that evening, Miriam could not even recall hearing Seán ask for a volunteer. Whether she was actually hypnotised or simply seduced by Seán’s Irish voice, which was as soft and dark as his eyes, or was it just that she was so eager for change, she couldn’t say. But somehow she found herself in front of the class, seated in an armchair that was so comfortable that Seán’s request for her to close her eyes and relax was entirely unnecessary.
‘Tell us, where are you now?’
A visible shiver passed through Miriam as she realised that she was in another place.
‘I’m… I’m lying beside a lake… Behind me, there is a forest… I can hear birds and the movement of the trees in the breeze… it is warm…’
‘What are you wearing?’
‘How do you know that you are naked?’
‘I can feel… the earth is warm and dry against my back, the backs of my legs… my breasts are loose and free… I can feel the soft breeze moving across my skin… I can feel the dark hair between my legs being warmed by the sun…’
‘Why are you naked?’
A frown of concern briefly flitted across Miriam’s face before she smiled.
‘I’ve been swimming… I’ve been in the lake…’
‘Tell me, what is your name?’
‘My name? My name is…’
Miriam’s mind searched for a while and then she took a deep breath and sighed the words of her imagined truth.
‘My name is Elk Vilianni.’
[to be continued] [Image from Pixabay]