Books: The Silver Castle — Chapter 18 |
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Chapter 18

SANJAY HAD BEEN installed in the little upstairs room of Miranda’s vast apartment for almost a week and he still had hardly seen her. He had not given up his room in the slum, of course. He had brought with him only his best clothes, his dictionary and the barest few of his favourite magazines. Keen to pick up on the resurgence of her career, Miranda was working on two new films simultaneously, and one of them involved night shoots. Sanjay was three more days completing his part in the film which he would remember as the one in which he had met again the ideal woman of his youth. The problem now was to meet her in the reality of her home. Like the Silver Castle — which he thought, but could not be sure, that he could catch a glimpse of from his window — she was both there and not there. He would have felt foolish hanging around the apartment in the daytime after his part finished. Wisely he hung around the hiring hall instead. He was gratified to land a role as a man of menace in an upcoming all-singing, all-dancing modern thriller with seven love scenes and eight murders. The film would start in only another ten days. He was told that he would commit one of the murders and later on be murdered himself. The casting master was most flattering.

“You are in demand. It is because of your close-up in Huzor Huzor. Also your box-fall was very good. Show me your fear at being murdered.”

Sanjay showed fear.

“Not so craven. The fear of a man of menace who realises that his career is over. A more tough fear.”

Sanjay showed tough fear.

“That is not bad. It could be better. You should go and see Huzor Huzor and see how you look.”

Sanjay went to see the film and was quite impressed with himself. He took care, however, to be out in the sunlight before the dosing titles. He preferred to avoid meeting anyone he knew. That evening he hung around Miranda’s apartment. Platoons of her servants and assistants wafted in and out, looking plausibly busy during her absence. They could not be trying to impress each other. Probably they were trying to prove to him that they had something to do. With nothing to do himself; Sanjay studied her bookshelves. She had many hundreds of books, in English and other languages as well as her own. Except for the picture books, he had no idea where to start. Even the picture books were forbidding. The Art of the Great Hollywood Portrait Photographers was a disappointment. He did not recognise a single face. Who was Rita Hayworth? On one of the glass tables there were magazines as thick as books, with thick paper so white that it glowed from within. The prose was basically in English but the captions to the photographs of women were in some language he could not read. A tall short-haired woman stood beside a swimming-pool. He could partly see through her pale blue dress, which was an interesting effect, but the caption was worse than a disappointment: Versace, it said. One word and he could not understand it. It felt like a reproof. Taking with him the stuffed bun prepared for him by Miranda’s cook, he retired defeated to his room, where he fell with relief on his newly-purchased latest issue of Debonair. The Centresprea was sensational as usual. He was still worried about the word Centresprea: there was a capital D underneath it which made him think that the word might possibly be CentrespreaD, but he could not find this word in his dictionary. He was starting to get sick of his dictionary, which all too often answered mysteries with mysteries. In this case, however, the words hardly mattered beside the pictures. The girl was wonderfully naked, with extraordinary nipples. The bit of the nipple that actually stuck out was quite small in circumference, yet the bit surrounding it was large. Unaccountably the girl in possession of these treasures seemed annoyed instead of glad. Sanjay argued with her sullen gaze for a while, became inopportunely hard, and moved on to the caption. “Funny how the stars in your eyes melt at dusk,” she was saying, “to reappear as sparks of desire in my veins.” This, he considered, was English prose at its most poetically resonant. After the captions to the Centresprea, his favourite part of Debonair was always the Erotica section. In the current issue it surpassed itself. Entitled ‘Is This Real?’, it was the work of the very talented Protima Roy. The voice was of a woman talking to herself while being made love to. “He’s at me again. His face between my legs. His tongue working up a wetness, slipping, sliding. It’s like he’s grown roots. I wrap my legs around the back of his head and rock to an explosion. Later, as he rests on one elbow and watches me recovering, I get up, turn around and almost swallow his cock.”

Sanjay took pride in knowing what this last word meant. In his earlier days with Debonair he had neglected to check all the definitions of this word in the dictionary, so for a while he had been under the impression that the lovemaking involved the participation of a domestic fowl. Now he knew better. But he was still puzzled about precisely what kind of explosion was meant. Something to do with digestion? Were they being attacked by robbers? It scarcely seemed erotic. These considerations, though unsettling, were not enough to put him off. After a slow, contemplative bath, he took a hand towel, turned out the light, lay down and attended to himself. He thought of the Centresprea girl and her intoxicating caption. He did not dare to think of Miranda. He did not think it was really possible that he would ever be allowed to touch her as she touched him, but if there was such a possibility, however remote, he did not want to spoil it by presumption. He was still a child in that way, not thinking of the wished-for thing in case whatever forces that might grant it would deny it.

Finally they were at home and awake on the same evening. She sent everyone away — or as far away as everyone ever goes in the home of a prominent actress — and laid out a salad for two, with dips and warm thin bread that tore like scorched parchment. Sanjay had no means of assessing the prodigies of modern liberalism she represented by sharing soft food, an activity which in the old days was taboo even between degrees within a caste, let alone between castes. She was giving him her imagination. They ate it on the terrace, under the stars.

“So,” she said, “you’re mine at last. You are supposed to drink that wine, not just study its surface. Are you a scientist or something? What are you thinking?”

Sanjay did not know precisely what to say, so fell back on his time-honoured sources of inspiration. “I was thinking, funny how the stars in your eyes melt at dusk.”

“But it is long past dusk. There is no dusk. We have no dusk. Where do you get this stuff from? Everything you say is like dialogue. When you say anything at all. Why not say what is in your heart? Just be yourself. It’s an attractive self to be, you know. You are very handsome.”

Sanjay shook his head.

“You are. Not pretty-pretty like most young men who want to be actors. Your face has been lived in. Things have happened to it.”

Thinking of some of the things that had happened to his face, Sanjay could only smile. It was exactly the right thing to do, as it turned out. She took him to her bed as naturally as if she was showing him her books and paintings. As so often in his life, Sanjay’s luck had come to help him at the key moment. Her reproof had silenced his mouth. Thus he was saved from the folly of trying to find words where they would surely have been inadequate, and might well have put into reverse the revelation of her gift for him. It started when she undressed. In the low light provided by the candles she had lit, the walls were hard to see beyond the white screens of muslin. The bed melted upwards into the dark over hills of cushions. She was darkness herself. He had to feel for her. He could not have felt more. When she kissed him he tasted plums. There was music coming from somewhere: a low, deep purr rising to a sigh, a high, soft sigh sinking to a purr. It was coming from her. She helped him to undress, kissing the skin that she uncovered. Then she lay down with her hair spread on the pillows. She held up her arms to guide him down. He felt her legs open underneath him and before her toes touched him in the small of the back he was already inside her. He hadn’t expected to be held there so firmly. Urmila had been languid inside as well as out. This was different. This must be what Pratiba would have felt like. How could anything so yielding and moist be so tight and crisp? He was burning his way in like a hot knife through halvah. But when he pulled back, the destruction repaired itself, chasing his retreat, asking to be destroyed again. He obliged. He was conferring a blow of grace. Confirmation of his mercy came from her cries. He was reminded of Pratiba, but with the urgency extended into time, and infinitely modulated. The purrs and the sighs had been joined by sobs. Finally they were joined by words. Amazing words. How dare she? At last he realised it was a trap. She was not going to let him rule over her ruin. As her thighs lifted and shook, she held the back of his neck, lifted her head, and kissed him so deeply that the pleasure in his mouth would have done for him all by itself. She seemed to gasp a different note at his every pulse of release. As if knowing that it would be too much, she ceased to work at him from the centre. Only her fingertips and toes continued a slow, rhythmic stroking. They settled into stillness. Her breath subsided. She had the last word. “Perfect,” she said. “What a talent.”

“A poor thing but mine own,” said Sanjay, in a voice bereft of breath. She hummed a laugh. It was a vocalised smile. He could feel it. For long minutes he could feel her every murmur resonate in the bones of his own face. He could feel everything. Three feet from his eyes, a drip of hot wax from the high plateau of a candle fell past the escarpment of its length and splashed into the dish below, where he felt it cool and stiffen. Already he was stiffening again himself.

“My goodness. He wants more.” Sanjay did want more. He liked the idea of being talented at this. Actually, although he was not to know it, this was his best language. Speaking this nearly silent tongue, he was himself, told fewer lies, and his knack of listening reaped rich rewards.

“Where did you learn to do this?” she asked him at one point. “From your magazines, I hope.”

He told her she was right. It was almost true. Really he had little experience. He just had the right instinct. His body found out what her body demanded and made sure it was supplied. Combined with his light but strong shape, it was a gift bound to make him popular. He was a long time over her in their second round. Those amazing things all happened to her twice more, and the last time she wept, which would have worried him if he had not been able to see her face in the candlelight. In his eyes, the transformation of her face had already become the supreme blessing of this activity. Heroically he contrived not to come himself when she did. He supposed that this was what the various writers of the Debonair Erotica section must mean when they used the word ‘explosion’. He resolved to control his own explosion to the fullest extent possible. She caught him at it.

“Stop trying to impress me. Just lie beside me for a while and let me rest. I am not quite so young as you.”

He lay beside her and looked. She had her hands above her head, lost in the pillows. Her eyes were closed. She was letting him look. Her raised breasts were astonishing. They were still there when she was lying down. They were extremely there. Her nipples had gone soft now, although he had been struck by their hardness before, when they were underneath him. He touched one with his tongue.

“No. Let me rest. In a minute. Then you can.”

On his knees, moving down, he checked to sec if those hairs had been plucked. It was hard to tell in this light. He blew on the hair to see if it would shift.

“That will be lovely a bit later on. It’s too soon. Give a girl a break.”

Her legs were far enough apart to let him look. Some of the moisture, he decided, must be his. Fine hair was matted together into the paintbrush tips of the miniaturist he had once seen at work against the railings of Mahapalika Marg, a few mats on from the pavement dentist’s pitch, towards Mahatma Gandhi Road. He touched with a fingertip. There was no protest, so he touched with his tongue.

“Beast.” She had erupted. “Get on your back. Here comes some of your own medicine.”

He had been inside a mouth before, but not this mouth. This mouth was for him. Her fingers did unfair things. There was no question of controlling the explosion. But he fought her off before it came, pinned her on her back with her wrists beside her shoulders, and set out to have it inside her. She was laughing at him in a way he did not mind. It was the first time anyone had ever done that in circumstances like these. He managed to hold back just long enough, however, to ensure that it happened to her as well: more softly this time, and with less abandon, so she was able to watch his face. It was her turn.

“Ah. You liked that.”


“Now lie beside me and stay still. Please. Don’t kill me all in one night.”

He was almost as tired as she was. It must have been an hour before his sleeping arm woke him up. One of the candles was flickering.

“I shouldn’t have let you do that.”

For a moment he was afraid that it was all going to be withdrawn from him just as it had been achieved.

“No, don’t worry. I meant I shouldn’t have let you hold me while I slept. It’s all a myth that lovers can sleep in each other’s arms. You just get cramps and pins and needles.”

Such skin,” said Sanjay, tracing the line of her hip with his open hand.

“Where did you get that?”

“Get what?”

“What you said. Dialogue again. Something someone else made up. It makes you sound inauthentic. All my life I have dreaded being involved with someone inauthentic.”

“I made it up myself,” said Sanjay, who did not like the idea of being thought inauthentic, even though he was proud of having deduced the word’s meaning the moment it was uttered.

“Made it up. Precisely. That is just what frightens me. The way you make things up. Have you made up your love for me?”

He kissed her for an answer.

“That’s better. Better than the dialogue. You don’t have to do all that stuff. Just be natural. You are the most natural boy in the world, you know. A force of nature.”

“Am I?” asked Sanjay, fishing for compliments.

“You must know you are. But your instincts are miles ahead of what you say. I would like to help you there.”

“You are helping.”

“No, this is for me. Although I suppose it’s for you too. You are one of those lucky, lucky men. There are men who love to take pleasure from a woman. And there are men who love to give pleasure to a woman. They arc the lucky ones, because the woman gives more pleasure back. I suppose you feel powerful when you make me go mad like that. Do you?”


“I suppose it’s just another way of being a bastard. A kind of sadism. Inflicting pleasure instead of pain. But it feels like love. I suppose that’s all that matters.”

“It is love.”

“What do you know of love? You’re just a ball of dust who wandered into my castle.” But she was smiling and he did not mind. In fact he was further encouraged. He went to taste her properly between the legs but she put her hand there. Catching the candlelight, her painted fingernails looked amazing in that setting, like shells in seaweed.

“Next time. Now you must go back to bed.”

“I’m in bed,” said Sanjay. He thought it a rather good joke. For once, it was all his own.

“No,” said Miranda, “this is my bed. But tonight it was heaven. Now off you go. Out, out. And get dressed properly. And if you pass anyone, try to pretend you were visiting the kitchen.”

The last he saw of her that night, she was sitting up smiling, the same way she had smiled from the other end of the dinner table, or across the parched grass at the Silver Castle, long ago.