Books: The Silver Castle — Chapter 19 |
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Chapter 19

MORE THAN A MONTH had gone by since Sanjay had visited his room in the slum. He went back only to pay the rent and to pick up hi mail. There was one letter. It was from Mr Rochester. In reply to Mr Rochester’s previous letter, Sanjay had sent only a single page with one paragraph on it, dealing mainly with a more reliably specifies version of his own address. His principal reason for doing this has been in the hope of being sent some money. Mr Rochester’s new letter was fat enough to encourage the impression that this hope has been fulfilled. Unfortunately there was nothing in the envelope except six thin pages closely filled with handwriting on both sides. One of the early paragraphs seemed pertinent.

So I wasn’t Assistant Editor any more. I was something called a Roving Editor, which as we all know means one step ahead of the boot. Tant pis, I thought. I still have my beautiful memories, not to mention the odd book contract and my modest private income. One could scrape by, nicht wahr? It was at this point that I was vouchsafed the revelation of what a glorious privilege it was to be a Name at Lloyd’s. It turned out that I was in the worst syndicate of the lot. There wasn’t a disaster since Krakatoa that it wasn’t liable for. I won’t bother you with the gory details, high finance not being precisely your chose, but it appears that from now until the millennium I’ll be paying for oil rigs that blew up, tankers that sank, and entire litigious American families who cleverly chose to live in houses constructed exclusively from sheet asbestos. All these things had been insured for billions with my paltry few thousand. The last straw — way beyond the last straw in fact, the camel being already prostrate on the desert, maggots licking its skeleton clean — was a colossal claim from some antique dealer in Los Angeles whose front window full of Ming vases had been atomised when one of your countrymen drove his sports car into it. So much for my grand plans to fly you here and install you in my eyrie, looking down on the Guildhall School of Music. I’ll be lucky to be looking out on a rubbish dump. Probably I’ll be looking up through it. My personal liability is so laughably high that I honestly don’t know whether I can afford a stamp for this letter. If only I could afford to deliver it personally! If only I could be with you in your little room and never come out! People of my class used to call it Going Native. You can’t imagine what it does to me when I think of our solitary moment of love. It makes me think of all the fleeting, blessed conjunctions in history when those meant for each other found each other across barriers of time and circumstance. It makes me think of that scarcely believable, incandescent occasion when Nabokov danced with Pavlova. It makes me think of ...

There was a lot more about what it made him think of. Sanjay read some of it and half promised himself to read the rest when he got back to his dictionary. ‘Vouchsafe’ looked like an interesting word. But when he returned to what he now thought of as his home, he put the letter amongst his minor belongings and forgot it. The day was too perfect for regrets. He undressed and as usual put his neatly folded trousers on his chair. He never hung them up when the gold piece was in them, in case it fell out. Then he had a shower, wrapped a towel around his waist, went downstairs and leaned on the rail of the balcony to her bedroom. The sea crinkled under the afternoon sun. Down on the beach, a team of beachcombing children moved, scavenging towards the city. One of them stopped and looked up. Sanjay waved. Yes, he thought, it must be the same balcony. It must have been her that day. Behind him, one of her servants moved busily about. She would be home early this evening. Sanjay went upstairs, got dressed, and returned, this time to the terrace off the living-room. He settled down with a cigarette and a glass of chilled mango juice to continue with the book she had insisted that he try to read. His first whole book in English, it was called A Passage to India. He was finding it tough going. His dictionary was taking punishment. But there was a lot he would do for her, because she had done so much for him. He was not without gratitude. It paid. Beyond that, or perhaps beneath it, there was genuine affection. In the person of Miranda, his previously fragmentary experience of women had to some extent become whole, or at least coherent. She had the beauty of Urmila and the vivid passion of Pratiba. She also had, despite her superior position, an encouraging readiness to treat him as her equal. She enjoyed commanding him, but he believed her when she said that it was always for his benefit; and in the moments that mattered she allowed him to command her. She welcomed being told what to do. Put your hands above your head. Lift your knees. Point your toes. Say this. Say that. He stirred at the thought of it, wishing that there was not a dinner party tonight. He would have to wait before he got her to himself. Some of the novelty had worn off, but a lot more of it would have had to wear off before he ceased looking forward to the freedom and fulfilment of being alone with her. She made a man of him, just as he made a girl of her. He could tell that that was one of her main reasons for valuing him. She was almost frank about it. She felt threatened by the younger actresses. The gossip columnists were saying so with increasing frequency. There could be no doubt that her suggestively yet discreetly clad voluptuousness did look a bit old-fashioned compared to the new wave of actresses who were prepared to reveal almost all for the magazines, let alone compared to the clusters of bare breasts in Debonair. Now that deregulation was at last here, the level of the permissible was going up all the time. On the screen, kissing was back after a long exile. Sanjay had read an excellent scholarly article on the subject in the latest issue of Gladrags magazine. What had it said again? Sanjay put down his book, went up to his room, and came back with the magazine. He would just read it for a while and then return safely to the book before she got home. “And then came Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayi,” said Gladrags, “with a kiss as long as its name. With a kiss that was aired on the national network. With a kiss between two unmarried people, walking up a staircase. With a kiss that actually involved the exchange of saliva. Hear that sound? It’s the sound of lips meeting. It’s the sound of barriers crumbling at long last.”

Sanjay was especially fond of this issue of Gladrags because it mentioned him. He turned to the relevant page. It fell open easily. There was an item in one of the gossip columns that mentioned his name in connection with Miranda. “Passion brewing? Often to be seen standing near Miranda’s chair as she desperately strives to rebuild her career is a handsome young man about whom there has been much buzz in tinsel circles. This column is able to reveal that he goes by the name Sanjay. Not Sanjay Dutt, naturally! Just Sanjay. That name and no other. He comes from nowhere, but industry wise guys are tipping him for the top. Insiders who have seen him around Miranda’s lush Juhu duplex are tipping him for something else as well. What could it be, we puzzle? Toy-boy joy? Surely not! And yet ... Our brow furrows, and we bet yours does too.” Sanjay admired the prose style of the columnist, Highbrow. In Sanjay’s opinion, Highbrow was almost in the class of Smart Alec, although not quite as witty. Yes, it was an excellent issue. He had been wise to buy three copies while stocks lasted. On the cover was a particularly shameless full-face study of Mumtas, looking as if she had been ravished by a typhoon. He was still studying this when he heard the sudden bustle of Miranda’s arrival. Half a dozen voices erupted. He had no time to hide the magazine so he just put it on the table beside him and set his glass, packet of cigarettes and brand new green plastic cigarette lighter on top of it. He took up the book again and was reading it quite convincingly when she joined him.

“Thank heavens for a short day,” she said, lying back on the steamer-chair opposite him. Having seen her well established, Sanjay settled back again into his own chair. Nowadays he always remembered about getting up.

“I see you are keeping your magazine mentions close at hand. For reference, no doubt.”

Sanjay thought it best to make his smile rueful.

“They would have gossiped anyway. Most of that stuff is made up so nobody believes anything even when it’s true. But if you are going to talk about your career I suppose it’s about time you had a second name, for professional purposes. I thought of Nul. Sanjay Nul.”

“What does it mean?”

“It means nothing. In French. A good name for the young man from nowhere. And it sounds a little bit Indian, without quite being it. Like my name. You know that my name is not Indian?”

“I know that no other woman is called by it.”

“My father thought of it. A Latin word that means ‘it must be looked at’. He was foolishly confident that I would be beautiful. Thank you, Ayesha. Take that away.”

She was pointing at Sanjay’s empty glass. One of her women had brought tall glasses of cold clarity stocked with rising bubbles. Sanjay did not have to wait for Miranda to squeeze the slice of lime into the glass and then copy her. He knew what to do and did it at the same time.

“He was right,” said Sanjay.

“You sound almost sincere. You are improving. At least my father’s inspiration was plausible. Whoever thought up a name for that hooker was really pushing it.” Without deigning to redirect her eyes, she had briefly inclined her head towards Sanjay’s magazine where it lay on the table.

“Is her name thought up?” Sanjay could not believe that there was a fact about Mumtas he had not read in his research.

“Yes, didn’t you know? She is named after the queen who is buried in the Taj Mahal. Her name was Mumtaz. All they did was change a letter. What a laugh.”

“She is buried in the Tajma?”

“No, the real Taj Mahal. The one in Agra.” This was Miranda at her best, because she did not laugh at him. Instead of scorn she felt a momentary sadness, and did not even show that. “The great Mogul emperor Jehan loved her so much that he built the world’s most beautiful shrine to her memory. One of those gangsters who look after your dream girl must have read a book. And they didn’t even mind that there was already another actress called Mumtaz. I used to know her. An older actress, of course. But quite famous once. The bastards.”

“She is not my dream girl.”

“I don’t mind, as long as she stays that way. I wonder what you would have been like,” she went on, as though talking to herself “if you had been brought up in a house like mine. The walls were made of books. Cliffs of them. My grandfather was the last great poet of Bengal. He knew Tagore personally. And my mother’s father was the great Urdu poet of his generation. All his books were in our house. Satyajit Ray would come to tea in our house. You have heard of Satyajit Ray? Don’t pretend.”

Sanjay did not pretend. She wasn’t even looking at him. Her head was back and her eyes were closed as she took in the last of the sunlight.

“No, of course not. Most of India has never heard of him. The world has, but India hasn’t. One of the greatest film directors who have ever lived. And instead of his great works of art, we have our great works of art. The princess runs away. She is captured by the bandit chief. ‘The bandit chief is a prince in disguise. They sing. They dance. On and on and on. What a disaster. Heaven help us, we have colonised ourselves. How are you getting on with the book?” She was talking to him again.

“I have almost finished it.”

“Are you enjoying it?” It was an awkward question. He thought it best not to give a direct answer. It would be smarter to ask a question of his own.

“What happened in the caves?”

“Nobody knows,” she said, smiling. “That’s supposed to be the point. The shocking, sensual mystery of outrageous India. Perhaps he put his hand up her dress.”

“Perhaps he tried to steal her wrist-watch,” said Sanjay, with a smile of his own.

“Perhaps. Do you still want me? Is it still an urgent adventure for you?”

“Yes.” It was more or less the truth.

“Liar. There is something about you that always wants more.” But her eyes were sparkling again so he thought it best to proffer no denials. Her eyes sparkled like the cold, dean, dear water spiked with lime. The sea had begun to scintillate under the sidelong bombardment of the setting sun. It was a dream come true. He should have been content. He attributed his unease to the imminent dinner party. He knew how to behave by now, but the proceedings would still be largely beyond him, and in no interesting way. What had once been daunting had become tedious.

The editor was there again and unfortunately he was in good form. “That is one thing Chaudhuri was right about,” he told the assembled company.

“You always say Chaudhuri is right about everything,” said Miranda. Resplendent in a white sari seeded with pearls, she showed by her delighted smile how she loved to tease him. “So how can he be right about one thing?”

“He is right about how we forget our heritage by trying to make it exclusively ours. He is right about provincialism. Think of the troops who died for us in the Arrakan and we have forgotten them because they were commanded by the British. Think of the two thousand troops we lost at the Dardanelles in the first war.”

“Did we?” asked one of the producers. “I didn’t even know we were there.”

“We were there. We were fulfilling our duty to an Empire from which we had benefited, the Empire which made possible a united India. But the Australians have made the whole thing theirs. The Australians don’t even mention that the English lost three times as many troops in that campaign.”

“I saw the film,” said one of the producers. “I saw it in London. Mel Gibson was in it. That was before he had big hair.”

“But if we remembered the troops we lost there,” said another producer, “and if we forgot to mention that the British lost many more, and if we used that to say that the British were just exploiting us, wouldn’t that make us the same as the Australians? That would be just as provincial, wouldn’t it?”

“No, it would not,” said the editor. “Let me explain.” And he explained at length, but this time he had some formidable opposition lying in wait for him, because Gupta was among the guests. Sanjay was glad that Gupta was sitting at the other end of the table, at Miranda’s right hand. It had been awkward earlier when Gupta arrived, although Gupta, to do him credit, had silently condoned Sanjay’s manoeuvres of avoidance, confining his signals of recognition to a mere nod and a half smile. During the long reception before everyone sat down to dinner, Gupta had spent most of his time with the producers, and Sanjay had heard, from conversations elsewhere in the room, that this was a good sign because it meant that Bombay’s most famous entrepreneur was at last about to make good on his long promise to acquire a stake in the film industry. In a year of riots, with nearly six hundred Muslims slain and film production cut by almost half to fewer than three hundred and fifty films, this would be an act of faith in the city, the initiative of a visionary. Gupta was making a quiet but unambiguous show of being there to learn. For most of the meal he had stayed silent, allowing people to talk across him in the separate conversations at his end of the table. When, as always, the separate conversations reached the stage of coalescing into a general discussion that erupted into an argument, he was content to let the august editor be the focal point. But finally he spoke, and it was immediately apparent that this famously loquacious table had acquired a new epicentre of authority.

“With all due respect,” he began, and made a gesture to prove that his respect for the editor’s wisdom and seniority was real, “I have to say that your wish to acknowledge the importance of our British heritage is necessary but not sufficient.”

“How not?” asked the editor, and for once he really seemed curious to hear another opinion, such was the commanding timbre of Gupta’s voice, although the thought of so much money in the background might have had something to do with it.

“Because the question now is not about how we relate to the past, it is about how we relate to the future. Morbid nostalgia for our safe days as a glorified colony would be as dangerous as to deny it ever happened. I admit that it is a powerful memory, a fruitful memory. There are moments when I can still see myself in the courtyards of Trinity, walking the same flagstones as great Indian mathematicians and economists for whom their time in Cambridge was a liberation. And eventually men like them helped to liberate us all from the colonial yoke, or whatever you want to call it.”

“I would not want to call it that,” said the editor, but he was not really interrupting. He was just playing bass.

“Of course not. The conquerors gave us our freedom. If it was against their wish, it was in line with their culture, and without the binding influence of that culture we would have remained split, at war among ourselves for ever. But that was then. This is now. What we must join now is the world. Already, right here in Bombay, in one of my companies, hundreds of bright young people are working on computer software that will make us part of an unimaginable tomorrow.”

“An unimaginable tomorrow?” asked Miranda, looking away from him as she supervised a servant threatening to overdo the refilling of her wine glass. “I’m not sure I like the sound of that.”

“Nobody likes the unimaginable. But one thing we can imagine. If we do not exploit it, we will be exploited. Exploited again, and this time worse. And it is too much to expect that the brilliant young people who give us the future will have the time and the attention to educate themselves in our complex heritage. I don’t mean that they have to be rigid, narrow nationalists. They won’t even be that. They just won’t care. They will think only of one world.”

“And will they think of the poor people in the street?” asked Miranda. “Will they think of those human wrecks in the street that your chauffeur had to steer through to bring you to my door tonight?” Sanjay was pleased that she did not seem to like Gupta at all.

“I know you think of them,” said Gupta. “Your charitable works are famous. But the truth is that only prosperity will save them.”

“Aha!” exclaimed the editor triumphantly. “Only when the few have too much will the many have enough. An old story.” The older man, good at old stories, was back at centre stage and did not relinquish it for half an hour at least, but Gupta, in Sanjay’s judgment, had made a powerful impression. Sanjay even had to admit that he had been impressed himself later on, with sweets and candies and coffee being brought to the table on a relay of silver trays, Gupta even managed to be funny, something Sanjay had never heard him be. It made Sanjay jealous, in the way we often are when we find that someone with whom we have been intimate has lavished on others a gift he has withheld from us. Miranda had teased Gupta about his Savile Row suit. For Miranda to tease Gupta instead of just contradicting him might have been enough to ignite Sanjay’s jealousy anyway, but the way Gupta capitalised on the provocation made the thing certain.

“A good guess, madam. Your eye is legendary. But in this case you are not quite correct. This suit does indeed come from London. But not from Savile Row. It comes from Selfridges.”

“From a department store? I don’t believe it. It’s too well cut. It must have cost lakhs of rupees.”

“No, it just looks like it. And I’m sure you will agree that in matters of clothing the look is everything. This suit is made in Italy by the firm of Sidi.”

“Seedy? An unfortunate name.”

“Only in English. Selfridges ought to change that. But what matters is the tailoring, and the point is that there is no tailoring. So the suit costs only three hundred pounds.”

“Three hundred pounds? No.”

“Three hundred pounds with an extra pair of pants thrown in.”

“How is that possible?”

“No tailoring. The material is so soft that it drapes by itself. You can buy it off the hook and you can fold it up in a bag. It doesn’t even crush. Here, feel.”

Miranda inserted her fingertips into his proffered cuff and rubbed with her thumb. Sanjay’s jealousy, already bubbling, would have boiled over if it had had a sexual element. It meant salvation to know that Gupta was a pervert. “It’s like a sari,” said Miranda, with an astonished little laugh that Sanjay found artificial. Who was being inauthentic now?

“Let me assure you, gentlemen,” said Gupta to the entire table, “that the old colonial dream of being tailored in Savile Row is over. English tailoring was never worth a damn in the first place.”

“Oh, come on,” said one of the producers, shooting his cuffs, “Don’t tell me I’ve been wasting my money. It’s too much money to waste.”

“You have. You have. The English tailors tailor to your figure. That’s the last thing you want, unless you’re an Adonis. They meticulously measure your every fault and then make a suit that reproduces it exactly. The Italians think only of the ideal. They make a suit the shape you want to have and then you slip inside it. I promise you that the man inside this suit is just a bag of bones.” Sanjay knew that it wasn’t so. Gupta was actually quite athletic. He could ride a horse. But Sanjay could tell that Gupta was pleasing his audience. This displeased Sanjay more than he would have believed possible.

“Now I can reveal that I wore this suit to prove my point,” said Gupta, with a smile to indicate that he was mocking the editor in a friendly way. “I brought it as evidence that we must take from the world and give to the world.”

“How can I get a suit like that without flying all the way to Selfridges?” asked the producer.

“Right on cue,” said Gupta, producing a leather cigar case, extracting a cigar from it and raising a supplicatory eyebrow at Miranda, who replied by gesturing to a servant. The servant instantly approached with a long, lit match but had to stand there while it burned, because Gupta would not be hurried in his ritual of preparing the cigar for smoking. While he did so, however, he went on talking, this time to inform rather than entertain “You can buy one from us, right here in Bombay. One of my companies has done a direct deal with the Italians and we’ve already brought in a thousand suits as a first shipment. You’ll be pleased to hear,” he added, emitting his first draught of aromatic smoke in the direction of the editor, “that a full page of advertising will be offered to your paper at the end of the month. To be renewed each week thereafter. We’ll be running the campaign in all the principal publications for a full year.”

“All for a change of clothes,” said Miranda.

“All for a change of consciousness,” said Gupta. They were smiling at each other. If Sanjay’s jealousy had been visible, he would have fumed like that cigar. What on earth was an Adonis?

As if to prove that there was no end to the agony, more people began to arrive. Miranda rose to greet her after-dinner guests. There were more film people, more businessmen, more journalists. There was also Pratiba. Sanjay could hardly believe it. If he had not been feeling so wretched, he would have embraced her. It would have been something to show Miranda. As things were, he was pleased enough to have someone to talk to: someone who would not pitch everything so far above him. The Dardanelles. Trinity. Savile Row. Adonis. Rita Hayworth. Versace. Satyajit Ray. If Pratiba had puzzled him with these things, she would have helped him to laugh. She would have made it matter less.

“What have you been doing? You look wonderful,” said Sanjay. He had learned this latter expression from Miranda, having noticed that it worked particularly well on people who didn’t. He sat down with Pratiba on a banquette in a corner, under one of those modern paintings that he was supposed to appreciate. There was hubbub all around them but they were safe in the past. It was as if they were in their schoolroom again, yet with no danger of the door bunting open under the flying weight of an angry Sabbandra.

“Well, where can I start? I spent a year in London. I grew up. I got married.”

“You are married? That’s wonderful.” She was wearing a sari and looked less blatantly shapeless than she once had. She looked more at home.

“Yes. No thanks to you. He got his virgin. But I was lucky too. He is an accountant. Not handsome but kind. And very modern. He lets me work.”

“You have a job? That’s wonderful.”

“Yes, everything’s wonderful. You are already sounding like a record with the needle stuck. But you are right, it is wonderful. I have a job with that man over there, the man I came with. The great Zulfighar Desai. He is editor of a film magazine and I work for him.”

“What magazine is that?”


“Cine-Blitz! That’s ...”

“Wonderful. I know. I work on the Smart Alec column.”

You are Smart Alec?” Sanjay’s astonishment had escalated to awe.

“No.” She laughed. “I am part of Smart Alec. His left elbow. There are six of us. But some of the items are written by me. Who knows, I might even write about you. You seem to have fallen on your feet.”

“I have not fallen.”

“That’s what I meant, dummy. Falling on their feet is what cats do. It means you are doing better than ever. You know, there are so many rumours that she is really flat broke. But look at this place. Those miniatures in the panels of those folding doors, they are only one step down from real Moguls. And the saris she covers the walls with are all her grandmother’s, did you know that? All classics. And then she just hangs paintings on them. So bold. She has so much taste. Such a perfect throwaway style. And she is so beautiful. just look at her over there.”

“I don’t have to look at her. I already know.” The truth was that he did not want to look. He knew that she was still talking to Gupta.

“Are you sleeping with her?” He smiled a smile for which he had got the idea from a magazine article about the great foreign actor Charles Bronson. It was a smile meant to convey a willingness to let people believe what they wished. It was known as an enigmatic smile.

“I don’t blame you for being mysterious,” said Pratiba. “That Stardust piece must have driven her crazy. Everyone says you are sleeping with her but they would rather believe you aren’t. I believe you are but I will say nothing. You can trust me. For old times’ sake.”

The awkward silence that threatened to fall as they both thought of old times was headed off by another voice. Gupta loomed above them.

“I’m heading home after a perfect evening,” he said to Sanjay. “But before I went I wanted to tell you how good it was to see you again.”

Sanjay nodded. He had just seen Gupta’s shoes. They were black but gleamed like glass.

“Will you take this card? It has the name and numbers of the organisation that will be marketing our Italian suits. If you get in touch with the second number on the right they will be expecting your call. For the film magazines you have the right face. A dangerous face like yours would be exactly right.”

“I am very busy in films,” said Sanjay.

“You will be busier yet, I hear. But having your face in a prestige advertising campaign could scarcely hurt. And anyway you owe me one, as the Americans say.”

Sanjay was genuinely puzzled.

“For the elevator.”

Sanjay was still forming an enigmatic smile when Gupta had departed.

“Wow, that was cool,” said Pratiba. “You know him. You were so cool with him. And he is a real bastard, that one. He didn’t even pretend that he wanted to meet me. I can see that I will have to write something. Cool and dangerous Sanjay. Whose shirts have improved out of sight.”

“Sanjay Nul.”

“Is that your name now? I like it. How do you spell it? And what was that about an elevator?”

Pratiba and the great Zulfighar Desai left after only an hour. Other people were slower to clear out. Sanjay sat alone on the terrace. For a while Ghita, the speaker of the unspeakable, sat with him, but she found him even less forthcoming than usual so she left him alone again. He sipped his drink, smoked, and watched the lights of the fishing boats. He didn’t show it, but he was still annoyed. When Miranda at last joined him, he showed it.

“Thank God that’s over,” she said, fanning her face with her hand to indicate the effort it had all been. “I’m sorry they lingered so long. Why the long face?”

“You talked to him the way you never talk to me.”

“For heaven’s sake. I have better ways to talk to you.”

“You talk to all of them about things I have never heard of.”

“It is not my fault that there are things you have never heard of. And they are not important things. Nothing is important beside the language we speak together.”

“What is an Adonis?”

“A beautiful man, if you want to know. But you don’t need to know. You are one.”

Sanjay had begun to be mollified. He lit another cigarette.

“You are smoking like a chimney. Make sure you rinse your mouth before you kiss me. And make sure you kiss me to death. Who was that girl? Someone from your past?”

“A girl I once knew, yes.”

“You think you were jealous when I talked to that swine of a suit salesman? When I saw you talking to that girl I could have died of jealousy.”

“How could you be jealous? She is not beautiful. You are the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“Nobody feels beautiful. They have to be told. They have to be attended to. I promise you that when you gave that poor dumpling your attention she turned into Princess Caroline of Monaco. You never told me that you knew Paramal Das-Gupta Kanwar.”

“I met him only once,” said Sanjay, sensing danger.

“Once is too often. He is a notorious pederast. A total shit. Dear God, I’m tired.”

But she was not. As usual, an evening on stage had given her extra energy. He had extra energy to match. For both of them, jealousy, by restoring the familiar beloved to the pristine status of someone who might choose another, had worked its brutal trick of renovating desire. Sanjay stripped her, threw her on to her bed, scattered his own clothes all over the room, and fell on her.

“What are you, a wolf?”

He growled and kissed her.

“A wolf who has been smoking. Ugh.”

So he kissed her elsewhere. She interrupted her own moans to call out. “Ghita! Get out of that corridor! Go to bed!” There was a scuttling of sandals outside. Miranda laughed, but not for long. Wet with her juice, his mouth sealed hers again.

“Well, at least that tastes better. Does it? Do you like that ta...”

He turned a word into a gasp with one stroke. With a few strokes more he changed her face. This was a situation he could control. For as long as it lasted, and he made it last a long time, he even managed to be grateful. Pouring his resentment back into its cause, he remembered his luck. It was only afterwards that he forgot it.