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I’ll Give You Anything
Max Dunbar

We were in the Cornerhouse bar on Oxford Road, sitting at three tables which had been pushed together to accommodate the various dissolutes and inebriates that generally formed my company at the weekend. Friday night traffic ebbed and flowed on the junction fifteen feet down.
..... .....I knew about a third of the people present. There were a couple of tall, shaggable women who’d just got up to the bar. I was about to get up and offer them a drink when this old guy collared me.
..... .....He was an associate professor at the uni. He had a face like a dead planet and was drinking gin and black from a pint glass. The old bastard fired the same perfunctory questions I hear everywhere I go.
..... .....‘A writer, eh?’ he said in a tone of golf-club jocularity, ‘Get yourself a woman, son. Some rich bird who can support you.’
..... .....‘Well, I do try,’ I said, using a self-deprecatory flourish in an effort – not a good one – to disguise my contempt for this loser.
..... .....‘Go to London,’ he said. ‘Hang out in the Barbican. Loads of rich women cruising for young guys there.’
..... .....I dismissed the old man’s advice at the time, but looking back it remains my only coherent memory of the evening. I had just come to the end of a temp job. Various state-sanctioned creditors and demi-monde businessmen were chasing me for debts. Local editors had stopped publishing me because I’d pissed them off in drunken argument, or by chatting up their birds. I was twenty-five and going nowhere.
..... .....So by the next Friday I’d jumped on the rent in Whalley Range and got on a National Express to London. Now, moving to London without a job waiting for you is pretty much suicidal, but the old professor’s words had convinced me that I would soon be shacked up with some bitch goddess who would keep me in alcohol and cocaine in exchange for constant sexual attention. I had saved up some cash from the temp job, and had a small inheritance bequeathed by a dead aunt which I used to pay the deposit in Kennington.
..... .....I bought a couple of designer suits and went to the Barbican every weekend. It was as the Cornerhouse guy had said – the place was thronged with powerful and loaded women in their thirties and forties. I’ve always liked older women, and I’ve always liked women who are tall, physically strong and professionally successful. The interval bar at the theatre was like the seraglio of my id’s darkest dreams. Pinstriped skirts, shiny blonde hair, knee-length leather boots, the haughty ring of their laughter, the proud, imperial jawlines set in arrogant expectation, their perfume lacerating my nostrils like good coke – I could barely walk in a straight line. I’d stand at the bar, drinking heavily and trying to catch someone’s eye, feeling beads of pre-ejaculate and a deep, dull fire in my groin.
..... .....After three months I had taken a few phone numbers, been out on a couple of dates and spent one night with an assistant director at a leading PR firm. I thought I was well set to move in there, but she dropped me off the next day at my bedsit and wouldn’t return my calls after that. I think she might have been a bit freaked out by some of my proclivities. The money was running out – you wouldn’t believe what those cunts charge for theatre tickets – and until I met Geraldine, it was looking like I’d have to crawl back to Oxford Road and the Manchester Temps agency.
..... .....She bought me a drink after a performance of some Tom Stoppard thing. I’d won her over with my throwaway remark that the play posed the best argument for bringing back the medieval practice of allowing the audience to throw eggs and tomatoes at the performers on stage. Once I’d hammered out that opening I rushed in with my trademark wit and erudition. I knew fuck all about the theatre, but during my shifts at the local I’d read academic criticism borrowed from the local library and could hold my own in any discussion of the art.
..... .....Geraldine took me on to some private club in Soho. We drank champagne and did coke from a special kit she carried in her purse. I recognised a couple of writers and columnists there. I’m a good listener, and I asked intelligent questions about her work and lifestyle, deliberately underestimating her age by about five years. This was more fucking like it.
..... .....My compliments were gushing but sincere. Geraldine Jones was one of the most beautiful, dominant women in London. Six foot two, with flowing tresses of red hair and focused, predatory eyes. On that night she was wearing a tight black jacket and skirt combination which showed off her long, muscular legs. She was a goddess, a supervixen. I remember telling her that women often look better in clothes, and I later found out that she had fifty different business outfits which provided me with a huge amount of fun when she was at work and I’d finished writing.
..... .....Geraldine wasn’t born rich. She’d run away from her Home Counties village when her parents refused to let her go to university. Like me, she’d come to London with nothing but the clothes on her back, a couple of paperbacks in a shoulderbag and two hundred quid in her bank account. Thirty or so years later she was head of her own management consultancy and worth about two million a year.
..... .....Like many successful people who come from a hole in the ground, she was cheerfully and extravagantly right wing. I’m a liberal myself, but the tension of our opposing views made our relationship more exciting (there’s no good sex without tension). Again like many successful people from humble backgrounds, she was obsessed with wiping out all traces of her roots and past. She took elocution lessons to smooth out her yokel accent, and spent thousands on expensive weekenders and interior design solely to remind herself that she had the money to waste on such things. I remember her pride in taking on a client company which was about to increase its profit share by closing a factory in Minehead – a factory that provided the bulk of her home town’s employment.
..... .....But, unlike Margaret Thatcher and other rags-to-riches capitalists, she didn’t kick away the ladder. On top of her professional duties, she threw herself into the feminist movement, setting up campaigns against honour killings and dowry murders and sponsoring Muslim women with grants to set up their own businesses. Certain pundits of the ‘liberal’ press have described Geraldine as a hypocrite who made token gestures to gender equality to cover up the real business of her crimes. I understand that there have even been suggestions that her campaign groups and charities were actually fronts for money-laundering and illicit trade.
..... .....These suggestions (my mistress’s accusers lack the nerve to state their theories clearly and unequivocally) are completely unfounded, just scurrilous bullshit. There is a certain type of pseudo-feminist critic who feels threatened by strong, independent women, just as there are men who are afraid of sexually aggressive females. These critics hate the career woman because of her demonstrated qualities of courage and determination that they lack. They seem to feel that all liberal-minded women should be strictly monogamous and abstemious, and should remain in their Hoxton apartments reading Rachel Cusk and writing wry criticism for the respected arts journals while waiting for their husbands to come home from work. Their position on the superior sex is not unlike the conservatives who fought their right to vote. In these critics’ view, women are still the chaste and dutiful gatekeepers of the Victorian age.
..... .....It worked out exactly as the Cornerhouse guy said it would. I moved into Geraldine’s place in Islington and stayed home writing while she went out to work. She was flattered at having attracted a younger boyfriend, but for me it was a no-lose situation. I didn’t mind being a kept man. Better than working. And the nights were phenomenal.
..... .....I’m not going to talk in detail about the sex, it’s pretty much been covered in the tabloids, but everything you heard about our carnal life is true and I don’t regret a fucking moment of it. Geraldine was a very open-minded and mature woman who indulged with amusement some of my more esoteric fantasies. People like to laugh at fetishism, the old panting clichés of whips and role-play and spanking, but the tone is of envy as much as amusement. Fact is, normal sex gets boring. It does. I’ve never experienced anything to match the ecstasy of submission.
..... .....I suppose you’ve also seen the half-formed psychological insinuations that have been floated in some of the broadsheets. I’ll tell you now, this isn’t about some sub-Freudian root cause theory (penned, more often than not, by people who’ve never read Freud). It’s not like my mother never loved me or I couldn’t get enough women at university. It’s not like that at all. I’m not some awkward, salivating intellectual. I’ve fucked more women than you’ve had hot dinners. Anyway.
..... .....Things were great for a good while. I had more time to write and started getting published in the literary magazines, and also got some reviewing work for the TLS. It was something like three hundred a book – nothing compared to Geraldine’s income but it made me feel good to be able to buy her a meal occasionally. We went out in Soho every weekend and hung out with top businessmen and journalists. I got to know people from the Bloomsbury group and Oxbridge and UEA. This was the life.
..... .....I guess that what she was doing was not great, morally. Truth was, we hardly talked about her work. I knew that she’d started out as a consultant to private industry and was now involved in IT contracts for public services. I knew she didn’t pay tax, but no one did when they got to her level.
..... .....And I accept that she was ripping off the working class. Once I would have cared about this, but not now. The British working class are the most stupid and servile in the whole of Europe. In France truck drivers bring the country to a standstill every time there’s a cut in public services. Over here the workers cross picket lines without blinking. The only mistake Geraldine made was stealing from them indirectly. If she’d told the public she wanted to use the money to promote small businesses or something then they would have fought amongst themselves to sell each other out.
..... .....There was a lot of talk about offshore funds and ‘holding companies’ and I remember those conversations got more urgent and whispered towards the end. I mean, the first I knew of it was when the phone went sometime in August. Geraldine was at a meeting. I picked up, and this guy on the phone’s like: ‘Mr Hulme, I’m calling from the North London Advertiser. Would you mind answering some questions for me?’
..... .....‘How’d you know my name?’ I asked.
..... .....‘You’re Geraldine Jones’s partner, aren’t you?’
..... .....‘Well, yeah, that is right,’ I said. Even the sound of her name turned me on.
..... .....‘Are you aware of the irregularities declared in Ms Jones’s fees for her company’s installation of the CouncilWide IT system, a project that has run twelve months behind schedule?’
..... .....‘I got no idea what you’re talking about,’ I said.
..... .....He had a load more questions for me. I couldn’t follow a lot of it: stuff about ‘misappropriation of public funds’, ‘severe inconsistencies in declared accounts’, ‘embezzlement’. He sounded like a good journalist: I heard he was shortlisted for a posthumous Paul Foot award. But all I could think about was what Geraldine had worn to work that day. She’d got up before I did and I hadn’t had a chance to check out her suit.
..... .....It turned out to be the three-piece yellow number with the buttons and silk tights. After pleasure, I mentioned the reporter’s call and she went fucking berserk. Why hadn’t I phoned her straight away? Why had I spoken to this guy? What had I told him?
..... .....She was pacing around the kitchenette, high heels clacking on the varnish like gunfire. She kept muttering, ‘Gotta sort this out, this has got to be sorted out.’ Her clear received pronunciation was beginning to slip for the first time since I’d known her. She seemed to be unaware of my presence.
..... .....Geraldine opened her mobile, went into the bathroom and locked the door. I listened, but I couldn’t make much sense out of her half of the conversation. Then she went out, saying that there was a piece of business to be dealt with.
..... .....I waited a couple of hours, but it was clear she wasn’t coming back. I went to the local and drank a few beers. At midnight I returned to the flat, ground myself to ecstasy against the heel of Geraldine’s right shoe, and crashed out.
..... .....The door woke me up. Geraldine was in a total state, her blouse torn and her hair like a piece of wire wool. There were reddish-brown stains on her jacket that made me think of autumn leaves.
..... .....‘What happened to you?’ I asked. ‘Were you mugged?’
..... .....She seemed to think this was hilarious. Then her off-key laughter abruptly stopped and she said, ‘Marcus, if you don’t want to go to fucking jail, get me a brandy and help me out of these clothes.’
..... .....Geraldine took a shower while I burned her suit on our roof garden. The alcohol seemed to steady her, but it just plateaued her anxiety. She stayed up half the night finishing off the Courvoisier. She kept shaking her head and saying, ‘It’s all fucked, it’s all completely fucked.’
..... .....The next day Geraldine was gone and her mobile was switched off. The day after that, the police came. One of the things I learnt during that ten-hour interrogation was that, before she left, Geraldine had transferred the business and the accounts to my name. The accounts were now eight figures in the red and I was responsible for the debt. There were questions to be answered about some reporter who’d been found hacked to death in a skip. Geraldine herself was said to have travelled to her villa on a remote equatorial island from where extradition was a laughable dream.
..... .....Still, despite everything, I don’t hold it against her. There’s something glorious about being completely fucked over by a beautiful, dominant woman. Of submitting your life to the superior will. Truth be told, I still masturbate about her sometimes.
..... .....And that’s basically how it happened, Your Honour.

 

 

 

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