Me and Gentlemen

Sayuri Yamada

The small river was deep blue, winking at the light-blue sky. The water started as a stream from a spring in a mountain far away, travelling down and down, white splashes around the stones, and mellow green grass on the banks. Red autumn leaves floated, twirling clockwise, circling counterclockwise, going down and down. Some of them were curled skywards, as if they were trying to touch the cool water as little as possible. Small twigs, wet and dark, followed them, twisting this way and that, wedged between a stone and a bank, staying there for a while, quivering as if cold, then they were released, and went after the red leaves.

It was a wide river now, meandering among green fields and green trees as if trying to have a taste of all the plants around it.

Something bigger, bigger than a twig, surfaced. It was Willow De La Coste. She looked heavily pregnant, a big tummy, with taut white skin. The sky above her was deep blue with some wisps of clouds. A blackbird flew from the west to the east, twittering sporadically. Each of her fingernails was a different colour, ten different colours on her hands, on the water, facing the autumnal sky.
*
When she first entered the water, she sank. The last thing she remembered before the river was being on land surrounded by many gentlemen. The next thing was that she was surrounded by fish, which were not as numerous as the men. She first thought, Have they changed to flying fish? Would they let me ride on the back of one of them? It’d be nice to see my town from the air. It’d be a good change. Then she realised she was under the water, which she discovered was a river, since the water above her was moving in the same direction all the time. The funny thing was that she didn’t panic or even feel surprised that she was in the river all of a sudden. It seemed as natural as the sun rising in the mornings.

Her face looked calm, not surprised, nor horrified, nor devastated. Because her consciousness had left her when she was still on land, she didn’t have to struggle or despair, she simply kept sleeping, away from harsh reality into the cosy dream world.

The pebbles on the bottom gently massaged the still-soft skin of her back. They didn’t move much. She swayed this way and that in the almost-still water. It was comfortable, sometimes tickling. She smiled in her mind, although her facial expression hadn’t changed.

The water above her moved, the sound of water moving downstream pouring over her. Around her on the riverbed, it was more like the bubbling noises of boiling soup. A trout with lots of red freckles all over wove among the noise, moving its tail right and left, a graceful fish. Following the disappearing trout with her eyes, she thought, It was like my face when I was a kid. Her classmates often teased her about her freckles. How she hated them: both her classmates and her face. They had gone when she reached about eighteen, her freckles, and only when she was too emotional, did some ghosts of them emerge. Those men on the river bank must have seen them, she thought, if they had time. She chuckled a little. After the frenzy of the men, it was quiet now despite the constant churning sounds.

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The water around her was a smooth blanket, wrapping around her tired body. I am a baby in a cradle. My mother is rocking it, singing a soft lullaby. I am drowsy. Nothing will go wrong. I am protected. Everything is fine.

On both banks of the river, orange leaves were sitting on the green grass. From a distance, it looked as if the grass had blossomed orange flowers. When a soft breeze came, they trotted here and there.

Small pale-grey fish came along and nibbled her toe and knee. Am I yummy? My skin must be soft, so it should be easy to nip. I hope they can do it to my thighs mostly, my fat thighs. When she was a student, she competed as a speed skater. Although she didn’t get good results much, she had developed good muscles in her legs, especially on her thighs. Since she stopped competing after graduation, she had hoped to have thinner thighs like the ones her friends had. Not a good result in that department either. They had stayed big. My thighs must be the most delicious part of my body. Please thin them at least a bit. The fish were around her face now. She couldn’t see if they were around her thighs as well. She could only see around her face, since she couldn’t lift her head or turn. The water was a bit murky with tiny bits and pieces of something, maybe sand grains or pieces of dead animals. My body might make the water murkier if the fish don’t eat me neatly. But she couldn’t do anything about it. And it didn’t concern her too much.

Around the river, leaves of snow were falling in the soft breeze, dancing a waltz, playing hide-and-seek, running, competing with each other, or jogging gently. It was about the middle of autumn. Birds in the sky were moving house to far-away lands, calling their friends’ names to make sure they were all there.
The moving water above her made a sound as if some people were gossiping behind their hands. Are you talking about me? Behind me? No, you aren’t nasty. You’re all clean and pure.

Then she remembered when she was surrounded by the gentlemen. We made love. They made love to me. I made love to them. I received them naked. They were shy, nobody had taken their clothes off properly. They were shy gentlemen. I was so popular. They were so passionate. The grass under her was a bit rough with some dried leaves. But it wasn’t a big deal. At first, somebody’s hand was on her mouth. Was I too loud? My ex-boyfriend told me I was sometimes. Sorry guys. Her silenced scream echoed in her empty body. That must’ve been better. Thanks. Her eyes were big, looking at nothing, not at the men. I saw the night sky with lots of stars. The pain. The pain between her legs. I don’t remember that. At least I’ve got no pain anywhere anymore. Hot blood. Did I start my period? It wasn’t the time, but strange things sometimes happen. Maybe their excitement affected my body cycle and it changed. Shy, but enthusiastic guys. The pain. No pain now. Her mouth. They kissed my mouth. Her eyes. My eyes were so beautiful to the gentlemen. A man after a man. They all loved me. Coming waves. Love making waves. One came and another came and another came. I was so busy, so popular, so alluring. Never stopped. Nobody wanted to stop the pleasure. One after another. The endless fun.

The wind was between high tree branches, whistling, blowing. A long-legged heron was perched on a rock in the shallow water, peering intently into the river. It looked like an old skinny man standing with hunched shoulders, forlornly.

Dark fish nibbled her toe. It tickled. She giggled. She was very ticklish when she was small. Her classmates chased her to touch her, especially her side. She couldn’t wriggle her toe to be away from the fish’s pecking. She kept smiling and chuckling.

Nothing will go wrong. I am protected. Everything is fine.

Another memory had come back. One of the men put both his hands around her throat and humped away. ‘Oh, no! What did you do that for?’ someone else cried. ‘Let’s see,’ another said, ‘she might still be all right,’ putting his hand on her left breast. ‘Not there. Between the tits, idiot.’ ‘They’re too pathetic to be tits. No beat.’ ‘And look at her eyes. Wide open,’ another said. ‘Yeah. She’s finished.’ ‘I have done her only once.’ ‘I haven’t done her even once yet.’ ‘Oh, don’t worry. She’s still warm,’ turning her body prone and mounting her. ‘You sicko! Do you like cadavers?’ ‘Your cock might get rotten. Might die as well.’ ‘This’s still tight. Not like the other hole, which was getting loose. Try that.’ ‘I’ll do that.’ ‘Might as well. I’ll do that next.’ ‘Me too.’

Her inner recall came back. I was loved so much that they made love to me even after I was no longer able to respond. My back in the night air was cool. A few scratches from the rough dry leaves didn’t bother me anymore. Thank you for turning me around. They were so considerate. Now my body’s full of their love.

They were so different from Steve. I wished he’d been like them. Steve. Steve. He’s got a girlfriend. Steve. Steve. I wanted you. I wanted you to look at me. I wanted you to love me. Steve. Steve. I didn’t know what your girlfriend looked like. I didn’t know what her name was. Steve. Steve. I didn’t know where you lived. I didn’t know what your job was. Steve. Steve. I didn’t dare ask you any questions since I’d learned you had a girlfriend. Steve. Steve. I just saw you at a fitness class once a week. Steve. Steve. Please look at me. Please love me. Steve.

Now I’ve got these kind gentlemen. Steve.

It was daytime now. Willow De La Coste could see the light sky through the surface of the water, which had lots of tiny discs, born and disappearing, popping up and popping out. What are they? Oh, it must be raining now. It’s pretty. I hadn’t seen it from the bottom of the river. It’s so nice under here. Different sizes of circles sprang and vanished, came and went, making the surface sway slightly. It was visual music of the raindrops.

I had a nightmare. A very bad one. After they filled me with their love. It was way worse than any horror film. They carried me, one of them saying, ‘She isn’t any use now. No resistance. Not interesting. Dump it. Dump it.’ I was thrown into the river and sank.

It was the worst nightmare I’ve ever had.

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Those loving gentlemen wouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry that I’ve had such a horrendous dream.

Thin, long waterweeds combed her hair as a caring mother did to her child.
I’m resting now. I’m content now. After the frenzied love from the gentlemen. It’s so peaceful. Small fishes. Smooth plants. Round pebbles. Moving water. A crab. It trotted over my body from the right to the left, using me as a bridge. I’m a human crossing, not a zebra crossing. She giggled.

*

The body of Willow De La Coste was on the bottom of the river over seven days, and had gathered bacteria. As a result, some gas had formed, the tissues inflated, and the skin distended. Now the body had become lighter than the water, therefore it rose and appeared on the surface of the river, floating downstream.

The water had the sheen of rainbow-coloured oil here and there among supermarket plastic bags, orange skins, drift wood and other debris.

Willow De La Coste now had her left foot missing. On her way up from the bottom, the propellers of a roaring motorboat cut it without anybody noticing, although it wasn’t a clean cut. The stump of her leg looked like the end of hunk of meat that had gone through a mincer. The foot itself didn’t exist as a foot, but as pieces of flesh and pieces of bones to be eaten by hungry fishes.

It’s nice to be able to see the nice blue sky again. Oh, double rainbows. Are they welcoming me? Hello, up there. Nice to see you again. It’s not that I’ve seen double rainbows so often. One is a bit smaller than the other. Are they a mother and a daughter, a father and a son? Or a big sister and a litter sister, or an elder brother and a baby brother? A bird just flew by, twittering. I wonder if it’s a blackbird, my favourite one. I like the black coat and vivid orange beaks. Those two colours make a very good contrast.

When she was floating in the river and was still up in the mountain, there was a small waterfall with jagged rocks on the bottom. Now her body had several cuts, especially on her back: around her shoulder blades and legs. The skin there was lacerated. No more blood was oozing out any longer, though. The exposed wounds were as white as her skin elsewhere. Her bloated stomach was getting bigger, since the bacteria had been working diligently. If she was seen from the side, it might look like a scrubbing brush with short bristles and a pincushion on the top.

Am I pregnant? If so, I won’t lose it. How I wanted a baby. I went to see Carole, my niece, my sister’s cute daughter, as often as I could. She was so pretty with her big blue eyes, which must have come from her husband, because my sister’s got dark-brown eyes. She was only fourteen months old, but she could walk and pick up things. She often came to me with her toy, although it wasn’t her intention to give it to me, when I touched it and her cheek, she smiled and walked away and came back to me with a different toy for me to do the same again. I loved her. I wanted to have my own baby. Am I pregnant now? I can see my tummy’s big. Who’s the father? It can’t be Steve, who hasn’t even shaken my hand. One of the passionate gentlemen? Too early. So? I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m going to have a baby.

The trees along the river had the sun among their branches, an intricate crochet of dark yarn with a background of autumnal light. A convertible with a small boy and a red setter in the back seat drove along. He saw Willow De La Coste floating leisurely on the water. ‘Dad! Dad!’ ‘What, son?’ the father driver asked without looking back. ‘A body! In the river!’ ‘You must be dreaming. Just forget it.’ The car turned the corner to the town centre.

They were so considerate. Now my body’s full of their love.

A few days later, a boat with police officers came along and fished her out onto the land. It had been more than ten days since she had been submerged in the river. She felt heavy on land without the floating effect of the water. Bystanders on the banks watched her body with its big stomach. The soft chilly breeze nudged her wet hair without being able to move it. She didn’t mind her nakedness. Since her body had already attracted many gentlemen, she was proud to display her white body with taut skin. A small girl among the people on the banks burst into tears as if it was the end of the world. The mother hurriedly took her away, apologising to her, ‘Sorry, Kim. Sorry. We shouldn’t have come here. Sorry. You’ll be all right.’

The next day, Willow De La Coste was on a stainless steel table in the basement of a hospital. A man in a white coat with a scalpel was standing by her. The white light on the ceiling was showing her body, which was cold from the big drawer fridge she had been kept in for a little while. During that time, she had been worried about her baby. The temperature might be too cold for her baby’s health. Can’t they see I’m pregnant? They should show more consideration for a future mother and her baby. The white cloth on me won’t help with the cold. Her right big toe had a tag. It had tickled her a little when it had been attached. Is it a ring? A wedding ring? On my toe? On my big toe? People here are strange. Maybe they’re all foreigners from a different culture.

The ceiling lights above her smarted her eyes a little, because she wasn’t used to harsh artificial lights since she was in the river.

She was now out with a man beside her. Does he want to make love to me as well? Be careful. I’m pregnant. I wish it were your baby, Steve, our baby. But it’s impossible. It could be one of the gentlemen. Or some of them, even all of them. Because they were so much in love with me, their passion could have grown my baby so fast. It might be ready to come out any minute. This man standing by me could be a doctor. I don’t have a contraction. I don’t feel any pain coming and going. But my tummy is huge. My baby must be ready.

He cut straight into her body from the neck to just before the pubic hair. The rotten air whooshed out from the belly, which shrank momentarily. He didn’t even flinch. He was used to the smell as he was a veteran pathologist of twenty-four years. His assistant standing behind him covered her nose and mouth, turning her head sideways. ‘You get used to it,’ he said to her without looking back at her.

What is he doing? It looks like he took out my stomach. He’s supposed to get my baby out. Where is it? My tummy’s now flat. Where is my baby? I want my baby. I want my baby! My baby!

Sayuri Yamada was born in Japan and came to England in 2003 after searching for a country to live in permanently in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and French Polynesia for ten years. She finished studying Creative and Critical Writing in a postgraduate course at the University of Winchester in September, 2011. She has published her stories in thirty-six magazines both in the UK and the US. One of them, “Killing Me Softly,” is published at Gray Sparrow, which won an award for the Best New Literary Journal of the Year from the Council of Editors of Learned Journal. Another one, “A Fat Mermaid,” is published at First Edition, sold at W.H. Smith.