Once upon a time, there lived a man. He did not live in dreams. He faced the world with an even, steely view, never trusting situations or people. Life was not cushioned for him, and he often ended up in fights. Sometimes he provoked them and sometimes the other person gave cause. Tightly muscled, he always won however, outmanoeuvring the opponent with wit, fists, and tackles. In back alleyways, he scuffled and unbalanced his enemy, pounding heads into pavements and breaking limbs.

He proved efficient and capable of inflicting pain, which brought about respect – he did not care. Pain did not trouble him, even when it occurred on his body. It was just a sensation, like sunlight’s heat on the skin. Pain existed, and then it went away, just as skin broke, blood flowed, and then healed.

It was this manner that he went through the world. Grass was grass, rain was rain. The sun rose and set. Buildings remained concrete, and sidewalks solid. He felt comforted indoors, in a white cocoon. When he retired to bed, his slumber was restless. Even while unconscious, he had a habit of being on full alert. He dreamed of strangers breaking in and surprise burglarising. He had to protect this inner sanctity.

 

One day he met an unusual woman. As hard-edged as he was, she was soft. Her ability to imagine was her most powerful tool. As with all gifts, it was a double-edged sword. Her imagination allowed her to dream of fantastic ideas and live in faraway lands. It manifested itself in story-telling and drawings. As fantastic as this ability was, once dreamed her ideas could also become an unjustified belief system, fencing her mind in. As powerful as her inner mind was, its perceptions were far stronger than what was real. This proved both freeing and containing because she could not compare and contrast. She lived in her own mind, absorbing the world around her.

 

In this fantasy world, she imagined herself to be a stealthy ninja, creeping about, dangerous in martial arts and silent, full of pounce. Or sometimes she was a Centaur, half-woman, half- horse, galloping hard and fast, exploring the landscape and smells. Other times, she focused and telekinetically moved objects. There were moments she dreamily faced herself in the mirror, lost in contemplation, at the light, and her moving image. She practiced ventriloquism, and gazed out at the world.

 

The man thought the woman a most strange creature. How could someone be so oblivious to the world? She glided this way and that. More than once, she almost glided into oncoming traffic, compelling him to extend his arm and block her path. Physical contact was not something that came to him easily unless provoked by rage. More than once however, he moved her out of harm’s way.

 

This man intrigued her. She had never been in a fight, nor had she ever raised a fist to anyone. What did it feel like to hurt somebody? She felt a strong desire to play wrestle with him. She wanted to feel the exertion, and the push and pull.

“Why?” he asked.

“Just because,” she replied.

Wrestling was not fun nor was it an exercise for him; it was a means to an end, to bring an opponent down. Still, he humoured her, and within seconds, as he’d predicted he had her in a bind, her arm twisted behind her, shoulders down, and legs contorted. She tried grappling, but he held her wrists tight until she stopped. She giggled, but giggling didn’t help. She struggled and squirmed but with the same results. No matter how she strained he foresaw how to pin her limbs and cripple her mobility. Eventually they gave up. The man was bored, and she was disappointed: this was not how she pictured it.

 

But the woman could smell him. She expected to smell oil, dirt, blood, or that steely city smell that adheres to the skin and hair. She expected him to smell of his enemies, of men. Instead, he smelled of mild soap; he smelled clean. It was a safe smell.

 

This hard man felt beguiled. There was something about her eyes: they held his gaze, and looked upon him innocently. He had never known that type of gaze before. The more he looked at her, the more he felt like he was falling. This upset caused him conflict. He felt disarmed, and took a chance: he reached for her.

 

Lying on top of her he made her breath catch, astounded and deceived at his crushing weight. Just having his head on her chest made breathing difficult. He watched as her eyes searched his face, and he held her for the sake of holding, for a hitherto foreign sense of comfort, for quietude, and solace. He breathed her in and she smelled sweet, like honeysuckle. She bent to explore his mouth. Closed lips to begin with and teeth clenched. Eventually he relinquished, and their tongues met thickly. Rubbing his chest and back, she then interlaced his fingers in hers. She moved slowly over him, until he was underneath, his belly exposed.

 

She had him now, groin to groin, her palms pressing into his, guiding his arms over his head. She pinned him to the bed, and he was caught in her softness. Ninja, centaur, woman…it did not matter. Her mind went into a dream state, and instinctively, she became a conduit for his aggression. Slamming his body against the bed, she rode him with unforgiving stamina. Holding a pillow over his eyes with one hand, she scratched and mauled his buttocks with the other, and sank her teeth into his shoulder until he made noise. It was not of agony, it was appreciation. In the darkness, he asked her to leave proof: evidence that her softness and this meeting of bodies had been real.

 

With her mouth, she gave him deep blooming purple bruises he could then watch heal. She tattooed an expansive constellation across the length of his body, and a fine flower cluster exclaimed along the side of his neck. Though she was no longer there, as her love bites changed from dark red blotches to faint pink ovals, they comforted him: a reminder that bad things inevitably got getter. He felt hopeful for the first time.

Erica, 34, London UK

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