by Samantha Memi
Lady Fortesque Smythe drives her Bentley Six along a country road leading to the village of Bensham. At 34, still beautiful, even after 12 years of marriage, she feels her life lacks passion, emotion, love. Her bloodline traces back to the 17th century but, as she often tells herself, what is the use of ancient blood if it imprisons her in the past. The jazz age has arrived and she wants to be part of it.
Today is a beautiful summer’s day; the world is alive with wonder. As she drives, she enjoys the sunlight flickering through the leaves of the trees lining the road. At such moments she loves life, loves her car, her house, her garden; she loves her husband and son, and as she drives into the village, and sees you standing in your cloche hat and thin summer dress, she realises that, more than anything, she loves young ladies with boyish physiques showing through their summer dresses. There are few things so appealing to Lady Fortesque Smythe as a flat-chested, flat-bottomed flapper. Your wrinkled silk stockings, bulked round your ankles, charm her with their lack of sophistication. You remind her of Lulu from the film. She slows and follows you, thinking, My my, if she isn’t the prettiest girl I ever did see.
You are outside the café waiting for your husband while he withdraws the last of his savings from the bank. Your cerise cloche hat which arrived yesterday, mail order from Debenhams, is perched at a very coquettish angle, and you hope everyone will admire your style. Leaning back very slightly, you slip your summer jacket slightly off your shoulders because you notice the models in the fashion magazines wear jackets off the shoulder and lean back slightly, turning their faces upward, as if looking at the world on the same level as yourself is so terribly passé. While you imagine yourself with a long ivory cigarette holder, a curl of blue smoke coming from your mouth, your corset, holding your bottom flat, starts to itch. You can’t think what to do. It would be unpardonable to scratch in public.
A burgundy Bentley pulls up beside you, but when the driver leans over to speak, your husband, coming out of the bank, calls you, and you turn, and Lady Fortesque Smythe, who was about to ask for directions to the stables, says nothing, realising you are distracted.
You have been married only two months, and it’s not as exciting as you hoped it would be. True, you still enjoy that springtime of matrimonial bliss that all married couples enjoy, even when they have little money and do not as yet foresee the dangers of poverty. But there is a niggling worry in the back of your mind; your husband, a clerk, has no work. You are the sole breadwinner, but living on your wages alone is an effort. You feel as if you are floating through life. You want to cling to something, your husband, anything, but you realise that a man, however handsome, is nothing without money, and you find no anchorage in the man you love. Something needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon.
You smile when you see your husband, and hurry to him, wanting to put your arm in his and feel secure, if only for a brief moment. From the look on his face you realise the last of his savings will not bring happiness for long.
As Lady Fortesque Smythe pulls away from the kerb she glances at you – a glance you don’t notice, a glance which takes her attention away from the road, and causes her to crash into an Austin Seven which is parked in the middle of the road.
When you hear the crunch of metal you turn to see the Bentley tourer, and the lady driver as she slumps, as if in slow motion, over the steering wheel, and lies there, unmoving. You had medical training at college, and before you got engaged you toyed with the idea of becoming a nurse – although that was only because you had read a rather sentimental biography of Florence Nightingale.
Stepping off the pavement onto the road you approach the open motorcar. A crowd gathers, —What’s happened?
—It’s the Lady from the Manor.
Closer to the slumped body, you notice the blood on her face. Gently lifting her head from the steering wheel you see more blood, sticky on her lips and caked around her nostrils. You feel an overwhelming desire to lick the blood from her skin, and you think, Oh no, I hope I’m not becoming a bloodsucker. You remember your father saying your mother was a bloodsucker. Everyone says you take after your mother.
You feel a hand touch your arm, and turning, you see it’s your husband. —Darling, he says, —let’s go home. There’s nothing you can do here.
But, instead of listening to his advice, you turn back to the unconscious woman, and allowing temptation to get the better of you, you take her delicate face in your hands and lick the blood from her lips.
—Oh! gasp the onlookers, how shocking.
Your tiny teeth nibble at the scabs of congealed blood squeezing from her nostrils, and new blood, released by the unblocking, flows over your tongue, and you drink lavishly the blood of Lady Fortesque Smythe.
Your husband tries to pull you away. —Darling, come away. It’s Lady Muck from the Manor. If you harm her you’ll go to prison. Your life will be ruined.
But you don’t care about your life or prison; you only care about your lust for the lady’s blood.
—Help me get her into the café, you say to a strong young man, obviously interested in the blood besmirching your lips, and you hope he won’t want to kiss you. —I can look after her better if she is lying down.
As you try to move her her eyes open and she murmurs, —I love you. She kisses you gently on your cheek. A smudgy red kiss.
—Let me carry her, says the strong young man,
While he carries the lady into the café, your husband pleads, —Come away. This will do no good.
—Please, you say. —It is the kiss of life. I shall breathe a breath to revive her.
The strong young man lays the prostrate woman on a table in the café – much to the consternation of the diners – and while you pull away from your husband’s attempts to take you home, a blue Bugatti Royale, traveling along the opposite side of the street, slows so the occupants can see more closely the people crowding round the Rosie Belle Café.
—I say, Algie, says the driver, —I do believe that’s Lettice’s Bentley.
—Golly gosh, I do believe you’re right, says Algernon, Lettice’s husband.
And parking their car by the kerb, the two come to investigate.
In the cafe, oblivious to the approach of the investigating men, you breathe life into the woman whose blood you so desire. Her eyes open, piercing blue eyes that look into your soul.
—Darling, kiss me, she sighs.
Your lips touch hers and her tongue slides, salivery, into your mouth and you feel it choking in your throat. You enjoy her tongue embracing yours. Faint spasms in your belly open your heart to new possibilities.
—I say, what the blazes do you think you’re doing with Lettice, squeaks Algernon, entering the cafe and seeing you caressing his lying-down wife.
As you unkiss her lips, a fine line of silvery saliva stretches to hold the two of you together umbilically for the briefest of moments.
You turn to see Algernon, red-faced and clottish; behind him your husband wide-eyed and worried. You don’t give a fig for either of them.
—She was in an accident, you explain. —She was bleeding; her nose became blocked with congealed blood.
—I say, steady on; sounds ghastly, what.
—I had to give her the kiss of life.
—A kiss! A kiss?
—She saved my life, Algie.
—Yes, but dash it all, Lett, she’s just a common shopgirl. What do you do, girl?
—Take care, old boy, I mean, after all, interjects Algernon’s friend.
—I’m a hairdresser at Marjorie’s, sir.
—You can dress hair?
—And you’re good?
—Algernon, there’s nothing in the world I need more than a hairdresser. Why, the other day my hair was in such a state I couldn’t even wear my summer cloche. I couldn’t. Such hair I have. (You understand, don’t you, my dear; fine all day, but the slightest hint of rain, just a hint, mind you, and it springs out all over the place). Algernon, I insist this girl become my personal hairdresser.
Her husband whispers in her ear, —As long as she promises not to kiss you.
—She will promise no such thing? Honestly, Algie!
—Well, yes, but dash it all, Lett, I mean…
But Lettice will hear none of it, and after declaring she would faint away if she had any more worry, her husband agrees to your employment. The strong young man carries her to the blue Bugatti, and you follow behind, proud as Punch. The crowd waves as the car drives away, and you want to wave back, but don’t, because you think it is beneath the dignity of the Personal Hairdresser of Lady Fortesque Smythe. Seated beside you, your husband, not strong enough to cling to, but adequate to lean on from time to time, worries about what is happening.
Arriving at the house, you are scrutinised by the butler and a housemaid who obviously consider it contrary to the rules of society that a creature such as yourself should be allowed in the main reception hall of Holcombe Manor.
Algernon, calmer in his realisation you are a married woman, says to your husband, —And you, sir, can you drive a motorcar?
—I can indeed sir.
—There! See Lettice, not only do you have a hairdresser, but a chauffeur as well. To ensure you don’t have any more nasty prangs, what.
Your room at the top of the house overlooks the kitchen garden and on fine summer days, the scents of marjoram and sage drift through the window.
When you go to your mistress’s bedroom jasmine hangs in the air and clings to you like an amniotic sac.
Your husband looks resplendent in his uniform. A man to be proud of. At night, in bed, as you fuck, you imagine him in his cap and boots and breeches. You want the buckle of his belt scratching your soft belly and the peak of his cap pushing against your forehead as you kiss. You want him to dress specially for you, but you daren’t ask in case he’s shocked by the suggestion.
No longer having need to drive, Lady Fortesque Smythe is taken wherever she wishes to go, and can ogle all the young ladies she desires without fear of harming herself by crashing in her car. As long as looking is her only pleasure your reaction is only a smile. She is happy too: a chauffeur and a hairdresser, how modern!
You love to dress her hair, lace her corset and help her with her riding boots. Sometimes, while lacing her Symington, you kiss her shoulder and
On those rare occasions when an accident damages her skin, and blood flows from her tender flesh, you are there, like an avaricious nurse, to lick her wounds clean. Both of you know that saliva is the best antiseptic, and she always kisses your bloodied lips as a reward.
You make sure you are there for her when the turning of the moon brings the blood of love. Being her nurse and hairdresser is not enough for you, you need to be the carer of her menstrual hygiene too. You relish your life’s fulfilment.
You dream of her blood. It seeps through the ceiling and drips. You catch it on your tongue. It grows in your mouth and fills your throat till you choke.
On the wall in your room hangs a picture of your mother at your age; the resemblance is striking; the same nose and mouth, the same eyes. The photograph is black and white, but her lips have a faint trace of red.