Tuesday, 16 September 2008

short story: Terror Steam

I’m not a boob man. I like dumps like a truck, truck truck. I like big butts and I cannot lie. Boobs haunt me, pointy nipples of dextrous anxiety, low-swinging chariots of impractical soft beautiful plump pomp, inviting you to drown in flesh. I was a boob man once. I danced with undulating careening breasts, dizzyingly cushioning me, holding me, caressing me, letting me love them. But then I ruined it all when I went to Morocco.

Marrakech was a mystery of markets, mint tea and mystique, framed by minarets. This much we learned from a BBC holiday programme. We were sold and we booked our tickets that night. So did her parents. On the exact same dates. Like a prescient harbinger wrapped in fuzzy family values.

We flew over to our first jaunt in Africa, excited by uncharted territory, armed with intrepid bumbags, pictorial guidebooks and lots and lots of sun block. We were to spend a week with her parents, trawling round souks and listening to exotically-accented French, which was okay with us, it was only a week and they were lovely. They had booked us a two bedroom flat to stay in and hadn’t asked for any money for the accommodation. We were quids in and ready to blow our saved wads on souks, sex and souvenirs. Holidaying with the in-laws would be relatively painless and cheaper than a regular holiday with hotels and every meal out. Plus, they were old and British and thus likely to need to rest from the demanding sun regularly, leaving us to wander the city by ourselves, and love each other romantically and nauseatingly. We had not factored in her parents’ lust for life, zest for exoticism and hankering for time spent with their youngest child and her significant other.

They could not leave us alone. They would wake every morning and bang about in the kitchen till we woke up and sought tea, at which point they would pounce and demand our itinerary for the day. I being the lazy easy-going artiste was always up for sitting and watching the world go by, spontaneously bursting into wonderings round streets. She being the countryside-dwelling fashionista, was up for walks in hills and walks in souks. Somewhere in the middle was where the parents came in. They joined us everywhere. They would make an itinerary, ask what we were doing and then change their plans to come with us, saying ‘ooh, that sounds nice’ at everything we said we were doing. They would acknowledge that we needed time to ourselves before disregarding everything and tagging along anyway. It made me feel like I was the king of Marrakech; they obviously felt I knew something about the city’s big secrets. It made me feel like it was the 50’s and the unmarried couple had chaperones.

It was fucking annoying. Having two spare tyres filling up your boot killing any idea of romance and consistent metaphor-usage was not my idea of a holiday. We would go clubbing, they would come. We would sit by the pool; they would be in our shadow. We would haggle with marketers, they would order us to pay a reasonable price. It was like being on holiday with my own parents, except I had to maintain decorum at all times, the illusion that I was a nice boy, not screaming and crying inside, stomping about. I couldn’t be rude. I couldn’t be annoyed. I had to be the smiley happy clappy boyfriend at all times. At least if it had been my own parents, I could have reverted to teenage strops, moans and slammed doors. She maintained her decorum too, we did owe them as they were paying for our accommodation. And so the holiday went, until one day, we found something we knew for a fact they had no interest in doing. We booked it instantly.

We planned to go to a hamam, a traditional Moroccan steam bath. There were many scattered over the city, and some catered to Western spa standards, offering a posh heavily-scented service to dust-ridden travellers. Mum and dad had no interest in doing this, so we booked ourselves a special romance package, one that involved a rose bath for two, some champagne, smellies and the promise of nudity. We were sold. They accompanied us to the hamam to book our spot. We walked through an insalubrious neighbourhood. They worried about our safety. They marvelled at their gladness they were doing something else. We arrived at the spa, a heavily ornate carved wooden door led us into luxury. On arrival in the well-to-do reception, the mum sussed that it was in fact a good old-fashioned spa and decided to book her and dad in for a steam themselves. The receptionist asked if we all wanted to be together in a cubicle. The girlfriend said no. Mum said that it would be fun. My heart ached for some alone time with my naked girlfriend. Dad’s heart ached for a cold beer. And that was that, we were booked in together.

That afternoon, I changed into my swimming trunks, wrapped a towel around myself and tried to shield my manhood from my future father-in-law in the changing room. He respectfully did the same. We were tired from a day of haggling and meandering and were in desperate need of a good steam to air out our weary pores. We entered the steaming area and were pointed to our cubicle. Two benches lay either side of a gaping doorway. Steam sifted through the air looking for oxygen. I gulped down my remaining supply and sat on a bench. The dad sat next to me and we made small-talk about a particularly persistent snaggle-toothed salesman from earlier. Eventually the girls entered in their swimsuits, she was in a particularly alluring bikini, her mum in a respectable one piece. We sat down and repeated our snaggle-tooth small-talk. Steam was ushered in through the vents. It was scented and tickled our noses. We all smiled awkwardly at each other. A petite loud woman walked into our room and took one look at the girls and shook her head loudly.

‘No tops…’ she demanded. She pulled at the mum’s one piece swimsuit till it was down around her waist, her breasts flapping out and bounding over the top of the cloth. She was topless. Everyone expressed surprise. The woman stood firm in her insistence of the dress code. I immediately closed my eyes out of respect for future in-law middle-aged breasts. I heard my girlfriend take off her top, in that familiar


sound I was so familiar with. Everyone laughed nervously. I was deathly quiet. This didn’t change matters. I was in a room with my girlfriend’s topless mum. Her boobs were on display.

‘This is a surprise’, the mum exclaimed breaking the thick blanket of silent scented steam as she was scrubbed at with eucalyptus soap. We all agreed. I kept my eyes closed and my mouth shut. Now was definitely not the time to be flippant or embarrassed, each would show that I cared about boobs and I certainly didn’t want to anger the dad or make him think I was a sex-crazed boob perv. He sat a few shuffles away from me. He was in a room with his daughter’s naked boobs and his wife’s naked boobs and a guy he was certain was intimate with her daughter’s naked boobs. It couldn’t have been easy for him. I was in the middle of a new twist on the old Oedipal nightmare. We were all silent. I couldn’t open my eyes. I didn’t dare. I didn’t want anyone to think I was sneaking a peak. That would be embarrassing. I didn’t want dad to say something like, ‘Seen something you like.’

I was scrubbed at violently with eucalyptus soap by the loud petite woman. I was a little scared as I was enjoying it, a little too much. I didn’t want to get aroused by a soap-down in the same room as my girlfriend’s mum’s naked boobs. I pretended to get soap in my eyes so I had an excuse to keep them closed. They stang after a while with a need to see things and would every now and then flicker open and I would catch a blur of leathered flesh dumplings in the corner of my eye. Life didn’t get more hellish than this.

My friend Brown Bear had once said that you should look at your girlfriend’s mum to see what your girlfriend will look like when she’s old. It was one of those cheesy things you read on a jokes page of Balls magazine or something. I wondered if this rule extended to mum-boobies. I suppose how many times are people ever in this situation. I wondered if I should have a look. I wondered if the dad/husband would notice. I wondered what was going through his head. I wondered if he was wondering how many times I had seen his daughter’s boobs. I looked at my girlfriend’s boobs quickly, just to remind myself of what I was dealing with, why I was suffering politely in the corner, whether she deserved my polite sufferings, whether this hellish holiday would make or break us. They were a playful size, definitely worth suffering for. I started to get aroused. I hit panic stations. This was hell. I needed the ultimate mood killer. I stole a glance at her mum’s boobs. They were massive, old. I shut my eyes guiltily and quickly and they stung with the wrongness of life’s foibles and faux-pas’s. I felt like a sex-crazed pervert. All the while, she and her mum were making the most inane of giggly small-talk, enjoying our discomfort in an effort to scale beyond their own embarrassment.

‘Alright there?’ her father suddenly asked me. He asked in such a way that basically said, ‘Get a good look did you?’

‘Yeah, fine, just some soap in my eye.’

‘Right,’ he countered.

I burned red under my sweating pores. I felt my cheeks get even flusher. I felt my mouth get even dryer. And the fucking eucalyptus smell was getting right up my fucking nose. Stupid fucking smell. The girls fell silent, whispered, giggled. I could feel them empathising with me. This was a Freudian nightmare, never was a misused cliché so apt.

Later, I showered in silence, feeling dirty, embarrassed and under the microscope. This was surely a test. How did I react in such a situation? Surely, a flying colour pass would issue me good potential son-in-law status.

Later, we ended our spa session, lounging in luxury on beds, with cups of mint tea. We lay in silence, not a word to say to each other. What was there to say? ‘Nice jugs… your missus is more than a handful… you take after your mum…’ Nothing was appropriate. I sipped my tea. The sugar formed an unsavoury syrup texture at the back of my throat.

Later, we returned home, bewildered by how the day had unfolded. I took my girlfriend into our bedroom and we tried to talk through my humiliating psychological breakdown. She could offer me no suggestions for a cure. I would have to live with the scarring forever.

Later, we told them we were going out to eat at an old Moroccan restaurant that served traditional food and had a bizarre chandelier callisthenic belly dance later on in the evening. Would they like to come?

‘No, you guys go. We haven’t left you alone all holiday. Go and be a couple.’

All the while, I wondered if her mum thought I was looking at her breasts.

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